"The Professor’s got a guy on her mind!” Sylvain announces two weeks after the war, nearly kicking down the door in his excitement.
Dimitri glances up from his paperwork first. He smiles, good-humored, or perhaps eager for a distraction, mouth parted around a question until he glances at Felix and then seems to think better of it. With a little sullen frown, Dimitri looks back down at his scroll.
Felix does the same.
Restoration and rebuilding were hatefully slow. A little bit day by day to achieve a greater change, much like training. It just wasn’t anywhere as satisfying.
Felix frowns at the writing scrawled in the corners of his papers. Byleth’s taken to scribbling half phrases in the margins of paperwork she hated the most. There are notes on sword forms and a series of doodles. They’re more distracting than Felix would like to admit and he spends too many moments, trying to decipher her doodles and half thoughts.
“Come now,” Sylvain pouts at them all, clopping over to them, loud as any of the horses he trotted out of their pens. Felix glares when he hikes a hip and seats himself down on Felix’s desk, “No reaction? Surprise? Alarm? Anything?”
“No one cares about your senseless gossip,” Felix shoves at his thigh.
“I already knew she was pursuing someone,” Ingrid says at the same time and they, all three, turn to her as they had when she’d announced, halfway through a game of tag, that she was to be betrothed to Felix’s brother.
Just as he’d done back then –
“Impossible,” Felix says reflexively.
And just as she had done all those years back, Ingrid shrugs a shoulder dismissively as if the topic were not worth pursuing.
Goddess, he hated that gesture then and he hates it now.
“Impossible,” Felix repeats. As if he could will her words to be wrong.
Byleth didn’t … she –
“’s not the sort to go swooning after –“ he makes a face, “men.”
“Maybe not during the war,” Ingrid flips idly through the new Imperial books. She tucks a strand of hair behind her ear and hums in thought, “…And she didn’t exactly have time before to ‘swoon after men’ as you put it. Both before and during the war …”
In Felix’s periphery, Dimitri bows his head, shamefaced.
“I think the Professor deserves a little happiness,” Ingrid says.
The words prickle at Felix’s skin, buzzing in his periphery. There was something distinctly irritating about them.
“Indeed,” Dimitri agrees before Felix can provide a retort, “The Professor has sacrificed much for us. It is only right she thinks of herself for once. I expect we, all four of us, will do all we can to see that she does achieve happiness.”
“Mmm,” Sylvain hums, a little note of something in his voice that grates on Felix’s nerves, “She does deserve it, doesn’t she, Felix?”
He blinks at the question, a little stung to find it aimed towards him.
“Obviously,” he snaps.
Felix wasn’t the bastard people made him out to be. He wasn’t incapable of tenderness and consideration. His friends were his friends. He’d played his part for all of them. Be it hanging around the cathedral making sure a certain boar didn’t gouge himself to death with his own tusks, putting Miklan down before he could stitch any more lasting insults to Sylvain’s thick-skin, or ensuring Ingrid’s more shameless suitors never dared pen her name ever again.
He could do the same for Byleth and he says as much.
Sylvain makes a noise in the back of his throat, a slow smile spreading over his face, “In that case …”
“You don’t have to call me that, Felix,” Byleth does quite roll her eyes, but her face twitches, meaning she would very much like to, “It’s been years since I’ve held a lecture or graded a paper.”
“You’re still teaching us,” Felix says, stirring an old argument just to see her wrinkle her nose. It was a quirk she’d adopted back during the academy days and had been the first little expression she’d ever shown him. He smirks at the sight of it.
She steps to his right as if to walk past him and raises an eyebrow at him when he leans against the doorframe, effectively blocking her path.
“I’m sorry Felix. I don’t have time for a spar today, unfortunately,” Byleth looks contrite, “I have to pick up a few gifts. Anna mentioned –“
“I’ll go with you.”
“A few new –“ Byleth stalls and that’s not fair. He doesn’t think the simple statement was worthy of so much suspicion. Slowly, she reiterates, “I’m going to the marketplace.”
“And I said I’ll go with you,” he scoffs, “You know I hate repeating myself.”
“Yes… almost as much as you hate idle shopping.”
“I like it fine,” he lies and refuses to fidget under her stare.
“I’ll be a while.”
“You speak as if I’m Sylvain or Annette. I know to wait – “
“It’s for a private matter.”
“We’ve bunkered in a camp together during the war and you’ve told me tales of your old merc days. What could possibly be so private –“
"I’m buying a phallus.”
“No, you’re not,” Felix chokes on his own spit, realizing what she’d just said. It feels like his entire head’s gone aflame. She was not going to do that. Not in broad daylight, surely. He grimaces, remembering Byleth’s lack of shame and little care for propriety. Goddess, maybe – he refuses to allow himself to think on the idea any longer, only narrows his eyes and firmly decrees, “You’re not.”
For a half-second, she looks as if she might dig her heels in and declare that she is – Byleth can be contrary like that.
He glowers and digs his own heels in, “I’m accompanying you regardless.”
Her expression flickers, a there and gone little movement she tries to smooth away behind her typical stoicism. She’s trying to hide. As if he weren’t capable of reading her many micro-expressions by this point. As if he hadn’t sat by her side after Jeralt, after Dimitri’s rampages, after Dimtri’s revival – after a thousand and one moments and drank in every twitch and sigh.
He squares his shoulders as if he were facing her down on the training grounds.
“I heard you were looking for a courting gift.”
At the declaration, Byleth’s expression goes slack, pale cheeks coloring rapidly and for a moment the person before him is nearly unrecognizable. Not the Ashen Demon with her cool indifference. Not the professor that cared too much for anyone and everyone. Not the general that pushed them on Enbarr with grief she held close to her chest and remorse she should not be responsible for carrying.
No, the person standing before him now is Byleth and only Byleth. Without guard or armor. So painfully vulnerable, Felix has a delirious half-second where he wants to wrap her up in his arms for safe-keeping.
“I – you – Sylvain,” the last bit is spoken like a swear. She looks to the right as if she might have him materialize there out of sheer force of will if only to kick his head in. With a shaking breath, she says, “You were –“
“I can help.”
Byleth’s mouth closes with a click, eyes wide.
Felix clears his throat, trying to summon Dimitri’s congeniality, “You’ve done a lot for us … ‘s only right we help you out where we can. If this person –“ he grimaces when the word comes out sharp, “Is that important you’d go to Sylvain of all people, I imagine you’d welcome any help.”
Byleth stares at him, mystified and more than a little shocked. He’s half tempted to snap his fingers in her face but quickly dissuades himself of the notion, aware of how rude such a gesture would be.
“… I see.”
She doesn’t sound like she does. Her voice is faint and disbelieving. She frowns as if he’d given her a particularly different problem she needed to work out a strategy too instead of a simple offer to help.
"Is it really so unbelievable I’d do something kind?” Felix asks, a touch self-conscious.
"No, no,” Byleth says slowly as if testing the words out for herself. Her expression pulls in too many directions for him to understand and he shifts on one foot, distinctly uncomfortable with her reaction. Surely – he wasn’t so much of a bastard a simple offer would have alarmed her so. After a moment, she squares her jaw and straightens, “Yes… you can help. You might be the best person to ask actually…”
At his questioning look, Byleth grimaces and offers, “You … share some similarities to the person I’m …courting…”
He frowns. A part of him dislikes that. As if it weren’t enough the boar insisted on comparing him to Glenn at every damn turn. Now his Byleth – he pauses, testing the newfound irritation on his tongue.
Byleth’s not a poor gifter. He’d bore witness to all too many joyful exclamations from Annette, moments of soft gratitude from Dedue, and delighted cheers from Sylvain.
But when she waves a stuffed cat in his face, he wonders…
"Are they a child?”
She tilts the cat’s head down and tucks its tail between its legs, making it look downright miserable.
He scowls at the action, even harder when he realizes the damn thing was wearing a familiar set of Kingdom armor and a pair of swords tucked to its side. He outright growls when he spies the set it’s a part of – a set consisting of a lion with a massive blue cape and a pair of horses with over-sized lances.
The merchant catches his accusatory glare and looks away, pretending he is counting his wares. His wife only raises a brow at Felix, chin jutting out as if daring him to comment.
Felix startles when something bats his nose, swatting out instinctively and slapping a paw away.
Byleth gives him a falsely contrite look, pretending she is not hiding a smile behind the damn thing’s head.
“It’s cute,” Byleth insists.
Her expression flickers, posture shifting –
He blocks the attempt at his nose with his scabbard, too well trained against her movements. Disgruntled, Byleth tries again, right foot sliding –
The merchant’s wife coughs loudly, raising an eyebrow at both of them.
“Tch,” Felix scoffs, tugging the neck of his shirt over his face.
Byleth sets the cat down and makes it wave him farewell in a deep solemn voice. He resolutely ignores both that and the significant look the merchant’s wife gives him, pretending his stomach does not flutter as he walks away.
“Well, you have a lot of hair,” Byleth utters a little swear and Felix catches a falling pin, grimacing when she pokes him the wrong way with another, “And a lot of pins.”
“Should I let it fly into my eyes as you do?” he asks, grinning when she mutters, “Watch your tongue. I still best you five to three, Fraldarius.”
He closes his eyes as her knuckles drag over the nape of his neck. She’s not clumsy –
"I used to braid my father’s hair.”
– but not what he’d consider particularly gentle. He grunts when she pulls just a little too hard, a little spark of lightning rushing over his skin as if he’d stuck his hand into someone else’s Thoron bolt.
“Ow,” he breathes out on a low exhale, needing a distraction from the curious heat that comes over him.
It suddenly becomes hard to stand still for her and he becomes all too aware of the scratch of her nails and her steady breathing.
“Have you considered cutting it?” she asks abruptly.
She holds his hair up in a fist and then twists around to examine his face. The motion puts her close enough his heart stops. Her hair hangs over him like a veil, closing them in and ensuring she is all he sees. There’s chamomile on her breath and he can count out each fine lash over her eyes. As ever, her gaze holds him still, pinning him as easily as her sword does –
“Are you done?” he snaps, ducking away from her because the other option – the one his traitorous animal mind has offered – was to kiss her and – what, he can’t – that’s –
He sucks in a cold breath, grateful for the sudden cold breeze, praying it would beat away the color on his face. He doesn’t think of Byleth like that. Can’t. Not when she favored someone else.
His skin pricks with each light pull and he grits his teeth against a full-bodied shiver when her thumb catches just below his earlobe, behind his jawline. Her hand curves over the back of his neck, squeezing briefly as she catches the rest of his hair and it makes him want to writhe out of his skin. Or beg for more.
He holds a pillow over that last thought and smothers it to death, half-mad as he works himself into a frenzy of jumbled thoughts and unfamiliar emotions.
"Done,” Byleth pats him on the back and he lets out a careful sigh of relief, “What do you think?”
He stands to full height when she steps around him, tossing his head a little and hiding his face, “It’s heavy.”
From the corner of his eyes, something blue bobbles. He reaches back, finding a stream of ribbon and some flowers attached to the clip.
“Ah,” Byleth sounds disappointed. Looks it too. She toys idly with the ribbon, holding it briefly against his shirt. The blue is a perfect match and he – well, he doesn’t know what to makes of that, especially when she adds, “A shame. I thought it suited you.”
His mind fuzzes out at that. There was something to the tone of her voice and the little frown between her brows.
“’s not for me,” he croaks out, heartbeat a flutter in his throat. Wishful thinking was dangerous and idiotic. He had never been the sort to indulge. But still, as Byleth toys with the tail end of a ribbon that matches his attire, he can’t help but imagine …
“Tea? What could they possibly do with tea?”
The look Byleth gives him is infinitely patient.
"They could drink it.”
Felix purses his lips, “Why not wine?”
Byleth raises a brow and drops the loose Almyran pine back in its burlap. She touches a hand to her chin in thought and then fixes him with an assessing gaze.
“Do you like wine?”
Not particularly. But he drank it, like everyone else.
He raises a shoulder, remembering the time a seven-year-old Dimitri had mistaken a glass of forgotten ale for his own drink and then spat it out right into Felix’s face. He wrinkles his nose at the memory.
“That would be a no,” Byleth snorts. She casts an uncertain look back at the tea.
“Again. It’s not a gift for me,” Felix reminds her. He hopes that doesn’t sound as bitter to her ears as it does his. He pretends to take an interest in the Crescent-Moon blend, “It’s just a more traditional courting gift.”
“Ah, yes – I forget, you are ever the expert.”
He shoots her a dirty look.
“Sylvain suggests wine. Flowers. Sweets,” he wrinkles his nose in disgust and adds, “Oil.”
Byleth chuckles at the last suggestion and he watches the way laughter lightens her entire face. She really didn’t do that often enough and he finds that he likes seeing it. A little pitter of something he doesn’t want to acknowledge trips in his chest.
Her favored would get to see more of those than he would…
“Wine. Flowers. Sweets. Sadly, he doesn’t care for any of them. And oil …” she casts him a side-long glance, “That would be presumptuous of me. I wouldn’t want him to think me uncouth. He is a noble after all…”
He winces at the sharpness in his voice, quieting the other questions that blot his throat.
Were they of Leicester? Kingdom? Empire …?
It would make sense as to why she did not pursue them openly during the war. Consorting with a potential enemy during the war was a dangerous game. That she was able to pursue them now meant they were not dead; but, there were few nobles remaining – Caspar, Lindhardt, Ferdinand …
He narrows his eyes at her.
Byleth makes a face, her expression pinching. She obviously hadn’t meant to let it slip.
“They’re a noble,” she confirms grimly as if the admittance were worthy of such gravitas. Was it actually an Empire noble?
“That’s …” Felix struggles for the word, swallowing away the instinct to spit something vitriolic. He finally decides on, “Surprising.”
Byleth’s shoulders hunch, “I’m aware that despite everything, I’m a commoner, Felix.”
He sucks in a sharp breath that cuts on his teeth, “Don’t be idiotic, archbishop –“
Byleth makes a face.
“You outrank the stinking lot of them now and you still would have as a commoner.”
“I don’t think that’s how –“
“Why are you pursuing a noble of all people? You hate the bunch of them – don’t give me that look – what’d you call the Leicester pack? Bunch of stinking hounds–“
She pinches his sides and he ignores it.
“Snakes. Con men –“
“Felix…” a clear warning in her tone.
“And it was all damn true,” he says, crossing his arms, “Power-hungry dogs, the lot of them –“
“They’re not from Leicester,” Byleth tugs him insistently away from the stall, around the bend to the fishing pond.
Too late, he realizes, there is an old Leicester flag hanging in front of the stall they’d been perusing. Not like he cares. There are more important things to occupy his mind.
“Empire then – “
He glowers, remembering the tea they’ve left behind. Ferdinand –
“No,” Byleth says and then closes her mouth, frowning at him, “I’m not telling you before him.”
She makes a face he doesn’t understand.
“You could do better than some nobleman.”
“You’re a nobleman,” Byleth reminds him.
“So is Sylvain.”
Byleth snorts, “So he is.”
“And you could do better than the entire bunch of them. You’re strong and bea –“ he cuts himself off, his entire face heating up when he realizes what he’d been about to say.
Like a hound, Byleth seizes on the word he’d choked off and steps into his space. There’s something in her gaze, weighted and heavy. It sends his heart racing.
“Clever? Quick?” she touches a hand to her face in blatant mimicry of some of the portraits of noblewomen hung in Faerghus castle, her mouth twitching a little as she lets her voice drop low, “Fair?”
Felix growls at her for the tease, his entire body set alight with the closeness of her. Words stumble and trip on his tongue, trying to leave his mouth and failing utterly.
“Fine,” he grinds out after a long moment’s struggle.
That’s not a yes,” Byleth sighs and looks away, appearing forlorn – he can see the smile threatening to break through dammit – as she sighs, “Only strong – like a mule horse …“
“You know that’s not what I was going to say.”
Byleth tilts her head at him, eyes wide as if she were innocuous and not a conniving little –
He resists, jutting out his chin stubbornly, forgetting that Byleth had tailed after Dimitri in the thick of his madness with a terrifying single-minded determination and could be just as stubborn. They hold there, at an impasse, until the silence and the timid – damn lies, Byleth’s never been timid a day in her life – looks she gives him from beneath her lashes become too much.
With lets out a deep sigh, dragged out from the very depths of him, “You’re beautiful –“
He grunts into an impact, the entire world spinning out before Byleth’s –
– She was kissing him.
Her hand curls beneath his chin, holding his jaw as her other hand holds his waist, drifting around to grasp –
He utters a low, shocked gasp against her mouth, entire body going weak as he parts his lips, allowing her entrance –
“You –“ he snarls when she selects that very moment to pull away, his heartbeat a roar in his ears and growing louder still at the softly pleased smile she’s wearing.
“I think you’re beautiful too,” she breathes against his mouth and he grabs her waist, holding her close against him.
“I’m the noble,” he says, senselessly, the realization making his head spin.
“You’re the noble,” she confirms and when he does not release her from his grip, drags her hands down his back in a long exploratory feel. She makes a face at him, “Do I still have to buy you a courting gift? You’re a terrible pain to shop for and Sylvain says I’m not allowed to buy you a sword...”
Sylvain … Felix growls, recalling the request Sylvain had first asked of him. Tricky bastard.
“… Forget the courting gift,” he grits out. He glances about them, and seeing no one, allows his hand to slip down the small of her back as he bends down to kiss the smirk from her face.