Winning the battle is only the beginning. The war still raged on and there was no stopping the emotional turmoil that followed closely behind each kill, lurking behind the high of victory, only to attack soldiers in a way they couldn’t defend against.
As the bodies piled up, so too did the regrets, and Felix’s pile was growing larger by the day.
His legs ached from all the walking. Though Arianrhod wasn’t terribly far from the monastery, the last battle had left his knees feeling weak. When he had mentioned it in passing to Bernadetta, she had insisted that he go visit that green-haired snob of a healer, but even he couldn't explain why he was feeling so weak.
Sylvain had spent a lot of time with Dorothea on their march back, leaning on her shoulder and whispering in her ear while she patted his back or held his hand, actions that were about as effective as putting a bandage on a gaping wound with the hopes it would stop the bleeding. He was grateful that someone could fill the role of supportive and sympathetic friend, because Felix certainly couldn’t, but her soft touches couldn’t make the horror they just faced any more bearable.
He hadn’t spoken to Sylvain since the middle of battle. He would feel bad about it but it seemed like they were avoiding each other. Sylvain refused to hold eye contact with him and Felix couldn’t say he minded.
Upon their return to the monastery, he had tried to force himself to fall back into routine, immediately heading to the training grounds to clear his mind. Though once he was there, he had to deal with Caspar and Shamir skirting around him with sympathetic looks on their faces
He grabbed a couple training swords and dummies and hauled them back to his room. He could practice just fine on his own.
Escaping into his room was probably for the best, anyways. It grated on his nerves like nothing else to watch the others prance around the hallways, smiling or laughing in the face of this awful war. The way they spoke with each other, so pleased with the victory they just secured, without a single thought for the dead Kingdom soldiers that they had brutally cut through.
But what was worse was watching Sylvain with them, plastering on that stupid fake smile of his and flirting with anything with a heartbeat, in an attempt to show everyone he was fine.
Felix could see through it and it pissed him off to no end that nobody else could.
Ingrid would have been able to. And probably Dimitri, too...
He had taken to visiting the dining hall late at night to avoid seeing anyone. Initially, the head chef seemed irritated but after a couple of days, she had started leaving small rations on the table for him to prepare himself. He hadn't thanked her yet.
It was during the return of one of these late night retreats that he came back to find someone outside his room, knocking insistently, trying to speak quietly but also make his voice heard through the door.
“Come on, Felix,” Sylvain was pleading as his knuckles tapped relentlessly on the wood. “Open up. I know you’re in there. I just wanna talk to you. I miss seeing you skulking around the training grounds.”
His scoff startled his friend to turn. At the sight of him, Sylvain offered him a smile. Although it didn’t quite reach his eyes like it used to, it was more genuine than the ones he had been sporting to the others. That was the only reason Felix didn’t immediately send him away.
“If you think comments like that were going to get me to open my door, you’re dumber than I thought,” Felix drawled as he approached the door and pushed it open. Sylvain paused on the threshold and Felix frowned at the hesitation.
“It wasn’t locked,” he prompted, careful to leave the door open in an unassuming way as he moved further into the room. “You could have just walked in.”
At his words, Sylvain’s shoulders released some of their tension and he followed him inside, letting the door fall shut softly behind him. “Ahh, I didn’t want to make you mad.”
“Since when have you ever cared about doing that?”
Sylvain chuckled. “Fair enough.”
Felix busied himself with unequipping his sword and tying his hair back up as Sylvain situated himself leaning against the wall. Typically, Sylvain acted like a pest when in his room, lounging about on his furniture or snooping through his books. The fact that he looked so uncomfortable now tipped Felix off that something was wrong.
“So,” Sylvain started easily, his eyes flickering to the training dummy in the corner of his room. “I guess this is what you’ve been up to for the past couple days, huh?”
Felix remained silent as he continued preparing himself for what was probably going to be a restless sleep.
“You know, you’d get more use out of those if you had a bigger space to train,” Sylvain supplied his unhelpful opinion. “If only there was a room in the monastery that you could use for that?”
Felix snorted. As if Sylvain had ever made use of the training grounds in his life. “It’s a miracle you even know it exists,” he snapped. “I doubt you could find your way there if your life depended on it.”
“Maybe so,” he hummed in response. “Girls don’t want to go on dates to the training grounds, so why would I bother learning where it is?”
“Did you need something, Sylvain?” Felix sighed as he turned to face him. Once Sylvain started talking about girls, it was difficult to get him to shut up, so Felix was determined to stop that line of conversation as quickly as possible. “Or is there no one else you can irritate at this time of night?”
“I’m sure I could find someone,” Sylvain quipped, never one to let a barb go unanswered. “You’re the most fun, though.”
Felix raised his eyebrows. He was positive the descriptor “fun” had never been applied to him, especially not of late. Sylvain sighed.
“The professor’s been asking me about you,” he revealed, the playfulness in his voice fading as he finally got around to talking about what he intended when he first came to seek Felix out. “Says she’s worried about you, since you haven’t showed up to war meetings or training for a while.”
“Did she?” Felix hummed. While he knew his professor meant well, he wasn’t sure he would be able to face her just yet, or any of his other allies, especially the likes of Edelgard or Hubert. Besides, it had only been a week; there was no reason for any concern. “Why didn’t she come see me herself? Why send you?”
He was expecting a joke about how radical it would be for a professor to visit one of her students so late at night and he was ready to point out that they weren’t students anymore.
“She didn’t send me,” Sylvain said, looking a little hurt. “I’m here because I’m also worried.”
Felix pushed his guilt down at his low expectations for his friend. “There’s no reason to be concerned. I’m fine.”
Sylvain’s hands settled on his hips. “You know I know you better than that.”
“Hmph.” Felix glanced away. It bothered him because Sylvain was right; he did know him better than that.
“Felix, just because you don’t care about other people, doesn’t mean they don’t care about you.”
“If you have nothing important to say, can you get out?” Felix asked, frustration finally reaching the tipping point as he tried to weave his way around having this conversation. “I have last minute training to do and I’m tired.”
For a moment, Felix thought Sylvain was actually about to listen to him, but he should have known that was too much to hope for.
“I really think we should talk about it.”
A pause. “Your dad.”
His spine stiffened in spite of himself and his hands curled into fists to hide any tremors that might give him away. “There’s nothing to say,” he assured, looking away towards the ground. “It’s done.”
“Talking about it won’t bring him back,” he pointed out. “You remember when Glenn died. All anyone wanted me to do was talk about it. I’m sure you’re aware of how much I enjoyed those conversations.”
“I know, but this is different,” Sylvain insisted.
“This time you’re the one who killed him.”
The words were sharp but they were only a dull knife, prodding uselessly at wounds that had already been torn open. Sylvain would never be cruel enough to actually cut him and Felix had thicker skin than most.
Letting out a long suffering sigh, he relented to the care of his friend, knowing that declining the offer would only cause Sylvain to stay here longer and prevent him from sleeping. “Fine. I’ll talk to you. But on one condition.”
“Name it,” Sylvain chimed, reaching his arms up and folding his hands behind his head, clearly pleased he had broken through Felix’s defences so easily. Felix clenched his teeth.
“You have to stop pretending that you’re okay, too.”
At the request, Felix could see the walls Sylvain had built come crumbling down, turning into nothing but worthless debris at his feet. His resolve never was very strong anyways, not when he was talking to Felix.
He kept his gaze steely, refused to let Sylvain’s sad puppy eyes tug at his heart and make him ask to put the facade up again, if only so Felix didn’t have to see his pain so openly.
They fell into silence as their emotions seemed to come to a standstill, the waves of sorrow and regret settling down between them.
“I don’t know what you’re expecting me to say.” Felix’s words stirred the silence once his patience had worn out and it was clear Sylvain had no idea how to broach the subject.
Sylvain opened his mouth and quickly closed it. Apparently, he hadn’t thought this far ahead. Typical. Always jumping into situations without a battle plan. Reckless.
Perhaps he wasn’t even expecting to be let into Felix’s room at all. The thought left a bitter taste in his mouth.
“I just wanted to make sure you were okay,” Sylvain explained lamely, brow furrowing as if he realized how stupid the words sounded out loud.
“I’m fine,” he repeated. When had he ever not been fine with violence? With blood and war and death? They were second nature to him, an old friend’s embrace, something he knew and could understand.
“I know what it’s like to cut down family,” Sylvain told him, a dark shadow passing over his eyes as they lost their sparkle completely.
“You still cared for your brother,” Felix accused. He tried to rein in his anger; his issues with Sylvain and his brother weren’t what they were here to talk about but he couldn’t stop at least a little hostility from leaking out. “Like a fool. Despite everything he did, you still cared for him. That’s what made it so difficult.”
“You cared for your father,” Sylvain pointed out, unphased by the insult.
“Hmph. Did I?” The juvenile comeback sounded whiny, even to his own ears, and he almost cringed. His hands clenched as he resisted the urge to cross his arms.
“Of course you did, Felix.” Sylvain sounded exasperated. “He was your father.”
“What would you even know about it?” he snapped, feeling himself beginning to lose his grip on his carefully controlled emotions. Anger was easier than whatever this was. “You weren’t even there. You were across the battlefield.”
“I was where the professor positioned me,” Sylvain corrected with a frown. “But I could still see from my vantage point. There’s no mistaking his magic, plus I always know where you are.”
The kind sentiment was lost on Felix as he refused to focus on the words, to let them comfort him in the way Sylvain intended. He didn’t deserve it.
He also couldn’t explain the reason as to why he was so angry about Sylvain’s lack of proximity to him. Who was he to argue with where the professor positioned someone in battle? He was no tactician, as much as he would like to think otherwise. Even still, Sylvain being so far away from him on the battlefield made him especially nervous.
Perhaps Sylvain didn’t wish to be by his side. What kind of person would want to stand by to watch someone cut down their own father without thinking twice? He hadn’t hesitated, not even when his father began his accusations. The battlefield was no place for conversations.
The realization terrified him in a way nothing else had been able to. Mindless killing was something he loathed. He detested the idea of one being driven by their bloodlust and nothing else. There had to be a cause, an arguable reason for the violence, but as he tried to look back on it, he could find none in himself.
He didn’t believe in this cause, not really. Edelgard’s ideals only led to more violence and death, two things which she promised she would put a stop to. It was just another atrocity brought on by the existence of Crests.
Some of his emotions must have leaked onto his face, as Sylvain was staring at him with open concern in his eyes as he leaned forward. His name rang urgently through the room, as if Sylvain had called him before but got no response.
He didn’t deserve the concern, he knew that. Sylvain should know that too. And yet here he was, with that stupid face that so clearly said he wanted to help him... Felix wanted to make him leave but there was a stronger part of him that wanted Sylvain close by.
“Did you know he didn’t even hit me?” His voice came out shakier than he’d like and he cleared his throat to try and fix it, though, that did nothing to ease the pressure building behind his eyes. “The idiot shot magic right at me, completely predictable, and I dodged it as easily as I could dodge hits from my trainer as a six year old.”
Sylvain was quiet. It might have been lack of a ready response or maybe he was just waiting for Felix to continue. He wasn’t sure; he was too busy making sure he didn’t start crying like some emotional fool who was too weak to handle the consequences of war.
“And I just struck him with my sword,” he added once he was sure his voice was steady. “Twice. Quickly. He barely even screamed.”
He paused, unsure how much more he should divulge, how much he could before his persona started to deteriorate beyond reconstruction.
“You know what’s the worst?” he asked without waiting for a real answer. “I don’t feel right. I’m sure there’s sadness and regret in me somewhere but mostly I just… I’m frustrated.”
He felt something run down his cheek but he barely registered he was crying. He tried to brush the tear away as subtly as possible but by the way Sylvain’s breath caught, he knew he had noticed.
“Frustrated that he couldn’t defend himself worth a damn. He’s supposed to protect Fraldarius and he couldn’t even defend himself against a kid with a sword. I didn’t… I didn’t want to kill him. I know I say… but he’s still my dad...”
Sylvain sniffed but Felix continued on, ignoring the way the sound only increased the weight on his heart.
“He just wouldn’t listen to me.” The anger returned swiftly but he couldn’t pinpoint its origin. “He didn’t even think to hear me out, hear why I took this side. He immediately chose to back that boar instead of his own damned son!”
He let himself get lost in the familiar feeling of irritation and rage. It was comforting, in some strange, twisted way, and it was the only way he could think to handle this entire situation, to fall back into what he knew best.
“I’m sure him and Glenn are meeting up somewhere, watching and waiting, hoping this war will cut my life short and banish me into the depths of hell, where I belong.”
“Don’t say stuff like that.” Sylvain finally cut in to put a stop to his rambling as he pleaded with a shaky voice and took a step towards him. “Did… did you ever think that maybe… maybe he didn’t hit you because he didn’t want to --”
“Do not even finish that sentence,” he snarled. “The only way I can… I have to believe that he intended to kill me, Sylvain. I have to.”
Sylvain nodded but Felix could see his desire to try and convince him otherwise, that his father cared for him. Maybe he did, at one point. But Felix had ruined that five years ago, after they found themselves on different sides of the border.
“You’re wrong, anyways,” he added bitterly. “I turned my back on them, after all. On him, on the Kingdom and Dimitri, on Glenn. Why wouldn’t he want to kill me?”
“Did he say that?” Sylvain asked softly. He was still being cautious with his words, as if he were waiting for Felix to build his armour back up before speaking to him properly.
“How could he miss one last opportunity to compare me to my brother? Glenn, who died a hero, who died a knight, protecting his king and country.” Felix scoffed. “Compared to the second son, who was never enough. Is that all I am?”
“Of course not,” Sylvain immediately protested. “You were just put in a tough situation. You can’t look at it in black and white.”
“I think the distaste for patricide is pretty clear cut,” Felix snapped.
“Well, what about me?” Sylvain’s voice had risen into something resembling a yell. “I… I killed Ingrid…”
Ingrid. Felix hadn’t even given himself a moment to address that loss, his father’s death being the one to consume his mind. But he vividly remembered her dying scream and there was no way to stop his mind from recalling her fall from her Pegasus, limp body hitting the hard ground with a finality that seemed to pierce his already broken heart. Red never was her colour.
Another tear escaped him but that was all he could manage. It seemed as though his eyes had run dry, and he wasn’t particularly a crier in general. He gritted his teeth. Ingrid deserved more from him than just one measly tear.
“We both killed Ingrid,” he muttered, trying to at least alleviate some of the obvious guilt Sylvain felt. And it was true. His bow had done significant damage to her and he had been lucky Sylvain was there to cover him once she retaliated. “We killed Ingrid the moment we abandoned Faerghus.”
Leaning back, he slid down the wall until he was sitting on the floor, wrists resting on his bent knees in front of him. Standing was too tiring, grieving was too tiring, and he found himself wishing Sylvain would leave him alone again so he could fall asleep, retreat into just a couple hours of peace.
Sylvain sank to the floor beside him. Their shoulders pressed against one another and he was grateful Sylvain had thought to take off his armour before coming here. He flexed his arm and leaned into the warmth, selfishly searching for comfort from Sylvain, who looked just as broken as he felt.
“You’re a mess.” This close, he could see all the details of sadness that were unnoticeable from a distance. The way that the tears clung to Sylvain’s longer eyelashes, the way his breathing came out shaky and unsure, and how the skin under his eyes was darker than before. Seems like Felix wasn't the only one having trouble sleeping.
Even still, Sylvain chuckled and it was relieving to feel his body shake with mirth instead of misery, if only for a moment. The weight on Felix’s heart lifted slightly.
“I killed my father…” he whispered as Sylvain leaned in closer to rest his head against Felix’s. Somehow, it was easier to talk to him when they weren’t standing face to face, when he couldn’t look him in the eyes. This made him a coward but maybe that was okay, if it was only Sylvain who knew. “How does that make me any better than him?”
His voice cracked on the sentiment as realization crashed over him. He had always inherently thought he was better than Dimitri. Perhaps that was why it hurt him so much to know his father was always more loyal to him, to the Kingdom, than he was to his own son.
They were the same and yet his own father still chose Dimitri. Felix had spent all those years hating and judging him for his violence and anger, but when it came down to it, he was exactly the same. Nothing more than a mindless beast, slaying anything and anyone who dared to stand in his way.
“Maybe it doesn’t,” Sylvain answered slowly. “Maybe we’re not better than him.”
It wasn’t a comforting thought, but he was probably right. It would make sense that this stupid war would turn him into something he hated, something he wasn’t sure he could live with.
“Felix, I… I’m so sorry.”
He stiffened at the random sentiment, the pity in Sylvain’s voice piercing through him like Ingrid’s lance. “Your apologies mean nothing. I don’t want your pity or your sympathy. It wasn’t your fault I killed my old man.”
“No, I mean, I’m sorry for dragging you into this war.”
“What?” Felix shrugged himself out from under Sylvain’s head so he could glare up at him instead. “Did I miss something? Were you the one who started this war?”
“I joined the Black Eagles before you, and I bugged you so much about joining with me. And then when the time came… I couldn’t bring myself to abandon the professor, so I was stuck. But if you had just stayed in the Blue Lions house… You wouldn’t have had to be here.”
“I still would have been in this war, you half-wit,” he snapped. Fighting against his father and Ingrid had proven that -- if he wasn’t on Edelgard’s side, he would have been right next to the both of them, defending Faerghus. “And if I hadn’t joined the Black Eagles, I would have had to face you in that last battle. And then I wouldn’t be here right now. Is that what you would have preferred?”
Sylvain paled at the thought before swallowing thickly. “No…”
“Then keep your useless apologies to yourself.”
Sylvain let out a long suffering sigh and Felix chose to ignore it. Sylvain's apology was useless and empty and he had a right to know that.
“Wait…” Sylvain had never been one to sit in silence. “What do you mean, you wouldn’t be here right now? You think I can best you in battle?”
Felix remained silent. He hadn't exactly meant for that last part to slip out and was hoping Sylvain would just gloss over it.
“What’s this nonsense about you not being here if we were to fight?” He was persistent, Felix would give him that. Looks like all that skirt-chasing had done something for him after all.
“You ride a fucking wyvern,” Felix mumbled, not looking to elaborate further.
“Yeah, so? You think a wyvern rider could best you? You carry a bow.”
Sylvain looked defiant, as if that comment had settled the argument. He sighed heavily. He was beginning to miss the comforting weight of Sylvain against him, couldn’t help but feel he was quickly losing his grip again, and the fastest way to remedy that was to just tell the truth.
“Killing my father was… difficult," he began. "Killing Ingrid was worse than anything I could imagine. But if I faced you on the battlefield…” he shook his head to try and banish the image. “I’d throw down my sword before we even began. Because there’s no way I would be able to live with myself if I didn’t.”
He looked away so Sylvain wouldn’t be able to see the flush that he was sure was on his cheeks at the admission and he suddenly wished they weren’t sitting so close.
It was quiet for a moment as his words sunk in and the silence was doing nothing to ease his embarrassment. Maybe that was too much, maybe he shouldn’t have admitted such a thing after they just established what a monster he was.
He thought he should be more embarrassed when Sylvain’s fingers threaded through his own, seizing his hand and pulling it off his knee to rest in Sylvain’s lap instead, but he wasn’t.
The touch was comforting and grounding, familiar territory that allowed him to feel as if he had done something right, for once. Words of kindness and affection were difficult, nearly impossible, but actions? The basic simplicity of an action had always come easier to him.
“While I appreciate the sentiment, there’s absolutely no way I would ever let you do that.”
He started and turned to face him again. “You wouldn’t let me --?”
“If you think I could ever hurt you…” Sylvain continued with a shake of his head. “We made a promise, remember? If, by some miracle, I ever managed to best you in battle, I’d fall on my sword the moment you stopped breathing.”
“Or, more accurately, probably fall off my wyvern from a very large height.”
“Sylvain --!” Sylvain’s body replaced Ingrid’s in his mind and it took all he had not to pull him closer, keep him somewhere safe so that image would never become a reality.
“I’m not sure why you’re so surprised,” Sylvain chirped, that stupid, charming, teasing lilt making its way back into his voice, despite the morbid topic. “It’s not like I haven’t done something like that before.”
Felix’s stomach lurched at the memory. Nothing gave him nightmares like the sacrifices Sylvain made on the battlefield in order to protect his allies, especially when it was for him. “Of course. How could I forget about your reckless habit of sacrificing yourself. But jumping in front of a blade and falling on your sword are two very different things.”
“Not if they accomplish the same objective,” he responded. “Besides, I use an axe.” He had the audacity to wink at him.
The look that settled on his face must have been positively murderous because Sylvain laughed. “Hey, relax! You just said you’d do the same thing!”
“Falling on your sword and throwing down your sword aren’t the same, either,” Felix gritted out. “The former ensures death.”
“Right, because it’s not certain death to throw your sword down in a war. On the battlefield. In front of an enemy.”
“Stop being foolish.” If Sylvain wasn’t going to take this seriously, he wasn’t about to sit here and listen to him prattle on about dying in some twisted attempt to put him at ease.
The feeling of fingers tightening around his own kept him grounded and he didn’t think the grip would allow him to pull away if he wanted to.
“That was a serious promise, Felix,” he said, his tone taking on a softer, hesitant note. “Or, at least, to me it was.”
Sylvain did talk about that promise a lot. They had made it on a childish whim, neither of them truly realizing the gravity of the words due to their youth and innocence. Now they were both older and no where near innocent, but those words still strung them together. And Felix knew he would make good on that promise because both alternatives left him alone.
“I don’t make empty promises,” he replied firmly, finally allowing himself to look back into Sylvain’s eyes.
Sylvain smiled at that, a true, happy smile and Felix felt his own lips quirk up briefly to return it. The joy was fleeting but he could feel it, the first step towards a long road of healing.
“Hmm. You going back to your own room?”
At Sylvain’s hesitation, Felix knew what he was about to ask before the words left his lips. Groaning, he hauled himself to his feet and tugged Sylvain along, gesturing him to go sit on the bed. He grabbed a blanket as he settled back down next to him, tossing it over them both as Sylvain leaned into him again.
While he was exhausted, Felix wasn’t ready to let himself sleep. He had been given the chance to say what was weighing on his mind and he was reluctant to admit that it had made him feel a bit better, though he suspected that had more to do with Sylvain’s presence than the talking. But one look at him told Felix that there was more on Sylvain's mind, and he wasn’t about to take that opportunity away from him.
He’d sit by him while he worked through it, a steady presence and familiar source of strength. Sylvain deserved that from him, at least.
Felix held back his sigh as Sylvain buried his face in his shoulder. He was only ever this clingy with him when he was truly upset and on the verge of tears, and that was partly why Felix was allowing so much physical contact. When he was upset, Sylvain had given him the space he needed, even though he knew it pained him to do so. It was his turn to return the favour.
Their hands remained entwined as Sylvain held onto him like a lifeline as he fell deeper into his thoughts. Felix didn’t stop his other hand from reaching over and drawing patterns on Sylvain’s until he calmed down enough to speak.
“Sorry,” he rasped and Felix nearly flinched at how fragile his voice sounded. “I came here to try and make you feel better and all I’ve done is cry on you.” He laughed but there was no humour or happiness in the sound. “I should probably go.” The death grip in which Sylvain clutched at him contradicted his words.
“I told you to stop the stupid apologies,” Felix said, not unkindly, as he turned his head to bump his chin against Sylvain’s forehead, his nose finding it’s way into bright, messy waves. “...If I didn’t want you here, I would’ve kicked you out.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Sylvain agreed, but the tense lines of his body softened at Felix’s verbal confirmation, suggesting that he very much did doubt it.
“What’s on your mind?” he prodded. “I know there’s something bothering you, so just get it over with and tell me.” Let me help you like you helped me.
Even with the encouragement, Sylvain hesitated. Felix forced himself to wait patiently, although with each second he grew more worried about Sylvain's mental state. Slowly, he snaked his arm around his waist to pull him closer, hoping that physical contact would be enough to make him feel safer.
Sylvain let out a shaky breath. “Your brother, and mine. Your father, and now Ingrid…” He spoke lowly, his voice almost lost completely in the fabric at Felix’s shoulder. “I wonder who we’ll lose next.”
“Not each other.” It was a dangerous promise, one that he had no way to ensure he kept-- he wasn’t so arrogant as to think himself or Sylvain invincible -- but he would try his damndest. The war could take many things from him: his title, his family, friends and allies, even his own sense of self. But there was one thing that Felix would absolutely not allow the war take, would have fight him to the bitter end to pry loose from his grip.
He felt Sylvain smile into his shoulder as he pressed himself closer. “Not each other.”