When one hires a mercenary, one is prepared to see their job done for a price, and then never see the merc again. And that is what Sylvain, Margrave Gautier, was ready to do.
The job was not an exceptionally large problem, but it had been plaguing the Gautier territory for quite a while now: A group of bandits settled in the territory had grown a bit too comfortable, and Sylvain was prepared to put an end to their antagonizing, but he had no resources to spare. And so he had to rely on a group of mercenaries, or, as he soon found, just one.
Tales surrounding the man that had answered his summons preceded him, but Sylvain was hesitant to believe them. His Felix, turned to a life of reckless bloodshed, fighting for the sake of fighting and chasing death with such abandon that he struck fear into the most hardened fighters... It was not so difficult to believe as it was difficult to accept, much like the day Felix renounced his title and vanished into obscurity.
But Sylvain had no choice but to believe them now.
Standing before Sylvain, on his doorstep, it was easy to see the years had not been kind to Felix. Despite that, he was still undoubtedly the man he once knew. His hair was longer, messier. Small scars riddled his face and what was visible of his skin. He was taller, more heavily built, but not in a way that took away his natural grace. His eyes were sharp and cold.
He hardly even reacted to seeing Sylvain again, after so many years.
“You have a job for me?” Felix asked without preamble. His voice was more gruff than he remembered, raw from disuse. His hand rested on his sword hilt, shoulders relaxed, but Sylvain knew what to look for. There was a tension coiled in Felix’s body, his muscles. At any moment, he was ready to run or pounce or kill. Like a beast.
Sylvain had to swallow that thought, putting on a smile. But it was tired, pulling at his eyes. “As quick on the uptake as ever, old friend. I almost thought you were here to have tea and talk about old times. Catch up, perhaps?” His hand instinctively rubbed at his jaw, facial hair growing there that was barely a passing thought when they were in their twenties, fighting a war. It was odd to think about war now, considering how many years peace in Fodlan had reigned since. But Felix still looked like he fought one every day.
The mercenary scoffed. “I left those days behind the day I abandoned my name, Margrave Gautier. I’m just here for the pay.” But Felix’s eyes said the fight.
But maybe Sylvain’s feelings were getting easier to read as age wrote itself into his face and his defences decayed slowly but surely as time proved them unnecessary. Or maybe Felix felt guilty about brushing off his once best friend so coldly, because he conceded with a shrug and awkward sideways look that, “Maybe tea wouldn’t be so bad, though.”
It wasn’t much less awkward once they settled down in the Gautier estate’s parlour, with tea and snacks.
“So,” Sylvain started, swishing the tea in his cup around idly. “What have you been up to, Felix? It’s been quite… a while, since any one of us had heard from you. Ingrid and Ashe are always busy with Galatea territory, but they still ask after you, sometimes. Mercedes and Annette, too. We keep correspondence as they live together at Garreg Mach now. Maybe you’ve seen them on your tr…”
Felix wasn’t looking at him, had left his tea untouched, and was instead looking out the window with his arms crossed on the table. “You have a nice life here,” was all he said. Sylvain followed his gaze, and saw his children playing in the garden. The eldest, climbing trees and teasing her younger siblings from above, far from their reach. The youngest was trying to drag a wooden stick around like a sword, but when he tripped into a bush, the other three rushed to his aid. Sylvain smiled, sighing, and he could have sworn Felix smiled too.
Sylvain took a sip of his tea. “They’re a troublesome bunch, just like we used to be, but they care about each other.”
A slight laugh from across the table caught him off guard, but made him smile nonetheless. Just like old times, falling into routine like clockwork. Rusted, but still salvageable. “Oh, yeah? Hope they manage to get on Ingrid’s every nerve.”
“When she finds time to visit, they do. Ashe has always been better with kids, but they love and pester her like their own mother. Always asking when auntie Ingrid is going to come next.”
Felix was quiet for a bit after that, still watching the kids help their youngest brother and keep playing. Another huff of a laugh slipped out of the mercenary as the child burst into tears, clinging to his older sister. Leaves stuck in his peachy blonde hair. “...I didn’t even know you married.”
Sylvain took another sip of tea. It was growing colder and more unpalatable as time passed. “It was… a political marriage, if I’m being honest. I wasn’t allowed the luxury of my old habits when I became margrave, so I had to marry.” A bitter smile. “She passed last year from illness. She loved the kids, but I don’t even know if she loved me.” Whether he loved her or not was a different matter. He soon found his eyes glued to Felix, though the man’s amber eyes were still trained on whatever he saw outside. The way the wintry light lit upon Felix’s skin took Sylvain twenty-five years back, to their school days. To that cold evening at the Goddess Tower.
The memory is one he would have laughed at or discarded completely before today.
Oblivious to his musing, Felix hums. “It wasn’t like you to think so hard about something like that. Guess it goes without saying that time doesn’t wait for anyone.”
“I guess so.”
They fell into silence after that, and Felix picked up his tea cup at last, despite the tea having long gone cold. But he showed no signs of caring. And Sylvain didn’t mind the silence. Somehow they had broken down two decades of distance in just one afternoon.
Felix spent the night in the Gautier residence at Sylvain’s insistence. Though they’d spent most of it talking their way through a bottle of wine. Felix shared stories of places he’d been and fights he’d fought. Before coming to Gautier territory after hearing of the job, he was further north, fighting monsters in the mountains for an aggrieved village. The cold was where he thrived, after all, and that didn’t surprise Sylvain in the slightest, retorts coming to him with ease.
As margrave, he hadn’t been able to leave the territory, much less get into fights with how his leg had been since the war ended, so Sylvain relished in the way Felix came alive talking about foes he’d bested and people he’d saved. Maybe the tales of a bloodthirsty, fight-seeking mercenary were wrong, and Felix’s aloof disposition and unparalleled sword skills were simply… twisted by false accounts.
Sylvain wanted to be right about that.
Before they retired for the night, Felix’s hand brushed his, their eyes met. Amber on brown. And suddenly they were in the academy again. “Do you remember that promise we made?” His voice was quiet, the rough edge of disuse filing down slowly but surely.
“Of course,” Sylvain muttered back. “How could I forget it? You and me, together to the end. I almost thought you went and forgot it when you…”
Felix looked away. “There… was no place for me there. Not after the war.” His hand fell back to his side, and his face grew stony. “Not after Dimitri.”
He had no words for that. The wound was still fresh even two decades later, and he couldn’t imagine how hard it was for Felix. Sylvain tried to put it out of his mind, but the sight of Felix covered in Dimitri’s blood, face cold and twisted in pain and something unreadable, snaked its way into the back of his thoughts constantly. But he reached down and clasped Felix’s hand in his own. “You have to forgive yourself one day.” Sylvain wasn’t sure if he believed that himself.
The mercenary stilled and pulled his hand away with a jerk. “I don’t need your hollow platitudes.” And he left without looking at Sylvain again.
The mercenary departed to complete the job first thing in the morning, without so much as waiting for Sylvain to tell him “Good luck,” or “Stay safe,” or even a “You’d better survive, because I can’t follow you to the grave just yet.”
But those words went unsaid and Sylvain waited. And waited.
Until night fell, and Felix stumbled back up to Sylvain’s doorstep with the ghost of a grin on his face, escorted by Gautier knights. “It’s done,” he muttered, showing off his bloodstained hands, “Margrave.” In the dim winter moonlight, covered in blood and grinning like he was, Felix looked like a wolf. A beast of a man. The exact thing Felix had condemned in their long dead friend.
Sylvain dismissed the knights and bade Felix come inside, if only to rest before he set out again, and hand him his payment.
The sack was weighty in his hand, back to the bloodstained mercenary, and the thought of this money exchanging hands, and of Felix setting off again to continue his bloody march toward death, filled him with a sense of loneliness and fear. Fear he hadn’t felt since the war, and since the risk of losing Felix was real and present in every battle.
He heard the shift of armor and of a blade sliding into its sheath behind him. “Sylvain.”
“What if… what if you stayed?”
“The kids would love to meet you. And I’m sure Ingrid would want you safe, too. This path you’re walking isn’t…”
Felix scoffed. “Isn’t what? Healthy? I know exactly what I’m doing with myself, Sylvain. I know exactly where this path leads.”
“And it leads to your death!” Sylvain snapped. Felix stood so abruptly the chair he was sitting in clattered to the floor with the sharp sound of splintering wood. His face contorted in fury, all signs that the man Sylvain spoke to last night were gone, replaced by a wild animal.
“What else is there left for me, Sylvain?” Felix’s voice was low, even, but there was fury vibrating underneath. Fury and hurt. “I can’t stay here. Not with all this blood on my hands. Being surrounded by this… this happiness would kill me long before I died fighting.”
“But it doesn’t have to be that way, Felix. There are people who care about you, here. People who love you.”
Felix’s voice rose to a growl. “Dimitri is still dead, Sylvain. Dimitri is dead and his blood is on my hands. I could have saved him, but I didn’t. So this is my punishment.”
“I’m leaving. Forget the payment. I already got what I wanted.”
“You’d break our promise? Again?” Despite himself, despite their age, the way time had changed them, Sylvain felt like his heart was being dashed to the rocks.
Felix stopped in the doorway, but didn’t turn. “We aren’t children anymore. You can’t cling to the past. It would do you good to get that through your thick skull.”
Then he was gone, and Sylvain let him go.
Over the following years, he tried to find Felix again to no avail, until one of his searches turned up an old sword, chipped and worn beyond compare. It was rusted, but well loved, and he recognized it to be the Sacred Weapon Felix once fought with. A sword he refused to part with, even after the war.
And thus another promise was broken, another life slipped out of his grasp. The years jaded him, but this stung like nothing else.
Soon, Margrave Gautier grew deathly ill, and all he asked was to be buried alongside that sword.