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Felix is going to kill Sylvain. It’s the autumn of their thirteenth year, Sylvain is visiting House Fraldarius for the week, and Felix is going to kill him, bring him back to life, then kill him again.

“And then bring him back again?” Glenn asks, his voice faux-sweet as he follows Felix’s stomping into the house.

“Maybe!” Felix growls, his irritation growing. Glenn doesn’t seem to be taking this as seriously as he should be, which is making the whole thing worse. “He broke his leg, Glenn!”

“Yeah, and bones heal.”

“You’re so unhelpful it’s actually astonishing they made you a knight,” Felix snaps as he steps into the infirmary. Sylvain’s sitting in the corner bed, his hand propped under his chin as he stares out the window, but he rouses when he hears people coming in. He breaks out into a grin when he sees who it is.

“Felix, just who I wanted to see!” he says. “And, hey Glenn.”

“Touched as always by your enthusiasm, Sylvain,” Glenn says, ruffling Sylvain’s hair as Sylvain scowls and ducks out of the way. Felix crosses his arms, glares, and waits for his brother to stop messing around so he can properly lay into Sylvain. Glenn looks up, takes in the stormy look on Felix’s face, and holds his hands up. “Alright, I just came to check that you weren’t too badly hurt. You look like you’re well on your way to healing though, so I’m going to take off, alright?”

Sylvain grins and gives a thumbs-up. “Good to go,” he says, “the break’s been healed, and I’ll just be sore for a week or so. See ya, Glenn.”

Felix silently watches his brother leaving, absently cataloguing the fact that there’s no one else in the infirmary. Good. All the better to yell at Sylvain with.

“Alright,” Sylvain says finally, turning to fully face Felix and spreading his arms in a beckoning gesture. “Let me have it. You look angrier than Ingrid usually does.”

Felix stiffens. “You are an absolute fool,” he bites out. “Falling out of a tree? What are you, a child? I’m angry because I’ve never heard of anything more ridiculous!”

“Now, that seems unnecessarily dramatic,” Sylvain muses. “Just last week, Dimitri – “

“We’re not talking about Dimitri! Dimitri doesn’t climb up trees for no good reason!”

Sylvain brightens up. “Oh! I had a reason. Hang on, don’t go anywhere,” he says, and then he awkwardly twists to accommodate for his elevated leg and leans over the far side of the bed. The action proves to be too much for even Sylvain’s lanky body, and he flails as he starts to go over the side. Felix darts forward, instincts kicking in, and grabs his arm, hauling him back up.

“This is what I’m talking about!” Felix yells. The low-level worry that’s been burning in the pit of his stomach comes back full force, sharp and pointed as his heart jackrabbits at Sylvain’s near brush with another injury, again. “Can you think before you act for once in your life?”

“Hey, I’m always thinking,” Sylvain protests mildly, but his eyes are trained oddly downward. Felix glances lower, and snatches his hand away when he sees that he’s still gripping Sylvain’s arm. He’s close enough to count the scant, pale freckles across the bridge of Sylvain’s nose, a leftover from when he spent the last summer further south, in warmer climates, and he swallows as he steps away. The panic in his gut is joined by something else, unsettling and electric.

“Doesn’t look like it from where I’m standing,” Felix mutters, just to have something to say. Sylvain smiles at him again, but it’s a real smile this time, smaller and more genuine. Felix knows it, has it catalogued from all the years spent by Sylvain’s side as friends. “So what’s your stupid reason? Don’t lean over again, I’ll – here.” He makes his way to the other side of the bed and crouches down to see two small, rosy-red apples, and raises an eyebrow.

“Please don’t tell me,” he says, “that you fell out of a tree because you were looking for apples.”

Sylvain scratches the back of his head. “Ah. Yeah? It seemed like a good idea at the time.” Felix pinches the bridge of his nose and exhales slowly. “Now I’m less sure because you don’t look as appreciative of this as I expected you to. Come on! I worked hard for those – “

“I’m leaving,” Felix says shortly. He scoops the apples up and stands. “I’m taking these with me.”

Sylvain grins as Felix makes his way out. “Does this mean I’m forgiven?” he yells, but Felix doesn’t bother answering. The uncomfortable, foreign warmth in him is growing stronger as he remembers that he made an offhanded comment at their training this morning that he was craving apples, but most of the trees in the orchard didn’t have any good low-hanging fruit. On top of his anger, he now feels the heavy, sinking feeling of guilt.

“Why should I care?” he mutters to himself as he stalks through the halls of his home. “It’s not my fault Sylvain’s visiting and decided to be an idiot. He chose to do this. Ugh.” Despite his own rambling, his feet turn automatically to the kitchen, where he begins to pull out ingredients.

Later that evening, he slips into the infirmary, where Sylvain’s napping, and shakes him awake.

“Here,” he says gruffly, thrusting a package at Sylvain’s drowsy form. “Eat it while it’s still warm.”

Sylvain blinks at him owlishly as he unwraps the paper to reveal an apple turnover. “Oh,” he says softly. “I am forgiven.”

Felix perches on the side of the bed and pulls his own turnover out of his pocket. “I…like apples,” he says, which is as close he’s getting to saying anything real.

Sylvain grins, understanding anyway, because no matter what Felix says Sylvain is unfairly smart. “Yeah?” he says, and Felix looks away, feeling his cheeks beginning to heat up. “Okay.”

.

Being at the Officer’s Academy is infuriating for many reasons, but Sylvain isn’t one of them. It’s actually the first time in years that Felix has had a chance to keep a closer eye on Sylvain, and though they’re both more grown now, old habits die hard. He finds himself rushing to block off incoming archers and mages that Sylvain always manages to leave himself open for so many times that he begins to wonder how Sylvain ever fought for House Gautier in the years that he and Felix didn’t see each other as much.

“Professor,” he says once, very seriously, while she’s giving him a one-on-one lesson for swordsmanship, “do you ever consider benching Sylvain?”

She blinks at him, eyes wide and unreadable.

“Why would I do that?” she asks. “I thought you two were friends…”

Felix stiffens. “We are,” he says. “That’s why I’m asking. Sylvain never takes his training seriously, and he’s always open to ranged attacks. I’m always running around, making sure he isn’t getting hit. Frankly, one of these days I’m not going to be fast enough, and then – are you…are you laughing?” His impassioned rant comes to an end as he sees that Byleth’s grip on her sword has loosened and she’s brought her guard hand up to cover her mouth. He can’t be sure, but he sees her shoulders shaking slightly.

“No,” she denies, but her voice is higher. Felix’s eyes narrow.

“You are,” he says crossly. “Only Ingrid laughs at me like that.”

Byleth takes her hand away from her face, and now he can see the slightly turned up corners of her mouth. It was disconcerting at first, the way Byleth seemed expressionless, but they’ve caught on to how to read her now – Felix isn’t sure if that’s better or worse, because now they can all tell when she thinks they’re being stupid.

“Alright,” she says. “I am laughing at you a little. And if I were Ingrid, I wouldn’t have done you the courtesy of pretending I wasn’t.”

“It isn’t a joke. It was a serious request.”

She sighs. “Sylvain is a very talented cavalier, and I know you know that. He’s well on his way to becoming certified as a paladin already. Is he weak to ranged attacks up on his mount? Maybe, but it’s nothing he couldn’t handle if he wanted to. The reason he doesn’t, is because he has teammates.”

Felix frowns. “What?”

“You really do fight like you’re a lone wolf,” she says, shifting her stance and bringing her sword back up. “But when we deploy for missions, we’re a team. Sylvain has adjusted his style of fighting to complement your skills, to trust you to focus on the enemies he doesn’t focus on. It’s why I’m confident when I send the two of you out to fight near each other.”

He’s never thought of it like that. Sylvain, using actual tactics? Sylvain, not running straight into a problem with the confidence that his cocky smile will get him out of it? Felix has spent his entire childhood running after Sylvain, trying to make sure the idiot doesn’t get killed. It’s hard to grow out of.

“Hmph,” he says, instead of addressing the nagging guilt of Sylvain might sometimes be smarter than me. “Fine.”

However tactical it might be, it doesn’t stop his heart from leaping into his throat every time Sylvain takes a hit that he’s slower to counter from atop his horse. In the Oghma Mountains, when they’re chasing bandits through a narrow side pass, he’s a second too late and he sees the thief slice into Sylvain’s chest and arm, clean and targeted to the area where his armor’s bent out of place from earlier in the fight.

Felix yells, blood rushing through his ears as he sees the way Sylvain sways in his saddle, the grip on his lance faltering, and he sprints forward in time to kick the thief’s legs out from under him when he’s lining up for a second swing and slash his sword down. The thief crumples to the ground, but Felix only has eyes for Sylvain, who’s slowly pitching forward as blood streams down his armor.

That idiot, Felix thinks wildly as he darts forward. “Work with me, Em,” he whispers to Sylvain’s horse before he grabs the pommel and hoists himself up into the saddle behind Sylvain. Emmeline, a beautiful black-coated horse who usually hates Felix’s guts, whinnies and somehow, miraculously, responds to Felix grabbing the reins and jerks into action, galloping down the battlefield towards where Felix remembers he last saw Mercedes and Byleth, the only two with heal spells.

He wraps his free hand around Sylvain’s chest and pulls tight, trying to keep the man upright. Sylvain’s head tips backwards until he’s resting against Felix’s shoulder, his cheek pressed to Felix’s. Felix flushes, his adrenaline and panic bleeding into the warm feeling that always erupts in him when it comes to Sylvain.

“Hurts,” Sylvain whispers lowly. Felix curses.

“Come on,” he says urgently, “come on, Sylvain, use that big head of yours to stay awake for just a little while longer.”

“Big head,” Sylvain responds nonsensically. Felix makes a strangled, frustrated noise, but the cold grip of terror on his heart loosens when he sees Byleth up ahead, who turns and immediately swings herself up onto Dimitri’s horse when she sees them coming. The two horses meet in the middle of the field, slowing and stopping, and Byleth holds out a hand as soon as she’s within range, white light pouring out of one hand as she uses the other to keep a firm grip on Dimitri’s cloak as she leans precariously over the side of the horse to reach Sylvain.

“Blood loss?” Dimitri asks, his face pale as he takes in the sight. Felix’s arm is half-covered with blood, and he doesn’t even know how much of it is his from the light scrapes he’s taken this battle and how much of it is Sylvain’s.

“Looks like it,” Felix answers, short and clipped. “I wasn’t fast enough.”

Dimitri frowns. “Don’t beat yourself up, it looks like you got here with him in time.” Sure enough, he can feel Sylvain stirring under him as Byleth finishes up her healing spell.

“Is he going to be okay?” Felix asks urgently.

“If you let go of the chokehold you have on me and let me breathe, I’ll be okay,” Sylvain says weakly, raising his head, and Felix sighs as all the tensions drains out of his body. He lets go of Sylvain.

“I would hit you right now for your stupidity if you weren’t so weak,” Felix says sharply. It’s a testament to how tired Sylvain must actually be that he doesn’t say anything; he slumps back slightly into Felix.

“Can we go home?” Sylvain asks hoarsely. “I think that’s it for me for the day, honestly. Sorry, professor.”

“It’s my fault,” Byleth says apologetically. “We weren’t briefed for the beast that appeared on our side, so I pulled Ashe out of your range for a second to break the shield, and I didn’t send him back to deal with the rest of the thieves with you in time.”
Sylvain waves his hand. “It happens. Anyway, I knew you were in range for a heal, so it was fine.”

Felix grits his teeth. It certainly wasn’t fine, he thinks, and Sylvain’s blood left on Felix’s armor is proof of that.

Byleth looks carefully at both of them. “Can you two get back to the monastery? I’ll send Ashe and Ingrid a few paces behind you, so you shouldn’t be caught off guard by any enemies. I just want to scout a little deeper into these woods and make sure we didn’t miss any stragglers.”

“I’ll go with you,” Dimitri says immediately, starry-eyed, and Felix rolls his eyes. Always so fucking obvious, he thinks.

“I’ll get Sylvain back,” Felix says curtly. “We’ll see you back at the monastery, professor.” To the boar, he doesn’t even bother with a farewell.

The ride back is silent for the longest time, which leaves Felix uncomfortable and increasingly irritated until Sylvain quietly says, “Felix, I’m fine. I would have been fine even if you hadn’t jumped in.”

“You don’t know that,” Felix snaps. “Can’t you admit for once that you didn’t have everything under control?”

Sylvain snorts. “I always have things under control.”

Sure, Felix thinks bitterly, sure. Sylvain, always in control, always so charming, always two steps ahead of Felix as Felix runs behind, desperately trying to catch up and hold on.

“Shut up,” Felix says instead, caustically. “You’ve lost so much blood you can’t think straight.”

Sylvain sighs, and there’s silence for another stretch, long enough that the spires of the monastery come into view again. When he finally talks again, it’s a much lower, more defeated voice.

“It’s nice to know you’ve got my back when we’re fighting,” Sylvain says. “Sometimes, with the way you act…I’m not always sure of that. So, displays like this don’t bother me as much as they clearly bother you.”

Sylvain can’t see it because Felix is riding behind him, but he can feel himself flush crimson at the words, so honest and open. The ultimate difference between the two of them is that Sylvain, for all his faults and his weaponization of his charisma, always breaks the tension between them. He’s always willing to reach back to Felix, to be the one to brush past the cruel things Felix says and offer something nice up anyway.

What a joke, Felix thinks. What a waste of Sylvain’s emotion on someone like himself.

But it’s been a long day, and Felix is drained from the battle and from his worrying, and so he just nudges Sylvain’s shoulder and says, awkwardly, his words and tone still harsh without him even meaning them to be, “You don’t have to look for me on the battlefield. Trust that I’ll be there.”

.

The other thing about Sylvain is that it’s actually easy to forget that he’s a serial dater when you draw him into a serious conversation about something that isn’t women. It’s not – Sylvain has always been like this, but something about being at the Officer’s Academy has really kicked it up a notch, so much so that even Dorothea has told Sylvain that it’s too much. That doesn’t mean that that’s who Sylvain is; Felix does know the part of him that has actual likes and dislikes, can hold interesting conversations and do exciting things that don’t all end in hooking up with someone.

So sometimes, Felix gets drawn into a legitimate interaction with Sylvain like browsing through town for Ingrid’s birthday present, forgets that Sylvain leaves a string of broken hearts a mile long, and then is suddenly being chased through town by Sylvain’s ex-girlfriend’s murderous older brother.

They don’t even have their weapons on them, because Byleth chastised them for giving the wrong impression of the Officer’s Academy to the regular townsfolk, who don’t walk around with swords strapped to their sides. So now, Felix is just sprinting as fast as he can while still taking the time to verbally let Sylvain know just how displeased he is with this recent development.

“How was I supposed to know that people would be willing to kill me for this?” Sylvain shouts back at the end of Felix’s rant.

“Honestly, on the spectrum of responses to a two-timing cheater like you, Sylvain, I’m surprised you haven’t run into this yet!” Felix shouts back. “Damn it, how big is this town? Why haven’t we lost him yet?”

“This way,” Sylvain says, reaching out and tugging on Felix’s arm, and they turn the corner to – to find themselves skidding to a stop at a dead end. “Oh, that’s not good.”

Felix shoves Sylvain, hard, before he turns around and puts his fists up. He knows some hand-to-hand, but he really doesn’t want to get in a fight with someone who has a knife. This has got to be as quick as possible so he can knock the guy out and they can get away.

Maybe because they really had been having a nice time before this, but it doesn’t even occur to Felix that the knife the older brother was holding was for throwing and not for stabbing until the knife is already airborne and, in front of Felix’s horrified gaze, lodging itself into Sylvain’s shoulder. Sylvain grunts, staggering backward as his hand goes to the hilt of the knife.

“Don’t yank it out,” Felix hisses, before he turns his fury to the man at the end of the alley and charges. Throwing a knife is all well and good, he thinks viciously as a clean punch sends the man staggering back, eyes wide with fear, but throwing also means disposing of your only weapon. One more punch knocks the man out, and now that he’s closer Felix can smell the alcohol on the man’s breath, which probably contributed more than a little to his decision to chase them down.

Felix runs back to Sylvain, turning his attention to the wound. Sylvain’s face is pale as he presses a torn strip of his shirt to the wound.

“Can you fix it?” he asks Felix.

Felix frowns and holds his hand out. “Hold still, this is new for me,” he warns. Sylvain, for an unfathomable reason, takes that as a cue for him to grab Felix’s free hand with his own free hand and grip tight as Felix focuses on the torn flesh. He slowly draws the wound close together, pushing the knife out with his magic as he goes, and grits his teeth against the strain of focusing. Magic doesn’t come easily to him, and white magic even less so – but now, he’s infinitely grateful to Byleth for insisting that he learn the basic heal spell.

The healing takes a lot out of him because it’s still so foreign, and he staggers as he finishes. Sylvain’s grip on him tightens and pulls so that he doesn’t fall, and Felix stumbles forward, now close enough to Sylvain to see his drawn, worried gaze.

“You – “ Felix starts, drawing a deep breath and preparing a tirade, but Sylvain says, tiredly, “I’m sorry,” and then looks away.

Felix’s admonishments die on his lips. Sylvain sounds defeated and upset, and he so rarely sounds that way, especially about girls. This one must have been special, Felix thinks, and this should make him happy, that Sylvain’s grown a heart, but instead – the thought of Sylvain actually growing to care for a girl make something uneasy and possessive turn in Felix’s heart.

“Oh,” Felix says. “Well. I…you must have really liked this girl.”

Sylvain looks back at Felix and raises an eyebrow. “What? What are you talking about?”

“I mean, you’re apologizing for antagonizing a girl. That’s a new one.”

“No,” Sylvain says slowly, as if Felix is the stupid one in the conversation. “I’m apologizing to you. For ruining our day out with my stupid flirting.”

Felix’s heart, for whatever reason, does a funny little flip in his chest. “Oh,” he says. “It’s…okay.”

Sylvain laughs mirthlessly. “No, it’s not,” he says. Felix sighs.

“No, it isn’t.” Sylvain frowns, and Felix shrugs his shoulders as he tries to ignore how warm Sylvain’s fingers are where they’re still gripping his arm. “Is that what you want to hear? I mean, I know this is a part of your personality, Sylvain. So this happened. Fine. It turned out okay. Just be more careful next time when you break up with someone, and for fuck’s sake – stop dating the local girls. You’re asking for trouble.”

Sylvain doesn’t say anything to that for a moment, just stares at Felix with an inscrutable expression. For all of Felix’s gruffness, he doesn’t hide the way he feels, usually. But Sylvain – is a different story. He knows that Sylvain’s well versed in laying on the charm, in making his face and demeanor look exactly the way he wants it to. So, if Sylvain doesn’t want Felix to be able to read him, Felix can’t no matter how much he knows the other man – and it unsettles Felix when Sylvain looks at him like this, something sharp and predatory in Sylvain’s gaze that Felix can’t shake.

“I don’t even like these girls,” Sylvain says bitterly, and Felix is startled by the force of the words, how they’re punched out of Sylvain like it hurts to say.

“I know,” Felix says, bewildered. “I know, Sylvain.” Sylvain is still holding on to Felix. Felix suddenly, absurdly, has the thought that he wants to hold onto Sylvain’s arm too, wants to see if his grip would be as searing and electric on Sylvain as Sylvain’s is on him.

“I just – Felix,” Sylvain says hoarsely. “I don’t even like these girls.”

Felix opens his mouth to say something – what, he doesn’t know, but he can’t stand the look of defeat on Sylvain’s face, and he doesn’t understand it, either. He wants Sylvain to snap out of this melancholy and just fucking smile at Felix, and not the crap he gives girls - the real smile he reserves for his closest friends.

The moment is broken when there’s movement at the alley opening, and they both spring apart and look to see the man on the ground stirring. Felix groans.

“Let’s get out of here,” Sylvain says grimly, and Felix doesn’t need to be told twice.

“Last one back to the town gates has to cook dinner,” he calls over his shoulder as he puts on a burst of speed and surpasses Sylvain. He hears Sylvain gasp dramatically.

“You’re a foot soldier! You’re used to running!” Sylvain calls back. “This is rigged!” But he hears the laughter in Sylvain’s voice, and he smiles to himself as he sprints faster.

.

Five years changes everything.

War is just how Felix imagined it – ugly, cruel, and heartless. He defends the border of the Kingdom because he’s not handing his people over the Edelgard’s cruel reign without a fight, but more often than not he grimly understands that he and what’s left of the Kingdom’s loyal soldiers are fighting a losing battle. He wonders what happened to turn the Edelgard he knew at the Academy – a touch cold, perhaps, but smart, practical, and fiercely just to those suffering and in need – into this power-hungry caricature of an emperor.

Maybe she was like the boar, though, cruel on the inside and putting up a mask to the rest of the world so they’d find her pleasing. War doesn’t leave him much time to stew on it; there’s barely enough time to defend Fraldarius territory as is.

Gautier is, of course, right next to them, so he often finds himself fighting by Sylvain – some things will never change, he supposes. The years are very good to Sylvain as his messy hair becomes more artfully disheveled, his shoulders broaden an obscene amount, and his words grown even more honeyed. Felix grows too, he supposes, but he just ties his hair back more and can’t be bothered to cut his bangs. It helps that it aggravates Sylvain that Felix has even more of a fringe now.

“You’re a swordmaster. How can you see like that? Felix, how can you see?” Sylvain demands of him all the time, reaching his hand out and tugging on Felix’s hair. Felix won’t admit to Sylvain that, in the middle of war, he likes that little gesture of affection too much to even consider clipping that part of his hair back. Little comforts matter, and hell if he’s not going to take that.

Nearly five years later, though, they receive the shock of their lives when their professor blinks back up at them from the ruins of the monastery, looking exactly the way she did the day she disappeared. She hasn’t even aged a day. The mystery of that almost distracts Felix from his disgust and anger at seeing what Dimitri’s become. It’s almost enough to distract him from the despair and sorrow that he locks deep down in his heart from seeing the boar prince like this. He’d never really thought that’d war would haunt Dimitri so.

Everyone thinks he’s gloating over how right he was about Dimitri, but Sylvain’s the one who finds him perched on the roof of the dormitories, watching the stars, and says, “You miss him, right?”

Felix turns. “Hm?”

“You miss Dimitri,” Sylvain clarifies as he sits down beside Felix, one elbow perched on his knee. “The old one, I mean, from five years ago. Or from even longer ago, I’m not sure.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Felix says harshly, but Sylvain doesn’t rise to the bait of a fight. He never does, hasn’t since they were children.

“Come on,” Sylvain says instead, his voice growing softer. “I miss our friend too.”

Felix doesn’t have anything to say to that, and he’s afraid that if he does try to open his mouth right now all the fragmented, ugly pieces of him that are crying out in loneliness at the way their future has turned out will tumble out of his heart in an embarrassing volley of tears. He’s not that pathetic, thanks very much. Instead, he draws his knees up to his chest and rests his crossed arms on them, looking out at the way the cathedral rises in the distance, its once proud spires broken.

There’s the sound of shuffling, and then Sylvain is leaning over and throwing an arm around Felix, tugging him closer. Felix would resist the action if he thought he could get away with it, but to his eternal chagrin Sylvain is stronger than him from all his axe usage, so he lets Sylvain manhandle him closer until he’s tucked into Sylvain’s side.

“Remember when we were kids,” Sylvain begins, his voice coming out muffled from near Felix’s temple as he talks mostly into the top of Felix’s head, “and you came crying to me about everything?”

“I try very hard to not remember that,” Felix says dryly. Sylvain laughs, an easygoing, carefree sound that Felix hasn’t heard in a while.

“I don’t miss that Felix,” Sylvain muses, “because you’re still right here with me, you know? Maybe you don’t cry anymore, but I can still tell when you’re upset, and I can still do something about it.”

Felix grunts. “Sure,” he says, “the forced hugging you’re doing right now is very useful.” It is, actually, though Felix won’t be caught dead admitting that. Sylvain is a solid, warm weight against his side, and Felix feels blanketed by the weight of Sylvain’s care for him. He really is, despite all outward appearances, the truest friend Felix will ever have.

The burning embers in his heart, flaring brighter and more painful at the way Sylvain’s arm is still wrapped around him, arm resting low on Felix’s waist, make Felix the worst friend Sylvain will ever have, because Felix wants with an aching intensity that he’d forgotten he had. He’s spent a long time with a single-minded goal: train, become the best swordsman he physically can be, and put his skills to use. He’s…forgotten that there are other parts of him, the part that makes Mercedes fuss over him and Bernadetta call him a nut. The part that yearns softly, stupidly over Sylvain’s giant ego and even more giant heart.

“What I mean is,” Sylvain continues, oblivious to Felix’s inner turmoil, “the person I knew you to be is still here, still reachable. With Dimitri, it’s…different. The person we know him to be seems impossible right now. So I – you know, I miss him.” His voice turns sheepish, like he’s admitting something he shouldn’t be, and Felix understands the feeling.

“Okay,” Felix says gruffly, his voice quiet and lost in the night air as he talks mostly into Sylvain’s chest, “fine. Yeah. I miss him.”

He feels Sylvain’s rumbling laughter, vibrating through his chest. “There, was that so hard?”

Felix doesn’t dignify that with an answer, but pinches Sylvain’s arm instead. Sylvain yowls like an unbalanced cat, and they spend the rest of the night bickering companionably. It settles something in Felix to see Sylvain’s eyes a little lighter, this far away from their battlefront in their territories. Here, they’re not the Fraldarius and Gautier heirs. Here, they’re just the king’s allies, fighting to see another day.

But no matter how at home Felix feels with a sword in his hands, it doesn’t change the gut-wrenching horror of facing their former classmates in war. Gronder Field is hard, even for him. He fights his way through a chaotic, smoke-filled field of soldiers, and at one-point he even encounters Hilda, an occasion that he thinks should be more dramatic than it really is – they both stop, see who they’re advancing towards, and freeze and turn around as if it didn’t happen.

He loses sight of Sylvain fairly early on but doesn’t worry, at the beginning; Sylvain really has become a formidable paladin, and Felix has his own side of the battlefield to take care of. He dodges, slashes, and cuts down so many soldiers that he’s beginning to wonder if something isn’t wrong with him, the way battle doesn’t seem to affect him the same way it does others. His heart doesn’t beat faster. His world has narrowed down to his sword, an extension of him, sharp and quicker than lightning when he wants to be.

The smoke grows thicker, and he has to pause at one point to tie a cloth around his face and control his breathing. He must be near somewhere where a fireball has set something alight, he surmises, looking around. He can see a few soldiers moving forward slowly, cautious in the hazy conditions, and he begins to creep along the tall grass, readying to take them out.

There’s a loud whinny, and then a horse charges between the soldiers trying and failing to be stealthy, heading straight for Felix’s hiding spot. His heart drops as he sees the regalia decorating the horse; it’s Sylvain’s horse, but Emmeline is conspicuously missing her rider.

No, he thinks, and the haze of battle is lifted as his heart turns over in his chest and begins to jackrabbit in fear. The world tilts around him, and he can feel his fingers twitch, his tight grip on his sword faltering as Emmeline charges past the confused soldiers and comes to an abrupt stop in front of Felix, her hooves nearly hitting him in the face.

She neighs furiously, and Felix doesn’t even think as he swings himself up on the damned horse’s back and she takes off again, galloping through the smoke. He coughs, his eyes watering, but he stares straight ahead, searching for a sign, any flash of silver armor and red hair to let him know that his worst fears haven’t come true. Arrows graze past him, but he doesn’t have the time or skill to use Emmeline as a mount; the sting of cuts opening on his supple leather armor – designed more for dexterity than heavy protection – barely registers as his world narrows to a steady chant of let him be okay let him be okay let him be okay.

It seems like it takes an eternity, but Emmeline stops where the smoke is the thickest and heat is suffocating the air. They must be close to the fire, but Felix doesn’t have time to worry about it before he’s swinging down and nearly tripping over the pile of armor crumpled next to a tree. The red hair is rivaled in color only by the red blood decorating the rest of Sylvain’s body, and Felix falls to his knees with his hands shaking.

“You bastard,” he hisses, gathering Sylvain’s unconscious form in his arms and lifting. “You better fucking stay alive, I – you fucking asshole,” and he keeps it up, a steady stream of expletives as he struggles to hoist Sylvain’s body back onto a patient Emmeline. He’s trying so hard not to jostle Sylvain’s wounds too much, but at some point, as Felix holds Sylvain in place with one arm and mounts awkwardly with the other, Sylvain stirs and moans pitifully, weakly in pain.

“Sylvain,” Felix says helplessly as Sylvain’s face crumples and his eyes roll back in his head, seemingly fainting again. “Sylvain.” As he urges Emmeline forward again, his mind flashes back to a fragment of memory; saving Sylvain just like this back in their Academy days, always being there, always being the one to have to watch the other man fall. Felix is tired of watching Sylvain fall, over and over, his entire life spent running after Sylvain.

Let him be alive, Goddess, Felix thinks, because he isn’t a religious man, but Sylvain is, a little, and the truth is for Sylvain – he’d do most anything, he thinks. That’s the truth he’s too much of a coward to face.

He does find Mercedes, eventually, and Sylvain is carted off to their traveling infirmary. Felix heads back into the battle, almost beginning to relax as it seems to draw to a close. Finally, he thinks as he sees Dimitri whirl and strike Edelgard, finally.

Then, Edelgard escapes. Then, Dimitri’s guard falls for a split second as he rages, a second too long. Then…then his father leaps in, always one step ahead, always the gallant knight.

Felix is too far away to do anything but watch, horrified, as his father is cut down. The old man, he thinks dizzily, the stupid old –

And the little boy in him that never grew up, the anxious, fearful child that hid his tears behinds his mother’s skirts and in Sylvain’s shoulders, wails in his chest as his father falls to the ground, dead and gone.

He doesn’t know what he does. He must say something to Dimitri, he vaguely remembers Byleth’s hand on his arm, but – when he comes back to himself, he’s made his way to the infirmary and Sylvain is sitting up in his bed, his face drawn as he clutches Felix and makes soothing noises, and for the first time in what feels like an eternity, he lets himself be that little boy again, and he cries for everything that he’s lost.

.

The world goes on. Dimitri sobers up, the war begins to turn tide in their favor, and everyone walks with a spring of hope in their step. Felix hides out for a week in his room because he can’t go anywhere without people talking about his father – apologizing, pitying, glorifying. He’s sick of it, and he doesn’t owe anyone shit. He doesn’t have to talk about his father if he doesn’t want to.

He lets Byleth into his room at one point, because he’s not in the habit of saying no to the one person that pulled them all together, and she doesn’t say anything at first; just looks around at the state of his cluttered room and lingers disapprovingly on the considerably large pile of crumpled paper on his desk.

“I’m trying to figure out what to write to Mother,” he mutters, red-faced. She nods, looking at him for a second longer, before she trots outside, bends down to pick something up, and comes back in and hands it to him.

“A…sword?” he asks, confused. From what he can see, the scabbard and hilt are polished and well-kept, if noticeably old. She pulls the sword out, a little, tapping the base where there’s a small etching of the Fraldarius coat of arms.

“Dimitri had this,” she says, “amongst his things. An old sword that Rodrigue gave to him, back when he lived in Fhirdiad, I believe. He wanted to give it to you, but he wasn’t sure you’d welcome him.” She slides the sword back into the sheath, and Felix tosses it on the bed, hot anger welling up in him.

“Great,” he bites out. “The boar prince might have clung to the ghosts of the past, but I won’t.”

Byleth fixes him with an assessing look. “This isn’t a ghost of the past,” she says. “This is your friend, coming back to himself and realizing what he’s kept from you. You’re a fool if you think this is just about a sword.”

He throws himself back onto his bed and doesn’t say a word. She seems to understand him anyway, and she pats his shoulder and leaves a bag of tea leaves. Freshly picked, judging by the smell. He clutches them to his chest and tries not to dwell on the little act of kindness, on how much his father liked Byleth because of those small things.

“A good professor,” the old man had said when once, visiting home, Felix had complained about Byleth putting him through the grueling paces of thief training before letting him master the sword. “She knows when to slow you down, and when to push you hard.”

Yeah, he thinks, when to slow down and when to push. When to ebb, and when to flow. How to be kind, in the small ways, in the ways that matter.

Sylvain is the one that brings him food and bullies him into training at least once a day in his own self-imposed exile, and once Felix hits the one-week mark of his father’s death he drags himself out of his room and resolves to keep going. He gave Glenn two weeks of this kind of mourning, but – times change. He’s changed, and he has a war to get back to.

And, he thinks, striding up to Dimitri in the training hall and knocking the other man’s lance out of his hand with his father’s old sword, it’s time to actually act like he’s changed.

“Pick it up,” he instructs, pointing the sword at the ground. “Honestly, boar, all these years and you still can’t hold a lance correctly?”

Dimitri startles, and looks down at the sword that Felix is holding. He sees the Fraldarius coat-of-arms, and a slight smile crosses his face before a more serious expression overtakes him.

“I know you might not want to hear this,” Dimitri says, bowing formally. “But I must say it. I am sorry, Felix. For everything.”

Felix shakes his head and raises his sword. “Win the capital back,” he says. “Fight for our people, instead of just for yourself.”

Dimitri picks up his lance, his eyebrow raised slightly. With the eyepatch, and the longer hair, it looks like the prince is actually smirking, a disconcerting sight if there ever was one.

“Why Felix,” he says slowly, “that sounded almost like what a knight would say.”

Felix knocks the lance out of Dimitri’s grip again. Dimitri isn’t expecting it. From the side, where Sylvain’s perched on the steps and watching them, he hears a muffled laugh.

“No,” he says, “not a knight. A knight’s son.”

There is, he thinks as Dimitri groans and picks his lance up again, holding it properly this time, a difference. It is the difference between knowing when to slow down, and when to push hard. He’s been living his entire life pushing hard. It’s time to slow down, before he ends up like every other dead man in his life – foolish, reckless, all in different ways, all so convinced that each had found the ideal worth living their life around.

He catches a glimpse of Sylvain watching him as he spars with Dimitri, his eyes fond and his grin absolutely insouciant as he leans back and catches Felix looking. Ideals are not what Felix is living his life for right now anyway.

.

Fhirdiad is not how he remembers it, as he distinctly recalls thinking that it was cold, unwelcoming, and a lonely place for the prince to grow up in. Now, though, the gates of the castle have been thrown open upon their triumphant victory, torchlights are flickering warmly along every wall, and there’s the steady murmur of the celebrating crowd filling up the quiet of the freezing northern night.

He’s managed to acquire a flask of alcohol from Ashe, of all people, and when he asks where it’s from Ashe just smiles jubilantly and ignores him, patting him on the shoulder and mentioning that it looked like Felix needed something a little stronger than the fruit juices being passed along. He’s not wrong; the liquid burns down Felix’s throat, but it’s warm and grounding and it leaves him feeling loose-limbed and confident as he climbs the tower stairs up to an old viewing deck.

When everyone was younger, they’d sneak away one by one during training and come up here; Sylvain would arrive first, Felix trailing close behind, and they’d wait until Ingrid came running after them furiously, yelling about shirking responsibility. Dimitri would arrive last, carting a plate of sweets he would wheedle out of the kitchen cooks, and then the three of them would band together and convince Ingrid to stay up there and they’d gorge themselves on the treats.

Now, Felix leans against the wall of the viewing deck and looks out into the twinkling lights of the capital. He isn’t a big believer in fate, or destiny, but he thinks that it counts for something cosmically good that he’s here now, after all these years, still fighting and still surviving.

“You know, I’d like to say that I thought I’d find you here, but I had to ask Dedue,” a cross voice says from behind him, and Felix glances backwards in surprise.

“Why aren’t you at the festivities? Surely the sheer multitude of girls lining up to thank the heroes of the hour are enough even for you?” Felix asks, incredulous. Sylvain makes a face.

“I am still not over the psychological trauma of having to storm our own castle, thanks,” he says, coming to lean beside Felix and holding a hand out for the flask. Felix passes it silently, watching in amusement as Sylvain downs a healthy swig and then coughs, sputtering. “That is strong,” he wheezes.

“Yep,” Felix agrees dryly as he takes his own, very moderated sip. “It sure is.”

“What is it?”

“I have no clue. Ashe gave it to me,” Felix says, enjoying the way Sylvain’s mouth falls open stupidly at that revelation.

“Well, well,” Sylvain says, running a hand through his hair. “Our Ashe contains unexpected depths. What happens next? Ashe starts hitting on girls? Ashe starts taking girls back to his room for the night - ”

“No,” Felix interrupts what looks to be the start of an impassioned rant and looks closely at the way Sylvain’s eyes are shining and his theatrical hand gestures are more gaudy than usual. “Are - are you drunk?”

Sylvain snorts. “No,” he says seriously. “Not really. I wish I was, maybe.”

“Why?”

Sylvain drops his head into his hands and mumbles, “Do you really need to ask?”

Felix considers him, his eyes lingering over the strong lines of Sylvain’s forearms and the dejected slump of his shoulders, and thinks about regrets, and a lifetime spent chasing after Sylvain. A lifetime of Sylvain turning, smile and wink in place, hand outstretched to goad Felix just a little further.

Maybe it’s time that Felix returned the favor. Maybe this is how things start; with a hesitant hand on Sylvain’s shoulder, unsure of what Sylvain needs from him right now but knowing that whatever it is, Felix is going to give it to him.

“We’re going to make it through this war, Sylvain,” Felix says slowly. “I’ll kill you myself if you don’t.”

Sylvain turns, head still bowed, and looks up at Felix through his lashes. “Yeah? Very threatening, Felix, I’m appropriately scared.”

”You promised, idiot. That you wouldn’t die.”

It might be a trick of the light, but it looks like Sylvain’s cheeks are tinged with pink as he looks away suddenly. “I did, didn’t I?” he says lowly. “Even if we do live…what do I have waiting for me after the war worth living for anyway?”

Me, Felix wants to scream, me. Me, in any way you’ll have me. By your side, watching over you to make sure you don’t die while you marry some beautiful girl and have beautiful Crest babies with her. Me, until the day you die, at which point I’ll up and die too, because I don’t know what the point of living without you is.

What he says instead is “The boar will actually kill you if you’re not around to witness his wedding, so there’s that.”

Sylvain makes a strangled noise and shoots up, half-laughing and half-incredulous as he says, “You think he’s gonna ask the Teach to marry him so soon?”

Felix snorts, nudging the flask Sylvain’s way again. “Ten gold says that it’s within the day of winning the war.”

Sylvain takes a much smaller sip from the flask this time, and a drop of liquid clings to his upper lip. Felix goes breathless at the way he wants to drag his finger across it, find out if Sylvain’s lips really are as soft as they look. Fuck.

“I’ll take that bet,” Sylvain says, nodding. “Ten gold says that it’s between one to two weeks after the war.” He spits on his hand and holds it out to Felix, expectantly.

Felix raises an eyebrow. “That’s disgusting and I’m not shaking on that,” he says flatly.

“Aw, come on buddy,” Sylvain says, wiggling his fingers. “If you don’t shake on it, I’m going to tackle you and wipe my hand on your face.”

“What are you, a child?” Felix asks. He considers Sylvain’s grin carefully, silently pleased at the way the melancholy has lifted off of Sylvain’s shoulders. This, he thinks, this is what he can do for Sylvain. Maybe he can’t be the one who gets to spend the rest of his life with Sylvain, but he can be the one that make Sylvain smile like this, light and boyish and so fucking charming.

He puts his hand out, as if to shake, and then at the last second shoves at Sylvain’s chest. Caught off guard, Sylvain goes down, yelping in surprise, and Felix starts laughing even as Sylvain grabs at Felix’s coat and brings him down with him. They tussle on the dirty, dusty ground, and for a moment they’re young again, sneaking out of training to eat sweets and gossip and make each other laugh – always, always, making each other laugh.

.

They take Derdriu, the Alliance falls, and they push on to Merceus. This war has changed the foundation of the land they were born in, and Felix can tell that it’s unsettling to most of his former classmates to think that Edelgard has shifted history by so much.

But the tide of the war is changing, and even Felix can feel it. They have the troops, the support, and the sorely needed supplies. Linhardt calculates and recalculates numbers until Lysithea throws a book at him and tells him to actually go take a nap again, but even he comes up with the same logical conclusion – they should win. They’ve got what it takes, and the regular soldiers of the Kingdom’s armies certainly seem to think so.

But the rest of them are…uneasy. Felix can’t sleep at night, can’t stop thinking of what Edelgard and Hubert might have schemed up, hiding away in Enbarr, desperate and cornered.

“Humans are like animals,” he warns during one of their war councils. He pretends not to see Dimitri’s slight flinch at that, and pretends even harder that he doesn’t see the way Byleth puts a hand on Dimitri’s shoulder and Dimitri immediately softens, like he can’t help himself. “Edelgard is going to hit the hardest when she’s at her lowest.”

He’s made his point, so he tunes out what everyone else says in response to that and sinks back into his chair, folding his arms tightly across his chest and trying so, so hard to not think about how comfortable Dimitri and Byleth are around each other, how naturally they seem to fall into each other’s orbits even when one was sleeping for five years, and the other was less than human for longer than that. How is it fair, he thinks bitterly, selfishly, how is it fair that I have done everything right and I still don’t have that?

The impending, nerve-wracking idea of the end of the war has everyone in an anxious mood, and Sylvain seems to have decided that the outlet for that is disappearing every night to the village, presumably to fuck a girl. Felix only knows this because he finds that he can’t sleep these days, dwelling on the month ticking down, closer and closer to what he knows is going to be the biggest battle of his life, and he went looking for Sylvain day after day until he finally understood that Sylvain’s made his choice, and his priorities, very clear.

He’s irritated, anxious, and so wound-up that he’s snapping at everyone – the merchants, the cooks, the fucking gatekeeper. He knows he’s being insufferable during morning training the final day before they leave for Enbarr, the only thing that all the former Blue Lion students do together, but he can’t seem to stop himself.

When he nearly brings Marianne to tears by yelling at her about the way she holds her lance, he immediately regrets it, and not just because it’s just about one of the cruelest things he’s actually done. He sees Bernadetta nudge Dorothea who whispers something to Lysithea, who looks around and seems to make a decision by trotting over to Ashe and saying something in a low tone to him. No one is as subtle as they think they are.

“I didn’t mean that,” he awkwardly tells Marianne, desperately hoping she’ll believe him. “I really didn’t.”

Marianne looks so fragile, but she sniffs and says “Okay,” in quiet voice, and he honestly doesn’t know what that means because he doesn’t know her that much.

Ashe taps him on his shoulder. “Can you show me how to do that backhand swing outside?” he asks, smiling blandly like nothing’s wrong and loosely holding a training sword.

“You’re a sniper.”

“I want to learn some more close combat techniques,” Ashe lies through his teeth, still looking ever so angelic. Felix sighs and resigns himself to the intervention, shouldering his own training sword and walking outside without a word. Ashe trails after him, letting Felix lead the way, and to his own surprise he finds himself leading them to the bridge spanning the divide between the cathedral and the rest of the monastery. He looks over the wall, out at the deep green of the valley, the towering peaks of the mountains.

“I already apologized to Marianne,” he says shortly. Ashe hums noncommittally next to him, leaning against the wall and pushing his hair out of his face. “I don’t see why this is necessary.”

“You seem tense.”

“We’re all tense.”

Ashe sighs, and then turns around and leans back, crossing his arms and focusing his attention on Felix, the training sword propped up against the wall. “Felix, you walk around looking sad all the time. Your friends are just worried about you. They want to know that the war isn’t taking too much of a toll on you.”

Felix’s throat closes up, guilt tightening like a vice around his neck as he considers that these people wasted that kind of precious emotion during war time on him. What fools. What utterly wonderful fools, he thinks.

He takes a deep breath and exhales slowly, collecting his thoughts. “The war isn’t taking too much of a toll on me.”

“I know,” Ashe’s reply, when it comes, is swift. Felix looks up, surprised, and Ashe smiles gently at him. “I was in a classroom with you for a little longer than everyone else. I know that you’ve trained beyond the point of doubting yourself on the battlefield.”

Felix is half-flattered, half-embarrased at the clear assessment of him, and wonders if he’s been miscalculating exactly how observant Ashe is. “If you know, then why are you out here?”

At that, Ashe sheepishly rubs the back of his neck. “Ah, it’s…I think I get it, you know. Why you’re actually so upset.”

The denial is on his lips before he’s even consciously aware that he’s making it. “I’m not upset,” he says, but it sounds feeble, defeated even to his own ears.

“Okay,” Ashe says, “alright. I’ll talk about something that happened to me, recently, and maybe you’ll see something helpful from my story.”

Felix groans. “If you’re about to tell me one of your knight’s tales in a sneaky way - ”

Ashe laughs. “No,” he promises, so earnest. “This is real.” He pauses, and then he looks away, the beginnings of a brush creeping up his neck – and now, Felix is interested, because Ashe is clearly nervous about whatever story he’s telling.

“Recently,” Ashe says, “I realized that I was…interested in someone. That I – no, wait. I realized I was in love,” he says determinedly, his face flaming. “But the person I was in love with was devoted to someone else.”

Felix can feel his eyes widen and his mouth part in shock. “What,” he says flatly. “How did none of us realize?”

“What – people realized, Felix.”

Felix frowns. “I didn’t hear any gossip about it. You know how nosy everyone here is.”

“Oh. Well, only a few people knew about it, and that was more because of the circumstance than anything. The person I was in love seemed…single-minded in their devotion to something else. It’s – they were – he was – he is – “

Felix sighs, takes in the stuttering mess that Ashe has become. “Why don’t you save us both the trouble and just talk outright about this person? Use their name?”

Ashe shakes his head. “I won’t,” he says. “That’s part of the story. Up until recently, I thought this person just didn’t feel that way about me. But I…we had a talk yesterday, he and I, and I realized some things.”

Felix is ragingly curious about who this is, but he doesn’t have enough clues. More importantly, though. Ashe’s voice has dropped to something lower, melancholy and wistful, and Felix has never heard him like this.

“People can care about you,” Ashe continues, looking away at something Felix can’t see, “in ways that you can’t comprehend. There will be little gestures of love that you’ll never see, because they’re aimed at you. And when you love someone, you have to accept that terrifying feeling of being known, of caring for someone that may never care in the exact same way you do – but you must trust that they do care. That they are there, for better or for worse, in the ways that only they know how to be there for you.”

“I – “ Felix can’t speak past the grief swirling around his heart, squeezing his insides as he thinks about Sylvain and dying and falling and wonders how Ashe knows all of this anyway.

“I see the way you look at Sylvain,” Ashe says, his voice growing quiet. “It’s the same way I look at…it doesn’t matter. What I’m looking for, I may never get. But I don’t regret loving the person that I do, and you shouldn’t regret it either.”

Felix has never made space for regret in anything else in his life. No regret for his brother, no regret for his prince, no regret for his father. Is love the thing he regrets? The ugly burn of jealousy, the stinging of the implicit rejection; does he regret it all?

No, he realizes, and he aches with the knowledge; he loves Sylvain like nothing else in the world, and no amount of tragedy can make him regret it.

Ashe picks up his sword and walks away, tossing out over his shoulder, “We leave for Enbarr tomorrow. I don’t think you should spend what could be your last night mired in regret.”

Felix stays on the bridge, long after Ashe leaves, and when he finally does he feels – not better, but at peace. Accepting of what he’s been running away from since the day he met Sylvain, bright-eyed and wild-haired, chasing after dreams with a coy smile and sly eyes that never miss a single thing. Sylvain, who he won’t let go of, no matter what the price.

That night, he stops by Sylvain’s room, one last time, and he’s surprised to see the door open when he knocks. Sylvain is on the other side, his face blank and his gaze unusually hollow.

“You look like shit,” Felix says, surprised, and at that a ghost of a smile graces Sylvain’s lips. Felix takes a deep breath. “Don’t forget our promise,” he says.

Sylvain looks surprised, and then slowly, pleased. “I won’t,” he says softly.

Felix reaches out with his hand and squeezes Sylvain’s shoulder. “I mean it,” he says hoarsely, “don’t die, Sylvain – “

“Or you’ll kill me?” Sylvain asks.

“No,” Felix looks at him, memorizes the soft lines of Sylvain’s face in case it’s the last time he gets to do so for a while. “Or else I won’t have much left to live for once this war ends.”

He turns and walks away before Sylvain can say anything else. His heart beats erratically, too fast for it to be normal. He feels like he’s left a fragile part of himself in Sylvain’s hands, something he’s never getting back, something he doesn’t want back. These parts of him are safer there, he thinks.

He goes back to his own room, goes through the motions of getting ready for bed, and is shucking his tunic off when there’s a knock at his door. He opens it, shirtless with his tunic clutched in one hand, and is surprised to see Sylvain there, still looking unusually somber.

“I’m sleeping here tonight,” Sylvain says before Felix can even open his mouth. Felix frowns, more out of surprise than anything, and doesn’t resist as Sylvain brushes past him and into Felix’s room like he owns it, the way he owns the rest of Felix without even knowing it. Or maybe he does know it. Felix has never known Sylvain’s heart, so carefully guarded with false sweetness and facetious compliments.

Sylvain shoves his boots off with an ungraceful speed, and then practically tears his shirt from his body and throws himself onto Felix’s bed, tucking his arm under his head and turning to face Felix.

“Get in bed,” Sylvain says shortly. “Not a word of this tomorrow, okay? I just need this.”

Felix closes the door and throws his shirt aside, then blows his lamps out and plunges the room to darkness. He feels his way to his bed by instinct, and crawls in. The dormitory beds aren’t meant for two fully grown men, not by a long shot, but Sylvain reaches over and throws his arm over Felix’s chest, pulling him closer. His skin is warm, their bare upper bodies pressed together, and if it weren’t for the looming threat of death Felix might appreciate it more.

“I might have needed this too,” Felix admits into the dark, because he won’t keep running after Sylvain and expecting Sylvain to reach back out to him. He’ll reach his hand out if it means Sylvain will smile again, will get color back in his cheeks.

Sylvain makes a suspiciously sniffle-like noise and buries his cold nose in Felix’s neck. “I don’t want you to die, ever,” he says petulantly. It’s easier to say these things when they can’t see each other, when the dark hides the emotion that Felix knows his eyes are giving away.

“I hate to break it to you, but life actually dictates that I do need to die eventually.”

“Not without me,” Sylvain says quietly. “Don’t go where I can’t follow, Felix.”

Felix’s breath catches in his throat, and he slowly turns to press his own face into Sylvain’s unruly hair. “I won’t,” he promises, and it’s the truest thing he’s ever said.

.

The war is over. They’ve taken Enbarr. They’ve won. They’ve won.

Felix is jubilant in a way he never usually is, the relief and joy making him dizzy with emotion. In the chaos of everyone healing up while simultaneously trying to talk over each other and celebrate, he sees Dimitri and Byleth wander off, and he turns to tug at Sylvain’s arm from where he’s whispering something soothing to Emmeline, who hates the crowds.

“Looks like you’re probably going to have to pay up soon,” Felix teases, smiling at Sylvain. “I just saw the professor and Dimitri walk off, and Dimitri was very distinctly clutching a ring in his hand before he walked over to her.”

Sylvain looks over, but he doesn’t look at the direction Felix is pointing; instead, he looks at Felix and snorts.

“Looks like you were right,” he says, but the tone of his voice is strange and unfamiliar. The way he’s looking at Felix is too intense, Felix thinks frantically, his eyes too dark and enigmatic. “They couldn’t wait even a little bit to love each other, could they?”

Felix frowns. “Was that an innuendo?” he wonders. “If so, that was weak, even for you, Sylvain – “

Sylvain laughs. “It wasn’t,” he says, his voice still different. “I really was talking about love.”

“Are you – “ Felix steps closer, sweeps a critical eye over Sylvain’s dented armor. “Are you okay? Did you get hurt or something and you’re being stubborn in not getting it treated?”

Sylvain is quiet for a worryingly long moment, his eyes still searching Felix’s face. For what, he isn’t sure, but he waits, patiently. They have all the time in the world, now.

“They didn’t wait,” Sylvain slowly repeats, almost to himself, “even a little bit.”

“Are you still thinking about Dimitri and the professor? Why?”

Sylvain ignores him. “And why am I waiting?” he says quietly. This time, when he looks at Felix, it’s with a burning fire in his gaze.

Felix swallows. “Sylvain?” he asks, unsure.

Sylvain pulls his gauntlets off in response and stashes them in Emmeline’s saddlebag, and then takes off the gloves he wears under before he reaches out and grabs Felix’s own hand. “Come on, Felix,” Sylvain says decisively, “I’m done waiting.”

Felix nearly trips in his own surprise as he’s tugged along, Sylvain’s ungodly strength pulling them further and further away from the crowds. “Sylvain,” Felix tries to say, but Sylvain just looks back and winks, and Felix’s heart is gone. They dart through the throngs of people celebrating, people crying, until Sylvain finds an alley that looks empty and he pulls Felix through.

“Tell me to stop, and I will,” Sylvain says, and Felix doesn’t understand, opens his mouth to ask, to demand, and then Sylvain is kissing him, open-mouthed and wild and glorious. It’s a desperate kiss, Sylvain clutching at Felix’s waist with a bruising grip, pressing closer, closer, closer still. Sylvain’s breastplate digs uncomfortably into Felix’s chest, but the pain is grounding against the heat, the lightning dancing along Felix’s skin and spilling out into the way Sylvain is kissing him like Felix is everything, like Felix is the air Sylvain needs to breathe.

I never knew it could feel like this, Felix thinks dizzily, that it could feel so much like the stars up above are contained in the clever press of Sylvain’s tongue against his, like the music of a thousand saints are collapsed into the breathless moan that Sylvain makes. He wants to die like this, the heat of battle lighting his veins on fire and Sylvain over him, around him, in him – oh fuck, he wants Sylvain, he wants him like never before, he loves him and now that he’s gotten a taste he can’t ever let go –

Sylvain wrenches away like it physically pains him, and Felix can’t stop all the blood in his body from rushing south at the sight; Sylvain, lips bitten red and eyes dark amber, looking at Felix, only looking at Felix.

“I love you,” Sylvain says hoarsely, his voice like gravel, and Felix can’t help himself; he reaches out and he cups Sylvain’s cheek, thumb brushing over soft skin, marveling at the way Sylvain melts into the touch and turns to press a kiss to the palm of Felix’s hand.

Oh,” Felix says, “you love me,” because Sylvain’s heart is easy to read after all, if only Felix had looked hard enough. Sylvain’s heart is in his wink, his easy smile, his golden laughter. In his arms, strong and solid as they wrap around Felix and protect him from the world, at the cost of his own blood. In his gentle hands, always turning back to hold on to Felix, to bring him with Sylvain no matter what.

“Yeah,” Sylvain says, beginning to smile, wide and genuine and so, so open that it hurts with how sweet it is. “That’s what I said.”

Felix doesn’t say anything back because he can’t at first, can’t do anything but lean forward and kiss Sylvain again, slowly this time, savoring each unexpected whimper he tears out of Sylvain’s mouth. He hooks his free hand around Sylvain’s neck, brushes his fingers through soft hair, and marvels at the precious thing he’s been given.

Sylvain pulls away from the kiss again, fingers still digging bruises into Felix’s skin. “Are you gonna say it back, Fraldarius?” Sylvain asks, but he’s still smiling as he does because he knows Felix, inside and out.

“Yeah,” Felix says hoarsely, “yeah. I love you.”

Sylvain makes a wounded noise, as if despite the past few minutes of evidence he’s still surprised to hear it. He presses his forehead to Felix’s.

“Don’t leave me,” he says, and Felix will do anything for this man, anything.

“Of course not,” Felix says. “We promised.”

.

Later, they attend the victory feast for Dimitri and his closest allies and sit scandalously close together, Sylvain draping his arm around Felix and refusing to budge. Later, Felix joins in the raucous applause that starts up with Dimitri and Byleth announce their engagement and collects ten gold from a good-naturedly protesting Sylvain. Later, when he gets up to follow Sylvain back to his room, the heat of an unspoken promise pooling in his belly at the way Sylvain drags his gaze over Felix’s body, he sees Ashe and stops suddenly.

“Go ahead,” Felix says as Sylvain looks at him questioningly. “I’ll catch up.”

Sylvain nods, and then he looks around and bites his lip before darting in and pressing a quick kiss to Felix’s lips when he sees that it’s only their close friends milling around.

“Don’t keep me waiting,” he whispers to Felix, and Felix rolls his eyes.

“When do I ever?” Felix asks petulantly, as if they both didn’t keep each other waiting for years. He pushes Sylvain. “Go, I’ll get there soon.”

Sylvain walks off, and Felix does an about turn and strides back to Ashe, who’s collecting his quiver from the corner of the room. “Ashe!”

“Felix!” Ashe smiles when he sees Felix, “I see congratulations are in order.” He gestures at Sylvain’s retreating back. Felix has to fight to keep his blush at bay, but he doesn’t think he succeeds, judging by Ashe’s knowing smile.

“Your advice – sorry, your story,” Felix says, “pushed me to a happy ending.”

Ashe’s smile grows wider. “I’m so glad! I was hoping – “

“Ashe,” Felix interrupts, “thank you. Now go get your own fucking happy ending.”

Ashe’s face falls, his eyes downcast. “Thank you for thinking of me, but – “

“No,” Felix says firmly. “No buts. You deserve it. You know you do. Make – make whoever it is understand that. They must deserve it too, if a person as good as you has fallen in love with them.”

Ashe blinks, looking so young for the first time since their classroom days ended. “Really? You think so?” he asks softly.

“Yeah,” Felix says honestly, simply, instead of the dozens of sarcastic replies he has ready. “I really do. Good night, Ashe.”

He walks briskly away, because he has Sylvain waiting for him, and he isn’t passing that up, but as he exits the dining hall he glances behind him out of curiosity to see where Ashe is heading towards, and then nearly does a double-take when he sees him heading towards the table with Dimitri, Byleth, and Dedue.

He shakes his head as he climbs the stairs to the wing where they’ve all been given rooms. Some of the things Ashe said about duty and a devotion to someone else are starting to make sense. He sincerely hopes that Ashe gets what he wants, what he deserves.

He knocks on Sylvain’s door and it swings open before he even finishes the first knock, like Sylvain’s just been standing there and waiting, impatient as always, and Felix is about to needle him about it but Sylvain doesn’t give him a chance. He grabs Felix’s hand, yanking him forward and slotting their mouths together.

“You took too long,” Sylvain whines between kisses, pressing Felix back against the uncomfortable wooden door and shutting it. Felix’s doesn’t even dignify that with a response, but he nips Sylvain’s lower lip with his teeth, and Sylvain groans.

“I took five minutes,” Felix finally says, pulling back. “Can’t you control yourself for five minutes?” Despite his words, his hands are untucking Sylvain’s shirt from his impossibly tight pants, fingers trailing over the fine hair trailing downward from Sylvain’s navel. Sylvain inhales sharply through his mouth, and Felix smirks as he leans closer.

“Insatiable,” he murmurs against the shell of Sylvain’s ear, and he feels the full-body shudder that goes through Sylvain as he dips his head lower and fixes his mouth against Sylvain’s neck, trailing wet, open-mouthed kisses against the fragile skin there.

“Oh fuck, Felix,” Sylvain hisses, “you’re a tease, who knew – ah!” He tilts his head back, his hand coming up to tug at Felix’s hair, and Felix feels it when Sylvain finds the tie and pulls it off.

“You would have known,” Felix says, lifting his head and nudging Sylvain’s nose with his own, “if you’d stopped fucking other people long enough to look at me.”

Sylvain buries his fingers in Felix’s hair and tugs gently, angling his head back. “You’re kidding, right?” he asks incredulously, and then he doesn’t wait for an answer before he dives in to kiss Felix again. Felix can barely focus between trying desperately to get Sylvain’s shirt off and pull him closer while Sylvain makes no move to do anything but kiss Felix, keep kissing Felix like he’s never going to get another chance.

“Don’t tell me,” Felix bites out, grabbing at Sylvain’s waist and pulling him in even closer, reveling in the way Sylvain lets out a low groan and grinds down, seemingly unable to help himself, “that you ever looked at me in your womanizing days.”

Sylvain pulls back abruptly, and Felix tries to follow his lips without even realizing it.  “Wait a minute, Felix. I was always looking at you.”

It’s Felix’s turn to pull back, and he frowns at Sylvain. “No. I’ve wanted you since we were kids, Sylvain.”

Sylvain’s eyes widen, and he untangles his fingers from Felix’s hair to brush his fingers across Felix’s cheek hesitantly, reverentially, like Felix is something precious.

“All I ever wanted,” Sylvain says lowly, “every time I went out to fucking someone else, was for you to look at me like you wanted me. To look at only me.”

Felix melts into Sylvain, presses closer, doesn’t care at the dark tone that Sylvain’s voice has taken. “Selfish of you, isn’t it?”

“I never was that good of a person,” Sylvain says. “But you’ve always known that.”

Felix carefully presses a kiss to Sylvain’s lips, the lingering heat between them tempered into something more languid and soft. “You’ve always been exactly right for me,” he says. “You’re good for me.”

.

They all travel as a group back to Fhirdiad, agreeing to stay in the capital for a few months longer to help settle affairs before leaving for their new positions. A week into their stay, Felix pulls Dimitri aside when he has a spare moment.

“Did you propose to Byleth, or did she propose to you?” he asks, straight to the point. Dimitri blinks his one good eye at him, and looks a little taken aback.

“Oh…I suppose we both did it at the same time?” Dimitri asks. His expression grows mildly smug as he adds, “I did ask her a few seconds before she got to ask me, though, so technically I was first. Why?”

Felix nods slowly. “And you didn’t think twice about the king of the newly united Holy Kingdom of Faerghus proposing to the new archbishop of the Church of Serios was in any way a problem?”

“I’m going to optimistically assume that you’re not here to scold me on that decision.”

“Oh,” Felix laughs, “no. Byleth is definitely too good for you, but you seem to make her happy, so that’s fine. Congratulations, by the way.”

Dimitri lights up in a smile so bright that Felix feels like he’s intruding on a private emotion. “Thanks,” the king says softly, looking in that instant like an innocently lovestruck young man. “But, ah,” Dimitri clears his throat, “why are you asking?”

Felix pinches the bridge of his nose. “Just…when you’re asking someone to marry you, don’t you have to think about the implications? About your title, and their title? About, uh, heirs?”

Dimitri considers him for a long moment, and Felix shifts uncomfortably under his gaze.

“Forgive me for being presumptuous,” Dimitri finally says, “but if you want to marry Sylvain, you should just ask him. We cannot continue to spend our lives as if every action is dedicated to growing our personal House’s power.”

Felix’s cheeks grow hot. “I wasn’t – “

Dimitri laughs, not unkindly. “Of course you weren’t. But a word of advice, Felix. We are not our parents, and we don’t have to live by their teachings. We need only follow what we believe in. Is that not what you have been trying to teach me?”

Dimitri is annoyingly right, and Felix stomps off from that conversation feeling simultaneously pleased and chastised. Sylvain does this to him, makes him think of ridiculous plans for the future that have him running to Dimitri, of all people, for advice.

But isn’t this what’s he’s trying to learn? How to reach out to Sylvain, how to bring Sylvain with him instead of spending his life chasing the other man? When to push hard, and when to slow down? When to ebb, and when to flow?

He’s spent his entire life ebbing, jumping back from the shore at the touch of anything soft, or gentle, or idealistic, and it hasn’t protected him any more than the opposite protected his brother and father. He will never be the kind of man for who love comes easily, but he won’t keep Sylvain waiting forever either.

He’s sure there’s a better way to do it, but he wakes Sylvain up early one morning and drags him back up to the top of the tower they’d snuck away to as kids. Sylvain is drowsy and not having any part of Felix’s enthusiasm; he shuffles forward before Felix can say anything and buries his nose in the junction of Felix’s neck.

“Five more minutes,” he murmurs, and Felix knows Sylvain well enough to know that Sylvain will, in fact, fall asleep right here, standing up, trusting that Felix will somehow safely deposit him in a bed.

“Get up, you idiot,” Felix says, and he reaches into his pocket and grips the cool metal band. “I love you,” he adds, before he unceremoniously pries Sylvain’s weak grip on his coat apart and pushes a ring into it.

Sylvain freezes against Felix, and Felix holds his breath for a long, silent moment before Sylvain raises his head and looks at Felix, his eyes wide with shock.

“Are you serious?” he asks, his voice wavering. “You want to…is this what I think it is?”

Felix takes a deep breath. “Yes,” he says, trying to keep his own voice steady, but Sylvain is looking at him like he’s a blind man seeing the light for the first time, and he finds his throat welling up with emotion. “I…I want to be with you until I die, and I thought I might make it…official.”

Sylvain looks at him, keeps looking at him. “Is this a dream?” Sylvain asks. “You want to tie yourself to me?”

“Listen to me carefully, because I’m not repeating this again,” Felix says, even though they both know it’s a lie and Felix will say it as many times as Sylvain wants to hear it. “I love you, and I want to spend my life with you. I can’t imagine anyone else I could stand for that long, and…you promised me. I’ve loved you since I knew what love could be like. Will you marry me or not?”

Sylvain yanks him forward and kisses him with a bruising strength, hands framing Felix’s face.

“Say it again,” Sylvain says breathlessly, “ask me again.” He kisses Felix’s forehead, nose, the sweep of his jaw, anywhere he can reach.

“I just said I’m not saying it again,” Felix groans, but he covers the hand that Sylvain’s holding the ring in tightly with his own. “Marry me, Sylvain.”

“Yes,” Sylvain says, “yes, yes – fuck, Felix, will you marry me, that’s the real question – “

Felix steadies him, holds him in place, pretends not to notice the wet sheen of Sylvain’s eyes. “Yes,” he rasps, “yes. I promise. I promise.”  

.