Rumors of unrest between Faerghus and Duscur are bubbling to the surface of the Kingdom again, the low murmurs of dissent more prevalent than ever. Felix’s father had been summoned by the king to Fhirdiad along with the heads of House Gautier and House Galatea to discuss potential solutions to the growing unease.
Of course thirteen-year-old children aren’t allowed to take place in important tactical meetings, much to Felix’s irritation; they are shoved to the side and told to play nice in the castle while the adults take care of the real issues — well, the adults and Felix’s older brother. Glenn, only a few years older, has already been appointed an official knight of the Royal Guard, so why must only Felix be treated like a child? He can swing a sword quite skillfully and would defend the castle if something were to happen here, just like the rest of them. His only consolation is that their parents’ patronizing attitudes don’t end with him. Dimitri, Ingrid, and Sylvain had all been shooed away by their respective families as well, left to wander the castle without purpose and “nurture their friendships with one another” (Rodrigue’s words).
It had been a while since the four of them were together like this — and it feels off somehow. Perhaps it’s because everyone had changed significantly in the last few months since they’d seen one another, features sharpening and builds growing more defined, evolving away from the childhood they’d spent picking on one another and becoming something new and distant. Dimitri pulls the four of them into a too-tight hug upon their arrival to the castle, and his voice is deeper and shoulders broader than Felix remembered. Felix clams up, squirming out of that surprisingly sturdy grasp while ignoring Dimitri’s calls of I was hoping to spar with you, and Sylvain (also taller than before) runs after him as Ingrid sighs in a manner that makes her sound more like an exasperated parent than their peer.
“Wait up,” Sylvain says through panting breaths, tailing Felix doggedly around the perimeter of the castle. “Something’s wrong. What happened to coming to me for advice?”
Satisfied that he’s put enough distance between himself and Dimitri, Felix hoists himself up on the castle wall, grimacing as the glare of sunset invades his line of sight. “I’m not in the mood for your advice, Sylvain. I have no desire to hit on the dining staff — and yes,” he adds before Sylvain can open his mouth to defend himself, “I saw you making those soppy eyes of yours at that poor chef’s assistant not two minutes after we arrived here. I’m not going to drown my sorrows in women, or whatever it is that you do. So you can keep your advice to yourself.”
Sylvain sighs, running one hand through his moppy hair. “Felix, you’re acting weird,” He pushes himself up to sit beside Felix, legs swinging back and forth where they sit perched on the castle wall. “Well, weirder than usual. It’s like you’re not even happy to see us. I thought we had fun the last time we were together. Did I do something?”
“I’m not acting weird,” Felix says sullenly. “And it’s not you, either. Surprisingly. ...Isn’t — isn’t there some girl you should be talking to?”
Sylvain gently smacks his back between his shoulder blades, and Felix grimaces. “Don’t try to dodge the question.” Everything about him is suddenly sly, a grinning fox about to pounce. Felix hates when Sylvain gets like this, squeezing words out of him that shouldn’t ever escape. “Your mannerisms and tone of voice have totally changed. I know the symptoms well, my friend. You like someone, don’t you?”
Felix’s stomach jolts as though the wall beneath him has suddenly vanished. “Don’t project your issues onto me, Sylvain. And don’t make everything about… those kinds of pursuits. It’s distasteful.”
“Project my issues? I would never. Besides, you have plenty of those yourself.” Cheerfully ignoring Felix’s pointed glare, Sylvain barrels forward. “Maybe I can guess who it is. Oh no —” His face falls. “It’s not Ingrid, is it? I mean, she is engaged to your brother and all, so that would be really awk—”
“It’s not Ingrid!” Felix snaps, anything to get Sylvain to stop fantasizing about a tragic fictional scenario. “I mean — there’s no one at all. It’s not anyone — what’s that face for? Why are you grinning? I don’t like that.”
Indeed, Sylvain’s maddening smile has returned. “You said it wasn’t Ingrid, which means it’s someone else, right?”
“Was that an attempt at tricking me?”
A laugh. “Didn’t think you’d actually fall for it. But to be fair, I did want to ask if it was her.”
“There’s no one, Sylvain. Cut it out.”
Of course, Sylvain ignores him. “Is it me? I’m ravishingly handsome, I know, but —”
“Sylvain,” Felix interrupts, tired. “I don’t have romantic feelings for anyone. You’re wrong. ...Also, you’re an imbecile.”
“Had to get one dig in towards the end there, hmm?” Sylvain chuckles. “Well, you wouldn’t be Felix without that tongue of yours. At least I’m glad to see you’re not totally broken.”
They sit in silence for a while, Sylvain kicking the wall in a manner Felix finds mildly irritating. “Maybe you like someone and you’re not even aware of it yet. Like I said, I know the symptoms of —”
“I’ve enchanted so many girls in my day, and I see the moment where their behavior changes — hell, I can practically hear their heartbeat pick up when I get closer, and that’s when I know they’ve really fallen for me.” He nudges Felix with one shoulder. “So I know what I’m talking about. And you’re acting the same way.”
“I said, stop.” It’s a good thing they’re sitting beside each other so Felix doesn’t have to make eye contact. “Maybe I’ll go train after all,” Felix mutters. Anything to get away from this. “I’m going to picture your face on the training dummy.”
Sylvain laughs. “Training dummy? Aren’t you going to spar with Dimitri? He seemed pretty interested in crossing swords or spears or whatever with you. I’ve never known you to back down from a challenge. Especially not with him.”
“With Dimitri,” Felix echoes. “No, I wasn’t planning on it. Why don’t you train with me, Sylvain? It will be more worthwhile than… whatever you were planning to do.” Or whoever , but Felix doesn’t want to think about that for longer than necessary.
“Me?” Sylvain blinks, the grin fading from his lips. “I don’t want to get all… sweaty. How am I supposed to woo, er — Dana? Daliah? You know, the kitchen girl — what’s her name again? I can’t actually remember. Though actually, maybe she’s into the rugged warrior type and would be into it if I showed up drenched in sweat from a battle. I suppose it’s a bit of a gamble...”
“I’ll wait for you in my room if you want to train,” Sylvain practically pleads. “Can we compromise? I don’t want to mess up my hair.”
“Ugh, fine.” Your hair is always messed up. Felix bites the words back, knowing they will amount to nothing. “I just need to blow off some steam. This conversation annoyed me.” With a grunt he slides off the wall, narrowing his eyes at Sylvain who still stares off into the distance with an amused smirk. “Don’t get arrested by the castle guards in the meantime.”
Sylvain winks. “No promises.”
Felix freezes before the door to the training grounds upon hearing a voice — two voices — he hadn’t expected.
“Careful, Your Highness. You’ll take someone’s eye out jabbing so wildly.”
“Ah — my apologies. I must try to maintain better control next time.”
The first gentle reprimand had come from Glenn, whose patient cadence Felix knows all too well, and the bridge of Felix’s nose scrunches up as he hesitates to walk inside. Of course Dimitri is training with Glenn. Of course. With Glenn stationed at the castle, the two cross weapons often, and Felix shouldn’t be surprised. Yet his heart sinks nonetheless, and for a beat he considers turning tail and running back to the castle wall to watch the remainder of the sunset as Fhirdiad slips into a cold darkness.
He has to train, though. That itchy, restless energy is coursing through him, and there’s no better way he knows to get it out of his system than to pick up a training sword, to calm himself with the rhythmic pulse of thrusts and parries.
“Oh, Felix!” Dimitri greets him with enthusiasm when he steps inside, waving with his free hand — a hand that’s wider than it used to be, just like the rest of him. “You came after all. I was worried when you darted off like that, but Glenn said you must have had something to take care of first.”
“Did he, now?” Felix says coolly, raising an eyebrow at the iron lance in Dimitri’s hands. “I’m surprised my brother agreed to spar without training weapons. Isn’t using real lances a bit dangerous?”
He doesn’t directly acknowledge Glenn, doesn’t make eye contact, but his brother responds anyway. “I suppose it is, but I decided it was less dangerous than sparring with a bunch of splinters flying around constantly,” Glenn says. “His Highness breaks the wooden training lances as though they’re made of glass.” He gestures to the far corner where a pile of snapped wood has amassed. “I figured it was all right to make an exception. If we continued like before, the armory wouldn’t have any training weapons left.”
Upon closer inspection, Felix can see that even the tip of the iron lance in Dimitri’s hands is slightly bent. What kind of barbarian breaks real weapons during a simple training session? He doesn’t remember Dimitri acting so clumsy and brutish before. Perhaps his Crest is to blame. Recently when training, Felix has found himself temporarily overwhelmed by surges of power from his Crest. It’s a power that feels almost inhuman, coming from an unknown place he can’t yet control. He had heard rumors that the Crest of Blaiddyd has been known to inflict monstrous strength upon its bearers. Still, for reasons he can’t quite explain, seeing Dimitri standing there cheerfully surrounded by broken weapons… it unsettles him.
“We can spar with training swords if you’d prefer, Felix,” Dimitri says earnestly. “I promise I will do my best to be more careful. I admit breaking weapons with such frequency is a bit shameful”
“Who said I was going to spar with you?” Felix snaps. In his periphery he can sense Glenn’s shoulders tense and opts to ignore it. “You’re clearly busy with my brother.”
“But I —”
“Forget it,” Felix says, because he doesn’t want to deal with it all of a sudden, even though he had originally come here to spar in the first place. “I was looking for Sylvain, anyway,” he adds, which is completely untrue. “He must be in his room. Goodbye.”
“Felix — um, maybe later, we can — ?”
He ignores Dimitri’s hesitant words as he turns on his heel and stomps away, trying in vain to drown out the other’s words with heavy steps.
When Felix is upset, he runs to Sylvain.
Sylvain is far from the best source of comfort or advice, and Felix knows it. In fact, Sylvain’s comfort is usually more irritating than helpful, and his advice worse than worthless. Yet somehow Felix’s flustered steps take him subconsciously to the room where Sylvain is staying, and he knocks desperately, tapping his foot until Sylvain unlocks the door and pulls him inside. Felix thanks the gods that Sylvain is alone and clothed when he answers the door; there’s only so much agitation he can handle in one day.
“Back so soon?” Sylvain says, surprised. “I thought you were gonna train with —”
“He was with Glenn,” Felix hisses, folding his arms and clutching them tightly to his chest. “There was no point.”
“He was only sparring with Glenn because you weren’t around,” Sylvain retorts. “He wanted to spar with you originally, and — holy shit. It’s him, isn’t it? Of course it’s him.”
“What’s him?” Felix snaps, grimacing at the squeak that leaves his lips.
“Dimitri,” Sylvain says. “He’s the one you have a thing for. Wow. No wonder you ran away when he hugged you. You’re acting like a lovestruck maiden — it’s fascinating to watch, you know? I’ve never seen you like this before, Felix. Look at you, finally on your way to becoming a man.”
He’s too stunned to even retort, a lump forming in his throat as he considers Sylvain’s words. No, no — he does not “have a thing for” Dimitri. Not the prince of Faerghus, not his friend, he couldn’t. The implications are far too upsetting, and the failure of pursuing such a thing far too apparent.
They’re friends. Friends. Felix cares about Dimitri like any friend would.
His breathing becomes shallower as he struggles to push down the rising fear.
“Practice with me.”
“Excuse me?” Felix is pulled from the brink of panic out of sheer confusion at the other’s words. He supposes that’s at least something Sylvain is good for. “Practice what?”
“Flirting,” Sylvain says, and Felix chokes on air. “Pretend I’m His Highness, and tell me how you really feel.”
“I don’t really feel anything,” Felix snarls. “That is to say, I have nothing to say to him. Or you.”
“That’s no way to speak to the Prince of Faerghus,” Sylvain says with melodramatic gravity. “Why won’t you train with me, Felix? Do you hate me now?”
Felix grits his teeth. “Dimitri doesn’t sound anything like that. Shut up.”
“Felix, please,” Sylvain says, taking his hand. He tries to tug away but Sylvain’s grip is persistent. “We’re friends. We could even be more, if you’d just talk to me.” Gradually he pulls Felix closer, attempting to keep his expression serious but eyes still glinting with mischief. “You don’t need to run from me, Felix.”
“Sylvain, stop it. This is nonsense.”
“You can tell me how you feel.” His fingers alight on Felix’s lapel, but Felix swats the hand away. “Who knows, I may even —”
The sound of a creaking door causes them both to jump in unison.
The prince himself stands at the doorway with wide eyes. Felix takes that moment to shove Sylvain away from him, too mortified to even speak. Even Sylvain is at a loss.
“I was worried you were upset,” Dimitri says meekly, cheeks flushed furiously as his gaze fixates on the carpet. “So I wanted to make sure you were — but I, ah — never mind, I —” His voice squeaks, reminiscent of its juvenile tone only a few months prior. “You’re busy.” And with that the prince turns tail and flees the room.
Silence stretches before them, vast as a battlefield. “Well,” Sylvain says finally, stretching casually even as Felix seethes beside him. “That’s why you lock your door, I guess. That’s not the first time I’ve been walked in on doing —”
“Stop making everything about you!” Felix snarls. “Stop making everything worse — just stop! Leave me alone, Sylvain.”
Sylvain is still spluttering behind him when he runs, but Felix doesn’t look back, retreating like a wounded soldier and acting every bit the child his father considers him.
Tap. Tap tap.
Sylvain grimaces. Someone is knocking on his door, and it’s definitely not Felix considering how he ran off a few minutes ago. Perhaps it’s the kitchen girl who had been on the receiving end of his doe eyes? (For the record, he remembered her name was Lyra. Not even close to Dana or Dahlia.) From past experience, Sylvain had learned that it’s safest not to answer when people knock on his bedroom door lest some young woman whose heart he had broken wished to reprimand him for something or another, so he stands inside and holds his breath, willing the sound to go away.
“Sylvain, I know you’re in there. I can see your shadow under the door.”
“Ingrid?” Sylvain relaxes a bit, then curses himself for dropping his guard. “Is Lyra with you?” For all he knows, she’s there to chew him out on someone else’s behalf. It had happened plenty of times before in this very castle.
“Lyra? Who’s Lyra?”
Guess I’m in the clear. “Never mind,” he says quickly. “Do you need something?”
“Can I come in?” Ingrid asks a bit impatiently. “I need to talk to you. It’s about, well — can I come in first, please?”
With a sigh Sylvain quickly opens the door, ushering Ingrid in and locking it behind her as fast as he can. “Sorry, can’t be too careful. I’m avoiding —”
“A girl, I know,” Ingrid growls. “You always are. But this isn’t about you for once, Sylvain.” Sylvain flinches, the words stop making everything about you! still echoing guiltily through his mind. “It’s about Felix.”
“Felix?” Sylvain stretches his arms above his head, feigning stupidity (a tactic which never works with Ingrid, though he foolishly continues to try anyway). “He’s been acting kind of strange, hasn’t he? Do you know what that’s about?”
Ingrid stomps her foot. “Sylvain! Stop acting like an idiot! You know it’s because of you!”
“I don’t follow?”
“Stop leading him on like that,” Ingrid snaps. “Are you really that horrible? He’s our friend, Sylvain! Just because he’s never had a — a crush before doesn’t mean you can just take advantage of him like that!”
Sylvain knows he’s really that horrible, yet for once he actually isn’t quite sure what Ingrid is talking about. “Felix doesn’t have a thing for me?” It mistakenly comes out as an incredulous question, and he blinks slowly. “Uh, I mean, of course he doesn’t. Where did you get that from?”
“Dimitri told me.”
“H-huh?” he stammers. “But I — but I don’t — he doesn’t!”
Ingrid puts her hands on her hips and faces him very seriously. “He said he came across Felix in your room, and for lack of a better term, you were… seducing him, weren’t you? What do you have to say for yourself?”
Suddenly everything clicks, and Sylvain realize he has to do fast damage control before this rumor gains any traction and Felix decides to truly never speak to him again. “No, oh gods no — Ingrid, it’s not like that at all.” Her lips purse quizzically, but she mercifully waits for him to continue before verbally ripping him to shreds. “I was trying to give him some practice reacting to… advances like that. He knows I was only pretending, we both knew that. I thought I could help him, since he definitely has a thing for —” An image of Felix stabbing him through the ribs unpleasantly flashes through his mind. “Er, someone. A thing for someone, but he doesn’t know it yet. So I was trying to help him through it. Oi, Ingrid — for once can you consider not hitting me?”
Indeed, Ingrid had raised her palm as if preparing to slap him, but now she lowers it. “Dimitri got the wrong idea, then,” she says. “He seemed almost upset when he told me about it. I thought it was strange that he wouldn’t be happier for you two.”
Sylvain tilts his head and waits.
“Maybe Dimitri has a thing for someone, too,” Ingrid says with a shrug. “Who knows.”
He grins. Of course Ingrid is too smart to let the implications get past her. That’s what he’s always liked about her.
“Yeah, who knows.”
Felix’s feet take him back to the same castle wall where this horrible brooding train of thought had begun. I should have pushed Sylvain off before it got to this point, he muses dully, but even that cynical line of thought is cut short when he realizes that someone is already sitting there, hunched over and twiddling his thumbs.
“Dimitri,” Felix says hoarsely.
The prince looks over with a surprised and sheepish smile. “Felix! I… um, truly, I am sorry. I breached your privacy, and —”
“No,” Felix interrupts, hoisting himself up to sit beside Dimitri. He refuses to let this wild notion spread any more than necessary; he must nip the rumor in the bud before Dimitri spends the rest of his life wondering if Felix and Sylvain are… ugh. “Sylvain was going on about some nonsense that I… harbored romantic feelings for someone,” Felix chokes out. “He wished to feign the role of someone I may be interested in so that I may practice my reactions. How utterly absurd. As though taking advice from Sylvain of all people would prepare me for such feelings. I would much rather my own life not be such a disaster, thank you very much.” He lets out a painful sigh that courses through his body with a shudder. “I’m sorry you even had to see that. Just forget about it. This whole thing is mortifying.”
Dimitri is silent for a while, staring out at the night sky; Felix can barely see his features in the darkness, and his fingers grip the wall painfully as he waits for the other boy’s response. “Do you?” Dimitri asks finally, turning his head to face Felix though neither can see the other clearly. “Have feelings for someone?”
“Of course not,” Felix growls. “Who do you take me for? Sylvain?”
“No,” Dimitri says gently. “I was just… ah, I suppose I was just curious. Forgive me.”
In his mind’s eye he pictures Dimitri laughing alongside Glenn, the two bonding after a day of training, and his stomach twists into knots again. Dimitri laughing, with that slightly lower timbre of voice, the picture of a perfect prince, kind and strong and tall. Dimitri is taller than he remembers, taller than Felix for sure, and if the king’s size is any indication, Dimitri will surpass Glenn soon enough. Once Felix returns home, Dimitri will continue to grow, both towards his future and apart from him.
When they were children, they both used to laugh together. Rodrigue and Lambert are close too, and at one time Felix would have similarly considered himself and Dimitri best friends. Yet seeing Dimitri now, he can’t shake the horrible feeling that these changes are only the first in a line of many more to come.
“It’s okay if you have feelings for someone,” Dimitri says quietly, though his voice is sad, enough to give Felix that jolt of hope he hadn’t even realized he’d been seeking.
“Can we drop it already? This conversation is beyond irritating.”
Dimitri chuckles. “You never change, Felix. I really admire that about you.”
I admire you too, says the unformed thought that he’ll never say. But you are changing, and I’m afraid to see it.
And I have changed, Dimitri. I’ve changed, and I hate it. Because I can’t look at you the same anymore. Not like childhood friends.
I envy Glenn, who sees you every day.
I think Sylvain may be right about me after all.
“Tomorrow, let’s spar,” Felix says airily before the other words can form. “I won’t hold back, even for you.”
“I wouldn’t expect anything less,” Dimitri says, and even in the dark Felix can sense him beaming.
He wonders if he’s doomed to always feel this twisted up from now on.