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the war is over and we are beginning

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Felix is barely conscious when the Emperor falls.

The throne room blurs and tilts around him as he finally lets his sword slip from his fingers. He remembers – a lance? Two? The soldiers had masks on, and their uniforms were not of the Empire. Sylvain hadn’t seen them coming, and Felix— he can’t remember thinking, just moving. He looks down to see two gaping pits in his chest, red rivers pouring down his front. There’s a vague notion in his mind that that’s probably not good before he pitches forward.


That’s his name. He blinks slowly, trying to get the blood out of his eyes. There are armored boots in his field of vision.

“Felix!” The boots clank closer. Something grips his shoulder and turns him over onto his back. The movement is dizzying and painful, and Felix squeezes his eyes shut. “Shit— Mercedes! I need you!”

A blink of time passes that might be a second and might be an hour. His chest is a burning wasteland of pain, but something bright and soothing presses at its perimeter – a feather of a touch, taking the barest edge off the agony. Footsteps approach, softer than the armor. Leather riding boots. “Stand back. Let me see him.”

A blurry hand. He tries to suck in a breath; his chest rattles and a faint wheeze scrapes down his throat. These are familiar voices. The magic that touches him is familiar, too. Warm. The soothing brightness strengthens from a light touch to something more like a firm hand.

“There’s a lot of internal damage,” the softer voice says. “He might not—”

“Please,” the other voice begs, voice cracking.

“Sylvain,” the soft voice continues, and, oh, Sylvain is here. It was Sylvain calling his name. Sylvain’s okay—okay enough to talk, at least. Sylvain won’t be breaking their promise today.

A sudden rush of fear crashes through the haze when Felix realizes he might be breaking it instead. He can’t leave—not yet. Not without Sylvain. He tries to talk, but blood bubbles up his throat and fills his mouth. The choking cough that racks his chest sends agony lancing up and down what feels like his entire body.

“Felix!” Sylvain cries out.

“Don’t try to speak,” Mercedes – it has to be Mercedes – tells him quietly. “I’m going to do everything I can.”

The warmth of her magic returns. A gentle hand cradles his cheek and turns his head, and he finds himself staring at Sylvain’s desperate face.

“You can’t die on me,” Sylvain is saying. “Don’t die. Don’t leave me, Felix, please.”

I won’t, is what Felix tries to say, but he chokes on his own blood when he opens his mouth. Mercedes says something to Sylvain, but whatever it is, Felix can’t understand it. The world is all rushing blood and white noise, now. Darkness bites at the corners of his vision. The last thing he sees is Sylvain’s tearstained face before everything goes black and silent.

It takes hours to stabilize Felix.

Mercedes can barely feel her hands. It took the combined efforts of herself, Manuela, Marianne, and Linhardt to save Felix’s life, and even then, it was barely enough. Linhardt politely excused himself to vomit the moment they were done. Mercedes can’t blame him; she’s rarely made ill by the sight of gore, but this pushed even her to her limit.

The Agarthan mages are more adept than anyone at dealing death, and the Agarthans in Enbarr were no exception. Their weapons, their magic – it’s all designed to kill quickly, and white magic has little effect on it. Jeralt died to an Agarthan knife. Countless soldiers have died to Agarthan magic. Felix himself had taken two lances through his back and out his front, punching gaping holes through his lungs and nearly piercing his heart. It’s frankly a miracle he didn’t die.

Mercedes braces both hands on the operating table and leans forward heavily. Marianne is sitting on the floor by the wall of the traveling infirmary. Linhardt is either still vomiting or just unwilling to come back to a place that’s covered in so much blood, and Manuela has since left to check on him.

The Agarthan magic lingering in the wounds fought them at every turn. It took all of their combined strength to fight it back and knit Felix back together. Had it just been Mercedes trying to heal Felix, there’s no doubt he would have died.

“I wish we could do more,” Marianne whispers.

“We did everything we could,” Mercedes says firmly. It’s true that Felix is still in a fragile state. They’ve managed to heal him to the point where he’ll survive his wounds, but not much more than that. He’s going to have a long, painful recovery.

But he’s alive.

Mercedes looks at her shaking, blood-soaked hands and manages to smile. He’s alive.

When she delivers the news, Sylvain holds her for a long, long time, heedless of the blood she’s getting all over him. “Thank you,” he whispers into her hair, raw and vulnerable. It’s the most sincere she’s ever seen him, and she tucks his head down against her shoulder.

“He’s going to need a lot of support,” she tells him. “He has a long road to recovery ahead of him.”

“I don’t care how long it is,” Sylvain says fiercely. “I’m not leaving him for a minute of it.”

“Make sure you take care of yourself, too,” Mercedes scolds him. She pushes him back by his shoulders to look him in the eye. “I know you were injured in the battle, too. It won’t do either of you any good if you run yourself ragged looking after him.”

Sylvain still looks mutinous, but he purses his lips and nods.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Mercedes tells him.

“He got hurt protecting me.” Sylvain pulls back entirely, crossing his arms and averting his gaze. “I just—I turned around, and they were tearing their lances out of his back.”

“You’ve gotten hurt protecting him, too.” She rests a gentle hand on his shoulder. “It’s what friends do for each other.”

“It was like he didn’t even feel it,” Sylvain whispers. “He tore both of them apart. He looked so angry. They were—they were both dead before I could even get to him, and then he was on the floor and I thought he was dead, too.”

“You kept him alive until I could get there, Sylvain.” Mercedes taps his cheek and forces him to look at her. “I know white magic isn’t your strongest skill—”

Sylvain barks a weak laugh. “Goddess, was I regretting it in that moment—”

“—but you kept him from bleeding out. You saved his life.”

“I think the credit goes to you and the other healers, Mercedes.”

She shakes her head and gives him a stern look. “No finding excuses to beat yourself up. You’re the reason he survived long enough for us to treat him at all.”

His eyes are full of unshed tears when he finally meets her gaze again. “I was so scared,” he admits, raw.

“I know. So was I.” She draws him into another hug. “But he’s safe now, Sylvain. Go get some rest while I let everyone else know the good news.”

“No promises,” he mutters.

When she gets back to Felix’s cot after delivering the good news to the rest of the army, Sylvain is asleep in a chair at Felix’s bedside. Mercedes clicks her tongue, but she herself is too exhausted to make a fuss. She drapes a blanket over Sylvain’s shoulders and makes sure she’s quiet on her way out.

The truth is, Sylvain doesn’t think he’d be able to sleep in his own tent. He tried to get some rest while the healers were trying to save Felix’s life, but he kept waking with half-formed images of Felix’s mangled body on the backs of his eyelids.

So in this chair he sits, dozing intermittently and able to see with his own eyes that Felix is still breathing when his nightmares wake him. You kept your promise, he keeps thinking. You should be dead, but you wanted to keep your promise. There’s a point where survival becomes less about medicine and more about miracles, and Sylvain overheard enough of the healers’ conversation to know that Felix passed that point just by making it to the medical tent alive.

He should be dead, Linhardt kept repeating, sounding dazed. Was it his Crest? He should be dead.

Maybe it was his Crest. Felix is the first Fraldarius in generations to bear a Major Crest, and Sylvain’s seen him do some incredible and inhuman things with its strength. But Sylvain thinks about a tiny hand in his on a winter evening sixteen years ago, and two foreheads pressed together, and a promise whispered into the small, quiet space between them.

Miklan had left Sylvain on a mountainside, that time. It took his parents three days to find him. He was hungry, sick, shaking; he’d dug a hole in the snow and curled up inside it to cling to his last shreds of warmth. Three days, he’d hidden from the wolves, shuddering and crying as he listened to them howl through the night. Three days of eating nothing but snow and begging either for his family to find him or for death to come for him. He was barely conscious when his father pulled him from his den, but he was awake enough to hear what the Margrave said—

“I don’t know what we’d do if we lost our only heir with a Crest.”

Three days on a mountainside in the snow, and that was the coldest he’d felt in his entire life.

Felix, though. Felix was waiting at the estate when they brought Sylvain back. “The Lords Fraldarius saw fit to ride to our estate with all haste when they heard of your disappearance,” Sylvain’s father had said. Sylvain, half-delirious with cold and fever, still knew that actually meant that Felix had cried and sobbed and raised all kinds of hell until Glenn agreed to take him.

Glenn, thirteen years old and barely tall enough to ride a horse instead of a pony, was holding six-year-old Felix in his arms when Sylvain hobbled into the room. Felix shrieked and leapt from his brother’s arms, flying to Sylvain and burying his face in his snow-wet chest, already sobbing.

“Don’t do that! You can’t leave me! You’re not allowed to leave me!” Felix wailed, beating his tiny fists against Sylvain’s chest. Sylvain wrapped his arms around Felix’s narrow, quivering shoulders and held him, shaking his head when Glenn made to pull Felix away.

Despite the disapproving gaze of the Margrave, Felix crawled into Sylvain’s bed with him that night and the two of them curled up face-to-face, fingers interlaced, foreheads pressed together.

“Don’t go anywhere without me,” Felix said, eyes still shiny from his earlier tears. “You’re not allowed to die without me.”

“I won’t,” Sylvain hastened to say when he saw that Felix was about to start crying again. “I won’t. We’ll stay together until we die together, okay?”

Felix sniffled, tucking his head under Sylvain’s chin. “Do you promise?”

“I promise.”

It was a stupid promise, maybe, made by two children who were frightened by the sudden specter of death looming over the both of them. But it’s a promise he and Felix still remember. One will not go where the other cannot follow. Crest or no Crest, Felix would never leave Sylvain like this.

Pale lines of moonlight flutter across Felix’s hands from the gently swaying tent flap. There’s a soft, heavy weight in Sylvain’s chest that twists and churns every time he looks at Felix’s slack face. What would I have done? he thinks, folding his arms on the bed and resting his head on them. If this war ended without you here to see it—

What’s left for Sylvain, if Felix is gone? An empty title? The old Fraldarius territory under the name Gautier? What’s left? The people around him – he’s not so stupid as to think they don’t care for him at all, but they have their own lives ahead of them. Their own futures, now that this war is over. If not for Felix, what’s left?

If not for Felix, what’s the point in surviving this war at all?

Crickets sing outside the canvas of the tent. Felix’s chest rises and falls under the blanket. The army sets off for Garreg Mach in the morning and there’s no way the medics will let Sylvain ride in the carriage with the patients, but he can have tonight at Felix’s side.

The journey to Garreg Mach is a haze, only snippets of which Felix is aware. It’s indistinct, feverish; his chest is full of knives, and every jerk and bump of the carriage digs them in deeper and has him moaning in wordless pain. Healing magic trickles into him when he wakes. Sometimes it helps. Most of the time it doesn’t. The other patients in the carriage cry and scream, sometimes. If Felix sleeps – and he must, because sun moves between blinks – it isn’t restful.

He thinks he recognizes some of the things that lean over him. Mercedes’ eyes, bruised with exhaustion. Linhardt’s mouth, split by a yawn. Sylvain, once or twice, often accompanied by a gentle palm cradling his face. If these are dreams, he cannot tell.

Is he gonna be okay, Father? It is merely a winter illness, Glenn. It will pass. Too hot. His chest hurts. An illness in his chest—a racking cough. That’s right. Let it out. His mouth tastes like iron. His father’s hand, big and cool against his burning forehead. Glenn’s hand in his. “Father,” he whispers when a hand passes over his eyes. He thinks he hears someone say his name in a soft, broken voice. He does not, cannot, open his eyes.

He wakes, more or less, when the carriage draws to a full halt and does not begin to move again. Brief pieces of words reach his ears. “Move… patients are… treatment.” Someone’s hands slide under his body.

“I can walk,” he croaks as he is shifted to a stretcher.

Someone chuckles at him, very gently. “Of course you can,” says a male voice, desperately fond. Felix cracks his eyes open. Sylvain is leaning over him, close enough that Felix can pick out a few of the faint freckles on the bridge of his nose. The sun is so much brighter in the south than it is in Faerghus.

“It was warm in Enbarr,” he mumbles.

“What? Are you cold?” There’s distress in Sylvain’s voice now.

Felix is irritated, but too tired to do much about it. He wants Sylvain to stop worrying. “Freckles,” he tells him faintly. Sylvain says something else, but Felix passes out before he can process it.

“All things considered, I’m not surprised he’s not lucid yet,” Linhardt tells Sylvain blandly when Sylvain demands to know why Felix hasn’t woken properly.

“What?” Sylvain splutters. “He—he kept asking for his father on the ride back to the monastery. It’s been more than a week, and he still hasn’t said a single thing that’s made sense! How is that not concerning?”

Linhardt levels him with a flat stare. “Sylvain,” he says, sounding even more exhausted than he normally does. “He shouldn’t even be alive.”

Cold numbness washes down Sylvain’s spine. He’d forgotten that particular phrase, but it rings in his ears again, just like it did when he heard it from where was eavesdropping outside the traveling infirmary.

“We’ve brought back countless soldiers from the edge of death,” Linhardt continues, “but never if their injuries were from an Agarthan wound. It’s true that we had several healers working on him, instead of just one, but the fact that he survived their magic at all is nothing short of a miracle.”

Sylvain tries to swallow, but his throat’s too dry. “I—I remember you saying that.”

“Then you should understand that his recovery isn’t going to be fast, or easy,” Linhardt says. “It was a serious injury, and the effects of Agarthan magic aren’t something we’ve studied extensively. We’re monitoring him closely, and—” His mouth splits into a yawn. “And he’s perfectly stable, just a little incoherent. What he needs is time. And what I need is a nap.”

Sylvain almost snaps, but he stops himself when he recalls Linhardt’s tireless hands administering magic and tying bandages in the medical carriage, all the way back to the monastery. Has he slept properly since they left camp? Since they marched on Enbarr, even?

“Yeah. Yeah, go… go get some rest,” Sylvain tells him. Linhardt’s already walking away. “Thanks,” Sylvain says to empty air.

He’s left in a silent infirmary room with an unconscious Felix. Manuela’s just across the hall and both the doors are open, so she can see if anything changes while still giving visitors a bit of privacy. Even so, someone else will likely take up vigil by Felix’s bedside when – if – Sylvain leaves. He’s in too uncertain a state to be left alone.

Sylvain isn’t complaining. He feels tethered to Felix’s side, like every moment he can see for himself that Felix is still breathing is a precious one. Dragging a chair over to the bedside, he sits and takes one of Felix’s hands, very delicately, into his own.

There’s a lot of words Sylvain uses to describe Felix. Prickly, for one. Guarded. Tough and jaded. Lots of words, and fragile was never one of them until this moment, with Felix’s limp hand pressed between Sylvain’s palms. His callouses catch on Sylvain’s, and his skin is gnarled with scars, old and new. So many times, he’s been hurt. So many times, he’s hurt himself. Sylvain rubs a gentle thumb over the rough back of Felix’s hand, like he can ease all these old hurts just by loving Felix enough.

Loving Felix.

Like shrugging a blanket over his shoulders on a chilly winter morning, the idea of loving Felix. He’s never really considered a life without Felix in it, and over the course of the war, those considerations took the occasional turn for the romantic. His old classmates commented that his heart just wasn’t in his flirtations anymore, especially after the Professor returned and Sylvain was with Felix near-constantly instead of just occasionally.

Felix never said a word. He just watched Sylvain with those sharp, knowing eyes. Sylvain doubts Felix knew the exact path of his thoughts, but he’d known something had changed. He always did.

Part of Sylvain wishes Felix had pushed. The other part regrets not pushing himself. Entertaining his thoughts past idle considerations, let alone admitting them aloud, never seemed like an option. Two Crest-bearing men, both responsible for producing heirs, choosing one another instead of suitable wives? Marrying for love is for commoners and second sons. Sylvain, whose parents bore no love for one another and no love for their children, knows this all too well.

He’s questioned everything else that used to build the foundations of his life – the Church, the Crests, the structure of all damn Fódlan. He’s seen the way Dimitri looks at the Professor, and he knows his King will never take a wife. Linhardt, only heir to the Hevring name and a Crest-bearer himself, doesn’t seem to care who knows of his plans to marry Caspar.

Sylvain has questioned everything else. Why hasn’t he questioned this?

“I love you, Felix,” he whispers to Felix’s unconscious form, and the silence he’s kept for years is shattered, here in this dark, quiet room.

Felix isn’t awake to hear it, but it’s—it’s so freeing. Like a bird that was trapped in his lungs has burst out and taken flight for the first time in its life. Tears well in Sylvain’s eyes, and he cannot stop repeating it, like a mantra, like a prayer. He will say it now, and when Felix is awake, he’ll say it again, and again. As many times as he wants, as many times as he’s able. “I love you, Felix. I love you. I love you. I love you.”

Felix has more company over the next few days than he would ever appreciate if he was conscious.

Dimitri visits frequently, though he never stays long; the politics involved in ending a war and uniting a continent keep him unspeakably busy. There’s always something broken on his face when he looks at Felix – some shadow of the man they found haunting the monastery after five years of absence. Sylvain thinks of Glenn, of Rodrigue. With Felix in the state he’s in, that’s nearly an entire family dead in Dimitri’s name.

“He’d kill you if he saw you staring at him like that,” Sylvain says during a particularly broody visit.

Dimitri’s single eye flickers over to Sylvain, wide and startled, before dropping back down to Felix. “I suppose you’re right.” He’s alone today. More often than not, he’s accompanied by Dedue, but it seems Dedue is otherwise occupied.

Sylvain snorts. “‘Get that pathetic look off your face, boar,’” he imitates Felix.

It startles a laugh out of Dimitri. “It’s like he’s woken up to scold me himself,” he says ruefully.

“No Dedue today?” Sylvain asks him.

“No. I insisted he take a break. I believe he and Ashe are tending to the greenhouse.”

There’s a sly comment Sylvian could make about Dedue and Ashe, but the only sleep he’s gotten has been hunched over in this chair and he just doesn’t have the energy. “You should consider taking a break, too,” Sylvain says instead.

Dimitri levels him with a stare that is somehow both exasperated and kingly. “That’s quite a thing to say when you yourself have not left this room since our arrival at the monastery,” Dimitri admonishes.

“Yeah, well, someone has to listen to this idiot’s sleep talk to make fun of him for it later,” Sylvain replies. It’s true that Felix has mumbled some pretty weird things on the rare occasion that he opens his eyes, but they’re mostly distressing instead of funny. Glenn and Father and hurts. Even the less unsettling comments aren’t particularly amusing – just mostly-incoherent mutterings about his surroundings, or his hands, or his hair. He once squinted at his own hand for a good few moments, whispered, “That’s mine,” and let it drop back onto the bed as he fell back asleep.

Dimitri eyes Sylvain skeptically. “I suppose I’ll just have to speak to the Professor about the matter,” he says, his tone of voice mild despite the implied threat.

“Go get some sleep, Your Kingliness,” Sylvain says dismissively.

Mercedes is one of Felix’s most frequent visitors, if only because she’s also partly in charge of his medical care. She always gives Sylvain a gentle lecture about taking care of himself, but she never forces him to leave. Annette spends most of her visits tidying the room’s sparse contents and humming under her breath. The tight fury on Ingrid’s face loosens every time she comes around, softening into worry. Ashe reads aloud when he comes, sometimes putting Sylvain to sleep with the cadence of his voice. Dedue usually accompanies Dimitri on his visits, but he does come alone once or twice; he never says much, but often encourages Sylvain to take a break from his vigil. Sylvain never does.

It’s not just the Blue Lions, either. Sylvain watches with some amazement as Bernadetta carefully places a little embroidered handkerchief on the table beside the bed.

“It’s the cat we like to play with in the monastery,” she says solemnly, her finger brushing across the black needlework. The cat’s green eyes stare out from the handkerchief. It’s cute. Sylvain knows Felix befriends the monastery cats from time to time, but not that it’s something he does with Bernadetta. Bernadetta dips her head and sniffles. “He’s alive, Bernie,” she whispers to herself, voice cracking. She beats a hasty retreat before Sylvain can ask her if she’s alright.

Dorothea sidles in one morning, eyeing Sylvain with disapproval. “Have you moved at all?” she asks him.

Sylvain shrugs. The answer is no. Everyone has become very unsubtle in their hints that he should leave and get some real rest, but the one time he tried, he woke in a cold sweat from a nightmare of Felix dead-eyed in his arms.

“You really are exhausted,” Dorothea says with wonder. “Not a single flirtatious comment? Not one?”

“Don’t worry,” a different voice says behind her. “I’m here to change that.”

The Professor steps into the room and pats a friendly hand on Dorothea’s shoulder. Dorothea laughs.

“What, you’re going to order him to flirt with me?” she teases.

Byleth huffs a little through his nose, which is his equivalent of a chuckle. “I’m sure he’ll be ready to shower you with false compliments again once I’ve forced him to get some real sleep.”

“Thank goodness,” Dorothea says, laying the back of her hand against her forehead and swooning. “I’m crumbling without the edification of his honeyed words.”

“Come on,” Sylvain says, a little irritated despite himself.

“Oh, that’s right. All your honey is for Felix now, isn’t it?” Dorothea says, not without fondness.

Sylvain cracks a grin. Such a comment may have flustered him before, but he’s made the decision to live for himself now. Love for himself. “I’m glad you’ve realized,” he says, placing a hand on his chest. “It truly breaks my heart to deprive the monastery ladies of my love, but I’m afraid I’m looking to become a kept man, now.”

Dorothea’s eyes widen a fraction, and her smile grows. “Oh? Shall I prepare for some post-war nuptials?”

“Hopefully,” Sylvain says, with more honesty than he intended to let slip. He backtracks hastily. “Well, I’m going to court him first. Flowers. Tea. Presents. He’s going to hate it.”

“Will he?” Dorothea coos knowingly.

“He’ll certainly pretend to,” Byleth adds.

Sylvain’s smile drops a little as he returns his gaze to Felix, who is drooling very charmingly onto his pillow. “He has to say yes, first,” he says quietly. “I’m going to tell him how I feel, but I don’t know if he feels the same.”

“Sweetheart,” Dorothea says, affectionate and exasperated in equal measure, “I think you know he does.”

Lingering touches, never pushed away. Bedrolls shared on long marches. A silence unbroken but heavy with meaning. Felix never would have said a thing, Sylvain knows. Sylvain’s relationship with his family, his Crest, his duty to produce an heir – if he chose those things over his own happiness, then Felix’s words would cause them both nothing but pain. In many ways, their silence protected them both.

“I think I do,” Sylvain whispers.

“As touched as I am,” Byleth says, and Sylvain knows him well enough to know that he actually is touched, “Sylvain, you really do need to rest.”

“I can rest here.”

“Not properly, you can’t.” Byleth grabs Sylvain under his armpits like a child and hauls him up out of the chair. “One day in your own bed. One day of meals in the dining hall and not in this room. That’s all I ask.”

“Ugh,” Sylvain says. In protest, he goes completely limp; Byleth staggers a bit under the sudden weight, but unfortunately does not drop him back into the chair.

“Don’t be a child about this,” Byleth scolds him in his best Professor Voice. “Just a day out of the infirmary to get some sleep and some fresh air.”

“No,” Sylvain says.

“I’m sure Felix would be thrilled that you’re being so stubborn about this,” Dorothea tells him.

“Well, he’s not awake to tell me that!” Sylvain snaps. “And I need to be here when he is!”

Byleth and Dorothea both freeze at the genuine anger in his voice. He can’t bring himself to feel any guilt about it.

“I understand how you feel,” Byleth says eventually. He pulls Sylvain up further, more holding him against his chest than anything else at this point. “But you need to bathe. You need to eat, and you need to sleep. Even if he wakes up without you, whoever’s here will come get you immediately.”

At the comment about bathing, Sylvain deflates a little. He shifts his feet under him so he’s supporting some of his own weight. “Fine,” he mutters. “One day.”

“That’s all we ask,” Byleth says. His grip loosens, one hand dropping entirely, but he doesn’t let Sylvain go as they walk to the door.

“I’ll take good care of our prickly little cactus while you’re gone,” Dorothea says, touching Sylvain’s cheek with a tender smile. “Don’t you fret. Clean yourself up and get some sleep.” Gentle mischief colors her tone as she adds, “So you’re at your best when you make your move.”

Sylvain hesitates. “You’ll come get me if he wakes up for real?” Not just the half-coherent moments of wakefulness that Sylvain doubts Felix will even remember later, but actually awake.

Dorothea’s playful expression becomes serious. “I will. I promise.”

“Okay.” Sylvain swallows, lowers his head, and lets the Professor lead him from the room.

“I brought you cake.”

Lysithea sets the plate on the table beside Felix’s bed. Felix, only half-awake, squints at the slice, and then at Lysithea.

“It’s your favorite,” she says, face tinged red. “Well. It’s hard to tell with you, you know! But you said you liked this one the best out of all the cakes I made.”

Felix opens his mouth, but all that comes out is a wheeze. Talking seems so far beyond him, even now. He’d be disgusted with his weakness if he wasn’t barely clinging to consciousness.

At this, Lysithea seems to soften. She settles into the chair beside the bed, resting the book she brought in her lap. “You’re probably not feeling up to eating yet, are you?” she asks wryly. “Manuela said you could probably manage solids now, but if you’d rather just keep the liquid diet…”

Felix manages a disgusted noise at that, making Lysithea laugh.

“Nasty, isn’t it?” She puts her elbows on her knees and rests her chin on her fists. “Trust me, I’ve been in this bed before, too. Even the most disgusting dining hall food seemed like a feast fit for a king afterwards.”

Felix blinks at her, trying to convey agreement. She smiles back at him, so hopefully she understands.

“It’s… it’s really hard for all of us, you know,” she says softly, her eyes flickering away from his. “Seeing you like this.”

Imagine being the one who can’t even sit up on his own, Felix wants to say.

As if hearing his thoughts, Lysithea lets out a wet chuckle. “Of course, it’s infinitely harder for you. I should know better than to say stuff like that. On my bad days, the last thing I want to hear is people talking about how bad they have it watching me suffer.” She looks back at his face, a wet shine in her eyes. “But… I just want you to know how much we all care about you. We’re all praying for your swift recovery.”

Felix manages an upward quirk of his lips. He’s so fuzzy from the pain and from the medicine Manuela has him on that it feels like he’s moving someone else’s face. It’s enough to bring a smile to Lysithea’s face, though, and that’s enough for him.

“Well. I’ll leave the cake here for now, and you can let me know if you want it later.” Lysithea sits back in the chair and cracks open her book. “You won’t be rid of me for awhile yet.”

Felix’s eyes flutter shut. He thinks he’ll want the cake when he wakes up, maybe.

Lysithea’s still there when he blinks awake again, though she’s standing by the door instead of sitting in the chair. Felix tries to sit up to get a better look at who she’s speaking to in the hall and regrets it immediately; the pain that was a dull ache in his torso explodes into nightmarish agony, and he lets out an involuntary whine.

“Felix!” A blur of motion shoulders past Lysithea and hurries to his side. Familiar red hair wavers in and out of Felix’s vision.

“Sylvain!” Lysithea scolds.

Sylvain’s hands are gentle on Felix’s shoulders as he pushes Felix back down into the bed. “You’re really, really not supposed to be moving,” Sylvain tells him, ignoring Lysithea.

“Nngh,” Felix manages. He supposes that’s all he can hope for at this point.

“Neither are you!” Lysithea says, storming over to Sylvain and tugging uselessly on his arm. “What part of rest don’t you morons understand?”

Sylvain gives her a defiant look and plops into the chair beside Felix’s bed. “See? Resting,” he says mutinously.

Were Lysithea a lesser woman, she would roll her eyes. “You know, we kicked you out of here for a reason,” she tells him. “Just one day out of the infirmary, Sylvain. That’s all we asked.”

“I don’t want to spend a day out of the infirmary,” Sylvain says with a sulk so impressive that Felix is taken back to their childhood years.

“You’ve been in here for four days straight,” Lysithea says, not without sympathy. “You need actual sleep.”

Four days. That sounds like a long time that Felix doesn’t remember. He has vague images of familiar faces bobbing in and out of his vision. Cool water poured down his throat, the warm wash of white magic when the pain got too intense. The foul taste of liquid nutritional supplements.

“You didn’t tell me he was awake,” Sylvain says grumpily.

Lysithea makes an exasperated noise. “He’s no more awake now than any other time he’s opened his eyes. Look at him.”

Sylvain’s head dips to look at Felix. Felix looks back at him. He feels like he should take offense to the assertion that he’s not really awake, but he can also barely feel his face and his eyes are already drooping shut, so Lysithea is probably right.

“I slept in my own room last night,” Sylvain says instead. “That’s good enough.”

“I’ll tell the Professor,” Lysithea threatens. Felix thinks she says something else, but it’s less like speech and more like noise as consciousness slips between his fingers. This is annoying, is the last coherent thought he manages before the world goes dark and soft.

When Felix wakes briefly in the night, disoriented, Byleth is at his bedside.

He looks exhausted. Pale. The dim light filtering in from the window casts him in a ghostly light. His clothes are rumpled, like he’s slept in them. He’s in the chair that’s taken up residence beside Felix’s bed, his chin in his hand, as he stares into space somewhere between the wall and Felix’s head.

“You look like shit,” Felix croaks.

Byleth jolts, as if woken from a trance. “You’re awake!” he exclaims, then winces at the volume of his own voice. “How are you feeling?” he asks, much more quietly this time.

“Like shit,” Felix repeats, after a moment of thought.

For some reason, that twists Byleth’s expression into something mournful. He smooths the blankets around Felix’s shoulders, like that will make Felix more comfortable. When he speaks, his voice cracks with despair.

“I’m sorry.”

Felix almost tries to sit up despite himself, but he thinks better of it. “Why the hell are you sorry?” he scoffs instead. “Were you the one who stabbed me?”

“No. I just…” Byleth’s face is hard to read on the best of days, and there’s something in his expression that Felix just cannot parse. “I didn’t even see you fall,” he whispers, like he’s admitting something shameful. “I could have prevented this. I could have…”

“That’s war,” Felix says. He closes his eyes so he doesn’t have to look at the stupid, senseless sadness haunting Byleth’s face. “If you start brooding like the boar used to, the first thing I’ll do when I get out of this bed is kill you.”

A small, weak laugh. “That’s just like you.”

“There’s no point in mourning me,” Felix continues, his voice softening at its corners as he starts to doze again. “I’m right here.”

A gentle touch lands on the backs of his fingers. Byleth’s hands are always so warm. “You’re right here,” Byleth murmurs, as if trying to remind himself. “You’re right here.”

Felix drifts off to the gentle murmur of Byleth’s voice and the warmth of Byleth’s hands on his.

Byleth only told Dimitri about Felix’s moment of lucidity, but by mid-morning, it seems like everybody knows – including Sylvain, who has returned to his position as a fixture in Felix’s room. He’s dragged another chair in so other people can sit by Felix’s bedside. A book sits unopened in his lap, moving up and down with the anxious jiggle of his leg.

“Lysithea tells me you didn’t even manage a day,” Byleth says flatly.

“Yeah, well, the first actual conversation he’s had in days was with you instead of me, so clearly I shouldn’t have left at all.” Sylvain’s expression is pinched. Is he jealous?

“He told me I looked like shit and then went back to sleep. It wasn’t much of a conversation.”

Sylvain shrugs. The smile he tries to offer Byleth is so fake as to be painful. “But he talked to you, and he responded to you.”

“Sylvain, it’s not like it’s going to be the last time he wakes up. He might not even remember it,” Byleth says.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever, I get it.” Sylvain lets his smile drop. “I’m glad he wasn’t alone, at least. I just… wish it was me.”

“You two have things to talk about,” Byleth says softly, with understanding.

“We do.” Sylvain opens the book in his lap but doesn’t look down to read it.

“Helloooo!” a cheerful voice rings from the hallway. Annette bounds into the room, oblivious to the lingering tension. “I heard from Ashe that Felix is feeling a little better!”

“Ashe?” Byleth mutters. Dimitri must have told Dedue, who probably told Ashe during their morning greenhouse visit, and then Ashe must have broken his fast with Annette.

“I brought him some sweets!” Annette says, laying a tray of little croissant-looking pastries on the bedside table. Lysithea’s cake is still there, too, with a few forkfuls taken out of it. “Well, not sweet sweets, because he hates those. They’re kind of savory? Spicy? I’m not sure. Mercie made them.”

“Thank you, Annette,” Byleth interrupts her gently. She beams.

“Ashe should be here in a few minutes,” she says, rocking back onto her heels. “And he’s probably gonna bring Dedue with him. They’ve been awfully cozy lately, haven’t they?”

“When are they not,” Sylvain says flatly.

“Has he woken up yet today?” Annette asks, leaning over Felix’s face as if searching for signs of consciousness. “I know he needs his rest, but I’d really like to see his face again!”

“You’re looking right at it,” Byleth says.

Annette puffs out her cheeks. “You know what I mean.”

“I do,” Byleth says. “I saw his face last night. He said I looked like shit and went right back to sleep.”

“Sounds just like him,” Annette says wistfully.

“What sounds just like who?” Ashe asks as he shoulders in through the door, holding a vase of colorful flowers. “Ah, Dedue says sorry, but His Majesty needs him, so he’ll visit later.”

“The first thing Felix said when he woke up was that the Professor looked like shit,” Annette says cheerfully.

“Sounds just like him,” Ashe says sagely. He sets the vase carefully between Lysithea’s cake and the tray of pastries.

“You are all,” Felix mumbles, eyes still closed, “very rude to me.”

“Felix!” Annette exclaims, delighted.

“You’re awake!” Ashe drops to his knees beside the bed so he’s at Felix’s eye level. “How are you feeling?”

“The Professor asked me the same thing,” Felix grumbles, cracking his eyes open. “How the fuck do you think?”

“He’s definitely coherent,” Byleth mutters.

“Hey, buddy,” Sylvain interrupts, gently nudging Ashe aside and propping his elbows on the mattress by Felix’s head.

Felix studies him with narrowed eyes. “You look like shit,” he declares after a moment.

Sylvain sits back and touches a hand to his chest. “How rude,” he gasps, pretending to be scandalized. “After I’ve wept at your bedside for days and days!”

“That’s not actually that far from the truth,” Byleth cuts in blandly. “Four days. He wouldn’t even leave to bathe. We had to physically remove him.”

“Not that it kept him out of here for long,” Annette adds.

“Not even a full day,” Ashe confirms.

“Wow.” Sylvain laughs nervously. He wants Felix to know he cares, but this is maybe a little much. “Way to support me in my time of great emotional suffering, guys.”

“We’d be more supportive of you if you actually rested when we told you to,” Byleth says. His stoic face is as unreadable as always.

“I’m gonna go let everyone know you’re up so they can say hi!” Annette says, patting Felix on the arm and racing out of the room. There’s a crash and a yelp in the hallway that has everyone wincing, but Annette yells, “I’m okay!” and her footsteps patter away.

“I’m going back to sleep,” Felix says despairingly. Sylvain gives his hand a sympathetic pat.

It’s the first time in hours that Sylvain’s been alone in the room with Felix. People have been cycling in and out all day to offer their well-wishes now that they know Felix is aware enough to remember them. Felix hates it – hates the pity in their eyes, hates the way they touch him like he’s fragile. Sylvain is the one permanent fixture in the room; he leaves only briefly during mealtimes, and he comes back with food instead of eating it in the dining hall.

It’s near the end of dinner time, now. Sylvain’s eating some sort of sandwich. He’s offered a few pieces to Felix, to which Felix replied, “What am I, a stray dog?” but accepted anyway. It’s some kind of meat with what Felix recognizes as Duscur-style seasoning, and it’s worlds better than what the infirmary staff have been feeding him.

When the food is gone, Sylvain sets the plate on the bedside table beside the vase of flowers Ashe brought. He puts his elbows on his knees and puts his chin in his hands, leaning forward to observe Felix with some unreadable emotion on his face.

“You’re staring,” Felix says flatly.

“I am,” Sylvain replies without shame.

Here it is again – this silence, ever unbroken, heavy with meaning. It’s a weight that Felix finds both suffocating and comforting.

“If you have something to say,” Felix says irritably, “you should say it.”

“What makes you think I do?” Sylvain eyes him, a sparkle of genuine curiosity in his eyes as he smiles at Felix. Inscrutable, this man. Impossible to read when he wants to hide what he’s thinking, even for Felix.

“You’ve been in here the entire day. Not just today, if our friends are to be believed.” Felix snorts. “You’re a war hero now, aren’t you? Surely you have women falling all over you now more than ever. No need to stay in and look after an invalid.”

Sylvain looks – well, he looks hurt. “Felix,” he says softly. “I don’t want to be out flirting with women. I want to be here with you.”

Felix averts his eyes and tries to ignore the warmth in his face. “Can’t imagine why,” he mutters. “I still can’t even walk, let alone train. I’m going to be useless by the time I get out of this bed.”

There’s something painfully tender in Sylvain’s voice when he replies. “It doesn’t matter to me if you can’t walk, or fight, or anything. I’m just… I’m glad you’re alive, Felix.” His voice wavers, just a little, as he continues. “I guess I just don’t want to waste any more time with people I don’t actually care about.”

Felix is the one laid up in an infirmary bed, but the raw emotion in Sylvain’s voice makes it feel as though Sylvain is the vulnerable one here.

“I… I’ve been thinking,” Sylvain continues. “You don’t have to answer now. I just need to tell you, and if you want, we can both forget about it right after.”

Felix’s mind turns unbidden to lingering touches and long, thoughtful stares – to the way Sylvain began to look at Felix instead of at women as the years wore on. His heart trembles, and he tries not to hope.

“Spit it out,” he says without heat.

“I love you,” Sylvain says simply.

The air leaves Felix’s lungs.

“I almost lost you,” Sylvain continues, like Felix isn’t still trying to process the first three words he said. “And it made me realize – I’m tired of doing things just because I feel like I have to. I’m tired of being unhappy because of what other people think I am, and what they think I should do.”

“Sylvain,” Felix wheezes.

“I don’t want to marry a woman who only wants my Crest, or a woman my father chose for me.” Sylvain reaches for Felix’s hand, palm up. Not taking, just waiting. “I want to spend my life with someone I care about. I want…” He chews on his lip, color rising to his cheeks. “I want to spend my life with you, Felix.”

Felix stares at the hand on the bedspread. Not a demand, but an offer. An end to the silence they’ve both held for years.

“You’re an idiot,” Felix says, voice cracking. “Of course I want the same thing.”

He closes the distance between their hands. Their palms press together, and their fingers lace; Sylvain’s grip is warm and firm.

“You think I’d have put up with you for this long if I didn’t want you around?” Felix chokes out. His face is flushed with the tears that are stinging his nose and his eyes. He swipes at his eyes with his free hand. “I just wasn’t going to be the one to say it if you weren’t—weren’t gonna—”

“If I wasn’t going to give up on pleasing my family,” Sylvain finishes softly. “I can’t be what they want, Felix. Not if it means giving up on you. On… on having this with you.” He lifts their linked hands and presses a kiss against the back of Felix’s hand.

When Felix lifts his head to meet Sylvain’s gaze, the raw love in Sylvain’s expression is enough to make the tears welling in Felix’s eyes spill over to trickle down his face. “Dumbass,” Felix whispers hoarsely. “I’ve been hoping you’d say that for years.”

Sylvain chuckles wetly. “I’m sorry I made you wait.” His free hand cups Felix’s damp cheek, catching a tear with his thumb. He leans forward until there are scant inches between their faces. “Can I kiss you?” he breathes against Felix’s lips.

Felix makes a frustrated noise and closes the gap himself, ignoring the twinge in his chest the movement irritates and crashing their lips together. It’s awkward and fumbling – Felix has never kissed anyone before – but Sylvain tilts his face and gently takes the lead, moving his lips against Felix’s and making a soft, encouraging noise when Felix mirrors him. Felix’s fingers flex around Sylvain’s, and his free hand flies up to the side of Sylvain’s neck. The shift of Sylvain’s muscles under Felix’s palm is warm; Felix runs his thumb up the sensitive skin and feels something hot twist in his stomach at Sylvain’s whine.

Sylvain’s lips part, and Felix’s heart swoops as the kiss gets hotter and deeper. Sylvain’s hand moves from Felix’s cheek to his hair, grabbing a handful and giving it a gentle tug. The moan that slips unbidden from Felix’s lips is a sound he never thought himself capable of making. Sylvain swallows the sound with a quiet laugh.

They part with a soft, wet noise, red-faced and smiling. “I love you,” Sylvain repeats, eyes shining, hand sliding through Felix’s loose hair. “Felix, I love you so much.”

“I—I love you too,” Felix forces out. Sylvain’s big, stupid smile only gets wider, and Felix has to add, “Moron.”

“When you’re feeling better, I want to court you,” Sylvain continues. “I want to give you everything I ever gave those women. I want to give you more than that.”

“You don’t have to do that,” Felix mutters, averting his eyes so he doesn’t have to stare at the earnest look on Sylvain’s face.

“This is the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life, Felix,” Sylvain says seriously. “Just—let me do this. Let me treat you right.” He pauses, and when he continues, his voice is a little choked. “Let me prove I’m worthy of you being mine.”

Felix knocks their foreheads together. “I’m already yours, dumbass. I always was.”

Sylvain’s expression twists into something pained. “And I didn’t deserve it. Sometimes I think I still don’t.”

“Let me decide who deserves me,” Felix snaps. When Sylvain’s mournful look doesn’t change, Felix surges up to bite his nose.

“Felix!” Sylvain yelps, jerking his face back. Felix stares at him mutinously. It wasn’t a hard bite. Just enough to startle. It takes only a moment for Sylvain to dissolve into laughter.

“No brooding,” Felix says as Sylvain wheezes. “Not about stupid stuff like that.”

“Point taken,” Sylvain says, cupping Felix’s cheeks in both his hands.

“I’ll let you court me,” Felix sniffs. “But only because I know it’s either this, or you’ll start marking your territory like a dog.”

Sylvain barks out a startled laugh. “You know me too well!”

Felix turns his face to press a kiss to one of Sylvain’s palms. “Possessive bastard,” he says, not without fondness. “Now let me lie back down before I start bleeding again.”

“Oh, shit!” Sylvain practically shoves Felix back onto the bed, patting his shoulders like he’s looking for broken bones. “Are you okay? Does it hurt anywhere?”

“I was just sore from sitting up. Stop fretting like an old nursemaid,” Felix says. He does not want Sylvain to stop fretting, like an old nursemaid or otherwise. “Teach me how to play that stupid boardgame I know you brought. I’m bored.” He is not bored. Not in Sylvain’s company.

Sylvain smiles, bright and open, and it’s not a smile any of the women he’s chased have ever seen. The smile softens but doesn’t vanish as he teaches Felix the rules to the game, slow and patient.

Dedue’s been cooped up inside for so long that even the faint warmth of the setting sun on his face feels a little foreign. He’s been at His Highness—His Majesty—Dimitri’s side for days while Dimitri works through the endless stream of correspondence, paperwork, and other tedium that comes with the end of a war. It’s tiring, but it means that we’re on our way to peace at last, Dimitri said to him with a weary smile. They’ve delayed their return to Fhirdiad largely because Garreg Mach is in such a central location, and it’s much easier to figure out the future of the continent when the continent can actually reach them.

He and Dimitri have been in a standoff, of sorts. Go to bed, no you go to bed, I’ll stand here until you go to bed, and so on. Neither of them has slept much, suffice to say. Byleth finally saw fit to intervene and physically hauled Dimitri off to get some rest, and so now Dedue is allowing himself the luxury of an evening walk around the monastery before he, too, retires. Dimitri is in good hands with the Professor – Dedue suspects in more ways than one.

He’s passing by the training grounds on his way to the greenhouse when he hears a violent cough followed by uneven, stumbling footsteps. Probably just a drunk soldier on their way back to their quarters, but Dedue is nothing if not meticulous. He turns to investigate, and his breath catches at the sight of a pale shape with dark hair hunched against the wall. The figure’s legs are trembling, barely supporting them as they lean their weight against the stonework with both arms. They’re dressed in infirmary whites with nothing on their feet but a pair of slippers.

“Felix?” he asks incredulously.

The person lifts their head to glower at him. “Fuck off,” they spit. It’s definitely Felix.

“I understand,” Dedue says evenly as he continues to approach, “that you are under strict orders to remain in bed until your injuries have healed.”

“I can’t keep sitting there doing nothing,” Felix snarls. He moves his arms along the wall, supporting his quivering body as he staggers towards the training grounds.

“Healing from life-threatening injuries is not nothing.” Dedue continues his approach, slow and implacable.

Noticing the shrinking distance between them, Felix bares his teeth at him like an animal. “Back off, cur,” he hisses.

Dedue, thoroughly unimpressed, does not back off. Felix hasn’t called him names since their conversation after the siege of Myrddin. It’s a little endearing to hear it now. “You will reopen your injuries if you attempt to train in your state.”

“I,” Felix pants, entirely out of breath, “am fine.”

“You are clearly not fine.” Dedue is within arm’s reach of Felix now. He is not entirely without consideration, so he says, “I am going to pick you up now.”

“Like hell you—agh!”

He scoops Felix off his feet with one arm under his thighs and the other under his back. Felix wriggles in protest, but he’s weak from his escape from the infirmary and the long walk that followed, so it’s more like holding a struggling child than a grown man.

“I’m gonna kill you,” Felix says as threateningly as he is able, which is not very threatening at all; his voice is weak and he’s still wheezing. “Put me the fuck down!”

“No,” Dedue says. He starts walking back towards the infirmary. Felix gives one last perfunctory wiggle before he heaves a mighty sigh and goes limp in Dedue’s arms.

“If you tell Dimitri about this, I really will kill you,” he mutters.

“Yes, I am certain that is something you are capable of in your current condition,” Dedue says serenely.

“Shut the fuck up,” Felix says, sulking. His slippered feet sway as Dedue walks. “I could manage.”

“Of course you could,” Dedue says indulgently. He shoulders open the door and starts up the stairs.

“I mean it.”

“Of course.” The halls are dark and quiet this time of night, lit only by a few oil lamps several feet apart. The door to Felix’s room is ajar, and when Dedue steps inside, he sees Sylvain sitting in a chair, slumped over Felix’s empty bed, snoring. There’s a blanket draped over his shoulders.

Felix blows a long breath out through his nose. “Just… put me down on the bed,” he says. It’s too dark to tell for sure, but Dedue suspects his face is red. “I won’t try to leave again tonight.”

“Perhaps I should stay until you fall asleep,” Dedue suggests as he shifts Felix to set him down on the bedspread. Both he and Felix are careful not to disturb Sylvain as they arrange Felix under the sheets.

“I can’t really stop you,” Felix scoffs, which isn’t a no. When he tries to tug the blanket up over his chest, he hisses in pain as his injuries pull. Dedue tucks it around him, as tenderly as he used to for his sisters.

“Rest well,” Dedue says quietly. He brushes a lock of hair off of Felix’s forehead.

“Whatever. Shut up,” Felix says, turning his face away from Dedue. “…Make sure you get some sleep too, you idiot.”

“I will visit you again tomorrow,” Dedue promises as he settles down in the chair beside Sylvain. Felix mumbles something at that, but he’s exhausted from his escape attempt and is clearly falling asleep.

Dedue listens to Felix’s soft breathing, Sylvain’s light snores, the faint sound of crickets singing outside the window. If he closes his eyes, he can almost imagine his home in Duscur, his mother and his sisters sleeping beside him.

His family from Duscur is long gone. But his family here is alive and well, and he will never stop being thankful for it.

“Felix Hugo Fraldarius!” a voice booms down the hall.

Sylvain jerks his head up from the board game he and Felix are playing. “Uh-oh,” he whispers. “What did you do?”

“Nothing,” Felix says mulishly, just as Ingrid slams the door open.

“I heard something interesting from Dedue,” she says with a smile that’s all teeth. “Goodness, I’d just love to hear what sort of training you hoped to do with injuries like yours!”

Sylvain looks between Ingrid and Felix. “What,” he says.

“Nothing,” Felix insists.

“This idiot,” Ingrid hisses, jabbing a finger at Felix, “snuck out last night! Dedue caught him by the training grounds and had to carry him back!”

“What,” Sylvain repeats, with feeling.

Felix glances at him with a faint hint of guilt. “I was.” He pauses. “Restless.”

“Oh, restless, were we?” Ingrid storms on. “Of course, we couldn’t just go to the doctor and ask for a more rigorous exercise routine, oh no! We decided the best decision was to endanger our life—”

“—it wasn’t that bad—”

“—and stagger our way to the training ground in our hospital slippers!” Ingrid is practically shouting at this point. She pants, red-faced, glaring at Felix.

“Was I asleep?” Sylvain asks feebly, feeling a little betrayed.

Felix is unable to hold eye contact for more than a moment. “I waited for you to fall asleep,” he mutters, as shamefaced as he ever gets.

“Because he knew that anyone in their right mind would stop him from going.” Ingrid folds her arms. “Even you, Sylvain.”

“Ouch,” Sylvain says without meaning it.

“Well, lucky for you, I was proactive,” Ingrid continues. “I took the liberty of speaking with Manuela on your behalf to put together a more frequent exercise routine.” She leans in, eyes blazing with righteous fury. “You know. So you don’t get restless.”

Felix still looks like he’s going to fight her on this, so Sylvain lays a hand on Felix’s arm and ducks his head in between their faces to make eye contact with Ingrid. “Thank you, Ingrid,” he says sweetly. “We love you, Ingrid.”

“Don’t get cheeky with me,” she snaps. Sylvain withdraws immediately.

“What sort of exercise is considered appropriate for someone in my” – Felix makes a face – “condition?”

“Nothing involving the training grounds,” Ingrid says immediately. At Felix’s scowl, she relents a little, shoulders dropping and face softening. “Look, Felix, I just—I worry about you. I thought we were going to lose you, and to hear about you pulling these sorts of stunts…”

Felix’s eyes flicker to the side in an unspoken expression of guilt. “Whatever,” he mutters, which is Felix for I’m sorry.

“And you!” Ingrid points at Sylvain. “Keep a better eye on him!”

Sylvain puts up both of his hands in surrender. “Look, he’s highly trained in stealth and the infirmary slippers don’t make a lot of noise,” he says apologetically.

“Ugh,” Ingrid huffs, dropping into the second chair with a thump. “You are both impossible.”

“Three people can play,” Sylvain offers as an olive branch, nudging the abandoned game towards her.

“Oh, I know this one,” she says, face brightening. She glances between the two of them. “You don’t mind resetting the board?”

“I was winning anyway,” Felix says. It’s a lie. He was losing, very badly. Sylvain, in a gesture of love, does not correct him.

Sylvain gets an extra set of pieces from the game’s box as Ingrid resets the board. It’s a game meant for four people, really, but it’s playable with two or three. Sylvain takes the initiative to make the first move, and the game continues clockwise from there, from Ingrid to Felix and back to Sylvain.

“I always forget how good you are at these kinds of games,” Ingrid murmurs as Sylvain takes another one of her pieces.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Sylvain says innocently. “It’s just dumb luck.”

Felix, who is quickly moving from at a disadvantage to solidly losing, scoffs. “You know we know you better than that.” He studies the board for a careless moment before moving another piece. He just doesn’t have the patience to put a lot of thought into games like these.

Ingrid is holding her own, more than Felix is at least, but Sylvain is slowly but surely backing her into a corner. “I never understood why you didn’t spend more time planning strategy with His Majesty and the Professor,” Ingrid comments. Her eyes flicker across the board, and she smiles ruefully. “I resign.”

“Oh?” Sylvain grins. “You still have some moves you could make, you know.”

“None that will get me out of the trap you’ve set,” she says, pointing at the pieces closing in on her side of the board. “Good job.”

“Aw, it’s nothing,” Sylvain says, leaning back with his arms folded behind his head.

“Don’t give us that crap,” Felix says. He picks up one of his smaller pieces and chucks it at Sylvain’s forehead. He misses spectacularly, and it clatters onto the wooden floor as Sylvain laughs at him. “You like to pretend you’re stupid, but we know you’re brilliant.”

“I’d hate to undersell myself,” Sylvain demurs, “but brilliant is pushing it.”

Ingrid gives his shoulder a gentle shove. “Brilliant,” she says emphatically. “I wish you’d show more people this side of you.”

“I’m much happier to follow than to lead,” Sylvain says, lowering his eyes to the board. He flicks Ingrid’s king piece over with a finger. “I don’t need people getting expectations that I can’t live up to.”

“I guess the fact that you played your best means you’re comfortable with us, at least,” Ingrid sighs.

“It doesn’t matter what people think of you,” Felix says flatly. “If you want to keep playing dumb, fine. But if you decide to stop, people can keep their opinions about it to themselves.”

Sylvain feels a smile tug on the corners of his mouth despite himself. “Thanks,” he says hoarsely, reaching across the bed to take Felix’s hand. Ingrid studies the movement with the same sharp, knowing eyes she’d fixed on the game, but she doesn’t comment.

“Another game,” she says instead, resetting the board.

“I am going,” Felix says, “to lose my mind.”

Leonie grins at him. “One more time.”

Felix huffs out an exasperated breath, but he once again positions his hands under Leonie’s. A reflex game, she called it, to keep Felix’s skills sharp. Mostly, it’s just frustrating. He can’t react in time to slap the backs of Leonie’s hands before she pulls them away. It’s something that should be laughably easy for him, but he’s sluggish and still in a fair amount of pain.

Leonie pulls her hands back. Felix barely brushes the tips of her fingers with his when he flips his hands over to catch her.

“You almost got me that time!” Leonie says encouragingly.

“This is stupid.” Felix drops his hands into his lap and scowls. “I want to do some real training.”

“Well, of course you do.” Leonie folds her arms and leans back in the chair, eyeing him thoughtfully. “I’m surprised you’ve lasted this long without staging a breakout, honestly.”

“I tried,” Felix says with a grimace. “Dedue caught me.”

Leonie whistles lowly. “What did he do?”

“Literally caught me.” Felix’s his nose wrinkles. “He carried me back to bed like I was a child.”

“It was kind of a kid thing to do,” Leonie snickers, unsympathetic. “Did he say anything?”

He did, but the thought of it still makes Felix’s face heat up, so he just says, “No.”

“That’s even worse!” Leonie laughs. “Serves you right, dumbass. They’ve got you walking now, though, don’t they?”

With all the dissatisfaction he can muster, Felix crosses his arms and scowls. “Supervised walks around the interior of the building,” he says scathingly.

Clearly, Leonie isn’t reading his energy very well, because she just laughs at him harder. “You’re sulking! You know, I never understood it when Sylvain called you cute,” she says, “but I’m really seeing it now, lemme tell you.”

“Cute?!” Felix snaps indignantly.

“Oh man, look at you pout!” Leonie pokes his cheek, which has to be bright red by now. Curse his complexion.

“I’m not cute.” Felix tries to swat Leonie’s hand away, but as with every prior attempt, she pulls it back before he can manage to hit it. “Sylvain’s a dumbass.”

“Oh, he is,” Leonie says earnestly. “He absolutely is.” Her eyes sparkle with something that’s both amused and fond. “Especially when it comes to you.”

Large, rough fingers laced with his. I love you. A promise of a future – not just dying together but living together. Maybe Sylvain makes Felix a bit of a dumbass, too.

“A happy dumbass,” Felix mutters, feeling the heat in his cheeks intensify.

Leonie laughs brightly. “Happy dumbasses, the pair of you! It’s nice to see something good happen, for once.” She grins at the growing redness on Felix’s face, but mercifully changes the subject. “Anyway, I want to cut my hair.”


“And, I figured, why not take out two birds with one stone? You want a chance to wield a sharp object, and I want shorter hair!” Leonie grins and produces a pair of scissors and a shaving razor from her bag on the floor.

Felix squints at them, and then back at her grinning face. “You… planned this?”

“Well, no,” Leonie says easily, untying her hair from its ponytail. “I was gonna have Hilda do it. But you’re bored, and I feel bad for you, and I can just shave it if you do a terrible job.”

“If,” Felix repeats blandly.

“I have faith in you,” Leonie says with more gravity than the situation calls for. Felix is oddly touched.

“Okay, whatever, give it here,” Felix relents, holding out a hand. He really is bored. He’s cut his own hair before with varying degrees of success, and he’s trimmed Sylvain’s for him on long marches. It can’t be that hard, right?

“I want it just like Jeralt’s was,” Leonie says wistfully.

Felix doesn’t remember a lot about Jeralt, other than Byleth’s dad and kicked my ass in a spar once. His memory of the man’s hairstyle is fuzzy, at best. Presumably, it was cropped short in some parts – Leonie brought a razor – but not all – she mentioned shaving her whole head if Felix messes up. He can work with this.

“Sure,” he says.

Annette won’t stop humming.

Dimitri and the Professor teamed up to drag Sylvain to the dining hall, and Felix expects they’ve recruited Ingrid and Mercedes to guilt Sylvain into staying there. Felix is glad at least one of them can get out of this damned room, because Felix is forbidden from leaving unless he has a healer with him. Annette does not count as a healer, unfortunately, which is inconvenient but understandable. She’s reliable if you need to stop bleeding on a battlefield, but the kind of fussy medical attention Felix needs is beyond her ability.

So here Felix sits, propped up on his pillows, watching Annette flit about the room and hum under her breath. She adjusts the curtains, dusts off the bedside table, fluffs the cushions on the chairs – Felix is getting tired just watching her.

“New song?” he asks her.

“Oh, um,” Annette starts, face flushing bright red. “Well, yes, I’ve been working on a new one. Well, it’s more like it just keeps coming to me. Every time I walk in here, I can’t stop thinking about it! Was—was I humming?”

“Yes.” Felix can never hide his smile when he talks to Annette. “It didn’t sound like any of your other ones.”

“You noticed? That’s so embarrassing that you know all my songs,” Annette groans, but there’s a pleased glint in her eye. “Well, this one’s about you! Or, about you being stuck in here.”

“Let’s hear it,” Felix encourages.

“Oh, I don’t know, I only have a few lines…” Annette plays with her fingers, glancing shyly up at Felix.

“Come on, please?” Felix coaxes her.

“I guess I can’t say no to my adoring fans,” she giggles. “Okay, here goes… Ohhh, Felix Fraldarius, he gave us a fright!” she sings. “Now he’s stuck in his bed all day and all night! The baddies got him good, but he’s doing okay! He’s beaten and bruised but he’s here to stay!”

“I sound so heroic.”

“Mercie tried to heal him, but the magic wouldn’t let her! Good thing Sylvain is here to kiss it all better!” Annette shakes her hands cheerfully, finishing up the song with a little hummed refrain.

Felix drops his head back onto his pillow and huffs a laugh, feeling his cheeks heat up. “That was even less flattering than I was imagining.”

“It’s about you heroically surviving despite the odds!” Annette protests. “And your passionate romance with Sylvain!”

“Passionate,” Felix teases her, just to watch her puff her red cheeks out indignantly.

“Well, whatever!” she sniffs. “Guess I won’t be singing you the rest when I finish it!”

“Come on, you know I love to hear you sing,” Felix relents, shifting his arm off his eyes to look at her fondly. “Thank you.”

She drops into Sylvain’s chair. It’s like watching a hummingbird land. “What’s up with you and Sylvain, anyway? Has something changed?”

Something has, but Felix can’t help his curiosity. As far as he knows, neither he nor Sylvain have really spoken to anyone about the tentative shift in their dynamic. He thinks Sylvain wants it to be a big event whenever Felix is well enough to leave the infirmary for good. “Why do you ask?”

“I dunno…” Annette taps a finger against her lips. “You’ve always been close, and you were, like, super close during the war. But it was almost… sad?” She scrunches her nose in thought. “Kinda… melancholy, I guess? Like both of you were sure it couldn’t last, so you shouldn’t enjoy it too much, you know?”

Felix does know. He can’t be sure what it was like for Sylvain, because that damnable man is inscrutable when he wants to be, but he suspects their experiences were similar. They could share a tent and share a bedroll on a military march. Share touches, time, and tea. What they did during the war was of little consequence as long as they could pick up their weapons and fight the next morning. The closeness, the warmth, the silence heavy with unspoken words – all that was cast beneath the looming shadow of their future titles and the expectations of their families. That Annette picked up on it is a little surprising, but Felix supposes the signs were all there for an observant eye.

“But you’re both so much happier now!” Annette continues, much more brightly. “Like, Sylvain was holding your hand when I came in today, and neither of you looked sad about it at all when he let go!”

Felix barely remembers the feeling of Sylvain’s palm sliding out from under his own, so sure was he that Sylvain would come back and fit their hands together again. It hits him then, the weight of what Annette is saying. During the war, he savored every touch, tried to make it linger – felt the loss as keenly as he felt the cold Faerghus wind whenever Sylvain let him go. They’ve stepped out from under the monstrous shadows of the Fraldarius and Gautier names, and it’s so much warmer in the sun.

“I…” Felix’s eyes dart away from Annette’s. He bites his lip. “I guess we both decided there are more important things than some stupid traditions made up by people who died a thousand years ago.”

Annette’s entire face lights up, leaning in like Felix is telling her a delightful secret. “So the two of you…?”

“Dimitri keeps muttering about making a world where we don’t need Crests, right?” Felix folds his arms, embarrassed despite himself under Annette’s earnest gaze. “So it’s not so bad if the Fraldarius and Gautier lines aren’t continued by blood.”

Annette throws her arms around Felix’s neck with a squeal. Felix grunts in pain as her weight lands on his chest, but he wraps his arms around her tiny frame in turn.

“I’m so, so, so happy for the both of you!” she exclaims, rocking him from side to side. “It can’t have been an easy decision, but I just know you made the right choice!” Her voice is cracking, and Felix is a little horrified to feel dampness where their cheeks are pressed together.

“Oh, no, don’t cry,” he groans.

Annette blubbers out a laugh. “I’m sorry! I’m just so happy!” She draws back and rubs the back of her hand across her eyes. “There was just so little to be happy about for so long… I’m so glad you aren’t making any more sacrifices, Felix. I’m so, so glad.”

It’s not in Felix’s nature to be selfless. Were it up to Felix alone, there would never be any doubt – he’d forget about the Fraldarius line, forget about his Crest, and marry Sylvain, damn the gossip and the disapproval. Sylvain’s always been different, though. His image of himself has always been tangled in his Crest, his family, his name. His love for Felix was always opposed with a sense of duty he could never shake.

“I just—I hope it’s worth it for him,” Felix mumbles in a moment of sudden insecurity. Losing Sylvain would be a sacrifice for him, but for Sylvain, either option is a sacrifice – Felix, or his family. Is this really the right choice for Sylvain? To give up whatever future he could have without Felix at his side, weighing him down?

“Don’t be an idiot!” Annette lightly cuffs the side of Felix’s head. “It’s not a sacrifice for him to leave all that nonsense behind. It’s a relief.”

Felix would snap if he were speaking to anyone but Annette, but his voice is soft when he asks, “How do you know?”

“He’s so much happier,” Annette says. “You both are, but it’s like he’s walking around with this—this weight off his shoulders.” She eases her weight off Felix’s chest and sits back down in the chair. “I can’t describe it to you properly, so you’re just gonna have to trust me, okay? He’s not just happy about this when he’s with you, and he can see what he chose right in front of him.”

It’s more comforting than Annette seems to think. Sylvain’s good at putting on an act, but the one thing he’s never been good at is faking what he’s like when he’s genuinely happy. He’s happy here with Felix, when they exchange gentle kisses and play board games and hobble around the infirmary hallways with Manuela. But to hear that he’s happy out there, too – hear that his life is happier with Felix in it…

“Thanks, Annette,” Felix says, making sure to meet her eyes.

Ashe still brings a book with every visit. Felix has vague memories of Ashe’s voice lilting around stories of knights and kings, and Ashe himself has mentioned bashfully that he would read to Felix when he visited during Felix’s period of unconsciousness. Felix isn’t going to tell him that sometimes he would wake thinking it was Glenn reading aloud.

This time, it’s a book about a knight rejecting convention and marrying a commoner. It’s a sweeping, romantic tale of love beating the odds and choosing happiness over the shackles placed by circumstance. It’s not subtle at all.

“Oh, I just… felt like rereading it,” Ashe stammers when Felix stares pointedly at the cover.

“Uh-huh.” Felix raises his eyebrows. He gives Ashe five seconds before he cracks.

It takes three. “Okay, okay, Annette told me you and Sylvain made it official!” Ashe hides his face behind the book. The improbably handsome man on the cover stares at Felix in Ashe’s place. “I’m in a bit of a romantic mood, is all!”

“I hope you aren’t planning to read that to me,” Felix says.

“No, no, I brought you a different one!” Ashe slides a different book out from under the romance novel. “It’s, uh. Well, it’s the one I lent you before.” He grins sheepishly as he places it on the covers beside Felix. “Sorry, I couldn’t think of what else to bring you.”

“Anything is better than staring at the walls,” Felix tells him, placing the book in his lap and cracking it open. There’s a note tucked between the cover and the first page, covered in some of Ashe’s scribblings – notes on plot and character, featuring quite a few exclamation points. There were similar notes hidden between the pages the first time Ashe lent him this book, too. Felix found them much more entertaining than the story itself.

“I’m glad Sylvain seems to be getting out a little more,” Ashe says as he settles into the bedside chair. “I thought he was looking happier because you’d improved so much, but I guess that’s not the only reason.”

Felix snorts. “He’ll be even more thrilled with himself when I get out of here and he can make a spectacle of it all.”

Ashe’s face lights up. “Is he going to court you?” he exclaims.

“I told him it wasn’t necessary,” Felix says as he fiddles with the corner of a page. Courtship is one of those stuffy noble things that Felix has never liked, often the act of desperate nobles trying to curry favor with potential Crest-bearing spouses.

“It’s romantic,” Ashe insists. Courtship is also one of those romanticized notions that Ashe loves to read about in his books.

“He just wants to make it clear that he’s off the market for good,” Felix says dismissively.

Ashe has the nerve to laugh at him. “Felix, do you really think that’s all?”

Felix feels his face heat up, but he manages to say, “He’s also an absolute bastard about things he thinks are his.”

“Well, I wouldn’t put it that crudely,” Ashe says, covering his mouth with his hand to hide his smile. “But Felix, you’re the new Duke Fraldarius.”

The title and its reminder of his father’s death sting a little, but the pain is fleeting. “So?”

“You’re a Duke,” Ashe stresses. “With a Major Crest. And you’re…” He blushes a little. “You’re very handsome, Felix. I don’t blame Sylvain for trying to nip this in the bud.”

“Nip what?” Felix snaps.

“Felix, everyone wants to marry you!” Ashe explodes. “Sylvain wants to tell everyone that you’re taken!”

Felix freezes. The sly smile on Sylvain’s face when Felix agreed to public courtship. The easy agreement when Felix assumed it was petty possessiveness. That’s part of it, clearly, as is Sylvain’s earnest desire to spoil Felix, but it’s a political move, too. Not only will it help keep unwanted suitors off both their backs, the united front presented by Gautier and Fraldarius will provide a solid backbone for a rebuilding Kingdom.

“That bastard,” Felix says faintly.

“Oh… if you’re uncomfortable with it, I’m sure he’d—”

“It’s not that,” Felix interrupts, rubbing his forehead with his fingers. “Sometimes I forget how sharp he is.”

“It’ll be good for the Kingdom,” Ashe says, kicking his legs. “People might talk, but weddings are a great way to boost the people’s spirits.”

“We’ll probably just make people nervous. Two of the great noble lines,” Felix makes sure to add a mocking lilt, “deliberately choosing not to have blood heirs.”

“I know you don’t care much about what people think either way,” Ashe says, “but I think it’s a necessary change.”

Felix snorts. “Certainly aligns with Dimitri and the Professor’s goals. Nothing quite like an heirless marriage between two of the most prominent Kingdom nobles to show that Crests don’t mean shit anymore.”

Ashe lets out a startled laugh. “I wouldn’t go quite that far yet, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.”

“I don’t care if it’s right,” Felix says. “Just that it’s what we both want to do.”

“That’s what’s most important about it,” Ashe says, eyeing Felix with such a fond tenderness that Felix has to look away.

Felix wakes in the dark pre-dawn hours to a hulking shape lurking by his window.

“What the fuck,” he wheezes, still half-asleep and fumbling for a weapon that isn’t there.

“Oh—Felix!” the shape exclaims, just as startled. “It’s—it’s just me!”

Felix squints in the dark as the dim light from the window catches on blond hair and a single eye. “Dimitri?”

“Yes, it’s just me,” Dimitri says again, skulking from the window towards Felix’s bedside. He has one of his large furred cloaks on, making the silhouette approaching Felix a frightening one. “I apologize for startling you.”

“Can’t just sit like anyone else, can you,” Felix mutters, groping around for one of the extra pillows to prop behind his back. Moving’s gotten easier over the past few days, and he’s allowed to take walks without a healer’s supervision, though they still prefer he has someone with him, at least. Manuela’s even letting him do some exercises with training weights, though only with his legs.

“I was feeling rather restless tonight, I’m afraid,” Dimitri says ruefully. He descends into the chair like a mountain collapsing, his shoulders slumped. The dark room makes him look almost spectral, with his single eye and his pale skin. “I had hoped not to wake you.”

“I’ve been restless myself,” Felix tells him with a scowl. “Seeing as I’m more or less still stuck in this bed.”

Dimitri chuckles self-deprecatingly. “Ah, my apologies. I shouldn’t burden you with my troubles while you are suffering so.”

Felix rolls his eyes. “You’re not burdening me, boar,” he says. “Don’t pity me. I survived, and I’m healing. That’s more than a lot of people can say.”

“I am… very glad you survived,” Dimitri whispers. He’s said something to this effect during most of his visits, but this time he continues. “I never forgot what you said before we took Enbarr.”

“You’ll have to be more specific. I said a lot of things to you.” Felix pauses thoughtfully. “Most of them were unkind, I think.”

“That if you died in that battle—” Dimitri’s eye flickers down, fixing on the floor. “If you died in that battle, it would be for me.”

Felix breathes out a long breath through his nose. “I don’t regret anything,” he says, choosing his words as carefully as he can when confronted with Dimitri’s stupid, self-loathing face. “If I had died for you, I wouldn’t have regretted that, either.”

“How can you say that?” Dimitri demands, surging up like a tide. “Your family’s given everything for me! Glenn, your father—”

“Glenn and my father made their own choices,” Felix interrupts harshly. “Just like I made mine. Are you really so self-centered that you’ll disregard the decisions we made just to fuel your own self-hatred?”

Dimitri reels back. “I never wanted anyone to die for me—!”

“Too fucking bad that that’s not a choice you get to make!” Felix snarls. “What people choose to fight for – that’s their decision to make! If you’re so hellbent on remembering the regrets of the dead, then remember all the people left alive they’d want you to think about instead!”

“Felix,” Dimitri whispers.

Felix relents, slumping back against his pillows. He’s just woken up, but he’s suddenly very, very tired. “You’ve got a whole country full of idiots who believe in you,” Felix says. “Including me. Whenever you start seeing the faces of the dead, just—” Felix hesitates, glancing at Dimitri and back down to the bedspread. “Just think about us instead. The Professor. Dedue. Ingrid.” He stops. “…Me.”

“I… I am sorry,” Dimitri says, soft and hoarse. “I did not mean to trouble you with these thoughts.”

“Better than letting them shake around in that empty head of yours,” Felix says without any heat. He knocks his fist against Dimitri’s temple, on his blind side so it startles him out of his ruminations. “I’ll knock the sense back into you any time you need it. That’s my job as Duke Fraldarius.”

“You’re taking the title?” Dimitri asks, pleasant surprise coloring his tone.

“Of course I am,” Felix scoffs. “You think I’d trust you to lead the Kingdom alone? No, I’m staying to keep an eye on you.” He hesitates before adding, “Sylvain and I both will.”

“Ah… the both of you, as friends?” Dimitri asks hesitantly.

“If he has his way,” Felix says, “as the newly-united rulers of the Gautier-Fraldarius territory. After a very, very extravagant wedding.”

“Oh, this is wonderful news!” Dimitri exclaims. When he sits up, he looks twenty years younger; Felix didn’t realize how much his posture conveys the weight he carries on his tired shoulders. “We’ll hold it in the Capital! Perhaps we should invite Claude, if we can reach him…”

“Don’t,” Felix says wearily. “I need to survive his ideas of courtship before I even start thinking about a Fhirdiad wedding.”

Dimitri laughs, and it sounds more like the boy Felix used to know than he’s heard in years. “I look forward to seeing what sorts of nonsense he comes up with.”

“I look forward to seeing your face when the Professor proposes to you,” Felix retorts to hide the fact that Dimitri is flustering him.

“What—” Dimitri splutters. Success. “What makes you think he’ll be proposing to me? Why shouldn’t I be the one to ask him?”

“Just a hunch,” Felix says, lifting one shoulder in a shrug and smirking at Dimitri mockingly. “Why, do you already have something planned?”

“No—well, maybe—” Dimitri covers his eye with a hand. “I am through discussing this,” he concludes feebly. Felix decides he has won this conversation. As the sun rises and peeks through the window, Dimitri remains.

Felix didn’t realize just how much he missed the company of one of his best friends. He thinks a Fhirdiad wedding will be best, and perhaps a honeymoon there, too.

“Leonie looks good,” Sylvain says as he walks into the room.

Felix is standing next to the bed with one leg propped up, doing some stupid-looking stretches that Manuela insists will keep his muscles limber. “Thought you were done with the flirting,” he says flatly.

“You caught me,” Sylvain teases, running a hand up Felix’s back and swooping in to smack a kiss against Felix’s cheek. “I’m leaving you for Leonie. We’re planning a summer wedding.”

“Am I even invited?” Felix asks. He shifts so he’s seated on the edge of the bed, then tugs Sylvain down for a proper kiss.

“I was going to make you my best man,” Sylvain says between kisses, “but I figured it would break your heart too much.”

“Truly,” Felix says, dryer than an Enbarr desert. “I weep for our lost love. Star-crossed lovers are we.”

“You sound like one of Ashe’s books,” Sylvain laughs, pulling up the chair so he can sit across from Felix, their legs tangled together. “Anyway, Leonie told me you cut her hair for her. It looks good.”

“I had a lot of practice,” Felix says, tugging on a lock of Sylvain’s hair.

“Some of it was very unfortunate,” Sylvain agrees. “Good thing the Imperial army didn’t care what my hair looked like when I killed them.”

“She asked me to make it look like Jeralt’s did.”

Sylvain makes a thoughtful noise. “I can see the inspiration,” he says after a moment. “I think it needs to be longer in the back, but she can grow it out.”

“Why do you remember what Jeralt’s hair looks like?” Felix asks incredulously.

“Look at his son,” Sylvain says, suddenly serious. “Felix, preternatural good looks run in that family. Jeralt was a very, very handsome man.”

Felix snorts, dropping his head to Sylvain’s chest. “I think the Professor would die if you told him you thought his father was hot,” he says.

“Oh, you think I haven’t?” Sylvain laughs, and the sound rumbles pleasantly against Felix’s ear. “I’ve never seen him look so embarrassed!”

“So he was frowning a little more than usual.”

“There was color in his cheeks if I squinted!” Sylvain gesticulates with one hand, and the fingers of the other comb through Felix’s hair almost unconsciously as he talks. “Then Dimitri agreed with me when I said good looks clearly run in the family.”

Felix groans. “Oh, no.”

“I honestly couldn’t tell who was more embarrassed at that point,” Sylvain says. “Ashe changed the subject so fast my head spun.”

Felix moves his head up Sylvain’s chest to his neck, pressing a light kiss there. It’s still surreal to be allowed this sort of freedom of touch, this sort of affection.

“So Annette wrote me a song,” he says.

“Oh, I think I heard her singing that while she was on kitchen duty,” Sylvain says with a chuckle.

“I wanted to hear your thoughts,” Felix says, lifting his head to look Sylvain in the eye.

Sylvain studies him for a moment before recognition lights his eyes. “Ah, we haven’t tried kissing it better yet, have we?” he asks. He places his hands on Felix’s shoulders, gently guiding him to lie back on the mattress. Felix obligingly swings his legs up onto the bed so he’s lying straight.

“The healers seem convinced that the only way I’ll heal is naturally,” Felix says, watching with lidded eyes as Sylvain climbs up and straddles Felix’s thighs.

“I’m no medical professional, so far be it from me to argue with them,” Sylvain says. His fingers undo the loose buttons on the infirmary shirt as he maintains eye contact with Felix. “But I believe everything is worth trying at least once.”

“Get on with it, then,” Felix says. He shudders as Sylvain leans down to his bandaged chest, eyes still locked with his.

“Do you feel any better?” Sylvain whispers, pressing a feather-light kiss to the covered injuries. It’s a faint pressure – not too far from pain, but not unpleasant.

“I’m not sure,” Felix gasps, already undone by Sylvain’s heated gaze and gentle touch. “Maybe you should do it again.”

It’s been two weeks in the infirmary. Felix is back on light training with wooden weapons, though Ingrid still doesn’t trust him in the training grounds by himself. Overall, he feels much less like an invalid, but the healers still insist that he sleep where they can monitor him just in case there are any lingering complications.

“Agarthan magic,” Linhardt says with a faint expression of disgust, “is only worth studying so we can figure out how to never let it happen again.”

Felix doesn’t know Linhardt all that well, but from what he does know, this is not a statement Linhardt would ever make lightly. After jotting a few more notes down, Linhardt offers Felix a lazy wave before leaving the room.

Mercedes, on the other side of Felix’s bed, pats the freshly changed bandages on his chest. “You should be fine to sleep in your own quarters tonight,” she says cheerfully, and then, with a hint of mischief, “Or Sylvain’s. I wouldn’t recommend doing anything too strenuous—”

“Alright, alright!” Felix snaps, swatting her hand away with his face burning. “I get it. I’m better, but I need to be careful.”

“I’ve given Sylvain a list of symptoms to watch out for, just in case something does end up going wrong,” Mercedes says more seriously. “But I’m almost certain you’re in the clear.”

“If I died after all of this, I’d be pissed,” Felix says bluntly as he buttons up his shirt.

Mercedes just giggles at him and helps him up out of bed. “I would be too,” she says, like the word pissed would ever apply to her in any world she’s ever existed in. “His Majesty says we’ll be heading back to Fhirdiad in about a week, so you’ve still got time to recover more fully before we’re marching again.”

“Good. If he tried to leave me here, I’d chew through the walls with my teeth,” Felix says.

“Felix!” Sylvain pokes his head through the open doorway. “Linhardt says you’re out of prison!”

“Yes, he’s finally tasting the sweet air of freedom after many long years,” Mercedes says with a smile half-hidden by her hand.

“I’m fucking starving,” Felix announces as he shrugs on his cloak. “I’m going to the dining hall.”

“Let’s go together,” Sylvain says with a smile. He holds out his hand. “We’ll celebrate your freedom.”

Felix takes it, and he laces their fingers together. As they walk in step with each other, Sylvain’s thumb rubs tenderly across Felix’s bare ring finger.