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like ships upon a winding river

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It’s late, when Sylvain arrives at the castle; most of the windows are dark, and the guard who opens the door for him seems very confused, at first, as to why anyone has come at this hour. The halls are silent and cold as he walks — cold even for winter in Faerghus — but he barely notices, too intent on the way his heart beats faster and faster as he follows a path so familiar he could walk it in his sleep.

The door swings open smoothly, on silent hinges. Felix doesn’t even seem to notice his arrival, though the opening of the door creates a rather nasty draft. Of course, this could in part be due to the fact that he’s wrapped in about seven layers of fur and wool, swaddled up at the giant oaken monstrosity of a desk that had but recently belonged to his father.

What Sylvain hadn’t really known about war as a shitty nineteen-year-old at the Officer’s Academy is that the aftermath is sometimes, in some ways, even worse than the battle itself. He’s seen the lingering effects of bloodshed his whole life. He remembers Duscur, and Glenn’s death, and how quiet Ingrid and Felix had both been afterwards, and the way the set of Dimitri’s shoulders had permanently changed. He remembers. But all the same, he’d been a child at the time; he hadn’t fully understood the consequences of battle playing out all around him. It had been horrible, yes, and he’d felt its impacts on himself and everyone around him, but it hadn’t been his responsibility. He had been able to mourn without also having to manage anyone else’s mourning.

And, perhaps more to the point, he’d been able to mourn without also having the duties of leadership on his shoulders — and Felix, slumped over that huge, hulking desk, no longer has that luxury.

In the months (five months, nearly half a goddess-be-damned year) since the last time Sylvain saw him, Felix has, perhaps unsurprisingly, lost weight. The change is obvious even under the heavy layers draped over him; Sylvain would be able to tell from the cut of his cheekbones alone. It could be a lot of things: the every-single-day life-or-death physical exertion of marching and fighting replaced with the not-so-physical life of lordship sapping his muscle mass, or the raw, simple grief of his father’s loss, or the stress of a job that he’s never really seemed to want all that much, a job that always should have been his brother’s…

It could, however, also have something to do with the cough that rattles him as Sylvain watches, or the way the tips of his ears are slightly red with fever.

Fucking unbelievable.

“Tell me if I’m getting this right,” Sylvain says, taking a step forward and pulling the door shut behind him. Felix jumps at the sound of his voice and spins around, and Sylvain would totally laugh at that, except he’s pissed off in a way he can’t quite even define, his voice shaking as he narrows the distance between them. “You’ve been holed up here for five months, not answering my letters.”

“Sylvain, what in the — what are you doing here?” Felix hisses, getting halfway to his feet, hovering over his chair like he can’t quite decide whether to storm across the room or scramble away.

“I mean, I figured you were busy,” Sylvain continues, ignoring him more or less completely. “And I was right about that. But when I showed up here — I mean, I was expecting to sort of have to talk my way in, you know? It’s late —”

“It is late,” Felix snarls, finally making up his mind and crossing the room to where Sylvain is standing. He drags blankets along behind him as he walks, which, Sylvain reminds himself sternly, looks ridiculous, and definitely not adorable. “It’s very late, so what are you fucking doing here?”

“—it’s late, and I show up without warning, and I’m expecting the gate guards to turn me away sight unseen. But one of them recognized me, before I could even say anything —”

“I’m going to find out which one it was and kill them,” Felix says darkly.

“—and you would have thought I was Sothis herself, Felix, I swear. I practically got dragged inside—”

Felix, at this point, is reduced to a wordless noise of rage.

“—and your father’s man — uh, I forget his name; the very tall one? Anyway, he actually told me how glad he was that I was here as he was telling me where to find you.”

The only reason Sylvain had needed to be told where to go at all is that, like an idiot, he had started toward the southern wing, where Felix’s old rooms had been. He’d kicked himself for it after the awkward, “Oh, Lord Gautier, actually…”

“You still haven’t told me why you’re here,” Felix says, shoulders stiff. Sylvain’s stupid, traitorous heart shudders at the sight of him, eyes like little chips of ice and mouth set in a snarl. If it were five months ago — if the war were still on, if they were still… Well, if it were five months ago, Sylvain would hook an arm around his neck and kiss him stupid, and then manhandle him into bed and force him to sleep. He’d done more or less exactly that at enough points during the war that it’s sorely tempting to try it now.

Sorely fucking tempting.

But, “Why are you so damn stubborn?” he says instead, through gritted teeth, because it’s been five long, lonely months, in which Felix hasn’t even hardly answered his fucking letters, in which Sylvain’s been left to wonder and wonder and finally admit that the lack of response means that whatever they’d had during the war can’t continue after it. And that’s fine. He’d expected that. Besides, what had they even had, anyway? They’d fucked sometimes. They’d watched each other’s backs, just like they always have. They’d shared a tent when space was tight.

They certainly never did or said anything to really justify the way that seeing a sick, thin, overworked, visibly stressed Felix glaring at him is making his chest constrict. He doesn’t have any claim to this feeling, doesn’t have any right to let it pulse under his skin just because they fucked around a little when their lives were on the line, just because —

“Fuck you,” Felix says suddenly. It sounds almost like he’s choking on the words, but he holds Sylvain’s gaze steadily, his entire face flushed beet red. “You don’t get to call me stubborn.”

“It takes one to know one,” Sylvain says, without missing a beat, and it’s then that something behind Felix’s eyes seems to crumble.

“Fuck you,” he says again. “Fuck you, just come here. I — it’s been driving me insane.”

Sylvain frowns even as he steps closer, without stopping to examine the way his heart pounds at the decrease in distance. “What has?”

“Don’t make me say it,” Felix mutters, except Sylvain barely even processes the words, because at the same time as he’s speaking, Felix is reaching out and grabbing him somewhat roughly by the upper arm.

“Of course I’m going to make you say it,” Sylvain says. His voice is only slightly faint. “I’m going to make you say it because I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Felix steps in just a little closer. “I missed you,” he says roughly, both like it’s being dragged out of him and like it’s nothing, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “You bastard.”

There’s a ringing in Sylvain’s ears that’s possibly attributable to the way his brain is rushing to completely refashion his understanding of the entire situation, and his whatever-it-is with Felix, and his own feelings, and — everything, really.

It takes a moment, but he finally manages to piece together a halfway-coherent thought: “I’ve missed you, too,” he says, pretending he doesn’t sound winded. “Obviously. I mean, I’m here, aren’t I?”

“You’re here,” Felix echoes quietly. “In the middle of the fucking night.”

“Right,” Sylvain says. “I’m here, so don’t say you miss me.”

Felix snorts at him, except that’s apparently enough to trigger a coughing fit; he has to pull away slightly, shoving Sylvain back to arm’s length and turning his head away to hack up a lung. Sylvain doesn’t bother trying to hide his frown. He doesn’t like the sound of that, or the way he can feel the warmth of what must be Felix’s fever even from this distance.

“You’re working yourself into the ground,” he accuses, while Felix is still recovering, still catching his breath. He gets confirmation that he’s right — not that he really needs it — from the way Felix’s shoulders hunch and stiffen at the accusation.

“We can’t all be lazy playboys,” he says as he finally straightens up, but he’s not meeting Sylvain’s eyes anymore. “Some of us have actual work to do now.”

There’s little enough bitterness in his voice that you’d almost think he wasn’t talking around his father’s death. Even Sylvain is almost fooled.

“You can’t do work if you’re sick,” he says without even really thinking about it, the words coming out before he can really stop and examine the ache in his chest at the thought of Felix here, in his father’s rooms, at his father’s desk, night after night, working rather than sleeping. He’s always been… intense; even when they were children, even before Duscur and Glenn, he’d had his moments. It’s part of what Sylvain has always been so drawn to about him, if he’s being perfectly honest. But not like this, not when it’s grinding him down like this.

Felix narrows his eyes in a glare. “I beg to fucking differ,” he says, one eyebrow arching. “I’ve been doing just fine. You showing up doesn’t change that.”

“I don’t think you have,” Sylvain argues, frowning. “Not based on what I’m seeing. And — look, regardless, I’m here now, aren’t I? Whether or not you were doing fine before doesn’t matter. I’m here.”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

In a distant part of his mind, Sylvain notes that Felix’s hand is still gripping his upper arm tightly. In a somewhat less distant and more frantic part, he feels his own fingers clench into a fist and then slowly, reluctantly release.

“If you think I’m going to let you run yourself into the ground while I’m here to stop you, you’re even more ridiculous than I thought,” he says, as firmly as he can manage. He actually impresses himself a little bit with the result; it almost sounds like he’s unaffected. “I’m here, Felix. I’m — sorry I wasn’t before. But I am now. Let me help.”

Felix is silent for a long moment. His gaze travels slowly from Sylvain’s face to somewhere around his throat; Sylvain feels it presence extremely clearly, like a blunted knife. Finally, he says, “Help with what?

He says it a little mulishly, but Sylvain knows him well enough to react a fraction. That’s as good as acceptance; he ought to be able to stick the landing from this point.

“As much as you’ll let me,” he answers, a little too honestly; he can’t quite look Felix in the eyes when he says it, but he can see him shift and stiffen in what must be surprise. “But how about a bath to get us started?”

It’s late enough that going to find someone to help Sylvain draw a bath would probably mean dragging them out of bed, and anyway, it’s not like he really needs the help. Filling the enormous, claw-footed iron tub in the bath chamber with steaming water — magically heated, because it’s cold enough for anything else to seem preposterous — isn’t exactly the most difficult thing he’s ever done. Far more challenging, in fact, is listening to the soft pad of Felix’s feet across the floor and the repeated soft thumps as he sheds layer after layer of clothing and restraining himself from turning to look, or, worse, forgetting about the water altogether in favor of crossing the floor to sink his fingers into Felix’s hair and —

He swallows hard and tests the temperature of the water with the back of his hand instead. It’s plenty warm, steaming slightly.

“Okay,” he says, determinedly, still not looking in Felix’s direction — but he’s casual about it, cool, relaxed, like it would never even occur to him to look in the first place. Definitely not like he wants to see if that expanse of pale skin looks as good as he remembers — and definitely not like he mostly just wants to see if Felix has lost as much weight as it seems like he has. If his hipbones jut out harshly, if he’s lost muscle definition altogether, if he looks like he’s one more rough night’s sleep from crumbling… Sylvain wants to put off knowing for as long as he can. He’s always been selfish like that.

“Just a second,” Felix grumbles, muttering something else under his breath that Sylvain doesn’t quite catch. Even odds it’s a curse, though.

Then, before he’s got much chance for anything else — like a chance to give himself a last-ditch opportunity to steel his will, for starters — there’s movement in his periphery, and then there’s Felix, completely bare and carrying a pile of inordinately fluffy towels and a vial of some kind of oil or tincture.

The hipbones — he was right about the hipbones, and a disturbing hint of rib, too. Sylvain is too bowled over to even think any untoward thoughts about the oil and which activities it might or might not be used for, instead counting the visible knobs of Felix’s spine as he bends to tip some of it into the water.

Goddess, he’s been such an idiot. He should have figured this out well before he actually showed up and saw it for himself. He knows Felix on a deep, instinctual level — not that Felix doesn’t still manage to baffle the hell out of him sometimes, but this shouldn’t have been one of those times. Fucking of course Felix would take the end of the war and teh responsibility of the aftermath on his shoulders and run himself stubbornly into his duty like it was a brick fucking wall, over and over and over again, until it started to break him. Of course he’d be up in his rooms — his father’s rooms — late into the night, probably every night, alone but for his ghost and demons. Of course. Of course he’d —

“You coming?” Felix says, and Sylvain jumps.

“Sorry?” he asks, even as he shakes himself internally. No sense in being dramatic — definitely no sense in being maudlin. He hates to think what Felix would tell him if he actually said any of that shit out loud.

“Are you coming?” Felix repeats archly, one eyebrow raised as he looks over his shoulder at Sylvain. He enunciates each word like it’s a shot to the chest, and Sylvain certainly feels them that way.

Felix is paused halfway into stepping into the bath, waiting for a response, which is all well and good, except Sylvain is utterly frozen, staring at him. Goddess, has it been long enough that this alone — just the teasing glimpse of his skin, even when he’s clearly ill — is enough to arrest him? Has it really?

(It’s the hair, some distant part of him decides, past the ringing in his ears; somewhere along the line, when he was too wrapped up in his own thoughts to notice, Felix let his hair down, and he’s just now noticing. He’s always, always been weak for Felix with his hair down, and it’s grown out long again, now, longer than he kept it during the war. It’s long enough that it’s almost like when they were back at Garreg Mach; it hangs below his shoulders…)

“Am I…” Sylvain manages, his brain struggling along valiantly. He blinks with an effort, tearing his eyes away, if only for a moment. “Oh! Should I — you want me to get in?”

“Do what you want,” Felix replies, but it sounds automatic, rote. He pauses, and after a moment, he adds, “I just thought…”

Too late for him to back out now; Sylvain’s already stripping. The weight of Felix’s gaze on his skin as he loses layer after layer is familiar and gratifying and not especially subtle. “Don’t have to tell me twice.”

“I did,” Felix mutters, “I literally did tell you twice,” but he doesn’t sound especially put out about it.

The water sways gently as he clambers inside; thanks to whatever it is Felix put into the tub, the clouds of steam now smell sharp and herbal. It’s a clean and satisfying smell, but it’s also unmistakably medical. Sylvain is torn between being upset that some kind of medicated oil is necessary and being relieved that, hell, at least Felix is actually using it.

There’s a moment of awkwardness as Sylvain climbs in, a question of how to maneuver themselves into position, and then all at once it’s as though something clicks. Sylvain slides up against the side of the tub, the metal warm to the touch thanks to the heat of the water, and then he pulls until Felix nestles up against him, back-to-front, easy as anything.

Both of them are silent, slowly melting into the water until they’re boneless. The room echoes slightly, the soft sounds of their breathing and the water lapping up the sides of the tub amplified into white noise against the walls.

It’s almost enough to soothe away the knot of furious, frustrated worry in Sylvain’s chest. Almost.

“So,” he says, as casually as he can; he keeps his voice low, but it still seems out of place in the quiet. “How go things at Castle Fraldarius? Since you’ve been too busy to even write me, you can at least update me now.”

“No different than it’s been for you, I expect,” Felix replies, but his voice is subdued, lacking the expected bite. “It’s just not all of us are lazy fuckoffs who’d rather write letters than do our jobs.”

Sylvain laughs a little, though he feels something in his chest squeeze painfully for just a second. “Not all of us are so determined to run ourselves into an early grave—”

“Fuck off,” Felix says immediately.

“What, Edelgard couldn’t get the job done, so you’re going to let your responsibilities do it for her? I’m just saying, on the way up here, I had a very interesting conversation with — what is his name?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Felix bites out. “Because whatever he said, it doesn’t — I’m just doing what I have to do. There’s nothing more complicated to it. That’s all.”

“It’s not what you have to do,” Sylvain says, only barely keeping his own voice restrained; the effort of holding back on the way he wants to snap makes the words shake a little. “No one ever said you had to take everything onto your own shoulders. And if they did, tell me who, and I’ll go and be pissed at them instead.”

Felix lets out a hard, sharp sigh through his nose, but he doesn’t actually say anything; the two of them drop back into silence, once more only surrounded by the soft ambient noise bouncing off the walls. Sylvain shifts slightly, and without even seeming to think about it, Felix leans against him more completely, laying all of his weight across Sylvain’s chest.

“What did you mean, before?” Felix asks abruptly. Sylvain startles a little at the unexpected sound, and water sloshes almost over the lip of the tub.

“What do you—”

“When you said you were sorry you weren’t here,” Felix clarifies, cutting Sylvain off before he has a chance to even complete a sentence, sounding frustrated and dismissive and confused and a whole host of other things that his voice moves too fast for Sylvain to really unpack. “What the hell did you mean?”

Well, Sylvain thinks. He could, theoretically, lie. It wouldn’t be the single stupidest thing he’s ever done, though he knows Felix would know that he wasn’t telling the truth; he just has to weigh whether or not that is more dangerous than Felix knowing what the truth actually is.

The longer he waits to speak, trying to puzzle it out, the more Felix tenses against him. Finally, when he can tell Felix is about to give up and just snap at him again, he makes a last-minute decision and prays he won’t regret it.

“It’s hard to see you like this,” he admits, so quietly that for a moment he almost thinks — almost hopes — that Felix might not even have heard him.

Indeed, Felix audibly hesitates; his voice is softer than before when he asks, “And what the hell is that supposed to mean? That’s not any clearer, you idiot.”

Sylvain huffs. “Aw, c’mon, don’t make me — you seriously can’t figure it out? Felix, you’ve lost at least two stone in weight; you look like you haven’t slept in weeks; you—”

“All right, all right,” Felix snaps, but he also shifts in the water in a way that seems to almost suggest guilt. Sylvain is mature and magnanimous and therefore decides not to comment on the fact that Felix had demanded an answer from him and then just as quickly demanded that he shut up. “I didn’t realize you came all this way to play nursemaid.”

“I came all this way because I was worried about you, you ass,” Sylvain corrects him. “And it turns out I was right to be worried. So I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner, that’s all.”

Felix goes quiet again after that — for quite a long time, this time. Despite himself, Sylvain’s mind starts to wander. It’s one thing to sweep in dramatically in the dead of night, to burst in on Felix in his chambers when they haven’t seen each other in months and make demands and declarations; it’s another thing entirely to actually stick around. What is any of this going to look like in the morning? Is this odd silence between them, the gentle hush of I missed you that seems to be dulling the edges of everything they would normally say, going to fade in the morning light and leave their edges as sharp as ever?

He gave Felix a pretty convincing answer — more convincing, certainly, by virtue of it being true — but now Sylvain really has to wonder for himself. What is he doing here?

The water has started to cool; Felix fidgets a bit, the motion awkward where he’s normally so graceful, so purposeful. His voice cracks like disused leather when he quietly asks, “Are you going to wash my hair, or are you going to get out so I can do it myself?”

“I’m shocked you would even ask,” Sylvain responds immediately, and just as quietly, though the request has ignited an ember of something dangerously warm in his chest. “Where—?”

Felix only grunts as he hands him the soap, a nondescript bottle of yellowish liquid which had been situated in an unobtrusive little notch in the wall near the tub. Thankfully, they’re sill laying back-to-front, and Felix is making no effort to turn around and face him, meaning he’s safe to grin and trace over the lines of Felix’s neck and shoulders with no small amount of interest.

“Thank you,” Sylvain murmurs, and he doesn’t exactly mean for the soap, and he’s mostly sure that Felix knows that. But, assuming he does, he’s certainly not biting Sylvain’s head off about it, and that’s at least tacit approval. In other words: it’s good enough, and Felix is giving him the inch as easily as anything. Sylvain makes absolutely no promises about being too decent to take the mile.

He gets to work.

If he ever purports to get tired of the silky, inky flow of Felix’s hair between his fingers, he’ll know he’s truly gone around the bend. He digs his fingers in near the scalp, not bothering with anything even close to washing at first; he’s far more interested in luxuriating in te feeling of Felix’s hair in his hands and Felix’s muscles slowly relaxing in front of him. He more than half-expects Felix to tell him to hurry it up, increasingly so as the seconds stretch into minutes, but instead, all that happens is that Felix goes more and more and more boneless, draped across Sylvain’s front with a kind of warm looseness that has him holding his breath, not wanting to disturb what may be a very delicate balance.

Eventually, reluctantly, he gives in to the task at hand; the soap smells vaguely spicy, not at all like the oil or whatever it was from earlier, and it lathers up thickly. He starts at the scalp and works his way down, and — Goddess help him, Felix actually shivers at the scratch of nails against his skull as Sylvain scrubs, and all at once Sylvain realizes that he may not be the only one planning to take at least a mile.

He has to be at least marginally more patient than he wants to be, which is to say, he can’t immediately give up on the hair-washing to check if his hunch is right. He continues to scrub, even when Felix shudders again and shifts against him in a way that seems both intentional and fully out of his control. He cups water in his hands and watches it course through Felix’s hair and over his shoulders and down his back, and the instant he’s done — the very second he thinks he can get away with it — he sits up, holding Felix to his chest, hooking his chin over Felix’s shoulder to give himself an even better view than the one from the back.

“Let’s not get out just yet,” he says. He looks down, slowly: throat, collarbones, pecs, abs, and — bingo.

Felix shivers against him even more strongly as he retraces the downward path of his gaze with slick, nimble fingers. They may have established that Sylvain has missed Felix terribly — they may be establishing right this very moment that the feeling has been mutual — but they still haven’t established, really, whether or not what they had during the war is going to continue after it. Neither of them had been quite willing to put it into words in the immediate aftermath, and — well. This is, after all, the first time they’ve been together since. But, really, they’ve so rarely needed words at all: Felix’s body is telling Sylvain everything he needs to know right now. And just because they haven’t talked about the fact that this will continue doesn’t mean that it can’t continue.

He fits his hand loosely around Felix’s cock and finds it just as hot and hard under the water as it had looked. Felix twitches at the touch, his entire body jerking, and his head tips back onto Sylvain’s shoulder.

“There you go,” Sylvain breathes, his gaze fixed, obsessive. “Knew I could get you to relax.”

“Shut up,” Felix groans. “Goddess, you—”

But he cuts himself off with an almost-whine when Sylvain squeezes low at the base of his cock and strokes upward, wriggling his hips up into the touch and clutching at the rim of the tub with a white-knuckled grip.

You never actually want me to shut up, Sylvain thinks but doesn’t quite say. This feels too fragile to risk on that kind of thinking, but he does run a finger feather-lightly around the head of Felix’s dick in an attempt to drive the point home without words.

“Shit,” Felix wheezes, and then “Fuck,” barely an exhalation. Sylvain hides a grin against the side of his face.

He’s tense and loose all at once, clearly on a hair-trigger and yet sinking blissfully into the sensation. Sylvain wonders, distantly, how long it’s been for him. Some not-entirely-admirable part of him hopes that it’s been since the last time they were together, hopes Felix hasn’t come any way except by his hand in longer than either of them really cares to remember. Surely not; but also, Goddess forgive him, what if

Felix comes with a choked-off cry, as easily as anything. It’s not until he hisses a complaint that Sylvain actually manages to tear his hand away from his softening cock and scratch lightly up his stomach instead.

He watches avidly as Felix’s muscles jump under his hands, listens to the gasping of his breath with something like awe. He’s far from unaffected, himself — a fact of which Felix is no doubt well aware, what with Sylvain’s erection digging into his lower back — but he remains absolutely still, making no move to sate himself even though part of him wants nothing more than to rut against Felix’s back until his come washes away in the bathwater.

Eventually — what feels like years later — he manages, “All right. Now let’s get you to bed.”

Felix startles a little. “You—”

But Sylvain is already in motion, pulling away from him with gentleness hidden behind haste and reaching over the side of the tub for a towel. Felix splutters a little behind him, and grumbles under his breath — and Sylvain appreciates the sentiment, really, he does, but now’s not quite the time. He doesn’t make any real effort to hide the fact that he’s still hard, but he doesn’t do anything about it, either, and while Felix’s eyes keep slipping down below his waist, he doesn’t make any further efforts to actually say anything about it.

And, anyway, by the time they’re both dried and re-dressed and the tub is drained and Felix’s hair is only mostly damp where it hands around his shoulders, Sylvain has recovered enough that he only wants to kick himself for the self-inflicted blue balls a little bit.

It’s not until they’re standing together in front of the bed that Sylvain really realizes the fact that he’s just sort of… not considered until this very moment whether or not he’ll be welcome there. Felix doesn’t even hesitate, though, just grabs him by the wrist and tugs, and they tumble onto the bed together, a warm, exhausted, familiar pile of limbs. It’s no effort at all to sort themselves out until they’re both lying comfortably; they seem to slot together even better than Sylvain remembers.

“This is good,” he murmurs against the side of Felix’s neck, after they’ve wriggled their way under the multiple layers of blankets and Felix has blown out the lamp. “I can keep an eye on you this way.”

“Drop dead,” Felix mumbles back, and Sylvain’s not sure he’s ever heard a sweeter sound.

He’s feeling a little less tender-hearted in the morning.

The first thing he registers when he cracks open his eyes is that he feels like he’s been asleep for seven years; he’s mature enough to admit that Felix isn’t the only one who hasn’t been sleeping all that well lately, and capable of being honest enough with himself to admit that being curled up together like this is better than any lullaby or warm mug of milk.

The second thing that Sylvain registers is that Felix is pressed up against him, feverishly hot and squirming.

“Fuck,” he hisses out, as Felix makes a muffled sound into his pillow and presses himself back into the cradle of Sylvain’s hips. “Felix—

But Felix, he realizes after a moment of heart-pounding observation, is still asleep. This is — he’s dreaming. He must be. He doesn’t respond when Sylvain whispers his name again, and on the contrary, he mumbles something at the same time. Sylvain can’t quite make out what he’s saying, though at the moment he’d kill to be able to, but he certainly feels like he’s got the gist.

“Felix,” he says yet again, a little more insistently this time, and, once again sighing and giving in to his better judgement rather than what he wants to do — when did he get this way, and why; and Goddess he sort of hates himself for it — he reaches out to shake Felix’s shoulder, roughly enough to wake him but gently enough to hopefully not be jarring.

There’s a moment’s silence and stillness while Felix shudders into wakefulness. Then, almost immediately, he turns around and buries his nose against Sylvain’s sternum.

“Why did you wake me up?” he mutters, the words muffled into Sylvain’s skin, which is just unfair, because the way his lips move when he talks— “Why didn’t you…”

There are a lot of ways Sylvain thinks he could answer that. He could spin some half-truth about gallantry and being a gentleman, or he could say he was confused, or he could claim it was an accident; or, instead, he could duck his head down so that his mouth is just at Felix’s ear and say, “I want you to be awake for this.”

“Then get a move on, you—” But Sylvain already is getting a move on, and Felix hisses in something approximating delight when Sylvain slots a knee between his legs, immediately grinding down on it. Oh, yes, he must have been having a very good dream; he’s so hard it must hurt, and Sylvain wants to see exactly how fast he can make him fall apart, how quickly he can have Felix crying out and gasping for him, see if he can prove to him that he should never get out of this bed again, never let Sylvain get farther away than the next room over, never lock himself up here, alone up here, and fucking choke himself on his survivor’s guilt, the little piece of—

Sylvain closes his eyes and shakes himself, and before his train of thought can spiral all over again, he presses a hot, wet kiss against the side of Felix’s neck, punctuated with more than a hint of teeth. He is not going to rush this. He is not going to waste this beautiful fucking opportunity by getting to caught up in his own guilt and hurt; that would just be disgustingly ironic.

“Sylvain,” Felix whines, edging towards bratty, and then he keens when Sylvain obligingly hitches his knee up a little higher, giving him an even better surface to rub off against. Even as he does that, though, Sylvain is hoisting himself up on one arm as best he can, scanning the room for something, anything that might be useful — there: the oil from the bath, or something similar, he thinks. He hadn’t noticed Felix bringing it back in here last night, but he’s mostly sure it’s the same one. At any rate, it’ll do.

Felix makes a displeased noise when Sylvain leans across him to get it, but as soon as he understands what he was reaching for, something in his eyes clicks over from smoldering to molten hot, and he rolls over onto his back, kicking the covers off of himself even though the room is fucking freezing.

Sylvain almost wants to say something like Look how much you want it, or I knew you missed me, or that’s right, I’ll give you what you need — but mostly what he wants to say is, was it me you were dreaming about?

He doesn’t ask, ultimately, though he’s not sure if that’s because he’s terrified to discover the answer or because he already knows what it is. Instead, he just tosses the stoppered vial to the sheets, settles himself between Felix’s legs, and starts to pull at the loose-fitting linen pants he’d worn to bed.

Felix helpfully lifts his hips up off the bed, back bowing into a beautiful arch, and then the pants are sliding down his thighs and he’s deliciously bare underneath, cock straining up toward his stomach, abs twitching and tense. A breath comes rushing out of Sylvain like he’s been punched, all the oxygen leaving his lungs at once. He shoves Felix’s shirt up toward his armpits and feels lightheaded.

“Don’t just stare,” Felix snaps at him, except it’s almost more of a plea, and anyway, Sylvain hardly needs to be told to reach out and touch. He finds the bottle of oil again by blind fumbling, uncorks it without spilling it all over the blankets by sheer dumb luck, and pours some of the sharp-smelling stuff over his fingers with his eyes boring directly into Felix’s. They don’t move when Felix screws his own eyes shut and cries out at a slick touch on his cock, but when Sylvain presses one of Felix’s legs to his chest and hooks the other around his own waist, he can’t help the way his gaze travels down, down, down.

Yes,” Felix hisses, and his breath hitches around a moan as Sylvain brushes teasing fingers against his hole. He’s always been a little on the loud side, unreserved in cries and groans and shouts of pleasure, but Sylvain doesn’t think he’s imagining the fact that this is louder than normal — not that he minds. “Sylvain, more, come on —- yes—”

He all but scream at the first press in, and that’s just the tip of one lone finger; Sylvain can’t help but radiate smugness at the sound, and at Felix’s thighs clenching around him.

He ramps things up quickly — more quickly than he would in any other situation, with any other partner, but Felix is still on edge from his dream, and Sylvain knows exactly how rough he likes it. Besides which, the hot, velvet clutch of him around Sylvain’s fingers is intoxicating, and the blissed-out look as he screws his eyes shut and throws his head back, his hair fanned out over the pillows, makes Sylvain feel like he can’t quite breathe.

“Come on,” he chokes out, his breath sticking in his lungs, his blood clamoring in his ears. “Felix—”

And that’s it: Felix clamps down around his fingers, hard, and comes. Sylvain barely manages to drop his hold on Felix’s leg fast enough to get a hand around his dick where it jumps and spurts between them in time to stroke him through the tail end of his orgasm.

“Fuck,” Sylvain exhales with feeling, because that’s more or less the only word that comes to mind when he looks down at the tableau in front of him: Felix, flushed and sweating, eyes glazed over in pleasure, come cooling on his stomach, hole still clenching and unclenching around Sylvain’s fingers. He reaches down to squeeze his own heretofore-ignored cock, achingly hard and creating a growing wet patch on the front of his pants — except before he can get much farther than that, a hand snaps out to grab him tightly by the wrist.

He blinks down at Felix, shocked, but Felix is already shifting to hoist himself upright, shoving Sylvain’s hand out of the way so that his own can take its place. “I,” he says, then pauses, then appears to give up on words; instead, he rolls over, shifting onto his knees, and shoves Sylvain’s pants down over his hips matter-of-factly.

His intent is pretty clear, and, well. Last night he demured, because Felix had been visibly exhausted, and while he’s sure Felix would scoff at the idea, Sylvain’s primary concern had been taking care of him, with seeing to his own needs coming in at a distant second. Today, though…

Today, Felix’s eyes are hot and hungry, and he’s mouthing down the length of Sylvain’s cock, his fingers a perfect vice around the base. Sylvain has limits.

“I,” he chokes out, “am not gonna say no to that,” and before he can get out any words more complicated or intelligent than that, Felix is on him, completely devoted to the task at hand.

His lips close around the head of Sylvain’s cock, and it’s perfect; his eyes flick up from under his lashes and meet Sylvain’s, and a little thrill seems to pass through the air between them. His mouth is heart-stoppingly good, as always, just the right amount of suction, the absolute best possible combination of slickness and heat and pressure. Sylvain goans, his head tipping back in bliss, and by the time he floats back down from that initial high, Felix has settled into a good rhythm.

Yes,” Sylvain groans, and Felix’s eyes dart up to meet his at the sound. His eyes are half-lidded, and his cheeks are pink, and his hair is in complete disarray all around him. Sylvain absolutely can’t help himself: he sinks his hands into that long, silky hair, tugging firmly, but not harshly. He gets no complaints — on the contrary, Felix’s eyes slide all the way shut at the touch, and he moans slightly, the sound muffled around the cock in his mouth.

“Perfect,” Sylvain mutters, his own eyes falling shut for a moment. “Perfect, Felix. Goddess, you—”

He doesn’t even really think anything of what he’s saying; he’s always been predisposed to praise. He wants his partner to know how they’re making him feel — wants Felix, specifically, to know that he’s valued, that he’s wanted. Not that he’s valued just for this, obviously, but somehow, it’s a lot easier to say it when Sylvain’s dick is in his mouth, or at least it’s easier to feel like he’s actually being heard.

Because Felix doesn’t roll his eyes or scoff or turn away or tell him off, the way he might outside of this situation. He doesn’t look even the slightest bit uncomfortable or upset, or even indifferent. When Sylvain takes a moment to actually look at him, really take in the look in his eyes and the set of his face, he looks —

“Fuck,” Sylvain says, out loud and entirely unintentional, far from the choked-off groans and deep rumbles that have characterized his speech lately. He’s completely flabbergasted, despite himself, thrown off and entirely unsure how to react. Felix looks almost like he could cry, his eyes slightly dazed and unfocused, his brows drawn together, his cheeks bright red. He looks absolutely stunning, if Sylvain’s being honest, in both the basest and most heartfelt of ways. He looks — vulnerable, maybe, but also completely trusting, and it’s almost too much to handle. It’s only by pure muscle memory that Sylvain is able to tighten his grip on Felix’s hair even further and stop himself from recoiling in confusion.

Things, it seems, have gotten very intense very suddenly, without Sylvain noticing until it was too late. It’s not like they never had intense, emotional fucks during the war — hell, they were at war, of course they did — but Sylvain realizes to his surprise that this feels… different. He feels that old, familiar desperation, sure; Felix gives a particularly hard and well-timed suck, looking him directly in the eyes, and he can’t help the way his hips jerk forward, need burning him from the inside out.

The need, the desperation, those things are still there, but there’s something else, too — maybe it’s been there, maybe it’s not actually new, but it’s undeniable now, completely unshakable. There’s the rawness, the want, but also… also….

“You’re so good for me, baby,” he says, practically babbling. “Never gonna leave you again — keep you right here, your perfect mouth, fuck—”

None of it makes any real sense, but even in the moment there’s an undercurrent of foreboding in Sylvain’s mind, because while he may not be stopping himself from doing it, he’s at least aware that somewhere in there, he’s saying things he might not quite mean to be saying. There was a promise hidden in the babble somewhere, wasn’t there? He didn’t come here to make promises. He and Felix have seen enough of promises; he wants to give something more than that, except that is, of course, even more terrifying. And now’s surely not the time — except now has to be the time, because when else can he say these things and have Felix actually sit still and listen?

Felix groans around him, deep and low and raw; it almost sounds more like a command than anything, and Sylvain looks down at the desperation wheeling in Felix’s eyes, the almost frantic need, and he knows that Felix must be seeing all that and more on his face, too. He should have known this would happen — should have known that the two of them have never been able to lie to each other, at least not like this. This is too exposed, too true. He could never hide anything from Felix like this. He can’t look away; hell, he can’t even make himself close his eyes.

It’s too much, not enough, and the perfect, unconquerable height of emotion and feeling, all at once, everything wrapped up together all at once. If he’d stopped to think about it for even a split second, Sylvain would have realized going into this that he never had a chance, that this was always going to play out in this exact way.

“Felix,” he groans; in that moment, it feels like the only thing he can say. Right at the very peak, right as the momentum stops carrying him along and instead crashes straight through him, unthinking, he says, “Oh, Goddess, Felix, I love—”

He loses track of himself for a moment — loses track of everything, in fact, except for the cascade of physical sensations. But by the time he comes floating back down to earth, all at once the only thing he can feel is fear, because Felix — Felix is pulling away.

Has pulled away, in fact; he’s half-gone by the time Sylvain snaps back to consciousness enough to reach out and grab for him. He’s a little wobbly still, his motor control not quite back from the brink yet, but thankfully, Felix must be feeling a little unsteady, too, because Sylvain manages to reel him back in.

The biggest problem, he realizes, as he opens his mouth and desperately searches for something to say, some way to — what? walk it back? contextualize it? laugh it off? — is that even he isn’t sure what he was going to say. I love your mouth? I love this feeling? I love you? “I — wow,” is all he ends up managing, before Felix yanks away, putting at least a few inches between them, and glaring at him not with heat but with sheer, impenetrable, horrifying coldness.

“What the fuck,” he hisses, fingers scrabbling at the bedcovers in impotent rage. “What the fuck does that mean, you bastard? You can’t fuck around with me, you useless, arrogant—”

“Felix,” Sylvain protests; part of him is trying to calm Felix down, but part of him is still just reeling in shock, which isn’t helped by the utter vitriol in Felix’s eyes. “Felix, wait, I—”

“Don’t fucking speak,” Felix snaps at him. He dodges out of reach when Sylvain tries to grab him again, every line of his body crackling with tension. “Don’t try to fucking worm your way out of this, don’t apologize, just get away from me—”

“I’m not going to apologize,” Sylvain says, thinking fuck it even though his heart is pounding so loudly in his ears and at the base of his throat that he can barely speak around the sound. There’s nothing for it; he can’t see any way out but through. He has to go with what Felix is obviously assuming, which he too knows to be true if he’s willing to admit it, though he’s been running away from it and shoving it down for years: he loves Felix, and he’s just gotten almost all the way to telling him so. Fuck. “I’ll leave, if that’s what you want, but I’m not going to apologize. I’m not sorry and I don’t regret it, so — so —“

He trails off, expecting Felix to start spitting again at any second — and indeed Felix had seemed to be preparing for a truly epic tirade, but he’s suddenly frozen, wheels visibly turning behind his eyes.

He opens and closes his mouth several times, never actually saying anything. The rage on his face fades slowly into confusion, then shock, then something unreadable, and the whole time, Sylvain is on tenterhooks, his chest tight, his breath trapped in his lungs.

Finally, just when he’s starting to think he’s going to die just like this, frozen in place under the weight of how much he’s just fucked everything up, how much Felix now certainly hates him, Felix opens his mouth. He hesitates for another long moment, and Sylvain mostly expects that the long-awaited rant is going to come spilling out all at once, but instead Felix just bluntly says, “I’ve been in love with you for over a decade, and if you’re fucking with me, if you’re not being serious about this, I will gut you.”

There is a moment of perfect, pin-drop silence, in which Sylvain mostly just thinks he has died after all, and this is some sort of oddly specific wish-fulfillment death throe. Sylvain, in short, is flabbergasted.

Eventually, when he can force his vocal chords to creak out something that resembles human speech, he focuses on the one part of what had said that he can even comprehend as reality. “A decade?”

“Yes, you moron,” Felix snaps, hackles up, then seems to realize it was a genuine question. He hesitates, something in his expression hardening and then softening, as his brow furrows. “You mean you — you really didn’t know?”

“How should I have known?” Sylvain exclaims, still talking around the issue because that is, after all, much easier than actually, explicitly saying the words out loud. “You’re not exactly the easiest to read, even for me. You — you —” He trails off, all but gasping for air, even though neither of them is shouting anymore. “You really mean it?”

Felix looks at him like he’s an idiot, which is fair. “But — you said—”

“Please don’t kill me,” Sylvain says, which doesn’t seem like an auspicious beginning but seems like it might be necessary, “but I didn’t — you know — exactly mean to. Not that I didn’t mean what I said, but I — you — you were never supposed to know about it!”

“I was never supposed to know,” Felix says, very slowly, although strangely the fact that his voice is dripping with derision is actually just making Sylvain’s chest feel slowly, gradually lighter, considering that it’s combined with a tiny little smirk that even in the midst of Sylvain’s panic and dread can’t be construed as anything but affectionate, “that you’re in l—”

No,” Sylvain cuts him off. Why does his face feel so hot? Why is he fucking blushing right now? For one thing, he just came in Felix’s fucking mouth. For another thing, this is his goddamn playing field, so why is Felix dragging him around it like he owns the place? “No, you were not.”

Felix hits him with the you’re the world’s hugest moron look again, but then he starts to lean in, and if Sylvain does in fact die young and beautiful here in Castle Fraldarius, at least it will be incredibly easy to prove that it was because his heart gave out due to the stress of whatever the fuck is happening to him right now.

The kiss is neither as demanding nor as sweet as he might have expected; it starts out as barely more than a hint of pressure, Sylvain almost going cross-eyed trying to interpret the look on Felix’s face, but then all at once Felix opens his mouth and there’s a veritable wave of slow, sweeping warmth. Sylvain doesn’t even notice the moment when his eyes slide shut; all he knows is that there’s a soft brush of tongue, a nip to his lower lip, and then suddenly he has an entire lapful of Felix, and he stops really thinking about much of anything for a while.

When they pull apart, Sylvain hums thoughtfully, leveling Felix with a considering look. “You know, I don’t think this actually changes that much.”

“What do you mean?” Felix asks. He’s straddling Sylvain’s hips, which admittedly makes talking — especially talking about anything serious — a little more complicated than it otherwise might have been.

“Well,” Sylvain replies, drawing the word out and oh-so-casually settling his hands on Felix’s waist as he speaks, “you’ve been in love with me for ten years. I’ve been in love with you for some time as well. We’ve been having sex for — oh, ages. All that’s changed is that everything is just out in the open now.”

Felix snorts, crossing his arms. “You really are an idiot,” he says, shaking his head.

“How’s that?” Sylvain asks. He couldn’t, he decides, stop staring if he tried; everything about the way Felix looks right now is the most intoxicating thing he’s ever seen. Still, in particular, something about Felix’s expression makes his heart race.

Felix huffs at him, rolling his eyes. “This changes everything,” he says, fiercely, every bit of the determination and power he shows in battle shining in his eyes.

God, how did Sylvain ever go a single second without screaming how much he loves this perfect, impossible man for everyone in the world to hear?

(Well — maybe not the world. But he could probably yell loud enough to tell everyone in this castle if he wanted to, and frankly, he’s considering it with what Felix would probably call a terrifying amount of sincerity.)

“Felix Hugo Fraldarius,” Sylvain says faintly, after a long, heavy moment. “You’re a romantic and you never told me.”

Felix immediately blushes so hard he almost turns purple. “Like fuck I am,” he says, scowling, but Sylvain’s not fooled: he knows how to read that blush. He knows. “Now you’re just asking to get punched.”

“No, you can’t hide it from me now,” Sylvain cooes. “You have made a terrible strategic error.”

“Believe me, I’m aware,” Felix grumbles, but he’s not even really trying to hide his smile. The sight of it makes Sylvain absolutely melt.

Though Sylvain has no idea what time it was when they awoke, it’s been long enough that surely the sun is fully up by now; there’s gentle noise from the rest of the keep as the business of the morning really starts to pick up. Felix looks to the door, sighs, then looks back at Sylvain and sighs again. He’s certainly still visibly exhausted — the impact from months of stress can’t be undone in a single twelve-hour period, not even with the help of two very nice orgasms — but he’s also now sort of glowing, which is odd and almost a little hilarious and, most of all, makes Sylvain feel more incandescently happy than he might have thought possible.

“You’re not going to let me get any work done at all today, are you?” Felix says after a moment, sounding resigned. “Especially not now.”

“Correct,” Sylvain says cheerfully. “But the work will get done. I’m sure your people can keep the place running for one day, especially with my help.

“Your help is exactly what I’m worried about,” Felix grouches, but he’s still smiling a little.

“I promise not to run all of House Fraldarius into the ground in the next eight hours or so,” Sylvain informs him, grinning, “and I promise to bring you anything that truly requires your attention, if you promise to actually rest as much as you can.”

“I suppose that’s acceptable.” Felix sniffs a little, but it sounds more like it’s for effect than that it’s a sign of illness, but it still serves as an effective reminder.

“And,” Sylvain adds quickly, trying to sneak in an additional condition while Felix is still feeling agreeable, “you’ll let me go and get you some — I don’t know, soup, or something? Medicine? Tea?”

Felix pauses, as though to consider this. “If you can actually manage to make me tea without burning something,” he finally decides, “then I’ll drink it.”

“Good enough for me,” Sylvain says with a laugh, and then he just can’t help himself anymore: he has to lean in and kiss him again, pulling Felix flush against him and revelling in what must be the single warmest feeling he’s ever known.

“Insatiable,” Felix mutters against his lips. “Fucking demanding piece of…”

But he’s smiling — honestly smiling, with teeth and everything. Even when he hides that smile against Sylvain’s throat, he’s not fooling anyone.

That does it. That is it. There’s no way for Sylvain to feel anything but absolutely, abundantly overjoyed when Felix has an expression like that on his face — and that’s without even mentioning the fact that Felix is still draped all over them, their bodies touching at almost every possible point.

“Hey, Felix?” he says, trying for light and easygoing and missing by probably at least three miles. He feels Felix smile again against his neck.

“Yeah?”

“I’m not going far enough away for you to miss me ever again.”

Felix laughs, but it isn’t mean in the slightest; it’s the warmest little chuckle that Sylvain has ever heard. His heart swells fit to bursting, and without even realizing it, he tightens his grip where his hands are still resting on Felix’s waist, trying fruitlessly to bring him even closer.

“I like the sound of that,” Felix says quietly into the cold morning air, and then the two of them are quiet for a long, long time.