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of home, and the happiness that it brings

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It's spring, and Sylvain finds himself in the small, rural town of Lenore. It sits upon one of the major trade routes between Fargeus and what used to be Alliance territory, and Sylvain slows his horse to a stop as they near the outskirts of town.

"I want to stay here for the night," he says, voice light, and Ava sighs, her own horse slowing down a few paces behind him.

"Fine," she replies, giving him a tired look, "but only for the night."

He'd expressed interest in the town when they'd passed through it the first time, and Sylvain's interest hadn’t waned since then.

It had been three years since the end of the war, and the Alliance had, at this point, fully ceded its lands to the Kingdom. As the soon-to-be Margrave Gautier, Sylvain had been sent as an envoy to a large trade city in the south—one that his father, the current Margrave, had been in communication with for the past couple months.

His path had taken him through the once-Alliance territory, through this tiny town of Lenore, and Sylvain had found himself falling in love near immediately. The town is quiet and comfortable and sits flush against a set of cliffs that arc their way up the land’s east side, and the center of town holds a modest marketplace with a variety of vendors and small establishments. Sylvain had eyed with interest the first time they’d passed through, and he eyes them carefully now: pulling in the smells of the market with slow, eager breaths.

“Will you get us both rooms?” Sylvain asks, nodding towards a decent looking inn, and Ava nods back, her hand outstretched for Sylvain’s reigns as Sylvain dismounts from his steed. “I’ll make my way back later tonight—no need to wait up for me.”

“I’ll give them your name,” Ava replies, and Sylvain smiles as she leads their horses off, breathing in the light spring air and casting his gaze around the market square.

Despite the town’s size, the market is bustling—travelers and merchants bartering for goods around small, mobile stalls—and Sylvain walks through the crowds slowly, reveling in the anonymity that simple travel clothes and a new city provide.

He threads his way through the market’s streets, smiling at vendors and making small talk with merchants as he works his way through their wares. He buys himself food—small, handheld portions that he eats as he walks—and lets his weariness fall from his shoulders as quickly as coins fall from his purse. He visits the more permanent establishments, too—the ones built of wood and stone, sitting opposite one another in the streets—once he’s grown tired of the stalls, and he enjoys the smattering assortment of stores that paves his path: a pretty florist with an even prettier set of displays, a bakery down the way that smells of fresh bread and sugar, a lovely little glass shop with a large glassblowing workshop nestled further into its depths.

Sylvain ducks into them one by one: barely resisting the urge to buy flowers, despite having no one other than himself (or, perhaps, Ava) to buy them for. In the end, however, he caves and buys a sweet bun at the bakery immediately afterward—the old man’s smile too carefree for him to resist— and the crystalline sugar drips from his fingers as he walks.

He stops in front of a small store named Marlene’s Armory: Specialty Weaponry and Appraisal and peers through the glass to find a large assortment of swords, spears, lances, and the like spread throughout the store. Sylvain licks the remains of the sweet bun off his fingers and, after a moment's consideration, pushes his way into the store, saliva wiped idly against his trousers.

A small bell jingles as he enters, yet there is no one at the register save for a large, ash-grey cat that lounges atop the counter and blinks at Sylvain as he steps in. The store itself is small, yet has a simple, open layout, and there’s a set of thin dark-wood stairs that rests at the back of the shop.

Sylvain glances around—eyeing a set of simple, nicely gilded lances—before stepping up to the register where the cat continues to rest.

 

one

“Not scared of me at all, huh?” Sylvain grins at it, his voice lilting high as he reaches his hand forward to scratch at the cat’s head. “And you’re a beauty, too—tell me, gorgeous, do you know where Marlene might be? It seems as though you and I are the only ones here, right now.”

Sylvain grins as he hears a snort come from up the stairs, and he hears the steady footfall of an individual beginning to descend.

“That’s Marlene you’re speaking to now,” the person calls down, quiet amusement in his voice, and Sylvain’s grin, small and sweet, freezes upon his face.

The voice is rough and familiar—the sort of voice that Sylvain would never, could never, forget—and Sylvain doesn’t even have time enough to panic before Felix, one hand trailing the banister, steps his way into Sylvain’s view.

“Sorry to keep you waiting—” Felix begins, leather boots landing light upon the store’s hardwood floor, but then his eyes lock with Sylvain’s, and Felix’s words trail off.

 

two

Out of the corner of his eye, Sylvain sees the cat from earlier—Marlene, his mind supplies, unhelpfully—hop off the counter and make her way to Felix’s feet. Felix remains rooted in place even as Marlene meows at his feet, his bright eyes wide and surprised as they continue their search of Sylvain’s face.

“Felix?” Sylvain says more than asks, the name rolling softly off his tongue, and Felix stiffens slightly—spell broken—as he bends over to pick up Marlene.

“Sylvain,” Felix replies, evenly. “I can’t say that I expected you.”

“Nor I, you,” Sylvain replies, faintly, mouth dry as Felix walks towards the register and sets Marlene back down upon it.

Felix is older, his hair long and grown out: pulled into a thin ponytail that he wears against the back of his head. He still holds himself the same way he once did—guarded and reserved and far too exhausted for his age—but there’s a contentment to him now, a confident sturdiness that Sylvain isn’t sure how to place. His tunic is thin and loose, open at the front with its sleeves rolled up against Felix’s forearms, and Sylvain stares at the simple, yet detailed belt that sits tight around his waist.

There are no swords strapped there, not a single weapon hanging at Felix’s side, and the absence of the usual double-sheath that Sylvain had grown so used to seeing feels strange. Almost unnatural.

“Are you here to buy something,” Felix asks, snapping Sylvain’s gaze back up to his face, “or are you just here to gawk?”

“If missing you for three years straight hasn’t earned me the right to gawk,” Sylvain replies absently, distracted by the heavy weight of his own sword against his waist, “then I suppose I might as well leave.”

Sylvain smiles then, open and honest, and Felix looks back at him curiously—a ghost of a smile flitting across his face.

“Are you saying that you missed me?” Felix asks, leaning up against the countertop with a snort, and Sylvain shrugs, his mouth going drier than before.

“Didn’t I tell you that I would?” he replies, and Felix frowns.

I’ll miss you, you know? he had said, and Felix’s lip catches between his teeth.

“I suppose you did,” he replies, hand moving to pet Marlene’s back as she presses her body up next to him.

Sylvain smiles again, waving away the sudden somberness and turning Felix’s attention back to him. Back, Sylvain thinks, to the present him.

“Never mind that,” he says, and Felix blinks back to him. “Will you have dinner with me tonight? I won’t pressure you into catching up, but I’ll admit I’m interested in hearing how you came about running a weapons shop.”

Felix raises an eyebrow, his mouth pulling tight against his face. He’s uncertain, Sylvain thinks, reluctant? And Sylvain doesn’t push him any further—simply stands, face open, and waits. Felix’s face flips through a series of conflicting emotions before settling, all at once, on something that feels suspiciously close to longing.

(Sylvain would know, given how intimately he’s come to know the feeling.)

“Alright,” Felix replies, quietly, and Sylvain grins at him, leaning forward to scratch at Marlene’s head. Felix watches him, emotions worn clearly upon his sleeve, and Sylvain thinks that he’s even worse now than he was throughout the war.

For here is a man who has never needed to hide his feelings behind a mask; here is a man who has never wanted to. Felix looks at him, honest and aching and quiet, and Sylvain thinks it might be petty, the jealousy he feels over something as small as that. And yet, he hides it behind a simple smile made genuine over years of practice, and reminds himself that the life of a diplomat is the one that he had chosen, and this one—the life of a merchant—is the one that Felix had.

“Perfect,” Sylvain replies, and Felix frowns at him, eyes narrowing slightly as Sylvain continues to pet Marlene. “I’m staying at an inn towards the edge of town—the stone one, with the white slatted windows. Meet me there tonight?”

Hearthstone Inn,” Felix says eventually, nodding slowly. “Alright, I’ll come by after I close up shop for the night.”

And Sylvain nods back, petting Marlene one final time before making his way to the door. “I’m going to finish checking in, then,” he says, head inclining towards the street, “but it was good to see you again, Fe—unexpected though it was.”

Felix snorts lightly, before nodding again. “It was good to see you, too,” he says, and the words turn Sylvain’s grin genuine, his smile widening further as his eyes catch on Felix’s ear—pierced and decorated in a way that they hadn’t been before. It’s so unlike the Felix Sylvain remembers, yet incredibly Felix all the same. The silver metal catches in the light of the store, and Sylvain blinks away a quiet heat that has started to settle inside him.

“Good luck with closing up,” Sylvain says, waving backward as he pushes his way back into the bustling street market of Lenore. “And I’ll see you tonight, Fe.”

Felix waves back, Marlene lounging across the countertop before him, and Sylvain breathes out a slow, quiet breath.

Sylvain doesn’t need directions back to the Hearthstone Inn, yet he asks for them anyway—chatting with local merchants and distracting himself from the nervous energy that has coiled in his gut. Three years since he’d last seen Felix, and now here he was: settled in his new life as a specialty weapons dealer, with long dark hair, pierced ears, and a fluffy, attention-seeking cat.

Was he happier now, than he was when he had left?

Had he found the life he’d been looking for?

Sylvain frowns, entering Hearthstone and letting his noble title slip from between his lips. He lets himself be led up to his room, where Ava had left him a note informing him of her whereabouts (down the hall to the right, room 109) and the whereabouts of their horses (the inn has a couple stables in the back, which cost a bit extra but has already been taken care of by Ava herself).

His belongings have already been brought up—set aside next to a small desk that rests along the right wall of the room—and Sylvain tosses his coin purse down upon the desk, shuffling through his things in search of a nicer set of clothes.

The shower provided by the inn is cold, not nearly as warm as Sylvain typically likes his showers to be, but it’s a small discomfort that he’s willing to stomach—especially after days of travel without the luxury of running water.

Sylvain takes his time as he cleans, reveling in the ability to do so, and stares at himself in the small bathroom mirror as he changes into a set of fitted clothes that he’d worn during his trade negotiations not a week prior: nice, expensive garments that always belie his status as a noble. Sylvain has never really cared for them, but he knows he looks good, and there’s a small part of him—traitorous, he thinks, for him to have acknowledged it again, already—that wants to look good for Felix.

He writes a short note to Ava (“Can you swing us staying a couple extra days? Met an old friend and intend to catch up.”) before scrapping the note entirely and simply walking down the hall to her room.

She’s sitting at her desk when Sylvain swings the door open, absently waving him in as she finishes reading through a set of documents that they’d received at the conclusion of those aforementioned negotiations. Ava has worked as his assistant for the past couple of years: originally an assistant to his mother, back when he was growing up, she’d shown an interest in politics after the war had started, and had requested that Sylvain take her on as an assistant soon after it had ended. It was around that time that he had formalized his intent to take over his father’s position as Margrave, and his parents had insisted that having an assistant on hand would be beneficial as he worked to ready himself for the role.

He’s set to take over the position in the next couple of years—his father hinting at his plans for retirement more often than Sylvain can blink—and Ava has noted her intent to step in as one of his official advisors as soon as his position changes.

In actuality, the woman contributes more to his current success as an heir than he likely does himself: keeping him in line and working as the practical (and political) guidance that drives Sylvain’s own social and emotional know-how. They make a fairly good team, despite Ava’s tendency toward taking on the role of taskmaster, and Sylvain knows himself grateful for her help.

“Sylvain,” Ava says, finally, nodding at him from her place at the desk. “Did you enjoy the market?”

“Absolutely,” Sylvain replies, smiling, and he’s careful when he continues: “Enough to warrant staying another day.”

He says it casually, yet Ava still stiffens in her seat.

“Are you serious?” she asks, and Sylvain nods, trying not to feel too pinned down by her gaze.

“Only if we could still make it back on time,” Sylvain replies, “if we did.”

Ava looks at him critically, eyes sharp.

“We’d have to ride fairly hard the day after, in order to make up for the lost time,” she replies, knowing how much Sylvain dislikes heavy riding days. But Sylvain just nods, waving the words away and knowing that a couple extra days with Felix is more than worth the struggle.

“I met up with an old friend,” Sylvain explains, and Ava sighs.

“Is that why you’re all dressed up?” she asks, gesturing towards Sylvain’s clothing, and Sylvain nods again.

“I’m meeting him for dinner.”

She looks at him for a moment longer, before turning away with another sigh. “Fine, fine,” she says, “I suppose we can stay one more day. But after that, we’ll need to get back on the road—your father expects our return within the week.”

“Great,” Sylvain grins, “Thanks Ava, you’re the best. Want me to send food up for you?”

“No need,” she replies, smiling wryly, “I already ate.”

There’s a bar on the first floor of the inn, and Sylvain makes his way down to a small table at the back. He lets the bartender know he’s got company coming soon, and orders himself a beer while he waits, leaning back in his chair and letting the atmosphere of the place sink in.

He’s not the most well-dressed person in the room—not by a long shot—and the clientele seems to be made up mostly of travellers, merchants, and the like. That said, the inn is still rowdy enough, with men playing cards in the back and a number of patrons looking far more inebriated than necessary at this point in the night.

Felix joins him soon enough, still dressed in the same clothes that he’d been wearing earlier that day, and Felix stares at him for a moment, before ordering himself a beer as well.

“So,” Sylvain starts, watching Felix slip into the chair across from him, drink in hand. “A weapons shop, huh?”

And Felix gives him a look so familiar that it hurts, and Sylvain has to take a drink to smother the smile that pulls, unbidden, across his face.

“Yes,” Felix replies dryly, one eyebrow raised. “A weapons shop.”

“Do you like it?” Sylvain asks, and Felix snorts, taking a sip of his own drink before grimacing and setting it back down.

“More than I like beer, certainly,” Felix murmurs, and Sylvain grins at him, downing the rest of his drink and reaching over to pick up Felix’s own.

“More for me, then,” Sylvain replies, and something relaxes between the two of them as he starts to drink Felix’s beer—the air between them smoothing out as Felix relaxes, almost imperceptibly, into the back of his seat.

Felix shakes his head as Sylvain grins at him, waving over a barmaid and ordering food for them both. Sylvain doesn’t hear what he says to her, focused solely on the lines of Felix’s face, and when Felix turns back to him—eyes soft and curious—Sylvain almost forgets to breathe.

“I do like it,” Felix finally says to him, once the barmaid has left. “More than I thought I would, anyway. The war may be over, but people still like their swords, and I know more about their make and function than the average person who comes through this town.”

“I don’t doubt that,” Sylvain says, laughing, “though if I recall correctly, you’d told me before you left that you were planning to become a mercenary.”

Felix does something with his shoulder that feels a bit like a halfhearted shrug.

“I did work as one,” he replies, “for about a year. But sometimes life has other plans for you, and you find yourself leading a life you never expected you would.”

Sylvain snorts, and Felix looks up, accepting their food with a nod. The barmaid from before sets another glass of beer in front of him, and Sylvain watches him grimace—staring at the glass, yet moving to drink from it anyway.

“The shop hadn’t meant to be a permanent fixture in my life,” Felix continues, stabbing his fork into the shepherd's pie that sits in front of him, “nor had Marlene. But I ended up enjoying the work more than I thought I would, and the weapons that come through here are worth the attention either way.”

Felix smiles with a look that’s borderline fond, and Sylvain feels his heart beat heavy in his chest.

“More interesting than policy and diplomacy,” Sylvain murmurs, “I’m sure,” and Felix snorts, raising an eyebrow.

“Is that what you’re doing these days,” he asks, “policy and diplomacy?”

Sylvain grimaces. “Among other things. Father plans to retire in the next year or so, and I’m set to be the next Margrave by the time he does.”

Felix studies him, catching Sylvain’s eye for a steady moment before turning back to his meal.

“Do you like it?” he asks, and Sylvain’s grimace deepens.

“Or course not,” he replies, matter of fact, “but there’s not a whole lot I can do about that.”

“Isn’t there?” Felix murmurs back, taking a sip of beer before sighing abruptly and pushing his glass Sylvain’s way for the second time that night. “This stuff is disgusting.”

“Beer?” Sylvain asks, and Felix shrugs.

“Alcohol.”

They lapse into silence as Sylvain eats, picking away at some sort of roast that tastes better than it looks. Sylvain finds himself comfortable despite the lull in conversation—the atmosphere of the inn’s bar easing the edge off nearly as well as his drink. Being with Felix feels stilted and awkward, having spent the last three years of his life never expecting to see him again; and yet, there’s a familiarity to it—a familiarity to him—and Sylvain can’t help but fall back in.

They make small talk over the rest of dinner, Sylvain asking innocuous questions about Felix’s job and Felix never again mentioning his, and by the end of the night, Sylvain finds himself caught in the strange position of missing Felix even more than he did when he was gone. There’s so much left between them, unacknowledged yet ever there, and questions bubble up in Sylvain’s mind the longer Felix looks at him—hair pulled loose over his shoulder and the light flush of alcohol creeping quietly up his cheeks.

Sylvain stares at him, absently spooning some sort of breaded dessert into his mouth, and knows he’d been a fool to think that he’d ever gotten over this man.

“Can I come visit you, tomorrow?” Sylvain asks, blinking back at Felix as Felix drinks his coffee. “I wasn’t able to stay long earlier today, but I’d like it if you showed me around your shop.”

Felix nods, staring back at him and leaning back in his chair. “I’ll show you around the rest of the town, too, if you’re interested,” he says, and Sylvain grins, leaning forward.

“Show me off to the other store owners?” he asks, and Felix’s snort is low and amused.

“You say that like you’re worth showing off,” he says, and Sylvain grins more, finishing his dessert and moving to pay for their meal.

“How long are you staying here for?” Felix asks, once Sylvain has paid, and Sylvain shrugs, watching Felix stand and gather up his coat.

“A couple of days, maybe?” he replies, wondering if he won’t be able to swing another extension with Ava, tomorrow night. “I’m not in any rush to leave.”

Felix nods, looking at him critically once more. “Good,” he finally says, pulling on his coat and moving towards the door. “Then I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Fe,” Sylvain says, quietly, as Felix steps away. “It was good to see you again.”

And Felix looks back at him, nodding, his smile small and soft.

“It was good to see you again, too. Have a good night, Sylvain,” he says, and Sylvain smiles back at him, and does.

- -

Sylvain wakes up the next morning earlier than he’d originally intended to. Ava gives him a look when he says he’ll be out all day, but tells him to have fun and to be ready to leave the next morning. Sylvain nods, absently, and resolves to ask her later that night about, perhaps, just a little bit longer.

Felix has already opened the shop by the time Sylvain drops in, with Marlene lounging at the register just as she had done the day before.

“Morning,” Sylvain says, and Felix nods back, returning the greeting.

“You’re here early,” Felix says, watching Sylvain walk up to pet Marlene. “Have you eaten?”

“Not yet,” Sylvain replies, and Felix makes a noise, bending over to retrieve something from beneath the counter. Marlene curls her head up into Sylvain’s hand, and Sylvain grins as he scratches round her ears while Felix stands back up.

“Eat these, then,” Felix says, dropping a small box onto the countertop, next to Marlene’s front paws. “Darren and Laurie always bring me pastries in the morning, and they added a couple of the sweet ones, this time.”

Sylvain opens the box to find a sweet bun and some sort of tart, and he picks up the sweet bun with a smile. “Do they run the bakery down the street?” he asks, remembering his visit the day before, and Felix nods.

“Darren is the older man, and Laurie is his daughter,” Felix replies. “Their family has become good friends of mine.”

Sylvain snorts, eating the bun and continuing to pet Marlene’s head. “Nice of them,” he says, and Felix shrugs, watching the two of them absently.

There’s no one else in the shop, so when Felix shows him around—pressing weapons into Sylvain’s hands and explaining their peculiarities—Sylvain lets himself slip into a version of himself that he had, at one point, reserved only for Felix. It’s comfortable and nostalgic—listening to Felix speak of gilded lances and thin, weighted daggers in the same way he used to talk about new weapons at the training grounds—and Sylvain smiles, taking a dagger into his hand and twirling it round his thumb.

He knows the motion looks cool (Felix had shown him how to do it when they were back at the academy, and he’s used it sometimes in order to impress the academy girls) and Felix snorts, pulling the dagger back from him and handing over a rapier with a pretty, swirling hilt, instead.

“One of my favorites,” Felix notes, “I got it off a merchant who didn’t know its worth. The mythril makes it lighter, which makes it a joy to fence with.” He twirls the dragger around his finger in the same way Sylvain just did, quick and dangerous, and Sylvain feels his knees go just a little bit weak.

He weights the rapier in his hand instead, doing his best to pull focus away from Felix’s dagger filled hands, and hums. “I feel like this is more of a personal collection,” he notes, voice light, “rather than a selection of sellable wares.”

And Felix grins at him not a second later, sharp and sweet as he continues to spin the dagger quietly between his fingers. “Maybe,” he replies, looking more content than Sylvain has ever seen him, and that’s all Felix deigns to say, on that.

Although the store remains empty throughout a majority of the morning, Felix does get the odd customer as soon as lunch rolls around: various travelers and merchants that slip through the door in order to inquire after his services. A few of the merchants ask after Felix’s interests, citing some of their wares and inviting him to visit their stands in the inner market, and Felix nods through their conversations—courteous and professional from the moment they enter ‘til the moment that they leave.

Sylvain finds it entertaining to watch, unused to this polite, store-owning version of Felix, and Sylvain wanders through the store: listening to Felix’s conversations as he busies himself with his customers. Marlene continues to sit at the register, watching Sylvain move through the store with wide, glassy eyes, and eventually Sylvain slips out while Felix is yet preoccupied, intending to pick up lunch for them both.

He finds himself walking back towards the bakery that he’d stopped at the previous day, and Sylvain introduces himself to Darren—the greying old man who’d helped him the last time he’d been here—as a friend of Felix’s.

Darren’s eyes light up, looking Sylvain up and down as he boxes Sylvain’s order of buns.

“I didn’t realize Felix had other friends,” he says, and Sylvain snorts a laugh as he pays for the food.

A dark-haired woman with a soft smile emerges from the back room just as Sylvain begins asking Darren after Felix’s favorite restaurants in the area, and Sylvain assumes her to be Laurie. She’s pretty, likely older than him by a number of years, and Sylvain finds himself almost embarrassed at the relief he feels, once he notices the small silver band that rests around her ring finger. Married, then, Sylvain thinks—and not to Felix. He tells himself he hadn’t been worried, but can’t deny the small knot of apprehension that dissipates slowly afterward.

Laurie’s voice is soft and chiding as her father starts asking after Felix’s past, some amount of curiosity tinging his words, and Sylvain glances between the two of them, one eyebrow raised.

“Do you not know what Felix did throughout the war?” Sylvain asks, and Laurie shakes her head.

“He doesn’t like to talk about his past,” Laurie replies, and the words cause something heavy and unmentionable to replace Sylvain’s earlier relief.

“He’s never seemed to want us to know,” she continues, her expression wry, “and so my father should know better than to pry. But it does make me happy to see he still has friends from that time of his life—we’d always gotten the impression that he despised every part of it.”

Sylvain nods, letting a simple, genial remark slip through his lips. The two smile at him as he leaves, saying they’ll pack extra pastries for the two of them the next morning, and Sylvain leaves the bakery with a small sigh, a frown pulling at his face as he makes his way back to Felix’s store.

Felix is standing by the register when Sylvain arrives, petting Marlene while a couple of customers mill about the shop.

“Lunch,” Sylvain tells him, dropping the box of buns on the counter and picking out a couple for himself. “Darren and Laurie were very nice—they said they’d add some additional pastries for me to their usual breakfast delivery, tomorrow morning.”

Felix snorts, grabbing a meat bun and murmuring quiet thanks. Sylvain pulls up a chair and eats with Marlene while Felix continues to attend to the shop, and the rest of the day passes slowly, the ebb and flow of customers a steady rhythm that Sylvain finds easy enough to slip into.

In the end, the few sales that Felix makes before the end of the day are for weapons of a simpler sort: those of unremarkable origin with even less remarkable stories attached to them. They’re so unlike the small pieces of metal-worked artistry that Felix had been showing him earlier that morning, and Sylvain doesn’t know whether that fact fills him with disappointment or relief.

"Today was busier than expected," Felix says to him, as he flips the sign on his door to ‘closed,’ and his tone of voice is apologetic enough that Sylvain responds with absent forgiveness.

“I’d meant to show you around town after the lunchtime rush,” Felix continues, “but today’s rush was less of a rush and more of a steady, continuous flow.”

He grimaces, and Sylvain laughs.

“It’s really alright,” he replies, again. “It was enjoyable watching you work.”

Felix shakes his head, leaning down towards Marlene and scooping her up into his arms. Sylvain stretches, back cracking as he stands from his chair, and Felix goes upstairs to put Marlene away before the two of them head out for dinner.

"You said you’re here for a couple of days, right?" Felix asks, once he’s attended to Marlene and made his way back downstairs.

Sylvain nods, pushing away thoughts of Ava’s disapproving face. “Like I said, I’m not in any rush to leave.”

"Then I'll take tomorrow off," Felix says, nodding, and Sylvain smiles, a soft happiness tingling up his spine.

“I’d like that a lot,” he replies, and Felix smiles back, small and fond.

They eat dinner at the inn again—mostly for Sylvain’s convenience—and they sit down at the same table they’d eaten at the night before. Felix orders them food and Sylvain buys himself a beer, and as the two of them settle in, Sylvain can’t help but notice how carefully Felix leans forward, eyes soft, each time that Sylvain speaks. The movement is minor, barely even noticeable, and yet—it’s there.

Sylvain doesn’t stop himself from leaning forward, too.

They talk throughout the night about Felix’s work—the life he’d had as a mercenary, and the life he has now, as a merchant. The inn glows warm with candlelight that brings color to the pale of Felix’s skin, and Sylvain drinks his beer slowly, letting the noise of the other patrons wash over them.

“Tomorrow I’ll take you to the cliffs,” Felix is saying, “after taking you around town. There isn’t much to do here honestly, once you’ve exhausted the market itself, so I think you’ll enjoy them.”

“The cliffs sound fun,” Sylvain replies, and Felix gives him a half-smile back.

“Lenore is a quiet town everywhere the market isn’t,” Felix continues, sipping quietly from his glass of water and glancing past Sylvain to the door. “And the view from the cliffs is gorgeous at sunset. We can bring lunch up, or maybe just dinner? I suppose it depends how long you want to spend up there.”

Felix stops talking and Sylvain blinks back at him.

“Either,” he replies, after a moment, “or both.” Sylvain pauses, beer held light in his hand. “I’m happy to do anything, as long as it’s with you.”

Sylvain says the words quietly, not realizing he’s saying them until they’re already out of his mouth, and Felix breathes out slowly.

“Alright,” he replies, quietly, “that works.”

Sylvain is quiet for a moment, thinking of Laurie and the ring on her finger and the conversation that they’d had at the bakery. Her words, he doesn’t like to talk about his past, sitting heavily in his mind.

“I’ve missed you,” Sylvain says, eventually, gesturing between the two of them. “And I missed this—talking to you, again.”

Felix’s smile is steady and tentative, but he nods, head inclining Sylvain’s way. “I can admit that I’ve missed you, too.”

“Dimitri and Ingrid,” Sylvain continues, the words careful, “have missed you a lot, too.” Sylvain doesn’t miss the way Felix stiffens in his seat, his small smile faltering momentarily, and the motion makes Sylvain’s eyes narrow.

“I knew that they would,” Felix replies, quiet, and it’s then that Sylvain makes the conscious decision to push forward: the memory of Laurie’s words stinging him, even now.

"I bet they’d love to see you again," Sylvain says, keeping his voice light, and all at once, Felix's body language closes off entirely—pulling away from Sylvain and their conversation, and sinking into an uneasy awkwardness that Sylvain wants to physically shake from Felix’s shoulders.

"I'm sure they would," Felix agrees, and Sylvain feels his frown deepen.

“You don’t intend to see them again, do you?” he says, one quiet moment later, and it isn’t a question so much as a statement of fact.

Felix sets his water down with a sigh, and doesn’t meet Sylvain’s gaze.

“I think I need a beer,” he says, but neither of them stand up to get him one.

“Why not?” Sylvain asks, quietly. “They’ve missed you just as much as I have.”

“Because,” Felix replies, his voice exhausted. “I’ve taken care not to let my old life bleed into this one.”

He’s still not looking at Sylvain, his eyes cast down, and Sylvain grits his teeth.

"But I’m here,” he says, “aren’t I?"

Felix’s eyes flick up to meet his. “I suppose you are,” he admits, his body language still closed, and Sylvain feels something sharp and terrible settle in his gut.

It’s a feeling he’s grown accustomed to throughout his life, this feeling of not being wanted, but he’d forgotten how painful it was, especially when the feeling came from Felix.

"What makes me so different?" Sylvain asks him, face pinching, and although Felix doesn't reply—his lips drawn thin as he stares back at Sylvain—Sylvain is almost certain he knows the answer.

He was the one who found Felix by chance; he was the one who had happened upon Felix’s new life. If Ingrid or Dimitri had found him, instead, would Felix have welcomed them, outwardly happy, in the same way that he had welcomed Sylvain?

Sylvain is different by circumstance, and the thought shouldn’t be as disappointing as it is.

“Do you not want me here?” he asks, and Felix frowns at him.

Felix hadn’t been the one to initiate contact between the two of them—despite having had the power to do so at any point. Sylvain shouldn’t be surprised that Felix doesn’t want to see Dimitri and Ingrid again, and he shouldn’t be surprised if his own intrusion into Felix’s new life (unexpected as it has been) would be just as unwelcome.

It was by the hands of fate, and fate alone, that they’d met up again at all (and perhaps Sylvain should be grateful, just for that).

“I’m sorry,” Sylvain eventually says, his voice a low murmur, and Felix makes another low noise beneath his breath.

“No, no, Sylvain—it’s not that,” Felix says, leaning forward with a deeper frown. “I didn’t mean it like that, I just—”

He stops and Sylvain sits back, lips thin. “Just what?”

“I do like having you here,” Felix says, carefully, “even if I hadn’t planned for it to happen. It’s true that I don’t want my life as a noble to bleed into this one, but that doesn’t mean I want you gone.”

Sylvain looks back at him, quiet, and Felix takes a breath.

“I mean it,” Felix continues, his voice soft, and Sylvain feels something tight grip at his heart. “I missed you, and if I’d wanted you gone, I would have thrown you out of my shop as soon as you’d arrived.”

“But you didn’t,” Sylvain says.

And Felix replies: “No, I didn’t.”

They lapse into silence as Sylvain drinks. Their food is brought to them and Sylvain feels the tight knot in his stomach slowly start to unwrap, Felix’s eyes wide and confused and earnest.

“What is it that makes me different?” Sylvain asks him, and Felix bites his lip.

“A lot of things,” he replies, and Sylvain’s knot unwraps a little bit more.

“So you’re never planning to return home?” Sylvain finally asks, voice quiet, and Felix shakes his head. “Not even years from now?”

"Faerghus,” Felix replies, slowly, “is no longer my home—not in the same way that it used to be. But no, I’m not. I have no desire to return.”

“Why not?” Sylvain asks, and his voice is pained, despite him not meaning it to be.

“Because I’m happier here,” Felix replies, drinking slowly. “Much happier than I’d have been, had I remained living as a Duke. I have a life, now: one that I’ve chosen for myself. I have a cat and friends and a job I enjoy, and it’s a life that keeps me living—a life that keeps me happy.”

Happy, happier, happiest, Sylvain thinks.

To him, it’s almost a forgein concept.

“Are you not happy?” Felix asks him, and Sylvain barks out a laugh that feels hollow, even to him.

“You know that I’m not,” he replies, and if Felix is surprised by the answer, he doesn’t look it. “I wanted to inherit my title even less than you did, yours.”

“So why don’t you leave?” Felix asks him, the words slipping sweetly off his tongue, and Sylvain grits his teeth.

“I can’t,” he replies, stomach turning at the thought. “I can’t.”

“Why not?” Felix insists, his lips curling down even as he presses forward—voice sturdier than Sylvain’s had been, when Sylvain was questioning him earlier. “If the title of Margrave isn’t what you want—if you hate your life, if you hate your family, if you want to leave?”

He pauses, and Sylvain meets his gaze.

“Why don’t you?”

“Because I’m not you, Felix,” Sylvain sighs, and the words feel sharper than he means them to be. “I can’t just drop everything I am—everything I’m expected and supposed to be—just because I’m unhappy with it. I have duties to the Kingdom and I have duties to my family. I can’t abandon them in the same way that you did—I just can’t.”

Felix’s frown deepens. “Do you think that I’m selfish, then,” he asks, “for leaving my people, my duties to the crown, behind?”

And Sylvain replies, quick and honest: “Yes,” he says, “of course,” and Felix recoils slightly, his eyes going dark.

“I don’t blame you for it,” Sylvain continues, matching Felix’s frown, “as your decisions are your own to make. But fuck, Felix—you left us. You decided to leave without thinking about the impact you’d have on me, on Ingrid, on Dimitri, and I barely had enough time to say goodbye before you’d gone off and disappeared into the countryside.”

“I thought about how my absence would impact you—” Felix starts, the words vehement.

“And you decided that we weren’t worth it,” Sylvain finishes, and Felix’s eyes flash. “You decided that we weren’t enough for you, that we weren’t enough to make you stay.”

“Yes,” Felix replies eventually, his voice rough and his eyes dark. “When you put it like that, then I suppose I did.”

“Well,” Sylvain replies, breaking Felix’s gaze to stare at the bartender at the back of the inn. A hot, simmering anger starts to boil in his stomach, replacing the hurt that had sat there before, and Sylvain can’t help the furious disappointment that he feels knowing that he’s not enough—knowing that he never was. Their friendship, even after the war, hadn’t been strong enough to convince Felix to stay, and though he recognizes the irrationality of his anger, Sylvain can’t help but feel stung by the confirmation.

“Think about it this way, then,” Sylvain murmurs, his voice heated. “I’ve also put thought into how my abdication would impact the Kingdom, how it would impact my family, how it would impact my other friends.

“And ultimately,” he continues, “I came to the decision that it wouldn’t be worth it. You asked me why I haven’t abandoned the title that I don’t want and the family that I hate? I haven’t because I don’t think that it’s worth it.”

Felix narrows his eyes, his frown tight and confused. “How can you consider your own happiness to be less important than the expectations placed upon you at birth? Expectations you didn’t even ask for?”

“Because,” Sylvain grits out, “I know that I don’t need to be happy in order to fulfill the needs of my country. I don’t need to be happy in order to improve the lives of my people.”

“Is that what you want to do?” he asks, and Sylvain shrugs.

“What I want doesn’t matter.”

And Felix stares at him, silently incredulous. “I suppose that’s your decision to make,” he replies, eventually, his voice almost sad, “but I still think you’re a coward for making it.”

Sylvain’s face contorts as he laughs, the noise rough.

“Less of a coward than you?” he asks. “You ran away from everything—your title, your people, your friends—just because you felt like it.”

“I left because it was what I wanted,” Felix replies, his voice going taut. “And maybe you would benefit from learning to do the same.”

“It’s more complicated than just ‘doing what I want,’” Sylvain snaps at him, pausing slightly. His next words are vicious and unnecessary, leased specifically to hurt and nothing more than that, yet Sylvain can’t help himself—the words cracking off his tongue like a whip. “I have more people to consider than just myself—especially with my family still alive.”

Sylvain breathes heavily and Felix stares at him for two slow seconds, his eyes narrowing further in the dark, before abruptly standing from his chair and slamming down a couple of thin coins onto the small table between them.

“You’re an asshole,” Felix growls, quiet and dark and under his breath, and when Sylvain doesn’t answer—nothing but thoughts of not being enough, never being enough, always being a coward, spinning through his head—Felix turns around, face closed, and stalks his way to the door.

Sylvain watches his back as he exits the inn, and he ascends the staircase to his room less than ten minutes later: guilty, furious, and disappointed.

He goes to sleep that night with thoughts of their argument still heavy in his mind, and Sylvain dreams of things he wants, yet cannot, will not, shall not have.

- -

“You didn’t tell me your ‘old friend’ was the former Fraldarius heir,” Ava says, one eyebrow raised as she stands at the threshold of Sylvain’s room the next morning.

Sylvain hasn’t packed, and he can pinpoint the moment Ava realizes that by the quiet exhaustion that washes over her face.

“I think it might be best if I return ahead of you,” she says eventually, fingers tapping against crossed arms, “and let the Margrave know that your return will be slightly delayed.”

Sylvain’s face splits into a small, tired grin. “I’m beginning to wonder if you can read my mind,” he jokes, and Ava makes a face.

“I’m not sure I’d want to, even if I could,” she murmurs, and Sylvain snorts—his smile yet bright.

“You’ve got a week, Lord Gautier,” Ava finally says, and it's her use of title that lets Sylvain know she’s serious. “I’ll let the Margrave know you’re a week or so out from me, but he’ll expect you to have had your fill of reunions, by then.”

“Sometimes I think you forget,” Sylvain replies, laughing lightly, “that you’re the one that works for me.”

Ava’s lips quirk mildly as she steps back and bows, slightly, at her waist. “A week, Sylvain,” she repeats, “and please, send the former Fraldarius heir my regards.”

She leaves shortly thereafter, checking out of her room and fetching her horse from the stables behind the inn. Sylvain sends her off with gratitude and he promises, one final time, that he won’t stay longer than a week.

He’s not sure how much she believes him (just as he’s not sure how much he believes himself), but he pushes the thought aside, and thoughts of Felix quickly replace it.

When Sylvain shows up at Marlene’s Armory later that morning, he’s pleasantly surprised to find that Felix has, despite their argument the night before, still taken the day off as planned. Sylvain enters the shop to find Felix sitting with Marlene by the register, a large box of pastries—larger, Sylvain notes, than the box he’d had the morning prior—sitting before him, and Felix fixes

Sylvain with a steady look that makes Sylvain’s throat go dry.

“I’m sorry,” Sylvain says, by way of a greeting—and Felix lets out a quiet sigh. He doesn’t need to specify what for.

“You should be,” Felix replies, frowning at him, but he sighs and pushes the box of pastries forward, and Sylvain knows that he is—at least partially—forgiven.

“You’re an asshole,” Felix continues, repeating his words from the night before, “and a coward. But I also know that I’m selfish. And I’m still glad that you’re here.”

Sylvain looks at him and nods. “I know,” he says, “I’m glad I am, too.”

Felix closes the shop for the day, and they put Marlene upstairs before they leave. Sylvain stands quietly at the top of the stairs as Felix attends to her needs, and Felix’s home feels large despite how small it actually is: the living room open and empty save for the small, cluttered stove and dining table nestled at its back. There’s a hall and doors to the left that Sylvain desperately wants to explore, but he stays put and Felix returns to him soon after—leading them both out the building and locking each of the doors behind him.

Felix takes him around town for the rest of the morning, introducing him to other store owners and walking him through the entirety of the market. They stop to say hello to Darren and Laurie, and Sylvain learns that Felix met them through Laurie’s wife, Alice, who Felix worked with as a mercenary prior to settling in Lenore.

“Alice is often away for work,” Laurie tells him, her face fond as she packs them both additional pastries for lunch, “but we’re planning on taking over the bakery together once my father finally retires.”

Laurie leans in a little bit closer, eyes bright. “And that can’t be too far away now, hm?” she asks, one eyebrow raised, and Felix snorts under his breath as he takes their pastries in hand.

There’s a light shout of indignation from the back kitchen as Darren storms up to a laughing Laurie, and Sylvain is grinning as they leave.

They visit the glass shop that Sylvain had stopped by a few days prior, and Felix introduces him to Damian—the glassblower who used to be a cavalry soldier for the Alliance. He and Felix spar sometimes, and his workshop’s proximity to Felix’s armoury has led to them becoming unexpected friends. Sylvain buys a set of opalescent blue earrings for Ava, the small glass baubles refracting light across his palm, and Damian seems pleased enough by his interest, wrapping the earrings carefully inside a small wooden box.

Felix looks at him curiously, and Sylvain just shrugs.

“For my assistant,” he says, and Felix raises an eyebrow. “She’s the reason I’m here still—offered to ride ahead and let the family know when to expect me back.”

“Mm,” Felix replies, eyes drifting absently away from Sylvain’s face. “When will they be expecting you, then?”

“Dunno,” Sylvain replies, grinning cheekily and nodding his thanks to Damien. “A week or something, I think? Can’t say I was listening all that closely.”

Felix looks mildly amused, and the two of them wave to Damien as they leave.

Felix has even more friends scattered down the block, and he introduces Sylvain as “an old friend from the war” at each new store they stop at. People are jovial with him and Felix is more social than Sylvain remembers him—often asking after parents, spouses, children—and Sylvain is struck by the understanding that Felix really has changed. Memories of clipped conversations with Academy peers and unbridled insults towards anyone and everyone flicker through Sylvain’s mind, and Sylvain wonders if it isn’t simply the absence of war that has mellowed Felix’s barbs.

They pick up food from a variety of small vendors, enough to last them well through the day, and the pack that rests against Felix’s back gets heavier with each location they stop at. The final location they purchase from is a small noodle stand run by an old lady who looks four times Sylvain’s age, and she heaps extra onto Felix’s plate despite Felix’s laughing protests. The noodles are spicy and accompanied by a tough meat that Sylvain chews at as they walk, and he coughs heavily as they make their way down the city streets and out towards the edge of town.

“We’re headed up there,” Felix says around a mouthful of noodles, pointing up the cliffs that sit against Lenore’s edge, and Sylvain wonders if Felix’s spice tolerance hasn’t actually managed to go up.

“Lead the way,” Sylvain murmurs, mouth burning, and Felix grins at him knowingly.

Their climb feels longer than it likely is, as Felix stops them often to sit, chat, and eat from their small store of food. The view gets better and better with each passing minute, and Sylvain is grateful for the trees that line their path as they continue to ascend upwards in the steady spring heat; however, by the time they reach their destination, the sun has dipped down from its height in the sky, and the temperature has dropped to a much more comfortable warmth.

“Here we are,” Felix says, and the small clearing they enter into is composed mostly of rock and sand, lined only by thin brush and the occasional arching tree. “We made it with more than enough time to spare,” he adds, and sits against the stone with a quiet sigh.

“It’s gorgeous,” Sylvain says, stepping up to the edge and looking out across the land. The quiet expanse of rolling hills and the sharp jut of the surrounding mountains climb upwards to Sylvain’s left, sprawling across the land and curling over the horizon. He can pinpoint the direction where he and Ava came from, and he sweeps his gaze right—north-west, towards the heart of Kingdom lands, then further north, towards Gautier lands. Further north, Sylvain reminds himself, towards home.

Sylvain sits next to Felix and they eat dinner together as the sun dips lower towards the horizon, casting brilliant colors across the sky and tinting the land in the soft oranges of sunset.

“Gorgeous,” Sylvain breathes again, head falling back against the stone behind him.

“Yeah,” Felix replies, a smile in his voice. “It is.”

“Do you come up here often?” Sylvain asks, and Felix shrugs.

“Not as often as I used to,” he replies, and Sylvain looks back at him, curious.

“I used to come here a lot when I first moved here,” Felix continues, his voice quiet, and Sylvain grunts—a low, understanding noise. “I barely knew what I was doing here—just knew it was what I wanted to do.”

Felix turns his head Sylvain’s way, light from the sunset warming the pale of his face, and Sylvain stares at him, face open.

“Mercenary work was fun,” Felix says, his smile wry, “and it fit well to my strengths. But it was grueling work.”

Felix watches him, and Sylvain holds his gaze.

“I just grew tired of killing people,” Felix murmurs, his smile fading, and Sylvain understands. “I decided I needed a change.”

Sylvain grunts again, the sound rough against his dry throat. Felix doesn’t say anything more, just stares at Sylvain with his bright, sunset washed eyes, and Sylvain blinks—sliding his gaze back out across the horizon.

“The war,” he finally says, voice low, “involved more than enough bloodshed for me.”

Felix makes a noise from beside him. “Yeah,” he agrees. “That’s what I thought, too.”

 

three

Sylvain stares at the orange sky that stretches out before him and sighs. Memories of blood and screams and that crystal clear moment of relief—it’s over, we’ve won, we’ve finally won—swimming through his mind. They’d celebrated over the charred remnants of Enbarr and Sylvain had laughed, worry-free, for the first time in nearly five years. Felix had found him after the battle and Sylvain had held him close, ragged laughs pulled from chapped, bloodied lips, and he’d thought—perhaps baselessly—that everything was finally going to be alright.

Felix had left a month later, his title and land renounced to a capable individual of Byleth’s recommendation, and Sylvain had returned home: summoned by his father to finish his training as renowned heir to the Gautier name.

He hadn’t been wrong. Things had turned out alright.

But they hadn’t been what Sylvain had wanted.

He had said: I’m going to miss you, you know.

And Felix had replied: I know.

He’d said those words—softly, almost apologetically—while staring down at Sylvain from astride his pack-laden horse. It had been fall, and the winds were cold. Felix had been wearing a heavy fur coat, and his hair had been tied up against the back of his head as he’d whispered his slow, stilted goodbye.

Sylvain stares carefully into the sun, and the image of Felix’s retreating back fades from the forefront of his mind.

When Sylvain turns back to look at the Felix of his present, Felix is frowning—staring out over his sunset submerged town. Sylvain traces the sharp jut of his jaw with his eyes, and watches the steely glint of Felix’s earring shine in the evening light. Felix had tied his hair up for their climb up the cliffs, his thin ponytail spilling over his shoulders, and Sylvain watches it shift under the soft orange light, eyes flitting up to Felix’s face as Feliz starts to speak.

“I don’t regret leaving,” he says, and Sylvain bites his tongue. “I think leaving is what I needed—after the death of my father, after seeing Dimitri’s work complete. I may be selfish for it, but I don’t regret it. I feel like I’ve finally conquered the shadows that my father and brother cast upon me after their deaths, and it’s freeing.”

“Conquered them,” Sylvain murmurs, frowning, “or simply run from them?”

Felix’s eyebrows furrow, but eventually he just shrugs. “Does it matter?”

“I think it does,” Sylvain replies, evenly, and Felix shrugs again.

“I’m happy now,” he says, and the word causes Sylvain’s gut to clench, just as it had before. “Thoughts of my father and Glenn no longer fill my head constantly, and I feel as though I’ve laid their memories to rest by laying aside all the expectations my father had for me once the war was complete. If he hadn’t died, perhaps I would have stayed. But the life of a Duke, the life of a noble? With the war having been won and with my family dead, I decided to take my own path.”

“You could have taken your own path without cutting all of us out,” Sylvain replies, slowly, and Felix sighs.

“Perhaps.”

They lapse into silence and Sylvain watches Felix’s eyes close—head tilting forward towards the dimming light of the sun.

“I loved him,” Felix finally says, exhaustion in his voice, “but he was a really shitty father.”

Sylvain snorts. “Not as shitty as mine,” he replies, light, and Felix finally turns to him, wry smile splitting across his face.

“I guess not,” he says, “But at least yours is still alive.”

Sylvain breathes out and thinks of all the times that he’d wished his old man wasn’t. “Yeah,” he finally replies, “I suppose that’s true.”

The sun has fully set by the time the two of them have finished the last of the foods they had brought with them from the market, and Felix stands up, his back cracking with the motion.

“We should head down before the light completely disappears,” he says, and Sylvain stands up alongside him. “Unless you’d rather spend the night up here, but it gets cold enough out here in the spring, and I didn’t bring any blankets.”

Sylvain smiles and shakes the kinks out of his feet, and together, the two of them descend. They make their way down the cliffs faster than they’d made their ascent, and the stars are bright in the sky by the time they make it to the edge of town. The moon illuminates the final portion of their trek, and Sylvain watches his breath puff out into the open air—a steady chill seeping past his thin travel clothes and clinging to his skin.

“You said your assistant left without you, right?” Felix asks, as he leads the two of them down the main road. “Are you alone now?”

Sylvain nods, a small shiver snapping up his spine. “Just me.”

Hearthstone Inn, still?” Felix asks, and Sylvain nods a second time.

“That was the plan.”

Felix walks them both to the inn, and he pauses as they reach it, turning to stare carefully into Sylvain’s face.

“And you said one more week?” he murmurs, his third question in a row, and Sylvain nods for the third time, mouth dry.

“Would you want to stay with me instead?” Felix finally asks, breath puffing out into the spring night air. He doesn’t meet Sylvain’s gaze, but there’s a soft flush climbing up his cheeks—whether from the cold or from the question, Sylvain isn’t sure. “It’ll be significantly cheaper, and if you’re going to come over every day anyway, then you really might as well.”

Sylvain grins back at him, the question a fiery warmth despite the chill of night.

“Oh?” he asks, a smirk in his voice. “How nice is your bed?” And Felix levels him with a look.

“I have a guest room,” Felix replies evenly, and Sylvain laughs—grin still wide across his face.

“Either way works for me,” Sylvain says, and Felix rolls his eyes, a smaller, matching grin pulling at his lips.

“Bring your stuff tomorrow then,” he says, “and you can get settled upstairs while I work.”

“Alright,” Sylvain replies, his voice light. “Thanks, Fe—I’d like that a lot.”

Felix stares at him a second longer before nodding and bidding him goodnight, a quiet, fond look passing over his face.

Sylvain watches him go, heart beating warm and erratic, before turning inside the inn and ordering himself a heavy drink. The inn is still bustling despite the late hour, and Sylvain drinks quietly, thoughts of Felix filling his head as he stumbles up the stairs to his room later that night. He doesn’t remember when it is that he finally manages to collapse into bed, yet Sylvain falls asleep quickly—comforted by the fact that tonight, he knows he will not dream.

- -

Sylvain packs the next morning with a groggy head and weary bones. He showers early, water easing his body back into consciousness, and makes his way to Felix’s shop later than he’d done the morning prior.

There are already people milling about the shop, and Felix looks at him with a single raised eyebrow as he pushes his way through the door.

“Breakfast is upstairs,” Felix tells him, “and your room is the one against the right wall.”

Sylvain nods, making his way to the back staircase, and Marlene jumps off her counter to follow him. Felix’s living room is the same as Sylvain remembers it from the previous morning, save for a small box of pastries settled atop the dining table. Marlene follows him into the tiny guest room Felix had directed him to, fluffy ash-grey body sweeping across Sylvain’s feet, and Sylvain sets his packs down atop a small wooden chair that sits in the far back corner.

The bed isn’t made, but there are clean linen sheets folded atop the futon, as well as a fluffy grey towel and a note.

Bathroom is the first door on the left.
The other two rooms are mine.

Sylvain looks down, finger brushing lightly over the word “mine,” and spends the rest of the morning exploring Felix’s house. The “other two rooms” turn out to be a bedroom and a study, and Sylvain gives both rooms a cursory look before shutting their doors once more, intent on preserving any remaining privacy that Felix had likely hoped to keep. The bathroom is small and simple, with a wide bathtub nestled against the side wall, and there’s a small window at the back, curtains pulled aside to let the quiet light of morning filter in.

There’s a similar window in the guest room—Sylvain’s room—and Sylvain returns to his room to open it. Scents from the market drift into the room, the din of people (shopping, selling, trading) spilling quickly inside. He sits there for a moment, breathing in and out and letting his head swim and swim then settle, and Marlene mews from his feet. Sylvain shakes his head, and shoots her a grin.

He picks her up carefully, and she continues to meow as Sylvain takes her back to the living room. Sylvain kicks his door closed behind him, and snags a pastry in his other hand, cloth napkin wrapping clumsily around it. He steps downstairs while Marlene tries to climb up onto his shoulders, and Felix snorts as he watches them descend. Sylvain deposits Marlene back onto her counter, and the two of them watch Felix work for the rest of the day, only occasionally breaking to bring Felix food or interact with curious customers.

“Settled in?” Felix asks him, during a short lull in the afternoon flow of people.

“Mmhm,” Sylvain responds, “I like your bathtub.” He grins, and Felix laughs lightly, his face soft.

“I thought you might,” he replies, and turns to continue working.

It’s late afternoon by the time Felix closes up, arms stretched high above his head as he yawns. He’d made a couple small sales throughout the day, and he’d agreed to meet with a merchant the next morning about a broadsword and set of nice daggers. Sylvain watches as Felix moves through his closing routine, hair let down against his back.

“Were you bored?” Felix asks once Marlene has been set upstairs, and Sylvain shrugs.

“Not really. You’re fun to watch.”

“Am I?” Felix snorts, looking at him curiously. “Well, I can put you to work tomorrow, if you don’t mind helping me out with some inventory work.”

Sylvain smiles. “Yeah, alright. I can do that.”

“Dinner out?” Felix asks him, finally, and Sylvain nods. “There’s a tavern with fairly good food across town. I used to frequent it when I first moved here.”

“No longer?” Sylvain asks in reply, and Felix shrugs, turning to walk down the main street towards the other end of town.

“I cook more often than not,” Felix replies, and makes a face when Sylvain raises an eyebrow. “Decided to teach myself a couple months into settling down here.”

Sylvain lets a grin spread wide across his face. “I did notice that your kitchen is the only place in the living room that actually looks lived in,” he notes, and watches a matching smile tug at the corners of Felix’s lips.

“It’s more fun than I thought it’d be,” he replies.

“Will you cook for me, tomorrow?” Sylvain asks, and Felix snorts.

“Sure, if you want me to. After you finish inventory tomorrow, I’ll send you into the market to pick stuff up. Yeah?”

“Deal,” Sylvain replies, grinning, and Felix steers them both into a large building, a small golden plaque with Solutions hanging above the door. The tavern is full of variously sized round tables, and Felix waves lightly at a young, dark-haired barmaid, who grins back at him—ear to ear.

“Felix,” she says, voice sweet as she walks up to greet them both, “it’s been a while since you were last in—how are you?”

“Good, Jaz, I’m good,” he replies. “It’s nice to see you, too.”

“Who’s your friend?” Jaz asks, wiping a hand on her apron and holding it out for Sylvain to shake. “He’s pretty cute.”

“Not any cuter than you,” Sylvain laughs, taking her hand and pressing a light kiss to her knuckles. It’s an action he’s grown used to after years of practice, and though the action usually feels forced, Jaz laughs in a way that feels almost tongue-in-cheek, and Sylvain decides he likes her.

“This is Sylvain, Jaz,” Felix replies, his voice as exasperated as it is fond. “And he’s not available, no matter how much he might try and convince you he is.”

“Oh?” Sylvain grins, turning to look slyly Felix’s way. “I’m not?”

“No,” Felix laughs, definitely exasperated this time. “You’re not.”

“Shame,” Jaz snorts, kissing Felix lightly on the cheek and beckoning them both towards a table in the back. “But you guys are cute together, so I guess I’ll let it pass. You want your usual, Felix?”

“Please,” Felix replies, slipping into his seat with a smile. “And pheasant for him, if you serve it still? And uh—probably a beer.”

Felix looks back at Sylvain, question in the light of his eyes, and Sylvain nods as he settles back in his seat.

“Whatever you recommend,” Sylvain agrees, and Jaz grins down at him.

“Perfect,” she replies. “I’ll bring your drinks out first, and the food will be ready a ‘lil bit after that. Thanks, boys!”

She leaves their tables and Felix lets out a sigh, smile still light as he leans back in his seat.

“She thinks we’re cute together,” Sylvain tells him, smirking, and Felix lets out an amused breath.

“Do you agree?” Felix asks him, and Sylvain leans back, too, heart beating quick at the thought.

“You tell me,” Sylvain replies, his voice light and teasing, and Felix’s eyes soften in the dark.

The beer is good and the food is better. Jaz chats with them whenever she’s free, but Sylvain and Felix eat dinner mostly undisturbed, and Sylvain decides to talk of Ingrid, Dimitri, and Byleth. For all that Felix doesn’t plan to see them again, Sylvain can tell that he still cares—asking after their health and smiling, softly, at the thought of Ingrid reengaged.

Sylvain doesn’t visit with their old friends as much as he used to—not with his work as heir to the Gautier title taking up most of his time—but Felix listens intently to the updates that Sylvain has received by letter and word of mouth, and Sylvain is glad he’s managed to keep up with them to the extent that he has. Felix asks after Sylvain’s family, and he asks about Ava. He asks about what Sylvain has been learning as he prepares to take over his family’s title, and Sylvain, as simply and objectively as he can, does his best to answer him.

It isn’t that he doesn’t like talking about his family; doesn’t like talking about his life. But as Felix continues to question him, and as Sylvain continues to drink, he finds it harder and harder not to complain. He can feel the quiet slither of resentment and discontent rising up like bile the more he talks and the more he thinks, and it is—more than anything else—exhausting.

And yet: Felix looks at him so earnestly, asks him questions because he cares, and Sylvain stares at him, unable to help the small, repressed truths from bubbling up between them.

“I think I’ve hated my life for a long time,” Sylvain says, casually, nursing his beer and staring off at the stretch of bar that sits behind Felix’s shoulder. “Ever since the war ended, and probably even before that. It sucks, but what can I do?”

“A lot of things,” Felix answers, biting at his lip. “But I think you just don’t want to.”

“I want to,” Sylvain replies, thinking back to their argument the other night. “I just can’t.”

And Felix stares at him, and asks: “Why?”

Sylvain’s answer is murmured and soft, and Felix listens to him, each of his questions more tentative and more personal than the last. It’s not argumentative in the way their last conversation about Sylvain’s life went, and—in many ways—the release feels good. It’s been a long time since Sylvain has let thoughts of his life spill so easily from his tongue, and it’s a sad reminder of how distant he’s grown from all the people he still calls friends.

Felix orders himself a drink, asking question after question, and he listens, listens, listens.

Sylvain barely remembers the rest of the evening—barely remembers walking home, arm in arm with Felix and ascending the stairs to Felix’s guest bedroom before collapsing, exhausted, atop his unmade bed—yet he wakes up the next morning feeling more grounded than he has in a very long time.

- -

“I have tomorrow off,” Felix says, once Sylvain has awoken, bathed, and dragged himself downstairs. He has a slight headache but nothing major, and Felix smiles at him from his place with Marlene at the counter.

“Don’t you get to set your own hours?” Sylvain asks, and Felix grins.

“I do,” he replies, one eyebrow raised. “And I’ve taken my Mondays off every week since I opened the store.”

“Huh,” Sylvain grunts, as Felix walks him towards the side of the shop he wants Sylvain to do inventory on. Marlene curls around his feet while he walks, and Sylvain leans down, absently to pet her. “So that day you took off earlier this week?” he starts, and Felix snorts.

“Was because I wanted to spend time with you,” he replies, and Sylvain raises an eyebrow, watching as Felix’s smirk widens.

“And also,” he adds, sweetly, “because I didn’t feel like working that day.”

Sylvain licks his lips, eyes lingering on the sharp white of Felix’s teeth, and gets to work.

The day passes slowly, but Sylvain enjoys the simple labor of it. Felix mans the shop while Sylvain helps in whatever way Felix asks him to, and by midday, Sylvain’s back is sore and Felix is looking at him with a wide, knowing grin. It’s been a long time since he’s done any form of manual labor, and even less since he’d last had reason to train his body for more than simple diplomatic talks. Riding alone is not enough to keep him as fit as he used to be, and it shows in the way that his body complains at even the mildest of strains.

Felix sends him into the market to buy both lunch and a variety of ingredients for dinner, and Sylvain tracks down the old lady with the spicy noodles that Felix had brought them to the day before. She looks at him appraisingly and sends him along with extras for the both of them, and Sylvain juggles a variety of baskets as he makes his way back to Marlene’s less than an hour later.

“Thanks,” Felix sighs, and Sylvain offers to take over while Felix eats. Felix looks at him for a moment, surprised, before shaking his head and sinking into Sylvain’s chair.

“Sure,” he replies, amused. “Enjoy.”

And Sylvain does. He’s good enough at talking to people that he slips into Felix’s position as shopkeep easily enough. He doesn’t have the same sort of knowledge that Felix does, yet he speaks easily and openly with each person that steps through the door, and he enjoys the way that Felix’s eyes follow him—calculating—as he works. He is, perhaps, better at working the counter than he is doing simple labor, but it’s exhausting in a different way, and by the time they’ve finally closed up shop for the day, Sylvain wonders if he wouldn’t have preferred to simply stay in bed.

Felix cooks them both dinner, just as he’d promised, and Sylvain sits at the kitchen table and chats with him idly as he works.

The smells of spice and meat and bubbling oil fill the kitchen, and Marlene steers clear of Felix’s space, sitting upon Sylvain’s lap and purring while he pets her.

“You’re here for four more days, right?” Felix asks, and Sylvain shrugs.

“If I’m to make it back by when the Margrave expects me to, yes.”

Felix gives him a sideways look, hands absently tending to the food in front of him.

“Are you intending not to?” Felix asks, and Sylvain shrugs again.

“I’m trying not to think about it,” Sylvain replies, grinning wryly, “but I suppose I should. My family will be upset if I return any later than expected.”

“Well,” Felix finally says, turning back to the food, “I don’t mind you staying here as long as you need to—especially,” he adds, “if you’re willing to continue helping out.”

Sylvain’s grin widens, more genuine this time. “Really?”

“Yeah.”

“Alright,” Sylvain laughs, as Felix continues to cook. “I’ll keep that in mind. Does that mean I did well today?”

“Well enough,” Felix smirks. “Though I can’t say I have a great frame of reference—I’ve never hired an assistant before.”

“You didn’t hire me, either,” Sylvain points out, and Felix snorts, piling meat onto a set of plates and walking towards the table.

“Do I need to?” he asks, one eyebrow raised, and Sylvain laughs. “I’m already letting you stay here, rent-free.”

“Fair enough,” Sylvain says, smiling, and they settled down to eat.

The food is good despite it being simple, and the meal feels very Felix. Spicy meat atop warm rice, at a ratio of what looks to be 60 to 40 (or, perhaps, even 70 to 30). Sylvain has received a larger ratio of rice, and in the end, the meal is not so overwhelmingly spicy that he doesn’t thoroughly enjoy it. Felix cuts them both slabs of fresh bread, and comes back with a glass of milk for Sylvain clutched in his other hand. It’s sweet—these small moments of thoughtfulness that Felix continues to grace him with—and Sylvain eats happily, chatting about the shop and its customers and keeping the conversation light.

Sylvain doesn’t know why he’s surprised when Felix pours them both coffee for dessert, but he enjoys the blend well enough (once Felix has added ample amounts of cream). The soft light of sunset filters in through the living room windows and spills across Felix’s face as he drinks, and the two of them talk until the sun has finally set and Felix is forced to light candles in order to illuminate their faces.

“Do you think you would have stayed,” Sylvain asks, “had I asked you to?” He sips at the coffee in his mug, and Felix blinks up at him, candlelight flickering shadows across his face. Marlene has moved to Felix’s lap, and Sylvain can hear her purring from the other side of the table.

“I don’t know,” Felix replies, softly, but he doesn’t seem bothered by the question. Sylvain counts that as a plus, and doesn’t back down. “Maybe.”

“Really?” Sylvain asks him, eyebrows raising, and Felix shrugs.

“You were one of the few things worth staying for,” Felix admits, eyes sliding away from Sylvain’s own. “You and some of our other friends. But I don’t know. Even if I had, I probably would have left later on—either way.”

Sylvain hums, eyebrows drawing together as he does his best to read Felix’s face.

It’s the first night he hasn’t had alcohol alongside their meal, yet he finds it harder than ever not to stare. Felix is older and quieter—a milder, happier version of his past self—and Sylvain watches him, and aches.

“I wanted to ask you to stay,” he says, and Felix thins his lips, fingers clutching tighter around his mug of coffee.

“Why didn’t you, then?” Felix asks, and Sylvain lets out a breath.

“I don’t know,” he replies, the response a mirror of Felix’s own. “I suppose I knew that you didn’t want to.”

Felix lets out a slow, quiet sigh. “You’re right,” he says eventually, drinking from his coffee again. “I didn’t.”

“But you might have?” Sylvain asks, the words pushing their way up his throat. “For me?”

And Felix looks at him, eyes dark.

“Yes,” he replies, eventually. “For you, perhaps.”

Sylvain breathes out, candlelight flickering across the table and casting shadows upon the wall beside them. Marlene’s purring is loud, yet not as loud as the happy clamour of drunken people in the streets—drifting down from the main road and filtering into the small building that Felix calls home.

“Did you want me to?” Sylvain asks, after a moment. “Ask you to stay?”

“I didn’t know what I wanted, then,” he replies, shrugging, and the air between them is thick. Viscous. “Maybe.”

“Do you know now?” Sylvain presses, the words heavy as they leave his lips, and Felix stares at him, lips thin.

Do you know what you want?

The question hangs in the air between them, candlelight illuminating Felix’s face. Sylvain watches him, traces the jut of his jaw and the hair that falls over his shoulders, and Felix’s earring glints bright against the dark of the room. Sylvain watches him, and he wants and wants and wants—body aching with the feeling as Felix breathes, drinks his coffee, and then tilts his head back: neck ever so slightly bared.

“Do you?” Felix asks finally—a question by way of reply—and Sylvain feels his heart skip one slow, tantalizing beat.

He’s more sober than he’s been any night prior, but tonight feels different; more intimate. Sylvain feels intoxicated by it: sitting there, lips parted as Felix asks him if he knows what he wants, and Sylvain isn’t a coward. He knows what it is he wants, and it’s clear that Felix wants him, too.

“Yeah,” Sylvain murmurs, standing up and leaning forward across the table, his bangs falling lightly in front of his face. “I do.”

Felix’s lips curl up into a small, vindictive smile, and when Sylvain leans in, head tilted, Felix’s mouth tastes like coffee.

The kiss lasts less than a heartbeat before Sylvain is pulling away, a wry smile stretching its way across his face.

“I’ve known what I want for a long time,” Sylvain tells him, “but I’ve never been good at telling you.”

Felix’s hands reach up to grip at his face, hands warm against the skin of Sylvain’s cheeks. “Well,” he replies, eyes soft and understanding and deliciously dilated, “it’s never too late to start.”

Sylvain’s heart beats wildly as Felix brushes a finger against his jawline, and he lets himself be pulled back down.

- -

Felix wakes at the crack of dawn, pulling himself from Sylvain’s arms and walking quietly into the kitchen. Sylvain listens to him go, and lets the quiet sound of Felix cooking at the kitchen stove lull him back to sleep.

Sylvain has never been a morning person.

He wakes again some time later, as Felix shakes him awake and presses a cup of coffee—extra cream—into his tired hands.

“Good morning,” Felix says, smiling with his eyes, and Sylvain nods back, sipping at his coffee and yawning into the heat that emanates from it. “Sorry to wake you up so early, but I’m off today, and I thought I might take you east—up into the mountains. If we take horses, we should be able to make it far enough to see the coast.”

“Alternatively,” Sylvain sighs, his smile sweet, “we could spend a day inside.”

Felix snorts. “I only have you for a few more days,” he replies, eyebrows raised, “and I’d like to make the most of it.”

“I can think of some choice ways we can ‘make the most of it’ right here,” Sylvain says, raising his own eyebrow in reply, and Felix flicks him in the forehead, stepping his way back into the kitchen.

“Get dressed, Sylvain,” he replies, voice fond, “and we’ll leave in half an hour’s time.”

Despite Sylvain’s half-hearted protests, they make it out of the house with time to spare. They take their horses, and the two of them ride from town just as the market begins to stir itself to life. Felix leads them to a small trade trail that snakes through the mountains to the east—out towards Almyra—and they ride for the first part of the day, climbing up the rolling hills and making their way to the coast.

The sun is high in the sky as they descend upon the flat grassy plains that line the cliffs of the once Leicester Alliance coast, and Sylvain is glad to finally be off his horse as Felix slows them to a stop and gestures Sylvain to dismount. It’s hot despite the coastal breeze, and they tether their horses beneath a small set of trees that sits between the mountains and the sea.

Felix walks with him to the cliffs, dark hair flowing out behind him, and Sylvain follows after—packs with their lunch held loose beneath his arms. Felix takes his other hand, and Sylvain looks out across the Southeastern Sea for the first time in his life.

They set down their things, and Felix pulls him forward, out towards the cliffs, and Sylvain turns down to kiss him.

They kiss slowly in the steady heat of spring, Sylvain’s hands pressed light against the flushing expanse of Felix’s cheeks, his eyelashes catching rays of sunlight as the quiet crash of waves fills the world around them.

Beautiful, Sylvain thinks, and when Felix looks back at him, breaking the kiss to pull Sylvain up towards the cliff’s edge, his eyes are bright and free.

“It would be another day’s ride to Almyra,” Felix says, pointing out towards the mountains that continue to spread northeast. “These cliffs continue the entire way there, and you can see Almyra just barely—there, across the sea.”

“Have you ever gone?” Sylvain asks, and Felix nods.

“Just for mercenary work,” he replies. “Though it’s been a while since I was last there.”

They eat sprawled across the grasses with blankets spread thin around them. There’s meat and eggs and bread and cheese—all of them cooked, packed, or otherwise prepared by Felix earlier that morning—as well as sweet buns from Darren and Laurie’s bakery. There’s coffee and water and even small bars of chocolate that Sylvain knows were packed solely for him, and Sylvain leans against Felix with a quiet sigh as he looks out across the water.

The sea expands infinitely—sunlight reflecting off its waters and casting a glittering veil out across the horizon and towards the edges of the world—and Sylvain feels happy; free.

“I didn’t think I’d ever see you again,” Sylvain says. “And letting you go had been one of my biggest regrets.”

“I hadn’t planned to see you again, either,” Felix replies, quietly, “but I thought about you every day.”

Sylvain kisses him and knows he means it, Felix pressing back against him and cradling his face in his hands.

“Did you think about asking me to come with you?” Sylvain asks, pulling back and turning to stare out across the sea. He’s careful not to make eye contact with Felix, but he can feel Felix’s gaze on him anyway: burning into the side of his face.

“I did,” Felix replies, “but I knew you wouldn’t come, even if I had.”

“How were you so sure?” Sylvain frowns, and Felix shrugs, the movement jostling them both.

“I wasn’t, but I convinced myself I was,” Felix replies, matter of fact. “Would you have joined me, then? If I’d asked you to join me as a mercenary?”


Sylvain’s reply is immediate, because he’s thought about it more than once. “No,” he replies, even. “I don’t think I would have.”

But would I stay, if you asked me to join you now? Sylvain thinks, and he’s grateful when Felix doesn’t ask. He’s scared of the answer, and so he pushes it aside, focusing instead on the sea and the sound of its waves.

“I’ve loved you for a long time,” Sylvain says instead, and Felix stiffens slightly beside him. When Sylvain turns to look at him, Felix’s face is red and his eyes are wide, and Sylvain laughs, shaking his head as he leans in for another kiss. “I’m glad I got to see you again. It’s like fate gave me a second chance.”

“A second chance with me?” Felix asks, curious despite his embarrassment, and Sylvain nods, lips warm and wet and eager.

“A second chance to be happy,” Sylvain replies, and Felix smiles, soft and pleased as Sylvain leans forward to kiss him again. Sylvain leans into it, and pushes all thoughts of his future, his family, and their expectations as far from his mind as he can. He finds it significantly less difficult than he thought he would.

They spend the afternoon speaking quietly of their past and skirting around topics of their futures. It’s lazy and lovely and Sylvain feels a contentment that he hadn’t even realized was possible. They walk along the cliffs, climbing down to the water and standing atop the sharp, wet rocks that line the bottom, and Felix holds his hand: tight and steady and never letting go. Sylvain stares at him, watches him grin as he pulls Sylvain out towards a set of small, rocky caves, wonders if he shouldn’t have simply kissed Felix the first night he’d been here. Would it have felt like this the entire time? Would Felix have accepted him as readily as he’d done the night before?

Sylvain doesn’t know, but he finds he doesn’t mind. What is, is. And for now, Sylvain is happy.

When Felix asks him if he’d like to stay—if he’d like to spend the rest of the evening walking quietly along the coast, and the rest of the night staring up at the stars—Sylvain nods, and they resolve to return to Lenore at first light, the next morning.

They spend the night drowning in moonlight, Felix kissing galaxies across his skin, and Sylvain stares at him, blankets heaped heavy around their shoulders, and wonders when it is that life will catch back up to him.

"Do you believe that home is a place?" Sylvain asks, eyes closed as they lay together.

"What else could it be?" Felix asks him, and Sylvain makes a noise.

"A person, I think," Sylvain replies, and Felix falls silent, his cheeks cold as Sylvain turns to kiss him.

“I see,” Felix replies, and his voice is soft and knowing. “I think so, too.”

They fall silent again, and Sylvain pulls Felix tighter, contemplative. The air is cold but Felix is warm, and the sound of waves crashing upon the cliffs is constant and unwavering.

Sylvain has never been good at running away—not like Felix had managed to do—but he finds himself happy, genuinely happy, for the first time in years and Sylvain wonders, then, if he might not be willing to learn.

- -

They ride back the next morning, coffee cold and bodies sore. Yet Sylvain is still, miraculously, happy, and they arrive back in town at midday, returning their horses to their respective stables.

“I’m sorry you had to stay closed another day,” Sylvain says, as they move to unlock the entrance to Felix’s store.

“It’s fine,” Felix shrugs, “I figured it would happen.”

Marlene is happy to see them, and her food bowl is clear despite the excessively extra amounts of food that Felix had put out for her the morning prior. Felix tends to her, voice soft and sweet, as Sylvain unpacks their things: returning containers to the kitchen and unfolding the blankets that they’d taken with them. Their day continues even lazier than the day before and Sylvain naps away half of it—happy to have returned to a legitimate bed, once more—and he wakes later that evening to find Felix reading next to him, thin wireframe glasses settled against his face.

“Glasses?” Sylvain asks, eyebrows raised, and Felix narrows his eyes, looking down at him from where he sits.

“Like them?” Felix asks, and Sylvain grins, curling closer into the other man in a way that his mind screams, over and over, is dangerous and domestic—far too domestic—but he does like the glasses, and he lies still as he watches Felix from the corner of his eye, heart fluttering to a stop each time Felix glances his way.

Felix cooks for him again that night, and they sit together at the kitchen table, plates full of pan-fried meat and butter-soaked bread. Felix talks more about his weapons, about the

“Not everyone has a person they call home,” Felix says, conversationally as they eat. “Does that mean that they’re lost?”

Sylvain hums, drinking from a sweet red wine that Felix had bought for him that afternoon. “I don’t think they’re lost,” he replies, and Felix’s eyes catch his. “Just searching.”

“I was searching for a long time,” Felix says, and Sylvain bites his lip.

He doesn’t ask the question even though he knows he wants to, yet Felix answers him anyway, the words soft as he stands to move their plates.

“I think I may have found it.”

Felix drinks coffee for dessert and Sylvain eats the rest of their small stash of sweet buns, and Felix talks of home: of brothers and fathers dying and friends being the only ones to remain, of those friends leaving, and then, finally, of himself leaving, too.

“I’ve never been sure where my home is,” Felix continues, “but I think, maybe, it’s changed many times throughout my life. I found a home here in Lenore with Alice and Laurie and Darren and Marlene, but it’s not the sort of home I’d expected to have.”

Sylvain nods, letting Felix lean forward to kiss him.

“But when I think about it,” Felix says, mouth soft and bitter with his drink, “I think you’ve been my home more often than anyone in my life ever has.”

Sylvain isn’t sure that he’s ever had a proper home, and damn if that thought isn’t more bitter than Felix’s coffee. Sylvain smiles, and it feels sad. If there were ever a person in his life that had acted as his home, if there were ever a person who had grounded him the way he needed to be—then that person had likely been Felix.

But then Felix had left, and Sylvain had only started thinking about homes and happiness and love after that.

Felix’s abdication had led to a lot of small, unhappy realizations about his life, and finding him again—unexpected and wonderful as it has been—has honestly brought much the same.

“Are you still leaving this Friday?” Felix asks him, and Sylvain snaps from his thoughts, glancing at Felix’s coffee before standing to pour himself one, too.

“I should,” Sylvain replies, and Felix snorts, back towards Sylvain as Sylvain walks to the kitchen.

“But will you?” Felix asks, and Sylvain shrugs despite knowing Felix can’t see him.

“I don’t know,” Sylvain says. And it’s true—he really doesn’t.

They don’t go out to a bar to drink despite Felix offering, and Sylvain switches between the sweet wine and bitter coffee as their evening turns to night. Felix reads in bed while Sylvain forces himself to read through the documents left to him by Ava, Marlene spread out on the bed by their feet. It’s slow and boring and Sylvain hates it, and so eventually he sighs: pushing away his work and turning to kiss Felix again.

Felix laughs, fond and exasperated and pleased all at once, and Sylvain knows he never wants to look at another trade deal or policy document until the day he dies.

More than anything else: Felix feels right. There are years between them, years that have turned them each away from the people they used to be, yet Sylvain has slipped into something warm and wonderful with the man he loved and yet loves, and Sylvain thinks that he’s closer to home than he’s ever found himself before. They sleep that night, Felix’s head tucked carefully beneath Sylvain’s chin, and Sylvain dreams of nothing less.

- -

They work together in the shop the next day, switching between the register and general inventory work. Sylvain covers for Felix while Felix visits various merchants in the marketplace, and Felix comes back later that afternoon with lunch and a giant, nasty looking broadsword.

Sylvain raises an eyebrow, and Felix just grins at him, setting it carefully upon a chair in the back and licking his lips.

“I can’t wait until Damien sees this one,” he says, and Sylvain thinks of the glassblower down the street, with his broad frame and sturdy face. He’d be terrifying holding a sword like this, and Sylvain snorts, waving away the mental image and running his hand along the worn-leather hilt.

Marlene sits at the counter and purrs as Sylvain pets her, and Felix tells him that he’d better not steal his cat. Sylvain is certain that nothing could pull the needy little ball of fur away from Felix, but he plays along anyway, and Marlene continues to purr into his hand.

Sylvain likes this work—certainly more than he likes the work he does as Margrave heir—and Felix makes it all infinitely better, standing close to him as they close and kissing him when he thinks no one is looking. Sylvain kisses him back, and tries not to count down the days, hours, minutes that are left.

They decide to go out for dinner that night, returning to Solutions where Jaz welcomes them with open arms and a wide, knowing look.

(“I don’t feel like cooking tonight,” Felix had said, and when he’d asked Sylvain if he’d wanted to do so instead, Sylvain had simply replied, “you’d have to teach me,” and then Felix had grimaced, sighed, and made his way for the door.)

The food is far better than anything Sylvain would have managed to cock up, and Felix fixes him with a look when he says as much.

Sylvain grins at him, easy and pleased, and the night passes slowly, the atmosphere of the bar sinking in. It’s late in the evening that the two of them finally decide to leave, and the walk back is cold and leisurely and Felix pressed up close to him as they walk.

“I don’t want you to go back,” Felix says, the words coming out in a light puff of air.

“Oh?” Sylvain asks, and his heart is beating heavily even as he pulls Felix closer.

“I know it’s a selfish request,” Felix continues, “But I want you to stay here, with me.”

They’re walking slowly, other drunken people laughing and stumbling through the streets around them, and Sylvain lets out a breath.

“You really are selfish,” Sylvain says, finally, and Felix shrugs, the motion jostling them both.

“Can you blame me?” he asks, and Sylvain knows he can’t.

“You understand what you’re asking of me?” Sylvain asks him, and Felix grunts, the noise as much an affirmation as any.

“I do.”

“Then you understand why it’s difficult for me to answer,” Sylvain replies, even though he wants and wants and wants—more than anything he’s ever wanted for in his life. He pulls Felix closer to him, and they stumble a bit, legs bumping together as they walk.

“I do,” Felix replies again, but he doesn’t seem to back down, his lips drawn thin. “But I know what I want, and I think—maybe—that you want it too.”

Sylvain makes a small noise at the back of his throat. “What is it you want?” he asks, and Felix’s reply is quiet; confident.

“A life with you,” he says, immediately. “A future with you.”

Sylvain looks down and the two of them stop walking. Felix tilts his chin upwards, looking him in the eye, and he’s earnest and sincere and a little bit scared but Sylvain doesn’t want to run away like this, can’t run away, because hell—what would his parents think? What would his people think?

Sylvain doesn’t know the answer, yet he can’t shake the feeling that—despite everything—he still cares, heavily, about what they do.

“I want you to be happy,” Felix continues, his eyes dark, “and I want to be the person that makes you happy.”

Sylvain opens his mouth to reply, then closes it again, words caught in his throat.

“You make me happy,” Felix tells him, after a quiet, empty moment, and Sylvain leans forward to kiss him, his heart beating loudly, erratically, violently.

“You make me happy, too,” Sylvain says, the words pressed into Felix’s lips. “Happier than I’ve been in a very long time.”

“Then will you stay with me?” Felix asks again, and Sylvain still can’t find his answer.

“Ava knows we’re here,” he points out, instead, and it’s not so much a yes as it is a simple statement of fact. “Since Ava knows, then my family knows—and they’ll come looking for me if I never come back.”

“Then we’ll move,” Felix answers, his solution quick and decisive. “We’ll move to somewhere new. We don’t have to run a weapons shop, we don’t have to run any shop at all—we could just leave, and do whatever we want.”

And he would, Sylvain realizes—Felix really would. He’d give up the life he’d created for himself and recreate another one, somewhere entirely new, solely to keep Sylvain by his side. Sylvain bites his lip, and if that doesn’t convince him that Felix loves him too, Sylvain isn’t sure what will.

“I like this life,” Felix says, “but I liked my life as a mercenary, too. And I’d be willing to find another life that I like.”

‘—as long as you’re there with me.’ The words are not said, yet still, they’re implied, and Sylvain is flooded with a sudden, happy warmth.

The idea is so tantalizing: to let himself drop off the face of the earth once and for all, to do away with the noble clothing that he’s grown so accustomed to wearing and run away with the man that he’s loved for as long as he’s known what loving someone is.

And yet—Sylvain has never been good at running away. ‘Grinning and bearing it’ has always been more his style. He has a duty to his family, to his people, to all the individuals lost during the war. There are expectations for him to make the world a better place, placed upon his shoulders by Dimitri and Byleth and his parents and Ava and himself.

And yet, he doesn’t want that future—not as desperately as the one that Felix is offering him now, anyway. He wants to be happy, and he wants to do something for himself for once in his life. Sylvain thinks that Felix had probably felt the same, back when he originally thought to abdicate, and though the thought doesn’t make him feel any better, Sylvain understands, and he wants.

And yet. And yet. (And yet.)

Sylvain feels heavy with the weight of it all, the sudden urgency of thoughts that cycle, despairingly, through his head. He blinks away the nausea that he tells himself is alcohol and nothing else, Sylvain takes a long, deep breath. Felix holds him steady, and Sylvain leans down to kiss him softly.

“I need to think about it,” he says, and Felix understands, taking Sylvain’s arm in his and continuing their slow walk down the street. It’s not a no, and it’s not a yes, and though it’s clear Felix wants to continue pushing, Sylvain is grateful that he doesn’t. The rest of their walk is silent, but it doesn’t feel bad—simply contemplative.

When they get back to the shop, Sylvain decides to sleep in the guest room for the first time since the night Felix had taken him in. Felix doesn’t complain when Sylvain tells him as much, but his eyes are still sad when Sylvain kisses him goodnight, and so Sylvain kisses him again, and again, and again. His eyes are less sad by the time he leaves for the bedroom, and Sylvain lays down and stares up at the ceiling, listening to the noise of people out on Lenore’s main market street. He spends the night thinking of family, friends, and what it means to run away from home, and his thoughts always end up at the same place:

Is he still running away, if it’s his home he’s running back to?

Felix feels like home, and Sylvain can’t lie to himself about that.

- -

They work together for the first half of the day at Sylvain’s insistence, but Felix still closes up shop around midday, the two of them stopping at the market and bringing back ingredients for lunch. Felix cooks for them both while Sylvain sits in his chair with Marlene in his lap, and Sylvain doesn’t miss the unease that trembles down his arms. He’s concerned and anxious and Sylvain can’t blame him for it, as they haven’t talked about Sylvain’s plans since late the prior night, when Sylvain had asked to sleep alone in order to try and organize his thoughts.

And the thing is: even with all that time, Sylvain still doesn’t feel ready, doesn’t feel confident enough to see his plan through. He doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing (just that he knows he’ll be doing it) and the thought leaves him more than a little anxious.

That said, he knows he’s come to his decisions, and Sylvain finds himself willing to let his heart do a little bit of leading (at least this once).

He's not running away—not from Felix, nor from his title. But his parents will have to live with his decision to leave, and he’s willing to work with them as long as he needs to in order to make things right. He’s never wanted the title of Margrave, but he knows he wants the person after his father to actually make a difference, and he knows he owes that much to his people, at the very least. He thinks it might be like an early retirement—him leaving before even his dad does—but Sylvain isn’t one for semantics.

He’ll figure it out, and he won’t stop until he does.

“I won’t run away with you,” Sylvain tells him, firm, as soon as Felix comes to set their food in front of them, “but I do plan to step down. I’m going to take time with my parents and Ava to find a more suitable heir, and then—if you’re still willing, I’d like to be able to come back.”

Felix’s eyes widen slightly, before he looks away and brushes a couple strands of hair behind his ear.

“You can always come back,” he says, and Sylvain

“And you’ll be here?” Sylvain asks, heart pounding.

Felix frowns. “I’m not going to run away, once you leave,” he says, and Sylvain raises an eyebrow. “Not again.”

“Alright,” Sylvain says. “And when I come back,” he continues, carefully, “would it still be okay, if I never intend to leave thereafter?”

Felix stares at him, frown softening out into a smile. “When you come back—not if?” he asks, and Sylvain nods.

“I plan to step down as heir,” he says, “and I’d like a home to come back to, afterwards. If that place isn’t here, then I’m afraid I’ve got a very different idea about what I want our relationship to be.”

He’s only half-joking, but Felix steps around the table to kiss him, hands against Sylvain’s face. Marlene jumps off his lap, and Sylvain kisses upwards, leaning into Felix’s touch.

“That place is most definitely here,” Felix agrees. “And so is that person.”

Sylvain’s face lights up, and he kisses Felix again, then again. He figures there’s still a lot of logistical stuff to work through—on his end, more than Felix’s—yet Sylvain is certain that it can wait. Felix climbs on top of him, letting Sylvain kiss up his neck, and it’s a long time later that they actually get around to eating lunch.

By the time they do, the food has grown cold, and Felix has asked every manner of question after Sylvain’s decision. Even still, Sylvain enjoys the food immensely, and even Felix can’t keep his small smiles from sneaking their way across his face.

He’s not planning on cutting his entire family off, nor is he planning on cutting communication with any of their old friends. They're things that Felix had seemed to expect, and Sylvain is grateful when Felix doesn’t argue the point.

Instead, Felix simply sighs, pushing away his plate so that Sylvain can take them to the sink.

“Will you tell Ingrid and Dimitri that I say hi?” Felix asks, quietly, and Sylvain feels something inside him leap.

“I know they miss me,” he continues, not turning to look at Sylvain. “And I miss them, too.”

“Absolutely,” Sylvain replies, “I definitely will,” and he hears Felix let out a breath.

It’s slow progress, Felix letting Sylvain back in, and then—through Sylvain—the rest of their friends, but Sylvain is willing for that progress to take as long as it takes. It will be slow going for him, certainly, navigating his own transfer of title under the Margrave Gautier name, and Felix seems willing to give him as long as he needs, too. Give and take, gradual change. Change that, Sylvain hopes, will be better for the both of them.

They spend the afternoon talking and making plans, Felix watching Sylvain pack his small set of belongings from atop the barely used guest bed, and Sylvain is happier with his decision now that Felix has listened to him, worked with him, agreed with him. Sylvain knows that Felix is disappointed to have him leave, but the feeling is expected, and Sylvain feels the same. He can’t do things like Felix did—can’t leave at the drop of a hat and not feel guilty for doing so—and Felix respects that, not pushing him any farther than Sylvain is willing to be pushed.

“One last night out?” Felix asks him later, after Sylvain has finished packing, and Sylvain snorts.

“How am I supposed to wake up early enough to ride out tomorrow morning,” Sylvain asks, “if we stay out all night drinking, again?”

“We’ll be up late either way,” Felix points out, and his smirk is teasing and happy and far too attractive for Sylvain to handle, but Sylvain shrugs, easily conceding his point.

“I wake up early enough anyway,” Felix continues. “I’ll make sure you don’t sleep in.”

Sylvain laughs and kisses him as they step out Felix’s front door, and they visit Jaz one final time before Sylvain returns to the Gautier Estate. It’s busy for a Thursday night, and Sylvain and Felix squish into a back table where they eat and talk and sometimes kiss, and Sylvain drinks until he’s happy and content and Felix has to pull him to his feet. It takes them longer than usual to walk home—even longer than the night before, when Felix had stopped to make his proposal (because, if Sylvain is being honest, that’s practically what it was)—solely because Sylvain keeps kissing him, and Felix keeps kissing back.

They go to sleep in Felix’s bed, and Sylvain resolves not to think too hard about his leaving the next day. Felix licks his lips, eyes dark as he pulls Sylvain close, and Sylvain’s pretty sure that Felix’s plans are, more or less, the same.

- -

“I don’t know how long this will take,” Sylvain tells him the next morning, after he’s showered and dressed and prepared himself for a long day of riding, “but I’ll be back as soon as I can. And I’ll write you the entire time.”

Felix nods, a series of conflicting emotions passing through his face, and he pushes a packed lunch and box of sweet buns Sylvain’s way. “I know,” Felix replies. “I’ll write you back, too.”

Sylvain smiles and looks down at the box in his hands.

“They dropped them off this morning,” Felix says, tapping the top. “Left them out while we were still asleep.”

Sylvain snorts and Felix gives him a look. They’d slept in that morning—Felix sleeping far later than he usually does—and Sylvain kisses him, wiping the grimace off his face. There’s a note on top of the box which Sylvain reads a moment later:

For Sylvain:
It was wonderful to meet you. Sorry we can’t be there for when you leave, but we can’t wait to see you again!
We’ll take care of Felix until you get back.
- Laurie (and Darren)

“They’re good people,” Sylvain says, and Felix nods.

“They are.”

Sylvain shoulders the rest of his things and they walk to pick up his horse from the stables at Hearthstone Inn. Felix is restless, but then, so is Sylvain. The sun is nearing its peak in the sky as the two of them face each other in the street—Lenore’s marketplace bustling, unaware and uncaring—around them, and Sylvain kisses Felix softly, one hand brushing at Felix’s cheek.

"I'm going to miss you, you know," Sylvain says, the words a mirror of those he’d said in the past, but it’s different this time. He’s different, and so is Felix.

"I'm going to miss you too," Felix replies, his smile soft. “But you’ll be back soon, right?”

"Yeah," Sylvain grins, and Felix looks back at him, eyes bright. “I will.”

"Promise me?" he asks, and Sylvain smiles wider. “Will you promise that you’ll be back soon?”

"I promise," Sylvain tells him, and they both know that he means it.

Sylvain leans forward again, lips soft against Felix's, and though their parting is similar to that time in the fall, many years ago, Sylvain doesn’t feel sad. It’s the end of spring and the heat of summer is on its way, and the sun is warm on Sylvain’s face as he mounts his horse and bids Felix goodbye.

Felix smiles at him as he leaves (bright and soft and sad and loving and grounding, all at once) and Sylvain rides away with confidence, knowing that he’ll be back soon enough: back to Felix, and back home.

                fin.