Felix’s gaze follows down the line of the dining hall table, past the couple plates between him and the problem that has been plaguing him for years. He almost wishes the insufferable conversations around him would be louder, so at least he wouldn’t have to hear this nonsense.
“Hey, mind taking this off my plate?” Sylvain asks, voice bright and sweet and that stupid smile on his face.
“What’s wrong with it?” The doubt in Ingrid’s voice is understandable. Felix can’t see her expression from this angle, but he’s sure he has all of her normal expressions memorized. Her face is probably scrunched, lips curled like Sylvain has done something questionable to his own food.
“Oh, you know, this wasn’t what I thought it was,” Sylvain’s laugh is so fake that it makes Felix roll his eyes, “so I was hoping you could take it off my hands.”
Ingrid is quiet for a long moment. Felix can almost imagine her narrowing her eyes at him. “You like pheasant.” It’s not a question. Of course it’s not. Sylvain’s preference for sweets is well-known, even if it’s ruining a perfectly good bird.
“Oh, I guess…guess I don’t really have an appetite for it today.”
“Are you sick?” Confusion shifts to concern, and Felix can imagine the wrinkle between her brows. “Maybe you should go see Professor Manuela.”
“N-no, I’m just, I uh…”
Felix rolls his eyes, forcing his attention back to his plate. The dish is cold, unappetizing now. And it’s all their fault.
“Felix?” Ashe’s voice is soft, sweet in a way that’s only contributing more to his headache. “Did you hear anything I said?”
“You’re glaring at Sylvain. Did he…do something?”
“No. That’s the problem.”
Felix’s gaze snaps to Ashe. While Ashe hasn’t been capable of curbing Sylvain’s habits—no one is, really—he’s never really been short of providing Sylvain his opinions. Perhaps, with his involvement, Felix can solve this issue with his dignity intact.
“He needs to ask Ingrid out and be done with this,” Felix explains.
Whatever Felix expects of Ashe’s response, he certainly doesn’t expect the way Ashe’s expression shutters, cold and unimpressed in a way he’s never really directed toward Felix. “I thought you and Ingrid were friends,” he says instead.
“Then you should know her better than that.”
“She has more pride than being another of Sylvain’s ‘girls’.” Ashe huffs, looking away. “Besides, she’s not interested in him, anyway.”
Okay, so Ashe is no help.
It’s barely a day before the two of them are insufferable again. And, this time, Felix can’t pretend to be distracted by his own food. After all, their conversation is technically related to the matter at hand. Mostly, anyway.
“I think you should take my battalion,” Ingrid says, her knuckle tapping at her chin.
“What? Don’t be ridiculous.” Sylvain’s arms cross as he looks over their battle plan spread across the war table. “If you get flanked, you’ll need the numbers.”
“You’re the one on the front,” Ingrid argues, her expression severe. “If anyone is going to get flanked, it’s you.”
“Oh, c’mon Ingrid, have some faith.”
“I do. And yet you still insist on taking hits when you shouldn’t.”
“I haven’t done that in ages.” Sylvain has the gall to almost look offended. “Give me a break!”
Felix rolls his eyes, looking back down at the map. The last time had been a rather similar situation, so he can understand Ingrid’s concern. There are too many opportunities for an ambush, and it’s pretty much the perfect scenario for Sylvain to take a hit meant for someone else. The only difference this time, he supposes, is that Ingrid isn’t going to be the one fighting alongside Sylvain—Felix is.
And Felix is far more confident than Ingrid that Sylvain won’t take a hit for him. At least Sylvain has the wisdom to not underestimate him—not like he’d underestimated Ingrid. Felix wants to think that Sylvain would have learned from his week of bed rest, but…
Well, Sylvain is an idiot. And his display right now makes that even more obvious.
He glances back up to where they’re still bickering. Every word seems to increase their annoyance and aggravation, but Sylvain knows that look. It’s different from the ones they used to have when they were younger, before this whole mess became such a, well, mess. It’s not the same anger, not the same irritation. Every blush across their cheeks and curve of their lips is just ‘I love you’ in different words.
At least he supposes that’s the same sentimental sort of drivel that Mercedes would probably spout, if given the opportunity.
“The Professor should just pair them up,” he mutters under his breath, “they’re going to wind up there anyway.”
“Be nice,” Annette huffs, glancing at him. “They’re just worried about each other.”
Felix rolls his eyes.
Annette jabs him in the ribs, her bony elbow sharp like a blade. “Stop it.”
Felix grimaces, rubbing the spot. “The Professor is simply a fool if he thinks they’ll follow this plan.”
“They’re not incompetent, Felix.”
“No, they’re just two steps from being married and two stupid to not fawn over each other in public.”
That elbow comes back with a vengeance, landing in the exact same spot as before and definitely hard enough to bruise. He bites down on a grunt, fingers flexing even though his body knows he could retaliate at anyone but Annette.
“Felix,” she hisses. “Stop being grumpy because you wanted to go solo.”
“That’s not—” he exhales sharply through his nose, a scowl at home on his lips. “Are you seriously oblivious to that?” He waves in the general direction of Ingrid and Sylvain, which he is sure serves as explanation enough. It should.
Annette narrows her eyes at him. Slowly, her expression softens, a smile on her lips.
Good, she gets it.
“You’re terrible at telling jokes, you know,” Annette says instead, trying to hide her giddiness behind a gloved hand. “That’s not even a good one.”
Felix groans, rubbing his face.
Fine. He’ll handle it himself.
Felix sits across the little table from Sylvain, the springtime wind sending a little bit of a chill through the air. It’s not unbearable, and the light flowery aroma from the new blooms is actually quite pleasant. With this, and the subtle bitterness of his tea as he sips at it, Felix would actually admit that it’s rather relaxing.
Not that he’d ever tell Sylvain that. Sylvain is the one who insisted upon this stupid ritual to begin with, a means of “getting his grumpy pout of the Training Grounds from time to time.”
But Felix can admit that this ritual does give him an advantage. It’s the only time they’re going to be utterly uninterrupted by anyone else. And, more importantly, it’s the one time Felix can be sure Sylvain will be honest with him.
Because the truth of the matter is that Sylvain is a liar. Not in the self-serving way, not like the leeches and fools who lie to push themselves higher. Sylvain is the opposite. He lies to protect those he values. He lies to lessen himself. He lies to hurt himself.
And Felix is one of the few people who can see right through him.
Realistically, Felix knows, too, that Sylvain is the one person who can make or ruin any potential relationship he has with Ingrid. If he refuses to accept that they’re good for each other, that they even love each other, then he will sabotage it. Hell, if he thinks he’s not even close to good enough for Ingrid, he’ll do it anyway.
Because Sylvain is a coward, but never when he should be.
Felix sips at his tea, letting the bitterness sit on his tongue. There’s no point skirting the topic; Sylvain is a better conversationalist and anything but a direct question will only result in frustration. Even with the best plans, there’s still a good chance Sylvain will talk circles around him…unless Felix gives him no opportunity to.
“When are you going to ask Ingrid on a date?” Felix asks.
Sylvain nearly chokes on his drink, head turned as he coughs and sputters into hand. Felix is certain, though, that the blush on his cheeks isn’t only from a struggle to breathe.
“I’m assuming you haven’t,” Felix continues. “You wouldn’t act like this otherwise.”
“Felix,” Sylvain tries to keep his voice level, but it’s clear by the small crack that Felix has hit a nerve, “what are you talking about?”
Felix sets his cup down. “I’m tired of watching you two make eyes at each other. Just date and get it over with.”
“I don’t make eyes at Ingrid!”
“You don’t watch yourself.” Felix crosses his arms as he leans back in his seat. “Frankly, it’s a little pathetic.”
Sylvain gapes at him, missing as he tries to set his cup back on its saucer. It sends the tea spilling everywhere, but neither of them make a move to clean it. “I don’t—”
Felix fixes him with a look.
Sylvain’s blush only deepens, and he has the audacity to try and keep his expression level. “We’re just friends, Felix. Old friends. I’d do the same things for you that I do for her.”
“Hm,” Felix’s fingers tap on the table. Sylvain is predictable enough that Felix knows pursuing it will only lead to trouble. If he points anything out, Sylvain will start acting differently out of spite. He won’t stop doing things with and for Ingrid—Felix knows he’s too far gone for that—but he’ll start doing things for Felix, too, just to make a point.
And Felix is absolutely not going to put up with Sylvain offering him food off his plate, or protecting him in battle, or buying him snacks, or walking him to his room after a long day, or taking on his chores for him, or just randomly tossing gifts in his direction and pretending that he’d received them from someone else.
Yeah, not going to happen.
“The way you feel about the two of us is different,” Felix says instead. “We’re friends, true. You look out for me. But you want to kiss her.”
Sylvain turns a rather impressive shade of red, almost on par with his hair. That and the completely incomprehensible stammering is proof enough of Felix’s point. There’s a good chance Sylvain will bolt at any moment.
“Just do it before you lose the chance,” Felix continues. As of late, it’s pretty obvious that things can change so quickly, can ruin any chance of honesty and even reconciliation. Felix knows that burn and, more than anything else, he just doesn’t want the others to feel it, too.
Somehow, that flips a switch in Sylvain’s head—and not the promising kind. The blush evaporates, the stammering diminishes into an uncomfortably cool neutrality. Slowly, he reaches for his teacup, settling it into its proper place like nothing’s happened at all.
Felix knows this look. It’s absolutely infuriating.
“I think that’s enough of that,” Sylvain says, his voice light and so painfully fake. “If Ingrid heard you, she’d tear you a new one. Joke or not.”
“I mean, come on, who in their right mind would want to date me?”
Felix snarls as he tears into the training dummy, every strike less and less satisfying. No matter how hard he swings or how much energy he expends, it’s just not helping. All it’s doing is making him annoyed, frustrated, and exhausted.
Because it doesn’t make sense. Why shouldn’t they pursue something they both like, that they both want? Why can’t they just see an easy solution—an easy means to make them both happy?
What’s worse is that he knows there are better people to make them see. He knows that no one can convince Ingrid like Ashe, and Sylvain would certainly listen if Annette spoke to him. That Felix is the only one who can see it—the only one who knows and wants to make it right—is practically an exercise in futility. He struggles to convince people when they’re doing something they know is stupid; to make Ingrid and Sylvain come to terms with each other—when they’re acting willfully ignorant—is well out of his ability.
But they’re still his friends. And, even though he grouses about it all the time, he still wants them to be happy.
“It’s not good to train distracted.” The voice makes Felix jump, even though it’s as soft as can be managed in that low timbre he’s slowly gotten used to.
Felix exhales slowly, forcing himself from his training stance. It’s annoying that Dimitri is right, but, well, he is. Training like this is providing no relief, and it’s only likely that he’ll hurt himself if he keeps it up. But he doesn’t know how else to face it.
“Is everything alright?” Dimitri continues, undeterred. When Felix looks at him, his arms are crossed like he has the gall to look concerned for Felix’s sake. Meaning he’s just as ignorant as everyone else in this damn monastery.
But, realistically, Felix knows that Sylvain and Ingrid are as much as Dimitri’s friends as they are his own. Maybe more so, in some cases.
And, even if their friendship isn’t really there, yet…to exclude Dimitri just feels wrong.
“Have you,” Felix exhales slowly, “noticed anything strange about the others?” He clears his throat. “Sylvain and Ingrid, specifically.”
Dimitri blinks, his head tilting in that same puppy-dog way it used to when he was younger. “Are they unwell?”
“No.” Felix winces at how harsh he sounds. It’s not as bad as before, but…he knows there’s space to improve. He looks away. “They’re just…I don’t know how to put it.”
“Plainly,” Dimitri offers. “You’ve always been rather strong there.”
Felix walks across the training grounds, dropping his blade into the rack. There’s no point with the facade. Dimitri knows him better than that. He turns, leaning against the wood as he faces Dimitri. He’s always felt more confident around weapons.
“They’re…they should be together.” When Dimitri gives him a look, Felix scowls. “Together, together. They’re…attracted to each other. But no one else can see it.”
“Is that so?” Dimitri asks. He rests his chin on his fist. “I thought it rather obvious.”
Felix twitches. Of course the only ally he could have is Dimitri. That’s always how his luck works.
“I admit, they’re approaching it slower than I thought Sylvain capable of,” Dimitri notes, “but I think that’s a good thing. It means he’s sincere.”
“At this rate,” Felix growls, “they’ll never get together. And I’ll have to deal with them being insufferable forever.”
Dimitri offers a fond smile. “Come now. They’re not so bad.”
Felix glares at him.
“Perhaps they’re a little…intense. But…,” Dimitri hums softly, “but I think it’s wise they’re taking it at a pace they're comfortable with.”
Felix rubs his face. That’s not the problem. The problem is that neither of them are seeing it at all. “We’re at war, Dimitri. They can’t afford a slow ‘pace’.”
Dimitri frowns. “That’s pessimistic.”
“It’s realistic and you know it.” Of anyone, Dimitri should, anyway. “They should take advantage of this before they no longer have the chance.”
“I’m not saying I expect them to die.” In fact, Felix very much knows he’ll do anything to ensure the opposite. But he can’t pretend that the world isn’t cruel. “But—”
“Have you considered,” Dimitri mused, “that this possibility is entirely why they aren’t pursuing something further?”
“Felix, perhaps they simply don’t wish to leave that kind of wound behind, should something happen.” Dimitri glances away, his gaze falling to the doors of the training ground. “They’re not ignorant to what happens to those left behind.”
“So they would just sit there. Alone. Pretending everything is fine. Forever.”
Dimitri hums. “I didn’t say it was a perfect solution.”
“But you endorse it anyway.” Felix scoffed, shoving himself off of the weapon racks. “Forget it. You’re no help at all.”
Felix leans against the stable doors, frowning as he watches Ingrid pet and talk to her pegasus. Their chores weren’t hard to finish this time—not when it’s so easy to consistently care these days—which allows Ingrid the time to indulge before they have to report back to the Professor.
Felix knows Ingrid expects him to return to the training grounds at any moment—to just leave the reporting to her—but he can’t shake the thought still lingering in his mind. Not that he expects much—Ingrid’s stubbornness is as legendary as his own—but he’s running out of options. And, loathe as he is to admit it, he’s getting desperate.
“Sylvain likes you,” he says plainly.
Ingrid glances at him, her smile small and private. “I know. As much as he complains about my lectures, I know we’re still friends.”
Felix groans, rubbing his face harshly. Probably a bad idea considering he’s just completed stable duty, but still. “Not like that.”
“He,” Felix doesn’t know how to say it, “likes you.” Goddess, he feels so childish.
Ingrid stares at him. It’s long and hard and completely uncomfortable. Felix has to look away to maintain his sanity. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
She turns her attention back to her pegasus, scratching behind its ears. “He sees me as a sister. Or perhaps just an old nag. Not…like that.”
Felix groans, stepping closer to her and leaning against the stall door. “Look me in the eyes and tell me that he’d do the things he does for you if he thought of you like a sister.”
Ingrid’s gaze flicks to him, then back to the stall. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You’re not an idiot.” Felix scoffs. “Stop acting like one.”
Ingrid’s fingers still. For a moment, he thinks she’s going to act like everyone else. He thinks she’s just going to pretend that he’s being silly, or telling a bad joke, or acting like he’s lost his mind. He thinks she’s going to shrug it off and keep up this stupid charade.
But her gaze meets his once more, her cheeks pink and her lips pressed into a tight line. “Do you really think so?”
Felix scowls. “Why would I waste my time otherwise?”
Felix is tired. Just…so damn tired. Too tired to enjoy the meals he eats, too tired to focus on his tasks, too tired to even train. Because this is the first issue he can’t really seem to resolve with stubbornness and brute force (okay, maybe not the first, but the rest are clearly not his fault).
Because he knows that this whole…pretend ignorance is just making his friends miserable. He sees it in the way Sylvain’s gaze lingers on Ingrid’s place long after she’s left the room. He sees it in the way she asks Felix about him after their missions. He sees it in the fact that they seem both magnetically drawn together—and yet can’t even think about touching.
He knows the ache that hides behind their smiles, and he knows that each and every one is fake. And it’s infuriating.
They know the solution. He knows they do. They just…refuse to face it. And no one else—aside from Dimitri—is aware of it in the slightest. He hates it.
And nothing short of actually squishing their faces together will solve it. He’s not even sure that would, knowing them. They’d find some excuse and reason, some way of making Felix seem like he’s the daft one.
He scowls as he swings at the dummy once more. This one has taken a severe beating—entirely one of his making, unending since the morning sun rose above the horizon. But he has to—else he’s stuck watching them being pathetic. And he’s going to lose his mind if he does.
An arm wraps around his shoulders, making Felix stumble mid-swing. It takes all he has not to lash out—not to try and skewer someone with his training blade—though it certainly doesn’t keep his elbow from jabbing someone in the ribs.
“Harsh!” Sylvain laughs, stumbling back from the force of the blow.
The smile on Sylvain’s face is the only thing keeping Felix from striking him again. He’s grinning—a full, toothy grin that Felix hasn’t seen for ages. The kind that should be impossible for someone in stabbing distance.
Felix shrugged Sylvain off instead, eyes narrowing as he tried to decipher that look on Sylvain’s face. “What do you want.” He doesn’t have the patience for Sylvain today—even if he is acting weird.
“Something happened that I thought you’d be interested in,” Sylvain explains.
“Oh, c’mon. Aren’t you curious?”
Sylvain wraps his arm around Felix’s shoulders again, utterly oblivious to the way Felix’s fingers grip tighter around his blade. “You sure?”
Felix considers if the lecture is worth stabbing Sylvain. Maybe it will be less so long as it isn’t fatal. Or won’t impact the upcoming battle.
“Ingrid asked me out,” Sylvain says plainly, as if it’s the most normal thing in the world. It doesn’t change the way his smile gets impossibly wider.
It’s so unusual, impossible even, that Felix just stares at him.
“You hear me?”
Felix blinks, hoping that the motion helps his brain come back to normal. It works. Mostly. Not as much as he’d like, though. “Let me guess,” he mutters, voice cold, “you said something stupid back.”
Sylvain’s expression drops a little. “Huh?”
“I know you,” Felix grumbles. “You probably said something insulting so she’d never ask again.”
“I didn’t reject her, Felix,” Sylvain says, pulling Felix closer. “I…I, ah, I kissed her. Like you, um, ahem.”
Felix stares at him.
“I didn’t realize…how much she was…you know.” Sylvain’s face is crimson, his gaze averted in a way completely foreign on his face. “No…that’s not right. You told me. I just…didn’t listen.”
Felix narrows his eyes. “What changed your mind?”
“Dimitri spoke to me.”
“Hear me out! He started talking to me…and it sounded familiar. Really familiar. Got me thinking, you know? Wondering if, maybe, I’m just—”
“Being an idiot.”
“Felix, cut a guy some slack. Not all of us can…be like you.” Sylvain laughs lightly. “So, when Ingrid asked, I just…,” he sighs, “I guess I just couldn’t play ignorant anymore.”
Felix huffs in response. “So long as it’s handled, I don’t care.”
“Which reminds me to ask,” Sylvain’s face inches closer, breath warm against Felix’s ear as his voice drops low, “did you talk to Ingrid?”
Felix glances at Sylvain, the urge to stab him spiking anew. “Doesn’t matter.”
“It does.” Sylvain grins wide. “Because, if you did, then we owe you. A lot.”
Felix huffs, uncurling Sylvain’s fingers from his coat. He tries to duck out from beneath Sylvain’s arm, but Sylvain is as stubborn about keeping him in place as he was about pretending he wasn’t in love.
“So long as you’re not acting like lovesick fools,” Felix huffs, “then I’m satisfied.”
Sylvain chuckles, undeterred. “Well, I still owe you.” He brightens as a thought appears to cross his mind. “How about this? Whenever you get a case of the feelings, let me know. I’ll return the favor.”
Felix scoffs, aiming his elbow right for Sylvain’s gut. He dodges out of the way as Sylvain reaches for him again. “Don’t bother,” he says, unable to resist the smirk on his lips. “You couldn’t even ask Ingrid on a date. I won’t trust you within an inch of my love life.”
Sylvain sputters—but the fact that he can’t actually respond proves Felix is right. Again.