the second lover
and for that name which is no part of thee,
take all myself.
The first time Felix lets somebody kiss him, it’s with a man who has blue eyes like Dimitri and a silver tongue like Sylvain. Because of the resemblances, the act disgusts him in principle – but it feels unexpectedly good, so he lets it happen a second and third time before he calmly shoves the man away and looks him right in the eyes – on second thought, they don’t look that much like Dimitri’s after all.
“Don’t touch me without permission,” Felix says.
“Oh,” the other man replies, and smiles in a way that feels wrenchingly genuine. “Then, may I?”
He forgets the person’s name after a few weeks – it started with an L, he thinks, or maybe a T. Felix only says his name once or twice, and while the exact letters are lost to him, he recalls that it was a name with a strong first syllable, so that his tongue touched the palate of his mouth when Felix called the name into his bedsheets.
When he introduces himself to his college’s fencing team as a new first-year a few months later, he says, “I’m Felix. I’ve been fencing since I was six, and I used to run cross country. I’m not good at remembering names.”
the first death
“I feel like I don’t even know you anymore.”
“How could you? I don’t even know myself.”
Felix could have continued staying in the house he grew up and studied at the local university, but he applies for the more distant Garreg Mach College on a whim, without actually expecting to get in. When his long-shot application gets accepted, it’s an easy choice to attend there, because his father’s house hasn’t changed in over a decade – Glenn’s trophies and certificates are still on proud, doting display in places that are difficult to avoid, while Felix’s collection of awards remains humbly squirreled away in his room. And he’s tired of his father trying to hold meaningless talks with him, about the weather or the neighbors, because he gets the sense that his father would rather have a dull and inoffensive conversation with him than yet another bad one that ends in yet another argument and yet another deliberate filial distancing. It’s his older brother who’s dead, but Felix feels like he’s the one haunting the hallways, so of course he would rather exorcise himself than remain attached to a house that doesn’t even feel like his home anymore.
That’s not to say that he takes the decision lightly, though: the good thing about going to Garreg Mach is that all his childhood friends seem to be there, while the bad thing is also that all his childhood friends seem to be there. Sylvain shows up at his door on the second night of first-year orientation with a bottle of low-quality vodka and a grin on his face, and Felix immediately regrets telling Ingrid what his room number is.
“No,” Felix says, before Sylvain can even greet him. “Go away.”
“You’re passing up the chance to be remembered forever as the person who got alcohol for the very first impromptu floor party of your college lives,” Sylvain informs him. “Think of how popular you’ll be!”
“That sounds awful,” Felix replies, crossing his arms, “and you’re just doing this because you want to find some girls who don’t already know you’re a chronic philanderer to hook up with.”
Sylvain gives him a wink and makes an exaggerated ok-sign with his thumb and pointer finger. “It gets harder once you’ve got an established reputation,” he says.
Felix makes to close the door on his face; Sylvain wedges his foot in at the last minute and blurts out, “Wait-wait-wait, Felix, it was just a joke! Just a joke, I swear. I’m here to check in and see how you’re doing, I promise.”
“So now you’re both a hedonist and a liar,” Felix says.
“Just a regular old Portrait of Sylvain Gautier, yeah,” Sylvain replies. Begrudgingly, Felix lets him in, thankful that his new roommate is busy checking out school clubs and doesn’t have to witness one of his dysfunctional friendships.
Sylvain sits down on Felix’s bed without asking – Felix supposes that Sylvain can tell which one is his, because all the stuff he’s brought with him are things that he’s had for years. And although Felix wishes he wouldn’t, Sylvain carefully deposits the bottle of vodka onto a pillow. “Since you’re not going to wingman for me, I’ll do the wellness check and go,” Sylvain says. “How’s orientation?”
“Boring,” Felix answers. He doesn’t know where to sit; he doesn’t want to be physically too close to Sylvain, so after a moment, he sits down at the uncomfortable wooden chair that had come with the room.
“Wanna elaborate, or…?” Sylvain prompts.
Felix sighs sharply. Not particularly, thanks! he thinks to himself, but he knows Sylvain will keep pestering him if he doesn’t give a more constructive attempt at conversation. “Everything they tell you at orientation is stuff you would think is common sense,” Felix says. “It’s not worth wasting a whole three days on.”
“That’s because orientation is really about the socializing,” Sylvain replies. “It’s your first shot at making new friends, you know! Which I note you are not doing. But I totally anticipated that, which is why I’m here to begin with.”
“You know I don’t like socializing for the sake of it,” Felix says.
“True, true. And you’ve already got a built-in friend group out of the fencing team all lined up for you, so to be honest, I’m not that worried about you,” Sylvain tells him.
“You’re out of excuses, then,” Felix informs him crisply. “Get out.”
Sylvain laughs good-naturedly – Felix can’t place why, but for a split second that makes him want to punch Sylvain on the face as hard as he can. The intrusiveness of the thought jolts him; he grimaces and places his left hand on top of his right, clutching hard for a moment, as if to affirm that he could physically stop himself if something temporarily possessed his dominant hand. Sylvain continues, blissfully ignorant to Felix’s inner state of being: “Alright, I’ll be on my way. Gotta see if Dimitri will fall for my wheedling instead.”
He gets up and makes to go. “You left your alcohol,” Felix says.
“Keep it,” Sylvain replies, without turning around. “You never know, you might want it someday, right? See you around, Felix.”
Sylvain closes the door behind him, and although he suspects he’ll eventually regret not getting rid of it, Felix hides the bottle in his desk drawer.
Glenn dies when Felix is thirteen. He finds out about the death from his smartphone: in the early afternoon, Felix checks his phone in between classes and sees a notification from the news app that Glenn had once cajoled him into downloading, telling him that he’d learn more about the world that way – he almost swipes it away while thinking nothing of it, but then he notices the headline mentions Duscur and vaguely recalls that Dimitri’s family and their staff are in the country doing ambassadorial work.
The headline reads, Tragedy in Duscur unfolds – Ambassador’s family target of terrorist attack.
He reads through the article and feels like the ground underneath him is slowly dropping away. Lambert Egitte Blaiddyd and his family appear to have been victims of terrorist activity in the nation of Duscur. The teacher starts scolding him, but he can’t hear her clearly – he can’t feel his hands, his fingers. Beginning as a hostage situation, the crisis quickly escalated as the accused kidnappers issued demands to Fódlan government officials for the release of the Blaiddyd family and their staff. His heart thuds so loudly in his ribcage that he almost feels like it might fall out of his chest. At the time, there are no presumed survivors.
He sits there shell-shocked, remembering how proud Glenn had to be appointed to Lambert’s staff; Glenn had studied long and hard for the official diplomatic certifications – Felix had never seen him smile so widely as when he’d gotten his job offer. “I don’t have any lofty dreams,” he’d told Felix that day, swooping in to pick him off the ground and hold him close, like he were a child again, “but I want to feel like I’m doing something good and worthwhile in this world.”
No presumed survivors. It takes a while longer for Felix to realize that meant that Dimitri isn’t coming home either, and that strikes him in a wholly different way than realizing that Glenn is dead. While he understands the finality of Glenn’s death, his grasp of what losing Dimitri entails is more nebulous, less well-defined – losing Glenn means he’ll have to accept that what he thought was his present has suddenly become his past, but losing Dimitri feels like thousands of potential futures are suddenly withering on the branch, leaving Felix uncertain where his path ahead is going to be when just moments before he had never felt a hint of worry about where his life would carry him. When he starts crying in front of the entire class, it isn’t Glenn’s name he calls: it was Dimitri, Dimitri, Dima.
Rodrigue comes to pick Felix up half an hour later. Three hours and twenty-six minutes after Felix first read the headline, they are informed that Dimitri has survived – Felix makes sure to check his phone’s clock and commit that span of time to memory, because he believes that it will be the worst period of time he’ll experience in his entire life.
He’s wrong, though he wouldn’t know that until a year or so later.
Nobody tells Felix the exact circumstances under which Glenn died, though he understands quickly that it must have been exceptionally gruesome, because a few weeks later they have the funeral with the casket closed.
Felix had tried his stalwart best not to take the same classes as Dimitri by guessing what subjects Dimitri was likely to take and avoiding them, but they end up in the same French literature class anyway. In retrospect, he knows he should have expected that – first years at Garreg Mach have a foreign language requirement, and both of them have been speaking French since childhood. After clearing the fluency test, they both would’ve been placed into the first class in the literature sequence: The moment Felix walks into the classroom and sees Dimitri sitting at the front, he wishes that he’d taken introduction to Russian instead.
“Oh, Felix,” Dimitri says as Felix walks past him. Dimitri looks pleased to see him, which makes Felix feel like his stomach is about to lodge its way through his throat.
Felix ignores him and sits close to the windows. After half a minute, Dimitri picks his things up and moves to sit near him, leaving only a single desk between them.
“I expected you would do that,” Dimitri says.
“Does it look like I want to talk to you,” Felix replies flatly.
“Even still,” Dimitri says, after a pause, “I want to talk with you, Felix. And you respond when I speak to you first, so I know I have to take what I can get.”
Felix turns to look out the window. Summer is coming to an end soon, but it doesn’t yet show in the weather: the sky is a deep blue, the kind of color that he could almost float in – it’s the opposite of the drowning sensation he feels sometimes when he looks into Dimitri’s eyes. When Dimitri speaks again, it’s as if his voice is coming from somewhere far away; his voice seems clear yet distant, like they’re speaking to each other across a lake. “Petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid,” Dimitri says, voice heavy and wistful. Little by little, the bird builds its nest.
He remembers suddenly that his father and Lambert used to speak French with each other on occasion, because they had learned it together as students, which is how he and Dimitri learned French as children: by mimicking their fathers. We studied abroad together in our third year at Garreg Mach, Rodrigue had often told them, eyes soft as he reminisced, and Felix had thought someday that would be them as well, but – well, no more.
Felix exhales sharply and very deliberately puts his bag on top of the desk between them, as if to put a physical barrier between them. At a different time of his life, he might have retorted with a proverb in turn, but not this one. “Anybody else in this classroom would be more impressed by that than me,” he replies. “Just because you know some pretty words doesn’t make you any less of a creature on the inside.”
The professor walks in before Dimitri can attempt to continue the conversation. For the rest of the semester, Felix carefully times himself when walking to class, so that he arrives just when it’s about to begin.
Garreg Mach is a small liberal arts college at both its very best and absolute worst, which Felix realizes about two weeks into his first semester. His parents both attended, and all of his childhood friends have family connections to the school as well. Most of the upper-class, trust-fund, nest-egg students went to one of three prestigious private schools when they were younger, and Felix tries to remind himself on a near-daily basis that he is no exception, so he’ll be a hypocrite if he mouths off about the elites. He has built-in cliques of modern-day scions he could have easily wedged himself into before he even stepped foot on campus, but he ignores most of them and only hangs out with Ingrid and Sylvain on occasion, when there isn’t a chance that Dimitri will tag along.
Otherwise, he much prefers the company of his roommate, Ashe, and the other people in his hallway. There’s Mercedes, who has a calm smile and always smells faintly of brown sugar, and Annette, who starts up a friendly competition with Felix over who can go further in their efforts – Felix with his fencing, or Annette with her debate team. And though he hates proving Sylvain right, he also gets along well with the rest of the fencing team, especially Leonie, who is so single-minded that even Felix has to admit she’s likely got him beat in sheer determination.
It’s comfortable to be around people he doesn’t have history with, he feels lighter and maybe even a bit kinder. He would never say it out loud, but he likes watching Bernadetta work on her embroidery in the dorm’s common room, and it’s fun to rib Lysithea for the pile of sweets she always has at her side when she’s reading. He hasn’t an ear for music, but he thinks it’s nice when Dorothea hums as they walk across the academic quad on days when the weather is nice.
“You’ve made a lot of friends who are girls,” Ingrid comments one afternoon when they meet up for a mid-week coffee break.
“So what,” Felix replies.
Ingrid smiles in the polite, distant way she always does when she’s contemplative. “It’s different, that’s all,” she finally says. “All the way through high school, you were always one of the boys, you know? I never saw you hanging out with girls except me. And…”
“Just spit it out, Ingrid,” Felix says, sighing before he takes a sip of his americano.
“I don’t know all of them that well, but I get the feeling that they really trust you,” Ingrid continues. “You know Bernadetta is scared of me because she thinks I’m strict? But you’re way harsher than me, and she doesn’t have nearly as many reservations when she talks to you.”
Felix gives her a brief, pained look. “Ingrid, I have no idea what you’re trying to tell me,” he informs her.
“I’m sure you won’t like this much, but it makes me happy to see,” Ingrid says. She pauses and tilts her head to the side slightly. “Nowadays, you’ve got more people you can let your guard down for. Don’t you think that’s a good thing?”
“Alright, mom,” Felix replies. He sneers, but both of them know he doesn’t mean anything bad by it.
Ingrid laughs and picks up her cup of coffee. “Sylvain says it’s because you don’t give off any pheromones towards them,” she says, sounding amused. “That’s why they’re comfortable around you despite… your winning personality. I think that’s silly, though.”
“Yeah,” Felix says. His mouth suddenly feels dry but he feels like drinking more coffee might make it worse, so he clears his throat and tries to wet his tongue. “Sure. Just the usual stupid Sylvain stuff. You’d think he’d have started to learn to think with his brain instead of his dick by now, but…”
“Hang out with him more, Felix,” Ingrid replies. She doesn’t seem to have noticed his discomfort and Felix forces himself to relax a little, so she doesn’t get retroactively suspicious. “If he’s with you, then he won’t have as many opportunities to get up to his usual shenanigans. And… between the two of us? I think he’d like that.”
“Yeah, I’ll think about it,” Felix says, after a pause that clearly conveys the unspoken message, I’ll think about it and conclude that I’m not going to do that.
“It’s only a suggestion, Felix,” Ingrid tells him. “I’m not even going to open up the can of worms that is the relationship between you and Dimitri, so can’t you throw me a little bone?”
Felix takes a long, pointed sip of his coffee, glowering at her over the rim of his cup, but Ingrid seems amused by his open displeasure. “Like I said, I’ll think about it,” he finally replies, after setting his cup back down. “It’s a small campus. That makes it hard to avoid people unless you want to deliberately go out of your way, and… Sylvain’s not worth the effort.”
The look that Ingrid gives him immediately informs him that he accidentally gave away too much. He almost expects her to say something like, funny that you and Dimitri don’t talk at all, then, especially since he’s in so many student organizations? but she remains true to her words and keeps that can sealed.
“He’d like that,” Ingrid repeats. “We all would, Felix.”
He doesn’t know what to say to that; he knows that she’s left her phrasing ambiguous to tease a reaction out of him that’ll reveal what’s on his mind and he can’t help but feel frustrated that the only way for him to win this little word game is to force himself not to play. So he makes a noncommittal noise from the back of his throat and changes the subject to something that he knows always ends conversations: “By the way, I’m going home in two weeks,” he says. “It’s his birthday.”
Felix knows that Ingrid knows that he means Glenn’s: that’s why it’s simply His Birthday, without further description. “Right,” Ingrid replies, voice noticeably strained. “If it’s not too much trouble, can I bring you some flowers to leave on his grave for me?”
“Yeah, of course,” he says, and shrugs. “I’m leaving that Thursday evening, just drop them off before then.”
Ingrid comes by his room the day before he goes home with two bouquets: one is in white, the other in pale blues. Felix knows Ingrid well enough that she doesn’t have to tell him the white flowers are from her, nor does he need to be told who the other bouquet comes from.
“It’s from – ” she starts to say, but then she cuts herself off. “No, never mind.” She smiles tightly and belatedly, Felix feels like shit for having pulled that card on her, when she didn’t do anything to deserve it. He’s never been able to tell if Ingrid was in love with his brother, but he knows that there was nobody she admired more than Glenn.
He opens his arms and pulls her into a brief hug, she’s so surprised that for a moment she doesn’t react – but then she curls her arms around Felix’s back and sighs into his chest. “It’s alright,” she murmurs. “We all still grieve, Felix.”
Felix lets her go, internally grateful that she heard his unspoken apology. “That’s no excuse,” he mutters, shaking his head. He sighs, and tries to rearrange his face into a nicer expression for her. “I’ll take them. Anything else I can do for you while I’m at home?”
Ingrid pats him on his forearm a few times before stepping back. “Take care of yourself, Felix. You’re a little stupid and very much stubborn, so I worry when you’re alone,” she says, easily switching back to their usual conversational dynamic.
“Yeah, mom,” Felix replies, rolling his eyes, “I’ll text you once a day until I’m back to let you know I’m alive, happy?”
“I know you were being sarcastic, but actually, yes!” Ingrid informs him, punching him gently where she just patted him.
She leaves without bringing up Dimitri’s bouquet. Felix decides to pretend he doesn’t realize who it’s from if she mentions it later, but she never does.
Felix will let another person kiss him for the first time when he’s seventeen, but the first time he kisses somebody, he’s fifteen and in the main thrust of his growth spurt. Everything hurts constantly: his bones, growing pains – his heart, full of grief. Even decades later, he’ll always remember the first time he looked in the mirror and instead of seeing himself, he recognized Glenn’s face instead. It was just for a moment, before he forced himself to acknowledge the parts of him that don’t resemble his brother, but it still shook him to the core.
He kisses Dimitri in his bedroom and then instantly feels scared that he’s done something wrong, that he’s ruined a good thing. Dimitri barely reacts; Felix doesn’t know if that’s better or worse than being pushed away. “Felix,” he finally says, after a pause that feels forebodingly long.
“Forget about it,” Felix mutters. He wedges himself into the corner of his bed, bringing his knees up. He knows he must look childish, but in the moment, he doesn’t particularly care – all he wants to do is make himself small. It’s the second best option available to him, because he can’t think of any way to make himself unseen to begin with.
“No, I – it’s not what you’re thinking,” Dimitri says. He sighs and bites his lip, then sits next to Felix. He has a fair bit of height on Felix now, enough to make Felix wish they could go back to the days that they always saw eye-to-eye. “Please, do it again.”
Felix’s stomach twists. A part of him wants to push Dimitri off of his bed, but he doubts that he could move the other boy – the rest of him wishes that Dimitri would have simply kissed him back if he were okay with kissing, instead of having Felix do it over again. He doesn’t say any of that, though, and instead leans over to kiss Dimitri a second time.
Dimitri puts his hand on Felix’s cheek to cup the side of his face, sliding his palm down along his neck. His positioning feels odd – Felix can feel the artery in his neck beating against Dimitri’s hand – when the cold tingling in his spine doesn’t go away after a few seconds, Felix takes it as a sign to break the kiss, but Dimitri’s hand is still there, so he can’t look anywhere but right in Dimitri’s eyes.
“I don’t know where this is going,” Felix says numbly. “I – like I said, forget about it.”
“I don’t want to,” Dimitri replies, a little too quickly. “It’s okay if we don’t know where it’s going, I think, I just… I value you so much, Felix. I value us, I trea – I truly treasure what we have, and…”
Felix can’t remember the last time Dimitri got so tripped up over his words; ever since the Tragedy in Duscur, Dimitri has always spoken with weight in every word and a sparseness that feels deliberately restrained. Right now, though, he’s fumbling and his cheeks are warm – Felix allows himself to relax a little, realizing that they’re both a little scared and vulnerable for each other.
“You’ll always be my friend,” Dimitri says. The words tighten around Felix like a ring, but Felix can’t tell whether they go around his finger or his limbs.
“Right,” Felix echoes. “Sure.”
He kisses Dimitri again, mostly because he’s unsure what else to do. Although Dimitri never initiates, Felix quickly loses track thereon of how many times he kisses Dimitri, either because there are so many or because it’s meaningless – he can’t discern which one it is.
Felix doesn’t tell his father that he plans to visit Glenn’s grave and even goes as far as to book a hotel overnight instead of staying at his house. Nowadays, there are a lot of things that he can do that he once thought would be impossible for him – for example, he can pray at Glenn’s tombstone without crying; for another, he can ignore Dimitri when he looks like he’s in pain. But he can’t sleep in his old bedroom without recalling things that he’d rather forget about, and he can’t walk by the trophy case full of Glenn’s old accolades without feeling like he is only the shadow of a giant.
People are cremated and buried when they die, and Felix wishes he could do the same for his memories. If only he could burn those old thoughts and throw the ashes to the winds, if only he could molt out of those past feelings and leave the shell of them behind to fly elsewhere, if only he could bleed those remembrances from his body and let it heal from the years of venom circulating through his system – if only he could stop making such meaningless wishes.
the third lover
by a name,
I know not how to tell thee who I am.
Felix quit cross-country halfway into his last year of high school, but sometimes he still likes to go for a long run. He enjoys that it’s outdoors, where he can breathe the fresh air, but mostly it’s the triumph of overcoming a long challenge that appeals to him – he relishes in the moment when he manages to break through his fatigue and catch his second wind. It feels like a victory over himself, a visceral reminder that he can still surprise himself – he can still surpass himself – he’s still improving and becoming better than who he once was. Like that, he can reaffirm that he is still alive: he still has the ability to continue changing and growing.
Before his first round of college finals, he hauls himself over to the campus’s cross country course for a bit of stress relief. And although he doesn’t believe in shared fates anymore, Felix is tempted to fall back on old beliefs when Dimitri shows up at the beginning of the course while Felix is doing his leg stretches.
“Oh, Felix,” Dimitri says. Yet again, he looks genuinely pleased to see Felix there, but Felix scowls deeply and Dimitri immediately puts a damper on his expression. Still, Dimitri begins his own stretches and makes a valiant attempt at getting Felix to reply to him with more than one terse sentence at a time: “It’s been a long time since we’ve been on a run together, isn’t it?”
“You know the reason for that,” Felix replies coolly.
“Right,” Dimitri says, eyebrows drooping. “I also ended up quitting… I don’t know if you knew that. It wasn’t the same without you.”
Felix looks up to shoot him an intensely disgusted look for a second before he drops his gaze to the ground, glaring balefully at his own feet. And whose fault is it that I couldn’t go back? he wants to ask, but it wouldn’t be fair. “I know my place,” he says, lip curling. “I’m replaceable.”
“Not to me,” Dimitri tells him, after a stilted pause. The words tumble out quickly, though, and Felix can practically feel Dimitri fumble for the right thing to say – he can’t deny the part of him that enjoys cornering Dimitri like this, but he does hate that this side of him exists at all. Glenn wouldn’t have wanted him to grow up vindictive. In fact, Glenn wouldn’t have wanted a lot of things for the two of them, but this is one of the few in Felix’s direct control – he sighs sharply and clenches his right hand into a fist, but then forces himself to relax.
“We don’t need to continue this conversation,” Felix says. “It’s already obvious to me that nothing I want to communicate to you gets through to whatever remains of the human part of your brain.”
“Let’s just run, then,” Dimitri replies.
Felix sighs again, shrugging as he shakes his head. “Finish your stretches properly,” he says. “And don’t take this for more than it is.”
Dimitri looks so happy at the small concession that his face briefly resembles the Dimitri in Felix’s childhood memory, so Felix redirects his gaze to the ground.
Neither of them were at the top of the team in high school – both simply enjoyed the sport for what it is, without any serious pressure to succeed, a luxury that they could afford because they had other things to be competitive over. Dimitri is the type to keep a constant pace; Felix’s tempo has always tended to change depending on the course, the weather, and his mood. It is very tempting to start off at a sprint and put a distance between them, because then he has the excuse of his idiosyncrasies to fall back on instead of making it look like he’s literally running away from Dimitri, but Felix is wary of the likely possibility that a strong early sprint will end with Dimitri outpacing him by the middle of the course, and he absolutely does not want to watch Dimitri pass him. So he forces himself to a steady speed, staying a few steps ahead of Dimitri, who doesn’t seem to have any problems with matching Felix’s speed.
Felix’s main sport is fencing, and Dimitri’s is lacrosse. He runs sometimes, but he is well-aware that Dimitri must do more running and for longer – and Dimitri’s better built for endurance, whereas Felix excels in short, high-intensity bursts of activity. When they pass the trail marker for mile two, already Felix feels like the early-winter air is burning his lungs when he breathes, and his calf muscles are beginning to rebel. But Dimitri continues on without slowing, so Felix keeps pushing himself to keep going, blanking out all else from his mind except the trail in front of him and the sound of Dimitri’s feet hitting the ground behind him.
They pass the mile four marker without Felix catching a second wind. Instead, he draws upon an increasing and uncomfortable sensation of desperation to put the wind in his sails. He could almost swear that he can actually feel his muscle fibers ripping away from each other – his heels hit the ground harder and harder, but he refuses to let up. He doesn’t even see the next trail marker because he’s concentrating too hard on figuring out any little way he can increase his efficiency, and forces himself to keep going until he sees the end of the course. Then he sprints all the way to the finish, even though he doesn’t have the energy for it.
When Dimitri catches up to him a minute later, Felix has his hands on his thighs and is leaning his weight on them heavily, trying to catch his breath. He can hear Dimitri say, “You’ve gotten better at running, Felix, the cross country team is missing out – ” but it feels like the voice is coming from somewhere abnormally far above him. His head is spinning – he feels Dimitri’s hand on his upper arm – he tries to inhale deeply and all that comes out is a dry heave.
“Felix? You should sit down, I – here, let me help you,” Dimitri tells him, and Felix lets Dimitri guide him to the ground because it’s better than collapsing at Dimitri’s feet. Felix closes his eyes hard and focuses on getting his breathing under control, and his head mercifully clears as he manages to regain his breath.
When he opens his eyes, Dimitri’s face is unnervingly close; Dimitri’s crouched next to him and Felix realizes that Dimitri’s got a hand on his back to help keep him from toppling over. It’s too much energy to physically wrench himself away, but he jerks his shoulder back and Dimitri lets go, though he doesn’t back off entirely.
“You’re always pushing yourself like this,” Dimitri says, tone faintly reproachful.
There’s a sharp and specific insult in Felix’s mind, but he doesn’t have the effort to spare to fully verbalize it, so Felix leaves his reply clipped and pointed: “Hypocrite.”
“That doesn’t mean I can’t call you out for it,” Dimitri replies. He leans in closer – so close that Felix can see his individual eyelashes – so close that his lips almost brush Felix’s cheek – Felix can feel his heartbeat accelerate again, when he’d just started to get it to calm down –
Do you understand? he thinks, half-mouthing the words, though no sound comes out. This is what you do to me. He wonders if it’s fucked-up that he’s glad his body finally feels as torn apart as he does on the inside, then immediately decides that he should stop trying to fool himself and instead consider exactly how fucked-up it is that he feels this way. This physical state of being is easier for Felix to understand and accept than his internal state of mind – maybe Dimitri will feel the same.
But Dimitri pulls away suddenly and Felix can’t read the look in his eyes – he almost wants to say that it is fear, but he doubts that immediately.
“Drink some water, Felix,” Dimitri says. And then Dimitri gets up, holding one of his own arms by the elbow awkwardly, as if he is forcing it down.
Felix makes a noise to indicate he’s heard. After a moment, he pushes himself off the ground and onto his feet. He feels weightless once he’s standing at his full height again: his second wind has finally kicked in.
In retrospect, Felix suspects he must have been the first one to notice the smaller nuances in how Dimitri had changed since the Tragedy in Duscur. At least, it seemed to surprise everybody else when Dimitri finally lost control of himself, whereas Felix remembers thinking to himself: Oh. It finally happened.
It was obvious that Dimitri’s eyes had darkened and that he’d begun to deliberately hold everything at an arm’s length, but Felix supposes everybody else must have chalked Dimitri clamming up to his not being ready to share his sadness yet. When he was in front of people, Dimitri had the subdued atmosphere of the tragic hero about him – but when it was just the two of them, Felix could see something in him that Dimitri was more careful not to show in front of others. He would kiss Dimitri like he was trying to suck the grief right out of his mouth, and Dimitri would hold his arms so hard that Felix was once left with uneven bruises where Dimitri’s fingers dug into his flesh. He’d touch Dimitri’s face and Dimitri would keep his palm on Felix’s neck. None of these things bothered him for what they were, but something about all the little things as a whole bothered Felix in a way that he couldn’t describe, only intuit.
And when they were alone, Dimitri seemed scared all the time – sometimes Felix would look into Dimitri’s eyes and see a kind of fear that he couldn’t quite comprehend, something that felt more primal and animalistic than rational and human. It was around then that Felix began avoiding peoples’ gazes – if Dimitri didn’t realize how much his eyes revealed in front of Felix, then what were others seeing in Felix’s eyes that he doesn’t want people knowing about him? – he doesn’t want his body to betray his mind if he can help it.
They had sex a few months after Felix first kissed Dimitri. It was not romantic, nor was it finessed, and even though Felix didn’t have any personal frame of reference for what sex should be like, he had an inkling that it was unusually rough. Felix remembers it in vibrant flashes rather than one continuous recollection, with the in-betweens forgotten – he hopes it was because there was nothing worth remembering about them, and not because he preferred to forget.
Dimitri had spread his legs wide, hands heavy on Felix’s knees, exposing Felix’s thighs, his cock, his hole – more than physically uncomfortable, Felix had felt an insane rush of pleasure and distaste at how vulnerable he felt. Dimitri barely let Felix move as he pushed his fingers deep inside, rough and fast, and Felix felt like he was melting into his bedsheets, becoming a non-entity, a mere receptacle for Dimitri to interact with, but he didn’t push back at all – he liked it that way, wanted it, even craved it.
At some point, they must have changed positions, because next he remembers Dimitri fucking him from behind. He’d had a hand on Felix’s upper back, pushing him into the bed with enough force that Felix couldn’t tell if he was getting breathless from the pressure or from how good it felt. He doesn’t think that they talked at all; there were no I love you s or gentle affirmations, just Felix groaning and swearing and telling Dimitri to keep going, and Dimitri making sounds without meaning. Neither of them really knew what they were doing, and Dimitri’s thrusts were too shallow for the feeling of pleasure tight in Felix’s lower body to build up enough for Felix to lose himself completely, so that he remembers in excruciating detail thinking oh my god, it feels fucking great to be used like this. It felt good, but far from mind-blowing.
The shame didn’t set in until later, when he woke up the next day to take a shower and saw uneven bruises across his body in intimate places. He then got himself off to the realization that Dimitri had seen all of him, watched him squirm in the bedsheets and ask to be fucked, coming onto the floor of the shower he and his brother used to share, and wishing that he could wash off the self-humiliation as easily as his seed went down the drain.
Sometimes, Felix still thinks about Dimitri holding him down when he masturbates, with increasing detail to the fantasy every time he indulges in it – he hates it, but nothing else ever comes to mind when he wants to get off.
The fall semester comes to an end. Felix redoubles his efforts to avoid Dimitri going into spring semester, and is very successful at it. With the philosophy of “out of sight, out of mind” in full force, Felix spends his time productively: he declares a major, he wins an award for fencing, and he lets his new friends drag him around to do this and that. Because staying out of his father’s house is another major goal for Felix, he also applies to a dozen summer internships, and lands a rather nice one at the same company that Sylvain’s been spending his last few summers working at.
Cohabitating with Sylvain is narrowly better than cohabitating with a stranger in Felix’s book, so they sublet an apartment together during their internships. The oddest thing about the experience, Felix thinks, is that he’s forced to realize that Sylvain has grown up – without Felix noticing the transitional stages, Sylvain seems to already have gracefully made his way into adulthood.
“You don’t bring girls around,” Felix comments one night as they sit down for dinner.
“Yeah, I don’t know,” Sylvain replies as he opens boxes of take-out for them to share. “Right now, there’s just more important things for me, I guess? Flirting with the ladies hasn’t exactly lost its appeal, but there’s other stuff I’d rather be doing. Stuff that makes me happier.”
“Well, since I have to live with you, I’m not complaining,” Felix says.
Sylvain laughs, but then he says, “And getting a therapist helped, I think. He made me realize… never mind, I’m not going to unload on you right before we eat a ton of greasy food and drink boxed wine, dinner’s already going to be heavy enough as it is.”
“You’re the only one who’s going to drink boxed wine,” Felix retorts. “I still haven’t even opened the vodka you gave me months ago.”
“Aw, you should!” Sylvain says. “The older you get, the lower your tolerance for bad alcohol, y’know? I used to chug that stuff like it was water, and now I can barely stomach it.”
Felix grimaces. “You’re barely two years older than me,” he replies.
“But decades wiser, young Felix,” Sylvain teases, giving him an ostentatious wink.
Felix can’t deny the wiser part, although both of them know decades is an exaggeration. Being temporary roommates ends up being pleasant overall; though Felix doesn’t explicitly warn Sylvain against bringing up any loaded subjects, Sylvain is sensitive enough to navigate around the issues that Felix is avoiding without pressuring him. In a way, Felix feels like he’s getting to know Sylvain for a second time: the first Sylvain is the one he grew up with, and the second Sylvain is the one he chose to stay good friends with.
Thinking about how much Sylvain has matured, Felix occasionally wonders if the same can be said about him. Certainly, he’s changed a lot over time, but most days he feels like he’s grown older without ever having grown up.
When Dimitri turns sixteen, he doesn’t have a birthday party, but he does invite Felix over – not to his uncle’s house, where he officially lives, but to Felix’s house. “Thank you for allowing me into my own house,” Felix says when Dimitri asks him to spend the afternoon with him during a study break at Felix’s dining room table. “Yeah, I’ll be at home, so it’s no trouble for me to go home.”
Dimitri laughs politely and replies, “You sound more and more like Glenn nowadays.”
Felix wonders if he should confess: it’s because he spends a lot of time thinking about what Glenn would say to the things that Felix experiences. But he has a feeling that Dimitri would take it in the wrong way – Felix doesn’t do it because he obsesses over his brother’s death, he does it because he can’t think of anybody else to emulate. Rodrigue is his father, but Glenn is the one who raised him; given the seven year age gap between the siblings, it’s an open secret among family friends that his parents didn’t intend to have Felix. “He’s this family’s happy little accident,” Glenn would say, smirking at Felix as he ruffled his younger brother’s hair. “That’s why his name is Felix, you know.”
When Glenn had been born, Rodrigue had set aside time from his work to help around the house, and their mother was still alive – by the time that Felix was born, the family business had expanded significantly, and their mother passed away when Felix was four. So Glenn was the one who was always in the house, taking care of Felix, teaching him things that normally parents would – he was sharp-tongued and critical, but he had an understated patience that Felix was constantly grateful for. More than anything, Felix misses the guidance that Glenn gave him – that’s why he’s always wondering what Glenn would say, if he could still ask his brother for advice. If he sounds more like Glenn, then Felix supposes that must mean he understands his brother better than he gives himself credit for.
“I can’t tell if you’re implying that’s a good thing or not,” Felix says.
“Felix, please, you know that’s a loaded statement,” Dimitri replies, but without any real tone of reprimand.
“I only said it because I knew you wouldn’t take the bait, alright?” Felix insists. And then stupidly, without thinking, he adds, “I already know you like my brother better than me anyway.”
He means it to tease, but Dimitri gives him a slack-jawed look of shock and Felix realizes too late that he’s stepped into a minefield. Felix starts to say, “I wasn’t serious when I said th – ” but Dimitri’s replying before he can finish his attempt at backing the situation up. “Why would you think that?”
“What?” Felix asks, after a pause.
“Wait, I’m sorry. I didn’t phrase that well – it’s not what you think I meant, I swear,” Dimitri blurts out. Felix doesn’t think he’s seen Dimitri this frantic in his entire life, and they’ve known each other since they were in diapers. “I – I don’t like either of you better than each other, just, you know – I like you two in different ways.”
“In different ways,” Felix repeats. His heartbeat feels like it’s getting louder; he’s almost scared that Dimitri will hear it. It strikes him as strange that they’ve fucked in Felix’s bedroom before, but Felix is getting palpitations over the fact that he can’t tell if this conversation is about to involve the phrase I love you – and god, he does hope it will.
“Of course! I mean, Glenn was like an older brother to me as well,” Dimitri says. “And you’re, you know…”
You’re my first friend is the worst case scenario that Felix prepares himself to hear, but what comes out of Dimitri’s mouth is even worse: “You’re alive,” Dimitri says.
Felix’s face contorts. He forces out an incredulous laugh. His racing heart comes barely short of stopping entirely. “You are a fucking boar,” he informs Dimitri, tone curt and pointed. “Do you think a decent person would tell me what you just told me? Especially given we – that we’ve had – that we’ve been friends for so long?”
For a few uncomfortable, long moments, they both stare at each other, stunned in different ways. Dimitri clenches the pen he’d been writing with earlier so hard that it Felix can hear it snap, and after he drops it, Dimitri grasps the wrist of his dominant hand hard with his other hand, as if physically restraining himself.
“You’re right,” Dimitri finally says, in a small voice. “I apologize, Felix. I… wish I could take that back entirely because it’s not… that’s not how I meant for you to take it, but – ”
“Whatever,” Felix cuts in. “You know what, I think you should go back to your uncle’s place. And don’t come over for a while.” There’s a pause, and then Felix twists the knife even though he knows he shouldn’t – but he can’t stop himself – the words slide out of his mouth like blood dripping from a cut. “Happy early birthday.”
Felix gets up and leaves the room so that he doesn’t have to watch Dimitri pack his things before he goes. He doesn’t hear anything about what Dimitri does for the following week until Dimitri gets into a fistfight on his birthday and almost sends another teenager to the hospital. The first thing he thinks is: Oh. It finally happened.
His second year as a college student passes as an extrapolation of the first, which Felix continues to be pleased about. Because of his careful class and extracurricular management, Felix manages to avoid directly crossing paths with Dimitri, even though Dimitri’s been elected to class council, is in three major student organizations, and is a rising star on the school’s lacrosse team – in short, it should seem like he’s everywhere, but to Felix it’s as if he’s nowhere at all, because he knows it’s just the shell of a boy going through the motions. Felix barely feels anything when he happens to catch a glimpse of Dimitri by chance because he knows how Dimitri is: he might be putting all his time and effort into doing things, but that’s so Dimitri doesn’t leave himself the mental space to remember unpleasant memories or think distasteful thoughts. That’s how he’s been since he was a child – the busier he makes himself, the more checked out that Dimitri actually is. Felix recognizes the tendency because he himself does the same. He thinks it’s an effective technique.
Near the end of the spring, Sylvain hosts a graduation party at his apartment that Felix ardently wants to skip, but even Felix has to admit that Sylvain has objectively been a great friend to him for the last two years, whereas Felix feels like he’s been, at best, an okay friend in return. He decides he can make an effort, even though he’s sure that Dimitri will be there.
Felix brings the bottle of vodka Sylvain brought him four semesters ago, thinking it’ll be a funny inside joke that Sylvain will appreciate – he walks in and within three minutes, he sees a girl clinging to Dimitri’s arm, pressing her chest into his side, while Dimitri does nothing to dissuade her. Felix veers off course from the beeline he was making to Sylvain, and goes instead to the kitchen to borrow a shot glass from the people who’ve already been partying. He proceeds to down two double-shots of the vodka without a chaser, and pretends like the foul taste in his mouth is from seeing Dimitri here, like this, and he cannot even begin to explain to himself why he’s so fucking upset about it.
The problem that Felix has always had is vocabulary. He feels what he feels, but he can’t name those emotions – his inability to describe how he feels becomes a lack of agency, and that translates into a dreadful sensation of helplessness that clouds how he perceives the world and, in turn, how he reflects upon himself. Concepts like resentment or grief don’t ring true to him, but neither are they completely false. He craves nuance; he cannot find it. He wants to own his own emotions; they claim him instead.
So it’s easier to stop thinking and drink instead. Felix isn’t a lightweight or an inexperienced drinker – he’s been to parties before, mostly with the others from his fencing team – but the vodka is too much and too fast when he was already feeling himself spiral out of control to begin with. The alcohol hits him hard about twenty minutes later when he’s walking from the kitchen back to the living room and he stumbles into the armrest of a sofa, propping himself up against it so that he has a frame of reference for where the floor is. Once he’s reacquainted himself with the concept of gravity, he looks for Sylvain and slowly walks over.
“Hey, Sylvain,” he says. He can hear himself slur his syllables, but he can’t bring himself to care enough to sound more normal. “Con… congratulations on your imminent graduation.”
“Felix, you sound fucking terrible,” Sylvain informs him.
“Don’t worry about it, it’s your night,” Felix says. “I can take care of myself.”
Sylvain raises an eyebrow. “Promise?” he asks.
“Yeah, okay,” Felix replies, and then makes his way back to the sofa. Time passes at an uncomfortable pace as he sits there – he pulls his phone out and opens his messaging app, thinking that he should text somebody to come walk with him back to his dorm while he’s still cognizant. He passes over half an hour like that, scrolling through his messages without actively messaging anybody, ignoring the party going on around him – but then somebody touches his shoulder and hazily, he looks up – it’s Dimitri, and his mouth goes dry, his heart starts beating fast –
Then he squints to clear his vision and realizes it’s not. It’s an upperclassman he recognizes as being one of Sylvain’s classmates, who has white-blond hair and blue eyes, but his hair is wavier than Dimitri’s, and his face is a little rounder, less classically handsome. They start talking, and Felix understands in a detached sort of way that he’s being hit on after he’s told that he’s looking too lonely for somebody with a body like his – he has the kind of flash of genius that only drunk people do when he realizes that there’s three weeks left in the semester, so Not Dimitri will be graduating soon and Felix won’t have to deal with wondering what to do if they see each other on campus next fall. Thus, if they make out, it’ll be consequence-free.
Off-brand Dimitri puts a hand on his shoulder and leans in – Felix lets the kiss go through. He can’t tell if he’s hallucinating or not, but he could swear he sees On-brand Dimitri at the very corner of his peripheral vision looking at him as Generic Dimitri holds him by the waist and guides Felix to sit on his thigh as he continues kissing him. Rather than let that bother him, Felix closes his eyes and lets this stranger make him feel physically good. He scrapes at the bare minimum of responsiveness to indicate to Knock-off Dimitri that he’s still conscious and consenting, and doesn’t open his eyes again until he hears Sylvain’s voice.
“Okay, this is really weird to watch,” Sylvain says, voice unusually strained.
Felix leans away from Not Dimitri and glances backwards over his shoulder. “What,” he replies flatly. Now that his strange reverie has been broken, Felix feels like he’s sobering up – enough that he’s beginning to regret the situation that he’s gotten himself into, and certainly enough to realize his insight on the lack of consequences to this decision was utterly wrong.
Sylvain crouches, getting close enough so that he can talk to Felix without being overheard. “I’m just saying, Felix, this is some real fucked-up foreplay you’ve got going on here,” he mutters, voice low. And though he doesn’t say anything else, he makes a point of looking over to his right – when Felix glances over, Dimitri really is there. Their eyes meet briefly, and then Felix sharply turns away.
“That’s not what this is,” Felix says, very quickly, almost biting on his tongue to force the denial out faster. “That’s not what this – oh, fuck.”
“Cockblock much, Sylvain?” Off-brand Dimitri comments.
Felix grimaces and gets up; Sylvain puts a hand flat to his back to make sure he doesn’t overbalance as Felix scrambles to get out of this situation. He doesn’t know what this must look like to Dimitri, spectating from several paces over, and he wishes fervently that he hadn’t started worrying about that before it occurred to him that he’s forcing Sylvain to play the part of the responsible friend at his own damn party.
“This one here’s like my little brother,” Sylvain informs him, with the fake-cheerfulness that until now Felix has only known Sylvain to use on women he’s trying to hit on. “So yeah, very much! I take it as a compliment, in fact. See you around.”
Sylvain leads Felix to his bedroom, which is quiet compared to the rest of the apartment. He locks the door, so that there’s no chance of them being interrupted, and then sighs as he rubs the back of his neck.
“I am,” Felix mumbles, “so fucking sorry, Sylvain. This isn’t…”
“Listen to me for once, Felix,” Sylvain says. “Go to sleep here, okay?” There’s a pause. “I’m not mad, I swear. Worried, but not mad.”
Felix wants to protest that he’s not tired, but Sylvain cups either side of Felix’s face in his hands and looks right into his eyes – something about his expression reminds Felix of Glenn, and it makes him want to cry. “Just close your eyes and give it a try,” Sylvain tells him. “And I’ll be more relieved knowing you’re here, peacefully snoozing away, so you could even consider it a favor.”
“Alright,” Felix replies, and feels immense relief in acquiescing.
He waits to lie down after he hears Sylvain lock the door from the other side. Then he carefully arranges himself into a sleeping position – one of his last thoughts before sleep claims him is that with his hands clasped over his stomach, he must resemble a corpse in a casket.
He dreams that night, which is already odd in and of itself – Felix rarely has dreams, or perhaps it’s that he rarely remembers them. The dreams that he does remember tend to be abstract and nonsensical, and he doesn’t often dream about familiar faces. But that night he dreams about being a child again – he dreams that he’s with Ingrid and Sylvain on the beach while Glenn watches them from a distance. Together with his friends, they build a castle in the sand, a structure more elaborate than children likely could conceive of in reality, but wouldn’t be particularly difficult for young adults to construct. Ingrid and Sylvain smile so much, and Felix feels a warm, glowing sort of happiness in his chest, but also like something is missing.
A wave comes in and destroys the castle. Ingrid frowns, but Sylvain laughs and says that’s just how it is, don’t worry, we can come back and build another one, an even bigger one. When the water recedes, the castle is gone, but Dimitri is there in its place, staring out at the ocean, with his back turned to Felix.
Were you trapped in there the whole time? Felix asks him.
He wakes up before Dimitri turns around to answer.
After Felix wakes up, he unlocks the door and quietly walks through the apartment. It’s a mess, and there’s the faint smell of alcohol and body odor; Felix wrinkles his nose and puts up with it. Sylvain’s sleeping on the living room couch that Felix now mentally associates with shame and bad decisions. From eight weeks of living together over the summer, Felix knows that Sylvain’s a heavy sleeper, so he goes ahead and rummages around the kitchen to find ingredients to cook breakfast without worrying that he’ll wake Sylvain.
Sylvain stumbles into the kitchen right when Felix has finished cooking up a stack of instant mix pancakes, and the coffee maker is going while Felix moves onto scrambling eggs. “Sorry if this is forward, but also, marry me Felix,” Sylvain says in a mildly delirious tone.
Felix laughs in a way that’s half-warm, half-derisive. “Don’t be so disgusting before I’ve even eaten,” he replies. Then, in a more subdued voice, he adds, “It’s the least I can do, really.”
“Aw, Fee,” Sylvain says fondly. “Now there’s the sweet little kid I used to know.”
“Don’t call me that,” Felix replies quickly, raising a spatula threateningly.
Sylvain makes a humming noise that Felix knows to mean that Sylvain’s heard, but is disregarding what Felix just said. “That always was more of your and Dimitri’s thing, anyway,” he says, a bit wistful. “Dima and Fee. You two really were cute kids.”
Felix groans loudly; Sylvain laughs and shovels pancakes onto a plate to eat. After both of them have gotten some food and coffee into their systems, Felix says, “Sorry again. Really, I mean that, and… thanks."
"Come on, Felix, what are friends for?" Sylvain replies. “Makes me happy that you’re thankful for it, though.”
Felix sighs and looks down at his plate for a few seconds before he quietly admits, “It’s just that – I know you do enough for me already. And I don’t really do anything in return.”
“These pancakes beg to differ?” Sylvain replies.
“That’s not the same thing,” Felix begins to say, but Sylvain cuts him off: “Listen, I know I can count on you, Felix. You act all begrudging, but you’ve never failed to do me a favor when I ask for one, and… you look after your friends, including me. Weren’t you the one who came and picked me up that time I went skinny-dipping and lost all my stuff?”
“Okay, first of all, I hated that and I’m still furious it happened at all,” Felix informs him.
“What I’m trying to say is that your efforts aren’t unseen,” Sylvain says. “You’re harsher on yourself than anybody else is. And, you know… I don’t wanna jump too far into topics that you clearly hate talking about, but I’m sure the stuff with Dimitri is still something you’re working through yourself, so I don’t blame you for being… out of sorts last night.”
Felix inhales and closes his eyes briefly. Sylvain is perceptive, so he knows that Sylvain must have gotten the nonverbal cue that Felix wants him to back off of this subject – and yet Sylvain still continues, “Anyway, I realize the irony in me being the one to broach this topic with you, but – ”
“Then don’t,” Felix cuts in, knowing very well that Sylvain is going to keep talking.
“Felix, if you’re trying to send a message, well – something is being communicated, but I don’t think that it’s what you want others to understand,” Sylvain says. He sighs and brings a hand up to rub the back of his neck. “I mean, c’mon, Felix, it’s one thing to have a type, but if you hook up with blond-haired, blue-eyed twunks, then certain people are going to get ideas. Probably the wrong ideas, at that.”
“Well, you’re right about one thing,” Felix replies, sneering unpleasantly. “You are the last person in the world who should be talking about this.”
“Like I said, I get the irony,” Sylvain says. “But have you ever considered – ”
“I swear to god, if you’re about to tell me to get therapy again,” Felix interrupts. “Just because your therapist has taught you that a few bad incidents with women doesn’t justify being a subtle misogynist doesn’t mean therapy will save all our souls.”
Sylvain starts to laugh, but the peal cuts off abruptly. Felix looks at Sylvain’s face out of the corners of his eyes and even the split-second of eye contact is enough to tell him that Sylvain is, for once, being dead serious. “Talk to somebody, Felix,” Sylvain says. “It doesn’t have to be a therapist. It can be me, if you want it to be. You know Ingrid would always make time for you, and you’ve got other friends too, just – take it for granted that I’m saying this because I care about you, alright? Felix, you have got to stop bottling stuff up.”
“I don’t have anything to talk about,” Felix replies, after a telling pause. Even he knows that he doesn’t sound convincing, and he scowls out of irritation that’s mostly pointed at himself.
“You two are so alike sometimes,” Sylvain says. Felix doesn’t expect it, but Sylvain smiles, and it’s even one of his genuine ones – he’s taken so off-guard that he forgets to be annoyed at what Sylvain is implying. “Anyway, that’s all I had to say.”
Felix stares down at his last pancake and sighs. “I wish you had eaten your breakfast in peace and quiet,” he mutters.
“Aw, but you love me anyway,” Sylvain says cheekily.
Felix doesn’t deny it, and both of them understand that to be a tacit affirmation.
The moment after Felix finds out that Dimitri had been in a fight, he literally drops the textbook he’d been holding and storms out of his house to find Dimitri. He barges into Dimitri’s uncle’s house like he owns the place, marches into Dimitri’s room without knocking, and watches as Dimitri startles so hard that he almost falls off of the chair that he’d been sitting on. Then Felix grabs him by the collar of his shirt, stares him straight-on and says, “What the fuck?”
“I don’t know,” Dimitri replies, unable to meet Felix’s eyes.
Ingrid had told him that it was the other kid who’d started the fight, and Dimitri was just defending himself. And of course Felix wants to believe that’s the truth – but he doesn’t know if he should. Dimitri looks mentally rattled, but not physically hurt in any visible way, even after accounting for the possibility that he’d been injured somewhere covered by his clothes. Felix has seen how people move their bodies when they’ve got bruises in various places – fencing isn’t meant to be brutal, but accidents happen – and it doesn’t match with how Dimitri is carrying himself.
Felix doesn’t fancy himself a mind reader, but he thinks that he sees his friends clearly. He can easily tell when Sylvain is faking his expression – he knows whenever Ingrid is holding her tongue to keep the peace – and of course, his intuition always screams at him when Dimitri is hiding something. Dimitri is wearing the scared expression that Felix is starting to get uncomfortably used to seeing on Dimitri’s face, but for the first time, Felix thinks he has an idea of what Dimitri is afraid of: it’s himself.
He loosens his grip and takes a slow breath, holding it for a few seconds before exhaling, trying to let the action ground him. “I’m on your side, Dimitri,” Felix says. He hates the fact that the words come out with a pleading tone, but he hates the idea of Dimitri withdrawing from him even more. “But if you don’t tell me what you’re thinking, then…”
Then how am I supposed to figure what to do? he thinks. But he doesn’t say it out loud, because he still hasn’t completely recovered from their last conversation – the words you’re alive still feel like they’re lodged right in between his heart and his neck.
“I really don’t know,” Dimitri repeats. Felix can hear the pain in his voice, but more than that, there’s a sense of shame that Felix isn’t sure how to process. He doesn’t think that Dimitri will tell him more than that, no matter how many times he asks, or even if he begs – he expects himself to get angry that Dimitri isn’t letting him in, but instead, he feels a sense of devastation.
In the years to come, Felix will wonder to himself if this is the exact moment where things start to go irrevocably wrong. He’ll replay this in his head over and over again, running through hypotheticals – should he have clung on until Dimitri finally gave in? Should he have realized there was only so much he could do and called Sylvain or Ingrid? Should he have forsaken his childish pride and told his father he suspected that Dimitri was beginning to fray at the seams? When he was fourteen and thought for three hours and twenty-six minutes that his best friend was dead, it had felt like infinite possibilities had suddenly shut their doors to him – but this is the moment that those doors lock themselves up and Felix finds himself on a path that he can no longer choose to turn away from.
Felix lurches forward and kisses Dimitri. He doesn’t do it because he thinks this will make Dimitri let his guard down – he tells himself it’s because he hopes this will let Dimitri temporarily escape his pain. The truth, though, is that he doesn’t know what else to do, and although it might be selfish, he wants to do something for Dimitri that no other living being else can.
They have sex again; it’s as different from the first time as it is the same. Dimitri refuses to undress or let Felix undress him, but Felix gets naked for him anyway. Then he rides Dimitri hard, fucking himself onto Dimitri’s cock with such intensity that he thinks he might have fallen off if Dimitri weren’t grasping his waist with so much force that Felix can almost feel the bruises forming even through the pleasure. Felix wants to believe he’s setting the pace and tone this time, but Dimitri is still the one holding him down, making him expose himself – and again, Felix lets him. And again, Felix likes that, but he enjoys it more this time because he can angle his hips to take Dimitri in deeper, and when he looks at Dimitri, he’s looking down instead of up. It is easy to mistake this for control, but even as his orgasm builds up and his thoughts go blurry, Felix doesn’t make that mistake – or perhaps it’s that he can’t, not when it feels like Dimitri is seeing right through him as if he were transparent – as if he were a ghost.
Felix comes harder than he ever has in his life to date and then slides off of Dimitri, closing his eyes and lying next to Dimitri as the after-shocks of his climax pulsate through his body. In the post-orgasmic clarity that ensues, Felix quickly realizes that he’s made a mistake.
Now will you believe that I’ll always be by your side? he wants to say. But instead of worrying about what Dimitri would think if he said those words out loud, the person who comes to mind is Glenn. And he knows what Glenn would say, if he could see Felix like this, naked on top of somebody else’s bed, cum drying on his thighs.
“Felix, you’re better than this,” he’d say. “Nobody will respect you if you don’t respect yourself first.”
He gets dressed and goes home without saying anything – Dimitri doesn’t even give any indication that he realizes Felix is leaving. When he returns, Rodrigue is there.
“You know that you get grounded if you leave the house without telling me,” Rodrigue informs him. But then his gaze softens, just a little bit: “But I understand the circumstances. It’s good that Dimitri has a friend like you, Felix.”
In response, Felix locks himself into his room and doesn’t come out for almost an entire day.
After the incident at Sylvain’s graduation party, Felix begins to crave resolution. He wants to vent four long years of discontent on Dimitri, and label clearly every single wrong that Dimitri has committed towards him. In exchange, he’s ready to accept responsibility for the things that he knows he deserves to be blamed for – it would be worth it if he can finally make Dimitri understand why Felix can’t look him in the eye without feeling frustrated, but if that’s impossible, then at least he could accept what’s become of them and start the process of moving on.
The first problem is that Felix doesn’t have the confidence that he can explain himself because he doesn’t fully comprehend his own dissatisfaction. The second problem is that he knows that if he’s the one to force things to a confrontation, he won’t be happy with the outcome no matter what happens, because one of the bones Felix has to pick is that he has always been the one pushing at Dimitri’s boundaries, asking to be let closer, and he only started disparaging Dimitri because he got sick and tired of being rebuffed at every turn. The third problem is that he can’t find an excuse to start a one-on-one conversation that doesn’t involve him feeling like he’s humiliating himself, because his pride makes it difficult for him to stomach that.
For better or for worse, though, all these problems turn into non-issues right before they start their third year of college. Felix is sure that big political events are tumultuous things on most college campuses, but it’s different when said events involve the direct relatives of students at your school. There is a blackmailing scandal followed by a bribery scandal, and what looks like an entire conspiracy to reform the country’s governance in a way that blatantly favors one party emerges – it causes a whole litany of other questionable events to resurface in the public eye for reexamination, including the Tragedy of Duscur, which some begin to theorize was actually a political hitjob disguised as a terrorist attack.
In response, several young political heirs attending Garreg Mach are pulled from the school and brought closer to their homes. Dimitri is one of them; he transfers to a university in their hometown. Rodrigue gives Felix a rare call to inform him that Rodrigue is nominally taking over responsibility for Dimitri until he can graduate, and that Dimitri will be living at their house for the time being.
“Great,” Felix says dully, after Rodrigue finishes explaining the situation. “He can have my room, it’s not like I’m using it, and I’ve grown accustomed to giving things up for him.”
“Felix, now isn’t the time,” Rodrigue replies.
The statement strikes Felix as so ironic that he has to restrain himself from laughing. It’s never the time for me, when it comes to your time, he wants to retort, but he doesn’t care enough about getting a jab in to start an argument with his father. “Whatever,” he says. “If that’s all you had to tell me, then goodbye.”
He hangs up before hearing his father’s answer, then slumps into the desk chair he’d just finished unpacking for his new apartment. “Out of sight, out of mind,” he reminds himself, but knowing that Dimitri is gone doesn’t bring him any solace.
the second death
“I couldn’t love you the way you wanted me to.”
“No. You couldn’t love yourself the way I wanted you to.”
Felix is twenty-two when he graduates from college. If he had things his way, then he would have moved straight onto the next part of his life – he’d been accepted to a two-year research fellowship, which he was planning on using to buy more time to find an excuse not to inherit the family business – but his father beckons him home six days before his graduation ceremony. That alone wouldn’t have been enough to make Felix budge, but his father tells him, “Dimitri needs you,” and although he’s sure that Dimitri didn’t actually say those words, the thought that somebody thinks they’re true is enough to make Felix skip his graduation, defer his fellowship start date for a year, and return to the house he’d once run away from.
When he steps inside, the house is exactly as he remembers it being, which also means that it’s exactly as it was when Glenn was alive. Dimitri has allegedly been staying there for two years, but Felix sees no traces of him as he walks through the hallways – when he opens the door to his old bedroom, he finds it unlived in, so he supposes that Dimitri must not have taken to his unkind offer.
After pacing around the upper floor of the house, Felix then inspects the ground floor. The kitchen is well-stocked, but the rest of the rooms seem unused. By process of elimination, he can figure out where Dimitri must be, but Felix doesn’t believe it until he goes downstairs into the basement and finds Dimitri looming like a bad spirit and looking an awful lot like one too.
“You look fucking terrible,” Felix informs him. “Like the beast I always knew you’d become.”
Dimitri’s voice carries a distinct veneer of disuse; it almost cracks when he replies, “Well, I don’t feel great either.”
“Are you seriously a literal basement dweller now?” Felix asks.
In response, Dimitri turns away from him. Felix sighs and shrugs, then shakes his head. “Clearly, there’s no point in me talking to you like this,” he says. “I have no idea why my father called me home.”
There’s still no reply.
“I’ve got other things that I could be doing, but here I am, wasting my time,” Felix continues – at this point, he just wants to provoke a response out of Dimitri. Even if it only gets the uncontrolled, anger-driven part of Dimitri to bare his fangs, then he’d still consider that better than nothing.
But Dimitri doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t even move.
“As if I haven’t uselessly wasted enough of my life on you,” Felix says. “I put my fucking neck on the line for you and you still haven’t talked to me in any meaningful way since we were thirteen. For god’s sake, I let you fuck me and you still wouldn’t let down your guard for me. What more do people want me to give up to let you pretend to be functional? What more do I have left to give up? It’s – ”
“I’m sorry,” Dimitri says hoarsely.
The way he enunciates the words reminds Felix so much of the last time that Dimitri apologized to him. It’s one of the memories that he still thinks about often – that he doesn’t think will ever fade away. Back then, Dimitri’s hands had been bleeding, but Felix supposes that Dimitri’s hurt must now be somewhere invisible, and despite himself, his heart softens a little.
“You won’t believe me, but I’m sorry,” Dimitri continues, still without looking at Felix. “I wish you hadn’t given up so much for me either... It was all for nothing.”
Felix is glad that Dimitri insists on staring at the basement wall, because he can’t see the way that Felix’s lower lip trembles. He bites down on it, but then he feels warm pinpricks at the backs of his eyes and surrenders to the fact that he can’t control what his body is about to do. “You’re right,” he replies. He blinks, and a tear falls down his cheek. His voice quavers a little when he asks, “What the hell happened to you?”
What the hell happened to us? is what he truly means. There’s a pause; Felix can’t tell whether Dimitri is preparing to answer or not, but his tears threaten to fall in earnest, so he retreats back upstairs where nobody will be able to hear him cry.
If Felix had to describe his feelings towards his father, he would be able to do so succinctly: “I respect him as a person, but not as my father.” It’s one of the few complex sentiments Felix has which he can also verbalize clearly, so he’s almost grateful to his father for making it easy for him. Glenn may have called him a happy accident, but Felix thinks Rodrigue treats him more like a convenient replacement, whether it be for Glenn’s position or for Dimitri’s mishaps.
Still, he understands lucidly that his father is a man of many accomplishments, and that Rodrigue has a sharp sense of pragmatism that often leads him to the best solutions to complicated problems. He comprehends that Rodrigue only asks him to give up that which would create more for other people. As a human being, Felix endorses the idea that if one person has to lose a little for another to gain vastly more, then it makes sense to go through with that transaction. But as his child, Felix isn’t sure he can ever forgive Rodrigue for making him the one who takes the short end of the stick over and over again.
Carrying that sentiment with him does not make for a comfortable reunion dinner, especially when Felix knows that Dimitri is holed up in the basement like an injured animal refusing to leave its den. “Can you explain what that… creature is doing down there?” Felix asks with artificial calm as he slices up the food on his plate.
“The last year and a half have been difficult,” Rodrigue says. “Were you not paying attention to the news coverage at all?”
Felix narrows his eyes; he feels like he’s being indirectly chided for not keeping up with the times. “I read the headlines,” he replies coolly. “But news is sensationalized. I prefer not to put stock in things that can’t be confirmed as fact, with evidence.”
“Perhaps that’s for the better,” Rodrigue says. “There’s been a lot of mud-slinging and rumor-mongering… the Tragedy of Duscur is back under public spotlight. Dimitri’s been dragged onto a spotlight and made into a real spectacle.”
“Well, his life has devolved into a massive joke, so that suits him,” Felix mutters under his breath.
If Rodrigue has heard him, he gives no indication. “I’m well aware that there’s only so much that I can do for him,” he continues. Felix has always hated that his father will monologue at him, as if Felix isn’t supposed to be an active member of their conversations, but Felix realized years ago that it’s easier to let him finish before snapping back. “Sylvain and Ingrid are going to be back in Faerghus soon as well. We’re hoping that your presences will raise his spirits.”
Felix was taught his table manners at a very young age – by Glenn, of course. He doesn’t care for rules that exist seemingly for the sake of existing, but he understands that having impeccable table manners is a matter of influencing others’ perceptions of him, which is why he follows his lessons by default, even when nobody is watching him eat. So it goes sharply against his instincts when he rudely spears a fork into his slice of steak and glowers at his father – but he has a point to make.
“If that were possible, then you should have just let him stay at Garreg Mach,” he says. “Did you ever consider what a slap in the face that was to me? After what I gave up to make sure that he could get into the school to begin with?”
“Felix,” Rodrigue begins to say –
“This is utterly banal,” Felix continues. “That creature lurking downstairs hasn’t been Dimitri in a long, long time. Maybe you want him to keep play-acting as a human in front of the cameras, but I’d prefer to let him lick his wounds where nobody else has to watch him. Not that you asked me. Not that you probably asked him .”
“It doesn’t make me happy either,” Rodrigue replies. “You think that I don’t understand how you feel, but you don’t consider my intentions either, do you?”
“You’re my father,” Felix says, spitting the words out like he can’t get rid of them fast enough. “You’re supposed to be the one having some consideration for me, for fuck’s sake. We’re not equals.”
Rodrigue pales at Felix’s retort. Only then does Felix notice that age seems to have caught up with his father severely: his complexion is ashen, and he looks like he’s sleeping as little as Dimitri does. He hasn’t eaten much, and he has the pallor of unwellness to him.
“Let’s not talk about this,” Rodrigue finally replies.
“Let’s not talk about anything anymore,” Felix says. “It doesn’t matter. We’ve never talked about anything serious to begin with. You just talk at me, and I sit here taking it.”
Felix finishes his dinner in silence before excusing himself.
The next day, the Fraldarius house receives a visitor. Felix had expected it to be Sylvain or Ingrid, but it’s somebody that he vaguely recognizes as the tall man from Duscur that was often around Dimitri when they were still at Garreg Mach. “Excuse me,” the near-stranger says. “I’m here to check on Dimitri.”
“I don’t know who you are,” Felix informs him.
“Technically speaking, I am his staff,” he replies. “My name is Dedue Molinaro.”
Felix recognizes that surname: among the casualties of the Tragedy of Duscur, some had been local people that the Blaiddyds employed. He can sense there’s a personal history there, especially given that Dimitri seemed to have deliberately brought Dedue to study with him at Garreg Mach, but Felix doesn’t care enough to ask about it. “Whatever,” Felix says flippantly. “Do what you need to do, it’s not my house.”
In fact, he tries to take as many excuses as possible to leave the house – that afternoon, he goes for a long, leisurely run that takes him halfway across town and back. When he returns several hours later and goes to the kitchen to refill his water bottle, he finds that the refrigerator has been completely restocked with cooked food, and the houseplants have been watered. Felix doesn’t think about it more than he has to and eats the food that was clearly not made for him as his dinner.
After the second time they had sex, Felix deliberately put some distance between himself and Dimitri. There was too much going on for him to handle, and that was when he thought about only his own problems – factor in Dimitri’s unspoken issues, and Felix wasn’t sure how he was supposed to remain functional. He threw himself into school and sports, studying more than he ever had before, and his class ranking shot up in a significant way. His father openly praised his efforts when Felix brought home a top grade in his advanced calculus class; Felix had listened with a blank face and thought about how his older brother had been terrible at mathematics.
Mistaking accomplishment for maturity, as many growing teenagers often do, Felix took it as a sign that he was prepared to try magnanimously shouldering Dimitri’s problems again – as his best friend since childhood, and nothing more. It was the kissing and the fucking, Felix decided, that made things complicated. By returning to the base state that they had started from, surely things would be easier for the both of them.
For a few months, Felix could make himself believe it was working. They would practice with the cross-country team together, and sometimes Dimitri would come over for dinner. They studied for their standardized tests with each other, at the same table. Dimitri seemed like he was approaching normality again. They got very good at being alone together. It was all ideal. It was all empty. It was all about to come to an abrupt end, and the calm before the storm would make its passing even worse.
After Ingrid and Sylvain have had a chance to meet Dimitri in person, the three of them meet up at a food court. Sylvain gets milk tea, Ingrid gets two sushi burritos, and Felix watches them consume.
“Never thought I’d see Dimitri look like such a sad sack in my life,” Sylvain says, chewing on his straw. “Can’t say I’m entirely surprised, though, the media coverage has been nasty as hell. People are really dragging Dimitri’s dad through the dirt with no evidence to back it up… it’s kind of disgusting.”
“My father said that Dimitri has only been coming out whenever there are court proceedings,” Ingrid tells them in between bites. “Maybe I’m out of touch with politics, but I don’t even understand what Dimitri has to do with any of that legal stuff?”
“The current majority political party is trying to prevent a takeover from the party Dimitri’s dad was in during the next elections, so they’re trying to keep all those conspiracy theories about how Lambert was secretly manipulating stuff behind the scenes in the headlines,” Sylvain explains. “He was really beloved, you know? It’s a major blow to have to defend your side’s most admired martyr from beyond the grave… so they’re drawing out the government investigations by calling as many character witnesses as they can and stirring up the drama.”
“They’re using him for a show,” Felix concludes. Fitting for an animal like him, I guess, he thinks, but he has enough sense to keep it to himself.
“I don’t know what to say to him,” Ingrid confesses. She lowers her eyes – Felix hasn’t seen her look so defeated since Glenn’s death was still fresh in their minds. “He barely responded to me when I tried asking him things. I only wish he knew that… he’s not alone.”
“There are two proceedings left on the court dock,” Sylvain says. “He’s just gotta hang in there. We’ll make sure he hangs in there, right?”
“Did you tell him to get therapy?” Felix asks Sylvain.
Sylvain raises an eyebrow, but he replies, “As a matter of fact, I did. He was… probably not interested, I think? It’s hard to tell when he basically doesn’t say anything back.”
“That’s how he’s always been,” Felix says, tone harsh. “He used to spout empty words that didn’t mean anything. Now he doesn’t say anything at all. Between the two, I prefer the latter.”
Ingrid and Sylvain exchange looks. “You’re not exactly wrong,” Ingrid says softly, “but Felix, you know it’s not that…”
“It’s not that he does it to hurt others,” Sylvain continues, picking up as Ingrid trails off. “I’m sure of that. Come on, we’ve known Dimitri since all of us had baby teeth. He’s not a spiteful guy.”
“Not on purpose,” Felix says snidely. Then he steals Ingrid’s second burrito and starts eating it – all of them use the excuse to stop talking about Dimitri.
Ingrid and Sylvain alternate visits every other day while they’re back at home; Felix assumes the point is that they don’t want to leave Dimitri alone for any longer than necessary. Between the two of them and Dedue showing his face a few times a week, the house is consistently livelier than Felix remembers it being in a long time – from even before Glenn’s death – it must have been before his mother’s death. She died when he was so young that he doesn’t have many recollections of her, but he does know that she was the most gregarious one in the family, who liked hosting parties and mingling with others. Seeing her laugh and chat with others make up most of his memories of her: the rest are of her holding him tenderly, smiling down at him, and her telling him that he was loved through both her words and her actions.
He’d been sad when she died, but not devastated. Glenn had told him that their mother wouldn’t have wanted them to cry whenever they think of her – he often repeated that to himself in the days following Glenn’s death. Being young, he had moved on quickly, and he wouldn’t truly understand permeance until Glenn died.
Felix knows that any liveliness will be a temporary state – Sylvain has a job to return to, and although he doesn’t complain about it, Felix knows that he must have leveraged a significant amount of effort to get a few consecutive weeks off. Ingrid, like him, is in-between college and work, but she couldn’t get her start date pushed back like Felix. Though he hasn’t felt like a child for quite some time, the fact that the days where they don’t have to wonder when they’ll all be in the same place again are coming to end makes him feel like his childhood, as well, will soon come to its definitive end.
Months pass since Dimitri gets into a fight, so Felix believes that it was only a one-off thing until he’s walking the long route home from his late-afternoon fencing practice and happens to see Dimitri in another fight. But calling it a fistfight almost seems farcical: from across the street, it looks a lot more to Felix like Dimitri is beating the ever-loving shit out of two other teenaged boys in a random alleyway that’s out in the open enough that people might see it and call the police to report that some blond boy is assaulting two others in public.
Felix leaps into action before he’s even thought about what to do, all he knows is that he has to do something when Dimitri is so obviously spiraling out of his mind. He checks both sides of the road and then sprints across it without waiting for the stoplight to turn to “walk”. He drops his duffel bag at the front of the alley so both his hands are free and charges in to try and hold Dimitri back. “What the fuck?” he starts to say, and he wraps his fingers around Dimitri’s forearm –
Dimitri startles hard; Felix can visibly see him jump before he reaches out and grabs Felix by the neck. He squeezes – Felix goes breathless – their eyes meet and all Felix can see is an animal crazed by the scent of blood, lost in the frenzy of his own carnage – Dimitri isn’t there at all.
And then Dimitri blinks and lets Felix go; he staggers backwards until his back hits the wall of the closest building, seeming confused. “Felix?” he says, sounding dazed. “Why are you here? What…”
Felix can’t speak properly – he coughs, and it sounds horrible, like there’s something rattling around in his throat. It was only for a few seconds, but Felix had already been winded from running and tense from the situation – more than that, though, Felix doesn’t know what to think, doesn’t know what to do. Doesn’t want to believe that what just happened is real. Doesn’t want to believe that this person is Dimitri, his best friend, the first person outside of his family he’d come to love.
He clears his throat and physically checks that he can breathe properly. His mind goes on autopilot: he’d come here to get Dimitri out of this situation, so that’s what he’s going to do. He grabs Dimitri by the wrist and tugs him away – this time Dimitri lets him, limply following Felix’s lead. He drags them both all the way back to his house and doesn’t realize until after they’ve gotten there that he left his bag on the street.
“Call my father,” Felix rasps, then closes his eyes. This is still not the worst moment of his life – but that isn’t far off into the future.
The thing is that Felix loves Dimitri. He isn’t sure if he’s in love with Dimitri anymore – though he doesn’t discount the possibility, as loathe as he is to admit that – but he undoubtedly loves Dimitri. He also loves Ingrid and Sylvain, but what he feels towards Dimitri has always been different. When he was a child, he used to puff his chest out with pride and declare that nobody in the world knew Dimitri better than him, and nobody who knew him better than Dimitri. They shared everything with each other, their happiness and their sadness, their triumphs and their losses. Dima and Fee. They came in a pair, always, not to be separated.
He knows better than anybody else that Dimitri has been in pain ever since his parents and Glenn died. Because he has always loved Dimitri, he was willing to forgive Dimitri for not sharing his pain with Felix even as he also mourned for his brother: it was the first time that Dimitri refused to tell him what was on his mind, the first time that Dimitri put a wall up between them, and the first time that Felix didn’t know what to do to make Dimitri feel better. He decided to simply be there and wait for the day that Dimitri took his hand once again. He believed that it would eventually come because that was simply a part of who they were – best friends ‘til the end. His personality is mostly influenced by Glenn, but his dogged determination is the only good thing he thinks he’s gotten from his father. He can wait. He does wait. And he will wait.
If the day comes when Dimitri asks for Felix to forgive him, to work with him to right all the wrongs in between them, then he will accept without hesitation. But he’s no longer certain that day will come, and his faith in the unknowable threatens to run out at any time: Felix is not a pious man.
A court date comes and goes. Felix watches the proceedings on his laptop. Rodrigue and his staff do a decent job at making Dimitri seem presentable, but when Dimitri testifies, he sounds like a corpse that’s learned to speak. The entire event reads like a sham – the prosecutor keeps throwing thinly veiled insults at Lambert’s character, then retracts the statements before Dimitri is allowed to reply. He brings up Dimitri’s own sub-stellar high school history, vaguely taunting him, and then returns to implying all sorts of conspiracies that involve Lambert secretly being a spiteful, manipulative man, who for some reason orchestrated his own death to place his party in a better position for the future.
Felix understands now why Dimitri doesn’t react when Felix throws cutting remarks at him; he must be used to enduring far worse. Felix only insults Dimitri with what’s true, whereas in the court of public opinion, he has to take lies and fabrications. It almost makes Felix pity him.
Dimitri comes back late into the evening, with Rodrigue and Dedue practically shepherding him through the back door. Felix watches from the foyer as they eat dinner together – in court, Dimitri had seemed a defeated man, but in private, his eyes burn with anger as he gracelessly shovels food into his mouth. It’s the most alive that Felix has seen him since he returned home; in contrast, Rodrigue looks practically dead on his feet.
“You did well enduring all that, Dimitri,” Rodrigue says faintly. He has to grip the corner of the table to stand up.
“I’d never let them humiliate me,” Dimitri replies, voice low and feral. “Or even worse, my father. Someday, they’ll regret that…”
All the way from the next room over, those words send a shudder down Felix’s spine.
“It isn’t easy for me to ask this of you,” Rodrigue had said. Felix had wanted his father to look at him as an adult, but not like this. “This is already… the fourth such incident that Dimitri’s gotten himself into…”
“I thought it was the second,” Felix blurted out.
Rodrigue pressed his lips together, and Felix understood not to press that point anymore. “At any rate, it’s gotten to the level where there will be legal repercussions. The other families have been willing to compromise favorably, but we can’t push it any further with the parents this time. They want somebody to receive some kind of punishment… so I want to ask you to claim you were the one involved in this, not Dimitri. You’ll have to do some community service, but since you have no record and you can make a reasonable claim to self-defense, it shouldn’t have any permanent effects for you. Getting into college might be more difficult, but we’ll make do somehow.”
Felix looked at the floor and wished that it would swallow him whole, to take him to his brother and his mother who loved him. And then he despised himself for even thinking that.
“This is for Dimitri’s future,” Rodrigue added. It was the first time he’d ever heard Rodrigue use a pleading tone towards him, but that isn’t what compelled Felix. For Dimitri. There was never any question of what he would answer.
“I’ll do it,” Felix said. “Just don’t tell him.”
It’s either the first or second secret that he’s ever kept from Dimitri, depending on whether or not he counts the fact that he still hasn’t figured out a way to tell Dimitri I love you.
Ingrid and Sylvain plan to leave their hometown a week after the court proceeding, but before they do, they invite Felix out and treat him to dinner. “You’re going to have to hold down the home fort for all of us,” Sylvain says, pouring Felix a glass of wine. “But you’re up for the task, right?”
“Do I have a choice in the matter?” Felix replies. He picks up the glass and drains it in one go.
“I’m going to avoid answering that directly and leave it at this: I know you’ll do a great job of it either way,” Sylvain replies.
“We’re here for Dimitri, but we’re also here for you, Felix. Message us every once in a while, okay?” Ingrid says.
“You never fail to sound like our collective mother when you talk to us like that,” Sylvain says to her. “But she’s right. Call us if you need us, and heck, call us if you don’t too.”
Felix gives them a pronounced expression of disgust that all of them know he doesn’t mean. “I will if I feel like it,” he replies, pouring himself more wine. “I don’t know why you guys are getting so emotional on me.”
“It’s hard not to,” Ingrid admits. “I don’t want to whine, but… it feels uncomfortably like we’re dumping a problem on you and running off to do our own things.”
“I don’t want you to feel like we’re ignoring the way things are,” Sylvain adds, and Ingrid nods in agreement
“Do you think I’m that immature? You have your own lives to get on with. If it were either of you with time to spare and me with a job to do, then it would be different, but this?” Felix pauses and shrugs, then takes a sip of wine. “This is just how the cards fell. So be it.”
“But Felix,” Ingrid replies, “it really is different. Because if you did have other obligations… honestly, I’m convinced that you would have dropped them and come back anyway. As for me…”
“And me, too. I want to do what I can for Dimitri, but there are things I have to do for myself first. I’m not going to apologize for that,” Sylvain says, uncharacteristically serious – but his tone softens as he continues, “Even still, I want you to know that I care about him, and about you, and… about the two of you together?”
Ingrid reaches over the table to punch Sylvain on the shoulder. “You were doing so well up until that last part,” she bemoans.
“I’m going to ignore that and order another bottle of wine,” Felix informs them both.
“Yeah, just rack that bill up high, don’t worry, I’m paying,” Sylvain says, laughing weakly. “I thought I was making a good deal offering to pay for drinks if Ingrid covers the food, but apparently I miscalculated.”
“If you wanted me to drink less, you should have brought up better topics,” Felix tells him.
Their appetizers are served, and Ingrid swiftly takes advantage of the break in the conversational flow to change the topic to something more light-hearted. Felix has a better time than he would ever care to admit aloud – although he’s sure that Ingrid and Sylvain can read it in his body language – and when Sylvain drops him off at his father’s house afterwards, all he can think about is how much he’ll miss having them so close.
That night, Felix dreams again. It’s almost the same as the one he had in Sylvain’s apartment, but this time, when the tide comes in, it washes away both the sandcastle along with Sylvain and Ingrid, and leaves Dimitri on the shore in their place.
This one, at least, he understands easily.
Out of the three people Felix watched eating dinner after Dimitri’s court showing, he would have thought the first to pass away would be Dimitri, who seemed liable to die in a fit of recklessness at the drop of a pin. In retrospect, he wonders if he was so preoccupied with what was going on with Dimitri that he wasn’t paying enough attention to everything else – but can he really be blamed for that? Nobody expects it when Rodrigue has a stroke in his office in the early morning hours, before most of his employees even get in for the day. He dies in an ambulance on the way to the hospital, and is declared dead on arrival.
Felix finds out when he wakes up and checks his phone to sees dozens of mixed calls and several voice messages. He listens to all of them with preternatural calm, although a part of him knows what the last one will be before he even finishes the first message, from one of his father’s secretaries, to tell him his father is being taken to the hospital and needs emergency treatment.
When he’s finished going through them, each message more dire than the last, he closes his eyes and sits down on his bed. He forces himself to breathe in and out slowly, and to ignore his urge to scream and scratch at his own skin until he bleeds. He brushes his teeth, washes his face, pulls his hair back into a neat ponytail, and changes his clothes before calling his uncle, who’s already at the hospital, to let him know that he’s on the way.
Then, he marches down to the basement. Dimitri sleeps on a mattress on the floor – unceremoniously, Felix nudges Dimitri’s back with his foot to wake Dimitri up, only to find that he wasn’t asleep in the first place.
“My father is dead,” Felix announces.
Dimitri doesn’t react at first. After a second, though, he makes a noise so softly that Felix almost can’t hear him at all, let alone the pain in his voice.
“I’m going to the hospital,” Felix says.
“Wait,” Dimitri says, after Felix turns around. Dimitri reaches out – but he stops just short of grasping at Felix’s leg.
Felix stops and looks back at Dimitri. “Spit it out, boar,” he replies, but without any heat.
“I want to go too,” Dimitri says. He gets off of the mattress, stands up, and clears his throat, then adds, “If you can wait for a few minutes for me to look more presentable.”
“My father’s corpse isn’t going anywhere,” Felix replies, after a confused pause. He didn’t expect Dimitri to respond with words at all, let alone with any kind of proactive energy. “But I don’t have all the time in the world. Get decent fast, I’m going to call for a ride in ten minutes.”
Felix actually calls for it in five, but Dimitri is still ready and at the doorstep by the time the car shows up. He looked more put-together when he went to court in his suit and waistcoat and tie, but somehow he looks more human now – more alert, more actively present in the moment. Felix gets into the front seat and has to be very careful to avoid looking at the mirrors, because seeing Dimitri like this brings up so many old feelings, so many treasured memories. He distracts himself by looking at his phone, wondering when the appropriate time is to message his friends and tell them the news.
Felix has never been close with his uncle, but when he arrives at the hospital, he’s grateful that somebody else is there to help take care of the official proceedings. “Do you want to see him?” his uncle asks.
Felix shakes his head. “I will after they’ve made his corpse look more dignified,” he replies. He himself is surprised by the depth of emotion in his voice – he didn’t think he would mourn when his father died, but he can’t deny that at the core of what he’s feeling now is grief. “I want to remember him as a great man, so… let me see him looking like one too.”
“You know, I think he would have preferred it that way too,” his uncle says, clasping a hand on his shoulder.
When Felix and Dimitri return late in the evening, after Felix and his uncle have made decent headway through the multitude of tasks that Felix didn’t realize comes with a death, the first thing that Felix does is go to the kitchen to pop the cork on a vintage wine bottle, and down a glass. Then, thinking better of his choices, he corks the wine and opens a bottle of high-end whiskey instead. He takes a shot before making his way over to the living room, setting the bottle and shot glass onto the coffee table, and deposits himself on the closest couch. “I’m the last of this family now,” he mutters aloud. He wonders if Dimitri felt the same way when he lost his parents.
He pours half a shot and downs that too, tilting his head almost all the way up as he lets the drink slide down his throat. When Felix brings his gaze down to its normal level, Dimitri is there. Felix is reminded of that unfortunate party Sylvain hosted several years ago and is tempted to laugh at the echoes of history.
“If you have something to say,” Felix informs him, “just get it over with.”
“I’m sorry,” Dimitri says, unusually solemn – Felix might even agree that his voice is full of genuine gravitas. “Your father spent his last year being forced to coddle me, instead of… spending his time on you, whom he should have been able to put more effort towards.”
Felix scoffs and waves a hand. “Fuck off with that shit,” he replies. “My father never forced himself to do anything. He supported you because he needed to do that, for himself. To honor his friendship with your father. I didn’t know him that well, but I know that much about him.”
“Even still,” Dimitri ventures, after a pause.
Felix leans back into the sofa, staring up vaguely at the ceiling. “If we didn’t have a bond as father and son, that’s his fault and mine,” he says. “You have nothing to do with it. If you believe otherwise, your ego needs some downsizing.”
After hesitating for a moment, Dimitri sits down next to Felix – then moves closer, until their sides are almost touching. Felix is only a little tipsy, but he decides to use the excuse of inebriation to explain why he shifts his weight and rests his head onto Dimitri’s shoulder. “It was partially my fault too,” he repeats, and then he sighs.
When Felix was fourteen, he used to feel bitter because his father and Glenn played tennis together – but his father never asked Felix to learn the sport. And he wonders now if his father refrained because he didn’t want Felix to replace the place that Glenn used to occupy, or if it’s because his father was trying to respect that Felix is his own person – after all, when he was nine, he once declared in front of his father and brother, “I’m not going to play tennis! I’m going to play lacrosse with Dima!” after Glenn had offered to teach him tennis. If he had even once asked his father to teach him the sport – what would he have said? He wonders – he knows it’s pointless now, but still, he wonders.
“I’m sad,” Felix concludes, and laughs mirthlessly. “Didn’t expect that, but I am.”
“You aren’t the type of person to not feel anything towards the people around you,” Dimitri says, a bit stiffly, but with the earnest honesty that Felix thought he’d lost by now.
Felix closes his eyes and percolates in the sensation of his head spinning for a few moments. Then he asks, “Are you still going to be like this tomorrow, or are you going to hide away again?”
“I – ” Dimitri breathes in sharply, and he brings a hand over his chest, leaning in almost as if there’s something caught in his throat. But whatever it was unsticks itself, and Dimitri calms down enough to continue: “I don’t know. Can I say that I will try to be? Is that a decent answer?”
“Sure,” Felix replies, then shrugs with one shoulder. “Or not. Who knows – I’m not your arbitrator.”
Neither of them speak after that, but Felix doesn’t mind the silence – it feels comfortable. For once, Dimitri feels close, and he supposes that’s a silver lining he shouldn’t overlook.
Dedue comes over the next day. Alongside Dimitri, the two of them start to handle the logistics of planning a funeral while Felix spectates the whole thing unfolding. Part of him is still in shock because of how sudden the death is, but the rest of him is in shock because he didn’t expect Dimitri to step up like this. After Dedue finishes calling the second funeral house to check their availabilities, Felix says, “I should be doing this, not you two. Don’t you have some sham court nonsense to prepare for?”
Dimitri looks up from his laptop. “That’s weeks away, and you’ll have enough on your hands when Rodrigue’s lawyer calls later today to settle his will,” Dimitri tells him. “Let us do this for you.” There’s a pause. “Please.”
“Fine, but don’t settle anything without having me look over it first,” Felix says.
He gets up suddenly and leaves the room. Once he’s back in his bedroom and sure he can’t be overheard, Felix calls Sylvain and says, without preamble, “Sylvain? I know you’re at work, so I’ll leave it brief. Text me the office that your therapist works at later. I’ll listen to you for once, just don’t rub it in.”
“No, of course not,” Sylvain replies quickly.
Sylvain messages him almost immediately after they hang up, but Felix can’t bring himself to actually read it until hours later. It takes him several more days to work up the nerve to call the office and schedule an appointment, but he makes himself do it before he loses his resolve.
Felix agrees to do sixty hours of community service in juvenile court to get the incident downgraded from a criminal charge to a civil case. He’s fairly certain it’s because his father used his connections to influence things, but he doesn’t care to know the details. He gets pulled out of school for two weeks, so he holes up in his room and studies by himself – he comes to enjoy the solitude so much that he almost wishes he didn’t have to go back to school.
When the two weeks are up, he returns and tries to act like everything is fine. Within a few days, though, rumors begin to circulate that Felix had been suspended for assaulting some kids from another school – their school is a hotspot for young elites to use as a stepping-stone to get into an equally elitist college, so he’s sure somebody in the student body is the son of a lawyer or the daughter of a judge, and Felix knows he should have expected this to happen. He decides the best thing to do is try to keep a low profile, so he quits cross country, and stops hanging out with his old teammates – but most of them aren’t talking to him at that point anyway.
Ingrid messages him one evening: Felix, it’s not true, is it? I thought Dimitri was the one who started all that. Why are you being the one taking the fall?
He messages back: It doesn’t matter.
If Ingrid can figure it out, then Felix is sure that Dimitri has connected the dots as well. Felix had genuinely wanted it to be a secret – from Dimitri, at the very least – because he can live with taking on a punishment that meant for Dimitri, but he can’t stand the idea that Dimitri knows exactly how far Felix is willing to go for him and still Felix feels miles apart from him. His social ostracization is nothing compared to that.
The day after Ingrid texts him, Dimitri grabs him by the wrist right as the bell rings for the last period, and their roles are reversed as Dimitri is the one who drags him several blocks away. “I didn’t even get to grab my backpack,” Felix complains, but he doesn’t pull away.
“This is important,” Dimitri insists, and his grip is so strong that Felix isn’t sure that he’d be able to jerk his arm away even if he tried.
They end up at a park Felix vaguely remembers playing in when they were children. Back then, it was lush and green – now the playground is mostly patchwork concrete, and the paint is peeling off of the equipment. It is desolate when it once was beautiful, so Felix supposes it’s a fitting setting for the conversation they’re about to have.
“Why did you do that?” Dimitri asks.
Felix glares at the pavement. “It pisses me off,” he replies, “that you can’t figure it out on your own.”
“Why are the both of you like this?” Dimitri says, voice strained – Felix thinks he hears despair in Dimitri’s tone that’s deeper than he’s prepared to dive into. “First it was Glenn, and now it’s you, even though I never – I never would have asked him to do that for me. I never asked you to do this, either.”
It’d be easier to breathe at the bottom of the ocean than it is here, with Dimitri’s gaze so heavy upon him. “I don’t need your permission to do what I want to do,” he retorts. “For fuck’s sake, let go of me.”
“I don’t understand why both of you are like this,” Dimitri continues. “I’ve wanted to ask Glenn every single day why … why did he protect me? Why couldn’t he just let me die instead of making me live like this?”
Once again, Felix feels transparent – here he is, standing in front of Dimitri, and yet Dimitri can only talk about Glenn – fury starts to rapidly build somewhere close to his stomach. He hates the Felix of the past who wished that Dimitri would tell him what’s weighing on his mind: that past Felix knew nothing, and was happier in his ignorance. Felix’s inner restraint breaks almost like it’s something with physical form – a bridge that’s taken on too much tension and finally snapped in half – and for a brief second, before he stops thinking entirely, he understands how it is that Dimitri found himself inflicting such brutal violence on others with such irreverence. They aren’t two people having an argument: they’re two animals ready to use teeth and claws on each other and on themselves.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” he hisses, yanking hard on the wrist that Dimitri still has in a vice grip. Dimitri doesn’t let go, so Felix grabs at Dimitri’s fingers, scratching his nails into the skin – but Dimitri doesn’t even seem to notice. “Do you hear yourself right now? How the fuck do you have the shamelessness to come up to me, of all people… and ask me why my brother died for you?!”
“Because I didn’t want him to!” Dimitri replies – it’s the loudest that Felix has ever heard him scream. He finally lets go of Felix, but it’s not because Felix has hurt him enough to make him relinquish – he brings his hands up to his face, digging at his own skin with his fingers – he cowers as if he’s seeing something that Felix can’t. In a quieter, more frantic tone, he continues: “There was nothing left for me to come back to anyway.”
“You have me !” Felix snarls, reaching out and grabbing Dimitri by the collar of his shirt. This time, though, he’s not going to kiss Dimitri – he doesn’t even understand anymore how he once thought that kissing Dimitri would do anything – he shakes Dimitri with all his strength, but Dimitri is barely moved. “Are you actually serious, Dimitri? I don’t mean anything to you?”
Dimitri doesn’t reply; after a moment, he begins shuddering slightly. Then another moment passes, and another. Felix realizes Dimitri isn’t listening to him, and he lets go of Dimitri in more ways than one – physically, emotionally, desperately, brokenly.
“I guess that’s it, then,” Felix says, voice quavering. At least before you realized I was alive, he thinks, but now I’m absolutely nothing at all. He sighs, breathes in hard through his nose, and then the tears begin to fall.
The sound of Felix crying is what seems to finally break Dimitri’s trance. It doesn’t happen at once, but more as if Dimitri is waking from a deep sleep; he seems dazed at first – confused as to how things got to where they were. “Are you crying?” he asks, disoriented, and then: “Is it… my fault?”
Felix wishes he could stop crying. More than that, he wishes he could turn off his emotions and become unfeeling, or that he was never born in the first place: he doesn’t feel very happy, but he does feel very much like an existential accident. Instead of blissful incorporeality, he has to endure the humiliation of waiting until his tears dry up, all while Dimitri watches him shed every last drop.
“It’s not your problem,” Felix finally says. “I don’t even know you anymore. Maybe the Dimitri I loved is already dead and gone.”
He lets go of Dimitri and steps away. Dimitri stumbles forward like a puppet with his strings cut, falling to his hands and knees.
“Please, Felix,” Dimitri says to the ground. Felix watches Dimitri curl his fingers against the concrete. “Is there anything I can say to make things better? Is there anything I can do… so that things can go back to the way that they once were? If you tell me… if you remind me of who I used to be, I can… I can at least try to go back to being that person for you… right?”
Those words choke Felix harder than Dimitri ever could with his hands – he had wanted so badly for Dimitri to deny it, to insist that he is still here, still the friend Felix grew up alongside, still the Dimitri whom Felix loves. Felix feels like he’s fighting just to inhale fully; breathing comes to him in shudders and gasps. The backs of his eyes are burning and he bites his bottom lip so hard that he can feel his teeth rip through dry layers of skin – he tastes his own blood.
“There’s nothing,” he finally answers. His stomach twists because it’s not quite true but neither is it false – yet again he lacks the words and yet again he hates the way that makes him feel, he hates that what he can’t articulate, he hates himself for never learning, he hates Dimitri for making him feel this way, and then he hates himself more for blaming Dimitri when this is all his own fault for getting his hopes up – after all, it makes no sense to blame an animal for not conforming to human expectations.
Dimitri makes a fist with his dominant hand and brings it down hard – the skin on his knuckles tears unevenly, leaving scrapes that are unpleasant for Felix to even look at. And then he does it again, and then a third time – abusing his own body – Felix understands without being told that it must hurt less than the way Dimitri is abusing himself internally. “I’m sorry,” Dimitri says, voice hoarse and strained. “I’m sorry… can I ask you to at least believe that much… that I really am sorry?”
Felix believes him. Felix doesn’t want to believe him; even still, Felix can’t help but believe him –
“At this point? It doesn’t matter,” Felix lies, knowing that Dimitri won’t be able to tell it isn’t the truth – but all he wants to do now is run away and salvage what’s left of his old memories. It is the worst moment of his life.
When Felix schedules his first therapy appointment, he states the reason for his visit as grief counseling because he isn’t sure what else to claim out of the available options, and checking “Other” and filling in his own explanation is too daunting a task. This comes back to bite him not five minutes into his first session, when his therapist asks, “I’m told you’re here for grief counseling. Can I ask what you’re grieving for?”
“My father, I suppose?” Felix replies, although a maelstrom of other things come to mind – high school memories of Dimitri, his brother’s closed casket, his strange dream, and then Dimitri again.
His therapist is a woman named Byleth Eisner, who insists that he simply call her by her first name. Cursory inspection of the certificates on display her office suggests that she shares the room with her brother – maybe her twin, because she also has family pictures up, and she looks almost exactly like her sibling. Felix is automatically inclined to respect her, because he can’t imagine becoming a diplomat like Glenn and not immediately being crushed under the pressure of living up to his accomplishments. “You don’t sound very certain of that,” she tells him. “Is there something else that you thought of besides your father?”
Felix shrugs, not out of dismissiveness, but because he genuinely doesn’t know how to begin answering. He supposes that the confusion must show on his expression, because Byleth lowers her clipboard slightly and says, “We don’t have to talk about that now – or at all, if you don’t feel up for it. Why don’t you tell me a bit about yourself instead? You look like you’re about college aged.”
“I graduated a month and a half ago,” he replies.
“That’s great,” she says, and smiles. “Congratulations. That’s quite an accomplishment.”
“It is what it is,” he says, after a pause.
Byleth shakes her head. “It really is something to be proud of. Being able to see something through from start to finish isn’t an easy task, especially something that takes years and years.”
“Alright, I see your point,” he replies slowly. “A lot of things happened right before I graduated… I didn’t even attend the ceremony. I suppose I haven’t had the time to acknowledge it fully.”
“When you have the space and the energy for it, why don’t you try celebrating it?” Byleth suggests.
“Maybe,” Felix says, shrugging again. “That might be so far off that the timing would be strange, but if things work out, why not.”
“I see. It’s just something to keep in mind, I think,” Byleth says. “May I ask what you plan to do now that you’ve gotten your degree?”
“I was accepted to a research fellowship,” Felix answers.
“Congratulations again,” Byleth tells him, smiling even wider this time. “I also applied to quite a few fellowships when I was about to graduate, so I know how difficult it is to get one.”
Felix is almost embarrassed by how much praise that she’s given him – it’s the affirmation that he really wanted to hear from his father, he thinks. “Thanks,” he mumbles. “I had to push off the start date, but they were understanding about it. I’m starting next fall.”
“Tell me about what you’ll be researching?” Byleth asks.
They spend almost the entire hour just talking about Felix – not about his feelings, which is what he expected, but about his life in general. As they talk, he realizes how unused he is to talking about himself; he relies on Byleth to actively guide conversation when he’s not sure where to go next. They don’t talk about his father’s death or about his past with Dimitri. Glenn never comes up, and it’s not because Felix avoids mentioning him. As their session comes to a close, Byleth says, “I know it probably feels to you like we haven’t talked about anything that will help you directly. And if you think it’ll be worthwhile to come back in a week or so, I’d like to help you delve into some of the things that are weighing on your mind. The reason I wanted to talk to you about you is that I want you to feel like you can trust me – not completely, of course, because I realize that’s too much to ask for. But enough to trust that when you’re here, you are my top priority, and I care about helping you . And I promise that I’ll think responsibly about anything that you tell me.”
“Sure,” Felix replies. He’s not sure how to take her explanation, although he appreciates that she explains it at all. “That makes sense. I didn’t mind what we talked about today either. It was… nice. In its own way, it was nice.”
“I’m glad to hear it, Felix,” she says, and smiles one more time. “I’ll walk you to the receptionist. Thank you for coming to see me today.”
When the man working at the receptionist’s desk asks him if he wants to schedule another appointment, Felix does not hesitate to put one down. The visits quickly become a regular part of his weekly schedule.
Three days pass and Dimitri remains actively present in living, then seven days, and then ten. They hold a funeral – scores of people Felix barely knows show up and he has to endure watching them behold his family’s latest death. It forces Felix to understand just how little he knew his father as a man who commanded respect from others, who achieved so much, who gave to his community – more so than the passing of his father, he realizes that he grieves that he’ll never know Rodrigue as the person he was outside of their house.
Dimitri stands next to him the entire time, neither too close nor too far. When it becomes too much and Felix feels almost like jumping onto the casket and screaming at the funeralgoers that a death is not a spectacle, Felix curls his hands into fists and grits his teeth. The muscles in his legs tense, and his shoulders rise; his vision swirls and for a few seconds, he can only hyperfocus on what’s directly in front of him –
“Felix,” Dimitri says. Felix has to swivel his entire body around to be able to look at Dimitri – he fully expects the situation to get worse, but Dimitri puts his palm flat to Felix’s back, resting it gently along his shoulderblade, and suddenly it feels much easier to relax.
Felix exhales hard and then gets his breathing back to normal. “I’m fine,” he mutters, forcing himself to unfist his hands. “This is something I have to do.”
“I understand,” Dimitri replies quietly, so just the two of them can hear. He steps a little closer – their hands touch, and Felix can feel Dimitri press his pinky finger in the space between Felix’s pinky and ring fingers, dangerously close to interlacing them.
Felix lets it happen, but doesn’t respond. He concentrates on the physical sensation of human contact, and lets that calm him until his father is in the earth between his brother and mother.
The thing is that Felix loves Dimitri, but more than that, he understands Dimitri – and Felix understands him more than he cares to admit to anybody, even to himself. He understands that there exists a part of Dimitri that’s more beast than man, and he understands that Dimitri has always been struggling to keep those sides of him in a careful balance. The reason that he understands so well is because Felix knows that he himself has also been in constant danger of falling into the depths of himself and forgetting his humanity. The fact that he’s managed to live without buckling to his anguish is not, he thinks, a sign of his superiority over Dimitri – it’s because he’s been luckier than Dimitri. He has been fortunate that his despair has never broken him the way it broke Dimitri. Circumstance took mercy on him, but not on Dimitri.
What would he need to give up to go back to those days of their youth? Felix used to think about that often, especially during the span of time when he and Dimitri lived far apart from each other. How many memories would he need to forget? What mistakes would need to be undone? How many bad habits would need to be unraveled?
Lately, as he watches Dimitri reemerge from the depths and seem to reclaim himself, he wonders if the answer might be nothing at all. He doesn’t want to forget anymore: he wants to forgive and move on together.
We have buried so many loved ones already,
so you must know that I do not say this lightly:
I would like to share a grave with you someday.
Twenty-nine days after Rodrigue passes, and nineteen since his funeral, Dimitri goes to court for one last time. That morning, he stands in front of the mirror in the foyer and readjusts his tie over and over again, until Felix sighs sharply and says, “Just let me do it.”
Dimitri allows Felix to step in and loop the tie around his neck. Felix works quickly and neatly, then tucks the end of the tie under Dimitri’s waistcoat. “Thank you,” Dimitri says, and smiles hesitantly.
“Don’t mention it,” Felix replies. “I already knew you’re useless at stuff like this.” There’s a pause, and then Felix adds: “I’ll go with you today.”
“You don’t have to,” Dimitri says quickly. “Dedue is going to meet me there, and there won’t be anything I’m not used to, so – ”
“I said I’ll go today,” Felix repeats firmly. Dimitri stops arguing.
They take a taxi together. Both of them sit in the back seat, but they don’t make conversation with each other. Felix stares out the window most of the way there. A few minutes before they arrive, Dimitri asks in a small voice, “If something happens in there… can I look for you?”
Felix turns to look at Dimitri. Though the other man has grown tall and broad and impressive, in the moment, he looks more like a child to Felix than an adult. He sighs and puts his hand on the empty seat in between them. “Nothing will happen,” he says. “Either way, you can look at me if it makes you feel better.”
Then he goes back to staring out the window. Dimitri places his hand on top of Felix’s, and Felix doesn’t shake him off. They stay like that until the car pulls over to let them out.
Dimitri goes the proceeding with a sense of dignity and poise that Felix hadn’t seen in him the last time he’d been forced onto the stand. Rather than simply enduring the prosecutor’s barrage, Dimitri holds him on equal grounds: whenever he gets the opportunity to give a response, he gives concise, pointed answers that remind Felix of how Dimitri used to speak when they were fifteen – with the aura of the downtrodden yet unrelenting folk hero about him, using brevity to place weight on every individual word he uses.
Only once does Dimitri glance in Felix’s direction – it’s after the prosecutor starts a line of questioning about the Tragedy of Duscur with a tone so flippant that it’s obvious he’s trying to get a rise out of Dimitri. Their eyes meet and Dimitri looks like a deer in the headlights for a split second – too scared to move. Felix keeps his gaze steady and mouths: You can do this.
Another second passes. Dimitri brings a hand up to his mouth and clears his throat before he speaks. “I hope that you will never have to experience the many years of pain that the Tragedy of Duscur has inflicted upon me… and upon those who have cared for me while I suffered,” he says. “So I won’t demand that you understand how I feel when you ask me that question, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to request that you speak of that event with the respect it deserves. With that in mind – would you please rephrase your question?”
The entire room goes abuzz, except for Felix, who sighs in relief. Dimitri finishes the rest of the questions without losing any gravitas throughout the long hours he has to sit through. Felix isn’t as savvy as Sylvain when it comes to matters like this, but he’s sure that if Dimitri wants this to be, it may very well be the event that springboards him into the same political career that Lambert once had. But more importantly to him – Felix wonders if this may be the first time he’s truly seen Dimitri as a whole human being, a cohesive existence, not the individual pieces of him one-by-one.
Fuck, he thinks to himself, heart racing as he watches Dimitri leave the stand – not with vitriol, but with fondness. He feels giddy in a way he thought he’d lost forever, back when being lovesick felt good and beautiful and hopeful. I still love you. I’ve always loved you. I might be in love with you again.
Dimitri gets pulled into a press firestorm almost immediately after court is adjourned. Dedue manages to wade through the mass of reporters to tell Felix that he should probably leave first – Felix considers waiting anyway, but more and more people pile onto Dimitri, and Felix realizes that he’s of no help in this situation, so he takes the advice and returns.
Being alone in the house makes the building seem larger and less familiar: he walks around, inspecting each room almost the same way that he did when he came home from college, but this time it’s with a more thoughtful eye. Except for portions going to charity and Felix’s uncle, his father had left almost his entire inheritance to Felix, including the house that he had grown up in. Not so long ago, Felix would have immediately turned around to sell it and move elsewhere, but now he’s not so sure if that’s what he wants to do – there are memories contained in the walls that Felix isn’t ready to give up on yet.
He enters Glenn’s room. Aside from the dust, it’s exactly the same as his brother had left it the day he went abroad to Duscur. Felix picks up a photo off of Glenn’s desk – he doesn’t remember having the picture taken, and his mother is in it, so he knows that it must be from when he was barely older than a baby. Rodrigue is holding Felix in the picture, smiling widely while his wife laughs and pulls Glenn in closer – and Glenn is holding Dimitri, both of them solemn-faced but still obviously happy.
It’s a nice photo. Felix wonders if Glenn would mind it if he took it for his own room, and decides within seconds that Glenn would probably be happy to give it to somebody who’d have use for it. Every object is happier in the hands of somebody who will treasure it than it would be staying idle, Glenn would say every year, when they did their spring cleaning.
“I should do that,” Felix mutters aloud, wiping off the picture frame with his sleeve. “This house needs a cleaning. And maybe rearrange some furniture while I’m at it.”
Felix starts with his own room. He takes all the trophies and certificates that he’d crammed into the back corner, and moves them downstairs. With the extra space, his room seems comfortably larger – he moves his bed closer to the window, and his desk to where his bed once was. When he’s satisfied with the impromptu rearrangement, he goes downstairs to reheat food in the refrigerator for dinner. Dimitri comes back right as Felix is about to start eating.
“Sorry to complain right away, but I’m exhausted,” Dimitri mutters, sitting down in a kitchen chair and almost immediately sinking into it.
“That’s how it’ll be as long as you’re in the public spotlight,” Felix replies. He sets a plate in front of Dimitri and shuffles the table arrangement to better suit a meal for two – then he adds, “You did a good job today, Dimitri.”
That makes Dimitri perk up a bit, almost like a golden retriever getting excited because he’s realized his owner has a treat in hand. “Did you know, Felix, that this is the first time I’ve heard you call me by my name in years?” he asks.
“You haven’t given me much reason to use it before,” Felix replies, because it’s easier to be sharp than admit that the sentiment is embarrassing to hear.
“Well… that’s true,” Dimitri admits, and straightens up his posture. “Thank you, Felix.”
“I haven’t done anything that requires thanking,” Felix says. “Eat your dinner and go to bed early.”
Dimitri finishes half of his meal before he puts his fork down onto his plate – it makes an audible clink that Felix supposes is meant to get his attention. He debates whether or not he should play along, but Dimitri has done enough to rightfully earn his attention today, so he looks up. “I should ask,” Dimitri says slowly, “perhaps belatedly, but… Is it really alright if I continue staying here? If you prefer that I leave, then I would understand. I own my parents’ house now, so… it’s not as if I have nowhere to go.”
Felix frowns and replies, “Are you looking for an excuse to leave?”
“No,” Dimitri answers quickly. “I want to stay, just – not if it’s at the expense of your personal comfort.”
“Then stay. It’s not that complicated,” Felix says. He then gets up and grabs the bottle of wine he’d opened the night his father died, and pours out two glasses, passing one over to Dimitri silently. The wine has gone a touch sour, but to Felix, it still tastes fine.
In a series of last-minute maneuvers, Rodrigue sends Dimitri on a study abroad program for his last year of high school. Felix is glad for it insofar as it allows him to spend his own final year of high school mentally checked out. He barely talks to anybody else – sometimes, entire days pass without him hearing his own voice. His upward trend in grades continues until it plateaus, mostly as he only has two things to do after school: go to his fencing lessons, which are blissfully unassociated with school, or study. Felix sends out his college applications, including a long-shot one to Garreg Mach, though he doubts somebody who had to do 60 hours of community service is realistically competitive against the golden youths of the generation.
Ingrid makes a point of talking to him regularly, something that he’s quietly grateful for. And when Sylvain comes home from college over spring break, Felix can tell that he’s also been let in on the situation, because of how careful Sylvain is to direct the flow of their conversation. After fifteen minutes of catching each other up on trivialities, Sylvain says, “So, a few friends and I are renting a beach house for a few days. It might be hectic, ‘cause I think there’ll be people coming and going, but why don’t you come by for a day or two? Maybe it’ll help you get your mind off of things.”
It sounds disgusting, but Dimitri won’t be there, so Felix isn’t fundamentally opposed to the idea. “Sure,” Felix replies, and shrugs. He skips school that Friday and spends the night hanging out with Sylvain and his college friends, mostly spectating all the young adults up and down the beach, partying and having a good time, while he remains detached from it all – until a young man with blue eyes like Dimitri and a silver tongue like Sylvain approaches him.
“Having fun standing here alone?” the stranger asks.
“No,” Felix replies. “But I’m not having fun talking to you either.”
Undeterred, the blue-eyed boy smiles and says, “I could change that, if you gave me a chance.”
Felix considers it, but not for long, and not in much detail. He lets himself be kissed – he lets somebody who isn’t Dimitri have sex with him – and then he returns home the next day to pretend like it was nothing to him.
Letters from several colleges are waiting for him when he returns; he’s glad, at least, that his father respects his autonomy enough to let Felix be the one to open them. He saves the one from Garreg Mach for last, still expecting nothing even as he opens the letter – it’s an acceptance. Felix has to reread it a few times before it sinks in that he’s actually gotten in, and for the first time in months, he thinks he feels the flush of happiness. He responds with his intention to attend right away, before he can second-guess his decision, or wonder if Dimitri has gotten in as well. A part of him knows he has to do this for himself – the rest of him just hopes that this is a sign of better things to come.
They continue indefinitely cohabitating in a tentative stasis, in which they eat meals together and get comfortable with each others’ routines, but vastly do their own things during the daytime. Felix has very little idea of what Dimitri keeps leaving the house for – though he has a vague inkling that Dimitri might be preparing to start a political career – and he doesn’t want to ask. He makes the deliberate decision that if Dimitri wanted to tell him, then he’d listen, but Felix has been too many times burnt by his past mistakes to start prying at Dimitri’s life without being let in first.
When Felix keeps his expectations reasonably low, living together is decently enjoyable – Ashe is still his favorite roommate, but now that Dimitri does chores and takes care of himself, Felix has no complaints. Besides, he has more immediately important things to think about, like whether he should commit to staying as ardently distant from the family business as possible, sell all his holdings in the company, and have nothing to do with it, or if he should tentatively give being involved in the business a try. He visits the main office with his uncle regularly and tries to familiarize himself with the inner workings – the environment does not seem incredibly unpleasant, and might even be something he could see himself finding some level of fulfillment in.
If before he suspected that his childhood had finally come to an end, then Felix supposes this is the beginning of his adulthood. Although he isn’t sure yet where to take his first step, he can’t help but feel relieved to be moving forward again.
“I’d like to move to one of the guest bedrooms,” Dimitri says one morning, right before Felix is about to go for a jog.
Felix finishes putting on his sneakers and stands back up. “Sure, I don’t care where you prefer to sleep,” he replies. “Why the sudden decision?”
“I think it would be better to be somewhere with more light,” Dimitri answers.
The reasoning makes sense to Felix: he thinks briefly about the fact that he recently moved his own bed underneath a window. “Take whichever room you prefer. I can’t help you move your things until the afternoon, though, if you want me to,” Felix says.
“I’ll be fine on my own. Anyway – you’re going somewhere after your run?” Dimitri asks.
“Therapy,” Felix replies.
“Oh,” Dimitri says, after a pause. He sounds surprised, but it has a different nuance to it than simple shock that Felix is actually going to therapy. “If you don’t mind me asking, since when did you…?”
Felix shrugs to show that he doesn’t mind the half-formed question, and replies, “Not long after my father died.”
Unexpectedly, Dimitri laughs softly. “That’s funny,” he says. “Well, not humorous, but – I started going too. Around the same time, even.”
“That’s called irony,” Felix automatically replies, and then narrows his eyes. “Don’t tell me. Did you ask Sylvain to help you find a therapist?”
“Yes. Is that a bad thing?” Dimitri answers.
In response, Felix groans aloud and says without further elaboration, “Someday, Sylvain is going to be incredibly fucking unbearable about this.” He can almost hear it now: You two are so alike sometimes! In response to his mind’s inner Sylvain voice, he closes the door behind him with a modicum of unnecessary force, and sprints down the neighborhood sidewalk.
Dimitri isn’t there when Felix returns in the early afternoon, but he’s left a note on the kitchen counter: Do you want to have dinner together? I’d like to talk to you about something. We could go out this evening. I’ll be back before 4PM, let me know then. Something about it is quietly endearing – Felix can see that he erased and rewrote it at least two times.
Felix reads the news at the counter and waits for Dimitri to come back. When he does, Felix holds up the note and asks, “Why don’t you just message like a normal millennial?”
“I don’t have your current number,” Dimitri replies. “And I thought it would be rude to get it from somebody else.”
“Oh,” Felix says, mildly dumbfounded because that justification hadn’t even occurred to him even though Dimitri accurately predicted how Felix would have reacted in that situation. “I’ll give it to you now. And dinner’s fine, you pick the place.”
Dimitri chooses an upscale bistro. “It’s my treat,” he says, after they sit down and start looking through the menu.
“I’ll bleed your wallet dry without remorse,” Felix warns him, though he doesn’t mean it.
“Go ahead,” Dimitri replies, and then laughs.
Felix can’t help but feel that Dimitri knows he’s bluffing and is politely refraining from calling it out, so he changes the topic and the two of them start talking about old classmates. Felix catches Dimitri up on what mutual college acquaintances have gotten up to, and it ends up taking long enough that they’re almost done with the meal by the time conversation begins to wind down.
They order after-dinner coffees. When they arrive, Felix asks, “Why’d you invite me out?”
Dimitri sets down his cup and takes a deep breath. “Right,” he says. “I should get around to the point, I’m just – not sure where to start.”
“You’ve got until I’m done with this coffee,” Felix informs him, which makes Dimitri smile slightly.
“First, I want to tell you that I plan to run for a junior office in the elections next year,” Dimitri finally says, after another moment of gathering his thoughts. “You’re the first one outside of my future staff and other party members to know. I thought… you should be the first to know.”
“Okay,” Felix replies. He’s honestly not sure what to say to that, or even what to think about it.
It doesn’t matter much, though – Dimitri continues talking. “I feel like this is something that I need to do. Not only for myself, but because I could be in a position to help others. But… if you don’t think it’s a good idea, I want to know. I take your opinion very seriously.”
“Why would I be against it? It’s your life, you may as well make something of it. You’re not beholden to me. Hell, I don’t want you to feel beholden to me,” Felix replies. He frowns, not because the conversation itself upsets him, but because he’s not sure where this is going and he doesn’t like the sense of uncertainty looming.
“That’s not what I meant to imply, I – ” Dimitri cuts off abruptly and looks down for a second. His cheeks are a little pink; Felix isn’t sure he’s ever seen Dimitri flustered this way before. “I think the rest of this conversation would be better suited for when we’re not in public,” he says, in a very quiet voice.
Felix’s heart skips a beat. He is horrifically reminded of that terrible conversation that culminated in Dimitri telling him, you’re alive – he takes a deep breath and tries to not jump to conclusions. “Alright, when we get home, then,” he says.
The car ride back is silent. When they get back, Felix lets Dimitri decide where to go, and follows him to the living room. “Please sit,” Dimitri says, gesturing to one of the sofas.
“Thank you, I’ll feel free to be seated in my own house,” Felix replies dryly, before doing so.
It’s enough to make Dimitri crack a smile and visibly relax as he sits down next to Felix, keeping an arm’s length between them. “Some things about you never change,” he says. “I find that reassuring.”
“Only some things,” Felix says stiffly.
“Nobody can stay completely the same forever,” Dimitri agrees.
“Nobody living, at least,” Felix replies.
Dimitri lets that slide by without comment, which Felix supposes is for the best – it’s not as if Felix is actively trying to pick an argument, or else he wouldn’t have agreed to have this conversation in the first place, and Felix supposes that Dimitri must see that. “We’ve been through a lot,” Dimitri says slowly, like he’s grasping each word one by one. “And I know you’ve been through a lot on my behalf… Sorry, I wish I had thought more about what to say, but it’s – ”
“It’s fine,” Felix cuts in. I’ve waited long enough for you that a few minutes mean nothing to me anymore, he thinks, but he keeps that to himself.
“Do you remember the first time we kissed?” Dimitri asks suddenly.
“In excruciating detail, in fact,” Felix answers, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. “You gave me a dead fish reaction and then said something like, I really treasure what we have.”
Dimitri winces and says, “When you put it like that, I can’t deny it was… not one of my finer moments. And I realize it doesn’t mean much at this point, but I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings, I just – I didn’t know what to do.”
“It’s already in the past,” Felix replies, waving his hand as if physically shooing away this line of conversation. “I’m not upset about it anymore, but I will be if you’re bringing it up without a good reason.”
“I want you to know that I meant it then, and I still mean it now,” Dimitri says. He moves a little closer, and tentatively puts his hand on Felix’s waist. “I treasure what we have. I treasure you, very much so, and… I will try to make an effort to show you from now on that I don’t take you for granted.”
Felix breathes out. If he keeps his head level, then he’ll always be staring at Dimitri’s throat, but it takes a surprising amount of willpower for him to make himself look up – he puts a hand on Dimitri’s shoulder, close to his neck, but not quite touching it, as he leans in closer, almost as if drawn in by Dimitri’s gravity. “Tell me what you’re thinking clearly,” he says, voice low and intimate, “or else I’ll never believe you.”
Dimitri smiles; the expression is so delicate and soft on his face – Felix would even be willing to say that it’s beautiful. “I love you,” he replies. “Please stay with me, Felix. More than anybody else, I want you by my side.”
“It’ll be a long time until I stop wondering if today is the day you fall back into old habits,” Felix warns him.
“That’s fair,” Dimitri says, “and maybe for the better.”
“And if it’s not you slipping backwards, then I might be the one making the same old mistakes I always have,” Felix continues.
“We’ll both take care of each other,” Dimitri replies, tone steady and firm – his words rest reassuringly in Felix’s ears.
“If you really mean it, then say it again,” Felix asks.
“I love you,” Dimitri says, without hesitation. With his free hand, he touches Felix’s face with a gentleness that Felix hasn’t known from him in a long time. “Please stay with me.”
Felix closes his eyes briefly and then tentatively gives a small smile in return. “I’ll stay,” he replies. “And I love you too – but you already knew that, didn’t you?”
“I may have had my suspicions,” Dimitri says, laughing breathily.
They kiss, and although it isn’t the first time, it feels like something new.
the first lover
I take thee at thy word.
Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptiz’d.
The first time in his living memory that Felix goes more than three days without seeing Dimitri, they’re six years old and Dimitri’s family is traveling abroad for the summer. Finding out that they’ll be spending several months apart is a major crisis of Felix’s life, but he doesn’t want to whine about it, because Glenn already warned him not to say anything that might ruin Dimitri’s excitement.
In the end, his willpower is weaker than his fear of the unknown: two days before Dimitri leaves, while staying over at the Fraldarius household for the last night in a long while, Felix bursts into tears and insists that he not go. “What if you don’t come back?” Felix asks. “What if you find somebody you like more than me over there?”
“That would never happen!” Dimitri immediately replies. He sits closer to Felix on his bed, holding both of Felix’s hands in his own. “You’re my best friend, Fee. I won’t ever leave you behind.”
“Do you promise?” Felix asks, sniffling as he tries to contain the last of his tears.
“I promise. I’ll always come back to you,” Dimitri says, smiling so widely that Felix can’t help but mirror his expression as he’s drawn into Dimitri’s happiness.
Because they have the luxury of downtime before both of them transition to new phases of their lives, the two of them are content to take things slow and feel things out: they go out on dates and think about the future, like a normal couple, but they also take the time to carefully deconstruct the past whenever it comes up. Felix had never thought that Dimitri ever made a deliberate effort to hurt him, but it’s nice to know that for certain, even if it’s only in retrospect – if anything, Felix feels like perhaps he was the one who was more actively spiteful.
“Do you remember that graduation party Sylvain had?” Dimitri asks one evening, after they’d just finished watching a movie together. It was some rom-com that neither of them were actually interested in, but Felix had a good time giving biting commentary on all the tropes and bad decisions the characters made, while Dimitri seemed more amused listening to Felix than actually paying attention to the movie.
“Whenever you ask something like that,” Felix replies, “my answer is always, unfortunately, I do, and this time is no different.”
“There was one part of the movie that reminded me of it,” Dimitri says.
Felix grimaces. “Yeah, when the heroine has the genius idea of trying to make her oblivious love interest jealous. I get it, don’t flatter yourself,” he replies.
“Can I take that to mean that you were trying something similar?” Dimitri asks.
“Are we really having this conversation?” Felix replies, but without any true venom. He sighs and sinks back into the sofa, folding his arms over the chest. “Jealousy tactic? Maybe. I was drunk out of my stupid mind at the time, so I wasn’t thinking about it that hard.”
“It did work,” Dimitri admits quietly.
“Oh,” Felix says, both surprised and embarrassed. Spurred on by Dimitri’s confession, he decides to come clean himself: “I regretted it right afterward.” A pause. “Even at the time, I would’ve preferred you.”
Dimitri makes a pseudo-contemplative humming noise in his throat. “Really?” he asks, but Felix can see him barely restraining a smile.
Felix sighs and rolls his eyes, then grabs Dimitri by the shoulder and pivots sharply to sit himself on Dimitri’s lap, straddling his thighs – it’s the same position he was in at that party with that stranger, but he feels far more comfortable in this situation. “Don’t play coy with me,” Felix warns him, “you know that doesn’t work on me.”
“Sometimes you play along,” Dimitri replies, putting his hands on Felix’s hips and straightening his back.
Felix decides he rather likes this position, because it gives him enough of a height advantage that for once it’s Dimitri who has to tilt his head up for a kiss. “You push your luck too much,” Felix informs him, but he leans forward anyway, pressing a quick kiss to the corner of Dimitri’s mouth.
“Do I?” Dimitri asks vaguely. Even though he doesn’t say anything more, Felix can tell what he’s thinking: It seems to me like I push it just enough. The annoying part is that he’d be absolutely right.
“You’re fucking insufferable,” Felix says, then kisses him fully.
Dimitri returns the kiss eagerly, only parting so that he can trail a line of kisses down Felix’s neck – Felix makes a quiet crooning noise low in his throat and tilts his head back so that Dimitri can reach more skin. “Keep going,” he says, careful to keep his voice steady, when Dimitri comes to a pause, apparently uncertain whether he should stop or not. “You can take my shirt off… if you want to.”
“Alright,” Dimitri replies. He sounds nervous, and it takes him an embarrassingly long time to undo the first few buttons on Felix’s shirt – it almost makes Felix want to laugh because of course Dimitri would be worried about awkwardly pawing at Felix’s body and seeming non-finessed.
“I’ll do it,” Felix cuts in; their hands are briefly entangled as Felix swoops in to complete the task and Dimitri attempts to extract himself from the job.
Dimitri sighs as he watches Felix take off his button-down and Felix can tell he’s resisting the urge to put his face in his hands. “This is not how I was mentally picturing that this would go,” he mutters as Felix swiftly moves onto helping Dimitri take off his own shirt in turn.
“I’m sure you were much cooler in your imagination,” Felix says, with absolutely no mercy in his tone.
Dimitri openly winces, but then he gives a rueful smile before he replies, “I can’t imagine that I’m cool in your eyes at all, so there’s no real loss, right?”
Felix considers being honest and admitting that in fact, he does sometimes think that Dimitri can be very dashing and handsome – maybe even cool, at moments – but he justifies holding his tongue by telling himself that he can’t fluff up Dimitri’s ego too much in just one day. “Not at all,” he says. “Now, are you planning on continuing or should I sit here all night?”
Dimitri kisses the crook of Felix’s shoulder, moving his hands up slowly, to touch the contours of Felix’s body – Felix resists the urge to shudder as Dimitri’s fingers ghost over his stomach and waist. He’s not fully aroused yet, but he’s getting there; tentatively, he grinds his hips down and gets a surprised sound out of Dimitri. Felix begins to say, “Should I – ”
“It’s fine, let’s keep going,” Dimitri cuts in. “I wasn’t expecting it – that’s all. I was forgetting you’re not one to sit back and let things happen.”
“Quite frankly, it’s insulting that you could forget something like that,” Felix replies.
Dimitri shrugs and says, “You’re good at what you do. I get distracted.”
“Flattery will only get you so far,” Felix says, but it does get him to kiss Dimitri again, slow but deep. Felix slides a hand from Dimitri’s shoulder to lay it flat on his chest as they explore each others’ mouths at an almost leisurely pace – it feels simultaneously like hours have passed and still like it hasn’t been enough when they part. Despite his long period of inactivity, Dimitri quickly got back into shape once he started making an effort again, and Felix can appreciate how stable and broad his body is – touching Dimitri gives him a sense of steadiness that he starts craving the moment his appetite for it is whetted.
For a while, they touch each others’ bodies silently, as if both of them are trying to memorize the other’s shape through just their fingertips. Felix’s breath hitches as Dimitri rubs at one of his nipples; it’s more intense of a situation than he expected, and it goes straight to his dick. “Ah, shit, that feels good ,” he mutters, gripping Dimitri’s shoulder with one of his hands as he tries to resist the urge to grind his crotch down on Dimitri’s thigh.
He can feel Dimitri’s cock pressed up against his leg too – both of them are hard and Felix can’t tell what he wants more: to get off, or to get Dimitri off. “Can I touch you directly?” Dimitri asks, a little breathless.
Somehow, Felix isn’t surprised that Dimitri seems to have a mental block around using the word dick , but he decides it’s something to give Dimitri shit over at a different time. “Let’s do it together,” Felix replies, moving back so that they can fumble with pushing the waistband of their pants and underwear down – it takes some unartful reshuffling, and Felix comes close to falling backwards off of Dimitri’s lap, but Dimitri catches him by the waist and pulls Felix’s dick out from the confines of his underwear all in one motion. If Felix were a swooner, he thinks that’s the moment he probably would have gone a little weak at the knees, but he can tell that Dimitri himself is surprised that he even managed to pull that off, so he just smirks to silently tell Dimitri not to try and pass that off as deliberate. In return, he gets a sheepish half-smile before Dimitri presses a kiss to Felix’s cheek.
Felix wraps his hand around both their cocks and Dimitri groans – the sound is intensely gratifying and Felix would almost be embarrassed at how much it turns him on just to hear Dimitri enjoying this. He bucks his hips up slowly, sliding his cock along the length of Dimitri’s, shifting his hold so that Dimitri’s member rests against his palm and he can swipe the pad of his thumb at the tip, smearing the beads of precum all over the crown of Dimitri’s dick. His cock has a little more girth to it than Felix’s, and he can remember with startling clarity what it was like to have it inside of him – he’d like to try that again someday, he thinks, but those are separate memories to be overwritten eventually.
Then Dimitri reaches out to mirror Felix’s hold – Felix hisses as Dimitri palms at his cock, bucking into his hand as their dicks rub against each other. Their faces are so close that Felix can see every minute change in Dimitri’s expression; their bodies are so close that they can feel the rise and fall of each others’ chests as they breathe. It’s the most intimate that Felix has ever felt with anybody else, like parts of them might melt into each other if they aren’t careful, and he loves the sense of closeness more than anything else.
“Fuck,” Dimitri mutters, and hearing him swear is such a sensual experience that later Felix will find it slightly tragic just how hot he found it – “I’m really close, Felix, just – a little more – ”
Felix can feel Dimitri’s thigh muscles tense and Dimitri’s motions become more erratic. He leans in and murmurs into Dimitri’s ear, “Just come already,” and he climaxes not half a second later, coming into the palm of Felix’s hand as he brings his entire body forward, resting his forehead into Felix’s shoulder as he moans. Obligingly, Felix loosens his grip so as to not overstimulate him – Felix is still pleasantly dangling on the far edge of orgasm, but he’d rather slow it down than push too hard, so he waits for Dimitri to recover before anything else.
When Dimitri looks up again, Felix brushes a few stray locks of hair out of Dimitri’s face with his clean hand and asks, “You good?”
Dimitri laughs, a little frenetic, but in a positive way – they lock gazes and it’s the most comfortable that Felix has felt making eye contact in years. “Great, even,” he says, and then captures a quick kiss to Felix’s lips before he adds, “You’re so good to me, Felix.”
If Felix wasn’t already lovestruck, then he’s sure that the tender, affectionate way Dimitri says the phrase would have pushed him straight into it. He wants to retort for the sake of preserving his self-image, but his heart’s not in it, and when Dimitri begins stroking at his dick again he stops thinking entirely. Dimitri strokes him at an almost tortuously slow pace, careful to touch every bit of his length, from the crown of his dick all the way down to the base. The feeling of pleasure escalates slowly too, but keeps building and building, past what Felix had previously thought was even possible – he wants to warn Dimitri that he’s about to come, but all that comes out is a half-formed moan before he squeezes his eyes shut and orgasm takes him, washing over his entire body like a wave.
When he opens his eyes again, Dimitri presses an affectionate kiss to his forehead, briefly resting his head against Felix’s before pulling back again. “It was alright, I hope?” he asks, so clearly eager to please.
The best I’ve had in my entire life, he thinks, but all he says is, “Yeah, it was – well. It was alright.”
He can tell that Dimitri knows what he really means by the self-satisfied way Dimitri looks. Felix wants to get up and stretch his legs and clean off – but he also wants to stay physically close, and he’s not sure how to reconcile all those desires.
Dimitri, though, doesn’t seem to have the same problem that he does: “If you’re not against it,” he says, “can we sleep in the same bed tonight?”
“Why do you have to phrase it in such a juvenile way?” Felix asks, but without even a hint of malice. He closes his eyes and carefully wraps his arms around Dimitri’s shoulders, careful to not accidentally smear come all over Dimitri’s shirt as he hugs him – he counts to three and then lets go, telling himself that he can continue indulging after washing his hands. “Shower and come up to my bedroom later.”
He sleeps well that night, with both of them in each others’ embrace.
For the time being, Felix decides to take his own path: he leaves the family business in his uncle’s hands, with the promise that he’ll return in two years to decide once and for all if he wants to relinquish his birthright, and settles into his own job. His research fellowship takes him a decent distance away from home, and in the opposite direction from Garreg Mach – for the first time, he’ll be living someplace where he knows nobody at all. Dimitri stays behind, in the house that’s begun to feel like home to Felix once again.
The night before Felix leaves, the two of them order in and have dinner together. “You won’t have to worry about the house,” Dimitri tells him after they finish cleaning up after the meal and are standing at the kitchen counter, finishing up their last glasses of wine. “I’ll take care of it.”
“Take care of yourself first,” Felix replies.
“You’re right, of course,” Dimitri says. After a pause, he adds, “Can I ask you to return an old promise?”
“Which one?” Felix asks, because he remembers multitudes of them, and most of them were childish one-off oaths that amounted to nothing and meant very little.
“I think it was right before I spent the summer abroad. When we were five or six?” Dimitri replies. “As I recall, you burst into tears…”
Felix grimaces and cuts in, “Alright, you don’t have to finish this story. I remember it. Unfortunately.”
“You invariably do,” Dimitri says, with a laugh that Felix feels like is directly at his expense – but that he doesn’t mind anyway.
“I’ll always come back to you … right?” Felix says. “We were kids back then. I don’t think we understood exactly how much always is asking for, but – it’s different now.”
Neither of them speak, but Felix can tell both of them think the same thing: We’ve already buried so many loved ones, after all. Dimitri looks pained, but Felix knows that Dimitri won’t – can’t , really – argue that point.
“You’re right,” Dimitri finally says. “I don’t intend to ask more of you than you can realistically give. I know that’s not fair to either of us.”
Felix steps closer to Dimitri. He reaches out, and puts both of his hands on Dimitri’s shoulders, looking him fully in the eyes. “I promise that I’ll do my best to be at your side when you need me,” he says. “In exchange, you have to do the same for me.”
“I promise,” Dimitri replies quickly, almost tripping over the words. And because he knows what Felix will say next – say it clearly, or I won’t believe you! – he takes a moment to compose himself before he continues: “I promise I’ll try my best to be there for you when you need it.
“Well, there we have it,” Felix declares, letting Dimitri go, but not far – Dimitri reaches for his hand, and Felix lets him take it.
“We’re not children anymore, but we’re still us,” Dimitri says.
Little by little, the bird builds its nest – Felix thinks that he understands now what the bird in that proverb must have felt as it steadily worked at making its own home, its own place to be. There is never a guarantee that things won’t go wrong in spite of how much effort one puts into their own livelihood, but he knows that can’t stop him from taking every small step forward – or else he’ll never go anywhere at all. History isn’t woven in a single day, or even months and years – likewise, the shaping of the future is a constant process of building and re-building. There’s much that he’s already overcome, but Felix knows that there’s still more that he needs to overcome yet.
The past he shares with Dimitri, though, is not one of those things – not anymore. Felix looks down at their hands – the way their fingers are interlaced almost remind him how roots on old trees look, strong and grounded. “I hope that’s one thing that never changes,” Felix says, “for as long as we’re alive.”