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Don't Leave Me Behind

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Imperial Year 1186
Day 30 of the Great Tree Moon

Gronder Field

 

The assassin didn’t even have time to scream. The spear that sprung from her body winked silver in the waxen light. She collapsed in a heap, eyes blank and staring. He nearly tripped over the skidding corpse.

The abruptness of death no longer surprised him. Five long years against the Faerghus Dukedom had stolen his inexperience. Felix was halfway across the field before the Adrestian’s lifeless body had even come to a full stop.

He was needed elsewhere.

He ran, heedless of whistling arrows and hungry blades. He’d seen Sylvain turn aside from his own engagement to throw the spear that had saved his life. He’d seen his friend reach for the sword belted at his waist, had seen the painful sluggishness of his draw, had seen the lightning flash of a descending lance. He was close enough to hear the harsh cry as Sylvain tumbled, boneless, from his sable steed. The massive war horse reared and bolted, helmeted head almost skewering Felix as he thundered past.

He didn’t care. He had no time for trifles. Only one thing mattered.

No fucking way was he going to let some Adrestian lapdog take Sylvain from him.

He closed the distance with a wordless cry of rage and lunged.

The knight’s blade was inches from Sylvain’s breast when he threw the full force of his momentum into a desperate parry. The sharp clash of metal on metal shuddered through his bones and rattled his teeth.

Felix snarled.

The unexpected counter had thrown off the heavy man’s balance. Forced to retreat or risk the fate of a grounded soldier, the knight fell back.

Wild-eyed and fevered with adrenaline, Felix stood in front of Sylvain, booted feet cupped by soil softened with his friend’s blood. His second sword had found its way into his hand. He didn’t remember drawing it.

The Adrestian had recovered well, undoubtedly a veteran of the battlefield. Predator and prey eyed each other warily. The man was armoured to the teeth and built like a fort. No obvious weakness, but Felix knew better. Even the most impregnable fortresses fell to siege.

And fall he would.

“Fuck you” was all the warning Felix gave before he sprung forward like an arrow. The knight was prepared. He met Felix’s heated charge with a low sweep. Lithe as a cat, the swordsman vaulted over the deadly arc of silver. The following upthrust would have parted him down the middle, but he’d been ready.

His lifelong bouts with Ingrid, Sylvain and the boar had taught him to work around a lance’s longer reach.

He tucked his body in and rolled, closing the distance between them. A lance was advantageous only from afar. In close quarters, it was heavy, unwieldy. It was a herald of death.

The knight tried to retreat, but Felix was faster. He uncoiled like a snake, twin swords aching for the taste of blood. They met the Adrestian’s shield in a jarring display of force.

The two men locked in a stalemate for a single breath. Slowly but surely, Felix was giving ground. The heavy armour lent the knight a weight that no amount of skill could defy. To disengage was to be crushed. There was no choice. He held his place, ignoring the acid pain in his arms.

Come on. Come on, fucker.

The minute shift in the Adrestian’s stance gave him away moments before Felix caught sight of the swinging lance. The cruel point was aimed for a fatal blow. He twisted his body, upsetting their careful deadlock, and felt the full impact as the knight bashed his shield into him. The brutality of it drove Felix to his knees.

Pain exploded across his body.

He felt like a struck bell, sick and dizzy with the sensation. The world spun, resisting his efforts to stagger back into its good graces. He couldn’t see, couldn’t think. Was it blood blurring his vision? His sword tumbled from numb fingers.

The knight saw his chance and took it.

Felix had been counting on that.

He’d always been quick on his feet. Now, he unfurled, letting the keen edge of his enemy’s lance graze his cheek as he pressed forward. Never did he take his eyes from the Adrestian’s dark eye slits. The knight may have drawn first blood, but it was Felix who would draw the final line.

He slammed the hilt of his remaining sword into the side of the man’s helmeted head, throwing the weight of his body into the blow. He didn’t wait to see the effect.

If Byleth had taught him anything, it was the value of the element of surprise.

He dropped the blade and swung behind the stunned knight, free hand already wreathed in the golden hues of magic. Only in a critical moment like this would Felix ever let his anger and fear scorch through his veins. Their passage tore open the spring that fed his budding talent. Lightning, brilliant blue and crackling, thundered to life between his hands.

He’d always had trouble controlling the release of his reason magic. Something or other to do with impatience, but for once, he didn’t mind. The lightning screeched, a writhing ball of blistering heat and energy, waiting to unleash death and devastation.

Felix let it go.

At point blank range, the beam shot through the knight like he was no more than paper, tearing through metal and flesh without distinction. The Adrestian fell without sound. Only the gaping hole in his chest told the lurid reality of war.

There was no blood. The searing heat of thoron had cauterised the wound, leaving behind only the stench of charred meat and smoke. Death would have been instantaneous.

Something stirred within him--feelings, raw and fresh. He tucked them neatly away. There would be time for that later. He forced himself to look at the knight’s gruesome body, forced himself to acknowledge the stink of melted fat.

This was his deadly work.

“You fought well,” he said crisply. Then, he allowed himself to turn away.

He rushed back to Sylvain’s side, pressing bloodied fingers to the side of his friend’s neck. His pulse was erratic and weak, but there. Felix didn’t waste any time.

He reached once more within himself. The professor had always demanded her students learn faith magic, regardless of how they’d struggled or how loudly they’d complained. Even Felix had been forced to sacrifice time on the training grounds to concede to her will.

He’d never been more thankful for her foresight. Sylvain’s injury was grave. The blade had entered his thigh, ripping through muscle and tendon in a deep slanting cut. The attack had likely severed an artery, but it bled only sluggishly now. He was running out of time.

Felix was no great healer, but he would have to be enough. He pressed his hand to his friend’s leg, watching magic attempt to stitch twin flaps of flesh back together. It was an agonisingly slow process.

He wasn’t skilled enough to repair Sylvian’s severed nerves or restore the use of his leg to him. He couldn’t aid his body in replenishing lost blood. Felix knew his help was superficial and he cursed himself for it.

“Don’t die on me,” he whispered fiercely, as though his will could stay the hand of death. “Don’t die on me.”

 

 

 

Imperial Year 1186
Day 31 of the Great Tree Moon

Gronder Field

 

Ingrid itched to be in the heat of battle. Fighting tooth and nail for victory, for Byleth. For Dimitri. She didn’t want to be ferrying messages like a simple scout.

But the professor had insisted.

Their last skirmish had been gruelling. She’d taken a heavy blow to the shoulder and it hadn’t yet healed. The cut was irritatingly shallow--just deep enough to hurt viciously, but not enough to have caused any true damage. Despite the days gone by, it still tormented her.

With their army’s healers stretched as thin as they were, Ingrid had insisted Mercedes focus on those who needed her. Sothis knew there were plenty. Too many. Mercedes had given her a long look, melancholy and terribly forlorn, and nodded.

“You’re right,” she’d said. Her voice, soft as a mother’s kiss, had felt like the only sweet thing in their war-ravaged world. “I’m so sorry.”

Ingrid hadn’t asked what she was apologising for. Some things were too big to be encompassed by mere words. “Go,” she’d said simply, knowing Mercedes’ kindness was an open wound that would never heal. Not unless they put Edelgard down for good.

She hadn’t felt like seeking out another healer. They’d likely be just as harassed as the next. Instead, she’d marched herself straight to the two people she called home and told them to fix her as best they could. Neither Felix nor Sylvain were any good with mending injuries, but they’d tried. The tenderness with which they’d treated her had been both touching and infuriating.

“That’s just going to fall off,” she’d said curtly as Sylvain rolled a clean bandage about her shoulder. “It needs to be tighter.”

The redhead had only smiled, smirking in that coquettish way she found exasperating. “Don’t be like that, ‘Grid. If anything, some loosening up would do you some good. I know it’s wartime and all, but what do you say we go get some tea--”

“Don’t change the subject! This has nothing to do with that!”

She’d frowned, he’d laughed and Felix, long-suffering, had rolled his eyes.

The following days had been a whirlwind of war councils and planning. Flayn, Mercedes and Manuela lived their days and nights inside the field hospital while anyone with even a budding proficiency in faith healing was put to work on a rotating schedule.

Ingrid had seen the weight fall from Mercedes’ frame a day at a time. Manuela and Flayn had not fared much better. Dedue’s cooking, one of the little joys to be had, had often gone untouched.

Seteth had often scolded the three for their neglect, but only half-heartedly. Nobody could deny the necessity of their services.

Ingrid had never been able to beg herself of them. So she’d bottled up her pain and that was that.

Of course, when she’d demanded to be useful at the battle of Gronder, Byleth had seen right through her and cunningly given her a position she couldn’t rightly refuse.

Presently, she flew over the battlefield, wary of errant arrows. She was on her way to deliver a status report to their professor turned field commander. Hilda’s troops had emerged from the northeast and were storming their northern flank. Ever the schemer, Claude had hidden his hand until the last possible second.

She spied Annette and Dorothea back to back, surrounded by their battalions. Spells flew from their fingertips faster than Ingrid could name them. She whispered a prayer for them and carried on.

Near the centre platform, Bernadetta stood at a ballista. Ingrid remembered the shy, frightened girl she’d been. Too afraid of the world beyond four walls. She looked a woman grown now. Her movements had gained a level of confidence that was new.

She remembered the tentative friendship they’d fostered, begun when Ingrid had dragged the recluse to training. How would this Bernadetta react if Ingrid kicked her door down now?

Probably with the same amount of screaming, she thought wryly.

She’d barely finished the thought when an arrow emerged, proud and true, from Bernadetta’s chest. The young woman fell forward into her own blood. Dead, just like that.

The suddenness of it hurt somehow. If anyone deserved a softer end, it was Count Varley’s nervous daughter.

Ingrid dug her spurs to her pegasus’ sides, hating herself for her weakness. The battlefield was no place for reminiscing. She had a job to do. She bit her lip, cursed Edelgard and carried on.

Past the platform as it roared up in flames.

The blistering heat reached even her. She couldn’t imagine what it must have been like on the ground. She forced herself to ignore the horrific screams of men burning and carried on.

Past Ignatz and Raphael, teamed up against Catherine’s formidable Thunderbrand.

Past Seteth and Shamir and Gilbert.

Past everyone until she saw Byleth’s mint hair like a beacon in a sea of spears.

The professor was engaged in a fierce battle, Dimitri by her side and Dedue by his. Dimitri was making a suicidal beeline for Edelgard, heedless of the army that stood between them. Ingrid felt her heart wrench at the sight of her prince, rabid and maddened by grief.

She steeled herself and guided Dumpling into a sharp dive. Powerful wings folded into the familiar rush of freefall. It lasted only moments. Dumpling broke their plunge, snapping wings wide just short of the forest of spears. Every downbeat was a vicious gale that battered the soldiers below.

Byleth, never one to let an opportunity go to waste, didn’t hesitate. A flick of her wrist felled the front line of soldiers blocking their way to the Adrestian Emperor. Dimitri laughed darkly.

“Professor! Enemy reinforcements from the north!” Ingrid yelled down, struggling to be heard above the din of death.

“How many?”

“Hilda’s battalion. Annette and Dorothea can’t hold out for much longer.”

The professor dealt a devastating upthrust with a frustrated snarl. “We can’t afford to be boxed in on three sides! Find Felix!” The dark mage fell, gurgling on his own blood. “And take me to Claude.”

Byleth turned to Dedue with a sharp stare, expressions etched plainly across her face: desperation, reluctance and a steel-willed determination to protect her cubs.

Ingrid watched as the professor squeezed the tall man’s shoulder. He nodded solemnly. “I will look after him,” he said. A statement and a promise.

Byleth seemed satisfied with that. She thrust a hand up expectantly. Ingrid hauled her atop Dumpling.

They circled once, and flew.

 

 

 

“We need to disrupt their chain of command,” Byleth said once they were speeding through the sky. “I need to take out Claude.”

There was the slightest hitch in her voice. Ingrid’s heart bled. Claude was hard to dislike, with his crooked smile and smart mouth. She knew the professor had had a soft spot for him. Byleth had always seemed to enjoy foiling Claude’s endless schemes back at the monastery.

But those golden days were long gone.

They were at war, and war cared only for blood.

Ingrid gritted her teeth and dug her heels into Dumpling’s flank. “Let’s go.”

 

 

 

They tore through the sky, weaving through a knotted net of wyverns and pegasi and arrows and magic. They flew like Nemesis himself was on their heels.

Ingrid felt Byleth’s anxiety. It was in the ferocity of her grip and the tension in her arms. She couldn’t imagine what it must be like to feel responsible for the lives of so many.

As they neared the eastern front, the skies became more dangerous. Claude’s Immortal Corps swarmed the horizon like a cloud of giant flies. Archers dropped deadly rain on helpless soldiers below. Red and blue were interspersed with gold. In the chaos, it would be just as easy to strike friend as foe.

Ingrid pulled Dumpling higher in an attempt to clear the aerial fighting. It was impossible. An arrow whistled by her ear. She flinched, but its furious flight had already found the wing of a wyvern. The creature shrieked and thrashed in a desperate attempt to stay aloft. Even as she watched, the fragile membrane around the wound was turning black, spreading like a growing ink stain. The corrosion travelled unimaginably fast. Flesh and sinew melted from bones in sizzling streams, an infection that decayed and disintegrated without pity. Horror struck her senseless. They were using acid and poison to rot the living. The arrow fell through the growing hole in the wyvern's wing, the Empire's crimson fletching carried away by the wind. Like a drunken fly, the majestic animal tumbled from the sky, liquid eyes bloodshot and terrified. Rider and mount disappeared from the chaos to crush soldiers below.

Death begets death begets death. She felt paralysed and scared. She could still hear the wyvern's tortured screams. She'd always been prepared for death, but not like that. No one deserved that.

Byleth stirred behind her, grounding her in reality and drawing away the terrors of her mind. “Go find Felix,” the field commander said, voice hard. “Stop Hilda. One way or another, this will be over soon.”

“I won’t leave you, professor,” Ingrid declared stoutly. She sounded a lot braver than she felt. “You need me.”

She could hear Byleth's resigned smile in her voice. “Trust me, Ingrid.”

 

 

 

She'd left the professor in the middle of a three-way struggle. Ingrid couldn’t shake the feeling that she’d just dropped their beloved teacher to her death. The woman hadn’t even had a horse. What could she possibly have planned against Claude, an archer astride an ivory wyvern?

She fought the urge to turn back and pluck Byleth out of the hell she’d put her in. She had to have faith in the professor. She’d never let them down. She wouldn’t fail them now.

“Stay alive,” Ingrid whispered, winging her way across the battlefield to where she’d last seen Felix. “Please. Stay alive.”

She cut westward, scanning the ground for familiar blue-black hair and the fluid dance of a master swordsman. She looked also for Sylvain. Red hair, spiked and fiery the way he liked it, was much easier to spot in a crowd. Where one was, she knew she’d find the other.

As expected, she found Sylvain first and Felix with him.

Her heart nearly stopped. There was so much blood.

Everything fled her mind. Everything but the urgent need to know.

Pegasus and girl plummeted, mowing down everything in their way. “Move!” Ingrid snapped. Dumpling delivered a vicious kick to the offending knight’s head. There was a sickening crunch as metal caved in.

She jumped off her pegasus and ran the remaining distance. Dumpling neighed after her, a panicked sound. She didn’t turn back.

“He’s alive,” Felix said as soon as she dropped beside them. “Barely.”

He was as curt as ever, but there was something in the timbre of his voice. He continued briskly. “He needs help. Take him to Mercedes.”

Ingrid felt herself nodding before his words had sunk in. She stopped her traitorous self. “I can’t. I…” I have a duty. The words died in her throat.

Felix stared at her harshly. “You can. You will.”

His fire called to her own. “I have a duty! To everyone else here! Our friends. Remember them?”

Was she really going to leave Sylvain to die? Was this what it meant to be a knight?

“I can’t abandon them,” she said finally.

For a long moment, Felix said nothing. It unnerved her. She’d expected his usual vitriol about duty and sacrifice. She hadn’t expected his silence. It spoke volumes about the rift that Sylvain would leave between them.

The silence was deafening. It drowned out the chaos raging around them. It drowned out her own rattled heart. Ingrid was keenly aware of their surroundings. An enemy could charge them at any time. Sooner or later, someone would notice two distracted Lions ripe for the picking. She prayed none of those toxic arrows sought their lives. Would it eat through tempered steel as easily as flesh? She didn't want to find out. She opened her mouth to deliver Byleth’s orders, but Felix spoke first.

“I need him,” he said, voice low and soft. “I… I can’t lose him.”

He dropped his head, amber eyes dull with pain. “Please.”

Ingrid thought she knew what it had cost him to beg. She’d never seen him bow down to anything. Not to pain, not to surrender. Not even to despair when they’d thought both the professor and Dimitri lost in one fell swoop.

And yet he’d begged her.

For Sylvain.

She thought of her desire to protect her friends. She wanted to protect more than just their physical bodies. She wanted to protect their entirety: their heart and soul. Felix loved, deeper than anyone she knew. Glenn's death had stolen the boy they'd known and returned him as a man, guarded and grim. Sylvain's death would steal that man and return him as a ghost. She didn't think she could bear that: Glenn lost to duty, Dimitri lost to madness, Sylvain lost to war and Felix lost to grief. To have her most cherished bonds snatched from her one by one was too painful. She was only human, after all.

She breathed deep and gave in. Forgive me, everyone.

“Help me,” she said, whistling shrilly for Dumpling. “He’s heavy.”

Ingrid caught just the edge of surprise on Felix before he looped wiry arms under Sylvain. Hurt lanced through her. Some part of him really hadn't believed she would help. She set the burden aside, reached down and grabbed Sylvain's armoured legs. Together, they draped the cavalier’s body carefully onto her pegasus’ bare back. Dumpling held still despite the anxiety in his eyes. She gave him an encouraging pat before jumping astride with practised fluidity.

She met Felix’s golden gaze. “Go to Annette. Hilda is breaking through our northern front.”

He glared at her. She ignored it. She’d known him too long to be daunted by that animal stare. He was terrified and was expressing it the only way he knew how. She understood something of pride.

“I love him, too,” she said simply before kicking Dumpling into flight.

Do you carry out your orders or protect your hometown?

Ingrid thought she knew the answer now.

She gripped Sylvain’s hand and flew like the world was ending.

 

Chapter Text

Imperial Year 1186
Day 1 of the Harpstring Moon

Gronder Field

 

Felix stared up at the stars. At this time of year, the goddess’ Blue Sea Star was hidden, buried in the folds of night’s rich cloak. Moonlight touched the world to silver, blurring the sharp edges of the day. Everything looked smudged, an artist’s interpretation of reality. Bodies became shadowed dunes. Blood reflective pools that winked back at the distant lights. Night had created a macabre beauty out of the day’s cruelty. He wished he could have believed the illusion. 

Instead, he looked down at the shrouded body. 

Death had called for him last night. He’d felt her cold regard in every kiss of steel upon his flesh, had heard her ringing laughter in the grind and clash of blades. She’d wanted him, and he’d spurned her. Now his father was lying dead. 

It should have been him. 

If anyone deserved the knife of vengeance, it was him. He killed without remorse. He was a collector of lives who cared nothing for his vast hoard. Every day, every moment of the past five years, had had to be taken, snatched from the greedy hands of others. To live was to steal. From enemies. From friends. One way or another, war made thieves of them all. 

He’d kept his life all the long years, but he’d lost things too. Allies. Pieces of himself. Swinging a blade for the joy of it was wholly different from the massacres of warfare. Five years of bloodshed had taught him that. Killing had become so mundane, so normal, that he’d become numb to the intricacies of pain. It was easy to forget that people were human, with lives that extended beyond the battlefield. In the animal fight for survival, he’d forgotten that blades wounded in more ways than one. 

For all the brothers he’d killed, for all the daughters he’d hurt, for all the wives he’d widowed… He was only sharing in the pain he’d helped create. 

The knowledge didn’t make the burden any lighter. 

Felix knelt by his father. Someone had covered the body. He thought he recognised the lace edge of Dorothea’s mantle. Rodrigue’s sword, an elegant work of silver, rested on his chest. The jewelled pommel seemed to glow like a star fallen from the heavens. Soft orange mists swirled within, warm and welcoming. Felix remembered a story Glenn had once told him: that a sliver of sunset had hidden itself as a golden gem and plummeted to earth. 

 

“And then, because it was an unlucky gem, it was picked up by a blacksmith, polished and stuffed onto the end of a sharp stick.” 

“What’s a sharp stick?” 

Glenn laughed, a full-bodied sound that seemed to encompass Felix’s world. “Give me your grubby little hand.” 

“No! You’ll poke me again!” 

“Maybe this time I’ll do it with a sharp stick!” 

 

Glenn hadn’t poked him with a sharp stick. He’d simply wrapped Felix’s stubby fingers around the hilt of his sword. It’d been cool to the touch. 

 

"Sunsets should be hot! Like the sun!” 

“Says who?” 

“Says… everyone!” 

“Well,” Glenn said smugly. “I guess everyone is wrong.” 

“Everyone can’t be wrong. If it was wrong, everyone wouldn’t believe it.” Felix frowned, determined to stand by his trust in everyone’s judgement. 

Glenn reached out to flick silly ideas out of his brother’s young head. “If sunsets can be cold, then everyone can be wrong, Felix.” 

 

The memory of those peaceful times burned him like the sunset never had. He hurt in all the places medicine couldn’t reach. His wounds were ones magic couldn’t close. Felix reached out to touch the amber jewel. It was cold, just like the steel it adorned. He’d been a fool to have ever thought a weapon of slaughter could be warm.  

He reached out to brush a strand of hair back into place, half-expecting his father to stir. Rodrigue had always seemed invincible in his memories. He’d been one of the only people on par with Glenn, or so his brother had always let him think.

 

“Let the old man have his pride,” Glenn said flippantly, rolling his crisp sleeves up. “I have all I need.”   

Felix grinned. “Your sword and someone to fight?” 

His brother tossed him a wooden sword with a matching smile. “Damn right.” 

“Damn right,” Felix parroted back, snatching the practice blade from the air. 

“No swearing, twerp.” 

The clash of wood rang through the yard.

 

Felix remembered watching Glenn and Rodrigue spar from the sidelines. They’d been the idols of his youth. Back then, he’d believed House Fraldarius luckier than the rest, for having two of the best swordsmen in all the land.

Those simple days were long gone. Glenn’s death had shattered that childish fantasy. Yet deep down somewhere foolish and naive, Felix had still believed Rodrigue to be infallible. 

He clenched his fists by his side and forced himself to look. At the lines around his father’s eyes. At the slight ring around his belly. At the grey of his temples. The years hadn’t stopped for Rodrigue. He was no longer young, no longer the Shield of Faerghus from King Lambert’s time. Death laid bare what Felix hadn’t seen in life.

Rodrigue had grown old. 

Felix had been too caught up with his own griefs to have cared. He’d spent years holding a grudge. 

How hollow that felt now. 

Tears sprang to his eyes. He dashed them away angrily. It felt stupid to cry when he’d buried countless friends over the years, when tears would do nothing to turn back time. 

But he couldn’t stop. He loved his father as much as he loved Glenn. That’s why he’d never been able to reconcile with him. For someone he loved so deeply to have shared the Kingdom’s absurd values was a pain he couldn’t bear. 

He’d always believed that to be true. Gazing at Rodrigue’s lifeless body now, Felix knew he was wrong. The truth was that he hadn’t wanted to bear it. He’d stubbornly held onto his young, impassioned anger. He’d convinced himself that loving Glenn meant seeing his death from a single perspective. 

Of course Rodrigue had loved Glenn too. His heir. His son. How could he have not? 

 

“He’s gone, Felix,” his father said, tears in his eyes. “Glenn is dead.” 

Rodrigue clutched the bloodied sword in a white-knuckled grip. Felix felt unmoored, set adrift in unfamiliar waters. He’d always woken to the sound of Glenn’s practice blade sweeping through the air. He’d never seen his father cry. The world had suddenly become a foreign place he didn’t know. He wanted to speak, to comfort Rodrigue so his father could comfort him, but his choking sobs left no room for words. 

And what good were words anyway? There was no Glenn to hear them. 

“At least Dimitri is saved. Goddess, at least there is that.” 

Rodrigue knelt to pull Felix into a fierce embrace. Felix let him. He clenched fingers into the back of Rodrigue’s shirt and held on. The physical touch helped anchor him, calling back the pieces of himself that had tried to follow Glenn. 

“Not before me, Felix. My son,” Rodrigue whispered, voice raw and wounded. “Let me go first. Don’t go before me.”

 

His father had gotten his wish. He hadn’t had to bury two sons, but Felix had been left behind once again. He’d never gotten to say goodbye. The finality of it was a door slammed shut. Regret bloomed to life within him, unfurling like a fresh flower. Every sorrow seemed to pave the way to another and another until Felix felt sick with it. 

He thought of the last words he’d exchanged with Rodrigue. It’d been an argument, of course it had. Since Glenn’s death, Felix had always been feral around his father. 

“If I’d known…” He trailed off. Would he have said anything different? He wanted to believe that he would have. He wanted to believe that he would have said something meaningful. Something to make Rodrigue smile, perhaps. Something to remind him that Felix was his son, that he still cared.

“Love is a weed. It doesn’t ask for permission. It persists,” he said, smiling wryly. “Whether you want it to or not.” Sylvain had said that to some besotted girl years ago. It’d been one of his offhand comments, praises he threw away like empty promises. It was hardly noteworthy. Felix didn’t know why it came to mind now. 

Remembering Sylvain brought a fresh wave of pain. He’d been so cold in Felix’s arms. So pale. Would Felix return to a dead man tomorrow? The thought threatened to overwhelm him. All through the long battle, he’d avoided thinking about it. He’d refused to let Annette’s matted hair remind him of russet curls, refused to think of anyone else when he looked at Dorothea’s carmine dress. He’d thrown himself into battle, frenzied and fearless, because he’d been terrified. Fear would have crippled him if he’d let it. 

But now, in the cupped hands of solitude and night, Rodrigue’s death had cast wide the doors for his demons. He couldn’t shake the image of Sylvain, dead and blue, lying by his father. It was almost enough to drive him mad. 

Is this how it feels, Dimitri? 

As if summoned, footsteps sounded behind him. Dimitri materialised from the shadows, a dark shape against the night. He’d shed his heavy cloak and black armour. Only his fair hair caught the light, trapping moonbeams like a fine, gossamer web. His face was pale and withdrawn. Felix thought he looked awfully human for a sordid beast. 

The king’s voice split the night. “I never thought to hear you quote Sylvain. It sounds strange coming from your mouth.” 

Felix said nothing. 

The silence stretched between them. For a while, both men seemed content to let the night music fill the space between them. Spring had breathed a chill into the air, but Felix barely felt it. Grief and dread had set a permanent winter in his veins. He breathed deep and tried not to taste the metallic tang of old blood. 

“I thought of Rodrigue as a father, you know. I--” Dimitri said after a time. He broke off, voice choked and thick with emotion. “He died for me.” 

“He did.” Felix stood, swiping roughly at his own wet cheeks. “He’s not the first and he won’t be the last.” 

He turned to the man beside him. The king was crying, face twisted by a decade old torment. Fat droplets of tears glistened like pearls. He looked grey in the moonlight, an old man bent by the weight of the world. 

“Shield of Faerghus, huh. Of all people,” Dimitri said bitterly. “I never wanted it to be him.”

Felix felt his anger rise. This was the man his father had given his life to save. This pathetic, guilt-ridden man. This weak king who could only see the blood of the past in the future. He stepped forward and met Dimitri’s haunted gaze. 

“Who did you want it to be then?” Felix snapped. “Annette? Ingrid?” 

Dimitri looked taken aback. Wide blue eyes met Felix’s red-rimmed gold. “That’s not what I--” 

“Shut up.” Felix glared at him. Dimitri had always been soft, a gentle soul trying to be a knight. Always, he’d had too kind a heart. Pain and loss had not reshaped him. Felix had emerged from the fires of grief poisoned and barbed, but Dimitri had let the fire consume him. His compassion was an inferno that would incinerate him from within, and take the rest of the Lions down with him.

“I don’t care what you meant,” he said harshly. “Every one of us--every damn one of us--has only one life to live. And we’re all here, risking it for you. For our king. You’re rabid and pitiful and weak, but you’re what we have. So we get out there and we fight and we die and we wake up and do it all again. Do you know why?”

Dimitri stood in the cold starlight, so still he could have been a statue. Felix stabbed a finger into his chest, hard enough to hurt, to bruise. A wounded part of him wanted to punish the other man. 

“Because you are what we believe in. You are the Faerghus we see in our future. My brother died ten years ago to keep you alive. My father died yesterday to see you safe. You owe them, owe me , to step up and be the king they saw in you.” 

He finished, chest heaving. Dimitri’s brilliant blue gaze had grown distant and withdrawn, undoubtedly seeing the bloodbath of another time. The king’s body had curled protectively around itself, as if every poisonous word from Felix’s lips had been physical blows. He looked like a boy again, lost and adrift. Felix felt much the same. 

Standing before him was the source of all of his private pains. Standing before him was also the boy he’d followed from cradle to adulthood. Even now, in a time rife with death and loss, Dimitri was still the catalyst that changed his life. Emotions warred within him. Anger. Grief. Doubt and regret. It would always be too soon to unravel his feelings towards Dimitri Blaiddyd.

“I can’t,” Dimitri said. He stared at his hands with resignation. “I am too bloody to be a king. All I can do is avenge the fallen. Glenn, Rodrigue, stepmother, father… It’s all I can do.” 

Felix wanted to shake the ghosts out of him. “The dead don’t care! The dead are gone. It’s the living who need you now. Us. It’s time you woke up and served those who are still here.” 

Dimitri wasn’t even looking at him. His single eye was focused beyond Felix’s shoulder, fixed on a past neither of them could change.

Felix wrenched his face around. “Look at me!” Amber fire met chipped ice. “My father might have thought an animal like you worth saving, but I’m not going to die for you. I’m not going to let you use my death to justify your atrocities.”

He was breathing hard, heart pounding with the fire in his veins. Felix wanted so badly to fix his prince, his king. His friend . But he didn’t know how. Watching Dimitri sink into darkness was a daily reminder of his own shortcomings. It was his own curse. 

“I’ll die for the King of Faerghus and nobody else,” Felix finished. He stared up into Dimitri’s cobalt eye. This time, his gaze was locked on Felix. The phantom light of night cast dark shadows over the planes of his face, but he’d lost the faraway look of a possessed man.

“Felix…” 

“If you’ve got it then leave.” He turned away. His anger was gone as quickly as it’d come. He knew it’d only been a defence mechanism, a ward against pain. He knew Dimitri was grieving too. Their short tenure at life had stripped them of far too many loved ones. Felix knew he should apologise, but Dimitri spoke first. 

“I’m sorry,” the king said to the darkness. “I just...I just don’t know how to stop. What else do I live for?” His words hung in the air between them, heavy with the weight of a broken age. 

Felix had no answer. He saw Dimitri hover uncertainly at the fringes of his vision. “I don’t know,” he confessed quietly.

A beat. Two. Quiet footsteps melted into the distance. The night music crept back into his awareness. He gazed at Rodrigue’s still body. For all his swordsmanship, for all his exalted strength, he hadn’t been able to save his father. For all his love, he hadn’t been able to save Dimitri. 

“Taken out by a little girl,” he scoffed to the night, voice tight and quivering. “You stupid old man.” 

Crickets sang in the background, a melancholy sound that echoed in his soul. The wind sighed through grass damp with dew. The earth wept for her lost children. 

Hot tears fell. He let them. Mourning Glenn’s empty coffin had left Felix’s heart as empty as the casket. Seeing his father lying under the cold stars, so far from home, left his heart feeling emptier still. 

“Why did it have to be you?” It was a pointless question, he knew. War played a fickle game. Sometimes skill mattered little beyond being in the right place at the right time. Sometimes nothing mattered except the will to do the unthinkable. 

Rodrigue had done both for Dimitri. Felix laughed bitterly. Once again, the boar had cost him. First a brother, now a father. He wished he could have hated him. 

“Damn it all.” He dropped back to his knees. The thousands of hours on the training grounds. The blood and sweat. The sacrifices. Had anything changed? Ten years and what did he have to show for it? A family dead. A kingdom fractured. Friends buried and the war unwon. 

“Dammit!” 

Felix wept as he had not in a decade. 

He didn’t know how long he knelt there, heart and soul torn asunder, mourning the love of a father. 

 

--

 

They burned Rodrigue’s body at the break of dawn. Smoke rose into the clear sky to be carried away by the gentle caress of spring wind. Nobody commented on Felix’s red eyes or the new sword at his hip. The plain scabbard and jewelled pommel matched the Aegis Shield perfectly. 

The last son of House Fraldarius stood proud and tall. The Shield of Faerghus lived on. 

 

--

 

Imperial Year 1186 
Day 2 of the Harpstring Moon

En route to base camp 

 

Felix couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept. He barely knew what day it was. Adrenaline had burned the sense out of him. He felt strung out on a tightrope, hanging on by sheer will and a stubborn determination to be okay. He knew everyone else was just as tired. Ashe’s green eyes were dull, swaying mechanically atop his chestnut horse. Annette trudged along beside Dedue, supported by the big man’s steady presence and solid bulk. Even Byleth looked drained. He’d learned to read her over time, to see the subtle changes that betrayed a depth of feeling he hadn’t thought her capable of. For her to look so sombre… The war had taken much from them all. 

He stomped along with the rest of their army and tried to ignore his aching heart. A horse fell in beside him, hooves clipping rhythmically against the packed earth. “You look like you’ve got a lot on your mind.” 

“I do.” He stalked ahead. 

The hooves sped up. Felix frowned. “I know you weren’t close with Lord Rodrigue, but…” The voice trailed off stupidly. 

Grief threatened to overwhelm him. The wound was still raw, still too painful. He felt fragile. “You know nothing, Ashe,” he snapped. “Go bother someone else.”

Felix knew he was being unfair, but it was comfortable to let the familiar flames of anger burn away the trappings of fear and regret. It was a far, far easier thing to be mad than afraid. 

“I will not,” the bow knight said obstinately. “I just want to make sure you’re okay.” 

“I’m fine.” 

The horse trotted ahead. Ashe hopped off and patted the animal’s velvet nose, reins in hand and waiting. There would be no avoiding the conversation. 

Felix sighed. 

“What do you want me to say, Ashe?” He looked into the other man’s jade eyes. “This is war. We’ve all lost people.” 

Ashe grimaced. “Yeah, but I… I know how it is. Christophe and Lonato… My brother and father. They’re both gone. Just like yours.” 

Felix arched a brow. 

“I’m just saying that I know what it’s like,” he continued hastily, fumbling for the right words. “I was so caught up in my ideals that I turned a blind eye to Lonato’s sadness. I refused to see what was right in front of me. I wished I could have talked to him about it… But it’s too late now."

His words resonated within Felix. Glenn’s death had driven him away from Rodrigue. Love had divided them when it should have brought them together.

It hurts.  

The sharp edges of his pain seemed to pierce his skin, toxic spines that would hurt any who dared approach. “What’s your point?” 

He could see the prick of tears in Ashe’s eyes. “I don’t have one, I suppose. Just that I understand how it feels to have regrets. To lose people without closure.” He paused, breaths shallow. Virtue whickered softly and nudged his shoulder. The bow knight sniffled. “I guess I just thought that shared pain might be easier to bear.” 

Felix let his words dissolve in the air, let it change the chemistry between them. Letting his grief drive his words and actions would make him no better than the boar. Seeing Ashe’s open wounds called to a vulnerable part of himself. 

“My father said some foolish things,” he confessed hesitantly. “I couldn't forgive him. I couldn’t see the sorrow behind his words. We were bleeding the same, but I let my own ideals blind me too.” 

It felt strange to speak so honestly about his wounds. He didn’t quite know how to talk about it. He’d had much more experience keeping his words and feelings close. Ashe seemed surprised by his candour. Felix supposed he’d never really opened up to anyone. It’d taken death and loss to shake loose his words.

He regretted that, too. 

“All these years and the pain doesn’t get any easier,” Ashe said, lips pursed and eyes stormy. “I’ll always wonder why. Why them and not me? I’m the one who used to be a thief. I’m the one who used to be a terrible person.” 

“Death doesn’t care about your past or your regrets,” Felix said simply, feeling the passions of his own anguish surface. “It just is and we just are.” 

He scowled and continued. Something in him had burst open and now he couldn’t stop. “I thought strength would protect those I care for and shield me from pain. But strength can’t protect people from themselves. My father chose to die for Dimitri. And Sylvain…” He trailed off, frustrated and afraid. “Sylvain almost died for me.”

Felix clenched his fists, remembering the way Sylvain had felt in his arms. So limp and pale. All traces of vitality replaced by a mortal stillness. He’d looked so young. 

That moment haunted him still. Sylvain’s pulse had been weak and irregular, a caged bird fluttering against Felix’s hand. His breaths had been so shallow. For the first time in his life, Felix had known true fear. It wasn’t the racing drumbeat of a terrified heart. It wasn’t the nervous shaking of a flighty body. It was a black hole, yawning open to swallow the whole world. It was the end of a life.

Rodrigue’s death had reawakened that fear. It thrummed in his veins now, urging him to action. He wanted to fight something. He wanted to gallop through the night straight to Sylvain’s side. Felix didn’t know what the hell he wanted. 

“You should go to him,” Ashe said, breaking through his agitated thoughts. He held Virtue’s reins out, green eyes wide and earnest. “If I had a chance… if I could have said the things I wanted to…” 

He met Felix’s hard stare. “No more regrets, Felix.” 

They were only half a day’s march from camp. It felt foolish and desperate to gallop the distance like a madman. It felt brave. It felt like freedom. 

Felix had never been a man governed by emotion. But his emotions had never aligned to pull him so strongly in a single direction. Words he’d held back over the years seemed to assemble behind his lips, ready to burst forth in a reckless bout of fervour. The desire to see Sylvain, to say the things he’d always locked in his heart, was overpowering. He hadn’t gotten to beat Glenn. He hadn’t gotten to forgive his father. He didn’t want Sylvain to be another regret. He didn’t want to be left behind. 

They’d made a promise to die together. He’d be damned if he wasn’t going to be there. He’d be damned if he wasn’t going to say goodbye. 

Felix snatched the reins from Ashe’s outstretched hands and mounted. He dug his heels into Virtue’s sides. They shot forward, racing towards home.

Don’t go without me. 

Don’t leave me behind, Sylvain. 

 

Chapter Text

Imperial Year 1186
Day 2 of the Harpstring Moon

En route to base camp

 

Virtue was frothing at the mouth, powerful body thundering across the ground like a force of nature. Day had blushed to dusk, but they’d taken no rest. Time had run out for far too many during the decisive battle.

Time was no longer a luxury Felix could afford. 

He dug black iron spurs into the horse’s heaving sides, urging the animal forward like a maddened man. Thick trees sped by on either side. Wild branches groped for him with long fingers, whipping Virtue’s exposed flanks. Felix ducked low as Ashe’s companion leaped nimbly over the rotting corpse of a fallen tree. A low bough with sharp claws opened his cheek dangerously close to his eye. 

This road had once seen Byleth safely to Garreg Mach. In the six years since, it had turned hostile, loyal only to time and neglect. The forest had reclaimed her stolen land. Gnarled roots buckled the road like some subterranean monster, always ready to snap the bones of weary steeds. Trees had grown new limbs that hung heavy, hungry for the blood of careless riders. 

Virtue leaped another tangle of roots. Its grotesque knot was barely visible in the gathering dark. Felix held on for dear life, letting the punishing pace loosen something inside him. Wind whistled through the high canopy, whispering warnings of danger and foolishness. 

Felix knew his speed would see him killed. His mad race towards his heart’s calling would see Ashe’s beautiful stallion lamed and crippled. Night was falling. He could barely see.

Sylvain. 

That single word pushed him on against logic and sense. He folded low over Virtue’s neck, felt the hot whip of a branch across his face, and rode on. 

Wait for me, Sylvain. I’m coming. 

 

--

 

Imperial Year 1186
Day 2 of the Harpstring Moon

Blue Lions army camp

 

Man and beast flew into camp on the heels of twilight. Behind them, the horizon was a smear of blue and purple, bruising rapidly into the black of night. The base was a bustle of activity. Byleth had sent the worst of the wounded ahead with Seteth’s company of wyvern riders. True to her mercenary roots, she’d put efficiency over comfort. There’d been some dissent among the more tender-hearted about her cold command, but protests had died on bitter lips as the great beasts took to the skies, soaring on the desperate hopes of desperate people. Felix had watched them dwindle into specks, seeing only the feathered wings of a lone pegasus. She, too, had carried the wild, terrible hope of a desperate man. 

Judging by the organised chaos before him, Seteth had obviously arrived long before him. The Church’s healers streamed between the tents like a swarm of cream-coloured ants. Many carried baskets of linen and bandages. He saw trays laden with wickedly sharp tools and others rattling with bottles of coloured liquid. One by one, they were swallowed by the gaping maws of the field hospital. A few priests emerged with a slop bucket between them, faces steely with a detached determination. Even from afar, the stench was overpowering. Felix didn’t envy them their job. 

Amidst the frantic activity, no one noticed a lone rider on the edge of camp.

He slid off Virtue with practiced ease. The stallion was panting in great billowing breaths, white foam visible on his heaving flanks. He would need to be rubbed down and watered, sheltered and fed. Felix didn’t think Ashe would forgive him for riding his companion to his death. 

Despite the exertion, the horse’s liquid eyes were bright with pride. An intelligence lurked in their brown depths. Virtue tossed his head and snorted. Felix tried to smile.

“Thank you.” 

Turning away, he grabbed a passing page by the collar and thrust the reins into his flailing hands. “Take care of him,” he ordered gruffly. “He’s been ridden hard.” 

The young boy thrashed in his grip, unleashing a mouthful of colourful obscenities as he twisted like a fish. “Do it yourself, you ass-faced-goose! I ain’t got time!” He grimaced and brought a small hand to pinch his nose. “You stink!” 

Felix shook him impatiently. “Shut up. Lord Ubert will reward you handsomely.” He let go and tried not to look too murderous as the boy swivelled to look at him. Recognition dawned in the lad’s round face, followed quickly by fear. 

“O-of course, sir! M’lord! Lord Fraldarius, sir!” His nervous stammering continued, but Felix was already gone, stalking towards the neat rows of pitched tents that served as their temporary field hospital. Night had fully fallen, veiling the world in a black funeral shroud. A lone soldier made the rounds with a torch in hand, slowly coaxing flames back to life. Flickering firelight threw dancing shadows on the trampled earth.

Stretchers drifted in and out of tents, ferried by weary men and women. The gruesome battles they’d seen had bred a brutal efficiency into their work. Though night had come, sleep and rest were distant. The dead couldn’t be allowed to fester and herald disease. The living couldn’t be allowed to suffer. There would only be more work when Byleth returned on the morrow. 

A small cluster of tents caught his attention. Far to the left, quarantined from the rest, it stood stern and silent. There was no bustling in or out, no frenzied activity. Felix felt his stomach lurch. Anxiety coiled around his heart, squeezing until he felt he would be sick with it. Rodrigue’s sword was a dull weight at his side.

Every step towards that lonely place was a battle Felix was terrified to win. But to lose was worse. He knew now that there were things far worse than death. To be left behind. To be bound by anger and regret. 

To be empty, and alone. 

Glenn and Rodrigue had taught him that. 

He’d reached the first of the tents. Felix could hear the quiet moans of the dying, wasting their last breaths on pitiful cries for loved ones. He could smell the pungent scent of rot, could taste the bitterness of poisoned flesh on his tongue. Blood, heady and cloying, lay thickly in the air.

He pushed the flap open and was immediately assaulted by the intensity of the stench. His eyes watered; he could barely breathe. Antiseptic warred with the horrid fetor of human waste. Felix gagged, feeling the weight of misery collapse his lungs. 

This was a place of torment. 

He wanted to leave, to turn away from this terrible place. He’d known there were things that even the most skilled healers could not do, that even the best medicine could not fix, but nothing could have prepared him for this. The reality of a slow and painful death was beyond his imagination. 

Find him. You have to find him. 

Sylvain. 

Years of discipline straightened his spine. He strode ahead, wading into a sea of people waiting to die. Small lanterns marked regular intervals, their watery light leaving the room comfortably dim. Voices called out faintly as he passed. Wet coughs sounded often, sometimes followed by strangled, rasping breaths. Felix scanned the pallets, searching for a familiar face, horrified by the very thought of finding it. 

His clipped pace took him around the long aisles in short time. He’d almost gotten used to the smell, though its sour taste lingered in the back of his throat. There must have been at least fifty people crammed into the small space, but none had been Sylvain. Felix’s relief was intense, and short-lived. 

Someone called his name. 

He spun on his heel, straining to hear the threadbare wisps of speech. He was sure the call had come from somewhere behind him. His chest tightened. 

“...elix…” 

Three paces away, a young woman reached out to him with shaking hands. Her face was ghastly, painted in shades of ash and ivory. She obviously wasn’t Sylvain. He turned away. 

“Wait! Please.”

Dammit. 

Felix turned back to meet her bright, feverish eyes and dropped to a knee by her side. She reached for him again. This time, he took her hand, ignoring the fine-boned limpness of it in his grip. 

He said nothing. 

She tried to smile at him. Got halfway there. “Felix… do you remember me?” 

There were pauses between her airy speech. Some were so long Felix feared the effort had sent her into the Goddess’ embrace. But she finished with a dogged determination and turned her sweat-soaked brow to gaze at him with glazed eyes. 

He didn’t know what to say. What did she want from him? “No," he said truthfully. "I don't. I'm sorry." His own voice grated in his ears. He was wasting time.

“It’s okay if you don’t.” She sucked in a trembling breath. “I’m glad… I can see you. One last time.” 

He felt her hand twitch in his. “Why?” he demanded, trying to be soft, trying to be gentle. It was difficult. He'd always been more comfortable holding a sword than a woman's hand. Felix tried to see her, to be present in the moment, but his mind wandered to red hair and hazel eyes. “Why me?” 

She broke out into a painful, wheezing laugh. “Because you… are handsome. And strong. Kind in… in secret. You love deep and true.” 

Felix blinked stupidly. Her words, barely audible, nonsensical and confused, had caught him off guard. Rarely had he ever been praised for his personality.But the person she’d described wasn’t him. He was a being of fire, burning with a single-minded focus. Fire wasn’t kind; there was no place for kindness now. There hadn’t been for a long time. 

And what did she know about his love? He forced himself to still his tongue, to bite back the venom that would have seeped out. 

Her face twisted in sudden pain. Instinctively, Felix surged to his feet, halfway to yelling for a healer before remembering where he was. Something curdled in his belly. On the floor, the girl-- she’s just a girl --moaned softly. Beads of sweat dotted her sallow brow. He knelt once more beside her, unwilling to stay but unable to leave. 

The seconds crawled by. 

“You saved me,” she told him an eternity later, eyes shut against the world. “Two years ago. I-I’m sorry that I wasted… the second chance you gave me.” Tears spilled down her hollow cheeks.

Felix didn’t remember saving anyone. He didn’t remember her dark hair and eager eyes. In the days before Byleth and Dimitri’s miraculous return, their struggle had been suicidal. Many had been drawn to their noble cause. Many had died. Felix had tried to protect those he could-- always taking the fewest men, always placing himself in the most vulnerable places, always breaking the strongest enemy units. He’d been a lethal blade to Rodrigue’s shield. There’d been many close calls, but he’d always emerged the victor. For now. 

“There will always be someone stronger than you,” he said. “It’s inevitable.”

More tears gathered on her long lashes. She sniffed. “I don’t want to die.” Her voice quivered. She sounded so young. 

He couldn’t lie to her. “What’s your name?”

“Linn.” 

“I’ll remember it.” He roughly thumbed a tear from her face. “I’ll remember you.” 

She looked at him then. Large brown eyes, too dark and too serious. Too far from the pair he so desperately wanted to see. “I don’t… want to have any regrets,” she murmured, growing bolder as her strength waned. “I like you, Felix. That’s… all I wanted to say.” 

Her eyes fell shut. Ragged breaths slipped into the steady rhythm of sleep. She moaned often--short, sharp sounds of suffering. Felix didn’t know if she would see this world again. He hoped she didn’t. 

Goodbye, Linn. 

He rose, feeling unsteady, and left her side. Every inch of him was on edge. The sickness of this place was seeping into him. He wanted to fight something, to feel something other than helpless. Nobody tried to talk to him after Linn.

He made his way through the first two tents. Linn’s thin body, wasting away in solitude, haunted him. He strode into the third tent, swept the cramped space with amber eyes, and felt his heart stop. 

There, on a pallet to his right, was a shock of red hair. The man was on his side, his back to Felix. He was covered by a thin sheet that would do nothing to keep out the season’s chill. 

Fear punched him through the gut. Was his friend lying there? Waiting for death like the rest of them? The thought was dizzying. He felt ill. He wanted to wrench the man around so he could see his face. He imagined seeing the deathly pallor, the wretched devil-may-care smile. He imagined seeing the bloody wrappings, the amputated leg, the black rot. He imagined finding Sylvain in this lonely place. 

No. Please, no. 

He was over in three long strides. Felix yanked the man around. There was a startled yelp, a pathetic struggle. He shoved the man down with an angry hiss. Terrified eyes met his own. 

But the face belonged to a stranger. Old. Bearded. Colourless blue eyes. 

Not Sylvain. Not Sylvain. 

That was all that mattered. Felix released him with a disgusted grunt.

“What are you doing!” A sharp voice spat. Flayn materialised from the darkness, brows creased in anger and horror, a reprimand ready on her lips. She stilled at the sight of him. “Felix?”

He frowned at her, ignoring the man’s plaintive moans. “Who else?” 

“What are you doing here? Your face… Are you hurt?” 

Belatedly, he realised that he must look a wreck. His wild ride through the woods had left him bloodied and bruised. His sweat-slicked hair had come loose, stuck to his face in limp strands. 

“I’m fine.” 

“Then why are you assaulting people?” 

“I didn’t assault him,” he bit back harshly, glaring at her. “I’m looking for someone.” 

He made to move past her, but she blocked his way. Flayn stood firm, tiny body braced for a fight, as though she might actually stop him from throwing her over his shoulder like a sack of meat. First Linn, then the redhead. Now this. His nerves were frayed. Felix was reaching the end of his rope. “Move,” he growled. 

“He’s not here." Flayn held his gaze in the half-light, undaunted by the manic energy threatening to overwhelm him. Her voice softened. “He’s not here, Felix. I swear it.” 

He forced himself to breathe deep. “And the rest? The rest of these damned tents?” 

“Do you think me so cruel? I would not play such games.” 

There were still two more tents he hadn’t seen. Felix fought the urge to storm through them. “If you think lying to me might be a kindness, you’re wrong,” he said scathingly. The heavy mantle of fear was wearing him down. It was a far, far easier thing to be angry than afraid. 

Flayn bent to dab the sweat from a man’s fevered brow. “War leaves little room for kindness,” she retorted primly. “I am as honest as I can be. With you, and with them.” She straightened, and met Felix’s heated gaze. “Ingrid was adamant that Professor Manuela see to his wound. She wanted only the best. And she got it. He’s lost a lot of blood, but he should awaken soon.”

Something hard and sharp within Felix released its hold. He hadn’t even known he’d been in pain until the abrupt absence of it. He exhaled heavily, letting Flayn’s words wash away the poisonous miasma of dread from his heart. His next breath felt freer than any that had come before. 

“Come,” Flayn said, making for the exit. “We should not idle here.” 

Felix followed her out into the night. He inhaled deeply, glad to be breathing air untainted by the weight of misery. Flayn led the way to a portable basin filled with water. Firelight danced on its rippled surface as she scrubbed her hands clean. There was a stiffness to her movements, a stillness in her body that spoke of pain. As she turned to him, Felix saw what the dim light and his tunnel-vision had hidden from him before. 

Her skin was ashen, drawn tight across the sharp angles of her face. Her green curls, silky and vibrant in their careless days at Garreg Mach, were pulled into a haphazard ponytail. Thin shoulders were curled like the wilted petals of a flower. Felix had never seen her look so spent.

“You look terrible,” he said. 

A small smile touched her lips. “As I am well aware. Still, there is no need to rub it in.” 

She sighed and lifted her face to the velvet sky. Stars had arranged themselves in intimate constellations overhead, diligently watching over the affairs of mortals. The muted light touched her gaunt features into something mournful. If he’d had any faith in the teachings of the Church, he might have believed her a saint. But she was just a girl, dragged into other people’s wars. She was so young. They all were. 

Silence reigned between them while Felix struggled to find the right words. The shadow of what he’d seen in those tents hung over them. 

“Why?” he asked bluntly. “Why let them suffer like that?” 

Flayn turned to him. Her eyes were unreadable. “Not everyone is brave like you, Felix. Most people want to live, for as long as they can. Even when it hurts.”

The thought curled his lip. “That’s cowardly. They have no hope and they know it. You know it. Better to let them die.” 

You do it then,” she snapped. Her cheeks were red spots of fury and frustration. Her gaze was broken glass, sharp and fractured. He’d never seen her angry before, but this was something more. It was half a decade of war and blood and pain, fighting battles in the hollow space between life and death. They were on opposite sides of the macabre dance of blades. Death was fleeting in his world, but not for Flayn. Felix would die with his lost battles, but she would live on, bearing the scars of all the lives she’d failed to save. 

“You look into the eyes of your comrades, of your friends, and put them down like animals. You listen to their tears and their pleas. If you think me so weak, you be the one to kill their hopes and dreams.” She was breathing heavily and glaring at him, thin lips pressed into a hard line. 

He pictured Ingrid lying there, weeping blood and tears, begging him for a life he could not give. He saw Annette’s terrified eyes, hoping against hope. Dimitri gurgling blood, Byleth’s skin puckered and hot with infection. “I can’t,” he confessed at last, angry that the truth was so brutal, angry that he was so tethered to weakness. “If it were Dimitri or Mercedes or you, I… I couldn’t.” 

Some of the tension leached from her. She seemed smaller, diminished by their argument. “It is a different battlefield here, Felix. Some things are too hard.” She sighed and reached out to swat sweaty bangs from her eyes. 

They said nothing for a time, each lost in their own grim thoughts. 

Felix felt ancient.

“I have been writing letters,” Flayn said quietly. “For their loved ones. They will want to know what happened when this is all over.” 

When this is all over. Goddess only knew when that would be. He nodded gravely. “Do you have one for Linn?” 

“Linn?”

“Black hair, brown eyes. Young.” 

He let her think for a long moment. Flayn shook her head sadly. “I am sorry, but there are too many. Perhaps I have not gotten to her yet.”

“I’ll do it,” he said, surprising both of them. 

Flayn seemed taken aback. “I did not think you would approve of such ‘useless’ activities.” 

“Maybe there’s hope for me yet.” He gave her a tight-lipped smile. Time was no longer slipping through his fingers, no longer an enemy to be fought. Felix had been released from his hopeless battle. The world was crueller than he'd known, but he felt renewed by a phantom hope. 

“Maybe there is…” Flayn seemed lighter, perhaps buoyed by his uncharacteristic kindness. They fell back into a companionable silence. Grey clouds wisped by, borne on the tender winds of spring. Rain would find them soon. 

“Felix?”

“What?” 

She wrinkled her nose delicately. “You stink.” 

 

--

 

Felix stood outside the tent. Flayn had insisted he clean up before barging in to disturb Sylvain’s rest. He’d done the best he could, which wasn’t much in a temporary army camp. A dip in a tributary of the Airmid River and a fresh change of clothes had cleansed the worst of the stench from him, but his face was a lost cause. Flayn had offered to fix it for him, but he’d calmly told her to leave him alone. 

His wet hair was loose about his shoulders, no longer greased by blood and sweat. It was good to be clean again; he almost felt like a new man. 

The moon was a crescent sickle overhead--a queen amongst her starry subjects. It was late. Felix didn’t know if Sylvain was awake, and he didn’t want to disturb the fool if he wasn’t. He settled for a soft call into the night. 

“Sylvain?” 

A muffled moan from inside the tent, followed by a low giggle. What the hell? Anger, irrational in its intensity, blazed to life inside his chest. Was the idiot really fucking right now? In the middle of the night when he should be resting? After an injury that had almost seen him dead? 

He didn’t think. Felix stormed inside the tent, wielding his rage like a blade, ready to glower whatever girl Sylvain was with into fleeing. Then he’d kill the world’s biggest moron. "Sylvain!” 

The interior was illuminated by a single oil lamp sitting next to the pallet. Its warm orange glow revealed a sparse space, furnished with only a trunk and an empty dinner tray. There were exactly zero naked girls, and precisely one grinning Gautier. Sylvain was sitting up, propped against the heavy wooden trunk. “Hey Felix,” he said, voice only slightly strained. “I’m glad you’re safe… if a little maimed.” 

Felix wanted to strangle him. “You irresponsible fool!” he snapped. The sight of Sylvain, joking at his expense, brought back the memory of him lying pale and dying in Felix’s arms. He was dragged back to the moment his friend had thrown his spear--a stupid decision that had saved Felix’s life, and almost him cost his own. “What the hell were you thinking?” 

Sylvain, for his part, was perfectly composed. Felix would be Felix, after all. And that meant anger and peevishness and swords and no fun and golden eyes and wolfish smiles. He smiled placidly. “Well, it’s me, so I was probably thinking about the sweet embrace of a beautiful girl."

Felix ignored him. “Protecting me like that when you’re so weak. You always… always…” He broke off with a frustrated snarl, once again lost for words when he needed them most. “You almost died, you fucking idiot.” 

His words hung in the air as he moved closer, lowering himself carefully onto the foot of the bed. Even in his anger, he moved with a feline grace, honed by decades of furious training. He curled a leg beneath himself and dropped an elbow one bent knee. Sylvain watched him, saying nothing. When he finally spoke, his voice had lost some of its teasing lilt. “It doesn’t matter,” he said, shrugging as though he were discussing the weather. “You’re safe; that’s all I care about.” 

“That’s not all I care about,” Felix blurted, still riding the receding wave of his frustrations. “You selfish bastard.”

“Again with the abuse! It’s not like you to be so concerned.” 

“How can I not be with the biggest fool in all of Fodlan to look after?” Felix sighed, running a calloused hand through his hair. He turned to glare at Sylvain. “You’re so reckless and inattentive, I thought this might be divine punishment.”

“Hey! That’s not nice! You should be thanking me.” Sylvain huffed indignantly, shifting on the thin pallet with a grimace. “Not sure if you forgot, but I did save your life.”

“I am grateful,” Felix said quietly, watching the flames dance in Sylvain’s hazel eyes. “You’ve been doing this ever since we were children. Constantly fooling around, but then showing up and helping when we really need you.” He dug up a crooked smile. “Not much has changed since then, has it?” 

His friend's had turned contemplative, doubtlessly thrown back to their boyish days. Felix had looked up to him back then, different from the way he’d idolised Glenn. Sylvain had always offered comfort and warmth. He’d always had a smile to give, a terrible idea to share. He was always dragging Felix into trouble, but he’d always gotten him out of them too. 

Sylvain Jose Gautier and Felix Hugo Fraldarius. It’d always been the two of them against the world. Even within their foursome, they’d been together. 

Sylvain caught Felix’s amber gaze and held it. He smiled, and if Felix didn’t know any better, he might have said it was shy. “Some things have changed,” he said at last, dropping his head back to stare at the pointed ceiling. “But the most important things haven’t.” 

The soft glow brought out the sharp lines of Sylvain’s jaw, curled playfully over the sweep of his parted lips, gathered in the corners of his downturned mouth. Felix caught himself staring. He’d always known, through the rosy eyes of many girls, that Sylvain was handsome. The coy smile and charming eyes had worked like magic on the students of Garreg Mach, but never on Felix. He’d always known the womaniser was only a front. Like his own anger, it was ugly and false. 

This was the real man. This tired and weary man who threw away his own life to protect someone else. Sylvain had shed the layers that masked his heart, and Felix felt his own heart stir. He shifted, careful not to jostle the injured leg. 

“I’ll admit, seeing you now, I almost want to give you a hug,” he said, staring into the black distance. “Almost.” 

Sylvain gave an exaggerated gasp. Felix scowled, already regretting his loose words. “A hug?” Sylvain cupped a hand to his ear, pretending to listen intently. “Did I hear you right? Come on, tell me you want to hug me again. I liked it.” 

Felix could hear the smile in his voice. Not for the first time, he wanted to throttle the man. “I’m not repeating it, you half-wit!” He avoided looking at Sylvain. The blush on his cheeks would only fuel him on. A small part of him was hurt by the mockery. Sincerity did not come easy to him. Feelings were hard. He made to stand. “You’re obviously fine, so I’ll leave now.” 

“Wait!” A rapid movement and a grunt. A hand, calloused and hot against his skin, clasped his wrist. Felix jerked away instinctively, pulling Sylvain off balance. He toppled to the side, hissing as stitches tore. Blood bloomed on worn white sheets. 

Felix was too startled to insult him. The memory of Sylvain’s fingers around his wrist was a searing brand. The heat of his touch lingered still, setting something alight within Felix that he didn’t dare examine too closely. 

“What are you doing, you idiot? You’ve reopened your wound.” He willed his voice to be steady. “I’ll go get someone.” 

Sylvain clutched at the sheets with white knuckles, face twisted in a tight-eyed grimace. Sweat beaded on his brow. His voice was hoarse with pain. “No, no, wait. All the healers are worked to the bone. Let them rest.” 

Stiffly, he rolled the blanket away. He was without pants, covered only by his smallclothes. Felix let out a small, choked sound and tried not to stare at the soft bulge in the centre. Sylvain didn’t seem to notice, preoccupied with the puckered skin along the half-healed gash. It looked bad, but not half as bad as it’d looked under the chaotic sky of Gronder Field. He drew in several deep, steadying breaths. 

“There’s needle and thread in my trunk,” he said, nodding at Felix to fetch them. “Just a couple of replacement stitches should be enough.” 

Felix stared at him. “You want me to stitch you up.” 

“Do you see anyone else around?” 

“I see an entire camp around.” 

“Stop being a prude,” Sylvain pressed, hands tight around his thigh. “I’m bleeding out here.” 

Felix remembered Flayn’s exhaustion. He didn’t like the thought of dragging her back into work, though he doubted it ever really stopped for people like her. Mercedes and the rest of their healers would undoubtedly be in much the same condition. The Empire’s armies were deadly, well-trained and disciplined. Even with their victory, Edelgard had dealt them a heavy blow.

Unfortunately, Sylvain was right. Their medics were stretched thin enough as it was. They would need the rest, and Felix had stitched himself up enough times over the years. 

Wordlessly, he pulled open the trunk. It was surprisingly neat within--a thick tome rested atop a pile of neatly folded clothes. A tightly bound notebook, edges curled and worn, sat beside a small pot of ink. The quill was wrapped in a soft cloth gone yellow with age. Beside them, Felix spotted a candle and a battered metal box. It rattled when he picked it up. Inside were the remains of basic medical supplies. He knew their contents like the back of his hand. He’d rummaged through them countless times since their childhood. 

He let the trunk fall shut with a snap and returned to Sylvain’s side. Neither of them said anything as he lit the candle from the oil lamp. Felix threaded the needle with practised efficiency and held it to the ochre flame to sterilise. “Brace yourself,” he warned, letting the metal rod cool before stabbing it into Sylvain’s leg. 

Sylvain hissed through clenched teeth. In and out, in and out. “Tell me something to distract me,” he gasped, tense and tight under Felix’s hand. It was easy to imagine his heavy breathing under completely different circumstances.

Focus, Felix. 

“Stay still,” he grunted, holding the lancer's leg down with a strong hand. He was acutely aware of how close he was to Sylvain’s soft cock and heated skin. He punched the needle through flesh, pulled it out on the other side. “Say it.” 

Confusion coloured the reply that came. “Say what?” 

“Whatever you wanted to say earlier.” 

There was a momentary pause. Felix took the opportunity to sit back and survey his work. It was sloppy, but he was distracted. His body was not his own. His heart was hammering to the beat of an unfamiliar song. He felt hot, in the thrall of a nervous energy. This close, Felix could see the varied scars scattered across Sylvain’s legs. Some were old, faded with time. Others were newer, shiny and puckered and pink. No magic but the body’s own would vanish those angry marks. He was struck by a desire to touch them, to map them with his warrior’s hands. 

He wondered if Sylvain might enjoy his calloused touch. The very thought was demeaning. Countless hands had roamed those strong thighs--men and women infinitely more experienced than he. Felix could not measure against them. 

Focus. 

He snipped off the ends of his stitch with an expert twist. He made sure not to touch Sylvain more than necessary, but his traitorous hands seemed to have a mind of their own. The barest brush against his thigh. A lingering touch that edged on suggestive.

Sylvain’s voice was low, and it sent shivers running up Felix’s spine. “You remember our old promise? Stick together until we die together?” 

“I remember.” 

“I’m not really trying to get myself killed before you.” He grunted as Felix pinched his gaping flesh together, waiting for the candle flame to cleanse his needle. “You know that, right?” 

There was an unspoken plea there. Something raw and fragile. Sylvain’s gaze was luminous, eyes full as he searched Felix’s face. “You know that. Right?”

“I know,” Felix said heavily. “Of course I know. But I’m tired of these close calls.” He tied off another stitch. “You have to stop fooling around. Take your training more seriously.” 

He wiped the needle off on the hem of his shirt, let it hover on the edge of the flame for three long beats before placing it back into the battered box. A lie lingered on his lips. It was cruel, perhaps, but he wanted Sylvain to understand. He needed him to. He loosened his sharp tongue and set free the lie that was snaked upon it. 

“You can die whenever you want, but I’m not going down with you.” 

Sylvain seemed to accept it as normal. Just Felix being Felix. He nodded soberly. “Yeah, I get it.” 

That placid acceptance again. He hated that most about Sylvain. Always, he’d wanted him to fight, to stop drowning his sorrows in women. Always, he’d wanted his friend to be fine, to be better. He’d lost Dimitri. He wouldn’t lose Sylvain too. Not to resignation and surrender. 

Felix wrenched Sylvain’s face around. His fingers dug into the hard planes of his jaw. He met wide eyes, bronze and round with surprise. “If you die, I’ll kill you myself, I swear it,” he snarled. “Do you hear me, you good-for-nothing?” 

“You can’t kill me if I’m already dead,” Sylvain stated lightly, but there was no humour in his voice. 

“Shut up! You know what I mean.” 

The air between them was charged, filled with the beating of two hearts as one. Sylvain’s eyes bore into Felix’s, hazel and gold burned in equal measure. A tense silence yawned open in the emptiness, choked by all the words they could not say. 

Finally, two heartbeats away from awkward, Sylvain let out a distorted chuckle. He placed a hand atop Felix’s. It was so much larger, long fingers and a giant palm--perfect for handling the shaft of a lance. Gently, he took the fingers from his face, dropping their hands onto his lap. His touch was delicate, feather-light and cautious, but he didn’t let go. 

Felix could barely breathe. He held himself perfectly still, as though the slightest movement would shatter this fragile moment. 

There was a question in the air that neither of them dared ask. The space between them was too much and too little all at once, full of something without name. 

“What are you doing,” he whispered. It was a statement.

“Do you want me to let go?” 

Felix stiffened.

Linn’s ashen face came to mind. She’d held his hand, too. He remembered her wasted second chance, borne away on death’s scythe. She hadn’t gotten a third chance. Who was to say Sylvain would? Felix had been given infinite chances over the years. His most recent one had almost cost Sylvain’s life. 

What would the next one reap for keeping him alive? 

There were so many things he wanted to say, so many things he would never be able to utter aloud. 

“I don’t want to die.” 

“I don’t want to have any regrets. I like you, Felix.”

He didn’t want to die, and he didn’t want to have any regrets either. Felix stood on the edge of a precipice. He had never let himself fall before, and those he loved had died in ignorance. Now, he made a different choice. 

“No,” he breathed, defiance within that single word. “Don’t let go.” 

Sylvain’s grip tightened. “Good,” he murmured. His voice was hoarse. Slowly, tentatively, he opened his cupped fingers. Felix’s own slid seamlessly into the gaps. He stared at their laced hands. It was so… soft , so different from the rough heft of a sword. Felix had never had time for holding anything other than blades. He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d willingly touched someone outside the dance of death. He didn’t know if he could have abided someone else’s touch. But this was Sylvain, and it felt good. Felix was still on the floor. He had to look up into Sylvain’s face; he’d never realised just how much taller the other man was.

“What now?” he demanded. He’d taken the plunge, but this was unfamiliar territory. He was nervous, afraid of doing something destructive. He was a warrior. What did he know of love? 

Sylvain laughed, a full-bodied sound that Felix felt through their twined fingers. “Well,” he said, trying for levity as usual. “I don’t really know. Women are usually melting in my arms by now.” 

Felix rolled his eyes. “Shut up.” 

He tried to draw his hand back, but Sylvain held on. His voice piped up, hopeful and perhaps just a little afraid too. “You could kiss me,” he said softly. “Might be fun.” His eyes were tender and bottomless in the feeble light. Something burned behind his teasing gaze. Felix recognised it. It burned in him too. His mouth felt dry, his body too hot despite the spring night seeping through the thin canvas. His heart was hammering in his chest. He was still on the floor, Sylvain’s medical kit lying at his feet. 

Felix leaned forward, eyes roaming Sylvain’s unblemished skin to settle on his lips. They were full and rounded, the lower lip thick and creased in the middle. A small breath parted them. Felix felt the ache inside him. By the goddess, he wanted this. 

Sylvain had leaned forward too. Felix could feel his shallow breaths on his own lips. He looked up. Sylvain's eyes were black, pupils were blown wide with desire, pushing out the beautiful bronze Felix had grown up with. The hunger he saw burned away any remnants of doubt. 

Sylvain wanted him. It was real. 

Felix closed the distance between them, and it felt like coming home. 

Sylvain’s lips parted beneath his, warm and welcoming. He tasted like earth and spring, like magic and coffee. It was intoxicating. Felix felt dizzy, drunk on the feeling of Sylvain’s mouth on his. A hand tangled in his hair and the feeling shot straight to his core where it pooled, building into a fiery yearning that consumed his entire world. Sylvain pressed Felix to him, heedless of his fresh stitches. His lips moved confidently, giving and taking and teasing. It was a kiss; it was the kiss. It was heady and sweet, wild and sensual. Felix surged against him, moulding his lips to Sylvain’s, memorising the feel and taste of him. 

“I have wanted this,” Sylvain murmured in between butterfly kisses. “For the longest. Damn. Time.” 

Every word sent blood rushing to Felix’s cock. Sylvain’s mouth had left his to nibble at his neck and he was on fire. Wild bolts of electricity travelled through his body every time teeth grazed his virgin skin. 

“Fuck,” he breathed, tilting his head back to give the man room. Sylvain bit him. “Fuck.”  

Felix was aching. Sylvain’s breathing was loud by his ear, heavy and apace with his own. His nimble hands roamed Felix’s body. Sparks flew in the wake of his touch.

Felix fumbled with his hands. One was still laced tightly with Sylvain’s. The other was knotted in silky curls of red hair, pulling too tightly. A hand dropped to rest against his hip. A thumb drew circles into his skin. He felt every caress in the core of his being. Desire fluttered frantically within him. 

Sylvain’s lips returned to his, sculpting themselves to Felix’s smart mouth. He untangled their fingers, cupping Felix’s head before dragging nails down his clothed chest, stopping to play with perky nipples. He gave a sharp pinch and Felix gasped. Liquid fire thrummed in his veins; his touch-starved body was pliant and yearning after being denied for so long. 

Another pinch, another gasp, and Sylvain snaked his tongue into Felix’s mouth. 

Felix felt clumsy, unable to match the easy way Sylvain explored him. He felt young and foolish, a child once more under Sylvain’s experienced touch. 

But he was a child no more. 

He leaned closer, keenly aware of his own throbbing erection, and thrust a hand down Sylvain’s smallclothes. He was velvet smooth and hopelessly hard. Felix palmed him, felt eager hips grind upwards. Sylvain groaned, a half-pained sound. “Shit,” he breathed, reluctantly pulling away from Felix. “Shit. Stop, stop.” 

It was like a slap to the face. Felix tore himself away. Sylvain was flushed. Hair mussed and lips swollen, his eyes were black in the dark. 

Felix swallowed thickly. “What is it?” It came out far harsher than he’d intended. 

“Prickly as always,” Sylvain said fondly. “I just…” He gestured helplessly at his outstretched leg. “This isn’t the best time.” 

Felix had completely forgotten about his wound. His graceless stitches gawked at him accusingly. “Right,” he said. The gravity of what they’d done was a weight on his shoulders. He was still trying to catch his breath, still feeling the heavy ache between his legs. “I’ll leave then.” 

This time, Sylvain didn’t try to stop him. “Yeah,” he said, running a hand over his face. “You probably should. I don’t think I can keep it together if you stay.” 

Felix nodded sharply, hiding his disappointment behind a scowl. “No self-control as usual.” 

Sylvain scoffed. “Shut it, you hypocrite.” 

Felix rose to his feet and wrestled his unruly hair back into its customary warrior’s tail. He stared down at Sylvain--his childhood friend, his lifelong partner, his current… something. He didn’t know what would become of them, but he knew one thing: all the fear, all the desperation, all the wild rush of the past two days had been leading up to this. 

Sylvain gazed up at him, warmth and happiness in his eyes. He shot Felix a lopsided grin and gestured at his swollen crotch. “Might wanna hide that."

“It’s your damned fault,” Felix growled. Embarrassment had swept away the carelessness of before. He couldn’t meet Sylvain's twinkling eyes, couldn’t stand his cheeky smile. “Stop grinning like an idiot.” 

“What else am I supposed to do?” Sylvain’s hand snaked up Felix’s leg, tugging lightly at his pants. “Maybe I can help.” 

Felix slapped his wandering hands away. His self-control was exceptional, but nothing was absolute. He would dissolve under Sylvain’s honeyed touch. “Hands off,” he commanded. 

Sylvain held both palms to the air. “Alright, alright.” He settled back against the wooden trunk, leaving a small space beside him. He patted it invitingly. “How about we sit a while?” 

 

--

 

The candle snub had burned itself out. Sylvain’s head rested on Felix’s shoulder. His eyes were drooping and exhausted. Felix extricated himself gently, letting Sylvain stretch himself out. He straightened his rumpled clothes as best he could and made for the thin tent flap. 

He doused the oil lamp on the way, hesitated by the exit. “I’m glad you’re not dead,” he said to the darkness.  

Sylvain’s voice was soft. “Me too. Once I’m healed, I’ll find you…” Felix waited. “And we’ll finish what we started.”

He smiled. “Then I hope you have a speedy recovery.” 

Felix strode out into the cool spring air, feeling lighter than he’d felt in days. Something warm buzzed in his chest.

The breeze was gentle; the stars bright. It was a beautiful night. 

His losses were still fresh and raw, but something had grown from that bitter soil. Something that felt like the end of a long drought. 

Once again, Sylvain had dragged Felix into something new and ridiculous. He snorted. 

He couldn’t wait for Ingrid’s lecture.  

 

--

 

Imperial Year 1186
Day 3 of the Harpstring Moon

Blue Lions army camp

 

Ashe stared at the outstretched hand. “So, how much did he say it was again?” 

The young page shrugged. “I dunno, he said ‘handsomely’.” He shook his palm and frowned, lips jutted forward in an unhappy pout. “I took real good care o’ him! You’re not some cheapskate, are ya?” 

“Of course not! Knights always pay their dues.” He pulled out his coin purse, fat and heavy with his precious savings. It jingled in his palm, the weight hard-earned and well-deserved. With an admirable effort of will, he placed it in the boy’s waiting hand. “There. That’s--” 

He didn’t get to finish. The boy was already gone, whooping loudly in the easy joy of childhood. Ashe sighed mournfully. He turned to Virtue and stroked his velvet nose. “You sure are an expensive horse. You’d better bite Felix when you see him next.” 

Virtue whickered in sympathy.