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Felix receives his first birthday card from Sylvain proper when he is five years old, a letter addressed specifically to him handed down by a messenger on a tall, tall horse, exhaling clouds of its breath into the chilly air as it stomps the frosty ground in irritated impatience.

The Gautiers have sent a missive each year around this time, his father says, always signed by the Margrave and bearing his personal seal: the Gautier crest clutched in the talons of some creature Felix can’t recognize. Well wishes to your child, many blessings from the Goddess on you and your House, how is Glenn?

This one, though, is from Sylvain himself. Felix had met him years before, the glowing second son of the Margrave, whose prowess has already confirmed that he’s been blessed with Gautier’s coveted Crest. Sylvain is a friend, more so than Ingrid (who can’t stop cooing over Glenn’s every move) and maybe even more so than Dimitri… or maybe just a friend in a different way. Sylvain makes him feel warm, safe, and validated… most importantly, Sylvain makes him feel like Felix.

Felix tears open the letter with exuberant impatience, sending bits of the envelope fluttering to the courtyard below in his haste to unfold the letter.

Dear Felix,

I hope the Pegasus Moon is more mild in Fraldarius than it is in Gautier, but I’m sure it’s still very cold. Regardless, I hope you’re having a good birthday, the best any boy could have!

Sincerely,

Sylvain

Felix’s heart leaps into his throat and tears spring to his eyes. Sylvain calls him by the name he’s picked. Sylvain remembers when Felix had crashed into his arms the last summer he’d visited, wiped tear-streaked eyes on his tunic and mumbled “call me Felix, now,” and here he’s written just that to him. There in perfect penmanship, elegant and practiced and in bold, black letters is his name. Felix. He stares at it and imagines Sylvain writing it, imagines a black quill pen in his grasp, messy hair falling in his face as he pens the letter.

Shyly, he asks the messenger to wait (and faces no objections, not when there is the promise of warm cider to be had in the kitchen) and runs to his father’s study, sending parchment and quill pens flying in his rush to find one suitable for his letter. He has to ask Glenn for help, but in the end he has a proper letter to his friend. Sylvain, he writes carefully as Glenn spells out each word, Fraldarius is cold also. I am having a good birthday. Glenn let me use his favorite sword. Sincerely, Felix.

--

The letters on his sixth, seventh and eighth birthdays arrive without incident, growing longer each year as Sylvain tells him small pieces of his life: lance techniques he’s learned, the new horses his father had given him, the books he’s reading and the people he’s meeting. Always, though, Sylvain wishes him a happy birthday, tells him that he’s excited to see him in the summer and he hopes he’s staying out of trouble.

The letter on his ninth birthday arrives exactly one day late, when Felix has been sobbing in the courtyard for the better part of the last day in the letter’s hollow absence. He’s cried so much his eyes are red and raw, cheeks splotchy under their dried tear tracks, and no one but Glenn has been able to console him. When the messenger rides through the blinding snow whipped by wolf-howl winds and begs haven for the night in exchange for the letter, he sobs harder still.

Glenn has to pick him up nearly-frozen from the snow-capped stones to carry him inside and into a warm bath, where he unravels the ribboned letter with nimble fingers to hold up so Felix can read.

Felix,

This letter will probably arrive late. I’m so, so sorry! I had a fever for most of the Guardian Moon, but I got out of bed to write this to you. I bet you thought I forgot your birthday, but I’d never do that.

It’s been a long, cold winter. I can’t wait until the first buds of spring poke through the stubborn snow, because that means I’ll get to see you and our friends again!

Happy birthday!

Sincerely,

Your friend, Sylvain

--

When Felix is ten, the morning of his birthday dawns like the calm after a storm, dim and foreboding over an six-inch thick blanket of snow. The sun is a runny egg yolk in the grey porridge sky, but still Felix shuns his breakfast to dress in his warmest cloak and run breakneck through the hall and into the courtyard. Snow crunches under his boots as he paces and he swipes irritably at his runny nose with chilly fingers as his eyes stay fixated on the gate.

Around noon, a messenger rides through with hooves pounding the old stone heralding her arrival. Felix runs out to meet her, tapping his foot impatiently as she digs through her saddlebags, knowing full well what waits in their depths. The woman bears a banner of Gautier crimson, and Felix knows what that means.

Despite the cold, the letter feels warm in his grasp and smells faintly of bergamot. It’s the tea Sylvain loves and the oil he likes best in his bath and it fills his nose with something like longing. Gently, he extricates the card from its envelope to find a beautiful drawing of a wolf on thick parchment gazing at him with eyes crafted of minute amounts of gold leafing. It’s a beautiful piece; a map of inked lines that his eyes follow greedily, from the tips of its inky ears to the pads of its feet, fingers hovering just above the thick drawing as if it might still be wet. As if he might ruin it with the briefest touch.

My dearest friend Felix,

I hope this letter finds you well. This drawing reminded me of you. It’s one of a kind; can you believe that? An artist was selling it in the market last year, and I bought it and kept it safe because I knew it would be perfect for you.

Happy birthday, Felix Hugo. I’ll see you this summer! Sometimes I think that’s my favorite time of year. I mean, my birthday? Seeing Ingrid and His Highness? Getting to hug you again?

Definitely nothing better.

Yours,

Sylvain

Felix clutches it to his chest and runs into the training hall, alight on feet that feel buoyed by the fluttering of his heart. That afternoon, not even Glenn’s playful taunts and the gnawing fear he’ll never be what his brother is can’t touch him when his head is caught in the clouds.

--

His eleventh letter is delivered in person when a surprise of a blizzard orphans him at Castle Gautier for an extra week. With Glenn gone at the Capital, newly knighted, there is not much awaiting him at home, save for his dad and the litter of kittens he’s been told made themselves known after the cook’s cat hid out for days beneath the cover of an old well. In Gautier, though, there is Sylvain, who gives him not only his birthday letter but a birthday hug as well.

Fe,

This letter is short, because you’re here! I’m honestly kind of happy. I know you might miss your dad, and your bed, and you’re getting tired of wearing my old hand-me-downs, but I kind of hope it never stops snowing.

Then my best friend never needs to leave!

Yours,

Syl

Sylvain smells like the sharp air of a sudden cold snap and spices; bergamot always. Felix wants to wrap himself in a cloak called Sylvain Gautier and thinks for the briefest of moments that maybe there is some truth to Glenn’s whisper of your little boyfriend.

--

Sylvain spends the winter of Felix’s twelfth birthday in Fraldarius, hoping to glean some extra lance proficiency from cold mornings in the courtyard sparring with Rodrigue. Felix watches them in between bouts with his sword instructor, jealous that his dad of all people gets most of Sylvain’s time when he wants it so bad.

Tasked with reading some old guy’s treasures on treatise on lance techniques, Sylvain slides Felix’s birthday letter beneath his door and returns to the rooms he’s been calling his own during his stay. Felix awakes at midday, sleeping later than he has in years and jolting out of bed so abruptly that his feet ache when land hard on the cold stone floor. There in front of his door is a letter, the top flap of the envelope folded neatly into the sides and his name penned in handsome cursive on the front of it.

Fe,

Good morning, Felix, and happy birthday! Your old man has me reading up on some lance techniques today, but I promise I’ll finish up and be in the courtyard with bells on to fly through every test he gives me on them.

Then I can spend time with you. So don’t be sad, okay? I’m only here until the start of the Great Tree Moon, so let’s make the most of it, okay?

Love,

Syl

Felix is patient. He waits while the sun rises to the height of the sky, sending down tendrils of sunlight that make the snow a sheet of blinding white. He waits until the shadows grow long, moving anxiously from one sword stance to another, going through the motions even though he can tell his sword instructor is going easy on him because it’s his birthday. When he can take it no longer, he goes in search of Sylvain.

“Sylvain? Oh… you’re still reading,” Felix says, a little sadly. He walks into the room Sylvain’s staying in, anyways, and sits down on the bed. “My sword instructor got so tired of losing to me that he told me I could have the rest of the day off. I was hoping you’d wanna do something… but I guess not. What’s my dad having you read, an entire compendium of lance techniques?”

Felix is prone to loneliness, and it’s been worse since his brother went to the Capital, graduated from squire to knight and became Sir instead of just Glenn. He misses his big brother, and Sylvain thinks he’s been doing a pretty good job of filling that void, mostly… except that he doesn’t think of Felix like a baby brother. At least, not anymore. He thinks of Felix like a keepsake, something precious that he never wants to lose. He thinks of Felix in terms of the way his lips pout when he’s upset, the way his eyes look like the crystallized amber that encases fossils when they’re swimming with tears… the way the fall of hair over his face casts him in some elegant, mysterious light.

“Nah, this is one of my books. I finished up and peeked in on you earlier, but you seemed so engrossed in your training that I left you alone. You’re here now, though, and I’d never make you spend all day by yourself, birthday or not!” Sylvain says, setting down the book he’d snuck into his trunk before leaving his castle, a book too old for him that he’d hidden well inside a cloak. It’s got all the good shit: less-than-chivalrous knights, amorous suitors, raunchy puns and nobles whose breasts heave and bodices rip. It’s good, but it’s not the undivided attention of one Felix Hugo Fraldarius.

“I’ll always be here for you.”

Petulantly, Felix demands, “What about when you go back to Gautier?”

Sylvain sighs, offers him an easy smile and the rub of a knuckle over his cheek to divest it of tears. “Then I’ll always be just a letter away, and you can always rest easy knowing that you’ll see me the next year.”

“We’ll stick together until we die, right?” Felix asks, gnawing thoughtfully on a piece of deer jerky one of the kitchen help had given him during his aimless wandering. “You won’t leave me?

“That’s the promise,” Sylvain says, an easy smile, tucking a soft leather ribbon into his book to mark his place and scooting back to the wall his bed is pressed against. Arms outstretched, he answers Felix’s plea: “No, Fe,” and lets Felix’s head loll onto his shoulder as he scoots in close. “There’s no way we’ll leave each other alone in the world.”

--

Tragedy ruins everything. When the rider’s horse bears down into the courtyard, it is not a messenger clad in Gautier crimson or Blaiddyd blue, not even Galatea green… it is his father, and he is wind-blown and haggard. He dismounts, and the sag in his shoulders and the scorched, blood-stained gauntlet he presses wordlessly into Felix’s hand tells him everything he needs to know.

Glenn is dead. Something happened at Duscur, something that killed King Lambert and Queen Patricia and Glenn and everyone but Dimitri. Glenn is dead and he died a true knight and Felix swears the way Rodrigue looks at him says it should have been you. He vomits acrid bile onto the icy-slick stones and the world goes black.

--

Rodrigue forgets Felix’s fourteenth birthday. It is too soon, the pain still so fresh and all too raw… to celebrate would seem like salt, like sand, abrading, debriding. Glenn’s absence is still a slew of weeping wounds that haven’t healed, or at least that’s what Felix tells himself when night falls on the twentieth day of the Pegasus Moon and his father has barely even glanced at him.

A servant finds him in the training hall, beating a dummy half to death with his sword and shakily informs him that a messenger has just delivered a letter. It’s from Sylvain, of course, and Felix has half a mind to toss it out. The boy who waited at the gates for a letter from a far-off friend burned to death in Duscur with Glenn.

He offers a curt thanks to the servant and tosses the letter to the ground, lets it fall amidst the bits of fluff and stuffing that he’s knocked out of the dummy. It stares at him, elegant print instead of cursive on the envelope’s front: Felix. It should go on the pile with every other letter he’s received since news of Duscur hit Fraldarius territory; the tear-stained letter from Ingrid, the shakily-penned note from Dimitri, the impersonal missive from his uncle. But this one is Sylvain’s, and it is his birthday.

Dear Felix,

I know you probably didn’t want this letter. I’m sure it took you an hour to even open it, but I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t write it. I’ve barely heard from you since the news of the Tragedy of Duscur made their rounds. Are you alright?

I miss you. I wish I was there with you. You’ve always been so comforted by me. I know I’m not Glenn, but I can be something. Someone. I can wipe the tears away, if you need someone who promises not to tell anyone you let them fall.

You don’t have to be a fortress, Felix. Glenn would want you to enjoy your birthday.

Sincerely,

Sylvain

Furious, Felix crumples the letter in cracked, calloused hands. Stomping across the room, he holds it over the fire crackling in the grate for what feels like an eternity, knowing the boy he’d been would cry, would sob, would damn the Goddess and all of her saints for letting all of fucking Faerghus think dying a true knight was something to be celebrated.

In the end, he tucks it into the box beneath his bed with every other letter Sylvain has ever written him. It’s not his fault Glenn is dead. It’s not his fault Felix is alone.

--

His fifteenth birthday is overshadowed by the announcement that Duke Fraldarius has secured a place as a squire in the capital, something Felix is supposed to be honored by. He screams, hurls every practice sword in the hall at a training dummy so hard it disintegrates into cloth, splintered wood, and scattered stuffing. Wasn’t losing one son enough for him? Was he willing to throw progeny at the Kingdom, for good and glory, anything for Faerghus? Did he want him to die, too?

Felix,

Happy birthday! I know you’re leaving for the Capital in a few months, but my father says that I can ride down to Fraldarius and then ride to Fhirdiad with you. Honestly, I’d love an excuse to get away from Miklan. No matter how hard I try, he just gets more distant and angry every day.

So… there’s your birthday gift! Me, coming to see you!

Love,

Sylvain

Suddenly, the world doesn’t seem as bleak.

--

The Harpstring Moon heralds Felix’s departure and true to his word, Margrave Gautier has permitted Sylvain to ride down to Fraldarius territory to see him safely to the capital. Sylvain sighs as he flops onto Felix’s bed, boundaries long-forgotten, and shoves a pile of Felix’s tunics and trousers out of the way to make room for himself. Chin in his hands, he looks up at his best friend and laments, “I can’t believe you have to go.”

“Do you think I want to go? I can’t believe my old man is sending me away and with some stupid knight, no less,” Felix fumes, stomping furiously around his room in the process of packing his trunk. Truth be told, it’s less “packing his trunk” than it is “beating his belongings into submission”, with the way he’s slamming things into it so hard the latches rattle. Good. He likes it that way. Let his father hear, and let him realize he’s making a damn mistake.

“Some chivalrous, pompous idiot!” Felix mopes. “A knight, Sylvain. I’d rather die than listen to his tales of grandeur.”

“No way,” Sylvain refutes as Felix bends to shove his favorite pair of boots into the trunk. “No dying.”

Felix’s glare is acidic when he turns to him. “What?”

“You can’t die while you’re away,” Sylvain says, rolling over onto his back and using one of Felix’s cloaks as a pillow. Annoyed, Felix yanks it out from under him - it’s his favorite, teal thread on black velvet. “What I mean is - you can’t just break our promise like that, Fe.”

A blush blooms on Felix’s cheeks and he looks away, he hopes, before Sylvain can notice, trusting in the impaired vision that comes from looking at him from an upside down position.

(What Felix doesn’t know is that Sylvain has memorized every expression he can make, from the childlike agony that made his eyes swim with tears to the anger that curls his lip into a sneer, the flush that spreads from the tips of his ears to his chest and the disdain that shocks him like a bucket of ice water.)

“He wants me to be like my brother,” Felix says, sadly, and there it is, out in the open, and then he says softly, sadly, “Like Glenn. Maybe then when my body comes home he can say I ‘died a true knight’. Maybe then he’ll realize.”

Sylvain’s body moves before his mind can comprehend it, propelled only by a voice ringing in his ears that says you can’t die, you can’t, I won’t let you. Before he can even consider any kind of consequence, he’s cupping Felix’s anger-flushed cheek in his hand and pressing his lips to Felix’s, licking at the seam before he can remember who he’s with. Not some stable boy or kitchen maid, but Felix, who he’s self-aware enough to admit he’s been in love with for years, maybe before they were even born at all.

“What in the hell was that?” Felix demands when he shoves him back. His lips are tingly and hot, hands jittery as he shakes with the adrenaline surging through his veins. Sylvain just kissed him.

Kissed him.

“What do you think you’re doing?” he demands again when Sylvain offers no response.

“Uh…” Sylvain offers, running a hand through his perpetually-mussed hair. “Kissing you. Think of it as… a late birthday gift?”

Felix swallows past the anxious lump in his throat, licks his lips to wet them when his mouth feels dry as a desert. He curls his hands into the collar of Sylvain’s clothes, gripping loose shirt and crimson cloak in firm fingers and demands, “Give me another.”

This time there’s more to it, there’s Felix’s hands dragging him down by his collar to crush their lips together, there’s Sylvain’s hand sliding to Felix’s nape and rubbing his thumb along the sliver of skin between hairline and collar. There’s Felix climbing onto the bed beside him and sending his unpacked clothes tumbling to the floor, there’s Sylvain’s tongue slipping between his lips only for Felix to bite it.

“Do you remember our promise?” Sylvain asks when they pull back panting, and at first Felix’s only answer is a sigh. Of course he remembers. Their promise is the only thing he’s clung to for months, some small semblance of hope that Sylvain won’t leave him the way that Glenn had, the way that his father had, the way that Dimitri had. Sylvain has been a constant. Sylvain will always be a constant, and his smile is as familiar as breathing for Felix when he says, “I do.”

Felix scoffs and stands back up, collecting his spilled clothes in a huff and tossing them into his trunk. “Well, don’t forget it. And don’t stop writing me those ridiculous letters, even when I’m away. I might think you went off and died somewhere or something.”

It’s bait, and Sylvain is happy to take it.

--

The letter for his sixteenth birthday arrives when he’s returned from the Western front and he tears into it with a fervor he’s surprised at, drinks it in like it’s water and he’s dying of thirst.

Felix,

Goddess, I miss you. You’re on my mind, always. I can’t wait for old Rodrigue to realize that you don’t want to be a knight and call you home. I miss my best friend. Things have been… rough, here. You might have heard already, but Mik was disinherited last year. I’m officially the heir, now. Amazing, right?

Enough about me. I hope you’re having an incredible birthday. There should have been a whetstone and some blade oil along with this letter - I’m sure you have some, but maybe when you use this, you’ll think of your old friend, yeah?

Yours,

Sylvain

One kiss has made him poetic, the absolutely degenerate.

--

Felix,

I can’t believe it’s been almost two years since I’ve seen you. I still remember the way you tasted, like pine needles and sea breeze. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think of -

That fucker. That absolute, inconsiderate, unthinking, fucker. How dare he put that in a letter? A letter that anyone could have seen? Felix flips it over, re-checks the seal: there is the Gautier crest indented into cold, crimson ink dried hard as stone, devoid of any cracks. Thank the Goddess that no one had read it on its way to him, but... still.

Still, he wants to keep reading.

- the way it felt to hold you in my arms and kiss you. Everything else feels unwelcome, almost foreign in my grip, because it isn’t your waist my hands are holding and isn’t your fingers laced between mine. I hope you hate that knight as much as you thought you would. I can’t bear the idea of you going off to the Capital and finding someone better than me, though I guess I wouldn’t blame you if you did.

Can’t wait to see you when the new year comes. The Margrave says that it makes sense for me to ride down to Fraldarius and meet you for our journey. From there, we’ll meet up with His Highness, ride to Galatea, and then follow the mountains to the east all the way down to Garreg Mach. I’m counting down the days until I get to see you.

Yours always,

Sylvain

--

He is a few weeks from eighteen, and tenseness hangs in the air. The Professor is distant, drowning in grief even when they try to say they’re fine. Felix wants to tell them that grieving won’t bring their father back, but when he thinks too much about it he can’t bring himself to say it., Dimitri is behaving even more strangely as of late, pacing the halls and burning midnight oil in the library. He can’t shake the feeling that something terrible is on the horizon and as a result, his birthday goes most mostly unnoticed. Only Ingrid passes him a quiet gift over breakfast in the dining hall, all simpering smiles and too-sincere well wishes as she hands him a new pouch for his belt.

He thinks he’s escaped unscathed until he finds a letter on his bed, simply addressed Fe in Sylvain’s swooping cursive.

Damn him.

Fe,

I know you’re going to dismiss this letter. Hey, you’re probably scoffing right now, and I don’t blame you. I haven’t exactly been the most reliable person ever, but you know I’d never stop writing your birthday letters.

I want you, Felix.

I want all of you.

I want you on your birthday and I want to be there on the day we both die, ancient and content because we’ve stuck together until the end.

Now, come to the training hall. I have a gift for you. And before you try to avoid it, I’ve made sure we won’t be disturbed, so no one will see you with me… the horror! The agony!

Happy birthday, baby.

Syl

Felix enters the training hall on light feet, sticking to shadows. When he gets there, the sight that greets him, despite all of Sylvain’s utter nonsense, is a welcome one. Sylvain has Felix’s favorite practice sword and a wooden lance for himself laid out, a fire roaring in the grate and a smile on his face. Arms outstretched, he echoes his letter, “Happy birthday, baby,” with so much sincerity it makes Felix’s teeth ache from the sweetness of it.

Felix wants to hug him, almost. He wants to tell him that he knows Sylvain’s a fuckup but that he knows everything he said in the letter was true. He wants to tell him that he knows himself well enough to know he needs work but that he means everything Sylvain put in that letter too and then some.

He wants to kiss him, to reach up and drag Sylvain’s mouth to his, bite his lips until he’s whining for his touch like an impatient puppy.

He wants to do all of those things, so naturally, he puts a hand on Sylvain’s chest and shoves him backwards, instead.

“You’re so ridiculous,” he says, toeing the sword off the ground and flipping it up into his hand. “Pick up your lance and fight me.”

Shocked, Sylvain scrambles for the lance and stutters, “I’m sorry, I thought you’d like - “

“Be quiet. This is how you apologize to me,” Felix says, lunging forward with the practice sword drawn, speaking the language of bodies and blades, the one he’s much more fluent in than he is with wordplay. In the end, though, there is no victor, only the two of them worn to exhaustion and flushed from exertion and close contact. Panting and sweaty, they sit down on the couch before the fire. Even though it’s too hot for the moment, as soon as the chilly air seeping in from the courtyard starts to freeze sweat to skin, they’ll be glad for it.

“I adore you, Felix Fraldarius, and you’re never getting rid of me,” Sylvain teases, “although that’s not much of a gift.”

“Yeah. I think you’re confusing ‘gift’ with ‘curse’, there, Sylvain,” Felix says, burrowing down into Sylvain’s jacket that he’s stolen. Sylvain can see the tips of his ears and the tops of his cheeks, though, and they’re bright red. Eyes narrowed, he peers at him from beneath the collar of Sylvain’s academy uniform and says, “Sounds like a fate worse than death.”

“Hey! Easy on my heart, Fraldarius, I’m only a man!” he jokes. “Here’s your real present, though.”

He retrieves from the floor a dagger, wicked sharp and shifting with the light, and places it in the hand Felix has extricated from his jacket cocoon.

“The steel’s been folded over one-hundred times, and it’s been sharpened on a block of meteorite ore, and the maker quenches it in a type of oil so rare he wouldn’t even tell me what it was.”

Every bit of time, effort and coin he’d put into this gift is worth it for the way Felix’s eyes sparkle in the flickering fire’s light. “Where the hell did you find this?” he asks, almost reverent.

Sylvain laughs, opting for honesty over bravado. “I, uh… had it made.”

“You’re ridiculous,” Felix says, but the kiss he gives him as thanks is all teeth and tongue, one hand clutching the dagger and the other gliding hungry over his chest through his unbuttoned shirt. “I love it.”

--

In the midst of the war, on a night so cold and clear that soldiers’ breath rises like smoke signals into the sky, a rider comes in the night. The archers atop the ramparts nock their arrows and take aim, bowstrings thrumming. The messenger has a Gautier crest emblazoned on his breastplate and a letter in his grasp, and Felix remembers that he is nineteen, now.

Fe,

This letter is probably going to find you early, or late… not sure which one. That’s war for you, I guess. There’s frost on my windows. Remember when Miklan used to tell us to lick them? They looked just like the sugar glass that the servants snuck me when I smiled just right, but my tongue ended up sticking to it. Damn… that hurt so bad. You were so mad at Mik that you tried to fight him, all two years and two feet against, goddess, how big was he already, then? At least as big as a barn, I think.

The cold makes me think of you. You’ve always been like winter, Felix. Cold as the North wind and harsh as frostbite, but gods-damn beautiful. Happy birthday, Felix Hugo Fraldarius, and may it be a day sooner rather than later that I get to tell you that in person.

Did you think I’d forget your birthday? No way. It’ll be a cold, cold day in hell before I forget anything about you, Fe

I would say that I’d know you even in death, but I guess there’s not much weight to saying you’ll know someone in death when you’re going to be walking into death hand in hand. Is that morbid? Maybe so. Being back at Castle Gautier is getting to me, I guess… I remember now why we always call this place Bitter Embrace. It feels like sleep to the freezing, Fe, like something dark is going to swallow me whole. I miss your liquid amber eyes and your tongue, sharper even than your swords. I miss your hands, those pretty, perfect hands that you take such good care of.

I miss the way you handle a sword, if you know what I mean.

Happy birthday, Fe. When this war is over, we’re never going to spend another birthday apart again, got it?

Eternally yours,

Syl

P.S. - Don’t get mad at me and say I shouldn’t have put this in a letter, or that this is war and I have other things to focus on. I trust this messenger with my life - he’d never disrespect my privacy like that. So… I can talk about how much I miss the feel of you, the taste of...all of that and more for three or three-hundred pages, if I want.

--

Felix’s twentieth and twenty-first birthdays are a haze. He travels the countryside like a man possessed, single-mindedly in search of the boar. He doesn’t believe that he’s dead any more than his father does, not when the execution was a sham and the Crest stone within Areadbhar still glows eerie red in the darkness. He’s alive, and Felix is going to find him. In between ventures into the Southeast, into what was once Blaiddyd territory, he stops at the Fraldarius’ ancestral home for a night in a real bed and the hope that Sylvain has sent him a letter. Letter number twenty is short, hastily scrawled and too raunchy to mention, and letter twenty-one is so bittersweet he swears he’ll kill Sylvain when he sees him again.

(He does not, in fact, kill him when he sees him again. He’s too caught up in the relief, in the pure simple joy of seeing him alive and whole that killing him seems counterintuitive to both his own goals and their promise alike.

He fucks him, instead. He fucks him with the fury of a man wronged by the world in desperate need of recompense and he fucks him with the fervor of years spent apart when every time he’d dared to touch himself had been to thoughts of Sylvain.)

--

For his twenty-second birthday, there is a letter on his pillow.

Dearest Fe,

In eight days, we’ll go to another battle. I’m not excited for Aillel… all that heat? I’d rather be somewhere cold, curled up with you, maybe snowed in with nothing to do all winter but make love…

I’ve never been a pious guy. I guess that makes me a bad Faerghus lord, right?

But before every battle, I pray to whoever will listen. I pray that this won’t be the last birthday I get to spend with you, and that we’ll see fifty more. I pray to the Goddess, I pray to the Gods that watch over Almyra and Brigid and Dagda, if they’ll hear me. I pray to any one who will listen that we both get to keep our promise.

Come to my room, Fe. Let me treat you right for your birthday. Let’s forget about the war, even if you say war isn’t something you can escape. I shouldn’t be thinking this, much less writing it down, but just for tonight let’s forget about kings and empresses and battle and just be us.

I meant what I said years ago. I want you every day I can have you, from every birthday from here on until the day we die together.

Eternally, faithfully, eagerly yours,

Syl

Felix stomps into Sylvain’s room without a knock. “What do you think you’re doing?” he demands, tossing the letter in a flutter of parchment onto the bedspread. “You think we’re gonna die?”

It’s only after he’s thrown the letter down in a fit of anxious rage that he notices Sylvain’s room is dark, save for a few candles flickering weakly on the desk and the light of the moon filtering through the window panes like light through a prism. The quilt is pulled back as if in invitation and the flowers in the chipped cup on the windowsill are the ones that the four of them once wove crowns out of by the seashore.

“It’s always a possibility,” Sylvain wants to say, but he bites it back. This is Felix’s birthday, after all, can’t he keep his pessimistic morbidity in check for just one day, geez?

“I wouldn’t want something to happen without you knowing how I feel,” he says instead, because it’s true. Felix shuts the door and retrieves the letter from the floor, setting it on the desk with a reverence that makes Sylvain’s heart flutter. “I just want you to know I love you, so for once Fe, put your claws away. Don’t fight it.”

Felix’s life has been nothing but a series of fights. A fight to be recognized as Felix, not the sham that his father had betrothed to Dimitri before he’d even been born, a fight to be more than the kid living in his dead brother’s shadow. It’s been a fight first to keep his emotions in check, then a fight to push them back down. They made him a weapon; bred it into his bones, his blood, and then told him to find peace with that, to pick his battles and pick them wise, but he’s picked every one. To be Felix is to fight.

(In eight days, they’ll fight, and they might die. If he’s going to die, he’s going to die Sylvain’s.)

“If you think we’re gonna die,” Felix says, crossing the small room in a few brisk steps and straddling Sylvain’s lap, “then fuck me like it might be our last night alive.”

--

The war is hard-fought, and even harder-won, and not without casualties, but Felix’s twenty-third birthday is the first one in five years that he’s celebrated in a time of piece, and Sylvain’s birthday letter for him is spritzed with the spicy citrus perfume he favors, easily obtained once more now that the war is no longer monopolizing each and every resource.

Felix, the letter says, remember when I said we were never spending another birthday apart? That starts now. Love, Syl

--

1191 finds Felix is in the Capital, fulfilling his duties as Duke Fraldarius and advising King Dimitri the way his father had. It’s not so bad, but as his days in the capital grow more numerous, so does he grow irritable that he's had to leave Sylvain at home in the cold towers of Castle Gautier.

Felix Hugo Fraldarius-Gautier,

Do you think I’ll ever get tired of writing that?

(Hint: Nah. I won’t.)

I hope that His Majesty is done with you soon.I haven’t seen you since the end of last year’s Wyvern Moon. As of your birthday, it’s been one-hundred and fourteen days since I’ve seen my husband. I know last year was good ‘ol Faerghus’ four-hundred and thirtieth birthday, but… this one is your twenty-eighth, and I’m lonely.

Will you think of my touch tonight? In your bed, all alone in your quarters at Fhirdiad, with your hand between your legs and my name slipping off your tongue? You probably thought I’m too boring to write raunchy letters, now that we’re married. Think again, baby. Just you watch, next year’s letter will be the dirtiest one yet and then you’ll REALLY call me insatiable.

I’ll think of you tonight. In our bed, with the memory of you fresh when I close my eyes and the smell of you all around me.

Missing you so bad my heart, and my balls, hurt,

Sylvain Jose Gautier-Fraldarius

Felix reads the letter alone in his room, and he’s glad for it. It smells of their northern home, of everything that is Sylvain: sweat and cold air, citrus and vetiver and the cream they use so their hands don’t crack in the dry winter air. The longing could eat him alive, gnaw a hole right through the core of him, and in a fit of uncharacteristic lust he locks the door and tugs his pants down and off, clambers onto the bed and spreads his legs to the touch of his hand with Sylvain’s letter beside him. Face buried in the pillow, he glides his fingers through his folds and up inside, delves into the slick heat that Sylvain can fill so completely perfectly and drags fingers over his cock that Sylvain knows how to handle just right. It’s his birthday, and if he wants to rub one out in between council meetings, who the hell can stop him?

--

Years down the road, and the box he’d originally kept Sylvain’s letters in is cracking at the edges, squeaking on rusted hinges overworked by the thickness of too many sheets of parchment. This Pegasus Moon brings his thirty-second birthday and he wakes to find a new letter, crumpled a bit at the edges and dirtied by what looks suspiciously like jam.

To my dearest Fe,

You’re sleeping as I write this, and goddess knows you deserve it. You’ll probably tell me I’m a creep, some kind of degenerate pervert, but the way your hair fanned across the pillow made you look like a painting, and well… the drool dripping down your chin really added to the appeal. Forgive me for not planning ahead and writing this letter sooner, but hey, it’s still here for your birthday. Just more proof I’ll always keep my promises.

By the way, I had a little help writing this letter. I kept trying to find time for myself, but Isaac just wants to know what Dad is doing!

O

/|\

/ \

Isaac drew that. I think it’s you… or maybe it’s him. I’m trying to teach him how to say “happy birthday”, but all he can manage is an excitable “birf!” and of course, his new favorite, “Dad” so… birf it is. Birf, Dad.

Every day I think I can’t possibly love you more, and then I do. I can’t believe I was ever afraid of committing, afraid of having kids, afraid of being used… like you ever wanted to use me. You were the one person who never did.

It’s hard to believe I was ever afraid of this. Maybe I was just afraid of how much I loved you, but I’m not anymore.

Happy birthday, Felix. Come downstairs and have breakfast with Isaac and I.

Endlessly yours,

Syl

Felix was made into a weapon and told to find peace, and he’s found it. It is his birthday, he is married to the love of his life, and he can hear the excited giggles of their little boy drifting up the stairs and into their bedroom.