Caspar knows Linhardt is in the library after he doesn’t show up for breakfast and isn’t in his dorm. Pulling all-nighters, missing meals, and sleeping through the day— desperately inhaling information until he passes out is pretty integral to who his friend is. Like fighting is for Caspar, an itch under his skin, the urge to get stronger and prove it. Linhardt has to know things. Will go to occasionally unsettling lengths to acquire research and books, war or not.
When he finally makes it to the second story, down the halls to the stale, claustrophobic room, he finds Linhardt’s slumped form at one of the back tables. There are two candles burned out in front of him, books underneath him being subjected to drool. Caspar sets to waking him as gently as he knows how.
(A hundred different iterations of this have blended together. Tracing his friend's shoulder with a thumb. The nearly traditional, not-so-quiet murmur of, Hey, Linhardt, can you wake up for me? which occasionally will get a hum. Ducking under Linhardt's arm to simply plant him upright. There's usually a muffled protest at this point, as Caspar adjusts Linhardt into a more comfortable position over his shoulders.)
Linhardt ends up something along the lines of conscious this morning, but he’s stubborn enough in remaining a floppy, dead weight that Caspar doesn’t see the point in making a big deal about it. There's no rush today, no battles, so he simply adjusts the body weight more carefully. They leave the pile of books, the giant tome Linhardt totes around, and the burnt out candles on the table. A scholarly type at one of the other tables gives him a sour look, and he affects an apologetic smile as they are on the way out.
When Caspar gets into fights, Linhardt often appears. He doesn't really know how, because it doesn't seem intentional, but he's usually glad he'll be there to see whatever the outcome is. Caspar is proud most of the time, especially when he’s winning. Strength means something to him, even if it doesn't matter to his friend.
Linhardt watches with clear eyes, doing that casually calculating thing that most of their class covets to this day. Even the most seasoned of them need combat advice, and Linhardt's laziest observations are still invaluable. That said, he sometimes calls out advice that’s too late to use when Caspar is actually in a brawl. The heat of battle isn’t a time for overthinking for a fighter like him; it comes down to training and instinct, and one of those has to be right.
(Linhardt's comment to go for the knees was far less helpful when Caspar was already in the process of grappling his opponent to the ground. His readied heal spell after the fight is always far more practical, even if it always seemed to be paired with criticism of what he did wrong. He's not disheartened though, especially when Linhardt's hand finishes fading away the bruising on his ribs and pulls him closer to buss his lips against his cheek with a huff of wry congratulations. )
When everything is over, win or lose, because Caspar never really takes a draw, Linhardt patches him up. Caspar’s blood still seems to bother Linhardt, but definitely not as much as it used to. Not when Caspar’s called out to him from across the battlefield near-dead more than once. Even with the five years of continuous conflict, Caspar hasn't lost his desire for those good, fair fights where you can grin and give someone a hand up afterwards. There's satisfaction there, a different type of power than comes with turning away from a corpse.
Linhardt is there, one way or another.
Caspar is grateful.
Dorthea likes to tease him about a lot of things. She’s committed to the big sister role wholeheartedly, and Caspar has given in. It’s pretty nice after a while. Even if it’s not in Caspar’s attention span to take tea together, and long hours of sparring are hardly in hers despite the sheer number of swords she totes around, they make time to lounge around together and talk.
Pilfering food from the kitchens to bring to her room and eat is something of a tradition at this point. When Caspar doesn’t want to fight, Dorthea makes him talk about things. It’s weird, because by blood, he’s never had family like her before. She’ll give him stories from the streets and the opera, and sometimes he trades her ones of his household in Bergliez filled to the brim with faceless relations.
(Her stories are often daring: break a man’s arm when he becomes too taken with her role in Carmen. His are an odd contrast of memories of a stifled upbringing mixed with his father's expectations for a warrior.)
Dorthea eventually finds out about his fear of lightning, which she pokes at enough to test his reaction. He’s embarrassed, but she’s good-natured in her ribbing, so he doesn’t mind too much. She’s afraid of the instability and unknown of an insecure future. He can’t really tease her back about that.
(But he does reassure her. If she can’t find the right work or the right person, no matter what, he’ll take care of her.)
Linhardt comes up during her teasing a lot. It’s okay most of the time, but some days, it gets under his skin.
(“Do you think you’ll elope?” Dorthea asked with a flutter of her lashes and a bite into the pheasant.
“Ughhhhhh.” responded Caspar as he tried dodging an actual response by scraping up some of the egg on the edge of his plate. His feelings eventually sorted themselves into coherent thoughts as he chewed. "I'm pretty sure Linhardt would rather be some sort of teacher or something."
“Maybe you could travel around together helping the needy?”
“Dorthea —" a protest, even though he had entertained the thought since they started at Garreg Mach together. Maybe even before that, when they were both kids, and Caspar had first thought of Linhardt as a friend. He has always wanted that sort of life, something that does a sort of good for the world, and Linhardt has been a part of that picture for as long as he can remember.
“No, wait, you’ll get a cottage in the countryside!”
He didn't respond as quickly to this particular comment, perhaps because it was a more recent development. Closer to home. Closer to what Linhardt would want for his life.
"Yeah, sure, we'll spend our lives as roving adventurers."
“Oh, darling, nothing could be cuter."
Dorthea had paused at this point to take in the tension of his shoulders, and the flex of his thumb rubbing along the edge of his plate. Her smile didn’t fade, but the tone of her voice sobered somewhat.
“I mean it, Cas. He’d do it, if it were you.” )
There's some sort of playful affection from her he never quite got from the people he grew up around. Even if her teasing hits a little harder, there isn't a world where he could take this for granted. It's no longer a performance of siblings— she is a home he didn't know he was missing.
If Caspar had to take a guess these days, Linhardt's distaste for blood is probably overruled on the battlefield by an unwavering devotion to saving lives, rather than developing any sort of tolerance to gore. He's been delegated many a job since the war started, but healing seems a definite preference, if not something of a specialty by this point. He can be counted on for mending bones and knitting skin back together. Sometimes he heals so much it stains his fingers and hands in strange patterns that are unsettling and soothing to look at all in one.
(The first time he saw it was just after the professor returned. Caspar had turned to thank Linhardt in the midst of their battle for his quick mend, and caught sight of the odd sheen creeping up to his wrists. Linhard's attention was already on the next of the wounded generals, but all at once Caspar had felt the breath knocked out of him. He wondered if he was meeting something deep and hidden. Linhardt focused, surrounded by an apocalypse, the patterns crawling ever higher up his arms.
Caspar touched the scarring out of curiosity after the fight was over, while he carried his friend away from the battlefield on his back. Just curiously traced a finger down a tendon. The marks burned too hot and too bright. He pulled his hand back expecting a blister, but his thumb wasn't even red. It worried Caspar that his friend’s skin was superheated from magic. He wanted to ask the limp body draped over his shoulders if it hurt, but Linhardt was out cold, and he knew the answer regardless. )
The professor said years ago in a lecture that faith magic is personal, based on sensing and believing more than anything. Cast from the heart, was their uncharacteristically poetic way of putting it. It’s why Dorthea's forays into curative magic echoed the pleasure of standing center-stage under a hot spotlight, even though Caspar has definitely never done that. Linhard’s magic is somehow like a nap under the trees on a cloudy summer day. That’s what he looks to— the well he draws from when he’s bringing forth his magic.
It would be foolish to think him just a healer though.
Linhardt does damage in swaths of wind that shatter bones and draining bursts of light that leave shriveled bodies. Never lightning, at least not near Caspar, but strange explosions that leave the battlefield scarred worse. Simple fire spells that leave charred husks. Linhardt's guilt is visible after, eyes glazed over, and the acrid, post-battle comments more depressing than usual.
(Caspar does everything he can to make sure Linhardt only has to heal. He doesn't say anything, but it's no secret. He takes on bigger and bigger opponents, and uses more strategy than he ever did fighting in the years before. At the battle's end, he breathes easier covered in wounds, because Linhardt doesn't look like he'd rather be a corpse.)
But it is not forks from thunder and lightning that mark him, nor the undulating patterns that arise with wind magic. His fingers don't carry the trademark inky stains from opening doors to nowhere. The scars that trail up his arms have a sheen and tend to make his head hurt if Caspar looks at them too long. A pattern of claws, and rings, and maybe eyes.
Even without offensive magic, Linhardt is terrifying.
(It was another late-night snack in the near-empty dining hall, when Linhardt asked him. They were sitting next to each other, Caspar gently elbowing him every so often to eat off the plate of picked-at sweet buns in front of them. Linhardt gave a sigh, and like a marionette whose strings were being cut one at a time, slacking in little increments against Caspar. He only had to lean a little bit, Caspar having grown in the five years prior to make him a more convenient napping-point. He was expecting Linhardt to collapse entirely, but instead the exhausted mumble came from his shoulder,
"Hey, Caspar, when all of this is over, will you make sure I never have to kill again?"
He replied without hesitation, concise as he ever is, was, or will be,
"Of course." )
It's fair for Linhardt to mark Caspar's attempts at fishing up as a lost cause. He moves around too much and talks too loud. But Linhardt lets Caspar keep him company in afternoons when the pond's cool air draws him away from the training grounds, even though he's pretty sure he scares the fish. Linhardt complains good naturedly, but never forces him away.
Even if the small bucket at the edge of the dock is empty by the time the kitchen is getting properly ready for supper, Linhardt doesn't seem disappointed. Just packs up the tackle and bait while humoring Caspar's new stories or trading his own.
Caspar likes it when Linhardt gets to talking. It's not like he understands what he's talking about very often— because given the chance, Linhardt will probably talk about either his research or something he's reading. Maybe it's just the contrast of it all. Linhardt chafes against the constraints of their upbringing, and the freedom to pursue what interests him is in obvious opposition to his supposed duty. Caspar doubts very much, no matter the outcome of this war, that Linhardt will take up his place as a noble.
(Not when his eyes glaze over when someone starts talking about politics. Not when the heads of Herving are supposed to take up arms to assert dominance over Fodland's neighboring countries. Not when his responsibilities get in the way of his passions.)
Dorthea’s melancholy over the ending war, accompanied by its escalating conflict, make for questionable drinking company. Especially when he’s probably supposed to be getting rowdy with one of the battalions under his command, fostering bonds and authority. Or something.
But Dorthea has been on edge, and it is his duty as honorary brother to hear her out. Or whatever she needs. Even if what she needs is for him to get wine-drunk with her.
(She’s been fearsome on the battlefield lately. Lightning scarring travels up her fingertips through her arms from Thunder and Thoron, and she fights with a battle-worn desperation of someone who can see the end of their violence and would very much like for it to be over. She might not be a warrior or a hunter, but she’s a fighter, and she still stands in victory over her foes.)
He is past the point of tipsy, but fully present and lucid when she reveals without much fanfare,
“Petra asked me to come to... Go back to Brigid with her.”
“Yeah, she does that, doesn’t she?”
“I think I’m going to do it.”
Caspar is probably not well equipped to do anything but support her wholeheartedly, and he doesn’t want to do anything else either. So he says,
(Because if anyone can give Dorthea a life she deserves, it's a foreign princess.)
His mace breaks, then his gauntlets.
He fights the last of this battle with bare fists, putting enough into the swing that he still takes out the opponents he’s turned to face. The professor’s orders are clear in the air. The chaos of the battle does not undermine them.
Caspar plays bait more than once, takes on larger foes that fracture his fingers and dislocate his wrists. The echo of a calm day spent napping under a tree soothes his body at uneven intervals.
But he also clears a path for the wind that cuts, and fire that leaves no traces.
The battle ends when there’s no one left to fight.
He looks to each of his comrades in turn, and finds Linhardt standing nearer than he is expecting, within the simple distance of a Heal. His company of medics is scattered, but those who still require their aid are few between the corpses. He's a familiar mess of sheer exhaustion, grime, blood, and maybe vomit standing across from Caspar.
(He wonders if there is some way to repay Linhardt, who has given everything. What could you give to someone who gave you their memories and beliefs? Cast from the heart rings again in his head.)
Linhardt holds out a shaky palm to Caspar’s knuckles, but there’s nothing but body heat. He looks a little taken aback, and retracts his hand.
“I guess that was my last one.”
Caspar doesn’t say anything, for once, about the battle, or their enemies, or their individual fights. He catches Linhardt’s hand before it rests at his side.
Upon contact, it burns. It's scarred in that unsettling, abstract way he recognizes, and he makes a pained attempt at gentle as he reaches to bring up the other hand for inspection. It carries the same discoloration and awful heat. He doesn't let go.
(He doesn’t know what he’s doing, but he knows that he can't let go. Won't.)
He brings Linhardt’s hands up and together, and just barely runs his lips over them. The heat is painful, and while he knows that there’s no mark left behind, the hurt is very real. It is Linhardt’s. He has dug deep into his well of faith magic, and drained it.
“We won.” says Caspar, needing to say something. But it’s so at odds with the way he bows his head. Falls to his knees. Presses Linhardt’s hands to his forehead.
“Might makes right,” suggests Linhardt in an empty mock of Caspar’s catchphrase.
(For the first time since this war started, he truly lets himself cry. For Dorthea. Linhardt. His classmates who fell on either side.)
Linhardt’s hands pull away, only to scrabble for purchase on Caspar’s shoulders as his legs too give out, and they both fall together, kneeling in carnage and embers.
“Did you see me out there, Lin?”
“Yeah. I saw you.”
Garreg Mach is very alive, and understandably celebratory. The lives of soldiers lost are recounted with gusto, as survivors drink away lingering grief for the night. Dorthea seems happier than Caspar’s seen her in a good while, or is so colored by relief that it looks like happiness. She looks at him from across the dining room, and he imagines a diva on the stage giving a performance like no other. She did more sheer damage than anyone in nearly every one of their last battles.
(It hurts to look at her, but no one wants to look away. She shines back in her civilian dress, but Caspar knows from the crack and the boom of their last battle that white scars fork up her arms. Hidden by red satin sleeves.)
She told him before this revelry started: She departs for Brigid in a week.
(He knows that she will not look back.)
Caspar can usually guess where Linhardt is at any point in time, and maybe it's just how tired he is, but after their final battle it takes a couple of tries to find him.
Caspar eventually searches the edge of the pond from the balcony next to the dining hall, and while there are a few figures spread around, the distinctive silhouette standing at the end of the dock sets his trajectory. He’s on the shortest possible path, a straight shot down the stairs to the shore, but every step feels slow and unsteady. His eyes take a while to adjust from the light of the hall, but the closer he comes, the clearer Linhardt comes into focus.
His friend doesn’t turn when he steps onto the creaky deck. Nor does he when Caspar draws even with him. He’s standing so still at the edge, but Caspar needs something to do, so he lowers himself onto the aged wood and starts unlacing his boots. The soft lap of the water covers nothing of his stilted breathing. Eventually, he is able to freely roll up his pants. He gives little thought to plunking his feet into the pond.
Linhardt gives a single huff of laughter next to him at Caspar's gasp, looking down at him. Caspar is committed though, so he keeps his feet submerged, and tries to ignore the pins and needles. He looks back up, an urge to chatter about anything at all on the tip of his tongue.
Linhardt starts instead.
“You were amazing out there today.”
“I was, wasn’t I?” Caspar jokes. “Did you see when—”
“Yes, Caspar, I saw.”
They both smile at their shadow-puppet play of normal. Yet, the longer that Linhardt holds his gaze, the less he feels the cold. The more it feels like the quiet calm of an overcast summer.
“I— You… You were…”
"Awesome." he admits in every sense of the word, glancing to the hands and their shiny pattern of things that don't make sense. "How many times do you think you even healed us?"
"It's tough to tell, my crest lets me go over any set amount."
"I know. You really didn't have anything left at the end though, huh?"
(There’s not really any time for hesitation. Never has been. Caspar doesn’t really do hesitation. But there is a time, he thinks, for choosing your words.)
“If I had anything to give you, I would.”
“What about a promise?” says Linhardt, kneeling before him for the second time that day. And in a mirror of that morning, picks up Caspar’s hands. It means something different when he brushes his lips over the calluses.
(It is wholly different from every point of contact they've had since they met nearly twenty years ago. Every time they tangled their fingers together while Linhardt fell asleep on his shoulder. Every hit they've landed when sparring. Every touch-range Heal spell. Every time Caspar turned to kiss Linhardt's forehead, or the other turned to kiss his neck. Waking up curled in the same bed. Their lazy affection, born of years of quiet comfort.)
Between them, the future sits new and heavy.
They will carry it together.
They only say goodbye to Dorthea. Not their fearless leader. Not the Professor. Just her. She opens the door, awake but still sleep-mussed. The smile she gives as she takes them both in, Caspar planted directly in front of the door, Linhardt standing a ways back with their rucksacks, is soft. There’s a vaguely playful, vaguely threatening call and response of You had better write to me, before Dorthea wraps Caspar up in a fierce hug.
It’s early, but there are staff about doing chores. A few of the cavalry units caring for their beloved mounts. People cleaning up from the celebration. A trader packing up her cart with space to spare, on her way to the next big city.
"No, it’s no trouble," she eventually says, "So long as you’re alright with going East?"
(As if Caspar hasn't already been helping her put away the last of her merchandise. As if Linhardt isn't being completely obvious in the way he's already eyeing up the empty area on the back of the cart that he means to go take a nap. Despite having been coerced into an early morning breakfast, Caspar can tell that his energy is already draining. They woke up after too little sleep, but had agreed the night before that this was the best course of action. Linhardt had mumbled before drifting off that he didn't want to have to explain this to their comrades. For once, Caspar's leaning towards agreement with Linhardt's assertion that it would have been Too much work.)
He doesn’t have to think when he looks to Linhardt and grabs his hand, gives it a squeeze in question. Instinct, not practice. He gets a sleepy smile in return.
"East is fine by us." Caspar says.
It's not long before Caspar can hop into the cart and awkwardly lean against some boxed up goods. It might be more comfortable walking alongside, but Linhardt's already crawling up to settle a head on his thigh. He doesn't mind, just digs the travelling cloak out of his bag to use as padding against the crates, and gets out a rag with polish along with one of his gauntlets.
As they bump down the road, Linhardt already settling in to nap, Caspar goes about cleaning the blood away.