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The Importance of Being Honest

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The sound of a quill scratching across a page was the only sound audible in the candlelit room, as Sylvain lazily scrawled his thoughts down in the little blank book he’d claimed as his personal journal. He rested his head in his hand as he wrote, propped up casually on the surface of his desk.

Glenn officially became a Royal Guard knight today! He’s like, barely older than me, and he’s already got the coolest job in the world! There was a whole ceremony and everything, so of course Ingrid and I went too. Oh, and Dimitri was there too, obviously, but he was actually IN it, so we didn’t get to talk at all.

And, get this, Felix cried the whole time! I guess having your big bro leave for a cool but dangerous job could be sad… but I’d be way more excited if I were him! Ingrid was definitely excited… she wouldn’t stop talking about everything Glenn would be doing as a knight from now on, and about how she’s so proud that one day she’s gonna get to spend the rest of her life with someone so honorable and brave. It actually got kinda annoying…

Ugh! She’s so lucky! I wish I could spend the rest of my life with someone like Glenn… he’s so tough it’s crazy! He acts like a jerk sometimes, but I can tell it’s just ‘cause he takes his responsibilities so seriously. Plus, he’s basically never lost a fight! I watched him spar a couple times, and it was incredible. He was just so… brutally graceful. Yeah, that’s a good description. Kinda scary, but also really, really beauti—

He had been so busy daydreaming, he had forgotten to keep an ear out for approaching footsteps; all of a sudden, his journal was yanked away from him, and his head unceremoniously hit the desk as its stand was violently pulled out from under it. Despite the aching pain left by the impact, he bolted to his feet, and tried in vain to get the book back from his much taller brother now standing in front of him.

Casually using one hand to hold back Sylvain while the other held the journal open for him to read, Miklan’s face distorted into a cruel snarl, nose wrinkling as if he smelt something distasteful. With one powerful shove, he sent Sylvain tumbling to the floor, freeing his hand so that he could rip the recently written on page out of the journal, carelessly discarding the rest of the book on the floor.

“Listen, you stupid brat! Who the hell do you think you are, thinking up this kind of idiotic horse shit? You got to be the one born with the damn Crest, so now you get to be some noble bitch’s stud horse too,” he spat, crumpling up the page. With terrifying force, he strode forward to where Sylvain was cowering, roughly grabbing him by the hair to force him to look up at him.

“Time for you to eat these words,” he growled, shoving the paper against his mouth while slowly but surely forcing Sylvain’s jaw open. Sylvain screamed and cried as the rough edges cut at his gums and made it hard to breath. He couldn’t help but think that maybe this time would be the time Miklan successfully ended his life…

Thankfully, the noise attracted a nearby maid, who caused enough commotion for their father to notice what was happening and intervene. Coughing, Sylvain spat the wet wad of paper onto his bedroom floor and laid there shuddering, only dimly aware of the yelling match now occurring just outside his door. It wasn’t until his father was standing before him that he truly returned to reality.

“What was this?” his father asked, gesturing at the crumpled paper. Sylvain stared at it for a moment, vividly recalling every heartfelt word he’d written across it, his honest feelings laid bare for what was supposed to be his eyes only.

“Nothing important.”

---------------------------------------------

“Hello? You in there?”

Ingrid’s voice cut through Sylvain’s unpleasant trip down memory lane, and he blinked, finding her staring at him with some concern in her eyes. His usual reflexes kicked in, and he smiled at her, his face a mask of cheerful apathy.

“Huh? Yeah, ‘course, just daydreaming,” he explained with a small laugh. Strangely enough, she seemed to grow more concerned at that, her brows furrowing.

“For a minute there…” she started, before trailing off and deciding to restart the sentence a different way. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a look like that on your face. It’s just worrying, is all…”

Shit, he’d had a look? Normally he was a lot better about keeping his true emotions off of his face. Then again, that had been a particularly unpleasant memory. It’d been years since, but every once and awhile he couldn’t help but recall it. Now that Miklan was dead, he hoped that he’d be able to put everything he did behind him once and for all.

“I’m all good, don’t worry,” he reassured her, but unfortunately, she looked unconvinced. She leaned against one of the many columns that lined the outside of the training grounds, casting a glance out into the main area, where Felix was still training diligently.

“If you don’t want to talk, I won’t force you, but I’m not an idiot, Sylvain. Something’s wrong.” The way she said it with such finality, he knew there was no worming his way out of this one. Sighing, he turned to face the main area, leaning back against the pillar right beside her. Watching Felix go to work against various training dummies and the occasional unfortunate fellow student was what had reminded him of all that in the first place…

Before he could even think to stop himself, he muttered, “He looks like Glenn when he fights.”

Sylvain could feel Ingrid’s reaction, and immediately wished he kept his mouth shut, the quiet, sharp inhale of breath beside him filling him with guilt. God, he was such an idiot! There was a reason he never brought up these sorts of things, despite trusting her with a lot. “Ah, sorry, forget I said that…” he chuckled awkwardly, wishing he could just fall through the floor and disappear.

He half expected her to chastise him, or burst into tears, or something, but instead, she was just silent for a moment, before an unexpected question just barely reached his ears, her voice uncharacteristically faint.

“…you saw him fight…?”

Somehow, it wasn’t until that moment that it dawned on him that most of what Ingrid knew about her fiancé had been second hand accounts. When they did meet, it was usually on formal occasions, and even when it wasn’t, Glenn was always a perfect gentleman in her presence. She’d never gotten to know him the way he had, never saw the ferocious elegance that had so thoroughly captivated him all those years ago.

He’d spent so much time trying to simply avoid the subject and subsequent risk of hurting her with painful memories, that he hadn’t stopped to consider that she might actually want to know more about him, might want to know things that only he ever noticed. Tentatively, he began to answer her question.

“Yeah, I did… I’d hang around and chat with him while he trained sometimes, and I even got to watch him fight in some proper spars between him and the other knights,” he explained, feeling his heart tighten painfully at the memories. They were such good memories, but…

“You knew him better than I thought,” Ingrid observed, her voice soft but much less fragile-sounding than when she asked her question. “I guess it makes sense… you are older than me and Felix, after all.” For a moment, all Sylvain could do was nod and let meaningful silence fill the space between them.

Eventually, though, Ingrid sighed, and slid down the column to sit on the ground, clearly settling in for a longer conversation. Sylvain was apprehensive beyond belief, and unsure if he really wanted to release all the memories he’d shut away for all this time, but… he owed her this much. Reluctantly, he settled down on the floor next to her.

“Could you tell me about him…? I want to know everything you know.”

Everything? He didn’t have enough words to truly convey all of the bittersweet knowledge he’d locked in a special corner of his mind, but he supposed he had to try.

“Man, I don’t even know where to start…” he sighed, tilting his head back to look up at the sky. A small huff of laughter escaped him after a moment. “Okay, well, first of all, he was way less polite when you weren’t around to hear him. Sometimes I almost forgot he was a noble…”

That tidbit of information elicited some genuine laughter from Ingrid, who gestured knowingly at their mutual friend. “Sounds familiar,” she commented wryly.

“Right?!” Sylvain laughed, before slowly slipping into a more somber silence. Felix really had grown up to be a lot like his brother, but…

“He was rude, and constantly picking fights, but he was proud of what he did. He was motivated by this… sense of duty, I guess. Everything he did was for the sake of becoming a better knight. He was crazy strong, and a total hot head, but he wasn’t angry. He wasn’t, so, y’know… hurt.”

His voice lowered as he reached the end of his explanation, not wanting Felix to hear him talking about him like this. Despite the outward similarities, Sylvain knew that deep down Felix couldn’t be more different from his brother. He’d never once worried about Glenn; he could tell that he had a clear reason to fight as hard as he did, and had no intention of straying from his righteous path. Felix, on the other hand… to Sylvain, he always seemed so lost, fighting with everything he had for reasons he couldn’t even remember. Not that he’d ever say so to his face.

“I see…” Ingrid muttered, looking thoughtful. After a moment of silence, a faint blush appeared on her face, and she asked, “Was there anything else…? Did he ever… talk about me?” Her hesitation was clear, and it took everything Sylvain had not to laugh out loud at her embarrassment. It was so weird seeing Ingrid of all people acting so… like a girl. It was kinda cute, actually, but he’d keep that to himself, knowing very well she’d punch him hard enough to leave a massive bruise if he ever dared to say something like that.

“Ugh, constantly!” he responded with exaggerated annoyance. “I always thought arranged marriages would suck no matter who you’d been promised to, but he was like, ridiculously on board. He thought the world of you, honestly.”

Ingrid smiled at that, clearly unsurprised; she’d definitely heard that sort of thing from His Highness already, and probably from half the other various nobles that offered her their condolences four years ago too. Encouraged by her smile, he continued.

“He’d say the sappiest stuff sometimes, when none of his guardsmen buddies were around of course. He always got this look in his eyes when he talked about you, y’know? It was so different from when he was fighting…” Before he knew it, words were slipping out as carelessly as he had once dripped ink across an empty page.

“I used to always think his eyes were like steel… deadly, unbreakable, and so quick to change from cold to hot,” he began. “He had a way of looking through people, like his gaze could just slip through all the armor built up around their hearts to see who they really were. It was… aggressive, and terrifying, and thrilling all at once…” A slight smile subconsciously grew on his face as he recalled those precious moments he spent as the focus of that gaze, but it faded quickly when he returned to the subject at hand.

“When he talked about you, though? All that aggression, all that need to prove something to somebody, it just… it just vanished. He… he really wanted to be with you, more than anything…”

A growing lump in his throat forced Sylvain’s attention back to the present reality, and he blinked back tears he hadn’t realized were welling up. Despite his best efforts to keep his real emotions hidden, he knew there was no way she’d miss the tinge of bitterness underneath the sentimentality. He was afraid to look back at her, afraid to see how she would react to the adoration and jealousy that had finally escaped out into the world.

Eventually, he had to, and felt a rush of guilt and fearful anger at the expression he found there.

“Oh, Sylvain…” she breathed, voice laden with empathy that he all too quickly interpreted as pity. “I had no idea- “

Don’t.

His voice came out much harsher than intended, and he felt even more guilt at the shock that briefly graced her features. He shook his head roughly, a hand quickly swiping away the tears he had tried to fight back.

“Please, don’t… don’t look at me like that. You shouldn’t feel bad for me, alright? You lost your fiancé that day, and Felix lost his brother, and that’s not even counting His Highness; you all lost some of the most important people in your lives, and I lost…” Nothing important.

“Sylvain.” Ingrid’s voice was sharp and commanding, startling him out of his thoughts. “Glenn is gone, and he isn’t coming back; no matter what he was to each of us, that’s cause enough to feel hurt,” she asserted, her voice thick with emotion. Even all these years later, stating the fact so simply made it far too real.

Sylvain felt as though he let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. A shudder ran through him, and he was very glad at that moment that he was already sitting down, or he might have collapsed to his knees. As it stood, however, he simply sank forward slightly, and before he knew it, he was wrapped up in a familiar warm embrace.

“Shhh… it’s okay…” Ingrid murmured comfortingly, even as her own tears began to slide down her face. The sound of shuddering breaths was muffled by her shirt as Sylvain buried his face in the fabric, trying desperately to temper the flood of repressed emotions finally rising to the surface and overflowing in the form of tears, snot, and spit. For once, there was no beauty or charm in his face, just a mess of raw emotion.

They stayed like that for what felt like an eternity, until eventually the sobs wracking Sylvain’s body slowed to a near stop, and transformed into shaky laughter. He gently pulled away from the embrace, doing his best to wipe off his face.

“Man, we look absolutely ridiculous right now.”

Ingrid couldn’t help but giggle at that, lightly shoving his shoulder in mock irritation. “Oh, shut up, you started this,” she asserted through decreasing sniffles and a few wipes to her own face.

After that remark, a silence settled over them for a few moments, before Sylvain offered a small but genuine smile.

“Thanks, Ingrid.”

“Of course. As much as your… habits… drive me insane at times, you’re one of my best friends. You don’t have to hide anything from me.”

Sylvain could only smile at that, knowing that the web of deception he hid himself away in would not so easily be torn apart, but… the sentiment was nice, at least. Before his thoughts could linger much longer on the subject, a third voice spoke up nearby.

“Are you two done yet? I’m starving.”

Felix stood impatiently several feet away, arms crossed, having apparently finished with his training session at some point during their talk. Ingrid laughed, beginning to rise to her feet and dust herself off.

“Alright, hang on, we’re coming.”

“Whatever. I’m going to go eat. Join me or don’t, I don’t care.”

Felix turned to leave at that, but it was obvious in the way he slowed his stride just a bit that he was waiting for the both of them to get up and follow him. Ingrid got half way across the Training Grounds before stopping to look back at Sylvain, who still hadn’t gotten up.

“Aw, c’mon, admit it, you do care,” Sylvain teased.

“Believe what you want, I’m leaving.”

The remark was cast into the air without even turning his head, and it quickly became apparent that, while his pace might slow, he clearly wasn’t stopping to wait for them. Sylvain quickly scrambled to his feet once that realization hit, and Ingrid just shook her head and laughed, resuming movement once Sylvain was up and headed towards them both.

He’d catch up eventually. He always did.