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it gets colder and colder (when the sun goes down)

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did i paint your bluest skies the darkest gray? / a universe away / and when i got into the accident / the sight that flashed before me was your face / but when i walked up to the podium / i think i forgot to say your name”

For the first time in months, Sylvain could see the stars. 

Growing up in Gautier, the stars were common. Even in the “city” (a term Sylvain used loosely), he could see the white twinkles in the dark sky. The further away he got, the more prominent they became. On some occasions, the stars would be accompanied by the northern lights. 

The stars were harder to see at Garreg Mach. It reminded him of his time in Fhirdiad, where the torch lights never seemed to die out. Within a couple of moons, Sylvain had gotten used to the everlasting light. The sky was always hazy with a familiar glow and the stars started to fade away. 

Then the war happened and all hell broke loose. The haze of lights was replaced by the haze of smoke. It was replaced by the smell of singed flesh, sweat, and the copper taste of blood. Whenever Sylvain looked to the sky, the twinkles were dim,  if he was lucky to see them at all. 

That was why he couldn’t stop a small smile from forming on his face as he looked up, despite the nausea settling in his stomach. For the first time in five years, the stars held some type of meaning and brought back happy memories - ones he hadn’t thought about in years. 

“Hey Ing, see that star?”

“I’m looking at the same sky as you.”

“Just remember that, then! When you look up to the sky when we’re apart, we will always be looking at the same sky.”

Sylvain gripped Ruin tighter in his hand. It was just him, some ten miles away from the camp, waiting for an unanswered letter. As soon as he had heard about the plans to siege Arianrhod, he penned a letter to the Kingdom. Sylvain considered it a miracle that Hubert hadn’t discovered his betrayal. Sylvain shuddered to think about what would happen if he did.

There was a crunch and Sylvain broke his gaze from the sky. His grip tightened and the lance glowed softly. Out of habit, he slipped into a defensive stance. 

“Who goes there?”

She didn’t have to answer. Sylvain could smell the lingering scents of hay, Pegasus hair, and pine. It may have been five years since he had last seen her, but Sylvain would never forget her scent. How could he? It was Ingrid, his Ingrid. 

 Ingrid stepped out from the shadow, Lúin glowing under her grasp. Her uniform, decorated with Galatea green and highlighted by Kingdom blue, was smeared with dirt and blood. Her once long hair had been chopped to her ears, held back together by something Sylvain couldn’t make out. Her facial expressions, once soft yet slightly exasperated, were hardened. There were dark bags under her eyes and she kept glancing around nervously, bracing for an attack. The war had not been kind to her. 

“Ah,” Sylvain paused as he continued to study her. The longer he looked, the more his heart ached. “I didn’t think you had gotten my letter.”

Ingrid stepped forward, her brows furrowing. “Did you expect a response?”

“Actually, yeah. A ‘hey Sylvain, you can go fuck yourself’ would have been better than absolute silence. Figured seeing you again was worth getting killed though, on the off chance you decided to meet me.”

Despite the joke, his tone was hard. 

Edelgard made it clear that she didn’t stand for those who disagreed with her. Despite her best efforts, she hadn’t expected someone to defect. She had assumed that everyone would stay loyal to the bitter end. When Felix had joined the Black Eagles soon after Byleth took hold of the house, she had assumed he would stay.

She was wrong. After four years of the war, Felix started to have doubts. In the middle of the night, he tried to leave. He was captured and his death was made into a show of force. The message was clear: stay with me or you will die.  The memory was still raw in Sylvain’ mind. He flinched as the memory came rushing back. He took a shaky breath in a feeble attempt to clear it. 

Ingrid’s face betrayed her. He could make out the smallest frown forming at the corner of her lips. She wore a haunted expression. Sylvain felt like he had been punched in the gut. Whatever agony he had felt over Felix’s death, he knew it didn’t compare to Ingrid. She had lost Glenn, now Felix. 

“At least Felix tried to leave. You stayed put. You have proven that you do nothing but betray the Kingdom, betray your friends, your family, and betray me .” 

“I didn't betray you, Ingrid! The crest system is broken and it needs to be fixed! Edelgard is the only way that can happen!”  Why did he feel the need to defend himself to Ingrid? She wouldn’t understand his reasoning for staying; nobody from Fhirdiad did, with the exception of Felix. 

Ingrid scoffed. The glow of Lúin dimmed as she adjusted her position to cross her arms over her chest, the lance pointed in Sylvain’s direction. Knowing Ingrid, it was a threat. One wrong move and Sylvain would be dead. Goddess, he missed her.

“Do you really think Dimitri wants the crest system? He hates it just as much as you!” Her voice started to rise, but she kept it in check. Ingrid wanted to scream, to shout, but had to refrain. The louder she got, the more they could alert someone to their presence. “Dimitri wants to change it. We all want to change it. But we cannot dismantle the system without guidance. This takes time!” 

“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

“Five years? Sothis, Ingrid, I can barely think ahead until tomorrow.”

“I’m serious.”

“Well, I like to think that in five years, I will be married to a beautiful babe, getting ready to take on the title of Margrave. She will be pregnant with our third child, mainly because we fuck a lot, but also because the first two didn’t have crests and that’s unacceptable.”

“Sylvain. . .”

Sylvain’s throat tightened. They had various conversations about changing the world. Before the Academy, he had accepted that it would take time. He had to be the change he wanted to see in the world. Then he met Edelgard and the Black Eagles. After a little discussion, Sylvain recognized the kindred spirit in Edelgard. Her ideas were achievable. Whatever Dimitri wanted was not.

“He’s been King for five years and hasn’t changed a damn thing.” 

“That’s because we’re at fucking war, Sylvain. We are trying not to die!”

Sylvain recoiled at her tone. Ingrid was correct. He knew he was focusing on the wrong things. Of course Dimitri hadn’t been focusing on changing the world. He had been focused on winning a war; politics didn’t matter. But Dimitri was fighting against Edelgard, and by that logic,  he didn’t want to topple the broken system. 

He opened his mouth to speak but clamped it shut again. Deep down, he knew it was true. He always had the inner war about whether he was making the right decision. The reality, one that Sylvain didn’t want to admit, was that Edelgard’s solution was easy. It required brute force and it would be over. Dimitri’s was careful, more thought out, and a long con.

Like a coward, Sylvain chose the easy route. 

A flash of lighting and a clap of thunder startled the pair. There were shouts, a scream, and another bout of lighting. Sylvain blinked as he grounded himself, remembering where he was. Ingrid’s eyes went wide with similar realization before narrowing again. The longer they stayed, the more they risked getting caught in the cross-fire.

“Why am I here, Sylvain?” Ingrid asked after scanning the place around her. 

“Why are you here, Ingrid?” Sylvain shot back. “You’re the one that came.”

The voices were getting louder. Sylvain ignored the bubbling anxiety as he continued to stare at Ingrid.

“Do you think life could be different?”

“What do you mean?”

“Life. This. Us, I guess. I always wonder what would have happened if Glenn didn’t die. Would I be married by now? Would I have children? Would I still get to be a knight?”

“You would be the best damn knight Faerghus has ever seen.”

This was not the life Sylvain had imagined. He had stopped imagining a future once Glenn died. Before Glenn, life was set in stone. Ingrid was going to get married, Dimitri would be the King, Felix would be his shield, and Sylvain would be there. The Tragedy of Duscar happened and everything changed. He watched as his friends, so young, clung to their grief. Dimitri became obsessed with revenge. Felix became hostile and distant, for the fear of hurting others. And Ingrid?

Ingrid shattered into a million pieces. Any doubt Sylvain had about her being in love with Glenn disappeared as he held her while she sobbed about his death. Glenn’s untimely demise changed her and shaped her into the women standing in front of him. Ingrid had always been wrapped in the ideals of the Kingdom; she needed to be a Knight, she needed to prove herself, etc. She was a woman in a poor family and less noble than her friends. She was the only crest bearer. Ingrid always had to prove herself. 

And Glenn? Glenn’s death solidified the noble cause of dying for what she believed in. Glenn’s death became her personality. Ingrid was not Ingrid without Glenn's death. Selfishly, Sylvain wondered what would have happened without that trauma. Who would Ingrid be? Would she be clinging onto a sense of duty? Would she be so stubborn in this war? Would she insist on staying on Dimitri’s side? Would she see the light that he saw? 

Sylvain didn’t know. Ingrid had never allowed herself to become that person. Glenn’s death was, understandably, her grief. It became her, just like his resentment towards the crest system became his. 

“Do you genuinely believe that this will fix a broken system? Do you think this will change if the Empire wins?” Ingrid spoke after a couple of moments of silence, bringing Sylvain out of his thoughts. “Do you think that the people are going to accept her rule, just like that, with no questions asked?” Her tone was harsh, but she sounded exhausted. “They already don’t, Sylvain. It’s why we are at war. If they did, we wouldn’t be here. Just because she’s steamrolled everyone doesn’t mean she’s won nor does she have the right ideals.”

Ingrid’s voice cracked at the end of her sentence.

“Why did you join her class?”

“The Professor is hot.”

“No, seriously, Sylvain. Why did you join?”

“That is part of it, but I am intrigued. I feel that the Professor challenges me and will better me in my studies. Did you know they have me studying Reason? It never crossed my mind to pick it up but with their guidance, I want too. I want to learn.”

There’s a small smile on Ingrid’s face. “That’s great, Sylvain. I’m happy for you.”

Before he could respond, the smell of smoke filtered through his nose. Sylvain took a deep breath and tried not to suffocate. He could hear the sounds of blades clashing, which meant the fighting was getting closer. He opened his mouth to speak, but shut it again. What was he supposed to say? Ingrid wouldn't understand. She had barely understood when he switched to the Black Eagles back in the Academy, even though the only thing that changed was his Professor. How was she supposed to understand his reasoning for staying with Edelgard and fighting against the Kingdom?

“This was a waste of time. I shouldn’t have come,” Ingrid said as she stepped back. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a fire that was growing. The smell of soot was growing stronger; the magic was getting closer.

Ingrid’s mouth was moving but Sylvain couldn’t make out what she was saying. His mind had gone blank the moment she stepped back, lost in the memory of their time in the Academy.

“I love you, you know that, right?”

“Of course I do.”

“No, I mean I really love you.” Sylvain pauses. “I, Sylvain Gauiter, love you, Ingrid Galateta, with my whole heart. I think I always knew, but switching houses helped me realize it. I still see you, we still hang out, but there’s been a stupid ache in my heart at the fact that I can’t turn around in class and see you. I miss you when you aren’t there. I love you.”

He watches her carefully as her features turn soft. The tension in Sylvain’s shoulders relax.

“I love you too, Sylvain.”

Five years ago, before the war broke out, he had said their classes didn’t matter. Nothing mattered because it was about learning. Sylvain would learn at the Academy and then go back to Gauiter, where he would learn to take the title of Margrave. He would have Ingrid at his side, where he would properly court her and ask her to be his wife. Felix would be the Shield, Dimitri would be the King. It didn’t matter .

That changed. It mattered the second Sylvain sided with Edelgard and turned his blade against the Kingdom. Foolishly, he had thought it wouldn't matter. With some coaxing and time, Ingrid would join him. She would see the light and abandon her devotion to the Kingdom.

It was a coward’s dream. Sylvain knew that. Ingrid would never abandon the Kingdom. Her dream was born out of honour; his was born out of cowardice. He had dug his heels into the Empire’s soil and would only leave when he was dead. 

You really are a coward. At least Felix tried to run. What did you do? Nothing. 

“Ingrid, wait.” 

Against his better judgement, he dropped Ruin, reached out, and grabbed Ingrid’s free hand. She froze as he pulled her closer to him and wrapped an arm around her waist. He stared directly into her eyes, even though every fiber in his being was telling him to look away. Ingrid kept Lúin in her grasp, but the glow of the relic dimmed. 

Sylvain leaned in and captured her lips against his. She tasted like blood, sweat, and salt. Her lips were more chapped than he remembered, but still soft. Sylvain felt Ingrid’s tension disappear as she kissed him back. The kiss was desperate, sloppy, and Sylvain did his best to convey every thought he had into it. He could only hope that Ingrid would get the message.

I love you. I’m sorry. 

A distorted scream caused them to pull apart. Ingrid backed away immediately, realization dawning on her face. Her face hardened again as the relic lit up in her grasp. Sylvain braced himself for a hit that never came. 

“I still love you.”

Sylvain had never stopped loving Ingrid. He had tried, but every attempt had been feeble. He had been able to throw himself into the war and survive instead of focusing on how much he loved and missed Ingrid. It wasn’t the best tactic, but it worked.

Ingrid’s gaze drifted up towards the sky. Sylvain followed suit. The clear sky had become hazy with smoke and marred with the smell of blood. Something was burning, though Sylvain wasn’t sure if it was nature or a human. The stars that he had been so focused on before were fading. He almost snorted at the symbolic nature of it.

“I just wish it had been different, Ingrid. I wish you had chosen me.”

It was that sentence that haunted him the next day, when he watched her fall the five-hundred feet from her Pegasus to her death.