Sometimes he forgets—sometimes they all do, really—that all it takes is one battle. All it takes is one swing of the blade, one lonely chant, one piercing arrow.
All it takes is one single mistake for you to meet your end.
Felix is reminded of this, brutally and without pomp and circumstance. His day starts out normally; well, as normally as any day on the battlefield can go.
In this case, they've set out to put down an uprising of unruly bandits. The hills of Fódlan's Throat are ordinarily beautiful and verdant, but the smell of blood and sulfur and charred corpses stinks up Felix's nose. He breathes lightly through his mouth, keeping in a limber crouch among the trees, waiting for the professor's signal. In the meantime, there's nothing to do but wait.
How he hates waiting. It makes his eyes wander.
He sees Dedue and his mountain of plate armor, stoic and unflinching beneath the hundreds of arrows and swords and lances tossed his way. He sees Sylvain and Ingrid darting across the skies, bringing airborne reckoning in perfect tandem. He sees the professor slipping through the frontlines, sliding her blade through priority targets with deadly finesse.
And he sees over the crest of the hill, where Annette stands in the open.
His mind shrieks to a halt, confused—wait, what is she doing out there, she shouldn't be out there—but he doesn't even have time to make a single step before he sees it: the shadow of a thief, bony and desperate and bearing a jagged, vicious dagger hurtling from a cleft in the mountain.
And Felix sees it all, sees it slow and deliberate, like time itself has stopped just to taunt him in the face—
Annette turning on her heel with a cry, fire crackling up her arms and lancing into the air.
The shadow of a man lunging forward.
The blade crescenting down with a gleam.
Annette's eyes widening, realizing that she's too late.
Felix is running, running for his life—no, running for hers—but he can't make it in time.
Stronger, faster, never enough.
He can't reach her, he can't protect her. He can only watch as the dagger tears into her coat—crimson soaking beige—metal seeking flesh—
He hears a strangled cry, a cut-off scream, the kind that freezes his blood.
She falls limply like a doll. Her body collapses bonelessly to the earth, blood spilling from her chest.
The world is muffled around Felix's ears. He vaguely feels himself draw his blade with a roar, darting from the trees. The shadowed man turns and raises his dagger, but Felix slashes brutally into the man's shoulder, and he crumples with a scream. Felix keeps hacking downward with reckless abandon, red filling his vision and blood splattering up his nose.
This man must die.
He must suffer.
Down and down and down, again and again, he attacks. Metal meets flesh over and over, but his ears and his hands are too numb to register it. Muscle ruptures and bones shatter and still he strikes, thoughtless and directionless.
Death. Agony. Resentment. He'll bring it all, and he'll bear it all.
He's wrenched forcibly out of his bloodlust by a single choked whisper.
The sword stumbles out of his shaking hands. The remains of his enemy's body lie forgotten.
Felix rushes to Annette, sinking on his knees in a pool of blood. Her eyes are glazed and roving, looking past him. She's alive. Barely, but alive.
"Annette." His voice is dry, almost croaking.
She's desperately trying to speak. Her lips are fumbling for words, but the pitiful noises in her throat are gurgling whimpers. He can't understand her. He can't understand anything.
"No," he says, and his voice sounds cold and firm. Damn it, damn him, why can't he comfort her, at least in her final moments. Why can't he sound warm, why can't he make her smile, why can he only make her scream. "No, Annette, you'll be fine. You don't get to die on me. You don't—"
Her eyes are already hazy. She's drifting from him. The cold emptiness in the pit of his stomach seizes up in terror.
He leans in, his hands pressing against the terrible slice across her chest to stem the bleeding. It's a move that's desperate and useless. Just like him.
He almost misses the faint whisper that ekes from her lips. His eyes cut to her and he dips closer, his face just an inch from hers.
She manages to pull her mouth into a tense, weak smile, every muscle trembling as she forces out:
"Don't... blame... yourself."
Her lungs gurgle again, a death rattle. Her eyelids flutter. He's losing her. He's losing her, right then, right there.
An arrow of light sears down the sky and dissipates into Annette, bathing her body in a gentle glow. She hovers, hair flowing about her face. The glow fades, and she slouches back into Felix's arms. She feels lifeless and fragile—eyes closed, soundless.
A low groan escapes from Felix's throat as he fumbles for her collar—damn these thick layers—and presses her pulse point with shaking fingers. For a moment, there's nothing, and he feels distant from the world—
—but then it's there.
A heartbeat, faint, but steady.
Felix doesn't waste time. He scoops her up and sprints to the backline, zipping past arrows and dodging around fallen corpses. Annette is boneless, crimson still soaked across the front of her coat. He refuses to look down.
"Mercedes!" he roars, tearing past the convoy.
Mercedes is already walking towards him, her pace hurried and unsteady. "I did what I could from a distance," she says. "Let me have a look."
That's right. This must be just as hard for her.
He leaves Annette in her care and dashes back into the fray, hoping for the best. The battlefield is no place to wait for results.
Judging from the paleness of Mercedes's face, she'd had one foot through death's door. Maybe an arm and a leg. But the important thing is that she lives, and even though she's still unconscious, she's on the mend.
The day after a major battle is always a mandatory rest day. But Felix doesn't bother. He bursts through the professor's door at the first chance he gets, storming up to her desk with his eyes sharp and his jaw tight. Byleth glances over her shoulder, and her face molds into a resigned, tired look.
"Isn't it supposed to be a rest day?" Felix mutters.
"You're here," Byleth points out.
He struggles for some reply to make or some pleasantries to throw around. But Byleth only sets down her quill, her gaze devastatingly calm.
"Go ahead and say it, Felix," she says plainly.
Go ahead and say it, hm? Fine.
"What the hell was that?" He's barely reigning in his temper, spitting from behind gritted teeth. "You had her move out there. You had her move out in the open."
Byleth's eyes are steady on him, calm and—is that pity? For one moment, he hates her.
"I've trusted your judgment," he says, barely keeping his voice at an acceptable volume. "I've seen the results you've delivered as a commander. When we were in school. When we were at Gronder Field. And all the battles since then. You're sharp. You're ingenious. That much is obvious. But that—that was—"
Two words. So simple, but so sudden. Felix stops.
"What?" he manages.
"She didn't always live." There's a weary touch to Byleth's eyes now—a deep shadow that he can't explain. She suddenly feels much older than she looks, distant and unreachable, like the horizon of the ocean.
"What... are you talking about?"
Byleth turns her back on him. He feels anger surge, because he's seen Rhea do the exact same thing—act untouchable, act high-and-mighty, never give a half-decent explanation.
"Hey," he barks, even if it's disrespectful. He's still furious. "I'm not in the mood to accept your bull."
"I'm not asking you to," Byleth says sharply. "I'm telling you that it was necessary."
The shadow falls over Byleth's eyes again. "I can't tell you."
"Can't, or won't?" he spits.
There isn't much to say to that. He turns on his heel and strides out the door. Byleth watches him leave without another word.
He visits Annette mostly every day, just for a few minutes. He can't do much to help her, so he doesn't stay long; just shows up, mumbles some kind of half-assed apology for not reaching her in time, and leaves to train.
Anyone who raises an eyebrow or sends a teasing smirk in his direction (mainly Sylvain) is shut up with a dour glare.
For the most part, people understand. Everyone's had the experience of watching their friend get sliced at, burned, lanced through the stomach. Even with the magic of healing, it never gets easier to watch.
Everyone enters battle ready to die. No one enters battle ready to watch their friends die.
Felix's brush with failure drives him harder. He stays longer at the training grounds. Runs more drills. Forces more conditioning. He's always pushed himself to his limits, but this time, he finds new limits to push.
Felix, you should slow down, says Ingrid, but he ignores her. She acts the same way after someone's hurt before her eyes.
Everyone does, really.
Sylvain says this with an expectant gleam in his eye as he pops into the training grounds. Felix doesn't acknowledge his presence with anything other than a slight nod.
There's a moment of silence, broken only by the whipping of tempered steel through the air.
"You're not going to visit her?" says Sylvain.
He keeps his eyes trained ahead of him, feeling metal sing through his fingers. "Later."
He's not looking at Sylvain, but he can practically feel the disappointment. "Really?"
He doesn't respond. What was Sylvain expecting, for him to cast aside all reason—and his sword—and sprint through the hallways like a lunatic, screaming her name?
Sylvain waits for a moment, but clicks his tongue when Felix doesn't even look at him. "Alright. Well, if you say so. I'm going to get her some flowers and ask her on a date."
For a moment, his blade falters and he feels a flare of anger so strong that it catches him off guard. But he shakes it off. He knows that Sylvain's just trying to rile him up.
"You have fun with that," he says.
"Oh, I will," says Sylvain.
Felix grips his sword a little tighter, and Sylvain chuckles.
"C'mon, when are you going to be honest with yourself?" Sylvain says.
"Get out and let me practice."
"You want to know the first person she asked for when she woke up?"
Felix pauses, his blade frozen in place.
"Her dad," says Sylvain.
Felix throws the sword at him. Sylvain dodges away and runs out the door, laughing.
When Felix does come around to her dorm room, he almost walks in on her and Gilbert speaking in hushed whispers, faces grave. He quickly dodges out to give her some proper privacy.
Apparently, almost dying on the battlefield forces one's father to have a change in perspective.
Felix waits outside the door, trying to look occupied—fiddling with a nearby flower vase, counting the planks beneath his toes, nudging through a random shrubbery. He must look downright ridiculous. Maybe he should just get back to the training grounds, and leave this conversation for another day.
He's just about to head out when Gilbert steps through the door and closes it behind him. Gilbert's eyes meet his, and he suddenly feels the urge to explain himself.
"I was," he begins, but Gilbert only nods politely.
"Thank you for visiting Annette," Gilbert says. "She'll be happy to see you."
Gilbert leaves, his steps heavy-set and somber. Felix stands there for a moment, frozen to the ground, excuse taped to the roof of his mouth. Eventually, he shakes off his nerves, steels himself, and walks into the room.
For one moment, an image flashes before his eyes—Annette's body, weak and crumpled and soaked with blood, eyes glazed and lungs rattling. Then the vision passes, and he sees her lying peacefully on the bed, surrounded by get-well flowers and bathed in gentle sunlight. She looks pale, but smiles when he steps through the door.
"Hey," he says.
Her smile broadens. "Hi."
Hearing her speak makes him swallow.
"How are you feeling?" he attempts. The words sound awkward coming out of his mouth, cold and prickly instead of concerned.
"Good," Annette chirps. "How about you?"
"That sounds like a lie."
Annette's eyes dart away for a second.
"Father said that you looked after me," she says. "So... thank you."
I was worried. "Barely did anything. No need to thank me."
That smile is back on her face, weak but alive. "You're not great at accepting thanks, you know."
"Not when it's undeserved."
"Are you gonna at least sit down, or are you gonna keep standing in the doorway?"
He pauses for a moment, something freezing his steps. Then he finally names it: shame. He doesn't want to enter the room because he doesn't deserve it. He can't bear to come close to her or look at her, because he's the reason for her suffering. It's his fault she's in that bed, and he doesn't deserve to sit by her.
Maybe he'd be happier if she was angry at him, screaming at him for his failure.
"Hello?" says Annette. "Is Felix still in there?"
He shrugs off the guilt and strides into the room, settling into the chair at her bedside. He waves away his thoughts. He's not one for pity parties.
"Are you okay?" he eventually says, breaking the silence.
Annette muses on this for a moment. "Another week in bed, and one more before I'm battle-ready. That's what Mercie says. Honestly, I'm going kind of crazy. There's nothing to do here, and I, I'm always so used to..."
"Working all the time?"
"Trying my best. At everything."
A smile flickers up his lips. "Well, guess it's time you try your best to rest."
"Rest doesn't work like that!"
She pouts at him, and he wants to laugh at how cute her face is. It's probably terrible of him to think, but he's always enjoyed surprising or flustering Annette because she looks so damn adorable when he does. He's stricken with the sudden, overpowering urge to hold her hand and squeeze it, and he has to grip the armrests of his chair to stop himself.
Her face suddenly smooths over, and her lips part in surprise. He blinks.
"What is it?" he says.
The tips of her ears turn pink. "It's just... I've never seen you smile like that."
Annette's teeth catch on her lower lip, and saints if it doesn't take all of his concentration to keep his eyes fixed on hers. "You usually kind of snicker, or sneer. Not that it's a bad thing, you know. But it's kind of like, you're a cat who's found something interesting to play with and it's fun to see it struggle. But that was—I guess it was kind of wholesome? Like it's the way you smile when you think no one's watching, and you don't have to put up appearances? I don't know, it's nice to see you smile."
He feels like she's socked him straight in the chest, and it makes him feel defensive. "You're probably imagining it. My face doesn't smile."
"Does your face do anything other than scowl?"
"But you looked scared."
A chill settles over the room, bringing weight back that they had pushed away.
"I'm sorry for scaring you." Annette's gaze is serious, holding his captive. "I've seen—well, I know exactly how it feels. Watching someone die, or almost die. I didn't mean... You shouldn't have had to feel that."
"It's not the first time." The words are out of his mouth before he can stop them. He's always trying to downplay it, downplay her. He's trying to make it sound like seeing her hurt isn't any different from seeing Sylvain hurt or Ingrid hurt, when it is—it's worlds apart, not because he cares any more or any less. It's just different.
Annette's eyes drop, and he notices the flicker of disappointment across her face. "Yeah. That's true."
Why was she disappointed? Because she wanted to be special? Does she feel like he does, always searching for him, always keeping him in the back pocket of her mind? Or is he overthinking it?
She wears her heart so close to the surface, but he still can't read her.
"To be honest," Annette says quietly, "I've—I've never really felt pain like that. It's, it's not really new at this point, you know? The idea of that kind of pain. But—but actually getting hurt like that, it was... I just..."
She bites her lip and starts to turn from him, but winces at the movement. He instinctively reaches out and clasps her shoulder, forcing her to sit still. Her shoulder feels small and bony, like it will snap at the first sign of pressure.
"Don't move," he says. "You're wounded."
Her eyes lower. He's used to her bright, uncontainable energy, and seeing her so subdued is... terrifying? No. It makes something ache in his chest, like he wants to make her smile.
"Felix," she says in a small voice, "I'm a coward for not wanting to go back out there. Aren't I?"
She squeezes her eyes shut. "It's terrible. I'm terrible. So many people have gone out there and sacrificed their lives. I've—I've had losses in my own battalion. I've seen people injured terribly, no, I, I've killed people. I've burned them beyond recognition, I've sliced them with blades of wind. And here I am... scared to go through that kind of pain again, scared to go back out there."
"Hey." He reaches out and grips her hand. It's small and cold, dwarfed in his. "This is war. We have to look out for each other. Might be nasty, but it's war. And you're not a coward. The professor shouldn't have sent you that far out in the first place. You were vulnerable there."
Annette only shakes her head. "Everyone has to make sacrifices. I mean—you and Sylvain and His Highness, you always suffer so many injuries, but you keep on fighting. You keep getting hurt and then healed, hurt and then healed. But you still fight. How do you do it?"
Now that he thinks about it, he doesn't know. War just seems as normal as breathing to him. Rise, train, fight, kill. Pain was always a familiar companion—whether from soreness after training, or from a wound after a fight. In the heat of the moment, he just doesn't notice that much.
"I don't have the luxury not to fight," he settles on.
Annette looks away. Apparently, his answer has made her feel even worse.
"That doesn't make you a coward," he says sharply. "Every fighter is supposed to play to their strengths. I can't summon enough fire to roast a potato, can I? And I can't close up a wound. I can't command a wyvern, I can't ride a horse, and I can't use a polearm to save my life. But if anyone gets in close, he meets either the end of a sword or the crack of a gauntlet. That's how I fight, and that's what I'm good for."
He looks at Annette, and understanding is starting to dawn over her face.
"You're a mage, Annette. You're supposed to be in the backlines, you're supposed to stay away from harm. If you get hurt, that's just because some dumbass like me didn't do their job. Or a moron tactician sent you next to an assassin. It doesn't make you a coward, especially when you're so—"
He cuts himself short, but Annette doesn't miss it.
"I'm so... what?" she says nervously.
So small. So fragile. He has a feeling that she'll get pissed if he says that. "So fresh from the wound," he amends. "It's natural for people to get scared when they're hurt that badly. Give yourself time."
"Thank you, Felix," she says, and a hint of that warm smile blossoms across her face. He feels a little tingle in his heart. It's embarrassing, so he quickly squashes it down.
He releases her hand, looking away. "Whatever."
She chuckles a little. "Back when we were students, I used to think you were super mean. But you're actually really nice."
"Are you blushing? Hee, you're kinda cute, you know."
He's just about to snap something like I don't know, shut up, but when she winces in pain at her own giggle, everything falls away. He gets up to call Mercedes, but Annette grips his sleeve, shaking her head.
"I'm fine," she says. "Mercie's busy after the last battle."
He sits back down, even if it's reluctant. His pulse is throbbing, one two, one two, because he knows. He knows what he needs to say, and he's known it since the moment she was injured. He needs to say it now: no ifs, no buts, and no ambiguous loopholes.
"Something bothering you?" says Annette, biting her lip.
He takes a breath—the deep kind to center himself before he trains. He stares at his hands to take the edge off his nerves. Maybe it'll be easier if he can't see her face.
"Annette," he says. He searches for the words. He's never been great with them. "I know that I said I... found your singing... interesting."
"It’s like I'm your captive." She's grinning.
He winces. "Yeah, whatever. I've... actually had something else to tell you, for a while now. And I thought I had all the time in the world to do it. But this past battle—it showed me the truth."
His eyes met hers. This time, he's serious.
"There won't always be another day."
She breathes sharply at the intensity of his gaze, a light flush dusting over her cheeks. He feels his own pulse quicken in the nervous silence, just like the quiet before the drums of war.
"Annette," he says. "When you nearly died... you're right, it scared me. A whole damn lot. I saw you bleeding out. You were slipping away right in front of me."
Usually, he'd rather not think about it. Usually, he'd like to push it away. But now, he seizes the memory, using it to push himself to say everything that's been swirling inside him.
"You mean a lot to me." There. He said it. "I... enjoy being around you. It's fun, I guess. No, not 'I guess,' it is fun. Sometimes it helps ease the weight of this war. Or... it reminds me that there's something worth fighting for, something worth protecting. This sounds stupid, but you do brighten up my day. And if you died—if you had died—I think... it'd feel like a big part of me went missing."
A deadly silence falls over her cozy little room, and he hears nothing but chirping birds. Seiros, maybe this was all one great big mistake. He's starting to lose his nerve. When did he turn into such an idiot?
Annette opens her mouth, then closes it. Her ears are crimson. "D-do you want me to sing for you?" she stammers.
He looks at her. "You know it's not about the singing."
She falls silent, blushing even harder.
"There's plenty of people who can sing," says Felix. "There's only one Annette... who I love."
Annette's fingers tangle in the sheets. Her breathing sounds a bit light and fast, like she's struggling not to hyperventilate.
Felix promptly starts to feel self-conscious. Was saying that a mistake? It probably was a mistake. This probably was a mistake.
"O-oh," is what Annette says.
The air is spinning and his heart is pounding in his ears and he feels the adrenaline soaring, not unlike the rush he gets on the battlefield fighting for his life. But he set his mind to do this, and he never goes back on his word. He nearly saw her die, and he knows what he has to say.
Still, he finds himself wishing that she would say something. Even if it's a rejection. Even if he's misread her all this time.
Annette still doesn't move and still doesn't speak, so he leans in to study her face, trying to glean the answer from her eyes. She turns away, ducking her head. Her face is as warm as her hair.
Damn, she's acting even cuter.
He knows it's not appropriate because she's still recovering and he probably shouldn't be doing this, but he stays there, his face an inch away from hers. He takes her in: her fidgeting hands, her flushed cheeks, her darting eyes. She's hyper-aware of him, and it gives a little boost to his ego.
But still, he's not sure what she's thinking.
"Do you want me to stop?" he says, low and quiet.
Annette's gaze flits to him and she blushes even deeper; maybe his whisper is a bit too intimate for her taste. He's about to back off—the last thing he wants to do is terrify her—but then she resolutely shakes her head, her fingers reaching up to tangle in his collar.
"No," she says.
It's the final nail in his coffin.
Felix slants his mouth over hers, his hand coming up and bracing the nape of her neck. He feels the catch in her throat resonate in his bones. They breathe in lockstep, and he pulls her closer, presses in deeper, desperate to drink up her apple-cinnamon scent, the warmth of her cloak, the pulse of her beating heart. She's alive, and he feels so alive.
When he pulls away, Annette's hand is still gripping his cloak, keeping him close, like he'd slip away if she let go.
For a moment, they say nothing.
Felix lets himself sit in the moment, allowing that tingle of she feels the same way to flood him with warmth. He expects Annette to be beaming, but her face is sort of blank and mainly confused. It's a look that makes him feel nervous again.
"What is it?" he says.
Her eyes dart down, and she leans against him, settling comfortably in the crook of his arm and resting her head on his shoulder. His pulse jolts as she cuddles up with a small sigh.
"Nothing," Annette says. "I kind of feel like this is a dream."
"You have lewd dreams."
He laughs warmly, and she buries her face into the crook of his neck.
"No, you're not."
"Yeah, I'm not." He reaches up to brush a strand of hair out of her face. How strange this is, Annette cuddled against him, dappled sunlight pouring on their shoulders. And yet somehow, it feels perfectly natural—like there was a piece out of place between them, and it had finally settled in, filling a hole he hadn't even known was there.
Annette's finger starts tracing invisible patterns on his cloak. "I... I don't like it too," she works out. "Seeing—seeing you get hurt. I'm not Mercedes, I can't—I can't heal you from far away, and... I don't know. It hurts when you get hurt, too."
"Is that all you feel?"
"No, I—let me finish, dummy."
She slowly turns back to him, and shaking fingers seek his, twining together.
"So I, I want to be honest, too. Just this once. Because you're right, you're very right—this could be the last time. And... I've never liked to think of that, I'd always like to think that there's a tomorrow. But when... when I was hit like that, I just remember thinking... there was so much I still wanted to say. To Father, to the professor, to—to you."
Her eyes lift and slate-blue fills his vision. She swallows. He can feel her pulse through his fingers, rapid and darting like a rabbit.
"I... I think I fell for you too," she says. This time, her words are slow and deliberate, like she's tasting them as she speaks. "I tried not to, I really did. Because I thought you were mean and arrogant, and girls are supposed to Make Wise Choices about who they like, and mean and arrogant boys don't make that list."
"You thought that little of me?"
"No, no, I mean... well, I always really respected you, you know. You always worked so hard, and—it was actually really inspiring. Seeing how focused you were on swordsmanship motivated me to work just as hard on my own studies." She flushes a little. "I guess that's what, um, caught my eye at first."
He raises a brow. "You found that sexy?"
He expects her to pout or roll her eyes, but her face turns beet red. He blinks, suddenly a little flustered himself.
"I mean!" She glares up at him. "There was that one interhouse sword tournament, remember, and a bunch of us were watching. And you were all focused and epic and super skilled, and you looked really—really cool."
He knows he's grinning. "Oh?"
She turns up her nose. "Anyway! I went back to my room that night, determined to beat you at tomorrow's test. Because if I could beat someone that good, then I could compete with the best."
Of course that'd be her takeaway from the tournament. He chuckles, wrapping his arms around her. Her head nestles on his shoulder again.
"Well, now, you need to compete at resting," he says. "Or Mercedes will kill me."
She sinks into him with a quiet sigh, like she's found home. He feels a rush of something warm and fierce and tender, all at the same time.
His arms tighten around her. "Don't scare me like that again."
She lightly nuzzles the crook of his neck. "You don't go anywhere either, now."
He holds her in the sunshine until she falls asleep, humming the strains of a half-finished song.