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It doesn't work, trying to explain to Glenn why she simply can't marry him, why it doesn't feel right. Glenn asks her, again and again, whether he's done something wrong, and Ingrid only shakes her head, because there's nothing wrong with Glenn- there had never been anything wrong with Glenn, the very image of the perfect knight, brave and responsible and gallant. She's stood behind him so many times and admired his steadfast back, held straight and proud, his sword firmly grasped in his hand ready to swing for his lord at a second's notice.

And that, Ingrid dimly realizes, is the issue.

She can't make Glenn understand, and she most certainly cannot make her father understand- her stomach churns twice, and she clutches more tightly around her legs, curled miserably against the shade of the stables in a desolate corner where she can catch her breath, at least for another half-hour before Glenn and her father tear up the grounds in search of her.

She knows it's betrayal, to reject the path that her family had laid out for her since birth, to ignore the sacrifices they made so that she, a Crest-bearer, could finally raise House Galatea up from its tattered shambles. She thinks of every meal where her bowl sat full and bountiful, while her father and her brothers' plates held nothing but air- and her stomach turns again.

"There you are."

Ingrid's head jolts upward, her heart hammering at having been discovered so early, but to her surprise, it's Felix, his arms crossed and his face set in fairly convincing indifference were it not for the crease between his eyebrows and the slightest downturn of his lips.

She doesn't say anything, but Felix plops himself down next to her, his back against the wall of the stables.

"You picked some time to break the news to him," he remarks after a moment's pause. Ingrid winces; Glenn had been awarded one of the highest commendations in the Kingdom for his actions during the Battle of Duscur, and they- Ingrid and her father, Sylvain and his father, even His Highness and His Majesty- had come to the Fraldarius territory to celebrate. Glenn had been beaming, unable to hide his joy for once- normally, he would have said something about excessive displays of emotion being unbecoming of a knight, to which Felix would roll his eyes and Ingrid would nod along vigorously while stifling a giggle, and then she had-

Ingrid sighs, until it feels like all the air has escaped her lungs.

"They'll probably find you in about half an hour or so," Felix continues. "Sylvain is out there distracting them, but it's Sylvain we're talking about, so I wouldn't expect too much. Though, I suppose I'd be even worse at it, so he told me to look for you instead."

"Oh," Ingrid murmurs, feeling a pang of gratitude for both of her friends in her chest. "Thank you. Both of you. How did you know I'd be here?" She lifts her head, just a little, to look at Felix, who shrugs.

"You like horses."

Ingrid raises an eyebrow at how simple-minded he must think she is, and more frustratingly, how he's right, but Felix continues to list items off on his fingers.

"And meat. And eating. And training. And knights. And stories about knights." He glances at her. "And, evidently, not marrying my brother."

She flinches, but doesn't disagree. They sit in silence, until Ingrid breaks it.

"Aren't you going to ask me why?"

"Why?" Felix repeats, audible surprise in his voice, and Ingrid turns to him, confused.

"Why would I ask you why?" Felix frowns. "Anyone who's looked at you for more than two seconds would know why."

"What do you mean?"

He rolls his eyes. "You live, breathe, and probably even eat knighthood. You've spent so much time watching my brother be knightly that it rubbed off on you, or something."

"I do admire knights," she admits. "Were it possible I... I would want to be one myself. Which I suppose you already knew. But even so-" she takes a deep breath. "But it's your brother."

"So?" Felix scowls. "I wouldn't want to marry my brother either."

"Felix, that is the most-" Ingrid begins, before stopping. "Were you trying to make me feel better just now?"

Felix glares at her, his frown almost reminiscent of a pout, and she can't keep herself from smiling.

Then, footsteps sound in the distance, and the smile slips off her face.

"Cavalry's here," Felix mutters, and gets to his feet. Ingrid does the same.

Glenn and her father round the corner, Glenn's face a mask of worry, and her father's a mask of anger, with Sylvain trailing behind them, mouthing sorry apologetically to her, to which she acknowledges with the merest shake of her head.

The onslaught begins, and Ingrid wills herself to stay strong. Felix remains where he is, arms still crossed and frowning darkly at the ground, and Sylvain rests against a wall, sending sympathetic glances to her every once in a while.

Ingrid holds her trembling chin up and silently thanks them both again for the additional bit of strength they're granting her.

---

Against her wildest hopes and dreams, her father actually acquiesces to allow her to attend the Officer's Academy at Garreg Mach the following year, in no small part to the fact that Glenn had helped talk him into it. She's grateful, of course, to both of them, but the nagging voice in her head reminds her that Glenn only did so because he hoped that once she had her fill of knighthood, she would be content to marry him again- and she knows already that it simply won't happen the way he wants. The academy will whet her appetite, is all- the training drills, marches, mock battles will all leave her wanting even more, but she doesn't tell him this.

Her father, on the other hand, expects her to get tired of it all, and Ingrid would have laughed at how absurd that was, the idea that she could ever tire of becoming a knight, but her father certainly isn't laughing, and so she tries her best to respond neutrally.

During orientation, Ingrid sits with her hands in her lap, her entire face bright in rapt attention, while Felix and Sylvain sit far less enthused on either side of her.

"Pay attention," she whispers, not taking her eyes off the lecturer for a single moment.

Sylvain is too busy looking around the room for cute girls to respond, and Felix sinks unhappily in his chair and mutters something like "get to the point so I can go train, already."

Ingrid's elbows are very sharp, and she puts them to good use. Both of them jump, rubbing their sides, and Felix unsubtly kicks at her leg with the side of his foot in retaliation. The lecturer clears his throat at the commotion, and reluctantly, her friends settle back down to listen properly.

---

Afterwards, they head off to their new classroom, the Blue Lions, even though there are to be no classes held that day, and Ingrid's chest swells with pride at simply being here. She sits at one of the desks, practically vibrating with excitement, while Felix leans against one restlessly, Sylvain already having sped off to the neighboring classrooms in search of, yet again, cute girls.

"We're going to be here every single day, Ingrid. I want to see the training grounds, already."

"Would it kill you to be more studious, Felix?"

"Would it kill you to be less studious?" he counters.

"Yes," she answers, and continues to peer reverently around the classroom.

Felix groans, tilting his head back. "At this rate, I might as well try to drag Sylvain to the training grounds instead."

"Oh, yes, Sylvain," Ingrid says, snapping out of her knightly thoughts. "I suppose I should go and see that he isn't making too much trouble for himself," she says reluctantly.

Felix snorts. "What, do you think Lord Gwendal's daughter attends this academy?"

"Don't even go there," Ingrid says, shuddering.

On cue, Sylvain's head pops into the doorway. "Wow, there are some real beauties here. I am in heaven."

At Ingrid and Felix's exasperated faces, he throws up his hands. "What? Don't look at me like that. It's true."

"Can we please go to the training grounds now?" Felix asks through gritted teeth.

"Y'know, Felix, you're allowed to go places on your own. Aww, Ingrid, he wants us to tag along with him so he doesn't get lonely!" Sylvain grins, his hands behind his head.

Felix grabs the nearest throwable object which happens to be a chalkboard eraser and prepares to chuck it straight at Sylvain, and Ingrid clears her throat. Loudly.

"Really, you two," she admonishes, plucking the eraser out Felix's hand to his protests. "Felix is right, you know, we ought to have a look at the training grounds. But can't you two stop for a second to pay your respects to this classroom?" She beams, her hands clasped, swiveling her head around the classroom again. "This is where we will be spending much of our time here for the next year, you know."

"Pay your respects to this classroom?" Sylvain repeats. "What, like it's dead, or something? If I stay here too long, I'm the one who's going to die. Ingrid, we're the only people here right now- everyone else is having fun before the maw of schoolwork devours us for the next year."

Ingrid rubs the bridge of her nose, and Felix makes a noise that sounds like he's dying.

"Training. Grounds!"

"Alright, alright. Ol' Felix is going to start twitching if he doesn't hold a sword soon."

"Yes, yes," Ingrid says, and herds them both out of the classroom, casting one last happy glance behind her.

---

Felix's training dummy is looking worse for wear, now that he's gotten a few good swings at it, but Felix himself is glowing with a fervent passion that makes Ingrid smile. He's studious when it comes to the blade, at least, to which she heartily approves.

Sylvain, on the other hand, has taken a few half-hearted whacks at his training dummy and looks ready to call it a day. She wants to say something, but Sylvain has obliged without complaint (mostly) to join them in their training, so she lets him be, for now.

Her own training dummy has been pierced through with several holes by her lance, the straw starting to poke through from its insides. She might switch to a harder material, next time, she thinks, stepping back to prepare for another lunge.

"Hey, Ingrid," Sylvain's voice echoes in the otherwise empty training grounds- they are, once again, the only ones who have stayed to train, though many had come and gone while they were there. His Highness had briefly stepped inside to greet them and look wistfully at the training implements before getting whisked off to perform his princely duties somewhere else.

"Yes?" she responds, before stabbing forward with her lance.

"How are you... uh, holding up?"

Her lance stops a centimeter before the training dummy.

"I am... fine. Thank you, Sylvain." To her left, she can hear Felix pause in his relentless strikes.

"Yeah? That's good," he says, smiling as breezily as ever, though Ingrid can sense a shred of doubt in his voice. "Has your father, uh... said anything since then?"

By since then, Ingrid assumes he means since she was reamed out in the stables of her fiance's domain, while said fiance watched despondently, and she feels a little guilty for not telling either of them much of what had transpired since- only that she had been granted leave to come to Garreg Mach, and coincidentally, shortly after she told them so, they had both informed her that they would also be attending.

"Well..." she says, gripping her lance between her hands. "My father, no doubt, expects me to come to the conclusion that knighthood is simply not for me after a year of attending this academy, which..."

"Like that's going to happen," Sylvain and Felix chime in simultaneously. Ingrid smiles briefly, before continuing.

"That is his hope, regardless. As is," her face twists, just a bit. "As is Glenn's, I'd imagine."

Felix doesn't say anything, and Sylvain looks to him as if expecting him to speak on his brother's behalf.

"... Maybe he does" is all Felix says, crossing his arms and looking away. Sylvain rubs his neck while Ingrid simply sighs.

"I haven't asked him about how he feels about this..." As usual, Felix searches for a more delicate phrase to use, and fails, being Felix. "Mess, no. Not that I have to, considering he's just as simple-minded as you are, Ingrid."

"What is that supposed to mean," she begins, cut off as Sylvain starts laughing.

"I think he means that you and Glenn both kind of tend to home in on your goals and never let go, like you're both ravenous bears and you've come across a stream full of salmon for the first time," Sylvain offers.

Ingrid opens her mouth to argue, but this time, Felix starts laughing.

"Yes, particularly the ravenous part," he says dryly. "Shockingly, I actually agree with Sylvain. My brother has always... held some things constant. Knighthood, virtue, or what have you. And I suppose being engaged to you was just another... part of it."

Ingrid falls silent. "Yes, you're right," she says finally, in agreement if only because she, too, had once thought the same way. She can't recall anymore when things changed, or perhaps it was all too gradual for her to have noticed. "I thought that marrying him would be the right thing to do, as well. And maybe it is, and I'm the one who's wrong. I don't know."

She's lying, she thinks, because she does know, but she's doing it anyways.

"Knights can be so absurd," Felix says, after Ingrid's last words cast a lull on the three of them.

"I beg your pardon?" Ingrid sputters. "Knights are not absurd-"

"You and Glenn both- you hold onto these ideals of doing what's right. You're obsessed with doing what's right, that it doesn't matter if it means you have to do things you don't want to do, or if it means you'll be stuck living a life you don't want to live."

Ingrid bites her lip. "Glenn has always wished to become a knight, and so he did. As for me, even though I may not get the opportunity, living with a knight's ideals is hardly something I'd call unpleasant."

"I'm not talking about knighthood!" Felix exclaims, exasperated. "It is abundantly obvious that both of you value being a knight more than anything else in the world. I am referring to the fact that you two have been engaged since birth, for the lofty goal of advancing both our houses."

"I have never seen or heard Glenn indicate that he does not wish to go through with it," Ingrid says evenly.

"That's because he's never had to think about it," Felix says almost bitterly, and Sylvain cuts in.

"It's more like... well, Glenn's never had to choose between the two, you know?" When Ingrid tilts her head at him, evidently not knowing, he continues. "Marrying you, becoming a knight- he's never had to pick between the two. He doesn't have to choose one or the other, but you..."

He doesn't finish his sentence, but Ingrid thinks of Glenn and not for the first time feels a flash of envy, though not for the usual reasons. It hasn't occurred to her, somehow, this entire time, that maybe Glenn is only so content with his lot precisely because marrying her won't get in the way of his aspirations- if anything, the valiant, upstanding knight returning home to a loving wife and family would only serve to make his knightly pursuits seem even more valiant, not that Glenn has it in him to calculate his future in such a way, she well knows. He's only ever walked towards his goal, and as luck would have it, nothing happened to block his path.

"What if you could do both, Ingrid?" Sylvain asks, after it's made clear that Ingrid is too lost in her thoughts to reply.

"Both?" She blinks. "There's no way I can do both."

"I wouldn't be so sure of that," Sylvain sighs. "If anyone could, it'd probably be you. But humor me for a second. What if you could marry Glenn and still become a knight?"

"I- well-" Ingrid doesn't dare let herself contemplate the thought for too long, lest it leave her wistful for a future that could never come to pass. "I suppose that would be ideal."

"Alright," Sylvain says, slowly, contemplatively. "Now pretend that you don't have to marry Glenn. Let's say House Galatea is doing just fine and dandy, and doesn't need you to shoulder its burdens. Or," he glances away for a moment. "If you didn't have a Crest to begin with."

"Alright..." Ingrid echoes, uncertain of where he's headed with his hypotheticals.

"Which would you prefer? The first scenario or the second?" Sylvain stares intently at her, his face completely serious for once. Felix shifts in his spot and listens just as intently.

"I-" Her brow furrows. It isn't that she has anything against marrying Glenn; she's told him as much over and over when she first blurted out her desire to end the engagement. Glenn is a good man and a better knight, and she deeply admires and aspires to be like him.

But Ingrid doesn't know if that means she wants to marry him, either.

She purses her lips instead of answering.

"I asked him a long time ago if he wanted to marry you," Felix mutters.

Sylvain and Ingrid both whip their heads around to stare at him. He takes a step back, alarmed.

"Well? Felix, you can't just leave it at that, man!" Sylvain gripes.

"Yes, I'm curious too. What did he say in response, Felix?" Her brows are so furrowed at this point that she could probably hold a playing card in between them.

"He said 'sure, why not?'" Felix scowls.

"... That's it?" Sylvain slinks back, disappointed. Felix glares and attempts to kick some of the gravel beneath their feet at him.

Ingrid just ponders his words thoughtfully. Maybe she and Glenn are more alike than she thinks-

"If you ask me," Felix says, averting his gaze from her as if he's afraid his words will hurt her. "I think it doesn't particularly matter to him if he marries you or not." Instead of being hurt, Ingrid sighs audibly in relief, and he blinks.

"That's good," she smiles, at last.

"I- Why is that good?" Felix demands. "How is it good for a man to not care either way if he marries his fiancee or not?"

"Wow, Felix," Sylvain whistles. "You're more of a romantic than I thought."

"Shut up, Sylvain."

"No, it's just-" Ingrid tries to collect her thoughts. "This entire time, I have been worried that I've been... hurting Glenn, by doing what I've been doing. Even if I may not wish to marry him, he is still a dear friend and someone I respect deeply," she admits, to both of them but also herself.

"This entire time? Ingrid, does that mean-" Sylvain begins.

"I want to become a knight," she interrupts, clenching her fists around her lance. "More than anything. I still don't know if it's the right thing to do. But even so, I..." She stares steadfastly ahead. "I don't want to believe that the only thing I can do for House Galatea, for my family, is to be wedded off. If I become a knight as decorated as Glenn, then surely..."

Sylvain claps. "To the greatest knight the Kingdom has ever known!" he cheers.

Even Felix is smiling, his eyebrows relaxed almost- fondly. "You'll give Glenn a run for his money."

"Oh, ho! High praise, coming from you, Felix!"

"It's true," he scowls. "This is Ingrid we're talking about."

Bolstered by her friends' words, Ingrid swings her lance and plants her feet back in an offensive position. "Alright, that means more training!" Her eyes blaze underneath her neatly trimmed bangs and she lunges forward, impaling the training dummy squarely in the chest.

"Oh, no," Sylvain laments, but picks his own lance back up with a sigh. Felix smirks before lunging forward to strike at his own dummy.

Later, they're all scolded by a wandering monk for missing dinner on their first day at the monastery, but are permitted to eat the leftovers still in the dining hall kitchens.

The cold cut of pork in her bare hands, too famished to use a fork and knife, is the best meat she's ever tasted.

---

The new mercenary-turned-professor joining their ranks is interesting enough news for Ingrid to temporarily halt her studies and join the others in the Blue Lions class in gawking at them.

"Looks strong," Felix mutters, and Ingrid admonishes him for trying to duel the professor before they even get settled.

"I didn't say I was going to challenge them to a duel," he retorts.

"Maybe not, but you were thinking about it," she says.

Felix doesn't respond, because she's right.

Professor Byleth chooses to lead the Golden Deer house, anyways, with Professor Manuela deciding to lead their house this year, so she just shrugs and returns to her books. Felix groans beside her, rubbing his temples.

"Don't make such a ghastly noise, Felix," she chides. "You're almost done, aren't you?"

"This is a waste of my time," he complains, scribbling irritably in the margins of his assignment. "I could be training right now."

"A knight must be well-rounded in all aspects," Ingrid says, clenching her fist determinedly.

"As if I haven't heard that before," he grumbles, slouching in his chair.

"Really, Felix," she frowns. "This is why Glenn wrote to me saying that I need to look out for you during our time here at the monastery."

"Are you kidding?" Felix scowls. "He wrote to me, saying that I ought to look after you."

"And he wrote to me, saying that I ought to look after both of you!" Sylvain declares, swooping in unannounced and throwing his arms around both their shoulders.

"He did not," Ingrid and Felix say in unison, leaning away.

"Okay, fine, no, he didn't," he relents. "Glenn doesn't usually have much to say to me, actually. I think he's intimidated by how good at flirting I am."

Felix snorts. "The only thing he's intimidated by is how phenomenally dumb you are."

"I don't think Glenn is the type of person to be intimidated by your failures in love, Sylvain," Ingrid says flatly.

Sylvain pouts, releasing them. "If you two are going to be like that, then I won't tell you the news, you training maniacs."

"What news?" Felix rolls his eyes.

"Nope! Not telling you. I have better things to do than attend a seminar hosted by Professor Byleth with a bunch of unappreciative kids." He grins. "Oops."

"A seminar?" Ingrid repeats, sitting up straight. "That would be the first seminar they've ever hosted, wouldn't it?"

"Yep," Sylvain replies breezily.

"Hmm," Felix considers under his breath. "They do have some unusual talents that I'm interested in."

"Alright, we can finish this up later," Ingrid declares, closing her book and putting away her assignment.

"Hey, you two owe me for telling you!" Sylvain argues as they drag him along. "I mean, sure, Dimitri is the one who told me, but-"

Ingrid and Felix look at one another.

"We'll train with you, Sylvain," they say, and Sylvain's whine of "nooooo!" echoes in the courtyard.

---

Ingrid writes letters back home, to her father and to Glenn, and she bites her lip at every omission. No, her father doesn't want to hear about her horseback-riding lessons, even if she thinks- hopes- that he's proud of her accomplishments, deep down. He doesn't need to hear about her mastery with the lance, about how she's picked up the blade with a little help from Felix but mostly a lot of elbow grease, how her missions have left her bruised and bloody but not any less wanting to continue on her path. Instead, she reports on innocuous details, things that her father might find valuable in the political scheme of things: sermons given by the Archbishop, reports of trade dwindling in certain parts of the Kingdom, even how Felix and Sylvain are doing at the monastery. She writes as little about herself as possible.

To Glenn, she is a little more forthcoming; he knows of the training she's going through currently all too well, and dispenses advice here and there, but it is always followed up with concern, that Ingrid is biting off more than she can chew, and that it's alright for her to return home even in the middle of the school year, if she has to.

At that, Ingrid grits her teeth and restrains herself from throwing the entire letter away.

She wonders, sometimes, if Glenn had always been that way, and she had simply failed to notice. But-

She remembers, as a child, with Felix in tow, the three of them hiking across the Fraldarius hills, in search of make-believe villains and people to rescue from plumper than average squirrels. She remembers laughing as she, Glenn, and Felix had whacked each other harmlessly with reeds, pretending to be knights from opposing factions, remembers coming back to the manor covered in dirt and mud and heading over to the stables to wash it all off before her father could notice.

Ingrid doesn't think the Glenn from back then would have sent those letters.

It's impressive, she thinks, how in failing to listen to her, they've ensured that Ingrid has nothing of substance to say to them, and still she wonders if she's being childish.

If she fails to become a knight, then House Galatea will crumble, and she knows it to be a fact. She can't let that happen; she won't even entertain the thought of that happening, because she will become a knight, and a great one, at that.

She doesn't entertain the thought of failure any more than she does the thought of quitting midway and resigning herself to becoming nothing but a wife.

---

What happens, instead, not even a year into their schooling, is the onset of war, and even Ingrid can no longer focus on becoming a knight when Fódlan is thrown into chaos, with Garreg Mach Monastery at the center of it.

She defends the monastery, a place that had begun to feel like home, with the rest of the students not beholden to Edelgard's cause; not just the Blue Lions, but also those in the Golden Deer house. His Highness Dimitri orders them to guard Lady Rhea with their lives, while Claude and the Professor advance towards Edelgard's troops.

Even amidst the bloodshed, Ingrid can't help but think that this is where she belongs, wielding her lance for the sake of something she must protect.

The battle wages, and she never truly figures out exactly what happens; Garreg Mach falls, the Professor is lost, and though it rests bitter in her stomach she can only return back to the Kingdom, which is already suiting up for its own war after the declarations of the Adrestian Empire have been made.

Her father, for once, says nothing of her engagement, and only places a hand on her shoulder after ensuring that the wounds she obtained during the battle were not serious, telling her quietly that he is relieved that she has returned home in one piece.

She has more important things to worry about, right now, but a corner of her mind almost thinks that her father's words were befitting of someone welcoming home a knight.

House Galatea has very little to offer towards the Kingdom's war efforts- no real resources to speak of, and a dearth of capable fighters to boot. With that in mind, Ingrid steels herself and goes up to her father to ask that he allow her to join the Kingdom's forces in battle.

"Absolutely not," he says, appalled that she would even suggest it. "We cannot afford to have anything happen to you. You are House Galatea's future-"

And for the first time, Ingrid raises her voice against her father.

"There will be no future, not for the Kingdom, and certainly not for House Galatea if we do not give everything we have to the cause!" she shouts, and her father falls silent, shocked. "If the Empire wins, House Galatea will be no more, father. Neither will the Kingdom. The only thing I can do for our future is to fight!"

Her father falls silent, his face turned into a grimace, and Ingrid holds still, praying that she will not have to escape in the middle of the night to enlist in the army.

"I have already spoken to your brothers," he says stiffly, and Ingrid braces herself for the worst. "They will be departing for the capital to await further orders from His Majesty. If you must, then leave with them." He turns away, leaving Ingrid slack-jawed.

"Yes, father!" she finally manages to call out to him, before rushing to her room to pack.

---

She isn't surprised to see Sylvain and Felix among the ranks of soldiers, just as they aren't surprised to see her.

"Knew you'd make it, Ingrid," Sylvain beams. "Your old man couldn't stop you, huh?"

Ingrid shakes her head, still unable to fully grasp that he hadn't, he had let her go without a fuss.

"Glenn is here too," Felix adds quietly. "He's been assigned to Dimitri's team."

Ingrid isn't surprised by that, either. "Well, he is a part of the Royal Guard, after all."

"Well, at least you don't have to worry about fighting alongside him," Felix says dismissively. "You and me both."

She nods at that, and the three of them report for duty.

Dimitri and His Majesty are both present at the briefing, though Ingrid has to squint to see them from where she's standing. They've all gathered in a vast field- Ingrid's heart swells at the sheer turnout- with the Kingdom's leaders atop a small hill in their center. Standing not far behind Dimitri, his arms clasped formally behind his back, is Glenn, whose eyes widen a fraction when he spots her.

Ingrid doesn't have any gestures to use with him the way she does with Felix and Sylvain, but she nods at him and hopes he can sense how serious she is about this. After a moment's pause, his eyes darting between Sylvain and Felix- who frowns belligerently at him on Ingrid's behalf- on either side of her, her slowly returns her nod and redirects his attention to His Majesty's address.

The crowd, as one, cheers when His Majesty finishes, and Ingrid too is swept up in the flurry of emotions.

She would protect her country with her own two hands, no matter what.

---

To their surprise, Dimitri finds them after the address, and informs them as if it were the most natural thing in the world that he would like for the three of them to fight at his side, as well.

Ingrid stammers that he should really find some experienced knights to serve as his personal troop, while Felix and Sylvain look at one another to figure out if this is another one of Dimitri's poorly executed jokes, when Dimitri clears his throat.

"I am perfectly serious. I know how well you all fight from our time at the academy, and I am willing to entrust my life to you, as long as you do the same." He looks earnestly between them, a slight smile on his lips.

"Well, when you put it like that, Your Highness," Sylvain begins.

"Glenn will be there, too, won't he?" Felix asks abruptly.

"Why, of course," Dimitri affirms, looking strangely at him. "Why do you ask?"

"... No reason," he responds dourly, pointedly not looking at Ingrid, though she hazards that it's also in part because he doesn't particularly want to fight at his brother's side- not out of dislike, but due to the constant comparisons between the two's fighting styles that left Felix determined to surpass his brother at the sword.

Ingrid shakes her head in lieu of Felix, and turns to Dimitri, standing upright. "It would be an honor, Your Highness."

"Please, call me Dimitri," he sighs.

"With all due respect, Your Highness, we agreed to call you by your name while at the academy, at your request. But now, you are our commander, and I feel that it would be remiss to not refer to you by your proper title." Ingrid continues to hold herself formally, awaiting his response.

Dimitri sighs again, touching the tips of his fingers to his forehead, but smiling slightly nonetheless. "Well, Ingrid, then I would ask that you continue to call me Dimitri on the count that we are friends. The same for all of you, please."

"... I don't have any problem calling you that," Felix shrugs, crossing his arms.

"I suppose our transgressions will be forgiven if it's Dimitri himself who wants us to call him by his name, huh, Ingrid?" Sylvain hums.

Outnumbered, Ingrid purses her lips before finally relenting. "Fine, Dimitri, as you wish."

"Wonderful," he says, bringing his hands together. "I am sorry to get straight to business, but there is much that needs to be done."

Dimitri guides them to a conference room where they hold their first strategy meeting, and Ingrid listens with rapt attention to every word.

---

The troops have begun marching towards the Empire, forces clashing against each other at the border. His Majesty fronts the assault, but Dimitri's group has been ordered to stay and serve as backup until a good opportunity arrives.

"I know where my father is coming from," Dimitri says, just a tad impatiently. "Full frontal assaults tend to have the most casualties. And he has ordered me not to do anything rash, being that, in his words, I am 'the future of the Kingdom,' but he himself is at the forefront of combat." He sighs, nursing his cup of tea. Ingrid mulls over his words in her head, recalling how similar they were to her own father's.

"He's counting on us to win some decisive victories, that's all," Sylvain reassures.

"Doubtful," Dimitri murmurs into his tea. "Considering that the Empire has practically constructed a wall around the border. They're impenetrable, and I can't understand how they managed to mobilize so quickly."

"We'll just have to chip away at that wall until it folds," Felix says, unconcerned.

"I'm concerned that that will take a toll on our own forces," Dimitri frowns. "As we chip away at their forces, so our own forces take a hit. And with the attempted coup just last month, morale might..."

Ingrid leaves Dimitri to mumble worriedly to himself, and glances sideways at Glenn, who has been sitting silently with the same air of impatience around him. He catches her eye and attempts to give her a weak smile.

"What is it, Ingrid?"

Glenn has long since stopped trying to persuade her to return home, but still an uncomfortable tension sits between them whenever they're alone, so Ingrid usually keeps company with Sylvain or Felix. Her friends, thankfully, are more than willing to oblige her.

"Do you feel the same way as His-" Ingrid has to remind herself not to use Dimitri's formal title around him, even though, awkwardly, Glenn uses it exclusively and always has. "As Dimitri, with regards to not being on the frontlines?"

Glenn considers her question for a moment. "As a member of the Royal Guard, I'm expected to guard the royal family with my life. It's what is expected of me, and I will admit that it does not sit well with me to let His Majesty wage war without being at his side, even if I have been given explicit orders to remain with His Highness."

Ingrid nods; Glenn's loyalty to his liege is something she's never questioned, even if right now it's being split between the King and the Prince. "His Majesty trusts you to guard Dimitri."

"I suppose," Glenn responds, glancing around the room and visibly biting his tongue. Ingrid knows by now that there are a great many number of extremely rude things that Glenn does not utter in her presence, though what she does know is all from hearsay or from Felix's complaints about his brother. "And as for His Highness, he trusts all of you to guard his life." His tone is displeased, but Ingrid can't tell if it's because he disagrees about their abilities, or if he thinks he's more than enough for the job.

A bit conceited, if it's the latter, Ingrid can't help but smile, but knights do have to have some pride in their work, after all.

"Are you going to tell him he has poor judgement?" Felix drawls, evidently bored of trying to assure Dimitri that everything would work out fine- not that he was particularly trying, Ingrid notes. That leaves Sylvain with the task of brightening up the gloomy prince, Dedue choosing to endlessly refill Dimitri's cup of tea instead of offering reassurances, and he glances backwards every so often as if to plead "help me."

"Felix!" Glenn says sharply. "I did not say that."

"Ah, but you thought it," Felix says, leaning back in his chair.

There's a certain gift brothers have in getting under each other's skin, so Ingrid is well aware of from personal experience, but Felix has always been particularly skilled at it. She intervenes before things get heated.

"I, too, was surprised when he requested that we serve directly under him. What he saw in us during our time at the academy must have been promising. Hopefully, we have been able to demonstrate our skills thus far." She directs the last sentence towards Glenn as much as she does Dimitri.

Glenn averts his eyes. "It's been better than I would have expected," he admits, and Ingrid nearly swells with pride, until he continues. "But, Ingrid, I still don't think you-"

"Does it matter what you think?" Felix cuts in, slamming his palms on the table. "His princeliness has made his decision, and so has Ingrid. What right do you have to butt in?"

"Butt in?" Glenn demands, his chair scraping on the floor as he gets to his feet. "Why don't you butt out, Felix? This is between Ingrid and me."

Dimitri and Dedue are staring, a touch alarmed at the sudden commotion, while Sylvain looks almost relieved at the distraction. Felix stands, his mouth open to say something definitely extremely rude (Ingrid used to wonder where he got his caustic tongue from; back then, it had never crossed her mind that it might have been from Glenn), and Ingrid forcibly manhandles him back into his chair, deflating his sails and leaving him staring at her plaintively with his mouth still open.

"I'm sorry, Glenn," she says, taking in a deep breath. "But Felix is right. I've made my decision, and I don't intend to stray from it."

Glenn surveys her eyes for a long time, his own in turmoil. "I know," he says finally. "I know you have. I'm still trying to accept it. I'm sorry." Without another word, Glenn pushes in his chair and leaves the conference room.

Ingrid sits back, her hands clasped tight in her lap. Sylvain gives her a worried frown, to which she shakes her head, and he goes back to distracting the others, this time for Ingrid's sake.

Felix is still sitting in his chair exactly as how Ingrid shoved him into it, only the merest suggestion of his kicked-puppy expression, or so Ingrid likes to call it, a remnant from his childhood as a crybaby, on his face.

"Thank you, Felix," she says softly.

"... Did I go too far?" he mutters.

"For me, or for Glenn?"

"Both." Felix slouches.

"Personally, no. I'm grateful, Felix." She smiles at him, and it's enough for him to crack a tiny one of his own, though he promptly wipes it off afterwards. "Glenn, though," she continues, just a little bit admonishingly. "I think you ought to apologize to him for your tone."

"Ugh," Felix grumbles. "I'll just give him an extra piece of meat at dinner."

Ingrid rolls her eyes at the legendary communication skills of the Fraldarius men, but figures that Glenn would probably prefer it that way, anyhow.

"You two can be so alike," she remarks, ready to aid Sylvain again at last.

"Not as much as you two are," he retorts.

"I'll take that as a compliment."

"It's a compliment to him," Felix says. "It's an insult to you."

Dimitri clears his throat, no longer in a state of gloom. "I forgot to mention, actually- I've been in correspondence with Annette and Mercedes, and they're both willing to fight alongside us. That's good news, isn't it?" He asks, looking around the room.

"It is," Ingrid affirms. "It will be quite reassuring to have them with us."

Gradually, the conversation turns back to the intended topic of their strategy meeting, and Ingrid hopes that it finally got through to Glenn, this time, before shelving her personal affairs to focus on the war effort.

---

Five years pass much in that manner, though it comes as a shock to Ingrid when one day she looks at the calendar and discovers just how long it's been since the war started. It's become- not exactly routine, no, she doesn't think that war could ever become routine, but she's settled into her life as a soldier. Still not a knight, not yet, though she hasn't stopped dreaming of it.

To Dimitri's consternation, it's as if they haven't made any progress; they would win some battles, lose some battles, and by now Ingrid has had her fair share of combat even while not being on the frontlines, but the net result would end up largely the same.

"It's as if they're toying with us," Dimitri says frustratedly.

Dedue, always by his side, listens patiently until Dimitri calms down again. She doesn't blame the prince for his impatience, not when sometimes it truly feels like this war will never end.

Then, all of a sudden, Ingrid hears the name of a place she hasn't been to in five years.

"Garreg Mach!" Annette blurts out one day, in her hands the latest status report from central Fódlan.

"What about it?" Dimitri blinks, and she begins to shakily read the report.

Ingrid and her former classmates look disbelievingly at each other, and Annette holds up the hand-drawn sketch of the banner flying over Garreg Mach's walls.

The Crest of Flames stare back at them. They fall silent, every one of them.

"And not just that, it says that Alliance troops have been gathering at the monastery," Annette adds as an aside.

"Claude," Dimitri murmurs. "Of course he would do something as brazen as use the monastery as his base. But the Crest of Flames... I wonder..." he trails off.

"This could be the opportunity we've been waiting for, couldn't it?" Mercedes ventures.

"It's possible," Dimitri says slowly. "Any talk of joining forces with the Alliance has largely ended in failure, with how splintered they've become. But if Claude is at Garreg Mach... The professor... We just might be able to..."

Dimitri dismisses them all early so that he can mull over his thoughts.

"Can't believe we're going back there," Sylvain says, hands in pockets.

"Hasn't been decided yet," Felix corrects him.

"Oh, come on. We're totally going. You saw Dimitri's face. There's no way he's going to let this slip."

"It's already been five years," Ingrid murmurs. She hasn't consciously thought of the monastery in quite some time now, though some nights, the images would come back to her unbidden in dreams of simpler times.

"Yeah..." Sylvain says, deep in thought. "Hey, by the way, have you written to your father lately?"

"What brought that up?" Ingrid blinks. "But, yes, I have. He's holding up, as are my brothers."

"Oh, good. I was just thinking, since, you know, the whole reason we were at Garreg Mach in the first place was because of that ordeal with your father-"

"Sylvain!" Felix hisses, jabbing his foot into Sylvain's shin.

"Ow!" he yelps, clutching at his leg, while Ingrid looks between them, confused.

"What do you mean? There was certainly an... ordeal with my father and Glenn, yes, and to be honest, I'm not entirely sure that it's been resolved on my father's side, but what did that have to do with you two being there?"

"Oh, come on, Felix, it's been five years, do we really have to keep it a secret? I mean, anyone with half a brain would have figured out that we only asked to enroll because-"

"Because?" she repeats, the truth slowly dawning on her.

Felix glares, his lips tightly sealed, daring Sylvain to utter another word. A perplexed expression on his face, Sylvain briefly tries to mime the events that had transpired all those years ago, until Felix's glowering stare sends his hands meekly to his sides.

"I... I didn't know," Ingrid says, her face flushed in embarrassment, but also gratitude. "I thought it was simply a coincidence that your families wanted you to attend as well. I never realized..."

Pained, Felix turns away, rubbing the bridge of his nose, evidently trying to come up with a way to deflect her inevitable thanks.

"It was Felix's idea, actually," Sylvain quips, and Felix comes as close to killing Sylvain as he ever has, in Ingrid's memory.

"Thank you," she says, hating how those words can't convey the depth of her appreciation for her two friends. "Really, truly, thank you both."

"You would have been fine, regardless," Felix says through gritted teeth. "You adapted by the first day. That's-" He casts an angry glare at Sylvain. "Why I didn't want to bring it up."

"But I was much happier, having the two of you with me. It was difficult, sometimes." She thinks back to the conversation they had on the first day in the training grounds. "Your presence helped me quite a bit."

Felix continues making the expression of a man whose beloved dog has just been killed before his very eyes, and Sylvain only laughs.

"Don't even mention it, Ingrid. It was pretty fun, in retrospect, even with all the studying and drills and training. Got to date a bunch of cute girls, after all." Ingrid sighs, but realizes that it has been a long time since Sylvain last uttered the words "cute girls," and so decides to let it slide. "Felix, you really need to learn how to accept gratitude," he adds.

"Shut. Up." Felix is starting to glance around, as if he's trying to make his escape.

Ingrid can't just let him go so easily and plants herself firmly in front of him. He blanches.

"Felix," she begins. "I want you to know that I deeply appreciate everything you've done for me."

"Stop-"

"You've always been very understanding when it comes to Glenn, even though it involves your own brother. I want to thank you for helping me come to terms with how to handle the situation between us."

"Ingrid-"

"And not to mention the times you fought with him on my behalf. I couldn't bear it if a rift formed between the two of you because of me, but I'm grateful to you for your loyalty."

"No! Stop it!" Felix yells, his face aflame. "Enough! That's enough! Stop thanking me!"

"I won't, until you accept my thanks," Ingrid says simply.

"I- Fine! I accept your- your thanks!" He sputters. "Now stop thanking me!"

"Was that so hard, Felix?" she asks, amused, as Sylvain clutches his stomach in howling laughter in the background.

"Yes!" He shouts. "Don't ever do that again."

"Honestly, Felix," she tuts. "A knight gives gratitude where it's due."

"Yeah, Felix." Sylvain catches his breath, wiping away a tear of mirth from the corner of his eye.

Felix can only bring himself to glare at them in consternation.

Later, after Dimitri gives them their marching orders to head for Garreg Mach, Ingrid steps closer to Felix as they're all making their way back to their quarters to tell him "thank you," again, because she needs him to understand that she means it.

Felix freezes, jerking his head away so that she can't see his face in the dim light of dusk, and cracks out a "you're welcome," before swiftly retreating to his room.

Tomorrow, they march for Garreg Mach, but tonight, she watches his retreating back and stifles a giggle.

---

Faerghus and the Empire are perpetually locked in battle at the border, and that makes it relatively easy for their small company to slip into central Fódlan. The villages that used to lie between the two nations have all been deserted, its former inhabitants now refugees in either direction.

It's almost the same for the village that lies at the base of Garreg Mach Monastery. Her heart twinges at seeing how desolate the once lively town is, but at least it isn't completely deserted. A farmer on its outskirts tells the group, once they've introduced themselves as former students of the academy, excitedly about the return of the Knights of Seiros to the monastery, and Dimitri asks about the Archbishop, who hasn't been heard from since the battle in which Garreg Mach was lost. The farmer's face falls and he admits that they haven't heard anything about her-

"But there's a wyvern-riding lad who's been taking charge of the monastery, and this one person, why, they right look like Lady Rhea does at a distance-"

Dimitri listens to the man recount more and more of their former classmates and teachers and nods, his lips pursed.

"Are they at the monastery?"

"Saw them marching south, I did," the farmer says, scratching his neck.

Dimitri considers his options for a moment, then thanks the man, who returns to tilling his fields.

"We'll follow them."

They head south as swiftly as they can, hoping to catch up with their former classmates who march under the banner of the Crest of Flames. Dimitri theorizes that they're heading for Enbarr, the capital, and if so, the Empire will doubtlessly strike back.

Atop her pegasus, Ingrid scouts the plains for any signs of activity, and in the distance, she sees what first appears to be a dust cloud, until she spots the Empire's flag waving in the wind. Immediately, she descends, but not before she sees another troop with the Crest of Flames high over their heads.

She reports as much to Dimitri, whose mouth twists into a grimace when he realizes their location.

"Gronder Field," he mutters. "How fitting. Everyone, prepare for battle!" The last, he shouts to the entire squadron, who holler in turn and unfurl the banner of the Kingdom.

They converge on Gronder Field, unchanged from how it was five years ago. Ingrid winces at the familiar sights, as do the other Blue Lions.

"Our first priority is to determine if we can join forces with Claude's group," Dimitri announces. "If it... is not a possibility, then we will engage the Empire directly."

Dimitri, with Glenn and Dedue at his side, head north to meet Claude's forces. Ingrid holds her position with the others, waiting for Dimitri's signal.

Not long afterwards, a blue spark briefly lights up the sky, and Ingrid grips her lance and vaults into the sky on her pegasus.

Were the spark black, she would have known that an alliance would prove impossible; but it burned blue, and Ingrid sees a man on a pale-white wyvern speed past her in the sky, his fingers held up in a lazy salute, and Ingrid smiles to herself because some things really never do change.

Their forces as one, they cross over to the southwest, where the Emperor awaits. Ingrid is careful to avoid the hill, remembering all too well the ballista that sits upon it. Eventually, they fell its commander, and the hill bursts into red-hot flames as a final act of retribution, coating the sky with jet-black smoke.

Inauspicious, Ingrid thinks, but she's never been particularly superstitious, as she dives from the sky to strike at soldiers on the ground.

She's rounding up the flank, now, stopping stragglers from the Empire from providing reinforcement. The soot colors her hands and armor a dusty gray, as well as the wings of her pegasus. She doesn't relent until another blue spark illuminates the southwest, and the last remaining soldiers of the Empire begin to retreat.

Later, when Claude, with the professor in tow, gripes about how this must be the worst class reunion in the history of class reunions, Ingrid can't help but agree.

Dimitri, Claude, and Professor Byleth head off to strategize, and Ingrid walks over to the river to wash the soot off from her arms. The rest of her body will just have to wait until tomorrow, she decides, and ensures that her pegasus is well settled before collapsing on her mat and falling immediately asleep, despite Annette's protests that she's getting her bedsheets all dirty.

She doesn't actually recall His Highness and Claude getting along that well back when they were in the academy (she and Claude... did not, for one), but they're both adults now, even if Claude is still fond of schemes- just on a grander scale than before. The Professor, too, is different in a way that Ingrid can't exactly place- it's only when they burst into laughter at a joke so poorly executed by Dimitri that it would make Alois shudder that Ingrid thinks she has an idea of what.

And it is pleasant to see the rest of her former classmates again, at least the ones in the Golden Deer house who are not trying to kill her, unlike those in the Black Eagles house, who are, even if Ingrid cycled between studying, training, and eating, with no real time for socializing outside her class back then.

They march towards Enbarr, somehow taking Fort Merceus in a ploy so absurd that it ends up working- and suddenly, they're there.

Enbarr is grand, but more than that, it's well-reinforced, and she readies herself for another fierce battle. She routs the perimeter of the castle, Sylvain not far below on his horse, clearing an eventual path into the castle while the others dispatch Edelgard's commanders. It doesn't sit well with her to slay her former classmates- it didn't at Gronder Field, it didn't at Fort Merceus- but this is war and they have no other choice, all of them having chosen their own paths, for better or for worse.

Streaming into the castle, Ingrid can see Edelgard by her throne, still regal, still a portrait of ice. Dimitri's fists clench around his lance, and they're almost there-

Edelgard, barely holding herself upright, beseeches the Professor to kill her, but Dimitri holds up a hand to stop them. He pulls out a dagger from his pocket, and reaches it out for Edelgard to take. From her distance away, Ingrid sees her violet eyes flicker, and then the Emperor crumples, the dagger clattering on the floor beside her, and they begin to pick up the pieces.

Even then, it's still not over. Ingrid tells herself that it will end, eventually, when those who slither in the dark are finally dead and buried.

The Archbishop, even pale and haggard and ailing, possesses a disquieting gravity as she addresses them, thanks them. She and her classmates have no real response, apart from their concern over her very real physical ailments, knowing by now that the Church of Seiros is not quite what it seems, even if they still don't know exactly what the truth is.

But that's for the professor to figure out, Ingrid thinks, shaking her head. She's surprised at how much she trusts them now, not even their professor during their time at the academy, but she thinks it might be because they trust all of them just as strongly- and that trust extends to each and every one of the soldiers Ingrid has fought alongside thus far.

And so, Ingrid puts her trust in the professor, in Dimitri and Claude, and their tactics. What follows is a blur because Ingrid can't believe the sights before her eyes: an underground city where magic is far removed from the magic she recognizes, Rhea, transforming into a pure-white dragon and taking to the skies, resurrected corpses that chill her to the bone when she looks into one's eyes and sees her same green eyes reflected back.

It still doesn't feel real when the King Nemesis of lore finally crumples to a heap, cut through by the professor's blade. It doesn't feel real that they're marching back to Garreg Mach, to nurse their wounds and to put a formal end to the war, now that the Emperor has surrendered. It doesn't feel real that Ingrid is standing in front of Garreg Mach's main gate, having bid farewell to her allies that would be returning back to their normal lives after this, with Sylvain and Felix and Glenn in tow, returning back to their homes in Faerghus.

"You've been making that weird expression for a while," Sylvain remarks.

"What?" She jerks her head in his direction. "What did you say, Sylvain?"

"Um... did you hit your head too hard in our last battle, Ingrid? Why do you look so dazed?" Despite his teasing tone, Sylvain does look a little worried, and Glenn jumps up as if to fetch Professor Manuela to heal her non-existent head injury.

"No, I'm fine! I was just thinking about... well, about how I can't believe it's truly over."

They nod, all three of them, and for a second it feels like they don't know what to do with themselves now that it really is finished.

"Well, I mean..." Sylvain raises his arms to clasp the back of his head, and gives a slightly off-tune whistle. "I guess I might try to get a few dates before getting back to the whole taking-over-the-Gautier-house thing."

Felix grimaces at his ambitions, though even he has to admit that Sylvain has his work cut out for him with regards to his duties. "I'll go back to training. I still haven't become as strong as I want to be." For a second, his eyes flicker between Glenn and Ingrid, before turning back to the sword in his scabbard.

"I will report back to father, and then I will be returning to Fhirdiad. His Highness may have deemed it fit to grant me temporary leave, but there's simply too much to be done," Glenn says, as formal and knightly as ever.

Her own response the last one remaining, the others all turn to look at her. Ingrid smiles slightly, knowing that they've already anticipated what she is about to say.

"I will return home to House Galatea, and then I shall become a knight," she says simply.

There's no disagreement whatsoever after she utters her declaration: Sylvain grins, Felix shows a sliver of a smile, and Glenn-

Glenn looks her in the eye and nods, just once.

They turn back towards Garreg Mach one last time, then set off for home.

---

Ingrid takes to it well; the knight's orientation she tackles much the same way as she did the first day of class at the academy. She's the first at the training grounds and the last to leave. She pores over her copy of the knight's handbook until its pages start to tear, and then she gets a new copy, giving it the same treatment. And some of the other knight trainees might complain about the blandness of the dining hall meals, but to Ingrid, each meal is the best she's ever tasted simply because of where she is.

When she had arrived back home, her father was the first to greet her, running forward to place his hands on her shoulders as if he couldn't believe she was real. She had smiled as she greeted him in turn, he had looked away as if coming to some kind of conclusion in his mind, and the next day at breakfast, he had sat with her and stiffly told her that he would give her his leave to become a knight.

"I'm delighted to hear you say that, father!" she had beamed. "But please know that I would have done so regardless of whether you gave your leave or not."

He looked at her, green eyes meeting green eyes, Ingrid sitting straight and unyielding in her seat, and sighed. "I know."

You've always been stubborn, and you've always kept walking forward. That much, I know, her father had said, and Ingrid thought she detected just a hint of pride in his voice.

It's because she isn't new to combat that she finds herself unintentionally wiping the floor with all of her training partners. Before long, she's ready to take the knight certification exam- a written test, followed by a practical exercise. She blows it out of the water, and apparently impresses her instructors so much that she's herded off to Fhirdiad where Dimitri himself has the honor knighting her, tapping his lance (because Dimitri is the type to break tradition, when all is said and done) on her shoulder.

She lifts her head, unable to keep a joyful smile off her face, and begins her duties as a member of the royal guard.

Working with Glenn, she finds, is actually not as uncomfortable as their shared history would have suggested. She's spent so much time admiring his feats, but now she's working alongside him. To his credit, he treats her like a fellow knight, acknowledging her strengths while reasonably critiquing her failings. It's only fair, because sometimes Ingrid points out where his swordplay is lacking, and it almost feels like it did back when they were children and ran around and made a mess of things together.

Glenn never brings it up again, but her father does, just once, before she leaves for Fhirdiad.

No, I will not marry Glenn, she answers, before he can even finish his thought. Her father only shakes his head as if to say I thought not, and says no more of it.

Ingrid writes to her friends, not just Sylvain and Felix (though they do get the bulk of the correspondence, at least when she has time to write) but to the other Blue Lions and the companions who fought in the war with her. Sylvain is doing fine, well, even, and Ingrid is proud that he's being responsible, and because she's always known that he's had it in him. Felix, she's a little more concerned about- his letters are sporadic, because he's taken to moving from town to town honing his skills as a mercenary, of all things, and Ingrid finds it impressive that he managed to talk Lord Rodrigue into letting him do it. Or- and she chuckles, because this is far more likely- Felix did what Ingrid did and simply didn't give him a choice in the matter. The others tell her of happenings in Garreg Mach, the differences in the Alliance now that the borders have been opened to Almyra- Dimitri and Claude are still working out exactly what the ultimate fate of Fódlan will be, at least in regards to its governance, but they've both pledged for peaceful cooperation, and Ingrid figures that's as good of a promise as they can get- and even some news of how the former lands of the Empire are doing.

One day, as she's finishing her rounds around the palace and is heading back to her quarters, she spots a familiar figure, and she rushes towards him.

"Felix!" she exclaims. His clothes are worse for wear, and his hair is messier than ever, but he rolls his eyes the way he always does when he sees her.

"You don't need to sprint. It's like I'm being rushed by a mountain bear," he says as his unceremonious greeting. Ingrid ignores him, because she's smiling too happily to retort, and because up close, Felix is trying very hard but failing to hide his own smile.

"What are you doing here, Felix?" she inquires.

"It's not like I need a reason," he mutters. "I was in the area. I've been traveling around, as you know."

"Yes, as a mercenary," Ingrid acknowledges, and steps closer to poke disapprovingly at the holes and scratches in his clothing. "Be honest- are you actually doing a good job of it? It doesn't look like you're making enough to even patch up your belongings."

"Of course I am," he retorts. "It just so happens that the people I work for aren't in much of a place to make payments."

"Alright," Ingrid says slowly. "Hopefully that doesn't mean you've been caught up in something unsavory."

"What do you take me for?" he asks, indignantly. "It just so happens to turn out that villages who have had all their possessions raided by bandits don't often have any belongings left to give," he says, and then bites his tongue.

"Felix," she says, even more slowly. "You're helping poor villagers who have lost their livelihood to bandits at no cost? That's so... noble of you."

"Shut up," he says, his ears reddening. "It is not. I just enjoy fighting bandits, is all. I don't even need their payment."

"Are you still this terrible at receiving compliments?" Ingrid sighs, and he only huffs.

For his sake, Ingrid drops it, and instead asks him how his mastery of the blade is going. As expected, he perks up, and they chat about sword techniques and the best way to parry blows until Ingrid realizes that night has fully fallen and she ushers them both inside the barracks so that they don't both fall ill from the night chill.

"Have you already seen Glenn?" she asks, during a pause in their discussion of Almyran combat strategies.

He frowns. "No. I didn't come here to see Glenn."

"Well, since you're just stopping by," she points out. "You can very well say hello to your brother while you're here so that he stops worrying about you."

"He doesn't worry about me," Felix grumbles, and Ingrid fixes him with an exasperated stare. "Oh, fine, tomorrow," he relents, but looks as though there's another thought left on his lips.

"What is it?" she asks, looking at him quizzically.

"Are-" he starts, but does not finish.

"Yes...?" she prods.

"I just think he's a fool," Felix says abruptly.

Ingrid blinks, but guesses that he's referring to his brother. "Glenn is a lot of things, but I don't think you should be calling him a fool, Felix."

"He is," he insists, and then grimaces so hard it looks like the two sides of his face are playing tug-of-war with one another.

"Goodness, that's some face you're making," Ingrid sighs. "Are you going to explain why you think so, or are you just going to continue insulting your brother into the night?"

And like a dam breaking apart, Felix talks.

"You probably wouldn't have married him either way, because why would you, but he didn't even try. And I don't mean the pathetic groveling he did after you called it off, but before and after- he never gave you a single reason to want to marry him to begin with."

Ingrid opens her mouth to say what brought this on, but Felix continues, unfettered.

"I don't even think he understood. He couldn't see how mind-numbingly obvious it was that you were strong, and what a goddamn waste it would have been if you were forced to just stay at home and be meek because that's what my idiot brother thought wives were supposed to do. He's a knight, for crying out loud! How can he not see strength when it looks him in the eye?" Felix demands, not particularly directed at Ingrid.

"Felix," she interrupts. "I truly have no idea what it is you're trying to say."

"He couldn't-" Felix exhales, angrily. "He couldn't appreciate you or your strength, and for that, he's a fool."

"And you can?" Immediately after she says it, she shuts her mouth and wonders why she did. Felix freezes, and they stare at each other for several agonizing minutes.

"I- I- At the very least, I- It doesn't even matter what I think," Felix croaks.

"It-" Ingrid replies, her voice just as strained. "Does. It-it matters quite a bit to me, what you think."

"Well, then," he says, voice crackling. "I have always- admired- your strength, and your dedication. That's why I... had to support you, in your pursuits. I had to."

Ingrid wants to thank him, but her face is burning so warmly that she feels feverish, and she feels just a little bit guilty for cornering Felix and making him listen to her praises.

"Now who's bad at taking compliments?" Felix says after a long pause, his voice still slightly wavering.

Ingrid bites her lip and folds her hands in her lap instead of answering.

They sit, Ingrid watching the torches on the wall flicker and Felix idly staring off into space, until the air finally settles down between them again.

"I might try to find some work around here," Felix mumbles. "Non-mercenary work, that is. The fighting's kind of dried up with the land being at peace, and whatnot. This place is as good as any."

"Really?" she asks immediately, slightly annoyed that she can't hide the excitement in her voice. Felix glances at her, a tiny crooked smile on his face at her reaction.

"I suppose," he says, the nonchalance of his tone foiled by his growing smile. "That means I'll be... seeing a lot of you, then."

"Oh, yes. Of course," Ingrid answers automatically, then clears her throat. "I will be seeing you, as well."

Felix snorts, Ingrid giggles, and the two of them laugh and chat until the torches start to fizzle out, and night relief begins to patrol the barracks. Reluctantly, she waves farewell to him at the entrance of the building, Felix returning it with a raise of his hand.

As he's about to leave, Ingrid suddenly remembers.

"Thank you, Felix!" she calls out.

This time, Felix doesn't miss a beat. "Yeah."

She watches his retreating back, traces a finger over the emblem of the Kingdom on her knight's uniform, and thinks that things have worked out better than she could have ever hoped for.