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A Song for Tomorrow

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On the cusp of a new Great Tree Moon, the air was still cool and biting even in the morning sunlight. The Monastery of Garreg Mach stood tall and proud overlooking the bountiful land below like a benevolent yet strict mother supervising the villages in the surrounding valley. Felix scowled up at the massive entrance gates as they approached, a look which did not go unnoticed by his father. They looked strikingly alike, with thick navy hair and sharp eyes. Both men sat stiffly astride horses as their entourage followed behind with Felix’s belongings securely strapped into wagons for the long journey from Fraldarius territory to the Monastery. Duke Rodrigue Fraldarius sighed audibly, but Felix didn’t spare a glance in his direction, instead opting to nudge his mount forward and enter the sprawling marketplace at the foot of the great building.

His father followed suit, keeping pace easily. He was a much more capable rider than his son, but he had been insistent that Felix understand how to handle a horse nonetheless. It was expected of a noble, especially one so high-ranking as the Fraldarius family, that they be able to ride competently. “It could serve useful on the battlefield as well,” Rodrigue had explained many years ago to his stubborn youngest son, who had only wanted to practice his swordplay. “You never know when you may need to take a steed to escape from the battle or race a wounded comrade to safety.”

Rodrigue’s older son, Glenn, had taken it upon himself to instruct his younger brother in the ways of horses and horseback riding. For a time, Felix had been enamored of the idea of being a knight like his brother, riding a shining steed into battle and defending his king from harm. It was a small boy’s dream, and it died with that same small boy. Clutching the reins of his horse more tightly at the memory, Felix wound his way through the crowd and up to the main entrance of the monastery. The gatekeeper saluted smartly as the two men approached.

“Welcome to Garreg Mach Monastery!” he said loudly. He spared a glance toward Felix. “Are you here to enroll in the Officer’s Academy for this year?”

Felix grunted moodily.

“That is correct,” Rodrigue affirmed, shooting his son an irritated glance. Felix pretended not to notice and fiddled with his reins. “I am Duke Fraldarius. My son, Felix, is enrolled in the Blue Lion house. Can you direct us to where we may take his belongings?”

The gatekeeper saluted again and beckoned several milling monastery staff over to where they stood. “Yes, sir!”

After several minutes of discussion, the Fraldarius retainers were on their way with Felix’s possessions to the room that had been reserved for him on the second floor of the student dormitories. Two stable hands took their horses to be fed and watered, leaving Felix and his father in the grand entrance hall. It was an impressive structure with tall pillars and a very ostentatious staircase. Felix maintained a look of unimpressed indifference as he surveyed the room. He was acutely aware of his father’s gaze on him, sizing him up. Undoubtably comparing me to Glenn, he thought savagely.

Rodrigue set off briskly up the stairs, motioning Felix to follow him. Having no better idea of where he ought to go, Felix fell in stride with his father. “I remember the day I first arrived here at the Officer’s Academy,” his father began reminiscently. “It was raining when I arrived, but such weather could not dampen my spirits! King Lambert was here as well. In fact, we arrived together.” They reached the top of the stairs. Felix could smell food wafting out of the room on their immediate left. A garden lay ahead of them where monks and nuns ran to and fro on a variety of errands. Rodrigue sighed, apparently still wandering in his own memories. “Our time here at the Officer’s Academy served us well. King Lambert and I became such close friends, so close we were like brothers. I hope that the same will be true for you,” he added, turning to face Felix directly.

“I will not make a mock of myself to serve him,” Felix growled in a low voice. It was a familiar argument between them, and an equally familiar response. “I’m here to hone my own skills, not to bow and scrape before a boar.”

“He is your prince,” Rodrigue admonished in an even voice, though his eyes were like steel. “It is your duty to serve and protect the royal family. It has been our family’s birthright for generations. Glenn took this to heart, and you must do likewise.”

“I’m not Glenn,” Felix countered, folding his arms across his chest defiantly. His eyes were equally steely. “I’m not interested in dying to save someone else’s life.”

Rodrigue stared at him and shook his head. “Perhaps you feel this way now,” he replied in a cool voice. “But there may come a day when you realize there are others whose lives matter more than your own. That is what it means to be a knight: to lay down your life to save one who matters more.”

Before Felix could respond with another scathing reply on the so-called ‘virtues’ of knighthood, a voice echoed in the hall behind them.

“Felix! You’re here!”

Turning around, Felix’s eyes narrowed slightly at the sight of his old friend hurrying up to greet him. “Dimitri,” he said coolly by way of acknowledgement. He pointedly ignored the bulky man shadowing Dimitri up the stairs. The man’s arms were crossed over his chest, and he seemed content to say nothing at all. His eyes scanned their surroundings as if he expected an ambush at any moment.

The tall, lanky man grasped his hand good-naturedly and shook it. “I’m glad to see you’ve arrived now, old friend,” Dimitiri smiled warmly, but Felix could see that it didn’t reach his eyes. “I was starting to worry you had chosen not to come after all.”

“Of course I came,” Felix retorted, forcefully pulling his hand out of Dimitri’s grasp. “Many of the best swordsmen in the land trained their skills here. How else can I hone and test my skills if I am not surrounded by worthy opponents?”

Dimitri laughed, a sound which made the little hairs on the back of Felix’s neck stand on end. “I should have known,” the prince replied. “You always have been focused on your strength with a blade. Lord Rodrigue,” he said formally, turning to the other man and inclining his head. “It is a pleasure to see you again. It has been too long!”

“The pleasure is all mine, Your Highness,” Rodrigue replied smoothly, bowing formally at the waist. “I trust that you are well?”

Dimitri nodded. “As well as I can be,” Dimitri replied. Rodrigue quirked an eyebrow at him, but the prince did not elaborate. “I am sure you must be tired from your journey. Perhaps you would like to sit for a meal?”

“I appreciate the offer, but I have some business to take care of before I leave, so I must regretfully decline,” Rodrigue replied with another courtly bow. “I will leave you to show Felix around. My son,” he said, turning back to Felix. “I trust you will uphold our family honour while you are enrolled here. Do not disappoint me.”

Turning on his heel, Rodrigue did not wait for a reply. He strode away toward the garden and out of sight. Felix flexed his fingers as if he wished to draw the blade handing at his side. If Dimitri noticed any of this, he did not say so. “Ingrid arrived two days ago,” he said conversationally instead. “She’s been ensuring everything is prepared for the Blue Lion students, and has appointed herself as the official welcoming committee, so to speak, for our house.”

“How unsurprising. Why isn’t she here to greet me then, instead of you and him?” Felix said darkly, jerking his head toward the silent man just behind Dimitri.

“Ingrid is busy helping a new student settle in right now,” Dimitri said, ignoring Felix’s jab toward his retainer. It was his usual tactic to avoid another confrontation on the subject with Felix. “She asked Dedue and I to keep an eye for any other newcomers until she finished.”

“I’m sure she did,” Felix replied, shooting a knowing look at Dedue. He did not appear fazed, but Felix had not expected a reaction. Dedue never seemed to react to his verbal jabs either. “Well then, show me around this place. Where are the training grounds?”

Dimitri grinned and clapped him on the shoulder. “You really do have a one-track mind, don’t you Felix?”

---

“Wow! This is amazing!

Wide-eyed and smiling, Annette looked around her dormitory room with undisguised awe. She unceremoniously dropped her satchel down on the bed and pranced around the room with great enthusiasm. The blonde girl who stood in the doorway smiled fondly. “I don’t know if it’s that impressive,” she said with a smile. “I’m sure this is much smaller than what you were used to at home.”

“Oh, yes!” Annette laughed heartily. “But I don’t mind at all! I stayed in a dormitory in Fhirdiad too, when I was attending the Royal School of Sorcery. This is much brighter! My room there had no windows at all.”

“You lived in Fhirdiad?” Ingrid asked interestedly. “I’m surprised we never crossed paths! I grew up in Fhirdiad myself.”

“Yes, I did, but I spent most of my time at school,” Annette replied with a nod. “My uncle sent me. He could tell I had a natural aptitude for magic, so I worked really, really hard to get a recommendation into Garreg Mach to continue my studies.”

“That’s amazing!” Ingrid replied with some awe of her own. “I’ve heard that graduating from the Royal School of Sorcery is extremely difficult and that many students take years to do so. Few enough of them have been able to earn a recommendation to enroll in the Officer’s Academy!”

“Believe me, it was difficult,” Annette agreed with feeling. “I studied so hard, and I was able to achieve top grades to graduate so quickly. I don’t think they would have given me the recommendation if I hadn’t done so well,” she continued earnestly. “Honestly, I’m so thrilled I was able to attend the Officer’s Academy. It’s been a dream of mine for so long.”

Ingrid smiled broadly. “I’m so glad to hear it! So, do you also dream of becoming a knight?”

“Something like that,” Annette replied a little evasively, glancing away from Ingrid.

“Your mother and father must be so proud of you,” Ingrid said brightly, either ignoring or not noticing Annette’s odd reply. “Was it your mother who came with you today?”

Annette shook her head. “Unfortunately, she was indisposed, and wasn’t able to bring me herself. My uncle came with me, but he had to depart right away, as he has urgent business back at home.”

Ingrid shifted uncomfortably, plainly wishing she hadn’t brought it up. “That’s too bad,” she sympathized. “In any case, now that you’re here, you’re officially a Blue Lion. We’re like a family of our own!” She moved out of the doorway and gestured for Annette to follow. “Come with me, and I’ll show you around the grounds.”

The pair of them set out from the dormitories and passed the greenhouse. “So,” Annette began a little shyly, “Do you know who will be teaching our house this year? I’ve heard the famous Crest scholar works here. Will he be leading us?”

Ingrid shrugged. “I have no idea. One of the professors the monastery hired has already run off to Goddess-knows-where. From what I’ve overheard from the knights here, I doubt he will be returning. So for three houses, there’s only two professors right now. That’s a lot of students for them to take on alone.”

Annette nodded in agreement. “Yes, that’s quite a pickle,” she said. “I hope they can sort it out quickly. Term starts in a few days!”

“I am sure they will,” Ingrid said soothingly. “I am sure Lady Rhea would not allow anything to negatively impact our education here.”

The two girls meandered through the Officer’s Academy throughout the rest of the morning. Ingrid frequently stopped to point out various landmarks she had learned over her few previous days’ experience in Garreg Mach and to introduce Annette to her fellow students. Around noon, their stomachs began to croak loudly, and Ingrid proposed they head into the dining hall for some food. As she pushed open the door, Annette could smell the unmistakable scent of roasted chicken. She inhaled deeply, enjoying the moment. I’m finally here, she thought happily, and surely, I can find him now.

“Ingrid!” called a deep voice from across the room.

Annette startled out of her reverie and saw several young men sitting at a table across the room. The blond one was waving at Ingrid to catch her attention. He brought his arm back down as Ingrid made a beeline to them, Annette trailing in her wake.

“Dimitri!” she said in a stern voice that was completely different from how she had spoken to Annette. She sounded very much like a mother scolding an unruly child. “What are you doing? Didn’t I ask you to greet the newcomers?”

“I was hungry,” Dimitri said calmly, gesturing to the plate of food in front of him. “No one else has arrived all morning except Felix here. Sylvain isn’t expected to arrive until later this evening, or perhaps tomorrow morning.”

Ingrid did not look impressed, but she didn’t press the issue. Instead, she pulled Annette forward. “Annette, I want you to meet Dimitri, Crown Prince of Faerghus,” she intoned semi-formally. “And this scowling gentleman is Felix Hugo Fraldarius. If you can believe it,” she added with a wink to Annette, “I consider these two my friends.”

Annette gasped audibly and suddenly blanked on her manners. Am I supposed to curtsy? she panicked inwardly, beginning to bend her legs into a formal obeisance. Dimitri raised his hands hastily in front of himself.

“Please, no need to be so formal,” he said quickly. “Although I may be a prince, I am merely a student while I am here at the Officer’s Academy. Please, do not treat me any differently than you would any other student.” He took her hand and shook it firmly.

“Pleased to make your acquaintance! I am Annette of House Dominic,” Annette stumbled over her words, feeling a little uneasy at being put on the spot like this. She hadn’t realized that the crown prince would also be attending the school as well. Her face seemed to be getting hot with embarrassment as Dimitri let go of her hand. She turned hastily to the dark-haired young man beside Dimitri. “Pleased to meet you as well,” she said with a slightly trembling cheeriness to her voice and holding out her hand.

For a moment, she thought Felix would not acknowledge the gesture at all. He stared at her intently, as if searching her face for something she couldn’t identify. Annette felt her smile begin to falter just as he took her hand and shook it. His grip was much gentler than Dimitri’s had been. “The pleasure is mine,” he said in a tone that did not suggest he was particularly pleased at all.

“Don’t mind him,” Ingrid said quickly as she caught the rather crestfallen look on Annette’s face. She shot Felix a nasty look to which he seemed indifferent. “He’s always grumpy like this. He’s actually a bit of softie when you get to know him.”

“I am no such thing,” Felix snapped, looking quite offended. Ingrid ignored him with the look of someone who had had many years of practice at doing just that.

Annette thought she could sense some tension in the air between the three friends, so she did the only thing she could when she felt cornered. “What’s your name?” she blurted out in a rather high-pitched squeak, trying to shift the focus of the conversation entirely. No one had acknowledged the third man who sat on Dimitri’s left side, silent as a statue.

The man blinked slowly, as if surprised that she had spoken to him at all. “I am Dedue,” he said in a neutral tone. He did not hold out his hand and he did not say anything more.

“Dedue is my retainer,” Dimitri explained hastily when neither Ingrid nor Felix made any indication of speaking. “He has been by my side for several years now. He is also enrolled as a student here.”

“It’s very nice to meet you,” Annette soldiered on valiantly, looking Dedue directly in the eyes. She had the distinct feeling that she had touched on a sensitive subject among the group and inwardly bemoaned her chattering nature.

An awkward silence settled over the group wherein Ingrid refused to look at Dedue, Dimitri played with the food on his plate while avoiding Ingrid’s eyes, and Felix stared at a spot just past Annette’s shoulder. After several long minutes, Ingrid finally broke it by insisting Annette get herself a plate of food and join them for lunch. Having no better thoughts on what to say or how to otherwise break the tension, Annette hurriedly agreed. They hastened off together to join the end of the meal line.

“I’m finished,” Felix announced as Annette and Ingrid returned with their own meals a few minutes later. He looked angry as he stood abruptly from the table.

“Don’t tell me you’re still upset about what I said,” Ingrid rolled her eyes and stabbed a potato with her fork more forcefully than needed. “I only spoke the truth.”

“Not at all,” Felix grunted unconvincingly. He nodded goodbye to them as he stood and gathered his tray. “I need to train.”

“It’s always training with you,” Ingrid complained, not bothering to watch him go.

“Bye!” Annette replied cheerfully, waving goodbye with more enthusiasm now that her embarrassment had subsided. “See you in class!”

Felix looked rather startled at her enthusiasm but nodded once more directly to her. “I suppose so,” he agreed. After a final look over the group, he swept out of the dining hall without another word.

“Well…he was more friendly than I expected,” Ingrid mused, raising her eyes from her plate and staring at the door through which Felix had exited the room. “He’s usually less chatty around new people.”

“That…was chatty?” Annette repeated in surprise, pausing with her fork suspended halfway between her plate and her mouth. “He didn’t seem very friendly…”

Dimitri chuckled at this. “Ingrid is right. Felix is grumpy, but he is not a bad person. He’s very…” the prince thought for a moment, as if searching for the right word. “…direct. He doesn’t say anything he doesn’t mean.”

“We have known each other for a very long time,” Ingrid said sagely. “He does not warm up to others quickly, but he is a hard worker and a very capable swordsman. He will certainly be an asset to our class.”

“I’m sure everyone in our class will get along!” Annette said. She smiled brightly, feeling her own cheerful confidence bubbling to the surface again. “Perhaps he is just a bit shy around new people!”

Ingrid and Dimitri laughed heartily at the thought that Felix could possibly be shy. Even Annette didn’t really believe that was the case, but the thought of it lightened the mood considerably. They fell into easy conversation over lunch and by the time they finished, Annette was quite certain that she would be just fine in this new school. Besides, she knew she wouldn’t be alone. Surely Mercie would be arriving soon as well. She would have one true friend and the opportunity to befriend the rest of the class as well. The thought made her excitement mount again.

This is where I need to be, Annette thought determinedly. It’s my only chance to find him. I have to do all I can to make this work.

Chapter Text

The following days at Garreg Mach Monastery were as eventful as that of Annette’s initial arrival. More students continued to arrive which kept Ingrid busy directing each one to their dormitory and bossing serving hands around with errands. Annette was happy to help Ingrid as much as possible with the work she had taken on, and cheerfully did anything she was asked. Although she kept her eyes open, she could not find him anywhere. She tried not let it dampen her spirits and reminded herself that it was only a few days since she had arrived, and that he might be away right now. Surely he would return soon; patience was key.

The arrival of her best friend, Mercedes von Martritz, on the eve of their first day of school was the best thing that had happened since Annette had settled into her own routine. She was very glad to have a distraction from her incessant dwelling on her familial problems.

“Annie!” Mercedes cried upon catching sight of her standing in the doorway of her dormitory. She rushed over for a hug. “I’ve missed you so much! How have you been?”

“I’ve missed you too!” Annette gushed as she returned the hug with gusto. “I’m so glad you’re finally here! Term starts tomorrow you know.”

Mercedes nodded, her violet eyes looking forlorn. “Yes, unfortunately my departure was delayed. I was afraid I might be late for the start of the school year!”

“I can help you unpack,” Annette offered happily, moving toward Mercedes’ luggage standing next to her desk. “So that you won’t have to do it tonight and you can get a good rest.”

“Thank you, but I can handle it later. There isn’t much to unpack, to be honest,” Mercedes replied warmly. “I’d much rather you show me around a little bit. I can’t wait to see everything and meet our fellow classmates!”

“I think we will have a very interesting class,” Annette commented as they strolled by the fishing pond. “I’ve met everyone else so far, and pretty much everyone is super nice! You met Ingrid, right?”

Mercedes nodded and giggled. “Yes, she greeted me once I arrived in the entrance hall. She was very kind to show me to the dormitory. She had a red-haired young man with her who carried my bags. He was very…confident.”

Annette giggled. “That’s a good word to describe Sylvain,” she agreed. “Have you met Prince Dimitri and Dedue?”

Mercedes nodded again. “We happened across them as Ingrid was leading me to my dormitory. He was very kind when he spoke to me. I didn’t expect a prince to be so friendly to a commoner like myself.”

“I know what you mean!” Annette said fervently, remembering how embarrassed she had felt when she first met Dimitri. “I didn’t know what to do when Ingrid introduced us. I just froze and he did most of the talking at first.”

“That’s not like you Annie,” Mercedes laughed merrily. “You’re the chattiest person I know! You don’t usually get tongue-tied. Anyway,” she continued after a moment. “Dimitri was very gracious, but Dedue hardly spoke at all.”

Having been here for several days, Annette had quickly realized where there was so much tension in a room with Dedue and why he was so quiet in a group setting. Annette had tried to engage him in conversation several times, but he had brushed off all her attempts so far. “I am from Duscur,” he would say, as if intoning a mantra that he had practiced many times before. “You should not associate with me. I will not reflect well on you.”

“I think it is a bit sad,” Annette confided in a low voice as they crossed the stable-yard and headed toward the Officer’s Academy classrooms. “He does not seem like a bad person, and Dimitri likes him. But Dedue thinks so little of himself.”

“I agree,” Mercedes replied gravely. “I understand that the Tragedy of Duscur hurt many people in Faerghus, but I am certain that many people in Duscur were equally hurt in the conflict.” She sighed and looked across the lawn. “I hope that one day, our two peoples will be able to live in peace together once more.”

Annette nodded solemnly and the two girls shared a moment of silence. “If anyone can help change things,” Annette finally said, “It would be you, Mercie.”

They found a bench and sat together in the sunshine. “That’s Ashe,” Annette pointed to a boy leaving the Blue Lion classroom with a handful of books clutched tightly in his arms. His gray hair swayed in the breeze. Catching sight of them, he waved enthusiastically before rounding a corner and disappearing out of sight. “I’ve only spoken to him a couple of times, but he seems like a very studious person.”

“Much like you, Annie!” Mercedes pulled her shawl closer around her shoulders despite the sunny afternoon. “You’ve always worked so hard. I don’t know anyone who puts as much effort into anything as you do!”

Annette shrugged. “It’s the least I can do,” she said softly. “I have to work hard. There’s so much at stake and I’m the one who will inherit Barony Dominic one day. I have to be ready for that. And…you know…”

Her voice faded as her thoughts turned back to her lost father. She had confided her pain and her fears in Mercedes during their days together at the Royal School of Sorcery, and Mercedes had shown nothing but compassion for her younger friend. She patted Annette’s back soothingly as they sat together. “I know you will achieve everything you set out to do,” Mercedes told her. “Finding your father, succeeding your uncle, and becoming a great warlock! There is nothing you can’t do if you put your mind to it.”

“Thanks Mercie,” Annette grinned. “I’m so glad I have you to back me up.”

Mercedes gave her back one more light rub and withdrew her hand. “Who’s that?” she asked interestedly, turning her head toward the far end of the lawn. Annette leaned past her friend and squinted her eyes to get a better look.

“Well, that’s Felix with the dark hair,” she said. “He’s friends with Dimitri and Sylvain, I think. I’m not sure who it is that he’s talking to though.”

“Oh my, he doesn’t look very happy,” Mercedes said interestedly. The girls watched Felix halt with a strange woman beside him. She was only a little shorter than Felix and her hair was a much lighter shade of blue. Although they could not hear the conversation, Felix’s posture was stiff, and he was scowling darkly at the woman.

She did not seem to be particularly bothered by his reaction. Whatever it was they were discussing, the woman obviously had come to some conclusion and abruptly turned on her heel and strode away. Felix stood there for a moment with a scowl still etched on his face and apparently a little dumbfounded. “I wonder what that was all about,” Annette said, staring at Felix with undisguised curiosity. “What do you think Mercie? Wait, where are you going?”

Mercedes had stood up and started walking toward Felix, who seemed to be carved from stone. “We’ll never know if we don’t go and ask him, right?” she said over her shoulder. “Besides, I haven’t introduced myself yet!” Without further ado, she kept walking.

Annette stared after her for a moment and hastily decided to follow.

“Hello,” Mercedes called to Felix as she approached. “How do you do? You’re Felix, aren’t you?”

Felix turned stiffly to face her as Annette skidded to a stop by her friend. “Hi,” she said breathlessly. “Um…nice day, huh?”

It sounded lame even to her own ears. Annette inwardly cringed at her inability to speak normally in front of Felix and blamed it on the fact that he appeared so intimidating. Maybe if he wasn’t scowling so often, she thought crossly, it would be easier to have an actual conversation!

Felix’s eyes flickered toward her, but he made no reply. “That’s right,” he said coolly to Mercedes. “Felix Hugo Fraldarius. And who are you?”

If Mercedes was bothered by his bluntness, she didn’t show it. Annette wished that she had the same composure that her friend did. “I am Mercedes von Martritz,” she said cheerfully and shook his hand. His expression turned from a scowl to a look of vague surprise that someone would be so bold to shake his hand like that, but he returned the gesture. “Annie has been showing me around. I just arrived this morning.”

“I see,” he said with another glance at Annette. She felt her cheeks go slightly pink under his steely gaze.

“We were wondering who that was you were speaking with just now,” Mercedes continued smoothly. She did not seem bothered by Felix’s unfriendly personality, but Mercedes never seemed to let anything bother her. It was a quality that Annette had always admired.

Felix seemed to consider this question before answering. “That,” he finally replied in a voice dripping with disdain, “is our new professor. Her name is Byleth.”

For a moment, even Mercedes was at a loss for words. This was not what either of the girls had expected to hear. Annette had figured it was another friend Felix must have known back in Fhirdiad.

“Our new professor?” Annette blurted out stupidly. “But…but…she looks like she’s our age! Are you sure?”

“Quite sure,” Felix muttered. His scowl was firmly back in place now. “That’s what she said to me.”

“How interesting!” Mercedes exclaimed and clapped her hands together. “Ingrid had mentioned to me when I arrived that there were currently only two professors here right now. I was worried that might impact our studies if they had to split teaching an extra class. I’m so glad to hear it’s been rectified!”

Felix shrugged. “As long as she’s strong, I don’t care how old she is.”

“Aren’t our class studies more important?” Annette interjected quickly, thinking this was a bizarre concern for a teacher. “I know we’re supposed to have classes on strategy in battle and—”

“None of that matters if you’re strong enough to take on any foe,” Felix interrupted harshly. His eyes were blazing with a fire Annette had not seen in them before. “Strength is all you need in this world. It’s either kill or be killed.”

“That is an awfully cynical way of looking at the world,” Annette argued, standing her ground. She raised her chin slightly in a direct challenge. “There’s so many situations where you can’t simply battle your way out.”

Felix looked like he wanted to argue the point further, but Mercedes coughed lightly and said “Please, let’s not fight about this. Since we are classmates now, I think it would be best to set aside our differences and learn to get along.” She smiled sweetly at each of them. “Come on Annie, why don’t we see if there’s any sweets in the dining hall? Perhaps we will run into our new professor too!”

Annette broke her staring contest with Felix somewhat reluctantly. “Yes, that sounds great.”

“Excellent. Well, good day to you, Felix,” Mercedes smiled at him again and strode away calmly as if their discussion had been nothing but civil.

Annette made to follow her and paused a few paces away. Looking over her shoulder, she stuck her tongue out at Felix before hurrying away. Her face reddened as she turned. Stupid! she thought angrily, stupid! Why did I do that? Now I’ll never be able to look at him ever again!

---

It was still dark when Felix awoke on the morning of their first class. He dressed quickly and efficiently, swung his bookbag over his shoulder and headed out of the dormitory into the chill morning air. No one was wandering about at this time in the morning, so he knew he would have the training grounds to himself until class began. There was no better time to train than when no one else was there to distract him.

Once upon a time, he had sparred with Glenn every morning. Regardless of the weather, Felix would follow his older brother to the training grounds at House Fraldarius and practice. He had idolized his brother, wanted nothing more than to be just like him. Eventually, Felix had dreamt of becoming a swordsman who could beat his brother in battle. Glenn had laughed at him when Felix told him that. “You’ll never beat me, little brother,” Glenn had laughed in his booming voice. “I’ll always be older and stronger than you!”

He had been right, of course. That was nothing more than a memory of happier times now. Glenn was dead; Felix could never beat a dead man. Perhaps the Goddess saw some irony in this, that Felix would continue to train every morning to win a fight that would never happen. He wondered if Glenn watched him from the afterlife and laughed along with her at his brother’s fruitless attempts to prepare for an unwinnable battle.

The training grounds were indeed deserted. Felix dropped his bag on a bench on the edge of room and drew his sword. He raised his blade high and brought it down in a single, clean movement. He turned, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, careful to maintain his proper balance. As he shifted through the familiar movements, Felix’s mind began to find a sense of calm. He was no longer thinking of Glenn, nor of his father, or anyone else. In fact, he was not truly thinking of anything at all. It was only Felix and his blade in a world where no one else existed.

It seemed all too soon that Felix could hear a loud chiming echoing into his head, breaking his concentration. The sun had long since risen in the sky, and there were muffled voices passing by outside the doors to the training ground. Time for class, he thought grumpily. Taking a deep breath, he wiped the sweat from his brow, sheathed his blade, and made his way toward the Blue Lion classroom.

As he turned the corner into the Officer’s Academy and approached their classroom, Felix came face to face with Annette, the silly girl from the day before. Her bookbag was slung over her shoulder and looked like it was about to split down the seam. She froze when she caught sight of him. “Good morning,” he said, gesturing for her to enter first. It was only polite, after all. Ingrid could accuse him of being grumpy all she wanted, but Felix would be damned before he gave her a reason to accuse him of being ungentlemanly.

Annette blinked twice with wide eyes, stammered out a muffled “G’morning” without looking at him, and fled into the room as if she was being chased by the King of Liberation himself. Feeling somewhat bemused, Felix followed her and took a seat by himself three rows from the back of the class. He saw Annette hurry over to her blonde friend in the front row on the other side of the room and slide so quickly onto the bench beside Mercedes that she almost fell off.

What is with this girl? he wondered, idly twirling a quill between his fingers as he watched Annette steady herself. He could hear her giggle as Mercedes bent closer to whisper something in her ear. She has to be the most scatterbrained person I’ve ever met.

“Hey, earth to Felix!” said a familiar voice. He felt a hand clap him heavily on the shoulder. “You in there?”

“What do you want?” Felix snapped as he jerked his shoulder out of Sylvain’s grip.

“Just checking to see if you’re still with us on earth,” the other man said with a smirk. He dropped his school bag on the floor beside the desk and took a seat beside Felix. “It’s not like you to lose your head in the clouds.”

Felix snorted. “I do not daydream, if that’s what you’re implying.”

“Whatever you say,” Sylvain replied, still smirking. “You looked rather intent. Is something on your mind?” Sylvain gasped and learned closer. “Don’t tell me it’s a girl?

“Of course not!” Felix spat, looking affronted. “I’m not you.

“More’s the pity,” Sylvain said with a dramatic sigh. “I suppose it’s for the better. That just means there’s more ladies for me.”

Felix rolled his eyes and decided not to respond. He bent down to pull a notebook out of his bag. “Speaking of women, where’s that professor of ours?”

Sylvain glanced around. “No idea,” he replied lazily, leaning back in his chair and staring at the ceiling. “Do we get to leave if she’s not here in fifteen minutes?”

“I won’t hang around,” Felix said darkly. “I could be using the time for training if she’s not going to bother showing up. It would certainly be more productive.”

“You needn’t worry about that,” came a voice from behind them. The new teacher stood there with her arms crossed and her face as blank as the chalkboard. “Class will begin now.”

---

After a single day of classes with Professor Byleth, there was no one who could deny that she had talent. She was well versed in battle tactics, knowledgeable about a variety of fighting techniques, and she was strong. She was the daughter of the legendary former Captain of the Knights of Seiros, although no one would have guessed it even if they stood side by side. Although her face showed no emotion whatsoever and her voice was practically monotone, her skill with a blade was undeniable. Felix had been practicing his swordplay since before he could write his own name, so he could easily recognize skill when he saw it. It piqued his interest in their new Professor more than he had thought possible from their first meeting. His sword-hand itched to cross their blades, to test his own mettle so that he would grow even stronger.

“There will be a mock battle between the three houses,” Professor Byleth announced at the end of class. They had just returned from the training grounds where she had tested each student individually to get a sense of their aptitudes. “It will take place tomorrow and is intended to assess your abilities as well as your weaknesses. From there, we will work to hone your current skillset and correct your failings.”

There was some general murmuring at this announcement, however Professor Byleth ignored it. “Please ensure you sleep adequately to ensure that you are prepared for tomorrow’s battle. Sleep deprivation will not only hinder your own performance, but also will put your comrades in danger.” She paused to see if anyone had further questions. “Class is dismissed.”

“A mock battle, huh? What do you think of that, Felix?” Sylvain asked as they exited the classroom together. Felix shrugged as he swung his bookbag over his shoulder.

“I’m not concerned,” he replied absently as they followed Ingrid, Mercedes, and Annette toward the dining hall. The three women were talking animatedly together and laughing heartily. He could hear Annette’s voice rising in pitch as they gossiped ahead of him. What in the world are they laughing about? Felix wondered. Were girls always this loud when they travelled in a group? He figured Sylvain probably knew, but as he had never spent much time in the company of multiple women at once, Felix had no idea.

“Felix!”

He snapped back to reality. “What?” he asked irritably.

“I asked you a question,” Sylvain said, raising his eyebrows as they entered the dining hall. “You had your head in the clouds again.”

Felix snorted. “Nonsense.”

“Then what did I ask you?” the other man smirked triumphantly.

“Something undoubtedly frivolous and pointless,” Felix grunted as he joined the end of the meal line. A couple of Black Eagle students had managed to get in line between the three girls and himself, for which Felix found himself grateful. It would be much easier to focus on Sylvain’s inane prattle if he wasn’t distracted by how loudly those girls had been gossiping.

“You wound me,” Sylvain moaned in mock distress. “Seriously though Felix,” he continued in a more serious tone. “Something is on your mind. You can confide in me, you know.”

“There’s nothing on my mind,” he retorted, an edge creeping into his voice. “I was thinking about tomorrow’s battle, that’s all.”

Sylvain was unconvinced. “Look,” he said quietly. “I know you. I’ve known you since we were kids. I’d say that other than Dimitri or Ingrid, I probably know you better than anyone. Don’t think I didn’t notice what you were doing throughout class today.”

Felix felt his hackles rising. “What are you trying to say?” he asked in a low voice. His fingers tightened around the strap of his bookbag. He pointedly ignored Ingrid’s greeting as she walked past with a tray of food. He also ignored Mercedes who waved to them. He absolutely did not look at Annette as she tried valiantly to pretend that he wasn’t there either.

Sylvain smirked again. “It’s fine if you don’t want to admit it,” he said with a wink. “Just remember that if you ever need to talk about…something, you can come to me.”

Chapter Text

On the following morning, the Blue Lion class gathered to participate in the mock battle that Professor Byleth had told them about the previous day. “It would be best it we can win,” she explained tonelessly, her eyes vacantly scanning the group. “I will direct you all where to go and who to target. You must follow my orders exactly to ensure the best chance of success. Remember that in a real battle, if you do not follow orders, you will endanger yourself as well as your comrades.”

The class nodded solemnly at her words. “Dimitri, I want you to begin over there at base of that pathway,” Professor Byleth said blandly. “Sylvain and Felix, I want you to flank him. Mercedes, you follow them and provide any healing necessary. Be sure to stay back so that you’re not in range of the enemy.”

All four nodded and moved to their designated location without argument. Professor Byleth surveyed the remaining students. “Dedue, you and Ashe can start over there, just a little way up that path. Annette, you follow behind them and stick to the trees. Provide cover fire as you engage the Black Eagles. Ingrid, you’ll be with me.”

Annette felt her nerves flare in her chest as she moved to take her place in the shelter of the trees that the Professor had indicated. She watched Ingrid dutifully follow Professor Byleth toward another copse of trees across from where Dimitri’s group was set up. Even if it was only a mock battle, she couldn’t help but feel anxious. What if she missed her targets and someone was injured due to her carelessness?

I’ll look like an idiot, she thought gloomily. Everyone will wonder how I ever got a recommendation here if I can’t even follow simple orders. I’ll be a laughingstock!

“Annette, are you all right?” Dedue asked, his tone concerned and his eyes sharp. “You look pale. Should I alert Professor Byleth?”

“Oh, no, I’m fine!” she said quickly, forcing a smile. “Just a little nervous.”

Dedue nodded. “I understand. Please, stay back so that you do not risk injury.”

“We’ll protect you,” Ashe agreed boldly, almost managing to keep an edge of panic out of his voice. Annette couldn’t help but notice that he looked as anxious as she felt. His hands were trembling on his bow.

“Thank you. I know we can get through it together!” Annette said with a hopefulness that she did not quite feel.

“I hear the Professor’s signal,” Dedue said suddenly. He glanced toward where she and Ingrid had set up their attack. “She has ordered us to move forward and engage the enemy.” His face looked as though it was carved from stone, and Annette recognized a fierce pride in his eyes. “Let us go.”

Annette exchanged a nervous glance with Ashe. “Yes,” she agreed. “Let us begin.”

---

Just as Professor Byleth had said, the mock battle was a true test of their strengths and weaknesses. Annette was not used to casting so many spells in quick succession and found her magical strength waning much faster than she had anticipated. “I’m sorry,” she panted to her partners. “I can’t…I can’t cast any more spells right now. I’m completely drained.”

Dedue only nodded curtly as he took on a defensive stance in front of her. Edelgard, Princess of the Adrestrian Empire was approaching with her axe raised. She looked like she would have had no qualms striking a killing blow had she not been using a blunted weapon. Her eyes shone with a warlike vigor that Annette could not match.

“We have reinforcements approaching from behind,” Ashe called. He nocked an arrow on his bow and took a shot at Edelgard. She dodged easily, but it slowed down her advance. “Dimitri, Felix, and Professor Byleth!”

Annette glanced over her shoulder and hefted her own axe. It was heavy, and she wasn’t used to using a physical weapon. Professor Byleth had insisted that she take it anyway, just in case she found herself unable to cast spells. “Thank the Goddess,” she said fervently as their comrades gained the top of the hill.

The Professor assessed the scene in seconds, her blueish eyes flashing. “Annette, retreat to the trees. Ashe,” she ordered in a crisp voice. “You take Annette’s place here and provide cover fire. Dimitri, go ahead and engage Edelgard. Felix, you provide backup support.”

Annette didn’t need to be told twice. She turned on her heel to make her retreat as quickly as possible, and promptly tripped over a stray stone laying on the path behind her. She closed her eyes and braced for a fall into the dirt. The axe she was holding landed with a dull thunk as she felt her stomach collide with something solid.

“Go!” Felix snapped at her. He pulled his arm away as she regained her balance and sprinted after Dimitri without another word.

Annette felt too surprised to move for a moment. She stared at Felix’s back until he reached Dimitri and parried a blow from Edelgard that ought to have caught the prince’s exposed side. Shaking her head to regain some sense of reality, she hastily picked up her fallen axe and retreated as ordered. From the safety of the trees, Annette watched the final battle play out. Ashe had taken a blow from Hubert, Edelgard’s loyal retainer, during her escape which forced him to retreat as well.

Professor Byleth did not seem concerned that several of her students had been forced to retreat. She stood tall on the battlefield, holding her sword out and shouting orders that Annette was not able to hear. Annette could see that only Edelgard and Hubert remained, and they were outnumbered. She must have ordered Felix to engage Hubert, as he surged forward suddenly with his own blade pulled back for a hard thrust. Dedue was still supporting Dimitri’s battle with Edelgard, his big frame blocking Edelgard’s attacks so that the prince could stab his lance toward her.

“It’s amazing to watch, isn’t it?” Ashe said conversationally, apparently entranced with the events ahead of them. There was a tone of awe in Ashe’s voice as he clutched his bow tightly in his hand.

“Definitely,” Annette nodded in agreement, avidly watching Felix advance closer to Hubert. “His moves are so smooth!”

Ashe nodded excitedly. “I agree! He really knows how to move like a true knight! I hope I can learn to fight like that one day.”

“It must be difficult,” Annette replied earnestly, watching Hubert barely dodge Felix’s blade in time. “I can’t imagine how anyone can fight so…deftly! These weapons are so heavy!”

“He’s practiced since he was a child,” Ashe said knowledgeably. “Dimitri must be used to lifting weapons like that and using them like they’re a part of himself. It takes years of training to become that good!”

“Dimitri?” Annette said in confusion, shaking her head at Ashe. “I thought we were talking about Felix.”

“Felix?” Ashe echoed in an equal amount of confusion. He shifted his gaze to the other battle just as Hubert finally fell in defeat. “He’s very good too.”

“Do you want to become a knight, Ashe?” Annette decided to change the subject as Professor Byleth glanced in their direction.

“Oh, yes! It’s always been my dream,” Ashe said wistfully, apparently pleased that she had asked.

“That’s wonderful!” Annette exclaimed, turning her full attention to him. He looked startled at her sudden enthusiasm. “You must be looking forward to more mock battles like this to hone your skills.”

“Well, yes, I suppose so,” Ashe said quickly, sounding flustered. “It would be a great way to improve—”

Whatever Ashe was about to say was lost over the victory cry from the top of the hill where Dimitri had pinned Edelgard on the ground. The tip of his lance was buried in the dirt by her head. Professor Byleth motioned that the battle was at an end. Annette bounded out of the trees and stretched her arms above her head. “Finally,” she groaned. “It’s finally over. I’m exhausted now.”

“Me too,” Ashe said feelingly. “Come on, let’s join the others with Professor Byleth.”

The two of them hurried up the path and rejoined the group. The Professor had already begun a battle debrief.

“We did well today, with only three combatants needing to retreat,” she was saying, arms folded across her chest. “The Blue Lions are victorious in this battle. I will prepare lesson plans to rectify some formation flaws and to brush up on some battle basics. We need to be as prepared as possible since we have been given a mission to complete at the end of this month.”

“A mission?” Dimitri probed curiously. His face glistened with sweat from the exertion of battle. “What kind of mission?”

Professor Byleth looked at him expressionlessly. “We will be routing the bandits infesting the Red Canyon,” she replied neutrally. “It will be a real battle with real stakes. We cannot afford to be sloppy.”

A tense silence fell over the group. Professor Byleth looked at each of them as if she was trying to determine who would be the biggest liability. Annette had a feeling it was probably her, although Ashe could be a contender too. He looked anxious, though he was trying not to let it show.

“Finally, a battle worthy of my time,” Felix said in a dangerous voice. He had a fierce glow about him in the aftermath of the skirmish and his eyes blazed with a fire that hadn’t yet died.

“We must be careful,” Ingrid warned him in a firm voice, hands on her hip and meeting Felix’s intense gaze without a hint of intimidation. “It’s not a solo show you know!”

“We will only be successful if we work together,” Mercedes said calmly. “Let us return to the Monastery so that we can prepare.”

---

The dining hall was a festive place that evening as the Blue Lions gathered to celebrate their victory in the mock battle. Annette felt happy amongst her new friends and chatted animatedly with Ashe across the table about his knightly dreams. He was eager to engage in the conversation, happily detailing all the research he’d done about knights and their deeds. As she listened Annette wondered, not for the first time, if she really knew what she’s gotten herself into by coming here to train amongst so many people who valued knighthood. I’m not here to become a knight, Annette thought as she listened to Ashe discuss the finer points of knightly values with Ingrid. I only have one purpose here.

Throughout the meal, Annette kept her eyes peeled for any sign of him, as if he might just casually stroll by to congratulate her class on a job well done, even though she hadn’t yet seen him since arriving at Garreg Mach. Truly, it had only been a few days, but a part of Annette couldn’t help but feel crushed that she’d seen neither hide nor tail of the man. Abruptly, Annette realized her mind was wandering and decided it would be best to excuse herself from the gathering before anyone noticed.

“Sorry,” she interrupted Ashe’s monologue with a slightly forced smile. “I’m feeling pretty tired. I think I’m going to head to bed now.”

Mercedes stopped her conversation with Sylvain mid-sentence to turn and look at her. “Oh, don’t worry Annie,” she said kindly. “You worked very hard today. Go and rest now, so that you don’t fall ill.”

“Yeah,” Sylvain agreed with a casual wave of his hand. “We wouldn’t want your pretty face to develop bags under your eyes!”

Mercedes giggled. “Good night, Annie.”

Disentangling herself from the dining hall benches, Annette rushed out of the hall toward the fishing pond as it seemed to be the most direct route if she were to return to her dormitory. Which she wasn’t, of course. Annette felt a small tinge of guilt for lying to Mercedes as she turned left at the foot of the stairs and hurried in the direction of the stables. She tried to convince herself that she hadn’t been trying hard enough to find him since she arrived. The monastery was huge, and she certainly hadn’t been here long enough to have explored every nook and cranny. In fact, Annette thought desperately, I’ve really only stayed near the Officer’s Academy. I haven’t gone to the knight’s hall or the second floor. I only visited the Cathedral once. If he’s here, I just haven’t visited any of his usual haunts.

It was a comforting thought, even if in her heart she didn’t really believe it. Trying to keep up a sense of hope, she crossed the stables and jogged up to the knight’s hall. He was a knight after all, he would definitely be here. She bit her lower lip and hesitantly reached for the door handle.

What if I’m wrong? she wondered fretfully. What if he’s not here and he’ll never come back here? Will this whole plan be a complete waste?

The brass handle felt cool in her hand. Annette felt her heart begin to beat faster in her chest. She was so close to finding him that the possibility of him not even being at the Monastery filled her with an inescapable sense of despair. She drew in a breath to steady her resolve and gripped the handle tighter in her hand. She tried to yank it open, but her arm didn’t seem to follow orders. I…I can do this, she thought bravely. I have to do this!

“Do you need assistance?”

Annette was so startled to hear a voice from behind her that she jumped several feet into the air and stumbled backwards. She seemed to collide with a pair of solid hands which helped keep her upright. “Fa—!” she cried as she turned in a flurry of movement. “Oh.”

Felix raised an eyebrow at her. His sword hung loosely at his side. He never seemed to go anywhere without it.

“Sorry,” she muttered, dropping her gaze. “I thought you might be someone else.”

“Unfortunately, I am very much myself,” Felix said bitterly. He looked angry, but his eyes seemed like they were staring inward at a memory he didn’t much enjoy.

“I didn’t hear you behind me,” she said crossly, trying to regain some sense of control over the situation. Annette tried to glare at him, but it was much harder to appear intimidating when she had to look up to peer at Felix’s face. “You should have said something! You can’t just sneak up on people like that to give them a good scare!”

He snorted derisively and looked back toward her. “I did,” he said coolly. “I said ‘Hello, Annette,’ but you didn’t respond.”

“Oh,” Annette replied rather lamely. “Um…sorry about that. I guess I was blocking the way in.”

She thought for a moment that he had chuckled at that. “Indeed, you were,” he said frankly, and then repeated his earlier question. “Did you need assistance with the door?”

Annette glanced behind her. “Well…yes, I do,” she admitted. “I tried to open it but…it’s pretty heavy.” She didn’t want to admit that she had frozen up with her own anxiety and had simply failed to make her arm do what it was told.

Felix didn’t wait for her to finish the explanation. He brushed past her and pulled the door open with one swift motion. His eyes slid back to Annette. “There you go,” he said, motioning again for her to enter first. She recalled he had done that yesterday too when they arrived at class at the same time.

“Thank you,” she said humbly. The sense of dread that had been filling her before was back. Nervously, she took a couple of hesitant steps into the room. It was well-lit from sconces along the walls. A blazing fire to the far side kept the room warm. She took a few more hesitant steps into the room and looked from one end to the other.

It was completely deserted.

Her shoulders slumped. “Damn it,” Annette cursed quietly. Her hands seemed to ball into fists at her side of their own accord.

Felix slipped in behind her and let the door shut to keep the warmth of the fire from escaping into the cool spring evening. “Looks like there’s nobody here,” he observed blandly. Noticing her defeated posture, he came and stood beside her. “Who were you looking for anyway?” he asked with another raised eyebrow.

“No one,” Annette mumbled untruthfully, avoiding his gaze.

“Don’t lie to me,” Felix grunted and folded his arms over his chest.

“It’s nothing with which you need to concern yourself,” she responded tersely. Annette realized that her fists were still clenched at her sides, so she awkwardly tried to relax them.

“Fine,” Felix replied shortly. He flexed his fingers over the hilt of his sword. “Annette, I don’t care if you stick around or not, but if you’re going to stay, I would suggest you move off of the sparring range.”

Annette hadn’t noticed where she had stopped and belatedly realized she was indeed surrounded by numerous training dummies. Several had straw hanging out of them at odd angles. “Right,” she muttered. Coming to the knight’s hall and not finding him here had drained her resolve more than she would have thought possible. With no clear idea of where else to look at that moment, Annette moved without really thinking. She shuffled past a training dummy and stumbled over a barrel she hadn’t seen, cursing again under her breath. If Felix noticed any of this, he didn’t say anything.

She made her way to the plush couches in front of the fire and slumped down with her back to the sparring range. Annette sighed deeply and stared at her feet. What do I do now?

A movement of grey and white caught her eye from under the coffee table. Two green eyes blinked slowly at her. “A cat?” she said aloud, bending down to get a better look. “Here, kitty.”

Annette held out her hand for the cat to sniff. It came forward cautiously and sniffed the tips of her fingers. After several moments, it apparently decided that she was trustworthy and slid out from under the table. The cat was lean with patches of grey and white fur. It meowed in a high-pitched tone at Annette and leaped gracefully onto the couch beside her.

“Aren’t you a sweetie,” Annette crooned at the cat and patting its head gently. The cat seemed to take this as an invitation to come closer and promptly laid across her lap purring loudly. Annette smiled down at the cat and stroked its back. “Yes, you’re such a sweetie. What’s your name?”

The cat did not respond, instead opting to continue purring contentedly as Annette ran her hand along its back. Despite the despair trying to cling to her heart, Annette couldn’t help but smile. She hummed a tune that her mother had loved to do when Annette was still a small child. The cat stretched again and closed its eyes in a blissful rest. She wished that she could feel as safe and happy as the cat in her lap as she absently scratched behind its ears.

Annette wasn’t sure how long it was that she had sat on the couch while Felix trained in the sparring range behind her. She was motionless except for the rhythmic stroking on the cat in her lap. She was silent except for the low hum of an old tune that reminded her of a much happier, and much more distant, childhood. Lost in thoughts of her old life, she felt tears begin to well in the corners of her eyes.

“I see you have a new friend,” Felix commented suddenly. Annette looked up at him, unsurprised by his appearance this time having heard his boots crossing the room. “He looks comfortable.”

“I think it’s a she,” Annette corrected him quietly, not looking up.

“I see. Does she have a name?” Felix asked. He took a seat on the couch beside hers and stared into the fire.

Annette shook her head. “I don’t know.”

“You should give her one,” Felix said matter-of-factly.

Annette thought about this suggestion for a moment. She hadn’t realized Felix had such a soft side that he would encourage giving a name to a stray cat. Perhaps Ingrid had been right about him after all. “Maybe….Luna?” Annette mused slowly, her brows furrowed. “Because we met at nighttime.”

Felix nodded approvingly. “A good name,” he agreed.

They sat in a companionable silence for several minutes while Luna purred contentedly as Annette stroked her back. Felix had closed his eyes and tipped his head back over the top of the couch. His arms were crossed loosely, and his long legs stretched awkwardly under the coffee table. Annette had a feeling he wasn’t really sleeping.

“By the way,” she said hesitantly, nervously breaking the silence between them. “I never thanked you earlier.”

The man didn’t open his eyes. “Thank me for what?” he said quietly.

“For saving me from falling during the battle,” Annette replied. Her ears felt hot. “You didn’t have to do that. So, thank you.”

Felix snorted. “No, I didn’t,” he agreed. His eyes were still closed. “But I’m not so cruel as to let someone get hurt when I’m in a position to help. Even if it is due to their own carelessness.”

Annette laughed softly. “Ingrid was right,” she said teasingly. She hoped this conversation would keep her own despair at bay for just a little longer. “You really are a big softie!”

Felix opened his eyes and turned his head toward her. “I’m no such thing,” he echoed his previous denial, although Annette noticed it was with much less force.

“Thank you for letting me stay here while you practiced,” Annette continued. Her voice was quivering now. She felt tears beginning to form in her eyes again. “I didn’t mean to be a bother.”

Felix shrugged carelessly, but he was watching Annette closely now. “I told you I didn’t care one way or the other,” he reminded her in an even tone. “As long as you don’t get in the way of my training.”

She smiled weakly and stared down at the cat in her lap. Her shoulders shook as she tried to hold back the flood of emotion that was building inside her. “I won’t,” she promised, wiping away a stray tear.

“Annette.” Felix moved from his seat and knelt in front of her. He placed both hands firmly on her shoulders. “Look at me. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Annette lied, forcing a cheerful laugh. “I think…maybe I’m allergic to Luna’s hair. It’s making my eyes water.”

“Don’t lie to me,” he growled for the second time that night. He seemed genuinely concerned. “I’m not stupid, Annette. Even I can tell when someone is upset. I just told you, I’m not so cruel that I would leave someone to get hurt when I could help.”

“I know,” she sniffed, trying to keep her voice steady. “I know. But…I’m sorry, Felix. I can’t tell you right now. Maybe…another time, when I’m not…like this.”

Felix sighed and pulled a plain white handkerchief out if his pocket. It was embroidered in the corner with the Crest of House Fraldarius. “Here,” he said quietly, gently pushing it into her hand. “Dry your eyes. You can’t go back to your room like this.”

“Thank you,” she hiccupped. Annette dabbed her eyes and took a few deep breaths to steady her breathing. Felix remained kneeling in front of her. His amber eyes were warmer than she had seen them before. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to start crying like that.”

“There is no need to apologize,” Felix insisted firmly. “Everyone cries sometimes. Don’t push yourself. I’ll wait for you.”

“Wait for me?” she repeated blankly, holding the handkerchief loosely in one hand.

Felix stared at her for a moment. “You don’t honestly think I’d leave you alone to return to your dorm in this state, do you?” he asked incredulously. He turned his face heavenward. “What did I do to earn Sylvain’s reputation, of all people?”

In spite of her sorrow, Annette couldn’t help but giggle. “Thank you,” she said after collecting herself.

Satisfied that she wasn’t about to burst into tears again, Felix returned to his couch. “What was it you were humming before?” he asked quietly. “I didn’t recognize the tune.”

“Oh, I didn’t realize you had heard that,” Annette felt a little embarrassed at the thought of Felix listening to her humming. She hadn’t shared any of her songs with anyone before, not even with Mercedes. “Um…it was just an old ditty my mother used to sing to me as a child. I thought it might cheer me up but obviously it did the opposite.”

“It seemed calming,” Felix commented with a sidelong glance at her. “Perhaps it will work better another time.”

“I hope so,” she agreed. They sat in silence for several more minutes while Annette dabbed the remaining tears from her face. “Thank you, Felix. I feel much better now.”

“Good,” he said in a businesslike voice. Rising from his seat, Felix held out a hand to Annette. “Let’s return to the dormitory.”

She accepted his proffered hand and felt his fingers gently tighten as he helped pull her to her feet. The cat meowed in dismay as she was knocked from her perch and stalked away huffily. Annette giggled. She thought she could even see the corners of Felix’s mouth twitch toward a smile, but it was gone before it had even really formed. Strapping his sword back onto his hip, Felix went to the door and pushed it open. The cool night air felt refreshing to Annette as she followed him out. Watching Felix walk ahead of her, his back straight and head held high, Annette wished that she too would one day be able to walk with that kind of confidence.

Chapter Text

In the week following Annette’s sudden breakdown in the knight’s hall, Felix felt uncomfortably aware of her presence. He was not seeking her out, but during classes he began to catch himself staring toward the front row where she sat beside Mercedes. In the dining hall, he realized he would scan it as he entered to see if she was there and who was with her. During his free time, if he wasn’t careful, Felix noticed he would wander in the direction of the knight’s hall for training that he would typically use the outdoor training grounds for instead. In the evenings when he would head back to his room to get some rest, he would glance at Annette’s door and see if there was light filtering out from beneath it. He wondered if she was alone and crying behind the privacy of her own four walls.

These actions would not ordinarily have bothered Felix very much. He would do—and had done— this for any of his long-time friends. He was not ashamed to show concern for his friends from time to time, few as they were. They had stood by him when Glenn died despite how his grief at the loss had turned to rage against them time and time again. They had stood by him despite how they too were suffering in the aftermath of the Tragedy of Duscur. Felix was not a person who typically wore his heart on his sleeve, but he certainly didn’t consider himself carved from ice. He was perfectly capable of caring for another human being in his own way, even though he tried not to do it very much. Emotions were dangerous for a warrior, so Felix tried very hard not to engage in them whenever possible.

No, the real problem with these new habits was that they did not go unnoticed by everyone else.

“Earth to Felix!” Sylvain waved his hand in front of Felix’s face during class one morning. He was grinning widely, a state which, in and of itself, was not all that unusual on the redhead.

“What do you want?” Felix snarled, tearing his eyes away from the back of Annette’s head. Her hair was braided in a short tail today. He had a feeling Mercedes had had a hand in doing that.

Sylvain laughed as though Felix had told a particularly funny joke. “Just making sure you’re with me here,” he said casually, his brown eyes glinting mischievously. “We’re supposed to be working through this exercise the Professor assigned.”

“I’ve finished it already,” Felix said, flipping his notebook closed so that Sylvain couldn’t copy his answers. “It’s not that difficult if you were paying attention to the lecture.”

“Oh, like you’re one to talk about paying attention in class,” Sylvain rolled his eyes. That stupid grin was still plastered on his face. “Mr. I-Can’t-Stop-Staring-At-Annette!”

“Would you shut up?” Felix snapped irritably. “Don’t say such stupid things. It makes you look more idiotic than usual.”

The jibe didn’t bother Sylvain in the slightest. “Okay, okay,” he said placatingly and lowering his voice by several octaves. “But seriously, I’ve never seen you this interested in anyone else since…well…since Glenn was around.”

Felix had no witty reply to this. He knew it was true. “What about it?” he said instead. He tried to inject some venom into his tone to discourage a response, though he probably shouldn’t have bothered. Sylvain was quite used to dealing with Felix’s testy personality.

“You know, it’s okay to like a girl,” Sylvain continued conversationally in the same low voice. “It’s normal!”

“It’s not like that at all,” Felix retorted. He didn’t want to explain the real reason behind his concern for Annette to Sylvain. It didn’t seem appropriate to share the scene from the other night with him, even if they were best friends.

“Then what is it like?” Sylvain teased, completely ignoring his unfinished work. “You know that Ingrid and Dimitri have both noticed as well, right?”

Felix made a non-committal grunt that Sylvain obviously took for a “yes”. Ingrid had already cornered him the evening before by blocking the exit to the dining hall and demanding to know why he was so interested in the red-headed mage girl. Just as with Sylvain, Felix had absolutely refused to admit any kind of romantic interest in Annette and could not justify revealing what had happened in the knight’s hall to pique his concern. Therefore, he had no choice but to withstand an onslaught of questions and jibes from his friends on the matter. Ingrid had become surprisingly protective of Annette since her arrival at Garreg Mach and made it abundantly clear to Felix that he had better keep his “thorny personality” to himself or he would regret it.

“You know, she speaks very highly of you,” Sylvain went on as though Felix was actively participating in the conversation. “I can’t see where she got the idea that you’re a nice guy, but whatever it was…”

“Is that so?” Felix said vaguely. Annette had stood up and gone to Professor Byleth at the front desk with her notebook in hand. She didn’t look like she was in immediate danger of crying again. He supposed he ought not worry anymore and that he really should put those feelings aside again. “Probably from the mock battle. I caught her before she fell.”

“Maybe…” Sylvain murmured, though he didn’t sound convinced. He followed Felix’s gaze. “You know, she is pretty cute.”

Felix groaned in exasperation. “This conversation is going nowhere,” he said impatiently. “I’ve already told you, there’s nothing going on between us.”

“And I’ve already told you that I think that excuse is bull—”

Professor Byleth had stood up and called attention to the front of the room. “It seems that most of you have finished the assignment,” she said in her typical monotone voice with a bland look at Sylvain. Annette had settled back into her seat and was staring intently at the Professor. She looked fine from where Felix was sitting, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was still deeply troubling her. “We are only a few weeks away from our first real mission, so please be sure to spend some extra time training your skills.”

Professor Byleth glanced down at her notes. “I’ll be holding individual instructions over the coming week or so,” she continued tonelessly. “I will be going over the results of your participation in the mock battle and drawing up a personal lesson plan to help you develop a variety of other skills. More skills in battle is more tools in hand to keep you alive.”

Turning to the chalkboard, Professor Byleth began to draw a table with several rows and columns. “In addition,” she went on. “The curriculum at Garreg Mach requires all students to take part in daily and weekly chores. This is intended to build character and hone some of your other abilities which are not strictly related to the battlefield, such as horseback riding, general physical strength, and dexterity.”

She began to fill in a calendar of activities on the board. The class watched with interest as she assigned different individuals and groups to a variety of tasks. “I will post each month’s schedule on the board here,” she said. “Please be sure to stay abreast of your expected work for the month. If you are unable to complete a task, it is your responsibility to find a replacement.”

Professor Byleth made a few more additions to her calendar and set the chalk down. “This schedule is effective tomorrow,” she advised in a clear voice. “Class dismissed.”

Several students hurried over the board to check the schedule and make a note of their tasks for the remainder of the month, Annette among them. Felix waited for the crowd to disperse before making his way over to see what work he had been assigned.

Unfortunately, he was scheduled on stable duty with Ingrid the following day which undoubtably meant she would try to pry for more details about his fascination with Annette. He was scheduled on cooking duty with Dimitri the day after that which would probably also result in further questions about her. Thankfully, he had a day to himself to tidy the training grounds following cooking duty so he might then get a rare moment of peace and quiet.

He re-read the schedule and noticed that Annette had several chores of her own with both Ingrid and Mercedes. He wondered sourly if Ingrid would try to pry anything from Annette about him. If what Sylvain had said was true, she’d been telling others about how kind he had been to her. Somehow, he doubted that Ingrid would try as hard to get information out of Annette as she would with him though; Ingrid wouldn’t be very concerned if she upset Felix. They’d known each other for too long for her to worry if he was annoyed with her nosey questions.

“Disappointed that your girl isn’t scheduled for any chores with you?” Sylvain teased as he slung an arm around Felix’s shoulders companionably.

“She isn’t ‘my girl’,” Felix growled as he shook off Sylvain’s arm irritably. He glanced over his shoulder, but nobody else was left in the room. Thank the Goddess for that small mercy, he thought spitefully. “I’m just checking my own schedule.”

“Sure, sure,” Sylvain said blithely. “You keep telling yourself that, Felix.”

---

True to her word, Professor Byleth had scheduled his individual consultation a few days after the chore schedule was posted. By this point in the week, Felix was already in a very foul mood. Between stable duty with Ingrid and cooking duty with Dimitri where neither one of them refused to drop the subject of Annette, Felix’s temper was dangerously high. He was greatly looking forward to heading over the training grounds immediately after this ridiculous meeting so that he could let out some of his pent-up anger on some unsuspecting dummies.

“Welcome, Felix,” Professor Byleth said. He thought she sounded less robotic than usual as she poured him some tea. “Would you like some? It is Four-Spice Blend.”

“Yes, thank you,” Felix replied with as much politeness as he could muster. The smell of the tea was quite soothing. It had been his mother’s favourite, long ago. His father rarely drank tea, but he had inherited his taste for it from her.

Professor Byleth settled herself comfortably in her own chair and pulled over a stack of parchments. She flipped through them until she found one with Felix’s name at the top. “Right,” she said as she scanned the document. “I’ll start by saying that your skill with a sword is very good. You had no noticeable mistakes with your form, and you will likely only continue to improve with further training.”

Felix took another sip of tea. “I’m glad to hear it. Care to train with me, Professor? I’m sick of battling weak opponents. You seem like would be a worthy adversary.”

Professor Byleth tiled her head. “You think I would make a worthy adversary?”

Felix shrugged. “I can’t say for sure until I test your strength myself, but it seems so. You were trained by Captain Jeralt after all, and you were a mercenary before a teacher. How else will I grow stronger if I don’t test myself against stronger opponents like yourself?”

Her expression remained blank. “Why are you so focused on becoming stronger?”

Felix thought for a moment. He couldn’t seem to put his desire for strength into words. “It is either kill or be killed in this world,” he finally said. He was acutely aware that he was echoing what he had said to Annette not so very long ago. “I learned to use a sword before I could even write my own name. If you can’t wield a weapon in Faerghus, you’re useless regardless of how strong a Crest you may possess. You must grow strong so you may live, and live to grow stronger.”

Professor Byleth made a couple of notes on the parchment in front of her. “Do you have any other ambitions?” she asked, quill poised to take more annotations.

He shook his head. “Nothing is more important to me than the pursuit of strength,” Felix said fiercely.

She made another note on the parchment. “I see,” she said musingly. “Well, I’m happy to spar with you, but it will have to wait until later. I am meeting with two other students after you.”

“I look forward to it,” Felix said honestly.

“Now, regarding your training plan,” Professor Byleth continued. “I’ve assessed your physical battle prowess and I have concluded that you’re already excelling in that area. Further training in lance or axe would likely be a waste of energy after all the time you’ve put into mastering your blade.”

Felix nodded approvingly and sipped his tea. He had no interest in using a lance. Dimitri, Ingrid, and Sylvain all used it with more precision than he possessed. It was also more useful on horseback, and he really had always preferred to keep his feet firmly on the ground during battle.

“You could learn the bow,” Professor Byleth continued, “But I feel that that would be more hindrance than help as you’d need to retreat backwards in order to have enough space to shoot. Since you will primarily be in close-quarters combat, a bow seems rather pointless.”

This, too, made sense to Felix. Furthermore, a bow and quiver would hamper his speed with the added weight on his back.

“I’m going to teach everyone in the class the basics of hand-to-hand combat. It will be useful as a last resort during battle. For you, however,” Professor Byleth said neutrally as she checked the document once more. “I would like you to begin training using anima magic.”

Felix choked on his tea. “Excuse me?”

“I would like you to begin training using anima magic,” she repeated clearly, as though he hadn’t heard the first time. “Unlike the bow, you would not need to carry any extra equipment and you will be able to use it in close quarters if needed, so it won’t require you to leave the frontlines.”

Although Felix could not disagree with the logic behind this decision, he still felt as though he had been hit in the gut with one of Ingrid’s lances. “Magic,” he said stupidly. “You want me to learn to cast spells?”

Professor Byleth nodded approvingly. “Indeed. If your sword were to break, you will have the option of using hand-to-hand combat or magic to take care of one or multiple attackers, as needed. You would also be able to react quickly to assisting an endangered ally if you were able to cast a spell from a short distance away while still being able to fend off your own enemies with your sword.”

“With all due respect Professor,” Felix began quickly, attempting to forestall this disaster of an idea before it gained any further traction. “I have no aptitude for magic. I have never studied the theory nor tried to cast a spell.”

“I have already thought about that,” Professor Byleth said with a half smile curling her lips. She glanced over her shoulder to an empty corner of the room and turned back looking rather pleased with herself. He had not seen her express this much emotion during one conversation since she had arrived at the Monastery. “I’d like you to work with Annette to learn the basics of anima magic. She’s the only mage in our class, unfortunately, so I’ll be relying on her to share her knowledge of the subject with you and perhaps Sylvain as well.”

If Felix thought this was a bad idea when Professor Byleth first suggested it, now he knew it was downright mad. It was especially dangerous if she was planning to have Annette spend time teaching Sylvain as well. He set his teacup down with an unnecessary amount of force. “Professor, I really don’t think I’m cut out for—”

She held up a hand to stop his tirade. “I have given my orders,” she said simply. “You will need to arrange time to study the subject with her.”

Felix sighed, resigned to his fate of being unable to avoid Annette and thereby any possibly of ever dispelling his friend’s incessant questions about their non-relationship. “Is Annette aware of this…arrangement?” he asked through gritted teeth.

There was no mistaking the smile on Professor Byleth’s face now. She almost looked like an evil goddess as her blue eyes flashed. “She is my next meeting. Thank you, Felix. That will be all for today.”

---

The remainder of the month passed much too quickly for Felix’s liking. He continued to have chores with Sylvain, Ingrid, and Dimitri on a regular basis which left him unable to avoid their questions. He had hoped the subject of Annette would begin to lose interest if he refused to rise to their baiting inquiries, but there was no hope of it now. Sylvain gleefully asked him at every opportunity if he had begun any study sessions with “his girl” yet. Felix refused to respond to this, though it didn’t do much good. Sylvain never had been deterred by something as simple as the silent treatment.

Felix was avoiding Annette as much as possible prior to their mission. He still hadn’t accepted Professor Byleth’s decision for him to learn magic and was stubbornly averting any opportunity where he might have to broach the topic with Annette herself. For what it was worth, Annette seemed to be avoiding him as well; the only time she had voluntarily sought him out since the night she had sobbed in the knight’s hall was to return his handkerchief. It had smelled like fresh violets. He figured she must still be embarrassed about what had happened, but he couldn’t find it in his heart to be sorry for it. It made avoiding her much easier for him too.

When the day of their first mission finally arrived, Felix was a ball of nerves. The thought of battle itself did not bother him overmuch, but it would be the first time he would be in close proximity to Annette outside of their regular classes. He tried to keep his face impassive as they gathered in the Red Canyon. He stood near Dimitri and Ingrid, keeping a sidelong glance on Sylvain who had sidled closer to Mercedes. No doubt trying to cause trouble, Felix thought crossly as he heard both girls laughing at something Sylvain had said.

“All right,” Professor Byleth motioned the group to move in closer to her so as to not announce their presence in the Red Canyon yet. “For this mission, we’re going to try to move in from two sides. I’m going to have one group move directly forward with me, and the other will take the west side and swing around behind to meet back up with us in a pincer attack. Questions?

“Who will be going in which group?” Ashe asked quickly. He was holding his bow tightly and looked slightly ill.

“The first group will be led by myself and Dimitri,” Professor Byleth said. “I want Dedue, Ashe and Mercedes to come with us.”

Felix suppressed a groan. He should have expected something like this.

“The second group,” Professor Byleth continued. “Will be led by Ingrid. Felix, Sylvain, and Annette, I want you three to accompany her on that side.”

“Understood,” Ingrid saluted. Sylvain’s eyes sparkled as he looked sidelong at Felix.

The Professor dug into her bag and pulled out a ring with three skeleton keys on it. “Felix, I want you to hold on to this. It’s possible the thieves have stowed some treasure in this canyon hideout. You have good speed over uneven terrain, so I think you will have the best opportunity to grab it if there is any.”

Felix took the keys and stowed them into his jacket pocket.

“Are there any other questions?” Professor Byleth asked. Nobody said anything. “Remember that this is a real battle with real stakes. Our enemy will not hesitate to cut you down, so you must be ready to fight to the death. If you become injured, you must retreat as quickly as possible to this rendezvous point.” She looked over the assembled students once last time. “Very well. Blue Lions, move out!”

---

The battle in the Red Canyon was bloody. The Professor had not been kidding when she said that the thieves nesting there would be merciless. Felix had been prepared for battle, and he did not fear the enemy. He had been training for this moment his whole life. He had never felt so alive as when he was one with his sword, cutting a path to victory through a multitude of enemies. Alongside Ingrid and Sylvain, Felix knew his flanks were covered; he trusted them with his life.

But Annette was different. When she achieved her first kill, she forced a smile. “See? I’m a great fighter!” she said cheerfully to nobody in particular. Her hands were quivering as she spoke, and Felix could see that she wasn’t looking at the corpse. It sounded like Annette was trying to convince herself that she could keep going.

Her second kill was worse. “I can do it,” she said to herself in a low voice. Felix barely heard Annette as he fended off another thief that was sprinting toward her. He parried a thrust from the thief so that Ingrid could finish the job from behind. Annette hadn’t noticed the danger. She didn’t seem to be able to see that corpse either.

Felix, for his part, thought the dead man looked too much like Glenn. It made his stomach twist into a knot.

By the time she killed a third man, Annette didn’t seem capable to speech at all. She kept staring at her hands as if she were disgusted by them. “Annette,” Ingrid called brusquely to her. She fell back from the front line to Annette’s side, leaving Felix and Sylvain to pick up her slack. “You should retreat. It’s okay if this is too much for you. You don’t have to force yourself.”

Annette didn’t seem to hear her. She stumbled forward without really seeing Ingrid.

“Annette,” Ingrid said again. Her tone was more commanding this time. “There is no shame in retreating. No one will think any less of you for it.”

“That’s not true,” Annette said softly. Her eyes had a faraway look to them. She kept staring at the corpses that Felix and Sylvain had made. “He will be disappointed in me. How could he love me if I can’t even finish the job I started?”

The three friends looked at each other meaningfully. Annette didn’t seem to have realized what she had said. “Does she mean…you?” Sylvain asked in a low voice to Felix. Ingrid raised her eyebrows at him.

“I don’t think so,” Felix said carefully, scanning the area in case there were other enemies nearby. He had been mulling over their encounter in the knight’s hall for days now, and he had a pretty solid suspicion of what was really bothering Annette. He was quite certain it wasn’t him. “We can’t go on like this. She’ll slow us down and become a liability.”

“I concur,” Ingrid said. She looked over the battlefield as well. “One of us needs to take her back. I’ll bring her to the rendezvous point and wait with her. It looks like this battle won’t take much longer anyway.”

“Nonsense,” Felix argued. “You can’t go. The Professor left you as the leader of our group. You need to continue with giving orders.”

“Let Felix take her back,” Sylvain said reasonably. He made it sound like the most obvious solution. “We know she trusts him. She’s said as much to you before, Ingrid.”

“That’s true. Very well,” she barked at Felix, looking uncomfortable with the solution. “You have your orders. Make sure you both make it to the rendezvous point safely. We’ll rejoin you soon.”

“Understood,” Felix saluted without further argument. A battlefield was no place for long conversations. He strode over to Annette and shook her gently by the shoulders. It didn’t seem like she had been listening to them at all. “Annette, we need to go.”

“I can’t,” she said desperately. She looked terrified, and Felix wondered if she would be permanently scarred by this experience. Some people simply weren’t cut out for fighting. “He’ll be so disappointed in me. Just like always.”

Felix didn’t have time to wonder further about her anxieties. He filed this comment away for further analysis after the battle was over. “Come on,” he said again, taking her forcefully by the hand. Thankfully, despite her verbal denials, she followed him without resistance. He kept a firm grip on her hand, not trusting her to keep walking on her own right now.

He led her away swiftly, keeping his eyes open in case some bandit had managed to escape the slaughter and double back behind them. Luck seemed to be on his side this time. The plateau was deserted except for the corpses. He tried not to stare at them. He didn’t want to see Glenn in their mutilated faces again. It wouldn’t do anyone any good if he lost his cool while trying to retreat to safety with Annette.

The rendezvous point was far enough away from the battlefield that they could no longer hear the sounds of fighting. Felix led Annette to a large rock and helped her comfortably sit on top of it. They were both covered in blood. Annette looked like she was somewhere very distant from the Red Canyon. Felix felt a small pang of concern to see the lost look on face and tried to suppress it. He wondered if that’s how he had looked when he had heard about Glenn’s death. He was sure he looked just like that when he had first seen Glenn’s corpse.

“Here, drink this,” Felix said quietly. He pushed a flask of water into her trembling hands and gently forced her fingers to close over it. “Everything will fine, Annette.”

Annette turned her face toward him at the sound of her name. Now that they were away from the battle, she seemed to be coming to her senses. “Felix?” she asked in a dazed voice, as if she wasn’t sure it was really him. “Where are we?”

“We’re back at the rendezvous point,” he said patiently. He knelt in front of her again to get a better look at her face. He mentally made a note to not make a habit of kneeling like this when Sylvain was around. “Drink that water. You’ll feel better.”

Annette nodded slowly and lifted the flask to her lips. She looked very pale, but at least her eyes were no longer unfocused. “Thank you,” she said weakly. Her hands were still trembling. “I’m sorry that you had to retreat with me. I’m such a failure.”

He snorted. “You have no need to apologize. As Ingrid said, there is no shame in retreating.”

Annette stared down at her feet.

“You’re not a failure either,” Felix continued relentlessly. “Anyone who believes that of you is sadly misinformed.”

“Thank you, Felix,” Annette said softly. “You are far too kind to me. This is the second time you’ve had to comfort me like this. I’m sorry.”

“For the last time, stop apologizing,” he said more crossly than he had intended. He stood up and moved closer to the edge of the battlefield. “It looks like the battle is over now. I think the others are heading back this way.”

He heard Annette draw in a deep breath and slide off the rock. She stoppered the water flask and handed it back to him. “Thank you, Felix,” she said again. Her voice was small, as if she was afraid of how he would reply. “Please…let’s talk once we’re back at the Monastery. If you don’t mind.”

Felix stared at her for a long moment. “Of course not,” he said honestly.

He realized, not for the first time, that he was doing a very bad job lately at keeping his feelings at bay.

Chapter Text

It was several days after the battle in the Red Canyon that Annette began to really feel like herself again. When she first returned to the Monastery, her memories were foggy, and she couldn’t quite recall what had happened. The only thing that had stuck with her was Felix agreeing to speak with her after they got back. His eyes had been solemn but his presence by her side had given her the strength to get back on her own two feet. She was grateful for that. He had never abandoned her when she was in need.

Upon their return, Professor Byleth had ordered Annette to her room to get some rest. She had kindly taken the initiative to give her next week’s chores to other students until Annette was in better shape. Mercedes stayed closed to Annette during those days, bringing her food from the dining hall and talking quietly with her in the privacy of her dormitory room. The Professor had excused her from attending classes until she had regained her full composure, so Mercedes went over the lessons each day with her so that she wouldn’t fall behind.

“I’m so stupid Mercie,” Annette moaned one evening. She pushed her notebook aside. “Why did I ever think I could do this? It was a stupid idea.”

Mercedes looked up from her own book and set her quill aside gently. “Don’t say such things,” she sounded aghast as the thought. “Annie, you’re the smartest person I know. Why are you losing faith in yourself?”

“I couldn’t even finish one battle through to the end,” Annette muttered morosely. “I’m completely and utterly hopeless.”

“Rubbish,” Mercedes said firmly. “You’re being too hard on yourself, Annie. It was hard for all of us. You know that Ashe was much the same as you, right? But we couldn’t prepare a proper retreat route for him, so he had no choice but to stay in the back line and try not to lose his cool any more than he already had.”

Although Mercedes meant her words to provide a comfort, Annette felt more miserable. “Still Mercie,” she moaned again, “Ashe managed to stay through the whole thing. It took me two full days to remember how I killed those men. I’m still not sure I’m okay with those memories.”

Mercedes sighed deeply. “Annie, it’s okay for you to not be okay,” she said gently, reaching across the table and taking Annette’s hands in her own. “You’re not stupid nor weak for how your first battle affected you.”

“Father would never believe that,” Annette said quietly. “He would be so disappointed in me. Retreating like a coward.”

“I don’t believe that one bit,” Mercedes said loftily and squeezing her friend’s hands tighter. “He would be a true fool to believe you were anything other than brave. Even the greatest knights have fears, Annie. Even great knights need to retreat sometimes. It’s not a sign of weakness.”

“He’s here now, at the Monastery,” Annette said moodily. She swung her legs over the edge of her bed. “I saw him from my window the other day, by the fishing pond.”

“So, you have your chance now,” Mercedes said matter-of-factly as if this tidbit of information ought not to bother Annette in the slightest. “I’m sure he will listen to you. Don’t lose hope, no matter how long it takes.”

Annette grumbled something unintelligible and fell backwards onto her bed. She stared up at the ceiling as if wishing the Goddess herself might appear and give her a pep talk too. “I think I’ll be okay to take care of the greenhouse tomorrow,” she finally said. “So, you don’t have to take my chores anymore Mercie.”

“Only if you’re sure,” her friend replied calmly. Her quill was scratching across her parchment again. “I’m happy to help if you need me to.”

Annette shook her head. “No, it’s fine. I can’t hide in here forever.”

Professor Byleth had kindly paid a visit to her earlier in the day to check up on her and see how she was faring. Although the Professor seemed very robotic at times, she was not unkind or completely unfeeling. She told Annette she understood how she felt and didn’t blame her for retreating. “It was smart of Ingrid to order you to retreat,” Professor Byleth had said. “You would have been in more danger if you had continued on. If you would like to discuss this further, you may come see me any time. We can work through your feelings and work on ways to help you fare better in the future.” It had made Annette realize that she had to face the world again soon. Nothing would change if she continued to wallow in self-pity.

Mercedes closed her notebook and stowed it back in her bag. “Well, you know where to find me if you need me for anything,” she said. “Don’t worry about your father either. I’m certain he will come around.”

Annette hoped she was right. It had already been four years and he hadn’t come around yet.

---

The following morning marked Annette’s first day back in class since their mission to the Red Canyon. She felt like there was a great spotlight on her as she entered the classroom. Annette tried not to catch anyone’s eye as she passed and slid into her usual seat. Mercedes hadn’t arrived yet, so she busied herself with unpacking her bookbag and pretending that nobody was staring at her.

“Hey, Annette. How are you doing?” Ingrid asked gently. She stood with her own bookbag slung over her shoulder and concern knitting her brows.

“Oh, hi,” Annette said awkwardly. She felt her cheeks go pink. “I’m fine. Thank you for asking.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Ingrid said, green eyes still staring at her intently. She shifted the bag on her shoulder uncomfortably. “We’ve been worried for you. Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Oh, no,” she responded quickly. She tried to smile but it looked more like a grimace. “I’m really fine, I promise. You won’t have to worry about me in the future. I’ll do better next time.”

Ingrid looked a bit surprised at this, but she didn’t question it. “Well, like I said, I’m here to help if you need anything. I know you have Mercedes too, but please don’t hesitate to let me know if there’s something I can do for you.”

Annette nodded and chanced a glance over her shoulder. Mercedes was just arriving with Dedue. Finally, she thought anxiously. I can’t bear to sit here alone anymore. She still felt like she was being watched, so she glanced around quickly once more.

Sure enough, she caught Felix staring right at her. He didn’t look away when she caught his gaze.

He probably heard everything we said, she thought, giving him a faint smile. He raised his eyebrows at her as if to say he didn’t believe she was doing as well as she claimed. Leave it to Felix to see right through her lie. He was as good as Mercedes at detecting them.

She was spared having to hold his gaze any longer as Professor Byleth arrived in the room and called the class to order. Mercedes smiled warmly at Annette as she sat down and gave her a reassuring pat on the shoulder. The gesture made her feel a bit better and the smile she offered to Mercedes in return was more genuine than all the others she’d tried to give that morning.

As class went on, Annette found herself feeling better as she settled back into her normal daily routine. She listened closely to the lecture, hoping to glean some nugget of information that might help her keep her head in their next mission. During their free study period, she threw herself into studying up on battle formations and the uses of battalions. She didn’t think she would be a very good leader, but Professor Byleth had already hinted that she would be picking out certain members of the class to begin learning how to lead them into battle. Annette figured it would be better for her to be prepared for anything the Professor might throw at her.

Professor Byleth finished her lecture a bit earlier than planned, so she dismissed the class early for the afternoon. Annette scrambled to throw her books back into her bag. “I’m going to go get a head start on the greenhouse,” she said to Mercedes. “I’ll meet you later for dinner, okay?”

“All right, Annie,” Mercedes said with another of her warm smiles. “Don’t push yourself too hard, okay?”

“I won’t,” Annette promised. “I’ll see you later!”

She raced out of the classroom before anyone could stop her for a conversation. Annette hoped that if she avoided everyone for long enough, they would lose interest in asking her if she was doing okay. It was exhausting to answer the same question to each person who asked it when she already knew she would be lying, even if just a little.

Annette decided to make a quick stop in her dorm to drop off her bookbag before heading to the greenhouse. It was too heavy to lug around all evening, and she didn’t need it anyway. She dug through her drawers until she found her gardening gloves, pulled them on, and then raced back out. Thankfully, the greenhouse was empty when she arrived, a silent oasis of plant life. Breathing a sigh of relief, Annette made her way into the shed to retrieve the corn broom and began to sweep away the debris from the floor.

Working had always helped to clear her mind of worry, so it wasn’t long before she felt more at ease in her own skin again. Annette recalled how she used to help take care of the garden back home with her mother. It had been one of the few things that still truly made her mother smile after the Tragedy of Duscur. It had always made Annette happy to see her mother smiling. Sometimes, her mother would begin to sing too. “Plants are like people,” she used to say in her melodious voice. “They need to know that they are loved to grow strong. A good gardener does more than simply water them or pour fertilizer; the best gardener will use their voice to encourage the plants to grow and flower bountifully.”

Annette had taken this advice to heart. She had always loved her mother’s voice, so she too would sing as she tended the plants at home. It had become a habit after that. It helped her focus when she worked or when she studied. It helped calm her nerves when she was upset. Music was important to her mother, and so it was also important to Annette.

Filling her watering can, she carefully went through each row and gave the plants a good, long drink. “Today's dinner is steak and then a cake that's yummy yum,” she sang cheerfully as she worked. She forced her mind not to focus on her father or her own insecurities. “Now it's time to fill my tummy tummy tum!”

She bent down to peer at the broad leaves of the Monastery’s most exotic plants, imported from as far away as Brigid, and drank in the scent of the huge pink flowers. Her mother would have loved to see these flowers and would probably have even used them as inspiration for her next composition. Annette wondered if it would ever be possible to bring such a special plant home to her mother, to share with her just a small part of the wide world that she’d been sequestered away from for so many years.

“Oh, this mountain of sweets, and treats that I long to eats...” Annette continued, her voice rising sweetly above the exotic flowers, and forgetting for a moment that she was in a public greenhouse and not House Dominic’s private garden. She twirled gracefully as she rounded a corner, the tips of her toes barely brushing the stone floor beneath her. “Oh, stacks of steaks and cakes and…!”

“I hope I’m not interrupting…” a voice drawled loudly.

“…crumbs and yums...ah!” Annette yelped and stumbled backward as she landed, wobbling slightly as she turned to face the intruder. She held the watering can loosely in one hand so that it dripped steadily onto the floor. “What are you doing here?”

Felix was staring at her with undisguised interest on his face. “I came to speak with you, obviously.”

Annette stared at him in horror. “You weren’t listening to me, were you?” she asked, a tone of fear creeping into her voice. She peered at him through her gloved fingers, hoping that he wouldn’t notice her face going pink.

He shrugged casually. “Well…I heard enough to know that you’re hungry.”

She gasped as a sinking feeling of dread filled her belly. Her eyes were scarcely visible above the tips of her fingers. “You…didn’t see the dance, did you?” she asked in a voice that was barely above a whisper.

“You have good footwork,” Felix affirmed with raised eyebrows. Annette stared at him in shocked silence. He shifted uncomfortably and held out a hand. “Here, let me finish. You should go get something to eat. I don’t want Mercedes to flay me alive for letting you faint from hunger.”

Annette continued to stare at him. Felix held her gaze unflinchingly.

“You’re evil, Felix!” she burst out angrily. She dropped her hands from covering her face now that she was more confident it was no longer pink.

“And you’re shouting,” he pointed out seriously. “I don’t really see how—”

Annette took a few steps forward and stood on her tiptoes to look him in the eyes. “You can’t just spy on people while they're singing without even saying anything! It's not right!” she insisted, stamping her foot on the ground for emphasis. “Oh, this is just the worst!

He didn’t seem the least bit intimidated. “I did call out that I was coming in,” Felix said coolly, folding his arms across his chest. “It’s not my fault you were singing too loudly to hear it.”

Annette’s eyes widened at the implications of this statement. He had been able to hear her through the door. He had actually tried to let her know he was coming in, effectively giving her a chance to stop before she embarrassed herself. And, in her usual fashion, she was so wrapped up in her own head that she hadn’t noticed him at all until it was too late. Suddenly realizing that she was still standing very close to him, Annette took several large steps back and held her watering can in front of her as a makeshift shield.

“Well, you weren’t loud enough!” she sputtered. “This is so embarrassing. Why did it have to be you to come in here and hear me singing a silly food song I made up?”

Felix opened his mouth to respond, but Annette continued to ramble on without noticing.

“I should have been singing about bears! Or swamp beasties!” she went on shrilly. She realized how ridiculous this sounded the moment the words left her mouth, but it was too late to backtrack. Annette decided that doubling down on it was the only way forward. “Maybe it would have scared you enough to stop you from coming in at all!”

“I didn't realize there were songs about bears and swamp beasties,” Felix cut across her tirade before it could continue. “That food song seemed to be close to your heart, though. Your stomach isn't far from your heart after all.” He held out his hand again for the watering can. “Let me finish.”

Annette couldn’t believe her ears. She felt her face going pink again. “I take it back,” she hissed. “This situation isn’t the worst. You’re the worst!”

Throwing the watering can at him so hard that Felix had to almost wasn’t able to dodge it in time, Annette fled the room, leaving him standing alone and extremely confused.

---

“Would you like more tea?” Mercedes asked kindly to Annette.

“No, thanks,” she mumbled into the pillow.

Contrary to Felix’s advice, Annette had not gone to the dining hall after bolting out of the greenhouse. No one had ever heard her singing any of her made-up songs (except now for Mercedes, since Annette had had to explain the situation and Mercedes had insisted on her own private performance) and the absolute last person she would have willingly shared them with was Felix. Seeking the comfort of her best friend, she had gone to the only logical place she could think of at the time: Mercedes’ room.

In hindsight, this probably wasn’t the best hideout. Mercedes’ room really wasn’t very far from the greenhouse. In fact, Annette could see it from her best friend’s window. She had knelt on Mercedes’ bed and squinted over the sill so that she could flag Mercedes down as soon as she happened to walk by. Unfortunately, this plan also afforded her a chance to watch Felix leave the greenhouse about half an hour later, his hands casually stuffed in his pockets. She had shrunk down lower so that he wouldn’t notice her face in the window, but he hadn’t looked over at all. In fact, he looked suspiciously like he was whistling as he walked away.

Luckily, Mercedes had stopped by her room before dinner that evening and, upon hearing Annette’s sad tale, she had agreed to bring a tray of food back for them to share. Annette was relieved to have such a good friend in her life. She absolutely could not have borne to be in the same room as Felix. It wasn’t bad enough that he knew her secret pastime. What if he had told the others too?

Annette moaned into Mercedes’ pillow at the thought. “My life is over.”

“I think you’re overreacting, Annie,” Mercedes said soothingly. She was pouring two cups of tea despite Annette’s reply. “I’m sure he loved your songs. How could anyone not love them? They’re so cute!”

Annette sat upright and hugged the pillow to her chest. “Mercie,” she said gravely. “Do you honestly think that Felix likes cute things? He probably thinks I’m such a weirdo. In fact, I’m absolutely certain he thinks that!”

“I can’t see why he wouldn’t like cute things,” Mercedes said merrily. She dropped a generous spoonful of sugar into Annette’s teacup. “Besides, he definitely likes you. So why wouldn’t he like your songs?”

“Are you even listening to yourself?” Annette asked in disbelief. “Felix does not like me. He’s helped me a few times because he’s too honourable to let me suffer even when I deserve it. It has nothing to do with liking me.”

“You seem like good friends to me,” Mercedes replied in an amused tone. She pushed the tea across the table toward Annette. “I don’t think he would stop to help you if he didn’t like you.”

“This past week has been terrible,” Annette sighed. She took a long sip from the tea. Rose Petal Blend had always been one of her favourites, but it wasn’t helping her frazzled nerves tonight. “First, I fail on our mission. Then, I saw Father for the first time in years and was too cowardly to go confront him. And now,” she finished theatrically as she flopped backwards onto the bed, “Felix walked in on me while I was singing a stupid song.”

Mercedes simply took a sip of her own tea and smiled. “You know Annie, I’m sure if you just asked him nicely to not say anything to anyone, he would agree.”

Annette mulled over this for a long moment. “Maybe,” she agreed slowly. “I’ll just…corner him after class tomorrow and ask him to forget everything and never tell another soul about what he witnessed.”

“See, I’m sure it will all work out,” Mercedes said cheerfully. She pushed a tray of sweets toward Annette. “Take a cookie. I baked them especially for you.”

“But I threw that watering can at him,” Annette muttered, ignoring the proffered cookie and throwing an arm over her eyes. “He probably hates me even more than he did before!”

“I thought we already discussed that he very much does not hate you,” Mercedes said in confusion. She made a strangled sound that Annette suspected was a stifled giggle. “Throwing the watering can was probably not necessary, but I don’t believe Felix could possibly hate you just for that.”

“I think you’re underestimating his powers of hate,” Annette said dramatically.

“I think you’re overestimating his powers of hate. Just talk to him,” Mercedes encouraged gently. “He might be a bit prickly at times, but he’s always nice to you.”

Annette simply sighed morosely as she stared into her teacup. “Okay,” she agreed in a resigned tone. “I’ll try it.”

---

Confronting Felix proved to be much easier said than done.

The first problem was that, despite her resolution from the evening before, Annette couldn’t bring herself to arrive in class alone. Instead, she showed up at Mercedes’ room two hours before class was scheduled to begin so that she could ensure they went in together. When they did arrive, Felix was not there yet. Annette thought this was a good sign because she really wasn’t willing to talk to him in front of Ingrid or Sylvain, both of whom sat near him. If he hadn’t yet taken an opportunity to tell his friends about her strange habits, Annette didn’t want to give them a chance to overhear the conversation when she cornered Felix about it.

The second problem was that Felix was the first person to depart class at the end of the lesson. This was unusual because he typically stuck around to check the chore schedule or argue some finer points of the lesson with Professor Byleth. Annette tried not to worry about what this change in behaviour might signify, but she couldn’t quite shake the feeling that he was still upset about the watering can.

Resolving to corner him after dinner instead, Annette made sure to show up at the dining hall for the first time in over a week. To her dismay, in the three hours that she sat there playing with her food, Felix never showed up.

“He definitely hates me,” Annette groaned to Mercedes. “He’s avoiding me for sure.”

“Maybe he’s just busy,” Mercedes said logically. She didn’t seem to be nearly as concerned about the situation as Annette. “He usually trains in the evenings. I bet that’s where is he right now.”

“How long can one person train for in a single night?” Annette complained sullenly. “Surely he has to come and eat eventually?”

“Just be patient,” Mercedes counselled sagely. She didn’t look up from the crossword she was working on. “Everything will work out in due course as the Goddess wills.”

“Forget it,” Annette muttered. She was sick of sitting in one place with nothing to show for it. “I think I’ll just go for a walk and then head to bed. This is pointless.”

“Do you want any company?” Mercedes offered, glancing up at her friend. “I don’t mind joining you.”

Annette shook her head. “Thanks, Mercie, but I think I’d just like to get some fresh air and gather my thoughts. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

“Of course,” her friend smiled benevolently. “Good night, Annie.”

The air outside was getting warmer now that spring was approaching the start of summer. Annette walked slowly down toward the fishing pond and stared out over the still water. She wondered if her father still enjoyed fishing. He had never considered himself a particularly skilled fisherman, but he used to say it brought him a great sense of peace to sit at the water’s edge and wait for a fish to take the bait. She sighed heavily at the memory of sitting with her father on his days off when he would take her down the stream and fish while she played in the rushes.

She began to walk slowly around the pond and past the quiet marketplace. None of the shops were open at this time of night. It was eerily quiet without a crowd of people to fill it with a jumble of languages and laughter, and it seemed much smaller when it was empty. Annette thought it felt a little bit like how home was after her father had abandoned them. Small, claustrophobic, and empty. It was silent except for the sound of her mother’s weeping. That’s why I’m here, Annette thought sadly. I’m on a pointless quest to bring back a father who abandoned us and left my mother to live in sorrow. What a stupid idea this was!

She rounded the corner and walked past the stables. The horses were snoozing contentedly in their stalls. Annette thought vaguely that it must be nice to be a horse. They were well taken care of at Garreg Mach and didn’t want for anything. Horses didn’t need to worry about their fathers abandoning them or leaving their mothers to waste away in despair. People took care of them and made sure they were always comfortable. Horses were valuable, even more so than a family it seemed.

Annette heard a small meow and felt something soft curl between her feet. Luna, the stray cat she had found in the knight’s hall, was wending her way between Annette’s legs. She blinked her green eyes slowly and brushed her head against Annette’s right foot. She crouched down to scratch behind the cat’s ears. “You’re a good girl,” she said softly. “Thanks, Luna.”

The cat meowed again and licked her paw. Annette giggled as she patted the cat cheerfully on her head. “Felix was right,” she said quietly as she reached down to rub the cat’s belly. “It was important to give you a name.”

The sound of heavy footsteps brought Annette out of her reverie. She remained crouched on the ground playing with the little cat. A man stepped around the corner from the direction of the reception hall into the moonlight. Annette’s heart stopped in her chest.

Father, she realized instinctively.

He wasn’t difficult to recognize, even after all these years apart. He stood as tall as she remembered. If his hair was greyer now than its original reddish-orange colour, it was only because he had aged. His face was more heavily lined than Annette recalled, but he still wore the same dour expression that he had often worn when she was still a child. He wore the same grey armour he had owned all his life, but now it was without the symbol of the Faerghus royal family. She knew without needing a second look that she had finally found him.

Her legs felt weak as she stood. “Father,” she said with awe. “Father, it’s me, Annette!”

To her dismay, her father didn’t spare her even a single glance. He turned without speaking and began to walk away briskly, his back stiff and tall.

“No,” Annette whispered. Her feet began to move after him before she even realized what she was doing. “No, you can’t go. I won’t let you!”

Annette hurried after him. “Father, please wait!” she cried, catching his sleeve as she caught up to him. “Please, just talk to me. Just look at me.”

He stopped in his tracks outside the knight’s hall but he didn’t turn around.

“Father,” Annette begged, her voice breaking. “Please…”

He was silent.

“Father, I know it’s you,” Annette cried desperately. “Please, speak to me. Come back home with me. Mother is waiting. I’m waiting.”

He stood straight as a rod. “I have no right to return to you or your mother,” he said finally, his voice low and final. He pulled his arm out of her slack grip with ease and continued on his way toward the graveyard and out of sight.

Annette was devastated. She had finally found him, finally spoken to him, and he had flatly refused her pleas. Stumbling forward, arm outstretched at his retreating back, Annette felt her heart break again into millions of tiny pieces. All of her hopes were dashed, all of her hard work had been for nothing after all. He was never coming back. She fell to her knees in despair, hardly noticing that the cat had followed her and was trying to nuzzle in her hand.

The door to the knight’s hall opened on her right, letting out a sliver of warm light. She didn’t turn to look. It didn’t matter who was there. It wasn’t her father.

Footsteps came closer and a dark form crouched down beside her.

“Annette?”

Chapter Text

Felix hadn’t seen what had transpired outside the knight’s hall, but when he had heard the shouting, he had recognized Annette’s voice immediately. Sheathing his sword and setting it against a wall, he went to the door and threw it open. Whatever he had thought he might find outside, Felix certainly hadn’t expected to find Annette on her knees and staring ahead as if the last light of the world had just been quenched. He knew that this wasn’t normal behaviour for her; even when she was afraid or anxious, Annette always strove to put on a cheerful face. Felix didn’t always believe her when she claimed she was fine, but it wasn’t his place to stop her from trying to put on a brave show for others.

Crouching beside her and looking in her face, he realized something was very wrong. “Annette?” he asked.

“Felix?” Annette replied in a dazed voice. She turned her head toward his voice, but her eyes looked vacant, as though she couldn’t quite see his features. “Please, please, you must help me. He’s just gone that way. Please, I must go to him!”

Felix didn’t know how to respond to this, but it seemed clear to him that Annette was in no fit state to be chasing after anyone at all. The cat she had befriended sat beside her meowing incessantly, though Annette didn’t seem to notice that either.

“Of course I’ll help you,” he said. “Can you stand, Annette?”

She shook her head slowly, turning her gaze back down the stone laneway. Felix followed her gaze, but there was no one to be seen.

“It’s all right,” Felix assured her. He took her hands and pulled her up from the ground. Annette’s legs were unsteady, and she was still staring in the direction of the graveyard, apparently having forgotten he was there. Felix wound his arm around her waist and held her firmly under the crook of his arm so that he could lead her slowly into the knight’s hall. Thankfully, it was late enough in the evening that the other occupants had already left. He didn’t relish the idea of bringing her into a room full of gawking onlookers.

Felix led her to the nearest couch and slowly helped her settle into the cushions. The cat jumped up beside Annette and meowed loudly for her attention. She absently moved her hand to scratch Luna’s head, though she didn’t turn to look at her.

“Annette, what happened?” Felix demanded in as gentle a voice as he could muster, which was not particularly gentle at all. He felt an odd sense of anger building in his chest at whoever had hurt her so much. He tried to push the feelings away, fully aware that they were becoming dangerous to him, and found it more difficult than it rightfully should have been.

She sniffed and shook her head. “He’s gone again,” Annette replied in the most despairing voice Felix had ever heard her use. It was worse than when they were in the Red Canyon.

“Who’s gone again?” he prodded doggedly. “I can’t help bring you to him if I don’t know who to find.”

This was apparently the wrong thing to say. Annette dropped her face and began to cry in earnest now. Unsure of what to say next and afraid that he might make her more upset, Felix rummaged in his pocket for the same handkerchief he had lent her before. “Here,” he said awkwardly. He wasn’t used to taking care of crying women. This was more Sylvain’s area of expertise, at least when he wasn’t the cause of the crying. “Take this, Annette.”

To his relief she accepted the handkerchief without complaint and dabbed her eyes.

It took several minutes for Annette to calm down enough to speak coherently. Felix waited patiently for her to catch her breath and brought her a cup of cool water from the sideboard. The cat had curled up on Annette’s lap and lay there contentedly while the mage-girl absently stroked her back. Felix watched her closely through narrowed eyes in case she showed signs of breaking down again. If that happens, he thought, it would be better to find Mercedes and bring her straight here. She would certainly know how to help Annette.

After what felt like an eternity, Annette set her water back on the table and took a deep breath before speaking. “I’m sorry,” she said hoarsely. “This is the second time I’ve ruined your handkerchief now.”

“What is it with you and apologizing for everything?” he asked crossly before remembering that he should be comforting Annette rather than criticizing her. “Don’t worry about the handkerchief. What happened to you?”

Annette kept her eyes downcast as if she was ashamed to admit anything to him. Her fingers tightened over the Crest of Fraldarius.

“I won’t force you to say anything if you don’t want to,” Felix told her, his eyes flashing brightly in the firelight. “But I’m willing to listen if you want to talk about it.”

She nodded her head. “Thank you,” she whispered, staring determinedly at the handkerchief in her hands. “Do you remember the last time you asked me what was wrong?”

Felix nodded even though she wasn’t look at him. “I do,” he said. “You said you weren’t ready to talk about it.”

“That’s right,” she agreed quietly. Annette raised the handkerchief to her eyes again and dabbed away new tears. “And you remember after the Red Canyon, I asked you if we could talk when we got back to the Monastery?”

“I remember,” he affirmed again.

Annette gulped down a hiccup. “We haven’t had a chance to do that because…well, we haven’t had a chance yet,” she said awkwardly. Felix didn’t reply; he knew she had been avoiding him ever since they had returned from the Red Canyon, but he didn’t think it was the right time to call her out on it. “Well…if you don’t mind listening, I’ll tell you what has been bothering me all this time.”

“I don’t mind,” he said. He could still feel anger simmering in his chest as Annette continued to wipe away new tears. Felix tried again to push the feelings away in the box he had locked them in long ago, although it was only partially successful. The anger was proving difficult to set aside despite not having any context for it.

“I’ve only told Mercie about this,” she began, her voice no higher than a whisper. “So…”

“I won’t say a word to anyone,” he promised. He had a feeling he knew where this story was going. Felix was neither blind nor deaf; he had been putting the pieces together since the first time she cried in this hall with him. Besides, Garreg Mach had very good records of noble houses and knights. It hadn’t been hard to find some information about the Dominic family while he happened to be doing research for one of their recent assignments.

Taking a deep breath, Annette launched into her tale without any preamble.

“My father was a great knight who served the royal family,” she said in a low voice filled with bitterness. Felix could not help but sympathize with her about this; he, too, still maintained a bitterness about his own family’s ties to knighthood in service of the Blaiddyd family. “My family not as high ranking as the Fraldarius family, but my father was very well respected as a warrior.”

This fact was not lost on Felix, but he knew that many knights came from lower ranked families in order to make a name for themselves. Over time, it could result in more honours bestowed on their families, improving their social rank. It was especially true if the knight’s family possessed a Crest, which he knew that the Dominic family did. Although he had lived by the sword since he was a boy, his father had never allowed his other lessons to fall behind. He had never met anyone from the Dominic family before arriving at Garreg Mach, but he knew their name along with every other noble family in Kingdom.

“My father was formerly the Baron Gustave Dominic,” Annette continued sorrowfully, staring blankly into the fire. She hadn’t so much as looked at him yet. “After the Tragedy of Duscur, he renounced his title and abandoned my mother and I. My uncle inherited my father’s title and lands, and he inherited us too. We had nowhere else to go.”

Felix felt the anger in his chest bubbling more fiercely now. Listening to Annette’s story, he was reminded again of how the virtues of knighthood were truly a farce. If knights were supposed to be so noble, how could they abandon their families to throw their lives away in their service to another? They always left their own families to suffer in favour of serving one not their own. Glenn had done the same thing, as had his own father. He could understand Annette’s pain better than she probably realized.

“My mother fell into despair. I was still so young, and I didn’t know how to help her. She loved my father with all her heart, and it killed her inside when he left us without a word,” Annette went on steadily. Now that she had begun to talk, she didn’t seem able to stop the words from coming. “I wanted to help her so much. So, I thought that the only way I could was if I found my father and brought him back home to her.”

Felix’s eyes widened. “So, you decided to come here to find him,” he murmured.

Annette nodded and clutched the handkerchief tightly in her hands again. “That’s right. My father disappeared for a time, but eventually we heard a rumor of a knight working for the Church of Seiros that matched his description. My uncle was able to confirm it was indeed my father, although he was going by an assumed name, Gilbert. However, this left us at an impasse. My uncle did not believe there was any hope of convincing him to return to us, even if it left my mother to wallow in despair for the rest of her days.”

Entranced by her voice, Felix didn’t realize he had been staring at her. Annette drew in a ragged breath and finally raised her face. Her bright blue eyes were full of pain and fat tears still slid silently down her cheeks. Felix felt his heart clench in his chest.

“I begged my uncle to let me attend Garreg Mach,” Annette resumed after a moment of silence. “I was sure if I was able to enroll here, I would be able to find my father and convince him to return home. But my uncle couldn’t possibly have afforded to send me here. My only hope was to earn a recommendation from the Royal School of Sorcery in Fhirdiad.”

“Obviously you succeeded,” Felix said quietly as he steepled his fingers together in thought. His suspicions had been close to the truth of the matter, but it didn’t bring him any real sense of satisfaction.

“Yes,” Annette said. She was no longer crying but her eyes were full of sadness. “I worked harder than anyone else in order to attend the Officer’s Academy. That night when you found me outside this hall, I had been searching for him, hoping he was here somewhere. It’s called the knight’s hall, so naturally I thought he might be in here. It was foolish,” she added harshly. “I didn’t even know if he was in Garreg Mach at the time, so I had no reason to expect him to be here. But it still crushed me inside when I saw it was empty.”

Felix sat back on his couch and folded his arms across his chest. “Knights are all fools,” he spat in disgust. “They leave their own families to throw their lives away for a so-called greater good.”

Annette tilted her head. “So, you understand this kind of pain too,” she said miserably.

“Of course,” Felix replied acidly. “My brother died in the Tragedy of Duscur. He was a fool of a knight who threw his life away. Worst of all, my father praised his death. He said it was a ‘glorious service’ to the king that Glenn died. It’s worse than foolish,” he added savagely, “Since the king died there too.”

“I’m sorry,” Annette said sincerely. “I didn’t realize that you also lost family there. I shouldn’t have brought this up.”

Felix shook his head vigorously. “I told you I would listen,” he reminded Annette. “I never renege on my promises.”

“Still,” Annette murmured. “It was inconsiderate of me. I’m sorry.”

“There you go again apologizing for something you have no business apologizing for,” Felix said a little more severely than he had intended. He changed the subject back to Annette’s tale. “I take it you found your father tonight, then.”

Annette sighed deeply. “Yes, I did. I couldn’t believe it. I’d been waiting for you all evening and—I mean, I decided to go for a walk to clear my head, and I happened to run into him as he passed by here. I tried to talk to him, but he just told me he had no right to return home and walked away.”

She was waiting for me? Felix wondered with surprise. He thought she had still been trying to avoid him, so he had been trying to give her some space to cool off. “What a cruel bastard,” he cursed instead, trying not to lose focus on the matter at hand.

“He’s my father,” she said morosely. She leaned forward and rested her chin on her hands. “Cruel or not, I just want him to come home so we can be a family again.”

Felix thought that Annette was much too good of a person to deserve such a despicable person like Gilbert for a father. He simply couldn’t understand why she would ever want to let a piece of scum like him back into her life. “So, what you were saying at the Red Canyon,” Felix began slowly and looking her directly in the eye, “About being a coward and a failure…you were worried that if your father heard about that, he would refuse to return home with you?”

Annette chewed on her lower lip. She clutched Felix’s handkerchief as though it would give her strength. “Yes.”

“What bullshit,” Felix snapped, finally losing his temper and springing to his feet. “You can’t honestly believe that after everything you just told me that you truly believed that any show of bravery or cowardice on your part would have changed his mind on the matter? This so-called knight abandoned his family, his title, and his kingdom without a word to anyone, and you honestly thought that he would just come back home if you were brave like a knight?”

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Felix realized he had made a very big mistake.

Annette’s eyes went as wide as saucers and her mouth formed a small ‘O’. Felix’s mind reeled in a desperate attempt to find words to mend the situation, but it was far too late for that. Annette’s sadness had been replaced by a white-hot rage that burned in her eyes in a matter of seconds.

“How dare you,” she hissed venomously. “How dare you suggest that I’m a fool for wanting my family to be whole again. Just because you’ll never have your dead brother back doesn’t mean you have any right to judge me for wanting to have my living father back!”

Felix felt as though she had punched him straight in the gut. “You’re a fool for thinking a man like him places any value on his family,” he roared back at her. “If he did, he would never have abandoned you in the first place! Knights are all the same, throwing away the people they should value most in the world in service to someone else!”

Annette flinched as though he had slapped her across the face. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Felix recognized that he was only making the situation worse. He tried to ignore the guilt that was beginning to creep into his chest. He felt a righteous fury toward Gilbert, and he knew he shouldn’t be taking out his anger at him on Annette. It was too late to close the floodgates though.

“You really are evil!” Annette shouted at him, flinging his handkerchief into his chest. There were tears pouring down her face again but this time she didn’t seem to have any trouble finding words to throw at him. “You think you’re so high and mighty because you don’t believe in chivalry or virtue. You think you’re better than everybody else who’s here to become a knight. Believe me, I’ve heard about what you’ve said to others! Well,” she stepped forward and poked him hard in the chest with her index finger. “I have news for you: you’re a fool for thinking you know anything about what it means to be a true knight!”

Her words hit him like a ton of bricks. Without waiting for a response, Annette turned on her heel and ran out of the room. Felix stood dumbfounded in front of the fire as he listened to her accusations echoing in his head now instead of the silly song that he had been unable to forget. Mutely, Felix bent down to pick up his handkerchief. He stared at the embroidered Crest of Fraldarius that was still damp from Annette’s tears and wondered what on earth he could possibly do to restore the friendship he hadn’t known he valued so much.

---

Tensions were high among the Blue Lions for the remainder of the month. No one could fail to notice that Felix and Annette were not on speaking terms. They avoided each other so obviously that it was beginning to make class awkward. On top of that, there was the added strain of their end of month mission, which was to confront Ashe’s adoptive father, Lord Lonato, about his connections to the Western Church. To make things even worse, Ingrid was making good on her promise to make Felix regret ever hurting Annette.

Where Annette refused to interact with Felix or acknowledge his presence in a room, Ingrid went out of her way to follow him around and hound him about the situation. “What in the world did you do to her?” Ingrid demanded furiously. At first, Felix had declined to admit anything about what had occurred in the knight’s hall, but as their mission loomed ever closer and Annette still showed no sign of wishing to reconcile their argument, he finally broke down and explained everything to his two oldest friends.

He was sitting sullenly in the training grounds with Ingrid and Sylvain when he finally finished recounting what had happened. “She made me promise not to tell anyone about that,” he muttered without looking at either of them. “So, make sure you keep your mouths shut about it. I’m only telling you because I have no idea how to fix this mess.”

Ingrid was beside herself with fury once he finished the story. “You mean to tell me,” she said in a rising voice, “That not only did you call her an idiot for wanting to try and get her father back, you also told her that her whole quest was essentially pointless?”

Felix grunted and muttered something unintelligible.

“I can’t believe you would be so heartless,” Ingrid said in disbelief. “I know you’ve hated everything about knighthood ever since Glenn died, but that doesn’t give you any right to tell others that they’re fools for believing that those ideals are real!”

“Yeah, Felix,” Sylvain agreed in an uncharacteristically serious manner. “You were a complete tool to treat her like that. You’ve got to apologize to her!”

“That’s exactly the problem,” Felix said through gritted teeth. “Annette won’t even look at me now.”

“I can’t say that I blame her,” Ingrid sneered nastily. She poked him in the chest in a perfect imitation of Annette. “You absolutely deserve this treatment. You’ve brought this on yourself.”

“Yeah, I know that,” Felix snapped angrily. “Ingrid, I need to know how to fix this. I can’t lose her.”

The words slipped out of his mouth before he realized what he was saying. He was developing a bad habit of not thinking through what he wanted to say before he said it. That’s what had caused this whole argument in the first place. He had to go back to keeping his feelings locked away; they were of no use to a warrior. Emotions only made things more difficult.

“Well, you’ve done a very poor job of keeping her,” Sylvain pointed out ruthlessly. “I think you’d better consider yourself extremely lucky if Annette ever gives you the time of day again.”

“If I was you,” Ingrid told him viciously. “I’d keep my mouth shut as much as possible before you make things worse. You’ll need to sincerely apologize when she’s ready to listen, but for now, you’d better show her that you’re sorry through your actions.”

“What if she’s never ready to listen?” Felix asked through gritted teeth. He hated feeling powerless. This is exactly why he was training to master the way of the sword; weapons did what they were told, and they didn’t have feelings to hurt like humans did. Still, he couldn’t help but remember what Annette had said to him at the start of term: There’s so many situations where you can’t simply battle your way out. He hadn’t taken her seriously back then. Now he realized that she had been right.

Ingrid and Sylvain shared a glance over the top of his head. It wasn’t like Felix to worry about arguments. He had never had this problem with either of them or with Dimitri; he had always known they would make up after they all had time to cool off. Annette, on the other hand, was an unknown quantity, and he’d only know her for a short time. She might be more willing to let their budding friendship die because of this.

“I think she’ll come around eventually,” Sylvain ventured uncertainly. “Like Ingrid said, all you can do for now is show her that you’re sorry for what you said.”

I can’t fight my way out of this mess, Felix thought bitterly.

It was not a comforting feeling.

Chapter Text

Annette knew that she was being petty, but she didn’t care. Ever since that fateful evening in the knight’s hall, she had ignored Felix’s very existence as thoroughly as possible. She did not care if everyone in Garreg Mach knew that they were fighting. She was not bothered by how tense classes with the Blue Lions had become now that they were not speaking to each other. Annette felt justified in her anger which gave her some measure of comfort as she went about her daily life pretending that she could neither see nor hear the dark-haired swordsman that she had come to like very much.

In fact, Annette’s biggest concern during the aftermath of their argument was not Felix at all.

Annette’s first course of action upon storming away from Felix was to show up on Mercedes’ doorstep for the third time in as many days and pour out the whole story to her. She had thought that Mercedes would take her side in hating Felix and validate her outrage at what he had said. She had thought they might spend the remainder of the evening sitting together and berating him behind the privacy of Mercedes’ door. Unfortunately, to Annette’s shock, her friend had taken a much different view of the matter.

“Oh, Annie,” Mercedes said as she hugged Annette tightly. She passed Annette her own handkerchief—a yellow piece of fabric embroidered with pink flowers which did not remind Annette one bit of the one she had flung back at Felix—and poured her some tea. “I’m so sorry that this happened between you.”

“He’s evil, Mercie,” Annette insisted fiercely. She frowned into the dark liquid as if it might speak up and agree with her assessment. “I was so stupid to tell him all of that. I trusted him and he flung it all back in my face.”

“Oh, Annie…I agree that what he said to you was awful,” Mercedes began tentatively. She dropped a spoonful of sugar into her own cup, watching Annette closely through her eyelashes. “But it sounds to me that he was in pain, too.”

“What did he have to be in pain about?” Annette demanded resentfully. She picked up her teacup and took a long sip. “He wasn’t the one who was just rejected by their father for the second time!”

“Didn’t he tell you how he lost his brother in the Tragedy of Duscur?” Mercedes asked gently. “I think he was reminded of a very painful time in his own life, and he was projecting his own grief at that loss on you.”

Annette sat bolt upright in her chair and stared at Mercedes in disbelief. “You’re kidding, right Mercie?” she asked with wide eyes. “You’re not seriously defending Felix, are you?”

“I’m not defending what he said to you,” Mercedes assured her. “It was unnecessarily cruel, and he owes you an apology for it. However,” she held up a finger to forestall Annette’s retort. “You were equally cruel with your words and you failed to recognize the place of grief from which he was speaking.”

Annette couldn’t believe her ears. She had been certain that Mercedes would support her in this, and she wasn’t prepared to be told she had been in the wrong too. She toyed with the edge of Mercedes’ quilt, avoiding her eyes.

“Annie, it’s okay for you to be upset with Felix,” Mercedes went on. “Just give yourself some time away from him and see how you feel about everything after that. I think with some time apart, you will see things a bit differently.”

“I doubt it,” Annette snorted. “I really think he’s evil, Mercie. Completely and wholly evil.

Mercedes smiled serenely. “Oh, I don’t think you believe that at all,” she said with a knowing look. “If you did, you wouldn’t have to repeat it to convince yourself it’s true.”

---

True to her conversation with Mercedes, Annette had no intention of forgiving Felix for what had transpired between them in the knight’s hall. Since she couldn’t afford to miss any more classes, she decided that the only way to make life bearable in Garreg Mach was to pretend that Felix simply didn’t exist. To that end, she refused to make eye-contact with him if he happened to cross into her field of vision, and she would ignore any mention of his name in her presence. Thankfully, it seemed that Felix shared Annette’s resolve on the matter, and he made no move to approach her.

To Annette’s knowledge, nobody other than Mercedes knew what has sparked the argument. She was used to hearing gossip at school—students at the Royal School of Sorcery were no different—but she had never been the object of a rumor. Try as she might, Annette could not help but hear snippets of conversation as she passed through her day. People would whisper behind their hands if they saw her across the yard or stop talking entirely if she passed within earshot. It made her face burn.

Although the students in the Blue Lion class were the most affected by the circumstances, they made a valiant effort to avoid drawing unnecessary attention to it. Group work was carefully organized to ensure that Annette did not have to work together with Felix for anything. If either of them happened to be in the dining hall at the same time, Ingrid would ensure that she either shooed Felix out entirely or made it a point to sit with Annette as far as possible from him. During study sessions, Annette had taken to bringing her library books to her own room rather than working alongside her classmates for fear that someone might ask her directly about the issue—she wouldn’t put it past someone like Hilda or Dorothea to do just that.

After several days of this behaviour, Mercedes had evidently decided that enough was enough and pulled Annette aside after class one afternoon. Annette was not surprised at this; she knew Mercedes well enough to expect that she would eventually broach the subject again. Annette would have preferred to stay in the dormitory to have this discussion where there was no risk of eavesdropping, but Mercedes flatly refused to spend another minute cooped up in a small room to talk about the same issue yet again.

They had compromised on going to the Cathedral to talk since it was large enough that they could easily find a spot to sit by themselves, but which was also busy enough that no one would be able to eavesdrop with coming close enough for them to notice. As an added bonus, it was time for daily choir practice which made the perfect cover for having a conversation without the chance of being overheard. Sitting in a pew in the darkest corner of the Cathedral that they could find, Annette found herself shrinking under friend’s withering gaze.

“Annette, you’re being childish,” Mercedes admonished her firmly. She looked everything like the older sister Annette had always wanted. “I understand that you’re angry and I don’t blame you for it. But you must give Felix a chance to apologize.”

“No,” Annette insisted angrily. “I won’t do it. He was horrible, Mercie! He had no right to judge my feelings like that.”

“No, he doesn’t. And you have no right to tell him that your feelings were more valid because your father is alive and his brother isn’t,” Mercedes said sharply. Annette had rarely seen her friend looking so thunderous. “Don’t give me that face, Annie. You were both awful to each other, however I am absolutely certain Felix regrets everything he said to you.”

“As well he should,” Annette bristled. “He hasn’t exactly made any move to apologize anyway Mercie. If he really did regret it, he would have done it by now.”

“How is he supposed to that when you won’t even look at him?” Mercedes countered with a note of frustration in her voice. “You must have noticed that he’s been trying to get your attention for the last two days now.”

Annette shifted uncomfortably in the pew. “I haven’t noticed anything,” she lied.

Mercedes’ gaze was like ice. “Don’t lie to me,” she said, unknowingly echoing Felix in as equally cold a voice. “Annie, I know you better than anyone here.”

The mage-girl sighed heavily. “Okay, you’re right, I have noticed,” Annette admitted grudgingly. Pretending he didn’t exist had proven to be much easier said than done, especially when they were frequently in close quarters to each other. “Still, if he was really sorry, he would be making more of an effort.”

“I don’t see you making an effort either. It’s a two-way street,” Mercedes pointed out. She sighed and folded her hands in her lap. “Look, you can’t tell me that you’re okay with this, can you? Are you really happy to throw away your friendship? You were getting along so well. I think it would be a shame to let that all go.”

Annette sat back and stared up at the vaulted ceiling. “No,” she said at last. “No, I don’t want to give our friendship up. But it hurt so much, Mercie, to hear someone say to my face exactly what I was fearing was true deep in my own heart.”

Mercedes looked sadly at her friend. “Ultimately, you’ll need to work this out yourselves,” she said patting Annette’s shoulder comfortingly. “Maybe you should try giving Felix a chance, then?”

---

“Our next mission will be to bring us to Castle Gaspard via Magdred Way,” Professor Byleth advised the class three days later. “We will be departing in two days. I expect each of you will be well rested and adequately prepared for the mission.”

Annette was not paying attention to the lesson. She absently doodled in her notebook and stared pensively at the far wall. She had taken Mercedes’ advice to heart and tried to allow herself to be open to giving Felix an opportunity to approach her if he wished, but so far Felix hadn’t done so. Annette wasn’t even sure what to do herself. I could go talk to him, she thought. But he’s ignoring me as surely as I’ve been ignoring him.

“I will be reviewing the blueprints of Castle Gaspard and preparing battle formations prior to our departure,” Professor Byleth continued neutrally. “This will be a difficult battle against trained soldiers, so we must be cautious. They will fight in a more orderly fashion that the bandits in the Red Canyon.”

Annette was beginning to regret deciding to give Felix the cold shoulder all this time. Now that she had had enough time to dwell on the argument and had given some real consideration to Mercedes’ analysis, Annette realized that she was being petty purely out of spite. It wasn’t like her to act like this. Felix had been wrong in what he said, but Annette had been equally malicious in retaliation. She chewed on the end of quill absentmindedly. I could write him a note, she mused. No, that’s too impersonal. He deserves a verbal apology.

“Please ensure that you see me if you need any weapons repaired or if you require anything new,” Professor Byleth said as she collected her papers on the desk into a neat pile. “Class is dismissed. Annette, may I speak with you?”

Annette didn’t hear the Professor call on her. She continued to twirl the quill between her fingers as she stared blankly ahead. Maybe I could make him something tasty, she thought seriously. They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Maybe it would convince him to accept an apology too.

Professor Byleth rapped her knuckle loudly on the desk in front of Annette. The mage-girl jumped in her seat. “Ah, Professor!” she said quickly and scrambling to stuff her notebook into her bag. “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you!”

The other woman stared at her expressionlessly. “I’d like to speak with you,” she repeated. “Please, come join me for some tea.”

“Oh!” Annette replied in surprise. “Of course. I’d be delighted.”

“Good. Follow me.” Without waiting for a reply, the Professor turned on her heel and swept out of the room.

Feeling somewhat foolish for being caught daydreaming in class, Annette slung her own bag over her shoulder and dutifully followed Professor Byleth out of the room. She chanced a glance toward Felix who was still fiddling with the catch on his own bag. His amber eyes caught hers as she passed by, but his expression was unreadable. Feeling her face going red with shame, Annette turned away and hurried out into the afternoon sunshine.

Ten minutes later, Annette was sitting with a steaming cup of Rose Petal Blend in front of her and a plate of macarons between herself and Professor Byleth. “I called you here to discuss the upcoming battle,” she told Annette without preamble. “I want to confirm that you will be mentally prepared for the fight.”

Annette took a sip of her tea. “Yes,” she said resolutely. “I will be fine.”

Although Professor Byleth rarely showed any emotion, her expression now was shrewd. “I have been observing you closely since we returned from the Red Canyon. You seem to have recovered well from your first battle experience. However,” the Professor paused to sip her own tea before continuing. “I know that you have been struggling with some…personal problems in recent weeks.”

Annette felt her face begin to heat up again.

“If you are uncomfortable to fight alongside any of your allies, I will have you sit this battle out until you are able to resolve your disagreement,” Professor Byleth told her impersonally. “You need to be mentally prepared to face anything and to work with anyone.”

“You don’t need to concern yourself with me, Professor,” Annette responded more staunchly than she felt. “I am capable of fighting. I won’t become a liability for anyone this time.”

Professor Byleth leaned back in her chair and stared at Annette for a long moment. “In that case,” she said at last, “I will allow you to participate in the battle. If you should experience any further anxiety while we are engaged in the fight, you must retreat immediately to safety.”

Annette nodded in agreement. “Yes, I will.”

“One other thing,” Professor Byleth continued, leaning forward toward Annette. “I recall that during our individual meeting the other week, I had asked you to begin training Sylvain and Felix in the use of anima magic. Has this begun?”

Annette shook her head. “No, Professor,” she said quietly. There was no point in making any excuses. “I’m sorry.”

“It is no matter,” Professor Byleth said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “I expect that you will resolve your differences with Felix as soon as possible, if only so that you will be able to complete this task. Luckily,” she added as an afterthought, “We may have another student assisting our class next month who will be able to help with tutoring one of them as well. I will let you know if that is the case, and we will revise our approach as needed.”

Annette nodded solemnly. I must fix this, she thought. It’s my fault it’s gone on for so long already.

---

There was no opportunity for Annette to speak with Felix privately prior to departing on their mission to Castle Gaspard. The tense atmosphere among the Blue Lions persisted throughout their journey, although this was not solely due to the two of them. Since they were on the way to confront Ashe’s adoptive father, he was understandably beside himself with worry and confusion. Mercedes and Ingrid both tried to offer words of encouragement and comfort to him, but Ashe’s nerves were already beyond repair. On top of this, the Church had sent a squadron of their own soldiers to accompany the class as backup, and they were led by none other than Thunderstrike Catherine. Everyone was on edge with the pressure of needing to perform perfectly under her watch.

As they reached Magdred Way, Professor Byleth called for a halt due to a thick fog beginning to drift through the trees on either side of the road. Visibility was becoming poorer by the minute and would make further travel dangerous. “There is something unnatural about this,” Catherine’s voice carried down the line as she conferred with the Professor at the front of the convoy. “This area should not be fogging up at this time of year. We must keep our guard up.”

“Something feels off about this,” Mercedes whispered to Annette. “I don’t think this is natural.”

Annette shivered and hugged herself tightly. “It feels wrong,” she agreed. “Do you hear anything?”

“No,” Mercedes began softly. Her eyes widened like saucers. “Wait--!”

The attack came without warning. Soldiers appeared from the fog on either side of the convoy with a great cry and everything dissolved into chaos. Students and Church soldiers moved in a hundred different directions to meet the ambush. Distantly, Professor Byleth was shouting orders as she tried to exercise some control over the situation. Annette found it hard to hear her over the din, feeling her anxiety mount as she spun around to survey the area. Somehow, she’d already lost Mercedes in the mist, and she felt more alone and exposed than she had before.

Still, Annette didn’t have time to worry about anyone else as a tall man in plain armour rushed toward her with his sword raised. Instinctively, she reached for her magic and cast a quick wind spell to knock him off his feet. She heard him fall to the ground several paces away with a loud thud. Not knowing if he was dead, Annette turned to flee toward Professor Byleth’s voice and saw another soldier hurrying toward her.

“Get away from me!” she shouted, readying another spell.

The soldier didn’t pay her any heed. He pulled his sword arm back and thrust his blade toward Annette’s chest. She dodged the attack, landed awkwardly on her right foot, and felt it twist on an odd angle. Ignoring the pain, she forced herself to stand and send the spell at him. The sharp blades of wind cut into his armour like a thousand tiny knives and Annette could hear him scream as he fell limply to the ground. She was breathing heavily and stumbled to her knees as her ankle gave out underneath her.

I don’t have time to worry about the pain, she thought desperately as she fumbled on the ground for anything that might help her remain standing. It’s either kill or be killed. I can’t worry about the morality of taking their lives when they have no qualms about taking mine!

Annette finally found a stick thick enough to support her weight and forced herself to stand. She leaned heavily on it and heard the wood creak ominously. “Professor!” she cried into the din of battle. “Orders, Professor Byleth?”

She wasn’t sure if the Professor could hear her at all. There was so much noise around them and the fog was too thick to tell if she was close to friend or foe, although they were surely outnumbered by the enemy. Annette forced herself to keep moving toward what she thought was the front of the convoy. If she could rendezvous with Professor Byleth, Annette knew she would be in a much safer position to provide support.

“Stop right there!” came a rough voice from her left.

Annette spun as quickly as she could and felt injured ankle crack again. She gasped in pain and clung to her walking stick desperately as her knees began to give way. Three more soldiers were bearing down on her in plain grey armour. Two of them carried axes and the third held a long lance that was gleaming with blood. Annette felt her stomach drop at the sight of it, but she pushed the thought away. Don’t think about it, she told herself frantically. She hoped it wasn’t the blood of one of her friends.

“Leave me alone!” she shouted at her attackers as loudly as she could. She was outnumbered and already weak from her injured ankle. Annette knew she had no hope of fending them off by herself in this state. Besides, she thought as she prepared a fire spell, Magic takes time to cast. By the Goddess, I hope someone is nearby!

She cast the fire ball just as the first axeman reached her. It hit him squarely in the chest, heating his armour to an unbearable temperature and scorching his beard. He screamed in terror, dropping his axe and stumbled away into the dense fog. Only two enemies remained, but Annette knew she was in trouble now. The soldier with the lance thrust it toward her savagely. It grazed her arm as she moved out of the way and tripped forward to the ground again. She screamed in pain and clutched the wound in a wild attempt to staunch the flow of blood. A distant part of her mind knew it was pointless.

The remaining axeman rushed forward with his weapon raised high in the air. She could see her own horrified face reflected in the steel, helplessly stranded on the ground with no spell prepared with which to defend herself. She screamed again, praying that someone would hear. “Help me!” Annette shouted as she desperately rolled out of the way of the attack. She saw the other solider rushing toward her with his lance raised. “Someone, please! I’m over here! Mercie! Professor! Anyone!”

Reaching for her magic once more, Annette knew she was about to die. She would never be able to cast her next spell in time to defend herself. She would die without being able to reunite her family or apologizing to Felix. She would die without being able to tell Mercedes how much she loved her or fulfilling her own dream to become a great warlock.

The solider was almost upon her. He had a vicious face spattered with the blood of other people he’d fought and killed. His comrade was close behind him with his axe at the ready. Annette raised her hand to stave them off with her spell, but it wasn’t ready. It wouldn’t be strong enough yet to deal any noticeable damage. She needed more time, or rather, she needed someone who would not abandon her to buy her time.

“Please!” she yelled desperately into the sky. “I need you! Please, Felix!

The solider stood above her now with the tip of his bloody lance pointed downward. Annette closed her eyes involuntarily, raising her arms in front of her and hoping that the wind she had conjured would be enough to deflect the attack from piercing her through.

“Get the fuck away from her!”

The lance never fell.

Chapter Text

Felix had lost track of Annette’s whereabouts almost immediately once the attack on their party began. He had been walking near the rear of the convoy in order to keep a discrete eye on her in case there was an opportunity to pull her aside and make his apology. It wasn’t the most ideal place for it (or the most private) but he had concluded that it couldn’t be put off any longer. He had noticed Annette glance at him as she had followed Professor Byleth to an impromptu meeting and how her face had flushed a deep shade of red. Felix didn’t know if she would listen to him, but it was the only sign he had seen from her that gave him hope that she might.

He cut down his assailants without hesitation and turned to help Dimitri fend off a third. By the time Felix spun back toward the place he had last seen Annette, she had already vanished into the dense fog. He cursed loudly and darted past Dedue and Ashe, ignoring their shouts for assistance. He knew Ingrid was nearby; she would help them. Besides, Felix thought as he ran, Annette is probably in more danger.

The fog was too thick for him to see anyone clearly, so Felix was forced to rely on his hearing instead. He heard two more attackers approaching him before they were close enough for him to see. Felix raised his blade in a defensive posture as they reached him with their blades outstretched. “Weak,” he muttered, moving swiftly out of the way and swinging his own weapon in a wide sweep. His blade bit flesh and forced the first swordsman to fall to the ground as he tried to stop the flow of blood.

Felix had no pity for him and put the man out of his misery with a final thrust of his blade. The remaining solder rushed at him again with a loud cry. Felix parried the counterattack and felt his Crest of Fraldarius activate, suffusing his arm with power. The second soldier fell without another sound to the ground beside his comrade. Felix leaned against a tree, breathing hard and fast. He could hear voices all around, bit he needed to listen closely if he had any hope of hearing Annette. Do mages even say anything when they cast a spell? he wondered belatedly. If they didn’t, there would be no way to hear her unless she called for help.

Through the dense fog, a flash of faint red light flickered and caught Felix’s eye. Without thinking, he pushed off the tree and ran toward it. As he drew closer, he could hear panicked screaming over the noise of the rest of the battle going on around him. “Annette!” Felix whispered as he bounded through the fog, dodging the bodies of the dead. “Wait for me…!”

He heard her voice then, as if Annette had known he was near.

“I need you! Please, Felix!

Hearing Annette call to him for help steeled Felix’s resolve that their argument had not only been ridiculous, but that he did have a real hope of fixing the situation. He could see Annette clearly now, trapped on the ground with her arms raised in front of her face and looking terrified at what was about to happen. It was as though the fog had melted away entirely and they existed purely in this moment. The soldier in front of her hadn’t seen Felix approaching at a dead run, his bloody blade raised and ready to strike.

“Get the fuck away from her!” Felix roared. He leapt through the air like a demon, his face alight with the thrill of battle.

The blade cut into the man’s flesh before the soldier had time to turn around. Felix stabbed him through the back with a ferocity that only Dimitri could possibly have matched. The soldier dropped his lance uselessly as he died, blood gurgling in his throat. Felix pulled his sword out roughly and let the body fall to the ground. The adrenaline of searching for Annette and finding her mere seconds from certain death was beginning to dissipate. I made it in time, he thought as he glanced down at Annette. I made it in time!

Annette had dropped her arms from in front of her face and let the spell she had been preparing to cast fade into nothingness. Her face was bone-white beneath a mask of spattered blood. Felix knew he must look just a bad, if perhaps less frightened. He, too, was covered in the blood of the soldiers he had slaughtered and dripping with sweat from his desperate search for Annette through the dense fog. Unhesitatingly, Felix dropped down to the ground beside Annette to get a better look at her face, to make sure she wasn’t more seriously injured.

“You came,” Annette whispered in awe. Her blue eyes were wide, as if she didn’t quite believe he was here in the flesh.

“Of course I did,” Felix replied briskly, as though they were having a pleasant conversation in a flower patch rather than a battlefield. “I wouldn’t leave you to die.”

Annette tried to smile but it looked pained. “Thank you,” she said quickly. “Felix, I—”

“It can wait,” he interrupted brusquely, knowing what she was going to say. “Let me see your arm.”

Annette held it out obediently for him to examine. Felix was no healer, but he knew the wound was deep and she was losing too much blood. It was likely partially to blame for her face being so white. “We need to get you to Mercedes,” Felix said quickly. “Can you walk?”

“Not on my own,” she replied with a grimace, one hand absently reaching for her foot. “I hurt my ankle in the initial attack. I’m not sure if it’s broken or just sprained, but it hurts like hell.”

“Lean on me,” Felix ordered. He wound his arm around her waist and pulled Annette up from the ground. She favoured her left leg and tried to keep a hand over the wound on her arm, though it wasn’t doing much good. Felix cursed as blood continued to seep through Annette’s slim fingers. “This damned fog is too thick. It was a miracle that I found you at all.”

“It’s not a natural fog,” Annette said through gritted teeth. “It came on too suddenly. Besides,” she added with a shudder. “I can feel the magic in it.”

“Can you tell where Mercedes is?” Felix asked hopefully. He hadn’t realized mages could sense magic, but it seemed a useful skill to have in battle. If she could sense other magic users, it might not be so pointless for him to take lessons in it after all.

Annette shook her head. “Not really. The fog is intercepting my ability to sense other mages nearby. I might be able to tell if she’s near if we were closer to her actual location.”

Felix didn’t need to tell her that it would be foolish to leave this spot when they had no sense of where they were or where anyone else was. He also knew they couldn’t stay here like sitting ducks, not with Annette so wounded. She laughed bitterly, clearly thinking along the same lines. “If we come across more enemies, I’ll be useless. I might be able to cast another spell, but I won’t be able to escape if you can’t hold off the attackers alone.”

“That will not be a problem,” he said with certainty, listening as hard as he could to the sounds of battle. He tightened his grip around Annette’s waist and began to walk. “I can hear voices over that way,” Felix indicated the direction with a jerk of his head. “It sounds like Professor Byleth. She was with Catherine and her soldiers when the attack began. They may have a healer with them.”

“It’s probably our best bet,” Annette agreed as she winced with pain under Felix’s arm. “I’m sorry to be a burden.”

“You’re not a burden,” Felix said as they walked. He glanced around them, hoping that he might be able to see an oncoming attack before it landed. “This ambush was well-planned.”

“I was injured due to my own carelessness,” she said with another grimace. “I panicked and didn’t notice anything about my surroundings.”

“We were ambushed,” Felix repeated firmly. He didn’t understand why Annette was always so quick to take the blame for things that she had no part in. “The whole point of an ambush is to cause chaos like that. You’re lucky you were able to survive so long on your own.”

“It wasn’t easy,” she said fervently. “I was attacked by three…no, five soldiers. You arrived just in time. I would be dead if it wasn’t for you.”

Felix grunted and shifted his arm around Annette to get a better grip, trying to ignore how comfortably she seemed to fit beside him. He adjusted their course slightly. “I lost sight of you at the beginning of the battle,” Felix muttered without looking at her. He was still angry with himself for that. “I only found you because I saw a flash of light through the fog and heard you scream.”

Annette didn’t say anything for a moment. “I had hoped you would hear me,” she said finally. “I didn’t know if you were nearby, or if anyone was nearby. It was my only hope. Felix, stop here for a moment, please?”

They stopped and said nothing for a long moment. Felix became aware that sounds of battle had begun to fade, and he could no longer hear people shouting through the mist. Annette’s body sagged against his arm and her eyes had closed, so he had to tighten his grip to keep her vaguely upright. He tried not to wonder how it would feel to hold her like this when she wasn’t injured or crying. This is what anyone would do, he told himself, trying to stare anywhere but at the girl beside him. It doesn’t mean anything. Anyone would have done it.

“The fog is beginning to disappear,” Felix said in surprise. He could see the white mist beginning to fade amongst the trees as he valiantly tried to find something to stare at that wasn’t the redheaded girl he’d slung his arm around. He chanced a glance down at her, wondering if she could tell that his heart was pounding more quickly than it ought to be in the aftermath of battle.

“Yes,” Annette agreed with a smile, her blue eyes fluttering open again. “Something felt different just now. Give me a moment, let me see if I can sense Mercie nearby.”

---

The aftermath of Magdred Way was a bloodier affair than the Red Canyon had been. The attack had been orchestrated by Lord Lonato and his soldiers had been decimated despite the ambush. Even so, many of the soldiers that the Church had sent along with them were also dead. Felix thought it was nothing short of a miracle that none of the students had died as well. Annette was not the only one to suffer injury; Ingrid had been stabbed in her leg and Dedue had been knocked out completely. Everyone else had suffered a variety of more minor injuries.

The return journey to Garreg Mach was a rather sombre affair. The injured students rode in a wagon together per Mercedes’ orders to ensure they did not further strain themselves and reopen their wounds. Although her healing had certainly saved them from losing more blood, she hadn’t had the strength to heal them completely. “You’ll just have to take it easy for a few days,” she had told them with a faint smile before slumping over in the wagon herself, asleep from sheer exhaustion.

Classes were suspended for a few days upon their arrival back at the Monastery to allow time for the Blue Lions to recuperate. This also allowed Professor Byleth time to confer with Lady Rhea and the knights about the suspicious letter found on Lord Lonato’s body at the end of the battle suggesting an assassination plot planned for the following month. Felix had no doubt that this would be their next mission, but he didn’t much care. He was just happy that they had gotten through this one alive and that Annette had begun speaking to him again.

On the eve of their first class since returning to the Monastery, Felix was dozing in his room after an afternoon in the training grounds when he heard a faint knock on his door. That better not be Sylvain, he thought irritably as he turned the handle.

“Hi,” Annette said a little nervously. She was still favouring her left leg slightly, but she looked much better after several days of bedrest. She carried a covered tray under one arm. “May I come in?”

Felix stepped back from the entrance and waved her through. “To what do I owe this visit?” he asked carefully, shutting the door behind her. It wouldn’t do for Sylvain or Ingrid to come strolling by and seeing her visiting. He could vividly imagine what they would say about the situation, and didn’t relish the concept of dealing with the aftermath of it.

Annette set the tray down on the table and settled herself in a chair. “I brought tea,” she said evasively, reaching to remove the cover on the silver tray. “You like Four-Spice Blend, right?”

Felix took a seat across from her and kept his gaze firmly fixed on her face. Annette pushed a cup in front of him and poured the tea which had already been steeping. There was a plate of macarons as well to which Annette had already helped herself. “You didn’t just come here for a tea party, did you?” he asked shrewdly a long moment of silence between them.

“No,” she said honestly and sipping her tea delicately, wrinkling her nose slightly at the bitter taste. Her eyes looked tired, as though her days of rest had not been terribly restful at all. “But I thought it might make this conversation a bit more comfortable.”

Felix nodded slowly and drank as well. “I do like Four-Spice Blend,” he concurred softly.

“Felix,” Annette began quietly. She shifted nervously in her seat but kept her hands folded on the table in front of her. “I came here to apologize to you for what I said to you that night in the knight’s hall. It was wrong of me to treat you the way that I did then and thereafter.” Annette paused and held his gaze for a moment before bowing her head. “Please, accept my apology for how I have been acting toward you. You didn’t deserve any of that.”

“I accept your apology,” Felix replied gravely. “I thank you for it.”

Annette looked up in surprise, as though she had expected him to hold it against her. “I’m glad,” she said sincerely. “I’m so sorry, Felix.”

“I owe you an apology as well,” Felix continued as though she hadn’t spoken. “I treated you terribly after you confided your story and your fears in me. I have no excuse for my words or actions. Annette,” he said firmly and holding her gaze. “I apologize for my behaviour. You did not deserve that either.”

“Thank you,” she said with a watery smile. Felix hoped she wasn’t about to start crying again. He really wasn’t cut out for comforting crying women, and he didn’t have the same amount of practice in it that Sylvain did. “It means a lot to me.”

“Let’s put this behind us,” Felix suggested. He felt exhausted from the emotional toll this whole situation had taken on him, considering he generally tried very hard to avoid doing anything even remotely emotionally taxing. “Have another macaron.”

She giggled and took a second one from the tray. “This feels so much better,” Annette said in a cheerful voice and sounding as though a huge weight had been lifted off of her slim shoulders. “I was so worried you would turn me away.”

Felix raised an eyebrow and sipped his tea. “If I didn’t leave you to die in the fog, do you really think I would refuse to speak to you now?” he asked a little incredulously.

“I suppose not,” Annette replied. She avoided his gaze and instead stared avidly at a point past Felix’s shoulder. “I guess…well, I was just afraid I had ruined our friendship. I didn’t want to take it for granted that you would accept my apology.”

“Don’t be silly,” he said firmly after another sip of tea. “How’s your ankle?”

Annette shrugged. “It’s all right. Still sore, but Mercie told me it should be as good as new in a few more days. My arm is completely healed now, though!” She waved it around in a circle as if to prove it.

“Excellent.” Felix reached for the teapot and poured himself another cup. He glanced at her, and gestured to her cup. “Would you like more as well?”

“Please.” Annette pushed her cup closer to the centre of the table. “Actually, I had one other reason for coming to visit you tonight.”

“And that is…?” Felix poured the tea into her cup and set the pot back onto the tray. He eyed the macarons distrustfully. They were probably too sweet.

“I’m sure Professor Byleth has already spoken to you about it, but she had asked me ages ago to teach you the basics of using magic,” Annette explained. “Well…since we haven’t gotten around to starting that yet…I wanted to find out when you’d be free to begin?”

Felix hadn’t forgotten about this request from Professor Byleth, but he hadn’t been looking forward to it either. Although he had no qualms spending time studying with Annette, he still hadn’t quite been able to see the point of learning magic when he was a swordsman through and through. “I usually train in the evenings after dinner,” he said slowly. “If we must practice magic, then I would think the time immediately after classes would be best.”

Annette reached for a third macaron as she pondered his response. “Don’t you like these?” she demanded suddenly, her eyes sharp and fierce. Felix felt like there was probably a right answer to this question, but he didn’t want to lie to her either.

“I don’t like sweets,” Felix said with another frown at the macarons as though they had insulted him.

Her face fell. “Oh, that’s too bad. I would have brought a different snack if I’d realized that.”

“It’s fine,” Felix waved away her concern. “I’m not hungry anyway. You enjoy them, Annette.”

“Let’s start our lessons tomorrow after class then,” Annette said a few minutes later, still looking slightly crestfallen about the sweets. “I don’t want the Professor to get mad at me again for putting them off any longer.”

Felix nodded in acquiescence and finished his tea with a final gulp. “I will be ready.”

“Great!” Annette smiled more brightly, and Felix felt his chest hurt oddly again. He wondered if he ought to go to the infirmary about it, and immediately decided that would be foolish. He didn’t trust Professor Manuela to treat the ailment properly, even if she was sober. “In that case, I’d better be going now. It’s getting late, and it’ll be a long day tomorrow.”

---

Magic turned out to be a difficult subject to teach. Due to their late start, and in an effort to meet Professor Byleth’s expectations, Annette had insisted that they meet together in the library at least three evenings a week to get a grasp of the theory. To Felix—who had never yet encountered a weapon he could not simply pick up and use—this method seemed like an excruciatingly slow way to learn anything. He had tried convincing Annette to just show him how to cast a spell in the training grounds but she had flatly refused and had looked rather horrified at the suggestion.

“It’s too dangerous,” she said seriously. Her brows were narrowed as she flipped open a book called Beginner’s Basics to Spellcasting. “You need to understand the theory of casting a spell before you ever attempt it. If it backfired due to improper casting, you could cause serious damage to yourself or others.”

The only saving grace to these lessons was that Sylvain had elected to not join them. Annette said that this was because Professor Byleth had arranged for Dorothea Arnault to assist the Blue Lion class and split the magic training between the two of them. “It will be easier to teach one of you at a time,” Annette had explained without looking up from the book. “So, Professor Byleth assigned Dorothea to teach Sylvain instead.”

Felix knew for a fact that Sylvain had at least two other reasons for agreeing to this change in plans, but he thought it would be better to keep that knowledge to himself. In any case, this arrangement also suited Felix just fine; he had no desire to spend several hours cooped up in a stuffy library with Sylvain’s inane flirting punctuating every lesson with Annette. It was difficult enough to concentrate on her instruction because Annette had developed a distracting habit of humming when she thought he wasn’t listening.

The first time this had happened, Felix had been running a bit behind to their third lesson and Annette hadn’t heard him arrive. She was flipping through an old notebook from her days at the Royal School of Sorcery and humming the same tune that Felix had heard on their first shared evening in the knight’s hall. When Felix slipped into the chair across from her, Annette abruptly let the tune die and didn’t hum it again during that lesson.

She was humming again as he arrived at their fourth lesson. “Sorry,” Annette said awkwardly when he sat down. Her eyes looked rather panicked, though for the life of him, Felix couldn’t imagine why. “Habit!”

By the sixth lesson, Felix realized he was hearing Annette’s humming even when she wasn’t around, and to his astonishment, Felix didn’t find it bothersome in the slightest. He could hear the simple tune as he took notes during class or when he trained alone with his blade. More than once, Felix heard the melody as he stood in line for meals or went about completing his assigned chores. It became a part of his daily routine without his noticing, and incredibly, Felix didn’t mind it. It was an oddly satisfying tune that proved to help keep his concentration focused on the task at hand.

“What are you doing?” Annette demanded suddenly during their seventh lesson. She set down her quill abruptly on the table and stared hard at Felix from across the table, her fingers splayed wide across the surface.

Felix looked up from the theory behind casting a basic fire spell and raised his dark eyebrows. “I’m studying,” he said warily and gesturing to the book in front of him. “You know, the same thing we’ve been doing for a while now.”

“Oh, you’re so funny,” Annette retorted sarcastically. Her blue eyes were fierce and wide, and Felix had the impression that she was deeply concerned about something. “No, I meant, what are you doing, humming my song?”

Felix blinked in surprise. “I didn’t realize I was doing it,” he said truthfully as he dropped his gaze back down to the book in front of him. “I’ll stop if it bothers you.”

“How do you know the tune? I thought you had never heard it before!” Annette demanded again, apparently not willing to the topic die. There was a faint note of hysteria lacing her voice now.

“I hadn’t,” Felix replied without looking up. Studying magical theory was getting dull. He hoped they would be able to start practicing the casting part soon. “But I’ve heard you humming it enough recently that it got stuck in my head.”

“You can’t sing that,” Annette said in horror.

“Why not? It’s catchy,” Felix said dully, not particularly invested in the conversation. He flipped a page in the textbook without much enthusiasm and twirled his own quill between his calloused fingers.

Annette leaned across the table and pulled the book away from him. “Because…because…well it’s embarrassing! It’s not a real song!”

Exasperated now, Felix looked up with an annoyed frown at Annette and reached to take the book back. “So what? It’s a catchy tune.”

“You…don’t remember what you heard in the greenhouse too, do you?” Annette pleaded in a high-pitched whisper. She held the book against her chest as if it would shield her from what he might say next. “Or what you saw?

“Yes, I do,” Felix replied in a tone of distinct frustration, feeling rather nettled by Annette’s interrogation. “What’s the problem?”

Annette stared at him as if he’d sprouted a second head. “You have to forget that,” she insisted desperately. “And forget this tune!”

Felix crossed his arms and stared into her wide blue eyes. “Why in the world would I do that? They’re both catchy songs.”

“Oh, you’re such an evil villain!” Annette moaned despairingly, not bothering to answer the question.

“I don’t see how this makes me either one of those things,” Felix said with another confused frown. “Look, Annette, I—”

“Felix, you have to forget all of it!” Annette ordered sharply. She stood up to give herself more height. “Or I’ll…I’ll…”

He sighed heavily and ran a hand through his dark hair. “You’ll what? Never sing around me again?”

“Yes!” Annette nodded her head vigorously in agreement with this suggestion.

“What good will that do?” Felix countered with a smirk. “Weren’t you already planning on not singing when I’m around ever again?”

“Well, yes, but…” Annette stammered. Her face was going pink. “Felix, just forget about it! You’ve got to!”

“Look, Annette, can I have the book back?” Felix asked with an exasperated sigh. “We’ll never get around to actually casting anything if you don’t let me finish studying the theory.”

“Villain!” Annette muttered as she shoved the book roughly back at him. She pouted rather more cutely than Felix would willingly admit to anyone.

“So you keep saying,” Felix murmured with another smirk and dropping his eyes back down to the pages in front of him. “I think I can live with being a villain.”

Chapter Text

By the time classes resumed during Blue Sea Moon, the Goddess’s Rite of Rebirth ceremony was already fast approaching, and the class was on edge as they prepared for the day. Ashe had been more withdrawn than usual since the ambush at Magdred Way, and he’d been torn between grieving for his dead father and feeling guilty for grieving a man who had opposed the Church. Mercedes seemed to understand his pain the best of all the class, and she’d taken to spending her free time with Ashe so that he might have someone to confide in. He seemed grateful for her presence, so Annette didn’t have the heart to be jealous that her friend hadn’t been spending as much time with her.

Despite the trauma the whole situation had had on Ashe, Lady Rhea still decided to put the Blue Lions in charge of the Monastery’s security due to their success in fending off the ambush at Magdred Way. The assassination plot found on Lord Lonato had been the main topic of discussion since they had returned to regular classes as Professor Byleth sought to prepare them as much as possible for their upcoming mission. Annette privately thought that it wasn’t fair to Ashe to have to deal with the aftermath of his father’s conspiracy with the Western Church, and that the other two classes were also perfectly capable of handling security detail, but as her opinion was neither asked nor wanted, she kept these thoughts to herself.

On the afternoon before their next mission, Annette lay slumped across her desk, twirling her quill between her fingers and wondering what more they could possibly glean from a topic that they’d been mulling over since the end of their last mission. She stared listlessly at the back of Ingrid’s head, following the tendrils of her hair as it looped in and out of her long braid, only half-listening to the conversation the rest of the class was having.

“It’s definitely a distraction,” Dimitri insisted for what had to be the hundredth time. His blond hair was matted around his face and there were dark circles under his eyes, giving the impression that he hadn’t slept in a week. “Whoever planted that note is going to be counting on security to be tightened around the Archbishop. They want their true target to be easy to access.”

“We know that,” Ingrid snapped irritably for what also had to be the hundredth time. She looked equally exhausted from their ceaseless brooding over the alleged assassination. “We’ve also deduced the likeliest target. The enemy is almost certainly planning on attacking the Holy Mausoleum.”

“There is no need to argue,” Professor Byleth said calmly. Of everyone, only she seemed unaffected by their increased workload, and her face was as blank as usual. “I have already prepared a plan.”

She consulted her notes and surveyed the room, her blue eyes lingering on Ashe’s downcast face. He hadn’t said a word during the entire class. Annette had kindly given her usual spot beside Mercedes to him and watched as she rubbed slow, comforting circles on his back. Instead she sat on her own a few rows back, in line with where Sylvain and Felix sat on the other side of the room. She tried to keep her eyes focused on the front of the room and found it more difficult than when she sat with her back to them.

“We’ll divide off into pairs on the morrow,” Professor Byleth explained, flipping the chalkboard over to the blank side opposite the monthly chore schedule. “There are several smaller entrances into the Monastery that need to be monitored, as well as the main entrance, and the Holy Mausoleum itself.”

The Professor took a piece of chalk and began to write names on the board. Annette sat up a little straighter in her seat to get a better look. “For the west entrance, Dedue and Mercedes,” she said, the chalk making a scritch scritch noise as she dragged it over the chalkboard. “For the east entrance, Dorothea and Sylvain.”

Annette chanced a glance across from her in time to see a satisfied smile on Sylvain’s face. Ingrid had turned in her seat to shoot him an exasperated glare while Felix simply rolled his eyes. Annette supposed it was lucky that Dorothea was still assisting their class on missions since they would otherwise have an odd number that would make pairing off rather awkward.

“Ashe and Ingrid, I trust you can handle the entrance to the Holy Mausoleum,” Professor Byleth went on, not noticing the reactions happening behind her turned back. “I’ll take Dimitri with me to guard Lady Rhea for the day. That only leaves Annette and Felix to patrol the main entrance.”

Mercedes turned in her seat and smiled benevolently at Annette. She returned the smile awkwardly and chanced a glance to her right just in time to catch Felix elbowing Sylvain forcefully in the ribs. The redhead fell over in his seat, clutching his side and swearing profusely under his breath. Hearing the commotion, Professor Byleth turned back to face the class and stared at Sylvain with a look of exasperation that mirrored Ingrid’s. She sighed and put her hands on her hips. “Any questions?”

“What is the plan if no one is caught during our patrol?” Dedue asked, ignoring Sylvain’s antics most efficiently out of anyone else in the class.

“We’ll meet up outside the entrance to the Holy Mausoleum and descend down to investigate our suspicions for ourselves,” Professor Byleth replied. “We’ll have to play the rest by ear. Be sure to watch your assigned stations closely and send word if you notice anything out of the ordinary or need backup.”

Annette yawned widely. “The Rite of Rebirth is tomorrow,” she pointed out somewhat sleepily. She didn’t think there was much more preparation they could do during the last few minutes of class on the day prior to the mission. They would either be successful or not; it was too late to be second-guessing their plans or their abilities. “Professor, should we not get some rest so that we’re ready for our mission?”

The Professor nodded curtly. “Yes. Everyone, we will gather here tomorrow morning and we will begin patrolling the Monastery as per our orders. You should all know your partners for this mission, so be prepared. Class dismissed.”

---

The day of the Goddess’s Rite of Rebirth dawned sunny and warm, a perfect day for lazing around on the lawn with a good book. Annette woke at the sound of her alarm and stretched slowly, belatedly remembering that she had a mission and that Felix would be waiting for her. It seemed that ever since they’d begun training in magic lessons, Annette found herself spending more and more time with the moody swordsman. Not only that, but she was actually enjoying it now that he seemed to have controlled his more acerbic tendencies. She’d even heard fewer complaints about the way he spoke to others ever since their argument in the knight’s hall.

Annette yawned as she entered the classroom to meet up with Felix for their patrol. “Good morning,” she said groggily and rubbing her eyes vigorously and nearly tripping over a desk in the process. He caught her arm to steady her before she fall to the stone floor. “Who put that here?”

“Morning,” Felix replied briskly as he gave her searching look, releasing her arm and stepping away. “You look tired. Are you ready for our mission?”

“I’ll be fine,” Annette assured him with another yawn and stretching her arms above her head. “How are you so awake? It’s so early!”

Felix shrugged and fiddled with the hilt of his sword. “I’m used to getting up early. I train at dawn every morning.”

“Every morning?” Annette gasped, too shocked to yawn at that thought. “You’re crazy.”

“Come on,” Felix said, ignoring her comment. “We should already be at the market.”

Annette nodded lazily and followed him out of the room. Felix’s dark hair was swept up in its usual bun and swayed as he walked. “I don’t think I could ever get up this early every day,” Annette said conversationally, silently admiring the way his hair shone in the sunlight. “I’m not really a morning person.”

“I couldn’t tell,” Felix said with a note of sarcasm. “Did you eat anything yet?”

As if on cue, Annette heard her stomach growl. “Not yet,” she admitted sheepishly.

“Maybe we should duck into the dining hall on the way and see if there’s any steaks or cakes, then,” Felix replied. Annette glanced at his face to see if he was making fun of her, but his expression was carefully blank.

“You were supposed to forget about that!” she said, poking him in the arm.

“I told you I can’t. It’s too catchy,” Felix shrugged, carefully avoiding her eyes. She wondered if he’d even noticed that she poked him.

Ten minutes later, Annette had a basket with two freshly baked rolls, a hunk of aged cheese, several slices of bacon, and scrambled eggs in hand. Felix had grudgingly agreed to carry a flask of cool water for her since Annette’s arms were full. The food smelled tantalizingly good and made Annette’s stomach growl louder as they walked toward the market at the front entrance of Garreg Mach. She waited to dig in until they were able to find a free bench with a clear view of the market which was already busy with morning shoppers from the Monastery and nearby villages.

Wasting no time, Annette set the basket between them and began to eat with relish. “This is so good,” she said cheerfully as she downed a piece of bacon. She felt much more awake now that she had broken her fast. “Here, they gave me two rolls. Do you want one, Felix?”

He accepted it gratefully but kept his eyes on the crowd. “Thanks.”

“You know,” Annette began slyly, gazing at him through the corner of her eyes to monitor his reactions. “It was your turn to clean the greenhouse today, right?”

“That’s right,” Felix replied without looking at her. His eyes were narrowed as he scanned the crowd for anyone—or anything—suspicious.

“Well, you don’t need to worry about it! I took care of it yesterday,” Annette said in her most cheerful voice. She beamed up at him, hoping it looked genuine.

“Why?” Felix asked dubiously, still not looking at her. His long fingers drummed absently on the hilt of his sword.

“I knew we’d be too busy today for you to have a chance to do it,” Annette said brightly. “So, I thought I’d help you out and get it done early.”

Felix glanced sidelong at her. His amber eyes looked amused. “Professor Byleth told me I could do it tomorrow instead due to the mission.”

“Is that right?” Annette replied quickly. She felt her heart thud more quickly in her chest at this news. “Well, I guess you don’t need to worry then! It’ll be fine until it’s Dedue’s day to clean it.”

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome! I also went ahead and tidied up the warehouse for you,” Annette continued with a wide smile that she hoped looked innocent.

Felix did not look fooled. “Why would you do that?”

“Just to help you out!” she asserted cheerfully, folding her hands in her lap to keep them still. She had a lot of nervous tics that would probably give her away if she wasn’t careful, and fidgeting was prime among them.

“Professor Byleth told me the warehouse could wait a few more days as well,” Felix said with a raised eyebrow. His amber eyes were focused on her now and she felt distinctly like she was under a very strong microscope.

“Really?” Annette squeaked, worried that her plan was falling through so easily.

“Tell me the truth,” Felix commanded in a harsh voice. His mouth twitched at the corners. “Why did you really do my chores?”

“I told you already, just to help you out…!” Annette felt rather flustered. “Okay, fine, I’ll admit it. I’m trying to bribe you!”

Felix crossed his arms and looked confused. “Bribe me for what?”

Annette was sure he was just toying with her now. “Don’t make me say it, you villain!” she said in a scandalized tone. “I know you know what I’m talking about! I’m bribing you to forget everything you saw and heard in the greenhouse the other week!”

“Oh, that again.” Felix shrugged carelessly and turned back to watching the crowd. “No.”

“You can’t say no!” Annette stuttered in a pleading voice. She hadn’t been prepared with a backup plan if he said no. She hadn’t even considered that he would say no, which was evidentially a mistake on her part. “You have to forget about it! Right now, in fact.”

“I can’t. It’s permanently etched in my memory.” He sounded amused again. Annette was sure he was trying to hide a smirk which only sent her further into panic mode. “A mountain of sweets, and stacks of steaks and cakes.”

“Felix!”

“I’m also intrigued by those bear and swamp beastie songs you mentioned,” Felix went on as though she hadn’t spoken. He was definitely smirking now, and probably planning how he was going to tell anybody who would listen everything he knew about her songs. “Oh, and those dance moves, I wanted to ask…was that based on fencing footwork? It was impressive—”

“Stop it!” Annette cried, grabbing his sleeve and shaking Felix as forcefully as she could. “You think you’re so funny while you keep a straight face and mock my singing and dancing! You must forget about all of it. What if I take your shift in the stables or make you a really nice steak dinner?”

“Why are you so worked up about this?” Felix turned back to her. His brows were furrowed with confusion again. “I told you, I thought your dancing was pretty—”

“Oh, fine!” Annette threw up her hands in surrender. Her voice had gone a bit hysterical again. “Be that way! You might as well tell everyone about it! I’ll just learn to live with the funny looks I’ll get from everyone. I can hear it now, ‘there goes that Annette, the girl with the funny ideas about food!’” She slid off the bench and stormed off huffily. “You’re the evillest of villains, Felix! I’ll hate you forever and ever!”

“Just make sure you’re keeping a lookout wherever you go,” Felix called after her in a tone that did not sound suitably contrite to Annette’s ears. “We’re still on duty, you know!”

---

By lunchtime, Annette was sick of sitting guard duty by herself and finally decided to head back and join Felix again. He was sitting as still as ever on their bench, completely engrossed in watching the crowd of passersby for any indication that something was amiss.

“Welcome back,” Felix said coolly as she approached, one eyebrow raised at her sudden (though inevitable) return. “I wasn’t sure if you’d come back since I’m the ‘evilest of villains.’”

“Well, I got bored,” Annette admitted peevishly. She carried her breakfast basket under one arm with a handful of fruit and two sandwiches that she’d purchased from a vendor on her way back. “You’re still the evilest of villains, so you better not forget it.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Felix assured her dryly. He was eyeing the food with interest. “Did you see anything strange while you were gone?”

Annette shook her head and handed him one of the sandwiches. She hoped that buying him lunch might prompt him to rethink his refusal to forget everything he’d seen and heard. “Nothing. If anyone has snuck by us, I think they must be too well disguised to be noticed.”

Felix nodded silently and scanned the crowd. He accepted the food gratefully and nodded his thanks, but offered no promise to forget anything at all. “It is a little worrying, but no one is standing out as particularly suspicious. There’s nothing we can do except watch for now, and then rendezvous this evening with the Professor.”

Annette nodded and hugged her knees against her chest. “Say, Felix…were you humming my song again, just now?”

He glanced at her with an unreadable expression. “Sorry,” he muttered. “I didn’t realize I was doing that again. I’ll stop.”

“I guess…I could let you keep humming it,” Annette said slowly without looking at him. “As long as you promise to never tell anyone about my songs or my dancing. Please?”

Felix looked at her with another unreadable expression. Annette was worried that he might refuse this too. It would be just like him, she thought sourly. He’d get a real laugh about telling everyone about my weird habits!

“I promise,” Felix said clearly as he turned back to watch the people in the market. “That I won’t breathe a word of this to anyone.”

Annette beamed at him. “You really mean it?”

“Yes. But,” he added with a smirk. “I won’t promise to forget any of it.”

“As long as you keep it to yourself, I guess I will just have to accept that. Shake on it,” Annette demanded, holding out her hand.

Felix sighed and shook her hand firmly. His hand felt warm and strong in hers, and Annette couldn’t help but feel her heart begin to thump a little bit faster in her chest. Even after he let go, Annette felt like her hand was still tingling with a feeling she could not find the words to describe. They sat together in companionable silence for a time, broken only occasionally by Felix’s deep voice humming her mother’s old song.

---

The remainder of the afternoon passed slowly. If anyone suspicious was entering the Monastery through the main gate, they were well prepared to avoid detection. Annette felt her eyes growing heavy as the day wore on and found herself dozing off more than once. Felix didn’t seem to notice—or perhaps he didn’t care—because he never shook her awake. He sat like a tall, lanky gargoyle by her side and watched the crowd in the marketplace unfailingly. Annette had to admire his concentration which hadn’t wavered all day.

Once evening fell and the marketplace was growing empty again, Felix finally stood and stretched. Annette—who had been dozing again—jumped in surprise when he moved off the bench. “Is it time to go to the Holy Mausoleum?” she asked drowsily.

“Yes,” Felix said as he adjusted the way his sword hung on his hip. “There’s no point in staying here any longer. Nothing has happened all day and the market is almost empty now. Anyone who’s tried to sneak in has already been successful.”

“So, we just need to have a good defence,” Annette said cheerfully as she stood and stretched as well. “I think we can do that, no problem!”

“Just be careful,” he warned Annette as they walked together into the reception hall. “I don’t want to see you surrounded again like you were at Magdred Way.”

“Yes, sir!” Annette said with mock seriousness. “I’ll be careful, don’t worry about me. How could I make sure you keep your promise if I die?”

The way to the Cathedral was still busy with worshippers who had been arriving to pay their respects on the day of the Goddess’s Rite of Rebirth. Annette wove her way through the throng of people deftly as she watched for any sign of trouble. Felix loped after her with a careless grace that seemed to just come naturally to him. He kept one hand on the hilt of his sword as they walked, his amber eyes scanning the way for anyone who didn’t seem to belong. He was never more than two paces behind Annette.

Upon reaching the Holy Mausoleum, they found everyone already assembled except for Sylvain and Dorothea. Professor Byleth had roped the entrance off to ensure that no other worshippers would be able to enter as the Blue Lions prepared to descend to the depths of the Cathedral in search of an enemy that they weren’t certain was actually there. With no other leads to go on, their only choice was to hope that the enemy was not expecting them if they were there. Annette sidled over to Mercedes as they milled around and waited for the signal to begin their expedition.

“How’d your watch go?” she asked in a low voice. “You guys were watching the west side, right?”

“That’s right,” Mercedes smiled serenely as she smoothed her skirt carefully. “Nothing untoward occurred at all. Dedue and I were beginning to worry that we had misinterpreted the note after all. But Professor Byleth seems convinced otherwise.”

“Same here,” Annette confided quietly with a discrete glance over her shoulder at Felix. He was standing with Ingrid and seemed to be discussing her watch, if their body language was anything to go by. “We sat in the market all day and nothing happened at all. It was so boring!”

“I suppose Felix isn’t much for conversation,” Mercedes replied with a chuckle. “That would make the day feel even longer.”

“It wasn’t that bad,” Annette dropped her voice to a whisper. “I tried asking him to forget about…you-know-what.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful Annie!” Mercedes replied, clapping her hands together excitedly. Annette waved her arms madly in front her and made a shush sound, worried that Mercedes might draw Felix’s attention if she spoke too loudly. “What did he say?”

“He said no,” Annette muttered with a frown and crossing her arms angrily over her chest. “He’s a villain, I tell you Mercie!”

Mercedes suppressed a giggle and did not look terribly convinced by Annette’s conviction on whether Felix was truly worthy of the title. “Is that so? What did you do, then?”

“It’s no laughing matter, Mercie!” Annette whispered shrilly. “But he did promise to not give my secret away to anyone. I made him shake on it!”

“That’s good,” Mercedes whispered back. She was clearly trying to keep herself from laughing again which did not make Annette feel much more at ease. “He must like your talents very much after all, just like I told you.”

“I think he’s just sadistic,” Annette said with another covert glance over her shoulder at Felix. He was staring across the Cathedral toward Sylvain and Dorothea, who were evidentially just arriving. “He’s just holding it over my head so he can use it against me when it suits him. He’s an evil villain, Mercie!”

“I’m sure he is,” Mercedes agreed soothingly and patting Annette’s arm gently. “But if there’s anyone who can handle a villain like him, it’s you Annie!”

“I hope you’re right,” Annette said in a low voice. She glanced over her shoulder again in time to see Felix smack Sylvain on the head. Dorothea laughed loudly as Sylvain tried to explain their tardiness. “I don’t want to be on his bad side again.”

---

The descent into the Holy Mausoleum was cold and dark. Sconces lit the stairway, but they were burning low and didn’t let off very much light. Annette kept one hand along the wall to keep her balance as she walked arm in arm with Mercedes. Professor Byleth and Dimitri led the group while Sylvain and Felix brought up the rear. Professor Byleth had said she didn’t expect them to be ambushed from behind but had figured that on the off chance they were, Felix and Sylvain would be the best equipped to sound the alarm and initiate a defensive position.

“We’re here,” Professor Byleth said neutrally as she stopped suddenly at the foot of the stairs. “I can hear voices. Everyone, stick together and await further orders.”

The Holy Mausoleum was a wide space with significantly more torches to light the area. The room was too vast for Annette to get a good sense of the layout, but that seemed less important in that moment than the fact that numerous masked people were already inside the room. “Those aren’t worshippers,” Annette whispered as she squeezed Mercedes’ arm tightly. “They’re dressed for battle.”

The intruders in the Holy Mausoleum had obviously not been expecting anyone to find them here and were already moving into position to fend off their attackers. In the very centre of the room was a tall man dressed entirely in black armour sitting on a skeletal black horse that looked as though it was carved from obsidian. “We have visitors,” the masked intruder said in a voice that echoed eerily through the room. It made the hairs on the back of Annette’s neck stand on end.

“Keep them away from the casket of Saint Seiros!” called a mage from the back of the room in a thin voice. “Death Knight, prove your usefulness! Stave them off while I break this seal!”

The Death Knight did not move. “I do not take orders from you,” he said in the same eerie voice. “Nor do I waste my time on weaklings.”

“We must defend the casket,” Dimitri said urgently to the Professor. He seemed to be quivering with anticipation. “It seems to be their true target.”

Professor Byleth nodded as she assessed the scene. The enemy was already approaching with their weapons drawn. “We do not have time to waste,” she said briskly. “Dedue, Ashe, Sylvain and Dorothea, you all go up the left side. Annette, Felix, Ingrid, you have the right. Mercedes, you’re with me and Dimitri up the middle, and we’ll swing to the right once we clear out the centre of the room. Everyone, avoid engaging the Death Knight at all costs!”

There was no time for further discussion of the matter. Annette squeezed Mercedes’ arm one final time before following Ingrid and Felix on their assigned route. She stayed behind them by several paces to ensure she had the space to cast spells without risking a direct engagement with the enemy. I really should see if the Professor will allow me to practice white magic, Annette thought uneasily as she surveyed the number of assailants ahead of their group. We’ll be in trouble if either of these two are injured while Mercedes is so far away.

“Ingrid, watch your left!” Annette shouted as they advanced. “I’ve got him!”

She reached for her magic and felt her Crest of Dominic activate as she launched a gust if wind at the spearman. It knocked him off his feet and gave Ingrid an opening to finish the job with her lance. It slid between the soldier’s ribs without resistance. Annette felt a small part of her mind freeze with shock as she realized that she had caused his death. It’s either kill, or be killed, Annette thought bitterly. Just like Felix said before. I don’t have the luxury of debating the morality of it.

“Annette, behind you!” Felix bellowed at her. He had disengaged the new solider that Ingrid was battling and was running toward her. “They’ve got reinforcements!”

Annette spun on her heel and stepped back. Four more soldiers were closing in on her from behind. She gritted her teeth and felt wisps of wind blades already gathering around her fingers. “Felix, be careful!”

He didn’t respond as he leaped past her and sunk his long blade into the chest of the foremost attacker. Felix glowed with the light of his Crest as he landed and let the man fall lifelessly onto the stone floor. Immediately, the dark-haired swordsman raised his blade defensively as the remaining soldiers closed in on him. “Felix, duck!” Annette yelled across the room as she let go a blast of magic.

Felix did as she ordered and dropped low toward the ground, swiping his blade at the legs of the three men. Annette’s spell hit the middle swordsman with full force; she could see blood beginning to seep out of a hundred tiny cuts on his exposed skin. He cried out in pain, clutching at his face desperately. Felix had no pity for him as he stabbed the man through the chest. He turned back toward Annette as he drew his sword out of the man’s body. “Go to Ingrid,” he called, breathing heavily and with eyes blazing. “I’ve got this under control!”

“Understood!” Annette didn’t argue with him. She knew he was skilled; a two-on-one wasn’t something he was likely to lose.

Ingrid had already regrouped with Professor Byleth’s team when Annette caught up to her. “Felix is coming,” she reported breathlessly. “The enemy had reinforcements catch us from behind.”

Professor Byleth nodded curtly and signalled that they should continue to advance forward. “We’re almost to our goal,” she said. “Annette, stay back with Mercedes and provide cover fire as we approach the dais.”

The bulk of the enemy’s forces were broken now, and the remaining soldiers were beginning to scatter as they recognized they were losing the fight. Professor Byleth pressed forward unhesitatingly, striking down any soldier foolish enough to challenge them in battle. It was mesmerizing to watch her fight like she had been born to be a warrior goddess. Annette thought she could understand now why Felix was so interested in testing himself against the Professor; she really was a remarkable fighter.

“It’s no use!” called the mage who was still standing in front of Saint Seiros’ casket and holding an ancient bone-like sword. “The seal is already broken. You’re too late!”

Professor Byleth had no hesitation. She rushed forward with Dimitri at her side, her own sword raised. Dimitri disarmed the mage easily and the ancient sword arced high through the air and clattered to the ground in front of Professor Byleth. Annette watched in amazement as the Professor picked it up and hefted the blade curiously. Casting her plain steel sword aside, Professor Byleth raised the sword and pressed her attack. The mage never stood a chance; he had no time to cast a spell with which to defend himself. He fell to the stone ground as if he were made of straw, his blood leaking across the dais.

It’s over now, Annette thought as she watched his blood begin to pool in the cracks of the stone floor. She felt drained from the day’s events. There is no time for pity. It’s either kill, or be killed.

Chapter Text

The events from the Holy Mausoleum were the main topic of discussion for several days following the battle during the Goddess’s Rite of Rebirth. Although the Church of Seiros wasted no time in publicly executing the Western Church officials who had been caught during the aftermath of the attack, they had refused to give any further details on who had been the mastermind behind the ambush at Magdred Way or the plot to rob the Holy Mausoleum. It was a vexing problem for the Church to know the origin of their enemy yet not what they next move would be.

For his part, Felix was unconcerned with the mysterious enemy. He suspected that they would return in due time, so they need only wait for that to happen. As such, life at Garreg Mach returned to a semblance of normalcy as classes resumed and students went back about their daily lives. Felix continued his solitary morning training sessions and his evening magic lessons with Annette as they entered Verdant Rain Moon, and he was pleased to note that he was making good progress in both areas. Annette had even agreed that he seemed to have mastered the theory of basic spellcasting and that they would begin practicing the actual casting during their next lesson.

Felix felt like he was actually beginning to enjoy his time at the Monastery. He hadn’t expected to find it pleasant; he had been sure it would be a long year of tedious studying that could otherwise have been spent honing his skills back on the training grounds at Castle Fraldarius. His only hope had been that the swordmasters at Garreg Mach would be worth his time. Luckily for Felix, one of the strongest Professors in the entire Monastery had been assigned to teach his class, and he was afforded the opportunity to test his skills against her on a regular basis. Not to mention, she now wielded the Sword of the Creator, the legendary blade that was said to have been held by Nemesis himself. There was no stronger person to train against.

“Our next mission is to retrieve a stolen Hero’s Relic,” Professor Byleth announced at the end of class one day. She glanced meaningfully at Sylvain, who nodded curtly. “It has been stolen from House Gautier by a disowned member of the family.”

Felix spared a glance toward his old friend. Sylvain’s face was more serious than usual, a look that didn’t suit him.

“We will be travelling to Conand Tower to retrieve it,” the Professor continued tonelessly. “The Church will be providing us additional support for this mission, just as they did at Magdred Way. Please prepare accordingly, as the mission will take place next week. Class dismissed.”

Felix shoved his books into his bag and slung it over his shoulder with a casual grace. He kept pace with Sylvain as they headed out of the classroom into the overcast day. Sylvain was being unusually quiet which seemed to bother Felix more than it ought to have.

“Spar with me,” Felix said as he turned toward the training grounds. He didn’t wait for Sylvain to respond.

Sylvain considered the proposal for a moment. “Sure,” he said in a low voice, following Felix across the flagstones.

Several minutes later, Felix stood facing Sylvain with his blade outstretched. Sylvian held his lance at the ready. Felix felt a grin pulling at the corners of his mouth as he made the first move toward his friend. He raised his blade and swung hard at Sylvain, who blocked the attack with his lance with ease. Felix dropped back several paces and raised his own sword to defend against Sylvain’s oncoming counterattack. His face was thunderous as Felix parried the blow and stabbed forward again with his own blade.

It was a dance with which they were both intimately familiar. Felix had been sparring with Sylvain since they were children, and they knew each other’s moves better than anyone else. Felix had always been willing to spar with anyone but fighting Ingrid or Dimitri had never filled him with same fierce passion as when he fought his best friend. Sylvain knew Felix as if he were the brother that he wished he still had in his own life. It wasn’t a sentiment that either of them would ever voice aloud, but with the cut of steel ringing in his ears, Felix knew they would always be brothers in arms, if not in blood.

They did not speak as they fought. Words were an unnecessary distraction and a waste of energy. Felix could hear what Sylvain wanted to say just from the way he swung his weapon and from the way he dodged Felix’s unceasing onslaught. Sylvain’s form was sloppy today and attacks were wild and uncoordinated. He was fighting with his heart, not with his head. In other circumstances, Felix would have berated him for it, told him how he would die in a real battle if he fought like that.

Today, however, Felix knew better than to say anything.

“Enough!” Sylvain cried eventually. Sweat dripped from his face. “I yield!”

Felix halted his advance and lowered his blade. He, too, was dripping with sweat and breathing heavily. “It’s been a long time since we’ve battled like that,” he said quietly.

“Yeah,” Sylvain agreed in a low voice. He wiped the back of his hand across his forehead. “Your skills are as sharp as ever.”

“As are yours,” Felix returned the compliment. “Do you feel better now?”

“A little,” Sylvain admitted grudgingly. “Thanks, Felix.”

He nodded silently in response. “I thought you could use it.”

They sat side-by-side on the edge of the training ground watching other students practice their skills. Most of them were unrefined and unready to face a real battle. Felix thought that most of them must not be from Faerghus; it was necessary to know how to fight in the northern kingdom. Life in the harsh environment was a constant battle of life or death; of killing or being killed. If you could not fend for yourself, you had no hope of survival. Even having a Crest didn’t give you a free ride in Faerghus as it did in other places; it might make the job of survival easier, but it wasn’t a guarantee.

“He’s a fucking bastard,” Sylvain swore darkly. His eyes blazed with a fury with which Felix was all too familiar. It had been this way since they were children, after all.

Felix shrugged as he watched the students across the room practicing their sword stances. “Hasn’t he always been that way?”

“Yeah,” Sylvain acknowledged in the same menacing voice. “He’s always popping up where I least want to see him.”

“That’s family for you,” Felix replied in an equally dark tone. “Always showing up when you least want them around.”

“He’s always found a way to make my life a living hell,” Sylvain muttered in an uncharacteristically angry voice. His knuckles were white as he clutched his knees. “As if his misfortune is all my fault.”

“You know he’s going to die when we find him,” Felix said matter-of-factly after a moment. He didn’t look at Sylvain; he could feel his friend’s resolve radiating off his body like the heat of the sun.

“Oh, he’s going to die all right,” Sylvain agreed bitterly. “Stupid bastard. He’s brought it on himself by stealing the Lance of Ruin from my father. He could have lived a simple, honest life if he’d just gone away quietly like he was told.”

“Older brothers don’t tend to do what’s best for their long-term health,” Felix snorted.

Sylvain cracked a half-smile at that. “That’s true. They always leave their younger brothers to pick up the slack they left behind.”

They sat in a companionable silence as the sounds of steel on steel echoed through the training grounds. Felix did not consider himself a very sentimental person, but it was impossible to ignore the similarities between their families. Although they frequently disagreed on how to spend their free time, Felix and Sylvain had been close even before Glenn died. Sylvain didn’t seem to put the same effort into his training as he did when he was flirting with women, but he was a capable fighter and took the burdens of the Gautier family seriously. Felix didn’t necessarily share his other passions, but he did respect Sylvain’s resolve to do what was necessary, especially now when it meant he would need to kill his own brother.

“Sometimes, I wonder what the world would be like without Crests,” Sylvain muttered, his eyes still afire with a smoldering fury. “Would Miklan have been the big brother he should have been? Would the world really be a better place?”

“There is no point in dwelling on what-ifs and fantasies,” Felix countered harshly. Sylvain had always had a bad habit of trying to avoid reality. “You’ll be the one who ends up dead if you start thinking like that in battle.”

“I know,” Sylvain replied with a ghost of a smile. “That’s why I keep you around, to give me a reality check when I need it.”

“You ready to spar again, or what?” Felix asked him pointedly. “I might just cut you into ribbons this time if you don’t watch yourself.”

Sylvain gripped his lance and stood again. “I thought you’d never ask.”

---

Preparations to depart for Conand Tower proceeded quickly as the Church was insistent that the Hero’s Relic could not be left in Miklan’s hands for too long. Sylvain’s black mood persisted through the week preceding the mission and was beginning to grate on Felix’s patience. Although they sparred together more regularly than they had since arriving at Garreg Mach, no amount of training was enough to ease Sylvain’s mind before the upcoming battle. Felix supposed it would be difficult for anyone to come to terms with having to kill their own brother in a matter of days, yet Sylvain’s apparently inability to channel his emotions into a useful fighting energy was becoming problematic. His form was becoming sloppier and his attacks lacked true strength.

Unfortunately, Sylvain’s frustrations were not the only problems that Felix found himself facing as the Blue Lions prepared for their mission in Kingdom territory. To Felix’s dismay, his father had travelled to Garreg Mach on Fraldarius business regarding the stolen Lance of Ruin and had insisted that they also needed to speak of Felix’s future upon his return from Conand Tower. Felix always tried to avoid his father as much as possible, a feat which had been much easier since arriving at the Monastery. He had no interest in spending time with Lord Rodrigue, especially not to discuss what would happen to Felix as he approached manhood, and with it the responsibility of one day leading House Fraldarius.

To cap things off on already bad week, the knight assigned to accompany the Blue Lions to Conand Tower was none other than Sir Gilbert, Annette’s wayward father. Although Sir Gilbert avoided his daughter entirely (a behaviour Felix desperately wished his own father would emulate) during their travels, nobody could fail to notice the physical similarities between the two. Felix knew Ingrid and Sylvain had taken his warning to heart and had not spoken a word to anyone about what he had confided in them after their argument in the knight’s hall, but he was certain that even if he hadn’t said anything, they would have realized Annette’s relationship with Sir Gilbert during the journey to Faerghus.

Annette had become quiet and withdrawn during the journey and made a point to remain as far back in their convoy as possible to maintain a distance between herself and her father. Felix strongly suspected she had not given up on her dream of convincing her father to return home, but rather that Annette didn’t feel comfortable confronting him in front of so many people. Now, confined to spend days near him and without the ability to confront Sir Gilbert alone, Annette tried to pretend she didn’t know or care who he was. Nobody was fooled by this pretense, but nobody dared to say anything about it to her face.

Family is more of a burden than a blessing, Felix thought irritably as they finally approached Conand Tower after several days of this awkward journey. The tower stood tall and dark against a stormy sky. Even the day seemed to reflect the general mood of their little army. Sylvain’s spineless brother, Annette’s shameful father, and my own loyal-to-a-fault old man. None of them care how their actions affect the ones left behind.

They ascended Conand Tower in a tense silence. There was evidence of the area having been used a thieves’ hideout for some time. Felix gripped the hilt of blade for reassurance as they arrived at the top of the tower. Unsurprisingly, Miklan’s band of thieves were already waiting for them; they couldn’t have failed to notice a small army approaching over uncovered terrain. Felix privately thought they must be either very brave or very stupid to be willing to stand against the Church of Seiros in a fight they must know they could not possibly win.

“We continue as we have in past battles,” Professor Byleth said simply. “Dimitri and Dedue, you’re with me at the front. Sylvain, Felix, and Ingrid, I want you watch our back in case there are reinforcements. Annette, Ashe, and Mercedes, you stay between us and provide support as needed. Sir Gilbert,” she finished as she turned forward. “I trust you will lend us your axe on the front line.”

As Felix had predicted, the battle against the thieves was not particularly difficult. They were poorly trained, and their weapons were weak. Certainly, none among them had a Crest, or they would not be holed up in a tower like this with no escape route and fighting a doomed battle. Professor Byleth led their force forward without encountering any significant resistance or anyone sustaining serious injury, which was a great improvement from their last field mission at Magdred Way.

Annette dropped back as they began to round the final bend of the tower. “Are you okay, Sylvain?” she asked, her face looking pale and concerned. “I can’t imagine how hard this must be for you.”

Felix privately thought that she probably did understand how difficult this situation was for Sylvain, but she was far too kind to say so. Her father doesn’t deserve her, he thought fiercely, with a glance toward the front of their army. Sir Gilbert hadn’t turned around even once to see if she was all right.

“I’m fine,” Sylvain said with a forced smile that did not reach his eyes. “How could I not be with a cute girl like you here to worry about me?”

Felix hit Sylvain’s shoulder hard with the palm of his hand. “Now is not the time for flirting,” he snapped coldly before Annette could respond. “You’ll die if you lose focus on your goal.”

Sylvain merely shot Felix a meaningful stare which Felix chose not to notice.

“I’m glad to hear it,” Annette said, ignoring Felix’s remonstration. “I’m sorry it had to come to this. Families shouldn’t have to fight each other.”

Sylvain’s expression softened. “I wish it could be different,” he agreed sadly. “But my brother brought this on himself. He doesn’t deserve your pity.”

“The Professor is calling us forward,” Ingrid interrupted quietly. She, too, had been unusually subdued during their battle. “Come, Sylvain. You need to be at the front lines for this.”

“Wish me luck,” Sylvain said bitterly. He gripped his lance tightly in his hands, trying to steel his resolve. “With any luck, this will all be over in a few minutes and I can go back to chasing girls at the Monastery.”

He stalked off after Ingrid, his back tall and proud despite the weight of bitterness on his shoulders. Felix felt a sense of satisfaction for his friend that he would not back down from the challenge ahead. Difficult as it was, the reality was that that Miklan’s death was now a necessity. They would need to make an example of Miklan so that no one else would wonder what the result of stealing a Hero’s Relic would be. It was a harsh reality in a world that didn’t have time for fantasies or ideals.

“He’s putting on a brave face,” Annette sighed hopelessly, her shoulders slumping under her own inner pain. “I hope he will be able to withstand the aftermath of this battle with the same bravery.”

“He’ll be fine,” Felix said with certainty as he watched Sylvain walk forward to face his brother for the last time. “This day has been a long time coming.”

Annette sighed again. “That doesn’t make it easier,” she said as she stared at the back of her father’s head. “Losing family hurts no matter how or why it happens.”

Felix glanced at her through narrowed eyes. “How are you holding up, Annette?” he asked seriously. “You haven’t been your usual self since we left Garreg Mach.”

“I’m okay,” she lied easily. Felix glared at her and Annette’s shoulders slumped further. “All right, I’m not okay. I’m hurting inside. It kills me to be so near my father and yet so far.”

“I understand,” he said, though Felix didn’t know if it was entirely true. “But you can’t let him distract your focus right now. It’s neither the time nor the place to pursue your goal.”

“I know that,” Annette assured him with a weak smile. “Ingrid and Mercedes have kindly been keeping me company as we travelled. It’s made things easier.”

“Good.” Felix stared ahead as they climbed the stairs to the final dais of Conand Tower. He could see Sylvain standing before his brother with his lance raised. They were locked in a battle no one else could quite fathom. It was the tragedy of House Gautier that they had two sons but only one with a Crest.

“The real question,” Annette said softly. “Is how are you, Felix? Isn’t your father visiting Garreg Mach right now?”

His expression hardened. “That’s right. Did he say something to you?”

“Oh, no,” Annette shook her head. “I only saw him from a distance, but I’ve never actually met him. I just…well, I was thinking back to some of our previous conversations, and it seems to me that you have your own family pain to contend with too.”

“It’s true, I don’t get along with my old man,” Felix said with a shrug. “We don’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things. It got worse after my brother died.”

Annette sighed heavily. “I thought you might say something like that. I’m sorry to hear it.”

“You needn’t worry about it,” Felix said, drawing his blade in one smooth motion. Something was wrong with Miklan. “I’m used to it. Stay back,” he added seriously, stepping forward in front of Annette. “It looks like things are about to get more dangerous.”

It was hard to see what was happening from so far back, but it was clear that the Lance of Ruin in Miklan’s hands was acting strangely. It seemed to glow ominously and Miklan’s terrified screams began to echo throughout the tower. Sylvain had adopted a defensive stance as he struggled to maintain his position in front of his brother. Professor Byleth was waving the rest of the students to fall back. Felix heard Annette gasp fearfully as the Lance of Ruin seemed to consume Miklan entirely in dark energy.

In seconds, a creature towered over Sylvain that Felix had never seen in his life. It was like a monster straight out the legends, with dark scaly skin and glowing red eyes. Miklan’s body and the Lance of Ruin were nowhere to be seen.

“What is that thing?” Annette whispered in an awestruck voice. “Is that…Miklan?”

“Not anymore,” Felix answered in a flat voice.

The battle against the thing that had once been Miklan was far more dangerous than the fight against the thieves had been. It was completely bestial in nature, lashing out at anyone who approached too closely. To his credit, Sylvain never left the frontlines; Felix suspected he felt responsible for cleaning up the last mess that his brother had created. Felix stood at his side, unafraid in the face of death. Although not related by blood, Sylvain was as close to a brother as Felix had ever had since Glenn died. Sylvain had stood with him then; Felix would stand with Sylvain now.

Felix felt his Crest of Fraldarius activate as he raised his blade to parry a blow meant for Sylvain. On his friend’s other side stood Ingrid, her face a mask of a fury. She stabbed her own lance roughly into the beast’s thick skin. It howled in pain and thrashed madly, causing people to scatter wildly to avoid the blows. Their only advantage against the beast was that it was completely outnumbered. It was purely a battle of attrition that the beast was losing quickly.

When it finally fell to the ground, the beast’s form seemed to disappear in a black mist, leaving behind the pristine Lance of Ruin and Miklan’s broken body. Felix clapped Sylvain on the shoulder. “It’s over,” he said quietly as they stared together at the remains of Sylvain’s older brother. Even for Felix, who not truly known Miklan, it was a painful moment to witness.

Sylvain nodded and bent to pick up the fallen Relic. “Goodbye, Miklan,” he said softly.

---

Felix swung his blade through the air as he moved through the forms he had long since mastered. The sword was a part of his arm, a weapon that would never betray him. He moved fluidly from once stance to another in time to a rhythmic song he could only hear in his head. Annette’s song had stuck with him since he had first heard it, but it seemed to become more persistent in his mind ever since they returned from Conand Tower. Perhaps it was because she had been humming it mindlessly on the trek back so low that only Felix could hear it, or perhaps it was because it was simply too catchy to be easily forgotten. Whatever the case, it provided a meditative background to his usual practice maneuvers, so Felix found he didn’t really mind it. The only problem was that it seemed to make him careless, so he failed to notice when someone approached during his training.

“Felix,” Lord Rodrigue said pleasantly from behind his son. “May I have a word with you?”

Felix stopped abruptly at the interruption and lowered his blade slowly. “Isn’t that what you’re doing now?” he retorted sarcastically without bothering to turn and face him.

“I meant a private word,” Lord Rodrigue said with a glance around the training grounds.

“I’d rather not,” Felix said coldly. He did turn then and met his father’s stare defiantly. “I think we can discuss things here.”

Lord Rodrigue sighed defeatedly and motioned Felix to a corner of the room. “I hear your studies are going well,” he began with a satisfied smile. “Allow me to offer my congratulations for your success at Conand Tower. Margrave Gautier will be pleased to hear the matter has been resolved.”

Felix crossed his arms across his chest. “What do you want, old man? Surely you didn’t come all the way to Garreg Mach to offer pointless congratulations.”

His father fixed him with a hard gaze. “We need to discuss the matter of your future and that of House Fraldarius,” Lord Rodrigue said levelly.

“Not this again,” Felix spat, his eyes blazing with a familiar anger.

“We wouldn’t need to have this conversation so frequently if you would take your duty to House Fraldarius seriously,” Lord Rodrigue said implacably. He mirrored Felix’s stance and folded his own arms across his chest. “You are the heir to House Fraldarius, and well past the age to be betrothed. Glenn was engaged when he was much younger than you are now.”

“Glenn was different,” Felix snapped furiously. “He was the heir, not the spare. I’ve told you before, I have no interest in leading House Fraldarius.”

“Felix, you don’t have a choice,” Lord Rodrigue said coldly. “You cannot escape your destiny and abandon your duty to Faerghus and the royal family.”

“It’s always about the royal family with you,” Felix retorted savagely. “Never about your family. I don’t give a damn about serving the Blaiddyd family. I fight for me, not for a boar prince.”

“This is about our family,” Lord Rodrigue insisted, ignoring the jibe at Dimitri though Felix knew it must have stung. “Felix, listen to what you’re saying. You will inherit House Fraldarius and all the responsibility that comes with it when I die. You must be ready to take up that mantle.”

“That has nothing to do with marriage,” Felix argued back, feeling his chest begin to constrict with poorly concealed anger. “It only requires that I am strong enough to defend the kingdom when the time comes. Nothing more.”

“Who will defend it after you, then?” Lord Rodrigue pressed firmly. “If you have no heir, who will defend the kingdom after you?”

“Whoever has the strength to do so,” Felix replied harshly. “Maybe someone with the same blind loyalty to the Blaiddyd’s as you.”

“I will not stand for this behaviour. You shame House Fraldarius like this,” Lord Rodrigue cut across Felix’s tirade with all the force of a father. “I expect you to seriously consider any betrothals we receive. That is,” his father added ruthlessly as he turned to leave. “If any woman would be willing to put up with your foul temper long enough to agree to a betrothal.”

Felix had no intention of considering anything of the sort, so he waited silently until his father left the training grounds. He wasn’t surprised that this topic had come up again; it was a regular point of contention between them, and it had been ever since Glenn’s untimely death. Felix wasn’t an idiot; he understood his father’s stance well enough. It was logical to want to ensure the continuance of the family line, especially one that was as important to the kingdom as that of House Fraldarius. Felix supposed he was just too jaded to agree that this was of utmost importance. It hadn’t done Glenn any good, anyway. In fact, that betrothal had only served to cause Ingrid an ungodly amount of pain and sorrow.

I’ll be damned if I put any woman through that, Felix thought savagely as he moved back into his sword stances. He could still see Ingrid’s devasted face when she had heard the news of Glenn’s death. Her haunted face, her broken voice; those memories would never fade. Better to end our family entirely than cause anyone else that kind of pain.

Felix could feel his body falling back into the rhythm of the sword as he let out his frustration on an unfeeling training dummy. In the back of his mind, he could hear the same soothing melody that he hadn’t quite been able to forget even after so many months. He remembered how heartbroken Annette had been when her own father had rejected her not so long ago and could well imagine how she would react if she were to be betrothed like Ingrid, only for her future husband to die in a vain, pointless battle.

The image of someone like Annette going through that kind of pain all over again steeled Felix’s resolve to avoid any sort of engagement his father might try to arrange. Strength is all I need, he thought as he moved according to the rhythm of his secret melody. If I must lead House Fraldarius, it will be with my blade, not my heart.

Chapter Text

8 Horsebow Moon 1180

Dear Mother,

I hope you’re doing well back home. Thank you for your last letter and the package of sweets you sent—Mercie and I loved them!

I am really enjoying my time here at Garreg Mach, so please don’t worry about me! Everyone in my class is really nice and I have a lot of friends here. It’s completely different from the Royal School of Sorcery! I think you would like Professor Byleth a lot—she isn’t very talkative, but she’s so smart and kind. She helped me work through my anxiety after our first battle in the Red Canyon, so now fighting doesn’t bother me as much as it once did.

That’s not to say that I like fighting or anything! Battle is horrible and I hate having to kill people, even when they are criminals. I wish that there was a way we could put these people on trial to face the consequences instead of resorting to bloodshed. Killing them is an easy way out but living with the consequences of your actions is so much more difficult. We wouldn’t need armies or weapons then—but I guess that’s a pretty naïve way of looking at the world, isn’t it?

As I mentioned in my previous letter, the injuries I sustained in our following battle have now healed fully. Luckily, one of my friends here was able to help me before anything worse could happen, and Mercie got me patched up in no time! I promise I’ll be more careful in the future.

Unfortunately, we’ve been told that there’s a girl living at the Monastery who has gone missing. I don’t know her very well, but she seems so nice which makes me worry for her safety. There was no indication that she left of her own accord either. It’s really scary to think that someone would be so cruel to kidnap her under everyone’s noses. Our class has been tasked with tracking her down and rescuing her as soon as possible. Please wish us luck!

By the way, I have seen Father here at the Monastery. I’ve tried approaching him a few times, but he only brushed me off once and hasn’t acknowledged me since. I’m not going to give up for as long as I live, so I hope you won’t either!

I should mention that your songs have been giving me the strength to not give up on my goal. I find myself singing your favourite melodies when I’m feeling sad or scared, and it’s strengthened my resolve. In fact, that same friend who helped me during our previous battle actually overheard me signing your song! I was so embarrassed, but he said he liked the tune very much and that he can’t forget it. I told him not to let anyone else know about it, but really, I’m so happy. You have such a talent for composing beautiful music—I wish I had half the skill that you do! I’m glad I was able to share your music with someone else who can appreciate it.

Love Always,

Annette

P.S. I hope you enjoy the enclosed cookies! Mercie helped me bake them so that they would be perfect!

---

Annette re-read her letter and nodded in satisfaction. Folding the parchment carefully and sliding it into the envelope, she reached for the hot wax and carefully sealed it shut.

“Perfect,” Annette said with a smile as she attached the envelope to the box of fresh cookies. “I am sure Mother will love this!”

Clutching her package close in her arms, Annette hurried outside and past the fishing pond toward the marketplace. She was keenly aware that she had not written to her mother in far too long, so when Mercedes had suggested they do some baking to relieve some stress from the past several weeks, Annette had jumped at the opportunity to make a few extra treats to send back home. Mercedes’ baking was one of the few things that her mother was truly fond of nowadays.

Outside, the Monastery grounds were a flurry of activity. It was a warm, sunny afternoon that would usually have been a perfect day to spend with friends after a long week of studying. Unfortunately, Flayn’s disappearance had changed everything. Annette didn’t know the green-haired girl very well, but in the few times that she had spoken to her, Flayn had seemed like a genuinely kind person. She couldn’t imagine what kind of scoundrel would want to kidnap Flayn, or for what purpose.

“Our mission for this month is to locate and rescue Flayn as soon as possible,” Professor Byleth had informed their class just days earlier. Her usually impassive eyes had reflected real concern as she spoke. “It is imperative that you all keep your eyes and ears open for any clues.”

Annette hoped that whoever had stolen Flayn from the security of the Monastery would not return for anyone else. Without knowing why she was taken, it was impossible to know if any other students were at risk of the same fate. Annette was reasonably confident that she could fend off any would-be kidnappers long enough to make an escape or wake the whole Monastery with her screaming, but she really didn’t want to put it to the test. She didn’t like the idea that someone—or several people—were involved in a mysterious kidnapping ring that could avoid detection by even the Knights of Seiros.

The marketplace was abuzz with activity and noise as shoppers pushed through the throngs of people lining the streets, haggling loudly with equally loud proprietors. Annette made a beeline to post office outpost to drop her package off for delivery, deftly dodging various swinging appendages and parcels. It was a very long way back to Barony Dominic where her mother was living, so the sooner it was sent, the sooner her mother could enjoy the treats.

The red-haired woman at the stall smiled warmly at Annette and weighed the box. “Fifteen silver pieces,” she said crisply, holding out a delicate bejewelled hand to accept the payment. “For the length of the journey and the size of your package.”

Annette groaned audibly and fumbled through her change purse for the required amount. Prices seemed to be increasing lately, ever since the events at Conand Tower. It seemed that the roads throughout the Kingdom were becoming more treacherous with thieves hassling travellers more frequently and with greater numbers. Annette hoped that the extra fees from the postal service would ensure the package arrived unharmed. She hated to consider how her mother would feel if Annette’s message never reached her.

“It will arrive safely, right?” she asked anxiously, leaning forward on the tips of her toes to squint into the woman’s sharp eyes.

“We don’t make guarantees,” the woman said in business-like voice. She waved her hand irritably so that her rings reflected the light across the stall. “Sorry little lady, but there’s other customers waiting.”

With that unceremonious dismissal, Annette turned to head back toward the Monastery proper and go about her assigned chores, whispering a silent prayer to the Goddess that her package would be delivered without issue. She couldn’t possibly afford pegasus delivery which came with a premium fee since it was generally considered the safest, and fastest, service available. It didn’t do to dwell on things she had no control over, but one of Annette’s specialities was to worry unnecessarily, so she wrung her hands restlessly as she walked until she heard a familiar voice calling her name.

“Annette! Wait up!”

“Oh, hello Sylvain,” Annette said warmly as she turned to face him. She tried to still her hands by smoothing her skirt. “What are you doing here on such a lovely afternoon?”

Sylvain ran a hand through his messy red hair as he caught up and bestowed a lazy smile on her. “We needed some new weapon supplies,” he said with a jerk of his head toward the blacksmith’s stall a little further down the lane. Annette leaned to her right to peer past Sylvain’s shoulder and could see Felix standing with Ingrid, both apparently engaged in animated haggling for the price of their purchase. “We figured it would be better to get it done now in case some lead turns up in the search for dear Flayn.”

“A wise idea,” Annette agreed. She could see that the others had noticed Sylvain standing with her. Felix shot a look of irritation in their direction and nudged Ingrid with his elbow, all the while staring fixedly at the place where they stood together. Annette couldn’t imagine why he looked so upset; Sylvain could be persistent when he wanted to woo a lady, but he hadn’t ever tried his charms on Annette with any great interest, so she wasn’t greatly concerned by the situation.

“Why are you here all alone anyway?” Sylvain asked curiously. He leaned closer as if afraid someone might overhear their rather banal conversation. “Shopping for someone special?”

“Not exactly. I wanted to send something back home to my mother,” Annette explained, trying not to focus on the intensity of his gaze. “Mercie and I baked some fresh cookies last night, so I thought it would be nice to send her some too.”

“That’s really sweet,” Sylvain smiled widely, though he looked rather more disappointed by her response than necessary. “Your mother is really lucky to have such a thoughtful daughter. Do you miss being home with her?”

“A little,” Annette replied honestly. She waved brightly as Ingrid and Felix finished their business with the blacksmith. Ingrid waved back and hurried ahead of her scowling companion. “But it’s more important for me to be here. She understands that.”

“I hope Sylvain isn’t bothering you,” Ingrid said tartly as she joined them. She scowled darkly and pushed a plain brown package into Sylvain’s open hands. “Didn’t you say you wanted these whetstones?”

“Yeah, sorry for running off like that,” he said with a chuckle. He looked past Ingrid and grinned at Felix toothily, whose scowl hadn’t disappeared. “I just thought I’d catch Annette and say hi before she left the market.”

“You never could pass up the opportunity to chat up a girl,” Felix growled at him. His amber eyes were steely. “Maybe if you took your training more seriously, you wouldn’t forget your own purchase at the counter.”

“It all worked out,” Sylvain replied with another lazy smile. He didn’t seem remotely bothered by Felix’s sour tone. “Besides, it’s not like the Reaper is going to jump us in the middle of the day. I’ve got lots of time to go work on my lance.”

“The Reaper?” Annette asked in a tone of great interest. “Who’s that?”

Ingrid shrugged. “There’s rumours that Flayn was kidnapped by a man in a mask,” she said with a sharp glare at Sylvain. If looks could kill, Annette was certain Sylvain would have died in that moment. In fact, she had a distinct impression that Sylvain probably wouldn’t have lived to even attend Garreg Mach if that were the case. “But that’s all they are. No one has been able to prove anything about the kidnapper’s identity.”

“There’s no such thing as a Reaper,” Felix added grouchily. He continued to stare directly at Sylvain, and Annette had a funny feeling that he was trying to avoid looking toward her at all. “No fantastical being kidnapped Flayn. It had to be a human.”

“You never know,” Sylvain said with a cheeky grin. “Neither of you have ever seen a Reaper, right? How do you know they don’t exist?”

“Because they’re fictional!” Ingrid insisted in an exasperated tone.

“People have been saying the Reaper has been spotted in the villages around the Monastery,” Sylvain told Annette with an air of authority on the subject and completely ignoring Ingrid. “Always at night, and always on a dark horse in dark armour.”

“What could someone like that possibly want with Flayn?” Annette asked faintly. “He sounds terrifying! What if he comes back for others?”

“The Reaper isn’t real,” Felix repeated a little impatiently. He continued to glare at Sylvain as if wishing the ground would open and swallow him whole at that very moment. “If anyone else is kidnapped, it won’t be due to an imaginary being.”

“That’s right,” Ingrid concurred. She crossed her arms and tapped her foot on the ground. “Sylvain, you had better stop spreading such nonsense. We don’t want people to panic. It could cause more confusion during our investigation.”

“All right, all right,” Sylvain said placatingly, raising both hands in a gesture of surrender. “I’m just telling Annette what I heard. We wouldn’t want any other cute girls to be abducted by a Reaper. Right, Felix?”

“You’re impossible!” Ingrid threw up her hands in defeat. “Come on, let’s go get your lance back into shape. Clearly you need some actual work to keep your mind busy and your mouth shut.”

Ingrid forcibly pulled Sylvain away from them, gripping his arm so hard that he actually winced mid-farewell. He stumbled after her golden braid muttering loudly about her busybody habits and penchant for physical assault of his person. Felix stared after them and shook his head disgustedly as Sylvain’s complaints began to grow fainter.

“You don’t really think there is a Reaper, do you?” Annette asked Felix, a note of hysteria in her voice.

He snorted derisively and looked at her directly for the first time. “Of course not. It’s just a rumor some idiot made up to explain why Flayn disappeared so suddenly.”

“Oh, good. I was a little worried…” Annette let her sentence trail off. She brushed a stray strand of reddish-orange hair out of her eyes, hoping to get a better look at his face to see if Felix was only humoring her.

Felix rolled his eyes and began to head up the stairs into the entrance hall. “Don’t listen to Sylvain,” he advised. “He’s always saying idiotic things like that to get attention.”

Annette glanced at Felix, but he continued to stare straight ahead. His expression was stormy, and he didn’t seem to realize they were walking in the same direction. “I wonder who did kidnap Flayn,” she said as they reached the top of the stairs.

“We can’t answer who without knowing why,” Felix said distractedly. He continued to head toward the reception hall as if he was on a mission to put a certain red-haired man out of his earthly misery. “Anyway, I have some business to take care of, so we’ll have to discuss this later.”

“Oh, okay. Don’t forget, we’ll meet in the training grounds tonight,” Annette called after him. Felix raised one hand in acknowledgement without looking back.

---

Dinner was a subdued affair that evening. In fact, meals had been quiet ever since news of Flayn’s disappearance had broken. The Knights of Seiros were working around the clock to locate her to no avail. The long tables in the dining hall were mostly empty at mealtimes since too many people were involved in the investigation to be able to eat with the rest of the Monastery. It felt eerily quiet in the huge room without the constant murmur of conversation to fill the space.

Annette sat with Mercedes and picked at her food unenthusiastically. Despite the assurances from both Felix and Ingrid, she couldn’t quite shake the fear that the Reaper that Sylvain had mentioned would appear at any moment to kidnap one of them.

Probably me, Annette thought uneasily as she pushed a slightly undercooked potato across her plate. It’d be just my luck.

Noticing her friend’s downcast demeanour, Mercedes reached across the table and took Annette’s hand in her own. “What’s wrong, Annie? You don’t seem like yourself tonight.”

“I’m just worried about Flayn,” Annette spoke the half-truth easily, and gave Mercedes’ hand a tight squeeze. “I can’t imagine what Seteth must be going through. It must be so hard on him to not know what happened to his sister.”

“Yes, I know,” Mercedes agreed sadly, her brow furrowed across her delicate features. “I am sure that we’ll find her soon. With so many people searching, there’s no way we won’t be able to rescue her.”

“I hope you’re right,” Annette said fervently. She pushed a carrot around her plate as her thoughts wandered to the idea that the Reaper might come for her on the way back to her room that evening. The little hairs on the back of her neck seemed to stand on end, as though the Reaper was already watching her, waiting for his opportunity to snatch her away.

“You really should eat,” Mercedes said with a smile and withdrawing her hand. “I think Felix has been waiting for you for some time now.”

“What?” Annette dropped her fork with a clatter onto her plate. Looking up, she saw the dark-haired swordsman striding purposefully over to their table. All thoughts of the Reaper temporarily fled from her mind. In his own way, Felix was equally frightening when he was angry, and Annette had no desire to give him further cause to be upset with her. “Oh no, I’m probably late for our lesson!”

“Good evening, Felix,” Mercedes said kindly as Annette hurriedly began to shovel her remaining food into her mouth. “How are you?”

“Fine,” he said shortly. He raised an eyebrow at Annette. “You don’t need to rush, you know. Although we were supposed to begin training almost forty-five minutes ago.”

“Sorry,” Annette said through a mouthful of food. “I lost track of time.”

“It’s my fault,” Mercedes said graciously. She gestured for him to join them at the table while Annette hurried to finish her meal. “We were talking about the search for poor Flayn. Do you have any leads, Felix?”

“No leads,” he said pensively, taking a seat beside her and lacing his fingers together. “Just suspicions.”

“Not the Reaper, right?” Annette said in alarm as a piece of beef fell from her fork.

Felix snorted and shook his head. “Of course not. The Reaper is a made-up figment of some idiot’s imagination.” He paused dramatically, though Annette wasn’t sure if that was intentional or not. “No, the most likely candidates are within this Monastery as we speak.”

“But who could possibly want to kidnap poor Flayn?” Mercedes said apprehensively. “She’s never harmed anyone at all. Not to mention, they would be risking Seteth’s wrath by taking her.”

“Exactly,” Felix said in a deceptively soft voice for someone whose eyes looked predatory. “What is so important about that girl that they would risk her brother’s wrath in order to steal her from right under his nose?”

“Doesn’t she have a Crest?” Annette interjected as she pulled a slice of pie closer. “Maybe they want to study it?”

“Seteth is known to be very protective of his sister,” Mercedes agreed with a note of approval in her voice at Annette’s suggestion. “I doubt he would approve of anyone studying her Crest. He doesn’t let anyone near her if he can avoid it.”

“Her Crest is likely part of it, if not the whole reason,” Felix concurred, watching Annette finish her dessert in record time. She couldn’t tell if he was impressed or disgusted but decided that she’d rather not think too hard about it. “That leaves the question of who in this Monastery would be willing to take her knowing full well that Seteth would launch a full-scale investigation until she’s found.”

“You said you had suspicions,” Annette pointed out, pulling a jug of water closer and refilling her goblet. “Who do you think is involved?”

Felix nodded slowly. “There are a few people here that are suspicious. The obvious ones are Shamir, Alois, and Professor Hanneman. From what I’ve heard from Professor Byleth, they all have alibis. Besides,” Felix added thoughtfully as he glanced between the two girls. Seeing an unused cup on the table, he reached and pulled it closer. “None of them have any reason to wish to make an enemy of Seteth.”

“Could it have been another student?” Mercedes suggested tentatively. “Someone young and foolish enough to believe that they can outwit Seteth?”

“Doubtful,” Felix scoffed. He reached for the water jug as Annette finished pouring her own glass. The tips of his fingers brushed her hand lightly as he took it. She glanced at him almost involuntarily, though he avoided her gaze. “Even if they did think they could succeed, who among the student body stands to benefit by kidnapping her?”

“That doesn’t leave many other possibilities,” Annette said dubiously. Her hand felt hot from where Felix’s touch still seemed to linger.

“There doesn’t need to be many. Few people in Garreg Mach would want to risk Seteth’s wrath. There are two people I suspect. The first is Tomas,” Felix said in a quiet voice. “Ingrid and Dimitri both confirmed that he’s been asking about Flayn recently. It doesn’t reflect well on him, given the circumstances.”

“Tomas has always seemed so friendly,” Mercedes said, sounding aghast. “Surely not him!”

“On the other hand,” Felix continued, narrowing his eyes and glancing toward Annette. “If the rumours of the supposed ‘Reaper’ are to be believed, the kidnapper may have hidden his face at the time. We have a professor here who keeps his face masked on a regular basis.”

The two girls stared at Felix in silence for several long moments.

“Jeritza?” Annette asked quietly. Felix didn’t seem to have any trouble holding her gaze now. His amber eyes blazed intently when she looked at him. “The fencing professor?”

Felix nodded once. “The very same.”

Annette did not know Jeritza very well since she didn’t partake in sword practice. He mainly hung around the training grounds, so she supposed Felix must be more familiar with him. The man rarely spoke to anyone, and when he did, it was in short sentences without any inflection whatsoever. He was neither friendly nor approachable. It was true that he wore a mask at all times, which Annette had always thought was weird but had chalked up to him just being a little bit different. Nothing to really be concerned about.

“Jeritza…” Mercedes said quietly. She was frowning slightly, and her face looked paler than usual.

“We have no proof,” Felix said, leaning back in his chair and staring at the ceiling. “Whoever it is has taken care to leave no trace of their actions.”

“Regardless of who took her, I hope we can find Flayn soon,” Annette said glumly. She sighed heavily, trying to focus on Flayn’s wellbeing rather than the tingling sensation in her cheeks. “Before anything worse happens to her.”

“I hope so too,” Felix agreed softly.

---

It was almost a week and a half since Flayn had disappeared before there was any breakthrough in the case. Having completely missed one lesson together, Annette had been careful to ensure that the same thing didn’t happen a second time. As such, Annette and Felix were together in the training grounds practicing spellcasting when they received the news. The knights had been occupied for so long that they had the area to themselves, which certainly made the practice considerably easier. There was less of a chance that a misdirected spell would injure others in the area should Felix fail to properly cast it.

“Remember,” Annette coached him in a firm voice, trying not to stand too close in case her heart started thudding too loudly in her chest. “You need to really concentrate on what you want to cast and where you want it to go.”

Felix narrowed his amber eyes and stared straight at the training dummy some twenty feet away. So far, he had only managed to create a few feeble electric sparks around the tips of his fingers. Annette had assured him that this was normal when one first began to learn magic, but he had seemed rather dismayed that it did not come as naturally to him as swordplay.

“Think of calling thunder down to the earth,” she encouraged again. “Use your thunder magic to electrocute that dummy—oh, Ingrid! Is something wrong?”

Felix straightened abruptly as Annette turned to see Ingrid rushing toward them with her long, golden braid swaying behind her. Her face was bright with the exertion from rushing to find them.

“We’ve found Flayn’s trail,” Ingrid said breathlessly, her eyes were blazing with a fury that Annette had never previously seen. “Professor Manuela was found unconscious in Jeritza’s rooms in the knight’s quarters. There’s a secret passageway there that seems to lead underground.”

Annette exchanged an anxious glance with Felix, their first direct look since they began their lesson earlier that evening.

“Lead the way,” Felix told Ingrid decisively.

The three of them ran across the Monastery grounds toward the knight’s quarters without pausing to discuss any sort of plan or strategy. Staring at his straight, confident back as they hurried toward their destination, Annette thought Felix seemed surprisingly concerned for Flayn’s safety. Despite Sylvain and Ingrid’s constant banter with Felix about his cold personality, he seemed to care deeply for his friends. Indeed, Felix had always shown concern for Annette’s own wellbeing; he had never left Annette to fend for herself when she was in distress, even when he had only just met her. Felix genuinely seemed to want to help others when it was within his power to do so, even if there was no clear benefit to him.

“Annette, stay close to me,” Felix ordered resolutely as they arrived outside Jeritza’s quarters. “The others have probably already descended. We don’t know what kind of enemy we’re facing.”

“Right,” Annette said nervously as she peered down the dark stairs and then back towards Felix’s face. “I’ll try not to be a burden.”

Annette though she could see the corners of Felix’s mouth quirk upwards, but the ghost of a smirk was gone before it had truly formed. “You’re not a burden,” he said brusquely. “But you don’t have the stamina to survive on the frontlines. Stay behind myself and Ingrid, and we will protect you.”

Ingrid was staring openly at Felix as though she had never seen him before in her life. Her green eyes were darting between the two of them as if she had realized something which had been eluding her for some time.

“Ingrid, what’s wrong?” Annette asked worriedly, noticing the odd behaviour. “Are you feeling all right?”

Visibly pulling herself together, Ingrid offered a tight smile and nodded quickly. “Yes, I’m fine. Let’s go rescue Flayn. We shouldn’t keep her waiting any longer.”

The trio descended to the depths beneath Garreg Mach Monastery as quickly as the darkness would allow without risking injury. The stone stairs were slick with an underground dampness that seemed to seep into Annette’s bones as they travelled further below the surface. Felix kept a fast pace, though he was never more than a few steps ahead of Annette and Ingrid. More than once, he reached out a hand to steady Annette as she lost her footing, preventing her from falling and injuring herself. Annette had a feeling that Ingrid was watching each interaction with interest despite the dull lighting in the passageway.

The sounds of fighting drifted toward them as they finally reached the bottom of the stairs and entered a poorly lit chamber that smelled terribly of mildew and rot. Annette could see the rest of their class just ahead of them, engaging in battle with a mysterious enemy that bore no livery. The thought of fighting no longer frightened her as it once had, not now, not after having participated in so many other battles where she might have lost her life. Not only that, but Annette couldn’t deny that fighting alongside Felix steadied her own resolve. He was so confident in his own abilities, so sure that he would always win that Annette felt like she, too, could share in that confidence.

Felix plunged forward into the fray without hesitation or fear, his sword raised to cut a path in which Annette could follow with relative safety. Ingrid supported his flank and swung her spear in a wide swath to deter any attackers from approaching too closely, her face alight with adrenaline like a Valkyrie of old. Annette knew Felix was right when he told her to stay behind them; she would be useless on the frontlines where her lack of armour and her slower reflexes would only put her in more danger.

Instead, Annette provided the support she knew would be the most valuable, calling the positions of oncoming enemies and casting devasting wind magic to open opportunities for her comrades to finish the kill. The sounds of battle became a song to which Annette moved effortlessly, a rhythmic dirge to which she cast her spells, allowing Felix to swoop in for the finishing blow. They did not need to speak to know where to move, or whom to attack; it came as naturally as breathing. Any fear Annette had held before entering the battle melted away as she followed Felix’s lead through the fight, staying close to him just as he had told her.

By the time the battle came to an end, Annette felt like they had been fighting for days at a time. With her magical energy so depleted, Annette felt strangely like a husk devoid of any life inside her body. Her limbs ached as she sank back against a stone wall outside the chamber where Flayn lay unconscious and bleeding, unaware that she was being rescued.

At least we made it in time, Annette thought wearily as she dragged the back of her hand slowly across her forehead.

She heard footsteps approaching her and opened her eyes just enough to see Felix’s tall form standing in front of her. He gazed at her with an unreadable expression, his own face looking hollow in the aftermath of the battle. Felix wordlessly stretched out his arm, offering Annette a plain flask with the stopper already removed. Taking it gratefully, Annette raised the water to her lips and felt the cool liquid refresh her parched throat just as rain rejuvenates a farmer’s field during a drought. She offered a small smile as she handed the flask back, careful to avoid brushing the tips of her fingers against his.

“You had nice form out there,” he said in a voice so soft it was barely above a whisper. Felix’s eyes held her gaze steadily, as if daring Annette to contradict him.

“I’m your girl,” she said with another smile, her own voice matching his. “You can count on me.”

Chapter Text

Life at Garreg Mach fell back into a semblance of normalcy as a colder wind began to blow in from the north with the dawning of Wyvern Moon. Back home in Faerghus, the temperature would already have dropped significantly, and the people would be preparing for the onset of winter by stockpiling foodstuffs and repairing damaged homesteads before the snows began in earnest. In the northernmost regions surrounding Fhirdiad, including both the Gautier and Fraldarius territories, the people would be ensuring that firewood was cut and stored before the first frosts touched the grass. No one survived in the Kingdom without knowing how to prepare for, and outlast, a winter.

Luckily, Garreg Mach was far enough south that the cold wouldn’t truly touch them until Ethereal Moon, and even then, it would not be nearly so hard as in the north. Felix considered this a blessing since it meant that he could continue to train outdoors each morning and evening with only a lightly padded leather jacket for extra warmth. He couldn’t deny that the cold also served a purpose during his training, keeping his focus on each precise movement rather than on the melody that played in his head on repeat ever since that fateful moment so many months ago. He hadn’t lied when he told Annette it was too catchy to forget.

The unending song was only one of several things that Felix had been unable to forget, and it was the one the bothered him the least. The tune provided a soothing background melody to his daily life while he studied or completed his chores around the Monastery and, although he tried not to focus on it while he practiced his swordplay, Felix found he enjoyed it otherwise. It reminded him of Annette, and she was something he hadn’t expected that he would enjoy being reminded of so frequently.

Unfortunately, Annette’s song wasn’t enough to help him forget his other troubles. The second thing Felix was unable to forget was the conversation with his father after the battle at Conand Tower. True to his word, Lord Rodrigue was sourcing potential betrothals for his inordinately stubborn second son. Felix had rejected each of the three letters his father had sent thus far without even reading them, pausing only to send a single curt message back home with his feelings on the topic. His father had not yet deigned to respond to this last missive, but Felix strongly suspected that this was not a matter that Lord Rodrigue would easily give up. Felix supposed this was only to be expected; stubbornness was a quality which they had always shared.

The third problem was Annette herself. This one was particularly vexing because Felix had noticed months previously that he was developing very bad habits of looking for her bright hair when he entered a room and listening for the musical sound of her voice as he passed through the halls of Garreg Mach. As much as he tried not to notice her, to not seek her out, it seemed an impossible task; somehow, it was as though he knew where Annette would be without needing to be told. An even larger issue stemming from this ever-worsening problem was that Felix also knew that these habits had not gone unnoticed by his friends, a fact which had only gotten worse since Flayn’s rescue the month before.

Ingrid was neither blind nor deaf, a fact which Felix had taken to cursing daily ever since their last successful mission. She had seen how carefully Felix watched Annette’s every movement, ensuring that the mage-girl didn’t become injured unnecessarily or find herself in harm’s way during battle. Ingrid had listened closely to how Felix spoke to Annette more gently than he ever had with his one-time future sister-in-law. Nor could she fail to notice how he became startlingly defensive when anyone dared to comment on any of these habits to him directly.

“Focus on the task at hand,” Felix snapped warningly at Ingrid during his daily practice in the training ground one evening. He was gripping the hilt of his sword so tightly that his knuckles were going white from the force. “The Battle of the Eagle and Lion is next week, and your form is getting worse the longer you stand here interrogating me.”

Ingrid continued to stare at him menacingly and looked completely unconcerned with his insult. As usual, she had ganged up on Felix with Sylvain at her side, so he knew this was a lost battle, though Felix’s pride insisted that he engage in the fight, nonetheless. “Don’t avoid the question,” Ingrid replied in a deceptively mild tone that did not match the accusatory look in her green eyes. Sylvain stood beside her looking considerably more amused, drumming his fingers along his lance as his eyes darted between the two of them, waiting to see who would break first. “I saw Annette’s face today, looking like the whole world had come to an end. What did you do to her this time?”

“I already told you, I haven’t done anything to her,” Felix snarled in a dangerously low voice. He raised his sword and turned away from Ingrid in a desperate attempt to force the conversation to an end, but she darted around him easily. Ingrid was not easily deterred when chasing her quarry, a quality that Felix despised in her yet had come to admire in Annette.

“I don’t believe you,” Ingrid declared as she swung her lance outward to keep Felix from moving away from her again. “The last time she looked like this, you had made her cry.”

Felix had no desire to explain anything to Ingrid or Sylvain about Annette, and doubly so when the issue involved Sir Gilbert, about whom he had already broken his promise to Annette once before. Indeed, he had come across Annette the night before after she had tried to confront her father again, and Sir Gilbert had yet again ignored her pleas. She hadn’t cried this time, but Felix knew the rejection had hurt Annette again and left another scar on her already broken heart. The thought of this filled his chest with a righteous anger that he didn’t feel he had any right to act on, not when it was a Dominic family problem. As it happened, Felix had his own familial problems with which to contend in any case.

“Trust me when I say I haven’t made that mistake again,” Felix responded coldly, raising his sword in a direct challenge to Ingrid. She was not intimidated, much to Felix’s chagrin, and pointed her weapon threateningly toward him in return.

“Lay off it, Ingrid,” Sylvain advised, sounding as amused as ever. “I think if Felix had been the cause of Annette’s sadness, he would have broken down already and begged for our help to fix it again.”

Felix turned his head to glare ominously at his best friend, but Sylvain only smiled lazily and offered a sly wink. Ingrid, for her part, did not look entirely convinced but lowered her weapon slightly, nonetheless.

“You know, Felix,” Sylvain went on conversationally, leaning casually against his lance and speaking in a carefree tone that belied the sharpness in his eyes. “If I didn’t know any better—”

“You don’t,” Felix cut him off before Sylvain could finish the thought. He lunged toward Ingrid with his sword pointing outward, the steel glinting brightly in the sunlight. “You two will be a liability in our next battle if you keep up this ridiculous prattle.”

Ingrid deflected his attack easily, falling low into a stance with her lance pointing toward Felix. She thrust it forward and twisted to attack his open flank, green eyes flashing at him. “You can’t avoid this forever, Felix,” she said harshly as he dodged her attack fluidly, slashing his blade toward her exposed leg. “You’ve never been this kind to anyone since Glenn died. Did you think we wouldn’t notice?”

“Leave Glenn out of this,” Felix responded roughly as he raised his arm to block an incoming blow from Sylvain, who had just entered the sparring match. He had, in fact, been hoping they wouldn’t notice, but thought better of saying so aloud.

“You changed after he died,” Ingrid snapped, completely ignoring Felix’s words. She stabbed her lance savagely toward his chest, an attack he barely managed to block in time. Her haggard expression was far too reminiscent of how she had looked after Glenn’s passing. “You stopped caring about any of us. Annette is the first person you’ve cared about in years.

This accusation was untrue, yet Felix was not willing to contradict Ingrid on it. He had cared about his friends ever since Glenn’s death; it was why he was here at Garreg Mach in the eternal pursuit of strength. The strength to live and to fight, to protect others with his battle prowess. Felix had no intention of dying in a pointless battle the way his brother had, and nor did he intend to protect a boar prince who had no business leading anyone. He would use his strength on his own terms, protecting those who needed it most. It just happened that Annette was more vulnerable than his other friends. She was not weak, but she had trusted him with her insecurities and her secrets; Felix knew she struggled in ways that Ingrid never had, despite her own pain. Even though Annette always forged onward, Felix had an uncanny ability to see her pain and a baffling desire to protect her.

Sylvain slashed his lance at Felix half-heartedly, a wide, stupid grin splitting his face. “I don’t think I agree with you on that, Ingrid,” he said with a knowing look at Felix. Sylvain always had been more observant than anyone ever gave him credit. “He’s always just been better at hiding it.”

---

The Battle of the Eagle and Lion took place on Gronder Field, as was tradition. Professor Byleth observed the battlefield before them in silence for several minutes while the Blue Lions milled restlessly nearby. Felix stood a little apart from the others and stared across the field too, pointedly ignoring any attempts to draw him into conversation. From the corner of his eye, Felix could see Ingrid watching him closely as she stood with Dimitri, as though she expected him to violently attack the nearest bystander. He could sense Sylvain watching him too from where he chatted with Ashe, his own eyes sparkling with some secret thought Felix hadn’t been able to decipher.

As always, Annette stood with Mercedes, arms linked together and staring at the distant cliff overlooking the battlefield where the faculty of Garreg Mach would bear witness to the tourney below. Her back was straight with pride and defiance in the face of constant rejection, and Felix wondered briefly if he would ever be able to face his own father with that same sense of confidence. Discretely, Felix watched Annette as she leaned closer to her friend and whispered something in Mercedes’ ear. The other girl tightened her arm around Annette’s and whispered something back which made her smile. He could hear Annette’s silly song about crumbs and yums echoing in his head the longer he watched her. Felix didn’t look away.

Finally, Professor Byleth motioned for the class to gather around and explained the strategy she had devised. As with previous missions, she had decided to keep certain students paired together as a final test before their next reviews were released. Annette flashed a tiny smile at Felix as she joined him near the edge of the stream. He nodded solemnly, carefully scanning the area to see if anyone was watching. By the luck of the Goddess, Ingrid and Sylvain were assigned to the far left of the field and would be engaging the Golden Deer forces first. That left Felix in the company of the boar prince and his hound, with only the Professor to keep them in check. Mock battle or not, Felix felt uneasy fighting this close to the thing that was once his friend, knowing that the bloodthirsty creature he had become would never be sated.

Crumbs and yums, his mind reminded him traitorously, the melody catching his dark thoughts and gently tugging him back into the present moment. Stacks of steaks and cakes…

Felix shook his head roughly, his dark hair swirling around him like a storm cloud suddenly dispersing as the sun began to shine through. He had to focus on the task at hand, not on the boar or what he might do. What-if scenarios were nothing more than a distraction in battle, a sure way to die. Felix would not lose, he would not fall, especially not in front of Dimitri. He would not be weak, never allow his personal feelings to cloud his judgement. He had someone to protect, and he wouldn’t be able to do that if he died.

Someone to protect, he thought disgustedly, thinking of Glenn and his knightly death. I’m not a knight, I don’t need to protect her or anyone else.

It didn’t stop him from wanting to do it. He glanced at Annette standing beside him, her small frame looking strangely frail, as though a light breeze might carry her away. Noticing his gaze, Annette offered another smile. “Good luck,” she said cheerfully. “Don’t be reckless!”

Felix felt the corners of his mouth curve upwards before he could stop the motion. “I’m never reckless,” he said with an almost involuntary glance at Dimitri. The prince was clutching his lance with such force that his knuckles were white. He stared forward across the battlefield as though he could neither see nor hear anyone else over the rushing thrill of battle. The sight made Felix’s skin crawl. “But I’m not afraid of a challenge either.”

They moved out then on Dimitri’s signal, advancing forward in an orderly fashion across the stream and up the hill ahead. It was almost laughable how perfectly everything was set up for this re-enactment of an ancient, chaotic battle. Even now, the ripples from that time could still be felt as Faerghus and Adrestria existed alongside one another in an uneasy peace. This was nothing more than play-acting, offering little challenge without any real stakes. The best Felix could hope for was to meet someone on the battlefield who would offer some small test of strength.

Predictably, the boar prince charged forward unhesitatingly, and his faithful hound followed at Dimitri’s heels, together plunging into a mass of Black Eagle soldiers. Felix watched them scornfully, knowing he ought to be with them because he was shirking his ever-so-important Fraldarius duty by not following Dimitri’s lead. Even so, Felix couldn’t bring himself to fight alongside either of those animals, regardless of what his old man might say about it. Instead, Felix sprinted straight ahead to cut off the reinforcements who were heading toward the boar prince, his sword ready to bite into their armour.

The Black Eagle students were more formidable than Felix would have believed, though he was certain that his speed and skill were superior. They had many mages among their ranks, making them easy targets to close in on and cut down. Rushing down the other side of the low hill as Dimitri looped around the far side on a more direct route to Edelgard, Felix caught sight of the healer Linhardt in his path and headed directly toward him. He would be a strategic soldier to take out of the fight, and Felix was pragmatic about these sorts of things.

Felix slashed his sword toward Linhardt and the mage dodged swiftly, his expression more annoyed than frightened. He prepared a spell, white magical energy beginning to loop around his fingers like little iridescent snakes and stepped back. The spell hit Felix square in the chest and momentarily knocked the wind out him, though he was not greatly injured by it; lessons in magic had already helped increase his ability to resist magical attacks more effectively. Grunting as he steadied himself, Felix rushed forward again with his blade poised to strike into the mage’s thin armour. Linhardt fell to the ground breathing heavily and clutching the place where Felix’s blade had hit him. He glared reproachfully up at the dark-haired man as though the attack had been unfair.

“Weak,” Felix said disdainfully, towering over the mage with a scornful smirk playing on his lips.

Linhardt forced a grin. “Pay attention, or you might find yourself dead, Fraldarius.”

Belatedly, Felix realized he could hear pounding footsteps behind him and turned too late to prepare any kind of defence against the incoming attack. He tried to raise his sword in a defensive pose, but he knew the axe would fall on him too hard to withstand it. Felix tumbled to the ground unceremoniously, landing hard on his back and losing his grip on the hilt of his sword. Caspar stood above him now, his axe raised to come down in a final blow on Felix who was still too winded to react in time.

A swish of orange darted in front of his vision as Caspar’s axe came rushing down. He could feel the force of Annette’s wind magic swirling around them both, pushing Caspar back and blocking his attack from falling. If her magic fails, Felix thought suddenly, scrambling to his feet and tightening his grip on his fallen blade. She’ll take the full force of Caspar’s attack!

The force of Annette’s Cutting Gale spell finally forced Caspar off the ground in a high arc, his axe falling uselessly through the air and landing with a loud thump on the grass a few feet away. Caspar landed much the way Felix had only a few moments before, groaning from the force of the impact. The wind had left a handful of paper-thin cuts on his exposed skin, though none were bleeding heavily. Annette was able to better control the strength of her spells than Felix after all her years of practice; she could control whether her attacks would be lethal or not.

“Gotcha!” she sang out as Caspar pulled himself into a sitting position. She looked immensely proud of herself.

“Annette,” Felix said, his tone sharp. She turned, still smiling widely, and looking so cheerful that Felix almost didn’t bother reprimanding her. “That was foolish. One wrong move, one moment’s hesitation, and you would have died from the impact of an axe through your chest.”

“No, I wouldn’t,” Annette replied, her tone still cheerful. She laced her hands together behind her back and smiled again at him. “The weapons are all blunted. We can’t die here.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Felix glowered at her and folded his arms across his chest. “In a real battle, you would have died by jumping in front of a blow like that.”

“Well, so would have you,” Annette countered merrily, completely unperturbed by Felix’s criticisms. “You always want to be the hero, but you can’t do everything by yourself. You should rely on others more. We’re supposed to be a team, right?”

“Besides,” Caspar interrupted, standing up and slinging a too-familiar arm around Annette’s shoulders. “I would never harm Annette!”

Annette graced Caspar with another of her bright smiles. Felix felt his stomach twist at the sight of them standing together and turned away coldly. “Don’t be reckless, Annette,” he said, striding toward the place where Dimitri had defeated Edelgard. He didn’t want to look at them together for a moment longer. “You don’t want to end up dead.”

“I’m never reckless,” Annette declared, shrugging off Caspar’s arm and catching up to Felix easily. “But I’m not afraid of a challenge either.”

---

The celebratory meal in the dining hall that night was entirely too festive for Felix’s tastes. He sat moodily at the end of a long table trying (unsuccessfully) to block out the noise of his comrades as they excitedly recounted their overwhelming victory during the Battle of the Eagle and Lion. Sylvain had his arm around two girls across the room as he recounted his valor while Ingrid sat with Ashe and piled her plate high with food. Dimitri stood with his hound and Professor Byleth whose expression seemed almost fond of the beast.

Felix took another sip of his pumpkin juice and glanced toward the end of the hall where Annette and Mercedes stood with Caspar, Linhardt, and Petra. Caspar was re-enacting his face-off against Annette with gusto as he mimed raising an imaginary axe and then being blown off his feet. Even from this distance, Felix could hear Annette laughing merrily. It made the music in his head echo louder.

“Not joining in the fun, Felix?” Sylvain slipped onto the bench across from him, evidentially having disentangled himself from the two girls he’d been chatting up. Felix merely looked at him grimly.

“I don’t do celebrations,” Felix said coldly with another swig of pumpkin juice and wishing they served strong alcohol regularly in the dining hall rather than just on special occasions. Caspar’s arm was around Annette’s shoulders again. The sight of it made Felix’s stomach twist uncomfortably.

“You know, you could go join in the conversation,” Sylvain suggested shrewdly, gesturing toward the group over at the end of the room. “Put your own arm around your girl.”

“Would you give that up?” Felix snapped crossly, tearing his eyes away from Annette and Caspar to glare instead at his best friend. His fingers tightened around the goblet of pumpkin juice. “There’s nothing between us.”

“Right, and I’m not Garreg Mach’s most handsome bachelor,” Sylvain said with an air of self-importance. “Felix, there’s nothing wrong with liking a girl. Just tell her.”

“You’re wasting my time,” Felix said sharply, choosing not to rise to Sylvain’s bait. He was quite sure that further denials would only make the situation look worse. He wasn’t like Sylvain; he didn’t have any interest in romance or chasing women.

Sylvain laughed as though Felix had cracked a particularly funny joke. “You’ve been sitting here for an hour without speaking to anyone,” the redhead said after he composed himself. “You’re not that subtle, Felix. I’d be surprised if Annette hasn’t noticed anything. Though to be fair, she can be a little oblivious herself.”

“I have no feelings for her beyond those of a classmate,” Felix said flatly. It sounded like a lie even to his own ears, and Felix had to suppress a wince. Predictably, Sylvain was not convinced.

“Look Felix,” Sylvain said seriously, dropping his carefree persona as easily as unfastening a cape. “All I’m saying is that it’s okay to like other people. You can rely on us, we’re all your friends.”

It sounded unpleasantly close to what Annette had told him earlier. Felix drummed his fingers on the table and rested his head in his other hand. Ever since Glenn died and he had witnessed Dimitri’s boar-like persona first-hand, Felix had sworn he would never allow himself to rely on another person. It was too dangerous, not knowing if they would lose their minds to bloodlust or mindlessly pursue one single ideal to the detriment of those around them. It was safest to rely only on oneself, honing one’s own strength and fighting battles completely alone. Feelings for others would only get in the way.

“I don’t need anyone else,” Felix said quietly. He tried not to focus on the melody playing endlessly through his mind. “Neither you nor my old man will listen. I won’t be like Glenn.”

Sylvain raised an eyebrow at Felix. “Liking someone and dying to defend your king are two different things,” he pointed out, running a hand through his messy hair. “Glenn loved Ingrid, and he had no qualms about showing it.”

“Glenn died a pointless death and left everyone who loved him devastated,” Felix spat harshly. He could see Annette disengaging herself from Caspar’s grip—finally!—and linking arms with Mercedes as they made their exit from the hall. “I’ll never do that to anyone. All I need is strength and I can achieve anything on my own.”

Sylvain sighed and shook his head defeatedly. “You know Felix, you don’t have to die to cause someone that kind of pain,” he said softly. “You’re going to hurt yourself in the long-run if you keep pretending that you don’t care.”

Chapter Text

Red Wolf Moon brought colder weather and sickness seemed to be on the rise amongst the student body of Garreg Mach. Annette had developed a stuffy nose, but it seemed she was suffering the least compared to many other students. Ashe had missed three lectures so far due to illness, Ingrid had acquired a hacking cough, and even Professor Byleth had been subject to weakness and fainting spells. In fact, the only two people in the Blue Lion’s class who seemed resistant by any kind of sickness were Mercedes and Felix. It seemed horribly unfair to Annette that her best friend was unaffected by whatever bug was going around, but she supposed it was because Mercedes was so good at healing that she had developed an innate resistance to sickness. Felix, on the other hand, was so grumpy all the time that Annette figured that even germs didn’t want to get too close to him.

Annette was grateful for the steaming cup of Almond Blend tea that Professor Byleth offered as she arrived for her latest one-on-one. The Professor looked pale, but her hand was steady as she offered Annette a plate of cookies.

“I wanted to go over your most recent test results,” Professor Byleth said as she rifled through a stack of papers. She pulled one out with Annette’s name at the top and set the others aside. “Overall, I’m very pleased with your progress. Your magical abilities are advancing well ahead of many of your peers even in the other classes.”

Annette blushed at the compliment and busied herself by taking a sip of tea. She had tried studying with some other mage students when she wasn’t busy training Felix or doing her own chores around the Monastery. Her study sessions with Lysithea of the Golden Deer house had been the most useful so far, even though the style of magic they used was quite different. A little bit of competition was just what Annette needed to push her skills further.

“Statistically speaking, your magical strength and your resistance are well ahead of anyone in the class, with the exception perhaps of Mercedes,” Professor Byleth continued, scanning her notes closely. “You speed isn’t bad, but it could use some work.”

“Understood,” Annette replied seriously. She wrinkled her nose, trying to stave off a sneeze. “I’ll work harder at that.”

“Excellent,” the Professor nodded sagely. “There are a couple of other areas I’d like you put more focus on in the coming weeks. The first is white magic, as it would be a waste of your magical talents to keep you pigeonholed into anima magic alone. It’s always useful to have an additional soldier on the battlefield who knows even the basics of healing.”

“Absolutely!” Annette agreed enthusiastically. She reached for another cookie and smiled brightly. “Can I study with Mercie on that?”

Professor Byleth nodded and made a note on the parchment. “Yes, I think that would be ideal,” she said slowly, the tip of the quill brushing against her chin. “I don’t want to turn you into a main healer for our class but having a secondary healer will definitely help reduce the possibility that we will suffer fatalities. I think this will provide Mercedes with much-needed support on the healing front.”

She paused to look over her notes once more and set the quill down on the table. Professor Byleth sipped her own tea and sighed. “I am concerned about your physical strength and defence,” she said gently, though her eyes held Annette’s gaze firmly. “I know you’re a mage at heart, but if you were to be hit by a melee attack, I fear you would not be able to withstand it.”

Annette nodded slowly and remembered how Felix had admonished her at the end of the Battle of the Eagle and Lion for precisely that reason. “Won’t correcting my speed and reaction time fix that possibility?” she asked quickly. “Then I can avoid any oncoming attacks.”

The other woman pursed her lips as if considering the thought, and then shook her head. “It can help,” Professor Byleth acknowledged as she reached for a cookie. “But you can only dodge so quickly, and if you fail, you will be in danger.”

“I’ll be in the backlines though,” Annette said, reaching for her tea and watching the Professor closely. “I should be safe from attacks like that.”

To Annette’s surprise, Professor Byleth actually chuckled at that. “Given how you rushed to the front line to defend Felix during our last battle,” she said pointedly with a small smile. “I would say you’re in more danger from those kinds of attacks than you think. Besides, if the enemy sends reinforcements behind us, you’ll be vulnerable to them in the backline.”

Annette wished Professor Byleth hadn’t brought up the situation with Felix. He had seemed distant from her ever since it happened, despite their continued lessons in magic. “What should I do, then?” she asked, shifting in her seat uncomfortably.

“I’m going to have you pair up with Dedue during our investigation in Remire Village,” she said promptly, as though she had been expecting this question. Annette blinked in astonishment. It had been a long time now since Professor Byleth had paired her to fight with someone other than sour-faced Felix.

“Why Dedue?” Annette asked cautiously. It wasn’t quite the question that she wanted to ask, but Annette thought it would be too revealing to ask in a more direct way why she wasn’t working with Felix this time. “He typically fights alongside Prince Dimitri.”

“And he will continue to do so,” Professor Byleth affirmed with a nod. She reached for the teapot and poured Annette another cup. “You will accompany them both on our next mission. Dedue has a good knowledge of self-defence tactics which you may be able to put to use if you find yourself in a bind.”

“I see,” Annette took a long sip of tea and set the cup gently back onto its saucer. “I hope I will be able to live up to your expectations.”

Professor Byleth chuckled again. She seemed to be showing more emotion lately, as if being surrounded by all the students was beginning to rub off on her usually stoic personality. “I have no doubt you will,” she replied, brushing a strand of sea-blue hair out of her eyes. “Do not fear, I don’t believe this will be a permanent change. I’d still like you to continue training Felix in magic, and I expect I will ask you to work closely together again in the future.”

“Oh,” Annette stammered, hastily reaching for her tea to cover the involuntary start she gave when Professor Byleth mentioned his name. “That’s not a problem. I’m not concerned, I’m happy to work with anyone!”

Professor Byleth smiled more widely than she had ever seen before. There was a shadow of power in that look, something that seemed beyond Annette’s comprehension. “Do be careful during the next mission,” she said nonchalantly and taking a sip of her tea. “I believe Mercedes would not be the only person concerned for you if you were to be injured.”

---

The following afternoon, Annette joined Mercedes in the Cathedral to practice white magic. Her cold seemed to be getting worse, though she tried not to let on how weak she was feeling to her friend. The Professor had tasked her with learning healing spells with Mercedes, so Annette wanted to begin as soon as possible so that she could help her in the upcoming mission. It was no secret that Mercedes had been struggling lately to keep up with the sheer amount of healing necessary after each of their battles. The Blue Lions were exceptionally well-trained, but they were still young and fallible; everyone had taken injuries that they ought to have avoided in addition to the many that they could not.

Suppressing a shiver as she took a seat beside Mercedes, Annette felt her nose twitch at the smell of freshly baked cinnamon apple muffins. She wished she had thought to bring a cloak to wear over her school uniform, but the thought hadn’t crossed her mind as she’d rushed out the door to arrive in time for their meeting. Mercedes held the basket of muffins out for Annette to take one, though she pinned Annette with a suspicious gaze as she settled herself in the pew.

“It’s delicious,” Annette moaned through a mouthful of apple. “Mercie, your baking is to die for!”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” she said sweetly, though she still was watching her closely. “How could anyone enjoy it if they died?”

I’m not going to die,” Annette vowed as she took another bite of the muffin. It melted perfectly in her mouth, a taste of true paradise. “I can’t leave your baking behind.”

“Then you had best be careful when we go into battle,” Mercedes teased, ruffling Annette’s hair affectionately. “I’m planning on baking brownies after our next mission. It would be a shame if you aren’t around to have any.”

“Where do we start, Mercie?” she asked with a smile, changing the subject to the topic at hand. She tried to suppress another shiver. It wouldn’t do to make Mercedes worry for her health and put off their lessons, not when it was so critical for Annette to learn it. “Professor Byleth wants me to learn white magic so I can help you with healing the wounded in battle.”

“I’m so glad,” Mercedes said kindly, folding her hands in her lap and looking as serene as a pool of still water. “You have just the right personality for healing.”

“What do you mean by that?” Annette asked with interest. She leaned forward and took another bite of muffin. Despite their many years of friendship, Annette had not learned very much about white magic since her focus had always been on offensive spellcasting. She had shared some classes with Mercedes at the Royal School of Sorcery, but their disciplines had required different credits, so much of their time together was spent studying for different exams.

“White magic is not as complex as anima magic,” Mercedes told her, brushing a stray piece of hair back behind her ear. “With your magic, you need to understand formulas and calculations, right? But for healing, the power comes from the strength of your desire to help someone else in need.”

“Does that mean anyone could learn to heal?” Annette asked, tilting her head and trying to imagine someone like Felix using white magic. She tried to envision him wearing a priest’s robes but the perpetual scowl he seemed to wear didn’t really fit the picture. Nevertheless, the mental image made her smile.

“Theoretically, yes. Though, it would be more difficult for people who lack an aptitude for magic in general,” Mercedes explained with a smile of her own. “But you have a very caring heart Annie. I am sure you will have no trouble learning this branch of magic.”

“So how do you do it?” Annette asked. She covered her mouth with the back of her hand to stifle a cough and Mercedes raised her eyebrows inquiringly at her. “What’s the first step to healing?”

“Annie, are you sure you’re well enough for this?” Mercedes interrupted, ignoring the question entirely. “You don’t look well at all.”

Annette nodded her head enthusiastically despite how it seemed to ache slightly. “Oh, I’m fine. Just had a tickle in my throat, that’s all,” she said quickly. The skin on her arms prickled with goosebumps, and Annette was immensely glad for her long sleeves to hide them from Mercedes’ prying eyes.

Mercedes did not look convinced despite Annette’s bright smile, but she made no more protests. She sat back and considered her friend for a long moment. “The first step is to reach for the magic within you,” Mercedes began quietly, closing her eyes and raising her face upward toward the vaulted ceiling.

Annette mimicked her friend’s posture and closed her eyes. Anima magic wasn’t quite the same; one had to reach for their magical power, but it was more controlled. You just needed to channel the power at a target and release the full force of the energy. Certainly, there was more to it, but in a nutshell, it was easy: channel magic, acquire a target, release magic, and defeat the enemy. It was simple despite the complex calculations and incantations that spells required. White magic, on the other hand, felt more abstract which made it all the more difficult to grasp.

“Focus on your desire to help someone in need,” Mercedes’ soft voice drew Annette back into the lesson. “Allow that desire to push aside all other concerns.”

Over the next two hours, the two girls sat together quietly in the Cathedral to the background of a lengthy choir practice. Annette listened closely to Mercedes’ instruction and tried to reach deeply within herself for the healing power she described. It felt much more like a meditation exercise than a lesson in spellcasting but knowing that it would lead Annette to new skills was enough motivation to keep practicing just as Mercedes told her to do. Yet try as Annette might, the healing magic seemed elusive, hovering just outside of her grasp. Mercedes did not seem concerned by this lack of immediate success, insisting that it took everyone a few times before they were really able to put the concept into practice.

“Sorry Mercie,” Annette said glumly, opening her eyes and blinking several times as she adjusted to the light. She sneezed into her elbow and sighed heavily. “I think we should stop here for today. I have to meet up with Dedue for some lessons in self-defence.”

“I think you should go lie down,” Mercedes told Annette sternly, her delicate features pinched into a disapproving frown. “Your lesson with Dedue can wait. You don’t look well at all.”

“I’ll be fine,” Annette said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “Our mission is in a couple of days now, so I can’t afford to put it off. Don’t worry, it’s just a stuffy nose. I feel fine otherwise.”

Mercedes stared at her critically and shook her head. She smoothed her long hair between her hands, a nervous tick that Annette had noticed during their days at the Royal School of Sorcery.

“You shouldn’t push yourself so hard,” she told Annette resolutely. “Even if you feel fine now, you will end up sicker if you don’t take time to rest properly.”

“You worry too much,” Annette said lightly as she stood and smoothed her skirt meticulously. “I’m sure this will go away before our next battle.”

---

Annette’s lessons in self-defence with Dedue went about as well as could be expected of someone who was rapidly feeling weaker with each passing day. She resolutely avoided admitting to Mercedes that she was feeling worse just as her friend had predicted and consumed as much herbal ginger tea as possible to keep her stomach from lurching too badly. Despite her best efforts, Annette suspected that Mercedes was well aware of her declining health because she took every opportunity to bring over a steaming bowl of fresh soup and lecture Annette on the merits of spending more time sleeping and less time in extra lessons, at least for the time being.

Dedue refused to continue their self-defence lessons after the first one because Annette looked too pale by the end of it and was panting as though she had been forced to run a marathon.

“You are in no condition to continue,” he said in an implacable tone, his eyes sizing her up critically. As if on cue, she sneezed violently. “Go to your room and rest. You will not be able to participate in the mission if you are ill.”

Felix also flatly refused to participate in any further magic lessons until she was well again. Granted, he had already been distant with her since the Battle of the Eagle and Lion, but Annette thought he might genuinely be concerned for her health underneath his unfriendly exterior.

“You should tell Professor Byleth that you won’t be able to deploy to Remire Village,” he told Annette point-blank after escorting her back to her room late in following the evening. He had lent her his jacket for the cold walk back from the library and Annette was somewhat disappointed that her stuffy nose did not allow her to enjoy his scent. “You’ll be a burden if you’re not able to take care of yourself in battle.”

Annette, however, was not so easily swayed. She did not want to miss the mission, knowing that there was to be a contingent of the Knights of Seiros accompanying them again. Professor Byleth had already told them it would be led by her father, the legendary Jeralt Eisner, but Annette couldn’t help but hope that her own father would also be joining the campaign. If he did, she may have an opportunity to confront him in a place where he could not easily avoid her. He would have to talk to her; surely, he would not want others to witness Annette’s desperate pleas or his formal indifference to her presence. She had missed her chance on the way to Conand Tower for fear of others overhearing their conversation, but she had since changed her mind on the matter and decided it would be worth a shot if they went into battle together again.

On the day of their mission, Annette’s health had still not improved but she was determined to see the mission through to the end. The weather was cold and dreary, threatening rain later in the day. Mercedes looked disapproving at Annette’s insistence that she accompany the class on their mission but gave up trying to dissuade her, saying “You’ll just have to learn to take better care of yourself the hard way.”

To Annette’s disappointment, her father was not joining the contingent of Knights that Captain Jeralt was leading with them to Remire Village. Thus, although the journey from Garreg Mach was not long, Annette began to acknowledge inwardly that participating in this mission really was a bad idea, and she was likely only to end up worse for wear if she managed to get through it without injury. Mercedes travelled beside her for moral support, but in the field her friend had few ways to make the journey more comfortable or to ease Annette’s discomfort. For his part, Felix said nothing, instead choosing to shoot a handful of obviously critical looks toward her. It made Annette feel worse and a wave of dizziness made the world lurch uncomfortably around her.

Remire Village was small, nestled in a tiny valley only a few hours’ ride away from the Monastery. It might have been quaint if the buildings weren’t burning and the inhabitants screaming as they ran through the streets. Black smoke obscured the sky above and filled Annette’s nostrils with the stench of scorched flesh. The scene was like a vision from a nightmare and the sight of dead bodies in the streets made Annette’s stomach twist uncomfortably, bringing with it a fresh wave of nausea. She wasn’t sure if it was because of her poor health or the state of the village itself.

These poor people, she thought sadly. She wiped the sweat from her brow as she glanced around the scene. I have to help them!

She walked forward on unsteady legs and covered her mouth with her arm as a fresh blast of smoke caused her to begin coughing again. Her friends looked over at the sound, and Dedue stepped forward.

“Annette,” he said in his deep, soothing voice. “You must not participate in this battle. You are not well.”

“I…I have to,” Annette insisted, shaking of Mercedes’ gentle hands as she tried to pull her back. “There’s no one else here to take my place if I sit out.”

“We will be fine,” Dedue assured her implacably, folding his arms across his broad chest and frowning deeply at her. “I fear you will not be able to keep up with us, and you will be in more danger.”

“Agreed,” Felix said more harshly. He came and stood beside Dedue and Dimitri looking angry. “You will only cause us more trouble. You could die here if you fight like this.”

The words hurt more than what Dedue had said, and Annette felt her own face heating up. Felix scowled at her, and she glared back, although the effect was somewhat ruined by the way she sneezed and stumbled forward. Dedue steadied her as she swayed and firmly steered her back to the convoy where Professor Byleth was still conferring with Captain Jeralt. They broke off their conversation and sized Annette up with one terse glance. Professor Byleth shook her head just as Annette opened her mouth to speak.

“You can’t fight,” she said decisively, hands on her hips. “You are unwell. If you are not well enough to look out for yourself, you will only be a liability to the team.”

The Professor swept past with Captain Jeralt at her side, already shouting orders to the others. Dedue helped Annette onto the back end of an open wagon and handed her a flask of water that hung at his side. Annette thought that he looked regretful as he ensured she was comfortable.

“I am sorry,” he said, his deep voice soothing to Annette’s ears. “I do not wish to see you injured here. Please, stay back and rest.”

“I want to help,” Annette said as he hurried to join Dimitri. He was already fighting crazed villagers in the streets who were attempting to swarm him. “Damn it…I hate being useless like this.”

Annette sat on the edge of the wagon and watched the slaughter of Remire Village in silence. She watched Dimitri range ahead like a shaggy lion, his lance glinting in the light of the burning village as he cut down his assailants one by one. A distant part of Annette worried that he would injure innocent villagers with his wild attacks, but the rest of her was too exhausted to think very hard about it. Dedue follow him obediently, fighting with fist and foot to defend the prince’s back. Felix and Sylvain were forcing their way up the centre lane of the village, and she thought she saw Felix throw a glance over his shoulder from time to time as if to make sure she hadn’t moved from her perch. It might have been flattering if she wasn’t so frustrated with the situation.

I insisted on coming, Annette thought glumly. The wind made her shiver violently, but she tried to ignore it. I can’t let them fight without me. It’s not fair, not after I caused all this trouble.

She slid off the wagon and felt the world sway dangerously around her as her feet hit the ground. Gritting her teeth and leaving the flask of water behind, Annette began to step forward through the burning square, stepping carefully past the bodies of the dead. She felt like she was living in a fog, following vaguely in the direction that she had last seen Dedue. The smoke was too thick to see anyone clearly, but she kept moving despite how her legs began to shake.

I need to reach them, she thought anxiously, wiping sweat from her brow before it could cloud her vision further. They might need magic to take down the foe ahead. I can’t let everyone down now.

“Annette!”

A familiar voice called her name, but it was far away, and Annette couldn’t quite register who had spoken. She lifted her head and tried to look around through the smoke, but her eyes were unfocused and blurred. There were footsteps approaching her from two sides, but Annette couldn’t tell if they were friend or foe. She swayed unsteadily on her feet as she tried to reach for her magic, but nothing would come to her now, not even the smallest blade of wind. Even her magic had failed her, leaving Annette helpless in the middle of the burning village.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered to no one in particular. “I just wanted to help…”

Annette felt something hit her hard on the back of her head then and she knew no more of what happened in Remire Village.

---

Today's dinner is steak and then a cake that's yummy yum…
Now it's time to fill my tummy tummy tum…

The memory of her silly song seemed to call Annette to wakefulness. She groaned and shifted in the soft bed, slowly opening her eyes. Above her was a dusty ceiling that likely hadn’t been properly cleaned in several years. A slanting ray of warm sunlight fell across her bed from the window to her immediate left. She felt weak and hungry, but her mind was blessedly clear. The back of her head felt tender but otherwise, Annette felt more like herself than she had in a week.

“Oh, Annie, are you awake now?” Mercedes asked from the table by her bedside. She was smiling kindly as she set aside her knitting. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m not sure…” Annette said a little hoarsely. She dragged herself into a sitting position, fluffing the pillows up behind her back for comfort. “Better than before. My head is killing me though.”

“Drink this,” Mercedes ordered gently, pouring a steaming cup of tea and pressing it into Annette’s hands. “It will help with the pain.”

Annette obliged her friend without complaint, taking a long sip before she set it back on the saucer.

“Thanks. That really hit the spot!” she said with a weak smile. She paused for a moment before continuing with her next question, fully aware of the lecture she was about to hear. “What happened in Remire Village?”

“You were too ill to be there,” Mercedes said flatly, completely ignoring Annette’s question and launching directly into a long-overdue reprimand. “You should never have accompanied us to Remire Village, feeling as ill you did.”

“I know,” Annette replied in a small voice. Her fingers clutched the quilt tightly as she demonstrated an appropriate amount of guilt for her actions. “I’m sorry. It was selfish of me.”

“It absolutely was,” Mercedes agreed with a regal nod of her head. She looked every inch the disapproving older sister. “Why in the world did you insist on going?”

Annette avoided Mercedes’ eyes, knowing full well that her reasons were illogical and that her friend would waste no time in saying so.

“I thought maybe Father would join the contingent of Knights who accompanied us…” she said in a low voice and staring straight down at her hands. She could sense Mercedes’ hard glare on her, making her feel more foolish by the minute.

“Even if he did go,” Mercedes said sternly as she began brewing a fresh pot of tea. “You could never have accomplished anything in the state you were in.” She sighed and frowned at where Annette sat against the pillows. “Annie, it was foolish to go out on that mission.”

Annette nodded contritely. “I promise it won’t happen again,” she said, crossing her heart with one finger. “I’m really paying for it now, and I caused everyone so much trouble.”

Mercedes sat back in her chair looking satisfied that Annette had understood the full impact of her actions. “I’m glad you understand. Now, you will need to recover so you can give it your all on our next deployment.”

“Yes, of course,” Annette nodded solemnly and took another long sip of tea. Setting her empty cup back on the table as the fresh pot steeped, she tried asking Mercedes again about the outcome of their last battle. “Please Mercie, won’t you tell me what happened in Remire Village?”

Mercedes sighed heavily and shook her head sadly. “Well, we were advancing steadily and engaging hostile villagers as well as the Flame Emperor’s soldiers. Things were going fairly well, all things considered. They were being led by…” she paused and shook her head roughly, her violet eyes hard. “Tomas, the old librarian.”

“Tomas?” Annette exclaimed, forgetting the pain in her head and starting forward. Her whole body ached in protest and she fell back against the pillows uselessly, a fresh wave of nausea making the room tilt in her vision.

“I suppose he wasn’t really Tomas anymore,” Mercedes said slowly, leaning back in her chair and looking pensive. “He was…different.”

“So, what happened to me?” Annette asked bitterly. “I remember walking through the burning square and then…nothing. Everything is black after that.”

At this, Mercedes smiled impishly. She reached for the tea and poured another cup for each of them without reply, dropping a small spoonful of sugar into each. Annette watched her stir them and wondered distantly what could have happened to make her best friend smile at her pain.

“There were many crazed villagers attacking us,” Mercedes said at last. She pushed the teacup toward Annette and gestured for her to take a sip. “You probably didn’t realize anyone was near, but one approached you from behind and hit you with the haft of his weapon. It knocked you out completely.”

“So that’s why my head has a big lump,” she muttered darkly, resisting the urge to run the tips of her fingers over it to judge the exact size. Her hair was unbound from its usual twin loops and hung limply around her face.

“Yes. Luckily, none of the villagers were skilled with weapons, so he knocked you out before trying to attack,” Mercedes explained as she took up her knitting again. “So, we were able to rescue you before the villager was able to do any further damage.”

“That’s lucky,” Annette said, a note of relief in her voice. “How long have I been here?”

“Three days,” Mercedes said promptly. She gestured toward the table which Annette belatedly noticed held a surprisingly high stack of notes and cards. “You’ve had several visitors checking in during the last few days.”

Annette reached for the pile of notes and began to read through them. Predictably, the first one from Mercedes herself and Annette couldn’t help but smile, knowing that her friend probably hadn’t left her side at all since they returned to the Monastery. Although none of the letters were from her father, Annette had received well-wishes from Professor Byleth, Ingrid, Dimitri, Dedue, Sylvain, Caspar, Petra, Lysithea, and Marianne. Each note warmed her heart and served to remind Annette never to take such chances in battle again when she knew she was too sick to participate; she hated causing undue worry to anyone.

The last letter in the stack was unsigned, but Annette recognized the neat slanted writing immediately.

I told you not to go to Remire Village, the note read in a familiar acerbic tone. I hope you have learned your lesson in recklessness. Recover swiftly so that you will be able to face future challenges with your full strength. You will not be able ensure that I do not tell anyone about your songs if you die from foolish choices in battle.

Despite the rebuke in the letter, Annette found herself smiling fondly over the little scrap of parchment. Felix was not one for flowery language or gentle words of comfort, but in his own way, he had been concerned for her and wanted her to live to see another day. She folded the letter neatly and put it back on top of the stack of other letters as Mercedes poured her a third cup of tea.

“Felix carried you back to the supply wagons after you fell unconscious,” Mercedes said with a twinkle in her eye as she sat back in her seat and carefully looped her knitting needles through the yarn. “He has visited you several times since returning to Garreg Mach. Although” she added with a secret smile. “He insisted that I not mention that part.”

Annette felt her cheeks get hot and turned to look out the window in a vain attempt to hide her blush. A flock of small birds flew past, their white wings gleaming in the sunlight. Annette’s lips curved upward into a tiny smile of her own as she reached for her tea. Her chest felt warm, but she wasn’t sure if it was because of the drink or because of what Mercedes had told her. Her heart was beating quickly despite her lack of exertion, and her hands trembled slightly around the teacup.

“I will be sure to keep that knowledge between us,” Annette replied softly, trying not to imagine how it must have felt to be carried in Felix’s arms.

Chapter Text

Felix lifted a heavy box onto the stack against the back wall of the warehouse and wished that he had been assigned anyone other than Sylvain for a partner in his chores that day. He pressed his hand over his eyes wearily and, although he was not a religious man, Felix offered a prayer to the Goddess to deliver him from this personal hell to which she had seen fit to condemn him. Sylvain was a nuisance on a normal day, but his antics seemed to be getting worse with the onset of Ethereal Moon and the upcoming winter ball. In fact, Felix thought he might be one of the few sane people left in the entire Monastery as students began to prepare for the ball; girls seemed to cluster in groups in the narrow hallways of Garreg Mach while boys stood awkwardly against the walls as they tried to scrounge up the courage to ask a girl to go with them to the ball.

Sylvain, of course, was one of the latter to Felix’s eternal frustration. Nearly half of their conversations seemed to revolve around the year-end ball and the topic had long since begun to wear Felix’s patience thin. He reached for a corn broom and began to sweep the area he had just cleared of debris, trying vainly to block out the sound of Sylvain’s constant prattle. Unfortunately, this was much easier said than done.

“I asked Lysithea this morning,” Sylvain recounted, holding a feather duster uselessly in one hand and staring off into space as he spoke. “She declined; said she wouldn’t go with me if I was the last guy in Fódlan. Can you believe it?”

Felix made a non-committal grunt and didn’t bother to turn. “Is that duster just for show, or are you going to help?” he asked sourly, sweeping the dirt into a neat pile and reaching for the dustpan leaning against the wall. “I’d like to get this finished before midnight.”

“So far, every girl I’ve asked has said no,” Sylvain sighed with a show of despair, though Felix did not think he sounded particularly concerned. He completely ignored Felix’s question and seemed intent on continuing to do nothing remotely useful. “What about you, Felix? Any luck getting a date?”

“I don’t dance,” Felix said shortly by way of answer. He had no intention of asking anyone to attend the ball. In fact, if he could have gotten away with it, Felix himself wouldn’t bother attending either. Unfortunately, Professor Byleth had already impressed upon the entire class that attendance was mandatory as it was a Monastery-wide event, and they needed to show themselves as a united front. She had made it clear that she did not want them to be outshone by the other classes.

“Sure you do,” Sylvain countered cheerfully, running a hand through his messy hair. He still held the duster in one hand and seemed incapable of using it for its intended purpose. “You had lessons as a kid!”

“I know how to dance,” Felix replied through gritted teeth, tossing the pile of dirt into a wastebasket. “I choose not to dance. The entire event is a waste of time.”

“Felix, I think you’re missing the point,” Sylvain said brightly, leaning against a wall and tossing the duster over his shoulder. It arced high through the air and landed on top of a stack of boxes Felix had organized earlier. “It’s supposed to be a time to mingle with the other houses, promote inter-house relations and all that. What better way to do that than dance with all the pretty girls?”

Felix glared up at the duster that Sylvain had discarded and gripped the handle of his broom tighter. “Sylvain, if you’re not going to help with anything, then you might as well just go now and find another woman to reject you so I can finish this in peace.”

“You wound me,” Sylvain said dramatically, not sounding remotely upset. He sauntered over to Felix and flung an arm around his shoulders. “If you don’t ask someone soon, all the good girls will be taken.”

“We’ve been through this,” Felix ducked out deftly from Sylvain’s grip and continued sweeping the warehouse floor. The light from the windows was starting to dim, meaning it was probably nearing dinner time. “I’m not going with anyone. I wouldn’t be going at all if I could avoid it.”

“That’s the wrong attitude to have,” Sylvain made a tsk sound in his throat and wagged a reproving finger at his best friend. Felix wondered for what was probably the hundredth time that day why he still considered Sylvain a friend at all. “I’m sure Annette would agree to accompany you—”

“Cease your inane babble,” Felix snapped, finally losing his temper entirely. He shook the corn broom threateningly in Sylvain’s direction. “You know my stance on the matter.”

“—if you ask her before Caspar does,” Sylvain continued over Felix as though he hadn’t spoken at all. “You’ve gotta stake your claim on your girl before someone else does.”

“For the last time, she’s not my girl,” Felix growled, giving a particularly violent sweep of the broom across the floor and pointedly not meeting Sylvain’s eyes. “And I’m not going with anyone.”

“What a shame,” Sylvain sighed theatrically and casting his eyes heavenward. “Too bad, you looked so cute together when you carried her out of the battle in Remire Village.”

Felix didn’t respond to this bait. Sylvain had been bringing this situation up at every opportunity since they returned to Garreg Mach, so Felix was not surprised that he was trying this tactic now as well.

“It is what anyone would have done,” he said coldly, still avoiding Sylvain’s gaze. There really wasn’t anywhere left to sweep in the warehouse, but holding the broom gave Felix the pretense of being busy.

“Of course,” Sylvain agreed in a sly voice. He began ticking off his fingers. “You were awfully concerned while she was in the infirmary. How many times did you visit? Five? Six?”

Felix was aware that he was running out of excuses and that further denials would only feed Sylvain’s fantasy that he was nursing romantic feelings for Annette. Which, as it happened, he absolutely was not.

“I’m not asking Annette or anyone else to the ball,” he said sternly as he hung the broom back on its hook. “Give it up, Sylvain. I’m not like you.

Sylvain only laughed heartily. “Maybe if you went with Annette, word would reach your father and he could arrange a betrothal you would consider,” he said teasingly as he opened the door and headed out into the dying sunlight.

Felix rolled his eyes and didn’t respond as he followed Sylvain out of the room. Duke Fraldarius had not stopped trying to entice his defiant son with potential brides from a variety of wealthy and influential families from across Fódlan. Felix had continued to burn each letter in the fire and had sent only a handful of short rejections back home. He knew that his father was becoming annoyed with him (a common state of affairs between them, as it were), but he had no intention of backing down. Even if the thought of a betrothal to Annette was less off-putting than it rightfully should be, or that the memory of her small body in his arms was strangely comforting.

The two of them meandered toward the dining hall. Upon spotting a pair of Golden Deer girls whispering behind their hands and watching him from a distance, Sylvain unceremoniously left Felix standing alone in the line to go find out if either of them might be interested in going to the ball with him. Felix watched him go looking rather more relieved than he ought and was left alone to ponder whether or not Annette would go to the ball with Caspar. He wondered if Annette did, would she also sing for Caspar? He dismissed the thought as ridiculous almost immediately; she had been so concerned when Felix found out about her secret hobby that it didn’t seem likely that she would willingly share it with someone else.

“Hey, Felix!” Ingrid said loudly, interrupting his thoughts as she joined him in the dinner queue. “Where’ve you been all afternoon?”

“Cleaning the warehouse,” Felix replied blandly, folding his arms across his chest and putting on a stern expression. He tried to pull his thoughts together before he said something that he would regret in front of Ingrid again. “No thanks to Sylvain.”

Ingrid rolled her eyes and flipped her long braid over her shoulder. Glenn had loved her long hair, and she hadn’t had the heart to cut it even all these years later. “That’s to be expected. He’s never much help with chores,” she said with a shrug. “I bet he was going through all his rejections in painful detail, wasn’t he?”

“Unfortunately,” Felix confirmed, rolling his own eyes. The line was moving slowly, and his stomach was starting to growl.

“Have you found someone to go with yet?” Ingrid asked without preamble. Her green eyes were piercing, as though she could read his inner thoughts as plainly as if they were written in a book.

“I’m not going with anyone,” Felix insisted in an exasperated tone. He could not understand why his two friends seemed incapable of accepting this simple fact. Felix didn’t do parties, he didn’t dance, and he certainly didn’t ask anyone to accompany him to an event which involved either of those activities.

The line inched forward. The distinct odor of something burning seemed to be permeating the dining hall. Ingrid wrinkled her nose but decided to pursue the subject further instead of giving in to her instincts to investigate the source of the smell.

“You could always ask Annette,” she said rather more loudly than Felix was entirely comfortable with and in a tone that suggested this were the most obvious solution to his non-existent problem. “You two seem to get along pretty well. She’s probably the only person who would even agree to go together with you.”

“I’ve told you and Sylvain on multiple occasions that I am not asking her or anyone else,” Felix growled, narrowing his eyes and leaning closer to Ingrid. “Keep your voice down, would you?”

“If you’re not asking her, then what’s the problem if anyone hears us talking about it?” Ingrid asked in the same loud tone and arching an eyebrow. She had her hands on her hips which, in Felix’s experience, was always a bad sign.

“Look Ingrid,” Felix stepped closer to her as Raphael moved up the counter ahead of him. The smell of burning food was stronger now, and he tried to ignore how his eyes were beginning to water. “Professor Byleth just said we have to show up. She didn’t say we had to go with anyone. So, I’m going alone. That’s the end of it.”

The smell was worse the closer they came to the kitchen. Ingrid covered her nose and mouth with one hand while staring meaningfully at him. “You’re kidding yourself,” she said in a muffled voice, glancing around in case there were signs of a fire. “Pretending that you don’t like her. You’ll regret it one day if you lose her.”

“I’m not pretending anything!” Felix snapped at Ingrid through watery eyes. His patience with her and Sylvain lately was worse than usual. The more they tried to convince him that he cared for Annette, the more Felix felt an instinctual need to insist they were wrong. He glared at Ingrid as much as his strained eyes would allow. “It’s you and Sylvain who seem to have this bizarre notion, not me.”

“Felix, if you think nobody else in class—or indeed in Garreg Mach—has noticed the way you two act around each other, you are sadly mistaken,” Ingrid advised him in a tone of great authority on the matter. She wrinkled her nose again and finally gave into her instincts. “I’ll be back,” she warned Felix before bounding off into the kitchen.

Raphael finally moved on with a tray piled high with food that looked quite a bit more overcooked than it should have been. With a sinking feeling, Felix stepped up to the counter and came face-to-face with Annette herself. She was wearing a white apron over school uniform with the Blue Lion’s crest embroidered on it, and she was covered from head to foot in flour. Felix had seen her looking upset on other occasions, but Annette looked absolutely miserable now.

“What happened?” he blurted out unthinkingly, taking in her appearance and finding himself unable to hold back the question.

Annette sighed heavily and tried to brush some flour out of her hair, though it didn’t seem to do much good.

“I was supposed to help with the meal tonight and well…let’s just say, cooking isn’t my strong suit,” she said hopelessly. “I tried to bake some chicken which got really burnt. Then I tried to roast some vegetables and they got burnt too. And then I tried to help prepare dessert and ended up tripping with an open bag of flour. It got everywhere.

“I can see that,” Felix said before he could help himself. Luckily, Annette flashed him a tiny smile and seemed to blush slightly under the flour coating her cheeks. “I take it that’s why you’re on serving duty now?”

“Yeah well…Dedue said he would take care of the cooking from here on out,” Annette said with a shrug which only served to cause a puff of white dust to cloud around her. “He said it would be safer it I just served the meals instead of cooking them.”

Although Felix was not a fan of Dimitri’s hound, he had to agree with Dedue’s assessment that the amount of damage Annette could cause at the serving window would be comparatively minimal than in the kitchen.

“Well, I’ll just take whatever you have,” he said indifferently.

As Annette disappeared into the kitchen to prepare his tray, Ingrid stepped up beside him with a shrewd look in her eye. Apparently satisfied that the dining hall was in no immediate danger of burning down, she had returned to her place in line behind him.

“Now’s your chance,” she whispered urgently. “Ask her to go with you!”

Felix only had enough time to glare at Ingrid before Annette had returned with a tray piled with pieces of salvaged chicken, a variety of partially burnt vegetables, and a slice of sour cherry pie that seemed to have been baked more or less correctly.

“I tried to give you pieces that weren’t too burnt,” Annette said apologetically. She glanced at his face and he tried not to notice how pretty she looked even coated in flour. “Sorry about that.”

“It’s fine. I’ve had worse,” Felix lied as he took the tray from Annette, the tips of his fingers brushing hers. Her blue eyes looked relieved when he said it. His stomach swooped in a way that didn’t remind him of hunger. “Thanks.”

Felix could feel Annette’s eyes on the back of his head as he strode away and told himself it meant nothing. She was just watching him until Ingrid stepped forward for her own meal. She wouldn’t have expected him to ask her to the ball. Annette knew him better than that by now, he was sure.

“You’re an idiot, Felix Hugo Fraldarius,” Ingrid whispered as he passed. “A complete and utter fool.”

---

The White Heron Cup competition passed with little note by Felix, who had no interest in such a frivolous activity. Professor Byleth had not bothered to ask him to participate in the practices and ultimately had chosen Flayn to represent their class because she had seemed the most eager to partake in the festivities. She’d been practicing for the tournament after every class with Annette, Mercedes, and Ingrid. Unlike Sylvain, Felix had decided not to spectate any of them despite how many other students (most of them male) did. Predictably, this did not stop Sylvain from describing the practice sessions in great detail whenever he happened to catch Felix alone, which was usually during their shared chores.

“Oh, you missed a good practice today,” Sylvain said with feeling, slapping a hand over his heart for emphasis. The hoe in his free hand was uselessly leaning against the stone floor of the greenhouse. “The girls looked positively divine.

“You’d say that about any girl,” Felix grumbled as he spread fertilizer over the flowerbed that he had just finished weeding. His hands were aching from the sheer amount of the things that he had pulled out of the soil.

“True,” Sylvain agreed with a careless shrug. “But this time, they were all wearing the dancer’s outfit. It sure shows a lot of leg. I never knew how delicate Annette’s were until today! I might be in love.”

Felix only very narrowly suppressed the urge to punch his best friend in the mouth. He felt his cheeks heating up at the mental image that Sylvain had forced into his mind. The traditional dancer’s outfit for the White Heron Cup was notoriously risqué, and Annette was entirely too sweet to wear such a thing in Felix’s opinion. Besides, it was much too cold even at Garreg Mach to be walking around in a dancer’s outfit at this time of year, and after she had only just recently recovered from a bad bout of sickness, Felix thought it was rather dangerous for Annette to be exposing too much skin to the cold.

“Don’t get any ideas,” he muttered instead. Felix was failing miserably at not imagining Annette and her legs in a dancer’s outfit, but he wasn’t about to admit it to Sylvain. “She’s not stupid enough to fall for you.”

“Probably true,” Sylvain agreed lazily, his brown eyes shrewdly taking in the colour on Felix’s cheeks. “She’s your girl anyway, and I wouldn’t dream of stealing her away from you. Have you asked her to the ball yet?”

“I’m not asking her,” Felix said irritably. He pulled the hoe out of Sylvain’s hand and walked back to the storage shed. “We’ve been over this enough times, Sylvain.”

“Why in the name of Blessed Seiros not?” Sylvain complained as though Felix had taken away his favourite snack. “You like her, and she likes you—”

“We’re friends,” Felix snapped.

“—so, what’s the issue? She’s bound to say yes,” he finished loudly over Felix’s protests.

Felix decided not to dignify this with a response. He supposed that if he were to ask any girl to the ball, the only possible choice would be Annette. Mercedes was far too aloof whereas Ingrid was too much like a sister, and the rest of the girls across the Black Eagles and Golden Deer houses never even entered into Felix’s thoughts. But he knew Annette very well now after months of studying and fighting alongside her. He would be lying if he denied how much he enjoyed the sound of her voice and the feel of her in his arms.

He wasn’t used to having complex feelings for another person, and Felix didn’t know how to deal with them. Nor was it a conversation he wanted to have with Sylvain whose knowledge about romantic feelings was questionable at best and his advice likely would be downright laughable. He was good at flirting and sleeping with any girl who would let him, but he’d never managed to maintain a relationship long enough for Felix to put any stock in what he had to say on the matter.

“She probably already has someone to go with anyway,” Felix said firmly. He pushed past Sylvain and avoided his eyes. “No one would want to go with me. I don’t even want to go. It wouldn’t be fair for me to put her through that when she could have a better time with someone else.”

“Ah Felix,” Sylvain said wryly. He followed Felix outside and glanced at him sidelong. “You’ll be the one missing out.”

Felix ignored him and hoped that he was wrong.

---

Outside of the time they spent in class, Felix devoted the remainder of his free time hiding in the training grounds to avoid these unwanted conversations with Ingrid and Sylvain about his lack of a date. This was only partially successful as they both knew Felix well enough to guess where he was, but they seemed to have come to an agreement to give him some small amount of space. Felix was torn being feeling grateful for this and vaguely annoyed that it had come to this point at all.

The actual eve of the ball came much too quickly for Felix’s liking, but on the bright side, it meant that the ball itself would soon be a thing of the past. He was looking forward to no longer needing to listen to Ingrid or Sylvain badger him incessantly about a date for a party he had no desire to attend. He could go back to training in peace and life could go back to normal. At least after the ball, they would be investigating the disused chapel that was their mission for this month, not that anyone had thought much about it. It was something to keep his mind occupied as he tried hard not to dwell on whether or not Annette had actually agreed to go with anyone yet.

“Tomorrow evening is the annual winter ball,” Professor Byleth announced unnecessarily at the end of class, as if anyone could have forgotten. “It will be a free day tomorrow, so I expect everyone to take the extra time to prepare accordingly.”

“Everyone is absurdly excited for this ball,” Dimitri commented in a tone of genuine confusion. Felix privately agreed with the sentiment. “It just seems so…frivolous.”

“Your Highness, we are all encouraged to enjoy the ball tomorrow,” Dedue said reprovingly. Professor Byleth nodded in solemn agreement. “Do not sound so detached.”

“I know, I’m sorry.” Dimitri sighed deeply and sank back in his chair. He looked like a rather petulant child as opposed to a man. “It is a great burden for us to attend a ball and put on a display of chivalry.”

“I never thought we’d see eye to eye, but I agree,” Felix said sourly. He glared at the back of Ingrid’s head, thinking back to how she had been trying to corner him about a date over the last several weeks. “I’d rather be swinging my blade than wasting my time with some girl at a ball.”

He pointedly avoided looking over to where Annette sat at the front of the room and tried not to wonder if she looked hurt by his words. Felix realized that it was silly to worry about how she might feel about what he said, especially when he hadn’t exactly hidden his opinion about the whole affair since it was first announced. Still, it felt wrong to cause her pain, even if it was indirectly.

“It’s not like you have a girl to waste time with,” Sylvain pointed out smugly. He ran a hand through his hair and his voice was dripping with overdone incredulity. “This is our chance to dance with all the ladies at Garreg Mach as much as we want, and you two are talking about it as if it’s a death sentence.”

Ingrid turned in her seat and shot both of them a sharp look that Sylvain ignored, and Felix returned in equal measure. He was fairly confident that he knew what Ingrid was thinking and he didn’t like it one bit.

“I’m excited for the ball,” Ashe piped up from the other side of the room in a brave attempt to diffuse the tension on the room. He laughed nervously and glanced around the room at the others. “We don’t get to do this very often. I wish I knew how to dance though…”

“I can teach you!” Annette squeaked, turning in her seat and smiling widely at him. Her voice was pitched slightly higher than normal. Felix felt a swooping sensation in his stomach when she spoke and tried not to imagine Annette wearing a dancer’s outfit to teach Ashe the basics of a waltz. “It’s really easy!”

“Thank you, Annette,” Ashe said with a smile of his own that lit up his entire visage. “I’d like that.”

Felix ignored the way Sylvain nudged him with his elbow. He tried not glare at Ashe either; it wasn’t his fault that Felix was in a foul mood because Sylvain had been badgering him for weeks to ask Annette to the ball. It also wasn’t Ashe’s fault that Felix hadn’t done it and was now trying to deny that he was a little bit jealous that Ashe was going to have a chance to dance with her privately.

I don’t even like dancing, Felix thought grumpily. He leaned across the desk sullenly and stared straight ahead without really seeing anything. And it’s not like I really like Annette that way either. So what if she teaches Ashe to dance? It’s got nothing to do with me.

“We girls should meet up in Ingrid’s room tomorrow to get ready,” Mercedes proposed brightly. Her voice shattered the train of Felix’s thoughts, a change that was probably for the better. “This occasion calls for some makeup! Right, Ingrid?”

“Oh um…I’ll think about it,” Ingrid replied quickly, trying to mask the sound of panic in her voice. Her green eyes were wide with cautious anticipation. “I’m not really into wearing any makeup…”

The class had broken down into excited chatter about the ball. Even Professor Byleth looked genuinely excited for the evening, her lips curving upwards into a small smile. Annette and Mercedes were conversing with Ingrid in excited voices, both of their face lit up excitement. Despite her protests, Ingrid looked equally pleased by the prospect of preparing for an evening of fun and dancing—it wasn’t something she had done in all the years Felix had known her. Certainly, she hadn’t indulged in anything like this since Glenn had died.

“There’s no telling where life will take us when we leave here,” Dimitri said slowly, resting his head on his hand. The babble of voices quieted as he spoke, and all eyes turned to him. Felix thought he looked rather too comfortable and mistrusted the cold look in Dimitri’s blue eyes. “If only we could come together like this again after we graduate.”

“Five years from now is the Millennium Festival,” Dedue replied gravely after a moment’s silence. “Would that not be an appropriate time for a reunion?”

“Indeed, you’re right Dedue,” Dimitri said thoughtfully. He ran a hand through his pale hair as he considered this proposal. “We’ll all have our own stuffy positions to contend with by then, so it will be a good excuse to get away from all of that for a while.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t miss it for the world!” Annette sang out cheerfully. She grabbed Mercedes by the hands and grinned at her. “You’ll come too, right Mercie?”

“Of course,” Mercedes said, returning the smile with equal enthusiasm. “You must come as well, Professor! It would not be a reunion without you too!”

“Of course I will attend,” she said formally, nodding her head once so that her sea-blue hair obscured her eyes. “I wouldn’t dream of missing it.”

“It’s settled then,” Dimitri proclaimed loudly, rising from his seat and adopting a royal tone. “The Blue Lions will reunite here at Garreg Mach five years hence.”

“Maybe by then, you won’t be so eager to deny your feelings,” Sylvain whispered to Felix with a smirk. “If your old man hasn’t already married you off.”

“I swear to the Goddess, if you don’t drop this once and for all, I will run you through with my blade,” Felix replied in a low and threatening tone. “Best keep that in mind if you still intend to be in one piece for the ball tomorrow.”

Sylvain only grinned more widely.

Chapter Text

The next morning dawned bright and cold, a fact which did not deter Felix from stubbornly continuing his usual morning routine as he tried to maintain some control over the coming day’s events. The Monastery seemed to be crackling with anticipation for the ball, a feeling he could not escape even in the relative isolation of the training grounds. Footsteps hurried back and forth on the other side of the heavy iron doors with snatches of excited conversation drifting past as he moved from one stance to another. Felix tried to ignore the distractions, focusing on moving his body fluidly and effortlessly as his sword became an extension of his own self.

He found his concentration lacking, however, and no amount of willpower seemed enough to bring his focus to the task at hand. Felix found his mind wandering back over the last several weeks to his conversations with Sylvain and Ingrid, his time spent with Annette, and all the unwelcome letters his father continued to send. He could hear the faint sound of a song in the back of his head, an endless tune which accompanied Felix wherever he went. It was not bothersome, and he could not precisely explain why, but it was soothing in a way that Felix hadn’t realized he needed.

Giving up on his training earlier than usual, Felix spent the remainder of the morning cooped up in his room trying to avoid Sylvain—and everyone else in Garreg Mach, as it happened. He tried to study some of the more complex magical theories that Annette had introduced in their last lesson but quickly found that this did nothing to take his mind away from the rapidly approaching ball or the question of who be going with Annette.

Felix felt more than a little flustered that this question not only actually bothered him, but also that he hadn’t actually found out if she was going with anyone at all. Coming to terms with the fact he wished he knew this otherwise insignificant piece of information proved more difficult than he would have though possible.

It doesn’t matter who she goes with, Felix thought angrily as he furiously shined the buttons on his formal school blazer after finally giving up the studying. I don’t even want to go, and I certainly don’t want to dance with her or anyone else!

A small part of him whispered that if any of that were true, he wouldn’t be so desperate to convince himself that he didn’t care. Felix tried to ignore this voice with about as much success as he had had in forgetting that song Annette had first sung all those months ago in the knight’s hall. Felix would not correct Ingrid when she claimed he hadn’t cared for anyone since Glenn’s death, but neither could he deny that the little mage-girl had somehow become just as important to him as his old friends always had been. It was not something he would have expected, but it had happened all the same and Felix was still dealing with meanings and the consequences of that.

Throughout the afternoon, Felix could hear pieces of conversation in the hall outside his room as students ran from one dorm to another. Girls were avidly (and loudly) gossiping about their dates for the evening or, if they had failed to secure one, they seemed most interested in discussing the couples who would be attending together. More than once, Felix was certain he had heard Annette’s voice faintly outside his door speaking with some unknown companion he could only assume was Mercedes. If they were discussing their dates for the evening, he couldn’t hear clearly enough to tell.

Sylvain eventually did come by on the pretense of ensuring that Felix was ready for the evening and to berate him one last time that he hadn’t bothered to ask Annette to go with him. By this time, Felix was already dressed in a fresh formal uniform, fixing his dark hair back into his usual knot at the back of his head and mentally preparing himself for the evening to come. He shot one menacing look at the redhead, stopping Sylvain in his tracks and forcing him out of the room through the sheer force of his will.

The sun was setting by the time Felix finally headed toward the ball at a resigned pace, hands shoved into his pockets and a sour expression on his face. He saw Professor Byleth give him a heavy stare as he slipped into the hall, her posture stiff and disapproving of his lateness. Glaring back defiantly, Felix sauntered off to a corner of the room and sat himself down at an empty table partially obscured by shadow where he could sulk in peace.

Pulling a flagon of watered wine closer, Felix poured himself a glass and held it loosely between his fingers, eyes scanning the crowd of students. There was Dimitri in the middle of the dance floor with another Blue Lion student gazing at him vapidly, as if all her silly dreams had come true. Edelgard danced nearby with a young man whose expression was equally as daft as the woman’s. Felix snorted in disgust and took a sip of his wine. It had a surprisingly deep flavour, reminding him of the good wine his father kept in the Fraldarius cellars.

After at least an hour and a half of sitting alone nursing his wine and listlessly watching the crowd before Felix had a clear view of Claude von Riegan leading Professor Byleth onto the dance floor, his face impish in the dim light. The other students seemed to melt away around them, giving them plenty of space to move. It was obvious to Felix that the Professor was not an accomplished dancer; her movements were unsure and jerky, as if she was unused to doing something so delicate. Claude, however, seemed quite competent at the art of dancing and led her gracefully across the floor to many loud exclamations of amazement and jealousy. Felix took another sip of wine as other couples began to dance again as the song changed to a faster melody.

He finally saw Annette dancing across the hall with Caspar with a joyful expression, her face pink with exhilaration and her laughter echoing through the room. Felix frowned as he watched, unable to break the line of sight on them, noting how closely the blue-haired man held Annette around the waist and the way he looked so genuinely happy with her. It probably meant nothing—everyone was happy around Annette—and it shouldn’t even matter to Felix whether they were happy together. He needed only his sword in this world.

“May I sit here?” asked a woman in a mellifluous voice.

Turning his head, Felix saw Mercedes standing by his table holding a wine glass of her own and smiling kindly down at him. He shrugged indifferently, not greatly caring if she sat or not.

“If you like,” Felix said in a bored voice as he moved his gaze back out across the sea of dancers. The song had ended, and he could no longer see Annette or her partner. He wondered if they had wandered off to the Goddess Tower together, seeking to find out if the legends surrounding it were actually true. The thought made Felix scowl at a passing Golden Deer girl and she scurried away before he realized what he’d done.

“Thank you,” Mercedes said. She sat across from him and smoothed her long skirt meticulously over her knees. Her hair was swept up behind her head into an artful bun with only a single tendril of hair hanging by her face. “You’ve been sitting alone here for an awfully long time. Don’t you want to enjoy the party?”

“Not really,” Felix answered truthfully. He could see Sylvain on the dance floor now having claimed Annette as his new partner. He was holding her as closely as Caspar had, and Felix felt an unusually sharp pang of irritation in his chest at the sight. Sylvain was looking at Annette the same way he did when he was wooing a woman, an expression Felix absolutely did not like to see directed at Annette. “I don’t want to be here at all.”

Mercedes chuckled as though he had said something amusing. “That’s too bad. It’s a wonderful opportunity to socialize with other students. We don’t have much time to get to know each other outside of classes.”

Felix wasn’t sure where Mercedes was going with this conversation, so he remained silent. He continued to watch Sylvain lead Annette across the dance floor, sweeping close by their table. Sylvain grinned toothily at him over Annette’s shoulder and swung her around in a wide circle with an unnecessary flourish. Annette laughed and smiled brightly at Mercedes, only allowing it to fade slightly when she caught sight of Felix’s dour expression. They were gone almost as soon quickly as they had come, disappearing into the crowd like smoke in the wind.

“I’m so glad Annie is having a good time,” Mercedes said innocently, her eyes fixed upon the crowd and the wine in her hand glinting in the candlelight of the hall. “She works so hard at everything. She deserves to have some fun once in a while, don’t you think?”

Felix blinked in surprise at being addressed this question. He raised his glass to his lips as he turned to face Mercedes. She did not look at him, remaining serenely focused on the dancers as though her question were not remotely out of the ordinary.

“I suppose so,” Felix replied carefully, watching her closely over the rim of his glass.

“You’re very alike,” Mercedes went on conversationally, her tone light and casual. She glanced at him through the corner of her pale eyes, a soft smile curling on her lips. Felix raised his glass to his own lips and drank, though his eyes never left Mercedes’ face. “I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone as dedicated to their cause as Annie until I met you.”

“There is no point in wielding a sword if you are not willing to put in the effort to be the best,” Felix replied levelly. He could see Annette dancing again, her face alight with pleasure as she held Dimitri’s hands now. Felix felt another stab of annoyance in his chest that he couldn’t quite conceal in his expression. He hadn’t trusted the boar prince with anything delicate since they were children and greatly mistrusted his strength as he held Annette while they danced. “I don’t care about anything except getting stronger.”

“Is that so…” Mercedes replied demurely, sounding unconvinced. Her eyes also followed Annette across the dance floor. “I wonder if that’s true.”

“Of course it’s true,” Felix said waspishly, arching one dark eyebrow at her. He reached for the flagon and refilled his wine glass as the pair disappeared amongst the other dancing couples. “I have no reason to lie about why I’m here.”

Mercedes smiled then and turned to look at him directly. “As I said, you’re very much like Annie,” she told him with a smile. “You’re both stubborn enough to believe that’s true.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Felix growled at Mercedes and dropping all pretense of politeness. “I’ve never hidden my goals from anyone. She knows it as much as anyone else.”

The woman smiled benignly at him and took another sip of her wine, draining the glass entirely. “I know,” Mercedes assured him, raising her hand and waving gently at Annette who was now weaving through the crowd towards them with Sylvain at her side and balancing an absurdly full plate of desserts in her hands. “You try so hard to be strong. Is there really any harm in enjoying yourself for one night?”

“I enjoy getting stronger,” Felix retorted, watching Annette barely manage to avoid dropping her dessert plate onto the floor. He saw Sylvain catch her arm and steady her in time to prevent a disaster and wondered vaguely if Annette would have smiled just as brilliantly at him if Felix been there instead of Sylvain. “Everything else is a distraction obstructing that goal.”

Mercedes only smiled, a secret look that seemed to hold a world wisdom that Felix did not like to consider. “Of course,” she agreed softly, inclining her head toward him in an acknowledgement of his apparent victory. “Forgive me, I did not mean to suggest that anything or anyone else might be equally as important to you.”

Felix felt another stab of annoyance well in his chest and bit back a scathing reply on topic. He was keenly aware of Sylvain and Annette approaching their table and knew it would be unwise to try and argue the point further. Mercedes was almost as infuriating in her serenity as Annette could be with her infernally catchy songs and quick wits.

No wonder they get along so well, he thought crossly, glaring unnecessarily at Sylvain who raised his hands sheepishly in front of himself and took an obvious step away from Annette.

“Mercie! Look, I’ve brought sweets for us,” Annette said cheerfully. She set the plate down and pulled up a chair by Mercedes, seating herself opposite from Felix and Sylvain. It was piled high with more desserts than Felix could possibly name. He felt sick just looking at it. “Have some, won’t you?”

“It’s delicious!” Mercedes exclaimed, raising a piece of cake to her mouth. “Thank you, Annie. I’ve hardly seen you tonight!”

“Sorry about that,” Annette replied with a guilty grin, running a hand over her braided hair. “It’s wonderful to dance again. I’ve missed it.” She cast a glance at Felix, as if worried he might suddenly decide to explain, in great detail, about her greenhouse dancing escapade. He stared back blandly and said nothing.

“You’re a natural dancer,” Sylvain said fervently, leaning across the table and taking a macaron from the plate. He flashed a charming smile toward Annette, the same one he used to hit on girls. Felix suppressed an urge to kick his shin under the table and settled for glaring moodily at Sylvain instead, who pretended not to notice.

“I like dancing,” she replied with a giggle, reaching for a cupcake with enough icing to be a meal of its own. “I wouldn’t say I’m a natural, but I’ve practiced enough to be competent.”

“You’re downplaying your own skill,” Mercedes murmured, refilling her wine glass and pouring a second for Annette. “Remember when we used to dance in the empty classrooms at the Royal School of Sorcery after passing a particularly difficult exam? You were always better than me.”

Annette’s face coloured and she almost choked on her cupcake. “Mercie!” she spluttered after a moment, looking horrified that her friend would so casually mention such a private occurrence. She glanced frantically between Felix and Sylvain as if to gauge their reactions to this tidbit of information. “That was…I mean…”

Felix raised his eyebrows with interest, but Sylvain broke into the conversation first. “Darling Mercedes is right,” he said gallantly, a twinkle in his eye. “Regardless of where you practiced, you have no need to be modest. Why, I think you could even teach Felix a thing or two!”

Felix did kick him hard in the shin then. Sylvain winced slightly but his lopsided grin didn’t fade and neither of the women seemed to notice anything amiss.

“I don’t dance,” he said icily with a pointed look at Sylvain.

“You used to dance with Ingrid all the time,” Sylvain laughed heartily and threw an arm about Felix’s shoulders. “Don’t you remember?”

“That was when we were children,” Felix growled, shrugging Sylvain’s arm off his shoulders roughly and glaring at him ominously. “She was just trying to learn so she could dance with Glenn. I had no interest in dancing with her.”

“That’s not how I remember it,” Sylvain replied silkily. Annette and Mercedes leaned closer with undisguised curiosity. Felix felt his own face growing hot and turned his gaze away from Sylvain.

“Your memory is faulty,” he said coldly, refusing to look at any of his companions.

“So it happens as one ages,” Sylvain sighed theatrically. He stood and walked around the table, stopping in front of Mercedes and offering a courtly bow. “My lady, if my memory still serves me well enough, I would be pleased if you would join me on the dance floor.”

The fair-haired priestess smiled warmly and accepted Sylvain’s proffered hand. “I would be delighted,” Mercedes replied as she stood and allowed herself to be led away. She glanced over her shoulder, her violet eyes flashing in the candlelight. “Farewell for now, Annie, Felix.”

The pair of them lapsed into an uncomfortable silence as Sylvain and Mercedes vanished deeper into the hall. Annette sipped her wine and sighed quietly. She glanced at Felix and looked very much like she wanted to say something but instead reached for a small coconut square from her dessert plate. Her eyes looked distant and melancholy, as though she was looking into the past rather than enjoying the ball. Felix knew he shouldn’t care, that he ought not worry about Annette. If he simply remained silent and unwelcoming, she would eventually leave of her own accord. People always did that around Felix; no one wanted to spend time with his sour personality.

It was the way things should be; the way Felix preferred his life to be: one of solitary pursuit of strength alone. Feelings got in the way of that, turning an otherwise excellent swordsman into a dead one for a liege lord, or a once-gentle prince into a murderous animal. Felix had long ago vowed to himself he would never allow himself to become like Glenn or Dimitri, allowing his feelings to dictate the actions in his life. Feelings were dangerous for a warrior and Felix wasn’t a reckless man. He had carefully boxed up his feelings and set them aside long ago.

I shouldn’t care, he though harshly as he watched Annette stare blankly into her wine glass. He remembered how he had felt seeing her cry over a man who had abandoned her and destroyed her family. He thought of how Ingrid claimed he hadn’t cared for anyone since Glenn died, and how Mercedes had implied the opposite just minutes earlier. I shouldn’t care so much about a woman I’ve known less than a year.

“He isn’t here,” Felix said quietly, not knowing he was going to say anything at all. Annette turned her face to gaze at him, a world of sorrow in her blue eyes. He felt a stab of pain in his chest that was somehow different than the ones he had felt earlier. “Most of the knights aren’t here tonight.”

Annette nodded gloomily and raised her wine glass to her lips. “I know,” she murmured, casting her eyes across the room again. “He’s probably in the Cathedral. He spends a lot of time there, I’ve noticed.”

“Guilty men often feel the need to supplicate themselves before the Goddess for a forgiveness they do not deserve,” Felix replied harshly. “I watched my old man do much the same thing after Glenn died.”

Annette looked at him, her face curiously expressionless. “I’m sorry,” she said softly after several moments of silence. “That must be so hard for you.”

“Why are you sorry?” Felix asked with genuine surprise. “It has nothing to do with you.”

Annette looked at him and smiled sadly. “I’m sorry for your pain,” she said simply. “It hurts to see anyone remember a family that has been broken like ours have been.”

Felix stared at Annette in a stunned silence.

“I’m sorry,” she said after a moment. Annette looked down at her hands and sighed again. “That was presumptuous of me.”

“Not at all,” Felix said with a vigorous shake of his head. “I’ve told you before, don’t apologize. You should be enjoying yourself tonight, not wallowing in sadness over your pitiful excuse for a father.”

Annette looked as surprised at this turn in conversation as Felix felt. He hadn’t realized he would say something like that, echoing what Mercedes had said to him.

Here I go again, Felix railed inwardly at his own stupidity. Speaking before I think it through.

“I am enjoying myself,” Annette said firmly. She had set her wine glass on the table and held Felix’s gaze unflinchingly. “I would have left already if I wasn’t.”

Felix wasn’t sure if she meant she would have left the ball or if she would have left him, but decided the difference was too minimal to matter. Perhaps it was better not to know for sure, lest his carefully hidden emotions began to stir after so many years.

On the other hand, Felix thought ruefully, staring at Annette as though he had never seen her before, perhaps it is already too late.

The musicians struck up a new song as they sat quietly in a comfortable silence. Annette broke their gaze first, turning instead to watch the couples on the dance floor wistfully. Sylvain was leading Dorothea to the centre of the room while Mercedes had claimed Dedue as her partner and was leading him in the waltz.

“This is my mother’s favourite song,” Annette said suddenly, her voice curiously reminiscent. She was smiling as she watched their friends, absently drumming her fingers on the table in time with the music. “It was the last song I danced to with my father.”

Felix was on his feet before he realized it and moving before he understood the implications of what he was about to do. He bowed formally to Annette in the way his own father had taught him as a child. He could remember practicing his perfect bow to his mother and her laughing face as she would curtsy back to her young son. Felix had bowed to Ingrid too when they would practice dancing together, before he had let go of his boyhood crush on her and accepted that she loved his brother. It had been a very long time since he had bowed to a woman, yet somehow it seemed natural even after so many years.

“I would be honoured if you would dance with me, Annette,” Felix said, his voice hitching slightly in his throat. He felt his cheeks getting hot and was glad Sylvain was not there to comment on it.

For a moment, Felix was certain she would refuse. He remained bowed for what felt like an eternity, one hand extended into the empty space between them. Felix wasn’t sure in that moment what he would do when Annette refused, politely declining his offered hand and looking away awkwardly. He tried not to let his mind focus on how he would feel, ashamed and foolish for thinking it was a good idea to care about anyone, least of all a woman he had only known for a few short months. Felix wondered how he would excuse himself from the room without drawing attention to himself amongst the crowd, and how he could possibly avoid her in class for the remainder of the year. He thought about withdrawing his hand before she could have a chance to reject him herself.

“The honour would be mine, Felix” Annette replied, her voice slightly higher than its normal pitch, taking his hand in a gentle grip and sinking into an equally formal curtsy. She held the position for a long moment, her own head bowed and the candlelight making her hair glow like fire in their shadowed corner of the room.

Annette rose gracefully and walked beside him onto the brightly lit dance floor. Her hand felt warm in his as they began to dance amongst the other couples on the floor. A distant part of Felix’s mind was certain there were hundreds of eyes watching them together and people wondering how in the world Annette had come to be dancing with the most notoriously unsociable man in the entire Monastery. Felix was aware that his friends would never let him forget this moment, knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that any hope he had ever had of convincing them that Annette was merely a friend had vanished as soon as he stood up from his seat. They would be wrong, of course, but Felix found he didn’t much care what they thought at the moment.

Felix knew the song as well as anyone in the room did. It was a popular piece that had been composed during the time of Loog, King of Lions, called Sunlight After Snowfall. The composer had been part of the royal court at the time, a renowned man who had created many beautiful songs, although this was by far his most beloved piece. It was said to be composed after Faerghus had won her freedom.

He held Annette’s gaze as he led her across the floor, noting with satisfaction that she looked at least as happy as she had with each of her other partners that evening. She was as good as Mercedes had said, following his lead with ease. Her hands felt small and delicate in his own, and he hoped his callouses weren’t too bothersome to her skin.

“I thought you didn’t dance,” she said lightly, a smile curving her lips.

Felix tried to suppress a smile of his own. “I don’t,” he agreed, not noticing as Sylvain passed by with a wide grin over Annette’s shoulder. “It’s a distraction.”

Annette raised a delicate eyebrow. “I am honored to be considered worthy of such a distraction,” she said with mock deference. “I must say, I did not expect to dance with you tonight.”

“I hadn’t been planning on dancing,” Felix replied truthfully. It was surprising how easy it was to talk to Annette. He had never been able to talk to Ingrid like this, nor even Sylvain or Dimitri. The three of them were so different from Annette, full of sharp edges and festering despair that they used to protect themselves from further pain. Felix knew he was the same way; it was why he had vowed to be different, to separate his feelings from his life, to devote himself to the one unfeeling thing that could never betray him.

Annette was different not because she lacked experience with that kind of pain but rather because she defied it. She was not afraid to face that pain every day, chasing the dream of reuniting her family because it would make her mother happy again, no matter how much it hurt her to do it. It was a way of dealing with the situation that Felix had never considered. Perhaps it was because his own mother had died long before Glenn, when he had still been a child almost too young to understand the difference between life and death. Would things have been different if she had lived? Felix had never considered it before, and he did not have an answer.

“Do you like this song, Felix?” Annette asked, tilting her head as she watched his expression and tightening her grip in his hand.

“I suppose. I’ve never thought much about music before—” he stopped mid-sentence, his mind racing to find a way to finish it that didn’t involve saying anything about walking in on Annette in the greenhouse. “—before tonight.”

“This is not my favourite song,” Annette said quietly as the music started to fade and couples began to slow their movements. She smiled up at him. “I’ve always preferred the Dawnsong.

Felix knew that song too. It was not as popular as Sunlight After Snowfall, and had been composed many years later by another, lesser known poet known only as Rafiel. He could remember hearing it sung from time to time at parties either in Fhirdiad or Castle Fraldarius. He had never thought much about music before he had met her, and he didn’t know the words, a fact he loathed to admit to Annette.

“Why that song?” he asked instead. His voice was softer than usual, and he felt his cheeks flush slightly as he looked into Annette’s bright blue eyes.

“This one is beautiful, but there is a thread of sadness throughout the song, calling back to happier days from the distant past,” Annette said as they came to a stop. She still held his hands tightly and part of him wished she wouldn’t let go. “But Dawnsong sings of hope, and I think that in this world, we need hope.”

Annette sank into a curtsy again and Felix bowed purely out of instinct.

“I thank you for this dance, Felix” she said gravely, her blue eyes sparkling as she rose and met his gaze once more. Even in the royal court, few people still used the old formal style when they danced together. Felix supposed she followed the form because he had used it himself when he asked her to dance in the first place, the way his mother had taught him all those years ago. “Perhaps if the Goddess is gracious, we will have this chance again one day.”

The words were expected, Felix knew, but he could not stop a pang of happiness from filling his chest. He tried to suppress it, tried not to think hard on the formal words, understanding that they were proper and not meant for him in any other way. He knew Annette didn’t mean them personally; she was only saying what she had to say. His response was supposed to be the same, after all. Nothing they said was intended to be taken intimately.

“May the Goddess be gracious to us, then,” he intoned formally to a goddess he was not even sure he truly believed in.

Annette squeezed his hand one last time and unlaced her fingers from his. “I should be going now,” she murmured, another blush suffusing her cheeks. “I really do thank you for the dance, Felix. It was very special.”

She began to walk past him, her eyes suddenly downcast. Impulsively, Felix grabbed her hand again and held it firmly. “Tell me, Annette,” he said recklessly in a low voice. “Where is your date? Surely he should not have left you alone here tonight.”

Inexplicably, Annette slowly turned back to look at him with a wide grin. Felix could not have said what he expected, but he had not thought she would be smiling as though he had offered his sword to her service for the rest of his days. Her eyes twinkled with a secret he could not decipher, and her hair glowed with a halo of candlelight.

“I came alone,” Annette told him, still holding his hand and smiling brightly.

Felix schooled his expression into one of impassivity to mask his surprise.

“Is that so…” he said musingly, carefully watching Annette’s expression.

“I suppose I should not downplay myself,” Annette went on sweetly, echoing Mercedes’ earlier comment about her dancing. Her lips were still curved in a suspicious kind of smile that Felix liked much more than he truly wanted to admit. “Caspar did ask me to go with him, but I turned him down. I thought it would be wrong to…well…”

Annette’s voice trailed off and she let go of Felix’s hand.

“Never mind,” she said, turning to go again, her eyes still dancing in the dim candlelight. “Good night, Felix.”