This morning is cold. Scratch that, this morning is freezing. Felix stirs awake, pulled out of a nice dream about gardens in full bloom, and he’s grimacing before he can even lift his head from the pillow – it may be winter, but he should be used to these temperatures, the heating should be enough and the blankets... feel lighter than usual. He taps all around him, but he reaches for nothing but the soft cotton sheets. Weird.
The chilly breath of the morning slithers right underneath them, and pries his eyes open, to the empty bed and to the thinnest ribbon of light peeking from behind the curtains. Without a doubt, the blankets are nowhere to be found, not the duvet nor the warm furs, nor the one he’s supposed to share them with. Even weirder.
…He already misses her. The room is uncharacteristically quiet as Felix drags himself out of bed, gets washed and dressed, grabs his coat and ties his hair up – all things he typically does, more often than not, with Annette’s commentary, if not her sweet singing. She might’ve gotten used the life in the castle fast, but she doesn’t usually disappear to start the day off on her own, without shaking him awake and dragging him along for breakfast.
Nothing to do about that. Felix walks out of the quarters into the silent halls. It can’t be more than a couple hours past dawn, and he manages to walk down the stairs and halfway through the corridor before meeting another soul, an old servant busy with a broom. She responds with a little curtsey when he steps closer.
“Good morning, Your Grace. Have you need of me?”
“Have you seen my wife?”
The maid smiles knowingly, and he doesn’t like that. “Yes, Your Grace. She is beautiful.”
“I meant today,” Felix clarifies, looking away. Though without a doubt she’s as beautiful as ever, wherever she is, he so dearly wishes people would stop remembering the things he went around asking the one time he’d had too much wine. Luckily, the old woman knows better than to twist the knife in the wound.
“Ah. I haven’t seen her, then.”
He nods, murmurs a word of thanks, and keeps walking, until he reaches the end of the corridor. Outside the gates, the yard is a clean white, the walls shining bright as the sun sheds a few first lazy rays over the piles of snow. The castle has just begun its slow awakening, with the guards polishing their weapons, and the peasants starting to gather for the daily audiences, but Annette is nowhere to be seen among the small crowd.
“Let them in.” He sighs at a steward, before turning on his heels, heading back inside the castle alone.
Breakfast in the great hall is silent, even if Felix spends it listening to the inquiries and requests of people from all over the Duchy, as well as several from the March. It’s mostly routine procedures, some requests for food, a squabble over trespassed property lines, and while he wishes Sylvain hadn’t left him responsible for Gautier territory while he went to find that girl of his, the workload isn’t that much worse than usual.
…Though like most things, it would be a lot better if Annette were here.
By midday, when the most of the audiences are dealt with, he finally finds time to ask about her again: the guards haven’t seen her either, but a servant lets him know that she passed by the kitchens, early in the morning. It isn’t much, but it’s enough for him to decide to hand over the paperwork to an old steward, and excuse himself from the hall.
Surprisingly, he doesn’t find her in the library, where she usually retires to work when the days are busier, and he doesn’t find her when he returns to the second floor to check their chambers again. He does find the bedroom tidied up, and a flock of servants at its center, setting out new blankets and freshly washed clothes, chattering back and forth. Immediately they’re on him, distraught looks on their faces.
“Your Grace,” one of them starts, producing a folded sheet of crumbled paper, before shoving it in his hands, “this is the third letter the lady pens this morning.”
Felix turns it around – the address is the Royal School of Sorcery in Fhirdiad, written in a shaky version of Annette’s calligraphy. Another servant steps forward and passes him another, as he skims through what seems to be a failed attempt at an essay on magically imbued weapons.
“She’s been in Your Grace’s office,” somebody chimes in before he can ask, “all morning since before the sun came up— with a terrible cough and in no condition to work. You must collect her.”
Of course, she’d have to be sick, working herself to the bone, and hiding somewhere he wouldn’t have checked, in that dusty little room where his father would stash piles of logbooks from decades before, to read again at any given moment while he filled the new ones. It’s a place Felix never liked, ever since he was young, but Annette did insist a couple times that it’s a pretty room, if only in need of a good dusting.
He feels stupid for not thinking about it, but now he’s leaving the chambers and flying down the stairs, with the servants in tow, a few steps behind him. Then he’s throwing the door open, and the sight right beyond is as predictable as it is… kind of heartbreaking.
He should’ve probably noticed the night before, when Annette crawled into bed with snow still on her hair. He should’ve probably told her off, because she left half of the pillows freezing and wet. But how in the world could Felix do that, when she crawled all the way to his side of the bed, and cuddled him until she fell asleep?
“Is the lady still in there, Your Grace?” A maid’s voice comes from the corridor.
“The lady’s in here.” He replies. “Leave it.”
Annette is sitting at his desk, quill in hand, body wrapped in a set of heavy blankets – that’s where they were – and pale face abandoned on a stack of papers. She doesn’t move until Felix closes the door behind him, and walks up to her – then she looks up, eyes red and bleary. She forces a little smile.
“Don’t hey me,” he sighs, bending to her eye level, “you shouldn’t be here.”
Annette rolls her eyes, and begins threateningly waving the quill under his nose. “Yes I should. I have to finish this… I’m working, let me work.”
Unconvincing, especially with how her face is covering most of the supposed work, the messy draft of yet another letter to the Royal School. That parchment must be getting all crumpled, under the weight of her and all those blankets.
“You can’t be working if you’re carrying half of our bed on your back.”
“I can carry you as well, if you ins–” she cuts herself off to sneeze once, then a second time, luckily on her hand rather than on those documents.
Felix takes the chance to take the quill out of her hand, as she readjusts the covers on her shoulders. She mumbles a complaint, weary little face contorting, but her voice is so weak he doesn’t catch it. And oh, he already misses her smile – and her laugh and her voice and her sweet words – so terribly, but this time it’s her who deserves to see one. So smile is what he does, while leaning even closer, until she looks up at him.
“Ann,” he tells her, brushing a hand against her cheek, “go to bed.”
He breathes in relief as she nods, and takes his hand. When she stands up, she immediately huddles against him, and from there he just has to lead her out of the office, while she follows almost limply, throwing an eye outside the windows along the corridor. The horizon is painted white, cold and immobile like it was yesterday, save for the absence of a little orange speck making snow angels – today it’s by his side. Annette coughs.
“I, ugh. I wish I could be there. The snow is even prettier today…”
“Was yesterday really not enough? Look at you.”
She can barely stand on her own, but it doesn’t stop her from flashing him a glare – or at least, her best attempt at it. What a handful.
“I had fun, you know.” Annette goes on, clinging to his arm as he helps her up the stairs. “If you’d been there it would’ve been even better, then we could’ve just done all the work today.”
“And you would’ve still caught a cold, and I’d still have to drag you to bed.”
“I didn’t force you to do tha–” Another sneeze. “And, it wouldn’t kill you to take a break every now and–” And another. “–then.”
“Forgive me for doing my job,” Felix rebuts, once they reach their room, “which I prefer to do when I’m healthy, unlike other people I know.”
Annette sticks her tongue out as she stumbles into the room, dropping the blankets on the floor before dropping herself on the bed, with a relieved smile on her face, and suddenly he remembers that he’s very much in love with her.
“Did you really have to take all of my blankets this morning?” is what he tells her instead. “Your dressing gown was right there.”
“I was cold, and they were comfortable… And what’s yours is mine, right?”
“And ‘what’s mine is yours’?”
“You said it!”
Heavens above. He rearranges the blankets at the foot of the bed, before climbing in and laying a kiss on her forehead. Annette’s hands reach up for his cheeks, but he shrinks away.
“Ugh. You’re cold.”
“I’m sick.” She coughs. “And now you’re the one who took away the blankets. What did you expect?”
He pulls away now, to see Annette cross her arms over her chest, and to see that she’s still wearing her thin nightgown. No wonder.
“What did you expect, walking around like that?”
“Again, I’m sick, and I was so tired…”
“You’re terrible.” Felix sighs, sitting back up. His eyes drop to the clothes laid out by those servants from before, right beside where Annette lies – bundles of white wool, most definitely better than what she’s wearing, but she still won’t move. He waits just a moment, on the edge of the bed, watching her trace the shapes of the white lace, before giving in.
“…oh, come here.”
Clearly Annette appreciates the help, so he doesn’t have to tell her twice. Her arms wrap around his neck, and she lets him lift her up to her feet again. He throws his coat across her shoulders, and Annette presses her face against his neck, fingers curling over his sleeves as he reaches for the buttons of the nightgown. Cute.
It slips off her back swiftly, revealing a stretch of flushed skin, barely shivering under the coat, but Felix is quick to slip her inside the warmer, woolen dress.
“Thank you, dear,” Annette mumbles, still clinging to his sleeves.
“Let go,” Felix tells her, “get back in bed.”
Then she lets out this defeated little whimper, and he immediately knows that whatever battle this is, he’s going to lose it.
“Don’t want to. I didn’t even get a good breakfast.”
“Didn’t you eat this morning?”
“Just a little.” She shifts a bit, to look up at him, and Felix is stupid enough to look back into her puppy eyes. “Make me something?”
He huffs. He should get back to work, and Annette should just go to sleep, and surely the servants could handle her... but she’s so tired, so helpless... and cracking a cute little smile when she sees he’s about to give in. Then he looks away, if only to save face.
“So long as you rest after this.”
And Annette nods, finally letting go of his sleeves, but when he steps away and enters the drawing room, she trails behind him, coughing and shuffling before plopping down on the sofa.
“I want hot chocolate,” she coughs against a pillow, and Felix almost feels bad about lighting the coals below the teapot instead. He sets a teacup, bread, a jar of honey and one of raspberry jam on the table, and before Annette can complain about the lack of chocolate, the dense smell of elderberry starts to fill the room, and from the corner of his eye, he sees her sit up excitedly.
“This tea is good too. Can I have—”
“No pancakes. The quark is in the kitchens, and I’m not going all the way back there.”
“Mean,” Annette jokes, but she doesn’t insist.
Her head drops to a side, and he takes a moment to stare, observe the way she nestles on the seat, hugging her knees and playing with the hem of her skirts. There’s been few times Felix has seen her not fill an idle moment by practicing some kind of bizarre, handcrafted spell, and it’d usually be after she was wounded, or exerted her magic - the cold must’ve hit badly, to get her down like this.
For a moment he remembers something blurry, piles of snow and Mother’s face as she says something about catching the cold in his place, and his own as he told her what a stupid thing it was, and he thinks about how nice it’d be to carry Annette to bed and catch the cold for her and have her back smiling and bouncy as usual, and then the water in the samovar behind him starts bubbling, and he’s forced to turn away from his wife.
“What work were you doing this morning, anyway?” Felix asks her, dragging his thoughts back to the present.
Then there’s the rustling of fabric moving from the sofa and of light steps down the wooden floor, and Annette is laying her head on his back, arms thrown around him. He stands up straighter, if only to lean closer, and pours her a cup of tea.
“Things for Fhirdiad. It’s always things for Fhirdiad...” She replies, and Felix can hear the frown in her voice. “Remember how they invited me to hold some classes?”
Oh, if he remembers. She was ecstatic for her hard work to receive such a recognition, and on the trip back to the duchy she talked his ear off with some improvised speech about how she’d have to keep doing her best, and kissed him until his face started to hurt.
“I think I do.” He leaves the cup to cool at one side, and starts spreading the jam over a slice of bread, while Annette goes on.
“Well—” she clears her throat, and not without a little whimper of pain, “the classes would be in Spring, but all material would have to be sent earlier, and I had nothing prepared yet and— ugh.” Her head shifts, and she coughs again.
“Drink.” Felix gestures for the tea with his chin, and her hands dart from behind him to grab the cup, setting it back down empty mere seconds later, and wrapping back around his waist.
“No sugar. That was awful, love.” Now he can hear her pout, adorable and defeated, but it doesn’t stop her from going on talking. “Then last week they wrote to remind me of the materials, and I would’ve done it yesterday, but then I got distracted, and I didn’t want it to happen again, so I left before you woke up, and I swear I was doing a good job—”
“Ann, I can swear you weren’t,” he replies, before lifting the bread to his side, “now eat.”
Once more, her hand appears in a flash before disappearing again, together with the bread. He prepares some more slices.
“Waspbewwy jam?” her voice comes, clearly through a mouthful. “Ish good.”
“Homemade. I knew we’d need it.”
“Hmm… any speshul reshipe?”
Felix puts the knife aside, and passes her the second slice. “Ancient Fraldarius recipe. Helps against colds.”
“Oh? Shome— hmm— kind of secret?” she asks between bites.
“Something like that. I can share with you when you’re better, but keep it in the family.”
Once she’s done eating, her head goes back to rest against him, and she gives a little “yes”, followed by a long sigh.
“Oh, Felix… I need to be working soon. I have to be at my best in Fhirdiad.”
“You will be. There’s still time, and I'll lend you a hand.”
“Thank you, dear.” She says.
For a moment there’s a deep, cozy silence in the room, only broken by the continuous bubbling of the teapot still on the fire, and Annette’s slow breathing. Her palms drop back down, to rub circles at the sides of his waist, and Felix can’t quite tell if she’s trying to comfort him or herself, but he doesn’t stop her, and busies himself with pouring a second cup of tea. She keeps murmuring against his back.
“There’s the little prince to visit as well, in the capital... If wonder if Dedue and His Majesty are doing better now.”
Felix hums in response. He remembers the last time he saw the royal family – the two men looked like they hadn’t slept in weeks, while the baby was wide awake, cheery and chatty despite not having even learned how to talk yet. Felix resisted laughing in Dimitri’s face simply because both the king and his husband looked like they might’ve fallen over any moment.
“I hope for their own good that they are.”
He feels Annette nod solemnly over his back.
“And Dedue isn’t good with kids…”
“And the boar has a long way to go.”
Annette nods again, and hums a low note, as if he’d just said something very wise.
“How long did they wait after the marriage?” She asks then.
Felix reaches for the jar of honey, and shoves a spoonful in his mouth – it’s disgustingly sweet, the way Annette should like it. “I think a year?” He tries to remember, adding two more spoonfuls in her tea. “And now they’re fathers. Incredible...”
“They move fast.”
“He is king.” Felix concedes. “Must have some responsibilities, or whatever.”
“Mhm.” The sound of agreement is muffled out as she rubs her face against his shoulder. “But… I do think they’re happy like this.”
“That they are.” Felix can’t help but smile, though he knows she can’t see it. The Lions were survivors, every last one of them, but even Dimitri was able to start a new life, with someone who seemed to understand him. It was the kind of thing that would make one start to believe in a better future.
He isn’t quite aware of the warmth of Annette’s hands until they leave his waist, and reach up to grab the front of his tunic. She shifts, a soft cheek pressing against his shoulder.
“How long have we been married?”
Felix shrugs. “Since the world began.”
“Ooh, come on!” She snorts, still tired, but gleeful. Beloved.
It’s been two years, three months and around a week since they exchanged promises, alone before Flayn – an ordained priestess, she reassured them – one rainy night in Fhirdiad, but that wouldn’t have made her laugh. She only quiets down when he reaches for her behind him, pressing against his hand as he strokes her forehead. It’s starting to heat up.
“When you’re done reminiscing, your tea is here.” Felix announces. “Sweetened.”
Annette’s head immediately moves from him, and she reaches around his back again to grab the tea and another slice of bread. He finally turns around to see her dropping back on the sofa, hugging the hot cup to her chest, satisfied.
The image before him is somewhat haunting. She holds her body close, breathing in deeply the pleasant smell of the tea and nibbling at the bread, and her face is flushed because the biggest enemy she has right now is a mild fever that will heal before he knows it, and she’s safe and he’s safe and the thought of it is something Felix can never get quite used to. And yet sometimes it does feel like it’s always been like this, as if there’s always been a light, the sun beyond the long night.
“Two years.” He spells out, reminding himself, more than informing her. But she still looks up from her tea, bread crumbs and jam at the corners of her mouth, and Felix almost lets himself smile. “I can’t believe you’ve already forgotten that, Annette. Do you like me that little?”
“You…!” She starts protesting, but once more her words are cut off when she realizes she didn’t finish swallowing a bite. She takes a moment, eating slowly and sipping tea, while Felix watches, and waits.
“I was just asking, you know.” Annette says eventually, her voice so small, her eyes downcast. “Maybe it hasn’t been a fun time for you, and you’d rather forget about it.”
Oh, Felix can’t really hold that one back.
Her head snaps up, and she must be ready to call out his language when he rolls his eyes, and snickers.
“Annette, you have to be the most ridiculous person I know. And I know my share of ridiculous people.”
He watches her open her mouth and close it again, indignant, or at least pretending to be, before throwing back the rest of her tea, and settling for a cute little pout. He strides up to her, to take the empty cup from her hands and lay a kiss on top of her head.
“So smart,” he tells her, “and then you say things like this. Maybe it’s true that you don’t like me, Ann.”
She laughs again, a bit harder than before, and Felix feels something warm swell in his chest. It doesn’t end when the laughter turns into yet another pout.
“I do like you. A good deal, in fact.” Annette murmurs, pointing at him with what’s left of her bread, cheeks turning a brighter shade of pink compared to her already flushed face.
She’s starting to glow again, his wife. But she's still up and about, and possibly with a fever rising.
“And I love you,” he replies, “now will you please get back to bed?”
Annette huffs loud, but a smile passes her lips, and she nods all the same. The rest of her bread is gone in a second, then Felix takes her hand to help her up, and once again she huddles close, and lets him lead her back into the bedroom.
It must be past midday now, seeing as the sun has started to hide behind the mountains, but finally Annette lays down, and he sits next to her to wrap her body in blankets.
“I’m not that cold!” She complains, though she doesn’t push away when Felix slides closer and holds her against his chest.
For a while he stays still, forgetting all about work and titles and possibly catching the cold from her, because he’s stupid and irresponsible and she’s sick and needs some care, until Annette’s pretty blue eyes slid open, and she pokes his arm.
“Felix? Did you leave any work downstairs?”
The reminder stings a bit, but he knows it’s the right thing to do. “Yes,” he says, untangling his arms from her, “some more requests from Gautier territory. I should go.”
And with that Felix begins to stand up, when Annette throws her arm to the side to grab at his sleeve.
“And... is it anything the stewards can do for you?”
Technically, there’s nothing he can do that they can’t, when it’s about estate affairs. Practically, the presence of the Duke helps speed up all procedures, because nobody wants to dare waste his time.
Effectively, he just doesn’t want to leave Annette here and go back to work.
“Yes.” He admits.
“…stay with me for a bit then?” She asks, already beaming. She’s won, she always does.
Felix rolls his eyes. “Scoot over.”
And so she does, leaving him the smallest bit of space to climb in beside her. He decides not to complain about having to cuddle in order to fit in. Annette seems happy enough.
“It wasn’t that hard, was it?”
After all that it took him to get her to bed. Felix scoffs. “Look who’s talking.”
She giggles, rubbing at her swollen, tired eyes, before snuggling up closer, and sighing contentedly. His hand finds itself buried in a tangle of red curls, as if it was made for nothing more than stroking her hair, and suddenly Felix feels less guilty about setting work aside for once. He leans close, and kisses her forehead.
“Sleep tight, Ann.”
He doesn’t have to say it twice.
Even after the nap, that night Annette falls asleep early, under the light of a beautiful moon, to wake up the next day tickled by the warmth of the pale sunlight, refreshed and full of energy.
The morning birds are just starting to land on the white skeletons of the trees outside, and she feels like running to where they are, and she feels like dancing, and she feels like singing. A stupid cold had no chance to stop her – not for more than one day, anyway. She rolls to her side, crawling up to the shape lying beside her, and she brushes back her husband’s hair and plants a firm kiss on the back of his ear.
“Dear?” She whispers, and Felix buries his head deeper in the pillow. She kisses him again. “Let’s get up, Felix...” No reply, save for a little groan. How complicated. Annette doesn’t give up. “Rise and shine for me? Dear? My moonbeam, my sugar, my love—”
“Ugh.” The answer finally comes, low and gravelly, with a wave of his hand. “Please... please stop screaming.”
Annette sits up. “I’m not screaming.”
“Then you’re... yelling.”
She cocks her head to a side. “Are you alright?”
“Hmm.” Felix turns his head to her side, eyes still shut closed, and she takes the chance to kiss the tip of his nose. “Thank you. Been better.”
“Headache? Sore throat? Want to sleep in?”
His eyes slid open, unfocused on the headboard. “Yes, yes, and no. I need to... work... need to train.”
“You’re sick, and you will let me take care of you.” Annette commands, and she must be getting pretty good at this whole being-a-duchess thing, because Felix immediately looks up, and he reminds her ever so slightly of a kicked puppy.
“Preposterous,” he lies between his teeth, “you wouldn’t be able to stop me.”
“You got it from me, the least I can do is make you some tea and make sure you rest.” She says, getting to her feet and rounding the bed, before leaning down to kiss his forehead. “Family looks out for each other, right?”
Then Felix nods, and she doesn’t have to insist.