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Don't Break What You Don't Understand

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They’re cutting through the woods and heading for the docks when Petra hears it. It’s a noise she’s become acquainted with during the war, one that sometimes she hears when on the training grounds alone at night when her thoughts run too wild with fear. It’s the sound of air crackling as the Empire’s strategist materializes seemingly from thin air. His sudden and unexpected appearance has forced more than one retreat before.

“Professor!” she shouts. “Get them to the docks. I will distract the reinforcements.”

The Professor nods. He knows her skills. She knows this land the way no one else can. If anyone can buy them time to get away from Hubert, it’s her. Perhaps, she thinks as she weaves her way back through the trees, she will finally have an advantage on him. His soldiers make noise, too much of it. They crash through the branches and brush, unused to the thickness of the vines that twist down from the treetops and it makes it easy for her to do a quick headcount before bleeding back into the woods ahead of them.

She reaches into her pocket and pulls out her trip wire, working quickly to set up what she needs. From there, she scales a tree and steadies her breath, pressing into the trunk of a tree as she draws her bow with one hand and pulls her throwing knives out of the pouch she keeps them in with the other. The first group of soldiers stumbles into view, all clunking and supposedly impervious armor, but she long ago memorized where she could slip a knife through.

It’s almost comical the way they trip and crash together over the twine, a simple trick. They must be out of practice given how peaceful Brigid has been when her own status had been unknown to them. It’s easy to aim then, her knives finding the weaknesses in their armor and finding important organs to keep them down. The mages behind them are frantic, searching the trees. She’s already moving though, slipping across the path in the high tree branches and raining arrows down on four of the mages and throwing a knife at the final one.

Which leaves Hubert.

“Very well done, Petra,” he calls, stepping over the bodies of his fallen comrades and continuing on the path.

Anger surges through her at his nonchalance. The disrespect, not just for her, but for his own allies, curdles her blood in her veins and she’s moving before can think, springing off the branch as she pulls her hatchet from her belt. She crashes into him, sinking the hatchet into his shoulder only to have his gloved hand press to the side of her face and heat with magic. She lets go of her hatchet and jumps back, ducking just in time to dodge the fire ball Hubert sends towards her.

He pulls the hatchet free of his shoulder and if he bleeds, she can’t see it through the black leather shoulder pads and cloth. He tosses the hatchet to the side but instead of advancing, he stands where he is.

“You aren’t going to let me by, are you?” he asks.

“I will destroy you if you try,” she says, pulling her hunting dagger from its sheath. “I am taking my people’s soldiers to Claude and if I have to burn us both to do so, I will.”

He shakes his head. “That won’t be necessary. You’ve decimated my forces, it’d be foolish to press forward. I’m impressed. The girl I knew at Garreg Mach wouldn’t have been capable of this.”

"The girl you knew at Garreg Mach is standing right here,” she says. “You just never bothered to see me.”

“I-“

She moves fast, crossing the space between them and hooking her leg around his, toppling him backwards and bringing her knife down, piercing it through the hand he flails up before he can send any of his cursed magic through it. He curses and twists a hand in her braids. She yanks her head back rips her knife out of his hand, splattering blood on them both before bringing it down with all the years of fury that have been building for far too long.

Her knife sinks into the dirt beside his head. She stares down at him as rage screams in her chest and claws at her ribs, watches as realization bleeds into his eyes. Her mouth tastes of iron – his blood from when she’d stabbed his hand while screaming. She spits it out on the ground next to his head and knocks his hand free of her hair before pulling her knife out of the ground and getting to her feet.

“I am not a monster like you,” she says. “You may think my people are stupid and foolish, but I will always be better than you. And Edelgard.”

He sits up as she steps away from him. For a moment, she almost dashes for the trees again. Instead, she turns her back on him and walks back towards the docks.

 

-.-

 

It’s on their way back from Brigid, skirting their way through enemy territory, that Petra collapses. She’s not expecting it. She’s pushed herself for years now, pushed herself until her blood pounds through her veins and her lungs shake her ribs like a rabid dog in a cage, and she knows what it feels like to be on the edge of collapse. This…this comes up on her all at once. She’s walking beside Shamir, examining a bit of rust that’s somehow managed to take hold on one of her throwing knives, and then the world closes in and she falls.

When she comes too, it’s with her cheek pressed to someone’s back and her arms secured with her own sash from her waist around their waist. Going by the smell of Almyran perfume and the way she feels air rushing through her hair, it’s easy to figure out who it is that has her.

“Claude…”

“Well good morning, sleeping princess,” Claude says. “Sorry for the restraints. Didn’t want you falling off this high up.”

She wiggles her fingers, untying the knot with deft motions as she eases back. Riding wyverns isn’t new to her, not anymore, not when the Professor seems to move her between a pegasus and wyvern depending on what side of the bed he woke up on that morning. But still, she feels a little dizzier than normal. Once she has her sash secured around her waist again, she wraps her arm around Claude’s hips to help keep herself stable.

“Thank you,” she says. “I am sorry if I scared you.”

"Nah,” he says, but she can hear the lie in his voice. She’s spent too much time listening to him pacify those who were worried about their fellow comrades only to hear his own identical worries when they were alone. “But I’m glad you’re okay.”

She watches the land pass beneath them. The sun will be setting soon. “I let Hubert go.”

“Yeah?”

“It was so…” She watches the wyvern’s wings beat up and down. “I was so angry. I wanted to tear him apart but I…I do not want to kill out of anger.”

“You killed every soldier he brought with him,” Claude says.

“Because I needed to,” she says. “But I…when I was sitting on top of him, I wanted to stab him over and over again and I could not…I could not let myself do that. I am sorry, Claude. I know it would have helped if I did. I could have saved people’s lives.”

"I will never ask you to do something you can’t handle.” One of Claude’s hands covers hers, pulling her fingers apart so he can tangle his with hers. “It would’ve helped, yeah, you’re not wrong about that. Shit…you really had Hubert on his back?”

Petra can’t help but smile, an odd sort of joy filling her up. “Yeah. I did.”

“Damn, wish I was there,” Claude says. “I don’t know if he’s ever been taken by surprise like that.”

“He has always underestimated me,” she says. “He said I will never be stronger than Edelgard, so he did not need to worry about me.”

"Well, you certainly gave him something to worry about now, didn’t you?”

“I guess I did…” She turns her head to press her lips to his cheek. “Thanks.”

She rests her cheek against his shoulder and closes her eyes, sinking into the feeling of Claude’s body heat and the cool air on her face. The anger that had poisoned her veins and driven her to rage feels far away now, her true self and the gentleness she knows she’s capable of trickling back in. She does not want to become the monster people see when they look at her people. She and her people are nothing like those who try to use them, and the fear that she’ll become just like them never quite leaves her mind as the war drags on.

“It is hard,” she says, voice shaking. “To hold the rage that comes from oppression and not lash out when the chance is right in front of me. But feeling like that…it hurts, Claude.”

“I know,” Claude says. He squeezes her hand. “I know.”