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The Way the War Bells Toll

Chapter Text

Somewhere from the south, a red army marches towards them. They are losing time. The thought settles in Sylvain’s gut, a heavy weight chained to him that he cannot shake no matter how hard he tries.

They should flee, evacuate, leave, but he won’t. Not when no one else will. While Sylvain has never truly possessed the same noble and valiant dispositions that the entire Blue Lions house seems to, he cares very much for the welfare of the people in his life. That, he is willing fight for - willing to die for.

Everyone is very tense. He can see it in their shoulders, in the way their bodies coil towards the center, bracing for a blow that is slowly moving towards them. A blow that they won’t be able to visualize until it knocks upon their gates.

Nobody knows how to talk to anyone anymore. Every interaction swings wildly between saying way too much way too quickly for fear of losing the opportunity or hardly saying anything at all in the desperate hope that they’ll get a chance to say that something another day.

Sylvain does not know how to navigate this. He has never been good at navigating tragedy. It is why, when Duscur occurred, he chose to take a step back, as the only one who lost relatively little in comparison (It’s not true. He lost Glenn too. Never mind the way he lost his friends to themselves.)

He is even worse at navigating a tragedy that has yet to happen.

No one will state the obvious. No one will say that they may die. It is because it is something they all already know but still hope will never come.

Dying is not a new risk to him. There was always a chance when they chase bandits out away from villages or fight monsters in the forest. There were always dangers to being in the academy, to swinging a lance around. They have already lost people (Miklan’s voice still whispers in his ear on quiet lonely nights, enraged and vengeful,) already killed people but it is not the same risk. It is not a war.

Sylvain is older than most of his classmates but he still feels very young. Feels like he shouldn’t be thinking about war when his last carefree thought had been about what kind of flowers Ingrid might like.

Ingrid has been his only bright spot in this impending siege. Felix has hardly left the training grounds as he prepares and Dimitri is slowly unraveling in a way that Sylvain, for all their years of friendship, has never seen before. It terrifies him, the way both his friends seem to be slipping further and further away with each passing moment even in this calm before the storm.

Ingrid has shrunk away too. She is tense all the time. When he talks to her, a part of her seems far away too, but unlike Felix and Dimitri, he can tell that she’s trying to remain as present as she possibly can. When he touches her, she will sometimes still first before relaxing into his hands but at least she does relax eventually and she’s catching herself more quickly every time.

Their romance was a happy accident trailing from an offering of a marriage of convenience. He had, (not on a whim, he will secretly add,) asked for the possibility and magically, wonderfully, she had said yes. He is still elated about it, even now, with the army by their door.

Ingrid is not the same. He is not the same. But Ingrid tries and while the light is dimmer than it was before it is still bright. He does everything he can to revel in it - to keep it close for just another moment more.

He doesn’t think about the fact that one of them could die. He can’t.

He finds Ingrid in his room in the evening. She has been spending more and more time there. She used to slip out in the mornings but now she stays. They never do anything more than sleep but still, a few weeks ago, Sylvain would have called it a victory. Now it only serves to remind him of an uncertainty. He knows it is a last act of desperate comfort the both of them can give. If anyone has noticed, they haven’t said a word.

He often leaves his door unlocked for her. She would have scolded him once but there is nothing in the room aside from her that he couldn’t stand to lose.

She has a book on tactics open on his desk but she is clearly not reading it. In fact, she isn’t even looking at it. She is, instead, staring blankly at a spot on wall.

She is still lovely to look at, even with her hair tied into a haphazard bun, and especially with the way the light hits her, but something about the picture feels wrong. He wishes she could just be studying because it is in her nature to be studious. He wishes that there could be something else running through their heads other than war.

He closes the door with an audible click so as to not startle her. She doesn’t turn around but does look away from the wall and slips her bookmark onto the page.

“Hey,” He greets, coming up behind her. He lays both his hands on her shoulders, feeling her stiffen for a second before slowly breathing out as he guides her shoulders down from where they had tensed around her neck.

“Hey,” She turns in her chair to look up at him, a weary looking smile on her face, “How was training with Felix?”

Sylvain, who had spent a better part of an hour being beaten by a wooden sword, grimaces. He tugs his sleeve further down to hide a particularly bad bruise on his forearm. “Uh,” he starts, trying to find a polite word, “Intense.”

Her lips purse into a thin line, her eyebrows furrowed and worried, as she eyes his sleeve.

“He seems okay.” He continues, digging one hand into his pocket while letting the other rest on the back of her chair, “But I did finally manage to convince him to take a break.”

“Oh?” Her demeanor relaxes for a bit, “And how’d you manage that?”

It had been a near fight, to be honest. Sylvain had pointed out that Felix would be useless in battle were he to overdue it in training and when Felix grumbled that he hadn’t been close to overdoing it, Sylvain had practically yelled at him.

But he doesn’t say that. Instead he puts on a smile, “Oh you know,” He says, feigning lackadaisical, “With my endless amount of wit and charm, I can persuade anyone into anything.”

His attempt at humor draws a small exasperated smile out of Ingrid, “It sounds kind of like you just annoyed him off the grounds.”

“I’ll have you know that annoying someone is a very useful persuasive technique.”

“Is that how you got me to agree to marry you?”

“I mean, it worked didn’t it?”

Ingrid lets out a brief but genuine laugh before standing up to kiss his cheek. When she pulls away from him, he catches both her hands in his and waits until her fingers thread through his.

He wishes that he can convey the depth of what he feels for her through the way he holds her hands. He wishes that he can show her the things swirling inside his head and heart through touch alone because he doesn’t know how to put a voice to it yet. He doesn’t know what it means in words. He only knows that he would do anything to know that there will be more moments like this. Moments where he can just look at her and be with her and forget, for a second, that there is something looming at their doorstep.

But moments like this are brief and fleeting, especially at wartime.

“Do you think that’d work for Dimitri?” She says, pulling him towards his small bed to sit on the edge, before releasing him to pull off her shoes.

“What?” He asks as he mirrors her, tugging his own boots off to be placed next to hers before sitting next to her, “Annoying him out of his funk?”

“At this point, I’d be happy if you could get him to eat something.” She sighs, pulling one of his hands into her lap.

“If you and Dedue can’t do it, then I’m not really sure what else I can do.”

“Have you talked to him?”

“Not really.” At her sharp look, he quickly adds, “I mean, I’ve tried but he doesn’t really talk...At least not to me.”

“Me either.”

They fall silent for a moment before she continues, a stray thought in her head that she voices, “I wish Felix could talk to him.”

He can’t help the way his face contorts, “I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”

“It’s not.” She admits, “But I can’t think of anyone else he might listen to right now.”

“The Professor?”

Ingrid shakes her head, looking annoyed when a loose curl falls out and onto her face but she does nothing to brush it away.

Sylvain can’t help the way his free hand reaches out and pulls the rest of her hair out from the bun, watching it cascade over her shoulders. He also can’t help the way his heart nearly stops when she looks at him, questioning but not disapproving. He can only give her a nervous smile in response. He can only relax once she squeezes the hand she still holds.

He wants to say something but he doesn’t know what else to say. He just knows he doesn’t want to talk about Felix or Dimitri or the Professor any longer. If anything, he kind of wants to talk about her and him but he doesn’t know how to ask and he doesn’t know what about them he wants to talk about. So he doesn’t. Instead he pulls Ingrid towards him as they settle in for the night and he doesn’t let himself sleep until she does, many hours later.

The arrival of the army still somehow takes him by surprise. He had been training and readying himself for the siege but he is not prepared for it. He doesn’t know if there is a way to truly prepare for war if you’ve never been in one. Sylvain only knows of battle, of quick skirmishes and righting injustices. It is not nearly close enough to war.

There is nothing like it.

It is a blasting of sounds and bodies running on nothing but fear. It is whirling noise and screaming even when it is quiet. It is flashes of steel and fire and blood. It is nothing like a battle. It is so much worse.

He doesn’t have time to think. The only thought he has is a thankful one towards Felix for spending the week angrily drilling him to make up for the year he had spent slacking off. He only moves, not registering where he is. He only jumps over bodies, rounds familiar blurry corners, and swings.

Fighting does not make you a solider. Following orders does not make you a solider. Those are things he has already done, has always done. War is what makes him a solider and there is nothing else like war. This, Sylvain learns, as he watches an errant spear fly towards him, catching his shirt sleeve and narrowly missing his head.

“SYLVAIN!” Someone shouts, growls really, and he watches as Felix gores the spear thrower through the chest from behind before hurling their body down the staircase towards his feet. “Pay attention!”

He realizes now that they are at the bottom of the dormitory staircase. He vaguely recalls the professor telling him to do a final sweep to evacuate any last lingering students and blanches at the thought that the army has breached the Academy, has blown through Garreg Mach and is now inside the Monastery halls.

How long has he been fighting? How long has the siege gone on? He is not sure. It is not important enough to ask.

“Is there anyone left?” He shouts upward, towards Felix.

His friend shakes his head. Sylvain sees now that Felix is covered in blood and a moment of panic shoots through him before he watches Felix bound down the steps without any trouble.

It’s not his, thank the Goddess,

“No.” Felix says, tone strangely clipped and strained, “We should go.”

Sylvain grips his lance tighter in his hand, nods, and follows.

The grounds are a mess. The brief moment of quiet in the staircase is immediately lost forever to the torrent of noise that follows a massive rumbling from somewhere down the valley. A large winged beast roars from afar and Sylvain can do nothing but stop and stare in horror as it begins to take flight.

“What is that thing?” He shouts over the noise.

Felix’s hand clasp onto his shoulders and Sylvain almost instinctively bucks him off, “We have to go.” His friend says.

“Ingrid,” Sylvain says very suddenly, whipping around to look at Felix, “Have you seen Ingrid?”

She’s probably flying somewhere above them, flying in the same airspace as the giant beast that circles the tower.

Felix’s hesitation brings the Ingrid-specific-panic he had buried deep beneath the adrenaline coursing through his body to the forefront. Sylvain frantically scans the battlefield even though there’s too much chaos to make out anything clearly, watching as everything blurs together in a visualization of white noise.

He only manages to catch Annette’s retreating figure because of the color of her hair and screams her name.

Annette half turns, and stops only for a fraction of a second,

“Have you seen Ingrid?” Sylvain shouts desperately.

“No,” Annette shouts back, apologetic and out of breath, “But she’s probably with the others. Let’s look for her together.”

The three of them run. He doesn’t stop to ask her what it means to be “with the others” and he has no idea where he’s going, he’s just happy to follow them as they lead, hopefully towards Ingrid.

Sylvain charges through the makeshift refugee camp like a madman looking for any sign of his betrothed. All around him, people are tending to the wounded, crying and holding onto each other.

Sylvain pays no attention to any of that. His mind is on a singular mission, a singular person, and he darts around looking for any sign of Ingrid anywhere.

He has somehow managed to account for nearly all of his other classmates in his frantic search but none of them brought him any comfort when Ingrid is still missing.

He is starting to lose his mind. His breathing is haggard and harsh from all the running, to the point where it had actually worried Mercedes so deeply that she had nearly shoved a vulnerary down his throat but he had all but pushed her away. He will have to apologize to her for that someday.

He had lost Annette at some point but he doesn’t know when. He vaguely recalls her saying something about splitting up to look but he cannot remember in any sufficient detail so he’s not sure if his mind is making it up or not. With every passing second that Ingrid is unaccounted for, Sylvain grows more and more unhinged, more and more aggressive as he questions familiar faces.

It is the oddest thing in the world to have Felix reel him back.

“Hey!” His friend shouts as Sylvain finishes interrogating a terrified looking girl. “Calm down! This isn’t getting us anywhere.”

“Well do you have a better idea?” He growls, whirling around to face Felix.

Felix does not falter, instead he crosses his arms and faces Sylvain’s fury head on. “We have to think about this.”

“What the hell will thinking do?”

“It’s better than running around in circles shouting at people.”

“I don’t know how to do anything else!”

Felix doesn’t even flinch. He continues to stare straight at Sylvain, unmoving and unfazed. It is aggravating how he can remain calm in a situation like this.

“Yes you do. Come on Sylvain, you’re smarter than this, we just have to think about what Ingrid would do.”

Honestly, if Ingrid had it her way, she’d still be at the Monastery, fighting a losing battle. Waiting until she’s sure everyone else is out first before she leaves. It is a terrible thought he does not want to entertain and it does not make him feel any better.

But if it’s not that, and Goddess, he hopes it’s not that, where else could she be? Who would she be with?

“Dimitri.” He says suddenly, no longer shouting, “She’s probably with Dimitri.”

Ingrid ends up finding them. Her pegasus touches down a few feet in front of them and he can’t help but run to her, slamming into her as she jumps down from her saddle to hold her close.

His head goes straight into her neck as he closes his eyes and breathes her in. She smells like blood, fire, and smoke. She smells like war.

When he pulls away he gives her a quick look over. She is frazzled, a bit of her hair is singed, her clothes are a mess and there are bruises on her wrists from the way she must have wrapped the reigns around them for leverage, something she has been trained not to do but did anyway. She looks awful but she’s alive.

Felix manages to catch up to them, he lingers a few steps behind for a moment but Ingrid brushes past Sylvain and towards him, pulling him into a quick hug that seems to surprise him.

For a moment, Sylvain watches as Felix freezes before letting his arms hold her loosely at the waist. Any other day, in any other situation, Sylvain would have laughed.

Now he is crying.

“We’ve been looking everywhere for you.” He manages to say, voice hoarse. He is only now noticing the way it sounds, broken and almost missing.

“I know.” She says, “I ran into Annette and Mercedes earlier. They pointed me here.”

He could have kissed them. Instead, he strides towards Ingrid and kisses her.

It is not romantic nor is it good. It is sloppy and desperate. It feels less like kissing and more like holding on, like an anchor to the world. When he pulls away he feels every wave of the exhaustion he had pushed away and his knees shake and nearly buckle beneath him. Were it not for Ingrid steadying him, he is sure he would have fallen.

Felix looks away, he is, once again, several steps away from them.

“Where’ve you been?” Sylvain asks, voice still raw and perhaps a little angry.

It turns out, they weren’t wrong. Ingrid had been with Dimitri and Dedue for the majority of the battle but she does not elaborate any further than that. It is still too fresh and too new.

“I’m just glad you’re okay.” Sylvain says finally.

They say very little after that. Instead, they march back into the camp and rest the night while the monastery continues to burn, the black smoke still visible even as the night sky overtakes them.

It has hardly been a day and yet Sylvain feels like he’s aged a lifetime.

Everyone is leaving. There is little reason to stay much longer. Many have already left, run off over the course of the night to put a little more distance for fear that Edelgard might decide to continue her march into Faerghus.

Sylvain stands next to Ingrid as she adjusts the saddle on her pegasus, feeling morose and exhausted. He does not have it in him to grieve quite yet. He doesn’t know if he can take it, so he focuses on this instead.

“You don’t have to go.” He says, even though he knows she could make no other choice. “You could come with me.”

Ingrid gives him a sad look and takes both his hands in hers.

“I can’t.” She tells him, tightening her grip, her hands are bandaged from where her blisters burst yesterday, having lost her gloves sometime during the fray of battle. “My family needs me.”

I need you, he does not say.

“I could come with you.” He tries again, knowing that she won’t let him.

“You can’t do that either.” She tells him. She releases one of their hands to lay against his cheek. He leans towards it. Desperate to chase the last of her touch.

“No,” he concedes, he can’t. He may not like what he had been born into and he may not be the most chivalrous and dutiful noble in the world but he was never truly going to abandon his territory. No matter how hard he rages against its cages.

It is quiet for a moment. There is still smoke in the air and Sylvain is sure he’s never going to shake the way blood feels splattered against his skin, but for right now it is calm, and Ingrid’s hand against his cheek is the last beacon of light he can hold onto before she goes.

“I’ll miss you.” He tells her, voice still raw and hoarse from the day before, cracking in the air.

She leans up to kiss him softly in reply, lingering for just a moment before stepping away. He wants to hold her close to him but he’s afraid that if he does, he will never be able to let her go.

“I’ll miss you too.” She says.

She hesitates for a moment at her mount, staring at the saddle, and Sylvain thinks this is not enough. That simply saying he will miss her is not enough. That her leaving-that them leaving each other isn’t acceptable, isn’t bearable. That he doesn’t know how to do this. That he is not ready for the things that have come and the things that are still coming.

And then he thinks that it’s too much. There’s too much to say. There’s no time to say any of it. So he settles for “Be safe.” And hopes that it is closer to enough.

Ingrid hoists herself up onto her pegasus and smiles down at him, out of reach, “You too.”

The wings of the pegasus stretch out broad and wide, forcing Sylvain to take several steps away as Ingrid clasps onto the reigns. He watches as it beats its wings and lifts into the skies, watches until Ingrid is no longer visible, and watches until she is gone.

Chapter Text

House Galatea has never been especially grand or had especially much in Ingrid’s time, at least not for a noble house. It is big, for sure, harkening back to golden old days when Galatea was as wealthy as its title, but the paint has grown old and chipped since, the floorboards creak with age, and dust cakes each and every corner.

Still, despite it all, it had always been a place full of love and life. Ingrid has always remembered it fondly, even when meal portions were small and some of the early winter nights cold, simply because of the people there. Simply because it is home.

She used to chase her brothers up and down the halls, begging them to spar. They taught her how to climb trees and hold a sword. They sat around in a circle on her bedroom floor as they told her tales of old knights and gallant heroes across the ages. When she started to dream of being one, they only laughed a little, and then they told her they would all race her to it, even when they thought it to be a fanciful whim she would grow out of. When Glenn died, they nearly knocked down her door and refused to leave.

Now the halls are empty. Everyone dispatched to the borders and towns to quell the tension amongst the territory and provide comfort to its citizens.

She’s proud of them for doing their duty but mostly, she wishes she were with them. Mostly, she just misses them.

Sometimes, her dreams start off good and normal. An Academy scene with Annette and Mercedes rolling their eyes at the way the boys try to one-up each other in the training grounds or a faraway lecture of the professor, talking tactics and military history.

They almost always end in tragedy.

She’s seen death before, has even caused it, but the battle replays in her mindscape as a massacre. That is what she dreams of most nights. A massacre halfway misremembered but so vivid in detail that she wakes feeling as if it were all true, that her friends were in fact crushed by errant debris from a dragon’s breath raining from the sky. Sometimes she wakes and believes, for the briefest and most terrifying of moments, that she is the only one left. The relief she feels when she registers reality is always stained with the knowledge of an uncertain future. Of an image of her loved ones rushing off to battle, weapons raised high above their heads as their blue banners wave in the distance.

Of Dimitri and a funeral she’s missed.

Sometimes, there are no dreams at all, and yet she still wakes exhausted and bone sore from a phantom wound causing her to question whether or not she’s actually slept. If, instead of sleep, she had perhaps simply stared at the blackness of her ceiling and empty walls all night until the sun found its way in through her window.

In the months since the attack on the Monastery, the smoke and blood no longer linger the same way it used to on her skin. It no longer feels as if they are still clinging to her, fresh and raw. No longer feels like she must spend hours washing off the grime of war. Instead, they are a whisper that breezes past her ear, so brief and so quiet that it is easy to shake off and pretend it didn’t throw her back momentarily, a fraction of a second, into the fray.

The quiet of the house agitates her. Sometimes it feels as if she’s the only one there. Even though there is still a small but minimal staff desperate to keep the house in order as much as possible. Even though their guards are on high alert, trying not to twitch at the smallest of sounds. She has hardly seen her father at all, as he has locked himself in his office penning letters and calculating moves.

He tells her nothing of the war. Everything she learns is from scattered summaries in the letters her friends sometimes write her, but it is difficult to write anything of worth when a courier could be ambushed, kidnapped and killed.

What she knows, locked in the house, is that Dimitri, his Highness and her friend, is dead. Executed for treason and a murder that she knows with every ounce in her being that he did not commit. It’s an injustice that she cannot right, no matter how she tries and must live with for the rest of her life.

She cannot bring it within herself to grieve. She can only rage in quiet as she moves from drill to drill in her courtyard, hacking up haystacks and old training dummies. In part because she still cannot believe it, refuses to believe it even, because it is hard to tell what truth is in war.

When she passes by her father’s office, she can hear the name Cornelia whispered quietly and then very quickly hushed as the men in the room notice her.

She waits outside and around the corner until her father’s aides exit the room before running to catch the door before it closes behind them. He is alone, standing over his desk to stare intently at the papers scattered across it. He does not notice her. He rarely does these days. Which is not his fault but something she certainly notices.

She presses her knuckles against the doorframe to rapt upon it twice, just loud enough to get his attention from across the room but not loud enough to seem urgent or aggressive, even though she feels restless.

He looks up at her and blinks before smiling. He seems to have aged greatly since she left for the Officer’s Academy, several streaks of grey atop his head and he now keeps a beard that makes him look far older than he already is, but he is still very put together, never a hair out of place, never showing any of the weight that sits upon his shoulders, especially now that it continues to increase.

“Oh Ingrid,” he greets, voice kind, although clearly tired, as he relaxes. He pulls the spectacles on his face off to place on his desk.

“May I have a moment?” She asks, even though she has already taken a single step into the room, “There’s something I wanted to ask you about.”

“Of course dear. As it so happens, there’s something I need to speak to you about as well.”

She tries to hide the surprise in her face and turns to close the door behind her. She and her father had never had a poor relationship. In fact, aside from the times when he used to pressure her to marry well, they had actually been quite close. She was, after all, his only daughter. But since the war, he has been busy, and every conversation they have is stilted and tense - uncomfortable.

“Oh?” She starts, as she approaches his desk, “What is it?”

“You first,” He says, collecting the papers into a pile and putting them away, “You had a question?”

Ingrid fights the urge to bite her lip. Instead she stands tall, her hands laced behind her back. “It is less of a question and more of a request.” She admits.

“And your request?”

“That you send me out to the front lines.”

Several things happen in her father’s face. All of which are difficult to read but she tries anyway. There is surprise, absolutely, but it is quickly washed away by what looks to be irritation before his face becomes stoney and resolved.

“No.” He says simply.

She had expected that answer to be honest. She steels herself and thinks through the arguments she had rehearsed in her head.

“But-“ She tries,

“No.” He says again, firmer and louder this time.

Typically, when he uses that tone, neither Ingrid, her brothers, nor any of her father’s aides attempt to rebuke it. It is a tone that means Count Galatea has made up his mind. It is a tone that says that nothing you say can possibly be anything but a waste of your breath. Typically, when her father uses that tone, which is not often with her, Ingrid accepts her defeat gracefully and leaves.

But she’s wound up. She’s had enough of waiting. She has spent the entire year, hell, her entire life training to defend the things she cares about most and yet when the time comes, she is stuck in her home as her country men die. She is stuck and hidden away and no one will tell her a damned thing.

“You let your sons fight but you won’t let me?” She challenges, “I am just as capable, just as-“

Her father’s face changes again. He stands to his full height, and while he is not a particularly tall man, he is taller than her and he seems larger when his lays his hands down to push upon his desk. “They are different and you know it.” His tone is bubbling with an anger under its surface. It is a warning.

Ingrid barrels on through it.

“Because they are men?”

Her father says nothing.

“Because I have a crest?” She pushes, “That can only aid in the-“

“Because you belong to someone else!” He booms.

Her father has never laid a hand on her. He never would but Ingrid stumbles a step or two back as if she’s been struck.

“Belong.” She can only whisper, Belong.

“To the Gautier boy.” He says darkly, “I will not have you die on the battlefield. Not before-“

“Not before I’m married?” She spits, “So I can die after the fact. After I’ve done my duty. Or wait, I suppose I’d have to produce an heir first wouldn’t I?”

Her words hang between them. Her father deflates, whatever rage he had felt a second before seeming to ebb away from his expression, “Ingrid,” he says, softer, “Darling, that was a poor choice of words.”

“That we can both agree on.”

He doesn’t get a chance to say anything else. Instead, Ingrid gives her father an officer’s bow, and does everything in her power to refrain from stomping out the door. When she exits, she keeps her held high, refuses to let angry tears fall, and closes the door firmly behind her.

Ingrid returns to her room. A single childish part of her wants to tear it apart. She wants to throw her belongings against the wall and scream into her pillows. She wants to run out to the training grounds and prove exactly how capable she is in battle. She wants to show her father that she’s survived and that she’s willing and angry and strong.

Another part of her, a quieter part of her, wants to cry, but she cannot. She cannot cry over this because if she does, if her father catches her, she will just become another weeping war woman.

She wishes Sylvain were here, even though she can’t help but be a little angry at him. It is not his fault, she reminds herself, he’s not even here. She knows this, but she can’t help the way the “Gautier Boy” fills her with a rage that somehow both presses against her throat and makes her want to scream.

Sylvain has done nothing wrong in all this. He’s not even here, she thinks again, but she is angry. Angry at the idea of him. Angry at the way her father makes decisions upon the idea of him.

Sylvain, the actual Sylvain, would never allow this, would never claim her belonging to anyone other than herself. It is one of the many reasons why she misses him so. Misses him more in this moment than she has ever before.

Damn it, she thinks as she finally takes a breath, sitting at her desk, fingering the silver pendant that Sylvain had given her months ago- the pendant that matches his own. Damn it.

She has been angry at her father before but she was always able to reason it away. Her father has always meant well even when it hurt her. It is why she never stays angry at him for long and why she put up with his pressuring of her to marry. She had thought that once she had finally accepted a proposal, everything would be easy, that once she chose Sylvain, she would be able to choose for herself the path of which she wishes to walk.

She does not want to think of what would have become her had she chosen someone else or if she chose no one at all.

She is stirred from her thoughts when a soft knock sounds at her door. She thinks it may be her father, and Ingrid steels herself to face off against him once more, but when she pulls the door open it is only a maid with a message.

Sylvain is coming.

It takes Sylvain a full week to arrive and Ingrid finds herself standing next to her father in a thin mint dress at the gates of the house while they await his arrival. She has not spoken to her father since their fight beyond the polite greetings when they pass each other and meaningless pleasantries across the dinner table. It has not been a good week.

She tenses when she finally sees him approach from down the road, mounted on a white horse, the Lance of Ruin, long and jagged, strapped to his back.

It has been so long since she’s seen him, since she left him in a field in the aftermath of battle. He had looked so sad and lost when he asked her to stay with him and she had to fight the part of her that wanted to, fight the part that loved him.

It is something she has never told him because she hadn’t been sure until they were apart. When the war broke out, their romance was still new and it had seemed silly and small to think too much on it in comparison to the threats that gathered in the short distance.

But she loves him. She knows this now. And it is not in the way she loves Felix and Dimitri, with a fierce loyalty and unwavering protectiveness. It is not in the way that she used to love Sylvain, forgiving and caring for him. It is not even in the way that she loved Glenn, with great admiration and deep respect. It is all of it and more. It is the kind of love that she cannot fathom feeling for anyone else and can no longer remember what it means to be without it.

And now, as Sylvain stands only a few feet away, the weight of that love is crushing.

When he dismounts and passes the reigns and his weapon off, Ingrid fights the urge to run to him. They will have time later, she knows, but his proximity makes something coil in her gut, makes her want to shift her weight from one foot to the other and wrangle her hands together. She wills herself to still.

“Hail,” He greets, bowing, somewhat stiff and incredibly formal, very much unlike him, “House Galatea, my father sends his regards. He apologizes that he couldn’t make it. He has sent me in his stead.”

Her father nods, “Welcome, we have much to discuss, but first, Ingrid, would you show Sir Gautier to his quarters? You must be tired from your journey.”

“I’d be happy to,” She says, also stiffly. She had always been much better than Sylvain at navigating the social expectations of a noble house but it feels especially uncomfortable and strange now. It feels as if she would be taking a step further and further away from Sylvain, growing a distance between them that already feels vast.

“Sylvain,” she decides to say, forgoing formalities, “Follow me.”

He finally smiles at her, bright and wide, and she feels some of the anxiety swelling up within her shift into something closer to anticipation. He must feel the same because when she turns and leads them into the house, she feels his hand slip into hers, knowing full well that her father can see.

The guest room Sylvain is staying in is only a few doors down from hers and only slightly larger than their old dorm rooms. It is small for a guest bedroom in a noble house but it is cozy and still nice. When she opens the door, he enters first and she follows, shutting the door behind them, her hand still in his.

Now that they’re alone, and only a foot or two between them, Ingrid finds that she doesn’t know what to say. She has thought about their reunion before many times, thought about it with every too-brief letter they share but now she finds that the months between them might have left too much space, and she has no idea how to close it.

Thankfully, in matters like this, Sylvain always seems to be able to break the silence.

“You’ve cut your hair.” He breathes. He takes a tentative step closer, his fingers on his free hand hovering near the strands that frame her face, as if he is unsure if he’s allowed to touch them, never mind the fact that he is still holding her hand.

“You’ve brushed yours aside,” She says.

“It looks good.” He continues, ignoring her comment, “It suits you.”

For years now, she has wanted to chop it off, long hair just wasn’t practical for battle but she had been strongly discouraged to. Then she had been singed by an errant fire spell and it no longer seemed to matter.

“Thank you,” She says, taking his floating hand and guiding it to rest against her cheek, “I’m glad you like it.”

They fall silent again, but it is no longer a tense silence, no longer one in which she worries that too much has changed. It is more like, taking each other in, more like an acknowledgement.

Ingrid takes this moment to get a proper look at Sylvain. Aside from his hair, not much has changed in his appearance, except for the bags under his eyes that tell her that he is not sleeping very well either.

“I missed you.” She whispers.

Something in his eyes flash and she realizes now that Sylvain has been holding himself steady, holding himself back, and when he finally lowers his lips to hers, she feels the way that she carries his heart in hers.

Chapter Text

As much as Sylvain would have liked to spend more time with Ingrid, it wasn’t what he came here for. In another life, in peace-time, he would have made the trek just for her and become the talk of romance and love in town-tavern gossip.

In another life, he would’ve gone with her. He would have followed her home and proclaimed his love loudly to all those who will listen.

But there is war, and while it would have been romantic and sweet to claim that Ingrid is the only thing that matters, it would not have been true, even if his heart claims it to be.

If there is one change in Sylvain, one huge difference between the boy who enrolled in the Officer’s Academy and the boy who fled, it would be in his duty.

There is no longer time to be selfish. No longer time to piddle his life away and wait to inherit a responsibility he never wanted.

He still does not want it. Every day, a part of him whispers and wishes that he could have been born ordinary and common. It would be a life with less, this is he knows, but it would be a life free.

It would also likely be a life without Ingrid.

Which has never been fathomable, even when he wasn’t in love with her.

Still, the part that reels him in is not Ingrid. It is the part that reminds him of the things he cannot control. He cannot control who he was born as. He cannot control his title. He cannot control the way the war rips through his home and murders his friends. He can only control his own actions, his own body. It just so happens that his body can wield the Lance of Ruin and order a battalion of men to ride into battle, protecting those who cannot.

Sylvain still thinks nobility is a sham. He still thinks that crests are not what make a person good or strong or lovable. (After all, Edelgard holds a crest and she is none of those things, not after all she has done.) But he cannot change the fact that he has one. He cannot reject the part of him that finds it useful. So he will use his power, the one in his body and the one in his name, to do everything he can to stall what he knows will come.

Sylvain nervously shifts next to Ingrid outside the closed door of her father’s office and hesitates before knocking. Ingrid herself looks bemused and maybe a little exasperated.

“You know my father.” She says reassuringly, stepping in front of him to readjust a shirt collar that’s perfectly pressed.

He feels overly formal in his dress clothes, and, not for the first time, he misses the way a student’s uniform feels on him.

“Not really.” Sylvain mutters under his breath as Ingrid fusses over him.

He has only ever said a handful of words to the Count. He has never needed to say anything more. They’ve shared dinner tables before and circled around each other at social functions but they’ve hardly ever truly talked, and when they did, he got the feeling that the Count wasn’t particularly fond of him. Most men weren’t, especially if they had daughters.

“You’ll be fine Sylvain.” Ingrid says with a smile.

He wants to believe her but it is hard to tell how well it will go when the Count himself was hard to read. In the last few months, Sylvain has had ample practice in war-time negotiations and, while he had been lazy and dismissive of social niceties before, it wasn’t as if he had been incapable of them. He had just chosen to ignore them.

But the Count wasn’t just an important ally. He was the father of his fiancé and Sylvain was in a peculiar situation in which House Gautier had the rank and wealth but House Galatea had his heart.

“Of course I will.” He says with a grin he hopes conveys his usual confidence. “It’s always fine when I have you to help.”

Ingrid rolls her eyes. He knows she can see right through him and he feels it in the way she squeezes his elbow before letting him go.

He raises his hand to knock on the door and hears the low rumble of the Count’s voice call them in.

The Count’s office is smaller than that of Sylvain’s own father’s back in the estate. In fact, it is smaller than the guest bedroom he has been given but made to look bigger by the lack of furniture in it. There are only a few well kept arm chairs and a large grand mahogany desk that faces the door.

The Count himself is standing over it and the map that lays across his desk.

“Count Galatea,” Sylvain greets, thankful that his voice doesn’t shake.

Ingrid’s father gives him a polite nod of acknowledgement before turning his gaze on Ingrid. “Ingrid, would you excuse us please?”

Something in the room shifts. The nervous energy that Sylvain had been feeling before overlaps with a strange thick tension that settles across the top layer of the Count’s words. Ingrid braces beside him, her shoulders squared, as she catches Sylvain’s eye.

He is startled by the intensity of her gaze. He does not know how to read this look. He cannot tell what it could mean or what it means for him.

When he says nothing, her look transforms subtly as her jaw locks. Her eyes are still intense, her shoulders are still squared, but it is different in a way he only catches because he has known her for so long.

This look he knows, knows because he has seen it directed at him. It means that she’s furious, although he can’t figure out why.

She turns her gaze back to her father, “Of course, father.” Her words are polite and demure but there’s a grit in her tone that hardens her words.

When she turns on her heels and leaves, she does not once glance at Sylvain, and he does not have time to consider the weight that settles in his stomach.

“Once the arrangement goes through,” The Count says on the other side of the desk, “Our allegiance will be officially declared.”

“I didn’t imagine that to be a problem.” Sylvain responds calmly, trying not to betray his feelings one way or another, “Unless you intend to side with Cornelia.”

The name takes the air out of the already heavy atmosphere. Sylvain watches the Count’s expression evenly but the man does not flinch or move, or react to the name any differently. In fact, he looks entirely at ease, although still serious, as he has been this entire conversation.

“We were never going to side with Cornelia,” The Count dismisses, with a wave, “I am simply considering the effect it will have on the Western border and whether or not we are equipped to handle an engagement on that front should the need ever arise.”

Sylvain feels himself breathe again. He had faith that Ingrid’s father would be loyal to the Crown, to Dimitri, but his father had warned him to be cautious. That a man in the precarious position the Count was in would be easy to sway in either direction.

“I am authorized to inform you that we have troops readily available to station here should you wish it.”

The Count is quiet for a second. Sylvain’s hands press into the arms of the chair, digging deep into the upholstery.

“That is agreeable.” He finally says, standing and moving around his desk towards Sylvain.

Sylvain rises from his seat. He tries to subtly rub the sweat from his hands off against his pants, “Shouldn’t we discuss it with Ingrid first?” He asks.

For the first time in the conversation, Ingrid’s father’s expression shifts, looking momentarily confused, “She’s already agreed to it.”

Sylvain blinks. There was no way she could have agreed to it considering she wasn’t even in the room, unless his father had already negotiated terms over courier which would be unwise considering the situation and would render his visit moot.

“She agreed to it when she agreed to your proposal.” He explains, and Sylvain feels very much like he’s being lectured at, “Or is a marriage not the intention of an engagement?”

Sylvain bites his tongue. He does not say that agreeing to marry him does not mean automatically agreeing to a wedding date. “Right.” He says instead, feeling strangely uncomfortable.

The Count extends his hand to him, eying him, and Sylvain feels as if he is being tested.

He takes it and gives it a firm shake, not able to gauge whether or not he has passed.

Ingrid is not in his room when he returns to it after the meeting. Sylvain hadn’t really expected her to be but he still finds himself a little disappointed by her absence.

He takes a the moment to gather himself, a second to breathe again and collect his thoughts. He is not normally so shaken by a conversation, especially a conversation that went well but still, he needs a moment.

He pulls off his dress clothes and digs around to something a little more comfortable. His things, he notices, are now placed in his room, not that he had brought much with him in the first place. He didn’t intend to stay long after all.

It’s late now and he is tired but he doesn’t want to turn in yet. Not until he’s talked to Ingrid. The look in her eyes when she had left him and her father alone replays in his mind and stirs up a discomfort up and down his body. He wants to know what upset her, and, if it had anything to do with him.

He finds himself in front of her door and braces himself before he knocks on it.

The door swings open in front of him, quick and forceful, as if Ingrid had yanked hard on it. On the other side of the threshold, Ingrid stands, eyes blazing and shoulders still squared, with her hands against her hips, looking very angry and shockingly beautiful, even in her fury.

The breath leaves his lungs, whatever greeting he was going to say is lost on its way through his tongue, lost to the way she glares at him, standing only an arms reach away.

Goddess, has he missed her, but he does not dare hold her.

Sylvain is not stupid enough to compliment her now or talk about how she can always take his words away from him, even at inopportune moments, but he can’t help but be stunned by her. Can’t help but blink at her dumbly as she steps aside for him to enter.

When he does not move, she raises an eyebrow, and he remembers himself. He remembers what it takes to tell his brain to move his legs, to enter the room and wait for her to close the door before she speaks.

“That cannot happen again.” She says, tone sharp and final.

Sylvain tilts his head and furrows his brow. When Ingrid does not elaborate, he forces himself to find his voice, “What can’t happen again?”

Ingrid huffs, crossing her arms in front of her. “You pushing me aside.” Her tone is clipped and clear, as if she is focusing very hard on keeping her voice level, “I’m tired of being pushed aside.”

He tries to take a step closer, tries to follow her train of thought, “What do you mean?” He says carefully.

He is disappointed when Ingrid breezes past him, moving to sit on a worn looking chair by a small table pushed up against the wall.

“With my father, just now.” She explains, turning her back to him. She goes to fiddle with the short braid in her hair.

This is different than when they used to bicker before. Those have always been playful and, while Ingrid was often exasperated, she wasn’t ever truly angry about it. He would always stop when he sensed he was approaching the line or apologize quickly if he unintentionally stepped passed it. It is also different from when she would scold or lecture him, because even when she was angry then, it was never really anger for her own sake.

“Your father asked for the room.” He tries to reason, moving towards her.

“You could have asked me to stay.” She says, her braid becoming undone. Ingrid keeps her gaze head on towards the wall, away from him so that he can only catch her in profile.

Her hair was truly very short now. Shorter than he had ever seen on her. He likes it quite a bit. He had thought her beautiful before but now, he finds that he never wants to stop looking at her. He just wishes she would look at him.

“It’s his house.” Sylvain says evenly, feeling very much like he was navigating across caltrops in the middle of a dark field, worried that he’d say the wrong thing and step on something painful.

Ingrid bites her lips, frustrated, “I know.” She says through gritted teeth, finally snapping her head to his.

Sylvain can see now the angry tears forming and the way she clenches her fists against her dress.

Ingrid is not someone who shows her vulnerabilities so easily. She has them, of course she does, but she has always positioned herself as a pillar of strength for those to lean on. When she cries, if she cries, it is done in private, hidden away from everyone.

It dawns on him now that he is no longer everyone.

“Hey,” he says softly, reaching for her hands, noting when she hesitates before she lets him hold them. “It won’t happen again.” He promises.

And it is not an empty platitude. He fully intends to follow through, regardless of the consequences.

Ingrid seems to believe him, and she blinks back the tears before nodding, “It better not.”

He’s not entirely sure what it is that has Ingrid so spun out and he knows that there’s more- that it is not just the matter of being emptied out the room. He’d like to know, he wants to ask, but talking to Ingrid about herself often leads to her brushing the severity of which things affect her aside. She is content worrying and working through things on her own and as much as he wishes she would let him in, he knows that it is difficult to do when you’ve spent your whole life used to hiding the way you feel. So maybe this is enough for now. Maybe Sylvain does not need to know more. Maybe, all he needs to do at the moment, is exactly what she asks from him, and hope that one day, he will learn to understand the true extent of her pride.

“I’m not going to push you aside Ingrid.” He tells her, and he hopes that she can hear his hope that she will learn to do the same, “I want you with me. I mean, if you want to be.”

Ingrid squeezes his hand and smiles before rising so that they stand face to face. “I still want to be with you Sylvain.” She says, reaching one hand to cup his cheek lightly, “You don’t have to worry about that.”

He had known that already, known that from the second she had told him she missed him but the small insecure part of him, that one that counts all the days they’ve been apart and tells him that she is beautiful and smart and too good for him, shrinks.

It is always good to hear in words.

Sylvain takes a deep slow breath, the tension of the long day, long few months really, easing into a strange soft giddiness that he has only ever felt around her, has only started feeling because of her. “Good” He says with a smile he cannot stop, “Because I will always want to be with you.”

Ingrid’s eyes crinkle as she laughs, full and bright, and he’s glad that he’s managed to change the mood but also a little disappointed because he had meant what he said. “Hey!” He pouts, mock offended, “That was supposed to be romantic. You aren’t supposed to laugh.”

“I just can’t take you seriously when you say things like that.” She says still chuckling, she pulls him towards her and he wraps his hands around her waist, glad at how easy it is to fit into each other.

“Well, I was very serious about it.” He whines before dropping his voice into a whisper, “very very serious.”

“I know Sylvain,” She says as she pulls him down for a quick kiss, still laughing “But you’re still an incorrigible flirt.”

“So what’s going on out there?” Ingrid says a little later. She is sitting with her dressed tucked beneath her knees on her bed, where Sylvain straddles the worn chair facing her. “My father hasn’t told me anything...neither have you for that matter.”

“Ingrid-” He starts to explain “-the couriers-”

“Yeah yeah, I know.” She huffs, before mumbling, “doesn’t make it any better.”

“I know,” He frowns, “I’m sorry. What do you want to know?”

There’s a pause, enough for the both of them to take a quick breath, to steel themselves for the conversation to come. He has an inkling of what she will ask about first.

“Dimitri.” She says, tone hard and serious, although a little quieter than usual, “What happened to Dimitri?”

Even though he had known that this is what she would ask about, even though he had known that they would talk about it eventually, he still finds himself startled by the name.

“I-I don’t know, Ingrid.” He tells her, throat dry. His hands clench hard on the back of her chair, “All I know is this story that everyone’s been telling. That Dimitri killed his uncle and was executed for it.”

“Do you believe them?”

“What?! Ingrid how can you even ask me that?”

“I don’t know! I’m sorry, I’m just-“ She shifts her gaze down to stare at the way her hands wrangle together. Sylvain fights the urge to join her on the bed and instead waits for her to collect herself, “I just can’t believe that something like this could even happen.” She says. Her voice falls to a whisper, almost to herself, “How can something like this happen?”

“I...” He sighs, rubbing the back of his neck, “I don’t know either Ingrid.”

“I just can’t believe he’s gone.”

The room falls silent. Ingrid picks at a loose thread on the quilt she sits on top of and Sylvain considers his next words very carefully. He does not want to give her false hope but he also knows that she would never forgive him if he hid this from her.

“He...might not be.” He says finally, feeling the air leave his lungs and letting his words hang in the room.

Ingrid’s eyes snap up to his, her expression blazing, and he almost has to look away, “What?”

“Gilbert thinks he’s still alive.”

“Do you?”

“I don’t know but he says no one ever saw his body. He’s looking for him Ingrid.”

“If he’s alive, why wouldn’t he come to us?”

“Maybe he’s trying to but he can’t. His own people betrayed him and everyone thinks he’s a murderer. Things out there...they’re bad Ingrid.”

“How bad?”

“Well, how much do you know?”

“Assume I know nothing.”

Sylvain sighs, a lot of things have happened in the last few months and it’s hard to tell where to start with it all. He’s been sent all over the place by his father in an attempt to gather information and to aid in repelling any incoming attacks that may be coming from bandits, the Empire, or even just scared and unhappy citizens.

“Cornelia’s basically staged a coup” Sylvain explains, deciding not to get to the point, “and she’s still trying to get the other territories to align with what she’s now calling the Faergus Dukedom. We’re trying to fight back but-“

“Who’s we?”

“Those of us still loyal to the crown, even if he’s dead. We’ll fight Ingrid, we have to.”

“So we’re not just at war with the Empire but-“

“With ourselves yeah.”

“So is that why you’re here? To see which side we’re on?”

“Well that and one other reason.”

Ingrid blinks at him and frowns, “If you’re going to say it’s because of me-“

“I was but it’s not what you think.” Sylvain says. He pauses for a moment to gather his words. He does not want to trip up over this next part and offend her but Ingrid needs to know. It wouldn’t be fair for her not to and she’d find out eventually anyway. “My father sent me here to talk about our marriage.”

Ingrid sucks in a breath through her teeth and Sylvain watches the way the rest of her body stills, the way she stops playing with the hem of her dress and looks at him dead on. Not surprised exactly but not pleased either.

She does not say a thing. She waits instead.

“He wants to...expedite the wedding.” Sylvain explains, trying to be as delicate as possible, “And once that happens, Galatea will officially be allied with us. You’ll join the conflict in full force. He sent me here to-“

Sylvain pauses, looking for the right word, but everything he’s about to say sounds too political and stilted. It is not the way he has ever wanted to speak about a marriage. It is not the way he wants to speak about Ingrid.

He watches the way she tries not to bristle, watches the way she holds her tongue, and all of it feels wrong. Ingrid is not some plaything to be bargained away and yet, here she is, a key component of securing a formal allyship between their territories.

It was always meant to be this way. They both knew that their arrangement was always supposed to be political, even before conflict. It had been a convenience. A win-win for the both of them and one he had thought a long time about before actually asking her but still a convenience. He had never intended to fall in love with her and he certainly never intended for her to be a pawn in a game of war.

It makes him feel sick suddenly, looking at her, looking at the way she sits and says nothing.

“To-“ he tries again, but his voice cracks and he falters. He feels ashamed, he realizes, that he is and has always been a part of a system he detests.

“To secure an alliance through marriage.” Ingrid finishes for him. Her voice is hard and matter-of-fact, betraying no feelings one way or another even though he knows, in his heart of hearts, that she cannot possibly be pleased by it.

“Yes,” he breathes, not able to look at her, he stares down at the way his hands clench around the back of the chair.

Ingrid moves, for a second he thinks she might slap him, but instead, she lays a hand on his and tears his fingers away from the way they grip at the chair, digging deep into the wood.

“It’s sooner than I expected.” She says calmly, “But it makes sense.”

“I don’t want to marry you just because it makes sense.” He can’t help but say, shaking his head, “I want to marry you because I want to marry you.”

He feels the way her hand holds onto his, gripping tight, “Do you want to marry me?” She asks, voice wavering for the first time in all this.

Yes.” He says fiercely, finally looking up at her, hoping that she can read the sincerity in his eyes.

“Then we’ll be fine.” She tells him, just as fiercely, “It’s not ideal but we’ll be fine.”

He believes her.

When it’s too late to continue to put off sleep, Sylvain finds himself bracing both of his hands against the frames of her bedroom door, face to face with Ingrid on the other side of the threshold. She looks exhausted but calm and absolutely beautiful in the moonlight. He very much wants to stay.

“You can’t.” She tells him, as though she can read his thoughts. “My father...”

He presses his lips together, feels the way his fingers claw into the wooden frame.

“I know.” He says, thinking back to the Academy and how they weren’t really allowed to stay over then either but doing it anyway. That was different though and it feels as if there is more at risk here. Ingrid’s father is a traditional man and Sylvain is still a guest in this house. It wouldn’t matter if they were engaged and it wouldn’t matter if they did nothing more than sleep. There would be talk. It is not a good idea. Not when everything seemed so fragile.

But he misses her more in this moment, looking at her, than he has in the last few months, and those had been long hard months of missing someone. He had not known he could miss her more from so close.

He is not sure he can move. He is not sure he is strong enough to. In this moment, with all the exhaustion of travel and war and politics creeping up at him, it feels very much like saying goodbye again.

Ingrid places both of her hands against his chest and gives him a gentle nudge that forces him a step back. “Goodnight Sylvain,” She says, “I’ll see you in the morning.”

He pulls her to him briefly, breathes her in, and places a kiss to the top of her head. “Goodnight Ingrid” he tells her, and then, without thinking or planning he mumbles “I love you.”

He feels Ingrid shift up to look at him. Her eyes are open and warm and she wears a bright smile on her face, one that calms the pace of his heart, “I love you too.”

She pulls away and he reluctantly lets her go, waiting where he stands until she closes the door.

He does not move away for a long while but when he finally returns to his room and slips into bed, he falls asleep with Ingrid’s confession whispering in his ear.

Chapter Text

Sylvain does not stay in Galatea for very long. Neither does Ingrid.

He rides out three days after he arrives and tells her to spend a few days packing before following.

What neither of them say but what both of them know is that Ingrid has little that is actually hers to take with her. She manages it all in a single well-worn chest. Most of her things were left at the monastery, too dangerous to go back and salvage, and even then, their value was more from sentimentality than anything (letters she wishes she had the mind to stuff in her bag, a friendship bracelet from Annette and Mercedes made over tea time, one or two of her favorite books.) So Ingrid packs only a few dresses, passed down from her mother, the only set of armor in the house that fits her and a well-cared for lance before bidding her childhood home goodbye.

Her father trails along via caravan, escorted by Gautier men across the country.

On the road, Ingrid is allowed her armor and mount. She often scouts ahead, flies high and above, alone, as they make their way towards her future. She keeps her eyes sharp and focused, feels the way her training reorients itself back into her body, and if any fears or doubts or anxieties about what will happen when she lands approach her, she is quick to chase them away, quick to table them for later.

Nothing happens. No bandits and no battles.

But on the road, with a lance and armor strapped against her, Ingrid feels like she’s found herself again.

When she returns to the battalion every so often to report, they listen and salute, minding not of her appearance or status or name, but only of her words.

Ingrid has dreamed of knighthood for a number of reasons. She had forgotten this one.

A part of her, a small part that she will not admit to, had been a little afraid to wield a weapon again. Afraid of the way she still hears the whispers of dying screams in the quiet lulls of her life. It is one of the reasons she had been so eager to rejoin the effort. Ingrid has always been one to tackle her fears head on. This was no different, and the longer she stayed away, the harder she knew it would become.

It is why she did not neglect her training. Why she had spent so much time in the courtyard, refusing to let her callouses smooth, training until her bones hurt, deep and scarred, chasing away the helplessness she had felt.

If her father can see the way the armor sits on her, broad and strong, fierce and protective, right, he says nothing about it.

He does, however, return Luin to her.

The Gautier Estate is huge and lavish, with grand windows and a cobblestone path through a well-kept courtyard that leads straight to the double flanking gold trimmed doors. Ingrid has been here before, but only a few times in her youth, and typically she had been confined to the ballroom for a party with the lone exception of the one time Sylvain had stolen, her, Felix and Dimitri, all away to explore. It has been a long time since then.

It dawns on her as she approaches the house that she will live here. That this will be her new home.

It makes her feel very small suddenly.

She expects Sylvain to greet her at the black gates, or perhaps a servant of House Gautier, but what she gets instead is a long blue haired man looking very impatient with his arms crossed and a sword sheathed at his side.

“Felix?” She beams, dismounting from her pegasus and running over to him. He barely reacts in time for her hug but manages to uncross his arms before she slams into him. To his credit, he manages to stay standing. To her delight, he does return it, however stiffly. “What are you doing here?”

She has missed Felix as much as she missed Sylvain, as much as she misses Dimitri.

Felix untangles himself from her, crossing his arms again as he grumbles, “Where the hell else would I be?”

She can think of a few places. His own House, for one, or off in battle somewhere for another, but she is warmed by his presence.

“Thank you.” She finds herself saying.

Felix ignores her, and instead turns to move into the house, “Come on,” he says, “I’m supposed to show you around.”

She does not miss the small smile he tries to hide but politely says nothing about it.

Unfortunately, she is strongly encouraged to change out of her armor before anything else. When led to her guest room, Ingrid finds a set of beautiful dresses laid out for her to choose from and a young lady ready to help her into them as Felix waits outside.

She purses her lips as she stares at the pieces, wishing desperately that Mercedes, Annette or Dorothea were here right now to help her pick. She has never been good at this and her anxiety is only amplified by the discomfort of being forced to accept such beautiful and probably expensive gifts.

“If I may,” The young lady says, a little nervously, after Ingrid spends a little too long staring, too afraid of touching anything, “The green one will suit your skin tone quite nicely.”

Ingrid does not hide the relief she feels, “Let’s go with that.” She says very quickly, before adding, “Thank you.”

The young lady smiles and helps Ingrid into the dress before excusing herself from the room.

It is probably the nicest thing she has ever worn but it is also relatively simple, clearly meant for casual dress around the house. She tries not to let the material shake her, tries not to miss the way her armor fits better against her.

When she exits the room, she finds Felix leaning casually against the wall, caring very little for appearances. He says nothing about her dress. She’s grateful that he draws no attention to it.

“How’ve you been?” She asks when he falls into step beside her. He’s supposedly leading her around the house, or leading her somewhere, but he does not seem to care for where he is going and neither does she.

“Fine.” Felix says. He does not elaborate.

Ingrid fights the urge to roll her eyes. Instead, she keeps her gaze steady as she walks, taking in the house. She wonders where Sylvain is.

When she does not press him, Felix eventually finds his voice again.

“You?” He asks, clearing his throat.

It is not much but it is something and she has missed Felix and all his surliness.

“Alright, considering.” She sighs, “Glad to be out of the house.”

Felix nods, understanding. “Things have quieted down,” He tells her, “ever since-“ He stops himself.

She knows he’s only a step away from using the name he used to use to refer to his Highness, the boar, he used to spit, knows that he bites his tongue because of how she feels about it. They’ve fought about it before and the fact that Felix tries to refrain from it around her and no one else is a testament to how much he cares. She knows this, even though he would never say it. Although, she supposes that calling a dead man names may be a step too far for Felix himself as well.

“Have they?” She asks instead, not allowing the silence between them to fester and grow.

“For now, at least in regards to blatant infighting.” Felix does not look at her, he continues to follow her step, continues to halfway guide her through a house he does not live in. He appears calm but she cannot help but catch the way his hand drums against the pommel of his sword. “The Empire is quiet too, they haven’t marched too far deep yet.”

“Maybe they’re hoping not to fight at all.” She says. She has learned a little more from Sylvain and the soldiers in the battalion about world outside of her childhood home but still, she aches for more information, for more ways to help. Right now, she has little more than speculation.

“Cowards.” Felix practically spits, “If they’re going to declare war, then they should do it right.”

“Felix,” She scolds, “You don’t really want that.”

“I just hate waiting around.” He replies, gripping loosely at his sword handle, “It doesn’t sit right.”

She knows the feeling.

“Do you think they’re planning something?” She asks, not entirely sure if she’s talking about the Empire or the Dukedom, not entirely sure there’s a difference.

“Yes.” He says frankly, “But I don’t know what and I don’t like it.”

They walk in silence for awhile after that. She’s not entirely sure what to say.

Felix does not know the house as well as he initially appeared to. They wander for a bit and accidentally end up in two rooms they probably shouldn’t be in, redirected by a few polite servants as they lead them back into the main hallway and towards the garden.

“Why the hell did he make me do this?” She hears Felix mumble under his breath as they continue down the halls.

The house was truly massive and each room was decorated very well to match. Ingrid feels a bit like an imposter as she moves through the hallways, the dress billowing at her heels. She wishes, very much, that she had something to do with her hands other than to let it hang at her sides.

“He probably thought it was funny.” Ingrid comments with a smile. She also suspects that Sylvain wanted someone familiar with her. He probably knew she would feel out of place, that both her and Felix would feel lost in his big mansion without him. Also, he probably did think it was quite amusing.

“Can’t believe you’re marrying him tomorrow.” Felix huffs casually.

Ingrid tries not to stiffen at the mention of her wedding. Despite the time she had to herself to think on it while flying across the country, she had all but pushed the thought to the back of her mind. She still hasn’t had the ability to truly process it. She suspects she won’t until the quiet hours the night when she tries to sleep later that night.

It’s also just exceedingly awkward to talk about this with Felix of all people. Felix, with whom she is close to but also who doesn’t do feelings well. Felix, who happens to be the brother of her dead ex-fiancé. In another life, she would be marrying Glenn and it would be Fraldarius Keep that he lead her around.

“Me either,” she ends up saying, feeling like it’s a safe enough answer, watching carefully for his reaction.

Felix’s gaze only quickly flickers to hers before returning straight ahead, towards the double doors leading to the garden.

Ingrid pauses in her step, it takes Felix a moment to notice before he turns to face her. “Thank you for coming Felix.” She tells him, “It means a lot that you’re here.”

She expects Felix to grumble something quickly, dismiss or wave it off, but instead, something in his demeanor softens just a bit, just enough for her to notice before hardening again. “Wouldn’t miss it.”

By the time Ingrid retires for the evening, she’s exhausted. She spends the rest of the day going over the procedures of the ceremony for the next day, being guided hastily here and there through the garden where it will take place. She is very thankful that Felix had gotten them a bit lost on his tour or else she wouldn’t have had much chances for some downtime right after her arrival.

It is clear how urgently everyone wants this wedding to happen. It is clear how on edge everyone is, as evidenced by how quickly the whole thing was put together.

And tomorrow she will be up bright and early to be done up for the wedding. It’s a daunting thought.

On top of all that, hasn’t really managed a moment alone with Sylvain since she’s arrived. He had been with her for the rest of the day, going through the rehearsals with her and Felix, who she is delighted to find will serve a role in the ceremony, but there was simply no opportunity to talk before she was whisked away to another task.

She could knock on his door now, she supposes, but she is too tired by the thought and tomorrow...well, they would have the rest of their lives after that wouldn’t they?

And besides, she’s not entirely sure she knows which door is his.

Ingrid is not one to feel overwhelmed by things. She has always been able to tackle a challenge or task, but today, right now, the night before her wedding, alone in an unfamiliar guest room two times the size of any bedroom she’s ever had, she is feeling a bit lost. Her only saving grace, the only comfort she has, is the fact that she will be marrying the man she loves, which is more than she could have hoped for, and that one of her best friends will be there with her, grumbling the whole time.

When she hears the door knock, Ingrid almost doesn’t answer it, but she forces her body to move, forces the door open.

Her father stands in front of her, looking, for the first time she has ever seen him, a little out of place.

“Father?” She greets, confused, blinking up at him and pulling the door open further, “What are you doing here?”

They haven’t had a proper conversation since she stormed out of his office over a week ago.

He frowns at her question. She hadn’t meant to be rude, she had just been surprised by his presence.

“Is it wrong for a father to want to see his only daughter the night before her wedding?” He says softly, his way of asking for permission.

Ingrid steps aside, allows her father to step through, and closes the door behind him.

“No, of course not.” She reassures, “It’s just-I thought you’d be asleep by now. It’s late and the ceremony is early.”

“Yes, well.” He says, taking in the large room, and clearing his throat. He seems unsure of what to say.

There’s a quiet moment between them that stretches across the room. She has never seen her father so lost for words. Her father has always been strong and sure, even when he holds a desperate house on his shoulders. Whatever doubts he has, he never shows to her or her brothers. She used to believe him a man of no fear, possessing a strength of character she was always fiercely proud of, even when she disagrees with him. He is the strongest man she knows.

But in front of her right now, she does not see any of that. She sees only a man. The man that is her father and not the Count.

“I wish-“ He begins, quietly to the room, still not looking at her, “that things were different.”

Ingrid does not say a word, instead, she holds her breath.

“When you agreed to marry into Gautier, I had hoped that you would have a grand ceremony, one that you deserve, one that even those in Fhirdiad would talk of for ages.”

“I would have hated that.” She can’t help but say quietly, but in the silence of the room, her voice still carries towards him, “I much prefer a smaller ceremony.”

“Well,” Her father sighs, “Still, it would have been nice for your brothers to come.”

She cannot disagree with that. She had never thought too much about a wedding ceremony. She had only thought about her engagement in the context of a marriage but she would have liked for her family and friends to be here. She is glad that Felix managed to come.

“I won’t be staying long.” Her father continues, “A few days at most but I have to return home. There’s much to do and I can’t afford to stay away.”

She knew that already but it still hurts to hear. In truth, Ingrid had been ready to leave Galatea behind, ready to leave home. She has known it since she returned to it. Even without the war, her time at the Academy had changed her. She cannot go back to being just a daughter of a Count. She is so much more than that. One day, the world will see that too.

But still, it would be signaling an end. Her father would leave and Ingrid would stay, and he would be alone.

He finally turns to look at her and he looks so very old now suddenly. She can see the wrinkles on his face more clearly than ever, see the way his grey hair has aged him, see the normally hard lines on his face soften, his eyes tender and loving.

She is reminded, suddenly, of a memory, or rather, an amalgamation of memories. Memories of childhood nights curled up on her father’s lap as he reads softly to her by the fireplace until she drifts off into fairytale like dreams of knighthood and chivalry.

A soft resigned melancholy settles over her as she looks at him and thinks of goodbyes.

“I had always hoped you would marry well.” He tells her, “And now that I’m here, I know that you will be taken care of.”

“I can take care of myself.” She whispers, but there is none of the usual bite that comes with those words, only a soft reassurance for him not to worry.

“I know.” He says, proud, “I’ve seen. But it is always nice to have a little support. To have someone with you. It makes life easier. Sylvain is a good man.”

“The very best.” She agrees with a smile, approaching him.

“I must confess,” he says, “When his name first came across my desk, I had been a bit...apprehensive. He has a reputation after all.”

She opens her mouth to speak, to defend Sylvain, but her father stops her before she can.

“But it’s hard to miss the way he looks at you.” He continues and although he smiles, it somehow looks a bit sad, like he is remembering something too, “He loves you.”

Ingrid hesitates, but only for a second, “And I love him.” It is the first time she has admitted it to someone other than Sylvain.

She watches her father nod, he does not seem surprised. After all, it is not like she has made any effort to hide it.

“I know,” He says, still smiling, “It’s why we’re here, isn’t it?”

She does not bring up the politics of the situation. She does not bring up the fact that this whole arrangement was supposed to be a convenience. In this moment, with her father, the night before her wedding, that almost seems like an afterthought. Almost seems unimportant. She wants to pretend it is. Just for this moment.

“When Sylvain came up with the idea,” He continues, unexpectedly, “It is why I agreed to his haste.”

Ingrid blinks but doesn’t get a chance to respond before her father places a kiss to her head. “You should get some rest. Tomorrow is a big day. Goodnight darling.”

He leaves before she gets a chance to question him, leaving Ingrid to ponder his words.

Ingrid does try to sleep. She lays in bed and closes her eyes and desperately tries to sleep, batting away the words her father says as best she can.

Her best isn’t enough. Her father’s words echo in her head.

Sylvain had come up with the idea, he told her, but surely he had meant with the Margrave came up with the idea and Sylvain delivered the message. It must be that. Ingrid can ask tomorrow.

Except that she cannot sleep and every time she tries, she thinks about the wedding, or her father’s words, or politics when what she should be thinking about is how happy she is to be marrying someone she actually genuinely loves. She should be tossing out of anticipation, not agitation.

She is exhausted, from travel and rehearsals and politics and missing someone from afar and up close, but she gets out of bed anyway, pulls a robe over her nightgown and slips out of her door.

The corridor is empty, dark and cool. She had forgotten her slippers but can’t be bothered to go back in and get them. Besides, she kind of likes the feeling of her bare feet on the floorboards, it is familiar somehow.

She only knows the vague direction of Sylvain’s room. She did not see him retire that night and there is no one out right now to help direct her. It must be quite late, and were it not for the large windows that let in moonlight, Ingrid would likely be traipsing around the estate without her sight.

This is stupid, she thinks but she tries to hone in her memory from years ago, when Sylvain had shown her and the boys his bedroom.

She skips the room with the large double doors, guessing it to be his parents’, and continues down the hallway. When she hears footsteps, she instinctively darts behind a plant to hide, but relaxes when she sees a guard and carefully steps into view.

He’s surprised to see her but his initial alarm webs away when he recognizes her and he simply points at one of the doors.

Ingrid, ducks her head, feeling her face begin to flush. She would laugh if she wasn’t slightly embarrassed. She mutters a very quick thanks as she passes by and quietly knocks on the door.

When there is no answer, she knocks a bit louder before she tries the door. It’s locked. She finds that she is both annoyed and relieved by it.

Just when she’s about to give up, she hears a shuffling from beyond it, and the sound of something dropping to the floor. Thankfully, the sound was not big enough for it to have been Sylvain.

The door pulls open and she watches as Sylvain blinks the sleep away from his eyes and registers her.

“Ingrid?” He yawns, allowing her in, before a lazy grin stretches across his face, “Couldn’t sleep without me?”

She ignores him, truthfully, she had grown quite used to sleeping with him next to her, and she did tend to sleep better then. “Just wanted to ask you something.”

He frowns, “It couldn’t wait until morning?”

“We probably won’t have time to talk tomorrow, which, you know, is ironic considering.”

He chuckles, “Yeah, you’re probably right. I feel like I haven’t seen you all day even though, well, we were literally with each other all day. Everything okay?”

“It’s just-“ she starts, chewing over the thought, “It’s something my father said and it was bothering me.”

“Okay...hit me.”

“He said that this whole thing,” She gestures vaguely in the air, “Was your idea. Was it?”

“You’re going to have to be a lot more specific than that Ingrid.”

“The wedding. You said that your father was the one who wanted to expedite it but my father made it sound like it was your idea.”

She hears Sylvain sigh before he moves over to the oil lamp in his room, setting it alight, before leaning against the table that houses it.

Ingrid blinks from the sudden light and it takes her a moment to adjust. Sylvain isn’t wearing a shirt, she realizes belatedly, and she has to push an intrusive and ill-timed thought away.

“Right,” He starts, pressing his hand to his face to try to rub the rest of the drowsiness out of him. “It wasn’t really my idea but it wasn’t not my idea? Things have been kind of crazy over here and so the whole engagement thing kind of got forgotten. I might have said something to remind him and then it...took off? And...well, I didn’t do anything to stop him. Next thing I know, letters are being sent and then, well, now we’re here.”

He pauses, eyeing her carefully, Ingrid takes a second too long to process his words.

“Sorry,” he says, standing up straight but not approaching her, “Are you mad?”

“No,” she decides, “I...well honestly I don’t know why it’s been bothering me so much. The whole point of an engagement is to get married. I guess, I might have just gotten a bit...overwhelmed?”

“Cold feet?” He half heartedly jokes,

“What? No!” She quickly defends, crossing the room over to him, she goes to reach him before pausing, “You?” She asks tentatively.

“Never.” He breathes, relieved, catching her hand. “Still think we’re going to be okay?”

“As long as we have each other, yeah.”

“Always.”

“Still, would have been nice to have a little more time.”

Sylvain shrugs, “I don’t know. The more I think about it, the more I wonder, why wait?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean,” Sylvain sighs, sitting on his bed, tugging Ingrid along to stand in front of him, “We’re at war now. Things aren’t guaranteed and I don’t-if something happens, I don’t want to leave you with nothing. I can’t do that to you again. I won’t be-“

She can hear the way Glenn’s name dies on Sylvain’s lips.

For a moment, they both look at each other in tense silence. Ingrid feels her body stiffen, feels the way an old wound festers and buzzes in her ears and her heart.

“Sorry,” Sylvain apologizes, “I shouldn’t have-“

“No, it’s okay.” She tells him, and she finds that it’s true, the buzzing quiets, “I want you to be honest with me.”

“Still.” He says.

“Still.” She echoes.

She moves to sit next to him. She does not let go of his hand and goes to rest her head against his shoulder. The exhaustion she feels letting her forget how thin her nightgown is, even covered by the robe, forget that she leans against his skin.

“Would have been nice to have everyone here.” She whispers, thinking about how excited Annette and Mercedes had been about everything. She misses them desperately in this moment, wishing that she had someone other than her father to make up her wedding party.

“Yeah, ” Sylvain shifts, throwing an arm around her and pulling her closer, “Got Felix though.”

“Yeah, you did.” She smiles, “How’d you manage that by the way?”

“How do I manage anything with Felix? I badgered him until he came.”

Ingrid laughs and buries her head further into his neck. She tries not to smile at the way he shivers.

“He’s a big softie on the inside. Deep, deep, inside,” Sylvain says a moment later, “He wouldn’t actually miss it.”

“I know.” She mumbles, “He actually said that to me earlier.”

“Did he? Maybe it’s not as deep as I thought.”

“Maybe he just likes me better.”

“He definitely likes you better.”

“Dimitri should be here.” She says somberly, quietly, more to herself than to Sylvain.

“Yeah.” He says, just as quietly.

In the long silence that follows, the soft comfort of shared grief and tiredness relaxes Ingrid to the point that nearly falls asleep against Sylvain, nearly lets herself, but, with great effort, she leans up and presses a kiss against his cheek and backs away.

“I should go back.” She says, untangling herself from him.

“You could stay.” He offers, “Your stuff is already here.”

Ingrid furrows her brow and glances around the room, her trunk, she knows, is back in the guest room. “No it’s not.”

“Okay, the stuff my mother got you is all here.”

She sighs, stands up and stretches her hands back behind her, “I wish she wouldn’t do that.”

“You’re family Ingrid. She’s going to dote on you.”

“Doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

Sylvain walks her towards the door and pouts. “Are you sure you don’t want to stay?”

Ingrid gives him a familiar exasperated smile, “One more day.” She tells him.

“One more day.” He repeats, “Can I at least walk you to your room?”

“No,” She says firmly, “Because then you’ll just try and stay.”

“Can’t blame a guy for trying.” He shrugs.

“Yes I can.” She grins, she gives him one last kiss before tugging the door open, “Goodnight Sylvain, I’ll see you in a few hours.”

She hears him whisper a goodnight behind her and Ingrid makes the trek back to the guest room alone. She can see, from the window, a faint light that warns her of morning and the day to come but the thought no longer makes her anxious as she slips into bed, drifting off quickly before daybreak settles in earnest.

Chapter Text

Sylvain reexamines himself in the mirror again. He has lost track of how many times he has played with his collar and cuffs, unbuttoning and rebuttoning over and over again as Felix leans against a wall, watching him.

Felix hasn’t said a word to him other than his initial greeting so Sylvain has been doing his best to ignore him and the subtle shifts his face. So far, his friend has gone from looking amused to impatient and now to utterly and distinctly bored.

“What?” Sylvain finally snaps, catching Felix’s eye in the mirror as he replaces his cufflinks again.

“You’re nervous,” Felix says like an observation.

“I’m not nervous.” Sylvain huffs.

He’s not lying. He really isn’t nervous. He has nothing to be nervous about. He loves Ingrid. He can not think of anything he would rather be doing other than marry her. He’s excited and unbelievably restless.

And, okay, maybe a little bit nervous.

Because, here’s the thing about Ingrid. Sylvain has never, in all his life, worried over any woman as much as he worries over Ingrid. He has never cared before. And it is not a simple worry. It is not worrying over her safety or her role or her body. It is not even the kind of worry born from an insecurity that she may not show up at the ceremony. He is not worried about her feelings for him. Ingrid has always been honest, sometimes brutally so, so when she says she loves him, he knows it is true. This is not what he worries about.

It is the idea that perhaps he is not worthy of her. Perhaps he is not good enough. Perhaps he is good in theory and not in practice. He is more nervous at the prospect of being a good husband than he is of marrying Ingrid.

It is a bit of an outdated concept, he knows, Ingrid would never had said yes to him in the first place if she deemed him unworthy.

But it is a worry. A worry born out of the world he is born into. Again, he feels shame, shame that he is not the rebellious free spirit he pretends to be. That he is a liar. A boy playing a game he doesn’t know the rules to - bluffing his way around, terrified that someone may call him on it.

It is a silly worry, because Ingrid chose him anyway despite all of that, because of course Ingrid knows. She knows him just as he knows her but it is still present, buzzing underneath his fingertips, making him fidget under the gaze of his own reflection.

Felix does not respond in words, instead he raises an eyebrow.

“I just don’t want to fuck this up,” Sylvain admits with a breath, turning around at last to face his friend head on.

“So don’t fuck up.”

The words are deceptively simple.

Sylvain frowns deeply and fingers his golden cufflinks.

“Do you actually want to hear what I think or do you want me to make you feel better before you go out there?” Felix asks when Sylvain says nothing.

“Can’t you do both?”

“I think it’s stupid.”

“You think me marrying Ingrid is stupid?”

“No dumbass, I think that you worrying about it is stupid. What’s there to worry about?”

Sylvain wants to say a lot but he doesn’t even know where to start. He doesn’t know how to talk to Felix about this.

Felix, uncharacteristically, continues, “None of that shit matters. It’ll work out or it won’t but even if all hell breaks loose, you’ll have Ingrid.”

It is not anything he hasn’t already said to himself. It’s not anything that Ingrid hasn’t already said to him but hearing it now from Felix still helps. Still makes it feel doable, makes him feel brave. It’s reassuring to hear it again.

He stops fidgeting with his cufflinks.

“And you.” Sylvain beams, “I have you too.”

Felix turns away and moves towards the door but Sylvain catches a small grin that his friend quickly hides, “Come on, you’re about to be late to your own party.”

“Lead the way Best Man.”

Sylvain didn’t have a lot to do with the planning of the wedding. Most of the details were taken over by his mother. He hadn’t been able to, considering his absence from home, having to cart back and forth around the territory and then towards Galatea.

Whenever he imagined his wedding, pre-Ingrid, it had always been huge and glamorous. Opulent and ridiculous but distinctly not a celebration. More of a farewell. A last hurrah before he was forced off to a life he did not want. He would likely drink and drink and make a total absolute ass out of himself as he hid from his wife among his friends, unsure when he would have a chance to see them again.

He did not imagine it to be a small tiny intimate affair. His status usually would not allow for it. It would not be a garden party at the estate with only a handful of people.

Even when he started to imagine a wedding with Ingrid, he had still imagined something bigger. He had imagined a chorus of noise and life, congratulations echoed with a sense of joy and not with a lingering sense of loss.

Loss of family, loss of friends, loss of choice.

And maybe that’s what really bothers him about the whole affair. That, yes, he wants to marry Ingrid, yes the end result is the same, but that they were robbed of choice, as they have always been for the entirety of their lives.

When had he become a man so caught up on the principle of the thing? Maybe it was Ingrid’s influence.

But Felix had been right. None of that shit really seems to matter anymore, not when Ingrid walks towards him in her wedding dress looking like the sun.

Her father leads her towards him. She looks a bit bashful but she’s smiling and nothing registers for Sylvain except for her. He does not pick up the music, does not see the blue of the sky or the way the flowers frame her hair. He can only see her face, can only feel the way his heart stills and stalls and loves, his lungs breathless and head dizzy with joy, and later, when he reflects on this moment, he will only remember her and the way she smiles at him and nothing else.

Nothing else matters.

The rest of the wedding goes by in a blur. The romantic in Sylvain would like to commit his wedding to very specific and detailed memory. He would would like to think that this moment in time, the most important of his life, would be impossible to forget but the truth is, it isn’t.

It’s very staged. It’s walking around to every guest table and thanking them. It’s a few elegant and well rehearsed toasts, food he doesn’t register or remember eating and if he notices the way their fathers speak to each other, whispered and hushed, by the bar, an advisor within reach, Sylvain can’t bring himself to care.

He only cares about Ingrid.

One day, he will find a way for them to truly celebrate each other. He will say all the words that beat against the chambers of his heart, even when she already knows them, to an audience of their loved ones. For now, her hand on his, guiding him through the reception as they shake hands with strangers is enough.

When they retire for the night into their bedroom, where Ingrid’s things been moved, she breathes out a deep sigh of relief.

“I love you.” Sylvain can’t help but say as he looks at her, looks at her leaning against the door exhausted but breathtaking.

He has already said it. He has said it in front of their wedding guests. He has said it to her when they danced. He will keep saying it forever, he thinks.

Ingrid smiles, “I love you too,” she says as she closes her eyes, taking a moment to herself.

Sylvain lets the silence carry on, stripping off his jacket and undoing his cufflinks quietly as Ingrid lingers at the door.

Like the rehearsal, they haven’t had time to actually talk between the two of them. They’ve spent the entire day together but always surrounded by people, always with someone else. Now that they’re together, this moment of quiet between them, he isn’t quite sure what to say.

He’s still wrapping his head around the fact that Ingrid is his wife. He is her husband. She has signed a paper that takes his name, as tradition dictates, and will now be by his side always.

It makes him giddy and light. It is a wonderful feeling.

But unlike Ingrid, Sylvain has only gained in this. Ingrid had to lose something. She had to lose her name, her home, her family, in order to join his.

“How do you feel?” He finally decides to ask, watching as her eyes blink slowly open to meet his.

“Good.” She says with a soft smile, “Tired.”

“It’s been a long day.” He agrees, thinking about their early morning chat, “we should probably go to bed.”

Ingrid shifts suddenly, standing up straight, and he watches, curiously, as a flush begins to creep up her neck.

“Ingrid?” He tries, “Something wrong?”

She shakes her head a little too quickly. He watches as her updo, painstakingly pinned into perfect place, finally begins to unravel but only a bit, “No,” she says, seeming a little nervous, “But uh-“

He furrows his brow, confused by her shyness. She is rarely like this, especially with him, he takes a step towards her but waits to speak.

“It’s just-“ She starts to explain, “It’s our wedding night.”

It takes him a second but only a second before it registers what she’s trying to say. He can feel his eyes go wide and watches as Ingrid dips her gaze to the floor, the flush reaching her cheeks, embarrassed. She is so very cute like this.

“Oh,” he finds himself saying, a little surprised, they’ve never talked about it before. “Ingrid, we don’t have to do anything. Unless...you want to?”

He can talk to Ingrid about anything but this feels new to him, feels a little awkward, maybe because it is. Maybe because they were taught not to talk about it - taught not to talk about sex, despite being expected to have it.

Ingrid clears her throat, she still isn’t looking at him, “I want a lot of things with you Sylvain,” She says in a low quiet voice.

Sylvain’s breath hitches. He had been tired before but now he feels wide awake and so completely aware of their surroundings, so completely aware of Ingrid.

“Have you ever-“ Ingrid starts but abruptly stops herself, chewing on her bottom lip, when she thinks better of it.

Sylvain clears his throat, moving towards her, “Well, that kind of depends on what you mean.”

Ingrid finally looks up at him but doesn’t elaborate. Her expression is purposefully painfully neutral.

“I’ve done...a lot of things.” Sylvain sighs, reading between the lines that she’s still not able to say, “But no, too risky.”

Ingrid nods, understanding.

The phrase that hangs between them, unsaid, is completely clear. Crest babies.

Ingrid, she sighs too, finally relaxing. He watches her shoulders fall and her hand reach up to tuck her stray hair behind her ear, “Is it bad that I’m feeling a bit jealous?”

Sylvain crosses the rest of the distance between them so that they’re now standing face to face. He takes Ingrid’s hands in his, watches the pretty smile grow on her face as they lace their fingers together. A large part of him feels quite pleased by the idea of a jealous Ingrid but he does not say that aloud, he doesn’t have to, the smug grin on his face is not something he tries to hide. “If it were the other way around I’d be more than a bit jealous.”

“Well you don’t have to worry about that.” Ingrid tells him, stepping even further into his space as she looks up at him. She untangles their hands to wrap against the back of his neck, tugging him down towards her. His skin buzzes, alight with anticipation but above all, love.

“Neither do you.” He promises.

There is still a world outside, a war raging, a loss that he still feels and will always feel and they are still and maybe forever will be victims of poor timing and lack of choices but Felix is right. Things will either work out or they won’t and while Sylvain will try his damndest, with everything in his body and soul, to make everything work out, he also knows this:

That right now his world is curled naked in his arms. And in the quiet between them as their heartbeats settle and their breaths calm, the anxiety that had welled up inside him from the last few days are gone. That in this moment, and in every other moment with her, nothing else needs to matter.

Chapter Text

It has been storming for a few days now, delaying her return home. Ingrid has spent the last two weeks chasing down a lead only to find herself at a boneyard, where mutilated bodies lay unceremoniously behind, spear wounds gouging through skin.

It doesn’t matter to her that they would have likely tried to kill her had she met them herself. It doesn’t matter to her that their uniforms betray their allegiance to the Empire. They may have been her enemies and she would have killed them too if she had to but this is almost too much.

The sight of war will always be too much.

She may be a knight at heart, it may be her duty, but it is not as if she dreams of murder. Not as if she longs to kill a man. It is a consequence of necessity. She does it only so someone else can live. She does it so someone else doesn’t need to.

And yes, she does it sometimes for herself, so she can live. So she can return home. So that she can see her husband and let herself be held in his hands.

There wasn’t a lot of downtime after the wedding. Things move quickly in war, including their matrimony and Ingrid learns not to feel too much about it. There is no sense in worrying about the urgency of their actions, no sense in lamenting what could have been, she only allows herself to feel blessed for what she has and to hold it close to her.

She is blessed to love someone as she does and be loved in return. She is blessed with the loyalty and companionship of her friends-those of whom she has the occasional opportunity to see like Felix and those of whom she writes to like Annette and Mercedes and even those she does not hear from but hopes to like Ashe. This will have to be enough.

She learns to be okay with enough.

Sylvain has to dart about the territory, fending off invasions from Sreng which has only increased due to an opportunity opened through a vulnerability and negotiating alliances to gather strength for their band of loyalists. In the meantime, Ingrid has been allowed to search for their dead prince. These tasks often take them in two different directions and so they are forced, in their first half year of marriage, to spend much less time together than they’d like and to do everything they can to make their moments count.

That will have to be enough too.

This night, tonight- Ingrid finds herself only a few miles from home, thinking of Sylvain. He should be home now and is probably already sleeping in a bed they should share. She had pushed her pegasus as far as she dared to so that she could arrive earlier in the morning but anymore against the way the winds blow would be too cruel to continue and, to be honest, she was quite sick of the way the rain soaked her skin.

She has found, since their marriage, that distance apart has only become harder. She had believed that it would be easier knowing that she has someone to go home to but it only makes her long for it, long for the end to a war that seems further and further away. She is starting to forget what peace is like outside of stolen moments. She does not remember what love is like without the desperation of fear.

The tiny inn room is a good and safe enough shelter but she wants for the comfort of her own bed and the man in it. On nights like this, nights when she is alone or away, Ingrid holds the wedding band that is finally hers against her heart from where it swings on a chain next to a simple silver pendant, also given to her by Sylvain, once upon a time. His first promise alongside hers and tries desperately to chase the small but bright warmth it brings into a restful slumber.

Sylvain does not meet her at the gates, nor does anyone else really other than the regular guards that stand at that station. By now, she has familiarized herself with the Estate and its staff and she greets them both by name.

They greet her by hers.

Gautier

She was supposed to be home two days ago and she knows that everyone is likely very worried but it couldn’t be helped and she can only hope that Sylvain hasn’t caused a ruckus in the house because of it. The last time she was delayed, she had caught him glaring at his father, deep in a circular argument quickly dropped at the relief of the sight of her.

She does not seek out Sylvain first, although she wishes too, instead she sets off to the office of her father-in-law. It just so happens that her husband is there too.

Sylvain does not run to her, does not lift her and spin her in the air as he might have been tempted to in what feels like a faraway youth, although she can tell that he misses her too, what with the bright-eyed wide smile he never hides around her. Instead, he takes her in, strapped in dented armor, boots muddy from the road and hair windswept from where her braids failed to keep them in place and chuckles.

She must look a mess and not at all ladylike in front of the Margrave. His brief laugh tears the weariness of the weight of travel away from her bones and she finds herself smiling back.

She knows she should have stripped off her armor and traveling gear first instead of trekking dirt and grime into a very nice house but she would have been tempted to rest had she had the time to change. She wanted to report first, even if there’s nothing to report, before settling into her role at home.

“Ingrid,” Sylvain’s father greets, pausing from whatever it was he was saying to Sylvain. Likely something about Sreng. He never tells her, Sylvain often does afterwards. “Welcome home.”

Sylvain looks very much like his father. They both share the same red hair and stand at about the same height, but the Margrave has no laugh lines and hardly ever smiles, even when he is being kind. He is always overly stiff and formal and while her husband shares his father’s silhouette she has never mistaken them for each other. It would be impossible to.

Her own father is just as formal but he has always felt warm to her. She wonders if she would ever feel something other than the distinct air of judgement around the Margrave but even Sylvain stiffens around his father and avoids his family when possible so Ingrid is not optimistic.

“Thank you,” She says with a deep officer’s bow, “I apologize, I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

Her father-in-law waves her apology away with a single swift gesture but no smile, “It’s alright” he tells her, “we’re just happy to see your safe return. What have you learned?”

Ingrid steps forward, further into the room, and tries not to frown. Her own father would have probably told her that she wasn’t interrupting, even if she was. The thought is intrusive and useless, so she throws it away.

“Not a lot, unfortunately.” She admits, “Initially, we thought he might have been moving East towards us but then the trail would twist or turn, or go in a different direction. At the moment, Gilbert continues the search but for now, we’ll have to wait until it picks up again. I thought it best to return to my duties here.”

The Margrave gives her a single curt nod, a dismissal. “Understood, thank you Ingrid.”

Ingrid bows again and excuses herself from the room. She catches Sylvain’s eye as she turns to leave and sees the frown he does not hide and hopes that he doesn’t read too much into the exchange.

It is, perhaps, too much to hope for, and yet she hopes anyway.

Sometimes, Ingrid can fool herself into a lie. That it is not Dimitri that leaves a massacre behind before leaping off into the night. That it is something else. Something that follows her friend but does not possess him.

The longer this goes on however, the harder it is to deny. Not with the way those unlucky enough to survive or witness describe the man that emerges, wild and vengeful, the ghost of a dead prince.

Still she tries. She has never been a good liar for it is against the virtues that she holds dear, but for her prince, she will try and besides, after all this time, Ingrid herself has still seen no real physical sign of Dimitri.

She can only hope not to linger in the wake he leaves behind.

There is something about his father’s tone around Ingrid that Sylvain doesn’t like. The man is perfectly polite and says very little yet it grates on him. He is sure it grates on Ingrid even more.

The brief warmth that Ingrid brought with her into the room dissipates the second she leaves. Sylvain is instead left with a deep and vigorous agitation, aided by the residual worry that had festered for two extra nights.

He wants to say I hate the way you talk to her but he does not.

His father watches the door close behind Ingrid before starting again. “It’s a good thing she’s home.” He says, before frowning himself, “I don’t know why you allow her to gallivant across the continent.”

Sylvain bristles, “I don’t allow her to do anything. Ingrid is a person. She can do what she wants.”

“She’s your wife.” His father corrects, “And it’s dangerous. If you care about her well being, you should insist she stay at home. We’re just lucky that she’s chosen to chase after a ghost.”

Sylvain does not bother with a response. Instead he nearly rips the hinges off of his father’s door.

She doesn’t get very far down the corridor before she hears Sylvain stalk down the hall towards her.

His footfalls are heavy, despite the house shoes he wears, and she can tell, without looking behind her that he has barreled out of his father’s office with a righteous vigor.

So she’s not surprised when he grabs her hand, not surprised when he whips her around and pushes her against the wall, and not surprised by the fierceness in which he kisses her, desperate and heated. His hands grab at the skin of her exposed neck, calloused and warm before dropping to grab at her waist and all at once the armor is too binding, too restrictive to breathe in, too thick to feel the way his hands grip, too thick to feel him press his entire body against hers.

And she wants it. Oh how she wants it and yet-

“Sylvain” she says, breaking away from his lips. He doesn’t waver and quickly finds himself at her neck. To her annoyance, her attempt at stern comes out more like a breathless moan so she tries again, more successfully this time, “Sylvain, we’re in a hallway.”

“We’re married” he growls against her throat, his hands digging around for any buckles to undo.

His indignation makes her smile and she would likely laugh if not for the way his lips dance against her neck, causing her to shiver and although she braces his hand against his shoulders so she can push him away, she finds herself automatically straining so he can reach more skin.

Still, despite this, they are in a hallway, not ten feet away from his father’s office. “Do you want your father to catch us?” She tries, “Or your mother? Again?”

She hears and feels Sylvain groan before tearing away from worrying the side of her neck, where she is sure he has left a mark, something she will scold him about later.

“Another day and that wouldn’t have worked.” He jokes, trying to catch his breath, his body is still pressed against hers, and while she cannot feel him through the layers between them, her body remembers.

“Another day and I wouldn’t have said it”

He grins, and the weariness and desperation in his eyes tempers slightly, instead she is met by a boyishness that she adores. One that tells her many things without saying a word. She knows him well enough to hear it., I missed you, he says with his eyes I was so worried he says with his touch, thank the Goddess you’re home, I wish it didn’t have to be this way, I know you’ll have to go again but please don’t leave too soon, I love you, I love you, I love you, he says with everything else.

And she knows this, she knows this because she thinks it too, says it too with her smile, says it with her touch, says it with every part of her and knows he hears it too.

In their bedroom, after she’s stripped of her armor and clothing, Sylvain lets his fingers hover delicately above the large ugly bruise against her side eyebrows furrowed with worry.

He tells Ingrid a lot of things these days. It’s a conscious effort but he’s terrified of the time they spend apart, terrified that she’ll forget how to read him so he’s learning to use his words because there is nothing about him that he doesn’t want her to know. He is not afraid of her. Not afraid of the honesty she inspires in him.

His words, his honest words - only she can have them all.

But he doesn’t know how to articulate what it feels like when he sees the way the purple and green marks paint her skin. He can’t stop her from trying to save the world. He would never forgive himself if he tried, but the bruises spark a primal fear in him, a sort of chaotic rumbling thrumming through his body that threatens everything he tries to be for her. He doesn’t know how to tell her, all he can do is compare her bruises against the marks he leaves behind, and hopes that she can read what he means when he tries to repaint her.

He feels Ingrid hold his face in both her hands to guide his gaze back to her eyes as she whispers that she’s fine, murmurs that it doesn’t hurt, and kisses him until she thinks he believes it.

Sylvain has no new bruises but he has small cuts that scrape against the entirety of his bare glorious skin, all in various stages of healing. The one she’s drawn to though is the small thin red line on his cheek that’s almost healed and likely won’t scar.

She is drawn to it because she hates it. Hates that she almost doesn’t see it. Hates that it won’t scar. Hates the idea that she can’t count the days they’ve lost through the wounds on their bodies.

It’s on his face, it is not hidden, and yet she nearly misses it. So she nips at it because she doesn’t like the idea that had she waited a day or two, she would have no idea of the pain that happens while away from one another.

Often, in the quiet moments when she’s in the skies, she finds many thoughts creeping in on her. She learns, very quickly that it can be quite lonely up there, searching for any sign of Dimitri, of her friend. She tries to keep her focus, tries to follow trails and use her eyes but she can’t help the way her mind wanders and can’t help the way her hope slowly burn out.

She knows that knighthood is a solitary path. She knows that it’s about choosing her king and country above herself. Before, that had been glorious to her. The idea that she could do more and be more than what was written out for her and every woman she knows. She has had tastes of it too and knows, like she knows she loves Sylvain, that helping people is in her blood and bones. It is still true. She still has and will always have the heart for it but another part of her heart is tied up in the way Sylvain holds her and, alone in the skies, she often wonders if it is possible to serve her liege while loving another.

She had always thought that it was the job of a knight to save their liege. In her stories and fantasies, she had imagined herself as a hero perhaps, as Dimitri’s protector. Taking the blows meant for him. She had even thought that should she die in this endeavor, it would be a worthy death. A noble death. The death that Glenn died. It would mean something. Her life would mean something.

But now, when she thinks of Dimitri and dying for him, she wonders if she would be willing to save him at the cost of destroying Sylvain.

Even when they say nothing in the afterglow, even when Sylvain momentarily leaves her to clean up, Ingrid cannot help but feel happy with just the ghost of his embrace. Sometimes, her mind still wanders, but here it is a slow wander. It does not feel as if something is looming, instead, it is like the leftover warmth of him allows her to glide past her thoughts as they come, calmed by the knowledge of Sylvain’s return because he always returns, and in these moments in his arms, she is sure she always will too.

Chapter Text

Ingrid has been glaring half naked at her half of the closet for close to a minute now. Sylvain can’t help but be amused by it. He’s kind of amused by anything she does, by the fact that she’s even home.

He knows he’s lovesick. He just can’t bring himself to care.

“Something wrong?” He prods with a grin she can’t see.

“Your mother hates me,” she bemoans, staring at the dresses in her closet. Every time she returns, it is as if they’ve multiplied in her closet. She knows it’s her mother-in-law’s doing, knows from every wistful comment about how the lovely and expensive dresses are hardly ever worn.

Ingrid sighs as she pulls a new one on, finally getting around to slipping her wedding band off of the chain around her neck and back onto her finger where it belongs.

Sylvain, half-dressed, hair completely disheveled beside her, laughs, “Is that why she keeps buying you nice things?”

Ingrid rolls her eyes, “It’s not nice.” She explains, even though she knows Sylvain already understands. This is not a new conversation for them and he knows her well enough to know how uncomfortable she is with extravagant gifts. “Or, well, it is, it’s very generous but-”

“She’s just trying to bribe you to stick around, I know.” He grins, as he pulls his arms through his shirt sleeves, “Is that so bad?”

Ingrid moves over to him to help him button up his shirt, letting her eyes linger at the marks she left on his torso and ignoring the way his grin turns smug whenever she does so. “It’s not,” She admits, “But-“

“I know,” he says, because of course he does, because he’s the same. There are things they both have to do and sometimes those things are far away from each other. “She’s worried about you. She’s just not very good at saying it.”

“I guess I’m not really good at hearing it.” Ingrid sighs, finishing his last button and stepping away to admire the way his shirt fits his frame. “I thought I was good at navigating nobility but your parents are...”

“The most passive aggressive people in all of Fodlan?” He laughs but she does not miss the bitterness in it. His father’s comments from earlier are still echoing in his ear. Although, when it comes to his father, perhaps there is no passiveness about it.

“I was going to say something more polite.” She grins wryly, “They are your parents after all.”

Sylvain deflates, the tension that she had worked away from him returns in the form of his grim smile, “Sorry you have to deal with them.” He says quietly, not looking at her.

Ingrid suppresses the urge to smack him, “Don’t apologize for your parents Sylvain. I chose you didn’t I? After all, you have to deal with all my brothers.”

“Don’t remind me.” He chuckles, but the tension does not entirely ebb away, it sticks around in the air between them, quiet but there, “I’m still trying to win them over.”

“You did kind of build a reputation.”

“Yeah, I can’t tell if I should regret it or not.”

Ingrid laughs, patting him on the arm before going to examine the new dress in the mirror. Her reflection is a stark contrast with what she looked like when she arrived this morning at the estate, muddy and windswept, hero’s relic in hand. She looks almost dainty in the dress, delicate. Her muscles hidden underneath the sleeves and skirt, skin glowing from carefully applied make-up to hide the marks Sylvain was careless enough to leave behind that aren’t so easily hidden.

Sylvain comes up behind her, wraps his arms around her waist and leans his head against her shoulder breathing her in. Somehow, without noticing it, she has grown used to the way he looks outside of armor or uniform, used to the man that’s become a diplomat, and wonders when he stopped looking like he was wearing a costume.

Now, together in the reflection of the mirror, they look very much like the roles they’ve learned to embody. A perfectly happy lord and lady of the house, wrapped up in privilege and warmth, and the sheer luck of the love the share for each other.

“How many times do you think your mother will bring up children at dinner this time?” Ingrid finds herself asking, breaking the spell, a little surprised by her own question.

She feels Sylvain’s arms stiffen around her for a second before relaxing, his head moves from where he buried it in the crevice of her neck and shoulder to the top of her head, where he rests his chin on. She feels, against her back, Sylvain take a deep breath, as if to steel himself, which makes her stiffen too but she forces herself into casual.

“You know my mother,” he says, as evenly as he can manage, “as many times as she thinks she can get away with, and since she’s my mother, we’ll go with pretty much the entire dinner.”

Ingrid feels herself give a forced sounding kind of laugh. It’s a mistake because Sylvain notices it and tries to gently turn her in his arms but she keeps herself rooted where she is, and catches his eyes in their reflections. “Do you want me to tell her to stop?”

“No,” Ingrid says, shaking her head, “I can handle your mother.”

“I know, but I can still tell her to stop. She probably won’t listen but I can try.”

“Thanks Sylvain, but it’s fine.”

There must be something in her tone that he reads. Something that she herself doesn’t pick up on. A deep discomfort with the subject that she somehow hasn’t noticed until now, somehow hasn’t noticed until he laces their fingers together and asks, “Are you sure?”

Her instinctual reply is to say yes. Of course she’s sure. She wouldn’t have said it if she wasn’t sure. And yet, she chews on her lip instead.

“I’ll talk to her.” He says seriously, earnestly, and Ingrid feels deeply protected in this moment. She doesn’t need it and in fact, normally hates it, but something about the way Sylvain feels, holding her against him, makes it feel warm instead. Makes it feel like it isn’t about her pride or her ability but about his love for her.

She shakes her head with a smile, “No, really,” She tells him, believing it, “You don’t have to.”

His eyebrows furrow, and the confusion in his face is endearing. “I think it’s just...” she tries before starting over, “I guess I just realized that we’ve never talked about it before.”

Sylvain lets out another a long breath, she can tell he’s nervous, it would be hard not to tell with the way she feels his breath waver. “Talk about what? Children?”

Ingrid nods and wonders if perhaps she should just turn around and face him head on.

“I guess we haven’t.” He says carefully, “Do you, uh, want any?”

She decides to turn, breaking away from his embrace to step a step back, but she keeps one hand in his and fingers his wedding band as she does so.

Sylvain looks nervous and uncomfortable, which doesn’t happen very often because he is not someone afraid of discomfort nor is he a man so easily shaken by anything, let alone a conversation, but she is shaken too. The topic is heavier than she had intended and seems almost odd to have right after sex but perhaps that is precisely why it’s on her mind.

“I don’t know.” She admits. She has never been asked whether or not she wanted to be a mother. She is hardly ever asked about what she wants. It has always been assumed that she would have children. There seemed to be no point in mulling over the thought of desire because of the danger of thinking too much about it.

But with Sylvain, she knows what she wants matters. If not to anyone else, than to him. “I never thought about it.” She continues, “Not really at least...Do you?”

She expects him to say no. She has heard Sylvain rant about crest children many times before. She has heard the bitterness in his voice when he talks about it, knows the pain he had to endure from the expectation of being one and knows her own pain too.

“I-“ Sylvain starts, and Ingrid finds herself holding her breath, bracing for his answer, unsure of which one she wants to hear, which answer she’d be more disappointed by, “I don’t know.” He says.

“Oh.” Ingrid breathes, she has no other words.

Sylvain is silent for a second and the space between them feels expansive somehow as a million thoughts race through Ingrid’s head, all of them too difficult and complex to parse out now.

She thinks, they’re still too young to know, there’s too much going on, a war and too much death, they’re still, in a strange way, so new to each other, she doesn’t know what it means to want so she doesn’t know if she wants and so much more.

“I think-“ Sylvain ends up continuing, as he watches the war play out on her face, “-it’s okay not to know.”

The chaos in her head quells. It’s funny how something so simple can so easily battle the complexity of her thoughts and yet it does, and does so effectively. She knows that the matter is not yet resolved but it’s as through the both of them acknowledging that it simply cannot be resolved now is what makes it manageable.

She marvels at the way Sylvain can instantly make her feel better, marvels at the way he turns her hand over in his and traces her palms with his calloused but gentle fingers and she wants nothing more than to memorize him and the way it feels when he stills the world with his touch.

When his mother does inevitably bring up children at dinner, Ingrid finds herself brushing it off more easily than before. She catches Sylvain’s eye, and the small smile they share is enough for her to feel at ease. It is not the subject, she realizes, that makes her uncomfortable but the fact that she hadn’t known how he felt about it.

One day, they will talk about it more throughly but for now, it’s okay not to know.

Sylvain can tell that Ingrid is exhausted. She has hardly had a moment of rest since returning home. He knows that she has a harder time of it, knows because, while this is home for her, it is still a new home.

She has adjusted better than he would have the other way around.

His hands go to her shoulders as she sits in front of the mirror, rubbing away the makeup she only put on for dinner. He can feel her lean into his touch, feel her relax into the chair as he massages her neck.

He wants to ask her about her travels. She had only given the briefest of reports to his father but he wants to know all of it. He wants to know about the bruise against her ribs, wants to know what she’s thinking about while she is away.

He wants to go with her.

But she is tired.

It’s just that they don’t get many moments together anymore. Time between them is always limited. In the back of his mind, he is reminded that he could be called away at any second. There is an urgency that he feels every time he is with her. There are no lazy days with Ingrid, not truly, no real peace. They can only do their best to pretend the war away in their stolen intimate moments.

It should not be stolen. They are married and together and in love. He has more than he has ever hoped to have and yet somehow it is not enough.

He stays silent, purses his lips, focuses the way his hands feel on Ingrid’s shoulders and back.

Ingrid hums, eyes gently closing. She should go to bed. She needs to sleep. They could have tomorrow to talk.

But Ingrid does not. Instead, she asks, “What’s on your mind?”

He considers her question, considers bothering her with the details of his need to feel close to her, but instead, he says “You.”

It is not a lie.

“Hmm, that’s funny, because I was just thinking about you.” She says with a smile that he sees from the mirror, “How was Baron Dominic?”

Sylvain feels himself pause and sigh. Ingrid, sensing the tension opens her eyes and turns in her seat, frowning. “That bad?”

“Well, he didn’t run us out of the property.” He shrugs, trying to keep his tone light. “But he’s siding with Cornelia.”

Ingrid’s face falls, although she doesn’t seem too surprised. “Did you see Annette?”

“Yeah, but we didn’t really have a chance to talk.” At Ingrid’s worried expression, Sylvain quickly adds “She seems okay.”

“There’s that at least.” Ingrid sighs, “I don’t know what I’d do in her position.”

“I told her she could come stay with us if it comes to it.” He tells her. His conversation with Annette had been very brief. He was only able to see her for a few minutes before it was quickly deemed time to leave. Lines were quickly being drawn all across the country. He did not want to think too much about it.

“Good,” Ingrid nods, “we exchange letters but we can’t say very much.”

“For what it’s worth, she told me to tell you that she misses you. Also to pass along congratulations.”

Ingrid smiles at the thought of her bright friend and feels herself long for her time in the academy. “Did you tell her I miss her too?”

“Naturally.”

“I miss them all.” Ingrid continues, “And it’s not just the Blue Lions I miss. I worry about everyone. How can I not? We spent so much time with each other. You know Dorothea and I grew quite close?”

“I know.”

“And I can’t write to her. I don’t know what will happen if we meet on the battlefield if I can-“

“Hey,” Sylvain says, taking both her hands, “we don’t know if that’s going to happen.”

Ingrid throws him a sharp look, “It might.” She tells him, “And I don’t want to be unprepared for the possibility.”

“There’s no sense in torturing yourself over it Ingrid.” He tells her softly, “We don’t know what’s going to happen - if that’ll even happen. Who knows, maybe they’ll come around.”

“What if they don’t?” She asks, voice wavering, “We’re already fighting our own countrymen. Do you think there’s so little chance we’ll clash with the Eagles? And let’s not forget the Alliance.”

“Dorothea isn’t a noble.” Sylvain tries, “Maybe she-“

“But Bernadetta is!” Ingrid’s shouts, rising from her seat, “And so is everyone else. I wasn’t close with everyone but they were our classmates. What are the chances we’ll meet Ferdinand do you think?”

High, Sylvain knows, very very high. It’s ignorant to think otherwise, if his own position now as his father’s gofer says anything about the responsibilities of nobility, Sylvain knows that Ferdinand is out there somewhere too, gathering allies, working for his cause.

He never had any real love for Ferdinand but he saw him. He shared meals with him. He talked to him. He wasn’t some faceless solider behind a helmet. He was just another boy. He was just like him.

Sylvain had been repressing these thoughts since the war broke out, trying desperately not to think about it, trying not to humanize the enemies across the way, focusing very hard on negotiations with his neighbors instead, focusing on Faergus over the Empire. It was much easier.

But the crushing fact of their reality is quickly closing in. If even House Dominic could be an enemy-

If Annette-

No, he knows Annette, in their brief conversation she had made it clear who she aligns with but he knows that it would be difficult to face her family. He could not rip someone she cares about away from her.

Could he?

“I’m sorry.” Ingrid says, calming with a few deep breaths, “I’m not angry at you.”

“I know.” He tells her before moving to sit at the bed, rubbing his face with his hands, “This just sucks.”

And it was not the way he thought this conversation would go.

“Yeah,” She agrees, sitting next to him.

He contemplates tabling the conversation and suggesting they sleep instead but, with the way he feels, with the dark and heavy pit in his stomach, he is not sure he could.

“We can’t stop.” She says quietly, “But, sometimes I wish we could.”

“I wish I could go with you.” He admits, feeling exhausted too. He feels like he’s been fighting forever. He would much rather look for Dimitri than negotiate Alliances and fend off Sreng because that feels like an impossible task with no reward.

Ingrid’s hand is warm in his, “I wish you could too.” She whispers, leaning against him.

“How are you?” He finally decides to ask, when he really means, How is it?

“I’m okay.” She tells him, “Considering the circumstances. It’s...” She wrestles for the right word, not wanting to disillusion Sylvain from the image of their childhood friend.

He waits patiently for her response.

She knows he’s heard the rumors too. There are whispers and reports of it, but it is different to see it. If you don’t see it, you can almost pretend away the damage, convince yourself it is not as bad as it is. She does not want to destroy Sylvain’s friend for him. Not when she’s still reconciling the man she’s always known with the destruction he leaves behind.

She can’t help but think of Felix’s name for Dimitri. The Boar and she hates it. Because he is Dimitri. He is his Highness. He speaks to her kindly. He is the man she has chosen to follow.

“Difficult.” She says sadly. It is not enough, it explains nothing, but it is all she can say.

“What do you mean?” He presses.

“Sylvain,” She says, not unkindly, “I don’t think I’m ready to talk about it yet.”

He’s disappointed. He can’t help it. He wants to know everything about Ingrid and the things that go on in her head. He wants her to know him the same but it’s not like he’s sorted out his thoughts either. It’s not like he knows how to talk about all the things that go through his head.

“Okay.” He tells her, “But let me know when you are.”

“I will.” She smiles, burying herself into his shoulder, “I want to tell you Sylvain. I just don’t know how yet.”

“I can help.” He tries, with a gentle nudge.

“You already are.”

He takes comfort in this. He takes comfort in her. For now, it is all he can do.

Chapter Text

The next few years goes a little like this: Ingrid constantly away chasing ghosts and Sylvain pushing a border line back and forth in the snow with a desperate creeping exhaustion that chips away at his bones.

It feels a lot like losing.

Some days, Sylvain wonders how long he can keep this up. He can’t think far enough ahead to know what the end will look like and he doesn’t want to dream and long for winning when it might not happen.

Deep down, Sylvain supposes he has always been a bit of a cynic. The happy month before the war with Ingrid had made him dare to dream but now the weight squeezes in on him.

How does one cope?

He isn’t sure. He is afraid to ask. Afraid that there are no answers to be given to him or that he’d dislike all the answers.

He was not born a man of action. Not in the same way that Ingrid or Dimitri or even Felix are. Sylvain was someone who smiled, who ran, and, when it used to suit him, when it was easy, he would follow. Everything else he had to learn. It does not come naturally.

So when Ingrid still doesn’t want to talk about Dimitri. He does not push it. She is not ready to talk about it, she keeps saying, but as the days go on and on, he wonders if she will ever be.

And some part of him is relieved for that. It’s a shame, really, because he’s supposed to be there for Ingrid. He’s supposed to be there for his wife, his best friend, his partner but the truth is, he’s not entirely sure he’s ready to talk about Dimitri either.

He just doesn’t know what he can say. Dimitri, the man, the subject of him, is this heavy thing that presses against Sylvain’s chest. It’s this pulsing wave in the air between the two of them even when neither of them say his name. It’s an old and festering hurt that Sylvain is not prepared to own, and a righteous anger that he does not want to color the image he has of a young blonde boy with a terrible haircut playing board games in the palace courtyard.

Dimitri always had an uncanny ability to draw people to him, it is what made him a good prince, a good friend, Sylvain just never imagined he’d also be able to suck people into his stasis.

Some days, Sylvain is sure, more than sure, that Dimitri is still alive, and other days he wonders if perhaps they were all wrong. If perhaps they are only chasing a dream. Some days, he’s not even sure it matters.

And that thought makes him sick with shame. Of course he wants his friend alive. Of course he wants to hope but Goddess, on the cold winter days wandering in the snow, his hands frozen to the lance he carries across an expanse of white, Sylvain wishes that it would all just stop. That Dimitri could just stop. That his supposed rampage across their country would stop. That he would turn around or wait for someone to catch him or just die because then at least they would all know.

Sylvain just wants to know.

Is that too much to ask for?

(Yes.)

The Millennium Festival is around the corner. A promise from a life-time ago that binds them to this gathering. So much has changed that it feels almost silly to go but Ingrid has hung onto the date like a beacon.

If she can fulfill no other promise, if she is nothing but a failure,(as a knight, as a wife) then so be it, but at least she can say she’s met this one.

It feels a bit like hope. Ingrid sometimes forgets that she has it. Sometimes, when it is just her, flying in the skies that used to make her feel so free, she forgets that she is running towards something and not away.

This single promise is concrete. She needs concrete. She needs to accomplish something.

The last few years of failures is starting to catch up to her. It sows deep thoughts of doubt in her mind. She had set out to do a single thing - to find her prince.

She has failed.

Every small victory, every lead they chase, still does not manifest in any kind of real tangible result.

And she needs to produce tangible real results, otherwise she’s just another silly girl flying around the country. She knows that Sylvain’s parents disapprove, she knows that the only reason they don’t outright stop her is because of him.

She wants to say, I can fight my own battles, but she knows it wouldn’t be enough. Not because she isn’t strong, not because she can’t, but because they wouldn’t even let her fight. She is endlessly frustrated by the fact that she has to adhere to a game she doesn’t even want to play.

The only reason she has continued this far is because they had long since given up on their prince. It is safer to chase a ghost than the bandits at their borders.

Most of the time at least.

Sylvain doesn’t even want to go. He is tired. He is tired of being tired and the thought of traveling back to the Monastery during all this seems pointless really.

He must be spending too much time with Felix.

(This cannot be true. He does not remember the last time he has set his eyes on his friend’s face. He can barely remember the last time he has seen Ingrid. Instead he meets with the same nobles he had always tried to piss off and laments his foolish young self on coloring their perceptions of him.)

But the truth is, Sylvain has long since left his days of school behind. The reality of his day to day is that he doesn’t have time to reminisce and it is far easier not to.

He is only ever jolted into his history by errant infrequent letters or a last name mentioned across war table meetings. He does not have time to dwell, the best he can do is privately wish his old friends well and focus on the things right in front of him.

The Millennium Festival feels like a waste of time and he’s not entirely sure anyone would even bother to show up. He doesn’t need another nasty reminder of all the things they’ve lost.

He is already constantly reminded of that and all the things he’s never really had. He doesn’t want to be disappointed. He is not sure he can handle much more than this.

But he has no idea how he’s going to tell Ingrid. He doesn’t have the heart for it. He knows she’s not going to like it. He knows she’ll go anyway.

He is not sure he can follow. Not this time. Not for this.

Then, a week before the festival, Ingrid blasts through the house, with a fire he hasn’t seen in ages reignited in her eyes and before he can greet her, before he can even register that she is standing before him, she simply says,

“It’s him.”

And suddenly, just like that, something deep and dormant within him wakes.

“I saw him.” Ingrid tells him, pacing back and forth in their bedroom, tracking mud all over an ornate rug some lord whose name he can’t recall had sent them as a wedding present. Ingrid is still in her riding gear. She is dirt and mud and new bruises, but she has never seemed so beautiful. He doesn’t remember the last time she’s been so alive. “I saw him Sylvain.”

Sylvain wants to stop her, wants to calm her, but he doesn’t remember how to handle this Ingrid. This Ingrid that is pacing back and forth in front of him, barreling through her words faster than he has time to process any of them. He doesn’t know how to handle himself and the something buzzing in his body, making him feel just as restless.

“We were in the woods and I saw him. He’s alive. I mean, we’ve known he was alive for awhile but this is the first time I actually saw him. I know for a fact that he’s alive Sylvain. I saw him with my own eyes. Not just a glimpse of him, not ‘I thought I saw him’, I saw him. And he saw me.”

“Okay.” Sylvain breathes, “Okay. This is good, right? How-uh-how did he look?”

Ingrid stills mid-step for a second and finally turns to look at him.

It’s a grim gaze, her lips are pressed into a thin line, eyebrows furrowed deep. Any excitement from the news falls away and Sylvain feels his heart drop to his stomach.

“Not well.” Ingrid sighs, running a hand through her hair. “He’s...he’s missing an eye, I think. I watched him...”

She had watched him kill a man. It was swift and brutal, as all death was, and she had seen her friends kill before, she has killed herself, but something about the look on Dimitri’s face had startled her. As if he was angry at her, and yet also somehow vacant. It was a look she is sure she will not forget any time soon. And, to her deepest and most regrettable shame, Felix’s voice had creeped into her mind, carrying an old nickname she could never stand.

She wishes she can shake it.

Ingrid cannot say any of that. Instead, she swallows a growing lump in her throat, feels her fingernails dig deep into her palm and steels herself again. “It doesn’t matter.” She says firmly, “But he’s alive and I know where he’s going.”

“Did you talk to him?”

“He ran off before I could.” She admits, “I tried to follow but he slipped past me somehow. I don’t know how he keeps slipping past us, but he’s been moving south towards the Monastery. I think - no, I know that’s where he’s going.”

Sylvain wants to ask “how do you know?” But he does not. He cannot. He doesn’t want to because, despite himself, despite how utterly exhausted he is by all of this, he cannot help the faint creeping of the something good he feels ebbing into his veins.

The something good that feels a little bit like hope.

They set off that night, rushing over to pick up Felix before continuing. A Felix who had already packed a riding bag that Sylvain couldn’t help but point out.

If they continued at a fast pace, making infrequent stops, they could make it to Garreg Mach in time to fulfill a five year old promise.

It feels...almost too divine, but she uses that to push her forward. She is exhausted, she had had to reroute North in order to inform and pick up Sylvain but she couldn’t do this without him or Felix.

This is their break. It has to be. She can’t explain it but she can feel it. Something about this feels right - the timing of it all - and while it doesn’t erase the last five years of sleepwalking and strife, something about this feels good. It feels right.

And maybe it has to do with the brief moment of recognition in Dimitri’s eyes when she had called out to him. Maybe it has to do with the way his Highness had hesitated, breathing hard, right after the way he gored a man to death, enraged and screaming, maybe it was the fact that he almost looked sorry before she lost him to the trees.

Maybe it is because she needs it to be right. She needs to know that Dimitri is not yet lost. That somewhere underneath the five years of hate and rage and rampage, the promise of a man he used to be still exists, very very broken but not lost.

They will bring him back. They have to.

She doesn’t know what she would do if they don’t.

They don’t bring him back. Not really.

The reunion in Garreg Mach is a combination of great joy and horrible deep sorrow. The happiest revelation is that somehow, despite all of this, almost all of her old classmates are alive. That her missing Professor is somehow miraculously alive.

The fact that Byleth hadn’t aged a day is something Ingrid can consider later.

The deepest sorrow is that Dedue, someone with whom she had once spoken the worst and nastiest words to, had sacrificed his life for someone she holds very dear. Ingrid had always hoped that one day she would be able to properly apologize, to make up for her ignorance, and now she knows she never will. If her guilt feels crushing, well, she can’t imagine how Dimitri must feel.

She can only see the surface effects, can only watch her Prince stand at the same place in the once beautiful cathedral, and pray that he can find peace.

Because maybe if he does, the rest of them can too.

Chapter Text

No one ever talks about how dull war is. In every book Ingrid has ever read, in every story that enraptured her in her youth, there were always tales of action and gallants. Even the tragedies of those stories would be followed with brilliant and moving victories.

But the reality is that war is a long long stretch of waiting and biding time. It is grimness and defeat and fear, looming above, around, in and on them.

It doesn’t stop or give pause, no matter how much she ignores it, no matter how many little joys she tries to capture, and it is also not always brute physicality at every moment of every day.

It is a long battle against your spirit and that is much more difficult than any way her muscles ache or her skin breaks.

The brief spurts of excitement and adrenaline always end in tragedy. In battle, someone almost always dies.

It makes the lulls between them feel tainted. Any joy she feels tends to carry with it an enormous and crushing guilt. Guilt for those who have died, those she has killed, and also those who are still living. It is hard to shoulder against this slow march towards more death.

It is also isolating. Ingrid is no longer used to the hustle and bustle of big crowds or large gatherings of people. She had spent much of the last five years since war broke out by herself. First, she was stuck in Galatea and then, scouting with only the company of her mount and her endless wandering thoughts. The only person she had regular physical contact with is Sylvain and even then, those moments always too brief.

She does not remember what it is like to be an Ingrid with friends. She does not remember what it is like to feel her voice again.

She was never really a quiet child, although she had learned when and where to hold her tongue, but now, with many opportunities to freely speak, she finds that she is out of practice. It is almost as if she has nothing to say.

The spoken word during war time always seemed urgent, even with these long stretches of quiet downtime, as if they needed to ration them. Any frivolous conversation never felt right, felt like a waste.

The contradiction is confusing. All these words she has suppressed, words she wanted to say, thoughts and feelings that would cycle throughout her mind while she was soaring in the skies, and none of them were worthy. Instead she learned to speak in orders and reports and very little else. Even with those she holds very dear.

Now she is asked about her day, now people stop her to say hello, and now, she needs to train herself to say it back.

There is almost too much noise in the Monastery, a low constant quick hum of conversation that creeps around every corner. No one rations their words here, instead they frantically fill in the empty quiet spaces, speaking almost too much.

It is a little overwhelming.

Ingrid does not know if she misses the quiet. She doesn’t think she does. She remembers desperately missing her friends on many of the hours she spent flying above the world, wondering where they were, if they were happy, if they were safe, if they were even alive.

And now she has the opportunity to ask and yet, she does not know how to.

It is not a feeling she is used to. She has always been rather direct but the last five years have taken so much from her, it does not surprise her that it’s taken this too.

The mornings in the Monastery are quieter, although still not silent. Most people stay within the confines of their rooms early on before braving the day. She is sure that there are many early risers and many who never went to bed, but as if there is some kind of collective unspoken understanding of the necessity of peace, everyone remains quiet and calm. Maybe it’s because it still takes them by surprise, to awaken to a Monastery of battle-hardened people, to awaken to some form of hope.

Sylvain is not a morning person. He has never really been one. Ingrid remembers many Academy mornings spent knocking on his door, shaking him awake and dragging him into class by the ear as he groggily complained the whole way.

She would have never imagined then that she would one day wake next to him, would return after readying herself for the day to simply sit gently on the edge of the bed to run her fingers through his hair and feel this way about him as he sleeps.

She closes the door to the room as softly behind her as possible. They’ve decided to stay in Sylvain’s old room, where she had spent most of her nights on the days leading up to the attack on Garreg Mach all those years ago, partly because it was comfortable-Sylvain had never spent a night in her room after all, but mostly because the door to her old room had been knocked off its hinges and the thought of repairing it seemed tiresome and pointless.

Walking around the Monastery grounds feels a bit like a dream. It makes Ingrid feel five years younger, makes her feel like she’s living in a disjointed memory.

The grounds are the same. The sun still hits the cathedral the same way, casting the same shades against the courtyard but there are holes in the towers now, bricks broken and out of place, blood stains that haven’t been cleaned and the concept of restoration seems like a long and impossible goal too far away to think about when they still have enemies snapping at their heels.

None of the people are the same either. Five years, really truly is a long time.

Are her friends really still her friends after all this time? Will they see her the same? How could they, when she is not the same?

Annette spots her first, rousing Ingrid from the quiet familiar company of her thoughts, beaming brightly as always, as she used to all those years ago.

“Morning Ingrid!” She waves. Years ago, Ingrid might have expected Annette to skip over for a hug, but now her friend walks, mindful of the broken steps towards the dining hall. “I almost didn’t recognize you.”

“Good morning Annette,” Ingrid beams, taking in the sight of her friend. “It’s been awhile hasn’t it? Your hair’s really grown.”

“And yours hasn’t!” She jokes, before biting her lip, “Hmm, when was the last time we saw each other, I wonder...”

“You were with your father.” Ingrid remembers aloud, “We didn’t really get a chance to talk then, we had a lead about his Highness. It wasn’t too long after you left- erm.”

“No it’s okay.” Annette assures, resting a hand briefly on Ingrid’s forearm before retracting it, “I don’t mind. It’s just the way things are, you know?”

“Yeah,” Ingrid says, deflating, she is feeling terribly out of practice with Annette. She doesn’t remember the last time she spoke to a woman that wasn’t a solider or her mother in law. She doesn’t really remember the last time she spoke to a friend. “So, um, how’ve you been?”

Ingrid almost winces when she says it. It seems like such an empty question. It doesn’t nearly capture the many words she had wished to say over the years to her. It doesn’t express the admiration she has for her, for her choice to leave a House that allied with Cornelia and join a fight that was slowly losing.

“I’m okay.” Annette says simply, and Ingrid can feel, in her words, the distance between them, because she can tell, despite the years between them that there is more, that there is so much more but it is so much easier this way.

Ingrid would have answered the same, she thinks.

But then, against the shadows that slowly edge further and further back on the steps to the dining hall as the morning sun still rises, Annette continues.

“At least, I think I am. It’s hard to tell sometimes you know? Because, on one hand, I’m very happy to be here again. And I know I made the right choice, because we all found each other again and even though things still aren’t great, seeing us all here, fighting together, it feels right but- I just-well I regret leaving my mother behind and, there’s still so much ahead of us. So I guess, I’m mostly okay but still...processing? I don’t know.” Annette sighs, before quickly covering her mouth with one hand, “Oh, I’ve said too much haven’t I?”

Ingrid quickly shakes her head, “No!” She says, almost a little too loudly, “Annette, that was-that was just the right amount I think.” And, emboldened by her friend’s words, Ingrid finds herself talking too.

“I think we’re all processing. Or, I guess I can’t speak for anyone else but myself but I certainly am. Yesterday, the world was one way and today, it feels like everything is different and I want to say it’s good but it’s hard after everything we’ve all been through.”

“Yeah and it’s a little weird to walk around here again because I have so many good memories that I don’t want to lose but then I see something or someone and I know that this is not that. That we’re not kids anymore I guess. Even when I still feel like one sometimes.”

“Really?”

“Honestly Ingrid, I feel like I never know what I’m doing, I just...try to do what I think is right given what I know.”

“I don’t really know what I’m doing either.” Ingrid admits. She has never said that to anyone before, she has always had too much pride to but it feels relieving in a way to say it.

“That can’t be true!” Annette blinks, looking shocked, “Er- I mean, you are always so strong and noble Ingrid. There’s so much I admire about you, I think a part of me wanted to be like you.”

Ingrid feels herself flush. It is not often she takes a compliment like this. “Some people would call me bullheaded.”

Annette looks absolutely indignant, “They would be wrong!” She snaps, “Who’s saying this? Who do I have to yell at?”

Ingrid can’t help but laugh, can’t help the warmth that radiates off of Annette, even when her friend is outraged. “I don’t think yelling is going to change Felix’s mind,” She smiles, “But thank you Annette. That’s very kind of you to say but, for the record, there’s a lot I admire about you too.”

It’s Annette’s turn to flush, flustered, “Oh no, I’m just...me...you know.”

“I think there’s a lot of really amazing things about you. I’m truly honored that you’ve allowed me to be your friend.”

The weight in Ingrid’s chest relaxes with the way Annette smiles. Their shared honesty and the surprising willingness to be vulnerable makes all the guilt and grief feel easier to carry, feel like she can truly believe that another person, a person other than Sylvain, can help her hold it all.

There’s still so much she is thinking about. There’s the war, Dimitri, and an uncertain future ahead of her, but it is lighter somehow.

And in return, she knows she’ll help carry her friends too, if they ever need her to.

“Ingrid Brandl Galatea!” The voice is a song across the courtyard, one sung by a familiar but long lost friend, “Is that you?”

“Dorothea?” Ingrid can’t help but splutter, even as her friend races over to crush her into a hug that is readily returned.

“The one and only.” She grins, stepping back. “It’s so good to see you!”

Dorothea Arnault was a person that Ingrid didn’t think she’d ever see again. Not at the Monastery. Not as a friend.

“Likewise,” Ingrid beams, before shifting, fingering the wedding ring she keeps on a chain against her neck when donned in armor, “And it’s Gautier now actually.”

“No!” Dorothea breathes, looking surprised but not actually displeased, “You actually did it! You actually married him.”

“I did.” Ingrid laughs, “I actually really did.”

“When?”

“Hmm, a little over four years now I think? It wasn’t too long after, well...I would have invited you but it was a small ceremony and -“

“Oh don’t do that, Ingrid. Don’t apologize. Not for this.”

Ingrid almost protests but thinks better of it, “Okay,” She concedes, “I won’t.”

“So how is it?” Dorothea nudges, “Being married to Sylvain? Do I have to throw a fire spell or two his way?”

“What?” Ingrid laughs, “No! Sylvain is a perfect gentleman.”

“Really.”

“Okay, so maybe gentleman isn’t the right word but it’s good. He’s good to me.”

“Good.” Dorothea says, dropping her protective guise and softening, “I’m glad you’re happy Ingrid. I’m really glad. It’s all I ever wanted for you.”

“Thank you Dorothea,” Ingrid says, just as soft, “That means a lot.”

Dorothea smiles and Ingrid is struck by her suddenly, struck by how different she looks to her. In all of Ingrid’s daydreams about where her friends would be, she had always imagined them as they were in her memories, in an officer’s uniform and a youthful glow to their steps. And while Dorothea is not the starkest difference from her memories -that honor would probably be reserved for Ashe- there was still enough there that clashed with the image in Ingrid’s mind that it was impossible not to acknowledge.

Her friend has changed. She cannot imagine what the five years between them were like for Dorothea. With nearly everyone else, there was at least a passing mention of them, but she had not heard word from her friends in Enbarr. She wouldn’t have been able to.

She wonders if Dorothea is thinking the same thing, wonders if she looks different too.

“So, what are you doing here?” Ingrid can’t help but say. It slips out callously and too close to an accusation but before she can correct herself, Dorothea sighs, as if she had been expecting it.

“I just-,” She says, eyes darting around the courtyard to see if anyone else is around.

There are only a few errant stragglers running to and from buildings with chores on their mind, no one to listen or overhear. No one to care.

Dorothea breathes again, “I’ve always hated fighting.” Dorothea admits, “that was never the reason I came to the Academy. I honestly-I never really thought I’d actually have to use any of it but when Edie-when Edelgard declared war, well there’s no avoiding fighting in a war right?”

“No,” Ingrid says, “Not really.”

“I guess I could have stayed in Enbarr. Could have tried to return to singing and stay as far away from it all as possible but, you’re all here. Fighting each other and when I heard-I thought the festival- well-”

Ingrid says nothing. Instead she waits, unsure of the answer she wants to receive from Dorothea. Unsure whether or not she should wait to be disappointed.

“I guess,” Dorothea continues slowly, “I’m just trying to figure out if there’s a world in which as many of my friends live as possible. I know it sounds naive but- “

“No,” Ingrid says, surprising herself, “It sounds hopeful.”

And there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of hope.

Not everyone takes to Dorothea’s arrival well but between Ingrid and the Professor, they make a place for her in their slowly building army.

It does concern her, what Dorothea might do if they ever face one of the Black Eagles, if her friend might hesitate and freeze. Hell, it concerns her what she herself might do. It is not something Ingrid really wants to think about. She likes to think that she’ll do the right thing but she has no idea what that thing might be. It might depend on the circumstance and she can’t predict circumstance.

The best and smartest course of action is not to position themselves in that situation at all - to do everything they can to avoid it.

Goddess, she can only hope.

Dimitri probably takes it the worst although he doesn’t say it. He doesn’t say anything these days but she can tell. She can tell by the way he glowers that he does not trust Dorothea or anything remotely adjacent to the subject of Edelgard.

Sometimes she looks at him and wonders what he sees. If he can see anything at all past his rage. Sometimes she looks at him and wonders if he’s still there. She desperately hopes he is. She needs him to be.

She wonders, again, if she would be willing to die for him. For this version of him. The answer to that question has to be yes but it wavers now, wavers when she thinks of him and Sylvain. She is afraid of her answer.

No one really knows what to do with him. Ingrid feels cowardly for avoiding him. She hardly enters the Cathedral anymore for fear of looking at him.

Which seems silly when she had spent the bulk of the war looking for him, praying for him, and now there he stands and she cannot approach him.

Can she serve this man? This Dimitri? Is this the man she made her silent vow to? Does it matter if he isn’t?

Outside the Cathedral, by the raised heavy iron gates at the end of the bridge that leads back to the Academy, Ingrid wavers and waits underneath a fading star. Somewhere above, the moon is already out, even before the sun ducks beyond the horizon.

Everything in the sky seems so far away. It makes her want to fly to it.

She lingers here sometimes, only daring to catch a brief glimpse of Dimitri to remind herself that he is alive and to extinguish any hopes that he may have come around, it is taxing on her heart.

She doesn’t hear Mercedes approach, she is too busy letting her mind wander.

“Ingrid,” the older woman greets, “Hi. Is everything alright?”

She has talked to Mercedes since they’ve all reunited, although this is the first time they’ve been alone.

Mercedes has also changed but she is relieved to hear that her voice is still as kind as it ever was, as warm as it always will be and it does not surprise Ingrid to see that Mercedes holds a small tray in her hands with a dinner plate on top.

“I was just bringing this over to His Highness but maybe we can talk afterwards?”

Ingrid almost says no, almost shakes her head. It is instinct to stay strong, to look ahead, but it has always been hard to say no to Mercedes. It is hard to say no to the steady kindness the woman offers.

“Sure.” She finds herself saying.

They leave the Cathedral but do not wander too far.

“Is he eating?” Ingrid asks, breaking the silence between them as they find themselves walking aimlessly on the grounds. It is easier for her this way, to walk and talk. There is no pressure of maintaining eye-contact. No need to look directly at the way Mercedes’ smile never wavers.

“Hmm, not really.” Mercedes answers, “But I bring him all three meals just in case he finds the appetite for it.”

Ingrid nods, unsure of what else to say. Unsure of what she could possibly do.

“I talk to him sometimes.” She continues when Ingrid doesn’t, “I like to think it helps remind him of the people who care about him. Maybe if he hears it enough, he’ll come around.”

“I don’t know.” The words catch in her throat and come out in a whisper, but in the quiet grounds against a now set sun, Mercedes hears.

“I don’t either, but I have faith.”

“How?” Ingrid chokes, afraid to ask, afraid to say more.

Mercedes does not respond initially. She seems to mull over the question, allowing it to settle between them. Allowing Ingrid to process all the words that hang unsaid in the one.

“Because I remember.” Mercedes decides, “Because we all fulfilled a promise we made to each other before all of this and because I trust my friends.”

Ingrid has no words to follow that. It seems too simple when Mercedes says it.

“Dimitri doesn’t eat.” Mercedes continues, “Not really but he nibbles now. The first day, he threw the tray against the wall. He doesn’t do that anymore.”

Ingrid feels her breath break with Mercedes' words and she can’t stop the way her tears come. Mercedes’ hand holds firm onto her shoulder and something more than air releases from her chest. It is not relief. Perhaps it is grief, a sense of mourning for the man Dimitri used to be and the Ingrid that had chosen to follow him.

It is not relief. But it is close to. Maybe that’s good enough for now.

Chapter Text

With each and every day that passes at Garreg Mach, Sylvain feels more and more like himself. He’s starting to feel useful again, to feel like he’s actually doing something that matters. Ingrid tells him not to negate the work he’s done over the years but a lot of it felt like he was bandaging wounds and not actually repairing the damage. With the Professor and Dimitri back, it feels like they have a clearer path for the future. It feels like they have hope.

Even if that hope is tied up with all the rage radiates off of the way Dimitri glowers at the wall.

It helps that he gets to see Ingrid everyday. He is not going to pretend that her presence beside him doesn’t make him feel more like a human being and less like another chess piece in a game of war. He’s not going to pretend like the fact that his friends are here and alive, doesn’t make him feel like he’s five years younger, doesn’t make it easy to forget the way the years have changed all of them.

But he’s not an idiot, he knows things are different. It would be impossible not to notice the way everyone walks, more careful and slow, as if they are conserving as much energy as they can before they set off again to their next battle.

He trains more now. It would be stupid not to. The only reason he slacked off so much in school was because he could afford to. Now if he doesn’t someone will die. He cannot pretend that fact away. He cannot rely on the Professor or the Knights to protect him or his friends. He must fight to live. That is the reality of a war.

And damn it, does Sylvain want to live.

It’s not that he’s ever wanted not to live but now he has a shot at a real life, a life that he gets to mold and change and choose. He can’t give that up and he won’t apologize for wanting it. It’s not gracious and it’s not obedient but it is honest and real. He wants a life with Ingrid, he has no idea in what shape or form that will look like but he knows he wants more than the life he has given her so far.

He will fight like hell to get it. Even if it kills him.

The whole Monastery, broken as it is, bustles with people. Now that reinforcements have arrived, there’s enough people around that the sparing usually reserved to the Training Grounds and Knights Hall spills out into the courtyards and chatter continuously drifts through all the corridors.

Sylvain has always liked the noise but he likes it more now because it reminds him of the world he wants to return to one day, one full of laughter and love, one that he never truly appreciated until he was stuck in the snow with only the company of a battalion of boots against the trails, silent under his leadership.

He slips back into the environment better than Ingrid does. He has always been a people person, even when he hated them. He is good with people. He is good with noise. It suits him better than the quiet buzzing that goes on in his head when he spends too much time alone. But even if he wasn’t, he has had much more practice. His last five years were spent with people after all, even if they said very little, but Ingrid was mostly alone.

It makes him glad when he sees her chatting with someone and although a jealous selfish part of him wants to keep her to all to himself, a better part of him, the part that loves her more than he ever thought he could love at all, is so deeply pleased by the way he watches her smile with the others.

There’s just one problem, well, actually there’s two, if you count the way they’re both bothered by Felix’s even more obsessive training routines, but the big one is Dimitri and how Ingrid still won’t say a word about it.

Against the late afternoon sun, by the pier against the lakeside, he can see Ingrid chatting with Dorothea. She’s laughing at something and although Sylvain cannot hear it, he can feel it. He can feel the catharsis of that laugh, can see it in the way her body relaxes with it, can see, briefly, what it is like for her to forget for a moment.

He wishes he could give her that always.

It doesn’t take them long before they notice him and the bright smile Ingrid gives him is enough to shake the exhaustion from a long arduous training session with the Professor.

“Hey ladies,” He beams, finding his place next to Ingrid, “You’re both looking as beautiful as ever.”

Dorothea narrows her eyes at him, looking incredibly unimpressed but Ingrid simply swats him lightly on the arm before quipping, “You, on the other hand, look terrible.”

He can’t help but frown, “Hey, give a guy a break would you?” He says, running a hand through his hair, where the sweat from his forehead has it laying flat, “It’s hot and the Professor still doesn’t pull a punch. My pride and self-esteem has been thoroughly shattered. Along with a few bones I’m sure.”

“I see the last five years hasn’t changed your tendency towards the dramatic, Sylvain.” Dorothea says with a small smile. “Good to see you.”

Sylvain grins back. Ingrid had told him that Dorothea had returned to the Monastery but the two of them hadn’t crossed paths until now. “Good to see you too Dorothea. You look great.”

“Thanks, Ingrid’s right though, you look awful.”

“They don’t call the Professor the Ashen Demon for nothing you know.” He sighs, rolling his left shoulder. He knows he has a particularly bad bruise there from when he missed a block. He needs to train harder now that the stakes are even higher than they were before.

“Speaking of-“ Ingrid starts, “The Professor invited me to tea, I should probably get going before I’m late.”

Sylvain frowns, “Leaving so soon?”

"Sorry,” She says, reaching over to squeeze his hand, before glancing back at Dorothea, “I’ll see you at dinner?”

Dorothea nods, “I’ll be there,”

Sylvain’s frown deepens, “Not having dinner with me?”

The sigh that Ingrid gives is a warm one, warm enough to ease the slight disappointment that Sylvain feels. “Quit pouting, I have dinner with you every night.”

“I am not pouting.”

“You are absolutely pouting.” Ingrid laughs, reaching up to kiss him on the cheek.

“You know,” Dorothea says, interrupting their exchange, “he could join us, I don’t mind.”

Sylvain shakes his head before Ingrid can reply, “Nah,” He says, knowing how much time with her friends means to her, “I really was just pouting. You two should have a nice time. Ingrid’s right. I have dinner with her every night.”

“Thanks Sylvain.” She grins, “And now I really do have to leave, I’ll see you both later!”

Ingrid leaves with one last squeeze and he can’t help the way his eyes follow her before she disappears from his sight.

“Wow.” Dorothea says dryly, “I never thought I’d actually see the day.”

He turns his gaze back to Dorothea who is still smiling, although somewhat more subdued than she was earlier, “What?”

“A lovesick Sylvain Gautier.” She answers “It’s almost cute.”

“I mean, we were engaged in school. It really shouldn’t be a surprise.”

“Honestly, I didn’t actually think you’d go through with it. I was fully prepared to kill you.”

“Why does everyone say that?”

“Do you really have to ask?”

“Okay, okay,” Sylvain says with a laugh, holding his hands up in surrender, “fair point, but I really do love her.”

“Sylvain, anyone with eyes can see that.” She says rolling her eyes, “So how’d it happen? How did the serial dater end up falling in love?”

“Oh- uh-“ The question throws him off guard, no one had ever asked him about it before. He doesn’t have anyone who would even think to ask him about it. His parents were just happy he had chosen a wife, and cared very little if he loved her. His closest friends were Felix and Dimitri and he couldn’t imagine this conversation with either of them, especially as they were now. The only person who might have asked would have been Ingrid but they’d been together for so long, it just didn’t seem to matter anymore. “Well, I mean, even before we were engaged, I had a bit of a thing for her.”

Dorothea dismisses this with a wave, “You had a thing for everyone.” She says simply.

“Okay, yeah, true, but, you know, I always thought she was beautiful-”

“I’m beautiful but it’s not like you fell in love with me.” She says, before holding her palm up, “Don’t freak out, I’m not offended. ”

“Hey! I definitely asked you out and you turned me down.”

“That’s not true, we went on that disasterious date remember?”

“Oh Goddess,” He groans, running his hand through his hair, “you’re right, how could I forget?”

“Because Ingrid?” She presses, “ Come on Sylvain, I know you can be shallow but you’re not that shallow. If you were, she wouldn’t love you.”

“Why are you so interested in this anyway?”

“Because Ingrid’s my friend? And I want to make sure you’re good enough for her. Of course- no one’s really good enough for her.“

“Yeah, you’ve got that right,” He grins, “but I’m going to keep trying. Aren’t you a little late for this talk though?”

“Hey, I wasn’t invited to the wedding. I have to make up for lost time here.”

“You would have been.” He tells her softly, tone shifting. “She really wanted you there but-”

“I know-“ She interrupts, “so, how was it?”

“The wedding? It was…” A lot of things that he hadn’t thought about in a long time. He remembers being annoyed at the politics of the whole thing but, like he realized when he saw her for the first time in her wedding dress, none of it really matters in the end, what mattered was the way they stood beside each other and how they always will, “good.” He settles for because he doesn’t know how to articulate any of that, “Really good. Small.”

“Good.” Dorothea smiles, looking only a little wistful, “I’m glad. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there.”

“Dorothea, you’re here now.” Sylvain says, “It means a lot to Ingrid. I can tell. It means a lot to me too. How are you holding up with everything?”

“Oh don’t worry about me.” She says, brushing off something on her dress, “I’ll be okay. Thank you for saying so. It’s good to be here.”

They lull into a pleasant but brief silence for a moment before Sylvain breaks it again, “Hey Dorothea,”

“Hmm?”

“Has Ingrid talked to you about His Highness yet? I mean, has she said anything to you?”

“Oh, um, not really.” She says with a sad smile, “Sorry. She doesn’t seem to want to talk about it.”

“Right.” He says, with a sigh, “Okay, yeah, that’s about what I expected.”

“I’m sorry Sylvain. I’m sure she’ll talk about it when she’s ready.”

“Yeah, yeah you’re right.”

He just doesn’t know how much longer he can wait for her to be ready.

Felix never stops training. Sylvain has barely gotten a word in to his friend because of it. Every time he tries, Felix snaps something at him it but that is nothing compared to the way Dimitri rages.

It is unsightly on the battlefield, the way Dimitri tears into battalions of people with Areadbhar, the way he screams and yells when he charges forward. It makes Sylvain wonder what he looks like, charging at his enemies on horseback, The Lance of Ruin at his side.

Is he like Dimitri?

Once upon a time, that would have been something everyone wanted him to aspire to, even though Sylvain never bothered to, but now, Dimitri just seems so broken. He has never seen his friend like this. Not even after Duscur.

And he hadn’t done anything then either.

He remembers feeling like he was encroaching in a territory of grief that he had no part in. Dimitri had lost his whole family, Ingrid her fiancé, Felix his brother but Sylvain had, at most, lost a friend.

He hadn’t known what to say or do then other than give them space.

He doesn’t know what to do now.

He had never been very good at anything serious or heartfelt. Dimitri was the Prince, and never confided with him much, not with things of this nature because a Prince has a image to uphold, no matter how young or close they were. Felix was thorny and man who valued action over words. The closest he had was Ingrid, who, although always kind, was also very sharp at times and very honest.

Things are different with Ingrid now, of course, but it is still not something that comes naturally to him. He is working at it, conscious of the all the things he wants to say to her. He tells himself to talk to her and most of the time they do. Most of the time, it works out. He has never regretted saying anything honest to Ingrid, he doesn’t think he ever will, but it doesn’t mean it is easy. In fact, it can be quite exhausting.

And talking to Ingrid about himself and each other than is very different than talking about others.

It is nearly impossible to talk about Dimitri.

Because, the honest truth is, Dimitri terrifies him. The honest truth is, he has no idea who this man is anymore. The Dimitri he knew was never this reckless in his anger, would never put revenge above reason.

And yet here they are.

And Sylvain’s terrified it will kill them all.

Ingrid will follow Dimitri wherever he goes, as will the rest of the Blue Lions. He refuses to make her choose between him and the war. The best – the only thing Sylvain can do is follow her lead and hope that they make it out of this alive.

But it feels wrong not to talk about it and it doesn’t change the fact that he wants her to choose him. However selfish that may be.

They march on the Great Bridge of Myrddin in three days. It is their first major offensive operation, and while he will admit that he prefers being on the offense than biding time defensively, it still makes him anxious. He understands now why Felix always seemed so agitated and restless, he feels it now too whenever they have to wait and plan out strategies in the war room.

He Is looking for Ingrid when he runs into Mercedes, she has no tray in her hands, despite it nearing dinner time. He knows that she’s the one who’s been making sure that Dimitri is being fed. Last he heard, his Highness has started to eat again, probably gaining strength for the attack.

“Hey Mercedes,” He greets, stopping her, “Have you seen Ingrid?”

“Oh yes,” Mercedes says, “She’s bringing dinner to Dimitri.”

He doesn’t bother to hide the surprise in his face. “Oh, er- I thought you usually did it.”

“I do.” She affirms, “But Ingrid said she wanted to help today.”

“Oh, okay.” He nods, feeling very stiff, “Thanks Mercedes.”

“Of course Sylvain. Did you need her for something?”

“Oh um, no, not really.” He shrugs, “I just wanted to see her.”

“That’s very sweet of you Sylvain.”

He doesn’t know what to do other than give her a sheepish smile. When Mercedes leaves, he finds himself standing still in the hallway, wondering if it would be best to just leave it be.

Dimitri does talk. He is not mute. He just simply does not talk to him. To be fair, Sylvain has spent the better part of the last month avoiding the man. It is somewhat cowardly, he knows, but he has nothing to say to him. Conversely, it isn’t like Dimitri had been seeking him out either.

At least, that’s what Sylvain’s been telling himself.

He is coming to terms with the fact that perhaps he was never as close to Dimitri as he thought he was. And he certainly doesn’t know this Dimitri and he doesn’t really want to.

He wants to know the Dimitri from his childhood. A friend, a man he had admired. He doesn’t want to know this man. This man that calls himself a walking corpse. The whole thing sits uneasily in Sylvain’s stomach.

He hadn’t exactly planned on going after Ingrid after Mercedes’ had directed him but his body had taken him to the Cathedral without his notice and now he stands, outside the Church doors, wondering if he should go in.

There is no one else in the Cathedral right now. It is dinner time and everyone has already retreated into the Dining Hall. It is only Dimitri, standing his constant stoic vigil, and Ingrid sitting on the closest pew.

He can’t hear what’s being said, he’s too far away, but the low murmur of her voice tells him she’s talking. He waits for Dimitri to answer.

Nothing comes.

Ingrid carries on nonetheless.

He doesn’t enter. He doesn’t stay. The moment feels horribly private and he can’t help the way the distance between the three of them settles in his body. The restlessness from earlier magnifies tenfold and Sylvain can’t help the overwhelming urge to run or hit something or just keep moving.

His mind buzzes. He wants to know what Ingrid was saying but he's also afraid to know.

He wants to save Dimitri but he’s not sure if there’s any saving his friend.

In three days, their mission could fail and they could all die.

Thoughts like these continue to pile and, without anywhere else for them to go, they end up sinking deep into the way his fingernails tear through the palms of his hands.

Chapter Text

There is something going on with Sylvain. It might be hard to tell to some of the others. He still laughs the same, still jokes and charms and smiles but Ingrid does not have to have been his wife for over four years to tell that there’s something bothering him.

She would have caught it anyway, given their long history of friendship. She would have known. Just like she knew the true extent of his bitterness at his stature long before they ever talked about it, like she knew that all the women were a way to rebel and to cope. It is why she always cleaned up after him, no matter how endlessly it frustrated her.

Just like she knows how sweet Felix can truly be, underneath all the grief and gruff that he hides behind, just like she used to know Dimitri.

Ingrid would have caught it. She would have known. She does not need to feel the blisters set into Sylvain’s hands, angry and raw, or notice the way he quickly and breezily brushes aside her prodding with the way he tucks her hair behind her ear or kisses her cheek to know.

She has been giving him space. He had made a promise to her, they had made a promise to each other, they would talk and communicate and be honest. He will talk to her when he wants to.

She hopes.

But he is lying. She asks him how he is and he says he is tired or that he is fine and she knows he is lying.

He used to be so good at it.

She used to call him out.

It is as if something about being in the Monastery has propelled Sylvain backwards and instead of the sweet honest comfort they had found in each other, there is this strange distance that she cannot breach, a distance that is more than physical.

Or maybe, it is simply the first time she’s noticed it.

The assault on the bridge is still two days out. Sylvain had already been asleep when she returned from a long walk on her own after her one-sided chat with Dimitri and although nothing was resolved, she does think there is something to Mercedes’ words. That there is still some faith to be found in her friend, somewhere.

She doesn’t really remember what she said to him. It had been quite rambly and unrehearsed. She had, initially, planned to say nothing at all.

But something about the way Dimitri looked, under the moonlight shining through from the giant hole in the Cathedral walls, so silent and so sad, made her want to say something.

And while Dimitri did not respond. He did finish his plate, and when he handed it back to her with silent thanks, she could see, in his eyes through all the rage and stubbornness, some remnant of her friend. She cannot shake the boy she has always known. She cannot shake the prince she promised to follow.

Not when he stands in front of her, so broken and lost, not when he needs help.

“I missed you at dinner again.” Sylvain says casually as he watches her ready for bed, leaning against the door frame, already stripped of his armor but not entering.

“Oh yeah,” She replies, slipping her shoes off, “Sorry, I asked Annette to tell you not to wait for me.”

“Yeah,” He says with a shrug, “She mentioned. It’s fine, I had dinner with Felix.”

“How was it?”

“Oh you know,” He waves, “I talked, Felix pretended to listen, we ate food, he might have grumbled something, I pretended to listen, then we repeated until all the food was gone.”

“So, the usual.” She grins over her shoulder as she pulls the covers off.

But Sylvain still doesn’t move. He smiles but there’s something stilted in it, as if it’s not quite genuine. It’s this that makes her stop, makes her turn around and cross the room, over to him.

She is relieved when he doesn’t pull away and it concerns her that she thought for a second that he might, thought for a second that he would shake her hands out of his as she reaches for it.

“Hey, is something wrong?” She tries, trying to catch his eyes.

He looks at their hands, at the way he gently traces the back of hers with his thumb, and she feels all the roughness of his skin from all the blisters and callouses formed from years of wielding a lance in battle.

“No, nothing,” he says, voice low and quiet.

There’s a noise from somewhere down the hall, a door opening and closing, but Sylvain does not move, does not enter the room, and they do not close the door.

Ingrid cannot help her frown, even when she doesn’t know why she’s doing it.

“Are you sure?” She asks, tugging gently in hopes that he will follow.

Sylvain smiles again, this time accompanied by a shrug, “We’re about to march into battle,” He says, “So I might be a little worried.”

It is reasonable enough. Ingrid is worried too. Anxiety is like a low buzzing that exists underneath your skin and in war, it never goes away, but something doesn’t feel right.

It doesn’t feel like a lie. She remembers when Sylvain used to do it easily, used to do it flawlessly, but now, it is almost as if he is out of practice. This isn’t a lie, she doesn’t think, but it doesn’t feel like a whole truth either.

“I’m worried too,” She confesses, “But we’re ready for it. Everyone is ready and we have the Professor and His Highness now.”

“Hm.” It is a single sound but she feels the brunt force of it. It is an ending sound. It is one where he expresses without a word, how little he wishes to say.

“Come on,” she coaxes, pulling his hand, this time more forcefully. Sylvain steps in, past the threshold and something like relief fills Ingrid’s lungs, “I can’t help if you don’t tell me what’s wrong.”

His expression darkens, his fingers stop tracing parts of her hand, but at least he doesn’t let go. Ingrid has no idea what she has said that would have caused that reaction but she can tell that she has said exactly the wrong thing somehow.

“Right.” He says, tone clipped, but as if he hears himself, he takes a breath, and relaxes, his voice returning to its normal light cadence, a small somehow sad smile gracing his face. “Can’t a man want to save a little face in front of the woman he loves?”

“Please,” She says, rolling her eyes, “You know can tell me anything.”

“I know.” He breathes, “You can too.”

She smiles, lifts one hand to rest against his cheek, “I know,” she tells him.

He takes in a slow breath, takes the tiniest step backwards, lets the grip in their hands loosen, and waits for her hand to fall from his face with a frown.

He has never backed away from her like this.

“How’s His Highness?” He says suddenly, turning to close their still open door. The soft tenderness of the room falls away when he faces her again.

“Erm-” Ingrid startles, “About the same I suppose.”

“That’s a shame. You think he’ll be okay once we get to the bridge?”

“I think so.” Ingrid says, “He was very insistent on heading into the Empire after all.”

“Yeah but do you think he’ll be okay?” He presses, “Once we get there. Is there something the rest of us should know?”

“What?”

“Well, you’ve been talking to him haven’t you?”

He tries to say it easily, tries to say it casually, but something about it feels like an accusation, although Ingrid has no idea what she is being accused of. It strikes a nerve somewhere within Ingrid. One that forces her to calm a strange flaring in her chest. One that feels like anger.

“He’s my friend.” She says, evenly, even though she does not need to explain, “Yes, I’ve been talking to him.”

“Has he said anything to you? Anything that we should know?”

“Know about what?”

“You know what he’s like now,” He says vaguely, “I just want to make sure that we have a good idea of what to expect from him.”

“Sylvain where are you going with this?”

“I just want to make sure that we’re all going in with clear heads.”

“Well we’re not.” She says bluntly, crossing his arms, “Nobody is. Dimitri isn’t. You’ve seen him but if you’re asking me if he’s going to jeopardize his mission, the answer is no.”

“See, I was under the impression that we’re all in this together. That it was our mission.”

“We are! It is!”

“Oh is that why, instead of going to take back Fhirdiad we’re going to march straight into the lion’s den?”

“Sylvain,” she sighs, calming, “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. No one is forcing you to.”

“Are you kidding?” He fumes, voice low and dark, “So what, I’m just going to watch my friends and my wife march straight into battle and what? Just stand here? Of course I’m going.”

“Then what is all this about? Why haven’t you said anything before in all our war meetings and-”

“What am I supposed to say? Oh, that this is a terrible idea? What’s that going to do? We already know that! It’s not going to change anything. Whatever His Highness says, we’ll do, even if it gets us all killed.”

“He’s our Prince-”

“He’s not though!”

The way he says it, rough and raw, almost breaks her heart.

The room goes silent then. She watches Sylvain breathe heavily, watches his chest rise and fall, watches how his hands fist until his knuckles are white, watches him registers his own words in his eyes.

“You can’t tell me he is.” He says sadly, quietly.

“We’ve all changed.” Ingrid concedes.

“Sure we have.” Sylvain says, “But this is a little more than that don’t you think?”

“He’s…” She struggles for the words, desperate to put her words in the right order, “He’s broken Sylvain. He’s been through so much but that’s why he needs us. We can help put him back together. He’s still in there somewhere.”

She watches Sylvain hesitate, as if mulling over how much more he wants to fume, how much anger he wants to hold onto and she braces for it. Braces for an argument that will surely seep through the thin walls of the dormitories, but instead, Sylvain sighs. He crosses over to her and presses the lightest kiss on her forehead before pulling back and away. “You should get to bed.” He says quietly, before turning towards the door.

She catches his wrist. “Where are you going?”

“There’s something I have to do.” He tells her, “Don’t wait up.”

She lets him go.

That night, he doesn’t come back.

This time, when Sylvain finds himself in front of the Cathedral doors, it’s deliberate, but he still finds it hard to go in. It’s late now, and he’s lead only by the bright light of the moon overhead and his memory. There is only one possible person that could be inside right now.

Sylvain breathes in deep slow breaths, trying to shake of the adrenaline he still feels from the outburst he had with Ingrid. It is not the first heated argument they’ve had. They’ve fought many times throughout their friendship and even throughout their marriage but none of them had been like this. None of them had him feeling so unhinged and on edge and as if it would take more than a simple apology to fix.

He’s not sure he knows how to handle it.

But he’s in front of the Cathedral doors now searching for Dimitri.

He has spent all this time avoiding him, all this time on the cusp of speaking about him, but something about the way Ingrid spoke about him with so much desperate clinging hope, takes him here.

Dimitri is sitting in the pew furthest from the door, he is scrunched over, resting his chin on both his hands, elbows against his knees. If he wasn’t so large, if the moon hadn’t shone in through the giant hole in the ceiling, Sylvain would have missed him entirely.

“Hey,” he greets across the chamber, listening to the way his voice echoes off of the debris.

Dimitri flinches but does not startle more than that. Sylvain is relieved for it. He had been bracing himself for the possibility of having to dodge a dagger. It would not be the first time Dimitri reacted on instinct.

“Sorry I haven’t come to see you.” He says, approaching. “I’ve been busy.”

There is only moonlight and the soft crunch of his boots on the tiles.

Sylvain settles into the pew behind Dimitri, shuffling a bit as he does. “But to be fair, it’s not like you’ve come to see me either. I’m a little hurt by it really. Not going to say hi to one of your oldest friends?”

When Dimitri doesn’t answer, Sylvain lets out of long loud breath. “I haven’t even heard you speak, well, except to yell or growl.”

A part of him, a vindictive part of him, almost mentions Edelgard, but he bites his tongue. It is too late for another fight and Dimitri would almost certainly crush him.

Sylvain settles deep into his seat, he kicks his legs out in front of him, pulls both his hands back to settle on the back of his neck, and stares up at the ceiling. He can no longer look at the back of Dimitri’s head.

“Fine, I’ll just talk. I’m good at that anyway right?” He muses lightly, “Or well, I used to be, but I used to say a lot of things that didn’t really matter. I think that’s why I’m having such a hard time talking to you because, I don’t know, there’s a lot of things that do matter now and I don’t really know how to say it. I’ve been trying to get better at it, you know, for Ingrid’s sake. Oh, we’re married now. Did she tell you that? She probably did. It must have come up, I mean, we have been for awhile now but you haven’t been around and…well I always thought you’d be around for it. The wedding, I mean, my wedding.”

He lets himself glance at Dimitri for a second, watches as he shifts, but still does not speak. It grates something deep inside Sylvain, so he rises, and finds himself a few feet in front of Dimitri, who stares only at the ground.

“Look,” Sylvain says, serious now, “Dimitri, if you’re still in there somewhere, will you just - will you just say something? Or do something? Please? Because Ingrid still thinks you’re you. She thinks that underneath all of- all of this, you’re still in there somewhere. And I think she needs you to be. She needs you to be you. So please. Please, Dimitri. Please try to be you.”

Dimitri still does not move.

“Damn it Dimitri!” He explodes, desperate now, selfish now, “In two days, we’re going to try to take the bridge and I need to know that you won’t get us all killed. That you won’t get Ingrid killed. I need to know that this is the right call.”

He glares deep at Dimitri, glares and hopes to see something there, but Dimitri will not look up. Sylvain cannot tell in the darkness if his words hold any weight at all.

But then, he hears something, low and quiet, an angry barely contained grumble. “Are you done?”

Sylvain tenses, Dimitri offers him no comfort. “Yeah.” He says finally. “I’m done.”

He marches towards the Monastery grounds but before he makes it to the door, he hears Dimitri’s bitter voice sing one last song, “It’s the only call.”

He ends up wandering into Garreg Mach. It is stupid and dangerous. He is weaponless and alone but it ends up being fine. No one attacks him and he returns by dawn.

He just needed some time to clear his head.

Sylvain is rarely up early enough to see the sunrise. He was always a bit more of a night owl than an early bird. In his youth, it was because he was usually preoccupied by something or someone, but even now, he tends to end up drifting off long after Ingrid has already fallen asleep. He usually spends that time thinking or listening to her heartbeats.

It is stupid not to sleep, especially so close to battle, he needs to be well rested. His mind needs to be sharp. His body needs to be sharper.

The Monastery is quiet in the mornings, very few people are up this early, but he can already hear the bustle in the kitchens as they prepare for breakfast, can hear the way the birds chirp across the courtyards at each other. It is peaceful in the morning, a quiet calmness that only seems to agitate him. It feels as if there is something he should be doing.

He just doesn’t know what that is.

With mid-morning comes the hardest and most unsuspected and relentless series of whacks on his arm he has ever had.

“Ow, Ow!” He says, doing his best do dodge away, gripping his upper arm, “What the hell Dorothea?”

In retrospect, he really should have expected this when he saw Dorothea storming towards him from across the courtyard.

She pulls her hands back, laying them both pointedly on her hips, shooting the darkest and fiercest glare he has ever seen at him.

“What the hell Sylvain?!”

Sylvain recoils, “You’re the one hitting me!”

“You’re lucky I don’t set your hair on fire.” She snaps, “You and Ingrid look absolutely dreadful today and Ingrid mentioned you never returned to the room after your fight. What the hell happened?”

He feels himself groan and rub a hand over his face, “She told you we had a fight?”

“No,” She says curtly, “I heard the fight.”

“Your room is outside!”

“Okay fine, everyone else heard the fight.”

“Damn it.” He sighs, exhausted. He hadn’t slept at all, he has no energy for this conversation.

“So what did you do?”

It annoys him deeply how everyone seems to think it is always his fault. He knows a part of it has to do with a reputation he had purposely cultivated but he has long since left that boy behind, even when old memories creep up on him in familiar places.

“Why don’t you ask Ingrid?”

“I did!”

“And she didn’t tell you?”

Dorothea purses her lips, “She did,” she admits, “But she also told me that she’s not really sure what happened.”

“No offense Dorothea,” Sylvain grumbles, “But I don’t really want to talk about this with you.”

Dorothea seems to consider this for a second before shrugging, “Fair enough,” She concedes, “But where did you go last night?”

“Why do you care?”

“Call me curious.”

He eyes Dorothea for a moment, studying her, suspecting her, wondering how quickly she will run back to Ingrid and relay everything he will say and has already said. He is bitter about it, he knows, maybe he hasn’t left that boy behind.

“I went for a walk.” He settles for. It is not a lie.

“A walk.” She does not look convinced.

He almost tells her to go to hell. “Yes,” He grits, as politely as he can, “A walk.”

“All night.”

“Yes, all night. What? You want me to prove it?”

“Can you?”

He doesn’t dignify her response with words. Instead, he shoots her a glare.

Dorothea sighs, she raises her hands from her hips in surrender, “Sorry,” She says, which surprises him, “I know it’s none of my business but Ingrid’s my friend and she was really worried about you. You should go talk to her.”

“You’re right, it’s none of your business.” He can’t help but bite, “But I will.”

Dorothea gives a curt nod and leaves.

On the training grounds, Ingrid batters a wooden dummy so ferociously that it nearly cracks entirely in half while Felix watches, arms crossed, several feet away.

“You going to do that in battle?” He finally says as she rests in between several sets of her near relentless onslaught.

“What?” She huffs, turning to face Felix. She almost didn’t hear him, drowned out by the clashing around them and the sound of her trying to catch her breath.

Felix simply points to the dummy and Ingrid registers for the first time, how unusable it has become, how destructive she had been in her frustration.

“Isn’t that a good thing?” She tries, before frowning at the thought of doing that to a human being. She tries to shake the thought of her mind and refocuses on Felix.

Felix hardens his look, he does not look pleased or impressed. If anything, he looks utterly disappointed. “Not if you’re barely breathing and leaving yourself open to attacks.”

“I was not leaving myself open to attacks.” She counters immediately, despite not knowing whether or not it is true. She wants to believe that her years of training would hone her body to be automatically defensive but it doesn’t always work like that.

“I was watching you.” He says and though he does not raise his voice, she can tell his annoyance is born out of a worry. She would normally be touched had she not been in such a bad mood. “You were leaving yourself open.”

She ignores him, re-racks her training lance, and moves to grab some water.

Felix continues, “You were out of control.” He chastises, in a tone not unlike one the Professor would use, “Almost like you were channeling the-”

“Don’t.” She snaps with a glare.

Felix halts, but only for a second, “You don’t have his size.” He continues, very clearly trying to level his tone, “or his brute strength. You can’t fight like that.”

Everything Felix says is true. She knows it is true. She knows she is being reckless but right now, she is too frustrated and annoyed to want to do anything but argue. She didn’t get a chance to last night with Sylvain. Not really. His tone had been so sharp with her and it had surprised her too much to be indignant, instead, all she could do was try to placate him, to be tender and understanding, and then he had left and she had let him.

“I know.” She tells him, hoping, for the first time in a long time that Felix would stop talking.

Normally he does. Normally he gives up. Felix is good like that. He rarely pushes her too hard. It is often the other way around and he is the one storming off.

“You need to focus.” He says, in that tone again. It’s condescending coming from him. She doesn’t know why.

“I know.” She grits, feeling more and more agitated with every word. She knows she is conveying how much she wants him to stop. She knows because he does it all the time. It is in the way she stands, the way her eyebrows are furrowed, the way she refuses to look at him.

“We march tomorrow.” He continues, ignoring her signals that she knows very well he can read, “You need to get your head on straight.”

“Really Felix?” She snaps, “You’re going to be the one that tells me to keep myself in check? You?”

It is a low blow. It is mean and petty and bitter. She doesn’t mean anything by it. Not really.

“When I’m fighting or training, I am always focused.” He growls, “Always.”

She knows this to be true. Felix only seems hotheaded because of the sharpness of the words that come out of his mouth but he is actually quite controlled and deliberate. He is cold and occasionally mean but he is hardly ever impulsive. That would typically be reserved for Sylvain and now Dimitri, she supposes.

“I know.” She says again, for what feels like the hundredth time today. She doesn’t like the person she is today, “I’m sorry I’m just tired. I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.”

Felix calms but only for a bit before he crosses his arms and surveys her. “We march tomorrow.” He repeats, “We can’t have you like this. If you don’t figure it out, it’d be better if you just sit this one out.”

Ingrid feels herself flaring up again, “That’s not going to happen.” She tells him curtly, careful not to yell and attract too much attention to them, “Look, I know you mean well but I’m not going to have another man tell me whether or not-”

“I’m not telling you sit on the sidelines because you’re a woman Ingrid.” He interrupts, before surprising her by putting his hands on her shoulders, hard but steady, “I’m saying that I don’t want my friend to go into battle distracted because I don’t want them hurt or worse.”

Ingrid bites her lip, “Sorry.” She says again, “Instinct.”

Felix ignores this, “Is that what happened?” He asks, stepping away “Sylvain say he didn’t want you to fight?”

“What?” She exclaims, loud enough for a few people to glance over curiously, she lowers her voice again to a respectable volume, “No, he wouldn’t do that.”

Felix frowns, but then shrugs, “Right, because between the two of you, he’s the one who should stay behind.”

“Hey!” She can’t help but smile, “He’s gotten a lot better.”

Felix simply raises an eyebrow. It almost makes her laugh. It is weird how something small can make her feel so much better so quickly. She is still frustrated and exhausted but the tense air has lightened somehow. People really don’t give Felix enough credit. He is much more attentive than he seems. He just also happens to be a caustic about it.

“Whatever happened,” Felix eventually says, “And I don’t want to know-” He stresses when Ingrid opens her mouth to start to interrupt, “You two need to work it out. Before tomorrow.”

Ingrid sighs, “I know.” She says again.

“And get some sleep.”

He leaves her to it then. She does not spend the rest of the day destroying the training dummies like she had planned to.

She finds Sylvain alone in war room, of all places. He is standing, staring at the map, eyebrows furrowed as he thinks, visage lit by afternoon sun beams through dusty window panes. Looking at him, at the seriousness of the gaze he sets upon the battle plan, she is reminded by how much he has grown and changed with the way he wears his war armor and yet, at the same time, a strange sense of conflicting nostalgia washes over her.

She has always known that this is the man Sylvain could become once he reached past all the flirting and half-halfheartedness. She has always known that he cared deeply for people and that he does have a sense of duty, no matter how hard he used to deny it. If he didn’t, he would have disappeared ages ago.

It is why it used to grate on her so much. It is why she did everything she could to fix his mistakes. She thinks, maybe a part of her had been trying to mold him into this man, as unfair and horrible as that sounds, mold him into a man that she could love.

But Sylvain had just been so angry and so young. So reckless and purposefully stupid, but only because of a long enduring pain.

And still she fell. Maybe not immediately but she did. And not only with the man that he has become but also with the man he used to be and in some ways, still is.

Within Sylvain, much like within herself, and everyone else she knows, is a duality. One that she can see in the way the Monastery simultaneously revitalizes and chips away at him. A boyishness combined with a youth so desperately yearned for that had been stolen from him, stolen the day his brother threw him into that well. The boy he wishes he could earnestly be, without the bitterness he tries to pretend away.

He is so strong. She loves him so fiercely and so deeply in this moment looking at him that it almost steals her voice away. He has certainly already stolen her heart.

Ingrid has loved before just, not quite like this.

“Sylvain,” She calls.

He glances up, catches her gaze from where she stands at the doorway and smiles. It is a warm soft thing, and the relief she feels from the sight of it is nearly overwhelming. “Ingrid,” he greets and his tone is tender although still loud enough to carry across the room.

He has bags under his eyes. It is clear that he has not slept. She had suspected when she first saw him this morning from across the dining hall but now, closer and later in the day, she can see exactly how the night has worn him.

She suspects she looks very much the same. She is terribly tired. She does not sleep as well without him and she certainly couldn’t sleep knowing that she is the reason he ran off and did not return.

“You didn’t come back last night.” She starts, stepping further into the room, but she is careful not to make it sound like an accusation, instead she says it as a quiet somber statement of fact.

Sylvain meets her partway, until they’re both standing at the end of the very long table. “I know,” He frowns, “I just needed some time.”

Ingrid nods and stares at the way she braces her hand on the back of a nearby chair.

They are quiet for a moment. It is the first time they’ve really seen each other all day. It is the first time they’ve been alone together.

“Ingrid,” he starts again, “About last night I’m-”

She snaps her head up, “I’m sorry,” she says first, says too quickly.

“You don’t have anything to be sorry about.” He tells her, reaching for her hand and slowly uncurling it from the way she grips hard on the chair. “I’m the one who snapped at you. I was in a bad mood and I took it out on you. I’m sorry about that.”

Ingrid bites her lips and looks into his eyes. He is earnest in this moment, honest, but she can’t ignore the words he had said, can’t ignore the bitterness in his voice last night and her role in it.

“You were in a bad mood,” she agrees, “and yes, you snapped and it was unfair but Sylvain, last night…it was about more than just a bad mood right?”

She thinks for a second he might brush it off but he doesn’t. “Yeah,” he tells her but then hesitates to elaborate.

She waits for him to continue, waits and watches him war with the words in his head. He has never been bad with them before. She doesn’t know how to coax them out of him.

She has to try. He has always tried with her. “We need to talk about Dimitri don’t we?”

His frown deepens, his shoulders slump, and finally he nods. “Yeah.” He says, “Yeah we do.”

Ingrid watches him pull out one of the chairs, watches him sit and face her, waiting for her to do the same.

“Dimitri is…” Sylvain tries, as Ingrid sits, “He’s a lot and I’m still trying to figure out how to feel about him.”

Ingrid stays silent, waits for him to continue or finish.

“I think-I think I get it now.” He says, “I think I know why you never wanted to talk about him because, well, I don’t really know how to talk about it either and I’m too exhausted to try to figure it out now but I also don’t want to go into tomorrow like this.”

“I don’t either.”

“So I don’t really know what to do right now.”

He looks at her and she sees the weight of his exhaustion, not just from the lack of sleep, but a deep long emotional one. An exhaustion from his childhood, from the last five years, from the distance she never noticed growing silently between them.

“Maybe,” she starts, “Maybe we don’t talk about Dimitri then.”

He frowns again, pulls back a little bit, Ingrid barrels on, desperate to catch him before he flees. “I mean, we have to, eventually, but right now, maybe we should talk about us.”

She is thankful when he doesn’t pull further away. She is thankful he stays. It almost makes her want to cry. She can see, in his eyes, that he likely feels the same.

“You’re mad at me.” Ingrid says.

Predictably, Sylvain very quickly tries to deny it. “I’m not mad at you.”

“Bitter then, or something. We’re all stressed and worried but you took it out on me Sylvain. I want to know why.”

“I guess, I don’t know, I was jealous maybe?” He offers, rubbing a hand against the back of his neck.

“Jealous? Of who?”

He does not answer.

“Of Dimitri?!” She asks, absolutely incredulous.

“It’s not like I think you’re going to run off with him or something.” He explains, “But yeah, I’ve always been jealous of Dimitri about something or other. Last night- lately, I guess I was jealous over you.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.” He admits, “It’s so stupid. I saw you talking to him and, I don’t know, got angry about it. It’s stupid.”

It’s funny how in an attempt not to talk about Dimitri, they end up talking about Dimitri. Everything seems to come back to the Prince.

“Sylvain,” she tries, reaching for him, she pulls the hand rubbing the back of his neck raw towards her and threads their fingers together, “It’s not stupid. Your feelings aren’t stupid but why didn’t you just tell me?”

He sighs but lets her hold his hand, propping his other hand table to support his head. “You shut me out Ingrid.”

“I didn’t-”

“You did.” He tells her, “You might not have done it on purpose but you did. I was getting better at talking to you, made of point of trying, but then you shut me out. You wouldn’t talk to me about, well, anything really. You wouldn’t tell me how you feel.”

She can’t help the way the indignation rises in her throat, can’t help the way she deflects and shoots out, “So your response is to shut me out? You walked away last night Sylvain!”

“No,” he says, but then sighs, leaning forward to hold her hand in both of his, “Yes? Maybe? I don’t know. I don’t always do the right thing.”

Ingrid furrows her brow, looks at their hands together, before shaking her head. “That was mean of me,” She admits, “I’m sorry.”

When he doesn’t say anything, she continues. “I’m sorry I shut you out.” She finally says, “I didn’t realize I was doing it. It’s just-there’s so much Sylvain. I don’t know how to say any of it. I don’t know where to even start and tomorrow-” the words get jammed up in her throat, she doesn’t know where the rest of the sentence is supposed to lead.

“Yeah,” He comments, more in reassurance than in agreement.

“It just got easier not to say anything.” She finally confesses, “It was easy to just be with you and forget or pretend.”

The sad look on his face tells her that he understands. The way he swallows tells her that whatever he wants to say dies at his throat.

“Maybe,” she tries, “maybe we don’t have to. Not yet at least. Maybe we just start by asking each other how we feel. That way if you’re bitter or jealous or mad or anything, I’ll at least know that. Can we just- can we just do that today? And then after tomorrow we can…we can see where we are?”

“Okay,” he agrees, closing his eyes, voice a whisper in the room, “Yeah, let’s do that for now.”

“How are you feeling right now?”

“Tired.” He says immediately, before mulling over his thoughts, then he exhales, “A little sad I think. Maybe still a little bitter. But mostly tired. How about you?”

“About the same,” She admits, “but also, I’m feeling like I love you.”

“Hmm,” Sylvain smiles, leaning his forehead against hers, she lets her free hand reach up to gently lay against his cheek. This time, Sylvain does not pull away, “I thought that was a given.”

Chapter Text

The day they march on the Great Bridge of Myrddin, Ingrid wakes wrapped in warmth. She sleeps in later than she usually does and finds herself woken by the hustle and bustle she can hear through the thin walls they all share instead of the early morning sun.

She can’t help but want to let the moment linger for longer. She knows that she has spent the last few years living for these little pockets of time, knows now that she can’t let herself hide in them anymore, but she also knows that they feel good. It is a hard habit to want to break.

But the way the foot steps stomp outside their room, louder and more boisterous than usual tell her that it is time to wake up.

She has no idea how long they’ve slept for. Yesterday, after their talk, they decided to retire, to try and relax and recover as much sleep as possible before battle from their shared sleepless night. Today is a big day after all.

She twists in his arms to face him, “Sylvain,” she tries but he does not stir.

She nudges him with her leg and tries to untangle from his grip. It is only when he tightens it, when he burrows further into her that she knows he’s awake, that perhaps he has been awake for some time. “Let me go,” she can’t help but laugh.

“No,” He says, muffled in her shoulder.

“Get up before I throw you off the bed.”

She can feel him pout and pause, considering whether or not she would actually do it, before sighing.

“Fine.” He grumbles, releasing her, and sitting up, still pouting.

“Smart man.” She grins, giving him a quick kiss before rising and readying herself for the morning.

“That’s the first time anyone’s accused me of being that.”

“You have your moments.”

The good night’s sleep has done wonders for Sylvain’s smile. She likes these smiles best, the drowsy mid-morning smile with no performance in it, no strain or work at it. It is a smile she has not seen in awhile, she realizes. This morning, to her delight, he resembles more of a school boy than a solider. She wishes they could be like this always.

There is still so much they both have to talk about. They have simply put a pin in place for all the things they have yet to acknowledge, but she feels like they are moving forward somehow.

This little pocket of time cannot last. She cannot linger in it any longer but she can still be someone who moves forward with him, instead of someone who hides in him.

They don’t take breakfast together. When Dorothea sees this, she frowns, raises an eyebrow, but says nothing from across the table.

The second the door had closed on their room, the second they had stepped into the hallway, the reality of the day had overtaken the atmosphere. There was suddenly no time to dawdle. A battle starts before the march after all.

This is not breakfast. It is war prep. It is fuel for the long way towards the border.

It is why the atmosphere in the dining hall is tense. It is why no one stays and lingers. They eat mostly in silence, with the exception of a few polite greetings , and quickly make their way towards their stations.

It isn’t until Ingrid is about to make her way towards the stables when Dorothea pulls her aside, away from all the people in the hall, and asks about Sylvain.

“We’re fine,” Ingrid assures, “We still have a lot to talk about but we’ll be okay.”

Dorothea looks unconvinced, what with the way she stands, propping her head on her hand.

“We are,” Ingrid says again, more emphatically this time.

Dorothea drops her hands and sighs, “If you say so,” She says to Ingrid’s relief, she did not want to spend her morning before battle talking about her relationship, not when there are other more important things to worry about. “But I want all the details later. I was just surprised you guys didn’t sit together.”

“We spent most of yesterday together.” Ingrid explains, “And I wanted to have breakfast with you.”

Ingrid does not say the possibility of it being their last. It is something they both know and it is something they both will not voice.

There is a smile on her friend’s face, a sad one that conveys a lot complex things, things that Dorothea isn’t ready to talk about but that Ingrid somehow already knows. Ingrid wears the same smile after all.

She wants to say, thank you for being my friend, she wants to say, please be careful, she wants to say, you are one of the strongest people I know and she wants to say, we’ll be fine.

But she doesn’t. Instead she reaches out, takes Dorothea’s hand and gives it a comforting squeeze.

“I do enjoy my breakfasts with you.” Dorothea finally says, before they both pull their hands back. “Are you going to talk to him before we leave?”

“I don’t know if I’ll have time.” Ingrid says, looking down at her boots.

“Ingrid,” Dorothea’s voice is soft and tender, for some reason, it reminds Ingrid of a long lost memory of her mother, “You should make time.”

They don’t say anything more. They don’t say goodbye. Instead, Ingrid nods in agreement and they share a hug before setting off for the day.

Sylvain is the one who finds her. She is in the stables, doing last minute inventory of her saddle bags, when he calls to her from behind.

There are other people here doing the same. Anxiously checking and rechecking the contents that had already been checked three times the night before. It is pre-battle jitters. It is what happens to soldiers like her when they are forced to wait.

Sylvain’s own steed is already prepped and outside, ready to go, she knows this because he is supposed to be with his battalion right now. He is supposed to be leading them forward. His appearance at her stable tells her that he has only come here to see her. He has made time. She is relieved and thankful for it.

But they do not have the time nor the space for a private moment. This will have to do.

“How are you feeling?” He says as he approaches, holding his hand out for her pegasus to assess.

She watches as her horse nudges forward, allowing Sylvain to pet him.

“Anxious.” She admits, turning away from her saddle bag to face him, “But not more than usual. You?”

“About the same.” He says, “I just wanted to see you before I go.”

“I’m glad you did.” She tells him.

There is more she wants to say to him, a lot more, but there is no time to say it. More than anything, she wants him to be safe, but she cannot make him promise something that he may not be able to keep. It wouldn’t be fair to either of them.

So instead she wraps her arms around his neck and kisses him desperately and deeply, without care for the fact that they are not alone. Once upon a time, he used to be able to understand her through her actions alone, she hopes that he can again. She hopes that she hasn’t created a distance so vast without noticing that he wouldn’t know how to read this. She hopes that what she said yesterday and last night is enough for him to understand at least this much again.

She does not want to shut him out. She doesn’t want him to shut her out. She just didn’t want to spend what little time they may have talking about all the bad things they can’t control. She did not want to talk about the war or about Dimitri, not when Sylvain is so warm and good and when time with each other could be so scarce. She needs to learn to grow out of that. He needs to know how badly she wants to.

“I should go.” Sylvain whispers when they pull back, heavy breaths overlapping.

Ingrid nods and steps back but then reaches to snatch his wrist back when he begins to walk away “Sylvain,” She calls, hoping - for what she isn’t quite sure.

He looks at her, looks at all of her, and the words die in her throat. She does not know why. She has said them a million times already. She has said them in front of everybody. She is not shy about it, she is not afraid of them. The words I love you are normally so easy to say.

But something about his back to her, something about the way he is about to walk out of the stable doors, makes her mouth dry. They do not come out.

His eyes soften, he lets her hand drop to his and gives it a small squeeze, “I know,” he says quietly, “Me too.”

And then he is gone.

There is no place for worry in battle. Worry is for before and after, but during battle there is only the singular need to focus, to calm and remind yourself to breathe. It is important to not let the adrenaline overtake the logical side of your brain. You cannot afford to feel in battle. Use the adrenaline as a tool. It can save you but it should not control you.

The Professor’s voice is in her ear, even when they themselves are so far below from where Ingrid soars in the sky.

She has a mission. She will accomplish it. She cannot let the red hair on horseback distract her, cannot grimace at the way Dimitri’s growls reach her even when she is so high, cannot spend too much time acknowledging the fact that Byleth has sent Dorothea back and off the bridge partway through the battle. She can only dodge arrows and rain death from above.

All of those other thoughts are for later, for when things are quiet. She is tabling them. She knows she will have many feelings about them later. She is not looking forward to it.

A war horn of retreat from the other side signals their victory. She watches as the soldiers in red double back and away, scurrying farther into the Empire. Ingrid does not chase them, even though it would be easy to. She is gracious in victory.

Instead she watches to see if there are any stragglers left behind, waiting until it is clear before she can touch down. The adrenaline is still coursing through her system but she tries to level her breaths like she was taught.

It isn’t until she dismounts that she lets herself smile. She watches as the battalion she leads lets out cheers, someone claps her on the shoulder and someone else rides directly towards her.

Felix charges quickly towards her on a black steed, rearing it back abruptly only a few feet in front of her before he jumps off, landing heavily and ungracefully on his boots against the stone. There is blood on him but he doesn’t seem harmed.

“Felix?” She greets, taken a little off guard, Luin is still in her hand, her heartbeat is still in her ears, and she holds her relief at the sight of him alive to prepare for another possible assignment, “What’s the status of-”

“Ingrid.” His voice is more gruff than usual, there is a strain to it she cannot identify, she watches as he swallows hard, watches the way his hands grip white onto his pommel. She has only ever seen this expression on Felix once before, a long time ago. He is on the edge of something. Anguish maybe, anguish and a desperate attempt at comfort, “You need to come with me.”

She knows what this means.

“Who -” She starts, but then her eyes dart from Felix to the horse and a sinking horrible realization hits her. One that spikes her blood back up, one that makes her feet feel like giving out.

The horse is Sylvain’s.

She does not finish the words, she is too afraid to say it, too afraid to ask, but Felix answers anyway.

“Sylvain.” He says, and her legs buckle even though she already knows. Felix lunges forward to catch her but Ingrid has already caught herself before he gets to her. It doesn’t stop him from pulling her up anyway, “Come on,” He says, voice low, closer to her ear, “I’ll take you to him.”

“Is he-” She cannot finish this either.

“Yes.” He says.

She turns her head to look at her own steed but Felix shakes his head.

“I’ll take you to him.” He says again, before flagging down one of her battalion members, quickly instructing them to take care of her mount.

She cannot do more than nod. She feels him help her into the saddle, feels her own arms wrap around her friend, and listens to the hooves as they thunder first against the stone and then against the dirt.

Felix talks as they ride but Ingrid barely hears any of it. He says something about how they’ve taken Sylvain back, retreated him further into camp, and then the rest falls away.

She burrows her face into the back of his shoulder blades, the only thought she has is a mantra beating in repetition.

Please don’t die. It goes, Please don’t die. You can’t die.

She wills herself to cry. She wants to but nothing comes out. It is only this war song, again and again, in time with the drums of horse hooves galloping towards her husband.

The horse hasn’t even stilled before she jumps off and barely catches herself before twisting an ankle. She thinks she hears Felix’s cry of surprise from behind her but she ignores this as she races towards the first medical tent she sees.

It is Annette that stands in front of her, blocking her, steadying Ingrid with firm hands on her shoulders.

“Ingrid-” Annette tries to console,

But something about landing on her feet breaks her, something about the way Annette looks at her, concern and fear written all over her face, causes Ingrid to cry a desperate plea.

“I need to see him!”

It is suddenly very easy to cry.

She is rough, shoving Annette away but her friend is quick, agile, and persistent.

“Ingrid!” Annette tries, standing in front of her again. This time her arms lock tighter onto Ingrid’s, trying her best to force her still.

But Ingrid is stronger. Ingrid has always been stronger and with Sylvain on the other side of the tent, no one could possibly stop her.

“No!” She screams, “Let me see him!”

“Ingrid! He’s not in there!” Annette shouts as Ingrid wrestles out of her grip.

“Then where is he!?”

Someone’s grabs her from behind then, someone firm and strong, pulling her back against their chest, trying to force her still as Annette helps steady Ingrid from the front.

She fights with the arms, slips through a few times, and it isn’t until Annette shouts at her that Ingrid finally pauses.

“Mercie and Flayn are with him.” Annette tells her, tears in her own eyes, as Ingrid’s chest heaves, “He’s in good hands Ingrid.”

Ingrid catches a sob in her throat and stops wrestling with whoever is holding her against them, and slowly the grip on her loosens, when it does Ingrid falls forward right into Annette’s open arms.

“He can’t die.” She pleads into Annette’s shoulder.

Annette runs a hand along her back, “He’s in good hands.” She says again, trying to soothe her.

A strong rough hand clasps onto her shoulder and Ingrid manages to catch a glimpse of Felix before turning back into Annette, holding on desperately for some form of comfort.

But it doesn’t come. No matter how hard Annette tries, no matter what she says or what Felix does, nothing good comes. There is only deep horrible dread and a grief so vast that it threatens to swallow her entirely.

She cannot recall what happens next. What she does know is that she has moved somehow. She is almost sure it is with her own two feet but she cannot be certain. Now she sits, resting her head against Annette’s shoulder on a bench in front of the correct medical tent.

Behind the flaps, Sylvain is dying.

No matter how hard she tries, no matter how many times she gets up to try to muscle her way through the tent when the possibility that he will die without her being able to see him crops up in her mind, Felix and Ashe’s constant guarding vigil prevents her from doing so.

She has tried screaming at them, she has tried pleading with them, she has tried everything but they outnumber her.

She has never hated her friends so much before, has never cared so little about how angry she is at them.

Annette hums songs underneath her breath. Ingrid is almost sure that she isn’t even aware of it. That it is something that she does for comfort. She does not know if it is for her benefit or for Annette’s own but it is nice to hear something else other than the fear that creeps around her heart.

It does not distract her but it makes the dread a little quieter, it makes her prayers a little louder.

“Ingrid,” Annette tries, her voice is soft, a whisper, and if it weren’t for the fact that she was whispering right into Ingrid’s ear, Ingrid would not have heard it among the chaos that is the post-battle injury area. “It might be awhile. Do you want to change maybe?”

She is still in her battle armor. She is still sharp and bloody. Somewhere, a bruise grows bigger, a cut goes untended to, but she cannot do anything more than shake her head.

She will not leave. Even if she wanted to, she does not think she has the ability to. Her body would give out the second she stands.

“Okay,” Annette says, “That’s okay. We’ll just stay then.”

It is strange to hear Annette like this, so careful around her. It is strange to see Felix like this, eyes red rimmed and body stiff. It is strange to see Ashe, arms crossed, standing guard next to the tent flaps.

This is wrong.

Time passes in the strangest way. Ingrid feels like she’s alone in a hollow chamber, even when everyone surrounds her, waiting with her. She knows that they are waiting on news about Sylvain too, that they are just as worried, just as affected, but she cannot bring herself to think about anything other than her own heart.

Her friends feel like walls. Sometimes, it feels like they’re compressing on her, other times she feels very small, and like they are so very far away.

Her emotions rubber band back and forth with a kind of violence she cannot control. She doesn’t like this feeling, doesn’t like juggling gratefulness and anger. It is so exhausting.

At some point Dorothea joins them, carrying a washrag, and together with Annette, they peel her armor off and clean her up as the boys look politely away. Ingrid has no energy to do anything but let them.

The girls don’t really say anything other than a quiet simple command here and there. Dorothea would say something like “Lift your arms,” and Annette would ask, “I’m going to take off this plate now, is that okay?”

It isn’t until most of the heavy plate is off of her that Ingrid is able to breathe enough again to ask, quietly, “What happened?”

She watches as Annette blinks, surprised, pausing in the midst of wringing out the cloth, and Dorothea press her lips into a thin line. The two girls share a brief but significant look that Ingrid does not have the inclination to decode, but probably has something to do with her.

It is Felix, back turned, staring at the tent, that speaks, voice low and bitter, “He took a blow for the-” And although Ingrid cannot see him, she knows this is where he swallows down his words, composing himself before continuing, “He took a blow for his Highness.”

He says it like a curse.

Whatever bit of breath that Ingrid regained leaves her again.

“I saw the whole thing.” Felix explains when everyone freezes. Ingrid is unsure if anyone else had any idea of what happened. If this is the first time he has said this out loud. Dorothea, at least, looks very surprised. Annette’s face has turned away from her, looking at Felix’s back too, but judging by how her hands still hover, frozen in the air, she probably didn’t know either.

“He’s the one who brought him here.”

Ingrid’s breath does not return. Felix does not continue.

Dimitri finds them at some point. He comes bursting into their semi-circle of grief looking haggard and angry but he does not say anything.

He stares, instead, eyeing all of them. Felix barely spares him a glance. Everyone else just seems wary.

His hands are clenched into fists and he hasn’t cleaned himself up from battle. There is dried blood all over him but at least he isn’t soaked.

For a moment everything is still. The sound from the area ebbs away. Ingrid is in that hollow chamber again, except this time, Dimitri is there too.

She untangles herself from both Dorothea and Annette and rises. She ignores the way the girls immediately rise with her, arms out as if to catch her from falling just in case but Ingrid’s stance is strong now. Every part of her body feels strong and she does not waver as she makes her way towards the prince.

Dimitri’s face does not soften but it is not the same wrathful gaze that has been stuck on his face for the last month. It is angry still but he seems like he is bracing for something, accepting of something.

She can feel the eyes on them but no one says anything as Ingrid comes to stand in front of him.

Dimitiri seems to tower over her and the way he wears his armor now makes him seem larger than life. Sylvain is technically taller but Dimitri has an almost overwhelming presence. He has always had it but before it had been from his heart, now it comes from the way he wields his weapon.

“Thank you.” She finds herself saying.

There is a collective breath from the room. Dimitri’s face stiffens further, darkens further.

“I know their faces, ” He growls, “I swear to you Ingrid when I-”

Ingrid raises a hand and cuts him off, no part of her wants to hear this. “Just-thanks,” She says instead, “For bringing him back.”

If Dimitri says anything more, does anything more, Ingrid cannot hear nor see it. She has already turned away, has already returned to her seat by Annette and Dorothea, refusing to look at Dimitri anymore.

Dimitri does not leave but he does not say anything else either. Instead he has taken to a spot farthest away from where they are all gathered, standing silently with his arms crossed, glowering. At first, Ingrid notices the way everyone’s eyes would quickly dart over to him, as if he would explode at any moment, but eventually, once they were satisfied with the fact that he was likely to remain silent, they learn to ignore him. It is likely what he wants anyway.

It really shouldn’t be taking this long to work on Sylvain. The longer this takes, the worse she feels.

Her mind begins to wander. Despite herself, she can’t help but think about Glenn, about the way she hadn’t been there when he had died, that she only found out after it was too late.

Beyond the tent, Sylvain is still breathing, or else they would have come out by now, and wonders if there is anything she can do.

But she knows that no one will let her and now, with even more people joining their agonizing wait, she is even less likely to muscle her way through.

She feels so useless right now, so hopeless. This is not like when Glenn died. When Glenn died, she had already known. This is not knowing, this is hoping, this is praying, and it is somehow worse.

She will not survive this life without Sylvain. She is so sure of that in this exact moment. Never in her life had she thought she would be this person, would even be capable of becoming anything close to this person. She had never thought her life would be so tied up in love. It is romantic and silly. It is a fantasy for girls that are not like her. It is a privilege to be tied up in love, one that she isn’t supposed to have. Ingrid did not have the luxury of love.

And even if she had, she would not have chosen it. The life she wanted was a solitary path towards knighthood. It was tied up with Dimitri, who she can no longer look at. It was a path that tells her that Sylvain’s sacrifice is supposed to be noble.

Just like Glenn’s.

And if Sylvain dies, Goddess, no please, she is supposed to carry on because she has a duty to Dimitri. She is supposed to mourn him and praise him at the same time, like she had with Glenn.

But in this moment, while Sylvain lays dying only a few yards away, she knows she would give anything for him to live. She would choose him.

And she hates herself for it.

But is it so wrong? To be this person? To be someone who loves and loves deeply?

Why does it have to be one or the other? Why can’t she be both a knight and a wife?

Their semi-circle grows onto a full circle. Dedue returns and Ingrid does not have the ability to be surprised, instead, her worried mind simply accepts this. She does not have any questions. She simply sees and understands.

Dedue is alive. This is a good thing.

And that is all the thoughts she can have on that for now.

He brings in a report, he says that they’ve cleared the bridge of stragglers. Every thing is officially under their control.

The Professor appears shortly afterwards and they all wait.

And finally, finally Mercedes appears, looking exhausted and drained. She is a pale porcelain white but she smiles through it anyway and Ingrid’s chest swells with hope.

She shoots up, meets Mercedes’ halfway.

“He’ll be fine.” She explains before Ingrid can ask.

Everyone breathes. She thinks someone says “Thank the Goddess,” she hears something that sounds like a clap or a whoop of relief, but Ingrid doesn’t acknowledge it, instead she falls forward and clings onto Mercedes, nearly knocking the woman over, never mind the fact that Mercedes is a mess with Sylvain’s blood on her dress.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you, ” She cries as Mercedes’ arms wrap around her.

She composes herself eventually, standing up straight, but she cannot see through the way she cries.

“Can I see him?” She manages to muster.

“He’s asleep.” Mercedes says soothingly, “He probably won’t wake for a long time. And he shouldn’t, he needs to rest. He’s lost a lot of blood.”

“I still want to see him.”

“I thought you might say that,” she smiles, stepping aside.

Ingrid bursts through the tent flap without a glance back. Flayn is still inside cleaning up, when she sees Ingrid, she smiles and politely excuses herself.

Sylvain’s skin is paler than Mercedes’ but he is breathing and Ingrid can’t help but run over to him, can’t help the way her head falls onto his chest, listening to his heartbeat.

Ingrid jostles awake some time later to the sound of someone stepping into the medical tent. She had only nodded off for a second but her neck is already stiff from trying to find a comfortable position on the wooden chair. Sylvain has hardly moved, laying still and quiet. If it weren’t for the fact that he liked to tuck his hands behind his head while he dozed, she might have been able to convince herself that he was simply taking a nap.

She turns and finds Mercedes, who looks much better, although still clearly tired but she’s changed out of the bloody garment she was wearing earlier and some of the color has returned to her. In her hands is a serving tray.

Ingrid begins to rise but Mercedes stops her, “No, it’s okay,” She says, placing the tray on the very small table by Sylvain’s bedside.

Ingrid frowns, “No, I’ve been sitting for awhile,” she says, standing up all the way, offering Mercedes the chair.

Mercedes shakes her head and instead busies herself with looking over Sylvain.

“He hasn’t woken up.” Ingrid says, staring at the tray. Her stomach growls at the sight and smell of it. It’s still steaming. She doesn’t remember the last time she ate.

“I know,” Mercedes tells her, “We gave him something so he could sleep. The food is for you. We thought you might be hungry.”

“Oh,” Ingrid says dumbly, “Thanks.”

“We also thought it’d be a good opportunity to check on you.”

“I’m fine.” She says automatically, picking up the fork to push the meat on the plate around. She is hungry but she can’t find the desire to eat. “Who’s we?”

“Everyone,” Mercedes tells her gently, “He probably won’t wake until morning. He’ll be fine if you wanted to go rest in your tent. You’ve had a long day too Ingrid.”

Ingrid shakes her head. She cannot even fathom the idea of being away from him right now, the idea that something might happen and she wouldn’t be here to know. “No, I’d rather be here with him.”

“We thought you might say that.” Mercedes sighs, although not unkindly, “The girls thought you might like a change of clothes, they’re in the bag. They wanted to come in and see you both themselves but I told them there wouldn’t be any room and it really is better if Sylvain rests.”

She is grateful that Mercedes does not force the matter, she is grateful that her friends know her better than to make her leave, that instead they would find ways to make it easier to stay.

“Has anyone taken a look at you?” Mercedes asks, moving over to Ingrid.

“I’m fine.” She say automatically again.

The frown on Mercedes’ face is hard to ignore.

“Erm,” Ingrid tries again, “I mean, I don’t actually know. Maybe? Probably.” She settles for.

She can’t actually remember. At some point, someone probably did look her over, or at the very least Annette and Dorothea did to some degree. Something hurts but Ingrid ignores it. If it had been something serious, she’s sure that someone would have said something and she has felt much worse before.

Mercedes guides Ingrid gently back into the chair and takes her face gently in her hands to inspect.

“You’re tired Mercedes, really, I’m okay.”

“We’re all tired.” Mercedes says, “But I can still do this.”

Something washes over her, a warmth that radiates from Mercedes’ fingertips, it soothes her and the something that hurts ebbs away slowly.

“It’s not much,” the older woman admits, “But it should help.”

“It does.” Ingrid says quickly, bringing her hand up to hold onto Mercedes’ wrist, “Thank you.”

Mercedes smiles, and, not for the first time, Ingrid is caught by how warm her friend is. It is this, for some reason, that makes her start to cry again.

Mercedes reaches into her pocket, pulls out a small handkerchief, and begins to help dab some of the tears away. “It’s nothing really.”

“It’s not nothing.” Ingrid insists, accepting the piece of cloth from her friend, taking it into her own hands, “Thank you Mercedes, for saving him.”

Mercedes smiles, nodding, before stepping away. “Do you need anything else?”

Ingrid shakes her head, “I’m okay now”

“I’ll leave you to it then. Make sure you eat everything.” She says, pointing back to the tray, “Find me if he wakes, but I’ll come by to check on him in the morning if he sleeps through the night.”

Ingrid does finish the plate but it takes much longer than normal, takes until the food has long gone cold before she it’s done, and there is no enjoyment from it really. Food normally makes her happy, today it simply exists, she can’t find much satisfaction in it, it is simply a necessity.

Everything seems so bland to her. It is hard for her to do anything but stare at Sylvain and hold his hand.

The fact that he isn’t awake eats at her. She knows he isn’t supposed to be, knows that it is better if he rests but she can’t help it. She can see, in front of her, that he is alive but she is afraid. It isn’t that she doesn’t trust Mercedes or Flayn, it’s just that she can’t be at ease until he wakes. Until she is sure.

He is too still in his sleep. It scares her. She keeps her fingers on his pulse and her eyes on his chest, watching it rise and fall.

And then, sometime, in the middle of the night, long after the world outside stills to sleep, she feels his hand squeeze hers.

“Sylvain?” She tries, rising, she moves up, rests her other hand to cup his cheek. “It’s me.”

He groans, she watches his head turn a bit, turn towards her, and Ingrid holds her breath again for the thousandth time today.

His mouth opens before his eyes do, “’grid?”

“Yeah,” She says hurriedly, she glances around the tent for something but doesn’t know what, before quickly returning back to look at Sylvain, “I’m here, it’s me.”

“Mmm, good,” He mumbles, eyes slowly blinking open.

Ingrid breathes, sobs really, and burrows her head deep into his neck.

She feels his hand reach up and around her, holding her weakly, “Hey,” he says hoarsely, “’m okay.”

She presses a kiss to his neck and pulls back and away, watching as he takes her in.

He opens and closes his mouth a few times but doesn’t say anything more, or perhaps he is unable to say anything more. Ingrid takes the time to collect herself, rubs the tears out of her eyes, before glancing around again.

“I should get Mercedes.”

He tries to shake his head but grimaces when he moves too quickly, “No, don’t leave” he tells her, reaching towards her hand, “’m fine.”

Ingrid frowns, Mercedes had explicitly instructed her to fetch her if Sylvain woke and she doesn’t want to take any risks with this.

“I’m just tired.” He tells her groggily, as she slips her hand back into his, “And sore, but mostly tired.”

She glances at their hands, at his face, watches as he closes his eyes again, then he begins to tug her towards him. “Come ‘ere”

She shakes her head but his eyes are already closed.

“The cot is too small.” And she has a tendency to move around in her sleep. She doesn’t want to cause him any more pain, even by accident.

“Just until I fall asleep again.”

She bites her lip before conceding, “Okay,” She says, “Just until you fall asleep again.”

She sits on the edge of the cot before tentatively laying down, doing her best not to touch him, which means she is practically falling off.

Sylvain must notice because, although he says nothing, he pulls her in closer and she watches until she is sure he’s drifted off again before carefully extracting herself from him to get Mercedes.

He’s going to be okay, she finally believes, he’s going to be okay.

Chapter Text

Mercedes is probably the kindest and most generous person that Ingrid knows. Despite Ingrid guiltily admitting that Sylvain has already fallen asleep, despite the long hard day of battle and then a long hard evening of caring for others she still comes.

“Sorry,” Ingrid says, when Mercedes has ensured that everything is well, “You said I should wake you when he does but he’s already asleep again. I know you’re tired.”

Ingrid cannot stare straight into Mercedes’ kindness, cannot return the smile that is given to her. She herself is exhausted, she cannot imagine the way that Mercedes’ feels, drained and sleep deprived.

Ingrid often wishes she could be more like her.

“I am tired.” Mercedes admits, as Ingrid gestures to the wooden chair at Sylvain’s bedside. This time, Mercedes does not reject it. “But you simply did what I told you to. I wouldn’t have said it if I didn’t want you to do it.”

Ingrid bites her lip, stares down at her shoes. “You should sleep in. Someone else can look at Sylvain tomorrow.”

She would be lying if she said that she didn’t prefer Mercedes’ to do it but she knows that she has already asked a lot of her friend. She is afraid of asking for more. Mercedes has a lot to give but even she has her limits. She is only human. Ingrid has to learn to stop looking at her as a saint.

Mercedes looks down at Sylvain’s sleeping face, at the way the color is slowly but surely returning to him, and Ingrid watches her friend consider it, watches her friend waver.

“I’m serious.” Ingrid ends up saying, “I’m worried about him but I’m also worried about you. You’re stretching yourself a bit thin.”

She watches Mercedes close her eyes, watches as she takes a breath in, and Ingird thinks about all the things that Mercedes takes on. She thinks about the way she diligently brings food to Dimitri despite the way he bites at everyone, thinks about the way she stands, a quiet pillar of constant comfort, thinks about the subtle sternness that she has mastered when she disapproves, and the way she continues to work long after a battle is won.

Sometimes, often times, a part of Ingrid thinks of Mercedes as motherly. She doesn’t really have many memories of her own mother, doesn’t know that much about what it means to be maternal or have someone maternal near her other than her grandmother, so when she thinks of it, she can only think of Mercedes and her gentle hands.

But Mercedes is only a handful of years older than her. She is human with a past that wouldn’t be considered easy to anyone. She has felt pain and pressure before. They use to talk about it over tea in the dormitories.

It has been so long since then.

Ingrid wonders if she has been much of a friend lately through all of this.

“I’m alright.” Mercedes voices quietly alongside Sylvain’s quiet breaths. “I just want to make sure he’s alright.”

“He’s in good hands.” Ingrid says, thinking of the words that Annette had said all those hours ago. At the time, they did not offer much comfort, but at the time, Ingrid wasn’t really able to accept any, not past her worry for Sylvain. “He had your hands. Thank you for them Mercedes. Truly.”

There is so much more she wants to thank Mercedes for. She cannot put them all to words.

She is glad when Mercedes does not push the words away. Instead the woman stands and nods, accepting the way Ingrid escorts her back to her tent.

“You’re kicking me out?” Ingrid says, arms crossed and incredulous, staring down at where he sits on his cot, legs swung off the side. His hand cradles his ribs, where a sword had pierced a weakness in his armor all the way through to his back.

It is late morning now. They’ve shared breakfast together, although that was mostly Ingrid eating and Sylvain nibbling. The medicines nauseate him and makes it hard to swallow but he is drinking and sitting up and able to walk, although still deeply tired and sore.

The phantom memory of the pain hurts more than the actual wound now but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still sting.

“Yeap.” He tries for a lighthearted singsong but it falls slightly flat, flat enough that he can’t help the grimace that comes after it.

Ingrid tries not too look more crossed than she already is but it isn’t working. It reads plainly on her face.

“You’ve still got a battalion to lead back.” He explains, “And I’m sure there’s a lot of things you want to check in on before we go.”

She waves his excuse away, “I’ll get someone else to do it.”

It is not like Ingrid to shirk away her responsibilities. In fact, it is the exact opposite of Ingrid.

“Hey,” he says, reaching his hand up to hers, pulling her hands away from her elbows. She seems to consider fighting with him for a moment before allowing it. “You okay?”

He hears how stupid that sounds as it comes out of his mouth and is not at all surprised when snatches her hand back, “Are you kidding?” She snaps, eyes blazing, “You almost died Sylvain, what do you think?”

He frowns, pulls his hands back to himself and breathes. The room has started to spin a bit and it takes him a second to reorient. “Sorry,” He says, “that was stupid.”

“Yes.”

She’s mad. He has truly and deeply pissed her off.

He is not afraid of an angry Ingrid. In fact, he would say that he is an expert of weathering an angry Ingrid but he is tired, and sore, and not at his best. He closes his eyes and rubs at his temple, sighing.

He feels Ingrid sit next to him, feels her hands on his, prying his fingers off of his face. “Hey,” She says, softly this time, trying to hide the undercurrent of annoyance that has given away to worry, “What’s going on? Does something hurt? Should I go get someone?”

“No, it’s just-” He starts, turning to face her.

Ingrid’s face is soft but tired. He sees how little she has slept, sees the exhaustion in her body, sees the way the worry has eaten at her spirit.

“I don’t really want you to see me this way.” He admits, defeated.

“Sylvain…” The annoyance is still there but now there is a fondness in her tone that makes him feel loved.

“It’s a pride thing,” he explains, “And it’s stupid but I’m fine now and…and you really shouldn’t be cooped up here with me the entire time. Go out, eat some more food, talk to a few people.”

She bites her lip, clearly unwilling to go.

He cannot make “Please leave” sound polite but it is a desperate plea. He loves Ingrid, he finds comfort in her, but this moment is not something he wants her to see. He knows she will love him anyway but the slow panic of it closes in on him. He wants her to leave. Just for now. He needs it as much as he needed her to stay with him last night.

“Think of it as an intel mission,” he tries with a weak smile.

She furrows her brow, “What?”

“I want to know what’s going on.” He says, “I know we’ve won but I don’t know anything more than that.”

The suspicious look on her face tells him that she knows he is not entirely truthful but she lets it slide, gives him one last lingering kiss, and leaves the room.

In the silence that she leaves, he thinks about how they are re-learning to read each other, and takes comfort in that as the panic eases out of his body alongside what little breakfast he had that morning.

Just because she knows that Sylvain is full of it doesn’t mean she isn’t going to take her mission seriously, and honestly, now that she knows Sylvain is fine, a large part of her does want to check in on the others.

She hadn’t even bothered to ask about anyone else.

So she learns. She learns about the miraculous appearance of Dedue who forgives her immediately when she tries to apologize and then discovers Lorenz skulking about camp, looking a bit lost.

“The professor convinced him,” Annette tells her, coming to stand beside her, when Ingrid is too shocked to move.

“Well,” Ingrid says, shaking her surprise off, “It’s good to have more allies.”

“Yeah,” Annette nods, and them somberly adds, “I just wish Ferdinand…”

Ingrid whips her head around, forgetting everything she had been intending to thank Annette for when she saw her, “What about Ferdinand?”

Annette’s face is grim, Ingrid can see the way the tears are half formed, “He was defending the bridge.”

A lot of thoughts go through Ingrid’s mind. She remembers a conversation from so long ago with Sylvain in their bedroom, she remembers mentioning Ferdinand. She remembers how deeply troubling it is to consider fighting someone she once knew, someone she saw everyday, with whom she held no ill will towards.

“Have you seen Dorothea?” She asks instead.

Dorothea is staring out into the distance. Around her, Ingrid can see everyone packing up for the return to Garreg Mach, but she sits on a bench and stares. No one bothers her but no one goes to her either.

Throughout everything that had happened yesterday, throughout the way Dorothea had held her, cleaned her, been gentle with her while Ingrid prayed that Sylvain wouldn’t die, Ferdinand actually did.

And Ingrid had absolutely no idea.

She doesn’t know what kind of relationship Dorothea and Ferdinand had. She doesn’t know if they were friends but it doesn’t matter. If Ingrid can feel grief from Ferdinand’s loss, whatever Dorothea’s feeling must be more, must be worse.

She approaches carefully, “Dorothea,” she says softly, “I’m sorry.”

Dorothea sees her, stares up at her, eyes wet, and says, in a very very quiet voice, “Ferdie’s dead.”

Ingrid doesn’t know what to say, she knows nothing she says will do any good. She knows grief, knows it well, and finds her spot next to Dorothea. “Yes,” Ingrid says, as Dorothea buries into Ingrid’s shoulder, “He is.”

Dorothea shakes besides her, stifling in a sob, Ingrid holds her close. She wants to ask “What do you need” but she doesn’t think Dorothea can answer right now. Not with the way the woman clings to her. Not with the way she grieves.

The return to Garreg Mach will be nothing short of a huge pain. Sylvain refuses a seat on the wounded cart. He is fine. He is sore and while he has been given strict instructions to rest as much as possible he has been cleared for travel. He is no longer in any life-threatening danger.

But that doesn’t mean he is looking forward to riding horseback back to the Monastery, sore and tired. It is exhausting enough normally and he is not at his best.

Even strapping his armor on is a challenge but he has sent Ingrid, Flayn and Mercedes away and has no intentions of calling them back.

The armor is for show in this case, he would not be able to aid in a fight, but, even still, he wants to stand tall. He commands a battalion after all.

Someone steps into the tent and Sylvain turns as he lifts the heaviest part of his chest piece off from where he had dropped it on the floor.

Dimitri does not come in any further than the first step underneath the tent flap. He stands, looking for the first time since Sylvain has seen him in the last five years, remorseful.

There is still anger there, there is still hatred, but it is not directed towards him. Sylvain wonders if Dedue has something to do with that.

“Sylvain.” Dimitri says, and it is not a growl or a scowl, it is apprehensive and careful. It is like Dimitri is re-learning how to speak.

“Your highness,” Sylvain says, placing the chest plate back down and bowing. Years ago, he would have made a joke, teased Dimitri about being worried, but the air between them is tense. Their last encounter outside the battlefield still rings in Sylvain’s ears, he remembers his own words well, he had meant them, he still does.

Sylvain does not have the strength or the inclination to yell at Dimitri at this moment but he braces himself for it, braces for a reaction from a man so broken and unhinged that he has no idea what to expect.

He does not regret what he did. When the sword came thrusting towards Dimitri, Sylvain did not hesitate. He had been dismounted but he managed to muster all the strength in his body left to rush up, despite the way his ankle burned, and step in front of Dimitri.

There was no thought about it. There was no other conceivable option. Despite the way he would bemoan about chivalry for years, of knighthood and a system built in place that bound him to specific ideals, ideals that he hates, Sylvain had never blamed Dimitri, never hated him. He had loved him in fact, and was always willing to die for him. He would die for any of them. He would step in front of a blade for all of them but especially for Dimitri, for Felix, and for Ingrid.

That was never a question.

The only regret he had when he thought he was dying were all those things left unsaid to Ingrid.

He doesn’t remember much more than that. He was told, later, that Dimitri had brought him back. He thinks that maybe he should thank him but he knows that if he does, Dimitri would probably revert, would probably spit upon the idea that he had saved anyone when Sylvain was the one who stepped in front of a blade to protect him.

He doesn’t know Dimitri anymore but he is sure that that part of the man still lingers. He is sure that hasn’t changed.

“I’m glad you’re okay.” Dimitri says.

Sylvain wants to say, likewise, but he’s not sure how well the other man would take that either. Sylvain did not use to be like this. He did not use to be a man who was so careful with his words. Diplomacy is hard to shake away once you are used to it.

“Thank you,” he says instead, wondering if it would be petty to bow again. “I was told you were the one who brought me here.”

Dimitri seems to struggle with Sylvain’s phrasing. It does not surprise him in the least.

Sylvain remembers a little more now that he’s looking at Dimitri. As if the man himself has triggered something sensory within him. He remembers the way Dimitri stared down the solider that stabbed him, remembers that Dimitri did not chase after them, even though the anger was clear on his face.

Instead the Prince held pressure.

The rest is lost, probably because that was when Sylvain blacked out.

“Sylvain,” Dimitri ends up saying, and for the first time, Sylvain recognizes how tired his friend is. That Dimitri is only being held up by his rage. That perhaps that rage is a the only tool left to keep him alive. “Please,” he says, and it is quiet and pleading, “Don’t ever do that again.”

Sylvain frowns and braces himself again, because he knows what he has to say and knows that it may not be taken well. “I can’t promise that.”

He waits for it. Sylvain waits for an explosion or an order or a command. Even the Dimitri from five years ago would have yelled at him for this. Sylvain knows, although they have never once talked about it, the guilt that his friend feels for the deaths that happen in his service.

But it does not come. Instead, Dimitri does not glower, he simply looks down, hides his face behind that messy hair of his and stares straight at his boots.

Perhaps he is crying but Sylvain will never know. He cannot see.

“Why not?” Dimitri says.

“Like it or not your Highness, You’re the prince.”

“Do not throw your life away for me.”

“Don’t flatter yourself Dimitri.” Sylvain says evenly, trying not to sound as vindictive as he feels, “I’m not just doing it for you.”

Dimitri looks up. His eyes seem dry. Maybe the man is incapable of tears.

“I’m doing it for my country,” Sylvain explains, “And for my friends, and Ingrid, but yes, I’m also doing it for you. I’m doing it for you, Dimitri my friend but also you, Dimitri the prince. Like it or not, you living is our best shot at winning. If that means I have to step in front of you, I’m going to step in front of you.”

He watches Dimitri’s face shift a couple of times, watches the resolute anger that settles into the man’s shoulders, through to his hands but instead of yelling, Dimitri simply says, “Find a better way.”

There is nothing left to say and if there were, there’s no chance to say it, because Dimitri leaves.

Sylvain stares at the armor plating on the floor and thinks about throwing it. He can feel the anger reverberate throughout his body, down to the last digits of his toes. Dimitri is the one who should find a better way, he thinks, should find a way to fix it.

But there is no one there to shout at and he has no strength left to throw anything. So instead he straps his armor on and steps outside.

When they arrive back at the Monastery, Sylvain is utterly exhausted. His body feels bruised and battered but they have made it home, finally.

He retires early and no one bothers him. He doesn’t even feel Ingrid slip into bed with him much later than usual. Instead, he simply sleeps.

It is rare that he beats Ingrid awake. It is even rarer that when he shifts to move, that he does not wake her. She is a light sleeper, trained into it by the last five years of camping out across the country, searching for a man who did not want to be found.

She must have been exhausted. He wonders if she has gotten any sleep at all.

When he examines himself in the mirror, he sees that his bruises have cleared up entirely, that the residual soreness feels closer to muscle aches than wounds. He will likely be fine by tomorrow though he shouldn’t train today. It might be a good idea to get an opinion from Mercedes and Flayn but he feels fine otherwise.

This might be the closest he’s been to death but it is not his first battle wound. He has lost count of those.

He feels strong enough now to continue the conversation that they’ve tabled. He thinks, especially after his own encounter with Dimitri, that they can no longer avoid it.

But he likes this sleeping Ingrid. He likes the way she seems peaceful in her sleep. He hopes, silly as it is, that she dreams of him.

It seems, all of their discussions have to happen in the bedroom. Perhaps it is because it is the only private space for them. From school days in the Academy to Galatea to Gautier, this is the only space they have that is solely theirs.

Ingrid has slept into noon, which, he swears, has only ever happened once, and he had let her gather herself but now it is approaching early evening. They can put this off no longer.

“How’s Dorothea?” He asks as a start. She is sitting up on the bed, her back against the headboard.

For his part, he has taken to an old rickety desk chair, straddling it next to her, close enough that he could reach out to her if he wanted to.

It has been a long time since they’ve sat like this. They used to do it all the time.

“Mmm,” Ingrid considers, “grieving. So not well, not really, but okay enough to express that she wants a little space.”

He nods with a frown.

“How do you feel?” He tries.

“About Ferdinand?” She asks, looking wistful, she does not wait for his response, “Sad, really really sad. We’ve talked about it happening you know, meeting each other, but I didn’t…I really hoped it never would come.”

“Well, I meant in general but yeah, about Ferdinand too.” He says, looking down at the way the wood on the chair is cracked underneath his knuckles.

“I guess in general, I’m…feeling a lot of things. How about you?”

“Are we still talking about Ferdinand or in general?”

“Either?” She says, before revising, “Both.”

“About Ferdinand? I don’t know. I didn’t know him that well.” He admits, “But…I don’t know, he’s...he’s kind of..me? You know, and that’s not easy. ” Sylvain shrugs, unsure if he’s making any sense. The words he wants to use in this case don’t seem to come eloquently. He does not know how to talk about Ferdinand. Does not know if he even has the right to. “ In general? I feel almost back to normal, nothing really hurts anymore.”

“That’s good.” She says softly, “Erm- the nothing hurts thing, not the Ferdinand thing.”

“I don’t know if the Ferdinand thing has really even hit me yet. I’m still trying to process the everything else.”

“Like the fact that you almost died saving Dimitri?”

The breath from both of their lungs leaves at that moment. He can see how tense Ingrid is. He can imagine the way her heart beats fast, the way the adrenaline fills her, he can see, her eyes open, alert and ready.

He really should give her more credit. Everyone should. They say that he is the one who is good with his words, that he is charming and distracting, and that Ingrid is sometimes too blunt but she is and has always been very good at directing the flow of conversation.

Her sharpness is one of her best tools.

So are her eyes, which dare him to face her head on.

“Yeah that.” He grimaces, sitting up straighter.

“You scared the hell out of me Sylvain.” She says tensely, “I thought you were dead.”

He doesn’t know how to say sorry because if he does, it might imply that he won’t do it again. “I know.” He says.

“You almost were.” She says, “And I just kept thinking, I don’t know what I’d do if you-”

She cannot finish the sentence, not with the way she chokes, not with the way she holds her tears.

He stands up then, it would be cruel not to go to her, it is impossible not to hold her.

Ingrid shifts on the bed, makes a space for him next to her, and folds into him easily.

He hates it when she cries. He hates it when anyone cries but Ingrid is especially not one for tears. She likes to hold them until they’re in private. She does it for many reasons that she cannot explain but that he hopes to understand one day.

“I’m here.” He says, tucking her deeper into his chest, letting her hear his heartbeat, tears in his own eyes that she cannot see but maybe can feel, “I didn’t die. I’m still here.”

Ingrid nods into his chest. He repeats and repeats his words until she stops shaking. He doesn’t know how long it takes but eventually she speaks again.

“You stepped in front of Dimitri.” She says.

It is not a question but he responds to her as if it is. “Yes.”

“You’d do it again.”

“Yes.”

“I’d do it too.”

He pauses here, screws his eyes shut, wills his imagination not to see it but it doesn’t work. Because he sees it, Ingrid dying. He sees it in his worst nightmares. He sees it in his fear. He sees it whenever she walks away from him. He has just become very adept at pushing it away.

“Yes.” He says eventually. “But I don’t want you to.”

She shifts up, out of his arms, so that they are level, so that they can look at each other and face each other. “I don’t want you to either.” She says, “I am proud of you. I am so proud of you but I - I don’t want you to. You can’t-” She does not finish this either.

He doesn’t know what to say to this. Because Ingrid is a knight. She has very strong beliefs that has rarely ever wavered. She has a code that she upholds. It has always been this way.

Dying for someone else in Ingrid’s eyes was always different than in Sylvain’s.

For Sylvain it is an act of love. For Ingrid, it has always been an act of duty.

Until now.

“Ingrid,” He whispers.

She is crying again but she does not tuck herself to him. She lets him watch her, lets him see the earnestness of her expression.

The man that she wanted him to be in their youth is not the man she wants him to be now.

“I don’t need you to do that! I need you to live!” She says fiercely, holding his face in both of her hands, so that he cannot look away from her, “I don’t want you to do any of this. I want you safe with me. Goddess, I want you safe with me. I wish we didn’t - I wish - oh it’s so selfish to say but you need to be safe.”

“Ingrid” he says again.

But Ingrid doesn’t stop. As if all the words she had held in, all the words she had been ashamed of had become unchained, she continues.

“I don’t want you to step in front of Dimitri.” She says, “I don’t want you to step in front of anybody. And I know, I know that’s a horrible thing to say. I know that that’s not -”

“Ingrid,” he says, forcefully this time, interrupting, “It’s okay. I get it.”

“You don’t!” She shouts, dropping her hands away, and bursting up off the bed, “It’s not the same!” She shouts pacing the room, “My entire life Sylvain, my entire life, I thought one way. I thought, this is what we’re supposed to do. I thought, to die in the service of his Highness is the greatest act of love and honor I could give. I thought that knighthood and chivalry was the greatest and most selfless act of good there is, and in some ways, I still believe that. When Glenn died…Glenn…Glenn destroyed me Sylvain. The only thing that made it okay was the thought that he died in service. He died protecting Dimitri. If there was a good way to die. That is it.

But then you walked in and…and you-you made me love you. And loving you changed me. Sylvain, you changed me. And if you die…I don’t know if I can see it as noble and that terrifies me because that means that everything I am, everything I believed in and have believed in for my entire life - what is that? What does that mean?”

In the wake of that, there is only silence, broken only by the way Ingrid stops and stills, breathing heavily into the room.

Sylvain stays frozen, stares gobsmacked at his wife, and tries and fails to process her words. The words that she has held onto for so long and never dared to say.

Ingrid breaks the silence, softly, defeatedly, to herself more than to him. “I don’t know how to reconcile my calling with my love for you.”

“You’ve changed me too,” He says, moving to stand in front of her. He reaches out a hand but does not grasp hers. Instead, it is held as an offering.

Ingrid takes it and Sylvain feels the words come to him with every second she holds onto his palm. He is not sure they are the right words. He is not sure they are the words Ingrid wants or needs but they are the words that come.

“You’ve made me a better man.” He tells her “You’ve made me want to be a better man.”

“I don’t want you to be a better man.” She says very very quietly, and he can feel the guilt of her admission through the way she grips hard on his hand and the way she refuses to look at his face.

“It’s too late for that.” He says sadly, remorsefully, “I think I would have asked you to run away with me once but now, now we can’t do that. Because neither of us would. You never would have.”

“You wouldn’t ever really do it either.” Ingrid says, “Not when the rest of us won’t.”

“I would have tried to take everyone with me.”

“You would have failed.”

“Probably.”

“You were always a good man Sylvain.”

“I wouldn’t say that.” He tells her, “But you made me want to be.”

She breathes out a heavy sigh, “We’re not going to go anywhere with that argument are we?”

“Agree to disagree?”

She nods and pulls him back to the edge of the bed where they both sit, staring out into the tiny dorm room.

“Dimitri,” she says, “means a lot of things to me. But he is so tied up in what my ideals are. I don’t know how to reconcile that either. That’s why I didn’t talk about it. Because there’s still so much I don’t know how to say. I just…I kept hoping that once we found him everything would be clear.”

“And instead, he’s like this.”

“And instead he’s like this.” She echoes, “And it only muddled things up more. I made an oath to protect him but did I make that oath to Dimitri or to the Prince?”

“Ingrid,” he tells her, “They’re the same people.”

“I know that.” She snaps, “But I also know that you know what I mean.”

“Yeah.” He says, “I do know what you mean.”

Because he feels it the same but almost in the opposite way. Unlike Ingrid, he never cared for the title of prince in their youth, he cared for Dimitri, his friend, but now, older, he knows the impact that that role carries. He knows that the prince could save them all.

“It was easier when Dimitri lined up with my ideals.” Ingrid says, “There’s no complication there. I protect him because I love him but also because he’s my prince.”

“But do we have to separate that?” Sylvain asks, “Because the end result is the same.”

“Except for the part where I fell in love with you.” She says, “If I didn’t…then you’re right. It wouldn’t matter but…Sylvain you make me want more. And I never thought I could want because I was never supposed to get it.”

“What do you want?”

“Everything.” She admits, “It…it goes against everything I’ve ever known to want anything at all.”

“What’s everything?”

“I don’t know! A home? Maybe? One without your parents. Our friends, safe and sound, a…a family? Maybe?”

Sylvain holds onto the last part and slightly breathless, asks, “You want kids?”

“Maybe?” Ingrid flushes, looking down at their hands, “I don’t not want them. I just know I don’t want them in the middle of a war but I want…I want…I think I want the possibility of wanting kids. Does that make sense?”

“Yeah,” He says, “Makes perfect sense. I want that too. I want everything.”

She nods, leans her head onto his shoulder, and lets the words rest between them.

This time, it is Sylvain who breaks it, many moments later, staring at the ceiling. “I’m mad at Dimitri.” He finally admits out loud.

Ingrid does not seem surprised but she lets him talk.

“I’m mad at what he’s become because…he was always supposed to be the better man. And I know, I know that’s really unfair but he was. It was easy when he was the better man. Because you’re right. It’s uncomplicated when he was…who he was. I hate complicated. But I also just really miss him. I miss my friend. I don’t know how to help him. So it’s easier just to be mad at him.”

“But you still stepped in front of him.”

“Yeah. I still stepped in front of him.”

“Because…the end result is the same.”

“Yes.” He says, “The end result is the same. His Highness and Dimitri are the same man and in order for us to have everything we have to fight for it but that might mean we die for it.”

“You really have changed.” Ingrid laughs, sounding proud.

“Well yeah, but I’m still the same guy that you fell in love with, really underneath it all.”

“I love all the variations of you.” She tells him.

He starts laughing then too, “Really?” He challenges, “Even the fifteen year old one? The one that tried to -”

”Don’t finish that sentence.” She groans, burying her face into his shoulder.

He grins even when she can’t see it and ducks to kiss the top of her head.

There is so much unresolved in all of this. They cannot change Dimitri. They cannot end the war. They cannot run off. But somehow Sylvain feels better about this. Feels better even in the face of potential death.

He is still terrified. He is terrified that someone he cares about will die. He is terrified of a life without Ingrid. He cannot feel comforted about that. That will not go away. It isn’t supposed to.

But talking to her makes it easier to sit with all the discomfort that life brings, that war brings.

They have each other.

Now they just have to try to get Dimitri back and win this war because Sylvain is going to fight like hell to get everything, now that he knows he wants it and that Ingrid wants it too.

Chapter Text

Sylvain’s recovery is slower than he would like. He gets an all clear by Mercedes but he still doesn’t feel a hundred percent like himself. Nothing hurts anymore, he’s assured that all the danger has passed, but he doesn’t move as fast and doesn’t hold a lance as well. It’s like his body is stiff and his stamina still depleted.

Mercedes tells him that it’s fatigue from his body trying to heal, that he will likely feel this way for awhile, and that he should take it easy but he can’t. He can’t take it easy. Not with the promise of Gronder ahead of them.

He feels frustrated by it, frustrated as a man, as a solider, and as a friend. All he wants is to protect his friends, hell, sometimes he wonders, on his darkest days, if maybe that is the only good he can do, that he can only step in front of the blows meant for his loved ones, but now, with his body this way, he is afraid he will be too slow.

When he says this to Ingrid, one night, terrified and covered in sweat and full of muscle aches, she grips so hard onto his biceps that he thinks they might bruise and shakes him. There’s a fire in her eyes when she tells him that he is worth more than that, that he is worth everything, and that no matter what happens, whether he is whole or broken, dark or light, she will love him.

He does not find his voice after that. He can only pull her into his chest and will himself to believe her.

It is not as hard as it had once seemed.

Dimitri is not better but Dedue’s return and, perhaps, Sylvain’s near death makes him lash out less. He still does not join them for dinners but he does begin wandering the halls. His quiet vigil at the Cathedral no longer lasts the whole day and he stops staring blankly at broken walls, instead he chats occasionally with Rodrigue and the Professor and considers, although does not commit to, strategies that do not involve recklessly running straight into the fray.

Ingrid sees the way his blood still boils underneath it all, but, even still, her prince is slowly emerging.

But there are so many other things to worry about and now that Dedue is here Ingrid allows herself to take a step back from Dimitri. She still cares about him, of course, still loves him dearly but her heart feels split a hundred different ways. It is too taxing to fuss over Dimitri on top of it all, especially when he already has so many people fussing over him.

Instead, she spends most of her spare time with a grieving Dorothea who no longer smiles the same. The truth is, Dorothea is very good at hiding her pain, slipping in and out of it more easily than Sylvain sometimes, but, after the bridge, some exhausted part of her must have stopped bothering to hide the way her voice sounds, wistful and longing.

They have all killed before, for five years they have killed, but Ferdinand’s death weights heavily on all their hearts and with a likely reunion at Gronder looming over them, the weight of that reality settles uncomfortably underneath their skins.

For most of them, Ferdinand’s tragedy is a moment of true brutal clarity. It tells them that no one is safe in this. It teaches that those you knew will die at your hands, that while these imperial soldiers are not faceless and have never been faceless, they are your enemies.

But for Dorothea, it was all of that and much more personal. It means she will watch her close friends die and it means she may be asked to kill more.

Dorothea was not born to be a solider. She has become one, a fierce and terrifyingly competent one on the battlefield, but she was never meant to be one. Sometimes Ingrid wonders if any of them were ever meant to fight like this but the difference between her and Dorothea was that while Ingrid had raised herself to fight, Dorothea had raised herself to sing.

And on the nights when Dorothea ceases to, when the smile Dorothea is so good at giving feels way too dim, much too forced, Ingrid wonders if her friend will ever recover, wonders if it is too late to and wonders it silently because she knows she's afraid of the answer.

“She asked me, you know,” Dorothea says to Ingrid one night without prompting after they take refuge in Dorothea’s room, away from judgement and prying eyes. Only in the safety of the comfort and trust of each other would she say this while Ingrid sits above her on the bed brushing out her friend’s long beautiful hair, “in the beginning, Edie asked me to fight with her. She asked all of us. I think I was the only one who said no.”

The hands in Dorothea’s hair freeze in place, Dorothea either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care because she continues, staring ahead, her voice never wavering, although still, as it often is these days, heavy with a hint of sadness.

“I never wanted to fight.”

The words that Dorothea had said to her when they first reunited rings in her ears, and the echo of them strikes Ingrid deep and causes her breath to waver. The echo of the fact that all Dorothea had ever dared to hope for was a world in which as many of her friends could live as possible.

Ingrid wonders if any of them will at the end of this.

At a loss, Ingrid can only reply weakly with “The Professor managed to convince Lorenz, maybe they can talk to the others?”

A foolish hope she knows.

“After five years of waging war?” Dorothea asks sadly. She shakes her head, “I think, I think I hoped that I could talk to them, that if they saw me, then maybe…”

“Dorothea, you don’t have to stay.”

The expression on Dorothea’s face when she turns to look up at Ingrid, full of loss and hurt and a lifetime worth of pain still to come, says the words before Dorothea does.

“I don’t have anywhere to go.”

The brush is placed aside as Ingrid slips down to the ground next to Dorothea, “You’ll always have a place with me,” she says.

Dorothea’s eyes glimmer with something that looks like appreciation, nearly lost behind deep and profound simmering sadness. “Thank you for the offer Ingrid but you and Sylvain have an entire life ahead of you together, I can’t do that to you.”

“You’ve come to mean very much to me.” Ingrid says seriously, earnestly, “And Sylvain won’t mind.”

Dorothea purses her lip, “You’re my best friend Ingrid,” She says, taking Ingrid’s hand in both of her own, “But, I think, after all this, I’m going to have to find out where it is I belong. I’ll always want you to be a part of my life but I can’t just walk into yours.”

“You’re already a part of my life.”

“It’s different Ingrid, but thank you.”

Ingrid’s heart is heavy as she sighs. She knows what Dorothea means, that in the context of a future, a possible family, a married partnered life, Dorothea feels as if she doesn’t fit in it but it still doesn’t change anything for Ingrid. The parts of her life that Sylvain is in does not exclude the parts of her life her friends are in. It shouldn’t. She won’t let it. But the way that Dorothea is looking at her, the way she says her words, the things she’s left unsaid, remind her of all the reasons why she herself has left things unsaid before. So instead of pushing, Ingrid simply steps aside and leaves the door open. “If you ever change your mind.”

“I’ll let you know.”

They sit in silence for a long while after that, trying not to contemplate a future that may not come.

The next day, Ingrid pulls the Professor aside requesting that they refrain from deploying Dorothea at Gronder. Byleth assures her that they never planned to in the first place.

Felix retreats deep into the recesses of the training grounds or the Knights Hall, wherever he thinks he can avoid his father more. Sylvain often trains with him, trying to return his reflexes back to peak condition but Felix is relentless with his training. He does not pull any punches, does not let Sylvain off in the least. It is almost hard for Ingrid to watch one of her best friends level her husband but Sylvain never complains beyond a playful joke. When she asked him about it, he simply shrugged and said that it was good for him. When she had asked Felix, he had simply sneered and said “Do you think our enemies will let him off that easily?”

It seems he has not dealt with his feelings about Sylvain’s near death very well and every time she approaches him about it, Felix just shuts down even further. The best she can do is continue to send Sylvain to him and hope that the two of them can work it out somehow.

She is painstakingly aware that Sylvain is still not better yet. His injuries have healed but he tells her, and she can see, that his reflexes are not quite the same. He is slower and that in itself is terrifying because he was at his best when he nearly died.

She dreams about it sometimes, very vividly. She did not see him fall, she still doesn’t have the whole story, as far as she knows, only Dimitri and Felix do. She asked Sylvain about it once but he does not remember much. She is almost relieved for it.

But she can see it. Her imagination sees enough and it wakes her in cold sweat at night, makes her cry softly into his chest as he slumbers, makes her hold him even closer, hoping to chase a little bit more of his warmth.

Sylvain almost never wakes from it. He has been sleeping much more deeply after his injury and after his exhaustion at his attempts at training into full recovery, but he always seems to know the next morning anyway, always asks, “did you sleep okay?”

Now she never lies, she might have brushed it off once, but now she says “I had that dream again.”

Sometimes he says “me too,” and they have to spend the morning holding each other together.

Sylvain finds Felix in his usual spot very early on the morning a week before they march back into the heart of danger. He is the only one on the grounds, everyone else is likely at breakfast or still asleep.

Felix is never reckless in his training or in battle but, in the last two weeks that Sylvain has trained with him, he has become much more ruthless. Sylvain has an inkling as to why but every time he tries to talk, Felix snaps at him, tells him to pick up his weapon and try again.

He doesn’t know how often Felix rests. Sylvain assumes his friend does. They all know the dangers of over training and Felix is often meticulous in the way he has honed his body to fight. He is a perfect sword wielding machine on the battlefield.

But still Sylvain worries.

Sometimes, Felix is a lot more like Dimitri than he'd like to admit. He tries to be levelheaded but he’s still just a person. He feels things too, and feels them deeply no matter how hard he tries to hide it and Sylvain, from all his years of knowing Felix, would guess that there is a deep sense of anger and grief and worry that Felix refuses to acknowledge.

They all grew up in a system that left them all emotionally borked. Sylvain knows this, rebels against this, but he has found comfort in sharing with Ingrid. He does not see any reason why he cannot extend that comfort to Felix.

It is one of the reasons why Sylvain keeps coming back. It is one of the reasons why Sylvain purposefully chooses Felix to spar with. He is hoping, that with enough time, Felix will finally say something.

But he hasn’t and it’s been awhile.

Sylvain feels the best he has in weeks. This is his best chance thus far.

“Mornin’ Felix,” He greets, already geared up and ready to go.

“You’re up early.” Felix says without breaking away from his current drill. He has his real sword in hand and he goes through the movements quite gracefully.

“I know, I even beat Ingrid.” He grins before moving over to the rack to pick up a training sword and a lance, “Wanna spar?”

Felix nods but continues through his drill. Sylvain knows this to mean that he should wait so he does.

His friend is concentrating hard as he moves, eyebrows furrowed as he breathes and focuses on his form. Felix's foot work is impeccable and if Sylvain had never been on the wrong end of those exact movements, he could almost mistake it for a dance. Felix always starts with these drills and while he has never said so, Sylvain had always assumed that this ritual is calming for him.

When Felix finishes and sheathes his weapon before unhooking the scabbard from his belt to place gently on the rack, Sylvain breaks the quiet.

“But I have a condition.” He says, handing Felix the training sword.

His friend throws him a suspicious look but takes the sword.

“If I win, you have to talk.” Sylvain finishes.

“There’s nothing to talk about.”

Sylvain frowns, “I almost died and there’s nothing you want to talk about?”

“You didn’t die.” Felix says curtly, getting into position, “so there’s nothing to talk about.”

“Then I guess you’re just going to have to win.”

“I will.” Felix says.

By some miracle, Sylvain wins. It takes three different tries but he wins, eventually, but not until after gaining three giant new bruises from being whacked hard with a wooden sword.

But he wins which means Felix has to talk. Those were the rules.

Unfortunately, it is a lot harder than he had anticipated.

Felix is angry, angrier than Sylvain has seen him in a long time. Sylvain gives him a second to break for water and re-rack their weapons, but truthfully, he needs that second too. He needs to mentally prepare for what might come.

Any kind of real conversation is never easy for them. Faerghus nobles were taught never to be vulnerable and that conditioning is incredibly hard to break. Felix in particular happens to be very prickly as it is. Faintly, in the back of Sylvain’s mind, he remembers that his friend wasn’t always like this, trauma and expectation was one hell of a combination.

Felix is rolling one of his shoulders with his back to Sylvain when he finally approaches. “So, I won.” Sylvalin tries lightly.

Felix doesn't turn around. “I told you there’s nothing to talk about.” He says.

“Felix,” Sylvain sighs, sounding honest for once, “come on.”

“What the hell do you want me to say?” He grits, starting to walk away before stopping abruptly.

“I don’t know,” Sylvain admits, following.

The air is silent for awhile, tense, neither of them know how to do this. They have never really talked anything out, not since Glenn died. Felix is very good at shutting people out with his acidic personality, Sylvain is very good at batting anything heavy away with a joke.

“Do you remember the promise we made when we were kids?” Sylvain says suddenly, “About sticking together until we die together?”

He watches Felix's shoulders still and wonders for a second if he will ignore him, but he doesn’t, eventually, Felix simply says, “I remember.”

“Well, I’m really not trying to get myself killed before you. You know that right?”

There’s a split second of pause before Felix finally sighs, the anger ebbing away as his shoulders slump, “I know,” he says, finally turning around, sounding more tired than anything, “I know. But I’m tired of these close calls. I don’t want to lose any more people.”

Sylvain looks down at his boots, suddenly understanding Felix's need to turn away from him earlier. He is tired too, he does not want to die, but he can’t promise he won’t do it again. “I’m sorry.” He says, hoping that Felix understands what exactly he is apologizing for, “But I’m still here.”

Felix moves to sit on a nearby bench, leaning forward onto his elbows, “I know.” He says into the ground, “But you’re reckless, throwing yourself in front of people like that. You need to take your life more seriously.”

Sylvain does not miss the way Felix avoids saying Dimitri's name.

“Okay,” Sylvain tells him, both hands up, tone a little too light out of habit, “I get it. I’ll get my act together.”

"Do you though?" Felix questions with a glare, staring straight at Sylvain, "Do you really?"

Sylvain drops his hands with a frowns before approaching the bench. Felix scoots to make room for him "I do," he says, sitting down, voice quiet and serious as he looks out into the empty training grounds. "We're all in danger. I know that. We all want everyone to live through this but, Felix, I want you to know that I want to live through this too. I might throw myself in front of people but I don't do it because I'm being reckless. I'm doing it because I have to but I'm going to try my best to make sure that never has to happen."

He watches Felix consider this then watches him shake his head, "It's stupid and too noble." Felix says, "Ingrid is rubbing off on you."

"I guess she is," Sylvain admits, "But she's always kind of been the best parts of me."

"You're selling yourself too short." Felix says before getting up. "Fine," he continues, "just make sure it never happens."

"That's what I have you here for," Sylvain grins.

Felix's exasperated huff as he walks away almost makes Sylvain laugh.

"Sylvain?" Felix says suddenly, turning just as Sylvain thinks they're done, "Thank you."

“That’s what friends are for Felix.” Sylvain tells him before a playful grin stretches across his face, “Now hug it out?”

Felix visibly recoils, taking an automatic step back, “What? No.”

“Aw, come on Felix,” Sylvain says, arms outstretched, getting up to follow, “One hug! Please.”

“In your dreams.”

“Fine fine,” Sylvain laughs, before pointing at the training weapons, “Go again?”

“You’re on.”

Felix isn’t any less ruthless when they spar but something about him seems lighter, as if a tiny piece of the shadow that lingers above him has been lifted. Sylvain knows that one conversation does not fix every thing, especially one so short, especially when he feels that there is much more to say, but he is willing to find more opportunities to say it. Felix seems more willing too.

All too soon they are marching again and a sick sense of dread settles among the army. There are a lot of things left to say to a lot of people but they’ve run out of time. They can only hope that what they’ve said is enough for now.

Gronder Field is upon them, a deceptive patch of green in the short distance and in the last break before they march into battle, Ingrid pulls Sylvain aside.

There is no privacy out here among the army. There are only very tense soldiers in blue awaiting their commands. Up ahead, Ingrid can see Dimitri looking out into the distance, staring straight ahead, and somewhere, way deep in the back lines, Dorothea is stationed. The rest of the lions and their battalions are at the front, nervous energy radiating off of each other.

They can see the field now and it takes almost everything for Ingrid to stamp down any strange sense of conflicting nostalgia that comes with it. In a few minutes, this place will be littered with bodies, in a few minutes they will make their final approach.

Sylvain is easy to find, she has made a point of knowing where he is and where he will likely be for the start of this battle. It is hard to say what will happen later but she knows at least where he is stationed. No one questions her as she attempts to pull him aside.

There really isn’t anywhere for them to go. They cannot hide somewhere to talk, they need to be close enough to their battalions and stations just in case. There is very little time to spare. Ingrid feels every second of it drumming on her skin.

She finds a suitable enough spot in the gap between their two battalions. If anyone is looking at them, she does not care and does not notice.

The last time they were together before a battle, Ingrid hadn’t been able to say anything, the words simply hadn’t come and Sylvain had almost died.

The image is still in her head, the one from her worst dreams, it is Sylvain, broken, bruised, bloody and dying.

So this time, when Ingrid holds him close, takes his face in her hands and pulls his forehead to hers, she feels the way the tears come and she does not make any effort to hide it and despite this, despite this closeness, despite seeing him and only him, blurry in her sight, the image doesn’t go away.

Sylvain. Broken. Bruised. Bloody. Dying.

This time, when her eyes scan his, she whispers, throat hoarse and dry, “Come back to me.”

He breathes her in deep, she wishes she can feel every part of him against her, but there is too much armor in the way. She can only feel his breath on hers, his nose against hers, “I will,” He promises, “You come back to me too.”

And it is not a promise either of them can guarantee but they say it regardless.

He pulls her into his chest. His armor, hard, full of spikes and cold does nothing to comfort her but Ingrid lays her head against it anyway, trying to hear his heartbeat, and answers him with a nod as her hands wrap uncomfortably around his torso.

“You have to come back to me,” she cries, voice so quiet she can barely hear herself over the slow start of some commotion around them. “You have to.”

“I will Ingrid,” and he sounds hoarse too, hoarse and terrified, “I will.”

They repeat this until they can’t. Until war bells signal them to their mounts and their hands to their relics.

Then, an endless field of blue, yellow and red. Then Gronder and Dimitri and a war cry that will ring in her ears for years to come.

Chapter Text

In the end, Ingrid finds that she doesn’t remember much from the battle.

Just red.

Sylvain is hyper-aware of everything around him at Gronder. He would like to say that he is always this focused and this clear in the middle of battle but that just wouldn’t be true. War is long and arduous, it gives you time to think of strategies and stare over a map as you chat about how many nameless soldiers you could lose. It is, weirdly, very far away.

But battle is and has always been for him, up close and fast. It is all of those plans and strategies falling apart at the face of a very real reactive enemy. It is swords you parry and dodge as you forget the goal, because really, the goal, when you’re in it, is to live. That’s it. Everything else- taking ground, leading your battalion, pushing forward- those are all secondary to the many many ways you could die.

And now that Sylvain has been so very close to his death, he can’t help but be hyper vigilant. Before he would admit that perhaps he’d been a little bit reckless in the face of things. The adrenaline would push through his body and he would rely on it, on the strength it gives him, on the way it pushes his fears to the back of his brain but now? Now it is like everything is extra loud, it is like he jumps at every clang and it feels as though everyone else’s movements are so wild and unrelenting and his are slow and much too calculated.

He logs every one of the strikes that he nearly takes somewhere in the forefront of his mind and makes plans to practice avoiding them in the future.

He feels as if, should he dream about this someday, he would be able to recall every moment down to the exact details, down to the way death smells and sinks straight into the grass beneath his horses’ hooves.

Dimitri has charged too far ahead. It is as if he has lost his mind again and Sylvain’s instinct to chase after his friend is forcibly abandoned by the way his battalion flounders around him.

He keeps focused, Dimitri in his peripheral, on saving as many of his people as possible. The Lance of Ruin swings above his head and glows bright as he lays waste to an imperial solider and the grateful relief from a blue armored woman is cataloged away in his mind. He hopes desperately that she lives through more than just this moment.

Felix gives him aid, charging in from nearby giving Sylvain and his troops a bit of respite from immediate impending danger.

Sylvain’s eyes scan the field, refocuses on the way Dimitri continues to charge forward, automatically, his reigns tighten against his gauntlets and he begins to move in that direction.

“We have to take the center,” Felix’s voice cuts through, loud, despite the distance and the roaring of nearby screams and spellwork, “Otherwise our fliers won’t stand a chance.”

Sylvain grits his teeth, thinks, Ingrid and nods, still staring at Dimitri’s back.

“Dedue’s got him.” Felix says, “Come on, I’ll help.”

Sylvain extends his arm, pulls Felix up roughly onto the saddle and takes off before Felix is fully settled behind him, thundering towards the center as Annette and Ashe clear a path from nearby.

In the distance, he sees, at the ballista surrounded by soldiers, a crop of purple hair.

His heart does not have time to drop. He can only mumble, “Is that-”

Felix doesn’t say anything from behind, perhaps he hadn’t heard him from all the noise around them, instead he simply jumps off when Sylvain slows and whatever conversation they might have had is forced to die at the way they scramble to clear the route. Above them, something large fires far and away, and, in the midst of trampling over someone, Sylvain tracks it, tracks the way it falls wayside to the trees and does not have time to be relieved that it likely hit nothing.

The battle continues like this, pushing forward slowly, dodging swords and axes and lances all pointed at them in the chaos of three armies colliding. The fire and screaming and quickly changing commands does its damnedest to distract Sylvain but the way his blood pulses, steady somehow and loud in his ears, the way he breathes, the way he scans the battlefield and logs the position of his friends, stays the same.

He is slower, sure, but he is also aware that there is no more time to be reckless.

There is no one with Felix when he speeds towards the center. Sylvain is too far behind and will not be able to catch up with the way he is desperately preventing the enemy from flanking Felix as he rushes up the ramp. At the top, from his position, Sylvain can only see one very familiar bowman.

At that range, Bernadetta does not stand a chance. She will die by Felix’s hand.

He cannot help but think about the aftermath of all of this. He thinks about her body. He thinks that he does not want to be the one to have to come across it when it’s all over. He does not want to have to bury her in some unmarked grave full of red soldiers.

Around him, everything slows, and even surrounded by chaos and debris, Sylvain watches, breath held in his chest, as Felix, back turned to him, and Bernedetta, wide-eyed, stare each other down.

Felix’s hand is on his weapon. He is poised to spring forward but Bernadetta does not raise her bow and Felix does not move.

He doesn’t know what happens next, he doesn’t know what is said, because a burst of flame erupts too close for comfort, extinguished only by the way Ashe’s arrow pierces the caster and when he looks back up, he can only see the back of Bernadetta’s head as it flees deep into the back rank. He can only note how Felix lets her.

Sylvain would have done the same, he thinks, he has always liked Bernedetta after all.

They take the center, barely survive the way it is engulfed entirely by flame and manage to avoid the bulk of the Alliance army. Eventually they force Edelgard to retreat.

It doesn’t feel like a victory. Especially not with what happens next.

Sylvain, and everyone else for that matter, is too far away to prevent what happens but close enough to see the way Rodrigue throws himself in front of Dimitri. It is strange seeing it from this perspective, strange because he had done the exact same thing only a month before, only this time, Dimitri does not pick up Rodrigue and run for help which tells Sylvain all he needs to know.

Felix is beside him, he sees it too, but Sylvain cannot see Felix’s face, cannot see the way it breaks. He can only see Felix’s back as he takes off running, sees him charge into the way Imperial reinforcements begin to gather.

“Felix!” He calls, chasing. On horseback, it is easy to catch up to his friend, “You can’t!”

“Get the hell out of my way!” Felix screams, chest heaving.

Sylvain darts in front of him, blocks off the rest of Felix’s path, behind him, he notes the way red continues to move towards them. “We have to go.”

“I swear to the Goddess Sylvain if you don’t move, I will make. you. move.

Sylvain jumps off, finds himself standing in front of Felix. It is such a stupid thing to do with the way the army continues to march towards them but he cannot think of anything else to do.

Felix falters, somewhere beneath his rage, still bubbling, gives way to surprise.

For the first time in a long time Sylvain registers exactly how young truly Felix is. How young he is to have lost so much. In front of him, standing, tears in his eyes, blood on his skin, scars on his heart, Sylvain does not see a skilled swordsman nor does he see a veteran solider. He only sees a very angry sad boy.

“Then make me move Felix.” He says quietly, almost unheard in the space between them.

Felix looks beyond him, beyond the mare, looks straight across the battlefield, sees the way Dimitri has signaled a retreat and grips hard on his pommel as he hesitates. At first, Sylvain thinks he’s going to scream skyward, but then Felix simply closes his eyes, breathes a ragged heavy breath in and shakes his head.

“Let’s go.” He grits.

Sylvain knows it takes his friend everything in order to do so.

He nods, jumps on his horse and extends a hand. Felix takes it.

The trek back to the monastery is quiet and heavy.

Sylvain is too afraid for what this might mean for Dimitri to think on it too hard. He has no space to think on it too hard, not when Felix needs just as much attention but Felix wants space. He doesn’t need to say it for anyone to know it. The way he stalks away from him and makes the walk back, still within formation, but without any eye contact, says more than enough.

Sylvain spends the whole journey going over the battle in repeat instead, doing his best to ignore the way his body aches with new pains, analyzing everything until he nearly loses his mind.

It isn’t until halfway back that Ingrid finds him among the army, breaks from marching orders and travels silently next to him that he feels his mind slow, feels the exhaustion that creeps into him.

It is a long journey back.

In the end, Dimitri apologizes and announces his new plan to redirect their war efforts towards Fhirdiad.

Ingrid and Sylvain should have been ecstatic, or, at the very least, profoundly relieved but Rodrigue’s death hangs heavy over the morale of the entire Monastery.

And honestly, they can’t feel much more over their worry over Felix.

There are still lots of feelings to be had about Dimitri that they still have to sort through, about the battle as a whole, but they’ve agreed to put it all on hold for the way that Felix needs them.

And he needs them, no matter how hard he tries not to.

Three nights post Gronder, Felix has hardly said a word about himself or about his father, not since the war council meeting with the other lions. Ingrid spends her days valiantly attempting to split her time between Felix and Dorothea. Sylvain, by contrast, mostly stays within Felix’s hemisphere, willing to distract if necessary.

The first day, Felix had slammed a door in his face. The second, he let Sylvain train alongside him, although very clearly stated that there would be no sparring. By the third day, Felix seemed to have resigned himself to silent slow sword drills, lips pressed to a thin line as he hardly made a sound for hours.

It doesn’t look like Felix is sleeping.

Sylvain watches as the way the raw anger of grief settles deep into Felix’s body, into the way his shoulders tense, into the locked jaw that refuses to relax. Felix’s anger is not like Dimitri’s, it simmers quietly below the surface, controlled and bitter. It is not explosive like the way Dimitri would glower or yell or growl, although it can be just as destructive.

Sylvain knows this because he knows he’s got a little of both of them in himself.

When Felix finally tires, it is well past dinner and Ingrid has joined them, out of her armor and in a green simple tunic. The Knights and everyone else have cleared the Knights Hall, most of them too polite to have ever entered it in the first place, not after seeing the way Felix had claimed the space.

Felix sinks deep into the couch in front of the fire. He is covered in sweat, his armor still on. His calloused hands are bleeding from a burst blister he doesn’t care to mend and he folds them in front of him resting his chin forward on his fists, propped up by his elbows as he stares into the way the wood burns.

Ingrid carefully slides into the seat next to him, when Felix doesn’t flinch, she tries for his hand, but, while he does not shake her off, he does tense even harder, glare set even deeper so she finds herself retracting her hand away into her lap.

Sylvain observes the scene, watches Ingrid frown, watches the way helpless worry settles on her face as she meets her husband’s gaze.

Sylvain frowns at her before sighing, pulling out a flask from his breast pocket. He too has changed out of his armor. He uncorks the flask, places it on the table directly in front of Felix and plops himself dramatically into the seat on Felix’s other side. Everything Sylvain does around Felix feels big and wide, as if he is doing it so that Felix won't startle against the fog of grief in his eyes. “You look like you need a drink.” He says loudly, clapping Felix hard on the shoulder.

He catches Ingrid’s eye and shrugs at her questioning but not disapproving look.

At first Felix doesn’t say anything but eventually he reaches out, snatches the container and takes a swig.

“The hell is that?” Felix grumbles a second later with a cough. He brushes his lips roughly with the back of one hand while passing the flask back to Sylvain.

“I dunno, I found it in the market.” Sylvain admits before taking a drink himself, making a face as he offers it to Ingrid. “But wow, yeah, that’s uh-”

Ingrid takes a whiff and regrets it. The smell is so awful that it makes her eyes sting but she says nothing as she tips the flask back, taking a smallish gulp as the liquor singes her chapped lips and burns all the way down her throat.

“Awful.” Ingrid finishes. She looks around the room to see if there is anything possible to wash it down with but there is only the whisper of the flames from the fireplace in front of them, dusty books very few people read, and swords left in their scabbards.

Felix makes a sound that sounds like the beginning of a chuckle but it dies too quickly. It is more like a breath but not quite a tsk and for a moment Ingrid tenses and watches, waiting to see what Felix will do next.

But the only thing Felix ends up doing is sit back up, roll his shoulders, and exhale, before holding his hand out.

Ingrid passes the flask back to him and watches him take another drink.

He does not cough this time but he still makes an ugly face as the alcohol lingers on his tongue. “That really doesn’t get any better.” He says flatly.

A very small smile settles on Sylvain’s face. It is not a smile that says he is happy, it isn’t even of relief, it is simply an acknowledgement, “Yeah, well,” he shrugs, taking the flask back, “I don’t think it’ll matter once you’ve had a couple of swigs.”

Felix snorts and relaxes slowly into the back of the couch, he rests his hands on his stomach, fingers threaded together, “Hell no,” he says, “Not unless you’ve got something better.”

“There’s a bottle behind that shelf.” Someone says from across the room.

Three sets of eyes look up. Dimitri meets their gaze a few steps in from the doorway looking somewhat unsure. It is the first time Ingrid has seen him out of his armor in five years. Instead, he has opted for something simple, a white shirt with the top two buttons missing and black pants.

He is not as imposing like this. In fact, he almost looks young again, but the marks from the last five years are apparent. His hair is still messy and unkempt, like he has run his hands too many times through it, his rolled up sleeves betray the way his skin is marred red with the roughness of half-healed scars and he is still broad shouldered and far away.

“I’m sorry for intruding.” He says, voice strangely quiet, “I thought I heard something in here and came to investigate. I can leave if you wish.”

Ingrid throws Sylvain a worried glance but Sylvain doesn’t notice, he is too busy staring down Dimitri with a hard to read expression on his face. She can see his jaw tighten and knows that he is just as tense as she is. She chances a glance at Felix.

Felix has sat up a little, his expression is as cold as it ever was and it stays frozen in place as he looks at Dimitri.

For a moment, everything is silent.

But then, then Felix shrugs and turns his eyes back to the fireplace. “No, you can stay.”

The breath returns to her, she hadn’t even realized she held it. She watches as Sylvain’s fist remains clenched but his jaw slackens as he continues to eye Dimitri. Dimitiri takes tentative steps into the room and goes to retrieve an expensive and mostly full looking bottle alongside four small glasses.

“Whose is this?” Ingrid can’t help but ask.

Dimitri shrugs, “Probably Catherine’s” he says uncorking the bottle and giving everyone a generous pour, “But I’ll just tell her that Faergus thanks her for her service.”

Sylvain blinks at Dimitri, astonished, “Your highness…did you….did you just make a joke?”

“Erm-I suppose so,” Dimitri says eyes uncertain as he pauses in his action, “although it doesn’t sound like it was a very good one given your reactions.”

Something about the air relaxes then with the way Dimitri tries to smile, strained, unfamiliar and nervous but trying as he returns to pouring. It would mean a lot to Ingrid had she not been more worried about the way Felix would take it.

But Felix doesn’t even notice or if he does, it doesn’t offend him, instead, he reaches for one of the glasses.

“It needs work.” Sylvain replies, picking up his own, “I can help you workshop it.”

This gets Felix to grumble, “I can’t think of a worse idea.”

“I probably can.” Sylvain grins, “Just give me a few minutes.”

“Let’s not,” Ingrid tries to keep her tone light, tries to remember what it is like to jokingly remand Sylvain as Dimitri hands her a glass.

“Just drink.” Felix says.

All four of them raise their glasses and meet in the middle in silence before they tip their drinks back.

The first few minutes of drinking are a bit pathetic. It’s awkward small talk as Sylvain tries to lighten the mood with a comment or two as Felix grunts or ignores and Dimitri trying his damnedest to say something that sounds somewhat normal. The result is that it’s mostly Ingrid and Sylvain attempting to moderate the tense atmosphere with words that mean very little, trying to pretend away the two very large elephants in the room.

Sylvain hopes that with way the liquor pours, the tension will find a way of easing out, he’s just unsure whether or not it will be horribly violent and explosive. He is half expecting Felix to lunge at Dimitri at any moment.

He thinks Dimitri expects this too.

But Felix doesn’t. Instead, after a few drinks, when Felix goes for another, he suddenly raises his glass and says, very quietly, without looking at anyone, “To my father.”

Ingrid, Dimitri and Sylvain quickly follow suit and echo him with a “To Rodrigue” as they drink.

They are silent for another tense moment as Dimitri, who has since found a chair, refills their glasses.

It is Ingrid, slightly buzzed and wracked with a nervous shaky tension who reaches out for the next glass first, raises it in the air and says, almost too quietly, “To Glenn.”

She has no idea what possesses her to do this. Maybe it is simply the fact that she is with a grieving Felix and that they’ve never truly grieved together before when they should have. They’ve talked very little about the way Glenn affected them and every time they tried, nothing really seemed to come of it. They were both too young to make sense of anything then. Hell, they might not ever really make sense of it.

She looks at Felix as she does so, afraid of his reaction. He stares back and something about him just seems so sad now. For once, she does not see the anger or bitterness that she knows runs through him, instead she sees something more resigned. She sees the way grief has taken hold of his spirit and the way it has tired and aged him. It must be hard to hold up a front for so long. She wonders if maybe the alcohol is what inspires enough recklessness in him to let her see.

Or perhaps it is all in her head. Perhaps it is something she only wishes she could see.

She feels the way Sylvain and Dimitri’s eyes set on her but she does not look away from Felix.

Felix instead reaches for his glass, joins it against Ingrid’s again, “To Glenn” he says.

And they drink.

Their cheers and monuments to the lost get more and more ridiculous as they continue. What starts with Rodrigue and Glenn ends up with random horses and people who are still living.

“Hey,” Sylvain says, very drunk and slurred when Ingrid questions his eulogy to the lost pheasants they feed the wyverns, “They deserve some recognition too.”

It ends with them all laughing at various random points for no reason. It ends with tears and smiles and a lot of avoidance. It ends with stories about Rodgrigue and Glenn and classmates that start with good intentions and end up lost to the way their minds wanders with drink, a point never being made.

It ends with memories half hazy as Sylvain and Felix end up dozing off on each other, heads knocked together, deep into the couch, their hands still on their glasses. Sylvain’s tips as he rustles with a particularly loud snore, making Ingrid giggle when he doesn’t wake even as the leftover drink spills on his shirt.

She reaches over to collect the the glasses from her boys. She stopped drinking ages ago but the heavy buzz she feels thrumming against her skull and the way she has to pause to reorient tells her that she is nowhere in the clear.

Dimitri smiles at her, this still strained thing, as if he is relearning how the muscles on his face work but it is not an unpleasant smile. It is not savage and bloodthirsty. In this light, it simply looks awkward and out of place. He had stopped drinking too, although lasting a bit longer than Ingrid had. He only stopped when they ran out of the nice bottle and pulled back to watch as the other two boys passed that awful flask back and forth cheersing dust bunnies or whatnot.

“I never thought I’d feel this again.” Dimitri says quietly, voice hoarse, nearly drowned out by the way Sylvain continues to snore.

Ingrid hums in acknowledgement as she attempts to tidy but there are no rags nearby to wipe the table down and she’s already placed the glasses aside. “Feel what?” She asks, busying herself with the glasses again anyway.

“Joy?” Dimitri tries, she doesn’t have to look at him to know the way he winces, “No that’s not right-”

“Catharsis?” Ingrid tries. She has moved the glasses three times now. There is nothing left to do with her hands. She sits back into the couch instead and allows herself to look at Dimitri again.

He is staring at the bundle of boys next to her. His face soft but still with that hint of sadness. Always with a hint of that sadness. She imagines it will never go away really.

“Yes, catharsis,” he says, mulling the word over in his mouth before finally looking at Ingrid. “Do you think it will last?”

She glances away from Dimitri, glances next to her again to Felix’s face, relaxed in his drunken slumber.

“Not past morning.” She tells him sadly, propping her head up with her hand against the arm of the couch.

“I suppose your right.”

It is an admission that this moment has done nothing substantial to fix any of the things broken in the last five years between them. Things that Dimitri himself had broken. She wishes that it could last but she knows that tomorrow Felix will wake up miserable, will still wake without a father, without a brother and with a splitting headache.

They lull into another silence, this time, the buzzing in her body and perhaps the quiet and peace of the late night hour prevents any tension from creeping back. Ingrid closes her eyes, listens to the breathing in the room and the crackling of the fire alongside the loud thump of her heartbeat against her ears.

“Ingrid,” she hears Dimitri say before she nods off, “There’s still a lot I need to say. Things I’d like to say to you.”

“Yes,” she replies, eyes still shut, “But not right now.”

“Can I at least apologize?”

“Dimitri-” She half hums, “I’m still drunk.”

“Right.” He mumbles, “Sorry.”

The night ends this way, with four old friends pretending the world away.

Sylvain wakes with a headache that threatens to split his skull in half and a crick in his neck so painful that he almost can’t sit up straight. He hasn’t felt this bad since he almost died, hell, honestly, this might feel worse. When he was dying, he was mostly unconscious after all, unconscious and in shock. He honestly hadn’t felt much of anything after the initial wound.

What even happened last night?

Oh right, he groans when he sits up, rolling his neck around and wincing in pain. They had drinks and he had fallen asleep. He doesn’t remember much past that.

“Morning,” Ingrid says, voice way too loud.

His eyes scan the room. It’s just the two of them and the light coming in tells him that day has broken.

“Where’s Felix?” He asks, rubbing his temples.

Ingrid gently peels his hands away to massage them herself, kneeling in front of him. “We took him to his room.”

He furrows his brow, we? he almost asks, but then he remembers Dimitri. His head throbs harder at the thought of the prince so he pushes it as far as it will go for now.

“Why didn’t you take me?” He groans, hands against his neck, attempting to rub the knot away.

“You’re bigger.” She laughs as reaches next to her and hands him a glass of water.

He looks up at her, sees her bright beautiful, albeit still tired, smile and purses his lips. “How come you look a hundred times better than me?”

“Because I actually made it to bed.”

He frowns, glass halfway up to his lips, “Without me?” he pouts.

Ingrid’s laugh makes him wince. Normally he loves it and finds it wonderful, but with the way he carries his hangover, it ends up being a slight bit too much.

“Next time don’t drink so much.” She smirks, pushing the glass towards his mouth.

He downs the whole thing but barely feels any better.

“How are you feeling?” Ingrid asks, taking the empty glass back.

“Like I’ve been trampled by a horse.”

She sighs and runs a cool hand through his hair. It is the most comforting thing she’s done thus far so he leans into it and practicably moans, eyes closing automatically.

She pauses her hands in order to drop a kiss against his head, “Aw,” she says, patting his head, not sounding the least bit sympathetic, “poor thing.”

“Try not to sound too amused by this.” He smiles, before pleading, “Please don’t stop.”

Her hands return to what they were doing before and Sylvain allows himself to sink into it. The headache is still very bad, he’s slightly nauseous and his throat is on fire but this is still nice. He should ask her to do this more often when he doesn’t feel like hell.

“How are you?” He asks many moments later.

“A little hungover,” she admits, “but not as bad as you.”

“And Felix?”

“Hasn’t woken up yet as far as I know.” She says, and then frowns, “But he was in pretty bad shape last night. He threw up when we tried to pick him up but that might actually be a good thing.”

“Note to self,” Sylvain sighs, finally pulling away from Ingrid and her hands, “no more mysterious market liquor.”

“Probably a good rule to live by.”

He returns her small sad smile with the brightest one he can muster in his sorry state and he knows he does it right because Ingrid’s expression softens into a look that tells him he is very very lucky. He doesn’t erase the sadness on her face, doesn’t change the reality outside of this room, but she looks at him with a some sense of renewed comfort and selfishly, he knows that he wants to be the only person who can do that because it is true the other way around.

“Come on.” She says, offering a hand to pull him up as she rises, “You should go get cleaned up. You’re disgusting.”

“Hey now,” He says, taking her hand, but he is not at all offended. “A little more sympathy please?”

She shakes her head, “This is your own fault.” She says, poking him in the chest when he stands.

“I was helping a friend!” He defends.

“I know.” Her tone shifts again and that hint of sadness comes creeping back in but she shakes it off easily when she looks into his eyes, “I think we all needed that.”

“Yeah,” he says, also a little sad, “It was…”

He can’t find the right word for it, not with the way the sun is too bright, not with the way his head still throbs and his stomach still lurches but even if he was fine, he’s not entirely sure if the right word would come.

“Yeah,” she says, as if she knows. Ingrid tugs him gently towards the door, “Come on, lets get you cleaned up and get some food in you.”

He nods and immediately regrets the way his head spins, “Are you going to help?”

“Why do you think I’m here?” She nudges, looping her arms around his.

“Because you love me and wanted to see me?”

“Well yeah, that too.”

He smiles even as the sun hits him, still way too bright, and while his hangover sucks, he can’t help but like the way Ingrid holds onto him, even while she continues to laughs at him.

Chapter Text

In the weeks following Dimitri’s announcement to change directions, to set a course towards Fhirdiad, the army buzzes with a renewed sense of purpose. It is still war, Rodrigue’s death has still shaken everybody, not to mention the way that Felix’s mood swings among it all and there will still be death to come but it feels closer towards building something rather than razing the world to the ground.

The Monastery feels more like they did when they first all reunited, exhausted but excited and hopeful. It is hard not to get caught up in it, caught up in the way the lightened morale has reinvigorated the spirit, has made the soldiers feel like they’re fighting for something instead of against something.

Restoration has also picked up again. Everywhere Ingrid turns, she can see the way the repairs are finally coming to fruition. Cyril scrubs down and replaces parts of the walls where charred marks used to be, Dedue has returned to tending to the greenhouse, replacing the soil and uprooting the weeds, Annette and Ashe have largely restored the library and Mercedes works with Manuela on expanding the infirmary.

All those memories that used to strike her, bittersweet straight through her heart as nostalgia creeps in, are slowly being replaced with the tired but genuine smile of Mercedes when she watches the way Dorothea shares a tune with Annette over the dinner table and the excitement in Ashe’s eyes when he finds an old book they’ve both cherished in their youths.

It is not the same but they are new good memories that are not clouded by a heavy fog of war.

Enbarr was a conquest. Marching towards it was fueled by hate and anger and revenge. Ingrid had tried many times to fool herself into thinking it was something else, fool herself into righteousness.

But did she believe - ever really - in the blind hope that marching through the city streets of the Empire’s capital would free her country in the end? Or did she simply will herself believe it? Make herself believe because, in the deep hole of grief and rage that sat in Dimitri’s soul, she knew that there would be no changing his mind and she knew that she would rather believe desperately, faithfully, than be angry at a man she promised herself she would serve.

She doesn’t know how to be angry at Dimitri. It is bad every time. Once, back in their Academy days, she had lashed out at him over Glenn and that was awful and unbecoming of her. She never wanted to do it again.

She has never been like Sylvain who holds his anger in, holds it close and finds secret ways to be bitter. She is not like Felix who learned to hate him, who spits words and focuses hard on the way he wields a sword and the sharpness of his words. Ingrid has always rationed away her feelings. She redirects her energy into productivity, into fixing a problem and towards finding forgiveness when possible. She finds ways to take action and repeats it again and again, even when it bears no fruit.

So she chose to believe in him instead of being angry at him because Dimitri is her prince and not believing in him- questioning a stubborn man, meant not believing in everything she has ever upheld as an ideal.

She knew, in the state that he was in, she would never change Dimitri’s mind so she never really tried. Instead she served and supported. All the questioning was done to herself as she yearned to do better and more for a man lost to a long history of his own tragedy.

How much has she given of herself in the service of her lord? How much of it was worth it?

She doesn’t know the answer to that. What she does know is that Enbarr is a conquest. It has always been a conquest. But Fhirdiad? Walking towards Fhirdiad feels like building something again. It feels new and right. It feels like letting herself laugh without too much guilt when Sylvain shoots her a goofy grin from another table as Felix refuses to hide his irritation, neither of them paying much attention to the way Ashe chatters next to them while Dedue and Dimitri listen earnestly.

Fhirdiad feels like liberation.

Felix has not spoken very much to her personally about anything of note after that night in front of the fire. He is better than she feared he would be but she suspects that almost all of it is from avoidance. Between war meetings about their new plans, restoration and rigorous training, there has been very little down time to talk about anything really, let alone feelings.

She and Sylvain keep trying though, along with everyone else, but Sylvain in particular seems to have better luck than she does. He’s better at it than she is. It’s something about the bond the two boys share, something that has nothing to do with her that she cannot and doesn’t want to intrude on.

But that doesn’t mean she’s going to let him do all the work.

She finds herself knocking on Felix’s door, rapping upon it softly with her knuckles. It is only early evening so she knows he is still up. She can also see the light underneath the crack. It is silent for a long moment.

She knocks again, louder this time.

“Felix.” She tries, “It’s me.”

There is no answer. She wonders if he is pretending to be sleeping.

She knows he is inside. He retreated from dinner earlier than everyone else had and while she did not immediately follow, she did check his usual places but the Knights Hall and the Training Grounds had lacked one long haired swordsman.

“Felix,” She says again, this time using the flat end of her first, trying to keep the frustration out of her voice. She remembers this, remembers locking herself behind a door for weeks, refusing to be seen. But Felix is not like her. They do not grieve the same way. “Don’t make me kick the door down.”

She just wants him to respond. If he tells her to go away, she will, but this lack of anything from the other side alarms her.

“Felix!” She shouts.

The response she gets is not from the other side of the door. In fact, it comes from down the hallway.

“Calm down,” Felix says, sounding annoyed as he approaches her. He has a towel in his hand, patting his hair dry and his white shirt is only halfway buttoned up. “What is it?”

“Oh,” She says, embarrassed and looking away, “I thought you were ignoring me.”

“Try the doorknob next time.” He turns the handle and lets it swing open to prove a point. “It’s unlocked.”

Ingrid rubs her hand on her face, she feels her face flush as Felix walks past her and into the room, draping his towel on his neck as sits on his bed and gestures for her to enter. “I didn’t want to just walk in.” She says sheepishly.

He doesn’t look up at her, instead, he works on buttoning his shirt the rest of the way, “So you were going to kick the door down instead?”

“I wasn’t actually going to do it!” She huffs as she enters, closing the door behind her.

“I have actually seen you do it.”

She groans but doesn’t respond, instead, she waits for him, leaning against his desk directly opposite him.

“So,” he says when he finishes, placing both his hands flat down on his thighs, “What do you want?”

He is startlingly calm. She had expected him to tell her to quit bugging him, to get out, she had even prepared rebuttals for it but this is harder somehow.

There has always been this distance between them whenever conversation veered too close to anything emotional. She thinks it is probably some holdover from Glenn and how they’ve never really truly talked about it with each other. They should have but circumstances and grief caused a ripple that reaches far beyond death. It cracks the ground between her and Felix, makes them both tread around the thing they do not want to talk about.

And honestly? Honestly, Ingrid doesn’t like to be vulnerable. It is hard to unlearn that instinct.

She suspects that Felix likes it even less. It is why he bites so hard whenever anyone tries. Why he chases people away with words that he knows will hurt them.

“I just wanted to see how you were doing.” She says finally. It is not quite right. It doesn’t really convey the deep worry she has over him, but it is honest.

She watches Felix tense, watches the way his fingers curl on his thighs into fists, watches his jaw lock. “I’m fine.” He says.

He is probably exhausted from saying it again and again; she is exhausted from asking it.

They are both like this. To be honest, in a way that perhaps no one can really see but each other, she and Felix are very similar. The truth is that they are very good at pretending to be direct but their actual understanding of each other is based too much on the things they don’t say.

Felix says “I’m fine” but anyone with eyes can tell that he isn’t. That that statement is simply another way of saying, “I don’t want to talk about it. Leave me alone.”

Sometimes, Ingrid hears it and listens but today something is propelling her to stay. “You’re not.” She insists, “How could you be?”

He huffs and doesn’t answer, choosing instead to stare deep into the wood flooring between them.

Before, whenever Ingrid tried to get Felix to open up, she would have to find ways to talk around it with a hypothetical or use language that objectifies their experiences and if she fails at it or if Felix truly did not want to elaborate he would deflect it. Sometimes, he could be rather vindictive about the way he does it.

That is how they understood each other. At a careful but loving distance, through implications and with actions.

And it is both their failings, she knows.

Today though, she will be genuinely direct. She is too tired of not saying it. It is too much like her misunderstanding with Sylvain. She is tired of the way she distances herself from her friends, and for what reason?

To present a version of herself that isn’t entirely real anymore?

“Felix,” She tries again but before she can say anything else, he lets out a long exhausted and loud breath.

“I don’t know what you want me to say Ingrid.” He spits, anger and bitterness rising with the way his body continues to tense, “My father’s dead. It’s shit. The end.”

Ingrid purses her lip. “You’re still allowed to feel and say what you want though.”

“I’m also allowed to not say anything.”

He’s got her there. She crosses her arms, for a long moment they just stare at each other.

Felix looks away first. His breathing gets more and more shallow, at one point, he screws his eyes shut and she knows that she has triggered something in him, that he is trying desperately to push everything away. He puts it all in plain display, with the way his shoulders tense, his head hanging low, his hands coming up to cradle his neck.

“Fuck!” He explodes suddenly, rising to pace vigorously around the room.

He looks very much like he wants to throw something but doesn’t. “He was a fool.” He tells her, turning the full force of his ire towards her, “Why would he do that?”

She knows this feeling, knows this question, she asked it a million times herself when Glenn died, asked it again when Sylvain almost did even when she knew the reasons for it.

The only answer she has for him is a bad one; it is also the only honest one she knows. She considers not saying it but Felix, with the way his chest heaves, with the way his eyes plead into hers seems to want to hear it.

“He died following his heart.” She says.

“Fuck his heart.” He curses, eyes darting wildly around the room as if once again looking for something to throw or punch but deciding against it. “I’m tired of people dying over their damned hearts. It’s foolish.”

Something rises in Ingrid then. It feels like indignation. “Is it really that foolish?” She shoots back, “Foolish to act in line with what one values most?”

Does that not diminish the act? She does not say.

“What does it matter if you all end up dead in the end?”

The bitter tone in his voice, the resignation and defeat in him as he slumps back down onto the edge of his bed breaks her heart more than any words possibly could.

“Felix,” she says, and that conversation with Sylvain about dying pops up again and she knows that her next words will bring little comfort to him but she also remembers why they are necessary. “Were I to die, I would die knowing I followed my heart - my truest calling.”

She lets the words sit between them but braces for a second explosion.

It doesn’t come, instead what comes is gruff disbelief in the form of a scoff. “Your truest calling is it?” The venom in his tone stings.

“Yes.”

“What happened to knighthood?”

Her eyebrows rise in surprise, her arms drop to her side, hanging loosely. At first, she doesn’t know what to say but then the words come, slowly initially, before picking up, “I’ve…I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.” She admits, wringing her hands together as she steps forward towards him, “About knighthood and what that means. What it means for me to be or not to be one…what my place is in the world without that dream and lately…well, I guess I realized that I don’t want to lose anyone anymore either Felix. I want to protect those I hold dear. Maybe it’s simple as that.”

He lets out a dark half chuckle, “Sounds the same to me.”

“Is it?” She questions, coming to stand directly in front of him. “What is it you fight for Felix?”

“My own beliefs.” He says without hesitation.

“And what are those?”

Felix doesn’t answer because they both know what the reason is. It is the same reason they all fight. In the end, it is about love, even if he still isn’t ready to admit it but she still wants him to say it.

“To get stronger so you can protect us right?” She presses. “Same as me.”

“Goddess you can be so annoying.” He sighs, “Fine, yes. That.”

“Your father was just doing the same.”

“I know why he did it.” Felix snaps, “That’s not the point.”

“Then what is?”

There’s a moment of silence. She knows that maybe she is pushing too hard but maybe it is time to. She is unwilling to let the question fall away to Felix’s heavy breaths. Perhaps she is being annoying but it is the only way she knows how to do this.

“There is nowhere for all this,” he gestures vaguely to himself and then the air, “to go. It just is and it sucks. So what the hell is the point of talking about it?”

“It’s better than not talking about it.”

“Is it? Because we just end up going around in circles.”

“Felix, I don’t know how to help you if you don’t tell me what you need.”

“You’re one to talk.” He shoots back before lying back horizontally on his bed, legs dangling off the side, Ingrid sits down next to him to watch the way he stares at the ceiling and waits until he speaks again. This time, he’s quieter but no less firm. “I need you not to die.”

“I have no intention of dying.”

Felix nods and exhales slowly, as if relieved, as if finally releasing something while covering his eyes with his forearm.

“You too.” She whispers, lying gently next to him, “You can’t die either.”

He grunts an answer to her that she takes for an affirmation and then they stay like that for awhile, breathing next to each other.

It is late night and in the kitchen that Dimitri finds her. Sylvain is already in deep sleep. Normally it is the other way around, Ingrid is the one who sleeps and rises early. Sylvain is usually the opposite but somehow, with the way the war has gone, things have flipped.

Maybe it is simply because Sylvain is trying to align himself with Felix’s schedule. Felix who also rises early, whose best outlet is the way he breaks his body in the lonely morning hours of a near empty training ground.

She is hopeful for him, hopeful that something is different this time. That instead of internalizing his grief like he did with Glenn and redirecting it into an anger of a world that had failed him, into a system that sought to justify his brother’s death, he would be able to resolve some form of the festering in him. Maybe their conversation tonight is a step in the right direction.

Not that she is any better. Where as Felix had projected his anger elsewhere, she had learned to deify Glenn, upholding and chasing after an ideal that perhaps does not exist. She sees it more and more now although it is hard to shake the way it has been conditioned into her. She wonders, sadly, what they will do with the way they mourn Rodrigue, wonders in what way they may lose the person underneath it all by morphing him into some symbol of something else.

She had been young with Glenn though and desperate for answers. Maybe in death there are no answers. Maybe they will do better this time.

She is thinking about all of this, thinking about Rodrigue and Felix and herself and Glenn when Dimitri calls her from the doorway, half afraid of entering.

She is not startled by him, actually, some peripheral part of her had acknowledged him but simply ignored him in favor of the Fraldarius men.

“Your Highness,” She greets, only sparing him a brief glance over her shoulder as she busies herself with the kettle. It is proper springtime now; the flowers that Dedue spends his spare time tending to will bloom soon but still Ingrid hankers for something warm anyway. She readies a hot chocolate as a simple reminder of something comforting and sweet, with only a little hint of bitterness.

“May I join you?” He asks at the threshold of the kitchen doorway.

She is still not used to this Dimitri. He is unarmed and unsure, always tentative and sensitive to the way people react around him. She thinks maybe it’s because they have all grown used to the way he snarls that they no longer know what to do when he doesn’t.

“Of course,” she says, turning to him, “Would you like some?”

His hair is pulled back today looking, for once, combed through and he is dressed down again in clean casual attire. It is a good look for him. He looks younger this way, softer, and she is reminded of all the days spent talking after sparing on the grounds when they were in school.

She always lost to him. She has not fought him since.

“Sure,” he says, despite not knowing what she’s making. “Thank you.”

Ingrid fixes him a cup and hands it to him. He holds it carefully with both hands as if afraid of breaking it. He is treating everything too fragilely these days, as if it would make up for the destruction of his darkness.

They are quiet for a moment. She wonders, truly, why he is actually here but she doesn’t ask it.

They haven’t talked one-on-one like this since his drunken attempt over the snores of the sleeping boys. She hadn’t sought him out. She did not want to.

She takes a sip, the chocolate burns her tongue, but she does not mind it. Dimitri simply stares at his cup and she watches the thought form on his face. She wonders what he is trying to bring himself to say.

“Ingrid,” he says finally after awhile, looking up at her.

Ingrid pauses, lowers her mug and stares straight up at Dimitri. “Your Highness.” She says properly.

“There’s something I need to say to you.” He says, “I hope you will allow me to.”

She nods along, lets him keep talking. She has an inkling this is what he had tried to say to her before but without the alcohol loosening his lips, it is harder for him.

She watches him take a deep breath, for a moment he even closes his eye but then he steels himself, pulls his shoulders back and looks straight at her, “I need to apologize to you.”

It is no easier for her.

“I hear you’ve been making rounds.” She says simply.

“I have.” He admits, still holding the mug in his hands. She watches him grip it, watches as the whitening of his nails betrays the calm he attempts on his face.

“Who do you have left?” She asks.

He frowns and looks down as if embarrassed, “Just you three.”

It is obvious who he is talking about. Ingrid doesn’t say anything, instead she takes a sip and waits to see if he’ll continue. He does.

“I- I purposefully left you all for last.” He says, meeting her gaze again, “You have known me the longest and are the most difficult to talk to. You may think it cowardly of me and…you would be right but I have been trying to find the words to say to you. It’s just, the more I think about it, the more I realize that there’s nothing I can say that will make up for what I have done. That being said, I still feel it is important I say it anyway.”

Ingrid can feel something coming. It is a quiet somber something, a sad something with a hint of bitterness. She can feel it in her eyes and the way they threaten to crawl out but she refuses them. She holds his gaze, glassy eyed but steady, and lets him continue.

“Ingrid,” Dimitri says, voice low and full of remorse, “I am truly truly sorry for everything.”

She thinks about forgiving him. She thinks about what it would mean to and then realizes that it has already happened. She has already forgiven him. Those feelings that she feels, the anger, the resentment and frustration are still there but the deepest of the hurt has already given away to the relief she felt when Dimitri had sat down with them and poured her a drink.

She was always going to forgive her prince. It is just something about him.

Or perhaps, it is really something about her.

Perhaps she is still elevating Dimitri too high, not unlike the way she elevates Mercedes or the Professor at times. Because, at some point in her life, unnoticed to her, she had stopped seeing Dimitri as her friend. Instead, she saw him as His Highness and forgotten the man underneath.

Dimitri is just a man, when did she stop seeing him as one?

Was it when she chased him all around the country? Desperate for an answer to all this violence? Was it when the shinning veneer of knighthood died with the way the Cathedral caved in on itself, crushing bones underneath it? Was it before that? With Glenn?

Was it when she looked into the faces of desperate people, gasping their last breaths, as they stared up into the open sky for any hint of the Goddess herself and only found themselves face to face with her. A soldier with an ancient relic held high above her head, fighting the same way they all serve, watching the fear in their eyes as she took the last bit of hope away from them with the way Luin glowed as she struck.

Was it when she fell in love? And hoped simply, on hopeless dark days, to be held in Sylvain’s arms and hide away in him because he offered a comfort that no one else had before? Was it around the same time that she stopped seeing him as a man and instead as a dream and promise of tomorrow?

Why does she keep doing that? Summing people up to an easily packaged ideal? Is it perhaps because she had wanted so desperately to be one herself? To be a personification of some high-held belief?

Ingrid had always prided herself on being practical. She has always thought herself to be an actions person. It was always about a plan and the next step and how to keep training and to keep doing better.

But maybe she missed the part of herself that has hidden deep in her heart, hoping for something. Maybe she holds things she can’t see more dearly than ever intended to. She needs to learn to let the Prince go and to allow herself to be angry with the man himself.

While she is thinking this, she is watching him, watching his frown deepen, watching him shift and try to find a proper place to look, but even despite his discomfort he does not shy away from the way she processes her feelings, even as he fidgets.

She forgives him and she is angry at him. Both can exist at once.

“And I am sorry for Sylvain too.” He says, finally, breaking her long silence, which surprises her.

“What?” She says suddenly, shocked away from any potential tears, “What about Sylvain?”

“He almost died because of me.” Dimitri says, looking to the floor.

For a moment she sees a flash of something in him, that same bitterness that she knows is still within him. She knows that he is thinking about Rodrigue because she is thinking about him too.

“Dimitri-” she says, and the name is unfamiliar on her lips when spoken to the man himself. She has spent so long addressing him by title that it was almost like she had forgotten his name. “You shouldn’t apologize for that. Sylvain made a choice.” Then quietly, she adds, “Just like Rodrigue did.”

Dimitri shakes his head and as the hair falls into his eyes from the way it comes loose, she realizes that he is the one crying. “I don’t want people dying for me.”

“No one wants anyone to die for them.” Ingrid says, “But we’re all just doing the same thing.”

“And what exactly is that?”

“Following our hearts I suppose.”

He grimaces automatically at that but catches himself and fixes his face into something more neutral. “My heart was twisted for a long time.” He tells her, “It still is sometimes. I don’t think it did anyone any favors.”

She sighs and places her mug down on the countertop behind her. Dimitri does the same and comes to stand beside her.

“We did end up furthering the war effort.” She says practically, “We have control of the Great Bridge and our march on Gronder could be considered a victory.”

“At great cost.” Dimitri says darkly.

“It is war Dimitri. There is always cost.”

“My intentions were vile.” He says, “And I hurt the people closest to me because of it.”

“Well it is a good thing that your intentions aren’t the only things that matter.” She can’t help but snap, “And despite your intentions, we each chose to follow you regardless. It is not all on you. We made our choices.”

“I lead you all down a dark path. I will spend the rest of my life making up for it.”

“Stop that.” She scolds, slapping him lightly on the arm, “You can’t change the past. It is done. We are where we are. We just have to find ways to move forward.”

“I am trying.” He says very softly.

“I know.” She tells him, mimicking his tone, “We all are.”

Dimitri sighs and turns to look outwards towards the rest of the kitchen, bracing his hands on the counter behind him as he leans. It is the most casual she has seen him in a long time if you don’t count the drunken night they had together. She does the same, only she picks her mug back up.

“What does your heart tell you now Ingrid?” He asks quietly.

“My heart tells me to fight for what I believe in.” She says.

“And what is it that you believe in now?”

Dorothea’s song sings in her ear again, she cannot help but repeat it, “A world where as many of my friends live as possible.” She tells him finally.

She hears something from Dimitri. It is almost like a surprised huff or perhaps it is relief. When she looks up at him, he has a small smile on his face. “That’s…not what I expected.”

“And what did you expect?”

“Something about duty.” He answers without hesitation, “Duty and ideals. We argued about it once. You called me soft-hearted.”

Despite herself, she feels a small smile tug at the corner of her lips, “I remember.” She tells him, “You still are, by the way, soft-hearted I mean.”

He barks a single loud somewhat bitter laugh, “I am not sure anyone would accuse me of that anymore.”

“You’d be surprised.” She says to him, before turning back to look out at the empty kitchen, “But, lately, I think I realized that I shouldn’t be upholding duty for the sake of duty. My duty comes from love. Just like your pain does. That’s what I mean by soft-hearted Dimitri.”

Dimitri immediately sobers up. The laughter disappears from his face at the mention of his grief but he does not seem angry or hateful. He simply seems somber and thoughtful. “Duty that comes from love…” he says.

“I realize that it might not seem important to anyone else.” She says, “In the end, I will still serve you. I will still follow and fight for you, just like any other knight or soldier would but why I’m doing it is different.”

A small smile tugs on Dimitri’s face, “I thought you said intentions didn’t matter.”

“I believe I said that your intentions aren’t the only things that matter.” She can’t help but joke, “I never said anything about my own.”

Dimitri lets out an honest chuckle and Ingrid is struck by how comforting it is to hear him laugh again, to joke with him again. She realizes it has been a long time since, even before he lost his mind.

“This is better.” He agrees eventually, “I want to fight for that world too. A world without any more sacrifices.”

“Those sacrifices are born out of love too Dimitri.” She says sadly. “Maybe everything is.”

“Then my intention is born out of love too.” He says, “My intention to win this war so it needn’t happen again. Especially on my account.” He turns to her then, head on and Ingrid cannot help but be lured by the way he looks at her, deliberate and careful, “I want you to live too.”

“I’ll live.” She affirms, “I have a lot to live for after all.”

“And what do you live for?”

“Sylvain,” She says easily, and despite all this time, her heart still flutters as she says his name in this way, “And Felix and Dorothea and you and…well everyone else but if I list them all we’d be here all night. I pledge myself to all of you.”

“You ought to pledge yourself to yourself too while you’re at it.”

“I thought I just did.”

“You have a funny way of saying so.”

“If it seems selfless, it really isn’t.” She tells him, “I want you all to live and be safe because I need you all to be.”

Dimitri nods as if he understands or perhaps he just has no idea how to follow her statement, perhaps he doesn’t have it in his heart to disagree, not when she is being so earnest. She has no idea. She does not push him.

“You’ve changed a lot.” He observes, then he quickly amends, “In a good way.”

“It’s Sylvain’s fault.” She admits.

“I wouldn’t call it a fault.” He grins, “You two are good for each other. I always thought so.”

She can’t help but feel bashful at Dimitri’s words. She is shy suddenly, as if she hadn’t been married to Sylvain for years, as if she’s a teenager again with a fluttering in her heart but she also likes what she hears, likes that Dimitri has specified how well they work together. It’s because she knows that many people see her as the one who has trained Sylvain into shape but very few see it the other way around.

Sylvain has changed her just as much if not more and it is a good change. Somehow, it means a lot that Dimitri can see it.

“Thank you.” She says earnestly.

He nods then turns to grab the now cool mug that he had left untouched and abandoned on counter and downs it with the slightest of grimaces. He had never been the biggest fan of sweets.

“I should head to bed.” He says, “Thank you for the drink. Goodnight Ingrid.”

Ingrid nods and takes the empty mug from him. He is already at the door when she remembers something.

“Dimitri?” She calls. He pauses and turns, looking at her curiously. “I forgive you.”