blossoming alone over you @winry
crimson flower: derdriu cross-posted to ao3: https://archiveofourown.org/works/26002387

The Empire’s troops have already begun their march toward Derdriu. Miraculously, the once beloved Professor Byleth of Garreg Mach stands alongside them. 

 

Whispers of Byleth’s reappearance have already made their way through the Alliance. Knowing Fodlan, they’ve likely been through the Kingdom and what remains of the church’s forces as well. Should Leicester’s forces not be graced with similar unprecedented luck, the Ashen Demon’s return from definite death is certain to be the tipping point in the battle for Fodlan’s eastern side. 

 

It’s an optimistic thought, but perhaps the Professor’s leadership, coupled with Edelgard’s vision for the future of Fodlan, could even bring the end of the country’s five-year war. The blood-soaked land certainly ought to dry out soon, and with each coming day it seems the end of the war is imminent. 

 

Marianne, like everyone else in Fodlan, wants the war to end.

 

Witnessing death, once a deep-rooted fear without grounds, is now her reality. No matter how many Imperial soldiers she saves, no matter how many spells she casts, there are always more on the other side she has to watch take their final breaths. Not innocent, not undeserving, but still people. 

 

Marianne kills them because she’s told to, and she understands; even when some of the enemy soldiers are her former classmates. It’s a war, and in order for it to reach a conclusion someone has to win.

 

Still, picking up a blade and severing the breath from their bodies never stops hurting. 

 

As she marches with the rest of the Imperial Army into Derdriu, she daydreams of someone she once knew; someone she expects to see die today.

 

Sturdy arms, blossom-pink hair, and the smile she once swore she’d never forget.

 

. . .

 

“Your hands seem so delicate,” Hilda surveys, taking another break from reorganizing the infirmary. “But you’re so clumsy with them!”

 

They’re sitting on the same hospital bed together - Marianne doesn’t know why, but Hilda insisted, and she felt too awkward saying no. Hilda holds one of Marianne’s hands in both of her own, and Marianne’s heart races from the contact. She’s always gotten nervous when people get in her personal space.

 

“I, um. Sorry,” she says. She’s not sure what she’s apologizing for, but it feels appropriate. She probably deserves it.

 

Hilda shakes her head. Marianne doesn’t know how to read that. Doesn’t she need to beg for forgiveness, now? “You don’t have to apologize, Marianne. I’m just… you know, observing you.” 

 

“You’re… observing me?”

 

“Don’t make it sound so creepy,” Hilda says, smiling. “I just think you’re interesting, is all.”

 

But Marianne isn’t interesting. She’s just weak, and anxious, and bad at everything she does. 

 

Hilda waves a hand. Marianne’s eyes follow it.

 

Your hands look strong. Stronger than mine, Marianne thinks. Then, selfishly: maybe if I had your hands, I could be less weak. And if you had mine, you could be better at delicate things. Not that you’re bad at them. You just seem so fascinated with how dainty I look.

 

But Marianne doesn’t say any of those things. 

 

Hilda doesn’t speak, either. Eventually, she lets go of Marianne’s hand. Then she leaves.

 

Marianne chalks her complicated feelings up to envy.

 

. . .

 

Hilda thinks she’s going to die. 

 

She’s prepared to, anyway. She owes Leicester - owes Claude - as much. Freikugel in hand, all she can do is wait before the Imperial forces to charge in. 

 

It’s not like Hilda is happy with this arrangement, but there aren’t exactly a lot of options left. Claude may have the rest of the pro-Church factions deceived, but she knows the truth. 

 

Resources are few and far between. Supply lines are looking more unreliable than ever. The Kingdom doesn’t even want to side with them. And even if Leicester pulls off a stalemate today, the Imperial Army will be ready to strike again at a moment’s notice. 

 

A momentary truce would be unthinkable - and could cause far too much confusion within the pro and anti-church Alliance factions for Claude’s liking.

 

All that’s left to do, then, is sit and wait for the end. 

 

Hilda thinks of her classmates - of all the people she left behind. She wonders what might have happened if she had decided to join them back then - but predictably, all of her thoughts swarm around one person in particular.

 

Sunken eyes. Delicate fingers, always inadvertently knocking something over. Light blue hair, twisted in intricate braids that Hilda had always wanted to feel against her fingertips. 

 

Hilda smiles at the memory. They’d been living in a different world, then. 

 

I just hope Marianne’s doing alright. 

 

. . .

 

“I can never tell what you’re thinking,” Hilda says, frustrated. 

 

It’s their turn to clean the stables this week, but Marianne has gone off on her own at least five times and it’s barely been an hour. Hilda’s just been trying to hold a conversation with the girl, maybe make the time pass quicker, but she’s just so unresponsive. 

 

Seriously - what’s the big idea? Time flies when you’re having fun, right? So does Marianne not think Hilda’s fun, then?

 

Marianne, suddenly aware of the attention Hilda’s putting on her, goes pale. She almost looks like a weak wild animal of some kind - maybe like a deer? Hilda smirks in spite of herself. How fitting! We are Golden Deer, after all! 

 

But maybe Hilda’s assessment was off, because Marianne’s animal instincts are terrible. She’s stood still for - what? a whole minute? No, she’d be a sitting duck out in the wild, not a deer. 

 

 Helloooo, ” Hilda calls, “Earth to Marianne? We were just talking earlier, so let’s finish our conversation!”

 

Marianne looks between Hilda and the horses, then Hilda, then the horses, and back again. Hilda would say she could practically see the gears turning in Marianne’s brain, but truthfully, she can’t. That’s what she wanted to talk about today, too.

 

“My apologies, Hilda. I didn’t-”

 

“Haven’t I said this before? I don’t want your apologies,” Hilda explains, because why not lay it all out for her at this point. Marianne is clumsy and shy - and probably forgetful, too. “I want your company.”

 

Marianne pauses for a beat, then stands by Hilda’s side. “I… I don’t know. Why you would want such a thing.”

 

“Because you’re my friend,” Hilda says, because she has a hunch that Marianne might respond to directness a bit better. “And… I want to get to know you better.”

 

They sit in silence for a moment. Hilda lets it stay quiet - she’s not really sure if Marianne’s the type of person who needs to process these things before saying them, or if she’s been silently judging Hilda this entire time. But oh well , what Hilda doesn’t know can’t hurt her, right?

 

“I can’t either,” Marianne admits, after what feels like ten minutes. It’s probably been less than five, but details, details. 

 

When she doesn’t elaborate, Hilda prods at it further. 

 

“You can’t… what, Marianne?”

 

“I can’t tell what you’re thinking,” she continues. There’s something about her expression that seems different to Hilda, more open. “At all. To be honest, I just think that you’re judging me all the time, that you think nothing of me. And that makes me feel so anxious.” 

 

Hilda waits for Marianne to elaborate further, but a few seconds pass and it seems like she’s finished for now. Ah, that’s the gist of it, then? Well… she seems to trust me already. And social anxiety is certainly something I can help out with! 

 

Hilda faces Marianne with the most genuine smile she can muster. “Let’s chat a while. Ooh, I know! I’ll grab some pastries.”

 

She’s already out the door by the time Marianne puts two and two together. She hears Marianne’s cry from the other side of the wall. 

 

“But Hilda! What about the horses!?”

 

“They can have some, too!”

 

. . .

 

“You’ll be going with the group that takes out the left flank,” the Professor tells Marianne once their units get into position. “With Caspar, Ferdinand, and Petra. It’s the group we’re putting most at risk, so stay on your guard.”

 

“I understand,” Marianne says automatically, then hesitates. She can feel Byleth’s unnerving gaze scrutinizing her expression. She almost doesn’t care.

 

Hilda’s been on her mind since morning. It wouldn’t be a problem, if this were an ordinary battle, but knowing what’s sure to come today… 

 

“Something’s bothering you,” Byleth assesses, careful to keep her voice low. The other soldiers are nearby, probably anxious to hear their orders for the upcoming battle as well. It’d be best if Byleth just ignores Marianne’s mood.

 

But Byleth is Byleth, as observant and stubborn as she was five years ago. When Marianne stays silent for a beat too long, her former Professor raises an eyebrow, askance.

 

And - for all that Marianne’s kept bottled up her entire life - Byleth must really have an effect on her, because the next thing she knows, she feels compelled to speak. 

 

“It’s Hilda,” Marianne says, letting out a shaky breath. “I…”

 

She can’t form words. She’s quiet for a beat too long, then Byleth’s hand finds her shoulder and squeezes it . 

 

“Use your best judgment,” Byleth whispers. There’s a somber glint in her eyes, Marianne might recognize it as empathy. “I’ll go along with any decision you make.”

 

Byleth leaves it at that.

 

Marianne doesn’t know what to make of it. She doesn’t know what she’ll do.

 

But they’re supposed to charge in soon, and Marianne can’t hold the rest of them back. If she wants this war to end, she’ll just have to do it.

 

Once they make it past the Derdriu walls, Marianne recognizes Hilda almost immediately.

 

It’s unlike her, Marianne thinks, to voluntarily start so close to the action. But even with the secret Almyran forces (that Hubert and Edelgard had somehow predicted would be there all along) alongside them, the Leceister forces look sparse. All things considered, Hilda is probably one of the only Alliance commanders left.

 

After today, they may be gone for good. Hilda included.

 

. . .

 

“Thank you both for coming,” Byleth says. “Especially on such short notice.” She’s partially obscured by the ginormous tower of pastries on the table, and Marianne thinks these tables are only designed for two people to sit at, but it’s warm and inviting all the same. 

 

Hilda scooches forward in her chair, folding her hands primly in her lap.

 

Hilda is so good at this. She hardly even looks like she’s trying, Marianne thinks, frowning. She’s sitting up straight, good at keeping eye contact, and can hold a conversation with the Professor well. Meanwhile, I…

 

“We were just delighted to get your invitation,” Hilda says, breaking Marianne from her spiral. “Isn’t that right, Marianne?”

 

It forces Marianne to distance herself from her thoughts, for a moment, and she finds herself smiling softly.

 

“Yes, we were. Thank you for thinking of us, Professor.”

 

The three of them chat over tea for a few minutes, discussing Fodlan and opinions on the house leaders and whether or not Seteth has a secret collection of dolls he keeps underneath all the books in his office. It’s an easy conversation - easier than Marianne had expected it’d be - and she can’t help but attribute how easy it feels to Hilda’s presence at the table. 

 

Their conversation starts to wrap up, and Marianne feels lighter than ever. She laughs in a voice she’s never heard before, and on more than one occasion, she shares her thoughts with the two of them unprovoked. Thanks to Hilda and the Professor, it’s one of the easiest days Marianne has experienced since starting school at Garreg Mach. 

 

It’s almost unthinkable how uncomfortable Marianne was with Hilda at the beginning of the year. Sure, Marianne’s heart still races when they’re together, but she has a hunch that the reason for it is something different… 

 

“By the way,” the Professor says, smiling wide, “I have a quick favor to ask of you before you leave.”

 

Hilda glances between the Professor and Marianne, once polite smile contorting into a smirk. She elbows Marianne softly under the table. Marianne almost leans into it. 

 

“The Professor needs a favor from us ? Do tell!” 

 

And Marianne must admit that she’s curious, too, if a bit anxious. Usually, it’s Marianne asking for favors. She asks for them because she’s unsociable, she’s unworthy, she’s incompetent - all attributes that the Professor is not. 

 

It’s okay to ask for help, a voice in Marianne’s head says. It sounds like Hilda’s. 

 

Maybe it really is alright to ask for help, Marianne thinks, this time in her own head voice, if the Professor does, too. 

 

“Would the two of you consider joining the Black Eagles?”

 

When Marianne sees Byleth’s hopeful expression, her own smile falls.

 

The Black Eagles? Her heart stutters in her chest. My adoptive father would never approve. And Claude... He’d be angry at me, right? Actually, wait- I’m not sure I’ve actually seen him upset before. But, I don’t know, he might get upset at me for this.

 

Marianne feels her mind shifting, if only a little. 

 

But… he didn’t get upset when Lysithea switched over, did he? And Lorenz, too… Maybe he’d be sad if Hilda left, but…

 

Hilda. Suddenly, everything seems clear. 

 

If Hilda joined the Black Eagles… well, it would be a no-brainer, wouldn’t it? We could join the Black Eagles together, and I could have another friend in the Professor. Everything would be fine. 

 

“I can’t,” Hilda says.

 

Marianne does everything in her power not to gape at her. It’s not polite, she’s been told, and to be honest, she’d rather Hilda not be able to tell what she’s thinking right now.

 

“There’s some rule, here,” Hilda frowns, “about retainers and switching classes. I’m technically Claude’s retainer, though I don’t act like it. And while I do have the option of joining the Blue Lions, the situation with the Alliance and Adrestia is…” 

 

“Bad,” the Professor completes, nodding in apparent understanding. 

 

And, well, it’s disappointing, but it settles things pretty easily. As much as Marianne would like to try out the Black Eagles class, as much as she wants to befriend the Professor, she just can’t. if Hilda can’t be there, it’s a no brainer. 

 

“And you?”

 

Marianne frowns.

 

What about me? 

 

. . .

 

Of all the ways Hilda pictured meeting her end on the battlefield, taking a gauntlet to the face by the hands of Caspar von Bergliez might be the path of least resistance. He’s probably strong enough to take her out in one hit - and it’d better be painless, or she swears to Sothis that she’ll complain about it in all of her next lives.

 

He’s charging toward her now, nearly fifty meters away. She already feels at peace. There’s not much left for her to do. The rest of her troops have already been taken out, no one’s left to rescue her, nor anyone left that she can rescue.

 

Claude told her - begged her - to retreat in this situation, but honestly? There’s no running from this nightmare. No matter what she does, where she goes, she’s going to end up somewhere she hates.

 

“In a way, I’m glad,” she singsongs to herself, looking up toward the sun. “At least I’m being killed by people I already know, right?”

 

Claude will be mad, but that’s fine. It’s not like it’ll be her problem to deal with once she’s gone. Gruesome, maybe a little creepy, but true. And then the rest of her classmates might live out their days without this Fodlan-sized burden.

 

“I’m just a burden,” Hilda hears, word association clearly playing tricks with her memories of Garreg Mach. Even on the brink of death, Marianne’s voice sounds full of life. “Just, please. Pay no attention to me, Hilda.”

 

“You were never a burden to me,” Hilda whispers, clutching Freikugel into her chest. “Never once.” 

 

She sees a head of light blue hair in her periphery, and starts to finally let go. Do your worst, kid. And try to make it quick. 

 

The sun’s rays are bright, but the next flash Hilda sees is brighter.

 

. . .

 

“You’re so strong,” Hilda whines, puffing out her lower lip. “Can’t you practice against Raphael or Caspar or someone else?”

 

Marianne blinks at her. She hadn’t so much as displaced a strand of hair from either of Hilda’s ponytails with that spell. Should she… should she read between the lines on this one? Hilda isn’t even hurt, so it must mean that Hilda is tired of sparring with Marianne.

 

“I’m… sorry,” Marianne replies, finally. “For wasting your time.”

 

Metal clanks against the floor as Hilda removes her helmet. Her hair, somehow, remains intact - Marianne still hasn’t a clue how Hilda does that - but she groans, loud enough for everyone else in the training grounds to hear. It’s embarrassing. Hilda’s frustration is clearly Marianne’s fault, and she instinctively wants to apologize to anyone else in the training grounds who has to listen. 

 

“I know it looks like I’m impervious to physical damage and all,” Hilda explains, twirling one of her ponytails around her pointer finger. Marianne’s eyes flicker from her armored shoulders to her face, still flushed from being under the helmet for so long. Hilda lets out a breathy sigh. “But really, I can feel how much stronger you’ve gotten. It’s sooooo tiring to take one of your Thorons.”

 

“R-really?”

 

“Yes, really,” Hilda chuckles. She shifts all her weight on one foot, tilts her head, and examines Marianne. “You know what I think?”

 

Marianne purses her lips. “No, I think we’ve established that I can’t read your mind.”

 

Hilda waves her hand dismissively. “Right, right. Well, then I’ll just tell you: I think you’d be better off in the new professor’s class.” 

 

Marianne’s eyes widen, almost comically. “The… the Black Eagles? But…” she feels her heart sink. Does Hilda really not want to be around her so much as to tell her to change classes? And there have to be reasons not to, right? “But my father, and my training, and we’re only two months away from the end of the school year, and…” 

 

“They can deal with it, Marianne,” Hilda says, placing an arm on Marianne’s shoulder. Even through the armor, Marianne feels its warmth. “You saw how much better Lysithea got after she switched, right? So why not you, too?”

 

“I…”

 

Marianne hasn’t even considered it. Her father’s wishes aside, could she even succeed in a new class? Would the Professor even like her? And Hilda… how can Marianne be in a class without Hilda? 

 

“Do it for me?” Hilda says, moving to clasp Marianne’s hands between her own. “And maybe one day, you’ll be strong enough to sweep me off my feet! Maybe you can even carry me!” 

 

A chance to sweep Hilda off her feet, Marianne considers. She swears she can feel her body temperature rise. 

 

Maybe one day, I can do that after all.

. . .

 

Thoron is a powerful spell, and Marianne a powerful mage. 

 

Hilda has always, always been stronger. Even during the peak of Marianne’s training at the Officer’s Academy, she’s never been able to leave a scratch on Hilda’s body. 

 

Marianne has grown since then. She can wield a blade nearly as well as she casts spells, and she knows how to best aim for her opponents’ weakest points. She even heard a rumor about herself, once - that she’s a heartless beast on the battlefield. Still, it’s nothing she hasn’t heard before. With all the training she endures, she might even venture to say that she earned that acknowledgement.

 

But Marianne is still no match for Hilda, not even now.

 

She only knows because she’d sparred against Hilda so often in their time at Garreg Mach. Marianne had memorized the sound of spells against metal, of strong defensive tactics, of the strikes that actually did significant damage to her partners. 

 

So Marianne is certain that the spell she cast is surely not enough to kill Hilda. 

 

It is enough, however, to sweep Hilda off her feet. Just as she’d promised years ago.

 

And it does so - seconds after the flash connects with Hilda’s body, she goes flying into the air, back hitting against the walls behind her. It’s not enough force to kill her - although it likely knocked her out cold. 

 

Marianne tightens her grip on Dorte’s ropes, and he gallops straightaway to meet her. Once Marianne nears Hilda’s fainted body, she dismounts.

 

“You’re coming home with me,” Marianne murmurs, lifting Hilda into her arms. She may be unconscious, but Marianne still flushes when her lips brush against Hilda’s forehead. “Then we’ll win. And then we can forget everything that’s come between us.”

 

. . .

 

1183, Lone Moon

 

Dear Hilda,

 

Thank you for sending me so many letters over the years. The accessories you send with them are beautiful, even though I don’t know how to put them in my hair. The instructions you give are detailed, but my hands tremble so much. I wish you could have taught me how to wear them properly before everything happened at the end of our year at Garreg Mach.

 

You’ve helped me so much with everything. At Garreg Mach, you helped me gain confidence. You told me that there was nothing wrong with me, that I’m not a burden. At first, I couldn’t believe you. You came into my life, just like that, and contradicted everything I’d ever known. 

 

And It’s because of you that I believe in myself today. It’s because of you that I could stand up to my adoptive father, and tell him I joined the Black Eagle Strike Force. It’s because of you that I learned the truth about my Crest. It’s because of you that I finally feel alive. I don’t know how to thank you for that.

 

But I’m sorry. We should probably stop writing letters to each other, now. You’ve probably heard of Adrestia’s plans to conquer all of the Alliance’s territory. I don’t want you to get in trouble for corresponding with the enemy. No letter would ever be worth your death. 

 

Maybe one day, we won’t have to worry about fighting. If that day comes, and we’re both still alive - I hope I can stand by your side. Maybe I’ll even sweep you off your feet, like you wanted me to all those years ago.

 

I miss you. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

 

- Marianne von Edmund

 

. . . 

 

“I cannot believe I have to say this,” Hubert says, several days after their victory. The Black Eagle Strike Force lost hardly any units after the Battle of Derdriu, but his forehead still creases like crumpled parchment at the slightest of provocations. He probably needs a massage, or a bath, or maybe the sauna is still up and running? Hilda’s going to have to ask the Professor, for Hubert’s sake! “But no, Miss Goneril, you do not get complimentary hors d'oeuvres from the butler as thanks for joining the Strike Force.”

 

Hilda smirks, scanning him up and down and raising an eyebrow. Somehow, she thinks she can get her point across without saying anything else at all.

 

Pinching the bridge of his nose, he lets out a pensive sigh before adding: “and I am not a butler. Wherever you got that notion, I want nothing of it.” 

 

She’d been lucky to catch him in line at the Dining Hall. While Hilda joining the Imperial Army had initially seemed preposterous to some, Marianne and some of the other former Golden Deer were able to smooth it over quite handily. And - surprisingly - Edelgard had been much easier to convince than Hilda had expected. She’d trusted Claude willingly, too, once they’d spared him at the end of their battle; Hilda thinks she may have underestimated Edelgard’s compassionate side a bit.

 

Hubert, however… he’s a tough nut to crack. All doom and gloom, with a perpetually scowling face to match. But Hilda will get there with him. She figures she should go for it the only way she knows how: stripping him of his dignity and annoying the living shit out of him.

 

“Really?” Hilda says, voice lilting dramatically in mock surprise. “Because Marianne told me you were basically the Imperial Household’s butler, and you certainly look the part, soooo-”

 

“We will not be discussing this topic any further.”

 

Hilda cuts in front of him in line as it shifts. “Ohhhh, but I want to! And as your Alliance informant, shouldn’t you at least try to have an,” Hilda lowers her voice, creasing her forehead in a somewhat-accurate Hubert impression, “ Amicable rapport with me?”

 

Hubert considers her, eyes narrowing. Whether it’s at the impression, or her beating him out to the front of the line, she’s not sure - but she’s gotten her point across, so who cares!

 

“Relations between you and I are hardly of consequence. Lady Edelgard has stated her opinions on the matter, and as you know, I trust her word above all else.”

 

Her smirk widens into a shit-eating grin. “Sweet! Soooo... I can annoy you as much as I want, and as long as Edelgard is okay with it, you won’t care?”

 

Hilda swears one of Hubert’s veins pops out of his forehead at that one - but surprisingly, he doesn’t fall for it. They stand in uncomfortable silence for a moment or two, Hilda struggling desperately to wipe the grin off of her face as she shovels rations onto her plate.

 

The next time Hubert speaks, they’ve already gotten their food. He seems hesitant, at first, before speaking up. “You certainly have an… influence on Marianne. One I wasn’t aware of until our allyship.”

 

Hell yeah I do, Hilda thinks, thinking of how she’s spent every night since joining the Strike Force in Marianne’s room. She could always go back to her old one, but… there’s no reason to, anymore. Not when Marianne’s bed for one easily accommodates two, not when they have five years of kissing and holding and braiding each other's hair to make up for.

 

“As you know, Marianne is an indispensable asset to our Strike Force,” he continues, adorning the chilling smirk Hilda once overheard Ferdinand make a fuss about during their academy days. Honestly - she kinda gets why Ferdie’s into it, not that he’s ever admitted as much. “If I see her so much as shed a single tear for you…” 

 

Is… is Hubert giving me the relationship talk, right now? The ‘don’t mess with my daughter or else’ talk? Hubert???

 

Hilda smothers her chuckle with the back of her hand. 

 

He’s not that difficult to figure out after all, is he? 

 

Marianne hadn’t been difficult to figure out, either, when they first met each other. Nor anyone else at the monastery. Everyone in Fodlan seems to put up such a front about their personality, when really - they’re just the same as anyone else. And - for her own sake, as well as theirs - Hilda likes unpacking that. 

 

Hubert is in the middle of another very important chastising sentence when Hilda feels a hand circle her wrist. She turns, almost dropping her plate of food onto the floor. 

 

 Hilda !” Marianne says, breathless. Her hair is partially undone from its braids, falling in perfect waves on her shoulder. “There you are, I’ve been looking everywhere - oh. Hello, Hubert.”

 

He smiles at her peacefully, dropping any sign of the sinister leer he’d worn not ten seconds ago. “Always a pleasure.”

 

“R-right,” Marianne says, hand tightening around Hilda’s wrist. “Well, I needed Hilda for something, so…” 

 

“Don’t let me stop you,” he dismisses, heading toward the back of the Dining Hall in a movement Hilda thinks most resembles hovering. 

 

Hilda follows his path, watching him pick a seat that faces Ferdinand, and sit there in silence. He doesn’t even touch his food.

 

She giggles in Marianne’s ear. “What a peculiar man!”

 

Marianne hums, still clutching Hilda’s wrist. “Hm. I suppose so.” 

 

“So what did you need me for?”

 

“I… nothing. Nothing in particular.”

 

Well, Hilda can put two and two together. And since she only visited the Dining Commons to smooth things over with Hubert, she’s not all that hungry anyway.

 

“Wanna get out of here?”

 

To Hilda’s delight, Marianne’s cheeks pinken. 

 

 Please .” 

 

. . .

 

1184, Garland Moon

Hilda attends the Leicester Alliance’s third strategy meeting this week. The meeting is tense - their usually amicable round table conference now worn out and eager for an easy solution to Adrestia’s presence at the southern border. This time, Count Gloucester and Lady Judith had gotten into a particularly taxing argument that had almost lasted the meeting’s entire four hours.

 

Claude calls them strategy meetings, but he’s the only strategist they have. The others mostly just listen, and it’s hardly productive, even with the Master Tactician on their side. Hilda offers what she can every once and awhile, but some of the internal negotiations require so much energy - energy that Hilda does not have.

 

“I need to run something by you,” Claude says to Hilda, once everyone’s left. There’s an element to his voice that’s calm, reflective, detached. “It’s been bothering me awhile.”

 

Hilda nods, then sets some of her belongings down on the table. The last time Claude opened a conversation like this, they’d discussed Goneril’s last battle with the Almyrans, and he’d been more open than she’d ever expected. This time, she doesn’t know what to expect.

 

He sighs. 

 

“You’re still in love with Marianne.” 

 

She lets Claude’s words suspend in the air for a moment. Between all of the conversations she and Claude have had over the years and the three years worth of letters she keeps in her room, Hilda’s not surprised that Claude knows. 

 

She is surprised that he’s bringing it up like this.

 

“Is there a problem if I am?” Hilda says. She racks her brain for how Claude might approach something like this. “I’m still loyal to Leicester, my family is on this side. You don’t need to worry about me betraying you or anything.”

 

“That’s not it,” he replies, matter-of-fact. “I was just. Well, I was thinking…” 

 

She waits for him to finish. The way he started this conversation… it seems important.

 

He lifts an arm behind his head. The pose reminds her of their Academy days. Then, he smiles at nothing, in a way that she’s only ever seen him look while he was near the Professor.

 

“It’s a pain in the ass to be in love with someone on the other side, isn’t it?”

 

Wait. What? Who could he possibly mean?

 

Hilda stares at him, but his expression is unreadable. 

 

But, she supposes he is right. So she’ll let him be mysteriously vague, for right now.

 

Her mind drifts to Marianne. 

 

It really is pain in the ass, loving someone you’ll never have. 

 

. . . 

 

By the time they make it to Marianne’s room from the Dining Hall, Marianne’s heart is fluttering in her chest. 

 

She doesn’t want it to stop. Between what Hilda whispers into her ear, how Hilda practically carried Marianne up the stairs, and the way Hilda looks at Marianne so adoringly - she doesn’t think she’s ever felt anything more blissful.  

 

Hilda kisses Marianne’s temple, lying her down on her own bed. Marianne lets out a sigh.

 

“I still can’t believe it,” Hilda murmurs, leaning over her. She traces the side of Marianne’s cheek with the back of her hand, like she’s something precious. Marianne flushes at the thought. “That I’m alive, I mean. And here with you.”

 

And Marianne agrees. Everything that’s happened since that day at Derdriu feels like a hazy, far-off dream. Like maybe, if Marianne closes her eyes too long, Hilda will be dead and gone forever. She frowns.

 

“Hey,” Hilda chides, kissing Marianne’s frown as soon as it appears. Her whispers are low, rattling pleasantly in Marianne’s chest. “It’s hard to think about, I get it. But I won’t go dying on you.”

 

“Promise?”

 

Hilda lifts Marianne’s hand, pressing her lips against the back of it.

 

Marianne loves her. She loves her, she loves her, she loves her.

 

“I promise.” 

 

And it reminds Marianne, somewhat, of their time at the Officer’s Academy. Come to think of it, sitting on a bed side-by-side is one of the first things they ever did together, back when they were tasked with organizing the infirmary.

 

Marianne’s hand in Hilda’s own is familiar, too. Marianne’s still delicate, Hilda’s still strong. 

 

When Hilda places a hand on the small of Marianne’s back, guiding their lips together once more, Marianne’s heart soars.

 

. . .

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