A/N: Hey all! Just finished my Blue Lions playthrough! I've now done all three and only have Silver Snow left to beat. Anyway loved loved loved Felix and Annette so I had to write a fanfiction. This is basically my take on Annette and Gilbert's paralogue, but entirely through Felix's perspective. Obviously I take some liberties with the character of her uncle as we weren't given much to work with!

..

Felix had lost track of how long he'd been in the training grounds. He was no stranger to frustration, that was a natural hazard of being friends with Sylvain. Yet for whatever blasted reason, he could not get that morning's encounter with Annette out of his head. The day had started off normally enough. He had been paired with the girl on kitchen duty when she had somehow managed to knock an entire bottle of cooking oil across the stove. Liquid had splattered everywhere, causing the newly saturated flames to leap into the air and scald Annette's palm in the process. She had tried to hide the injury for some ridiculous reason, but Felix had called her out on it. Neglecting the wound would only cause more trouble than she already had, he had told her with a pointed gesture at the smoking stovetop.

Annette's face had crumpled like parchment in a bonfire. She had gone to the infirmary, but her hurt expression had branded itself onto the back of Felix's eyelids.

Where it had remained.

All morning.

Why was it that whenever he tried to be nice to her, things literally blew up in his face? Why was it that with her, none of his words ever came out right? Why was it that with her, he actually cared?

With an ungratified yell, Felix brought the training sword around in a crescent arc that slammed into the dummy, releasing all of his pent-up frustration in a single swing. A splintering sound rent the air as the sword cracked down the middle, a large chunk of wood breaking off and spiraling across the room. Felix watched as the splinter hit the ground and skittered into a shadowed corner, his shoulders heaving, sweat dripping from his temples,

A beat passed.

"Damn…" he muttered, dropping the now useless hilt and wiping his brow. Even training was not enough to push Annette from his mind. What technique did she employ to keep his thoughts in such a constant state of captivity?

"This is ridiculous," Felix mumbled. He needed to spar. He needed someone he could actually exchange blows with. Someone made of tougher stuff than straw and twine. Someone strong.

The creak of protesting wood jerked him from his thoughts and the doors to the training grounds swung open, admitting a woman with frosty green hair and eyes of glittering jade. The corner of Felix's mouth quirked. Perfect.

"Professor," he drawled, folding his arms across his chest. "Your timing couldn't have been better."

The woman shook her head, striding toward him with an urgency that belied any hopes he might have had for a fight.

"I'm not here to spar, Felix," Byleth said shortly, confirming his suspicions. "We need to move out. Now."

A part of the swordsman rejoiced at this news. At last, a proper distraction. An opportunity to lose himself in the symphony of sword and steel. To hear the melody of battle; a melody that sang loudly enough to drown out any other song that lilted through his mind.

No matter who was singing it.

Felix gave a nod of acquiescence. "Empire troops?" he asked. Byleth shook her head.

"Not this time," she answered. "We're mounting a potential rescue mission into Dominic territory."

Felix's heart sank faster than a stone in water, cold dread seeping into his veins. Dominic territory? That made no sense. Annette's uncle had been under the imposing eye of the Empire for awhile now. The Kingdom had no allies there, at least none willing to risk aiding Dimitri's army. There had been no marching orders in that region as far as Felix was aware. No strategy involving a detour through those lands. So why…?

The swordsman schooled his features into a mask of careful calm, his voice casual as he asked: "Rescue mission? For who?"

Somehow, he knew the answer before Byleth confirmed it.

"Gilbert," she answered. "…And Annette."

The city was their battleground.

The professor's plan had been to send the bulk of the kingdom army to engage the baron's soldiers, while another, smaller strike force split off to locate Annette and Gilbert. It was by no means typical battle strategy, but this was by no means a typical battle.

The confined streets were narrow, the buildings much too close together to afford sufficient space for pegasus wings or cavalry horses. Thus, Byleth had instructed Ingrid and Sylvain to leave their mounts behind and join Felix for reconnaissance. The trio had been left with strict instructions to assess the situation and proceed from there, but to retreat and regroup if complications arose.

The three had located Annette and Gilbert in the city's northeast square, four gigantic armored knights guarding the captives' immediate vicinity. Several more soldiers were stationed around the perimeter, their hands on their weapons, eyes flitting about for the slightest disturbance.

The trio crouched in a nearby alley, doing their best not to accidentally tumble over each other in the tight confines. Properly wielding a weapon with the walls looming so close was unthinkable, but the space functioned nicely as a stealthy look-out point.

That aside, Felix never needed to be this physically close to Ingrid or Sylvain again.

"As much as I'd love to swoop in and be the hero here, I'm not sure that's the right move," Sylvain muttered, stepping forward for a better glimpse of their comrades.

"Ouch, Sylvain that's my foot," Ingrid hissed.

"Not interested in footsie, Ingrid?"

"Keep talking and I will actually break your knees."

"Noted."

The blonde shook her head. "Anyway, we're technically only here for reconnaissance," she murmured. "Maybe one of us can stay and keep an eye on things while the others report back to the professor."

Sylvain frowned. "So that one person can be even more outnumbered if things go south?" he asked skeptically.

Ingrid sighed in exasperation. "Then what do you propose we do? I'm open to ideas."

"I—" Sylvain began, but Felix interrupted him.

"Shut up for a second," he muttered. "We've got more company."

Two men had just stepped into the square. The first was a grizzled warlock with long, billowing robes and a gnarled staff; the second a soldier sporting a formidable looking blade. The swordsman's movements were marked with a predatory sort of grace that screamed of competence and strength. Felix found himself resting a hand on his sword, suddenly antsy at the thought of a challenge.

"Reign it in, Felix," Ingrid murmured, having noted his shift in stance. He ignored her.

The newcomers strode confidently toward one of the armored knights, the swordsman's voice carrying easily in the open air.

"We're to take the girl back to the estate. She can await her lord uncle there," he was saying

"The baron gave us leave to use any means necessary. For her own good of course," the warlock added in a reedy voice, unusually high with a distinct nasal quality. It was the sort of voice a mosquito might have were it granted the gift of speech.

The big knight acquiesced, stepping aside to allow the men passage.

"This isn't good," Sylvain muttered, watching through narrowed eyes as the enemy swordsman paused in front of Annette. Felix's fingers tightened unconsciously around the hilt of his weapon, his heart beating faster in his chest.

"I'm not going with you!" Annette's voice carried sharply through the air, rising easily above the distant sounds of battle. The soldier released an exaggeratedly patient sigh.

"As far as I can tell, there are two ways we can go about this," he told her flatly. "I can assure you one of those options is infinitely more pleasant than the other."

"And I can assure you that it is unwise to threaten my daughter in my presence!" Gilbert growled, his eyes smoldering beneath furrowed brows. The soldier actually snorted.

"Brave words Gustave, but consider your situation. You are hardly in a position to be making threats," he remarked, his tone that of an inconvenienced parent scolding their petulant child.

"Well you are hardly in a position to tell us what to do!" Annette snapped, her fists clenching as she rose to her feet. The soldier's hand lashed out, catching the girl's chin roughly between his thumb and forefinger and jerking her closer to him.

"I really think I am," he growled, his voice dangerous.

Felix had actually taken a step forward before Ingrid's hand closed around his wrist, halting his advance.

"Wait," she whispered. "I understand, I do. But getting ourselves killed isn't going to help them."

Felix slowly released a breath, hating the sense in her words. They were outnumbered. To charge in now would be foolish and he would not allow his emotions to overrule his good judgement.

"I see your uncle has yet to teach you compliance," the soldier was saying to Annette. "Shame. It would have made this easier."

Gilbert leapt to his feet. Almost instantly the four knights had surrounded him, their lances lowered, trained on the man with lethal precision.

"Father!" Annette exclaimed, jerking her chin out of the soldier's grasp and pushing his hand away. She started toward Gilbert but the swordsman latched onto her wrist, keeping her in place. Annette whipped around and Felix could have sworn he felt the heat of her glare from across the square.

"Come along nicely, if you please. I won't ask again." The soldier's tone was polite, though it was impossible to miss the mockery that lurked just beneath the surface.

"No," Annette snarled, stepping into an offensive stance, her hair rising around her face as her fingers sparked with magic. "Tell my uncle he can fight me himself!"

The swordsman laughed before fixing Annette with a derisively pitying gaze.

"He won't have to."

That was when the warlock struck.

A stream of purple light shot from the grizzled man's staff, enveloping Annette in a matter of seconds and lifting her from her feet. She hung there, suspended for the breath of a moment before the magic abruptly dissipated, scattering to the winds with a serpentine hiss. No longer supported by the warlock's spell, the girl fell back to the cobblestone, landing in an undignified heap at the soldier's feet.

"Annette!" Gilbert roared. Before he could so much as lift his axe, the four knights closed in, keeping the man effectively restrained. The hold Felix had on his sword was painfully tight; his strength fueled by the blistering rage that pooled like acid in his gut.

"I can't watch this," Sylvain said through gritted teeth.

"If we go out there without a plan, we're dead!" Ingrid retorted, though she too kept a white-knuckled grip on her weapon.

"Then what's the plan!?" Sylvain growled, rounding on her.

Annette meanwhile, had regained her footing, a murderous expression on her face. She threw her hand toward the soldier, fire in her eyes.

Nothing happened.

The girl stood in frozen bewilderment before scowling and trying for a second time; and for a second time, nothing happened.

"It was a silence spell," Ingrid murmured. "She can't use her magic."

Annette seemed to have realized the same thing. For the first time, a shadow of fear flickered across her face.

"Now come along, Miss Dominic," the soldier said with all the casual cordiality of a dinner invitation. Annette shook her head, taking another step back.

"What if we caused a distraction?" Sylvain suggested desperately. "Maybe gave Gilbert a chance to strike? Something!?"

Ingrid hesitated. Felix tensed.

With the speed of a striking asp, the soldier lashed out, his fingers closing around Annette's wrist and jerking her forward. Pain flashed across the girl's face as she tried to wrench away. The soldier yanked tighter as Annette resisted, the girl digging her heels into the cobblestones, her fist raining blows on any bit of skin she could find. The man growled in annoyance, wrapping both arms around the mage's waist and lifting her from her feet.

Felix's fists clenched.

He did not let his emotions get in the way on the battlefield. He did not let his emotions get in the way on the battlefield! He did not!

"Get…off…me!" Annette snarled, her elbow flying backward and connecting with the soldier's nose, the resulting crack echoing loudly across the square. The man bellowed in pain, throwing Annette away from him before cuffing her sharply in the head with a gauntleted hand.

She crumpled and Felix's resolve shattered.

He burst from the confines of the alley, Sylvian and Ingrid right behind him. To hell with the odds. He would not stand idle!

The trio's unexpected assault granted them a temporary advantage, one they used to bring down the soldiers closest to their hiding place. Yet the enemy's confusion was short-lived. The warlock pointed a finger and a moment later the baron's troops crashed into them with the fury of storm-tossed waves.

Felix's sword was a blur as he kept the enemy at bay. The soldiers were weak; of a single mind as they charged forward like sheep into the jaws of a wolf. They relied on their superior numbers to bring them victory and their skill suffered for it. Felix scoffed. No matter many raindrops a storm threw at a boulder, it could not dent the stone.

Sylvain brought his lance about in a sweeping blow, felling one man and causing two others to leap back, warily eyeing the length of steel.

"Felix!" the redhead shouted, jerking his head toward Annette. "Swoop in! We'll cover you!"

"Go!" Ingrid agreed, taking down two soldiers who had thought to capitalize on Sylvain's distraction. Felix didn't hesitate. The swordsman broke from the mob, taking the path his friends had cleared and trusting them to watch his back. He could see Annette now. She had pushed herself upright, though an angry gash marred the skin above her eyebrow. Blood dripped from the wound and trailed down her cheek in a morbid mockery of tears.

The soldier was glaring at her, one hand lifted to his nose in a futile attempt to staunch his own bleeding. Scowling, he drew his sword. It was a thin blade with a lethal edge. Two grooves had been pressed into the steel to collect the blood it spilled, and the crimson cloth around its hilt was worn with use. It was a cruel weapon, one used to the taste of flesh.

"Remember, I wanted to do this the nice w—!" The soldier didn't get a chance to finish.

Felix's blade sliced through the air and only a last-minute step spared the enemy from becoming a lot shorter than he was likely keen on being. Putting himself between Annette and her captor, Felix pressed his advantage, forcing his opponent backward and away from the mage. He had no time to look at Annette; no chance to tell her to run. The enemy was formidable, dodging jabs and thrusts with a catlike grace before bringing his own weapon about in wicked rebuttal. Metal screeched as Felix's blade met his opponent's in a perfectly timed counter, the combatants face to face for a moment before they sprang apart. The two circled each other like hungry wolves, each waiting for the twitch or flit of an eye that would give away their next move.

The enemy broke first, his blade like liquid silver as it sliced through the air. Felix swept backward, falling into the defensive as his opponent pressed him toward the center of the square. The two ducked and wove through the colonnades that formed a decorative circle around the courtyard's central fountain, Felix cautious not to back into one as he parried the other man's thrusts. His opponent was obviously skilled, yet Felix could tell by the way he handled his weapon that the man was overconfident. This was a soldier who was used to winning his fights. To him, Felix was nothing more than another notch in his sword. The young man smirked. He planned to capitalize on that arrogance.

A long black shadow marked the position of one of the square's pillars and Felix dodged toward it, his trap falling into place. The soldier swung his weapon and Felix ducked, the satisfactory crunch of steel meeting stucco music to his ears. A glance over his shoulder confirmed that the soldier's blade had sunk between the pillar's decorative ridges and lodged itself there, immovable. Their battle was over.

"Thanks for a good fight," Felix said dryly. "It's a shame you were overconfident."

His opponent sighed, bowing his head and releasing the entrenched blade. Felix frowned, hesitation stalling his sword. Was the man conceding defeat?

It was in this moment of indecision that the soldier's hand shot forward.

"A trait we seem to share," he hissed, his mouth curling in a sneer.

Felix winced as something cut into him, sending shocks of white-hot pain lancing up his side. A chilling gleam of satisfaction glinted coolly in his opponent's gaze. There would be no more chance for mercy. Felix brought his sword down and the soldier fell, the ghost of a smirk on his lips.

The young man stumbled back, his eyes dropping to where a small knife jutted awkwardly from just beneath his ribs. He grit his teeth and yanked it out, applying pressure to the wound as his eyes swept over the blade. He was lucky. The knife had been too small to do any significant damage, yet the design itself was odd. It had been forged to resemble the curve of a scorpion tail, its hook-like shape ideal for catching and tearing flesh. Scowling, Felix threw it to the ground, watching his blood spatter the cobblestones as the weapon skidded away. And he had thought the other man overconfident? His hypocrisy verged on shameful.

In a coincidental stroke of luck, his shirt's dark material concealed most of the blood that had blossomed around his injury. Knowledge of the wound would only cause his companions unnecessary worry, and they had bigger things to focus on than insignificant puncture wounds.

Like the four massive knights bent on taking Annette back to her uncle, for example.

Ingrid and Sylvain were doing a fine job of holding them off, but they were still outnumbered. Hefting his blade, Felix leapt into the fray.

Gilbert's gaze was stony as he faced down his daughter.

"Enough stubbornness, Annette! Fall back until your magic returns! Felix will ensure your safety while Ingrid, Sylvain, and I guard your retreat. We should be more than a match for any new arrivals."

Felix and the others had managed to take down the square's remaining soldiers, but somewhere in the ensuing chaos the warlock had slipped away. Now, unless their ears deceived them, a troop of reinforcements was converging on their location. By the sound of things, they would be arriving any moment.

No one had noticed Felix's injury.

"Father I can fight!" Annette protested. "I'm not going to stay—"

"Without your magic, you are a liability!" Gilbert interrupted, his voice stern, his eyes hard. "I am sorry, but we do not have time for further discussion. Take care of your injuries and meet up with us."

Annette opened her mouth to argue but paused as Sylvain stepped forward.

"We'll hold the line at the mouth of that alley," he said to her, nodding down a narrow roadway branching off toward the center of the city. "We'll use it as a choke point. Stave off the enemy from there."

"But—"

"We'll be fine Annette," Ingrid interrupted, smiling at the smaller girl. "Take care of yourself and regroup. You would say the same if it were one of us, wouldn't you?"

"I…" Annette began, then sighed. "…Yes. Just be careful."

"And don't do anything reckless," Felix added, his gaze resting pointedly on Sylvain. His friend grinned at him, a familiar glint of mischief sparking in his eyes.

"Wouldn't dream of it," he retorted. "Keep our princess safe!"

Annette flushed. "I'm not a princess—"

"Go!" Ingrid and Gilbert exclaimed.

They went, making haste down the adjoining alley. Felix glanced behind him only once, but his companions had already disappeared from view.

Their road eventually opened into a second square, this one smaller than the first and void of any colonnades or fountains. Felix kept his hand on his sword, ignoring the throbbing in his side as he scanned their surroundings for any sign of trouble.

"Work!"

The young man blinked and turned to see Annette throwing her hands out, attempting a spell that would not come. Her eyes flared with frustration and she tried again.

"Come on!" she exclaimed. "Come on magic!"

Nothing but silence answered her plea.

The mage's face crumpled and she dropped onto a nearby stone bench, her hands fisted, shoulders slumped.

"This isn't how it was supposed to go," Annette whispered. Her voice was so quiet that Felix wasn't sure if she was speaking to him at all. This was just as well as he had no idea what to say. Situations like this weren't made for people like him. Anything he said was bound to come off as cold or terse. Besides, the last time he had tried to be nice to her, she'd nearly blown the kitchen up.

Not sure how else to proceed, Felix opted for the practical route.

"Here," he said to her, holding out his spare vial of salve. "You should take care of that cut." The girl blinked, bringing her fingers to the wound on her forehead and glancing at the blood it left behind.

"Oh, right. Um, thank you," she mumbled, accepting the little jar. Her fingers tightened around the cap and twisted, yet it remained stubbornly in place. She tried again, to no avail. Felix watched with raised brows as, no matter how hard she strained, the bottle stayed doggedly closed.

"Don't make me smash you!" she exclaimed suddenly, glaring at the medicine in her hand and giving it an angry shake.

"Calm down," Felix told her, plucking the vial from the girl's fingers before her frustrations could launch it into oblivion. "Let me do it."

Annette huffed, but scooted over so he could join her on the bench. He did so and gave the cap a wrench of his own. The stubborn thing released a protesting squelch, then at long last popped into his hand.

"There," he said, holding the salve out to her. "No need to smash it like a crazy person." Annette bit her lip, dipping her fingers in the medicine and dabbing at her wound.

"I know," she mumbled, avoiding his eyes. "I guess, after everything that happened today, I'd just kind of…had it."

The corner of Felix's mouth quirked.

"The School of Sorcery's top graduate done in by a bottle cap. It's a shame," he said dryly. The girl rounded on him, her eyes sparking.

"Felix! I'm being serious!" she snapped.

"No, you're being ridiculous," the swordsman retorted. "You're an accomplished mage. Stop acting like you're not."

Annette's lips pressed together. "An accomplished mage wouldn't have gotten herself into this situation," she retorted, gesturing at herself. "An accomplished mage would be helping her friends."

Felix sighed. He was getting nowhere. Ingrid should have been the one to stay back. Or Sylvain. This whole thing was ridiculous anyway. He was a warrior. He didn't…comfort people. The swordsman opened his mouth to tell her so but paused, distracted by her injury.

"You missed a spot," he said flatly.

Annette frowned. "What? Where?" she asked, wincing as she dabbed her fingers along the wound.

"Closer to your hairline," Felix responded.

"Here?"

"No, to the right. You can't feel it?"

"No Felix, I can't feel it. It all hurts! Besides I can't see my own face, stop being mean!"

"What?! I'm trying to be—Fine, just stop—stop! I'll do it. Geez."

Felix removed his glove, not wanting to get salve all over the fabric, and carefully dipped his fingers into the vial. Annette bit her lip as he lifted his hand to her face, her eyes fixed stubbornly on her lap. As gently as he could, the swordsman began to dab the medicine over the exposed wound, feeling oddly self-conscious. He knew the basics of first aid, any soldier worth their salt did, yet he was not terribly practiced at assisting someone else. To top it all off, his face felt oddly warm for some reason.

He had never wanted to see Mercedes so badly in his life.

"I felt so stupid…"

Annette's quiet words pulled Felix from his thoughts and he paused, his fingers hovering inches from her skin.

"What?"

"In the kitchen, with you. When I started that fire and burned myself. I've always been a bit spacey but I just… I wanted to prove that I wasn't a nuisance. I thought if I could get my hands on House Dominic's relic, maybe I could make up for all the clumsy things I'd done. Only…" she trailed off, her fingers clenching tighter in her lap. "…I ended up a liability. Again."

It was not lost on Felix that she'd used the same word Gilbert had when he'd ordered their retreat. Liability… The mage pressed on. "Right now, our friends are fighting and I'm just sitting here," she murmured, the words pained. Her eyes squeezed shut and she grimaced. "Pathetic."

Two tears slid down her cheeks and plunged to the cobblestones below.

"So, stand up."

Annette blinked, startled into meeting the swordsman's eyes.

"What?"

"Stand up, Annette," Felix repeated. "You're right. Sitting on this bench isn't going to change your uncle's mind. Crying to me isn't going to get you the relic. Didn't you graduate from that sorcery school at the top of your class? Didn't you earn your way into the Officer's Academy?" She stared at him, but he wasn't finished. "You can throw the word 'pathetic' around all you want but as far as I'm concerned, it's an insult to everything you've accomplished so far. You're better than that."

His words weren't comforting, he could tell that by the look on her face. But he was also fully aware of just how capable Annette could be, and to see her questioning that was…irritating. Silence settled over them, a silence Felix wasn't entirely sure how to fill. He seemed to have startled her tears away at least. So that was something. Scowling he turned away, twisting the lid back onto the salve bottle and nodding at the bandages in her lap.

"You should put those on," he muttered. "At least until your magic comes back."

"R-right," Annette mumbled. Once the dressing was secured, she glanced back up at him, her eyes wide and inquiring. "Does it look dumb?" she asked hesitantly, pointing at her forehead. Felix gave her a flat look.

"It's a bandage. It looks like a bandage," he retorted.

Annette's eyes narrowed, the only warning he got before she nailed him in the side with the back of her hand.

"You're the worst, Felix!"

He barely heard the words. The second her hand had made contact with his wound, a shooting pain had lanced up his side, followed by a dizziness so potent he thought he might fall off the bench. Annette's face faltered as he grimaced.

"What's wrong? Felix?" She reached out to steady him but paused as her gaze caught on the back of her hand. There was blood there. His blood. Her eyes widened in alarm. "You're—!" she started, but wasn't given the chance to finish.

Running footsteps hailed the arrival of Ingrid, Sylvain, and Gilbert, the three of them sprinting into the square a moment later.

"Reinforcements on the way," Gilbert stated breathlessly, shooting a quick glance over his shoulder. "If we stay here, we'll be penned in. Our forces should be close. We need to—!" He cut off, his head snapping up. Felix had heard it too: hoofbeats and clanking armor, soldiers shouting to each other, orders being bellowed.

"Too late," Ingrid murmured.

Then the enemy was flooding in, spilling from the roadways and alleys like wine from an overturned glass. They formed rank, their lines crisp and organized. A command was bellowed and, in unison, each soldier stepped smartly to the side. A regal looking man in sparkling plate trotted forth on the back of an imposing chestnut mare, his shoulders thrown back, a lance bearing the mark of House Dominic clasped in his hand.

"Uncle," Annette whispered, resignation in her voice.

Baron Dominic's facial features hid beneath a helmet of white and gold, the glint of his eyes barely visible through the slat at its center. Felix felt himself tense and he resisted the near overpowering urge to bring a hand to his side. Now was not the time for weakness.

The baron pulled his steed up short, taking a moment to look over their small force. When he spoke, it was with an air of command. Like the people standing before him were nothing more than disobedient foot soldiers.

"Annette. Gustave. Cease this foolishness at once."

"We have no quarrel with you, brother," Gilbert stated, stepping up to address the baron from the fore of the group. "Relinquish the relic and we will leave you in peace."

"You know I cannot do that," the baron responded.

"And you know we cannot leave without it," Gilbert returned. Baron Dominic sighed, shaking his head and turning his attention to his niece.

"Annette, you must see the foolishness in this," he stated. Felix saw Annette's fists clench and unclench in his peripherals. Whether the gesture was a manifestation of nerves or another attempt to summon her magic, he couldn't be sure.

"Please Uncle!" she begged. "We can fight the Empire! We can fight Edelgard! If you would just help us…"

The baron shook his head again.

"I will not support such folly. Come back to the manor, Annette. Join me and your mother. You know you and your companions are outnumbered. If you come with me now, I will willingly spare their lives." His tone was resolved. On this, he would not budge.

Annette hesitated for only a moment before she straightened her shoulders, lifting her head high.

"I don't want to fight you, Uncle," she said honestly. "But for the sake of our kingdom, we are not leaving without the relic."

The baron sighed. It was a long, resigned sound that ended with the heft of his lance.

"Then you leave me no choice," he murmured. The man's hand rose and his soldiers charged forward, parting around the baron like a stream around a stone.

"Magic?" Felix hissed at Annette as their enemy converged upon them. The girl threw her hand forward, features furrowed in concentration. Nothing happened.

"No!"

Felix swore and pulled her back, handing her the dagger he usually kept strapped to his belt.

"Then take this and stay behind me!"

He saw her eyes flick to his side; saw the hesitation, the concern resting in that gaze. There was no time to address it. No time to do anything but fight as the wave of enemy soldiers crashed into them.

Felix's blade sang as it swung through the air, its melody matching a softer harmony that lilted up from the depths of his mind. It was her song—her voice—stirring from the secret places of his heart. He forgot his hurts, his focus narrowing to himself, his sword, and the soldiers fool enough to challenge him. His comrades stood strong on his right and left, having fallen into a practiced defensive formation that came as naturally as breathing. They were a wall, protecting each other from the tempest of the enemy.

Protecting her.

Felix's jaw tightened and he struck with renewed fervor, forcing the soldiers back. They approached more hesitantly, wary of the swordsman and his darting blade. Their comrades, groaning and defeated at his feet, were a very persuasive warning. Sweat beaded on his brow, his wound throbbing in time with the pounding in his chest. Even so, his sword arm did not waver.

"Fall back!"

Felix blinked, the baron's sudden order catching him off guard. Fall back? Annette was clearly outnumbered. Why would the man order a retreat?

That was when the warlock stepped from the cover of the alley.

Felix saw the man raise his staff. Felt the ground beneath his feet begin to tremble. The bottom of his stomach dropped into his boots as he realized what was about to happen.

And they had clumped together so perfectly. Like ducks in a pond.

"Look out!"

Felix felt arms close around him, a small body slamming into his and throwing him off balance. The ground gave a great heave, belching angry flames into the air and sending fire and debris flying in every direction. Felix felt a searing heat rush over him as he was blasted sideways, bolganone sending him into a disorienting tumble of smoke and upended sky. He hit the cobblestones a second later, whoever had latched onto him ripped away by the force of their momentum. The swordsman skidded across the ground, only coming to a halt when his body slammed into the unforgiving stone of the city wall.

Felix lay stunned for a second, curled in on himself, his eyes squeezed shut against the blinding flash of flames, his side burning with renewed agony. The smell of smoke and burning stone assaulted his senses, his mouth tasting of blood and dirt. Everything hurt, not just his wound, though that was by far the worst. He could hear nothing through the ringing in his ears, the normally cacophonous sound of combat muted in the wake of the explosion.

He had to get up. For the goddess's sake, this was a battle! He had to move!

The swordsman's eyes cracked open and he squinted through the smoke dancing wickedly upon the air. Everything was chaos. Where were his companions? Someone had knocked into him, hadn't they? Were they alright? He pushed himself into a sitting position, leaning against the stone wall for support as his vision swam slowly into focus.

Annette was stumbling toward him, making her way carefully through the rubble of the once orderly square. Ash covered her clothes, burns littering her arms. The bandage had been ripped from her face, the gash beneath open and bleeding once more. She had been the one to try and shield him from the brunt of the spell, that was obvious from the wounds she had sustained. Her mouth moved as their eyes met, but his ears were ringing too badly to make out what she said. Still, there was a frantic expression on her face and as she neared, she gestured to his wound. Felix glanced down.

His meeting with the cobblestones had torn his shirt enough to reveal the extent of the damage. A significant amount of blood had pooled around the puncture and bits of debris from the explosion now peppered his exposed flesh. But that was not the worst of it. The skin around the wound had taken on a disconcertingly greenish pallor; its sick, unnatural color speaking to one thing.

Poison. Likely from a venin blade.

Felix grimaced as the pieces fell into place. No wonder the soldier had seemed so smug. No wonder he had smirked in the face of death. The man had known that despite his loss, he had won. A weapon like that didn't have to cut deeply to kill.

Then Annette was beside him and as the ringing in Felix's ears faded, he at last was able to hear her voice.

"…biggest hypocrite! After telling me not to hide my wounds!? Felix, why wouldn't you let us know?! Why didn't you say anything?!"

She was telling him off. Even as tears spilled from her eyes.

"Sorry…" he muttered. "Looks like you're not the only one who makes a mess of things."

Despite everything, she smiled. It was a tiny, watery thing, but beautiful all the same.

"Try to stay still," she whispered. "It might help slow the poison. Mercie should be here soon, and the professor. But…but just in case, I'm going to try…" she trailed off before taking a deep breath. Her hands moved to hover just above his wound, her eyes squeezed shut, lips forming silent words. Praying, Felix realized with a start. She was praying to the goddess.

Yet no light pulsed at her fingertips. No comforting glow assuaged his injury.

A tiny sob escaped her then, the girl's fingers tightening into fists, her forehead dipping to rest upon his shoulder.

"Come on magic," Annette whispered, her voice raw. Desperate. "Come on magic…come on…"

The rise of clashing weapons nearly drowned out the sound of her pleas, enemy soldiers descending once again now that the threat of bolganone had passed. Felix warily lifted his gaze and watched Sylvain fighting to get to Ingrid, the girl struggling to fend off three swordsmen at once. Gilbert's path was blocked by a wall of great knights, a combination of plate armor and lances keeping the man at bay. They would be overrun soon…all of them.

Felix gritted his teeth. Injury be damned. Poison be damned. He would not sit and do nothing.

"I'm going to fight," he growled, pushing away from the wall. "They'll die if we just sit here."

"What!? No! Felix, look at yourself!" Annette protested, placing a hand on his arm.

Before he could retort, a shadow suddenly across them, and the two froze where they knelt. Even before Felix lifted his eyes, he knew who he was going to see.

The baron sat tall and proud upon his mount, his shining armor an odd contrast to the grit and debris that coated everything else. He had removed his helmet and the expression he wore beneath was grim.

"Are you ready to give up?" the man asked. There was no thrill in his voice, just quiet resignation. Annette met his gaze, the fury in her eyes unquestionable.

"How could you think I would? After this?" She gestured at the pandemonium that surrounded them. The baron contemplated her for a moment.

"You forced my hand, Annette," he murmured. "I had no choice." His gaze shifted to Felix and the swordsman suddenly felt the absence of his blade like the void of a missing limb. It was lying only feet away, torn from him by bolganone's wrath. "Fraldarius," the baron murmured. "I was sorry to hear about your father…but your own life is not beyond saving. Just tell my niece to come home."

Anger boiled inside Felix at the mention of Rodrigue. At the baron's attempt to use Felix's weakness to force Annette back to his side. The young man lurched forward, ignoring his body's protests and the fresh blood that spattered the cobblestone. He would reclaim his sword. He would use it to shove those words back down the baron's throat.

Then Annette was in front of him, her back to him as she faced down the baron, the dagger Felix had given her pointed directly at her uncle.

"That's enough!" she snarled. Baron Dominic sighed.

"You won't fight me Annette. Come along now and I'll even get the boy a healer," he bartered. Felix could see Annette's hand trembling, but her response was as unwavering as stone.

"If you cared at all, you'd get him one anyway."

The baron actually growled in frustration, his patience clearly wearing thin. In the blink of an eye he swung his lance at her, an impressively precise blow that crashed into the dagger with alarming force. The girl stumbled under the strength of the swing, but she did not falter. Instead, Annette drove her dagger upward in a counter motion that she must have picked up from the training grounds. Yes, that was definitely one of his moves, Felix thought to himself. Had she been watching him that closely?

But despite her best intentions, a dagger was hardly a match for a lance. The baron countered her next strike easily, knocking the small blade from her hands with a disdainful snort.

"How many times must I ask before you'll comply?" the man growled, his attention on his niece. "What will it take to make you listen?!"

Felix saw his opening. Ignoring his pain, he lunged forward and his fingers closed on the hilt of his sword. Rounding on the baron, Felix swung the weapon in an upward sweep that cut an angry line across his opponent's bicep. The man reeled. Felix pressed his advantage, stepping forward and—! A wave of dizziness crashed into him with the debilitating force of a descending hammer. It was the opening the baron had been waiting for. Whirling his lance about, the man brought the butt of his weapon down, directly into Felix's wounded side.

Annette screamed as stars burst before Felix's eyes. His world condensed into a blistering ball of agony as he fell to one knee, the tip of his sword digging into the ground as he clutched the hilt. It was the only thing keeping him upright.

As he struggled to breathe, struggled to keep the cobblestones at bay, Felix felt something sharp and unforgiving kiss his chest. It was the tip of the baron's lance, the weapon poised to kill. Felix lifted his gaze, knowing he was a bloody mess. Knowing he might be a breath away from death. He glared defiantly anyway.

"Make your choice Annette!" the baron shouted, his voice rising over the din of battle. "I won't ask again!"

Annette had frozen where she stood. All the blood was gone from her face; her hand lifted for a spell that would not come. Soundlessly, she mouthed his name.

"Felix!"

The swordsman's eyes darted to the side in time to see Sylvain charge forward, an unfamiliar desperation on his friend's face. The enemy took advantage of the knight's distraction, the shaft of a soldier's spear catching Sylvain across the chest and knocking him to the ground. Felix growled, trying to rise to his feet despite his body's agonizing protests. A sharp pain bit into his chest, the baron's lance digging in enough to draw blood.

"I really wouldn't," the man murmured. Felix stilled, his fists clenching. Yet even as the enemy converged on Sylvain, a blur of singing steel wind-milled through them, scattering the soldiers like leaves in the wind. Ingrid was there, placing herself pointedly between Sylvain and danger. She hefted her lance threateningly at the soldiers, but her eyes flicked to Felix, the motion betraying her fear.

"Enough!" the baron shouted, his voice echoing around the square. "If any one of you so much as lifts a finger, I'll run the Fraldarius boy through!" The man's eyes blazed as he stared his enemies down, ensuring they were properly subdued before his gaze rested on Annette. "Last chance, niece," he growled. "Come with me. Leave this foolishness behind."

For a single heartbeat, Felix thought she might refuse. Then, at long last, her shoulders hunched in defeat.

"I…I'll go with you," she whispered, her voice audible in the stillness that had had fallen across the square. "Just, don't kill him. Please."

Felix's fists clenched. He wanted to stop her; had to stop her! But the reality of his situation was too evident to ignore. All it would take was one push from that lance and Felix's life would be over. Now he was the liability. He was the one holding the others back. His weakness. His failure.

It was in this moment of hopelessness that Annette's voice drifted again into his mind. Words she had spoken in subdued and vulnerable tones. A breath of recent memory.

"This isn't how it was supposed to go…"

And then Felix's own voice in response.

"So, stand up."

What was he doing now? Kneeling on the ground with a lance to his chest? Allowing himself to be the reason Annette was taken away?

Pathetic.

The same word Annette herself had used not an hour ago.

'You're better than that,' he had told her.

Was he?

Felix lifted his eyes to the man before him.

Baron Dominic didn't seem to notice. His jaw was clenched, lips twisted in a near grimace as he watched his niece move toward him. Felix narrowed his eyes. The baron's features held no sign of triumph. They reflected no glee at the victory he had clearly won. Annette was returning to him, yet it was not satisfaction that glistened in his eyes…but regret.

And just like that, Felix understood.

Baron Dominic was playing a role; one he had cast upon himself for the sake of his territory. The man was not a part of the empire, but he would raise a lance against his allies if it meant his people stayed free.

The only question was how deep did that resolve run? How far would this man go to stay his course?

An idea began to form in the back of Felix's mind, a point of clarity amidst the haze of pain and nausea. It was a reckless thought, and one very likely to get him killed. Yet he refused to fold beneath the weight of that fear. Refused to court his own hypocrisy. He had told Annette to stand, so how could he do anything less?

The baron was speaking again, gesturing to the soldiers surrounding Annette. "You men! Escort my niece back to the estate and ensure she goes nowhere until—"

"Aren't you overdoing it?"

Felix's voice was a snarl of smoke and grit, but his words reached the baron anyway. Slowly the man turned, his face a careful mask of disdain.

"Excuse me?"

Baron Dominic's voice was low, a breath away from dangerous. A pretense, Felix thought to himself, to hide the hesitation lurking beneath. The swordsman smirked, blood on his lips.

"This show you're putting on," Felix replied. "It's gone on long enough, hasn't it? Losing loyal soldiers? Threatening your family? How far are you willing to fall to avoid the empire's ire?"

The baron stared at him mutely, the young man's diatribe seeming to have struck a nerve. A moment passed and Baron Dominic gave his head a shake, his eyes narrowing as he pushed the lance deeper into his captive's skin. Felix suppressed the urge to wince as blood pooled beneath the weapon's tip and trailed down his shirt.

"Stop antagonizing him, idiot!"

Sylvain's words. His friend's face was white, his eyes blazing.

"You are inches from death, boy," Baron Dominic murmured. Felix looked him straight in the eye.

"Then do it," he challenged. "Run me through."

Holy cow guys this chapter was stupidly difficult to write. And stupidly long. Seriously I ended up rewriting major sections at least twice and nearly gave up on it more than once. Then I was like: 'Welp I don't want to have gone to all this work for nothing,' so I powered through. But seriously there's another document sitting on my computer with 7293 words of cut content…which is only a few thousand words shy of this chapter's word count xD So I seriously hope you all enjoyed it because the actual writing was a bit of a bear. I took some liberties with the venin blades as we've never really seen a venin dagger. Still I thought it would be a nice touch for an assassin. I dunno. Creative liberties I suppose.

I hope to have the next chapter up as soon as I can. I would guess in the next week or two, but we will see, especially if the last chapter ends up being as much of a challenge as this one was. Thank you all so much for reading and for your support of my work! It is so, so very much appreciated! This is my passion and I love being able to share it with the rest of you! Have the most glorious of days and I will see you all in the next chapter!

SIDE NOTE: Does anybody know whether vulneraries are for drinking or if they're an ointment to spread on the wound? Upon writing this I realized I had been imagining them as beverages of sorts, but didn't actually know for sure. Fire Emblem Wiki was also unhelpful, their conclusions about as vague as my own. SO if anyone knows for sure, please let me know so I can be more accurate in the future. Thanks!