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14.

“Stand a little straighter, please, Your Highness.”

Lucina complies immediately, wincing slightly when an errant pin glances her skin on its way through the fabric. There’s a stiffness in her back, no doubt from having to stand at attention for what must be over an hour in these heavy coming-of-age robes.

“One final touch,” the tailor tells her, before draping a weighty cape over her shoulders. “There. What do you think?”

Lucina turns toward the mirror hesitantly, the sheer weight of her outfit making her unsteady. The clothes are extravagant, surely befitting a princess coming of age in just over two weeks. Waves of blue silk trimmed in gold, under a cloak of rich red velvet and speckled fur. It reminds her of something her grandfather would have worn.

She hates it.

“Well?” the tailor presses, clearly eager for an answer. Lucina glances from the beady man to where Frederick had been standing off to the side, going through an itinerary of things to do before next week’s ceremony, to find him eyeing her patiently.

“It’s…” she starts, unsure of how to describe her distaste for the ensemble in a way that won’t require Aunt Emmeryn to patch up a spoiled relationship with the tailor.

Naga must be smiling on her, though, because as she wracks her brain, the door pushes open, distracting all three people in the room.

“This is a private fitting,” Frederick says, before the door has fully opened, but the interrupter continues anyway.

It’s Severa. Naga must truly be on Lucina’s side today.

“Sorry to interrupt, sir,” Severa says, waving a crumpled piece of parchment, “but I was sent with an urgent missive from the pegasus commanders.”

Frederick looks conflicted at letting his earlier no-entry policy go but waves her in nonetheless. “If you can spare the time, I’ll prepare a response to send back. It will just be a moment.”

Nodding stiffly, Severa crosses her arms and stands awkwardly in the middle of the room, apparently avoiding the eyes of both Lucina and the tailor.

“Severa,” Lucina calls, “what do you think?” Severa glances sidelong at her, and Lucina does as much of a spin as she can in the heavy clothes. “For the ceremony at the end of the month.”

The motion is subtle, but Severa turns to get a better look, eyes darting up and down Lucina’s outfit.

“It’s not really your style,” she says without missing a beat, turning back almost dismissively. “Especially that cape. It looks like you robbed the envoy from Rosanne.”

Lucina presses a fist, rescued from the layers and layers of fabric, against her lips to stifle her chuckle, but the tailor find the comments far less humorous.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about!” he cuts in, rounding on Severa. “These are the traditional clothes for Ylissean royals coming of age! The cape in particular has a long history in the royal family! Who are you to be passing judgment?”

“Look, bud,” Severa starts, bristling, “Her Highness asked for an opinion, and I gave it--”

Lucina cuts her off with a hand on her shoulder. “Thank you, Severa. I did ask for her opinion,” she tells the tailor, “and I appreciate the work you’ve done for the upcoming ceremony, but I find I agree with her.”

The tailor looks incredulous and indignant, so Lucina continues before he can protest. “The cape is beautiful, truly, but I believe I might be too restrained to fully appreciate it. Perhaps something simpler might be more suitable.”

“That may be a fair point,” the tailor concedes, considerably less put out than he had been moments before. “Maybe I didn’t see it before, that such extravagant clothing will only distract from Your Highness’s natural beauty.”

That’s not quite what Lucina was going for, but as long as he’s not upset. “Thank you for understanding.”

“Of course, Your Highness,” the tailor says, bowing deeply. “Between the two of us, however, I might recommend that you find company that is also… more suitable.”

Severa flushes an angry red, and Lucina opens her mouth to respond, but before she has a chance to say anything, Frederick reappears.

“Thank you for waiting, Severa. Here is my answer,” he tells her, handing her a small piece of parchment, folded and sealed with wax.

“Thank you, sir,” she says, taking the note from her father and bowing at the waist. She casts one last look around the room, catching Lucina’s eye briefly, before spinning on her heel and leaving.

For the rest of the fitting, Lucina finds herself watching the door, despite herself.

--

13.

There’s an odd, otherworldly stillness about the castle chapel. It seems to disturb most people Lucina knows, her own sister included, so Lucina goes there whenever she needs to be alone.

And she has never felt the desire to be alone more so than following the meeting with Frederick, Phila, and half the court about the approaching ceremony. She knows these meetings are important; there’s a good deal of ritual to the ceremony that she must memorise and practice until it becomes second nature, but also a fair amount of politics, and it is as much her duty as it is Frederick and Phila’s to ensure each of the noble families is attended to.

Which unfortunately means having young lords and ladies sent to the capitol by their parents vying for her attention every moment she’s available. Here in the chapel, however, Lucina can find sanctuary, brief as it may be, in the silence pervading the small hall.

Kneeling before the altar at the front of the room, Lucina bows her head and begins to recite a prayer under her breath. In less than two weeks, during the day-long coming-of-age ceremony, Lucina will do this very same thing with her family and a select group of clergy and nobles watching her. She tries not to think of how the scenario will play out -- the head priest dripping holy water over her head and circling her bowed body with a thurible as incense pours out -- and instead focuses on the words she has for Naga now.

The sound of wood scraping against stone as the door at the back of the chapel open easily breaks Lucina out of her thoughts, both pious and not. Jerking back to her feet, she spins towards the intrusion and is surprised to find Severa staring shocked back at her.

“My apologies, Your Highness,” Severa says in lieu of a greeting, the words echoing in the mostly empty room, “I didn’t realize you were in here.”

“You have nothing to apologize for, Severa,” Lucina responds, self-consciously straightening her clothes as though she’s been caught in some mischievous act instead of praying. “The chapel is open to anyone in the castle. Are you here to perform your daily rites?”

Severa nods stiffly. “The altar in the cadet dorms gets so crowded after everyone’s finished the morning duties. And with the ceremony coming up, they don’t leave after their done, like reciting their rites more than once is going to prepare them any more for the ceremony.”

“Why don’t more of them come here, then?”

“They probably like having the commanders see how devoted they are,” Severa says with a dismissive shrug. “One of the cadets started a rumor that the commanders might not take everyone who passes the initiation, so they’re all trying to brown-nose themselves a spot. And they all think I’m guaranteed to get in, even if I don’t deserve it, so they wouldn’t listen to me even if I tried to correct them.

“It’s just easier to come here and avoid all of that,” Severa finishes.

“Get away from it all, if only for a moment,” Lucina agrees. She motions towards the altar and gets back into the position she was in before Severa interrupted her, a few inches to the side this time. “By all means, don’t let me get in your way.”

Severa hesitantly kneels besides her and clasps her hands. “This feels strange with someone else around. I’m used to doing this by myself,” she mutters, just loud enough for Lucina beside her to hear.

“You, too?” Lucina asks, making Severa look vaguely like she was caught doing something wrong. “I often come to this chapel to get some time alone and say my prayers. How come we’ve never run into each other here before?”

“I usually come late in the evening, when I think no one will be around,” Severa admits.

“What do you normally do after your morning duties, then?”

Severa drops her clasped hands and sits back on her heels, picking at the hem of her tunic. “The pegasus commanders like to use me as a go-between to my parents. I spend most of my time delivering missives.”

“That certainly explains yesterday. Speaking of which, I haven’t had the chance to thank you for that yet,” Lucina says.

“For what?” Severa asks, eyeing Lucina cautiously.

“I was in quite the bind when you interrupted the fitting. Your appearance was nothing short of a miracle.”

Severa looks skeptical. “Was it now?”

“Truly,” Lucina tells her. “You’ve always had a knack for helping me through difficult situations.”

“From where I was standing, you were the one getting the both of us out of that situation,” Severa shoots back.

Lucina laughs, the sound reverberating against the chapel’s stone walls. “On the contrary, I was struggling to let the tailor know how I felt about the clothes he had put me in until you arrived. It’s because of moments like those that I find myself wishing you were with me during my daily tasks. Perhaps then I would have the strength to speak my mind more often.”

Severa gives her an unsteady look, as though she’s unsure whether or not she should be taking Lucina seriously.

“Of course, I’m sure you’re already busy enough with your own schedule to be accompanying me to boring meetings,” Lucina backtracks.

“I’m not sure if I could handle more court types, if yesterday was any indication,” Severa says, though she looks relieved by Lucina’s backpedaling.

Lucina finds it strangely disappointing.

“Nonsense,” Lucina says instead, choosing to keep the stirring in her chest to herself. “Dealing with nobles is mostly about knowing the rules of engagement and sticking to it. It’s like following set of instructions.”

“I don’t recall getting any instructions for you.”

The laugh that bubbles out of Lucina seems to shock them both, the sound reverberating against the chapel’s walls. “Would you like me to provide some?” Lucina asks. “Although, I never realized I was that difficult to figure out.”

Severa smiles wryly, shaking her head. “With all do respect, Your Highness, you’re the biggest mystery I’ve ever met.”

Lucina isn’t quite sure what to say to that, but even if she did, she wouldn’t have had a chance to. Not a second later, the chapel doors open, breaking whatever spell had come over the two of them and reminding them of the world beyond the altar.

“Your Highness, there you are. You’re going to be late to your meeting with Lord Belfrey,” Frederick says in lieu of a greeting. And then he seems to notice his daughter’s presence with Lucina. “Ah, Severa, the pegasus commanders were wondering where you had gotten to. Report back at once.”

Severa stands immediately. “Of course, sir,” she says, all of the earlier mirth gone from her voice. “Your Highness.”

For the second time in two days, Lucina watches Severa go, unable to stop her.

--

12.

As the days drag closer to the ceremony, Lucina finds sleep more and more elusive. After tossing and turning in her bed for what feels like hours, she shucks her covers and rolls to her feet.

A walk, she decides, slipping from her room, should dispel the restless energy that seems to have settled over her recently.

The castle has a haunting quality at night, her steps echoing off the stone floors and reverberating down the hallways, but the feeling of isolation in such a typically crowded space is as calming as it is unsettling. With the ceremony drawing ever closer, it seems Lucina is only free from the court’s ever-watchful eye at moments like this, in the dead of night.

Having long since memorized the guards’ routes from years of sneaking around as child, it’s easy for Lucina to slip out onto the grounds without encountering anyone. It might be her mother’s influence, but she finds herself drawn to the stables as soon as she’s free of the inner walls, as though spending some time with the animals might clear her mind. She’s about halfway there when she hears a noise coming from the pegasus cadets’ dorm a few yards away.

Making a beeline for the building, she spots a figure slip out one of the windows and run around the building towards the cadet stables. Lucina follows at a distance, slipping around the corner and peeking into the stables once she reaches the entrance.

“Severa?”

Severa jumps when she hears her name, sword clattering on the ground from where she had been strapping it to her saddle. “Naga, Your Highness,” Severa says, her shoulders dropping at the sight of Lucina, “you’ll scare a girl to death.”

“My apologies, Severa, I just…” Lucina looks from the saddled pegasus, bags already packed, to the sword still laying on the ground where it fell. “What are you doing?”

“What’s it look like I’m doing?” Severa asks, picking up her sword and reattaching it to the saddle. “I’m getting out of here.”

“Why? The pegasus knight commencement is in just over a week.”

“Exactly,” Severa says, scoffing. “Now’s my last chance to leave before I’m stuck here forever.”

“I don’t understand. You don’t want to be a knight?”

Severa pauses. “I guess I can see why you would think I did. I mean, both of my parents are so dedicated to the royal family, and everyone expected me to be just the same. I’ve never had a choice, so I’ve never had a chance to think about what I’ve actually wanted to do with my life.”

Lucina watches as Severa hands fidget with her saddle straps, waiting for her to continue. “But now… There’s no going back now, and the more I think about being trapped in this for the rest of my life, the less I can take it. This is my last chance to get out.”

A strained silence overtakes the stable, as Severa busies herself with her pegasus and Lucina watches unsure of what to say.

“You’re not going to tell on me, are you?” Severa asks after a few moments, looking at Lucina for the first time since Lucina walked in on her.

“No, no, of course not,” Lucina tells her. “I’m really in no position to stop you. If it’s alright with you, however, I do have one request.”

Severa eyes her warily but drops her hands from her things and turns to fully face Lucina all the same. “Fine. Even if I’m not a pegasus knight, you’re still my princess. What is it?”

Lucina’s sure she surprises them both with what she says next: “Take me with you.”

--

11.

By the time dawn breaks over the horizon, Lucina can feel tiredness pull at her eyelids. Slumping against Severa seated on the pegasus in front of her, her eyes slip closed as she gives into the steady rhythm of the pegasus’s gait and Severa’s warmth in front of her.

“Sorry, Your Highness,” Severa says, and Lucina jerks up, suddenly awake. “I don’t plan on riding through the night much, but we needed to get as much distance between us and the capitol as possible.”

“No, it’s alright, and you’ve nothing to apologize for,” Lucina tells her. “I’ve been finding it difficult to get to sleep recently, especially as my coming-of-age draws closer.”

“You, too, huh?” Severa asks, shooting Lucina a glance over her shoulder. “You’re welcome to get some sleep now, if you’re able to, Your Highness--”

“Lucina,” Lucina cuts in, blushing slightly, when Severa sends her a confused look. “We’ll be caught quite easily if you call me ‘Your Highness’. You should start using my name.”

Severa is quiet for a few moments as she considers it. “You’re right,” she says with a sigh. “It’s going to feel weird since respect for the royal family has been beat into me since before I could walk, but…” She pauses again, face pulled into a frown. “In fact, we might want to use a nickname. Naga knows everyone in the halidom knows what the crown princess’s name is, and I’m not particularly interested in getting arrested for kidnapping you. How does ‘Luci’ sound to you?”

Hearing the nickname pass through Severa’s lips makes Lucina feel hot under her ears, but she finds she likes the feeling. “That works with me,” she says, settling against Severa’s back again. “Are you sure this is alright?”

“I’m dragging you to Naga knows where in the middle of the night,” Severa says, huffing slightly. “The least I can do is let you get some sleep.”

That doesn’t quite address the question Lucina was asking, and she suspects Severa knows that as well, but the vibrations gently rumbling through Severa’s back as she spoke are just what Lucina needed to lull into a sleepy haze too thick to argue.

When she wakes, it’s to the morning sun beating down on them from overhead.

“How long was I asleep?” she asks, voice scratchy and slurring.

Severa throws her a glance over her shoulder. “A couple hours. It’s a good thing you’re up. There’s a town ahead I want to stop in, and I would have hated to be the one to wake you.”

Lucina chuckles a little at that, stretching her back. “Is there anything I should know about this town before we arrive?”

“Not really. It’s far enough away from Ylisstol that people have no reason to suspect that we came from there,” Severa says, “and it’s one of the first major market towns outside of the capitol, so they should get enough strange traffic that we’ll blend right in.”

“Any chance of people recognizing us?”

“Not me,” Severa answers with a scoff. “But you, maybe. We can try to do something about your hair, and if that’s not good enough, I’ve got a cloak in one of my saddlebags that you can put on.”

The town appears on the horizon just as they finish planning their arrival, so Severa steers her pegasus off the road and behind a nearby tree. Hoping off, she offers a hand to help Lucina down.

“Right,” Severa says once they’ve got both their feet on the ground. “Any preferences?”

“I’ll leave it to you,” Lucina tells her.

Severa directs Lucina to sit on the ground and positions herself behind. “Just a moment,” she says, parting Lucina’s hair into two large sections.

Lucina closes her eyes, letting the feeling of Severa’s hands working her hair wash over her. It’s been a long time since Lucina’s had someone do her hair so gently; she used to revel in it as a child, when Aunt Lissa would help her brush her hair before bed or place her in her lap and give her pigtails not unlike the ones Aunt Lissa herself wore in her youth.

But as a growing heir-apparent, it soon became obvious that appearances meant as much as skill or talent in court, and Lucina found herself at the mercy of royal hair stylists pulling and prodding at her hair like a wild animal to be tamed.

“Alright, all finished,” Severa says, after a few moments of bliss. Lucina blinks her eyes open, a bit disappointed it ended so soon. “I don’t have a mirror, believe it or not, so I can’t show you the finished product. But I’d be surprised if anyone recognizes you like this.”

Lucina runs a tentative hand across her hair, worried about ruining Severa’s work, only to find it end just below her ears. “How…?”

“I just tucked the longer bits up underneath the shorter bits. It’s easier than it sounds,” Severa tells her with a shrug.

“Don’t sell yourself short, Severa.” Lucina says, fingers playing with the short strands hiding the rest of her hair. “This is amazing work.”

Severa flushes slightly and looks away, heading back to the pegasus. “Well, shall we?”

Town is a only a short ride from where they stopped, and Severa wastes no time directing them where the traffic seems the thickest. More than a few bystanders gawk at the pegasus as it passes by, but none stop them or even seem to pay attention to the pegasus’s riders.

They find an inn shortly after arriving at the town center, Severa steering her pegasus up to the hitching post in front.

“Wait here,” she tells Lucina, dropping down from the saddle. “I’m going to see if there’s a stable before we stop here for real.”

Lucina dismounts as well once Severa’s slipped through the inn doors, choosing to stretch her legs and give the pegasus some relief from its load in case they have to search for another inn. Tightly wrapping a hand in the reins -- just in case -- she takes a moment to survey the town.

It must be late morning by now, given how many people are milling about on the streets, making the most of their day at the market just a few meters further down the road. Lucina watches the crowds with interest, her free hand idly running through the pegasus’s mane.

In the rare moments she ventured out into Ylisstol in her childhood, she had always been surrounded by a retinue of guards, and the townspeople would stare as their princess went by. Now, with Severa’s cloak covering her royal garb and her hair unrecognizable, the odd bystander only pays her any mind because of the pure white mount beside her.

It’s a refreshing change.

“We’re in luck,” Severa’s voice breaks her out of her reverie, and Lucina turns to find her approaching with stout man following. “There’s a stable out back.”

The man -- who Lucina can only assume is the innkeeper -- leads them through an alley to the stable. There’s a large lock on the front door, and the innkeeper pulls a large ring of keys from his belt to unlock it.

“Not too often we get a pegasus around these parts,” he says, flicking through key after key. “You two from the capitol?”

“Originally,” Severa answers for both of them, “but our journey hasn’t taken us there in quite awhile.”

The innkeeper grunts, a noise of understanding at being away from home. “Well, you should try to head back sometime next week. The princess is coming of age, and by all accounts, she’s the prettiest royal we’ve had in generations. People around here can’t wait for the royal procession.”

Severa shoots Lucina an unreadable look. “Is that so? Maybe we’ll have to make a detour, then,” she says, gaze fixed on Lucina as though waiting for her reaction.

“I’m sure the princess can’t be that pretty,” Lucina says in protest, challenging Severa to react first. “In fact, I’d venture a guess and say she’s not too different from you or me.”

“No, I’m sure the princess is beautiful -- beautiful enough to be picked out of a crowd in commoner’s clothes,” the innkeeper says, finally fitting the correct key in the lock. Behind him, Severa shoots Lucina a smirk, and Lucina isn’t sure if she should consider that her victory or not. “Royals have this air about them, don’t they? Since they were blessed by Naga and all.”

With the stable door finally open, Lucina and Severa lead the pegasus into the first open stall and undress the mount. Once they’re finished, they meet the innkeeper outside and wait for him to relock the door.

“You know, I’ve met the princess before,” Severa says after a moment, and Lucina nearly groans at the topic being revived. The innkeeper, however, gives her a look of extreme interest, as though no other topic could possibly be more important at the moment. “She’s prettier than her father, that’s for sure. More poised, too.”

The innkeeper lets out a hearty laugh. “Consider yourself lucky then, girl. Most of us would die for just a glimpse of the royal family. To meet the princess must be the highest honor common folk like us could ask for.”

“It sure is something,” Severa agrees, catching Lucina’s eye with an indecipherable look.

Finished with the stables, Lucina and Severa circle back to the inn and find themselves a small table near the back, away from anyone who might look at them too hard. Once they’ve put in their orders with the innkeep, Severa pulls a map from her bags.

“The plan is to continue heading north from here,” she says tracing the route with a finger. “Regna Ferox has a lot of mercenary work available. Anyone passable with a sword can live comfortably, and those with skill have opportunities unlike anything you’d find in Ylisse.”

Lucina studies the map, taking note of the various towns and trading outposts marked on the way. “How long is the trip?”

“If we rode the whole way, ten days,” Severa explains. “We could get there in half that time if we flew, but I want to make sure we’re a good distance from the capitol before we take to the skies.”

“That’s just the right amount of time,” Lucina muses under her breath.

“For what?”

“Until the ceremony. A week and a half.”

Severa gives Lucina a hard stare, as if she’s expecting Lucina to buckle, but Lucina just matches it.

“By that time, we’ll be out of the country, and even if they wanted to keep looking for us, their hands would be tied,” Severa says, breaking the impromptu staring contest to fold up the map and place it back in her pack.

“You’ve really planned this all out, haven’t you?”

Scoffing and looking out towards the rest of the tavern, Severa sits back in her chair and crosses her arms. “Surely you don’t think the only thing I’ve done these past few weeks is pray and play messenger.”

“No, I’m just,” Lucina stops herself and studies the girl across from her. “I don’t know how I missed how dissatisfied you were at the castle. It feels like I’ve failed you.”

Severa’s gaze jerks back to Lucina sharply. “Why are you blaming yourself? It’s my problem, and you have your own stuff to deal with.”

“Maybe,” Lucina agrees, smiling wryly, “but I consider you a dear friend, and as heir to the throne, it is at least partially my responsibility to make sure my people are happy. I hate to think that you felt so suffocated that you decided your only option was to flee the country.”

“Stop being so damn noble,” Severa says, though if Lucina’s not imagining things, she hears a hint of affection in Severa’s voice. “You can’t be personally responsible for every person in the country’s happiness.”

“No? Well I’ll just settle for yours, then, if that’s possible.”

Severa flushes a bright red and looks away, huffing. “Nice try, Luci. But I’m not that easy to please.”

Lucina hums, considering it. “I guess I’ll have to keep trying then.”

Severa shakes her head, muttering something about Lucina being “too much” under her breath. Lucina’s denied a chance to respond, however, when the innkeep returns with their food right then. They take their meal in silence, something Lucina perhaps should not be surprised by given how little time it took to plan the rest of their journey. Severa in particularly seems intent to finish her meal as quickly as possible and get back out on the road.

Once they’re done, Severa pulls out enough gold to cover the food plus a little extra for the time in the stable. “I’ll grab Luna and meet you outside, alright? We’re still pretty close to the capitol, so I don’t want to linger here.”

The innkeep seems much less eager to chat now that his business is full of patrons for the lunch hour, but he gives them both a jovial smile as he walks Severa and her pegasus back around the front of the building, making them promise one last time not to miss the coming-of-age ceremony.

Severa takes a few moments to make sure the saddle is probably fitted and the bags properly secured before mounting, offering a hand to Lucina as soon as she’s up. “It should be awhile before we reach the next town, but we should get there before sundown. You ready?”

Lucina wraps her arms around Severa’s waist, settling into the saddle. “After you.”

--

10.

It’s about midday when they come across a stream running along the road, and Severa pulls her pegasus off the road to take a short break near it.

It’s an idyllic scene if Lucina’s ever seen one, the mid afternoon light reflecting off the water and the shade from the nearby trees bringing out the green of grass on the stream’s banks. For a moment, Lucina regrets that they’ll have to move from this spot when it’s so peaceful here.

“Not a bad spot for a break, huh?” Severa says, apparently having caught Lucina staring.

“Yes, it’s beautiful here.”

“Ylisse is a beautiful country,” Severa agrees, sitting down under the shade from one of the trees. “We’ve lived here seventeen years. It’s a pity we’re only getting the chance to see it like this now.”

Lucina joins Severa on the ground, watching as Luna dips her snout into the stream to take a drink. “Better late than never, I suppose. And perhaps we’ll have plenty of chances in the future.”

“You think so?” Severa asks. She looks almost wistful at the suggestion, as though it’s something she’s only let herself consider in the most fleeting daydreams.

“We’re almost adults,” Lucina says. “Running away aside, they couldn’t keep us cooped up in the castle for the rest of our lives.”

Severa stares out across the water, gaze hard though she doesn’t appear to be looking at anything in particular. “Maybe not,” she says, sounding less than sure of her own response, “but even then, how many moments like this would we get?”

Lucina closes her eyes and lets a cool, spring breeze blow over her. Opening her eyes, she glances at Severa next to her, red hair standing out against the green and brown around them, and the feeling that this moment is something she wouldn’t trade for anything in the world wells up in her, strong and sudden.

“Not enough,” she says, when she finally finds the voice to speak.

Severa turns her head just slightly and catches her eye, and seems to understand exactly what she means. But, she pushes off the ground to stand regardless, brushing herself off.

“It’s about time we got back on the road. We’ve lingered here long enough.”

Lucina stands too, sad to find the moment over. “It’s a pity we couldn’t stay here longer,” she says.

Severa looks out over the water, hesitating before shaking her head. “If only,” she says with a sigh, and Lucina knows she’s talking about more than just their break by the stream, but what else, she can’t be sure.

But then Severa’s turning to her and sending her a small grin. “Shall we?”

Lucina just returns the grin with a tight smile of her own. “Of course. Ready when you are.”

--

9.

The market in the next town they stop in is bustling and lively, and Lucina and Severa blend in perfectly with the activity despite the novelty of their mount. Severa leads them through the streets, one hand tightly wrapped in Luna’s reigns, the other clutching one of Lucina’s.

Lucina follows along, keeping Severa’s cloak tight around her clothes and trying not to think too hard about the feeling of Severa’s hand in hers.

It doesn’t take long for them to find the stall they were looking for: a grain seller to replenish the quickly depleting supply of oats Severa had brought for Luna. As they approach the stall, Severa drops Lucina’s hand to dig around her belt, pulling a few gold coins free of their pouch and placing them into a different pouch on her hip.

“Here,” she says, pressing the coin bag into Lucina’s chest. “Go through some of the fruit sellers and see if you can grab something for tomorrow morning. I’ll deal with things here.”

Lucina nods her agreement, clutching the coin bag tightly and walking off in the direction of the food stalls. On the way, however, a woman calls out to her from behind her collection of wares -- various trinkets and small bits of jewelry.

“You there!” she says, grinning broadly as her bright red hair glints in the midafternoon sun. “Your mount is beautiful. Are you a pegasus knight?”

“Thank you,” Lucina replies, eyeing the woman cautiously. “My companion is.”

The merchant nods vigorously, as though she’s piecing everything together. “You sound like you’re from the capitol,” she tells her. “That would certainly explain how two beautiful strangers such as yourselves ended up in our little town.”

Lucina isn’t sure how to respond to such a comment, so she just smiles politely.

“You two are awfully far from the capitol, though,” the merchant continues. “Why, I’d say you’re nearly halfway to Ferox!”

“We’re making a voyage north,” Lucina says, idly picking up some of her wares and inspecting them. In Ylisstol, a merchant like this would primarily cater to visitors -- foreign envoys or lords whose fiefs fall far from the capitol. Lucina wonders what kind of patronage this selection of wares would garner in a town of this size.

“A good time for it. The north is just starting to melt,” the merchant says before turning her head down the row of stalls. “Your companion,” she starts, drawing Lucina to follow her gaze and find Severa staring back at her with a hard look, “watches you with the most curious eyes. She seems quite protective of you.”

For some reason, Lucina feels hot under Severa’s watchful eye. “Yes, well you could say she’s been looking after me since we were young.”

“Childhood friends, eh?” the merchant says knowingly, though Lucina isn’t sure what there is to know. “That’s an unshakeable bond. You must have been overjoyed when she got into the pegasus knights.”

“Of course,” Lucina says automatically, before pausing, worrying the item in her hand as she thinks about Severa’s reaction to the impending pegasus knight commencement. “No, not quite,” she reconsiders. “I’m happy as long as she is. But I can’t help but worry that I’m losing her.”

That night she found Severa in the stable still weighs heavily in her mind, and an uneasiness rises in her chest thinking about it. “Perhaps it’s selfish of me.”

“It’s only selfish if she doesn’t want the same thing,” the merchant muses, and Lucina briefly wonders why she’s even talking about such matters with a stranger.

“I suppose that’s true,” Lucina agrees, setting the item down. “Thank you for your time, and I’m sorry to trouble you with such nonsense.”

The merchant waves dismissively. “No trouble at all. But tell me this, have you told her any of these things?”

“I’ll tell her if the time is right,” Lucina says. “Though if I’m being honest, I doubt these are things she would care to hear.”

“Who wouldn’t want to hear about how much someone cares for them?” the merchant asks, and Lucina feels warm at how thoroughly she was seen through -- by a stranger, no less.

“Do you talk to all your potential customers like this?” Lucina asks, scanning over the woman’s wares one last time. She spots a silver necklace with a small feather pendant wrought in metal, and despite herself, she picks it up.

“Only the ones who look particularly troubled,” the merchant tells her. “A gift for your companion?”

“Perhaps. If she’ll take it,” Lucina says, more to herself than the merchant.

“You have to try giving it to her to know that. Come, I’ll sell it to you half-off.”

Lucina smiles wryly. “I didn’t even know the starting price.”

“Lovelorn, beautiful, and quick,” the merchant chuckles. “That girl of yours should have jumped into your arms ages ago.”

“It’s not like that.”

“No?” the merchant asks. “So the two of you aren’t on a romantic trip north, unaccompanied despite your youth, right before the pegasus knight induction ceremony?”

“That’s-” Lucina starts, frowning. She sighs, gathering her thoughts. “I can see how you might draw that conclusion, but I can assure our relationship is strictly platonic.”

“For now,” the merchant says, winking. “Two gold for the necklace.”

Lucina runs her thumb over the pendant. It really is an intricate bit of metalwork -- something that would go for much more in the capitol despite its size. “There’s too much between us,” she says, pulling the two gold pieces out of her own coin pouch rather than the one Severa handed to her. “I’m afraid our relationship isn’t merely a question of our own wants or desires. Though even then, I can’t say for sure what she would want from me.”

The merchant accepts the gold and takes the necklace, placing into a small cloth bag for protection. “You’d be willing to give it -- whatever it is she wants -- wouldn’t you?” she asks, handing the purchase back to Lucina.

“I think you know the answer to that already,” Lucina says, placing the bag into one of the pockets on her belt. “Thank you for the conversation. It was… insightful.”

“You should tell her how you feel,” the merchant says, just as Lucina turns to leave. “You seem convinced a relationship between you two wouldn’t work out, but how will you know until you try? Surely there are some strings you can pull as the princess.”

Lucina looks around sharply for any indication that someone else heard that last comment, but the market goers continue to move around her, oblivious.

“How?”

“I travel a bit myself. My sisters and I run stores all across the country,” the merchant says with a lazy grin. “I happened to be in Ylisstol once when the royal family made an appearance in town. Exciting stuff.”

Lucina frowns, looking down the row of stalls to where Severa is intensely haggling with the grain seller.

“Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone,” the merchant tells her. “Though by my calculation, you should be coming of age very soon. Is it alright that you’re not in the capitol right now?”

“This is something I have to do,” Lucina says, unable to stop herself from glancing back at Severa. “Even if I fail, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I hadn’t tried.”

The merchant follows her gaze and smiles knowingly. “I won’t pretend to understand the lives of those at court,” she says, “but I am a bit familiar with love. Some things are worth fighting for.”

“She is,” Lucina agrees.

Lucina leaves the stall with one last wish of luck from the merchant, mind swimming from the conversation, and makes her way to the nearest fruit stand. There Severa catches up with her, right as Lucina pays.

“You spent a lot of time at that one stall,” Severa mentions as they load Luna’s saddlebags with their purchases. “Pushy seller?”

“No,” Lucina says, the necklace in her belt pocket burning a hole in her hip. “I had a lovely conversation with her, actually.”

Severa gives her a skeptical look. “Really. And she didn’t try to sell you anything by the end of it?”

Lucina hums instead of answering directly. “I think those two matters are separate.”

“Uh huh. Well next time someone bothers you, you should let me know.”

“Of course,” Lucina says, waiting for Severa to mount Luna before she takes Severa’s offered hand up.

As they set off, Lucina curls into Severa’s back, her arms around Severa’s waist, and thinks about her conversation in the market. Things are surely not as simple as the merchant made it seem, but, with Severa’s warmth so close, Lucina can almost make herself believe it could be.

--

8.

“Hopefully we won’t have to rough it at night much longer after this, Your Highness,” Severa says, freeing her bed roll from the saddlebags.

“What did we say?” Lucina lightly scolds as she fills Luna’s oatbag with the grain they had bought in the market yesterday.

Severa mutters a curse under her breath. “Luci,” she corrects, forcefully. “Although there’s no one here to hear us, anyway.”

“It’s not about anyone hearing us,” Lucina explains, fitting the oatbag over Luna’s head and giving the pegasus a few affection pats once she’s done. “It’s about getting in the habit of it, so it won’t happen when there is someone around to hear us.”

Severa grumbles something Lucina can’t quite catch, but sighs and says, “Yeah, yeah, you’re right,” all the same.

“You used to have no problem calling me by my name,” Lucina says, joining Severa at the bed roll and helping her untie the tight knots holding it together.

“That isn’t fair. We were children then.”

“Well,” Lucina says, finally freeing a particularly stiff knot, “what changed?”

“You started doing princess-y things, and I became a pegasus cadet,” Severa says, gathering the free ropes to place in the saddlebags for safe keeping. “If either of my parents or any of the pegasus commanders caught me calling you anything besides your title, there would have been hell to pay.”

“Perhaps in public,” Lucina shoots back, grabbing one end of the bed roll and flicking her wrists to unroll it. “But we’ve had plenty of moments in private where the only one to offend by calling me by name is me, and I can assure you, I will never be offended by such a thing.”

Severa pauses, still bent over the saddlebags they had relieved from Luna moments ago. “Have we ever truly had a private moment before leaving the castle?” she asks, voice stiff as the line of her back. “It seemed to me any time we spent together was open to interruption by anyone who thought themselves more deserving of our time than each other. And that was nearly everyone in the castle.”

“I’ll be of age soon,” Lucina says. “Others won’t always get to decide for me how my time should be spent.”

“I wish I could believe that,” Severa mutters, just loud enough to be heard. She lets out a mirthless laugh, standing from the saddlebags and returning to the bed roll. “This conversation is going nowhere. We should just go to sleep.”

Lucina lays down, accepting the thin blanket Severa tosses over both of them, but she can’t shake the feeling that she needs to press the issue. Once she feels Severa settle in, back against hers, she speaks up: “Why did you want to leave Ylisstol?”

“I thought I told you already.”

“You told me that you didn’t choose the pegasus cadet life for yourself, and you couldn’t stand the thought of being trapped in that,” Lucina says, “but you did not explain why that is.”

A silence settles over them, thick and tense, and for a brief moment, Lucina regrets pressing the question.

But after a particularly pregnant pause Severa heaves a deep sigh. “I don’t,” she starts, cutting herself off and sighing again. She settles on, “My life was decided for me the moment I was born. With my parents being who they are, it’s no question that I would become a knight and serve the royal family just as they had.

“But just like their legacy is inescapable, their legacy is inescapable,” Severa explains, almost hissing the words. “Everyone expected me to born some kind of prodigy, and when that didn’t work out, they assumed I would get everywhere in life riding on my parents’ coattails. My own merits -- my own desires -- have never meant anything in Ylisstol. How can anyone live like that?”

Lucina finds herself momentarily speechless, taken aback by the full force of Severa’s frustration. When she finally gains the ability to speak again, the only words that work themselves out of her mouth are a stunned, “I have.”

Severa scoffs. “You’re different.”

“How so?”

“Because you’re perfect,” Severa says, as though it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “I bet you’ve never disappointed anyone in your entire life.”

Except for you, apparently, Lucina thinks, the words getting caught in her throat. Instead, she shakes her head and resists the urge to turn and face Severa. “I wish you had told me that you felt this way sooner. Perhaps-”

“‘Perhaps’, what? My parents would never have budged on their vision for my future,” Severa says, voice suddenly lifeless. “Not even the future exalt could change that.”

“Perhaps I could have been there for you,” Lucina finishes. “Someone to talk to. Someone to trust with your problems.”

Severa is quiet for a long moment at that -- so long Lucina worries that Severa has decided to ignore her entirely. But then, hesitantly, she mutters, “It’s not my place to saddle you with my problems.”

“I’m the one who decides that,” Lucina says, giving in and turning onto her other side, only to be greeted with Severa’s back, stiff as it was before. “Forget about rank and status for a moment, Severa. No matter what your parents, or my parents, or the people at court may have told you, we have known each other our whole lives, and I want to be a friend to you anytime you need one.”

“Why do you care?” Severa asks, still refusing to face Lucina. “Your sister isn’t half as kind to me, and I grew up with her, too.”

Lucina finds herself unable to give a voice to the feeling in her chest. “Do I need a reason?” she says instead.

Severa flops onto her back, the motion knocking a sigh out of her. “No. But maybe if I got one, I’d be able to understand you, finally.”

Lucina can’t stop the laugh that escapes her, the sound easing both the pressure in her chest and tension between her and Severa. “I’m still not sure what’s so hard to understand about me.”

“For starters, you could spend your time worrying about anyone, and yet you waste it worrying about your father’s retainer’s screw-up daughter.”

I don’t understand why you’re so convinced you’re a failure,” Lucina says, laying a hand over one of Severa’s. “And even if you were, I don’t see how that should affect at all how much I care for you.”

“How do you not see it?” Severa scoffs. “Even if you don’t compare me to my parents, who excel at everything they do, I can hardly sharpen a blade without breaking the damn thing.”

“You’re looking at this the wrong way,” Lucina says, gripping the hand under hers. “Severa, your talents are not your parents’, nor should they be. You are your own person, with your own skills, your own merits, your own light. I only wish you could see that yourself.”

Severa sighs and looks at Lucina. “I wish I could see what you see.”

“If you give me a chance,” Lucina says, smiling when Severa intertwines their fingers, “perhaps I’ll be able to show you.”

--

7.

Something changes in their relationship after that night. Something Lucina can’t name, but something tangible and real all the same. She can feel it in the way that Severa’s gaze lingers on her longer than it used to, the way she snuggles closer when the night turns chill.

The feeling in her chest -- the one that Lucina refused to give voice to the night before -- grows. It grows and spreads into her hands, fingers itching to grasp Severa’s hips and pull her close. At times it feels as though she can barely contain it, her desire to be closer to Severa ready to burst at every passing glance, every time they brush against each other.

The sun is low in the sky when they dismount one last time for the day, untacking Luna and preparing for the night. They work in the stilted silence that followed them most of the day, as though breaking it would unleash something neither girl is ready to handle.

When they finally settle into the bed roll, Severa lies facing the forest, same as always. Lucina feels her edge back until their backs are flush together and tries to get her heart under control.

“Luci,” Severa finally says, haltingly, as though she wishes she could take the words back as soon as their out of her mouth, “you told me to ignore rank and status, right?”

“When we’re together, you shouldn’t worry about such things.” Lucina’s mouth feels uncomfortably dry.

Lucina can hear Severa shift behind her, and the next thing she knows, Severa is nudging her onto her back. “In that case, this should be fine,” Severa says, face clearly bright red even in the low light.

And then Severa leans down, slowly, and for the brief moment before their lips meet, Lucina’s mind goes totally blank.

The kiss itself is beyond anything Lucina could have ever imagined -- and she’s imagined it more than she lets herself admit. Severa’s lips are soft, almost tentative, as they move against Lucina’s, the languidness of the motion compelling Lucina to raise a hand to cup Severa’s cheek.

Severa, as though spurred by that, pushes in further. The kiss grows rougher as the seconds pass, Severa clearly having gotten over any hesitation she may have had about kissing the princess.

And then their teeth clack against each other, the shock of it jolting both of them away from each other.

“I’m sorry,” Severa says, sitting up with a hand over her mouth.

“No, don’t apologize,” Lucina insists, pushing up onto a single arm. “I liked it, except for that last part. But the rest was… nice.”

“‘Nice’?”

“Yes. If you wouldn’t be opposed,” Lucina says, reaching out with the arm not supporting her weight and grabbing a handful of Severa’s tunic, “I would like to continue.”

Severa leans over Lucina’s mostly prone form and licks her lips. “Continue, huh?” she asks, sounding as confident as she ever has. “And just what does that mean to you, Your Highness?”

Lucina chuckles at the term -- in this situation it sounds more like a term of endearment than a reference to her birth. “I think I would rather like for you to kiss me again,” she says, tugging on the material bunched in her fist. “We can decide what to do after, after.”

“I can manage that,” Severa says, sliding a hand around Lucina’s collar and behind her neck. “What happens on the road, stays on the road, right?”

Something about those words, or the way Severa says them, causes Lucina’s stomach to churn uncomfortably, but she just lays back, taking Severa with her. Severa, responding to Lucina’s unspoken cue, follows through with the motion and pushes their lips together.

They can talk about it in the morning, Lucina resolves, as she tries to push the discomfort away. She should at least be able to enjoy this for as long as it lasts.

When her mind doesn’t clear immediately, she pulls Severa closer and pushes her tongue into her mouth, willing this moment to last forever.

--

6.

The feeling of Severa’s fingers through Lucina’s hair is as amazing as it was the first time. Lucina’s eyes flutter closed -- an automatic reaction from each time Severa’s fingers lightly scratch at her scalp, however unintentional that motion may be.

They’re stopped in a forest just a few paces from the edge of a town, readying Lucina’s disguise after she had been recognized a few days ago.

(“Why didn’t you say something sooner?” Severa had scolded her when Lucina offhandedly mentioned the incident before entering the next settlement they had come across.

“She assured me she wouldn’t tell anyone,” Lucina answered. “And she seemed quite earnest about that promise.”

“That’s not the point,” Severa said, rubbing her brow with a hand. “If she recognized you, anyone could have! It’s a wonder we don’t have a royal guard breathing down our neck right this instance.”

“Come now,” Lucina reasoned, “a royal guard would travel much slower than two women on a single pegasus.”

Severa just groaned in response and motioned for them to dismount.)

“Have I ever told you how jealous I am of your hair?” Severa asks, hands threading through Lucina’s hair for a few last sweeps before she divides it into three sections. “It’s such a beautiful color and so thick.”

“You think so? The royal stylists usually preferred to view my hair as an untamed beast.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Severa scoffs. “Those hags in court are probably just jealous and taking it out on you the only way they can get away with.”

Lucina chuckles despite herself. “You shouldn’t say that.”

“Or what? If I could go the rest of my life without dealing with another courtier, I could die happy,” Severa says, plaiting Lucina’s hair with ease.

“You don’t think you’ll have to deal with any in Ferox?”

“I certainly hope not,” Severa says. “Besides, if we were to attract the attention of a Khan, we’d likely have more status than any random court type vying for favor.”

“About that,” Lucina starts, but Severa gives her half-braided hair a tug, cutting her off.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you,” Severa says, continuing with her work as though the interruption never happened. “Why did you ask to come with me, that night in the stable?”

Lucina sucks in an unsteady breath -- she knew the question was going to come sooner or later. “For the same reason you wanted to leave,” she answers after a moment. “The pressure of everything… it’s too much sometimes. It can be overwhelming.”

Severa hums a bit as she considers that, the sound soothing in a way Lucina couldn’t have predicted, especially with her working Lucina’s hair. “Hearing you say that,” she says, undoing Lucina’s braid to start again, “it’s reassuring.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, well, you always seem so determined, so unshakeable. To hear that you struggle with the same things as me… It’s vindicating.”

“I wonder how you’ll take what I have to say next, then,” Lucina says, finding it hard to fully focus with Severa’s hands drawing lengths through her hair again.

Severa’s hands skip in their motion. “Oh?”

“I had another motive when I asked to join you. Perhaps even more selfish than the first,” Lucina explains. Severa doesn’t say anything, but her hands move rougher through Lucina’s hair, snagging at a few tangles Lucina didn’t know she had. The feeling keeps Lucina in the moment.

“I’m not sure if you remember, but there were a few times when we had met up in those days before we left the castle. Each time, our duties had brought us together, but they also called us apart.” Lucina trains her eye on the way the light plays through the trees, refusing to let Severa’s fingers in her hair distract her. “At one point, I remember watching you walk away, wanting to call out to you but knowing I could not, because our responsibilities demanded that we do what is expected of us.

“But when I found you in the stables that night, I realized something. My duties will always be waiting for me, but you might not be. I couldn’t bear that thought.”

Severa stills her hands. A breeze cuts through the trees, shifting the shadows Lucina had been staring so intently at just minutes ago, but Lucina finds it difficult to focus on the scenery in front of her when she’s waiting on Severa’s response.

“You know, when you asked to come with me, that night in the stable, I knew you weren’t going to go all the way to Ferox with me,” Severa says, her exhale sounding more like sigh than a simple breath.

“Why did you let me come with you, then?”

“Maybe,” Severa starts, dropping her hands from Lucina’s hair to her shoulders, “maybe I wanted you to give me a reason to go back. I decided a while ago that I don’t need to live a life devoted to the royal family. But I wouldn’t mind a life devoted to you.”

“My father wants me to restart the Shepherds,” Lucina says, suddenly, causing Severa grip her shoulders.

“What?”

“We have an excess of royals right now, and our country’s at peace. My father believes he learned more about Ylisse and being a leader from leading the Shepherds than he ever did from dealing with nobles,” Lucina explains. “He thinks it would be valuable for me to spend a few years traveling the country, doing good for our citizens.”

Severa scoffs, releasing Lucina’s shoulder and returning her hair. “I never took your father to be such a wise man.”

“Perhaps you should spend more time with my father, then,” Lucina says, as lightly as possible, knowing Severa’s comment was not intended to sound nearly as harsh as it did.

“I hardly spend any time with my own father. It’d be weird to spend time with yours.”

Lucina laughs, unable to stop it. “Your father used to be a Shepherd as well, you know.”

“He told me a few stories growing up,” Severa says, beginning to plait Lucina’s hair again. “He’s always acted like it was the best time of his life, waiting on your father hand and foot without any court meddling.”

“Is that how your father made it sound?” Lucina asks. “My father’s stories focused on the action of it. Or the results. Fighting brigands to help villagers and the like.”

“I can see how our fathers’ priorities differ,” Severa says dryly, drawing another laugh from Lucina.

“You know, when Father told me he wanted me to restart the Shepherds, I always imagined you would be there with me,” Lucina confesses. “In fact, never once did I imagine myself in the Shepherds without you, even as a child hearing my father’s stories.”

Severa pauses in her work briefly, one hand tightly pinching Lucina’s braided hair, to dig through the nearest saddlebag for a ribbon. “Is this your way of asking me to join your newly re-formed Shepherds?” she asks, quickly tying off Lucina’s hair.

“I don’t want to force you, by any means,” Lucina says, finally getting the chance to turn and face Severa, “but I do want you there. With me.”

Severa turns her head and crosses her arms, clearly unsure what to do with her hands now that she’s done with Lucina’s hair. “I don’t know why you would. After this fiasco, the pegasus knights will have nothing to do with me, and you should have real knights in your ranks.”

“Severa,” Lucina says, urging Severa to look back at her. When she doesn’t, Lucina cups her cheek with a hand, and nudges her head. “Severa, you don’t need to be a knight. You have been my most constant companion throughout my life, and I don’t want to think about taking such a large step without you.”

Severa’s gaze drops down, still unable to look Lucina in the eye. “Is this just because we grew up together? You don’t owe me anything for something we couldn’t control.”

Lucina presses her forehead against Severa’s, praying Severa will understand her. “I owe you a lot, actually,” she says. “Whether or not we had any control over the circumstances of our meeting, you have done more for me than I can speak to. Besides, I’d dare say that wanting to keep you at my side is a more a selfish wish of mine than any kind of reward for you.”

“You’re crazy,” Severa says, pulling away to give Lucina an incredulous look, and Lucina can’t help but smile at the frankness of the statement. “Half of Ylisse would kill to be in my position right now and the other half would die for it. And you think it’s selfish to want someone by your side?”

A frown overtakes Lucina’s lips before she can stop it -- that wasn’t quite she was going for. “So you accept then?” she asks instead of pressing the other issue, hand dropping to Severa's shoulder.

“I can hardly say ‘no’, can I?” Severa says, typical confidence back in full force. Lucina finds it worrisome to see it back so quickly; it feels as though Severa is trying to hide something under that bravado. “This is the opportunity of a lifetime.”

“Yes, I suppose it is,” Lucina agrees, frown still touching her lips. She suddenly wishes for the vulnerability of last night, Severa unsure of herself as she pinned Lucina to the ground. This Severa feels untouchable, walls even Lucina cannot break firmly erected around her.

Severa stands, and Lucina’s arm drops limply back to her side. “We’d better get you back in time for the ceremony, then, shouldn’t we?”

Lucina watches as Severa begins readying Luna -- she’s never felt further away.

“Yes,” Lucina hears herself say. “I suppose we should.”

--

4.

Lucina wonders if she’s imagining it, but the return trip feels heavier than the trip out. She and Severa chat less during their hours of riding, for one, and -- though Lucina is convinced she is the only one thinking about it -- the night they spent kissing haunts nearly all of her thoughts, waking and sleeping.

At times that night feels like a fever dream, conjured by the monotony of the ride. But other times, it feels like the only real thing that occurred during their whole journey, and Lucina swears she can still feel Severa’s lips on hers days later.

It’s easy to regret it. However much Lucina may have longed for that moment, she would have preferred to continue the relationship she had had with Severa before -- friendly, if somewhat stilted at times as they tried to navigate the space between their ranks and their close upbringing -- than deal with the fallout. A Severa at arm’s length is certainly better than a Severa leagues away.

But just as much, she can’t help but hold that night close to her heart. Despite everything that has happened since, it was still a wish fulfilled (however much it was also a wish unspoken), and she refuses to let go of that.

Sometimes, during the long stretches where neither girl speaks a word to each other, Lucina wonders how Severa feels about it. She was, after all, the one to initiate it. But given her reticence on the subject, the way she is careful to keep both her touch and gaze from lingering on Lucina any longer than necessary, Lucina concludes that she would rather forget that night ever happened.

Perhaps that is what hurts most of all.

At times, when she knows Severa isn’t looking, Lucina pulls the necklace she bought days ago from the pocket she has it hidden in. With their relationship as splintered as it is, the necklace has become as much a symbol of what could have been as a trinket collected on their trip away from the capitol.

A million possibilities, Lucina thinks, rubbing the pendant idly.

A million possibilities, and she doesn’t know how to make any of them real.

--

2.

“We’re cutting it a little close, but if we fly today and tomorrow, we should make it back on time,” Severa says, both of them hunched over her map in the early morning light. “Have you ever flown before?”

“I haven’t,” Lucina admits, trying not to thinking too much into Severa’s sudden willingness to be within arm’s length of her again. It won’t do for her to get her hopes up before they have a real chance to talk. “Mother made sure Kjelle and I had plenty of experience on horses, but she and father were hesitant about letting us ride with one of the pegasus knights.”

“You’ll love it,” Severa tells her, with such confidence Lucina can’t help but believe her. “The crispness of the air, the wind in your hair… Flying is unlike anything else in the world.”

Lucina smiles at how clearly enamored Severa is with the act, happy to see her unguarded for the first time in days. “With a recommendation like that,” she says, unable to keep her mirth from seeping into her voice, “I’m looking forward to it.”

Severa pushes off the ground, moving to start clearing their campsite. “I may have had no choice in becoming a pegasus knight, but getting to fly almost makes up for it. Almost.”

“About that, Severa,” Lucina says, fingers finding the feather pendant unconsciously. In the days since they’d turned back, she’d wondered nonstop if she should bother bringing up the conversation that prompted the decision, but the memory of how quickly and easily Severa shut herself away near the end of it stopped her. Now, however, with the threat of them returning to the castle, to a place where Severa has ample reason and room to continuing doing just that, Lucina can’t stand the thought of leaving things as they are. “How are you feeling?”

“‘How am I feeling?’ That’s a pretty broad question, Luci.”

Lucina smiles at the nickname despite herself. “About returning to Ylisstol. I feel when discussed it, we never had the chance to talk about your thoughts about it.”

Severa scoffs, as though the thought itself is ridiculous. “What’s it matter? You need to be back by the ceremony, so we’re getting you back by the ceremony.”

“Of course it matters, Severa. I thought I made this clear earlier, but I care about you. If you’re uneasy or unsure of what we’re doing, I want to know.”

“That’s,” Severa cuts herself off, shaking her head. “It’s a nice sentiment, Luci, but let’s not delude ourselves. So what if I still don’t really want to go back? You’re the princess, and I’m… I’m just a cadet whose own parents didn’t notice how miserable she was.”

“Severa,” Lucina starts, but Severa continues as though she said nothing.

“I’m glad you care enough to try to make me feel like my opinion matters, Luci, I really do. But,” Severa sighs, the sound bone-weary, “I’m not supposed to be a person who matters. I learned that a long time ago, and you’ll figure it out eventually, too.”

Those words, coupled with Severa’s defeated tone, send a wave of indignation crashing up through Lucina’s chest. “Severa, don’t you dare say that about yourself,” she says, clenching her hands to expel the restless energy that’s come over her. “I know the court acts like the royal family trumps all, but how did you ever come to the idea that you don’t matter?”

Severa sends her a pitying look, though Lucina can’t decide who it’s meant for. “You know how I started my cadet training earlier than most? I was the youngest there by years, and for most of it, I thought it was because my parents had assumed I would display a talent for it like my mother.” She looks away, towards Luna. “And then I overheard my parents talking about me.

“It turns out they wanted me in the cadets sooner because they were worried that I was raised too closely to you and your sister. They thought I might think myself on your level, or worse, you might think us equals. I don’t know if they intended me to hear them,” Severa says, “but I was so terrified by what they could have seen in me to think that kind of thing was necessary.”

Lucina swallows thickly, her throat suddenly dry. “And what do you think that could have been?”

Severa’s eyes dart over to Lucina’s before flicking away again, the motion a plea and an answer all in one. Lucina thinks of Severa’s studious denials that any tender moments between them on the road could point to anything more, her less-than-subtle sidestepping when Lucina began to edge on her declaring her own feelings.

Lucina wants to hit herself for not realizing it sooner.

“If I may be so frank,” Lucina says, after a moment of stewing in a silence so thick it chokes them both, “I don’t much care what our parents think of how we treat each other.”

Severa looks at her sharply, and Lucina, as if emboldened by Severa’s gaze on her, takes a step in her direction.

“I don’t like playing up my status, but if your parents make a fuss,” Lucina says, taking another step, “I will gladly remind them they have no authority over me.” Another step. “And if my own parents think they have any says in the matter,” another, “I will kindly inform them that as the future exalt,” and another, “such decisions will ultimately be out of their control.”

Standing face to face with Severa, the closest they’ve been in days, Lucina can hardly resist the urge to kiss the other girl. Instead, she takes her hand, intertwining their fingers.

“I don’t think you know what you’re getting into,” Severa tells her, voice barely above a whisper.

“I’m prepared to face it, regardless,” Lucina shoots back.

Severa drops her head to Lucina’s shoulder. “I really don’t get you,” she says, though she hardly sounds upset about it.

“You don’t have to,” Lucina replies, lightly, enjoying the contact while it lasts. “You just have to understand that I care about you, Severa. And I’m willing to do whatever it takes to prove that.”

Laughing dryly, Severa lifts her head, staring back at Lucina as though in challenge. “Fine. At the very least, I can wait and see what you plan to do.”

Unable to keep a smile from tugging on her lips, Lucina steps towards Luna, pulling Severa with her. “I won’t ask for anything more. Shall we go, then?”

Severa just shakes her head. “After you, Your Highness.”

--

1.

Ylisstol is barely in view when a pair of pegasus knights flag them down. Severa raises a single hand to show their lack of resistance and lands immediately, only for the knights to quickly surround them, lances raised.

“Who goes there- Your Highness!” one of the knights exclaims, nearly dropping her weapon. “What are you doing here? Where have you been?”

“Severa, is that you?” the other knight cuts in. “Why-”

Severa dismounts, and the lances instantly raise again, pointed directly at her. “Well, I can’t say I didn’t expect this at least a little bit,” she says, lifting her hands in surrender.

“Stop, all of you,” Lucina commands, dropping from Luna as well. “By my order, you will let Severa return to the castle and to the cadet dorms.”

The knights look hesitantly between themselves, clearly unsure if they should listen. “Your Highness,” one of them starts, “we’re under orders from Commander Phila, Sir Frederick, your father, and Her Royal Majesty the Exalt to apprehend whoever took you from the castle.”

“And what if I were to tell you that Severa was under my orders to take me?” Lucina shoots back.

The knights hesitantly lower their lances. “What do you mean, Your Highness?”

“It was my idea to leave the castle,” Lucina lies, staring the knights down and daring them to challenge her. “I needed to see my country before the ceremony, to be reminded why my duty matters. I ordered Severa to take me; she didn’t have a choice in the matter.”

A moment passes in silence, the pegasus knights looking uneasily at each other. “I suppose we could take you to your father,” the first says. “You can explain the situation to him, and he can decide if she’s,” she motions to Severa with her lance, “allowed back in the castle.”

“I’ll accept those terms,” Lucina says. “May I have a moment with Severa before we go?”

At the knights’ synchronized nod, Lucina turns to Severa to find her giving her an unreadable look. “I’m surprised you covered for me,” she says, voice low.

Lucina shakes her head. “What are you talking about? I refuse to let you receive punishment for going along with my whims. I’ll explain everything to my father and Aunt Emmeryn, and I’m sure they will clear everything up.”

Severa’s eyes dart over Lucina face, as though searching for some sign of guile, before she shrugs, turning away. “My own father signed my arrest warrant. Surely you can’t expect to just smooth talk everything better.”

“I won’t let anything happen to you,” Lucina vows, grasping one of Severa’s hands in her own. “If nothing else, I promise this.”

“Alright, that’s enough time you two,” the second knight calls, breaking them out of the moment.

Sensing hesitation in the stiffness of Severa’s body, the way Severa’s gaze stays firmly on the ground, Lucina tugs on her arm, pulling her close and pressing their lips together, in full view of their knightly audience. The kiss lasts a few seconds, long enough for Severa to recover from the impulsiveness of the act and relax into it, and Lucina finds breaking away is one of the hardest things she’s ever done.

“I’ll be waiting for you at the castle,” she says, loud enough that she’s sure the pegasus knights could hear her as well. “No matter what happens, I’ll be waiting for you.”

Severa nods wordlessly, flushed a bright red and breathing a little heavier than before.

Feeling immensely satisfied with that reaction, Lucina can hardly fight the grin off her face as one of the knights directs her pegasus closer, allowing Lucina to climb on the back. With one last fleeting look at Severa and Luna, they take off, the castle a quickly approaching dot in the distance.

Frederick is already in the castle yard by the time they arrive, looking as frazzled as Lucina’s ever seen him. When he spots her, head poking around the shoulder of her knight escort, she swears he looks vaguely like he wants to cry.

“Your Highness! Thank Naga you’re back!”

Lucina dismount with ease, the days spent with Luna giving her ample practice. “Frederick, it’s good to see you, too. I hope my absence hasn’t caused too much of a stir.”

“Nothing we couldn’t handle, Your Highness,” Frederick tells her. “But if I may ask, where did you go?”

Lucina opens her mouth to tell him, but the pegasus knight cuts in. “We found her on the back of your daughter’s pegasus, headed back towards the capitol.”

“Severa? You must be joking.”

“Frederick, if you can take me to my father, I can explain everything,” Lucina cuts in.

“Explain how my daughter is implicated in your apparent kidnapping?” Frederick asks, his typically stoic features shaken. “I will take you to your father, but I’m not sure what you can say that will make this better.”

The walk through the castle is stiff, the activity from the ceremony preparations only adding to the tension in the air. More than a few of the castle staff openly gawk as Lucina walks by, clearly shocked by the sudden reappearance of their princess.

They find her father in the chapel, overseeing some final touches before the ceremony tomorrow. Lucina doesn’t know how to feel that everyone seemed so confident that she would turn up in time and the ceremony could continue as planned.

“My Lord,” Frederick announces, drawing the attention of her father and the handful of priests with him. “Your daughter is here.”

Her father nearly drops the parchment in his hands. “Lucina!” he says, rushing over to her. “Are you alright? Are you hurt?”

“I’m perfectly healthy, Father,” Lucina tells him. “I want to talk to you about my departure from the castle.” She glances around the room at the priests, all trying very hard to look like they’re not listening. “In private.”

Chrom claps his hands. “If you could give us a moment,” he says, voiced raised and directed to the room. His eyes dart to Frederick.

“He can stay.”

“Alright, everyone out. We’ll let you know when we’re ready. Now, Lucina,” Chrom turns to her, “what happened to you? Half the castle believes you’ve been kidnapped, and the other half thinks you’ve been killed.”

Lucina frowns. “I left a note.”

“‘Don’t look for me, I’m safe’ is not a note that instills confidence.”

“I didn’t have very much time,” Lucina protests, weakly.

“It doesn’t much matter now,” Chrom says, shaking his head. “Tell us everything.”

Sparing one last glance at Frederick -- there are some details shy of everything she can leave out, at least until Severa is ready to talk to her own parents -- Lucina launches into the same explanation she gave the pegasus knights earlier. Her father listens with an unreadable expression, face flat and brows pulled together.

“I wish I could say that impulsive streak came solely from your mother,” Chrom says once she finished. He rubs his chin, clearly thinking his next sentence through. “I can’t fault you for wanting to be free of this place before the ceremony; I remember wanting to run away myself before my coming-of-age. And to be honest, I saw it in you, that desire to get out and see Ylisse for yourself. That’s why I want you to restart the Shepherds.”

“So you understand, then?”

Chrom nods, smiling slightly. “There’s a lot of work you’ll have to make up with Frederick before the ceremony, but I understand. Now we might have had some issues if you had missed the ceremony itself, but I think we can wave this off as one last hurrah before adulthood.”

“And Severa?” Lucina asks, more hesitantly.

“I’ll have to speak with the pegasus commanders,” Chrom tells her. “Regardless of whether or not you ordered her to take you, she still had responsibilities here at the castle, and they might not be so forgiving of her abandoning those for your sake.”

“But she won’t be punished?”

“For leaving, I can’t say, but not for taking you,” Chrom confirms. “Neither Emmeryn nor I thought your disappearance was as serious as the castle gossips were saying anyway, but too many of the lords and ladies visiting were in a frenzy over the idea that you were kidnapped.”

“I apologize for causing everyone so much distress.”

Chrom just laughs, placing a comforting hand on Lucina’s shoulder. “It’s no matter. Between you and me, those lords and ladies could use a little more excitement in their lives anyway. Now, come, there’s plenty of work we both need to do before the ceremony.”

Frederick motions for them to leave the chapel, Lucina thanking her father as they step out. As he leads her back through the castle, no fewer people gawk at her presence than in the walk in, and Lucina finds it more amusing with the added insight her father provided. Did they really think she was murdered?

“We should pay a visit to each of the noble families staying in the castle and let them know you’ve returned,” Frederick says, breaking Lucina from her thoughts. “But first, we should decide who your personal guard will be after the ceremony. As you know, it’s customary for women in the royal family to select a member of the pegasus knights, and I have a list of candidates your father and I think would serve you well.”

“Actually,” Lucina cuts in, “I have someone in mind already.”

“Oh? Well, I’m glad to hear you weren’t totally neglecting your duties while you were out galavanting across the country with my daughter.”

Lucina smiles wryly -- Frederick may not be as pleased with choice as she was hoping then -- but she spies Severa across the courtyard, talking with the pegasus commanders (no doubt getting dressed down for leaving the castle), and, her smile growing, she find she does not care what anyone else thinks.

--

0.

When Lucina wakes the next morning, she finds absent all the nervousness that had plagued her during her previous days in the castle leading up to the ceremony. Her mind is clear, as though her path is laid out before her and all she needs to do is follow the steps until the end.

A part of her -- one that she refused to entertain in the past but she gives into more and more recently -- hopes to find Severa waiting for her when she gets there.

She takes her time dressing, savoring the last moments she’ll have alone before the big event starts. The robes the tailor selected for her are thankfully much more subdued than those from the fitting despite her not being around approve the final design -- she had been of half the mind to worry that she would be put in something particularly ostentatious as punishment for leaving so close to the ceremony.

On a whim, she takes the necklace she had bought on the road from its new spot on her bedside table, and strings it around her own neck, slipping it beneath her robes to hide it from view. A private reminder to give her strength.

A knock on her door reminds her that her day has only just started. Stepping out of the room, Lucina finds Cordelia waiting for her, her armor shining as though she polished it specially for this occasion.

“Good morning, Your Highness,” Cordelia says, greeting Lucina with a tight-lipped smile. “It looks like today will be the last day Frederick or I will be responsible for your wellbeing.”

“I’m sure Frederick will still worry about me, even once I have a personal guard of my own,” Lucina says, motioning for them to head for the chapel.

Cordelia laughs, the corners of her lips loosening. “He very much wanted to be the one to escort you this morning,” she confesses as they walk, “but he has about thirty other duties to attend to today. Mine has always been simply to make sure the royal family is safe.”

“Shouldn’t you be attending to Aunt Lissa, then?” Lucina asks. “Not that I object to your escort, of course.”

“No, it’s a fair question. Her Highness has been helping Her Majesty with some final preparations, so Commander Phila agreed to keep an eye on both of them until everyone is in one place.”

Lucina nods, as a silence settles over them. Peeking from the corner of her eye, she studies the older woman, examining as many of her features as she can without outright staring.

Ever since Severa was young, people often compared her appearance to her mother’s -- the color of their hair is undeniable, at least -- but Lucina struggles to find the similarity. There’s a softness to Cordelia’s features, a give where Severa is stone. Though Severa may have inherited the base of her beauty from her mother, Lucina finds she misses that hardness, the extra sharpness Severa lends her features from the way she holds herself alone.

“I will admit I had another reason I wanted to escort you to the chapel this morning,” Cordelia says, suddenly, breaking the silence and snapping Lucina’s gaze to her fully. “I heard about the little escapade you went on with my daughter.”

Lucina resists the urge to groan. “I assure you, whatever sordid rumor you heard has been wildly exaggerated.”

“I see. So you did not kiss my daughter when those pegasus knights found you on the way back to the castle?”

Face feeling as hot as it ever has, Lucina racks her brain for a proper response. “Is that all you heard?”

“I also heard you practically confessed your love to her right then and there. Is that incorrect as well?”

“I,” Lucina starts, swallowing thickly, “never said the kiss did not happen. Though I would argue what I said did not amount to a confession of love.”

Cordelia stops in her tracks, forcing Lucina to do the same. “Am I to assume you’re just playing with her, then?”

“Of course not!” Lucina protests immediately. “I care for Severa deeply, I can promise you that, Cordelia. But…”

“But?” Cordelia prompts, sharply.

“I’m working on it,” Lucina finishes, the response sounding far better in her head than out loud. “I need to know that if she reciprocates, it’s because she honestly feels the same as I do, not because she feels obligated to return my feelings because of my status.”

Cordelia frowns, the expression etching deep lines into her face, and for the first time, Lucina can see the resemblance with her daughter. “Has Severa ever expressed to you the desire to be in a relationship with you?”

Lucina thinks back to her conversation with Severa just a few days ago. The confession that her parents wanted to limit their contact likely for this exact reason. Briefly, she wonders if this is Cordelia’s worst fear come true.

“Until recently, I don’t believe Severa has allowed herself to consider it a possibility.”

“So, no?”

“No,” Lucina admits, after a moment, though it hurts to acknowledge. Especially in these circumstances. “Not in so many words.”

Cordelia sighs, swinging an arm out to signal that they should continue on their way towards the chapel. “I sympathize with you,” she tells her, once they’ve resumed their walk. “Did you know that I was in love with your father when I was a teenager?”

“I’ve heard rumors, but I always dismissed them,” Lucina says, slowly, unsure of how Cordelia will react.

“Thank you for thinking so highly of me, but I’m afraid those rumors are true,” Cordelia says, shaking her head wryly. “It’s been a long time since then, but I do remember what it’s like, being young and enamored with someone unattainable. When I married Frederick, the one thing I wanted, above all else, was to keep my child from making the same mistakes I did.”

Oh, Lucina thinks. That explains things. Out loud, she says, “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize, Your Highness. Never apologize for loving someone,” Cordelia says, and Lucina wonders if she ever wished to hear those words when she was Lucina’s age. “Though I would be lying if I said I didn’t wish the circumstances were a bit different.”

“I understand that our families have a complicated history when it comes to such things,” Lucina says, haltingly, “but I can assure you, when it comes to Severa, her happiness is my first priority.”

Cordelia sighs again, the act so similar to one of Severa’s own, Lucina feels a wave of comfort from hearing it. “I’m glad to hear that, Your Highness. Truly. And I believe that you mean that.”

A moment passes, Cordelia clearly unsure how to proceed. “But I can’t help but worry for her,” she settles on. “Severa doesn’t like to talk about it, but she struggles with how others see her. She always has. It’s a familiar concern,” Cordelia admits, shaking her head.

“I’ve noticed that about her as well,” Lucina says, reminded of her conversation with Severa that night on the road. It feels like a lifetime ago now. “Though I must say it’s understandable why it would concern her.”

“Yes, I suppose Frederick and I did not leave her with the easiest legacy to live up to,” Cordelia agrees. “Sometimes I wonder if any child of mine would have been able to live up to the reputation I’ve been given. Severa’s done as well as the gossipers would let her.”

“Even better,” Lucina shoots back. “She has a drive I doubt any detractors would bother to notice.” Lucina can’t stop a fond smile from overtaking her lips. “She won’t go down without a fight, however frustrating that may be sometimes.”

“You really do care for her, don’t you?” Cordelia says, sounding a little taken aback.

“More than I fully feel comfortable admitting to her mother.”

Cordelia gives Lucina a long, appraising look. “Perhaps I misjudged you, Your Highness. Or perhaps I misjudged the situation. I suppose I never imagined you could feel so strongly about my daughter.”

“I can’t imagine feeling anything but,” Lucina replies, simply.

A silence settles over them at that, not quite comfortable but not quite tense either, as though both women are just on the cusp of airing one last comment. With the chapel fast approaching in the distance, Lucina finds she can’t quite leave the conversation where it is.

“Cordelia,” she starts, before pausing to choose her words. “I’m not asking for your approval -- I would continue to love your daughter even if you and Frederick were fiercely opposed to it. But I do hope that you and your husband will be able to accept whatever decision she and I make about our relationship going forward.”

“You Highness, is it alright if I take those words as a declaration from my daughter’s potential suitor,” Cordelia asks, “not the crown princess and future exalt?”

Lucina can’t stop the relieved laugh that breaks free from her throat. “By all means.”

“In that case, you have it. My acceptance and my approval,” Cordelia says. “I want my daughter to be happy, Your Highness, and if you’ve convinced me of anything, it’s that you would do whatever it takes to make that happen.”

Stopping outside the chapel door, Lucina turns to face Cordelia fully. “Thank you this,” she says, reaching a hand out into the space between them. “It was nice to have a chance to speak with you so frankly.”

Cordelia takes Lucina’s hand and gives it a firm shake, a small smile on her lips. “I agree. Our country is lucky to have you.”

Lucina flushes slightly at that bit of praise, dropping Cordelia’s hand to tug on a lock of hair near her ear sheepishly.

“Severa too, if she’s willing to take you,” Cordelia adds, with a grin Lucina didn’t know the serious woman was capable of. “Good luck, Your Highness.”

Unsure of what she can say to follow that up -- if anything at all -- Lucina simply gives Cordelia a nod, and pushes her way into the chapel.

--

The ceremony itself passes in a blur. Through some odd combination of the countless practice repetitions of her own motions Lucina had gone through in the weeks leading up to it and the sheer surreality of the day finally arriving, Lucina finds it extremely easy to let muscle memory take control.

Despite that, she can hardly ignore the moment Aunt Emmeryn -- every bit Exalt Emmeryn in this moment-- places a weighty circlet on her head, or the thunderous applause from the nobility at the crowning.

And just like that, she is a full-fledged member of the royal family and the officially recognized heir to the halidom.

Though there are plenty of goings-on still planned for the chapel, Lucina is hustled from the hall almost immediately, each step cresting on a wave of adulation from Ylisse’s ruling class. There’s a day-long banquet waiting for her, in theory a chance for the various lords and ladies visiting the capitol to properly meet the princess but in practice more an opportunity for the Ylissean nobility to celebrate the good fortune and prosperity of the current exalt’s reign.

As she and the nobility leave the chapel, she casts a glance around in hope of catching any who might be entering. The knighthood ceremony typically takes place in private -- to represent that the service is not something taken up for the accolades or recognition, but out of duty to the country -- and she wants any indication she can that Severa is with this year’s graduates. But the crowd around her is dense and charged with excitement, so much so she finds herself nearly carried across the yard and to the banquet hall.

The celebration itself is a whirlwind of activity, and for the briefest moment, Lucina regrets the days she did all she could to avoid meeting with the young lords and ladies visiting the castle. As the guest of honor, she’s pulled from noble to noble, barely hearing their words of congratulations or well-wishes before the next spins her around to do the same.

To her luck, however, Aunt Emmeryn arrives after the first hour, and for the first time since Lucina arrived at the banquet hall, she finds the attention off of her. Taking the opportunity, she slips off to the wings for quick break, only to bump into someone with the same idea.

“Hey, watch where you’re-”

“Severa!” Lucina says barely resisting the urge to hug the girl after a few days without seeing her. “You’re here!”

Severa smirks, all lopsided and full of bravado, but there’s an affectionate glint in her eye that takes the edge off. “Where else would I be?”

“I haven’t seen hide nor hair of you since those knights flagged us down and brought me back to the castle,” Lucina says. “What happened to you?”

“Nothing exciting honestly,” Severa answers, sighing and letting the air go out of her. “The pegasus commanders gave me an earful, but once the rumor got around about,” she pauses, suddenly taking interest in one of the far walls, “us being found together, they seemed a lot less keen on actually punishing me.”

There’s lines there Lucina’s can’t quite read through, though she does wonder if it has anything at all to do with the rumors Cordelia mentioned to her earlier. “That simple?”

Severa sends her a look as though she’s scandalized that Lucina would suggest such a thing. “From a bureaucracy standpoint maybe,” she says, scoffing. “The other cadets won’t let me hear the end of it, though. Cynthia especially doesn’t know when to shut her damn trap.”

“I’m sorry?” Though for what, Lucina still isn’t entirely sure.

“Don’t apologize; it’s not your fault people around here can’t mind their own business,” Severa shoots back. “And I never said I had a problem with what you did. I just wish other people wouldn’t make such a big deal about it.”

Lucina nods -- she’ll just have to ask Cynthia for the full context later.

They settle into a comfortable silence after that, both enjoying the moment of reprieve in each other’s company. Lucina knows she’ll have to return to the celebration sooner rather than later, but for now, she simply wants to bask in Severa’s presence after missing it for the past couple of days.

To her surprise, however, Severa breaks the silence after a few beats.

“There’s a rumor going around that Lady Tanith is going to be your personal guard.”

Lucina winces. Now that she thinks about it, Lady Tanith had been at the top of Frederick’s shortlist of candidates, but she had forgotten all about the court’s expectations for her pick as she went off on her own whims. She’ll have to find a way to apologize to Lady Tanith privately for the castle rumor mill getting ahead of itself.

“Do you think that’s who I’ve chosen?” Lucina asks instead of outright denying the rumor.

“She’s the logical choice,” Severa responds. “One of the most talented knights in the service, and dedicated, too. Not much more you could ask for.”

“That’s not what I asked. Who do you think I chose?”

Severa eyes her warily, clearly unsure of this line of questioning. “How should I know? I don’t what goes on in that head of yours, Luci.”

Lucina smiles at the nickname. It fell from Severa’s lips so naturally, she doubts that Severa herself noticed that she used it. “I think you understand me more than you’re willing to admit,” Lucina argues. “We just spent a week and a half together. Who do you think I chose?”

Flushing red from an emotion Lucina can’t quite place, Severa looks away and crosses her arms. “I know what you’re trying to say,” she says after a particularly long pause of glaring at the ground, “but I can’t believe you could have possibly thought that was a good idea.”

“You don’t have to accept,” Lucina says, evenly. As though it wouldn’t crush her for Severa to do so.

“You really you think I could get away with that?”

“Of course,” Lucina tells her. “I haven’t told your father -- or mine -- my selection yet. If you tell me right now that you don’t want to be my personal guard, I’ll give them a different name.”

Severa looks back at her sharply, brow furrowed and frowning. “Am I allowed,” she starts, almost choking on the words, “am I allowed to say yes?”

A warmth blooms in Lucina’s chest. It reminds her of their trip and the road, when the world was just the two of them.

“If you want to,” Lucina says, willing herself not to sound too excited, not to influence Severa’s decision with her own desires. “As long as you want to, of course you can say yes.”

“Then,” Severa says, gaze dropping back to the ground as though suddenly shy, “I would be honored.”

Lucina can’t fight the smile from spreading on her face. “In that case,” she says, pulling the necklace out from beneath her tunic, the feather pendant catching in the light, “I have something to tell you.” She undoes the clasp behind her neck, lets the the necklace bunch into one hand. “Will you listen?”

“Listening is the least I can do, I think,” Severa says, watching the motion of Lucina's hands curiously.

“You don’t owe me anything,” Lucina argues, taking a small step towards Severa. Gauging whether it’s alright. “If anything, I’m in your debt.”

Severa sends Lucina an exasperated -- if somewhat affectionate -- look. “What could you possibly be going on about this time? Last I checked, the only reason we’re standing here like this is because of you.”

“You only got in trouble like that because of me,” Lucina shoots back, taking another step. “And I can’t imagine what it would be like having a knight I hardly know watching over me every waking moment. If you hadn’t agreed to be my guard, I’m not sure what I would have done.”

“You can’t be serious,” Severa says with a shake of her head. “Being a guard for the royal family is the highest honor any knight in the service could ask for. You just offered me the highest promotion I’ll ever get, and I only received my commission an hour ago!”

Finally face to face with Severa, she passes one end of the necklace to her other hand and reaches around Severa’s shoulders, deftly fixing the clasp being Severa’s neck. “A thank-you gift for taking me with you, and for putting up with me all those days on the road,” Lucina explains when Severa looks down at the necklace in confusion.

“You didn’t have to.”

“Perhaps not, but I wanted to,” Lucina says, stepping back. “I may have had an ulterior motive in choosing you to be my personal guard, and I want to give you another chance to back out before we make anything official. But I want you to keep the necklace regardless.”

Severa reaches for the pendant almost immediately, tracing over the grooves in the feather not unlike Lucina did in those last days before they returned to the castle. Lucina watches for a moment as she admires the present, simply happy that she was able to give it to her after all, when a voice cuts through the short silence.

“I love you.”

Lucina feels her brow furrow -- those were the words she had planned, but that wasn’t her voice that said them. “You… what?”

“I love you,” Severa repeats, cheeks pink. “I’ve probably been in love with you longer than I’ve been willing to admit to myself.”

Heart pounding faster than she ever thought possible, Lucina takes Severa’s hands from around the pendant and clutches them in her own. “I’m sorry, my brain isn’t quite catching up,” she says, a smile splitting on her face. “I wouldn't happen to be dreaming right now, would I?”

Severa smiles -- a small one, but it’s there -- and buries her face in the crook of Lucina’s neck. “I didn’t expect you to be such a dork about it.”

Lucina just laughs. She feels so light right now, it’s a wonder she hasn’t started floating. “My apologies, I just,” she pauses, dropping Severa’s hands to wrap her arms around Severa’s frame, “I love you, too.”

Mirroring the motion, Severa squeezes Lucina’s torso, the feeling of it sending Lucina's heart into double-time again. “I wonder how my parents will react,” she muses. “Naga, I don't even how to tell my mother.”

“I wouldn't worry about that,” Luciba replies, sneakily pressing a kiss to the top of Severa's head. “I have on good authority that she would be happy for us.”

Severa laughs at that, and Lucina swears she must be flying.

--

-30.

“So you’re going to save me a spot on the Shepherds, right?”

Severa pauses in packing Luna’s saddlebags long enough to send Cynthia a dry look over her shoulder.

“I’m just saying, it’s kinda unfair that you managed to find a whole group of people for this a whole year before I’m old enough to be knighted,” Cynthia continues.

“There’s no set number of people who can be in the Shepherds, Cynthia,” Lucina says from her place outside of Luna’s stall, when it becomes obvious Severa is refusing to acknowledge the complaint. “If you still want to join us in a year, we’d be happy to have you.”

You’d be happy to have her,” Severa cuts in, exiting Luna’s stall and joining Lucina where she’s standing before lacing their fingers instinctively. Lucina can’t help but smile at how easy it comes now. “No need to answer for both of us.”

“Ugh, you two are so… saccharine. Which brings me to reason number two why you should take me!” Cynthia says, forging on. “Someone needs to keep you two in line. Naga knows how most of the nobility feels about you dating your personal guard.”

Lucina laughs lightly. “I don’t see why it should bother them. Aunt Emmeryn’s been involved with Phila for nearly as long as they’ve had a professional relationship.” The statement draws two incredulous gazes to her. “Is something wrong?”

“You’re kidding me,” Severa says, simply. “There’s no way a hardass like Commander Phila would ‘desecrate her position’ -- or whatever fancy words the nobles like to use -- by being in a relationship with the exalt.”

“Did neither of you know?” Lucina asks, sparing a glance at Cynthia’s equally gobsmacked expression.

“Is this why Her Majesty never married?” Cynthia says, quietly as though she’s starting to piece a huge puzzle together. “Lucina, are you going to need Kjelle to have kids for you?”

Severa smacks the back of Cynthia’s head so quickly, Lucina nearly misses it as she blinks. “Mind your own business, will you? It’s a little early to worry about things like that!”

“It’s a valid question!” Cynthia shoots back, holding the spot when Severa’s hand had made contact with her head.

“I think we’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” Lucina steps in, diplomatically. “For now, Severa and I are just enjoying what we have together.”

Cynthia pulls a face. “Stop being so sickly sweet. How the other Shepherds are gonna deal with you, I have no idea.”

“Weren’t you just begging to be one?” Severa goads. If they were a little younger, Lucina would have expected her to stick out her tongue.

“I’ve been dealing with you my whole life; I have practice,” Cynthia argues, proving Lucina wrong -- right? -- and doing just that.

Severa makes a motion like she’s going to pluck Cynthia’s out stuck tongue from her mouth, so Lucina grabs her other hand, intertwining those fingers as well. “There certainly won’t be a quiet day with both of you as Shepherds, will there?” she asks, though with the way her body is positioned after grabbing Severa’s hand, it feels as though she’s speaking to Severa alone. “I look forward to it.”

“You're too nice,” Severa says dryly, but there’s no bite to it. Just an affectionate curl to her lips.

“If you guys keep this up, I'm leaving,” Cynthia cuts in.

Severa doesn’t spare her a glance as she starts to lean in, “Then leave.”

Lucina thinks she might hear a huffing sound off to her side, but in this moment, she finds nothing matters but Severa’s lips meeting hers. Perhaps Cynthia has a point after all, she thinks, fleetingly, but Severa pulls her in deeper, effectively cutting off all thought.

The other Shepherds will work it out. This -- after all they've been through -- is too good to give up.