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The Dragon's Shadow

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Corrin bent over, winded. The last of the enemies had been defeated; she, Gunter, and Jakob had claimed the so-called “abandoned” fort. The whole mission was a disaster right from the start. Someone must have given King Garon the wrong information about the fort, because it certainly wasn’t abandoned—it had been crawling with Hoshidan soldiers! Then instead of following her order to retreat, the soldier her father had sent with her had brazenly attacked the first Hoshidan that approached, inciting the rest to retaliate. Luckily, she, Gunter, and Jakob had managed to not only survive, but beat back the Hoshidan force until they had control of the fortress. She couldn’t say the same for Hans; she’d lost sight of him after he charged a whole group of Hoshidan soldiers.

Corrin straightened, wiping the sweat from her brow as she continued to breathe heavily from her first real taste of combat. Just as she looked up, she saw a group of figures appear from the tree line not far away. Her breath caught in her throat—these must be Hoshidan reinforcements!

Her eyes locked with the man standing in the front of the group. He had a fearsome visage: a large, muscled body cloaked in dark red cloth with the lower half of his face obscured by a black mask. Across his right eye lay a brutal scar, but the gaze of his one remaining eye bore into hers with such intense malice that she felt her body stiffen in fear, and she was unable to move or look away. 

“You’re the commander of these troops?” he questioned. His voice wasn’t loud, yet somehow it carried over the blood-stained grass with perfect clarity.

“Pah! You’re just a little girl!”

Corrin’s fist clenched around the hilt of her sword. Taking a breath, she steeled herself so she wouldn’t sound as scared as she felt.

“Who are you?” She called back, trying to let her anger mask her uncertainty.

“My name is Saizo,” he answered darkly, shadows pooling in his eyes, “I’ve come to claim your life.”

Corrin saw the glint of steel as he pulled something from his sleeve. Realizing that she had to warn her friends quickly, she turned back to cry out, “Hey! We’re still under attack!”

“Die!” she heard the masked ninja shout.

She turned back around, knowing they would get to her before she could run back to Jakob and Gunter. Her eyes widened; the ninja named Saizo was already on top of her, weapon in hand to strike—so close, she could see clearly the jagged line of his scar and the blazing red fire that burned in his eye. With barely a second to react, Corrin drew her sword. Panic overwhelmed her in the heartbeat she realized that she wasn’t going to be fast enough to block his strike. She could only stare into his eye full of hatred as she anticipated the piercing pain that would end her life.

“I won’t allow it!”

Metal clanged off metal. The dark ninja cried out in surprise and leapt out of the way of Xander’s charging steed and swinging blade. Corrin nearly collapsed in relief to see her big brother sitting tall and fearsome in his saddle, facing down their enemies.

“What?!” the ninja growled, “You must be their real commander.”

Ignoring him, Xander turned his face to his sister.

“What’s going on here, Corrin?”

“Xander!” she cried, dizzy with relief, “How did you know we were in trouble?”

The flapping of wings and beat of hooves made Corrin turn to see the rest of her siblings approach: Camilla atop her Wyvern, Leo on his dark steed, and Elise on her light-footed pony. Corrin felt her heart swell in gratitude.

“Looks like we’ve arrived just in time,” Leo remarked, pushing his hair back with a knowing smirk, “You have the devil’s own luck, Sister.”  

“Are you alright?” Camilla fussed from her perch on the Wyvern’s back as it landed next to her, “I was so worried about you!”

“We’re all here for you Corrin!” Elise smiled cheerfully.

“Thanks, everyone,” Corrin fought back tears as she gazed at her siblings, but then remembered where they were, “Um, but…we are still under attack, so...”

“Who dares attack my precious Corrin?” Camilla’s voice was sickly sweet, but her murderous intent was clear on her face, “I’ll have their heads on a platter.”

“I’m not hurt, Camilla,” Corrin reassured, “Thanks to Xander.”

“But Darling,” her big sister cooed, shouldering her massive axe, “It’s the thought that counts.”

With that, her Wyvern’s wings beat at the air, and before Corrin could say a word, Camilla had charged the Hoshidan reinforcements. She watched in awe and horror as her big sister flew through their lines, slaughtering soldiers left and right with impassioned swings of her enormous weapon. Her heart pounded in the chest at the sight. 

“I never knew Camilla could be so…ruthless,” Corrin breathed.

Elise giggled, “That’s right! You’ve never seen her on the battlefield before!” She didn’t seem at all bothered by Camilla’s protective rampage.

“This is not going well,” the ninja’s gravelly voice rumbled.

Corrin had somehow forgotten about the man who’d just tried to take her life. She turned back to face him, now with Xander standing in front of her and Leo, Elise, and Camilla at her side, he didn’t seem nearly as frightening, though she knew now not to underestimate him.

Just then, another figure appeared behind him—a woman.

“Saizo! What’s wrong?” she questioned, crouching with her kunai drawn, “What’s our status?”

“I misjudged the situation,” Corrin heard him respond gruffly, “We’re outnumbered—do we have anyone else on the way?”

The female ninja nodded, “Affirmative. Lord Ryoma is right behind me.”

Corrin felt her blood run cold in her veins. The high prince of Hoshido was about to join the battle? She watched for Xander’s reaction, but his face revealed nothing. This was worse than a disaster!

The ninja Saizo chuckled darkly, “Ahh, well then… this battle is as good as won.”

Corrin gulped.

Xander turned slightly in his saddle so he could address the rest of them.

“It looks like they have more reinforcements coming.”

Leo gazed steadily back at his older brother, “Indeed…What should we do?”

“Well, Corrin is safe, and the fort’s condition has been evaluated,” Xander decided, “I see no reason to engage Hoshido further at this point.”

They all nodded their agreement, Corrin especially so. She just wanted this whole ordeal to be over before it could get any worse.

“Corrin, you take the lead with Gunter,” Xander ordered, reining his horse to turn, “We’ll follow close behind.”

“Will do,” Corrin nodded, “Thank you, Xander.”

With that she turned to sprint away, but before she could, her eyes were trapped in the glare of the Hoshidan ninja. She faltered for a moment, her feet once again cemented to the ground under the weight of the hatred that his eye spoke to her. A heartbeat passed, and she found the strength to tear herself away from his uncanny hold. She turned back to the bridge that led to home, seeing Gunter and Jakob already waiting for her, and sprinted towards them and away from the Hoshidans as fast as she could.

How could she have known then that she had been staring down the man who would one day be her husband?

How could he have known then that he almost succeeded in killing the person who would one day come to mean more to him than the entire world?

Chapter Text

 

It had been some time since that fateful day at the Bottomless Canyon. So much had happened since then. Corrin felt like she had suddenly fallen into some sort of fantastical dream. After all those quiet years roaming the silent halls of the Fortress, to be suddenly be cast into all of this action, all of these strangers, all of these decisions…it was overwhelming. Even more disorienting was finding out the truth about her past—that her family had not even been her family at all, but her captors.  She wasn’t even able to fully accept it as the truth until Queen Mikoto…her mother…had died protecting her from the shadowy assassins King Garon had sent. So many people died that day in the square…Corrin felt as if a part of her had died as well.

 After that, she couldn’t bring herself to forgive Garon for what he had done to Hoshido—to her family—and to her. She tried to explain the situation to Xander and the rest but…they wouldn’t listen to her. They wouldn’t believe that their own father was a mad tyrant with the blood of innocents on his hands. She couldn’t go back to Nohr after what she had discovered, but Xander wouldn’t have it. He attacked her, her own brother… then Ryoma jumped in to her defense, and that was it. The battle lines had been drawn. There was no going back.  

The sun had set below the horizon by the time Corrin left the mess hall. It had been a wonderful evening with a perfectly cooked meal prepared by Subaki and shared with her younger sister Sakura, whom she was just starting to get to know. Her heart ached sometimes when she talked with Sakura because of just how much she reminded her of her other little sister…the one she had abandoned in Nohr. Just thinking about Elise…and how sad and hurt she must feel…It was enough to make Corrin want to crumple into a ball. But she owed it to Sakura to make up for all the time together that they had missed out on growing up, and she loved bonding with the adorably shy young woman. So she tried to stow her pain in the back of her mind for a later date while she enjoyed the company of her sibling.

Corrin stopped in her tracks. She was nearly back to her tree house, and the astral plain around her was dark, empty, and quiet. And yet … something was bothering her. She turned slowly in a circle, peering cautiously around into the darkness.

She didn’t see anybody… so maybe she had imagined it.

She took another few steps and then stopped again. No, she couldn’t be imagining it. She could feel someone’s eyes boring into her, but, try as she might, she couldn’t spot anyone around her.

“Hello?” she called out tentatively, “Is someone there…?”

A figure stepped around one of the trees, and Corrin’s heart lurched in fright. But then, she recognized the tall, burly outline and the feeling of his gaze burning into her.

“Saizo?!” she let out a deep gust of air as her fright subsided, “You nearly made me jump out of my skin! What were you doing lurking in the shadows?”

“Hmph,” he grunted as he began to approach her, “Took you long enough to notice. If this were the battlefield, you’d be dead.”

“What?!” Corrin felt indignation rise in her chest at his assertion, “Why would I be looking over my shoulder in camp? And what were you doing spying on me?”

He had continued to stalk towards her until he stood uncomfortably close, looming over her. Corrin took an involuntary step backwards, feeling her backside bump into something; she was pressed between the solid trunk of a tree and the solid bulk of the intimidating ninja. Her breath hitched in her throat as her heart sped up. He stood so close to her that she could smell him: a dangerous mixture of gunpowder, leather, and musk. She forced herself to look up into his face, meeting the hostility of his gaze.

“Keeping a very close eye on you,” he answered, his chin tilted so she could get the full brunt of his glare.

“H-huh?” she stammered.

“”It wasn’t long ago that you lived as royalty of Nohr,” his voice was low and calm despite the venom in his eye, “How convenient that we should be drawn into your orbit now.”

Corrin’s tongue was dry. His accusation settled like a stone in the pit of her stomach. She remembered how not long ago, she had stared into that same eye, knowing with certainty that it would be the last thing she saw before she felt the bite of his kunai in her throat. Xander had saved her then, but she had betrayed her big brother and sided with Hoshido. He wasn’t going to come to her aid this time.

“The moment you try anything,” Saizo continued, “I’ll be the first to know.”

Rage boiled over her shock and her fear. He was trying to make her afraid of him, but she wasn’t going to let him have the satisfaction of seeing her cower before him. He thought of her as a child; he had said as much when they first encountered each other. But she had betrayed the family she loved and followed the path that she knew in her heart was the right one. She wasn’t going to let him belittle and bully her choice like this. Corrin pressed her shoulders back and rose up on the balls of her feet to shove her face back into his.

“Except you won’t,” she retorted with a scowl, “Because I’m not going to try anything.”

A horrible thought dawned on her. .

“My brother didn’t put you up to this, did he?” she questioned, eyes narrowing. Saizo was Lord Ryoma’s retainer. Did her big brother really not trust her, after all they’d already been through? The mere thought caused pain to lance through her chest.

“Hmph,” Saaizo grunted, shifting his eyes away, “This had nothing to do with Lord Ryoma. I’m doing this on my own initiative.”

Relief washed over Corrin. Her brother trusted her. It was just this grumpy ninja who didn’t.

“Though we may fight side-by-side at times,” he confirmed, shifting his gaze back to hers, “I’m not prepared to trust you yet.”

Corrin had lowered herself back down, but continued to stare up at him.

“I see,” she responded flatly.

Unsatisfied with her response, or lack thereof, Saizo continued.

“If you take just one step out of line, I will act accordingly,” he promised, fingering his kunai lightly.

Corrin caught the gesture, and she scowled deeply at his thinly veiled threat.

“Remember that before you get any cute ideas,” he added.

Cute…?! Corrin thought with a mixture of bewilderment and indignation.

“I never intended to,” she responded, trying to rein in her scattered emotions. Taking a deep breath, she willed herself to be calm. There had to be some way she could prove to him that her heart was true, so she asked, “Isn’t there any way that I could earn your trust?”

“Prove yourself to me,” he answered, “I’m keeping thorough surveillance notes on you, you know.”

Irritation itched in Saizo’s gut as the blue-haired child continued to stare into his eye with that impetuous scowl. She was either very brave or very stupid; he suspected that maybe it was a dangerous combination of both. In any case, her refusal to bow under his intimidation tactics annoyed him greatly.

“Yes, the ‘Surveillance Notes—Corrin’ on your notebook suggested as much,” she sassed with a sigh and a single raised eyebrow, pointing half-heartedly to the cleverly-entitled notebook sticking conspicuously out of his pocket.

Saizo stared down at her, a tide of anger rising ever higher inside of him. How dare she…?! Too furious and embarrassed to speak, he shoved the notebook back down into his pocket.

“Do you…keep books like this on a lot of our soldiers?” she prompted, clearly oblivious or indifferent his reaction.

“That’s classified,” he growled, his iris nothing but a chip of flint beneath his narrowed lid, “All you need to know is that I’m watching you. Always.”

Another horrible thought occurred to her.

“What about when—?”

“ESPECIALLY then,” Saizo confirmed immediately.

Her cheeks flushed red with a mixture of horror, embarrassment, and fury.

“Fine!” she snapped, baring her teeth at him, “Watch me all you want. But you’re wasting your time.” And with that, she turned and stalked away, fists balled and shoulders hunched in fury.

He couldn’t see her face, but tears threatened the edges of her eyes as he watched her go.

Gods this is going to be difficult, they both thought.

Chapter Text

 

And watch her he did. Most of his free time was spent behind cover, his eye glued to the “lost” princess. He kept diligent notes on her movements: where she went and when, who she talked to, and what they talked about. He followed her when she went out into the forest to hunt. He followed her on the battlefield. He followed her when she went to the mess hall to eat, when she was doing her chores. Indeed, he had even prepared himself to follow her to the bathhouse.

She felt his eye on her all the time. She tried her best to ignore it, but it was weighing on her. Especially when she was alone in her bedroom. The thought that he might actually follow her in the bathhouse perturbed her. She had been fretting about it and in fact put off bathing for longer than she should have. But in the end, she had to. She walked there alone and entered the soft light of the bathhouse. She undressed in a side room and walked out in a towel to the main bath. Through the open ceiling above her, the stars of the Astral Plain shone brightly between tendrils of rising steam. Her skin crawled with the thought that this man was really such a pervert as to watch her bathe. She looked all around but could not see him anywhere, as per usual.                                                  

He was sitting at the edge of the roof, peering down from the shadows. He knew what he had said, but now he began to feel pricks of discomfort in his stomach as he watched her standing stiffly in nothing but a towel. He knew that to protect Lord Ryoma he had to keep his attention on her, and this was the ideal time for a snake to scheme -- when she thought no one would be watching her. So it was his duty to continue his surveillance, no matter how... inappropriate it felt. He was a ninja. It was his duty. He had done far worse for far less.

Corrin felt her resolve harden. She threw down the towel, standing bare beside the bath. If he wanted to look at her, let him. She had no shame. She had nothing to hide.

On the roof, Saizo felt something else harden.

Before she had seemed to him as but a child, so short with her round face, earnest eyes, and that impetuous attitude. But now.... He couldn’t tear his eye away if he had wanted to. Her body was curvaceous and her pale skin glistened from the heat of the bath. Her head was raised confidently as she stepped into the steaming water. Heat rose to his cheeks and he felt his heart quicken involuntarily in his chest. She sank slowly into the bath, and he was disappointed as all but her head was submerged into the milky water. Immediately shame washed over him, and he forced his arousal away. Some ninja he was. He left her to her bath so he could reflect on his disgrace and the pathetic weaknesses of his mind and body.

He dropped stealthily to the ground.

“Saizo? Is that you?”

Oh hells. As if the shame were not great enough.

“Saizo? What were you doing up there?” his brother asked.

“Oh, er—” Saizo struggled for an answer, still trying to push the image of Corrin from his mind, “I was just scanning our defenses.”

Kaze gave him a dubious look, a half grin curling his lips. “Ahh, I see. Scanning the defenses... of the bath house ... during the women’s bathing hour.” 

Saizo thought in despair that his cheeks were probably glowing in the dark by now. 

“If you must know, I’m keeping surveillance on Corrin,” Saizo grunted defensively, “I don’t trust her.”

“And here I was thinking you had descended to the level of the common pervert,” Kaze chuckled, “You’re lucky it wasn’t Ryoma who caught you in the act. I doubt he would be as forgiving of you spying on his little sister during her bath time.”

Anger surged through his body, and it took all the self-control he had left not to throttle his brother. Silently he turned and stalked away.

“Saizo,” Kaze called after him. “She spared my life, you know. She defied her father just to save Rinkah and me, two foreign enemies she didn’t even know.”

Saizo stopped. He had heard the reports. But still... it could have been planned.

“I believe she is genuine. She has a kind heart,” Kaze added in a soft voice, “Give her time, and she’ll show you too.”

Saizo left.

---

After purging his mind of the events of that night at the bathhouse, he continued his silent vigil. However, when their eyes met, there was an uncomfortable energy. He was the epitome of the hostility that many still felt for her. He was the blockade between her, her birthplace, and the people she should be close to. If only she knew how to convince them…He still looked at her with mistrust, and yet behind it was something different, something Corrin could not identify. It disconcerted her.

 He was after all beginning to see what Kaze had meant. Watching her everyday was beginning to show him that this lost princess indeed had a gentle heart. She worked tirelessly for their cause, and she never complained. She rarely took rests for herself; when she wasn’t working, she was approaching her comrades in friendship. Saizo also realized that he was not the only one who held misgivings about Corrin, and he witnessed some tense encounters that left him feeling…despite his practiced emotional detachment…a sort of pity for her. He could see that she was lonely--something he recognized only too well.

He was watching her one day when he saw her struggling with a heavy trunk, the effort clear on her face. At first she tried carrying it, walking bow-legged and hunched over until she dropped it with a gust of frustration. Next she tried pushing it, but it was going nowhere over the thick grass. When that didn’t work, she moved to the other side of the box, lifting up one end in an attempt to pull it. He sighed and stepped out from his hiding spot; she balked, dropping the trunk in surprise at his sudden appearance. She cursed quietly, dropping down to make sure the trunk wasn’t damaged.

“Oh—! Saizo, I didn’t see you there,” she looked up at him nervously as she stood, still catching her breath.

He gazed at her in silence for an uncomfortable second as she scowled back up at him.

He looked away from her, “You don’t look well. You’re a liability to the rest of us if you are exhausted like this all the time.”

Corrin felt the sting of the truth in his words and lost her temper. “And why do you think I’m so exhausted! It’s from having to constantly look over my shoulder, feeling your eyes on me all the damn time! It’s a wonder I can rest at all. I have to work as hard as I can to gain the trust of everyone here— I don’t have time to rest!” She was breathing heavily by the time she finished her rant.

Saizo couldn’t look at her. The truth of her words stung him as well. Instead he walked past her and lifted the trunk onto one shoulder

“Saizo, wha—” she started, but he cut her off.

“Where do you want this?” He asked, still not meeting her eyes.

“I can carry my own things, you know!” she argued, “You don’t have to look after me.”

“It would be cruel to ignore someone in need, and you clearly need help,” he stated, “Or are you impugning my honor?”

“N-no, I just...” she trailed off.

“Then hurry up and tell me where this goes,” he growled, and his eyes finally locked with hers.

His gaze was intense, and she found herself unable to continue arguing. It took her a second longer than he expected to look away.

“Uh, in that she shed over there,” she answered, nodding her head over to a storage building, “T-thank you.”

But he had already turned and strode across the grass towards the shed, her heavy trunk hefted high on his shoulder. She thought he had been blushing. Had he run off so fast because he was… embarrassed?

Chapter Text

 

Corrin paced nervously in her tree-top bungalow. She had sent Kaze out a while ago to find his brother and invite him to her room. She often invited her allies to spend time with her, just talking over a cup of tea or discussing battle strategies. She loved getting to know the people she fought beside, and she cherished the times when they could spend time relaxing and having fun in her quarters rather than fighting together on the battlefield.

However, this was a little different. Saizo wasn’t exactly her ally, as much as she wanted him to be, which was part of the reason why she convinced herself that this was a good idea. The ninja had made no pretenses about the mistrust he felt towards her and made it no secret that he was actively spying on her. She felt frustrated and had even been intimidated by him at first, but after recent events, she was beginning to feel more curious about him. Perhaps he wasn’t as scary as he’d like her to think he was. So she’d invited him to her room, hoping that she could find a way to get him to open up to her and see that she really wasn’t what he had accused her of being.

Just then, the door burst open, causing Corrin to leap in fright. She turned to see Saizo’s looming form standing in the open doorway.

“What is it?” he barked, looking around suspiciously.

Caught off guard by his sudden and uncharacteristically loud appearance, Corrin waved her hands in front of her, smiling nervously. 

“Oh, nothing! It’s nothing really, I thought you might want to talk or … something,” she rubbed the back of her neck, feeling hot.

His shoulders relaxed and he let out a loud breath through his mask.

“Huh. Don’t call on me for such trivial things,” he huffed, “I went out of my way to come over here because I thought something had happened.”

Corrin titled her head to one size quizzically.

“You came because you thought I was in trouble?” she pondered, “But why would I send Kaze away to find you if I was in trouble?”

Saizo seemed to grow physically uncomfortable again. “I don’t know, maybe it was something that required someone more competent than my younger brother… He made it sound as if it were urgent…”

His brows knit it frustration, but then he cleared his throat, “Anyways, what was it that you needed to talk to me about?”

Why would Kaze make it sound urgent? I told him I just wanted to talk with his brother…Corrin pondered before shaking the thought. Never mind, I’ll ask him about it later.

“Oh, um,” she searched for words as she questioned her sanity for seeking out this interaction in the first place, “Well nothing in particular really. I just thought … maybe we could spend some time together, get to know each other a little better, ya’ know?” 

He gave her that piercing stare that made her feel like he could pin her to the wall with just his gaze. She could feel sweat gathering on her neck. The uncomfortable silence stretched on for several long moments.

“I think I’ve gotten to know you pretty well, Corrin,” Saizo hinted darkly.

Her combined nerves and frustration bubbled over until all she could feel was irritated.

“Yeah, yeah, the whole, ‘I’m watching you’ thing, I know. I got that,” she sassed back, doing the best Saizo impression she could muster, “But we’ve never had a chance to actually talk. You might find that you learn more about me this way than from watching me through my window.”

“That’s –” Saizo started, but then cut himself off with a growl and turned his face away from her, “I’ve no reason to talk to a child.”

Corrin’s eyebrows jumped up her forehead. Her eyes narrowed.

“Oh, so I’m a child now?” she smirked, placing a hand on her hip, “I thought I was a crafty Nohrian spy?”

“I haven’t made my mind up yet,” he shot back, stalking over to one of her tables. He picked up a wooden figurine and a red ribbon. Turning back to face her, he asked, “Which one plays with dolls?”

Corrin marched over and tried to snatch the figurine out of his hand, but he pulled it away, out of her reach. Anger rose to her cheeks, and Saizo could almost see her short blue curls bristle in fury.

“Now who’s being a child? Put those down!” she demanded, “And if you’ve been watching me, I would have thought you’d have known what they were.”

“I know I see you playing with them most nights you spend here,” he informed smugly.

“Well then you are denser than I gave you credit for if you haven’t figured it out,” she fumed, “It’s an ancient, complex strategy game. I learned to play to pass the time when I was growing up in the Fortress. It keeps my mind sharp so I can direct our troops on the battlefield.”

“A strategy game, huh?” Saizo mused, looking at the piece in his hand to the pieces of various color and shape on the grid board.

“How else did you think I became so good at commanding forces? I’d never left that fortress until just before I came to Hoshido…” Corrin trailed off.

“Explain it to me,” he responded, seeming intrigued. 

Forgetting her irritation, Corrin launched into the rules of the game. She showed him the different kinds of figures, carved from wood and painted varying colors, and explained how each color represented a type of weapon, which had advantages and disadvantages to certain other colors. The pieces sat on squares of the grid board and were only allowed to move a certain number of grid squares at a time. She had a box of tile pieces for the grid board that represented various terrain effects, along with a bag of small stones to create obstacles and barriers, so she could arrange the battlefield to have unique conditions. She also used lengths of red ribbon to remind herself of the range of her opponents’ attacks. Of course, this set was just a shoddy replica of the original jade-and-onyx-carved one she had used growing up; she had tried to recreate it as best she could, cobbling the new figures and board set together out of stray supplies she’d found around the camp.

Saizo begrudgingly found the game impressive. However, he did still have one question.

“You say this is a game meant for two people,” he observed, “But I’ve only ever seen you playing it on your own.” 

Corrin turned her head aside, but he thought he saw a blush creep on her cheeks.

“Yeah, well,” she muttered, “I find it challenging to play against myself. And also…I haven’t really found anyone who is interested in playing with me. I used to play with my brother Leo, but...well, you know.” She paused, a look of sadness crossing her face. “And anyway, the rules are complex, so most people I’ve asked don’t really understand it that well and think it’s a waste of time.” Corrin played with her fingers self-consciously.

Saizo noted the feelings she obviously still carried for the other Nohrian royals. However, he could not find the spirit within him to call her on her sympathies when she was already looking so…vulnerable. He recognized the melancholy of loneliness and grief. He knew it too well. A Nohrian spy she might be, but he couldn’t bring himself to kick her when she was down. Not when she had gone out of her way to invite him of all people to spend her time with. He would see where this went.

“The rules seem simple enough,” Saizo commented, sitting down in the chair opposite, “Set the board,”

Corrin blinked incredulously at the ninja. “Wait, seriously?”

Saizo blinked back levelly at her, “Isn’t that what I said?”

“Oh, right,” she mumbled. When is he not serious? “Sure, let’s play then.”

Sometime later, after being thoroughly crushed by Corrin’s stratagem, Saizo stood up with a sour look on his face.

“Well that seemed completely pointless…but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt,” he sighed.

Corrin grinned at the grumpy ninja. “Aw, now don’t be a sore loser, Saizo!”

“Are you satisfied now?” he grumbled, turning towards the door, “I’m busy with duties. If you have no more business with me, I’m going back.”

“I won’t keep you,” Corrin smiled, “But we should do this again sometime.” 

To that, Saizo merely gave a dubious grunt and disappeared out the open window.

Despite what he said, or didn’t say, after that whenever she would sit down at her grid board, more often than not she would look up to find the red-haired ninja sitting opposite her, waiting for her to finish setting up. At first, she was surprised; however, she grew to expect his company and began to look forward to evenings spent in banter or silence as they tried to outwit each other. Corrin would inevitably win, and Saizo would depart with some brusque words before disappearing into the night. A part of her thought he was simply there to gain insights into her mind, but another part of her recognized the keen intensity of his eye as he analyzed the game board, deciding his next move. Maybe one day he would become practiced enough to beat her. She hoped he would keep coming back until then.

Chapter Text

Hmm...where is she going now? Saizo thought. 

The sun was beginning to set, yet his target seemed to be headed into the woods, with darkness fast approaching and no one accompanying her. 

What is she after? He wondered. 

She checked behind herself, as if to make sure no one was watching her. Hah! He waited until she’d disappeared into the trees before he followed her.  

She wandered through the forest until she reached a small pond. Its surface was glowing orange with the light of the sunset. Corrin leaned against a slender tree near the edge of the pond and looked across the water. Saizo heard a sigh escape her lips. He watched as she slid down the trunk until she was sitting with her head laid back against the bark.  

Did she just come out here to get some peace and quiet? He silently opened his journal and jotted down a quick note. 

Saizo stiffened when he heard a sniffle. His head jerked up in shock. Sure enough, tears were bubbling over her eyelids and streaming down her flushed cheeks. 

S-she’s crying...! Saizo thought, feeling as if the ground had suddenly dropped away from under him. 

Corrin choked down a sob. Saizo didn’t know what to do. She laid her head on her knees and wrapped her arms around her legs. He could see her shoulders shaking as she wept behind the shroud of her cloak. 

Oh gods...What do I do? None of his training had prepared him for this. It shouldn’t have bothered him. He had seen women weep before, had even been the cause of their tears many a time. It had never truly bothered him before. She was his target, but seeing her like this...

A pained sob escaped her, and Saizo felt as if a knife had been slipped between his ribs. 

He had often heard her battlecry on the field. It was loud and ferocious, just as she was. On the battlefield, she was a force of nature; watching her fight was something he had begun to regard as a secret pleasure. She fought as if the battlefield were her stage and she a dancer enacting the role of a vengeful goddess of war. She lead their troops from the front of their formation, and she was the spear head. She would always be the first to charge, rushing headlong into enemy range. He had thought her a reckless fool the first time he had followed her into battle, and still had not dismissed the notion. When she alone stood within range of the enemy’s armored battalion, he had thought wryly that he would no longer have to worry about her motives any longer, as he had expected to see her dead in the next minute. However, as he watched them overtake her, he saw for the first time that his original assessment of her abilities had been a grave and terrifying miscalculation. She moved around their weapons like water through rapids, spinning and melting around their strikes, flicking her sword out with just enough effort to drive their spears off course. 

Her counters were devastating. Though her whole body was covered in wiry muscles, she was tiny compared to most of the warriors on the battlefield. He had expected her counter-attacks to do little against the enemy’s plated armor. However, when she went to counter attack, she moved with her entire body, executing tight flips or spins that could only be possible for someone with incredible balance and flexibility. When her sword connected, she had built up such speed in her that the force tore right through to their flesh, spraying her with a fine mist of red droplets. She moved through their lines as they came at her, spinning, jumping, dodging, and slicing, all the while roaring a hellish battlecry, until the momentum of their charge had been broken, and her comrades could swoop in to finish the job. In the end, they had no casualties and only a few minor injuries, while Corrin’s armor had only a myriad of dents and scratches. When Kaze had scolded her for being so reckless, she had only grinned that big, toothy grin of hers and apologized for making him worry, but insisted that the effectiveness of this strategy was clear in its results. She could take a hit, while many of their comrades could not withstand such an assault. 

Saizo had to begrudgingly admit to himself that he had been lucky to have caught her off guard and exhausted that day on the edge of the Bottomless Canyon. After seeing her morph into a dragon and unleash her fury through the streets of the capitol after Queen Mikoto’s death, and after witnessing her true prowess on the battlefield, he had to admit that as much as his suspicion led him to believe that she was a Nohrian spy, he would not want to have Corrin as an enemy. The girl was damn near fearless. Even he, who had learned from a young age how to inspire terror in others, could never seem to elicit anything more than fiery backsass from the princess. He had heard her boisterous laughter, her encouraging words before battle, even her shouts of pain when she was struck hard by an enemy’s blow. 

But he had never heard her cry. 

What could be so terrible that it could make her sob so wretchedly, when the spear of a Norhian General impaled in her leg could only bring angered growls from her lips?

Against all his instincts, he dropped from the limb where he’d been sitting. His landing was silent, so she didn’t look up. He crept forward, growing more unsure with each step. She obviously wanted to be alone; that’s why she came all the way out here. He didn’t know how she would react. He just knew that he couldn’t leave her alone like this. 

“Corrin?” He ventured when he was still several paces away. She hadn’t sensed him, and he wasn’t really trying to hide his presence. 

She jumped, falling over herself to get up. She tried to draw her sword, eyes wide, swollen, and red. She looked at him, and he saw in them so many raw emotions. He didn’t move, and her eyes focused on him in recognition. 

“Oh—Saizo,” she choked out, the tension dropped from her body, and she sheathed her sword, “It’s you.” She then seemed to remember that she’d been bawling her eyes out, and a deeper flush crept across her face as she desperately wiped the tears from her cheeks, as if he might not notice. “I was just, um—“ 

He looked down, “I know,” he admitted. “I’ve been watching.” 

She stood in silence for a moment.  

“Of course you have,” she responded quietly. While staring at the ground. “Because you still don’t trust me.” Her lip quivered. 

She was right. He wasn’t ready trust her, not yet. Could it possibly be that simple fact that was making her upset? If that was the case, he couldn’t say anything that would make her feel better, so he stayed silent. 

“Well you’re not the only one,” she continued wryly, “So don’t feel alone in your dislike of me.” 

She turned away from him and sank back to the ground, closing her eyes as she laid her head back against the bark once more. 

...dislike? Saizo pondered.

“It’s not that I dislike you,” he answered blatantly, “I am simply not ready to dismiss you as a threat. It’s out of my loyalty to Lord Ryoma, not any personal dislike of you that I must keep an eye on you until I know where your loyalties lie.” 

He watched uncomfortably for her response. Her lips turned down and her eyes squeezed shut as if she were fighting back more tears. 

“I know you can’t trust me yet,” her voice was thick with the effort of holding back her emotions, “It’s just ... I’m trying so hard to prove myself. Don’t you see? How much it —hurts— to be hated for circumstances outside of my control? How much it hurts to turn my back on the family that raised me... only to have my motives questioned over and over...

“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And now I have to work twice as hard as anyone here just to prove again and again that my loyalty lies here with Hoshido.” 

She was quiet. He didn’t know what to say. He’d watched her toil away, working herself to exhaustion. He’d seen her approach everyone with a smile. He’d seen her go to extremes just to help someone. He’d seen them reject her. He’d heard cold words and of course the whispers in the camp. 

He walked over and sat cross legged and leaned on the same tree, facing another direction. 

“If your purpose here really is true,” he finally answered, “It will become clear in time. You don’t have to kill yourself to prove your loyalty.” 

“That’s the thing,” Corrin murmured, “Sometimes I feel like that would be the only thing that would make people believe it.”  

At her words, Saizo stiffened in shock, which was quickly overtaken by anger.

“That would be stupid,” he scoffed. 

Corrin glared at him through teary eyes, “ Gods you’re an ass sometimes, you know that?” 

“Well at least I’m not dumb enough to want to go kill myself to prove a point,” he grunted back. His stomach seethed with anger at her mere suggestion. 

“Says the man who literally straps bombs to himself before battle,” Corrin retorted. 

Saizo growled. “That’s different.”

“How so?” she responded tartly. 

At least she was pissed at him now. He preferred her familiar sass to the foreign despair that he had just witnessed. 

“If I know I’m going to die, I’m going to take out as many of my Lord’s enemies as I can,” he explained, “My life is Lord Ryoma’s; if sacrificing it benefits him, then I will gladly give it up.” 

Corrin gazed at him thoughtfully for a moment. He looked away sharply, adding.

“Ending your life just to prove a point is not only wasteful, it’s a disgrace.”  

She didn’t say anything for a moment. When he turned his head to peer at her out of the corner of his eye, she was gazing intently at her hands, rubbing her thumbs back and forth across each other in her lap.

She sighed. “I suppose you’re right.”

Saizo was surprised to hear her give up so easily. Corrin continued to run her thumbs over each other. He waited for her to say more, but she didn’t. She bit her lower lip, ruby gaze trained on her hands. Gods, this woman...

When Corrin looked up, Saizo was gone.

Chapter Text

The battle had been going well, until she discovered a hidden pathway on their flank. The screams of the enemy horde of faceless charging towards them echoed down the narrow gulley. 

Stupid ! Corrin cursed herself over and over as she ran countless scenarios through her head. This was her fault; if only she’d paid more attention to the terrain— was that not the most basic lesson of battle strategy?! She glanced over at her comrades, entrenched by the enemy, but gaining ground ever so slowly. If she took even one person away from the front line, their whole carefully-laid formation would fall apart. If even one enemy broke through… her eyes darted to where her sister Sakura and the other healers stood healing the wounded a previously-safe distance away from the thick of the fighting. She spun around back to the path, hearing the sounds of the horde growing louder and more frenzied with every passing second.. She would have to hold them, at least slow them down while the rest of her army took care of the forward facing threat. She looked around and grabbed the closest person she could find--thankfully, it was Jakob.

“There are faceless on our flank,” she shouted into his ear above the din of the battle, “I’ll hold them off for as long as I can. Do not tell anyone unless you have to. You have to take out their commander before it’s too late.”

Jakob flinched back and stared at her for a long moment, looking as if he wanted to argue. Then his shoulders squared and he nodded solemnly, “As you wish, m’lady.” 

Corrin flashed him a smile and thanked the gods that it had been Jakob, with whom she could entrust anything. He would honor her orders. She turned and dashed around the bend. The gulley was narrow enough that she should be able to hold them in it, hopefully giving the others enough time to finish the other threat before having to deal with this one. Ahead, the first of them appeared around a corner. Their guttural howls ballooned into shrieks of delight as they spotted her. She drew her sword as they barrelled toward her. 

“For Hoshido!!” Her battle cry was almost drowned out by the terrible roaring of the writhing, faceless mass.  

They descended on her; fists snapping from chains rained down on her. She dodged nimbly, darting in and out of legs and arms, her sword swinging and slicing as she ducked and rolled away from blows. There were even more of them than she had realized, and she couldn’t evade them forever. She cut down several, but more stepped in to replace them. She was soon surrounded. The gully wasn’t narrow enough after all. Thankfully they were distracted enough by her that they didn’t think to run past her to her allies’ vulnerable flank. 

She screamed as she threw everything she had at them, whatever it took to keep them distracted. She couldn’t stand still for a moment. There wasn’t a second to  breathe. Her muscles began to ache and shiver. A fist caught her square in the chest, knocking her breathless onto her back. She rolled just in time to avoid the fist that slammed into the ground behind her, leaving a crater in the mud. She scrambled back to her feet, mouth sucking for air to fill her aching lungs. She couldn’t dodge quickly enough anymore. She took another blow, rolling with it, she was back on her feet. She couldn’t stay down. If they caught her on the ground, it was over. Corrin screamed in defiance as fought back, trading vicious blows with the ravening beasts. With every hit she took, she could feel her movements growing slower and her attacks growing weaker. Still, she poured everything she had onto the battlefield. One of her legs was knocked out from under her, sending sharp bolts of pain up her entire body and sending her sprawling back into the mud. She pushed herself back up, gritting her teeth against the pain and dizziness. Panting, she tried to stand again. Agony exploded in her knee when she put weight on her leg, and hazy, black dots threatened to cover her vision. She swayed and crouched. Her exhaustion and the mud that now covered her from head to toe weighed her down, and something hot and wet seeped down the right side of her head. She spat out a mouthful of copper and mud, her eyes traveling up the hideous creature towering in front of her. 

The faceless saw it’s moment and swung at her; she watched the blow come, seeing its fist, balled up and bulging like the giant roasted ham Xander brought me for that one holiday feast at the fortress when I was still just barely tall enough to see the spread of food over the dining room table , sailing toward her head, and she knew she could not dodge it. 

This is it

She prayed that she had done enough to save her friends— to save Hoshido. This had been all she could do for them. She prayed for her family in Nohr, that they could one day forgive her, that they would come to their senses, and that maybe they all would all one day live in a peaceful world. She closed her eyes to the victorious screech of the monster, waiting for the final blow to bring her to the end. 

“GET BACK!!”  

Corrin opened her eyes just in time to see a dark figure slam into the faceless with a vicious slash. The monster cried as it fell and crashed to the ground, dead. 

The man landed expertly and dashed towards her. Corrin blinked. 

Could it be? 

“I’m here,” Saizo’s husky voice reassured, “Get up.” 

He helped, almost dragged her to her feet, allowing her to lean on him as she gained her balance, and they stood back to back facing the remaining horde. 

“Sai...zo,” she panted, “How... did you—?” 

“Never mind,” he growled, “Now is not the time.” 

She winced in pain as she tried to put more weight on her leg; it threatened to buckle, and the pain made her head spin. 

“Saizo, my leg–I can’t…” she gasped, fear for the first time gripping her as the rest of the Faceless closed in on them. 

“I’ll protect you,” Saizo promised, “Just don’t leave my side, not for a second.”

Corrin took a deep breath and nodded. They leapt into battle together, swinging and slashing. Fighting for their lives, they harmonized into a fierce battle rhythm, Saizo attacking relentlessly while Corrin stood close, defending his blind spots. Saizo stayed by her side, making sure no attacks got close to her. She continued bravely despite her serious wounds, fighting alongside the red-haired ninja until the last of their enemies had fallen to the mud. 

They collapsed beside each other, breathing raggedly.

When she had caught her breath enough to speak, she glanced over at him. 

“Still...following me...even on... the battlefield?” she asked. 

Saizo grunted. “Huh.... I saw you ... sneak off... by yourself...And good thing... I did,” he added gruffly, “Or you’d ... have been dead.” 

 Corrin tried to read his gaze, but he was looking away. 

“Not like...we need you or anything,” he continued after a moment, “It just ... would’ve been a real inconvenience.” 

“I see,” Corrin smiled despite herself and closed her eyes to her exhaustion. 

“What’re you smiling about?” he grumbled. 

“Thank you,” she murmured, “For saving me.” 

Saizo didn’t reply. He looked away from her, feeling completely uncomfortable. 

“We should get you back to Sakura,” he answered at last, “Can you manage to walk?” 

Corrin grimaced, “I - I don’t think I can...not yet. I’m sorry.” 

Saizo heaved a sigh and stood up, “Fine.” He walked over and crouched beside her. “Think you can at least manage to get on my back?” 

Corrin opened her eyes, but he was still facing away from her so she couldn’t see his face. 

“Yes,” she answered as she pushed herself up enough to crawl onto the man’s back. She looped her arms around his neck, his arms wrapped around her thighs, and he stood up. Corrin gasped at the sudden jolt of pain from her leg from the shift in weight. Saizo stiffened at her cry, but gently readjusted his grip until he felt her relax against him. 

“Better?” he asked, tilting his chin over his shoulder. When Corrin nodded, he set off.

She lay her head on his shoulder as the steady rocking of his gait, the warmth of his back, and her exhaustion lulled her into unconsciousness.

“Thank you, Saizo,” she whispered sleepily in his ear, sending shivers down his body. 

By the time he reached the rest of the party, they had already routed the enemy. Having noticed his absence, Ryoma turned back and spotted Saizo first. 

“Saizo—!” He called out to his retainer across the open field.

“Where’s Sakura?” Saizo called back, and he heard Corrin groan weakly. 

Ryoma narrowed his eyes, realizing Saizo was carrying someone. 

“Is that-?” He whispered, “Oh gods...” 

 “Sakura!” Hinoka cried out, already realizing, “It’s Corrin-!” 

Sakura turned and paled. They rushed toward him. When they reached him, he bent to the ground and let them take her gingerly off his back. Ryoma cradled her in his arms before laying her flat for Sakura examine. 

Turning to his retainers, his eyes were wild. “What happened?!” he demanded. 

Saizo heaved out a breath, “There were Faceless preparing to flank us. She must have been the only one who noticed. She thought she could hold them off by herself... the damned fool… I got there just in time.” 

“Sakura, how is she..?” Hinoka asked, leaning over the healer’s shoulder. 

“She’s taken a l-lot of damage,” Sakura’s voice wavered, “And she’s completely exhausted... but I think she’ll be able to recover.” She looked up, and her voice was confident. 

There was a collective sigh of relief, and Sakura began to wave her staff over Corrin’s battered body. 

 

Chapter Text

It had taken several weeks for Corrin’s wounds to fully heal. In that time she had had many long, dull hours laying in the medical tent, staring at the shadows in the canvas roof, to think about what had happened that day. Her siblings had also taken turns coming to lecture her for her recklessness. Ryoma’s tongue lashing she had foreseen, but Sakura had been uncharacteristically harsh with her, and that’s when Corrin had realized how badly she had scared them. Takumi came to see her. He didn’t stay much, but he stayed by her bedside for much longer than she had expected. Hinoka’s tears were the biggest shock, however. The guilt of what she had nearly put her family through began to ache worse than her wounds, and the shame of her selfishness was much harder to bear. All of her retainers and many of her comrades also stopped by to visit her, but one face was missing, and Corrin had a feeling that she knew why.  

She couldn’t bring herself to tell her siblings the real reason for her brashness, but somehow she felt that they knew. For all their lecturing, they had also hugged her so hard that she was afraid they might re-fracture her ribs. She had been showered with the love and concern of her family and comrades, and she felt so stupid for almost having thrown it away. She made a promise, truthfully from the bottom of her heart, that she would make it up to them. She would rely on them and trust them to have her back. She would never allow herself to get to the point where she believed she was on her own ever again. She was not alone and had never been alone. She had her friends, her family. And for that, she was unbelievably grateful. 

She had been released from the healers’ care earlier that day, and the first thing she wanted to do was find Saizo so she could make things right with him. Grabbing a bag full of candies she had been given as a get-well gift, Corrin set off into the woods toward the pond. She knew that if he was still watching her, which somehow she was sure he was, he would no doubt follow her out to her usual thinking spot. Sure enough, as she stepped out into the clearing, she sensed his eye on her. 

Corrin looked around. She couldn’t see him, but she knew he couldn’t be far away. 

“Saizo...?” 

No answer.

“Saizoooo?” 

No response.

“SAAAIIII-ZOOO-!” 

Suddenly he materialized next to her, glaring.

“What do you think you’re doing?” His voice was irritated, “Don’t give my presence away like that!”  

“Oh, hi Saizo,” Corrin smiled, seemingly immune to his sour attitude, “I figured you couldn’t be far.” 

He crossed his arms and leaned against a nearby elm, eyeing her. 

“What are you playing at, calling upon your watchman?” he commented. “This is very irregular.” 

“I’m not playing at anything,” she responded, “I just never got a chance to thank you properly, and to apologize.” 

Saizo didn’t respond, so she continued.

“When you told me putting my life at risk was wasteful, I heard your words, but I wasn’t listening to you. I allowed myself to sink to such a low place that all I could think of was myself. I was selfish and stupid, and I put you and everyone else at risk because of it. I’m ashamed of what I almost put my siblings through because I couldn’t see past my own feelings. I wanted to say thank you again, for saving my life and for saving them from the pain of losing yet another family member. I’m grateful that you stepped in to help me, but I’m sorry that you had to. Please accept my deepest apology for that.” She bowed at her waist. 

Saizo sighed.

“Stop apologizing. I should have known that you were too bull-headed to be swayed by my few words. I was aware of your feelings, but I did nothing about it until it was too late. I should have done more to persuade you. I should have said something to Lord Ryoma about it. Maybe he could have helped before it came to that point. For that I owe you an apology as well: I’m sorry.” He bowed his head. 

When he lifted his head back up to look at her, Corrin was at a loss for words. That was the last thing she had expected. 

“You don’t have to...I mean, you don’t need to apologize for anything,” she responded, “I’m the one that was being stupid.”

“While I don’t disagree with that,” Saizo rebutted, “If there was anyone who should have known, it should have been me. I’m the one who’s been watching you all this time, after all. That was an oversight in my observation and thus a failure on my part.”

Corrin considered him and his words for a moment. She gave him a small smile. 

“In any case, I’m ready to move past this.  I brought some mint candies. Would you like to share some? As a truce?” she grinned and presented the small package of sweets in her hands. 

“C-candies..,” Saizo stammered, his eyes suddenly wide. 

Corrin blinked, “Is something wrong?”

“I don’t need your sweets.” Saizo growled, turning away, “Eat them yourself.” 

She brought the small package back to her chest, her mouth open. 

“S-sorry,” she looked around. How had she suddenly offended him so badly? Was it too soon to clear the air? But from what he had said, Corrin thought everything was going to be okay between them. 

“I thought you might like them,” she continued uncomfortably, looking to the ground, “But...I guess  I don’t know you that well, huh.... My apologies, I’ll find someone else to share them with.” 

A muffled noise escaped from Saizo’s mask.

“Stop biting your lip that way,” he was looking at her out of the corner of his eye, “You’re making me feel guilty.” 

“That’s easy for you to say, but...” she trailed off. She could still feel his gaze on her, and it made her fidget. 

Does he still hate me this much? Her eyes stung a little, but she blinked quickly. Don’t be stupid, why are you getting so upset? 

Saizo sighed and uncrossed his arms as he pushed himself off the tree with his shoulders to face her.

“Alright. I’ll come clean...” 

“What?” Corrin looked up in surprise. 

“I hate sweets,” he admitted, looking away again. 

“Really?” Corrin asked in astonishment, “Oh, come to think of it... I remember Ryoma mentioning that once. I had completely forgotten....” 

Internally, she couldn’t believe that the one weakness of the fearsome ninja...was candy of all things. It was actually so funny that she had to stifle a laugh by quickly coughing into her elbow, hiding her mouth until she could contain her smile. 

“It’s not as if they’re poison,” he explained, shrugging and apparently missing her near-outburst, “They’re just not to my taste.” 

 “So if that’s why you refused the candy...is it safe to assume that you don’t hate me?” She looked up at him with a small, hopeful smile. 

Saizo looked down at her ruby eyes sparkling up at him, and for a moment he was unable to speak. It took all of his focus to maintain his posture and his expression, while inside he could feel his heart hammering in his chest. 

“I know you can’t trust me because I was raised in enemy territory,” she continued earnestly, having taken his silence as his response, “But clinging to that conception of me is counterproductive. It may take time before we reach a true understanding of each other... But until then, could you try to have a little faith in me?” She finished, still gazing deeply into his dark eye. 

“Humph,” Saizo huffed. He closed his eyes and turned his face away, regaining control of himself, “I’d already come to the same conclusion.” 

“What?” Corrin asked, shocked once again. 

“My surveillance of you is over, effective today,” he looked back at her, “You have free rein from now on.” 

“Does that mean you trust me now?” 

He blinked. “I wouldn’t go that far.” Looking away, he added, “It just means I don’t think a simpleton like you could be scheming anything.” 

“Simpleton? “ She gaped. Her cheeks flushed red with anger, but she let out a breath and rolled her eyes: “Don’t hold back. Saizo...” 

“I’m glad you’re starting to accept me though,” she added with another small smile. 

“I still expect you to remain on your best behavior, of course,” he said, and she could tell that he must be hiding a smirk under his dark mask. 

“Of course,” Corrin answered with a coy smile of her own, “I wouldn’t want to lose your trust, now that we’re friends.” 

“Friends?” Saizo narrowed his eyes. “Where did you get that idea?” 

“It seemed pretty obvious to me,” Corrin replied slowly with her head cocked to one side, “Do you disagree?” 

“Think what you want,” he scoffed as he leapt up to the tree’s lowest branch. “I’m leaving.”  

“Saizo...!” Corrin called, but the ninja had already vanished. 

She laughed to herself. 

Very well. If he has given me leave to think what I like, I’ll consider us friends. She grinned as she left to continue her work. 

Chapter Text

Corrin strolled through camp on her way to see Ryoma. She turned her head to watch Hana and Hinata face off in a high-speed sparring match when someone crashed into her. Corrin jumped in surprise, but reached out to brace whoever she’d carelessly run into. 

“Oh my, I’m so sorry—” she began apologizing as she turned back to see who it was. She was faced with a fear-stricken Sakura. Her sister shook in her arms and her face was unnaturally pale, while tears threatened to spill over the younger girl’s eyes. 

“C-C-Corrin, I… umm..,” she stammered, wide-eyed, “S-sorry!”

“Sakura? What’s wrong?” Corrin asked, grasping her sister a little tighter, “Did something happen?” 

“I uh, no…” Sakura’s voice shook, “That is…yes...” She sighed, “Ryoma asked me to check on Saizo, but when I tried to go to his tent…”

“Wait, what’s wrong with Saizo?” Corrin asked. The thought that her old shadow might be hurt caused a strange whirl of emotions within her.

“He’s sick,” Sakura informed, “B-but when I tried to go to his tent to examine him, h-he yelled at me!”

“He yelled at you?” Corrin repeated, “Why?”

“I-I don’t know,” Sakura shook her head, looking at her toes, “He told me to go away and not bother him again.”

Corrin made a disdainful sound with her lips.

“Sakura, why don’t you go back to your tent and get some rest,” Corrin advised, patting her little sister’s shoulders, “I’ll take care of it.”

“Huh? You will?” Sakura asked, looking up at her.

“Mhm,” Corrin hummed, “The only thing worse than a grumpy ninja is an angry dragon.”

“Thanks, Corrin” Sakura smiled shyly before looking away again. She nodded awkwardly and shuffled past her towards her tent. 

Corrin marched herself over to Saizo’s tent, words of anger charged and ready to fire at the boorish man who had made her little sister cry. She stopped in front of the tent flaps.  

“Saizo!” she called loudly through the canvas. 

“GO AWAY!” came his surly response, followed by a bout of painful sounding coughs. His voice was raw and hoarse. 

Wow, he really is sick , Corrin thought to herself, but nevertheless…

“I’m coming in!” she announced. 

“Didn’t you hear me?! I said leave me alone!” He snarled.

Corrin pushed the flaps aside and ducked into the dimly lit tent. Saizo was half-sitting up on his cot, blankets pooling around his middle. His mask hung slightly askew, evidence he had just hurriedly pulled it on. He pushed himself to his feet. 

“By the gods, woman,” Saizo growled, his breath rattling with the infection that was clearly sucking at his chest, “What is wrong with you?!”

“It’s what’s wrong with you that I’m most concerned about,” Corrin replied, “And I’m not just talking about your illness.”

“Your concern is noted,” Saizo muttered, “Now get out.”

“No,” Corrin retorted, “Not until you agree to stop acting like a child and let Sakura examine you without biting her head off for her troubles!”

“There’s nothing to examine,” Saizo contested, “I’m fine.”

Corrin stepped closer to Saizo. 

His eyes widened, “What are you--?!” 

Corrin’s hand reached up and brushed his forehead, hot beneath her touch. Too overwhelmed by his fever and Corrin’s sudden closeness, Saizo’s reflexes failed him, and he stood stock still, feeling the icy touch of her fingertips on his skin. 

“See, you are not fine,” Corrin said, stepping away from him, “You’re burning up with fever.”

He knew that, but the last thing he wanted was for someone else to know, especially someone like her. He cursed the heat that muddled his mind and weakened his muscles; had he been healthy, he would never have allowed to her barge in on his private quarters like this.

“If I could be left alone to rest, then I would be fine,” Saizo growled. 

“Or you could just let Sakura—“ 

“No,” Saizo interrupted, “Lady Sakura has more important things to do. Don’t you?” 

Corrin’s eyebrows furrowed in frustration. “The well-being of my friends is the most important thing to me, and whether you think of me that way or not, it doesn’t matter. It’s my duty to help my friends when they are in need.” With a sly smirk, she added, “Or are you impugning my honor?” 

Saizo’s eyes widened and then narrowed in frustration at his own words being thrown back in his face. 

“Tch,” he turned his head, “This is a completely different situation.” 

“Not as I see it,” Corrin said with a small smile. Her face then set into a serious mask, “Now get back in bed.”

Saizo sighed heavily, sinking back onto his cot in defeat. Her stubbornness exhausted him, and he didn’t have the physical or emotional endurance required to sway the headstrong princess. As much as he detested showing weakness in front of others, there was nothing he could do about it now. Might as well let her do whatever she felt she needed to and get her out of his hair so he could rest. 

“I’m going to get you some food and medicine; try and get some sleep while I’m gone,” Corrin advised over her shoulder as she slipped out of the tent. 

Saizo shook his head at the closing tent flap and laid back down onto his bed. 

Corrin headed to Sakura’s tent first. Pausing outside, she announced herself. 

“Oh, Corrin,” Sakura’s face appeared in the entrance, “Can I help you with something?”

“Yeah, I talked to Saizo,” Corrin explained, “He still doesn’t think he needs to be seen to, but he’s obviously ill. Do you have some medicine I could take to him?”

“Hmm, let’s see.”

Sakura disappeared back into the dimness of her tent and Corrin followed. Sakura began pulling out various vials and jars. 

“What are his symptoms?” she asked. 

Corrin thought about it, “He’s coughing pretty badly, and it sounds like it has gotten into his chest. He definitely has a fever; he’s very weak and seems fatigued.”

Sakura nodded and turned back to her table. She began placing ingredients into a bowl. Corrin watched in fascination. How Sakura knew all those herbs and remembered what they were used for was beyond her. Once her sister was satisfied with the ingredients, she began grinding them down into a paste, adding water. She tipped the mixture into a small glass jar and screwed a lid on it. Then she started pulling out more ingredients. 

“So, what are you making?” Corrin asked, watching over Sakura’s shoulder at her work. 

“Oh, right,” Sakura glanced up at Corrin, “Um, well what I just made is a strengthening tonic that will help him fight off the infection. What I’m about to make will be a rub that will go on his chest to help ease his breathing.”

“Wow, Sakura,” Corrin breathed, “That’s amazing! You really know a lot about herbs and medicine don’t you?”

Sakura blushed under her sister’s praise, turning back to her work, “Oh, uh, well I guess so.”

When Sakura was finished, she handed Corrin two small jars. 

“Here you go. It’s important not to mix these up,” Sakura cautioned, “You can tell them apart by smell if nothing else; the rub has a sharp smell, while the tonic is much more mellow.”

Corrin gazed in awe at the two small jars. “Thanks again, Sakura!” she smiled, “You’re amazing!”

“It’s nothing, really,” Sakura blushed uncomfortably. 

“I’ll let you know how it goes,” Corrin waved and exited the tent. 

She placed the jars gently into her bag as she strolled to her next destination: the kitchens. 

Inside the mess hall, Corrin headed to the counter. To her surprise, Kaze suddenly stood up from where he’d been kneeling behind it organizing dishes. 

“Oh, Lady Corrin,” he smiled pleasantly, “You’re a bit late for lunch, I’m afraid. I’d be happy to make you something and bring it your quarters if you would like?”

“That won’t be necessary Kaze, although…” Corrin thought about how she wanted to go about this, “If you’re on kitchen duty I could use your help.”

“Oh?” Kaze prompted, looking confused, “What can I help you with?” 

“Well, it’s about your brother. He’s sick,” Corrin informed, feeling suddenly a bit awkward. She wasn’t expecting Kaze to be on kitchen duty today, and for some reason talking to him about helping his twin made her feel weird. 

Kaze nodded and went back to putting dishes back onto their rightful shelves. 

“I figured as much with how he has been acting recently. I told him to take it easy, but you can probably imagine how that went,” Kaze shook his head with a small grin. 

Corrin grinned back, “Is he always so … difficult when he’s ill?”

Kaze scoffed, “Lady Corrin, my brother is difficult on his good days. When he is feeling unwell, he is downright intolerable.”

Corrin couldn’t help but laugh. 

“He practically bit Sakura’s head off when she tried to help, so I went to go have a talk with him,” Corrin admitted. 

“And how did that go?” Kaze asked.

“Well, he wasn’t very happy about it at all, but I told him I would bring him food and some medicine,” she explained, “And I’ve already gotten the medicine from Sakura. Now I just need to get him something to eat.”

Kaze looked at her strangely, and Corrin felt the need to continue. 

“The sooner we get him back to just being normal, difficult Saizo, the better, right?” she laughed, rubbing the back of her neck. 

“I see,” Kaze said with a funny glint to his eye, “So you need my help preparing something? Don’t worry, I know just the thing.”

 


 

Saizo awoke, groaning involuntarily. His entire body ached, and as he tried to sit up, a fit of coughing wracked him, leaving him weak and light-headed. He saw what had awoken him; Corrin was standing near the foot of his bed, a tray in her hands. He reached up and touched his mask, just to make sure it hadn’t fallen off in his sleep. He started to get out of bed. 

“No, don’t get up!” Corrin insisted, stepping closer carefully with her burden, “Just stay there, and I’ll set this on your lap.”

Annoyed, but also slightly relieved, Saizo sank back down into his bed. The fever had gotten worse, he noted. He wasn’t confident he could have stood if he’d tried. He propped his pillows up so he could sit upright. Corrin came closer and leaned over him, carefully setting the tray on his lap. Saizo surveyed its contents; there was a clay pot, lidded so the steam only barely escaped its lips. Next to the pot was a small kettle and a tea cup. Corrin lifted the lid off of the clay pot, and steam billowed upwards into his face. Saizo peered through it to see what was inside. It appeared to be some kind of porridge. 

“It’s really hot, so I’d be careful,” she said, handing him a spoon. 

Saizo took it. He glanced at the spoon, at the bowl, and then back at her. 

“Turn around,” he ordered gruffly. 

“Huh?” Corrin gaped, “But why--?”

“My mask,” Saizo’s growl was low and tired, “I have to lower it to eat.” 

“O-oh,” Corrin felt a strange disappointment wash over her, “Okay.”

She turned and sank down so she could sit, leaning her back up against the bed. It’s not like she had planned on sneaking a glimpse. The mask just seemed to be part of his face; she’d never seen him without it. Now that she actually thought about it, she had never seen him eat before. She wondered why he was so strict about never allowing anyone to see his face.

She heard a sip and then a hiss of pain. 

“Told you,” she sighed, “Dummy.” 

She heard him grumble in response, followed by another sip. 

“Wait,” his voice was suddenly different, incredulous, “This is…”

Corrin smiled to herself, “Kaze told me how to make it. We don’t have all the same ingredients here of course, but I did the best with what we had. I hope it’s not too bad.”  

Saizo stared incredulously at the spoon in his hand. He took another taste. It transported him immediately back to his childhood. He could almost feel his mother’s hand gently stroke his back, her sweet, calming voice telling him he would feel better soon. He felt the corners of his mouth lift. 

“I didn’t ruin it did I?” Corrin’s concerned voice brought Saizo’s attention back to the present.

Saizo didn’t know how to respond. He looked at the head of wavy blue curls, hesitating. His thoughts were befuddled by his fever and the memories that returned at the taste of his mother’s rice porridge. The Hoshidan princess he had been spying on had not only gone out of her way to prepare a meal for him, but had also gotten his mother’s recipe from his brother, all to make him feel better? 

With a start, he remembered something his mother had said to him once, when he was a child. He’d asked her, if when he was grown and fell sick she would come take care of him then too. She’d smiled when she told him, “One day, you’ll have a wife of your own, so make sure you pick a girl who will take care of you like I do.” 

Heat having nothing to do with his fever spread across his face as Corrin wearing full bridal wear appeared, unbidden, in his imagination. Saizo spluttered; he attempted to suppress his cough so as not to upset the delicate balance of the tray on his lap. 

“It’s fine,” he finally managed when he got his breath back, taking another spoonful as he tried to get his thoughts back under control. 

Corrin let out a small chuckle, “I guess I should be glad that it’s even edible. I’ve never spent much time in the kitchen.” Despite Saizo’s lackluster rating, she listened as he devoured the pot’s contents like a bear emerging from hibernation. 

She heard him set the spoon down with a long exhale of breath. 

“All finished?” she inquired. 

Saizo grunted in response, causing him to break out into a fit of coughing once again. 

“Alright, now that you’ve eaten you should take the medicine Sakura prepared for you,” Corrin said. 

She dug her hand into her bag and pulled out the two jars. “Can I turn around now?” 

She heard the sound of Saizo’s mask slipping back over his face and then an affirmative grunt. 

She turned around to find the pot completely emptied. She put the lid back on it with a smile and scooted it over so she could pick up the tea pot. She poured the tea and then took out the two jars. She opened the first one and raised it to her nose to smell. A sharp scent greeted her nostrils, so she closed the lid back on that one and set it aside. Taking out the other, she undid the lid and handed it to Saizo. 

“Take this. I don’t know what exactly is in it, but Sakura says it will help you get better. It probably tastes awful though, so you can wash it down with the tea,” she instructed. 

He looked dubiously at the pulpy contents. “Do I have to?” 

Corrin bit back a smile. The big, bad ninja was acting like a little kid. 

“Yes,” she responded, “Every last drop.”

Sighing heavily, he took the jar from her. Corrin turned her head so he could slip off his mask and down the tonic. She heard the glass clink on his teeth, a rather large gulp, and then the sound of sipping as he took her up on the tea. 

“Heh, ginger, no sugar,” Saizo chuckled, “Did Kaze give you that one as well?”

“Um, no actually,” Corrin admitted, feeling her cheeks grow warm, “I know you don’t like sweets, so I figured you’d like your tea bitter. And ginger is good for your health, so I just thought…” 

“It’s good. Thank you.”

The heat in Corrin’s cheeks exploded. Had he just praised and thanked her in the same breath? She had to force her head to stay facing forward. She wanted so badly to turn to look at him, to see if it was truly Saizo who had said that or if he’d been replaced by someone else, but knowing his mask was still off…

“I’m, uh --” she stumbled over her words, “—glad you like it.” 

“What’s in the other bottle?” he asked, having seen her handling them. 

“Oh, right!” Corrin suddenly remembered, “It’s a chest rub, to help with your coughing.” 

She unscrewed the lid of the sharp-smelling cream, handing it over her shoulder to him. 

“…My mask in on,” he informed her. 

“Oh,” Corrin said, turning to face him, afraid her cheeks were still red. 

Saizo’s head was laid back into his pillows, the cup of tea empty and sitting back on the tray. 

“Do you want another cup?” she asked. 

He shook his head with a grunt. 

Corrin set down the jar and carefully removed the tray from Saizo’s lap, setting on the floor. 

“Why are you doing this?” his voice was low, quiet. 

Corrin’s head shot back up at him. “Wha--?”

His eyes were half-lidded and glassy as he gazed at her.  

“A ninja should serve a princess, not the other way around.” His words were slurred. 

Corrin struggled for a reply. She’d never seen Saizo act like this. He was always so … abrasive and so frugal with his words. But now? It must be his fever , she reckoned. She bit her lip under his rheumy stare. 

“Okay, then how about this? Next time I’m sick, you have to make me soup and bring me tea in bed,” Corrin snickered a little at her own idea, “Deal?” 

“Heh,” Saizo wheezed out a laugh, his eye drifting shut, “Sounds good, short stuff.” 

“Short stuff?!”Corrin bristled, “Who are you calling--?!” 

But Saizo was already asleep, his head fallen to one side and his breath rattling evenly from behind his mask. Corrin’s shoulders fell as she let out a hefty sigh, choosing to let the comment slide for now. She looked at his face for a moment. He looked…different in his sleep. The creases between his eyebrows and under his eyes from constant scowling were slackened, leaving him looking much more like his smooth-faced twin. Corrin’s hand reached up reflexively, but she stopped herself. 

“Oh, wait!” she realized, looking down at the jar of rub still open on the floor beside her, “You forgot to…” 

Saizo began to snore lightly. She fidgeted uncomfortably, looking from his sleeping form to the medicine and back. He needed this medicine to get better, but… She eyed the edge of the blanket, where a small piece of his bare chest lay exposed between the flaps of his tunic.

Oh, Corrin, are you really going to do this?

Taking a deep, fortifying breath, Corrin sat up on her knees. Carefully, she drew the blanket down to the man’s abdomen. She could already feel her cheeks heating up again, not believing that she was really about to do this. As gently as she could, she pinched both sides of his tunic and pulled them away, praying to the gods that he was truly asleep and wouldn’t wake up in the middle of her doing this. She held her breath as she looked at his bared chest; his flushed skin was pulled taut over the hardened muscles of his pecks, crisscrossed with battle scars. Her eyes darted up to his face to make sure his eye was still closed. 

Forcing herself to breathe lightly through her nose, Corrin picked up the tiny jar and dipped her fingers into the mixture. Steeling herself, she gingerly laid her fingers on Saizo’s chest. She froze, certain he would sit up at any moment, but he did not stir. Letting out a small breath, she began to rub her fingers over his tight, fever-hot skin. Her heart raced as she worked, covering his whole chest in a thin layer of the sharp smelling salve. When she was done, she was certain her face must resemble a ripe tomato as she quickly screwed the top back on the jar and placed it on the ninja’s side table. Corrin stood and knelt to gather up the items on the tray so they wouldn’t rattle and then scurried out before she could have any more brilliant ideas.  

Chapter Text

Corrin had just finished up inventorying the armory and was on her way to the mess hall for some well-earned grub when her attention was jerked away from blissful thoughts of tender sashimi, fluffy rice, and sweet peaches by a commotion across camp. She whirled toward the sound of shouting, only to see a bolt of lightning pierce the air, followed by a crack of thunder and the clang of steel. 

That was Ryoma’s Raijjinto...A battle?! Is the camp under attack?!

Corrin unleashed the dragon lying dormant within her. She closed her eyes as energy surged around her, morphing her body into its other form. She felt scales slide over her skin and wings unfold from her back. Standing on four legs in her dragon form, Corrin took two bounds before leaping into the air. She caught the wind beneath her wings and soared over the line of tents and into the center of the fight. 

She had only a moment to take in the sight below: Ryoma, with Raijjinto drawn and pulsing with lightning faced Hinoka, crouching with her guard naginata raised toward their brother. Several of their comrades stood around in shock as the siblings faced off and lunged for each other. 

Corrin landed between them. Raiijinto sliced down her side, electrical current sending flaming shocks through her gut. At the same time, Hinoka’s naginata cracked against her hind leg; its force reverberated through her bones. Corrin spun hard, her tail catching Ryoma in the chest and sending him flying. With a flick of her wing, she flung Hinoka in the opposite direction.. Landing to face Ryoma once more, she slammed her feet on the ground and let out a thunderous roar. 

Ryoma sat up dumbfounded, his full attention on the furious dragon who glared down on him. Corrin swung her head to pin her gaze on Hinoka, who was being helped to her feet by Hinata. 

“ENOUGH,” she shouted, her pain and anger at both of them overwhelming her. “What in the world is going on here?!”

Ryoma’s eyes fell from her and narrowed when they found Hinoka once more. He then turned his gaze to take in the sight of the crowd that had gathered along the edge of the tents to watch the spectacle. He cleared his throat. 

“Corrin, you are drawing quite the crowd, shall we--”

“Oh, I’m drawing a crowd?” Corrin fumed. “What is wrong with you two?!”

This time Hinoka spoke up.

“We were having a...discussion...and it may have gotten a little out of hand.”

“A little?” Corrin wanted to lift her wing to show off the righteous gash down her flank that still pulsated with electricity, but thought better of it. Looking at the crowd of faces, she knew they needed to take this somewhere more private. “Why don’t we continue this conversation in your quarters Ryoma?” 

Ryoma nodded, looking relieved, and stood. Corrin pulled in her dragon self, allowing her body to shift back to its normal form. She was careful to keep her arm tucked over her side and hide her limp as they walked away from the crowd, attempting to hold on to whatever scrap of dignity they could after such a display. 

Hinata remained in step with Hinoka as they approached Ryoma’s tent, which was odd. She had noticed those two spending a lot of time together recently, but she couldn’t quite understand how he might come to be involved in this spat between siblings. 

Almost in answer to her inner thoughts, as they reached his tent, Ryoma turned to the retainer. “I would ask that you remain outside. This is a family matter that should be handled as such.” 

Hinata squared his shoulders and looked as if he wanted to argue, but said nothing. The two held each other’s stare until Hinoka set her hand on Hinata’s shoulder. 

“It’s okay,” she said, “Corrin’s here. We should be able to sort this out.”

Hinata gazed at her for a moment before nodding. He cast one more tense glare at Ryoma before taking his leave. 

Once inside the tent, Corrin looked from one sibling to the other, clenching her jaw. 

“So who wants to tell me what’s going on?”

Ryoma leaned heavily on his desk while Hinoka rubbed her arm. 

“Well?”

“Well...the thing is Corrin…” Hinoka spoke up, “Hinata and I...we’re in love.” 

Her cheeks were blazing red, and her voice suddenly sounded more like Sakura’s than ever. 

“And...he’s asked me to marry him, and well...I’ve said yes.”

It took Corrin a second to process what Hinoka had said. 

“What?!” she gaped, “Are you serious? That’s amazing!”

She jumped to hug her sister, but Ryoma’s fist slammed into his desk.

“No, it most certainly is not,” he growled, “Quite the opposite. I thought you of all people might understand Corrin.”

Corrin couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “What is there to understand?” she asked, “She’s found the person she wants to spend her life with. Is that not something we should celebrate? You should be happy for her!” 

“In what way am I supposed to feel happy about this? We are at war. Our people are dying. Every moment that the threat survives is another moment that they spend in fear and suffering. And yet our sister has been spending her time carrying on a romance with our brother’s retainer no less. Not only is this a frivolous waste of valuable time and energy needed for the war effort, but it’s also fruitless. As the eldest princess of Hoshido, it is your duty to wed for the sake of your country, to secure valuable alliances and resources for our people. I’m not denying that Hinata is an honorable and skilled soldier, but his station is far below your own...what would this pairing do for the good of Hoshido. It would be a selfish and useless union that would benefit no one.” 

So many emotions swirled around in Corrin’s heart that she couldn’t even name them all. 

“How can you say that?” her hands clutched at her side. “Hinoka and Hinata...they’re some of the hardest working people in our army. They both train non-stop...I pair them in battle because their strengths compliment their weaknesses. If anything, they’ve become more effective on the battlefield because of how close they have become. How can you call that useless? Maybe it’s naive of me to say but...if they love each other, shouldn’t that be enough?”

“So their feelings are more important than the good of Hoshido?” Ryoma challenged. 

“No--it’s not that’s, it’s just…” Corrin tried to explain, her face draining of color.

“It’s just what?” Ryoma’s face was set into a hard mask. “If I could end this war in half the time by securing an alliance by marriage, I would. That is my duty, as it is yours, Hinoka’s, Sakura’s, and even Takumi’s.”

“We are not pawns that you can just sell to the highest bidder,” Hinoka raised her voice. “We are people with feelings and emotions!”

“So are our people that are suffering because of this war. Are your feelings more important than theirs?” Ryoma shot back. 

Corrin leaned against the table; sweat was collecting on her forehead. 

 “Ryoma have you seen the faces of our soldiers lately? We are finally gaining ground against Nohr, but at a great cost. Our men and women are war-weary, and we still have so much further to go. Their morale is in the pits.  If we don’t give them some joy, something to bring them hope for a peaceful future to remind them why we are fighting this war, then we are going to lose our momentum, at the very least.”

“So what are you suggesting? That a wedding will fix everything? That we offer you and Sakura up too as prizes for the most devoted soldiers?

“Listen to yourself!” Tears threatened Corrin’s eyes. “I understand that you are under enormous stress Ryoma, but that doesn’t give you an excuse to talk to us like that! It doesn’t excuse you for drawing your blade on your sister! Queen Mikoto would--”

“You don’t get to bring her into this.” Ryoma’s voice quivered with fury. ”You barely knew her! We lost her because of you, so you don’t have the right to--!”

Corrin’s knees buckled and she fell. Her head would have cracked against the table, if not for Saizo’s arms wrapping around her, pulling her to him. She was completely limp, so he swept her up into his arms and carried her over to the settee, laying her down gently. 

“Pardon the intrusion, my Lord,” Saizo glanced over to Ryoma, who was staring blank-faced at him, “I would never have revealed my presence otherwise.”

“Oh my god, Corrin!” Hinoka rushed over and knelt beside her sister. Corrin’s arm had fallen away from her side, revealing the deep slash in her armor. “Saizo, go get Sakura!”

“I already--” he began as Sakura burst into the tent. 

“E-excuse me, Corrin are you…?” her eyes landed on Corrin’s unconscious form sprawled on the settee. She rushed over and began to examine the wound. 

“There doesn't appear to be much bleeding...Can you help me remove her armor so I can examine it closer?”

Saizo balked for a moment before he realized she was talking to Hinoka. He stood and turned his back to them as they began to unlatch the metal plating. Ryoma was still staring with his mouth slightly ajar. 

“Everything all right, my Lord?”

Ryoma turned to his retainer, finally actually looking at him. 

“I--I’m sorry that you had to...but thank you for...” Ryoma looked to side to side, “What I said, it didn’t--”

“It wasn’t your words, my Lord, so much as it was your sword.”

The look Saizo gave him as he said this was a look Ryoma had never seen before. Before he could comprehend what it meant, Saizo had vanished out of sight. He was now in full view of his sisters. Corrin’s armor lay in pieces on the floor, and Sakura had pulled Corrin’s undershirt away from her abdomen, revealing an ugly red wound that stretched from her hip bone to the inside of her rib cage. There was very little blood, as it appeared the gash had been cauterized by the lightning from his Raijinto. The skin around it was red and inflamed from the burns. 

“Externally the burns are not that much of an issue,” Sakura whispered almost to herself, “ But the burns inside...”

Ryoma’s gut clenched, and bile rose in his throat. Never in his life had he felt more disgusted with himself. Taking a final look as Sakura pulled out her festal and began waving it over Corrin, he couldn’t even bring himself to mutter an apology as he retreated from his tent. 

Unseen, Saizo followed him, carrying a maelstrom of emotions in his belly: the strongest of which was a deep, seething rage that he could not fully explain. 

Chapter Text

Hinoka and Hinata were married. It was one of the happiest days any of them had had in a long time. The ceremony was beautiful; Hinoka glowed and Hinata beamed. Ryoma presided, and it seemed that whatever had come between the siblings in the weeks prior had blown over. The reason for their spat was still a mystery to most, but their epic brawl in the camp had been the well-spring of rumors for weeks. It was such an uncharacteristic display that even the wildest stories were not dismissed. Whatever it had been, the one thing the rumors all seemed to agree on was that Corrin had resolved the conflict in the end, although the explanations varied from story to story. That in fact was the truest part of any of the tales. Not even Hinoka knew the details though; that was part of the promise. Corrin had convinced Ryoma that Hinoka and Hinata should be allowed to marry. That’s all she needed to know. If Hinoka had known the price...well Corrin did not want her to know. It was a price she was willing to pay for her sister’s happiness, a bet she was willing to make against her own. And though her heart soared with joy at the sight of them pledging their futures to each other, the deal she had made still weighed on her heart. 

It weighed on Ryoma’s as well, but that was the way things had to be. They had agreed to put it aside for the time being, enjoy the special day to its fullest, and only revisit it later when and if the arrangement became more relevant. If it never came up again, both of them would be happy, and if it did...then they would know what needed to be done. 

Saizo had not been privy to the conversation, much to his frustration. Neither had Kagero, or any of Corrin’s retainers for that matter. Saizo had sat in on countless private conversations, both personal and political. It was standard practice. It made no sense to him what information could have been so sensitive that they would bar even their most loyal bodyguards from being present. It didn’t sit right with him. After what had happened between Corrin and Lord Ryoma before, he had half convinced himself to go anyway. His honor stopped him, as well as the fact that Corrin was now adept at sensing his presence, so his eavesdropping wouldn’t likely go unnoticed. Whatever had passed between them, he could sense a disquiet. 

Lord Ryoma he respected above all others; he was his liege and someone whom Saizo had looked up to from a young age, though they were not that far apart in years. All of his loyalties lay with Lord Ryoma and the Hoshidan royalty, but to Lord Ryoma above all others. He would gladly sacrifice his life in his service. And yet...he watched in his mind’s eye as Corrin jumped between two combatants, his surprise and horror still fresh as he saw Raijinto slice and burn through her scales. Should he have intervened? He had followed as they returned to Lord Ryoma’s tent. He had seen the way Corrin kept her injury tucked beneath her arm, her disguised limp where Hinoka’s naginata had struck. He knew she was hurt, but during the discussion, he had realized her injuries were more serious than he’d thought. Countless days fighting alongside each other on the battlefield had taught him to recognize her pain, as much as she liked to keep it hidden from others. He knew the stubborn look on her face when she was trying to push herself too far...the way her color drained and the sweat beaded on her forehead, and yet her jaw would clench, her nostrils would flare, and her eyes would blaze even brighter, giving the illusion of ferocity to anyone who didn’t know better. 

When he had realized this, he’d left to find Sakura. He returned just in time to see her sway and drop. He had caught her before he even realized he was moving. Her body had been a deadweight in his arms as he held her up against his chest. This electric shock like ice-cold water had flowed over him, a feeling he knew but rarely experienced: panic. He held her there for a moment, his own heart and breath stilled until he felt the rapid flutter of her strained heart and her quick, pained breaths. Once he’d transferred her into Sakura’s capable hands, the fear had drained from his body. Corrin would be fine. Once it was gone, the embers that had been smoldering beneath blazed into an inferno of anger that overwhelmed him.

He turned and took in his Lord’s blanched expression, his jaw hanging slack and his eyes staring over Saizo’s shoulder.

When Lord Ryoma asked for reassurance that his harsh words hadn’t caused this… Saizo’s anger focused and for the first time in his life, he had felt disdain for his prince. There were many answers he could have given. The image of Corrin’s face, straining to conceal her pain and her tears, kept reappearing in his mind. How did Ryoma not fall to his knees in horror at striking Corrin, even on accident? How did he not check to see if she was okay? How did he not see her limp, her sweat, every tell-tale sign that she had been hurt...and then to lose his temper to the point of hurling such cruel, thoughtless words at her… never mind the whole matter of arranged marriages. Saizo was still processing that. Not that it involved him at all. He just happened to be an assigned eavesdropper. 

And yet...he couldn’t shake the fury that had seethed under his skin or the thought that Corrin deserved better. She was their commander; she was highly intelligent, skilled, and dedicated to her beliefs. She was hard-working and cared deeply about her comrades. She was the backbone of their army,as well as its heart. The idea that she could be carted off by some No-Name Lord like traded goods made his blood boil. He understood duty, probably better than any of them. But to ask that of her, after all she had sacrificed and all she had done for Hoshido...that was a betrayal. He thought the same for all of the royal siblings, but especially for Corrin. The thought that his Lord would subject her to that ate at him. 

Though he was not one to make assumptions, he feared that their arrangement was related. Knowing Corrin’s altruistic tendencies, it was all too believable that she would sacrifice her own freedom for her sister’s happiness. If Lord Ryoma had already promised a marriage to an ally, would he truly ask such a thing of Corrin? Would she agree? He hoped it wasn’t the case. He hoped his tangled emotions were allowing his thoughts to run away on him. But even though she smiled from ear to ear all throughout the ceremony, he could see it in her eyes: a melancholy so faint as to hardly be present at all. 

After the ceremony, everyone gathered in the middle of camp to celebrate. A wide area had been cleared out, and in the center a large bonfire roared to life. Tables and chairs dotted the edges of the clearing, and a long banquet table had been covered with a variety of mouth-watering dishes. The smell of the wood-smoke and tantalizing nibbles was soon complimented by the twang of strings, the whistle of flutes, and the beat of drums that sang to a cobweb-covered place in attendees' souls. The fatigue and tragedy of war was forgotten, even if for only a short time; the army dissolved into a throng of merry revellers, laughing and dancing, eating, drinking, and joking, all together beneath the sky as the sun died out in a blaze of red glory. 

Corrin munched on a variety of delicacies as she watched the happy scene from the sidelines. It was summer, and though night had fallen, the air still moved with a warm breeze, so she was grateful for the light yukata that she had borrowed for the occasion. 

“Corrin!!” 

She turned to see the bride and groom making their way through the crowd towards her table. 

“Hinoka!” Corrin’s smile grew as she stood to greet the couple. Hinoka wrapped her arms around her sister and squeezed her so hard, Corrin thought she might pop a blood vessel. When Hinoka finally released her, Corrin spluttered to draw air back into her lungs. 

“Sorry,” the bride laughed, “I’m just so happy. I can’t thank you enough for helping to make this happen. Hinata and I are in your debt.” 

“Not at all,” Corrin waved her off when she had enough air in her lungs to speak, “I was happy to help. Seeing you smile like this is the only thanks I need.” 

Tears welled in Hinoka’s eyes, and she hugged Corrin again, more gently this time. Corrin hugged her back and looked over her shoulder to meet Hinata’s eyes. 

“You take care of my sister,” Corrin warned, “You may be my brother-in-law now, but I’m still your commander. You cause her grief, and it’s straight to the front lines for you.” 

Her tone was teasing, but her eyes flashed with a bit more sincerity than made him comfortable. Hinata hid his nervous gulp with a laugh. 

“Don’t worry! You said it yourself, when the two of us are working together, there’s not a thing that can stand in our way!” 

“I know you’ll take care of each other,” her smile warmed, “Now go, enjoy your party.”

After they left to go mingle with the others, she was surprised as Ryoma took a seat next to her. He had a ceramic bottle in hand and poured a cup, handing it to her wordlessly. Corrin took it and peered at the contents. 

“What?” Ryoma asked. 

“Is this...sake?” Corrin asked, smelling the strong scent of alcohol rising from the cup.

“Yes,” Ryoma answered with a raised eyebrow, “Do you not want it?

“It’s not that, it’s just…” She felt awkward. “I’ve uh, I’ve never actually had alcohol before, so...” 

Ryoma shook his head with a small smile. “I sometimes forget how sheltered you were. Go on, try it. I figured you and I could use it more than anyone.”

Corrin shot him a wry smile and hesitated for a moment longer before lifting the cup to her lips. She took a gulp and immediately regretted it. Fire burned across her tongue, down her throat, and into her stomach, sending a wave of heat into her nose. She coughed, setting the cup down to hold her throat and blink the tears from her eyes. 

Ryoma laughed harder than she had heard him laugh in a long time. 

“What are you trying to do, poison me?!” Corrin hissed when she got her voice back under control. 

Ryoma likewise got his laughter under control. 

“Sorry,” he cleared his throat, “That wasn’t my intention.” 

Kaze appeared at her side and handed Corrin a napkin. She smiled gratefully and cleaned off her mouth and lap, still coughing as her throat continued to sting. 

“Lady Corrin, perhaps I could bring you a cocktail of fruit wine? It’s far less...abrasive than the sake,” Kaze offered. 

Corrin only gave him a dubious expression. 

“I’m sure it will be much more suited to your palate.”

She sighed. “Fine, I’ll try it.” 

Kaze returned several minutes later with a glass of pink liquid, a slice of fruit sitting on the rim. He offered it to Corrin, and she took it cautiously. She breathed in, and while it still carried the tang of alcohol, the smell was sweet with hints of fruit and the light scent of mint. Slightly more encouraged, Corrin sipped it. The drink was chilled and tasted like shade and a cool breeze on a sweltering day. Kaze smiled to see her eyes light up as she took a deeper swig of the concoction. 

“Kaze, this is really good.” Corrin smiled at him, “Thank you!”

“I’ll make you another if you wish. I won’t be far.”  And with that, he vanished.  

She turned back to Ryoma, who was watching her with a bemused smirk. 

“What’s that look for?” she scowled at him, still annoyed.

“You better sip that slowly,” he warned, not losing the smile. “Your tolerance is likely as low as your patience with me.” 

Corrin scoffed, looking at her brother askance. “I’ll drink it as fast as I want to. Don’t tell me what to do.” She popped a morsel into her mouth and washed it down with another refreshing gulp.

Ryoma smirked. “Well then, don’t come crying to me when you make a fool of yourself later.”

Corrin cut her eyes at him. “I won’t.” 

Just then, Jakob found them, as the music changed to a familiar string chorus. 

“M’lady, would you do me the honor of this dance?” he asked, bowing and extending his hand to her. 

Corrin’s face lit up. “Jakob! You didn’t!” But in fact he had. She saw Felicia working her fiddle, the familiar notes sending a wave of nostalgia through her. She set her drink down and took Jakob’s hand, allowing him to help her up. 

“Do you still recall the steps?” he asked as he led her out into the flat, open space near the bonfire which people had been using as a dancefloor. 

“Do I recall the steps?” Corrin laughed, unable to hide her delight, “We only did this about a million-and-one times! Gunter wouldn’t let us stop until we could do it backwards in our sleep.” 

Jakob smiled back, turning to face her. “If I recall correctly m’lady, it was a million-and-three times.” 

Corrin moved into position opposite him, setting her feet and weight with pin-point precision. Though it had been years, her entire body still recalled the countless hours practicing the movements, each slight detail hammered into her motor memory by an unrelenting Gunter. The flood of bittersweet nostalgia, combined with a sudden boost of confidence from her liquid courage, made her ignore the fact that everyone else had stopped dancing and cleared from the area. Their stares didn’t bother Corrin. She was going to dance her heart out. 

Everyone watched as Corrin and Jakob faced each other. The tune of Felicia’s fiddle was fast, lively, and completely foreign to them. Jakob bowed low to Corrin, and Corrin dipped in return with a leg out to one side and a flourish of her wrist. With that, their dance began. 

Their hands clasped together, and their bodies flowed in time with the music. Their limbs seemed to weave in and out of each other like they were both tied together in intricate knots. Their movements were complex, yet small at first, but began building as Corrin leapt and twirled on Jakob’s arm. She pivoted, her bare feet skimmed over the grass. He dipped her low, and she stretched one arm out to the ground, one foot to the stars. Then, he lifted her, and she spun forwards, flipping over his arm; he followed, as she had hold of both his hands, cartwheeling nimbly in her wake until they both faced each other once more, arms criss-crossed. Corrin whirled around, uncrossing them before Jakob lifted her by the hips, dipped her down through his outspread legs, then raised her skywards. When he pulled her down again, she wrapped around him, and he twirled her over his back and, through his arms, and around his chest and shoulders in a way that the onlookers could only loosely relate to the whirling of a ninja’s nun-chucks. They continued to entwine their bodies in impossibly complex and graceful movements before, with a flourish of Felicia’s fiddle, Corrin ended her final spin and the pair landed in a low symmetrical dip with hands clasped and outstretched in a wide bow to their audience. 

They were met with silence for a moment before an uproarious cheer went up around them. Corrin and Jakob were both smiling and slightly winded as they stood up from their bow and the crowd dissipated and returned to the normal festivities. 

“Thank you, Jakob.” Corrin let out a heavy breath. “I needed that.” 

“It was my greatest pleasure,” the butler replied, bowing to her once again and placing a soft kiss on her hand that he still held, “I believe our million-and-fourth dance was the most memorable yet.” 

Corin laughed, nodding. “I believe you’re right. I think I’m going to sit down and refresh myself, care to join?” 

Jakob eyed the table where Lord Ryoma still sat, then moved his gaze around at the other guests: “While I do appreciate the invitation, m'lady, I’ve had about as much interaction as I can stomach, so if you’ll excuse me, I believe I will take my leave for the evening. My apologies.” 

“No, no, that’s fine!” Corrin reassured, “Get some rest Jakob, and thanks again for the dance.” 

Jakob smiled and bowed once more before releasing her hand and taking his leave. 

Corrin returned to her seat. Ryoma watched her come, eyebrows raised as he clapped slowly. 

“That was an impressive display,” he commented, “I presume that’s a Nohrian dance?”

“Yes,” Corrin smiled apologetically, “It’s a traditional folk dance that all of noble birth are expected to know. Learning it filled the empty hours at least. I have a lot of fond memories of afternoons spent in the Fortress with Felicia, Gunter, and Jakob practicing…” She waved it off. “It was just nice to be reminded of some of the happy times.” She reclaimed her drink and began downing it to quench the thirst she has worked up from the dance. 

“You had such a different upbringing from the rest of us,” Ryoma gazed at her with sympathy wrinkling his eyes, “You were lonely, weren’t you?”

Corrin gazed into her drink. A somber expression passed over her face for a moment, but she turned back to him, replacing it with a smile. 

“I’d rather not dampen such a happy occasion with those kinds of stories, if you don’t mind,” she answered, “Another time?” 

“Of course,” Ryoma responded, finishing his drink. “I believe I will retire to my quarters before the festivities devolve. It was nice sharing a drink with you, Corrin. Enjoy the party.”

“Oh, okay,” Corrin said, surprised, “Wait, what do you mean by devolve ?” 

Ryoma paused and turned back to look at her with an amused half-smile. “Stick around, you’ll find out.” With that he turned and disappeared into the crowd. 

Chapter Text

Corrin found herself once again alone at her table, pondering the meaning of Ryoma’s words. Just then, she realized that her glass had somehow become empty. Before she could think to call for him, Kaze was there at her side, handing her a replacement. 

“Oh wow! Thank you, Kaze.” She took the glass, grinning. “How is it that you always know what I need before I need it?” 

“That’s my job, Lady Corrin,” Kaze inclined his head with a smile. “Can I get you anything else?”

A gruff voice answered from behind her. “Don’t you think she’s had enough?” 

“Saizo!” Corrin twisted around in her seat to stare at her (supposedly) former shadow. “When did you get here?!” 

“A while ago,” he answered, “I am your brother’s retainer, if you recall.”

Corrin’s cheeks flushed in irritation. “Then why are you still here, pray tell? He left quite some time ago in case it escaped your notice.” 

“I was relieved of my post and told to enjoy the party,” Saizo replied.

Corrin looked him up and down and took in his sour expression and crossed arms.

“Well you don’t appear to be enjoying it overly much,” she observed with raised eyebrows. “Why don’t you try one of these?” She gestured to her drink as she took another sip. “Mmm, they’re really good.”

 Saizo wrinkled his nose. “That sugary crap? I’ll pass.” He saw the rosy hue already coloring her cheeks. “If you knew what was good for you, you’d stop where you’re at.” 

He could almost see the hairs on Corrin’s head bristle. 

“Ugh you and Ryoma! If you knew what was good for you, you’d stop trying to tell me what to do,” she growled, “I can take care of myself, and I’ll have as much or as little as I damn well please! In fact…” She lifted her full glass and began downing it in huge gulps. 

“Corrin--!” Saizo started forward, unsure what he even meant to do, but in a few seconds she had already finished the glass. 

She slammed it down on the table and met his eyes as he stood there, unsure whether to be mad, concerned, or impressed. 

“Kaze, I think I’ll have another.” 

Saizo gritted his teeth, suppressing a growl of frustration. 

Kaze met Saizo’s eye with a curious sideways smirk before turning back to Corrin. “Of course my lady, but first as payment, you must do me the honor of this dance.” 

He held out his hand, but she bit her lip as she glanced at the musicians. “I’d love to, but I’m afraid I don't know this one.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll lead you in the steps. I’m sure you’ll catch on in no time with the level of skill you displayed earlier,” he reassured. 

“Okay,” she agreed, placing her hand in his, “But you can’t get mad at me if I step on your toes.” 

Kaze laughed, pulling her up onto her feet where she swayed slightly. He put a steadying hand around her as he led them out to the dancing area. As they walked away, Kaze looked back over his shoulder to make eye contact with Saizo, who was left standing by himself next to the table. Seeming to find something amusing in his brother’s expression, Kaze turned back to whisper something in Corrin’s ear as they positioned themselves to begin their dance. 

Saizo was ridged and nearly shaking with irritation at that stupid, smug look on his brother’s face. Why was he so eager to let Corrin drink her senses away? What were his intentions with her, and what the hell was that look for?! 

Not wanting to just stand there like an idiot, he vanished into the canopy of a nearby tree, where he could observe unseen. Kaze was twirling Corrin, her head leaned back, hair flying, as her smile shone up to the stars. First that pompous butler thought to lay his hands all over her, and now his own brother? He produced a small flask from his pocket and took a swig. They were disgracing their positions as Corrin’s retainers. They were taking complete advantage of the situation to act out whatever deluded fantasies of romance they might harbor for her. Their job was to protect and serve their Lady, not to bed her! His jaw clenched, and his knuckles tightened around the branch. It was disgusting. He was not surprised in the butler’s case; he’d been keeping thorough surveillance on Jakob since the beginning, and his infatuation with her had been clear to Saizo for some time. His brother however...Saizo was utterly baffled as to his intentions. He had never seen any indication that Kaze held a romantic interest in her. Something in his gut told him that Kaze had other motivations for his behavior, though he couldn’t begin to guess what they were, though he had a feeling it was related to that look he had given him earlier, whatever it meant. Regardless of his purpose, his behavior with her was inappropriate, and Saizo fully intended to have a discussion with him later about it. 

Their dance finished, Kaze returned Corrin to her table. She stumbled a bit as she walked, so Kaze kept his hand around her until he had her back safely in her chair. Then he disappeared, Saizo assumed to go get her another drink. Like she needed it! She fanned herself for a minute before looking around the tables, then up into the trees. Was she looking for him? She was sitting there all by herself. Maybe he should go down and join her while Kaze was gone. He took another drink. She probably just wanted to say something irritating to him, which would be a pain. 

Two soldiers walked up to her table. Saizo sat up. They weren’t retainers, just common foot soldiers that he only vaguely recognized. They seemed to strike up a conversation with her. He didn’t think that Corrin knew them either, but that didn’t seem to bother her as she chatted enthusiastically with them. They each took a seat at her table. Saizo wasn’t sure why this bothered him as much as it did. They were comrades regardless of their positions, and so there wasn’t really a reason why they shouldn’t socialize at an event like this. They didn’t pose any threat to her, and yet they were acting too familiar with her for his liking. Even if this was a social event, she was still their superior, as their commander and their princess. She had traded her armor for a flattering yukata, and her face was painted with makeup rather than the blood of their enemies, but there was no way to miss her distinctive blue hair, ruby eyes, or pointed ears, so they couldn’t be confused about her identity. What were they even talking about? It wasn’t like she could discuss tactics or battle strategy with foot soldiers. 

One of the men seemed to be regaling her with some tale. He scooted his chair closer to hers and made a big gesture with his arms, and Corrin watched with huge eyes as if enraptured by his story. He casually laid his arm around the back of her chair, leaning in close to her like he was adding some juicy detail. Saizo had seen enough. 

He appeared behind them and grabbed the soldier’s arm, lifting it off of Corrin’s chair. The soldier turned with a look of anger, but when his eyes moved up to meet Saizo’s, he froze. 

“If you like your arm attached to your shoulder,” Saizo advised, “I suggest you keep it to yourself.” 

The color drained from the soldier’s face, and a bead of sweat formed on his forehead, but he grit his teeth and rose from his chair, ripping his arm back from Saizo. He bowed up to the ninja, puffing his chest out in a laughable attempt at intimidation. “Look man, we were having a conversation. What’s your pro--”

Sasuke, don’t ,” his friend hissed under his breath, already stepping away from the table, “ Don’t you know who that is?! ” 

“Huh?” he turned back to the other soldier, taking in the man’s obvious terror, “What do you--”

That’s Saizo the Fifth, Prince Ryoma’s personal retainer! ” 

“Huh?!” the soldier, Sasuke apparently, repeated, whipping back around to look at Saizo, “You’re---Oh.” If his face had been pale before, it was now white as a sheet. He shrunk backwards, taking a step away from the table. “O-o-oh, oh no, I’m-uh-I’m very sorry, -uh- Sir, there was-uh-a-um misunder…yes, a misunderstanding! That’s all…” he laughed, sweat now pouring down the sides of his face. “We were -uh- actually just leaving.” 

Saizo didn’t change his expression as he continued to stare into the soldier’s wide eyes.  

“That seems wise.” 

The soldiers wasted no time in their retreat. Saizo watched them go until they were out of sight. 

Corrin looked at him with her eyebrows scrunched up. “What was that all about?” 

Letting out the breath he’d been holding in with a huge sigh, Saizo claimed the seat next to her that the soldier had just vacated. “Nothing that you need to be concerned about.” 

Corrin lost her confused expression, letting her head flop to one side as she closed her eyes and giggled. “Whatever it was, they were really scared of you!” Her words were slurring and he could see she was swaying in her seat. Gods she was already wasted. Saizo felt himself deflate. Even if she was a small woman and a virgin to the cup, she was a featherweight if two glasses of fruit wine could reduce her to this. How had this become his problem? Where were her retainers? Where was Kaze?!

“I don’t know why,” Corrin continued, “You’re not scary at all!”

“I’m very scary,” Saizo retorted, “I’m a ninja assassin. It’s my job to be scary. It’s not my fault you don’t have any self-preservation instincts.” 

Corrin’s eyes opened to slits as she glared at him. “I do too have self-persavation instincts!” She pointed a finger at him and poked him in the chest. 

Saizo looked down at her finger pressing into his pec and swatted it gently away. “You don’t have any manners either.” 

Corrin pulled her hand back into her chest like it had hurt, and with a start he watched her lip begin to tremble pitifully while her eyes began to water. Saizo rested his elbows onto the table and pressed his face into his hands. “Corrin, don’t cry--” 

“You’re so mean!” she nearly yelled, “I’m not the one with no manners, it’s you!” 

He looked up from his hands to see that she was pointing at him again. He grabbed her hand this time and held it, pulling her closer. “Corrin, please don’t yell,” his voice was softer, pleading, defeated.

That seemed to quiet her for a moment as she gazed at his huge hand enveloping hers. Then her face screwed up again, and she pointed at him with her other hand. 

“I’m not yelling!” she yelled. 

Saizo sighed, taking hold of the second hand and placing it with the first, both now enfolded securely between his own. 

“Okay, you’re not yelling,” he conceded, “But gods, why are your hands so cold?” 

His concession didn’t seem to placate her as much as he’d hoped it would, and now she seemed to be pouting about losing the use of her hands, though she wasn’t trying very hard to recover them.  

“They’re not cold,” she argued, fixing him with an accusatory glare, “You’re just hot.” 

“Heh.” Saizo smirked beneath his mask despite himself, but decided against teasing her about it, lest she begin shouting again. He considered asking her why alcohol made her so damned contrary, but he anticipated that she would only deny being contrary, so there really wasn’t much point. 

Corrin didn’t seem to notice what she had said, and completely missed Saizo’s reaction. 

“If you want to feel cold,” she grinned wickedly, “You should feel my feet.” As she said this, she extended her leg and brushed one bare foot up the entire length of Saizo’s calf. 

He inhaled sharply through his nose, Despite the layer of fabric, a wave of warm shivers traveled up his leg and into his core, straightening his spine. Damn her! She was doing this on purpose! He took a second to breathe until the sensation had passed before he was able to get himself under control again, but he couldn’t stop the heat that had rushed to his face at the deliberately sensual gesture. He realized even his dead eye had opened; shutting it quickly, he fixed his glare on her. He was going to make her pay for that!

But she was gazing up at him with wide, innocent eyes.  

“Wow, are they that cold?” she breathed,  full of wonder, “I didn’t know I had this kind of power!” She gazed down at her feet as if she’d just discovered a new and formidable weapon. 

Saizo was at a complete loss. How?! How was that possible?! He was prepared to be furious at her for using the pretense of coy, innocent drunkenness to play salacious mind games with him! Yet one look in her eyes and he knew that she meant nothing devious or untoward by the gesture. She was just plastered and impossibly, unbelievably naive, and it was going to be the death of him. He slumped forward, letting out a ragged sigh as all of the tension and anger drained from his body, and all he was left with was a sense of defeat and impending doom. 

“Oh, am I interrupting something?” 

Saizo jumped, realizing in horror that he still had both of Corrin’s hands pressed between his own. He dropped them like hot coals, straightening in his seat with a wave of fear and embarrassment at being caught in such a...misinterpretable moment. Thankfully it was only Kaze, who had reappeared looking far too pleased with himself. 

“Only me doing your job!” Saizo snapped, “Where have you been?!”

“Doing my job, fixing miliday a drink, as she requested of me,” he replied innocently, maintaining eye contact with his brother as he held another of those pink monstrosities out to Corrin. 

She smiled and reached out to take it, but Saizo was quicker, snatching it out of Kaze’s grasp. In one swift motion, he turned away, lowered his mask, and tossed it back, ignoring Corrin’s cry of indignation. He nearly gagged on the sickly sweetness of it, but he managed to get it all down without vomiting. He immediately reached for his flask; it took several deep gulps of burning liquor to wash the disgusting flavor from his mouth. He screwed the cap back on with a ragged exhale, blowing the stinging air from his mouth and shaking away the last chills of revulsion as he pulled his mask back over his face.

“Heyyyy!” Corrin cried, looking at him as if he’d stolen all of her joy, “That was mine!” 

Saizo coughed and suppressed a belch. Gods, was Kaze trying to kill her? Heat was already racing through his veins. No wonder Corrin was blitzed. Saizo wasn’t a small man, and his body was highly tolerant of foreign chemicals. A couple of swigs from his flask alone wouldn’t hit him like this. Coupled with the taste, he knew Kaze had not been pulling any punches with his cocktails. It may taste like a strawberry nightmare to someone with a sweet-tooth like Corrin, but that made it all the more dangerous; she wouldn’t know she was sucking down something quite nearly as potent as the sake itself! 

“If you wanted one, all you had to do was ask,” Kaze chided his brother as he collected the now-empty glass from the table, “Don’t worry, Lady Corrin, I will go prepare another for you at once.” 

“You will do no such thing!” Saizo growled, getting up to stop him. 

“But I waaaant ittttt,” Corrin whined, draping herself across the back of her chair. 

“You heard the lady.” Kaze looked at him like that solved everything. “Her wish is my command.” 

“She’s sauced.” Saizo grabbed Kaze’s arm and yanked his brother in close so he’d get the message, and so Corrin wouldn’t hear. “I don’t know what your game is, but it ends here. You will bring her water or fruit juice . Nothing more.” 

Kaze just looked at him, like he knew something Saizo didn’t. It pissed him off.  

“Why are you so concerned about her? She’s not your responsibility.” 

“That’s right, she’s not my responsibility,” Saizo snarled back, “She’s supposed to be yours, but for whatever reason, you’re determined to be a shitty retainer and forcing me to pick up your slack!” 

“I’m not forcing you to do anything,” Kaze threw up his hands, “If you think I’m doing such a terrible job then go get one of her other retainers to look after her instead. I’m sure Jakob would be happy to.” 

“He’s even worse,” Saizo spat.

“Silas then--”

“Him too.”

“Well Felicia specifically requested the night off,” Kaze sighed, “So I don’t know what to tell you.”

“How about why you won’t just do your fucking job and take care of her. You’re disgracing our family and our clan!” 

“What’re you two fighting about?” Corrin asked, seeming to stretch every vowel out to thrice its due length. “C’mon, relax! It’s a party! We’re supposed to have fun!” 

Kaze ignored her and continued to stare Saizo down with that look. “Oh, is that why you’re fussing over her? To protect our family’s honor?” 

“That’s not--” Saizo’s frustration and confusion robbed him of his words. “I’m not fussing , I’m simply--” 

“You think you’re a better retainer than I am.” 

Saizo scoffed. “I know I’m a better retainer than you are!” 

“So you think you could care for Corrin better than I?” 

“Tonight makes that abundantly clear--” 

Kaze smiled at him. In a louder voice, he said, “Why thank you brother, that’s so kind of you!”

Huh?  “What are you--?!” 

Kaze spoke over him. “Lady Corrin! Saizo has graciously offered to take my place as your escort for the rest of the evening, if it pleases you.” 

“What?!” Saizo stared at him in utter bewilderment. “I said no such thing! Did you not hear a damn word I just--?!” 

“Really?!” Corrin sat up, nearly falling out of her chair. “That’s great!”

“Wait a minute, I never said--” 

“Saizo can be mean, but he’s also really nice,” Corrin rambled, as if Saizo himself were not standing there a few feet in front of her. She paused and hiccuped. “He’s… mean and nice.. …mice! He’s mice!” She broke down into a fit of laughter at this, doubling over and finally falling out of her chair and onto the ground, which she found even funnier. 

“Have fun, you two!” Kaze gave Saizo that grin and winked before vanishing. 

“KAZE!”

But Kaze was already gone. Dammit, dammit, DAMMIT!

There was no catching his twin when he didn’t want to be caught. Saizo knew that when it came to pure speed, he couldn’t keep up with his brother. But when it came to brute strength, well...the next time he decided to show his face, Kaze was going to find out just how gracious Saizo really was. 

“Bye, Kaze!” Corrin waved into the empty sky, still lying flat on her back in the grass. 

Saizo pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to force down his anger so he could deal with the situation properly. Somehow, Corrin had become his responsibility. He looked down at the girl who was rolling around in the grass giggling faintly like a maniac. No, that wasn’t right. This wasn’t Corrin--this was Drunk Corrin, a completely different entity from the tenacious tactical commander that he knew. He drew comfort from that line of thought. This was a mission like any other; he just needed to assess the problem, formulate a plan, and complete the objective. If he could think of it like that, then surely he could overcome this trial. 

The first step was understanding his objective. Since he was apparently standing in as Corrin’s--or rather Drunk Corrin’s--retainer, his main objective was to ensure her safety and well-being. Currently the greatest danger to Drunk Corrin’s safety and well-being was Drunk Corrin herself. The most effective way of neutralizing this threat would be to revert Drunk Corrin back into regular Corrin. To achieve that, she would need food, water, and sleep. However, it wouldn’t likely be as simple as that, as he expected heavy resistance. Drunk Corrin was an emotional, recalcitrant being. He expected that whatever he tried to get her to do, she would automatically want to do the opposite. Drunk Corrin seemed to be even further regressed into her child-like nature than her sober counterpart. He would need to be tactical about how he handled this, as he had already been made aware of her penchant for tears and tantrums. 

However, he also didn’t want to underestimate her; no matter how impaired, Drunk Corrin was still Corrin, and therefore still had access to her tactical genius and, possibly more terrifying, her draconic form. Perhaps worse yet was her unintentionally lewd behavior, made only more frustrating by the pure innocence of its delivery. An unrivaled ninja though he may be, Saizo was still a man, and Corrin had already proven her uncanny ability to bypass his self-control and exploit a weakness he still had not managed to completely shore up. His pride was still quite sore about this, but he attributed the source of this deficiency to the incident at the bathhouse that night. As trained as he was in exerting mental control over his physical needs and desires, any man would have difficulty forgetting the image of a woman as objectively attractive as Corrin in such a...position. He could not fully rid his body of the memory of its shameful attraction from that night, and so he had to police its automatic response to...certain stimuli. He would have to be on guard tonight, for her shamelessly amorous behavior, as well as the alcohol coursing through his own veins, would certainly make such struggles more difficult. He cursed himself for allowing such a chink in his armor, and he prayed to every god he could think of that she would never realize the effect that she could have on him. 

He sighed and crouched down next to the girl. Rather than admonishing her for her complete lack of decorum as he usually would, he decided on a strategy of distraction.  “Corrin, it looks like they’re going to start taking away the food soon.” 

This got her attention, and she sat up with eyes huge with concern. Her hair was a mess from rolling around; Saizo absently picked out a piece of grass that was lodged there. 

“We have to save the food!” she insisted. 

“...Okay, we’ll save the food,” Saizo assured. “Do you want to stay on the ground with the bugs until I return or do you want back in your chair?” 

“BUGS?!” Corrin screeched, launching herself from the ground. She clambered on top of the closest thing she could find--which, unfortunately for him, was Saizo. “WHERE?!”

Well that backfired , Saizo groaned inwardly. Corrin had wrapped herself around his side like a baby monkey does its mother, her arms tight around his neck and her face far too close to his. Trying to breathe normally, Saizo shifted her until she was clinging onto his back, which was marginally more tolerable. He stood up, taking a second to be sure of his balance before he walked Corrin back over to her table. He turned and crouched down to let her climb into her seat, but she didn’t move from his back. 

“Get off.”

“No, we have to go save the food!” Corrin countered. “Onward!” 

“Corrin, this is more of a stealth mission,” Saizo sighed, “I can’t be very stealthy with you clinging to my back.”

He could feel Corrin staring into the back of his head. “Aren’t you supposed to be the greatest ninja alive ?” 

Saizo growled, “I see what you’re doing, and it’s not going to--” 

“You’re Saizo the Fifth ,” she insisted.

“...And?” 

“That means you’re the sneakiest.”

“That’s not what it means at all.” Saizo would have pinched his forehead if he weren’t using both hands to support Corrin’s weight. “Granted it’s true.”

“Then sneak.” 

He sighed.

“Fine.”

Saizo did his best to flit unseen from shadow to shadow with Corrin on his back. He wanted to avoid drawing further attention to her current state, which would be rather hard if people were to see her riding around on the back of a ninja. Not to mention the damage to his own image. He was rather accustomed to being feared by those around him. It had its perks, as demonstrated earlier. He couldn’t risk anyone seeing him being ridden about like the princess’ personal steed. He paused behind a tree. 

Corrin giggled as the wind settled around them. “Wow, you’re so fast!” she exclaimed. “This is fun!”

“Corrin.”

“What?” she asked between giggles. 

“We’re on a stealth mission.” 

“Mhm!”

“So that means we have to be quiet.”

“Right!”

“So no talking,” Saizo said, “Or laughing. No sounds whatsoever.”

“Got it.”

Saizo severely doubted that. 

When their goal was finally within reach, Saizo found a dark alcove in a nearby storage shed that was in sight of the banquet table. He crouched there, trying to think about the best way to go about this. 

“Here’s the plan,” he said, keeping his voice low. “I’m going in to get the food. Your job is to stay here and guard what I bring back. When we have enough, we make our escape. Understood?”

He couldn’t see her face from behind him, but he could hear the pout in her voice when she said, “But I want to go save the food. What if you don’t save the right ones?” 

Saizo sighed, he forcefully unwrapped her legs from his torso and let her down gently onto the ground. He turned and crouched in front of her, unsurprised to see that bottom lip sticking out. 

“I’m getting the food because I’m the sneakiest, remember? Hold this.” He handed her a brown tweed sack. “This is what I want you to put the food in when I bring it back. Now, tell me which foods are the right ones.” 

“Well...all of them are right, but some are more right than others.”

Gods help him. “Okay...which are the most right ones?” 

Corrin held up her fingers as she listed them off. “The sweet buns, the little pastries with the fruit in them, the fried things, and… oh yeah, the meat on sticks!” 

Saizo wanted to laugh and scream all at once. He took a deep breath and let it out.

“Buns, pastries, tempura, and skewers.” That would be easy enough. “Wait here,” he commanded, “Do not move, and do not make a sound, got it? I will be right back.”

When she nodded, he turned and vanished. Corrin tried to follow his movements with her eyes, but it made her so dizzy and sick to her stomach that she had to stop. He would reappear at her side every thirty seconds or so with another armful of goods. Corrin held the mouth of the sack open dutifully while Saizo unloaded his bounty. He was not seen nor heard, and the attendants clearing the table thought nothing of the food disappearing, chalking it up to another servant’s work while their back was turned. 

When the sack had a satisfactory haul, Saizo tied it up with a cord and looked to Corrin, who was beaming from ear-to-ear. 

“Let’s go.”

Saizo found a spot beneath a willow tree not too far from the ongoing party that would serve well for their purposes. The trailing leaves created decent cover, but allowed enough light from the fire to filter in for Corrin to see by. They weren’t likely to be spotted by any passersby, so long as Corrin kept quiet. Luckily, she was too preoccupied stuffing her face with the food he’d “saved” for her to make too much noise. Saizo had retreated up to the lower limbs of the willow. He’d given her his water flask to wash it all down with; his other flask he kept to himself and worked on steadily. Two of his tasks he had managed to accomplish with near perfection. Between the copious amount of food and alcohol she had consumed, it wouldn’t be long before Corrin began to feel drowsy. Then he would simply need to escort her back to her room, and his mission would be complete. He had impressed even himself. 

It wasn’t long before he realized that he could no longer hear Corrin munching contentedly on her snacks. She wasn’t making any noise at all, which was cause for alarm. He peered down to where she lay, curled up on the ground against the base of the tree. Saizo dropped down beside her, but she was only sleeping, evidenced by the slow rise and fall of her chest and the soft sounds of air escaping in and out of her lips. 

“Hey,” Saizo said, “Wake up.”

Corrin slept on. 

A little louder: “Corrin, you can’t sleep here.” 

Corrin mumbled something incoherent and rolled over, turning her back to him. 

Saizo growled, crouching down. He grabbed her by the shoulder and pulled her back towards him, giving her a light shake. “Get up so I can take you back to your room.” 

She moaned in protest, trying to push him off and turn away again. “Go ‘way,” she mumbled, “Lemme sleep.” 

“You can sleep in your bed,” Saizo grumbled, “Up.”

“Noooo,” she groaned, “Here’s fine.” 

Saizo was quickly losing his patience. “Here is not fine!” He pulled her up by the shoulders, trying to force her to sit up. Corrin’s eyes finally opened as he got her into a sitting position, but when he tried to pull her up onto her feet, she fell limply against him, sinking back down to the ground.

“Corrin!” Saizo growled, “Quit acting like a child!”

Giving no sign that she had heard him, she gazed up into his face with sad eyes clouded with sleep. “Corry me?” 

Saizo couldn’t choke back the guttural cry of exasperation that escaped his lips. He should have known that it couldn’t have been that easy. He tried to calm himself with slow, forced breaths. Just do this, and she’ll be off your hands. 

Letting out another sigh, he scooped her up in his arms and headed towards her bungalow. Corrin made a contented noise and nestled her face into the warmth of his chest, causing Saizo’s temperature and heart rate to spike. He tried to focus on the path ahead of him. 

“Mmm,” Corrin murmured into the cloth of his tunic, “You smell good.” 

He tripped, nearly spilling Corrin out of his arms. She gave a little yelp, clinging even tighter to him. He managed to get his balance under control and righted them before they fell, but he was losing control of everything else. He used unscented soaps to wash his garments, so if she thought he smelled good, then...she thought he smelled good. He could not stop the rush of heat that followed these thoughts, nor could he make words form on his tongue. 

“Where are we going?” Corrin asked with her eyes closed.

Saizo had to swallow hard before he felt he could speak. “I’m taking you back to your room,” he informed her, trying to keep his voice neutral. 

Corrin seemed to ponder this in silence for a few moments. “But yours is closer.” 

Saizo choked on the air in his throat. If he had felt hot before, he was now ablaze. 

“What are you saying?!” Saizo barked, louder than he had meant. His own voice sounded foreign to his ears. His heart hammered in his chest, and he suddenly grew light-headed.

Corrin flinched back from his voice, her eyes opening again. 

“Oww...” She furrowed her brows as she gave him a reproachful look. “Don’t shout.” 

Saizo tried to slow his breathing. He looked down at her face, but it revealed nothing other than displeasure at his volume. He tried to lower his voice, but it still came out with the same unhinged urgency. “What is your purpose in saying such things?!” 

“Purpose?” Corrin merely gazed back quizzically. 

“Gah,” Saizo turned away and let steam escape from his mouth. “Nevermind!” 

He wanted to press her further, but his rational and conscious had finally caught up with him. Even if she had been implying…that...well, in any case, it was best to leave it alone. They walked on in silence. 

He felt her hand touch his face. He wanted to flinch away, to recede from her touch, but found that he could not. He did manage to keep his eye on the path as her fingertips explored the surface of his mask. He only pulled his head away when she attempted to remove it. 

“Don’t” was all he said. 

Corrin pulled her hands away. “Why not?”

At that moment, it was because he didn’t want her to see how flustered he was, but he decided that telling her a story could distract her for the remainder of their trip back to her bungalow. 

“Has Kaze ever spoken of his issues with women?” he asked. 

“The gifts?”

“Right,” Saizo elaborated, hoping to keep her mind occupied, “Whenever he goes into town, he is constantly under siege by strange women who attempt to gain his favor through unsolicited gifts, most often in the form of unreasonable amounts of food…Before I began wearing the mask...I faced similar problems.” 

Corrin blinked at him, her face void of comprehension. Then suddenly her eyes widened and her mouth gaped. “Wait--you mean you’re pretty like Kaze?!” 

“I am not pretty !” Saizo snapped, the heat redoubling in his cheeks. He was entirely unsure of how to feel about Corrin finding his twin brother pretty . This was not the direction he had planned for this to go at all. 

“You must be,” Corrin argued, her fingers once again finding his mask, “I wanna see!”

“No,” Saizo growled, jerking his chin away, “Damn it, Corrin, stop!” 

“Aww,” Corrin pulled back, pouting again, “But--”

“No. Buts.”

“But why not?” she whined. 

Saizo closed his eyes, praying for patience and self-control. He gave a rough sigh. “I also wear the mask because...because as a ninja, I need to maintain distance and keep my thoughts to myself...Wearing a covering makes that easier.” 

Corrin seemed to take some moments to process that, but just as she was about to say something, Saizo interrupted her: “We’re here.” Finally.

It took some maneuvering, but Saizo managed to get them up the ladder and into the tree house without incident. Inside, it was dark, but that wasn’t a problem for him. He set Corrin down on her bed before turning to find a lamp. It didn’t take long. Soon soft light glowed through the room. 

He turned back to find Corrin struggling to undo the fastenings on her yukata. 

“Woman, what are you--?!”

“Help me,” she moaned, her hands fumbled uselessly at the knot behind her back. 

“No!” Saizo barked, quickly turning his back to her, “Do it yourself!”

“Pleeeease!”

“I am not undressing you!” he told the wall, massaging his temples. Gods when would this torture be over?

“Don’t be weird.” Her petulant voice ground at his nerves. “I’m wearing a shift underneath. I can’t sleep in this!”

“Tch.” Saizo grit his teeth. She was the weird one! And she was sleeping in it earlier, and under a damned tree for gods’ sake! He wanted to shout this at her, but he feared that someone may overhear them. “Fine, turn around!”

He strode over to the bed, where Corrin obediently turned around so he could access the tie. His fingers deftly unwound the knot, freeing her to slip off the garment. She held her arms out, inviting him to slide it off for her. The pressure mounting inside of him was unbearable. He helped her out of it with quick, jerky motions. Once it was off, he swiftly averted his gaze and turned away to fold the yukata and place it on a nearby chair. He was breathing heavily and had to take a moment to steady himself. He heard the sounds of the bed shifting behind him as she crawled beneath the covers and sank into the mattress. 

“Thank you, Saizo.” Her voice was soft with sleep, but sincere. 

Saizo refused to look at her. “Do you need anything else?”

“Mmm some water?”

Of course . He turned and made his way back to the bed, silently handing her his water flask. She took it and greedily gulped down its contents, spilling some of it down her neck and onto the sheets. Saizo suddenly found the grain pattern of the wooden wall very interesting. When she had emptied it, he took it back from her. 

“Is that all?” Please, let that be all. 

“Mhm,” Corrin murmured, curling into her blanket. 

Thank the gods. 

“I will take my leave then.” Saizo bent down to extinguish the lamp on her side table, leaving them in darkness once again, then turned to make his escape. 

His stomach flipped when he felt her hand suddenly grab onto his, holding him back. 

“Corrin…?” 

She didn’t say anything. 

“...Do you need something else?”

Corrin was quiet. He could make out her shape even in the pitch darkness, his eyes well trained for low light conditions. Her head was down, not looking at him as she crouched there on the edge of her bed. When her voice finally spoke up, it was nearly inaudible. 

“Stay?” 

Stay?  

His heart began thumping in his chest again. Like it had ever stopped. 

He was so frustrated and confused. None of what she did made sense. What did she want from him? He paused, debating in his mind if he should just vanish and be done with the whole situation. 

Instead, he asked, “What do you mean, stay ?” His voice came out so much calmer than he felt. 

There was silence for a beat. 

“Don’t go.” 

Her voice didn’t sound like her at all. All the attitude and playfulness was gone, replaced by something he didn’t fully recognize. She sounded...vulnerable...and...was it sadness that made her words tremble ever so slightly…? Or was it fear? 

He turned back towards her and crouched down to her level. Though she couldn’t see him, she wouldn’t have to lean off the bed to keep her hold on his hand. 

The only thing he could think to ask was: “Why?”

Again, silence. After a minute, he thought that she might not answer, but finally, her grip tightened on his hand. 

“Please?” 

Whatever was going through her mind, Saizo realized she was in no state to verbalize it. He knew he should leave, yet found he could not. Not when she was like this, pleading him so. His own willpower had been eroded by the contents of his flask and her endless assault on his nerves. He couldn’t refuse her request outright. 

“...I’ll stay here till you fall asleep.”

Corrin said nothing, but her grip loosened on his hand, and he felt her relax back into the mattress, apparently satisfied by his response. That relieved him, knowing that this wish was as deceivingly innocent as the rest, and that it was only his company that she wanted and nothing more. That, he could handle. Saizo scooted across the floor until his back was leaned comfortably against the wall, where he waited for sleep to take her. She said nothing more and after a few minutes, she finally released her hold on his hand. 

As he sat there in the silence of her dark room, Saizo finally had a moment to grapple with the thoughts and feelings that had been plaguing him all evening. If one thing had been made abundantly clear, it was that, despite his best efforts, he could not deny his physical desire for Corrin. Only in his inebriated mind would he even allow himself to admit such things. It wasn’t simply a memory his body could not forget; he craved her with such intensity that it ached . He could not stop it, no matter how hard he tried. She made it so much harder for him, what with the way she teased him so incessantly, even if she didn’t recognize what she was doing to him, the thoughts that her words provoked or the sensations that her touch awakened. 

However, the more he thought about it, the more reasons he was able to pile up to stem the tide of lust that had risen within him. Had he not been the one to criticize her retainers for their designs on her, when he himself was no better? Worse even. For where were they now, and where was he? Not that he would ever take advantage of a woman besotted, but had he not taken advantage of the situation just by allowing this closeness between them? She was a Hoshidan princess, the younger sister of his Lord and Prince, and the commander of their army. Those facts alone should have prevented him from ever thinking of her in that way. And yet he had seen her for so long as the enemy, as a spy who may have to be cut down. Was that why he had allowed such carnal thoughts to fester unchecked?

What am I doing? Saizo shook his head. Regardless of how they had come about, whatever secret desires he might have for the woman would forever remain simply that, and nothing more. There was no point in fantasy or speculation, not when it would never intersect with reality. He would make sure that it didn’t. He had a duty to fulfill, and he would not be distracted by his baser urges, nor would he ever allow the virtue of a Hoshidan princess to be tarnished, especially by his own hand. Even if in the impossible scenario that she shared similar desires, even if in a state of stone-cold sobriety, she begged it of him, he would not give in to temptation. His honor forbade it.

Chapter Text

When Corrin regained consciousness, she felt like death would soon be upon her. 

Her skull screamed like it had been split with an axe, and the light from her window seared into her eyes, cooking what was left of her brain. She squeezed them shut and tried to pull the covers over her head, but her stomach pitched. She scrambled out of bed, just in time to grab her wastebasket and puke. The fruity liquor that had tasted so sweet going down wasn’t nearly as appealing the second time around. Each heave brought a new wave of pain crashing over her head. Even after she had completely rid her stomach of its contents, her gut continued to feel as if it were inhabited by a ball of writhing snakes. Her skin had broken out in a cold sweat as she curled up into a ball on the floorboards of her room, shaking. 

“I’m never drinking again,” Corrin moaned to herself, regretting every decision she’d ever made that had brought her to this point. 

“I see you’ve learned your lesson then,” a voice spoke up, “Good.”

“Jakob?” Corrin squinted through the blinding light streaming through her doorway to see the butler standing there. 

“Pardon me for saying so, m’lady, but I hope this has taught you…” Jakob rambled on about decorum and proper conduct, but Corrin tuned him out. Every word he spoke was another nail driven into her skull. She tried massaging her temples, but it did little good.

“No offense, Jakob,” she finally interrupted, “...but please fuck off.” 

  Jakob gaped at her. “Lady Corrin! I’m surprised at you--”

“Could you just…” Corrin sighed and held up the wastebasket to him, “Could you please go empty this out for me?”

Jakob walked over and snatched it out of her hand. He gave her a reproachful look. “You’ve been spending far too much time around that boorish assassin. His ill-manners are rubbing off on you, and I don’t like it one bit. When I return, we will see about getting you some food, and we are going to have a proper discussion about your behavior.” 

The mere thought of food almost made Corrin grab the puke bucket back from him, but she managed to keep it together.

 “Fine, sure. Sorry,” she managed. She crawled across the floor, slithered back into bed, and tried to settle herself into a tolerable position. She heard the door shut behind him as he left. 

That boorish assassin. She could only assume that he meant Saizo. 

...Oh, Gods

Memories came flooding back to her of the night before, all muddled and hazy and tangled. What had she done? What had she said?! She couldn’t remember. Well she could remember bits and pieces, and those things alone were enough to make her wish that she would die. If the hangover didn’t finish her off, surely the embarrassment would. She flipped the covers over her head, wanting to hide under there forever. The one thing she was certain of was that she’d made an absolute fool out of herself. And probably lost all the respect she’d worked so hard to earn from him. 

I’m such an idiot! He probably hates me now! She thought in despair. 

There was a knock on the door. 

Corrin moaned, “ Go away .”

“I’m coming in,” announced a gruff voice. 

Corrin shot up in bed. Seventy hells, why is he here?!

“No! Wait! I’m uh--” Corrin wracked her brain for something to keep him out, “I’m indecent!”

“Huh...Yeah, right.”

The doorknob turned, and Corrin considered diving back under the covers to hide herself, but before she could make a decision, it was already too late. She blinked away the sunlight as a familiar silhouette stepped through the doorway. He closed the door behind him, allowing her to see him properly. 

It was Saizo. He wore his usual attire, but over the top was tied an apron, and in his hands he carried a heavily laden tray. A lot of thoughts went through her aching head at once. She was shocked, confused, embarrassed, elated, self-conscious, irritated all at once, but on top of that, she couldn’t get over how ridiculous it was to see a ninja in an apron. It was adorable. Her brain couldn’t fixate on any one thought, so she ended up just staring at him, saying nothing.

He broke the silence. “You look terrible.” 

That shook Corrin out of her daze. “Gee, thanks,” she snapped, turning red, “Did you come in here just to insult me or did you have another purpose for barging into my room?”

“I came to repay a debt,” Saizo replied.

“What are you talking about?” Corrin wished he would just leave. She was a complete mess and hated being under the scrutiny of his eye when she must look like she’d been drug through a briar patch backwards. 

Saizo sighed. Walking over to the bed, he began to set his burden down on her lap, forcing Corrin to lean back to make room. It was only then that she recognized the familiar wooden tray, clay pot, and iron kettle. Wisps of steam snaked out from under the lid of the pot, along with a smell that Corrin couldn't begin to process past the pounding ache in her head. However, just the thought of hot, thick, greasy soup made her stomach lurch. 

“Ahh, right, that debt...You know I was mostly kidding about that, right?” Corrin tried to laugh, but had to swallow down her nausea. “You didn’t have to...and I, uh, appreciate the effort, but it’s just that…”

Saizo handed her a spoon. “Eat. It will help.” 

Corrin took it reluctantly, gazing at the pot. “Really, I feel like maybe some fruit, or just some water is--”

Saizo ignored her and removed the top off the pot, releasing a billowing cloud of steam into Corrin’s face. She waved it away, peering in at the contents. 

“Oh, no.” Her eyes widened. “No, no, no, there is no way--”

“Corrin.” Saizo growled. “Just eat it.”

“What even is that?!” Corrin cried, looking at the pot as if a tentacle might shoot out and grab her at any moment. 

“A guaranteed hangover cure,” Saizo snapped.

“But what’s in it?!” Corrin poked at it with her spoon. “And why is it so...chunky?”

“The ingredients are irrelevant,” he growled, getting more irritated by the second, “All you need to know is that it will cure what ails you. Now are you going to eat the damned soup or are you going to make me force it down your throat?” 

Corrin turned a deeper shade of red. “Fine! I’ll eat your damned soup! Gods you’re so pushy.” 

“Simply returning the favor.”

Corrin shot him the stink eye before turning her attention back to the still steaming soup. Despite her confident words, the sight of it still filled her stomach with a knot of dread. Saizo’s eyes were on her, so she couldn’t back down now. Would he really force feed it to her if she refused? The notion was simultaneously absurd and totally believable. Taking a fortifying breath, Corrin dipped her spoon into the soup and brought it up to her lips. Her eyes flicked to Saizo, his gaze still pinning her. Steeling her nerves, she took a cautious sip. 

 It was...good. While the idea of something so hardy had been nausea-inducing, the actual taste of the savory broth immediately breathed life back into her and ignited her appetite. The flavor was mild, nothing complex, and she couldn’t begin to identify chunky ingredients, but it no longer bothered her. It was so satisfying, and true to Saizo’s word, the more she ate, the better she felt. 

“I take back everything I said,” she said, taking a short breath between gulps, “This is incredible.” 

Saizo, who had taken a seat in the chair near her bed, gave her a strange look, but said nothing. 

Once she had cleaned the entire pot, Corrin leaned back, letting out a contented sigh. 

“Better?” Saizo asked. 

“Much,” Corrin answered, giving him a smile, “Thank you Saizo. I never should have doubted you. And I’m sorry about what I said. You went out of your way to make this for me to help me feel better, and I was rude and ungrateful.” 

Saizo cleared his throat, avoiding her eyes. “Tea?”

Corrin nodded, laughing to herself at his avoidance of her gratitude. Typical Saizo. 

He poured her a small cup from the kettle on the tray. She held the cup up to her nose, breathing in the smell of mint, chamomile, and something unfamiliar. It was unsweetened, a little bitter on her tongue, but oh, so soothing. Any residual discomfort in her stomach was washed away with the tea, and even the sharp edge of her headache began to dull. 

They sat in silence while she drank, and Corrin’s mind began to wander back to the events of the night before. Her finger absently stroked the lip of the tea cup. She glanced over at Saizo, who had his elbows on his knees and his eye on the floor. 

“Um...about last night,” Corrin began. 

His  shoulders stiffened. 

“What about it?” he grunted when she said nothing. 

“It’s just…” Corrin bit her lip. “I’m a bit embarrassed. I don’t...remember much. But from what I do, I know I made a nuisance out of myself and put a burden on you. I wanted to apologize for ruining what fun you could have had at the party by forcing you to take care of me. You didn’t have to do that, but you did. So I just wanted to say thank you--and sorry. I won’t let that happen again; I’ve learned my lesson.” 

“Hmph.” Saizo averted his gaze, leaning back. “Don’t concern yourself about it. It was a boring party anyway, and I was simply doing my duty as a retainer to the royal family.”

is that true? Or is he just saying that? Corrin wondered. She decided to press; his refusal to openly accept her friendship still bothered her. 

“Are you sure it doesn’t have anything to do with us being friends?”

Saizo sighed, standing up. “Are you still on about that nonsense? If you’re done, I need to return these things to the kitchens.” 

Corrin frowned, finishing the last of her tea and placing the cup on the tray as Siaoz began to gather it up. He lifted the tray and headed for the door. 

“Wait, Saizo!” 

He paused to glance back at her. 

“I...thank you.”

“My debt is repaid,” he replied, pausing for a moment more. “...Drink lots of water. You need to rehydrate.” 

He went to open the door, but it opened on its own. Jakob stood in the doorway, trash bin in hand. His eyes fell on Saizo. His generally sour expression turned hostile as he glared at the ninja.  Each blocked the other’s path. Their eyes locked, but neither backed down. Tension crackled through the room, so thick that Corrin could feel it.  

Finally, Jakob slowly moved to the side, never taking his eyes off of Saizo’s one. Saizo returned the favor as he passed through the now clear doorway. Jakob’s eyes followed him as he walked past, his jaw clenched, but Saizo disappeared as soon as he emerged out into the morning air.

 


 

After seeing that everything had been cleaned and put away, Saizo emerged from the mess hall. He saw Kaze—just the man he was looking for—waiting for him outside, leaned against a nearby tree. 

“You,” Saizo snarled. He was on him in a second, grabbing his twin by the collar and slamming him back against the tree. “We need to talk.” 

“I agree,” Kaze said with that look. Oh, Saizo was going to clean that look right off his face. “Shall we take this outside of camp?” 

“Agreed,” Saizo growled. 

He followed Kaze out into the woods beyond the camp wall. When Kaze stopped in a small clearing, Saizo walked up to him and slammed his fist into Kaze’s chin. Kaze reeled backwards, but managed to stay on his feet, if barely. Saizo glowered at him as Kaze straightened back up. Wiping a hand across his face, he spat blood onto the earth. 

“That’s a very odd way to thank someone,” Kaze said, glaring back at his brother.

“Thank?” Saizo scoffed, “What have you done that could possibly be worthy of my thanks?” 

Kaze let out a gruff sigh that sounded more like it should have come from his Saizo’s throat than his own. “Generally you thank someone when they’re trying to help you.” 

Saizo gaped at Kaze, anger surging in the pit of his stomach. “Help?!” 

Kaze pinched his forehead. “Despite all of my best efforts to make you realize it, you still don’t get it, do you?” 

“You’ve clearly been scheming something, so just say it,” Saizo growled, grabbing him by the collar of his tunic. “What the hell am I supposed to get?!” 

Kaze locked eyes with his brother.

“That you’re in love with Lady Corrin.” 

Silence. 

Saizo’s face was only a foot from his brother’s. The green-haired ninja watched as he processed those words. Saizo’s eye narrowed, and his brows knit together. Finally, he spoke:

“What?” 

Kaze blinked back at him with an exasperated sigh. “What do you mean, what?”

Saizo paused for a few seconds. “I mean, what!” 

Kaze pushed his brother off of him, his eye twitching slightly. “What, do you really need me to spell it out for you?!”

“Apparently,” Saizo growled, “Because so far, not a single word of what you’ve said has made any sense!” 

“Okay. Okay, fine--here it goes. In every battle you never stray far from her side.” 

“We are both part of the Vanguard, and Corrin sets the formation, not I,” Saizo rebutted.

“There’s another,” Kaze pointed. “She’s the only one for whom you drop the honorific.”

“How do you mean?”

“To you it’s always Lord Ryoma, Lord Takumi, Lady Hinoka, and Lady Sakura, but you don’t call her ‘Lady Corrin’. To you, she’s just ‘Corrin.’”

“When she first arrived I thought her a spy,” Saizo explained slowly, as he tried to keep his rage under control, “By the time I decided otherwise, it was too late to start calling her by title.”

“Yet you continue your watch on her. Why is that?” 

Saizo stiffened. “She’s a member of the royal family. It is my duty to keep a watchful eye for them at all times.” 

“Last I checked, your only duty was to Lord Ryoma. I’ve never noticed you following Lord Takumi, Lady Sakura, or Lady Hinoka around. Only Lady Corrin. Why is she special? Or do your suspicions still linger after all?”

“No, that’s—“ Saizo growled in frustration. “In my time watching her I’ve seen her penchant for getting herself into trouble and biting off more than she can chew. I continue to keep an eye on her from time to time to make sure she doesn’t do anything foolish that would be a detriment to the army.” 

“So that’s why you chased away those would-be suitors at the party last night?” 

Saizo could feel his face begin to heat up. “You were there? Why didn’t you intervene?!”

“Just answer the question, Saizo.” 

“She was in no state to handle such a situation. I felt obligated to step in to prevent her from being taken advantage of!"

Kaze arched an eyebrow. “Are you sure you weren’t jealous? Being a bit territorial?”

“Wha—!? Don’t be ridiculous!!”  

“So why were you so irritated when Jakob and I were dancing with her?”

“You are her retainers, you should never even dream of putting your hands on your lady in such a manner--“ 

Kaze smirked. “Like carrying her in your arms back to her room before spending the night in her quarters?” 

Saizo gaped at him. How had he not noticed Kaze’s presence? He hadn’t had that much to drink. And yet it seemed like Kaze had been there watching his every move!

Kaze continued, clearly smug at the red ninja's shock. “Yes, I saw you enter with her, and I watched you creep away this morning before the first light of dawn. What could have happened in the meantime, I wonder?” 

“Nothing happened!” Saizo blurted, his face beginning to redden even above his mask.

“Oh, c’mon Saizo. You can’t truthfully tell me that the thought has never at least crossed your mind. I was there that night at the bathhouse. Your face was redder than your hair.” 

“I—“ Looking into Kaze’s face, Saizo knew there was no point trying to lie. As ever, Kaze had the infuriating ability to read him like a book. “...Of course it has! I may only have one eye, but I’m not blind! But if that’s a crime, you’re going to have to arrest every man in camp!”

“So you admit that you have feelings for her.” Kaze prompted..

“Hardly,” Saizo scoffed. “There’s quite a difference, even you must know that.”

Kaze chuckled. “Apparently better than you. Saizo, you brought her breakfast and tea in bed this morning.”

“I was repaying a debt!” Saizo argued.

“Ah, for the time she tended to your sick bed? How sweet.” 

Saizo trembled in rage. “She is a Hoshidan princess. And the commander of our forces. That is all she is to me. She’s a stubborn, petulant, naïve girl who lacks respect or any sense of self-preservation or feminine charm. You could tame the wind before you could make that woman into a housewife. You’re clearly not working hard enough if you’ve time to cook up these absurd delusions.”

Kaze’s laugh had no humor in it this time. “You know what? Why take my word for it? Let’s see what you have to say on the matter.” 

Saizo was sure Kaze had truly lost his mind before his brother’s hand retrieved a familiar notebook from his pocket. A wave of horror was quickly replaced by an even greater surge of fury. 

“Where did you get that?!” He tried to snatch it from Kaze’s hand, but his brother was quicker, dodging and retreating out of Saizo’s reach. 

“I needed to write an important letter, but alas, I ran out of ink. Seeing as I know you always keep an extra pot, I went to ask to borrow some, but you were not in your tent. I figured I would leave you a note and buy you a replacement the next time we were in town. But imagine my surprise when I came across this.” He held up the notebook with the title “Surveillance Notes: Corrin” clearly scrawled across the front. 

“You have been well aware of my surveillance,” Saizo barked, “That shouldn’t have been a surprise for you. You had no right to--” 

“You’re right. But I just needed confirmation, and this,” he smiled at the notebook, “was plenty.”

“I keep logs on all of my subjects,” Saizo shot back.

Kaze smirked.  “Ahh, but it’s what is written in your logs that is so telling.” 

“What is your meaning?” Saizo growled, “They are merely objective observations.”

Kaze cleared his throat and opened the notebook, thumbing through the pages before stopping on one. He began to read: 

“Log C26dDF, regarding the ambush of the supply train at dawn. 

...She moves as if she weighs less than a feather; I have watched her fight often, but every time I can’t help but admire her form. How she flows around their weapons, her sword flicking out to block or redirect each spear or lance, how she leaps and spins to get the most momentum at the best angle to counter strike. It's like watching a practiced dancer. The look on her face is nothing so elegant. When she fights, her eyes burn, her lips curl around her battle cries. The effect is that of a goddess of war, hellbent on quenching her sword with a tide of her enemy’s blood. In those moments, I feel grateful that I caught her exhausted and by surprise that day at the bottomless canyon. As much as I suspect her of being an enemy, I would truly not want to again stand opposite her on the field of battle…

Saizo wracked his mind trying to remember when such flowery words had escaped his quill. 

Kaze flipped to a different entry and continued: 

Log C42NQ: Subject continues irregular sleeping patterns. Last night I spied a light in her window at an hour well past midnight. Upon further investigation, I found her pacing restlessly about her room. She seemed rattled (another nightmare? What is it that haunts her dreams so?). Eventually she sat at her game board and began to set up for a match. I fought the urge to join her as I normally would under other circumstances. The hour was far too late and my sudden appearance would likely only cause her more distress than anything. She played on for some time, and I left her to it, as I needed to return to my tent to get an adequate amount of rest to perform my duties in the day to come. How she manages to carry out her own duties when she is so obviously sleep-deprived is beyond me. She has been pushing herself far beyond her limits, and it shows. Her skin has lost its glow, her hair its shine, but her eyes…those eyes still burn with such heat, despite their dark circles and red veins. Trying to hold her gaze is like trying to hold onto hot coals. In my life I’ve never come across another person who I felt could set fire to my soul with a single look. How does she do it?

This he definitely did not remember writing.

“Give me that!” Saizo snapped, finally managing to rip the book from Kaze’s grasp. There was no way those were his notes. He would never dream of writing such a drivel in his surveillance logs. Surely Kaze was inventing this just to get to him. He opened the small book and leafed through the pages until he found the passages Kaze had read from...but it was quite clearly written in his own handwriting. He peered closer, analyzing the markings of the slanted script, but there was no mistake. There was no way this could be a forgery. He had written this. 

He flipped through more pages, his eyes devouring the lines. A passage caught his attention and he began to read to himself:

‘War is brutal. Sacrifices are made. Soldiers die. That is the way that it has to be. That is the price we pay for peace. But when I saw her there on the ground, that monster’s fist about to steal the life from her body...I couldn’t bear the thought. That a light as bright of hers could be extinguished, just like that. That her story, everything that she’s worked so hard for, could be brought to end by a ravening beast in a muddy ditch. To never again get to see the fire burn in her eyes, or hear her voice, her laughter, her sharp tongue, or her fierce battle-cry...That was something I could not accept. This will be my last entry. There is no need for further surveillance.’

It was not, in fact, his last entry, as the pages after were just as filled as the pages before. This much he could acknowledge. It had become such a habit that he had continued to make notes on things that seemed important, not out of suspicion, for there was none, but rather for…

...for what?

Saizo stared at the open book, but his eyes were no longer seeing the words. 

“Saizo?” 

He said nothing, his mind grappling with something he didn’t even know the shape of. 

“Well?”

Saizo finally looked up. Kaze's face held a much gentler expression than before, his eyebrows raised in question. Saying nothing, Saizo slipped the notebook into his pocket and vanished.

Chapter Text

Saizo didn’t even think about where he was going. He just knew that he needed to be somewhere quiet, somewhere he could be alone with his thoughts, undisturbed. It wasn’t until he saw the flicker of the morning light off the surface of the pond that he realized where his feet had taken him. It was the pond where Corrin liked to sneak off to when she needed time by herself. The same pond where he’d found her crying moons ago. The same pond where she’d offered him mint candies, and assumed him to be her friend. Why had his feet brought him here of all places? As if he even needed to ask. 

He sunk down onto the rock where he had so often seen her sit with whetstone and oil cloth, cleaning and sharpening her Yato. He was still for a minute, breathing in the damp air and letting the cold of the stone seep into his legs and ground him. 

Was it possible that Kaze was right? 

Was it possible that he…?

His instinct was to immediately reject the notion. However, after hearing Kaze spit everything back at him, after reading his own damning words, he knew that his instinct couldn’t be trusted. Why had he continued to play as Corrin’s shadow? He needed to know. Whatever the answer was, he knew he couldn’t ignore it any longer. 

He pulled the notebook from his pocket and opened it once more to the page where he had left off. He began scanning his entries, the ones he had written after his official surveillance had ended. 

 

 

I heard Corrin scream and rushed to her room only to find her standing on a chair, pointing frantically at the floor. She was petrified. It was a bug. I went to leave, but she begged me to “squish it.” She was nearly in tears. She doesn’t bat an eyelash on the battlefield, but is  rendered helpless by a centipede? I exterminated it, for which she pledged her eternal gratitude, although she had the dignity to seem at least a little embarrassed. I told her that she could call on me to deal with such situations in the future, which seemed to please her.

 

“Gods damn this woman. She still can’t figure out the bathing hours. I’m going to have to draw her up a schedule. Her eyes were too busy elsewhere that I don’t think she even noticed I wasn’t wearing my mask. She hardly even glanced at the other men before running out. At least the score is a bit more even now. I’m still drawing up that schedule.”

 

“Today the mess hall served pickled plums. Corrin tried them and acted as if she’d been poisoned. The look on her face mirrored my reaction to sweets, granted hers was much more outwardly exaggerated. Noted for turn on kitchen duty.”

 

“Followed Corrin on her trip into the village today to pick up supplies. She left her retainers behind, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that she could be in danger. I used an abundance of caution. She’s become skilled at sensing my presence, and I don’t want to give the impression that I’m going back on my word. Nothing happened, except that the pin she always wears on her ribbon fell off while she was in the market. She didn’t seem to notice, so I retrieved it before it could be tread upon. I wasn’t sure how to return it to her without revealing what I’d been up to. I ended up running ahead to leave it in her quarters. Hopefully she’ll think that she simply forgot to put it on.”

 

“Corrin was taking inventory of the armoy. Azame was scheduled to aid as well, but his work ethic is sluggish at best. I also get the impression that he makes Corrin distinctly uncomfortable. So I volunteered to take his place, which pleased him just as well. Corrin seemed to be relieved when it was I who entered the armory instead of the monk. We spent the afternoon inventorying and reorganizing the armoy. Corrin tried to make conversation at first. Small talk is not among my skills, so I was unsure how to respond. We mostly worked in silence, after that, but it was comfortable. She likes to talk, but she doesn’t feel the need to fill every silence with senseless chatter. 

“For such a graceful fighter, she is still so clumsy. At one point she tripped and knocked into one of the spear racks. It would have fallen on her if I hadn’t been there. I braced against the opposite wall and let the weight fall onto my back. She was on the ground beneath me, so thankfully she wasn’t hurt by any of the falling spears. If it had been that useless monk instead of me, Corrin probably would have been seriously injured. 

“Once she recovered she helped me push the rack back up onto its base. She apologized about a million times and insisted on taking me to the medical tent right away. I wasn’t injured, but I could tell that she would continue to feel guilty about it otherwise, so I managed to convince her that we should at least finish cleaning up the mess before we left the armory. Afterwards I allowed her to drag me to the healer’s tent, where she herself inspected my “injuries” (nothing more than scratches). Despite my objection to the use of supplies, Corrin would not relent until I let her clean and bandage them. She then insisted that I remove my tunic so she could assess the extent of the bruising to my back. My refusals fell on deaf ears as usual, so eventually I removed it to appease her. As I had feared, she ran her hands up and down my back in search of the nonexistent wounds. When she found nothing of consequence, she admitted that I was fine. The consolation for my own discomfort at her touch was seeing how red her own face had turned after her examination. Serves her right.”

 

Saizo set the notebook down, dropping his head into his hands. He wiped them up his face and ran his fingers through his hair as he opened his eyes to look up at the clouds meandering across the sky. 

How had he let this happen?

Corrin was infuriating. She was stubborn, childish, naïve, rude, and emotional. She lacked decorum, respect, and manners. She trusted too easily and had a martyr complex. She seemed to take immense pleasure in causing him irritation, and she lacked the sense to be afraid of him or anything else for that matter, with the exception of tiny, harmless insects. She didn’t know her own limits or was too proud to recognize them, and she always bit off more than she could chew. She was a klutzy, spoiled, uncouth, headstrong princess who had trouble with boundaries and personal space. 

But she was also kind. She cared deeply about others. She was optimistic and chose to see the good in people, even in someone like him. She was a leader who could inspire courage and loyalty. She never asked anything of her soldiers that she wouldn’t first do herself. She stood up for her ideals, and she had proven that she was willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of peace. She was intelligent, clever, strong, and brave, and she had a sharp tongue to match.

She was one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen.

And she had stolen his heart. Right out from under him, without him even noticing. 

He still couldn’t say what it was. He hadn’t recognized it, for he had never experienced anything like it. Even with Kagero...for the short time they were together...it had never felt like this. This worry that gnawed at his stomach. This overwhelming urge to guard and protect her. This magnetic pull that kept him near. This craving for her smile, her laugh, her presence. The way his heart pounded and ached in his chest. The way his tongue seemed to disobey his commands. The way her touch sent a jolt through his skin. This overwhelming desire that consumed him. 

Was this….was this love?

What other explanation could there be? As much as he wanted there to be some other logical way to write off these symptoms, to explain his irrational behavior,  it simply did not exist. 

One last test. He had to be sure. Whatever he did next, he needed to know for certain if he had truly fallen in love with Corrin. His mind was whirling. He needed to shut it off. The sun was climbing in the sky, and he knew he needed to go relieve Kagero of her post. Saizo rose and returned the notebook to his pocket. He wouldn’t think about it. He needed to concentrate on his duties, on guarding Lord Ryoma. Tonight, he would find out. There was no point in exploring the implications until then, 

 


 

It was late when Kagero returned to take over the watch. Saizo nodded curtly to her  before slipping off into the night. He moved silently through the shadows of the camp towards his destination. Ahead of him, Corrin’s treehouse loomed, a darker silhouette against the starry backdrop of the sky. Saizo took cover and waited for several minutes. There was no light in her room, and no sound of movement. He darted up the trunk and slipped through the branches until he sat on a limb just outside of her open window. The cool night breeze tugged at her curtains, making it difficult to see inside the room. Saizo paused and listened; it wasn’t long before he picked up the even breaths that meant Corrin was fast asleep. 

Saizo slid through the window; his feet landed noiselessly on the wooden floor inside Corrin’s room. While he had often sat on that perch outside her window, the times he had actually entered like this were few. Guilt pricked at his skin, but he was resolute. Wordlessly, he asked her forgiveness for this invasion. He needed to know, and this was the only way he felt that he could be sure.

He crept forward, carefully avoiding the creaky planks as he made his way to Corrin’s bed. Her breathing didn’t change as he crouched down next to her. With only a sliver of moonlight stealing through the curtains, he could still make out the features of her face: the soft nose, round cheeks, and parted lips. Saizo’s chest tightened and his heart quickened as he leaned closer to her. He raised his hand, and it trembled as he brought it to her cheek, feathering the back of his fingers against her skin. He brushed away the lock of hair that had fallen across her face. A shock traveled up his fingertips as they touched her, sending a rush through his entire body. 

Corrin made a noise, and Saizo froze. Panic seized him. He wanted to vanish, but his feet were rooted to the spot, like he’d been turned to stone. His hand was frozen next to her face. He waited to see her eyelids flutter, for her scream that would no doubt pierce the night, oh Gods what was he doing?

She moaned again, shifting slightly beneath her covers. But her eyes remained closed, and after a few agonizingly long moments, her breathing evened out again as she fell back into deep sleep. 

Saizo let out the breath he’d been holding. He dared not move. More moments past, until finally he felt the danger had passed. He held his palm lightly against her cheek, cupping her face in his hand. He realized how small she seemed in comparison. She looked so peaceful, almost fragile when she slept. There was no determined set of her jaw, no arch of her eyebrows or curl in her lips. She always seemed to have some expression on her face. Whether it be rage, joy, fear, sass, or sorrow, her face was always alive with emotion. To see her so serene was such a rare sight that he couldn’t help the grin that formed on his lips.

He took a breath, letting the smile fade. With his free hand, he reached up and pulled off his mask. Closing his eyes, he leaned forward to press his lips gently against her forehead. 

When he pulled away, he knew. He gazed at her face, running his thumb lightly across her cheek. 

There was no denying it now. 

He eased his hand away and recovered his face. He took one more second to look at her face, at the face of the woman he loved, before he forced himself to straighten and turn away. He made his way out the same way he had come in. The night air felt different when he emerged into the branches of the great oak. He breathed in the night scents and felt the cold breeze caress his skin. He dropped to the ground and began the walk back to his tent. Tomorrow, he would think about what this meant. There would be plenty of time to get angry and curse himself then. For now, he couldn’t feel anything but the thrum of his heart and the ghost of her skin beneath his lips and fingertips. He couldn’t see anything but her face, illuminated by the silver splash of moonlight, her lips parted, and the only sounds he could register were the soft breaths and moans that had escaped them.

Chapter Text

His sleep was plagued by those lips. 

He claimed them with his own, holding her body flush against his. He felt her tongue, soft and unsure, brush against his bottom lip. He opened his mouth, deepening the kiss and inviting her to explore. His tongue met hers, and for the first time in his adult life, he tasted something sweet that he loved, and he wanted more. He wove his fingers through her hair, cupping the back of her head, his other arm around her waist, pulling her hips down onto his. Corrin moaned into his kiss, her hips grinding back against the hardness that had formed in his pants. It drove him wild. Saizo let out a deep, throaty groan and reclaimed her mouth, Their lips danced, until he pressed his tongue against her lips, demanding entrance. They parted, and he dove in, drinking in the taste of her as his tongue twined with hers. 

Her hands pressed suddenly against his chest, and he stopped, pulling away to look at her face. Her cheeks were flushed dark red, and she panted, but there was no look of alarm on her face. His brain was too heated for words. He cocked his head to one side in question, realizing that he too was panting for air. She only smiled, her eyes darting away, and suddenly she was pulling back against his grip. He loosened his arms, concern now flashing in his mind. Had he gone too far? Too fast? She shook her head, seeing the look on his face, before he realized that she wasn’t pulling away, but rather moving down onto the floor. He sat up a little straighter, but she had placed her hands against his thighs to keep him seated. She was kneeling in between his legs. One hand slid up to feel the erection straining hard against his pants. Saizo’s breath caught in his throat.

Corrin began rubbing his length through the fabric, the simple motion sending shockwaves of pleasure through him. Her eyes flicked up at him, her tongue swiping across her lips, and he throbbed with anticipation. Corrin smiled, as her eyes returned to his pants. She made quick work of the laces that kept them shut, and as she undid the last one, his manhood sprang free of its trappings. Saizo inhaled sharply as she gripped the base and began stroking his length. His eyes nearly rolled back in his head, so he almost missed seeing the way she looked up at him as she placed her lips against his tip. They parted, and she ran her tongue along his underside, then swirled it around his head before taking him fully in her mouth. 

Saizo groaned as he felt her lips, her tongue, and the inside of her mouth envelop his cock. Everything else in the world fell away but the rhythm of her tight, warm mouth. He held one arm out behind him for support, the other he wove into her hair as she bobbed up and down along his shaft. He realized his eye had closed; he forced it open so he could watch her at her work. Her eyes lifted up to meet his as she took his entire length, and Saizo lost control. His hips bucked. He used his grip in her hair to hold her against him as he thrust himself deeper into her mouth. Corrin moaned and her grip tightened against his leg. He felt her gag as he hit the back of her throat, but she forced deep breaths through her nose and continued. His breathing became ragged as he sped up the pace, climbing closer, and closer to his peak. Any second now, he would-- 

“SAIZO!”

“Huh?!” Saizo bolted awake, hand on his kunai, confused to find Silas staring back at him through the darkness of his tent. The warmth of his dream, the feeling of Corrin around him was fading away to his dismay like mist in the sunlight. 

“What?!” He barked, enraged at being woken from his pleasure.  

“I just--I thought something was wrong.” Silas’s eyes flicked around the tent. “I was on watch, and I heard noises coming from your tent--I thought someone had attacked you in your sleep!”

Saizo blanched. He wanted to get up, to grab his mask and feign concern, but there was a rather large problem that would become very much apparent if he were to stand up. So he was forced to stay where he was, half crouched in his cot. “Uh...what did you hear?”

“I heard you groaning and thrashing about,” Silas explained, rubbing the back of his neck, “But, uh, anyway, I don’t see an intruder, so I guess you were having a nightmare, huh? That’s nothing to be ashamed of; I’m sure everyone has them, especially after everything we’ve seen. If you want to talk about, I--”

“That won’t be necessary,” Saizo growled, “Now get out.”

Silas threw his hands up in surrender: “Nah, I get it, that’s fine. I’ll leave you to it then.” He ducked out of the tent, letting the flap swing closed behind him. Once he heard his footsteps recede, Saizo let out a huge sigh and flopped back down onto his bed.

What a dream. 

He knew he should feel ashamed, and part of him did...but another part of him was still ravenous with the need and desire the dream had stirred. Knowing he would be too frustrated to think or sleep otherwise, he took himself in hand and stroked his length, closing his eyes to replay the dream. He recalled the taste of her lips on his tongue, and the way her body had so eagerly responded to his. The image of her kneeling between his legs, her hands on his thighs, looking up at him with those wide eyes would surely follow him for many nights to come. The sensation of her mouth around his cock had been so real; how dutifully she’d sucked his member had obliterated his sense of control. He’d thrust his hips into her open mouth, and she’d taken him into her throat, moaning in pleasure around him. His hand pumped feverishly up and down his shaft as his fantasy took hold. He imagined how he would have finished it. 

As he approached his peak, he would slow and warn her. She’d take her mouth off of his cock long enough to beg him to cum in her mouth. And how could he refuse such a request? She’d put her lips around him again, and he would weave his hands into her hair and fuck her mouth relentlessly to his climax. Her small groans of pain and pleasure as he had his way with her would drive him over the edge. As he finally released, he’d grip the back of her head and shove his cock as deep as it could go, ordering her to take it all as he came in waves of orgasmic ecstasy, spilling his hot seed down the back of her throat. 

“Oh fuck, Corrin,” Saizo growled under his breath as he came. His breathing had become ragged again, and he worked to quiet it as he came down and his muscles began to relax. 

As soon as he had cleaned himself up, the shame returned. It washed over him like a tidal wave. Saizo sunk back down onto his cot and groaned under his breath, pressing his knuckles into his forehead. 

This was bad. Very bad. 

He couldn’t do this. Everything about this was inappropriate and indecent. He had already given himself a million reasons why he should forget his ridiculous infatuation with the girl, but to realize that it was more than this lust, to realize that he wanted her in every possible meaning of the word, was too much. 

He wished that he could dig his hand into his chest and rip Corrin out of his heart. It would be so much easier, so much less painful in the long run. 

If he were any normal man, and Corrin any common woman, things would be different. If he had been born into a different life, maybe as a blacksmith or a tanner, and maybe Corrin could have owned a flower shop or a bakery. They could’ve met in the market square instead of on the battlefield, and maybe he would have asked for her name instead of trying to kill her. And instead of spying on her, he would have taken his time and courted her properly. He could have taken her as his wife, and she could have born him sons and daughters. They could have lived a happy, simple life together. 

It was a stupid thought. He would never trade his duty and his title for such a trivial existence. His name, the legacy of his forefathers, which was his to uphold, was more important to him than anything else. His duty to Hoshido, to the royal family, and to Lord Ryoma, was a sacred oath that he lived to honor like his father before him. He was a Saizo, first and foremost, and though he could understand the draw of a simpler life, it was no life for him.

He couldn’t allow his feelings for Corrin to distract him from his true purpose. He and Corrin weren’t normal people. Any relationship between them was doomed to failure. For him it would present an impossible conflict of interest. What if he were put in the position where he was forced to choose between Corrin’s safety and Lord Ryoma’s? Would his love for Corrin overshadow his duty to protect his lord? Or would his duty require him to forfeit her life for the greater good? Could he possibly protect both his liege lord and his---

His what?

He had made a bold leap in logic to assume that any relationship between them could ever come about in the first place. First that would necessitate that Corrin return his affection, which was farfetched in and of itself. Why would she? What reason would she have to choose him? He’d tried to murder her the first time he set his eye on her. He had terrorized her, stalked her, and insulted her. He had treated her so poorly for so long that the guilt still gnawed at him for it. Had he ever been anything but rude, cold, or abrasive towards her? He hadn’t the slightest idea why she would even want to be his friend, let alone his lover. And how could someone as pure as her ever want to be with someone whose job was to bring death from the shadows, whose hands stank of blood? 

Even if, in some alternate universe, Corrin felt the same way about him, Lord Ryoma had made it perfectly clear that he did not approve of his sisters carrying on romantic relationships with other members of the army, or anyone else for that matter. He would likely remove Saizo from his service if he thought Saizo were both neglecting and taking advantage of his position as royal retainer by pursuing Corrin. Saizo still did not know what exactly the agreement Corrin had made with Ryoma was, but he was going with the assumption that Corrin had agreed to accept an arranged marriage in Hinoka’s place. If that were indeed the case, then he didn’t stand a chance. Leader of Igasato and the Fifth Saizo he may be, but he had no great armies, fertile lands, or precious supplies to offer in competition against high lords and foreign princes; everything they had, even the lives of Igasato’s leaders, had already been pledged to the crown for generations. There was nothing left for him to give in exchange for Corrin’s hand. 

It was hopeless. He was hopeless. There was no way he could have her. The sooner he stopped chasing these thoughts and accepted that reality, the better off he would be. He wished he hadn’t been so blind to his own emotions. If he had caught this sooner, maybe he could have put a stop to it. As much as he wanted to forget these feelings that he had for her, he knew that it was already too late for that. He loved her. He was such a fool for allowing it to get this far, but here he was: in love with someone with whom he had no business, no right, and no chance. Corrin was out of his reach, and she deserved better anyways.

Saizo gritted his teeth. As much as it hurt, he needed to promise himself that he wouldn’t let these feelings get in the way. He wouldn’t act on them. He would continue on as normal.  He would protect and serve Lord Ryoma and do his part to end this war. Those were his priorities. He needed to forget everything else. He needed to avoid being around her, especially alone, at all costs. On the battlefield, it couldn’t be helped. But otherwise, he would do his best to stay out of her way. She was a capable woman, and she had her own loyal retainers to watch over and guard her. She didn’t need his protection, and he didn’t need the distraction. 

Would she notice his absence? Would she care? 

It didn’t matter. It was for his own good, as well as hers. 


Everyone stood around in the war room, analyzing maps and strategizing for the upcoming battle. Corrin leaned across the table to put her hands on one of the maps. Saizo only just managed to keep his eyes on the table. Ryoma stood near him, and Jakob across the table. 

“If we go this way,” Corrin explained as she ran her fingers across the parchment, “We can stay out of the archers’ range long enough for us to rendezvous at this point.” She planted her finger on a patch of hill. “We’ll have the high ground, and with the bulk of our force behind us, we’ll smash the enemy lines.” 

There was nodding and some murmuring. 

“Excuse me m’lady, But if I may,” Jakob leaned over the table beside her, one hand placed on the small of her back as he pointed down to the map. 

Saizo didn’t hear the rest of the butler’s explanation. Blood was roaring in his ears. He stared at that hand, placed so subtly on her. He gritted his teeth seeing how Jakob leaned into her body, how close their heads were as Corrin nodded thoughtfully to whatever drivel he was spewing. Saizo’s fist clenched so he wouldn’t reach for his shuriken; oh how he would love to pin that hand to the table. He shut his eyes and tried to breathe. The air in the tent was stifling.

“Saizo?” 

Startled, he looked up. Corrin was gazing at him curiously. 

“What?” He growled. 

“I asked what you thought of Jakob’s plan,” Corrin cocked her head to one side. “Could it work?” 

“Doubt it,” He grumbled at the table, not knowing what the butler’s plan had been in the first place. 

Ryoma looked at him oddly. “Actually, I think it just might,” he said slowly, “If we can get the timing right.” 

Saizo’s gut clenched in anger.

As soon as the meeting was over, he stalked out of the tent, fuming. He needed to get some air.  

“Saizo?” A voice called after him. It was Corrin. 

Saizo cursed under his breath and vanished without looking back.

Corrin walked over to where she saw him disappear into the shadows of the night. Hadn’t he heard her? Of course he had. What was his issue lately? She sighed, not sensing his presence anywhere nearby. 

“Lady Corrin,” Kaze announced as he appeared beside her, “Is something the matter?”

“Kaze,” Corrin looked up at her retainer, “Have you noticed that Saizo’s been acting a little...different lately?”

Kaze’s mouth twitched. “Hmm, how so?”

“Well…” Corrin’s lips twisted into a worried frown. “It’s almost like he’s been avoiding me lately. I used to see him around camp all the time, and now it’s like I can’t find him even when I’m looking for him. We’ve barely spoken two words since the wedding, and I just can’t help but think...I mean I thought things were okay between us, but maybe they weren’t, or maybe I did or said something…”

“Pardon milady, but I’m going to stop you right there,” Kaze said, “If you start worrying every time Saizo’s in a bad mood, your hair will be gray by the time you’re our age. Let me assure you that if he’s acting oddly, it could by no means be your fault.”

“But what if--”

“Lady Corrin,” Kaze interrupted once more, “I happen to know for a fact that Saizo is in no way upset with you by word or deed. I said something to him the other week that he didn’t want to hear, so I believe his reclusive behavior is his way of coming to terms with the truth.”

“Truth?” Corrin wondered, “What did you tell him?”

Kaze let out a small chuckle. “Nothing he shouldn’t already have known himself, but nothing important. It was more of a personal issue that was discussed in confidence.” 

“Ahh.” Corrin nodded with understanding but her eyes still shone with worry and curiosity. “Is there anything I could do to help or…?”

Kaze gave her an appraising look. “May I ask a personal question?”

“Of course,” Corrin answered. 

“Does Saizo scare you?”

Corrin stared at him for a moment before she burst into laughter.

“Scare me? No, Saizo doesn’t scare me.”

“Even when you first came to Hoshido?” Kaze prompted. 

Corrin’s laughter died away, and she pursed her lips. “Well to be honest, he did at first. I mean, he tried to kill me. And then he accused me of being a traitor, threatened me, and stalked me relentlessly…”

“So what made you change your mind?” 

“Once I realized that he was trying to make me afraid of him, I made a deliberate effort not to be, purely out of spite,” Corrin explained with a mischievous grin. “That seemed to make him pretty mad, which was quite entertaining, at least once I realized it wouldn’t result in my immediate death.”

“So you called his bluff from the start?”

“Pretty much. After that, I was able to see through the gruff he puts on to the thoughtful and kind man he is underneath, as much as he likes to hide it from others.”

“You are an amazing woman, Lady Corrin,” Kaze smiled, “Not many people have been able to see that side of my brother.”

“Oh.” A light blush tinted Corrin’s cheek as her eyes darted away. “Well...that’s a shame.” 

“It might help if you could talk to him. He might be able to confide in you.”

“How am I supposed to talk to him when he runs away from me every time I approach?” 

Kaze grinned. “Leave that to me.”


Saizo leaned against the cold stone of the south wall as he waited. Thunder grumbled from the purple clouds that looked against the horizon. He heard someone approaching, and he looked up expecting to see Kaze. Instead, his heart leapt to his throat at the sight of Corrin walking towards him. 

“Don’t you dare!” 

Corrin’s words cut him off from pulling his vanishing act. He sighed heavily. He should have foreseen this. Of course his treacherous brother wouldn’t leave his personal affairs alone. He turned back to face the princess. 

“What do you want?” he growled, “And why this pretense?” 

“Says the man who literally just tried to disappear!” Corrin snapped back. 

“That’s—“ Saizo started. 

“Why are you avoiding me Saizo?” Corrin questioned, hurt breaking over the snark in her voice, “I don’t know what Kaze told you, but whatever is bothering you, I wish you would just talk to me instead of running away all the time!” 

Saizo paled. “What did Kaze say?” 

“Nothing! He said he told you something you didn’t want to hear, and that it was personal. I understand if it’s something you’re not comfortable discussing with me, but I just want to know why you think avoiding me at all costs is the solution to your problem!” 

Relief washed over him. At least Kaze hasn’t gone so far as to tell Corrin what this was really about. He’d just set him up to force Saizo into doing it himself. That bastard.

“It’s none of your business,” he snapped, “So keep your nose out of it.” 

“Seems like it is my business,” Corrin responded, “I’ve told you before that the well-being of my friends is important to me, and something is clearly going on with you. So I just want to know how I can help.” 

Saizo clenched his jaw. 

“Maybe I didn’t make this clear enough before,” he said, “I’m not interested in being your friend. I apologize if my actions led you to believe otherwise. We are comrades in arms. That’s it. So your ‘help’ is neither needed nor wanted. Now I would appreciate it if you would accept that and leave me alone.” 

Corrin felt her mouth fall open. His words stung as if he'd slapped her. She didn’t know what to say. A fat drop of rain hit her in the nose. They stood there facing each other in silence as the storm opened up around them. 

“I—“ Corrin started, but she couldn’t go on. Hot tears joined the cold rivulets of rain rolling down her cheeks. Saizo’s form was lost as the world blurred around her. 

Finally she found the strength to speak again. “I don’t get you at all Saizo. First you hate me, then after everything, you make me think that maybe...that maybe,” her voice faltered as she choked back a sob. She tried to blink away the tears and swallow the hard lump that had stuck in her throat. “...and now...I don’t know what to think.”

The moments stretched out. Saizo said nothing, and she couldn’t even read his face through the world of blurs. 

“Why are you doing this?” Her whisper was almost lost in the sound of the falling rain. 

“I don’t know what you mean,” he answered in a voice as cold as the water running down her back. 

“Stop pushing everyone away,” Corrin cried, looking up at his blurry form. Her fists balled at her sides. “Please, just talk to me!” 

“...There’s nothing to talk about,” Saizo answered, “I’m sorry. It’s better this way.” 

And with those words, he left. 

Corrin stood there alone as the storm raged on around her. She wasn’t sure how long she’d been standing there when someone started shaking her shoulders. She looked up to see a shock of white hair and a familiar face inches from hers. 

“Lady Corrin!” Jakob cried, his eyes wide, “What on earth are you doing out here? You’re soaked!”

“Jakob…” Corrin whispered, “When did you…?”

He held one hand up to cup her cheek. “I came looking for you when the storm broke and you failed to return. What happened to you?”

Corrin bit her trembling lip, but she couldn’t hold in it. The sobs came anyway. She folded forward, and Jakob caught her. She wrapped her arms around him and buried her face in his chest. Jakob was too shocked to move for a second. But he folded his arms around her and pulled her closer. 

“What’s wrong m’lady?” he whispered as he held onto her, “What--?”

“I don’t…I don’t want to...talk about it,” she choked out between sobs. 

Jakob’s brows furrowed, but he braced his legs and scooped her up into his arms. She gave none of her usual protest to such a gesture, which concerned him even more. 

“Okay. Okay. Let’s get out of this rain, shall we?” 

As he walked them back towards her bungalow, he became more and more sure that someone had done something to her. Whatever had been done or said, it had hurt his beloved lady and made her cry. For such a person, he could only hold the most murderous of intents.

Chapter Text

When Saizo received Lord Ryoma’s summons, his gut had clenched with anxiety. It was unusual for his lord to call on him when he was not on duty. Most matters were usually discussed in their daily breifings when Saizo came to relieve Kagero of her post or vice versa. To be called upon otherwise likely meant that something of utmost urgency had arisen. However, considering recent events, Saizo wondered if this timing was not coincidental. Could Corrin have gone to Lord Ryoma to report his behavior? Maybe she did so out of continued concern for him, or maybe she had gone to her older brother with the pain that he had obviously inflicted upon her. Lord Ryoma might demand penance or administer punishment if he had any idea what Saizo had put Corrin through. 

Every time he thought about what he had said to her...the pain in his chest was so great that he found himself scarcely able to breathe. Sleep had evaded him the past few nights, and what little he got was haunted with dreams of her. He hated himself with every fiber of his being for doing that to her. It was one of the hardest things he had ever done. But it had been necessary. At least, that’s what he kept telling himself. It was necessary. That did little to stop the guilt that bubbled in his stomach every time his thoughts returned to the tears on her cheeks or the tremble in her voice. Was he selfish for forcing her away, just to make it easier for him to resist his feelings for her? But what was it that she had said?

First you hate me, then after everything, you make me think that maybe...that maybe...

That maybe...what? What was it she couldn’t say? She had never been hesitant to speak openly of their friendship before. Was it possible that she might also…?

No. That was wishful thinking at best. He needed to stop overanalyzing it. Even if…well, then it was all for the better. He would be sparing both of them in the end. Better a little pain now than a world of grief later. It was better this way. That, at least, had been the truth. 

Saizo reached Lord Ryoma’s quarters. Whatever awaited him inside, it was best to get it over with. 

“My Lord,” he announced as he waited just outside the entrance to the large canvas tent. 

“Enter,” came his lord’s response. 

Saizo took a deep breath as he pushed the flap aside and stepped into the tent. 

It was empty except for Ryoma sitting on the raised diaz in the formal entrance. Ryoma’s personal quarters lay behind another set of tent flaps off to the left. Saizo walked forward and knelt before his lord, bowing his head. “Sir.”

“Sit,” Ryoma directed, “I have something I want to ask you.”

Saizo complied, moving to sit in seiza as he looked up at his lord’s face. “How may I be of service?”

“Here is my question,” Ryoma said, “Besides myself, which of my siblings would you trust the most to fight at your back?”

The question seemed strange to Saizo, but it was not his place to say so. The answer was so clear in his mind, that he didn’t even bother to stop and think about it before he blurted out her name: “Corrin, my Lord.”

The moment it left his mouth, he regretted it. Whatever the point of the question, he was certain that this answer was not in his best interest. It was too late to take it back now, so he sat in silence, mentally cursing himself as he awaited his lord's response. 

“I thought you might say so,” Ryoma nodded with a slight smile, as if he were pleased he knew his retainer so well, “In that case, it’s settled. I have a mission for you.”

Saizo sat in confused silence. 

Ryoma continued. “I have been monitoring a situation in the northern mountains for some time, but the situation has become more alarming in recent days. There is what we believe to be a militant sect that has taken root near the Taka Pass. Reports have been few, but from what we know, they have been responsible for a string of massacers and disappearances in several surrounding villages. We know little about who they are, what their goal is, or whether or not they are in league with Nohr. We do know that they are skilled mages who employ strange and powerful magic. In the last report we recieved, the village of Kusa had been all but wiped from the map, with no survivors and massive and unexplained damage to the infrastructure. We received no further reports, and when we sent scouts to investigate, they failed to return.”

Saizo took in this information, which while troubling, seemed unrelated to his lord’s initial question. 

“Since we have currently reached a lull in our fight against Nohr,” Ryoma went on, “I have decided that now is time to address and nullify this threat. Which is why I have decided to send you and Corrin to assess and deal with the situation if possible, and if not to return and gather reinforcements to do so.” 

Saizo’s mouth fell open beneath his mask. Shit. 

He cleared his throat. “Pardon, my Lord, but when you asked your question earlier, I assumed that you meant on the field of battle.”

Ryoma nodded, “I did.”

“But, my Lord.” Saizo searched for the right words. “This mission will require skills only ninja possess. While Corrin is a force of nature on the battlefield, without such training, it is my belief that she is ill-equipped to handle such an assignment. Would it not do better to send another ninja to accompany me? Surely Kaze or Kagero-- ”

 Ryoma tilted his head. “It’s unusual for you to question my orders Saizo. While I do understand your concern, I have spent many hours thinking this through. I asked you to choose from my siblings, because I believe it is necessary that you have someone accompanying you who can not only hold their own, but who can also access dragon veins. To travel to and from Taka Pass on foot would take precious weeks of your time that we can’t afford to waste. I have consulted with Lilith, who has advised me that there are little to no accessible dragon veins within the mountains. She will take you to the closest one, near Shinuru, and on the return journey, Corrin will be able to reopen it to return you both to the Astral Realm.”

Saizo’s mind was whirling, looking for any possible way out of this mess. “I do not mean to question your judgement my Lord, but I understand the gravity of this mission, so I want to be sure all avenues have been explored. Would Lord Takumi not be better-suited for this mission? He is adept at moving through rough terrain. We would be able to make quicker progress through the mountains if I were accompanied by him rather than Corrin.”

Ryoma nodded, “You make a fair point; however, if I’m correct, you and Takumi have very little experience pairing up in battle. Considering the danger of this mission, you will need someone whom you can trust, whose moves you can predict and whose style compliments your own. I have seen you and Corrin work together in battle many a time, and as you said yourself, she is the one you trust the most. So in these regards, she is the clear choice.”

Saizo cursed himself again. “While I am happy to give my life in your service, my Lord, Corrin is invaluable to our cause. Considering the danger of this mission…”

“I understand your concern. I would not put her life in anyone else’s hands Saizo. Corrin is fully capable of handling herself, but I know, should anything happen, that I can trust you to protect her at all costs. I have no doubt that she will do her utmost to keep you safe as well. I have full faith that you will both return to me in one piece.” 

Saizo felt his heart sink in defeat. He could not think of any other reasonable means of escape. Lord Ryoma had made up his mind. What sadistic god had he crossed to deserve this cruel twist of fate?

“Understood.” Saizo tried to hide the despair in his voice. “When do we leave?”

 


 

Corrin sifted through the ocean of papers that covered her writing desk. She admonished herself for not being more organized. Terrain maps were stacked on top of provision requests, which were intermixed with scouting reports. She was glad Jakob wasn’t around to see her frustration. He was always on her case about the state of her desk, which she forbade him from touching. It was chaos, but it was structured chaos. Sort of. Usually. She almost always knew where everything was. Except for times like right now. When she couldn’t find the damned ledger anywhere. 

There was a sharp knock on her door. Corrin growled under her breath as she found the same stupid requests for bath robes for the fifth time. 

“Not now,” she called as she shuffled the papers around, “I’m busy.” She couldn’t trust herself to have a civil conversation right now when she was already this irritated. 

“It’s urgent.” 

That voice stopped her in her tracks. She leaned heavily against the desk for support. 

“Then enter,” she sighed, picking up another paper and scanning over it. 

She heard the door open and shut. She didn’t hear footsteps, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t right behind her. She continued reading over the report, but when he spoke, it was clear he had stopped just inside the doorway. 

“Lord Ryoma requests your presence in his quarters.”

Corrin set the paper down, having not actually comprehended a single word on the page.

She pushed herself off her desk and turned to face him. “Okay. Thank you.” 

When Saizo didn’t move, Corrin raised her eyebrows. “Anything else?”

When he still said nothing, Corrin shrugged and made for the door. Saizo’s arm came up, blocking her path as she moved to walk past him. “Wait.” 

Corrin felt her heart skitter, but she forced out a breath as she stopped short. She turned her gaze up to his face. “What?”

“Ryoma is going to ask you to do something,” Saizo said, “You need to refuse.” 

Corrin took a second to digest that. One of her hands rested on her hip, the other came up to pinch the bridge of her nose. She closed her eyes and tried to make sense of it. 

“And why should I do that?” she asked. 

“Because it’s the right choice,” he answered. 

Corrin sighed. “Well I won’t know that until I hear what he wants, will I? Now please move.” 

“No,” Saizo growled, “Listen to me--”

“No, you listen to me,” she snapped. “I don’t know why you think you suddenly have the authority to make my decisions for me. You’re either going to explain what’s going on, or you’re going to get out of my way so I can go talk to my brother about it. Make your choice.” 

“...Fine.” Saizo crossed his arms. “Lord Ryoma wants you to accompany me on a long and dangerous mission. So you need to turn it down.” 

Corrin narrowed her eyes. “Why?”

“Did you not hear what I said?” Saizo stared down at her. “It’s a long and dangerous mission.”

Corrin bit her lip and her eyes wandered the room for several seconds while she sorted through her thoughts. 

“So,” she said, turning back to Saizo, “You don’t want me to go on this mission with you. That’s not surprising I guess. Is it because you don’t think I can handle it, or because you don’t want to be around me?”

Corrin crossed her own arms and waited for his response. It took several moments of silence before he answered. 

“Yes.”

Corrin scoffed and let out a humorless chuckle. “Figures. Well, the way I see it, if Ryoma has decided that it’s a mission I can handle, then it’s probably a mission I can handle. I’m sure he has his reasons for choosing me. And maybe this will give me the chance to remove that stick that’s been lodged up your as--”

“Corrin,” Saizo growled, taking a step towards her, “This is serious. Do you have any training in stealth? Reconnaissance? Survival? Any of the ninja arts?”

“No, but--”

“Exactly. You have no experience. You are not equipped for this line of work. You would be a liability to both of us.”

“You can train me,” Corrin insisted, “I’m a fast learner. Whatever I need to know, you can--”

Now it was Saizo’s turn for an empty laugh. “You think you could become a ninja in a matter of weeks? Don’t insult me. It takes years to master even the basics--someone like you--”

Someone like me?” Corrin felt her temper flare.

Saizo hissed. “All I’m trying to say is that you are not suited to the task. It would put you at too great a risk.” 

“So you think your judgement is better than Ryoma’s? Don’t you think he’s thought this through? He wouldn’t ask me to do something if he didn’t think I was capable.”

“Ryoma is a prince, not a ninja,” Saizo said, “He assigns the missions, but he has never been on one. He knows the risk on paper.”

“What does that even mean?”

“Corrin,” Saizo loomed closer, “Have you ever been tortured?”

“Huh?” Corrin’s eyes widened, “What do you…?”

“These people…” Saizo grabbed her by the arm. “...will do whatever it takes to get what they want. If they capture you…” 

Saizo spun. Before she could react, he had grabbed her other hand, and just like that, she was pinned against the wall with both of her hands immobilized above her head. Something in her stomach flipped. Her instincts fought against one another, rendering her motionless as she stared up into the face that was now only inches from hers. Her heart was beating out of control. Her mind was blank, caught between surprise and something else. 

“...they will hurt you in every way imaginable.” Saizo’s voice was low as he moved in closer. Corrin was frozen. “As a woman, you would be an especially vulnerable captive. Are you prepared to endure unthinkable suffering, if it means keeping the secrets of your comrades safe until your final breath?” 

His mouth was near her ear. Corrin could hardly breathe. His breath rustled the strands of hair by her ear, and she could feel the rumble of his voice in his chest as he spoke. He towered over her, blocking the rest of the room from her sight. She could only stare into the tattered blue scarf that looped around his neck, almost close enough to her face to tickle her nose. She could smell the scents of leather and gunpowder that clung to him. The coarse fabric of his gloves was rough against the skin of her wrists as he restrained them with ease, his grip gentle yet firm. He was all around her. 

“If you can’t do that, then you will have to take your own life before it falls into their hands...Do you think...that’s something you could do?”

The cogs in Corrin’s brain groaned before they began turning again as she stood there, pressed between Saizo and the wall. Thoughts began to spin in her mind. Everything was confusing, and nothing made sense, nothing more so than the conflicting reactions of her body and mind to the current situation. What the hell was wrong with her? Putting aside those thoughts into the ‘ definitely examine later ’ bin in the back of her head, Corrin summoned the willpower to force her mind back into some semblance of logical order. Adding together everything he’d said, something finally clicked. She took a deep breath, hoping her voice wouldn’t betray her.

“Saizo…Are you...You are. You’re worried about me. That’s what this is about.” She felt his muscles stiffen as she spoke. 

“That’s not it,” he growled, so low that she felt the vibrations. It sent a shiver down her spine. 

Pushing that away, Corrin’s thoughts churned further. She felt something begin to build inside of her, now that she had shaken off the initial shock. 

“Not all of it maybe. Maybe you do think I’ll be a burden. There’s something else too, isn’t there? But in any case…” She lowered her voice to a dangerous pitch. “This is a fucked up way of going about it.”

Saizo drew his head back and looked into her face. Corrin stared back into his bewildered eye. She knew her pupils must be the dragon’s slits by now. That feeling had ballooned inside of her until she was almost ready to burst. Her entire body began to quake. 

“I think I understand what you were trying to do,” she said, “And I appreciate your concern for my well-being. However, you seem to have forgotten who I am. I am not a maid in a tower who needs saving from a dragon. I am the dragon. And if you don’t remove your hands from me in the next five seconds, I will burn you to a husk and dance in your ashes.”

The grip on her wrists loosened, and Saizo backed away, his one eye stretched wide. 

Corrin didn’t let him get away. She followed, closing the space between them again. “Furthermore, I am a princess of Hoshido, commander of the Hoshidan army, and wielder of the sacred Yato blade. I know the risks. I am neither immortal nor infallible. If at any point my continued existence becomes a risk to the safety of my friends or my country, I will not hesitate to run Yato through my heart. If I am being called upon to serve in the interests of Hoshido, I will do whatever needs to be done, without fail. Nothing you can say or do will sway me from this. If you doubt my convictions, then you don’t know me as well as I thought you did Saizo.” 

Silence stretched out. Saizo slowly sank down to one knee and bowed his head to her. 

“Please...forgive me. It was never your conviction that I doubted, but rather...my own.”

“Your conviction?” The tide of rage within her had crested, and now it slowly began to ebb.

The pained breath that escaped him surprised her. “I….I can’t fully explain, but...I just know that if anything were to happen to you, and I failed to stop it, Lord Ryoma would never forgive me...and I would never forgive myself.” He kept his eye on the floor.

“Saizo,” Corrin knelt down next to him, “The only reason I’m alive here in front of you today...is because you saved me. I would be dead if it weren’t for you.”

Saizo let out a breath that may have been a laugh. “The only reason I got the opportunity to do that was because your Nohrian brother stopped me from killing you that day on the edge of the Bottomless Canyon.”

“We were enemies,” Corrin spoke softer now. What barrier had crumbled between them? “On opposite sides of the battlefield. It was the natural thing to do. I don’t hold that against you Saizo. I never did. But in any case, you’re giving yourself too much credit. Whether it’s on a mission or on the battlefield, my choices are my own. If I get hurt or even die, it’s not because anyone else failed--it’s because I made a decision. While you can try your damndest, my life ultimately rests in my own hands, and I am the one who gets to decide what to do with it. So don’t go taking the blame for something that isn’t your fault, even before it happens…”

Saizo sighed, and let out a small laugh, but this time there was actual humor behind it. “Why did I think I could talk you out of it to begin with? It’s not like you’ve ever listened to me before.” 

Corrin grinned. “I don’t know. It was your dumb idea, so you tell me.” 

Saizo lowered his eyes once more. “But I apologize for my...brazenness. That was… completely out of line. I understand if you wish to report my actions to Lord Ryoma. I will accept whatever punishment you deem fit.” 

“Hmm,” Corrin pursed her lips and put one finger to the corner of her mouth, “That was rather uncalled for, and very rude, might I add. As penance, I demand that you acquire fruit tortes and bring them to my room later so you and I can discuss the mission over tea.” 

Saizo looked up at her incredulously. “I don’t understand. I showed you such disrespect, and you want me to...bring you dessert?”

Corrin’s lips curled into an evil smirk. “Oh, don’t worry. They’re not for me.”

He stared back at her for several moments, before his eyes widened. “You can’t be serious.”

“Deadly.” Corrin grinned, delighting in the abject horror that was dawning on his face. 

“Of all the--” Saizo started, but cut himself off with a growl. “You’re sadistic. But I suppose I should be grateful. And I did say I would accept whatever you decided.”

“Yes,” Corrin said, feeling altogether too pleased with herself. “Yes, you did.” 

“Hmph. Fine.” 

Saizo stood and offered her his hand. She took it and allowed him to pull her up to her feet. She had no idea what had changed. This was a completely different Saizo than the one who had been so cold to her before. What was causing him to flip-flop on her like this? Part of her wanted to bring it up now that he seemed to be more open to her. But she was afraid if she did, the wall would slam right back down again. Maybe it was best to leave it alone and just go with it for now. 

“While I still don’t think you should go on this mission, I see that trying to change your mind is as futile as ever, so I guess that is a moot point. However, I have some conditions for my full cooperation.”

“Go on.”

“First, you are to become my pupil. I will train you in what ninja arts I can and fulfill my role as your master. You in turn must do your best to learn, and quickly, and fulfill your role as my student. Agreeable?”

Corrin nodded firmly.

“Second, I will be the leader of this patrol. In the field, my experience outweighs everything. I will give the orders, and you will follow them without hesitation. This is for your own safety as well as mine; it could mean the difference between life and death.”

Corrin hesitated. As he well knew, she wasn’t the best at obeying orders. Something about it stuck in her craw, but she knew he was right. In this situation, she would need to rely on his experience, so she needed to recognize it. 

He raised an eyebrow at her hesitation.

“Fine,” she conceded.

“Good. Lastly, in all situations, your life takes highest priority. Above mine, above the success of this mission. Getting you back here safely is paramount to everything else. Is that clear? In the worst case scenario, I might give you the order to retreat and abandon both me and the mission. And as you’ve just agreed, you will be obligated to follow that order. Are you prepared to do that?”

Corrin hesitated again. Leave Saizo behind? To die? She could never do that, could she? It went against her nature. It was unthinkable. 

“Corrin.”

“Saizo, I can’t--”

“You can, and you will. Swear it.”

Corrin was silent. 

“I can find more creative ways of leaving you behind, if you’d like.”

“...Fine,” Corrin promised through gritted teeth, “I swear it.”

“Good. Those are my conditions. Is it still your intention to accept this mission?”

Corrin let out a breath and nodded. “Yes. Yes, it is.”

Saizo sighed. “Very well. Go talk to Lord Ryoma. I will see about starting the preparations for our journey....and acquiring some fruit tortes.”