She spots the splash of color before she does anything else. One moment she’s making her way up a winding mountain path, green surrounding her from every angle, and the next the road opens over a small valley, nestled by the side of the slope and peppered with countless, bright yellow dots.
Dorte huffs in silent appreciation and Marianne bends down ever so slightly to pat the side of his neck. It’s warm and coarse against her bare hand, but she’s found not much use for gloves after she had the chance to put down Blutgang. “You shouldn’t eat the flowers,” she murmurs, smiling when he huffs again. “I’m sure Leonie will have hay ready for you once we make it there.”
Right on cue, she hears a voice calling her name from a little further down. “Marianne!” Leonie hollers as she waves her arms, as if spotting her standing in the middle of the narrow road could be any hard for Marianne after years of finding each other in the smothering, bloodied chaos of war.
There’s no war in the valley though; no battle cries, no metal hitting metal, no deafening explosions rattling her to the bones. She thinks she can hear the distant sound of a cow’s bell.
“Um, yes,” she says, trying not to cringe too visibly at how small her voice feels and how far Leonie still is from her. She taps Dorte’s side with her feet and he’s gracious enough to speed up. “Hi,” she tries again once she’s gotten closer.
The years have been kind to Leonie, or at least that’s how it feels to Marianne. Her hair looks softer and she’s got a few scars, pale and thin and glimmering faintly in the sun with the trapped residues of healing magic whenever the light hits them at a certain angle. It makes something twist inside of Marianne to think that it’s her handiwork, her signature shining in the same way on her fingertips, on display for people to see. She makes a face.
“You okay there?” Leonie’s frowning, one hand propped on her hip and the other shielding her eyes as she looks up, and whatever was writhing in Marianne’s guts sinks lower as she remembers in full the feeling of being under Leonie’s scrutiny. It used to be unpleasant, terrifying at times, but the thrill that runs down her back is much different now.
“Just a bit tired,” she mumbles, no louder than the faraway cow’s bell. If Leonie’s unconvinced, the only hint of it is the slanted line of her lips.
There’s a vase sitting in the middle of the table: it’s a ruddy brown, with crude swirls of paint, some visible fingerprints and a heap of yellow flowers coming out of it. Marianne has been staring at it for the past twenty minutes.
The alternative would be to acknowledge she’s inside of Leonie’s house and that Leonie herself is right in front of her, wearing nothing more than an old, loose shirt, a pair of pants that have fake blood stains from theatre props on them and an apron. The sleeves of the shirt are rolled up all the way to her elbows and the collar is missing the first two buttons.
Marianne stays perfectly still as a bowl filled with what smells like potato stew is placed in front of her and a strand of red hair tickles her cheek. A redstart flutters to a stop on the windowsill and she sends it a look she hopes will convey the fact that she’s about to pass over.
“Hello, little bird,” she thinks. “Please tell Dorte I’ve always loved him, even when he ate a week’s worth of rations in one night and we had to live off of wild apples until we reached the next town.”
Her stomach growls, so she brings a spoonful of stew to her mouth and nearly chokes on it when Leonie says, “Did I do something wrong?”
There’s a look of genuine hurt on her face, like something unearthed from their days at Garreg Mach, and for a moment all Marianne can do is fight off the cold panic that’s washed over her. She sets her spoon down, then she takes a deep breath. Before she say anything, though, Leonie beats her to it.
“In my last letter, was I— was I too forward? I knew I shouldn’t have listened to Felix, especially now that he’s been reading all those trashy books Ashe and Dorothea keep lending him ‘for inspiration’, but I just wanted…”
Marianne looks at her, transfixed, as she peters off kind of miserably, wringing her hands above the table. A still pink cut runs across her left pinkie all the way to her wrist, maybe from an accident chopping wood.
Without thinking, Marianne lets magic coalesce in the air between them until there’s a flash of familiar runes and the cut starts fading. When she raises her eyes she finds Leonie’s on her, burning and a little wild. Leonie’s cheeks are the same color as the vase.
“Ah, sorry,” Marianne says, clasping her hands together as if that alone could snuff out any more sparks of magic. “I should’ve asked first. Um, old habits.”
“No, it’s fine.” Leonie sounds off in the silence of the room, like it’s echoing with things unsaid, or coming from very far away. “I don’t mind. Thank you.”
They’re both quiet after that, and Marianne has no idea of what’s happening. An old voice inside of her head whispers that it’s all her fault, that she’s ruined this too, but she ignores it. Instead, she tries to remember the last letter she’s received; it hadn’t seemed any different from the usual to her, except for the fact that Leonie had asked her if she wanted to visit.
“I remember you liked the flowers,” the letter had said. “Pink is fine, but I think the yellow ones that grow here would look better on you.”
Two things dawn upon her: the first is that she has yet to reassure Leonie about her supposed wrongdoings, which she should get to soon if she doesn’t want this reunion to turn into an unfortunate case of the two of them stewing in their respective woes. The second thing is that up until now Leonie has, carefully, as if not to spook a wild animal, tried to court her.
Feeling a bit winded, Marianne says, “There was nothing too forward in your letter.” She takes a deep breath. “If anything, I’m the one who should ask for forgiveness. For being so slow on the uptake.”
The flowers seem to shine the way alive things do, like outstretched hands as the sunlight passes through them and illuminates all the little veins, and Marianne plucks one from the vase, careful not to drip any water on the wooden table. She gets up from her chair, leaning over to where Leonie’s sitting and sliding the stem behind her ear until only the petals are poking out. Were she bolder she would affix it to the empty buttonhole of Leonie’s shirt, but she doesn’t think it’s quite the time for that yet, no matter how dizzy the idea makes her feel.
“You wear yellow better than I do,” she says around a small, awkward smile. Her own clothes are coated in thin, clingy dust and speckled with mud, but for once that doesn’t make her feel self-conscious. Rather, it’s proof she’s made it all the way to where she’s supposed to be.
Leonie, who’s been staring at her with the same incredulous expression Marianne’s once seen her make the first time Cyril beat Shamir in an archery competition, seems to be slowly piecing herself back together and so Marianne waits, fighting the urge to run away with another spoonful of stew. It might be bad manners to eat in the middle of a love confession, or courting negotiation, but neither of them has ever been one to stick to proper etiquette.
Three morsels later, Leonie breaks the silence. “No, I, uh. I still think they’d look prettier on you.”
Marianne would laugh at her stubbornness, even in the face of something like this, but the air gets choked out of her when rough, calloused fingers brush a strand of hair from her face. Leonie’s hand lingers there and Leonie smiles, quiet and unruffled like she so rarely had the chance to be back during the war.
“You’ve got that cute braid thing going on,” she says, “I could just stick, like, a bunch of flowers in there. I could make a whole bouquet.”
Boldness has never been Marianne’s strong suite, but Byleth once told her with something that could’ve been amusement in their eyes that the Goddess was nothing short of mouthy. It had been a weird thing to grapple with after a lifetime of cold marble biting at her knees through the fabric of her skirts, but she finds comfort in it now as she looks at Leonie in the eyes and says, “yes, you could.”