Final Part of a fanfiction by Velkyn Karma

Disclaimer: I do not own, or pretend to own, the Fire Emblem game series or any of its subsequent characters, plots or other ideas. That right belongs solely to Nintendo and Intelligent Systems. The only thing here that's mine is the idea for the story.

"Loyalty isn't standing by someone when he's right...that's good judgment. Loyalty is standing by someone when he's wrong."

Susan Estrich

"I heard her say her name!" Ike growled in frustration, pacing in his improvised command center as he replayed the scene in his head again.

Titania watched him pace, feeling the disappointment of her commander—and charge—deeply. Since Soren was presently asleep (for once, she thought wryly) and had no way to explain the complexities of the healing process, she took it upon herself to calm the young mercenary in her own way.

"Relax, Ike," she said simply. "You knew this was going to take time. I know you're frustrated, but this won't help Lethe recover any faster."

"But I know I heard it!" Ike said, still looking irritated. "And that was five days ago...there's been two more healing sessions since then. If she could speak before, why can't she now? Is something going wrong?"

"You trust Rhys and Soren, don't you?" Titania said more than asked. "They know what they're doing. I'm sure everything is working completely fine."

"But I know I heard it!" Ike insisted.

"Are you sure?" Titania asked sensibly. "Maybe you mistook a growl for words." At Ike's look, she raised her hands, placating, and added, "I'm not disputing you, commander, but I don't think it's very healthy for you to get all worked up over what could be nothing."

The mercenary leader sighed and ran a hand through his shock of blue hair, but nodded grudgingly. "Maybe I misheard it," he admitted slowly. "I just want this whole mess to be over already, I guess. Lethe doesn't deserve this."

"I agree," Titania said with a nod. "But all we can do now is watch and wait, and trust that our healers know what they're doing. We--"

Whatever she had been about to suggest came to a crashing halt as the door opened with an equally loud smash. An excited Mist, panting heavily but with a look of elation on her face, came bounding into the room. She began speaking even as an irritable Soren poked a weary head from his own quarters in time to hear her news.

"Lethe talked to Mordecai!" she yelped excitedly.

Ike, shocked, honed in on the conversation immediately. "She did? For how long?"

"She had a whole conversation with him," the girl answered,a huge grin on her face. "In their own language—Mordecai was in his tiger form, I forgot—it sounded like a whole bunch of roars and growls and they moved their paws and ears a lot. But he said they talked—just about simple stuff—and she definitely understood him!"

The mercenary commander blinked in surprise, but then his expression cracked into a grin as he gave Titania a quick glance. She herself was pleased at the news as well—though she'd never really interacted with Lethe much, she respected the laguz for her ability and determination, and had been as worried as the rest when they found her in such a horrible state. But if she was able to hold a conversation, even a limited one...then things were at last approaching the final stages.

"Come on," Mist added, "Mordecai says he needs to talk to you about it, Ike. It's important!" The commander needed no further urging, darting after his sister with Titania hot on his heels. Even Soren, a bewildered and strangely expressive look on his face, followed after them with only a moment's hesitation.

The days following seemed to move with extraordinary speed. Healing sessions continued as normal, though Soren suspected there was little left that they could do, well into their sixth week of work. Lethe continued to hold limited—but increasingly more complex—conversations with Mordecai in their own laguz language, and kept an amazing focus on beorc speaking the common tongue with her. Often she would sit and listen to them for hours at a time, imitating familiar words when she could, forming basic sentences when she could gather the strength and will to fight back It from its weakening grip over her body. Her aggression had vanished completely; even beorc she had disliked could approach her cage without fear.

Lethe was coming back.

The true indication of their success came days later, however, when most of the mercenary group was present. Under the coaxing and example of Mordecai, with some encouragement from Ike, Lethe had concentrated hard and, with slow grace, had shifted into her half-beorc form willingly.

It had only lasted for a few minutes, and the poor cat had collapsed into unconsciousness soon after, but the power of the event was unquestionable. With the shift back into her true form, the grip that It held over her seemed to strain and break. Clarity flowed back to her slowly but surely, and that deep part of her that was truly Lethe clawed its way closer to the surface.

On that day, Ike unlocked her cage and let her walk free among her companions once again.

Only two more healing sessions followed after that. These were simple and quick, not nearly so powerful or draining as they had been previously, chasing away the last of the now-mild taint of ferality poison from her body. With each session she felt herself growing stronger, felt It's weak hold slipping away. With each session, too, she was able to hold her half-beorc form longer before falling back to her cat form with exhaustion.

As the last of the Overseer's vile poisons were expelled from her, she felt her strength returning completely, her mind belonging to her once again. With confidence, she took her half-beorc form once more, and remained in it, completely healed.

Lethe was back.

Lethe spent the next few days recovering from the tiring effects of the healing process. Most of her time was spent holed up in her private chambers, resting, but Ike wasn't too worried. He would speak to her when she was ready; for now, he had other business to attend to.

He found Soren in the suite of rooms acting as the Greil Mercenaries command center, studiously ignoring the beautiful weather outside in favor of more work. With the healing process completed, the staff-officer had returned to his original duties, which had been neglected in favor of studying the Overseer's vast amounts of notes. Now, quill in hand, the young mage was running over lists of supplies, financial accounts, and other reports, just as he had been for the entirety of the day.

"Soren!" Ike called, as he stepped through the heavy wooden door into the room. "I thought I'd find you here."

The staff-officer looked up, giving his commander a momentary glance. "Ike. Just the person I wanted to see. Some of our supplies and weaponry are running low, and I need to talk to you about restocking."

The mercenary leader shook his head in exasperation. "Do you ever stop working, Soren?"

"If I did, I would be a rather inefficient staff officer," the mage replied dryly. "I've fallen behind on my work as it is."

Ike shook his head again, but at least the dark lines under Soren's eyes had vanished, so he'd gotten some rest. "You don't have to work constantly, you know. I told you before—take a break, and don't bite off more than you can chew."

"Of course," Soren responded automatically, though they both knew perfectly well that he wouldn't be taking a break anytime soon. "If that was all you wanted to tell me, perhaps we could discuss restocking our stores--"

"Actually, there was something else," Ike said, his expression and voice becoming more serious. Soren met his eyes squarely, no doubt patiently awaiting orders, and his commander continued. "Thanks, Soren."

The mage looked bewildered—clearly he was not expecting the conversation to move in such a direction. "Excuse me?"

"I know that throughout this whole thing, you haven't really agreed with my decisions," Ike said. "In fact, sometimes you even argued against them, and I know you weren't happy with a lot of my final choices. But you stuck by me anyway, regardless of the consequences, and turned half a dozen hopeless situations into successes." He shrugged. "We wouldn't have—I wouldn't have—made it through any of this without your help. I want you to know I appreciate it, a lot."

Soren looked startled, but moved to smooth over his expression back to its usual emotionless, calculating look. "A staff-officer's duty is to support his leader, regardless of his own opinions," he said simply.

Ike gave him a look and raised an eyebrow. "Officers make decisions out of duty, sure," he agreed. "But friends make decisions out of loyalty." And he gave Soren that stern-but-friendly look that belonged to Ike alone. "Thanks."

The commander turned and exited the room calmly, off to take care of further errands, and left the thoroughly puzzled, but somehow pleased, staff-officer to his work.

Several days later, Ike approached the newly healed Lethe as she basked outside in the courtyard, still under orders to rest but much less willing to obey such commands. The laguz was flopped lazily underneath one of the trees in her half-beorc form, Mordecai only a few feet away and playing gently with a few tiny sparrows.

Ike wasn't really sure how to handle this interaction. He wasn't nervous about it really; he simply didn't know what to say, especially with someone as easily irked as Lethe. But it was a conversation that had to be made, and the mercenary leader was willing to grit his teeth and bear it. Besides, he wanted to see how Lethe was doing after her full recovery, and hadn't had a chance to speak to her since that last treatment.

The laguz looked up slowly as he approached her seat, twitching her long orange tail absently, and then hissed a greeting. "Hello."

"Hey, Lethe," Ike returned, closing the distance and sitting down on the ground across from her. "How're you doing?"

The cat sniffed distastefully. "The priest insists that I rest further," she said, sounding a little sullen, "as though I am weak as a beorc. The laguz recover quickly!"

"So you feel fine?" Ike pressed, ignoring the mild slight for now.

She sighed, but nodded. "Yes," Lethe admitted after a moment. "Much better. Strong and agile once more, and most of all, in control." The tiniest of shivers ran through her body then, invisible to all but those looking for it.

Ike had been looking for it.

"You okay?" he asked, with a concerned frown. They had known what happened to Lethe physically, of course, but nobody could really understand fully what had happened in her mind. Soren had made educated guesses based upon the Overseer's notes, and explained as much as he was able to his commander, but that was as much information as he was able to gather.

Still, Ike knew it had to be unpleasant, and had no doubts that Rhys' order of rest was for more than just Lethe's body.

"I'm fine," the cat answered stiffly, though her deliberate stare at one of Mordecai's fluttering sparrows suggested otherwise. While she looked away, Ike caught the large tiger's eyes, communicating his intents nonverbally. Talk to her about it.

Mordecai, understanding the glitter in his commander's eyes almost perfectly, nodded quietly. Of all of them, the tiger was the best able to understand what Lethe had been through, and he would help her however he could.

Lethe seemed to recover herself and returned her violet gaze to Ike curiously. "Did you need something? I do not feel like sparring today," she added sharply, noting one of the leader's hands resting comfortably on the hilt of his sword.

Ike shook his head immediately, removing his hand from the blade as he did so. "That's not why I'm here." He paused, considered, and then, with his usual blunt attitude, decided to simply dive on in. "I'm sorry, Lethe."

The cat looked confused. "You are apologizing?" A low hiss. "What for?"

Ike shrugged helplessly. "It was my decision that got you caught in the first place. I should have thought my orders through more closely before I sent you to check on bandits involved in laguz-capturing activity." He paused as Lethe flicked her tail angrily and growled low in her throat, but plowed right on. "And I'm sorry, too, that I had to keep you in that cage while you were being healed. I didn't want the others to get hurt while you were...not yourself...but it was still against my better judgment."

Lethe growled again, and then snarled sharply, "If it had been any other beorc that had ordered me put in that thing, I would have torn him to shreds even after I regained my senses." Another soft, almost unnoticeable shiver, but then the cat took a deep breath, and as Mordecai gave her a reproachful look, she continued. "But I understand now that you had no intentions of cruelty or slavery. I can..." another pause, a slight grimace, but then her face smoothed as she finished, "I can forgive you for that."

"As for the mission assignment," the laguz continued, before Ike could speak, "you should not apologize for that at all! You did give me the orders, yes. But I accepted them on my own, despite my own doubts, and went anyway." She scoffed. "Do not be foolish enough to try and take blame where there isn't any! It is not a good quality in a leader."

Ike had not quite expected to be berated when he went to make his apology, and abruptly burst into a soft bout of laughter as she finished. "Right," he agreed, once he had calmed down a bit, mostly under the cat's sullen glare. "I'll remember that for the future." Lethe snorted, a little irritably, and was not prepared for his next question. "How do you feel about beorc now?"

The laguz frowned and snapped her tail again, this time in confusion. "What do you mean?"

"I know you really didn't like us beorc before," Ike commented absently, "and after some recent events, I can't say I can blame you for being a little distrusting still." He gave her a critical look. "At the same time, a lot of beorc around here were really worried for you."

Lethe paused, considering. Truth be told, she wasn't entirely sure what to think of the beorc anymore. The Overseer and his stinking underlings and been cruel and evil to the core, very much like she had expected any beorc to act.

At the same time, many of them had proven themselves to be as spirited and dedicated as her fellow laguz. She had found herself relieved to discover that Zihark had survived their encounter and was, in fact, recovering fully. When she had fully returned to herself, she had been almost astonished to learn that the entire mercenary company—mostly beorc—had set out to rescue their fellow member without so much as a pause of hesitation to bring her back, and had waited anxiously to see that she could be rescued. It was the beorc, and not the laguz, that had helped her defeat It (another shudder ran through her), and even that whining, skinny little shadow of Ike's had played a critical role in her recovery.

"Perhaps I was wrong," the cat admitted after a moment. "About some beorc," she added disdainfully, when Ike began to smile. "They can be trustworthy and loyal sometimes, I suppose."

"And worth befriending?"

"You go too far!" Lethe snapped, a little sullenly, but at Ike's persistent gaze she added a bit grudgingly, "but perhaps you are right there, as well."

Ike's stern but friendly smile met her own expression as he hoisted himself to his feet, resting his hand comfortably on his sword hilt again. Lethe watched the way the swordsman moved at ease with his odd beorc weapon, and on impulse snapped suddenly, "I apologize as well."

Now it was Ike's turn to look confused. "Huh?"

"I...attacked you," Lethe said, after a moment's hesitation. "And bit you. My teeth are sharp. I am sure it hurt."

Ike gave her another critical look, and then said calmly, "Didn't you just finish lecturing me about not apologizing for things beyond your control? You weren't yourself. It's fine." He waved his hand—the one that had been bitten—absently, and added, "besides, it was healed five minutes later, I barely even felt it."

Lethe was taken aback, but then recognized suddenly the challenge to her skill. "You lie!" she snapped, agitated. "My jaws are strong. You most certainly must have felt it."

Ike grinned. "Beorc are tougher than you think, Lethe. I hardly felt anything." The cat growled in frustration, but her temporary leader had already waved his hand and begun to walk off. "Take it easy Lethe. You can have as much time as you need to recover fully."

The cat hissed. "Stupid beorc!"

"Ike is a good leader," Mordecai said simply from behind her. "He takes care of his entire tribe very well."

Lethe snorted. "Perhaps." And he was stupid and irritating, just like any beorc, but...

Somehow, they didn't seem quite so bad anymore.

And that's the end of this (long and involved) fanfiction! I'm almost sorry to see it go...this one lasted the longest and was probably the most difficult fanfic yet for me to write.

Random fact: slippery Ike got out of discussing stores with Soren. :O Oh dear.

And now, a word to my readers. All I've gotta say, guys, is thanks a bunch! I certainly didn't expect this fic to be quite as popular as it was, but Feral has overshot all my other stuff in favorites, alerts, pageviews and reviews. It certainly couldn't have been done without all of you guys, so congrats for being awesome.

For those of you who enjoyed this fic, you may possibly be interested in the next one I'm writing as well. Because yes; I do, in fact, have another fic in the works. It's going to be long as hell and probably quite epic, and is based entirely around a simple 'what if...?' question...much like this fic was. If you liked this story, you'll probably enjoy the next one, so keep an eye out and we'll see what happens!

And finally: if you enjoyed this story, and you wish to leave a review, give it some substance! What, overall, was done well? What could have been done better? What did you like, and what didn't you like? Your suggestions only help me improve and make better fics!

And, once again, thanks to you all..

--Velkyn Karma