Disclaimer: I don't own Fire Emblem. I just like playing with the characters.

Summary: FE3. One-shot. It would be easier for her to let go if the woman he loved were not her own little sister.
Pairings: Paola/Abel/Est.
Rating: K+.

Notes: Who's looking forward to the release of the remake? I AM I AM. (Though I wish it were for Monshou and not just Ankoku!)

edit 12/05/08: fixed for official English spellings/names to the best of my abilities. Do let me know if you catch anything I missed.

edit 02/24/09: fixed to NA localizations. Again, let me know if I missed anything.


Still Waters

There were her sisters, and there was the princess and their beloved kingdom, and that was all the world she knew. They were the Whitewings of Macedon, and in those dying days of summer, duty was the deepest love.

Six years had passed since Prince Michalis's coup, that summer of the Starlord's rise. Her youngest sister Est had disappeared once more, and all the world seemed on the verge of some great upheaval. When Princess Minerva defected to the side of the young Prince Marth of Altea, Palla found it only natural to follow in her footsteps. It was to the princess whom she had sworn her oaths, and to her sister Catria whom she had made her promises. Even should her country curse her as a traitor, she thought, she would have no regrets. For in the end, there was nothing in the world that meant more to her than the princess and her sisters. Not Macedon, not her own life.

o-o-o

It was while fighting on the shores of Gra that she met him.

"I didn't realize such a lovely woman had joined our ranks!"

And though she blushed when she turned upon her pegasus to see who had called out to her, she smiled, despite herself, at the genuine friendliness in his voice.

"I am a knight of Altea. My name is Abel. Might you allow me the pleasure of yours?"

"Palla of the Whitewings of Macedon."

After the battle ended, he sought her out again. Though Palla was hesitant at first, she soon found herself relaxing around him. He asked her about herself: she told him of her sisters, of their dead parents, of the Princess Minerva and the mountainous lands of their birth. He listened to her attentively, and in turn told her captivating stories of heroic battles and the verdant hills and ever-shifting seas of his own homeland, his voice filled alternately with merriment and with yearning.

She had never met another man -- anyone -- so free as he. He was quick to anger but quick to forgive, and in his presence she felt buoyant, unburdened, as if she had become one with the gentle West Wind himself. His smile was playful and unaffected, reminiscent of the soft sunlight of spring, or perhaps a bubbling mountain brook. With him, she found herself laughing more than she could ever remember laughing before, despite the war, despite her lingering concern for her sister and the fate of their homeland.

And so it was that even as the world around her drew ever closer to the brink of irrevocable change, she, too, found her heart beginning to turn.

o-o-o

"What will you do when this war is over?" The words slipped from her lips unbidden one night, but even as she spoke she could not deny the sudden urgency she felt. The end was drawing near: Altea had been retaken, and Grust, where she would surely find her youngest sister at last, lay already at the doorstep of ruin, their famed Sable Order scattered in defeat. Afterwards, there remained only the liberation of Macedon and the vanquishing of the Dolhr Empire itself.

He seemed surprised by the question, but appeared to give it serious consideration before answering. "I'm not sure," he admitted. "I've never given much thought to it, to be honest. I'd always just assumed I would serve my lord faithfully for the rest of my life. But lately, I've been thinking I would be happy to just settle down in a peaceful little village somewhere, open up a shop..."

"I see," she said. And she understood. "One grows tired of fighting. Of needless bloodshed," she offered quietly.

"Yes. Perhaps that is so..." he replied, equally solemn. Then he cracked a wry grin. "And you? Do you have any plans?"

She felt her cheeks heat, and ducked her head. "I must find my sister first. And then..."

"I see. Then we must both get through this war alive, don't we? You for your sister, and I for my little shop."

"Yes," she murmured, chest tightening even as she returned his smile. "Of course."

o-o-o

"Gods above, sister. You've really gotten yourself in deep, haven't you?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about, Catria."

"Please don't play dumb, sis. You may be able to hide your feelings from everyone else, but I know you better than anyone. You --"

"Catria, please."

"I just don't understand -- why don't you at least put up a fight about it?"

"Catria!"

"He likes you, you know. You'd have more than a fair chance at winning his heart if you tried. It's just that you act so distant all the time, like you don't care..."

But that was ridiculous, thought Palla. At Grust they had indeed been reunited with their wayward sister, escaped from the Grust army with the prized sword Mercurius. Dearest Est. Daring, reckless Est, bright and fearless child. She and Abel had connected immediately, her breezy, vivid personality complementing his easygoing nature perfectly. Now, they were almost inseparable. Palla saw them together often, joking and teasing, exchanging banter.

"Est may think she's in love, but she's still young," continued Catria, insistent. "She's really still just a silly girl in many ways. Besides -- you knew him first."

Palla shook her head. Even when they were young, Est had always known exactly what she wanted. And who was Palla to deny her that? Her own baby sister! She had never seen the child so happy.

And at any rate, such a man as he could have never been tied down by the likes of herself in the first place.

So they parted ways at the war's end, each to their respective homelands. Est, restless and willful as ever, slipped away without a word yet again within weeks of their return to Macedon, but this time neither Palla nor Catria worried, for they both knew where she had gone. And when they received news of the impending wedding some months later, it did not come as a surprise. Palla sent them her well-wishes in return, and then buried herself in her work, in aiding Princess Minerva with the restoration of their country. They had all lost so much. Her own feelings seemed trivial, even laughable, in comparison to the greater woes of the people and the princess's grief. To have taken up arms against her own brother -- Palla could not even imagine the pain the princess must have felt.

For Minerva's sake, for Macedon's sake, for her sisters' sake: she would set aside her troubled heart, and forget.

o-o-o

A mere two years later, everything they had toiled so hard to rebuild crumbled right before her eyes. Minerva was overthrown, captured. Little Princess Maria went missing. The land fell into violence and turmoil once more. And Palla and Catria found themselves, too, once more fighting at the side of the prince of Altea.

And then Princess Caeda came flying, bearing news of even Altea's fall, to a surprise attack by the imperial army of Archanea. Abel and Est had still been alive and fighting when she had last seen them, she said, but of what had happened afterwards, she did not know. But there was no time for Palla to worry. Minerva's fate remained unknown as well, and Archanea's soldiers dogged them at every step. Even so, she could not help but fret when Cain of Altea, Abel's steady, solemn friend and fellow knight, met up with them at Chiasmir Bridge, having managed to break through enemy ranks, but still with no news of Abel and her sister.

Soon afterwards, they fled with Prince Marth to Khadein, where they found Minerva in a village, safe and unharmed, and Palla's anxiety eased, if only slightly. She found herself beginning to fight with a fierce, focused determination. The strength of her passions was a strange and alien sensation. But everything depended on Prince Marth now. If he were truly the promised hero of their times, then perhaps, perhaps...

It was late summer again when they finally returned to Altea. After weeks of battling high in the treacherous mountains of the bitter northern wastelands, the stifling heat disoriented her. The days stretched long and heavy, drenched in memories of that time she had struggled to sweep from her mind. She found her thoughts filled with him. His easy laughter; his smiles, freely offered. His lanky slouch at the end of a long day. His voice, startlingly gentle.

And when she saw him again at last, alive and painfully real, fighting at the front of the enemy ranks, she wept.

"Why?" she screamed. "Why!"

But in the end all he said was, "Forgive me!"

o-o-o

For weeks afterwards, her dreams were haunted by that scene, replaying itself over and over in her mind. He, lance raised, charging toward her, his face overflowing with despair and regret. And then, suddenly, a pegasus flying in from the distance. Est! she had cried, and he had turned, leaping down from his horse, running, blind to everything else. Est, tumbling from her pegasus and into his embrace. And in that moment it had seemed as if the battlefield had somehow emptied, as if the rest of the world had peeled away, leaving only he and her sister and herself.

She had watched as the despair in his eyes transformed into a deep and terrifying fury. And perhaps Est had seen it as well, for she did not stop him as he mounted again and charged back into the enemy ranks, blood spattering in his wake.

o-o-o

"It's my fault," said Est, uncharacteristically subdued. "I was so stupid. So careless. Just a silly little fool, trying to play hero --"

"He doesn't blame you," said Palla, gently. "It's himself that he's angry with."

"If I hadn't -- hadn't run off like that --"

"It's not your fault, Est."

"We were so happy," she whispered, voice cracking. "But everything's changed now. Everything's changed, hasn't it, sister? We can't ever go back to the way things were."

To that, Palla had no reply.

o-o-o

After the final battle at the Dragons' Altar, Est and her pegasus disappeared without a trace. And so, even in the midst of victory, for Palla, triumph and joy were stained deep with sorrow. She was not the only one who grieved: Minerva and Maria mourned their lost brother, and Abel, Abel --

"My lord asked me to return with him to Altea," he told her. There were shadows under his eyes, and he seemed to have aged ten years in a single night -- a broken man. She had not seen him smile even once since their reunion on the battlefield. "But I... I cannot. I have already betrayed my lord once."

"Lord Marth is not a man to hold grudges," said Palla. "He understands. He has long since forgiven you."

"But I cannot forgive myself," said he, and even now a low, unfamiliar anger burned within him. "I was weak... I could not protect her. I could not make the choice I knew was right. There was nothing I could do. I fought -- I shed the blood of friend and foe alike. I failed... as a husband, as a knight, as a man."

"No," she said. "No. I do not believe there was any right or wrong choice, Abel. To choose between your lord and my sister --"

"I chose your sister," he said, "when I should have chosen light, rather than ally myself with the unjust."

"But you loved her." She hesitated. "You still love her."

"Yes," he whispered. "I do."

She tilted her face away, toward the vast and starry sky. "'Tis a cruel choice, the choice of Artemis," she murmured.

He laughed, dark and bitter. "And yet whether I chose right or wrong -- it doesn't matter anymore. Because she's... gone."

"She left," said Palla, "because she could not bear to see you so."

For some time they spoke not a word. Then Palla said, her voice soft and distant in the enveloping silence, "Will you not go after her?"

He looked up at her then, sudden realization in his eyes. "Palla..."

She would not return his gaze. "You held happiness within your grasp once. Will you give it up so easily now?"

"And you? What of your happiness?" he said quietly.

"My sisters' happiness is my own." She turned at last to face him. "Will you not go?"

He gazed at her in silence, face shadowed, unreadable.

"I will go," he said at last, reaching out to tuck a stray strand of her hair behind her ear. "I'm sorry... Farewell."

And then, like a brief ripple in the stillness, he was gone.

o-o-o

She never saw him again.

The End