Author's Note: I almost didn't want to upload this. You can probably see why; this is the crappiest, most self-indulgent piece I've written since my first-ever fic, which was so bad it imploded and erased itself from existence. The tactician is a shameless self-insert, Florina is (arguably) out of character, and there's no real story beyond "I love you, you love me, let's get married by the sea." Not exactly fine literature, or even up there with my more recent works.
But I still felt compelled to write this and upload it. It's hard to say why, but there has been a lot of discussion of late about the sort of stories we as a fandom write, and time and again, people have had to remind me that "people can write whatever they want, regardless of how you feel about their work." And they're right. I don't like a lot of the stuff that's been going up lately, but people still have a right to write it; it's not like we're paying them for quality work. I realize that I'm becoming a bit of a mean old codger lately, a trend I'd like to reverse. And so I submit this work, a short, fluffy piece mostly made to make me feel better about myself by pairing an obvious self-insert with my favorite character from the game. I figured I might as well indulge myself once in a while, and if you've read this far, hopefully you're willing to indulge me as well. Thank you, and I hope you enjoy it.
The setting sun made Huey's wings seem to glow with golden hues as they beat across the darkening sky. Florina searched the mountains below, hoping she could spot her target before twilight overtook the Dread Isle. Finally, she spotted him; fate, it seemed, had granted her one more boon. Of course, finding him was not nearly as important as the defeats of Nergal or the Red Dragon he had summoned earlier that day, but it was still important to her. She leaned forward and guided Huey to the mountain side.
They landed without a sound, and Florina dismounted just as quietly. She walked up to the man with slow, cautious steps, and only when she was within a few yards of him did she let her soft voice announce her presence. "Enjoying the sunset?"
Mark whipped around, shocked. "Florina! Wh-what are you doing here?"
"Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you," she lied.
"It's all right," Mark said, standing up hastily. "I just didn't hear you, is all. What brings you up here?"
She smiled at him, brushing a strand of her hair behind her ear. "I'm looking for you, actually. When Hector and Eliwood couldn't find you, they got worried, so I told them I'd look for you."
"Oh. Sorry," he said bashfully. "Just thought I'd climb up here and take one last look around. I didn't mean to worry anyone."
"It's all right," Florina said. "We just—I'm sorry, they just worried. There could still be a few stray morphs running around, and if one of them were to attack you…"
"I'd run like hell back to you guys, and let you deal with it, as usual." Mark smiled at her as he stretched his arms. "Well, if they're that concerned, I guess I'd best head back."
"Oh, that's not necessary. The others said they didn't mind if you stayed out a little longer."
Mark raised an eyebrow. "Didn't you just say they were worried about me?"
She started to blush. "Yes, well… they said…" She lowered her eyes bashfully. "Th-they also said that, if I was out looking for you, th-then there was n-nothing to worry about."
There was a moment's silence before Mark smiled, chuckling a little. "Go figure, eh? That's our Florina."
She looked at him quizzically. "…What's your Florina?"
"You are. You're so…"
"…So what?" she prompted, looking at him somewhat hopefully.
"So dependable," he finished. "You take such good care of everyone in this army. When you've got a job to do, you do it—and well."
"Oh," she said, turning away and blushing. It wasn't quite the answer she'd been hoping for, but it was still flattering. "I d-don't know about that… I mean, a-anyone would do their best…"
"That's true, but…" Mark shook his head. "It's hard for me to put in words…"
She looked back at him. "R-Really? …Can you at least try?"
He thought for a moment before continuing. "Florina… as you probably noticed, I wasn't exactly a master strategist when I first met Lyn."
Florina nodded. "She told me you were only an apprentice."
"That's being a tad generous, actually. Most of what I know, I learned from traveling with you, Lyn, and the others. Luckily those early days didn't require much strategy beyond 'pointy end goes in the other guy,' or I'd probably have gotten us into all sorts of trouble."
Florina turned away a little. "W-Well… that may be true. But you've learned so much since then. You've become a decent enough strategist."
Mark smiled at her. "I'm glad to hear you say that. I do like to think that I've come a long way in the last few years."
"Of course you have! We couldn't have made it this far without you."
"All right, that's not true," Mark sighed. "But that's not the point. The point is, I couldn't have made it this far without you, Florina."
Florina blinked, taken aback. "…What?"
He smiled at her. "Early on, before I met you, there wasn't a whole lot of 'tactics' involved in our battles. I had no more than three units, and the enemies didn't fare much better. Over time, though, things got more complicated. I had to survey the area, plan strategies ahead of time, and select and assign units to specific tasks as needed. And, to put it mildly, I wasn't very good at it." He took a step forward. "But every time I made a mistake, every time things went wrong… you were there to salvage them. You were there to save me."
She shook her head, her brow furrowing. "I-I don't understand…"
"Think about it," he prompted. "I can't count how many times you've flown to someone's rescue, whether you snatched them out of a hairy situation, or buried a lance in the chest of their attackers. How many times have you flown over a mountain to save someone because I sent them in without fully thinking it through? Crossed the battlefield to deal with an enemy whose presence I neglected to account for?"
She was blushing now. "Anyone w-would have done that," she stuttered. "These p-people aren't just fellow s-soldiers… th-they're my friends. They w-would have d-done the same f-for me."
"That's true," Mark acquiesced. "But it wasn't just them you were saving, Florina. Every time you heard about an ally in danger and flew to the rescue, you were saving my hide as well, keeping me from the shame of losing good people because of my stupid decisions. It's only because of you that I've been able to learn from my mistakes, instead of having them ruin our chances for victory. So…" He offered the warmest smile he could conjure. "Thank you, Dame Florina. For saving me—for saving us—time and again."
Florina's face was as red as the setting sun now as she struggled to find the words to say. "W-Well," she stammered, "The other f-flyers did the same th-thing, right? They c-could fly to the rescue wh-when a plan went b-badly…"
Mark nodded reluctantly. "Again, you have the right of it. But they're… well… it's hard to explain." He stepped forward again, thinking hard about what to say next. "The others do a fine job, and they do help me out when I need it. But you, Florina, were there from the beginning. Even before all this business with Nergal and the Black Fang, when our opponents were just some simple bandits and the corrupt forces of Lundgren. As I grew as a tactician, you were there to help me. To catch me when I fell, so to speak." He was within arm's reach of her now, and while the urge to take her hand seized him, he fought it off. "True, nowadays Heath, Vaida, and your sisters fight as well as anyone… but they haven't been through what you and I have. And while our conflict with Lundgren wasn't nearly as trying as the war with Nergal, it was my baptism by fire. And you were there with me through it all. You're the one that I l-" He stopped himself mid-word, shaking his head and clearing his throat. "You're the one that I trust to save the day when things get hairy."
She lowered her head a little. "That d-doesn't really s-seem fair," she said. "You l-like me m-more than my s-sisters because y-you've known me l-longer?"
"Well, it's not just that; I…" Mark trailed off as he peered closer at the pegasus knight. She seemed to be trembling a little. All at once, the tactician took a step back. "I-I'm sorry," he said quickly. "I-I didn't mean to make you so uncomfortable…"
She stepped towards him hastily. "No! I-I mean… no. You're n-not making me uncomfortable, Mark. …At least, n-no more than I usually am. It's just…" She took a breath, and when she spoke again, her voice was stronger than he could every remember hearing it. "I think I just realized something."
It was his turn to blink in confusion. "What do you mean?"
She brushed another strand of hair away from her face. "Mark… everyone seems to think I need protecting. That I can't handle myself in battle. Lady Lyndis, my sisters, Lords Hector and Eliwood… even some of the other knights in the army seem to think that it's their duty to come to my aid at the first sign of trouble."
"Can you blame them?" Mark said, smiling a little. "You're worth protecting."
He only seemed to realize what he said after he actually said it; his face was suddenly redder than hers. "I-I'm sorry," he said quickly. "I d-don't know why I said that."
To his surprise, though, she seemed to be smiling. "But the thing is," she continued, seeming to ignore his statement, "I can handle myself. I'm a pegasus knight, after all. I can carry a lance as well as anyone, and as you said, I've been fighting alongside you and Lyndis for years now. And yet still, I come across as this frail young girl pretending to be a woman, and everyone thinks they need to handle me gently, lest I break. Oh, sure, they've all come to respect me over time, but only after I demonstrated that I didn't need their help anymore."
She surprised Mark by taking a step toward him. "But you were different. I guess I know why, now, but you called on me all the time, every single battle, when others would have told me to keep a safe distance. Most people feel they need to protect me; you gave me a chance to protect others for a change."
He lowered his eyes. "I'm sorry," he muttered. "I never meant to send you into danger…"
"But if you didn't, how could I be expected to grow stronger? You're not the only one here who's learned from their mistakes, Mark." She offered him a smile. "I guess what I'm trying to say is… you make me feel strong. Helpful. …Wanted."
"Of course," he said. "I depended on you."
"And I liked being depended on," she replied. "…I guess you and I work well together."
He took a step back, more out of instinct than anything else. "W-Well, I'm not the only one," he said quickly. "I mean, e-everyone can see how strong you are now. Y-You can even talk to guys better than ever before!"
She shook her head. "I wish," she sighed. "But no matter what I try, I still feel apprehensive around men."
"You seem to be doing fine around me," Mark pointed out hastily.
"Yes," she replied, casting a glance at him. "But you're different."
An almost sly smile crossed her face. "Like I said… I guess you and I work well together."
The tactician's heart was racing; he had never expected shy little Florina to say something like that. He tried to open his mouth to speak, but all that came out was a string of meaningless syllables. "I-I-I-I-I…"
She turned away slightly, smiling at him bashfully. "S-Sorry," she said, the familiar stammer back in her voice. "I d-didn't mean t-to make you unc-c-comfortable. I just… i-it was nice t-to make someone else stammer f-for a change."
Mark had to smile at that, although he was still obviously nervous. "W-Well, you certainly accomplished that," he said, trying—and failing—to keep his voice steady. He looked around. "My, look at how dark it's gotten! It's about time we get back, don't you think?" He promptly turned and started down the hill.
"Oh, wait!" Florina started after him. "I've been meaning to ask… Mark… d-do you mind if I come with you?"
He glanced back at her with a puzzled smile. "Of course," he said. "We both need to get back, don't we? May as well walk together."
"That's… not what I meant." She took a breath. "After all this, after we leave the Dread Isle and return to our homes… c-can I come with you?"
His eyes widened in shock. "E-Excuse me?"
"W-Well, you say you depend on me, a-and when I'm around you, I f-feel wanted… so…" She shifted nervously, looking up at him with an expression of both apprehension and hope.
The tactician found himself short on breath. The truth was, while he'd done a good job of hiding it, he was nearly as shy as she. The idea that she was now approaching him, asking him if she could stay with him, was practically incomprehensible; that a woman, let alone one he had admired for as long as her, would want to be with him seemed laughable. He had no idea what to do, or how to handle it. He shook his head at her. "I-I don't even know where I'll go," he whispered.
"I know," she replied; her voice sounded exceptionally soft and warm to him. "But wherever it is… I want to be with you."
Still he shook his head. "I-I can't… I'm n-not good enough for you…"
"But I care about you," she breathed, taking a step forward. "Isn't that enough?"
They were right next to each other now, able to see each others' faces clearly despite the deepening darkness. Mark squeezed his eyes shut, unable to bring himself to meet her gaze; she, in turn, cupped his cheek in her hand. It felt odd, being this close to a man, but right now she couldn't afford to care. "It's all right, Mark," she whispered. "You said earlier that you trusted me. I just want you to know that I trust you, too."
There was silence for a long time before either of them made a move. At last, Mark let out a sigh, and opened his eyes, gazing up at Florina and smiling slightly. "I could never say no to you," he said, his voice even and steady.
She blinked. "Y-You mean…?"
"Yes, Florina. Of course we can go together."
Her sudden embrace caught him off-guard, but then again, he was starting to get used to that by now. He put his arms around her as well. "You deserve better," he whispered. "But I'll do my best to take care of you."
"I know you will," she replied. "Mark, you make me happier than anyone I've ever met. Even if we don't remain together, the fact that I met you… the fact that we grew so close… I will always treasure that. I will always treasure you."
They stood, locked in their embrace, for the longest time; and when the darkness overtook them, they seemed not to even notice.