Author's note: I'm sorry for the delay! I was actually really reluctant to write this chapter because I've had so much fun with this story and got so many feels writing it that I didn't want it to end. (I also have an extremely chaotic life, didn't have internet for a while, got a job, and moved to a new city under controversial circumstances, but things are finally starting to look a little more stable. We'll see!)
10. For Love of Another
When Cordelia opened the door, answering the knock she'd heard, he was standing there.
It had been ten years since she'd seen him last. There were small lines on his forehead, now, and the hard muscle she remembered on his right arm had softened a little, but otherwise he looked exactly the same: down-to-earth, youthful, and incredibly handsome.
"Cordelia," he said with that same bright smile. The brand on his shoulder rippled as he reached up to pull the crown off his head. "It's been so long."
"It has, Your Grace." Her voice only came out as a whisper.
"Just Chrom. Please. I'm so tired of titles."
She nodded, unable to make herself say the name. Not again.
"Is Frederick home?" he asked.
"He will be soon," she answered as she looked past him, toward the fields. The sun was just starting to set. "He went into town today; he said he'd be back at sundown."
"Good." The smile widened. "May I come in? There's something I wanted to ask you both."
"Of course," she said, and let him through, and closed the door behind them.
In the kitchen she made him tea and they sat at opposite sides of the table. She thought perhaps her heart would hammer, but it kept the same pace as always, despite the fact that Chrom looked so at ease and the hair at his temples was still dark, unlike her husband's.
"Why didn't you write to tell us you were coming?" she asked, which made him grin.
"I wanted it to be a surprise. You know how Frederick hates those."
That made her smile back. "It's true. This one might just kill him; we haven't had a real surprise since our child came early."
"That's no surprise at all," he teased. "I'm sure you both told it in the womb what he drilled into me as a boy: early is on time, and on time is late."
She had to incline her head in assent; he said that so often that the baby surely must have heard it.
"How is Lucina?"
"She's fine. Eleven years old and already better at swordplay than all her peers. She wept to see me go, though; I usually make it a point not to leave her alone in Ylisstol." There was something older in his eyes, then; something darker. "I want to give her everything the older Lucina couldn't have."
"How is she?" Cordelia ventured, and his expression became even older.
"I don't know. She came back only to kiss the child, and then she left, saying it would be forever. She told me she believed that staying with me and with—well, with herself—would be complicated, and perhaps even tempt Naga's mercy. It would certainly confuse and trouble the younger Lucina."
"That was very selfless of her."
"I raise some good ones," he joked as his face finally relaxed again. "Do you still see Severa?"
"Once a year or so. She married Inigo, but doesn't seem to want children of her own yet." Which was for the best. Cordelia didn't fancy being a grandmother in her thirties.
"And your child now?"
"I'll call him," she said as she felt herself start to beam. "Frederick still speaks of you so often; he'd love to meet you."
She rose from the table and found one of the two servants, who told her that her son was playing in the gardens. Of course, "playing" was a loose term—when she found him he was hefting his practice sword, lunging repeatedly at a poor holly bush in a drill his father had taught him just the other day.
"There's someone I'd like you to meet," she said, and he came at once.
She brought him to the kitchen but they both stood in the doorway—and both a little shyly.
"My lord," she finally said. "This is my son."
Chrom looked well at him and actually laughed. "Gods, he's a perfect mix of you both. Boy, you're going to be as fair as your mother when you've grown."
Years ago she would have blushed so hard she burned, would have wept to hear him say such a thing. But her face felt cool as she told the confused-looking child,
"Show your Exalt the proper respect."
"Exalt?" The bewilderment on his face was hidden when he abruptly bowed low. "Milord!"
"Come here," said Chrom, laughing again. "Let's see if you'll be as tall as your father."
Cordelia sat back down at the table and smiled as Chrom examined the size of his hands, asked him not just his name but what games he liked and whether he knew his letters yet, and started telling stories about silly things his father had said when Chrom himself was that age. That quickly turned into a fast discussion about swordplay, and her son ran off immediately to go practice what the Exalt had spoken of.
When he was gone, Chrom grinned at her from across the table and she thought she might burst with pride.
She had just refilled their mugs of tea and was asking him about his wife when Frederick came through the doorway, cheerfully calling,
"Cordelia, I found curtains that match the—"
He stopped in the kitchen doorway, a bolt of cloth in one arm and a sack of groceries in the other, and went deathly white. His eyes flickered between them at his table and she knew he was looking for a mussed lock of hair or a collar just slightly askew. It hurt. And this time she didn't deserve it.
"Look who's here," she said instead as she rose and went right to him, taking the cloth out of his grip and kissing him warmly on the cheek. His other bag fell to the ground with a thump.
"Milord! How are you—why didn't—there was no letter or—where are your guards?! How could you be so irresponsible?! And the kitchen table is no place for your crown!"
Chrom laughed so hard he almost knocked his chair backward, and then Frederick was righting it and Chrom was standing and they were embracing hard and blinking fast.
"But honestly," Frederick said gruffly as he pulled away. "Where are your guards."
"I didn't bring any, Frederick the Wary. This place is only half a day's ride and the Risen are gone by now."
"It's not the Risen that I am concerned with. You are the Exalt. There could be any number of assassins or dissidents after you. Do you not remember when your lady sister—"
"I'll never forget Emm," Chrom said. "But I have to be my own man, sometimes. This is important." He held his gaze, and then looked to Cordelia. "There's a favour I want to ask of you both. That's why I've come."
"We'll do anything."
Chrom took a step back, and a deep breath, and leaned against the table. "Before you immediately start chastising me, you should know that I've changed. And not for the better. Lucina asked to join the Shepherds next year, when she is old enough…and I told her no."
"But milord," said Frederick, "it is a noble's duty to serve the people. Exalt Emmeryn insisted that you and Lady Lissa spend your youth as Shepherds."
"I know," he said miserably. "It is an honourable life. But it isn't an easy one. She would always be in danger, and I swore to myself when the war ended and the first Lucina left us that I would never put her in any danger. I wanted her life to be simple and comfortable. And if anything happened to her—my little girl—" He cleared his throat and continued immediately: "She was very upset, of course. And my wife was, as well. We quarrelled for days. And now I see that I've lost touch with what the Shepherds had taught me: selflessness. This should be Lucina's decision, not mine, especially since her thoughts are with the people, and mine were only with her and myself. So I will allow her to join. But first, I'm going to re-join, just one more time, to remind myself of what I should know."
Cordelia looked to Frederick, expecting his immediate disapproval, but it didn't come. He was simply watching his lord, who continued,
"The Shepherds have gotten word that a particularly vicious gang has been harrying the villages near Plegia. It's the largest group we've seen and spreads across nearly the entire border. The soldiers posted there can't handle them because they can't leave their posts, and it's a job entirely too great for a group as small as the Shepherds—at least, Shepherds who only have a few years of experience."
"So you want to recruit all the old ones," said Cordelia, piecing it together quickly.
"Cordelia the genius." It didn't feel sarcastic or jealous when Chrom said it, and she returned his hesitant smile. "It's been ten years, Frederick. I am happy following in Emm's footsteps, and I'm happy in the castle with my family. But the people I fought alongside have become my dearest friends, my deepest bonds, and I've hardly seen anyone since we parted. What if I could reunite us, just for a short time? Sully is already coming, while Stahl stays with their child. And Lissa and Miriel and Kellam and Vaike. Henry. Libra. Nearly everyone. Will you?"
"Of course, my lord. I will come."
"And I," said Cordelia, which made Frederick look at her, startled, with the suspicion back in his eyes. She held his gaze easily.
"What of our son?" he asked.
"I'm coming," she said. "You won't stop me."
She saw him break—just a short flicker of pain in his eyes, but something that was replaced with absolute hollowness. It hurt her, too. But like the first time they had ever fought, she would explain herself soon enough. As soon as Chrom was gone and he would be able to believe her.
"No, Mama, don't leave!"
Cordelia almost didn't, watching the tears streaming down her son's face. He had broken down as soon as she and Frederick had stepped over the threshold, horses saddled and waiting outside, and it wasn't Father that he'd pleaded with. Or even Mother, as he'd taken to calling her recently, believing himself to be a man before he'd even lived a decade.
It was as if all sense had left him. Despite Frederick saying where they were going, promising to be back within a month, and cajoling that soon Stahl would arrive to pick him up and take him back to his fief to stay, where he could ride horses and spar with his daughter—the spitting image of Kjelle, but redheaded—he had simply cried and cried, and begged them not to go.
"I feel like I'll never see you again," he said, and Cordelia looked to Frederick. His face was tight; she knew he was thinking of a parallel Frederick trying to calm a similarly hysterical Severa. She felt a deep pang of…something. Not guilt, because she knew she was doing the right thing. Irony, perhaps. An ironic knell that resonated in her bones, that understood she would return to her beloved child this time but had to watch him cry first, just as Severa had cried. This was progress.
It was scary to think that if Severa and the others hadn't interfered, she would be a different Cordelia right now, a Cordelia that knew without a doubt that she would die and never return, despite her promises. Perhaps even a Cordelia that was leaving not to watch her husband's back, but to watch Chrom's.
"Nothing can stop us from returning," she said, knowing it was true, and knelt to hug her son tightly and kiss his face. When she stood, Frederick did the same. "Don't you worry. It will take us a month, and by the time we return, you'll be such good friends with Stahl's girl that you won't want to leave."
"Why do you have to go?"
"I've explained the bandit situation a thousand times—" Frederick started, but Cordelia raised a hand to stop him. Their son didn't need facts and figures and duties. He needed reasons, emotions.
"We have to go because we love Exalt Chrom," she said. "And because we love your sister, who—when you are much older—will explain to you that we had to leave today in order to come back and prove a point. And also because your father and I love each other, and if he is riding with the Exalt, I must go too, to make sure that he is safe while he protects the others."
Frederick gave a small start at that, but she ignored him. It was a conversation for the road.
"And most of all, because we love you," she finished. "We don't want any bandits getting up here to hurt you. So we must go."
"Can't you both just think of yourselves for once, though?" he asked. "Can't you stay here, where it's safe?"
"Now," said Frederick, "that isn't how a knight should behave. We must always love others above ourselves."
Cordelia kept her eyes on her son's face, and was proud when he took a deep breath and scrubbed his tears away with the back of his hand.
"I'll train very hard while you're gone," he said.
"We know you will," said Frederick. "And if you do well, perhaps Stahl or Sully, when she returns, will want to take you as a squire."
Cordelia saw the excitement dawn in his eyes: this wasn't an abandonment, it was an apprenticeship. But she couldn't help herself from kissing him one more time before she finally mounted her pegasus. She would miss him terribly.
They were on the road nearly an hour, headed toward Ylisstol proper, before she finally looked to Frederick who had been silently brooding upon his destrier.
"I meant it, you know."
"What?" he asked, jolted out of his thoughts.
"That I love you. I love you, Frederick."
He halted his horse abruptly and she did the same. For a while they just looked at each other.
"I really do," she said softly. "I've loved you for years, now. I just couldn't tell you until I was absolutely certain; until I knew my heart would never change again. I didn't want to say something and then hurt you."
Any other man would be offended at those years of silence—but not Frederick. He needed surety, thoroughness, complete and careful thought. And if that took years on her part, so be it.
"I heard what some of them said about us," she said when his mouth opened and nothing came out. "That I settled for you. But that was never true. I married you because even though I didn't love you then, you were the best man I knew and the best person for me to be with. I understood that, even at the time. The truth is that you settled for me. For a woman who didn't care for you like you should've been cared for. You deserved more."
She cut herself off when his eyes, fixed on hers, began to shine. "Frederick, are you crying?"
"No!" he insisted as he hastily drew a hand over them. "Crying serves no purpose but dehydration. You're mistaken."
"I," she said with a grin, "don't make mistakes. I'm a genius."
"Well, I just—I feel so—the body responds to surprise in bizarre ways—"
"Come here," she said, and he nearly flung himself from his steed as she dismounted hers. She didn't know who began their kiss; it was simply happening, hard and salty and very warm, right in the middle of the road where anyone could see them. Not that they cared.
After all these years, her stomach swooped with butterflies. It was such a relief to finally confess and such a joy to make him happy and such a perfectly synchronized gesture, kissing, not just giving or accepting kisses.
She wasn't sure how long they stood there, clinging, her breaking away to whisper her feelings again and again to make up for lost chances, him meeting her lips again each time she tried as if to say there was nothing to make up. That their life together had been and would continue to be as flawless as they always tried to make their circumstances.
Frederick ended their carrying on for good by resting his forehead against hers and cupping her face in his hand.
"We should be on our way. Milord is waiting."
"And our child," she said as she covered his hand with hers. "The sooner we leave, the sooner we can return to him."
They set off again for the castle, secure in the knowledge that nothing would ever happen the way they planned it, as Cordelia had said on their wedding night, but also knowing that the future had changed, and they with it. They would make it home again, and make it home together.
Author's Note: Time travel makes my head hurt, but as far as I could figure, the reason Chrom has another Lucina while all the other parents have different children is because Lucina was already born before the war.
But wow, I can't believe this fic is over. It's followed me through one of the most life-changing summers I've ever experienced and really helped me escape from some of my own circumstances, if you'll pardon the pun. This fic has also been an adventure for me in a lot of ways—not just because it was my first FE13 attempt, but also because I ended up making several friends along the course of it. Thank you so much to you guys who were there from the beginning; your long and thoughtful reviews and your constant encouragement were so helpful to me. I'll catch you on Tumblr or AIM or in the next fic one of us writes, hopefully!