Author's Note: So this chapter was actually going to be how the story started, more or less, after the first chapter. I can't even believe it, anymore, even though I've had every chapter mapped out since before I even began writing this. All kinds of new angles kept popping up and changing whole chapters and rearranging the order of things. Good thing I'm not as bad as Frederick, or writing this fic would've been one big panic attack.
Cordelia was a brilliant warrior, and always had been, but peacetime came as a great relief.
It was a little odd, at first. She and Frederick married during the war, and the life they knew was filled with military routine: marches, mess duty, sentry shifts, scouting, tent-pitching, drills, battles, irregular sleep, little privacy, hunts for herbs that would keep her from becoming pregnant. Rigid habits that would save their lives, but mixed with ambushes and time travel and the constant anxiety of losing loved ones, until everything became a hazy unpredictability, until no two days were quite the same.
She needed a while to readjust to Ylisstol. To move into Frederick's small manor on his modest fief with him and look at all their things side-by-side: not lances and saddlebags, but her jewellery on the dresser next to the small portrait of his mother, her cases on his pillows, their clothes hanging together in the closet.
Every day began the same way. They would wake at dawn in their bed, he would kiss her face because she hated mornings, they would make breakfast together, and they would ride to the ring to train the new Shepherds. Such was Frederick's job as knight-commander, and while it seemed tedious and boring to Cordelia, while she felt her own skills start to wane as she drilled the basic ones again and again and again, she didn't want to be useless. Staying at home and staring at the walls was not an option, and there was no pegasus brigade to return to.
And, as odd as it was to admit to herself, she didn't want to leave Frederick's side. It had become routine to have him within arm's reach; comfortable, even. When he wasn't there she started to feel bizarre, like something was missing. So she woke up to the sight of his face every morning, and ate the same breakfast every morning, and drilled every morning until sundown, when she tried to hide her frustration during their ride back, for it wasn't Frederick's fault that she couldn't reach her full potential any longer.
At least, that had been their routine. But for the past eight and a half months, she'd been with child, and that had changed everything.
She sat in the rocking chair as she considered this, tapping her swollen feet, while Frederick made their breakfast himself.
"Did I forget eggs?" she heard him ask, irate with this irregularity, and she shot out of her chair eagerly to answer,
"I'll go gather more!"
She was nearly to the door before he apprehended her and guided her back to her chair, scolding, "Cordelia! You shouldn't be moving about!"
"But I'm so restless," she complained. "You have to let me stand sometimes!"
"I have to do no such thing. Your ankles are already swollen and you have thirteen days left to go."
"A baby doesn't arrive in exactly nine months—" she tried, but he would have none of it. If any baby did, she supposed, it would be theirs. Sighing, she gave up as he went to get the eggs himself, but snuck into the kitchen to start cleaning the dishes he'd finished cooking with.
No matter how many times she tried to explain "nesting" to him, he still tried to force her back into her chair or into their bed, insisting that he'd take care of all the chores and organizing himself. But it didn't matter that he did it. She wanted to do it. And she was quite sure that it wouldn't hurt the baby, although as far as Frederick was concerned, everything would hurt the baby, from direct sunlight to too little sleep.
If anything, he was babying her, she thought with a smile as she finished with the dishes. She hadn't been allowed to lift a finger since she'd told him the news.
By the time he got back with the basket she was in the chair again, innocently, thinking of how funny it was to be carrying her child after she'd already met her child. Of course, she knew this baby wouldn't be another Severa. The odds of growing the exact same seed were impossible, for who knew how many tiny things had changed since Chrom and Lucina had altered fate? She certainly wouldn't have made love to Frederick the night they defeated Grima in delirious relief, because he was so close to death that Lissa needed to heal him thrice. And if she never ceased to love Chrom in Severa's time, she doubted much carrying on would have happened between her and her husband once they returned to the capital in any case.
As it was, all of her new routines and habits had kept Chrom far from her thoughts. He was in the castle now, as their Exalt, and she never had to cross his path or enter his tent or save his life at the risk of Frederick's. The ache in her heart had gone. What was there to ache about? She had new things to love, like Severa, who had promised she'd visit at least once a year, and like the child stirring inside her right that instant. And as for Frederick…
"Cordelia!" he said exasperatedly, making her jump. "I know you've been in the kitchen!"
"Perhaps you cleaned the dishes and forgot about them," she said helpfully. "Like you forgot the eggs."
"No, because when I stack the bowls, I make sure all the patterns on the rims are exactly aligned."
There was always more to learn about him. It made her laugh.
"This is no laughing matter! What sort of husband am I if I'm allowing you to work? You're doing enough work carrying the baby; it's only fair that I do everything else."
"Come here," Cordelia called, ignoring him. "It's kicking."
He was out in a flash, kneeling beside her, and she guided his hand to the right spot. She watched his face, which had become her favourite part of the baby kicking. Normally his lips were drawn so tight and his eyes were so serious, but when he felt proof of the child he always acquired a look of total wonder. It took ten years off him.
"I wonder so much about it," he murmured. "Who it will take after and how much it will resemble Severa and what it will want to do with its life…" He trailed off as its squirming increased, which was uncomfortable for her, but she had to laugh when he asked in shock, "Can it hear my voice?"
"Yes, it can. I'm sure it recognizes you by now."
"I wish you had told me sooner; we could have been speaking to it this entire time. Teaching. Imagine if I'd started teaching Severa fencing in the womb; she'd be a prodigy like you. This is the four," he said to the baby as he stroked the front of Cordelia's stomach. "The widest target area, so you'll have to keep your body sideways to protect it. And this is the six." He moved his hand to her side, over her lower ribs. "Harder to hit, but if you can disengage low around the elbow it's nearly impossible to parry."
The baby kicked his hand, hard, and Cordelia winced. "It wants you to stop."
"One can never start too early," he protested as he stood, but she saw the hint of a smile. She remembered him telling her that Severa called their relationship "that of a drill-master and a student", rather than that of a father and daughter, and knew he didn't want to repeat the same mistakes.
"At least let it learn to walk first," she said as she smiled back.
He pushed her hair out of her eyes and kissed her face before he went back into the kitchen. She resumed her rocking and thinking.
The routine since she discovered she was with child was the best one yet. Frederick would let her sleep in while he made breakfast, and often brought it to her until sleeping became difficult and she started rising earlier than he did. When he left to train the new recruits she cleaned the house and made all sorts of strange lunches for herself, and by the time he got back at sunset she always felt something like relief, so she gave him a kiss when he got in the door. At night, they read. Cordelia had long since put away How to Make Him Fall for You in a Fortnight and borrowed a stack of books from Sumia instead, most of which had surprisingly detailed romantic scenes. Occasionally she'd start reading one aloud, just to fluster Frederick, but he always insisted that her condition was fragile and taking her was absolutely on his long list of Things That Had Even The Smallest Chance of Hurting the Baby. So she fell asleep on his shoulder, instead, until she got too big for that and they had to be content with holding hands as they drifted off.
Routine was good for them. It was something they both craved and something they'd both tried to demand during the war, with limited results. Now, life went exactly according to their specifications, which meant they were rarely anxious or stressed. They were in control of everything. The days were predictable and familiar. There were no surprises.
"Surprise!" somebody hollered as the front door banged open. Cordelia gave a start and Frederick bolted out of the kitchen with a whisk as if he planned on doing damage with it somehow, but they both stopped when they recognized Severa in the doorframe.
"Looks like nobody's changed," she said dryly, and threw her coat on the floor as she walked in, with Inigo behind her. "Gawds, Mother, you've gotten fat."
"That's what happens," she said pleasantly, while Frederick warily eyed Inigo.
"I know," said Severa, "but I didn't realize how far along you were. You're huge."
"You look wonderful," Inigo told her, as if to cover for Severa. "Glowing."
"Idiot, don't flirt with my mother!"
"I'm not! That's just what you say to someone with child!"
"So it was empty flattery! How dare you! She's a wonderful woman and she deserves better!"
The boy looked flabbergasted, and Severa turned to her father. "I don't suppose there's enough breakfast for us. Typical."
"Well, a warning would have fixed that," he said. "But there are still eggs left, if you want to come help me gather them."
He put a hand on her shoulder to guide her to the door, and she smiled to show she'd been teasing. When they were almost out, however, she stepped away, crying,
"Wait, wait, I have to show you something! Look!"
She held up her left hand and let the sunlight catch the ring around her finger. Inigo coloured while Cordelia covered her mouth.
"Congratulations!" she said, and Frederick said the same, although Cordelia heard the undertone in his pleasantries: It's about time the boy made an honest man of himself.
"It's no big deal," said Severa as she flipped her hair over her shoulders. "We're just going to travel around the world as exciting, married adventurers, is all. Dancing and fighting the night away. I suppose that's all too stressful for people like you."
"Quite," said Frederick, but he looked amused, and she kissed his cheek as they set off for the henhouse.
Cordelia grinned to herself as she sat back in the rocking chair. Surprises weren't really so bad, especially when they were happy ones. And she'd received two in one day: Severa's visit, and Severa's engagement. All was still well with the world. Everything was still at peace.
And then she felt something hot and wet drip down her legs and pool in the seat with her; heard it splash onto the floor. She looked down at it numbly before she realized her water broke.
This was normal, she told herself, all part of the routine. Something every pregnant woman encountered. A signal. Expected.
But she hadn't expected it then, and not alone in their sitting room, and she'd never actually given birth before despite Severa's existence, and none of Sumia's books ever covered this part, and having a baby was so different from carrying a baby and was she ready and what if something went wrong and the midwife was so far away and—
"Frederick?" she cried, and gripped the sides of the rocking chair while, in the distance, she saw him come running back.