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Title: Through These Nights - Chapter 04: Grief
Genre: adventure, drama
Fandom: Fire Emblem 8
Characters/pairings: eventual Knoll/Natasha, Amelia, Duessel, Cormag, mentions of numerous others.
Summary/prompt: Grado lies in ruin, and a small band of its expatriates sets out to rebuild. In the face of horrors both past and present, they must complete their duties and somehow survive.
Chapter notes: Decided to go with a Franz/Amelia minor backstory here, but it's a tiny factor, given Franz's status within the story.

Amelia knew fear as well as any soldier might. She was no stranger to the pounding of a heart against ribs, the rush of fire into limbs, the urge to scream and the discipline it took to resist. She felt it in the clenching of her thighs around her mount, Shanley's, back and in the tightening of her neck and arms as she leaned ahead, but she tried to ignore the thoughts that always accompanied it. On its own, the fear of a battle was easy enough to deal with. Everything else tended to complicate things.

She clambered off the horse and stumbled into the abandoned house they'd been afforded, shouting Natasha's name and trying to stifle the rising panic in her voice. She always marveled at how calm Duessel remained, even as he charged into hordes of enemies and watched his friends do the same. And Cormag, with the way he channeled his rage only into his lance, letting his expression betray no weakness or terror – Amelia couldn't say she wasn't envious. Even Natasha possessed a quiet strength Amelia couldn't quite fathom, a quiet strength that was nowhere as she yelped and jumped out of bed at the sound of her name.

"What is it? An attack?" Already, she was fumbling for her staffs and books. "How far have they come? Is anyone injured?" There was no terror in her eyes at the thought of going out to fight, or of the possibility rushing out only to be met with the staring faces of friends' corpses.

"I-I don't know," Amelia choked, after a moment of awkward silence with Natasha's gaze fixed on her. "Kn-Knoll was out there, and General Duessel and Cormag are on the way." Was that accusation in Natasha's look, now? How could you not know? Before Amelia could discern any more, the cleric was throwing on her cloak and boots and pushing her way out the door.

She followed, though her hands trembled and her legs threatened to give out before she even remounted. Every time, it was like this. Perhaps she'd never get used to the pounding in her ears or the flutter of her breaths in her chest or the visions of blood soaking blonde hair and the sound of his voice gasping "I just wanted to protect you" and –

She clenched her fists around the worn leather reigns and spurred Shanley on, focusing instead on how Duessel had poked fun at her for taking so much time to consider a good name for a mutt of a gelding like this, how Cormag had prodded him and reminded him that a bond with a mount was very important, how Knoll had gone off on a tangent about the differences in temperaments between horses and wyverns while Natasha chuckled and sneaked them all bits of carrot from her stew, regardless of how well-considered their names were.

Amelia overtook Natasha to lead the way to the spot in the outskirts of town where she'd left the battle. How had so many more beasts come since then? She wouldn't have left anyone alone with so many enemies, especially not a scrawny mage who could barely lift his own books. Perhaps she'd made a mistake. She couldn't see him anywhere, either. What if it had been too much? They had never been close. If anything, Knoll was chilly to her, and had been since she'd asked him how it was the emperor had died and lived again, and why Franz couldn't do the same. Regardless of the glares he usually favored her with now, she didn't want Knoll's death on her hands any more than anyone else's.

She spotted Genarog tearing into the horde ahead, all teeth and wings and talons, and then saw his rider kneeling off to the side. No, was he hurt too? Was she too late, again? She wouldn't let this happen. There was no way she'd let him die. She couldn't run over to heal him like Natasha might, or wear heavy armor that could protect her body while she took blows for her friends like Duessel, or even wield magic to slay opposition from afar like Knoll. It was moments like this, seeing Cormag on his knees and knowing nothing, being helpless, that she wondered why she'd even come along to help.

No. Grado was as much hers as it was theirs. She could not do what they could do, but she was hardly helpless. She grabbed her sword and charged, all thoughts of death pushed behind her, if only for a moment.

I can protect myself now, and everyone else, too.

If only she had learned how to sooner.

- - -

Natasha knew well the passion that drove Amelia ahead and found herself forcing it back to remain focused on the task at hand. The first matter, of course, would be to assure no one was injured, and then she could turn her attentions to the ongoing fight. She quickly surveyed the scene ahead and tried to catch sight of each of her allies – Amelia, riding ahead with a shout of fury and a brandished blade; Duessel, swinging his ax with a sort of grace she never would have connected with him before; Cormag, kneeling to the sidelines – was he calling for her?

Her boots sank into the thick mud as she slid to the ground and took off into a run, ignoring the arrows that barely missed her tangled hair and slim shoulders. They could be taken care of in time; for now, there were more urgent things to be seen to.

Natasha's breath hitched as she took in the dark stains streaked down Cormag's half-torn shirt and spilling across his arms and calloused hands. "Where are you injured?" she asked, reaching out to begin work. He shook his head and gestured to the shaman slumped against a tree behind him, pale hand barely clutching at the shoulder bound by the scraps of Cormag's shirt. Natasha wondered if it was sinful of her to be a bit less fearful, then.

She approached her patient, whose eyes cracked open at the sound of her footsteps and opened his paling lips to speak. He could only manage a croak of "Leave me, I'm fine," before gasping and leaning back against the withered old tree.

"Stop that," Natasha murmured. "Dying here won't help anyone. You know that." He was always the one to point out such things – "Who will profit if you die here, Natasha? Who will that save?" – but she'd grown used to his curious brand of hypocrisy. She pulled his hand away from the wound and gently undid the bindings to assess the damage and set to work. Staff touched broken skin and she quietly murmured the chants she knew so well, though they were quickly drowned out by her charge's yelps of pain. Before she could pause to offer soothing words, his hand shot out and grasped at hers. Though Knoll's fingers were sticky with blood and his grip felt hard tight enough to snap her slim fingers, she did not pull away. His eyes were clenched shut and he surely couldn't see it, but still Natasha tried to smile, more for her own sake than his.

She heard a shout of victory from behind her and turned away for just a moment. Perhaps more time had passed than she had realized; the once terrifying wave of monsters had been reduced to a few stragglers, railing pathetically against the efforts of her friends. Her gaze gravitated toward any injuries she could catch sight of. Blood ran freely from a gash in Amelia's cheek, and Cormag had earned a slice to his lance arm since rejoining the fight, but nothing needed her attention right away.

"Go help them," she heard, and she turned around to see Knoll's eyes open, his gaze fixed on hers. "I can wait."

She thought to protest, but knew it would do little good. She'd done enough that she could leave him for a moment, and if she didn't, he'd sigh and mope and insist until she did. His grip slacked and she pulled away, though she could not say why she did it with such reluctance.

- - -

It was nearly daybreak when the haggard group arrived back at the house in the middle of the village. The smell of wood stoves burning for early morning meals was already beginning to creep into the air, and the creak of crickets in the darkness had nearly disappeared. Amelia's heart still hadn't calmed itself, and her hands still trembled. Had that spear hit her a bit lower, she could be lying among the half-rotten corpses out there, no better than the monsters only Knoll seemed to remember the names of. She reminded herself that it hadn't hit lower, that she was alive, that everyone else was, too. She hadn't failed. She had protected them all.

She watched Duessel strip of his heavy armor, a measure she couldn't quite understand in these times, and sink into the flimsy cot with the slightest of sighs.

"You did well tonight, lass," he said, offering her a half smile that, on another man, would have seemed like a grimace. "How is your face?"

She answered his smile with one of her own. "Fine, sir! Sister Natasha said it shouldn't scar, so long as it's kept clean." There was a time when this would have been a disappointment, when she would have longed for battle scars like the long, pale streak across Gerik's face, or the shock of white she'd seen spill across the Renaitian prince's torso through a guilty peek in a tent flap. Now, she would like nothing better than to never see a scar like that again.

"Good, very good." His attention turned to the others, Natasha stumbling in looking a bit too pale, Cormag slowly following with Knoll leaning heavily on his shoulder. "Everyone all right?"

Natasha nodded, and Cormag cast a hesitant glance in her direction before nodding himself. Knoll only paused to take a shuddering breath before saying, "We're low on supplies. We can't continue like this."

"Renais can't afford to support us," Duessel sighed. Amelia felt her fists tighten at the name, remembering the chatter she'd heard in towns before. The common people still referred to its people as "dogs", to its king as a power-hungry fool, to his appointed officials as pawns. She hadn't managed to restrain her temper as she knew Duessel would have. Never before had she shouted like that, never had she so vehemently defended a place and people she barely knew. Those ignorant people could speak of heroes' descendants and national shame without a care in the world. They would never know what Renais had given for their sake. What he had given.

"We could petition Frelia," Cormag cut in, as he eased the shaman down into a cot. "United with Rausten, surely they can afford a bit of aid for us."

Natasha sighed. "Rausten's already sent as many clergymen as they can spare. I doubt they'd offer much in the way of money, but perhaps addressing King Innes directly would help. We don't have the backing of royalty any longer, but. . . ."

The talk of politics always unsettled Amelia, so used to talk of the problems at hand, the issues of the villages and cities they passed and the challenges ahead. She couldn't keep track of the names of nobles the others would toss around, or relate to the nostalgic tales of life in Grado's courts and its lost royalty. She'd never met the emperor in person, only heard the chatter from the others regarding his situation, and had only seen his son once, perhaps twice. All she knew was that the air of sadness in the room when it inevitably came up was enough to choke her, and that it nearly always ended in Knoll excusing himself and Cormag clenching his fists and muttering curses. Perhaps it was better to be ignorant. She had enough grief as it was.

"Ah, but the rivalry between King Innes and Eph– King Ephraim is the stuff of legends." Duessel's smile spread across his face, and he leaned forward just a bit, the way he did when he had an especially clever yarn to share with the others. "I doubt, if he learned that Renais had failed to aid us, that he would pass up the chance to succeed."

"Anything is worth a try," Knoll sighed with a nod. "For now, we need to get to work again, do we not?"

Amelia glanced out the window. It was daybreak already. The surge of energy that had carried her through the night was wearing off, and her eyes begged for sleep.

"No." Natasha's voice was surprisingly firm, much more forceful than Amelia had ever heard her. "We need to get to work again. You are staying here."

More surprising than the strength in Natasha's quiet voice was the silent, reluctant nod Knoll gave in return.
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