Invisible Ties

Chapter 17

Lon’qu sniffed, wiping the sweat off his brow with the back of his hand. Glancing around the training field he resisted the urge to let out a shiver in the cold winter air, ignoring the sweat freezing on his clothes and going back to his daily training regime.

He swung his sword, a memento of his long-abandoned homeland in neat, graceful arcs the way that he had seen those fortunate enough to enrol in his homeland’s dojos do, but his style was singular and unique. Where his homeland’s artistic sword-styles focused on form and grace, Lon’qu’s style had evolved into a strictly combat-oriented form thanks to the influence of the peoples of Regna Ferox.

Well, Lon’qu thought with a wry smirk, mostly due to one Feroxi in particular…

With thoughts of his former lord distracting him the swordsman missed the small patch of ice on the ground, and with a grunt he fell onto one knee, catching himself before he could fall and cause himself injury.

Rising Lon’qu let out a colourful string of curses from his homeland, the only other memento he still kept with him, as he gave up and began trudging back to the barracks he was currently living in. He stopped long enough to retrieve his sheathe and towel, both now frozen. Lon’qu didn’t want to admit he didn’t like the cold; that would be showing weakness. But he would freely admit he wasn’t overly fond of the way it made training difficult.

A guffawing chuckle came from the open window as Lon’qu approached, Vaike resting his arms on the sill, and his chin on top of his arms as he watched his friend practice lazily.

“Toldja’ it was too cold to train,” the blonde axeman said, his tone fairly dripping boredom.

“I still got through most of my routine,” Lon’qu shrugged as he stepped into the warmth of the barracks.

Vaike sighed as he half slipped, half fell back in through the window, going limp as he turned and sliding down the wall. Lon’qu quirked a brow at his comrade’s behaviour; the usually boisterous fighter’s lethargy was strange, but apparently in the southlands this was a common malady during the long winter months.

“Maybe you should go for a run?” Lon’qu suggested dryly, placing his sword securely on the rack before moving to make himself something to eat at the small counter to the side of the door.

“Can’t. Too cold out,” Vaike grumbled, not even bothering to look up.

Lon’qu rolled his eyes as he poured some of last night’s soup into a bowl. Sometimes he felt sorry for Miriel, having to put up with Vaike. But then he remembered that Miriel was just as ‘eccentric’ as her partner, and that feeling turned to confusion as to what the pair even saw in each other.

Deciding to eat the soup cold Lon’qu turned from the counter, hesitating as he recalled that Stahl had been on cooking duty the previous evening and the Knight had bland taste, he turned back and grabbed the salt, intending to add a little flavour from the small shaker.

Instead the lid came off and the entire contents fell into Lon’qu’s bowl.

“Ooh, that’s some bad luck if I’ve ever seen it,” Vaike chuckled. “And before you get all antsy, no Teach didn’t loosen it. I woulda’ just thrown it atcha’.”

Lon’qu growled, thumping the wooden bowl back onto the countertop and stomping over to where everyone’s coats were hanging on the far wall.

“Goin’ out to get food?” Vaike asked, suddenly alert and on his feet. “Hold up, Teach’ll come too.”

“I thought it was too cold out,” Lon’qu grunted.

“Yeah, but not so cold Teach’d pass up hot food,” Vaike grinned.

Lon’qu rolled his eyes again, waiting for Vaike to grab his coins from the room that they shared. His gaze lingered on the bowl, the empty salt shaker sitting next to it, and the swordsman’s frown deepened.

Why do I have such a bad feeling now? He wondered to himself.

“This is a serious threat, and we shall treat it as such,” Chrom declared to the Ylissean Council of Elders. “Any threat against the Royal Family is a threat against the very sovereignty of our nation. We have already lost the Exalt once, which in my mind is far too many times.”

“Rest assured, Prince Chrom, that we are doing everything in our power to get to the bottom of this,” Cullen assured the irate royal.

The Council had convened on special circumstances that day to discuss an overt death-threat that had been issued to the Royal Ylissean Family. Meaning Chrom, Sumia and Lissa. Just the thought of anyone even trying to harm his wife or his sister set Chrom’s blood boiling, his hand tightening on Falchion’s grip…

“Commander Frederick, perhaps the Knights would be of some assistance?” Sumia asked from her position on Chrom’s right side.

The Prince looked over at his queen, resisting the urge to smile. She had seen that he was being blinded by his temper, but rather than berate him or try and get him to focus she had shifted attention away from him to give him time to cool down. She really had been the best thing to ever happen to him.

“What do you mean, my lady?” Frederick asked, his brow furrowing a little at the unfamiliar title. “My Knights are admittedly hampered by the snow, which is probably why these curs decided to make their move during the winter.”

Sumia shook her head, smiling a little.

“I know that,” she said. “But the Knights are a calming force on the populace, especially after the war. A small show of solidarity by increasing the patrols around the capital will hopefully discourage any hostility towards the Royal Family, as well as helping to further secure your position in the people’s minds.”

The men around the table nodded, Frederick and Cullen both looking suitably impressed. Many of the members of the Council had spoken vehemently against Chrom marrying a commoner, but at times like these Sumia truly showed that she was worthy of sitting at his side.

“Agreed,” Chrom said, calmer now. “I would still like to prioritize finding out just who these would-be ‘assassins’ are, though.”

“Bah,” one of the older councilors scoffed. “Probably some sore Plegians trying to get revenge for being beaten again.”

“I won’t discount the possibility,” Cullen said thoughtfully. “However I’m going to keep all avenues of investigation open at this time.”

Chrom nodded, leaning forward a little.

“Agreed,” the Prince said. “However, there is one little thing I’d like to suggest…”

Lon’qu let out a sneeze, quickly facing away from the table to do so. In his homeland such behaviour, even turning to face away from the table to do so, would have been the height of rudeness. The other people sitting at the table, though, simply chuckled.

“Some Feroxi you are,” Sully scoffed before draining her mug of warmed ale.

Lon’qu narrowed his eyes at the Knight, but she simply belched and called out for another ale.

“Someone’s probably talking about you,” Gaius muttered absently over his shoulder, his back to the table, clearly pre-occupied with casing the tavern for an easy mark.

Vaike grunted agreement around the chunk of salted pork in his mouth, continuing to eat with gusto. The other member of the small group sniffed disinterestedly at her own cup of heated wine, the Taguel Panne clearly having no desire to take a second sip of the beverage. She had warmed to him after he had practically forced her to give him her secret nightmare-supressing herbal tonic, but neither were an individual given to much talking. Lon’qu eyed the Taguel and the Knight with wary eyes; he was still unaccustomed to being around women. And without a battle to keep his mind off of things it just kept going back to…

With a loud scratching sound on the bare wooden floor Lon’qu’s chair slid back as the swordsman rose and slapped a few coins on the table for his drink and food.

“Leavin’ already?” Vaike asked around a mouthful of food.

Lon’qu merely nodded, exiting the tavern with quick, light steps as he tried to outrun his memories.

That evening Lon’qu panted, collapsing bodily onto the floor of the stables and rolling onto his back, looking up at the ceiling. Push-ups weren’t his exercise of choice, but when it was cold out there weren’t a lot of other options. Frankly he preferred a run before going to bed, but in the dark he could potentially slip on some ice and injure himself, and that would be a far worse fate. Not as bad as going to bed without working out, but still pretty bad.

Just as Lon’qu was beginning to warm to the idea of doing sit-ups until he puked a deep chuckle made him glance up, before he bolted into a respectful standing position.

“Prince Chrom!” he said hastily, dusting himself off.

“Relax, Lon’qu,” the monarch laughed. “I’m just here to talk.”

Lon’qu raised one brow curiously, but nodded and approached the Prince. Chrom grinned, leaning back against one of the posts holding up the roof and crossing his arms.

“You clearly take your training very seriously,” Chrom said as Lon’qu drew to a halt.

The swordsman nodded silently, wondering what the blue-haired man wanted. After a few moments of awkward silence Chrom chuckled again, running a hand through his hair in a very Robin-like motion.

“Still not one for talking, huh?” he asked, his grin never faltering.

“You give the orders, I stab people,” Lon’qu said with a shrug, parroting what he had said during their first meeting.

“Good, because I have an order for you,” Chrom said, looking away from the other man. “But… you may not like it.”

Lon’qu sighed as the bad feeling he had been having all day finally manifested.

“Your word is law, Prince Chrom,” the swordsman said. “What would you have me do?”

The next morning Lon’qu panted, coming to a stop from his run around the military ward in the training square outside the Shepherds’ barracks. It hadn’t snowed for the last few days, so there was little risk of him slipping on ice or slush, although the oppressive cold still remained. The sun had just risen, so it would hopefully warm up during the day. It was the perfect time to run some sword-drills. Just as he went to draw his weapon a voice called out cheerily from the barracks, causing the mercenary to freeze as his fight-or-flight instinct went into overdrive.

“There you are, Lon'qu!” Princess Lissa called out, all happy smiles and waving despite how early it was. “I take it my brother talked to you?”

Inwardly the man cursed. Chrom had said he wanted someone to act as his sister’s bodyguard, but Lon’qu hadn’t expected his new orders to take effect so early! And the Princess was clearly ready to follow him everywhere he went today, wearing a lovely yellow coat in place of her usual dress, coupled with a thick white scarf and gloves. He blinked, realising that Lissa was waiting for a response.

Dammit Lon’qu, you’re a proud Feroxi warrior! He mentally berated himself. She’s just one girl! This is no different to a battle! Take the initiative and make the first strike!

“Er…” Lon’qu managed to grunt, earning a snort of laughter from Lissa.

“Oh, stop it! Yes, I'm a girl, but it's your job to guard me!” She declared, crossing her arms and pouting in a playful manner that just increased Lon’qu’s anxiety. “So no running away and being all weird. All right?”

Lon’qu actually winced, shaking his head and choosing to change the subject.

“Prince Chrom said there was a plot on your life,” he deadpanned, avoiding eye contact. “Is… this accurate?”

Lissa sighed and grinned a little, casually approaching him with her hands clasped behind her back.

“Yeah, I guess somebody wants my sweet little head on a platter,” she sighed. “Don't ask me why, though!”

Lon’qu rolled his eyes, crossing his arms and taking a step back to remain an equal distance from the girl. Unfortunately the Princess’ naivety was a thing of great proportions, so it was clear that Lon’qu would have to explain the situation to her.

“You're of royal blood,” he grunted, moving to the side a little to maintain distance. “That's enough to make you a target. And any shadow could hide a knife, so we must ensure you are never alone.”

Lon’qu winced, realising what he had just said. Lissa burst into a fit of giggles, beaming at him with all the radiance of the sun.

“My hero! I don't have to worry about a thing with you around!” she laughed, spinning and beginning to sing a little to herself.

“Don't be careless!” Lon’qu snapped. “Keep your eyes open! Death could lurk in any nook or...”

Trailing off, the swordsman let out a deep sigh, holding his face in his hand as Lissa continued to carelessly dance around him.

“Surely there is someone else better suited to this task…” he muttered dejectedly.

Lissa responded by twirling and laughing, grinning up at the dour swordsman.

“Yeah, but you were just lazing around catching butterflies all day, so Chrom-”

“I was training!” Lon’qu snapped angrily, cutting the Princess off.

She blinked at him for a few tense moments before laughing awkwardly, rubbing the back of her head and grinning sheepishly.

“J-just kidding, Lon'qu! K-kidding!” she assured him. “I'm sure Chrom was impressed by your skill and charm and good looks! I mean, out of everyone here, he's trusting you to keep his little sis safe. That's a pretty huge honour, right? ...Riiiiight?”

The swordsman quirked one brow at Lissa’s statement, crossing his arms and huffing.

Skill, sure, he thought to himself. But charm and good looks? What’s she trying to butter be up for, I wonder?

“I suppose…” Lon’qu ground out, his frown deepening.

It appeared that this was an assignment he wasn’t going to be getting out of any time soon, so he would just have to make do. As if reading his thoughts Lissa’s perpetual good cheer returned as she nodded and stepped forward.

“Right! So come on, no more grumbling!” the woman declared, holding out her hand to him. “Let's shake hands and make nice!”

Lon’qu simply frowned and stepped back, his arms remaining firmly crossed as he glared at his new charge.

This woman is going to be the death of me, Lon’qu thought with a sigh that emerged as a snort from his nose.

“Oh, fine, no handshaking,” Lissa sighed, dropping her hand and placing both on her hips to glare at him. “We can just... nod at each other. Sheesh! Do you really have such a problem with women?”

Lon’qu blinked a few times, not expecting the question.

“I find them… disconcerting,” he found himself answering truthfully.

“But it will not interfere with my duty,” he hastily added.

Lissa grinned again, in a way that Lon’qu knew from experience watching his friend Robin suffering meant nothing good was in store for him.

“Maybe as thanks for guarding me I'll go ahead and fix your little problem...” she pondered out loud, turning and tapping one finger to her chin.

“No,” Lon’qu deadpanned.

“Aw, c’mon, I’m sure I can-”




“Fine!” Lissa snapped, finally losing her temper with Lon’qu’s abject dismissal. “I'm going to train, then, too! You can... just practice over there and look dour.”

With that declaration the Princess stomped towards the barracks, probably to fetch the light axe she had recently taken to training with after witnessing Libra’s skill. Meaning that she really was going to stick to Lon’qu like a bad smell, weather he wanted her to or not. A shudder that had nothing to do with the near-freezing temperature passed through the swordsman as Lissa remerged from the barracks, holding her light axe in her hands and grinning ear-to-ear.

This woman is going to be the death of me, Lon’qu repeated in his mind, sighing as he drew his sword and began to go through his forms while Lissa clumsily swung her axe around.

Lon’qu let out a frustrated sigh as he sat with his chin resting on one fist, watching the rain falling from the atrium of Ylisstol’s Royal Palace. A spat of unseasonable warmth had moved in, turning the snow into rain and creating a hellish world of slush and ice that Lon’qu was amazed could exist anywhere in the world. In Regna Ferox it hardly ever rained; it either snowed or it was insufferably hot and humid. In his homeland it was much the same as Ylisse, but he had honestly never seen weather as miserable as this before.

What surprised him most, though, was that no one seemed to notice just how miserable the weather was.

Apparently ice-rain, as the Ylisseans called it, was a common occurrence for this time of year and in no way a portent of the coming apocalypse, but it was still depressing to Lon’qu. After all, there was only so much one could do to train indoors.

Even worse, there was only so much one could do to train indoors while the nation’s princess hounded him incessantly.

For the last two weeks Lon’qu had been constantly vigilant for any sign of the assassins supposedly set on taking Princess Lissa’s life, but there had been no sign. Meaning that Lissa had been treating the last two weeks as an extended excuse to get out of the palace and spend time with the other Shepherds, dragging Lon’qu along with her. Quite frankly, he didn’t mind that she was making herself a target; in fact, the sooner the assassins presented themselves and Lon’qu dealt with them, the sooner his life would go back to the way he was used to it being. He was confident in his abilities to handle trained assassins, but if he had to sit through one more session of afternoon tea between Lissa and Maribelle, or listen to Lissa and Queen Sumia talk about dresses or hair, or… anything else girly he might just resign and go back to Regna Ferox in defeat.

At least, for the moment, it was blessedly quiet while Lissa was in the council…

Lon’qu glanced up, frowning as his peace was interrupted by someone’s muttering. The mage, Miriel, wandered into the atrium with a book obscuring her face, reading as she walked. Lon’qu had seen her do this numerous times and chose to remain silent and hope that she simply kept going and left him to his business, however from the way that she was walking directly towards one of the columns in the middle of the space with no sign of slowing down…

“Hey,” Lon’qu called out.

“… the moon is illuminated by the sun? A most curious claim. And yet...” Miriel continued to mutter, dead to the world as she read.

“Miriel,” Lon’qu tried again, rising from his seated position and turning to face the mage.

“… the sun's light dims and is extinguished as it falls below the horizon. How, then, can-”

Lon’qu sighed and crossed the floor in a flash, stopping the woman with a hand on her elbow as the brim of her hat brushed the column. She made a strangled sound as she swayed, her glasses slipping down her nose and almost falling off, but she managed to catch herself without walking into the pole.

“Pay attention,” Lon’qu deadpanned.

I can’t believe I just touched a woman, he thought bitterly, stepping three quick paces back as Miriel righted herself.

“Apologies, I was lost in my reading…” Miriel muttered, going around the pole and sticking her nose right back in her book.

Lon’qu watched, somewhat bemused, as the mage continued muttering to herself while she disappeared from sight.

“Assuming the sun does somehow continue to shine from beyond the horizon...”

Lon’qu allowed himself a brief smile, or as close as his stiff and dour face could come to one these days, before he made to move back to the spot he had been occupying watching the rain falling. He was halted midway across the atrium when someone called out to him, dashing any hopes of relaxing again.

“I saw that, you big softie,” Lissa said, coming into the atrium with a huge smile on her face.

“What?” Lon’qu demanded, stepping back to ensure that a decent amount of space was between them.

He couldn’t deal with so much female contact in such a short period of time…

Lissa stopped a short distance away from him, too close for Lon’qu’s comfort, and grinned up at him. Her gaze drifted over to the massive viewing windows, though, and her smile grew even wider.

“It's about time the rain stopped,” she sighed happily. “I thought it'd never—ooooooh! Look! A rainbow!”

She reached out, trying to grab at Lon’qu’s sleeve in an obvious attempt to drag him to the windows, but the swordsman evaded her grasp, frowning deeply.

“Keep your distance,” he snapped. “I can see it from here.”

Lissa blinked a few times before giving Lon’qu a grin that he now knew from experience meant that she was about to start hounding him again.

“Can you even guard me from that far away?” she asked slyly, leaning forward and clasping her hands behind her.

Lon’qu quirked a brow as she began to circle him, slowly spinning to continue to face the blonde.

“I can close the distance in the blink of an eye,” he said defensively.

Gods woman, you’ve seen me do it before! He thought irritably.

“Seriously?” Lissa chuckled, the light of mischief coming to her eyes. “I’m nowhere near that fast! Here, just lemme see how long it takes to-”

She trailed off, darting towards him with a playful grin wholly out of place on the face of a princess. Lon’qu merely sighed and danced away from her grasping hands. They repeated this little movement a few times, backing across the atrium before Lon’qu grew tired of her irritating ignorance of his personal space.

“Enough!” he growled, stopping Lissa in her tracks. “Stop trying to get closer!”

“You’re pretty sharp,” Lissa chuckled, panting a few times before taking a deep breath and giving him a stern look. “But I'm just trying to be friendly. How are we supposed to be best buds if you're way over there?”

“I am close enough to protect you, and we are not ‘best buds’,” Lon’qu deadpanned without missing a beat.

Lissa’s eyes widened for a fraction of a second before she huffed and crossed her arms, spinning away from Lon’qu so that he couldn’t see her face.

“Geez, what a grump,” she pouted. “Why even bother guarding me if that’s how you feel?”

“Because those are my orders,” he answered without hesitation.

Lissa sniffed once, making Lon’qu think that he had actually hurt her feelings. He hadn’t intended to insult the Princess, merely get across the point that he valued his personal space.

“… and morale would fall if anything happened to you,” he grudgingly muttered, just loud enough to know that she had heard him.

“Oh, puh-leeeeeese!” Lissa scoffed. “No one would care if something happened to me. Someone stronger would just roll my corpse out of the way and take up the fight...”

What an oddly Feroxi mentality to have, Lon’qu thought absently.

“Do you truly not see how your presence energizes the others?” he snapped without thinking. “How your smile and demeanour put everyone at ease?”

Oh gods what am I saying? He thought, aghast.

Lissa froze for a moment before casting a careful glance at the swordsman over her shoulder.

“R-really?” she asked in a quiet voice before letting out a little laugh.

“So what about you, then?” she asked, spinning to face him again. “Does my smile put you at ease, too?”

Lon’qu noticed that her usual smile had a definite hint of something else in it this time…

“Perhaps…” he grunted, crossing his arms. “From a distance, anyway.”

Lissa rolled her eyes and sighed, groaning loudly.

“Why do I even bother?” she asked herself, shaking her head and making to leave the atrium. “I’ll see you later, grump.”

“Wait,” Lon’qu called, following. “I’ll go with you.”

Lissa spun on her heel, her face red.

“No you won’t!” she cried. “I’m going to take a bath! You try and I’m siccing Frederick on you!”

Lon’qu froze in place as Lissa stormed out of the room, a slight reddish tint coming to his own cheeks before his mind started working again.

“But my orders... You'll be... Argh!” he growled before taking a deep breath and calming down.

With another deep breath he started walking after Lissa. Neither of them would like it, but Lon’qu still had a job to do. He would just… wait outside her room until she was done bathing.

Resisting the urge to sigh as he trudged through the snow in Ylisstol’s countryside a week later Lon’qu glanced over his shoulder through the trees at the Haildom’s Princess, walking along the forest path at an idyllic pace behind him. One of the local farmers had been struck with pneumonia and his son had gone to the capital to seek aid from the church, and Lissa had just so happened to have been training her healing magic when the lad had arrived. If nothing else the Princess was just as dedicated to her training as Lon’qu was to his, and of course, constantly looking for any excuse she could find to escape the confines of the capital, she had leapt on the opportunity, and with bemused looks Libra and the head-priest had given her their blessings to go in the place of one of their healers.

Much to Lon’qu’s frustration the rain had returned to its frozen state as snow, too, making travel that much harder.

“The path’s kinda slippery here, Lon’qu!” Lissa called out to him before breaking into a mischievous grin again. “Should we hold hands?”

“No,” Lon’qu said without thinking.

Lissa sighed, no doubt rolling her eyes behind his back. He stopped momentarily, giving the girl time to catch up to him.

“Honestly, you think you’d be used to me by now,” she groaned, closing the space between them as she complained. “And you’re always so serious! It wouldn’t kill you to smile once in a-”

Lon’qu shushed her, his hunter’s senses strained to their limit as he surveyed their surroundings. Something was off… it was hard to say what, as there were no birds or animals to fall silent in the winter months, but still there was an oppressive feeling of-

“That is so rude!” Lissa practically shouted, arriving at his side. “Naga only knows why I’m-”

Lon’qu’s eyes widened as he spotted movement in the forest around them, his hand automatically flying to his sword.

“Get behind me!” he shouted desperately, shoving Lissa back. “Quickly! There’s a-”

The rest of his sentence was lost in a pained grunt as an arrow buried itself in his shoulder, the one that he had just positioned in front of Lissa’s head. Lissa let out a little shriek as Lon’qu stumbled, but he righted himself almost immediately and yanked the arrow out, tossing it aside.

“N-no, Lon'qu!” Lissa wailed in panic. “You're hurt! Please, you can't... Don't die!”

“It was one arrow!” the swordsman snapped, spinning.

He grabbed Lissa by the wrist, a little rougher than he intended to, and dragged her along the path at a sprint. More arrows flew out of the trees around them, stitching the ground behind the fleeing Shepherds.

Stupid, stupid, stupid! He berated himself, eyes darting around at the shadowy forms tailing them in the trees.

He had allowed himself to grow complacent. Of course the assassins wouldn’t attack her in the city; not with the Shepherds and the Knights and the Royal Guards constantly around her. But if they had been watching her they would have known that eventually she would do something like this and simply bided their time. If only Chrom had hired him to track down the assassins rather than guard his sister this wouldn’t have happened!

Lon’qu stole a glance over his shoulder, meeting the terrified eyes of the woman clinging to his hand for dear life.

It’s just like before… he realized, his blood running cold.

No. Not again, Lon’qu fiercely promised himself. I won’t let it end like that again.

“Not again…” he repeated aloud, his voice coming out as a hoarse growl between clenched teeth.

“Lon’qu…” Lissa muttered, struggling to keep pace with the taller man as they pelted through the forest.

It wasn’t far to the plain overlooking Ylisstol, Lon’qu reasoned. All they had to do was get into sight of the walls and the assassins would no doubt give up their chase for fear of retribution from the Guards. With a wild grin Lon’qu spotted where the land started to rise to the hills that separated the forest and the plains. They were almost there!

They burst into the comparative brightness of the hill, Lon’qu practically dragging Lissa up behind him as a triumphant laugh rose to his lips. They made it! They had made-

The dup skidded to a stop as Lon’qu came face to face with a loose line of mercenaries, all wearing snow camouflage rising up from beneath the fresh powder.

They weren’t safe. They had been led into a trap, and Lon’qu had fallen for it.

“I wager we’ve found your assassins,” he muttered to Lissa.

The princess nodded and gasped, panting heavily after being forced to keep up with the much fitter warrior. Her hand tightened around Lon’qu’s, and he squeezed back just as hard.

I’m not letting this happen again, he told himself, narrowing his eyes at the bandits that were advancing on them now.

“Lon’qu…” Lissa called out to him, her voice trembling. “I think… we’re surrounded.”

The swordsman glanced over his shoulder as the archers that had hounded them through the forest emerged onto the hill, the four men panting and out of breath. Lon’qu couldn’t help but smirk, rotating his injured shoulder a little.

“Nine against two,” he muttered, his smirk widening. “I still don’t like their odds.”

“What-” Lissa started before Lon’qu cut her off.

“Stay close,” he instructed, finally releasing her hand. “I’ll punch a hole for you. When I do, run to the City Gates. Understand?”

Lissa swallowed and nodded, willing her knees not to tremble.

“I’ll bring back help,” she promised, mercifully without arguing for once.

Lon’qu’s grin took on a predatory tinge as he tensed, preparing himself. All at once he launched himself forward with near blinding speed, relying on his dexterity to overcome his lack of armour. The first of the assassins didn’t stand a chance, falling beneath the Feroxi swordsman’s opening blow. The second, standing two feet away, didn’t fare much better as Lon’qu danced between them, his sword a silver flash in his hands.

“Run!” he shouted to Lissa. “Now! Go!”

He spun, cutting an arrow out of the air as it flew at Lissa when she raced past him. One of the closer assassins spun, bringing a heavy axe down at the fleeing woman, but Lon’qu was between them in the blink of an eye, parrying the blow and turning it aside.

And Lissa was through them, racing towards the city wall. Lon’qu hopped back a few steps, circling his sword and glaring at the remaining seven men.

“You should be running,” he growled.

The assassins had enough time to look startled before he launched himself forward again, tearing into the seven unprepared men with reckless abandon. The assassins actually faltered before the lone swordsman, the remaining three with melee weapons stepping back in fear as Lon’qu rushed past them, moving for the vulnerable archers. Even better, the four bowmen had all grouped together, making a perfect target for him.

“How well will you die!?” Lon’qu snarled, turning his charge into a spin and shearing through the thin leather armour of the closest two bowmen with one strike.

His back-slash cut through the third, but he didn’t notice as he had moved again, re-engaging with the remaining three warriors.

“Who dies next!?” he roared, each step propelling him faster and faster towards his foes.

Not again, Lon’qu thought desperately. I’ll save her this time! Never again!

Practically throwing his sword around Lon’qu darted between two of the remaining assassins again, slicing through the one on the right as he spun out of reach of the other. He faltered as the third scored a glancing hit on the Feroxi’s wounded shoulder, cutting through his thick coat. Lon’qu wordlessly growled, slipping the ruined garment off and facing the remaining three assassins in nothing but his blue tunic. One of the assassins had an axe, the other a short-sword and the last was the remaining bowman. Shaking the pain out of his head Lon’qu kicked at the snow near the closest fallen assassin, the man’s hand-axe flying up into the warrior’s waiting hand.

Lon’qu growled again, brandishing his sword in his good hand and the appropriated axe in his other.

“Come on,” he goaded the men, his breath coming out in great white clouds. “Come on. Come on!”

The remaining three assassins exchanged glances, beginning to back away. The archer’s hands shook as he hesitantly nocked an arrow. With a lusty roar Lon’qu threw away the last of his humanity, becoming the weapon that he had trained his whole life to be. He traded blows with both of the assassins at once, knowing that he would take a hit from the bowman at such close range once he dealt with the other two, but not caring in the least. If he could kill these men then Lissa’s life should be out of danger, at least for the time being. And by now she would be safely back in the city.

Lon’qu grinned a little as the sword grazed his chest.

Lissa would be safe.

He coughed as a knee hit his stomach.

She was back in the city, where no one could hurt her.

With one last burst of strength Lon’qu drove his sword through the chest of the sword-wielding assassin before spinning and releasing the hand axe he was holding at the bowman, the small axe spinning and hitting the stunned man in the side of the head, dropping him like a sack of dirt.

Ke’ri was… No, not Ke’ri. It was Lissa this time.

“I saved her…” he muttered, his head falling as he collapsed to his knees.

There was a brief moment of silence before the last assassin let out a relieved sigh.

“Don’t know what the hell they make you freaks out of up north…” the man muttered. “But at least I get all the bounty, now.”

Well, at least this was all of them, Lon’qu thought, grinning a little as the sound of footsteps on the snow came closer.

And you’re wrong, he mentally added, glancing up at his soon-to-be killer. I’m not actually Feroxi…

Lon’qu’s hand shook from blood-loss as he subtly reached into his ruined tunic, looking for the small blade he kept inside one of the seams. He would die here, no doubt, but if it meant that Lissa would be safe… that she would laugh again… smile again…

The Feroxi swordsman let out a small chuckle at his thoughts as his fingers found the hard edge of the small blade.

Maybe I’m not as afraid of women as I thought, he reasoned. I wish I could see her smile again, though.

“What’re ya laughin’ at, ya freak of-” the assassin started to say, his question cutting off mid-insult with a pained grunt.

The sound of something falling to the snow barely a foot away from Lon’qu made the exhausted swordsman glance up. There, lying face-down in the snow, was his assailant.

“Lon’qu?” a frightened voice asked quietly.

He looked up a little more, eyes widening as he spotted Lissa staring down at him behind the assassin.

“… that’s the last of them,” he managed to get out before pitching forward and passing out face-first in the blood-red snow.

Blinking his eyes open Lon’qu hissed, the bright light above him momentarily blinding him. His wounds ached, clearly telling his groggy mind that he was still alive.

“Hold still,” a familiar voice said from his side. “Let me tend to your wounds.”

Lon’qu blinked a few more times, his vision clearing up with the fog from his mind. He was lying a short way away from where he had dispatched the assassins, with Lissa leaning over him with her healing staff, channelling the magic into healing his wounds. Glancing off to one side Lon’qu could see that Lissa had even tied up the surviving bandit, still unconscious in the snow.

“I’m fine,” he groaned, forcing his exhausted body up into a sitting position. “Are you hurt?”

Honestly, he wasn’t fine. He was cold, his recently-closed chest and shoulder wounds ached, and his head felt like it had been stepped on by one of the great bison that roamed around in Western Regna Ferox, but he still had a duty to protect the princess.

She nodded meekly, withdrawing her staff.

“No,” she said quietly, before adding in an even smaller tone “thanks to you.”

“Good,” Lon’qu sighed, grunting again as he let himself fall back into a prone position on his back.

“That’s good…” he repeated, unable to stop the small smile from rising to his face.

I did it… he congratulated himself. I actually did it…

Lissa sniffled a few times, returning to silently healing him as the swordsman basked in his victory.

“Lon’qu, you just… you saved my life,” Lissa said at last.

Lon’qu smirked, a rare expression for him to make.

“I followed orders,” he said without thinking. “You will be safe now. That was apparently all of them. Once I can stand I will escort you back to the palace.”

A few more moments of silence passed, in which the pain in Lon’qu’s chest and shoulder finally receded, before Lissa spoke again.

“Um, Lon’qu?” she asked hesitantly.

The exhausted swordsman grunted, cracking one eye open to look up at her.

“Now that you foiled the plot, I guess your bodyguard duty will be over...” Lissa said slowly, looking away as she treated his wounds. “I suppose we're done walking together like this, huh?”

“I see no reason to continue,” Lon’qu shrugged, hissing in pain and regretting the movement immediately afterwards.

“Yeah, but…” Lissa went on. “We were finally… getting close. I’d be sad to lose that now.”

Lon’qu grunted, forcing himself into a sitting position again. The pain was tolerable this time, so he waved Lissa away and returned his face to its usual scowl when he realized how close she was actually sitting to him.

“Do not lay this at my feet,” he said coldly. “I told you to keep your distance.”

“Yeah, but…” Lissa said, a waver in her voice.

Lon’qu glanced at the girl as she hunched over a little, holding her staff tightly to her chest. A thought struck him, then; one that he hadn’t had in years. Not since he had fled Chon’sin.

What am I so afraid of?

This girl, this woman sitting in front of him, hale and healthy while there was a pile of would-be assassins cooling in the snow a few feet away, was living proof of the fact that he could stop his past from ever repeating itself again. Lon’qu blinked a few times as, for the first time in a long time, he felt something other than intense discomfort sitting so close to a woman.

He felt a faint warmth in his chest, followed closely by a wave of guilt when Lissa sniffled again.

Heaving a great sigh as he climbed to his feet Lon’qu dusted the snow off his clothes before offering his hand to help the woman up.

“I… suppose… we could still chat. If you want…” he offered hesitantly.

Lissa’s gaze snapped up, eyes shining with the tears she’d been holding back as her look of confusion gave way to a radiant smile.

“From time to time,” Lon’qu hastily added.

Lissa nodded again, laughing a little as she took his hand and allowed herself to be pulled up.

“You mean it?” she asked excitedly, refusing to relinquish her hold on his hand. “Oh yay! Thanks, Lon’qu! Really! Just… thank you.”

Lon’qu nodded once, embarrassedly looking away from the beaming girl and frowning into the distance.

“Of all the women in the kingdom…” he muttered under his breath.

“What was that?” Lissa asked, grinning ear to ear as she drew closer to the man, entwining her arm with his own.

“I said I’m freezing without my coat,” Lon’qu said hastily, attempting to move away from Lissa.

A few months later Lon’qu sighed, swinging his sword absently through the motions of his practice routine in the early morning sunlight; to any onlookers he would have looked the epitome of concentration and grace, but Lon’qu’s heart was elsewhere that day and his sword form suffered.

With a frustrated sigh he gave up, slowing the flashing weapon and giving a few cool-down swings before trudging beck to the bench his towel and coat were on. He rotated his shoulder as he walked, the scar still occasionally flaring with phantom pain like it presently was, but ignored the old injury. Apparently it was a common side effect of emotionally traumatic injuries, the phantom pain; to Lon’qu it was a constant reminder that he had finally overcome the past that had been haunting him.

Just thinking about it made him grin a little. He was unstoppable now. Untouchable. Now that he had overcome his past-

“Wow, that’s certainly a rare sight,” a familiar voice said from behind Lon’qu, making him spin to face Prince Chrom.

“You smiling?” the blue haired man laughed. “Something good must have happened.”

Lon’qu nodded, returning to his usual frown. Not because he disliked the Prince, but it was just his default facial expression.

Untouchable indeed, he chided himself. This does save me some time, though.

“Finishing up?” Chrom asked, unclasping his usual cape and tossing it onto the bench. “That’s a shame; I came all the way here looking for a sparring partner.”

Lon’qu shook his head, readying his sword again.

“I can always go another round,” Lon’qu stated, already moving back to the training ground.

A few of the other Shepherds went about their usual training regimes around the two men, offering Chrom a few quick and informal greetings before going back to their drills, or in Stahl’s case desperately trying to survive while Sully pummelled him.

“You know,” Chrom said conversationally, spinning Falchion around a few times to warm up. “I never properly thanked you for saving Lissa back during the winter. Thank you for that, Lon’qu.”

“I merely followed my orders,” the swordsman replied tersely.

“Yes, I’m sure that’s all it was,” Chrom chuckled, raising his sword to a ready position. “Whenever you’re ready.”

Lon’qu shrugged, coming forward fast and low at the Prince’s legs. Chrom parried the blow easily, grinning amicably the whole time as they exchanged blows. Over the last few months Lon’qu had become closer to Lissa and, as a result, become closer to the rest of the Royal Family, too. He held a lot of respect for Chrom as a ruler and fellow warrior, and Queen Sumia… didn’t make him want to run screaming from a room. Which was a marked improvement over his attitude to other women.

Lissa, however… It was strange, but Lissa he actually enjoyed spending time with. He didn’t mind any more when she invaded his personal space. He didn’t mind when she ignored his protests and clung to him. He didn’t even mind when she interrupted his training, which was an astounding thing. He found himself looking forward to the time that they were to spend together, and as a result-

“You’re wide open!” Chrom declared, thrusting at Lon’qu’s shoulder.

The Feroxi swordsman cursed his distraction, stepping back and deflecting Chrom’s sword before giving ground and stepping back.

“That’s two firsts for today,” Chrom pointed out. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you distracted on the field before.”

“Apologies, milord,” Lon’qu said quickly.

“It wouldn’t have anything to do with my sister, would it?” the Prince asked knowingly.

“Heh, don’t worry about answering that,” he laughed. “The look on your face says it all. It also says that I have to let Sumia change my training space into a nursery, too…”

Lon’qu raised a brow in query at the Prince’s statement.

“I made her a bet,” the other man shrugged. “If you were pining over Lissa as much as she is you I lost my training room.”

“I’m not pining,” Lon’qu protested, feeling some heat rising to his face.

“Heh, there’s no need to growl,” Chrom placated, sheathing Falchion. “In fact I came here to talk to you about it.”

Lon’qu remained silent, sheathing his sword and eyeing the Prince. Employer or not, the swordsman didn’t like it when people pried into his personal business. After a few moments of silence Chrom laughed awkwardly, starting to head back to the bench they had left their belongings on.

“You know, Lissa says you’re actually quite talkative,” Chrom pointed out conversationally. “I’ll have to have a word to her and remind her the meaning of the word.”

Lon’qu responded by grunting and reaching for his towel a second time.

The Prince rolled his eyes and sighed.

“You’re going to make me do all the work, aren’t you?” he asked exasperatedly.

“I love your sister,” Lon’qu stated calmly.

“Well, look, I think the two of you are-” Chrom started, stopping dead in his tracks as his jaw dropped.

The Prince stared at Lon’qu for a few seconds, earning a small grin from him.

“Jeez, you don’t… beat around the bush, do you?” Chrom stammered, struggling to regain his composure.

“Denying my emotions goes against my beliefs,” Lon’qu shrugged again, before admitting, “Although I only realized the depths of my feelings during our match.”

Chrom nodded, his composure returning.

“So that’s why I won so easily,” he laughed.

Lon’qu frowned, glaring at the other man.

“Look, I’m not going to get in your way,” Chrom laughed. “I came down here to let you know that. I mean, Sumia’s not a noble, either. So I guess… you have my blessings.”

“… Just like that?” Lon’qu asked curiously.

“Just like that,” Chrom repeated with a nod. “I thought you’d be used to this kind of informality, being from Regna Ferox.”

Lon’qu shook his head, trying to organize his thoughts.

“I am not from Regna Ferox,” he blurted out while he was distracted. “I just wound up there.”

Chrom hesitated a moment, blinking in confusion.

“But, if you’re not Feroxi where are you from?” he asked curiously.

“A small nation across the sea,” Lon’qu answered. “Called Chon’sin.”

“You’ll have to take us one day,” Chrom said, making to leave. “I mean all of us.”

The Prince clapped Lon’qu on the shoulder as he passed him, giving the swordsman one final nod before entering the barracks. Lon’qu stood silently for a moment, processing this new information. He had only just realized the depths of his feelings for Lissa, and now…

Shaking his head Lon’qu steeled himself. He had never been one to question his convictions before. Why start now?

Lon’qu glanced up from where he was sitting in one of the atriums in Ylisstol’s palace, the same one that he and Lissa had watched the rain in so long ago, as the boisterous Princess made her entrance. They had been meeting here for their regular conversations since Lon’qu had foiled the assassins’ plot against her life, the swordsman usually finding some mundane excuse to be at the palace to meet her. This day, though, he didn’t even bother with the pretence.

“Heya, Lon’qu!” she called cheerily. “I’m back for another chat!”

The swordsman resisted the innate urge to smile now that his emotions were clear to him as Lissa skipped up to him, settling for a terse nod instead.

“… All right,” he said as Lissa beamed up at him.

“Yeesh, try to contain your excitement there,” Lissa huffed. “Oh, and be sure not to smile. Most boys would cut off a leg to have a cute girl drop by to talk.”

Lon’qu looked away as a smirk finally won out against his resolve and a smile rose to his lips.

“Would you have me paste on a fake grin whenever you grace me with your presence?” he asked playfully.

“Well, no...” Lissa giggled. “Actually, that would be really creepy, coming from you.”

“Then this is what you get,” Lon’qu said, looking back to Lissa with a straight face.

To his surprise, though, Lissa didn’t begin their usual back and forth. The conversations usually started with her harping on him about never smiling before they discussed whatever Lissa felt like. Instead the Princess fidgeted a little before letting out a heavy sigh.

“All right, all right. You don't have to be so cold to me,” she muttered.

“I just miss you, you know!” she declared, looking up at him with a serious face. “You were guarding me around the clock for so long, and now I barely see you. But I suppose you wouldn't understand how I feel, huh? I mean, you can't stand girls. All right, listen. If you don't want me here, just say so and I'll leave you in peace.”

Lon’qu blinked a few times. This wasn’t going the way he expected it to. She… was completely missing his behaviour.

Bah, as dense as her brother, he thought warmly.

“I like it when we speak,” he said in his gentlest tone of voice.

“Great, fine. Don't worry, I won’t force you to keep coming to see the poor, sheltered and lonely Princess. You don't have to... to, uh…”

Lissa blinked a few times at Lon’qu as he smirked openly now, resisting the urge to chuckle with all his might.

“Wait, what'd you say?” she asked incredulously. “I must not have heard you right... Because it almost sounded like you said you liked having a girl come bother you.”

“You heard me fine,” Lon’qu said. “And you are no bother. I... also miss the time we spent together.”

His ears started burning a little from the strange embarrassment of admitting his feelings, but it was a good feeling. Lissa looked away, eyes wide and disbelieving.

“I must be losing my mind,” she muttered.

“This must come as a… surprise, given my disposition,” Lon’qu said at length. “But I wish to spend… more time yet with you, Princess.”

“But… but… you hate women!” Lissa spluttered, her face beginning to go red.

“I don't hate anyone,” Lon’qu explained patiently. “And as far as my issue with women, you... are the exception. I find myself thinking of nothing but you. My every moment is consumed with you, to the point where I cannot even focus on my training. If you will allow it, I swear to be with you and protect you for the rest of your days.”

Lissa blinked up at Lon’qu as her eyes began to grow moist. At some point during his speech Lon’qu had taken both of her hands in his, and now held them close to his chest, over his heart.

“Lon’qu…” Lissa said, sniffling cutely. “Of… of course I’ll allow it! And I'll watch your back, too!”

She scooted a little closer to Lon’qu on the stone bench, seemingly waiting for him to flinch away from her. When he didn’t she let out a little laugh, looking back up to him.

“But you have to be beside me always,” she said with a happy smile. “Promise me; no more distance!”

Lon’qu nodded, wrapping an arm around her and holding her close to his chest.

“No more distance,” he said into the top of her head.

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