Invisible Ties

Chapter 37

Chrom sat silently in the centre of his large tent, leaning forward with his elbows resting on his knees and staring into space. His armour had long since been removed and maintained, and now sat gleaming on the rack in the corner of his tent; the monotony of the every-day chore had distracted him from his problems, but there were only so many things he could do to take his mind off of his situation.

He’d cleaned, sharpened and even polished Falchion; he’d mended and polished Sumia’s armour and weapons, too; he’d even attempted to make their bed, which had ended far less disastrously than he had been expecting, but his heart hadn’t been in any of it.

Now that he had nothing more to do, Chrom sat and stared at the canvas wall, forcing himself to come to terms with the loss of his best friend, just like he had three years ago when his sister Emmeryn had died.

Unlike last time, though, he wasn’t about to retreat into himself. He was the commander of an entire army, with thousands of men relying on him for firm leadership; he couldn’t let all of them down, even if in doing so he felt wretched for ignoring Robin’s loss.

The tent flaps rustled, light from outside casting long shadows across his field of vision as familiar, light footfalls heralded the return of his wife.

“I managed to calm Lucina down,” Sumia said without preamble as she walked through the tent. “She’s taking his death hard, but I know she’ll be fine.”

Chrom nodded silently.

A small light grew into existence from the corner their table was in, the oil lamp casting a faint orange glow over everything within the four canvas walls. Sumia didn’t light the other lamps, something for which Chrom was thankful for.

He’d wallowed in the dark for nearly a week last time, when Emmeryn had been killed by Gangrel and Robin mortally wounded. He wouldn’t repeat his mistakes, and he would be leading the army first thing in the morning, but for now he just wanted to sit in the dark and grieve.

His aimless grief was distracted when slim, long fingers more suited to a violinist that a soldier wrapped around his hand, Sumia taking his much larger one in both of hers.

“I know,” Chrom soothed. “Don’t worry. I’m not like last time. I won’t break down again.”

Sumia nodded, apparently satisfied as she leaned against him, running her hands over his again and again in soothing motions.

“We can’t afford to lose ourselves at a time like this,” Chrom added in a dull whisper.

Robin was gone; that was the truth of things. He was gone, and no amount of grieving or raging would bring him back. In fact the best thing to do would be to take vengeance and defeat the Valmese army and Walhart in Robin’s name.

“How was Morgan?” Sumia asked tentatively.

Chrom gave a sad laugh. “Trying to drown her emotions in her work.”

Sumia nodded a little. “She will have to deal with this eventually.”

“I know,” Chrom agreed. “But different people cope differently. She’ll deal with it when she’s ready. She’s just like her father in that way.”

Robin tapped his fingers idly on the small table that Priam had provided for him, waiting for Tiki to arrive with the reports she’d promised to procure for the tactician. The ancient manakete had been incredibly energetic ever since their little escapade earlier in the day, acting like she was constantly at risk of bursting into song just walking under the trees or along the road. He’d even caught her humming tunelessly at various points of their journey, and something about the simple innocence of the action had made him want to join in.

Robin had to admit; she really didn’t act like someone a few thousand years old would any more.

Outside the small tent it was pouring rain, further dampening Robin’s mood.

He’d tried to sit in the much larger tent that had been provided for the future children, but had been driven out by incessant questions from Owain, Cynthia and Inigo and rough glares from Brady and Gerome. At least he thought Gerome was glaring at him; it was hard to tell through the mask.

I wonder if masks were a thing in the future, Robin wondered, recalling the way Lucina had first presented herself as ‘Marth’ nearly three years ago.

Become a thing in the future. Oh whatever, I know what I’m talking about.

Robin blinked a few times as a new thought popped unbidden into his head.

Has it really already been three years?

Robin sank back into his chair, letting the nostalgia wash over him as he replayed the last three years in his mind. Waking up in that field with Chrom and Lissa looking down at him; the first time he entered Ylisstol, his new home; arguing with Vaike over absolutely nothing; training with Frederick and the knights; chess with Virion; his ‘prank war’ with Lissa; setting Chrom and Sumia up on their first date; the tumultuous war with Plegia, in which he almost died countless times; learning swordsmanship from Lon’qu; slowly managing to coax Panne out of her shell over time; eating lunch at the little café in the Ylisstol markets with Cordelia whenever her busy schedule allowed; asking Maribelle to teach him to dance properly for the Royal Wedding and instantly regretting it afterwards when he realized what a strict taskmaster the noble was; travelling the continent in search of a way to restore his broken memories with Virion and Tharja, meeting Donnel and Anna in the process; rescuing Morgan and getting to know his daughter from the future, along with the other future children that travelled back with her; the boat ride to Valm and losing Gregor, the first death among the Shepherds; then running into Say’ri and getting to know her; the last three years had been nothing but meeting new friends and having the time of his life…

And throughout all the highs and all the lows Lucina had been there in the background, watching over them and trying not to get involved, trying not to disrupt the time flow any more than she had to.

I wish she’d just come out and said her piece earlier, Robin sullenly thought, recalling the many times he’d reached out to her in the early years to no avail.

In the end, it had been when Chrom’s life had been in danger that his daughter from the future had acted and finally given up her farce. It had had nothing to do with Robin; she’d just been unable to hide anymore and had given in, logically following the Shepherds as part of the group now that her cover had been blown.

Robin thought silently to himself, listening to the rain pouring down on his tent and waiting for the voice to interject at any point.

Come on, I know you’re in there, Robin goaded, huffing and rolling his eyes as his patience ran out. You can’t fool me! I know you’re still there!

A few seconds passed without a response and Robin decisively jumped to his feet and, remembering something he’d berated Morgan for in the past, turned to face the central pole of his small tent.

Right, if you want to play it this way then I’ll just rattle you loose.

Tiki skipped lightly through the rebel camp, dodging and weaving through tents and under canvas awnings in an attempt to remain mostly dry in the torrential rain, humming to herself and shielding the small stack of papers Robin had requested from Sir Priam.

Priam’s scouts had returned while the newest Shepherds, of which she was now a proud member, had been eating dinner with Robin, and now that Priam had sifted through their reports Robin had wanted to see them, too.

The ancient manakete beamed with pride; it had been such a long time since she’d belonged to a group like the Shepherds, since her time in the Altean army so long ago. The camaraderie that she had been privy to today was something she was beginning to realize she had sorely missed in her cycle of slumber and acting as Naga’s voice throughout the centuries.

Tiki huffed to herself as she stopped, judging the distance from her current position and the next available cover.

Priam was still being irritatingly tight-lipped over whether or not he would join the Ylissean League, but with their success that day in returning the majority of Tiki’s powers she doubted he would remain on the sidelines for much longer.

After all, he’d done everything within his power to be more accommodating for her in reverence for her position as Naga’s Voice; no doubt if she marched to war, he and his army would follow.

Priam had even seen fit to give Tiki her own tent while she had been with the resistance; a tent now being occupied by Robin as well. She would have to see the Resistance’s quartermaster about getting the tactician his own cot; she didn’t mind snuggling, but humans seemed to appreciate their personal space.

Tiki dashed across the open space between tents, hunched to better shield the bundle of reports for Robin, and ducked into her tent.

Robin straightened as she entered, making an effort to lean casually against the pole in the centre of the tent.

“Ah. Tiki,” the tactician mumbled, blushing furiously. “Welcome back.”

Tiki blinked a few times, noting the red welt beginning to form on the man’s forehead.

“Is everything… okay, Robin?” Tiki asked curiously as she set down the bundle.

Robin nodded once before pouncing on the bundle of papers like a man in the desert would pounce on a waterskin.

“Yes!” Robin half-shouted triumphantly, sitting down heavily at the table. “Knowledge! Sweet, merciful knowledge! Thank you Tiki! I’ve felt blind and deaf since I woke up because I hadn’t seen a proper report yet!”

Tiki giggled as she perched on the edge of the cot, watching Robin intently as he began wading through the reports.

He didn’t look at all like her dear departed friend Marth, but he acted in a similar fashion quite often. His energy and bearing were the same as the ancient Prince’s when they had first met. He seemed… haunted in the same way that Marth had been; there was the weight of responsibility behind his eyes and everything he did that most others didn’t have. From what she understood, though, Robin had taken this responsibility on himself; whereas Marth had been born into his position, Robin had accepted his own merely because he didn’t want others to suffer. To Tiki there was precious little else deserving of higher praise than the tactician’s way of thinking.

With thoughts similar to these floating through her head Tiki rested her chin on one hand and was lost in watching her new friend work.

Lucina blinked a few times to try and force the rainwater out of her eyes as she strode purposefully through the camp; her pace was an illusion though. She didn’t have a destination, and was simply gong where her feet carried her.

She’d already circled the camp three times, waiting for Jake to hurry up and finish with the new armour she had requested he make her; something silver and light, like her father’s suit. Like Robin’s breast-plate…

She picked up her pace a little more, trying again to outrun her painful thoughts, but the rain was getting heavier. Choosing a tent at random in the evening downpour Lucina stepped into the awning that had been prepared, breathing heavily and holding herself to combat the rain-soaked chill.

Apparently the tent she was hiding against was currently unoccupied, judging from the lack of light or warmth coming from within. Deciding whoever’s tent this was wouldn’t miss a towel while she borrowed it, Lucina slipped silently inside, intent on drying herself before she caught a chill and was sidelined for even more battles.

It was bad enough that she’d been forced to sit to one side during the fight with Yen’fay, but that she had broken down in front of the others was even worse. She couldn’t let the others see her like that; she was a leader; she had to be cool and collected at all times. Her emotions couldn’t factor into her decisions and her behaviour, or else she’d run the risk of making a bad call because her mind was clouded; she needed to get back into the fight to prove she could still lead. As she fumbled around the dark tent for a towel or at least a lamp Lucina realized she was looking forward to the next engagement, something she’d never done before.

She bumped into a table, a rattling sound from atop it heralding the presence of an oil lamp. Lucina gingerly reached out, igniting the lamp and taking a quick breath.

Of all the tents… maybe I was drawn here?

Robin’s tent, empty and devoid of life greeted her in the weak light.

No, Lucina realized as her eyes settled on one corner. Not completely empty.

Robin was sitting in the corner of the tent, his breastplate glinting in the weak lamplight while he smiled with his usual lopsided grin…

Lucina blinked the tears back as she realized that it was just the tactician’s breastplate and her grief was making her mind play tricks on her.

She crossed the small space, running her fingertips over the newly polished plate that was propped up on the chair, feeling the decorative patterns around the edges. Beneath the plate sat a carefully folded pile of black leather; Robin’s coat.

Carefully so as not to disturb the ethereal atmosphere in the tent Lucina moved the armour to one side and held up the coat that the tactician had been known for. She smiled sadly to herself, running her fingers across the coat’s surface and recalling the story her mother had told her about Robin trying to sneak it into her wedding ceremony, only to be caught at the last minute by Lady Sully and forcibly have it yanked off of his shoulders…

It was the same coat he’d draped over her in the prison in Fortress Steiger when he’d come to save her.

“Dammit,” Lucina muttered, holding the bundle of the coat close to her chest as she leaned back against the second, larger table in the tent littered with Robin’s tactical manuals.

She still had yet to fully accept that he was gone; it was as if she were in a bad dream and she would wake in the morning to find him sitting and laughing in the mess tent, complaining to her father about how tired he was after staying up half the night working on their tactics. She would sit down at the table with them, and he would greet her with the same smile he did every morning. But that wouldn’t happen; because he would be here, in this tent if that were the case. Instead he was gone, his body buried under piles of rubble where Fortress Steiger used to be.

Such an ignoble fate for a hero like Robin made Lucina quiver with rage; he deserved a proper burial at the least, but if it were up to her he would get a statue in Ylisstol denoting his achievements.

Lucina let the coat unravel, the hem falling to the floor as she wrapped it around her shoulders again. She was overpowered all at once by the smell of the battlefield mixed with old books, the smell she realized she’d long ago begun to acquaint with the tactician.

She realized that she’d never get to see him in this coat again.

After everything, after all the effort she’d gone through not to interfere with the past, he had undone all of that by falling in love with her. He’d chosen her over Say’ri. It still boggled her mind, but hadn’t that been what she’d secretly wished for? To have the kind tactician entirely to herself?

The timeline was well and truly destroyed now; due to her weakness she’d doomed the future by getting the Shepherds’ best hope for victory killed. No… They still had Morgan. The girl was green, but she had her father’s innate understanding of tactics and was obviously capable. No doubt she was suffering now, too…

Lucina tightened her grip on the coat, pulling it closer around her.

“Dammit, Robin,” Lucina muttered, sinking to the floor. “You promised me.”

She lost track of time, sitting there and listening to the rain falling on the roof of the tent. Time seemed to cease to hold meaning as she tried to hold back the flood of emotions that threatened to break free and consume her. Robin was gone; that little fact alone was enough to drive her to the brink of madness. Yet it wasn’t until he was actually gone that she could say that she had loved him with all her heart.

Lucina had lost friends before; she’d lost almost her entire family except for her sister and cousin. And yet the death of one man was enough to drive her to the edge.

Lucina looked up, her thoughts interrupted as heavy footsteps beat into the ground outside the tent. She closed her eyes, willing them to continue on their way, to allow her a few more moments to her grief, but the tent flaps were mercilessly drawn back.

The weak lamp light reflected dully off of polished white plates as the interloper stepped into the tent.

“I should have known I would find you here.”

Lucina looked up, her eyes meeting the steely gaze of the woman Robin had forsaken to be with her.

Say’ri glared down at Lucina, her perfect features marred by the harsh expression.

“I would have words with you, Princess Lucina.”

Robin let out a loud sneeze, rubbing under his nose afterwards and stretching now that he was distracted. Someone must have been talking about him somewhere…

“Bless you,” Tiki chirped lightly from behind him.

Robin glanced over his shoulder. The ancient manakete was still watching him work; in fact she hadn’t moved since they’d sat down, just sitting there and watching as he went through the reports and smiling nostalgically to herself.

He turned a little in his seat to face her.

“You know you don’t have to sit there and watch me,” Robin offered. “You could go and spend time with the others if you wanted.”

Tiki shook her head.

“If I am not being a bother I would rather stay here.”

Robin shrugged, turning back to his work.

“Hey, it’s your call, but I’m… kinda boring. All I’m doing is reading these reports and coming up with wild ideas.”

“So tell me about them,” Tiki suggested, shuffling a little closer without changing her pose. “I can help you brainstorm!”

Robin blinked a few times, surprised that anyone besides Morgan was taking an active interest in his work.

“Okay…” he started hesitantly.

“Priam may not have numbers, but he’s got scouts pretty well wherever there’s Imperial troops. These are all detailed troop movement reports, and from what he’s collected it looks like Walhart is indeed consolidating his power around the capital; not going to be an easy nut to crack, but I can see a pattern to their movements. If we’re careful we can actually blend in with the flow and simply be brought directly to the walls of the capital. All of Priam’s men are still wearing Valmese armour, right? A little red paint and we’re in!”

Robin cleared his throat a little bashfully, realizing he’d been getting carried away.

“I mean, it’s still just a rough idea, but I think it might be our best chance…” Robin added in an embarrassed mumble. “What we’d do when we got there is anyone’s guess.”

“And you got all that just from reading those first few reports?” Tiki asked, awe evident in her voice.

Robin nodded.

“That’s amazing,” Tiki said, clapping her hands in delight. “Now I can see why everyone spoke so highly of you! Surely if Mar-Mar had had a man like you at his side he would have defeated Gahrnef in half the time!”

“Please,” Robin said, waving a hand through the air. “Flattery will get you… well, everywhere. But did the Hero-King Marth really not have a tactician?”

Tiki shook her head.

“Mar-Mar took the lives of his men seriously. It was a task he wouldn’t trust to anyone else, a weight he bore solely on his own shoulders. He often worked with Lords Jagen, Hardrim and Ogma, and later the Lady Minerva as well, but the planning and strategy was all his responsibility.”

“Wow,” Robin breathed. “And he still led from the front lines, too. That’s impressive.”

A silence descended over the pair, Tiki remembering friends long-gone with an almost sad smile on her face, while Robin began to snicker after a few moments.

Tiki glanced up, tilting her head questioningly.

“No, no; it’s nothing you said,” Robin assured her, still trying to stifle his laughter.

“I’m just imagining Chrom trying to come up with strategies for the entire League. I mean, we’re talking about someone who gets lost on his way to the mess tent in the morning; he’d probably wind up deploying us directly in the enemy’s camp.”

Tiki frowned.

“You should show more respect to your leader, Sir Robin,” she said in a serious tone.

Robin looked up, meeting her eyes in surprise. He often forgot that not everyone was privy to the same relationship he had with the Prince and that to others his behaviour could be considered rude, even-

“I can’t say that with a straight face!” Tiki said as she burst into laughter.

Robin sighed in relief before joining her, the crystalline sounds of her laughter, so like the wind-chimes that Sumia seemed to favour in her outdoor living areas in the Ylissean palace, being oddly infectious.

“You had me going there for a second,” he said when they’d finally both calmed down.

“I am sorry,” Tiki said, still trying to shake of the last of her mirth. “It has been so long since I’ve spoken at length with anyone so freely, and I could not help myself. It is reliving to speak to someone who does not treat me like the goddess incarnate, but I hope I did not overstep any boundaries.”

Robin waved her apology off.

“No, it’s fine,” he assured her. “Chrom and I admittedly have a very strange relationship. The other Shepherds like to joke that I’m practically a member of the Ylissean Royal Family in all but name. Maybe I should see if I can convince Morgan to call him ‘Uncle Chrom’?”

Tiki nodded, grinning as she hopped lightly to her feet.

“All of that laughing has made me thirsty,” she said with a light bow. “If you want to continue working here, I shall procure us some beverages to motivate you to finish faster.”

With the promise of ‘beverages’ Tiki left the small tent, leaving Robin alone with his reports.

“Right,” Robin mumbled, picking up the next on the pile with a smile on his face. “Back to work.”

“Before I go, though,” Tiki asked, popping her head back into the tent through the flaps. “What were you doing with that pole?”

Robin’s face instantly turned scarlet as he studiously looked away from Tiki at the reports.

“Absolutely nothing,” he mumbled into the desk.

Most people saw Lon’qu as little more than a soldier, not understanding that he watched silently at all times. He watched everything, and had been for years; his hawk-like eyes and ears never missed anything. That was simply how he lived, on constant guard against people that may harm him or his loved ones.

Because of this attitude he knew that he came across as aloof and unfriendly, but that was the price he was willing to pay. But despite that attitude there were still those precious few among the Shepherds that had gotten close enough to him for him to consider them trustworthy; to consider them friends.

The Royal Ylissean family had welcomed him with open arms when Lissa had announced their engagement, and the Ylissean populace seemed comfortable enough with the thought of him despite his Feroxi background; Prince Chrom and Lady Sumia had opened their home and their hearts to him, and he had tentatively accepted their hospitality.

Among the Shepherds the first to reach out to him had been Robin; the only others he truly considered ‘friend’ were Vaike and Virion. Panne was too cold to make that list, Lon’qu seeing much of his own personality reflected in her dour countenance, but the Taguel was another that he trusted implicitly.

But Robin had been his friend, too, and Lon’qu couldn’t shake the feeling he’d let the tactician down.

Just like back in Chon’sin, so many years ago…

The swordsman quickly quashed such thoughts from his past life, forcing them back into the recesses of his memories where they belonged. It had been years since he’d thought of the failure that saw him crossing the sea to find atonement in Regna Ferox, but the tactician’s death brought all of those painful memories back to the fore.

He was used to watching the others from a distance; it could almost be considered a hobby compared to his gruelling training regime. The only other thing he took enjoyment in was spending time with Lissa.

Thoughts of his wife caused him to glance down at his side; she’d been exhausted, but apparently not so exhausted she couldn’t shed tears for her departed friend.

He’d stayed up with her, comforting her silently until she’d finally nodded off; despite her usually cheery outlook on life Lon’qu knew that she was every bit as serious as her brother, who was also no doubt taking Robin’s death just as hard.

Lon’qu resisted the urge to groan as his thoughts circled back to his current source of woe, carefully standing so as not to wake Lissa instead. Air; he needed some air. The usual comforting atmosphere of the tent he and Lissa shared was stifling this evening, and Lon’qu decided to brave the rain and get the air he needed.

Water fell from the sky and soaked into the swordsman’s scruffy hair as he carefully moved from cover to cover; most tents that the Ylissean military used had awnings that could be extended a few feet from the tent to create a mostly dry pathway around the camp for officers to use, but they were a great effort to put up, so the Shepherds rarely used them unless it was absolutely necessary.

The sounds of a night-time camp were muted by a combination of the pattering of falling rain and grief. Robin had touched everyone’s lives in the Shepherds, not just the leaders’.

Thinking about having to continue fighting the war without him admittedly made Lon’qu nervous; Morgan was a good tactician, but she lacked the experience her father had. No doubt Frederick, Virion and the boy Laurent would do their best to assist her, but Robin had a way about him that screamed confidence. Morgan was good, but she lacked the easy confidence her father had earned through the war with Plegia, the bearing that made soldiers believe his plans were flawless and that their lives were safe in his hands. Morgan was young, and Lon’qu would watch over her in remembrance of her father, but he was still unsure about following her the way he had Robin.

He hesitated a moment, lingering in the shadows while Vaike and Miriel jogged toward their tent through the rain, both with subdued faces that were totally at odds with their usual personalities. It wasn’t that he was hiding because he wanted to remain unseen; he often snuck around the camp to keep his skills sharp, moving like a shadow throughout the rows of tents whenever he felt the urge. He was merely acting out of habit as he slipped to the next inky shadow.

Lon’qu’s fist clenched as he heard the same words repeated around him over and over; from the tents he was forced to skirt to avoid getting rained on, from the Shepherds moving about the camp, even from the wagons and the usually boisterous mess tent. He passed them all, ignoring the same whispered denials.

“I can’t believe he’s gone.”

“What will we do now?”

“How can we do this without him?”

“I miss him.”

Lon’qu stopped in a mercifully silent part of the camp, realizing he was panting after dashing through the tent-city, trying to outrun the collective grief of his comrades.

Looking up, the stoic swordsman let out a dark chuckle.

The reason it was silent here was because he was standing in the shelter of Robin’s tent.

The camp followers must have set it up out of habit; that, or someone had yet to inform the majority of the rank and file soldiers that Robin was gone. Lon’qu sighed, squatting down next to the tent to rest a little before he went back to his own. The lifeless silence in the area felt wrong; he wanted to reject it by simply allowing his own presence to defy it for a little while, at least.

Was it his imagination, or could he hear hushed voices speaking from within the tent?

It had to be his imagination. Robin was gone, and no one would defile the sanctity of a dead man’s memory so soon after his death.

Standing with a sigh Lon’qu decided he would allow the dead their rest.

Robin glanced up when the flap of his tent was drawn back with excellent timing; he’d just been neatening the reports to stuff into his pouch behind his spellbook, ideas forming for tactics that the Resistance or the Shepherds alike could use against Walhart.

“I have returned triumphantly!” Tiki sang with a large smile on her face.

As Robin watched the ancient dragon-kin stepped lively as she entered, followed closely by a much more hesitant duo of Inigo and Cynthia.

“They followed me home,” Tiki said with a wink when Robin raised an eyebrow.

“Good evening, Sir Robin,” Inigo said with his usual happy-go-lucky manner.

“We’re not interrupting your work, are we?” Cynthia asked quickly, noticing the stack of papers in Robin’s hands.

“No, I was just finishing,” he said, tucking the reports safely next to his spellbook. “But I am curious as to what the two of you are doing here?”

“I can answer that!” Tiki said excitedly, placing a large copper jug on the table in front of Robin, filled practically to the brim with…

“Wine?” Robin asked incredulously.

Tiki nodded excitedly.

“Yes!” she chirped, clapping her hands together before quickly producing four cups. “It’s been so long since I’ve had a drink with friends, hence why I roped these two into coming! The others were asleep, and, well, Gerome just looked at me when I asked him; I invited Sir Priam, too, but he said he was busy.”

She said the last part of her sentence with a pout so innocently child-like that Robin honestly forgot he was talking to an ancient being of incredible destructive power.

Maybe I should just stop thinking of her that way, Robin thought with a shrug as everyone sat down and cups were filled. I mean she doesn’t strike me as the ‘all-powerful’ type, even if she is all-powerful.

Cynthia was sniffing curiously at the dark wine, while Inigo took small, hesitant sips from his cup.

“Don’t tell me you two have never had wine before?” Robin said with a chuckle at the two younger Shepherds.

“Of course I have!” Cynthia said defensively, taking a deep swig of her cup. “I am a hero-princess, after all!”

“What does that have to do with anything?” Inigo asked wryly, deciding the liquid in his own cup was safe and beginning to drink in earnest.

Cynthia let out a happy sigh as the alcohol went down, before shrugging at her friend.

“Sometimes I just feel the need to remind you,” she said playfully.

Robin snickered, making smooching faces to Tiki, who instantly burst into a fit of giggles. Inigo and Cynthia both looked up aghast, blushing heavily and shouting “It’s not like that!” at the same time. Robin and Tiki practically fell out of their chairs they started laughing so hard. Once they’d calmed down Inigo cleared his throat, his face still red as he refilled his and Cynthia’s cups.

“Admittedly, there was not much cause for drinking socially in the future,” he said, holding the jug out to Robin and Tiki who both politely declined.

Inigo shrugged and put the jug back on the table before he continued.

“So this is the first ‘official’ time we’ve drank socially. We all had wine during religious ceremonies, and firewine and brandy were always rationed out during the colder months, but…”

Robin sipped from his own cup, pacing himself and allowing an evil smile as he watched the two younger Shepherds down their second cups in a manner of minutes, not knowing what they were getting themselves into.

“I can’t imagine that,” Robin said with a theatrical sigh. “A world without drink? I think I’d shrivel up and float away. What did you ever talk over?”

Inigo shrugged. “Bad manners, foul language and bread and water.”

“So perhaps things don’t change that much!” Robin said with a laugh.

“You seem very well-mannered, though,” Tiki said over the rim of her own cup.

The tactician leaned back in his seat.

“Me? Sure. The other Shepherds; Vaike and Sully especially? Not so much. Hell, even Chrom gets a little loud after a few mugs of ale! You can even forget he’s meant to be Exalt!”

Cynthia giggled a little, her cheeks starting to take on a rosy tint.

Just how strong is this stuff? Robin wondered, experimentally taking another small sip. The thick fruitiness of the drink was definitely hiding a potent alcoholic effect. Apparently the Valmese didn’t mess around with their drink.

This is going to be an interesting night.

“I’ve never tried ale, either,” Cynthia said, looking down at her cup before her gaze excitedly snapped back up to Robin. “You say my father drinks ale, too? I must try some! Do you think Sir Priam has any hidden away? Oh! Does my mother drink anything in particular!?”

Robin smiled a little. Lucina had been a little more subtle in wanting to learn about her parents; it seemed like Cynthia was going to be a lot more fun to talk to.

“Sure she does,” Robin answered, refilling her cup again with a big smile. “Wine made from white grapes; it’s much more delicate than this swill, but I personally prefer an ale with your father.”

Tiki huffed a little at the word ‘swill’ but otherwise remained cheery, taking the jug from Robin and pouring her second cup. Robin was only halfway through his first, memories of his last experience drinking heavily weighing on his mind, while Inigo was nearing the end of his third. Cynthia was busily guzzling her fourth cup.

“What about Lucy? Has she taken to anything in particular?” Cynthia asked curiously, looking for all the world at that moment like her mother after a few bottles of wine with Lissa and Cordelia.

Robin shrugged, about to answer ‘if she does, I don’t know about it’ before he was cut off by the tent flaps flying apart as Owain entered. Loudly.

“What-ho, friends and comrades!” He cried. “Owain, scion of legends and blood of dragons is here to join the festivities!”

“Now it’s a party!” Tiki laughed gleefully, tossing an extra cup at the blonde man.

Robin winced at the volume of Owain’s entry, leaning over discreetly to Inigo.

“I thought Tiki said he was asleep?” the tactician whispered as Tiki and Cynthia cheered, watching Owain down his entire cup in seconds before holding it out and demanding a refill.

“Gerome probably woke him up to spite me,” Inigo sighed, running a hand through his hair.

“Come, hero-tactician!” Owain, called from a foot in front of Robin. “Let us drink like the heroes of legend! I would pit myself against the constitution of a hero!”

So much for taking it easy tonight… Robin thought with an internal sigh, the glint in Owain’s eyes clearly stating he wasn’t backing down from the proposed drinking contest. Besides, as the most senior member of the Shepherds present, it fell to Robin to oversee the boy’s further training.

“Alright junior,” Robin said with a grin while speaking as condescendingly as he could. “I introduced your mother to alcohol; now I guess I’ll be a bad influence to you, too. Throw down.”

“I’ve got a bone I’ve been meaning to pick with you since this afternoon,” Cynthia slurred at Robin, the half-full cup in her hands teetering dangerously as she swayed.

“And what would that be, oh future-hero-princess Cynthia of Ylisse?” Robin asked, blinking a few times and willing his vision to stop swaying with the girl as he mock-bowed.

“What, exactly, did you mean about my sister earlier? About ‘kissing and telling’?”

Robin choked. He’d been expecting this question to come up, but much earlier into the revelries. Inigo and Tiki were both passed out, spooning on the cot in the corner; Owain was draped across the table, mumbling incoherently to himself after being thoroughly beaten by Robin in the drinking contest; leaving Robin to sit up with a very inebriated Cynthia while she waited for the effects of the wine to wear off enough to stumble back to her tent, something admittedly taking longer than it should have because she kept adding more wine to her cup while Robin wasn’t looking. That being said, Robin wasn’t exactly faring much better than she was; in drinking Owain under (or in this case over) the table he’d almost wound up there himself.

Owain snorted, mumbling something about sharks and turning his head a little so his nose wasn’t being crushed.

“Well, that’s… complicated,” Robin admitted as he leaned back in his chair, avoiding Cynthia’s piercing, albeit drunken, glare.

Couldn’t she have asked me this while I was sober? Robin grumbled internally. I should be mentally preparing to make an arse out of myself right now.

“I’ll bet it is,” Cynthia said, crossing her arms and spilling the last third of her cup down her side.

The girl ignored it, continuing to glare at Robin, waiting for his answer. It was like a puppy eying down a larger animal to the drunken tactician, and it took all of his will-power not to reach out and try to pet her head.

“She was adamant we not interfere with the past,” Cynthia insisted as the red stain spread on her clothes. “I can’t believe she would willingly interfere like that, especially since she was actually there when you and Say’ri were married!”

Robin winced.

“Thank you for confirming that for me,” he said in a tired voice as he looked away.

Cynthia’s eyes went wide as she tried to clap her hands over her mouth, slapping herself in the face with her empty cup.

“I didn’t just ruin the timeline, did I? Is everything going to fade into nothingness now!?” Cynthia asked, terror tinging her slurred words as she gripped Robin’s shoulders, her cup falling forgotten to the floor.

Robin laughed as he took her hands gently off his shoulders and placed them in her lap.

“Relax. If things were going to unravel because the timeline’s been altered it would have done so three years ago when your sister saved your Aunt and myself from the Risen. Quite frankly, I’m beginning to doubt you guys being here is going to have any negative effect at all.”

Cynthia blinked a few times, trying to process what Robin was saying through the wine clouding her thoughts.

“Do you really think it’s that simple?” Cynthia asked hesitantly.

Robin shrugged. “Sure, why not? Not everything has to be big and complicated.”

“But we’re talking about time itself!” Cynthia blurted out.

“Time is just a unit of measurement,” Robin said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “It’s conceptual, our understanding of it. Who’s to say once you figure out the secret or learn the spell time-travel isn’t as easy as point and go? And who’s to say our method of counting time is the best, or even correct at all? The fact that you’re all here implies that time isn’t exactly linear or set in stone.”

Cynthia’s jaw dropped and Robin could practically see the cogs inside her head turning.

“You…” she muttered with wide eyes. “You just blew my mind.”

Robin burst out laughing, so loud that Owain actually snorted, flew upright, and collapsed backwards over the backrest of the chair he was on, his head dangling limply as he recommenced snoring.

“Okay, help me get this lump into his bed,” Robin said, grunting as he lifted Owain.

“Unhand me, foul turnip!” Owain grumbled. “I am the lord of salad bowl and I shall not be pawed at! Fear my fork of righteous poking!”

Cynthia stood slowly, swaying dangerously as Robin tried not to fall over laughing. “I don’t think… I’ll be much help.”

“Then be moral support; either way, there’s no space here to sleep, and I’m not game to wake a sleeping manakete. I’ll take Inigo’s bedroll for tonight, so show me where your tent is.”

Cynthia nodded, motioning for them to follow her out of the tent.

“But I still wanna know about you and Lucy,” she mumbled as she matched Robin’s pace, the tactician practically dragging Owain through the camp.

“When we’re sober,” Robin promised. “It’s complicated and I don’t wanna risk leaving anything out.”

Owain stirred, attempting to stand on his own and thrashing about a little on Robin’s shoulder.

“Speak no ill of the Exalt, mongrel, or face the fork of *urp* Owain!”

Robin chuckled, rubbing comforting circles on the boy’s back so he wouldn’t puke on the new clothes Robin was wearing; he doubted Sir Priam would be generous enough to provide another set because a drunken idiot had soiled them.

“Yeah, yeah, we know,” Robin chuckled as he followed Cynthia.

Just like old times, he thought nostalgically to himself. Me carrying one of the Ylissean Royal Family home after a night of drinking.

He watched as Cynthia stumbled, reaching out to steady herself against his free shoulder before toppling.

“I guess some things never change,” he muttered under his breath, a smile creeping onto his face.

Robin woke to the familiar ache of a hangover, mercifully light seeing as he went easy on the wine last night.

It’s always important to pace oneself to avoid doing stupid things and waking up with a mind full of regret, Robin intoned, yawning and running a hand through his hair.

Fortunately his mind was full of joy after relaxing last night, something that he could honestly say he was in sore need of as of late. Tiki must have been able to sense that, and responded appropriately. He would have to remember to thank her at breakfast. That, and make fun of Inigo for cuddling an ancient and powerful dragon all night.

Snickering as he tried to sit up Robin was met with resistance from something weighing down the outside of Inigo’s bedroll. The tactician glanced up, groaning and letting his head fall backwards, taking a deep breath.

“Owain get the hell off of me!” Robin shouted suddenly, roughly yanking the bedroll out from under the slumbering man curled up next to Robin.

The others in the tent all woke at the shout, a lifetime spent fighting a losing war and outrunning death seeing them all awake and alert at the drop of a hat. Brady and Gerome were both on their feet in an instant, Cynthia attempting to emulate them but keeling over instantly as her first hangover made its presence known. Owain simply curled into a tighter ball, moaning piteously.

“Turn off the sun, it’s too bright!” the blonde man groaned, burying his head under the corner of the bedroll.

“You wait until you try drinking with your father,” Robin grumbled. “He’ll set you straight. I don’t know where the man puts it all.”

Glancing up Robin grinned.

“You two can relax now. The only enemy here is an alcohol induced poor choice on Owain’s part. Question, though; did you sleep in that mask, Gerome?”

The man in black clothes similar to his armour inclined his head a little, lowering his axe while Brady began muttering about ‘never getting a gentle awakening around these idiots’.

“Yes,” was all the answer Gerome gave before he stepped out of the tent, drawing the flaps back to reveal a bright and sunny morning.

A black shape darted through the open flaps, and in an instant Robin acted, directing a light wind spell at Huginn to alter his flight trajectory right to…

“Gwah!” Owain shouted as Huginn impacted into the sleeping boy’s shoulder, cawing loudly with displeasure at Robin less than a foot from Owain’s ear.

Robin fell backwards, holding his stomach as he laughed and Huginn hopped to his shoulder, nipping irritatedly at his ear.

“Yeah, I’m on to your tricks now,” Robin said, stroking the bird on his shoulder.

Was it just his imagination, or did Huginn actually seem disappointed that he couldn’t run head-long into Robin after a night of drinking?

“Someone… urgh… want to tell me why my clothes are… covered in wine?” Cynthia moaned from her bedroll, not even attempting to right herself.

“Guess I missed one helluva shindig last night,” Brady sighed, hauling Owain up by the scruff.

“Go clean yourself up,” he said brusquely. “You too, Princess. It’ll make ya feel better.”

Cynthia moaned and nodded, hauling herself to her feet and letting Owain lean on her as they headed for the bathing tents.

“If you’ll excuse me,” Robin said, hopping lightly to his feet. “I really, really want to be there when Inigo and Tiki wake up.”

He hesitated when he reached the tent’s entrance, shielding his eyes from the bright sunlight.

“You’d better come too,” the tactician added cryptically. “And bring your staff. If there’s the misunderstanding coming that I think there is, you’ll need it.”

Brady blinked a few times, shrugging and leaning the healing staff on his shoulder as he fell into step with Robin.

“What exactly did you lot do last night?”

Before Robin could answer Huginn took flight as a much larger black shape came bearing down on him with all the subtlety of a charging bull.

“Oh gods Minerva, no!” Robin cried as he was tackled by the excited wyvern.

From his position beneath the excited creature he could hear Huginn cawing in a manner suspiciously reminiscent of the laugh Tharja used when people around her got hurt.

“You planned this, didn’t you!?” Robin called as he was crushed, shaking his fist at the bird perched on the corner of a nearby tent. “Alright! Alright, already! Brady! Gerome!? Anybody!? Get this thing off of me!”

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