Dawn broke over the mountains of the small Hot Spring town that the younger Shepherds were resting in, exhausted from their mission and their celebration afterwards. Light snoring, and in some cases rather heavy snoring, could be heard from the various rooms of the second floor of the inn, the Shepherds sleeping soundly through the rising sun.
All except for Robin, of course; sleep never came easy to him unless he was about to drop from exhaustion, and he found himself lying on his back, staring at the ceiling and simply letting his mind wander.
Should I go and check to make sure Yarne isn't in Morgan's room? He thought absently. Aw forget it, it's too early for this crap. Pretty sure after what I did to him yesterday he wouldn't have it in him anyway.
He let out a sigh, shifting a little to stretch out his neck.
I have more pressing concerns, anyway, he reasoned. Like that Risen Deadlord… thing from yesterday. What the hell was that? And that one in the forest with the creepy four arms? They're getting weirder and stronger… We must be running out of time. Oh gods, why did I let it go!? I have to still be under the curse or something. Did I ever get that figured out? Eh. Maybe I am just crazy. Seemed like a good idea at the time, but those are some famous last words. I'll have to make a report to Chrom as soon as possible, though, which means vacation time gets cut short… again…
Robin cringed internally as he thought of his friend.
Which, of course, brings me to problem number two… he thought, glancing down at the messy head of blue hair currently resting on his chest, still sound asleep.
How in Naga's name do I explain this to him? Robin wondered, internally quailing at the thought of his best friend's wrath. I mean, we're talking about a man that breaks stone walls down with wooden training weapons, and a temper about as short as Nowi. I'm a dead man. I'm so dead. He'll murder me. I'm…
Lucina sighed and shifted in her sleep, tightening her grip around his chest.
Okay. That shut me up, Robin thought with a small grin as he reached up to stroke her hair.
Lucina shifted again, moaning a little in her sleep as the tactician gently ran his fingers through her hair.
I wonder why it's not full of knots like mine is… Oh. Right. Most people brush their hair when it gets long. I think Tiki might have permanently scared me off of that idea, though…
Robin continued to stroke her hair for a few more minutes before letting out a sigh.
As nice as this is, I really have to pee.
He gently moved out from under the princess, putting all the mock-thieving lessons Gaius had given him over the years to good use and slipping his pillow in the place his chest had been occupying.
"What time is it?" Lucina asked, her voice muffled by sleep as she wrapped herself around the pillow.
"It's still early," Robin said in a low voice. "We have to leave today, so go ahead and get a little more sleep. I'll go make sure we're good to go after breakfast, m'kay?"
Lucina let out a soft sigh, rolling over and taking the pillow with her.
"If my tactician orders me to do so…" she muttered, never once opening her eyes throughout the entire exchange.
That… was so cute… I think I'm gonna die, Robin thought as he slipped into his coat and out of the room.
The tactician let out a loud yawn as he stepped into the inn's kitchen, looking for something he could eat quickly before making the majority of the travel preparations himself to let the others sleep in; something preferably a little closer along the lines of Ylissean fare, rather than local.
"It's too freaking early…" he muttered, picking up a kettle and trudging to the already-lit cooking fire at one end of the long, thin kitchen.
He sighed as he put the kettle on, thinking of making some very, very strong tea to help get him going as he leaned back against the table.
"Morning, Robin!" a cheery voice rang out. "Are you here to rest for a bit?"
Robin glanced over his shoulder to the young woman carrying a stack of plates, her draconian eyes and the top of her head the only things visible above the pile.
"Nah? What're you doing?"
"I'm helping the Annas make breakfast!" she said happily, setting the plates down on the table, revealing a smiling girl with long green hair in a white dress, and dusting her hands off before hopping up onto a chair to face where Robin was leaning.
"That's nice," Robin said sincerely.
"I know!" Nah chirped. "I never got the chance to cook in an actual kitchen back in the future, so this is so much fun!"
Robin chuckled a little, her upbeat attitude making him grin despite the darker subtext of her statement.
"You should come to the strategy meetings, Robin suggested. "We can have you read out all the bad things in that tone of voice; it'll make them seem less… bad."
"What do you mean?" Nah asked curiously.
"Never mind," Robin chuckled. "Just me being selfish. You know, you've been with the army for a while now, and I think that this is the first time we've actually spoken one-on-one."
"You're right," Nah said conversationally. "But we all understand you're usually busy; you should hear the way my mother harps on about the fact you never play with her…"
"Hey, she wanted to cheat at staring contests, she lost play-time privileges," Robin said defensively.
They were silent for a few moments, Robin patiently waiting for the kettle to boil while Nah sat, staring at him. Just before he was about to ask if his hair was sticking out at odd angles, something that apparently happened often when he had just woken up, the young Manakete spoke up.
"Robin, can I ask you something… about my mother?"
"Uh… okay," the tactician said, unsure of whether or not he'd just stepped out into a mine-field.
"How can you stand her?" Nah asked honestly. "Don't you find her incredibly childish? Annoying, even? She spends almost all of her time running around camp playing games."
"Okay, one, I'm incredibly childish, so I can't judge on that point," he laughed. "And two, it's just who she is; I wouldn't want her to change, and neither would anyone else."
Nah clicked her tongue in annoyance, leaning towards the bleary-eyed tactician.
"Robin, you're much to kind!" she scolded. "You're meant to be one of the leaders of the Ylissean League! If you're so soft on her she'll never learn to act her age!"
"Heh, I'm not one to-"
"What does everyone seem to like about her, anyway?" Nah went on, not giving Robin a chance to reply beyond quirking his brow. "You're all so serious and responsible, and she runs around like a headless chicken! I have no idea what my father sees in her... Unless... he rushed her into marriage for some reason? Like he got her-"
"Stop!" Robin cut her off, holding up a hand for silence. "Please. Too… too much information. Things I don't need to hear about with an imagination as over-active as mine. Just. Yeesh. Look, we knew early on what we were getting ourselves into when we asked her to join the Shepherds, and aside from one teensy-tiny incident where she almost burned down the entire camp, it really hasn't been that bad."
"Oh? That's quite a protest there..." Nah said with a thoughtful look on her face. "I guessed right, didn't I? I had no idea my parents were so scandalous…"
"Didn't I call a halt on that thought-train?" Robin grumbled, carefully grabbing the hot kettle from the stove and placing it on a countertop. "Why are you so hung up on this, anyway?"
"It just…" the half-manakete said, deflating. "She's a hero in the future; people tell stories about her, and then when I get back here she's so…"
"Free-spirited?" Robin asked when she trailed off, pouring some water into a couple of mugs.
"Childish!" Nah exclaimed. "I mean, really! All she… Robin, what are you doing?"
The tactician shrugged, beginning to cut up some fruits as he waited for the tea to settle.
Tea in a little bag that you can make by the cup, he thought with a shake of his head. I think that right there is going to change Virion's life; leave it to an Anna to innovate like that.
"Cold breakfast," he explained. "Keep talking, I'm still listening; I'm just sick of local food. I want something simpler. And, you know, rice-less."
Nah giggled a little, before growing serious again.
"So her behaviour really doesn't bother you?" she asked.
"Honestly?" Robin replied over his shoulder. "Every single one of the Shepherds does something that bothers me. Your mother does the whole childish behaviour thing. Virion's a sore winner, and until I met him I didn't think such a thing was possible. Vaike and Lissa play practical jokes. Tharja's a stalker. Chrom's dense as a brick wall, which, er, isn't always a bad thing. Sumia's a klutz. Sully's more macho than three men put together, and Stahl's a pushover. Olivia's so timid it hurts, and it takes twenty minutes just to find Kellam in an empty room. Cordelia's so obsessed with romance it's hard to talk to her at times, and Frederick has a pole so far up his ar-"
The tactician brought himself up short, remembering he was talking to what amounted to as a child.
"Er, you get my point," he said instead. "What I'm trying to say is when you're as tight-knit a unit as we are you have to learn to get over little things like that. Or, in the case of Lissa and Vaike, figure out how to get even without escalating matters."
Robin turned, placing the plate of food he'd prepared on the table between himself and Nah with the tea-cups he'd just finished before sliding one of the cups to her.
"What I'm saying is, and I apparently quote my future self here; normal is overrated, Nah. It's the little eccentricities of our unit, our family, that make the horrible situations we go through on a daily basis bearable. Do you understand, or are you too busy eye-balling my food?"
"Er… no, I understand," she said, looking up from Robin's plate and taking her cup in both hands. "It's just I've never seen anything like that before…"
The tactician laughed as he took a sip from his own cup. "You've never seen a fruit-sandwich before? Your mother was the one that introduced me to them!"
Nah shook her head, eyes never leaving the plate with the outlandish food on it.
"It's just apple, banana and orange slices on bread," Robin said, grabbing the knife from behind him and slicing the sandwich neatly in two. "Here, try some."
Nah reached out hesitantly, taking the sandwich-half in both hands before bringing it to her mouth and taking a small bite. Her eyes went wide, and in moments the sandwich half had disappeared.
"What... what is this?!" she asked in awe, staring with wide eyes at the untouched half in Robin's hands. "I've never tasted anything so amazing! It's incredible! It's life changing! It's... It's..."
Robin laughed, holding out his own untouched half as Nah let out a squeal of delight.
"Here," he chuckled. "Just take it. I can never eat these in front of your mother, either; why should you be any different? I'll make myself another."
"Hey," Nah asked around a mouthful of fruit and bread after another few seconds. "So no offense, but you lost all your memories, didn't you? How do you know how to cook?"
"I picked up things here and there," Robin said over his shoulder. "I mean, don't try to get me to make anything more advanced than this kind of thing unless you want the camp to catch fire of your taste-buds to wither and die, but I read up a little bit while I had the time. And apparently I make a mean carrot soup."
Robin stopped mid-slice, a thought occurring to him.
"You know, you're actually only the second person to enjoy my cooking," he said, putting his second sandwich together. "And neither of you have been human. Maybe I'm descended from a line of inhumans, too?"
Nah didn't answer, instead staring intently at his sandwich.
"You know," Robin chuckled, sliding the plate across the table to her with a grin. "You are a lot more like your mother than you might think."
Maybe I should try this for Lucina some time? he thought, watching how happy it made Nah to eat his food.
Crap, he thought, realization hitting him. Now I'm actually going to have to eat the local food. Damn my generosity.
Robin grunted, loading one of the last bundles of tents onto Anna's wagon, wiping sweat off his brow and marvelling that he could even manage to sweat in such a chilly climate.
"Do we really have to go back already?" Morgan moaned, perching on the edge of the step up into the inn from the storage area with a grim look on her face.
Of course he and Nah hadn't been the only ones already awake, and after he'd left the kitchen in the young manakete's capable (he hoped) hands he had run into his daughter, fully awake as ever despite the early hour, yet slightly subdued compared to the way she normally acted.
"Yes, Morgan," he sighed. "I don't like it either, but if Risen so strong are appearing so far away from home you know there's a problem. I'm… worried about Ylisse."
Morgan let out a sigh of her own.
"I know, I know," she conceded. "But we didn't even get to spend that much time together!"
"You chose the Taguel over me last night," he pointed out; that had been the other reason he'd been moping, if not the more distressing of the two.
"Hey, I was making sure you didn't break his neck thank you very much," she huffed. "Honestly, Dad; you need to learn to play a little gentler."
"Who was playing?" he asked seriously, grunting as he lifted the last of the tents into the wagon. "I was genuinely trying to cause him bodily harm. It's nice to know I actually did."
"Dad, that's horrible!" Morgan cried, rising to her feet.
"Hey, I backed off and said I was okay with you two… dating," he said, rounding on the girl. "But I put my foot down at naked-bathing-time!"
Morgan crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow, a look Robin had often given to the other Shepherds when they had said something foolish; in fact it almost looked like he was glaring at himself.
"Hey, Lucina and I are adults!" he said defensively, feeling a blush creeping to his face. "You're still, what? Sixteen? Seventeen?"
"Eighteen," Morgan deadpanned, standing up. "Meaning I'm an adult too."
"Did we decide on eighteen?" Robin asked, referring to the time they had sat down and tried to bypass their amnesia and work their ages out.
"Even if we didn't, it's been about a year since then, so I would be now," Morgan said, finally snapping. "Meaning I'm more than likely nineteen now. I'm glad you're okay with us dating, but it doesn't work if you don't actually let us date! And while I'm venting, what the hell happened yesterday!?"
"Bwuh?" Robin managed before his irate daughter cut him off.
"Don't you 'bwuh' me! I mean when I did that little tiny thing called 'saving your life', and rather than being grateful, you scream at me instead! What the hell, dad!?"
"Morgan, I-" the older tactician tried again, left shocked and speechless at the viciousness of his daughter's verbal assault.
"No, you listen!" she shouted, stomping in close to him and cutting him off. "You died! You died, left all of us alone, then show up out of the blue acting like nothing ever happened! How are we… I mean how am I… dammit, dad, you can't just pretend that didn't happen! I'm grateful you're still alive, but you dying had a serious effect on all of us, not just me! You think about that for a while, then tell me I'm wrong! Look me in the eyes and tell me I'm wrong!"
With that she stomped off, leaving a reeling Robin blinking mystified at the space she had been occupying.
Everything Morgan said struck Robin like a blow from Vaike's axe; once again he'd been so focused on the little things he'd forgotten the big picture. Just how was Morgan faring? Obviously not well; with only a few fragmented memories, consisting mostly of why she loved her father so much, he'd seen fit to leave her all alone in the world, even if it had only been for a week. Or Lucina who had already lost everything once? Or Chrom, who had lost his best friend? Virion, Tharja, Cordelia… For Naga's sake, Panne had hugged him.
Leave it to Morgan to think of the big picture, though… Robin thought absently, staring into the hallway his daughter had disappeared down. All I ever do is think about what's sitting right in front of me.
"Has it really… been a year already?" he asked out loud, sinking to sit on the step.
"Apparently. Haven't you been paying attention? Sheesh… You're really not good with anything not involving tactics, are you?" Flavia asked, walking into the stable from outside and leaning against a post. "Even if those things're related to you."
"Why do people keep telling me that?" Robin asked, scratching at the back of his head.
"I wonder," Flavia chuckled, moving into the stable to sit with Robin. "That was pretty harsh; didn't think the kid had that kind of fire in her. Guess she proved me wrong. So… you and the princess, huh?"
The tactician cringed. "Yes, Flavia."
"Hey, relax, I'm not judging," she said quickly. "I'm a little disappointed because now it's going to be that much harder to get you away from Ylisse, but I do love a challenge."
Robin sighed, running a hand through his long hair.
"Sorry," he muttered. "I'm a little on-edge right now."
"Yeah," Flavia laughed. "Fighting with your kid's gotta be one thing, but telling all those kids vacation-time's over so soon? That's going to suck."
"Argh, don't remind me!" Robin groaned, falling backwards onto the small step with an audible thump. "I think I can get away with it though; I mean I was intending to spend the week here, but I never actually said as much, right?"
"I don't think so," the Khan snickered.
"Here's a thought," Robin said, staring up at the bare ceiling. "You go and patch things up with Morgan and I'll go announce the fact we're leaving early."
Flavia burst out laughing, slapping Robin's knee so hard it actually launched him back into a sitting position.
"Aw, man," she chuckled while the tactician rubbed the new bruise forming just above his knee. "I always do so much laughing around you lot. Why don't we swap roles? I'll get the kids ready to go."
"Sure," Flavia said flippantly as she rose and stepped back into the inn, looking back to speak over her shoulder. "I've spent the last fifteen years leading raiding parties, armies and an entire nation. I think I can take a small group of young adults. You go be a father for a change; sounds like it's about damn time you do, in any case."
Robin was about to reply with a scathing comment about the way her 'leading' was more drinking and fighting than anything else, a plan for dealing with Morgan already beginning to come to his mind, but stopped in his tracks when a voice called out something he had been dreading hearing all morning.
"Robin?" Cynthia called from outside the stable. "Have you seen Lucina?"
Flavia instantly took notice of his panicked expression, her own face breaking into a grin.
"Oh, you dog, you," she said slyly.
"Shut up," Robin muttered, leaping to his feet and rushing past her as Cynthia called his name again. "Don't rat me out or we'll leave you here!"
"I can live with that!" Flavia called after him as he disappeared into the inn ahead of her before turning to face the younger Ylissean princess as she wandered into the stable.
"Good morning, Khan Flavia!" Cynthia greeted brightly. "You haven't seen my sister or Robin around, have you? I can't find either of them anywhere, and Anna wants us all to start handing the yukatas back."
Flavia tried, she honestly did, to stop herself, but such opportunities were rare, and needed to be taken when presented.
"I dunno," she said, feigning boredom as she crossed her arms and leaned back against the door jamb, miraculously keeping a straight face. "I think I heard him saying something about getting something to eat and being exhausted from spending the night with your sister, but-"
"ROBIN! I SWEAR TO NAGA I'LL KILL YOU WITH MY BARE HANDS!"
Lucina let out an almighty yawn as she sat up, rubbing at her eyes and blinking the sleep out of her thoughts, absently wondering what everyone was screaming so loudly about first thing in the morning.
Robin… went to pack up the gear, she recalled, her hand coming to rest where the tactician had rested the previous night.
A slight blush rose to her cheeks as she recalled the previous night's events; they hadn't actually done anything worth mention, Lucina standing by her half-joking comment back in the forests of Regna Ferox to Robin about saving herself for marriage, but they had spent the evening together and she had spent the entire time curled up with him…
Lucina shook the usual conflicting emotions of duty and love from her mind, focusing on simply basking in the moment and dressing herself for the trek back to Chon'sin. She stuck her head out the door of Robin's room, carefully ensuring that the coast was clear before tip-toing to her own room, holding her yukata closed with one hand as she went and wondering how in Naga's name the Annas had managed to get it to stay closed in the first place.
It was regrettable that they had to return so early, but Robin had been right in needing to inform her father about the increased Risen threat as quickly as possible; they weren't even sure that the group wouldn't be attacked on the way back, or the town would be assaulted again in their absence. However it had been pretty obvious that the Risen were just trying to lure them out with the townspeople...
Lucina caught herself as she pulled her blue chest-piece on, stopping and blinking a few times as she realised she had thought it 'regrettable' that they return early. She hadn't wanted to stay and vacation in the first place!
"Robin must be rubbing off on me…" she reasoned, flipping her hair clear of her light armour and doing up the last of the clasps before fixing her cape to her shoulders.
She flexed and rotated her arms a little, the familiar feeling and weight of her armour a comforting and nostalgic one. It had been nice to wear the yukata for a time, but they were still at war against Grima, as elusive as the Dragon was being, and she had felt exposed the entire time.
Well, all the time Robin hadn't been distracting her, she thought with another slight blush.
The Princess glanced up as she fixed the tiara that usually held her hair back from her face during battle in place, the hurried gait of someone rushing down the wood-floored hallway unmistakable in the early morning quiet.
The door of the room next to her own opened and closed quickly, a loud clatter signifying Morgan's foul mood.
Lucina wondered what could be bothering the girl; she had been fine the previous evening when they had visited the woman's bath together… Lucina felt a stab of guilt wondering if Morgan had somehow learned that she and Robin had spent the evening in the same room, making the younger tactician's mood her fault…
"I should talk to her, at least," Lucina decided, stepping into the hallway. "Especially if this is my fault…"
The young Lord stepped out into the hallway, edging along past Inigo and Gerome walking towards the stairs, both young men apparently in high-spirits as they chatted. Well, Inigo chatted, but Gerome actually seemed to be listening, which was a big improvement for the aloof wyvern-rider.
The only room between Morgan's and Lucina's was Cynthia's, so the princess found herself outside of her friend's door a lot faster than she had been expecting to, suddenly at a loss. If it was her fault that Morgan was so upset then how was she supposed to make things right? She loved Robin, but wouldn't be the reason that a parent and a child became estranged.
Perhaps she was merely overthinking things; Morgan could have been upset for any number of reasons, it didn't necessarily mean-
"Rargh! Dammit, Dad!" the younger tactician growled angrily from inside the small room, making Lucina's eyes widen slightly.
She'd never heard that tone of voice from the usually bubbly girl before. But at least now she knew what was bothering her…
Gathering her nerve Lucina knocked lightly three times.
"Yes?" Morgan answered instantly. "Come in, it's unlocked. Unless that's you, dad. Then you can go away, I'm still mad at you."
"Unfortunately it's just me," Lucina said with a depreciating smirk as she stepped into the room that was basically a carbon copy of her own. "I heard you shouting before. Is everything okay?"
"Oh, hey Luce," Morgan sighed, running a hand through her lengthening hair the same way her father usually did when he was stressed as the Princess shut the thin sliding door behind her. "I… er… guess I just had a fight with my dad."
"That's a first," Lucina said. "I don't believe the two of you ever fought in the future."
"Yeah, well, I bet he wasn't as big a jerk in the future," Morgan huffed.
"No," Lucina laughed. "But he was much colder. I would thank Naga that you are being given the chance to know him as he is now, rather than the man he became."
Morgan gave Lucina a strange look before sighing again and sinking to sit at the low table to one side of the room.
"Did he put you up to coming to talk to me?" the young tactician asked tiredly.
"Of course not," Lucina answered truthfully. "I haven't seen him all morning. In fact I thought you were angry at me before I heard you growling about him."
"Why would I be mad at you?" Morgan asked, tilting her head curiously as Lucina moved to sit at the table with her.
"Well…" the blue haired princess stammered. "He and I are… we… have… ah…"
"Stop!" Morgan said quickly, shutting her eyes and blocking her ears as her face turned red. "I don't want to hear it! Please for the love of Naga stop!"
"We haven't done anything yet!" Lucina assured her hastily.
Morgan raised an eyebrow at this as Lucina began to blush, but chose not to press the topic.
"I'm okay with you two being together, Lucina," Morgan said after a brief pause. "That's not what bothers me. What bothers me is the way he's been acting lately."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean the way he's been acting since he came back!" Morgan exclaimed. "He's been like a child, for Naga's sake! He's completely ignoring the fact that we all had to deal with him being dead, and it's starting to get to me. I mean it was fun at first, but now he's just… It's like he's a different person. Hasn't it been bugging you?"
Lucina was silent, letting the girl's rant sink in.
"I do not know the specifics about what happened after Steiger," she said hesitantly, choosing her words carefully. "I do not know if he actually died, or if he was merely severely injured. But he wiped a fortress the size of a city off the face of the map with a single spell; I'm no mage, but that kind of strain alone would be enough to kill a man, completely ignoring the weight of the thousands of lives he snuffed out all at once. Yet he came back to us, falling out of the sky to save both of our lives, no less. The kind of mental trauma he must have gone through in that short period of time… I shudder to think of it. I've noticed him acting differently, too, but do you remember what he was like before Steiger? Can you honestly say you're not happier to see him back among the rest of us, instead of brooding alone all the time?"
"Well, no…" Morgan admitted.
"And even if he is acting a little over the top lately, he's still Robin," Lucina added with a small smile. "There's no mistaking that."
Morgan nodded silently.
"Maybe I was a little hard on him," she admitted after a moment's contemplation. "But the way he's been treating Yarne…"
Lucina barked out an involuntary laugh.
"I'm surprised he's backed off as much as you say he has!" she admitted. "I'm worried my father is going to kill him outright when we tell him about us."
Morgan snorted with barely contained laughter before sobering again.
"That's true, too, but I still-"
"C'mon already!" someone shouted from outside in the hallway, two pairs of feet thumping down the wooden boards leading to the girls rooms.
"This is not a good idea," a familiar voice said. "In fact this is a very bad idea. I should know; I've apparently had a lot of them lately."
"So let me help you with a good one before I lose my nerve!"
The sliding door slid open, revealing Yarne actually dragging Robin by the cuff into the room.
"Morgan," the half-Taguel said. "I forgive your father for nearly drowning me and breaking my neck last night. I… I mean… I didn't mean to listen in, but t-these ears…"
"And all at once he's back to being beta again," Robin chuckled, rolling his eyes as the Taguel boy wilted in the face of the girls' curious stares.
"The bunny and I are cool," he added, throwing an arm around the younger man's shoulders. "Just a little male-bonding in the baths. If I'd really wanted to hurt him, I'd do it where it would be easier to hide the body."
"Yeah right, like you could keep up with me," Yarne quipped, grinning up at the tactician nervously.
"Well, that solves that," Lucina said, turning back to Morgan, who was still frowning.
"Okay, fine," she said. "But that still doesn't excuse the way you treated me after the battle yesterday."
"What, Tharja didn't explain that?" Robin asked. "I thought you two were going to talk about it."
"Er… that's probably m-my fault…" Yarne muttered, slipping out of Robin's grip and edging towards the door.
"Hold on," the tactician said, stopping him dead in his tracks. "If you're going to be part of the family you may as well know, too."
"Part of the family…?" Yarne muttered, turning with a blank, surprised look on his face.
Morgan and Lucina both looked up at him curiously while Yarne stood stunned.
"I got mad because you scared the hell out of me by using Dark Magic," Robin explained in a softer tone. "Tharja thinks, and I'm inclined to agree with her, that I've been under some weird curse or something for the last few months, possibly since before we even got to Valm, that's been feeding off of dark magic. I know we're predisposed to finding it a lot easier to cast than most mages, but until we figure out what exactly happened to me I'd prefer you not use it in case it puts you in danger, too."
"Plus I'd just been bitch-slapped with a sword, so I was kinda still smarting," he added with a chuckle, running his fingertips along what was going to be the newest scar in his vast collection.
Morgan nodded a few times, taking in her father's explanation.
"That's it?" she asked in a quiet voice. "You and Yarne are actually all buddy-buddy and you just freaked out because you were worried about me?"
"Pretty much," Robin said apologetically.
The younger tactician let out a harsh laugh, startling the other three people in the room.
"Oh Naga I feel stupid right now," she chuckled, running a hand through her hair before her chuckling turned strained and she let out a sob.
"I think that this is a moment that friends shouldn't be intruding on," Lucina said kindly, patting Morgan on the shoulder before standing and moving to Yarne's side. "We shall go and assist the Annas with our travel preparations."
"P-part… of the… family…" Yarne muttered again, still over-awed.
Lucina rolled her eyes in an attempt to hide the grin rising to her lips as she grabbed the half-Taguel by the arm and dragged him from the room, leaving Robin alone with his future daughter, who was still looking at the ground.
"I'm sorry," Robin said after a few moments with as much honesty as he could put into his words. "I should have said it sooner; I should have said it the second I got back, but I got so caught up in everything and didn't stop to think about it. Morgan I am so, so sorry for everything I put you through."
"You were dead," Morgan sniffled, still not looking up. "You were really gone, and left me all alone… I know you're back now, but still…"
Robin sighed, kneeling down next to her and pulling her into a tight hug.
"I am back now. And I'm not going anywhere again. There's still a little time left before we have to go; why don't we spend some time together? Just the two of us."
Morgan nodded happily, wiping the tears out of her eyes.
"I like that idea."
The young Shepherds made their return trip to Chon'sin thankfully without incident, refreshed and relaxed, but grateful to see their parents and allies again. A further two months passed, the peace talks continuing under Chrom and Say'ri's watchful gazes, and some sense of stability began to return to the war-torn continent of Valm. During this time Roark, rather gleefully according to reports, marched right by Seth and Raimi's forces with the remaining League forces under his command, leaving the two perplexed Lieutenants to hold Port Ferox and the costal roads to Chon'sin as he and the wounded, tired soldiers got a head-start on the return journey to Ylisse. Reports of Liung's forces returning home safely emerged as well, and rumours of the incredible celebrations held in Chengshi over the next few weeks drifted down from the north, leaving the monarch to pine for his homeland as the talks dragged on.
Wallace and the former Valmese Resistance were slowly returning the control of the central Valm territories to the Imperials, however a large number of the soldiers were poised to fill the depleted ranks in the Imperial military, returning to command old units and the like in the wake of the war and ensure that a tragedy of its kind was never repeated again. Public funeral services were held in the capital for the great generals that had passed during the conflict, Robin actually making the trek back to the capital to pay his respects to General Pheros in an attempt to assuage his guilty conscience. A grand service was also held for Walhart, and a smaller, more subdued service held for Priam, both of which Robin attended with Chrom and the other important Shepherds.
Now, he was back in Chon'sin, lying face-down on the futon in his room fully clothed, letting himself rest after the exhausting ordeal of post-war politics. He and Lucina had both been so busy they had barely even seen each other since fighting the Risen at the hot-spring town; she had been leading the makeshift Ylissean Honour Guard formed from the more presentable Shepherds for her father, a job that dictated she be constantly wherever Chrom was, and Robin had spent all his time with either Morgan or Virion, working to organize the Ylissean and Feroxi forces while they were still in Valm. Even Morgan had been scarce lately; she had duties to Chon'sin while they were here, and Robin insisted that she not shirk them.
"I'm getting too old for this crap," he groaned, trying and failing to roll over.
All day… all day long, all he had done was argue with Frederick about troop deployments. The Knight Commander had been adamant that they stick to conventional deployment patterns, completely ignoring the fact that conventional patterns required both the Royal Knights and the Pegasus Knights to be present for Robin's planning. Which they currently were not. In fact both orders were currently on boats headed back for Ylisse, a thought that irked Robin considering just how much he was looking forward to going home, too.
At least Robin was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel; soon they would be returning home to Ylisse. The Imperials were cooperating with the other Dynasts and nations around Valm, and control was slowly being returned to Imperial hands. Liung and Say'ri would never let them get away with grabbing at land or power again, though, so it wasn't really that much of an issue. The peace talks were almost over, and it was almost time to say farewell to Valm. Apparently not a moment too soon, either.
I thought getting married would mellow Frederick out a little, Robin thought, staring off to the corner of his room absently and recalling the small service Libra had conducted for Frederick and Cordelia a few weeks ago. If anything that pole up his butt went a little deeper…
He winced as the sound of his door opening and closing reached him.
"Go away and let me die in peace!" he groaned, burying his head under his pillow.
The only people that could possibly be bothering him right now were Virion coming to confirm some orders with him, Morgan looking for advice on troop formations despite already knowing the answers herself, or Frederick looking for round two; all eventualities that Robin was desperate to avoid at present.
A soft laugh greeted him instead of more work as someone crossed the room at a leisurely pace.
"I thought you weren't planning on dying again anytime soon," Lucina teased.
Robin perked up, moving to sit up before a hand between his shoulders gently stopped him.
"What are you doing here?" he asked curiously, glancing at her out of the corner of his eye as she sat down next to his futon.
She was in her casual attire, which was to say her familiar blue tunic and clothes, without the armour or cape; an unusual enough sight considering she was so used to wearing both everywhere she went.
"Father decided to take the afternoon off," she explained, smiling lightly. "Which meant the Honour Guard also got the afternoon off. I went looking for you, but Sir Virion said you had escaped at some point, leaving only a note scribbled on a scrap of parchment consisting of a few curse words."
"It was hardly eloquent, I will admit," Robin muttered, feeling his face heat up.
"You've been exhausting yourself again," Lucina stated.
"No, I'm fine," Robin insisted, trying to rise but being pushed back down again.
"I can tell that's not true," Lucina said to him. "It's not as bad as before, but you're still running yourself ragged. I've come to try and help you with that."
"Then grab a stack of reports and start… working…" Robin went to joke, trailing off when Lucina gently peeled the coat off of his back; something that even Morgan probably wouldn't get away with.
"What are you doing?" Robin asked expectantly as Lucina pulled the shirt over his head next.
"It's not what you're hoping for," she laughed as Robin's face fell a little. "I've been talking with Brady again lately, and he's taught me quite a bit about remedial massage. I had thought to try it on you."
"That sounds…" Robin began, about to say 'like a bad idea' before Lucina's hands met his back and he let out a low groan.
"Amazing," he said instead, drawing the word out as his tired muscles were stretched out.
"I've been working very hard on this in my spare time," Lucina chuckled, kneading at his shoulders. "There was no shortage of volunteers to help me practice, I will admit, even after rather… disastrous early attempts."
"Where did you… mmmmm… find the time?" Robin mumbled into his pillow.
"We're not all as busy as you have been," Lucina said. "In fact, most of the Shepherds are sitting around waiting for orders half the time. It's so bad that Frederick is starting his 'fanatical fitness sessions' again. I think that Lady Tharja has hexed herself invisible to avoid him, in fact."
"Sounds like her," Robin groaned. "If I'd have… ahhhh… known you were all so bored I'd… oooooh… have put some rosters together."
"I think everyone is enjoying the time off too much," Lucina chuckled, applying a little more pressure and laughing at the faces Robin was making.
A few minutes passed, Robin simply struggling to both relax and stay awake while his tired muscles were massaged.
"This is nice," he mumbled in an attempt to remain conscious.
"I should hope so, after all the effort I put into learning it."
"No, not the…" Robin began, stopping himself short. "Well, yes, that's great, too, but I meant just getting to spend time together like this. It's been weeks since we've even been able to take meals together."
"We've both been busy," Lucina said kindly.
"Yeah, apparently some of us more than others," Robin muttered.
"I heard that," Lucina laughed. "It's not my fault you constantly feel it necessary to work yourself to death."
"Hey I… actually, I have absolutely no excuses right now. Damn," Robin grumbled, realising he'd relaxed to the point his sarcastic wit was being effected, making Lucina laugh.
"However," Robin added, finally managing to roll over and sit up. "That means it would be remiss of me to not take advantage of a rare situation like this."
"Oh? Don't you have work to be doing?" Lucina asked teasingly.
"I'm taking a page from your father's book and taking the afternoon off!" Robin declared, pulling the princess onto his lap. "All work and no play-"
"Makes Robin the man he is," Lucina giggled, cutting him off mid-quote.
"Still taking the afternoon off," Robin insisted, leaning in close.
Lucina responded by wrapping her arms around the back of Robin's neck and leaning up towards him, seeking out-
"Robin? Are you in here?"
The tactician froze, eyes wide as a familiar voice called out from outside his door, a door which was currently sliding open to reveal the Exalt of Ylisse.
Doesn't he ever knock!? Robin thought in a panic, wondering what exactly he should be doing here. Lucina had a similar expression on her face; rumours for once miraculously hadn't spread about the two, so Chrom was still in the dark about their relationship. Neither of them had had the time lately, or Robin hadn't anyway, to even think about letting the Exalt know.
This is bad, Robin thought, seeing his life flash before his eyes.
"I heard you're playing hooky," Chrom was saying. "C'mon, let's go and grab a couple of… ales…"
Without thinking the shirtless Robin bolted upright, throwing Lucina off of him with a surprised yelp.
"Hello, Chrom!" Robin said, much louder than necessary as the Exalt looked back and forth between his daughter and his best friend. "What… ah… brings you to my… room!? What a funny coincidence! Ha! Ha ha! Ha…"
"Father this is-" Lucina began, climbing up to her own feet and casting Robin a dirty look.
"Exactly what it looks like," the tactician cut her off in a resigned tone. "There's no point lying now, is there?"
Lucina nodded, looking rather nervous as Chrom continued to look between the two silently, his brow furrowed.
Chrom nodded once, slowly crossing the room and bending down to pick up Robin's coat without saying a word. He then proceeded to cross the remaining space, shove the coat into Robin's grip, grab him by the arm and lead him from the room.
"Lucina, I think you should go and inform Virion that Robin's not coming back to work this afternoon."
"Oh gods I'm about to die, aren't I!? Save me! Don't let him take me!"
"Oh shut up already," Chrom grunted, dragging Robin from the room.
"Here," Chrom grunted, slamming two full mugs of ale down on the tabletop before sinking into the seat across from a visibly quaking Robin. "You look like you could use a drink."
The tactician nodded mechanically, downing his entire mug in one go before reaching out and doing the same to the one sitting in front of Chrom. The local ale didn't compare to the Feroxi stuff that he was used to, but Robin didn't even taste it as he gulped the liquid down. With a slight grin on his face Chrom gestured for refills.
"Feeling better yet?" he asked.
Robin looked at his friend. "If you're going to kill or maim me, just get it over with. Quick and painless, please."
"Robin, why would I kill you?" Chrom asked with a knowing smirk on his face.
Oh you smug bastard, you know exactly why, the tactician thought as two more mugs were placed on the table.
"I think you have a pretty good idea why I might think that," the tactician deadpanned, taking a sip from his third mug.
Chrom had led him, dragged him more like, to the closest tavern to the small castle they were residing in, barely stopping long enough to let Robin put his coat on and fasten it to make himself presentable enough for public. He had barely said a word the entire time and neither had Robin, too terrified to speak.
"Enlighten me," Chrom said, leaning back.
"What do you want me to say?" Robin asked desperately. "I'm not going to lie to you; Lucina and I are… uh… seeing each other, I guess you could… call it."
Chrom nodded, motioning for him to continue.
"It's not like I planned this," Robin went on. "Hell, I tried to actively avoid it! I know that by being with her I'm putting the entire time-flow out of place, but I couldn't help it! And she's not completely guilt free, either! She accepted my confession without a second thought!"
Chrom raised an eyebrow.
Robin shrugged. "That's it."
"That's it?" Chrom asked curiously. "Funny. I thought you had a daughter with Say'ri."
"Not from this timeline," Robin pointed out. "She and I already… kinda talked about it. Morgan knows, and doesn't really care. So… yeah."
"And you didn't think to tell me?" Chrom asked, leaning forward across the table and radiating the menace that Robin had been expecting, speaking in a low tone. "That's why I'm angry, Robin; I don't give a good-gods-damn about what the two of you do. You're both adults, and quite frankly I'm thrilled I don't have to chase boys away from Lucina now. But, and I'll be having this conversation with her, too; you really thought so little of me that you waited for me to find out like this?"
"I'm sensing some anger here…" Robin muttered, shying away from his friend.
"Of course I'm angry!" Chrom thundered, slamming his hands down on the table and drawing curious glances from the tavern's other patrons. "You're my best friend and you couldn't tell me this!? I don't care how busy you've been lately, that's just outright disrespectful!"
The Exalt held that pose, glaring at Robin for another few seconds before sighing and falling back into his seat, taking a big swig from his own mug.
"But what's done is done," he grumbled. "We'll just have to work past this now."
"It's not like we were planning to keep it a secret," Robin said, squirming a little I his seat. "It just never… seemed like an opportune time, I guess. For what it's worth, I'm sorry I didn't say anything."
"It's going to take a whole lot more than a single apology to mend that bridge, Robin," Chrom said before draining his mug.
"What if I foot tonight's tab?" the tactician asked.
Chrom stopped to think for a moment before sighing as a slight grin broke out on his face.
"That would probably be a good place to start."
"You know, now that I'm used to the idea I'm kinda starting to warm up to the thought of you being my son-in law," Chrom admitted, roughly trying to hug Robin. "I mean sure, there's a bit of an age gap, but I mean love is so precious. And I just love the both of you so much!"
"Yeah," Robin groaned, doing his best to half-support, half-drag the incredibly drunken Exalt back to the castle they were barracked in. "Great. I'm really… glad you approve… I'm still not… calling you 'dad', though…"
"And another royal wedding!" Chrom slurred, practically ignoring the smaller man carrying him. "Sumia's going to be thrilled! She just can't get enough of that wedding crap. Once was enough for me but… uh… what… what were we talking about?"
"Okay, you're officially drunk," Robin grunted, readjusting his grip. "And heavy. What've you been eating?"
"Meat," Chrom answered simply before picking up on his earlier train of thought. "But think about it; all those times we joked about you practically being family, and now you will be!"
"Hey, I haven't even proposed yet," Robin said quickly.
"What's the hold-up, then!?" Chrom asked, blinking rapidly. "As your Exalt I hereby order you to hurry up and marry my daughter! Give me grand-children already! Wait… Morgan's going to be my grand-daughter now, isn't she? Good work, Lord-Tactician Robin! Well done! I'm a grandfather!"
Robin burst out laughing at the sheer absurdity of his friend's statement, almost dropping his burden in the process but righting himself at the last minute.
"Ugh… don't do that again," Chrom hiccupped. "I'm gonna puke…"
"Not on my coat! Not on my coat!" Robin shrieked as they stumbled into the castle's courtyard.
"What in the hell is this!?" a very angry voice called from the entrance to the castle's main building.
Robin and Chrom both guiltily looked up, wilting beneath Sumia's intense glare.
"Uh-oh, we're in trouble now," Chrom giggled drunkenly. "Better get used to this sight, buddy, cause once the honeymoon's over…"
"I beg your pardon?" Sumia asked icily.
"Nothing, honey," Chrom said hastily, shuffling back a little to not-so-discreetly place Robin between them.
"You were out all night drinking? Really? You didn't think to let me know at the very least where you were? Do you ever stop to think I might worry about you?"
"Sorry dear; it just kinda… happened…" Chrom mumbled apologetically. "Robin and I had to celebrate!"
"Celebrate what?" Sumia asked, crossing her arms and narrowing her eyes.
"Er, nothing at-" Robin started.
"He's getting married!" Chrom slurred happily.
"No I'm not!" Robin insisted. "Not yet anyway! Argh, dammit Chrom, stand up already!"
"I'm not even going to ask," Sumia said with a pointed glance at Robin, shaking her head and taking Chrom off of the tactician's shoulder. "Come on you big lug. Let's get you into bed."
"I like where this is going," Chrom said lustily, moments before Sumia dropped him.
"Oops," she said, feigning innocence. "You slipped."
Robin snickered, ducking around the corner of the fort and angling for the side door. The last thing he needed at present was to follow those two all the way to the sleeping quarters upstairs; he'd take the long way around. At least things were kind of settled with Chrom now; he'd even gotten the Exalt's blessing and all, so there were no more problems there.
And soon now they would be going home, to boot! Robin was so happy he could swoon.
The tactician stumbled a little as he jogged up the servants' staircase hidden from the main foyer, revaluating just how drunk he himself was.
Too drunk to climb stairs, but sober enough to carry a man that outweighs me by a margin of two-to-one. That's the fine line I walk every time I drink, he thought absently as he slowed down, wary of tripping and dying on a staircase after managing to survive the war with Valm.
"Bugger it, I'm going to sleep," he mumbled to no one in particular, shuffling in the general direction of his room.
He needed his sleep. They were heading home soon, probably within the week if what Chrom said was true, and there was still so much to be done.
All I've gotta do is kill an ancient and powerful Dragon that is likened to a god and I'll get my happily ever after. No sweat, right? Right! I can do this, no problem!
Robin stumbled again, not acting fast enough to catch himself and landing face first on the hallway floor.
"Ow," he groaned, lying there.
You know… this floor is actually pretty comfortable, he thought before he passed out. Bring it on, Grima. We're ready for you.
Across the sea, in the harsh deserts of Plegia, surrounded by bones and feeling of the lingering, ancient sense of death and destruction, was the nation's capital built upon the corpse of the Dark Dragon.
Inside the ostentatious palace, down beneath the lowest cellars in a room lit only by a few weak candles and carved from the very bones of Grima himself, the Hierophant of Plegia glanced up with Robin's face as two people intruded upon his meditation.
"The time is close at hand," Validar muttered respectfully, scrunching up the messages he had just been brought. "The fool-Prince and his Shepherds are returning victorious from Valm. The pieces are all falling into place."
"His rebirth is close at hand," Aversa purred from beside the imposter-king.
The Hierophant let a cruel grin rise unbidden to his lips before standing, throwing the coat that had been covering his body off to the floor and revealing the intricate circles and lines of dark power he had spent the last six months carving into his flesh.
"Good," he hissed, tossing a bloody knife away before running red-stained fingers through long brown hair.
"Good," he repeated, energy flaring along the newly carved lines on his arm, burning the flesh and turning them into black scars almost immediately like the rest coating his bare torso.
He let out a soft laugh, his voice like the grinding of stones as his shoulders heaved. Validar grinned along with him, reluctant to disagree with his master. Aversa shuddered unseen by the two men, still uncomfortable around the Hierophant when he was in a good mood.
"Then let the final preparations begin!" the man that looked like Robin shouted into the darkness, spreading his arms wide. "I call upon the Twelve, the undying lords of death! Come to your master's side and do my bidding once more!"
The shadows at the back of the room seemed to coalesce, becoming the shapes of thirteen dark warriors with piercing red eyes.
The Hierophant let out another rasping laugh, throwing his head back as if to laugh at the very heavens.
Across the desert, in a small dust-bowl of a town to the west, near enough to the coast to make mining the minerals from the harsh landscape barely viable, an imposing figure of a hooded and cloaked man dismounted a horse in the main street, glancing around at the poverty-stricken people doing their best to ignore him.
A smaller man, hooded and wearing the ceremonial robes of a Dark Mage dismounted next to him, scoffing a little at the squalor around them.
"Do you truly think Validar would go so far as to place one in this backwater?" the mage asked in a cultured accent, glancing around them with golden irised-eyes beneath his hood.
The bigger man nodded, stroking his beard and looking around them as well, studying the small village's inhabitants and trying to get a feel for the place.
"I believe so," the big man said in a soft tone at odds with his gargantuan size. "We've found them in smaller towns than this. Besides, it was your trinket that led us here."
The mage looked down to the small glowing glass orb in his outstretched hand, sighing when the orb pulsed from within with red light.
They started walking in a random direction, leaving their well-trained horses to wait for them near the local inn's watering trough. The townspeople not hard at work in the local mines payed them no heed; the village may have been small, but it was a gateway village to the more verdant areas on the coast, so they saw their fair share of visitors. At least in the other towns it had been easy to find their prizes; the townsfolk recognized anyone out of the ordinary, especially someone bearing the Royal Seal of Plegia's King.
They wound up circling the small mining town twice, the big man's eyes carefully watching everything around them while the smaller mage's gaze never left the orb in his hand.
Eventually they came to a stop at the town's well, staring into it with disdainful looks on their faces.
"The well?" the big man asked, tugging his hood off and running a hand over the top of his shaved head. "Are you sure it's the well, Adri? There are more central points to the town…"
"It appears so," the mage replied, leaving his hood where it was as he crouched down to study the stones of the small well.
"This well may not be central to the town geographically, but for the spell it would be perfect; it's literally the centre of the town. The well is responsible for giving life to the town. Without this hole in the ground there would be no people here to curse. They all come here at least once a day, exposing themselves to it… so…"
"I get it, I get it," the bald man sighed. "Just destroy the seal before it can do any more harm."
The Dark Mage, Adri, nodded and stood. Finally tugging his hood off of a face sporting a neat grey goatee and straight, perfectly arranged hair the mage sighed, blinking a few times in the harsh sunlight before leaning into the well. The big man kept a lookout, glaring down any of the villagers that cast curious glances their direction.
"Dammit, I can't reach," Adri groaned, his voice echoing from inside the well. "Mustafa, hold me and make sure I don't fall in."
The Plegian General sighed, gripping the back of the Dark Mage's belt and allowing him to lean further forward. There was a bright flash as the curse's magic circle was undone, and a satisfied sound came from the mage before Mustafa hauled him back up.
"Done?" the big man asked, stroking his beard again.
Adri nodded, looking around them a little again.
"How many villages has it been now?" he asked in a quiet voice.
"Too many," Mustafa answered without hesitating, turning away and heading back to their waiting horses. "Come. We must return to the Midmire Garrison before anyone notices I'm missing."
Adri sighed, glancing at the glass orb that had now grown silent before following after the bigger man.
"We've done all we can," Mustafa said over his shoulder as they walked. "We've destroyed dozens of circles in at least twenty towns. That should at least slow them down."
"And if it's not enough?" the Dark Mage asked hesitantly.
"Then we pray to Naga that the Ylisseans can do the rest," Mustafa sighed.