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Shepherding Men

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A petulant cry echoed across the courtyard, bringing everyone to a standstill.  Robin turned, spellbook still in hand, as she saw Chrom standing over Gangrel, his falchion sliding out of the despot’s gut with a sickening squelch.  The deranged king fell to his knees, cackling nonsense. “It’s not going to end this way. It can’t!! He promised me!” His arm clutched around his stomach and he lurched forward, an unsteady arm the only thing keeping him off the ground.  As the Mad King’s eyes glazed over, Chrom gazed down at him, pity crossing his gaze. He glanced out at the field, watching the will to fight abandon Gangrel’s knights as they watched their king labor for breath.

Frederick pulled his horse around behind his liege, scanning the battlefield for any signs of malcontent when the Prince began to speak, “Your king is fallen and with it, I hope his legacy of violence can end here.  If you lay down your arms, you are free to leave. I do not wish for any further bloodshed.”

There was a pause, a moment where each soldier tensed, anticipating the act that would draw them all back into the fray.  Sweat beaded on their foreheads, their weapons gripped a little tighter as they clenched their jaws. Then, a dark chuckle permeated the grounds as if coming from the air itself.  “Can I hex them first,” Tharja said more than asked, the daylight doing nothing to dispel the dark aura emanating from her.

Gangrel’s knights left the battlefield quickly after that.

As the last warriors left, Robin looked at Chrom and he glanced up.  A genuine and weary smile passed between them, and Robin felt her heart grow lighter for it.  They had done it! Against all the odds, despite all the hardships, they had ended Gangrel’s reign of tyranny.

And they were still alive.

The Shepherds milled around now, starting the unsavory post-battle routine.  Arrows were retrieved, bodies moved from the clearing as Libra went to consult the local church about burial rites, excess armor and weapons pilfered and traded.  Robin was in the middle of glancing through some discarded tomes when she felt more than saw the approaching prince. She turned to him, her eyes quickly brushing over him for wounds before meeting his gaze with a soft smile.  “You did it,” she said proudly.

Chrom smiled back at her and her heart fluttered, stealing her breath more effectively than a hundred battles.  “No, we won, Robin.  I couldn’t have done any of this without you.”  He stepped a little closer and laid his hand on her shoulder, drawing her minutely closer.  “Thank you,” he said softly. “Thank you for… for everything.” His expression softened as his hand slid down her arm, resting just above her elbow.  

Robin’s eyes widened and she felt her neck warm from the blush that was surely tingeing her cheeks.  “Chrom…?”

“Milord?”

Both Robin and Chrom turned to see the great knight trotting towards them, his jaw drawn perhaps a bit tighter than usual.  He spared Robin only a glance, jumping to Chrom’s hand on her before focusing on Chrom properly. A conversation passed wordlessly between them and Chrom seemed to take a deliberate breath.  He turned back to Robin, patting her arm with a touch of his endearing awkwardness. “Good job today,” he said, his expression quirking in a way Robin didn’t recognize. She parroted the compliment back to him as she watched him walk away, taking in the renewed straightness of his shoulders and very slightly hurried gait as he made his way towards the Pegasus riders.  Nerves? Resolve? Some mixture of the two? What had suddenly come over Chrom?

She glanced back at Frederick whose gaze was firmly pinned on her as she turned her scrutiny to him.  She knew he didn’t trust her. She couldn’t really blame him. One thing she and Frederick could agree on was that Chrom was entirely too trusting, and knowing Frederick was watching out for him comforted her in some strange way, even as she knew she fell under his suspicion.  It was with that suspicion he stared at her now, holding her eyes before he shifted his focus behind her. She followed his stare to find Chrom speaking with Sumia, motioning towards an area of the field that had not been touched by battle. She started at something he must have said, then tripped in the direction he had indicated, turning pink when Chrom followed closely behind her.

Robin’s gaze flicked back to Frederick, noting the resolute flicker in his hawk-like eyes before his form relaxed for just a moment until he realized she was looking.  Instantly, his posture straightened again and he nodded tersely to the tactician as he nudged his horse away.

Robin spared one last look at the meandering duo before returning her focus to the clean up.  Her stomach strangled itself in knots as it came to a conclusion before she had consciously conjured it.

For once, she hoped she was wrong.

 


 

That night there was a celebration in their camp.

Ale had been purchased wholesale and was flowing freely amongst the convoy as a huge cauldron of stew bubbled away on the fire.  Vaike was enthralling a group with an embellished tale of the battle earlier, Virion was sitting next to Maribelle, murmuring something to her with lidded eyes that she was trying very hard to ignore, and people kept walking into Kellam, whether it was because of the drink or because of him, no one really seemed to know.  Sully was trying to match Gregor in ales, and Nowi, Ricken and Donnel were chittering away about who knows what. The air was festive, and everyone was smiling. After all, they had just won the war with Plegia!

And Chrom and Sumia had gotten engaged.

They had announced it as soon as they had gotten back to camp, and even now, hours later, they were surrounded by people alternately offering their congratulations and ribbing the soon-to-be Exalt and queen into embarrassment.

Meanwhile, Robin was on the other side of the fire, nursing her ale carefully as she observed the revelry around her.  A dark bubble was floating inside her, contained but central and oh so fragile.

Chrom would be marrying Sumia.

For all her smarts she should have known how this would end up.  Her crush on a prince could never have been reciprocated, if not only because she was such an unknown.  She still hadn’t recovered her memory, and as Frederick’s watchful eyes reminded her, she still wasn’t entirely trusted.  And Sumia would be a good match for Chrom. She was head over heels for him, sometimes literally, and her noble stature and quiet strength would serve her well as queen.

If she ever developed a backbone.

Robin batted that thought down before it could fully surface.  Sumia was a sweet girl. Nervous and clumsy, perhaps, but she’d proven herself in battle as had everyone else in the convoy.  And if she made Chrom happy, well, then she was happy for them. Or rather… she would be. In time.

She felt someone sit next to her and tilted her head to see Libra settling down to her right.  He smiled, though it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Are you enjoying the celebration?” he asked lightly, his voice barely lifting above the raucous atmosphere.

Robin returned his smile and glanced back out at her comrades as they ate and drank and laughed freely for the first time since their journey began.  “It’s nice to see everyone so lively,” she demurred. Her eyes traced back to him. “How about you? Have you had the stew yet? They went all out with it today.  Even put vegetables in it.”

“Oh ho,” Libra chuckled, a spark of mirth reaching his eyes before they closed, his whole demeanor relaxing with the conversation, “all out indeed.  Naga has truly shined upon us this day.” From anyone else, that might have come off as sarcasm, but Libra meant every word. Robin nodded in acknowledgement, not missing that he too had deflected, but deciding not to press further.  She took another sip of her drink, the warmth comforting as it flowed through her.

The two sat in amiable silence, the tension that had been evident in both of them seeming to fade as they did.  After a time, Libra’s gaze landed on Robin, his eyes flitting over her briefly before she noticed. She turned to him with a questioning brow, and Libra seemed to falter for a moment. “Robin,” he started, “pardon my intrusion, but you seem to be-”

“Hey Bubbles!”

A loud voice and a heavy thump to her left jolted Robin violently.  She screeched, so panicked by the sudden assault that she jumped nearly into Libra’s lap, barely holding onto her ale as Libra’s hands shot out to steady her.  Now mortified at her reaction, and with half the convoy staring at her, she flushed brightly and twitched out of Libra’s hold, glancing at him apologetically before turning a resigned glare at the newcomer.  

The red-headed thief smirked at the reaction he’d caused, looking entirely unapologetic about the situation.  Robin settled herself back down in her spot, tamping down the color in her cheeks. “Hi Gaius,” she said with a sigh.

“Bubbles, I need your help,” he started immediately, leaning towards her and resting his arm on her shoulder conspiratorially.  “See, so there were these honey rolls, right? We bought them at the last town over. And so I came back in after the battle because, you know, we won, and I was gonna celebrate with a honey roll!  But I get to the tent and that jerk ,” he thumbed over at Lon’qu, eyes narrowed as he leaned in closer, “is taking the last one.  So, I politely asked if I could have it, and he wouldn’t let me.  So now I need you to help plan my revenge. For the honey rolls.”

Robin sat, stupefied, for a moment, scrutinizing the thief’s face for any sign that he wasn’t entirely serious.  Finding none, she glanced over at Lon’qu leaning reclusively against the trees, fleetingly glanced to Chrom across the clearing, then downed the rest of her ale.

Libra muttered something about being needing to pray for them before excusing himself.  Robin grimaced but nodded in parting. When she turned back, her mug was filled again and Gaius stared at her from atop her shoulder, looking as innocent as he could manage.  She sighed, a wry smile flickering at the corners of her mouth. She took another swig from her mug, then met Gaius’s gaze, eyes gleaming with the potential for mischief.

“Okay, let’s see what you got.”

 


 

Lon’qu hovered near the edge of the clearing they had camped in, watching the revelry with disinterest.  He was, of course, satisfied with their victory, but he didn’t care much for the other events people were celebrating.  The marriage of Yllise’s princeling was of no consequence to him. Now that they had been victorious, he could return to Regna Ferrox.  While the battles had been a satisfying challenge for him, he was content to be heading home.

His attention piqued when he spotted movement to his right.  Glancing over, he saw their waif of a tactician approaching him, a slight waver in her walk.  He grimaced, leaning further back against the tree he was propped against as if to brace himself.  He had and the tactician had a...strange relationship. Somehow he felt less nervous around her than with most females.  Probably because it had been replaced with annoyance and a trickle of respect. After all, she had been his de facto commander since he joined their troop, and though it had surprised him at first, she had utilized him well.  It was something he appreciated.

When she wasn’t throwing fucking acorns at him.

He shifted uncomfortably when she stopped a foot away from him, tottering back and forth on her feet beside him.  She didn’t say anything, just...hovered expectantly. He nodded, not quite looking at her as he addressed her. “Robin.”

The myrmidon’s eyes flicked over to her and instantly his shoulders tensed, his face heating up and taking on a dark pink flush. The tactician was staring up at him, a fetching blush painted across her cheeks.  She was smiling at him, a slight twinkle in her amber eyes that made his stomach flip.

“Hey,” she responded warmly, apparently oblivious to the effect she was having on him.  She sidled closer and Lon’qu felt his skin prickle. He looked away, trying to forget the proximity of the woman next to him.  “I just saw you over here alone and thought you could use some company. This is a celebration, after all.”

Lon’qu’s face remained consciously passive, though his cheeks and neck were still stained red.  “Your sentiment is appreciated, but not necessary,” he muttered.

A chuckle reached his ears and his coloring intensified. Gods, why was she still here?  He had half a mind to tell her off, but before he could open his mouth to form the words, he felt a hand tentatively touch his shoulder.

He glared at her with wide eyes and recoiled a bit when he realized she was right in front of him, only inches away.  His heart thudded heavily in his chest and he could feel his face burning. What was she doing? Why was she coming closer?  He felt her hand trail down his arm, fingering the fur that lined his sleeves with a sly smile. At the same time, her other hand found the fur at his collar and stroked it, brushing across his chest as she did.  Her touch was light, but it sent warmth all throughout his being and somehow the gleam in her eyes ignited both fear and something thrilling at the same time.

A strangled grunt escaped him and Robin’s eyes suddenly filled with hesitance, but before she could withdraw, Lon’qu’s own hand shot out, gripping her arm and firmly pulling her back in place.

Robin had expected a number of different scenarios, but she hadn’t expected the hungry, searing heat in Lon’qu’s gaze when her eyes met his.  The flush on her face reflected his own, her eyes wide as everything around them seemed to fade away. Her right hand was now splayed across his chest while her left was clutching his sleeve and she could feel the latent power in his body.  She’d seen his strength and agility in action, but now, being so close and enraptured by it, it made her warm in a way she hadn’t experienced before.

She heard his breath hitch and he tugged her infinitesimally closer.  The line of his mouth tightened and her eyes flickered down to it before returning to his dark brown gaze.  He seemed to notice the motion because he reddened further, his grip on her tightening as he leaned ever-so-slightly towards her.

What are you doing?

Robin and Lon’qu sprang apart like opposite poles, and Robin’s face became pallid in complete disregard to the flush it had just a moment ago.  “Oh, h-hi Tharja!” she exclaimed with a forced perkiness as she faced the dark mage, whose eyes were dangerously shaded by her bangs as she clutched a dark tome in front of her.  “I, um… we were just-”

Lon’qu puffed out an irate breath and whipped around to leave, muttering to himself something that was indecipherable.  Robin turned and almost called for him, but immediately thought better of it and faced Tharja again. “We were having a disagreement,” she decided finally, clasping her hands behind her back.  “Did you need me for something?” Robin tilted her head in false curiosity, hoping she wouldn’t ask any more probing questions.

At having Robin’s full attention, Tharja blushed beet red, lowering her head such that she was effectively staring at the tactician’s feet.  She started mumbling to herself, her voice getting deeper and darker with an occasional cackle interspersed. Robin took a deep breath, held it for a moment, then released it slowly.  Nothing happened.

“Well, if you need anything, let me know,” she replied with an internal wince.  She was...mildly disturbed by Tharja. The mage was more effective than almost any other magic user in her retinue, but she seemed...possessed of something.  And weirdly fixated on her.

When Tharja didn’t respond directly, Robin promptly got the hell out of dodge.

She didn’t even bother to find Gaius, she simply grabbed another ale and drank.  That was a sobering experience to say the least. She wasn’t drunk enough for this.

“Whoa there, Bubbles.  Did it go that badly?”

Robin shot a glare at the red-haired thief from over her shoulder.  “Remind me never to do favors for you again,” she sniped.

Gaius’s eyebrows shot up, a half-cocked grin crawling across his face.  “Well, hopefully he’s as off his game as you are.”

“Your concern is truly touching,” Robin deadpanned as she walked back towards her spot by the fire.  

Gaius followed her like a puppy.  “Oh come on Bubbles, don’t be mad!”  She sat down forcefully, her drink barely staying within the cup.  “You should be glad that most of the fighting is over, because I won’t be able to look him in the eye for weeks ,” she hissed, but her ire was simmering down.  Gaius sidled beside her, lopsided smile still spread across his lips.  “You know,” he murmured softly to her after a few moments, “You’re kinda cute when you’re angry.”

He barely avoided the mug thrown by a blushing Robin, cackling all the way.

 


 

As the night waged on and the fire began to wane, the company trickled towards their tents, the buzz of victory and booze ensuring a restful night.  A skeleton crew maintained the watch, and that was part of the reason Robin was still sitting by the fire. She was playing with an idea that had occurred to her earlier that night.  If she could conjure elements through spells, could she control elements that already existed around her? Presently she was holding her hand out to the fire, trying to draw the flickering flames towards her palm.  So far she thought she’d seen one or two flames bend unnaturally towards her, but if they had, they had flickered back too quickly for her to say for sure.

The rustle of a tent flap cut through her concentration and she dropped her hand, turning to face the sound, eyes focusing into the darkness.  She waited for a moment, not seeing or hearing anything else, and was about to stand and investigate when a head of purple hair poked around the edge of one of the tents and indigo eyes met amber.  “Oh, Chrom,” Robin breathed in relief even as her stomach roiled anxiously. “What are you doing up? You should be in bed.” She half-hoped her reminder would deter him, but it was short lived as the prince rounded the corner, rolling one of his shoulders as he approached the fire.  “I couldn’t sleep,” he admitted sheepishly. He settled down next to her, leaning back on his hands as one leg stretched out in front of him.

Robin’s emotions rattled ever more turbulently within her and she grasped frantically at her scattered thoughts in an attempt to conjure an appropriate response.  She wasn’t sure if it was a blessing or a curse when Chrom nullified her need to reply by speaking up again. “You seemed like you had fun tonight,” he said softly, his warm, deep voice soothing something deep within Robin.  “I’m glad. You deserve it.”

The corner of Robin’s mouth twitched up into a half smile at his praise even as her head shook denial.  “If anyone deserved it, it was you, Chrom.” She curled her toes into her boot, mentally steeling herself as she turned to face the prince, but the moment she met his gaze, her expression unconsciously softened and her smile became more genuine.  “I didn’t get the chance to say anything before, but congratulations on your engagement.”

Chrom flushed a bit at the sentiment and glanced away, chuckling nervously.  “Uh, thanks. It was… very sudden. For both of us.” Something in his expression seemed amiss to Robin.  Not regretful, but… unsure?

Robin bit her lip, her mind whirring through questions and responses.  She wanted to ask about what made him doubt himself, but then again, it wasn’t much her business, was it?  And if it made him question his decision further, it wouldn’t do him nor Sumia any good.

Robin settled for a smile, nudging his shoulder with her own.  “She’ll be a good queen. And she’ll look after you. We can’t have you getting too carried away with your Exaltly duties, can we?”

At her prodding, Chrom’s eyes regained their warm surety and he cracked a grin.  “No, I suppose not.” His shoulders relaxed now, seeming as though a small weight had been lifted.  She felt her heart grow lighter with it and the dark feeling that had permeated her since earlier that night settled.  Her relationship with Chrom might change, but as long as she could help him in any way, she could be content.

Chrom shifted on the ground, his warm gaze meeting her’s imploringly.  “You’ll be there too, right Robin?”

This time Robin couldn’t stop the blush that tinged her cheeks, her eyes widening in surprise at the implied request.  “Chrom…” she started as she tried to calm her now-racing heart, “I… I would be honored. If you have need of me, you only have to ask.”

The smile Chrom shared with her was dazzling, his eyes sparkling with the reflections from the flames.  She felt like she could stare at him forever and be content. “Good,” he said warmly. “I… I was worried you might leave once we returned to the castle.”

I could never leave you , Robin thought, but clamped down on that sentiment before she voiced it.  Instead, she gave him a reassuring smile. “The Shepherds are like my family now.  I don’t think I could leave them if I tried.”

The tension in Chrom’s shoulders lessened further and he shifted slightly to accommodate it.  “Well we’re happy to have you. Once we’re back in Ylisse, we’ll have some sort of ceremony. To make it official.”

Robin’s eyes widened and she frantically waved her hands in front of her.  “No, no,” she implored. “You have enough that you’ll be planning. There’s no need to…” her hands came to a halt in front of her as she thought for a moment, “...make a big deal about it,” she finished lamely.

Chrom stifled a laugh at her sudden animation.  “If you truly do not want one, I will respect that, but I will warn you, I am quite insistent,” he warned playfully.

Robin flashed a smirk at his humorous tone, mimicking Chrom’s stance as she leaned back on her hands.  “I’m well aware, Your Highness.”

A violent chuckle escaped Robin when Chrom sputtered wordlessly at the address, and she knew then that yes, things between the two of them would be alright.

Chapter Text

The morning came too early for most of the company, even with the additional leeway given by the soon-to-be Exalt.  People trudged through their duties, packing up the tents and loading all of their belongings either onto horses or into the wagons.  

Robin yawned widely as she carted a set of tent poles to the proper caravan, taking advantage of the walk to try to wake herself.  She carried them over to Miriel, who consulted a list and directed her to a distant wagon. Nodding her acknowledgement, Robin readjusted her load and continued on, stifling another yawn.  She trudged over to the driver, who waved her to the man behind him who was loading the supplies.

The two made eye contact and both instantly flushed crimson.

A second of awkward realization passed between them and they quickly averted their eyes.  Robin held the poles out to Lon’qu, who hastily grabbed them and turned away, hopping into the back of the wagon without another word.  For her part, Robin didn’t stick around. As soon as the Ferroxan’s back was turned, she bolted away, her blood pumping rapidly as adrenaline rushed in full force.  So much for feeling sleepy.

After that incident, she stayed away from the caravans, instead helping gather and organize the supplies that others would then cart to the convoy.  Even with their belated start, the retinue was packed and ready to leave before noon, and they soon began their long journey back to Ylisse. Chrom and Frederick led the way followed closely by Lon’qu and the paladin duo.  The other Shepherds trailed behind with the rest of the convoy taking up the rear. Normally, Robin didn’t pay too much attention to her placement in the lineup, but today, she deliberately favored the back. Which is how she came to become involved in a particular conversation.

“Chess?” she asked dubiously, raising an eyebrow at the archer who traveled beside her.  “No, I’ve not heard of it. What is it?”

“Not heard of chess!” Virion exclaimed, almost aghast.  “But one such as yourself would surely be exceptional at it!”  He cleared his throat delicately, his eyes narrowing in a coquettish fashion.  “My darling, it is a game of strategy. A mimicry of war. You must defend your king at all costs and utilize your troops to the fullest.  When next we make camp, you will have to allow me to teach you.”

Robin glanced up at the sky thoughtfully, weighing the idea in her head.  “That would be fun,” she decided, smiling back at the archer. “We have quite the journey ahead of us.  And I should have something to keep myself occupied now that the true battles have hopefully been finished.”

A smile nearly split Virion’s face.  “Excellent! I should warn you, however, that I am a formidable adversary.  I doubt you will be able to best me before we part ways.”

Robin blinked at the challenge, but the corners of her lips slowly twitched up into a confident grin.  “Is that so? You know, I’ve not been the lead tactician for nothing. You make a bold claim.”

“Then might I be equally bold to play to stakes?” Virion pressed, inching closer to the strategist as they walked.  “If I do remain victorious throughout the remainder of our journey, I would desire a kiss from the lovely tactician,” he murmured flirtatiously.

Robin’s face immediately reddened.  “What?!” she squeaked, wary now of the grin Virion aimed at her.  “You’re crazy,” she decided. “What would I get if I win?”

“What do you desire?” he replied teasingly.  “I’m sure there must be something you want that I can accommodate?”

Robin fell silent for a moment, thinking seriously.  The first thought that bounded to the fore embarrassed her such that she didn’t even entertain the idea before shoving it back.  What did she want?  She absently tugged at her sleeve.  She didn’t want for much. But then again, she’d been on the move pretty much since Chrom and Lissa found her in that field.  Suddenly, she had an idea.

“A new jacket,” she mused.  “If I win, you buy me a new jacket.”

Virion smirked.  “I accept your conditions.  I look forward to our first match.”

Robin smiled back, despite the growing feeling that she might have just bitten off more than she could handle.

 


 

Robin had her head in her hands, looking disparagingly at the board in front of her.  She and Virion were on their eighth game, and she had learned the movements of the pieces and the major strategies at this point.  In fact, she’d already discovered most of the minutia of the game.  But no matter what she did, or how far ahead she’d thought, Virion always manage to curtail her.  It was almost disheartening.

“Blast it,” she hissed, her eyes scouring the board for any move that would get her out of the bind that she was in.  She’d seen her defeat coming for at least five turns now, and she’d been able to delay it, but turning the tide now appeared impossible.  Finding nothing, she propped her finger up on her king and gently tipped him over. “I yield,” she admitted begrudgingly.

Virion, to her great relief, didn’t gloat.  Much. “Don’t be so glum, Robin. I’ve been playing for years and you’re doing extraordinarily well for someone who just picked up the game a few days ago.”

Robin ran a hand through her hair, her eyes briefly flitting up to the archer before returning to the board.  She sighed. “If this were a real battle, we’d have lost...” she started glumly.

“But it wasn’t, so there’s no need to worry yourself about it,” Virion countered.  Seeing his words weren’t having much effect, he sighed. “Robin, take a look at the board.”

Robin’s gaze fell sharply on him, but seeing no sign of teasing in his expression, did as he said and analyzed the board.  

“Now,” he continued as he leaned forward in his seat, “I may have won the battle, but who has more pieces left on the board?”  

Robin’s gaze instantly took on a renewed spark.  “...I do.”

“By a wide margin,” Virion added.  “I may have won, but the cost was great.  If I were choosing commanders to serve under, I would choose you in a heartbeat.”

The tactician’s eyes were glued to the chessboard, a new appreciation gleaming in her gaze.  While she was still disappointed she lost, it… was good to know she valued the right things.

“Of course,” Virion continued, leaning back smugly, “such things have no bearing on our agreement.  

“Yeah, yeah.”  Robin let out an overdramatic sigh as she reset the board for another game, but a smile played on the corner of her mouth.

 


 

The spire of the royal castle pierced the horizon as the convoy passed through a valley.  The sight was nostalgic for most, and a little bittersweet, for it reminded them of their fallen Exalt.  It also meant a parting of ways for the people who had become comrades. It was still about a half day’s travel from Ylisstal when the party began to split.

Lon’qu tried to escape unnoticed, but Gregor had decided to join him and “strongly encouraged” the myrmidon to make a proper farewell.  “Gregor has fondness for Ylissians, now, so if you need, Gregor give discount, yes?” He clapped Chrom and Robin on their shoulders, and they both staggered a bit from the force.  Robin smiled wryly as she regained her standing. “I’m sure they’ll be able to keep you busy in Regna Ferrox. Just make sure you don’t get on Flavia’s bad side.”

Gregor let out a might chuckle at this.  “Yes, Gregor has much respect for the strong lady.  May even work for her. We shall see.” He smiled at the duo and the gleam in his eyes betrayed his fondness for them.  “Now, if you excuse, Gregor must say farewells to rest of people.” And with a round of handshakes between them, he was off towards the rest of the Shepherds.  

That left Lon’qu standing before the Exalt and tactician.  He didn’t shift on his feet, being a disciplined soldier, but his unease was clear on his face.  

Chrom was the one to break the silence.  “Thank you for everything you’ve done for us,” he started sincerely.  “I hope to continue the alliance we have with Regna Ferrox. Hopefully one day we can team up again.”

Lon’qu nodded mutely at the sentiment, then turned his eyes to Robin with a look of blank expectation.

Robin wished she could tap something to direct some of her nervous energy, but she held it in.  “It’s been an honor working with you,” she said with conviction. “You were vital to our victory.  I wish you all the best moving forward.”

The Ferroxan seemed surprised by the professionalism Robin channeled, but merely nodded again in response.  “You as well,” he intoned lowly, surprising both of them. With that, he rushed off to the perimeter of the temporary encampment.

Chrom looked over to Robin, surprise still evident on his face.  “He’s actually speaking with you,” he mused in awe.

Robin raised an eyebrow, her gaze breaking away from the the retreating swordsman to face Chrom.  “Believe me, it’s as much a surprise to me as it is to you,” she shrugged. Inwardly, she felt relieved.  She had been worried they would part on the awkward terms that had permeated since the night they defeated Gangrel. Thankfully the tension seemed to have passed for now.

Shortly after, Virion approached Chrom with a gallant bow.  “Chrom! I’m afraid it is time for me to take my leave, as well.  My duchy will need leadership in these trying times. But I do hope we will find the opportunity to meet again.”

Chrom bowed similarly.  “Certainly. If you need any assistance, please don’t hesitate to ask.  And I’m sure Sumia will insist on inviting you to the ceremony,” he mentioned.

Virion’s grin grew wider.  “If she does, I would be delighted to attend,” he elucidated.  He glanced over to Robin and gave her a knowing look. “Chrom, would you mind if I borrowed your shrewd tactician for a moment?”

Chrom blinked his confusion and looked at Robin’s suddenly nervous face for a moment before shrugging.  “I suppose, if she’s okay with it.”

“Marvelous!  Robin, after you,” he motioned away with a gentlemanly air.  Robin hesitated for a moment, but followed his lead.

Once they were away from the main crowd, Virion stopped, and Robin turned to face him.  He had a mouse-eating grin on his face. “My dear, you have a promise to keep,” he reminded smugly.

Robin grimaced a bit.  “I’m aware,” she said slowly, shifting a bit on her feet.  Two weeks. Two weeks and she hadn’t been able to best him in chess.  Even though Virion had shown her why she lost each time, she couldn’t make herself sacrifice her soldiers for the advantage they might give.  It just wasn’t her nature. They must have played over 30 games, but each one had ended the same way.

She stepped forward, closing the distance between them nervously.  She raised her hands, placing one on each side of his head. Virion’s eyes popped wide, but he stood silently.  She leaned up, her lips drawing closer.

They landed on his cheek, then she quickly bounced away.

Virion froze for a second, mouth slightly ajar before he whirled around.  “Hey!” he cried, “That was not our deal!”

Robin halted mid-hop and backtracked a bit.  “On the contrary, it fits perfectly within the boundaries of our agreement.”  It was her turn to let slip a knowing smile. “Besides, do you really think I’m going to risk Maribelle’s wrath?  Come now, Virion, that wouldn’t be very smart of me, would it?” She smirked when a blush crawled over the lord’s face and she turned on her heel.  “See you soon Virion! Take care!” she called over her shoulder as she meandered back towards Chrom.

Virion smiled weakly, a drop of sweat running down his temple at the thought of the fiery Ylistan maiden.  Maybe it would be best if he kept his more flirtatious tendencies on a tighter leash from now on….

 


 

The caravan left the mountain pass a few hours past noon and continued on their way to the castle.  While the troops’ excitement mounted as the castle drew closer, there was a tension in Robin that she couldn’t quite shake.  She felt increasingly disconnected as they approached the gates. All of these people were so excited to be here - so excited to return home.  Would she really have a place here? Could she really call this home? She glanced up to Chrom, who was riding side-by-side with Sumia as they talked amiably.  She’d told Chrom that she would stay if he asked, but what use would she be here? The war was over. With any luck, they wouldn’t need to fight, which made her particular skill set somewhat moot.  She fiddled with the sleeve of her robe. Well, ultimately Chrom would be the one to decide her place.

As soon as they entered the town, the crowd around them began to thin substantially.  The merchants broke off to return to their shops and the provisional soldiers headed home to their families, leaving mostly the royal family, the Shepherds, and the higher military leaders.  At some point Gaius peeled off with a cheerful two-finger salute and shortly after, the Shepherds separated as well, both excited to be back and exhausted from the travel. Robin moved to leave with them, but Chrom stopped her before she got too far.  “Robin, wait.”

Robin stopped, turning to Chrom with a questioning expression.  She felt a bit of anxiety scratch at her as the Shepherds continued on their way.  Chrom turned his horse towards her, ignoring the look Frederick threw him. “Follow us.  The castle is this way.” He ushered her over and she rushed over, waiting until she had caught up to question him.  “I thought I would be staying with the Shepherds?” she asked, carefully ignoring Frederick’s eyes burning holes into the back of her neck.

The prince shrugged nonchalantly.  “We do have barracks, but since you’re going to be one of my advisors, it’s best for you to have a room in the castle.”

Lissa squeaked in excitement at overhearing Chrom’s declaration.  “Robin, you’re going to be staying with us?!” she exclaimed, nearly bouncing off her horse in her joy.  Robin spared the girl a smile, ignoring the nerves in her stomach before turning back to Chrom. “Are you sure?  I don’t want to impose. I’d be just as happy staying with the Shepherds,” she protested.

“Nonsense!” Lissa chimed in, trotting up next to them.  “It gets so lonely sometimes. We’d be more than happy to have you stay with us!”

Against the combined might of Chrom and Lissa, Robin knew she didn’t stand a chance of changing their minds, and frankly, she didn’t really want to.  A thankful smile came to Robin’s face. “Then I would love to accept. Thank you.”

Once they reached the palace, Chrom dismounted and quickly went over to Sumia and helped her off her pegasus.  Frederick likewise dismounted and brushed past Robin to reach Lissa, who waved him off as she slide gracefully from the saddle.  Robin was amused by the display, but didn’t show it aside from a slight twinkle in her eyes. As the future Exalt and his consort approached the palace doors, they opened up and Robin’s eyes flew open.

It was beautiful.

Chapter Text

Recap:

Once they reached the palace, Chrom dismounted and quickly went over to Sumia and helped her off her pegasus.  Frederick likewise dismounted and brushed past Robin to reach Lissa, who waved him off as she slide gracefully from the saddle.  Robin was amused by the display, but didn’t show it aside from a slight twinkle in her eyes. As the future Exalt and his consort approached the palace doors, they opened up and Robin’s eyes flew open.

It was beautiful.


 

Chapter 3: Belonging

When the doors of the palace opened, seemingly of their own accord, Chrom and Sumia fell in first, followed by Lissa and Frederick, and Robin took up the rear as they filed into the palace. The entryway was breathtaking, the late afternoon sun seeped through the windows, refracting off the crystalline chandeliers to shine rainbow lights onto the impeccably polished floor.  Stairways swept up to a second floor, looming over a large door that, if she remembered correctly, led to the throne room. On the walls were candles already lit in preparation for the evening, and glorious paintings depicting former and current royalty of Ylisse. When the doors shut behind her, she was startled out of her observation and glanced around, suddenly noticing that everyone else was quickly vanishing.

“Excuse me, madam,” a small voice said from beside her.  Robin spun around to see a waif of a girl, shorter even than herself with short, pale blue hair, bowing politely to her.  The sight made something squirm uncomfortably within the tactician, but she shoved it down to give a careful smile. The girl straightened as she continued, “I have been instructed to lead you to one of the rooms in the royal wing. Please, follow me.”  

As she turned to lead the way, Robin stopped her with a “Wait!” that was probably louder than polite. Nevertheless, the woman turned back around with her carefully blank expression.  “Yes madam?” she asked.

Robin fingered the hem of her sleeves, wearing at the familiar threads. “The royal wing? Are you certain?” she queried. At the dubious quirk in the maid's eyebrows, Robin quickly added, “I just… I would feel more comfortable in a guest room, if there's one available.”

The young girl pursed her lips, seeming to wrestle with two opposing thoughts before finally narrowing her eyes, nodding tersely. “Please, follow me.”  This time, she left swiftly, giving Robin no choice but to follow.

They deposited her in front of a room, unlocked the door, then bowed and left her to her own devices.  She carefully opened the door, and inside was the most opulent room she had ever seen.

The walls were a soft white with periwinkle swirls spiralling up towards the ceiling.  Gold accents reflected the light from the windows, making sending shimmers of light across the room.  Up against on of the far walls was a massive bed, bigger than any she’d ever seen before, decorated in a luxurious-looking deep navy with silvery-gray pillows.  Dark wood furniture filled in most of the space along the walls - a wardrobe, vanity, full-length mirror, a sofa and set of chairs set up like a receiving area, and a stylish trunk with ornate silvered fastenings.  Her mouth dropped wide at the sight as she spun around to try to take it all in. All this space was meant for her ?  And this was a guest room ?

When she found the en suite bathroom, she nearly tripped in surprise.  She’d never, in her admittedly short memory, had so much space to herself.  She almost wasn’t sure what to do with it all.

She let her scarce belongings fall to the floor with a dull thud as she ran a hand through her hair, still staring about the room in wonder.  She glanced down at herself and wiped her hand absently on her purple robes. She hadn’t had a proper chance to wash in ages. That seemed as good a way as any to christen her new accomodations.

 


 

“And who is this woman here? We've never seen her before.”

Robin had to consciously keep herself from sinking in her chair as dozens of eyes burned into her. The few days since their return to Ylisse had been fraught with debriefs, meetings, and more than a few suspicious stares sent her way.  Chrom had valiantly defended her and, in fact, had been the one to insist that she attend all of these meetings with him despite her own doubts and Frederick’s clear misgivings.

Chrom straightened in his seat to face the accusing party.  “This woman is one of the reasons our men and women survived the Plegian onslaught.  In addition to being a strong combatant, she also masterminded many of the tactics that brought us to victory.”  Chrom glanced to her proudly and she flashed him a meek smile in response. She wished she could be be stronger in these meetings, but she was just so uncomfortable .  She’d gotten used to traveling, sparring, and making camp, but that was all she knew.  All this political maneuvering, while she suspected it would have fascinated her as a spectator, was so much more daunting when she was forced to be a participant.

“We understand your Grace has great faith in her, but… I admit discomfort having a Plegian sit in on a meeting of such sensitivity,”another man chimed.

Robin had to force herself to swallow the knot that formed in her throat, her hands gripping the arms of her chair.  While she had changed out of her familiar robes since she had entered the castle, rumors had still spread about the mystery girl that had accompanied the Ylissean royal family home.  Some speculated that she was a Plegian spy, some that she was Chrom’s lover. Some that she was Frederick’s lover (which she’d had to laugh at).  Other rumors circulated that placed her anywhere from being a long-lost princess of a far-off country to an escaped prisoner, holding the royal family under her thumb.  

She felt Frederick’s eyes bearing down on her, distrustful and watching.  She fought the urge to fidget in her seat as Chrom voiced her defense. “She is no Plegian.  She is a trusted ally, no matter the garb she arrived in. She has never fought against us for Plegia.”   That we know of passed unspoken between herself, the prince, and Frederick, but thankfully it remained such.

While the aristocrats clearly were not placated by this, Chrom’s tone brooked no argument and they reluctantly let the matter rest.

The council continued for another few hours, discussing the treasury, taxes, and the financial and political strains from the war.  Robin did her best to follow along, but ultimately most of it went over her head. What did stand out to her, though, were the interpersonal interactions of the council members.

Like the way the chubby man sitting across from her was constantly trying to say something, only to be interrupted by the impeccably-dressed man to his right, who clearly had no sense of personal space, since he kept leaning over Chubby to speak to Chrom as if they were sharing some sort of secret.  The woman on the other side of Well-Dressed was very no-nonsense, despite her young appearance, and Robin caught her openly glaring at the man next to her as she tried to wrangle the topic back to the matter at hand.

Without knowing any of their names, Robin started to piece together their histories.  The terse older gentleman at the end of the table who sat ramrod straight was likely a former military commander, from the way his eyes focused whenever the war battles were mentioned.  The two women who were sneaking coy glances at each other? A quick glance at their ring fingers indicated one was married, and the other was likely a mistress. The young man in expensive clothing and a glazed over look in his eyes was clearly old-money, whereas the outspoken but cordial gentleman was clearly a politician through and through.  All this information, Robin filed away, her subconscious already mapping out their personal alignments and any potential threats to Chrom.

Robin’s inner musings were broken when Chrom stood, prompting all others at the table to rise and putting an official end to the meeting.  He met her gaze in particular, sparing her a ghost of a smile before motioning Frederick over. The knight dutifully stepped forward with a “Milord” as Chrom hastily muttered something to him.  The knight’s brow furrowed, his sharpened eyes flicking to Robin before he lowly replied and took a step back, allowing Chrom to make his way out of the room. As Chrom passed through the doors, Frederick followed a half-step behind and the rest of the council visibly relaxed as they began to file out as well.  Robin tried not to mind the thinly-veiled glares of the Ylissian nobles as they passed, clearly judging and finding her lacking. She waited until the last of them were trickling out before pushing her chair out of the way with a resolute sigh and making her way out the door. She turned left, intending to go to the kitchens, when she was stopped by a familiar voice.

“Hey Robin!”

Robin turned to see Sully approaching her, hand waving congenially as the paladin called her name again.  “I was looking for you. You haven’t eaten yet, have you?” she asked. An askance glance at the door Robin had just left from gave the tactician every indication that Sully well knew the answer to her question.  Nevertheless, Robin humored her, “Not yet. I was just about to grab something.”

Sully grinned and wrapped her hand around Robin’s bicep, nearly dragging the girl along as she walked opposite the direction from the kitchens.  “Awesome. You can join all of us for lunch then!” she directed enthusiastically.

Robin’s eyebrows rose at the sudden invitation.  “Join all of who?” she asked, bewildered.

“The Shepherds!”

Surprise fell away to contentment as Sully continued to pull Robin along.  The tactician struggled to match Sully’s longer stride, but it didn’t bother her.  After the way the meeting had gone, she appreciated the small effort to make her feel welcome.

They crossed the courtyard into the Shepherds’ private living quarters, and Sully barged in boldly.  While this wasn’t the first time Robin had stepped into the Shepherds’ quarters, it was a great deal more relaxed than when she’d been there previous. Kellum was over by the oven juggling a number of pots and pans over the generous stove with a practiced air, Miriel was sitting at the table browsing through a book, and Vaike seemed to be frowning at something Miriel had said as he stood in the kitchen, arms crossed. Sully finally let go of Robin as they crossed the threshold, presenting her proudly.  “Look who I found!” she proclaimed, a slight smugness permeating her voice.

The three glanced up from what they were doing at the brash intrusion, but their annoyances didn’t last long when the tactician sheepishly waved.  “Hey guys.”

Kellam waved a hand over his shoulder before quickly turning back to the meal he was preparing, and Miriel nodded her acknowledgement with the faintest of smiles before turning back to her book.  Vaike’s reaction was by far the most boisterous.

“Yo Robin!!” the axe-wielder exclaimed in all his shirtless glory.  He strutted over to the two women. “Didn’t realize you were still around!”

Robin’s face twisted in confusion, her mouth poised to open when Sully interrupted, “Hey Kellam, got enough for one more?” she asked with a smirk, completely ignoring Vaike.  He seemed a little miffed by the snub.

“Um, uh, yeah, I should,” Kellam replied halteringly.

Vaike was not appreciating all of this talk not centered around him .  He redoubled on Robin, slinging an arm around her shoulders.  “But really, where’ve ya been? We were expectin’ to host you here with us!”

Robin tried not to shift under Vaike’s heavy arm.  “Hey Teach. Yeah, I was expecting the same, but, uh, they put me up in a guest room.”  She meant to shrug, but the arm around her barely twitched.

The fighter’s eyes widened, clearly impressed.  “Swanky.” He tugged her against him, a sly grin building on his face as he dipped closer.  “Got room for one more?”

Robin couldn’t help the heat that curled around her neck, even as she matter-of-factly answered, “Nope, just me.”  She met Vaike’s disappointed gaze and fought the urge to squirm out of his admittedly loose hold. It ended up being moot, as Vaike jerkily pulled his arm from her with a pained yelp.  “Ouch! Sully, what?!”

Sully stood with her hands on her hips and an irritated cant to her brows.  “Stop bugging Robin. She’s here for dinner, not to tolerate your rambling.”

Vaike frowned and crossed his arms in front of him, about to argue back when Robin waved her hands frantically in the air between them.  “Uh, so is there anything I can do to help with dinner?”

Sully and Vaike’s attentions both swerved to her and she felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up self-consciously.  She was thankful when Kellam spoke up timidly, “If you wouldn’t mind, could you set the dishes and silverware out?

“Certainly,” Robin readily agreed, and rushed into the kitchen, away from the teetering tension that had been building in the entryway.  She opened cabinet doors until she found the plates and set them out, along with forks and knives once she found the right drawer.

Other Shepherds started filtering in as Kellam put the finishing touches on the food, and nearly all of them greeted Robin warmly.  Notably absent were Maribelle and Sumia, and Robin felt both a wave of relief and her stomach clench. She still wasn’t sure how to act around the pegasus knight, and she was thankful for the additional time to think on it, but knowing she was likely being drilled by Maribelle on the manners of royalty did nothing for her mood.  Thankfully, a talkative Ricken managed to divert her attention as he eagerly picked her brain about her magics.

“Have you looked at the tomes we brought back from Plegia?  I was studying it to see what it was, but there’s these weird inscriptions I can’t figure out,” Ricken prattled enthusiastically.  Robin smiled at his energy as she thought back. “I think we picked up a couple of them. They’re black, right?” she asked.

“More purpley,” Ricken gently corrected, “But yeah, those ones.  Any ideas?”

Robin pursed her lips as she shuffled through her thoughts, an idea instantly coming to mind, but she was hesitant to say it.  “Have you… talked to Tharja about it?” she asked delicately. Ricken’s immediately stricken face answered her well enough. “Yeah, me neither,” she mumbled.  The mage’s awkward chuckle permeated the space between them, and Robin found herself sharing a small smile with him. “Maybe you, Miriel and I can look over them sometime?  See if we can’t crack it together,” she offered. She glanced around the room to try to spot Miriel’s fiery hair and as such, missed the slight tinge of red that colored Ricken’s cheeks.  “I’d, uh, that’d be great!” he stammered out as he smiled at her. She managed to return his smile before becoming distracted by the door opening again.

Cordelia and Stahl entered the room, speaking easily with each other, though from the slightly serious tilt of Cordelia’s eyebrows, it seemed they were discussing work.  She met Robin’s gaze and they shared a quick, if melancholic, smile before the pegasus knight refocused her attention on Stahl.

Robin was well aware of the pegasus knight’s long-standing crush on Chrom, as well as her friendship with Sumia, and as such had lent a sympathetic ear to her after their engagement.  She was careful not to reveal any of her own feelings for Chrom, but it had helped to listen to and counsel Cordelia’s troubles. It put her feelings into perspective and forced her to look at the situation with more impartiality.  Talking with Cordelia didn’t lessen those feelings at all, but it did make it easier to logic them into submission.

Two claps sounded out and everyone turned to see Sully standing next to Kellam in front of the kitchen counter that was packed with food.  “Alright, foods up! Dig in!” she called. She shot Kellam a smug smirk that he meekly backed away from as the Shepherds mobbed the kitchen eagerly.

Robin found herself sandwiched next to Stahl and Miriel at the table as everyone talked jovially over the meal.  It was strange - even though none of the conversation was directed towards her, she didn’t feel like an outsider.  She felt like she belonged. When they had been out on the road, she would occasionally eat with the convoy, but usually she and Chrom were in the war tent drafting strategies or charting their movement for the next day.  The times when she did talk with the other Shepherds, it was almost always business. Only occasionally would conversations devolve into small talk, but she very quickly fell out of her depth in that arena. But this ...this was comfortable.  Everyone was at ease and cheery without the threat of battle looming over their heads and it filled her with a warmth that until now she had mostly associated with Chrom.

Once dinner had passed, people began to slowly disperse again, heading back to patrol or practice or study.  Robin offered to help clean up, which Stahl and Ricken refused to hear, and ushered her towards the door where Sully was getting ready to head out as well.  They sent her off with promises to have her back in a few days.

Robin followed Sully out the door, walking next to her as they made their way towards the castle “Thanks for inviting me over,” she started after a few moments.  

Sully shrugged nonchalantly, but Robin could see the slight smile on her lips.  “Don’t mention it. Frederick mentioned you could probably use a break after dealing with the council all morning.  Just glad I could help.”

Robin nearly bowled herself over as she tried to rationalize what Sully had said.  “Wait, Frederick?” she asked disbelievingly. Sully just raised an eyebrow at her reaction and Robin felt herself flushing from embarrassment.  Why would Frederick of all people have cared about her?  The image of Chrom beckoning Frederick to him after the meeting appeared in her mind’s eye and suddenly the look Frederick had flashed her made a lot more sense.  

The tactician forcibly shoved those thoughts into a corner for later consideration and rushed to come up with a suitable tangent.  Thankfully, she didn’t have to, as Sully spoke up, “I, uh, we , never really thanked you.  You know, for helping us against Plegia.”

Robin turned to look at the paladin, whose eyes were firmly on the ground in front of her as they walked.  “You… you know, no need. I was more than happy to help.” She tried to brush it off, but Sully barrelled forward.

“No, I do. Us Shepherds, we’re good.  We’re better than good. But there were a lot of moments there where we might not all have made it out if it wasn’t for you.  You were always planning in that tent and you fought right there with us when you didn’t owe us a damn thing. Didn’t even know us, really.”  Sully was quiet for a moment, her face screwed up in thought. “And...you protected Chrom. He’s always been a bit of a hard-head, but you had his back.  Kept an eye on him when we couldn’t. And especially with what happened to….” Sully glanced over to Robin, who nodded in understanding. There was no need to say her name.  Sully took a deep breath and let it out in a huff. “So, if you need anything, you know where to find us. Door’s always open.” Sully flashed a smirk at Robin, but there was a genuine tinge to it that had Robin returning it.  

The two walked for a little longer in an amiable silence before Sully took a left out to the stables while Robin made her way back inside.  The two women waved each other off and as they parted, Robin felt more refreshed than she had in a long time. It was like a weight had been lifted off of her.  The Shepherds had accepted her. Not just on Chrom’s orders, but genuinely accepted and welcomed her. A warm feeling billowed up in her and an unconscious smile lit up her face as she made her way into the castle.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4: Consideration

Robin let out a yawn as she stepped into the hallway, stretching her arms out as she walked towards the library.  She rubbed a hand against her eyes as she tried to remove the last vestiges of sleep from her mind. She was wearing just a simple white tunic, dark fitted pants and her comfiest boots.  No reason to dress up for a day most likely spent toiling away with a bunch of books.

As she heaved open the large double doors she noticed Ricken already sitting at one of the large wooden tables, a stack of books on the verge of tipping over as he focused intently on the tome in front of him, scribbling down notes on a piece of vellum.  He glanced up at her entry and smiled widely when she waved. “Good morning Robin!” he chirped cheerily.

A wry smirk crossed Robin’s features.  “Here I thought I was up early.” She walked up to the table and leaned over it, looking at the tome that Ricken was studying.  She noticed the dark purple cover hidden underneath the pages. “This is that book you were telling me about?” she guessed.

Ricken set aside his papers as he nodded.  “Yep. I’ve been trying to translate these runes,” he ran his fingers over them on the page, “But they seem to be in some sort of weird, old Plegian script.”  His face scrunched in thought, and Robin couldn’t help the mental comparison to a bunny. “At least that’s what I think,” he admitted.

Robin glanced over them again before walking around the table.  She pulled up a chair and sat next to Ricken on the other side of the book, peering at the inscriptions intently.  She ran her finger across a few symbols. “Well, this says something with regards to life, or life force? Maybe it’s supposed to heal?  Like Maribelle and Lissa do?” she suggested.

Ricken shook his head. “They were using these tomes like weapons.  It feels kinda….chilly...when they use it on you.” He shivered at a memory and Robin glanced at him sympathetically before looking back down at the book, scanning through it.  “That’s weird. I don’t know what would cause cold. There’s no wind symbology that I can see…” She flipped the page over, as if looking for context, before turning it back.

Ricken looked over the page himself, a concentrated frown on his face.  After a few minutes of contemplative silence, Ricken glanced up at Robin with a bit of confusion.  “Where do you see the life symbol? I don’t see it anywhere on this page.”

“Oh, it’s up here,” she replied, absently running her finger across an embossed rune as she scanned further down the page.  She didn’t see Ricken’s concerned frown. “Robin… how can you read that? That’s not any Ylissean script I know.”

Robin felt her her body tense and quickly dissected Ricken’s tone.  There was no accusation in it; if anything, it was worry. She frowned, her focus now turning inward.  “I...I don’t know,” she admitted uneasily. “I can’t even really read this.  It’s more like...a feeling?” she tried to explain.  She leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms, eyes locked on the rune as if that would force it to reveal its secrets.  Suddenly she felt extremely self conscious. How could she read an old Plegian script?  The only answers she could conceive were unnerving, to say the least, and downright damning at worst.

A hand on her shoulder jolted her out of her thoughts and her eyes jumped to Ricken.  He looked at her with understanding, not pity or false-cheeriness. It gave her the strength she needed to kick her thoughts out of their destructive logical noose.  Right now, it didn’t matter where her brain was pulling these tidbits of information from. What mattered was it was helping. Focus on that, Robin.

She flashed Ricken a quick smile and patted his knee in thanks. When he jumped and turned bright red, Robin quickly pulled away, her own cheeks tingling with heat. “Sorry!  I uh… is that not okay?” she asked awkwardly. She was still learning the do’s and don’ts of non-wartime social interaction.

“N-no!  Uh, I mean, yes!  No, It’s fine!” Ricken quickly denied, waving his hands hastily in front of him.  “I just, uh, wasn’t expecting it. Don’t worry.”

Robin rubbed the back of her neck self-consciously and noted that Ricken still seemed flustered.  But if he was saving her from her own embarrassment, the least she could do was let him. “Alright,” she relented.  Her fingers ran through her mussed locks before locking in front of her on the table. “So then, with this sigil…”

 


 

Robin came to consciousness reluctantly.  She was warm and comfortable, and felt a sense of calm that she’d found rarely in the last months.  She shifted sleepily and pressed her head more firmly into her arms. Wait… arms? Come to think of it, she wasn’t quite laying down all the way, was she?

She blearily opened her eyes and noticed piles of books.  Was she still in the library? She shifted up from where she had been slouched on the table, her back twinging in displeasure.  She felt something slide of her shoulders and glanced down to find familiar periwinkle robes now pooling to the ground. She blinked, her still-waking mind connecting the dots slowly.  

“Oh, you’re awake!  Sorry, I didn’t bother you, did I?”

Robin slid her eyes to the chair next to her and saw Ricken still pouring over a tome, working by the light of a candle next to him.  How did that not wake her? She noticed the small pile of books that had been stacked between them and a small, sleepy smile twitched at her lips.  He was awfully considerate, wasn’t he?

“No, you didn’t,” she said with a yawn.  She ran a hand through her hair, smoothing out a few tangles before she pushed the wall of books out of the way and leaned over towards Ricken and the tome.  “Any luck?” she asked.

Ricken yawned as well, and Robin couldn’t help thinking it was adorable, with his big, brown eyes scrunched up like that.  In fact, he was pretty cute in general, yeah? From his puppy-dog eyes and his button nose and permanently-cowlicked brown hair, to the way he was eager to learn and endlessly considerate of others.  And now, without his robes, she could see the lean muscle definition in his arms. How hadn’t she noticed that before? Even if he didn’t count on close combat, he clearly hadn’t used it as an excuse to lay around.  

“Uh... Robin?”

Her stare flitted from their unintentional stop on his arms to his face, which was starting to color pink.  Oh no, she’d been staring! Curse her sleep-addled eyes for betraying her! Her own cheeks began to warm. “… Sorry, can you say that again?” she asked sheepishly.  

She couldn’t tell for sure with the candlelight, but he seemed to flush a few shades darker.  Oh gods, she was so embarrassing. “With the runes you recognized, I think we might have figured it out,” he re-explained.  “I was hoping you and Miriel could look over the translation tomorrow, if you have time.” He met her gaze hopefully, and she felt a twist in her stomach.  “Yeah, of course,” she answered without thinking. “Do you want me to look over it now?”

The look Ricken threw her was as close to a smirk as she had ever seen from him, and it did some funny things to her insides.  It was a knowing, slightly teasing smile with, she thought, a hint of fondness. “No,” he answered decisively, “You should go to bed.  It’s late.”

She sighed, but couldn’t deny his point.  But she could drag him into it. “You should, too.  Come on, up and at ‘em,” she jibed, knocking her shoulder against his arm before she pushed herself up from the table.  Ricken’s eyes followed her with a curious expression, but he joined her nonetheless. They both replaced the books they no longer needed, extinguished the candle, and tip-toed out the library doors.

They walked in an amiable silence, sleepiness weighing on both of them.  When they reached the hallway where they would go separate paths, Robin smiled to Ricken and wished him goodnight as she turned towards her room.

“Wait!  I should walk you,” Ricken hastily insisted.  Robin blinked at him, confused, and Ricken colored again.  “I… it’s the chivalrous thing to do,” he rationalized.

It was Robin’s turn to blush and she was thankful for the dim hallway.  He was just so cute .  “Oh, then…” she tilted her head towards the hallway.  “I’m down this corridor.”

Ricken rejoined her and the silence returned, still amiable but with a slight nervous charge to it.  Ricken was clutching his books to him a little more tightly than before, which was unintentionally showing off the muscle in his forearms that Robin tried and failed to ignore.  

When they reached her door, she stopped and Ricken came to a pause a step or two after her.  “Thanks for walking me back, Ricken,” she said, breaking through the stillness. She smiled at him, and he returned the gesture.  He nodded. “Have a good night, Robin. Sleep well.” As she was turning to open her door, Ricken’s hesitant voice stopped her. “Hey Robin?”

She turned to face him again, curiosity etched on her face.  He was bashful again, but summoned the courage to meet her eyes clearly.  “You’re one of us, no matter what your past is,” he said with conviction, “You aren’t alone. You don’t have to deal with anything by yourself.”  Robin blinked at him, and he immediately deflated. “I… just felt like you needed to hear that,” he admitted sheepishly.

Robin couldn’t stop the smile that spread across her face or the warmth that bloomed in her chest.  Almost instinctively, she reached out and wrapped her arms tightly around Ricken. He sputtered, but quickly regained his calm and tentatively put his arms around her back.  “Thanks, Ricken,” she said into his shoulder. He patted her back awkwardly, but that just added to his charm. She pulled away and almost immediately yawned, which he then caught.  She giggled tiredly. “We should both get some sleep. Good night Ricken. And thank you. Really.”

Ricken scratched the back of his head, but his smile he had was genuine.  “Good night Robin. See you tomorrow.”

The moment Robin stepped inside her room, she collapsed onto her bed, not even bothering to change out of her clothes.  As she quickly fell into slumber, she held onto the warmth Ricken’s words had imparted to her and it stayed with her throughout the night.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5: Coronation


The day of Chrom’s coronation, a huge parade was to be held through the entire city of Ylisstal. Floats soared through the winding roadways while musicians, dancers, and acrobats filled the streets with color and excitement. The Shepherds, of course, were frantically busy, not only present and on duty for the coronation itself, but also for the parade. Robin was no exception to this. She was currently on assignment with Stahl at the coronation hall, guarding doors closest to the dais where the high-profile guests would be entering.


The coronation had been beautiful, steeped in tradition as the High Deacon extolled Chrom’s virtues and formally presented the people’s blessing. Chrom, as always, was gorgeous. His attire was more ornate than usual, pure white fabric colored with delicate creams and golds. His right arm was still bared to show the mark of the Exalt, and Falchion worn on his hip to symbolize his right to the throne.


As Chrom processed, his outfit caught the light in a way that nearly deified him. He was striking to watch, and if Robin hadn’t already known he was descended from royalty, she would have now. The awestruck look must have been apparently on her face, because when she broke from her trance to glance around the room, Stahl caught her eye with a knowing smile. She fought the flush that threatened to color her ears and swept her eyes across the room with perhaps more attention than usual. Unbidden, her mind wandered to earlier that day.


Before the coronation, Chrom had requested her presence in his study, and she’d been hesitant to go. Since she’d arrived at the castle, her interactions with Chrom had been brief and stilted, partly due to his own influx of duties, but also because of her own attempt to create some distance between them. Now that he was getting ready to be the Exalt, and marrying on top of that, he would be scrutinized more than ever. For them to be so close wouldn’t be appropriate.


That wasn’t to say her motivations were entirely selfless. She was still grappling with her feckless feelings for the prince, and the imposed distance was helping her cope. She understood that it was childish, but she had allowed herself this concession of weakness. But now that he was summoning her, she couldn’t pretend to ignore him. And a part of her, a traitorous part of her, was warmed that he was calling on her on such an important day. She tried to shove that part of her to the back of her mind, but it lingered.


She had been walking down the hallway where the royal offices were when a petite figure stepped out of one of the rooms. The figure met Robin’s eyes and looked a little shocked. Robin had to fight to keep from tensing up. “Oh, hi Sumia,” Robin greeted as she slowed to a stop, forcing what she hoped was a pleasant and definitely not nervous expression to her face.


Sumia shut the door she had come from, a wary smile appearing on her own face. “Hi Robin,” she meekly returned. She glanced Robin up and down, then looked down the hallway in the direction Robin was heading. “What has you coming down this way? Not too many people come visit us up here.” she asked pleasantly.


Robin fought the urge to fidget. There’s nothing wrong about what you’re doing, she thought to herself. Chrom asked you to visit, and you’re doing so. It’s not going to be at all suspicious that you’re visiting her fiance on the day of his coronation, all by yourself. Internally, she groaned. Outwardly, she shrugged. “Chrom asked to see me,” she explained simply.


A few different expressions flickered across Sumia’s face, concern and hesitancy prime among them. Robin felt her stomach knot. “I’m sure it’s nothing serious,” she allayed, but that didn’t seem to bring any comfort to the girl.


A moment of awkward silence passed between them, Sumia staring intermittently between the floor and down the hall towards Chrom’s office, Robin shifting from foot to foot. Eventually, Robin found her voice again. “Ah, I should get going. I’ll see you later.” She flashed a quick smile at the pegasus knight and continued walking towards the door near the end of the hallways, very aware of the eyes following her back.


When she finally reached the door, she knocked hesitantly. Seeing Sumia had frazzled her a bit and she had suddenly debated running away down the hall and pretending she’d never received her summons, but just as she was able to break for it, Chrom’s voice filtered through the door and beckoned her in. After a second of hesitation, she nodded to herself and entered the room.


Robin had only been in this room once before, when Chrom was first introducing her to the duties he hoped she would perform, and since then the wall of papers around his desk seemed to have only grown bigger. She saw Chrom slouched in his desk as he stared absently out the window. Robin’s brow quirked in concern. This wasn’t like Chrom at all. His eyes trailed over to hers and a small, tired smile flickered at the edge of his lips. “Robin, how have you been? I feel like it’s been forever since we’ve had a chance to talk, just the two of us.”


Robin fought the urge to shrug and carefully infiltrated the office, keeping a cautious distance that was still friendly. “It has been a while, hasn’t it?” she replied softly, with a wistfulness that she tried to temper. “I’ve been well. The Shepherds have been taking care of me these past few weeks while I get adjusted here.” She met his eyes and they widened just a bit at the sudden engagement. “...How are you handling everything?” she asked carefully.


Chrom let out a big sigh, seeming to sink even further into his chair. Robin’s mouth tightened at the sight, but she stayed silent. “To be honest…it’s a lot.” He wiped a hand down his face, the light in his eyes dimming. “I always knew being Exalt was a possibility, but never really considered it. We lived in peace for so long, and I was content to patrol the border with the Shepherds… I should have learned better. Paid more attention…”


“You couldn’t have known, Chrom,” Robin reasoned, though from the stubborn tick in his expression, he disagreed. She tried a different approach. “I know this isn’t what you wanted, but for what it’s worth, you’re doing a good job so far. The people in the city love you, and you already have the respect of the guard because you’ve fought with them.”


“The lords don't feel the same,” Chrom mumbled.


“The lords aren’t going to like anyone. They’re out for themselves,” she retorted.


Chrom let out another sigh, but she saw a bit of the weight leave his shoulders. “...I suppose you’re right,” he conceded.


Robin took another careful step forward and Chrom waved at the seat in front of her, inviting her to sit. She did with only slight trepidation. For a moment they sat in silence, with Chrom looking beyond his desk and Robin fighting the urge to fidget. She settled for lacing her fingers together.


Robin’s thoughts had begun to wander when she noticed Chrom’s chest rise as if he was readying himself to say something he had locked away for some time. She watched him steadily “Is it shameful to wish I could leave?” he started softly, gazing sightlessly out the window. “Leave and wander the continents, not having to worry about war or politics or social status. Just us and the Shepherds. Like it used to be.”


The statement lingered in the air between them, the weight of it a nearly physical thing. Eventually, Chrom’s eyes met hers, doubt and guilt clouding them.


Robin was hit with a wave of guilt herself. This was what she wanted. She wanted things to go back to the way they had been, too. But the way Chrom looked now wasn’t worth it. Had he spoken with anyone else about this? She imagined he would have, but given how hesitant he was to admit it, and that he was admitting it to her on the day of his coronation, she found herself wondering if maybe he hadn’t.


Robin blinked her thoughts away when Chrom’s expression took on a hint of concern. “I’m...not sure what you want me to say,” she admitted, mouth dry at the confession, “But I understand... I feel the same.” Her hands clenched in her lap. “But things are different now. We have different parts to play than we did before. In a few hours, you’ll be Exalt, and I’ll…” she paused a moment and chuckled humorlessly. “I guess I’ll still be trying to figure out where I fit in here.”


Chrom seemed mildly distressed at her self-deprecation and quickly straightened up in his chair, leaning over towards her. “Have people been making you feel unwelcome?” he asked earnestly.


Robin had to bite back a smile at the gesture. “Nothing more than expected, and frankly, I expected worse.” Chrom frowned at this, but didn’t move to interrupt. “The Shepherds have been good to me. Excellent, even. But sometimes I’m still struck by how unfamiliar this all is. I’m still adjusting.”


A different sort of guilt crossed over Chrom’s expression then, tinged with regret as opposed to shame. “I… haven’t taken the time to make you feel comfortable here, like I should have,” he lamented.


Robin’s throat tightened, but she waved it away. “You’ve been learning to run a kingdom. My anxieties are trivial in comparison,” she assured him. “You invited me here and vouched for me publicly. You’ve done more than enough. I don’t think I’ve had the chance to thank you for that.”


“You saved our lives, more than once,” Chrom defended. A secret smirk stole on his face as he met her gaze knowingly. “How many times did you have to talk me down from a frontal assault?”


Robin unconsciously smiled at the memories. “I think it was only three times. You learned not to ask after that.” Chrom chuckled softly to himself and suddenly the atmosphere was light between them again, like nothing had changed in the past month. Robin felt herself relaxing into her chair, a weight lifting off her that she’d hardly realized before that moment. Chrom must have noticed, because his grin widened a touch. They sat for a moment, letting the warmth of their companionship ease the tension from the room.


Chrom let out a relieved sigh. “I feel better than I have in weeks. You always were able to help me see things more clearly. Thank you, Robin.” His eyes met hers with such genuine thankfulness that Robin could hardly do anything except smile back and attempt to tamp down her heart, which felt like it was soaring. “I’m happy to -”


A quick flurry of knocks jolted them both in their seats, flustering the both of them as Frederick’s voice rumbled through the door, “My Lord, it’s time for you to prepare for the coronation.”


Unease traipsed back across Chrom’s face, and Robin instinctively reached across the table to grasp his hand. Chrom looked in surprise at her hand, then up to her. She smiled, and squeezed his hand in hers. “You’ve got this, Chrom. I believe in you.” A funny combination of emotions flitted across his face, but they settled on confident. He tightened his grip around hers before releasing her hand and standing from his chair. Robin quickly followed his example and made her way quickly to the door.

She opened the door to a very stern and confused Frederick, motioning him inside before bowing to Chrom and exiting the room, closing the door behind her. She immediately heard Frederick’s voice, low and hard, through the door, and made a hasty retreat. Chrom wasn’t the only one who had to prepare for the coronation. She needed to receive her orders from Sully.


By the time Robin’s thoughts returned to the present, Chrom was kneeling before the altar with the high priest of Naga murmuring over him. The rest of the room was reverently silent, all eyes locked on their future Exalt. When the priest finished, Chrom voiced a solemn, “I swear,” and the priest traversed across the dais, lifting an immaculate circlet from a plush stand and walking back over to the kneeling Prince. “Does anyone present have just cause to challenge the crowning of his Royal Prince as our Exalted leader?” the priest projected, gazing out amongst the crowd. The silence suddenly turned tense, people in the room shifting as they eyed each other, waiting with bated breath to hear if anyone would speak out against the future Exalt. After an excruciatingly long moment with no apparent dissenters, the priest resumed. “Let Naga’s Light cast itself over Exalt Chrom and bless his reign over Ylisse, from now until the end of days.” He placed the circlet around Chrom’s head and raised his hands up emphatically. “Stand now to receive your Exalt!”


There was a spark of excitement as the whole room rose to their feet, and those already on their feet stood straighter. Chrom slowly lifted his head and stood for the first time as Exalt of Ylisse. He turned to face his new subjects and the crowd broke into applause and said in unison, “Long live the Exalt!”


Chrom waited for the smattering of applause to die down before speaking. “People of Ylisse, I am honored by your faith. I know the past year has been difficult for many of us. I will work tirelessly to not only restore Ylisse, but forge a brighter future for it.” Here, Chrom seemed to hesitate, but continued before it was realized. “To that end, I am proud and delighted to announce my engagement to the new Exalted Consort, Lady Sumia Gardine.” Sumia, who had been sitting in the front row, stood at the announcement, garbed in dusky rose and silver. She smiled bashfully at the crowd and nodded demurely before gazing adoringly at Chrom. He smiled at her in return. “I hope you will all join us for our wedding celebration in the coming month.”


The applause this time was much livelier, with a few cheers chorusing through as well. A wolf-whistle shot through the crowd and made both Chrom and Sumia flush pink.


Robin clapped with the crowd next to Stahl, but her heart wobbled uncomfortably in her chest. A month, maybe a little more, and Chrom and Sumia would be married. It was sudden, but not entirely surprising. But they seemed… happy, and that was enough to put a wry smile on her face.


The priest said a few final words after which Chrom proceeded out with Sumia on his arm to fanfare from the choir. Shortly after, the crowd of nobles began to shuffle towards the exits, for which Stahl and Robin opened their doors to let the crowd spill into the streets to await the parade.


“Quite the ceremony, huh Robin?”


Robin felt her ears tinge pink as Stahl peered at her, a small, knowing smile quirking his mouth. She tamped it down. “It was much more solemn than I would have thought. But it’s also the first time I’ve heard the nobles so quiet.” They both chuckled a bit at that as they continued to sweep through the cathedral, making sure no one had lingered or left anything dangerous in the vicinity, per Frederick’s orders.


“It’s a little strange to think of us as now serving the Exalt,” Stahl mused. He checked behind a set of drapes as he thought aloud. “There wasn’t quite so much pressure when he was the royal prince, but now we’re actually a pretty big deal.”


Robin ducked down to check under the pews. “I have a feeling you all were always a big deal, you just didn’t know it.”


Stahl shrugged. “To some, maybe.” They searched the rest of the time in silence until they found themselves back by the doorway. They left the cathedral in tandem, walking towards the spot that would mark the beginning of the parade. Both were on the new Exalt’s security detail: Stahl riding beside Chrom and Sumia’s float on his horse, and Robin on the float behind them. They chatted a bit about the parade, Stahl recalling the parade that had taken place when Emmeryn had become Exalt and Robin asking endless questions about how the floats worked and how they were designed. Stahl couldn’t answer many of those questions for her, but he seemed to enjoy seeing where her mind went.


When they reached the point where they would part ways, Stahl reached a hand out and grasped her shoulder, drawing her curious attention once again to him. “Stahl?” she questioned.


The paladin shot her a wry smile. “Keep your chin up, Robin. You’ve come to mean a lot to us, and we want you to stick around, okay? Even if it’s… rough at times.” Robin felt a little bit shell-shocked from Stahl’s sudden comment, but managed to nod, albeit with a confused look. Stahl patted her shoulder and flashed her a brighter smile before making his way towards the city stables. Robin watched him go for a minute before shaking herself out of her thoughts and rushing to where the floats were being loaded.


The parade was a whirlwind of color and music. Were it not for her time on the battlefield, it would have been difficult for Robin to keep her mind on her task instead of taking in the wonderful atmosphere. A few times, she spared a glance toward the royal float where Chrom and Sumia waved to the townsfolk and was glad to feel a smile twitch onto her face when she did. It was getting easier.

Stahl caught her eyes every once in a while, shooting her winks and fun salutes. She chuckled and tried to return in kind, feeling silly, but it made securing the parade feel less… dreary. She would almost say she was having fun.


When the parade finished without a hitch, to the relief of all involved, Stahl walked with her in the rear guard, guiding his horse beside him. It was easy to talk with Stahl, she realized. His easygoing and straightforward attitude was relaxing, and his quirky humor kept her chuckling.


“You should help me cook tomorrow night,” he said nonchalantly during a comfortable silence. “Do you know how to cook?” he asked, almost as an afterthought, flashing a curious smile over at her.


Robin toyed with the hem of her sleeve. “I mean, Cordelia taught me how to make that stew so I didn’t muck up my cooking duties too badly, but other than that, not really,” she admitted.


Stahl seemed pleased at her admission. “Well, then I’ll teach you how to make something else tomorrow, from beginning to end. Any requests?”

Robin considered the question for a moment before finally deciding, “Surprise me.”

“Oh ho! I’ll make sure you don’t regret that decision,” he said with a laugh. “So come by after the first guard shift? I should be ready by then.”


She grinned up at him. “Can’t wait.”