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[personal profile] asherien
Title: In Fragile Hands
Genre: tragedy
Fandom: Fire Emblem 8
Characters/pairings: Ephraim, Myrrh.
Summary/prompt: She knows it is him before she sets eye on him, from the dread and determination sensed in each step. It is a surprise. Humans are hardly known for their adherence to promises. Ephraim's life, through Myrrh's eyes.
Notes: I think this is the best fic I've written.

It is summer when first he returns, and the afternoon heat brings out the stench of sulfur and decay in the air. She knows it is him before she sets eye on him, from the dread and determination sensed in each step. It is a surprise. Humans are hardly known for their adherence to promises.

His boots are black with poisonous mud, his hair soaked with sweat. He is hardly the image of a king, and she suspects he never will be.

"I've missed you," she says.

He smiles a smile that never quite reaches his eyes, and she does the same. Names are spoken without a second thought. They have each had enough honorifics to last them a lifetime, and know better than to think it rude to go without.

He chatters at her for hours, of his other sister, his knights, his homeland, though he never truly says much. His gaze, darting about between the spindly trees and thick ferns, says much more. She knows it speaks of a dread he cannot put into words, both of the ancient evil still soaked into the ground and of the far fresher one he knows too well.

He does not stay the night. She doubts he could bear the thought.

"I'll be back," he says. She does not believe him.

Her distrust is unfounded. He returns, three moons later to the day, his careful steps a welcome intrusion on the silence she knows so well. Again, they exchange greetings; again, they share smiles, hers far more honest than his.

He chatters less this time, though there is hardly peace in the cold stare he wears when he isn't looking at her. He watches the shadows of the trees trace the hours in the soft, dead earth, and she wonders if he, too, sometimes imagines them going backwards instead.

She learns, in bits and pieces, that his other sister is engaged, that he approved the match himself, that he thinks it will be a welcome relief for his country. She asks no questions of him. Everything he wants to say, he will say in time.

"How can you live in a place like this?" he asks finally, the question that has danced on his lips since he arrived. Saleh asked the same thing, once, when he was small, but only the stench and reek of long-dead horror had forced his words. There are far more layers to the horror she hears now.

"It is my home," she answers.

He swallows hard, and she knows it is a shudder, suppressed. He does not speak of this again.

It is nearly a year before he returns, but the dark paths the creases take across his face are the work of decades. He does not say much, this time, but words are not needed. She felt the tremors building herself, saw them in the rattling of the old withered trees above, heard them hissing deep in the earth below.

For the first time, he asks about her father. She finds him the spot where the bones are buried, deep within the forest, where the sun creeps through only in slivers and the smell of blood stains the air. There is no marker, but she knows the spot well. She says nothing as he kneels and mumbles old prayers, skipping over the bits he cannot remember and repeating the lines speaking of forgiveness and salvation.

She knows, for so many, he has no grave to kneel at, no place to reconcile the intersection of loss and healing. She has no need of such things – her father is wind in the trees, rain on the sky, never tied to this wretched spot beneath the withered old pine. If her brother needs this, it is his for the taking.

"Didn't you tell me, back then, that it was all right let myself cry?"

Her question is met only with with the same quiet chanting, and she pretends as if she does not notice the way his shoulders tremble with each word.

She learns, with his next visit, that he has a nephew, a healthy lad with his father's hair and his mother's eyes. He is named first for his mother's father and second for her fallen friend. She knows, by the way her brother's fists clench and release, that he might have had it the other way.

"This makes you an aunt, too," he says with his usual hollow smile.

"Does it?" she asks in return.

It does not. She has no sister, only a brother, a brother whose fair hair is beginning to gleam silver in the sunlight and whose eyes are ringed with the color of bruises. But he nods, nonetheless.

"Somebody, I'll bring him to meet you."

For the first time, he stays the night, falling asleep soon after the ritual of prayers at her father's grave. She watches him thrash in his sleep and wonders, in silence, if he'll ever lay still.

His visits become less frequent, but longer. He moves with a different sort of grace now, the careful maneuvering of aching joints and tired limbs like a torturous dance. His once calloused hand feels too fragile in hers when they meet for just a moment, his grip too weak. She is reminded of Saleh, who came to bid her farewell within the last moon. Her brother, too, will walk the same path, and there is nothing she can do to bar his way.

"I don't want to stop coming here," he says, his voice a rattling whisper against the rustle of the trees. "I don't want to leave you alone." She knows her loneliness is not what is at stake.

"I know," she murmurs as she pets his gray-streaked hair. "You're tired, aren't you?"

She receives no confirmation, save the slow closure of his eyes and the slightest of nods.

It was a fever that took his other sister, she learns, when he comes to see her again. He mentions it only briefly before telling her more of his nephew – her nephew, too, he insists again – whose lance arm is strong and whose mind is stronger still. His country loves him, she learns, and by the swell in his voice, she knows her brother does too. He has never spoken of a wife or children, and at this, she has never been surprised. She has known from the beginning that his would be a difficult path, but it is rarely wise to disclose such truths.

"You were going to bring him to meet me," she reminds him.

"Perhaps next time," he says, with a smile that fills his whole face.

It is nearly two years before she next hears the sound of careful footsteps at the edge of the woods. She has worried more than she thought she would. She knew it would be long before she saw him next; it was always too long. Her feet carry her across the blackened earth and through the ancient trees, each step quick with the joy of seeing him again.

He is tall and slim, with hair the color of fresh blood. He smiles when he sees her, a smile that knows no dread of this place save for the fading reek of long-gone evil. Ephraim was wrong. They are not his mother's eyes, but his uncle's.

He says his name first, and then, more tentatively, hers, as he extends a hand. She was right, after all. He is not her nephew. He is her brother.


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July 2011

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