Disclaimer: Fire Emblem does not belong to me, and the world is probably better off for it.
Summary: FE8. One-shot. In the end, Tana never marries. In the end, Cormag never returns to Grado.
Pairings: Cormag/Tana. (Innes/L'Arachel and Joshua/Natasha in the background.)
Notes: This story is basically a sequel to "The Winter of Our Discontent" (part 2 of A Garden of Our Own), but it's not necessary to read that first, though it'll probably help. Mainly I just wrote this because I wanted moar Cormag/Tana. And Innes. Because Innes rocks like that.
In the end, Tana never marries.
That first winter, they crept about the castle grounds like a pair of thieves in the night. Sometimes Cormag would slip away to her room, pretending that he was headed off to one of the famed Frelian bars, though in truth he had long sworn off drink, and did not care for fish; other times, feeling particularly daring, she would sneak off to the knights' quarters herself, scaling the walls to his chambers with an agility belying her age. Afterwards they would sit quietly in the darkness, their heads bent together, the corners of his eyes crinkling in silent laughter, her own eyes shimmering with irrepressible mirth, and the nights were never cold.
When spring came and the first of the poppies bloomed red across the hillsides, they ducked behind columns and shrubbery, stealing seconds, minutes, hours. As if they strove to make up for lost time, thought Tana, but Cormag didn't believe that time was ever lost, only misplaced. (You peasant, she had said, laughing, and he had grinned and whispered in her ear, Well, Princess, shall I show you how peasants misplace their time?)
It was a feverish spring, after an uncharacteristically harsh winter, and the air was warm and sticky upon her bare skin, the stone walls startlingly cool against her back; his touch, all-consuming fire. He was neither rough nor gentle. Rather, his were a farmer's hands, sure and steady and thorough, hands that had handled both plow and spear, both ox and wyvern, hands that had shaped wood into life. When she pressed close against him she could feel the beating of his heart, the rise and fall of his chest, the hardened ridges of scar and muscle. He smelled of sun and earth, and tasted of salt, but not of the sea.
Familiar, unfamiliar. Like returning home after a long absence. Like awakening from a long, cold slumber.
The day before her brother was to set off with his wife and their annual delegation to Rausten, he summoned her for a rare private tea. As usual, Innes wasted no time to get to the point.
"Would it kill you to be a little more discreet?"
From the look on his face, he had been fighting the urge to confront her for quite some time already.
"Have your men nothing to do but spy on a harmless pair of lovers?" she retorted, smiling. She knew very well that it was not the case. Even she had heard of the trouble stirring recently in Carcino, and the situation in Grado remained unstable, even after all these years. But even as the words left her lips, she felt her heart skip a beat. It was the first time she had thought to give name or label to what she shared with Cormag, and it seemed to her as if in speaking it out loud, she had irrevocably divulged some deep and sacred part of herself to an utter stranger.
Innes, however, frowned. "For your information, it was not my men who informed me," he said dryly. "Rather, you seem to be the subject of all the servants' gossip lately."
"Oh. Is that so?" she replied, still smiling, and took a sip of her tea. Strangely enough, this revelation did not trouble her. They had hardly made any attempt to keep it a secret, almost as if daring the world to catch them at their trysts. For she had lost all claim to a decent reputation long ago, and no longer cared what people thought of her. "I am aware that some of those maids are part of your network, brother."
But he did not rise to the bait.
"Do you intend to wed him?" he asked instead, blunt as ever, and she froze, not out of trepidation, but simply because the thought had not even crossed her mind.
She did not reply, instead remembering the last time her brother had attempted to arrange a husband for her. She had already been far past marriageable age by then, but the duke had been an old man. Kind, lonely. Wealthy and ambitious. The screaming match that had ensued had left her and Innes off speaking terms for more than a month. I am sick of you trying to use me as a pawn in your damned games, she had yelled, and afterwards she had regretted it, and the name of their longtime friend, the unwed king of neighboring Renais, had lain between them, unspoken, as it ever had.
Things were different now, she thought sadly, remembering a foolish, long-ago promise.
"No," she said, in the end. "I've caused enough trouble for you already, after all. Don't you think?"
"I have come to believe that causing trouble for their older siblings is the sole purpose of younger sisters."
"How sweet of you, brother. Wherever would you be without me?"
His lips quirked. "In a far less stressful state of mind, for one."
"Nonsense. You hardly need my help for that. In fact, I rather suspect you think of my antics as pleasant diversions. If it weren't for me, you'd have driven yourself over the brink long ago." Though she spoke with a light tone, her eyes glanced over the lines on his face, the barely noticeable strands of white in his naturally pale hair, and the shadows under his eyes, and she knew he had not slept well in days.
"That I have, and back again," he replied in a dismissive tone, and what might have passed as arrogance in a lesser man became nothing but mere statement on his tongue. Then he said, quietly, "I hope you know what you're doing, Tana."
"Don't worry," she said. "I do."
Innes heaved a great sigh, and Tana reflected that this, after all, was what brothers and sisters were for. She knew this now. They were not like Ephraim and Eirika of Renais, whom she had once so envied, two halves of a whole -- but that was all right, and Innes had only ever been looking out for her happiness.
"Just don't get up to anything in my sight. I'd rather not know," he grumbled at last, and Tana broke into laughter.
"Thank you, brother," she said, and resolved not to bring up the scene between him and L'Arachel that she had inadvertently witnessed just the other day.
There would always be next time, after all.
In the end, Cormag never returns to Grado.
"You've never been to the sea? Impossible."
"I'm afraid so, Princess."
"You're telling me that you've been in our kingdom for -- how many years now? -- and you still haven't stepped foot within five leagues of the ocean?"
It was impossible to change the princess of Frelia's mind once she had settled upon something, and so in the end he had agreed, only half-reluctantly, to steal away with her to an abandoned stretch of coastline at the northern part of the kingdom. By then, it was past midsummer, and the heat in the capital was stifling and oppressive. The sea, he had heard, would be a refreshing change.
He had worried, idly, at first, about abandoning their duties while her brother the king was absent. But concerns of that kind were rather more in the domain of his old friend, the former General Seth. Frelia was at peace now -- indeed, prospering more than ever before -- and it was to the princess whom Cormag had sworn his loyalty, not her kingdom.
That, and as Tana had briskly informed him, King Innes had decided it was high time to prepare his wayward son for rulership (though, again according to Tana, the stubborn bastard had no intention of giving up his hold on the throne just yet), especially now that said son was married, to the Jehan princess no less, with a child of his own on the way.
"Going to be a great-aunt now, eh?" he had teased her, and had caught the fleeting glimpse of regret on her face before it melted into laughter.
"And to think I was always so worried about what would become of that boy."
It was no secret that King Innes preferred his younger child, a daughter who took after him almost completely in her skill for archery and cool, calculating mind, though her physical resemblance to her mother was uncanny. But the girl was to inherit Rausten, while Frelia was to go to the son, who had been widely regarded as a disappointment until, to most people's surprise, he had managed to singlehandedly snag an alliance with Jehanna. It had not surprised Cormag. From what he had seen of the boy, Frelia's prince had inherited his father's understated looks (but for those eyes, those dark, merry eyes that belonged to neither parent) and his mother's effortless, often overwhelming charisma. And...
"He'll be fine. It's you he takes after in his recklessness, you know."
"That's why I worry," came her reply, but her voice was light and breezy.
"Well, I'm sure his wife will keep him in line." The sword princess of Jehanna was quiet and solemn, but Cormag had noticed a subtle, eccentric sense of humor lurking beneath her placid surface. The characteristic red hair of her bloodline was diluted, Cormag had assumed, by her mother's Grad heritage, but she had, in a startling move some years earlier, given up her claim to Jehanna's throne to her flame-headed brother, ten years her junior. There was a story there, Cormag thought sometimes, but did not bother prying.
"They are a good match," Tana had said then, and Cormag had wondered, for the briefest moment, if she did not begrudge her nephew for his better luck. But then their talk had turned to other subjects, and the matter lay forgotten.
And now, months had passed, and they were slipping away to the stables, where Tana's old pegasus remained housed, intending to leave the young couple to their own devices, if only for some time.
"You sure that old boy can still carry both of us?" he could not help but ask, though he knew the Frelian pegasi were even longer-lived than the wyverns of Grado, and just as strong.
Tana grinned. "Don't let Achaeus hear you talking like that, or else he won't even let you on his back."
He thought of his old wyvern, Genarog, almost certainly dead now. Of all his regrets, Genarog had been the greatest of them all, in the end. And he had not flown in many years.
"It's not like we're in any hurry, anyway," she added, perhaps sensing his turn of thoughts. "We're not flying off to war, after all. We can always take a break if he gets tired."
What she spoke was true, and so he shrugged and mounted the animal, long-forgotten muscles easing naturally back into old habits. He remembered the first time he had ever flown. As a young boy, fresh out of the countryside, and his brother Glen cheering him on from above. Flight had been freedom, once. He did not know when it had turned into shackles.
But then Tana mounted before him, and as he held on to her waist, the pegasus kicked off into the air, and he left sorrow and regret behind him, and realized then that he had regained the skies, which he had thought lost to him forever.
Within hours they arrived at the small, isolated beach of which Tana had spoken. Calla lilies lined the sheer cliffs, swaying precariously in the wind. Cormag stepped gingerly across the dark sands and stood, wondering, at the edge of the sea, feeling the light spray against his face. The waves lapped at his feet, and the churning waters stretched on and on until sky and sea met as one. At the sight, the ache in his bones fled, and laughter bubbled up from deep within him.
"Do that again," said Tana from behind him, watching him with a curious, dancing expression on her face.
"That. Laugh. I want to hear you laugh."
For a moment he simply looked at her, bemused, and then he did break into laughter again. "I don't believe I'll ever understand you, Princess."
"Good," she replied, laughing now as well. "Then you shan't ever tire of me."
"Who knows? Maybe one of these days I'll decide it's too much and just give up altogether on trying to figure you out."
"No, you're not a giving-up kind of man, Cormag."
"Hm. I suppose."
There were many things he loved about her. The proud, stubborn tilt of her chin. Her hair, long and windswept, snaking through his fingers, pooling against his chest. The low noise in the back of her throat as his fingers skidded across her back.
But most of all he loved her eyes, dark and luminous in the hazy afternoon light.
Later, as they laid together on the sand, huddling close for warmth, he found himself wondering what he ought to carve the young prince's baby as a gift. A wyvern, perhaps, as Glen had once done for him. Or perhaps a pegasus...
"What did my brother say to you before he left?" asked Tana suddenly, in a soft, languid murmur.
"King Innes?" He was silent for some time. He had not realized she had noticed. "Nothing of importance."
Now she was alert. "What did he say to you?"
"It was nothing. Just... a job offer, I suppose you could say."
"A job offer?"
"Yes. He asked if I would serve as an ambassador for him, to the newly formed Republic of Grado."
"My brother did?" After a while, she said, "I can't say I'm surprised." And then, "Did you accept?"
"I told him I'd think about it."
A lone gull wheeled overhead in the darkening sky. "Do you miss it?" she said softly. "Your homeland."
It was a question he had asked himself, time and time again. Wyverns screeching in the sky, a storm of red. The blazing trees of autumn, the proud, imposing visage of Grado Keep, rising in the distance once more. How many times had he dreamed of it? How many years had it been since he had last stepped foot on the soils of his birth?
"I miss what was," he admitted quietly. "But what was can never be again. And the Empire is no more."
"But don't you wish to see what it has become?"
"Yes," he said. "And no."
"I see," she said, and her eyes were dark and solemn. But then she said, "I would tell you to go back. But I'm afraid that if you did, I'd never see you again."
"You'd come find me anyway, wouldn't you?"
She grinned. "Of course."
"Well, I'll think about it," he said, grinning back.
But in his heart, he had already made his decision.
Afterwards, they learn to live.