*dead silence*

Ranulf: *snoring*

Mist: *snoring*

(Okay, so that's not dead silence. So, sue me!)

Falchion1984: *bursts into the room dressed like a Mafia reject and holding a tray of something covered in tin foil* I have returned! *pulls off the tinfoil to expose a platter of fried dumplings* And, I have brought these pierogis!

Ranulf & Mist: *wake up* Where the hell have you been? It's been forever since you've updated!

Falchion1984: I'd have been back sooner, but my Polish Mafia buddies went out for stogies.

Mist: *glancing at Ranulf in that what-did-we-do-to-deserve-this fashion* Did that make sense to you?

Ranulf: Of course not. *eats a pierogi* These aren't bad though.

Falchion1984: I hope you enjoy your treat and that I'll not miss another beat!

Mist: He's even stranger than usual...and that's saying something.

Falchion1984: My name, I hope, you shant revile, though I've been absent for a long while. Writing is challenging in this harsh time; and yes, I speak in rhyme.

Ranulf: *sarcastically* Gee, I hadn't noticed.

Falchion1984: This is the chapter that threatened to douse my fire; I encountered writer's block, which was most dire. For Ike seeks Elincia's hand, and the Council must approve. The Council, Ike fears, will be quick to reprove.

Mist: As far as rhymes go, that was a cheap shot.

Falchion1984: *impersonating Run DMC for no apparent reason* In New York the people talk to try and make us rhyme. They really (hawk) but we just (walk) because we have no time.

Mist: Huh?

Ranulf: *joining in on the Run DMC impersonation, also for no apparent reason* And in the city it's a pity cos we just can't hide. Tinted windows don't mean nothin,' they know who's inside.

Mist: What the-?

Falchion1984 & Ranulf: *still impersonating Run DMC, still for no apparent reason* It's Tricky to rock a rhyme to rock a rhyme that's right on time. It's tricky.

Mist: *Eyes the pierogis suspiciously* What's in those things anyway? Well, why don't you guys read the chapter while I try to figure this out. If that's even possible. Also, Falchion1984 does not own Fire Emblem (Thank the Goddess) or It's Tricky. And, credit for the base of Elincia's dress goes to Ganieda_91, who posted an Ike+Elincia pic on (.com/albums/ii294/Ganieda_91/?action=view¤t=). Falchion started with the design as a base and then modified it for Elincia's whacky wedding gown. Also, this chapter will bounce around a lot between Ike and Elincia's perspectives, both in the present and in flashbacks, so pay attention. On with the show!

(Elincia, present)

"I wonder if the pearls are too much," Elincia thought aloud, scrutinizing her reflection.

She ran her fingers over the chains of ivory globes encircling her neck and wondered. Ike, she knew, attached great value to modesty of word and action, perhaps extending to taste in dress and she had toyed with the notion in showing similar restraint when she could. But, at the same time, Ike had become rather fond of pointing out how beautiful he thought she was, despite her protestations, so he might like the effect.

And, besides, they were her mother's pearls.

Elincia had seen her mother even less frequently than her father, and the nearest thing she could recall to seeing her mother's face was standing in front of a mirror while her uncle pointed to her features and told her which aspect of her face and form came from which parent.

Silly though the notion might seem, she felt as if wearing the same pearls her mother had during her wedding might be akin to taking along a piece of her, and the joy she'd had with her father, as she made the same journey.

But, the chance that the old fibers binding them might give way or the well used clasp could unexpectedly loosen - and she might lose this treasure to opportunistic hands - teased at the back of her mind as well.

She stroked the pearls again, considering removing them, but her hands were far too shaky to handle the delicate clasp. Instead, she focused on willing air back into her spasming lungs as she took in her reflection. Not for the first time that day, she found herself awed by the sight. At Lucia's insistence, Elincia had allowed her Courtier and lifelong friend to find the appropriate dress or, should none of those available pass inspection, to commission one to be custom made.

Elincia suspected the latter, for surely this design was too fanciful to come from anything besides Lucia's devious imagination.

Rather than the traditional white, her gown was a work of orange and gold that reminded her of the dawning sun. Folds of radiantly colored fabric enshrouded her form and spilled to the floor stopping just short of her ankles, complimented by a shawl of red, yellow and green draped over her shoulders. Aside from the pearls encompassing her throat, she also wore a pair of golden, teardrop earrings - 'drops of sunshine,' as the jeweler had dubbed them - and a peculiar headdress. She'd heard from Lucia that it was the product of a lost, recently recovered, art and that Serenes Herons were known to wear something similar at their weddings. Whether or not this was true, Elincia could not say; but the odd honeycomb of golden cloth bled tendrils of her emerald hair while loops of ruby fabric fanned above her head like the tail feathers of a peacock. She wore very little makeup, the flush that came from both the upcoming event and her newfound realizations about the dress' plunging neckline lent her face all the color she could possibly want. And more. Matching the coloration of her face were the blood red heels that boosted her height to match Ike's.

Anyone would say that she looked spectacular, a vision poised to humble the comeliest of angels.

Anyone except Elincia herself.

"I wonder if this neckline is inappropriate," she pondered - or fretted, for she could not tell which. "Perhaps if I adjusted the shawl...no, that will not do. It would cover the pearls that way."

"You sound nervous," a familiar voice commented.

Elincia gasped and whirled in the direction of the door to behold a smirking Lucia. Her aqua haired friend, to Elincia's umbrage, had dressed herself far less elaborately in a more formal incarnation of the kimono favored by Swordmasters. This one, adorned with a silk bow elegantly tied about the waist and embroidered with patterns of sakura blossoms, coupled beauty and functionality into a perfect synthesis that made Elincia suddenly wonder if she could talk Lucia into exchanging clothes.

Discarding the notion, and sensing the playful taunt behind the words, Elincia turned towards the mirror and composed her features into a cool mask of determination that, even to her forgiving eyes, looked unconvincing.

"I'm not nervous," she declared, her tone even less convincing than her expression.

In an instant, her stony facade crumbled into a wild mishmash of uncontrollable excitement and inconsolable panic.

"I'm terrified," Elincia squeaked.

Lucia, her ever present smirk disappearing, crossed the dressing room and rested a hand on Elincia's shoulder.

"Relax," she urged, the corners of her mouth turning back upwards. "This will be the happiest day of your life. And, probably, the happiest night as well."

"Lucia!" Elincia exclaimed, thoroughly startled by the thinly veiled insinuation.

"Oh, come now," Lucia replied, snickering. "It's not as if I haven't noticed all those near infidelities you and Ike have had. You're just lucky it was the forgiving ones that caught you in the-"

"What?" Elincia screeched, her eyes narrowing to sunbeam daggers. "We've never been indecent!...Except...well, perhaps..."

Elincia trailed off, embarrassment deepening the red hue of her cheeks. Lucia, seeing the opening, struck. Hard.

"Well," she began teasingly, pretending to be considering it, "there was that one time in your bedchambers."

Elincia remembered that time, quite well in fact. And, though doing so only made Lucia's smugness grow, Elincia smiled at the memory.

i(Elincia, flashback)

It was the morning after the Festival, which had lasted well into the dawning hours, and Elincia had woken groggy and lethargic. Though tired and largely asleep, a small smile graced her features as she remembered a wonderful dream she'd had. She and Ike had had their long overdue talk and, to her astonishment, he'd asked her to marry him. She'd gladly accepted, he'd given her a magnificent engagement ring and then they'd danced until the sun came up. The rest was rather hazy but Elincia could dimly recall Ike saying that she was too exhausted to walk all the way back to the Castle and, so saying, he carried her there.

It was a good dream, one she would cherish as she bore yet another torturous day of nursing her fragile country back to health, but it was only a dream.

For surely, that's all it could be in the often harsh and unforgiving world.

Then, she felt a familiar, worn hand caressing her hip.

Her weariness forgotten, her eyes shot open. As the drowsy haze of early morning cleared from her eyes, she beheld Ike seated at her bedside smiling down on her with that rakish smile she'd come to adore. Wondering sleepily if she was entirely awake, she brought one hand to rub at her eyes and found her ring finger encompassed by a familiar, silvery band. And, she realized that it hadn't been a dream at all. And, in that same instant, she remembered something the two of them had learned during the War.

The world was a harsh and unforgiving place, but there was much in it that was precious if one looked hard enough.

Ike too looked to have passed a restless night - a faint smudge painting the flesh beneath each eye - but he looked glowingly happy, and Elincia did not ask for details.

In fact, she didn't say anything at all. He didn't either.

After last night, words were no longer necessary.

Ike's hand continued to sweep across her hip, the warmth of his rough hand easily seeping through the thin material of her nightclothes. Very easily, in fact. Elincia quickly glanced down at herself and saw that, in her half asleep state, she'd donned the lighter nightclothes which she favored in the warmer seasons.

It exposed her legs from mid-thigh downwards as well as her arms, and the slightly sheer red material offered more than a hint of the skin beneath.

A self-conscious blush painted her features at her state of dress, but Ike banished those thoughts by cupping her chin with one hand. His expression was still glowingly happy and, beneath it, Elincia could sense the gentility which had surprised them both the night before. His hands, the flesh rough and calloused from years of swordplay and a lifetime of work, gingerly caressed the soft, smooth skin of her cheeks. A sigh of contentment escaped Elincia's lips as her smaller, more delicate hands began to roam his face as well.

Ike's features all bespoke of his life as if his face were a tapestry in which one might find the many aspects of his life meticulously woven. His flesh was weathered by the wrath of sun and wind, burned dark and engraved with the fine lines she'd have expected to find on the countenance of an older man. Rather than age, however, these lines bespoke of experience and determination and they shone on his face like medals of honor, even if Ike himself would deny anything resembling the grandiose metaphor. Some of these lines ran parallel to or were bisected by scars from near misses during his battles as a Mercenary and later a General. There was, she suspected, a story behind every mark and, she felt fairly certain, she'd been close enough to witness at least half of them.

Ike, in turn, continued to explore her face and his fingers occasionally strayed into her hair. The feel of his fingers parting her sea of emerald tresses prompted another sigh from Elincia and, for some time, that was the only sound between them. Eventually, Ike leaned in closer and one hand disengaged from her face to sweep across her exposed upper back. Rubbing at her shoulders, and eliciting shuddering gasps from her in doing so, he brought her closer to him. Eventually, the rough stubble of his jaw rubbed against Elincia's face, summoning a light giggle. Ike, chuckling in turn, guided his hands to Elincia's arms, tracing the smooth flesh of her forearms and her finely boned hands. Elincia's tenure as a chef and healer during the War had left its mark on her hands, as had swordplay and the strain of riding when she took the field, but far less so than Ike. Calluses and scars - so tiny, she had to squint in order to see them - marred her delicate hands but, when she extricated one to rub Ike's cheek, he very nearly purred.

Elincia's other hand roamed his torso, cresting the rock hard domes of his muscles, his broad chest and his wide shoulders while he returned his attention to the delicate curve of her hip. Somehow, Ike had leaned too far forward and ended up toppling onto the bed. He managed to catch himself by quickly planting his hands and knees to stop his descent before he landed on top of her. An instant's distress passed as he realized what nearly happened, but it quickly faded as he noted Elincia's expression, devoid of reproach.

A smile that was an impossible blend of roguishness and shyness sliced across Ike's features as he gently lowered himself, propping himself on elbows and knees and then scooting so close to Elincia that they could feel each other's breath on their faces.

Effectively but happily pinned, Elincia contented herself with running her hands through Ike's unruly hair while he did the same with her long, emerald tresses. For what felt like hours, Elincia lay there reveling in Ike's warmth, his gentle touch and the faint aroma of the spicy cologne he'd worn the previous evening. The joy that had flooded her veins when she realized that Ike's proposal was no dream surged anew and her arms encircled his form in a tight hug.

And, in that moment, her life was perfect.

In the next, Lucia nudged the door open. Her hands were rather completely occupied bearing a tray laden with food - far more than Elincia could've consumed in one sitting, which suggested Lucia was expecting Ike to be there. And, Lucia's face was rather thoroughly occupied with sporting a broad, beaming grin.

She no doubt had intended to ambush the newly engaged couple, and have some fun at their expense, but when she saw the rather questionable position she'd discovered them in, her smile turned upside down and the tray clattered to the floor wreaking havoc upon the room's ornate carpet.

It had been no easy task to convince the angered Lucia that nothing compromising had occurred and, though she eventually came around, she muttered something to Ike about castration and rusty spoons./i

(Elincia, present)

"I've told you a dozen times," Elincia very nearly hissed in aggravation, "he didn't harm me. Quite the opposite in fact. I felt much better afterwards."

"I noticed," Lucia replied, her tone somewhere between matter-of-fact and wry.

This, Elincia could not contest. Though she would've gladly stayed in Ike's arms for days, there was another Council meeting and, since Caineghis and Tanith would likely attend this one also, her absence would not go over well. Elincia, apology written on her features, slid out from under Ike and found her customary gown. Ike, realizing her intent, turned to study the rack upon which rested Elincia's armor.

For some reason, which even she couldn't make sense of, a well hidden part of herself was slightly disappointed at this gentlemanly gesture.

Shaking herself free of the bizarre sentiment, and the subsequent embarrassment, she finished dressing herself and beckoned Ike to follow.

Just at the door, they'd kissed.

They broke away, most reluctantly and with no small amount of mortification, when Lucia returned to remind them of the meeting, caught them in the act and muttered something to the effect of 'I can't leave you alone for a minute.'

"There was also that time in the Castle Inner Garden," Lucia spoke up.

Elincia's face colored at the memory, even more so than the previous one. After all, Lucia ihad/i mentioned that her and Ike's transgressions had not gone unnoticed.

i(Elincia, flashback)

It had been two days since Ike's proposal and, aside from Ike's slipping into her bedroom to greet her as he had before, they'd had little time for each other. There were the Council Meetings, which Ike now attended in order for him and Elincia to petition for their marriage; but time to be alone, and forget the rest of the world for a precious while, had been quite scarce.

Ike, deciding to do something about it, suggested that they train in the more open portion of the Castle Inner Garden.

Elincia needed no further invitation.

Not a half hour after Ike first made the suggestion, the two faced each other armed with wooden training swords. Ike, inevitably, wore his traditional Mercenary garb, the wind teasing at his red cloak and headband. Elincia had donned her armor and had tied her hair back into a tight, functional bun. Elincia had forsworn using her Pegasus for these duels; it would've taken too long to tack up and move the beast into place, and Elincia felt she ought to be prepared to fight on foot if need be.

Peace had settled over Crimea, but the country had learned that the quickest way to lose peace was to take it for granted.

Ike, Elincia knew, was far too strong for her to overpower but she did have the advantage of agility which could win her the day. Ike, however, was clearly aware of this as well. Whenever Elincia's blade sought to thrust through some perceived gap in his defense, his training sword would whirl to smack her blade away with a frustrating thunk. And, to couple one frustration with another, Ike was swift to retaliate. His blows were powerful, Elincia could only guide them away from her or dodge them before skittering to one side to try and strike before Ike could react. In a burst of energy, she leapt to the side, ducking under a slice from Ike, launched herself into a forward roll and regained her feet to lunge at Ike's back.

Or, at least, it was /isupposedi to be Ike's back.

Ike had apparently deduced her intent and had whirled to meet her, but he'd been a split second too slow to bring up his sword. Elincia, her momentum too great to stop her lunge, could only brace herself as she crashed into Ike's broad form. Ike gasped at the impact and staggered back a few paces but did not falter, his hands catching hold of Elincia. Flushed from both the exertion and the impact, Elincia could only let out a breath of relief which was quickly choked away when she noticed the minute distance between her and Ike's faces. One of the pair, Elincia could not recall whom specifically, crossed that distance and their lips met.

In an instant, their duel was forgotten. The training swords clattered to the ground from hands that had sprung open to caress perspiring flesh while arms snaked about shoulders and backs to press their forms tighter against each other. Their hands roamed one another's faces, exploring the slick flesh of their cheeks and the airy strands of their hair. Elincia, in an act of daring that surprised her more than it did Ike, thrust her tongue across the threshold of their melded lips, exploring his mouth and letting her taste buds be overwhelmed by him. Ike was only too quick to reciprocate.

It had been one of those far too rare moments when the two of them could be alone, could be themselves and could be together without the grave responsibilities dangling over them threatening to despoil the moment. However, the newly engaged couple was far less alone than their blissful dispositions led them to believe. The myriad corridors connecting Castle Crimea's keep to the outer walls and towers were still under repair and thus the foot traffic between these structures had been diverted into the Castle Garden.

And, those forced to take this detour had quite an amusing sight to behold, making the delay much easier to tolerate./i

(Elincia, present)

"That was...," Elincia murmured, trying vainly to cover her reddening face. "That was entirely accidental."

"Really?" Lucia asked, somewhat skeptically. "I myself would've thought that you and Ike would be...rather spontaneous in your affections."

This too, the furiously blushing Elincia could not contest. After nearly three years of being so close and yet so far away from Ike, finally having him had caused her arduously smothered feelings for him to roar to life. His presence in her bedchambers, though hardly intercourse, had overwhelmed her senses and set her blood afire with a passion beyond any of the spectacular fantasies she'd had of what it would be like if he stayed. The texture of his sun kissed face, the scratching of his rough stubble, the feel of his well muscled form against hers washed over her in a sea of passionate affection that drowned out the rest of the world and left her craving more.

Craving more and wanting to go further.

It still startled her that she and Ike could so easily lose themselves in the presence of one another, as their near-miss in her bedchambers had shown. In fact, it was perhaps for the best that Lucia came in before they could get out of control. The thought of what might've happened otherwise still hovered about Elincia, teasing at her thoughts the way Ike had teased at her cheeks with his hands. Though the indelibly modest Ike was likely oblivious to the effect he had on her, Elincia was well aware of it.

It was frightening.

It was exciting.

It was irresistible.

"And, also-," Lucia began once more before Elincia cut her off.

"Alright, alright!" Elincia groused. "You've made your point. I suppose I have been...less-than-restrained with Ike."

That was a bit of an understatement and she knew it. Still, it was not something she could help and, in truth, she wouldn't have even if she could. More than the warmth of Ike's overwhelming compassion and the eruptions of passion in her own being that finally and forever melted the frost of dread that had once chilled her inside and out, the moments they stole from the Reconstruction and courtly affairs to be together had gifted her with both a vitality and contentment for which there was truly no parallel.

After years of her being secreted away like some jewel or other bauble to avoid a possible blood feud and months spent keeping afloat the unstable ship of state while he had spent nearly three years leading troops into battle and cutting down men by the hundreds to end a war he could just as easily have avoided altogether...after so much pain and sacrifice, their time together had offered them a chance to get something back.

And, after today, the bonds they'd forged so long ago would be made eternal.

She was shaken back to the present when she heard the door burst open. She turned in time to see an indigo blur barrel into her, nearly knocking her clean off her feet, and felt two arms envelop her in a tight hug. Elincia hardly needed to look to see who it was; after all the time they'd spent together, she'd know Mist anywhere.

Elincia pulled back from their embrace to look over her future sister-in-law. Mist, rather like Elincia herself, looked a touch self-conscious in her formal garb. Ike's younger sister had chosen to wear an indigo dress, of a color and style she'd said her mother had been fond of. The dress sported a low neckline, offering a hint of Mist's burgeoning bosom, as well as exposing a portion of the back. Elbow length gloves enshrouded her forearms, toned from her time as a Mercenary and yet still retaining a feminine shapeliness. Finally, her conspicuously longer brown hair was coiled into an elegant braid, secured by an ivory hair-clip styled after a butterfly, while two loose tendrils framed her delicate face.

As Elincia had noted during the Festival, Mist was no longer the tomboyish girl she'd met those nearly three years ago. Elegantly dressed, her face and hair immaculately made up, she looked like a mature, regal young woman.

A young woman who made her living riding horses and killing Bandits with her sword.

Inwardly snickering at the idiosyncrasy, Elincia noted a detail that caught her eye. In the place long occupied by Lehran's Medallion, was another amulet. This one, however, was styled after a nesting Serenes Heron suspended from her neck on a silvery chain. Mist idly fingered the amulet, allowing Elincia to see that it had a clasp on one side and tiny hinges on the other, which distinguished it as a locket.

"You look wonderful," Elincia complimented, eliciting a blush from Mist.

"Thank you Elincia," Mist replied, a smirk crossing her features. "And, you look incredible. Ike's jaw is going to hit the floor when he sees you."

"Along with everyone else's," Elincia quipped, her tone somewhere between amused and nervous. "I'm still worried that this dress is...inappropriate."

"Oh, don't be," Mist contradicted. "You look ravishing."

Elincia smiled, touched by Mist's unwavering kindness, though she was nonetheless hesitant to agree with her younger friend's assessment. She took another critical look at her reflection, again toying with the idea of covering her shoulders. Her train of thought was cut off when Mist clasped her hand.

"Don't worry," she reassured. "Ike loves you, he won't care about the dress."

Here, a wicked grin sliced across Mist's features and a low chuckle parted her lips.

"If he does," she began, muffled giggles punctuating her words, "it'll probably be because he'll want you even more."

"Mist!" Elincia gasped, shocked at the implication.

Mist's only response was to burst into laughter, summoning still more blood to Elincia's cheeks. Her blush, finally, faded when she realized something.

Ike had rescued her from the aftermath of her disastrous exodus on Capital Way.

Even after discovering she was a Princess, he did not treat her as a bauble or someone he could exploit for wealth.

He had been her friend, her confidant and her support in the dark days of the War, and had been more than willing to let her support him in turn.

He was a common Mercenary while she was the daughter of a King, yet he hadn't cared.

If Ike didn't care about the disparity in their ranks, why would a dress bother him?

And, perhaps, if he was so convinced that she was beautiful, maybe there was something to it.

"I suppose I should count myself fortunate," Elincia thought aloud. "The men in the Company probably teased Ike mercilessly about the wedding."

"Saying which, how are the in-laws?" Lucia asked, unable to suppress a smirk.

"Well," Mist began, "Shinon is still wondering why he has to come. Soren is likely reading in a corner somewhere. Gatrie's probably flirting with Astrid, and I think she actually likes him. Oscar is catching up with Tanith, I think she's going to visit the Fort for those cooking lessons Oscar promised her. Boyd's been spending a lot of time with Titania; I have no idea why since they've always been arguing about him slacking off. Ilyana's here for the food, but what else is new? Zihark is keeping her out of trouble. Mia, apparently, is the sort to cry at weddings and Rhys is trying to comfort her. As for Rolf..."

Here, Mist trailed off, once more idly fingering her Heron locket as her lips curved into a small smile.

"He gave you that, didn't he?" Elincia asked, already knowing the answer.

Mist nodded, her smile broadening.

"He can be such a sweetie at times," she replied. "I was worried about him during the War, afraid that he was turning hard. I actually tried to get him to stop joining in the battles, I was so worried then, but he wouldn't have it. We did talk it over though, and I think it did us both a lot of good. Neither of us really like the fighting, but it does feel good to be helping out the others instead of waiting at the Fort worrying about them."

"I'm glad, and I wish you two all the best," Elincia answered, finally getting a blush out of Mist. "By the way, how is Ike?"

"He's fine," Mist replied, her tone turning sly. "He misses you."

Elincia let out a breathy sigh as Mist worked to hold in another gale of laughter.

"I think he's having more trouble getting dressed for the wedding than you," Mist commented, still more laughter bubbling up.

"That reminds me," Lucia piped in. "I checked in his dressing room a minute ago, why does it smell like sea water in there?"

In an instant, Elincia's prior embarrassment was forgotten as Lucia's question summoned a fond memory that seemed so long ago; and yet which she recalled with such clarity that it may as well have happened yesterday. Even amidst the horrors of war, the long marches and the terrible battles, hints of light poked through the dark veil illuminating many tiny jewels of precious joy and laughter amidst the tumult of chaos and death.

And, it would seem that one of those jewels had been uncovered a second time.

Unable to defend against it, gales of laughter burst from Elincia's lips, promptly joined by Mist's giggles.

"On second thought," Lucia commented, largely to herself, "I don't want to know."

(Ike, present)

Ike was mad.

He rubbed at his hair with a heated towel, with a great deal more force than was required, hoping to dry out his hair as quickly as possible.

He was rather eager to be with Elincia, and to get away from the Royal Seamstress.

Ike had made acquaintance with the elderly, but still formidable woman who served as Royal Seamstress almost immediately upon the announcement of his engagement to Elincia. Or, she had made his acquaintance at her own insistence. Ike couldn't tell which. Either way, she'd made herself an inescapable presence during the days leading up to the wedding. At least once a day since then - at least - she'd ambush him and iinsist/i that he was needed for fitting. And, during these sessions, she'd employ a nonsensical number of pins and needles and seemed as if she were deliberately pricking him.

She denied anything of the sort but, forty eight pricks and a dozen rashes later, Ike didn't believe a word of it.

His most recent encounter with her had been the most trying on his, admittedly, limited patience. It had been that morning and - barred from seeing Elincia over some superstition about it being bad luck for brides and grooms to see each other before the wedding, and Ike himself being far too excited to sit and wait - he had elected to spar. Boyd, never one to turn down a spar, had joined him. In the middle of a devastating riposte, which would've sent Boyd flying across the Courtyard, Ike suddenly felt a hand twisting his ear in a very painful fashion.

He could literally feel the blood draining out of his face as his assailant identified herself.

After a rather screechy lecture about how he shouldn't be exerting himself so when he needed to be clean for the wedding, some very nearly screamed complaints about how difficult it was to find him, a rather high pitched reprimand about forcing an old woman to traipse about the Castle searching for him instead of him coming to her and some much too loud commentary about the need to finalize his clothing for the wedding, she had dragged him by the ear to the dressing room.

By the sound of it, Boyd had very nearly died of laughter at the sight.

Ike suspected the Royal Seamstress was finding his predicament amusing as well. After they'd reached the dressing room, and long before the pain in Ike's ear had subsided, she demanded that he disrobe. She also gave no indication of turning around.

"I've been married for forty five years, I have nine children and fifty grandchildren...at last count," she informed him, with a coyness he'd have expected out of a younger woman. "You don't have anything I haven't seen before."

Embarrassed, chagrined and liking the eccentric woman less and less by the minute, Ike reluctantly complied. He soon regretted it when the elderly woman very nearly hurled him into a tub of scalding hot water and began rubbing him down, so hard his skin still felt raw, with a coarse brush and soaps of such strong aroma that they made him gag.

Ike tried, with only partial success, to guide his mind away from his less-than-pleasant appointment with the Royal Seamstress.

Naturally, his mind wandered to Elincia.

The time Ike and Elincia had to be together since the Festival, despite the distressingly frequent interruptions, had been brief but happy. And, despite his dire predicament, recalling those moments caused the corners of Ike's mouth to turn upwards.

i(Ike, flashback)

Though Elincia was unaware of it, Ike had slipped into her bedchambers long before she had awoken and noticed him. After Ike had carried Elincia to the Royal Bedchambers, Lucia had appeared and coyly suggested that he reside in one of the Guest Chambers. She'd gone on to say that such was far preferable to hiking all the way back to the Mercenary Fort or the Inns within Melior - which were, assuredly, filled to bursting with people sleeping off the festivities of mere hours ago.

"After all," Lucia quipped, a sly undertone seeping into her voice, "you /iare/i going to be spending a lot of time here in the future."

What little fatigue Ike felt was swiftly forgotten at these words, his gaze snapping in Lucia's direction and his eyes bulging. Lucia's only response had been a sly smile and a joking reprimand for the newly engaged couple's neglecting to seek her out and share the happy news. Ike had been, more out of instinct than anything else, bracing himself for censure from Elincia's Courtier but found none in her mirthful features as they arrived at the Guest Chambers. Puzzled, but relieved, Ike returned her smile and fell into step behind her as she rounded the corner and opened a door of ornately carved oak.

The room, inevitably, was too lavish for Ike's liking. Marble pillars affixed with gold ornamentations lined the walls to support a high, vaulted ceiling from which dangled a gilded chandelier of elaborate craftsmanship. Tapestries depicting land and cityscapes of yesteryears lined the walls while a thick red carpet with a golden trim acted as a buffer against the chill of the stone floor. A well padded chair sat next to a small hearth while a bookcase, a dresser, a desk and a four-poster bed rounded out the opulent scene. Ike tried to keep a cringe from his features; he'd had experience with beds like the one he'd just been offered during his stay in Begnion. The goose feather mattresses seemed to behave like quicksand whenever he lay on one, prompting him to make his bedding on the floor.

"I know this isn't to your taste," Lucia spoke up, apparently having noted Ike's discomfiture.

"Don't worry, I've slept in worse," Ike replied, trying to figure out if he was referring to the mud puddles in the Sea of Trees, the quicksand like mattresses in Mainal Cathedral or the hammocks on Nasir's ship that occasionally dumped him to the deck.

Lucia nodded, her expression somewhere between relief and apology but still edged with mirth, while Ike made the most of his lodgings. The bed proved more bearable than Ike had expected, and he found himself doubting that Lucia guiding him here was coincidental. But, try though Ike did, he simply could not sleep that night. Joy and anxiety alike overwhelmed his fatigue and, before he could stop himself, he was already dressed and striding towards the Royal Bedchambers.

What he beheld upon entry stole his breath away.

Elincia was fast asleep, hardly surprising since she'd been dancing almost the entire night. Her brow was slick with perspiration; again, hardly surprising during such a hot summer. She slumbered on a handsome, four-poster bed that could easily accommodate five women her size, its curtains of emerald silk flung open and its heavy blue sheets enshrouding her in a range of azure mountains rising and falling with her breath.

The bed, however, was far less interesting than its occupant.

Even sound asleep and soaked with sweat from the humidity, Elincia looked radiant.

The exertion of the /iDemosthenei still colored her cheeks a wonderful scarlet and her hair, much longer out of its customary bun, cascaded to her waist in a waterfall of woven jade. The hints of dawn from the expansive window behind the bed painted her features with the colors of the sun, lending a nigh-angelic glow to her features. A small smile graced her lips, and Ike could not help but suspect that it had been brought about by the events of the previous evening.

After nearly two years of making her worry - and, perhaps, even making her cry - all without realizing it, it felt good to finally be making her happy instead.

Gazing down at her slumbering form, and aware that he'd soon be sharing this room with her if all went well, he let his eyes drink in her beauty. He'd always known, even when he'd found her unconscious on Capital Way so long ago, that she was beautiful; but, it was as if before he'd only seen her through fogged eyes.

Now, he was truly seeing her. Radiant. Happy. At peace. And, in love.

The two had been constant shadows to one another during the War, flittering before and behind each other as carnage and terror roiled around them. They had touched each other, for the briefest of instants, sharing each other's burdens and strengths that they might survive. They had spoken - whispers and rambling conversation, too often cut short by the relentless War - and yet those whispers had been clarion notes of hope and compassion amidst the trials and the tears. And, in those few touches and those few words, so much had passed between them. Sympathy, empathy, warmth, connection, dependence, respect, admiration, camaraderie, friendship and other convoluted emotions that neither could name haloed each shadow and, like the ambiguous half-light of dusk, it veiled what was burgeoning between the two of them for so long.

But, no longer.

Looking at her now - remembering what she'd gone through without his knowledge and what they'd committed themselves to mere hours ago - Ike could not help but wonder how he'd let so much time pass by when what mattered most to him had been so close at hand and waiting - ipiningi - for him.

He shook himself back to the present. His unwitting neglect had hurt her, had pained her greatly and needlessly, but she had recovered and forgiven him.

And, some inner voice told him that it was time that he forgave himself too.

Gently - very gently, so that his love would not be roused - he pulled the heavy sheets off of her. What was underneath surprised him. He'd long since known that Elincia was very shy and, even in this hot season, it struck him that she'd don nightwear that was so...minimal.

Not that he was complaining, of course.

He let his hand glide over her hip, the light red silk of her nightdress smooth and slick beneath his rough hand, feeling the delicate curve and the warmth of her flesh. Unable to defend against the impulse, and doubting he'd have fought it in any event, he leaned in kissed her on the cheek.

She stirred then, her bleary golden orbs fluttering open. She saw him, her smile broadened, and life was perfect.

At least, it was until Lucia barged in./i

(Ike, present)

"Let me guess," a familiar and loathed voice quipped, shaking Ike out of his reminiscence. "You're getting impatient for the big night."

Ike's eyes, which had drooped shut, shot open. Much to his dismay, he was still in the tub of scalding water with the eccentric Royal Seamstress scrubbing him down in an agonizing fashion. Ike still felt warm; and, he knew it wasn't from the water.

He also knew that, given both the nature of his thoughts and the nuances of the male anatomy, that that warmth traveled to...troublesome places.

A quick glance downward confirmed the worst, obviating what had prompted the Royal Seamstress' discourteous question. Blushing right to the tops of his ears, Ike crossed his legs and seethed.

"Oh, come now!" the eccentric woman chided. "You think this is the first time I've seen a young man having it bad for a young woman. Oh, no. Quite the opposite, in fact. Why, I could tell you stories."

So saying, the Royal Seamstress went into a torturously long and obscenely detailed account of the many, imany/i romantic escapades of herself, her children and of those of her grandchildren old enough to take an interest in the opposite sex. By the time she'd finished an account of her twenty seventh granddaughter's first boyfriend, who also happened to be dating her thirteenth and twenty first granddaughters, Ike was convinced that the rest of the copiously large family was as bad as the Royal Seamstress herself.

When she went into another account about a clearly unfortunate girl in the dire predicament of having the simultaneous attentions of ten of her grandsons, Ike decided to once more direct his thoughts elsewhere.

And, again, 'elsewhere' meant Elincia.

i(Ike, flashback)

As Ike and Elincia reluctantly separated from their kiss, after Lucia had ambushed them for the second time that morning, the absence of her warmth against his form chilled him like the Daein winter. Though neither of them had spoken of it before now - though they had purposefully avoided discussing it during the blissful events of the previous evening and of mere moments ago - both knew this moment had been approaching. Ike had even been planning for it and, he suspected, Elincia had too.

But that hadn't made it any less daunting.

The two of them left the Bedchambers, Elincia volunteering to go first and ensure there was no one lurking in the corridors to spy them and leap to the wrong conclusions. Seeing no one in the corridor, Ike followed and the couple strode to the Council Hall, Lucia preceding them by some distance. There was, as Lucia had informed them after cutting short their rendezvous for the second time, a meeting of the Council scheduled for that morning. Geoffrey had already left for the Officer Exchange Program, Reginald's goldsmith friend had not yet arrived yet to determine the currency exchange rate and the motions for the troop redeployments and the food trade had already been approved and sealed. Thus, this Council Meeting was likely to be less-than-eventful. It would, the newly engaged couple hoped, be the right time to inform the Council of their intent to wed.

That, however, was not a meeting that he'd been looking forward too.

Though Ike was no less determined to marry Elincia, a determination he could see reflected in her sharply focused gaze, he held no illusions about who it was that he'd be talking to. In Mainal Cathedral, when he'd presented Elincia to Sanaki, the Apostle had made it quite clear what people like her, and them, thought of people like him.

/i"Hmm...," Sanaki had snorted derisively, seemingly unimpressed with Ike's vouch for Elincia's character. "If someone of...proper standing made that pronouncement, I would accept it as irrefutable proof. But you... You're a commoner. You have no surname, no documented linage...You have nothing. I know commoners. They are poor. For a price, they will support any lie, no matter how outlandish."i

Ike felt his blood boil with rage as if lava had been poured into the still fresh wounds from the battle in which he and his Mercenaries had saved the haughty Apostle's life. When he learned that the entire display had been a sham, a diversion for Sanaki's own amusement, Ike had just about exploded.

Though the two of them had made an effort to reconcile - after Ike had seen the Apostle's more honorable side in her taking responsibility for the Serenes Massacre and Sanaki having been impressed by Ike's aid in rescuing Reyson and Leanne - Ike could not keep his eyes from narrowing nor his jaw from clenching whenever Sanaki came into view.

The Council, he suspected, would regard his entreaty to marry Elincia with even greater disdain and condescension.

Ike could bear their laughter and their thumbing their noses at him, and would do so gladly for Elincia, but he knew that a repeat performance of the incident with Sanaki would not help his case, and might even drive a wedge between Elincia and the rest of her fragile government.

And, though he could bear it if he had to, the prospect of having those pompous aristocrats staring down their noses at him was hardly a pleasing prospect.

He could hear their derisive snorts already, and that imagined sound sent blood pounding in his ears like thunder. He could see their sneers as well, and the illusionary sight made his fists clench until the leather of his gloves squealed in protest.

A hand clasped his shoulder and, with shocking suddenness, his anger was snuffed out like a candle.

"Don't worry," Elincia reassured, obviously catching his thought. "I have faith that the Council will see that you're a man of honor; everyone who knows you knows that. If they can't see past the difference of birth, it's their loss. And, I pity them for it."

As was often the case, Elincia seemed to radiate compassion and the gaze she fixed upon him was patient and understanding. The grimace which had been etched into Ike's face at the prospect of the impending meeting slowly smoothed away.

Ike let his gaze drift in the direction of the Council Hall, the ornate double doors opening wide to admit Lucia and then snapping shut like jaws. He shook off the unpleasant imagery and, arduously suppressing his hot sentiments regarding who he was about to meet, pondered the impending conference. Since rebuilding houses and hunting Ashnard Loyalists had always seemed more important to Ike then reading reports to a room full of bureaucrats, this was rather difficult.

And, this uncertainty only added to the frustration burgeoning at the prospect of their reaction.

Forcing away the image, Ike willed himself to calm down, to clear his mind of presumptions, and thought over what he knew about the Council members.

Geoffrey, he knew, was on his way to Gallia and would not participate in this deliberation. Which was just as well; it was doubtful Geoffrey would condone something so unheard-of as a common Mercenary marrying a Queen.

Lucia would be there and, Ike suspected, she would readily support them. After having calmed down after discovering Ike and Elincia in their questionable position that morning, Lucia had whispered in his ear that she wanted him to take good care of Elincia. And, this Ike would do.

Bastian would be present as well, though Ike found the loquacious Count a hard man to decipher. His thespian speech, naturally, contributed to that. Bastian, however, had seen Ike's worth first hand during the War and, hopefully, that would count for something.

Silok, like most young men, was hard to predict. Even younger at heart than he was in body, Silok was eager to be of help and even more so to ingratiate himself with his elders. Ike had only spoken to him once, but Silok had seemed very nearly admiring.

Reginald and Ike had met a few times the War, and Reginald clearly thought highly of Ike. And, since Reginald was born a peasant and granted a title, like Ike himself, it might conjure feelings of empathy in the flirtatious Lord.

Gervain, also, was difficult to predict since he was such a quiet man. Still, Ike doubted Gervain would be inclined to do him any favors. The incident at Port Toha during the War - which Ike had triggered by blowing their cover in his attempt to rescue Ranulf from the mob - had been a source of great embarrassment for Gervain and Toha as a whole.

Caldaur was another likely source of support. Caldaur was a regular client of the Greil Mercenaries, before and after the War, and was known to praise them glowingly for their efforts and skill.

And, finally, there was La Roche. From what Ike could tell, La Roche's foremost loyalty was to himself and, whichever way he decided, it would be the first step on a subtle plan which would end with him as the sole beneficiary.

This meant, assuming Ike's assessments were right, that five of the seven attending Council members might back him. That was more - a great deal more - than he would have ever expected; and, it occurred to him that maybe Elincia was right.

But, a final thunderclap of doubt resounded in his mind.

"And, if they still don't?" he asked, his voice unnaturally calm and controlled.

Elincia cupped his cheek with one hand, and Ike shivered at the contact. She favored him with that bright smile that he'd long since been powerless to resist and stood on her toes in an effort to look him straight in the eye.

"Then I'll be very disappointed in them," she answered simply. "And, it won't stop us in any event."

Ike's only reply had been a grin, which widened when Elincia leaned in and pecked him on the cheek. Ike, warmth flooding his veins, turned to face the door to the Council Hall. The Lion and Unicorn of the Crimean Royal Crest gracing the door stared back at him sightlessly as he drew in a long breath. Into himself, he drew his doubts, his anxieties and his lingering doubts about his chances for the Council's approval, of his future in Melior and of his ability to be the husband Elincia needed and deserved. It crested in his lungs, storm clouds of doubt roiling in the center of his being sliced by lightning bolts of anger.

Then, he exhaled and let it fountain out again. His doubts trailed away in the air and, calm and determined, he opened the door.

The doors creaked in protest, like the jaw of a predator gaping wide to devour its prey, but Ike pressed forward. As he and Elincia crossed the threshold and the doors boomed shut behind them, he knew there was no turning back.

Stealing his nerve and setting his shoulders, Ike surveyed the chamber. Easily dominating the room was an enormous round table of gleaming redwood surrounded by a crescent of well padded oak chairs that curved about the circumference to meet three burnished, throne-like chairs. The largest chair, most likely King Ramon's, was ornately decorated with gold while the flanking thrones, probably the Queen and Duke Renning's seats, were slightly smaller and wrought in silver. The three thrones and more than half of the Council Members' chairs were empty, their prior occupants either slain or having gone missing during Ashnard's brief dominion over Crimea, and an air of mourning seemed to permeate the room at the loss.

And yet, beneath that mourning and loss was...something else.

The air seemed to hum with a hidden energy, waiting to be unleashed. Perhaps it was the sense of relief and subdued astonishment that, for all the carnage and terror Ashnard had sown, Crimea had survived. Maybe it was the impossible mingling of pride and humility summoned by the vigor and determination that so many had shown in the quest to restore the country to health. It might've been the thrill, the allure of finally creating the new world that King Ramon had envisioned and ushering in a new era for all of Tellius.

Echoes of the /iDemosthenei.

Ike glanced at Elincia out of the corner of his eye; their gazes met invisibly, and Ike felt his resolution grow stronger under her loving, golden eye.

Ike turned his attention to the Council Members themselves.

Lucia favored him with a well concealed smile of approval and a nearly invisible nod.

Bastian seemed deep in thought; though, whether this was over his latest bid for Lucia's affection or because he suspected Ike's intent, was impossible to say.

Silok was clearly excited, fidgeting in this chair and rubbing his palms eagerly as if awaiting a sizeable portion of his favorite dessert.

Reginald greeted Ike with a friendly smile and an acknowledging nod.

Gervain sat alone between two arcs of vacant Council Seats looking as pensive and dour as ever.

Caldaur was either finishing an amusing anecdote or enjoying a private joke, for he spent several seconds laughing heartily before noticing, and warmly acknowledging, Ike's presence.

La Roche was unreadable as always, his expression a cryptic, unblinking mask of calculation that caused Ike's ire to stir beneath the depths of his being.

Caineghis and Tanith stood on opposite sides of the table. The King of Lions moved to clap a hand on Ike's shoulder, his impressive array of fangs curving into the Laguz equivalent of a warm smile. If not for the bow she gave Elincia upon her entrance, Tanith could've been mistaken for a statue.

Not seeing any reproach at his presence, Ike discreetly let a sigh of relief escape him as he worked to compose his words.

"My countrymen," Ike began slowly, wondering if the simple address was an error then dismissing the thought. "I know that many of you have been wondering why I've stayed in Melior so long after the War ended. I know that I should've explained this sooner, I learned that last night. Well, it's a long story and I hate long stories."

Lucia and Caldaur snickered in response to Ike's pronouncement, Reginald rolled his eyes good naturedly and the rest did not react in any fashion Ike's eyes could discern.

"I suppose it began in Serenes Forest during the Treaty Signing two years ago," Ike continued. "I spent much of the night...reflecting. On the War, on what I'd done in it, on King Ramon's dream, on the chance the Treaty meant for all of us and...a few other things."

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the principal member of those 'other things' offer him a curve at the corner of the lip that hinted at an invisible smile.

"Before I entered Gallia, I had never even seen a Laguz," Ike admitted, remembering Shinon's amusement at learning of his ignorance. "In fact, I barely even knew the name. But, it didn't take me long to see that the Laguz distrusted the Beorc, and the other way around."

Ike recalled, all to clearly, Lethe's harsh words upon their first meeting and was only too aware of how lucky he was to have survived when he took the blow that the enraged Mordecai had meant for Soren. The tiger Laguz's claws had cloven into Ike's chest - thankfully shallow thanks to Ike's thick leather armor and Mordecai's reflexes - but, the scars were still faintly visible.

"I learned bits and pieces of the history between the races during the War," Ike went on. "A lot of mistakes had been made, on both sides, but most of them happened hundreds of years ago. For the longest time, I was puzzled and...I guess you could say disgusted, that there hadn't been any reconciliation; especially when it was clear what our people could accomplish together and how badly reconciliation was needed."

His thoughts migrated with his words to the very signs he'd witnessed of how possible, and how very attainable, reconciliation was.

Caineghis' friendship with his father, and later with Ike and Mist.

Jill's desire to learn the truth, which led to the improbable bond of respect she shared to this day with Lethe.

The repentant Sanaki pleading for forgiveness from Reyson and Leanne and her plea being accepted, however reluctantly.

And even Ike's own, admittedly foolhardy, effort to rescue Ranulf from the mob at Port Toha.

"That's why what King Ramon and Duke Renning tried to do, died to do, touched me," Ike continued. "I often wondered how and why they decided to make peace with the Laguz. I don't know but, at the Treaty Signing, I couldn't help but feel that I was watching their dream, and something wonderful, come to life. And, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wanted to be a part of that dream; that I wanted to make that dream real."

Here, Ike took a moment to pause. He'd spoken for much longer than he'd intended - an uncommon occurrence, given the value he attached to directness - and excitement and breathlessness alike left him lightheaded with anticipation. But, to his relief and surprise, the Council Members gave no sign of wanting to expel the long winded commoner from the room.

In fact, some of them looked impressed.

Ike was slightly startled when he felt something gently squeeze his right hand but then, his fingertips brushed against familiar, finely boned fingers and a certain ring.

Out of the corner of his eye, he spied Elincia giving him a discreet but warm smile. And, seeing that smile summoned another one, equally secret and warm, to his features as well.

Suddenly, he didn't care whether or not the Council found him worthy, because /ishei found him worthy.

He was shaken back to the present when one of the Council Members replied, and was shaken anew when the words registered.

"It would be an honor to welcome you to the Council, if that is your wish," Caldaur had spoken, gesturing to the nearest vacant chair in a welcoming fashion. "A man of your skill, dedication and knowledge of the Laguz would a priceless asset to this assembly. Besides, it not as if we're lacking for vacancies."

"Heck, another /iNoveau Richei might help keep the rest of us honest," Reginald agreed with a chuckle, then rose to pull back the chair Caldaur had indicated in a clear invitation for Ike to be seated.

By some incredible feat of self-control, Ike prevented his face from betraying his astonishment.

Had he heard them right?

Had his ears deceived him?

'A priceless asset?'

'Keeping them honest?'

He was still bewildered that none had tried to jeer him, or hurl him, from the room as the Begnion Senators had done - and now they had offered him a seat at their Council?

Granted, that was not what he came here for, but the gesture - and the undertone of trust and respect with which it had been offered - struck Ike nonetheless. And, profoundly.

Again, he spied Elincia out of the corner of his eye. Was that a hint of smugness creeping into her small smile?

Maybe, but it was about time he got to the point and said what needed to be said.

"Thank you, your words mean a lot to me, but that is not my intent," Ike began again, noting several eyebrows arching at his words. "You see, that night in Serenes during the Treaty Signing, I realized something else. Something which means a great deal to me; even more than being a part of the reconciliation between the Beorc and Laguz."

Boldness seizing him, Ike turned to face Elincia. Not out of the corner of his eye, but fully and directly. This time, he made no attempt to conceal the emotions which crested in his heart. She didn't either. Storm blue eyes met those of gold, and each shone with a warmth and affection that no onlooker could hope to misinterpret.

"I realized that I am in love with Elincia," he finished, feeling a tinge of liberation from the simple act of calling her by name, and in public.

Ike then turned back to face the Council, his earlier boldness now tempered into his well known, and unbreakable, determination.

"I grew up as a Mercenary, and for a long time, that was all I knew," Ike went on. "For the longest time, all I wanted was to become as good a Mercenary as my father and prove that I could lead his Company. But, after learning what I did during the War, I found myself wondering if my destiny might be different than I thought. Not long after the Treaty Signing, I made up my mind. I am going to embrace this new destiny. I did so last night at the Festival, by asking Elincia to marry me."

Ike spent a stretching second scanning the expressions of the Council Members, seeking some hint of their reactions to his, admittedly, startling pronouncement. Strangely, there wasn't much. Lucia gave him a friendly wink - so quickly, he almost missed it - while Silok's eyes widened and his jaw parted in a gaping expression that might've signaled either mere surprise or indignation. The reaction of the others were either confined to the lifting of an eyebrow or were small enough that they escaped Ike's eyes completely. Ike's mouth compressed into a grim, thin line, uncertain and more than a little puzzled that the miniature thunderstorm of protest he'd expected hadn't appeared. Taking care to wipe any hint of this puzzlement from his face, he continued.

"I know what I've told you must be a surprise," he continued, all too conscious of the magnitude of the understatement. "You don't have to tell me that I was born a commoner, title or not; I know that already. And, you don't have to tell me that what I've set myself to do in unheard-of; I know that too. But, all of you know who I am, what I've done and what I can do. You admitted this when you offered me a chair at this Council. You know who I am. All I'm asking is that you judge me, and my request, by that rather than my birth."

Ike felt a familiar, finely bones hand gently clasp his shoulder, accompanied by an equally familiar warmth that eased Ike's mind and lightened his heart. And, when Elincia spoke, his whole being swelled with joy.

"It's a small enough thing to ask after all he's done for Crimea," she declared, resolution and adoration ringing clearly in her tone.

Ike gave her his rakish smile, to which she replied with a smile as radiant as a sunrise, and then turned to face the Council Members once more. But, one Council Member seized his attention with an iron grip.

Though Ike had only just noticed, La Roche had been eyeing him intently for some time. And, that interest made Ike suddenly wary, his wariness growing all the more when La Roche's face took on an expression reminiscent of a snake eyeing its prey.

"I must confess, your courage impresses me," La Roche admitted, though Ike did not believe a word of it. "But, one thing yet confuses me; you told us that you had resolved to embrace this 'new destiny' nearly two years ago. Yet, you asked for our Queen's hand only last night?"

An echo of Ike's earlier doubts sounded in his breastbone. Yet - where it had once been a thunderstorm of anxiety and rage, directed both outward and inward - it was now little more than a breeze that passed across Ike's face without causing so much as a change of expression.

Ike met La Roche's stare evenly, and thought he detected a hint of umbrage in the other man's face at having failed to rattle the young Mercenary. Then, Ike continued.

"I wanted to make sure that the Greil Mercenaries and my sister were in good hands before I left," he went on, his tone turning flat and grim. "And, there was a lot to do, with the Reconstruction and hunting down Ashnard's remaining forces. I wanted to set as much of it to rights as I could before I moved on. I underestimated how much there was to do and how long it would take. I always thought I'd be able to finish it quickly and then tell Elincia how I felt afterwards. I was wrong."

Even as he spoke the words, memories began to stir. He saw again the anguish on Elincia's face the previous evening. Anguish he had caused, however unwittingly, through his long neglect. But, once again, Ike's indomitable will allowed nothing to sap his strength nor overcome his resolve.

Elincia, apparently sharing his sentiments, spoke once more.

"Ike and I have discussed this matter privately, and I have forgiven him," she intoned with calm determination.

For a long moment, La Roche's unblinking eyes seemed to drift between Ike and Elincia, as if he was probing a rival for weaknesses...which, given his penchant for political maneuvering, probably wasn't far from the truth. Apparently finding nothing he could readily exploit, La Roche's lips twisted slightly in a near-invisible grimace.

Then, he decided to change tactics.

His ever calculating gaze shifted first to Caineghis and then Tanith, both of whom yet flanked the Council table and neither of whom had spoken. The barest hint of a smirk flashed across La Roche's features as his eyes came to rest upon Caineghis.

"Your Majesty," La Roche addressed with, at least to Ike's ears, a blandly polite tone which carried undercurrents of false respect. "Surely you have much to say in response to this...announcement?"

"Indeed, I do," Caineghis replied.

So saying, the King of Lions strode towards the couple. His gait was slow and smooth, in contrast to his hulking frame, and yet firm and strong as though a mountain were walking. One clawed hand gripped Ike's shoulder while the other found Elincia's. Then, a curious light shone in the King of Lions' eyes which Ike had never seen there before.

Ike realized, blankly astonished, that Caineghis was crying.

Well, as close to it as the fearsome King of Lions was likely to get.

Still, the paternal warmth and delight radiating off of him as he embraced the couple was unmistakable.

"It is with a glad heart and much joy that I offer my approval of this union," Caineghis declared. "And, I wish you both every happiness."

Ike's attention was so arrested by this gesture from the Laguz who had been his father's friend, and Ike's, that he almost failed to notice La Roche. The conniving Count looked...displeased at this setback. But, La Roche recovered quickly and turned to Tanith.

"Lady Tanith," he entreated, his tone still blandly polite but with a hint of anxiety. "You are here as a representative of the Apostle of Begnion, to oversee this country's restoration. And, for that, we are grateful."

Even Ike, who was hardly savvy in the intricate double speech known as politics, could detect the hint of dishonesty that painted La Roche's every word.

"Surely, however, the Apostle you represent would not stand for this...union?" La Roche concluded, a hint of smugness replacing his concealed anxiety.

Even under the barrage of astonishment that had paraded in front of her - Ike being offered a seat at the Council, Ike and Elincia declaring their intent to wed and Caineghis being very nearly moved to tears at this news, and all in the span of a few minutes - Tanith's expression had changed very little. The only indication that Tanith had even witnessed what was going on was that her eyes had widened slightly and her eyebrows had been steadily migrating into her bangs. This was hardly surprising, since she was known to be as calm as a stone unless riled up by an inept subordinate.

Curiously, Ike sensed neither revulsion nor even shock in Tanith's minute change of expression. If anything, her gaze hinted at...realization.

"How curious," Tanith murmured, seemingly talking to herself. "Before I was dispatched by the Empress, she told me something which I did not understand. She told me she was expecting you to make some sort of, as she put it, long overdue announcement. She did not say what manner of announcement, only that I would know it when I saw it. She also instructed me to relay her endorsement. And, her congratulations."

Ike could not help a low chuckle and a shake of his head at this realization. He suspected that Sephiran had a hand in Sanaki's approval; and Ike had still another reason to thank the enigmatic Prime Minister.

Once Ike had recovered from this surprise, his peripheral vision found La Roche once more. Ike was hardly a vindictive man, but he found La Roche's expression in reply to this second defeat to be simply priceless. For a delightful fraction of a second, La Roche's jaw hung open and his eyes bulged in unrestrained astonishment. Then, it twisted in an equally uncharacteristic, unblinking glare of brooding intensity which belied a blazing hatred and the promise of retaliation.

Ike didn't care; in fact, he barely even noticed.

His senses were instead overwhelmed with what was unfolding before him.

He had entered the Council Hall minutes ago, though it felt like hours, expecting the worst. He'd half expected to have been jeered out of the room some time ago. He'd been bracing himself for a long and painstaking clash with people cut from the same cloth as the haughty, arrogant Begnion Senators.

He'd expected a decidedly unpleasant conference with a room full of people who would never respect him.

He'd been nonetheless prepared to clash with them, to bear or deflect their taunts and condescension, even if he doubted it would change their view of him. He would do that and more to be with Elincia.

And yet, he didn't have to.

He already had their respect. He'd had it, he realized, for some time now and yet he had overlooked it. Or, perhaps, he had seen hints of this surprising truth, but simply had not allowed himself to believe it.

A gentle squeeze at his hand shook him back to the present. Once again, his large, calloused hand was clasped by a smaller, more delicate one. Warmth, of both affection and familiarity, flooded into his arm and then channeled upward to spread over the rest of his burly form until he felt as if immersed in a hot spring. That finely boned hand led to a shapely forearm, which his gaze climbed to behold a pair of lambent eyes set in a delicate, flawless face which belonged to his true love.

Her red lips curved in a sly smile which betrayed a hint of smugness, but one which belied delight to match that which sang in his very being.

"I motion for an immediate vote on this matter," Lucia declared, shaking the couple back to wakefulness. "The Item for Consideration is the endorsement of the union between Lord Ike and Queen Elincia. All in favor?"

Lucia's hand rose before she'd even finished her sentence.

Bastian's hand followed suit a split-second later.

Grinning - so broadly that Ike expected his face to split open at any moment - Caulder assented as well.

Reginald, mouthing something to the effect of 'you're doomed' to Ike, also raised his hand in approval.

Silok's hand shot up, so violently that the young Marquis was nearly carried out of his chair by his own motion.

Gervain, to Ike's surprised, assented as well.

"All opposed?" Lucia inquired, her tone betraying her confidence that the results were already clear.

The six hands which had been raised in approval - approval for a common Mercenary to marry a /iQueeni - lowered as a single hand rose in disapproval. Unsurprisingly, that hand belonged to La Roche. If the conniving Count was at all perturbed at being alone in opposition, then he hid it well. Contrary to his veiled indignation at finding neither Caineghis nor Tanith amenable to his line of thinking, he had now assumed his customary expression of calm thoughtfulness as he quietly surveyed everyone in the room to discern what secrets he could learn. And, exploit. Ike might've been worried about what was going through La Roche's mind, especially considering La Roche's reputation as an intelligent and consummate schemer.

But, at that moment, Ike simply did not care.

Realization seeped into his flesh, as warm and uplifting as if sunlight had been poured into his veins. As what had happened dawned on him - that the Council had completely defied his grim expectations and supported his bid for Elincia's hand - his whole face lit up with a broad beaming grin that threatened to take in his ears. His arm sought Elincia's waist while her arms snaked about his broad from and her chin came to rest on his breastbone. Ike's eyes met hers as she smiled up at him and, in those lambent orbs, he saw the fullness of their customary luminescence which he recalled from wonderful moments in times past.

When they'd wandered together in Port Toha as she took in the sights of a world she'd only read about in books to the moment he'd asked for her hand, her golden orbs had glowed with wonderment and happiness.

Her eyes were now alight with pure, uncomplicated joy and, knowing that he had helped bring that smile to her face, Ike finally felt as if he had accomplished something which merited the near-stifling praise and accolades people insisted on heaping upon him.

Ike was not a vain man, by any stretch of the imagination. Quite the opposite in fact. Ike almost habitually considered the lavish praise he received as outweighing his accomplishments, and thus was quick to deflect such acclaims towards others whom he believed deserved it more than he. But, after finally bringing such a smile to Elincia's face - finally making her happy after unwittingly hurting her so deeply, and for so long - made him feel ten feet tall.

When Lucia spoke again, Ike heard her but his eyes never strayed from those of his love.

"The tally is six ayes and one nay," Lucia declared, with sufficient flare to compensate for the redundancy of the announcement. "The ayes have it!"

Ike was dimly aware of cheering coming from the direction of the Council table, but he only had eyes for his beloved Queen.

"Well?" Lucia piped up petulantly. "Kiss her, you dullard!"

Ike needed no further invitation.

He swooped in, the minute distance between their faces vanishing in an instant, and their lips met.

And, for a precious instant, life was perfect./i

(Ike, present)

That precious instant, however, ended quite abruptly when the vicious and violent force of nature known as the Royal Seamstress made herself known by upending a pail of scalding water over Ike's head. Ike seethed under her 'care' and decided that the wedding ceremony could not come soon enough.

(End)

Falchion1984: *somewhere near normal, but popping a pierogi between every other word* You would not believe the trouble I had with that confrontation between Ike and the Council. It kept me stuck for the longest time and I eventually just had to roll the dice on it. I do hope it satisfies. Also, I know that we didn't hear why Ike's room (and, presumably Ike himself) smelled like sea water, but that'll change soon.

Mist: *smiles innocently*

Falchion1984: Hint, hint?

Ranulf: I wasn't in the chapter?

Falchion1984: Trust me on this, you'll be ieverywhere/i in the next few chapters. Also, Ike getting the Council's approval might have seemed too easy but keep in mind that the Council isn't even half of its proper size. Those seats iwill/i fill up eventually, and their future occupants might not be as cooperative. On a side note, iNoveau Riche/i means 'new money,' and is often used to denote people who earned a fortune rather than inheriting it. I plan for this to come into play, and to be of considerable importance, later on. Well, I hope to cover the wedding in the next few chapters. I've also been toying with the idea of writing one of those 100 themes stories and posting a Ike+Elincia post-RD fic I wrote as an experiment a ways back. Feel free to weigh in on that. Anyhow, please review!