Disclaimer: I do not make money off of Fire Emblem.
Summary: FE6,7. One-shot. Fifteen years later, Hector and Eliwood find that the world they face now is no simpler than the one they faced in their youth.
Pairings: Like ghosts.
Rating: T for themes.
Notes: Hasha no Tsurugi is amazingly annoying in terms of the original characters, but it's also pretty useful as a guideline for worldbuilding... (Basically, game canon overrides manga canon in my fic-verse, but I'm starting to try to incorporate a bit of manga canon as well.)
More extensive notes will be located at the LiveJournal community wariskind (probably posted tomorrow), where I'm trying to migrate my Elibe-verse fic due to various reasons.
Boats Against the Current
"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter -- tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther... And one fine morning -- So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
After the usual pleasantries had been exchanged and their children had run off together in excited chatter, the two lords of Lycia fell into an easy banter. Though many years had passed since they last met, and time had changed both their countenances, they had corresponded as often as their respective duties would allow (it had been Marquess Ostia's wife who came up with the idea of hiring pegasus riders from her native Ilia as couriers over the usual horseback messengers, allowing for greater frequency in their interaction despite the distance that lay between them), and picked up the thread of their friendship as easily as if they had parted only yesterday. But all too soon, a messenger interrupted them, announcing the arrival of Marquess Tania and his family. Hector grumbled, of course, while Eliwood chuckled at his expense, but in the end Marquess Ostia relented, leaving his friend reluctantly to greet the various arriving nobles of the Lycian League. Eliwood meanwhile permitted a servant to show him to the guest quarters, where, feeling a sudden onset of weariness, he retired for a much needed rest after his long journey from Pherae. Some time afterwards, his son came bounding into the room, brimming with smiles and laughter, telling him eagerly about his new friend and her sturdy little pony, and mightn't he have one too, Father? Eliwood, smiling at the boy's enthusiasm, could not help but agree.
It was not until much later that night, after the sumptuous welcoming banquet, after the procession of familiar old faces and the greetings of old acquaintances, after their children were soundly asleep and most of the other guests had turned in as well, that Eliwood had another chance to speak with his friend in private.
Hector, already waiting, hailed him as he approached the crumbling, mossy fountain in the courtyard through which they had often raced as boys, so long ago.
"Here," said Hector, grinning widely as he poured out two cups of a fine dark wine. "From my brother's old store."
Hector's long-deceased brother had been a great connoisseur of wine, importing many fine vintages from Etruria. Still, Eliwood hesitated. He had already had a few drinks over the course of the night, and he had no doubt that Hector had had just as many, if not more. But in the end, he accepted it, and on sudden impulse, raised his cup.
"To our memories," he said.
"To our memories," Hector echoed, and downed his share.
For some time they did not speak, listening instead to the quiet trickle of water and the faint stirring of the late summer breeze.
"Did you see Erik earlier?" said Hector at last, shaking off the mantle of stillness in a vague, abrupt gesture.
"I did. He's been doing quite well for himself, hasn't he?"
"As much of a slimy bastard as ever, that one. I caught him trying to kiss up to my cousin earlier. If only I had been fast enough to reach them and give him a piece of my mind!"
"You have to give him some credit, my friend. Thria and Laus are close neighbors, after all. It can only be to their benefit to be on good terms."
"Pah. Myself, I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him."
"You have a long memory."
"That I do. But I suppose I must be thankful that he hasn't been badgering Lanward of Worde instead. The poor man's an utterly soft-hearted fool."
"Like you?" Hector shot a mock glare at him, and Eliwood laughed. "But truly, oh one-of-long-memory, surely you remember as well how Laus was on the verge of collapse. Yet look at them now! Truly a force to be contended with." He added then, more solemnly, "It can't have been easy, stepping into his father's shoes while recovering from those injuries you gave him."
"No easier than it has been for either of us."
"Yes," said Eliwood, and slowly brought his refilled cup to his lips. "I suppose you're right."
"You are -- doing well, I presume," said Hector. "You've raised a fine boy, that Roy of yours."
"All thanks to my mother," replied Eliwood. "Your Lilina as well. She's a sweet child. Though I still say she takes after her mother."
"Hmph. And I still say it's me she takes after. Though I'll grant you that I wish she would be a sight bolder with strangers sometimes..."
"Her shyness is endearing, if you ask me," offered Eliwood.
"Yes. Yes... But it'll do no good when she grows up to be Marchioness someday."
"There's plenty of time yet. Don't get too far ahead of yourself, now, Hector."
"Yeah, yeah." A pause. "I only wish -- her mother were still here. A girl needs a good woman in her life."
"I understand," Eliwood said softly. "There are times I --" He set down his cup, hoping that his sleeves obscured the faint trembling of his arm, and ran his fingers absently through the glimmering water of the fountain. "It seems as if it were all just a dream. A brief but beautiful dream. And yet, and yet -- Sometimes, I swear, Hector, I still see her. Her hair fanning out in the darkness, a flash of silver in the sunlight, the distant tinkling of bells -- And then I hear my boy laughing. And when I look up, and see him running about, playing with the other children -- all of a sudden it hits me. It was real. It was real. It wasn't a dream."
"Yeah," said Hector. "I never realized just how much she meant to me -- until one day, she's gone. And all she's left behind are me and our young daughter. And hell -- hell if I had any clue how to raise a damn kid on my own. I've no idea how my brother managed it, when our parents died."
"Could've asked Serra for help."
"Thank Elimine I didn't! Like hell I would let my Lilina fall under the influence of that crazy minx!" But there was no rancor in his tone. "Luckily she was too busy keeping poor Oswin running around at her beck and call to meddle anyway."
Eliwood chuckled. Another wave of exhaustion came over him, but he simply bit back his yawn and drew his robes tighter. "Twenty-five years, it's been."
"Your father and my father were still alive. And the lot of us, just a bunch of dumb kids."
"And we swore an oath, an ancient oath, as our fathers and our forefathers before us and all the lords of Lycia of past and present did. That though we may be divided in peacetime, when need arose we would come together as one."
"Much good that it did us."
"It'll be different this time. It has to be."
"Perhaps," said Hector. Then he said, "You know, my brother was a brilliant man. But I don't think I ever knew just how much. Not until I took his place. He was a canny one, my brother, both on the battlefield and off. And you know me, Eliwood. Fighting's all I know. All that scheming and conniving -- I've no patience for it. What was I to do? I can't tell you how many times that question plagued me. But she -- she always had an answer for me."
"Shy little Florina? Really?"
"Timid she might have been, Eliwood, but you -- you didn't know her. Not as I did. I don't know how to explain it, but she knew people. Maybe it was because she was so quiet. So... unremarkable, so forgettable, to everyone else. She saw things that no one else did. That no one else could. But now -- she's gone. Matthew's gone. That information on Bern -- it came at a price. A price too steep, perhaps, but what's done is done. And Oswin, he's a good man, but we're both the same. Men of spear and axe and sword. I'm surrounded by ambitious fools and greedy cowards. Not a bone of sincerity among them. You know as well as I do the current situation between Olst and Ragna. Laus -- Laus is close enough that Erik is bound to butt in, sooner or later. And Araphen and Caelin haven't been on good terms for years, not even after Lyn left. And they're not the only ones... The only reason I called for the renewal of the oaths this year was because it was the only choice I had left. You say it'll be different this time -- I wish I could believe it. But I can't. I've seen too much -- of everything that drove my brother to his early death. I don't know who or what to believe anymore. There's no one I can trust. No one but you, Eliwood."
"Hector..." Eliwood shivered, involuntarily. His chest clenched in pain, but he fought to ignore it. "I am too willing to believe in the good of humanity, perhaps. I know this. And yet I must believe it. That despite all the bickering, all the petty power struggles... that there is still a way for all of us to work together towards a world of peace. A foolish dream. I know. But I must believe."
"The League has been splintering for generations, since long before our time. I often wonder if we were ever unified... Not since Roland's time, I reckon. But we were a kingdom then, united under the banner of a single king. Things are different now, Eliwood. Roland is long dead, and there'll not be another man like him. Not in our lifetimes. And man is a selfish creature, out only for his own gain. The League has become little more than a name, empty and corrupted. If it was ever even more than that."
"That is why we must work from within. We must work to change it. For the sake of our children, you said, Hector. Remember what the Archsage said. There is hope. There must be hope. But hope can only flourish if we nourish it, rather than letting it flounder and suffocate in a harsh world. I know what a single person can do. I have seen it with my own two eyes..."
"But Eliwood," said Hector, his deep, booming voice uncharacteristically gentle. "We are only human. And eternity is beyond our grasp. Remember Nergal. Remember his doom."
"She was human too," Eliwood murmured.
"I know, my friend. I know."
They fell then to silence, neither uneasy nor unforgiving, but weighted with years upon years.
At last Eliwood said, "It will be a busy few days."
"Indeed," said Hector. "And you and I, I think, are in dire need of some rest if we are to survive all the useless squabbling that is sure to take over all the proceedings from now on."
Eliwood could only nod weakly in agreement. He was tired. So tired.
"Eliwood? You okay? You look pale. Come to think of it, you haven't looked well all evening --"
He tried to nod again, but then the pain grabbed hold of him, and he choked. Violent coughs wracked his frame. He doubled over, mind clouding, deaf to his friend's frantic exclamations. Only when the coughs began to subside and he began to regain control over his own body did he look up and see Hector kneeling before him, his face a mixture of fury and something else he could not name.
"Eliwood, you -- You!"
Eliwood wiped the blood surreptitiously from his mouth. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
"How long -- Damn it, how long --?"
"A few months," he admitted. "But recently, it's been getting worse."
"My brother, my wife -- now you! Damn it! And you come out here like this, drinking the night away with me like a damned fool --"
Eliwood forced out a laugh. "A damned fool indeed, my friend."
"Tell me, Eliwood. Tell me this, at least. How long were you -- how long were you planning to keep this from me?"
"Forgive me," said Eliwood. "I was going to tell you. As soon as things settled down."
Hector swore again, but the crazed look in his eyes had faded into something darker, more impenetrable.
"Hector... Please. Don't let anyone else know of this. Least of all my son... I want him to have a chance to grow up normally. Without the shadow of duty and responsibility looming over him. Especially in times like these -- I can't afford to let anyone else see me like this."
Hector turned away, refusing to look at him, but Eliwood could sense that his friend's anger was no longer directed at him, nor indeed at anyone specific, save perhaps himself.
"Damn it, Eliwood," he said, his voice low and gruff and startlingly exposed. "You'd better not go before me."
Eliwood stood slowly and walked over until they were face to face once more. "I won't, Hector," he said solemnly. "You have my word."
Behind them, dawn broke, a gray, crisp morning teetering on the edge between summer and autumn, not unlike another, long ago morning, when the world had seemed wondrous and new and yet ominous and pensive all at once. The two lords exchanged a glance. Then Hector put an arm around Eliwood's shoulder -- an old, familiar gesture -- and together they strolled back through the courtyard, back down the long, colonnaded corridors and into the castle.
Years later, Roy would recall, like old friends, the various nooks and crannies of the castle that had swiftly become a second home to him; the restless, indefatigable curiosity of childhood; the burbling water of an old fountain and itchy tangles of shrubbery; the cold imposing stone of the columns and the walls. And he would remember that image seared forever into his heart: two backs retreating into the distance from his child's vantage point, bearing the imprints of greater men.