Summary: She's his dead teacher's daughter, nothing more. The guilt is how he feels otherwise, and the softness how he breaks. Haar-centric, Haar/Jill, OC (I never write OCs, what.), loads of other characters like Tanith, Ike, Sothe, etc, hints of various other pairings, set from the end of FE9 to post-FE10.

Years. This took years to write. And consequently ended up being way too long. Geh. So I guess the moral of the story is – don't write 9,000 word fics and leave them sitting for a couple years, or something. Figuring out the resolution took too long gah keyboard smash. Is it bad when you can't believe in happy endings but have to consider writing them? And Haar's probably angstier than he is in canon. I...angstify anyone and everyone, what can I say.

…I don't know how this got so long. So, er. Moving along.


in this coarse tapestry unwinding

The funny thing about a war is, you never seem to remember there's an end to it.

He was hacking down a lance general when he heard a tremendous crash, and the feeling that shot down his spine as he saw the enormous steed of Ashnard topple to the ground told him it was all over. All of it.

He was impressed, but not surprised. A little tired; sleepy. When was he ever anything but sleepy?

Jill leapt off her wyvern and hugged him – lightly – and the celebrations went on for countless days and nights.

-l-

"Mr. Haar – "

"Hm?"

"About what you said before…starting a wyvern courier service…"

"Huh, you still remember?"

"I wouldn't forget something like that! What do you - "

"Then let's start in Crimea."

" – huh?"

"Right now, Begnion is Begnion, and Daein, well. Crimea seems like the best bet, in more ways than one."

"…"

"What, you'd rather go somewhere else?"

"No, no, your idea is good. I was just…thinking about Daein. How everything was a lie."

"Mmn."

"…Crimea will be a better place. Even as we speak, as reconstruction begins, they're helping to ease beorc-laguz prejudice here. People are starting to really see the laguz and learn that they're not monsters. Maybe one day, Daein will get there, but until then…"

"…"

"…"

"Then when we're done helping with reconstruction, we can begin somewhere here."

"Yes."

-l-

(and it's possible, yes, to believe it began here.)

-l-

"Mr. Haar – "

He sighed from where he stood on the scaffolding. "Stop calling me that, Jill."

"I – what?"

"It's awkward. I'm not your superior any more. We've been in Crimea for a year."

She spluttered. "But it's not – "

"We're about to start a courier service together. Will you be my subordinate, or my business partner? And mind you, the former isn't possible."

"But – it's not – "

"Jill, I think we've been comrades long enough. You don't have to demerit yourself in front of me."

(it reminds me too much of a time when: Captain – Commander – it has been an honor - )

"It's still not respectful enough."

"So with your other friends, you're not respectful enough?"

She stopped. "It's not like that. None of them were my former captain."

"Was, Jill. Was. Former. Used to be. You've hit the nail on the head."

(we've left some things behind; let's not go back.)

She gave him an indecipherable look before turning away. "Haar, then."

He took in a breath, let go of three. "Sounds good to me."

-l-

("Captain Haar!"

He turns. "What is it?"

The soldier's face is flushed red, breath coming and going in ebbing gasps and eyes glinting with a sign of bad news. "It's Captain Jon, sir. We…he and half of his squad were sent to the frontlines to hold off the Begnion army division, but as the Crimean forces have since broken through the line, we believe that…in all likelihood, he is…"

Haar bows his head, sees tainted-gray snow. "I see. You're probably right."

"Captain Haar…"

He straightens. "He was a good man, Jon." He raises his right hand in a solemn solute.

So does the soldier. "Yes."

You can't help but lose good men in bad times.

He knows, but it never eases the strain when it happens.)

-l-

(or maybe it was this.)

-l-

Eventually, they settled into a routine of life. He slept, she got annoyed, they bickered; he took the long deliveries, she took the short routes, they hauled in a fairly good profit. They talked enough, but they didn't discuss most things that came before, and they were content to spend most of their time together in amicable silence.

Nice, short, peaceful. And that was fine with him.

After several seasons, Jill came to him one day with a sort of look in her eyes. One that told him he would definitely not be able to enjoy his usual nap.

He sighed, threw caution to the wind. "What, Jill?"

She fumbled for a moment before blurting out a question. "Have you ever thought about returning to Daein?"

Haar looked at her wearily with his one good eye. He knew what was coming.

"Well, have you?" she insisted.

"Hm. I haven't really thought about it."

"You mean you haven't thought about going back to our homeland at all?" If anything, her tone sounded slightly accusatory, taken aback.

"You know, your memories of Daein are probably fonder than mine are. And you probably have more of an affinity with the place. Me…I defected. Even your father was treated as an outsider like we all were, remember?"

Of course she remembered. She'd made him tell her a little about her father's actions in Talrega enough times.

"And your platoon defected from Begnion. Yes, I remember."

He felt something tugging at him. Her wistful melancholy must have been getting to him.

"But," she continued, "Daein will always be the only country that I can really call my own."

"Even after we've both defected? Even after Crimea graciously took us in?"

She knew he was playing devil's advocate now, and her eyes glinted slight steel and red.

He sighed. Again. "So, you want to move the business back there, is that what you're saying?"

Mouth half-open in attempting a retort, she merely stared at him for a moment instead.

The tugging feeling was starting to irritate him.

"Yes," she said. "I think we should."

"As long as you deal with all the details," he said with a yawn.

There was no mistaking how she seemed several shades brighter. "Thank you, Haar." And then with a lighter step she was gone, leaving him to what should have been a good time for some sleep. Except that the tugging feeling was taking its slow time to recede.

(you know what this means, don't you?)

Foolish, he thought, and closed his good eye.

-l-

("You ever wonder?"

"Wonder what," Haar replies with a yawn.

"If we're doing the right thing, fighting the good fight."

"Jon," and his one good eye flickers at the man – "we're soldiers."

"What, and that means we can't question our orders? Come on, Haar, I know you better than that."

"We're soldiers for Shiharam."

Jon sighs, and uncorks his flask. "No, I don't regret it. Every moment serving under him has been an honor, and you know we all feel that way."

"Then?"

He laughs without mirth. "Well, we're still soldiers – for Daein."

Silence.

"That was unavoidable too, wasn't it," the fellow captain mutters.

"Yeah."

A pause.

"To hell with countries," Jon says in that same tone, and takes a long, deep swig.)

-l-

True to her word, she took care of most of the details. Unfortunately, this meant that she expected him to do most of the heavy lifting, and consistently woke him up from his naps before pushing him to the next pile of whatever she wanted moved.

"You're a big girl, Jill, can't you do some of this yourself?" he sleepily replied.

"Are you my business partner like you said, or not?" she retorted.

Ah, the joys of living with a firebrand.

But things settled down when they settled in. He supposed it had something to do with how females got overly energetic about those sorts of things, and left it at that. Besides, she was always a little annoyed at him all the time anyway, if her hollering at him was any indication.

(Why was she annoyed at him though? That, he chose not to think about. Too much trouble, the female mind, that wasn't worth the effort.)

-l-

Such idle peace never lasts.

-l-

The box sat among the other ubiquitously perched parcels in the room, but her eyes zoned in on it all the same. "A package for an address in Nevassa?"

He didn't look up from the charts he was filling out. "Yep."

Silence, except for the scratching of his pen.

Haar sighed. "Well?"

Even without looking in her direction, he could tell she startled. "What?"

"If you want the run, take it. There are a few others posted for the area as well, and a few others a bit further towards the desert. Or else you can take the other load – " and here he turned and waved his hand at the other half of the package room – "and fly back and forth across Begnion."

She looked at him and knew that he knew about how she wanted to go back to the heartland of Daein, ever since the rumors of the foul Begnion occupation had reached their ears.

"I'll leave tomorrow," she said – no need for a thank you that was already implied, as in everything they did – and walked away, ostensibly to prepare.

Silence for a brief moment, before the pen-scratching echoed against the empty walls again.

"Guess that means I'll take the Begnion route," he said to the other boxes.

-l-

("So this is Daein, eh," Haar says to no one in particular.

Jon shrugs at his side. "It's just a place."

"So was Begnion."

"I guess that's true," the man replies, and the two of them lapse back into silence as they look at the ramshackle village, at the peasants looking back at them with unhidden distrust and dislike.

(Outsiders, they don't whisper, even as it sibilantly lines the streets and the sills.)

Haar knows that if they'd delved far back enough in Begnion, there would have been places like this. Places full of the uneducated, the impoverished, the poor. Places full of the prejudiced, the biased, the bigoted. Or neither or both.

The former is tragic. The latter is too common, and they never had to look far behind the lines to find it, back there. After all, it was why they left.

"Expecting something else?"

Haar blinks. "Hm?"

Jon gives him a strong look. He has sturdy, clear eyes, ones that are never clouded. "Were you expecting something else?"

"Not really. Like you said, it's just a place. And all places are the same."

(Except that Shiharam's now here, and they'd follow him farther than the ends of the earth. Daein or Begnion; the only difference is which one he's decided to stay in.)

Following with such loyalty, it means so much.)

-l-

It was quiet when she was gone.

He wasn't exactly complaining, and he wasn't really overjoyed. It was just…quiet. An observation. A state of being.

But, he reflected, it had always been quiet with her around, too. Jill wasn't exactly loud like some of the other soldiers back at base camp, and she kept to herself as well as he did. Just because they lived together didn't mean that they had to talk incessantly at each other about anything and everything with each other, and both of them knew it and lived comfortably by it. If they had to talk, they talked, and if they wanted to talk, they talked, and if they wanted to keep to themselves, they did.

So it wasn't really that things were quieter. And it wasn't really that it felt like something was missing, that the walls were even stiller than the usual. Nothing cheesy or ridiculous.

It might've been slightly emptier, maybe. He could admit to that. A house of only two with one of its occupants gone would naturally feel like that, wouldn't it.

He pushed away any other nagging thoughts, and in the late afternoon had to remind himself in the midst of preparing a frugal meal that there was only need for one plate, not two.

-l-

The next morning, Haar left for Begnion.

He took his time, getting where he needed to go, delivering packages when he wasn't napping. Sleep was the most important thing, after all. The parcels were second.

(but then there was loyalty, and trust, and faith, and people – )

When his run was almost finished, a week had passed and he still had a few small things addressed to places in Crimea. Jill would probably get mad at him for not waiting a day or two and returning to Daein first.

Oh well. He'd go, deliver the packages, and go back eventually. Maybe by then she'd have gone and done something against Begnion's Occupation Army as well, and would've finally simmered down.

When he sleeps, he doesn't think about how the best-laid plans often go awry.

-l-

(He's surprised, in a not-so-surprised way, to see the deputy commander of the Holy Guard at the door. With his things slung over his shoulder and his foot over the threshold, he doesn't shirk back, or show guilt. After all, what they're doing is right.

"Captain," she says.

"Deputy commander. What brings you here?"

She keeps her speech lofty and aloof. "We'd heard that a certain platoon was planning on defecting to Daein. Tonight. The Apostle bade me to look into the matter."

"Well, Commander, you can see whatever you see before you," he says, gesturing with his free hand. "Good informant network you have going on."

She glares at him, and a glare from her is always an intimidating thing. "Don't mock me, Haar."

"I'm merely stating the facts as they appear, Tanith."

A pause.

"So, what will your Apostle do?"

She closes her eyes. "The loss of the Fizzart platoon will be a tremendous loss for Begnion."

He blinks at her.

"Most especially for the Senate."

Understanding dawns. "Your Apostle is an understanding woman indeed."

Tanith says nothing.

"You always did seem happier, reporting to that girl. If only our superior wasn't Lekain, then…"

Silence.

"I guess we'll never know." Her expression's never anything but stern. "Take care. If you ever need anything, if any of your men need a safe berth, I'll see what I can do."

"It was great while it lasted, Tanith," he says in reply.

He hopes he'll never have to take her up on her offer, that they won't have to run back to the very place they're fleeing from.

But he knows a thing or two about the world.)

-l-

It was, by all standards, a pretty good day so far. He'd gotten through nearly all the stops he'd scheduled. He'd gotten to take several nice, long naps. His wyvern was flying calmly and steadily.

Then it gave a low, deep grumble and jerked forward, and Haar could say this was where his luck reversed.

First, he sighted Begnion dracoknights, which was never a good sign, and next he found himself accosted by Marcia, babbling something or another about how he really needed to help her defend Crimean skies and protect the Queen and the heron princess.

He'd tried his best to edge away, but her watery eyes and wavering tone were too much. Not that he was a sap – she was just dangerous when enraged, and he knew that mood wouldn't take too long to emerge if he'd kept refusing.

By the time he flew up to the actual battle – and really, did they even need his help, considering that Queen Elincia took down each Begnion soldier that came too close with only two strokes at the most, and no injury to herself? – he recognized the commanding Begnion officer all too well.

Might as well pay due respect.

"Well... If it isn't Zeffren. What brings the dracoknights into Crimean skies?"

The man's eyes bulged. "Haar?"

"Why couldn't you just stay on patrol? Saw a pretty little heron and just had to have her, is that it? I never could decide if you were more greedy or more corrupt. Stupid was never in question, though."

"Who do you think you are? You're a traitor, just like Shiharam! The dracoknights spit on your name!"

He paused.

(Traitor. Shiharam and the rest of them, traitors, eh.

But, after all, you left your country – you left your superiors –

- and for what?)

Was that how the senators spread the word? Not that it particularly ruffled him, the opinions of such windbags –

( - and he'd never regretted following his heart and forsaking 'his' country – )

- but…well, if he was here, he might as well take care of two things with one swing.

"...Do they now? Well, here's your chance to try the real thing."

-l-

("How does it feel?" Jon asks.

"Ask yourself. We're going to flee the Empire together," Haar says with a yawn.

There's a pause.

"So?"

"If I had to put it in a few words…" Jon takes his time, lazily drawing out each and every word. "Different. Exhilarating. And maybe…"

"Maybe?"

"Maybe we have a chance, this time around."

Weren't you always the optimist, Haar doesn't say; Jon hears it and laughs anyway.)

-l-

If he knew that helping out Marcia there meant getting dragged into all the civil unrest here, well, he'd have given it a fourth thought. Probably. Laziness trumped all, sometimes.

(So he somewhat thinks.)

He stood behind Queen Elincia, observing the strength of her soldiers and the skill of those who worked under her.

She looked off into the distance. "I really don't deserve them."

"Come on... Don't sell yourself short."

"What do you mean?"

"Loyalty isn't just a personal trait. Most of it hinges on who's calling the shots. What kind of commander you're under."

Her expression became warmer, understanding, knowing what was about to come.

When he started telling her about Shiharam, it felt too raw. Too soon. Following him felt like the most natural thing in the world…

But the Queen thanked him, and her expression was enough to remind him of so much. To break his heart.

-l-

(Fast-forward several months. Of fighting, and defending, and remembering –

- try hard enough and you'll see a flash of red –

- but not quite forgetting.)

-l-

The expectant silence was what woke him. His eyelid flickered rapidly as he ascertained who was walking towards him, before deciding to speak up. "You need something from me, fearless leader?"

Ike seemed unruffled all the same. "I thought you were asleep."

"Yeah, I was. Until you came within fifty paces of me…" He gave a huge yawn.

"Do you mind fighting alongside us?"

"I like it fine. As long as I can catch some sleep, I don't care where I am." He paused, looking calculatingly at Ike. "What can I do for you?"

"Ever since you joined us, I've been meaning to ask you about Jill. The last I'd heard, you were running some kind of delivery service with her. How did you end up passing through Crimea and then coming here?"

"I stopped to chew some fat during a delivery. That's all."

He didn't skip a beat. "How's Jill these days?"

Haar was beginning to wonder if the guy ever blinked, or ever looked anything but stoic as stone. Though he had all the respect in the world for him, right now… "Last I heard, she got mixed up with the army again, fighting for Daein's emancipation."

"I see." Now it was the commander's turn to give him an ascertaining look. "Don't you think you ought to go back to Daein and give her some support?"

His face was blank and his reply crisp, as though Ike had asked whether he preferred rain or clouds, flowers or ponies. "She's a big girl now. She doesn't need me always looking over her shoulder. Jill can do whatever she wants."

For the first time in the conversation, Haar thought he saw a flicker of something pass across the commander's face. "I don't understand. I thought you two were... You know. Living under the same roof and all."

Sympathy? Confusion? Nostalgia?

Hell if he knew. But he didn't like it.

(stop asking me questions; stop asking – )

"She's the daughter of my dead teacher. Nothing more." He sighed without a sound, turning away. "Hey, if you don't want me hanging around, feel free to just say so, all right?"

Could the man have looked more scrutinizing, even with such a passive face? "No, it isn't like that. You're great on the battlefield. I appreciate you being here."

"Good. I like your mercenary group. They're laid back, and we have the same goal: crushing the empire."

"That's true."

(And that's all that's important, he reminds himself. Only that and nothing more.)

"Anyhow, is that all? I'm gonna nap until we deploy. Don't wake me up until then."

"All right."

Drifting off again took some time. The way Ike looked at him in that moment really got to him, and he didn't know why. Didn't want to know why, either.

He just wanted to sleep. Wasn't that simple enough?

-l-

(and that was the calm before the storm, churning waters and all - )

-l-

It had always been in the back of his mind, the thought of which friends he'd encounter when their force finally faced the Daein Army. But still, he hadn't been expecting it. It was one thing to imagine an acquaintance on the other side of the battlefield, but more than another to clash lances there.

Thus, when he saw the telltale streak of red that could only have meant her, he dropped his weapon.

So did she.

(Jill.)

"Sir Haar! Why are you fighting for these people?"

He kept from sounding too indignant. "Hey, you stole my question! Why are you fighting in the Daein army?"

"There was a war to liberate Daein while you were gone. So I joined the army again."

"Well, it looks like you did a good job. Daein has been liberated. So why are you still with the army?"

She glared at him. "I can't just leave! These people are my friends!"

"Oh, stop with the sentimental nonsense, Jill. In case you haven't noticed, you're fighting your friends, too."

"What about you, then? How did you end up in this fight?"

"Well..." All he could see was her angry face challenging him, and it wasn't helping. "Somehow, I got mixed up in putting down uprisings in Crimea. And then I ended up with the Laguz Alliance because...you know, being old friends with Ike and all that."

"What? That is hardly a cause worth fighting for! You're unbelievable!"

He felt like yawning. Sometimes, the girl was just too tiring. "All right, enough debating. What do you want to do now? Do you want to fight me?"

She looked stunned. "Of course not! I could never..."

"Then join me."

From shock to anger; her face was like a kaleidoscope of emotions, he thought; a tangle of colors vividly jumbled and mixed. "Easy for you to say!"

"You're full of doubt. How do you live like that all the time? Is that how your father wanted you to live? Afraid to trust your own instincts?"

"But..."

He didn't mean to sound so harsh. Except that he did. "Daein has no business in this war. You know that, right?"

"But..." and here she appeared genuinely torn, "What about my comrades? What about my friends?"

He pointed at the slaughter around them. "Is dying how you show loyalty? If you're really their friend, then fight alongside us! Maybe that will get them to think about what they're doing."

"Oh, Captain..."

He looked her in the eye. "Come with me, Jill. We both know that we should follow our hearts, even if it makes us traitors. We know that better than anyone."

(To have defected from your country not once, but twice!

- You'd throw it all away for a single man that you follow? Idiocy!

- The dracoknights spit on your name!)

"For the sake of your father, live your life without shame."

"…You're right, Captain Haar. I've been so foolish. Just as before. I would be proud to serve with you. And..."

(she looks at him, and it could be his undoing – )

"Captain Haar? Thank you. Thank you so much..."

He turned away, and picked up his lance.

-l-

(And perhaps it's now that everything begins to change – as they always have.)

-l-

Past the aftermath of the battle, as Commander Ike is making his rounds, he sees the two of them standing together and says, merely, "It's good to have you back."

Mist comes running then and wraps her arms around Jill, who fiercely hugs her back. They promise to spend a bit of their downtime together catching up. Girl talk and all that.

Lethe walks by, and then notices. Jill stops as well, and the look that they give each other is indiscernible, filled with something like water and blood. "Lethe – I – I'm sorry, what we did – "

"Jill."

She says it with such finality that the girl startles.

"…I'm glad you're back with us."

And Jill then smiles in a way that's so relieved and happy and utterly –

(yes, like all youngsters in a situation like this. you can't help but feel for them, think that all the better moments are so beautiful. Isn't that it.)

Jill walks with Haar, and they don't really say much of anything. They pitch their tents for the night, they get their evening meals, and they tuck in for the day. It's quiet between them, just like it always had been. All the old habits.

(he thinks, maybe he missed it, this quiet. just maybe.)

-l-

(He walked in to find Jon's belongings all packed away, and the man himself cleaning his lance in this room as though it'd be his last time doing so, here.

Jon didn't look up. "I know we're leaving tomorrow, but I felt like getting ahead."

Haar thought back to three nights ago, when they had all convened under General Shiharam. "It's not like they'll be after our heads."

"Right away."

"Right. That's what I meant."

His friend shrugged. "It's not as though we have much to take with us."

That, Haar could agree with; the most precious thing to him was something that he would always have with him, wherever he'd be.

But all he said was, "Yeah, well. We're soldiers. This is what we do.")

-l-

The fact that they fall into the same during-a-war mannerisms and habits that they had in the past almost lulls him into thinking that everything's the same.

It's his sharp, prickly instincts that tell him otherwise. Not that he knows just what it is – he's never been good when it comes to mushy, ephemeral things like this – but it's something that nags, nags, nags. When she gives him one of those looks that she thinks he can't see. When the air in the tent feels a little heavier. When he can't fall asleep like the usual because that feeling just won't go away.

Meanwhile, all of their old comrades look so glad to see them, especially the two of them together, because oh we were always worried, if any of us were to cross steel on the battlefield, but now we're all together – and then to him, separately, and isn't it good that you're together again, that you don't have to worry about her when she's out on the other side by herself –

The others would prefer that they fought next to the people they were closest to, he knows. So that they can protect them, be there for them, whatever it is. But he doesn't panic like that when it comes to Jill. She's a big girl, after all; she's proved time and time again that she can hold her own in a fight. He doesn't really get why he has to concern himself over her. Yes, Shiharam's daughter and all, but – isn't that just more proof that she'd be fine?

(no need to get all defensive, why do you think – )

He doesn't like it, how she's blurring the one thing that had rooted him before.

He needs to stay rooted.

He avoids people for the first few days, feigning sleep whenever they approach and remembering the need to take slow, deep breaths. Or even, to breathe.

-l-

It's a typical battle, and they're used to this dance. Both of them are synchronized in their movements without needing predetermined coordination, and he knows he can rely on her. It's good enough.

(and then.)

He's headed in one direction and she in another, and before he knows it the synchronicity is gone and he turns and – "Jill! Behind you!" – and she reflexively ducks, barely avoiding the blow before cutting the attacking pegasus knight down.

"Thanks, Haar," she yells breathlessly, continuing to whirl around in her dizzying red circle of steel.

He frowns, hacks away at another poor swordsman.

When it's over, he says, "You should've been more careful."

The cheerful, brisk expression fades from her face, and what would have been more positive words from her mouth morph into, "Well, I'm sorry. Captain."

"And since when did you start calling me Captain again? Haven't we gone over this before?" he says with a hint of frustration.

She shrugs. "Does it matter?"

"It's – " He doesn't like that look on her face. "Fine. No, you're right, it doesn't matter. Whatever you want, Jill."

Her lips press into a hard line. "Then Captain it is."

"It doesn't matter what you call me, if you can't even protect yourself out there as well as I remember."

(dead men tell no tales. dead men don't mean anything.)

"Well then, Captain. I guess I'm just going to go and train some more, if you'll excuse me."

Her long ponytail whips around like an angry lash in her wake, and he's left rubbing his temple and wondering where the hell did that come from.

Scratch that; why had he snapped in the first place?

Forget blurry. Forget confusing, forget inexplicable. She's making everything complicated.

And that, he can't stand.

-l-

(The people loved them. The military – the real military – they all loved them.

But they worked for the senators, effectively enforcing their rules; they worked for the sake of the corrupted in their ivory towers, effectively supporting their crimes – and this they could not love.

"Damned government, always making things complicated," Jon grumbled.

Haar more than agreed, and waited. Surely it had to end. Surely Shiharam would have the answer.

Surely.

The peace had ended long before; there was nothing else to wait for save the killing blow.)

-l-

When he emerges from his tent, Ike's idling a few offhand feet way, but the way he's sharply standing can only mean one thing.

"Hello, Commander," he says.

"Hello," Ike replies. He never really smiles much, but Haar already knows that.

"Checking up on your troops again?" he says, casually, warily.

"You know me too well, don't you."

There's silence for a moment; evidently, Ike's waiting for him to speak first. And he's waiting for Ike to say something because maybe there's a chance that this isn't what he thinks it's about. Which would be really great.

So he says nothing.

Ike sighs. "Mist has been with her since last night."

"What?"

"With Jill. I think she eventually managed to calm down."

Ah, the unwanted topic.

"Is that so." Calm down? Was it that bad?

Ike's gaze is blue and piercing, but the man says nothing.

Haar doesn't quite manage to prevent "it's not really something you need to be concerned about" from reaching his lips, but at least he manages to tack on a "Commander" at the end. The habit helped. He's a man of habit, after all. He just lets things happen as they always do.

Something twitches at the corner of Ike's mouth and darkens in his blue eyes –

- something that to him seems, he understands

- but all the man says is, "You're right, it's not my business. What is my business is how this affects battles. You and Jill are two of our most capable fliers, not to mention two of our most experienced soldiers in the entire army. You work well together as a team, and Soren's plans take advantage of that, especially when we need guerilla strikes. So, you're putting me in a position where I do have to care."

Ike doesn't say how he already cares anyway, at a level of empathy and concern uncharacteristic of most commanders alone, but Haar already knows.

Damn.

Haar sighs. "You know how these things can be, Commander. Jill just…got a little hot-headed about something that I still don't understand. It's just…that thing, with women…"

(girls, he reminds himself. Jill's just a girl who's Shiharam's daughter who's just his dead teacher's daughter and nothing more. It's just that.)

Ike's slight twitch is becoming a telltale tell. "Complicated."

"Yes."

"I can tell it's complicated," he backtracks, correcting himself.

"That too," Haar mutters.

A pause.

"Talk to her," Ike says. "You'll have to either way, eventually."

("I can't," he doesn't say, doesn't allude to his own situation and how it's impossible for him.)

Haar sighs.

"Take it as an order of sorts," Ike replies, and walks away.

To say that Haar really doesn't like this is a bit of an understatement, but obediently he goes.

Damn his luck for always following those kinds of leaders.

-l-

So he finds her outside their tent that night. And apologizes.

"If something's wrong, you should tell me," he says.

She doesn't quite look him in the eye.

"Okay," she says back.

And things are fixed with brutal efficiency yet again.

-l-

("Injured?" Haar asked, seeing some of the bandages wrapped around his friend's shoulder.

"Slight scratch, no big deal. You should see the other guy," Jon said with a wink.

"Well, that's what you always say; how am I to know?" Haar laughed.

"Really though," and here Jon got back to all seriousness, gingerly climbing off his wyvern, "These skirmishes are ridiculous. I don't know why Daein keeps pushing, why Begnion lets them, or why any of us are fighting."

"I could give you a lecture, but I'm no scholar," Haar said.

"Yeah, well. This is no war, either. If only we just…really hit those squadrons hard, just once. These pointless fights are a waste."

"Well, the next time you see those senators, be sure to tell them that."

"Haaa. The high-and-mighty can't solve anything – in the end, it'll always be up to us," Jon said, with a weird sort of finality to it.

"Maybe.")

-l-

Under Sanaki, the Empire will no longer be that Empire he's always known; Elincia always had the capacity to lead Crimea; Daein is set to emerge from another charred history as something different and new. Sometimes there are fairytale endings that lead to golden years of peace.

The war is over, after all. Just like that.

(It's always been the background noise to everything else for Haar, though. Even when they were alone in the world and fighting through golden warriors and ascending the tower to topple a tyrannical goddess. So…thus it ended. Thus it ends.

And he has nothing left to drown the rest out.)

It's past the aftermath, past the coronations and commencements; it's simply a meeting between comrades of the war, before they all move on.

Micaiah – Queen Micaiah of Daein, as it were – cedes Talrega, to Jill.

"My lady, I…I don't know what to say," the girl sputters.

And the queen smiles. Her golden eyes make her look otherworldly in this moment, as though she is the goddess and not merely its voice. "Take the land, and make it prosper again."

He's leaning against a pillar a few meters back, Sothe at his side. They just sort of listen to the females talk, until Sothe speaks up. "So, what are you doing here on out?"

He shrugs. "Back to Daein, I suppose. To Jill's hometown. It's not like I have anywhere I miss enough to go back to."

"So, you and Jill…?"

"No. What?"

The boy – yes, he can still call him a boy, for he's green-eyed and ready to spout off wisdom he needs a few years more to actually obtain, and he and Micaiah just fell into place without much drama once they got their bearings, and Haar's not being paranoid about this at all – Sothe just has that all-knowing look on his face. He does.

"Well. Talrega could use a duke, as well as the duchess."

Haar is beginning to hate that look; he sees it far too often now. "No such thing."

"But you're going with her, right?" That one's a given. "I mean, with how you two are with…well, each other, then…well, aren't you…?"

"Sorry, but we're not like you and the Queen, here."

Sothe's face tinges with color. "For Micaiah, the kingdom will accept anything now. In Talrega, I'm sure they'll accept more."

That's not what I meant, he wants to say, but he decides that valor's the better part of giving up, or something brilliant like that. Because no matter what he says, no one seems to get it.

(perhaps, not even himself.)

-l-

"You're fine with this?" he asks Jill.

"Yes. What's there not to be fine with?" she replies.

And maybe that's not sadness and a hint of something else in her eyes.

-l-

Everything's so calm and fine that it just gives him a feeling of unease.

Settling in Talrega goes by fine. Learning to live without a lance again also goes by fine. Meeting new faces every day, going through the introductions and getting that look when Jill explains that no, they're not – annoying, but fine, everything's fine. They settle into a routine at home and they help everyone out in the village and really, it's all fine. Peaceful and calm. And fine.

He's at the age where he's not quite young and she's at the age where she still quite is, and he can't help but think that they're surrounded by an air of expectations. Half of it from her.

It makes him tense up, kind of the way a sky without birds made him inwardly steel himself for battle, before. Except this time, he has no weapon, no skill that would serve him well. He's defenseless.

It's the worst way to be prepared for something quickly coming, from which there's no escape.

-l-

"Hey, Haar."

"Hm?" He looks up from his not-quite-a-nap – she would've known, of course.

Jill is uncharacteristically silent, as if she doesn't know how to put something into words. "You like it here, don't you?"

"Yeah, I remember missing the old place a little. I like it just fine."

"And our living arrangement?"

"It's been a month," he replies dryly. "You'd know by now if something was wrong."

Her expression doesn't go away.

"Out with it, Jill. What's wrong?"

She's quiet. "Nothing."

He's unimpressed with blatant lies.

"I just feel like something's…" She looks at him for a long, long moment, and he tries his best to look impassive. With an eye patch, one would think it'd be a little easier.

She shakes her head. "Maybe…it's nothing. Sorry."

Well, now he knows it's not nothing, but then…no, there's that warning sign again. Better to leave it be.

He thinks back, to his old, dead comrades. What would you do? What would you tell me to do?

No response, no imagined thought-pretend answers. Not even ones he wouldn't like.

-l-

Hell, he thinks sometimes. There aren't even any clichéd points of drama stirring around them, but he's not imagining all of this.

He likes the status quo. Things work as they are now; if so, why try to change things? Why try to tip the boat?

-l-

("Sometimes, I really love this place."

"Are you drunk," Haar asked, "Or is there another reason you're so ecstatic so early in the day?"

"You're such a killjoy." Jon laughed. "You need to loosen up. Just, you know, not with the whole falling asleep whenever and wherever thing."

"Ha, ha."

"But no, I really do, sometimes. Think that Begnion is just…where else would we rather be? And I guess I'm kind of glad I feel this way right now, because…"

Haar waited.

"You ever feel like things are going all pristine and perfect, and in reality that's the calm before the storm?"

"Not really, but I get it."

"Well…" Jon paused, stared out at the bird-less sky. "I get this feeling, that it's coming. You'll see what I mean then.")

-l-

And Haar knew. He knew things would build up to this. Yet this retrospective knowledge doesn't prepare him enough.

It's a normal day, like every other day. And it's supposed to be a normal squabble of theirs, just like every other squabble. Except it's not.

They're yelling at each other, maybe about the town, maybe about how everything's "just fine," maybe about everything else – and her voice collapses, like she's given up. "Haar."

He shakes his head again, lets his blank, one-eyed countenance do the speaking for him; what he hopes are gruff lines and a stern frown.

"I don't understand. I know there's something wrong. It's not going right between us any more. You know you can tell me anything, so why…?"

He still refuses to look at her. He can't look down because he knows he'll be met with eyes that are far too deep and clear, so he looks up. He never realized how speckled with dust the ceiling was before now.

"Haar!"

"I can hear you just fine," he snaps in reflex.

The blood drains from her face, and she looks so deathly pale. "Why…why do you always do this?"

"This. 'This.' It would be great," he snaps," if this 'this' thing was clarified."

"You're such an idiot," she says in the kind of harsh whisper that promises tears to come – that tone he hates, hates, hates, especially when females use it – and it only makes him more annoyed.

"Because I don't understand your use of pronouns. Of course."

"Because you keep ignoring this!" she shouts, and there really are tears in the corners of her eyes now.

"Oh, great. You're going to unload some sappy bullshit on me. That's really going to make things clear."

She takes a breath and gives him that slow, pointed look of hers.

(and despite it all, he can't look away - )

"You just have to make me say it, don't you? Fine."

It's as though she's gathering up the last of what she has, with that face she's making. It's riveting, and he's cursing himself again and again for it.

"I love you, Haar."

He can't and won't. This. Everything. But this doesn't shock him as much as it should.

"I've loved you ever since the end of the Mad King's War. And you know, you might be an idiot, but you're not stupid – I know you've known, one way or another, and you just…you…" She gnashes her teeth, having used up the last of her eloquence in the face of this. "Why do you have to be such a difficult man?"

He doesn't respond.

"Haar?"

She's angry now. But he's not trying to make it worse. He just can't think.

(you knew. you always, always knew. bitter fool, always denying.

Not true, that's not true –

of course it's true. it's just like you. what was the point, anyway?

She's Shiharam's daughter. It's just not right.

why would he, or she, or anyone be unhappy over such a thing?

I don't –

why the guilt? why the anguish? why the tying yourself to the past?

I – )

Red's flying in his line of sight, and he blinks.

"So you won't even say anything to me, is that it?"

He sighs, and tries really hard, so very hard. "Jill, just…look. You're a big girl – "

"And would you stop treating me like a child? "

" – a nice girl. And nice girls don't get mixed up with rusty, burned-out guys like me. So do yourself a favor, and just…"

"Just?"

"…forget about it. Stop."

Her short bark of a laugh cuts him disproportionately deeply. "Just forget about it? Just stop? When we've already been through everything we've been through? When we already live together? When we are what we are?" It was a laugh tinged with desperation now. "Our lives are already so intertwined that I don't know how we could forget about it, or 'stop.'" She takes a breath. "And I care about you too much to just…stop."

Well, now he feels wretched.

Her face looks like something ready to shatter and it's obvious that…well, he's not sure what's obvious, other than the fact that this is falling apart and what he's spent years carefully balancing seems to have been all for nothing.

Is she giving him an ultimatum?

"Look, Haar, I just…" and her voice goes whisper-soft, in a way that would unravel the finest of threads. "I would have left you alone if I thought… I mean, I wouldn't be saying this, if I felt that nothing was there, that I'm being unreasonable. That you weren't…"

He could complete her thought. That he wasn't being honest with himself. Did she deign to think that she knew how he thought?

(and even that burst of emotion faded when he realized that in all likelihood, maybe she could.)

"I need some time," he gritted out through his teeth.

And quickly, he left the house, before he could see her face again.

-l-

"Apologize to her," Commander Ike had said, back then.

Haar doesn't think it'll work this time, though. Brutal and efficient can't be used twice. But it's just…what he does. How he handles things. He likes things to be clean and clear. He likes things to be what they usually are. He doesn't know.

Did he know, though, about this? Probably. If he'd ever stopped to think about it. And honestly, being with her wouldn't…be bad, or anything. She's a pretty girl with a good head on her shoulders. They get along. They can live together. Life wouldn't be too different, probably. He'd be lying if he says he doesn't care about her well being. Or about her. It's an arrangement that'd work.

It would make her happy. Happier than this.

So, why…?

-l-

(This is not a dream.

"Jon," he says. His old friend looks the same, like nothing's changed.

"Hey, Haar. You look older." He laughs. "How've you been."

Everything feels so incredibly lucid right now. He wonders if this is a dream. "I get the feeling you already know."

"Yeah. Yeah, maybe I do." It's a sad smile he's wearing now, full of things Haar can't place. "You ever remember those days when little Jill came to join us during training?"

Haar feels a warning sign, a prickling sensation down his spine. "She's not so little any more, and she didn't really do much other than run around the field," he replies.

"Well, she could swing around a steel lance. Thought that was pretty good, you know." He paused. "And then a few years later she turned seventeen. Pretty much caught the eye of all our soldiers and then some."

"Hn."

"But, Shiharam's daughter and all that. He just laughed it off and said when the time came it'd come, and if she married one of his soldiers, well, who could he trust his daughter's life to even more. Remember?"

"Yeah, all these old ghost stories. Don't see why you're bringing them up."

Jon was unperturbed. "Ah, c'mon, Haar. You were always a sharp one. Don't be stupid now."

"Don't you whip out that 'dead teacher's daughter' thing on me, Jon."

He laughed. "Knew you'd know. So there's one piece of it. She's our dead teacher's daughter. Nothing more, you want to say, right? But tell me," and his voice lowers, "Why does it matter? If anything, if Shiharam were here, he'd bless the whole thing, I'd daresay."

Haar still said nothing.

"So it's not that." Pause. "It was never really that, was it."

His one eye narrowed, but he kept silent.

"I don't know what I can tell you, Haar. But we were soldiers – and you, you might be a civilian now, but you still bleed the blood of a soldier – and we can say we didn't have an easy time of things. Going from country to country, giving up everything we had to follow our leader, losing him. Stability…that was one thing we never really had."

Haar hated that kind of brain-picking nonsense.

"And now you finally have it, your stability. And it feels so comfortable that it's uncomfortable, right? It feels like, there must be something wrong, because you can't deserve this and things can't possibly be this way forever."

"Things can't," he said tersely.

Jon sighed, with a wry look on his face. "Hell, you already love her and live with her. You can't exactly run from her, you know. After all, you can only sleep so many hours away in a day."

Haar sighed. "This is a dream, right? Even in my dreams, I get lectured."

His friend looked dismayed. "Have I gotten so old that I sound like I'm lecturing, now?"

"Death's sure done some funny things before. I wouldn't be surprised."

He laughed and laughed, a sound that Haar had almost forgotten. "You haven't changed a bit, huh?" After a moment, he sobered up. "Just remember, though – the world changes, and it doesn't care what you do or don't."

"Goodbye, Jon," he responds. "You never should have died that day."

"And goodbye, Haar. Why don't you start living your life already, in the present and not the past? You owe us that. Torturing yourself isn't paying whatever imaginary penance you think you owe."

Then it was gone, and he wasn't sure where he was left standing. If he was standing at all.)

-l-

Imaginary penance, huh, he thinks.

-l-

The house is dark when he returns. There's only a candle flickering on the table, illuminating glimpses of red hair and a pale face.

He's fought in so many wars and ran without hesitation into so many battles that he can't quite remember, yet he can do little but stand here in the doorway, right now.

Before he even gets to the threshold, he knows she knows he's there.

She says nothing.

"I wasn't lying when I said that I'm just a burned-out, rusty shell of a soldier," he begins, breaking the silence.

"And what am I?" she asks, back still straight and face still turned away. "Shiharam's daughter, nothing more?"

"You are his daughter," Haar says, slowly.

She still won't look at him.

Silence.

"It was never about Shiharam. Not like that," he tries.

"Then what was it?" she says, in a hollow kind of tone.

He thought he practiced it a little before he walked in, thought about it beforehand – what he's going to say, how he's going to say it. But now, he can't really remember any of it – any of it – just little words – guilt penance killing death time sorry penance fair. And images, so many images – a lance through the chest of the first man he killed, making the rounds on their wyverns with Jon, Shiharam telling him to take care of the men and go – just leave – it has been an honor, Jill when they were both far younger running here and there in the fields, Jill when they were greener picking up her first lance, Jill now that they're older with that expression in her eyes, breaking his heart –

"I'm a difficult, cranky old man," he says with a weak grin that verges on grimace.

"I know," she replies, and he thinks she might have smiled.

"You should have gone elsewhere to look for your prince charming."

"I'm a soldier. I don't need a meaningless ideal like that."

He shakes his head. She really has grown up.

"We've seen enough battlefields to know what reality really is. How nothing's ever simple, how people are anything but. How the past affects things." She pauses. "So, I – I shouldn't say 'I understand,' but…what you're thinking. How you're living. I respect you, Haar, so…I respect it."

Silence.

"So if you – want to leave – then I. Perfectly understand, and – "

"The only one who has ever said anything about me leaving is you."

She finally turns to face him. Her eyes have never managed to mask her emotions, and what he can see now is…a strong woman, brave enough to wear all her vulnerability on her face at this very moment.

"I could have saved him," he says. "I left when he ordered me to – I shouldn't have obeyed, but – "

"I don't blame any of you for his death," Jill says; so calmly, like a goddess of wisdom. "Not you, not Ike, not our friends. It was…" She takes a long breath. "It was war. I'm not – saying that everything that happens during war is justified, but – it was war. And," here she looks him straight in the eye, "I've moved on. I've suffered, I've accepted it, and – I've moved on."

Pause. The candlelight flickers.

"You sound like our courageous leader, there," Haar says.

"He told me I had a right to get revenge against him, if I wanted to. And I just – all of it. I couldn't do that. I didn't want to do that. It wouldn't have done anything." Pause. "I'm…living for whatever I have right now."

She looks at him.

"I can't…I can't promise you anything, Jill." He lets out a sharp breath. "I want you to be happy, but I can't say it's going to be all roses from here on, can't say that it's going to be the kind of happily ever after that they sing about in ballads. I can't say that I can…accept, so quickly. Accept peace. I…" Why are these words so damn difficult to put together, to say? "Like I said, the years have made me a cranky old man."

And there is the chance of losing so much. The way things stand now – they carry such a weight –

She shrugs, and red falls over her shoulders. "I just…like being with you. I just like how things are, how things used to be."

Pause.

"I don't want anything from you, Haar."

"Now there's a lie," he laughs.

She cracks a grin. "Fine. I just want things to be okay. And, I just. Want to stay here, with you."

"And you had to make it all so dramatic, huh. Women." He sighs.

She tries to look angry at him but can't quite contain that smile blooming on her face and – and maybe, he'll dare to think it, maybe they're all right. Maybe they'll be all right.

Maybe this time, he'll do it right.

-l-

(Yes. One more time, we'll try again.)

-l-

(The pub was loud and raucous, rosy with the energy that the proud, victorious soldiers radiated.

Jon grinned like a madman and elbowed Haar slightly in the side. "Hey, stiff face. Loosen up a little. This is time for celebration!"

"Yeah, yeah." Even he could not suppress a smirk-smile. It was simply that kind of a night.

General Shiharam had given them the night to enjoy themselves; he himself wasn't with them, probably at home with his wife and daughter instead. But he was still there – in the minds of every single soldier. In their thoughts.

Jostling him in the side with his elbow and wearing that infernal grin, Jon raised his tankard. "To our victory!"

Cheers erupted from every man in the bar.

Haar chimed in quickly. "To Commander Shiharam!"

"Shiharam!"

Yes, he knew, putting aside his friend, his fellow soldiers, his role in the military. This was why he followed. This was why he loved this life.

(still a richly colored weave, still seeing all the things you can believe)

Because living felt like the most natural thing in the world.)


-l-

Thanks again to Rae for the awesome beta and for putting up with me during said beta'ing, etc. And thanks for the read - hellishly long one shot and all that.