Title: a ghost at the corner of your eye
Series: FE9 (precanon)
Character/Pairing: Greil/Elena, light Ike/Soren, Mist, Sephiran.
Rating: PG-13 for violence.
Author's note: 52_flavours: 11 ) Perhaps one at last will be left to grow in peace. Title comes from a song by Jeniferever. Spoilers for both games.

Merry Christmas, Evan!

.

She's walking by herself, thinking of what to cook tonight when she hears a sound in the brush. Instead of fear, it's concern she feels. Not will this creature attack but is this poor creature all right?

She bends down, but it only crawls back further into the brush. She sees wild red eyes, tangled hair – it looks almost human. A Laguz, perhaps? Maybe a Gallian child whose mother has been slaughtered. She feels the heaviness of sadness on her chest. The world is such a cruel place, sometimes. She slowly pushes the meat for her supper into the brushes and walks away.

She knows the creature is too wild to come with her there.

When she returns home, she smiles and tells her husband that a dog stole the meat for the stew tonight.

.

He eats the meat anyways. It's raw, dirty and sticks to his dry mouth. His stomach hurts, but this is a different kind of hurt.

He looks up to the stars through the briars and curls up as much as he can. The cold is insidious, always there. His rags are falling apart and no match for it. Soon it will be winter. Even at this young age, he is self-aware. Once it reaches winter he will die and no one will mourn him.

.

"I think I saw a beast out by the road," she murmurs as she dries the plate. Her blue hair is swept back from her face, and Ike sits at the small table, hoping for scraps like a hungry dog. He's in a growth spurt now, and is always eating. He was the one who mourned the loss of the meat the most, as vegetable stew was a far less appealing dinner.

"A beast?" Ike's eyes widen. "Reallllly?"

"Oh, it was probably just an abandoned dog," she says. "I hope the poor thing finds a home."

.

When they leave, she packs two sandwiches, because Ike always gets hungry halfway, and it's easier than stopping to eat and having Mist want something sweet. She holds Mist's hands, but Ike is too big for such things. He is, as he informs her almost a man.

She smiles and indulges him.

.

He crawls closer to the road through the briars. His skin is cut and bleeding. The scent from the town draws him. A paradise of cooking stew, broiling meat and sweets he will never taste.

He collapses near the road, his head against the ground. His mouth is dry and his stomach hurts again.

He can't live much longer like this, he knows.

.

Ike wanders off. The shops usually are interesting, but this time it's mostly girly stuff. Ribbons and dresses. Mist is happy, but Ike feels bored by the whole thing. He munches on his first sandwich and watches a pair of street performers, one who swallows a sword.

He remembers the beast, and goes away from the path to just a little outside the town. Heroes slay beasts in stories, but he just wants to see it. He isn't even going to poke it with a stick, honest.

He sees the tangled black hair first. He thinks maybe the beast people like he's heard around. He bends down.

"Hey...you."

He thinks it might be dead for a minute, which is a strange feeling between curiosity and a little sadness because he'd hoped the beast would be alive when he went to meet it. On the other hand, he is a young boy and death is still interesting and not scarred with finality. He has only met it in other people's funerals and dead birds with worms eating their insides.

But the boy stirs and he is relieved despite it all. Wary red eyes. If he was strong enough to run, he would, but he can barely push himself up.

Ike pulls out the sandwich and holds it out. He has a little flask of milk too he holds out. The boy looks at the food, then to Ike. Finally with what little strength he has, he reaches out and grabs the sandwich and devours it.

"Whoa, you eat even faster than I do!"

He drinks the flask down too. White drips down the side of his mouth and he quickly licks at it to not waste a single drop.

"This is great, I don't have any friends my age," Ike says.

The boy looks taken aback.

"You'll be my friend, right? We'll play and I'm sure mother will make you more sandwiches. In fact, I'll ask her."

A voice interrupts him, calling his name. Ike looks back, a little disappointed.

"Mother is calling. I have to go. I promise I'll come see you again tomorrow, all right?"

.

He's never had someone promise him something before. Never had a kind word, or a touch. His stomach is fuller than it's been in a long time. The cold even seems less today. He holds himself and drifts off into dreamless sleep which is almost happy, almost hopeful.

.

Her end happens with a shifted cloth. Someone bumps into her husband, and the medal they've been so hard at work to protect falls. He grazes it by an ungloved hands.

He has always been a paradox. A gentle man and a warrior, a killer and a protector. However it is the rider that comes out now, the terror of Ashnard's army. She hears the screams first. She tells Mist and Ike to hide Take care of her whispered with a last kiss pressed to each forehead.

And she walks her final walk, embraces him as the sword goes through her chest. Her face in death is not a twisted mask of agony, despite the pain, but a smile, for in her last moments she has again seen the return of not the rider, but the gentle protector she loves.

.

A boy screams, there are many bodies scattered about. A man cradles a woman in his arms, his sword beside him on the ground, covered in blood.

The man has seen this before. He's seen too many massacres in his many years of life, too many orphaned children. He feels weary with life itself, its constant pains. It is a common feeling.

He bends down and whispers a cobweb of magic to dull their eyes. They drift off to sleep, and he wishes them better dreams than this. He walks to the middle of the square where the warrior still remains.

"Your children are safe," he says. "They are asleep, and when they wake, they will remember nothing."

"Who..." The man replies, his voice husky from screaming.

"It isn't important," the man says. "You must make a choice. Bury her now and attend to your children, or leave them with me to be raised as orphans."

"No...I will..." He shakes his head, punches his hand against the ground.

He looks down at the woman and her broken body. Blood trickles from her mouth.

"I'll take care of them, Elena. I promise..." His voice chokes and picks up what remains, little more than a shell of the woman he has loved.

"I'll find a shovel," the man says. His long black hair sways with him as he walks. He says a prayer for the souls as he walks, even though he knows the goddess sleeps and will not hear.

.

There's so many bodies. A massacre has occurred, and it's not the first he's seen. He remembers a massacre on the beasts before. The sage had lead him past the bodies that day, they might as well have been refuse for all he had cared.

He checks each and every one, each with a more horrible form of death. They have been eviscerated, decapitated, chined like the way they butcher animals.

Strange shapes of inner organs are on the street. Disembodied parts – hands, torsos, heads – litter the streets.

He feels his stomach churn as he turns over each one, looking for the boy. If he finds him, then what? This is the first flicker of hope and comfort he has ever felt. He will bury the boy, he thinks. Even if it is just a shroud pulled free and held down with the heaviest stones he will lift.

He doesn't want this boy to be picked clean by the crows, the vultures. He doesn't want the boy to be simple carrion to rot away as he one day will be.

But he doesn't find him. Even after checking repeatedly, there is no sign of the boy.

Perhaps he left earlier.

Perhaps he was spared.

Perhaps...

.

He says three days, and in which, the scent of the place becomes unbearable. He takes new clothes from dressers and chests, and a blanket thick enough to drive back the constant cold, but not so big that he buckles under the weight. The child who wore this must have been about his age, or a little younger. He tries not to think about which ripped apart one was the robe's former owner.

He does not worry about curses, and instead gorges himself on the food. He has already lived a cursed existence, a few ghosts will add little more. Besides, he remembers the ways to lay to rest the dead. What he does not eat or take with him, he lays out for a pyre. He remembers a lesson once, how in a fit of anger the sage threw a bottle towards the flames of the campfire, and an explosion of glass and fire had come up. He finds bottles – the barrels are too big for him to carry and pours them over the rotting bodies.

He finds a tome in one of the houses, a fire tome. Wind has always been slightly more responsive of the tomes, but he tries it nonetheless. It could be useful in protecting himself, or selling for food, if it comes to that.

He is able to find a small spark. He expands it with his mind, pushing it further.

If the sage were alive, he'd probably praise him for once. Or at least admit that he's finally shown some usefulness.

The remaining food, the bodies light up in flames. His hair smells of smoke as he walks away.

.

The first person he runs into calls him Soren as a muttered insult.

It means 'seared one.'

He takes it as his name, for he's never had another given, except 'you' and 'disgusting child'.

.

He hears a whisper on the wind. West Go west...

He shakes it off as a hallucinogenic response from hunger and misses the boy by three days time.

.

In death, she chooses to stay. She sees other forms, thin like morning mist watching over their loved ones. She can travel over the world in moments, she never tires. She always feels a sense of overwhelming melancholy when she sees how her husband refuses to move on, how he guards his hurt inside, and constantly reopens the scar.

Her children grow up without a mother's hand. They have a whole family of mercenaries, surrogate mothers in Oscar's meals and Titania's gentle sternness.

She closes curtains and windows on cold nights, sings lullabies that fall deaf on Ike's ears, but come into Mist's in dreams and melodies stuck in her head that she hums throughout the day.

She watches the boy, too. Her heart aches for the cold boy, with his wariness. She wishes she had taken him in that day, realized it wasn't a stray dog but a child on the verge of death.

But what are wishes in the landscape of death?

He is a mage, and she tries to amend this wrong, tries to guide him closer to where he belongs.

It is the least she can do.

.

When he finally does find the boy, it's winter and he's shivering. He hears the voice in the wind telling him East this time and he listens if only because he wants to see this boy one last time before he dies in ignomy, like a stray animal on the side of the road.

There is no sense of recognition, no spark or smile he has hoped for. But he is just as kind, and invites him in to eat.

Soren decides to stay. Memories aren't important. The boy's true character shows through, proving him the one person in this horrible world who isn't tainted by the same hatred and selfishness, proof that there is a shred of goodness in this cold, cold world.

At least, not thoroughly tainted.

.

Sometimes Mist sings songs in languages she doesn't know. She dances and dreams she's dancing with the mother she can't remember.

She's always been a whimsical child.

.

When Greil's end comes, he doesn't think of the world at large, of revenge, but of the promise he made to Elena. The rain beats down against him as his eyes flutter shut. His son is taking back his slowly dying body – an all too common occurrence that he never wanted to happen to his child.

It's not honorable and it's not the 'right' thing, but he's seen too many wars and refuses to sacrifice his son for the sake of honor or the world.

His last thought is a memory. The first time he saw her sweeping the shrine, humming a song as she did. Her long white robes lose about her, her blue eyes looking up to him and then the first smile that changed his life.

The last thing over his lips, a hoarse whisper was her name.

.

Once he's found him, Soren refuses to leave Ike's side. It usually takes a direct order, or the threat of a loss of a fellow mercenary to make him move away – and even then, it isn't empathy, but pragmatism. The less mercenaries they have, the more likely Ike will be injured, and he can't let that happen, no matter what he feels or doesn't feel for these mercenaries who might as well be chess pieces to him. Rounded pieces of wood and checkerboard.

He looks out towards the cold of Daein oncoming. Logic says they cannot win. Rationality says this will end with their deaths. Ike defies this reasoning, so he will do the best to win this stacked game.

.

Ike doesn't remember until the veil is lifted. He looks into the eyes of a lost, starving child who has only aged. The fears never fully assuaged.

He says I'm sorry and holds him until the tears have stopped. He's only seen Soren cry once before, when he revealed his heritage. He's seen Soren do little more than grit his teeth as his dislocated shoulder was set, and be stonily silent while Ike's father was buried. He's seen Soren stare unblinking as a tiger leapt at him, lift his chin up defiantly to an Empress who could behead him at her whim.

"Everything's going to be all right, Soren..." Ike says as he strokes Soren's hair. And he smells something like flowers, but it isn't Soren because he's never fancy, never indulging in things like perfumes. Soren smells like soap and spices, musty libraries and the acrid scent of magic.

He looks up, beyond, and sees the fog thicken. The odds seem insurmountable, but weren't they always? All they can do is keep fighting.

"We're going to make this through alive, ok? All of us."

"All right..." Soren says. "I won't forgive you if you die for some heroism, you know..."

"I know," Ike replies.

.

At the end, Ike feels heavier. His skin tingles and Micaiah is near collapsed beside him, her compatriots rushing in to save her.

Soren stands in the doorway, clinging tight to his tome. He looks fragile, a little desperate.

"I said I'd come back and I never break my promises," Ike says.

"I believed you," Soren replies. "But the goddess..."

"She's gone now. We're going to make our own world without gods."

Soren nods. "Let's go..." He pulls out a vulnerary and begins to check Ike's arms for wounds

"I'm fine, Soren, really," Ike protests.

Soren uncaps it anyways and turns his hands over, rubbing on the scrapes.

Ike sighs. "If it makes you feel better."

"It does," Soren said.

The fact is though, Soren's got more injuries than him. Ike lets – more makes Soren lean on him on the walk back to camp. He has an injury, not life threatening, so he refuses to take supplies when others are near death's door.

And they walk back and it hits him he's alive. They've stared down impossible things and made them possible. He looks up to the sky and sees no sign, no redbird or cloud with silver lining to signify another presence watching him. Still, he hopes they're there, somewhere.

.

After the end they sit out on the bench, the summer air unseasonably cool. Crickets chirp, and the stars above are bright with fortunes to be read. The world is celebrating inside castle doors, but neither Ike nor Soren are much for parties.

"We all made it out alive...I'm really glad," Ike says.

There's so much he could say. I wouldn't know what to do if you died there or I was so worried. But all he says is a murmured Yes....

Ike lets out a long breath and leans out on the bench, his back against the stone wall. With barely a thought, he wraps his cloak around the both of them, just as he has always done from the time they were children. Soren murmurs a thanks, Ike nods.

"It's finally over," Ike says.

"For now," Soren replies. "There will always be wars. People are too selfish, too cruel and close-minded to not kill each other."

"Two wars is enough, next time they'll have to find another general," Ike says. Soren gives him a sideways glance, an almost smile.

"Did you ever feel like you were being guided?"

"Perhaps," Soren says. He's fought against a goddess declared good who isn't and with goddess who declared evil who isn't. At this rate, his mind is open to the possibility.

"Sephiran...Lehran said he saw someone there the first time he saw me, but not the second. You think she passed and is with my father in...whatever else is after this?"

"Likely. She gave up for live to save others. In turn, your father did the same. If such an afterlife exists, they surely are there," Soren says.

"Yeah...I think so."

Soren thinks about the whispers in the wind, the serene voice which finally lead him to Ike when he was so close to death. It was not the same voice as spirits associated with magic, and the amorphous almost-form did resemble a woman in a faint, wispy way.

A coincidence?

Soren isn't sure he believes in coincidences anymore.

.

You see, our family is safe. All of them. She smiles, and he looks down too. Ike and Soren are sitting together, and Soren has nodded off on Ike's shoulder outside the noise of the crowd; Boyd steps on Mist's toes as they dance, while Oscar and Kieran talk in the kitchens and Rolf sits nearby as Shinon works himself towards another hangover; Titania sits back, watching in contentment over a cup of tea with Rhys.

They're happy, he says, looking over his mercenaries, his family.

Yes, she says. They're happy. They don't need us anymore.

They look to each other, a last dance in the twilight with the music of a band playing and the fading noise of the crowd as the fog thickens over the castle grounds and then disappears into nothing but night shapes and dew.