Woo, this fic! I started it like two years ago, and then dug it back up and finished it…I think it stayed pretty consistent though (I hope so, at least). Anyway, it's just a ficlet about Tana and Innes' siblinghood. Tana was never really a character that appealed to me, but anything with Innes in it is good enough for me!
"No," he says, his cherubic face twisted in disgust, half-turning back to face her as he speaks. "Go away!"
That's her first memory of him, she's pretty sure. She was three, and he was seven, and they both were running.
Come to think of it, she could have been five and he could have been nine. She could have been eight and he could have been twelve. That was the way it had always been—always running; him fleeing, her chasing.
"Innes, I want to play with you! Slow down! I want to play!"
"No, Tana!" He stops, finally; he reaches out and shoves her back. She stumbles and falls on her rear, blinking back tears—but it wasn't the fall that hurt her. The impatience in his grey eyes is enough, cold and sharp and steely as a sword's edge. All for her. "Go away! Leave me alone!"
Then again, that wasn't just her first memory of him—it was all her memories. She had thought Innes so wonderful when she was growing up. He was older and taller and stronger and knew so much more than she did. She always tried to watch him and learn from him. She always wanted to be around him.
…He didn't exactly return the sentiment.
To Innes, Tana was just the annoying little sister. She was "too young" to attend his lessons, "too small" to play his games, and "too girly" to join him on horse rides or trips to the arena. To him, she was nothing but a nuisance, so he kept her away.
Yet the more he ignored her, the more she tried to please him—to be accepted by him. And the more she tried, the more he ignored. So she would just try harder.
She had never been close to Innes, no matter how much she wished to be. For the first few years of her life, she had assumed that all brothers were like this, that all of them ran from their little sisters, that all of them hated to give kisses and smiles and permission to join them—all brothers were boys, after all, and all little boys didn't like to show affection.
Then Tana met Eirika and Ephraim.
The first thing she had realized was that they both were beautiful—Eirika had the softest-looking hair, and Tana had suddenly wanted to braid it for her. Even the boy, the brother, was beautiful, with deep blue eyes and high cheekbones. She had wanted to touch his hair, too. But she hadn't—Eirika had, ruffling her twin's teal locks in an almost absentminded gesture of sisterly affection, and Ephraim had patted her face in return, smiling.
Tana was stunned. She had never touched Innes's hair. Innes had never touched her cheek.
But she soon grew to love the twins of Renais, to love them as much as she loved her brother and as much as the twins loved each other. Even Innes loved them, although he wasn't as quick to show it. Ah, she remembered how the four of them used to play together…it was always the four of them, although Innes would always have preferred to make it a game for three. He pretended not to notice her. One of the first things she noticed about Ephraim was that he noticed her—noticed her watching him and Innes and Eirika by the practice arena, where all the young squires were sparring with wooden weapons. She saw the look in Innes's eyes—he wanted a challenge. She had wanted to play, too.
"No, Tana, this is a man's game," Innes says haughtily. "Go back inside, before you get hurt."
"Come on, Innes," Ephraim interrupts suddenly. "My sister and I spar all the time…she's actually quite good. Tana might have a hidden talent—who knows?"
"She's too young," retorts Innes. "She won't be any good, and she'll just ruin our match. Everyone knows that a real spar is only between two people, anyway."
"Then maybe we shouldn't make it a real spar," says Ephraim mildly, and Tana sees her brother bristle at the words. "Maybe we should just have fun."
"That sounds like a good idea," says Eirika with a smile. "Come on, Innes, let Tana and I play, too."
Innes reddens quite suddenly as Eirika speaks, and Tana hears him do something he's never done before: stammer. "W-well, if you b-both desire as much, I s-suppose it's the only gentlemanly thing to do…"
"Great," says Ephraim briskly. "Eirika, why don't you and Tana go choose your weapons?"
"Sure!" replies his sister, and reaches out and takes Tana's hand. Tana is astounded by the girl's kind smile. "Let's go…I think I saw a practice rapier, and I'm ever so excited…that's my favourite sort of sword! Which is your favourite? Would you rather use the rapier?"
Tana is already being pulled off, but she turns her head back to see Eirika's brother again, his teal hair shining in the sunlight and his light eyes sparkling as he twirls his wooden spear around, demonstrating a trick to Innes.
"A-actually, Eirika…" Tana ventures with a smile, "I think I'd like to try a lance!"
Tana had a great amount of fun with Eirika and Ephraim, even though she lost every pretend spar because the wooden practice lance was easily twice her height. Innes seemed embarrassed by her utter incompetence, especially since Eirika was already accomplished enough to give him a challenge even when she used a sword and he used a lance. He always protested that he was much better with long-range weapons, but Tana saw the grudging admiration in his eyes.
Is that what it takes to win his admiration? Tana wondered. If I put up a good fight, will he want to spar again? If I beat him, will he deem me worthy?
Long before Ephraim and Eirika had returned to Renais from their first visit to Frelia, Tana had made up her mind to learn how to fight—or, rather, how to fight Innes.
She trained every single day, with a lance heavier than his. She trained until sweat soaked her hair, until her best white boots where almost black with dirt from the arena, until her father had to call her into his chamber and give her a good stern talking-to about how unladylike it was for a princess to be out training with pole arms.
Tana didn't care.
Soon she got to the point where she was good. She knew she was good. The lance felt more comfortable in her hand than anything else…well, anything except her hairbrush. But it was certainly more comfortable than scepter or salad fork, reins or ribbons. It had become a part of her.
That was the day she challenged Innes.
He accepted her flippantly, merely patronizing the whim of his darling sister. They had their match at sundown, after most of the knights had already left the practice arena, after only the pink dregs of the sun's light remained, balancing on the rim of the cup of the sky.
Tana forgot what had happened, exactly…she just remembered the rush of adrenaline through her veins, the exultant swoop of victory that her heart made in her chest, the way it all seemed to be over before it even started. The next thing she knew, Innes was on the ground, his lance rolling out of his hand, and her own lance was poised at his throat.
She stared deeply into his steel-grey eyes, breathing deeply, feeling sweat running down the back of her neck, and she waited. Waited for something to show in his gaze. She would have been happy for anything—anger, love, pride, fear—but he stayed completely expressionless. Emotionless. It was as if he didn't even care that she had bested him, had spent hours training until she could disarm him and force him to the ground…or even take his life, had she been using a real lance.
"Lances are for dimwits, anyway," Innes had said, pushing himself to his feet, refusing the hand she offered to help him up. "It doesn't require any brains or skill to knock someone around with a giant stick. My time is better spent practicing the bow."
He walked away without another word, and suddenly, Tana's victory meant nothing. She felt tears prick her eyes.
She wasn't sure what she had been expecting from him, actually. Certainly not a sudden turn-around in his personality. Certainly not a sudden friendship. Certainly not a shower of praise.
But a you win, this time might have been nice. A good job, sister.
Again and again, Ephraim and Eirika returned. Again and again, the two laughed at each other and with each other, touched the other's shoulder, taught each other games, and then taught those games to Tana and Innes. Soon, despite all the fun, Tana began to feel something other than friendship for the twins: jealousy.
It isn't fair, she thought. Ephraim and Eirika were so close. They told each other secrets. They included each other. They trusted each other. They wanted to spend time with each other. That, she knew, was how real siblings should act. They should be loving. And the twins certainly loved each other, just as Tana loved Innes.
…Why didn't he show any love back?
As the years passed, however, Tana became concerned with earning a different sort of love entirely. She first realized it at her fifteenth birthday party, staring at herself in the mirror. She had a new dress on, that night, and new shoes, and a new necklace made of the finest silver. She had spent hours curling her hair in the mirror so that it would fall in the latest fashion. She wanted so desperately to look pretty…for Ephraim.
"Tana," a voice calls impatiently as knuckles rap sharply on the door, "Will you hurry up? You're going to be late for your own party."
"You should be nicer, Innes!" A little wrinkle of irritation furrows her brow. Tana tries to calm down—wrinkles are undesirable. "It's my birthday, after all!"
"Yes, and you're going to miss it. May I come in, so I might drag you away from that blasted mirror?"
Tana smoothes her skirts with her hands and gives herself another once-over. "I suppose so. I'm decent."
"Hardly," Innes sorts as he opens the door. Once he catches sight of her, his eyes widen slightly. For a moment, he says nothing. Tana feels herself flush furiously and opens her mouth to give an angry retort to what she's sure he's going to say—that her hair makes her look like a lapdog, that the bow on her dress is tied incorrectly, that pink is not her colour—
"You look…nice, Tana," he says suddenly, softly, if slightly grudgingly. "You look very nice."
Well, he doesn't have to look so surprised about it, Tana thinks, and the thought fills her eyes with tears. What if he's only teasing her—being sarcastic?
"Do you mean it?" she asks him.
Innes rolls his eyes. "No, your hair makes you look like a lapdog—of course I mean it, Tana! Why would I say it if I didn't mean it? Stupid girl, can't even take a compliment…"
He grabs her wrist and has started pulling her down the corridor, still muttering. Tana wishes she had just kept her mouth shut, so that she wouldn't have irritated him.
Tana shook her head hard, trying to clear it of memories—a battle was the last place to be dwelling on the past. Innes may have yelled at her last night for losing her vulnerary while Ephraim shared his with his sister, but her brother was certainly not more important than the battle at hand.
"Dumb ol' Innes," she muttered as she squeezed her knees into her pegasus's sides, steering it toward the ground. She had landed a good distance from the rest of the army, by the bank of a stream, knowing that they were fighting off archers and it wasn't safe to get any closer. Reinforcements were coming, however, Innes among them—"Dumb, slow ol' Innes!"—so she wouldn't be alone for much longer.
It was hot, she realized as she dismounted her pegasus, now that the wind was no longer in her face. She lifted her bangs for a moment in the hope that a stray breeze would cool her brow, but no breeze came. Scowling, she glanced around herself to see if she could find some shade. The edges of the forest creeped around her on all sides, but it was too dense to lead her steed into it, as well…the stream, however, was burbling along quite happily. Tana seated herself beside it, took off her boots and stockings, and dipped her feet into the water with a contented sigh. The water felt nice, and the sun beating down on her back made her feel like a basking cat, so she hardly resisted when she felt herself getting drowsy. For a while, all was still and silent, until a hoarse chuckle broke the peace:
"What do we have here?"
Tana twisted around, confused, to find a stranger towering over her—she hadn't heard his coming because she had been so sleepy. She must have been very sleepy indeed, because the man behind her was practically a bear: huge and hairy. The only difference was that bears did not leer in such a way…nor did they carry swords. Tana tried to leap to her feet, but the stranger snatched at her, and when she leaned back to evade him, she fell right into the stream. He grabbed her arm while she was floundering to find her balance again and dragged her back onto the bank.
"Ow!" she protested, "That hurts! Unhand me at once!"
"Oh, I don't think so," he said, and laughed once more. "A little thing like you, out here all alone?"
He's going to kill me with that big, rusty sword, she realized with sudden terror. I'm all alone here, and he must work for Grado, and he is going to kill me!
Her pegasus suddenly rushed the man, its head lowered to butt him. Without relinquishing his grip on Tana, the man swung his sword and manage to slash the tip of one of the pegasus's wings. It whinnied in pain and reared, attempting to turn around and try again, but Tana whistled to it desperately as the man twisted her arm around behind her back, the edge of his weapon suddenly against her neck.
"Fly!" she cried, giving the command as sharply as she'd heard Sir Seth order his own horse into a charge. "Fly!"
The pegasus hesitated a moment, but then sprang into the air, wobbling due to its wounded wing. Tana watched it soar over the stream and weave over the trees on the other side, going to seek help from the reinforcements. But they must be farther away than I thought…they won't get here in time!
She tried to draw herself up to her full height, but it was hard with her arm twisted behind her back and a blade against her throat. "Do you know who I am? As Princess of Frelia, proud member of the Pegasus Knights, vassal to King Ephraim of Renais, I demand that you—ouch!"
The man twisted her around again suddenly and drew her up against him, letting his sword fall to the ground. The first thing that Tana realized was that the man probably hadn't had a bath in weeks, and the second was that…
Oh, gods. He isn't going to kill me, he's going to-!
He laughed again, interrupting her thoughts with the stench of his breath. Tana turned her face away in disgust, only to have him grab her chin and force it back.
"Let me go!" she pleaded. "I have no money with me, nothing to give you, but you have to let me go!"
She squeezed her eyes shut tightly, knowing how foolish she had been. The reinforcements won't get here in time! What shall happen to me?
Tana suddenly heard something whiz past her ear, felt it stir the edge of her bangs, and suddenly there was an arrow embedded in the eye of her assaulter. She shrieked as the man released her and crumpled to the ground without a sound, quite dead.
She turned around slowly, shaking violently, to see a lean man striding towards her with his bow in his hand and cold murder in his eyes. As he splashed across the stream, she recognized him as her own brother—and then recognized her pegasus following him, one wing dragging along the ground.
"I-Innes-" she ventured, but he pushed her aside so that he was standing over the man he had just killed. After a moment, he gave a furious growl—a lack of control Tana rarely saw in him—and kicked the corpse's side so hard that Tana heard its bones crack.
"No one," Innes hissed, delivering another savage kick with every word, "touches…my…sister."
He turned around then, still looking less-than-satisfied, and Tana put a trembling hand to her ear.
"Innes…you shot him when I was in front of him?"
"Not bad, eh?" The sniper glanced around for more enemies before slinging his bow across his back. Tana felt her eyebrows knit together.
"What if you had been off by even an inch? You could have shot off my ear!"
"Would you rather have your ear, or your maidenhead and very life?" he snapped back. "Thanks to me, you have them all! Gods, are you lucky I was sent ahead as a scout!"
Tana swallowed hard, shaking too badly to move. It took long enough for her to open her mouth and mumble, "…Th-thank you, Innes."
Innes stared at her for a long, long time. Finally, without warning, he threw his arms around her and held her tightly—prompting her to squeak. He hadn't hugged her of his own free will in…years and years!
"Of course," he whispered ardently. "You are my little sister, my stupid, stupid little sister who does stupid things like land somewhere all alone and take her boots off during battle, and I would never let anything happen to you. Ever. I am going to keep you safe."
Tana glanced down at her soaking, bare feet and felt her eyes fill with tears—delayed reactions to her fear and surprise and relief. "Even…even after all the times I've annoyed you?"
She felt his shoulders tremble with barely-contained laughter. "Yes, and there has been many a time. But surely you know that even after all that, I am still your brother?"
He pulled her away and held her at arm's length, staring into her eyes with his own, more hawkish pair. Tana squirmed uncomfortably under his gaze. Innes's grip on her shoulders tightened.
"You do know, don't you?" He phrased it to imply that she would be an idiot if she didn't know, but she thought she heard a tinge of fear in his voice.
Tana thought hard. For most of her life…she hadn't known that. Innes didn't treat her like Ephraim treated Eirika. He treated her as a pest, and she had always resented it. She was sure he wasn't fond of her at all, even though she looked up to him so much.
But for him to save her life…to mangle her attacker…to have her here, asking if she knew?
Tana smiled at her brother. "Yes, Innes. I know."
"Well, good." He removed his hands from her, somewhat disdainfully. "You finally got something through that girlish head of yours. Now get your boots back on."
"But my feet are all wet-"
"…Fine," she said glumly, and pulled her stockings and boots on—which felt moist and gross when she began walking toward her pegasus, who had crossed the stream to join her. "You're going to hold this over my head for the rest of my life, aren't you."
He merely glanced back at her with a smirk, and she scowled back, although the scowl dissipated when she saw the reinforcements emerging from the trees on the other side of the stream: Dozla, Syrene, Moulder, and other friendly, familiar faces.
"You're in good hands now," said Innes with satisfaction, "so I'll start scouting ahead. Get Moulder to see what he can do about that horse of yours, and please stay out of trouble!"
"Same to you," Tana retorted, and resisted the urge to stick out her tongue.
Innes unslung his bow. "I'll be watching your back," he called over his shoulder as he started off.
"And I'll be watching yours!" she cheerfully retorted.
A disbelieving, arrogant "Hah!" reached her ears, but Tana couldn't help but smile.