All Along
By: Manna


…-…-…

Prompt: "I've loved you all along, you know."

Sixteen-year-old Haar didn't want to hold the baby. It wasn't that he was jealous of the new arrival—one that would, inevitably take Commander Shiharam's attention away from everything and everyone else with some regularity—but rather, he found himself unfit. He was neither the child's father, nor mother…nor brother, so why would he be asked such an honor?

The right side of his head was still heavily bandaged from the previous week's routing mission—some sort of rebellion had sprung up and had been thoroughly crushed within days by the Begnion Dracoknights. He'd overheard Shiharam tell one of the other men that he didn't think the rebels were being all that rebellious, and perhaps those words had made him reluctant to strike first. He'd paid the price, and the cost had been his right eye.

It had been healed, but the lid could not completely close, nor could it fully open. It just sat there, leaving his dull iris to stare blankly ahead. They'd covered it, told him if he didn't remove the bandages, perhaps his sight would return.

He knew it wouldn't.

"Come on, Haar," Shiharam said. "She won't bite."

Reluctantly, he held out his arms to mimic his commander. "I don't know anything about babies," he managed to say, half-hoping the man would change his mind. He couldn't take care of himself, let alone an infant! How could they entrust him for even a moment with—

"Oh, babies are easy," said Lori from where she remained in bed. Shiharam had confided in him that his wife would likely never leave that bed again, and Haar felt a small pang in his chest as he turned to look at her. "You see, Haar, when a baby is born, they are very weak."

Like you, he thought, and turned back to the child being placed in his arms, afraid he'd find a creature that looked ready to die.

She continued, her voice softening, "They aren't strong enough to move their neck at first, so you must hold their head for them."

Shiharam smiled at his wife and turned back to Haar, manipulating his subordinate's arms into the right position to hold the infant. "There," he said at last. "Just like that."

He looked down at the fresh-faced baby, and could not help but marvel for a moment. He felt strangely tainted touching such a new life. Three days old wasn't long enough to have seen anything of the world, and yet Haar felt that, at sixteen, he had seen more than enough. It was hard to believe that in such a relatively short span of time, so much could be learned. The senate was corrupt and people in general were filled with hate; there was very little kindness to be spared no matter where a person lived. He could only pray that the tiny creature he held would never know of any of it.

But, he thought, that was as far-fetched as expecting his eyesight to return, or the scars that remained to be anything but unsightly.

He was, quite suddenly, glad that the innocent life he held could not see the ugliness of his wound, for it matched the ugliness of the earth, and she did not deserve to be exposed to such things. Not now, not ever.

"What is her name?" he finally asked, but could not tear his eyes away as the infant began to wake, small eyes opening.

"Jill," Shiharam answered as his wife watched contentedly from her bed. "We thought it seemed fitting."

Haar did not understand how a name could fit someone or not, but he merely nodded as the child—Jill, he reminded himself—blinked up at him with wide eyes.

"Some think that infants can't see very far away at birth," Lori suggested, and Haar found himself leaning in closer.

Jill gurgled quietly, to her parents' amusement, and then let out a wide yawn. Before he could stop himself, he also yawned, and Shiharam let a large hand rest carefully on the baby's downy head as he chuckled.

"Don't go teaching her any of your bad habits," he said.

He answered with a calm, "Yes sir," but he wondered why he'd ever be teaching her any of his habits at all.

…-…-…

They'd hoped for better. The men under Shiharam's command were former palace knights, and had spent many years in service to the senate of Begnion. The last place they had expected to end up was the backwater Daein region of Talrega.

Even after four years, the citizens did not trust them. Haar was not surprised by that fact at all. Only those deemed untrustworthy would be banished to such a remote place; certainly the citizenry knew that as well as anyone.

It was almost like they were strangers, still.

"Haar! Haar, wait!"

He stopped. Jill was stumbling after him, her dress as dirty as the rest of her. When she finally managed to catch up to him, she gave him a stern glance. "Father said I could come."

"Fine, fine," he sighed, and steered her toward town. Half of the townsfolk thought she was his daughter or sister—it didn't really bother him one way or another, though he wondered at it. They didn't look anything alike. He felt quite plain standing next to her.

The shop was quiet, and as the young woman handed them their purchases and told them to have a good day, all Haar heard was, "Please leave, you're making us uncomfortable."

A glance over his shoulder as he left town told him quite a few people had left their houses only after the "strange, one-eyed soldier" had gone. He sighed, and leaned down to offer Jill a small package. "You can help by carrying this for me," he said.

"Carry it yourself," she said resolutely, but she couldn't quite get her r's right, and it only made him smile.

"It's for your father," he said to her, shoving it into her arms anyway. "If you carry it, you can give it to him yourself."

She took the package. She looked behind her and then up at him. "They don't like us," she said plainly.

If his arms hadn't been full, he'd have reached down and scooped her up to hear her squeal. Instead, he kept walking, and offered her a small smile. "Not us," he tried to reassure her. "Just me. They don't like me."

She hurried to catch up. "Well, that's dumb." Her lips were pressed together in something resembling a pout.

He couldn't help but chuckle. "And why's that?"

Jill did not answer immediately, and for a moment he thought that she might have forgotten the entire thing. But when her small arm wrapped around his leg, nearly tripping him, he remembered that Jill never forgot anything. "'Cause I like you," she said, as if that meant everyone else had to follow suit.

If only that were the case! But her words, uttered with such innocence, made him feel almost hopeful.

…-…-…

"This isn't what I wanted." Shiharam's forehead was wrinkled with stress and his mouth twisted into a disapproving frown.

Haar wanted nothing more than to leave the room, but he remained where he was, standing stiffly. "It was bound to happen," he finally trusted himself to say.

With a sigh, the general leaned back in his chair. "I was hoping she'd be happy here."

"She looks up to you."

"I wish she didn't."

She looks up to me, too, Haar almost said, but stopped himself. It was the truth, but he also wished it wasn't so. "She won't change her mind."

"She's too stubborn."

Haar cracked a smile, "That sounds familiar."

With a sigh, Shiharam stood and began to pace—Jill had inherited that, too. "She's too young."

"Twelve." Haar watched the older man for a moment. "I was training at twelve."

"That was different. She wants to go on a hunt."

Haar frowned, but shrugged. What could they do about that? "There are two of those a year, and we just finished with the first this past week." That meant there wouldn't be another for almost six months. "If she begins training now, she won't be ready for the next one."

"She's better than I'd like her to be."

"She doesn't know that."

His knuckles turned white as he squeezed his hand into a fist. "I never wanted this for her," he said. "I wanted—"

"I know." Haar gave a wide yawn before he shook his head. "There isn't anything glorious about being a soldier. You're always fighting someone else's battles for them."

"Then why are you here?"

"You tell me, General," he said with an offhanded smile. "One day you said you were going to defect to Daein, and the next thing you know, everyone under your command decides to follow. General Shiharam, we'd have followed you anywhere."

"I've steered everyone wrong, then," he said with a touch of bitterness in his voice. "I send my own men out to hunt laguz, and my own daughter talks about slaughtering them every chance she gets."

"She doesn't mean it."

"She does, Haar, she does."

"She wouldn't if she knew the truth."

"You know we can't tell her. She would—"

"Become a crusader for truthfulness, I know." Haar paused. "Try not to hold it against her."

"It's not easy."

Haar knew that. It was difficult not to want to smack some sense into her every time she marched up to one of them and talked about how "sub-humans" needed to die, and how half of her class at the school had already dropped out to join the military because it was their only chance at making something of themselves. Haar felt blessed to have such a laid-back personality—things didn't get to him like they got to Shiharam.

He didn't want Jill to fight any more than Shiharam did. Battle was not kind to any soldier. But…

"If you don't agree she might follow in the footsteps of many of her peers."

"She's too headstrong," Shiharam sighed.

"She takes after you."

"If she'd taken after her mother, instead…"

"Her health would be poor."

Shiharam shrugged his shoulders, a gesture of helplessness. "At least she has her heath," he finally said, and ran a hand through his red hair. "All right, I would much rather have her here with me instead of off on her own."

"I'll tell her." He could already picture the enthusiasm that Jill would be radiating the moment she heard the news.

"Good, and Captain?"

"Yes, General Shiharam?"

"You're in charge of her training. Don't let her do anything foolish."

He cracked a smile, relief coursing through his veins, though he had expected as much. "Of course," he said.

…-…-…

She took it all in stride, though he didn't miss the smile on her face. He wondered how much longer she'd find herself able to smile, and hoped it would be a long time. Being a soldier—and casting away morals for the sake of a place to live—had robbed many of the men under Shiharam's command of the ability.

"You know you'll see less of your father, not more."

"I know." She squinted as she looked up at him. "It's a price I'm willing to pay to be a soldier. Every soldier has to pay a price."

Sometimes she was wise beyond her years; many times he'd had to remind himself that she was not as old as she pretended to be. He resisted the urge to touch the black cloth that covered his bad eye, and instead settled his hand over her back, pushing her carefully toward the fortress. "Sometimes the price isn't one paid up front," he informed her quietly.

Sometimes, the price was something much higher than an eye. He thought of General Shiharam, and looked down at Jill.

"Always be careful and pay attention," he said to her sternly. "Don't do anything foolish. Your father would never forgive himself if something were to happen to you."

He would never forgive himself either, he thought.

"I'm not a child, Haar," she scowled.

He paused. "No, you're not." And then kept walking, "So stop scowling—it's not attractive."

Her fists clenched. "Haar!"

"It's Captain now."

…-…-…

Jill turned out to be an excellent soldier. It was rare that she questioned an order, and she always tried very hard at everything she did. Because of that, Haar found that he was proud of her.

But on sub-human hunts, she would loudly declare that she would get the first kill, and nobody ever argued with her. Most of the men in the unit didn't want to kill the supposed sub-humans anyway. When they made as much noise as possible (without being too obvious) as they neared the hideouts of the sub-humans, Jill was certain to tell everyone to hush up or they'd lose their prey.

His chest ached to hear her say such things. When Shiharam didn't praise her, she assumed it meant she hadn't tried hard enough, and so she'd try harder. But Haar couldn't blame Shiharam for not praising her behavior—after all, it went against everything he really believed.

"When are you going to tell her?"

"I don't know if she would believe me."

In the end, nobody told Jill. If she didn't believe Shiharam, there would be hell to pay, and if she did, she'd protest so vehemently at killing laguz "because they had to" that she'd end up slaughtered as a traitor—and, Haar knew, that would break her father's heart more than anything.

…-…-…

It was war.

Haar turned over restlessly on his bedroll. It wasn't like him to be unable to sleep, but Jill had taken off after the Crimeans three days earlier, and her lack of presence had begun to stress him out.

He ought to have known she would try something stupid. All of her recent talk about honor and glory… hah! Perhaps he should have taken her aside and told her what her father had never had the courage to say: "Laguz are not bad. They're not that different from you and I." Or, "If you want to see your father proud of you, call them laguz, don't talk about the joy of hunting sub-humans."

But he hadn't said anything. And she'd rushed off on her own. She had some growing up to do, proved by her lack of foresight. What could she do with the Crimeans aboard a vessel bound for Begnion? Did she think she could take on all of the Crimeans, steer a ship, and fend off attacking laguz? If she failed, she'd be dead and a traitor. If she succeeded…she'd still be something of a traitor.

He sighed and turned over again.

He'd have to go after her. Before she got herself killed. Or worse.

But as a captain, he didn't have the freedom to pursue her. He'd have to hope she'd somehow survive and return…no, not return. If she returned empty-handed, it would make her a traitor.

Abandoning her post? Going against the Black Knight's orders? Perhaps he could lie and said he'd sent her to trail the Crimeans. (Alone? He'd never suggest that.)

Perhaps because of it, no news was good news.

But he still felt restless and uneasy.

…-…-…

"Crimea is headed toward us," said Shiharam, looking out one of the small windows of the fortress.

"Jill is with them."

"You've seen her, then?"

"I spoke with her." Haar shifted uncomfortably. "You'd be proud of her," he said after a moment. "She's realized the truth about the laguz on her own."

"And now she is fighting for it."

"She spoke about it with such conviction."

Haar knew Shiharam had mixed feelings on the matter. He knew because he did, too. If Crimea marched through Talrega, Shiharam would have to fight them. Could he kill his own daughter?

Jill was a capable soldier, but could she kill her own father? She had always been highly driven by her emotions, but she did not have the control over them that her father had.

"I have to fight," Shiharam said. "Too many soldiers here have families here in Daein. They can't switch sides even if they want to." The man gave him a pointed look.

Haar wondered if it was permission to defect. He shook his head. "I will inform my men of the upcoming battle," he said, covering a yawn with his hand. "And General?"

"What is it, Haar?" He looked almost sad as he stared out at the blue-grey sky.

"She made a friend—a girl a couple of years younger than she is." And then, as he glanced back at his mentor from the doorway, "She was happy."

"Ahh, Jill." For a moment, the lines in his forehead lessened.

"She's a woman, now," said Haar with a hint of a smile before he left the room.

She'd started forming her own ideas and opinions—something they'd had to discourage her from doing her entire life. She would fight her father, she'd said, and he knew it wouldn't be easy for her, but it was the right thing to do, and she was going to do it.

He felt his heart swell a bit with pride as he made his way toward the barracks to inform the men under his command of the battle that would take place all too soon.

But he paused before he got there. What would he do if he had to face Jill, himself? He'd informed her that they'd be enemies when they next met, but…could he kill her? He remembered the yawning infant in his arms, and the woman he'd spoken to not all that long ago.

He frowned.

He would fight her if he had to, he finally decided, but he couldn't kill her; he could never kill her for fighting for the right thing with all her heart, and he doubted Shiharam could, either.

He supposed he could knock her out and dump her off someplace safe, far from the battlefield.

…-…-…

He'd always hated the way other men looked at Jill. Under his own command, she'd been the only female, so the appreciative glances had been expected but quite unwanted. At the time, he'd assumed he'd hated them so much because she was entirely too young to be looked at in such a manner by grown men.

But he found he still hated it even years later, in the Crimean army.

And her age couldn't possibly have anything to do with it.

Jill was a woman and could do whatever she wanted, but she didn't notice the glances from the other men—and if she did, she ignored them completely. If they didn't bother her, they probably shouldn't bother him, either.

But when someone would bother talking about her suggestively, Haar found it would be best if he just left the area.

He didn't want to hear any of it. He didn't need to hear any of it. She was beautiful and capable and kind-hearted. Not to mention feisty. He didn't need to be told because he already knew, and for some reason, hearing others praise her looks (with varying degrees of vulgarity) left him feeling very irritated, even when their words were directed to someone else entirely.

Perhaps his judgment was clouded with a hint of jealousy.

His heart told him there wasn't anything to worry about, anyway; after all, he was the only man Jill spent most of her free time with. But his mind told him differently. He was old and plain. She was only there with him because she trusted him. She only trusted him because she'd known him all her life.

And if she bothered to look around, she'd no doubt find attractive, younger men that could love her just as easily as he himself could.

But would they know her as well as you do? his heart asked.

And his mind could not deny the truth: Nobody will ever know her as well as I do.

…-…-…

Living together had not changed much between them, and Haar did not know whether it was a bad or a good thing. They'd both adjusted to the relative peace following the Mad King's War, and had started carrying cargo to make ends meet.

They weren't rich. They had enough. They made do.

He wondered, sometimes, if she stayed with him because she wanted to, or because she had nowhere else to go. Sometimes he had to remind himself that Jill always did exactly what Jill wanted to do, and if she didn't want to be with him, she wouldn't be.

Many times, he'd thought about asking her about them. The two of them. What did she think? What was he to her?

People talked, but he always shrugged it off. Some people thought they were married—he shrugged that off, too. He could see where they were coming from. Why else would they live together? He didn't feel like telling others that they weren't even in a relationship at all. They'd never shared a bed.

It wasn't worth explaining to other people. They were close friends who trusted each other with pretty much everything. Or something like that. He didn't love her in the way a lot of ballads portrayed love—he enjoyed her presence, the sound of her voice, missed her when they were apart, and treasured all of the small moments between them—but he loved her nonetheless.

Perhaps he always had. It wasn't worth denying.

Haar was afraid of ruining what they had. He could ask her to marry him, sure, but what if she balked at the idea, thought it had no foundation, thought he was asking because everyone talked about them and marriage was expected? Every time he opened his mouth to ask, he stopped himself.

She looked tired. She was busy. He wasn't sure how to say it without sounding either desperate or indifferent. It wasn't the right time.

It was never the right time.

With a sigh, he pulled her blankets up to cover her shoulder.

"Hmm?" she asked, rousing slightly at the action. "Haar?" She peered up at him through her lashes and gave a half-hearted stretch. "What's wrong?"

Was this a good time to ask her to marry him? He could ask—he wanted to. "It's nothing," he said. "Go back to sleep."

"You're sure?" she questioned, but she'd already closed her eyes.

He wanted to kiss her in that moment, but as he leaned down, he thought better of it and pressed his lips against her hair, instead. "I am sure."

…-…-…

Another war.

He worried about her.

To keep himself from worrying, he tried to forget her. It was impossible. Every time he saw a wyvern, he thought of Jill. Every time he slept, he'd dream of her.

And then Ike had even mentioned her. He wasn't bitter that there wasn't a relationship between them. He wasn't upset that Jill had joined Daein's little liberation group. He just didn't want her brought up again. It would set his mind into a downward spiral of worry. He'd only heard from her once, after all. She could have been killed and he'd never hear of it; word would never reach him, never reach anybody.

Dead teacher's daughter. Jill can do whatever she wants. Those were true, at least. But they weren't wholly so.

He could tell Ike that he hadn't found the words to ask Jill to marry him because he was, deep down, a coward, and he could say that because Jill could do whatever she wanted, he worried incessantly about her. But none of that was any of Ike's business, fearless leader though he was.

As he drifted back to sleep, he realized that Ike was only as concerned as some of the others had been. It was weird seeing one of them without the other, Mist had said to him already.

He'd shrugged it off, but the truth was that it felt as if a piece of him was missing. And he hated being reminded of it.

…-…-…

Being reunited was…

Haar realized he'd never be able to put into words how he felt, and if he could have asked her to marry him the moment he saw her again, he would have. But as all the other times, it was not the right one.

Instead, he talked her into switching sides. Again.

No one would understand them as well as they understood one another.

When the battle ended, he was surprised to feel her arms wrap tightly around his waist.

"I missed you," she said, and when he looked down he saw that she had tears in her eyes.

A part of him wanted to scoop her up to see if she'd still squeal, but he settled for hugging her back with one arm while he cupped the back of her head gently in his hand, bending down to rest his chin on her hair. "It's good to see you again, Jill."

His throat was clogged with emotion but he hoped she couldn't hear it, pressed against his shirt.

She wiped her eyes and he reluctantly let her go. She pushed him halfheartedly. "You never wrote me back," she said accusingly. "I was worried about you!"

"I wrote a reply to the one letter I received," he answered.

She deflated. "I didn't get it."

"We were both moving around, it's not surprising."

She said, after a moment, giving him a critical once-over as if to make certain he was really okay, "I'm very pleased to see you again, Haar. It wasn't the same without you."

He had a thousand responses prepared to use for that very moment, but he was left speechless. Wordlessly, he pulled her into a one-armed hug. She gave a small squeak of surprise, but hugged him back.

"Jill?" Mist's voice interrupted things, and Jill pulled away far too early for his liking. Ike's younger sister had a wide smile on her face, and tears in her own eyes.

Jill turned back to him and smiled before squeezing his hand. "I'll talk to you later," she said before running over to her friend.

Haar almost felt upset at Mist for cutting his time with Jill short, but the younger woman redeemed herself with the first thing to come out of her mouth when Jill drew near, "I'm so glad the two of you are back together! It just felt so wrong seeing Sir Haar without you!"

…-…-…

It was almost as if she had grown more beautiful in the time they'd been apart, though Haar realized the thought was ridiculous and in the end, it didn't matter. Perhaps her face had matured a little, and her stance gave away the weariness only felt by soldiers at war, but she was as she always had been.

He felt her toe nudge his leg. "Hey, wake up."

She'd long ago given up on yelling at him to wake up. He wasn't deaf—actually, his hearing was better than hers—he simply had selective hearing, and he would choose to ignore anyone who felt they had to wake him up by screaming at him.

"What is it, Jill?" he asked, cracking open his one good eye.

She reached her hand out to help him up, and he took it. "Dinner. Mist and Oscar whipped up a great feast for us. Well, a great feast considering our options."

He stifled a yawn. "Hmmm."

She frowned and took his hand again, tugging on it. "Come on, Haar. I didn't walk all the way over here to have you fall asleep before I made you eat something."

He watched her try to tug him forward for a moment, and then shrugged his shoulders and let her pull him for a few feet. There was something almost irresistible about her, he thought.

She freed his hand as he fell in step with her, but he scooped her hand back up with his own and gave it a squeeze. Jill tossed him a questioning glance, which he returned with a crooked half-smile that offered no explanation.

She seemed to accept it as it was, and walked a little closer to him, a small smile crossing her lips.

…-…-…

His heart stopped when he saw her wyvern plunging toward the ground.

As soon as he could be there, he was, the beats of his heart pounding in his throat. She looked suddenly fragile lying half-beneath the large form of her wyvern. The beast must have landed first, he thought, and then rolled onto her after she'd fallen from her saddle. She was struggling to move.

He approached her at a dead run, sliding to a stop and falling to his knees to grip her shoulders firmly. "Whatever you're doing, stop it," he ordered, and perhaps because it was him saying it, or perhaps because she had been a soldier for so long, she obeyed.

"Haar?" she breathed. She couldn't see him for the blood in her face. A deep cut across her forehead was the culprit.

He petted her hair as reassuringly as he could, at once terrified and relived. At least she had survived the fall. She was hurt pretty bad. If the cut were lower on her face, it would have taken her eye. She could have all kinds of injuries he couldn't even see.

"Haar?" she tried again. Her voice sounded weak. "I… My legs are stuck. I tried to free them, but I can't and I don't know why." She looked quite unlike herself—unsure and confused.

At once he knew why. Her right hand was broken, and her legs were trapped beneath her wyvern's thick tail.

"I'll get it," he assured her. "Don't worry about it."

And he let her go just long enough to move her dead wyvern's tail out of the way. A deep groan forced its way from her throat as the weight was removed. The material of her pants was stained a bright red, and he wasn't sure if it was because she'd broken bones in her legs, or because of the wound that sliced across her stomach.

Perhaps both.

He kneeled beside her and tried to lift her up, not caring at all if she dripped blood all over him. He had to get her to Mist or Rhys or…anyone. The dead weight of her body was a deterrent, but he managed to get to his feet with her in his arms after a few moments. "Jill," he tried, touching her face carefully.

Her eyelashes fluttered and she barely opened her eyes to acknowledge she'd heard him.

"Don't fall asleep."

"But…" Her voice was hardly audible.

He wanted to shake her very hard, beg her to stay awake. But instead, as he got onto his wyvern's back to find Mist from the air, he said very sternly, "I trained a soldier."

"S-Sorry," she murmured before her voice softened again. "I'll try."

She did try, but by the time he spotted Mist from the air and had landed, Jill was barely conscious.

"Oh no, Jill!" Mist said, looking horrified at the pale, broken form of her friend that he held carefully in his arms. Rhys was right on her heels, though he looked like he might faint from the sheer amount of blood.

Haar didn't need to be told to put Jill on the ground, and he quickly laid her on some soft-looking grass. Had he been carrying anyone else, he'd have gotten on his wyvern and taken to the skies again. But he couldn't force himself to leave Jill, and he took off his helmet, casting it aside as he took a seat on the ground.

Mist nodded at him and he gently lifted Jill's head onto his lap. Tears squeezed out of her eyes as Rhys and Mist began the healing process, and Haar tried to reassure her by absentmindedly stroking her hair and face.

It likely brought him more comfort than it did her.

…-…-…

Sleep did not come easy to him, but it was just about all Jill did for almost three days.

He didn't like not being able to hear her voice, but Mist assured him that the body healed much faster while at rest, and he contented himself with watching Jill sleep as long as the ability to do so himself evaded him.

If anyone thought it was odd, they did not comment on the situation.

Lethe came by for a few minutes; she petted Jill's hand and had turned to him, her face serious. "She'll pull through soon," the cat laguz told him as if he didn't already know. "She's strong."

…-…-…

He returned from a trip to get some food in his growling gut when Mist stopped him outside of the tent. "She woke up while you were gone," she told him cheerfully. "Kept asking for you, wanted to know where you were."

He hurried to her side, but she had fallen back asleep.

Disappointed, he brushed her hair out of her face and pressed his lips against the fresh scar on her forehead.

…-…-…

He awoke to her presence and the feeling of her hand in his hair.

Cracking his eye open, he half sat up, leaning on his elbows for support. "Jill?"

She was kneeling beside him, and at the sound of her name, her arms found their way around his neck.

Suddenly off balance, he had to sit up all of the way so that he could return the gesture. He realized her arms were shaking, and forced himself to pull away. "You're not well," he said. "You shouldn't be up."

She frowned at him in the dark. "You're only three feet from my bedroll and I'm fine."

"That's beside the point," he said, feeling a bit annoyed. She was still just as stubborn as ever.

"I'm fine," she said again, her voice softer.

Didn't she realize she'd nearly died—that, if he hadn't seen her fall from the sky, nobody might have known to look for her until hours had passed? By then it might have been too late; she'd have bled to death before anyone had found her.

"You're not fine," he said, the back of his hand brushing against her stomach. The material of her shirt hid them from view, but he knew the bandages were still there.

Her hand covered his and held it. "I'm fine." Her voice had a sense of finality about it that he chose not to argue with. After a while, she let go of his hand and moved close to him, wrapping her arms around him in another hug, though he couldn't help but feel the second was different somehow than the first.

It felt…right somehow, to hold her so closely, and he did so as tightly as he dared, a hand rubbing her back when she did not pull away after a few minutes had past.

Finally, she said, her voice strong, "Haar?"

He realized he'd never get tired of hearing her say his name—just his name, with nothing else attached. "Mm?" He was starting to get sleepy from his general lack of sleep over the past few days, and the added warmth.

"Thank you." She sighed against him, and pulled away, touching his face. "I almost died."

"I wouldn't have let that happen." What would he do without her? He didn't know. It would be a lonely existence, one he couldn't imagine himself having to live. What good was fighting for peace if he didn't get to share that peace with Jill?

"I know," she murmured, and leaned closer to him. "But. I just…" She tilted her head, and almost before he realized what was happening, she pressed her lips against his, hesitantly at first, and then with a little more confidence.

He knew her cheeks would be red with embarrassment at her boldness, and after he got over his initial shock, he gently cupped the back of her head in the palm of one of his hands and returned her kiss with one of his own.

He was careful not to get carried away, and yet when her lungs began to burn for air, and her breathing grew heavier, she could not hide her muffled groan of pain.

He pulled away immediately, but held her close, pressed a kiss against the top of her head, tried to calm his racing heart.

"I'm sorry," she said, her voice almost wobbly.

He wasn't sure if she was apologizing for her boldness or for her pain, but he'd have none of either. "Don't be," he said firmly. Then, in an attempt to lighten the mood, he pulled away and brushed her hair back from her face. "If I'd have known I'd get that kind of thank-you from you, I might have done that soo—"

"I love you, Haar." Her face was flushed in embarrassment, but her words were spoken with the same conviction she'd had several years ago when she'd told him that she had been wrong about the laguz.

"Jill…" He didn't know what to say, but didn't he owe it to her to be honest? "I knew how I felt for certain when I snuck into Crimea's base camp to speak with you." He thought about adding and a hundred other times to the end, but he decided it'd be best if he didn't.

"So you do…?"

"Of course I love you, Jill," he said, affectionately ruffling her hair. "Why wouldn't I?"

She looked rather pleased. "But if you knew that long ago, why didn't you say anything? Especially when we were even living together!"

He gave a noncommittal shrug, "I almost did several times. It just wasn't the right time."

She frowned at him and spoke with insistence, "Any time would have been the right time." She let her head rest against his collarbone. "I've loved you all along, you know."

He smiled. "Then why didn't you say anything?" he asked.

"It just wasn't the right time," she mimicked, but then her voice turned serious. "I was afraid you wouldn't think I meant it."

"I didn't want to chase you off."

"Stupid reasons," she said, half to herself.

"Well, something's been said, now." He stifled a yawn and shook his head. "It's late and you need to rest."

"But—"

"No buts, Jill. I almost lost you."

She softened at his words. "Okay," she agreed. "But only if I get another kis—"

Before she could even finish her sentence, he was kissing her, gently against her lips, and then a feather-light brush against her forehead. "Jill," he murmured when he pulled away. "Marry me. When this war is over."

She twisted the hair at the nape of his neck around her fingers. "What kind of proposal was that?"

"The kind an old, boring man like myself makes."

"Well, in that case," she said, leaning in again to steal one more kiss from him, "I accept."

"I always thought Shiharam would be around for me to ask his permission," said Haar with an almost wistful tone.

Jill scoffed, and poked him firmly in the center of his chest. "You wouldn't have needed his permission anyway," she said firmly. "I love you, and that's all that matters."

He gave a small smile. "I'll bet Shiharam would have said the same thing."


…-…-…

Author Notes:

1. Cop-out ending? What? I fail at endings. I apologize.

2. I tried to draw parallels from the beginning to the end. Did you catch them?

3. I tried to make a connection between Haar and Shiharam from FE9/10 and Heath and Vaida from FE7. The corrupt Senate reminds me a lot of Bern's corrupted-ness; for those that don't know or aren't familiar, Vaida's Raiders were ordered to put down a rebellion…that didn't actually exist. In this 'fic, Shiharam and his men put down the "rebellion" anyway. In FE7, Vaida and her men refuse to do so, and all of her men but Heath are hunted down as traitors because of it.

4. I thought it'd be interesting if Haar's eye wasn't totally destroyed, just sightless and ugly to look at.

5. Lori is borrowed from Kittykatloren's 'fic(s) where Shiharam's wife was named "Lorrie". I'm used to the spelling of the name I used here.

6. At first, babies can only see eight to fifteen inches away. Everything further (light, shapes) is detectable, but very blurry. At about eight months old, a baby's vision should be almost adult in clarity. Jill is only a few days old in the first scene.

7. Raise your hand if you thought Haar would be the one to say the prompt quote!

As always, feedback is appreciated! More notes at SwayingtheFlame at Livejournal.