A/N: Because, as far as I'm concerned, there will never be enough Ike/Elincia stories.
"What are you still doing up?"
Tired eyes glanced up from the map that was spread out in front of him, marks of blue and red indicated different paths of different armies; the near four hour discussion beforehand had mapped out every possible path and trail they could use to try and bypass the Daein army as often as they could. So far, their options weren't looking good but Soren was still almost positive that they'd find some way out of this mess; Titania assured that even if they did run into trouble that they would be able to ensure victory despite the struggle. He remembered telling her that it was easy for her and Oscar to say but the rest of them didn't have a Royal Knight career to back them up. That's when the discussion was put aside for the morning instead and they all dismissed themselves to their separate tents. Unfortunately, he found himself to be too restless to even think about sleep and came back to study the maps again. The least he could do was try and catch himself up on their surroundings… especially if he was expected to continue leading the Mercenaries like this.
He looked up to where the green-haired girl was standing at the propped open entrance of the tent; those golden eyes of hers were narrowed slightly in worry as one hand gathered the light material of her coat and pulled it tight around her neck. Part of him jumped slightly at her appearance, even though he heard her announce herself… he wasn't exactly expecting it to be the Crimean Princess; he thought it was Titania or Boyd maybe, not her. "Uh… I'm just… looking over these maps and trying to remember what Soren said about them."
She offered a light smile as though to apologize for the sudden intrusion. "Must be a lot to remember then."
"Well, he does have a lot to say sometimes- I can barely get him to shut up." He chuckled, moving one hand to rub at his temple as a faint headache began to throb behind his eyes. "Why are you up at this hour? It's well past midnight and I know for certain that everyone hasn't been sleeping well as of lately- including yourself."
"I know, then again the last time we all had a decent night's sleep, we almost got ambushed in the middle of the night by Daein forces." She remarked as she slowly walked into the dimly lit tent. "As for why I'm still awake though… I just can't sleep tonight; it feels like my mind is racing and I can't even go two seconds without some kind of terrible thought going through my head."
He knew what she meant; the same thing had kept him awake plenty of times before… he guessed he just had an easier way of hiding it. Leaning back in his chair, he let out a long sigh and moved to pinch the empty space between his eyes. "Well, you're welcomed to sit and stay if you want, not saying that I can promise an entertaining time. We can just look at maps together, I guess."
She chuckled quietly and continued over to where he was seated; looking down at the table that rested between them, she glanced at the different rolls of maps that were stacked on top of one another or kept off to the side. A few of them she recognized just by the shape outline or the different region colors. Hands settled themselves lightly on the edge of the table as she leaned down a little to get a closer look at the map underneath all the scribbles of ink. She could see why the young Commander looked as though he was sick of studying the detailed paper… it looked like there were at least ten of them on the table alone, followed by even more scattered around the table legs. A few times she had witnessed their collaborated discussions on what to do or where to go, and while he usually seemed to be listening diligently to the what the strategist was saying, sometimes he looked like he just wanted to hit him in the face instead. It was a stressful situation for everyone though…
Leaning forward, she tapped the tip of her finger on a spot of the map close to where he was sitting; the straight lines pushed together indicated that it was a small valley of some kind. "This is where I grew up."
He glanced up slightly at the remark before his eyes were drawn to where she was pointing. A light smile seemed to play on her lips as though she was recalling her life up until this point, seeing all the memories flash before her eyes.
"I remember how Geoffrey used to chase Lucia and I around the pastures all the time; he always went easy on us though and never actually caught up to us even though he was faster. This one time, I swear it only happened once and it was Lucia's idea to start with, but we put this bucket of water on top of his bedroom door and waited for him to go to bed. It was so hard not to laugh while we were waiting for him to fall for it- we almost ruined it. Oh, but you should've heard how loud he screamed, I think he might've woke up the neighbors who lived… ten miles away I believe."
He shook his head and chuckled lightly at the story before he leaned back forward, looking over the map himself just one more time. "Right here…" he started, tapping his finger against an area that was almost on the other side of Crimea from her. "This is where I trained to join the Mercenaries. Boyd and I used to spend hours 'training' but we spent most of our time trash talking each other and wondering off when no one was looking. We were a bunch of troublemakers to be honest, always trying to dare each other to do whatever we could think of. Once before, he dared me to walk across this frozen lake in the middle of the winter; I didn't do it but somehow he managed to knock me down the embankment and I cracked my head on the ice… and then I cracked the ice with my head."
"Well… that's just how we operated sometimes."
Her thick curls bounced slightly as she gave a quiet laugh at his statement before she looked at the map once more; this time she moved to a small, marked city not to far from where she first pointed. "Every other week, we used to take a trip to closest town and shop around for a little bit. Bastian bought Lucia this really pretty dress once and insisted that she'd remember to wear it on their first date… I think it might still be sitting in her dresser back home; she told me that she would never wear it and would much rather burn it instead."
This was one of the first times he heard her discuss whoever Lucia and Geoffrey were… their whereabouts were still unknown but she remained so positive about it; he didn't want her to lose that kind of hope. "She sounds like a heartbreaker."
"Only to Bastian." Elincia smiled.
He moved to point out where the Mercenary retreat building was, or at least the general area of it. "This one time there was this mission that everyone else was called to do but Mist and Rolf were too young to go, so Boyd and I stayed behind to watch after them. Which, you know, looking back on it now was a terrible idea to do. This storm somehow moved in overnight and it was just tearing the place up with lightning and thunder coming in at every interval. I was trying to keep Mist calm and keep her from crying, telling her that everything was okay and everyone would be back soon enough. Boyd was chasing Rolf up and down the hallways saying that he was supposed to be a sacrifice to the storm Goddess and that she would only calm down once he was dead. Needless to say, Oscar wasn't really happy about the whole thing when they got back the next day."
"I take back what I said about the last thing being terrible because that's just even worse."
He shrugged lightly at the memory and offered a brief grin in response. "It was a very strange childhood, I will say that." He watched as she seemed to tilt her head to one side as she continued to study the map, although he wondered how exactly she could identify the places if she was seeing them upside down. She probably knew about the landscapes though… then again she said she grew up in an isolated environment… he was probably just thinking too much into this though. Slowly, he followed her expression as it seemed to fall for a moment as though a separate set of memories began to cross her path.
Carefully, and with a clear sign of hesitation, she moved her finger to point at yet another place.
"This is where my guards and I were jumped. One minute we were doing fine and the next… we were completely surrounded by Daein forces. Even now, my memory of it is still fuzzy, I just remember someone telling me to run and I remember… hearing people screaming. I don't know what happened, I keep thinking that maybe I should have stayed behind to be with them." her voice was quiet when she spoke and it almost seemed as though she was reliving that moment for just a few brief seconds.
He remembered the scattered words she had given them when she woke up after they rescued her from the forest. It all told a story of living a secret life and being suddenly thrown into the spotlight in a bad situation; the rumors of a secret Crimean princess set Daein into overdrive as they scoured towns and villages for any signs of her. They were lucky to have escaped detection for this long but... that kind of luck was bound to run out for them eventually. Daein was strong and reckless; they were just Mercenaries, it would seem as though the odds were against them. But he didn't want to fail her. "If you had stayed behind, Daein would've captured you and possibly killed you without a second of hesitation; your death would mean the end of everything those men fought to protect. They would have died in vain." He started as he moved to lightly cup his hand over her own. "But we have a chance now with you here; Crimea can still survive this."
He needed to see that perfect smile of hers, just to make sure his words actually did something; she gave him that gratification of knowing they did though. He dropped his eyes to the same map and felt his chest tighten slightly as one spot on it stuck out to him; heavy fingers moved to place themselves on it.
"This is where my father died… I don't really know why I followed him that night, but I guess I should be glad that I did. At least I know what happened to him right? At least I know who I'm fighting in this war…"
It would seem like a terrible idea that they were sharing stories and memories like these ones, but... maybe it was just for the satisfaction that they were still human in this war; that these struggles were there to make them stumble and make them want to give up when that kind of option wasn't available to them right now. It forced them to fight harder.
She nodded lightly and matched his movement with her own. "I hadn't seen my parents in three years and yet… I still can't bear to think about what happened to them, what their final moments must've been like. My Uncle Renning… I heard the rumors that he didn't go down without a fight, that he took out half of a Daein regiment by himself before he was defeated… That seems suiting for him; he was always a fighter…"
"Come on now, we can't risk… dwelling on the past like this." He started, knowing well that if they dug any deeper into this kind of topic, they wouldn't be able to pull themselves out of it. "We just use it as means for the future and keep working ourselves to get to the end of this in one piece. We'll win this war, Princess… and we'll make you a Queen."
Another smile caught onto her lips and lifted that grave expression from before; her fingertip lightly tapped against a new area to draw his attention. "Right here is where we first met; it will be a mark on every map I own from here on out. I won't forget about the day you changed my life, Sir Ike… You'll be at my side at the end of this, right?"
"If you permit me to, I will be." He nodded, moving both hands to cover hers. "… If I make it to the end anyways."
"Don't say that." She objected lightly as her fingers entangled the space between his own. "Promise me you'll stay?"
It didn't seem like something he could exactly give his word on, but he was pretty sure if he objected to it, she wasn't going to have anything else to keep her head above the water. She had already lost enough as it was… she seemed pretty keen on keeping him around. "… Alright Princess, I promise."
"Thank you… I don't know what I would do without you here."
"Don't worry about it, it'd probably be best if you kept all signs of gratitude until the end of this- just in case something goes terribly wrong along the way." He offered. "Now then, you should probably try and get some sleep before morning, we have a long day tomorrow that no one's looking forward to."
She nodded briefly and moved to step away before she paused. "Are you going to head back to your tent as well?"
"I was thinking of staying up a little longer and figure out this last piece of the map."
Pulling her hands free from his own, she moved to bring them to cup against his jaw as she leaned over the table towards him. Her lips softly brushed against his forehead for a gentle moment before she pulled away. "Good night, Sir Ike… the morning awaits the both of us."