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Breath of Life

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Leo was confused.

“You have a new sister now,” his father said. Father’s eyes were cold now. They used to be warm brown, like the rich soil Leo sometimes found in the garden, but now they were cold and flat and lifeless. He didn’t understand it.

“A new sister?” he asked slowly. “Like Elise?”

“No,” Father said coldly. “She is older than you. You will visit her this Saturday.”

“Father,” Xander asked slowly. “May I ask why you have chosen to take us to her now?”

“Her mother was a stubborn woman,” Father said, his tone clipped. Leo pulled inwards, gripping the tome his mother had given him. “She refused to give up her child to me until she died.”

Xander simply nodded, as if Father's words made perfect sense. “Then we shall treat her as our sibling.”

“Excellent,” Camilla said, her eyes shining with excitement. Leo frowned at her look. That was the look she gave him, not some stranger who lived far, far away.

“You are dismissed,” Father said, turning away from all of them. Leo stared at him for a long while, confused, until Camilla took his hand and dragged him out. Xander was already down the hallway, his arms folded tightly.

“Why is Father so quiet?” Leo asked softly.

“Father is… different now, Leo,” Camilla said softly, bending over so she could speak with him eye to eye. “You must be very careful with what to say around him, do you understand?”

“I know,” Leo said quietly, staring down at the ground. “I can’t ask him for piggy-back rides anymore, can I?”

“No, darling,” Camilla confirmed, and Leo shrank down even further. “I’m afraid… I’m afraid Father will never get better.”

“Leo, don’t listen to your sister,” Xander said firmly. “This is simply a rough patch for Father. He will pull through, and everything will go back to the way it was before.” He crouched down. “In the meantime, do you want me to give you a piggy-back ride?”

Leo nodded silently, and he clung to Big Brother’s back as they walked down the halls.

“A new sister,” Camilla said, her eyes dreamy. “And she’s all grown up too! How wonderful.”

“Don’t get too attached,” Xander cautioned. “I have the feeling…” He trailed off, then sighed. “Never mind. Either way, we should all start packing. Leo, how about you bring your books? You can read with your new big sister.”

Leo pressed his face into Xander’s shoulder. “I don’t want a new sister.”

“Come now,” Xander said, patting his head. “You’ll love her to pieces, just like you did with Elise.”

“She’s bigger than me. That means she’s scary.”

“Oh, darling, come off it,” Camilla said sweetly, stroking his back. “I’m sure she’ll be absolutely harmless. And if she isn’t, well… Do you know what big sisters are for?”

“They take care of the little brothers,” Leo muttered back.

“Exactly. We’re all family now, Leo,” Xander said warmly. “Camilla and I and Elise and our new sister. We’re going to make a fresh clean start, no fighting or sadness.”

“Okay,” Leo whispered.

He’d believe it when he saw it.

 


 

“Goodness,” Camilla whispered, staring up at the Northern Fortress. Though most of Nohr was grim and foreboding, this place seemed to be trying its hardest to outdo the rest. “Why does Father keep her here, of all places?”

“You know why,” Xander said, pulling out his bags. They would be staying for a week in the place, with only their retainers and the staff on hand. “Father said countless times that Corrin gets sick very easily. She’s kept here for her own good.”

“But surely such a damp place can’t be good for her,” Camilla mused, shaking her head. “She should be in a place with more light and fresh air than this.”

“It is Father’s decision,” Xander said firmly, carrying his luggage with him. And that was that.

He cracked open the door, wincing at the musty smell. “Um… Hello?”

“Ah, Prince Xander!” a refined male voice said. “Please, enter!”

Xander nodded at the elderly knight. “Gunter, is it?”

“Yes, milord,” the man said, his hair a pale shade of lilac. Scars and wrinkles cut crevasses into his face, evidence of his time out on the front lines, but he held a genteel manner and an almost fatherly bearing. “Will you be needing assistance?”

“No. I am aware your staff is limited,” Xander said, setting down his bags with a huff. “When may we see Corrin?”

“I’m afraid it may take some time. You see, Corrin is very sensitive to outsiders,” Gunter explained. “She’s had very little interaction with anyone other than the staff since arriving here.”

Xander’s heart twisted at that. “You mean she’s not allowed to socialize with anyone that’s her own age?”

“Milord, she isn’t permitted to leave the fortress,” Gunter said bluntly. “Surely you are aware of this.”

Xander’s eyes widened. “You must be joking. You seriously confine her to this place?”

“The child does not seem to want to stray too far from her chambers,” Gunter said tiredly. “Many times we have urged her to at least go outside into the courtyard, but she always refuses.”

Something is seriously wrong here.

“May you show me to her room?” Xander asked quietly.

Gunter nodded. “This way, milord.”

Xander followed the aged knight through the halls, then up the twisting staircase to her chambers, which were located in the tallest tower. Even though he’d been doing physical training for swordplay for years, his legs were burning by the time they reached Corrin’s door.

“Don’t bother knocking,” Gunter said tersely. “She probably won’t speak two words to you, milord.”

Xander stared at the door for a long moment, screwed up his courage, then laid his hand on the doorknob and twisted.

The room beyond the door was completely the opposite of what he had expected. Lacy curtains were drawn, letting in the sunlight, and a plush red carpet cushioned his booted feet as he strode inside.

A young girl sat on the edge of the bed, a toy doll in her hands. Her face was expressionless, her motions listless, her feet bare and swinging back and forth. She looked smaller than she should -- he vaguely remembered his father telling him that she was eight -- but all of that was not enough to provoke his reaction.

His heart thudded in his chest and his palms grew sweaty as he beheld his new sister’s face.

Her ears were pointed, jutting out of her hair like knives. He’d never seen such a thing before except in storybooks: ancient tales of elves and sprites, the fey folk.

His sharp inhale made her turn, and next came the shock of her eyes: large and shining, innocent and pure save for their color. Her irises were red, or were they brown, or were they some color in between? He couldn’t tell.

Either way, it was unnatural, and he had to swallow his fears down. This was a child, a young girl that he was tasked with being the older brother to.

His nerves calmed when he saw her reaction to him. Her hands drew up to her chest, hugging at herself. A small squeak escaped her mouth, and she quickly scrambled to the farthest corner, staring at him with wide eyes.

She’s afraid of me.

It was a reaction that he was used to, but seeing it on this girl’s face broke his heart. “Princess Corrin,” he whispered, his voice raspy. He cleared his throat, then tried again. “I am Prince Xander of Nohr. Your older brother.”

Her eyes only widened at this information, and he stared at her in silence.

Then, she turned away, her hair cascading over her shoulders, hiding her face. The doll was left on the floor, and she simply stared at her hands.

“You see, milord?” Gunter said softly. “She’s unresponsive to most people.”

Then I shall simply have to try harder. He left the safety of the doorway and stepped into the room, crossing over to Corrin’s bed.

She let out a gasp as he sat down next to her, then picked up the doll from the floor. It was a simple toy, not nearly as lavish as the small swords and shields he’d received when he was a child. He stared at it for a second, then handed it to her. “She’s lovely,” he said softly.

Her fingers snatched the doll from his hand, holding it to her chest.

“Does she have a name?” Xander asked, turning to face her.

Corrin shook her head, her whole figure bowed over the doll, as if protecting it from him.

Slowly, gently, he laid his hand on her shoulder. Her breath hitched, and she turned to face him, those fascinating red eyes of hers wide. “Corrin,” he said softly. “I’m not going to hurt you. I’m your big brother now. Do you know what big brothers do?”

Her eyes were vacant, blank, and she did not move.

“They take care of the siblings that come after,” he said. “And that is what I will do for you. I will take care of you.” He squeezed her shoulder in what he hoped was a reassuring manner. “If you require anything of me, you need only ask. I will see it done.”

At first, she didn’t react at all. Then, gently, her head dipped down, then up. A nod.

He smiled. “Good. I hope you’ll join us for dinner. Camilla and Leo are both excited to see you.”

Another nod.

“Very well, little princess,” he whispered, standing up and crossing the room.

It was small, but it was a start.

 


 

Leo clutched his tome tightly as they walked into the dining room. The scent of cleaner was still in the air: clearly the dining room wasn’t normally used.

“You’ll be fine, dear,” Camilla said, resting a hand on his shoulder. “Xander’s told me that Corrin is quite harmless.”

“That’s what they said about Michael,” Leo whispered, his grip on the tome tightening, bending the leather. Mother’s voice whispered in his ear, reprimanding him for treating such an expensive item poorly.

“And that is all in the past,” Camilla said sweetly, tousling his hair. “Remember, I’m here.”

He nodded, swallowing thickly. Big Sister was here, so everything was going to be okay. Or at least, that was what Camilla kept on telling him.

“Corrin? Are you ready?” Xander’s voice said softly.

Leo trembled as his older brother rounded the corner, then froze as he saw the girl holding his hand.

She was small, bigger than him, but still small. Her hair was the color of polished silverware, and her eyes were shiny and red, like the garnets in his mother’s jewelry box. Her cheeks were pink, but the rest of her skin was pale.

“Hello, darling,” Camilla said, pulling away from Leo. She bent down at the waist so she could see eye to eye with the stranger. “My name’s Camilla, but you can call me Big Sister, hm?”

Corrin stared up at Camilla, then moved behind Xander, one of her small hands grabbing at his pant leg. Camilla didn’t seem fazed or embarrassed at all. Instead, she laughed, smiling brightly at the girl. “Oho, don’t worry, darling. I don’t bite.”

Corrin didn’t move, and Leo realized it was because she was scared.

“Leo?” Xander said. “Come meet your older sister.”

His feet felt like lead as he staggered forward, holding the book in front of him as a shield. Yet, he didn’t feel afraid anymore. Corrin was scared of him too.

“This is Leo,” Xander said, gesturing towards him. “He’s your little brother.”

Corrin moved out from behind Xander, her eyes even wider than before.

“N-Nice to meet you,” Leo said, sticking out his hand.

She stared at it for a good long while, then hesitantly reached out, her fingers trembling. Instead of shaking it, like he expected, her fingertips brushed against his palm. He blinked as she pulled away from Xander, then moved towards the kitchen table.

“Well,” Camilla said, still smiling. “I think she’s warmed up to us, don’t you think?”

Xander sighed. “I hope so.”

Leo stared at his new big sister, gazing at her face. There was something almost otherworldly about it, something strange he couldn’t quite place.

Somehow, he would find out what it was.