It’s not the same dress, Lissa tells herself—of course it’s not. Emm was always a good head taller than her, almost as tall as Chrom, and she filled out the Sage’s robes in a way that did not make her look like a girl playing at being a woman. Just looking at her reflection in the window is enough to make her want to run back to her room, shove the dress into a drawer, and tell the quartermaster that this was all another gaffe, could she have a standard-issue dress now? She has never been a quitter, though—not until the whispers start.
The folk around the palace are at least bearable after a lifetime as a favorite subject of complaint for scandalized nobles. Nobody says Emmeryn’s name aloud, not when the wound of her loss is still raw enough that it could break open again. “The exalt’s spitting image,” she hears as she forces herself to walk at a reasonable pace, chin lifted in a way she knows is more stubborn than serenely graceful. “As if she’s come again,” follows Lissa out the doors—it is no triumph, but it should be. If her throat burns, it is a managable ache, the mantle of her cloak still stiff with starch and heavy across her shoulders. She should be flattered, she thinks, ecstatic, even. How many times has she told anyone who would listen that Emmeryn was her goal? How long has she spent watching her sister, aping her poise, her patience, her ability not to command respect, but to inspire it? At the summit she’s been scrabbling towards her whole life, Lissa finds that this is not the sort of success she’s longed for. It feels twisted and empty, a knot in the core of her stomach that lurches with every awestruck look she gets.
It isn’t until she passes through the half-empty barracks that Lissa truly thinks she’s made a mistake, every Shepherd in the room coming to a standstill to gape at her. The tactful ones—Robin, Stahl, Miriel—manage to correct their gazes fast enough that it almost seems like they hadn’t been staring at all. Cordelia gasps in spite of herself, Sumia’s hands fly to her mouth, Panne’s eyes fix her with a question she cannot answer. Frederick looks as though someone has just stabbed him in the gut. Even Maribelle is momentarily stunned, and the moment is enough to make Lissa’s heart drop.
"I guess that didn’t go over so well," she says to the floor, voice so stuffed with false cheer that Maribelle immediately starts towards her. Lissa turns on her heel and forces herself not to run blindly right back out of the room like an upset child—the skirt is so narrow that she would likely trip if she tried.
She shuts her bedroom door and tries not to feel sorry for herself. Knees drawn up to her chest, Lissa tells herself she’ll take the dress off any minute now—it remains on her body, and she remains on her bed, stuck at an impasse. Someone knocks on the door—bangs on it, rather, with his whole fist rather than just his knuckles. Only Chrom would be so totally lacking in finesse, right down to the little things.
"Lissa?" comes his voice, muffled by the thick wood. "Lissa, I’m coming in now."
"Hold on a moment!" she yelps, not wanting him to see her like this, curled up and bleary-eyed. If he bent over backwards to make sure she never saw him cry, she’ll do the same. Forcing her stiff legs into motion, she trots open to the door just as Chrom yanks it open wide. She can actually see the breath leave his body, all in one slow-motion rush, just like watching Emm fall. He never let her see the body, some distant part of her remembers, he shielded it with his own as they fled so that Lissa never had to see their sister a broken, vacated shell on the ground.
"Oh, Lissa," he starts, anguish writ in his raised brows, parted lips, eyes that for a moment belong to a sad little boy, not a king. They have that much in common, at least.
"Chrom," her voice tight and wrong, sounding like someone else’s to her own ears, "Just for once in your life, could you maybe try to have a little bit of tact? I’m not," sucking in a staggered breath, she will not cry again, "I’m not having a very good time right now." She stares over his shoulder, the one without the Brand, silver clasp on his cape winking in and out of focus as her vision blurs. Tact can be a bit too much to ask of her brother—what he feels is what he says, even if it tends to get muddled en route more often than not. Lissa expects him to have an immediate retort, some sort of protest, anything. Instead, he checks himself, the hand he’d moved to reach out to her returning to his side, oddly contemplative.
"Robin told me something had happened," he begins, saying each word as though he’s still thinking about it as he speaks, hesitant. "I have to admit, this wasn’t what I was expecting."
"It was my own stupid idea," Lissa says—it comes out breathy and tremulous, just short of a whisper. "I thought… I don’t even know what I thought. That wearing this would, would make me more like Emm?" Chrom moves away from the door slowly, closing it behind him. To her surprise, he chuckles.
"I don’t blame you. To be honest, I’d put on her vestments myself if I wouldn’t look the fool in them." The image of Chrom in a dress, or anything even approaching nice clothing in general, startles a tearful laugh out of Lissa. She meets his eyes then—he smiles, but it is small and uncertain. He is not the rock he wants to be. "Lissa," running a hand through his hair as he does when he’s anxious, "These may sound like empty words to you now, but nobody is expecting you to be her. Nobody should expect you to be her, least of all me.” The set of his mouth twists to a wry grimace. “Not when I have to remind myself every day that I’ll never be her, either.”
"You’d drive yourself crazy trying," she points out, hearing the ironic echo in her own words a beat too late.
"I may well have already done as much," Chrom confesses. He seems as though he means to say more on the subject, but holds himself back. In that moment, he is utterly fallible to her. Not in the petty sense, where a little sister can pick out her older brother’s every minute flaw—he has always been on a pedestal just a step below Emmeryn in her mind, for all that she jabs at him, and to see him stumble scares her. He is trying to be inspiring, to tap into that force that makes people want to fight for him, to die for him, but he cannot do it when he tries consciously. Uneasy, Lissa shifts from one foot to the other, forces herself not to clasp her hands behind her back. There is no quick fix for this, she realizes, no way to make the fabric hang easy off her body except to keep wearing it.