‘Eight,’ Robin gasps as Maribelle does Naga knows what with his ankle. Chrom can never watch, his eyes always averted when Robin’s therapy begins. He stays in the room for support, could never leave while Robin is suffering like this, but it’s also impossible for Chrom to see Robin’s face twist, to see his skin pale, his chest shudder as he endues. ‘Sorry, it’s -’
It’s an eight, a high on Robin’s pain scale, which is the point where this ends, where it has to stop. Pain happens; it’s constant with Robin’s injury but they also have to be careful of overworking it or causing further damage. With a fracture such as his, he's lucky he's healing like he is. Healing at all.
‘Alright, I think we’ve worked this enough today…’ Maribelle states, voice uneven but calm despite it all. Chrom felt such admiration for healers, for all their grit and mettle. It's not something just anyone could be, that Maribelle is strong enough for this line of work and it can treat a friend as well is something to respect. Chrom instantly relaxes, muscles unwinding from how they’d bunched together in a panic that his smallest toe to his finest hair shares. ‘Robin…’
Robin sighs, it’s an exhausted sound and Chrom’s already moving, repositioning his chair so he can lean into Robin’s cot and fold his hand into his partner’s. It squeezes his, gripping tightly but their concentration is otherwise not on each other. ‘I’ve been doing the exercises you’ve given me.’
Maribelle’s lips flatten. ‘I do not doubt it, darling,’ she says as she lowers his leg back down onto its pillow. She doesn’t pause before reaching to the side table that’s been brought in for them, and lifts up the brace that lays there. It’s a relief when Maribelle helps Robin re-buckle the brace back onto his leg. Seeing Robin's leg without makes Chrom's stomach unsettled. ‘I, at least trust that dear Lissa would insist upon it, however…’
‘Maribelle,’ Chrom reprimands.
Robin’s leg secure, Maribelle steps back as she interlocks her fingers in front of her. ‘You should have progressed more by now,’ she divulges uncertainly. Maribelle looks up from Robin’s foot to meet his eyes. ‘Your leg’s...healed now. You’ve stuck to bedrest and you’re being patient with the therapy provided, but I cannot say how much mobility you shall be able to gain back.’
Robin kisses his teeth, eyes glazing as he squints them to stubbornly hold onto tears. ‘But I won’t have to have it amputated?’ Which was really Robin’s main concern, he’d already faced the fact that his leg wouldn’t fully recover from how he’d fractured it on the battlefield, losing it entirely was horrifying to him.
‘...no, not if it doesn’t take any damage but I feel that I must warn you that once a bone is broken, the likelihood of it breaking again is severely high.’ Maribelle face creases further, stands straighter. They repeat this warning often and Chrom hates every word. ‘If that should happen...Milords, as your healer, I must actively discourage any of your usual ridiculous behaviour. I understand that we have won this war and you shall therefore have less opportunity to injure it, but I must urge vigilance.’
Chrom swallows dryly, guilt bubbling inside him as he looks over to Robin’s solemn face. They had won the day but it had come at such a price. If it hadn’t been for Chrom’s distraction and Robin’s protection, then they wouldn’t be in this position now. Robin wouldn’t be in this position now.
‘I hear you, Maribelle,’ Robin states but doesn’t otherwise comment, he’s a man who doesn’t give false promises and as he’s still compromised with the Curse, he makes sure to keep his words short where he has to to ensure he does not say something he does not want to speak. ‘Can I get the all clear to travel?’
Robin’s been getting steadily impatient with their situation, waiting in Ferox for him to be given permission to continue their journey to Ylisse. It’d been months and yes, Chrom was anxious to get back to his country but he wasn’t willing to risk Robin’s health to do so. It was true that Chrom had a duty as a leader, but he also had one to his fiancé and while he was needed in the capital, there was no injury to Chrom not returning at his earliest availability, nothing that needs to be done that he cannot order through messages.
Maribelle hesitates for a moment. ‘If you ride with one of our cavalry; your leg has mended and you are allowed to weight-bear but I do not want you walking on uneven ground for an extended period of time.’
Robin breathes out a sigh of relief. ‘I can do that,’ he says agreeably, ‘please, would you inform Frederick?’
A sly smile graces Maribelle’s face. ‘Of course,’ she consents, lowering herself into a curtsy, ‘Milord.’
Blood rushes to Robin’s face and he’s looking better these days but his colour still isn’t quite right and he’s perpetually exhausted. ‘M-Maribelle!’ Robin protests. On news of their engagement, the Shepherds had been so relieved - relieved that ‘you two finally got your heads outta ya arses ’ as Sully had so tactfully said, but enthusiastic about it too. Robin’s change in status is something that’s acknowledged teasingly but respectfully.
‘If you’ve had use of me, I shall take my leave,’ Maribelle says as she ignores Robin’s embarrassment with practiced ease and she goes to dismisses herself but before she can fully leave, there's a knock at the door. Maribelle’s expression hardens; during Robin’s therapy a note is posted on the door stating that they were not to be disturbed. Robin didn’t want to be gawked out while his leg and ankle were flexed and rotated and now as they had progressed, how he had to stand, and take steps and couch, all of which were painful for Robin to perform but which he executed like a frail foal.
Maribelle glances their way for permission before stepping towards the door. She opens it with enough force to show her disapproval, Chrom can just see the bollocking she’s about to give until they see how’s standing on the other side. ‘Frederick,’ Maribelle breathes in surprise and it would be ironic; the knight’s appearance if it were not for the look on his face. ‘I was...just coming to find you.’
Frederick tips his head. ‘Milady, I fear I must ask that you do so later,’ he says politely, eyes regarding her for a moment before moving to Chrom and Robin. ‘I’m sorry to interrupt, Milords but I - are you finished?’
Chrom feels his brow furrow, sensing something wrong. ‘Yes,’ Robin says slowly with the same sort of anticipation. ‘Can we help you with anything, Frederick?’
‘...I was wondering if I may speak with Lord Chrom?’ Frederick asks.
‘Is something wrong?’ Robin enquires in concern as he tries to straighten further against the backrest of pillows that is built up before every therapy session.
‘No, there is nothing for you to be perturbed by, Lord Robin,’ Frederick soothes with some apology as his face softens. The tension is there but he’s forced himself to reflex in response to Robin’s disquieted stare.
‘Can it wait?’ Chrom asks though he knows that whatever has unsettled Frederick, whatever he needs to say, should be dealt with. But he just didn’t feel comfortable leaving Robin just after a session, when his pain was exasperated and he’d have to take another pain potion soon, which would dim his mind and make him vulnerable.
‘I - ’
‘I’m here too!’ a voice announces as a small figure squeezes past Frederick and bouncing around Maribelle, who steps back as Nowi appears, a shining smile decorating her face. ‘I can take over!’
Chrom blinks and is about to respond when Robin’s thumb brushes over his knuckles. ‘Go,’ Robin says with a crooked smile. Chrom leans over, his free hand reaching over to sweep stray strands of hair away from Robin’s face, growing as it is. ‘Go, it’s fine. Nowi will be with me.’
‘...Alright,’ Chrom agrees as he stands after pecking Robin’s cheek, a light touch that barely lingers with all the other eyes in the room. ‘I’ll be back later.’
As soon as he’s stepped away and let Robin go, Nowi’s replaced him. ‘Robby!’ she greets as she hops up onto the side of the cot, mindful of rocking the structure of jostling Robin as she does so and grasps hold of Robin’s hand. ‘I have so much to tell you! Tharja’s been letting me help her with helping you! She thought she had somethin’ for the Curse but it exploded. She’s been trying really, really hard though!’
Robin smiles at her with such incredible fondness that Chrom almost wants to stop and watch. Nowi’s so excitable that at the beginning Chrom was worried that she would accidentally hurt Robin, but on closer inspection she’s also incredibly careful every time she reaches out.
Maribelle guides him to the door, to Frederick before separating off with a quiet word. ‘If you’ll follow me, Milord,’ Frederick asks as he begins to guide him to one of the rooms the Khan’s had provided them. They’ve been using it for a study so chairs have been dragged in, maps had been pinned to the walls, and blankets the large round table. Robin’s books they had been using in his stead, candle lights flickering in every corner.
Chrom shuts the door, and after a moment lowers himself onto one of the chairs. It creeks under his weight but everything here does, it may be the cold or the haphazard way everything is designed. Frederick follows his lead, sitting opposite him. ‘So…’ Chrom prompts after a moment or two of uncomfortable silence.
Frederick shifts, awkwardly clearing his throat. ‘Forgive me for calling you away from Lord Robin. I have been...debating, with myself, whether I should bring this to you at this time or not and it’s not my place, but -’
‘Frederick,’ Chrom interrupts. It’s unlike Frederick to babble, he’s usually such a concise speaker and to be so abrupt isn't like him either. ‘Whatever you want to say, please, do so. Unless...I know that you’ve always been reluctant to accept Robin amongst our number, and...I am hoping you were past this.’
The Shepherds, their allies - near everyone had reacted so well that Robin was nearly at ease with the ring on his finger. The way they got together was unconventional and if Chrom would do it again then he would, properly, without the introduction of a Curse that forced Robin to speak the truth with severe consequences if he did not. They’ve been waiting for backlash but this is not where he wanted it to come from.
Frederick jolts, mouth opening to say something before he stops. ‘I cannot complain about Robin as you tactician. You’re right, the man has proven himself; above and beyond. He’s had ample opportunity to betray your company...ample reason, but he has not, and if he has not now, I do not know what would make his loyalties turn,’ Frederick concedes with great gravity, ‘however, your new relationship with him may not be taken kindly with the Council, the news should already have reached them by now and I feel as though it is my duty to…’
Sumia had been their message to Ylisstol since they had decided to stay and rest in Ferox, to ensure their safe journey. The Council was unhappy with this decision, they wanted Chrom’s return after the fight with Gangrel and many papered arguments had ensued. Eventually they realised that Chrom wasn’t about to answer to them, not like expected, and other discussions were had in the meantime.
When they got engaged, Chrom and Robin decided not to announce it until two weeks ago. Sumia looked especially tense at accepting that scroll, and it had weighed her and her pegasus down as she took off. But the Council had to be informed before they returned and they had been hopeful that Robin was approaching a condition that’s fit for travel.
‘I’m prepared,’ Chrom says, however much he can be. He doesn’t accept the Council’s reaction to be good. ‘Just who do you think I’m marrying?’ Frederick shows bare amusement at the joke and even that is tinged in worry for something Chrom doesn’t quite see yet.
‘A shrewd and intelligent man who will make a most - auspicious consort, if a uncontroversial one,’ is Frederick’s response and it surprises Chrom despite himself. Yes, Frederick had been better with Robin but this level of acceptance…
‘Frederick,’ Chrom breathes.
‘I never said you held my disapproval, milord. I apologise for any discomfort I may have caused,’ Frederick says. ‘I had only hoped to prepare you. There will be naysayers.’
Chrom’s eyes narrowed. ‘I’ll take advice on just about anything, I know my limitations but I will not be swayed on this. Inexperience aside - or any other objections, I know my heart. I understand that there may be many unhappy with who bares my ring but Robin will be the only one to wear it.’
Frederick inclines his head, something proud shining in his eyes. ‘You shall have our support, milord, and that of your allies; it will be enough to push this marriage through.’ He pauses then, mouth slanting as his face tightens. ‘It will still not be enough to shield either of you from the criticism.’
‘I know this, Frederick. If not from my own time with the Council, Robin’s concerns would be enough to tell me that this would not be easy,’ Chrom admits, the concession a true but painful one. He wasn't smart like Robin but as prince and Emmeryn's appointed heir, he'd been around the Council enough to know their character.
‘He shall require your strength, Chrom,’ Frederick says quietly as he raises a hand to squeeze Chrom’s shoulder in a rare act of familiarity.
‘He has it,’ Chrom swears.
Frederick swallows. ‘Permission to speak freely, Milord?’
‘I never thought I’d see you in a relationship. My relief upon realising the way you regarded Lord Robin was only shadowed with how reticence on your feelings you were. I did not think you would ever get to this stage and I am - I am so…’
Chrom reaches out in panic as Frederick’s face tightens, eyes glassy and voice rough. ‘Frederick.’
‘I am so glad, that this is not another thing he took,’ Frederick says and Chrom near stumbles. Barely anyone says his name anymore but Chrom always knows who they mean. It’s instinctual, with fear and disgust as no one wants to acknowledge the type of legacy one man left behind.
Chrom swallows. ‘For a while,’ he admits. After seeing what love could drive a man to do, he’d had pushed it away, buried it deep down, that he was here now was perhaps a miracle, one that Chrom had not expected. ‘Maybe.’
Frederick nods slowly, jaw flexing. ‘I had…suspected and…’
‘You worried,’ Chrom assumes but Frederick hesitates.
‘Yes, milord, constantly…’
‘But,’ Chrom prompts when Frederick trails off.
Frederick's jaw tightens and for once, he looks his age, younger, still with the weight of responsibility on his shoulders, left to manage his father dying in disgrace and the near fall of his family. Chrom doesn’t think about it often. No one likes to speak of the tragedy of who Lord Emery was; his mother’s retainer, who’d stood by her side throughout her life, her one true support; Emmeryn’s namesake.
(After his mother’s death, Lord Emery had been killed, executed . No one knew why exactly bar the one time he’d tried to reason with Fridolin. Chrom is sick with guilt because that was Frederick’s father and while he says he was raised by nannies, the reality was that Frederick had a large part of his upbringing.
Too young and in mourning, Frederick stood back up from every blow life had given him, taken up Lord Emery’s title and helped where he could. Thankfully, he was mostly ignored by Fridolin and when Emmeryn was crowned with no real resolutions that she could offer, Frederick still stayed.
‘I thought I’d failed you, Milord,’ Frederick admits, dark eyes glistening. ‘I tried, desperately, to shield you but I couldn’t protect you and years later you still bear the scars.’
Chrom breathes in a startled breath, feeling like someone had just run him through. ‘That - wasn’t your fault,’ dribbles out of his mouth. ‘I - Frederick, you must know - you went above and beyond what anyone in your position would have done.’
Frederick glances off to the side before forcing himself to straighten up, looking Chrom in the eye. ‘My family has been aligned with the Crown for generations -’
‘It was exceptional circumstance.’ Frederick’s mother, Viviana certainly resented the Crown. She couldn’t bare the castle or Chrom for that matter, and he couldn’t blame her. She had stood with her son for Emmeryn’s coronation and then again for Frederick’s knighting; she hadn’t stepped foot in the castle otherwise, when she used to be a frequent guest.
‘I held you when you were but a few days old, Milord,’ Frederick states with such intensity as he watches Chrom, like he should’ve know to expect this, but no matter their history, loyalty isn’t something you expect. ‘I was your first playmate.’
Chrom forces a smile. ‘Babysitter,’ he corrects. Frederick was more than a decade older and probably twice as wise. If anything, he’d held the role of an elder brother before duty stiffened them both.
‘Regardless, Milord,’ Frederick states with gritted teeth before he pauses, noting his own tone and stopping to censor himself in a way Chrom desperately wished he didn’t, ‘you were and have always been my prince.’
Chrom stomach churns. ‘I…you were going to give me some advice?’ he says to try and get them back on track; to deflect. He’s done nothing to deserve Frederick’s devotion and this discussion just reminds him of all his family has ever done to cause Frederick pain, that he was so staunch in the face of it all…
‘If you do not think it too forward, Milord.’
‘Very well.’ Frederick inclines his head in understanding of the silent command. ‘This will be difficult for the pair of you, Milord, but it will doubly so for Lord Robin.’
Chrom’s lips thin, hands curling inwards. ‘I know.’
‘But you haven’t experienced it yet,’ Frederick states. ‘Lord Robin will need you. They cannot take the title of Exalt from you; the country will not accept an outsider and with people questioning Princess Lissa’s legitimacy, they will want you, despite your current orientation.’
Lissa was born without Naga’s blessing, without Her blue wings colouring Lissa’s skin and their father - he hadn’t taken it well. Not when Lucille had died during childbirth.Their mother’s midwife - Ayra, had been willing to keep quiet about it; had wanted to spare the nearly born Lissa the controversy but Fridolin wouldn’t have it, was loud about disowning her and his reasons why. It’s only Fridolin’s status as consort and then regent, that had disallowed him the authority to hurt more than Lissa’s reputation.
They never expected for Emmeryn not to be Exalt and Chrom never really thought how a relationship of his could disrupt his claim to the Crown. It‘s something he would have to be careful about but Frederick’s also right, Chrom’s the only member of the royal family the Council would consider as acceptable, awful as it was to think.
‘They’ll have to get over it, but Robin can help me with the finer points,’ Chrom says finally.
‘I’m sure, Milord, but please take into consideration that Robin will be in a precarious position and that he should not be seen…”coaching” you,’ Frederick advices, ‘you do not want to encourage rumours that he’s manipulating you.’
‘And with the Curse he’s currently inflicted with...until that is cured, the less he has to say in front of those - people, the better, Milord.’ Frederick’s shoulders round and whatever Chrom was going to say is forgotten. ‘We do not want a witch hunt, not after the Blood War.’ Not after this.
After another conflict with Plegia, relations will be low and Chrom understood this, but… ‘I’ll keep this in mind,’ Chrom says numbly. ‘Robin will be my partner though. He’ll prove himself but he’ll have a title all his own.’ That he’ll have to is infuriating.
‘I don’t doubt it, sire.’
Chrom returns not long later, quieter, but with a tray of food that was pushed at him. Ferox cuisine is heavy on his stomach but he eats, inhales it really, if only to give his mouth something to do as he sits by Robin’s side, Nowi having returned to the others after he had gotten back. She’d suggested something about their alone time, while wiggling her eyebrows in a manner that wasn’t quite right with the rest of her face. It’s no wonder Gregor’s always so quick to complain about how much of a menace she is.
‘Do you want some more water?’ Chrom asks as he places his bowl to the side.
Robin swallows slowly. He’s usually so fast to get rid of his meals so that he can get back to work, but now he eats sedately, with effort but he tries to finish everything put in front of him. ‘I’m alright,’ he replies with a small smile. ‘Later?’
‘Later,’ Chrom consents as he leans forward, reaching out to gently rub Robin’s thigh of his uninjured leg. They all avoided the one he’d fractured to ensure they didn’t shift the broken bones or enrage his nerves. ‘More reading tonight?’
‘Are you developing a fondness for Wyvern Wars?’ Robin teases with a glint in his tired eyes as he takes another mouthful, this one more clumsier than the last. The spoon clanks against his teeth as his wrist angles itself a minute too low.
‘Maybe I am,’ Chrom laughs. The story was engaging enough and knowing that it was something that Robin had shared with Sumia, a dear friend, and it became something even more special. ‘I also just like reading with you.’
Robin’s skin colours, a dark peach. It's a pretty colour. ‘You’re easy to please.’
‘You underestimate yourself,’ Chrom states with a grin. Really, they could do anything and Chrom would probably enjoy it.
‘Oh, stop Chrom,’ Robin begins playfully as he tilts to the side, ‘you have me all a flutter.’
‘Just returning the favour,’ Chrom returns as his smile stretches. Robin’s been in so much pain that every glimmer of uninterrupted joy is a thing of beauty. He hasn’t been able to spend much time with Robin without the weight of a war over their heads and Robin’s always so constrained, focused, but the difference between before and after the injury is still evident.
Chrom would do anything to undo it, to take Robin’s place. The guilt will remain with him for the rest of his days, knowing that he is in part responsible for Robin becoming injured in their battle with the Mad King. That Robin would not be stuck here if not for him, would likely not be anywhere near involved in this huge mess.
‘Chrom,’ Robin says like he’s been trying to be heard for awhile. The smile has faded now, brow creasing as he reaches out to grasp Chrom’s hand. His promise ring is warm again Chrom’s skin.
Chrom jolts. ‘Do you need more of your pain -’
‘Chrom,’ Robin cuts in gently, ‘what’s wrong?’
‘Just…’ Chrom hesitates. Robin will already know. Robin is so incredibly intelligent and he’s been having to deal with the Council for so long now, it’s impossible that he wouldn’t. His first refusal to Chrom’s proposal had to do with their - everyone’s reaction to the news. And Chrom doesn’t want to bring it up, to throw the worries and the trouble back in Robin’s face. ‘Advice,’ Chrom eventually says, ‘Frederick wanted to offer me advice.’
Robin doesn’t blink, gaze direct and unhampered by his condition. It’s like he can see straight through Chrom and it’s usually something Chrom will smile at but now, it’s just discomforting. ‘Alright,’ Robin says eventually and Chrom almost breathes a sigh of relief. ‘On the subject of Frederick, however…’
Chrom feels himself tense all over again. ‘Yes?’
Robin snorts, squeezing his hand. ‘Maybe, when we get home, you might consider giving him something to do.’
Chrom pauses, tries to work out what direction this suggestion is headed. ‘He’s - the Head of the Guard?’ He was in charge of the knights, he kept the castle going before this latest war. ‘I wouldn’t say that was nothing.’
‘That’s not what I meant,’ Robin says with a smile that was too soft.
‘Then what did you mean?’ Chrom asks but Robin is the one to hesitate now. ‘I like hearing you, Robin, I thought we’d established this.’
‘Alright,’ Robin breathes but if anything he's stiffer. ‘Chrom, it’s no luck that Frederick was with you the day you found me. He’s always with you. He’s your protector, he - Naga knows you have that man acting as your steward. I remember when one of the soldier’s made an off colour joke about Frederick doing his laundry. The look on his face -’
‘I ask him not to,’ Chrom bemoans with some contrition. For a man of Frederick’s stature to be taking up the tasks of a maid… when they were at the castle it caused some embarrassment, and irritation from the actual staff, out on the road it was something else entirely.
‘That’s not the point. Frederick wants to,’ Robin states, ‘Chrom, why isn’t Frederick your retainer?’
Chrom can’t help the way he flinches. ‘I…’
‘...Love?’ Robin asks, voice soft and reaching, hints of concern bleeding through as he tries to catch Chrom’s suddenly drifting gaze. ‘I...if this is a sensitive subject then I apology. We don’t have to talk about it. Just...think about it?’
Remorse fills Chrom because Robin has the right to know but it’s hard for Chrom to acknowledge it himself, even when he wants to encourage Robin to abuse his right as Chrom’s partner. This…
The night of Emmeryn’s assassination, admitting even vaguely to the atrocities that Fridolin committed had taken everything Chrom had had. Talking of the Blood Wars as a Ylissean - a Ylissean Prince at that, to a Plegian - was potentially very contentious, for one to do it with an amnesiac...It was wrong on another front.
Robin is obviously more educated on the subject then before, he's had opportunity to read and learn and experience, but even on that night, when Chrom mentioned the Blood Wars, Robin’s skin had paled from it’s usually healthy tan, white hair standing out stark, ruby eyes widening as his hands begin to tremble. Such a reaction; a learnt reaction…
Chrom didn’t want - couldn’t bare if the association of that event was transmitted onto him, onto their relationship. It's a selfish and it's the least he’d deserve but, that didn’t make it any easier or the words trapped in his throat any freer.
‘I’m sorry,’ Chrom says eventually, but Robin’s regarding him carefully, with such understanding... ‘Maybe - maybe, later?'
'Later,' Robin says because he can hear the uncertainty of a promise Chrom isn't sure how to fulfil though he knows he'll have to.
'..after chapter twenty.’
Robin blinks. ‘Wyvern Wars?’
‘If you’d do the honour of reading to me.’
‘Have to keep you somehow,’ Robin says jokingly, as he places his plate which is still only half eaten to the side, on his table and reaches for the bound novel. Even in bed, he’s wearing his gloves. Chrom's not entirely sure how to fix either of those things.
‘Never,’ Chrom swears and he means it.
Robin looks back over, ‘never,’ he agrees and the gaze at each other for a moment, weighty because nothing about this has been easy and it never will be but that doesn’t make it any less real. The moment is broken when Robin finds their place and begins to read.