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Just like fire, light 'em up

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Madness.

It swept through the earth, turning rocks and ashes into waves of debris and broken bones.

It was incredibly bright. The sky foamed with purple and red, sparkles and dark flashes.

Thunder, fire, lightning and madness, inhuman cries and excruciating pain.

His father smiled when he saw his tears.

This was your only purpose, my dearest child.”

Gushes of wind filled his mouth with dirt, anger, and blood. Chrom's corpse was still warm in his arms. Somewhere, on the battlefield, horses neighed towards crimson clouds as ice fell down like rain and swords pierced their skin.

It was all over.

The whitest explosion of light, and emptiness embraced him.

 

 

***

 

 

“Chrom, we have to do something...”

“What do you propose we do?”

“I-I don't know!”

Surprisingly enough, it wasn't his head what hurt the most. His entire body felt sore since his very first attempt to move his limbs.

There were little rocks stinging his back. His skin was sweaty and probably dirty, and when he tried to open his eyes sunshine pierced through his skull. However, something cast a shadow over him – more precisely, someone did.

He had heard their voices, but he was processing what they had actually said just then. They must have been a boy and a quite young girl – she was the one insisting on... helping him, he supposed. He slowly began to make out her features: she was smiling, he noticed, and she had long, curly hair parted in two pigtails.

“Hey there!”

She was sweet and cheerful, her blue eyes shimmering with kindness and her cheeks slightly flushed with red. Then, the boy leaned in closer too.

“There are better places to take a nap than on the ground, you know,” he said, and he liked his voice at once, for it was deep and gentle, sparkled with just a pinch of amusement that only made it more pleasant. “Here. Give me your hand.”

He saw those fingers reaching out for him, and he was trying to accept his help even before thinking it all through – he didn't know these people. He didn't know where he was. He knew... nothing, except that his arm ached when he lifted it, his muscles heavy and stretched. But the boy, unaware of his hesitation, was already taking his pale hand into his, and pulling him up, so that there was no choice left but letting him do so: awkwardly, he got up to his feet, stumbling, and doubting his legs would take his weight much longer. What was even more awkward was the sudden proximity of the boy's face to his.

He had beautiful, deep blue eyes – darker than the girl's, yet not any less kind. And he was... handsome at the very least, with chiseled, gentle features and a warm smile; only a couple of drops of sweat on his forehead made him a little more standard-looking, even though his locks of dark hair had a bluish glare in them that was quite surprising.

There was something else that unsettled him, beauty aside. He somehow looked... familiar? But how could he, if he was sure they've never met before?

He could not keep staring at him like that, though – much less, he couldn't just let him hold his hand any longer. He cleared his throat and pulled back, in the most casual way as possible, and the suddenly increased amount of sunlight pouring on his eyes had him blinded for a couple of seconds. His head spun a little, a feeling of dizziness numbing his brain as he left out a soft gasp.

“Hey, are you alright?” the boy asked him, his voice cracking with worry, but now hesitating to go and touch him again.

“You okay?” the girl echoed him, apprehensively, jumping ahead, and then stopping to give the boy a scowl. “Chrom, you need to be more careful! Maybe he's hurt! He should lie back down...”

“I-I'm... fine.”

His voice sounded hoarse and shaky, but he actually felt a little better already. He focused on the two strangers in front of him, taking their appearances in, and doing so his vision cleared.

She was short, and she couldn't have been more than fourteen. She was wearing a short, yellow dress that matched her hair; her legs and arms were pale, and he casually thought she should pay attention, if she didn't want to get sunburned. The boy wore a simple gray shirt and even more simple brown pants, and they both had the same kind of poor, worn-out shoes; in fact, all of their clothes were a little ruffled and didn't look either new or expensive, quite the contrary.

Actually... he lowered his eyes to have a look at himself, and found out that he wasn't all that different: white shirt, light brown pants, modest shoes. Where did he got them...?

“You sure you're okay?” he heard the boy asking, his tone a little anxious. “You seem... lost.”

As a matter of fact, he was.

He looked back at them. He realized some sort of faint panic was creeping in his throat, but he managed to bite it back as he tried and spoke.

“I... w-where am I?”

The two exchanged a look, clearly a little worried for his confusion, but then the girl answered him.

“The closest village is Gavrail, but it'll take at least twenty days to get there, I think... we're kinda in the middle of nowhere, actually.”

Looking around, he did have to admit she had a point: all he could see was grass, earth, rocks, sunshine and a couple of clouds. They must have been on the crown of a hill, though, since he noticed the ground sloped downwards a few yards away, and he had no idea what was below.

In fact, he had no idea about many things.

“That village... I don't recall it,” he admitted, and suddenly he felt like his whole body was heavier, and a stabbing pain hit his head like an arrow.

He tried to remember some names – of cities or countries. When he found none, anguish took over him, and the figures in front of him became blurred shapes in the harsh sunlight.

“I don't know... who I am.”

He heard them hold their breaths, maybe even murmur something, but his heart beating wildly was louder than anything else.

Where did he come from? Who was he, before awakening? Did he know anybody? What was his past? The more the questions, the more he understood he couldn't find answers. A before must have existed, but it wasn't there – only the deepest sleep, and some flashes from a nonsensical nightmare...

When the girl touched his arm, his first urge was to get her off him, since panic didn't leave much room to politeness. However, from the point where her little fingers were brushing against his skin, a warm feeling similar to the one of a blanket in winter spread inside him, and it was completely different from the heat coming from above. He felt it crawling to his heart, and he convinced himself that... everything was fine.

He swallowed, his wide eyes meeting hers.

He had lost his memory, and there was no denying that. But his breath was calmer and calmer as seconds passed by: every twinkle in those blue eyes, friendly and chirpy, went together with a new throb of serenity through his skin.

“Hey. We'll figure things out, okay?” she reassured him, and he nodded slowly. He was aware of the fact that the situation was odd, strange, and “figuring things out” seemed quite the task. Yet, he couldn't get to be suspicious or agitated anymore. Whatever the kid was doing to him, it was working, wasn't it?

“Why don't you tell us your name?” the other boy suggested, moving a step closer, a cautious yet sincere smile on his lips.

His name.

For the longest of seconds, his mind was blank. The fear of having lost even the most radical element of his identity grew inside him, despite the girl hadn't taken her hand off him.

But then he opened his mouth, and the words simply rolled out.

“Robin. My name is... Robin.”

The duo seemed relieved, but what he truly felt was surprise: he hadn't made the name up. He was sure it was his. But it had emerged suddenly, like a bubble from the depths of the ocean, or the flicking of a flame, and he couldn't understand how. However, it did give him a faint hope that maybe, maybe, even the rest of his past was at the bottom of an abyss, ready for him to jump in and swim to it...

“It's a pleasure to meet you, Robin,” the boy was saying. “I'm Chrom, and she's my little sister, Lissa.”

Chrom , he repeated to himself. The little girl, Lissa, had said that name before. And yet, his chest quivered slightly at its sound. As he had known it for a long, long time.

I'm not your little sister anymore, Chrom!” she was replying, feigning she was offended, and the young man smiled patronizingly back at her.

“Of course not,” he said, jokingly yet kindly, giving her a pat on her head, between her two curly pigtails. Ignoring her complaints, he looked back at Robin, surprising him once more with the deep, mild quietness of his eyes, despite he was a couple of inches taller than him and more muscular, even. He had a strange kind of tattoo on his right arm, he noticed, while Chrom was resuming his speaking. “I'm glad you remembered your name. Maybe you know where you were born, too?”

Robin waited for a new inspiration to come at him, but he waited in vain. Instead of a memory, bitterness filled his mouth, and he grimaced with dejection.

“I don't. My past is... empty,” he said, frowning in the useless effort to get something out of his head. “There's not a single name of a place, except the one you mentioned.”

“Then... what about your family?” Chrom asked, seriously. “Your mother? Your father? Any siblings?”

Robin shook his head. There was not a face, nor a smell, nor a sound reminding him of home.

“No family, and no friends,” he murmured. “It's like I've never lived. I don't remember anyone.”

His gaze shifted from the horizon to Chrom's face. Pale and smooth skin, dark eyelashes, the line of his chin.

Except you.

That thought was painful and meaningless.

Even if he was trying to remember where he could have met that boy, the wall of darkness in his memory raised thicker than ever. He didn't know him. Why in the world such an idea was floating on the surface of his brain, almost like his name? And why didn't he feel the same about Lissa, who was Chrom's sister? Anyway, there was quite a simple way to rout every doubt...

“I know it's a stupid question even before asking, but...”, he started, stopping to gather enough courage to continue. “You... there's no way we've met in the past, right?”

Chrom's pale lips opened with surprise, and his eyes went wide. He frowned, looking right at him, but he shook his head.

“I've never seen you before today,” he answered. “Do I look familiar to you?”

He couldn't tell him the truth without sounding insane. Moreover, such “truth” was clearly a product of his imagination. Was it some kind of suggestion, maybe, a desperate need for something to hold on to? It could be. Anyway, he had to get rid of it.

“Maybe I knew someone who looked like you,” he chose to say, his voice heavy with dejection, sadness and a bit of disappointment, and he almost believed it. “I'm not even sure. I'm sorry.”

“No need to be sorry,” he answered without skipping a bit, in a reassuring voice. “What's for sure is that... this amnesia of yours is very peculiar. You don't remember anything from your past, yet you show to understand what we're talking about. You know what cities, fathers, and mothers are. Now that I think about it, you do speak our language, so you must be from around here. It's... odd. If I said the word “sea”, would you understand me?”

“I do. I know what the sea is...”

“But you have not seen it. Yet.”

He hadn't looked at it from that perspective, yet, but Chrom was right: the fact that those simple concepts existed in his mind made the situation even stranger. Despite the fact he had only seen sunlight since he had opened his eyes, Robin could think of snow and rain; he could recall various kinds of food, with no trouble naming them, and that actually made him notice that he was hungry, and thirsty. It was quite the inexplicable, obscure enigma – to the point that, suddenly, a doubt as heavy as stone fell in his chest.

“You... you believe me, don't you?” he asked, a new nervousness in his voice, realizing just how important it was for him to have those people beside him. He would have found himself in a desperate situation, if they had decided he was a madman, and abandoned him.

Luckily, Lissa chuckled.

“Oh, if you were to lie, I'd know, so don't worry!” she said, merrily, winking at him. He frowned at those weird words, but she ignored him, speaking to Chrom more seriously. “I'm not the only one who thinks he hasn't just hit his head, am I? It must be magic.”

If Chrom had laughed leniently, patting her once more, Robin could have thought that Lissa was still a bit childish, with fantasies and games on her head. But the boy didn't even blink and nodded, as if she had said the most obvious thing in the world, and this made Robin understand that she wasn't joking at all.

“Magic?” he repeated, hesitantly. “What are you talking about?”

With that, they seemed more surprised than he was.

“You don't know what magic is?” Chrom asked, and he looked so sincerely astonished that Robin felt somehow guilty, or at least very dumb.

“I know what it's supposed to be,” he replied, on his back foot. “Just, is it...”

Is it real? , he wanted to ask. But he stopped, and lowered his gaze on Lissa's hand. Still on his arm.

He had almost forgotten the way she had calmed him down instantaneously, and the extremely odd feeling of her first touch on him. Actually, why hadn't he asked any questions before? And how did he manage not to panic, all that time long?

He looked at those eyes, as blue as the sky. Her smile didn't look wicked, nor malevolent, but all of a sudden its innocence looked all the more enigmatic.

“Is...” he tried again, quietly. “Is it magic, what you've done to me?”

Her face lightened up with such genuine enthusiasm, any fear he had melt in his stomach like fog in the sun.

“He's smart!” she exclaimed, delighted, speaking to Chrom and hopping almost triumphantly towards him. “I thought he wasn't gonna believe us, but he understood everything. I like you, Robin!”

“He still looks confused,” the other boy smiled. Robin was once more grateful for finding out just how reassuring his eyes were. “Don't worry. Magic can be dangerous, but this is not the case. It's weird, though... everybody knows about it. It's just very... rare.”

Robin ignored the slight hesitation at the end of his sentence, lost in thought.

At first, he had instinctively considered magic as something imaginary, unreal and illusory. However, now that he had known about it, somehow... it wasn't that hard to believe – and, since Lissa had now distanced herself and he didn't feel the warmth of her fingers anymore, he could tell he wasn't being manipulated. The proof in front of him was difficult to contest: Chrom had a reassuring presence, but his gaze alone could have never done what Lissa had. And his amnesia was extraordinary enough to make him presume that his world could actually be described as very, very weird.

“Robin?” he heard calling, and just then he realized he was nervously curling his fingers, his gaze wandering on the green of the grass, his mind all focused on the facts he was gathering. He raised his head, feeling quite more fretful without Lissa's aid, but he was sorry to see Chrom worrying again.

“I apologize,” he said, still half-reasoning over the same thoughts, and so his voice came out flatter than he had wanted it to. “It's... it's just a lot to take in.”

“No problem,” the boy answered. “You'll have the time to figure it out. But now we have to decide how we're gonna help you. Lissa...”

“Chrom,” she interrupted him already, and Robin was surprised when he heard a sudden, new-found, painful shade of urgency in her voice. He saw her giving him an afflicted, almost anguished look, before she turned to her brother and grabbed his arm. “Chrom, I-I really don't want him to come to the camp.”

“I'm not leaving him here,” the boy replied at once, with the resolution of who had just taken an iron decision. “He's alone in the world, and he has nowhere to go.”

“But any place is better than with us,” Lissa insisted, and Robin realized she was almost begging. “He'd be in danger, Chrom, we don't know how they'll react if...”

“What choice do we have? Leaving him in the lurch as we've never met him?”

“No, but...”

“Wait.” Robin intervened, trying to keep his voice from breaking, while a new consideration struck him. “If we're in the middle of nowhere... why are you here? Who are you?”

How could he have not thought about that before? Why hadn't he asked such a simple and essential question yet?

They didn't look like bad people at all, sure. But Lissa had just mentioned danger, and if he had understood their conversation correctly, they wanted to help him, but that wasn't going to be an easy task. He didn't know what else he could do beside letting them do whatever they thought they ought to, but an unavoidable choice wasn't necessarily the right one.

Was he in trap?

Lissa took a step towards him and reached out, worry in her gentle eyes, but even before he could pull back – no, he didn't want any kind of benevolent spell interfering, this time, even though it meant he would go crazy –, Chrom stopped her.

“No, Lissa,” he ordered, resolutely. “We can't always solve things this way. I'll take care of this.”

When those sapphire eyes looked straight at him, calm and resolute, Robin felt like his feet were suddenly nailed down on the ground – when Chrom moved towards him and put his hands on his shoulders, he couldn't do anything but holding his breath.

His heart was still racing, and his agitation wasn't wiped away. But the light in those pools just as deep as the ocean was way too sincere and piercing: at least, he had to listen.

“I'm not leaving you here. It's a promise,” he began, not a single hint of hesitation in his voice. “Lissa and I travel from town to town with our... company. We're headed to Gavrail, and we live this way because we don't have a place to call home either, if you don't count wagons that are sweltering in the summer and freezing in the winter. And some people traveling with us are not... good. But I won't let anybody hurt you, and I'll keep you away from them as much as possible. We'll take you to the village and there you'll decide what you want to do. It seems to me like a reasonable solution.”

He paused, like he was pondering on the words that followed.

“I know it's a lot to ask. But I need you to trust me.”

Robin's heart jumped to his throat. Chrom's eyes shined in the sunlight, yet the heat coming from his skin was so much warmer.

He smelled like clear water, woods in the morning, and a night breeze.

If there was a single point the world revolved around, in that moment, it was him: the only thing Robin could hold on to. He couldn't bring himself not to. If not him, who? There was no magic influencing the flow of his thoughts, except the power of loneliness, emptiness, and the beauty of a proud and kind face.

“I trust you,” he heard himself saying, in a whisper that revealed all the confusion and torment in his heart; only after that admission he could bring himself to raise his gaze and look at him in the eye, speaking louder. “Thank you, Chrom.”

Even if he had had his memory, he was sure he couldn't have remembered a softer smile than the one that appeared on those lips. The blue in his hair glimmered just as his eyes did under his black eyelashes.

“Thank you,” he answered, letting go of his left shoulder but keeping his hand on the right, in a friendly grip somehow more intimate than before, like the new shade of affection coloring his gaze. “You know, I do like the way you make my name sound.”

Robin's eyes widened as he was taken aback by a statement he had never expected; even odder was to acknowledge that such surprise hadn't displeased him, and feeling a most ill-timed warmth spreading on his cheeks.

Chrom as well seemed to realize the strange flavor of those words only after saying them, and for a moment – just a moment – his expression was filled with embarrassment; then he coughed softly and turned to his sister, leaving him, and when he spoke there was again no hesitation in his voice.

“It's better to put out a feeler, before taking him to the wagons,” he told Lissa. “That tree we came across before... you can't see it from the camp. You could go and wait for me there, while I try and see if Gaius or Maribelle can give me something to eat for Robin. And I'll have a word with Tharja, too.”

“Good idea,” the little girl nodded with a sigh. “If there's a storm coming, she would know. And if Maribelle complains, tell her she'd make me a very very very very big favor to give you food!”

“I was planning to.” Chrom smiled before turning to Robin, who was quietly listening. “I'll be right back. Lissa will tell you everything.”

“All right. Thank you.”

For an answer, he got one last, gentle glint of blue.

He looked at him going away – the sheen in his hair, his shirt a little darker with sweat on his back, his long and slender legs. When he disappeared down the hill, Robin did feel a slight feeling of abandon; then, however, Lissa hopped towards him, with a new cheerful smile, and he was glad she had stayed.

“C'mon, Robin,” she chirped, pointing the way. “This sun is roasting me alive!”

He really couldn't argue with that, and followed her.

They headed to the almost opposite way Chrom had. A little down the grassy slope, there was a lone tree indeed – not very tall, but leafy enough to cast a wide shadow around itself: sitting in the coolness was a great relief. The grass was slightly wet, but since he had been lying on the ground for who knew how long, Robin didn't bother worrying about it.

While Lissa was sitting down too, he gazed at the horizon and their surroundings. He mostly saw green, flat and never-ending, and a dense, dark wood on the left. There was a river, faraway, glimmering almost painfully for his eyes; no trace of humanity, not even one path. The meadow got lost into the sky and some faint mist.

“We really are in the middle of nowhere,” he commented, as a pleasant gust of wind ruffled his hair. Lissa nodded, holding her knees to her chest with her thin, thin arms.

“And be glad it's so pretty and quiet, here,” she answered, lightheartedly, although her mood clouded right after. “The war usually ruins everything.”

“The war?” Robin repeated, turning to her. “Who's fighting?”

“Ylisse and Plegia, as usual,” she stated, shrugging. “It's been years. I just wish they could get it over with... I don't care who wins. But peace would make things a little easier for us.”

She couldn't have said anything better, to prompt him to ask at least one of the thousands of questions swirling in his mind.

“You speak of wagons, of a camp... are you merchants? Or just... nomads?”

That got a bittersweet smile out of her, like he had said something silly and sad at the same time.

“A little bit of both, you know?” she replied, and then her voice got merrier. “We're a circus, Robin.”

All of his body had a little start of surprise.

“A... circus?” he echoed her, his eyes wide. “You mean, a real circus?”

Lissa chuckled, amused.

“A real circus, yes!” she answered, smiling. “We have the tamer, the acrobat, the clown, and all that. Well, we're not many, but we have anything we need.”

“And so that's why you travel,” he continued, interested. “To move the show around.”

“Well, yeah... more or less.”

Robin got more serious, seeing those blue eyes of hers clouding again. Eventually, she shrugged.

“We couldn't stop even if we wanted,” she explained, grabbing a little stick and fiddling distantly with it. “We're not welcome, you know. Because... we use magic. And people like that less than you think.”

“Why? The idea of a circus with actual magic is... well, every kid's dream.”

“And every parent's nightmare,” she smiled sadly. “I better tell you the situation for what it is, Robin... because it could be difficult for you to find a place in the world, if we're the ones bringing you in.”

Seeing he was listening more than carefully, she took a deep breath, and then resumed speaking.

“Magic flows with blood. The ones who can use it can learn various spells, through books less rare than what you think, we call them tomes... but he who doesn't possess the innate gift of magic, can't learn a single thing about it. By the way, every magician is born with a particular ability, the first one showing. These gifts can be very powerful, you know? And not always they are benign. Magicians are dreaded by the ones who rule and by poor folks at the same time... superstition, ignorance and fear, coming together like they always do. Our numbers are not enough to grant us a place in the world, and so we're outcasts, trying to earn a little money if we can make their curiosity stronger than their suspicion.”

She paused, studying his reaction.

To him, that story sounded incredibly sad. What Lissa had used on him before had been destabilizing for sure, but it didn't seem enough to him to make him think of her as a freak, or someone to keep his distance from. Chrom, too, appeared to have a kind enough heart to deserve something better than the life just described to him.

“I'm sorry,” he chose to say. “It sounds like a daily struggle.”

“It kinda is,” she nodded, a little more relaxed. “But, I must say, I'd be easier without those bad people with us. You're safe for now, though... Gaius is a good guy, and if it makes you feel better he's not a magician.”

“Why does he travel with you, then?”

“Hey, you need all the help you can get to run a circus, you know?” she smiled. “Magic doesn't solve all problems. There are a lot of foundlings among us... poor boys, or... delinquents at worst. People who don't have a home, like us.”

Like me , Robin couldn't help but to think, but he nodded, without saying it out loud.

“Anyway, Maribelle is my best friend! She takes a little to warm up to strangers, but it's nothing to worry about. And Tharja...”

She stopped, biting her lip with hesitation for a moment, but then she chuckled.

“Tharja is actually a little creepy. She'll remind you of a real witch, you know, with the cauldron, black magic, curses, and all that. But she has a good heart, I promise... I mean, I never saw her hurting someone who didn't deserve it.”

Robin caught the slight implication there – what about the ones who did deserve it? –, but he chose to ignore it. If Chrom thought it was a good idea to ask this Tharja girl for help, he just had to trust him, as he said. Moreover, Lissa was still talking.

“You know, her gift is the sight of the future. She can tell us if we can risk having you talk to our father, or if we better hide you. That's not gonna be easy, though...”

“Your father?” Robin asked. “He's part of the circus too?”

Lissa's shoulders stiffened, and he noticed. There was a very long pause.

“He owns the circus,” she answered at last, cheerful tone gone again. “He's the one who makes the decisions. Robin...”

The way she called his name, eyes shining with such sadness they almost looked filled with tears, made him understand that what she was about to say wasn't good news.

“He's one of the bad guys. I hope everything goes well, but... I'm so, so sorry you have to meet him.”

 

Chapter Text

Since the matter seemed to make Lissa incredibly sad, Robin decided not to ask questions about her father. Sure, the fact that the owner of the circus was so threatening, not even his daughter could predict his behavior, did not put him at ease; but he cleared his throat, and murmured a simple “It's gonna be alright”. She nodded with little conviction, but she looked at him with gratitude, and he thought how peculiar it was that he was the one comforting her – she at least knew everything about herself, she did have a future and a past and a family and friends, even though there were problems.

They spent some minutes in silence, only with the breeze rustling through the grass and the leaves of the tree above them. It wasn't that kind of silence filled with embarrassment, though; it was more like their thoughts were... heavy and empty at the same time, while they quietly ran by, leaving no trace behind them and heading nowhere.

A circus. Chrom's look – “ I'm not leaving you here. It's a promise. ”. Those glimmers of memories he had thought he had seen floating in front of him, just to watch them disappear right after; when he tried to seek them out, a painful headache circled his forehead, and he gave up. There was so much to think about, so much he didn't know, that attempting to put the facts in some kind of order sounded like a complete waste of time. Eventually, he chose to focus on the concept of magic, which, at the moment, was actually the most interesting among all the mysteries, second only to his amnesia.

“Lissa, can I ask you a question?” he wondered, trying to break the silence in the least brusque way possible. Since she raised her head with a faint smile, he could think he had succeeded.

“Anything you want, Robin,” she answered, her blond pigtails swinging as she settled down more comfortably. “I'm sorry if sometimes I go saddening... but, you know...”

“Don't you worry for a moment longer,” he interrupted her, with a kind and reassuring voice, he hoped. “Actually, I'm the one who should apologize. But, I was thinking... if every magician has a gift, it means that you have one as well. Is it what you used on me?”

“Right!” she exclaimed, her lively eyes shining. “I've got this thing to calm down people. It works with fear and panic, mostly. For anger and sadness I need to focus a lot, and I should train, but it's not easy, you know? When people are mad or down, they don't really feel like being Guinea pigs...”

Her speech was frisky, and Robin smiled, amused.

He took more than a couple of seconds to realize that was his first smile since the moment of his awakening. Lissa didn't seem to notice, since she was busy chuckling, but Robin's heart sank a little in his chest – in all of his confusion, fear, uncertainty, his spirit had managed to lift itself just enough to curve his lips in an expression he hadn't expected himself to have for a while longer. It was in that moment that he understood that, magic or not, Lissa and Chrom must have something innately good within them – and he was so, so glad for it.

“By the way, actually there is another little thing that you haven't caught yet,” she was saying, almost impertinent. “I've got another gift too, you know?”

Robin went serious again – or, better said, he blinked in a moment of confusion.

“Is it possible to have two gifts?” he asked, more curious than ever. The answer to that was quite obvious, by then, but he wanted to be sure he hadn't misunderstood.

“Magic in unpredictable,” Lissa answered, with levity. “I'm not the only one who has two. We noticed that who has the most powerful and precise abilities has only one gift, while weaker skills may go together. Maribelle can cure light wounds if she touches them, but sometimes she can also perceive what's on your mind. Awesome, isn't it?”

“Reading minds and healing?” Robin repeated, surprised and perplex. “They seem considerable skills, although you said the wounds must be light...”

“And she can sometimes read minds,” Lissa said again, nodding. “When people think... what does she say? “Rudely aloud”. Practically, you really have to be obsessed with something, I think, for her to be able to feel it... I'm sure that someone with only this gift could read everybody's minds and at any moment, instead. See the difference?”

“I do,” Robin nodded, quite convinced. “And you don't know anyone with that power, do you?”

“Sadly I don't, we don't have anyone like that in our circus! They would help us gaining some more money, for sure. But we do have a more powerful healer than Maribelle, his name is Libra. You should hear him singing and playing his chitara!”

“But... you still haven't told me your second gift,” Robin noticed, almost joking. “Avoiding the point?”

“Very funny, giggly!” she said, sticking her tongue out at him while pretending to be offended. “You're asking too many questions! And, anyway, I already told you, you know? You could guess again.”

He frowned, puzzled. While Lissa was smiling mischievously, he started thinking; and, actually, he didn't take long to remember a very weird statement, even though he hadn't asked questions right after hearing it.

“Perhaps,” he risked it. “Can you understand if someone's lying?”

Her big blue eyes went wide, before she burst in a delighted chuckle.

“Dang, Robin, you're really smart!”

“I have a good memory, it seems, when I don't fall into a mysterious sleep that makes me forget everything about myself.”

At his slight sarcasm, Lissa smiled with more caution and tenderness.

“You'll see, we'll find a solution for that too,” she reassured him, and once again she showed her ability to change topics swiftly. “Anyhoo, when someone tells a lie I suddenly feel cold, here, on my nape... just under my skin. That's why I trust you and I stay with you, alone, knowing that you're not a brigand that wants to kidnap me.”

A corner of Robin's mouth raised again.

“I'm glad I have you as a guarantor.”

“Chrom is, too,” she snickered, but then she was serious again. “Listen, before I let you down... if I'd ask you some random questions in a row and you'd answer me even more randomly, I wouldn't understand the truth, okay? Because I can only feel when people are lying on purpose. This one time, Vaike solemnly swore he hadn't touched some equipment we needed and we couldn't find, and no cold on me. But later he remembered that he had actually taken the tools... but he had no bad intentions, you see? So I can't help you remember this way, sorry.”

Honestly, Robin hadn't even thought of that solution. He found it a smart idea, but since Lissa had already said it was useless, he was forced to set it aside.

“Too bad. But it makes sense.”

There was a brief pause, at the end of which Robin couldn't handle his curiosity any longer.

“And... what about Chrom? What's his gift?”

Since Lissa had told him that magic was a matter of blood and the two of them were siblings, he could legitimately presume Chrom had a gift too. But, instead of answering with her usual brightness, this time the girl hesitated, biting her lower lip. Had he gone too far?

“Chrom...” she began, wavering, but then she seemed to decide to go on. “Chrom is a whole 'other story, you know? We couldn't understand until Tharja joined the circus and explained some of it. I guess there's nothing bad in me telling you... Chrom isn't too ashamed of it, you know...”

“If you think he'd prefer me not to know, don't feel obliged,” Robin clarified quickly, while the idea of having nosed around where he shouldn't have became stronger.

“No, don't worry,” Lissa replied, a little more confident. “Actually, maybe it's better this way, so you won't ask awkward questions in the future, right? So, er... did you see that mark on his arm?”

Robin remembered the dark patterns he had caught a glimpse of on Chrom's pale skin; he had mistaken them for a tattoo. He hadn't had the chance to figure out what they represented exactly, but he nodded.

“He's got it from the day he was born, or so does our father say,” she continued then, a little grimace at the mention of her parent, but she managed to overlook it. “Tharja is sure it's a seal. Blocking the magic within him.”

Robin's eyes went wide.

“So he... he can't use it?”

“I think he's not allowed to use it, more than anything,” Lissa answered, shrugging. “We should break the seal, but Tharja has not managed it yet, not to talk about anyone else who tried. It seems like it needs something very peculiar. When she has some free time, Tharja does her best to study a solution for my brother, but neither her spells or her sight of the future are helping. So... if my brother has a gift, that's bottled up, too. For now, he's just a boy like any other, really. It's not even such a bad thing, you know, is it? It's just...”

Her little face tensed, as she was trying to repress any sadness creeping in her voice.

“It's just our father, he gives him hell about it. Otherwise, Chrom wouldn't care much.”

“But then...” it slipped past Robin's lips before he could actually think about it. When Lissa stared at him, he found himself forced to go on, trying his best not to be inappropriate. “I mean... he's old enough to live his own life. Couldn't he... leave?”

Somehow, it seemed to him like the most obvious solution. If he wasn't really a mage and he didn't care about it, Chrom could live among common folks without being feared nor alienated. It was way better than to bear the abuses of a violent father...

For his surprise, Lissa gave him a little smile.

“You wouldn't be the first one to tell him, I can assure you. But, as I said, it's difficult to leave the circus without its fame sticking onto you. And anyway... Chrom would never do something like that. You don't know him much, but... he just wouldn't.”

True, Robin couldn't say he knew him. But he believed her, and with no hesitation.

Chrom had sworn to protect and help a perfect stranger, someone towards which he didn't have any obligations. It wasn't surprising to think that, considering the bonds he most certainly had within the circus, he could see leaving as a sort of betrayal, a matter of loyalty and honor. Sticking to his principles and to the people close to him must have been one of the most characterizing traits of his, together with his kind heart.

Robin had no idea how, shortly after, remembering such a thought would be unpleasant.

While he was pondering, in fact, he heard the steps of a couple of people approaching from the direction of the supposed circus. Turning his head, he saw Chrom, holding a bowl covered by a white cloth; and, beside him, a lanky boy a little taller than him, with ginger hair.

“Oh, look, that's Gaius!” Lissa smiled, all set to getting up and going towards them.

“Please, stay,” the voice of the new boy came instead, a little hoarse and drawled, but cheerful. “That shady little place of yours it's too pretty to be real.”

Robin stared at them, as they arrived under the tree. The unknown young man looked right at him, but without showing any sign of diffidence nor inquisitiveness.

“Hey there,” he exclaimed, reaching out. “You must be the foundling, Robin. I'm Gaius, nice to meet you.”

“My pleasure,” Robin answered politely, holding the hand he was offered and meeting the boy's eyes: they were light green, nice, clear and bright. He thought he had a calm, relaxed look, maybe a little elusive, but nothing malicious. And he had a nice smile, just a little crooked, but it suited him.

When their hands parted, Gaius stretched and sat down a couple of yards away, in front of him. He was approached by Chrom instead, with his bowl, which smelled not bad at all.

“I've got some leftover of today's Maribelle's stew,” the young man smiled, and Robin couldn't keep himself from mirroring his expression, grateful, and glad he was there. Not that Lissa hadn't been a pleasant company, not at all, but those intense blue eyes gave him a whole different kind of safety. “You'll have to drink the broth, for now, but when we go back down I'll get you some water.”

Robin nodded, since he had no reason to be picky. He accepted the bowl and put it on his knees; he lifted the cloth and found out there was a spoon there for him to use, to pick up the small pieces of meat and vegetables floating in a good-smelling broth. He gave his most sincere thanks, but Chrom shook his head, as for saying it was nothing.

He had expected the boy to sit next to him, but instead Chrom went to Gaius's side, a little closer than what would have been normal.

“Did you speak with Tharja?” Lissa was asking meanwhile, an apprehensive eagerness in her sparkling eyes.

“I did, even if she was a little standoffish. More than usual, I mean,” Chrom answered, with a serious half-smile. “She almost closed her door in my face right after I barely told her about Robin. She said something like, “Fine, just leave me alone now”, and that was it. I hope she'll be a little better when he's around.”

“She's been grumpy for a couple of days,” Gaius noticed, picking up a blade a little longer than the rest from the grass and beginning to fiddle with it with his tapered fingers. “I don't know if it's because I stole her honey, or...”

“And why did you steal her honey?” Lissa asked, laughing.

“Hey, she just uses it for her stupid concoctions, I use it the way it deserves!” the boy defended himself, and then he glanced at Robin, conspiratorially and amused. “I eat it until I've got nausea. That's what sweets are for!”

“Gaius has a real fixation for anything sugary,” Chrom explained, with an indulgent smile, and a warm light in his eyes.

“Well, yeah. Starting with you, Blue.”

And then, it happened: he slid two of his fingers under Chrom's chin, gently turning his head before Gaius placed a chaste kiss on his lips. To which Chrom just smiled, and kissed him back, long enough for Robin to be sure he had seen it and not just imagined it.

His eyes were probably wide, and he blushed: he quickly lowered his gaze and focused on what he was eating, although the meat wasn't suddenly all that tasty.

So, Chrom had a boyfriend, that boyfriend. It made sense. They probably loved each other a lot, if the picture he had of Chrom was accurate. And he, Robin, didn't have any right to be upset at that revelation: Chrom was very attractive, yes, and his looks, some of his words – “You know, I do like the way you make my name sound.” –, some of his behaviors were a little... misleading, but at the end of the day he barely knew him. And he did have much bigger problems to solve, among which finding his own true identity and surviving his meeting with an evil circus owner, or whatever. The slight attraction he may have felt towards Chrom must be crumpled and thrown away, and at that point he could do just that quite easily.

“Robin, you alright?” Lissa's voice came from what seemed to be very afar, on the spot. But then he raised his eyes, back to reality, and nodded with his mouth full.

“Sure,” he managed to grumble right after he swallowed. “I was just... thinking. Your circus sounds like a fun place.”

Gaius burst out laughing, and Robin couldn't help but finding that sound very pleasant. And why wouldn't he? That boy possessed all the qualities to be a good friend, he told himself.

“You can say it's a freak-show,” he was explaining, shaking off his forehead a tuft of ginger hair and sliding an arm around Chrom's waist. “But if you don't make much of a fuss, you'll be fine. I'll find you the right friends.”

“Which are not Validar, Gangrel, or Aversa,” Lissa continued for him, serious. “They are our three supervisors. Aversa is our show-woman, too, and Validar is an illusionist, and Gangrel is just an ugly cripple wandering here and there, but he's the cruelest. Or he's just mad and he doesn't bother to hide it.”

“I doubt Robin would like them anyway,” Gaius said, shrugging, without looking at anyone in particular. “They ooze black magic from their freaking pores. Watch Aversa's charming skills, kid, she's the one to be afraid of.”

Chrom cleared his throat, softly, and for a moment silence fell. To Robin, for no specific reason, it seemed oppressing. Then the young man spoke.

“It's no use to scare him this soon,” he said quietly, before giving him a faint, but sincere smile. “Keep trusting me. There are some all-around guys who can be rude, but besides them you'll find a lot of other people willing to help you, like us.”

Robin nodded and kept on eating, even though he was almost finished with his – honestly small – bowl of stew. He heard them murmuring something about Tharja's really awful mood, or about a certain Henry who couldn't leave Gaius alone, and some other little news like those, then he wiped his mouth with the cloth. Hunger and thirst were long gone; he probably wasn't sated, but he could carry on for a little while without complaining, although he'd liked that glass of water that was mentioned before.

“You're done? You're almost a quicker eater than I am,” Gaius noticed, smirking.

“Who knows how many days went by since he passed out here,” Chrom answered instead, with a hint of pity, but then he was the first one getting up. “Let's go, now. If we wander around the fields for too long, someone's gonna notice.”

“Yeah. But if they see us coming back down with Robin, it's over!” Lissa exclaimed, fixing her little yellow skirt after standing up.

“I'll take care of that, little princess,” Gaius reassured her, nonchalantly. “I'll go on reconnaissance, and if it's all clear I'll give you a whistle. Most folks should be resting before we keep on traveling, though.”

The two siblings nodded, and Robin couldn't do anything but follow them, empty bowl in his hands, while they were going back to the summit of the hill, right where he had woken up. They went down the slope a little, but Robin had barely caught a glimpse of a row of carriages parked down there, when Gaius gestured them to stop. They let him go ahead, and Robin followed his lanky steps with his eyes, battling against some nerves.

“Don't be too worried,” Chrom murmured to him after a few minutes, putting a hand on his shoulder. “We'll make it work out.”

He raised his eyes and met his – they seem literally crafted so that people would drown in them, just like in the depths of an ocean. But Robin had better skim and stay safe and sound, as much as he found the touch of the boy on his shoulder comforting, and as much as he still felt that something, in Chrom, had to be extraordinary.

Eventually, a sharp but not too loud whistle came from the scrub of trees next to which the wagons had found shelter.

“It's Gaius,” Chrom announced, even though Robin had realized that. “Let's go.”

And so they kept going down that path, quickly, hoping that nobody decided to look just in their direction in that exact moment. The closer they got to the camp, the more details Robin could notice, despite the great job leaves and branches were doing at protecting it: the carriages were close to one another, but more scattered than what it seemed like in the distance. There were some horses grazing among them, even though many others preferred the open field at the bottom of the hill, from where Robin heard a couple of female voices shouting something. They must have been those two girls – two little dots, one with flaming read hair and one dressed in gray and pink –, who were playing with the animals and ran after them when they got too far away from the group.

“It's Cordelia and Sumia,” Lissa informed him, noticing the direction of his gaze. “Both of them can communicate with animals, so they deal with the horses and the few little monkeys we carry around. They're very nice. The girls, I mean, not the monkeys. I mean, those are too, but...”

On that note, they arrived at the scrub, where Gaius was waiting for them.

“There's not a soul around here,” he informed them, with a sharp smile. “C'mon, Tharja's wagon is that way.”

Robin had every intention to follow them quietly, but curiosity won him over.

“You all have a wagon each?” he asked, noticing how some of them looked newer and more solid and others just old and ramshackle, small and big, made of dark or light wood, some even decorated with ribbons and writings, like “The Cage – Keep out”, “Roar!”, and other more or less serious messages.

“We wish, Robin,” Lissa replied, grimacing. “Most of these wagons are for our equipment. Most of us sleep together. But yeah, Tharja has her own wagon, because she's powerful enough... she's not the only one. There's also... well, someone else.”

She was very evasive in the last part of the sentence, and Robin didn't miss the glances Gaius and Chrom gave her when she started talking about someone else with a private wagon. Weird. At the moment, it didn't seem like they were hiding many things from him. What secret was that? But his considerations had barely begun, when he suddenly found himself in front of a carriage covered by a black cloth, tall and wide, and it cast a shadow on the ground all around them turning it from emerald green into a brown much darker than normal.

“The witch's cabin,” Gaius stated, solemnly, but Robin was glad to hear a playful shade in his voice. “Give me the bowl, I'll take it to Maribelle and I'll get you your glass of water. I'd better stay away from Tharja for a while, eh eh...”

“I'll go ahead,” Chrom said, strolling toward the wagon. “C'mon, Robin.”

They sounded like wise ideas – keeping the honey thief this Tharja was mad at away, and letting Chrom do the honors, since he was the chief's son and must have known her pretty well, her being the one who had to break his seal. But Robin felt a certain anxiety spreading all over his whole body anyway, when he saw the young man going up a few steps and then knocking at one of the wagon's doors.

Let's hope the scales are tipped well...”.

“Tharja? It's me, Chrom. I've brought... that person.”

It was careful of him not to mention his name, but keeping it general. He was talking relatively aloud, and anyone in their surroundings could heard him, especially with the idle silence of early afternoon cradling everything. However, he must ensure that Tharja acknowledged their presence there.

A few seconds went by, and Chrom was ready to knock again, when the door was opened. Being behind the boy and Lissa too, Robin didn't get a good look at the person who was letting them in – just a dark shadow, not very tall, that disappeared at once to leave them room to enter. Inside, he could only see a very faint twinkle of greenish light, but otherwise there was only darkness.

“C'mon in.”

The voice which arrived muffled at his ears was at the same time as soft as silk and as sharp as a blade. It sounded quite mature, and just a little annoyed, but his thoughts had to stop there: the other two were going in, and he followed them, certainly not willing to be left alone outside.

Once indoors, the first thing he noticed was the cauldron in the middle of the room: a shiny, emerald green liquid was boiling in it, above some light blue flames. There weren't unpleasant smells: just spices and herbs, for what he could say, but their blending together was an aroma abiding enough to make him wrinkle his nose.

He saw the shadow getting to the cauldron, but his eyes were captured by a glittering on the walls: despite the faint lighting, he saw a series of jars lined in perfect order on shelves, and the content of such vases was already more horrifying: was that a head?! And dead frogs, salamanders, a bat missing a wing, another little animal with scarlet scales and too many legs...

But then Lissa closed the door behind him, Chrom somehow moved out of the way, and finally Robin could observe Tharja's person. Which sight left him gaping for a good two seconds, before he regained the self-control necessary to behave appropriately.

To be honest, he hadn't expected anything in particular. He had not imagined her too ugly nor too beautiful, too young nor too old – he had managed to keep his brain far away from the usual stereotype of a hag with a crooked nose and warts hoovering at the back of his mind despite his amnesia. But he sure hadn't expected the girl in front of him to be around his age, and a complete knockout.

She had dark clothes, and at least he had got that right. A long, black, gold-rimmed cloak covered her from her shoulders to her feet, so from behind he could only see her ebony hair, straight and long to half of her back, some locks tied in two little ponytails at the sides of her head and of a thin headgear of black voile, gold-rimmed as well; but when she turned and showed him her profile, he could see just how white was the skin on her face, her features exotic and exquisite, both in the shape of her nose and in the shape of her lips, and the sharp glance of an eye as dark as an abyss pierced through him underneath thick and black eyelashes, locking him in place. Then Tharja turned all the way, an incomprehensible expression on her face, and Robin saw that her white skin went further down beyond that sort of collar she wore and stopped only at the generous curve of her breasts – where, in all fairness, his eyes lingered for a second too long. Two little black cups protected that chest from more intrusive glances than his own; a strip of black silk circled her waist and hid her groin, and hung softly among her legs. As for the rest, her thin arms, her slender thighs, her flat stomach and her slim hips where covered with what looked like a darkness veil, not thick enough to conceal details such as her belly-button, not thin enough not to turn the whiteness of her skin in a delicate and covering shade of black. Golden bracelets were at her wrists and ankles, and a hand with tapered and slender fingers, with long and sharp nails, held possessively onto a big, dusty book with a purplish cover.

She was beautiful, and most of all... well, she was sensual. Robin wondered if such a body was the result of a spell of some kind or just a natural gift, but soon the girl's deep and appraising gaze caught all of his attention.

“Interesting. So it is you.”

Tharja clenched her tome to her chest, hiding most of her torso from his eyes, but she didn't seem overwhelmed by shyness – she had talked almost with disdain, or like his presence there didn't matter at all for her. But even when she turned and stirred just once the liquid in her cauldron, with the corner of her eye she didn't stop looking at his face for one second.

“What do you mean, it is you?” Chrom asked, frowning. The girl shrugged, almost nonchalantly, but when she talked again she was more than serious, and more than sharp.

“I think he's the one that turned the future I used to see into fog. I can feel it.”

It was now Robin's turn to frown, while the meaning of those words planted its roots in his mind. He... clouded the future? So, neither his past nor his future had the slightest bit of sense?

Tharja got a step closer, her book still held tight to her chest, and her eyes now definitely locked to his face. Something in her radiated a power he couldn't comprehend, but it made him want to step back, for a moment; he managed to stand steadily on his feet, but that girl's gaze was an enigma.

“I can't see more than the immediate future, or unimportant things. Everything's been blurry for days, and when I try and force my sight a migraine comes and makes me nauseous with pain. You have traces of magic on yourself. Let me see.”

Her voice was soft and suffocating like velvet. It was low, but feminine, and sensual, and Robin swallowed when one of those hands, looking delicate yet lethal, reached out to his face. Her nails on his cheek were cool, and the scent of Tharja's body close to his was tenuous, like dew within the night. He felt himself blushing while he was forced to stare at that unusual yet beautiful face, the soft curve of her lips, the dark warmth in those eyes as black as carbon which didn't blink not even once while they were studying him.

Then, something he hadn't expected at all happened – on the perfect features of that face, the faint phantom of a smile appeared, a little sardonic, a little sincere, and definitely seductive.

“Mhm. You're awfully cute. It's gonna be fun to follow your every single step.”

Robin's eyes went wide, as he realized something in that sentence was wrong – every single step? What did she mean? But the blushing spread on his cheeks, maybe because of the compliment, or maybe because of the person it was coming from.

“Tharja, would you mind to explain yourself?” Chrom's voice arrived, and Robin preferred to blame the slight irritation he heard in it to his hurry to have some answers.

The girl scoffed softly, without pulling back her hand, nor herself. Actually, Robin felt her fingertips trying a caress on his skin, while Tharja's eyes filled with appreciation and amusement, and her body got a little closer.

“He's very lucky that I like him,” she murmured, answering Chrom. “Normally I'd already turned him to a roach. He's causing me problems. But I can see it's not his fault, someone did something to him. Somehow, I can even feel he's not from this world.”

“What?!” Robin snapped, backing away from her touch, too upset, now, to notice her charm. “And what world would I come from?”

“Quit yelling.” Tharja warned him, darkening, and clutching her book tighter to her chest with both of her hands. “Try not to think about it. This is your place, I think. Speaking of which...”

She turned to Chrom and Lissa, standing nearby.

“You can take him to your father. If you don't screw up, Robin will stay.”

“But you just said you have trouble in reading the future,” Lissa observed, with no bad intentions, just confused.

“I also said I catch glimpses of the immediate future,” Tharja replied, a little haughty. “And, anyway, I know this boy will stay. Or I wouldn't have problems to begin with. Robin's your name, right?”

He nodded slowly, still quite upset.

“And you've lost your memory. I'm not surprised. Fine, in these days you'll come back here and we'll see what I can do. I'll have to leave your seal alone for a while, Chrom.”

“I don't care,” the boy answered, serious. “But don't get in trouble with my father.”

“Trouble? Oh, he can try.”

He liked something of that mage's confidence. It was... magnetic. Somehow, from her and all the objects around him, Robin could feel power pulsating faintly – and he really didn't know a thing about magic.

Maybe she was trustworthy. Very weird, but she obviously knew what she was doing. And if she was his only hope to gain his memory back, then he did have to try.

“Tharja...” Lissa called, her voice small. “You don't think the circus is in danger, do you? I know Robin's not mean, but strange things are happening... just the fact that you cannot see anymore...”

“Robin may be very dangerous,” Tharja answered, laconic, getting to her cauldron. “Honestly, I don't care until he doesn't threaten me. If the day shall come, I will annihilate him... or I'll help him annihilate this circus. Depends on my mood.”

Robin searched for Chrom's gaze, and found out the other boy was looking at him too – only to be able to give him a reassuring nod, and to tell him with his eyes to leave it alone. Apparently, such remarks were common, coming from that mage, or Chrom would have taken her more seriously. Robin was still worried, though: maybe for Tharja the future of the circus didn't matter, but he didn't want to destroy something precious. For sure he didn't want to destroy Chrom, Lissa and Gaius. And what if his arrival there was going to bring some bad consequences? Guilt was eating him alive just then, he didn't dare to think of a scenario where the prophecy came true.

“Speaking of which, Chrom,” Tharja continued after a pause, and something of her slightly more menacing tone made Robin's hair on his nape stand up. “If I catch your little boyfriend, I'm not sure what I'll do to him. Warn him, if you please.”

For Robin's surprise, Chrom gave her a rather amused smile. It must have been true that Tharja didn't use to hurt anyone for real. Or maybe Chrom was just very naive.

“I will,” he answered her, with a carefree gesture. “Thank you very much for your help. Take care of yourself. I'm sure Libra has something to cure headaches with.”

“So do I, silly,” the mage replied, busy around her cauldron. “Now get out of here. I've got work to do. I'll see you, Robin.”

Lissa gently pushed him outside, and he barely managed to say a “See you”. Suddenly he was right in the sun again, and after all of that darkness his eyes hurt a lot.

After a couple minutes spent adapting to the clear air and the bright greens around him – shaking off that weird mark of darkness that Tharja had left on him, as persistent as it was and... fascinating, somehow –, Robin spoke.

“So... what do you think?” he asked, a little anxious, since he would have preferred a less gloomy answer about him staying with the circus.

Lissa and Chrom exchanged a look, but both shrugged.

“You haven't lied yet,” the little girl said, staring at him with her light blue eyes, so similar to the sky. “And you totally don't seem like a threat. Sure, Tharja's problems are weird...”

“But she can handle herself,” Chrom cut the long story short, even if not without kindness. “She did look a little better than earlier today already. And a mystery is not a valid reason to leave you without a place to stay.”

Someone could have objected that, but Robin kept quiet, in his best interest at least. He really had no idea regarding how to be dangerous, since he just wanted to find out where he was from and eat something while they headed towards civilization looking for answers. He was confused, but he could handle just to stay put while things went by.

“More importantly...”

He foresaw the new topic of the conversation at once given Chrom's mood, and Lissa looked a lot more worried.

“We need to take you to our father, now.”

 

Chapter Text

 

They came to the biggest wagon Robin had seen so far. It was so tall, so broad and so long, made of such solid wood, that he wondered how many poor horses were to be used to pull it, and with what effort. Chrom must have grasped the dismay in his eyes.

“Our animals are not like any others, they can handle it,” he said in a low voice, staring forward, certainly focused on something else.

It was a crumb of relief in the sea of worries and fears that stirred in Robin's stomach. When they got right at the foot of the stairs that would give them access to the wagon, Chrom stopped and grabbed his shoulder.

Meeting those eyes, bluer than the ocean, infused him with the usual dose of reassurance; but the boy was pale, serious, more than he had ever been before.

“Listen, Robin,” he said, his voice hard enough to make him understand that the instructions that would follow would better be understood. “Let me and Lissa speak. My father is unpredictable, susceptible, and he does not accept to be contradicted. I think he would be much tougher toward us too, if only the whole circus was not on our side.”

“Besides, he doesn't live there all alone,” Lissa added grimly. “Validar and Gangrel could be around, in fact, I'm sure. At least maybe Aversa is resting...”

“Do not even talk to them,” Chrom said. “If they greet you, just nod back. Don't look at them too much, nor too little. We will handle the situation. Agreed?”

Robin nodded, though he felt like his guts had become one knot. Were these people really so fearsome that a single misstep could cause such serious consequences? He wasn't an idiot, he knew how to behave – and yet, while Chrom and Lissa certainly didn't consider him stupid, they didn't think he could face them. It was humiliating and scary at the same time.

The other boy tightened his grip on his shoulder for a moment.

“Trust me,” he murmured, with a hint of a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes, but brought a little warmth to Robin's chest, and he was forced to smile back, nodding again. At that point Chrom pulled his hand away from him and turned to the wagon – Lissa and I'll go first. Wait here, we'll only take a few minutes.

In fact, they didn't stay inside for longer than that; but to Robin it felt like an eternity, which he spent shifting his weight from one foot to the other, trying to see if by chance Gaius emerged from the carts to go and check the situation, or if he could spot any strangers. He didn't see anything, actually: he only heard more shouts from the girls in the fields far away and what sounded to him like an unsettling roar; in the end he convinced himself that he had imagined it. Or at least that it wasn't close enough to be a threat.

Finally, the wagon door opened again and Chrom appeared on the doorstep. He had a very serious expression, but he was no longer pale, at least.

“Come in.”

Robin didn't have to be told twice: he climbed the steps and followed Chrom inside, closing the door behind himself.

Lissa was waiting for them in a sort of narrow corridor. It was lit by small lamps hanging from the ceiling – at first Robin thought it wasn't very safe to have so much fire in a wooden wagon, but then he realized that the light was a little too golden to be that of a normal flame: he didn't want to investigate any further, but he could feel in the air a shred of that strange electricity he had perceived when entering Tharja's quarters. With the difference that, there, he had only had the sensation of being surrounded by a velvety darkness, dark but soft and somehow seductive; in that new place, everything felt suffocating, and the fact that every step made the floor creak didn't make the atmosphere any more reassuring.

Lissa led them, followed by Chrom, who had Robin at her heels. They passed by some side doors, and Robin could begin to see golden decorations on the dark wooden panels that seemed to end the corridor; but before he could concentrate on them, a door to their left opened just as Chrom was in front of it. All three of them jumped, and Robin found himself staring wide-eyes at this new person.

He was a man, very tall and very thin. The sumptuous robes of black velvet and purple silk, embroidered with gold threads and glistening with some precious stones, made him more imposing than Robin suspected him to really be; his brown hair was pulled back, leaving his forehead uncovered, and it looked greasy, which gave him an instinctive motion of disgust – as if the hand resting on the jamb of the door, bony, grim, with long fingers that ended with horrible black claws, wasn't creepy enough by itself. His face was long, his skin dark, his curly goatee highlighting his pointed chin and high cheekbones; his thick eyebrows framed two eyes that burned like coal – when they lay on Robin and stared at him for a really long time, the boy shivered from head to toe.

Malevolence. It stirred in the folds of those robes and shone in those hawk-like irises. He wondered how Chrom could glare at him with his head held high, with such open but controlled contempt.

“Ah, Chrom, my dearest boy. I wondered who was making so much hustle.”

The man's smile was colder than ice, slicker than mud and more false than the jewels which adorned his clothes. And his voice was deep, scratchy, a mixture of the hiss of a snake and the low growl of a wilde predator. Robin would have liked to retreat from his presence, but the man didn't waste a moment longer before looking at him again.

A wicked hunter, with a twinkling wink in his pupils.

“Who is he?”

Chrom made such a grimace, he made it obvious how much he'd rather avoid that moment and that question. But then he composed himself, and answered in a completely detached tone.

“We found him. He's name is Robin. Robin...” He turned to look him in the eye, and Robin welcomed with a warm and affectionate surge in his chest that flash of blue, however unfathomable in that moment. “He's Validar. Supervisor of the circus, as well as our most skillful and appreciated performer.”

How the public could love an individual with such a disquieting presence, Robin didn't understand; or rather, he was forced to think that this man must have beem remarkably good with magic. However, he nodded politely in return, and Validar gave him another smile, one that highlighted the sharp tips of his teeth.

“Chrom flatters me,” he hissed, with obvious satisfaction. “I'm just one of the many artists in this beautiful circus. Has Robin met Cornelius?”

“No,” Chrom was quick to reply, dryly. “But we're getting there, and we should go. You know he doesn't like it to be kept waiting.”

“I see,” Validar murmured softly, before giving a new, long glance at Robin. “It was a pleasure to meet this possible newcomer. Good luck... if you need help in persuading Cornelius, you know you can count on me.”

Chrom's glare made Robin understand that never would they ever ask that man for help in case of trouble, but he thought it was polite to nod and murmur some thanks. Validar looked satisfied, and after nodding to Chrom and Lissa, he disappeared behind the door he had come from, closing it behind him.

The two siblings breathed a sigh of relief at the same time.

“It went a little better than I feared,” Chrom murmured, running a hand over his forehead. “I don't like like the fact he's seen Robin already, but sooner or later it did have to happen.”

If he had to be honest with himself, even Robin had expected worse: Validar had a look that was not reassuring at all, slimy ways and a glance that burned one's soul as if he wanted to take possession of it, but, in fact, he hadn't done anything worthy of note, nor said really unpleasant things. In short, he had only kept a polite attitude, within the limits of his personality. Robin could only hope that things would go like that even with the head of the circus, he told himself, as Chrom beckoned him to keep walking.

They arrived at the door at the end of the corridor: two massive and gorgeous doors, which seemed very heavy and difficult to move. It was when he saw them so up-close that Robin began to sweat, but he forced himself to be calm: Tharja had said that the odds of him staying with the circus were very high; he had Lissa and Chrom ready to testify for him, and the girl must have been worth something, with her gift of perceiving lies. Chrom gave him one last penetrating look, then knocked.

After a single second, a cavernous voice from the inside said Come in – a rumble that echoed amongst the wooden walls of the corridor. Robin swallowed.

Lissa and Chrom opened the doors, not without difficulty. The environment ahead of them didn't seem to have a very different lighting, but it was with his heart in his throat that Robin crossed the threshold behind the siblings.

The first thing he saw was a huge back, one of a very tall and massive man who seemed to be leaning over the dark wood desk in the middle of the room to read something. Robin soon realized that his robes were sumptuous, if only for the white fur hems adorning the end and the collar of his dark blue cloak. He barely had the time to wonder how he could have such luxurious clothes, when his children looked so modest and simple, when the man turned, and Robin was forced to give up such thoughts.

For a moment, he met two eyes as black as an abyss, so intense and dark that he couldn't handle their gaze for more than a second before lowering his own. The man in front of him was majestic; for some reason, unknown to Robin, he wore some kind of richly decorated armor, and he also saw the golden hilt of a sword sprouting from under his cloak. His well-combed hair was the same bluish color as Chrom's, but his face had none of the boy's softness: a white scar cut through his tanned skin from the left side of his forehead to his right cheekbone, his features were hard and his dark beard only helped chiseling them more. Last, but not least, there was no smile on those lips.

“Father ... this is Robin,” Chrom began, in a loud and clear voice, even if Robin was able to perceive a hint of apprehension under his usual confidence. “Robin ... This is my father, head of this circus. His name is Cornelius.”

Sir will suffice.”

The man had spoken with a stone-hard voice. He didn't deign his son of a glance: he stared at Robin without batting an eyelid, and he found himself unsure whether to show self-confidence and keep his head high, or lower himself to show the most servile humility. Cornelius's hostility towards him was evident. Chrom didn't dare to reply, while Lissa shifted her weight nervously from foot to foot, eyes downcast.

“What use do I have for him?” the man asked, dryly, without even a hint of warmth in his tone. Robin felt a knot forming in his throat: in fact, what would he even do in the circus during his stay?

“He can work with the other guys,” Chrom answered, quickly. “He'll help us set up the next show. More working arms are always...”

“Useful? Umpf,” Cornelius interrupted him, contemptuously, glancing at his son with a poisonous look that filled Robin with discomfort even before the man returned to focus on him. “I deduce that he is not a magician.”

“No, father,” Lissa intervened after a moment of silence, with a voice even smaller than usual. “He just needs a place to stay.”

“And is my circus an inn that rents rooms to vagrants?” said Cornelius, his voice like the rumble of an angry and disdainful lion; then he turned to his son, without changing his grim expression. “You know, Chrom, I already carry along enough empty and useless bags without magic, like you.”

“I don't think Chrom is useless.”

The look the other young man gave him was not of gratitude, but of pure horror; Lissa held her breath so abruptly that Robin could hear it. As for Cornelius, he stared at him with so much anger in his black eyes, Robin feared he was going to be incinerated on the spot, but he stood firmly on his feet, chin high, despite the fact that his heart was beating wildly.

“What did you say?” the head of the circus hissed, threatening, and Robin realized at once that this was the right time to murmur a humble Nothing, sir, forgive me. But he immediately dismissed that option. He knew he was acting rashly, but he also knew that a bully would not stop him from doing the right thing.

“I said that I don't think Chrom is useless,” he said, trying to control the tremor in his own voice. “He treated me with great kindness, and... altruism is certainly not useless if you are part of a team.”

He was kind of clutching at straws, sure – he had no evidence of what Chrom actually did in the circus. But he had seen people treating him with familiarity and some respect; heck, even Validar hadn't been too arrogant towards him. He must have been liked by everyone, or almost everyone, and that was already a quality that would have been unjust to waste: this, Robin did firmly believe.

Too bad that Cornelius was choosing that moment to give him his first smile – and it was at that point that he realized he had made an irremediable mistake: fierce, cruel, that was the sneer of someone who felt pure hatred.

“Thanks, Robin,” he snarled at him, stressing his name with angry sarcasm. “You've just made my decision even easier.”

He raised his right arm up high, and Robin saw electricity charges start crackling between his fingers. His hair stood on the back of his head.

“No!”

Chrom and Lissa both had cried out in one voice, but Robin's eyes were attracted for a fraction of a second only by the boy's movement – he tried to jump in front of him. By pure instinct, Robin pushed him away again, just as the sphere of energy detached itself from Cornelius's fingers to be hurled straight at him.

He knew it was over, but his body could not stop himself from trying to protect him: he raised his arms and crossed them in front of his face, and immediately felt the impact on his skin.

It was hot, a net of chills that enveloped him from his wrists to his elbows and then up to his shoulders; it made him jump and his whole organism vibrated with a sensation that he knew to be alien and unknown despite having lived for so little. But he didn't feel even one bit of pain, and it was this detail that made a faint chime ring in the back of his mind. Was he... alive?

Trembling, with incredulous slowness, he lowered his arms and looked at his hands. He gasped when he saw them covered with a spiderweb of electricity that barely stung at his skin. For a moment he wished it to disappear, or at least gather, and those little gold-colored snakes, with his immense bewilderment, obeyed him, crawling over his wrists and rolling into two small, glittering spheres in the center of his palms, before giving one last crackling and fade away with a hiss.

In shock from fright and confusion, Robin finally looked up, gazing at the other three people in the room.

Chrom had remained almost as petrified as he was, to the point that his eyes seemed to have no expression, stuck on his hands as if they had just witnessed a miracle. Something in Cornelius's attitude, on the other hand, had completely changed: he was looking at him with a suspicious attitude, now, but he looked more intrigued as well, his angry hatred disappeared. However, Lissa was the first to come to her senses – showing the most relief and joy among all those who were present.

“You're a wizard,” she murmured in a low voice, widening her eyes, and then smiling and making almost a leap of joy. “Father, he's a wizard! This is awesome!”

Robin recorded those words and was even more shocked. Could he really control that magic which existence he didn't even remember until Chrom and Lissa had told him about it? Did he really have a strange gift, or more, like the girl? Was that why his presence interfered with Tharja's magic? Or was he jumping ahead of himself, while in truth that miraculous rescue had been just an accident?

His heart was beating wildly: he no longer had the slightest idea how to behave. At least, the same seemed to hold true for Chrom and Cornelius; Lissa, however, was not intimidated by the silence that had fallen after her enthusiastic exclamations.

“Father, he's one of us,” she continued, clasping her hands on her chest with just a little apprehension, but smiling. “We can train him. We can add new numbers to the show. Maybe...”

“It'll take time, before he reaches such level,” Cornelius interrupted her, coldly, crossing his arms. But he looked pensive, which Robin tried to interpret as a good sign. “I do not like him at all. And third-rate wizards aren't welcome here.”

Finally, even Chrom was able to snap out of it.

“Give him at least one chance,” he said, raising his head with a certain determination, though Robin could see his hands trembling. “It might take some time, that's true, but it's worth further investigation, isn't it?”

Cornelius seemed to ignore him. He pointed his abyss-black eyes in Robin's, who really started to feel microscopic; he found himself lowering his gaze before he could even decide to do otherwise, too shocked by what had just happened to keep behaving defiantly and stand his ground.

Perhaps, this show of frailty played in his favor.

“I made my decision.” Cornelius spoke imperiously, and only then did Robin manage to raise his head to look at him, filled with fear and adrenaline rushing through his veins. The expression of the head of the circus was still hard as stone, far from benevolent, but no hint of anger or hate had returned to scratch his features. “He has three days to show me he's able to do something useful. If he won't, I will not let him stay in my circus one more night. Let it be clear that I have not forgotten his insolence.”

For a few moments silence fell, while his words took root in the minds of the three of them.

At first, Robin felt relief: anything was better than a sentence to death, or being kicked out of the circus right away. Then, a shiver of discouragement shook his heart: three days to learn how to use magic? Three days? He knew less than zero about it. It was almost certain that he managed to stop Cornelius's attack only with sheer panic and willpower, in an exceptional situation that would have been difficult to replay; and something like that didn't even mean being able to control any kind of power. And doing a number in the show? Was he even just capable of appearing before an audience without freezing in fear?

“Thank you, father,” Lissa was saying, though, with a smile a little more restrained than usual, but still genuine. “We'll do our best.”

Chrom nodded, but Cornelius was already turning away from them.

“Go, now. You've been annoying me for long enough. And start waking up the others, we're to leave soon.”

The two siblings murmured an obedient Yes, father that emphasized even more, to Robin's ears, the fact that there wasn't a crumb of affection between him and them; then Chrom beckoned him to get out.

They walked along the corridor in silence – certainly it would have been madness to discuss the events while the despotic head of the circus was still so close –, but they couldn't get to the open air before a new unknown figure stood in their way, coming right from the outside.

In spite of the fact that she stood for a few moments against the light, Robin soon realized that this time it was a woman: it would have been difficult to misunderstand the generous curves of her hips, even before he could observe her better as she approached them elegantly.

He wasn't sure it was appropriate to call her beautiful. She was tall, slender, and her black robes clung to her bust, highlighting her bursting breasts even without the help of her neckline, which almost reached her navel. Her skin was dark, painted with some strange purple tattoos, and a thick corolla of pitch-black feathers encircled her shoulders, giving her an aura that resembled almost that of a queen. Her hair was as white as snow, and white she had also painted her lips; she had sharp features, a narrow, pointed face, red almond-shaped eyes. No doubt she was young, but the colors and the purple lines that cut through her face made her look a lot older; her refinement immediately seemed to him like it was feigned, almost ... filthy.

“Hello, my dears. Who's this handsome young man?”

She had a hoarse voice, sensual to the point of being almost obscene. Robin felt her words caress his face eagerly, and at once he felt the urge to move away from her, all of his senses on the alert. It was something completely different from what he had felt with Tharja – he knew right away that he never ever would want to be touched by that woman.

He glanced at Lissa and Chrom, looking for belays to cling to: the little girl had her lips tight in an apparent motion of disappointment, her forehead frowned and all of her joyful sparkles disappeared from her big blue eyes; but the real shock was to see that Chrom was pale as it had never even happened in Cornelius's room.

The anguish that transpired from his eyes was such, it also invaded Robin's heart; the attempt the young man made collect himself only showed how much each of his features was stiffened by his tension.

Lissa was the first to speak.

“Good to see you, Aversa,” she greeted her, without any enthusiasm. “Father just told us we're about to move on.”

“Ah, I thought so. It's getting late.”

With Robin's deep discomfort, the woman didn't seem to want to stop approaching. When he saw her raising her hand – bony, grim, similar to those of Validar even because of the long claws that were her nails –, he couldn't help but take a half step back, with his heart in his throat; but for his even deeper anguish those fingers went to caress Chrom's cheek, as the boy stood as motionless as a salt statue.

“Chrom, honey, are you feeling well?”

That thoughtful question was so fake and full of malice, Robin understood at once that Aversa knew very well the reason for the boy's tension – and probably she was the cause of it, not without a massive dose of complacency. Chrom tightened his lips together, unable even to reply, and it was from that precise moment that Robin began hating that woman.

His disgust and anger made his bowels twist.

Lissa took a step forward, a hard and determined expression that one would have not expected to see on her delicate face.

“With your permission, we're in a hurry, Aversa,” she said aloud, firmly. Aversa turned to stare at her with a smile full of condescension, getting a little closer to Chrom and moving her hand over his shoulder.

“Oh? Isn't there any time to make some introductions, or to reassure me about the health of my dear boy here? You're getting rude, little princess.”

The insult to his sister seemed to shake Chrom at least enough to make him talk.

“His name is Robin,” he said dryly, staring downward and almost not moving a muscle. “He could become part of the circus. But we have to start training him.”

“Ah, a new recruit, I see,” said Aversa, smiling towards him. Robin had no trouble glaring back at her; maybe it wasn't the best idea to make his hostility clear so quickly, but it wasn't so easy to suppress those feelings born straight from his stomach. “He's really cute, don't you think, Chrom? How did you find him, amid these boring grasslands?”

The young man seemed to stiffen even more at the first, strange question he had been addressed with. Robin was confused and more troubled than ever, but before he could think about it, Chrom decided at last to shake off that harpy's hand.

“He needed help,” was his lapidary explanation, though still without daring to give her in the eye; yet he made a move to pass by her. “Now we really have to go and help the others.”

“Have a good day, Aversa,” Lissa concluded, clutching Robin's wrist with one hand and pulling him a little to urge him to move. She didn't have to insist.

Luckily, the woman didn't try to stop them. When he found himself standing in the grass, blue sky above him, Robin felt like he was breathing freely for the first time in centuries.

The two siblings, however, made him walk away from the larger wagons before stopping to speak. In the meantime, Robin noticed there was more movement in the camp: the voices of the girls who were to take care of the horses were closer, and he saw some young men jumping off a few carts. However, he already had enough thoughts on his mind without even looking at everything else.

“Did you say that Tharja behaves like a witch?” was the first thing he said, turning to Lissa. “I'm sorry, but that hag is much worse. What is she doing here?”

“She's a good example of why people hate us, Robin,” the girl replied bitterly. “Stay away from her, I beg of you. Her gift is charm. The only real protection against her is not going near her.”

Robin looked up at Chrom: he was still pale and deadly serious. His fear of that harpy seemed so great that the idea of asking questions was not even to be contemplated.

“But let's forget about her,” Lissa went on, trying to take on a more cheerful tone. “You rascal, you surely are full of surprises! You were incredible!”

It was impossible not to return her smile; even Chrom's face lit up.

“We did it,” the young man said, as if to drive away the last shadows that hoovered in his eyes. “From now on, our path goes downhill.”

“Downhill?” Robin repeated, frowning. “Chrom, how can I learn to be like all the other wizards in three days?”

“You don't have to be perfect, or to have a number set up,” Lissa replied, reassuringly. “You'll just need to be able to use a tome, improvise a few tricks. Father's spell.. it wasn't easy to stop it. You have talent.”

“It was more a matter of panic...”

“Without a certain amount of power, not even panic would have saved you,” Chrom said. “Believe me, this revelation about you is the best thing we could hope for ... in the current situation, of course.”

Those words were perhaps what triggered Robin's full awareness of what had happened: he was a magician. Being a magician meant belonging to that circus, provided that Cornelius did not incinerate him. What extraordinary coincidence had led him to wake up in that field just as the company was passing by? Was it really a coincidence to begin with? Perhaps he'd been abandoned, rejected by the world, and that was why he didn't remember his house or his family? In fact, had he just found that family?

“What are you going to do, Chrom?” Lissa was asking, meanwhile.

“We have to ask someone to help him,” her brother said quickly. “But Tharja already has enough on her hands, I suppose.”

“There's Cherche.”

“You know she's very busy as well...”

“But she's reliable and kind and knows a lot about so many types of magic. We should at least try to ask her.”

“Well ... okay. Trying can't do us any harm, since it's her,” Chrom finally consented.

“What does she do in the circus?” Robin asked, curious.

“Cherche is our tamer,” Lissa answered with a smile. “Sumia and Cordelia start the number with the horses, then she arrives with the most dangerous animals.”

“Dangerous animals?” he repeated, remembering the roar he had thought he had heard a little earlier. The siblings giggled in response.

“You'll see with your own eyes,” Chrom replied, without any malice. “You don't need to fear her beasts unless you infuriate her. And I know you won't.”

“Can we go, then?” Lissa urged them. “We don't have all day.”

To Robin's surprise, Chrom hesitated, glancing in his direction.

“Mhm ... Lissa, go ahead. Go wake up those who are still asleep, please, we will meet you at Cherche's. I'd like to have a few words with Robin, first.”

“Oh,” the girl said, surprised. “Well... fine. But don't take too long.”

“Just a few minutes,” he reassured her. “See you there.”

After one last farewell, Lissa was hopping away, slipping between the carts and disappearing soon. A slight buzz was beginning to rise from every corner of the camp: sheets were lifted, and the first horses were in position.

But Robin looked back at Chrom, who returned his gaze with a new intensity. When his hand touched his shoulder, Robin felt a chill that had nothing to do with the weather, sunny as it was.

“You took a terrible risk for me. You shouldn't have.”

Chrom was a little too close to him, and his voice was too beautiful, deep and vibrant, for Robin's heart not to start beating way too fast.

Getting a crush on him is a horrible idea. He has a boyfriend.

“Look who's talking,” Robin tried to smile. “You were jumping between me and him. We're even.”

“You pushed me away,” Chrom said firmly, but gently. “You're still winning.”

“Chrom, really...” He swallowed, trying to find the right words. “You found me. You gave me your trust. Defending you was the least I could do. I couldn't just be quiet.”

A veil of sadness fell over that beautiful face.

“Taking my defenses is not the wisest choice for you here. You'll come to understand it quickly.”

That was the moment when, in his features, Robin began to see secrets. They were there, indecipherable and mysterious; and his soul knew instantly that they were of a very dark kind.

“I don't care,” he murmured. “I will never stand against you. You can't make me change my mind.”

Surprise, tenderness, melancholy appeared in Chrom's eyes. An affection that made his lips curl in the faintest and sweetest of smiles.

Robin's heart fell in his stomach when he realized just how irrationally, recklessly, and rashly he wanted to kiss him.