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No More Monsters

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At the end, Linhardt comes to Ferdinand in the ruined throne room.

Ferdinand is helping to supervise the clean up, staring as two Church soldiers mop the strange, grey goop left by Edelgard in her final stand. There is no saving the carpet, which they’ve moved away from the throne and steps to be burned. Ferdinand wanted to help, but his left arm is numb. His right elbow smarts when he attempts to move it. The carpet is very heavy.

“Here,” Linhardt says as a way of greeting, casting Heal on Ferdinand’s elbow.

“Oh!” Ferdinand says, after making an undignified noise of surprise. “Linhardt! I didn’t see you. Thank you.”

Linhardt shrugs. He doesn’t meet Ferdinand’s gaze, choosing to look at the goop. Ferdinand lifts his right hand. Pushes his hair out of his face. His upper back shrieks at him from the burn he took from the ballistics at some point. He breathes in deeply, which is also a mistake. The throne room reeks.

“Hey,” Linhardt says, and when Ferdinand turns to him, his expression is irritated. “You should get a real healer to look at you.”

Ferdinand doesn’t wince, but it’s a near thing. “I didn’t think I was in that bad a shape,” he says, although as soon as the words escape his lips, he can feel his left shin protesting and how much his stomach aches. “Do I look terrible?”

“You look like you should be lying down, yeah,” Linhardt says, before motioning over his right shoulder. “Manuela and Mercedes are set up in the royal quarters. Do you…”

Linhardt trails off. Makes an awkward, aborted motion. Ferdinand tries to smile reassuringly but stops himself. He shakes his head.

“I know the way,” he says.

The look on Linhardt’s face is a combination of regretful and grateful. He nods.

“Go,” he says. “I’ll keep an eye on this.”

There isn’t really a valid reason for Ferdinand to protest. He inclines his head to Linhardt, who clearly doesn’t want to talk anymore, and moves with careful consideration of his steps towards the royal quarters. It isn’t because there’s anything wrong with his balance. His feet are fine, and the injury to his left leg is probably just a bad bruise.

The bodies have been cleared away, but if he looks too far to the side, he’ll still see them lining the walls.

Raphael is standing guard at the entrance to the royal chambers. He smiles at Ferdinand when he rounds the corner but doesn’t move from his stance in the entrance. It isn’t to block Ferdinand. His mouth is opening as soon as Ferdinand is in stage whispering distance.

“Teach and Mercedes are working on Dimitri,” Raphael says, which Ferdinand understands to mean that final stab wound was worse than it looked or Dimitri is being a difficult patient. “You okay with being in there with that?”

Probably both then. Ferdinand smiles, which automatically puts Raphael at ease. He’s already moving aside as Ferdinand says:

“I just need my back looked at. Everything else is straightforward.”

Not his stomach, but Ferdinand has been having stomach issues ever since they rode into Enbarr. He keeps thinking about his father, who may or may not be alive, and he doesn’t know what is going to happen now that the Adrestian Empire has essentially been conquered by the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus. Just knowing that his father, if he is still alive, will probably attempt a powergrab makes Ferdinand want to find a chamber pot.

Sure enough, Dimitri is being a difficult patient. Admittedly, it isn’t his fault as it appears Dedue and Byleth are both struggling to peel him out of his armour, which is excessively dented. They all look up from their positions on the royal reception furniture as Ferdinand steps into the room. Dimitri, who is seated on the chaise lounge across the table that Ferdinand and Edelgard used to occasionally play chess on, gives him a worn attempt at a welcoming expression as Mercedes pours an Antitoxin into the stab wound. Dimitri doesn’t even flinch. Ferdinand wonders, not for the first time, if pain tolerance is a benefit of Dimitri’s Crest or just something peculiar to him.

“Ferdinand,” he says, “did Linhardt find you?”

“Yes,” Ferdinand says, and he tries to smile back, but it’s hard. “How’s his arm?”

“It’ll be good as new in a couple of days,” Manuela says, reentering the reception room from the royal bedroom with what Ferdinand recognises with a sick lurch of his stomach as Edelgard’s china wash basin full of water. “Sit down. You look about to collapse.”

Ferdinand crosses the room to sit down on one of the armchairs, resolutely not looking at the game table. Sitting turns out to be more of a chore than he expected because his shin barks at him, and he ends up letting out an undignified grunt as he crashes more than seats himself in the chair. He senses everyone looking at him and tries not to feel too self-conscious.

“Alright,” Manuela says and because Ferdinand is looking down, he gets an eyeful of her chest before he hastily lifts his gaze to her face. “I know you got hit by a ballistic.”

“Did everyone see that?” Ferdinand asks even as he reaches up with his right hand to unstrap of his left shoulder spaulder.

Manuela pushes his hand away and starts on the straps. “Linhardt let us know,” she says before frowning at him; he has no idea how her lip colour is still perfect. “Are you able to move this arm at all?”

“Um,” Ferdinand says, very helpfully.

In the end, it takes Manuela and Raphael to get him out of his armour. The left shoulder armour plates have melted into each other and onto his mail, which is also stuck onto his skin. This shocks Ferdinand because he hadn’t felt it at all, but his entire shoulder and arm is numb. His left leg’s greaves are badly cracked, but his mail saved him from further damage. It will just be an awful looking bruise.

“This is going to take a while,” Manuela says, staring at what must be a complete mess of Ferdinand’s back. “How much feeling do you have?”

“Thank you,” Ferdinand says as Raphael pours a cup of water. “None in my arm, but my back hurts.”

“I’ll be as gentle as possible,” Manuela says, and Ferdinand smiles as he accepts Raphael’s help in drinking.

He spends most of the time as Manuela carefully cuts away his jerkin and undershirt from where it adhered to his back and left arm watching Dimitri’s slow extraction from the rest of his armour. Dimitri’s expression reflects nothing more than absolute exhaustion, but that makes complete sense. Edelgard blasted Dimitri so many times during the battle that Ferdinand lost count. Even with Byleth at his back, Ferdinand had feared every time he lost sight of Dimitri the next strike would be the final one.

Every step of the way, he had known it was either Edelgard or Dimitri.

“Ferdinand,” Manuela’s voice filters in and he realises that he had dozed off against Raphael’s chest. “Do you have any injuries to your front? If not, you can lie down.”

“Oh,” he says, and he has lost even the energy to be embarrassed, “yes, that would make sense.”

He only realises, however, as Raphael and Manuela led him not back towards the hall but towards the royal bedroom that he is going to be put in Edelgard’s bed. Ferdinand’s entire body stops. Raphael and Manuela jerk slightly, and Raphael’s great strength threatens to pull them forward. Ferdinand stares at the open door. At the posts and the canopy just visible in the dim light.

“No,” he says, very distantly; he sounds hard; he sounds like his father; he should apologise; “Sorry, I… No.”

He can’t. The bed will still smell like her. Ferdinand remembers the faint perfume she enjoyed during those short Academy days. A pleasant hint of lilac that he would catch in the hall or in morning lessons. He had thought it incongruent to her personality.

We killed her, he wants to say.

We had to, he wants to argue.

Please don’t make me sleep in her bed, he wants to scream.

“I’m awake now,” he says, and he doesn’t sound like his father anymore, but he is acutely aware that he is mostly undressed and everyone is probably staring at him. “I don’t need to sleep. Let’s finish this here.”

“Alright,” Manuela says after a beat, and they turn around and head back to the armchair.

Ferdinand falls asleep almost as soon as Raphael lowers him back into the chair but not before he catches Dimitri’s eye. The way he looks at Ferdinand:

He completely understands.

 

Ferdinand’s father is alive.

He finds this out not through any of the usual channels but because his father shows up with retinue two and a half days later after the news of Dimitri’s victory spreads. Ferdinand, who has caught a fever to go with what is an actual stomach bug, is in and out of consciousness on a cot set up in the royal study and library. He finds out about his father’s arrival due to the Duke’s attempted appearance at his bedside.

Ferdinand, who is sleeping on his right side because lying on his belly runs the possibility of him choking on his own vomit, wakes up to the commotion of Linhardt, Byleth, and Manuela heading off his father in the doorway. For a moment, Ferdinand, pushing himself up with his good arm, wonders if he is hallucinating. But then his father meets his gaze, and the expression there:

Concern is not an expression Ferdinand’s brain would ever associate with his father’s face.

“Father?” he asks, which makes everyone stop and stare at him.

“Ferdinand,” the Duke says, and if he had his wits about him, Ferdinand would be hard-pressed to find another instance he’d heard that level of sincere relief come from his father, “I came as soon as I—”

“You’re under house arrest,” Ferdinand says, dropping his head back to the pillow because looking at his father is making him feel woozy.

“I,” his father starts, “well. Yes, but—”

“No visitors,” Manuela barks as Linhardt shoves the chamber pot on the floor to be close enough if Ferdinand is going to vomit. “Even you, Duke Aegir. The patient’s condition is very delicate—”

The next time Ferdinand comes to, Dimitri is sitting on a chair next to one of the study’s bookcases with a book open on his lap. His left arm is bound up to prevent pulling on the dagger wound and his armour is probably still at the blacksmith’s, but he looks otherwise fairly normal. Someone has done up his hair for him so it doesn’t fall into his face. Ferdinand realises he hasn’t seen Dimitri without the tyranny of his hair since they were all reunited several months ago.

He must have shifted upon realising this because Dimitri looks up. Acutely attuned to any sound or changes around him. He has always been like that, even back at the Academy. Dimitri meets his gaze. He doesn’t get up from the chair or close the book, but he smiles wanly.

“Ferdinand,” he says, soft and a little rough, “how are you feeling?”

“Better,” Ferdinand says because this is the first time since coming to Enbarr that he’s woken without his stomach attempting to empty itself. “Thank you for asking. How are you?”

Dimitri shrugs with his right shoulder. “Physically, better,” he says, which is fair. “I understand now why you and your father do not get along.”

Ferdinand winces. He pushes himself up gingerly, but it seems that with Manuela and Mercedes work, his injuries are well on the mend. He can’t see over his shoulder too well, but he suspects from the mottling of the new skin on his upper left arm and shoulder that it will scar to a certain extent. When he turns his attention back to Dimitri, there’s a faint quirk to his lips. Not mocking as the expression had so often been when they first reunited.

Camaraderie.

“I apologise for his behaviour,” Ferdinand says, and it stings a lot less to say when Dimitri is looking at him like that. “I hope he isn’t being too much trouble.”

“Gilbert is good at dealing with him,” Dimitri says.

Which means that the Duke Aegir is being walled off even more effectively than if he had stayed back home. Ferdinand breathes out. Not quite relief.

“That is reassuring,” he says because it very much is.

Dimitri’s lips twitch. It’s good to see. Dimitri has a terrible sense of humour, incredibly dark or corny with no in between, but Ferdinand would rather he have some rather than none. He would remind Ferdinand too much of Hubert in a social context otherwise.

Ferdinand swallows. He doesn’t want to think of Hubert. Not now. Probably never again.

“Actually,” Dimitri says, and he’s not one for using verbal leads; Ferdinand’s sudden discomfort must have shown on his face, “I need your input on a pressing issue. Do you—”

“Yes,” Ferdinand says, sitting up fully and eager to latch onto something to keep away from his thoughts. “I am always happy to help.”

Dimitri doesn’t smile at that, but it is more because he appears a combination of lost and troubled than anything to do with Ferdinand. He’s quiet for longer than is socially comfortable, sitting there, looking into the middle distance. Not for the first time, Ferdinand wonders if Dimitri is still hearing the voices of the dead. He isn’t actively speaking to them as far as Ferdinand is aware, but he spends substantial time looking in the direction of things no one else is able to see.

“Manuela and Linhardt have been very helpful,” he starts at length, looking up from wherever he’d gone to meet Ferdinand’s gaze, “but we do not know how best to reach out to the Adrestian nobility. You understand the nobility’s politics and sensibilities best. I would be grateful if you would assist me in addressing those who may wish to attend court when we are well enough to begin sessions.”

Ferdinand swallows. His mouth tastes awful. He grimaces.

“Of course,” he says because this is a logical and, if Ferdinand is honest with himself, flattering request. “I will assist you however I am able. What do you need to know?”

Dimitri closes the book. He stands up, setting it on the chair. Ferdinand notices that there is a carafe on the side table behind him and two cups. Dimitri pours a pale yellow liquid into one of the cup and brings it to Ferdinand, who lifts his hands to accept it.

“Apple juice,” Dimitri says before Ferdinand can ask.

“Apple juice?” Ferdinand asks anyways as he lifts the cup to his lips. “Thank you.”

Dimitri shrugs. Ferdinand swallows. It is apple juice. It’s delicious. He tries valiantly not to gulp the whole cup down at once. Dimitri returns to his chair, picking up the book and setting it back on his lap as he sits down. He looks at it until Ferdinand finishes the cup. It is perfectly polite. It is also perfectly fake.

He doesn’t care much for food or drink. Ferdinand will never forget the time several months ago when he saw Dimitri chewing on a dandelion pulled from the lawn at Garreg Mach just before sunrise. He hadn’t meant to spy on Dimitri, but he hadn’t been able to sleep. Linhardt was still upset about Caspar’s death a week before, and Ferdinand had been up late comforting him. He himself had been struggling with both Caspar’s and Randolph’s deaths. The feeling of driving his spear through up through Randolph’s gut and chest is something that Ferdinand will feel until the end of his days.

House Bergliez is ended.

“You,” Ferdinand starts and his voice cracks; he clears his throat against the sting of tears in his eyes. “You’ll need to make sure my father is not communicating with anyone. Absolutely no one. And whomever he attempts to contact is suspect.”

“Yes,” Dimitri says, and there’s a shifting; Ferdinand can’t look at him yet to see why. “I need to know who may be allies. It would be easier to discuss that, perhaps, than the alternative.”

Ferdinand nods. He lifts his hands. Runs his fingers through his hair. He breathes out. In.

“Ferdinand,” Dimitri says, and his voice is just half an armslength away, “we may discuss—”

“No,” Ferdinand says, and he swipes angrily at his eyes with trembling hands. “You must reach out as soon as possible. That is the Adrestian way. You are not so grievously injured that you cannot dictate missives, so invitations must be extended.”

A touch. His right bicep. When he glances over, Dimitri offers him a handkerchief. It has beautiful lace detailing. Baby’s breath. Ferdinand takes it with his shaking hands. Presses the linen over his eyes. He is careful not to get tears or mucus on the lace. He wonders who made it for Dimitri. It looks like a courting gift.

That thought makes him feel faintly hysterical.

“You should reach out Count Varley,” he says after he gives himself a moment to steady himself. “He is fond of his power, so he will be eager to work with you, having been stationed at Garreg Mach. Count Hevring is much the same. I don’t know if Linhardt is in his father’s good graces at the moment, but he is alive.”

Dimitri is quiet for a long moment. Ferdinand takes the handkerchief from his face.

“Is,” Dimitri starts, and there’s a terrified note to his voice that makes Ferdinand look up at him in alarm, “Bernadetta alive?”

Ferdinand’s mouth goes dry. He stares up at Dimitri, who can’t meet Ferdinand’s eyes.

When Ferdinand was very young, his father ordered a squire who had stolen a pastry from the market hanged, drawn, and quartered. He made Ferdinand watch. Until the start of the war when many horrible sights came to keep that memory company, Ferdinand had resolutely pretended that incident never happened.

Dimitri’s expression is exactly the same as that boy as he was dragged down Aegir’s main road.

“She is,” Ferdinand says, which makes Dimitri look to him with such gratefulness that it’s equally painful. “I don’t know what condition she is in, but she retreated from the battlefield on her own power.”

“Thank you,” Dimitri whispers before he straightens, not completely able to look Ferdinand in the eye. “I should let you rest. I will write them. Do you need anything? Do you need help to the toilet?”

Ferdinand shakes his head. He should tell Dimitri that, as their King, he need not treat Ferdinand with such kindness. But he is also aware that they are friends as well as lord and advisor. The closeness that Dimitri and Dedue share is a constant reminder of that.

“Thank you,” he says, and he lifts the handkerchief, “and for this. I will clean and return it to you.”

“No need for that,” Dimitri says, and he takes it from Ferdinand as he lifts it a bit more. “I actually enjoy cleaning.”

Ferdinand did not know that. He should have. Considering how gore-soaked Dimitri tends to get in battle, it makes perfect sense. Despite the poor condition he was in during the first few months at Garreg Mach, Dimitri had never smelt. His armour and mail, although battered, was in very serviceable condition.

Subconsciously, that might have been why Ferdinand hadn’t found Dimitri’s delusions and unpredictability too disturbing. He had seen far worse in all the childhood memories he had once repressed.

“I will let Manuela know you’re feeling better,” Dimitri says as he stops by the chair to pick up the book. “Thank you, Ferdinand.”

“You don’t have to keep thanking me,” Ferdinand says, and he smiles as reassuringly as he can manage. “We must do our best, right?”

Dimitri’s lips twitch. He inclines head and heads to the door. Back into the reception room. Ferdinand waits until he can no longer hear Dimitri’s footsteps before looking down. He lifts the blanket. Presses the fabric over his face.

He breathes in. Out.

He doesn’t cry.

 

A week later, Ferdinand is drunk.

He stands among the crowd of nobility and merchant class filling the Great Hall for the victory celebration. Swallows another mouthful of wine. This might be his sixth glass, which is three more than he allows himself. He watches Byleth and Count Hevring dancing as Count Varley goes past with a stony-faced Ingrid.

He didn’t mean for this to happen.

“Ferdinand,” Linhardt says, which forces him to look away from what is possibly the most bizarre sight of his life; Linhardt looks like he might be sick; “I can’t watch this. Do you think I can go?”

It is only with monumental self-control that Ferdinand inclines his head and says, smoothly and without indication of how drunk he feels:

“Yes. I’ll cover for you.”

He isn’t sure of what exactly happens following this. He knows that he dances with a few merchants from Enbarr guilds. A noble who has sea trade connections. He drinks more and chats with several nobles about what artists and jewelers are popular. They all smile, and he ends up dancing and drinking some more.

This is, without a doubt, how Ferdinand finds himself on the elbow of Leicester’s Duke Holst as they walk through the palace gardens. The early autumn colours are starting to hint, and Ferdinand stops with Holst to admire the pear trees.

“I have very much enjoyed our company tonight,” Holst says as Ferdinand takes a sip from his wine glass.

“Oh,” Ferdinand says, smiling with the warmth the wine gives him, “thank you. I am glad to be able to entertain the Great General.”

Holst’s lips twitch. “I will be bold then,” he says, and he glances down to their linked arms and then to Ferdinand’s face. “I find you quite sweet.”

Ferdinand blinks. Flushes.

“Oh,” he says, very smartly.

They stand for a while. Ferdinand doesn’t let go of Holst’s arm, and Holst seems content to let them be. This is not the first time that Ferdinand has been approached in such a way, but he has been careful in the past to be both less drunk and more level-headed. Back in the palace and down in the city, the sound of the victory celebration is pleasant and warm.

The thing is: Holst is not displeasing. He is, Ferdinand guesses, quite lonely now that Hilda has gone along with Claude far from Fódlan. He is unmarried and Hilda is his only family. House Goneril is in a very good place right now to become influential, but Holst is likely aware that his strengths lie on the battlefield and military strategy rather than anything else. Cultivating a positive relationship with Ferdinand, who was part of the victorious war party and situated to be a close advisor to the King, is an extremely smart decision. His feelings do not appear to be insincere either.

There is a crunch of grass and pebbles up the path.

Ferdinand and Holst both look over through the veil of the pear trees. Ferdinand recognises Dimitri and Dedue making their way towards the rose garden. Dimitri’s armour had come back from the blacksmith just that morning, and someone had done something to his wolf pelt and cape to get the last of Edelgard’s stains out of it. Dedue, who had not suffered much in the way of injury or damage during the battle, had his armour cleaned, the Duscur accents more obvious without the daily wear and tear. His head is bowed slightly forward and, as they come closer, Dimitri’s lowered voice is audible.

“…not right,” he says, quite tight. “Brigid’s position is not dissimilar—”

“Brigid waged its own war,” Dedue says and Ferdinand is shocked to hear the lecturing tone in Dedue’s voice. “Petra’s death as an Empire vassal is not right, I agree, Dimitri, but it is not your—”

“Not tonight,” Dimitri mumbles, and he presses his right fore and middle fingers to the bridge of his nose as they walk past the hidden Ferdinand and Holst. “Dedue, I’ve had too much to drink. Let us walk for a while. I need fresh air.”

“Of course,” Dedue says as they turn down the path towards the greenhouses.

Ferdinand watches them go. Next to him, Holst is still. Very quiet. The wine glass in Ferdinand’s hand feels awkward and heavy.

“Perhaps,” he starts, and when he looks to Holst, the general’s expression is pensive, “we should return.”

Holst nods. He smiles. One of his front teeth is chipped. It makes him look like a rouge.

“You are right,” he agrees.

They turn back towards the palace.

 

The problem is:

Ferdinand never considered what he would do at the end of the war.

For the past six years since Flayn went missing and Edelgard slipped from Ferdinand’s understanding, he had not been able to envision his own future. He lived pretty much day to day, uncertain if he would live to the next and occasionally even less certain that he wanted to. Edelgard’s vision seemed so incongruent with the reality of the world, and he had to believe Dimitri dead for five full years. The only certainty was that his father had not disowned him, but that was only because he was the only legitimate heir and his father did not want the House to end.

Even after Dimitri and Byleth returned, Ferdinand had not dared consider the future. The deaths of his old academy mates, Dimitri’s delusions, how poorly gentle, moral Linhardt took it all: Ferdinand had to live in the moment to be strong. To be a person he could live with even as he ran his sword and spear former friends, allies, and teachers. He couldn’t think too much about it because none of it was justifiable or remotely close to right. That was, and always will be, the reality of war and statecraft.

The reality of winning the war is that now Ferdinand must think about the future. About those who died and those who lived and the fact that Dimitri, while no longer actively delusional and now properly recognised and heralded as King, is not well.

Physically, he is worth their entire battalion budget and whatever blacksmith bill he runs is more than repaid. On the battlefield, all Byleth needs to do is point Dimitri in the right direction and the path will be cleared. Off the battlefield, Dimitri is a good leader. He listens to close advisors, and he has a good judge of character. He has recovered the solid morals Ferdinand always admired during their Academy days to guide his decisions. Ferdinand is more than glad to serve such a King, just as he had imagined back when he switched from Black Eagles to Blue Lions.

But that does not make Dimitri well. Ferdinand does not pretend to understand what it would be like to have his family slaughtered and then witness a massacre to the level of the Tragedy of Duscur. He does not even wish to consider what Dimitri had to do to survive five years running in fear, completely isolated from humanity. Ferdinand would not have survived. He knows himself too well. The isolation would have killed him.

Because Ferdinand loves people. He loves nothing more than sitting and having tea and good conversation. He loves to ride with others, sharing laughter and discovering new paths. He loves climbing trees and trying to reach the highest vantage point, pointing out the views and enjoying them alongside others. He cannot imagine being unable to trust or exist alongside at least one person for longer than a day let alone for years.

So it is a week after the victory celebration and three since the final battle that Ferdinand is faced with a choice:

“I would like you to oversee the Adrestian territories and associated states,” Dimitri says. “If you agree, I would ask that you remain in Enbarr once I depart for Fhirdiad and the professor for Garreg Mach next week.”

Ferdinand stares at his tea. Linhardt had departed with his father back to Hevring after the victory celebrations. It was best for Linhardt, who Ferdinand had noticed was growing thinner the longer he stayed in Enbarr. Ferdinand’s father returned to Aegir not long after, but not without giving Ferdinand a public earful about his feelings of mistreatment and displeasure. It was not proper, but Ferdinand had locked himself in the quarters he had moved into off the royal chambers and cried for a good long while. He doesn’t care for his father, not as family should, because he cannot. It still hurt.

“If you choose to stay,” Dimitri continues, reading the atmosphere, “I believe Hanneman and Manuela will also remain as they have business here for a while yet. You can count on them to assist you.”

“Thank you,” Ferdinand says, and he lifts his head to catch the surprised blink; it makes him smile, although a bit wobbly. “I understand and agree to take on this responsibility.”

A deep sigh escapes Dimitri. “I am extremely grateful,” he breathes before he blinks again, a clear light in his eye. “Something is bothering you.”

Ferdinand smiles before dropping his gaze. To the teapot. He reaches out. Goes through the soothing motions of refilling both of their cups. Tea service is calming for Ferdinand to perform like nothing else.

“My father,” he says, setting the pot back down.

Dimitri makes an understanding noise. They both pick up their cups. Drink. Ferdinand thinks once again of watching Dimitri eating dandelions. Ferdinand himself cannot guess if he has that deep-rooted a will to survive. Because of himself. Despite himself.

“He is a danger to the state,” Ferdinand says, and he allows himself to keep his eyes lowered into the liquid and very fine leaves in his teacup. “I suspect he is planning something, and he has already demonstrated that he is willing to disobey house arrest. I do not have proof, but I know my father.”

He does. He knows that the people of Aegir and, when his father held power as Prime Minister, the people of the Empire in all have suffered. The years of the war ravaged all parts of Fódlan. Ferdinand, bouncing back and forth through the Empire at the will of everything except for his heart, agreed with his father’s house arrest. Under Edelgard’s rule and knowing the secret promise of the Blue Lions to reunite, he had felt at best powerless and at worst despair.

That is what makes him and Linhardt different. Why he and Dorothea have not spoken in years. Once Edelgard revealed herself the Flame Emperor, once he watched Dimitri kill a soldier with his bare hands, Ferdinand von Aegir had known:

There is no turning back.

Across from him, Dimitri sets down his cup. It clinks softly on the saucer. Ferdinand knows this is a great exercise of Dimitri’s self-control. He could easily smash both the cup and the saucer if he did not constantly assert control over his great strength.

“Ferdinand,” the King says.

The use of his name makes him lift his head. What he sees is a sight that Ferdinand will remember for the rest of his days.

“When you have proof, I will deal with your father myself.”

The King looks upon Ferdinand with such kindness.

“This is not a burden you should carry alone.”

It is stunning.

Ferdinand sets his cup down. Slips from his chair. He kneels at Dimitri’s feet as he did not through the war or these past few, terrible weeks. He keep his face upturned and extends his hands palms up and open. Dimitri stares down at him. Lips parted. A protest. A king who does not desire empty oaths.

Ferdinand was born nobility. This is his way.

This is not empty.

“King Dimitri,” he proclaims.

These are words he once thought he would give to Edelgard in great ceremony. They mean so much more now in the quiet of the royal study. Dimitri does not want them, but Ferdinand desires his King hear them.

For the first time in his life, Ferdinand speaks for himself.

“I pledge my heart and House to your service. As faithful and earthly vassal, I will fulfil your will and so be it until death take me.”

Dimitri stares at him. Breathes in. Out.

Then, slowly, he lifts his hands. Ferdinand braces himself to be struck. Either with the ceremonial acceptance of his pledge across the ear or in anger for his boldness. But Dimitri does not increase the force of his reach. He cups his hands, fingers, palms and wrists, to frame Ferdinand’s jaw, cheeks, temples, hairline beside his ears. It is cool and regal. It is so very tender.

He understands what Ferdinand is trying to say. Trying to do. Trying to demonstrate, in the face of the end of their worlds, in the budding of the new.

“Thank you,” Dimitri whispers.

There are tears in his eye, caught on his lashes. Ferdinand closes his eyes as Dimitri leans forward. Presses his forehead to Ferdinand upturned brow.

“My friend.”

 

In the years that follow:

Ferdinand witnesses many more terrible things. There is unrest, rebellions, schisms, small scale wars. There are plagues and famine and storms and fires. Linhardt never fully recovers from the war. Bernadetta goes fully into seclusion. The territories of House Bergliez are redistributed.

A year from the end of the war, Ferdinand formally becomes Duke Aegir when his father is killed by angry citizens after attempting to escape house arrest. Dimitri returns in person to Enbarr along with Byleth so that Ferdinand may go to Aegir for a month to sort out affairs. When Ferdinand returns to Enbarr, he appoints three custodians to oversee Aegir’s affairs.

“In truth, I do not intend to return,” he tells Dimitri and Byleth as he prepares tea service. “Not for a long time. I will do right by my people. They do not need my presence to remind them of my father’s oppression.”

Ferdinand becomes resident in Enbarr. He works hard because that is who he is, and he goes out to visit where there are issues because that is how he is. There are great tragedies but equally great joys. A decade on from the war, Linhardt leaves to go abroad. Ferdinand sees him off with a smile and a wave.

That evening, he retires to the palace gardens. To the greenhouses. He sits for a long time, watching a few small bugs crawl in the soil.

The old scars on his back ache.

But they are his pain to bear.

Ferdinand breathes out. Brushes himself off. Stands up.

He walks back towards the palace with his head held high.