Ashe is one of the first students to arrive at the Academy, which he thinks is for the better. It means he’s got a few days to learn the layout of the monastery, and also to get over the initial rush of awe and excitement. This has, after all, always been a dream of his; it feels so much closer now he could sing for it. The librarians start calling him by name before classes have even started.
Over the week more people start trickling in. The dorm rooms start to fill up, and he even helps a few of the new arrivals move in when he notices them struggling with their bags. Ignatz seems nice, if awfully cagy about some of his stuff, and his room’s right next to Ashe’s. Caspar’s loud and determined to carry all of it by himself, which seems, given the ratio of weapons to Caspar, optimistic, in Ashe’s humble opinion. He stays back and lets it happen anyway, only rushing in when Caspar near topples over trying to take the stairs three steps at a time.
There’s a moment when he’s showing Mercedes from the gate to the dorms where they both realize they’ll be in Blue Lions together, and stop. Size one another up, and Ashe doesn’t realize he’s squared his shoulders to make himself look bigger until she laughs, soft and utterly unthreatening, and then Ashe’s laughing too, the tension gone as suddenly as it appeared. They make small talk while he helps her unpack, and he comes out feeling even better about the coming year.
And then one day, as he’s just finished chatting with the seamstress who’s really nicely adjusting his uniform, this big group rides in. Mostly it’s soldiers, an assortment of people in plate and mail surrounding five others. Must be noble students, Ashe figures. Three of them are squabbling like siblings even as they dismount, but the other two are quiet, heads bent towards one another.
They’re all in Faerghus blues, which means he’ll share classes with them. Ashe ambles closer, ready to offer his help and also burningly curious.
“We’ll be fine from here on,” the blond one is saying to the soldiers’ commander. “Thank you.”
The commander shakes his head, starts some sort of protest Ashe can’t quite catch. The noble pins the soldier down with his eyes, and the latter suddenly goes ramrod straight. “Dismissed, Captain.”
He hasn’t raised his voice, or moved, but the soldier bows deep . “Your Highness,” he says, and then wheels his horse around to take the company away.
On the sides, Ashe has frozen.
One of the other boys moves close and slings his arm over the blond’s shoulders, grinning. “One of these days, Dimitri, you really have to teach me how you do that.”
Oh fuck , Ashe thinks, putting Your Highness and Dimitri together to come to the terrifying conclusion that this is the crown prince of Faerghus. Here. At the academy.
As a student. In the same House as Ashe .
“Did you know?” he wails at Mercedes an hour or so later when he’s finished hyperventilating and somehow made his way to her room, and she hums, patting his hair.
“It’s going to be alright,” she tells him. “I’ve heard in Firdhiad he’s a very nice young man.”
Ashe whines. Imagines those steady blue eyes on him all year, and panics all over again.
Somehow he doesn’t explode before things officially start.
It goes like this: he puts on his uniform. He gives himself a pep talk. He wolfs down breakfast. He sits through morning service, then shows up at the training grounds. Tries, very hard, to not trip all over himself when the prince smiles in his direction.
(He is only moderately successful at this.)
The problem comes when their instructor steps in. “You’ll be assigned to a number of missions,” he says. “You will have to work with, and lead, several military units over the course of your training. But your House is who you’ll spend the year with. You’ll train, learn, fight with them. It is imperative that you present a united front, and function as a whole.” The instructor looks over the bunch of them. Takes a step back, leaving the arena free. “So you’re going to sort it out now.”
Ashe squeaks. It’s okay because Mercedes’ friend does also, at the same time, and they share a look of deep consternation right before the instructor snaps his fingers to get their attention back.
“Normally we’d have to sort out leadership first, but this year’s a bit special, isn’t it?” Everyone, Ashe included, looks to the prince, who bears it with calm dignity. “Unless someone wants to challenge that, we can move on—”
That’s the black-haired one. Felix? They haven’t done introductions yet. He’s stood up, chin high, looking straight at His Highness. Not a drop of deference anywhere in his bearing.
“You’ve got no place being anyone’s alpha, boar, and you know it.”
“ Felix! ” someone hisses, and it looks like one of his friends is going to tackle him until the prince throws his arm out, stop . They all go still.
“You contest my authority here,” he states more than asks, again with that cool look to his eyes, and Felix scoffs.
“You’re damn right I do.”
Ashe? is riveted. He’s seen dominance fights before, he wasn’t raised in the Alliance or anything, but a challenge this blatant, at those levels of nobility, is rare even for Faerghus.
The prince sighs. Turns his back on Felix , and Ashe would gasp if he had the breath for it.
“Dedue,” he says.
“Your Highness,” says Dedue, whose room is next to Ashe’s and who looks very tall suddenly, stepping up to the prince’s side. He’s got a whole head on Felix, who by now is straight up snarling, hands in fists at his side.
“Have you sunk so low as to make your dog fight for you?”
Dimitri doesn’t even look at him. “Stand down, Felix.”
“Not a chance.”
Dedue leans down, Dimitri’s hand curled at the back of his neck. They bump foreheads, the gesture comfortable and nearly intimate, almost obscene given the circumstances. It seems to snap the last of Felix’s patience.
“Fine. Fight me, then,” he growls as the other two step apart, and moves into Dedue’s space without waiting for an answer.
He’s fast , and he’s aiming for the throat. There’s a flash of light that Ashe thinks might actually be his Crest manifesting, but Dedue manages to divert the blow at the last second, taking it over the arm rather than the neck. The sound of it still makes Ashe flinch.
He doesn’t strike back, but blocks one, two hits in quick succession. Felix ducks under a punch, twists like he’s about to kick, but then Dedue puts on a burst of speed you wouldn’t expect from such a big guy, slips past and slams him down hard on the ground.
“Yield,” he says, mild, his hand flat over Felix’s chest, his heart. Breath knocked out of his lungs by the impact, Felix is still for a moment. Then his face twists, his lip curls.
Whatever refusal he was about to spit, it dies in his throat when Dimitri’s shadow falls over him. They look at each other like there’s no one else here. Dimitri puts his hand on Dedue’s shoulder, squeezes. Then, slowly, he goes down on one knee by Felix’s head. His other hand comes to brush loose hair from Felix’s face. Tucks it behind his ear.
“My friend,” he says, and Felix gives a full-body shudder at the word, eyes screwing shut. “I won’t ask for more than you’re willing to give me. But I need this .”
The metal of his gauntlet gleams dully as it comes to rest over Felix’s throat. Applies pressure.
“Yield,” Dimitri says, and Felix makes a face like he’s swallowing glass. His entire body is drawn tight, like a bowstring pulled to its limit — about to snap and take someone’s eye with it.
Then he goes limp, and it’s like everyone in the room suddenly stops holding their breath, a huge wave of relief washing over them as he turns his head to the side and tilts his chin to expose more of his throat. Ashe is nearly dizzy with it.
“I submit,” he croaks. More quietly, again, eyes open and flicking briefly to Dedue: “I submit.”
Dimitri nods. “Thank you,” he says, earnest, and gets back to his feet, Dedue a second behind him. They extend their hands to help Felix up, and Felix stares for a second but takes them, though he stalks away without a word the moment he’s back on his feet.
Their instructor claps from the sidelines, laughing. “All right then, that’s betas sorted out as well!”
It’s a lot less dramatic for the rest of it, but honestly? Ashe’s not sure he would have survived more of that. The instructor puts them in pairs, lets them scuffle or talk it out or whatever it is that’ll let them agree on who’s top dog, and then rotates them around until they all know where they stand from one another. Ashe makes use of this to learn names, mostly.
Anyway. It doesn’t come much of a surprise when he sort of ends up pack omega. Someone has to be, right? And really it makes sense, he’s not a noble and he hasn’t got a Crest or anything, and he is absolutely not going to pick a fight with Sylvain or Felix or Ingrid, whose own bouts looked so smooth they’d seemed practiced.
It comes down to him and Mercedes, actually, and the way she smiles at him says she wouldn’t mind losing to him if he wanted to.
Thing is: she’s older and he just watched her and Annette play who could throw the biggest fireball at the other, which absolutely makes her scarier than he is. Also, she let him freak out for a good hour the other day and was impossibly nice about it, so the decision comes easy -- he drops to his knees with a grin, and she ruffles his hair, and that’s that.
By the time they’ve got the hierarchy sorted out it’s nearing lunch time, and they’re shooed from the training grounds with reminders to check their schedules, specifically the chores rotation, and Goddess help you if I catch you dumping it all on your omega!
They kind of end up falling in step together on their way to the dining hall, Dimitri and Dedue at the front, Sylvain draped over Felix behind them, Annette and Mercedes whispering to one another just in front of Ashe. Ingrid falls back from herding her boys to talk to him, bumping shoulders in a friendly kind of way. “If Sylvain or Felix give you trouble or play too rough with you, just tell me, okay? I’ll sort them out.”
“Okay,” Ashe says, touched. “Um. Can I ask something?”
“What is it?”
He lowers his voice, just in case. “That whole thing back there with His Highness and Felix, is that — I mean, you look like you know one another, is it going to be a problem?”
“Oh, no. We grew up together,” she says, which explains why she and Felix and Sylvain are so comfortable around one another, what little he’s seen of their dynamic always in flux. It does not explain why they all act a bit weird around the prince, but Ashe isn’t feeling quite brave enough to point that out just now. “Felix needed that, I think.”
He can’t imagine ever defying his future king so brazenly, but it’s everywhere in books and stories, all push and pull and dramatic tension, so he nods agreeably. Remembering the physical rush he got just watching it happen, halfway to dropping to the ground and showing his belly from the implacability of Dimitri’s command, he thinks, maybe next time he visits the library he’ll see if he can find more.
Three days later, their first archery practice session, Dimitri snaps a bow in half. He apologizes profusely, and the smile he gives Ashe when he offers his own in replacement nearly bowls him over, that pack-instinct all aglow with pride at helping his alpha.
Dedue nods at him at the end of the day, returning it on Dimitri’s behalf, and Ashe spends the whole evening basking.
A moon, a training exercise turned disaster and a few bandits later, their new professor marches them out of the monastery grounds into the forested hills below. They used to be a mercenary, he’s heard. There’s several squads waiting for them right outside town, groups of five men or so in different colors.
Ashe is wondering why he didn’t hear about them getting a new mission up until the moment when the professor points each of them to a squad and says: “Field exercise. You’re all alphas today.”
Oh no, thinks Ashe. It’s a bit of a consolation to see Felix making the same face that he is, but then the professor continues.
“One hour to prepare your squads, and then I want you deployed. Mission: locate and capture Ashe.”
“Excuse me?” he says.
“Fifty-nine minutes,” the professor replies.
Ashe turns to his(??) squad. They’ve all got the air of seasoned soldiers around them, a casual readiness to their bearing. The beta visibly takes pity on his confusion, tugging him close and herding him away from the other groups. He’s half expecting them to start arguing about his being put in charge, but they just smile at the look on his face as they fall in.
“First time in command, huh? Relax.”
Ashe nods cautiously. He is the very opposite of relaxed.
“It’s just hide and seek,” pipes another guy. “Except bigger, and we have to come back to the starting point without getting caught. You know how to play that, right?”
Ashe is, in fact, very good at hide and seek. It takes some nudging, but once he’s managed to swallow the knot of anxiety in his throat and no one’s made any attempts to challenge his newly appointed status, he can pretend that this is just like when he was a kid, distracting his siblings with games to keep them away from the consequences of his thefts.
They take to the woods. Clearly the squad’s used to this sort of thing, because they’re barely making any noises moving through the underbrush. Ashe feels like a grounded wyvern next to them. “They have to catch me , right? Can we have some of you act as decoy?”
“You tell us, boss,” says the beta, and Ashe shoots him a glare that bounces right off.
“The others saw us move in this direction earlier, so they’ll follow. Whoever’s fastest here, stay back, make some noise when you see them come through, and keep them chasing you as long as you can. Alright?”
One of the men salutes and splits from the group. The beta (he’ll have to learn their names sometime, but in the meantime that’s what the hierarchy is for) nods approvingly.
“Let’s get some more distance between us and them,” Ashe says, getting bolder. “We can use the river to cover our tracks and make it harder.”
When he starts moving again he notices the others are standing a bit different. No longer guiding or shielding him, but letting him take point. His stomach twists with anxiety, but there’s something else there. He doesn’t want to let them down, he realizes.
And, on the heels of that feeling: he wants to win .
It’s a near thing, in the end. Felix and Ingrid both pass a few meters from Ashe’s hiding spot, but don’t find him. Annette, he hears later, took the bait and followed his decoy. He’s circling back to the starting point, avoiding Dimitri’s group, and doesn’t realize Sylvain’s waiting in ambush until nearly too late.
“Run!” yells his beta, shoving him forward and sweeping the legs from under one of Sylvain’s men. Ashe stumbles, instinct yelling at him to hold ground and fight, but he’s so fucking close — he grits his teeth, breaks into a run. There’s not far left. Behind him crashes, voices raised; the others must be converging back on the commotion.
The trees get sparser around him. His lungs burn. The professor comes into view, standing still, arms crossed. Their eyes meet his, shift to something behind him. It’s all the warning Ashe gets before someone crashes into him.
They go rolling. Ashe kicks and flails to try and get whoever it is off of him, gives a growl so deep it surprises even him. “Whoa there,” says Sylvain, because of course it’s him. Laughter in his voice, but he’s got Ashe in a headlock and for all his squirming he can’t get the jerk to let go.
“We’ll call it a tie,” the professor says, making their way over and crouching down to their level. Sylvain finally lets go and Ashe sits up with a grumble. “Unfair. He’s got longer legs. How was I supposed to win?”
“You weren’t.” A slight tilt of the head, and Ashe thinks this might actually be a bit of a smile tugging at the professor’s mouth. “But here you are, much closer than I expected you to get. Looks like we’ll make a decent alpha out of you yet.”
“It was a team effort,” Ashe deflects when he’s done sputtering, and gets a flick to the nose from Sylvain for it.
“That’s the point , Ashe, keep up!”
He snaps his teeth, childish, and Sylvain tackles him again. The professor stands back up as they roll and wrestle on the ground, instead going to the others now slowly trickling out of the forest. Distantly he hears Felix get reprimanded for ditching his squad, but that’s when Sylvain pins him down on his belly and decides to just sit there, warm and heavy at the small of Ashe’s back, just… waiting.
Normally this feels good: the pressure, the weight of someone he knows is safe, is pack . Right now though he is restless, irritable. He doesn’t like it.
“Easy, easy,” Sylvain hums at him like he’s some skittish horse. Ashe would buck him off if he could. “Hey, look. Your guys are here.”
He lets up enough that Ashe can turn his head and see for himself, and yeah, that’s his beta and the others emerging from under the trees. The one he had playing decoy’s joined back up with them, and they’re kind of mingling back with the other groups, but they wave at him, not even blinking at his current predicament.
They’re fine . He knew they would be, no weapons were even involved and this is training, but — incrementally, Ashe finds himself relaxing and his urge to kick Sylvain drop significantly. It’s almost a physical thing, feeling his mind shift from alpha to omega; he’s got something like vertigo, the sweet rush of the drop hitting him suddenly, knowing he did well, that nobody’s mad at him for almost winning. There’s that little bit of prickliness at the back of his head, but he can shove it away to investigate later.
“Really was your first time, huh?” Sylvain cackles when he finally gets off of him, and omega or not Ashe does kick him in the shin.
Ashe doesn’t want to talk about it. Ashe doesn’t want to think about it, or about anything at all. He would prefer if he could stop thinking so he wouldn’t find his mind circling back to it: the fog breaking, Lonato’s face on seeing Ashe. Blood seeping sluggish from his armor. Lonato’s blood on the floor, on the silver edge of Dimitri’s sword, on Ashe’s hands, after, after.
To be entirely honest, he doesn’t know how he makes it back to Garreg Mach. The battalion the professor’s assigned him is to blame, probably, but they make themselves scarce when they arrive at the monastery.
Ashe is in his room. He doesn’t know how he got here. He’s still thinking too much. The door opens and he stays where he is because he recognizes the tread, Dedue’s steady and measured gait.
A gentle touch at his shoulder, and Ashe crumbles. Turns, and nearly throws himself at him, his face pressed to Dedue’s chest, fingers clutched tight to his shirt. A big ugly sob makes its way out of Ashe’s mouth and he tries to bite down on it. Dedue allows it.
Somehow they end up on Ashe’s bed, Ashe still clinging to him, shaking with the unfairness of it, how incomprehensible that he won’t come back to Castle Gaspard when the year is done, him adopted but not heir. How there was nothing he could do. How Lonato had not told him a word of what he planned before letting Ashe leave for Garreg Mach.
How surely Lonato had meant to protect him from this, and Ashe repaid it by helping the Church kill him.
Dedue lets him soak his shirt in tears. He says nothing, which Ashe is grateful for.
Slowly, without him really noticing, the others trickle in. Annette and Mercedes sit on either side of him, gentle hands and soft voices. No words, just nonsense soothing sounds that say we’re with you, we’re here . Sylvain barges in with a tray of food which ends up on what little of his desk isn’t buried under books, and claims a chair. Felix and Ingrid hover near the door, keeping watch.
A knock. Dimitri stands there. Ungloved for once. Uncharacteristically hesitant.
“If you don’t want me here,” he starts, but Ashe makes a little hurt sound without even meaning to and Felix sighs, closing the distance in a step to take Dimitri by the collar and pull him inside.
The room’s too small for eight people, but maybe that’s what makes it feel safe. Like before Lonato took them in, when Ashe would hide with his siblings in the tiniest of spaces, cramped and barely room to breathe but always touching someone else, always having that reassurance, a pulse beating next to his.
He untangles himself from Dedue. Shaky, his face a mess. Touches Dimitri’s hand.
“Can you — I keep, seeing him and it’s... “ He sniffles, ducks his head, embarrassed and miserable. “Could you put me under? Please.”
The look on Dimitri’s face is painfully gentle. “It won’t help in the long run,” he says, with the sort of sympathy that suggests he’s speaking from experience.
“Just tonight,” Ashe says, and Dimitri seeks Dedue’s eyes, receives a nod. He breathes in, and when he exhales there’s nothing tentative or soft left to him, all of it covered up to leave only confidence and power. He cups Ashe’s face, his bare palm calloused and warm, presses their foreheads together. Ashe’s breath hitches.
Dimitri’s hand moves down the side of his neck, comes to rest where it joins his shoulder. Lingers at a cut Ashe got fighting, where the skin is still sensitive and raw, thumb rubbing circles. “You fought well,” Dimitri tells him, and standing so close the praise goes straight to Ashe’s gut, something heavy and solid that helps settle the roiling.
He’s never done this to Ashe before. Ashe never fights him, or gives him reason to. But tonight he presses his fingers down, a steady, implacable pressure on Ashe’s shoulder, says “Kneel,” and Ashe can feel him holding back on his strength even as his knees buckle. His vision nearly goes white. It’s intoxicating.
“We’ll stay with you tonight,” Dimitri says, following Ashe down, and it’s not a question but an order. He cannot refuse. Cannot give an excuse to be left alone, when his king and alpha tells him otherwise, no matter how much he feels like he ought to. He is utterly absolved of responsibility or guilt.
“You’re ours,” Dimitri says, and that hits him even harder. The others are creeping closer, surrounding them. Possessive, protective? They’ve barely known each other for a season, but whenever they go out they hold each other’s lives between their hands. Annette wipes the tears from his eyes and Ingrid takes the blankets and pillows from the bed to make a kind of nest on the floor. The others too, moving close, brushing against him.
All of Ashe has narrowed down to this: all of Blue Lions around him. Dimitri’s hand, inescapable. The wave of belonging that threatens to swallow him, grief and panic and all.
Dimitri doesn’t lie to him. Dimitri doesn’t say It’s alright , doesn’t promise that everything will be okay.
He says: “We’re here,” and “It wasn’t your fault,” and “Sleep,” and Ashe is helpless and unwilling to do anything but obey.