Too late, he was too late- both in the moment, watching as the grotesque husk that used to be Edelgard withdrew its claws from Byleth’s chest, and looking back further.
If he had come to his senses earlier, he could have saved Rodrigue. He could have saved countless soldiers and civilians, could have prevented Byleth from ever being put in this situation, with too little backup and too many enemies. If he had never lost himself to rage in the first place, he might have prevented the fall of Fhirdiad, stopped Edelgard from straying so far, letting her pain twist her good intentions into something so vile.
Byleth’s body falls to the ground, and it sounds just the same as any other corpse discarded during the heat of battle- quiet, sickening.
Dimitri can’t bear to look at Byleth’s face, to see whatever lifeless expression it wears. All he can look at is the blood and gore dripping from Edelgard’s fingers and the tears dripping from her eyes.
He feels anger, despair, and, almost overwhelmingly, pity, because Edelgard could have been what Dimitri would become, had it not been for-
A cry of despair fills the throne room, and Dimitri isn’t sure if it’s his own, or the voice of one of the rapidly dwindling number of survivors, divided throughout the room, split apart by the endless soldiers swarming them.
“I am sorry.”
Edelgard’s voice is distorted, a guttural rumble, but the syntax is the same as ever. Dimitri’s grip on Areadbhar tightens until his bones groan from the force, and he moves.
The cry this time is all Dimitri, vibrating his body down to the tips of his fingers and toes as he lunges at his once-friend, drives her back from the corpse of the most important man in all of Fódlan, the person who had always seen the humanity in his students, the man who just wanted peace-
Edelgard shrieks when the relic pierces her shoulder, and Dimitri roars in answer, but hurting her brings Dimitri no joy, and won’t bring Byleth back.
It’s all a blur after that, Dimitri’s body falling into the too-familiar rhythm of battle, the crunch of bones and armor alike vibrating up Areadbhar and numbing his hands, the burning ache of muscles fueling the fire of despair in his heart.
They can’t win without Byleth. He would disagree, he would argue with Dimitri in that low, calm voice, tell him that Dimitri is more than enough and has always been a leader but-
He is wrong. He would be wrong. He was wrong.
A female voice, clear as a crystal, not distorted by dark magic, shrieks somewhere to Dimitri’s right, cutting off too abruptly to signify anything other than death. Shouts to his back and left lessen, and it feels like suddenly there’s too many soldiers around him, he can’t fend them and Edelgard off, but he needs to, or they’ll take the professor’s-
When Dimitri whirls around to catch the swing of an axe and feels the rush of air behind him as something monstrous moves, he knows he’s finished.
Edelgard’s claws sink into his unguarded back, tearing through his cloak and armor like they’re nothing more than paper, and Dimitri staggers from the blow. The axe he’d been moving to intercept knocks Areadbhar to the side, and as soon as Edelgard’s claws retract, there’s a sword in his shoulder and a lance in his gut.
He wants to whisper I’m sorry to the bodies of his allies, his friends, scattered throughout the throne room and beyond, but he barely has the strength to open his mouth, and only hacks up blood when he tries to inhale.
Dimitri is still standing- barely- when he hears the whistle of claws through the air, feels his hair shift as Edelgard goes for the throat.
His vision flashes green- the same green as Byleth’s hair, his eyes, Dimitri finds himself thinking- and then there’s just-
Dimitri screams when he wakes, and lashes out at the air in front of him, mind and body too overpowered with adrenaline and fear and anguish to have time to wonder why he’s waking up at all. It’s only when his ungloved hands find no enemy, when they curl into fists so tight that his nails bite through his skin and leave drops of blood to fall onto the sheets tangled around his legs that he stops and thinks.
Sheets. The quiet of a peaceful night. Bedclothes, clean and fine and so unlike anything he’s worn in over five years.
His fists unclench, and the stinging of his palms feel like little beacons, trying to tell him… something. Dimitri isn’t sure if you’re supposed to be able to feel pain when you’re dead. Dimitri isn’t sure of much at all.
There’s a knock on the door to the room- room, he’s in a room, not a tent like he had been sleeping in for the past several weeks- and before he can answer, it swings open, and-
“Your highness.” Dedue’s voice is like honey, and it’s overwhelming and almost enough for Dimitri’s mind to white out, to not see the obvious problems. Dedue keeps talking, but Dimitri’s ears are filled with cotton, because aside from Dimitri being sure he was the last of his army standing, Dedue is here, setting a tray with teacups and a kettle on the bedside table that Dimitri’s only now noticing.
Dedue is here, and without his scars.
He looks young. Five or six years too young, to be exact, and Dimitri…
A sob shakes Dimitri’s body as he raises his bloodied hands to his face, blinks with two functioning eyes, and breaks down.
Dedue quiets down, busies himself with steeping what Dimitri is certain is chamomile, and Dimitri lets himself crack apart in front of his most trusted friend. Dimitri remembers, remembers when his night terrors would drag him from his sleep screaming, and how Dedue, always so in tune with Dimitri’s needs and always such a light sleeper, would bring him tea and company until the shades of the past left Dimitri, even if it meant Dedue would spend the whole night at Dimitri’s side. He remembers Dedue returning night after night, even when Dimitri reassured him that it was fine, he was fine, and Dedue should instead be resting. He remembers Dedue, defending Dimitri's blind right side at the base of those stairs, taking blows from swords and magic alike until he could shield Dimitri no more-
When Dimitri’s shaking fades into numb exhaustion and his 17-year-old body is under his control again, he lets Dedue slide a cup into his hands, lets the drink he can barely taste soothe his throat and heart, because if it works for traumas of the past, it might work for traumas of the future.
Dedue never asked what Dimitri dreamt of, and he doesn’t ask this time either. Dimitri isn’t sure how he would answer. If he should answer, if he even could.
He’s not even sure if it’s real, or just an elaborate nightmare concocted by his sleeping mind. But- no, it was too vivid, and too long, that wouldn’t work, would it?
Sleep fades from his body with practiced ease, and Dimitri knows that’s something his past self couldn’t do. Years of being alone, scavenging and hiding robbed him forever of the feeling of drowsiness, his need to be immediately alert and ready to fight overpowering the weak needs of his physical body. He had always been an early riser, but shaking off all signs of sleep effortlessly…
Dimitri closes his eyes. Eyes, two of them, and he could barely remember what it was like to see with both, having spent so many years missing one. His body is tense, but his joints don’t ache. Jagged scars from wounds never properly treated don’t catch on his clothes, and the bone deep exhaustion from days and weeks of unending battle that had been a constant companion towards the end is absent.
“Dedue.” Dimitri’s voice is hoarse, his throat tight despite the gentle warmth of tea and soothing touch of honey. Dimitri hears the rustle of cloth, imagines the young man straightening, turning his attention fully to Dimitri.
If Dedue hears the unusual weight behind Dimitri’s words, he doesn’t comment on it.
I AM NOT DEAD!! just.... very slow. and with constantly changing focuses orz
i do plan to still continue everything that's unfinished! in fact, it's nanowrimo, and i have plans to work on at least three things. i finished this and worked on another work tonight actually- so! anyone waiting on another chapter, hopefully i won't leave you hanging too much longer
three houses took over my life for a while when it came out. i sunk 100 hours into it in the first week i had it. blue lions all the way ;-; i love dima
also disclaimer that i have not finished all routes and. try to avoid spoilers. i'm trying my best tho
At least figuring out the exact date is easy, even if nothing else is. Dimitri stares blankly at the numbers scratched in chalk in the corner of the board, nearly illegible in Manuela’s- or, Professor Manuela, as he has to keep reminding himself he should call her- scrawl.
The 12th day of the Pegasus moon, 1180. Only a few months into his enrollment at the Officers’ Academy, and a few months yet before Byleth found his way into Dimitri’s life, and the lives of all the students around him. The very much alive students.
He really is six years back in time. Every breath he takes and every footstep he hears M- Professor Manuela take and every time Sylvain shifts the table with his impatient fidgeting reminds him of it.
Every time he blinks and opens his pair of working eyes reminds him of it.
It’s too much.
Most of him still doesn’t think it’s real- despite the awkward scrawl of his handwriting, the muscle memory of which had been ruined by five years of using his hands for nothing but fighting and eating, and the clarity of his memories. Dreams fade, like smoke drifting up from a campfire, and they certainly don’t affect physical movements.
So then maybe- maybe this is the dream? Maybe Dimitri’s dying brain concocted for him a beautiful lie, a comfort to cram into his final seconds of life. Perhaps he’s slumped over on the imperial stairs, guts spilling from his wounds and blood haloing his head from the killing blow he knows Edelgard landed.
“-tri? Uh, Professor, I think he might-”
Dimitri nearly swings at Sylvain when his hand falls on Dimitri’s shoulder, and coming from Dimitri, it would give him more than just a small bruise or split lip to flaunt around as signs of his vigor. As it is, he can’t quite stop himself from jolting, hands curling into tight fists that nearly reopen the scabs on his palms.
Sylvain flinches back on reflex, and Dimitri hasn’t felt like this much of a monster since before Rodrigue d…
“My apologies.” Dimitri knows his voice comes out rough, knows he’s acting odd for how his past self would have acted, but he hardly cares. There’s too much on his shoulders for him to put much effort into remembering habits broken six years ago. He closes his eyes. “I am… not feeling well this morning.”
Even before his world crumbled around him, six years ago the first time, Dimitri was experienced in ignoring the whispering about him. That, at least, is something still of use to him.
“Hey.” Dimitri’s not surprised when he gets cornered the second class ends, though he’d been expecting Professor Manuela to be the one interrogating him about his health.
He has to remember that right now, everyone is still alive, that checking over someone’s health and well-being isn’t a job for healers, to let the fighters save their strength and gather their fortitude. He has to remember a lot of things that don’t come easily.
“What was that back there?” Felix looks annoyed, looming over where Dimitri’s still seated, but Felix always looks annoyed, and Dimitri’s known his friend long enough to spot the undercurrent of worry in his scowl.
Ingrid trots up alongside Felix, and even if Dimitri didn’t hear the legs of his chair scraping across the stone, he would know that Sylvain’s dragged himself closer and angled himself to properly face Dimitri.
It hurts, seeing them all in one place like this again.
“Dimitri?” Ingrid’s voice is strong but worried, and it feels like it’s been more than just a few months since she was shot out of the sky, a lucky sniper enough to undo all her years of training. “Did something happen? You’re not acting like yourself.”
Dimitri inhales slowly, keenly aware of not only the eyes of his childhood friends on him, but also the eyes of just about everyone else in the room, teacher and students alike.
“I am fine.” Felix opens his mouth to protest- and probably call Dimitri some choice words, he thinks fondly- but Dimitri continues on without giving him the chance to speak. “I simply did not get enough sleep. Nothing an early rest won’t fix.”
“Oh…” Ingrid’s gaze drops, before sliding over to Dedue, and Dimitri can’t help but give a wry smile. It gets him a sharp glance from Felix, but that’s easy enough to ignore, and Dimitri is fairly convinced Felix won’t push the matter.
It’s not that he doesn’t want to tell his friends, it’s more an issue of being believed. Dimitri already went mad once, during those five years of isolation, and he remembers how Byleth looked at him when the dead overwhelmed his reason, how he knew that the only reason his mad orders were followed was because there was no better option.
In times like these, with his uncle to care for Faerghus and Dimitri himself a mere student, perceived madness may not be treated so kindly.
He finds it darkly amusing, though, that his possible insanity, his memories from a future yet to pass, are covered so easily by the arguable insanity stemming from his past.
Sylvain’s hand finds Dimitri’s shoulder for the second time, but this time, Dimitri isn’t so far withdrawn into his own mind that he tries to down his friend.
“Hey, let’s have a guys night, the two of us- or three, you can join in too, Felix, no need to gl- ok, never mind-” Sylvain clears his throat, but doesn’t let Felix’s glare slow him down. “Like I was saying! Dimitri- you, me, village, village maidens?”
“Must your answer to any problem always be women? Beasts, mindless beasts, that’s what I’m surrounded by. How did you all manage to pass the entrance exams...”
“Hey now, I’m just trying to help out! And he didn’t say no, did he?”
“Sylvain, stop trying to coerce Dimitri into going skirt chasing with you.”
“It’s not really chasing if they come to us, now, is i- ow, ow, Ingrid, that hurts-”
Professor Manuela steps in before Ingrid can tear Sylvain’s ear off, which is probably for the best, even if she also shoos them out of the room, and even if Dimitri is feeling more and more like an imposter with each passing minute, his smile is more real than it has been in a long time, even if it makes his heart ache.
do not expect this writing pace for very long i am trying my best but BOY is nanowrimo hard. also sorry for a slow start but i DO actually have a plan for where i'm going- just trying to get some nice setup in! (inb4 i have to add a slow burn tag ). it should, hopefully, pick up a bit next chapter but. we'll see how that goes fjsdkfg
side note, i'm not sure if i should be using contractions or not in this, and am too tired to try and check if anyone uses contractions in their speech in 3h. if anyone can say one way or the other, i'd deeply appreciate if you could let me know- orz
Chapter 3: Stagnate
WELL it's been a hot minute- got hit hard with that seasonal depression this winter, plus a lot of personal problems, on top of really getting to work on my senior thesis- but don't worry! i am alive, and i have all my documents still in order-
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Dimitri knows he isn’t acting like himself. Or, rather he isn’t acting like the Dimitri everyone here knows and expects. It’s a bit depressing, in a way- it just reminds him that for all the friendly faces here, he is six years removed from them. They’ve never known war, never seen him sink to his lowest point or helped pull him back to his feet.
It’s sad, but he can’t help but think this is better.
It’s what gets him to think:
Dimitri could only have been sent back in time for one reason. He was sent back to divert the course that was set for him and everyone else. He is here to stop the deaths of his friends, of his professor, and of his people.
A brief thought touches his mind as he digs into a plate heaped with flavorless bread and slightly tangy cheese- if he changes things now, then the people he came to know will never exist, not as he remembers them. Without their past, none of them will be quite the same; they won’t understand Dimitri’s grief and struggles, they won’t know how to deal with him when he cracks.
But it doesn’t matter. If Dimitri can spare them the horrors of war and loss and death, then he’ll even give his life.
He was already as good as dead with the way things panned out the first time he walked this path. So obviously, things need to change, even if it means he’ll never have the same friends and allies he remembers.
Dimitri licks his fingers clean thoughtfully, because while he knows he has to change things… change what?
The professor was always the better leader, the better general, always having an intrinsic sense for everyone’s strengths and weaknesses, knowing exactly where to send troops to shift the tides of battle. Dimitri is no fool, but his strength has always been a lonely one, not well suited to crowds, no matter what Byleth or Rodrigue said after they retook Fhirdiad.
But working alone, he’ll be limited in his reach… not that there’s much merit in trying to explain his situation and plans. Even Dedue has his limits- he might follow Dimitri, even if he thinks his lord mad, but that’s not what would be best for his dear friend.
Lifting his plate to his face, tongue seeking the last crumbs left, Dimitri wonders if maybe-
“You don’t have to take the title ‘boar’ so seriously!” Felix’s hand comes down on Dimitri’s wrists, forcing them- and his plate with them- back to the table. “What is wrong with you today?!”
Ah. Speaking of the friends Dimitri knew never coming to be…
At least a dozen pairs of eyes hurriedly look away, the chatter of the dining hall swelling.
Dimitri’s long since stopped feeling anything like true embarrassment- there’s a time for frivolous feelings, and his life was not that- but he does drop his dirtied hands awkwardly to the table, the silverware he’d entirely forgotten clinking against the wood with the motion.
“Ah, I was…” ...not in possession of silverware for five years. Eating like the beast I was, with hands and teeth and nothing more. “...just very hungry.”
It’s a weak answer, and Dimitri doesn’t meet Felix’s eyes for fear of what Felix might see in Dimitri’s expression.
Dimitri suddenly very much feels the weight of his age.
Felix hovers, sighs, and slides in beside Dimitri, his own food placed on the table some time while Dimitri was lost in thought.
“I don’t know why you’re acting like this, but cut it out. I think you’re giving Claude ideas.”
Dimitri is a fool, because he’d only been thinking in terms of his Blue Lions, but-
If he is to be crazy and clever, then there might yet be a path before him.
“My apologies.” Felix’s sideways glance is wary, with a hint of worry, and Dimitri wishes he could thank his friend, always the one to knock sense back into his head.
The sadness returns, at the reminder of the loss of the man Dimitri knew, but more than that, resolve settles in his chest, and the ghost of a plan settles in his mind.
Not yet, he thinks, carefully picking up his silverware and hoping he doesn’t ruin their shapes. Dimitri eyes Claude, watches him say something that makes Lorenz choke on his drink, and knows Claude can feel his gaze.
Not yet, but soon, once Dimitri has the words to convince him.
Dimitri and Claude had never been particularly close, last time. Claude was an outsider- Edelgard, despite being distant and separate with her Black Eagles, Dimitri at least had a past with, but Claude had come out of nowhere. From what he hears, even those within the Leicester Alliance found his appearance sudden and confusing- a new heir to the ruling house, with a quick wit and a silver tongue, just as the current leader’s health began to come into question. It was odd but convenient, and with his crest, his lineage was unmistakable.
That’s not to say they were fully strangers, either- as house leaders and future rulers, Dimitri, Claude, and Edelgard naturally spent a fair bit of time together, and sometimes rivalry would even drop away to allow them to just be young and enjoy themselves.
In fact, Clause had always been the friendliest of them, despite his and Edelgard’s history.
Dimitri’s skin crawls. He knows she hasn’t succumbed yet, knows this Edelgard still has many months before she begins her war, but she’s still already set herself on the path that leads to-
“Claude,” Dimitri calls out, cutting off his own words. The Leicester lord freezes midstep, glances over his shoulder back at Dimitri, and points an innocent finger at himself. “Could I have a word?”
There’s a flash of something in Claude’s eyes before he’s pivoting on his heel to change direction, waving Dimitri to follow him. “Yeah, no problem, but if you’re going to ask me to mess up Edelgard for you-” Dimitri’s heart freezes for a second, because- no, it would work, but- no, it’s not an option, Claude doesn’t even mean it that way- “-you at least have to treat me to some tea. Loosen me up before you get me to commit, you know?”
Dimitri hasn’t been back to the gardens yet, not since he woke up in his younger body. Like so many parts of the monastery, it’s… odd, seeing something that had faded to a dull memory in his mind, the repaired garden that may now never come to be that he knows gone forever.
Claude slides into a chair and gives Dimitri a pointed look, and Dimitri’s not sure when he last was the one inviting another to tea.
His heart aches at the memory of Byleth setting down a tea try on the table between them, of the gentle way the professor spoke and how every conversation flowed naturally.
It hurts. The Byleth Dimitri knew, the Byleth that reached out to Dimitri over and over even when he spurned the professor’s kindness… he’s gone. Dimitri saw him fall- not that it would even matter, with that future gone.
It hurts even more that the Byleth of the present isn’t even here. Won’t be for over a month more.
Dimitri freezes in his steps, halfway to the kitchens to retrieve a tea set.
Things are already happening differently than the first time. Everyone is worried or at least… curious about Dimitri, he knows, which he doesn’t recall from the first time he lived these days. And if that changes… then what else?
What if Byleth isn’t in Remire? What if he never returns to Garreg Mach, or if he does, but leaves Dimitri behind so he can’t protect his dear professor, or-
What if things go exactly the same, and Dimitri has to watch Byleth die all over again? At the hands of Edelgard, or by any number of events in the many battles Byleth navigated his students through.
Dimitri feels sick.
But Claude is waiting, and he can’t do nothing- not when his very presence here is changing things, and not when there’s even the chance he can save his professor, save everyone.
His plan suddenly feels much shakier, but if anyone will listen and believe without blind faith, it will be Claude.
It takes effort to not crush the edges of the fine silver tray, but Dimitri somehow manages. Claude gives him a dry look when he sets it on the table, the question of what took so long clear on his face.
“My apologies. I had trouble finding the chamomile.” Not a lie, though most of the lost time was spent convincing himself to not despair and to not give up, that Byleth will arrive and won’t die.
Claude perks up at the mention, and Dimitri feels like he has a faint memory- of Byleth mentioning the similarities in his and Claude’s tastes.
“Well, if I wanted fast, I could have always gotten it myself. This isn’t really about tea, though.” Dimitri dips his head in acknowledgement. He knows he isn’t being subtle in the least, but… Dimitri has never been one for maneuvering in the shadows like Claude of Edelgard.
The courtyard is empty save the two of them, other students either not interested in tea today or not finished with their classes. Even so, Dimitri has to resist the urge to glance around, because it will be difficult enough to convince one person, let alone a dozen.
Guilt bubbles up in his chest- that the one he’s entrusting this to isn’t Dedue, isn’t Sylvain or Felix or Ingrid, or any of the people he fought and died beside- but… he needs Claude’s tactician’s mind and his proclivity to humor the absurd while not taking it at face value.
And if Claude rejects Dimitri, calls him mad, it will be infinitely easier to stomach than if one of his own house did the same.
Really? Him? Are you sure about that? ...Well, if you must. I suppose he’s not the worst choice…
A voice not his own, very much not his own, whispers in the back of Dimitri’s mind, and all he can do is freeze, because-
Is he still not rid of the voices of the dead? Even after all this, even after joining them-!
The porcelain of his teacup’s handle cracks, tiny fractures spiderwebbing over its surface. Dimitri thinks Claude says something, and he knows this isn’t helping his chances of convincing the young lord of his sanity, but this is something he thought he had overcome, or at least, accepted to the point he no longer heard their whisperings after a time.
Even after Rodrigue snapped him out of his haze of feral grief, the voices had never fully stopped, the hands had never entirely faded, but he thought… after giving his life for them...
The voice doesn’t speak again, and Dimitri forces his muscles to unclench beneath Claude’s wary gaze before he shatters his cup. It’s more control than he would have had a few months ago, more control than the Dimitri that should be here now would have.
Tension stays coiled in his muscles, but at least he can breathe again.
Dimitri can’t doubt himself, because if he does, then Claude will even moreso. The voice will have to wait, and Dimitri prays to the goddess that it isn’t his past coming to rend his heart and mind all over again.
“...you alright there? I know I’m not your buddy or anything, but it doesn’t take a best friend to know you’ve been acting pretty weird lately,” Claude’s tone is light but attentive, and when Dimitri forces himself to meet Claude’s eyes, there’s a sharp wariness lurking that wasn’t there before.
Dimitri sighs, presses his palm against the eye he’s still not used to seeing through, and shakes his head. “No, I’m not. I.. have something to ask of you.”
Claude leans back in his chair and crosses his arms over his chest, eyebrows raised in curiosity. “Do you now? A favor, from little ol’ me? Don’t tell me you’ve fallen for me or something.”
It’s a bit grating, the teasing tone, but Dimitri knows it’s just how Claude is. Part of him wonders how he used to miss it, take Claude at face value. The other, larger part whispers that the man he used to be, the man Claude expects to take his words completely sincerely, doesn’t exist anymore.
(All of him is glad when another, non-Dimitri voice doesn’t chime in.)
Claude is unusually silent when Dimitri begins, words spoken quietly and haltingly, and that’s more than enough to know that, if nothing else, he has the lord’s interest enough to keep his disbelief at bay. For now.
i hope the wait was at least somewhat worth it! orz i'm feeling rusty but i don't think i've entirely dropped the ball- feel free to point out any typos, i'm horrible at editing myself gjfdks
also, i'd like to say thank you to everyone who leaves comments or kudos! i try to reply to comments eventually (though since i've been away for a bit i've fallen behind ), but even if i don't reply or take a long time, i do read and treasure every kind word-