Peace after a lifetime of war is a strange thing to settle into.
Diavolos wakes most days now without the threat of battle looming over his head, in the comfort of a bed and not a bedroll, beside Stormholt’s savior queen with early morning sunlight filtering in between the curtains.
Four years later and the kingdoms are stable, for the most part. It’s hard won stability, earned by countless days of diplomacy and compromise and force against those who would threaten the peace. And yet he still feels like he’s drifting unmoored towards a cliff, waiting to plummet right back into what he’s known his entire life.
“You look entirely too pensive for a celebration such as this, Your Majesty,” comes a voice over his shoulder.
King Tevan of Fydoria appears at his side, bright and colorful with his signature smile wide on his face, and offers him the second goblet of wine he holds. Diavolos accepts it with thanks.
“You should be in the thick of things with your beloved, not leaning against a pillar in the corner of the room to brood.”
Diavolos gives a poor imitation of a laugh and says nothing, raising the goblet to his mouth.
Across the hall, Kenna mingles with nobility and commonfolk alike, greeting everyone with a sincere smile and kind words. It was her idea, at the first anniversary of the war’s end, to host a celebration of the end of war by opening the castle gates to whoever wanted to come, and so Stormholt has hosted one every anniversary since.
She is radiant in her gown, aglow with the love of her people, and Diavolos cannot look away.
“Queen Kenna is quite lovely tonight,” Tevan says, after minutes of silence. “Unparalleled in her grace and beauty.”
“That she is.”
Tevan turns to him then, an eyebrow raised. “And yet you are here and not by her side.”
“It would appear so.”
“Hmm. Is something amiss? Lovers’ quarrel, perhaps?”
“No, King Tevan,” Diavolos says exasperatedly. “Put it from your mind. I imagine if I tell you anything at all, the maids will all know by morning.”
Undeterred, Tevan cocks his head to the side and surveys him. “I am a flirt, not a gossip,” he says. “Come now, tell me. We have known each other long and I have come to care for you almost as much as I care for your incredible wife.”
The wine must have loosened his tongue because after a moment, Diavolos finds himself speaking slowly. “Not four years ago we were fighting for our lives,” he says, staring out into the sea of laughing people. “And now we are dancing and drinking without a care in the world. It feels just...too good to be true. Like none of this is real, or that it could all disappear in an instant, or I could.”
Tevan hmms , turning to observe the crowd as well. “I know the feeling well.”
That surprises him. “Do you, now?”
A long beat of silence. Then...
“Oh yes. Sometimes I feel as if I have long overstayed my welcome.” Tevan fixes his eyes on him and speaks in an uncharacteristically serious tone. That more than anything unsettles Diavolos. “As if I should have passed years ago and am merely a spector now, in a stranger’s body, enjoying a false life of peace.” His hand comes up, seemingly unconsciously, and rubs at a spot on his chest.
The words prickle uncomfortably at the back of Diavolos’s neck.
There are things he will never tell Kenna.
Things like, how sometimes he dreams of his father’s death, but instead of two blades to the chest, it’s the flood and rage of Sei’s fire, and it’s him and Luther, standing side by side while Kenna watches them burn.
Like how the whisper of a half-formed memory visits him when he’s on his knees before her, her back to the wall with one of her legs over his shoulder as he licks into her, of a different life where he’s on his knees too, staring up at her with his back cut open and bleeding, waiting for her to behead him with a snarl.
The memories, visions, whatever they are, leave him disconcerted in their vividness. They feel too real to be anything but, and it’s a chilling thought, that in another life he would have betrayed the love of his life for his fool of a father, only to be killed by her hand.
That he would’ve chosen to be a weapon for his father to wield, until the very end.
Tevan’s words curl uncomfortably around him, coming to a heavy stop in the pit of his stomach when he identifies with the described feeling all too well.
The described feeling of a man who knows too what it is to carry the ghost of a life gone wrong.
“What do you do when that feeling overtakes you?” It comes out rawer than Diavolos intends, but he must know. “How do you stop it?”
Tevan chuckles. “If I knew, I would be better for it.” He abruptly shakes his head and straightens, snapping himself out of whatever mood temporarily overtook him. “Forgive me, Your Majesty. I believe the wine is speaking. Thank you for your confidence, but perhaps celebrations are a poor place for somber words.” That same easy smile appears once more, perhaps too easily, and he claps Diavolos on the shoulder jovially as if nothing at all had passed. “Come, join us in our merriment. You played no small part in the efforts for peace.”
“Go on first. Let me finish my wine.”
The king of Fydoria gives him a long look, then nods. “Do not take too long to join the living, my friend.” And with that, Tevan sweeps away into the crowd, drawing the nearest person in for a lively dance.
Diavolos swallows the last of the wine and watches the crowd for a while longer, trying to put the strangeness from his mind. Kenna catches his eye and gives him a smile full of love, one he returns tenfold.
The back of his neck continues to prickle.