“Are you sure,” Byleth asks, again, dragging the tip of the knife down Jertiza’s chest. “It will be awful. It will hurt.”
Jeritza shivers. His eyes are wide, dark clouds ringed with blue, his breaths falling soft like rain. “I. Yes, Beloved. Yes.”
Byleth tilts his head. It is a remarkable thing, isn’t it, that this man trusts him so completely?
He thinks about telling Jeritza, do you know how many times I’ve seen you die, gasping your last into the blood-soaked mud of the battlefield?
Jeritza would want to know. Perhaps one day Byleth will tell him.
“You believe that I can do this?” Byleth asks, pressing a kiss to Jeritza’s parted mouth. He’s breathing too fast -- excited, his face flushed, eyes blurry and bright. He’s wanted this for so long, to feel the slice and hot slide of Byleth’s blade into his chest. “And that you won’t die?”
Jeritza trembles a smile up at him. “I don’t care,” he says, sweetly. “My life is already yours. Take it and do with it as you wish.”
Byleth sighs and draws the tip of the knife down Jeritza’s throat, his chest. He leans in and kisses the gasps from his mouth, drinks them in like wine. “You won’t remember it, when it’s over.”
“You’ll tell me about it,” Jeritza says, shaking, tipping his head back and showing his throat. “How you took me apart on your blade. How you saw my beating heart and knew it was yours.”
Byleth sighs and sits back up, presses the tip of his knife, gently, to Jeritza’s mouth. He watches as Jeritza kisses the blade, reverently, a drop of crimson staining the spotless silver from where it nicks his mouth. They keep their blades sharp, always.
“All right,” Byleth says, placing the bloodstained tip of the knife against Jeritza’s chest. “I will bring you back when it’s done.”
Jeritza moans when Byleth starts to cut. It turns quickly enough to screams, torn from him as he thrashes, as the sticky-sweet smell of blood fills the room. Byleth’s ears are ringing, and sweat is stinging his eyes while Jeritza screams on the bed in agony. There is a low, inhuman growl in there, beneath the terror, the pain.
Jeritza’s demon, tasting defeat. Death. Byleth has seen Jeritza die in battle and he has wondered, every time, if the demon dies, too. If it remembers, when Jeritza does not, that once it fell, tethered no more to the living.
He’s never done this before, though. Byleth leans in as he flays Jeritza open, takes Jeritza’s chin with slick, bloody fingers and says, “Look at me.”
Jeritza’s eyes are hazy, cloudy as the light in them begins to fade. Byleth cuts through bone and muscle and doesn’t stop, even when he sees the air set alight with the Crest of Lamine, trying in vain to heal the mess that was once a man on the bed.
“I -- didn’t -- want that to --” Jeritza chokes, gasping, groping blindly for Byleth’s hand, the one holding the knife. “Oh, Beloved,” he breathes. “Finish it….”
Byleth watches as Jeritza tries, with his waning strength, to drive the knife in deeper. With another last, rattling breath, his hand slips useless to the side and his eyes turn cold, pale and empty like glass in the dark.
It is not an easy thing to take out a man’s heart.
Byleth knows how to kill, of course. The first lesson he learned was how to drive a blade into the heart, to kill quick and clean. But then you take your blade away and you move on, and that is the end of it.
You do not cut through the ribcage like some graceless butcher, flay them open so that their blood soaks your hands to the wrists. Byleth is fascinated, though he should not tarry. He does not know where Jeritza has gone; whether it’s to the blanket-dark of nothingness, the chill of the underworld or the fires of the hell he’s always promising to fall into with Byleth. Byleth knows only that Jeritza belongs here, with him; temporary though it is, Byleth feels the loss of him.
But first. He did promise.
There is a twitch in the heart that rests beneath Jeritza’s broken ribs, erratic and fluttering like a bird trying in vain to fly. Byleth reaches in, curls his fingers around it, ignores the blood and gore and tries to feel that last sweet pulse against his fingers.
There is a sick pale glow that flickers above Jeritza like a dying candle newly-snuffed. His Crest, trying one last time to save his life. Byleth watches it fade.
The heart in his hand is still, as Byleth’s was, once, before Edelgard slew a dragon and his own pulsed violently back to life.
As Jeritza’s will, soon enough. They will be as one, then, two souls with hearts reborn by violence. Byleth leans in and kisses Jeritza’s pale, cool mouth. “Soon, love.”
Then he pulls, hard, and there is a wet sound of something that should not tear as it rips, and the cracking sound of bone as Byleth uses his strength to pull the dead heart from Jeritza’s chest.
He holds it up to the light, a thing dripping blood, still and quiet as the man from whom it was torn. There’s a soft sound like a hiss in the room; Byleth wonders if that is Jeritza’s demon, if it’s become some wandering thing set loose to hunt a new host, or if Jeritza dragged it into death with him. The sound might have been Byleth’s own sigh, as he sits in the muted dark holding his beloved’s dead heart in his trembling hands.
Byleth raises the heart, reverent, and shows it to Jeritza’s sightless eyes. There is blood in Jeritza’s pale hair, on his smooth brow. His mouth is slightly parted. His body is still warm enough. Blood soaks through the sheets, drips onto the floor. Byleth is covered in it. It smells like copper, like ozone. A storm.
He raises the warm thing in his hands and brushes his lips over it, shuddering at the copper-sweet tang, a tease. His teeth press into it, and his mouth fills with the taste of iron, like ashes fresh from a forge. Byleth’s own heart thrums, beating a mad tattoo against his breast as he tears a piece and swallows it down.
It would take a long time, maybe, to do this fully. To consume all of it, while Jeritza’s body cools and the blood stains Byleth’s hands. He runs his fingers over the slight indent in the organ from his teeth, presses a sweet kiss to it, and reverently lays the bitten heart back in the ruin of blood and bone and sinew that was once Jeritza.
Byleth licks his fingers, tastes the cooling lifeblood turning sticky and thick on his fingers, then summons his magic.
The world tilts sideways and forward and back, screams fade and rise and fade again, and Byleth is leaning over Jeritza, kissing him, the knife only slightly blood-tipped and Jeritza panting and squirming on the clean sheets of the bed.
Byleth sits back, smiles, and looks down at his pale, clean hands. “Ah.”
“You -- did you --” Jeritza blinks at him, and how strange, Byleth thinks, that he ever once thought Jeritza’s eyes cold when there’s life in him.
“You died in agony,” Byleth tells him, setting the knife aside. “It took you a long time. I watched your heart beat its last.”
“Ah, Beloved,” Jeritza says, and reaches for him. His face is flushed, all that living blood now where it should be, inside him, rousing him.
Byleth presses a hand to his chest, feels the thing that he held, kissed, ate, racing beneath his palm. “Your heart tasted like iron.”
Jeritza moans and arches, writhing like he did when it was torture but the sounds he makes now are much different, far more arousing but somehow just as sweet. “Take me,” he begs, reaching for Byleth. “While you tell me what it was like to slay me, eviscerate me, to press your mouth to my still-beating heart.”
Technically it hadn’t still been beating. Had it? The memory is hazy, they always are when Byleth uses his divine pulse. But there’s no harm in telling Jeritza a pretty lie. Not now.
Byleth rubs a hand over Jeritza’s chest, wishing, for one dark moment, that his heart might still carry that bite, the mark of Byleth’s reverence, until it beats its last in truth.