Red liquid trickles down his sticky hands.
He blinks. Refocuses his eyes, and stares.
Before him sits an Imperial soldier, bound to a chair with a set of thick, coarse ropes. This soldier, however, would not be escaping anytime soon — they were long since dead. There was nothing left but a corpse.
No, rather than a corpse, it was more appropriate to say that it was the ‘remains’ of a corpse. The bloodied mess before him no longer resembled a human shape. Not with its limbs torn from its sockets and its skull crushed into pieces; not with its belly ripped apart, its insides splattered across the walls of the room, dripping down iron bars onto the floor.
There was only one thing a person could say after looking at this scene:
[This is truly the work of a beast.]
The thought made him shiver, manifesting in tiny sparks of euphoria going off in his brain and popping like bright champagne bubbles. It made him feel intoxicated and dangerous.
A manic laugh finds its way to his lips and spills out like fresh blood. A thing, something, the only thing to fill this empty, empty room.
He readjusts his grip on Areadbhar. Positioning it downwards, he plunges it back into the torso of the corpse, and returns to stabbing it with wild abandon.
He screams, and the mad howl of a wild beast echoes back. Tear them apart, the beast screams. Make them pay. Never forgive them. Kill—
A voice cuts through the haze.
“Stop it… Stop it, Dimitri!”
He pauses. Rolls the last uttered word in his mouth. The fog in his head thins even more.
“Isn’t there something else you should be doing?” The voice insists.
It comes to him, then. A name, scorching through the fog and burning through his entire existence.
He grips Areadbhar so hard it creaks. He spins around and tears an opening in the cage — for the closed room was a cage? — bending metal until they twisted and splintered under his hands — and then the beast was free.
Edelgard. Search for her. Take her head.
Outside the room, he is met with a wasteland, a sea full of corpses. He steps on them, uncaring as he surges forward on his quest for revenge.
“Not that, Dimitri! Stop being so obsessed with revenge!”
“I am not Dimitri.” He growls. “Not anymore. I am but a mere beast craving blood.”
“Come to your senses!” The voice hisses again, from all around him. “Is this really how you want to lead your kingdom?”
He chuckles, the sound a deep rumble in his throat. “Do not speak such lies to me when you never cared for such proper codes in the first place.”
He steps on a body, feels it crunch beneath his boots, and steps on another, and another, and another. “I will not take the throne. I never wanted to be king in the first place. That ‘kingdom’ that you speak of is not a kingdom, but a place festering with corruption and vice down to its very roots. And now, it is being eaten away from the outside as well. To be king, and be burdened with such a heavy duty?” He laughs. “I think not. I quite like the way I am now, as a beast that lives and dies whenever it wants to.”
“Please,” someone else whispers.
He looks up, and sees Ashe, and the rest of the Blue Lions standing behind. They beg him to stop this bloody path of madness.
“And I will cut down anyone who stands in my way.”
He spins Areadbhar and beheads Ashe in a single, swift strike.
The voice screams.
He snarls an incantation, and lightning strikes in the distance. Annette and Mercedes burn in Thoron’s wrath, and they die screaming in agony.
A few steps more, and two figures appear before him, blocking his way — Ingrid and Sylvain.
Ingrid tosses her lance aside, arms wide open in a pleading gesture. Before she can speak, a lumbering corpse rises from the sea and cuts her down. With lifeless eyes, Dedue tosses Ingrid away, her body crumpling onto the litter of broken bodies as easily as a rag doll. Sylvain starts to cry out, but the Lance of Ruin in his hand glows red. Black sludge pours out, invading his body like it once consumed his brother, and turns him into a grotesque monster. It, too, is quickly felled by Dedue.
His professor tries to approach him, shouting worriedly. Wounded by Dedue’s axe, the professor’s movements are slow and clumsy. He easily latches onto the professor’s skull and crushes it like he would an Imperial soldier.
The voice is sobbing now, he realises, as he drops the professor and continues to run.
The bed of corpses gradually turns into an uphill slope, and then into a steep mountain. Clamping Areadbhar in between his teeth, he starts to climb, grabbing at whatever he can — faces, limbs, or torsos, it did not matter because he was adamant on reaching its peak.
Who he sees when he reaches the top, however, is not Edelgard.
It is the owner of the voice, holding his father’s body in his arms.
Rodrigue’s body is mutilated beyond recognition, his face twisted into unimaginable agony. His expression is the same as the one on his son’s, nine years ago, when he burned in Duscur.
The owner of the voice paid no heed as he approached and stopped in front of him.
“Hello, Felix.” He says softly, to the voice, to Felix, to his childhood and former best friend from days long gone and years far ago.
Felix looks up. His eyes are red from crying.
It’s been nine years since he last saw Felix cry. A small part of him, the small kid that had laughed and played happily with his friends before Tragedy of Duscur, wants to ask Felix why he’s crying, and what he can do to make it stop.
“That’s one hell of an expression on your maw.” Felix says.
He puts a hand to his face.
Oh, he thinks. He is smiling.
“That’s not like you.” Felix says.
“I have always been me.” He replies. “It is you who has refused to acknowledge it.”
“The Dimitri I know doesn’t take pleasure in taking lives. How many corpses have you stepped on? How many more will have to die before you reach your goal?”
“I have never made any excuses for my crimes.”
Felix furrows his brows. “They were your friends, Dimitri. And you killed them. You, with your own two hands, killed them as easily as snuffing out a candle.”
“I never asked for help. I will take Edelgard’s head, even if it means storming the streets of Enbarr with the corpses of the dead dragging at my heels.”
Felix scoffs, even as he strokes his father’s hair gently. “And so you do not distinguish between friend and foe. Face it, Dimitri.” He says sadly. “You’ve lost your mind.”
“Petty emotions like compassion does not belong on the battlefield.” He replies. He wipes the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand, grinning wolfishly at the feeling of even more blood smearing across his skin. “In order to live, I have killed myself.”
“No.” Felix insists. “I believe — we believed — you’re still in there somewhere. You’ve just become blinded by rage. And when you eventually come to your senses? I know you’ll blame yourself for what you’ve done.”
Felix gets up, then. Lays his father down, his weapons discarded, and walks slowly towards him. His expression is unlike his usual countenance. Softer. Gentler.
“Please, Dimitri. You have to stop it, before you do something you’ll regret. Before you do something you can never take back.”
He licks his lips, throat suddenly feeling very dry. “Stay back,” he cries, backing away from Felix.
“Why?” Felix demands. “Are you, the one-eyed demon of Garreg Mach, afraid?”
He frowns, a little bewildered himself. Felix was right. Why was he afraid?
He looks at Felix, really looks at Felix this time, and takes his figure in — he was all grown up now, with a body built like a soldier and a face that contained all the world’s weariness in it.
And for a moment, he is overwhelmed by the past. He sees a younger Felix running towards him, running with him, laughing, crying, playing, sparring. Their bond ran deep, twisting and twining and tangling and fraying and yet despite everything it still remained barely intact, like it was something that he refused to let go of—
He groans at the sudden pain flashing through his head. Strength leaves his legs, and he stumbles.
Felix’s eyes widen, and he rushes to catch him. “What’s wrong? Are you okay?” He asks worriedly.
“Fee…” His voice comes out as a whimper. Childish. Vulnerable. Weak.
“Dima?” Felix whispers, his voice regaining a tinge of hope.
He swings up Areadbhar and stabs it into Felix’s back.
Felix gasps. He lets go, and Felix staggers back, an expression of shock on his face.
He finishes Felix off by slashing twice, carving a bloody X-shaped crest on his chest.
Felix falls to the floor.
He laughs. Rests Areadbhar on the floor. Leans on it, bending over to speak to Felix.
“You do not understand, Felix. There is no ‘kind’ Dimitri inside me. You are looking for something that does not exist. In the past, you insisted that everyone around you was blind to my true self, when in actual fact you were the most unseeing of them all.”
Felix coughs weakly. Stretches out his hand as if he was reaching for something. Mouth opens. Closes. Opens again.
“I’ve… failed you.” Felix says, and then his eyes close, and his hand falls to the floor.
Felix does not speak again.
He exhales. Settles down next to Felix. Sets down Areadbhar. Lies on his back, and stares blankly into the crimson red sky.
“So.” He says, to himself. “Edelgard is next.”
He is laughing.
He is not laughing, he thinks darkly to himself, when he wakes up.
He rolls over, and whimpers as parts of his armour dig into him. Sleeping on the cold stone floor of the cathedral in full-body armour was not very forgiving, and he did not expect anything less.
Someone is calling to him, he thinks faintly, and he looks up to see a blurry, almost-ghostly figure in front of him. He blinks, feeling the wetness leave his eye and fall down his cheek in a sticky trail. Then his vision refocuses, transforming the figure into Dedue, who is staring worriedly back at him.
“Your Highness?” Dedue asks, tentatively.
He cannot speak; his breathing is too fast, too quick. Dedue remains patiently silent as he tries and fails miserably to wrangle his breath into submission, his hand gripping at Areadbhar as if it is his only support.
Since he cannot speak, he beckons to Dedue, who kneels down obediently. Ignoring Dedue’s offered hand, he reaches out and places a trembling hand on Dedue’s shoulders, shaking them with all the little strength he can muster.
When he is finally able to speak, the first word that comes out of his mouth is, “Why.”
“Your Highness?” Dedue repeats, confused.
He rests his head on Dedue’s chest and moans. “Why did you kill them, Dedue? Even if I commanded it, you should not have to bear the sin of killing your own friends! Doing such a thing at my behest… That is as if you were nothing but a tool in my hands! And not my — ”
Friend, he wants to say, but the word dies out before he can give voice to it. Friend, he wants to say, but he hasn’t the courage to.
His hand drops to his side.
“No…” He mumbles to himself. “No, you wouldn’t, of course, even if I ordered you to… no, no, the fault lies with me.”
“Your Highness…” Dedue says after a pause, “You may rest easy. I am safe and sound, and so are our comrades.
He looks up at that.
“Truly?” He whispers, a desperate little sound, like the plaintive pleas of a small child.
It only then comes to him that he is talking, actually talking to Dedue, and that Dedue is answering back.
He reaches out, this time less sure than the first, and places a palm on Dedue’s cheek. Even with his gauntlets on, he can feel the warmth radiating from it. Warm. Dedue is warm. Soft. Gentle.
“Yes… Yes… So you are.” He mutters, putting his hand down.
There are more signs that he had just been dreaming, and he was only beginning to notice them now.
He is wearing black gauntlets, coated with blood so old and black it could be mistaken for part of his armour. He is not barehanded and dripping with blood. His vision is halved now, what with his eyepatch hampering his sight. In his dreams, he was whole.
In his dreams, he killed everyone.
It is just a dream, but… but… these days, it is becoming more and more difficult to tell what is real and what is not.
It doesn’t matter if it was a dream. Glenn’s voice whispers in his ear. Ah. His ghosts. He knows, then, for sure, that this is real. What’s real is the feeling of your lance in my brother’s back.
He stands up, abruptly. Areadbhar clatters onto the floor.
“I need to go.”
Go where? Dedue does not ask. He merely bows, and follows as the fallen lord sweeps out of the cathedral.
He heads to Ashe’s room first, since it was on the ground floor. It was also easier than calling on Annette or Mercedes’s room.
He tries the door to Ashe’s room, finds it unlocked, and enters.
Inside Ashe’s room, it is dark, but with the candles outside filtering in, he can barely make out a dark lump on the bed. As his eye adjusts to the dark, and he can make out edges and movements — he can recognise it as Ashe lying on the bed, sleeping soundly.
He watches the lump rise and fall, in breathing patterns of someone fast asleep. But he is not satisfied, and so he calls out to him:
Hearing his name being called, Ashe stirs. “…Mm? …What —”
He turns on his side and opens his eyes. Sees the hulking figure of Dimitri looming over him, and promptly screams.
Outside, several doors bang open.
Ashe scrabbles frantically in his attempt to get away from the figure. His shoulders bump into the wall behind him.
Dimitri stretches out a hand and Ashe screams even louder. He lifts up his hands in a weak attempt to shield his face and closes his eyes in acceptance of his fate.
Dimitri is unfazed, however, and places his hand on Ashe’s head.
Thinking that his skull was about to be crushed, Ashe’s voice trails off into a series of squeaks. …Then, after several long and agonising moments in which he thought very hard about the will he had written that was stashed away in one of his drawers, which stated that upon his death he dedicated his cookbook to Dedue, his collection of knight tales to Ingrid, and his self-authored Loog/Kyphon/Pan novel to Felix (oh goddess, I have to burn that will; FELIX MUST NEVER READ CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR!!!!! ) —
— He realises that he is not dead yet. Heck, is the intruder… patting his head?
This… ghost was surprisingly real… and gentle.
He dares to open one eye, and then the other to stare at Dimitri in shock, mouth gaping wide.
“Y-Your Highness??!” He says, equal parts confused and terrified. “Oh my goodness, I am so, so sorry! I mistook you for a ghost you see—”
Dimitri stares absently at him, as if he had not heard Ashe. He takes back his hand, clenching it once or twice, and nods to himself. “Head is… attached properly.” He mutters.
“Attached properly?” Ashe squeaks at Dimitri’s foreboding word choice. “What… what is that supposed to mean?!”
Dimitri’s eyes sharpen at that. “Enough.” He says in a growl, and walks out through Ashe’s open door.
Ashe stares dumbfounded at the retreating figure. Behind Dimitri, Dedue bows in apology and shuts the door softly.
“…What in the world just happened?”
When he walks out of Ashe’s room, he sees that the disturbance did not go unnoticed by the other members of the first floor.
Annette and Mercedes were looking up at him worriedly in their rumpled nightclothes, clearly having gotten out of bed in a hurry. Their professor was there too, brandishing his Sword of the Creator… though, with nothing but his underwear on, he looked a whole lot less intimidating.
“What’s wrong?” Annette asks nervously. She was clutching Mercedes. “We heard a loud scream, and… Well, we thought it was an Imperial attack.”
“Actually,” Mercedes amends cheerfully, “ The professor and I thought it was an Imperial attack. Annie was the only one who thought it was a ghost.” She looks disappointed that it did not turn out to be a ghost.
Annette shrieks and swats Mercedes. “Mercie! Shh!”
“Rest assured, we are not under attack.” Dedue dips his head, smiling. “His Highness simply wanted to confirm that you all are safe and sound.”
Hearing that, the professor lowers his Sword of the Creator. He does not flinch even as Dimitri approaches to tower before him. They both stare solemnly at each other, even though it was kind of hard to keep up the tension when one of them was sorely underdressed.
“Professor.” Dimitri says.
“Dimitri.” Byleth says back.
Annette, Mercedes and Dedue look back and forth between the professor and the prince like they were watching a particularly interesting show, consisting of two cats batting each other with their paws.
Dimitri reaches out with his paw — er, hand — and pokes Byleth’s cheeks.
And then, he asks, in a small, child-like way:
“Are you alive?”
(“What kind of a question is that?” Annette whispers. She is quickly shushed by Mercedes.)
Byleth cocks his head. “Probably.”
(“Probably?” ) (“Shhh.”)
Byleth kindly elaborates. “I seem to lack what is necessary for all living beings to function properly: a heartbeat. So unless having a heartbeat is a necessary qualification to be considered what you call, living, then other than that, yes, I am alive.”
(“So… you’re telling me our professor has been an undead this whole time??”)
(“Well, our professor manages the army’s finances and schedule, maintains our weapons, takes care of the monastery gardens and animals, prepares exams for us to take in the middle of war, can supposedly teleport from one end of the monastery to the other, and can probably predict the future to a certain extent. I would not be surprised if our professor turned out to be an undead just so they would not need to eat or sleep.”)
(“…That’s a good point, Dedue.”)
“Good enough.” Dimitri says loudly, ignoring the whispers behind him.
“So… it was just a bad dream?” Mercedes asks, placing a hand to her cheek sympathetically.
Dimitri turns away.
The silence that follows and the eyes on him burn like like Eternal Flames; there is nothing more he wants to do now than to run away. He’d hide in a dark corner of the cathedral and never speak to another again; the darkness was where he belonged.
Mercedes tries to put a comforting hand on Dimitri’s shoulder, but he bares his teeth, growls, and instinctively shifts away from her.
“Maybe he wants a hug,” Mercedes says, unperturbed. “Do you want a hug?”
“I DO NOT WANT A HUG.” Dimitri growls ever louder. “Enough time is wasted here. Leave.”
And before Mercedes can make good on her promise, he makes for it.
On the second floor of the dormitories:
The sight of Dimitri running through the corridor, with four people following behind like chicks following a mother hen — with one in naught but their underwear — was definitely one to behold. Were it a little later in the morning when people were starting to wake up, it certainly would have made a scene.
He does not know whether his heart is beating from elation or apprehension. With every step he takes, he gains more confidence that this is real, his dream was not, and that everyone he knows is still alive.
(Yet the sensation of metal slicing through flesh is still fresh in his mind.)
He stops at the room third from the end of the corridor. He raises his hand, intending to knock, or more drastically to bang on the door. Just before his fist touches the wood, however, he freezes, hyper-aware of the people staring holes into his back.
He’d slipped up. To be caught doing something that resembled even the slightest notion of civilisation…
It would not do to give them false hope in a king that did not exist.
Yes, maybe he will just do what he did with Ashe, try the handle and just hope it is unlocked.
He grabs the handle, intending to—
The handle breaks.
He drops the handle and gives the door a good shove. The door gives a sad, wailing sound of metal twisting and breaking as he forces it open and barges into Felix’s room.
Inside, Felix was sitting on the edge of his bed, polishing his sword. The moment Dimitri enters, he stands up, outrage and shock clear on his face.
He opens his mouth, but before he can say anything, Felix takes one look at Dimitri’s face and freezes.
He lets Dimitri slap the sword out of his hand and grab him by the lapels. The sword lands somewhere on the floor with a metallic clang.
It is strange how Felix holds still as Dimitri’s single eye roams his entire body. He does not move as Dimitri trails past the sharp contours of his face, to his tousled, sleep-ruffled hair, to the hard and lean muscle showing in the lines of his night clothes, and then to the rough, sword-imprinted callouses on his hands.
A small part of his brain notes the way Felix holds his body in tension, like a bowstring drawn taut, ready to be fired at any moment.
It is in the way his jaw clenches and shoulders tighten. In the way his breathing quickens and his hand instinctively scrabbles at his hip for a sword that is not there, before being forced to go still. But still he does not struggle to break free.
“You broke my door.” Felix hisses. Even now, he avoids Dimitri’s gaze, eyes fixed on a point to the left of him.
Dimitri ignores the way his heartbeat quickens at the sound of Felix’s voice — alive alive alive — and rips Felix’s shirt apart.
“What the fuck.”
He roams his eyes over Felix’s chest.
It is bare. Littered with old scars here and there, but free of an X-shaped scar stretching all the way across his chest.
It really was just a dream.
Like a cutting of a cord, his head droops to rest on Felix’s shoulder, and he closes his eyes.
He sighs deeply. Felix stiffens in response, but does not move to shake him off.
He does not register that Felix had even reacted, so lost in his own thoughts as he buries his nose in the crook of Felix’s neck, focusing solely on the earthy scent of Felix. The only thing keeping him tethered to reality.
A low whistle cuts through the darkness, and he is startled into opening his eyes. Then, and only then, does it come rushing back to him. Where he is. What he just did. Whose room he just barged into.
He detaches himself, stiffly, from Felix, and turns to look at Sylvain, who is standing at the door’s entrance with a wide grin on his face. Behind Sylvain stood the rest of the old Blue Lions, including Ingrid and Ashe, who were trying to peer around Sylvain to look at the scene inside Felix’s room.
“Uhhhh…” Ingrid says with a pained look. She was dragging out the question, clearly grasping for words to address the situation. “Is… everything… okay. Your Highness?” She finally manages to get out.
Her last word ended in a note so high anyone could tell that she was feeling very, very awkward right now. In fact, she looked like she wanted to be anywhere else but here.
I’m fine, a small part of him wants to scream. A fragmented remnant of the perfect prince mask he used to wear to trick others, trick himself, into believing that the heir to the throne was fit to rule.
I’m fine, he had whispered to himself every day in the academy. It was the first thing he said when he woke up every morning, to drown out the voices clamouring for attention in his head—
I’m fine, he does not say. But he opens his mouth anyway, to say something, anything, to snarl at them, push them away, chase them away before he drags them down into the eternal flames with him,
Whatever he was going to say is lost because Sylvain takes this giant silence as a golden opportunity to speak.
Sylvain takes a deep breath and spreads out his hands like Lady Rhea about to hold a prayer sermon in church.
You could hear everyone silently screaming in the distance “No no no NO NO DON’T DO IT SYLVAIN DON’T YOU FUCKIGN DARE” —
— And then Sylvain opens his big mouth and says, rather (very) loudly, “Oh, please. His Highness barged into Felix’s room and ripped off his shirt! You and I both know there can only be one reason for that!”
Sylvain ends it off with a rather salacious wink.
(GODDAMMIT, SYLVAIN, everyone thinks to themselves.)
A knife strikes the wood paneling of the door frame where Sylvain was leaning on and he yelps, turning to look at where it lay quivering next to his head.
“Sylvain.” Having thrown the knife from where he stood, Felix hisses at Sylvain like an enraged cat about to go to war, his face slowly turning purple. “I’ll kill you.”
“I won’t allow that, Felix.” Ingrid interjects.
She ignores Sylvain’s mock gasp of shock. “You’ll have to get in line first.”
Dimitri stares at Ingrid and Sylvain, both living and breathing and talking to Felix. They are the final proof that he is not a terrible, terrible monster, one that did not think twice before spilling the blood of his friends.
He was just
A delusional madman.
Better to be mad than to be a friend-killer, a voice whispers in his head. That was his father, he thinks.
He almost wept in relief, even as the blinding headache hits him then. The pain was not unfamiliar to him, having been his unwelcome companion throughout his hazy five years of wandering, and even longer than that. It was the cause of his many sleepless nights at the academy.
This time, the pain feels like barbed arrows driving themselves into the back of his head, poking at the back of his eyes.
Like a puppet cut of its strings, he falls to his knees before Felix.
(“The prince is on his knees! Before Felix!!”)
(“Um. Are we intruding on something?”)
(“Wow, uh, the room suddenly feels really hot, huh?”)
(“We should leave. Now. That includes you too, Sylvain.”)
He barely registers the scandalised gasps of the crowd at the door, or Sylvain’s cheeky stage-whisper of “Go get him, Your Highness!”, or the sound of the door slamming shut (shedding splinters of wood in the process, that door would need to be repaired come morning, Byleth noted to himself), leaving him alone with Felix.
The room is silent, then.
Silent, for he is gritting his teeth and doing all he can to keep from moaning like a wounded beast. He was in an empty, empty room, with nothing to fill it up with. It was better this way, for the beast to be barely restrained, only let out when there were enemies to kill.
He feels terrible, doing this to Felix. He knows Felix can’t bear to look at his face.
Because just like how Felix reminded Dimitri of Glenn, Dimitri, too, reminded Felix of a childhood friend long dead and gone.
A childhood friend Felix has been trying to piece together ever since the Tragedy of Duscur. Trying, failing, giving up, and after a while, going back to try again. Stuck in a miserable cycle that only hurt him more and more.
(What he doesn’t know is that it’s all a wasted effort in the end. After all, you can’t fix something if it was missing pieces from the very start.)
He should leave before Felix cuts himself on the broken pieces he tries to pick up.
“Boar.” Felix says, in that sharp, swordlike tone of his, “You may not have realised it, but this is my room, not yours.”
He looks up, and finds that Felix is playing with the (new) folds in his shirt, trying to salvage what was left of it.
Which he is still sorry for the circumstances that led to that — mainly, ripping apart Felix’s shirt in a state of heightened panic and delirium. He voices it out because, if nothing else, it helps to drown out the voices that are waking up inside his head.
The furrow between Felix’s eyebrows deepens at the admission of guilt. “Whatever. I don’t care.” He turns away. “Don’t go troubling other people just because you had a nightmare. Nightmares are battles you have to fight on your own. You fight them, and win.”
Dimitri does not ask how Felix knew he had a nightmare. He also does not remind Felix that when they were young, and House Fraldarius was once considered a permanent resident of the castle, Felix often ran to Dimitri’s room in the middle of the night, scared by lightning or some fictional child-stealing monster in tales regaled by Glenn.
And likewise, sometimes, it would be the other way around. Even before the Tragedy, Dimitri grew to hate the smell of sickness and burnt flesh that often found their way into his nightmares. He would dream about the epidemic that once took his mother away from him, except instead of his mother’s face, he would see on those disease-ridden corpses the faces of his father, his stepmother and his friends. He would wake up in a cold sweat — not screaming, because princes do not scream — and then he would creep into Felix’s room and wake him up. And then Felix would reassure him that he was alive, that they were alive, and that nightmares weren’t real.
“You were there too.” He would whisper to his best friend, and Felix would hum in assent and squeeze his hand and whisper back, “I’m here.”
And there they would stay, sharing the same bed, holding hands and whispering to each other until they eventually fell asleep.
When did they grow so old, and so apart?
Because they no longer shared childish secrets and silly dreams with each other, Dimitri does not tell Felix about his nightmare.
He does not tell Felix he dreamt of torturing Imperial soldiers like he did in real life, except in his dream he actually liked the feeling of stripping flesh from skin and snapping bones until they screamed.
He does not tell Felix that he dreamt of beheading Ashe in the same way he once beheaded Ashe’s father.
He does not tell Felix that his nightmare was in actual fact his worst fears realised, contrary to what he has been saying all along as a self-proclaimed beast.
He does not tell Felix that Felix, too, was in his dream, and Felix does not take his hand and tell him that no, they were both alive.
No, he replies—
“My nightmares are not a battle you should be concerned with. Edelgard is all that matters.”
Is it, though? A traitorous thought wriggles its way to the forefront of his mind.
“Is it, though?” Felix echoes uncannily, as if he could read Dimitri’s mind.
Coming back into contact with people had changed Dimitri. Like a hungry rat that had to resort to eating parts of itself to survive, that was what he did during all those years in isolation, feeding his happy memories and gentleness and mercy to the beast inside him so that he would not break. Not completely, at least.
Revenge did not require much brainpower, he supposed, just a never-ending thirst for blood. And even being able to do that required him to gnaw away at the tender fleshiness of his cursed soft heart until the blood caked into a coat of filth that no one would dare touch.
But his reunion with his professor and former classmates had sprouted growth in what he thought was a heart as cold and barren as the northern lands of Faerghus. Slowly but surely, the beast was becoming more tame, and less obsessed with the idea of revenge.
Two sides of him, the beast and the pacifist, warring with each other, fighting for dominance. He’d started to feel conflicting emotions he’d thought he’d never feel again: disgust at his deeds, comfort in human interaction, and protectiveness of his comrades.
At Felix’s words, he hesitates and the tips of his fingers tremble minutely.
“I…” Dimitri starts to say.
“I — ”
He is cut off as a ghostly finger runs down his spine, causing him to shiver.
After everything you’ve done so far, do you think we’ll let you abandon us? A figure whispers into his ear.
His heart plummets, and his eye dulls.
She was right. They would never truly accept him after all the atrocities he had committed to come this far. To join them once again, only to find out at the end that they were only playing pretend at being friends? That inside, they would never forgive him for all he had done?
He knows he would break, then.
“No… no, of course not, mother.” The beast says — whimpers — howls — miserably.
“What?” Felix says irritably. He snaps his fingers in front of the beast, causing him to look up instinctively. “Focus on me and not the dead, boar. The war’s not going to end just because you kill Edelgard and drag her head through the blood-soaked streets of Enbarr. The remnants of the Empire will still put up a resistance, and there’s bound to be more people pulling the strings from the shadows and not just Edelgard. Your revenge is pathetic. You haven’t even thought about what you’ll do afterwards—”
Felix freezes. His eyes widen, at that, a brief, unreadable emotion showing on his face before he catches himself. Then, it contorts to express his default emotion: anger.
“If your will to live really is that weak, then maybe it’d be better if you were dead.” He spits out, uncrossing his arms to stamp his feet. “Stop being so selfish. You’re not the only one fighting this war. This reckless attitude of yours isn’t only going to get you killed, it’s going to drag us down with you too. Are you able to get that into your thick skull of yours, boar? We’re going to die because of you.”
We’re going to die for you, Felix means.
The beast gets it. Even without his nightmare, the beast knows that any one of his comrades would die for him, even Felix who tries to say otherwise, even though he has been trying so hard to push everyone away from him, putting up barriers of claws and teeth, isolating himself from everyone to make his eventual death easier on them. There is a reason why the crest of Blaiddyd runs through his veins and gives him immeasurable strength. It is a prophecy, a curse, that tells him that the things that he holds so preciously dear will inevitably break.
“I’m sorry.” He says for the second time to his former best friend. “I’ve been nothing but a plague to you and your family. Glenn, and Rodrigue, they…” His mind overlaps the body of Rodrigue he saw in his dream to the ghost of Glenn he sees standing behind Felix even now. “Their lifeless bodies, they seek me out even when I am awake… I know that they should not have left you alone.”
Felix’s face shutters so quickly he can hear the locks Felix had been keeping open snap shut. His glare grows sharper, if that was even possible — as if they could hurt the beast as much as the beast’s words had hurt him.
“First of all,” Felix enunciates slowly, icily, “My father is alive. And second, we are not talking about my father and about how he would willingly, foolishly, throw himself on his own sword just to make you happy, or my brother, who did not die just to have his name casually tossed about by just about everyone like a fucking prostitute.”
He points to the door, fingers trembling in rage. “Get out of my room, boar.”
The beast had no reason not to comply. He hangs his head, and shuffles out of the room.
With his hand on the door handle, he turns back to Felix, who had had crossed his arms, gripping them tightly as if restraining himself from showing any further animosity towards the beast.
“Gronder Field… is next.” Felix says with much pause in between. It was as if he had to pry the words from his jaws to be able to get it out into the open. “Watch yourself.”
The beast hangs his head. For Felix, who had seen the beast’s face and felt fear, for that Felix to show concern for him…
No. He shoves such thoughts aside. Such emotions were unnecessary in the pursuit of Edelgard in this war.
“Do not forget that I am the one using all of you.” The beast says, painting a sneer on his face that comes easy to him. “I hardly think you have the energy to spare for trivial matters.”
He steps out and shuts the door (creaking dangerously because of all the abuse it had gone through in one night) behind him before Felix has anything to say to that. The last thing he hears before the door closes is the sound of Felix clicking his tongue in frustration.
Surprisingly, the hallway outside Felix’s room is deserted — someone must have convinced any curious onlookers to go back to their rooms. The someone, as he finds out, is standing at the entrance of the hallway near the stairs: Dedue and Sylvain, who were having a friendly conversation that ceased to be as he drew near.
“Sooooo…” Sylvain says with a knowing grin. “That was quick. Felix isn’t into sexy foreplay, I take it?”
“Sylvain.” Dedue reproaches, though it was more of a formality than anything.
Sylvain shrugs, holding out his hands in surrender. “I’m joking, of course. It was quite a scare to hear a thunder of footsteps down the corridor, I tell you. Like any moment someone was going to shout ‘For the Empire!’ and burst into my room and stab me in my sleep. But hey, I’ll take having my shirt ripped off over Imperial invasions any day.”
“......” Was it worth the energy to talk to Sylvain, and correct this heinous misunderstanding? No, he decides, which is why he just stares at Sylvain, eyes narrowed.
Sylvain, being Sylvain, chooses to deliberately misinterpret the message the beast was sending him.
“Who, me? Maybe next time, when we’re not having a war.” He says, winking — winking! — at the beast. “Tomorrow’s — or today’s? — battle won’t be an easy one, and even I know when to be serious.”
The only sign of disdain he shows is a small exhale through his nose. All battles should be taken seriously.
Sylvain’s grin widens, even as his eyes stay devoid of light. “Hey now, don’t you get your loins in a twist, Your Highness.” He pats Dedue’s back in a show of camaraderie, causing an expression of pleasant surprise to flash across Dedue’s face. “I’ll be sure to keep Dedue safe. Watch his back, so to speak, even though he’s more likely to end up protecting me than I him.”
After a moment’s hesitation, Dedue clumsily reciprocates the physical touch, smiling gently. “I appreciate the gesture, Sylvain.”
He watches the two of them gently rib each other for a while — Sylvain with the ease of a feline stretching its legs, and Dedue with the hesitant motion of a fledgling trying out its wings for the first time. It felt comfortable, he realised, with a sickening feeling. The former Blue Lions were like the sun to the frozen lands of his heart, and it hurt to watch them laugh and joke and simply be alive.
He wanted to be a part of them. He wanted to chase them away to the four ends of the earth. He wanted to watch them grow old and happy. He never wanted to see them again. He wanted to fight alongside them, march down the streets of Enbarr together. He wanted to keep them locked away in the monastery where they’d never see another battle again.
He wanted… He wanted… He wanted to live under the sun again, as foolish as the notion was.
“Hmm?” The smile plastered on Sylvain’s face wavers for a split second, before coming back in full force.
You’re important too. All of you are. “The more fangs I have to rip out Edelgard’s throat, the better. I still have use of you.” Don’t throw away your life following me. “You are not allowed to die just yet.”
For a second, just a split second, Sylvain’s face cycles through multiple expressions so quickly it was almost imperceptible: faint surprise, happiness, a sort of sad, nihilistic acceptance, and just a little bit of hope. It, however, eventually settles into a smile that is a little more exhausted, a little more solemn, and a little more true this time.
“No need to worry about that, Your Highness.” He says, softly and in slightly subdued tones. “It won’t happen anytime soon.”
“Hmph.” The beast turns away as if losing interest in Sylvain, and ends the conversation by walking away.
“Then, I shall see you later as well.” Dedue bows to Sylvain and takes his leave, soon catching up with the beast.
“What will you do now, Your Highness?” Dedue — loyal, stalwart, Dedue, asks.
They exit the dormitories and come to a stop in the open courtyard.
He looks up at the morning sky.
Dusk and dawn, Annette once said dreamily, were the same if you froze them in time. One heralded night. The other, day.
But to him, it made no difference. Because he is fighting a battle inside of him with every breath he takes. Because he lives not under the sun or the moon, but in the shadows of the ghosts that haunt him.
Because when he gets up, the nightmares seek him out.
Hurry, hurry. His ghosts wail and whisper. We cannot be put to rest until you bring us her head.
Hurry, hurry. They drive spikes and nails into the back of his eyes. You will not rest until we know true peace.
He does not have the strength to mutter to them the usual bloody promises of brutality and conquest. He blinks, and he feels the orange gold sky before him scatter and rearrange itself, into something that was missing more pieces than it was before.
“Now?” He says, to himself. “Now, we go…”