When the Blue Lions make good on their promise to reunite at Garreg Mach it seems even more remarkable against the backdrop of the ruined monastery.
The shape of the stains still on the floor are legible in awful ways. There are pools tracked through backwards in retreat and paths the width of a body dragging itself. It tells the story not so old of their would-be graduation.
What was ceremony only in the way that battle is. The stables had burned and high walls crumbled. Their peers cut down in front of them. And what held the place up from within, its church and its people, had set out to fight but fled or died.
Seeing the aftermath now said it, loud as it had back then: certainty didn’t exist in the physical, and the bonds in which a promise lived were horrifyingly precious. They were here to make war, and were themselves the resources for doing so.
They meet and they go to work. The likeminded and the lost trickle in. They receive clusters of kingdom loyalists. They brought with them meagre forces of what could be diverted from their family’s armies. Civilians displaced by the war seek shelter. Suddenly, they have people to care for.
It requires a coordination of effort, living with more than oneself. They needed what they needed for food, sleep, bathing. Protection. The fucking roofs not caving in. In some ways literal and spiritual, the force is fed on its own efforts. Doing what could be done, what immediately sustained them, buoyed and unified even the haggard among them.
It’s a kind of survival that is straightforward in the way that endlessly battling back the empire never was. You would dress one wound only to sustain another. Seal one crack in the dam, slay one head of the hydra; it was to say the fighting wasn’t every day, but the war was.
When Ferdinand and Felix work through the debris in the kitchens, clearing the way for Ashe and Annette to kindle the hearths, the dinner they scrape together that night is a more heartening victory than any in recent memory.
There are places in the monastery the recirculating vitality doesn’t reach.
The figurehead of their collective, the supposed lynchpin of their success, has the curious effect of inertia and it stretches in a circumference around him. Those with the aplomb to try to clear the rubble from the cathedral learn fast what it is to breach Dimitri’s consciousness. Who he was five years before is a useless map for what he is now.
Work in the area stops before it is more than well-meant plans. When driven away, the good samaritans pass unknowing through the swath of Felix’s observation.
Felix is watchful with the resolve and intensity of a smoldering thing. Quietly, and without action—for the time he is there among the dark of the pews, not breaking the skin of his palms hauling or repairing or training—he is constant.
Maybe while he sits, he hates to name it though it is, vigil, he thinks of insults spent failing to understand Dedue’s unflagging devotion to Dimitri.
If Felix thinks of this and feels shame, it is in equal parts for his actions then and now. How he hates hypocrisy in others and doubly in himself. Especially when he can’t find any other path, currently. It feels like a defeat to be at a standstill. The best he can do isn’t the confrontation he is prone to but instead playing poorly at a keeper.
Dimitri is a relief when there is less to look at. When he is not snarling at people kind or unwitting enough to approach him. He is right now as he largely always is: still for long stretches then violently alive with sudden movement. His back to every exit except the sky, he stands attendant to the rubble at the far end of the cathedral, though there is no one and nothing present in the pile of dirt and stone to explain what motion he is tracking, or why he will take up conversation with the air, his voice a low rumble. Felix knows why but wishes he could claim not to.
Sometimes Dimitri paces the perimeter of the wreckage, pausing to look aimless into the hole where the ceiling caved sometime during the siege. Sometimes he goes to his knees as in prayer. Felix knows Dimitri not to have prayed for years, at least the years Felix knew him to be alive, and Dimitri kneeling still keeps his spear clenched tightly upright in one fist.
Other times, Dimitri will curl over and in on himself, and Felix takes it as a personal challenge that he never cover his ears to the screaming that comes then.
Today has been quiet. What should put Felix at ease has never once seen the tension out of his body in this place. From a distance Felix hears the heavy scrape of a door. Footsteps draw close from behind. Lighter than they could be, deliberately not silent. One row back the pew creaks and Felix waits.
“He do anything interesting?” Sylvain asks. Felix narrows his eyes. Doesn’t turn his head. He catches red hair in his periphery. Sylvain has leant forward, is speaking quietly, though they’re not particularly close to where Dimitri stands, still for the moment.
“He’s an idiot, not a jester. I’m not here to be entertained.”
Sylvain hmphs airily, not quite a laugh. “I know you’re here for his health, not yours.”
Felix turns a quarter at that.
“I’m not doing anything at all for him,” he says, irritated, though it isn’t clear with whom. He doesn’t say I wouldn’t know how. I’ve never soothed a bear trap; I’ve never been elbow deep in a wasps nest with intent to shake hands. Nor could he bear: I’m closer to being these things than pacifying them.
Sylvain tilts his chin, his mouth tightening and his eyes dip briefly to the floor. His eyebrows do something between acknowledgement and retreat.
“It’s past dinner,” he says. “Have you eaten?”
A short exhale from Felix. No, he hasn’t. Somehow twinned with the thought is: neither has Dimitri.
Sylvain stands, having retrieved his answer in Felix’s lack of one. “We can eat in the garden,” he says, tipping his head in the entreaty he doesn’t voice.
Felix turns his whole body to face him, blocking Dimitri from his sight for the first time in hours. Looking at Sylvain straight on, Felix takes in the way his hair is pushed up off his forehead, styled by sweat and dried that way.
The dirt across his face, fingernails painfully split and knuckles cracked like arid earth. Weariness or ache or both overtake his usual posture. After working and before bathing or even eating, Sylvain, who hates being dirty, sought out Felix. Felix feels a complicated way about that. His instinct is to chastise the selflessness, the lack of self-tending. He pauses, ostensibly deciding, looking at Sylvain though not in the eye, and he registers that Sylvain could chide him the same: Felix who is similarly dirty from work though certainly less aware of it, not even ignoring hunger because he has attributed the gnawing in his stomach to something separate from the need for food.
“Fine,” he says, and rises to join Sylvain.
They take a simple meal outdoors, and a bath that is spent going through the motions with their heavy limbs. Sylvain, moving slowly beside him, doesn’t even attempt to flirt in the fatuous way he is wont to.
For a few minutes, chest deep in water Sylvain heated with the sigil for fire, Felix just sits with a washcloth over his face. Head titled toward the ceiling and breathing slowly. There is perhaps no one else he would trust with his blindness save for the man next to him.
When they separate for their rooms, there is a moment after they’ve bid goodnight, when Sylvain looks like he has something more to say. He stands facing Felix even as Felix makes to leave. Midway through the motion, Felix pauses, one eyebrow arched as a question. Sylvain gives the smallest shake of his head, the corner of his mouth tilting up. He raises a hand in goodbye. Felix shoots him a nonplussed look but keeps on with his leaving.
Felix spends an idle half hour tending to his swords and the knife from the sheath on his thigh, and the smaller knife from his boot.
There isn’t much to be done because of the same meticulous routine he’s performed the night before and each night before that. For now at least he is more likely to wield a shovel than a sword but it would be unthinkable to be unarmed, hasn’t been since the war started.
When the edges shave the hair off his arm at barest pressure, Felix makes an honest run at sleeping. The fruit of the endeavor is a restless few hours tossing, trying not to think and thus thinking, in circles, passing over itself and again, concluding nothing.
He curses under his breath and rises, shrugging a cloak on over his nightclothes, dagger strapped beneath it, and makes for the kitchens.
The cathedral is a larger place at night. It sows a bounty of shadows and in them could be anything. It puts Felix on alert. He likes to think it good instincts more than an old fear of meeting the dark.
There is a moment where, as Felix makes his way toward the small mountain of rubble, he thinks Dimitri may have actually left. He had not seen it happen so far but it was foolishness to expect a pattern never to break. It’s still a startling notion for reasons unclear. But drawing closer Felix finds the shadow that resolves into his shape: the man who would perhaps live to be king if he managed to live at all.
Dimitri is sat on the ground, his knees drawn up, a lance lain across his lap behind them. Felix’s approach, not at all silent, must startle him, and Felix is not sure what restraint keeps the lance pointed at his throat rather than speared right through his face. Maybe it is simply that Dimitri didn’t feel like rising into a throwing position.
“It’s me, Boar,” Felix says, not looking at the weapon, and he drops smoothly to the floor. The glint of the lance tracks him the whole way down.
Once seated Felix looks to his face, checking for sign of recognition there. He can’t make out anything with certainty.
Dimitri grunts, lowering his weapon back down beside him.
Felix shakes his head but doesn’t say anything as he withdraws a cloth napkin from his pocket. He unfolds it and places it in the space between them, a gap measured by the length of Dimitri’s spear. Sitting in the moonlight between them: bread and hard cheese, jerky, and a handful of berries to stave off scurvy.
“I have no idea how you’ve managed so far,” Felix says. “But you need to eat.”
Mercedes and Annette had tried, the week before, to bring him a tray bearing an actual meal. At first Dimitri ignored them. When pressed, he riled quickly into yelling. From his place at the back of the cathedral, Felix heard it as it peaked— “Out. There is no point to this! Out!”
His rage, the violence poised beneath it, was enough to drive them off, even more a threat for how no one could know when the scarce charity of Dimitri’s restraint would evaporate.
They left the tray at his feet anyhow. They passed within a dozen feet of Felix on their way out: Mercedes’ hands on Annette’s shoulders. Annette frustrated to tears and Mercedes’ mouth set in a grim line.
Felix doesn’t expect his chances are better in persuading a beast to eat. But even as he thinks this, he finds he has to amend: an animal’s rage is in service to its own preservation, and so this thing before him that refuses even that must be human.
Dimitri says nothing, makes no move toward the food. Felix fights down his rising impatience. He chose to come here.
Felix helps himself, breaking off a corner of the cheese, a bit of the bread to go with it. He’s not hungry, but he feels compelled to demonstrate it’s not poisoned. The royal family have always had safeguards against assassination attempts of this nature, but that’s a life so far apart from the one Dimitri is now living that Felix isn’t certain it’s among his concerns.
Felix swallows thickly around the bite of bread and cheese and wished suddenly that he’d thought to bring water. Unsure if Dimitri was seeking out even that much. But he must have developed some habits to keep himself alive in the intervening years. Though Felix suspects it is the grace of his crest that bore Dimitri through most of it.
Felix reaches for a berry and chews it slowly. It’s more tart than it is sweet. His display probably isn’t having any effect soothing or otherwise, he decides. He eyes Dimitri’s face. The crumbled ceiling lets the moonlight in but Dimitri sits just beyond it.
The shadows aren’t kind to him, hollowing out the bone beneath his eye, making him look as though he’s lost them both. Felix knows it’s the limit of his own perception in the low light. He still would rather not look, if this is what he’ll see.
“Eat,” he says again. “How do you plan to cut your way forward without any strength?”
He’s pandering but it’s a fair point. Felix hasn’t seen sign of Dimitri’s obvious mistreatment to his body, he is never without heavy cloak and armor, but his cheekbones cut through his face, and the dark circle beneath his visible eye never fades, purpled like a bruise.
“Why are you here.” Dimitri’s voice is startling, abrupt in the quiet.
There’s many dozen strings knotted, each an answer to that. Felix doesn’t know each of them for what they are but he can feel them there inside him. A bigger mess than he’s ever learned how to look at.
“You’re weaker than you ought to be. You’d do well to eat more.” And sleep. And speak to anyone besides ghosts.
Dimitri huffs out something like a laugh, no trace of joy in it. “None of whom I’ve murdered would claim to know anything about my weakness.”
“And you think slaughter is the only strength,” Felix says, acidic, unsurprised. “You’ve left to rot every part of you that’s ever tried to keep your savagery in check.”
“Of course,” he bites out. “Of course I have. It’s what’s required. There is nothing left in me to need for anything. The dead arrange my priorities.”
“Do they ever tell you to eat?”
“You just have, though it is a first.”
Felix shakes his head in a tight movement. “I’m not dead,” he grits. “I’m right here.”
“I was there, I saw you die,” Dimitri says. It sounds worn with repetition. “I saw your flesh bubble, Glenn. The only difference between us is my corpse can be of use a while longer.”
Felix feels physically struck, his vision narrowing momentarily to nothing, and the overwhelm is the only thing that stills him long enough for Dimitri to finish his sentence.
He is on his feet, head buzzing. “I’m not him, damn you, I’m not Glenn!” He stoops for the napkin, scoops it up with its contents, and flings them at Dimitri. He won’t be the only one to have his misguided kindness thrown in his face.
“You’re fucking pathetic. Claiming to be a corpse doesn’t absolve you of what you owe the living.”
Dimitri just looks up at him, food strewn around him.
“Say something you fucking animal. Speak!”
Distantly, resigned, Dimitri says, “You didn’t used to sound alike, but after you died, Felix took so much of you onto himself. Direct like you, but so much harsher.”
Outside himself, Felix screams and throws himself upon Dimitri, pinning him to the floor where Dimitri’s head smacks against the stone. Maybe it’s the daze from hitting his head, but he doesn’t stop or evade Felix as Felix rears back and punches him: once, twice, splitting his lip, the blood running into his mouth and filling the spaces between his teeth.
Dimitri’s gaze focuses on Felix’s face as Felix pulls his fist back for another blow. “It’s you,” he says. “Felix.”
“Don’t you fucking use my name now,” he snarls. Flecks of his spit land on Dimitri’s face. “Fuck you, fuck your dead, your father, your mother—they’re as useless now as you are.”
Dimitri’s eye narrows. Felix finds himself subjected to Dimitri’s sudden and brutish strength as the boar flings him bodily away.
He lands hard on his side and Dimitri is upon him instantly, lowering to meet him, and he returns the blows Felix dealt in kind.
The first crack of Dimitri’s fist upon his jaw rattles him badly. The battle composure he’s honed for so long falters. There is a moment where he isn’t in or outside of himself, it’s almost as if he’s gone, the place in his skull he occupies whited out by pain.
When his awareness slips back in a fraction of a second later, he misses that obliterated place. Not because it was painless but because the pain required nothing of him. Nothing to prepare for or push through. It wasn’t a relief that had ever before occurred to him.
He blinks up at Dimitri, the body bracketing him, the man he shaped his fighting around. Each time Dimitri laid him out in the dirt through sheer power, Felix stood back up with a new measure of himself. It wasn’t that Felix was weak. Life, Dimitri somewhere near the center of it, had demonstrated to him he needed something beyond strength.
With Dimitri to measure against, Felix became quicker, more astute. In training, then in battle, he assessed his opponent’s weak spots as second nature then tore them wide. He’d built himself on knowing and seeing, making his own advantages, exactly because there was always a point at which enough power could force him to yield.
Dimitri punches him again, and when he can think once more, he recognizes this isn’t that power. The one with no room for quarter. If Dimitri cared to do so, or really, if he paid no mind at all, there’s no doubt that he could simply shatter Felix’s skull.
Before another blow can land, Felix rears up and headbutts Dimitri, giving him enough of an opening to scramble out from under him and rise to his feet. Dimitri does not follow him, kneeling motionless on the stone where they both were a moment ago.
There is a silence in which they simply watch each other, Felix breathing hard and Dimitri slightly less so.
Dimitri raises a hand to wipe his bloodied mouth. “You should kill me,” he says.
Felix’s muscles tense and thrum. He gnashes his teeth and it sends pain shooting up through his jaw.
“You should eat,” he spits back.
The return trip to his room isn’t slow or fast but that is because Felix’s presence of mind is such that he can register his disorientation but not care for its consequences.
That is, until he is passing by the dock, and hears someone utter “Ah,” softly from his right.
His hand flies to his dagger, heart rate kicking up, and he should have been more alert, damn him and damn the boar.
Knife in hand, he wills himself to focus past the ache in his head and survey the threat. He finds it is Ferdinand, looking not much a threat at all, empty palms raised in conciliation, appearing more perplexed than afraid.
“Felix,” he says, inclining his head in greeting. “What are you doing awake?”
Felix glares for a moment before sheathing his weapon, then heaves a sigh. “What are you doing there?”
Ferdinand lowers his hands to his lap. “I couldn’t sleep,” he says. “I thought I would get some air.”
Felix shakes his head in a short motion, as though brushing off the irritation of his previous overreaction. “It’s none of my business, actually. Goodnight.”
“Wait,” Ferdinand calls as Felix makes to leave. “Felix, what’s happened to your face?”
Felix pauses, annoyed he hadn’t had the cognizance to at least wipe the blood from his nose. “Nothing’s happened. It’s fine.”
“Mm,” Ferdinand hums. “Well it is seems like nothing has gone and bashed you about the head.”
Felix snorts a little in spite of himself, the gesture stirring up no small pain.
“Sit a moment, please?” Ferdinand says mildly. “I’m no healer, but I have magic enough to take the edge off, I think. It should be enough that you might yet stand a chance of getting to sleep.”
Felix pauses, and finds that no particularly strong mistrust or dislike rises to object. He joins Ferdinand on the bench tucked into the corner where the stairs meet the dining hall courtyard.
“Are you concussed?” Ferdinand asks, not touching Felix at all by way of assessment, in fact he is merely looking, his hands still in his lap.
“No,” Felix bites out instantly, for no very good reason. “Maybe,” he amends after a beat.
“Hmm,” Ferdinand has leaned down slightly to consider Felix’s right eye. From the tenderness there Felix can assume it’s blackened.
“Unrefined as my skill is, it will be more effective if I touch you. Is that alright?”
Felix knows this about healing already; his is shoddy enough. “Fine,” he says stiffly.
Ferdinand cups the side of his face so lightly Felix can barely tell he’s being touched at all. Naturally he looks anywhere but Ferdinand’s face. A faint glow lights the space between them and a kind of warmth spreads from the point of contact. It’s warm like sitting with your back to the sun.
Felix feels the worst of the pain receding. Its lessening makes clear how badly he felt prior. Definitely concussed, at least mildly.
Even so, even with the warmth, the healing lacked the kind of escape, however brief, provided by the violence that necessitated it. Felix has the thought and hates the thought and shoves it down and away. Just what the fuck was wrong with him.
“Alright, I think that’s about the limit of what I can do,” Ferdinand says, pulling his hand away. “Mercedes could certainly handle the remainder in the morning.”
“It’s fine. It doesn’t need it.” Felix is just satisfied to have the ache in his jaw dulled to something ignorable, and his good sense returned with treatment of his concussed brain.
“Your eye looks better, I think.”
“I don’t know what it looked like before.” A pause, then: “Thanks,” he says, willfully less grudging than he is prone to, and even then only managing somewhat.
Ferdinand quirks a small smile. “It isn’t any trouble at all,” he says, and turns to look out across the water of the pond.
It’s a natural opening for Felix to leave, but he stays seated a moment more. “Will... Are you going back to sleep soon?”
This makes Ferdinand turn his gaze from the water back to Felix. His features betray faint surprise before he smiles again, both softer and larger than the first.
“I certainly should try,” he says, a little rueful.
Felix knows enough to know that asking anything else would be prying. There is another moment of silence where Felix just listens to the almost inaudible shifting of the water, and even quieter than that is Ferdinand’s breathing.
Felix stands up to leave. “I uh. Hope you get some rest,” he says.
“You too, Felix,” Ferdinand answers, and raises a hand in goodbye.