Dimitri would’ve liked to have time alone after he spoke to Felix--to reflect, or even to recover--but instead he went to Fhirdiad’s war room, as the king of Faerghus ought to do. Even without a war, he met there with nobles and generals, diplomats and messengers. In the end, the hour grew late, and Dimitri told no less than a dozen well-meaning people that they’d have to find him again tomorrow.
Bafflingly enough, when Dimitri returns to his quarters, he finds Ashe standing outside at the door like a guard, except much more nervous and much more out of place. He has no reason to be nervous or out of place; he’s long since earned the privilege to go where he pleases.
“Good evening, Your Majesty,” Ashe says, uncomfortably.
“Ashe, I haven’t seen you since I first returned to Fhirdiad. Actually, I’m sorry about that. I’ve been such a stranger. I should’ve sought you out, for tea if nothing else.” Dimitri musters as much warmth as he can find in himself, but Ashe looks as uncomfortable as before--perhaps even more uncomfortable than before. “Although, this seems like it’s not a social call. Is there dire news?”
“Yes, well, no. It’s, er, extremely important, I think?” Ashe makes eye contact with the wall behind Dimitri, so Dimitri braces himself for the worst. “I chained Felix to your desk.”
That, he decides, is better news than he expected, although much more confusing. Dimitri has no idea what expression his face might be making, but Ashe starts to talk, a tumult of words interspersed with apologies.
“It was that or your bed, and I thought he might object to the bed, so--er, l-let me try this again, Your Majesty. Felix asked to speak with you, so I brought him here, but your room was locked. I didn't want to have him in the hallway, so I broke into your quarters, the royal quarters, and I'm really, really sorry about that.” Ashe stops for sorely needed air, then he continues, “I know that's a crime, but there isn’t anything I can tie him to in the hallway, except myself, and that doesn’t seem like the best or wisest--”
“Good work, Ashe,” Dimitri interrupts when he thinks he has the gist of it. “Thank you--really, and I’m sorry for all the trouble.”
Ashe breathes a deep sigh of relief. “Oh, it’s no trouble. The opposite, even. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself otherwise, now that there’s no more fighting.”
Dimitri smiles, and not for the first time, he wonders where he’d be without his friends. (He tries not to wonder where he’ll go without them.) “Well, thank you again. Truly.”
“Of course. Think nothing of it! You should go in, and, um, I’ll be right here, Your Majesty. Yell if you need anything?”
He’s not sure what he’d possibly need Ashe for, but Ashe stays outside. He’s not quite like a guard knight, but the way Ashe hovers at the door, anyone that dropped by to visit Dimitri would likely think better of it.
Dimitri opens the door, and Felix is in fact chained by the wrist to Dimitri’s desk. He looks at Dimitri as one might look at a particularly stupid, particularly violent dog. Like a boar, he supposes.
“You look worried,” Felix says, before Dimitri has a chance to talk. His gaze is steely, but it has a conviction that Dimitri isn’t familiar with, not anymore. “Don’t be. I promised Ashe I’d behave.”
Under different circumstances, that might’ve been reassuring. Instead, Dimitri sighs and replies, “I’m afraid I’m not sure how much your promises are worth these days.”
“That is a matter of perspective. I kept my promises to the Professor.”
“Did you?” There’s a bitter edge to Dimitri’s words, and it takes every ounce of will he has remaining to smother it. “Then I shall be thankful that there was one person in the world that you liked. Truly.”
“Everyone else I made promises to is dead.” Felix shrugs, but he watches Dimitri like a hawk, alert, focused. It’s reassuring, in a way, to see him like this, like he’s alive and has a purpose. “I once made promises to a boy named Dimitri, but I lost him when I lost my brother. I’ve never made any promises to crown or country.”
“You don’t have to promise loyalty to anyone or anything to not kill your friends and family. All you had to do was stay home and do nothing.”
“Stay home and behave? I’m not a dog to be kept on a leash. It was you that went and allied yourself with the church. You had no reason to. That Emperor would have come and gone without touching Fhirdiad if you hadn’t sheltered the church,” Felix sneers, as if it were that simple, as if the holy kingdom didn’t need to be holy.
“Your Emperor started a war when there was peace. I had to bring her to justice.”
“Justice? With you as the judge, jury, and executioner?” he snaps. He laughs unkindly at the thought. “That’s Faerghus justice, I suppose. You would’ve seen that there was no need for war if you weren’t so blind for revenge. You brought the whole Kingdom of Faerghus into war to kill one woman. Don’t tell me to stay home when you’re the one that’s gone mad.”
From outside, eavesdropping, Ashe yelled (in a tone that Dimitri had never heard from him), “Felix! You promised!”
“Hmph.” Felix looked away, downcast in something akin to surrender. “Whatever. That’s not what I wanted to talk about anyway.”
“We can still talk about it, if it’s on your mind,” Dimitri offers. It’s an earnest offer, even if he hopes Felix doesn’t take him up on it.
“Like you have anything to say.”
“Must I have anything to say? I can listen.”
“Then listen to this, boar,” Felix says, but he follows it up with nothing but silence and lips pursed in thought.
Dimitri waits. He’s a king with countless different tasks to handle, but none of them are more important than repairing what he has left, if anything, with Felix.
“You said I broke Mercedes’ arm,” Felix says at last. “I didn’t. I told you I didn’t.”
That is a terribly minute detail to bother coming all this way to correct. It’s so small, it’s almost comforting since it’s the least of Dimitri’s worries. “I’m sorry, it appeared to be a severe injury, so I assumed--”
“I never saw her, boar, not in Fhirdiad.” Felix sounds exhausted. “I saw her on the plains of Tailtean. She was to the north, doing whatever it is that healers do. I didn’t recognize her at first, with her hair cut short.”
“...She was deployed in the northwestern fortresses, yes,” Dimitri replies.
Felix watches him, less like a predator and more like prey. He’s as wary of what might come next as Dimitrin is. “Boar,” he says carefully, as one might when one is helpless and chained, and perhaps that caution was enough for Dimitri to know. He feels a chill before Felix says, “Mercedes is dead.”
...He wonders if a part of him already knew. He wonders if that’s why he doesn’t feel surprised at all. Mostly, he only feels ashamed at himself. He should’ve been mourning and paying his respects, not clinging to what could have--should have--been.
Dimitri doesn’t respond. He knows that Felix has no reason to lie to him, and he knows Ashe can hear them through the door--and there was no sound, no protest from Ashe.
“You can ask the physicians if you think I’m lying--”
“I believe you. I have no reason not to.” Dimitri collects himself, gathers his bearings with the posture and poise of whatever it is that he’s supposed to be: someone respectable, someone worth following. Dimitri smiles, without much warmth, but in a manner that he hopes is calm and ideally calming. “Is there anything else you’d like me to say?”
Felix frowns. “You used to show me your true face.”
“I did. I recall that you didn’t like it very much.” It’d been a long time ago. Gently, as a reminder, Dimitri says, “I was a boy then. I am a king now.”
“I didn’t like it--I still don’t like it--because it worries me,” Felix answers. He tries to stand, but the chain doesn’t let him go far, so he sits back down. It’s not like there’s anywhere for him to go. "You are doing far worse than I had thought. You shouldn’t have accepted that crown. You’re not fit for it.”
“And who shall I pass the crown to?” Dimitri asks, still wearing his king-face rather than the other one. “Fódlan needs a leader. It doesn’t have to be me, but it has to be someone.”
Felix doesn’t have an answer to that. A part of Dimitri wishes Felix would say something sharp, something biting, words that would wound, but instead there’s only silence.
“Well then,” Dimitri says, “let me know if there’s anyone you have in mind. The sooner, the better.”
He goes back to his door, and Ashe is still standing outside, leaning against the doorframe and listening rather intently. Ashe has to catch his balance as the door swings away from him.
“Ashe, do you know where the guest wing is?” Dimitri asks.
Ashe looks at Dimitri like the Professor just sprang a pop quiz onto him, and all the answers were in his textbook rather than in his head. “I’m sorry, but I’m afraid not, Your Majesty.”
Did no one ever bother showing Ashe around the castle? Should Dimitri have been the one to show Ashe around his castle? Dimitri begins to realize the number of tasks he’d let slip, tasks that he should’ve prioritized for the people that were still with him.
“There’s nothing to be sorry about. Felix should know where his own bedroom is, but it’s essentially left from here, and then down towards the ballroom.” It’s plain to see that Ashe doesn’t know where the ballroom is either. “Westwards.”
From behind him, he hears Felix say, “You want to chain me to a different wall?”
“Yes, unless you’ve grown fond of your prison cell.” Before Felix can say anything else, Dimitri adds, “We shouldn’t have Ashe running from the kitchens to the prisons three times a day. It’s much too troublesome.”
With as much grace as he can muster--he’s fine, he’s been better, but he’s fine--Dimitri ushers them out. He checks again that Ashe knows where he’s going, gives clear permission for Ashe to visit him whenever he wants, and then he closes the door.
He waits until he hears their footsteps fade into the distance, westwards, and only then does he sink to the ground.
So he thinks you’re crazy because you are, but hey, that went pretty well, don’t you think? Glenn asks through a veil of easy laughter.
“Go away,” he says, but it’s more of a wish than an order.
I can, but you sure you want that? If I go away, you might end up with your father instead. Avenge us! Kill them all! Let them burn, or something like that.
Dimitri grabs the closest thing, a porcelain vase, and hurls it at Glenn. Glenn does nothing but raise a perfectly groomed eyebrow as the vase flies through him. It shatters uselessly. All Dimitri’s done is made a mess for the castle help. He’s going to need to clean that up. His trouble shouldn’t trouble anyone else.
He needs to be better than this. He must become better than this, or Fódlan deserves a better king.
He’s dreaming. Dimitri's not sure if it’s better or worse that he knows he’s dreaming.
The Tailtean Plains are exactly as he remembers them. The skies are grey, the fields are dark, and Edelgard’s army draws ever closer, cutting down his troops like a child toppling toy soldiers. (He shouldn’t have waited in the north, he sees now. He should’ve led his battalion south and fought her much earlier--he could’ve ended the entire battle so much earlier.)
The rain pours down like it’s the end of days, but at least the rain meant that there would be no fire.
He holds the northern fortress, safe enough for the time being. A short distance away, Sylvain and Dedue speak to each other for the last time, moments before Sylvain mounts up to cross the river with his cavalry.
“No,” Dimitri says, not loudly enough for anyone to hear. “Sylvain!” he yells and begins to run after him, but he’s caught by the arm and being dragged back to the safety of his fortress. He whirls--
“You’re supposed to stay here, Your Majesty,” Ingrid says, still not letting go of him. She looks exactly the same as the day she left for Arianrhod, except she never came back.
“Ingrid? What are you doing here? You weren’t at Tailtean,” he says, as if facts mattered in a dream.
Reality clearly doesn’t bind her anymore, though Ingrid answers anyway. “Well, you’re here, so… I got back up and came over here. Where else am I supposed to be?”
Dead, she’s supposed to be dead. “Anywhere except my dreams,” Dimitri answers. “Where were you before? Just… go back to where you were before. I’m sure it was a lovely place, you should go back there.”
“I don’t remember where I was anymore.” A bit critically, Ingrid adds, “I’m sure it was a very lonely place, Your Majesty. I don’t think there was anyone there except me.”
In the distance, he sees the eerie orange and yellow light of the Lance of Ruin fall to the ground--out of sight, gone. Ingrid’s grip on him tightens, and when she lets go, it’s only so she can hug him like she had when they were children, huddled against the coldest winters.
They watch Dedue transform, and then they don’t watch, they look away as a stone crest beast falls to the ground, defeated. Dedue wasn’t the last friend he had to mourn. In the far north, Dimitri sees--he remembers, too clearly--Mercedes venture too close to the invading army. She falls to a hail of arrows, and she doesn’t get back up.
Dimitri searches for a reason for all their deaths--why did they die, why did they have to die? But there is no reason, not unless the reason is him: they died for his war, for his revenge.
The rain lets up. It stops, the storm recedes too quickly into the distance. Gone, as if it never were.
“You should leave,” Dimitri says softly but urgently as a blistering heat surrounds them, “All my dreams end the same way, in the same place. You must leave before then.”
“What do you mean?” Ingrid asks, but she doesn’t have to wait long to find out.
The ground beneath him bursts into flame, and a fire overtakes the entire Tailtean Plains until they’re in a different place entirely.
The fire roars with a permanence, the unending, unquestionable flames. It will never cease, not for him. Not for the first time, Dimitri wonders what the difference is between the Duscur of his memories and the Eternal Flames.
Tailtean fades from his consciousness, replaced by Duscur, but the corpses remain. Somehow alive again, they burn: Sylvain, Dedue, Mercedes, all the people he couldn’t save--all the people that he hadn’t even thought to save, people he’d lost chasing his revenge. (And for what? A heavy crown and a crumbling empire?)
The flames catch at Ingrid’s feet, and then at her cape. She examines her own hand as her skin begins to blister and bubble. It takes a moment before she registers the pain. When she does, she bites back a scream.
“Ingrid! Ingrid, wherever you were before you found me, go back there. Turn around, go back, Ingrid, please.” Dimitri isn’t one to beg, but this is worth begging for.
“What?” she asks incredulously. “No, Your Majesty! I can’t go anywhere else, and I don’t want to. I followed you here. This is where your path led me.”
She puts on a strong face, the only face he’d seen from her since the war began, but her skin begins to char and then to slough off in sheafs of ashes. She looks like Glenn had, with his flesh blistered off until there was only yellow bone.
“Don’t worry, Your Majesty.” Ingrid smiles, but smiles look different when they come from a grinning skull. “Death isn’t sad, not… really…”
The fire claims her, whether it’s the fire at Duscur or the Eternal Flames, Dimitri no longer knows.
Dimitri stumbles away, he tries to cover his ears as he did when he was twelve, but there’s nothing to be done. Ingrid’s screams are as clear as her voice, hers and the others too.
Over the screams, over the roar of the flames, he hears his father’s last words from all directions. It’s almost a welcome reprieve. “Tear them apart! Destroy them all! Set us free from our torment...”
Dimitri turns to meet his father face to face. He’s as he was in life, but burning and with his neck spurting blood. His head is severed but not yet fallen. His father reaches for him, seizes him by the arm--his grip is like steel, like death. “You can free us! You can save us all!”
“I already killed Edelgard!” Dimitri yells back, with less respect than ever before. “What more do you want from me, Father? When does your torment end? When does your war end?”
“When they’re all dead,” his father answers, “when they cannot harm anyone, ever again. Then our suffering ends.”
“I’m not doing to Adrestia what we did to Duscur,” Dimitri snaps.
Dimitri shoves his father back into the fire. He watches his father’s head slide off, his flesh melting, his blood boiling, his bones becoming cinders, and then what remains is only ashes and the stench of death.
He wakes. His pulse races, his heartbeat sounds like rainfall, and Dimitri tries to breathe. He gets out of bed--normally, like anyone might after a poor night’s sleep. This is normal for him. He knows it shouldn’t be.
His bedroom is dark. The braziers are out, the fireplace is unused, but he doesn’t need light to navigate his own castle. He throws on his cape and leaves his room. He heads left, generally, and then westwards towards the ballroom.
The door to Felix’s room is unlocked. Dimitri opens it as quietly as he can with his heart racing, with the dreams of fire still blisteringly hot against his skin. He breathes easier when he sees a figure sleeping on the bed.
He closes the door. Without much dignity--but there’s no one here, he doesn’t care much at all if there’s no one to see--Dimitri sinks to the ground, his back to the door that separates him from Felix. He tries to breathe, deep, slow breathes. He dares the fire that he fears to subside.
Mercedes appears, stepping out of the darkness to stand decide him. “He is very cute when he’s sleeping, but you’ve come a rather long way just to flop onto the floor, Dimitri,” she chides. “You have your own bed for that.”
“I know. It’s… unnecessary, and it’s foolish even,” he replies. His voice stays steady against all odds. It’s a force of habit and of practice. “I only wanted to see that he was here.”
“Is seeing enough to prove that he’s alive?” She smiles sadly at him. You can see me, after all.
“It’s not, but how am I supposed to go through the rest of my life wondering who lives and who lingers?” Dimitri asks, but he doesn’t expect an answer. Some questions don’t have answers. “I have to trust something. I’ll trust that he’s here.”
That makes one of us, Mercedes replies. She smiles, and it’s too good to be true, too warm, too kind--and yet that’s how she always was in life. I think you’re right, Dimitri. He didn’t follow you, so… he’s here. That seems logical enough, doesn’t it?
Dimitri laughs bitterly to himself, to perhaps to her, which isn’t so different from laughing to himself. “You always have the right thing to say, Mercedes,” Dimitri says. “Can I trust you?”
She looks away, but then she looks back to him, every inch the woman he remembers. Only as much as you can trust yourself. Can you trust yourself, Dimitri? If not today, then someday?
“It’s hard to imagine,” he admits.
We’ll work on it, Mercedes decides for the both of them, or perhaps he decides for himself. He’s not sure how to tell the difference anymore. Someday.
On the other side of the door, Felix lingers with his hand on the door, one twist of a knob away from opening it. He’s not sure what gives him pause.
Whatever he thinks, he thinks better of it.
Felix steps away from the door, and he returns to bed. The boar king can take care of himself.