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endless night

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For the first time in ten years, Dimitri’s mind is clear. There’s nothing left to think about, no more distractions, no more misgivings. All that’s left is to live in this very moment--for revenge, for justice, for the dead to finally rest.

The Tailtean Plains has always been a fateful battlefield, its fields soaked in history and blood alike. Today is no different. To the eastern woods, Lady Seiros and her zealots ambush Edelgard’s army, daring her to challenge the archbishop herself. To the north, the Kingdom of Faerghus waits upon their fortresses, where they will make their last stand. From the south, the Emperor advances towards her destiny, if there is such a thing.

It’s a battlefield with all the horrors that come with it. Dimitri always knew that good men and women would fight and die in his name, but his heart shattered like glass for them nonetheless. He would mourn, but now is not the time. He can’t do anything for them now except accept their sacrifice--and repay it.

This is the time to avenge the fallen, once and for all.

Kill her, his father says, his voice as clear as the day he died. Rip her head from her shoulders, and feed her wretched body to the crows.

When Edelgard draws close enough for them to speak, Dimitri ignores his father and gives her one last chance--one more than she deserves. “Must you continue to conquer? Continue to kill?”

“I will not stop,” Edelgard answers, as he always knew she would. “There is nothing I would not sacrifice to cut a path to Fodlan's new dawn!”

If there had ever been a chance for peace between them, it was all those years ago, when they were children learning to dance, fumbling and honest. Now, they are Emperor and King, and they had spilled too much blood to ever be washed clean.

Dimitri raises Areadbhar aloft. “Enough of this madness! This future of yours is built upon a foundation of corpses and tears!”

What are you waiting for? Glenn demands, ten years' worth of fury seething from every word. She’s a monster, as much as you are. Finish it.

No more talk. They are fighters both, and the time for fighting has finally come to pass.

Her axe swing goes wide, but Areadbhar strikes first and strikes true. That’s all that matters in the end: which one of them could land the first blow. Both of them are too strong for any bout to last beyond that.

No one survives Atrocity.

The lance sinks into Edelgard’s neck. Her axe clatters to the ground. She breathes--so softly, a sound that he would never forget--and she speaks her last words: “My teacher… Leave me behind…”

But it’s too late for her teacher to leave her behind. Instead, it’s Edelgard that will join the Professor, only a few steps behind into the eternal flames.

 

-

 

He hears the crackling sound of flames, the screaming of the dying, the unbearable silence of the dead--it’s not real. Dimitri knows it’s not real. He hears their voices, still pleading to be put to rest, for vengeance, for blood and justice.

But this is Tailtean, not Duscur. There are no flames here. He shouldn’t be feeling the heat of the fire, nor should he be hearing the screaming and suffering. He already killed Edelgard, what more do they need?

Chase them down, Dimitri hears from the undying dead. Scatter their flesh and rend their bones to dust. They’re all beasts--don’t let a single one escape.

He still hears them. He shouldn’t. It should be over. They should be gone now, he was so sure that once he had torn Edelgard’s head off her shoulders, that would be the end. His family and his friends that he lost would finally be able to pass on. He had been so sure. Not once in his life had he ever doubted that revenge would free them all.

He lowers his head, his hair falling into his face. With any luck, onlookers could assume that the King was simply mourning, a moment of silence as he surveys the wreckage. They don’t have to know how his pulse races, how his hands tremble under his gauntlets, how he still sees the fire and hears its fatal roar.

“Your Majesty--”

Dimitri startles out of his reverie. He flicks his spear to the ready--then lowers it as quickly as he can as a commander babbled apologies, her hands in the air, taking cautious steps back away from him.

“No, please. I’m the one that should apologize,” Dimitri says. He tries to smile as he did when he was younger to put people at ease, but the most he manages is a valiant effort. “Is something needed of me?”

“N-not precisely,” the commander stammers. Moving slowly, not unlike how one might handle a scared animal, she gestures towards the center of the plains, between the rivers. Where she goes, Dimitri follows.

She stops when they approached the bridge, but Dimitri keeps going. He’s already seen what she wants him to. Her guidance is no longer needed. He knows where to go, although he doesn’t know what to do.

In the distance, a swordsman cradles the body of a fallen paladin. That the figure is merely silhouette in the distance doesn’t matter. Dimitri knows him--as a friend, an enemy, and the only person from his childhood that’s managed to avoid an early death. It’s anyone’s guess whether that’s a miracle or a curse.

“...Felix,” Dimitri says when Felix doesn’t see him. When Felix looks up, responding to his own name, Dimitri’s fairly sure that he still doesn’t see him--he only sees a beast, a boar king.

Dimitri levels no accusations at him. He doesn’t have to, not while Felix holds Sylvain’s lifeless body in his arms. His sword lies discarded, and Sylvain’s wounds tell the rest of the story. The Lance of Ruin lies on the ground too, broken. There’s too much blood for it to be only Sylvain’s.

“I said I'd cut down anyone who stood in my way. Even my father.” Felix’s voice wavers and drops low, almost too low to hear. “Even my friends.”

Rip his heart out. He doesn’t need it anymore, his father commands him.

Dimitri waits until he hears Glenn speak. Look at him--he’s wounded. He’s dying, Glenn finally says, and he’s right. Put him down. It’d be a mercy.

“I see,” Dimitri replies. “That was all I needed to hear to finally work up the resolve to kill you.”

That’s what he says, but his spear arm falters. Areadbhar remains in his hand as he searches for the will to wield it again--and for all his searching, he finds nothing. He can’t go through with this. He’s already lost too many people. He’s said his prayers over Dedue, and now he will for Sylvain too. He’s already sent Ingrid’s body home to her father. He doesn’t have anyone left.

The dead tell him he needs to kill. They demand justice.

For the first time in his life, Dimitri tells them, No.

Felix is easily subdued. He doesn’t defend himself at all--that would require him to let go of Sylvain, to have a hand free to find his sword and wield it. Dimitri’s not even sure he could’ve defended himself. He’s so pale, his eyes unfocused, his skin terribly cold. He collapses like a broken doll into Dimitri's arms, unconscious.

He must’ve expected death. He might even have wanted it, and that--that breaks whatever is left of Dimitri’s heart.

 

-

 

Dimitri calls on his royal healers and physicians to attend to Felix. It’d be more proper to entrust him into House Fraldarius’ care, but Dimitri prefers to keep him close, inseparable like when they were young. In part, he misses Felix. Mostly, he’s plenty aware that Felix is a handful, and if anyone has to deal with the burden of caring for him, it’d better be Dimitri himself.

That being said, Dimitri handles none of the actual caretaking. He would if Felix would allow it. Instead, the healers threw Dimitri out of the room in a matter of minutes. He “agitated” their patient, apparently, which Dimitri understands is a polite way to say that his presence alone made Felix’s condition worse.

So he waits outside, impatient. Glenn keeps him company, equally impatient. Should just kill him. What do you even think is going to happen? That after the war, you two would kiss and make up?

“I… thought we could talk and sort out our differences.” It sounds silly when he says it aloud. He frowns. “I also thought you’d be gone.”

Lovestruck puppy, Glenn says with disgust. Why would I be gone?

“Because Edelgard is dead. I didn't turn her into paste, but I can't have my soldiers see me doing that.”

She’s just the beginning.

Dimitri doesn’t respond because Mercedes chooses that moment to appear. Glenn may as well not exist anymore, the only person that matters right now is Mercedes and what news she brings about Felix.

“How is he?” he asks. His voice cracks in the most embarrassing of ways, but he doesn’t care--he just wants an answer.

She smiles and sits down next to Dimitri, tired but cheerful. “He’ll be fine. His wounds aren't too serious and will heal nicely. It's the blood loss that’s serious, but it won’t be a problem with all those bishops swarming him now. It’s good that you brought him to us when you did.”

“...Do you think I could go see him?”

Her smile freezes, not awkwardly because she’s never awkward, but it doesn’t bode well.

“I wouldn’t advise it,” she says as gentle as can be. She’s using the same bedside manner as she would for the bereaved. “He doesn’t seem very happy with you, Dimitri. Wait for him to be a bit better since he’s not very coherent anyway. Right now, I think a visit from you would make his day quite a lot worse.”

“Right,” Dimitri says, and he does what he can to not look like a kicked dog.

He must’ve looked pathetic, because Meredes pats him on the shoulder. “It won’t be so bad to wait a few days, Dimitri. You just won a war, after all. I know peace seems much less troublesome than war, but trust me, I'm sure there’ll be plenty for you to do while we give Felix all the time and space he needs to heal up.”

Dimitri sighs, resigned to doing whatever work Faerghus required of him. Even as he sulks, Glenn walks towards Felix’s door.

“Where are you going?” Dimitri asks.

Mercedes gives him a little shrug. “Wherever you go? Wherever needs help, I think.”

To watch over my rabid dog of a brother since you insist on prolonging his suffering, Glenn answers. See you around, King.

 

-

 

It takes days before Dimitri’s army returns to Fhirdiad. They’re capable of moving much sooner than they do, but instead they wait for any and all stragglers, combing the battlefield for survivors from both sides. Dimitri for his part spends his time alone, hidden away. The Tailtean Plains still smells like cinders and sounds like fire to him, so he takes reports from Mercedes and otherwise avoids leaving his tent. He hates to be a distant king, but he would hate it more if his people knew he was a mad king.

When he at last admits that there are no more survivors to be found, only then does he turn his army back to Fhirdiad, towards home.

Lady Seiros meets him at the gates of Fhirdiad. She must’ve been waiting for him.

“Your Majesty,” she greets. Her voice somehow sounds like she’s in a cathedral, echoing up into the rafters above, except they’re not in a cathedral. “Victory is ours. Yet you look as if you bear an even heavier burden than before.”

Dimitri wonders if he looks so haggard that Seiros would comment on it. “Five years of war, and the Empire cut all the way to Tailtean,” he replies. It’s almost a lament, and it’s certainly a disgrace. “My country is in shambles, Lady Seiros, there’s hardly anything to celebrate.”

“I know that an incursion so deep into Faerghus makes victory bittersweet, but it is victory nonetheless--an end to bloodshed with revenge justly delivered. Evil must be destroyed, good king, and the only regret we should have is that we could not have done it sooner.”

He looks away, but then he nods--he’s not going to argue with the archbishop, especially when he essentially agrees. He changes the topic, asking, “Did you find your mother?”

“Yes.” She smiles. She looks like a wolf after its been well fed. “But she is still lost to me, nevertheless. I can only pray that her soul may rest once more.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Thank you. I... have been told that you’ve lost those few loved ones that remained from your childhood.” She hesitates over her words, but she speaks with earnest empathy. He doesn’t know Seiros well, but he knows that the Holy Tomb is far too small to contain all her sorrows. “Know this, Your Majesty: I am sorry for your loss, and I thank you for all that you have sacrificed. Time cannot heal your grief--nothing can heal grief, it will strike you again and again--but time will give you the strength to move forward.”

It turns out he's not going to argue with the bishop, even if he disagrees. Instead, Dimitri replies with a small correction, “I have one friend left.”

“You speak of the Fraldarius boy.” She’s pleased by his surprise; word must travel fast, or at least it travels fast if you’re the archbishop. “Yes, your prisoner, I know of him. If he is still dear to you, then I pray you will find nothing but success rebuilding your friendship with him.”

Dimitri winces. Prisoner seems harsh, but he can’t argue against it. He tries to explain, “He’s only a prisoner because he tried to murder his way back to the Empire.”

Her gaze is withering with unspoken criticism. “For all my long life, I’ve never found the need to imprison my friends, Your Majesty. I am sorry to say this, but I fear he is only another loved one that you lost in this war.”

Then she relents, giving up her harsh truths. Seiros sighs and says, “Do not let my doubts deter you. We are at peace now, King. Now is the time for us to recover, for us to rebuild order from chaos, to usher in healing and a new future. If you wish to save his soul, then now is the time--perhaps it is even the only time.”

She's humoring him. They're all humoring him, the living and the dead. In the end, Dimitri doesn't mind. Every king in the history books had their own foolish endeavors. If Felix would be his, then there are more ignoble things to chase after than an old friend.

 

-

 

The only people that Dimitri allows to see Felix are a select few of House Fraldarius’ finest knights, those who hadn’t yet lost hope that their traitorous lord might return to them. And Glenn, if Glenn counts. He’d learned the hard way that Felix would lash out at anyone that came near, metaphorically and literally.

At first, Dimitri leaves Felix in the same room he’d had growing up in Fhirdiad, with a pair of guards watching at his door--particularly well armed attendants, he had imagined, people to fetch whatever he might need and keep pesky visitors away. By the first evening, he’d found the guards unconscious and concussed, Felix nowhere to be seen.

That’s why Felix’s new residence is a prison cell.

You,” Felix says when Dimitri entered, his hands bound behind his head. He regards Dimitri with unbridled loathing, but he tempers it with a dry smirk and a glint in his eye that looks a bit too much like the glint of cold steel. “You’re the last person I want to see.”

“Is there anyone that’d you’d actually like to see?” Dimitri asks, entirely too hopeful that there might be someone left that Felix doesn't hate.

“You mean among my father’s yes men? No. They’re all the same. If one more of them tells me I need to eat, I’ll roast them on a spit.”

He does need to eat though, Dimitri can't help but notice. Felix has always been slender, but Dimitri’s never seen him this thin or this pale, never this fragile. “They’re only worried about you, Felix, as am I.”

“You brought me to Fhirdiad in a cage. I’m also fucking chained here. I was better off without your worry.”

He’d be dead without Dimitri’s worry, and he’d be executed if the Fraldarius stalwarts ever lost hope of seeing the boy Felix had once been. He’s certain Felix knows this.

“The cage was because you kept trying to fight your way free despite your wounds. The chains are because you fractured Mercedes’ arm when she tried to heal you. If you weren’t so violent, Felix, I’d be happy to let you accompany me wherever.”

“If I’m going to have to deal with you all day, then I’d rather be here.” A pause and then he rolls his eyes--it should be vaguely hurtful, but instead it’s nostalgic. “And I didn’t hurt Mercedes. Be serious.”

He could just make his apologies and leave. Dimitri’s aware that’s still an option, and it's probably his best option. It’s certainly the only wise option.

Dimitri's not sure how it's come down to this, him wearing a crown, and Felix wearing chains. All he needs is for Felix to not attack everyone in sight--is that really so much to ask? He knows peace isn’t so simple to obtain, but surely the time for swords is over. The war is over; the war is won. Yet everywhere Dimitri turns, he can’t tell the difference between victory and defeat.

He tries one more time, yet another olive branch, the last for today but there’ll be more to come. “Is there anything I can do to make this--” Dimitri gestures, this, everything, anything, “--easier for you?”

“Huh. Maybe you could unchain me.”

Well, that’s a terrible idea. There’s really no way to examine that idea without it coming up inconceivably stupid under every facet. Maybe that’s why Dimitri goes through with it, because he’s incapable of making good decisions--that, or maybe he’s just terrible at telling Felix no.

Dimitri takes the key hanging on the door and undoes the cuffs around Felix’s wrists.

You’re an idiot, kid, Glenn says, appearing out of nowhere. It’s not a warning, it’s too late for warnings. He’s just adding insult to injury.

Not even a second passes, and Dimitri sees that Felix is just as fast as he remembered--maybe even faster. No wonder Sylvain died.

Dimitri takes a fist to his chest--no wonder Sylvain died, and Felix was barely out of his deathbed, Goddess--but he catches the second fist with careless ease. Dimitri slams his entire body weight into Felix, toppling both of them to the stone floor. Felix struggles against him, but it’s not much use. Dimitri has always been stronger, and he’s fighting fit.

“The chains are going to have to stay,” Dimitri says, their bodies pressed close. It's both comfortable and uncomfortable that Dimitri knows he holds Felix's life in his hands. It feels right, and once he realizes it feels right, he feels wrong.

Crush his bones, he hears.

Rend him limb from limb, he hears.

Glenn laughs, and he hears that too.

Felix flushes pink, and Dimitri does too. He slaps the cuffs back into the place, but he keeps his weight on Felix until he's sure that Felix is bound. He’s plenty aware that if Felix slips free from under him, half his castle is likely forfeit. He knows because he’s been there; he knows that what that unquenchable bloodlust is like.

The chains clink into place, and Dimitri steps away. They both need a moment to catch their breath.

Dimitri murmurs sorry, then he repeats it again louder, “Sorry.” Goddess, he feels like he’s eight-years-old again and just broke Felix’s favorite sword for the fourth time.

For a while, he doesn’t get a response--he’s not sure why he thought he might get one--but then Felix asks, inflectionless, “Why don’t you just kill me and be done with it?”

“You’re all I have left,” Dimitri says, for once an easy question with an easy answer.

Felix laughs, a hateful sound seeping with disgust. “I am literally the reason you have no childhood friends left. I’ve seen what you do to your enemies, boar king. You gore them open until their insides are on their outsides, and you revel in it.”

“I do--I did--but you’re forgiven. I’m not going to hurt you except to make sure you’re not hurting anyone else.” It’s difficult to even be in Felix’s company like this, like spending time with a wild animal instead of a person. “I’m not going to hurt you, Felix.”

“Sure,” Felix replies, not believing a word or not wanting to believe. “Get out of my sight, boar. I’ve nothing left to say to you.”

Chapter Text

After all these years, Dimitri finds his own castle unfamiliar. He feels he doesn’t belong here or that he’s moving through someone else’s castle--his father’s castle.

He sits at his father’s desk, rifles through his father’s things, chooses one of his father’s quills, and then Dimitri begins to read one of the many reports left on his desk. He starts with the one on the top, and he realizes the whole stack in front of him is letters and letters from the lords and ladies across Fódlan. The Kingdom lords offered their congratulations, the Alliance lords their fealty, and the Empire’s lords offered anything from faint praise to thinly veiled threats.

The letters are a blur, though he pens a polite response to each, until one makes him pause. He reads it, then he reads it again.

Dear Margrave Gautier, he writes, and Dimitri doesn’t know where to go from there. Apologies feel empty, and promises feel emptier.

“Dimitri? Hello? Ahem.” A familiar voice, followed by a cough--Mercedes appears before him out of the darkness, and Dimitri must’ve been enthralled by his own calligraphy of all things for her to get right up to his desk without him noticing. “It’s so dark in here, Dimitri. A single candle to do all that reading? You’ll damage your eyesight.”

"Oh, I--” His last line turns into an inky blot. He notices that he is, in fact, sitting in the dark, squinting through candlelight at the papers before him. “Hello, Mercedes. I wasn't expecting you. I wasn’t expecting anyone, actually."

“Well, you did ask for any Felix-related updates to be delivered to you with all haste, so here I am. Good thing too. Someone should raise their voice at you until you get some more light in here.” She smiles, and her smile makes Dimitri worry. “Shall it be me?”

“No, no need. I’ll see to it.” Thoroughly chided, Dimitri gets up from his desk and begins lighting the braziers throughout his father’s office. “Is Felix—”

“He’s fine! You don’t need to look so terrified. He’s grumpy but quite healthy. He hasn’t tried to kill even one person today.” The way she makes it sound like such terrifically good news that Felix at least wasn’t murderous today somehow makes it even worse news.

“That’s… not the highest standard,” he replies. He’s careful with the fire as he lights the braziers along the wall. Both the heat and the sound are unsettling when he’s up close, but Mercedes is right. There’s no reason for him to read in the dark. He’s a grown man now, he should be able to tolerate this much.

“I’ve seen boys on better behavior, but this is a great deal better than nearly consumed by both his wounds and his rage, don’t you think?”

He’s prompted to agree, so Dimitri agrees. “You’re right. I should appreciate what progress we have.”

He doesn’t know what he expected to hear, let alone what he wants to hear. It would’ve been nice if Felix had asked after him, but Dimitri knows the chances of that were likely lost somewhere over the last five years.

“Is he eating?” The physicians had told him it’d been a problem. It isn’t that Felix was starving to spite him so much as he simply had little appetite, and no one could persuade him to do anything he didn’t want to do.

“Sometimes. It depends on who brings him food. He always does when it’s Annie, and he talks to Ashe but doesn’t always eat.”

Dimitri looks at the Margrave’s letter, reads through it again, though none of the words are a surprise the tenth time over, then he tells Mercedes, “I’ll have to talk to him soon.”

She takes a thoughtful, ominous pause. Very delicately, she suggests, “Perhaps a messenger would suffice?”

He wishes a messenger would suffice. “No. I don’t think that’d be very appropriate, unfortunately.”

Listening to her silence is worse than listening to the truth. After some deliberation, Mercedes finally says, “Then be kind to him, Dimitri--oh, you needn’t look at me like that. I know you know that already, but even so, be kind! It’s worth a reminder, especially if he picks a fight.”

He hopes Felix won’t, but it’s Felix. It’s a fair point. “Duly noted. Thank you, Mercedes.”

That's a dismissal, apparently, because Mercedes nods and then she's gone, departing with an encouraging, soothing smile and a little flourish of a wave. He hadn't meant it to send her away--it was a thank you, meant as a thank you--but he's king now and even his empty pleasantries hold a different meaning than they used to.

He adjusted well to being general-king, but to be simply king--it's a lot to get used to. For now he doesn't worry about it. Instead, Dimitri dips his father's quill into his father's inkwell.

Dear Margrave, he writes again on fresh parchment, and he wonders if “dear” is proper, if “margrave” is proper, if anything at all that he does is in fact proper.

He should talk to Felix before he writes this letter, Dimitri thinks, but it's possible he only believes that because it's a convenient excuse to delay writing it altogether.

In time, the braziers blow out, the light in his father’s office fading to near pitch dark but for the candle at his desk. Belatedly, Dimitri realizes that Mercedes must’ve forgotten to close the door on her way out.

Without anyone else around, he chooses to continue his work by candlelight, rather than to light the fires again.

He doesn't like the darkness more than anyone else does, but he fears the fire.

 

-

 

Glenn appears right outside of Felix’s cell, moments before Dimitri could open the door. Dimitri glances behind them, and there’s no one about. They're alone. Good. He knows there are whispers of him being a mad king, but he doesn't need anyone to witness it.

“Is there something you want?” Dimitri asks.

For you to see reason, King, Glenn says. He’s friendly in his bluntness, as he’s always been, but this time when Glenn looks at him, Dimitri wonders if this Glenn is still a friend, even in death. You should execute him. He’ll say it himself. His is a pitiful existence, as pitiful as yours, but he doesn’t have the responsibility of a crown. Let him go. Let him be free.

“He can be saved,” Dimitri says. He believes it. He has to.

Glenn grins, wolf-like. I didn’t say that he couldn’t. Maybe he can, but not by you. That’s all Glenn has to say, and he fades with his parting words, You’re no good for him, King.

Dimitri opens the prison door. Immediately, he sees that Felix is doing much better. There’s a bit of color in his skin, though he’s pale as ever and thinner than before. His wardens have kept his left foot chained, but his hands are free.

He’s reading--was reading, he stops when he sees Dimitri--though his “book” is really only sheaves of paper clamped together with a stylish hair clip. (Dimitri can’t help but wonder if someone had tried giving Felix an actual book, and if Felix had tried bludgeoning someone with it. He’d like to see that.)

“I thought I’d never see you again, boar,” Felix says in a relatively neutral tone, less scathing this time but more--he doesn’t know what. More something. Hurt, perhaps, though Dimitri can’t conceive of why. Dimitri hasn’t even said anything yet. “You must want something of me. I doubt it’s my company.”

“I’m sorry to bother you,” Dimitri says--as if five years of war had never passed, and he’s as naive and hopeful to repair their friendship as he was at the monastery. It’s foolish. He’s foolish, and this is foolish. He’s going to try anyway.

“You’re not bothering me. Do you think my days are terribly busy? Because they’re not,” he complains, which is refreshing in a way, nostalgic. "I haven't seen you in weeks."

“‘Weeks’ as in eight days?” Dimitri’s been counting the days, and when Felix flushes pink, he knows Felix has been counting too. “I’d welcome your company, Felix. I just don’t know if you’d behave--or that you wouldn’t try to run off again.”

Felix shrugs. “I’d rather you keep me on a leash than abandon me in a cage.”

“I’m not bringing you around with me like a pet.”

He smiles, and it sends a chill down Dimitri’s spine. “Do you think you’re not already keeping me here like a pet? You’re not a very good pet owner, you know. You should take me on a walk every now and then, if nothing else.”

If Felix wants to be let out, then Dimitri supposes that’s what he’s here to talk to him about. He hesitates before he asks, because Dimitri doesn’t know whether a yes or no from Felix would be worse.

“Margrave Gautier invited you to Sylvain’s funeral,” Dimitri says. “He specifically asked for you, he was quite clear about it. Would you like to attend?”

“For him to kill me on sight? If you asked a few days ago, I might’ve been all for it. But I’d rather stay in my cage than die, thanks all the same.” His smile fades--Dimitri’s misses it, even if it was far from comforting--and all that’s left is his exhaustion and, Dimitri might be imagining it, his concern. “If you want my execution, boar, then execute me. It’s what you do best. No need to rein yourself in for my sake.”

Dimitri silences his own high hopes, and he takes a moment to be a king. His gaze turns calm, cold, and he towers over Felix in a way that he didn’t back at the monastery. Felix hides his surprise well, but Dimitri can read his every expression, even after all these years. It’s the first time that Felix has met the boar king.

“I am not going to hurt you,” Dimitri states, resolute, his conviction unwavering. He’s heard enough of this from Glenn; he’s not hearing it from Felix too. “I’ve said that before, and I will say it as many times as you need to hear it--but I am not in the habit of repeating myself, Felix.”

“I remember what you said, boar,” Felix replies, a man without fear, or maybe just a man with nothing left to lose. “You lied--if not to me, then to yourself. You might wear a crown, but you’ll still have to bend for your people. The living are no different from the dead. They will want justice. They will want blood.”

Dimitri doesn’t care what the people want. He’s not that sort of king. “And what do you want?”

“To see your true face,” Felix responds. The chains clink as he moves, a reminder that Dimitri is out of his reach. “You, boar, walking around like a man--you’re not fooling me. I know what you are.”

“Am I so incapable of being human that you think this is all an act?”

“You have the gall to call yourself human? Unbelievable.” His gaze flickers away, but then it returns to Dimitri with a burning, like fire. “How many lives have you taken? How many sons and fathers, wives and daughters? Go find me a man that has killed as much as you, and tell me you haven’t found a monster.”

“You’re not a monster,” he says. “Not to me.”

Felix flinches, as if struck. The fire in him goes out, and what remains is a young man, wounded in more ways than one--and human, as much as anyone can be.

“You…" At a loss for words, Felix says softly, even gently, "You’re hopeless."

“You’re not,” Dimitri replies.

Felix regards Dimitri with equal parts disgust and disappointment. The chains clang as he turns away. "Leave me. Unless you have more friends of yours you'd like me to kill, I have nothing to offer you."

"I’m afraid you're the only friend I have left."

Felix laughs; it's as beautiful as it is unkind. Dimitri could still listen to the sound of it forever, but it stops, and Felix says, "Then you have no one left."

 

-

 

He returns to his father’s office, because there’s no end of work. It’s a sad state of affairs that visiting Felix even counts as something of a break. Despite Dimitri’s best efforts, there’s no end of documents to read and even more to write. It doesn’t seem to end; there’s articles of policy and taxes, petitions from commoners and nobles alike, papers and papers--he knows he can’t manage alone, but he doesn’t have anyone else.

He hears a single loud knock, and then the door swings open. Lady Seiros walks in, not quite like it’s her own castle, but she’s certainly been a guest of this castle for centuries past. It takes a moment for him to recognize her, because instead of her bishop robes or her armor, she’s wearing a simple dress and a traveler’s cloak.

“Hard at work, I see,” she says. She’s more conversational than before, though anyone seems more conversational when they’re not carrying around a sword and shield. “You’ll need to find yourself good help and soon or the paperwork will overwhelm you, Your Majesty. I struggle with the same, now that I am without Seteth’s aid.”

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Dimitri replies, perhaps too mechanically. He’s said that phrase too many times since the war began.

“And I for yours. It’s on that matter that I’m here: the matter of finding the living that can fill the vast emptiness left by the dead.” A silence lingers. She has something to say, and Dimitri can tell he won’t like to hear it; he’s had many such conversations with her by now. She assesses him, then Seiros says, “I am leaving Fódlan for a while. I cannot say exactly how long, but I believe it’ll only be two or three moons.”

The Empire has fallen, the Alliance weakened, Dagda bares its fangs, and Almyra would only nurse its wounds for so long. Dimitri stares at Seiros. “You’re what?”

Lady Seiros never apologizes, but she at least has the decency to look somewhat apologetic. “I’m taking a pilgrimage of sorts, Your Majesty, in hopes that I might rouse my oldest allies. I intend to travel to Lake Teutates, and then into Sreng.”

He looks down at the papers before him, then back up at her. “I was hoping you’d stay to reign over Fódlan.”

“No, Dimitri. I leave Fódlan in your capable hands.”

“Me? It should be you. You’ve led Fódlan for over a thousand years--yes, I know what you are. Seteth can’t protect all your forbidden books when he’s dead.” Dimitri allows himself to smile when Seiros scowls at him. “You needn’t be dismayed, my lady, I’ll keep your secrets safe, long may you reign.”

“I’ve guided Fódlan for a very long time,” Seiros admits. It’s some comfort that she doesn’t turn her wrath on him. Instead, she regards him more like a puppy that made a mess in the pantry, or in her library, such as it were. “And behold, king, where I’ve guided us to: chaos, destruction, and my mother is still dead, my people even fewer than they were before. No, the sins of the past are mine to claim, but the future lies with you, good king.”

“Killing an Emperor does not qualify me to become an Emperor.”

Nothing qualifies anyone but the Goddess to become an Emperor--not blood, not a crest, not any birthright. You will do what you deem wisest, what you deem best. That is the most any Emperor can do.”

“Surely, you don’t trust me to rule on my own, a lone king in the north? At least stay until the dust of war settles. I value your wisdom, and more than anything, your presence alone keeps our enemies at bay.” He doesn’t foresee problems with Fódlan, but when it came to Fódlan’s neighbors, the absence of the archbishop wouldn’t go unnoticed.

“I’ll be back soon enough,” Seiros says, gently but also a little exasperated.

“That’s what Rodrigue said.”

It’s not often that he’s seen Seiros falter, but this time she does. Her brow furrows in a way that’s terribly unlike her, with worry rather than with fury. She lingers on her thoughts for a moment before she replies, “There was a time once, when you would have said it is a lacking ruler that fails to trust those whom they rely on.”

“I--” She’s right, but that was a different time, and he was practically a different person.  “As you say, that was a long time ago, Lady Seiros.”

“It was. It was a time of peace, so very long ago now for you, I imagine. You were young then, and I was already old,” she says.

She stands--she’s done here, Dimitri can’t stop her from whatever she’s doing, though he can only hope she’ll move a little faster for his sake. “Your Majesty, I will return. I know what it is like to be left without your friends, your family, and with only the cold ruins of your nation. I will not leave you to that fate. I will return.”

Dimitri smiles--it’s half-hearted, but he tries. He was never fantastic at masks, and he’s only gotten worse as the years passed. “Of course you will,” he says, politely though unconvincingly. “I don’t doubt it.”

Like a holy woman, the archbishop that people had followed for millenia without question, Lady Seiros says, “I will prove to you then, Your Majesty, that the time has come for you to trust once more.”

 

-

 

Prison life is dull at best, made far duller ever since they’d taken away absolutely anything with any weight or with an edge.

Felix spends the rest of his day reading, only a few pages at a time, sometimes the same scene over and over again. These are the only pages remaining of Bernadetta’s novel, adventurers careening towards a happy ending--an ending that would never come to pass, not anymore.

He looks up when Ashe enters, carrying a tray of lovingly made dinner, a wide array of dishes that added up to more than one person could eat. Felix knows that Ashe is nothing short of an excellent chef, but the smell is nauseating.

“I told you not to bother cooking for me, Ashe. The problem isn’t the food,” Felix explains just as he had at lunch today, his meals yesterday, and all the days before. Nevertheless, he sets his reading aside when Ashe places the tray down in front of him.

“And I told you it’s not any trouble, really, it isn’t. I enjoy cooking, and I’d feel bad just bringing a loaf of bread every time. Besides, maybe this time, we’ll find something you like.” Ashe sits down against the far wall, a comfortable distance away from Felix.

Felix eats, because he knows that Ashe won’t leave until he’s at least tried a bite of everything. He knows this because Ashe spent a night sleeping on the stone floor at the other end of the cell from Felix when he’d been too stubborn to eat.

“I’m running out of recipes. You’ll probably start to see the same dishes again soon,” Ashe says conversationally, though it’s not like variety matters at all to Felix. “I wish I had someone to pester for new meals to try. Annette wrote down some of her recipes for me before she left for home, but if we still had Mercedes or De… Ah, well. Maybe it’d be different now if I were at Tailteann too, instead of Fhirdiad.”

A dozen different thoughts cross his mind. Felix starts by stating the obvious, what he deems important enough to say aloud in case Ashe needs to hear it, “There’s no reason to be ashamed of being in Fhirdiad instead of at Tailtean.”

“I know that. I do, it’s just--”

“What happened to Mercedes?” Felix asks.

Ashe blinks. He realizes Felix doesn’t know. The surprise on his face turns grim, and that’s all it takes for Felix to know. Ashe doesn’t need to answer, but he does anyway, “We lost her at Tailtean.”

“Ashe,” he says before he thinks. “I want to talk to the boar. Can you bring me to him?”

He’s complained time and time again about being locked up and hidden away, but this is the first time Felix expressed genuine interest in leaving his cell, in doing something and going somewhere. It’s the first time he isn’t simply waiting for his death.

“Do you mean talk or ‘talk’?” Ashe checks.

“Talk. The normal kind.”

“Okay,” Ashe agrees, though warily. He finds the key and takes a step closer before stepping away again. “Okay, but finish your food first, Felix.”

Ashe holds the key just out of reach, and Felix is armed with a child-safe wooden spoon. He glares at Ashe, but he picks up a bowl from the tray, and he eats.

It’s the first full meal he’s had since the war ended, since peace began.

Chapter Text

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.