“I have buried you in every place I’ve been. You keep ending up in my shaking hands.”
— Bon Iver, a song for a lover of long time ago.
The last stone set in place, a marker for the lost, and for the dead.
“He died a true hero, in glorious service to the king,” Rodrigue says again. Felix hates it, hates that Rodrigue keeps saying it. What use is it to die for something or someone?
Felix had seen the corpse. It was not glorious. It had been bloody and broken and a complete mockery of any kind of nobility. That was no hero, he thinks. That was his brother, now lost to him.
The wind picks up and whistles through the cracks of the cairn—a requiem, a dirge, singing for all their losses.
His first real battle comes in the form of putting down the rebellion at Duscur. He goes and he kills his first man, learns what it feels like to hold a sword slick with blood. He wonders if it was the same for Glenn, or if it was worse.
He knows Dimitri is here, though he hasn’t yet seen him. But he is unmissable on the battlefield now, leading the charge. Felix is fearful at first, then he is horrified.
Dimitri goes forth, all his years of training and brute strength now unleashed. Felix watches the way he fights and feels something inside recoil, afraid and frightened. He cannot afford distraction on a battlefield, and yet he cannot tear his eyes away from the savage way Dimitri swings his lance, breaks it then goes forth with his bare fists as if he were an animal, not a man.
That was not Dimitri, or at least not a Dimitri that Felix knew. Or perhaps, he never knew Dimitri at all.
He dreams, some nights. Dreams of Glenn on a battlefield, on that stallion he had broken himself when he was fourteen, laughing as the horse had tried to throw him off while Felix fretted from behind the safety of the fence. Dreams of Glenn like someone in those paintings that adorn the halls of Garreg Mach, glorious and lance held high aloft, the very picture of a perfect knight. But when he looks closer, there is blood streaming down the side of Glenn’s face, his features twisted in pain, arrows protruding from his chestplate.
Sometimes, he makes it to Glenn’s side, where he can shake Glenn and say don’t you dare, Glenn, don’t you dare die on me—
But it doesn’t matter, when he rises in the morning only to bury Glenn again. Layer reality over dreams, truth over fear, practicality over sentiment. Press it all down, until he can breathe without shuddering, without feeling like something inside him will collapse.
On mornings like these, he takes to the training grounds as soon as he can, hacking away with a wooden sword until all the straw is beaten out of the dummy. Sometimes Ingrid joins him, sometimes Sylvain does, but he doesn't think they understand what is it that drives him. What would they know, when they have seen nothing? What can they say to soothe away these dreams that cling, when they themselves believe in glorious deaths?
He will not die like that. There is no glory in death, and he is not a hero.
Felix doesn't believe in much, at all. His faith is in the swing of his sword arm, the sharpness of his blade, the muscle memory that keeps him alive. It kept him alive as a squire on the front lines of a rebellion, and it is keeping him alive now in a war that has broken out.
He might not believe in chivalry and knighthood anymore, but he believes in protecting the people he loves, few as they are now. He may not be able to stand the sight of his father anymore, but he still doesn't want to see the old man die. He’s not quite ready yet.
Felix has seen entirely too much death for his age, and dealt out just as much with his own hands. But on a battlefield on the edges of the only home he has ever known or acknowledged, he thinks maybe he can understand what Dimitri had felt in that battle, when everything seemed tipped on a scale. There is no room for hesitation, no room for kindness or mercy, no room for fear.
He thought he’d learned this in Garreg Mach already, during missions, under Byleth’s tutelage. But that had never really prepared him for this, when battles drag on for days and it is skirmish after skirmish after skirmish, his arms sore from lifting his sword over and over. Byleth had stepped in so many times, the only thing that stood between them and death.
But he learned other things in Garreg Mach, and more than a few tricks that will help him live, keep him alive. Especially when he is surrounded by men, all ready to kill him and hang his body from the parapets.
He raises his arm and calls for the lightning.
When the news comes, Felix cannot believe it. Nothing should be able to kill Dimitri, who had ever been stronger than him, always ready to stand in defense of those who could not defend themselves. But the odds were stacked against him, and Felix had already been half-sure none of them would survive this war.
His father doesn't believe it, but Felix has ever been more practical, more realistic. More cynical and much harder, wearier, more inclined to believe the bad news than the good.
When they were children, he’d been the sweet one, the idealistic one. Prone to crying for others as much as himself, always needing someone else to take his hand and encourage him to be braver, to be stronger.
It used to be Dimitri who did that for him, who would sit by his side patiently until Felix stopped crying, until he was ready to face the world in all its beautiful cruelty. He would hold out a hand, and Felix would cling to him and sob as Dimitri told him it’s okay, Felix. Until he’d stopped crying and was brave enough, because Dimitri had been brave.
But they can't go back now. It is too late for them to go back.
If they could, then he would take Dimitri’s hand again, that is ever outstretched to him, waiting, hoping.
But he can’t, so he runs.
Garreg Mach is nothing like he remembers, and still somehow exactly the same. He walks the halls and ghosts from the past greet him, the walls whispering the same doubts that plague him now.
He doesn’t know if he believes they will survive, or if the war will change just because Byleth has reappeared. He doesn’t know what is it that brought him back here now, at this time when they are striking out once more, but he knows an extra sword would not go amiss.
It is only that he is uncertain again, unsure of what he fights for. He has turned his back on the kingdom, on his father. Ingrid does not need or want his protection, and Sylvain is a fool who cares little for his life or the lack.
But Garreg Mach makes him question once more all the things he knew, test them against what he sees and knows now. He has no answer for all these questions, especially not under Byleth’s patient but too-knowing gaze.
When he looks at his reflection, catches sight of it in passing, he can see the very thing he used to condemn Dimitri for. If he pauses to study it, he thinks he can see Dimitri reflected in his eyes, that same look of bloodlust and anger. Just beneath the surface—lost, afraid, baying for the blood of those who fought against him, who had hurt him.
He hadn't understood then, and he is only beginning to understand now. Perhaps he had been too cruel, too hard and unforgiving, too judgmental of Dimitri.
In this place where they had been briefly young, Felix feels the pangs of regret.
But Dimitri is lost to him, and Felix has a different path to follow now.
The dead do not need his apologies.
At Gronder, he sees Edelgard for the first time since the war started. She is immovable, unbending as she surveys them from the top of the hill.
At Gronder, he sees Dimitri and feels something in his chest twist, raw and angry and fearful. Felix cannot see his face, but he knows the set of those shoulders so well, how they are now buckling, breaking from all the weight he is carrying.
But Felix had made his choices.
Now, he has to live with them.
He doesn't know how to live with them.
There is the guilt, the kind that makes him grip his sword harder, his lips set themselves into a grim line, push and push until his arms are screaming, his legs are shaking, until he can collapse in bed and hope for a night without dreams.
But the dreams come, they always do.
Some nights it is Glenn, who asks him what is it he fights for. Other nights it his father, who is disappointed that he had chosen to run, to leave everything behind.
Tonight, it is Dimitri, waiting for him in his mother’s rose garden. They are younger, still children, still unmarked by the tragedies that will come to define them, reshape them into people neither of them can recognise.
Dimitri has his hand held out to Felix, like he used to have, always pausing to wait for Felix. And Felix used to take it without a second thought, grateful that someone else would wait for him when Sylvain and Glenn were always tumbling ahead of them, never wanting to wait or look back.
But he hesitates now, and watches Dimitri's face crumple. When he looks again, there's blood smeared across Dimitri's face, his gaze is empty and blank, and Felix cannot help but feel he has lost everything again.
The fire crackles and spits. He'd found Ingrid building it, her face pale and drawn. He didn't have to ask, just helped her as they took broken desks and broke them down, until they had big enough a pile of wood. He thinks they are missing so many things now, a far cry from when they had done this for Glenn.
But perhaps this is worse, because it is Dimitri now, and there is so little they have to offer.
Dimitri. The name feels so strange on his lips, the shape of it foreign and familiar. He's spent so long not saying it that he doesn't know how to say it anymore. But it comes out heavy with regret now, and Ingrid looks at him with such compassionate eyes he has to look away.
Still, she reaches her hand out to take his, holding tightly and not letting go. She doesn't say anything else; her own regrets must weigh on heavy as her as his does.
They have both failed in this. Failed Dimitri, failed themselves, failed their names. Ingrid must feel it even more keenly, with her aspirations towards knighthood when Felix had cast those aside. There is a quiet, persistent ache in his chest, one that could be absolutely devastating if he let it be.
Sylvain joins them later with a few bottles of wine, looks at their joined hands and sits on Ingrid's other side, takes her hand in his own. They do not sing, they do not talk. They watch the fire burn and they wait as the night gets colder, each lost in their thoughts and losses and grief.
For now they are quiet, they are together, holding onto the last remnants of their tattered childhood as it burns with this makeshift pyre.
Here is what Felix knows of choices: that there never really is the right one.
If he had stayed in Fraldarius and followed Dimitri, maybe he could have saved him. More likely, he would have died on Gronder Field with Dimitri, watched Dimitri die and felt like he had failed again, failed to protect Dimitri from Edelgard, from himself.
Perhaps that would have been better than to live now with all these regrets, and the knowledge that he had turned his back when Dimitri had needed him most.
If he had been kinder. If he had been less cruel. If he had been more forgiving.
They take Enbarr and he wonders about Fhirdiad, about the capital that had been almost a second home to him. They will not be going there, he thinks. Margrave Gautier or his father will take the city, or someone else will. But it will no longer be the Empire’s, even if there is no longer a kingdom for it to be the capital of.
He dreams again of Dimitri, the shining prince cracking under the weight of a kingdom not yet his, ghosts dogging his every step, a trail of blood behind him. The cathedral of Garreg Mach is in ruins behind him, and yet Felix could swear they are on the balcony of Dimitri’s rooms in Fhirdiad.
Felix wonders how is it he didn't see, before. Dimitri had been fracturing long before they had come to the Officer's Academy, long before they had met Byleth or Edelgard or learned the truth behind the Tragedy of Duscur. Felix can fight, call in tribute for his dead, name it vengeance for his losses, but what penance can he do for this?
“It's not your fault, Felix.” Dimitri is calm, his gaze on the cathedral in the distance.
Felix wants to protest this. He can point out so many ways he could have done better, tried harder. Or had just simply been there, been Dimitri's friend, like he had promised he would always be.
“There wasn't anything that anyone could have done,” Dimitri says, his smile sad, almost kind. Felix cannot understand it, how Dimitri can find it in himself to be so kind sometimes, so tender hearted as to think of someone else’s pain before his.
The only time he had put himself first, Felix had condemned him and never forgiven him.
Felix wakes up with an apology on his lips, half spoken, half real, and entirely, unquestionably too late.
In another life, he tells Dimitri that he shouldn't keep stringing gravestones around his neck.
In another life, he watches Dimitri fight his ghosts and win, watches Dimitri come back into something he knows, that he can accept, even though really, it never should have been about him at all.
In another life, he stays by Dimitri's side until the end, like he promised. They all do, and they watch Dimitri become the king he always would have been, the kind of king that goes down in legends for all the right reasons. Valour in battle, wisdom in governance, fairness in rule, kindness with people.
In another life, but not this one.
“What will you do, after?” Ingrid’s voice is soft, almost careful. She is leaning against Felix, and he allows it only because it is her, only because he is tired too, only because he is feeling increasingly adrift as they uncover secret after secret, marching across Fódlan with little care for the exhaustion that is sinking in.
Leave, he thinks. There is no place for him here, in this new world that Byleth and Claude talk about. Felix isn’t sure why he is still here, if he is entirely honest. An extra sword is all good and well, but Agarthans? Nemesis? Ancient feuds and dragons? The goddess? All of it goes above his head and Felix doesn’t care nearly enough to ask for more than what they hear during briefings.
“I don’t know.” he says, after the question hangs too long. She gives him a long look, and whatever she sees makes her face twist in concern, take his hand in hers and squeeze it.
“Oh, Felix.” He scowls at her, but she shakes her head at him.
“There is always a place for you with me and mine, if you wish for it.” Ingrid’s smile is sad. She kisses him on the cheek, and he thinks that they had been so close to being siblings, how Ingrid treats him as something irreplaceable still, even when he has been unkind to her. He slides an arm around her, leans into her as much as she is leaning into him. She fits herself against him, until they are both comfortable tucked against each other, a solid reminder that they are still here somehow.
It makes him think of days when the four of them had lived in each others’ pockets, when his mother would find them in the gardens all played out and collapsed on each other, giggling and sleepy and content to lie on top of each other. How she had to hustle them inside, or how Glenn might sometimes come and drape his cloak over all four of them, prompting protests while he laughed and tried to nudge them inside.
How young they had been, and how old they are now.
He catches her hand briefly, when she stands to retire for the night.
“Thank you,” he says. And she smiles at him.
“Always,” she says, another promise of their childhood.
You can only hate someone as much as you loved them, and Felix has swung between both extremes with Glenn, with his father, and now with Dimitri.
Felix thinks that solitude would have been better. Better to never know, than to know and lose and feel the shape of an absence, find ways to fold yourself around it so it gapes less, hurts less. Better to keep moving, so you cannot pause to remember what it feels like, or think of what it could feel like.
It doesn't even matter in the end, when his ghosts haunt his dreams, when he feels like he has lost all purpose with the absence of someone or something to fight. Where does all the anger go? All his grief in the arc of his sword, in the rumble of thunder he summons just because he can.
It feels so pointless to be here still, when there is no more need for an extra sword, when they are building governments, not tearing kingdoms down. It has never been Felix’s forte, and there's nothing for him even if he were to head back to what used to be the Holy Kingdom.
Only a cairn, a marker for the lost, and for the dead.
So he leaves Garreg Mach again. He turns his back on everything he once called home, and sets off with nothing but his blades.
His ghosts whisper, and follow him.
Stone walls, tapestries, the curtains fluttering at the window. He’s in his childhood bedroom again.
Dimitri is a child here, clear-eyed and too knowing. He is even younger than in the other dreams, perched atop a chair that seems vaguely familiar. His head tilts as he regards Felix, expression faintly curious.
Felix can feel the guilt clawing at him, undeniable, irrational. He can't run from it, not here. He failed his best friend, he had let Dimitri die and done nothing about it. He may as well have lifted his sword against Dimitri and killed him, and he shudders to remember all the times he very nearly had.
“Felix,” Dimitri says, gentle and kind, the way he had always been. “It's okay, Felix.”
It's a familiar refrain from their childhood, now repeated as he stands here, clothes bloody but blades bloodier.
He is the monster in this story, he thinks. But Dimitri is unafraid of him, whereas Felix had flinched and recoiled, then lashed out and never stopped.
“Felix.” Glenn’s voice, behind him. He’s not much taller than Felix is, so different from what Felix remembers before he had ridden out for Duscur. But his hands are calloused and rough against Felix’s face, his touch surprisingly gentle.
“It’s alright, Felix. There’s nothing to cry about,” Glenn says, comforting, soothing. But there is. There is so much to cry for, if he can find the tears, if he dares to pause a moment and let all his grief catch up to him.
Much as he might like to pretend sometimes, he does have feelings, and they're terrible when they press down like this from all sides, when his regrets look him in the face with a kindness and compassion he has never afforded them.
He wakes up gasping, choking, unable to breathe.
He only ever goes back once.
The house is as he remembers, even though it is no longer his home; he'd lost that right when he'd decided he wasn't ever coming back. But then, he's not really here for the house or its inhabitants.
Instead, he heads further north to the hill that rises above the house, where the trail is now overgrown and almost lost.
They had played here, as children. Felix hasn't been a child in so long now, he can't quite remember what it was like anymore. But there are things that linger still, old ghosts that follow him and refuse to be buried, even if he lays them to rest any chance he gets.
No flowers, no gifts. Only stones growing mossy as the years pass, but still rising above as a marker for the lost, and for the dead.
He is not sure which he is, when he reaches out to touch the damp stones, the cold seeping in through his gloves.
Felix has broken so many promises, what more this last one about dying together?
If Felix is honest, he would say he’s surprised he lived this long. He has lived a war he hadn't expected to survive, has killed and nearly been killed so many times he cannot count. If he’s honest, he has been throwing himself into foolhardy battles with all the odds stacked against him, whether to prove something or simply because he doesn't care anymore.
He has the scars to prove it, from reckless fighting and patching himself up, from when the thunder crackles through him as much as his enemies. Ingrid would call him reckless and thoughtless, Sylvain might dance around the issue or straight-up say suicidal, and Felix would be unable to deny either accusation.
By the grace of their no longer absent goddess, he hasn’t died yet. But Byleth cannot save him when he is being ambushed like this, when he has brought this upon himself, in more ways than one.
He raises his arm and calls for thunder again, unseeing as it arcs from man to man. He wonders what his father would say if he could see Felix now. Would he would dub this glorious, the way he had Glenn’s death? Would he say Felix is dying a true hero, in defense of someone else?
But then, Felix has turned his back on everything he has ever known. There is no glory for him, no honour to be had. He is not a hero, he is not dying a hero’s death.
If he closes his eyes, he can see them. Dimitri has his hand held out, an offering. Glenn’s smile is sad, even if he seems like he understands.
It makes him feel like a child again.
“Are you coming?” The question is gentle and undemanding, despite the outstretched hand.
“Do I have a choice?” Felix asks. It doesn't feel like much of one.
“You always have a choice,” Glenn says.
It makes him want to laugh, because all his choices have been the wrong ones. Fear. Disbelief. Anger. Cynicism. Cruelty. Choice after choice after choice, living with them and not living.
He looks at Dimitri’s hand again, at Glenn’s face. At his hands, scarred and callused, blood under the nails. Then he reaches out and puts his hand in Dimitri’s, lets his fingers curl around them and know that those hands would never hurt him.
Maybe this is again the wrong choice, but it will be the last one.