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“You’ve been loyal,” Edelgard says, and it’s not the compliment Sylvain wants to hear but a needy, sick part of himself trills at the sentiment. He looks at her with dead eyes and she nods to him, as if to double down.

“No reason to not be,” Sylvain says, several beats too late. He’s been out of synch since taking Arianrhod. The war is not over but the corpse of Faerghus already lies tattered on the ground.

Edelgard clicks open the door she’s lead him to. Says: “We cannot afford the dignity of a public service. Not this early in our reformation efforts.”

There are candles, beyond. The room had no windows—only candles, and a great torch burning in a stand. It smells of unescaping smoke. Sylvain steps forward as if issued an unspoken command, numb and blind. His mind does not process the draped cloth before him or the dry, crumbling tinder at its feet. He feels Edelgard’s eyes watching him for reaction but he has none to offer her. Not now, at least, when every wound is so jagged and fresh. Not now, possibly never.

“I’ll leave you to your peace,” Edelgard tells him, and shuts the door with a thick, metallic clang.

He knows who is under the sheet. He knows, because he refused the order to attack her. He would not advance and he knew it would cost him any future he had in this new world he is striving to build. He knows he has never been known for his loyalty, not in the way she was. And now he sees his punishment, or reward. The line is hazy. The line has always been hazy.

Ingrid is under the sheet. He pulls back the cloth covering her face to see her, the short, stout, plain thing she is under all the defensive armor and begrudging femininity. She rests on a wooden pedestal overseeing a mound of straw and pine needles. They’ve kept her in her general’s uniform. Her hair is freshly braided and a ring of mountain wildflowers have been haloed around her head in what would be traditional fashion if carried out by non-Empirical hands. A torch stands to Sylvain’s left, ready to ignite.

Sylvain is not sure how Edelgard knew. She must have witnessed him hesitate on the order to kill, but to know this. Her. Ingrid, prepared for a soldier’s funeral, set to be laid to rest in the way only can Faerghus offer. It chills him to the core. He planned to blend into Adrestia, to escape his fate behind enemy lines. Instead, he finds himself in a room crafted for him by the Emperor herself. She has gifted him a simple offering: the body of his eldest friend, a knight who will not know peace under superstition until her ashes are scattered across the battlefield where she fell. It’s a signal of respect between warriors. Maybe. Sylvain tries to justify his newfound reality, even as he knows Ingrid would rather her body be dragged along by dogs through the streets than granted to him under Empire control.

“Ingrid,” he whispers. He knows he’s being watched. The smoke from the torch ascends upwards and he can’t see the second story of alcoves in the darkness, but he knows from memory that there are hundreds of crevices to hide within Arianrhod. He tries to take another step forward but succeeds only in sinking to his knees. He kneels before her funeral dais.

“Ingrid,” he says again. She doesn’t answer. He’s not sure he could handle it if she could answer, if she could see, if she could witness where she was now. Gifted to him on a tray as both a reward and a punishment, her freedom restrained to other’s grand purposes even after her last breath.

“Hey,” he greets. He places a hesitant hand against her face and it’s still. Cold. Her lips are off-colored. “Hey,” he says again, “hey, hey. You did it.”

A blank film glosses over his mind.

“Just like you wanted.”

Sylvain laughs, but it’s shoved out through the sickly mucus of a sob and it sticks in his throat like a plague. He laughs, again, the hand falling from her face to form a fist against the wooden table. “Just like Glenn.”

Silence greets him. It is not as sobering as it should be. He lowers his voice and says, whispers, “you could have married me.”

Silence.

“You could have been a wife,” he tells her, quiet but sour. Bitter in a way he did not realize. “You’d’ve had my kids and spent my money and called surrender when some foreign Empress showed up on your doorstep. I’d have died like I should have died, defending Faerghus. And you’d have been up north. As far as you can get. So far from the front lines that by the time they reached you the war would be over.”

He grits his teeth. “But you got what you wanted.”

There is no response and he can only keep his muscles tense for so long. He sets his arms on the table, his head resting atop them. He stares at her. Little, dry pine needles of tinder crinkle beneath his knees.

“I’m not being fair, am I,” he says, voice hollow and slightly lilted by the way his cheek presses against his gauntletless forearm. “Am I?”

Ingrid does not stir.

“It wasn’t fair,” he murmurs. “Sorry.” His vision blurs. “...You deserved better than that. Better than this.” He reaches out again, fingertips slow and hesitant, and takes her hand in his. Her body and clothing have been cleaned but there is a small shadow of blood splattered up her sleeve that vicious scrubbing could not wipe away. “You can haunt me,” he tells her. “Please haunt me.

“Come back.

“No crestbabies, no noble deaths. No miserable, binary choices. You and me. Just you and me.

“I’ll be good. You know I’m good. You’re the only one who knew I was good.

“I loved you. You know that right?

“I loved you.

“I’m sorry.

“I’m sorry you died hating me.

”I’m sorry you died like this.

“I’m sorry, Ingrid.

“I’m going to light you on fire now.”