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caught in the middle

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An arrow whizzes past Claude’s ear, nearly taking his earring with it. Peering over the head of his wyvern, he nocks an arrow of his own and lets it fly, only watching it long enough to make sure that it’s hit his opponent before he turns his attention to the now-burning hill.

If someone had asked him, in Imperial Year 1180, where he saw himself in five years, he’s not sure he would’ve been able to predict this.

Not all of it, anyway. Would he have been able to foresee himself embroiled in a conflict between the Empire and the Church? Would he have been able to imagine he and his fellow former house leaders, changed from five years of war, all clashing on a historic battlefield, the same field where they once fought not as enemies but as peers?

In the midst of the flames, the swinging blades, the fallen bodies, Claude could almost laugh. It seems so trivial now, the mock battle, a mere blip in the chaos of their lives, significant only for its irony. He can barely remember what it felt like to worry, even mildly, about who would win a school competition—to go to sleep at night and not have his last thought be to wonder how many people died that day.

The numbers tonight, it seems, will be particularly high.

The first ally he notices is Leonie, who had taken control of the ballista on top of the hill and begun firing at enemies from afar. Now her horse wails in pain, almost throwing her off as she attempts to guide it out of the fire. Lysithea emerges at the bottom moments later, coughing, her robe singed and tattered. Marianne rides Dorte harder and faster than Claude’s ever seen her, casting healing spells left and right as the Alliance troops flee the burning hill.

And in the center of it all stands Byleth, clothes on fire but seemingly unfazed by it, Sword of the Creator glowing in their hands like a beacon even amid the flames.

Claude can just barely figure out which troops are from the Kingdom and which are from the Empire, even up close, but if there’s one person who stands out among them all, it’s Dimitri. If he didn’t know any better, Claude would wonder how the merciless prince who stands in front of him today could possibly be the same polite young man he knew in the Academy—but Claude does know better. Even back then, he could sense the darkness swimming just beneath the surface of that kind smile. It hurts to see him like this, killing indiscriminately, teeth bared like a wolf, but Claude would be lying if he said he was completely taken aback by it.

And then, of course, on the other side of the field, there’s Edelgard, Emperor of Adrestia, harbinger of both destruction and rebirth. She stands firm, cutting down any who manage to reach her, and the blood blends in with her bright red Empire regalia. She always was distant, a book not just closed, but bound and sealed so that to see her true feelings without her permission would be to pry them out of her. Every move she makes is deliberate, and she fights with steel resolve. Still, Claude can tell that she takes no pleasure in this. She does it because she feels it’s what she has to do, the only thing she can do to achieve her goals, and if nothing else, at least he can understand that.

As for Claude...well, sometimes he can’t help but feel like he’s caught in the middle, just like he always has been, always too much of one thing and not enough of another. Deep down—far, far down—part of him still feels like a scrappy, confused little boy, changing his plans based on the environment around him, constantly searching for the best way to adapt, to ensure his survival amidst the chaos. Now, though, it’s not just his own life that he feels the need to preserve.

If Claude had never left Almyra, what would he have done when the war broke out? He doesn’t follow the Seiros religion; he didn’t even grow up in Fódlan. If things were different, he would have no stock in a conflict like this—but he does. Every enemy he takes down brings him closer to the future he’s always dreamed of. He just wishes the road wasn’t paved with so much blood.

He wonders, briefly, if anything could have prevented the war, if they could’ve reached some sort of compromise, but he shakes that thought from his mind before it can properly take hold. There’s no use in dwelling on things he can’t change, and besides, he has a battle to fight.