Fhirdiad's red light district is the perfect place for a dead man to disappear.
The churches aren't safe anymore with Cornelia's soldiers ignoring pleas of asylum, the old barracks and castle are categorically off-limits, loyalist hideouts are regularly exposed, and Dimitri is simply too recognizable to panhandle on the main streets.
In the red light district, nobody cares who you used to be. Nobody even gives a shit that Dimitri's ghastly, inflamed eye injury is on public display. Here, he's just another poor bastard who's down on his luck.
And like everyone else here, Dimitri does what he must to stay alive.
"Ah, hell, kid," Alexei the community medic says to him, "I don't know if I can save it. Did you get any medicine for it?"
Dimitri nods. "A wound healing salve from that apothecary you recommended at my last appointment. It helped the eyelid but made no difference to the eye itself. I know you said to get a vulnerary, but... they are very hard to come by."
It cost more than two weeks' worth of expenses. How did they go through so many of them carelessly back at the Academy?
Alexei takes a deep breath, exhausted. "I'm really sorry. I wish I had good news for you, but if Marta's salve didn't do anything, there's fuckall anyone can do without magic. Your only options are to find a Faith-trained physician, get a vulnerary, or take it out before it goes septic. I'm so sorry I couldn't save it, and I know it's a piss-poor excuse for an apology, but if you want me to take it out, I'll do it for free."
Dimitri considers. "Do you know of any physicians?"
"Not on this half of the city, and they're easily twice as expensive as a vulnerary."
"Fuck," Dimitri whispers.
Living in the red light district has truly given him a filthy mouth.
(He wonders if Alois would appreciate the pun or be too horrified by the circumstances to find the humor in it.)
"Take the eye out," he decides.
"Are you certain? Someone else can probably save it. Please, kid. Don't do this to yourself if you don't have to."
"The person who injured it wanted me dead, yet here I remain. I would prefer to stay alive, no matter the cost. Take it out."
Alexei sighs. "Okay. Come back tomorrow at ten in the evening. I'll have everything ready for you."
"Approximately how long will I need to recover from this?"
"At least a week of strict rest and no touching, but two is probably better. And before I forget, make sure you have wound salve. Try to get a prosthetic eye if you can, but if you need to get one afterwards, that would probably be fine as well."
"Understood. Thank you. I will be there tomorrow."
"Don't thank me yet, kid."
Dimitri pays Alexei their (admittedly quite modest; people have paid in food before) appointment fee, then hits the streets early.
He still has most of a jar of wound healing salve, and it is easy enough to secure to himself in its pouch within a hidden pocket, but food is not something he can stockpile so easily. If he must convalesce for a week or two, he will need the money beforehand to survive.
And maybe, if he works nonstop until his appointment, he might even be able to make enough.
It's the first snowfall of the season, and Dimitri is shivering.
He's somewhere right on the edge of the red light district, and even though he's covered himself in blankets he scavenged, his shoes are leaky and he can't risk walking a half hour through the snow to somewhere familiar and warm.
At least the building he's curled up against has a wide awning.
He's nearly asleep when snow hits him in the face, and he squawks and sputters as he hurries to scrape it off before it melts into him.
"Shit. Didn't see you there."
Dimitri looks up. A middle-aged man with a shovel and a bucket of salt stands in front of the door, and his gaze turns even more sympathetic the longer he meets Dimitri's gaze.
"Come in out of the snow."
"I don't have enough to pay for lodging."
The man shakes his head. "You don't have to tonight. I don't want you to freeze to death on my doorstep."
Dimitri wants to, but nothing here comes free. "I can pay in sexual favors, if you like."
"No. Dammit, kid, consider this an apology for throwing dirty snow in your face. Just come in. It's warm and there's leftovers."
A cruel wind picks up, and Dimitri full-body shivers. "All right."
He gets up, nearly slips and falls twice, and somehow safely makes it inside. It's late enough that there are only a few patrons still present, and a good number of them are halfway asleep.
He realizes abruptly that he's soaked.
"Go warm up by the fire. I'll get you something warm."
Dimitri makes it over and sits down hard, getting as close as he can bear. Snow was never a problem growing up, not when his outer layers were always waterproof and several people made sure he was adequately bundled up before he took one step outside and someone always dragged him back in if he'd been out for too long.
He's never had to do this by himself.
The man comes back over with some kind of thin stew, a hunk of bread, and a slab of cheese. "Eat."
Dimitri does. It's the first hot meal he's had in a while.
"What's your name?"
"Liev," Dimitri lies. A lion by any other name would smell as --- never mind. "What's yours?"
"Samson," Samson replies, amused. "Owner of Samson's Tavern. Which is where you are."
"I couldn't read the sign," Dimitri says. He was sitting on the wrong side of the building.
Samson's face falls. "Right. Forgot most people on this side of the city are illiterate."
Dimitri does not correct his assumption before going back to eating.
Samson gets up and brings back a large mug of tea. Dimitri holds it to his chest and lets the warmth seep into his clothing as he waits for it to cool enough to drink.
"You can come back here anytime you want," Samson says abruptly, "just don't bring any customers here. The knights do sweeps a lot, and if there's any sex work actively happening on the premises, I'll lose everything."
"Understood," Dimitri says, fighting a sudden spike of panic at the potential loss of a safe haven.
In all his months here, he never once considered simply renting a room in a tavern.
"And with everything being the way it is, I will have to ask you to pay for food and lodging next time, if you do decide to come back."
"Of course," Dimitri says.
"But as for tonight, I'll set up a room with a bath and get you something clean to wear."
Dimitri's eye goes wide. "You don't have to do that."
"I know," Samson smiles. "You can have more bread and tea if you like, but when you're finished eating, give the plates to the bartender."
Dimitri takes his time to savor the food, and when he goes to give the plates to the bartender, she refills his mug and gives him bread and cheese without asking.
"You looked like you needed it," she winks.
He looks around, makes sure he won't be overheard. "Does Samson do this for everyone he finds off the streets?"
"Yeah. It's rarer than you'd think that people take him up on it, though. Only once every couple of weeks."
"Even offering up clothes?"
"Nah. That's only if you'll die without it." She gives him a once-over. "Seiros, you must be the luckiest bastard alive if this is the first time this season you've had a brush with death wearing so little."
"I suppose. One last question. How much would all of this cost for a normal customer?"
"Thinking about coming back, are you? For dinner and a room with a bath, I'd say... 75 gold."
The bartender pats his shoulder sympathetically. "Just enjoy it for tonight, then. Oh, and do actually take the clothes. He gets quite distraught when people don't. Something about the cost of a human life versus a secondhand jacket."
"Good. Now eat up."
After he bathes, changes into clean pajamas, and settles into a comfortable bed, he falls asleep feeling the most human he has in months.
"You saved enough for a glass eye?"
"I did," Dimitri confirms, holding it up almost proudly.
It wasn't easy. He tends not to work when the ghosts of his parents are around, and they've been showing up more often recently.
"All right. Let me have a look."
Before Alexei can even finish lighting a candle, there's a sharp knock at the door.
"Open up under authority of the Dukedom!"
Alexei's eyes go wide. "Bathroom window opens into the alley. Run."
The pounding gets louder like they're actually going to break the door down.
"You are harboring a known fugitive from justice!"
"If you'd gone to Enbarr and killed her from the start, you wouldn't be dealing with this."
Dimitri's blood freezes in his veins.
Dimitri runs for his fucking life.
Around campfires, he is known as the One-Eyed Demon, but when he's present enough in his mind to bathe and venture into towns, he finds that people don't care much about the rumors while they're screwing him into a tavern mattress.
...It's nice to have a hot meal and sleep under a roof every once in a while.
Dimitri offhandedly suggests sucking dick to secure more supplies for the war effort.
Most people are horrified by his "joke," with Yuri even going so far as to give him the evil eye for it, but some people take it as a sign that he's "the real Dimitri" who "came back to us."
He keeps it to himself that he was dead serious.
They are all sitting around a table in Garreg Mach, feasting. Dimitri couldn't bear to celebrate in the palace where he slaughtered his sister, but here, there are better memories. Here, he can relax.
"Well, war's over," Sylvain says, turning to look Dimitri in the eye.
"Thank the gods," Dedue laughs. He must be very tipsy.
"Damned right!" Sylvain grins.
"Are you going to make a toast?" Ashe asks.
Sylvain and Dimitri are the only ones who did not touch alcohol, so Dimitri does not trust the mischievous glint in his eyes.
"Like I said, war's over. So tell me, Your Majesty, are you finally gonna lose your virginity?"
Ingrid throws her fork at Sylvain, and her aim goes wide enough that Byleth has to duck instead.
Dimitri meets his gaze. They've been dancing around each other for months, and finally, finally, the mutual flirting has escalated to the point that Dimitri might be able to actually get laid, or at least start a proper courtship. "How about tonight, between your legs?"
Sylvain makes a choking noise, eyes wide. And, oh, that is a proper blush.
"I jest. You'd be five years too late," Dimitri clarifies.
Sylvain grins. "During the Academy? You sly dog. Who was it? Was it Claude? Was it the Professor? Was it Fel---"
"Continue that sentence and lose the use of your kneecaps," Felix slurs, coherent enough to make threats even when he's been resting his face on the table for the last ten minutes.
Sylvain chuckles but doesn't push further.
"It was after the Academy, and I do not know their name, only that they paid enough to buy a meal."
The table goes deathly still and silent.
Dimitri frowns. "Surely you are all aware of the time I spent in Fhirdiad's red light district after my execution?"
"No," Ingrid protests at the same time Mercedes says, "Only that you were in the slums."
"Ah. Well, I was. And I earned my keep the way most people did. Why do all of you look so concerned? I was in a city with access to food and medical aid. All of you have seen me kill with my bare hands in a state of near-starvation. Do you truly think that, if someone ever put me in a position I was uncomfortable with, I would be unable to escape?"
Sylvain and Ashe visibly relax. "So the work was on your own terms."
"Yes. And I did not hate it either. Not to say that I loved it, but it was not... the worst. To be perfectly honest, I prefer it to the years I spent alone in the wilderness."
Byleth, Dedue, and Mercedes relax.
"I promise you, my captivity with Cornelia was far worse."
This does not reassure anybody. He's not entirely sure what else to say.
"I am glad you survived," Dedue says gently.
"This has gone too far off track," Sylvain mutters. "Hey, Dimitri, wanna ditch these drunkards and find somewhere more quiet?"
"I would love to," he says, getting up quickly.
"Yeah, lovebirds! Get it!" Annette yells encouragingly, drumming on the table as they walk away. There's the sound of rattling silverware and a wineglass tipping over, and then Felix screeches like a wet cat.
Byleth bursts into laughter, and then they're out of earshot.
"Damn, but they're shitfaced in there," Sylvain grins.
"Indeed they are. You know, if we're looking for somewhere quiet, the Archbishop's old bedchambers are far from drunken chatter."
It's also probably bigger than the student beds, which are are barely large enough to contain either of them, much less both together.
Sylvain raises an eyebrow. "Cyril will kill us."
"I'd like to see him try."
Sylvain lets out an undignified snort. "All right."
The third floor has a beautiful view of the sky, and Dimitri doesn't think he'll ever forget the way Sylvain's eyes sparkle in the moonlight when Dimitri asks to kiss him. It starts off chaste enough, but eventually they're scrambling to get inside the actual bedchambers.
"You know, Sylvain," Dimitri says, kicking off his boots, "I might not be losing my virginity, but there is a first I'd like to give you."
Sylvain holds him so, so gently. "You don't need to prove your purity or whatever. I promise you, none of this changes the way I see you. And besides, it would be awfully hypocritical of me to judge you for having prior experience."
Compassionate, kindhearted, infuriating Sylvain, interrupting his confession to be sweet. Dimitri kisses him hard and filthy and delights in the way that Sylvain melts into him.
Dimitri walks them backwards until they're at the edge of the bed, then breaks the kiss to sit down.
"There is a first I'd like to give you," Dimitri repeats, "and I think you should know before we continue. I've never had sex with someone I'm in love with."
Sylvain's smile spreads across his face like a sunrise. It is, perhaps, the most fragile Dimitri has ever seen him. "What a coincidence. Neither have I. Would you... maybe like to try it out together?"
Dimitri feels himself smiling in return.
"I would," Dimitri says, and pulls Sylvain on top of him.
Dimitri sneaks out of the castle before dawn to go to the red light district.
Later that day, they'll have a grand parade through most of the city to announce that the king has come home triumphant, but right now, he needs the relative anonymity.
There are no clothes in the castle so haggard and filthy that he could properly fit in as a resident, but the simple, just-slightly-large-on-him infantry undertunic and pants Dimitri pilfers from the laundry will do fine to disguise him as a commoner. And with a heavy hooded cloak, hopefully his guards will not recognize him.
Even though he has never directly traveled from the castle to the red light district, the path feels familiar as he walks it.
"Excuse me," he says to someone sitting on the steps of a soup kitchen.
She puts her plate down and winks at him. "Hey there, stud. You back home from the frontlines?"
Dimitri nods. "I am not interested in propositioning you. Do you happen to know where Samson's is?"
She blinks, surprised. "You're standing in front of it."
"This is a soup kitchen."
"Damn, you've been at war for a while, haven't you? Samson died in the plague two years ago."
Fuck. "How about Marta? The apothecary?"
"Who sent you?"
"You're snooping around. Who sent you, and what do they want?"
"Nobody sent me. I am trying to repay the people who helped me when I lived here."
Dimitri sighs. "The storm drain near Six's has the cleanest water after it rains. Our Guardian doesn't mind if you huddle up to the kitchens for warmth, but it's Sandrine who lets you eat her leftovers. Merchants set up a small market where you could buy clothes and medical supplies midafternoon Wednesdays, but sometimes you'd get one who stayed too long after dark and had to sleep in the tavern, and those would be the only nights you wouldn't hear music. Should I continue?"
She hums, impressed. "Shit, you really did live here. All right. Marta opened a brick-and-mortar store near the Old City after the king returned from exile. Anyone else you're looking for?"
Returned from exile. That sure is one way to put it.
"Alexei. They were the medic who would offer appointments for the cost of a meal?"
"Oh, yeah. They took over the abandoned cabaret, and they've been running a full-scale clinic since. Honestly glad they did, because that was right before the plague hit, and we'd all be fucked otherwise."
"And not in the way that pays?" Dimitri asks. It is times like this that he wishes he could wink.
She grins. "And not the way that pays."
"Thanks for the help," he says, and hands her a hundred-gold piece.
She sputters as he walks away. Dimitri slips hundred-gold pieces to everyone he finds on the street as he makes his way to the clinic.
Alexei is flipping the sign on the front door from CLOSED to OPEN as Dimitri walks up.
...That's one hell of a leg brace. Dimitri is reminded yet again that war is cruelest to the people who have the least.
"Oh, good morning. Feel free to come in."
Dimitri follows them inside.
"Are you here for a walk-in?"
"A follow-up appointment, actually."
"What's your name?"
They look over their list. "I don't see a Dimitri on here."
"The follow-up is from four years ago."
Alexei looks at him. "Oh. Oh! For your eye. Shit, I was wondering if you were still alive. How are you doing?"
Dimitri laughs, almost caught off-guard by the question. "Much better, in every possible way."
They smile good-naturedly. "Would that we were all so lucky. How can I help you, Dimitri?"
"Could you possibly check on my eye? It will likely take you less than ten minutes, and I will compensate you generously for your time."
It's a cover for his actual intention, but if he's honest with himself, he's been avoiding the royal healers and could probably stand to get his socket examined.
Alexei shrugs. "All right. First appointment of the day. Take a seat."
They light a candle and sit down heavily, braced leg held to the side. "Eyepatch off, please, and keep both eyes closed for now."
Dimitri does. It's refreshing to simply follow directions after being put in charge of an entire war-torn continent.
They inspect closer. "No keloid, but I'm really not liking how your eyelid doesn't fully close. Open up, please?"
He does. "I'd like to thank you for saving my life."
"You don't have to thank me for that! I wasn't about to let those Dukedom fuckers kill a patient, no matter what they think you did." They wince. "Oh, there's definitely socket contracture. Did you not put the glass eye in?"
While he was being chased out of Fhirdiad, he panicked and crushed it. It was a bitch and a half to get all the shards out of his palm.
"I... lost it. May I ask you about something?"
"Go ahead." They keep inspecting, candle constantly in the line of sight of his good eye.
"Have you raised your prices at all?"
"Nope! Still the cost of a meal."
"And you've done well for yourself?"
"Well enough that I'll be able to send my daughter to school. Hmm. Do you mind if I pull your eyelid back to get a closer look?"
"Please, go ahead."
"I heard you kept the red light district alive during a plague two years ago."
"That's giving me too much credit. I just helped people figure out how to self-quarantine and coordinated shelter and food deliveries for the people living fully on the streets."
Dimitri tries very hard not to startle in his excitement. A community leader with a true aptitude for logistics and mobilization. "Really?"
"We didn't emerge unscathed, you know. Sure, it wasn't everyone, but dozens of people still died. Why are you so excited?"
"Maybe I think that Faerghus has suffered enough plagues for a lifetime, and I finally found someone who might be able to help stop the next one."
Alexei snorts. "Save the flattery."
"It's not idle flattery. I truly believe that you have the aptitude to help a great many people."
"Ha! What are you gonna do, tell the king about it?"
"Well," Dimitri says, somehow keeping a straight face, "perhaps the council roundtable."
"Council rou---" Alexei pulls back to properly look him in the eye, then horror dawns on their face. "You're a royal advisor, aren't you?"
"Not exactly," Dimitri says, and flashes his Crest.
Alexei is shocked into silence.
"You know, I had already come down here to ask about how you ran a community clinic for such a low fee, but after hearing that your interventions are effective against a plague, it would be outright irresponsible of me not to offer you a platform to expand your influence, or at the very least to share your wisdom."
Alexei shakes their head. "Your Majesty---"
"Please, take your time to think about it. It wouldn't interfere too heavily with your duties here if you do not wish it to. I know fully well how important you are here."
"This is---" Alexei chuckles. "I apologize for my lack of decorum, Your Majesty. I was simply caught off-guard by your generosity."
"There is no need to apologize." Dimitri puts a large pouch of gold on the table. "Compensation from a boy who needed his eye out and couldn't pay at the time, and gratitude from a king for protecting his people. When you make up your mind, be it yes or no, please feel free to write or come in person to request an audience."
Dimitri puts his eyepatch back on and turns to leave.
"Hey, wait!" Alexei calls out right as he's about to reach the door.
He turns around. "Yes?"
"You should get your physicians to look at that eye. It's not doing too great, but I think they might be able to get another prosthetic in there."
Dimitri laughs. "I will. Thank you."
The sun is rising, and by the time he makes it back, the castle is abuzz with activity. He gets caught sneaking back into the laundry, which means he will absolutely catch hell from someone later about the security risk.
But in the meantime.
He goes back to his bedchambers, bathes, and gets dressed for the parade.
"Everything all right? You were gone when I woke up this morning," Sylvain asks as they walk side by side to the convoy.
"Oh, yes. Apologies. I simply wanted to hire our new Minister of Public Health."
Sylvain raises his eyebrows, impressed. "Well, did you?"
Dimitri cannot hold back a grin. "I believe I may have."