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A Birthright to Die

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  I: To Learn

Dimitri learned from very early on that his life would be in danger every second of the day, until the day he died.  

He learned it first when he was six years old, eyes wide and uncomprehending as a tall, scary man jumped down from a tree in the royal gardens and tried to cut him with a knife. Later, when he sat on a stone bench, one hand in a crying Felix’s hold, and the other in a healer’s to mend the profusely bleeding gash on his arm, he learned. He learned when he watched Felix’s father and his own muttering gravely to each other, standing upon the burgundy patch of wet grass where the stranger with the knife had been cut down by the guards that ran to his rescue. He learned, in the wobbling of his dear friend’s tearful tone, that this was the first, but far from the last time this would happen, and that there was nothing that anyone could do about it.

Dimitri learned from very early on that the Crest in his blood and the Crown on his head were a death sentence accorded to him upon the first breath he took, and would one day be the reason for his last.

…-…-…-…

II: To Understand

When he was fourteen, the ground beneath Dimitri’s feet crumbled, and he began his freefall into eventual madness as he stood upon a field ravaged by fire and soaked through with the blood of his countrymen. Gazing upon the countless bodies strewn before him, unmoving, unliving, Dimitri understood. When his eyes met his murdered father’s empty gaze, his body just another pound of flesh to rot on foreign soil as if he had never even mattered at all, Dimitri saw the warning lain in plain sight before him, and understood.

It took a massacre and for the heads of his loved ones to roll for him to understand that this was the inevitable fate for men like him.

(And as he stood alone amongst the wreckage, screaming, wailing his sorrow to the skies, there was nobody by his side to promise him otherwise).

It took several days for him to be returned to Fhirdiad, and Dimitri felt no different from the men and women whose bodies were also carried back home on stretchers. The healer riding with him wound a bandage around his right eye for a gruesome blunt injury he’d sustained to his head, and through the bouts of awareness, Dimitri felt no pain, no suffering- just nothing. He felt like he’d left something behind when he’d been whisked off to safety by the only few Faerghus knights remaining in their traveling party, and now, his chest felt hollow.

It did not even ache. When Dimitri’s only uncovered eye roved across the grim procession of carriages, he only felt void. His people, his family were dead. And he felt nothing.

He was confined to his quarters for a while after his return, long enough, his (father’s) advisors told him, to make sure the threat had been eliminated. There was already an uproar in the palace about the assassination having been a Duscurian plot, but Dimitri could not bring himself to care. Half the time, he felt like his soul left his body, leaving him walking and talking like a puppet driven by automatism, and nothing more.

The night after his return found him in such a state. As the sky turned dark outside, the maids lit the lanterns and candles around Dimitri’s room, and left him his supper before exiting the room. Dimitri was barely aware of their presence, sitting still at his desk as his head dressing was inspected and changed by the royal physician. His head injury had been grave, the healers had told him when he’d cared enough to listen, and Dimitri knew he would have lasting damage from it, not that it mattered much. It felt like he’d sustained much worse damage since the attack than a weak left arm and numbness on his face.

Even as he mechanically sipped the soup that the maids had placed before him, he noted that he could not taste it at all. He could tell that it was hot on his tongue, but tasted like water, or his lunch, or the dinner of the night before. Just another thing he’d lost, he supposed, and ate anyway.

The position of his desk at the right end of his quarters made it easy for him to see peripheral movement on his left side, despite his right eye still being obscured by bandages. So, when he saw something move on the side of his vision, he turned to face it, fully expecting to see one of the ghosts that had been haunting him since he was dragged away from the scene of the massacre. He briefly wondered who it would be this time- his mother? Father? Glenn?

But the man who stood frozen at the entrance to his bathing room looked like no one he’d ever met before. Swathed in dark, tight-fitting clothes, hood thrown over his head, knife in hand and many more at his waist, the man that Dimitri saw was nobody he knew, but someone he recognized anyway.

His body was driven by automation, and in the few seconds it took for the man to rush at him, weapon raised, Dimitri was on his feet and ready to intercept.

He didn’t register how the fight went down, but he knew he’d won. It was instinctive to duck under his attacker’s swings and eventually parry a stab to disarm him. From there, with a weapon in hand, Dimitri’s superior military training earned him the upper hand, and he quickly flipped the assassin over his shoulder, slamming him down to the floor.

Dimitri didn’t give the man a chance to even breathe before he sunk the knife into his chest.

“No rest for the weary, nor for the wicked.” His voice cracked from disuse in the past few days, and his hand shook on the knife. “I suppose I should have expected someone to come and finish the job.”

The man before him said nothing, and Dimitri suspected it had something to do with the dark stain growing steadily on the mask he had covering his lower face. As if to confirm, the assassin’s body was suddenly wracked by a violent cough that sent blood spurting from where Dimitri’s hand still held the knife in place. He’d pierced a lung, most probably, and it seemed unlikely that the knife did not have some sort of poison on it.

The man was doomed, and both of them knew it.

Still, it didn’t stop Dimitri from removing the knife, a steady stream of blood flooding on the way out, and stabbing the man again.

This man, the man let out a muffled scream that turned into a series of choked coughs, each of which sent a mist of blood spraying out of the first stab, onto Dimitri’s nightwear. And, Dimitri stabbed him again, and again, and again, and with each and every stab, he still felt nothing. Warm blood soaked through his clothes, spotting his skin and staining his bandages and congealing in his hair, and Dimitri only felt cold as he stabbed the man one last time, and discarded the weapon to the side with a clatter.

“I’m a monster, aren’t I?” he mused out loud with a lilt in his voice, reaching out to pinch the man’s face mask with his fingers. The man didn’t move to react, most likely already dead. “I suppose it does take a monster to face every other monster out there.”

He pulled the mask down, and the world crumbled once more as the details of the assassin’s face registered in his broken mind.

Pale skin, thin nose, small lips- none of these Duscurian traits.

And the dagger that Dimitri had held so easily before now seemed cursed on second thought, as it was short and straight, definitely of Fódlan make.

Dimitri’s hands finally began to shake as the first man he’d ever killed stained the carpet red. Something bubbled up in his throat, but unlike his attacker, it wasn’t blood. When he opened his mouth to let it through, a sob fell out, and Dimitri broke.

He cried loudly, hunched over the dead man who’d held answers he wished he never learned, tears carving tracks through the blood staining his face, as if his sorrow could wash away the monstrosity he’d become. His skin felt like it was crawling, and no amount of clawing at his soaked clothes and itching skin could relieve it.

For the first time since he’d witnessed his entire family being violently massacred in front of his eyes, Dimitri felt again, and it was one of the most difficult things he’d ever come to live in his entire life.

It was a maid who found him later, taking pity on the young prince whom she heard crying from the hallway. She entered in hopes of comforting him somehow, and her subsequent screaming drew every guard in the entire wing to the prince’s chambers within a minute.

Although Dimitri spent the next few days swearing up and down that the massacre of his family was an internal plot, that his assassin had been of Fódlan and not of Duscur, that Duscur had nothing to do with anything and that the real enemy was slithering below their noses, in the shadows of the palace itself, nobody listened.

He watched as his own men rode off to massacre the innocents of Duscur in cold blood, all in the name of revenge, and he understood.

He noted that he never again saw the maid who found him that night, and he understood.

…-…-…-…

III: To Live

When he was seventeen, Dimitri joined the Officer’s Academy at Garreg Mach Monastery, and a new chapter of his life seemed to begin the moment he stepped away from the struggles and responsibilities of his position as Crown Prince of Faerghus. At the Monastery, he met so many people, from all corners of Fódlan, and began to make himself at home in a community that put a little less emphasis on his birthright, and a little more on his personal valor.

Garreg Mach made him feel welcomed, for the first time since he’d lost his family to the hands of the envious.

Leading the Blue Lions was a fun challenge, especially considering the rowdy bunch of students they turned out to be. Dimitri was lucky to find himself in the same class with his childhood friends, too, and slowly, as the school year advanced, he became more and more comfortable with his surroundings, and the people surrounding him.

(He never lost sight of his hidden goals, but it felt nice to focus on something else than revenge, just this once, even if that something was Professor Hanneman’s tedious assignment on Crest physiology).

There exists a difference, however, between comfort and complacency, and although Dimitri became comfortable, he never once turned complacent. It was, perhaps, a distinction badly made by the ones who wished him harm.

It was on a hunting trip that the next assassin came for Dimitri’s life.

The Blue Lions class had been taken out to the forest on the outskirts of Garreg Mach for a day of hunting, which made a few of the students sleepless with excitement. The group left even before the crack of dawn, traveling to their drop-off spot, accompanied by a few knights. Although Ashe seemed very enthusiastic, animatedly talking about different ways to stew the pheasant he’d undoubtedly catch with Dedue, not many of the other students seemed awake and alive at this hour. Dimitri being one of them.

Insomnia had plagued him last night, so his body felt heavy and lethargic this morning. Still, hunting would likely take his mind off of the upcoming examination period and due assignments, so Dimitri vowed that he’d have a good time out there. As soon as he woke up, of course.

They arrived at the drop-off location as the first tendrils of dawn began to surface above the trees, and were given their weapons, equipment, and rules. Then, from there, it was simply a question of teaming up before heading off. Sylvain immediately grabbed Felix, claiming that Felix would surely take hunting too seriously and come back with the most game. Ingrid preferred sticking with Ashe, complaining that she wasn’t much of a hunter at all, and Dedue got roped into showing Annette how to set up traps and snares, and so they split.

This left Dimitri with Mercedes, the latter of whom kindly insisted that he didn’t need to stay with her.

“I wouldn’t want to slow you down,” she hummed, waving him off sheepishly. “I’m not much cut out for hunting, really.”

“That’s alright, Mercedes,” Dimitri assured her, testing the balance of the hunting spears he’d chosen to use. “I wouldn’t want to leave you by yourself, anyway. You can follow at a distance, if that is what you prefer.”

“That’s very considerate of you, Dimitri,” she giggled, tucking her hunting breeches into her boots. “I’ll make sure not to make too much noise so that you, too, can bring back some game for tonight’s meal.”

“Well… I’m not entirely awake at this hour, so we’ll see about that,” Dimitri shrugged, and headed off in the same direction where Sylvain had disappeared earlier with Felix in tow.

With Mercedes following somewhere behind him, Dimitri set out amongst the trees, on the lookout for birds or game just rising to hunt for food. The thick foliage above blocked out the rays of sunshine just starting to poke through, and so, the forest floor remained dim as Dimitri advanced. Eventually, he found fresh tracks left behind by some seemingly large mammal, likely a boar, and set out on hunting it down.

Finally, as the daylight began to filter through the treetops, Dimitri followed the tracks to a clearing, and paused upon seeing his prey at the watering hole at its edge. It was indeed a large boar, calmly drinking water from the pond, which didn’t look nearly as wide as it looked deep. The only sound he could hear was the chirping of birds above, and the trickling of the small waterfall that fed into the pond.

Analyzing the demeanor of the boar, Dimitri crouched to lie in wait, grip light around one of his spears.

Patient and careful, he evened out his breathing, and waited for the boar to leave the pond and begin heading off. In that moment of peace, he pounced.

Hunting the animal down didn’t prove to be extremely difficult, but it still made Dimitri far more tired than he could stand. Today really wasn’t his day, he figured, heading back to the pond after having dislodged the spears from his fallen prey, just to clean his hands of the sticky blood under his fingernails. He crouched and began to wash them in the calm, turbid pond waters.

In the silence of the early morning washing over the glade, Dimitri heard something else.

The rustle of foliage, and the creaking of bending wood.

He whipped around to look for the source of the suspect sound, and an arrow otherwise aimed at his shoulder blades instead embedded itself firmly into his left bicep.

The sheer driving force of the arrow threw Dimitri off balance in his precarious crouch, and the cry of pain and surprise had barely even left his lips before he tilted head-first into the pond.

His body broke the calm waters with a loud splash, and Dimitri sunk, lungs burning for air. His shoulder hurt, blindingly so, but at the very least, now, he felt completely and entirely awake. Aware enough of the situation in which he’d found himself, at the very least.

Willing the panic away, he tried to run through his options. Surfacing now could very well be a death sentence, as the sniper was most likely waiting for him to rise to shoot another arrow, one that wouldn’t miss this time. Still, he had no choice. The pond was deep, but did not lead off anywhere, and he hadn’t even held his breath before being submerged, so he was running out of time.

Taking the gamble, he began to follow the light upwards, towards the surface of the murky waters now darkened by his blood. At least, since the waters weren’t clear, his attacker would not know where he would surface. Palpating to find the muddy walls around the pond, Dimitri figuratively held his breath, and pushed up to surface.

His head broke through to air, but even before he let himself breathe, he submerged himself immediately again, praying for the luck if would take to pull this off. Less than a second later, an arrow broke through the surface just next to him, bogged down by the water as it whizzed past his cheek. It was the opening he was looking for.

Propelling himself out of the water, Dimitri gripped the edge and threw his weight forward to roll out upon solid ground again. Taking in large, desperate gulps of air to dismiss the stars blooming in front of his eyes, he didn’t give himself any time to rest as he rolled to his feet, and began to stumble away from the clearing in a deliberate zig-zagging pattern. His shoulder pulsed with striking agony, the arrow embedded deeply inside his muscle, but Dimitri paid it no heed for now. Now, the most critical next step would be to find cover, preferably within the trees, where a sniper would not be able to have a clear shot at him.

The next arrow that flew towards him landed just past him with a thud, and Dimitri pushed himself to run faster. The time it took for the sniper to string another arrow would be the time he needed to break through the treeline, and eventually find cover.

He entered the forest once more just as an arrow thudded into the tree trunk next to him, bark flying towards his face. Dimitri didn’t even notice it, too busy finding his footing amongst the uneven forest floor.

Past the sound of his own panting in his ears, Dimitri became aware of rapid footsteps and the shifting of the forest behind him. His attacker was pursuing him, predictably, but Dimitri needed a moment to reorganize himself if he ever wanted to face off against him.

The choice was made for him when that single moment of inattention had his left foot catching into a high tree root. Dimitri’s breath caught in his throat, and he willed himself not to make any noise as he fell, his injured shoulder hitting the ground painfully, snapping the shaft of the arrow in half. He rolled down the slope before him and his fall was broken by shrubbery, in which he found himself rolling to a stop. His entire body felt like it was on fire, his injured arm quickly going numb, telltale of some form of poison on the arrowhead. He couldn’t worry about it too much, however. By the time he had recovered, a glance up at the slope he’d fallen on showed that his attacker had caught up.

The man stood at the top of the hill, bow in hand, scanning the forest before him, and Dimitri held his breath. He was hidden by the shrubs, but still felt exposed and vulnerable in his state. Thankfully, the man really didn’t seem to see Dimitri, and began to descend the slope with careful steps. Every loud crunch of dry leaves beneath his feet sent Dimitri’s pulse skyrocketing, but he used the cover of that noise to shift into a crouch, his uninjured (and thankfully, dominant) hand going to grasp the only hunting spear he still had strapped to his back after everything that had happened. Letting the man get close was in his best interest, he figured, as using a bow in close quarters was a very difficult skill, and Dimitri knew he excelled in close combat.

The assassin descended all the way to Dimitri’s level, carefully stepping forward, arrow strung on his bow. He was clearly trying to listen for Dimitri, somewhere in the forest, and was on high alert. Analyzing the demeanor of the man, Dimitri stayed crouched to lie in wait, grip tight around his spear.

It felt like the hunt had begun, but it was unclear who was the hunter, and who was to be prey.

It all came down, in the end, to a matter of seconds.

The assassin stopped walking a few feet to Dimitri’s right, likely doing a visual sweep of the forest. In that moment, his grip loosened on the arrow he held strung.

Dimitri pounced, like a hunter with prey, and rose from the shrubs in one fluid motion to throw his spear at the man’s back.

The assassin barely had time to react before the thick wooden spear pierced below his shoulder blades, cleanly out the front of his ribcage.

Dimitri finally let out the breath he’d been holding since he’d fallen into the pond, and watched the man tumble to the ground, heaving desperate breaths as he grabbed at the spear protruding from his body.

His prey now immobilized, he approached with a stumble, and grabbed the man’s head. The assassin scrabbled weakly at Dimitri’s waterlogged, dirty clothes with choked pleas for mercy, but Dimitri solemnly tightened his hands around the man’s jaw, and twisted.

“I’m sorry,” he choked out, hearing his neck crack, and his arms fall to the ground. When he removed his hands, the snap of bone still remained like a phantom sensation on his palms.

He wanted to say he felt disgusted, but he could only feel resignation.

He was used to this, after all.

Getting up to his shaky knees, Dimitri quickly began to head off, now minded on getting help. His left arm felt like it was on fire where the arrowhead was still lodged, but the rest of the limb felt weak and numb. His fingers tingled when he clenched his fist, and the blood loss, alongside the declining adrenaline, began to make him dizzy.

He painstakingly made his way through the forest, calves aching when he climbed the slope, trying to head back towards the clearing as best as he could. The trees all looked the same, however, and the light filtering in from above gave him no comfort at all when he quickly realized that he was lost. He didn’t have a compass on him, either- Mercedes was the one who had been carrying their survival pack-

Mercedes.

“Mercedes!” Dimitri called out as loudly as he could, scaring some birds off a nearby perch. They flew off above the treetops, and Dimitri wished, for a second, that he could do the same. “Mercedes, can you hear me?” he tried again, panting with the effort.

No reply came, and Dimitri advanced more towards what he hoped was the right general direction. His vision was swimming, possibly as whatever was on the arrowhead began to infiltrate his blood, and he had to pull his hand away from his wounded shoulder several times to catch himself on trees when his knees buckled beneath him. A thin sheen of sweat began to pearl on his forehead, turning his face dark with dirt and dust.

A few minutes later, he called again.

“Mercedes!”

The call took a lot out of him, leaving him short of breath. His limbs were too shaky, so to avoid falling flat on his face, Dimitri lowered himself against a tree trunk, and tried to catch his breath.

“Excuse me!” he called out one more time, closing his eyes and laying his head against the tree trunk. His voice broke with the effort of catching his heaving breaths. “Mercedes! Anyone!”

Even with his eyes closed, his head continued to spin, and Dimitri figured it wouldn’t be so bad to rest, just for a little while.

The next time he came to, he felt lighter, as if something heavy had been taken off his shoulders. As his senses came back to him one by one, he noticed that there was the subtle sound of chimes in the air, and that a soft, comforting voice was humming.

“Mercedes…?” he guessed, managing to crack his eyes open. He immediately noticed that her blurry face was being bathed orange by the light of sunset.

Yet, last he checked, the day had only just begun…

“Oh, Dimitri!” she exclaimed lightly, smiling at him as if there was no problem at all. “Welcome back. I surmise you’ve been out for a while now, haven’t you?”

“What’s happened…?” Dimitri grunted, trying to move, but placated by Mercedes’ gentle hand on his uninjured shoulder.

“You went missing, so we set out to search for you,” Mercedes simply explained. “It’s almost sunset now. You’ll be just fine, though.”

“Urgh… How careless of me to fall asleep in the open like this…” Dimitri chided himself, shifting his sore limbs. He noticed that his left arm didn’t hurt as much anymore, and a glance at it showed that his sleeve had been ripped away, blood-stained bandages now covering the entirety of his shoulder.

“You passed out,” Mercedes corrected him, putting a hand on his injured shoulder, and murmuring something under her breath that made her palm start glowing white. The sound of chimes rang out distantly again. “You can hardly choose where to pass out, now, can you?”

“Still… if my assailant had not been acting alone… I shudder to think in how much danger I could’ve placed myself,” Dimitri frowned.

“What happened, anyway?” Mercedes asked, making herself comfortable on the forest floor next to Dimitri.

“I tracked down and killed a boar in a clearing, but there was an assassin lying in wait to strike me down. Possibly, information had been leaked to his employers about today’s hunting excursion, and they sent someone to kill me once I would be lost and alone. Regardless, I escaped, and he pursued me into the forest.” Dimitri’s hands tightened. “I killed him.”

“I see.” Mercedes’ tone made it sound like it was all a casual occurrence, and the lightness of her tone comforted Dimitri. He knew very well, after all, that he’d be near-smothered with concern when Ingrid and Dedue learned of this incident. “I found the clearing where you’d hunted down that boar, and saw that there was a bloody trail leading into the forest, but I’m not much of a hunter, and was unable to follow your tracks all the way here.”

“Then, how did you…?” Dimitri trailed off, just as the sound of crunching leaves and footsteps became audible.

“I had help,” Mercedes chuckled, and lifted her gaze upwards. Dimitri followed it, blinking to see sharper, and spotted the moment where the Blue Lions burst through the trees to rush at them, Ashe at the front of the charge.

“Your Highness!” Dedue’s and Ingrid’s voices mingled as they all set eyes upon him. Trying to appease them even a little, Dimitri gave them both a sheepish little wave of his hands.

It seemed to do nothing to smooth the furrow of their brows. They all frantically ran towards him all the same.

“I tried to run and get help as fast as I could!” Ashe began, skidding to a stop to catch his breath. “Were you two alright in the meantime?”

Dimitri opened his mouth to assure them that they were, but he was cut off.

“The knights are on their way, Your Highness,” Ingrid assured him, kneeling next to him to be at eye level. “I was so worried earlier, seeing you unconscious… I’m glad you’re awake.”

Dimitri tried to comfort her before Annette’s shriek stopped him.

“Unconscious!?” she gasped, looking at Mercedes for confirmation. “Oh no, what happened? When I heard you had gotten injured, I didn’t think it was that bad!”

“It wasn’t-” Dimitri tried, only to flinch when Dedue dropped to his knees before him, head bowed.

“Your Highness, I am so deeply ashamed for not being able to protect you.” His voice was low, solemn, as if he was grieving. “My shortcomings as your vassal have put you in danger, and no amount of regret and apologies can earn me forgiveness.”

“Dedue, it’s fi-”

“He’s fine, guys!” Sylvain butted in loudly, the high pitch of his voice betraying his anxiety. “See? He’s awake, alive, and only looks slightly worse than usual! Mercedes did a great job at patching him up, so it’s all good, isn’t it?”

“Indeed, thank-”

“Are you a fool?” Felix cut him off viciously, the tightness of his curled fists speaking volumes about how stressed he felt. “You may be an animal, but the point of a hunting trip is to be the hunter, not the prey. Did someone really have to explain that to you, too?”

“Let me speak!” Dimitri huffed out in frustration, getting their attention as he gently pushed Mercedes away, and stood. Dedue immediately rushed to support him, but Dimitri stopped him with a single hand motion. “Firstly, although your concern is appreciated, I cannot breathe with everyone crowding around me like this.” At that, everyone shifted back a little, mostly subconsciously. “Secondly, I did not purposefully get so badly hurt, so although I apologize for the trouble, I’d also like to mention that if it were up to me, we wouldn’t even be here in the first place.”

He then took a deep breath in, straightened his back, and, clandestinely glancing where he remembered having slain the assassin, he let it out in a heavy sigh.

“And thirdly, let me assure you that it is not uncommon for people to make attempts on my life. They have happened many times before, and will continue to happen in the future.”

Protests began to rise from the crowd of teenagers in front of him, denying his claim or promising him protection, but Dimitri silenced them all with a wave of his hand.

“It’s the undeniable reality for royalty, to be the target of those who disagree with their existence. I am no exception to that rule,” he acknowledged, watching as a somber expression was cast across several faces before him. They knew he was right. “And, although this incident is unfortunate, it’s also a reminder for me, never to neglect my training and never to become complacent if I wish to live. And I did- live, that is. So, each and every one of these assassination plots is as good as a lesson to me, and through each one, I will continue to live.”

If anyone was about to say anything to Dimitri’s grim words, they were interrupted by the arrival of the knights, or mostly, one knight in particular.

“Students!” Through the trees, armour clanked loudly as Alois came into view. “Fear not, for the knights have arrived! We shall now proceed to securing you all and taking you back to the monastery. Come, this way!”

“Let’s go back,” Dimitri decided, whipping around to head towards the knights. The Blue Lions parted to let him through, and Dimitri had no doubt that they all watched him retreat with worry in their eyes. He wished they wouldn’t worry for him, really. Not only was he unworthy of their concern, but he also didn’t need it.

He still had a goal to achieve, after all. A goal that required him to stay alive for now.

“Shamir,” he called as he walked past the stern-looking woman hiding behind Alois. “There was one assassin. I left him at the foot of the slope, not too far in that direction.”

“Understood.” Never one for unnecessary conversation, she slinked towards the direction that Dimitri had indicated, past the students who watched her go by with apprehension on their faces.

Dimitri stayed silent during the entire trip back. Mercedes continued to work on his shoulder until they got to Manuela for proper surgery, but nobody else dared approach him. They all just watched him from afar, hands twisting and eyes darting as if one of Dimitri’s killers would come for them next.

And one day, perhaps soon, someone new would come for Dimitri’s life. Perhaps they would come in the middle of the night, or in broad daylight. Perhaps they would come with a sword, a bow, or even poison in his food. They would come when he’d be alone, or would hide amongst crowds of people around him. Dimitri never knew when it would happen, but he always knew to expect.

He wasn’t worried. He’d lived so far; who’s to say he wouldn’t continue to live on past the next time as well?

…-…-…-…

IV: To Die

It was not unexpected for someone to come for Dimitri’s head when they had managed to advance so far into Empire territory. With Fort Merceus now far behind them, and Enbarr on the horizon, it was only a matter of time until someone decided to snip the Kingdom army’s advance in the bud, namely, by eliminating its leader.

However, Dimitri was tired, the long march having worn him down, and on this night particularly, the ghosts he thought he’d stopped seeing were back to haunt him. He hadn’t been able to sleep when his father’s ghost had stood solemnly at the foot of his bedroll, and so Dimitri had left the tent, ignoring Byleth’s sleepy noises of confusion.

His feet did not lead him far, as he wasn’t stupid enough to venture outside camp grounds on Empire territory. Despite his near-superhuman strength and skill, he still didn’t want to get himself in trouble after coming so far. Perhaps, a few months ago, he would’ve left the camp to ride off by himself to Enbarr, and would inevitably have gotten himself killed in the process, but now, thanks to the countless sacrifices that others had made for him, he knew better.

In fact, when he stopped near the edge of camp, Rodrigue’s ghost was the one waiting for him, nearly shining in the light of a nearby torch.

“So…” Dimitri sighed to himself, locking eyes with the man who’d been like a second father to him. “It’s to be you, this time…”

Predictably, Rodrigue said nothing. Dimitri’s ghosts rarely spoke to him, and when they did, Dimitri suspected that it was simply a parrot of his own vicious thoughts.

“I suppose that if I apologize for your death, you’ll scold me,” Dimitri hummed, his heart heavy as he stopped next to Rodrigue, and leaned his weight forward against a post.

There was a soft, warm wind that caressed his cheeks, a stark difference from the bitterly frigid weather that they’d encountered upon liberating Fhirdiad only a few months back.  Dimitri felt it ruffle his hair, and wondered why he could not feel at peace in this moment. The specter standing next to him might have something to do with that, he supposed.

“We’re almost to Enbarr,” Dimitri spoke up after a second of silence. “There, I will destroy Edelgard, and you will finally be able to rest in peace. You, Glenn, Father… Mother…”

Cornelia’s traitorous last words came to mind, but he swallowed heavily, and thought of something else.

“And then, I suppose… I suppose I’ll begin my reign as King,” Dimitri mumbled, unsure how he truly felt about it. All his life, he’d been groomed to wear the Crown, but when it came down to it, he was only twenty-three years old, broken by all of his trauma and haunted by all of his demons. Some of the horrors he’d committed with his own two hands in the past five years felt like they could never be forgiven. Even if Rodrigue had absolved him of guilt before passing away, Dimitri still saw his ghost, and knew he’d see him until the day he died. He’d stood on the balcony in Fhirdiad as a King, and yet, he did not feel like one at all.

Some parts of him he just did not know how to fix.

“Perhaps it would have been best that I did not escape Fhirdiad the first time,” he sighed in conclusion, and turned to face Rodrigue’s ghost.

Rodrigue was not there. Thin air stood in his place.

“I don’t think that’s true.”

The new voice startled Dimitri into a fighting stance. It came from his right, and his vision was limited on that side, and so, the only logical thing that Dimitri’s body did was swing at the person standing behind him. His arm ripped through the air, and made contact with flesh before Dimitri even identified the newcomer. It took a moment for the spike of adrenaline to die down, at which point, Dimitri’s vision refocused, and his consciousness became grounded in the present, away from his ghosts, and to the person in front of him.

Byleth waited for the light of recognition to spark in Dimitri’s eyes before dropping his arm, Dimitri also dropping the arm he’d swung and that Byleth had caught in a block.

“Professor, I… I apologize, I didn’t…” Dimitri trailed off sheepishly, glad that Byleth was a master hand-to-hand combatant, and that his heavy swing had not seemed to faze him.

“That’s alright,” Byleth assured him, shaking his arm a few times, possibly to dispel the numbness that came with blocking one of Dimitri’s attacks. “I am unharmed.”

“Right…” Still, it didn’t sit right with Dimitri. Saying nothing, he allowed Byleth to come closer, and lean on the post next to him to keep him company. “Professor, you were sleeping earlier, when I left, weren’t you? Did I wake you up when I left?”

“It’s late, and you seemed like you had something on your mind,” Byleth simply shrugged, as if that was reason enough. “I followed you to make sure you were alright.”

“I’m fine,” Dimitri assured him, turning to look at him and finding that Byleth was looking at him, too. He was being looked at with such care and adoration under an otherwise neutral expression that it made him feel even worse.

He felt unworthy of being King, and unworthy of being Byleth’s.

“Did you have a nightmare?” Byleth asked, still, seeing right through Dimitri.

“No, I… I wasn’t able to sleep at all. I kept… seeing my father, in the tent, and I… I couldn’t…”

“I watched you a little before approaching,” Byleth continued, sensing Dimitri’s discomfort and hoping to take the lead on the conversation. “Is that who you were talking to earlier?”

“No, it was… Rodrigue,” Dimitri admitted with a sigh. “I thought that he, of all people, would not come to haunt me, and yet…”

“You know, Dimitri… Rodrigue told you, before he died, that his death was not your fault, and that you need not feel guilty about it,” Byleth reminded him gently. “So, if he haunts you, it’s because you allow him to. Did you not trust him enough in his lifetime to trust in his last words?”

“I did, I did trust him, but…” Dimitri glanced away guiltily.

“Then let it go.”

Putting his hands up slowly, so that Dimitri could track them, Byleth reached up to Dimitri’s face, and slid his fingers through his hair. The roughness of his sword-wielding palms scratched at Dimitri’s scalp soothingly, and Dimitri sighed, easing into his hold.

“Dimitri… If you intend to carry the burdens of the world upon your shoulders, then you must first unload the weight that is already there. It might not happen overnight, but you must try to let go of the demons inside of you. You’ve already come so far since you returned to us, after that battle at the Great Bridge of Myrddin, and every day, I see you fighting to become a better man. But this is a step you must take, Dimitri, or else you will never heal.” Scratching at his scalp gently, Byleth ran his hands downwards, cupping the back of Dimitri’s neck, and then trailing his hands down to set them flat against his chest, right next to his heart.

A visible shiver ran through Dimitri when Byleth locked gazes with him, his quiet conviction shining through under the torchlight.

“It’s time to let your demons go, Dimitri. Don’t you think they’ve hurt you enough?”

And Dimitri’s expression crumbled, because as always, Byleth was right.

The two of them stood in silence, their shadows entwined on the ground, flickering with the dance of the torch’s flame. Byleth’s hands felt warm where they were splayed against his chest, a grounding beacon and a source of comfort for Dimitri’s drifting consciousness. With a soft sigh, he tilted his head downwards towards Byleth, and the latter met him halfway, and when their foreheads touched, Dimitri’s entire body and soul turned warm.

“I don’t know what would become of me if I did not have you at my side,” Dimitri admitted in a breathy rasp, shoulders slumping under the weight of his words.

“I can guess.” The way that Byleth pronounced those words felt heavy, burdened beyond his years of life, but Dimitri chose not to dwell on it. “And I can assure you that there is nowhere I would rather be.”

Beyond loyalty, this was something else, something that Dimitri knew well but still had difficulty accepting. He was a sinner, and Byleth a saint- and yet, when Dimitri came close, Byleth let him stay. The expanse of his arms felt more like home than Fhirdiad would ever be.

They only unwound from one another when the clanking of armour began to approach them. Pulling apart with a soft sigh, Dimitri glanced up at the soldier approaching them, mourning the loss of Byleth’s hands as they, too, fell away.

“Hello, Professor, Your Highness,” the man greeted with a short bow as he came to a stop next to them. “It’s quite late. Has something happened for you both to be so far out in the camp?”

“Nothing has happened,” Dimitri assured the man in a clipped tone, letting his commander’s persona surface. “We were simply talking. Now, you may vacate to your duties.”

“Of course,” the man put his hands in front of him for a bow, and in that moment, several things happened at once.

Dimitri felt an overwhelming pain in his abdomen, one that nearly had him going blind, but when he blinked, he was simply standing in front of the soldier again. Byleth, however, had tensed next to him.

Before he could ask what was wrong, the pain in his abdomen disappeared, and instead, a sharp pain stabbed through his heart. Dimitri choked on his own breath at the sheer agony of it, but again, when he glanced around, nothing had happened.

“Of course,” the man put his hands in front of him for a bow, and once more, Dimitri felt an agonizing pain in his side. When he blinked, the man put his hands in front of him for a bow, and-

Quickly palpating his side, Dimitri noted that there was nothing there. And then, pain exploded in between his eyes, the headache nearly killing him on the spot.

When he came to, the man put his hands out-

“What’s going on?” he choked out in his confusion, clutching at his head where the pain still ebbed and flowed like a phantom sensation. Next to him, Byleth urgently grabbed his arm, squeezing tightly, but Dimitri did not have time to glance down. He blinked, and suddenly, he was back in Byleth’s arms.

It didn’t feel nearly as comforting, though. Byleth’s hands were splayed against his chest, but the feeling of his grip lingered on his arm. Their foreheads touched, but only for a moment. As soon as the sound of clanking armour came near, Byleth tore himself away from Dimitri and spread his legs in a fighting stance.

Dimitri barely had time to mourn the loss of his warmth before Byleth rushed at the soldier approaching them.

“Hello, Professo- uhh, what’s going on?” The soldier barely had time to react before Byleth was upon him, throwing a fist at his face. The man reacted quickly, to his credit, and ducked, pulling out his sword.

“Professor!” Dimitri called out, his eye widening in surprise as he watched Byleth enter full-on combat with the man. “What’s the meaning of this?”

Not saying a single word, Byleth ducked under a swing of the man’s blade and then grabbed his arm, expertly flipping him over his shoulder until he hit the ground with a thud and a choked breath. Disarming him was simple, at that point, and by the time Dimitri rushed to his side, Byleth already had his boot on the man’s chest, and the man’s own blade pointed at his throat.

“Professor, what’s gotten into you?” Dimitri asked, bewildered by the strange situation that had just taken place. He felt like he was hallucinating again, but he wasn’t even sure what he’d hallucinated, and what was real.

“Where does your allegiance lie?” Byleth ignored him and calmly spoke to the man under his foot instead. To his credit, his captive stayed stubbornly silent, despite the clear threat. “Tell me now, and I will let you live. Who sent you?”

“Sent to do what?” Dimitri asked, glancing between the man and Byleth himself. “He was merely on patrol, Professor, he’s one of our men-”

“He is not,” Byleth cut him off, sounding so sure of his own words that Dimitri did not dare question his conviction. “So, tell me who sent you. Are you an Imperial agent?”

The man set his jaw at that, and visibly rolled his tongue in his mouth.

“Glory to the Adrestian Empire,” he said, and his head fell back against the ground with a thud. Eyes wide open, he let out a few choked breaths, and then stilled.

Without a single reaction, Byleth threw the sword to the ground and stepped off the soldier to face Dimitri, who looked completely lost.

“We should be careful from here on out,” he simply advised to Dimitri, who nodded numbly.

“Of course, Professor, but how… Wait, no. What just happened?” He narrowed his eye at Byleth, who met his gaze coolly. “Professor, what did you do?”

“I stopped an attempt on your life,” Byleth responded matter-of-factly. “Come. We should speak to the Captain on duty about this incident.”

“But…” Dimitri didn’t even know how to explain the phantom pains and touches he’d felt, all in that one moment. He wanted to ask Byleth what it was about, but felt like he’d go crazy trying to explain it.

So, when Byleth took his hand and tugged him forward, Dimitri numbly followed.

He trailed after Byleth without registering much of what went on, letting the other do all the talking, just this once. Once business was taken care of, they retired to their shared tent, where exhaustion hit Dimitri like a mid-flight wyvern. He simply stood, watching Byleth take his extra layers off and then lay down in the bedroll. He only moved when beckoned forward, pulling his boots off and sliding into the bedroll as well.

He settled down face-to-face with Byleth, who gave him a soft, sad smile before putting his hand up. First, he touched Dimitri’s abdomen, and then his chest, and then his flank, and finally, ended by brushing hair off his forehead, touch lingering on his brow.

All the places where Dimitri had hallucinated those terrible, unexplained pains.

“Professor, tell me I’m not going mad,” he begged in a low voice, leaning into Byleth’s touch desperately. "Back there, something happened. These places you’ve touched… I was in so much pain, so much I thought I would die. But nothing happened.”

“I know.” Byleth’s expression tensed, and he gently set his hand against the curve of Dimitri’s cheek.

“What is it that you’re not telling me, Professor?” Dimitri asked, pleading Byleth for the truth behind all his cryptic words and even more cryptic actions. “You knew that man was an Adrestian assassin before he even spoke to us. And yet, I thought he had spoken to us already. How did that happen? There’s no rational explanation I can think of.”

“Dimitri.” Cutting his thought process short, Byleth sighed, and stilled. He seemed to be contemplating what to say, confirming that he was hiding something. It hurt a little to know that despite Dimitri being willing to open up to Byleth, the other was unwilling to do the same.

“Professor… Byleth,” Dimitri addressed him directly, no longer leaving any place for formalities. “We spoke about how I needed to release my burdens… and that applies to you, too. Please, tell me what’s on your mind. Don’t you trust me, too?”

“Of course I do,” Byleth murmured hastily, his tight tone of voice too anxious to be anything but truthful. “Dimitri… I promise you… With everything that I have and everything that I am, I promise you that I will explain everything to you when the time comes. Let us win this war first, and then, the moment we are crowned its victors, I will tell you about what happened today, and what’s been happening all this time.”

“You’re worrying me,” Dimitri admitted, roving his gaze across Byleth’s pained expression. “It felt like I died back there, several times. I still felt the pain when I blinked and saw that man bowing once more… Over and over again… It was as if I’d been dreaming, or as if time had been rewound…”

“Dimitri.” Byleth’s voice was urgent as it cut him off. “There is no use in dwelling on it now. It’s over.”

“Is it really?” Dimitri challenged him. “When I blink next, will we be back outside, holding each other in the torchlight?” He put his hand over the one Byleth had cupped around his face, twining their fingers together. “Will I blink, and watch you slip into this bed, with only a phantom sensation of your touch lingering on my skin?”

“Please, Dimitri, I beg of you not to ask me any more…” In a rare show of distress, Byleth pulled away from him, cradling his hands against himself. Unwilling to let him go, Dimitri bridged the gap, and took his hands back, holding them tightly between them.

“One answer, Professor. Just one, and I will stop asking for tonight,” Dimitri promised. “Please. I want to understand.”

Byleth seemed to hesitate a little longer, and Dimitri let him. For, when he let out a heavy sigh, he knew he’d prevailed.

“You did die, Dimitri,” Byleth admitted quietly, his heavy words floating off into the silence of the night. Crickets chirped outside as if nothing groundbreaking had just been said, as if Dimitri’s heartbeat hadn’t just accelerated exponentially. “Four times. That assassination was successful, four times, and I couldn’t… I couldn’t save you.”

“But I’m here now,” Dimitri murmured in a simultaneous question and reassurance, the words instinctive even though his throat felt tight.

“Yes, I…” Byleth’s gaze fell. “I did what I had to do to save you.” He then glanced up at Dimitri, desperate. “Now, please. No more questions.”

“No more questions,” Dimitri promised him, even though he had a myriad of them lined up in his mind, squeezing his hands once more before letting him go. “Let’s win the war, Byleth, so that you may allow me to carry your burdens as well.”

Not replying, Byleth gave him a brief, shy smile, and then flipped around to sleep with his back to Dimitri. He didn’t mind. After all, he understood first-hand how difficult it was for Byleth to bare himself in front of him, and was glad that he was willing to take the first step at all.

It gave him just another reason to fight hard and win the war. For his country, for his family, for his beliefs, and for Byleth.

He settled himself to sleep, laying his gaze upon the mint of Byleth’s hair and letting the sound of his steady breathing lull him to sleep. His body felt drained, as did his mind, although this seemed like a reasonable consequence of having died four times, allegedly.

Dimitri figured that he was exceptionally lucky to have learned what it felt like to die. And yet, a bitter realization came to him as he thought of that overwhelming agony he’d felt; that he’d already lived through things much worse than death.

…-…-…-…

V: To Fight

They fought the war, and won.

Dimitri formally took his place as King of the now-unified Fódlan, and was wedded to Byleth on the first opportune occasion.

Dimitri’s brothers and sisters-in-arms followed their aspirations and became the men and women they’d dreamed of becoming during their long-gone days at the Officer’s Academy.

Achieving true peace was a long and uphill battle, despite the defeat of the Adrestian Emperor, and Dimitri worked tirelessly at it, redacting treaties and negotiating terms with all corners of the Kingdom  to try and appease the angry and support the broken.

It was thankless work, but Dimitri felt like there was no better way to atone for all the monstrosities he’d committed throughout his life. Seeing his people living to their fullest was enough to keep him going strong.

It took several years for things to stabilize, but finally, one day, Dimitri woke up to the sight of Byleth’s peaceful face, and just knew that everything would be alright from then on.

He prepared for his day as he always did, by bathing first, and then dressing himself. By the time he returned to the bedroom, pulling his hair into his favourite ponytail hairstyle, Byleth had finally risen, donning his robes for yet another day as the Archbishop of the Church of Seiros.

“Fine morning, isn’t it?” Dimitri greeted him, indulging himself with a few simple seconds of just staring at his beloved as he got dressed.

“Indeed.” Time had passed, but had not changed Byleth. He still remained a man of few words, and Dimitri loved him all the same.

(He’d developed a newfound admiration for Byleth since he’d explained the truth about himself. The day after they killed Edelgard in Enbarr, Byleth sat him down and told him everything- from Sothis, to his own identity, to his mysterious time-twisting ability, to the several lives he’d lived before this one. After many tears on both sides, Dimitri had vowed to never again let anything hurt the man he loved. And, up to this day, he still upheld that promise to himself).

“Let me do your hair,” Dimitri offered, enjoying the feeling of running his hands through Byleth’s mint strands before doing them up in a ponytail held in place by a ribbon that Claude had gifted him the last time he’d visited from Almyra.

“Thank you,” Byleth nodded once he was done, and stood. “I should go. I’ve yet to convince the bishops to change the name of the church to reflect belief in Sothis rather than Seiros. Even after Rhea disappeared, they still cling onto her desperately.”

“So you’re leaving for Garreg Mach?” Dimitri couldn’t help the disappointment that welled up within him. If he’d known that last night was the last time he’d sleep next to Byleth in a while, he would’ve cherished it more.

“Yes. I should return before the end of the month,” Byleth nodded, turning to Dimitri. A glint of mischief lit up in his eyes as he noted his husband’s dejected expression. “Try not to miss me so much. Or at the very least, don’t make it so obvious.”

“You know how to read me like an open book.” Dimitri rolled his eyes, opening his arms and letting Byleth slip into his hold. “Safe travels. I shall see you when you return to Fhirdiad.”

“I’ll have Mercedes prepare your favourite sweets and bring them back to make up for lost time,” Byleth joked, glancing up at him. His eyes softened when he looked upon Dimitri’s youthful but tired face. “Stay well.”

“I will,” Dimitri promised, and bid Byleth goodbye with one last kiss. The Archbishop left their shared quarters with a subconscious spring in his step, one that Dimitri never failed to find adorable.

Once he was gone, Dimitri found it a little easier to focus on his tasks at hand. A king never truly got to rest, so, as he headed towards the dining hall to have breakfast, he already began to make a list of things he had to address today.

In that sense, the day flew by. With one meeting before the next, answering one inquiry between two conversations, and reviewing treaties next to harvest reports, Dimitri couldn’t complain about time dragging on. The maids had already lit the candles and torches by the time he called it a day, heading back to his quarters with a drag in his step. The maids were already tidying up in his absence, and, used to the King’s routine, they let him undress himself as someone fetched his dinner.

Exhausted, Dimitri pulled on his nightwear and stretched out on the chaise lounge with Ashe’s newest publication in hand while he waited for dinner. He was able to read a chapter and a half of the humorous tale before a maid returned, announcing herself softly and leaving the tray at Dimitri’s desk.

Raising his gaze from the book with a furrow of his brow, Dimitri caught her attention before she left.

“Ah, please, if you wouldn’t mind… I usually eat here, on the chaise, so if you could leave the tray on the coffee table…” He tried to be polite even though he found it slightly strange that someone had made a mistake in his routine for the first time in literal years. Still, seeing the way that the girl squeaked out her anxious apologies and rushed to correct her mistake, he figured that she might just be new, and relaxed.

“Forgive me, your Majesty,” she apologized, setting the tray on the table in front of Dimitri. “Please enjoy your meal.” And, skittishly, she all but ran to the door, leaving Dimitri alone.

He read a couple of other pages from Ashe’s novel before setting it down, and turning to his food. It looked like what he usually ate at night- a light broth with some bread, cheese, and fruits.  Not that it really mattered- Dimitri had never quite regained his sense of taste over time, so even to this day, all meals tasted bland.

The silence in the room felt a little oppressive. These past few nights, Dimitri had the pleasure of dining with his husband, and so he’d gotten used to their quiet conversations between bites of food. Still, both of them were very important and very busy men, so nights spent together were far and few in between. Dimitri tried not to let the separation get to him, and instead, focused on looking forward to the next time they’d see one another.

Still, he missed Byleth, as purely and simply as that. The thought of him left a pit in Dimitri’s stomach, ruining his appetite.

He decided against finishing his food, and picked up Ashe’s novel again to try and distract himself until he fell asleep.

Eventually, his eye began to close of its own accord, so Dimitri decided to go to bed. Closing his book, he got to his feet, surprising himself when he swayed before finding his balance. Exhaustion must have hit him hard, he figured, and waddled to his bed. He nearly didn’t manage to crawl under the covers and lay in the middle of the cold bed before he passed out.

The next morning, when the maids came in to clean the King’s chambers, Dimitri was still in bed, which was highly unusual for a man so determined to stick to routine. Eventually, one of them nervously tried to shake him awake.

Dimitri did not wake.

The alarm sounded across the entire castle, and yet, regardless of who tried their hand at rousing Dimitri, the King of Faerghus did not wake.

…-…-…-…

For the longest time, Dimitri felt like he was stuck in a deep, restful sleep. He slept, but also drifted in and out of consciousness long enough to be aware that he was asleep. In his bouts of consciousness, he sometimes heard nothing, but also felt something- the softness of his fluffed pillows, the slide of sheets on his skin, and warmth, always something warm in his hand.

It was the intrigue of that warmth that kept him coming back for more, pushing himself to spend more time in that strange state of semi-consciousness.

In those moments, he also heard, and became aware of the presence of many people in his chambers (how rude of them to intrude on his sleep, really). Some of them, he recognized blearily, and others, he didn’t.

“Hey come on, Dimitri… Don’t you think it’s time to wake up? Even you don’t need this much beauty sleep.”

He recognized Sylvain, and fought the sleep clinging to his consciousness to try and retort. To no avail.

“Seriously… You fought and conquered the entire continent, only to be brought to your knees in one night. You can do better than that. Wake up, and prove it to me.”

Felix, him and his challenges. Dimitri recognized him, and fought, just as he’d suggested, to wake up and take him up on the challenge, but he was unable to even move.

“Your Majesty… Dimitri… Please, wake up. I’ve been gone for far too long for my last memory of you to be our goodbye.”

And Dedue, his most loyal friend, sounded so hopeless that Dimitri fought against all his instincts to return to him, and promise him that this wouldn’t be goodbye.

“I swore my life to your service, but… even now, when you’re like this, there’s nothing I can do to serve you. Tell me, Your Majesty… What do I do now?”

Ingrid sounded so lost that Dimitri longed to smile at her and assure her that her unwavering presence at his side would always be enough.

Many more came and went, and yet, Dimitri noticed that he never heard the one voice he longed to hear most.

Byleth never spoke to him throughout his bouts of semi-consciousness, and Dimitri didn’t know how to feel about that. And so, he clung onto the only constant he could find; that of a solid, comforting weight in his hand.

Eventually, hearing from everybody but not from Byleth took its toll on Dimitri, and the complacency of his comfortable state of sleep began to give way to anger. More and more, he began to get angry, wondering why he couldn’t hear his beloved like he heard all of his other friends. And so, with anger fueling his every semi-waking moment, he began to fight, and push through the veil keeping him separated from the world in which his loved ones were waiting for him.

“I think I just saw him furrow his brows. That’s just like him. Come on, Dimitri, fight!”

Focusing on the weight in his hand, Dimitri fought.

“Wait, did you see that? I think he moved his legs under the cover… Your Majesty, can you hear me? Please, continue to fight!”

With the warmth in his hand as a beacon, Dimitri fought.

“Your Majesty… I can see you trying to open your eyes. Please, don’t give up now. Please, fight!”

Grasping tightly at whatever was so heavy in his hand, Dimitri fought.

“Whoa, did he just squeeze your hand there? I think he’s listening to us… Hey, Your Majesty! Come on and wake up, Byleth’s getting lonely without you here!”

Byleth, Byleth, Byleth. Dimitri fought.

And when he finally, finally opened his eye to the light once more, he knew he’d won his fight, against all odds.

His body felt weak, his throat parched, and his muscles aching. Still, the very first thing he did when his bedroom’s ceiling came into focus was to turn his head to the side, towards his warm hand.

As he suspected, it was being held, and the person who was holding it had been doing so for the entirety of his time spent asleep. So, when he raised his gaze and immediately met Byleth’s, he was unsurprised. Of course that he would be the one, once again, to find Dimitri in the abyss and guide him back home.

Dimitri tightened his grip on Byleth’s, finally squeezing back, and watched as a single tear rolled down his husband’s pale cheek.

“I knew you would fight,” Byleth murmured to him in a choked voice, an outpour of emotion compared to his usual demeanor. It simultaneously warmed Dimitris’s heart, to be the object of such adoration, and made him angry, for allowing himself into this situation in the first place.

“Of course I would,” he rasped in return, his voice rough and broken from long-term disuse. He cleared his throat to sound a little more sure of himself, and began to push himself up into a sitting position.

Byleth immediately jumped to help him, finally letting go of his hand, only to hold him instead. Dimitri worked to sit against the headboard, wincing at the ache of his stiff muscles, and Byleth sat next to him on the bed, thighs touching.

“I’m so glad you never gave up, Dimitri,” he told him, his voice soft and sweet and just a little bit broken. His cheeks were flushed and his eyes were wet, and the gentle smile on his lips only made the picture before Dimitri even more bittersweet.

“Me, too,” Dimitri admitted in a taboo whisper, wiping the tear off of Byleth’s cheek with his thumb. “I’ve given up so many times in the past, thinking that my life didn’t matter, but it’s different now.” Now, Dimitri truly felt alive. Not as a shell of himself, not as someone else. He felt alive, his ghosts no longer plagued him, and he was well on his way to atoning for all of his wrongdoings. Everywhere he looked, he could find people who loved him, and were loved by him in return.

Dimitri had always found a reason to fight, but this one here, to be able to return to the ones he loved at the end of the day… that one felt like the truest reason of all.

“For you, I’ll fight,” he promised, and shut his eyes to murmur it like a prayer to the Goddess, to Byleth, to the stars, and everything in between.