Cecil waits until Rydia's breath falls into the slow rhythm of sleep to pull off his helm. He leaves it on the ground by his side, lit red by the flickering of the wavering campfire, and runs his hands through the sweat-matted tangle of his hair.
This mask is what marks you as a knight, he remembers from the ceremony that marked his ascension to the post. And even if Baron is mad, even if he thinks he can still smell the smoke and burnt flesh lingering on his armor, even if his sword has met the flesh of his countrymen and he feels like a traitor to more than just his homeland, there must be some honor left in that.
He reaches for a twig and tosses it into the fire, half in hopes that the flame might grow for it and soothe his damp-chilled body, and half just to watch it wither and darken until it is as black as the armor he dare not shed. He tells himself it is for safety's sake. Should anyone manage to voyage through the caves as he and Rydia have, or should an airship catch sight of the smoke from their camp, he would need to defend them both, of course.
Kain would know that was a lie, and wouldn't be too afraid to admit it like Cecil is now. He'd have smirked if he'd heard it said it out loud. It's easy to imagine the curl of his lips from beneath his helmet, the tip of his head as he'd say lowly, “If that's what you'd like to believe, Cecil.” He'd always been doubtful of the dark knights. Not of their power, but of their standing, a strange new rank alongside the dragoons with their centuries of glory and lore.
“I prefer tradition,” he'd said coolly, when he heard of Cecil's decision. “You will walk your path, and I will walk mine.”
But Kain is gone. Likely dead, says the realist in Cecil, the voice in his mind that speaks loudest when he straps on his armor and tells himself that everything he does is for Baron. Dead, and his body lost forever, half-crushed somewhere in the rubble. He drowns out that reminder by tossing another stick into the fire and watching the smoke trail up toward the sky.
He remembers when he agreed to enter training– the fear that lurched in his gut when he thought of it, the pride that swelled within him when he reminded himself that he had been recommended for it, chosen. Special. “This is a sacrifice,” he'd been told by the king who might as well have been his father. “A noble thing. I am proud of you.” And he'd rolled those words around in his head as he lie awake at night to fend off the nightmares, as he ignored the screams of Mysidia's mages, as even Rosa hesitated before approaching him.
Rosa. She is surely lost to him as well. She likely thinks him dead, or worse, a traitor. And if ever she learns of the rest, she'll see him as a monster. He had expected to sacrifice his will, his face, his name. No longer Cecil, but Captain. But he thinks of stargazing from Baron's high towers, the smell of the ocean in the hills of the city, of winter afternoons in the castle grounds– Kain joking that Cecil blended in with the snow, Rosa scolding him, be kind– and realizes he never considered losing them all.
If it was his armor that cost him that, then he will keep it. He traces the eyes of the helm absently with one finger. They may as well be his own eyes, now. The mask is the knight, and the knight is the mask. Forget not your place, Captain.
The grass rustles slightly as Rydia stirs by his side, and all at once remembers where he is, what he has done. What she has lost for the sake of Baron's glory. Cecil remembers no mother and cannot imagine how it felt to hold her, to weep for her, to know there was nothing to be done. But he does understand that she gained nothing, agreed to nothing. Not as he has. Not as he did.
Penance, he thinks, watching the gold at the heart of the fire. Gold like the crests on Baron's banners, like Rosa, like Kain. Things that were never truly his to lose, if he's honest. I have suffered nothing yet.
When he sleeps at last, it is with the helm wrapped tight in his arms and his dark-bladed sword close to his side, each more part of him now than his own limbs.