Edelgard doesn’t have the nightmares as much anymore.
Since coming to Askr, the long nights spent reliving her greatest trauma have not stopped, nothing so simple as that. Sometimes she grips the sheets in her bed, knuckles white as she tries not to feel the phantom cut of long blades in her flesh. The velvet-colored mattress, she forces herself to remember, is not stained with blood. She can move her arms and legs, lightly trying to shake away the fear is an option.
However, the solace this might bring her is made up for with the new fears. Now her memories are of conquest and violence. She sometimes still sees arrows flying out of the corner of her eye when none are there, and she is forced to remind herself that the war is long over and far away, so she will never need to strike down a friend again. But the wounds are fresher, a foe she has less experience facing, so even a seasoned warrior like Edelgard is caught off-guard sometimes.
One night, the hurt was particularly bad. Sleep eluded Edelgard as she wept silently into her pillow, thoughts of a long lost sister’s chestnut hair and bright smile tormenting her heart. She inhales sharply and chokes back a sob, as if as long as she doesn’t acknowledge it, it isn’t real.
And she’s used to that, but then come the newer memories. Towns in ruin, the innocent cowering before her, her axe cutting through flesh and bone. Her body gutted on the floor, and a cheer rising in the distance, a celebration at her own death.
Was it worth it? She doesn’t know, and that makes it all sting even worse.
She’s so caught up in the past that she cannot hear the footsteps next to her bed. It isn’t like Edelgard to let her guard down, even now. She nearly leaps from her bed when she hears the soft voice.
Jerking her vision up from the pillowcase, Edelgard sees the warm face of Mercedes von Martritz, her features twisted into an uncommon frown.
She’s known Mercedes a long time, since her stay at Garreg Mach. Though the woman was in a different house, they’d always gotten along well. It was hard not to get along with Mercedes, because she was almost gentleness incarnate. Even at her most resolute, Edelgard found herself slightly disarmed by Mercedes’ smile. When they had met on the battlefield, five years later, Edelgard couldn’t bear to look her in the eyes. But fate was strange, and Mercedes was now her roommate in Askr.
They still didn’t talk much, Edelgard didn’t feel worthy of that. But it was hard to avoid now.
She tries to banish any hint of sadness from her voice, hoping that the dim room won’t give away the tears.
“Are you crying?”
Edelgard turns away from Mercedes, making sure to dab her damp eyes on the pillowcase.
“No. Please return to bed.”
Shame fills her as the tears don’t stop and her voice hitches up on the final syllable. Not like this. Edelgard winces at the coming humiliation that is beginning to crawl up her chest and into her heart.
The bed creaks as Mercedes slides in next to her. Edelgard opens her mouth to protest, but shuts it quickly once another sob starts to bubble up.
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Mercedes is speaking delicately, as if a too-harsh word will break Edelgard in two. “I was a medic. Soldiers cry. I understand.”
An old weakness overcomes her, or perhaps her eyelids just can’t work anymore, and the tears begin to pour once again. Edelgard tries to bury her face, but something carefully reaches under her arms. Before she can protest, she feels the back of her neck touch the warmth of Mercedes’ skin, and she’s suddenly propped up on the other woman’s torso.
She can’t finish it. Something in her heart won’t let her finish the rebuke, and so she just lies there, caught halfway between words as Mercedes runs her fingers through long white locks of hair, not yet done up in their signature buns.
“You’re safe. You can cry.”
The permission hits her and the last bastions of defense drop. Her silent sobs are vocalized once more, and Edelgard lets the sorrow slam into her at full force. Images of pain and regret are coming in faster than she can process, and she can feel wet trails down her cheeks.
Mercedes is quiet, continuing to lightly play with Edelgard’s hair. Her typically cheerful face is fraught with worry.
“Do you need to talk about it?”
Edelgard shakes her head, almost on reflex. Only Byleth knows about the torment beneath the castle. She prefers to keep it that way, at least for now.
“That’s alright.” Mercedes smiles, although Edelgard expects it’s simply for her benefit, and begins to softly hum. The familiar tune stirs something in the former emperor’s heart.
“That’s the bell from the monastery.” she chokes out, eyes still wet and red. Memories of happier times start to trickle in.
“Mmhmm.” Mercedes continues, resting a hand on each of Edelgard’s shoulders and slowly swaying back and forth.
“You needn’t treat me like a child. I can take it from here.” Edelgard tries to roll away, but is gently stopped by Mercedes’ hand on her side.
“I know you can. You just don’t have to.” Mercedes leans over and gives Edelgard the smile again. Her very expression is inviting. Edelgard decides that her pride has gotten in the way long enough, and leans back into her earlier position. Rose faintly dusts her cheeks as Mercedes resumes the swaying motion, humming a tune that reminds them both of happier and simpler times. The nostalgia stirs up a few more tears in Edelgard, but they feel different than the ones she shed before. After a few quiet moments pass, the humming stops as Mercedes looks down again, a hint of worry on her face.
“Edelgard, does this happen often?”
“Yes.” There’s no point in lying anymore. She suspects Mercedes already knows.
“And you never came and talked to me?”
She’s taken aback. “Why would I? You know what I did. I thought you’d sooner cut my throat than-”
Edelgard nearly yelps as she’s pulled into a tighter squeeze, notably less comfortable.
“Edelgard.” Mercedes sounds stern, a tone Edelgard’s never heard from her before. “What do you mean?”
“I hurt so many people, Mercedes. Things had to change, but the way I did it...it wasn’t all right. Even I know that. And I’m trying to fix it, but...I didn’t think you’d ever forgive me.”
To her surprise, Mercedes gasps. The hold relaxes slightly, and a sheathe of blonde hair tickles the side of Edelgard’s cheek as the older woman looks down over her face.
“No mistake deserves to be punished forever. At least, that’s what I think. Especially not ones that are made with good intentions, and that you regret.” She passes a hand over Edelgard’s face, lightly dabbing at the dampness under her eyes with her sleeve. “So rest now. You’ll wake up and do better. You don’t have to be tortured anymore.”
“Dimitri forgave you, towards the end, you know. He didn’t want you to have to die.”
“I did.” Edelgard whispers. She suddenly notices that she’s lightly shaking. From behind her, she can hear Mercedes fidget a bit, the squeaks in the bed giving away her nervousness.
“Edelgard, if I’m only making it worse, I’ll go back to bed. I just wanted you to know that you don’t have to sit alone and...suffer.”
With almost all of her being, Edelgard wants to send her away. She is at once a magnificent emperor, who needs no pathetic coddling, and a scheming tyrant, who deserves none. Her training urges her to reassert her throne while her regret seeks to send her back to the torture chamber. Her heart, however, feels the touch of Mercedes’ kindly hands, hears the genuine sympathy in her voice, and yearns for companionship to weather this storm.
Edelgard decides that perhaps there is more to her life than the past.
“Please hold me, Mercedes.”
Her voice is faint, nearly silent, but it seems the healer heard. The hands move again, now lightly dragging her body over Mercedes’ before coming to rest around her midsection. She’s squeezed slowly back until her back is flush with the other woman’s torso. Mercedes’ legs twist out and interlock with hers, and Edelgard can feel pure warmth coming from the body that now surrounds her.
The reassurance immediately causes safety to bloom in her chest, the sensation spreading across her body. Two words, from the right person, feel magical in that instant. Her shoulders relax, her fists unclench, and the tears drip down her face once more. This time, though, they land on Mercedes’ chest.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to-”
“Shh. I’m here. But I won’t complain if you want to wash my pajamas tomorrow!”
She gives a light giggle and Edelgard can’t help but smile, though it does not stop the rain from her eyes.
Utterly surrounded by the much taller woman, something in Edelgard almost wants to scream out that she’s trapped. But Mercedes is warmth and calm, a soothing presence that smells like vanilla and sounds like old times. Like the monastery, when she could at least pretend to be a normal student. She missed the charade dearly.
Smooth and nimble fingers comb through her alabaster hair, brushing it out as Mercedes goes back to humming gently. Edelgard lets relief wash over her aching body and soul, her fingers idly tracing patterns on Mercedes’ knees. Mercedes titters softly.
“Well, you seem comfortable!”
Shame seems to pour over Edelgard as she realizes she’s sunk back into Mercedes’ welcoming arms and snuggled herself in. “Oh, oh my. I didn’t intend to…”
Edelgard attempts to squirm back out are stopped by those same gentle arms, revealing a surprising strength that hid behind Mercedes’ frail facade. Worse, the wriggling only seems to send her deeper into contact with her roommate. She wants to hate it, but...can’t. Mercedes, of course, is laughing again.
“It’s okay. I don’t mind, really!” She continues brushing through Edelgard’s hair. “I just never thought I’d have an Emperor in my lap!”
Her face actually feels hot after that. “Please, Mercedes, I’m...I’m not an Emperor anymore!”
Mercedes chuckles. “That’s the spirit! You’re just Edelgard now, right?”
The idea is liberating, somehow. Not being beholden to rule, with all of the painful decisions that power carries. No shackles of obligation wound tightly around her limbs, free to make her own decisions. Free to think for herself, fight for her friends, to read and fish and laugh and...snuggle, evidently?
Mercedes’ chin lands on the crown of her head. “You feeling any better?”
She hadn’t even noticed that the tears had stopped. “I am. I don’t know what to say to make it up to you, I no longer have the power to grant you any-”
The light touches on her hair start again, and Edelgard’s protests are silenced as the joy of contact causes her to melt a little. She leans gently against Mercedes’ hand.
“Just keep using your strength for good. Don’t make difficult decisions alone anymore.” Mercedes pauses, like she’s trying to find the words. “And the next time you feel this way in the middle of the night, promise to come and see me? The thought of leaving someone in such pain only a few feet away...as a healer, it sickens me.”
“I promise.” Edelgard whispers. She tries to silence the voice inside screaming at her for taking charity from a former enemy, for being a weakling, for being pathetic after the end. “I don’t know if tonight’s attack is over, though.”
In response, Mercedes leans back, slowly letting the both of them lie nearly flat against the bed. “Then I’ll stay here. As long as it takes, okay?”
“Thank you so much. You are a...remarkable woman, Mercedes.”
Edelgard laughs, this time strong enough to force through the gloom pervading her mind. “Edie? Have you been talking to Dorothea?”
Mercedes nods. “Mmhmm. We get along pretty well, you know. She’s worried about you.”
“I will do whatever it takes to assure her that she does not need to be.”
A pair of thumbs start to work their way along Edelgard’s shoulders, and she sighs contentedly as Mercedes speaks.
“Good. But do so tomorrow. Goodnight, Edelgard.”
Edelgard doesn’t have the nightmares as much anymore.
Her scars haven’t left, mental or physical. She hasn’t forgiven herself, and she doubts that she ever will, not completely. But when the nights get hard, and her darkest side yearns to torment her, she knows there’s a shelter but a few feet away.
Eventually, she knows, rest will come, and surely it can be found in the warm embrace of Mercedes von Martritz.