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Eyes of the Beholder

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Dimitri stared at the flowers in his hand. His cheeks were tinted red and his heart was hammering against his chest. Sylvain, ever the supportive friend and womaniser, had said that giving flowers to the ‘lady you love’ would make her weak at the knees in love. Although he didn’t believe the absurd notion that giving flowers would make someone love another, he did see husbands giving flowers to their wives every so often. But he also saw friends give them to each other, more so when one was unwell or injured.

He had been somewhat confident to begin with, picking fresh flowers from hedges, low hanging branches, bushes and fresh blooms. He didn’t question what he was doing or why he was doing it. He just saw the most beautiful flowers and picked them. But now that he had finished, a bouquet of random flowers in his hand, tied gracefully (and neatly) with a blue ribbon, he didn’t know what he was doing. Or why.

What excuse would he give if he was asked why he was holding a bunch of flowers? He didn’t really have the answers. Perhaps it would be as a thank you gift? Didn’t people give flowers to each other in thanks? He was almost positive they did. So why was he having second thoughts?

He had the excuse, the reason why he was saying thank you. He had the script all in his head.

Not that a pre-written script ever worked but it gave him some confidence.

The overwhelming fact that he was a student, and she was his professor, weighed him down heavily. It caused a nauseating fear in the pit of Dimitri’s stomach, an ever-widening chasm that threatened to swallow him whole. 

It was simply a bouquet of flowers as thanks. 

That’s what it was.

It wasn’t like he loved just about everything about the professor. Her smile was downright mesmerising, eyes holding so much… emotion within them that the more it all swirl together the more confused he’d become with what she was feeling and thinking. She was helpful and kind, always listening to him. Even when he was a little outspoken and swiftly apologising for it, she was never upset at him. Often times she would thank him. Agree with him. Help him think things through.

But most of all, she helped to silence the voices of the deceased. Of those who died with lingering regret. She silenced them. At least for a time. She was admirable, inspiring, full of so much humanity that he didn’t see it all until he spent more time in her presence.

He wished so badly that he was better with words. That verbally complimenting her didn’t come off as being too forward. But, perhaps, he felt that way because he was always fumbling along? Merely trying to be a better person and keep all of his demons at bay.

To keep it all imprisoned inside himself.

“Hey, Dimitri. What are you doing with those flowers in your hand? Someone special?”

Claude was a friendly face to him. But Dimitri wished he never approached or asked the question.

“Don’t be so absurd. They are a gift of thanks, Claude.” Dimitri felt his face turn warm, but whether his cheeks were red or not he didn’t know. 

“To a lady?” Great. Now Sylvain and joined in the teasing. “A very special lady? Wouldn’t a dagger be better? I heard blades were a great way of confessing your love to someone.”

“Isn’t it about time you dropped that, Sylvain? The dagger was a parting gift, not an attempt to profess love.”

“So,” Claude stepped closer to Dimitri. “Who’s the lucky lady?”

If Dimitri wasn’t holding the stems of flowers he would have run his hand down his face and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I have already told you: they are a thank you gift.” 

“For who?” Sylvain stood a little too close. Dimitri started walking once again.

“Does it really concern you so badly as to who I am thanking?” He looked back at the two and, as soon as he noted their grins of mirth, he sighed. “I am thanking the Professor for her help on a private matter.”

Instantly Dimitri had felt that he had already divulged too much information. He’d be teased, surely, for the rest of his life. Sylvain still hadn’t dropped the whole dagger scenario after four (five?) years. He doubted giving the professor flowers as a form of gratitude would be any different. In fact, he thought it would be much worse. A seventeen-year-old boy giving his professor flowers? Even if it was out of the kindness of his heart, it certainly sounded completely ludicrous when he thought about it.

Why did he think it a good idea to begin with?

“Those won’t do you any good regardless of who they’re for.” Felix brushed by, frowning (as per usual). Dimitri knew that there wouldn’t be a single ounce of support there. “They’re weeds.” 

Just as quickly as the old friend had left, so had any remaining hope left in Dimitri’s core.

He knew it was a dreadful idea. 

“Don’t listen to him one bit, Your Highness.” Claude clasped his shoulder. “I’m sure she’ll appreciate the gesture.”

“Yeah. They may not be roses or lilies, or tulips or carnations, or violets or forget-me-nots - “

“I’m pretty sure violets and forget-me-nots are weeds, Sylvain.”

The redhead waved his hand. “Regardless, what our Prince Dimitri has in his bouquet may not be what Felix considers flowers, and maybe Dedue would identify them as weeds, but it’s all in the eyes of the beholder. You thought they were beautiful if you picked them, right? So why would she think they’re unfit to be a flower just because they’re weeds? That’s like saying you’re unfit to mingle with the people of Faerghus just because you’re the heir, right?”

“I don’t quite think that’s the right analogy.”

“Claude, c’mon. You’re not being helpful.”

Dimitri laughed a little. Just a little. It was nervous and once again questioning Sylvain’s methods, but it did make more sense than his previous attempts. “Beauty is, after all, in the eyes of the beholder, correct?” The other two nodded and Dimitri took in a deep breath. “Then I’ll never know if she likes these ‘weeds’ if I never try.”

___

Dimitri lightly knocked on the door to the Blue Lions classroom. A gentle come in beckoned him inside. The professor was sat at her desk, quill in hand as she wrote. What, he did not know, but he assumed it was of little importance with how quickly she put the quill back in the inkpot and looked up at him.

Her eyes were, well, as bright as they were a couple of hours before, and her smile was as kind as always. “Ah, Dimitri. I have something for you.”

Dimitri’s eyes widened in surprise. “Ah, wait, what? S-Something for… me?” 

“Of course. You did well in the skirmish last week.” She stood from her seat and opened the chest behind her. He didn’t recall seeing it there the day before. No sooner had she opened the lid however, she spun around to face him. “Do you want it now or after you’ve - “ She paused and he thought he saw a flicker of surprise in her expression. “Are those for me?”

“Uh - “

She inclined her head at his hand. “The weeds.”

A sheepish expression flittered across his face. Along with the sinking feeling of dread and remorse. “Felix said as much. I can always -”

“They’re staying with me.” She approached him then, as he was standing in the middle of the room a little awkwardly, and took the bundle from him. “Weed is merely a label. I consider them more to be wildflowers.” 

With ease, she listed off the names of the plants. It was almost mind-boggling to him how she seemed to open up about these weeds as if they were the most precious things in the world. She could list off meanings from the top of her head, stories about her first time seeing them, if they were poisonous or medicinal, where they were most commonly found. All whilst filling a vase with water and arranging the flowers.  Her hands moved so elegantly as she worked, taking a step back every so often to examine them.

“You… You like them, then?”

The professor turned to the chest once again. “I do. Weeds are flowers, too, afterall. Beauty is always in the eyes of the beholder. Take bindweed for example. People hate the stuff. It’s hard to get rid of, climbs your plants and you have to get rid of the root. Don’t remove the root, you don’t remove the plants. But I always found the flowers so beautiful. And then forget-me-nots, which you have here. These tiny blue flowers. They’re docile and are everywhere. They seed here there and everywhere and can get on gardener’s nerves. But they’re outstandingly beautiful with a wonderful meaning.”

“What about this pink one?” Dimitri stood next to her now, pointing at the tiniest flower.

“That is herb robert. Apparently, it doesn’t have the greatest of scents when it’s crushed. But it grows just about anywhere: in woodlands, hedgerows, coastal shingles and rocky outcrops. It loves the shade. It’s medicinal and is often used for diarrhoea, improving liver and gallbladder functions, and helps to prevent kidney, bladder, and gallbladder stones. Also reduces swelling and inflammation.”

He looked at her as she picked up the small flower with a delicate hand. “Do you think it’s beautiful?”

“I think it’s one of the most attractive plants of all. It’s rarely noticed. I don’t exactly know it’s meaning, but it probably means ‘death come quickly’. Apparently picking it and then bringing it inside means your death will be soon.” She almost laughed at how wide Dimitri’s eyes widened. “I don’t believe in that stuff though. If my death is to be soon, it’s not going to be because of a plant. It’ll be because it is meant to be. And if I have anything to say about it, it’s not going to be for quite some time.”

Dimitri found himself conflicted. He was both saddened by the idea that she seemed to already accept death, but also admired it. It was rare enough as it was to hear the ‘if it happens it happens’ attitude when it comes to death, but she still had so much she wanted to do, so it seemed, that she simply didn’t want to die.

“You look quite sad, Dimitri.” He turned his head to look at her, then, and the guilt that seemed to plague her expression clenched his heart. Did he really look so saddened? “Why is that?”

“You’re so accepting of death even though you have a lot of life to give. Does it not terrify you?”

“Death comes and goes. It doesn’t care about your plans or your life. It does as it pleases. I accept that I may go when I do not want to. I could die tomorrow and I would have a few regrets. Not with the things I have not done, but what I have yet to do.” She sat at a desk beside him. “You told me about the Duscar incident that happened four years ago. If I were to die tomorrow, I would regret not protecting you from the most difficult answers you may find. I wouldn’t be able to help you find answers. Would I want you to go on a murderous rampage? Of course not. But would I be with you every step of the way? Even if it’s to keep just a little bit of your sanity? Without any hesitation. If I die tomorrow, would I see flower again? Would I see the sky and the sea? Feel the wind through my hair? It would probably just be black.

“Am I afraid of death? Not really. Am I afraid of leaving you and the rest of your class behind? Yeah.”

She patted the space next to her. Dimitri frowned and obliged, sitting beside her. The familiar scent of jasmine and, perhaps, a touch of warm vanilla filled his senses. It was oddly calming to him. He recalled the first time the professor had discovered he was plagued by nightmares of the dead. It was why he had given her the flowers. The night terror was a little more vivid than usual and she must have been walking past his room when she heard him thrashing and mumbling. When he had opened his eyes, she was staring right back at him, cold cloth, damp from being submerged in cold water, in one hand and his hand in the other. She had comforted him without saying much, just listened. She remained for a while, listening to him read through his assessment to lift a weight from his shoulders. He asked her if she had any interesting stories, and the most common ones were to do with how she saved a few animals and sometimes they’d find her and show off their family with such pride when, just a few months - or weeks - before, they were so broken, having accepted death so readily.

He had asked her to remain until he had fallen asleep again. To which she did. By morning she was gone, but it was impossibly clear to him that she, herself, had fallen asleep there, perched against the wall. Either because she saw no point in returning to her own room when it was so late, or she remained should he have yet another nightmare. When he saw her, she asked him if he was okay. It wasn’t in a patronising way, just out of concern. 

Once again, it seemed she had taken his hand.

“I speak to you not as your professor, but as your friend, Dimitri. If I were to die tomorrow, or soon. If I were to die by a cause that was not an illness, natural causes or my own stupidity. If I were to be killed by another person’s hands - be it they wielded the blade or were the mastermind behind the ordeal - please, do not seek revenge on my behalf. I would have readily accepted my fate. Most of all. I would not wish to see you lose yourself, or suffer from terrors worse than the ones you already have.”

“What if the… demons … win? What if I am too weak to fend them off?”

She smiled at him. The soft, tender smile that she really should not be showing, or giving, to any of her students. Let alone him, someone who’s -

“They’ll never truly win. The Dimitri in front of me has a much stronger will than he imagines. I’m sure that, even if the demons were to escape, he’d still be alive, trying so hard to regain himself. Because how you are in front of me, no matter how you or any other soul sees you, is you at your core. Right in here.” She pointed at his heart. “Even when you believe he’s dead, he’d still be the one trying to save you. No matter how long it takes. No matter how hard he fights. That’s who you are to me, my friend.”

She stood once again. From the chest behind her desk, she carefully lifted an object of great length, taller than her by any means, wrapped carefully in cloth. In a matter of moments, the cloth was gone and she had gracefully passed it to him. “I thought you would like your spear back. You did quite the number on it so I took it to someone who knew someone to fix it up as quickly as possible. “

“Professor, at this rate I’ll have to give more bunches of flowers to you in thanks.”

“There’s plenty of time for that, Dimitri. Now off you go to lunch before the other question your whereabouts.” He nodded. But, before he was out the door, she addressed him once again. “Do not believe me dead until you find a body. And do not believe I have abandoned you if you cannot find me. I may just be waiting for you to let me find you.”

Five Years Later …

It had been haunting him. For five years it had been haunting him. He had refrained from seeking vengeance. Her words stuck with him. He never sought revenge for her demise, knowing full well that she would not want him to, knowing that any attempt his head made to make it appear as such was wrong. 

Still, he used that hatred, the guilt and blame, to further fuel his loathing for Edelgard. Loathing and hatred weren’t words strong enough to even describe how he felt toward the... Demon

Demise… was she (the professor) even dead? A body had never been found. But neither had a breathing soul. Would it be better off to believe that she was bereft of life? Deceased? Caught in eternal sleep? Would it be better to believe that she was never going to return? 

She had said she wouldn’t abandon him. But… hadn’t she? Just like everyone else? What was it that she had said? Do not believe I have abandoned you if you cannot find me. I may be waiting for you to let me find you? Wasn’t it something along those lines? 

It mattered not what her words were. Regardless of how kind. 

She had already begun to haunt his nightmares. Not as a voice wanting him to continue his path of bloodshed, but of comfort. It was like she truly was in his head, talking to him. No. Not him. Not the monstrosity of a man he had become. She was talking to him. The Dimitri he had killed. Buried. Cast away. Neglected. The Dimitri he had entombed beneath rubble and terrors. All so he could finish his task. The one he refused to rely on. The one he forbade from ruling over him, controlling him. The one who he… the man who he once was.

And then she had found him. Held out her hand out to him. A burning ray of light he could not bear to see. Not now. Not knowing that he had disappointed her. Not now that he had killed with cold blood. He wasn’t him anymore. He wasn’t chivalrous or brave. He was weak. A monster. A beast with a human face. 

He killed. He took. And he stole.

He was stained red. Corrupted. If he were to take her hand, he would surely taint her, too. Twist her. Turn her into a monster.

The voices didn’t quiet. Not anymore. They grew and they grew. Louder and louder until they were clawing at his skull. Until he was positive she was just the same as before. And slowly, they died away. But they didn’t. They were just... Quiet. Not silent like they used to be. They were still there. 

They always were. They remained. In his head. Clawing at his ears. Begging. Pleading. 

Crying.

But when Rodrigue died, he was tired. Tired of fighting. Tired of losing people because of him. Because of these voices. He wasn’t going to get the others involved. He was truly going to go to Enbarr. Alone. If he were not to kill Edelgard, then he would welcome and accept death. It would be his punishment. His atonement.

But she stopped him.

Once again, she was there. And all too quickly the Dimitri he thought he had killed, drowned in the blood of his enemies and suffocated in the repulsion of his actions, returned to the surface as a broken man. Vulnerable and fragile. Far too exhausted to fight anymore. Too weak to fight against the varmint - the horror - he had become.

“If you had killed who you once were, Dimitri… I’m positive you wouldn’t care as much as you do about Rodrigue’s death. Nor would you allow someone to kill you. That is something so… Dimitri, it’s impossible to say you killed him. I told you that he’d always be fighting. And he was. You always were. Right here.” And she pointed at his heart.

At the time, he didn’t fully understand her words, far to caught up in the warmth of her hand in his, and the scent of jasmine and warm vanilla as he buried his face in her neck in comfort, to really let the meaning sink in. But now he understood. 

It was time for another gift. A gift of thanks and, this time, an apology. For everything. For how he acted. How he mistreated her. How he disappointed her.

How he broke and let vengeance swallow him whole.

Dimitri stared at the flowers in his hand. He had been confident, at first: picking fresh flowers from hedges, low hanging branches and bushes along with the freshest blooms of spring. He didn’t question why he was doing it, delicately taking flower cuttings, with a dagger of all things,  and putting them gently in the small pot he had taken with him. He didn’t care so much for the cold or the rain despite its bitterness. His cloak kept him reasonably warm in spite of the odd sniffle here and there, and simply knowing the reason he was getting these flowers, fresh and pristine, warmed him enough. 

Nevertheless, he stared at the now finished bouquet. It was fuller than the time he had given them to her five years ago, made up of the same weeds (except for the Herb Robert) with additional flowers he had read about in a book that morning. It was tied gracefully (and neatly) with a blue ribbon and had taken him all day to create - going to multiple places (mainly in the middle of nowhere) to get specific flowers. All the while, he carried the small pot of water to keep the plants fresh.

Now that he saw the finished bouquet, he questioned himself upon what he was doing. Why he was doing it. Was it truly worth it after everything he’d put her through in the past week alone? And worse before that?

It wasn’t like he loved everything about her. Her eyes and how expressive they were, holding so much emotion within them that the more they swirled with emotion, the more confused he became. She was helpful and kind, constantly listening to him, supporting him. She’d never raised her voice at him, speaking sternly and firmly, whilst being soothing and comforting when he needed her. Her smile was downright mesmerising, even now,  and her comforting embrace was just as warm and homely as he remembered it being. She silenced the voices for a time, quietened them enough to help him think.  But most importantly, she taught him how to live. How to survive. How to cope with his trauma as best as he could. 

Without her, he was simply existing - never truly being. She was his guiding light, as stupidly hackneyed as it sounded. She was… his saviour. His beloved - 

Yes. 

His beloved.

There was no denying his feelings anymore. No telling himself he didn’t love her. He always had. Even if he never realised. Even if he had managed to bury his feelings for her deep within his soul. Deep within his very being. Buried them beside his old self. Undeterred by any of that, they still began to appear again when she found him, hiding in the darkness, unable to look at the light that radiated from her - an angel that had fallen from the heavens.

Was he even worthy of her kindness? Of everything that she was? Was he worthy of everything she gave to him? Even though he had pushed it all aside in the blink of an eye? Threw it all back at her face? He didn’t think so. He never did. But somewhere, deep down, he hoped -  sincerely hoped - that he was.

“Your Highness, you should be resting. Those injuries aren’t going to heal themselves without some tender loving care.”

Dimitri felt the smallest of smiles tug at his lips. “They will be alright for now, Sylvain. There is very little need to worry.” 

Sylvain stood beside him then, a little hesitant at first. “So, who're the flowers for?”

Dimitri looked at his friend. “This conversation again?” It was a small tease, a small joke. Just a little more ease and less tension. “They are for the professor.”

“As an apology, thank you gift or a love confession?”

There was no getting away with it this time. “Perhaps all three.”

Sylvain smiled then, visibly relaxing. Dimitri finally felt a little more relaxed for the first time that late afternoon. 

“Last time Felix said those were weeds.”

“She liked them last time.” Dimitri examined the bouquet. “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, is it not?”

“It most certainly is, Your Highness.” There was a pause. “What are you so afraid of? You know she likes them.”

“Opinions change, don’t they? People go through life and their views change. What if she no longer finds them beautiful? No longer talks about them like they’re the rarest form of beauty in the world?”

Sylvain, ever the supportive friend, placed a gentle hand on Dimitri’s shoulder. “I’m positive that she’ll like them if they’re from you.”

“Am I truly worthy of such? I took, and I stole, and I killed. I’m stained red. I am a beast. A monster. Am I worth being accepted? To have a gift as pure as this accepted by one of such kindness and humanity despite it being given by - “

“Now that’s enough of that talk. The Professor always believed that you were a human despite it all. She refused to give in and accept that you were a monster. I’m glad she didn’t. Go to her. If she doesn’t accept them, I’ll accept my punishment.”

“You will be receiving no punishment if she doesn’t, my friend. I would have deserved it.”

“Remember, Dimitri: beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.”

_____

Dimitri stood in front of her door. He took a deep breath and hesitantly knocked. The rat-a-tat-tat echoed within his ears like his pounding heartbeat. At first, he thought he knocked a little too quietly but, when he went to knock again, the familiar beckoning inside greeted him as a quiet voice. 
Nerves danced across his skin and his heart hammered harder against his chest than he remembered it doing so. In front of him, once he had softly closed the door, she stood at the window with a cup of tea in hand. When she turned to face him, he expected a scowl or a frown. But, instead, he was greeted with a kind smile.

“Ah, Dimitri. Please, take a seat. “

At the offer, Dimitri politely declined with the shake of his head. “I’ve come here to both apologise and to express my gratitude. I know that words will never express how thankful I am for you, and I know that no amount of apologies will ever forgive me of my ingratitude and abhorrent behaviour. But I hope that these,” He lifted his hand, offering to her the bouquet, “shall describe what I want to say.”

Almost immediately, the Professor got to work. With a freshly filled vase, she began arranging the plants, listing off their names and meanings just as she had done before.

“Where’s the herb robert? Have they not bloomed yet?”

Dimitri, with her eyes boring into his single eye, sheepishly ran his hand over the back of his neck. “I remembered the superstition: bringing freshly pick Herb Robert flowers into the home means that death will come quickly. Last time I… you left... not so long after. As silly as it undoubtedly sounds, I didn’t want to risk losing you again. Not now that you’ve returned back to us and I back to you.”

Dimitri…

Her voice was so gentle, so tender, so … loving that he thought it was his imagination playing tricks on him. That it was just a dream. Just something new that plagued his dreams for so many years. Yet, there she was. Stood in front of him, toe to toe. Alive. Her hands cupped his face, thumbs grazing his cheekbones. 

Her hands were so warm.

“I have something for you, too.”

“F-For me?”

“I’m not too great with comforting words so, I’m hoping these words in here suffice.” 

As quickly as she had left, she was back. In her hand was a book, bounded in blue leather with a silver ribbon as a bookmark. He flicked through the pages delicately, eye skimming over the handwritten words in the recognisable script of the professor. Many of the words made his heart stutter and melt, and his eye to almost fill with water.  He swallowed thickly and looked back at up at her.

“What are they for?” His fingers lightly traced over the carefully written words with a deep affection, bewildered at how such poetry could be aimed directly at him, like her very being was talking to him from the parchment, telling feelings she could otherwise never describe.

“An apology.”

“An apology? For what?” She didn’t need to apologise for anything. After all, she saved him from himself.

“For leaving you. For not doing what I said I would. And, well, for not saying quite the right words. I know it’s not much; I was going to give it to you for your eighteenth birthday but, well, I never got around to finishing it. I don’t know how you like poems but, I was just writing them one day and realised that all of them were about you in some way. I thought it would be nice for you to have when times got tough.”

“It’s beautiful.” He delicately closed and set the book on the table beside him. He took her hand as if it was a natural reaction and brought it to his lips, kissing the back of it tenderly. “Thank you.” 

“There is one more thing.” As soon as she spoke, a gentle kiss was pressed to his cheeks, his forehead and his nose. “I can do that now, right? You won’t -”

Dimitri silenced her with a gentle kiss of his own, his hands every so gently cradling her face.  He imagined he had wanted to kiss her for years. 

When she first returned, he fought so hard against pushing her against a wall and just kissing her in a desperate need. But now, he was kissing her at last. It wasn’t rough or desperate, not a kiss out of pure fantasy and need. It was loving, tender, full of so much admiration and love that he had for her he sincerely hoped she could feel it.

It was needy and desperate but in a sweet, gentle embrace rather than one of bestial desire.

She was the first to pull away, her fingers gently twisting the ends of his hair, with breaths heavy and a smile so full of adoration on her face. “I love you, Dimitri.”

“Despite all that I am?”

“Despite it all. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and, to me, you are the most beautiful of all.”