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It's Not How It Breaks, It's How It Gets Fixed

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“Why are you still here?”

There are plenty of reasons. Most of them, probably the most important one, died long before reaching her tongue, and Byleth will not voice them. She knew she should, but she dared not say it in the face of this unreasonable anger.

“I broke my promise.”

Dimitri snorted. “What promise? I don’t remember you making any.”

“I… I failed you. I wasn’t there when you needed me. Five years I was gone, and you have—”

“Don’t you dare say I suffered,” he snapped, closing in on her and backing her into the wall. With his unnatural strength, he could break her to pieces and she knew it. Her own abilities might not be enough to save her. “You want to take this all on yourself? For what? To make it so I feel less guilt and will suddenly be sane to lead all of you hopeful idiots to some kind of victory?”

She swallowed. “That’s—”

“You all act like I’m this pathetic creature. That I deserve pity despite the blood covering my hands, how bathed I am in it daily, and you think there is forgiveness and redemption out there if I will only calm down and become sane. And they tasked you with that, with making me sane, so you feel guilty, but you still don’t see it, do you?”

See what? How desperate he was? How he couldn’t sleep because of the ghosts in his head demanding vengeance? How he couldn’t see anything but revenge? How he tried so hard to bury down the good parts of himself and pretend they did not exist? That he called himself a monster even when he killed in self-defense or to protect the others?

“I see the boy I once knew pretending to be the man in front of me.”

“Oh, that’s rich,” he scoffed, getting all the way into her face, towering over her with implied menace in every movement, in the placement of all the parts of his body near hers. “Don’t you understand this? I chose this. Your leaving didn’t break me. Dedue's death, that of my uncle, all those soldiers and rats I’ve killed… That’s not what broke me. I did.”

She shook her head, reaching up to touch his face. “No. You believe that because you think you had to, but you should never have had to bear this burden, and certainly not alone. I know I failed you, and don’t think I’m just saying that because they want me to fix you. I saw signs and didn’t confront them. And even before those signs, I was warned by your childhood friend. I didn’t believe Felix then, and I still think he’s wrong. He didn’t understand what that was for you, but he is just as guilty of inaction as I am. As we all were. It should never have come to this because we should have acted long before that day. I should have. And I’m not asking you to forgive me.”

“You’re not? That’s amusing.”

“I want you to forgive yourself,” she said, and he stared at her. “You were a child who was fortunate to survive. You didn’t do anything wrong—and surviving should never have been the curse you think it is. Even if they asked you in their last moments to avenge them, they had no right to do that to you. If they’d lived, they’d have known how unreasonable that demand was of someone badly injured and traumatized, but they didn’t. They didn’t get to see all the damage they did, but I hope to hell they’d be ashamed of it if they did. And all those others who stand back, call you hope, and leave you drowning in despair… I am just as angry with them as I am with myself. Maybe you chose this because you saw no way of saving yourself, but that’s the thing… if you can’t see a way to save yourself… then we should have been there to help you find it. That is my failure, and that guilt I deserve.”

“I failed them all. I killed so many. How can you ask the impossible of me and tell me to forgive myself?”

Because I love you, she thought, but that was no answer to give. Love didn’t make all his sins go away, and who was to say he even wanted that from her?

“I already know you have been punishing yourself since you survived the death of your family. How much longer must you atone for crimes that were not your own? Even the revenge they demand of you will not free you, and you have to know that, too. Half the time I don’t think you’re chasing that as much as you’re hoping someone will finally kill you and spare you the pain of going on. I… Selfishly, I don’t want that. I don’t want you to die.”

“Why would you want me alive as I am?”

“Well, that’s the thing.” She almost smiled at him. “I don’t want you like this. I want the you I know you can be, the one I knew… the one I still believe you will become. I want the you that doesn’t hate being alive… that doesn’t hate himself… or me.”

“Damn you. Why do you say these things to me? You pull at something close to hope and yet that teasing thread never materializes into more. Forgive myself. Forgive you. And then what? Pretend at being a civilized man when I am a monster?”

“That is your guilt talking. Your guilt and years and years of an idiot calling you a ‘boar’ instead of confronting his own emotions about anything. He cared about you but refused to admit it, so he antagonized you instead. What help was that? And is his constant desire for a worthy opponent to battle so different from what you did? He craves battle. You actually don’t. When you’re in the middle of it, you can fight stronger and more savagely than any other, but it scares you. It has for years. Does he have that fear? Maybe. He’d never admit to it, but you did. You are not some mindless monster. You even tried to justify this path as your choice so you could cope with it, but it isn’t you. It’s not something you ever wanted or should have to bear. I want to tell you to turn your back on it, to leave and make your own way, forget kingdoms and debts and just live.”

“You wish me to run?”

“I would gladly run with you if I thought either of us could live with that.” She shook her head. “We can’t. I know we can’t. Your sense of duty is greater than mine, but remember… your enemies are my enemies. I will be there with you. That is my chosen atonement for the mistakes that I made. Do not deny me that again.”

“If… if I allow these thoughts… if I go back to what I was… I fear it will finally, truly break me,” he whispered, anguish all over him. “I… I can’t.”

She pulled him closer. “You can. Because this time, if you do break, you will not be alone. You will never be alone again.”