A question. A memory. An afterthought, a worry. He’d always been the type to over-involve himself- monastery security, working hours for guards, teaching fencing to the church orphans- and the sort to overthink- the professor had been looking sick lately, should he bother her about getting that lance he’d accidentally snapped fixed or just continue to hide it, and then there was also the matter with replacing all of Mercedes’ sewing needles… As such his head was always filled to bursting, a steady stream of concerns and thoughts and anxious nonsense that whipped and churned and neither stopped nor went anywhere no matter what he did, no matter what time of day.
There were the voices.
Soft, but ceaseless. Temperamental as a candle’s flickering, easy enough to drone out with more boisterous things but left alone in a dark room the flame’s crackle could quickly become the only sound in the world.
Father, Stepmother, Glenn… and more besides. Soldiers and guards and servants, the headless, the burned, the impaled. Those who had stood beside and around and behind him his entire life only to perish in his stead, chained to his guilt and doomed to leer until he found the answers they sought and delivered the justice they deserved. Though their tragedy had affected countless others, it was only Dimitri who could heed their call, the rest of the world unhearing of their anguish, and in a distant, rational sort of way, this made sense. As the sole survivor, it was his duty to bring them vengeance. It was just so that he be the only one who could hear them. It involved less people this way.
But there was another noise that tormented him, amidst the swirl of school work and politics and politeness and pain. It crushed all other sound from his ears, pounded a strange awareness into his bones, and somehow managed to outpace even the dead in their fever pitches for his attention.
And it only happened when he was around Felix.
Drumming. Heavy, thick, rapid, consuming- a physical, percussive beat that danced in his blood and heated the places it occupied, it filled up not only his head but his body as well, louder than the church bells that chimed the hours, louder than the screams that came from dark places and kept him from sleep.
It wasn’t immediate. Sometimes it didn’t happen at all, if he only saw him in passing, out of the corner of his eye. It only came when he was gifted the opportunity to look, to linger, to interact with him- and though its abruptness always took him by surprise, it's a sensation he's come to expect.
And worse, seek out.
He knew not its nature, but nor did he question it. It was painful to be around Felix again, and it was painful to be held at bay by the sword’s edge of his sharp tongue, but Dimitri's soft heart still selfishly craved reconciliation. The drumming that accompanied it hardly felt like punishment; for all the pain it put him through, there was something almost sweet about how the sound made him feel. Like he was young again, no less quiet but perhaps more honest. Forgiven. His headaches were near constant nowadays, the thoughts and voices and pain so tightly interwoven, the toll for the drumming’s distraction was one he’d gladly pay
And though it was hard sometimes to believe that the rampant whispers of the dead went unheard to those around him, it was truly astonishing that the drumming fell upon deaf ears as well. Sometimes, he would swear Felix heard it, by the way he’d tense, narrow his eyes, bunch his shoulders like bird battening itself down against the wind.
Dimitri would feel guilty then. Because he couldn’t control it, and certainly that only made Felix even more uncomfortable around him, another thing he couldn’t control, another thing Felix couldn’t trust him with-
Well. It wasn’t difficult to understand why.
He’d left the ballroom only in pursuit of fresh air. Dimitri had held out for as long as he could, time lost as one dance bled into another, the heady rush of light and sound, laughter, smiles, contact bursting under his skin, his whole body alight with sensation under the golden glow of the candlelit chandeliers above.
He’d caught glimpses of his peers between the swirling skirts and capes, eyes bright with laughter and faces pinkened as they drank from goblets of watered down wine Dimitri couldn’t taste. Sylvain had twirled Annette out into a quickstep earlier in the evening, Mercedes and Ingrid swaying by Dimitri and his partner during one of the slower songs, and though he never saw either of them take to the dance floor, he caught sight of Ashe and Dedue laughing together more than once at their stations near the wall.
Edelgard, too, spinning in her fine gown red as blood, had a smile upon her face as the purple ribbons that upheld her pale hair continually caught in the corners of his eye. He longed to bid her to dance with him again, but she was fielding her own lengthy line of partners, and a little voice inside Dimitri’s head proposed that it was better this way.
Initially, he’d been concerned with the propriety of such an event being held after all the tragedy of late, but with everyone in such high spirits, it seemed worthwhile to have indulged like this.
Yes, it was lovely, truly, but... Dimitri would be lying if he claimed it to be an environment he thrived in.
Blessedly, the orchestra did have to take a break at some point, and with the ceasing of string instruments, Dimitri found his opportunity to escape. Though he felt a bit guilty about absconding without notifying Dedue of his plans, he would have felt worse about interrupting the man’s own joyous evening- the gathering by the wall had grown rather boisterous, now including Mercedes, Annette, and Caspar, and Dimitri felt his own smile growing at the sight as he slipped quietly out the side door.
The Ethereal night welcomed him with frigid arms into its dark embrace, and it was only once he’s stepped fully outside that he finally stops seeing and hearing gold.
Across the monastery, the clock tower made the hour known, ten rapturous, longing chimes calling attention to the latening night. Despite the exertion of dancing and the late hour, there was still something braced tight in Dimitri’s chest, as if though his mind had sprinted off the moment it was able to, his body hadn’t yet stepped off the dance floor.
Resolute to return to his evening after a quick stroll to clear his head, he made a round through all the halls and gardens, passing through the classrooms in the academy portion of the grounds and meeting briefly with the professor as she too had escaped for a moment’s peace from the festivities. Though they parted with his promise to return, he still felt no desire to, that knotted, bound-up anxiety holding tight in his chest.
Perhaps … he could be gone just a short while longer. He would go back soon.
That was what he assured himself as he returned to his stride. All the way up until the eleventh hour bells rang out into the night.
The sound was far closer this time- and Dimitri startled to find himself upon the western balcony of the chapel, staring up at the moon-crested spire of the Goddess Tower.
He had wandered far out of his way, much farther than he had intended. The darkness had a way of calling out his thoughts, the stream coursing now that music and merriment no longer staunched its flow, and he’d foolishly allowed the current to drag him under.
He figured he’d been gone long enough. It would be prudent to return before anyone worried after him.
He figured this quite firmly to himself as he walked across the bridge binding the tower to the chapel, the wind carding freely through his hair and cape as he was drawn in by some phantom force to reach for the ornate stone door, finding it mobile; asserted it as that force had him pulling the door ajar, wedging himself through the gap, and entering the circular chamber of the Goddess Tower’s receiving floor.
Contrary to the claustrophobic gold that had burnished the ballroom, the Goddess Tower was a world of cooling, quiet silver; ornate marble carvings ran up the walls and columns like embroidery, and a massive tree shot straight through the center of the floor to which a spiral staircase was constructed around, beckoning both a path higher to the heavens as well as a descent deeper into the bowels of the lower Tower.
I should return, was his inner self’s final petition to his outer faculties to desist, landing with a resounding echo but ultimately becoming no more than that as the emptiness of the Goddess Tower swallowed the sound.
And as the eighth beat of the eleven hour chimes filled his ears, Dimitri began to ascend.
The sound of his footsteps rolled heavily over the smooth marble of the stairs as he climbed, the clink and shift of his gauntlets and greaves accompanying the thumps forming a new sort of orchestra for his limbs to move to. With conscious effort, he lightened his footsteps, and softer as they fell, he could now hear the Ethereal wind’s howling as it wound its way around the Goddess Tower, the soft hush of the climbing ivy slipping in its icy twist.
And it was the only thing he could hear.
Otherwise… silence. The strings and brass of the ball far below and faded into the distance, along with the chattering, bustling people within… Edelgard and all his displaced regrets, as well.
Even the dead were seemingly allowing him solace here- silence from the choir as well .
The knot in his chest loosened, and with it a deep sigh escaped him.
Higher and higher he rose, lighter he felt with each step, his mind at long last clearing as Dimitri sighed and breathed in moonlight and silver.
And then, as he crested the top of the stairs, that feeling multiplied tenfold as the corridor released into an open air balcony, moonbeams coating the marble floors white like frost, the rustle of ivy and bluster clear and crisp this high into the night. Limbs of twisted, ancient bark reached for the stars where they emerged from the breach in the floor, canopying the space with the dappled shadows of leaves.
At the far end of the balcony, varnished in equal parts shadow and light, a figure leaned into the breeze, stiffening as Dimitri’s footsteps caught a snag in the quiet.
Felix turned away from the balustrade, eyes narrowed though Dimitri doubted that was due to the low light.
He hadn’t spotted him at the ball, and though Felix had been rather verbal of his vehement disinterest, Dimitri was surprised to observe that Felix had dressed for the occasion despite this, a trim navy suit and caplet lined with fox fur that nearly matched his hair and eyes in their dichotomy. Hair that was pulled back in a severe bun that permitted none of his usual fly-aways but allowed for the sharpness of his maturing features to cut against the lingering childhood roundness of his cheeks, deep-set and heavy lidded eyes vibrant despite the darkness.
They locked gazes.
And on cue, the drumming pounded to life in Dimitri's mind.
“Oh, Felix. Fancy meeting you up here.” Dimitri greeted him mildly.
Felix made a displeased noise from deep within his throat, breaking eye contact as he turned back around to face the open air. “Can I not get a moment’s peace anywhere in this damned place?” He grumbled, low and seemingly mostly to himself though he directed the grievance skyward as if offering up the world’s most disrespectful prayer.
Dimitri swallowed. Though he had turned away, he had not run, and the drumming did not cease- rather, it crescendoed . And like the beat of a war drum, the soldier in Dimitri was unable to deny the call to march.
Forward, his feet brought him towards Felix’s body, each step the drumming only growing louder, and louder, all the way to the balustrade. Felix tensed as he settled in beside him, but kept his head level with the moon and didn’t shy away.
“I didn’t know you were attending the ball tonight,” Dimitri started, trying to pace his words evenly, as not to startle Felix nor tangle them up with his racing thoughts. Every bone from jaw to rib throbbed in time like dancers to the drumming. It was hard to keep his voice from shaking. “I did not see you in the ballroom, and assumed you were off training again. I am sorry I missed you.”
Felix sneered. “Did it ever occur to you that was the way I wanted it.”
“Well… I would have asked you to dance, if I had known.”
“And you would have gotten rejected, if you had.”
Felix stared off at the moon and Dimitri tried not to stare at him.
He looked like Glenn now. Or, at least like Dimitri’s memory of him. Dimitri had barely seen Felix at all these past two years, and though they’d been at the academy eight whole months now, every time he saw him it felt like the first time all over again.
The Felix before him was a far cry from the boy of his childhood. Dimitri knew nothing of the man he had become. And remembered less about the friend than he would have liked. Perhaps that’s why he stares now, searching for some semblance of the person he once knew better than any other, and who in turn knew Dimitri the same.
They played like this for a short while, Felix looking off into the distance and Dimitri trying and failing to look the other way, before Felix broke the silence with a short, angry sigh.
“I’m just ready for this farce to be over. They could not have picked a worse time to hold a ball.” He leaned into the railing, running a hand across his forehead as if by habit though there was nothing left to tuck away, and sighed again. “I’m loathe to return, but I dread being dragged back about as much.”
Dimitri had to resist the urge to follow that hand with his own, though he knew he’d come to the same conclusion Felix had.
"What if we just didn't go back?" He suggested with a playful smile.
Felix snorted. "It's not like you to run away from the bloodsport." He commented, though with surprisingly little of the venom Dimitri had grown accustomed to hearing his words laced with.
Dimitri hummed and took the lightened dose gratefully, hands clasping at the rail. "Yes, well... I've never been any good at parties."
"No. You never were." Felix agreed with a small smirk.
His gaze lifted, not quite to meet Dimitri’s but rather to glance off his shoulder, and though his expression doesn’t change, there was a definitive shift in the air between them.
Dimitri swallowed again. It was harder this time.
“What is it?”
He’s still looking at his shoulder. The angle bares his throat, offers viewing of the new wider breadth of his shoulders. Dimitri didn’t know where to look, suddenly wished blindness was an option. The drumming has never been this loud. Can Felix hear it? How could he not-
Dimitri felt as if he was standing at the mouth of a great river, the roar of the water consuming every other sound inward and out. He was poised to dive in but the fear of drowning kept him where he was, a million dizzying, daring, honest things he wished to say dancing on the tip of his tongue, their echoes crashing into the drumming, catastrophic, piercing, deafening.
He could imagine- vividly- how the water would feel, the breaking of the tension, the complete immersion. But he could picture too the way the water would pull him under, filling his mouth, suffocating him, unable to wash the echoes out.
“I apologize. I was about to say something, but… it has slipped my mind.”
He wasn’t sure which he was afraid of more.
Dimitri forced a smile through his teeth to follow the lie, and waited for the water to settle.
Felix doesn’t react right away. He stared at that singular spot just past Dimitri’s shoulder, expression unchanging, the shadows on his face sharp enough to cut.
Eventually, he grumbled, “Hmph.“ And then he’s looking away. “Such a waste. You’re such a goddamn waste ...”
The strain in his voice, ground out and weighed down in that deeper register it sunk to when he was angry- and it’s always been like that, he remembered, ever since they were children, Felix didn’t get loud, Felix went low - punches a hole through Dimitri’s chest.
And then he’s turning back to him, meeting Dimitri’s gaze head on, never one to look away from the carnage.
“I can’t stand you when you get like this. I can’t fucking stand you . How many times do I have to tell you for that for it to sink in? Acting like everything is fine, like nothing has changed.” He shook his head in a single decisive motion, his countenance bathed in bright moonlight one moment, drowning in deep blue shadow the next. “Pretending like a person. Talking is a waste for you, you can’t even remember how to speak properly. A boar, truly, you are, and a damned fool too-”
One moment, Felix is railing on, the next, Dimitri’s feet have moved without clearance once again. Water roaring in his ears, that drum beating so loud and clear - his hands were around Felix’s arms, lean form pressed to Dimitri’s own, closing the moderate distance he had left between them because it felt appropriate at the time but was unbearable now.
Somewhere lost in the tide of thoughts, Dimitri knew he must be bruising him. He’s got them pressed against the rail, Felix in his hands, under his grip. And he knows he’s doing it again, being unreasonable, unable to control himself under the weight of his thoughts, but hearing him talk like that, it never got easier, eight months and two years later, it never got easier. In a world as loud as Dimitri’s how was it right- how was it fair - that it was his words, his presence that provided a measure of peace when all he did was scowl and berate him with nearly every breath?
This drumming, so loud it’d become nauseating , he was the source of it, he was the river. Dimitri had run straight to the edge, all that was left was to dive in.
Felix had brought up a hand to brace himself on Dimitri’s arm, but neither pushed him away nor brought it up any further. He was still, steady under Dimitri’s grip. He was not fighting, not turning away-
Dimitri took a breath.
And dove in.
Was it his imagination that Felix tipped his head back, just a bit, as he leaned into him? Angled his chin up in an attempt to save them from the crash course Dimitri had set their noses on? Was Dimitri imagining all of this now, their bared teeth and colliding lips and the willingness of the man in his hold, this night, this month, this lifetime?
The only thing he knew for certain:
He was right to fear drowning.
Dimitri doesn’t know what he’s doing, he’s never kissed anyone before, and once upon a time he could have said the same with certainty about his friend, though he could no longer. This Felix kisses like a fight. Forceful, full of contact, bruising with something to prove. He clings and grabs and bites, he fills Dimitri’s lungs, but it feels like water, roiling white and rapid as it sucks Dimitri down, swallows him whole. All his air was gone, nothing left inside his soul, everything drummed out and washed away and a million miles downstream out of reach.
Empty as that beating drum, he pulled back.
Felix gasped when he was released, a ragged, gutting sound that made Dimitri desperately wish for taste so he could capture the sound in his mouth and savor it for the rest of his life. His fingers were dug hard into Dimitri's arms, a neat little set of fingernail marks certain to await him under his coat to match the bruises his own touch left on Felix.
Perhaps he should have felt bad about that, but chest heaving, gripping tight to him with everything he had, Felix made for such a pretty picture when he looked up at him, red-faced and livid .
“Don’t think this changes anything, boar .” Felix hissed, but Dimitri could hardly hear it.
Surfacing from the river, the drumming continued on, steady as a heartbeat. But with it, a realization. He’d never questioned the nature of the drumming before, but...
Oh, Dimitri thinks, struck with a sudden clarity. This is my heartbeat.
Five years onward, and nothing has changed.
His head, his ruined mind now truly lost to the tide, played host to cacophonies orchestral and accursed, symphonic and infernal, thoughts, memories, fears, voices, ghosts; there was no reprieve, he never knew rest.
He never knew rest, but cloistered away in the ruined cathedral, haunted by the living and dead alike, his heart still found ways to torment him anew.
Sometimes he is there and sometimes he is not and sometimes he is Glenn but it’s still only when he’s Felix does it happen.
Its thud, heavy and brash and animalistic, awoke old things in him, things he had buried when the ghosts exhumed his corpse from the slums and gave his misery purpose. And though Dimitri turned away from it, from him, he knew he watched. He watched him, at all hours, at most times, and soon there’s no escape from this either.
It no longer provided solace, but that was fine. Dimitri deserved nothing of the sort. He was damned whether his heart was above ground or under it; its use was only to his body, his mind had no business caring for the man it drummed for anymore.
Divine punishment , he supposed. It was such an almighty sound.