Dimitri startled awake, and the utter silence of the room crashed in on him like a physical weight.
No, not complete silence. His breathing was ragged and loud, and his heart beat thunderously in his chest. His head--gripped by a terrible headache--throbbed in time with each pump of his heart.
He evened out his breaths, and the scalding waves of pain receded slowly to a mere dry ache settled behind his eyes.
Raising a hand to his face, fingers trembling, Dimitri rubbed across the skin of his right eyelid, felt the flutter of his intact eyeball underneath.
Laughter bubbled up hysterically past his lips, but he bit it off and pressed the heels of his palms against his eyes until colors bloomed in his vision.
If it had worked-- if she'd truly sent him back--
He rose from bed and fumbled in the dark, trying to recall-- ah, but as his hands fumbled across the surface of a table, it was his body more than his mind that recalled the layout of the room.
He lit the candle on his table to confirm it, and in the faint orange glow, his old room at the Officer's Academy came into view. Quiet and cozy, before five years of abandon had chewed it down to a threadbare and moldy state. Even after they'd done their best to fix up the monastery, there was a certain whiff of mold that his old room retained throughout the war. Now, in this moment, just like the rest of Fodlan, it was whole and clean and unmarked by the devastation that was soon to come.
Dimitri sat down at his desk, dropping into the chair heavily, and began shuffling through papers-- school assignments, letters-- seeking some indication of the date. His eyes skimmed over the half-finished classwork he'd been working on, but the assignment was unfamiliar to him, too far in the past to have stuck in his memory and offer him any clue. A book had been left open as well, and he slipped the unfinished classwork between its pages, closing and putting it aside.
Fretful as he felt, he ended up tidying his desk in the process, but he did figure out a date eventually, picking up one of his own drafts of a letter, and reading the date at the top.
Dimitri let out a long exhale, and a fleeting hope he'd been nurturing flickered out like a candle in a cold draft. Jeralt was already dead by this point, wasn't he?
Almost afraid that he would be proven correct, Dimitri knelt next to his bed and reached under the mattress. He groped blindly for long enough to wonder if he was wrong, but his fingers eventually wrapped around the sheath of the dagger he'd hidden there, and he pulled in out from its hiding place to stare at it in the flickering candlelight.
This was the dagger he'd given to Edelgard. The dagger she'd thrown at him when he'd eavesdropped on her in her Flame Emperor guise. The dagger he had given back to her during the war, and the same that would bite into his shoulder at the end of it.
The professor said she would send him as far back as possible. Give him as much time to change things as she could. This was before the incident in the Holy Tomb, yes. Before things fell apart. Before Edelgard's betrayal. But was there really enough time to bend the unyielding arc of history in this short time?
He slid the dagger back under the mattress, no matter how childish this hiding spot. Nobody had found it the first time around. He put it out of sight, and tried to put it out of mind as he sat back down at the desk.
He bent over his desktop, head propped in his hands. He stared at the bare surface of the desk as though he might glean answers from the wood grain, and thought fiercely as he did.
Many were yet alive who would die if the same conflict engulfed Fodlan once more. Caught between that knowledge and the ache of the ones left behind, Dimitri found himself out of balance. Listening to the chorus of the dead came easily to him--much too easily at times--but how could he still mourn the ones who had not even died yet? He did not have a frame of reference for this surreal situation, of death being wound back. He had chased retribution for the dead, and was now in the position of truly preventing such a tragedy.
How? How had she done it? How had Byleth's heart been capable of bearing it, constantly witnessing death and then reverting it? He had long since stopped thinking of her as cold and unfeeling, but Dimitri found his own beating heart a terrible burden, now that he was adrift in the past.
Dimitri wasn't sure at what time of night he'd gotten up, but it was morning when he was finally startled out of his deep thoughts, by the door opening and a chill seeping through.
He blinked, becoming more aware of his surroundings--of the candle burnt down to a stub and long since gone out, of the fact that the faint light in the room was the pending dawn crawling through his window. He became aware of Dedue slowly crossing the threshold of his room, and closing the door soundlessly behind himself.
"Dedue," Dimitri blinked. "Good morning."
"Your Highness," Dedue replied, his eyes flitting between Dimitri's face and the desk, settling on the expanded candle before returning to studying his features.
Dimitri was briefly hurt by Dedue's apparent coldness, before he recalled how much more reserved the man had been during their school days. He hadn't started using Dimitri's name until the tail end of the war.
At the moment, it at least meant Dedue was not bold enough to scold Dimitri on not getting enough sleep. Instead, Dedue strode into the room carrying a pitcher of water, and poured it out into Dimitri's washbasin, on the stand next to his bed. Wisps of steam rose from the water, and Dimitri was warmed merely looking at this sign of Dedue's quiet care. Dimitri was often sleepless during this period of his life, but Dedue cut back on so much of his own resting hours to keep up.
"Thank you," Dimitri said, subdued, unsure if he was thanking Dedue for this or for everything at once. How disconcerting, this scarless, unlined face of his friend, yet inside Dimitri knew him to be the same person he had left behind in a future-that-was.
"It is my pleasure, Your Highness," Dedue replied.
Dedue slipped out of the room after that, gone to prepare himself for the day.
Left to his own devices, Dimitri took off his shirt, and approached the basin. He leaned over and peered into the water. In the dim light--growing brighter now--he saw his own reflection. Two blue eyes peering back at him from the gently wavering surface of the water. The steam wafted warmly against his face, and Dimitri nearly felt dizzy at the sensation.
Disorienting, that was what it was. He placed a hand over one eye, staring at himself past the blond hair hanging limply around his face. Only one eye looked back, and that felt less discomforting than two. How could he miss a lack of something?
He raked back his hair and washed his face, scrubbing more firmly as he felt how greasy it felt. He recalled that, even when he did manage to sleep, he would wake drenched in sweat from nightmares that plagued him. But he rather suspected he had also been afflicted with that particular greasiness that seemed to cling to adolescent boys, and he cringed a bit at his own youth.
Evaluating his condition and recalling what he could of this period in his life, Dimitri concluded that this body of his, at this point in time, had been strained by lack of sleep for far too long. He recognized the feel of the headache he would get when fatigued, and he recognized the deep dark circles around his eyes. He could recall how this time of his life felt, but only vaguely. He remembered being tired, stretched thin, increasingly hounded by the voices of the dead. Short-tempered and irrational, until Edelgard's betrayal pushed him to a point that...
His madness during the war had not all been war's doing, Dimitri concluded self-critically. He had already been taking poor care of himself in the lead-up to it, and had been losing control with increased frequency as a result. He could not allow himself this luxury the second time around. He would have to rein in his demons as he hadn't the first time.
He continued washing himself, investigating the differences of this young body. It was tired and battered by the storms of his mind, but it was also in better shape than the one he'd grown into. He traced a hand over his bad shoulder--or, not his bad shoulder anymore. There was no scar there, and no ache from where Edelgard's dagger had buried itself. He stretched and flexed, and there weren't quite as many angry gnarls of skin tugging. He hadn't noticed how much pain he'd carried until all the pain was now gone.
Ah, but just then he felt the twinge from his back. Those scars were still there, and fresher now. He'd almost forgotten, as they'd faded in time and been overtaken by more recent injuries, but now, in this time, they were the ones bothering him most. It felt almost like a badge of honor, these scars he'd taken to save Dedue's life. He could not resent their presence, when he was thankful for the disappearance of wounds gained in far more ignoble circumstances.
His hands skimmed over his torso, taking in the lack of other scars.
He had been nothing but callow in his youth. No matter how much doubt he'd felt at this plan, now that he was here, Dimitri had no choice but to go through with it. And knowing himself to be half the fool now that he was at half his age, the opportunity to try things again with knowledge he would not have until well into adulthood was beginning to feel more appealing.
Dimitri dressed himself distractedly, muscle memory taking over as he pulled on his uniform, his cape, his gauntlets. He looked himself over at the end, a bit surprised to see himself dressed so, and more surprised by how familiar it felt, as though only yesterday he'd worn this uniform.
Or--well, he supposed he did wear this uniform the day before. This body had, at least. It seemed to have rhythms and memories of its own, separate from whatever Dimitri had carried back with him from the future, and that was perhaps for the best, if he was going to maintain the pretense of being... himself.
He had a disorienting moment of realization just then, that the young boy Dimitri who had occupied this body just the night before was gone now, in a sense. Dead in some way. Guilt churned cold in his chest, but he put the disturbing thoughts aside.
He put the thoughts aside, uprooting them entirely like wayward weeds. He did not have the luxury of wallowing anymore.
Instead, after clipping his sword in place, he reached under his mattress and took the dagger as well, hesitating for a moment before placing this dagger as well on his hip. It was best he dealt with this sooner rather than later. Time was running away from him fast.
There was a surreal quality to his morning as he started towards the dining hall for breakfast. He crossed paths with Felix, who didn't even bother to glare at Dimitri before shouldering past him and quickly walking ahead. Sylvain emerged from his room with a jaw-popping yawn, likely because he'd been out carousing all night. Before Ingrid could fall into step with Sylvain and start lecturing, he ran to catch up with Felix, pretending he hadn't even seen her. Ingrid adjusted her trajectory to join Dimitri instead.
"Good morning, Your Highness," Ingrid greeted him, and this time Dimitri was struck by how similar this was to the way she greeted him every morning she saw him as his knight. Some things were immutable even with time's passing, he supposed.
He smiled as he nodded his greeting, and it was perhaps a bit too fond, because she gave him a searching look in response.
"Did you get a good night's sleep?" she asked.
"Not really," he admitted, and could see her flinch in response.
"I'm sorry--" she began.
"Oh, no! No, no, Ingrid, it's quite alright," he said. "I've merely come to the realization I cannot carry on as I have."
Far from looking assured, this seemed to alarm Ingrid instead. She stopped in her tracks, her eyes large and shining as she stared at him.
Ah, perhaps he could have phrased that in a less alarming way. Ingrid of his day would have understood, because by that point he'd become more candid about his struggles with those in his inner circle. But at this point in time, he'd been on a distinct downward spiral, and not open to receiving help.
"What I mean to say," he added quickly, as he stopped as well and raised his hands in reassurance, "is that it is irresponsible of me to let my headaches and lack of sleep impair me. I would not be doing my best as head of house if I allowed such a thing. So, if you wish to hold me to it, I will drop in at the infirmary after classes are over."
Ingrid's mouth opened in a soundless 'oh', before relief spread across her face like a ray of sun emerging through the clouds.
"I'm glad," she said. "Not that you're in pain and not sleeping! Just that you're getting help for it!"
She was so buoyed by this relief, that she put her hand to his arm and squeezed.
"Now, if we could only get Sylvain to sleep in his own bed at night," Dimitri said, startling a huff of laughter out of Ingrid.
"Your Highness, you've been working on your sense of humor!" she said, almost like an accusation. But she was delighted, as much as Ingrid allowed herself to show such things.
"It is a work in progress," Dimitri said, then gestured Ingrid along, towards the dining hall. "Shall we?"
It was strange how easily some things fell into place. His feet carried him through the monastery, from dining hall to classroom to training grounds.
Some things that he could have barely recalled if asked about them in his own time now came easily to his mind, and the pervasive sense of the familiar had become downright eerie.
Still less reassuring were the things that shocked him as though seen for the first time. The Professor was waiting in the doorway of the classroom as her students filed in, and Dimitri was surprised that he came up eye to eye with her. It was jarring to realize he still had enough height to grow that he would one day need to look downwards to catch her gaze, and reflexively he straightened up his shoulders, in contrast to how he would slouch down one day to bring his face even with hers.
Unused as he was to her height (or, rather, to his own), still he had forgotten the shade of her hair and the blueness of her eyes before the touch of the goddess had changed them. It would have been nostalgic, but for how she wore her grief like a heavy cloak. Scarcely had she even learned to smile, and by the redness of her eyes, he could tell she had now gotten used to crying. But there was nothing for it; Jeralt was too recently dead, and she had not even gotten her revenge, such as it was. Such as it had been.
Dimitri paused in the doorway after his classmates had already passed into the room, and he caught the Professor's gaze before he entered as well. He had no more words to give, and words would not help speed along her grieving, but he shared a look with her anyway, quietly supportive, and when her gaze fell away again, there was almost a smile that threaten to ghost across her lips.
He felt his skin tight and hot, tingling with a kind of eagerness, and he nearly groaned as he remembered--ah. He'd had a crush on the Professor, hadn't he. The mortifying trials of adolescence had thankfully slipped his mind, and he had not understood at the time that a crush was what he had been experiencing, but now he had to contend with the knowledge of why he had always been so hungry for his Professor's attention in his schoolboy days.
Well, he would have to put a pin in that for now, and deal with it, possibly, never.
He slid into his seat for the lecture, and half-listened to his Professor's subdued voice. To the cadence of her words, he considered his own thoughts.
If he changed things, would she still have her revenge against Kronya? It had been ashes in her mouth the first time, but would it serve the Professor in any way to have that revenge now?
Or, better question, would the Professor be happy to lose Sothis once again, when acting to interfere and change things may well prevent such a thing?
Dimitri supposed he was getting ahead of himself. There was yet something he had to do before he could get to those who slither in the dark. Two things, really. Two conversations.
He did not relish the first, but it would be the most difficult hurdle, and with the greatest potential for decisive advantage if he could pull it off. Also the highest potential for unmitigated disaster if he didn't. He would have to make his peace with either outcome.