Actions

Work Header

Salt's Whump(?)tober 2021

Chapter Text

Whump Scale: [1] fluff -- [10] agony

 

No. 1 - ALL TRUSSED UP AND STILL NOWHERE TO GO

“You have to let go” | barbed wire | bound

No. 2 - TALKING IS OVERRATED

garotte | choking | gagged

[2] Claude has been kidnapped by Thales just before Edelgard finalizes Adrestia and Leicester's alliance. It's up to her to rescue him - at least, that's what she assumes, until it comes to light that Claude has been double-dipping between her and Dimitri. She can make this work to her political (and personal) advantage...

[M] - Edelgard/Claude/Dimitri

cw: very lightly non-consensual kissing

 

No. 3 - STICKS AND STONES MAY BREAK MY BONES BUT…

taunting | insults | “Who did this to you?”

[8] A nostalgic walk down the marketplace ends up nostalgic in ways Claude didn't plan for. Beaten black and blue for the crime of looking a little Almyran, Claude tries to patch himself up and sneak back to the rest of his class, all without anyone discovering his injuries.

Claude & The Golden Deer Students

cw: Graphic Violence, Racism, Racist Language, Injuries and Blood, References to childhood violence

 

No. 4 - TRUST FALL

“Do you trust me?” | taken hostage | pushed

[9] Claude's wings haven't been a problem until now. Being only half-Almyran, his wings would never grow beyond their easily-hidden cherubic size. At least, that was what he thought. They've started growing, and hiding them is becoming harder and harder. If they keep growing, it's only a matter of time before he's found out.

Claude

cw: references to self-mutilation, kidnapping, mentions of slavery

 

No. 5 - I’VE GOT RED IN MY LEDGER

betrayal | misunderstanding | broken nose

[6] Continuation of Day 3: Claude's lies come to light in a horrible confrontation. His classmates are by his side this time, for better or worse.

Claude & Golden Deer

cw: Racism, violence, unwanted verbal advances

 

No. 6 - TOUCH AND GO

bruises | touch starved | hunger

[9] The past five years have not been kind to Dimitri. Out from the swirl of howling ghosts, a figure of gold extends a hand - and then a hug. Dimitri decides that this ghost is his now, and refuses to let go. Claude has to figure out how to run the war effort whilst stuck as a Dimitri's teddy bear. He's surprisingly okay with this - but his reasoning for going along with Dimitri's whims aren't what anyone expects.

[T] - Dimitri/Claude

cw: Possessive behavior, Character death

 

No. 7 - MY SPIDEY-SENSE IS TINGLING

helplessness | numbness | blindness

[4] Cyril takes one for the team, and it isn't an injury he can just walk off.

Cyril & Rhea

cw: Internalized ableism

 

No. 8 - COUGHING UP A LUNG

pneumothorax | exotic illness | “Definitely just a cold”

[3] Claude's sick. Claude's cold. Claude is freezing. He's pathetic enough that everyone can't help but indulge him until he gets better. Surely he'll get better soon, right? It's just a benign illness...

Claude & Hilda & Golden Deer; very minor Dimitri/Claude

 

No. 9 - RUMORS OF MY DEATH HAVE BEEN GREATLY EXAGGERATED

presumed dead | (blind) rage | tears

[10] After the battle at Gronder Field, Claude retreats to his room to process losing Dimitri a second time (this time for real, for certain, forever).

[G] Claude/Dimitri; minor Claude & Lysithea

cw: Canonical Character Death, Grief

 

No. 10 - OOPS, I DID IT AGAIN

hospital | flare-up | ice chips

[2] Claude wakes up in a hospital after getting in a car accident. This is weird, given that he's never heard of a car. A carriage, he knows what those are, but a car? This strange place isn't the Fodlan he knows. At least he isn't alone in his confusion. Dimitri and Edelgard are just as lost as him in this futuristic world filled with technology and people beyond their wildest dreams.

Claude & Dimitri & Edelgard; [G] Dimitri/Claude

 

No. 11 - JUST KEEP SWIMMING

adrift | drowning | dehydration

[10] A beautiful class reunion goes horribly wrong.

[G] Ignatz/Marianne

cw: Major character death

 

No. 12 - IT’LL BE FUN, THEY SA ID

torture | made to watch | begging

[10] Continuation of Day 4; After Claude was kidnapped, the Golden Deer finally track him down - or so they thought. It seems they're at a dead end. All they found was a disturbing amount of feathers and a winged-Almyran. The Almyran is hurt and clearly needs help, but so does Claude, wherever he was taken. Not only is the Almyran stuck in a slave-mask that no one knows how to remove, he's also violent. Every wasted moment means Claude slips further out of their reach. The Golden Deer have to ask themselves a very important question: Who is more important? This traumatized Almyran stranger, or their missing house leader?

Cyril & Golden Deer & Claude

cw: Torture, mutilation, severe trauma, human trafficking

 

No. 13 - THAT’S GONNA LEAVE A MARK

“This is gonna suck” | burns | cauterization Alt Prompt: Losing Control

[10] Continuation of Day 4 & 12: After Claude's week-long stint of torture, he tries to put himself back together again. His wings, now massive and out of his control, get in the way of recovery.

Claude & Golden Deer

cw: Aftermath of torture, Severe trauma, PTSD, Body Dysphoria, Severe disassociation, non-graphic mentions of bug-infestation

 

No. 14 - UNDER PRESSURE

crush injuries | beaten | force Alt Prompt: Forgotten | Head Injury

[5] Khalid wakes up in a strange place surrounded by strangers who call him 'Claude' and only speak Fodlani. He doesn't know where he is, what's going on, who anyone is, or even the year - but he does know how to bluff like his life depends on it (and his life does depend on it, as far as Khalid can tell).

Claude & Hilda

 

No. 15 - FEED A COLD, STARVE A FEVER

delirium | fever dreams | bees

[4] Dimitri is ill. Very, very ill - but his ghosts demand more from him. As he's stumbling towards the training grounds, he meets two new ghosts who are eerily familiar. Strange as this is, it only gets stranger when these ghosts persist after his sickness is past - and even stranger when they start telling him things.

Dimitri & Claude & Edelgard

 

No. 16 - ON A NEED TO KNOW BASIS

recovery | scars | aftermath

[7] Continuation of day 4, 12, & 13: Claude's recovery requires the Golden Deer to take some tough actions. No matter how hard he screams and struggles, his classmates refuse to budge - they're doing this for his sake, after all.

Claude & Golden Deer

cw: Body Dysphoria, Disassociation, Body Horror, Non-Consensual Touching (non-sexual; only as a necessity), minor self-mutilation, Panic Attacks, Restraint, non-graphic mentions of bug-infestation, Overstimulation (non-sexual)

 

No. 17 - FIELD CARE 101

“Please don’t move!” | hemorrhage | dread

[10] The first time Byleth killed a student, it hurt. The last time Byleth killed a student, they felt nothing.

Byleth & Edelgard & Black Eagles

cw: Major Character Death

 

No. 18 - THE DOCTOR IS IN

“Now smile for the camera” | doctor’s visit | CPR Alt Prompt: Tragedy | Near Death Experience | Comfort

[3] One night, while Claude is slinking around the woods outside of the monastery (he TECHNICALLY isn't breaking any rules!), he finds a boy covered in blood and soot. The blue-eyed boy spoke of death and fire. Claude can't be sure if this really is a traumatized kid, or if he's speaking to some sort of Fodlani forest-spirit. Whatever the case, he knows better than to spurn a spirit - and he isn't about to allow a child to suffer simply because he's paranoid.
Unrelated, Prince Dimitri has been acting odd recently.

Claude & Dimitri ; [G] Claude/Dimitri

 

No. 19 - JUST A SCRATCH

bitten | bleeding | stabbing

[5] Murder mystery in the library! Claude recognizes the Almyran-style body-double magic. Now he has to explain to everyone in the library he didn't actually murder another student. He has to admit that it's a bad look for him, holding the bloody dagger and all that.

Claude, Lysithea, Sylvain, Linhardt, Caspar, Dimitri, and Annette

 

No. 20 - LOST & FOUND

trunk | trapped under water | solitary confinement

[9] When the War of the Heroes ended, Macuil left Fodlan and never looked back. A millennia later, he leaves his desert for the first and last time.

Macuil

cw: Route-canon character death, non-graphic suicide

 

No. 21 - THAT’S WHERE THE BLOOD’S SUPPOSED TO BE

bleeding through the bandages | pressure | blood-matted hair

[10] Being only nine years old, it isn't easy to take care of their starving siblings. Ashe and Alder are the only parents their little siblings have though, so the pair of twins do their best to provide food. Ashe's bleeding heart and generosity is tempered by Alder's practicality, right up until it gets one of them horribly injured.

Ashe & Siblings, Ashe & Dimitri

cw: Starvation, Injury to children, Graphic injury, Character death, Grief

 

No. 22 - THEY MADE ME DO IT

cursed | demon | obsession

[10] Cont. of Day 1. Claude's been married to Dimitri and Edelgard for a month now. The pair still hate each other and compete over him. He kiinda has to get back to Almyra, but he can't leave his spouses alone for five minutes without a fight breaking out. He has a solution, though. There's no way a little 'love potion' can backfire, right?

[EXPLICIT] Claude/Dimitri/Edelgard

cw: RATED E, SEXUAL CONTENT cw and kinks will be listed on the chapter

 

No. 23 - YOU BREAK IT, YOU BUY IT

auction | ransom | pursuit

[4] Khalid is exploring the seedier parts of the capital when he stumbles across a slave market. One of the slaves for sale is not like the others. At the ripe old age of twelve, Khalid becomes the not-so-proud owner of another human being.

Khalid & Hilda

cw: Slavery, racism

 

No. 24 - ONE DOWN TWO TO GO

self-induced injuries to escape | flashback | revenge

[2] Continuation of Day 23; It's been years since Hilda returned to Fodlan, but she never forgot the friend she made in Almyra. He never forgot her either. The lonely little boy who rescued her all those years ago is all grown up now, but he's not as different as she first assumes. It takes less than a day for them to fall into old habits.

Hilda & Claude

cw: canon-typical racism, attempted harm to children

 

No. 25 - HIDE & SEEK

escape | flight | hiding

[4] Continuation of Day 4, 12, 13, and 16; The Golden Deer figure out how to get Claude settled before they have to go back to Garreg Mach. Claude is nowhere near self-sufficient, hardly able to walk on his own. With his wings maintaining a fierce independence from him and his mind still struggling with the trauma he experienced, he's forced to rely on his classmates to figure out a solution before it's too late.

Claude & Golden Deer

cw: trauma

 

No. 26 - YOU WILL GO DOWN WITH THIS SHIP

fallen | waterfall | trap door

[4] Cont of day 14; Khalid's memories are still only that of a 14 year old. Now he has to navigate the life of Claude von Riegan, 18 year old student at the monastery, all without arousing too much suspicion. Should be easy, right? So what if he can't read, doesn't know anyone, and is utterly clueless? He's great at bluffing!

Claude & Golden Deer

 

No. 27 - I’M FINE. I PROM…

passing out | vertigo | collapse

[3] Cont of day 9; Five years of war. Claude is struggling to juggle everything and has been for a long time, but only Hilda is close enough notice this. Add his fresh grief for Dimitri's death into the mix, and Hilda knows she has to take action before he drives himself 6 feet under.

Hilda & Claude & Golden Deer ; implied past Dimiclaude

cw: Benign non-consensual drugging

 

No. 28 - IT’S NOT JUST IN YOUR HEAD

“Good. You’re finally awake.” | nightmares | panic

[1] Cont of day 18; Claude and Dimitri have been taking care of each other's miniature-selves for roughly a month now. The kids are still clingy to their respective savior. The two house leaders attempt to discourage the budding unhealthy co-dependency while taking a moment for themselves to discuss some private things. Leaving the two kids alone might have been a bad idea, though... And might just encourage something else budding between their older selves.

Claude&Dimitri ; (T)Claude/Dimitri

 

No. 29 - ALL WORK AND NO PLAY

“You’re still not dead?” | too weak to move | overworked

[5] Marianne is minding her own business, praying in the cathedral at 2am as one does. There have been strange, ghastly sightings around the monastery recently, so she prays to the Goddess for forgiveness. She wasn't expecting specters of potential future paths to manifest within the cathedral and begin fighting.

Marianne, Felix, Dimitri, Claude, Edelgard

 

No. 30 - DIGGING YOUR GRAVE

major character death(?) | left for dead | ghosts

[5-9] The Blue Lions wake up feeling a little bit off. Dimitri wakes up feeling very off. In fact, he can't feel much of anything. 

Sylvain, Dimitri, Felix, Blue Lions

cw: Potential implications/thoughts of suicide, Potential major character death

 

No. 31 - HURT & COMFORT

disaster zone | trauma | prisoner

[8] Continuation of Day 1/2 and 22 ; Mercedes realizes that something isn't right with Dimitri and Edelgard and their eating habits. This begins the chain of events that leads to the discovery that Claude has not been in Almyra like everyone thought. 

Hilda, Mercedes, Lysithea, Dorothea, Linhardt; Claude/Dimitri/Edelgard

tw: Rated E for sexual content (but not very sexy). Triggers are listed in the chapter summery

Chapter Text

“Arundel!” Edelgard cried, hefting her axe towards her ‘uncle’. “This time you went too far!”

“Have I?” Arundel rolled his eyes. “This is what you take umbrage with? Please. Do calm down.”

She took another step forward, sorely missing Hubert and her Black Eagle Strike Force. They had to stay behind and fend off the Faerghan Resistance that crashed into their party at the last moment. “I did not order you to attack Derdriu yet.”

“It was an advantageous time.” Arundel didn’t even pretend like he cared.

“Lies. You knew Leicester was about to fold to my demands. Duke Riegan was putty in my palm — now return him.” 

“Tch, is that what you think? He was using you, my dear niece.” Arundel snapped his fingers. In a purple flash, Claude appeared at his feet, fully bound and gagged. For being completely at Arundel’s mercy, he was surprisingly calm in the situation. “Your spies are lacking. You failed to uncover this mutt’s treachery. His silver tongue seduced you while drawing in the resistance’s forces. I am doing you a favor by removing this piece from the board.” Kicking Claude, Arundel sneered. “I will make this beast understand he should have never crawled out of the mud-hole he was spawned from.”

Considering that Claude was still alive, that did not bode well for his future. Slotted for experimentation, likely. She wouldn’t wish that fate on anyone. “Enough! I have tolerated your insubordination for too long. Make up whatever lies you wish — it will not save you.” This was the perfect opportunity to take out Arundel — to take out Thales. As the war’s northern offensive stalled, she and Hubert had been chipping away at the support pillars of Those Who Slither in the Dark. Alone in this cave, there would be no witnesses to his death

As she struck out, dark magic buffeted her armor. Raising Aymr as a shield, she trudged forward against her ‘uncle’s’ onslaught. Just as she got within striking distance, Thales smirked and teleported across the room, his human guise melting away.

“Truly? I expected better from you.” Dark magic gathered in his hands. She inhaled sharply, rushing forward to stop the Quake Σ from going off. It would entomb her in this cave if Thales was allowed to finish the spell. “Pathetic.”

The cave began to shake. 

“Fool girl. You have my thanks. With you gone, the Empire shall fall to my hands. The only pity is that we did not get more use out of y—ou…ugh…” The magic in his hands vanished as Thales’ eyes went wide. After sputtering two weak coughs, Thales went limp. The only thing holding his body upright was the tip of a relic pierced through his sternum. 

“Excellent timing,” she said, quickly scooping up the still-bound Claude and hoisting him over her shoulder. He made a muffled noise that she chose to interpret as ‘thank you for rescuing me, I am forever in your debt’. “Now quick, we must leave before the cave collapses.” Though the quake spell was finished, the cave still rumbled ominously. 

“You are going nowhere,” echoed the voice of the last person she wanted to see.

“…Dimitri. We don’t have time for this. Unless you want to be buried with me, stand aside. We can settle our dispute in the open air.”

“Dispute? You dare call your actions of war a dispute?!” Dimitri trudged forward, grinning with manic glee. “If I must die to finally kill you, then I will rest knowing justice was done. Two monsters, entombed and forgotten in mutual annihilation.”

Claude squirmed against her, muffling wordless shouts into his gag. The cave groaned again.

“Dimitri, there is no time! Stand aside!” In the arm wasn’t shouldering Claude, she raised Aymr. “You give me no choice but to put you down.”

They lunged as one, interrupted only by the cave collapsing. 

 

 


 

 

“Uhh…” Blinking the dust from her eyes, she struggled to remember where she was. Everything was dark. 

“Mmmnnnngh.”

“Huh?” Lulling her head to the side, she saw Claude nearby, still bound and gagged. Right, the cave. “Dammit, Dimitri.”

“Silence y-you wretch,” echoed Dimitri’s voice from nearby

“Mmh hmmhmh!”

Groaning, she shook her head to clear it. “Claude, be silent.”

“Mmmphf!!”

“Claude?” Dimitri shifted, his blond hair standing out against the dark of the rest of the cave. His lone eye flew wide as it settled on Claude. “Claude!”

“Mhph mm!” Claude replied, in the tone of a chirped ‘that’s me!’

“What has she done to you?” Dimitri growled, heaving at a slab of rock.

“Mmm!” Claude shook his head frantically, eyes flying wide.

“Stop!” she commanded as soon as she saw what Claude saw. The more Dimitri pushed to get closer, the more he destabilized their pocket of air. “You’ll collapse even more onto us!” The faint sunlight peeking from above flickered as rocks shifted.

“Good! I will finish the job.”

“Mnmmhhmhmh!” Claude heaved through the gag. Dimitri paused, evidently hesitating to add Claude to the death-pact he was so eager to include her in. 

“I did not do this to Claude. Arundel did. Congratulations, you killed him.”

Dimitri scowled. “Lies. Lies, lies, you only speak lies!”

Claude made a long, unending, incessant drone, interrupting both of them. “What?!” she snapped.

“Mind your tone, witch!” 

Rolling his eyes, Claude wiggled in his binds, still making an endless annoying sound. He bounced his eyebrows.

“Claude, shut up.” He just glared at her for that comment and refused to remain silent.

“Take off his gag, you wretch.”

“Mm! Mmm!!” Claude nodded emphatically, then fell blessedly silent, staring at her with wide green eyes.

“I don’t know. It’s a relief to have a break from his incessant chatter for once.” Deadpanning at her, Claude began groaning again. “Fine! Fine, but do be silent!” When the cave fell on them, Claude hadn’t been blown far from her. It was good fortune that the cave fell around them for the most part. Other than a sluggishly bleeding head-wound on Claude, and some stinging bruises on her side, they were both uninjured from the cave-in. The gag was proving stubborn to take off. Whatever material Thales used, it was strong. As she attempted to rip the gag off of Claude without harming him, she assessed him for any signs of concussion. His pupils were the same size and his focus steady, so unless he started vomiting, she wasn’t worried. 

Finally the material gave way. Claude spat out a mouthful of blood as she pulled the gag away. “Finally! My throat was starting to kill me. Anyone got any water? I’m dying of thirst.”

“Claude,” Dimitri growled, much closer now. While she’d been distracted with Claude, he had carefully picked his way through the rubble without noisily disturbing the rocks. As the former prince of Faerghus prowled closer, she took note that Areadbhar was nowhere to be found. Inhaling sharply, she couldn’t find Aymr anywhere in the rubble either. 

“Arundel was responsible for Duscur!” Claude said in a rush, freezing Dimitri in his tracks. “He was the mastermind, not Edelgard.” Coughing, Claude continued. “Honestly, Dimitri! Edelgard was thirteen when the tragedy happened. The blame was pinned on her.”

“Lies. She allies herself with those who caused it. She’s the Flame Emperor.”

“She didn’t have a choice. Her uncle was their leader, she’s been under their thumb for years. She’s a figurehea—d, E-Edel…gard, ow.”

She dug her heel deeper into Claude’s back. “I am no figurehead, Claude. My actions are my own.” The glare Claude aimed at her was acidic. “After the war was over, I planned to destroy those responsible for the many tragedies like Duscur. It seems now that will no longer be necessary, given Dimitri and I just killed Arundel.”

“R-right. Yep. N-nice teamwork there! See Dimitri? If Edelgard was responsible for everything, she wouldn’t have been fighting Arundel. We can j-just, ow, talk everything out… preferably without me being stepped on, Edelgard.”

“Hmph.”

Dimitri grabbed her wrist, yanking her back from Claude. She returned his insolence with a hard slap to the face. Growling like a beast, he reared back and— 

“Stop! Gods, stop, I’m right between you two!” Claude sputtered from his place on the ground. “If you two fight, who knows what kind of collateral damage that will cause to this cave. Or to me. So let’s just sit down, and take some deep breaths, and be nice… and… calm.”

“You’re in no place to tell me what to do,” she snapped. “Derdriu is under Empire occupation, I remind you. I expect your cooperation.”

“False,” Dimitri growled, bristling like a feral cat. “The Empire was repelled shortly after Claude was taken. You have nothing.”

“Oh? Aww, I knew I could count on Judith and Hilda,” Claude chirped at her feet. “Thanks for the news, Dimitri!”

There was no way Dimitri was lying — the idiot didn’t have it in him. All of this had been for nothing. Gritting her teeth, she removed her foot from Claude’s back. “Arundel’s assault on Derdriu was not approved by me or the Empire. The Empire formally apologizes for the interruption to our talks.” She had been so close to getting Claude on her side. Without leverage over his head, she had to play nice for now.

“Talks…” Dimitri began. “What talks, Claude.”

“Just trying to figure out, y’know, answers and all of that.” Claude wiggled like a worm, struggling and failing to sit up. “I was planning on forming a little summit between the three of us, though not quite like this.”

“You went behind my back,” she and Dimitri said at the same time.

“I never said I wasn’t meeting with the other side. I would have told you if you asked.” Claude flashed a stupidly charming smile, as if he was confessing to stealing a cookie, not colluding with the enemy. “I don’t see any reason for the fighting to continue.”

“She burned my country!”

“Faerghus declared war on Adrestia first. Adrestia only declared war on the church, I remind you.”

Claude butted into their discussion. “Our real enemy is the group that caused Duscur. We just killed their leader, tada! Now we can work together and rebuild Fódlan. Holding a grudge is not only pointless, but will actively harm recovery.”

“Very cute, Claude,” she drawled with an eye roll. “This is a naive solution. You forget the threat of the church.”

“The church is in tatters, they don’t have any centralized power. Unless you intend to rip every last holy icon out of the hands of the public? You’ve made a lot of martyrs in your ‘crusade’, Edie.” Claude paused to cough, spitting up phlegm and a little bit of blood.

She knelt beside him in an instant, crashing heads with Dimitri. They glared at one another until Claude began coughing again. “I’ll kill the one who did this to you,” Dimitri growled.

“Already done,” Claude rasped back. “I’m fine, just bit my lip and tongue a dozen times when I was gagged. I’m also dying of thirst. Anyone got water? Please tell me someone has water.”

She scrambled through her armor for a flask. As annoying as Claude was, he was vital to get on her side as an ally. Dimitri was also scrambling for water, so she refused to be shown up by him. Tearing her flask free, she uncorked it at the same time that Dimitri found his, shoving it at Claude.

“He will drink from my flask.” She pulled Claude closer to her. “I shudder to imagine what filthy substance fills your flask.”

Dimitri yanked Claude from her surprised grip. “My flask is filled with water. Yours is no-doubt filled with poison.”

“Poison?! How would I drink from it if it was poisoned!”

“A wretch like you must enjoy drinking poison! It’s the only thing that quenches your wicket thirst, devil.”

“Hey, let’s not fight—”

She tugged on Claude’s shoulder. “He is injured. He needs a gentle touch, not a brutish beast like you.”

“He is injured because of you!”

“I rescued him! He owes me a debt!”

“The only debt here is the debt you owe to the ghosts clinging to yours every step!”

“Stop!” Claude frantically shouted. She immediately let go at the same time as Dimitri, prompting Claude to heave a sigh. “Ow. I’m not that thirsty, I don’t want to be torn in half!”

“Dimitri, you owe Claude an apology.”

“I owe him an apology?!”

“Neither of you owe me an apology!’ Claude shouted, voice hoarsely cracking. “I’ll take a swig from both of your flasks, happy?”

“You can’t trust her, Claude!”

“Bold words from a madman.”

“All I want is a drink…” Claude pathetically whined, flopping his head forward.

Rolling her eyes, she grabbed his chin and rested his head on her shoulder, which would be much more comfortable. Settling in beside him, she pressed her body up against his to give him something to lean against. Dimitri seethed and pressed up against Claude’s other side, but she did it first. “Tilt your head back, Claude. I won’t have you spilling our limited water supply.”

She fed Claude a few sips of water. His eyes fluttered halfway shut as he drank, humming his appreciation. Had his eyelashes always been so long? Caught in a trace, she couldn’t look away from his face. He was roughed up, his cheek sporting a purple bruise, his temple shimmering with fresh blood from the clotted scrape on his head, his hair messy like their academy days but much longer, dangling in front of his eyes… His plush and glossy lips wrapped around her flask, his Adam’s apple bobbing with every slow sip, the rapture of bliss on his ruggedly handsome features… 

She yanked the flask away abruptly. Claude’s lips formed a surprised ‘o’ as he blinked in cute confusion. Jamming the cork into her flask, she could only hope the heat on her face wasn’t visible. “Dimitri! You may waste your water supplies on him as well. As he said. Water from us both. It’s only fair.” 

She made brief eye-contact with Dimitri, who was not only gaping at Claude, but was also bright red. His lips pressed together and he nodded, fumbling out his own flask and unceremoniously shoving it into Claude’s mouth. Claude’s eyebrows shot up before he shrugged and relaxed, closing his eyes completely and allowing Dimitri to tilt mouthfuls of water past his lips. 

Objectively, she knew Claude was rather handsome. Objectively, she knew Claude was attractive. There were many objectively attractive people in the world, so she thought little of it during their rare meetings over the past few months. Yes, he had grown even more handsome as the years passed, but that was easily ignored in favor of business. Now, forced into close quarters with him, it was difficult to not think of it. Claude even smelled good, past the blood and sweat clinging to his pleasantly spiced scent. Regardless of his objective attractiveness, there was no good reason for her to stare at him as Dimitri fed him water. 

Even though there was no good reason to look, she couldn’t tear her eyes away.

Finally Dimitri pulled the flask away. Claude, not done taunting her, released an innocent-seeming moan and then smacked his lips. His tongue darted past his pretty lips to clean up the stray beads of water that trailed down his chin. 

Dimitri was also staring at Claude. If she didn’t do something, Dimitri would scoop up Claude’s favor. Tearing off a strip of fabric from under her armor, she gently dabbed at Claude’s head-wound. He hissed, shooting her a cute pout. She wrapped his head with utter care. “There. Is there anything else you require, Claude?” She needed Claude (Leicester) on her side. Perhaps there was another route to winning Leicester’s support that she hadn’t considered. 

“Yeah, I need these binds taken off, thanks.” He squirmed to emphasize his point, wiggling right up against her (and Dimitri). 

“Allow me!” Dimitri yanked at the fabric like a barbarian, freezing as soon as Claude grunted in pain.

“Don’t just yank at them! You’re squeezing me too.”

“Have some refinement, Dimitri,” she snapped, reaching for the binds herself. Claude was bound tightly, to the point where there wasn’t any room for her fingers to slide under the fabric. Pulling at it caused Claude to grunt again. Despite her crest given strength, the Agarthan fabric remained firmly in place. 

“Stop, it’s fine! I’d rather be tied up than dead.”

“I’ll find Aymr, then—”

“Do not try to cut me free with your axe! Gods above. It’s fine, it’s fine. Not like I’ll be much help unburying us out of this rubble anyways. You two are the ones with super-human strength.”

“Being tied up suits you well,” she muttered under her breath. She’d like to see him bound and helpless more often, in truth. It was a good look for the brat. Dimitri choked and coughed.

“You think so?” Claude replied with a smarmy grin and a cheeky wink, shimmying his body back and forth. “Personally, I think it’s excessive. What’s wrong with good ‘ol fashion iron to lock my arms and legs together? I’m practically a mummy like this.”

“E-enough,” Dimitri interrupted, bodily stilling Claude wrapping his big hands on Claude’s hip and shoulder, forcing him to still. Dimitri grabbed the hip and shoulder close to her.

“Just what are you doing?” she demanded, grabbing Claude’s other hip and shoulder for herself. Their arms brushed one another, neither side yielding. 

“Um?”

They both ignored Claude, laying equal claim on his body. “How long until the others come searching for us, do you think?” Edelgard breezily asked, defiantly daring Dimitri to contest her claim.

“As soon as my forces win the battle, they will unearth Claude and I.”  

“Incorrect. When my Black Eagle Strike Force crush your rebels, they will rescue Claude and I.”

“Actually! Neither side is fighting,” Claude chirped, winking at them both. “Providing Hilda and my Golden Deer tracked Arundel — and we have Lysithea, so they were certainly able to track Arundel — they dispersed both sides without any casualties.”

“Utterly naive,” she muttered, gripping him tighter. Why was that stupid naivety endearing?

“Nope! Not unless your troops are immune to an airstrike of sleeping powder…? Yep, thought not.”

“What.”

“What? Of course I had a scheme up my sleeve! Being kidnapped might not have been part of the plan, but hey, it worked out. Look at you two, I'm so proud. Chummy enough to almost be holding hands.”

“I am not holding her hand.”

“Do not dare accuse me of holding his hand.”

Claude pouted at them both. “C’mon you two, we’re all friends here. Everyone’s a friend when you're trapped in a cave for an indefinite time period!” Sighing, he turned his doe-eyes on Dimitri. “We’re friends, you and I, right Dimitri?”

“I have no friends, only my vengeance.”

“You got your vengeance, Arundel is dead. Friend-time now. C’mon, we’re friends, right Dima?”

Dimitri's expression crumpled. “…Fine.”

“And Edelgard? We’re—”

“Not friends,” she hissed.

Claude pouted. That was all he did — pout at her. His green eyes were mesmerizing. A beautiful shade that she could look at forever and never tire of. His plump lips naturally formed such a sweet pout. His long lashes fluttered at her.

“Fine! We’re allies.” Technically that paperwork wasn’t finished yet, but they were in the process of allying. 

“Friends?”

“Fine. Friends. Stop making that face.”

“Excellent! Since I’m both friends with you both, that makes you two friends (once removed). Given we’re all sovereigns of our territories, such a friendship is very fortuitous to our people.”

“Whu—Claude. That’s not how that works.”

“I am not her friend.”

“Nope! Too late, you’re both friends now. No take-backs.”  

“I despise her.”

“That’s why I’m here as a buffer.”

Claude as a buffer… Her eyes narrowed. “Very well.”

Claude lit up. “I knew you’d come around. Ehe, you don’t want to know what my plan B was. You really don’t want to know my plan C. Trust me, agreeing to be friends is the best option here.”

“No. I have a better idea.” She pulled Claude against herself, prompting Dimitri to do the same. They both squeezed against him, neither side relenting an inch. “Dimitri. I’m closer to Claude than you are.”

The outrage was instant. “You wretch! I’ve been friends with him since the academy! I have never invaded his nation!”

“Claude,” she sweetly pronounced, “your aim is to ignite peace, is that correct?”

“I wouldn’t say ‘ignite’. Though, y’know, given this plan has pretty much been ‘lock you two together in a closet and throw away the key’, maybe ‘ignite’ is a good word… Whoa! Dimitri!” 

Dimitri tugged Claude off the ground and towards him. “Claude. We’re friends. Call me Dima.” As he demanded this, he didn’t look away from her for a second. Edelgard matched Dimitri until Claude was sandwiched between the two of them. Refusing to give ground, she straddled Claude’s lap, who himself was on Dimitri’s lap. 

“Sure… you guys are both full of hard edges,” Claude said with a wince, nodding down at their armor. She yanked at the straps of her armor, tearing off the hard shell of metal in record time. Dimitri did the same. She flung the cold armor from her body, but her rush didn’t win out over Dimitri, who finished stripping down to his undershirt at the same time as her. It wasn’t until they collided back against Claude that her actions caught up with her. Not only was she unarmed from the cave-in, but in one simple sentence, Claude got both her and Dimitri to strip off their armor. Claude’s silver tongue was legendary, and this just further proved how vital it was to win him over to her side. As an enemy, Claude was infinitely more dangerous than Dimitri. 

“More comfortable?” she asked, digging her fingers into the meat of his ribs and pressing her chest against his. Dimitri’s eyes narrowed and did the same, until Claude wheezed between them. Neither of them broke eye contact.

“I knew this would happen,” Claude murmured, smug with a hint of hesitance. “You two always have had a crush on one another ever since the academy. Consider how much better everything will be — personally and nationally — if you two are on good terms.”

“Fódlan must be re-united,” she stated, ignoring the first half of Claude’s nonsense. “I can unite Fódlan through conquest, as I have already done for over half of the Kingdom.”

“Edelgard,” Claude began in a disappointed tone. 

“Or we can declare peace right here, right now. Unite Fódlan and turn our eyes to rooting out the remainders of the threat slithering in the dark.”

Dimitri’s eyes narrowed. “I will not forfeit Faerghus to you.”

“I can take it one way or another.” Her eyes dropped down to Claude, bundled between them like a present. “I propose a union.”

“A union!” Claude gasped, laughing. “I love that word, ‘union’, it’s a lot better than ‘war’! Let’s hear her out, Dimit—Dima.”

Ignoring Claude, she locked eyes with her rival. “If Dimitri or I were to die in this cave, leaving only one of us left, what would you do, Claude?”

Claude’s laughter cut off. “Let’s not get too morbid here.”

“You would ally with the last one standing, yes?”   

He frowned. “No. I would do what was best for Leicester. Afterwards, I’d leave Fódlan forever.”

“What?” Dimitri gaped. “You can’t leave!”

“Sure I can. Well, not right now I can’t.” Claude squirmed. “Eh…ehe. You know, you guys are kind of squishing me?”

“You’re not going anywhere,” Dimitri growled. 

“And what if you had ties keeping you in Fódlan?” Edelgard airily continued, letting go of Claude’s shoulder in order to cup his chin. “Dimitri and I are not compatible, Claude… not on our own.”

Claude’s smile returned, though there was a confused tilt to his brow. “I wouldn’t want to get between a budding couple. Er, not unless it was to break up a fight.”

“Claude,” she continued, licking her lips at his adorable confusion, “I propose—”

“Mine,” Dimitri snarled, turning Claude’s neck away from her. “Marry me, Claude!”

Claude’s smile froze. “Uh. Wait, say that again?”

“Hasty brute,” she snarled to Dimitri, yanking Claude’s chin back towards her. “The Adrestian Empire extends an offer of marital partnership to the Duke of Riegan.”

“Me? But you two—” Green eyes darted between them, plush lips hanging open in silent invitation. 

She helped herself to Claude’s bounty.

She didn’t have much experience in the art of kissing. With an Empire to run and a war to wage, romance was off the table. It didn’t matter. Claude’s little sound of surprise was a feast. She made their first kiss brief, pulling back to give Claude time to process. 

His eyes were wide, blinking rapidly. A trail of spit connected them. Dimitri broke that trail by yanking Claude into another kiss, equally inexperienced as her and even less graceful as spit trickled down Claude’s chin. 

“Well?!” she demanded as soon as Dimitri finished his turn. “Pick a side! Marry me!”

“No, marry me!”

“Uh…” Claude’s face was flushed, growing darker and redder with every passing moment. 

“Adrestia has more to offer!” And Claude had more than just Leicester to offer. With Claude by her side, and his tactical genius, nothing would stand in her way. Not Faerghus, and not Those Who Slither in the Dark. 

“Faerghus is not tainted by beginning this war,” Dimitri snarled, helping himself to Claude’s throat as he began mouthing like an overeager dog.

“Surely you prefer a woman, Claude,” she whispered into his ear, running a hand through his soft locks. “Not a brute like Dimitri.”

“Actu-ally, uh, I don’t really have a preference,” Claude stuttered out, his voice cracking. “Both, how about both! I accept both — under the stipulation that you two learn to get along!” Claude’s triumphant smirk lasted all of three seconds, right up until Dimitri nipped him. Green eyes flew wide as he bit into his own plump lips, muffling a noise that she wanted to hear.

“Mine,” she and Dimitri said at the same time.

“Th-the proper term would be ‘o-ours’, you kn—oooooh,” This time Dimitri succeeded in making Claude sing.

Their eyes locked. Slowly, they nodded. “Ours.”

“Ours. For now.”

“I’ll win his favor from you.”

“You can try.”

“H-hey, aha, do I get a say in any of this?” the captured Duke gasped, wriggling against his restraints. 

“Why, Claude,” she purred, tracing his jawline, “this is just some friendly competition.”

“Do you want us to stop?” Dimitri asked, smirking at the obvious answer.

Claude gulped. “Well… I wouldn’t want to get between national unity…”

“All you have to do,” she murmured into his cheek, “is tell us to stop.”

Claude did not tell them to stop. Thus began the new war between Eagle and Lion to see who could get the most noise out of Claude. It was the first of many, many such ‘friendly competitions.’

Chapter Text

“Pleeeease professor? Just for the day!” 

Claude shook his head. This was just a stop for the evening on the way to their mission. “Hilda, if Teach was going to say yes, they—”

“Fine.”

“Oh. Neat.” Chuckling, he rubbed the back of his neck. “Thanks, Teach! I’m perfectly happy to be wrong this time.”

The rest of the class cheered, only quieting at Teach’s gesture. “Return to this inn by sundown. Don’t be late. Understood?” Everyone was quick to reassure their professor that they would be on their best behavior. With a wave of their hand, they dismissed the class and headed into the inn.

After all, it wasn’t every day that they got the chance to explore the massive markets of Derdriu, even if it was just on the outskirts of the city. They headed off in one massive group that quickly dwindled.

Hilda’s eyes sparkled. “Marianne, Lysithea! There’s this amazing bakery down the street over here, you have to try it!” She tugged the two girls away from the group.

“Dear Goddess,” Ignatz gasped, darting over to an artist’s stall. “This is Morfin art! The techniques…” 

“There goes half our crew,” Claude said with a chuckle. “More than half, actually.” He pointed to Raphael, who had also left the group to peruse a meat stand.

“There’s so much to see,” Leonie murmured, turning her head back and forth. “There’s gotta be amazing deals!”

“And then there were two,” he said to Lorenz as Leonie wandered off. Lorenz raised an eyebrow, rolled his eyes, and then walked away. And then there was one.  

With his arms clasped behind his head, he aimlessly wandered through the marketplace. The sight was nostalgic, reminiscent of all the times as a kid he snuck out of the palace and explored the sprawling markets of Almyra’s grand capital. Instead of spice, the air was filled with the smell of fish and saltwater. Still, he liked Derdriu, even if it was different from what he grew up with. It was as much of a home as Almyra had been. 

An hour or two passed without much happening. He bought an apple, browsed some goods, and mostly just people-watched. Eventually the sun began to set, so he made his last purchase and turned back towards the main inn.

“You there,” a loud voice boomed from a massive wall of a man blocking his path. “You understand me?” A meaty hand clamped down on his arm.

Before he had the chance to reply, he was roughly yanked off his feet and into a nearby alley. Another hand clamped over his mouth before he could shout for help. Kicking wildly, he managed to strike a wooden box and collapse it in a loud heap. Heads in the marketplace turned towards him and his clearly unwilling departure into the alley. Eyes narrowed, frowns appeared, but no one stepped up to help him. A few faces even smirked at him.

“No one’ll help ya,” growled the voice of the man dragging him. “We don’t take kindly ta yer kind around here, Almyran scum.” Not good. Since Derdriu was just a stop on the way to their mission, he was wearing his archer’s outfit (sans the leather armor) as his day-clothes. Walking around dressed like a noble was begging to get mugged, he figured, so he’d dressed down a lot — not that dressing down was doing him any favors when it came to getting mugged.

Before he could grab a dagger or defend himself, he was tossed roughly across the alley. His attempt to roll with the tumble was foiled by the heap of crates that he crashed into. 

“My brother died to you mongrels,” a second man said, materializing out of the shadows.

“Thought we drove all these shit-stains outta the city,” a third man said.

“They breed like filthy rats,” said the first man, advancing closer.

“Hey now! There seems to have been a big misunderstanding here,” he called out. Pulling himself out of the mess of crates, he didn’t bother going for a dagger. Not only was he outnumbered, he was surrounded. He needed an opening to run away. “Do I sound Almyran? I’ve spent too long in the sun and gotten a tan, that’s all.”

The third man hummed. “He don’t got an accent.”

“He’s Almyran. Lookit his eyes. Lookit the shape. Them’s the shape of evil. Betcha he’s got some Almyran witchery to let him speak.”

The three men slowly advanced on him. “Let’s not do anything we regret. I haven’t done anything to any of you.”

One man tried to grab him. He ducked under the grasp, darting away from a second pair of hands, only to get a boot to his gut from the third man. The world cracked as his head hit the hard cobble ground, dazing him. Even dazed, he scrambled to move. This wasn’t the first time he’d been caught in a back alley with people who hated him. As nostalgic as he’d been feeling earlier, he didn’t include this as nostalgic. 

A boot struck his side, then stomped down on his back. Okay, he wasn’t getting away. Curling up, he protected himself as best he was able and weathered out the blows. The pain was a familiar friend, one he wished had been left behind in Almyra. Heir to Riegan, Prince of Almyra — no one ever cared who he was, just that he was different. 

He cried out as one of their boots cracked a rib. Damn. He hadn’t been caught like this in years. The only one to blame was himself for getting careless — well, himself and the three men beating him. They deserved most of the blame.

“The Almyran’s got some pretty coin,” one of the mooks grunted, stealing his wallet. “Ey! Dog!” The man leaned down closer to him. “You know what happens to thieves, yeah?” Given he was training to be the next duke of this city, he knew the standard punishment for thievery. ‘Flogged until the criminal’s back is bloodied’ was the typical punishment for commoners.

The air cracked as something ripped down his back in a flair of agony. This too was familiar, though not quite as familiar as the rest. He’d only been flogged a few times in his life. Uncurling slightly, he tried to use this opportunity to bolt away. Boots stomped down on his arms, just in time for another whip-strike to cut against his back. He didn’t bother muffling his shouts as the makeshift whip cracked again and again. 

Finally the blows let up. Twenty-five strikes. Could have been worse. What a sight he must make. Bloody and beaten with spit and tears dribbling from his face. What happened to his old promise to never find himself here ever again? All his years and size and strength didn’t matter — there would always be people bigger and stronger than him, ready to bring him back to the worst days of his childhood. Wetness struck his neck as the men spat on him. As if he cared about being ‘humiliated’ after everything else.

Laughing, the man left him alone. He waited until the laughter mixed with the dying sounds of the marketplace and vanished all together. Getting up hurt, but he couldn’t stay in some random alley all night long. That was just asking for someone else to take their turn to beat him. He learned that one the hard way as a child. 

His back was soaked and still sluggishly bleeding. Using the wall, he clawed his way upright, hunched over with an arm around his screaming ribs. Cracked, just cracked. He’d had broken ribs before, and these didn’t hurt quite as much as the broken ribs in his memories. They might only be badly bruised, if he was lucky.

Step by sluggish step he limped to the alley’s exit, using the wall as a crutch. The marketplace was dying down as merchants put away their wares for the day. Nobody had helped him before. If he left the alley now, with his back bloodied like a common thief, he would only face more threats. Eyeing the brick walls of the alley, he weighed the possibility of climbing to the roof in his injured state. He’d done more complicated things when injured even worse. Slumping down on a crate, he hung his head and caught his breath. If he waited another 15 minutes, the sun would be down, and then he could sneak past whoever remained in the marketplace. 

Sundown.

He was supposed to be back with the class by sundown.

A different kind of panic had to be squashed. Okay. So, he was going to be late getting back to the inn. Before he rejoined the class, he needed to erase the evidence of the fight. Making a list helped with the pain. Bandages to stop the bleeding. A new shirt. A vulnerary for the bruises — or a long-sleeved jacket. Water or a river to wash the blood away. An excuse for why he was out so late. 

Okay. This was all do-able. Since his coin-pouch had been stolen, he would have to steal a shirt — like the petty thief he’d been punished as. Same with the bandages. Vulneraries were expensive and not as common, so that was out. 

One of the men had left behind a half-drunk bottle of harsh-smelling liquor. Reluctantly, he admitted that he had little other option for disinfectant (aside from hoping and praying his crest would keep him hale, and he hated relying on hope). It was tricky to pour it down his back, and even trickier to roughly clean his wounds, but he managed a makeshift rinse (all without shouting this time, though he very much wanted to). From the broken-down crates in the alley, he scavenged some old scraps of wool, hemp, and leather for makeshift bandages. They weren’t good or comfortable or even sanitary by any measure, but they were better than nothing. Darkness fell swiftly. His body was wracked with shivers, both from the chill of cold blood and experience as a whole. With a makeshift cloak made from a hempen canvas sack thrown over the back of his bloodied shirt, he crept out into the night.

He briefly considered making the trek to inner-Derdriu in order to sneak into the Riegan estate. Not only was that not feasible on foot, he doubted any guard would allow him inside no matter how closely he resembled himself. Right now, he was nothing more than a poor, bloodied vagabond as far as any onlooker saw. A foreigner, without his noble trappings to distinguish him otherwise. It wasn’t like many people in Derdriu had ever seen an Almyran, not unless they were retired Goneril soldiers. All it took was his ‘different’ appearance to decry him as not belonging.

His feet took him towards the nearest waterway. As vital as it was to scrub the evidence of blood from himself, he was going to need something to warm him immediately after. The night’s chill was nipping at him, though did little to cool the heat radiating from his weeping back. As soon as he was cleaned up, as soon as he was presentable, then he could sneak back into the inn and sneak a vulnerary from the class stock. Maybe two or three vulneraries. 

Without light, he couldn’t even use the water’s reflection to check if he got all the blood from his face. Feeling his head, he found the unpleasant discovery that his head was bleeding along with everything else. Despite being such a small cut, it soaked half of his hair. Staring at the water, he hesitated to dunk any open wounds in the dirty saltwater. 

After scrubbing his face and arms free of blood, he searched the bank for the next necessity. It took him a while, but eventually he found what he needed: a drying rack with clothes. He didn’t bother taking off his shirt, bloodied and tattered as the back was. It was crusted to his wounds, and removing it would make things worse (plus, he put the bandages on top of the shirt, not underneath). All he stole was a thick, black jacket. It was a few sizes too big for him, and it was still damp, but it hid his bruised arms and bloodied back. After a beat of hesitation, he uncapped his braid and left the golden cap in the pocket of a different shirt. There. It wasn’t thievery if he paid for it. He took a long black scrap of fabric and made a makeshift headwrap for ‘fashion’ (and to hide his bleeding head).

All that was left now was to return to the inn with an excuse on his lips. 

He had no idea where he was.

He stumbled for what felt like hours. Gods only knew how long he actually wandered the streets. He kept to the shadows, wary of being jumped again. Avoiding people, even in an injured state (especially in an injured state) was his specialty. 

Instead of finding the inn, he found two familiar voices bickering back and forth. Lorenz and Leonie.

“Well, well, well,” he said as he approached, making the pair jump. His voice was hoarse, but that was easily excusable. “It seems I’m not the only troublemaker out late!”

“Claude!” Lorenz shouted, expression filled with barely-constrained anger in the flickering lantern-light. “You wretched cur! Have you any integrity at all?! I knew it. You were out carelessly carousing!” Turning on his heel, Lorenz stomped off in the other direction.

“Wow. What was that about?”

Leonie also glared at him. “I enjoy a good drink or two, but at least I drink responsibly. We’ve been out looking for you!” Yanking his arm, she began dragging him as he clamped his lips together to keep from crying out. Did she have to grab the exact spot that had been stomped into the dirt? “Just look at you. Can’t even walk in a straight line.” 

It occurred to him that under the smell of fish and salt, he still smelled the alcohol he used as a makeshift disinfectant. Swallowing his pride, he nodded. It was a good excuse. “Awww c’mon Leonie, cut me a break! I was challenged, I couldn’t back down!”

She rolled her eyes. “We’re on a mission. Not to sound like Lorenz, but think of the example you’re setting! If you’re going to get sloshed, at least do it gracefully. Did you win?”

“Er. Not exactly.”

By then they stood in front of the inn. Entering the establishment greeted him with a rush of warmth from the fireplace. He was also greeted with the stern faces of most of the class and Teach.  

“Claude,” Teach said.

“Teach! Sorry, lost track of time!”

“There he is. Ugh. I can’t believe you,” Hilda hissed, standing abruptly and heading for the stairs. “I can’t believe he kept us awake this entire time just to get drunk.”

“Hilda’s right,” Lysithea agreed with venom, following Hilda up to the rooms. “Interrupting our sleep, all for nothing.”

“I hope you enjoyed yourself,” Lorenz sneered, looking down at him. Something about the derision made his body tense, ready for another fight. What did Lorenz see? Another Almyran in need of being beaten? A half-blood mutt? “Do not expect pity from me in the morning’s light.” Lorenz loomed above his hunched form, just like the other men from earlier. He mustered a defiant stare in return, refusing to show a gram of weakness. “Your behavior is inexcusable.” For a moment, he expected to be spat on again. Instead, Lorenz whirled and climbed the stairs to the rooms. 

“I’m just glad you’re okay…” Ignatz murmured, not meeting his eye. 

“You really had us worried, you know,” Raphael said, approaching. Once more, he locked up, ready for a fight against the towering bulk looming above him. 

“Claude,” came Teach’s stern tone, “where were you?”

“He was out drinking,” Leonie answered for him, scoffing. “Got in a contest. And lost! In the middle of a mission, no less!”

Teach’s eyes threatened to pierce him. “Is this true, Claude?”

His lie caught in his throat for just a moment. Raphael loomed beside him, watching him. His smirk was sharp. “What can I say? I can’t resist a good challenge! I only lost because it wasn’t a fair contest.” 

“You are to receive no healing for your hangover in the morning,” Teach stated. “This isn’t a mercenary band, you are not allowed to drink yourself into a stupor at your leisure. What did you lose in the contest?”

He blinked. Right, the ‘contest’. “Just my coins and pride.”

“And braid cap,” Leonie pointed out.

“That too.”

“And this new jacket?”

“Was cold, so I bought it.”

Teach frowned slightly. “How much did you drink?” 

Damn. If he had been drinking, he should be feeling warm. Teach was onto his lies. “Just enough to lose a bet, lose my gold, and lose track of time.”

“How did you buy a jacket after you lost your gold?”

He pointed to his frayed braid. “A little gold, no matter the shape, goes a long way.”

Leonie was catching on just as fast as Teach. “Why is your jacket damp?”

He shrugged. “I took a little tumble in the river. Which was why I was cold. Why does this matter? I’m beat.” Heh. Beat. “You can grill me in the morning, Teach.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re okay!” Raphael declared, slapping his back. Stumbling forward, he bit through his lip to hold in a scream, hanging his head to stare at the floor, wide eyes hidden behind the fringes of his bangs. “Er, Claude?”

“Y-eah,” he croaked, sucked in a deep breath, and tried again. “Yeah, Raph? I’m going t-to bed now.” As soon as he looked up, he was met with concerned frowns from Leonie, Raphael, Ignatz, and Marianne. Then everyone’s eyes went wide.

“Hell, Claude, you’re bleeding!” Leonie snapped, tugging at his headscarf, which had been jostled loose. 

“I’m not!” he snapped, batting at her hand. “Don’t touch me!” She hesitated just enough for him to slip away from her, backing away from everyone else in the room, his back to the wall.

“Claude,” Teach slowly pronounced, rising to stand, “what really happened?”

“Nothing happened, heh. What’s with the face, Teach?”

“Marianne,” Raphael whispered, quieter than he’d ever heard the big man speak, “I think Claude needs healing.” Spreading his palm wide, Raphael showed off the fresh blood on his palm. Damn, his back bled through the bandages and past his jacket.

“It was just a little scuffle. Nothing serious,” he insisted, eyes darting from classmate to classmate. “You know how heated drinking contests get.”

“You’re not even tipsy,” Teach correctly deduced. 

“He can’t even walk in a straight line,” Leonie argued, then froze. “He… can’t even walk in a straight line.”

“C-Claude, um, i-i-if you’re hurt, I can, um, t-take a look?”

“Are you okay?” Ignatz asked, wringing his hands. “You don’t look so good.”

“You guys,” he said with a laugh, waving a hand. “I’m fine, hah. Leave me to my fate as an irresponsible house leader.”

“Hey, you’re kind of swaying.” 

Raphael reached out for him.

The rest was instinct.

It took a few beats for him to realize what he just did. His eyes were screwed shut, his hands raised to protect himself. He’d leapt back, putting a chair between himself and Raphael. He was shaking. 

Snapping his eyes back open, he threw his hands back at his side as if they had always been there. Raphael was backing away from him, hands up and visible as if Claude was a startled animal. What did they see? A scared, weak, half-breed boy unable to defend himself. Someone who didn’t belong. An outsider. A weak, vulnerable outsider. Forcing his body to still, he stood up straight and held in a cry as his back protested. He smiled. “What’s the look for? I’m fine, it’s just a few scrapes. This is nothing, I’ve had worse.”

“Did you get mugged?!”

Mugged. “Yeah, okay, you got me. I got mugged.” His smirk twisted. “Took my coins and my pride, heh.”

“Sit down,” Teach commanded. “Take off your jacket and allow Marianne to heal you.”

“It’s late, Teach, I’m sure Marianne is too tired.”

“N-no, um, I can…”

“I’m not even badly injured!” He forced his gelatinous legs towards the stairs. “I’ll just go to bed now, I’ll get out of your hair.” Raphael blocked the stairwell. “I’ll just… Raphael?” His voice came out quiet, uncertain. “R-Raphael,” he tried again, more forcefully this time, “excuse me.”

“Sit down, Claude,” Raphael softly commanded. “Don’t want anything to get infected, yeah? We better do this now.”

“I disinfected it,” he weakly argued, his feet glued to the spot. He just needed to rush past Raphael. That was all. But then Raphael might grab him. Raphael stepped forward, and he stepped back. His eyes were glued to Raphael’s hands as the bigger man advanced, prepared to dodge whatever was necessary.

A pair of hands grabbed him from behind. A cry lodged itself in his throat as Teach pushed him onto a stool. He opened his mouth to protest, but Leonie was yanking off his jacket, disturbing his wound. His mouth slammed shut in order to muffled a shout. 

“Oh… dear Goddess, Claude.”

“I’m fine!” he snapped, trying and failing to stand. His legs were too shaky, and Teach’s hand was too firm. “It’s nothing, it’s just a little blood.”

“What happened?” Marianne whispered with quiet horror as she easily undid his makeshift bandages and peeled them from the wound.

“Nothing! Nothing happened, aha, you guys are making a big deal out of nothing.”

“Flogged.” Teach’s voice was absolute. “He was flogged.” 

“It’s not that bad.” He gripped the bottom of his shirt, refusing to let anyone reveal his full wound.

Marianne’s hands hovered over his back. “C-Claude… the back of your shirt i-is torn to strips. A-a-and, your back, it’s…”

“Looks like raw meat,” Raphael murmured.

“Shit,” Leonie whispered. “Shit. Claude, why didn’t you say something?! Shit, that’s going to scar.”

“It won’t.”

She whirled on him, furious. He nearly fell off the stool as he flinched away from her. The only thing keeping him from falling to the floor was Teach’s steady hand. Her fury backtracked into regret, then pity. “Who did this to you?”

“It was just a big misunderstanding,” he insisted. 

Teach pulled out a knife and began cutting away at his shirt. He begged them with his eyes to stop, but they shook their head. “We need to see the full damage, Claude.” He was silent as Teach hacked away at his shirt, then carefully peeled away the fabric stuck to his back. It hurt, but he refused to make a peep. His classmates stared at him and the splotchy purple and crimson patchwork across his body.

“Why?” Ignatz asked in a whisper.

Forcing a grin, he winked. “Well, just take a look at me! I’m a suspicious fella, you all know that. And for such a suspicious fella, why, I sure had a bountiful coin purse. Obviously I must have stolen a noble’s purse.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Leonie demanded.

“I’m fine. I’ve had worse. No need to make a fuss.” 

Marianne’s hand ghosted above his back, hesitating to actually make contact with him. “Um… C-Claude, did you… clean this?”

“As best I could.” He shrugged, then regretted it.

“With alcohol?”

“I made do with what I had.”

Silence. Marianne’s gulp boomed through the room. “Um, I need some water to clean this…”

“I’ll get it!” Ignatz volunteered in a rush, pale in the face as he darted out of the room.

“I’ll go get some clean bandages,” Leonie added, stomping up the stairs to raid their supplies.

“Anything I can get?” Raphael asked.

“Heh, you should go with Ignatz and make sure he doesn’t faint,” he suggested. Raphael nodded and left. Oddly, that allowed him to breathe easier. 

“I’m sorry, I can’t heal you until I clean the dirt out…”

“It’s fine. It’ll heal on its own in a few days. Passive crest healing, y’know. Won’t even scar.” Between Marianne and Teach, his body sagged with fatigue. “Teach, I don’t want the others to know.”

“You want them to think you spent the night irresponsibly drunk. Why?”

“I just… don’t want them to know.” He was only beaten because he looked Almyran. He didn’t need anything pointing his classmates to the same conclusion. 

“U-um, it will take a few days for your body to fully heal, Claude.” Biting her lip, she turned to Teach. “He’s, um, going to need bed rest…”

“What? No! We have a mission to complete!”

“The mission can wait.” Teach stared him down. “Your health comes first.”

“I’m fine.” He tried to stand, but Teach’s firm grip on his shoulder and thigh was too much for him to fight against. “Teach, trust me, I really am fine! These scrapes and bruises won’t get in the way of the mission.”

Teach stood. “I’ll be back. Two more nights, Marianne, or three?” 

“Wait, wait, Teach, it’s fine, I’m telling you, it’s fine.”

“U-um, th-three, he’ll probably need three…” Nodding, Teach pulled out their purse and headed towards where the innkeeper was.

With only Marianne as witness, he slumped forward and buried his face in his hands.

Chapter Text

Claude first started noticing the abnormal growth spurt shortly after enrolling in Garreg Mach. 

His wings had always been much smaller than everyone around him, at least until he came to Fódlan. His wings were currently the second largest at the monastery, though that was because Cyril was the only other contender. Cyril hadn’t even hit puberty yet, and his wings were double, maybe even triple the size of Claude’s wings. It used to make him bitter, the fact that he couldn’t fly. Not all Almyrans had wings big enough to fly, but the royal line was known for producing the biggest, strongest wings out of any bloodline. Unfortunately for him, being only half-Almyran resulted in permanently cherubic wings. They were just reminders of how little he belonged. The one good thing about their tiny size was that they were easy to hide. 

At least, they had been easy to hide.

It started with itching. After the itching came aching, and then utter inconvenience. Now that inconvenience was edging into pain and a serious problem. His wings kept getting bigger for seemingly no reason. It was one thing to be a late bloomer, but by his age his wings should be done growing. At most they should only grow maybe another inch, maybe two inches. 

The royal bloodline not only had bigger wings than usual, the feathers were also different. Cyril’s wings, like most Almyrans, were molted shades of brown, tan, and black. His were a mix of iridescent green and teal, rich copper, and dips of shimmering gold that denoted his royal lineage. When out in the open, they were eye-catching to say the least.

Before school began, he could easily hide his wings flat against his back, no binding necessary. As school progressed and his wings began to grow, he had to fashion a brace to keep them plastered to his back. Now they were large enough that he was struggling to keep them under his jacket. He’d taken to shoving the wing tips down his pants and binding them to his legs, while awkwardly having to strap the top half in an extremely uncomfortable flat position. This method wouldn’t work for combat, and if his wings kept growing, it wouldn’t work at all soon.

Stumbling into his room, he slammed his door and locked it. After double checking that the curtains were still drawn, he tore his jacket and threw off his shirt. Undoing the bindings on his wings could not be done fast enough. As soon as the linen holster fell from his chest, he breathed a sigh of relief. The shoulder-joints of his wings were killing him. Shucking off his pants, he undid the binds around his thighs to fully free his wings.

Flopping flat on the bed, he groaned into his pillow. His wings ruffled in time with his groan. Another side effect of their growth was that it hurt to hide them away for too long. In a pinch he could push through the pain, but it was literal agony. 

A year ago, he would have been ecstatic to have his wings grow. It was only now that he was in Fódlan, when he needed them to be small that they decided to grow. Maybe there was something in the air, who knew? He couldn’t keep this up for much longer.

Stretching his wings felt better than ever. Tilting one wing forward, he let the feathers flop over the back of his head. Not only had the size increased, but his feathers were bigger and fuller now. His wings almost looked like a full-blooded Almyran’s wings now, colors not-with-standing. If he plucked all the feathers, or cut them, maybe that would make the wings easier to hide and buy him more time. That could easily cause permanent damage, though. If his wings kept growing, he might be able to actually fly.

Which was more important? Fódlan, or the potential of flight? He couldn’t put off his decision much longer. Plucking his feathers would only be a temporary solution anyways — the real issue was in the bones and joints that were going to rise past his shoulders soon. As soon as the bone was above his shoulders, that was it for him. There would be no hiding that, not unless… 

Swallowing roughly, he scrubbed a hand through his hair. His only other option would be… cutting off his wings. Completely. Just the thought made him nauseous. His feathers pressed against his back. He didn’t plan to live in Fódlan forever, so he couldn’t cut off his wings. If he returned to Almyra without wings, he’d never be king. He didn’t think he could go through with it, either. It would be like cutting off both of his arms!

He couldn’t stay in Fódlan with wings though. That would mark him as clearly Almyran, and as royalty to anyone who knew what the gold meant. Almyrans had wings. Fódlani had their special magic. Duscans had thick fur and claws. Brigans had scales and gills. Dagdans had cat ears and whiskers. Fódlani had no animalistic features. He couldn’t be seen with wings. It would be political suicide (and possibly actual homicide).

Getting up, he looked around his room. Maybe he should start packing, or send a letter to his grandfather… 

“Claude!” Came Hilda's voice as she pounded on his door. The door is locked, he reminded himself as he searched for his jacket. “Emergency mission! The professor wants us all at the gate within an hour!”

“What mission?” he called back, crunching the numbers on how long he could spend in his room to allow his wings to rest. It took him a solid fifteen minutes to wrangle them into place… five minutes to jog to the gates… 

“My brother is sick, and he asked me to cover for him at the border. Me! Ugh, apparently there’s an Almyran raiding party on the move towards the fort, according to my brother’s scouts. There’s not much time!”

“…Right. I’ll be at the gate soon.” Grimacing, he could only hope that his makeshift wing-binds would work for combat.

 

 


 

 

Claude made a mistake. He made a big, big mistake. Battered, beaten, and bloodied, he was helplessly restrained, thrown onto the back of a wyvern, and being taken away from anyone who might help him. 

Stupid. Stupid! He’d known his wings were a risk, forcing him to move slower and limit his mobility. He’d known there was a possibility that something would get cut and reveal his secret. He took precautions for this, but he took the wrong precautions. 

Like an idiot, he left the rest of his class to hide in a tree and non-lethally deter the invading Almyrans. It let him hide, it let him avoid kill shots without having to explain himself, and it left him vulnerable.  

Not for the first time, he tested his many, many restraints. For his squirming, he received the butt of an axe to the back of his head, nearly knocking him out. 

Idiot. Not only did he get captured, but the group holding him hostage had sliced into his jacket and revealed his damning plumage. At first he had tried to use his status as their prince to make them stop, but unfortunately these thugs were just as keen to see him survive as the rest of the nation — not at all. 

Now the men were discussing how to go about ransoming him back to his parents. There were arguments as to whether or not his parents would pay for his return at all — and really, they probably wouldn’t pay to get him back. Send in the crown’s special assassins to spirit him to safety? Yes. Pay for his return? No, that would just encourage more kidnapping attempts. More than anything, his parents expected him to save his own skin. 

His kidnappers knew this (or the bare-bones, at least). Instead of ransoming him to the king, they decided on… plucking his feathers to sell on the black market. Gold feathers were good luck charms, after all. They sold for a lot, apparently. 

He was okay, though. He could get through this. All he had to do was bide his time. There would be a chance to slip away eventually. 

The wyvern stopped at a small outpost not far from the border. He was roughly hauled off the wyvern and dragged to a… blacksmith? By the time he realized what this outpost truly was, no amount of struggling could save him. He’d read about places like this along the border, small and hidden in order to avoid the crown’s wrath. Slavery was illegal in Almyra, but that didn’t stop some people. The Jackal-folk of Morfis loved showing off exotic, winged dancers — willing or not. 

And he just so happened to have some of the prettiest wings in Almyra.

When the ‘blacksmith’ came for him, he struggled with everything he had. Burly men surrounded him on all sides, holding him down as the blacksmith approached with a metal mask. He’d read about these, but never thought he’d see one up close. Metal masks, designed to go all the way around the head. There were two holes by the mouth, just big enough for a straw to be inserted to prevent starvation. Two nose holes that would be sealed flush, magically conforming to his face. The rest of the mask was solid metal that would leave him blind and deaf and helpless.

Tired of his squirming, one of the men restraining him slammed his head into the ground. 

When he came to again, he was trapped in darkness and silence. 

It wasn’t long before the plucking began, followed by hell.

Chapter Text

Leonie went upstairs to get bandages. Ignatz and Raphael were getting water for Marianne. Teach was tracking down the innkeeper to pay for more nights. Hilda, Lorenz, and Lysithea were asleep. Marianne stood behind him, wringing her hands as she waited for the water to clean his back. He was hunched over — ignoring the heat radiating from his back and the blood trickling from cracked scabs and the fact that his bruised chest was openly on display — holding his face in his hands. 

All he had to do was come up with an excuse and hide his injuries. That was all! And he failed at that simple task. Now his classmates knew (or would know in the morning) that he wasn’t even strong enough to fend off a few no-name thugs.

Footsteps echoed nearby, so he pulled himself back upright. It wasn’t Ignatz and Raphael returning with the water, though. He froze in place. Marianne grabbed his jacket and gingerly placed it over him to hide his weeping back and bruised front. Distantly, he appreciated the gesture towards privacy. Less distantly, he searched the room for exits.

“Could get used to theshe kinda perks,” a familiar voice slurred, carrying a bottle in hand. “Ain’t right though. Should’a killed that Almyran. How’s many people y’think he shtole from? Thish’s a lotta money.”

He bowed his head to hide his face and gambled on three men being too drunk to recognize him. 

“Eyyy! Pretty lady!” one of the men called out to Marianne. “Lookit ‘er, she’sh a beauty. ‘Ey, ‘ey, pretty lady, wanna keep me company tonight? I’ve gots gold ‘t pay you with.”

“I-I, um, I, n-n-no thank y-you.”

“Aw, she’sh playin’ hard t’get!” bellowed out another man. “C’mere, c’mere, you wanna be with me t’night!”

One of them reached for Marianne. “Don’t touch her!” Though the world spun at his abrupt standing, he put himself between them and her. 

“Aw, c’mon man, y’can share, don’ be greedy…”

“Wait a shecond! That’sh our Almyran dog!” 

He cringed, but didn’t waver. “I’ve done nothing wrong. Leave, and I won’t press any charges.”

“Phah! Y’know, I was kinda missin’ this guy! He might be an Almyran, but he’sh, he’sh our Almyran dog.” One of the drunken men leaned closer to him. “If you try ‘t turn us in, they’re not gonna believe a filthy foreign rat.”

“A filthy thief!”

“Step ashide, or we’ll have our fun with you again.”

Swallowing roughly, he stood his ground. “It seems we’ll be taking this outside.”

“Claude, no,” Marianne gasped, grabbing his arm.

“Aha! See, the lil’ missy wants ush! We’ll just beat the snot outta the Almyran, then the girl’ll shwoon into our arms!”

“I got the bandages,” Leonie called, stomping down the steps. More steps followed her. Oh no. Leonie paused, frowning at the drinken men. “Who’re these guys?”

“…ridiculous. Utterly irresponsible!” came Lorenz’s voice from behind Leonie. “To think that utter hind got into a bar fight. He has no shame!”

“That’s not what I said,” Leonie called over her shoulder, rolling her eyes. “I told you, it wasn’t a bar fight!”

“Well I wanna hear what actually happened!” came Hilda’s voice. 

“Look-y there!” one of the drunk men cried, pointing to the stairway where Leonie, Hilda, and Lorenz emerged from. “Two more girlies! One for each’a us. ‘Ey, Miss Purple, how ‘bout I treat ya to a good night! I gots the gold to treat ya well!”

Lorenz sputtered. “Excuse me?! Are you — you dare!”

“Awh, nev’a mind, she sounds too prissy.”

Leonie cleared her throat. “No one is interested in whatever you’re offering. Now leave us alone, or we’ll make you leave us alone.”

“Psh, whatever. Miss Blue’s plenty pretty for us. You’ll come with us, yeah, darlin’?”

“N-no,” Marianne whispered.

The men stared at her for a second. “Damn. Y’sure?”

“I’m s-sure, p-please leave me alone.”

“Aww, damn. You heard her, boys. Ain’t right to force a lady.”

“We got the water!” Raphael said, stopping abruptly. “Hey, what’s going on?”

“We’ll get outta yer hair,” one of the men promised Marianne. “At leasht we got our other entertainment.” Without warning, one of them reached out and snatched his arm. “You heard her, y’mutt, she don’t want no company tonight, so you bettsher not bug her none! Yer comin’ with us.”

He kicked out, nailing the man in the groin. When it came to survival there were no cheap shots. Unfortunately, he wasn’t fast enough to dart out of range as the other men grabbed for him. Biting his lip, he refused to cry out as one of his arms was twisted behind his back.

“Fuckin’ Almyrans!” the man on the floor shouted. “Fuckin’ no-honor savages.”

“Yer gonna pay, you dirty little thief,” another man snapped, then spat in his face.

Distantly, he was aware of footsteps and shouts. In the moment, it was just him and the two men towering over him. His arm creaked as the man used more pressure, gleefully smiling. “Gonna break this you little—gah!”

White light blinded him as he was dropped. Marianne caught him before he hit the floor, propping him by the side. Her hands glowed with the white light of a Nosferatu spell. “D-don’t touch him! Ever again!”

“The hell, lady?! He’sh a fuckin’ Almyran, the hell’re you doin’?!” That man was interrupted by Leonie, who crashed into him and wrestled him to the ground. “Fuck!”

“Easy!” the last man standing said, holding out his hands. “We don’t want no trouble. We’re jush doin’ the inn a favor. That Almyran mutt’s a thief, he don’t got no money, so he’sh not allowed t’be in here. We’re shorry for the trouble, our bad. Shouldn’t’a let him live in th’ first place, that wash a mistak—ghk!”

It was Hilda. She walked up to the man, wound back her arm, and slammed her fist into his face. A sickening crack filled the room as the man’s nose broke. She shook her hand, not even glancing at the blood staining her knuckles. 

Catching his breath, Claude’s eyes fell to the floor. The man who he hit in the groin earlier stared back at him, furious. If he remembered their faces correctly, that was the man who claimed his brother had been killed by Almyrans.

In a rush, the man jolted upright and lifted Claude off his feet, a massive, meaty hand wrapped around his throat. “I’m taking you with me,” the man declared, squeezing with force. He had been choked many times before, but never quite like this. This wasn’t just ‘squeeze until his breathing stops’. The man’s fingers dug into his neck and something gave way.  

He didn’t know who dragged the man off of him. He didn’t know what was going on. All he knew was that even when the hand was no longer on his throat, he couldn’t breathe.

Another hand touched his throat. He kicked out wildly, but his limbs were quickly restrained. Marianne’s face was above his, and then there was a flash of light, and then he was gasping in gulp of air after gulp of air.

He wheezed for a short period, only half-aware of being propped up against someone who slowly instructed the pace of his breathing. Teach showed up, but by then the rest of the Golden Deer had everything under control. The three men were tied up.

“Are these the thugs who mugged you?!” Leonie demanded of him, drawing him back into the present.

“Claude got mugged?” Hilda asked, eyebrows raised. “I thought he went out and got drunk.”

“He was flogged, and then lied about it!” Leonie spilled his secret to Hilda and Lorenz. “Claude!” The flinch was instinctual. She winced, then repeated herself in a quieter tone. “Claude. Are these the ones who hurt you?”

He said nothing.

“They will be tried and found guilty,” Lorenz hissed, expression screwed up in disgust. “The penalty for assaulting a lord is death. The Roundtable will oversee their judgement.” The two conscious men paled.

“These aren’t the men who assaulted me,” he croaked. “Clearly this is just a drunken misunderstanding. Nothing to press charges over.”

Heads whirled to him. “Claude, they were talking about killing you,” Hilda whispered. “One of them just crushed your windpipe!”

“And now they’ve learned that appearances can be deceiving, and not to judge someone by their appearance.”

“Have mercy, m’lord!” the only cognizant one begged. “We thought you were an Almyran, we’re sorry!”

“Oh my gosh, even if he was an Almyran, that doesn’t give you the right to attack him for minding his own business!” Hilda snapped. “Claude just takes naps in the sun and gets super tan, that doesn’t make him an Almyran.” As ignorant as Hilda was, her words were a balm to the low level of panic boiling under his skin. His secret was still safe.

“Hilda,” Lorenz muttered to her, just barely loud enough for him to hear, “Claude’s skin tone is darker due to having a commoner parent, not because he sleeps in the sun.” Someday, someday in the distant future, he was going to be SO smug when he rubbed his royal status in Lorenz’s face.  

Squaring his shoulders, he regarded the three men. One was unconscious. One was conscious, but dazed. The third looked ready to burst into tears. “We were just tryin’ to keep our home safe, honest.” He wondered how true that statement actually was. Was it motivated by revenge? A genuine attempt to protect? A lust for violence and superiority? Legitimate ignorance? The answer was probably more complicated than any single answer.

“How many others have you assaulted? Be truthful.”

The man hung his head. “A small handful. We never killed none before though! Just roughed ‘em up, made ‘em leave!”

“Clearly you three don’t have the proper judgement to distinguish who does and doesn’t belong in this city. I won’t press any charges, under two conditions.”

“Anything, m’lord!”

“None of you will attack anyone ever again. Not any of your fellow citizens, no matter what they look like. No bar fights, no roughing people up, and no assault in back alleys. Not unless it’s in self-defense of yourself or someone in need. My other stipulation is that the next time you see someone who you think might be Almyran, or Duscan, or any ‘foreigner’ wandering the streets, you help them. If someone is ‘roughing them up’ in an alley, you defend them. If they are starving, you feed them. If they need a roof, you house them. If they want you to leave them alone, you leave them alone. Simple, yeah? Instead of resenting an idea of a place you’ve never been full of people you’ve never met — have some compassion for your fellow human. Consider this your penance for the ‘small handful’ of people you ‘roughed up’ in the past.”

“Claude, you cannot let them off so easily!” Lorenz snapped. “These men assaulted you! If you will not take this to the Roundtable, then I will.”

“As the heir to Riegan, Derdriu is my jurisdiction, Gloucester. Not yours, and not the Roundtable’s.” He flashed a grin at the men who attacked him. “I believe that people can change. You were just trying to defend your home, right?” Regardless of the truth, appealing to their supposed sense of ‘civic duty’ was the most effective course.

“Y-yes, m’lord!”

“Then keep defending it. Defend the people, even the people you don’t like. Even the people who look different. Everyone living in Derdriu is a Derdriu citizen, regardless of where they were born, appearance, wealth, or status.”

The two conscious men nodded. “Thank you for your mercy, Lord Riegan. We’ll change our ways, swear it!”

From there, he trusted Teach to deal with the men (who were kicked out of the inn for ‘roughing up’ another patron). Raphael gingerly carried him up to one of the rooms for more privacy. Before Marianne got to work healing his back, he overheard Hilda and Lorenz talking about his actions. Lorenz was doubtful that the men would change their ways, and maybe he was right. Hilda though, Hilda was thoughtful. That was a pleasant surprise.

Marianne began the process of cleaning his back and then healing it, as best she was able. According to her, it would take multiple treatments over the course of a few days. Great.  

“How could you just forgive them like that?” Marianne quietly asked him, no judgement in her voice. “I… I don’t think anyone else would have let them go.”

“Yeah. I’m sure Lorenz is calling me naive or idealistic right now.” Not a good look. Naive and idealistic people were exploitable. But what choice did he have? “Don’t get me wrong, I won’t forget this.” Sighing, he rolled his head to look out the window and into the night sky. “It was a good lesson in a lot of different ways.” A lesson to those men. A lesson to Lorenz and Hilda that ‘justice’ came in many different forms. A lesson to himself that his classmates were more perceptive and nosy than he gave them credit for. A reminder not to let his guard down.

“What if they do it again, though?”

He sighed. “Killing them will change nothing. Dead people can’t learn from their mistakes and change. I got roughed up a little in a back alley because I was careless — that doesn’t mean those men deserve to die.”

“This is worse than ‘a little roughed up’, Claude…”

“Eh, semantics.” The pain was ebbing away, but so was his energy. “I really do think those men regret what they did — well, two of them at least. Not so sure about the third. But if anyone can convince him to change his ways, it’s going to be his two friends. All sorts of people saw me get dragged away, and you know, none of them cared. Some smiled. If these guys got killed for ‘attacking an “““Almyran””” foreigner’, that would just make people more hateful.” He was pretty sure he did the right thing. If he miscalculated though, that could mean more harassment or even murder of people like him with no place to call home. It was a gamble. It was a hope. Maybe it was the lulling feeling of healing, or maybe the fatigue, or maybe Marianne was non-threatening enough that he felt safe enough to speak. He continued where he usually would have clammed up. “Someone has to reach out their hand if things are going to change. If I can just plant the right seeds… maybe then people will see things can be different.”

“You really think they’ll change?” Maybe he planted a seed of hope in Marianne too. She sounded hopeful.

“If people can’t change, then I’ll never see my dream come to pass. People can change. I know it.” If they couldn’t change, then there really was no hope for peace — but he believed that people could change. 

Chapter Text

“Dimitri,” came a familiar voice ringing out above all other whispers. For days, this same voice had haunted him. The golden ghost drifted behind him, scattering the other wailing souls. “The reunion is soon. Five years of waiting is almost over. When our former classmates return, we’ll finally be able to make a move. It will all be for nothing if you continue sulking, though.”

Claude’s babbling was nothing new. For the past three days, Claude dogged him. Endless plans spilled from the golden ghost’s lips, swirling with pointless noise. All that mattered was ending the reign of that witch. All that mattered was easing the suffering of those slain unjustly at Duscur, and all the other victims of HER bloodshed. 

His steps stuttered briefly, his knees knocking together. “See? You’re exhausted. You have to sleep, Your Princeliness.”

“The dead do not sleep.”

“You aren’t dead, Dimitri.”

“The dead do not rest.” To prove his point, he took another step, leaning heavily against his lance. Another step, then another, and then his knees buckled.

“Dimitri!” Warmth caught him. His half-closed eyes snapped wide at the sensation. He gaped at the golden ghost who caught him, who looked just as stunned as him. Claude recovered quickly, guiding them both to sit on the bare stone. “Easy now, easy.” The fight left him as Claude touched his cheek, impossibly warm through those black gloves. How long had it been since he last felt the gentle touch of another? The last person… it would have been Claude, five years ago. They had been close before war broke out. They had danced together once in the Goddess tower, shortly before everything crumbled.

“You’re… here?” he asked, digging his fingers into Claude’s tunic. “You’re really here.”

Claude’s lips twisted as he shrugged. “I said we’d all meet here again five years ago. Nothing in the world could stop me from fulfilling that promise.” He deserved no comfort. He deserved no compassion. Yet as Claude removed his gloves in order to stroke down his cheek, he was entirely helpless. “It’s been a while since you slept, Dimitri. Rest. I’ll keep watch.”

“Don’t go,” he begged, holding tighter.

“Heh. Me, go? With you and your strength holding me in place?” Claude half-heartedly attempted to shimmy out of his grip, which he refused to allow. “I’m not going anywhere.”

With that assurance, he fell asleep with Claude snug against his chest. 

 

 


 

 

“Claude!” Hilda cried out, the first member of the Golden Deer to visit the monastery. “Claude, you dummy! To think, I was worried about you!” She raced towards them. Dimitri brandished his lance, baring his teeth as she came closer.

“Sorry Hilda! I got a bit tangled up, as you can see.” Claude waved and tried to step away from his side, which was unacceptable. With his free arm (already slung around Claude’s waist), he yanked Claude flushed to his side. “Like that, exactly.”

The other Golden Deer were just as obnoxious. The purple noble was especially aggravating, following them both around to berate Claude for ‘leaving the alliance abruptly without notice’ and ‘throwing everything into chaos with his disappearance’. Throwing a boulder at the nuisance restored their peace.

Just as Claude predicted, the professor and their former classmates converged on the monastery at the promised date. For each and every one of his demands to march on Enbarr, Claude was by his side to refute his order and propose a different course of action. The professor always sided with Claude, as did the Church of Seiros troops. If Claude wasn’t so warm and soft, he would have torn his head from his shoulders for the treacherous act. The only good thing about the influx of people was the promise of ending the emperor. All these new people were demanding. They wanted his time and attention. Worse, they wanted Claude and Claude’s time and Claude’s attention.  

“Thanks for the food, Leonie!” Claude chirped to someone else. “Just leave it on that pew over there. I’ll convince his Royal Neediness that starvation is a terrible, terrible fate eventually.”

“You sure you don’t need, er, ‘help’?” The girl asked, as if he was deaf. 

Claude waved her off. “It’s fine, it’s fine. This lap is surprisingly cozy!” Claude patted his thigh. “Ask Hilda to bring me the daily reports when she has a chance. Oh, and another inkstone! My other one is almost dry.”

“Mine,” he snapped at the girl, bundling Claude in his cloak and glaring at the intruder until she left. When the cathedral was empty of all but the two of them once more, Claude convinced him to move over to the food. He saw no need to eat, but Claude’s offer of stroking his hair was tempting enough for him to submit. 

The following days passed in a haze of routine. Interruption, interruption, interruption. If someone wasn’t barging into the cathedral looking for Claude, then Claude was dragging them both to the cardinal room. 

“This is grossly inappropriate,” the purple gnat said, gesturing to him and Claude. “We are having a war council. Claude, sit in your own seat, for the Goddess’ sake.”

“I am in my own seat,” Claude stated, patting Dimitri’s thigh with a warm hand. Circling his arms around Claude’s waist, he dared anyone to try and take Claude from him. 

Perhaps the greatest balm about having Claude by his side — greater than his gentle touches and melodic voice and golden warmth — was how Claude could lull him to sleep without any nightmares. After five years of running, hiding, plotting, and scraping by, Claude’s tenderness filled a part of him he thought long dead. 

Nothing was allowed to take Claude from him. 

For over a month, he and Claude were inseparable. He refused to let go of Claude for more than a few minutes at a time, refusing to let the golden man out of his sight. Proper rest renewed a sense of clarity in his driving purpose on avenging those fallen. 

Proper rest also diversified his focus ever so slightly. Only slightly. At first it had been easy to ignore anything aside from Claude’s presence when they bathed together. His eye became well acquainted with Claude’s naked form through pure necessity of keeping track of the man. Claude took it as an opportunity to flaunt his immaculate form, teasing him with mischievous smiles and overly show-y displays of flexibility. Things changed when Claude decided to wash Dimitri’s hair. In the past five years of suffering, of loss, of agony — Dimitri never cried. He lost that ability long, long ago. 

So he thought. With tender fingers caressing his scalp and the gentle humming of a tune unique to Claude, something peculiar overtook his body. First it began as shivers, then shakes, and then through some arcane magic his single eye wept. Claude shushed him and laid his head on a golden thigh, deftly untangling his hair and soul.

They did not speak of the instance, nor the other instances. As a vessel of the wrath of the dead, Dimitri did not have the time to spend as… as Dimitri. He was only to be a living corpse marching upon the enemy. That was all.

After a month of preparations, a conflict in his purpose arose. Battle. He could not wade into battle while carrying Claude. To bring Claude into battle at all was dangerous. Yet Claude refused to remain at Garreg Mach. Worse, Claude promised to remain by his side. He waded into the depth of battle, strong enough to take on any and all threats. Claude did not have that same strength. To be beside him in battle, Dimitri would have to keep watch on him and remain in formation with the rest of the army. It would slow down his warpath.

Against his better judgement, he stuck to formation for Claude’s sake. The professor praised him for his ‘restraint’, but it was only done for Claude. Claude rewarded him that night by washing his hair and humming him to sleep, a warm blessing in his arms. Shamefully, he couldn’t help but think the sacrifice was worth it.

Months passed as the war effort brought them closer and closer to Edelgard. Claude was often busy, constantly writing letters or having meetings or plotting out plans. Dimitri cared little for the nonsense, but carted Claude wherever the busy man pleased regardless. Addicted to the touch of safe, gentle warmth as he was, he wasn’t oblivious to the stress slowly gnawing at Claude. 

“Just go to the Roundtable. Go for a week, Claude. Just the weekend. A day. Half the Roundtable is convinced your letters are faked and that you’re actually dead! Given you refuse to appear before them, I can’t fault them for the thought.” Lorenz tailed behind them like a buzzing gnat. “Your territory is floundering, as is the Alliance as a whole!”

“It’s fine. Judith has taken over for me. The Alliance needs to get used to working without my presence. I’ve heard you’ve been stepping up to fill in the holes, so it’s fine.” Claude rested his chin on Dimitri’s shoulder to speak at Lorenz. He was sorely tempted to adjust his hold on Claude and bury that chattering mouth in his cloak. That would force Lorenz to be silent. 

“Claude von Riegan! Judith barely has any power over Derdriu and you know this! No matter how many documents you mail off, you cannot hand over such a position without a physical sitting at the Roundtable. Judith’s power is tenuous at best in your territories.”

“She’ll figure something out.”

“To think I respected you.” At that tone, Dimitri halted abruptly to glower at the purple gnat. No one took that tone with his Claude. “And you! You will have to release Claude eventually! Was it not enough for your kingdom to fall? You are driving the Alliance to the brink, the both of you!”

“Lorenz, that’s enough.” Claude brooked no argument. Lorenz didn’t dare press the issue, not when Dimitri reached for his lance.

“He’s wrong,” he growled after Lorenz left in an attempt to comfort the man in his arms. 

Claude smiled at him. There was something rueful in the smile. For just a moment, he regretted hoarding Claude all this time — but only a moment. Claude’s palm pressed against his cheek, reminding him that no one would ever be there for him like Claude was. “It’s okay. I always knew I wouldn’t be able to stay forever. Thought I’d have more time to prepare the Alliance, but, well. They’ll make do.” Claude winked. “Have you considered how things would be different if we put the Alliance and Kingdom back together again? Between the two of us, I think we can do it.”

Was this…? Did Claude…? “Yes,” he whispered before he could stop himself. “Yes, I think we can.” Cradling Claude, he chose not to think about the war for just a short while. Just a little bit for him and Claude. Just the two of them… 

“I’m glad to hear it! Now, if you don’t mind, I’m needed in the cardinal room.” Ugh.

Time continued to pass. Dedue returned to him, a miracle that he couldn’t overlook. Through Claude and Dedue, he began to focus less on revenge and more on justice. Not long after that, their army met Edelgard’s at Gronder. 

Edelgard stood not far in front him, but he hesitated to let Claude catch up to him. Just that moment of hesitation cost him everything. 

Before his very eyes, Edelgard teleported away. His chance was gone. He saw red.

He tore into the enemy lines, ignoring Claude’s cries. Red imperials died and died to his lance. Arrows slew others, but most were slain by his lance. Arrows peppered his armor, blades slicing into him before he slew the nipping gnats. The small injuries piled up and up as he decimated the remainder of Edelgard’s forces, denying them retreat.

“Dimitri!” Claude’s voice called in the distance. The world was grey and red around him as his lead arm swung. 

A weapon pierced his stomach, then his back, and then he crumpled. 

“Marianne! Mercedes! Someone, healer! Help!”

Before he was overwhelmed, Claude erupted into the enemies circling him like a force of nature. The last thing Dimitri saw was the golden glow glinting off of Claude’s pauldron. 

 

 


 

 

“You’re a fool.”

Dimitri opened his eyes. Claude was holding his hand. Groaning, he tried to reach out for Claude, but his arms refused to work.

“You nearly died. You can’t die yet, Dima. I’m counting on you.”

“Claude…”

“Where would I be if you died? What about your kingdom? Life is so precious, Dima. Please, please, you must value your life more. For me, Dima.”

Closing his eyes, he fell back asleep as Claude leaned forward to hug him.

 

 


 

 

It was a wake-up call for him. No longer did he merely attend the war meetings as Claude’s escort. Now he participated with sensible rationale. They turned the army around and headed to reclaim Fhirdiad. 

Selfishly, he never wanted to give Claude up. The simple reminder of touch, even a brief hug, reminded him that those awful five years of lonely pain were gone. It wasn’t fair to Claude, though. He finally released Claude, albeit reluctantly. To his surprise, Claude refused to leave his side. Strange as it was, he wasn’t going to question his good fortune. 

They recaptured Fhirdiad, only to hear news of Derdriu’s siege. Together, they retook the Alliance’s capital as well. They spent a week in the Alliance. Dimitri watched from the other side of the room as Claude worked his political magic on the flabbergasted Roundtable, tying the former Alliance territories into a neat present for the Kingdom. Claude’s words, not Dimitri’s. After each and every session, Claude returned to him, linking their hands together. 

“You look tired,” he noted on the last day of the Roundtable, the night before they were set out to march for Enbarr.

“Hah, I look the same as I do after every Roundtable meeting.”

“Indeed.” He caressed Claude’s cheek, something his friend leaned into with a sigh. “You’ve been working hard these past few days.”

“It’s my last opportunity to influence the Alliance. I don’t think I’ll be back here again.”

He paused. “Where do you intend to go instead…?”

Claude’s smile stiffened. “Maybe we should have this conversation after Enbarr. After the war… there’s something I need to tell you.”

Gulping, he nodded. “…Very well.” Anything could happen between now and the end of the war, Claude was right.

By their hands together, Enbarr fell. Though he extended his hand to Edelgard, she rejected it in the end. With the war finished, he turned to Claude with hope in his heart.

“Claude. You’ve remained by my side all this time. There is no other I wish to remain by my side for the rest of our lives.” He took Claude’s warm hands in his. “Claude von Riegan, will you marry me?”

Claude’s smile wavered. “Oh, Dima. I love you so much, you brilliant fool of a man.”

“I love you too.” He closed in for a kiss, but Claude stopped him.

“There’s something I have to tell you first, my Dima.” Claude’s smile vanished, his shoulders slumping. Dimitri did his best to comfort Claude with a hug. “I’ve kept a secret from you. I’m not who you think I am.”

“I don’t care who you are. I love you.”

Claude shook his head. “I’m going to have to leave soon, Dimitri. I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”

“Leave…? Where to? You can live in Fhirdiad, with me.”

“I need you to take me to one last place, Dimitri. Can you do that for me?” There was no way he could say no to Claude’s vibrant green eyes. “I’ve said my goodbyes to everyone else, but there’s something I need to show you. Just you.”

Swallowing, he was tempted to say no. To refuse to allow Claude to leave him, just like when they first reunited. He was different now. “I don’t want you to go.” He didn’t refuse, though.

“Heh. Me neither.” Claude led him by the hand to the stables. From there, they mounted a horse with Claude at the reins on his lap. 

They began their ride in silence. 

“You never answered me.” About marriage.

Claude’s back was warm, pressed into his chest. “I have to go, Dima. I can’t stay with you much longer.”

“I still want to marry you. We can make it work, wherever you have to go. Or I could go with you.”

Claude turned to him with such a wretched expression. “If you still want to marry me after I explain everything to you, then I will give you my answer.” He curled around Claude, desperate to soak in what may be the last time he felt his love’s warmth. “I’ve always had big dreams, you know.”

As they rode, Claude began telling him so, so much. About the lonely boy who wanted to break down borders and extend a hand out to everyone. About the lonely teen who left home in hopes of bringing peace and understanding to his two peoples. About the lonely young man who clung to his ideals and hopes even as everything caught fire around him. 

Claude told him of his beautiful, beautiful dream. Dimitri understood why Claude had to leave. He understood.

He thought he understood, right up until Claude stopped.

“We’re here.” Wherever ‘here’ was, Dimitri was unsure. It appeared to be a forest in the middle of Leicester territory, of no importance at all. Claude dismounted, leading him by the hand.

“I thought you would take us to the border.”

“I’d like you to meet my parents, yeah,” Claude replied with a smile. “Maybe after this, we’ll go to the border. I’d like you to take me home, if you’re willing.”

“Of course. Of course, Claude, I would be honored to escort you.” Even if that meant saying goodbye. Surely they wouldn’t say goodbye forever, though.

Claude took him further into the woods. “I denied it at first, you know. Wasn’t much I could do about it. I ran from this place and didn’t look back. Haven’t been back since, not ‘till now. Always knew I’d have to face this, though.” Claude squeezed his hand, and he squeezed back. “Thank you for coming with me.”

“Of course. What happened here?”

Claude’s smile was soft. “I miscalculated.” 

A glint of gold caught the corner of his eye, but the first thing he saw was something large and white. A wyvern, he realized. A dead wyvern. “Oh, Claude. I’m so sorry. Was this…?”

“My mount? Yeah.” Even back in the academy, he’d seen Claude’s hidden soft spot for animals, especially his mounts. The death must have hit him hard. “We grew up together, you know. She was my closest friend for so much of my life. Her trust in me led to her death.”

“It must have been hard to leave your friend behind like this.”

He hugged Claude, and Claude hugged him back. “I’m sorry, Dima. You deserve more than me.”

“What? Claude, I’m not upset about th—” He froze.

“Finally see it?”

“…Claude.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Claude.” He turned to the warm body beside him. “Claude, no, no. What is that?”

“My miscalculation. You can refuse me if you wish, but I want you to take what’s left to my parents.”

“This is madness.”

“Mm. I don’t know how this works either, sorry.”

He didn’t want to look, but his head turned nonetheless. Not far from the wyvern, there was something smaller. A gold pauldron like Claude’s was on the ground beside it. Tattered clothes like Claude’s outfit enveloped the figure. 

Slumped against the trunk of a tree was a skeleton wearing the tattered remains of Claude’s clothes.

“All it took was one too many risks and an accident. But, I had a promise to keep. I was going to keep that promise, even if only in spirit, heh. I didn’t think I would be visible, you know. You saw me though. And when I touched you, I felt alive again. So long as we were close, I was as good as alive. Incredible, isn’t it? Around you, no one even noticed that I was dead. I could eat and drink and bathe and sleep.” Claude’s smile never wavered, but it broke Dimitri’s heart nonetheless. “I would have died with so many regrets, so many unfinished dreams. Now you know my dream, though. I don’t even have to ask — I know you’ll fight for my dream, Dima. The war is over. I’ve finished all my work. Fódlan can move on without me. Now the only thing keeping me here is you.”

He stumbled forward, clutching Claude’s hand desperately. His knees gave way in front of the corpse. Months. Claude had been dead for months. 

“I’m so sorry.”

He shook his head, failing to find words. Claude was sorry? There was no reason for it. Claude was… A wail broke from his throat as he pulled Claude close to him, desperate for the warm, solid touch. Claude was still with him — still solid — but that warmth was fading.

“I’m sorry. I was never meant to leave this forest in the first place. I won't make it out a second time.” Claude still smiled. “If it’s not too much to ask, please, take what’s left of me back to my parents.”

Tears streamed from his eye. “I won’t let you go. I won’t.”

“I’m sorry, Dima. You have to let me go. Please don’t let the ghost of my ghost haunt you. Find love with another. Hug your friends. Live a full life. Be happy. You don’t need me.”

“But I love you.”

“Even still?”

“Always, always and forever.”

“I do, Dimitri.” Claude, ever-smiling Claude, nodded. “I’ll marry you, selfish of me as it is. I do.” Turning to the corpse, Claude picked something off the ground and placed it in his palm. “I don’t have a ring, but take my earring instead. It’s how we do it in Almyra. Left ear for unmarried men, right ear for married.”

“I’ll wear it, I’ll wear it always.”

“Don’t cry for me, Dima. Think of my memory fondly. I know that I can rest now, I know that my dream is safe in your hands. Thank you for these extra months of life. I wouldn’t trade the memories for anything.” Claude knocked their foreheads together. “I’ll always be with you. If you miss me, just look up at the night sky. I’ll be watching from above.” Claude’s hand cradled his cheek, thumbing his ear. “Or maybe I’ll be right here with you.”

Claude’s lips met his. For their first and last kiss, Claude smiled. They kissed until there was nothing left for him to kiss.

Alone in the forest, Dimitri curled forward to cry, pressing the warm earring against his cheek.

Chapter Text

The last thing Cyril ever saw was a flash of light. 

The second-to-last thing Cyril ever saw was Lysithea’s panic-stricken face as a masked mage gathered a lightning spell at their fingertips. 

He didn’t even think about it, he just did it. He pushed Lysithea out of the way. Better him than her. As he convulsed violently in the inky blackness, he prayed that Lysithea would be okay.

 

 


 

 

He was somewhat surprised to wake up at all.

Groaning, he shifted his head and fought against the faint turning of his bed. Was he on a boat? Everything rocked around him as if he was on a boat. Or maybe a wyvern?

“Cyril?”

“Y…yeah?” he replied to the voice, his tongue thick and unwieldy in his mouth.

“You’re awake, very good.” The voice was Manuela. 

“Is ‘Sithea alright?” he forced himself to ask.

“She’ll make a full recovery,” Manuela said. “She was knocked out in the ensuing blast, but you took the brunt of the damage.”

He sighed, smiling a bit. “Well, how bad’s it f’r me?” His relief was stemmed as his lips refused to work properly, causing him to slur.

“That remains to be seen.” Something touched him, very faintly, as if pressing at him through a thick layer of armor. “Do you feel any pain?”

Now that she mentioned it, he ached all over. “I’ve had worse.”

“How about here?”

“Where?” 

“Right here,” she repeated unhelpfully.

“Where?”

There was a pause. “Can you feel my touch, Cyril?”

His stomach dropped. “Y…yeah. You’re just touching me really lightly. On my arm.”

“Which part of your arm.”

“Press down harder.” There was a faint pressure against his wrist. “My wrist.”

“Does this hurt?”

“You’re barely touching me, no.”

“…Oh dear.” Before he could ask what that meant, the faint pressure vanished. “Cyril, there is a bandage around your eyes.” That explained the darkness. “I’m going to remove it now.”

“Great. Gettin’ tired of the dark.”

When her hand touched his head, he felt it more clearly. There was a tender spot on his head that throbbed. She removed some of the bandages, but no light seeped through. “Open your eyes, Cyril.”

He did so, to no change. “Finish taking off the bandages.” Silence. “…Manuela?” 

“Cyril, I’m afraid I have some terrible news.”

“No. Take the rest of the bandages off. Take them off.” He tried to take them off himself, but his hands and arms were numb. One smacked into the bed, the other groped blindly at his chin.

“The Thoron spell damaged your nerves.” She took his hands and placed them back in his lap. “I’m sorry, Cyril. The nerves are too delicate to heal. You’re blind.”

Denial burned at the tip of his tongue, but the results were before his unseeing eyes. In a rush, he swung his feet off the side of the bed and tried to stand. Without his eyes, he couldn’t quite tell what happened, but he was pretty sure that his legs weren’t under him. He couldn’t even walk. He couldn’t do anything.

“Cyril! I know this is a lot to take in, but your body must rest.” Everything wavered. He might be moving, but it was hard to know for sure. He was pretty sure Manuela tucked him back into bed. “Oh dear. Cyril, breathe slower, you’re going to—” Sucking in gasp after gasp, he passed out.

 

 


 

 

When he woke again, the world was still dark. Gripping his own arms felt weird, numbed and foreign. The simple task of curling his fingers around his arms was terrifyingly difficult. If moving his hands was so difficult, how was he going to work? How was he going to work at all without his sight? 

What were they going to do with him now? He was useless. Worse than useless — he took up space and food without paying it all back. There was still his debt to Lady Rhea; how was he supposed to pay her back now? 

“Good morning, Cyril.”

“Lady Rhea!” He bolted upright, gritting his teeth as he fought against the vertigo. “You’re here!”

A faint pressure enveloped his hand. “All is well, Cyril. Do not strain yourself.”

“No, no, I’m okay! I can still work!” It was a struggle to coordinate his limbs, but he had to get up and prove to Lady Rhea that he wasn’t an invalid!

Pressure kept him trapped in bed. “None of that now. Relax, my child. I hear you did a very brave thing.”

“It wasn’t brave, it was stupid. I should’ve pushed Lysithea outta the way without throwin’ myself into the attack.” If he’d a little quicker, or a little smarter, the spell wouldn’t have taken his sight. “I’ll work through this, I won’t let anything stop me!” For Lady Rhea! He had to pay her back, so he would! Somehow. Somehow he would make himself useful. 

“None of that now. Lay at rest, dear.” Reluctantly, he followed her orders, laying back in bed. Warmth trickled along his neck, racing up and down his back. “Your recovery will be slow, but it is within the Goddess’ power to heal you.”

“You can heal me?” he whispered, barely daring to believe the miracle. More debt. 

“It will be a slow process, I’m afraid. Even my knowledge of the faith can only heal so much, and damaged nerves are very delicate.”

“…How come?”

“The nervous system is very complex, I wouldn’t want to bore you.”

“No, I mean… how come me? How come you’re spendin’ time with me instead of other people who need your help?”

He couldn’t see her smile, but she sounded like she was smiling. “None of them need my help like you do now.”

“You said the healing’s gonna take a long time, though. You’re wasting your time on me.”

The warmth paused. “Cyril. When we take tea together, or have lunch together, do you believe that is a ‘waste of my time’?”

He tried to shrink under the covers. “Um… well… not entirely! ‘Cause you tell me a list of things that gotta get done. But I know I overstay my welcome lots of times.”

“Most certainly not. Is this why you’re always so hasty to have me dismiss you?” His hair shifted back and forth in a rhythmic pattern. “I enjoy our time together.”

“But you’re always so busy, and I get in the way of that!”

“Nonsense. Cyril, tell me, how long have you lived at the monastery?”

“Two years and four months.” And six days. Maybe seven or eight days, depending on how long he slept.

“My, time flows away so swiftly. It feels like just yesterday that we met.” Lady Rhea sighed. “I do have a habit of allowing time to pass without my notice. I regret that I have failed to make you feel more welcome.”

“No, you have! You haven’t failed at anything!”

“Nothing to worry about, Cyril. Be at ease. Your healing will take some time, so we will have plenty of time to speak more on the matter.”

“I refuse to be a burden,” he snapped, crossing his arms with difficulty. 

“Children are never burdens, my child.” 

“But, I gotta repay you!”

“You must rest, my dear child.” Before he could protest, Lady Rhea began humming. That hum rose into a song. Part of him wanted to cry. The last time someone sang him to sleep had been his  mother… 

 

 


 

 

Even though he asked her not to spend so much time on him, Lady Rhea was too kind and caring to leave him alone. Taking him from the Gonerils and giving him a home were already two impossible debts to repay — but restoring his sight and touch? That went beyond mere debt.  

He tried pushing her away (politely, because there was no way he was gonna tell Lady Rhea what she could or couldn’t do!), but that only made Lady Rhea spend more time with him. She had breakfast and lunch with him every single day as well as a long healing session at night. 

One morning, he woke up to light.

“I can see! Lady Rhea, Lady Rhea!” Looking around the room, his excitement fell. He could see light, and that was about it. Blobs of light refused to focus no matter how many times he blinked or how much he squinted. 

His disappointment was tempered by the fact that Lady Rhea wasn’t even in the room with him. If his eyesight kept improving, then he would really see soon. When that time came, he wanted the first thing he saw to be Lady Rhea.  

When Lady Rhea did visit him for breakfast (helping him eat, because his fingers still struggled to grip), she was ecstatic over the meager progress. More days passed, and slowly he began to see colors again. His motor controls got a little better with the exercises Lady Rhea gave him. He was going to get better, no matter what. The thought of his debt twisted his stomach constantly. He needed to work towards paying it off.

Between Lady Rhea’s visits, the Golden Deer started visiting him too. Lysithea was the first to come by, squeezing him in a tearful hug. Then she hit him hard enough that he actually felt it. The other Deer visited with gifts and hugs — even the students that didn’t like him, like Lorenz and Hilda. Some people from other classes visited him too, like Ashe, Mercedes, and Petra. There was a pile of gifts on his bedside table that he couldn’t see and couldn’t feel. Someone brought him flowers and baked snacks, because he could smell those, but the rest were a mystery. Apparently the Deer hadn’t been informed of his blindness, only that he had been badly injured. When Lysithea found out, she cried on him again. 

“I’m delighted that you have so many caring friends,” Lady Rhea told him during one of their healing sessions.

“Friends? Nah. I guess Lysithea is my friend. Oh, and Ashe too! They said they’re my friends, at least. They’re both real nice. And Mercie’s not a friend, she’s like a big sister.”

“And the rest?” Lady Rhea asked. Her blob moved, which he assumed was her gesturing to the table with piles of stuff. “You have many people who care about you, Cyril.”

“I dunno about that…” The rest of the monastery was probably gossiping about how the dirty Almyran was stealing all of Lady Rhea’s attention by being useless. 

Slowly, his eyesight began to return. Blobby lumps slowly turned into lumpy people-shaped blobs. As his vision returned, Lady Rhea began testing his eyesight with various colored blocks, testing his motor skills to put different shapes in the right order. It made him feel like a toddler playing with blocks, but the task was hard. How was he going to work at this rate? He shuddered to think about all the places that needed to be cleaned around the monastery that weren’t being cleaned in his absence. 

Eventually blocks were replaced with books filled with big letters that Lady Rhea asked him to read. He didn’t know how to read, though. Lysithea taught him a few things, but in his panic to not appear illiterate, he couldn’t remember anything. He lied to Lady Rhea that he couldn’t make out the words. That lie ate away at him. 

Eventually his motor controls and eyesight were good enough that he could walk again — but after weeks of bed rest, he was weak. His attempt to escape his temporary room (on the third floor, near Lady Rhea’s room!) was foiled by Claude of all people, who caught him and dragged him back to bed with a stern lecture on where his sneaking went wrong and how to properly sneak out. Next time he would get it right.

Before he could successfully escape, Lady Rhea discovered his lie.

“Your eyesight should be decent enough to make out some of these letters,” she murmured to herself. 

“I can trace what I see, if that helps?” She nodded, so he began tracing out the letters. The big print was easy enough for him to see by now, though the normal sized letters were still out of his reach. 

“Very good, Cyril. And what does that say?” 

“U-um… There’s… five letters?”

“Indeed. And those letters are?” At his hesitation, she hummed. She might be frowning, though he couldn’t make out faces yet. “Cyril, do you know what this letter is called?”

“Y-yeah! It’s… um, it’s…” 

“Of course, how foolish of me. Cyril, you have never been taught to read.”

“Wait, y-yes I have! I can do it! I can read!”

“Nothing to be ashamed of, my dear child.” She patted his cheek, probably smiling. “I should have realized, it simply didn’t occur to me. Please, forgive me for my absent mind.”

“I can read,” he mumbled, staring down at the indecipherable letters. “I just… can’t read Fódlani.” Before his parents died, he’d been so proud of his ability to read at a higher level than the other kids his age. Every kid in Almyra was taught to read, from the richest children to the orphans. 

“What other knowledge have I been remiss in providing?” Her hand curled through his hair, something she did often these days. Closing his eyes, he soaked in every last scrap of selfish attention. “I will arrange for a revised education schedule. Worry not, you may still learn under Byleth and enjoy your time with your friends. On the side, I will have… mm, Seteth is a good mentor. Seteth will tutor you in the basics.”

“But when am I gonna have time for that? I gotta get back to my chores soon!”

“I appreciate all the hard work you have done for this monastery, Cyril, but I fear I have enabled an unhealthy mindset. Your work ethic goes beyond all but the most faithful devoted at this holy place. You have more than proven yourself in my eyes and in the eyes of the Goddess. Beyond that, you are a child. I should not have granted your request for so much work in the first place. In truth, you exceeded all my expectations. The chores I asked you to do were meant to be for the week, yet you routinely did them all within a day.”

“Well, yeah! I gotta repay you, so I gotta do all I can!”

“You have nothing to repay, child.”

“I do.”

“Then, will you hear me out?” Lady Rhea sat beside him, beckoning him to rest his head against her shoulder. Though he still felt unworthy of so much attention, he wouldn’t refuse Lady Rhea (and also, he really liked it when she hugged him like this). Her arm wrapped around his shoulder. “If you feel you must repay me, then I ask that you devote yourself to resting, healing, and learning. That is my wish for you to follow, Cyril.”

“But, but I can do more!”

“I do not wish for you to do ‘more’, my child. My heart aches watching you struggle to force past your limits. You are special to me. I do not wish to see your bright spark burn out so soon.”

Biting his lips, he guiltily sunk against Lady Rhea’s side. “Why me?” He was just some Almyran orphan.

“I enjoy your company, and I enjoy nurturing the next generation. You needed me, and I was not there for you as I should have been.”

“But there’re lots of orphans that you could’a picked. Why me?”

Lady Rhea was silent for a few moments. “I suppose I saw much of myself in you on that day you came to me at the Goneril estate. Once, I was just like you.”

“Me?! We’re as different as different can be, though!”

She looked down on him and smiled. “It may look that way to your eyes. Once, I too was a lost orphan in a land that despised me and my people. My heart still recalls the loneliness of those days in which it was a struggle simply to survive.” The image of a young Rhea, dirty and alone in a war-torn camp filled with strangers in a strange land — it was impossible to visualize. “It has been many years since that time, and yet… Time flows around me in an eddy I cannot escape as all else passes me by. It is so easy for my focus to slip, losing me years of time in a blink of routine. Had I been more attentive, perhaps conditions such as your would never have come to be. Though I enact the will of the Goddess, I am not a perfect being, incapable of making mistakes.”

“Well I think you’re perfect,” he mumbled against her side. He didn’t understand most of what she said, but he knew she was perfect. As perfect as anyone could be. “It’s not your fault that my parents died, or that I got captured by the Goneril’s, or none of that.”

“I pray that is the truth. My influence is powerful, but as my reach drifts away from me down the currents of time, it branches out in unknowable ways. I can only act and pray, or hold my hand and pray. The correct option today may be the incorrect option a century from now… ah, but you don’t want to hear me muse over what is and what could have been.”

“I don’t really get it, but I don’t mind hearin’ you talk if you need someone to listen to ya. Manuela says I’m a real good listener! But I guess you’ve got a lot of people to listen to you.”

“I have many followers who listen to the will of the Goddess and the voice of Seiros. There are very few people who I can simply speak to as myself. I enjoy your grounding presence in my life. Is that not enough of a reason?”

“You really mean it?” Even though he was still bed-bound and useless? Even though he was Almyra? And illiterate, and a burden? “I like bein’ around you too. I’ll make myself useful to ya, in any way ya need me to be! I swear it, promise!”

“We’ll work on that stubbornness,” she quietly murmured, patting his shoulder. “For now, you should rest, my child.”

Chapter Text

Aubin’s Chill. Everyone gets sick with Aubin’s Chill sometime in their childhood — it was a fact of life. Like all sicknesses, it was unpleasant. It wasn’t very dangerous to children though, so the thing about Aubin’s Chill was that parents got their kids sick on purpose whenever the opportunity arose. ‘Get sick with Aubin’s Chill and you’ll never get sick with it again,’ as the old adage went. Personally, Hilda used to think it was dumb, because Aubin’s Chill was miserable. 

Apparently not everyone in their class had gotten sick with Aubin’s Chill as a child. 

It started with Cyril’s sniffled, then Cyril’s drop in productivity, then Cyril’s complaints of feeling cold. Around that point, someone noticed that Aubin’s Chill was sweeping through the children of the monastery. None of that was very unexpected.

When Claude started sniffling, he passed it off as a cold due to the changing weather. No one thought much about it, since most people Claude’s age experienced Aubin’s Chill already. It wasn’t all that dangerous. Cyril even insisted on dragging himself to class, though the poor kid usually fell asleep at his desk, curled up in a blanket. Petra apparently got it too, but she was sensible and actually rested in her room for the duration of the illness.

When Claude started struggling to stay awake during lessons, that was noted as being odd, but passed off as part of his developing cold. The professor tried to force Claude to go back to his room, but Claude was just as stubborn as Cyril. 

When Claude began shivering constantly, it became clear he didn’t have a regular old cold. Nope, Claude had Aubin’s Chill. Hilda didn’t have a clue how he managed to avoid the illness for eighteen years, but she was jealous! She was jealous until it became obvious how much worse Claude was faring than everyone else who was sick. 

For the most part, Claude's symptoms weren’t too bad from an outside observer, not at first. He sniffled, but wasn’t very snotty. Dark rings formed under his eyes. His voice became hoarse. The first noticeable difference was about a day into his sickness when stopped sleeping. Unlike Cyril, who had a cute little nest of blankets in the back of the classroom where he dozed the entire day away, Claude just rested his chin on his desk and stared blankly ahead. Despite the early fall warmth in the room he wore multiple layers, but stubbornly refused to use a blanket like Cyril. That would be admitting he was actually sick. 

The reason why children were exposed to Aubin’s Chill, and not adults, quickly became apparent on the third day of Claude’s illness, when his symptoms developed in full force and he gave up entirely on feigning appearances.

“How’re you feeling, Claude…?” she asked the lumpy, quivering quilt sitting where Claude usually sat.

“Fine,” came his hoarse croak. 

“Try again, Claude.” 

The quilt groaned. “Cold.”

“Yeah, I bet you’re cold, dummy. Ready to give up and lay in bed?”

“Bed’s cold too,” he mumbled, squeezing the quilt tighter.

“Poor dear ‘ol Claude. You really do sound miserable.” The tiny opening of his quilt flopped against the desk as he weakly groaned again. “Let’s get you some water to drink. Dehydration will only make you feel worse. Why don’t you go lay in Cyril’s blanket nest, you can sleep there.”

“T-too cold to sleep…”

In the time it took her to turn around and get someone else to find some water, Claude had fallen completely off the chair and was a shaking sphere on the floor. “Yeesh. I know you’re sick, but this is just being dramatic.”

“Does he need another blanket?” Ignatz asked, peering over the desk to look at Claude with a pitying expression and handing her a glass of water.

She shrugged, bending down on one knee. “Claude, open up. You’re thirsty, yeah?”

“Yeah…” came the quiet reply.

She peeled back part of his quilt. Claude frantically closed the opening. Groaning, she forced the quilt back open again and jammed her arm into Claude’s cocoon, offering the water. He so owed her when this was over. Instead of gratefully accepting, Claude scrambled to close the quilt around her arm. Slapping her forehead, she rolled her eyes. “Claude. Just take the water, and I’ll remove my hand.”

“Water’s cold,” he whined —  whined! — at her. “I’m gonna freeze to death, too cold…!”

“Ugh, whatever. Lorenz! You’ll make Claude some nice hot tea, won’t you?” One bat of her eyelashes later and Lorenz was rushing off to make tea for Claude. Too easy. “Alright, I’ll—er, Claude?” 

Claude’s face pressed into her arm. Then he was scrambling to grab her arm and tug her into the quilt-cocoon. 

“Claude! I’m holding water!” It wasn’t hard to overpower Claude and yank her arm back out. In a rush, Claude actually left his quilt and pounced on her. Yelping, she caught him easily (he was a lot lighter than he looked). “What’re you doing?” Setting the water down, she followed Claude’s insistent tugging and sat on the floor. Next thing she knew, she was on the floor, Claude was violently vibrating on top of her, and he was attempting to engulf them both in his quilt. Aside from his fits and shakes and attempts to perfectly seal them away from fresh air, he was also squeezing his body against hers and had his face jammed into her neck. “Are you really this cold? Get a hold of yourself.”

“I’ve never been this cold,” he whispered to her behind chattering teeth, still struggling to make his cocoon. “Make it stop.”

“Oh, Claude…” Sighing, she picked him and his quilt up and took him over to where Cyril was snoozing away. Her attempts to tuck him in with Cyril were thwarted by his stubborn grip around her. “Claude, let go of me.”

“No…” 

“Claude.”

“Noooo…”

She was forced to lure him off of her using the hot tea that Lorenz made. Rather, the hot tea pot, because he tried to hug it to his chest. Eventually they managed to wrangle him into the blanket pile with Cyril, but only after lining the thing with the (empty) warm teapot and teacup. After he was snuggled up with Cyril (who he complained wasn’t very warm — an Aubin’s Chill thing?), she breathed a sigh of relief. “Yeesh. He’s kinda pathetic like this.” 

Claude was apparently still conscious, because he replied with a garbled groan.

 

 


 

 

Whereas Cyril and the rest of the sick kids slept off most of the illness, Claude only slept in fits and spurts. They tried to stuff him in his room, but he kept escaping in order to seek out ‘literally anything warm’, in his own words. Warm things included:

 

-People

-Hot liquid (like tea)

-Hot objects (like teapots)

-The space near a fireplace

-Inside a fireplace

-Fire

-Animals (horses, pegasi, etc)

-Ovens

-Literally the closest person

-Hot coals

-Hot soup

-Seriously, Claude kept glomping onto the nearest person in his proximity

 

It quickly became obvious that Claude’s chill superseded any sense of pride or logic. If the sauna wasn’t broken down, they would have stuck him in there and called it a day. As it was, they had to take turns on ‘Claude-duty’, which primarily consisted of holding Claude and cuddling him. Raphael usually took one for the team and allowed Claude to bundle up against him, but Raphael couldn’t carry Claude everywhere.  

Claude was also developing an annoying habit of sneakily peeling clothes off of other people in order to be closer to ‘warm skin’. Hilda didn’t mind it too much when he did it to the guys. With Raphael’s already loose buttons, it was child’s play to slip the shirt open. Then he did it to Lorenz, and that was hilarious. Poor Ignatz turned bright red. She also caught the hilarious sight of Prince Dimitri scrambling to cover himself one of the times he took pity on Claude — how Claude managed to undo all of Dimitri’s straps and armor and sheer volume of covering was a mystery, but it was a hilarious mystery that she was willing to let lie. The issue with Claude's pesky little habit to burrow closer to warmth was when he was cuddled up to a girl. Like her! Ugh. In any other context, she would have killed him for trying to take off her shirt. He lost his rights to sit with Marianne when he took off her jacket. Leonie, at least, was amused by his pathetic attempts to undo the complicated knots on her uniform’s ties.

The other problem with his loss of reason was that he constantly wandered off. Whenever he was touching a heat source, he put all of his clearly limited brain power towards getting more out of that heat source. When he wasn’t touching anything warm? He snuck away to find something warm. If they set him down for a moment and looked away, he was sure to be gone. Usually he could be trusted to not get into trouble, so at first they allowed him to wander and suffer the consequences. That was before Dedue brought Claude back to them and informed them that he tried to crawl into an oven.

The thing was, it was hard to say no to him like this. 

No one knew where Claude would pop up next in his wandering quest to find heat, but wherever he was, he was sure to look absolutely pathetic. Something about his shivers, and big sad eyes, and unkempt hair — he was impossible to say no to! Unless he was trying to crawl into the oven again, which got him a big, big no.

Someone from Faerghus took so much pity on Claude that they gave him a big furry cloak that utterly dwarfed him, and became his new favorite thing to wear as he wobbled around. They really did try to keep an eye on him, but he was an escape artist. He refused to stay in one spot (unless the spot was warm). 

“Sooo…” And this was how Hilda found herself in this predicament. “Sorry about the trouble, I’ll take him off your hands!”

“Hmph,” replied Hubert. His hand glowed faintly, though it was difficult to see given that Claude’s face was mushed against it. “Just take him.” 

“Right! Thanks for not blowing him up! Now c’mere Claude, let’s go. There’s some nice warm soup in the dining hall with your name on it.” 

He whined, rubbing his cheek against Hubert’s hand. He looked weirdly cozy curled up on Hubert’s lap, like a large and depressed cat huddled in that massive cloak of his. As soon as this was over, she was deleting that mental image forever. Her attempt to yank him away met a surprising amount of resistance, as usually Claude didn’t mind switching heat sources (unless the heat source was particularly warm, like Raphael or Dimitri). Maybe Hubert gave off a lot of heat?

The glow around Hubert’s hand vanished. After a moment, Claude reacted with a long whine, turning to look up at Hubert. “Leave me be. I am finished putting up with you, Riegan.” Claude’s big, soulful, sad eyes stared up at Hubert. “Enough.” Claude sniffled, his entire body sagging. “Riegan.”  

Claude performed a miracle simply by virtue of existing in such a pathetic state.

“Fine.” Snapping his fingers, the faint glow returned to Hubert’s hand. Claude immediately latched onto Hubert’s hand and snuggled up to it. “Goneril. If you speak of this to anyone, I will cast your precious house leader into a fire pit.”

“Please do that…” Claude wheezed.

“O-kay then. Ugh, I’ll go get some hot soup and see if that lures him away. Sit tight?” Not like Hubert had a choice.

 

 


 

 

Two more days passed, and by then Cyril and most everyone else were on the path to recovery. Everyone except Claude, who was just as pathetically cold as ever. 

“Great. Where is he this time?”

“It’s not my fault! I had to get up!” Lysithea snapped, bristling like a cat. “Unlike you monsters, I can’t just lug him around!”

“No one is assigning blame,” Leonie said. “He was last seen in the library, right?”

“Um, excuse me?” Dimitri politely rapped on the classroom door. Against his chest, Claude was bundled in a cloak-sling like a giant baby, the only part of him visible being the top of his shivering head. Hilda bet that Dimitri wasn’t wearing a shirt under the bulk of the second cloak he wore. Claude favored heat above all else, but she was starting to think he had a favorite heat source. Either that, or Dimitri was smitten — outside of the Deer, no one provided Claude with heat as often as Dimitri. “I found Claude.” The prince spoke quietly. “He’s asleep.”

“Is he actually sleeping?” she asked, getting closer to check. Other than tiny cat-naps, Claude hadn’t slept much at all in the past few days.

“Indeed.” Dimitri’s expression was strangely worried. “How long has he been ‘lost’ for? He’s worryingly cold.”

“Pff, it’s Aubin’s Chill. He’s always cold.”

“No, I mean his physical temperature.”

She paused. Aubin’s Chill was notable in that despite making someone cold, there was no fever until the final stage of the sickness. Claude should be breaking out into a fever any day now. Despite giving the illusion of coldness, and decreasing the body’s ability to create its own warmth, Claude’s temperature should be normal or at most only slightly low. “Hey, Marianne, come check on Claude!”

Dragging Claude’s head out into the open (Dimitri was not, in fact, wearing a shirt under the cloak. Lucky Claude), she noted that he did look paler than usual. The circles under his eyes were deeper than ever, but that was to be expected. His lips were a bit dark in color too, almost a little… blue…

Marianne rested her hand on Claude’s forehead, jerking back with a gasp. “He’s cold. Oh no. T-take him to Manuela, he isn’t supposed to be this cold!” 

Marianne’s tone set off primal fear in Hilda. She barely noticed the scramble to the infirmary. By the time they made it, Claude wasn’t shivering anymore. He was utterly still. Aubin’s Chill wasn’t supposed to be dangerous. It was a benign annoyance at best. She had nothing to worry about, Claude would be fine. Claude would be perfectly okay.

Manuela, upon setting eyes on Claude, went white as a sheet. 

There was a flurry of activity as Manuela barked out orders. Manuela told her to get a tub of warm water (but NOT hot water?). To speed things up, she got Raphael and Lorenz to help her haul the tub of water back up to the infirmary. 

In the infirmary, Claude had been stripped down to his small clothes with nothing but a thin sheet that hid nothing to cover him. He was still plastered to Dimitri’s chest, curled up in a fetal position. She’d noticed that his cheeks had been sunken recently, but it wasn’t until she saw the rest of him — no longer disguised by bulky clothes — that his true condition set in. Claude’s ribs were visible. A few weeks ago when she last saw him topless (accidental acid spill — Claude’s fault, not hers) he’d been in peak physical condition, arms and chest toned with lean, strong layers of muscle. In such a short period, he’d lost a lot of weight.

Manuela dunked her hand into the rub of water, cursing. “Too hot, we can’t afford to shock his system. You!” She pointed to Raphael. “Bring me more cold water. And you!” She pointed to Lorenz. “We’ll need more hot water to gradually raise the temperature, go get me some.”

“Is Claude gonna be okay?” she asked as the boys scrambled out the door to follow orders.

“Why was I not informed of his condition?!’ Manuela demanded of her, scowling. “He should have been brought here immediately!” 

“It’s just Aubin’s Chill! Everyone in the monastery knows he’s been sick with it!”

“I saw no reason to burden you with another patient,” Dimitri quietly added, rubbing a bare hand up and down Claude’s back. “I thought, with everyone’s care, he would recover without issue.”

“Claude is an adult. Petra and Cyril were dangerously close to having their Chills developing into something worse as is.” Manuela’s lips pinched. “His body has been struggling to produce warmth for days, and now it can’t produce much of any warmth. His temperature must be manually regulated until he fights off the disease.”

When Raphael returned, Manuela fixed up the tub, then guided Dimitri to place Claude in the luke-warm water. When the sheet was pulled away, Hilda had to turn around. On his arms, chest, and legs were burns. She had been so sure that they’d kept him away from any dangerous heat, but apparently they did a much worse job than she thought. He was probably too weak to be healed by magic. 

As Claude was pried from Dimitri, he somewhat woke up. Weakly, he attempted to hold on to Dimitri, making a heartbreaking cry as Manuela pulled him off. Dimitri whispered to Claude, hovering just out of Claude’s needy reach. Dunking Claude into the tub, he curled up again and nearly drowned himself by shoving his head under water. She didn’t hesitate to jolt forward and yank his head out of the water. His hazy eyes pleaded at her, unfocused and dazed as if she was transparent. Dimitri died Claude’s head off at Manuela’s direction while she held his head to keep him above water. 

After a while, Manuela began slowly adding in more hot water to raise the temperature. “He’s going to need to be watched at all times,” she told them. “If the water gets too cold, he will get just as cold. It is vital that his temperature remains as close to normal as possible. Lorenz,” Lorenz startled from where he had been awkwardly observing near the door, “I trust you know the spell to determine the water’s temperature. You did attend that School of Sorcery, after all, and it’s a basic spell. Add hot water when the temperature lowers. In the meantime, do try your best to teach your classmates the spell — your class will have to take turns watching Claude. This is going to be a full time duty, day and night, and we will all need to sleep at some point.” Sighing, Manuela went towards the door. “I will inform your professor. And Goddess knows we need that sauna fixed immediately. It will be healthier to keep him at the correct temperature in a sauna instead of pruning his poor body in a tub for a week straight.”

“And Claude’s gonna be okay?” She had to know.

Manuela paused. “Providing no one slacks and allows his temperature to get too low, he has a good chance of survival.”

“Oh, thank the Goddess. We’ll make sure he has a full recovery!”

Manuela’s lips twisted. “I said survival, not ‘full recovery’. If he survives, he will be extremely weak to the cold for the rest of his life. If he doesn’t naturally break into a fever within the next few days, that will mean his body is no longer capable of it and we will have to artificially induce a fever. I doubt I have to explain what this means for his immune system.”

“What can we do to increase his odds?” Dimitri begged. “We’ll keep him warm — what else can we do for him?”

“Pray. The rest is up to him and the Goddess.”

Chapter Text

Gronder Field. Claude never wanted to hear about Gronder for the rest of his life. 

He held himself together, going through the necessary motions. His smile remained in place despite the bodies piled on every side. He had to be strong for his people. There was a sharpness to his every breath, a tightness in his chest. It shouldn’t matter. He’d seen death before. He’d watched people die before. This shouldn’t affect him.

For five years, he believed Dimitri was dead. For a handful of scant minutes, he watched the man he once loved roar across the battlefield in a blaze of furious glory. 

Not yet. He shook his head and pressed forward. Not yet. There were duties to fulfill. He couldn’t afford to think about D—about anything unimportant. 

He directed the troops, arranged logistics, conversed with Teach, and did all the things expected of him (and then some). By the time he got back to Garreg Mach, he was dead on his feet and dead in his chest. For once, he envied Teach’s unbeating heart. 

“Claude.” It was Lysithea who caught him before he made it to his quarters. He managed to avoid Teach, avoid Hilda, avoid Lorenz — he hadn’t thought he needed to avoid Lysithea. She couldn’t have known. No one knew. Hilda speculated, and Teach had a weird sixth sense for these kinds of things, but no one knew about his ridiculous attachment to Dimitri. No one knew about their little vow and stupid promise exchanged under the light of the— 

“Isn’t it past your bedtime? A kiddo like you needs lots of rest!”

“Claude,” Lysithea repeated, softer this time, “what happened?”

Cocking an eyebrow, he forced a laugh. It came out sharper than he intended. “You were there, Lysithea. Today wasn’t exactly a victory.”

She frowned at him as if he was a puzzle to be taken apart and put back together again. “I’ll bring you something from the dining hall. You look like you need a hot meal and a sweet bun or three.”

He passed her by, waving his hand dismissively. “Don’t bother, I’m not hungry.”

“What happened to feasting after every battle, win or lose, for the sake of morale?”

His steps didn’t pause. “We’re low enough on rations as is.” 

He reached his room, slid the key in the lock, twisted the handle, and slid past the lonely click into a cluttered, empty room. Shutting the door behind him, his shoulders slumped immediately. He stood in place for heartbeat after heartbeat, staring off into space. Part of him desperately wanted to leave the room, but where else could he go? He was sure to be bothered by well-meaning comrades or demanding requests from worried soldiers. If he had to smile for another second, he was going to break something. There would be no escape from his room, not until night fully fell and everyone was asleep. The dorms had thick stone between each room, so no one would bother him with intrusive sound. It was just him and himself.

Him and his bed for two.

Each clunk of his boots echoed through his head, his thoughts both empty and heavy. He settled on the bed and began stripping down, first with his boots, then with everything else. None of the blood on him was Dimitri’s, but the smell was getting to him. He focused on his boots and resolved not to think about the times he had Dimitri over in his room for sleepovers all those years ago.

He’d grieved five years ago. Sometimes it came back to him, or left him breathless after a dream, but he came to terms with Dimitri’s death — right up until it turned out that Dimitri had never been dead in the first place. 

He was undressed. Swallowing roughly, he went to his dresser and pulled out his nightwear. His chest still ached, far worse than it ever had. It was one thing to hear of Dimitri’s death distantly. Seeing it happen, right in front of him, helpless to stop it was… heavier, it was heavier in his heart. Closer. Not as distant. It was so much harder to tuck away.

His breath hitched, which was odd. His throat hurt. Probably from yelling out orders all day. He swallowed roughly again. For five long years he’d believed Dimitri to be dead, so nothing was different now. Even though Dimitri must have spent the past five years on the run, in Gods-only-knew what kinds of horrible conditions, having lost an eye, all without Claude there for him…  

He was dressed again. Instead of returning to his empty bed, he sat at his desk. There were letters to be written. Words to be put to paper. He pulled out a piece of parchment, a quill, his inkwell. Why didn’t Dimitri come to him? Because that would have drawn Leicester into the war. It would have been a disaster if Dimitri came to him, and Dimitri must have known that. Staying away protected Claude in the end. His hand had a slight tremor to it as it held the quill. Just fatigue. It had been a long day. He should write some letters. There were always more letters to be written. Always more to do. 

Gasping, he heaved in a breath of air. It was tempting to open a window, if only to make the room less stuffy. He didn’t open the window. His quill stroked a line, then he had to pause, unsure what he intended to write.

Dimitri struggled for five long years, only to die a pointless death, surrounded by enemies, alone. All for nothing in a pointless, pointless battle.

He gasped again, unable to keep his breathing even. The paper blurred. He should find Marianne. No, no, he should grab one of his antivenoms. Shakes, shortness of breath, tight chest, blurry vision — those were all symptoms of poison. Gasping again, and again, and again, the quill fell from his fingers. Water blotted onto the pages, which was funny, because he couldn’t be crying. He hadn’t cried in years, not since he’d been in Almyra, not since he was a boy. Five years ago when Dimitri died, he’d mused to himself that he didn’t know how to cry in Fódlani. It had hurt then too, but he hadn’t cried. He didn’t cry when Dimitri died (the first time), didn’t cry when his grandfather died, didn’t cry when Edelgard declared war on the rest of Fódlan, didn’t cry when his hopes of finding a more tolerant land than Almyra had been crushed to a pulp. So many things had hurt since then, and before then, but he’d never cried, not since he was a boy. 

The symptoms illogically kept piling up. More wetness blotted onto the page, more gasps, and then, most curious of all, an unfamiliar sound crawled out of his throat. Bowing his head, his body shook as the tears refused to stop. Little cries muffled into his hand grew like weeds into muffled sobs. Even as his body succumbed to grief, his thoughts remained distant and clinical. He couldn’t stop crunching the numbers, calculating the odds, observing the situation — not even for Dimitri. The symptoms of his body were something to be observed, not felt. Crying wouldn’t bring Dimitri back. Crying wouldn’t change the past five years. 

But at least someone was crying for Dimitri. At least he loved Dimitri enough to cry for him, even though it took him five years.

There was a firm knock on his door. He didn’t move an inch, didn’t bother to hide anything. All he did was trap his sobs in his throat, letting them build with the rest of his grief. 

“The dining hall is full of impromptu feasters, and the kitchen staff blames you. You’re lucky I… oh.” Lysithea stood in the doorway. He didn’t bother to look or raise his head. “I… brought you dinner. Sorry. I’ll give you privacy. I won’t tell anyone. I’ll make sure no one bothers you tonight.” The sound of a plate clinking onto the hardwood was barely audible above his sniffles and gasps, but the click of the door rang through his head like a gong. 

 

“Did you forget to eat again?” He tutted and wagged his finger, dragging Dimitri by the arm to his own room. “How does Dedue put up with you?”

“I often wonder that myself.”

“Well, Dedue gets to have a break tonight.” Pushing open his door, he gestured to the pair of plates at his desk. A single, plain candle flickered between them. Beside him, Dimitri’s stomach growled. “It’s a bit sad that I was correct in assuming that you skipped a meal again, Your Princeliness. Predictable, predictable.”

“Apologies. I was wrapped up in my training. You didn’t need to go through the trouble of this.”

“Nonsense! If my hunch is right, you’ll be joining me in the library once more tonight.” Dimitri didn’t disagree. “As study-buddies, it’s my duty to ensure you eat something. One of these days I’ll crack the code and find something you’re eager to eat.”

“I highly doubt that. Regardless, you have my thanks, since you refuse to accept my apologies.”

They both sat on his bed, hip to hip, and Claude wondered if this was how peace and contentment was supposed to feel.

 

He never did find anything that Dimitri loved to eat. Dimitri liked cheesy foods, and some sweets, but there was nothing that Dimitri got excited to eat. He had always wanted to find that one particular thing to ignite Dimitri’s appreciation of food, to find a taste that would get Dimitri to eagerly eat instead of merely eating as a chore. Now he’d never get the chance. 

His lips twisted into a mockery of a smile as he sobbed a laugh. Now he was Dimitri. The food at his door was going to get cold and go to waste — there was no possible way he could eat at the moment. It wasn’t funny, but he laughed anyway. 

To think he was hung up on a boy who probably never saw him as more than a friend. Dimitri didn’t deserve the fate he was dealt though, regardless of either of their feelings. He loved Dimitri — damn his heart, but he still did — no matter what the prince thought of him. If Dimitri had lived and they never saw one another again — that would have been fine. So long as Dimitri was happy, he would have been fine, would have been content to leave his heart in Fódlan and never look back. But Dimitri wasn’t alive, wasn’t fine, and would never feel happiness again. Dimitri was dead. Pierced through the chest, the back, the heart — Dimitri was dead and Claude saw it for his own eyes this time. Claude had felt his cold cheek, felt his absent pulse, felt his shattered dreams.

 

“Looking up at the big, starry sky makes my dreams feel small… which makes it feel like I can actually make them come true.”

“A unique way of thinking. I shouldn’t have expected anything less from you and your marvelous mind. I… I wish I saw the world as you do. The stars make me feel small too. But I just feel powerless against the whims of an unfeeling, uncaring Goddess.”

“Do you believe in fate, Your Princeliness? I don’t mean the Goddess, I’m talking about our fates being laid out before us as little, unexplained nudges.”

“That’s an interesting twist to the Seiros faith’s concept of fate. I do not believe that She has any power over us — and if she does, she doesn’t bother to offer her hand, no matter how hard one begs. If things are to be changed in life, one must cut a path forward with their own power.”

“Hah! Very Faerghan of you, Oh Prince of Faerghus. I’ve never been one to pray for things to go my way either. Shocking, I know. Recently though, I’ve started to wonder. Miracles can happen. Things that are completely out of your control. Things that only add up if you believe in the concept of fate. Like us meeting!”

“I hardly consider our meeting to be ‘fate’. You are the heir to Leicester’s leading house, and I am the prince of Faerghus. We always would have met, one way or another.”

“Mm, you might be surprised. Me becoming heir to Riegan was an incredible chance — I nearly declined, in fact.”

“Truly?”

“Well, it did involve me leaving everything I ever knew and loved in order to meet with a member of my family I didn’t know anything about. And the chance of me having a crest when my mom didn’t have one? Low. And my uncle’s death? Even lower. Then there’s us — I used to think you were just another prissy noble I’d have to work around. If we hadn’t started bumping into each other in the library at night, and if you weren’t the lovely, open minded young man that you are—well! It just seems like… fate.” 

“Claude.” Every time Dimitri said his name like that, somehow annoyed but also unbearably fond, it made him want to melt.

“Eh, maybe I’m just looking into things a little too deeply. Wouldn’t be the first time.” Together, laying side-by-side on top of the Goddess Tower’s roof, he dragged his eyes away from the stars above to look at the star beside him. Dimitri was already staring at him, and probably had been for some time. “It feels like we were meant to be together. You and me, we’re 2/3rds of Fódlan! Our dreams align, and if that isn’t an impossible miracle, then I don’t know what is! There’s so much we can accomplish together. My dreams have always felt so daunting and large unless I compare them to the stars. Now though, if I compare them to us, I think…” He stopped. There he went again, running his mouth. Something about Dimitri stripped his filter bare.

“I wish I could compare to your beautiful hope. Perhaps you’re correct. Perhaps we will see your… our dreams come to fruition together, side-by-side.” Dimitri’s melancholic smile didn’t match his desperate eyes. “In truth, I don’t believe that I’ll ever see the dawn. But, Goddess — no, I won’t pray to the Goddess for this. Claude, I hope I’ll see your dawn with my own eyes someday. Somehow you make everything so… so beautiful, so poetic. The stars above, the distant dawn, the encroaching future. Where I only see darkness, you manage to see stars.” 

“Stick with me, and I’ll teach you how to see the stars too. If you can’t see the stars in the darkness, then what kind of life is that? Sounds like an existence of suffering, if you ask me.”

“Indeed.”

“Even in suffering, there’s always light if you know how to look for it.” 

Dimitri smiled at him, bright as the sun on a cloudy day. “I never took you to be such a romantic.”

“What can I say? Appearances can be deceiving. What’s wrong with enjoying a little bit of poetry! But shh, that stays between us. I have a mysterious reputation to maintain.”

“Maybe if fate truly is real as you say it is, I’ll see your dawn someday.”

“Hey now, I’m counting on your support too! We’ll make this metaphorical dawn happen, together. Between the two of us, I think we can muscle up enough strength to drag the sun across the sky.”

“Together. I’d like that.”

“That a promise?” He held out his hand.

Dimitri hesitated. “I shouldn’t make a promise I may not be able to keep.”

“Neither should I.”

Dimitri’s hand curled around his own. Instead of shaking his hand, Dimitri just held his hand like he was something precious. Even through a layer of gloves, Dimitri’s hands hummed with warmth. Staring into his eyes, Dimitri smiled. “Who am I to go against this fate of yours? I’m certain you could move mountains if you tried hard enough. I’m no mountain. I… I want to see this future of yours, in which I greet the dawn with hope and not dread.”

 

“You put too much faith in me,” he whispered into the wood of his desk. “I’m just a man, Dimitri. I’ve been trying to move that mountain my entire life. I couldn’t even move you. Couldn’t even—” save you. A heaving, wretched noise dragged itself past his lips, dying with a pathetic little wail. He could have saved Dimitri if he’d been better, stronger, faster — if he just said the right thing, he could have saved Dimitri.  

Five years ago when he received news that Dimitri had been executed, he didn’t fully believe it. There were no credible witnesses to his ‘death’, no parading of his corpse. For five years, he clung to a hope that he refused to consciously entertain. With no dead body, there had been hope, a chance, that Dimitri lived. His gut told him that Dimitri lived. As the years passed and there was silence from Dimitri, he forced himself to come to terms with Dimitri’s death even as part of him still clung to that hope.

His gut had been right, in the end. If he’d just listened to that hope, if he’d tried to look, if— 

It didn’t matter. Dimitri was dead. Eventually the dawn would come and he would have to put his smile back together again and pretend that he didn’t spend the night sobbing like a lost child. The dawn would be just as bright as any other dawn. His dreams no longer included Dimitri, and he had to come to terms with that. For just this one night though, just this one night, he grieved the lost future between them.

In the morning, dawn’s light was covered in a mourner’s shroud of clouds.

Chapter Text

Claude woke to the sound of chirping birds and sunlight. Blinking, he stared up at a bizarrely white ceiling. What was it made out of, marble? The texture was wrong for it to be marble, but it was very white. Wherever he was, this was a place meant for rich nobility, clearly. Shifting, he rolled his head to stare at the unfamiliar surroundings. The room was utterly odd in so many different ways that he could hardly process. There was stuff and lights and objects, none of which were immediately recognizable. Starting with what he did recognize, there were two beds (three, counting his own), two chairs, and two strangely-dressed people in those two chairs. That was about all he could rationalize as familiar. Nothing looked right, nothing even smelled right. 

One of the people in the chairs glanced his way, double-taking. “Claude!” a blond man whispered-shouted, bolting to his feet. The man rushed over to his bed, reaching out to grab his hand. He was so confused that he didn’t pull away. Something about the man was familiar. Very, very familiar. Blond hair, blue eyes… 

“Uuughn?” was his intelligent reply. It occurred to him that his body was very sore and that his head kind of hurt. 

“Easy now. Any pain? We were so worried that you wouldn’t wake up.” The man’s smile expressed his relief more than his words. In fact, the man’s eyes were red-rimmed. 

“D…Dimitri?” he asked, squinting. Dimitri looked older, but surely he was looking at Dimitri. No one else had that shade of blond hair, or blue eyes, or princely bone structure. This man had faint lines around his eyes and a beard though. It was a rather nice beard. Oh no. Did he lose a chunk of memory? Was he older too? Gods, he hoped he aged as gracefully as Dimitri, because damn. But, wait, why was Dimitri here? If they were older and no longer at the academy, then why would Dimitri be hovering above his bedside? Why would Dimitri be hovering above his bedside period? They were acquaintances, sure, friendly acquaintances, but nothing more. Damn though. Dimitri got hot. Holy shit, Dimitri got hot.

“Nothing to worry about.” Turning, the man pointed to the nearest bed. “Dimitri is stable, though he has yet to wake up.” 

Dimitri was, in fact, laying on the bed. He blinked up at Not-Dimitri, who was tenderly smiling down at him and still holding his hand. There were so, so many questions swimming through his head. “What happened?” seemed like the most innocuous way to test the waters. ‘Who are you, and why do you have Dimitri’s face?’ could wait until he had his bearings.

Not-Dimitri’s smile fell. “You three were in a car accident. It’s a miracle there were no serious injuries, but all three of you have been unconscious for over a day. What’s the last thing you remember?”

What the hell was a ‘car’? “Not sure,” he replied automatically, unwilling to give this stranger information. It wasn’t much of a lie, the more he thought about it. What had happened? 

“The doctors said you might not remember the traumatic experience,” said the other person in the room — a woman. She leaned down and hugged him. All he could do was tense up and stare at the unnaturally white ceiling. What? Just what was going on? After a moment, the woman let go of him. “Sorry dear, I know you’re not a fan of hugs. I’m just so relieved that you’re okay.” While Not-Dimitri squeezed his hand and softly smiled, the woman ran her hand through his hair. “The doctors said you three could be comatose for months! And yet, not even a day later, and here you are.”

“We’ll just keep praying to the Goddess that our other two wake as well,” Not-Dimitri said, leaning against the woman.

“Uh…unhhh…” came a female groan.

The woman jolted, rushing to the furthest bed. “El? El, sweetie, how do you feel?”

He stared, utterly confused, as a brown-haired girl raised her head. El?  

“M…mother…?” came Edelgard’s voice from the brown-haired girl. As she looked around the room, their eyes locked together. Huh. It was Edelgard, but her hair was different. He peeked at his own dangling braid, relieved to find it the same brown as ever. 

Not-Dimitri patted his hand one last time, then went over to Edelgard’s bedside. Edelgard’s confusion was much more visible than his (hopefully he didn’t look that baffled, at least). Edelgard stared at her mother (their eyes matched, so that probably was actually her mother), utterly baffled and lost. He’d never seen such an open expression on the closed-off princess before.

Dimitri stirred without a sound, opening his eyes and sitting up. Rubbing his head, he looked between them. “Claude? E—Edelgard?”

“Son! Oh, I’m so relieved,” Not-Dimitri — Dimitri’s father said, drawing closer. 

“Thank the Goddess, they’re all okay,” Edelgard’s mother whispered, briefly bowing her head.

“Where are we?” Dimitri asked him, as if he knew anything. 

“Uh. We’re in beds,” was his informative reply. 

Dimitri’s father chuckled. “We’re at the Oghma hospital center.”

Dimitri’s eyes flickered to his father but didn’t linger — a stark opposite of Edelgard, who couldn’t seem to look away from her mother. “My head is killing me. Do either of you two recall what happened to land us… here?”

“You three were in a car accident,” Edelgard’s mother repeated for Dimitri. “We should call for a nurse.”

“Edelgard? Are you well?” Dimitri asked.

“My… my mother,” she repeated in a daze. 

Edelgard’s mother immediately frowned, rushing back to her daughter’s side. “I’m here, sweetie. Are you in pain? Lambert, the doctors warned us they might have brain damage. Do you think—”

“Let’s not leap to conclusions.” Lambert frowned down at Dimitri. “Are you feeling any confusion, son? Can you tell me the date?”

Dimitri ignored his father outright. Shaking his head, Dimitri once more looked to him for answers. As if he knew anything! “Claude, do you know what happened?”

“Uh… ‘car accident’? Are you going to keep ignoring your dad?”

Dimitri blinked at him rapidly. “My…?” Following his gaze, Dimitri glanced at his father, then at the door. “Whatever are you talking about?”

“Son?” Dimitri’s father — Lambert? — reached forward and brushed Dimitri’s hand. Dimitri reacted to this by violently flinching, whirling to gape at his father. 

“C-Claude,” Dimitri stuttered, not looking away from his father. “Claude. I need you to do me a very, very important favor. Please do not joke with me. Tell me, is there… someone standing in front of me?”

“Yes…? You didn’t go blind in the ‘car’ accident, did you?”

“And is the person in front of me… does he resemble…”

“He’s the spitting image of you.”

“Oh. Oh my.” Dimitri looked very freaked out for approximately five seconds, then abruptly calmed down. “Oh. I see. Father, I apologize. It seems I failed in my duty to you.”

“Dimitri, you could never disappoint me,” Lambert said, kneeling down to hug his son. 

“You aren’t upset with me?” Dimitri whispered, slowly hugging his father back.

“Never. Accidents happen. I’m just so happy you’re okay.”

Dimitri bowed his head. “I’m sorry that I died, father.”

Claude wasn’t the only one to rear back at that statement. “What?” Lambert asked.

“I died. I’m sorry that I wasn’t strong enough.”

Oh. OOOOOH! Now he remembered! Dimitri’s dad died years ago. It was a big event too, he read about it in multiple different books. Oh shit. Were they dead?  

“You’re not dead!” Lambert was quick to clarify. “You are very much alive, my son.”

Claude poked himself just to make sure he still felt alive. Yep. Taking his pulse, he determined that he was almost certainly still alive. Was Dimitri’s dad a zombie? A ghost? A hallucination? Secretly alive this entire time? “We better not be dead,” he mumbled. “I have too much left to do to die now.”

“None of you are dead!” Lambert repeated with a weak chuckle. “Goddess, I don’t know what I would do with myself if any of you died.”

“But you’re d—”

“Oh, I remember now!” he interrupted Dimitri loudly. “The car accident! Hah, I really thought we were goners for a bit there! Hard to believe we survived!” Aiming a stern look at Dimitri, he could only hope that the prince would grow some self-preservation and go along with this until they knew more. To King Lambert, he winked. “It sure was a disorienting experience, Your Majesty.”

Lambert choked on his spit, coughing and then laughing. “Claude, lad, haven’t heard you call me that since you first came to live with us!” Lambert patted his shoulder. “Though I own the household, that doesn’t make me the ‘king’ of the house, thus you have no need to refer to me with such a title.” Lambert’s smile was soft and nostalgic as he ruffled Claude’s hair. “Guess your languages got a little jostled in that head of yours. I’d nearly forgotten that quirk of your overthinking mind. Just call me Lambert, lad.”

His… languages? “Sure thing, Lambert. You know me and my overactive mind.” How was he supposed to react to ANY of that?!

 

 


 

 

Some healers came into the room and checked on them. There were a lot of strange devices and lights and objects used on them. Apparently they were all perfectly healthy, so the healers discharged them to leave the infirmary. 

They were given a bag of ‘their’ things. He itched to go through the bag full of unfamiliar objects, such as a colorful rectangle, white paper strips, and a weird chunk of something he swore was bone. But Lambert and Patricia steered them through the alien hospital, and frankly, that took up all of his attention. There was so much. A million questions remained trapped behind his lips. A little bit of disorientation could be explained by a bump to the head, but he wasn’t going to push his luck. Dimitri and Edelgard were already shell-shocked enough, someone had to hold it together mentally. There was just so much stuff. The building, the walls, the strange materials, the elevator that didn’t appear to have anyone pulling it, the massive size of the building, the sounds and sights and smells—! It was all a bit overwhelming. 

Now they were underground, standing in front of a strange carriage. Where were the horses? There were hundreds of other parked carriages too, but no signs of horses. Lambert opened the door for them. 

“Do you kids want something to eat on the car ride home?” Patricia asked as they stared at the strange interior of the carriage.

Car ride… Car-ride, car-riage, carriage, car this was a car! “Didn’t we just have a car ‘accident’?” he blurted out, eyeing the ‘car’ disrespectfully.

“Don’t worry, lad,” Lambert said, patting his elbow. “I’ll drive extra carefully. Car accidents don’t happen often. Just think of this: in my five decades, I’ve never been in a single accident.”

That didn’t reassure him at all but he slid into the car nonetheless — after waiting for Edelgard first. He took the middle seat in a weird feeling of a deja vu. Patricia, who sat up front, leaned back and helped them all click ‘seat belts’ around them. He immediately hated the restraint. Apparently Dimitri noticed his unease despite being zoned out, laying a comforting hand on his thigh and squeezing. 

He jumped when the car started growling, clinging onto his restraints. Then, through some kind of arcane magic that he would be very interested in later, the car began moving on its own. Edelgard lurched, finally breaking out of her daze in order to cling to his arm, looking wildly around. Dimitri, unfazed, wrapped one arm around him in order to rest a hand on Edelgard’s shoulder, still patted his thigh like he was a spooked horse. It occurred to him that he had leaned into Dimitri after his flinch. It was a comfortable spot, so he didn’t move away.

“Nothing to fear, kids,” Patricia softly said as the car continued to glide. “I know it might feel a little scary after your last experience, but it’ll pass.”

Patricia was right. After a short period, he got used to the magic propelling the car forward. Moreover, when they left the underground area filled with other cars, he was distracted by the sights outside the window. Wherever they were, this wasn’t Fódlan. Despite gliding at a faster speed than any horse-drawn carriage he’d ever been in, the car maintained its butter-smooth control under Lambert’s reins. After half a minute of restraint, he leaned across Dimitri to glue himself to the window. He started to wiggle out of his restraints (they were easily overcome) until Patricia’s stern glance made him rethink that option. Instead he just clung to Dimitri and awkwardly leaned over the other boy’s lap.

The car stopped at one point and Lambert got out and went into a colorful building. The architecture of everything was like nothing else! Some buildings were massive beyond compare, rising into the clouds, while others were short and colorful. There were glowing lights everywhere. This was like when he came to Fódlan for the first time again, except the culture shock was even worse. 

“Perhaps you and Dimitri should switch spots,” Patricia suggested with a smile. 

“There’s not enough room for Dimitri in the middle,” Edelgard argued. El didn’t like the middle seat and Dima was too big for it, which was why Claude always got it. 

Dimitri blinked, shaking his head. “We can share this seat?”

Patrica’s smile fell. “I know you boys do that often on these little in-city trips, but after your accident, I think it’s best if you sit properly.”

“Claude’s not sitting properly at all,” Edelgard grumbled, crossing her arms. 

“Eh, I’ve never been one for propriety. You don’t mind, right Your Princeliness?”

“You’re fine.” As Dimitri patted his back, it occurred to him that he was basically sitting on Dimitri. Usually, he would react to such close contact. He barely knew Dimitri after all — who knew, maybe the prince was secretly after his head! Unlikely, but still. Claude did not like being touched. Usually. This wasn’t so bad (it was actually kind of nice?) and he didn’t know why.

Lambert returned with a paper bag, handing them each a warm, circular, wrapped lump. He settled back into his seat and palmed the lump. There was no explanation on what they were supposed to do with these lumps. Edelgard and Dimitri looked as lost as he felt. If there was one thing he was good at, it was opening mysterious packages. Carefully peeling it back (watching the other two mimic him out of the corner of his eye), he discovered a sandwich of sorts within. Huh. Neat.

“Oooh, this is good,” he mumbled past a mouthful, eagerly going in for a second bite. It didn’t quite match anything he’d ever had before, but he loved trying new kinds of food. There was some form of meat — beef? Weird beef — and lettuce, tomatoes, and sauce. The bread was fluffy and soft with little seeds on top! Whatever this was, he wanted more of it in the future.

His blissful feast was interrupted by Dimitri flinching abruptly. The prince’s lips were pressed tight with a distinctly un-princely scowl. His wide, wild eyes stared down at the missing bite of his cheese sandwich. 

“Mm?” Claude asked, nudging him with his elbow. 

Dimitri swallowed roughly. “It’s… flavorful. Very… very, flavorful.”

“Yeah, it’s good!” 

“You can have mine, then. I’m not hungry.” Dimitri practically shoved it at him.

“Are you feeling well, Dima?” Patricia asked. “Nauseous?”

“No, I’m just not hungry. I apologize for the concern.”

Patricia’s frown deepened. Dammit, Dimitri was sure to blow everything! “No need to apologize, dear.”

“Well, if you’re sure you don’t want this, I guess I’ll eat it. Wouldn’t want it to go to waste! If you change your mind though…” Dimitri’s sandwich was different than his, but it looked and smelled good too.

“I won’t.”

“Claude,” Patricia interrupted him before he could take a bite, “that has cheese on it.”

“O-oh?” And that was important because…?

Patricia took the sandwich from him. “Are you still hungry? I’ll make you something when we get home.”

But… why couldn’t he eat Dimitri’s sandwich? “Er, it’s fine, I’m not that hungry. I just figured, if Dima wasn’t gonna eat it, that I could finish it for him.”

Patricia smiled at him, reaching back to ruffle his hair. What was with these people? He was so confused. She also patted Dimitri, checking his forehead. Satisfied with that, apparently, she turned back around and faced forward, murmuring with Lambert.

“What was that?” Edelgard hissed to him in a whisper, not even halfway done with her sandwich. At his raised eyebrow, she pointed to Dimitri. “Since when do you call His Princeliness ‘Dima’?”

“I… uh…” Oh. He did call Dimitri that, didn’t he. “It just kind of slipped out.”

The car fell silent after that. Dimitri was back to spacing out, Edelgard was glaring daggers into the back of Lambert’s seat, and he was back to staring at the endless new sights. As darkness fell, the world around them lit up into an impossible array of colors. The colors faded as they entered a section of endless buildings that were smaller and more uniform.

Eventually they pulled to a stop at one of the buildings. Edelgard had fallen asleep on his shoulder and at some point he’d snuggled up to Dimitri. Edelgard and Dimitri were his acquaintances at best, yet this arrangement felt… nice. Cozy. Safe. 

“Home sweet home,” Lambert murmured as the car stopped rumbling. 

The house was foreign, alien, and maybe a little strangely familiar. They were ushered off to their rooms. On one side had a red nameplate with ‘Edelgard’ written on it. Across the room was a blue nameplate with ‘Dimitri’. Then the last room had the nameplate ‘Claude’ with— 

He froze in his tracks, petrified at the little addition underneath ‘Claude’.

خالد

No one should know that name. There was no way. 

“Now, you kids get a good night’s rest,” Lambert was saying. “If any of you need us for anything, don’t hesitate to knock on our door. We’re just down the hall.” Lambert gave Dimitri a hug, then Edelgard, then patted his shoulder and ruffled his hair. 

“Sleep in as long as you want in the morning,” Patricia continued where Lambert left off. “Some rest will do well to settle your heads. If you three are still feeling confused in the morning, we’ll tackle this together.” She capped this off by kissing Edelgard’s forehead, then Dimitri’s, then his. “Goodnight, kids.”

Lambert and Patricia left them standing in the hallway, adrift. They stared at one another.

“We should… talk,” Edelgard hesitantly said.

“Yeah. Let’s compare notes.” He went to the room and opened the door. “After you two?”

“That’s my room,” Dimitri stated. 

It was, in fact, Dimitri’s room. Huh. He just sort of went for it without thinking. “Well, it’s gotta be one of these rooms. Might as well be yours, Your Princeliness.”

That seemed to snap Dimitri into motion.

The room was exactly what he expected, in the alien sort of way that everything was strange. Everything was neat, tidy, and blue. Other than a pile of clothes in the corner of the room, it fit his princely expectation. He immediately went about poking around. The desk had metal sticks that he was pretty sure were a special kind of quill. The parchment stored in one of the drawers was extremely white and much more uniform and sturdy than the stuff he was used to. The—

“Ahem. Claude.”

“What? I’m getting a feel for our environment! You never know what might be dangerous here.” He picked up a weird pink blob and waved it around. The letters ERASER were printed on the front of it. “Who even knows what this is! It’s flaky, so… an ingredient? The only thing I know of that’s naturally this shade of pink is bismuth. ‘Eraser’, that sounds dangerous to me!” He gently settled it back in one of the drawers when it became apparent that he was being ignored.

“Those were our parents.” Dimitri stared off into nothing, settling on the bed. “My father and step-mother.”

“Your step-mother? She’s my mother!”

Dimitri nodded. “Indeed.”

“W-what? You can’t just say ‘indeed’! That’s my mother.”

“And my step-mother. I haven’t seen her since… since Duscur.” Sighing, Dimitri shook his head. “So you truly didn’t know. I wondered if you were aware of our relationship, but I never could find any way to bring it up.” Edelgard gaped at Dimitri — at her step-brother. Huh. There was probably an interesting (and awkward) story behind one of the emperor’s concubines fleeing to Faerghus to marry the king. 

“We’re step-siblings, and you never told me?”

“The school year only just began! I thought it might come up…” Dimitri sighed. “Our parents though, they’re… alive. Or we’re dead.”

“We’re not dead,” he and Edelgard said at the same time.

Dimitri shrugged. “Nothing makes sense.”

“Heh, you can say that again. So you guys are step-siblings. Why am I here? I mean, living here. Obviously I’m not related. Lambert mentioned that I ‘came to live’ with you guys… But why? How? When?”

“Perhaps you were in need of a place to stay?”

“Last I knew, I was in Garreg Mach! Why would I be here? Why are any of us here? Gah. Edelgard, how come your hair is brown? That seems so random.”

“None of your business.”

“It used to be brown when we were younger. I always wondered why it turned white.”

“Just, never mind that. Hey, we all agree that this is crazy, right? Yesterday we were at Garreg Mach, heirs to our respective nations.”

“Of course.”

“Just checking that we’re on the same page here. And none of us remember how this ‘change of scenery’ came to be.” Scrubbing his forehead, he tried in vain to remember anything. “I remember… gah. I’m drawing a complete blank.”

“There was a fight?” Dimitri slowly said, rubbing at his temple.

“An explosion,” Edelgard added. “Something was coming towards me, and then… then, I don’t know what.”

“Like a car accident,” he grumbled, shoving his fist against his cheek. “This is stupid. We were… ah-hah! The lord-only trip!”

“Remire village, then that mercenary group.”

“Then what? How did we get transported from some no-name forest all the way to this exotic urban sprawl?”

“We need to return to where we’re supposed to be,” Edelgard stated.

“Yep! But how? We don’t even know how we got here, or where here even is.”

Edelgard looked down at her lap, twisting her hands back and forth. “I’m missing scars. My hair is a different color. My mother is… just down the hallway. If I didn’t know any better, I would assume… I would assume this isn’t even my own body.”

Missing scars? Tugging at the collar of his shirt, he looked for the wicked dagger-scar just to the right of his heart. That part of his skin was flawless. Above that weirdly flawless spot, just barely in his own line of sight, was a circular red bruise. He’d seen that kind of mark before, but never on himself.

“Is that a love bite?” Dimitri asked, scandalized. 

“Uhhh… it… looks like it?” Heat rose to his cheeks. What the hell?! “I have no memories of how that got there. I don’t even know who would put it there. I’m missing a scar too, though! That’s what’s important!”

“I’m also missing scars.” Dimitri flexed his fingers as his voice lowered into a whisper. “And, I… I can, well… I can taste again.” 

“Taste again? What, you couldn’t taste before?”

“Not since Duscur,” Dimitri quietly admitted. 

“This is why you didn’t eat dinner,” Edelgard deduced.

“Indeed. It was, well, it was a lot.”

He shook his head. “We’re all equally in the dark about what happened. Mulling over this isn’t going to get us any closer to an answer. As much as I hate to say it, we should rest. Hey, maybe we’ll wake up in the morning, and this will all have been a crazy dream!” Not something he could count on, but it would be nice.

“We need to investigate more,” Edelgard was the one to suggest. “That bookshelf is filled with books, perhaps something will shed some light on our surroundings.”

“Do you see a candlestick or anything to light a candle with, Your Highness? Yeah, I don’t either. It’s too dark to read.” Kicking off his boots— not boots. Kicking off his shoes and his jacket, he flopped onto the bed. “I’m tired, and sore too. We’re not going to make any more headway, so let’s not suffer unnecessarily.”

“I do believe you have your own bed to sleep in,” Dimitri said with an amused grin. Already stuffed under the cozy covers (what was this fabric? He needed it for every blanket ever), he froze. He did have his own room, theoretically. “You made yourself at home quickly.”

“Safety in numbers!” He was quick to come up with an excuse. “Who knows what lies in wait in ‘my’ room? Or in Edelgard’s room!”

Edelgard’s eyes narrowed, but she didn’t contradict him. “I suppose it would be safest to share a room…”

Dimitri nodded. “Very well. I’ll take the floor. Claude, give Edelgard the bed. Let’s see, there should be some materials for sleeping in here, er, somewhere. Maybe?”

“Whoa, I am not giving up this bed!” He slid further under the covers to underscore this. “We can share! There’s plenty of room.”

“Claude! We—we can’t share!”  

“Why not? She’s your step-sister, Dima! Not like you two are going to get up to any, gasp, scandalous activities. And trust me, Edelgard is so not my type.”

“Not blond enough for you?” she snapped, rolling her eyes as she sat on the bed and began taking off her boots.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

She paused. “I don’t know why I said that. It simply rolled off the tongue.” 

After a bare bones exercise of getting ready for bed (they were still wearing most of their day clothes), the others joined him in bed. Without discussion, Dimitri fit himself in the middle. Somehow, that seemed to be the correct — the only — answer to their sleeping position.

It hit him like a brick how exhausted he was. Any plans to tease Dimitri or Edelgard died as his eyes fluttered closed and refused to open.

 

 


 

 

It was still dark when he woke. Being extremely comfortable, he had no plans to get up anytime soon. Not only was he comfortable, but one of Dima’s arms was snuggly curled around his waist. Sighing, he burrowed closer to Dima. There was nowhere more safe and comfortable than being in Dima’s arms.

He drifted off again, content with the rise and fall of Dima’s chest, the soft sound of Dima and El’s breathing. It was so, so perfect… 

A soft knock brought him bobbing back to the surface of consciousness. Groaning, he hid his face against Dimitri as light streamed into the room. “Anyone awake?” came a quiet whisper. 

El joined him in groaning. Dimitri shifted, raising his head with a yawn.

“Sorry to wake you. It’s nearly noon. Just checking that no one fell back into a coma!”

“Lamby,” a voice called from a distance. “I told you not to wake them! If they’re still asleep, they probably need that sleep!”

“Father…?” Dimitri murmured, voice cutely mussed with sleep.

“Go back to sleep, Dimi.” Claude peeked open an eye. Lambert held some sort of rectangle. It clicked a few times. “Sweet dreams, kiddos.”

The door slid shut, plunging the room back into darkness. From behind the door, he heard footsteps, then muffled voices.

“Still asleep?”

“Yep. They’re all there.”

“Aww. I expected Claude, but even El?”

“Snuggled up to Dimi. Those three haven’t fallen asleep together in ages. Don’t worry, I got pics.”

The voices drifted away, and so did his wakefulness.

“Claude. Claude. Please, um, Claude? Claude, please wake up.”

“Mrghhhhm.” He buried his face deeper against warmth, squeezing Dima tightly. 

“O-oh, Goddess. Claude, please wake up. El—delgard, you too.”

“Mf too warmph n cmmmfffy.” Groaning, he regretfully twisted his stiff neck. Blinking, he registered that Dimitri had really, really pretty blue eyes. Sighing dreamily, Gods he was so lucky, he nuzzled Dima’s pecs. Perfect pillows… 

“Claude,” Dimitri repeated, making a choked noise. Fingers danced through his hair, hesitating before sinking into his curls and scrubbing at his scalp, just the way he loved. 

Rolling his head, he opened his mouth to say something sappy and got a mouthful of hair. Sputtering, he jerked upright, spitting out chestnut hair. Blinking rapidly, his sight cleared up enough for him to see El snuggled up to Dima’s other side. He forgot how cute and soft she looked when she wasn’t awake. 

“We’re still here.” Dimitri’s voice woke him up with the gentleness of a shattered window. Still here. Abruptly the familiar-feeling comforts twisted into uncanny and unknown. This room wasn’t safe and familiar. He’d never been here before, so why did it feel like… like home? The ‘familiar’ sight of ‘El’ stuck in his mind. He couldn’t tear his eyes away. There was no reason that the image of Edelgard sleeping should feel familiar or nostalgic. “Claude?”

“…Dimitri.” Swallowing, he realized he was still somewhat cuddled up to Dimitri. “We, uh, got well acquainted in our sleep, aha…” He’d never gotten this close to anyone before, not since he was a toddler crawling into his parent’s bed after a nightmare (or assassination attempt). Claude didn’t like being touched. He didn’t feel safe being touched. There was a visceral urge inside him to get closer to Dimitri, though. He wanted to squish himself flush to Dimitri’s body again, and feel Dima’s powerful arms curl protectively around his body. 

Dima. He kept thinking of Dimitri as Dima. Before yesterday when the nickname thoughtlessly fell from his lips, he hadn’t even conceived of calling Dimitri that. Now those two little syllables bounced around his skull with an inescapable gravity. Dima. Dim-ah. As heat roared under his cheeks, his eyes rose to meet twin captivating pools of blue. Oh. Oh no.

“Hmmm… Dimi?” El— Edelgard interrupted his impending mental breakdown by waking up. Like him, she didn’t initially react with any shock at her proximity to Dimitri. It didn’t take long for her to fully wake up. As she blushed, yelped, and fell out of bed, Claude was also scrambling to get out of the eerily-familiar bed. Anything to put distance between himself and the cusp of intrusive thoughts hovering just on the tip of his tongue. 

“How long have you been awake, Dima—tri?” In order to distract himself, he started digging through the pile of clothes on the floor. It was too dark to make out any detail.

“Not long. I, ah… I wasn’t sure what exactly to, erm, do?”

“You will never speak of this. Ever!” Edelgard picked herself off the floor, still red-faced. 

“Maybe we should speak of it. Did either of you, erm, I… I don’t know how to phrase this. Did either of you feel like this was familiar?”

Biting his lip, he reluctantly nodded. “You too?”

“Well, I don’t find this familiar! Not at all!”

“I think the lady doth protest too much.” Fed up with wading around in the dark, he went to the door and flipped on the light switch. That was better.

“Gah! A warning, Claude!”

“Sorry, sorry, I…” He froze, whirling to stare at the… at the ‘light switch’. “What the…?” Cautiously, he took hold of the little switch and carefully put it into its lowered position. The lights vanished. Bringing the switch up again, the lights returned. The reaction was instantaneous from when the switch was moved. Frowning, he fiddled with the switch until he determined the exact middle-spot where the light would turn on or off.

“Enough! Stop playing with the light.”

“It’s incredible! How does it work? Magic?” Squinting up at the glowing orb on the ceiling, his brain churned with possibilities. “I don’t see any fire. Holy magic? How does that mechanism work? Is this powered with the same magic that the ‘car’ used?”

“You’re the one who just activated it,” Edelgard reminded him. “You tell us.”

Dimitri slowly nodded. “How did you know to flip the switch?”

“I just… knew.” Swallowing roughly, he forced himself to make eye contact with Dimitri and immediately regretted it. His stomach churned as if he’d been poisoned. Something made him feel drawn to Dimitri. Snapping to look at Edelgard instead, he could at least breathe a sigh or relief that he didn’t want to plaster himself against her body, or get lost in her eyes, or— oh no.  

“We should get dressed for the day.” Either Dimitri could tell he desperately needed a change of subject or the prince got in a lucky guess. “I’m certain our… our parents must be waiting for us to wake up.”

“Right. Yeah. Right.” Standing in front of the door, he hesitated. “Right.” Maybe he could stay in Dimitri’s room for just a little longer?

Edelgard was apparently just as hesitant as him. They awkwardly stared at one another as Dimitri got off the bed and began fishing through the clothes pile. “Yellows and greens… erm, these don’t fit me. Claude? I think these are your clothes.”

“My clothes? But this is your room.”

They locked eyes once more. Dimitri’s eyes drifted south, stopping at his collarbone. Pale skin bloomed red abruptly. “Oh… oh Goddess, Claude, I… I think…” His hand rose to cover the hickey under his shirt. Dima is adorable when flustered, a voice in the back of his head noted. Claude had eyes. He’d noted that Dimitri was fit and handsome before. Of course he noticed. It had never been an observation of note, though. Plenty of people at the academy were fit and handsome, Dimitri wasn’t special! 

“Oh no.” Dimitri was really, really attractive. 

Burying his face in his hands, Dimitri muffled into his palms, “I think I’m the one who made those love bite!”

‘Uh-huh. Let’s test this out. Let’s see if your mouth fits over the marks. Give me a hickey, and then we’ll compare the new and old.’ He didn’t say any of that, but he very much thought it. “Edelgard. Help.”

“You two are… together?”

“No!”

“Probably!”

“Probably? Dima, whatever the hell these duplicate bodies were doing, it doesn’t matter! We aren’t together!”

“You called him ‘Dima’ again.”

He called Dimitri ‘Dima’ again. “Fuck.” Running his hands through his hair, it occurred to him that he would never say ‘fuck’ in any normal circumstance. “Gods above. Dammit. Damned hells,” he corrected, though it was pointless.

A knock on the door interrupted his second attempt at a mental breakdown. “Are you three awake?”

“Yes, mom!” Edelgard replied. A moment passed, then her expression poleaxed. 

“Good timing! I’m just starting dinner. Come out soon, kids!”

As her footsteps pattered down the hall, he turned to the other two. “Dinner? It’s still dark though.”

“Curtains.” Dimitri blurted. “Blackout curtains.” Brushing the black curtains aside, sunlight streamed into the room. “I don’t know how I knew that.”

“We’re fucked, aren’t we.”

 

 


 

 

Lambert and Patricia were suspiciously kind, both to Claude himself and to Dimitri and Edelgard. His own parents couldn’t scratch the level of tender love and care that Lambert and Patricia exuded. If the tenderness didn’t leave him on enough of a back foot, the smell coming from the kitchen nearly knocked him on his ass. 

“What’s for dinner?” He couldn’t help himself, vibrating out of his skin both in anticipation and anxiety. “It smells interesting.”

Lambert had them sit at the table. With a sinking sense of dread, Claude was able to pick out which seat was his usual seat without being told. “Patricia decided to fix your favorites in celebration of your miraculous recovery.”

“And you’re awake just in time.” Dinner was placed onto the table. First was a pot of soup — ‘french onion stew’ with a thick layer of cheese on top. Next was a big bowl of pasta and vegetables. Then she placed a plate of jeweled rice in the center of the table, a dish that smelled of spices only found in Almyra. 

Clearing his throat, he pointed to the rice. “And that?”

“I know it isn’t your favorite favorite, but I’d rather not butcher your most nostalgic memories. I think I’ve gotten quite good at getting the spice ratio correct! I’ve certainly improved, so you’ve told me.” Patricia winked.

While he was still dazed, Lambert and Patricia led them in a short prayer of gratitude to Sothis for the food. A gesture of gratitude to Sothis and the land itself, he noted a little hysterically. That seemed like something he would thank. Then they were given permission to serve themselves whatever they wanted. 

Taking a bite of the rice, he nearly burst into tears. It was delicious. It was just like he used to eat in Almyra. He’d only been away from home for slightly over a year, but Gods he missed the tastes and spices of his fatherland. The rice was so good that he was able to shelve the panic that Patricia must know he was from Almyra.  

Edelgard helped herself to the pasta salad and a little bit of his rice. Dimitri tried a tiny bite of his rice and grimaced. He tried a bite of the pasta too with similar results. A tiny sip of the soup had him shoving the bowl away. Even a sip of fruit juice was apparently too much for him.

“I’m not hungry,” Dimitri unconvincingly stated. His stomach rumbled.

Dimitri wasn’t used to tasting food. Eyeing the heavily spiced rice, he winced. 

“Is there any plain pasta or rice?” Edelgard asked. “Dimitri’s still slightly nauseous.”

“El! No I’m not, I’m just not hungry!”

“I’m so sorry dear, you should have said something!” Patricia got up and patted Dimitri’s head. “We have some extra pasta, let me whip that up for you. Completely plain, or would you like me to add some butter?”

“I’m fine, don’t trouble yourself with me.”

“Nonsense.” Patricia disappeared into the kitchen. Dimitri sagged into his seat. 

Despite his urgent need to stuff himself with rice, his eyes lingered on the cheesy soup. It reminded him of onion gratin soup. “Looks like me and Edelgard get to split this. Don’t worry, Dimitri, your sacrifice will be remembered.”

“Claude,” Lambert’s stern words made him freeze, hand outstretched towards the soup. “You know you can’t eat that.”

“O-oh.” Again?! “Why? Because it was made for Dimitri? He doesn’t want it. Why can’t I have it?”

Frowning, Lambert shook his head. “Claude, you’re lactose intolerant.” What now? “You can’t have cheese.”

“I can’t?” Just watch him.

“Oh Goddess, Claude, no. You know you’ll regret it in an hour.” Lambert pulled the pot out of his reach. “I know cheese is tasty, but remember that the ‘short-term pleasure isn’t worth the long-term agony’. I’m quoting you.”

Agony?? “But it’s just cheese! El and Dima get to eat cheese, why can’t I?”

“You’re allergic, sweetie,” Patricia said, returning with a new plate for Dimitri. 

“What? I’m not allergic to cheese!” He had cheese just a few days ago! Plenty of Fódlan dishes had cheese in them — while he considered cheese to be a bit overrated considering how many Fódlani decried its superiority over literally everything, he still liked cheese. Most of his favorite Fódlani dishes had cheese in them, and not just a little bit! Reaching across the table, he jammed his spoon into the top of the cheesy gratin and stole a spoonful. Right as he brought it to his mouth, he was overcome with the distinct sensation that he was about to make a horrible, horrible mistake. The spoon hovered in front of his mouth, then he slowly lowered it to the plate. “I’m allergic to cheese.” First he develops a massive crush on Dimitri, and now he’s allergic to cheese!

Lambert cleared his throat. “Speaking of, I planned to ask you three how you feel. Is your confusion persisting?” The way Lambert’s eyes lingered on him made that embarrassingly clear that he just blew their cover.

“Yes,” Dimitri quietly admitted. “I seem to have a few gaps in my memory.”

“I’m so sorry, son.” Lambert did sound genuinely sorry. “Perhaps we can jog your memory. If those gaps are permanent though, we’ll just fill the gaps again. That goes for all three of you.”

“How come Claude lives with us?” Dimitri blurted out, wincing. “Not that I have a problem with it! I just, I need my memory jogged in that regard…”

“Dima, you could have asked me,” he said for show, rolling his eyes and not elaborating in the slightest.

Lambert and Patricia shared a worried glance. Way to go, Dimitri. “Four years ago, you and El befriended a new transfer student. The frequency that you two requested to have Claude sleep over alarmed Patricia and I, but Claude was tight-lipped about his living situation. Does any of this sound familiar?”

Dimitri hesitated. “Erm, familiar, yes, but the details are… distant?” Why did Dimitri have to be such a shit liar.

Neither parent bought Dimitri’s lie, but mercifully they let it slide. Patricia got up from the table and stood behind him, stroking one hand down his back and her other hand through his curls. It was an intense concoction of weird, familiar, anxiety-inducing, and terrifyingly comfortable. “Claude came to live in Fódlan with his uncle. Shortly after he arrived, his uncle died in an accident, leaving Claude with nowhere to go. Silly boy, he hid this from his parents, determined to stay in Fódlan even though he was homeless. After we brought him into our home enough times, Lambert and I were able to sus out the contact information of Claude’s parents.”

“We went to school with Tiana, she was a close friend. Imagine our surprise when the little Khalid that we always heard about in Tiana’s Christmas cards turned out to be our Claude!” They knew. They knew his name, his mother, his origin. “Of course we would have opened our home to him regardless, but the legality would have been very tricky without Tiana’s blessing.”

“Shake any memories loose, son?”

“Y…yes?”

He failed at resisting the urge to slap his forehead. “Gosh Dimitri. How could you forget my origin story? It’s not like I’ve been a part of your family for four years now.” The look of betrayal that Dimitri sent him would have been hysterical if he wasn’t busy tamping down hysterics in his brain. They knew his real name, fuck!

“You’re the one that forgot he’s allergic to cheese,” Edelgard shot back.

“Low blow. Low blow.”

“Any other questions, kids? No shame in forgetting.”

“Oh! The photo album! We should break out the photo album!”

Lambert chuckled. “As adorable as that sounds, perhaps we should wait on that one. If they’re still struggling tomorrow, we’ll break out all the stops.” Clapping his hands together, Lambert stood. “Well! I bet you kids want to wash up! I see you haven’t showered since you got home.”

Sighing, Dimitri bowed his head and took one for the team. “‘Showered’?”

“Oh. Oh dear.”

Lambert took the three of them into the bathroom and proceeded to patiently explain how to operate the shower.  

“Where does the water come from?”

“It’s piped in from outside.”

“But from where outside? A lake? River?”

“A… reservoir? Hm, never thought about it.”

“And how does it get hot so quickly? There’s no fire anywhere.”

“The boiler heats it.”

“How does the boiler heat it? Who feeds the boiler fuel to make it work? How does turning a knob make the boiler heat the water? How does that affect the piping? How do the pipes maintain water pressure?”

“Lad, I’m sorry, I don’t know all those answers.”

“So you have this pipeline in your home that you don’t understand?! And it boils hot water on its own! That could easily get wildly out of control.”

Lambert ruffled his hair, which answered exactly zero of his questions! “Ah, the ‘why’ phase. Google can answer your questions better than I can.”

“Who’s Google?”

“I’ll show you in a bit.”

Upon realizing the depth of their combined ignorance (they started taking turns on who ‘didn’t know’ certain things), Lambert ran them through how to use the millions (6) of bottles of liquid soaps, the toilet, the sink, the microwave, the tea kettle, and finished with the TV. There were a lot more objects that Claude wanted to ask about too, but there was so much that he couldn’t keep up.

“If data is small, unseeable beams of information, can they be beamed into someone’s head directly?” He waved his hand above the TV. “How does that produce sound and color? Where do the colors come from?”

“I give up,” Lambert gasped with an over-dramatic sigh, flopping onto the long couch. “Patricia! Claude has out-why’d me! Again!”

“Did you expect anything else?” Patricia, who had taken to following along with them as they meandered through the house, giggled. “In case you forgot, Claude: when you first came to live with us, you were just like this. As soon as you opened up, you exploded with too many questions for us to keep up with.” 

“Not that we mind, lad. We love your inquisitive mind. I simply can’t keep up!”

“I don’t ask that many questions…” he mumbled, hunching his shoulders and drifting into Dimitri’s side. Dima didn’t hesitate to wrap him in a comforting half-hug. 

“Nothing to be embarrassed about, sweetie. We’re honored that you trust us enough to ask.”

That made him sink even close to Dima. The most terrifying thing was that they were right. He didn’t just feel comfortable around Patricia and Lambert — he felt safe with them knowing about him. 

“Dimi? El? How are you two holding up?”

“It’s a lot of information to digest,” Dimitri admitted. “I apologize that we’re making you re-teach all of these basics to us.”

“Nonsense, son. Nothing to apologize for. And you, El?”

Edelgard slowly nodded. “It’s slowly coming back to me.” Was it? That was probably a lie, but he had to wonder… ‘It’ was maybe coming back to him as well. He didn’t remember these two caring people, but he felt like he knew them. 

“Ah-hah! I’ve got it!” Lambert leapt to his feet. “Phones! Let’s see, your phones are with your things from the hospital. Your phones will keep you plenty busy.”

“I’m not asking that many questions,” he murmured while Lambert was out of earshot.

“You absolutely are.”

“Dima, El’s bullying me!” Looking up at Dima’s face, whatever he was about to say died on his lips. Dimitri was pink-cheeked, staring deliberately in the other direction. “Oh. Shit. Uh, I can move.” Dimitri’s hand squeezed tighter around his waist. Yeah, he didn’t really want to move either. 

“You’re very, ahem, very… charming, when you’re enthusiastic like this…” Dimitri whispered, hiding his face in his hand.

“Dimitri, you can’t say stuff like that.” Charming. He was… charming. Dimitri thought he was charming. If he wasn’t dying enough from that already, he happened to look away and caught sight of Patricia, pointedly facing another direction with a knowing smile. 

“You two are disgusting.”

“I was just stating a fact! An objective truth!”

“Found them!” Lambert returned with three bags and three small rectangles. “Phones! I… actually, I don’t know your phone passwords, so unless you three remember them or have them written down, you’re locked out of your phones for the foreseeable future.” Lambert opened the bag from the big infirmary — the hospital? — and pulled out a few objects. “Is any of this recognizable? I don’t know why the hospital sent these with you.”

Lambert held out three tan chunks. The broken, bone-like shards looked like they could fit together into one sphere.

They all shrugged. “So… ‘Phones’...?”

A mind-boggling hour later, they were all getting tired. They took turns showering. After he was clean (WOW showers were a nice luxury, he wanted a shower all the time! So time-efficient), he paused outside of Lambert and Patricia’s room.

“…level of confusion can’t be normal.”

“I don’t know either, love. They seem to retain everything we tell them, and they aren’t displaying any obvious signs of brain damage.”

“How do you know? You’re no doctor.”

“True. If they start forgetting more things, we’ll take them back to the hospital. But they were just discharged, and the doctor said their brain scans were normal.”

“I know. I’m trying to be supportive, I’m just worried.”

“Me too. Our kids are tough though, the three of them will bounce back. We have to hope that they will be okay. The Goddess will protect them.”

“I wish I had your strength of faith, dear.”

“All we can do is be there for them and make sure they don’t feel ashamed to ask questions.”

“Aha, Claude certainly came out of his shell again. It was cute seeing him so enthusiastic like he was all those years ago.” Oh fucking hell.

“El was doe-eyed too, she just hid it better. I worry about Dimi, though. El and Claude are picking things back up, but my Dimi looks at us like he can’t believe we’re real.”

“When he isn’t busy staring at Claude.”

“True. And to think those boys believe they’re subtle…”

Having eavesdropped enough, he headed for his own room. Great, even their parents knew that he and Dima were—DAMMIT. Even Patricia and Lambert knew that he and Dimitri were maybe involved. They weren’t his parents. Surely that would be awkward, right? To date Dimitri and share ‘parents’ with him? Actually, he had no idea how that worked. He’d never been in a relationship before… 

His musing was interrupted by the innocent little plaque on his door that screamed out his secret name for everyone in the world house to see. Reluctantly, he entered his own room instead of Dimitri’s room.

 His room was a cluttered mess of far too many interesting things. Overloaded with information, he flopped into his bed and pulled out his own ‘hospital’ bag. He only meant to take out his mysterious ‘phone’, but curiosity (despite his gnawing fatigue) demanded that he dump the entire bag onto his bed. His phone — bright and shiny gold with a stag on the back — bounced out along with a clatter of unrecognizable junk. Little white sheets of paper, ‘plastic’ writing utensils, a red packet of an unknown liquid, and coins bounced everywhere. Whoops. The last object was that bone-like chunk that Lambert showed off earlier. Leaving that for later, he checked his phone first.

On the ‘lock screen’, he absent mindedly typed in a number. It ‘unlocked’. Dammit, he wasn’t even paying attention! Welp, he was in. Following his gut, he poked the part of the magic screen with a blue and white bubble with ‘37’ written in little tiny letters beside it. A new image overtook the old one (a picture of a deer, nice). The new picture was mostly written words. 

 

HILDA! HILDA! 💖💗💞💅💕:

ur late 2 the meeting

Claude

clauster

Dude

dude come on. did u sleep in. did you sleep in w ur boy again. the excuse of boy titty pillows does not count. CLAUDE

CLAUDE WAKE UPPPP

omg ffs whv who cares

Hey claude. Where tf r u? Did smthn come up?

Bestie, respond to my fckn text

BESTIE.

Seriously claude, are you okay

Claude Von Mystery Man Someday-Blaiddyd!! Answer your FUCKING PHONE YOUR FRIENDS ARE WORRIED ABOUT YOU
IF YOU AREN’T DEAD OR DYING I AM GOING TO KILL YOU

CLAUDEEEEEEEEEE!!!! ANSWER!!

 

Raphael🍖💪:

hey bud u ok? hildas seriously worried bro

if you need help let me know!! if someones beating you up again ill beat THEM up!! and if u got stuck somewhere again, let me know and ill come get you!

 

Leonie🍊:

Hey man you ok? 

 

Lysithea👶🍼🧁👻:

If you are dead, I will celebrate.

I swear to GOD CLAUDE do no fucking haunt me or I will double kill you!!!!

I MEAN IT!!!

 

Lorenz:

Inform the group if you plan to be late in the future. Your fickle nature is causing everyone unnecessary annoyance.

Inform the group if you plan to cancel, Claude. I should not have to spell this out for you.

Claude. Answer my texts. Answer someone’s texts. This is not a funny prank.

 

Ignatz🎨:

Um sorry just checking, I’m sure everyone else is checking with you too, but just in case you didn’t see anyone else’s text — we’re all a bit worried about you. 



…Huh. It was kind of nice that people were worried about him (at least, a version of him). Unlocking his phone was one thing, but replying to magic instantaneous-letters was still beyond him. Maybe he would remember enough in the morning to actually reply. That was worrisome too. As he ‘remembered’ more of this place, would he forget where he came from?

Shaking his head, he poked at the bone-thing. It zapped him, causing him to yelp and tumble off the bed. What the fuck was that?! Intrigued, he poked the bone-thing again. Expecting the jolt this time, he picked it up and cradled it. It didn’t hurt, it just felt weird and tingly. Huh. Yawning, he unceremoniously crawled under the sheets. Dimitri’s room was better — this bed was cluttered with books and trinkets. Not long after he started cradling the bone-thing, it got warmer, then it got warmer again. 

Gasping, his hand raised the shard on its own volition, and plunged it into his chest. 

 

Hmm… Now then, how did you three come to be here? You three certainly took your time finding your way back.

 

Stumbling backwards, Claude was suddenly not in bed anymore. He was blown off his feet and thrown a few yards, dropping his bow as he tumbled. Bow? His chest throbbed violently. Blinking rapidly, a familiar scene unraveled around him. He was in a forest. It was dusk. To his left stood the walls of Remire village. To his right was more forest. In front of him, there was a dead bandit. It was the bandit that nearly slew Edelgard. The blue-haired mercenary had moved to block the blow, but hadn’t been… fast… enough… 

He remembered now.

The mercenary had been struck dead with a blow to the heart. Something had shattered like broken glass. Three streaks of light erupted from the mercenary and one of them hit him. Looking around, it was easy to conclude that the other two shards struck Dimitri and Edelgard — there was a bloody hole above both of their hearts. 

Checking his own chest, he likewise found a bloody mess of his uniform, but there was no hole over his heart. There was no hole in the flesh over any of their hearts. 

“Kid!” the voice of the main mercenary cried out, racing closer. Shit. That man’s kid was certainly dead. “Kid!” The man leapt from his horse, getting close to cradle them.

“What happened?”

He jumped. “Edelgard! Yeesh, don’t sneak up on me.”

“Days passed,” she hissed, groping at the bloody hole in her uniform. “We spent days in that other place.”

“If you don’t include sleeping, we only spent half a day at most in that other place,” Dimitri said from his other side.

“Yet this is right where we left off here. Those shards…” The other two lords turned to him. “Did you guys touch one before going to bed?”

“It was in my hand.”

“I picked it up, and then I was here.”

He nodded. “When all three of us had those shards, we came back here.”

Behind them, someone yawned. “My, my… that was unexpected.” Dimitri and Edelgard brandished their respective weapons. Given he was unarmed, he jerked backwards to hide behind Dima. “Hmph, how rude! Put your weapons down.”

“You’re floating,” Edelgard pointed out the obvious. “Who are you? What are you?”

“Me? My name is Sothis. Hm… yes, that is my name.”

“Pff, yeah, and my name is Dimitri. No offense, Dimitri.”

“None taken. You make for a poor Dimitri.”

“Such an entertaining group of brats. This is not how the timeline was meant to develop.” The girl looked over their shoulders, pouting at the fallen mercenary. “From one mind to three — a shame, I will miss Byleth’s company. I suppose this is different, at the very least. About time something changes…” Yawning loudly, the girl curled up on the grass. “I feel… so very tired. Wake me when… you three figure it out…”

“Figure what out?” he asked just in time to watch her fade into nothingness. “Uhh… you guys saw that, right?”

After the girl vanished, the ‘weirdness’ factor decreased and (some) things finally made sense again. Alois, captain of the Knights of Seiros, rounded them up to return to the monastery. Curiously, the mercenary who took a blow for Edelgard and got stabbed in the heart woke up. Whether or not that was above or below the weirdness level of a floating girl claiming to be Fódlan’s goddess, he wasn’t sure. 

Things went back to relative normality, aside from his new inability to look Dimitri in the eye. It wasn’t that Dimitri wasn’t attractive anymore — he was, objectively, very handsome — but that weird draw from before was gone. Despite their shared experience, they stopped talking and went about life as normal. 

They went about life as normal for exactly three days. 

On the fourth day, Claude woke up in the cluttered bedroom of the strange world with Dima and El and Lambert and Patricia. His hand was still positioned exactly above his chest, exactly in the same position as he last remembered. The bone-like shard was gone now. 

Bolting up, he slammed open the bedroom door with his little yellow name-plaque with both of his names. Edelgard slammed open her door as well. They stared at each other silently, then wordlessly crashed into Dimitri's room. 

“Claude. Edelgard. It happened again.” He could barely hear Dimitri over the blood roaring through his ears. 

“How come you’re not wearing a shirt?” he somehow mustered the brainpower to ask.

“Oh, I usually don’t wear anything. Back in Fódlan, our Fódlan, I mean. There’s a nightshirt in my drawers, but I opted to not wear it last ni… erm, four nights ago. I didn’t exactly expect you two to barge in on me.”

Oh no. Oh no, no, no. His crush was back. Scratch that, his infatuation was back. Something covered his eyes, which was probably for the best. His brain was well on its way to overheating.

“Put a shirt on before you kill Claude, idiot.”

“Sorry!”

“U-uh, nothing to sorry be for. I mean, apologies no sorry needed. Wait, no, uh…”

“Great, you fried his brain.” El sighed. “I checked my calendar before I got out of bed. We’re still on the same day that we ‘left’ on. It’s roughly the same time too.”

“Like how no time passed in Fódlan!”

“Exactly.”

“Fucking hell. What’s going on?”

Someone yawned, and it wasn’t any of them. “Ahh… what an interesting place.”

“Shit!” he gasped, leaping at Dima and crashing at El, who did the same thing. 

The little floating girl from before raised an eyebrow. “You three were blown far, far from home, I see. And you dragged me with you! How rude.”

“Who are you? What’s going on? Why are we here?”

“Be silent, you questioning pest of a deer. I don’t understand it either. You three are resourceful, I’m certain in due time you will uncover what is happening. Providing, of course,” the little girl’s grin caused him to shiver, “that you three can manage to work together without killing each other this time. Perhaps this is the perfect environment for you three to bond, or perhaps it was mere chance that you landed here. Regardless, I’m certain this will be entertaining.”

“Our lives are not entertainment!” Edelgard snapped. “Return us to our home at once!”

“Only you three can do that. I wonder how long it will take for you all to master my pulse… Ah, but I am tired. Spend more time in one place before bouncing between the tether! The transfer may be simple, but it isn’t easy! And, humm, it is quite energy-intensive.” The girl’s eyes slid shut and she vanished from sight. “Good luck!”

“Did either of you understand that?” Dimitri slowly asked.

“Yeah. We’re fucked.”

Chapter Text

For the first time in five years, the Golden Deer planned to all get together in one place.

Not only was it the five year anniversary of the war’s end, it was also their ten year class reunion. Five years since they were all in one place. Five years since anyone had seen Claude. They’d all received letters (and gifts) from Claude, but he had been too busy stabilizing his position as King of Almyra to visit. 

And maybe he was still too busy to visit.

“I’m sure he’ll make it,” Ignatz said — not for the first time. “He probably got held up.”

“Are you trying to convince me, or yourself?” Marianne asked, sitting by his side.

Chuckling, he shook his head. “Honestly, I think I’m trying to convince Hilda. I’m not even looking at her and I can feel her fretting.” Glancing to the side, Hilda did appear to be fretting as she paced the length of the ice-bridge. 

“Maybe he’ll be here tomorrow. Regardless, it’s nice that we all got together again, and in such a beautiful place, too.” Marianne turned towards the horizon, smiling softly out at the vast plains of shimmering ice and glittering snow. Being atop the frozen falls, it was the perfect vantage point to create a painting like no other. 

Situated in north-east Edmund territory, Azura’s falls were a beautiful sight like no other. Throughout most of the year, the massive falls flowed as most waterfalls do. That alone was a beautiful sight to behold — one that he had spent many sessions painting (usually with his equally beautiful wife). Azura’s falls were one of their favorite places to be, and the fact that Hilda demanded to see this place made it an easy choice as a spot to meet up. During the winter months, the falls attracted a different draw of tourists than usual — Azura’s falls were unique in that the surface had a habit of freezing into thick, massive slabs that were safe to use as bridges. It was easy to forget that they were even above the river at all with how thick the ice was.

“Are you getting cold, dear?” he asked Marianne, who was leaning into his side.

“Mm, maybe just a little. This is nice though. It’s so peaceful up here.”

“I agree. Though, we do have friends to socialize with…” They had spent a few hours together already. He and his wife were of equally low-constitution when it came to socializing, even with their closest friends. “Perhaps we should head inside.”

Marianne looked behind them as he finished up his sketch of the falls. “Raphael, Leonie, and Lorenz are still having their snowball fight. Cyril and Lysithea must have gone back to the lodge. And Hilda’s still pacing.”

“Well. If they’re still having fun, perhaps we should stay out just a bit longer. It’s nice to see Lorenz let loose for once. He’s certainly having a blast. About time he got away from his desk.”

His wife giggled. “You just want to stay out in order to catch sight of Claude.”

“Aha, you caught me. Just imagine the sight! Him on his regal white wyvern, cresting above the lowering sun, grinning wildly as he waves at us… I want to capture that sight. Do you think he looks different now?”

“Perhaps he has a beard.”

“You think so? I doubt he can grow one. Maybe his hair is longer.”

A loud, indecipherable noise interrupted them. “What was that?” The noise continued, crinkling like a lightning spell. Whatever the noise was, his wife figured it out before him. Her face drained of color.

“We need to go. Now. The ice, Ignatz, the ice.”

“W-what? But the ice is safe.”

She shook her head, tugging him to his feet. “It’s breaking, I recognize that sound. Come on, we have to go!” Even though he wasn’t sure his wife’s panic was so necessary, he followed her nonetheless. If she said it was dangerous, that meant it was dangerous. 

“Oh, Goddess, Ignatz!” She pointed to the edge of the ice — an edge he didn’t even know existed. Numbness struck him when he realized that the edge hadn’t existed a little bit ago. “Quick! We have to make it before the ice-bridge detaches!”

Detaches? The ice and snow under his feet groaned. They raced towards the edge, but it was a difficult task to do on the ice. Lorenz, Leonie, and Raphael all noticed the danger as well, attempting to make it to the safety of the lodge (which was not located on ice). Hilda dithered at the growing edge of the ice, wringing her hands together. 

Raphael shouted something at Hilda. Hilda shouted something back. They were too distant to hear. Raphael unceremoniously picked Hilda up and then leapt across the edge of the ice, bringing them both to safety. Leonie and Lorenz weren’t far behind, preparing to jump as well.

“Ah!” His foot jammed into a raised chunk of ice, sending him tumbling head-first into the snow. His shin throbbed with pain as he struggled to get himself back to his feet.

“Ignatz!”

“I’m fine! A-ah, I’m fine!” Crimson red mixed with glistening white. Gritting his teeth, he used Marianne to help him stand again. Taking a step, his leg gave out as soon as he put pressure on it, washing him in more pain. “Run, Marianne. Go w-without me, I’ll slow you down!”

“Absolutely not!” Marianne bellowed with the most fire he had ever heard from her. 

“Ignatz!” Lorenz shouted, approaching with Leonie not far behind. “Come now, the both of you. Ignatz, lean on my shoulder.”

As he hobbled forward, he stared between his two friends, a sinking feeling in his gut. “Why didn’t you two jump?”

“We heard your shout. We’re not leaving you behind!”

“We fought through a war together,” Lorenz added, “so this silly ice is nothing!”

They didn’t even make it to the edge when the ice detached and began floating away from the mainland. All four of them froze to their spot. 

“Now what?” Leonie whispered.

“I’m so sorry. If I hadn’t tripped—!”

“None of that! Do not blame yourself, Ignatz!”

Swallowing, he nodded. “Okay. I’ll blame myself later. Until then… what do we do?” Standing on one leg, he let go of Lorenz and leaned against Marianne instead, gripping her shoulder tightly. She gripped him back just as tightly.

“Blast Claude. If he hadn’t been late, if he was here, he could evacuate us by wyvern!”

“Well he isn’t here, so stop whining. There’s a small bridge that goes overhead, right?”

“Shortly before the end of the falls, yes,” Marianne confirmed. “It doesn’t cross the entire river, though. It’s meant for when the river is low.”

Leonie and Lorenz separated from them, raising their hands to shade their eyes. “The bridge… I see it. Look, there are people on. That’s Hilda and Raph! They’ve got a rope!”

They were interrupted by another groan. The ice cracked between their groups, splitting their ice-raft in two. It occurred to Ignatz that their ice-raft had been shrinking and breaking for a while, he just hadn’t noticed. He clung tighter to Marianne. Their now-separate rafts crunched into each other once, shaking all four of them off their feet. Separating once more — with finality this time — their ice-rafts drifted in different directions. 

“Jump!” Leonie shouted abruptly. “You guys, quick, jump!” She pointed frantically. “Your ice isn’t going towards the bridge! Jump to ours!”

With his busted leg, he couldn’t jump. Shaking his head, he knew it was too late regardless. The ice-rafts were already too far apart. “Leonie! Lorenz!” He forced a smile, raising his voice. “Thank you for everything! I couldn’t ask for any better friends!”

“Ignatz! Marianne! Don’t give up, we’ll find a way! We will!”

“I have no regrets!” Marianne raised her voice as well. “Tell everyone else we’ll miss them, and we’ll be waiting for them with the Goddess! Tell them all to live full, happy lives for us!”

Ignatz closed his eyes. He was tired, and the expression on the faces of his friends hurt. He leaned against Marianne. “I have no regrets either.”

“I’m sorry. I know you wanted to see more of the world.”

“It’s okay. I saw enough. More importantly, I got to see it with you.”

“I’m sorry, I never should have suggested we meet here. This is my fault.”

“No, Marianne, no my love. Is this Hilda’s fault for begging to come here? Is it my fault for tripping? No and no. It’s not your fault either. It simply is.”

“It’s the will of the Goddess.” She bowed her head against his neck. Together, they shivered. “I never thought I would live this long. I never thought I would be so happy and loved. Thank you, Ignatz. I mean what I said. I have no regrets.” Her hands clasped his own.

They sat together for a short period, staring out at the sunset. It was beautiful. The end of the falls drew ever closer.

A scream prompted him to open his eyes again. He was so tired. The chill left him weak. “LORENZ!” came Leonie’s scream. Shortly after, there was a splashing sound. 

“Did they…?” He didn’t want to look.

“Leonie made it,” Marianne quietly told him. “As Raphael pulled her over the railing, she accidentally kicked Lorenz. I think he was too tired from the cold. He fell. Goddess, forgive us, and please guide Lorenz.”

“Let me go! Let me go after him! Lorenz! Lorenz, I’m coming! Let me go! Hilda, Hilda, Let me go…!”

There would be no saving Lorenz from the frigid depths. Perhaps it was the cold numbing him, but the grief was distant now.

“Hey! IGNATZ! MARIANNE!” Raphael bellowed from the bridge. He finally turned to look, one last time. “I love you guys! You’re the best friends a fella could ask for!”

Smiling, he raised his numb hand towards the bridge and waved. ‘Don’t cry for me,’ he wanted to say, ‘but thank you for your tears.’ Of course Raphael would want to make sure they knew they were loved in their last moments.

The falls loomed closer, roaring. “I love you, Marianne.”

“I love you too, Ignatz. We’ll go to the Goddess together.”

“I’ve always wanted to see her.” Cuddling together, they embraced tightly, bracing for the impart. Death might take them, but death would have to take them together. “What a beautiful place to die.”

“I still love it here,” Marianne confessed. “The paintings you made here have always been my favorite.”

“One last painting, my love. One last painting, only for us to share.” The sun glistened before them, setting on the world and on their lives. The ice and snow was as beautiful as ever. Off in the distance, a small blot darkened the sun. “Look. Claude made it after all.” Claude was still far away, too distant to even make out entirely. Far, far too distant to see them at all. 

“We always knew he would come. You’re right, Ignatz. It’s so beautiful.”

As they approached the falls, he turned away from the sunset and faced his wife. The last thing he ever saw was his beautiful wife, smiling softly at him. Her lips opened to speak, but then cold water crashed around them.

He clawed at his wife, but the icy tide dragged her away. Even though he was at peace with his death, he still kicked and struggled despite the fatigue clawing at his system. He was so tired as water filled his lungs. Gasping and sputtering, he inhaled more water, choking as the cold invaded his system. Drowning is not beautiful, he thought, but then again, neither is death. 

Alone in the dark depths, he prayed that the Goddess would reunite him and Marianne soon.

Chapter Text

“This should be the place,” Leonie said, hopping off her pegasus to check the ground.

Cyril wrung his hands together. Tracking Claude had been difficult. They had to sneak across the border to follow the kidnapper’s trail, which had been tricky for multiple reasons. All the Golden Deer were furious about Claude’s kidnapping, though none of them blamed him (he didn’t think they did, at least). It wasn’t like it was his fault or anything, but as the Almyran of the group, it wouldn’t be the first time someone blamed him for the things other Almyrans did.

“Think he’s still here?” Ignatz asked, nervously eyeing the cave’s mouth. “It’s been days.” They’d tracked Claude as quickly as possible, but it still took them nearly a week to get this far. 

“One way to find out,” the professor replied, drawing their glowing sword. “Remember to leave at least one of them alive. We might need to interrogate someone.” He shivered at the reminder of the professor’s interrogation techniques. If that slaver outpost had anyone other than slavers in it, Cyril would feel bad for them. It hadn’t been easy to get anyone to talk, but eventually Cyril managed to get the babbled details of where Claude had been taken (unless there was another green-eyed person who came through the area, in which case they might be in the wrong place). 

The professor and Hilda took point as they entered the well-lit cave. Apparently all it took for Hilda to stop being lazy was a lot of guilt and a lot of concern for a friend. 

“Eh?” They stumbled onto a pair of Almyrans who were mulling over a table. The Almyrans immediately went for their weapons. “The crown found us!” one shouted, voice echoing through the cave and alerting whoever else was around. The crown?

There was no time to question what the slavers meant. The two men were easily killed, followed by the unorganized reinforcements from elsewhere in the cave that were easily picked off. Eventually there was just one man left standing, surrounded and outnumbered.

“Cyril, ask him about Claude.”

Before he could say anything, the slaver raised a sword. “The crown can have him back! You can’t have me, though! I won’t be made an example!” Before anyone could stop him, the last slaver plunged the blade into his own throat. 

Cyril did his best to translate the man’s confusing last words. 

“The crown. What does that even mean?” Lorenz wondered aloud. “Royalty? Or perhaps it is a name. The leader of this band? Or perhaps a rival gang.”

“Keep up your guard,” the professor commanded, “and search this room. There may be clues. Search the men for any keys, we’ll likely need one.”

“Wow, look at these.” Hilda was the first to find something, hovering above the desk in the center of the room. “There’s a bunch of gold, and there are all these bags.” She kicked at one of the stuffed sacks under the table. The sack gave way easily at her poke. Hilda untied the top of one of the bags. Green, brown, and shimmering gold spilled out onto the floor. She held up one of the long feathers.

“Gods have mercy,” Cyril whispered as he realized exactly what Hilda held. “The crown. The royals of Almyra. Only royalty have gold on their feathers.” Some Almyrans had yellow feathers, but only royalty had metallic, shimmering gold.

Hilda’s expression blanched as she jerked away from the feather. “Ew! They killed someone for feathers?!”

The long primary feather dropped to the floor. His own wings pressed against his back. “Looks like it. Unless that feather’s from a molt, then they would’ve had to tear it out.” His feathers shivered at the notion. “Primary feathers don’t come out easily.” Lysithea rubbed a calming hand down his feathers. She didn’t say anything, but just the show of being nearby helped.

“That’s sick,” Leonie spat, glaring at the feather. “Just imagining someone doing that to Cyril… I’m glad these dastards are dead. I’d kill them again if I could.”

“Um, guys?” Hilda’s hesitant tone was interrupted by a gag. “Um, there are like… a lot of feathers here. Like, a lot, a lot.” She opened another bag, revealing more green-gold-and-brown feathers. Then another, and another, and… 

“That’s too many feathers,” Cyril said past the rising horror. Some bags were filled with massive primaries, other bags with regular sized feathers, and others still with small fluffy down and coverts. Every feather was roughly the same color and pattern. Brown, green, and gold. Not yellow — gold. “Royals are supposed to have bigger wings, but this is… this is too much.”

“How long does it take for feathers to regrow?” Leonie asked, kicking at one of the fluttering feathers. “Maybe they’ve had this guy for a long time.”

“Depends. If the feathers were removed carefully, ‘bout a year for the big ones. If it was yanked out, the wing might’ve been too damaged to regrow anything.” His feathers shivered again. “I can’t imagine they kept this person alive. Getting feathers yanked hurts. Getting this many feathers yanked out… it’d be torture.”

“I found a key,” Raphael called from where he was searching a corpse. “And more feathers. All these guys have feathers in their pockets.”

Cyril swallowed roughly. “Um, having a gold feather is considered good luck, or direct favor from the crown.”

Nearby, Ignatz retched. The archer didn’t say anything, just covered his face and pointed. Cyril nearly lost his lunch at the sight.

“Oh. Oh dear Goddess. That’s a lot of blood.” At the other side of the cave, there were massive piles of feathers. Some were laying out to dry, but most were waiting beside the stream flowing through the cave. Some were coated in dry blood, but many had visibly fresh blood coating the plumes. “That’s…”

“A washing station.”

“These feathers weren’t pulled out gently.”

“Nope.”

Their horror was interrupted by a bone-chilling howl echoing off the cavern walls. Everyone froze in place, wide-eyed. The scream came again, and again, and—

They raced deeper into the cave, following the straight line of the cave towards the screaming. At the end of the cave, there was a large metal cage. Inside were two men; one was forcefully ripping feathers out of a shackled man’s wings. For each fist-full of feathers and blood torn out, the bound man wailed past his mask, clawing at the rocky ground as he thrashed. His massive wings were entirely bound, nearly to the point of spilling past the cage’s confines. Cyril had never seen wings so big. Vibrant green, shining gold, and rich copper feathers formed an entire forest around the Almyran man. His own wings tucked themselves as flat as possible against his back, his entire body shuddering at the phantom feeling of feathers being yanked out. 

“There you are,” the slaver said without turning around. “False alarm again?” Nonchalantly, the man took out a knife and began tearing into the other Almyran’s wings, carving off the small feathers at the base of the man’s back. Skinning the man. A horrible howling sound echoed from the slave-mask. “Get in here and help, there are too many feathers to do on my own.”

The professor unlocked the door, walked inside, and beheaded the slaver. Cyril’s only regret was that his hands were shaking too much to nock an arrow and kill the man himself.

The bound man continued to sob, bleeding onto the floor. He was shirtless, wearing nothing but ragged, stained pants. Though the rest of him was mostly dry, water soaked his pants and formed a half-dried puddle underneath him. Nearby was a bucket of water and a dirty rag, so maybe the man had been washed recently. Or maybe they just wanted to wash the bloodied feathers.

“Oh, okay, Dear Goddess,” Hilda was whispering. “Cyril, Cyril, tell him that we’re here to free him.”

He shook his head as the class drew closer in order to release the man from his restraints. “He can’t hear us. That kind of mask is designed to keep you blind and deaf. Careful, he might lash ou—”

Screaming, the man wrenched his single freed wing towards himself, then swung out and struck Hilda. Marianne, who was coming close to heal the man, had to back away.  

“We’re trying to help you, asshole!” Hilda snapped. “How do we get that mask off his head?”

“I dunno,” he replied as the half-restrained man thrashed wildly, frantically tugging at his restraints. “I’ve only heard about them, never seen ‘em up close before. The masks get put on and taken off with magic, I think.”

Lorenz cleared his throat. “Perhaps we should show this man mercy and end his suffering.”

“No!” Leonie injected. “What, just because he’s Almyran?!”

“Because he is stuck in a metal mask, one we have no knowledge on how to remove! Clearly he has been through much suffering already. What would we do with him? He can’t fend for himself like this. In case you have all forgotten, we’re searching for Claude.”

There was a pause. “This is a dead end,” Ignatz quietly whispered. “Claude’s not here.”

“We can’t give up!” Leonie cried. “Maybe there’s a note on one of the men, or a clue!”

“Perhaps,” Lorenz agreed, “but fussing over this Almyran is slowing us down.”

“He’s, um. He’s a prince, by the way.” Everyone turned to him. “Thought I should clarify that. The gold on his feathers — only royalty have that. So he’s probably a prince.”

“Great. We just walked into some crazy Almyran politics, didn’t we!”

The professor edged closer to the prince. “If we restrain him, I can saw through the metal encasing his head.” They nodded down to the Sword of the Creator. 

“Um, are you sure, professor? One slip and you’ll cut through his head.” 

“I see no better option. I’ll be careful. Hilda, Raphael, Lorenz — I need you to help me restrain him. His current restraints have to come off so I can get the right angle.” Currently, the man was held up on his knees, his chest and wings strung up and unable to touch the ground. 

They began the slow processes of cutting the struggling prince free of his bonds. He and Leonie had to get closer as well in order to restrain the prince’s bloody wings, which struggled to strike anything close enough. 

Finally they had the Almyran re-restrained. “Now, for his—”

As the professor leaned down to bring their sword up against the prince’s head, the prince jerked his metal-encased head abruptly. Metal collided with the professor’s forehead, throwing them back and onto the floor, dazed. Gaping at his fallen professor, his grip on the wing loosened. The next thing he knew, he was blown onto the ground by a rough wing-slap.

The cage erupted into chaos as the prince struggled for freedom. Through the element of surprise and sheer force of will, the man threw the others off of him and slid out of their grip, bolting forward and out of the wide cage door. The man didn’t make it far, tripping on the uneven cavern floor and landing on his injured wing with a scream. 

They all scrambled towards the fallen man, none faster than Hilda, who threw herself on the man. The prince struggled with feral abandon. “We’re! Trying! To! Help!” Hilda shouted at the deaf man. “Stop strugg—AH!” A sharp crack echoed through the cave as the man slammed his metal-encased head into Hilda’s arm, breaking it. 

Light flashed through the cavern. The man muffled a scream and attempted to stand, then immediately crumpled.

“That’s…” someone gasped.

The Crest of Riegan shone above the Almyran prince’s body. 

The muffled screams increased as the man began to writhe, his wings flailing wildly. Hilda hastily retreated into Marianne’s waiting hands, her broken arm quickly healed. Spit and blood seeped past the small two mouth-holes of the man’s mask as he wailed. His wings spasmed, and then the missing feathers began to regrow. Judging by the cries, the regrowth was painful.

Even after the feathers stopped regrowing and the wing was no longer bleeding, the man still shrieked, his wings thrashing everywhere. The howls sounded like they came from a dying animal, not a person.

“The wings are growing,” Ignatz gasped, pointing.

“That’s not supposed to happen,” Cyril choked out, watching as the wingspan unnaturally inched outwards and feathers grew larger and thicker. 

Eventually it stopped. The man went limp, sobbing on the ground. 

“That can’t be Claude,” Hilda whispered, breaking the silence.

“One way to find out.” The professor approached the sobbing man, sword in hand. “Hilda, Raphael, Lorenz. Restrain him again. We’re getting this mask off of Claude.”

“This can’t be Claude,” Lorenz insisted, though he stumbled forward to restrain Claude(?). 

Claude(?) weakly thrashed, but he was clearly spent. His wings flared out, quivering. Cyril’s own feathers pressed against his back, quivering slightly in fear. Claude’s(?) wings were quivering in anticipation of pain.

“How many times did they strip these feathers bare, then make his crest activate?” Lysithea whispered.

“Judging by the feathers we found? I don’t want to think about it.”

Slowly, the professor began sawing through the slave-mask. After successfully cutting through nearly half of it, Raphael was able to pry a gap open enough for Claude(?) to hear. “Don’t worry, pal! We’re here to rescue you!”

If Raphael’s words were supposed to reassure Claude(?), they had the opposite effect. Claude(?) began thrashing again, gaining a second-wind from Gods-only-knew-where. “Claude,” the professor said, “I have a very sharp sword by your head. Do not move unless you want me to accidentally cut you.”

This finally made Claude(?!) to go still. Green-and-brown-and-gold feathers fluttered anxiously, jerking in tiny, weak motions that were easy to restrain.

Finally the mask came off completely. Claude rolled his head to the side and spat out a mouthful of blood, heaving in gasp after gasp of air. The others let go of him, and Claude rolled on to his side and covered himself under the impressive blanket of feathers. Everyone was silent as Claude gasped and shook.

“C-Claude,” Marianne whispered, inching closer to him. “C-c-can I look you over for i-injuries?” Marianne’s hand barely brushed Claude’s wing, but that was all it took for him to jolt into a wild rush of movement, making a break for the cave’s opening.

Like before, Claude didn’t get far. He tripped on his wing and fell hard, loosing a ragged shout. Shaking violently, Claude began crawling for the exit. 

“We’re not gonna hurt you!” Raphael was quick to shout, followed by other similar cries. Claude continued to desperately crawl away.

“Why are you running?” Cyril asked in Almyran on a hunch. Claude halted in his tracks, whirling to stare at him with wide, fearful eyes. 

“Did he hit his head and forget how to speak Fódlani or something?” Hilda asked, chewing on her lip.

“Stay… ‘way…” Claude croaked in a tiny whisper, backing himself into a corner. His wings flared around him to hide the rest of his body. “No m…ore, no more…” Body barely visible from behind his wings, Claude began to rock back and forth, digging his fingers into his hair.

“Dear Goddess. Um, Claude, we’re not gonna hurt you.” Biting her lip, Hilda turned to him. “You said he was a prince, right? There’s no way Claude’s an Almyran prince though.”

“Perhaps the wings aren’t natural,” Lysithea suggested quietly. “It wouldn’t be the first time someone messed with other humans to experiment on crests. Perhaps those wings were grafted onto him.”

“Yeah, it’s not like he had those before he was kidnapped.”

Ignatz bent down and picked up one of the stray feathers littering the cave’s floor. There were a sickening amount of stray feathers. “I’ve seen a feather like this before. It was at Garreg Mach, on the archery range. I didn’t know what to think of it, but it was pretty so I kept it. It was much smaller than this.”

Cyril swallowed roughly, fluttering his own feathers restlessly. “It’s not uncommon for a feather or two to fall out randomly over the course of a few weeks.” His own wings when stretched out were almost as long as his arm span. He’d never tried to disguise them before, but it would have been difficult (if not impossible) to hide them if he did try. If Claude had been hiding his wings this entire time… “There’s no way Claude could’ve hidden his wings though, not unless they were tiny.” Not unless… “Or unless he’s only half Almyran. Mixed Almyrans have tiny wings, I grew up with a girl who had wings small enough that she could’ve hidden them if she wanted.”

“He’s heir to Riegan with a crest, so clearly he isn’t a full-blooded Almyran.”

“You know, maybe that’s why he’s in Leicester to begin with! There’s kinda a stigma against Almyrans with small wings. If his wings were little, I dunno if he could’ve inherited anything.” He shrugged. “I don’t know anything about Almyran politics neither though, so I dunno.”

“You’re safe now,” the professor was whispering to Claude, bent down on their knees not far from his shaking feather-cocoon. “We’re going to take you out of here. Can you hear me, Claude?”

Claude replied with an animalistic whine, his feathers curled closer to him.

“What is wrong with him?” Lorenz whispered.

“He’s been tortured! For days!” Cyril shot back, his wings puffing up. “You wouldn’t look any better in his shoes. Ya got no idea how painful it is to get a feather ripped out. I can’t imagine it.” 

“Like getting hair yanked out? That’s no fun, but Claude’s a mess!”

“Well I dunno, Leonie, is your hair connected to bone? No it’s not like hair!”

Leonie raised her hands. “Easy, easy! I didn’t know. I thought feathers were connected to the skin!”

Crossing his arms, he turned away and faced the ground. “Just the small ones. The primary and secondary feathers are almost like small limbs. Not quite like getting your fingers ripped off your hands, but that’s a closer comparison than getting hair ripped out. Can we stop talking about this?!” His wingers shivered. Just thinking about it was getting to him.

“But we saved Claude. No one’s gonna take any more of his feathers!” Raphael boomed. In his little corner, Claude’s wings flinched violently and he scooted further against the cave wall. 

“How are we going to transport him like this?” Leonie asked the practical question. “Hell, he can’t go back to school like this. I don’t know the specifics or nothing when it comes to politics, but I doubt anyone’s gonna be happy to realize that Claude’s part Almyran.”

Lorenz nodded. “Indeed. If this gets out, I have no doubt he’ll be disinherited. An Almyran cannot be in charge of ruling Leicester. Why, the people would riot!”

“Um, I don’t think he’s okay, guys.” Ignatz timidly pointed at Claude. “Forget being in charge of his territory, I don’t think…”

They all fell silent. “N-no more… no more… no more…” Claude whispered to himself between wretched sobs. 

“Class.” They all straightened when the professor approached. “I need two volunteers to keep watch over Claude. The rest of you; there’s a wagon in front of the cave. We’re going to clean it out for Claude’s transport.”

“We can’t take him back to Garreg Mach, though!”

“Um, I might have an idea?” Hilda timidly raised her hand. “There’s an old Goneril estate right in the middle of the mountains. No one lives there, since it’s in the middle of the mountains. Except for getting maintained once every year or two, no one ever visits either. Claude can stay there for a bit, it’s not too far from here.”

With that settled, they began cleaning out the wagon. Presumably, it was the wagon used to transport Claude here in the first place, and the wagon used to transport Claude’s feathers. Judging by the gold laying around in the cave, at least one or two batches of Claude’s golden feathers had been sold on the black market. Cyril had heard of particularly vibrantly colored feathers being sold on the black market before since having colorful feathers was rare outside of noble lineage. Gold feathers were only produced by the active royal line (he’d always wondered how come the branch families didn’t have gold feathers too), so by that logic Claude’s feathers would sell for a fortune. A very, very illegal fortune. 

After clearing out space in the wagon for Claude (finding even more bags of feathers, Gods), they began the struggle of convincing Claude to get into the wagon. Really, it was a struggle to convince Claude to leave the cave at all… or to even leave his little corner of the cave. Something about watching his usually unflappable house leader in such a state made his stomach squirm. He’d probably be in just as bad of a state if that happened to him. Just getting one feather yanked out would be agony.

While the others attempted to coax Claude out of his spot, Cyril eyed the bags upon bags of feathers. If they were just left here, that would leave them for someone else to stumble upon and sell. No one should be profiting off of Claude’s suffering. Beyond that, loose or molted feathers were supposed to be used, not thrown away. Maybe it was just a silly cultural habit from his childhood, but it felt disrespectful to just leave all of Claude’s feathers sitting here. 

Sighing, he got to work tying up the bags. When Claude was feeling better, Claude could decide what to do with the feathers, even if that meant throwing them in a pile and burning them. 

“What are you doing?” Lysithea was the one to notice him first. Explaining his reasoning was difficult, because it was just something he grew up with — feathers were NOT just thrown out! He got Lysithea to understand though, and she explained it a lot better than he could to the other Deer. They added the bags to the wagon (inside a crate so that Claude wouldn’t freak out. It seemed like everything was freaking him out, currently). 

Finally, finally Claude started cooperating with them. It was impossible to know if he was cooperating because he calmed down or if he was just too worn out to fight back anymore. Any accidental brush against his wings caused Claude to either shut down or lash out, which made it borderline impossible to help him walk — those wings were everywhere.  

Eventually, the professor was able to get close enough to Claude to help him walk. His legs shook with every step. Was Claude really that afraid? Maybe the slavers did something to his legs. 

When sunlight hit Claude’s mass of feathers, it was even more clear why those feathers were so valuable. In the dark of the cave, the gold stood out and the green and copper were vibrant, but that was all (it was still a lot). With light on his wings, they greens and hidden blues glimmered like iridescent gemstones. Did all wings of royalty look so stunning? If so, Cyril could see why they were admired. Cyril’s feathers looked like any bird’s feathers, they were nothing special. Claude’s feathers were brighter and more colorful than a hummingbird.

“Just a little further,” the professor murmured. Claude made a breathy, panicked noise, still hidden behind his jeweled veil of feathers. Oddly enough, he readily crawled into the wagon, almost eager to get out of the light. The reason became obvious as soon as Claude hid behind a crate. Despite the way his feathers plastered themselves to his body, Claude’s wings still poked out from behind the crate, hiding absolutely nothing.

Those wings were going to be a problem for Claude now that they couldn’t be hidden (not even a little). That was a problem for later, though. For now, they needed to focus on getting Claude to recover. Cyril had a bad feeling that Claude wasn’t going to be fixed by a night of bed rest and a warm meal.

Chapter Text

Hidden in the back of a wagon, Claude attempted to put himself back together again. He continued to fail. 

His wings were pressed as tightly against him as possible and even then they still brushed up against everything. He wanted things to stop touching his wings. He wanted to stop shaking. He wanted to be okay again.

He wanted his wings to stop hurting.

Wings. His wings were even bigger than his father’s wings now. They were massive, he didn’t know what to do with them, he’d never seen wings so big. There would be no hiding these wings. At least he uncovered why his wings kept growing. It was his crest. Every time his crest activated, his wings grew. Trapped in that unending torture, sometimes his crest activation had been his own fault, lashing out at his captors. More often than not, they engineered a situation for him to accidentally activate the crest. 

His feathers quivered. They did that a lot now. Maybe it was a neurological problem caused by their rushed growth. 

“Hey, Claude. How’re you feeling?” His wings pressed against him. Before, he had complete control over every last feather. Now his wings did their own thing without input from him. “I brought you some lunch.” Ignatz slid into the back of the wagon with him. He squeezed himself further into the corner, but his wings continued to spill out and take up so much space. “It’s just some light broth. Think your stomach can handle it?” After nearly a week of nothing but water and liquid to eat, the heavy breakfast he’d eaten earlier came up almost immediately. 

Hungry, he nodded. Ignatz glanced around the space, hesitating. If Ignatz got close enough to hand the soup to him, he would have to pass his feathers. He didn’t like people touching his feathers. He wished his feathers were small again, easily hidden and protected. 

“Do you want me to leave it here?” Ignatz asked, motioning to the floor. Before he could nod, the wagon hit a rock and shook. The soup nearly spilled, saved only by Ignatz’s expert hand. 

“I’ll take it,” he croaked, extending his hands. Attempting to open his wings to get them more out of the way achieved absolutely nothing. Ignatz carefully crept closer, stepping on a few feathers. He accepted the warm soup and cradled it, hunching over the bowl and waiting for Ignatz to leave. 

“Right, you probably want to be alone.” Ignatz backpedaled, stepping on more feathers. “Sorry!”

“Where are we going?” he asked, mentally clawing at any distraction so he could stop thinking about the radiating pain and sensation and itch from his wings. 

Ignatz bit his lip. “Well, we can’t really take you back to the academy until you’re, um, recovered. There’s an old Goneril estate house around here that Hilda says is abandoned, so we’re going to stop by there for a bit. A few hours ago, the professor took Leonie’s pegasus and is flying back to the monastery to call off the search for you. They said they were going to buy us some more time, w-well, buy you some more time. But we’ll be around too, so I guess that’s us?”

“Why you guys?”

“We can’t just leave you on your own!” His feathers began to quiver again, something that didn’t escape Ignatz’s notice. “I mean, you can have as much space as you need! We just want to make sure you’re okay.”

“I know I’m not trustworthy,” he murmured, eyeing the damning evidence in the form of massive wings. “You have every reason to keep an eye on me.”

“What? No! Almyran or Almyran prince or whatnot, you’re still Claude.” Bowing his head, Ignatz fiddled with his fingers. “I’d actually like to hear more about Almyra, if you’re willing. When you’re feeling better! Of course.”

Ignatz left after that, leaving him to stew in his thoughts and sip his stew. At least not everyone was hostile, it seemed. That was something. After he finished the soup, he curled up and tried to take a nap. His wings ached to stretch out fully, something that was both dangerous and terrifying. 

“Hey, Claude?” Leonie’s voice roused him some time later. “We’re here.”

Though his wings shivered at the chance for freedom, the rest of his body froze. He needed to exit the wagon. He needed to go out in the open, where anyone and everyone would see him. His legs wobbled as he forced himself to stand, only partially because he’d spent a week straight on his knees, and also partially because they kept cutting his hamstrings and his legs still stung from that.

“You need a hand? Or a shoulder to lean on?” Leonie offered, climbing into the wagon. “You’re not looking too steady.” She slid beside him as he locked up. Her hand curled around his shoulders then froze, retreating after brushing the back of his wings. “Right, the wings. How could I forget those. Here, lean on me instead. Is that more comfortable?” 

He was shaking so hard that it was doubtful he could exit the wagon on his own. Before he could reject Leonie, one of his wings curled around her, pressing against her as a surface to (fail to) hide behind. With a smile, she took his arm and guided it around her shoulder, then gripped him around his waist. “C’mon, it’s not far.”

By the time they exited the wagon, he was shaking to pieces. He kept stepping on his own wing, though at least Leonie was decent at avoiding doing the same. Even out in the open — the perfect place to finally stretch his wings — the stubborn things remained plastered against him and Leonie. He was plastered to Leonie, holding on to her as the only thing keeping him upright. She repeated soft encouragements as if he was a traumatized animal. In a way, he was. The other Golden Deer were probably watching him from somewhere, judging him as he struggled to simply walk. The slavers hamstrung his calves after every escape attempt. They’d started doing it preemptively too some of the time. His crest healed his legs every time, but the phantom feeling of cut tendons still nipped at his brain. 

Something brushed his wing.

Crying out, he flung his weight at Leonie at the same time that his shaking legs gave out. She caught him as he scrambled for grip, clawing at her to stay upright as his wings pressed against them both, away from the painful touch coming for him.

“Claude, Claude, it’s okay,” Leonie chanted. “I’ve got you, you’re okay. It was just a branch, Claude. It was just a branch.” Her words didn’t immediately register. Not until he calmed down enough to think again. Just a branch. He freaked out over literally nothing. He opened his mouth to apologize, or make an excuse, or laugh it off. What came out instead was a whimper. Leonie continued to tell him it was okay, and continued to hold him even though her arms must be getting tired. “I need you to move your wings, Claude,” she eventually told him. 

Looking up, he saw that his wings were cocooned around them both. Leonie couldn’t see out from behind all the feathers, and couldn’t step forward without stepping on his feathers. Screwing his eyes shut, he tried to force the wings apart, but they refused to budge. “I can’t move them,” he gasped, trying again and failing at the most basic of tasks. He couldn’t control his wings, couldn’t walk, couldn’t even breathe without hyperventilating. 

“Wait, you can’t control them?” Bowing his head, he nodded against Leonie, not wanting to say it aloud. “Okay. Alright, that’s okay. Do you want to sit for a bit?”

“Inside.”

“Being outside… makes you nervous?”

“Inside,” he repeated, certain they were being watched. He wanted to lock himself in his room and hide. 

“I’m going to touch your wing.” Even with her warning, her touch was nearly unbearable. Even though he was touching her with his wings, that was different from her touching the wing. His feathers trembled as Leonie pushed part of his wing aside. Light spilled past the gap in his feather-cocoon. She started walking again, stepping on his feathers as she went. He couldn’t walk with his shaking, all he could do was hold on desperately.

His nails dug into Leonie as they passed the door, scraping his wings painfully against the entrance. “Just the door,” Leonie softly told him, as if he couldn’t figure that out. He caught a glimpse of the other Golden Deer, staring as they passed. Leonie slowly took them up the stairs. His wings brushed painfully against the banister, causing him to squirm. “Just taking you upstairs. We cleaned out the master bedroom for you.”

“C-c-clean it o-o-out?” he managed past chattering teeth as his oversensitive feathers brushed the hallway walls.

“We actually got here a few hours ago, but we let you sleep while we cleaned things up. There aren’t any staff around, so we dusted everything out ourselves.” He hissed as they passed through another doorway. “Oof! And here we are!” Leonie sat down, taking him with her. They bounced slightly on the bed. “Phew, you’re a lot heavier now than you used to be. You’re okay, Claude, you’re safe.”

His wings finally parted enough for him to get a good look at the room. It was a lot more spacious than the room at Garreg Mach. He couldn’t be sure if there was enough room to fully extend his wings — he didn’t even know how long they were now. The room was closed off though, with a door that could lock and curtains along the window. 

Now what? He should… plan? For the future. Figure out what… what to do. Right? His thoughts were all scrambled. They didn’t just take his feathers, they took his sharp mind too. How was he supposed to think straight when every tiny twitch of a feather strummed panicked pain through his mind? 

“You’ll get through this,” Leonie told him, rubbing down his lower-back. How long had he been staring off into space? His wings tried to draw closer, but Leonie was in the way. “What do you need?”

He didn’t know! He could barely keep track of where he was! Hanging his head, he fiddled with his hands in his lap, not wanting to see Leonie’s pity. “Close the window.”

“Sure. We were airing out the room, but if it doesn’t bother you, I’ll shut the window.” She tried to get up, but one of the wings was curled around her. “Er, Claude?”

He hung his head. “I’m not doing it. It-it’s got a mind of its own.”

Humming, Leonie slowly reached out and began stroking down the wing. He bit his lip to stop a noise as the wing shook. When his wings began to grow months ago, they’d gotten a little sensitive, but now they were wildly sensitive to everything. The wing flinched away and closer to Leonie simultaneously, as if it couldn’t decide whether it wanted more or less touch. He squirmed in place, digging his fingers into the bed sheets. Apparently Leonie made enough of an opening to escape. With her gone, the wings curled around him like a hug. Just like him, the feathers trembled. The sound of the window shutting startled him enough that he fell off the bed. Feeling too exposed, he crawled over to the corner of the room and hid himself behind the wings. 

He wanted to go back to normal. He wanted these big wings to go away. He wanted to stop shaking.

“You probably want to be alone, huh.” Yes, no, he didn’t know! “Call us if you need anything, okay? We’ll be downstairs.”

 

 


 

 

Someone knocked on the door. “Can we come in?”

No. This is my room. Stay out. 

“Claude?” The handle jigged and then opened. Leonie and Marianne entered the room. Leonie’s face fell. “Oh. Have you been in the corner the entire time?” He didn’t reply. “How do you feel?”

“Are you in any pain?” Marianne asked. “Do your wings hurt?”

Slowly, he nodded, eyeing her warily. 

“Um, I can try and heal them?”

“No.” The wings, which had been somewhat sprawled out, returned to his side. “Don’t touch me.” The wings twitched with phantom sensation even when they touched nothing.

“O-okay, I won’t, I promise.”

He was starting to shake again. Dammit. He wanted to stop shaking already. Touch made him shake, even from inanimate objects. People made him shake, just being in proximity to them. His feathers twitched in the anticipation of pain. 

“We brought dinner. You probably want to eat up here, yeah? You’re welcome to eat downstairs with the rest of us if you want. Or we could come to you.”

He shook his head.

“Okay. Here, we’ll leave it on the side table for you.” They placed the bowl of soup down. “Here’s a bell too. If you need us, just ring it. Okay?”

At his nod, they left. He was hungry. But the soup was so far away. His arms were wrapped around his knees, he didn’t want to move. But he was hungry.

Blinking, he realized that it was darker. As if time had passed. Had time passed? He wasn’t sure. He was hungry. Letting go of his knees, he began to crawl towards the soup. His feathers brushed the carpet, the furniture, the walls. It was all so much sensation, how did anyone withstand having so many feathers? By the time he made it to the bed stand, his feathers were shaking from overstimulation. Gritting his teeth, he willed himself to stop shaking for five minutes so he could drink his soup in peace.

He didn’t know what it was. Something about the cold soup was familiar to the liquid gruel they shoved down his throat when they plucked his feathers. He clawed for logic, that he was free, that this cold soup tasted better, that he wasn’t in a cave — but it was dark, and his wings hurt, and it was cold soup.  

The cold soup spilled onto the ground. He stared at it. He’d barely drunk more than a mouthful. It was just soup. He couldn’t even eat soup. 

Throwing the bowl, the sound of shattering rang through his skull as an alarm. Scrambling back to his corner, he curled up into the smallest ball possible, his wings pressing against him. 

Eventually the door swung open. He screwed his eyes shut as words washed over him, shrill and loud and too much.  

Something touched his wing.

Screaming, he shoved at the violent hand, throwing them far away from him. Curling up tightly, he waited for the pain to come. The pain always came.

The sickening wait was almost worse than the actual pain. Where was it? Where were the hands? As time ticked by and nothing touched him, the dread only grew. He rocked back and forth as voices continued to hiss around him, echoing off the cave walls. Eventually it became too much for him and he vomited what little was left in his stomach. There were more voices, footsteps too, drawing closer. He waited for the pain. 

He waited for the pain.

When he opened his eyes next, an eternity later, there was light. Near the door, Raphael sat in a chair, lightly snoring. Why was there light? It was… morning? Something smelled acidic and gross. He’d fallen asleep in his own vomit. What was wrong with him? He—

People entered his room.  

“Oh. Claude, good morning,” Ignatz softly called, gently waking Raphael. “Don’t worry, Hilda is okay. She wasn’t hurt.”

Hilda? “What… happened to… Hilda?” he croaked, his throat achingly sore.

“You don’t remember? You threw her back when she tried to touch you yesterday.”

Raphael stretched and yawned. “Aaaa! Morning! Heya Claude, how’re you feeling? Betcha want a nice big breakfast! That’ll make you feel like a brand-new you!”

“I…” He needed a bath, but the words stuck in his throat. It occurred to him that he wasn’t wearing a shirt, and hadn’t had a shirt for days.

He blinked, and he was alone.

He blinked, and Raphael was hauling something into his room.

He blinked, and there was a tub in his room.

He blinked, and the tub was filled with steaming water.

He blinked, and the tub was no longer steaming.

He blinked, and he didn’t understand. Curled up in his corner, the day passed in fits and spurts of speed. Sometimes he was alone. Sometimes he wasn’t. 

He blinked, and there was food on the floor. Hilda sat in front of him, pleading. He blinked, and now it was Leonie pleading. He was hungry. He didn’t want to uncurl. 

He knew something wasn’t right. His body shook on an unexplained schedule, his feathers quivering often, twitching from touch and not-touch. His thoughts refused to form coherency. His wings ached, both from aching and from being curled up so long. He couldn’t bear to uncurl them.

“Can you hear me?” asked an Almyran voice. His wings shivered. “C’mon, at least reply!”

“No more,” he wheezed back, waiting and waiting for the pain. “No more, please, no more.”

Feathers brushed his own feathers. He clenched his eyes shut, but this was a different sensation. This was a new sensation. This… didn’t hurt. He laid still, too afraid to open his eyes as feathers continued to brush against the wings. The wings, with a mind of their own, slowly stopped shivering. They uncurled from around him, relaxing just the tiniest amount. It’s just a trick, his mind hissed, waiting for the inevitable blow. The wings were less cautious, opening and pressing up against the foreign feathers, uncaring about potential danger. Blindly reaching out, he curled fingers around the giant mass of feathers attached to him and yanked, failing to manually move the wings. 

Opening his eyes, he saw Cyril, who was both confused and amused. Cyril’s wings were swallowed by his own forest of green, gold, and brown. “Hey, ya with me?” Cyril’s hand waved in front of his face as the massive wings continued to engulf them both.

“Yeah?” The wings refused to listen to him, drawing Cyril in closer. They flinched at the touch of Cyril’s skin, preferring the textures of fellow feathers above all else. 

“What’re you even doing?” Cyril murmured, raising an eyebrow. “Thought you didn’t want no one touchin’ your wings.”

“I don’t. I don’t know what they’re doing.” 

Cyril snorted. “You’re like a hen covering her chicks. Hey, you hungry? We’ve been tryin’ to get you to eat for hours.” His stomach growled in reply. “There’s a vegetable garden in the back, so we got fresh vegetables. Here, want some?” Cyril reached out past the hood of his wings and dragged a plate closer. “You mind letting me go?”

“I… don’t know if I can.” The wings refused to budge.

“What’s that supposed to mean? Ugh, never mind. Move this way, then.” Cyril dragged him a few feet, which caused the wings to tense up even closer around Cyril. They stopped near the bed, where Cyril reached out and grabbed a bell, ringing it. “Yeesh, just relax. Eat some carrots or salad or something.”

Reluctantly, he began nibbling on some lettuce. Before long someone else entered the room. Tensing, he peeked out from behind his feathers.

“Claude, you moved!” Hilda softly cheered. “And even rang the bell. What do you need? And where’s Cyril?”

“Right here.” Cyril waved his hand past the wing. “I need some warm water and a rag. And some soap if we have any. Claude’s filthy.”

Lowering his eyes, he focused on munching on the greens. Cyril was correct, though he’d forgotten about the smell until it was brought to his attention. He’d been ‘bathed’ regularly over the past week or so with freezing river water. They usually sprayed him down after every use of his crest. To clean the blood off, he assumed, and also clean away the mess he made on himself. Wasn’t like they ever gave him a bathroom break, after all. 

“You’re… kinda… crushing me, Claude…”

The wings were drawn tight around Cyril as he shook. He crawled towards his corner, though it was difficult to move around with the wings latched around Cyril. The corner was safer than the rest of the room. Less open. Less exposed. He curled up, wrapping his arms around himself. For once, the wings refused to wrap around him, stubbornly forcing Cyril to remain by his side. 

“…aused him to shut down this time?” It occurred to him that Hilda was talking. 

“I dunno, but he’s not letting go of me. I tried talking to him more, but he won’t respond.”

“Well, here’s a bucket and a rag.”

He zoned out again, interrupted by the shock of something warm on his chest. Flinching violently, he yelped. “Hey! Gah, you nearly knocked the bucket over. I did warn ya.” 

“C-C-Cyril?” He couldn’t stop shaking.

“Look, if you’re gonna trap me here, I’m gonna clean. Got it? Calm down, yeesh, I’m not gonna hurt ya.” The warm-wetness touched his chest again as Cyril began wiping him down. Biting his lips, he decided that it wasn’t so bad. It wasn’t cold like the bathes that the slavers gave him. 

Slowly, his body and wings loosened up as Cyril methodically cleaned his chest. First there was a warm rinse, then a soapy scrub, then a final rinse, then a toweling. By the time Cyril was done, his body was more relaxed and his head clearer than it had been since he got kidnapped in the first place. 

“Thanks. I needed that.”

“Yeah, you sure did. You wings need it too, the feathers are all tangled. I’ll preen some of ‘em for ya.”

“No. Don’t touch them.” His clear head was short-lived as the crushing weight returned. 

“I think you’ve got wing-mites, Claude. Ya gotta get these preened before the mites get bad.”

Shaking his head, he turned away, pushing at Cyril even as the stupid wings struggled to keep the kid by his side. Having mites explained the twitches of sensation that blipped through his mind even when the wings were touching nothing. It should be taken care of (Cyril was right) but he couldn’t bear the idea of someone touching his feathers.

Cyril managed to slip away. “Now I gotta go preen my wings to make sure they aren’t on me! That’s gonna take forever, ugh. Whatever. Maybe there’s some garlic growing out back, wing-mites hate garlic…”

After Cyril left, he laid on the ground for a while. Eventually it occurred to him that his lower half was still in need of cleaning. Peering out from behind his feathers, he saw a fresh pair of clothes on the dresser. The shirt was a no-go, but he should change his ratty, ruined pants. Luckily there was a stool in the room (he could not handle a chair with his wings currently), so he wobbled over to that. Stripping, he used the leftover water to clean himself. There was a nearby chamber pot that he was able to use too — as bafflingly out of control as he’d been recently, at least he hadn’t made a mess of himself. Slipping on the pair of soft, clean pants did make him feel better. He considered cleaning his wings briefly, but the water was cooling off and he refused to clean himself with cold water. Just thinking about it made his feathers shiver. Maybe Cyril had been lying about the wing-mites. Maybe they would go away if he didn’t think about them.

Turning around, the wings absently knocked over the bucket and spilled water everywhere. He should clean it up. The water was cold though. He didn’t clean it up. The wings continued to act up, agitated and sensitive, reacting to every little surface that they touched. He was trying to find his balance again, but they kept distracting him. The weak muscles in his calves quivered for every second that he stood upright, forcing him to lean against the wall for balance.

He needed things to go back to normal. These wings were too much, they weren’t natural. They had a mind of their own. They needed to go.

He carefully made his way out the door and down the hall. Approaching the stairs, he carefully crept down each individual step. People were talking. Downstairs, people were talking.

“We can’t spend our time here. Consider our education,” Lorenz was arguing.

“We can’t just abandon him! He needs our help.”

“He needs professional help. Regardless, those wings won’t just vanish. He can’t return to the academy, nor to Fódlani society. Cyril’s wings are manageable and don’t get in the way of everything. Just imagine Claude trying to walk down the street with those wings! Besides, Cyril is a known Almyran of no political importance. Claude does not have that excuse.”

“There’s gotta be something we can do for him.”

“Lorenz has a point. We can’t stay here forever. We have to get back to school… and Claude can’t come with us. Not with his wings.”

“They aren’t my wings,” he croaked, startling everyone. 

“Claude! You’re up!”

“These aren’t my wings,” he said again, leaning against the door frame. “My wings are small. My wings do what I say. These wings aren’t mine. They have a mind on their own.”

“Claude… well, um, they’re kinda attached to you, so…”

He looked Hilda straight in the eyes. “These aren’t my wings. These are leeches. They’re stealing my focus, my ability to think, my ability to function. I have no control over them.” With every word he spoke, his wings fidgeted restlessly, as if they knew he was talking about them. “In order for things to return to normal, they have to go.”

“They’re attached to you. You can’t just take them off. Er, right?”

It was the only way to regain his independence and sanity. All they did was remind him of torture — so they had to go. “No. I can’t. But you can. You have an axe.” He refused to break eye contact with Hilda as she paled. “I need you to cut these off.”

Chapter Text

When Khalid came to, the first thing he noted was that his entire body hurt. Great. Now what? He couldn’t remember what happened. Maybe someone attacked him at night again, or maybe he ate something poisoned, or maybe he fell off his wyvern mid-flight.

Forcing his eyes to open, he tried to roll over and had to suppress a groan. Everything hurt, especially his head. 

“That was quick,” a woman said to his left. She spoke in Fódlani, which instantly had him on edge. The only person he knew who spoke Fódlani was his mom. Groping under the pillow, his body went tense as it became clear that there was no dagger underneath to protect himself with. “Careful now. You took quite the tumble. Didn’t expect you to wake up for some time now.”

Rolling over to face the other direction this time (holding back another groan), he was met with a scantily clad Fódlani woman. Great. Did his cousins think this was subtlety? Perhaps they thought he shared his father’s ‘weakness’ for pale, foreigner women. The real question was, where did they hire a pale prostitute like this one? She must be Dagdan, since Fódlani rarely crossed the mountain range (his mother being the only notable exception). 

“I’ve been told I’m hard to kill,” he said in perfect Leicester-Fódlani, smiling his most charming smile. Playing along was the best course until he had his bearings. “Might I ask what befell me?”

The woman cocked an eyebrow. “Laying it on thick, are we. Your saddle had a tear in it and fell loose. You fell quite a far distance, it’s a miracle that you didn’t break many bones.”

“Many?” Flexing his fingers and toes, then his legs and arms, he didn’t detect any broken bones.

“Take more precautions next time. You’re lucky you fell in the monastery. If you hadn’t been rushed to me so quickly, you might be facing permanent damage.” Monastery? Interesting… Just where was he? Glancing around the room, the architecture wasn’t anything he recognized. “Your classmates have been hounding me to visit you. Do you feel well enough to entertain guests? Goddess knows I have ‘entertained’ turning them away long enough.” Classmates? Even stranger was the way she said ‘Goddess’. Which one? Usually people called out which god, goddess, or spirit they called upon.

Grinning, he sat up despite his protesting body. “Sure! I’m always happy to entertain.” Khalid knew that he had no say in his illusion of choice. These people had him captive. 

Strangely, the prostitute nodded and left his room. Odd. He expected her to try and tempt him (or at least do something). She must be playing the long game.

“Claude!” A pink-haired Fódlani teen bounded into his room. “You’re awake!” He glanced around his small room. Was she talking to him? He was the only one in the room. The other sick-beds were empty.

“Hey, Claude, I’m so sorry about that saddle,” said a second pale-skinned teen, this one with bright orange hair. “I thought I fixed it up good-as-new, I swear I didn’t mean for it to break on you like that.”

“Um, the others wanted to come see you too, but we didn’t want to crowd you,” said a timid, green-haired boy with glasses. “But everyone else sends their well-wishes!”

“How do you feel, Claude?” the pink one demanded, placing a hand on his bed and leaning too close to him.

“Not bad,” he replied, eyeing her warily. Clearly he was the one she was referring to. “Heh, it takes much more than falling off a wyvern to kill me.”

“You hit your head pretty hard though,” the orange one added with a frown. “Poor Ignatz fainted at the sight.”

“H-hey! There was a lot of blood, I thought Claude, um… died.” 

“Heh, please.” Grinning, he gripped the frame of the bed and swung his legs over the mattress. In one swift push, he heaved himself to his feet.

“Whoa! Claude, easy! You shouldn’t be standing!” The pink one reached out to grab him. Khalid ducked away, displaying how able he still was. If they’d wanted to kill him easily, they missed their chance. Why keep him alive this long? The feasibility of his cousins hiring one pale foreigner who spoke Fódlani was plausible, but four? His situation was more complex than he originally thought. 

“I’m perfectly fine.” He spread his palms and winked, as if to show off ‘here I am, nice try, but I won’. “Seems like there’s a god out there who wants me to survive.” In actuality, his mother’s side of the family was extremely hardy. All his life he’d managed to shrug off near-fatal wounds. He earned the title ‘immortal’ for a reason. It was better for the rumors to reflect his continued survival as a favor from the gods as opposed to an ‘unnatural’ result of his foreigner blood.

“Um, the Goddess?” Green-hair — Ignatz? Weird name — asked him.

“Yes, the goddess,” he went along with it, winking.

Orange-hair rolled her eyes. “Whatever the reason, I’m glad you’re okay. Since you’re up and walking again, I’m sure Manuela will discharge you soon.”

Who? “I sure hope so!” He didn’t intend to stick around. As soon as these people left, he was sneaking out, finding some clothes that didn’t announce that he was supposed to be in a sick-bed, and heading for the hills. If there were hills around wherever he was. Heading into the desert would take preparation, but he knew what he’d need to survive in that case too.

“Claude!” The prostitute-lady walked back into his room. She shouted at him like his mother did when he got into trouble, but she didn’t have half the fierceness behind her tone. Also, Claude wasn’t even his name! “What are you doing out of bed?! You three, out, out!” The prostitute-lady glared at him as the three teens left his room. Grinning cheekily, he sat back down on the edge of the bed, raising an eyebrow. The lady shook her head and pinched her brow. “Honestly. Well! You certainly seem to be in fine shape! Allow me to do a medical examination, and I will discharge you.”

Wait, she was the healer? What was this, some kind of weird Fódlan tradition, to have healers expose a significant portion of their chest? Hm. Maybe he was being too judgmental. Perhaps it was meant to provoke… maternal vibes? He was trying to keep an open mind, but his mother never warned him about this! It was weird. Surely the woman would get a sunburn as soon as she stepped outside, dressed like that. 

The woman touched his forehead. An alien, cold feeling rushed throughout his body, mixing with the sudden icy-chill of dread. What did she just do to him? His mother did warn him that people of Fódlan were more magically inclined than Almyra. That spell could be doing anything to him.

“Still bruised and battered, but nothing serious enough to keep you cooped in bed. No training for a week, and no strenuous activity for a month. Come to me if you have any headaches, nausea…” The healer began rattling off symptoms. After she finished with that, she pointed to a pair of clothes in the bedside table. “Your uniform was washed. No blood stains to worry about, you can thank Cyril for that. I’ll inform your professor of your release, and will make it very clear that you are to take things easy. Understood?”

“Understood,” he lied. He didn’t understand anything.  

As soon as the healer left his room, he carefully peeked in the drawer with ‘his’ clothes. Unfolding them (carefully, keeping an eye out for any powdered substances), he had to admit that the outfit did look like something he would wear (in a foreign fashion, of course). When he went to slide the yellow under-shirt over his head, it occurred to him that his hair was short. Frantically feeling it up and down (mindful of the still-painful bump on his head), he came to the conclusion that it wasn’t a recent haircut either. The ends of his hair were too soft and worn. Searching the room, he found a mirror. 

He didn’t look very different from what he remembered, but he did look a bit older. Gods, how old was he? Sixteen? Surely no older than that. Thumping onto the bed, his reality crashed around him. Unless this was a seriously elaborate scheme to kill him, he… he wasn’t even Khalid anymore. Gods above, how bad did the assassination attempts get that he decided to run away to Fódlan and change his name?! Surely that was what happened, why else would he be here? 

His shoulders slumped, the hand-mirror falling from his limp fingers. Claude. They called him Claude. There were only two reasons he could think of that he would change his name. Either he was in hiding, or… 

Or maybe Fódlan was just as bad to outsiders as Almyra was.

He lost a massive chunk of his memory. That was bad. That was really, really bad. The only things he knew about Fódlan were the scant details he dragged out of his mom, and that was barely anything! No one could learn that he was clueless, though. That was opening himself up to all sorts of danger. Knowing himself, it was doubtful he had a journal or anything. Now he had no idea who could be trusted and who couldn’t be trusted. That orange-haired girl who sabotaged his saddle definitely couldn’t be trusted.

Who was he kidding? No one could be trusted. If his hunch was correct and Fódlan was just as prejudiced as Almyra, then he couldn’t confide in anyone. He was on his own, just like always. 

He hated how much his heart clenched at the realization that even outside of Almyra, outsiders were still hated. Maybe he was jumping to conclusions, but he didn’t think so. So much for that dream.

He finished dressing and stood. For a brief moment, he was elated to note that he was taller than he remembered. Then he looked down at his boots and came to the conclusion that his added height was all in the heels. Seriously? He was supposed to keep growing! He’d been a bit of an early bloomer (not that it mattered with all of his older cousins), but apparently that small amount of genetic luck meant that his height stopped at 14. Flexing his arms, he was a mix of pleased and disappointed. He was stronger than he had been — less stringy and lanky — but he didn’t match the physique expected of a real Almyra. The future was crushing his dreams left and right. So much for ever being able to hold his own in a straight fight. 

Exiting the infirmary, he was struck by the brand new sights around him. The architecture was fascinating and wildly different from what he grew up with. And there were trees everywhere! 

He wandered aimlessly around the various buildings, getting a feel for where he was. He made sure to walk with purpose. So long as he walked like he belonged, no one would call him out. As it was, no one pointed him out as being in the wrong place. 

“Claude!” 

Someone grabbed his elbow. Ducking and bolting forward, he whirled towards whoever touched him, reaching for his hidden dagger. His dagger was missing! He always kept a dagger in his sleeve, but his new jacket didn’t have a hidden pocket for it! 

A pale man with the strangest haircut Khalid had ever seen stood before him, clearly unamused. Why did everyone have such flashy hair around here? That shade of purple was blinding. “Claude. There you are, skulking about.”

Right. He was called ‘Claude’ here. Mimicking the formal posture of the man in front of him, he cocked his head. “I was told to take it easy, and that is what I’m doing.”

The purple-man scoffed. “If you plan to nap, do so in your own room! It is undignified to drape yourself along the grass like a commoner. I shouldn’t need to tell you any of this.”

Hm, hostile. Did Khalid usually nap around the grounds? Or was this man trying to catch him in a lie? Surely no one realized his memory loss yet. “You say you shouldn’t need to tell me this, and yet here you are, telling me.”

The purple-man rolled his eyes. “Hilda planned to fetch you herself, but she has been feeling unwell. I volunteered to track you down in her place. Now come! Dinner now. Enough of your tomfoolery!”

Perhaps this was a trap, but Khalid was hungry and also didn’t know where to get food from. He followed the strange purple-haired man, enduring a tirade of nitpicks and insults. Definitely on the ‘do not trust’ list. With everyone else.

The dining hall was nothing compared to what he was used to back home, but it did have its own charm. Less charming were the people who swarmed him. So congratulated him on his good health, some berated him for being reckless, and others just quietly welcomed him ‘back’. The three people he recognized — pink, orange, and green — appeared to be a part of the ‘class table’. For every question lobbed at him, he was sure to be as vague and evasive as possible. He ate the food that was being served, despite the blandness of it all. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t great either. 

When dinner was over, he had a problem. He didn’t know where his room was (assuming he had a room, which was likely). If the housing was divided by male and female, then it would be awkward to try and follow a female classmate. But none of his male classmates said they planned to retire anytime soon! 

“Soooo, Claaaaude…” The pink one — Hilda — stayed behind as the rest of the class dispersed for the night. “What’cha gonna do now?”

“Oh, y’know. My usual routine, probably.” He winked. “Or maybe not. I’m a mystery, you know.”

“Ugh, an annoying mystery, yeah.” That was the other thing he learned about his classmates: none of them really seemed to… well, no one seemed to like him. Which wasn’t anything new. He’d just sort of hoped that maybe in Fódlan that he’d be able to make an acquaintance that was kind of nice. Apparently nothing changed in two(?) years. He used to dream about running away from Almyra to cross the border. Reality was always harsher than his idealized imagination. Fódlan was no paradise. “You know, I’ve been worried about you all day. And all of yesterday too! You seriously owe me for all the stress you caused! I couldn’t even take a nap.”

“Mmhmm.” He knew this game, unfortunately. Fódlan wasn’t different at all. “What do you want?” There was no reason to be disappointed. He needed to shake this off.

“Me? Want something? Want something from my recently injured classmate? Why, I would never! In fact, I planned to offer to help you all tomorrow!” She winked. “Y’know, keeping you company!”

She wants something, she wants you vulnerable! “And the catch?”

“No catch, silly! Don’t worry, your dear friend Hilda will ensure you rest and recuperate! I mean, neither of us really need to go to class tomorrow, it’s just a single day that we’ll be missing!”

Ah, she was using him to skip. That made more sense. Maybe she was fishing for blackmail material on him, who knew. “I’m well enough to return to class tomorrow.”

“Oh come on. You’re supposed to be taking things easy, Manuela said so! C’mon Claude, take a break!”

He turned away from her and began walking away. Fatigue nipped at his body and mind. He needed to find a safe spot to rest before the evening got too dark.

“Gah! Come back!” She jogged up to his side. “Okay, okay, fine! We’ll both go to class tomorrow, yeesh. But you should go to bed, mister. Don’t think I can’t see the dark rings under your eyes! I’m not afraid to tell Manuela that you aren’t following her orders. Then you’ll be dragged back to her infirmary kicking and screaming.”

Her threat made him pause. “I’m actually not very tired,” he lied. “It’s just a trick of the evening light. I could stay up all night long.”

“Uh huh. Right. You are not allowed to spend another all-nighter in the library. If you’re gonna be stubborn about this, I’ll call for Raphael to haul you to your room!”

On one hand, that would show him where his room was located. On the other hand, he did not trust anyone to grab him and take him somewhere. “Oh yeah? You gonna escort me there yourself?”

“I will!” She snagged his elbow and began tugging. His glee the successful manipulation was dunked in icy dread as soon as he registered that he couldn’t break free of her grip. Hilda was tiny, but her grip was like iron. 

“H-hey, let go. I’ll walk beside you.”

“Nuh-uh! I’ve fallen for that one before! I am not going to chase you down. That’s so much effort, and no offense, you aren’t worth that effort. So you are going to stay right in my grip.”

“No need to chase me. Just let me go.” He tugged harder, not that it made any difference. Did Hilda even notice? He was supposed to be stronger now! Where was she taking him? If she planned to hit him, she’d have to let go of his arm first, right? No, no, Hilda didn’t seem like the type to haul him to an alleyway and beat him black and blue. She was the more devious sort. 

“Oh. My. Gooooosh. Stop being such a drama queen, Claude. Ugh, sometimes I wonder why I’m even friends with a piece of work like you.” She smiled as she said that, as if her words weren’t familiar daggers into his chest. 

“Probably because I’m so charming.”

“Phah! You, charming? Only to people who haven’t known you for more than a minute!” Great. Surrounded by all sorts of people who didn’t know him as Khalid, the demon prince, and he was still hated. Maybe there really was something wrong with him… Hilda finally let go of him. “Here. I don’t want to hear that you snuck out, okay? Seriously, if you sneak out, don’t get me in trouble. I did my duty to my house leader! If you get in trouble now, that’s on you.” She turned around and walked away, leaving him alone in a hall of identical doors.

Sighing, he tried to open the door in front of him. Locked. Great. Now what? If he puttered around the hallway, that would look weird. Hilda went into her own room down the hallway, so she’d probably hear him if he tried to leave. Wooden floors creaked, apparently. Who used wood for flooring anyways! 

Shoving his hands in his pockets and hunching his shoulders, he found a bundle of stuff in his pockets. Oh. He probably had a key somewhere. 

Five minutes later, he found the key in one of the many hidden inner-pockets of his jacket. At least now he knew where he kept his hidden knives. Entering his own room, he instantly was able to determine yep, this is my room. Apparently he hadn’t gotten any neater in the future.

He carefully made his way to his bed. He itched to search his room, but knowing himself, there were traps everywhere. The bed was probably safe though (after all, trapping his bed could easily backfire during his nightly period of unconsciousness). Sorting through the books on his bed, he did find some scraps of paper that were probably from him. Nothing was legible — not the notes, the books, not anything. His mother taught him to speak Fódlani from a young age. He’d never learned to read it. Everything in his room might as well be written in an uncrackable code.

Tugging off his boots, he didn’t bother to change his clothes. He just curled up under the sheets. He didn’t know if he had a spare change of clothes, or nightwear, or anything that wasn’t trapped. He was going to have to change clothes eventually, but maybe if he was lucky he would remember more in the morning. Or maybe, just maybe, he would wake up back in Almyra and this entire experience would turn out to be a dream. 

Tucking his knees up to his chest, he regarded the book pile beside him. After a beat of hesitation, he arranged the books on top of him in a pseudo book-blanket, then put another blanket over top of that to keep it in place. For one, his room was getting unbearably cold as the sun set. The weight also felt nice and comforting. Sometimes when he wanted his mama or baba, he’d stack books on top of him instead. It was kind of similar to a hug. 

Hiding his head under the sheets, he really, really hoped he was going to wake up back in Almyra, age 14, known as Khalid once more. He just wanted someone to say his name. He wanted that back in Almyra too — not brat, or demon, or any snide ‘Your Highness’. Just Khalid. 

If he didn’t wake up back in Almyra, he didn’t know what he was going to do. He didn’t know anything or anyone. He couldn’t read. Things were expected from him, but he didn’t know what. Surely he had someone as an ally in Fódlan, right? He should have an uncle — Uncle Godfrey was one of the only two good things in Fódlan, according to Mama. Maybe Godfrey could help him? If not his uncle, then Mama’s old friend? Her name started with a J… But Gods, there was no way he could get in contact with anyone. He couldn’t write a letter and he didn’t even know where he was.  

Rubbing at his eyes, he was slightly surprised that he wasn’t crying yet. Maybe that was the one good thing about being older — he stopped being such a crybaby. Instead of crying himself to sleep, he just wrapped his arms around his legs and pretended that the weight of the books were warm like a person.

Chapter Text

It began with a sore throat. Dimitri pushed ahead, ignoring the symptoms. 

Somehow, he went from a sore throat to vomiting into a bucket within a single day. He couldn’t even apologize to Dedue his throat was so raw.

At some point Dedue stepped out of his room. He was feverish, he knew this much. Dedue demanded that he rest, as did Manuela — but the ghosts surrounding him did not accept sickness as an excuse. 

While Dedue was gone, he got to his feet and hobbled towards the door. The dead screamed at him, clawing at his skin. He forced his pathetic body to push further at the demands of the dead. Somehow, he made it out of the dorms. Thinking he saw Dedue, he ducked into one of the allies between the dorms to hide. His entire body trembled with chills. Perhaps the fever burning under his skin was the Eternal Flames finally coming to take him.

When he was certain that Dedue was gone again, he headed off for the training grounds. He took three steps, then his legs gave out. The ground rushed towards his face. He had a moment to think ‘this is going to hurt’.

Someone caught him

“Easy there. You shouldn’t be out in your state,” a familiar voice said, softer and gentler than he’d ever heard it. Strong arms hauled him back to his feet. He listed to the side, coming into contact with a plush texture. 

“Claude?” he slurred, squinting at the man in front of him. Either this was Claude, or Claude had an older brother who was nearly identical. “You grew a beard fast.” It was a very thin and cropped beard, but a beard nonetheless. “Where’d your braid go? And what’re you wearing…?” It was some sort of yellow, pillow-like outfit.

“Don’t worry about that, Your Princeliness.” Claude’s voice was butter-smooth, warm and gentle in a way he hadn’t heard directed at him in so long. Claude spoke to him like they were close friends. “Let’s get you back to bed, mm?”

“N-no, I… I have to…”

“Have to what? Collapse on the training grounds? Felix is probably there you know, he’d either haul you to your room himself or tattle on you to Dedue. Come on, let’s save them the job of being the middleman.”

Groaning, he didn’t fight Claude’s logic, allowing his fellow house-leader to haul him back up the stairs. “Where’d Father and Glenn go…?” he mumbled, searching the shaking shadows for their forms. 

Claude helped him into his room and forced him into bed. Perhaps he truly was too sick to train. His hallucinations were wildly out of hand. Not only was Claude dressed strangely, but he had a bloody red line staining his cravat. Imagining false wounds was nothing new for him, but Claude wearing a cravat? The fever was taking a toll on his mind. He went to bed without any further protest.

“Oh, Dimitri,” Claude murmured, “you really do care too much. I wonder how things would have been different if my message to Faerghus hadn’t been intercepted…”

“Claude?” he mumbled, fighting the pull of his leaden eyelids. “You’ll… stay?” Just until Dedue returns.  

“Sure, prince. I’ll stay as long as I can.” 

 

 


 

 

“Claude, may I speak with you for a moment?” He cleared his throat, wincing as his voice came out in a ragged croak. 

“Sure thing, Your Former Sickliness!” Claude chirped, shutting the book he was reading. “What can lil’ ‘ol me do for you?”

He cleared his throat. “I, ahem, I wanted to thank you for helping me when I was sick. And also to apologize if I said anything strange in my feverish state.”

Claude’s brows furrowed. “Feverish indeed! I hope whoever helped you back to your room didn’t do anything nefarious, because it wasn’t me.”

“What? Oh.” How embarrassing. “I see. I suppose he did look strange, but I was certain it was you… Erm, do you happen to have an older brother, or perhaps a young uncle who matches your appearance closely?”

Snorting, Claude shook his head. “Fishing for my family history?”

“No! Not at all, he just looked so much like you! Minus your braid, and with a light beard…”

“Welp, whoever you saw wasn’t me. I don’t have any family that looks like me either — I’m a one-of-a-kind rarity, Your Princeliness.”

“My apologies for bothering you. Perhaps it was all a fever dream. If you truly don’t have any look-alike family, it must have been all in my head.”

“No worries! Hey, this isn’t your subtle way of asking if I have a hot sister for you to date, hm?”

“Claude! N-no!”

 

 


 

 

Unfortunately, shortly after he got better, he overdid it at the training grounds and relapsed into sickness. 

He awoke in the middle of the night with the smell of smoke lingering in his nose from his nightmare. Bolting upright, the world swam around him. Sweat made his sheets cling to his body. 

“Up. Up. Up! Get up! Hurry Your Highness, hurry! Find the one responsible! End our suffering! Hurry, hurry, hurry!”

Nodding, he stumbled to his feet and left his room. Everything was blurry — everything but the ghosts surrounding him. They were all sharp and clear, clawing at him with bloodied hands. “I’m going,” he mumbled, “I’m going, I swear, I’m going…”

“Faster, hurry, hurry! End our suffering! Enact our will! Revenge! Justice! Revenge!”

He pushed his body further, one foot in front of the other, until his knees collapsed out from under him. 

“Weak! Unloving-son! Weak, pathetic! We died for you!”

Panting, he forced himself up even as his arms shook. When he was halfway standing, his body went weak once more and dropped him back to the muddy grass. 

“Look at you,” said a new voice, hissing and unnatural, echoing across the courtyard. It was familiar somehow, but he couldn’t place the details. “I should crush you.”

“I’ll do it,” he gasped, clawing at the grass. “Please, I just need a little more time. I’ll avenge you all, I swear it, I’ll end your suffering, I swear, I swear I still love you, Father, Step-mother, Glenn — please, I’m trying, I’m trying..!”

“Pathetic,” this new voice continued. “Who are you praying to? No Goddess will hear you.”

“I’ll do it myself. I know the Goddess doesn’t care, I’ll do it anyways, I’ll grant you all rest!”

“Groveling in the mud. This is where you are meant to be.” Pressure pressed against his back. “I should crush you here and now, end your pathetic sniveling before you have the chance to suffer.”

“Too late for that,” he wheezed out.

“If you die, then peace will come faster. The war will be short. Faerghus will crumble in the name of progress.”

It occurred to his fever-addled mind that he was about to die if he did nothing. Heaving with all his strength, he dislodged the pressure on his back, then rolled over. Swallowing his nausea, he gazed into a pair of glowing red eyes looming above him, tall as a building. The rest of the beast melted into the dark of the night, only the pale flash of tightly-drawn skin and shock of dead-white hair revealing any kind of face. Along the creature’s body were glowing red eyes like that of something unholy and wrong.

“Weak. You are weak,” the voice continued, sneering at him with such a familiar yet warped face.

“E-El?” he gasped. The beast’s eyes widened briefly. He struggled to get away, but his body gave out and darkness swallowed him whole.

 

 


 

 

“I’m just saying, you don’t have to be so serious anymore. We’re dead! You can let loose a little.”

“Be silent. I should have killed you when I had the chance.”

“Technically you did kill me, just not this you. Though by that logic, I technically killed you as well, but not this you. Seriously, Your Emperorness, this is a bit much. Making beasts in your army wasn’t enough for you, I see. Even your own body too? Have you heard of the concept of ‘overkill’?”

“It was not enough in the end. I still fell.”

“I can’t believe you killed me. I wouldn’t have caused any further issues for you! We could have had a nice peace treaty between Fódlan and Almyra, you know. But nooo, you just had to lop off my head.”

“I remind you that I did not do that. Regardless, it was the correct choice. You cannot be trusted.”

“Well, guess I’ll just have to be satisfied that most parallel versions of myself made it out alive. You have a bad track record on that front.”

“Silence.”

“Why? What’re you gonna do? Kill me again?”

“W…what is going on?” Dimitri asked, sleepily blinking as he looked between the two occupants of his room.

“Oh, he’s awake! And he can still see us, neat,” Claude said. Like before, Claude looked different and older.

The beast wearing El’s face glared at him. She had to hunch and sit in order to fit inside his room, taking up a great deal of space. “Be grateful you awaken at all, Dimitri. I could have left you to die.”

“But you didn’t,” Claude sing-songed. “Besides, that’s over-dramatic. Someone else would’ve found him before he died. Probably.”

“What’s going on?” he asked, for lack of any other way to phrase his confusion.

“Edie and I are just chitchatting, don’t mind us.”

“Do not call me that.”

“Oh yeah? You gonna kill me if I keep calling you Edie, Edie?”

“I will kill Dimitri if you continue to annoy me.”

“Tisk, tisk! I wouldn’t get on his bad side if I were you, Your Beastliness! Think about it. Dimitri can see us. No one else can. So, if we want to do anything, it must be done through Dimitri. Now, Dimitri and I go way back, so I'm sure my pal won’t mind doing me a favor now and then!” Claude winked at him. “Y’know, to help appease the dead and all that. You though, Edie? All you’ve done is threaten to kill him.”

“I am so confused.”

 

 


 

 

Dimitri got better, and this time he did not push himself throughout his recovery. He was determined to be of good, clean health this time. Specifically, he was determined to stop hallucinating a specific pair of ghosts.

“Must you insist on hovering so close?” he mumbled as he walked the hall.

“I’m not hovering at all,” Ghost-Claude said. Lifting his feet, Claude crossed his legs and sat at eye level, floating along beside him. “Now I’m hovering. Neat, didn’t know I could do that.” At least Ghost-Claude was hovering a few inches away from him now. 

“Do you ever cease your chatter?” Not-El rumbled, dragging her elongated arms on the ground behind her, forced to hunch in order to fit inside the hall. 

“I’m bored, so no, not really. C’mon, aren’t you curious about how we came to haunt His Princeliness? Wait, no, how could I forget, you never question anything.”

“You know nothing of which you speak.”

“Please be quiet,” he whispered, pinching his brow. 

“Whoops, sorry!” 

“You do not command me.”

“Yeesh, it’s a common courtesy to quiet down. You’re even ruder than I remember.”

“Be silent.”

“Now who’s commanding who? That’s hypocritical.”

“Ugh…” This was going to be a long day.

“Hey, do you think we’re actually real? Like, I think I’m real, but what if we’re just figments of Dimitri’s imagination?”

“You are intolerable.”

 

 


 

 

“Claude, I apologize, but may I speak to you in private?”

Claude raised an eyebrow, shutting his book and standing. “How can I say no when you phrase it like that! Sure, you got a special place in mind?” Claude gestured to the library around them, which was by no means private.

“Hey, trust me?” Ghost-Claude said, tapping his chin. “I know the perfect place. Tell him we’re going to a quiet place.”

After a moment of hesitation — ghost-Claude was smirking enough to make him suspicious — he repeated Claude’s words and led not-dead-Claude out of the library. For a moment as he followed the solid figure in front of him, ghost-Claude’s body flickered. For just a moment, ghost-Claude wore foreign silks and a patterned headscarf, his braid lengthy on the other side of his head from living-Claude. 

He’d noticed these brief changes before. El had them frequently, especially when she caught sight of her Black Eagle classmates. Her form would become human once again, clothed in a bright red dress instead of blackened, muscular flesh. Claude had them happen much less, but they were twice as baffling. 

Usually the ghosts only changed bodies when one of them was gone. Currently, El was off doing whatever the ghosts did when they weren’t haunting him. It was just him and Claude (and Claude again).

“Here we are,” ghost-Claude said. “My favorite tree to nap under! And it’s nice and secluded.” Plopping onto the ground, ghost-Claude sprawled out. 

“An interesting spot,” Claude said diplomatically, settling down right beside ghost-Claude. 

“It seemed like a good choice.”

“He’s lonely, you know.” Ghost-Claude gestured to his younger self. “Has been his entire life, really. Never had a friend he could call his own. Kinda sad!”

‘What about Hilda?’ he wanted to ask, but obviously couldn’t. Clearing his throat, he shifted on his feet. Ghost-Claude gestured wildly for him to sit beside living-Claude, but that seemed improper, so he remained standing. “I… Blast, I’m not sure how to ask you this question.”

Claude raised an eyebrow. “I’m flattered, but I’m afraid I don’t just agree to date anyone, Your Princeliness. Take me to dinner first.”

If ghost-Claude hadn’t predicted that response, he would be flustered. Instead, he just shook his head. Enduring ghost-Claude’s chattering for a week straight made the real deal less flustering. “Nothing like that. This is simply a delicate question.” Ghost-Claude assured him that living-Claude would be curious enough to entertain him, but he was still worried about messing this up. 

“Sit down already, Your Princeliness! You’re making me antsy standing like that.” Both Claudes spoke simultaneously. 

Sighing, he sat down. “Claude, I… I have come seeking your advice. Please hear me out before dismissing my ravings as complete lunacy.”

Just as ghost-Claude predicted, living-Claude was hooked. “Alright, you have my attention. Not everyday that the Holy Prince of Faerghus sits me down and share his ‘ravings’. Go on, I won’t judge.”

“Hey, Dimitri. Call him Khalid.” He tried to subtly frown at ghost-Claude, which just got him a raised eyebrow from living-Claude. “Try it. Mumble it. Pretend it was the slip of the tongue. Trust me, this will be absolute proof that I’m real to both of you.”

“Ah… right. I’ve been experiencing something strange, and I was hoping you had some insight on the matter, Kalid.” He held back a wince at the butchered pronunciation. 

Butchered pronunciation or not, Claude reacted with a full-body flinch. “What did you just say?”

“I was hoping you might have some insight on the matter, Claude.” Rubbing the back of his neck, he looked away. “My apologies, my tongue has been rather clunky recently, I didn’t mean to mispronounce your name.”

“Right.” Now Claude wasn’t curious — he was wary.  

“See? Don’t worry, this will be excellent proof. No one in Fódlan knows his birth name. Well, no one but you, now.”

“Yes. Right. Ahem. This is going to sound very strange. When I was ill, I was visited by a… a ghost.”

“A ghost.” Claude was skeptical, but not too skeptical.

“I know it sounds insane, but hear me out! This ghost resembles almost perfectly. Your future-self is haunting me!” Great. Now he did it.

Claude’s eyebrows rose to his hairline. “My future self. The ghost of my future self.”

“And Edelgard’s too, but she isn’t around right now.”

“Right now.” He said too much! “Dimitri, are you seeing this ghost right now?” Ghost-Claude pressed his cheek up to living-Claude’s cheek, winking.

“…Yes?”

“Tell him to hug Noora for me next time he sees her.”

“Erm, your ghostly-self has a message for you?” Claude’s green eyes bored into his. “He said to give Nora—”

 “Noora.”

“Sorry, give Noora a hug for him when you see her next.”

Claude’s face drained of color. “Where did you really hear that name, Dimitri?” Claude was quiet and deadly serious. 

“Noora is my father’s wyvern, by the way. Tell him that when he was four years old, he tried to hide in a wyvern nest in an attempt to get adopted by a mama-wyvern.”

“What? Oh, sorry Claude. Ahem, uh, your future self says that when you were four years old, you attempted to hide in a wyvern’s nest in order to be, um, adopted by a mother-wyvern. That sounds dangerous?”

Claude’s eyes bugged wide. “No one knows that.”

“No one but me!” ghost-Claude chirped.

He bowed his head. “I’m very sorry, this must be a lot to take in. However, your future-self refuses to answer my question! I’d like to see him rest at ease, but he won’t tell me what regret tethers him to life. I was hoping that you might know the answer.”

“You’re serious.”

“Call him Khalid again.”

“He says your birth name is actually Kha—”

“Okay! Okay, don’t say that out loud! Gods above, is this ghost of chattering all of my secrets to you?!”

He buried his face in his hand. “You have no idea.”

“Whaaaat? C’mon, I’m bored! Besides, you’re worthy of my trust.” He shot the ghost a glare. “You are, I’m serious. Part of a perk of being dead! I saw into other possibilities — most of which involved my survival — and you never disappointed me. Saved my life plenty of times!”

“Is he saying something?” Claude whispered, eyes darting between Dimitri and the tree.

“Now that you’re talking with mini-me,” ghost-Claude continued, smirk softening into something gentle, “you should befriend him. I’m not joking when I say he’s a friendless loner who is desperately, desperately lonely. He’ll deny it, but it’s true! He could really use a friend.” Sticking out his bottom lip, ghost-Claude made an exaggerated pout and cupped his living self’s chin with phantom hands. “Look at this poor, lonely boy. He used to talk to inanimate objects when he was a child because no one tolerated him! He’s a perfectly good friend though, ready to be friend-dopted at any time. Disclaimer: he might bite, but only because he’s scared or paranoid.”

“Wait, that’s what is tethering you to life?! You’re lonely?!”

“It’s more complicated than that! But I meeean, if you boil it down to the base level…” shrugging, ghost-Claude winked, “yeah, pretty much.”

“What is he telling you, Dimitri,” Claude demanded, grabbing his arm with a vice.

He cleared his throat. “…Apologies. Apparently the afterlife is, erm, very boring. I’m so sorry Claude, I know this is a horrible invasion of your privacy.”

“Is it really an invasion when it’s freely given? By the way, he’s afraid of losing control, bees — someone put a hive in his bed when he was a kid, that stuff sticks with you! — losing a limb, drowning or waterboarding, being hated for his entire life, and dying without achieving any steps towards his dream. Oh, his dream is to end discrimination based on the place of someone’s birth, by the way! He’s half Almyra, so people on both sides of the border have always hated him as an ‘outsider’. With lethal intent, often!”

“What is he telling you,” Claude hissed. His face must have shown his horror. He was feeling rather lightheaded. 

“N…nothing of importance. I think he finds this humorous.”

“Oh, absolutely!” Ghost-Claude jumped to his feet, winking. “Now, I’ll leave you two alone for a bit. He likes feasts, archery, topics of curiosity, and long rides. You and him should go on a ride together! He also likes to snuggle, but he’ll very much deny that. When he trusts you more, swoop in for a surprise hug. I guarantee he’ll melt.”

“He just left,” he reported. “This isn’t how I expected this conversation to go.”

“What did he tell you?!” Claude repeated, absolutely livid. 

“Oh dear. Um. Mostly that… ahem, he’s sad that he died without ever making a friend?”

“What.”

He buried his face in his hands. “Why do you have to scheme everything? I would have agreed to a friendship if you just asked me! I didn’t need this convoluted setup in order to agree, Claude!” he shouted after the ghost, who did not acknowledge him.

Claude’s green eyes were narrow with suspicion and… and maybe fear, if he was guessing correctly. How was he supposed to become Claude’s friend now?

 

 


 

 

“Do you want me to pass along a message?” he asked El as she stared out of his window, her eyes trailing longingly after the distant specs of the Black Eagles.

“No. I have no regrets.”

“If you had no regrets, then why are you here?”

“My only regret is that  died to your blade.”

Exhausted, he heaved a groan and got out of his chair. As long as El was moping he was going to get nothing done, so he headed to the library.

Opening the first book he found in the library, he stared at the pages without reading. Ghost-Claude finally gave him some peace and quiet (when he wasn’t spewing secrets like a fountain). El’s moping was somehow worse than Claude’s chatter.

“What’cha reading?” Claude — living-Claude — asked him, leaning over his shoulder.

“I don’t even know.” It had been a week since ghost-Claude attempted to make him befriend living-Claude. Claude was still wary around him, but curiosity kept bringing him back for more. Weird as it was, ghost-Claude’s method seemed to actually be working? Apparently the old saying ‘keep your friends close, and your enemies closer’ was true. Though in Claude’s case, it was more along the lines of ‘no friends to keep close, learn everything about your enemies, and constantly invade your frenemies space to even out the scale of awkwardness.’ According to ghost-Claude, living-Claude wouldn’t be touching him at all if he was in full paranoia mode, so that was something.

“Did you get any more details about the future?”

“Nothing of substance.”

“Anything can have substance if you pick it apart enough!”

“Ghost-Claude admitted to feeling a bit homesick.” Or rather, admitted that Claude felt painfully, achingly homesick during his entire stay at the monastery. Judging by Claude’s pinched expression, he read between the lines. “He also made mention that he wasn’t used to having any free time at all.”

“Guess I’ve got a busy duke-career ahead of me.” Claude’s expression crinkled into a frown. “Have you been sleeping at all? You look tired. Er, my ghost-self isn’t keeping you up with his chatter, is he?”

“No, it’s Edelgard. She refuses to stop moping.”

Claude perked up, likely eager to talk about anyone who wasn’t himself. “Have you talked to her present-self?”

“What would I say? In your case, I had your future-self’s assurance that you would be too curious to walk out on me!” Claude’s frown clearly said ‘I hate those words you just spoke’. “Well, it’s true. Future-Edelgard is… more prickly.”

“And she isn’t prickly in the present?”

“Future-Edelgard often threatens to kill me.”

“Oh. Um. That sounds like a bad sign for the future.”

“Dimitri.”

He nearly fell off his chair, saved only by Claude’s quick reflexes grabbing him. “Don’t sneak up on me!” he hissed to El.

“Oh great, is it my future self?”

“No, it’s—El!” He was yanked out of Claude’s hands and bodily tugged towards the door. “What are you doing?”

“They can physically touch you?!” Claude questioned, jogging to keep up. “You never mentioned that!” He must look peculiar being dragged by an ‘invisible’ force. 

“Make the gnat leave. Or I will break your arm.”

“Ahem, Claude. Could you please ensure the area ahead of me is clear of people? I am uncertain how I would explain my current predicament.”

“Just say it’s magic,” Claude grumbled, but did as he asked, darting off ahead of them.

As soon as they were outside, El dragged him towards the marketplace, luckily letting go of him before they got to the bustling area. Despite being unable to touch anyone, El despised crowded places. “Buy coffee beans, then return here.”

He didn’t question her. It was rare that she had him do anything, so he did as she asked and bought a nice bag imported from Morfis. He picked up some Almyran Pine tea too, on the off chance that it might relieve a tiny amount of Claude’s homesickness. 

When he returned to El, she wandered off to the greenhouse. She pointed to a bush of red carnations. “Those.” Though he crushed a few, he ended up collecting a decent bouquet of carnations. “Put them in Hubert’s room.”

“Won’t he be suspicious?”

“Carnations mean they are from me. He won’t bother to confirm it with my child-self. Do not be seen placing these.”

“Very well. Is it his birthday?”

“This is the day he died.” Oh. Her eyes drifted to the ground. “His loyalty meant everything to me.”

“I see. I’ll do this for you.”

She did not thank him. She simply turned around and left. Great. How was he supposed to sneak these to Hubert’s door?

“There you are! Flowers and coffee? Did Edelgard make you buy those?”

“Claude, I need your help. I need to secretly put these in Hubert’s room.”

Claude’s face lit up in a wide grin, throwing an arm around his shoulder. “Now you’re talking! You came to the right place, my friend! There are all sorts of ways we can do this…” 

Out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of Claude with his bloodied cravat. Ghost-Claude winked and waved, fading from view.

Chapter Text

“If you were really my friend, you would do this for me.”

“Claude! For the last time, friends don’t chop each other’s limbs off!”

“It’s not my limb. It’s not natural. It needs off of me.” As if to prove his point, the wings attached to his back fluttered without warning. “This is the only solution. Be logical.”

“Last time I got within wing-distance, I got slapped across the room.”

“Then just restrain the wings! You guys did it before.”

Hilda rubbed her palm over her forehead, sighing. “Claude, I’m glad you’re feeling better and are up again, but please stop asking me to chop your wings off. And stop asking everyone else!”

“They’re not my wings,” he snapped, not for the first time. He was only ‘feeling better’ in the sense that he wasn’t actively panicking every single waking moment.

Groaning loudly, Hilda walked into another room. Unfortunately, if he wanted to follow her, that would require hobbling against the wall. He was sick of being pitied and seen as weak, so he stayed on his stool, hunching over himself as the wings tucked tightly against his back.

He sat alone at the table. Sometimes other people sat at the table too and tried to talk to him, but it all flooded away as his thoughts churned in a circle. The wings had to go. He couldn’t stand them. They were only going to get worse if he really did have wing-mites. The obvious solution was to just not have wings anymore. Then no one would touch his wings ever again. 

“We got together as a group earlier and preened Cyril’s wings for him,” Ignatz was saying when he tuned back into the conversation. “He gave us tips on how to do it gently. If you want, we can—”

“No.”

“Right. Um. Cyril said that it could become a serious health problem for you, though. Since you have so many feathers…”

“Then cut them off.”

“No! Goddess, Claude, we’re not doing that!” Leonie cried. When had she joined the table?

“The best option is to return him to Almyra,” Lorenz stated. “As Lysithea and Marianne have both stated, Fódlan’s understanding of Almyran wings is non-existent. He needs a healer that understands how to help him.”

A chuckle crackled past his lips. The table fell silent and stared at him. “If you’re going to send me back there, you might as well speed up the process and kill me now.” He laughed again as everyone around him paled. Of course they didn’t understand. It was hilarious though. The wings fluttered restlessly behind him, twitching and rustling as he laid his head on the table. “I’m half foreigner. No one wants an outsider to be in charge of them. Heh.”

“You’re saying… you’d be killed…?” Leonie quietly prodded. “For what? Having big wings now?”

“Haha, no. That would work in my favor, but not enough. I could be perfect and it would never be enough. All they care about is who my mother is. Nothing in Almyra would be different from before I left.” He laughed again, wrapping his arms around himself. The wings attempted to hug him too but were impeded by the table. “Do I look like I can fight off an assassin like this? I wouldn’t last a week. Week… weak… too weak, always have been too weak…”

“An assassin? I knew Almyrans were barbaric, but to attack an injured and recovering man, that’s—”

“Fódlan is no different,” he snapped. “Funny… funny… hilarious even… hilarious how similar both places are. If I go back to Fódlan, I’ll be killed. If I go back to Almyra, I’ll be killed. Hah!” No one else was laughing with him. “You’d all understand if you went to Almyra. So many differences are surface level. We’re all people, for all the good and evil that entails. Both places are filled with people who want me dead.”

Entirely done with socializing, he shakily got to his feet. Limping up the stairway was agony between the sensitive wings and unsteady legs. As soon as he got back into ‘his’ room, he shut the door and curled up in his corner. He put a blanket down beneath him for once.

If the others refused to cut the wings from his back, he would have to do it himself.

After a nap, he searched his room. All he found was a knife. It was sharp but small. It would only work to cut his wings as a last resort. He hid it in his pants. The others would take it if they knew he was armed.

 

 


 

 

Ripping, tearing, yanking, silence, silence, darkness, pain— 

Jerking violently, the wings slammed into the cage-wall. Before it had been metal — now it was solid stone. Biting down on his cheeks, he muffled a scream. Blood filled his mouth as he twisted and squirmed. Bad. Bad bad bad. Between the spasming wings and growing panic, he tried to focus on not drowning in his own blood. Dribbling it past mask flush to his face was the only exit aside from swallowing it. He couldn’t afford to vomit with this mask on his face, so he couldn’t afford to swallow too much blood either. Clawing at the cavern floor, he writhed as his wings continued to twitch and itch. Soon they were going to tear out his feathers again. Soon the pain would come. 

His fingers gripped the soft fabric of a blanket, not the hard rock of a floor.

Gasping, he clawed at his own face. No mask. No mask. He was blind though, it was so dark and silent. His head was stuffed with panicked cotton. Did they pluck out his eyes? Was he still wearing the mask? Was this just a dream? The pounding of his heartbeat was the only sound, echoing and echoing inside the metal mask.

One of the wings thumped into the stone wall again, inciting a new wave of writhing. Fingers digging into the wooden floorboards, he dragged himself forward and away. Anything to escape. Anything. They were going to cut his legs again for this stunt, but he had to get away. 

His forehead collided with something, dropping him to the ground. The wings bumped into the wall again. He clutched the closest thing — a bundle of feathers, and tugged. A whimpering, gasping noise broke the deafness, but this wasn’t the first time he had hallucinated sound. The wing flailed as the two of them tugged at the feathers, struggling for freedom and struggling to take his feathers. He gripped tighter, curling into a ball as the feathers shot waves of pain through his body. He refused to let go. With a sickening squelch the force trying to take his feathers vanished and the wing slammed into the wall again. It hurts, he wanted to scream, stop, it hurts. The wing continued to flail, thumping against the wall and whatever object was in front of him.

Something struck the floor beside his head with a strange jingle. The wings ceased their tantrum as his brain furiously tried to interpret the sound. Slowly, with the hand not cradling his feathers, he reached out. His fingers wrapped around a palm-sized object. It jingled again as he lifted it.

‘Here’s a bell. If you need us, just ring it, okay?’ spoke a phantom of Leonie. The bell. The Goneril manor. Not the cave.

Right?

Squeezing his unseeing eyes shut, he braced himself and then rang the bell as hard as he could. The sound pierced the deafness like an arrow, making his ears ring from the force of it. 

No one was coming. No one was coming! He rang the bell again. Did they leave him? Leave him alone? He was alone. His heartbeat thundered in his ears as blind shapes taunted him from the void. A scream rose in his throat, barely tamped down. He was alone and defenseless. He was going to die. 

“Claude?” called a soft voice through the darkness as the door squeaked open. “Did you ring the bell?” He wheezed a sound. Not alone. Crawling on the ground, he dragged himself towards the voice. “Are you well? Do you require Marianne?”

His forehead collided with a pair of legs. His arms wrapped around those legs, silently begging for Lorenz to stay. 

“…Did you have a nightmare?”

“Please,” he whispered the single syllable. “Please, please, light, light.” 

“You’re speaking nonsense, Claude.” Lorenz’s voice was hesitant and uncomfortable. 

His mind churned slowly. The words refused to come. Light. What was the word for light? “B-burning,” he gasped out, “fire, si-ight, s-s-sun, please.”

“Your wings are burning?” Lorenz asked.

“N-n-no! Fire, fire, please, fire!” 

“You’re cold, then. Release me and I will fetch you more blankets.”

His arms shook as Lorenz tried to free himself. In desperation, he bit into the fabric to keep Lorenz in place. Lorenz squawked and pain ruptured through the wings as they collapsed on Lorenz, burying him in inescapable feathers. Claude would know they were inescapable, after all. 

“What do you want?” Lorenz heaved at the wings. 

“Th-they plucked my f-feathers, they plucked my eyes, I c-c-can’t see, I can’t—I can’t—I can’t—!”  

“Goddess, get a hold of yourself!” Lorenz softly chided. A soft touch stroked his cheek. “Your eyes are fine.”

“Can’t see, the mask, the mask, get it off, get it off, get it off…” 

Light seared his eyes. Light, that was the word he’d been looking for. He hungrily stared at the little flame dancing in Lorenz’s palm, raised above both of their heads and away from the wings. “Your eyes are fine, Claude. It’s simply night. That is all.”

He laid there and shook for a time. Lorenz said weirdly-soft words to him, but they didn’t register as anything understandable. Clinging to someone who hadn’t hurt him yet, he stared at the little flame. 

Eventually, something touched his fist. Lorenz pried his hand open. Inside his hand were long secondary feathers. Blood smeared the shaft, his hands, and Lorenz’s pants. 

 

 


 

 

“We’re giving you options, Claude. If you don’t pick an option, we’ll be forced to choose one for you.”

“Chop them off.”

“That’s not an option, Claude. Try again.”

“Chop them off.”

“Last chance, Claude. We can dunk your wings in a tub of water, or—”

“No, no, don’t, don’t you dare.”

“OR we can do this manually. We’re gonna have to do at least part of this by hand, since you refuse to do it.”

He shook his head, bundling up. “No. No cold water, no, no, no.”

“Warm water?”

“Don’t touch the wings.”

“But warm water, Claude, is that okay?”

“No cold water.”

Hilda sighed. “You’re a real piece of work right now, I hope you realize.”

“Then cut off my wings and I’ll be less work.”

“Goddess Claude, for the last time, I’m not cutting off your wings!”

Raphael and Leonie walked into the room. “Did he make a choice?”

“He’s refusing, so we have to go with plan C.”

Both of their faces fell. “You sure, buddy? We just want what’s best for you.”

“What’s plan C?” he demanded, the wings hooding above his head. “Don’t touch me.”

Leonie’s lips pursed. “Claude, we need to check on your wings.”

“Not mine,” he hissed. One of the wings twitched abruptly and slapped the stone wall. 

“Sorry about this, buddy. We’re only doing this because we care.”

He spaced out at the worst possible time. A blink later, and all three of them were encroaching on his space. Lorenz was there too. He was backed into the corner and couldn’t get away any further. 

Hands reached forward and restrained him.

No matter how he thrashed and fought, he was no match for any of them. Not even the wings were helpful, as they were the first things restrained. His classmates loosely knotted his hands and legs and wings as he futilely screamed. 

They hauled him outside. He was screaming and thrashing and panicking too hard to take note of anything aside from ‘outside’ and ‘danger’ and ‘run’.

The hands left him.

Heaving for air, he curled up into a ball and hid as best he was able. He was still restrained. 

“You’re okay, Claude,” Hilda was murmuring over and over from a distance. “You’re okay.”

As soon as his head cleared enough to be able to think again, he took note of his surroundings. He’d been placed on a plush pile of blankets and sheets. Instead of being completely in the open, they brought him to a large gazebo. Sheets were thrown over most of the open spots, giving him a degree of privacy.  

His eyes strayed back to the others. Everyone was present except for Lysithea. “What are you going to do to me?” asked a timid version of himself.

“Soak your wings, soak the mites and their eggs in alcohol or garlic-water to kill them, pick those out, check for injury and infection, preen the feathers, get you actually clean, and rub salve on any open sores.” Cyril ticked off his fingers one-by-one.

“The salve s-should help with, um, the p-pain…” Marianne murmured. “We, um, we made it fresh from the herbs out back…”

He shook his head, knowing there was no way out for him. “Please don’t, please.”

“We’re sorry Claude, this is for your own good.”

“No, no, don’t touch me…!” Seven towering figures approached. “Stay back. Stay back, don’t, please!”

“It’s for your own good, Claude.” They carefully un-restrained his wings, forcing the wings to spread wide then tied them down.

“No,” he whimpered, clawing at the blankets. “No, please, no…!”

Something warm and wet tricked down his wings. It wasn’t blood. The shock of warmth startled him, but not in a bad way. The slavers never used warmth on him before. 

“See? Feels good, right?” Cyril said, rubbing a sopping wet rag across his feathers.

Breathing heavily, he curled up into a ball as more warm rags brushed over his feathers. First he smothered his face in a pillow, then he took to chewing on the fabric as the touches continued. Someone removed the bindings around his arms and legs, but being surrounded by people meant he couldn’t escape anyways.

“Oh, gross, there’s crusted blood all over the base of his feathers!” Hilda stated.

“That’s not even including the bugs. Ugggh.” Leonie shuddered. 

“It’s not as bad as I thought it’d be,” Cyril murmured. “He hasn’t had the wing-mites on him for long. He’s got a ton of ingrown feathers though.” In a whisper, Cyril added, “These are gonna need to be cut open and plucked.”

“N-no,” he gasped into the pillow, shaking his head back and forth. “Please, no, no, no more, please!”

“Calm down! I’m not gonna pluck anything without your permission, ‘kay? Sides, they gotta be carefully removed, not yanked out. And maybe we can get something to numb it all.”

Someone’s fingers dug against the base of his feathers near his shoulder. He inhaled deeply to shout, prepared for the pain of torn feathers. The fingers didn’t yank out his feathers. Instead, the hand began massaging the wing’s shoulder joint where it connected to his back. The air he’d sucked in as preparation to scream expelled from his mouth as a low moan. Everyone touching his shaking wings froze.

“Er, did we go too far…?”

“Nah. Told ya all, preening feels good.”

“Er… Cyril, this isn’t like, an Almyran sex-thing, right?” Hilda asked, because of course she did. Claude would have answered for himself if he wasn’t too busy panting into his pillow like a dog in heat. On second thought, maybe she was justified in her assumption. The sensation wasn’t sexual, but it was just so much.

“No! Gross, no! It’s a bonding activity! Family and friends do it! Just ‘cause it feels nice, ya don’t gotta make it weird. Yeesh, when he’s screaming for us to stop y’all keep going, but when he starts enjoying it you stop?”

“D-don’t phrase it like that,” he groaned into his pillow. “Are you guys done yet?”

“Not even close. Sorry Claude.” Hilda patted his cheek.

“Please be done. The feathers… m…my feathers are… o-overly…sensitive,” he mumbled.

“What was that? You said it into the pillow.”

Squeezing his eyes shut, he spoke up. “They’re sensitive! S-so hurry up!” He wasn’t sure how much more he could handle.

“Sorry Claude. We’ll stop as soon as we make sure you’re clean of bugs.” That was going to take forever!

As hands returned to his wings, he curled against his pillow and sunk his teeth back into the fabric to weather out the sensations. There was picking and scraping at dried blood, scratching and soaking of anything bug-related, shifting and straightening of ruffled feathers, and the occasional stray touch brushing up against a broken feather-shaft. It didn’t take long before he was rattling out of his skin, mindlessly groaning and moaning in pain, pleasure, and pure sensation. 

“Guys, I think we actually have to stop.” One pair of hands vanished. “Look.”

“Oh damn. Goddess, Claude, we’re sorry.”

It occurred to him that he was outright sobbing. 

“Can we finish this tomorrow, Cyril?”

“U-um, a-a-actually, the s-sooner we finish this, the b-better. Claude has a lot of o-open sores on his wings, and, um, they might get infected if they aren’t treated as soon as possible.”

“Shouldn’t his crest have healed that, though?”

“Um… I think, um… his crest hasn’t been healing him e-evenly. I think most of the energy has been going to growth, regrowth, and superficial healing. There is a lot of damaged tissue underneath the skin and, um, a lot of bruising… and internal bleeding…” 

The voices got quieter for a bit as everyone gave him some space. He was alone with only his fading sobs to keep him company. The wings and feathers buzzed and twitched and even though no one was touching him, the sensation of phantom hands persisted. 

“U-um, are you thirsty?” Marianne whispered. He lost more time. Everyone was coming back.

“Yeah,” he sniffled. Marianne carefully helped him sit up a little bit to drink the hot tea she brought. Hot tea. So much better than anything cold. 

“Are you ready to continue, Claude?”

He shook his head and cradled the tea. The wings tugged at the restraints keeping them splayed out. “Can you knock me out?” he whispered, knowing that they were going to touch him no matter what he said.

“Was there any alcohol in the house?” Hilda asked Leonie.

“Only the stuff we’ve been dabbing on our rags to kill the mites. Sorry Claude. We’re being as gentle as possible.”

“Um.” Marianne stepped forward. “I can start healing parts of his wings… that might numb him, s-slightly? But there are a lot of broken shafts that need to be removed first, o-or else the skin will heal over them…”

Burying his head in the pillow, the world closed off around him. Plucking. They were going to pluck his feathers. His wings and body shook as that single word rattled around his head. Plucking, plucking, plucking.

Something cold and slimy touched his wing. Crying out, he bucked wildly, heaving at the wing-restraints. 

“Claude! It’s just some salve! It’ll help numb you!”

 His hands reached another person. He clawed at them, desperate. Desperate to flee, to be saved, to harm the ones hurting him. Anything to make it stop. Anything.

“Easy bud, easy.” Raphael’s calm voice did nothing to calm him. A big meaty hand stretched towards his face. He bit down, ignoring Raphael’s shout and refusing to let go. His hands weren’t restrained. With sudden clarity, he recalled the knife in his pocket. It was in his hands in an instant. Cut into his captor, he plunged the blade in deep as he continued to bite the slaver’s hand. Blood stained his mouth as a familiar feeling built inside of him. He let go of the hand and knife but it was too late. As the feeling rose, he screamed and failed to flee from his own skin.

A burst of light was followed by the wracking sensation of stretching skin, tendons, bones, muscles. No, no, no. He reached back and yanked at his own feathers, begging them to stop. Screaming, he tore out everything he could reach. The wings didn’t grow as much when he had less feathers. With the wings almost entirely feathered, they were going to grow a lot — he could feel it happening. Hands grabbed his wrists as he reached for another bloody handful of feathers. His arms were restrained once more. 

No amount of screaming stopped his crest from further altering his body. The bones of his wings went crack, crack as they broke and healed with the accelerated growth. They’d never done that before. For the first time, he watched as the shaking feathers grew and expanded, centimeters turning into inches, inches after inches, filling his already massive wings with more new feathers as they stabbed past the skin. 

Distantly, far away from the part of him consumed with fear, he tallied up the facts. Something noticed back in the cave was that after every session of crest use, the crest seemed to come to him easier than before, eager to heal his constantly injured wings. Once, the energy had filled his entire body, but the more his crest was forced out of him, the more the energy began to focus on the parasitic wings. He hadn’t been able to see back then, but it always felt like they grew more after every session — especially after the slavers learned that by leaving him with feathers, his crest ensured more grew than if he was plucked bare. Beyond all of that, his crest’s effectiveness was based on how much damage he inflicted. It was impossible to know how many superficial injuries he hit his captors with, but none of them had been as damaging as a stab wound.

In the back of his mind, he knew all of these little details. All he could do about it was scream as his wings swelled in size and volume. They were already so heavy and cumbersome. How many more activations of his crest before they were so heavy that he couldn’t move?

Eventually it stopped. It felt like it lasted for years, but it had probably only been seconds. His body went limp as he sobbed, the new feathers twitching with over-sensitivity. 

At least one of his wishes was granted. Darkness claimed him and he passed out.

 

 


 

 

Claude woke slowly. He was comfortable, his head pleasantly fuzzy and empty. Though overall sore, his body hummed with pleasant tingles. A warmth suffused around him. Rolling his head, he groaned and peeled open his eyes. It was darker out than he remembered it being. Dusk had fallen.

“He’s waking up. How close are we to being done?”

“The worst of it is taken care of.”

His blurry vision latched onto vibrant pink. “H’lda?” he slurred, failing to get his eyes to focus. 

“Sorry Claude, we’re going as fast as we can.”

“Wha’cha doin’?”

“Um, I might have, um, numbed him a little too much…” Marianne’s voice carried over to him. “I’ve never cast a spell in this manner before.”

“How do you feel, Claude?”

His eyes fell shut as he smacked his lips. “Mmm… ‘s feels… pretty good.”

“Oh thank the Goddess for that.” 

“Wha’ happen’d?” Frowning, he struggled to recall whatever made him upset just before he passed out. “Think I had a nigh’mare.” Hilda’s hands extended past his head, settled behind him. He sighed as her fingers deftly straightened out his feathers. Aaaah, that was the pleasant feeling. His wings were getting a massage. 

“Yeah. Just a nightmare, Claude.”

“I, I c-can’t keep channeling the spell a-anymore…”

“That’s enough, Marianne. You’ve done all you can for now.”

“I-I’m sorry.”

“You did your best. Healing Raphael took a lot out of you.”

“Raph…” he mumbled, something about that tickling his brain. “Wha’ happen’d to Raph? Is he okay?”

“Oh, Claude… Don’t worry. Raphael isn’t upset at you.”

“Did the slavers hurt him too?” Groaning, he tried to roll over, but his entire body was restrained. “I got one of ‘em, H’lda. I got ‘em.”

“Did he think Raphael was one of the slavers?” Leonie whispered nearby.

The cotton in his head was slowly starting to dissolve and the pleasant tingles around his wings were fading. Replacing the tingling was a wave of blissful sensation. Hand after hand after hand was buried in his wings, massaging and stroking and preening his feathers. Something was wrong and off about the entire thing, but it was hard to think as the waves of bliss rolled over his thoughts. There was pain mixed in too, a strange pain that he couldn’t describe. 

“H-he shouldn’t be walking,” Marianne whispered to someone else. “I noticed, um, his legs are… um, the tendons are… injured. Badly. Under the skin, his calves are m-more scar tissue than muscle.”

“Can you heal that?” Hilda whispered back. “I mean, not now, but surely when you’re better rested?”

“It… um. It will be l-like… like re-breaking a bone to set it properly. B-but the s-scar tissue needs to be removed so t-that muscle can regrow. I, I don’t think I can, um, I don’t think I can do that. O-or stomach it…”

His wings squirmed as the preening continued, unable to break free from their bonds. It didn’t take long for his groans to be replaced with moans as the sensation continued to grow. He broke out into a sweat as he panted, limp and pliant under so many euphoric hands. Preening had never felt so good. His wings bucked at their restraints, desperate to get closer to the touch.

“Almost done, Claude, we’re almost done. We’re just washing you down now. Don’t want your wings smelling like alcohol, medical salve, and garlic! Aha. Don’t worry, we got rid of all traces of the mites.”

He barely registered her words at all. The sensation was only getting more and more intense. As soon as he thought it couldn’t get more intense, he was proven wrong. His moans and cries were getting louder, uncontrollable as the touches threatened to melt his mind. It bordered on painful. Short of screaming, it was very, very close to being painful. His entire body shook as the sensation reached peak after peak, never reducing in intensity. 

Then, all at once, the touching stopped.

“All done. All done, Claude. We’re all done now.” Hilda murmured into his ear, using a cloth to mop up his tears.

“T-too much,” he croaked, wings still buzzing from the absent touch. Now that it was gone, he felt cold. 

“Claude, you recognize me, right?”

“Mm, Hilda…”

“Good. We’re going to untie you, okay? I’m going to carry you inside. Don’t attack me, okay?”

“Mmm…” At his nod, she untied the rope around his wrists and ankles. Then someone touched his wing and he shouted, writhing at the overwhelming touch. What had previously been enjoyable was now far, far too much as they undid the tight restraints around his wings. After his first scream he managed to muffle himself against Hilda as she held him. 

His wings flopped limply against the ground. Groaning, he frowned at them. Vaguely, he remembered that the gazebo had been big enough that his wings could fit inside. Now they brushed up against the edges of the structure, slipping past parts of the railing.

Hilda hefted him onto her hip and stood. He groaned as his wings twitched along the ground. “Can you bring them closer?” Hilda asked. Frowning, it occurred to him that his wings were attempting to curl around his back. They couldn’t heave themselves off the ground though. They had been heavy before — too heavy to fully spread out without toppling him over — but now they felt twice as heavy. Just because they’re wet, he decided, ignoring the dread gnawing at his stomach. 

“He said he can’t control them, remember?” Leonie piped up.

“Ugh, well we can’t have them dragging all over the mud! We just got them all clean and shiny! Plus he still has a few open sores from taking out ingrown feathers and plucking the broken shafts.” At the word plucking he whimpered. “Shh, it’s all over now, we got you Claude.”

He groaned as someone picked up a wing and manually folded it against his back. The muscles shook and failed as soon as Leonie let go of the wing. 

“Um… they’ll need to be held,” Marianne pointed out. “Wh-when they grew earlier, um, he didn’t grow any extra muscle mass with the added growth, so, um…” 

Growth. “How much did they grow?” he gasped, turning to look at the trail of feathers draping from his back. 

“We don’t really know the exact size to begin with, so we’re not sure.” Leonie and Cyril trailed behind him and Hilda, dutifully keeping his wings off the ground. The touch was both overwhelming and strangely welcome. 

When they got back to his room, he was sat down on the bed. Before anyone could leave, his wings heaved themselves forward and flopped on top of and around Hilda, Leonie, and Cyril. Though they shook at the sensation, it also felt nice. Maybe he was still slightly numbed, but his wings apparently decided they liked these people. It was a bit like when they decided that they liked the texture of Cyril’s wings. After all, these people made the wings feel nice. These people fixed the wings instead of breaking them. Indeed, many of the absent aches and pains and itches were gone now, all thanks to these people. At least, he assumed. He could only guess at the logic of the wings. 

“Um, Claude?”

“Can’t control them,” he mumbled in reminder.

“Well, we can’t get up.” Cyril sure tried to escape, but the more he wiggled, the tighter the wings hugged them all. 

“Stop wiggling,” he whined, “hnnngh, they’re still sensitive.” Would they ever NOT be sensitive? 

“Then let me go!”

“I literally cannot.”

“Well, at least his feathers are nice and clean,” Hilda muttered, giving up completely. “How come they’re all puffed up like this?”

“He’s drowsy and relaxed,” Cyril reported. “It’s also a sign of being content and happy.”

“I’m not happy,” he muttered, halfway lying. “Stupid wings have a mind of their own.”

“Pff, in that case, your wings like us a lot, Claude.”

“Even after what we did earlier?” Leonie slowly asked, stroking down a patch of feathers.

“D-don’t,” he begged even as the wing eagerly pressed into Leonie’s hand. “It’s fine when you guys stay still, but the feathers are still sensitive.” He wasn’t sure he trusted these three, but his wings didn’t give a damn what he thought. They just wanted to be petted again. “The numbing helped. It’s… it’s probably the only pleasant thing these wings have felt.” He shot a half hearted glare at them. “The majority of these wings are less than a week old, and that entire time has been nothing but pain. For the first time in their existence, they don’t constantly hurt. Maybe they, I don’t know, imprinted on you guys or something.”

“Huh. When you put it like that, they are kinda acting like a baby’s wings!” Cyril noted. 

“A traumatized baby’s wings,” he whispered, glaring at them. “They still need to be cut off. If they stay, my crest will continue to make them bigger.” Shivering, his wings tightly hugged the three Deer in his bed.

“At least wait until the professor comes back. Maybe they’ll have a better solution. And besides, Lysithea’s working on a spell. Who knows if it will pan out, but she’s putting her all into it. If anyone can pull off a miracle, it’s her.”

Cyril perked up. “Yeah! She’ll be able to come up with a solution for ya, Claude! She said she’s got a spell that’ll probably stop your wings from takin’ energy from your crest! At least, I think that’s what she meant.”

“What? Then why hasn’t she used it yet?!”

Leonie shook her head. “She’s still testing it. Apparently if she misjudges the spell, it might backfire and do the opposite, making your crest only affect your wings. Give it some time — and in the meantime, don’t go attacking anyone.”

Nodding, he slumped against the mattress. The wings still refused to let go of their hostages (all four of them). Though sensitive, it felt better to feel other people than to brush up against the floor. Exhausted, it didn’t take much time for him to fall asleep.

Chapter Text

War was pain. This was something Byleth understood abstractly. As a mercenary there had been no pain in cutting down faceless, nameless people. As a teacher, facing their students in battle was difficult.

As a teacher, killing their students was agony. 

“Professor!” Leonie screamed across the battlefield, expressing a degree of rage that was entirely new. Her lips pulled back into a snarl, her white-knuckled lance shook, her eyes blazed with hate. “You know Captain Jeralt’s killer is connected to the Empire! How could you side with them?!” Leonie spat on the ground. “You might as well have killed Captain Jeralt yourself!”

War was pain. Anger bubbled to the surface. How dare Leonie. Brandishing the Sword of the Creator, they walked with calm strides. “Leonie. Give up.”

“Like hell I will!”

“In that case, please don’t move.” 

Leonie had no time to defend herself. The Heroes Relic sliced outwards in a smooth arc, instantly decapitating Leonie.

For a moment, they felt nothing.

Leonie. Bile rose in their throat. They just killed Leonie, the girl their father had been so fond of. Leonie, who didn’t understand that Edelgard had nothing to do with their father’s death. They could have explained the circumstances to Leonie (even though they were still waiting on the details themself). Instead, they killed her. Just like that. 

Stumbling, they retched their lunch onto the pavement. Their unbeating heart throbbed. 

An axe nearly crushed them. Looking up, they came face-to-face with Raphael. His once kind expression was twisted into rage and grief. “Please,” they gasped, shaking in the aftermath of their emotions. 

Raphael swung down, and they did not block. Knocked onto the ground, they watched in the distance as Edelgard’s throat was pierced with Ignatz’s arrow.

They rewound time, but not far. Their heart ached too much to rewind it back further than a few moments.

“Please,” they gasped, “don’t move.” Their blade pierced Raphael’s neck, extending and extending until the tip lodged in Ignatz’s chest. 

As their blade retracted, their knees gave out from under them. Raphael and Ignatz fell with them. Raphael just wanted to keep his little sister safe. Who would keep her safe now? Ignatz just wanted to see the world. Now he would never see anything ever again.

“Rise, my teacher,” Edelgard commanded, extending her hand. They took it, leaned into it, clung to it. “Defeating our former classmates is vexing, but you must not allow your resolve to waver.” What resolve? Edelgard was the one with the resolve. “This is war, my teacher.” And war is pain.

The final student to die at the Great Bridge of Myrddin was Lorenz. Ferdinand shared a brief moment of grief with them. “He died like a true noble.”

“He is dead,” they replied. Noble or commoner, they were all corpses now, bleeding and defecating alike.

Later that night, they stared up at their familiar ceiling and failed to sleep. Lorenz had never been their favorite student, but the noble had a genuine heart under his bluster. Unlike their own false heart.

War was pain. Once, they felt no pain. That had been before they had students and friends. War was only pain if they allowed it to be pain.

In the morning, they hardened their heart and did not look back.

 

 


 

 

“Teach,” Claude gasped, falling to the ground as he bled. “Hold on a moment! You don’t have to kill me. It’s not like I could surrender to you so easily, but I’m clearly beat. I give up.” Grinning despite his clear pain, Claude dropped his bow. “Wouldn’t it be better to spare me and have me in your debt?”

They stared down at him as he groveled. Their heart flickered with agony, but after killing Lysithea, Hilda, and Marianne, the pain was numbed. 

“A shame you went with the Empire. You and me Teach, we could’ve been great together. Now look at you. Lysithea begged for her life. Marianne accepted her death without a fight. Hilda was just guarding me. And you cut each and every last one of them down.” His mask cracked with seams of grief. “I ordered everyone to give up or retreat if they were losing, but you never gave anyone the chance. Why?”

Hubert had reminded them that sparing an enemy now meant fighting the same enemy later. Edelgard commanded them to get results. Their students had been in their way, so they removed the block. With each piece of their heart that they killed, the war became easier. “My reasons are irrelevant.”

“Then please, Teach, let me go. I promise I won’t interfere in the war. I trust you and Edelgard will achieve everything I wanted from Fódlan.” 

“You would have left me.”

His grief flickered with confusion. “Pardon?”

“If I chose you, you would have left me. You would have thrust me into a burden I never wanted. You would have used me.”

“I wonder how you came to that conclusion.” He coughed, staining his glove with blood. “You’re right, though I would have had the respect to do so openly. The emperor uses you too, you know.”

“Claude. Please, don’t move.”

His last expression was one of mixed regret, grief, and fear. Perhaps he regretted his sharp tongue. Not that it mattered anyways. He was slated to die regardless.

“Everyone!” Edelgard’s voice rose above the blood rushing through their ears. “Raise your voices in a victory cheer! Derdriu is ours!”

Stepping over Claude’s corpse, they returned to Edelgard’s side. This did not feel like a victory. Edelgard said it was a victory, so their feelings must be wrong again. Their feelings were incorrect.

They ensured they stopped feeling incorrectly. 

 

 


 

 

“Please…”

“I knew it,” Shamir gasped with a burbled laugh, “shouldn’t have… let emotion get in the way.” Emotion. What did Shamir know of emotion?

“Jeralt, I did it.” Alois smiled and faced the sun. “I protected the monastery…” He died with that smile on his face. He died with a smile, despite the falsehood of his words. He died with a smile, as if he did not care that his unnamed wife and child would never see him again.

“…don’t…” 

“Why? Why are you doing this?” Flayn begged them. “I owe you my life, professor. My father and I, we do not approved of what Rhea has been doing. We plan to go into hiding after this, retreating from the world. Please, we will cause you no strife.”

“…move.”  

“Flayn! Please, no! No!”

For a brief moment, Seteth’s cry made them pause. Flayn’s body slid off their sword and thumped onto the ground. Blinking, they stared at their former student, a twinge of pain re-emerging. 

“Come at me,” Edelgard shouted at Seteth, charging, “so that I may put you out of your misery!”

Misery.

Misery indeed.

They put Seteth out of his misery. He did not fight back.

“We fought them off. Good work, everyone.” El’s voice echoed across the wreckage. “We’ve repelled their forces and defended Garreg Mach!” Defend. Was that what they did? War was not about defending. War was about misery. El did not sound miserable in the slightest. “Hubert, I require a damage report at once.”

As she spoke, a piece of one of the ruined structures crumbled. Someone cried out. 

It was Linhardt. They wandered to his side. He gurgled at them, his mouth filled with the same blood he hated. His stomach was punctured with rubble from a mostly destroyed building. What a wretched, slow way to die.

Time re-wound, but only worth a moment. They watched as Linhardt shifted his weight to lean against the building. “Linhardt! Don’t move!”

Yawning, he turned towards them and raised an eyebrow, leaning his weight against the stone building. That was all it took for it to collapse. 

Their blade sliced towards Linhardt. Slicing the debris would do nothing. They sliced Linhardt’s neck instead. It was a mercy.

Linhardt’s corpse was buried unceremoniously under the rubble. There was no one to witness.

How strange. That death hurt just as much as every other death of their students.

They returned to the monastery, just like every other month.

 

 


 

 

They remembered a distant memory. In that memory, Felix and Sylvain promised to die together.

Felix and Sylvain died together.

Ingrid died too.

None of them would ever move again. Felix, Sylvain, and Ingrid became corpse, corpse, and corpse, just like their other students. In death, all were nameless.

Dorothea screamed when Ingrid’s corpse struck the ground. Dorothea cradled Ingrid’s corpse despite the battle around them. Dorothea turned to them.

“Why, professor? Why?!”

“War.”

“I’m so sick of war!” Dorothea screamed to the heavens. “All our friends are dying, and no one cares! War is nothing but death! Lin’s dead, and no one cares, not about him, about Ingrid, about all our friends!”

“War is death.”

“To hell with war! I’m sick of this, I never should have joined the fighting!”

“Whose side are you on, Dorothea?”

“No one’s side!” she cried, sobbing into the corpse’s hair. 

“A traitor to the Empire. In that case, please don’t move.”

One less name to care about.

 

 


 

 

There was once a time when Byleth enjoyed the rain. Then their father died. Now, for the first time since his death, the rain no longer bothered them.

The rain fell, pattering softly across the grassy field. Perhaps Ignatz would have painted the field. Perhaps the Golden Deer would have pranced through the rain and grass without a care in the world. The rain fell upon the world softly. Ashe’s body fell upon the world with a soft thud. 

Petra was too close to Dedue when he transformed into a demonic beast. Their blade did not differentiate between the two bodies. Both of them fell. Dedue’s body crushed Petra’s beheaded form before dissolving, so it mattered not.

Caspar hesitated, refusing to kill Mercedes. They spared both of their students the pain and misery of war.

“Madness!” the mad king screamed. “Utter madness, do you not see what you have done, Edelgard?! This foundation you build is formed of corpses and tears! How are you so blind? Your foundation is already rotting!”

The rain and blood poured. 

“Professor,” Dimitri said at last. “Why did you choose this savage, bloody path?”

“Please, don’t move.”

“You—!” One less name for their heart to bleed for. Soon there would be none left and finally the end would come.

“Well done, my teacher. We must now proceed towards the true threat: Rhea. She has retreated all the way back to Fhirdiad. It will be difficult.”

“It is war,” they replied. War was difficult.

“If you’re low on confidence, Professor, then tell me now. We have no room for hesitation.”

“War has no room for hesitation.”

“Indeed. We shall put an end to this soon.” An end. Finally. “For all the lives lost, foe and ally alike, we will prevail. Even… even for Dimitri.”

El paused. Her expression turned dour. That was not the correct expression. “Please,” they began. El's expression was incorrect.

“Never mind me, my teacher. The Edelgard who shed tears died many years ago. This is history, and nothing more. All this death — it is mere history. Thank you for remaining by my side, my teacher. I hope you will remain with me until the end.”

“I await the end.”

“As do I. Now then, we have no more time for sentiment. It’s time for humanity to retake this world.”

Humanity. They were uncertain they understood humanity any longer.

War is humanity. Humanity is war.

 

 


 

 

Bernadetta’s scream altered them to her position. Caught alight, they ended her suffering before she burned completely. Her screams made the perfect distraction, allowing an easy end for Annette as well.

“Please.”

“L-lady Rhea… I’m sorry I couldn’t do more…” Cyril died.

“Do.”

“Lady Rhea, my service ends here…” Catherine died.

“Not.”

“I beg for forgiveness…” Gilbert died. 

“Move.”

“Give it back! Give… give mother… back…” Rhea died.

“The war is over,” El declared. “We’ve won.”

“This is the end.”

She smiled. “No, my teacher. This is the beginning.”

Beginning? They were promised the end. 

 

 


 

 

Ferdinand. Hubert. El. As soon as there were no more named-faces, the pain would stop for good.

“The Emperor is very busy,” Hubert told them. “Come back later.” He wanted them away from El. They overheard Hubert telling El that they were dangerous. El refused to listen to the truth, so now Hubert was trying to keep them apart.

It was understandable.

“Let us begin our fight against Those Who Slither in the Dark.” They were promised an end. A new war began. They killed for El once more. They killed nameless, faceless bags of flesh and blood. This was not war. This was not pain. This was merely killing.

“Thank you for visiting!” Ferdinand greeted them at the Aegir estate. “It is tragic how few of us survived the war.”

“War is the end.”

“I do not agree with that myself, but I understand what you mean. So many met their end to the war.”

“You no longer fight in the war.”

“Me, fight in a shadow-war? No, I leave that to you, Hubert, and Jeritza. I busy myself with aspects of state. There are not many of us to run the government, certainly not many of us as qualified as Edelgard expects!”

“War is the end. Please, don’t move.” 

“Professor? What are you—”

 

“Professor, what a treat to see you! Still the same as ever, I see.” Manuela poured them tea.

“Congratulations on the war! Why, I just received a letter from the Emperor recently! She seeks my expertise!” Hanneman also sat at the table.

“Neither of you joined the war.”

The two professors shared a glance with an expression of emotion. They did not recall what the emotion was called. “It simply did not feel correct, fighting against our old students. Surely you understand.”

“Yes. Many others said the same. Dorothea said that too. Now please, don’t move.”

 

“Well well well! Haven’t seen your face in a while, friend. What brings you to Abyss? If you’re here for more intel about our slithery enemy, I’m afraid I sent the last report off already.”

“I’m running out of names.”

Yuri cocked his head. “Names. Ah, spies! Yes, Hubert mentioned that you’re rooting out spies at the moment. I have my own list, if you want to compare.”

“Tell me.” Yuri began rattling off nothingness. They stopped him. “I need names.”

“These are names, friend.”

“No. Those are unimportant. I need named individuals.”

“Care to give me an example?”

“Leonie. Felix. Linhardt. Ignatz. Sylvain. Dorothea.”

“Former students? Not many of those left. There’s our dear emperor, as well as Hubert. Unless you want to count Anna and Jeritza, I think that’s everyone.”

“Lies. Please, don’t move.” After expunging one more name, they cracked the door. “You there. Abysskeeper.”

“I have a name, y’know.”

“Do you? Then please—”

“Yeesh, don’t give me that look! Not gonna tell someone like you what my name is. That ain’t how Abyss works, pal.”

“I don’t care. Summon the other Ashen Wolves. They will join Yuri.”

“Sure thing, pal.”

 

Jeritza died, beheaded in battle with Those Who Slither, though not by the hands of the Agarthans. Anna died after defying the Empire’s taxes. They were out of names. Thales died to their blade. They were out of names. Duke Aegir was found to be corrupt and died. Fleche was hunted down and died. There were no names left. 

 

Hubert died. He refused to let them see El. Hubert died. 

 

“My teacher.” El was quieter than before. Her face contained two eyes. A nose. Skin. Lips. Eyebrows, hair follicles, two cavities for the eyes to reside, cartilage, blood, and flesh. It was the same face as ever. Once, that face sparked emotion, thought, and feeling. They stared at the face, yet nothing was sparked. It was simply more meat, like any other face. It was El’s meat, though. It still had a name. “We have won. Those Who Slither in the Dark are no more. The Church of Serios is no more.” 

“The Kingdom, the Alliance.” 

“Yes. They are no more as well.”

“Just the Empire is left.” One left to go.

El’s lips twisted upwards. A gurgling noise trickled past her lips. “Hah, indeed! Just the empire now. I have put everything into place. I think it is time that I relinquish the crown.”

“No more Empire.” Soon, the end would come. Soon, this would all be over. Soon, no more pain.

One of El’s eyebrows moved and the other remained in place. “Nonsense. The Empire will continue without me.” Her voice warbled with an inflection.

“What is next?”

“I hope we can discover that together, Byleth. Finally, we can let go of our weapons and live in peace. No more fighting.” How are they to let go of a weapon when they are the weapon?

“The end?” Finally. Finally. They have dreamed of an end, they have dreamed of nothingness and void when their eyes close. Finally, the end will free them. No ruling a church. No leadership. No Alliance, no Kingdom. No Church. No Empire. Just an end. No more students, no more heartache, no more heart. No more humanity.

“Yes, my teacher.” El extended her palm, her arm, her five fingers. The flesh of her lips peeled back to display pale bone. “The end.”

They waited, but the end did not come. “Where is my end, El. Where is it.” El promised them The End.

El’s eyebrows moved. “Take my hand, my teacher. We are all we have left, now.” Her shoulders bowed and caved inwards. “Between Rhea and Those Who Slither, they have taken everyone else from us.”

“No.”

“…No?”

“War was pain.”

“Indeed.”

“War was misery. So I killed my heart. For your war.” Rhea and the Agarthans did not take anything from them — aside from their nameless, faceless, unimportant mother and their named, no longer important, corpse of a father.

“War demanded sacrifice, indeed. It is regretful that we both had to sacrifice so much.” 

“No regret.” Regret was for those with hearts.

“I agree. I regret nothing.”

“The last piece of my heart resides with you.”

“Byleth… I’m so pleased to hear that. My heart is yours as well. Please, I want us to live the rest of our lives together. Won’t you take my hand?”

“The rest of our lives. Until the end.” They followed her command, grasping the extended flesh. “El.”

“Yes, my teacher?”

“Please, don’t move.”

Chapter Text

Claude probably wasn’t supposed to be out in the woods during the middle of the night. Technically though, there was no rule forbidding it. Wandering around the monastery grounds at night was forbidden, but the forest clearly was not on the monastery grounds. The trees and lack of straight lines were a good indicator. In fact, he was following the rules by being out! By entering the monastery during night, that would mean he would be violating the aforementioned rule. It was an innocent mistake! He fell asleep in the forest, and when he woke up the sun was down. At least, that was what he would plead if he got caught. He definitely snuck out of his dorms, but no one saw him so no one could prove otherwise.

Being a night of the full moon, visibility was decent. It was the perfect night to be out.

Apparently, someone else thought the same as him.

“Isn’t it past your bedtime, kid?” At first, he assumed the child didn’t hear him. The child faced away from him, motionless. “Kid, are you al—”

The wind shifted and the smell hit him. Blood. Soot. Smoke. Slowly, like a rusty hinge, the child’s neck turned. It’s at this point that he saw the dark stains on the child’s clothes, hands, and neck. The child turned, moonlight illuminated blood gleaming on the boy’s face.

“Am I dead too?” The child whispered. “Just like everyone else…”

There is something unnatural about this and it had Claude’s instincts screaming. He knew nothing about Fódlan’s spirits — if the land had them at all. The land must, he thought, but he could be wrong. Regardless, he knew better than to scorn a spirit. Better to curry favor. Best of all to never come face-to-face with one in the first place.

And maybe, just maybe, the child wasn’t a spirit at all. Maybe this was merely a lost child in dire need of help.

He fell to one knee, holding out his hand to prove he meant no harm. “You are not dead,” he calmly stated. “Are you hurt?”

The boy — the longer he looked, the more sure he was that the child was male — continued to stare at him with wide blue eyes. There was dark blood splattered across the boy’s face. Streaks of blood ran through his shoulder-length blond hair. His unnaturally blue eyes seemed to stare into nothingness, or perhaps at something Claude couldn’t see with mortal eyes. The boy’s clothes were unripped. As far as Claude could see in the moonlight, the boy didn’t appear personally harmed. Both a good and terrible, terrible thing.

“Can you tell me what happened?” He asked in as gentle of a tone as he could muster. “I want to help.”

Slowly, the boy shook his head. “Everyone is dead,” the boy whispered. “Father. Glenn. The knights. They’re dead. Burned…”

The knights? That wasn’t much to go off of. Glenn was a name at least, but not very helpful either. “How far? We’re next to Garreg Mach Monastery. The Knights of Seiros can lend aid, if you can tell me where.”

The boy was silent for a few more moments. Then those blue eyes snapped onto his, finally seeing him, rather than looking through him. “Are you an envoy of the Goddess?” the child whispered. “Did She hear me…? Are you here to save everyone…?”

He refrained from biting his lip. “I’d like to help you, if you’ll allow me.”

The boy looked around slowly, like he was in a dream. “Where am I? Where is everyone? There’s no more fire…”

“No fire here, that’s right. Did you run away from a fire? Was your village attacked?” Bandits, maybe?

The boy didn’t answer him. Jerking forward, the child jerked towards him like a newborn fawn. He rushed to the boy before he fell over, feeling fortunate that the kid didn’t flinch away. Steadying the boy, he took a closer look at his state. Other than shock, the kid didn’t appear injured. Using the corner of his house leader’s cape, he leaned forward to wipe some of the blood from the boy’s cheek. As he smeared the blood away, it occurred to him how wet and fresh the blood was. Very, very fresh. His eyes darted around the forest, searching out any threat. 

“It’s not safe out in the woods,” he whispered to the boy as he continued to clean his face. “I need you to follow me back to the monastery. It’s safe there. We can send help to your people.”

“You’ll keep me safe?” Up close, the boy’s eyes were impossibly blue. The boy reached up with a hand to touch his cheek. He held back the grimace at the smear of cold blood. “Will you keep the others safe too?”

“If I can find them, I’ll do my best.” The boy wasn’t coherent. “Maybe some others made their way to the monastery. We can ask.”

“Glenn? Will he be there? Or father?”

“I don’t know.” Probably not.

“Are you going to take me to the afterlife?” The boy fisted into his jacket. “Am I going to burn in the eternal flame?”

“Do you see any fire around here? No, no eternal flame for you.” He slowly reached out to card his hand through the boy’s hair. Petting worked to calm down spooked wyverns, so surely it worked on kids too.

“I killed someone,” the boy whispered. “I couldn’t save anyone. I deserve to burn.”

Taking his best guess, the boy looked just shy of the cusp of puberty. Far too young to be covered in blood. “Sometimes we have to kill to protect ourselves. You don’t deserve to burn for that.”

For a handful of painful seconds the boy just stared at him, silent. Then something in the child’s face cracked. The blank face of shock began to crumble. “Have you killed anyone before, mister Guardian?”

He didn’t allow any surprise to leak onto his expression from the strange title. “I have. I was younger than you the first time someone tried to kill me. Much, much younger than you.” He continued to card through the boy’s hair, drawing him a bit closer. “Don’t go telling anyone, though. He wanted to hurt me for something that wasn’t my fault. I didn’t want to kill him, but it was him or me.”

“It was too easy,” the boy in his arms whispered. “He just… died. Like everyone else. Everyone else died too. Except I killed this one.”

“It’s okay to be afraid. Life is fragile.”

The boy heaved a gasp, his blank expression shattering as his lips started to wobble. “I don’t like fragile things. I always break them. I don’t want to break people.”

“Shh, it’s okay, it’s okay. Life may be fragile, but it’s resilient too. You won’t kill someone by accident.” The boy wheezed, and then threw a pair of tiny arms around him. He held the boy in return, rubbing circles in the kid’s back. “It’s okay to cry. If you don’t let it out, the grief bleeds inward instead.” The boy hiccupped into his shoulder. “That’s right. Go on, let it out. Nothing to be ashamed of. I won’t tell anyone.” He had desperately wanted to cry on his mom when he was little, but she never let him. Tears solved nothing, true, but they always helped him move on. His wyvern never told a soul. “Tears aren’t a sign of weakness, no matter what people tell you. They just mean you care a lot.”

The boy began wailing into his shoulder. He shifted the two of them, sitting down against a tree. As he tried to comfort the kid, he kept his eyes peeled and watched the forest. Just in case. 

The boy tuckered out quickly, falling asleep against him. Waiting a few more minutes to make sure the kid was completely out, he carefully repositioned the kid onto his back. The boy was heavy, but Claude was an archer — he would manage. 

 

 


 

 

It was past dawn by the time he made it back to the monastery. He’d been far into the forest already and it’d been late (or early) when he found the kid. Getting back took him a while, to say the least.

The spot that he found the kid had been deep in the woods, so even on his own it would have taken him a while to return. Carrying a kid slowed him down a lot; both through weight and the fact that the kid woke up off and on. Sometimes the kid woke up with a shout or a scream. Sometimes he woke with a flinch and a panicked gasp, burying his face against Claude’s back. Sometimes he woke silently, wordlessly fisting into Claude’s jacket. Sometimes he didn’t wake at all and dribbled more tears onto Claude’s jacket. Sometimes the boy hugged him, tight enough that he had to stop the trek back to the monastery in order to calm the kid, lest he break a rib. Despite being so young and small, the boy was strong. With that in mind, it was understandable why the kid disliked fragile things.

He made quite the sight as he strolled back into the monastery with dried blood smeared across his cheek and clothes and a little boy on his back who was covered in far more blood. He almost felt bad for the poor gatekeeper.

Sat in the infirmary, Claude now had a few problems.

Problem one: the boy was attached to him now. Emotionally and physically. The boy refused to let go of him, sticking to his lap like a tick. Or maybe a starfish was a nicer way to phrase that. Attempting to pry the kid off might end in him actually being crushed though. A constricting python, perhaps.

Problem two: the boy wouldn’t allow anyone to touch him except for Claude. On the list of people not allowed to touch, Manuela the healer was included. On the upside, the boy didn’t appear to be injured. With Claude’s help, Manuela was able to suitably diagnose the kid as physically healthy. On the down side, as soon as anyone got within so much as touching distance, the boy began to panic. ‘Panic’ for the boy could be anything from going utterly still to clutching Claude with enough force to bruise (with the potential for worse).

Problem three: the boy stopped talking. With some careful prodding, he could get a word or two if he was lucky, but the kid flat out refused to speak to anyone else. Sometimes he wasn’t sure if the kid even heard anyone else. The boy slipped in and out of shock-induced fugues.

He did his best to relay to Jeralt what the boy told him the night before. Fire was involved, and it had to be from somewhere nearby considering the boy was alone and on foot. The kid believed his father was dead, that someone named Glenn was dead, and a bunch of knights were dead. Unfortunately, ‘Glenn’ was a common name in Faerghus, so that lead was a dead end. Despite the lackluster amount of information, Jeralt nodded and left, promising to send the Knights of Seiros to check the nearby area for fires or bandit raids.

Eventually they were even visited by Rhea. It was in the middle of one of the boy’s deeper fugues. Other than tensing up when Rhea got too close, the kid didn’t even acknowledge her. Rhea left them both with kind words and empty promises. 

Problem four: the boy didn’t want to eat.

“It’s just some food, kiddo. Aren’t you hungry? It’s been a while since you’ve eaten, hasn’t it.”

The boy just shook his head, refusing to un-mush his face from Claude’s chest. He couldn’t blame the kid. As much as he loved food, trauma never made anything appetizing.

“How about two bites. Two bites of food, and a cup of tea? You can manage that for me, can’t you?” The boy continued to shake his head. He sighed. If he could just get the boy to drink the calming tea (mildly drugged), things would be easier. “If you won’t eat, I might have to leave for a little bi— ngh.”

“No!” The boy shouted into his jacket, squeezing him with much more force than anyone that size should be capable of. “Don’t go, don’t go, don’t go, don’t go, don’t go…”

“I won’t!” he wheezed, patting the kid’s back. “Less tight kiddo, you’ll, ngh, break a rib…!”

The kid’s grip loosened slightly. It went from agonizing to only painful. Tears wetted his shirt. Lesson learned: don’t threaten to leave.

Problem five: Ow. His ribs were bruised, his arms were bruised, his hands were bruised. His entire body was sore. He was also beginning to lose feeling in his legs from the boy’s constant presence on his lap. The kid was a kid, yes, but he was on the older side of things. Ten roughly, by Manuela’s estimation. 

By the time the lunch bell rang, his situation hadn’t improved. The boy was in and out, napping and waking frequently. If he so much as tried to move the boy slightly, the kid flew into a panic. Despite losing feeling in his legs, he wasn’t about to pry the boy off of him (he might not survive the squeeze if he tried.)

“Wow, so the rumors are true.”

The boy tensed up, going from a somewhat-relaxed hug to a light-squeeze. He ran his hand down the kid’s back. “I see the rumor mill is up to date! What’s everyone saying about this?”

Hilda leaned against the infirmary doorframe. “A bit of this, a bit of that. People are saying you went out and found a child, returning covered in blood. It ranges from stealing the kid to fighting off hordes of endless bandits.”

“Nah, I just found him.” Hilda held something behind her back. “Aww, did someone get lunch for me? That’s a lot of effort on your part.”

“Ugh, I know, so you better appreciate me.” Hilda stepped forward, lunch tray in hand. Unfortunately, she stepped a little too forward for his little clingy friend’s comfort.

By now he’d figured out that the gasping little breaths meant that the kid was moments from flying into a panic. “Put it on the table over there.” He lowered his voice to talk to the kid. “Hey, it’s okay, you’re safe, remember? She’s a friend of mine. Her name is Hilda. Want to meet her? She’s very nice.” The boy shook his head.

“I have some candy to share if you say hello…” Hilda pulled out a small baggie of sweets and shook them. “You look like a big and brave kid. Are you hungry?” The boy was still quiet. Hilda’s face fell. “It’s okay to be a bit shy. One of my best friends is as quiet as a mouse, I bet you would like her. I like your pretty hair, by the way. The stripes are so unique!”

He grimaced, shaking his head, pointing to the faint smear of blood still on his cheek, then pointed back to the same color that streaked through the kid’s hair. 

Hilda winced but kept going. “Can you tell me your name?” After more silence, she looked at him. He shrugged. Sighing, she kept trying “Do you like Claude? He sure is nice, isn’t he. Is he a good hugger?”

Slowly, the boy nodded up and down.

Hilda’s smile returned. “I never knew you were so good with kids, Claude.”

‘I’m not,’ he mouthed to her. 

“Does Claude make you feel safe?” Another nod. “He must be pretty hungry, you know. But it’s not polite to eat in front of someone who isn’t eating. Claude’s too polite to eat if you aren’t eating too. Will you eat a few bites, for him?”

This earned Hilda a sniffle. Then the boy shuffled, pulling back just enough to look up at him with those big blue eyes. “But you’re a guardian angel. Do angels eat too?”

He kept his sputtering internal. “I’m just like you, kiddo. We both need to eat to survive.”

‘Angel?!’ Hilda mouthed at him, grinning ear to ear.

Unfortunately, the boy’s eyes were welling with tears again. “Why didn’t you save Father? Or Glenn? Why me? Why didn't the Goddess save them? They should’ve lived, not me.” Silent tears overflowed, dribbling down the boy’s cheeks. “Did we do something wrong? Why didn’t the Goddess save them? Why did the Goddess allow them to die? Does she hate us?”

He didn’t have an answer. Hilda’s amusement died abruptly. Still, at least the kid was speaking. “Sometimes there is no why. Some of us live, some of us don’t. That’s life. Sometimes, things just happen because they happen. There’s no grand plan for who dies and who doesn’t. It’s not about ‘deserving’ to live or die. It just is.”

“They died for no reason…?”

Oh damn. “I didn’t say that. I'm saying that there is no evil force from elsewhere that decided their fate was over. There was no good force from the heavens that decided your fate was to live. Sometimes, things just happen. The Goddess doesn’t hate you.”

‘Claude, what the hell?!’ Hilda mouthed to him, motioning a line across her throat as she shook her head.

“Is it my fault?” the boy whispered, silently begging him.

“No, kiddo, it wasn’t your fault.”

“Oh.” Little fingers curled around his shirt. “The Goddess… doesn’t blame me? Even though I killed the bad man?”

“I promise you are innocent, kiddo. In the eyes of the Goddess and in anyone’s eyes.” He didn’t have any authority to speak for the ‘eyes of the Goddess’, but he wasn’t about to let this kid blame himself.

“I still feel guilty, though. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I promise I’ll be faithful. I promise I trust you.” The kid sniffled. “I’m not special, I don’t deserve you, Mister Angel.” Despite his words, the boy squeezed him with uncomfortable strength. “Please don’t go.”

“Easy now, kiddo. I’m not going anywhere.” So please stop crushing me!

The boy sniffled. “I’ll eat. So you can too…” 

 

 


 

 

Considering he had a mini-parasite attached to him, he was excused from class for the entire day.

Getting the kid to eat was an ordeal but it was progress. Getting the kid to bathe was less of an issue. The kid still refused to separate from him, but he was also somewhat covered in blood, so really they both needed a bath anyways. The kid was in no state to scrub the blood off his skin, so he did most of the work while the boy stared off into space. 

Though he knew it would be futile, he requested a small cot brought up to his room. The kid still refused to separate, which would no doubt persist even when night fell. He would attempt to get the kid to sleep in his bed while he took the cot later that night, but he understandably didn’t think that would come to pass.

His arms were getting tired from carrying the kid around. The boy’s preferred mode of transit was to wrap his arms around Claude’s neck and perch on Claude’s hip. If Claude was lucky, he could convince the boy to wrap his legs around Claude’s waist to make carrying him easier. It was good strength training, at least.

He settled into his room for the afternoon. He made sure to tell the kid not to snoop in his desk and to definitely not eat anything he found in the room — not that he was too worried on that front considering the lack of appetite. He tried to prod the kid about what genre of books he liked and came up short. He considered knocking on Dimitri’s door to ask if the prince had any knightly storybooks before remembering duh, the prince was in class. 

Mentions of knights made the kid shrink up anyways, so that was a bust.

The kid didn’t seem interested in reading. He may very well be content to clutch Claude and stare off into nothingness for the rest of his life.

He debated if any of the books in his room would be interesting to read aloud to the kid. Politics, poisons, history, Fódlan culture, star charts, and a whole lot of generic study books. It was the sort of stuff he would have found interesting at the kid’s age, but he found most things interesting.

“How about a story, then? Do you like stories?”

“I know them all,” the boy whispered. “I just want to sleep.”

“I bet you haven’t heard my stories. Go on, name something. I’ve got the Beggar King, the White Camel, the Scarab Maze, the Sand Dragon… I can keep going. Any catch your ear?”

“…I like your voice.”

“Thanks, but that doesn’t give me much to go off of. Ah, I know! How about the Moon Knight and her army of stars?”

“I know the Luna Knight…”

“Luna Knight? Curious. Different story. Hey, maybe you can tell me a story when you’re feeling a bit better.”

“…Okay.”

And that was how Claude began wearing his throat hoarse for a very, very long evening. After three stories, he took a water break. 

“Can you tell me about the Goddess?” the boy abruptly asked him, shy and hesitant. 

“The Goddess?” Damn. “I’m afraid I can't say much.” Other than the basics, he didn’t know enough about Fódlan’s Goddess to weave a story.

“Oh. Is it a secret?”

“Sure is, sorry kiddo.”

“Does She care, though?” the boy asked, desperate. “Does She care about humanity? I wanted Her to save everyone, but She only saved me. Did I not pray hard enough?” He was really not qualified for this conversation. “How come no one else got saved by their guardian angel like me?”

“Er, I’m not—”

Hilda knocked on his door, prompting the boy to squeeze the breath out of him. She entered the room without waiting for him to open up, carrying a meal for him and the kid. He endured her snickering, grateful to be saved from the awkward conversation. The boy went quiet once more, which was both good for him not having to answer questions and bad for the kid’s mental state, probably. 

Hilda took the chair at the desk, gracefully giving the boy some space. “So, do you think Edelgard is next in line to become a hermit in her room? We’re two house leaders out of three,” she opened with. 

He snorted. “Guess we’ll see next week. That’s how long His Royalness has been sick, right?” 

“Why are you asking? I know you know, it’s been the hot gossip for a week. But yes, according to Mercedes, he stopped going out of his room for anything that wasn’t class or food exactly one week ago.”

“It’s still weird going to the library at midnight and never seeing him.”

“Can’t be as weird as not seeing you in class! Ugh, Lorenz was insufferable today.”

He rolled his eyes, taking a bite of his dinner. “I’ll be back tomorrow.” The kid picked at his own plate, barely eating. At least the kid was eating something. He’d stopped hiding his face around Hilda, which was more progress. And he finally got off of Claude’s lap! Granted, he was tucked against Claude’s side and was adamant about holding his hand. Baby steps.

“Are you going to bring the kid with you?”

At the barest hint of the possibility that he might be separated from Claude, the kid dropped his spoon and squeezed him in a hug. Or maybe just a possessive hold. At this point, he wasn’t sure if he was a ‘guardian’ or a stuffed animal to squeeze. He glared at Hilda.

“Sorry.”

Later that night, as he expected, the kid refused to sleep apart from him. At first he kept a candle lit to ward off some of the darkness, but fire scared the boy much more than the dark. He was a few bruises richer from that discovery. 

“They’re screaming,” the boy whispered in the middle of the night. “Why won’t they stop screaming?”

“Shh, it’s okay… There’s no screaming here. You’re safe, remember? No screams. There’s some wind against the building, and the floors creak a bit — but no screaming.”

The boy sniffled. “Promise?”

“It’s just me and you right now, kiddo. I promise that no one is screaming.”

“Oh. Okay. You don’t lie. You’re right. I don’t hear them anymore.” The boy cuddled closer to him, and not long after the kid’s breathing leveled out into sleep.

 

 


 

 

Good news: the kid was willing to walk places instead of being carried now. Half of the time. The boy needed to hold his hand at all times, apparently. It was a work in progress, but he’d take it.

Bad news: Class with the kid was an experience, to say the least. Being around so many people was difficult for the kid. He made sure they both sat in the back of the classroom, as far away from the ‘strangers’ as possible. He was certain that Hilda was snickering at him for catering to the kid so much, but what else was he supposed to do? He liked his ribs to be intact. 

And maybe, just maybe, he knew what it felt like to be a scared kid all alone, terrified and unsure of everything around him. Maybe, just maybe, he used to go to bed every night wishing for someone to protect him.

Lunch came. He filed out after everyone else left the room. The dining hall was off limits for the day, unfortunately. Too many people. The kid seemed like he was getting claustrophobic indoors though, judging by the way he’d climbed into Claude’s lap again. Again Claude was forced to carry him around.

By exiting the classroom a bit later, he had hoped that all three classes would be out of the courtyard. Exiting the classroom, he was mostly correct. An angry Felix was pacing back and forth. Otherwise, the courtyard was empty. Unfortunately, Felix was the last person who should be around a traumatized kiddo who could easily break Claude’s bones. 

Felix looked up at him and sneered. “Still have that bloodied kid you found in the woods? What are you, a babysitter?”

Rolling his eyes, he didn’t reply. He didn’t know Felix well, but he’d overheard the Faerghan enough times to know that the guy lashed out at whoever was closest when angry. 

“Glenn?”

He froze. Felix froze. Sighing, he knelt down. “Kiddo, that’s…” not your dead friend.

“Glenn!” The kid pushed out of his grip. The kid left him willingly. Racing over to Felix, the boy wrapped his arms around Felix’s legs. “You’re alive! I’m sorry! I’m sorry I wasn’t stronger! I’m so happy, you’re alive, you’re okay…” 

Shutting his eyes, he turned away, not wanting to watch the impending heartbreak that would come as soon as the boy realized Felix wasn’t his friend. The poor kid. Hopefully Felix had enough of a heart to break the news gently… 

But Felix didn’t say anything. The kid continued to sob, and Felix was silent. Felix wasn’t shouting or snapping or kicking at the kid. Felix was utterly silent. He braved a look. Felix wasn’t glaring at the kid, or trying to shake him away.  No, Felix’s jaw was wide open, face utterly white, unable to look away from the kid. Wait. Could Felix be the kid’s ‘Glenn’? Maybe it was a fake name. Felix definitely recognized the kid. “What the hell is this?” Felix whispered, turning to him.

He shrugged. “Uh, he’s a kid? He hasn’t told anyone his name.”

“Glenn? Glenn, what’s wrong?”

Felix looked back down at the kid. He finally parsed Felix’s expression. Felix looked afraid. “Who are you?”

The kid’s expression broke. “H-huh…? Glenn, it’s me… Remember? …Glenn?”

“I am not—!... I am not Glenn.”

At first the boy was too confused to be sad. Then those blue eyes went wide. The kid gasped, stumbling away. “You’re not Glenn!” Bolting back over to him, the kid hid behind his legs. Opening his arms, he accepted his fate as the sobbing child barreled into his chest, wrapping him in a slightly too tight hug.

“Felix, do you know him? Who’s Glenn?”

“Felix?” The boy paused his meltdown in order to look around. “Felix? Is he…” Just as fast as the sobbing paused, it resumed. “No, I failed him. He’ll hate me, I deserve it, couldn’t save Glenn, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…”

“Who—no, what the hell is that thing?!” Felix drew his sword.

“Whoa! Calm down!”

“What’s going on over here?” Sylvain called, strolling into the courtyard. “Felix, are you skipping lunch with me to bully some kid?”

“That thing is no kid,” Felix snarled, brandishing his sword. 

“Kid or not, I don’t care,” he stated with deadly calm, positioning himself between Felix’s sword and the kid. If this was a kid, then he wasn’t about to allow Felix to threaten the boy with a sword. And if this wasn’t a kid, it was a horrible, horrible idea to threaten a spirit. “Whoever he is, there’s no need for you to wave that around.” Claude wasn’t stupid. The kid was far too strong, appeared randomly in the middle of the woods, and wouldn’t give any details. Maybe he was a normal and traumatized kid, maybe he wasn’t. It didn’t matter. “Sylvain. I suggest you calm Felix down.”

“Sylvain…?” The kid removed his face from his jacket once more, eyes slipping past Sylvain. “Is he here…?”

Sylvain, just like Felix, went white. He sputtered something before finally saying one, single coherent word: “Dimitri?!”

The boy snapped to Sylvain. “S…Sylvain…? You’re… tall?”

Sylvain gulped. “Maybe we should visit His Highness. Guess this explains his odd behavior recently.”

“Uh…?” He had to admit: that wasn’t on his list of possibilities. Now that Sylvain mentioned it, the boy did resemble a cherubic version of the Faerghan prince. “Huh. Okay then. Uh, can I get an explanation? Because I don’t get it.”

 

 


 

 

Felix put his sword away, but refused to let go of the hilt. The kid — little Dimitri — was adamant about being held again. He eyed Sylvain and Felix warily. Claude couldn’t really blame him. For one, Felix pulled a sword on him and called him a thing. As for Sylvain, it must be jarring to see a childhood friend suddenly grown up with no explanation. 

The air was tense as they walked towards the dorms.

“His Highness has been retiring to his room during lunch,” Sylvain explained as they ascended the stairs. “Outside of class, he’s always in his room now unless he’s out getting food or supplies.”

“Supplies?”

“Books, spare blankets, random stuff sometimes. I think Annette said he borrowed a wash basin.”

“He’s been stealing medicine too,” Felix hissed. “Tch, and he thinks he’s subtle.”

The conversation ended as they approached Dimitri’s room. Sylvain knocked. “Hey, Your Highness, got a minute to spare for your old friends?”

There was a moment of shuffling. “Sylvain,” came Dimitri’s tense voice, “please wait until class. I am resting.”

Mini-Mitri jumped in his arms, looking up at him with wide eyes. “Is that me?” the boy whispered. 

“Perhaps,” he whispered back. Clearing his throat, he raised his voice. “This is kinda important, Your Royalness. Can we come in?”

“Claude?! Ah, no! No, no! Whatever you need, it can wait.”

“It can’t. This is urgent.”

“How urgent? What could possibly be such an emergency?”

Sylvain cleared his throat. “We know why you’ve been feeling under the weather, Your Highness. Claude’s got your little solution.”

Solution? What, did Sylvain think that shoving Mini-Mitri at Dimitri would fix everything? Then again, what did he know. It was magic. Maybe it would help. What would happen if two versions of the same person touched? Providing Mini-Mitri was Dimitri and not some weird shape-shifting spirit… 

“Oh. Oh dear. Claude, ah, you know…?”

“It was only a matter of time,” he replied. “So go ahead and open up.”

“I see. I…” There was a prolonged silence. “Very well. Ah, I must warn you that my room is something of a mess…” Dimitri opened his door a crack. “Claude, you may enter. Sylvain, I apologize, but I believe this is a matter between the two of us.”

“The hell, boar? This involves us too!”

“Felix, you’re here too? Forgive me. This is a private matter between Claude and I.” Was it? Well, he wasn’t about to complain about that.

Felix looked ready to argue, but after a brief moment of fuming, he snapped out a sharp “Fine!” Mini-Mitri flinched and shied away. Felix showed a tiny flash of remorse before whirling and stomping down the hall.

Sylvain shrugged. “His Highness said what he said. Good luck, you two.” Sylvain paused, reaching out slowly to Mini-Mitri. In a whisper, Sylvain said, “Don’t forget you’ve always got friends in your corner, Little-Highness.”

Claude entered the room. Just as Dimitri warned, it was very cluttered. 

“Claude, forgive me for keeping this secret.” Dimitri wasn’t looking at him, pacing a tight circle in the small amount of space available and staring at the floor. “I’m aware that I should have come to you, and I apologize.” Finally he looked up, expression remorseful. He frowned as his eyes caught on Mini-Mitri, who was hiding his face against Claude’s shoulder again. “Is that a child?”

“Sure is. Found him in the woods last night. You have any idea why…?”

Dimitri tilted his head. “No? Should I? Why is he with you?”

Narrowing his eyes, he tilted his head and patted Mini-Mitri’s back. Hadn’t Dimitri implied that he knew about this little version of himself? If not about Mini-Mitri, then why did the prince want to speak to him specifically? “The kid’s a little shy, don’t worry about it. All these unfamiliar faces, y’know. Now what’s this about you keeping a secret from me?”

Dimitri hung his head, slumping to sit on his bed. “I knew you would figure it out eventually. I’ve been doing my best, and I’m aware this is more Manuela’s expertise. However, I believe I have provided adequate care.”

“Your ‘sickness’? You look relatively healthy.” Something had been keeping the prince cooped up in his room recently, though. What did this have to do with Claude?

“Not… not my sickness, no.” Dimitri glanced away. Following the prince’s gaze, he examined part of the room that was quartered off with the moved desk. Blankets were strewn from the top of the desk, making a tent to hide whatever was stored behind it. “He is, ah, very particular about remaining hidden. I offered my bed, but he refused. He wanted to sleep under the bed, so this was our compromise.”

He nearly dropped Mini-Mitri in his shock as his eye caught onto something out of place. Peering at him from behind the desk was the green eyes of a young boy. It was a very familiar color of green and a very familiar boy. 

“I apologize for not telling you. I found your little brother hiding in the library a week ago. He hasn’t been very forthcoming. Hasn’t even told me his name. He was ill when I found him, yet staunchly refused medical help. He is mostly recovered now, though.”

“My… little brother.” He wasn’t often shocked so thoroughly that his jaw hung slack. 

Dimitri rose to stand, walking between him and the little boy. “Now, I don’t have all the details. However, when I informed him of your presence at the academy, he was adamant about not informing you. I wish to think the best of you, Claude, I truly do. However, I will not stand for—”

“I don’t have a little brother,” he interrupted Dimitri. “I’m the youngest of my siblings.”

“Oh. Oh dear. I’ve made quite the fool of myself, haven’t I.” Dimitri looked down at where the boy was no doubt still hiding. “I was certain of your family resemblance…”

He released a long breath. “If I’m right, we’re probably related.” Through sheer force of will, he tamped down a bubble of hysterical laughter. “Gods. What a mess.”

“Claude? Are you well?”

“I haven’t introduced you to my little friend, now have I? Only just learned his name. Are you prepared, Your Royalness? It’s a doozy.” He smoothed a hand down Mini-Mitri’s hair, lowering his voice. “Hey kiddo, are you ready to say hi? He’s very nice, just like someone else I know.” He winked.

Mini-Mitri slowly nodded. “You can set me down…” the boy whispered.

“Thanks for being brave.” He knelt down and set Mini-Mitri on his feet. The boy snatched his hand. “You’re safe here, remember? Now, aren’t you curious about the future?”

With one last nod, Mini-Mitri reluctantly let go of his hand and turned to face Dimitri. Dimitri’s brow furrowed in confusion, clearly recognizing the boy but not able to place from where. Mini-Mitri performed a stiff bow. “I am Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd, crown prince of the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus. Um… are you me?”

Dimitri gaped. He looked down at Mini-Mitri, over to Claude, back to Mini-Mitri, behind him, then back to the boy. “What…?”

Mini-Mitri’s bravery dried up as he halfway hid himself behind Claude. “You… you look like father,” he whispered, quiet as a ghost. 

While the pair entered a stilted conversation, he couldn’t help but look at the other child hiding in the room. Clearing his throat, he pointed. “Looks like we’re in the same boat, Your Princeliness.” He locked onto the green eye spying on them. 

“What? Wait, you don’t mean— he’s you?”

Settling on the floor, he crossed his legs and reached out his hand, palm upturned. “Hey kid. Unless mom had a secret kid that she never told me about, looks like we’re the same person. Our eye color is pretty unique, after all.” When combined with their skin-tone, he left out. He winked. “I know you’re curious. How about you come on out and say hello.”

The boy’s eyes widened. Then they narrowed in a familiar display of suspicion.

“Don’t even trust yourself? I can’t blame you. Let’s see… if I were you, I’d be worried that this is some kind of trick. How about I tell you something only you know.” He tapped his chin. “How about the time you snuck into the wyvern aerie, age six, determined to ride a wyvern. You were bucked off the back of a huge black wyvern and thought it was going to eat you. Instead, she stuck you with her eggs, and you were forced to sneak away. If I remember right… took you three failed attempts. Then you had to explain to mom why you were late to dinner.”

Evidently he managed to gain a small amount of trust. The kid peeked his head out. “How…” the kid croaked before breaking into coughs. “How’d… I get here…?” Khalid’s voice was horribly hoarse.

He sucked in a deep breath as he recognized himself. Specifically: his age. A bandage was plastered against his cheek. His skin was paler than usual. There were dark circles under his eyes. Most damning of all was the hoarse throat. “The poisoning incident…” he murmured. It had been the closest he’d ever come to dying. “You’ve had a rough time, huh.”

His younger self leveled him with a flat look. Right, he didn’t need to answer that one. Then Khalid started coughing. He winced, remembering how badly his throat had hurt after the incident. 

Dimitri approached Khalid and offered a flask of water. His younger-self took the flask and drank from it without hesitation. That was notable. He never thoughtlessly drank from anything. Especially not after the poisoning incident. He hadn’t even trusted drinks from his parents unless he watched them drink first. It wasn’t so much that he distrusted his parents as the fact that anyone could have poisoned the drink without his parent’s knowledge. He did NOT trust anyone after the incident, yet Khalid wasn’t afraid of Dimitri poisoning him.

“Thanks… Dima…” Khalid coughed again. Dimitri leaned over and rubbed the kid’s back as the coughing continued. To his astonishment, his younger-self seemed perfectly at ease with Dimitri.

There was a tug on his sleeve. In a familiar routine, Mini-Mitri crawled into his lap. Looking down, he sighed and wrapped an arm around Mini-Mitri. The boy leaned a cheek against him, staring off into nothingness.

“What is he doing?” Dimitri murmured, eyes wide.

He shrugged. “He’s been going in and out like this. Guess it might be a little stressful seeing your future self, or whatever is going on here.” Not in his case, as seeing the future sounded like a dream come true to him. But Mini-Mitri had a lot of triggers to navigate. “These episodes are less frequent than they were yesterday at least. I suppose if I asked you, you could pinpoint whatever traumatic event he just went through. For what little it’s worth, I’m sorry you went through something so gruesome at such a young age, Dimitri.”

“What are you talking about? I don’t know of anything that would cause, erm, this response. The only awful experience…” Dimitri clenched his fist, the metal in his gauntlet creaking. “Before then, I was innocent.”

“And that event was…?”

Dimitri shook his head. “Whatever happened, it can’t have been that. The tragedy… I was never the same.”

“And you don’t think that’s what mini-you went through? Not to bring up bad memories, but it might give us a hint as to this… situation.”

Dimitri shook his head again. “I was silent afterwards. Between the tragedy and the culling that followed, I hardly remember anything. Time lost meaning. I barely ate and never spoke, not until…” The prince paused, staring out the window in a manner not too different from his younger self. “Not until the death of my father was used as an excuse for genocide.”

“Father’s… death…” Mini-Mitri murmured. Silently, tears began to trickle down his cheeks. “His head… they cut off his head…”

“Sorry kiddo,” he murmured, giving whatever physical comfort he could. “You’d probably rather not think about that.”

“He’s crying…?” Dimitri gaped. “Even in my darkest moments, I never cried. Couldn’t seem to cry no matter what, even when I wanted to.”

“If you don’t let it out, the grief burns inward.” Mini-Mitri quietly sobbed. “The tears mean I care.”

“That’s something…” Khalid was interrupted by another coughing fit. “That’s something… that I say.”

“Gods above, this is weird.”

“This is madness, Claude. You can’t truly think these are our younger selves. I don’t remember you or Garreg Mach in my memories. That boy is not acting as I did.”

“Felix and Sylvain were pretty certain that they recognized you.”

The ringing of the hourly bell sounded that lunch was over.

“Blast. We need to get back to class.”

“Meet back here after class, Your Royalness?”

“I suppose.”

“Ah, and one last thing. We can’t let the identity of these two come to light.” Mini-Mitri didn’t acknowledge him, caught up in staring at the wall. Khalid, on the other hand, nodded. “If anyone finds out about my mini-me, tell them I’m his older brother. Ah, damn, that won’t work for you though, Your Highness. People would know if you had a little princeling trailing behind you. With any luck, Sylvain and Felix are keeping quiet.”

“He can be my cousin. My uncle is known for his, ah… his ‘dalliances’, unfortunately.”

“Perfect. But we can’t call them by their names. That would give it all away.” Not that would be a problem for his younger-self. But Claude was not letting the name Khalid slip out. It was fortunate that his younger-self didn’t spill that secret yet.

“I can… go by Kal…” He was so glad that he’d been a smart kid.

“Perfect. Kal then, that’s a reasonable Fódlani name. And for Dimitri… Dima and Mitri are too similar. Any suggestions?”

Dimitri frowned. “Alex? Short for Alexandre, my middle name. It was my grandfather’s name, so it isn’t unreasonable that my uncle’s child would be named Alex.”

“Does that work for you, kiddo?”

Mini-Mitri stared up at him with big, watery eyes. “Mm. It’s okay, you can call me that…” The boy tucked against his chest, hugging him lightly. 

“We must be getting back to class, Claude.”

“Yes, right.” He coaxed Mini-Mitri off of him. As he expected, the boy wasn’t content merely holding his hand. The boy raised his arms up in a silent plea to be picked up. 

“One moment he acts like me, the next not at all,” Dimitri commented. “Perhaps he is some sort of alternate version of me?” Shaking his head, the prince turned to say goodbye to Khalid. “I’ll be back after class. Your water is here, and I’ll bring you dinner as soon as I can.”

Khalid rolled his eyes. “Not a… baby. I’m mostly… better now.” He then began hacking up a lung.

He addressed Mini-Mitri. “Would you prefer to go with your older self?”

Mini-Mitri rapidly shook his head. Foolish, foolish Claude. He should have known better to even imply the concept of splitting up. Mini-Mitri squeezed him, earning a croak and a creak.

“Right.” As he made for the door, he addressed Dimitri one last time, smirking as he patted Mini-Mitri’s head. “So, Dimitri. I think you understand the importance of keeping what Kal’s told you to yourself. I’m sure you’ve put together where he's from.” With that ammunition, Dimitri could ruin him. “Don’t harm me, and I won’t be forced to retaliate. Y’know?”

Dimitri frowned. “Of course I will remain discreet.”

He winked. “Glad to hear it. Wouldn’t want any innocent bystanders to be hurt.” He purposefully flickered his eyes down to Mini-Mitri. “So don’t give me a reason to, yeah?”

Dimitri’s mouth fell open as he recognized the threat in Claude’s words. “You—you wouldn’t.”

“Let’s not put it to the test, mm?” He heaved Mini-Mitri up as he stood. The boy absently latched onto him. Gods above, his arms were going to fall off at this rate. “Off to class we go. We’ll talk more later.”

 

 


 

 

One week ago:

Upon first finding a child hacking up blood in the library, Dimitri assumed he was dreaming or hallucinating. In the dim light of his candle, the boy was off in a way he couldn’t articulate. Perhaps it was the strange garb the boy wore. Perhaps it was the subtle way the child appeared familiar.

Dream or not, there was a boy coughing up blood. If he was dreaming, his dream would find a way to torment him regardless. If he was awake, he refused to stand by and do nothing while someone suffered.

“Allow me to help.” Dimitri knelt before the boy, extending his hand. The boy didn’t look to be in any condition to walk. “I can carry you to—”

The boy convulsed. Cursing under his breath, he reached out to steady the boy. As he drew closer, he realized that the spams were too methodical to be random. It was an observation he noted too late for it to do him any good. The boy lashed out with a dagger. The dagger managed to bite past the unarmored portion of his uniform on his abdomen. The strike was weak, barely able to cut past cloth, but it did cut past, leaving a sharp sting against his stomach. Nothing deep or dangerous. 

A burst of golden light distracted him from taking any action against the boy’s attack.

Above the boy’s back rose the golden Crest of Riegan. It glimmered for only a moment, highlighting the boy’s determined features. Blood dribbled from his lips. The slash and bruise on his cheek stood out as beacons of color. Around his throat was a necklace of dark bruises. But it was his eyes that stood out most. Vivid green, fearful and wide. 

He knew why the boy looked so familiar now. The child was the spitting image of a young Claude von Riegan. 

He wrapped his hand over the hilt of the boy’s dagger. The boy weakly struggled. “I would prefer not to be stabbed again,” he murmured, doing his best to emulate Mercedes. “I will not hurt you. Please, will you allow me to bring you to the healer?” He shouldn’t be asking. He should be acting.

The boy shook his head back and forth. “No… healer…” the boy burbled through blood.

“At least allow me to bring you to your older brother. I am sure he must be wor—”

“No—ngh” The boy tried to shrink away from him. “He… pois…oned… me…”

Claude? Surely not. He didn’t know Claude well, but Claude didn’t seem like the sort to do something so abhorrent. Then again, Claude had something of a reputation for his poison hobby. Perhaps the boy snuck into Claude’s supply without Claude’s knowledge? Or perhaps Claude truly did poison his little brother.

The boy doubled over, coughing up more blood and splattering him. There was no time to doubt the child. “Hide… need to… hide…”

“You need a healer!”

“I’ll get better…” The boy grit his bloodstained teeth and glared at him. “If ‘m found… like this… I’ll be killed…”

And that was how, against his better judgement, he found himself hiding a young boy in his room. 

The boy wasn’t afraid of the poison killing him, he was merely afraid of someone finding him in his vulnerable state. The child was oddly knowledgeable of exactly what the poison was doing to him. Through snippets of conversation interspersed with coughing, the boy explained all sorts of details that went over his head. 

Goddess, he was grateful for the thick stone walls of the dorms. The boy’s coughing would keep the whole dorm awake otherwise.

Dimitri admittedly couldn’t fully keep the boy’s secret. For one, his uniform was splattered with blood, and he also had a cut over his stomach. So he tucked the boy into his bed, promised to return before morning, locked the door behind him, and sought out Dedue.

“I trust your judgement,” Dedue stated as he sewed up the rip in his tunic. 

He didn’t trust his judgement, but in the end he went with his gut. The child was terrified enough already. There was no need to stress the boy further — and moreover, he needed to have a chat with Claude before the boy was revealed. 

After the visit to Dedue, he returned to his room. “It’s me,” he whispered as he entered. Dawn’s light was just enough to make out the messy covers of his bed. Specifically, the emptiness of his bed. Damned hells. Apparently the boy could still walk! Blast, where— 

Frowning, he noted that a majority of his blankets and pillows were missing. With his door locked and window firmly shut, the boy couldn’t have left.

The sound of coughing echoed from under his bed.

Sighing, he knelt down and looked under the bed. A pair of wide eyes stared back. “It’s rather dusty down there. You shouldn’t sleep there. Is the bed not to your liking?”

They came to a compromise. He moved his desk until it was perpendicular to the wall, creating a space hidden from the door. The boy still hesitated to leave his hiding spot, so he draped blankets over the top of the desk, using the chair to create a blanket fort. The bulk of the tent was behind the desk and sheltered from prying eyes. Finally, finally this convinced the boy to switch spots, dragging all the blankets and pillows with him.

Laying down on his own bed with nary a sheet, he crossed his hands over his stomach and resigned himself to another sleepless night. The boy was coughing too much for him to sleep anyways.

About halfway through the night, he snapped out of his half-asleep doze at the sound of muffled crying. For a few minutes he attempted to ignore the boy’s quiet sobs in order to spare the child’s pride. As they continued, he rolled over and faced the opening of the blanket fort.

“How may I help?” he whispered into the darkness. The sobs halted abruptly before returning at twice the strength. Getting out of bed, he knelt down at the opening of the tent, not daring to invade the child’s ‘safe spot’. “Did you have a nightmare?”

“I’m sorry,” the boy whispered back. 

“Nothing to apologize for. Do you want me to light a candle?”

“I want… my wyvern,” the boy miserably sobbed, breaking out into another coughing fit. “I’m sorry, I’m s—orry.”

“Why are you sorry?” His heart ached to reach out and hold the boy.

“‘M not… supposed to… cry!” More sobbing. “I’m weak. Too… weak. I don’t… wanna die.”

“No one will harm you so long as you are with me,” he firmly stated. Clearing his throat, he lowered his voice back into something gentle. “Crying does not make you weak. There are some nights I wish I was able to cry, but I lost that ability years ago. Do not fear any judgement from me. I don’t think you are weak.”

“…You mean it? Everyone… thinks I’m weak.”

“If you were weak, you would not have survived this long.” 

“I’m… I’m still scared.” The boy’s voice was barely audible. “You’ll… protect me? For real?”

“I vow it, upon my honor, I won’t allow anyone to harm you so long as I am around.” There were so many people he had failed. He refused to add this boy to that long list.

If it weren’t for the sniffles and coughs, he would have assumed the boy fell back asleep. After a long period, the boy spoke up. “Can… can you sleep with me?”

Now that he had an avenue to help the boy, he didn’t hesitate to crawl into the boy’s blanket fort. He barely had time to settle down when the boy plastered himself against his chest, clinging with all his little might. With one hand, he arranged the blankets around them both — the boy was shivering — and with his other arm he wrapped it around the boy’s back. It didn’t take long for the child to drift off into a deep sleep. Dimitri joined him not long after.

 

 


 

 

Throughout the week, he did his best to help the boy recover. The boy held a heavy dose of caution, but he grew to trust Dimitri. They fell into a routine: when night fell, the boy would go to sleep on his own. At some point in the middle of the night, the boy would either crawl into Dimitri’s bed or drag him into the blanket fort. 

As the days passed, the boy grew more and more restless as he recovered. Dimitri did his best to provide interesting books, but the boy tore through them with unmatched speed and curiosity. 

The first time he asked for the boy’s name, he was met with surprise. “You… don’t know… me…?”

“I know your brother, but I’m afraid he never mentioned having a little brother.”

“What’s… your name…?”

It was his turn to be surprised. “Forgive me, I can’t believe I failed to introduce myself! I am Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd, crown prince of the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus.”

That caught the boy’s attention. “Are we… in Faerghus…?”

It was worrisome that the boy didn’t seem to know where he was. It didn’t take many conversations to learn that the boy was masterful at weaving through a conversation without giving any details about himself, just like his older brother. But there were some details Dimitri extracted. 

“You’re… nice. Why? Are all… Fódlani nice… like you…?” 

That had been a difficult question with strange implications. The boy’s strange garb only highlighted how out of place he was. Yet he spoke without any noticeable accent. 

Finally the boy told him his name. 

Khalid. Such a foreign name. 

He learned a few things about Khalid. 

Fact one: Khalid was paranoid. He refused to sleep in the open, refused to allow anyone to know about his presence, refused to trust a healer. Khalid even made him swear to pretend to be ignorant of his name in case the boy was discovered.

Fact two: Khalid might very well be the most insatiable curious person Dimitri had ever met. Were it not for a sore throat, Khalid would never stop with the questions. The boy had taken to writing out endless questions for him to answer whenever he returned from class or training. 

Fact three: Khalid wasn’t from Fódlan. He didn’t say as such but it was obvious after asking questions that should have been common knowledge.

Fact four: Khalid trusted Dimitri. And Khalid expected Dimitri to hate him. He expected everyone to default to hating him. 

Fact five: Khalid did not have friends. Though implied rather than outright stated, the more he got to know the boy, the more obviously lonely he was. 

Fact six, his most recently learned fact: Khalid was not Claude’s little brother. Khalid was Claude. Claude was Khalid. Khalid was a younger Claude. 

That meant Claude was not native to Fódlan. That meant Claude was hated back in his home. That meant Claude was hurt as a child, often. Hurt by his own family. That explained why Claude’s smile always seemed ever so slightly off. Above all, it meant that Claude had not poisoned his younger sibling as Dimitri feared. But Claude also threatened Dimitri’s younger self.

Just as Dimitri was helping a younger Claude, Claude was helping a younger Dimitri. Maybe. The boy looked the same as he once did. Half of his mannerisms matched up with Dimitri at that age. But Claude implied that his younger self just experienced the Tragedy, and that was not how he reacted in the aftermath of Duscur.

Dimitri did not speak after Duscur. He rarely ate. He moved through life like a ghost, more silent than the ghosts trailing after him. That month between the tragedy that killed his father and the tragedy that led to the genocide of the Duscurian people was a haze of silence. He’d hardly been able to put together the simplest of thought, let alone speak. It wasn’t until his father’s court began howling for the blood of the innocent people of Duscur that he found his voice again. Too little too late.

He didn’t cry after the tragedy. He’d never found the tears. Why should he cry when he was the one who survived? He needed to be strong. Even in his early shocked state, he’d never cried.

The boy who clung to Claude cried. That boy cried a lot, it seemed. The child wearing his face refused to let go of Claude, clinging in a manner Dimitri had never indulged in. And though the boy’s appetite was nonexistent, Claude managed to coax the boy into eating a decent amount each meal — something that he would not have done at that age.

 

 


 

 

“Your Highness. How’d your chat with Claude go?” Sylvain sidled up to him as he entered the classroom, speaking in a low tone. Felix stood by Sylvain’s side, glaring for all he was worth. 

Ingrid too trailed behind them. “Please tell me Sylvain is pulling my leg, Your Highness.”

He cleared his throat. “Claude and I talked it over. Has anyone else been informed about… ah, my young cousin?” He didn’t mention Claude’s threat that still bounced through his skull. If that boy really was him, what would happen if the boy died? Would his current self cease to exist?

“‘Cousin’, that’s a good cover. Good thinking.” Sylvain winked. “And you’ve got nothing to worry about. We know how to be discrete.”

Nodding, he lowered his voice further. “I cannot be certain this is not some kind of trick. However, it would seem he is myself. Please remain discreet. Ah, the same goes for Claude’s ‘younger brother.’”

Sylvain sucked in a breath. “No way. Both of you? Hold on, have you been hiding a kid in your room for the past week?”

He looked away. “That would be accurate. I expect you will see him around the monastery in the coming week. He is becoming restless, now that he is nearly recovered.”

“What the hell?” Felix hissed. Dimitri shrugged, which only incensed Felix further.

“You’re telling us that both you and Claude have a… a younger version of yourselves running around the monastery?” Ingrid gaped.

“Neither of them are in any condition to run, but yes. It appears so. I don’t understand it either.”

“Well clearly the only logical conclusion is,” Sylvain spoke with the certainty of someone who was bound to be extremely incorrect, “that you two are soulmates! Eh? Eh? That explains it!”

“That explains nothing. Soulmates aren’t real, and beyond that, even if they were, being soulmates does not explain time travel.”

Sylvain winked. “Hey, you never know! Y’know, I heard from Mercedes, who heard from Dorothea, who heard from Hilda, that your ‘little cousin’ called Claude his guardian angel. How romantic.”

“They are children, Sylvain. Do keep your mind out of the gutter.”

 

 


 

 

It didn’t take long for news of Dimitri’s ‘bastard’ cousin to sweep through the monastery. Claude felt bad for implying that the kid was illegitimate, but Mini-Mitri didn’t seem to care and Dimitri acknowledged that it was a necessity. Through some carefully worded suggestions, he laid the rumors that Mini-Mitri’s carriage had been attacked by bandits, killing his mother and step-father. A bit ironic, considering the truth. 

The kid was acclimating decently. According to Dimitri, the prince had fared much more poorly than Mini-Mitri was. It made sense when he thought about it. Dimitri had been brought back to the capital, surrounded by constant talk of what happened. For Dimitri, there wouldn’t have been any escape from the truth of what happened. For Mini-Mitri, other than the abrupt change in scenery, the tragedy might as well not have happened. It wasn’t talked about, and Claude often threw out incorrect information to throw off others. 

Every once in a while, when Mini-Mitri wasn’t in one of his fugue states, the boy would offhandedly mention his father or ‘Glenn’ in a manner that implied the pair were still alive. The kid flipped wildly between the two concepts, sometimes saying that his father was dead and other times denying it. Claude had a bad feeling about that, but what was he supposed to do? He couldn’t just outright correct the poor kid and say that King Blaiddyd had been dead for years. 

Mini-Mitri was one thing. It was his younger self that threw him off the most. He remembered the poisoning incident vividly. That had been his closest brush with death. He’d been bedridden for an entire month. 

Khalid was almost entirely recovered after a mere two weeks.

At first, he speculated that Khalid 'arrived’ in this time-period already a few weeks into his recovery, but apparently the night that Dimitri found him was the same night of the poisoning incident. The discrepancy made no sense. If anything, the kid should have been in worse shape considering Dimitri hadn’t taken him to a healer. 

When Claude had been poisoned all those years ago, it took months to fully recover. In addition to that, by the time he was somewhat recovered, had not been okay mentally. At the time he’d told himself he was fine. He’d played the unaffected mask to a T. But he really, really had not been okay. He’d been poisoned by his one half-brother that he thought hadn’t hated him. To learn that their entire relationship throughout his whole life was a lie had been hard enough. He’d lost the one person that he could somewhat trust. He hadn’t had the impression that his half-brother loved him or anything — but there had been moments of kindness that no one else ever showed Khalid. And it had all been a ruse.

To top that off, his parents hadn’t believed him when he told them what happened. In one fell swoop, he lost every little scrap of trust for everyone in his life. It was a betrayal he never recovered from. Oh, he’d gotten over it, sure. He learned his lesson from the experience, though.

It was a lesson that Khalid apparently hadn’t learned.

He didn’t get it. His chances to speak with his younger self had been frustratingly limited in the past few days. What little time they did speak together was mostly filled with him instructing his younger self on what to under no circumstances reveal. He had always been smart, so his kid self didn’t need much coaching. This was good, because it was borderline impossible to speak to the kid without Dimitri hovering nearby. Worst of all, Dimitri knew some of his secrets now. 

And Dimitri was treating him coldly. Ever since he gave his little threat towards Mini-Mitri, Dimitri eyed him suspiciously. Which was fair. He was essentially holding Dimitri’s younger self hostage (though it was more accurate to say Mini-Mitri was holding Claude hostage). 

The thing was, Khalid trusted Dimitri. Khalid didn’t even fully trust Claude, but he trusted Dimitri. Khalid claimed that Dimitri would protect him. He’d never believed anyone could protect him in his entire life. Why was Khalid different in that regard?

 

 


 

 

“Doesn’t that get tiring?” Hilda asked, pointing to where Mini-Mitri clung to his back.

“Naaah, he’s not a burden,” he replied as he shook his head in a frantic ‘yes, my body is killing me’. The kid was either in a fugue or a nap, but he still wasn’t about to say anything bad about Mini-Mitri’s clinging, just in case the kid was listening.

“And just who are you?” Lorenz’s voice echoed from around the corner.

“I’m looking for… the library.” The familiar, still somewhat hoarse voice was what really drew Claude’s attention. He stood up, cutting Hilda off, speed-walking towards the voice.

“The library is off limits for children.”

“I just want…  to know where it is.”

“Hey, Lorenz! Are you bullying a child? Wow, that's low.”

“Claude! No, of course… not…” Lorenz looked between Khalid and him, eyes narrowing. “You two bear a striking resemblance.”

He could feel Hilda drilling a hole into the side of his head. “So I’ve heard. Kal, you’re supposed to be on bed rest. You really couldn’t wait another hour?”

“I’m out of books.” Khalid broke out into a coughing fit.

“Ummm, Claude, care to introduce us…?”

“Oh? You don’t know him? This is Kal von Riegan. Someone decided he wanted to see Garreg Mach’s big library for himself, regardless of the consequence. He snuck himself into a merchant wagon and hitchhiked his way here.” He turned to Khalid, sharing a grimace. “I get it, you’re restless. But mom’s going to kill both of us at this rate.” Rolling his eyes, he shot a suffering look towards Hilda. “Even worse, he ate something he really shouldn’t have and made himself sick, so I can’t even send him home until he’s better.”

Khalid crossed his arms. “I was told… it was a safe mushroom to eat!”

“And that’s why you don’t trust strangers.”

“Yes, I learned my lesson. No need… to rub it in. ‘Sides, now I can… see the big library! You promised you would… take me.”

“When you’re better.”

“It’s just a cough!” Khalid began coughing again.

“Mom’s going to kill us.”

“She’s going to kill you for not… stopping me from… eating that mushroom. Or for ‘letting’ me come with you.”

“Hey! Don’t pin that on me! You’re the one that smuggled himself into a wagon!”

“My word against yours.”

“Exactly. Which means we’re both guilty in mom’s eyes.”

“Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you never told me you have a little brother!” Hilda exploded, bolting over to Khalid. Khalid flinched, but Hilda didn’t seem to notice. “Hi there, cutie! Aww, you look just like your big brother! Has he talked about me? I’m Hilda!”

Khalid was saved from answering by a big coughing fit (that Claude was sure was on purpose). The kid backed away from her, so Claude put himself between Hilda and Khalid. “I’ll introduce you more thoroughly later — when someone isn’t sneaking out. Now come on kiddo, let’s go. I’ve got a few books stashed away that you can read.”

He caught a look from Hilda that screamed ‘you WILL be interrogated when you get back,’ but that was a problem for Future-Claude. For now, he had an opportunity. “Yeesh, you’re growing a mini-army of kids,” Hilda snickered as he left. No doubt referring to Mini-Mitri. Who he was still carrying on his back.

When he got out of sight of Hilda and Lorenz, he smirked. “Nice improv,” he told himself. “When you’re recovered, I can already think of countless schemes we can pull off together.”

“What, no more… scolding?”

He raised an eyebrow. “Come on, little brother, you know me better than that. Why, you could say I’d do the same in your shoes.” He winked. “I know where you’re coming from, but sneaking out wasn’t such a bright move. Just this simple walk is leaving you breathless — how do you plan to defend yourself? Good luck running like you are now. And trying to hide? Your coughing would give you away.”

Mini-him glared. “I wasn’t planning on… being noticed.”

“Plan better in the future. In case you haven’t noticed, you and I stick out like a sore thumb.” He hiked Mini-Mitri a bit higher up on his back. The kid was deep in one of his fugues again, or possibly napping. “But I am serious about the books. I’m sure I’ve got something that you’ll find interesting.”

When they finally got to his room, he made a grand gesture at his many book piles. Khalid wasted no time zooming from pile to pile, collecting an armful out of the carefully organized chaos. 

He cleared his throat. “Now that we’ve got a moment away from Dimitri’s hovering, we should talk.” He settled down on his bed, sliding Mini-Mitri onto his lap. He patted the spot next to him. “I’m curious for one, and I’m sure you are too.” Khalid nodded and set his book pile aside. “How much do you trust Dimitri?” he asked right off the gate.

“He won’t kill me.”

Objectively, that wasn’t glowing praise. But for Claude? For little-Khalid? “Whoa now! You only just met the guy!”

“I stabbed… him and he helped me. Not sure… I would’ve made it… without him.”

“And you’re not worried he’s using you?”

“No.” Khalid looked away. “I trust Dima.”

He wanted to believe he misheard. “You trust him.” He wasn’t sure he’d ever said that about anyone. “How the hell did he get your trust? After the poisoning incident, no less! Er, by the way, how’re you…?”

“I’m fine.”

“That’s what I said too. It wasn’t true, though. Your half-brother betrayed you.”

Khalid’s shoulders slumped. “I should have seen it coming.”

Sighing, he patted his younger-self’s head. “I can’t fault you for thinking that, but take it from a version of you that has some hindsight: no, you couldn’t have seen it coming. He’s a decade older than you. He’d been planning that attack for ages.”

“And why should I trust you?”

“Because I’m you? You know me: self-preservation comes first.”

Khalid crossed his arms and said nothing. Collecting his books, Khalid got off the bed and left the room, no doubt heading back to Dimitri’s room.

“What is with him?” he murmured. Attempting to stand, he was foiled by Mini-Mitri hugging his waist. Great. Now he had to disentangle himself. Or maybe… hm. Class was out for the day. Maybe now was the perfect chance for a nap. Mini-Mitri certainly seemed to agree. 

Chapter Text

Claude chit-chatted with Lysithea in the library. For once he held off on teasing her in favor of pumping her for information expressing interest in her crest studies. 

Seeing Hilda walk towards them out of the corner of his eye wasn’t too strange, though it was odd that she came to the library under her own free will. Her bangs were messier than usual, falling in front of her eyes. Something about her posture and the way she walked rang alarm bells in his head. Her pace was too silent, too efficient — not lazy in the slightest.

She approached them, opening her mouth to say something. Lysithea beat her to the punch.

“Hilda! There you are!” The little mage whirled on Hilda, already fuming. “You left me to do all the work on our last project! I am much too busy to pick up your slack! You owe me, big time!” She continued to berate Hilda.

In the middle of Lysithea’s rant, Hilda turned to him. “I need to speak to Khalid, alone.”

Ah. That explained things. “You’re not going anywhere!” Lysithea continued, not registering ‘Hilda’s’ damning implications. “Not until I’ve given you a piece of my mind!”

‘Hilda’ was forced to turn back to Lysithea and hear her out. Silently, Claude slid around ‘Hilda’ until he was at her back. In one hand, he unsheathed a dagger. With his other hand, he grabbed a book and lobbed it across the room.

Both girls snapped to look at loud noise, as did everyone else in the library. In a practiced motion, he buried the hilt of the dagger into the imposter’s kidney, covering her mouth with his other hand. She burbled a quiet gasp, then went limp.

“Lysithea, don’t turn around.”

“What—”

“Look at that bookshelf,” he ordered as he lowered the assassin to the ground. Lysithea had seen her fair share of death, but she didn’t need to see this. Brushing away the bangs covering ‘Hilda’s’ eyes, he found what he expected: white eyes, no pupil. 

The tale-tell sign of one of Almyra’s top assassins and their shifting magic. His brothers found him.

“Ugh, there’s nothing over there, Claude.” Lysithea turned back around, giving him just enough time to remove his dagger. He didn’t have the chance to sheath it before Lysithea’s eyes fell on him. “Wh…why is Hilda on the ground?”

“Look at her eyes. This isn’t Hilda.”

Lysithea went white as a sheet, stumbling backwards. A small blood puddle was beginning to expand from underneath the assassin’s body. 

“Hey, is Hilda alright?” Raphael approached, peering at ‘Hilda’. “I didn’t think she was coming today! I told her I’d do the library instead of her, ‘cause she was feeling sick.” Raphael’s eyes were the same gold as ever as they swept over to Lysithea. “Hey, you look pretty sick too!”

“Hey, is everything alright over here?” Annette asked, peeking over at ‘Hilda’. Apparently no one noticed the widening blood spill yet. Sylvain followed behind her, also squinting at ‘Hilda’.

“Lysithea looks a bit shaken,” he deflected. Great. If he explained how he knew about this technique, that was as good as revealing himself as Amyran too (or at least someone involved in Almyran business). 

He really hoped that Hilda was okay. It wasn’t necessary for an assassin to kill whoever they took the form of, but it wasn't unheard of.

“Hilda looks like she’s the one who’s ‘shaken’, hah. She need the infirmary?” Sylvain asked, squinting closer. 

“Um, what’s with her eyes?” Annette pointed at Hilda, then gasped, stumbling backwards as her eyes latched onto the growing puddle at Claude’s feet. She screamed, and then everyone in the library noticed the blood. ‘Everybody’ included Caspar, who upon seeing the bleeding corpse at his feet, tackled him.

“Remain calm,” he calmly stated, limp in Caspar’s headlock. “That’s not—ghk!” Caspar choked his words away. The Black Eagle student’s eyes were blue, but that was little comfort as his oxygen supply ran low. Fighting back would damn him, surely someone would notice he wasn’t struggling. Not like he could get out of the hold of one of the best grapplers at the academy anyways. The instinct to fight back roared within him.

“Is Hilda hurt?!” Raphael asked, looking closer. “We gotta get her to a healer!”

“Eegh, that’s a lot of blood,” Linhardt groaned. “Also, she’s dead. No healing can fix that.”

“Something isn’t right,” Sylvain slowly drawled, narrowing his eyes. “Claude’s a suspicious fella, but this is out of character.”

“Oh Goddess. Oh Goddess,” Annette repeated, hands clasped over her mouth. 

“Caspar, stop choking him. I want to hear Claude’s reasoning,” Sylvain said.

The hand on his throat loosened slightly. “No way am I gonna let this murderer get away! Hilda was my friend!”

“Maybe it’s fake blood?” Raphael suggested, scratching his head. “Claude wouldn’t kill Hilda! Oh, I get it! This is one of those dir-venison things the professor talked about!”

Sylvain straightened. “A diversion? Well, this is pretty eye-catching, that’s for sure. C’mon Caspar. Keep holding him, but release his throat.” 

“Sh-shouldn’t we g-g-get the knights?” Annette whispered.

“Caspar, let him talk.”

“Oh. Right. Fine!” Caspar’s headlock let up enough for him to breathe. “Talk!”

“L-look at her eyes. She wasn’t behaving right. It’s a magic spell to take someone else’s appearance. That's not Hilda.”

“You expect us to believe that?! So what if her eyes are white! They just rolled back into her head. ‘Cause you killed her!”

Caspar loosened his hold enough for him to slip away. He backed away from Caspar, hands raised. Everyone who wasn’t in shock went tense, reaching for whatever weapons they had.  “Easy! I’ll stay right here, okay? I can stay here until the real Hilda is located. Then you’ll all know I’m telling the truth. No need to keep me in a headlock.” His eyes drifted along the higher levels of the library. If he was right, there was likely a second assassin hanging around. Likely a sniper.

“He’s right,” Lysithea whispered. “There are spells that… allow the stealing of another’s appearance.” Huh. Was there a Fódlani variant? Interesting.

Dimitri, who had been on the sidelines this entire time, headed straight towards him. “Look, I’m not going to run away.”

“W-what if that r-really is Hilda, though?” Annette asked, gnawing on her bottom lip. “You didn’t have to k-kill her!”

“She’s right,” Dimitri gravely stated. “You are dangerous.” There was something off about his voice. As soon as it occurred to him that Dimitri’s eyes were also hidden by his bangs, it was too late to go for a dagger. 

‘Dimitri’ lunged at him, knocking them both to the ground. 

“Hey!” Raphael was the only one who spoke up as he rolled on the floor with the second assassin. A wicked, transparent blade nearly gutted him. Kneeing the man in the groin, he grabbed the man’s arm and attempted to disarm him. His attempt failed and the dagger was brought closer to his neck. It gleamed like glass, only noticeable to a trained eye. The clear, poisonous metal was only found in Almyra — and only used among the most dishonorable cast.

He forced ‘Dimitri’ back, slowly overpowering the other man. Then the assassin spat in his eyes, ruining his concentration just enough to bring the dagger within an inch of his neck. Grunting, his arms shook, failing against the assassin’s leverage. 

Gasping, then coughing a mouthful of blood, the assassin’s blank-white eyes went wide, then the body went limp. Claude rolled out from under the corpse, staring incredulously at Sylvain. “How did you know?”

Sylvain unceremoniously yanked the sword out of ‘Dimitri’s’ back. Claude rolled away, pocketing the clear blade for the future. Wouldn’t want anyone to step on it, after all (or get ahold of secret Almyran weapons). “Aside from how out of character it is for His Highness to attack you? You were holding your own in a contest of strength. One does not tie a contest of strength with Dimitri. Besides, where’s Dedue? Not here.”

“What the hell is going on?!” Caspar burst out. “You’re sure that’s not Dimitri?! ‘Cause he sure looks like Dimitri!”

“Wasn’t walking right,” Sylvain replied. “Besides, you all heard him speak. I can’t be the only one who noticed His-Not-So-Highness’ accent. Now then, Claude, why were these not-classmates attacking you?”

“Technically I attacked not-Hilda first as soon as I recognized what she was. Not-Dimitri clearly came after me because I killed his partner. Simple as that.” He gestured to Lysithea, who wasn’t looking too hot. “I’m not the only one who knows about these identity-thieves. Really, I’m disappointed that the rest of you are so unaware of this threat!”

Lysithea stumbled to her feet. “H-Hilda. Hilda and, and Dimitri. They’re dead.”

“Claude said they’re imposters, though,” Raphael said, frowning.

Lysithea shook her head. “The spell to take someone else’s skin, it… it requires the death of the original.” Oh? That wasn’t how it worked in Almyra. Huh. The Fódlani variant must be awful for short-term missions.

“You’re certain?” Linhardt’s quiet question broke the stifling silence. “If Duke Goneril’s daughter and Faerghus’ only prince are dead, that is very, very bad.”

Lysithea stumbled to her feet. “I—I need—” 

Raphael wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “C’mon, I’m taking you to the infirmary.” It was a show of how shaken Lysithea was that she didn’t protest. The pair left the library.

“We should alert the knights too,” Sylvain added, staring down at the still-bleeding corpse that looked like Dimitri. “This is going to be a tough story to explain. Heh. You guys think Lady Rhea’s gonna believe us that these are imposters?”

“I’m sure everyone will be willing to corroborate what happened,” Claude stated, eyeing everyone left in the room. Sylvain, Caspar, Linhardt, and Annette (actually Annette fainted). “Not to give anyone potentially false hope or anything, but it’s possible that Hilda and Dimitri are still alive. And if they are dead, their bodies will be somewhere.”

“You can’t just say stuff like that!” Caspar shouted, balling his fists. “Our classmates might be dead! Wipe that calm look off your face or I’ll wipe it away for you!”

“Calm down.” Linhardt simply patted Caspar’s elbow to placate him. “Claude. You’re looking rather tense. Care to share with the class?”

Sylvain’s eyes widened. “If there were two, there may be more.”

“Yep.” He stood, sparing a brief moment of annoyance at the massive bloodstain that Not-Dimitri left on his jacket and shirt. “Keep an eye out for anyone with white eyes — or hidden eyes. I doubt this will be the only instance.” Not until he was dead.  

His brothers had found him. So far from his father’s gaze, there was nothing stopping the most brutal kinds of assassination attempts. Damned hells. He was going to have to leave Garreg Mach. For some reason, that felt more painful than when he left Almyra the first time. Still, he couldn’t afford for any of the Golden Deer to be caught in the crossfire between him and his half-brothers. Dammit.

“GHOST!” Lysithea screamed, bolting back into the room. “D-D-Dimi-t-tri’s a g-g-ghost!”

Raphael bolted into the room just in time to catch Lysithea as she fainted.

“Um, is everything well?” Dimitri asked, following not far behind. “I… oh.” Dimitri started at the body-double bleeding out on the library floor. “What in the name of the Goddess…?”

“He’s alive,” Sylvain gasped, slumping into a chair. “Hah! Fuck. I was worried there for a minute!”

“Hilda’s gotta be alright too!” Raphael cheerfully added.

Not necessarily, he didn’t say. Until she was found, he wasn’t going to let down his guard. “Well, this will make the murder of the Not-Prince of Faerghus a lot easier to explain! Thanks for not being dead, Your Royalness!”

Around that time, the knights entered the room. Sylvain began explaining the situation to the knights in a rough approximation. One of the knights shut the door and jammed it shut with the shaft of a lance. The other knights were silent as they walked closer.

Outnumbered 3-to-1, it occurred to him that the knight helmets hid their eyes.

Chapter Text

Amidst the desert, all was quiet. 

There was never much to do anymore, but Macuil preferred it that way. No more ‘saintly’ weapons to craft. No more tactics to devise. No more sniveling humans to pretend not to hate. No more nagging insanity of Seiros and her thirst for revenge. No more fighting. Only him, the desert’s sand, and whatever humble creature he happened across.

He napped. He wandered. He thought. There was little else to do.

His desert was once a city, though only he and his living family knew such detail. Beneath his shifting sands lay the remnants of Llium, a once great city that housed dragon and man alike. Did humanity care that they were murdering their own kind when they destroyed the sprawling city? Of course not. And humanity labeled them the beasts.

There were times he bid the sands to move so he might return to the ruins of his childhood home. He rarely indulged in such sentimentalities, though the drive of eternity and boredom brought him back time and time again.

Too many bones, he reminded himself as he sifted through a long-forgotten town square. Few structures remained in any form, though that was more due to the sands and the passing of time than the original pillars of light. This far out from the blasts, the stonework hadn’t been too badly affected. The people though, human and nabatean alike, burned or melted as the light touched their bodies. 

With a blast of wind, the full townsquare was unburied. The dried fountain still stood in a rough approximation. Once, it held precious spring water. Now it merely held bones of dragon and man. What fools they had been. Time and time again, mankind betrayed them. The first betrayal came with the destruction of Llium, Malum, Thinis, and Septen as the world burned under man’s arrogance. Mankind was extinguished until Sothis repaired the land, forgiving the petty mortals. The second betrayal was Zanado, and it was a betrayal that none of them saw coming. What fools they had been indeed.

He left the ancient townsquare, burying the burial grounds once more. Perhaps next time that his boredom overwhelmed him, he would visit the inner-city instead. There were no bones in the flat ruins of the inner-city — merely shadows painted upon undying stonework.

He wandered the sands, having little better to do. Perhaps he would come across a human. Every so often, foolish humans wandered into his domain. It was a testament to his boredom that he didn’t always slay the mortals on sight. 

It seemed he was due for another nap. 

There was a creature nearby. Mortals were not so unique as they liked to think they were — after so long, he had seen all combinations of mortal personality. There was nothing new. Yet, despite this, he still stopped to see the lowly mortal. It was something to delay his nap, at the very least.

Kneeling, he reached out a hand towards the desert tortoise. As ever, the creature reminded him of his brother. Perhaps it was time for a visit. Though neither of them were particularly social, it didn’t hurt to stop by for a hello once every few centuries. There were only five of them left. Seiros was bound to get herself killed by humanity any century now, Cethleann was too young to understand the horrors of humanity, and Cichol would end up dying in a foolish attempt to allow Cethleann to socialize. The day Cethleann awoke from her coma, the nabatean race would be ever closer to extinction. Indech though, Indech understood the importance of staying away from mortals. Indech’s choices were more due to antisocial tendencies that were present even before the genocide of their people, but nonetheless, Indech was sensible. Unlike Seiros, Indech understood that it was pointless to join the wars waged by mortals. 

Macuil, unlike Indech, did not enjoy solitude. With so few living creatures to choose for company, he was left with little choice regardless. Humanity was not an option.

Stretching his wings, he soared high above the land. Curious. To the east, Al’meera (or whatever the place was called these days) was preparing for war. A common pastime of humanity, indeed. The strange part was that they were preparing to march on Fódlan. That was uncommon, or at least, once it had been uncommon. It had been a millennia since he last paid attention to the wars of humanity.

As he approached Fódlan, he landed and hid his form. ‘Holy beast sent by the Goddess’ or not, he would not reply on Seiros’ propaganda to keep the humans from doing something foolish towards him. 

Lake Teutates was not as he remembered it.

The lake was empty. 

There were no fish. No wildlife. The water was stagnant and polluted. There was no Indech.

Though he detested walking among humanity, he accepted the discomfort in order to look for his brother. Macuil was no fool — though Indech may have fled, it was equally likely that his brother was dead. Indech’s lake was close to humanity, after all. 

He wandered. Whenever he stumbled into various collections of human huts, he found directions to Garreg Mach. The odds were likely that Seiros knew where Indech was. 

The more mortals he spoke at, the more unease nipped at him. The northerns grumbled about an empire, a dead king, and the acts of heresy being committed. As he traveled further south, the mortals grew more fearful. There were whispers of the God-slayer Emperor, the Freer of Mankind, the Great Unifier. There were whispers of the destruction of the church of Seiros.

He always knew Seiros’ hubris would be her end. It seemed her hubris swallowed Indech as well. Regardless, he pressed forward. He needed to know their fates, as well as the fate of Cichol and Cethleann. If fortunes were favorable, the pair would still be hidden away, waiting for the day of Cethleann’s awakening. Fortunes were rarely favorable for their kind, so he was not holding his breath. 

Seiros greeted him personally at the gates of Garreg Mach. Her jaw hung agape, her eyes wide and unseeing. Her head was mounted upon the gates. Upon her brow, the spot that once carried her creststone had been torn out.

“Quite the sight, is it not?” said a mortal.

“How long ago did this happen?” he asked in return.

“Nearly a month to the day! It was an unforgettable sight. I must admit, had I not watched the former archbishop become this beast with my own eyes, I would not believe it.”

“Where is the rest of the body?”

This gave the mortal pause. “I… did not think to ask, in truth. Why do you ask?”

“Were there others like the Immaculate One on the battlefield?”

“You are asking many questions. Other beasts like this, no, there was only this one.”

“And what of the former members of the church?”

“Ah! I see. If you are concerned over the leadership of Garreg Mach, worry not. The former cardinals have all been dealt with. We are in the middle of transforming the monastery into a full academy for the masses. Pilgrims such as yourself still frequent this area often though, as well as those curious to see if the Immaculate One truly hangs from these gates.”

“I seek a man with a crest of Cichol. Do any reside here?”

The mortal puffed up his chest. “Indeed! I, Ferdinand von Aegir, do indeed possess a crest of Cichol! However, in Emperor Edelgard’s new government, status is decided upon by merit, not the circumstances of one’s birth.”

Aegir. The original Aegir had been a somewhat tolerable man, but clearly there was nothing left of that man’s traits in his descendants. “The man I am searching for is no Aegir.”

“The only other man I know of who held my crest was Seteth. He and his sister, Flayn, were killed during the war, I am afraid.”

Though somewhat expected, his heart sank. “Flayn. Did she carry the crest of Cethleann?”

“Indeed she did. If you knew them, then I am sorry for your loss.”

“And their bodies?”

“Lost to the battlefield, I can only assume. They died not far from here.”

Without another word, he walked away in search of his family’s bones. Unless Indech still lived, Macuil was the only one who could give them a proper burial. Cichol, Cethleann, Seiros — they all knew the dangers of associating with humanity. He told them many times before that he would not mourn their reckless deaths.

For nights on end, he scoured the land for their bones and hearts. His search came to an end when he returned to Garreg Mach. The Aegir he met before had a new lance. A tired mortal with the airs of Cethleann held a staff. The weapons were bone, holding the throbbing hearts of his dead kin within. Though he ached at the sight, it was not a surprise. Seiros no doubt joined their fate. He told her not to venerate the corpses-turned-weapons of their kin. Her own hubris took her soul, taking Cichol and Cethleann down with her.

“U-um, e-e-excuse me?” A timid mortal approached him. “S-sorry to bother you. U-um, but, it’s… raining?”

He stared at the trembling mortal. Her scent was recognizable. His chest ached.

“Stupid Bernie! Of course he knows it’s raining! Argh!”

“What do you want?”

“S-sorry! You just, you’re getting all wet, so I thought, um, if you like, you could… stand under cover?”

“I have no desire to move.”

“Sorry! I’m sorry! Please don’t hurt me!” He sighed, then moved towards the cover that the girl pointed towards. “Oh. Okay. Um… if, um, if you really want, you can wait out the rain in my room?” She held her door open, already cringing at herself.

“Fine.” He entered the small girl’s room. “I presume you do not offer haven to strangers often.”

“U-um, no! But, um, you looked really sad standing out there in the rain.”

Closing his eyes, he sighed. “That is not your only reason.”

“O-oh? How do you know?” He pointed to an object cushioned with pillows and blankets. “Oh. My bow. Y-yes. It, um… it’s hard to explain, um, I think it wanted me to help you. I know that sounds crazy! I swear I’m not crazy!”

Reaching out, he stroked his brother’s arms, tracing between Indech’s radius and ulna. Bones of Indech's once dexterous hands curled inwards, bracing the bowstring of taut intestine. Overall, it was roughly half the size of the corpse used by that wretch, Riegan. His fingers brushed over Indech’s heart, which fluttered with light. 

“This is my brother’s.”

“I’m sorry! E-Emperor Edelgard gave it to me — um, actually, Hubert delivered it. I don’t deserve it though! Your brother can have it back, the bow doesn’t like me! It likes you, though!”

“You mortals always do find a way to surprise me in the end.” Cradling what remained of his brother, he exited the room without a word. 

Macuil returned to the desert alone. He ferried his brother’s soul back home, and rested it with the others buried under the sand. In their childhood home of Llium, Macuil bid the sands to cover the ruins of his home once more. Curled around his brother, he closed his eyes and settled in for one final rest as the sands buried them both.

Chapter Text

At nine years old, Alder was not very good at being a parent. His twin, Ashe, wasn’t very good either. They tried their best, though. 

“I’m hungry,” little Rowan whined, scrubbing at his cheeks. “Hazel is too.”

“I know,” he said, eyeing the small loaf that he and Ashe managed to steal for the day’s meal. Rowan and Hazel already ate their quarters. The leftover quarters for him and Ashe. 

“Here,” Ashe said, splitting his meager bread in half, “you two can share.”

“Ashe,” he whispered, glaring at his twin. “That’s for you.”

“They’re hungry, though.”

“So are you!”

“I’ll be okay.”

“You can’t keep doing this. If you give away all your food, you won’t have the energy to get more food. Then where will Rowan and Hazel be? I can’t pick up your slack.”

“Sorry, Alder. Don’t worry about me, I won’t let you down.”

“I’m not giving you any of my bread tonight. You need to learn your lesson.”

Despite the fact that he always supplemented Ashe’s careless generosity, Ashe didn’t complain about being denied this time. Ashe was, in a word, a complete pushover. Too kind for his own good. Ashe always balked at stealing, always hesitated to trick others, always flubbed any attempt at lying. Ashe was too good and pure to be a street rat, and it was going to cause all of them to starve. If Ashe stopped being such a goody-two-shoe, they would be able to bring in triple the food! Maybe quadruple! It was all up to Alder to win their bread, because Ashe was too weak to go through with it.

Alder didn’t want to steal either. In an ideal world, he and Ashe could be as kind and generous as their bleeding hearts desired. In this world though, Ashe’s bleeding heart was going to see them dead by the next winter.

That night, just like every other night, the four of them huddled together to sleep. Day by day, his siblings were wasting away — none more than Ashe. Gone were the chubby cheeks they once shared. As they restlessly tried to sleep through their hunger, Alder couldn’t help but squeeze his brother tighter. Their little siblings slept squashed between them, but he could still feel Ashe’s ribs. His own ribs were visible too, but Ashe’s were worse.

How much longer could they keep this up?

The sun rose once more. When Hazel woke, she quietly wept. Rowan begged her to stop crying, even though she was only four and it was understandable that she was unhappy. Then Rowan began crying too, and Alder wanted to join them. 

“I want Mama and Papa,” Rowan wept, rocking back and forth.

“It’s been over a year, Rowan. Crying won’t bring them back. Both of you, stop. You’re wasting energy.” 

The two of them continued to weep.

“How about a story?” Ashe suggested, somehow smiling even though he must be hungrier than everyone. Somehow, despite the hunger dulling his little sibling’s sparks, Ashe’s eyes were still bright. Where did his brother find hope? They were all dying. If things didn’t turn around soon, they would be dead within months. Hoping was pointless. “Any story requests?”

“I want a story about kn-knights,” Rowan whimpered. “Like Mama and Papa used to tell us.”

“Nuh-uh, Ashe is the one who tells us those stories,” little Hazel argued, wiping her eyes.

“Papa told the stories first.”

“No, Ashe did. Mama and Papa never told us stories.”

“A story about knights!” Ashe interrupted, smiling against all odds. Hazel had been three when their parents died. He doubted she remembered much about their parents anymore. Things their parents used to do were usually attributed to him or Ashe in her mind. “How about… the Knights of…” Ashe’s eyes roamed around the dirty alleyway of their home, searching for inspiration.

“Sunshine,” Alder suggested, staring at his ever-bright brother. “The Knights of Sunshine.”

“The Knights of Sunshine! Once upon a time, there was a band of knights who walked the realm in order to… to spread sunshine and happiness. Wherever they went, people were happy and warm.”

As Ashe created a new story on the spot, Alder couldn’t help but wish he had some of his brother’s sunshine too. One of them had to be practical, though. Slapping his hands together, he interrupted the tale right in the middle. “It’s morning. Now’s our best chance to find food.” Dawn and dusk were their two targeted times to steal. Dawn, because people weren’t very alert in the morning. Dusk, because that was when the day’s trash was freshest.

“But how does the Sunshine knight save all the villagers?” Rowan asked, tugging at Ashe’s holey trousers. “You gotta finish!”

Ashe bent down and pressed a kiss to Rowan and Hazel’s foreheads. “I’ll finish the story when I get back. Alder’s right, we need to find you both some bread!”

“Take a nap while we’re gone,” he ordered his little siblings, not that it was necessary. They were already curling up around each other, hiding in the little shelter that was too small for all four of them but the perfect size for just two. “Be good while we’re gone, and you’ll get more bread.”

Wrapping an arm around his twin, he ushered them away before Ashe got sidetracked by reassuring Rowan and Hazel. As soon as they were out of sight, Ashe slumped against him, briefly laying a head against his shoulder. “Where to today, brother?” Ashe shook. Now that there were no little siblings to pretend to be okay for, Ashe’s eyes were dull and his voice quiet.

“I told you to eat yesterday.”

“They were hungry.”

“Your kindness is going to get us all killed.”

“I’m okay. I won’t slow you down. Where to?”

“The butcher is probably still suspicious of us. The baker knows our faces. How about… the rat catcher. We’ll go there. 

“Aw, that’s so far away, though.”

“You need to eat.” Sometimes the rat-catcher took pity on them and gave them a freshly butchered rat to eat, but only if the rat hadn’t been killed with poison. The rat-catcher even taught them how to skin and cook a rat, though neither of them were very good at it. If the rat-catcher wasn’t too busy, sometimes he cooked the rats for them too. “It’s our best bet.”

“Okay,” Ashe murmured, eyes falling closed. 

“Just lean on me, brother. This wouldn’t be a problem if you ate more often.” Ashe grunted, but must have been too tired for anything else. Alder guided his brother as Ashe walked with his eyes closed, resting his head on Alder’s shoulder. “Let’s stop by the marketplace on the way. We can get a pick-me-up for you. An apple, maybe.”

“Should save that for Hazel and Rowan.”

“Idiot!” he snapped, squeezing his twin tighter. “You idiot. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself! You’re not a knight, Ashe! If you keep this up, you won’t be saving anyone!”

Silence. Ashe just hung his head. “Alder? Can we sit down for a moment?”

“Tired, huh.”

“Yeah.”

“Then learn that your actions have consequences.” He did not stop, nor did he allow Ashe to stop. “You’re dying, Ashe,” he whispered.

“I’ll be okay.”

“Hey! Hey, I recognize you!” someone shouted.

He and Ashe shared a brief look of terror. “Run.”

“Thieves! Thieves! Dirty, wretched thieves!”

Clutching his brother’s hand, they bolted. Ashe stumbled behind him, running on adrenaline and fumes. If Ashe had eaten, he would be nimble enough to duck through the crowds. Instead, he stumbled, barely able to keep up. Spotting an alley, Alder tugged them both out of the crowd even as shouts for their heads echoed nearby.

He made a mistake. He made a horrible, horrible mistake. The alley was short with nothing to hide behind. There were only two doors, both of which were boarded up. Blocking the alley was a barricade twice as tall as them. Either there had been a fight against the town guard here, or the alley was in quarantine with an outbreak of the plague. 

“Come on,” Ashe croaked, wobbling towards the barricade. “They won’t… find us… on the… other side…” he huffed. Climbing an obstacle like this wasn’t too out of the ordinary for them, but Ashe was in no shape to be climbing. 

“You go first. I’ll boost you. Quick, don’t argue with me!”

Ashe only hesitated for a moment before the sound of shouting spurred him into motion. Kneeling, he boosted Ashe up to the top of the shoddy wooden fence. Ashe had to scramble up another foot or two, but being so light made it easier to climb. Alder watched as Ashe’s arms shook violently, his stomach twisting as Ashe struggled to pull himself up even the tiny distance. If he shared his bread yesterday, Ashe wouldn’t be as weak. Just a mouthful of bread, he should have shared!

Ashe heaved himself over the wooden wall. The air knocked out of his lungs in relief. Up at the top, Ashe teetered, then careened over the edge. On the other side, his brother screamed. 

He was frozen, staring at the spot where his brother vanished. “A-Ashe!” he cried, kicking himself into motion and climbing over.

“C-care…ful…” Ashe weakly cried. “There’s… debris…” 

Reaching the top of the barricade, he saw what Ashe meant: splintered furniture, broken crates, discarded trash. He carefully descended, landing light on his feet and rushing to his brother. How was he going to feed everyone if Ashe broke a bone? How was he supposed to get his brother home if he broke a leg? Alder couldn’t do this alone, he needed his twin. 

“I’m… I’m sorry,” Ashe gasped, the spark in his eyes entirely gone. 

A splintered plank of wood pierced his twin’s belly.

“You’re going to be okay,” he stated, tearing off his scrappy cloak. “It’s just a scratch. You’ll be okay, Ashe.” Ashe would be okay because there was no other option. His brother had to survive.

Ashe sniffled. “I… I don’t think… A-Alder, I’m sca—” Screwing his eyes shut, Ashe’s agape mouth twisted into a wretched smile. “I’m sorry. You were right. This is… this is my fault.”

“No, no, shut up! You’re going to be okay!” His hands shook, hovering above the wood sticking out of his twin. “You’ll be okay, Ashe. I swear it. I won’t let you die.”

“One less mouth to feed. Tell Hazel and Rowan I love them…”

“Tell them yourself! I’ll fix you!” This wasn’t illness. This was just a wound! He knew how to patch up a wound, the pair of them got scrapes all the time. Ashe wasn’t even bleeding. “Don’t worry. I have a bandage. Then I’ll carry you back home, and you can sleep this off. You will not die here, brother. I won’t allow it!”

“I love you, Alder.”

“Shut up! Don’t give up, don’t you dare! Now brace yourself, this is going to hurt.”

Ashe responded by screwing his eyes shut and smiling. The idiot was always smiling. Alder hesitated briefly, searing his brother’s sunshine into his memory. Tomorrow he would berate his brother for this stunt. But right now, he clung to his brother’s smile. 

He tugged at the wooden spike. Ashe’s eyes rolled back into his head as the wood came out. Blood welled past the hole in Ashe’s abdomen, but Alder was ready. Throwing the bloody wood aside, he swiftly wrapped his cloak around Ashe’s stomach over and over, then applied pressure. “Don’t worry. The wound will clot soon, then we can move. I’ll take you back home, Ashe. Don’t worry.”

It didn’t take long for the makeshift bandage to bleed through. He applied more pressure, soaking his hand in black and red. The wound kept bleeding, no matter how much pressure he applied. 

Terrified, he leaned closer to his brother. Still breathing. Not like Mama and Papa. Still alive. “Just hang on. Hang on until it clots. I’ll take you to the church. I’ll make them help you. You’ll be okay, brother, I swear it. You still have to finish your story! The sunshine knights, remember? Ashe?”

“It… h…hurts…” Ashe breathed, barely a whisper of sound. 

“Don’t worry, I’ll stop the bleeding!” With one great heave, he applied as much pressure as possible in order to stem the flow. Ashe grunted. The palm of his hand slipped into the wound, jamming cloth and flesh into his brother by accident. His fingers brushed an organ. There was a meaty squelch as he yanked his hand back immediately, but this time Ashe didn’t grunt. Ashe didn’t move at all. 

His knees were soaked with blood.

“Ashe?”

He brought his hand under Ashe’s nose. Ashe wasn’t breathing. 

“Ashe…?” 

Curling forward, he pressed his ear up to his brother’s chest, wrapping his twin in a hug. There was no familiar heartbeat. There was only silence.

“I promised you would come home. I promised. Wake up, Ashe. Wake up. You can’t leave me.” He squeezed his twin’s corpse, gasping for air as tears fell from his eyes. He couldn’t spare energy for tears, but the logic didn’t matter. He was crying. “Who else will keep our spirits high? You’re supposed to grow up and become a knight, remember? That’s your dream. So get up. Knights don’t give up.” Sobbing, he begged his brother. “Please, please! Get up! I’m not like you, I can’t do this on my own! I need you!” 

His twin would never get up.

“What am I supposed to tell Hazel and Rowan? You’re their favorite. You keep them alive, not me. You’re the reason they haven’t given up.”

He promised that Ashe would return home. Ashe was the one with hopes and dreams and the desire to see the future, not Alder. Alder gave up months ago. Alder knew death was coming. Alder should have died, not Ashe. He stared at his twin. Ashe deserved to live, not Alder. It was Alder’s fault that Ashe didn’t have anything to eat last night, so Alder was the one who should die, not Ashe. 

“I’m sorry, Alder,” Ashe said, covering his twin’s face with his own ratty cloak. As much as he wanted to bury Alder, there was no ability to do so. Alder always had been practical. Alder wouldn’t be upset at being left out. Alder would understand. “I love you, brother. I have to go now. Our siblings are waiting for me.” 

He did his best to wipe off most of the blood. In one of the crates, he found a bag of jerky that would feed all four of them for weeks. It would feed all three of them for a month. In one of the broken dressers, he found clothes that weren’t bloodstained and changed into those. He even found a bag to carry a few things. He found two blankets. He left one with Alder, just in case it was cold being dead. It was ridiculous, because Alder was dead, and Alder would probably scold him for wasting the blanket. Ashe’s bleeding heart told him to give his dead twin comfort anyways, to hell with the consequences. The one blanket would be enough for the three of them.

He returned to his siblings.

“Where’s Ashe?” Rowan asked after they ate their rationed share of jerky, snuggled into the new blanket.

“I’m right here, silly,” he replied. He smiled. With Alder gone, it was harder to smile. How did he used to smile so effortlessly? Goddess, he missed his twin so much. “Alder decided to go north and look for work. That way he can send us money for food every month. That way, we won’t starve anymore.”

“But I want Alder!”

“Me too. He loves you both very much. Don’t worry. I’ll take care of you both instead.” His smile hurt, but he kept it in place. Sunshine. Sunshine. Even though his brother was dead, the sun still shone. Raising his face to the sky, he smiled at the rays of sunlight. Alder always thought that Ashe was the only sunshine in life. Ashe had to live up to that now. “How about I finish the story of the Sunshine Knights now.”

Hazel and Rowan were only four and five years old. They would forget Alder soon enough, just like how Hazel was forgetting their parents.

 

 


 

 

Lord Lonato was a kind man. Hazel and Rowan loved their new family, and especially loved Christoph. 

“Ashe?” Hazel asked on their first night sleeping at castle Gaspard. “How come Alder changed his name?”

“And he looks different too,” Rowan added.

Alder. It had been a year since Alder died, and Ashe still missed his brother like a missing limb. Ashe should have died that day. It would have been easier for Hazel and Rowan if Alder survived instead of him. His morals and hesitation cost them plenty of meals over the year. Alder never would have hesitated. Alder would have done what was necessary and not been kept up at night, wracked with guilt. 

“Alder became a Sunshine Knight,” he replied.

Hazel gasped. “Wow! That’s why his hair is blond now! Are you gonna become a Sunshine Knight too, Ashe?”

“Someday. I will become a knight. It’s my dream.”

“But how come Alder changed his name?” Rowan pouted at him, crossing his arms.

“When you get anointed as a Sunshine Knight, you get a new name.” He paused. “It’s bad to call a Sunshine Knight by their old name or to refer to their life before being knighted. So only call him Christoph, okay?”

“Okay!”

 

 


 

 

“I know words mean little in the face of loss, but please know that I wish things turned out differently, Ashe.”

He smiled gently. Over the years it became easier to smile in the face of hardship and loss. When he was younger, smiling seemed effortless. No matter what happened, he was always able to smile through the pain. Then one day it suddenly was so hard to smile. But he always smiled. So he made sure to keep smiling. “I appreciate it, Your Highness. I know there’s nothing to be done. It still feels so unreal.” Shaking his head, he smiled at the ground. “Nothing makes sense.”

“I agree. Lonato was said to be such a kind man — by yourself and countless others — and his actions prior to this rebellion confirm that assessment. He must have known that he couldn’t succeed.” Prince Dimitri shook his head. “I’m sure you have heard enough of that. I actually came to ask about your siblings’ wellbeing. If I recall correctly, you and your two younger siblings were adopted by Lord Lonato a few years ago.”

“Indeed we were. He treated us like his own children — though, I suppose he still cared for Christoph more than us, since he waged this fighting over Christoph’s death.” His smile slipped. “My siblings are okay. The church in Castle Gaspard offered to take them in, so they will still have food and clothes and a place to sleep. I send most of my stipend to them as well.”

“How much money do you keep for yourself?” Dimitri asked, voice sharp. “Never mind that — cease sending them money. I will see that they have access to whatever funds they require.”

“No! I mean, don’t worry yourself over that, Your Highness!” His smile returned as his heart clenched. “I appreciate the gesture, truly, but there is no need. When we were younger, Christoph sent us money when he went north and became a knight. Now it’s my turn to do the same. This way, my siblings know I’m still here for them. That I’m not dead.”

“I see. Christoph sent you money?”

“Oh yes. Money, or nice things. Things you might find in a lord’s house! Picture books, trinkets, or treats. We were always so happy to receive whatever he sent, my little siblings most of all. It was a reminder that Christoph never abandoned us, even though he was gone. Though we often had to sell whatever he sent — sentimental as I’ve always been, feeding my siblings is more important than pretty pictures.”

“I am terribly sorry to hear you lived in such conditions. If Christoph knew you three were in such dire straits, why did Lord Lonato not open his home to you sooner?”

He opened his mouth, then paused. Frowning, he nibbled on his lip. “It was many years ago. I, hm. I don’t quite remember. Alder would send us nice things, then…”

“Alder?”

“Christoph. We used to call him Alder.” Clasping his hands, he smiled by reflex. “We called him Alder before he went away to become a knight. Hazel and Rowan took his death especially hard. The four of us were close.”

“Will your siblings be okay now that they have lost Lonato as well?”

“They’re strong. We’ve lost two parents and two siblings. Three parents, now. It’s my duty to ensure they don’t lose a third sibling.”

“Two siblings? Ah, apologies, I shouldn’t pry.”

“Sorry, I meant one. Just Christoph.” He rubbed the back of his neck, his grin twisting ruefully. “I had to raise Hazel and Rowan on my own for two years. It was difficult, and I was so young myself, so I made an imaginary brother to share the burden with. It’s silly in retrospect.” He paused, his body feeling so heavy with ancient grief. “Sometimes I feel like his ghost still haunts me, but he was never real.” His hand pressed over his pained heart, then trailed down to clutch just above his lap. His stomach twisted with phantom pangs. “Grief does strange things to the mind.” His imaginary brother had never been real, yet so many times his soul ached with an unfillable hole. 

“Indeed it does.”

Sitting up straight, it occurred to him exactly who he was speaking with. “Apologies, Your Highness! You didn’t need to listen to me, I’m sorry for wasting your time.”

“Nonsense.” Dimitri’s lips twisted in a wretched smile. It was so small, just the corners of his lips turning upwards, and yet it seemed so sad. “Not many people claim to have lost three parents. I pray I never meet anyone else like us, but I am aware that such tragedies happen every day. I cannot imagine the pain you have experienced, nor do I wish to burden you if you do not wish to speak of such events. However, when I am king, I will need people like you at my side so that I may know how best to help the commoners of Faerghus.” Dimitri paused. The clouds parted, shining light through the cathedral’s stained glass windows and bathing them both. “When we graduate, I will extend an offer of knighthood to you with the royal guard. I need people like you so I may best help Faerghus recover.”

He gaped. “You want me to become a Knight of Fhirdiad?! But — Your Highness! I’m just a commoner!”

“That is precisely why your experience is so valuable.”

“If you still want me at the end of the year, then I accept,” he stated, his heart thudding desperately in his chest. “Thank you, thank you so much for this opportunity, Your Highness.”

“Please, how many times have I asked you to call me by my name?”

Bowing his head, a strange sense of grief welled inside of him. He did it. He was going to finally fulfill his dream of being a knight, just like he always wanted. Bathed in sunlight, Prince Dimitri respectfully nodded his head and left Ashe alone to process. 

There was no higher honor than to be a member of the royal guard. He was personally asked by the prince to be an advisor to help better the nation.

“I did it,” he whispered. “I’m going to be a royal knight.” The dream he chased after so desperately for so long was within reach. 

Alone in the cathedral, he bowed his head and tried to smile. Instead, his eyes welled with tears and his heart overflowed with grief. 

Why did achieving his dream feel so lonely?

Chapter Text

“Claude, there you are.” Edelgard and Dimitri marched into their shared room. You were supposed to be at the council today.”

“Are you feeling unwell?” Dimitri asked, invading his space in order to wrap one hand possessively around his waist and the other hand against his forehead. 

“Obviously he’s fine.”

“Let him speak for himself, witch!”

“Do not dare command me, brute—”

“I slept in,” he interrupted the brewing fight. “After all, neither of you deigned to wake me before going to the meeting, despite us sharing a bed.”

“Dimitri was supposed to wake you,” Edelgard said at the same time that Dimitri said “Edelgard was supposed to wake you.”

“So, what is today’s argument?” he asked, resigned to today’s fate. Without him there to mediate, the council must have been a mess of fighting. It always was whenever Dimitri and Edelgard didn’t have a buffer. He needed time to complete his scheme though, and with Dimitri and Edelgard’s constant presence, it was almost impossible to get time alone.

“Dimitri fails to consider the logistics, as ever.” Edelgard approached his other side, tugging him towards her and away from Dimitri. Oh boy, another tug-of-war match.

“I am failing at nothing. Edelgard fails to consider the living, breathing people who she labels as mere numbers and statistics.” Dimitri yanked at his other arm. At least the two were considerate enough to remember that if they used their full strength, he would literally die. Before he knew it, he was mushed between two glaring monarchs. 

“Do I even have to repeat myself? We’ve been doing this exact routine for over a month now.” Sighing, he shook his head. “You’re both right, and you’re both foolish to only consider part of the picture.”

“I’ll prove that I am more correct,” Edelgard purred into his ear, driving a shiver down his spine despite the predictability of it. 

“Not if I prove myself first,” Dimitri snapped back. 

The pair agreed that Claude needed to be located on the bed and acted together with all the efficiency they refused to use in other aspects of life. They dragged him to the bed, already pawing at his body. 

Their fixation on him was still a mystery. What first began as some sort of sexual competition had melded into something more. Despite the fact that all three of them were married, Edelgard and Dimitri never did much with each other aside from the occasional angry make-out session. Whatever the hell their relationship was, it probably wasn’t healthy. If either of the monarchs ever grew tired of him, their careful dynamic would fall to pieces. Bloody, bloody pieces. 

Dimitri won Claude’s first involuntary gasp of the day, nipping at his neck and groping his ass. Edelgard took offense to this and earned Claude’s first involuntary hip-thrust of the day by stroking him through his pants. He was half convinced that the two of them argued purely for the sake of this exact result, attempting to ‘convince’ him. Obviously he never favored the logic of whoever made him cum first, that was ridiculous. Edelgard and Dimitri knew his mind didn’t change just because of their sexual prowess. 

He had to admit though, the two of them had gotten very good at taking him apart. By now, the pair knew all his buttons, all his turn-ons, all his body’s signals and signs that he was helpless to stop. They knew how to read him like a children’s book (a very raunchy children’s book — actually, that was a bad metaphor). 

Sometimes he fought against the pleasure, determined to hold onto his dignity or to avoid honesty. Sometimes he gave in immediately, because no matter how much he fought, the two were too competitive to stop before he came at least twice. Of course, they did stop when he asked them to, rare as that was. They were eager to please him in a manner he still didn’t understand. If he called to stop, they treated him like glass for the rest of the day, pampering him no matter what he said. It was easier to just go through with it all.

And, well. Claude couldn’t exactly say he disliked being pleasured by the two hottest people in all the realms. He was mixed on the whole arrangement, but that mostly boiled down to being stuck in Fódlan and not being free to return home. The way his husband and wife could strip him completely bare was both terrifying and an embarrassingly powerful turn-on. On some level, he liked his choices being stripped away from him, to be forced to feel only pleasure and to take a break from the bulk of politics. It was a terrifying revelation about himself. Aside from mediating their fights, Dimitri and Edelgard did their best to keep him entirely out of politics, deeming it ‘too stressful’ for him. Now that was something he despised. 

Some days, he felt more like a beloved pet to be pampered than a husband or man. 

It was getting difficult to think. Dimitri and Edelgard were making out beside his ear, grinding their bodies against his. He was a thing for them to pleasure, a thing for them to compete over. It should be demeaning (and it was), but Gods did it scramble his brain. All his life he had been everyone’s last choice, and now the most powerful people in Fódlan regularly fought over him.

He was going to miss this when he pulled off his scheme. He needed to pull off his scheme soon. If he didn’t hurry, he might just lose the will to leave altogether. 

 

 


 

 

For all of Edelgard and Dimitri’s faults, they were not stupid people. They had realized that Claude was a flight risk from the very start. Entrapping him in a marriage contract was one thing, but they wanted him physically close too. Edelgard had fashioned a slim, barely noticeable collar for him, enchanted so that it couldn’t break and would inform her of his location. Since it was the Adrestian version of a wedding ring (a tradition that wasn’t always practiced, but practiced enough for her to get away with it), he hadn’t realized it was enchanted until it was too late. Dimitri matched her by having his wedding ring enchanted to do much the same, though he could actually take the ring off if needed. It would alert Dimitri if it came off though. Dimitri’s main method of keeping track of him was less thorough but tended to be more annoying: rarely letting him out of sight. This of course caused Edelgard to match Dimitri, meaning he was pretty much always in their combined presence. When they weren’t working, this led to a lot of ‘competition’ over pampering or pleasuring him.

It only took three instances of being alone to finally synthesize what he needed. 

The problem was twofold: Dimitri and Edelgard were obsessed with him, and Dimitri and Edelgard could not get along without him.

The pretty vial in his hand was his key to freedom: selective oxytocin pheromones. It was a special concentration of one specific trait of the oxytocin hormone: social bonding. Sometimes called the ‘cuddle hormone’, oxytocin was what made cuddling or safe physical touches feel nice. The body used it for all sorts of things, but this select part of the chemical was used from getting mothers to be attached to their newborn child, to forming romantic and physical bonds during touch or sex. 

Basically, it was the chemical that made people feel love towards one another, whether familiar, romantic, or sexual in nature. 

The vial in his hand was specifically keyed to attract Edelgard and Dimitri only. Having so much sex with them made it easy to get all the biological samples necessary to synthesize the needed chemicals. A small dose of the vial’s contents would make the ingester temporarily release pheromones that would attract Edelgard and Dimitri like flies to honey. Once the pair got a whiff, they would be all over whoever drank the vial. Like each other. Since it was keyed into only those two, no one else would be affected by it. Their own bodies would ignore the part of the serum directed at themselves, so there was no worry about weird self-hugs. With Dimitri and Edelgard both dosed, they would be helpless to fall into one another’s arms, their brains forging a long-lasting bond that would make them legitimately care about one another. Even if they managed to drag him into their cuddle-pile before the effects matured, the oxytocin mixture only affected the two of them, so they wouldn’t ‘bond’ with him.

He was going to miss them, but he had to return home. He had duties to fulfill, alliances to forge, and dreams to pursue. No matter how much he secretly (or not so secretly) adored the weird feeling of being pampered, his vacation had to end. Sooner rather than later, because with all the delicious meals cooked by Dedue and being barred from the training grounds, he was going to lose his figure soon. It was really good food though. Damn his weakness for a good feast.

He could have as many feasts in Almyra when he was king.

Popping open the vial, he sniffed the contents to ensure it came out correctly. Smelled like marshmallows, vanilla, and nameless-nostalgia. It was going to be a cinch to get his spouses to drink this, it was very appealing. Now he just needed to prepare some tea and put a single teaspoon in each. Any more than that and it would trigger an overdose causing— 

“Claude!” Familiar hands latched onto his hips.

It was a natural response to jolt at the abrupt shout and the abrupt touch. It was understandable that his lips parted in surprise. Warm, sweet nectar filled his mouth as his arm jerked, spilling the entire vial directly into his mouth. It happened so fast, all while he was mentally scrambling with touch, voice, who? who??? Distracted, he didn’t immediately spit it out. 

Inhaling deeply, his vision briefly glazed as his body relaxed, the warm and delicious brew sliding down his throat. His mind went fuzzy with a gentle warmth, spreading blissful tingles through his body. He slumped against the body behind him, boneless and pliant. 

“What was that?”

Edelgard’s voice broke through the brief haze like an axe shattering a window. His eyes snapped open and the pleasant feeling was instantly flushed away in a wave of horror. He just drank the entire vial. Not a single teaspoon, he just drank the whole thing. A massive mouthful. Roughly, what? 30 times the dose he planned to give Edelgard and Dimitri?

The most damning side-effect of overdosing himself was that as soon as the mixture was in his system, he wouldn’t just temporarily pump out pheromones. An overdose of this magnitude was going to alter his body to permanently spew the pheromones unless he developed a way to reverse it.

“I need to go,” he snapped, jerking forward. He was stuck in Dimitri’s hold though, the king’s fingers digging into his hips. The serum was fast-acting, but not instantaneous. “Let me go now, Dimitri. Stop touching me.”

“What’s wrong?” Dimitri asked, hesitating to let him go. The fingers around his hips slowly lifted, far too slowly.

“Stop touching me right now!” he shouted, his heartbeat pounding and no doubt speeding up the process. As soon as his body began producing the pheromone, Dimitri and Edelgard would never be willing to part with him. Had they both taken the serum, they would be bonding with one another. Now he was about to start secreting the pheromone designed to make Dimitri and Edelgard attached to the pheromone’s source.

Dimitri let go of him immediately. He ran. His only chance was to make it to the wyvern aerie before the two monarchs caught up with him. The pair might be stronger than him by a longshot, but he had always been the fastest out of the three of them. 

He had been the fastest. A month of being pampered left him slower and more easily winded. 

“No,” he gasped, panting for air, “let me go, let me go.”

“Claude…?” Helplessly caught in the king’s arms, he watched as blue eyes were swallowed by dilated black. “Whatever is the matter? You look…”

“You caught him!” Edelgard called, catching up to them. “That annoying height of yours is good for… something.” Edelgard stared at him too, equally transfixed.

“Stop,” he begged, knowing it was too late. “Stop, let me go.” Dimitri or Edelgard always stopped when he told them to. Dimitri almost let him go, almost, before thinking better of it. He would have been surprised if Dimitri let him go, now essentially drugged. 

“Claude, you look… incredible,” Dimitri murmured, licking his lips.

“The bedroom. Now.” Edelgard marched Dimitri (and thus him as well) towards their nearby chambers. It was a good sign that they were still lucid enough to not tear off all his clothes in the middle of the hallway.

“I need to come clean to you both,” he said in a rush, knowing his slim chance would vanish as soon as they got into the bedroom. “I drugged you both — well, accidentally drugged myself, which is now drugging you two. If you don’t let me go right now, you’ll both lose your freewill and autonomy for the next few hours.” An exaggeration, kind of. 

Edelgard’s steps paused. “What do you…?”

“If you don’t let me go right now, you’re going to become a slave, Edelgard.” Again, an exaggeration, but Edelgard was very particular about retaining her sense of freewill. If anything could snap her out of this— 

“Claude…” Dimitri whispered, nuzzling his hair. He would never know if Edelgard was about to break out of her trance or not, because she took Dimitri’s nuzzle as a competition. 

They made it to their quarters just in time for Dimitri and Edelgard to lose their minds. Rip went all of his clothes as the pair desperately sought out every inch of his skin. Shaking, he managed to get away from them briefly as they tore their own clothes from themselves. Pleasurable heat was radiating from his body now. Wiping the forming sweat from his forehead, his hand came away soaked. He was sweating. He was sweating a lot. He was done for now. Even just a little bit of sweat would drive his spouses crazy. He was drenched and was sweating more and more. This stupid stunt might just kill him from dehydration. Had he been dosed properly, his pheromone-laced sweat would be appealing. Having drunk the entire bottle, he was no doubt entirely irresistible. 

Edelgard reached out for his arm. The bonus to suddenly dripping with sweat was that he slid out of her grip easily. He stumbled for the window, his only escape. His slicked hands fumbled with the lock, failing to get it open.

“Claude, mmm,” Edelgard hummed into his ear, her arms wrapped around his waist as she tugged him towards the bed. “Mm, you smell divine…”

Dimitri embraced them both, nuzzling and moaning against him. The three of them flopped onto the bed with what must have been the duo’s last braincell. Their bodies pressed desperately against his, literally slathering themselves in hormones that were going to make them extremely attached to him. For once it wasn’t even sexual as they licked and sucked at his flesh. Theoretically, there was nothing in the serum that should be making him attached to them in the same way they were bonding with him. But Gods did he feel good. Though overheated and sweaty, the serum must be enhancing his sensitivity or something because every desperate touch and nuzzle felt like utter bliss. 

“I love you so much, Claude,” Dimitri whispered into his skin with reverence, repeating “I love you, I love you, I love you,” over and over and over again. 

He’s only saying that because of the pheromones, he reminded himself even as his body reacted to every declaration of love. Love. Other than his parents, who ever claimed to love him? Love. That was the bliss he was basking in. He felt loved.

He floated, flung deeper and deeper into whatever high his body was experiencing. Maybe the faux oxytocin was affecting him — he hadn’t been able to test what the effects of such a massive dose would have on someone. 

Maybe he was already attached. Maybe he didn’t want to escape in the first place. To hell with his dreams, the real reason he wanted to escape from Edelgard and Dimitri was because they didn’t love him, they just competed over his body. Sex was never loving with them, it was a competition. As sexy as his body found the concept, it occurred to him now just how deeply that hurt. 

“Claude, no, don’t cry,” Edelgard whispered, nuzzling his face. Her thumb swiped away the not-sweat trailing down his cheeks. Her brief resistance crumbled as she licked the rest of his tears away. Tears. Another side effect from the serum, surely. Crying was difficult for him, if not downright impossible, yet here he was weeping like a child.

“What’s wrong?” Dimitri gasped, still content in rubbing their bodies together. 

“I drugged you both,” he tearfully admitted, because apparently the serum made him more honest too. Not like it mattered, since Dimitri and Edelgard were probably physically unable to hate him now. “The only reason you love me is because I drugged you.”

“No!” the two of them denied, bursting at the seams to reassure him, which only made his weeping increase.

“I married you because I wanted you,” Edelgard was honest, “and I stayed with you because I grew to love you.”

“I’ve loved you since we were together at the academy, I was just too cowardly to admit I wanted you to be more than just my friend.”

“You two just compete over me, you don’t love me. You just love outdoing each other.”

“Do you want us to stop competing over you?” Dimitri sincerely asked — he probably didn’t have a choice in not being sincere at the moment. “I thought you liked it.”

“I do!” he admitted with a cry, squirming in their embrace. “Aaah, my body loves it. But I… I…” Edelgard stole his voice in a slow, gentle kiss. Usually when they kissed, it was harsh, hungry, and entirely designed to make him go wild. This was softer, more tender. This was loving.

“Please don’t cry, Claude.”

Claude. Something in his chest cracked in half. “You both married a lie. My name isn’t even Claude! I miss my home, I miss my parents, I miss speaking Almyran!” Given how possessive Edelgard and Dimitri had been before he chemically altered their brains, there was no way they would ever let him go now. As his body heaved heavier sobs, he noted that the serum was definitely making him more emotional. Hopefully he would remember enough of this experience to make notes later. 

“We’ll take you to your home,” Edelgard promised, pressing her cheek into his face with a sigh. “Whatever your name is, I don’t care. I still love you. We’ll make you happy, no matter what it takes.”

“You two have a continent to run.”

“To hell with the continent, and to hell with Fódlan. All I care about is making you happy, my love.”

He covered his face with his hands, shaking his head back and forth. Neither of these people were Dimitri or Edelgard. Despite how much they both indulged him over the past month, the nation was always their first priority. And now he went and screwed with both of their brains and ruined everything! This wasn’t going to go away, either. It might lose some intensity, but with how strong of a dose this was, Edelgard and Dimitri’s brains probably saw him as the most important thing period now. Like how a lover becomes attached to a lover, or a parent becomes attached to a child, their brains had received the signal that he was their priority. Even if he stopped emitting pheromones (he wasn’t sure if he could even reverse that either), they would still be addicted to him.

Gods, he messed up. All he wanted to do was make Edelgard and Dimitri like each other and fight less! They cooed over him as he wept, nuzzling and rubbing up against his slick body, begging him for any way to ‘make him feel better’. “Get me some water,” he croaked out, already feeling a headache building from dehydration. There was a beat of awkwardness as his spouses struggled with their priorities. He hated how transparent they were like this. Getting him water would ‘make him happy’, but neither of them wanted to let go of him. “My health might actually be in physical danger if I don’t get some water soon.”

That finally got them scrambled up to fetch him some water. With any luck, he would sweat everything out of his system soon.

 

 


 

 

The three of them took some time away from politics due to ‘illness’. Claude was the only one physically ‘ill’, randomly breaking out into sweating fevers with no warning. Edelgard and Dimitri were on the mental side of illness, but Claude was doing everything in his power to salvage his mistake. 

After the initial bout the duo became more lucid, but there were priorital skews that he was attempting to patch up. So far, the best loophole he came up with was telling them how much it reeeaallly mattered to him that they put national needs before him, and how horribly sad it would make him if they allowed people to die because they were busy focusing on him. It seemed to be working, but only time would tell. 

“You should drink,” Dimitri said, approaching with a cup of water, sliding a hand around his shoulders. Not content with that, Dimitri drew closer, nuzzling his neck and loudly sniffing him. He wasn’t even sweating!

“I don’t need more water,” he snapped at Dimitri, shooing the man back. Dimitri was supposed to be at his desk attempting to finish paperwork. “Are either of you able to focus at all?”

“Oh course we can focus just fine,” Dimitri replied, still hovering nearby, clearly restraining himself from touching. His spouses were always touchy with him (ever since their competition began), so it was hard to tell how much of their desire to constantly touch him was new. Their desire to smell him was certainly new. He couldn’t even get a consensus on what he smelled like other than ‘really, really good’. Edelgard said he smelled extremely sweet, while Dimitri stated he smelled a bit sweet but also like a bakery. 

“Yeah, you two can focus on me. You need to be able to focus on paperwork.”

“Yes, we can focus, Claude,” Edelgard stated from across the room. “You are in the back of my mind, but not to the point of significant distraction.” Edelgard was more reliable than Dimitri in this regard. After he explained what happened to them (half a dozen times before it stuck,) Edelgard was at least aware that she had been chemically altered to enjoy him more. She expressed upset at him verbally, but in literally every other manner she didn’t seem to care. 

Scratching out his most recent formula, he bundled the parchment into a ball and threw it at the wall. There was no telling how long his stupid serum would affect him, but he wasn’t making any progress on formulating a counter. On top of all the other side effects, he struggled to regulate his emotions now. The only bright side was that it had the side effect of making Dimitri and Edelgard calmer. And, well, he actually achieved his initial goal. In that first hour where he began exuding the pheromones, he sweated out some of the serum too, which Edelgard and Dimitri picked up. The pair finally got alone! Tempers flared rarely, their fights were more playful than aggressive, and they talked their problems out like adults. Sometimes they kissed one another without him having to be between them as a catalyst. 

Frustrated, he stood. “I’m going for a walk. Alone.” He took a step and the world swayed. No, dammit! Dimitri caught him, no doubt vindicated in hovering. In seconds he was overwhelmed with a wave of heat. Already panting, he pulled his loose tunic over his head, knowing he would either sweat through it or it would be ripped off, depending on how ‘affectionate’ his spouses were about to become.

“Now I cannot focus,” Edelgard stated, her chair skidding as she stood. “I can already smell you from across the room.”

Dimitri carried him over to the bed where Edelgard awaited. The two of them curled around him, stroking him gently or nuzzling him as his ‘fever’ began in earnest. In some ways, the way they tenderly lavished him with love was better than sex. He was just as addicted to this as they were to him, but he didn’t have any chemical excuse. He was just so pathetically desperate for the affection denied to him his entire life. This wasn't how he wanted it, though

“Oh Claude, I’m so sorry,” Edelgard cooed, wiping away a trail of tears. “We’re here for you. You’ll get through this.”

There were so many parts of this self-inflicted situation that he hated and the crying was among the top 5. Worse than the crying was how he couldn’t escape how much he ached from all the emotions. Now he would never know if Edelgard or Dimitri could grow to truly love him for who he was. Now he would never know if he was naturally lovable or unlovable. Every declaration of ‘love’ and every expression of physical love directed at him twisted the knife deeper. Idiot, he was such an idiot! He wanted one of them to slap him, to yell at him, to get mad that he did this to them. 

A cup of juice was brought to his lips. An unwilling whine was dragged from his throat but he drank, dripping sweetened tears into the juice. 

“I’m certain Linhardt will develop a cure for you soon. You should send him your notes so he may better understand how to fix this.”

His body went stiff. “Linhardt? What about him?”

“I sent him a letter. Mmm… you’ve been frustrated doing this on your own. You should send a letter to Lysithea as well.”

“I can ask Mercedes to help too!” Dimitri added, perking up as he always did when he thought he was being helpful.

“You told someone what happened?!” he hissed, a cocktail of violent emotions roaring through him. “You can’t! No one’s supposed to know!”

“Why not?” Edelgard asked, serene compared to his rising panic. “You can’t do this on your own, Claude.”

“And even if you can do it on your own, we want to help you.”

He covered his eyes. “You told someone that I drugged their ruling monarchs! That’s got to be ten different kinds of treason!” More than that, the utter shame at his mistake being known prompted him to attempt to sink into the bed and never see the light of day ever again. He was forced to settle for hiding between two familiar bodies. 

“It is not treason. I will not allow anyone to harm you,” Dimitri growled, sucking at his neck. He gasped at the stimulation. The pair had been extra gentle with him ever since he started sweating out pheromones. They hadn’t had sex in days, which was a record for their married lives. After days of only softness, the feeling of Dimitri’s teeth nibbling at his collar bone made him shout, clawing at the bedsheets. The king wasn’t even causing it on purpose, he was just absently nibbling at his neck, and he could barely tolerate the sensation. 

“We’ll see that you are taken care of, love,” Edelgard purred, her fingers tracing at her collar ringing his neck. “I’m certain Linhardt will be discrete.”

Another wave of heat crashed into him, wringing a groan from his throat. Liquid was brought to his lips and he drank. Fatigue crashed into him, dragging him into sleep before he could panic or weep any further. 

 

 


 

 

When Claude woke up, there were three things he noticed.

One: he felt clean, not sweaty. Dimitri and Edelgard must have bathed him in his sleep.

Two: his body ached like it usually did after one of his ‘fevers’, but overall he felt decent.

Three: Dimitri and Edelgard were having sex on top of him.

Hardly believing his eyes and ears, he blearily blinked at the pair as they groped at one another, moaning like dogs in heat. Dimitri was entirely underneath him. Edelgard sat above Claude’s parted legs, riding Dimitri’s cock. Her hands reached past him in order to grip Dimitri’s side and hair, whereas Dimitri reached past him to grope her breasts. He was caged between them as they had sex — no, as they made love. He’d seen them have sex before and it wasn’t tender like this. As their moans reached mutually fevered pitches, the pair locked eyes. If eyes could speak, then Edelgard and Dimitri would be telling one another ‘I love you’.  

The two of them cried out as they came. Beneath him, Dimitri went boneless. Atop him, Edelgard slumped against his chest, pressing her face into his neck and humming.

“Well, at least you two are getting along finally,” he croaked, his gut churning with mixed feelings.

“Claude…” Dimitri murmured into his ear, his voice smiling, “good morning.” Lips pressed into his cheek.

“You slept for a few hours,” Edelgard reported, predicting his question. “Are you up for—can you handle—” Her hips shifted, lightly grinding against his clothed cock.

Usually that would elicit a long groan from him, but today his vocal cords reacted with a higher noise. “As—as hot as—that was to—wake up to, I don’t think—ngh.” His voice came out in breathy, high-pitched whines. “S-sensitive.”

“You don’t mind that we indulge ourselves without you?” Dimitri asked, reminiscent of a puppy waiting to be punished.

While it was weird, and in his right mind he would probably be very against the idea of his spouses having sex around his unconscious body, he couldn’t deny that his dick’s mind found it embarrassingly appealing. Why couldn’t his body find normal things sexy? Nooo, he just had to have his sexual awakening in the middle of a cave, tied up and helpless as two incredibly strong and sexy people fought over who could pleasure him the most. 

“I don’t mind,” he mumbled, heat unrelated to the serum filling his cheeks. “I’m glad you two are getting along better.”

“Your fault, I presume,” Edelgard said with a cheeky smirk.

“Yeah. You could at least sound miffed that I altered your brain chemistry without your consent.”

She shrugged. “You’re right that I should be very upset with you. But I’m not. You seem to have learned your lesson. I trust you will never do this again, yes?”

“No! Absolutely not!” 

“We know you regret it,” Dimitri said into the other side of his neck. “We forgive you. Regardless of ‘brain chemistry’ or whatnot, I would have forgiven you regardless.”

“That’s because you’re too forgiving for your own good.”

Edelgard pecked a small kiss to his nose, pressing her palm to his cheek. “We should be thanking you. I feel looser and more relaxed around Dimitri now. I feel romantic in such an innocent way that I haven’t felt since I was a little girl, teaching a silly boy how to dance.”

“El, you remembered?”

“I have for some time now, though I was unsure how to bring it up.”

Dimitri’s cheeks turned red. “Um, about our parents though…? Your mother…?”

Edelgard frowned. “What about my mother?”

“She was my step-mother.”

“What?” She blinked at Dimitri. “What? And you didn’t tell me?!”

“I wasn’t sure if you knew!”

She rolled her eyes. “We didn’t grow up together, aren’t related, and are married. Tell me you haven’t been thinking of me as your step-sister this entire time.”

“No! No, not for years! I swear it!”

Claude couldn’t help a small chuckle. “Ah, Fódlan and noble incest. As far as your family trees are concerned, accidentally marrying your step-sibling is nothing compared to marrying your cousin. Don’t worry Dimitri, I’m not about to kink-shame you.”

“I—I don’t—!” 

Edelgard sighed, pinching her brow. “He’s teasing you, Dimitri.”

“Please kill me.”

His amusement faded into something fond. “You know, a week ago you two would’ve been fighting one another right now.”

Dimitri slowly nodded. “It’s… it’s nice to not fight. I am so sick of fighting, El.”

“Me too.” The two of them met beside his head, pressing their bodies into him as they traded a sweet, unhurried kiss. 

“I can move, you know,” he half-joked. Despite his original plan being to make the two of them get together, his heart clenched at the idea of being tossed aside. Probably just the serum messing with him still.

“No, we like you here.”

“Feeling left out?” 

Edelgard’s fingers wrapped around his chin, tilting his head towards Dimitri, pressing their lips together. When he pulled back for air, Dimitri’s fingers tilted his chin towards Edelgard for another kiss.

“I love you, Claude,” they both murmured, making his good mood wilt.

“I’d like to request that you both stop saying that. You both know I’ve drugged you. Maybe you both love me, but it isn’t out of your own choice.”

“I told you, I’ve loved you for years,” Dimitri grumbled, wrapping him in a tight hug. “Were it not for my cowardice, our duties, and the war, I would have asked you to marry me at the end of the school year.”

Instead of speaking, Edelgard got up and went to her dresser. She returned with a journal, flipping to a page that was dated slightly before the serum incident. 

‘I don’t know if I am capable of feeling love anymore. For so long I thought the sensibility lost to me, nothing but a frivolous distraction. Perhaps I am still capable of feeling love. The contentment and brightness that he brings to my life — I think I may love him.’

“I assure you, the ‘he’ in this passage is not referring to Dimitri.”

His smile twisted. “I see.”

“Did we upset you?” Dimitri asked, thumbing at his tears.

“No. It’s just the serum. Makes me weepy, you both know this. I… I’m not really sure what I feel right now.” Elation that he was lovable? Despair that he could have had true love and screwed it up?

 

 


 

 

“There. You’ll still produce these pheromones for the rest of your life, but the intrusive side-effects should be taken care of.” Linhardt finished the spell by yawning into his hand. “Shouldn’t matter though. Not like Their Majesties can get much more attached to you, regardless of how much pheromone you spew out.”

“Well done, Linhardt. I will see you well compensated.”

“As shall I! No expense is too great for Claude’s health.”

“Ahem.”

“No reasonable expense is too great for Claude’s health,” Dimitri half-heartedly corrected himself.

Linhardt waved a hand. “Sure, sure. Now stop bugging me with letters, Edelgard. Sending a courier every hour for updates was excessive.”

“I think it’s sweet,” Mercedes giggled, still finishing the last portion of her examination-spell over his forehead. “You two were very worried about Claude!”

“This situation was his own fault,” Lysithea grumbled, rolling her eyes. “He’s lucky he pulled this stunt while Fódlan is relatively stable. Imagine if the three of them had to take a week off just after the war’s end — the council would have cannibalized itself.”

“It was an accident,” Dimitri defended him.

“No, she’s right, it was a dumb stunt and I regret it.”

“Mm, I’m not so sure.” Linhardt pointed to Edelgard and Dimitri. “Imagine if something happened to Claude a week ago. Without him, those two would plunge the continent right back into a war within a handful of days.”

“An exaggeration.” Edelgard flipped her hair over her shoulder, huffing.

“We certainly butted heads often,” Dimitri mumbled, grimacing. “He’s not not wrong.”

“So! Despite the dubious case of ethics in this entire situation, the results speak for themselves.”

“I think it’s quite romantic!” Mercedes added.

“I drugged them,” he deadpanned to Mercedes.

“We all make mistakes, and your intentions came from a place of love. You clearly learned from this experience.”

“Will someone please call me out for doing a bad thing? Edelgard and Dimitri physically cannot do it themselves, because I drugged them.”

“On accident,” Dimitri once again defended him. 

“It was going to be on purpose for you two.”

Lysithea rolled her eyes. “Claude, if I ever hear about you pulling a stunt like this again, I will castrate you. Got it?”

“Thank you for having moral integrity! Andyesma’am.”

“You clearly went too far this time, Claude, but your knowledge of these sorts of chemicals did end the five-year war in peace. The sleep-powder you supplied us with quelled tensions on all sides.” Lysithea paused, briefly eyeing Edelgard and Dimitri. “And I know you would not have acted as you did unless you felt backed into a corner.”

He grimaced and bobbed a small nod, ignoring Edelgard and Dimitri’s confusion. He did agree to marry them, and he did enjoy most of the attention they lavished him with, but after a mere month it had been more choking than the collar Edelgard put around his neck. 

“All done,” Mercedes stated, the glow of her hands fading. “You should be free from any more fevers, but be sure to alert one of us if you have one again. You will still be appealing to Dimitri and Edelgard, and you’ll find yourself sweating more often than you’re used to, but otherwise you’re back to normal!”

“Glad to hear it.” Indeed, his emotions were back under control and his skin didn’t twitch with oversensitivity. 

“Thank you three very much,” Dimitri said, resting a hand on his shoulder. “If that is all, you are dismissed.”

“Yes, we appreciate your swift work,” Edelgard agreed, gripping his other shoulder. “The three of us have pressing business to catch up on.”

“And don’t forget to keep this hush-hush!” he added before the healers left. “Wouldn’t want anyone on the council hearing about this drugging.”

As soon as the three healers left the room, Edelgard strode to the door and locked it to ensure they were not disturbed. Oh. He gulped, knowing exactly why the two of them had been so eager to see the others out.

“Do you feel up to anything?” Dimitri whispered in his ear, taking his hand and stroking circles against his knuckles. Now that his sensitivity was gone, the pair were looking to make up for lost time. “You can say no. Edelgard and I can take care of ourselves if you prefer.”

Over the past few days, his spouses had gotten very creative with their positions, sandwiching him in between them even though he wasn’t participating. It would be a lie to say he disliked it. It would be a big lie to say that it didn’t make him feel included and cared for, even though logically he knew their reasoning was to be close to the pheromones he emitted, which made their orgasms significantly more pleasurable.

It was an old habit to refuse to be vulnerable. Maybe that was why his body reacted so strongly when his spouses acted instead of asking when it came to taking him apart sexually. He could tell them to stop, so he wasn’t in any real danger. By not asking him, he could mentally tell himself his hands were tied and he had no choice but to let these extremely attractive and strong individuals have their way with him. 

Now their dynamic was flipped. Before, his hesitation and silence would have been taken as agreement unless he said otherwise. Maybe they could tell what he wanted or maybe they didn't care if he wanted it or not, but so long as he didn’t say that magic word, they continued with their competition. Now his hesitation and silence was taken as refusal. 

“Would you like a break from us?” Edelgard asked, much more considerate of him than she used to be.

“We have been smothering you.”

“That’s nothing new.” Crossing his arms, he turned away from them and glanced out the window. Four hands rested on his body, holding or petting him idly. One of his own hands reached up to the slim collar around his throat. His other hand spread before him, allowing sunlight to glint off of the simple band of metal around his finger. “If I wanted to leave, would you two allow it?”

Their hands all squeezed tightly, locking him in place. “If… if that’s what you want,” Dimitri stated after a beat. “We know you would return to us.”

“And if I never do?”

Silence. Hanging his head, he turned away from the setting sun. “If you want to go, of course we won’t force you to stay.” Edelgard wrapped herself around him. “Surely you like it with us?”

“I guess it isn’t really fair to leave. Not after I made you two chemically attached to me. It’d be irresponsible of me.”

His spouses were visibly warring with themselves on what was more important between letting him leave to ‘make him happy’ or keeping him close to make them happy. 

“It’s unsafe to go on your own,” Dimitri said.

“We can provide whatever you need here, with us,” Edelgard said. “We’ll make you happy.”

Bowing his head, he nodded. No matter what they said, he would have been disappointed. The truth was, he didn’t want to leave them either. And yet, if he didn’t leave, the dream he’d been working towards for his entire life would come to nothing. There was no telling what the political situation was like in Almyra. Perhaps the one to succeed his father would be favorable towards Fódlan or perhaps they would be a warmonger. He hated leaving things to chance. By staying in Fódlan, he was leaving half of his dream in the hands of unknowns.

“We’re sorry we used to compete over you,” Dimitri said, apparently remembering what he said a few days ago about that. “Won’t you allow us to try again?”

“Why are neither of you initiating?” he asked, heart heavy. It was his fault for wanting everything at once. He wanted to be loved, he wanted to be with Dimitri and Edelgard, he wanted to return home, and he wanted to see his dream bloom.

“You haven’t told us what you want.” Dimitri frowned. “We… Edelgard and I, we talked about our behavior towards you before the incident. We never truly asked for your permission.”

“You always stop whenever I ask.”

“That isn’t the same thing.”

His shoulders slumped. What he wanted was for his choices to be stripped away so he could stop feeling so wretched. If it was like before where he couldn’t escape, couldn’t leave Fódlan in their bickering hands, couldn’t break free from their supernatural strength… He didn’t know how to let down his walls, he only knew how to enjoy it when those walls were torn down for him. 

“How about we have an early dinner. I’ll send for the kitchen to bring up a feast of all your favorite foods. We can do whatever you want.”

“No, no, enough. We need to put down some ground rules. Stop trying to ‘protect’ me, stop trying to ‘prevent’ me from getting stressed, stop barring me from the training grounds and wyvern aerie and stable, and stop pampering me.” He hunched in on himself. “I promise I won’t run away.”

“But you deserve to be pampered.” Dimitri’s lone eye shone with honesty.

“I don’t want to be pampered.”

Edelgard lifted his chin. “Now that is a lie.”

Heat bloomed in his cheeks. She was right. She peeled back his lie and saw through him like it was nothing. Dimitri hummed agreement. “Deny it all you wish, beloved, but we know how much you adore being pampered. There’s no need for you to feel embarrassed about it. Just accept our love for you.”

“Claude, dear. You know that we will not use what you tell us against you. We love you,” her lips quirked with amusement, “and your mishap ensured that no matter what you do or say, we won’t stop loving you. You can be open with us, you can trust us.”

“She’s right. I know trust does not come easily to you, but surely the rational part of you can see that we will never betray you.”

He heaved a sigh. “Yes. I like being pampered. I…” He swallowed hard, his mouth suddenly dry. “I… like it when you two don’t give me a choice. So long as you’ll stop if I need you to, I…” He hid his face in his hands. “I like it when you two compete over me, or don’t give me a say in what you do to me, or make me come until I’m crying and begging, or when you restrain me! I shouldn’t like it, but Gods, my body can’t get enough. I love it when I don’t have to think, when I’m trapped and my only remaining option is to just enjoy it.”  

Wiping his forehead, his hand came away wet with sweat. Dammit. Edelgard and Dimitri clearly smelled him, closing in on him like sharks. They both grinned wickedly, jolting pure lust through his system. Fear too, and with that fear came the lust.

“You look like a deer,” Dimitri’s low timber purred as he licked his lips. 

“A scared deer,” Edelgard noted, staring down at the tent forming in his pants. “You seem to enjoy being afraid, Claude.” Though a statement, it was also a question.

It killed him to nod his head, but he could trust them. “It’s… pleasurable, y-yeah.”

Edelgard turned to Dimitri. “Imagine if he escaped out clutches, bounding away like a deer. We would have to hunt him down.”

“Oh, shit,” he gasped, clenching his hands as the arousal rushed through him. Okay, he was really pent up after a week of nothing. 

“He would like that, look at him,” Dimitri replied, smiling sweetly. “Look at him, he’s beautiful. Goddess, I could look at him forever.” He scrunched away from them. They were aware of his weakness for complements, the way being praised made him squirm. He was already panting and they hadn’t even touched him sexually yet.

“Don’t worry, we’ll make you forget everything else,” Edelgard murmured into his ear, digging her nails into his ribs. The light pain mixed with the pleasure of Dimitri’s large hand stroking through his hair. “You’re being very, very good for us. So honest. Good boy.” He moaned before he could catch himself, slapping a hand over his mouth. “Ah-ah! Good boys don’t silence themselves.” She tore his hand away from his mouth, taking both wrists and holding them behind his back. “We’ll just have to take the choice of silencing yourself away from you. Hold him, Dimitri.”

Dimitri restrained him, nipping at his neck as he did so. Edelgard returned with silken rope. They’d never tied him up before, usually they just used their supernatural strength to hold him in place. He struggled, kicking and squirming with all his might. He might as well be doing nothing for all he impeded Edelgard stripping him and tying him up. 

Dimitri plopped him onto the bed. His wrists and ankles were tied together. He struggled with the rope and found… no knot?

“You recall the material you were bound with under Thales’ capture, yes? We’ve reverse engineered the technology for our own purposes. It’s a very interesting magic.”

Silk could be cut and knots could be undone, but magic? He couldn’t escape magic. His body went limp, his mind blank. There was no escape. All he could do was lay there and take what they gave him.

“I need some supplies. I also need to… commission a few things,” Edelgard stated. “Dimitri, entertain him while I am gone.”

“Don’t command me,” Dimitri warned in a warm, familiar tone. “I also need to speak with a few people about… commissions, yes.”

They shared a look and then a wicked grin. “I believe we are thinking of the same thing.”

“Indeed. Claude? We will return shortly. You’ll be okay on your own?”

“You’re… leaving?” he blurted out, more baffled than offended. They could barely separate from him to get him vital water. Now he was tied up like a present for them, sweating a not-insignificant amount, ready for whatever they wanted to do to him. And they were leaving?

“Just a few minutes. It’s for you, our husband.” 

“Indeed. We’ll be quick.”

“Okay, uh—” The pair rushed out the door. He gulped, squirming in his binds. Oh fuck. He was sick of learning all these new ways that his body reacted to random events. They left him, why was that hot?

Between ten to fifteen to an eternity of minutes later, the pair returned. It was a miracle of pure willpower that he hadn’t come by rutting against the bed. Edelgard stalked to the bed and jammed a vial into his mouth before he could speak. He grunted and refused to swallow the mystery liquid, but Edelgard pinched his nose, forcing him to gulp down the vial. It couldn’t be poison, but it definitely wasn’t tea! Before he could ask what the hell she just dosed him with (turnabout was fair play but he did not appreciate this), Dimitri unceremoniously swallowed his cock.

His moan turned into a yelp as a slicked finger buried into his ass. Then two, then three, then four, how? Dimitri found his prostate with direct precision, turning his question into a wordless scream.

“Like it?” Edelgard’s fingers pressed into his pecs, pinching one nipple and rolling the other. Sounds spilled without coherence from his throat. “I asked Hubert to make me a few… ah, edges I could use to one-up Dimitri.” She displayed a vial. “Magic can do so many things. With this oil, you’ll be prepared in moments.”

“A-a-and th-uuhhhh… th-the potion you f-forced down my thr—oh!” 

“Another goody from Hubert.” She petted Dimitri’s hair, then trailed lower to cup his balls. “We’ll show you. Dimitri?”

Dimitri hummed, swallowing him to the hilt and fingering his prostate. He screamed as everything went white, his feet kicking off the bed as the intense orgasm blew down Dimitri’s throat. Dimitri smiled around him, sucking him and drinking him down, mercilessly teasing his prostate. Edelgard rolled one nipple and bit down on the other.

Instead of the orgasm coming down, his eyes rolled back into his head as the combined stimulation had him shooting a second wave of cum down Dimitri’s throat. 

Eventually Dimitri popped off of his cock. His entire body shook. What just happened? He’d had some intense orgasms before, but never a double orgasm. Looking down, he saw that his cock was still standing at attention. His balls still felt heavy and full despite just cumming twice.

“That is the effects of the elixir. Our dear, dear Claude. We still have another three days of sick leave, remember?” She smirked. “I have an entire case of those elixirs, but we’ll only need two or three for the duration. I wonder how long it will be before we make you forget your own name.”

Dimitri licked the crown of his dick. He moaned, still shaking violently. “It’s sweet now,” Dimitri murmured, nuzzling his thigh. “Goddess, Edelgard. His cum, it tastes — it tastes divine.”

“You can barely taste,” he slurred, struggling to comprehend what Edelgard meant. Three days. They weren’t going to have sex with him for three days straight, right?

“Indeed. Mm, I can only taste a hint, but it’s — I need more.”

“The pheromones are in his semen too? Interesting,” Edelgard said over his scream. Dimitri sucked and licked at his cock like a starving man. He thrashed to get away from the mind-melting pleasure, but Edelgard effortlessly pinned him to the bed. He came a third time.

“That’s 3-0, El,” Dimitri moaned, taking a ‘break’ to suckle on his thighs.

“Not for long. I’ll make him cum more than you.”

“Hah! As if.”

Oh no. He wasn’t going to survive three days of this.

 

 


 

 

Time lost all meaning. Edelgard and Dimitri had their ways with him again and again. They did everything to him. They fucked him senseless. They made love to him tenderly. They took turns riding his cock. They took turns fucking his ass. They fucked his ass together. Edelgard had all sorts of toys and torture devices of pleasure that she used on him, he lost track of them all. Every so often liquid would be forced down his throat. Sometimes it was the elixir that made him cum like a fountain. Sometimes it was other random potions that probably did things to him but he honestly couldn’t remember much by then. He became a cocksleeve for Dimitri, his mouth toy for Edelgard’s pleasure. Whenever he passed out and fell asleep, he always woke up to one of them fucking his unconscious body. 

He forgot his name alright. He forgot the Fódlani language, then forgot Almyran too. He forgot any guilt or worry or shame. His body became a vessel of mindless pleasure. 

He never told them to stop, so they didn’t stop.

On night three, the seemingly nonstop sex became gentle cuddles and soft kisses. As he slowly returned to himself over the course of hours, it occurred to him that he’d had zero autonomy under the hands of his spouses. That should terrify him. He barely remembered the past days. They fucked him while he was unconscious. The terrifying concept turned him on so much that they engaged in one last bout of emotional lovemaking. 

Day four was a rest day (apparently they took one more day off). The three of them rested, him more than the other two. They hand-fed him in bed, packing him to the brim with his favorite foods and treats. 

“You did so good. You were such a good boy. We love you.” Praise was heaped on him constantly, followed through with so much cuddling and petting and positive touching. 

On the fifth day, he finally woke up with a degree of cognizance. He was alone for the first time in a while. On the desk was a note. 

‘We’ll be back for lunch after the council meeting. Don’t worry, we aren’t shirking our duties. Relax, eat, and drink plenty of fluids.

–El’

‘If you get bored, there are new books on your bookshelf. I also left a few puzzle-games on your desk — they’re from Duscur.

–Dima’ 

Beside the note was a heaping plate of breakfast, no-doubt enchanted to stay warm. It was definitely a bigger portion than he needed to eat, so he only ate about half. Standing, he winced at his protesting muscles. Nothing hurt though, which was probably down to the miracle of magic. On the bookshelf, he found some fascinating sounding books. A lot of books, in truth, to the point where some had to be piled onto the floor. Given how long and thick the books were, he wasn’t going to be finishing those any time soon. Especially not now that his ‘vacation’ was over. He had duties to return to.

He should have duties to return to. His desk had been emptied. None of his paperwork, no letters, not even paper or ink. The only thing in his desk were the puzzles that Dimitri mentioned, wooden chunks with marbles to guide through a maze or puzzle locks to disassemble. As interesting as the puzzles appeared, he’d spent enough time on leisure. He needed to do something important. 

Dimitri and Edelgard’s drawers were empty too. Actually, he found a fair amount of sex toys and various potions in Edelgard’s drawer, which prompted him to blush like a maiden at the realization that almost everything had been inside of him at least once.

They took all the paperwork out of the room! Dammit, he told them not to—wait. They never actually agreed to stop coddling him. Ice raced down his spine. On a hunch, he went to the door and… 

Locked.

They locked him in.

They locked him in! Dammit, he thought they understood! He already agreed that he wouldn’t run away from them! He just wanted to go on a walk, or visit the training grounds, or go flying for the first time in over a month!

He hobbled to their bathroom, grumbling to himself. Catching his reflection, he froze. His fingers traced his neck, clutching at the new collar. It was bigger than the last one. On the bright side, it displayed Edelgard and Dimitri’s new unity. It was embedded with two large gemstones: one red, the other blue. There were two possible reasons that his old collar was replaced. Either Edelgard decided to remove the enchantments and give him something with more freedom, or Edelgard commissioned a collar with more, stronger enchantments. Given the collar wouldn’t come off, he knew which option he was betting on. The bigger an object, the more powerful enchantments could be applied. The ring on his finger also refused to come off now. His earring had been replaced as well, again fitting with the theme of blue and red. It also would not come off. Nor did the barely noticeable bands of metal flush around his ankles and wrists. 

More than a little freaked out, he returned to the bed and sat down, allowing his aching muscles a break. Dimitri and Edelgard mentally couldn’t harm him on purpose. They loved him too much to cause him harm. Surely there was a good explanation for all of this. 

The wait for them to return was agony. He tried to pry the window open and failed (all the while his mind chittered that ‘a good boy doesn’t try to escape’). In order to distract himself (and to stave off boredom), he finished his breakfast. Back during the middle of the war, he’d developed a bad habit of stress eating for a brief period. To say the wait was making him stressed as an understatement. 

Eventually lunch came and with it Dimitri and Edelgard.

“What the hell is all of this?” He gestured to his new jewelry. “I can’t believe you two locked me in here. I told you both that I won’t run away.”

“We locked the door so that no one could get in while you were sleeping,” Dimitri explained, placing a heaping plate of dessert on the bedside table.

“That’s what guards are for! Besides, you could have left me a key inside the room.”

“Are you upset with us?” Dimitri picked him up effortlessly, settling him on his lap. “That wasn’t our intention.” The king began sucking at his neck, scrambling his thoughts.

“Yes, I’m upset. I do not appreciate my autonomy being stripped.”

“That’s not what you said before.” Edelgard smirked, settling on his lap. She raised an overflowing plate of heavy foods. He gulped, still somewhat full from breakfast. Without a word, she shoved a heaping forkful into his mouth. It was delicious. She prevented him from speaking by shoving forkful after forkful into his mouth. “Good boy,” Edelgard cooed. She unbuttoned part of his shirt, reaching within to massage his nipples. At the same time, Dimitri moved. One large hand curled around his hips, forcing him to stop squirming. The other hand teased the area around his cock, stroking and squeezing his thighs.

He moaned into the next forkful of food, struggling to keep his thoughts in order. Between the sucking at his neck, the tweaking of his nipple, the explosion of taste on his tongue, the hand restraining him, the groping of his thighs, the twin whispers of praise, and the press of two bodies against his — he couldn’t think. They weren’t just physically restraining him, they were mentally restraining him too.

The one clear thought in his brain was Oh No. His cock was straining in his pants. He wanted to blame it on all the sensation, and that was part of it. The one thing that made him throb was how helpless they rendered him purely through pleasure. No choice but to sit and take it.

“So perfect. Good boy. Our Claude, good boy.” His hips tried to buck, stopped by Dimitri’s hand. He squirmed between them, moaning and groaning, unable to speak as the train of food muffled his words. 

The food stopped briefly, allowing him to catch his breath. Then came the dessert. His stomach was already so full, but he wasn’t even given a chance to stop. Dimitri fed him now as Edelgard slipped off his pants. The pain of his stuffed gut mixed with the rest of the pleasure, driving him to the brink before Edelgard even touched him. 

Her lips wrapped around his cock and he spilled, writhing as she sucked him down. She moaned around him, his orgasm seeming to last forever as he gushed and gushed. Even when he finally finished, Edelgard continued to lap at his softened cock. Finally she stopped, leaning back with blissful satisfaction as she smacked her lips.

“W…wha…why…?” he panted, trying to ignore Dimitri’s tongue as it desperately lapped up the sweat pouring off of him.

“There is nothing in the land that tastes so divine as you,” Dimitri murmured into his neck.

A hysterical laugh burst out of him. “You say that as if you’re addicted to my—uh, y’know.”

“Your cum?” Edelgard stated without shame, eyes half-lidded. “Absolutely. You’ll give Dimitri his dose at dinner, won’t you, dear?”

“You will, won’t you, Claude?” Dimitri pleaded, eyes wide and begging.

“Are you two giving me a choice?” he snapped, shivering despite himself.

“No,” Edelgard stated as she stood. “We are not.”

“B-but, what? What if I don't want that?”

“We know you want it.” She cupped his cheek and kissed him, languid and hungry. “You told us how much you love this, and the results are clear to see. You nearly came untouched.” Her smirk grew. “Tell me, which part of this did you find most pleasurable?”

She knew.

“You told us not to ask, so we won’t.”

“We’re going to make you so, so happy,” Dimitri told him lovingly, kissing his neck, restraining him in a hug.

He shivered. “What if I say stop?”

“You won’t. You enjoy this game too much to ask us to stop.”

She was right. By the Gods, she was right. He had to snap out of this. “You didn’t answer me about the jewelry,” he blurted, tugging at the thick collar. 

Dimitri fingered the earring. “This is enchanted to increase passively your health and vitality. It will also alert us if you’re unwell or hurt.” Dimitri turned his head, showing off a matching earring with only a blue gem. Edelgard had the same, but with a red gem.

“And these?” He lifted his wrist bracelets.

Edelgard sparked a snap of magic in her fingers. Abruptly, his arms and ankles flew together, restraining him. She snapped her fingers again and the magnetism stopped. 

“And the collar?”

“It’s simple. If you get too far from here, you will be warped back to this room.” 

“How far…?” She just smirked. “I told you both I won’t escape. Don’t you trust me? Just allow me to walk around a bit. I’ll go to the training grounds or something. At this rate, my only exercise will be having sex!”

“Is that so bad?” Dimitri asked, petting gently at his distended abdomen. “It’s peacetime. You deserve to be pampered and loved… and to look the part.”

“Whoa, whoa, hold on! I never agreed to this!”

“Just give in, dearest. Let us fill you with our love.”

Looking between the two of them, he knew they were being honest. They were doing their best to shower in him in love. “If you love me, you’ll listen to what I want.”

“We have. You told us. You love it when we pamper you. You love it when we don’t give you a choice. You love it when we compete over you, when you don’t have a say in what we do to you, when we make you come until you’re crying and begging, and you love it when we make you afraid.”

“Sexually! Not about every aspect of life!” He shook his head rapidly, his gut pooling with dread, horror, and arousal. “I’m not a pet for you to pamper!” He trusted them with that information because he thought they couldn’t use it against him. Gods, what an idiot he was!

“Of course not,” Dimitri said. “You’re our beloved husband. Don’t worry, we’ll prove this to you.”

“I think he needs more proof, Dimitri,” Edelgard said, digging into her desk. “Hold him for me.”

“Wait! Hey, what are you doing?!” Dimitri turned him around, presenting his ass for Edelgard. He bit his lip to stop from groaning. His dick was not in charge of him! “Stop!”

Everyone froze. “Very well, Claude. I’ll stop.”

“G-good. Good. Okay.” He wasn’t sure that would work. 

“Do you want me to continue, Claude?”

“Huh?” Dimitri was still holding him. Moreover, he was grinding desperately into Dimitri’s thighs. Oh fuck, he was horny. “N-no, I…”

“I’ll only continue when you tell me to continue, Claude.” Her hand stroked his ass cheeks, cupping them lovingly, squeezing and pinching him. 

“Fine! Yes! Do it!” he gasped out, too desperate to care what she was going to do to him.

“Good boy.” He moaned. Edelgard slicked her fingers and then began fingering his ass. Before long he was moaning like a dog in heat, writhing helplessly. His wrists and ankles were restrained by the bracelets, allowing Dimitri to let go of him in order to suck him off. In the part of his mind that wasn’t filled with gibbering, it occurred to him that the pair might literally be addicted to the concentrated pheromones in his semen. 

Edelgard stopped fingering him. “Now then, Dimitri and I must wash up and return to council soon. Don’t worry, we already announced your retirement. We informed your friends that you were returning home to Almyra for a period, and they confirmed that had been your plans.” She kissed him. “Now be a good boy while we’re gone, love.”

“We’ll bring you dinner when the council is over.” Dimitri patted his bloated belly. “Soon we’ll have you looking the part of how pampered you deserve to be.”

“R-right.” He needed to come up with a plan. At this rate, he was going to become their pleasure slave. Or a slave to their pleasure. Part of him begged to give in and accept it. He attempted to get up, then thought better of it as his pained stomach protested. Dammit, the food had been good, but he really over ate. “Can one of you grab me a book?”

“Mm, worry not. You’ll be entertained while we’re gone.” She rubbed his ass cheeks. He shivered at the tingle of magic, then— 

“AH!” There was something inside of him and it was moving. “Oo-oohhh…” It was vibrating rapidly, bumping into his prostate. 

“Don’t worry, beloved. We made sure to prepare you in the event of boredom. I’ve commissioned many, many toys and machines to keep you company while we’re busy.”

“Is that what the saddle is for?” Dimitri asked as Claude clawed at the sheets, desperately humping the air. “Ah, should we restrain him? Don’t want him to hurt himself.”

“Good idea. Position him, please.” Dimitri took his arms and brought him to the center bedpost. When Edelgard snapped her fingers, his wrists locked him to the bed. He writhed as the object inside of him abruptly changed speed and size, expanding to fill his ass nicely, vibrating at a slower but more intense setting. “Marvelous invention. The size, speed, and intensity randomize at different intervals, so it won’t get boring.”

“Fascinating,” Dimitri said, drinking in the sight of him writhing. “We should leave before I’m tempted to stay and pleasure him more.”

Hours passed. At some point, Dedue came in to check on him and hydrate him (because of course Dedue was in on this. That man was loyal to Dimitri no matter what the order was). He must have passed out a few times. Time lost meaning as he was swept away in pleasure.

“You’re so beautiful,” Dimitri said with reverence when they returned. “Goddess, I will never let you go. Our Claude.” Dimitri bit a deep mark into his shoulder. After so much edging, that was all it took to cum untouched. Edelgard and Dimitri both eagerly licked his cum from his stomach. 

They took out the vibrating object, prompting him to whine at the empty sensation. Dimitri came to his rescue. His wrists were unlocked and Dimitri settled him into his lap. Dimitri’s girth filled the emptiness inside of him. He was too tired to do anything but slump against Dimitri as the two of them complimented him and fed him dinner. By the end he was puffing with pain, but his spouses were lavishing him with praise for each morsel he ate. After he finished off the second and last chunk of rich cake, they petted his body and rubbed his stomach and praised him. Before long he was mindlessly bouncing on Dimitri’s cock. Edelgard drank his cum (‘nectar’, she called it), then declared that she needed more. A familiar tasting elixir passed his lips and his balls swiftly swelled with Edelgard and Dimitri’s new favorite drink, his cock rising to stand again. 

The rest of the night was a blur of pleasure. He frequently passed out, waking up to see his body being used again and again, a sight which continued to spur the blaze of pleasure. A quiet voice whispered that he shouldn’t find this so pleasurable, but he couldn’t focus on anything but how good he felt.

The next day, he was bombarded with more pleasure and food and pampering and love. And then the next day after that. Whenever his lovers had to leave, they made sure he was kept company by something pleasurable. There was no break. Vibrating toys or bouncing cock-saddles or fuck-machines or magically-squirming tenticles, whatever Edelgard and Hubert came up with in their spare time — he was constantly serviced.

Aside from the fucking, there was food. Gods was there food. Dedue cooked divine meals from the heavens and Mercedes baked blessed desserts that he couldn’t get enough of. Paired with every meal was the pampering hand to feed him, the cooing voices to cheer him to continue, the pleasure they forced into his body, and the gentle hands to soothe his swollen stomach when the pain emerged. Meals quickly became one of his favorite activities. More than straight up pleasure, they were warm and loving and tasty and displayed that he was so, so loved.

Potions were often poured down his willing throat. He liked the potions too, because they were often fun. There were elixirs, of course. Another common one made him gush with double or tripled the amount of cum, which Edelgard and Dimitri loved. Some made him even hornied, some made him relaxed and pliant. Some made him giggly and fuzzy and he couldn’t seem to stop babbling. Those were fun, though they usually involved a lot of talking. ‘Honesty’s Heart’ was what Edelgard called that brew, which probably would make sense if he thought about it. They gave that one to him whenever they checked on how he was feeling, what he loved most, what he wanted more of. 

He loved them. That was what he loved most, and the loved him extra for that answer, kissing and complementing and fucking him with so much love.

Then the pleasure slowed down. The love and pampering continued, but they stopped stuffing his unconscious body with sex toys or leaving him to ride whatever toy they left him with. He rested until they came back to feed and bathe him, then they cuddled him to sleep. They cuddled him in the morning, fed him breakfast, then left him to sleep until lunch. By lunch, he was rested and needy, humping pillows and whatever he could find. His spouses were endeared by him but didn’t fuck him. 

Shortly before dinner, it occurred to him that something wasn’t right. 

After dinner, being stuffed full and cuddled and praised and loved, he drifted off with the certainty that something was wrong.

During breakfast, that wrongness niggled at him. The horniness ate away at him too, but he was starting to think something else was off. 

“Something… wrong,” he mumbled, his throat dry.

“Good job, Claude.”

“What’d I… do?” He frowned. The words felt rusty.

“You spoke without prompting. Are you with us, love?”

“Mmm, yeah?” He nuzzled against Edelgard. 

“What’s your name, love?”

“I’m—what… kind of question is that?” That sense of wrongness reappeared. 

Dimitri smiled at him, petting his cheek. “We asked you that question a few days ago and you told us ‘good boy’. We figured you could use a break.”

His foggy brain churned. Over the course of an hour or so, he slowly clawed back to himself. The wrongness only grew. He felt strange. It wasn’t until Dimitri gripped one of his love handles that he realized he was plump. How long had he been plump for without noticing?

“How long?” he asked. “How long since…” Gods, why was it so hard to think? 

“It’s been almost two months since you accidentally drugged us, love.”

His body was doused in ice. Two months? Other than pleasure, he could barely remember anything that happened recently. “What happened?”

Dimitri kissed his cheek, rubbing his belly as was routine now after a meal. His belly, dear Gods he had a belly. “You’ve been enjoying yourself, that’s all. Look at you, the picture of lavish indulgence. You’re so beautiful when you’re happy.” Dimitri kissed his stomach. “Look at how much we love you. So stuffed with love.”

“I don’t remember the past two months.” Gripping his changed body, he realized that he did remember a lot of the past two months. It was all hazy with mindless pleasure. Why was that horrifying? Pleasure was nice. He was loved. Yes… it was— No. “What did you two do to me?” he whispered, clawing at his meaty thighs. His mind was a war between remembering and following the heat in his groin. He’d been very horny recently because his lovers stopped… stopped fucking him constantly? 

“We’ve simply been loving you, dear.” Edelgard cupped his pec — his tit — and gently massaged his flesh. It felt good. His mind drifted before snapping back to the present. 

Part of him whined for her to squeeze harder (the part of him being his throat, which was whining). Part of him gibbered for her to stop before he lost focus again, he was forgetting everything. Hadn’t he been afraid of this? When was the last time he saw outside this room? 

“St…” he gasped as Dimitri groped his ass. Closing his eyes, he groaned. Wow, his ass barely fit into Dimitri’s hand. 

“Look at you, so pretty and pampered. Doesn’t he look taken care of, El? So spoiled and satisfied, there’s so much more of him for us to share.”

“We can do better. We can make him happier, we can spoil him more. Doesn’t that sound nice, Claude? You deserve all the treats in the world. We’ll make sure you reflect our love.” His tits jiggled as she shook them. His body jiggled. “Dimitri, I think we have nearly convinced him how much he deserves to be spoiled rotten.”

“You’re so soft now, Claude,” Dimitri praised him, hugging his body. “So perfect. No, no, we can do better, El’s right. Don’t worry, we’ll indulge you more. We’ll fill you with everything you deserve and then more and more. The world will know you’re ours just by looking at you.”

“Y…yeah…” he gasped, his hips bucking. “Y-yours…”

“Ours. Good boy, Claude, you’re such a good boy.” Edelgard stroked his chin. He leaned into it, moaning. Yes, he was a good boy. He was the best boy. He was Dimitri and Edelgard’s good—  

“Stop!” he gasped, panting and sweating as his hips searched for friction. Gods, it had been too long since they last drank his nectar, they must be so thirsty. He needed to make them happy like they made him happy. It was so hard to think.

All the touches stopped. He whined, suddenly terrified that he had been bad. “Tell us when you want us to continue, Claude,” Edelgard said.

Right. He told them to stop. He still had some power. He wasn’t helpless. He attempted to stand, his legs shaking as he did so. When was the last time he walked? Usually he was carried or he crawled on his hands and knees like a… pet… 

“Don’t strain yourself, love,” Dimitri cooed, hovering beside him. “Take a seat.”

He couldn’t hardly walk. Remembering the collar, it didn’t matter if he could walk. He couldn’t escape. Why would he want to escape though?

“What do you want, Claude?”

“I want…” His dick was so hard. He couldn’t escape, he was powerless to be loved and pampered. Throwing back his head, he moaned. “I want… t-t-o…” No, don’t, you won’t come back if you give in! a distant part of him screamed. “I… I want you both…” He interrupted himself with a moan. There was no escape, so he needed to give in. “I want you both to make me feel good again.”

“Such a good boy. That’s our Claude. Tell us you want us to continue. We won’t stop again if you do.”

No, they wouldn’t, because why would he ask for them to stop? “I don’t want to think anymore, I just want to be loved.”

“We’ll fill you with all the love in the world, beloved.”

Together they pulled his straining member from his pants. It took three strokes for him to cum in spurts. Then they fed him an elixir and didn’t stop. The pleasure and love took over.

Time passed, but he barely noticed. 

At some point they took out the machine fucking his ass. He didn’t remember when it had been inserted. He whined. They asked him what his name was. Good boy. They repeated his name and made love to him again and again and again.

Chapter Text

Khalid made it a habit to explore new parts of the capital every chance he got. Markets, shops, neighborhoods, back alleys — he’d been to all sorts of places. Over the years, he’d learned how to blend in, how to melt away from prying eyes, how to hide his more ‘unique’ features. He’d learned how to code-switch between all sorts of different dialects and ways of speaking depending on his environment. He could play the role of the invulnerable prince, the rich son, the aloof merchant apprentice, the foreign outsider, the scrappy orphan, and even the cutthroat gangster. Sure, he couldn’t always fool people (especially when it came to carrying out certain expected actions), but he’d learned how to say only the bare minimum words in just the right inflection and just the right slang to fit in. He’d gotten good at temporarily fitting in — so long as no one ever caught sight of his eyes or took too much interest in his skin color, at least.

Today he was dolled up in generic rough-spun linens, sure to look wealthy enough to have power but poor enough to not get mugged. Today’s exploration brought him into a seedier part of the capital, one he’d heard of but never managed to find. 

The black market. Specifically, a human black market. 

He milled about the crowd, alike and equal to all the other cloaked and hooded bodies, if a bit short. There weren’t exactly very many twelve year olds in the market to buy other human beings, after all. 

The legality of slavery was very strict and the regulations had only tightened under his father’s reign. Personally, Khalid didn’t understand why slavery was legal at all, but that was part of why he came to this market. Slaves weren’t cheap — so why not just pay a freeman a wage to do whatever slaves were forced to do? Wouldn’t be forced to feed or house them in that case, and the worker would be happier. Surely there was an aspect to the whole business that he was missing. Then again, the staff who worked at the palace were fed and housed by the crown — but that was a job perk, not a necessity. The servants employed by the palace were employed, not enslaved. That many unhappy slaves with access to royalty would be an assassination attempt in the making, after all.

There were three types of slaves. Eyeing the line of slaves being auctioned off, he counted all three types among them. The first set were criminals or those in too much debt to ever pay off. The second set were the children of slaves, which were an extremely tenuous grey-legality area. The only reason it was legal at all was because someone had to take care of the kids, and the orphanage system was in no state to take every child of every slave. At least, that was his current understanding of the issue. It was on his list of things to change if/when he became king, providing his father didn’t beat him to it. 

The third and rarest set among the lineup were foreigners. Back when Almyra was at war, foreigners were the most common type of slave; according to his books, at least. Still, there were strict regulations on which prisoners of war could and couldn’t be brought back. It was dishonorable to enslave a warrior, it was dishonorable to enslave a woman or child, and it was dishonorable to enslave the elderly. That left army-deserters and non-combatant men, which weren’t exactly a common find.

This black market did not appear to be following certain regulations. It would be a shame if someone tipped off the wrong people. Despite not being at war currently, he saw multiple Morfin people up for ‘sale’. Many were women and girls too, being auctioned off as ‘exotic’ wives. 

“One problem at a time,” his father usually told him in situations like these. None of this was right. So what if it was ‘tradition’ to take human people as trophies of battle? Just because society did a wrong thing for a long time, that didn’t make it right.  

“You cannot force change in an instant,” his mother would tell him right now. “You can force one person to change their mind, but you cannot force people to change overnight.” A person could be proven wrong, but people were different. There was a reason his father couldn’t declare it illegal to look down on him and his mother for their blood. “If you force it, you will build resentment. You must be slow and tricky if you wish to create real, long-lasting change.”

Being slow wouldn’t save any of these people. But if this market was knocked down, another would pop up somewhere else. Slumping on a crate, he watched the processions with a familiar sense of helplessness. Why couldn’t people understand that the ones they labeled as ‘lesser’ were just like them? 

The man running the auction made a sweeping gesture, splitting the group on stage between the ones who had new masters and the ones who had to wait and be sold on another day. As was standard, the man ushered out the next group of people to be sold. 

One of the bound people was not like the rest. He bolted to his feet, his insides awash with anticipation, dread, and curiosity.

In the middle of the group of Morfin and Dagdans, there was a girl who looked to be around his age. Though she was pale like a Dagdan, her hair and eyes set her apart from all the rest. Bright pink. Only those from Fódlan were known for such vibrant, colorful pigmentation. 

He wasn’t the only one to notice the girl. The crowd churned and mumbled. The girl wasn’t just pink, she was Goneril pink. As eye-catching as the color was, it was said to be bad luck to own someone from Fódlan. Sometimes they knew magic or curses, and were known for causing the mysterious death of whoever owned them. The rumor was probably just a rumor, but in a way it worked in Fódlan’s favor. No one wanted a Fódlani slave, so there was less reason to spark another war with the ‘backwater’ country. 

He bid on the girl. It was common knowledge that plenty of Fódlani had vivid hair colors, but he knew from his mom that the more ‘unnatural’ the hair color was, the more likely someone was to be a noble. It wasn’t a sure thing, but the girl didn’t look like a commoner. She was roughed up with bruises on her cheek, but the fearful way she stood whispered of noble posture. Really it was just a hunch, and he would have bid anyways, but if this girl was a noble from Fódlan she represented an opportunity and a danger. If she went back to her home with an awful opinion of Almyra — or if her family knew she’d been taken — that could sour all the hard work his parents were putting into improving relations between their nations. 

Also, this was his chance to talk to someone from Fódlan who wasn’t his mother.

A few sleazy men bid on the girl as well, but no one was willing to spend much on her. In no time, he was the not-so-proud “owner” of his first slave. They handed him her leash and his skin skittered. He was going to scrub himself so thoroughly when this was all over. The sooner he could free her and send her back over the border, the better. Right now though, she was much safer being his “legal property” than an “illegal foreigner squatting in the capital”. The girl meekly followed him as he left the black market. The ratty robe she was dressed in had a hood that he gestured for her to cover her hair with. Maybe it was his imagination, but she seemed relieved that he won her over the dirty old men. 

They walked in silence for a bit as he struggled to come up with the best way to explain her situation. The palace was a long walk regardless, so they had time. His mental whirlwind was interrupted by her growling stomach. He halted abruptly. She halted too, eyes wide and fearful.

“Hungry? We can stop and get some food, if you like.”

Her jaw dropped. “You speak?” she whispered, her voice hoarse. She was probably thirsty too. Not even half an hour into “owning” a person and he was doing an awful job at this. 

“Of course I speak. What do you want to eat? I don’t come around this part of the city often, but I’m sure there’s a food market nearby.”

She rushed forward and clutched his arm, her fingers digging painfully digging into his arm. “Please, please, you have to help me! I’m not supposed to be here!”

“Ow, relax. I’ll explain everything to you in a second. Let go.”

She flinched away from him, scrunching her shoulders and hanging her head. “S-sorry.” He recognized her posture — she was half-expecting to be struck.

He guided them to a food stand. Asking for her food preference had her spewing off all sorts of foods he had never heard of. When he listed her options, she just stared blankly at him. Shrugging, he got her some lavash flat-bread, a lightly spiced kabab, tea for them both, and a koluche cookie since she looked like she could use something sweet as a pick-me-up. Finding a nice shady spot between two buildings, he plopped on the ground and gestured for her to join him. She hesitated before joining him, gingerly sitting in a weird position. Huh, maybe they sat differently in Fódlan? Or maybe she wasn’t used to sitting on the ground?

He had to urge her to eat. She devoured the lavash, but winced as she nibbled on the kabab. “It’s so spicy…” she mumbled.

“Really?” Huh. Being in a poorer (but not too poor) section of the city, usually foods weren’t spiced very much. He leaned over and took a bite, frowning. “This isn’t spicy at all.”

“H-hey! This is mine!” 

Technically, she belonged to him, so that kabab also belonged to him. He shrugged. “If you don’t want it, you can eat something else when we get home. You’re kinda picky for a slave, y’know.”

She bristled. “I’m not a slave!”

“I literally just bought you. I legally own you. Pretty sure that makes you a slave.”

Her shoulders scrunched and her fearful expression returned. Gah, that wasn’t his intention! He didn’t mean to scare her! “Um… what are you going to do with me?”

“We’ll discuss that later when we get home, but ideally I’ll figure out a way to send you back to Fódlan.” More likely, his mother would figure out how to get her home.

“Really? My savior! You know, I was so relieved when you were the one to pick me. You look much nicer than those other barbarians! And you actually speak, Goddess I don’t know how I would have survived another day without you! I was so scared. I thought one of those brutes was going to eat me! I’m too young and cute to die.”

He blinked at her a few times, starting to doubt his grasp on the Fódlan language. He thought he was fluent, but with only his mother’s strict standards, perhaps he was misunderstanding some slang?

“So like, you must take me across the border. My daddy will totally pay you so much money, you’ll never have to worry about going hungry ever again! Um, do Almyrans have money? Daddy will be sure to compensate you!”

“Y…yes, we have money?” He pointed to her kabab. “I just bought you food. And bought you.”   

“Oh, um, right.” She nervously giggled, bowing her head to look up at him through her lashes. “You’re gonna set me free… right?”

“As soon as it’s safe. I’m not exactly thrilled to own someone either, you know.”

“Oh good! I’m not thrilled to be owned! I’m far too delicate to do servant work. Oh my gosh, you don’t even want to see me try. My poor noodle arms are so weak. I’m excellent at looking pretty, but that’s about it.”

His brow furrowed. “I can feel a bruise forming on my arm from where you grabbed me. You’re stronger than you look.”

“What? No, no, nooo, silly! Um, that was just the… Adrenalin! Yeah, because this entire experience has been just dreadful. You’re like, the only good thing that’s happened in days. Did I mention how grateful I am that you protected me from those ogres? They would’ve made me do unspeakable things, like cleaning! Or cook me into a stew! You’re totally not a cannibal though, right? I think we’re around the same age, that’s neat. You’re pretty cute too, all strong and handsome!”

He cocked his head, crunching the numbers as fast as possible. The number of people he regularly spoke with on cordial terms in his own age-group could be counted on zero hands, so maybe he was missing a social cue. Or maybe things were different in Fódlan? He was 80% sure she was flirting with him though. “I’m not interested in you.” He literally owned her, he would not pursue any kind of relationship with her while he held so much power over her head. That made his skin crawl and also was a prime way to get stabbed (plus his mom would kill him if he did that).

“Whaaat? But I’m so interesting! Come on, we can totally be great friends!”

Oh! Friends! That was fine. “I’m very interested in you. But not, um… I dunno how to say it in your language. I will not have sex with you.”

Her pale face flushed red. “Whu—NO! GROSS! Absolutely not!” She crossed her arms and turned away from him, turning her nose up to the sky. “Ugh, you Almyran pigs are all uncivilized beasts!”

He flinched. It was good that she wasn’t looking at him. That kind of language was often flung at him, but it usually came in the form of people hating his Fódlani heritage. No one ever disparaged his Almyran heritage. It took a moment for him to fix his expression. It was stupid to let his guard down, but he hadn’t expected it from her. Surely the people of Fódlan weren’t like the people of Almyra, right? He’d always thought that it would be different in Fódlan, that they wouldn’t be so judgemental like the people of his birthland.

Surely she was just saying these things because of her bad experience being captured by Almyrans. She was just one person, that wasn’t a big sample size at all.

“So, you’re a noble.”

Her big doe eyes blinked at him. “Wow, how could you tell? Oh, is this that Almyran ‘fortune telling’ magic? You’re so talented!”

“Call it a hunch,” he deadpanned. “Are you finished eating? We’ve got a long walk.” She nodded and stood. With a few quick bites, he finished the kabab that she barely touched. Her bravo and pep withered as he took her leash in hand and led her down the path. 

“Um… Am I gonna have to keep wearing this?” She fingered the collar around her neck. “It chafes and it’s super uncomfortable.”

He winced. “I can swap it out, but you’ll need something to signify that you aren’t a threat. There are a lot of politics involved.” Maybe if she wasn’t bright Goneril Pink she could get away without a collar, but as it was, that color attracted a lot of attention. “You might need to cut your hair as well. That, or keep it wrapped.”

“Cut my hair?!” she snapped, her outburst drawing attention from everyone else on the crowded street. 

Sighing, he rolled his eyes and shouted. “You’re not in trouble, but for appearances I have to yell at you! Now look upset!”

She flinched, dropping her head and looking appropriately cowed.

After they walked away from the crowd, he let out a breath. “Hey, good job. Thanks for playing along. Don’t yell at me in the future. I think those people back there were expecting me to beat you for that. We’re lucky that no one else understands Fódlani.”

“Please don’t cut my hair…” she whispered, sniffling.

“Whoa, uh, it might not be necessary? Please don’t cry, I don’t know if I can keep a straight face if you do.”

“Ugh, this is all about you. What about me? Who cares what all these strangers in the crowd think about you and your slave girl. I hate this place, I wanna go home!” She had the wisdom to at least keep her whining to a whisper this time.

“And I’m trying to get you there. If you want this to go smoothly, you’ll have to play along with me. Okay?”

She side-eyed him before sighing. “Yeah. Okay. I guess it could be worse…”

“It could be far, far worse. Y’know, I don’t really believe in fate or luck, but I think something is looking out for you. There are only a handful of people in the capital who speak fluent Fódlani, and I guarantee that zero of them have ever visited a slave market before today. I just happened to be aimlessly exploring, so the odds that you got bought by one of the handful of people with a real chance of getting you home are astronomically tiny.”

“You’re really gonna help me go home?”

“Yeah. Hey, I never asked your name. That’s rude of me, huh. Are you really a Goneril?”

She puffed up a bit. “I am Hilda Valentine Goneril, daughter of Duke Goneril himself.”

“That explains a few things.” Like her attitude. She didn’t seem like she had any interest in inheriting anything, so she must not have to fight for her life very often. Some of his cousins of lesser nobility acted just as spoiled. “I’m Khalid.”

“Oh my gosh, why can’t you have a normal name? I can’t pronounce that!”

This time he was better prepared for it, but it still stung. “It is a normal name.”

“Nuh-uh, it’s so weird. I’m just gonna call you Claude. Close enough!”

Sighing, he kicked a rock and shrugged. It was better than ‘Demon prince’, at least. “So, why don’t you tell me about Fódlan. I’ve always been curious about what lies across the mountains.”

Hilda was happy to launch into babbling about her homeland. She made plenty of comparisons to Almyra, sure to land as many insulting jabs as possible — both intentionally and unintentionally, as far as he could tell. At one point she asked if Almyrans could write.

“Um, Claude? Are you, like, rich?” She was looking around the increasingly ritzy neighborhoods that they passed through. “Where do you live?”

“See that building over there?”

“The big palace? Duh, of course I see it. Do you live nearby?”

“You could say that.”

 

 


 

 

“What a mess,” his mother grumbled, scrubbing her forehead. “Arash! Figure out which of your dumbass generals slacked on border patrol! Either they let some raiders slip by, or they raided Goneril themselves.”

His father nodded gravely. “I’ll put Nader on the case. This is going to set peace talks back a great deal.”

“What are they saying?” Hilda whispered to him. “And how come you didn’t tell me that you’re a prince!”

“We’re saying that you were never meant to be kidnapped, Hilda,” Mama said in Fódlani. Hilda shrunk under the attention, hiding behind him slightly. “Tell us, who kidnapped you? Bandits or soldiers?”

“I don’t know, all Almyrans look the same,” Hilda whined, really not helping her case. “They were riding wyverns.”

“Did they have armor? Metal armor or leather? Any emblems?”

“Um… I don’t know…?”

His mother sighed again. “Ah yes, useless Fódlan nobility. I haven’t missed them in the slightest.” She shook her hand at them. “Alright you brats, shoo. Khalid, take her to the physician. Ensure she gets her shots and any other healing she needs. You’re in charge of her until we get this sorted out. Take her to the tailor too, she’ll need some proper clothes.”

“Me? Can’t she go with the other palace servants?” 

“What do you think will happen if she tries to fit in with the others, boy? Use your head.”

He winced. The palace staff were a proud group in their own manner. For one, they wouldn’t take kindly to a random slave girl being thrown into their careful ranks. Most of the staff (most) weren’t discriminatory to a deadly extent (those had all been weeded out when he was younger), but no doubt many wouldn’t accept a girl from Fódlan in their bunks (a girl who probably hadn’t worked a day in her life to boot).

“This situation is delicate. We can’t just fly over the border and drop her off without everyone involved getting stuck full of arrows.”

Baba cleared his throat, joining in with his own accented Fódlani. “I suspect the child’s kidnapping was no accident. Someone desires tensions to flair once more. You have done well, my son. We may still be able to salvage this.”

“Thank you, Father.” It wasn’t often that he got praised for his stunts.

“I remember Holst when he was a knee-high brat,” Mama said, stroking her chin. “He’s been making a name for himself recently. There’s a chance I can contact him. In the meantime — Khalid, I will send for a servant to bring an extra bed to your room.”

“What? Why?” Oh no.

Mama smirked. “Where else is the girl supposed to sleep? Can’t sleep in the staff quarters, and she can’t sleep in the hallway.”

“Put her in a guest room!”

Her smirk vanished. “Khalid. If her kidnapping truly was the work of one of the generals, then she’ll be in danger as soon as her presence here at the palace is known.” 

Hilda stiffened. “Huh? But—I haven’t done anything wrong!”

“You think anyone cares, girl? Right now, you’re a pretty little defenseless target. Don’t go anywhere without Khalid. Khalid will be able to spot if someone infiltrates the palace, but you’re clueless. Do not follow anyone who wants you to go somewhere with them, understood?”

Hilda meekly nodded, even paler than usual.

“Why does she have to stay in my room? We have guards for a reason.”

“You bought her. She’s your problem now, so take responsibility.”

“Tch. Fine.” He wasn’t going to be getting any decent sleep until she was gone. “How long will talks with Fódlan take?”

“Anywhere from a few months to a year.”

“What?!” Hilda squawked. “A year?! I wanna go home now though!”

“Suck it up,” the demon queen of Almyra snapped, silencing Hilda. Then her eyes snapped to him. “Khalid, we expect you to make sure her needs are met. You will not abuse your ownership of her, understood? You will not engage in any adult-only activities, do I make myself clear?”

“Mama!”

“I’m serious. I don’t care if you mutually consent — you are forbidden, understood? For as long as Hilda is in your ownership, you will not abuse your status. I expect you two to keep to your own beds.”

“Mama, I wouldn’t!”

“Good. If I hear that you’ve been fooling around with her, there will be no God or Goddess to save you.”

He gulped, nodding. “Yes Mama, I understand Mama.”

“Good. Now off with you, brat.”

His father bid them off with a nod as well. “The crown humbly apologies for the inconvenience placed upon you, Lady Hilda. We hope you come to enjoy your stay in Almyra regardless.”

They both bowed and left the room. As soon as the doors shut, they shared a long look. “So, uh… anything you wanna do first? The blacksmith can probably switch that collar out for you…”

Her stomach growled. Slumping her head, she sniffled. “I want some ice cream…”

“I don’t know what ice cream is, but maybe the cooks can scrounge something up.”

Chapter Text

‘Claude von Riegan’. When Hilda first heard about the mysterious new Riegan heir, she didn’t think much of it. She hated politics, especially after she got stuck in Almyra for an entire year because of stupid politics. She stayed out of politics as much as possible, that was for her father and brother.

Over the months before she was forced to go to the academy, she overheard a few details about the new heir. He was mysterious and suspicious. He had a minor crest of Riegan. He was going to be her house leader at the academy. 

In hindsight, she should have put things together ahead of time, but she didn’t. When Khalid al-Myrai stepped out at orientation as their class leader, clothed in the colors of Leicester, she nearly screamed.

At the first opportunity, she cornered him alone. “Kha—laude!” she corrected herself before spewing out his real name. “Claude! You’re that Claude?!”

The smug dastard raised an eyebrow at her. Damn he aged well. No longer was Khalid the scrappy underdog getting by on tricks and schemes alone. Though still lithe, he had filled out into his once-lanky limbs. “Indeed, ‘tis I, ‘Claude that von Riegan’. What, you didn’t recognize the name?”

She slugged his shoulder, watching the familiar-yet-so-different face from her childhood twist in half-concealed pain. “You never said you had a crest! And I didn’t know that your mom’s a Riegan!”

Winking, he brought a finger up to his lips. “Hey now, don’t go spilling my secrets to the world! I’m a mysterious mystery man, I’ve got a reputation to maintain.”

“Obviously I’ll keep my mouth shut.” Lowering her voice, she murmured in sloppy Almyran, “Did it get worse after I was gone?”

His smile didn’t change at all. “It was the same old, same old.” She winced. “But I sleep with my dagger, so it’s fine.” He winked, as if that was ‘fine’ at all. He had always been good at smiling through awful things and over the years he had only gotten better. Once she would have been able to tell if his smile was strained, but the years of distance made his smile a stranger to her. “Life must be much more relaxing for you now. How’s it feel to get a good night’s rest?”

“I don’t sleep like I used to,” she admitted, shrugging. “It only takes waking up with a dagger to your throat once to ruin the whole concept.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.” Finally his smile changed slightly, losing its sharp edges. “I wish your time with my family had been kinder.”

“It did have some perks.” 

His smile ramped back up, beating out his earlier smirk and making his eyes crease into crescents. “Oh? Did those perks involve lil’ ‘ol me?”

Rolling her eyes, she elbowed him in the ribs. “Little is right, I can’t believe how tall you are now. You’re all grown up! But no, the ‘perks’ were all the silk I got to lounge around in.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t grow your hair back out, you were so upset when you had to cut it.” He leaned over and placed his elbow on her head, right in between her two shoulder-length ponytails. It never felt right to grow it long even after she left Almyra. “Alas, your once ‘two inches of superiority’ are meaningless now. Did you grow at all?”

“Nope, being tall is for people who do work and important stuff. I’m too delicate for that!”

Leaning back, his smile softened into something familiar and rare. “It’s good to see you again, Hilda.”

“Yeah, you too. I’m sorry about your uncle, by the way.”

“I never knew him, so I’m not broken up about it. Thanks though. Morbid as it is, his death gave me the opportunity to come to Fódlan.”

“I’m glad that you’re away from all that danger now. I’ve been worried about you for years. Like, what if something happened to you? I would have never heard about it!”

His smile stiffened into something bland. “You’d be surprised how similar Fódlan is to where I came from. It’s about what I expected though. Thanks to you, I got all my disappointment out at twelve.”

“I said I was sorry! I didn’t know any better.” She mulled over his words — specifically the words he wasn’t saying. “No one’s been sneaking into your room to stab you here in Fódlan, right? That’s a difference!”

“Say, let’s go to the dining hall! We can share a meal like old times.”

She snagged his sleeve. “Claude. Khalid. Are people still—”

He smirked, his eyes icy and hard. “Just once or twice, it’s nothing I can’t handle. Don’t ask questions for answers you don’t want to hear, Hilda.”

“But, even in Fódlan?”

“C’mon, I’m hungry.”

 

 


 

 

They spent the day catching up, though Claude remained vague in most of the details he revealed. Even when they were in private, he was still just as paranoid as ever. To be fair, he had every right to be paranoid.

Though she never, ever wanted to go back to Almyra, part of her missed that year. It had been terrifying, isolating, and filled with paranoia, but Khalid made things better. He was fun and patient with her, even the time that she really should have been smacked, looking back on it. In her defense, it wasn’t like she’d ever been told that Almyrans actually had cities and a society and were, like, actually just people. She’d grown up hearing that they were monsters and beasts and sub-human.

When she’d returned home, it had been hard to look at the Almyran 'servants’ who were ‘employed’ by the household. For years she’d been crushed under the guilt that Khalid would be so disappointed that she did nothing to help them, but what could she do? Other than complaining to her father to improve the Almyran living quarters, she did nothing. Unlike her, none of the servants were politically important. Most probably didn’t even have a home or family to return to.

She didn’t want to know what Claude would say if he knew that her family kept slaves. She didn’t want to know if he already knew and judged her for it.

As they talked, there was one thing that she couldn’t stop noticing: Claude was kind of hot now? Like, he’d been really cute when they were younger, but now he was legitimately handsome. Every step he took was sure and confident, no longer forced to slink through the shadows or tip-toe like he might be beaten just for walking around his own home. Even though she knew he was way too paranoid to actually be relaxed, he exuded carefree airs. When they were kids, his winks were cheeky and annoying. Now those winks were downright flirtatious, and the way his half-lidded eyes smoldered? It was kind of freaking her out! She was like his little brother, but now he was hot!

As she was having this internal crisis, Claude paused. They were on their way to the dorms and passing through one of the rose gardens. Claude’s eyes snapped to something on the ground. He looked up and around. As soon as he determined that the coast was clear of any wandering eyes, he crept over to one of the hedges. He cupped something in his palms.

“Please tell me you didn’t find a worm,” she muttered, joining him.

“No, I found a baby bird. Let me know if you find a worm, this little guy’s probably hungry.” He pouted down at the little fluffy bluebird in his palms. “Poor fella, where’s your nest? Ah, looks like you didn’t fall far.” Standing up, he plopped the bird in a little nest tucked in one of the hedges. “There you go, all tucked in.”

“Oh my Goddess,” she whispered, rubbing her hand down her face. “You literally haven’t changed at all.” His dorky little pout was exactly the same as when he was twelve. How did she possibly find him hot, again? Most people were put off by his ‘shadiness’, which was hilarious because his ‘I’m a mysterious-mystery mystery-man’ schtick wasn’t just to cover up that he was an Almyran prince. He also used it to cover up that he was a massive dork with a melty melty heart.

“Excuse you! I have changed plenty.”

“You got taller and that’s it. You even looked around like you used to, checking that no one would see you being a softy!”

“Hey, shush, someone might overhear you! And I’m not a softy.”

“We’re whispering, you dork.”

“What was I supposed to do, ignore the bird? It’s a baby, Hilda! The bitty baby birdie doesn’t even have object permanence. It cost me literally nothing to pick it up.”

“Well now its parents are gonna ignore it because you got your smell all over it.”

“That’s actually a myth. See, people think that because—”

“I don’t care.”

Twelve-year-old Khalid pouted at her from Claude’s older face. “You used to like bird facts.”

“Because I was bored out of my mind and listening to you blabber was my only entertainment.” In hindsight, Khalid had been an extremely lonely child. She’d been lonely too, but not nearly as bad as him. He used to get so excited to have someone listen to him, in hindsight it was kind of heartbreaking.

Crossing his arms, he smirked and rolled his eyes. “Alright, alright, I won’t bore the lady. Me and my bird facts are heading back to the dorm.”

She narrowed her eyes as he turned around. Ugh, what a piece of work. After four years, she was rusty at interpreting his moods, but she was pretty sure that the way his shoulders clenched meant her words hurt him. Sighing, she caught up to him and elbowed his side. “I was exaggerating, you know. I did enjoy listening to you blather when we were kids. You know me, I just like to complain.”

He raised an eyebrow, but his shoulders relaxed slightly. “That’s very true, you’re unforgettable in that regard.” He would never admit it, but he was actually really sensitive. If she was anyone else he probably wouldn’t care though, so she didn’t mind it. There wasn’t anyone else in her life who took her to heart the same way that he did (even after all these years). Not including the wyverns he ‘befriended’, she was his first (and probably only) friend. 

“I didn’t realize how much I missed you until now,” she said through a sigh, throwing her arm around his back. He stiffened briefly, side-eyeing her before relaxing and returning her half-hug. 

“Yeah. I’ve missed you too,” he quietly admitted. Her chest ached at the soft longing in his voice. She’d missed him over the years, but she moved on with her life. Claude must have missed her a lot.

They proceeded towards the dorms. Claude’s arm remained slung around her shoulder and her arm around his back. “You know, people are totally gonna gossip.”

“They will regardless.”

“Wanna mess with the school?” 

He had to tilt his head down to meet her eyes, but the grin he shared was the same grin that used to be eye level with her. “Hilda, I’m offended you have to ask!”

“How about we spend some more time catching up together in your room.” She winked. 

“Oh yeah, that’ll give people something to talk about.” His grin faded slightly. “It’ll be a hit to your reputation.” The arm around her shoulders started to pull back.

“Psh, you’ve been around long enough to hear about my reputation. I’m a lazy layabout, what’s there to harm my reputation?” She squeezed his back, refusing to let go. Then something clicked in her head. “Hey, you know, I saw you staring at Dimitri a during orientation. Are you…?” Come to think of it, he’d never expressed any interest in women… 

“What? He’s even more freakishly strong than you are. I was just appreciating that.”

“Oh my gooooosh you’re blushing! You totally have a crush on Dimitri!”

“Shut up,” he hissed, frantically looking around the pathway as if someone would pop up out from under the cobblestones. “I do not have a crush. You’re the one with a crush.”

“I had a crush for like two minutes top, that crush is so dead now.” 

“What? Who managed to catch your eye for only two minutes?” He hadn’t changed at all! He still blinked at her with those big curious doe-eyes! He was way too cute, dating him would be like dating a literal puppy (or like dating an adorable little brother, ew). 

“Hey, wanna fool the entire school into thinking we’re dating? By the way Claude, I love you, but there is no way I am ever going to date you. Just to clarify that.”

“Rude.”

“You’re a baby, I physically cannot date you.”

“You’re six months older than me Hilda, that's it. You’re the short one now.”

“I am also a baby and also very adorable, just like you. Don’t worry though, I’ll totally help set you up with Dimitri while we distract the rest of the school and make them think we’re dating. Then you and Dimitri can go out on dates and no one will ever suspect a thing!”

“I don’t have a crush on Dimitri!”

She looked behind them. “By the Goddess, look over there at the sauna, it’s Dimitri. He must not have heard that the shirts are being laundered right now, because he’s shirtless. Wow, those abs.” Claude’s head whipped around. Seeing nothing, he glared at her instead. She winked. “C’mon Claude, just give in and let your old pal Hilda work her magic.”

He sighed. “It’s a tiny crush.”

“Keep telling yourself that.”

 

 


 

 

Claude led her to his room. Out of a nearly forgotten habit, she opened his door for him. During the year that he owned her, there were certain expectations that she had to cater to when in public. Privately, he catered to her far more than she did any work for him. Publicly, it was the prince’s slave’s duty to do little things like opening doors. All things considered, her year in Almyra went as well as it could have for any slave. Khalid had been her friend, not her master. It kept her up some nights imagining what would have happened if Khalid hadn’t been at that slave market at just the perfect time.

Claude entered the room and beckoned her in. As soon as the door slid shut behind them, she burst into peals of giggles. “Claude, Goddess, it’s been less than a day! How is your room already so messy?!” Keeping their room organized had been one of her only chores, mostly because Khalid never bothered. Apparently he’d gotten even messier!

“Hey. It’s not messy, it’s organized chaos.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Wow, look at your bed! How come you get a massive bed?”

The hours melted away as they chatted and joked and reminisced. Now that they were behind closed doors and encased in stone walls that didn’t allow sound to seep into other rooms, Claude’s smirk gave way to Khalid’s excited grin. He was still cagey about details and specifics, but she knew him too well to take offense. A wave of nostalgia rushed over her as he babbled about various things he’d read or misadventures he’d embarked on or pranks he pulled off. 

It made her want to cry a bit to see how deeply lonely Claude still was after all this time. 

She left briefly to change into her nightclothes. She didn’t plan to return. Staring at her window wondering how easy someone could climb into her room, she knew she wasn’t going to get any sleep tonight. Not like this. Claude said he still had people after him even here in Fódlan.

She returned to his room. He welcomed her inside just as heartily as before, wearing a grin that met his eyes. His surprise and joy were both genuine. How long had it been since someone had been so viscerally happy to see her? She had ‘friends’ in Fódlan, but no one she felt close to like Claude. They chatted some more about everything and nothing. Night fell.

“It’s dark out,” she pointed out abruptly.

“Sure is.”

“Kinda dangerous for a lady to walk out at night, you know.”

“Is the lady asking for a princ—a dukely escort?”

“No, I’m too tired to walk anywhere.” She flopped back onto his bed and loudly yawned. “Guess I gotta stay here.” 

Claude looked away. He was quieter when he spoke this time, hesitant like when he was younger. “…Aren’t we too old for this, Hilda?”

“I brought my dagger.”

His eyes fell to his lap. “You’re not just doing this for me, are you? Aha, I’m flattered, but you don’t have to worry about me. You’re putting yourself in danger by doing this. No one is targeting you, not anymore.”

“So what you’re saying is that I should’ve brought two daggers.” 

“Why?” His piercing green searched her for answers.

She shrugged. “I don’t sleep very well in new places. And I’ve missed you. We don’t have to if you don’t want to. I…” She trailed off, unsure how to say ‘I’ve been drowning in guilt for abandoning you.’

“It’s not likely that anyone will break into my dorm while I’m sleeping, you know.”

“If you weren’t worried about the possibility, you would have phrased that differently. You trapped your window, I know you did.” 

“Maybe. Regardless, there’s no reason for you to stick your neck out for me.”

“Okay, that’s it. Unless you tell me to leave, I’m not leaving.” Claude missed her a lot, and that was obvious. He wasn’t going to tell her to leave. She snuggled under the sheets, sighing into the pillow. “Ugh, so cold! Come help me warm up the blankets!”

She faced the wall. His hesitant steps were feather-light as he skittered closer like a spooked deer. She continued to face the wall. The Khalid who lived in her memories wouldn’t want to be seen like this, vulnerable and raw and achingly lonely.  

He wordlessly settled into bed, maintaining a polite distance between them. He shuffled in place, which reminded her that he preferred to be on the inside of the bed with his back to the wall. “Wanna switch spots?”

“It’s fine.”

“It’s ‘fine’, but you totally wanna. C’mon, you can admit it to your dear old pal Hilda.”

“I am perfectly happy where I am.”

“Mmmm…”

He sighed. “But I guess if you want to lay on the outside, we can switch.”

“I’m indifferent, actually.” She finally turned to look at him, basking in his petulant pout. “Well?”

“I see you’re still a brat just like ever.”

“Hah! Like you aren’t one too!”

“Excuse you, I am a rascal. An unholy terror, in fact!”

“Oh noooo, not Khalid the scamp!”

Flinching, he looked away. “You shouldn’t call me that, not even when we’re alone. Someone could overhear or you might say it on accident in public.”

“Hey. How long has it been since you’ve been called by your name?”

“Claude is my name too.”

“Khalid…”

“I’m serious. Stop calling me that, no one can know.”

“I used to be the only one who called you Claude. Now I must be the first person to call you by name in a year.”

“I don’t mind. Claude is a nice name. Very dashing. Just a good, solid, all-purpose moniker. And hey, I’ve got good memories associated with it.”

“Ugh, stop that and scooch. We’re switching spots.” She proceeded to climb on top of him and then over. 

“Ack, hey!” 

Somehow her simple attempt to climb over top of him resulted in them wrestling. It was just like how Khalid used to goad her into play-wrestling when they were kids (which she always demanded compensation for), except Claude was stronger now and had some new tricks up his sleeves. She had been slacking for four years straight. Her only edge was her crest-granted strength, which still put her as a lot stronger than poor Claude. He was slippery though, refusing to be pinned down. They were a lot more evenly matched now. 

The play fight came to an end when they both tumbled off the bed into a heap of limbs. Claude burst into peals of laughter, and it occurred to her that her cheeks hurt from smiling so hard. She joined him in laughter, laughing over nothing and laughing over everything until tears formed in both of their eyes. She tried to tickle him, but he wasn’t as ticklish as he used to be. He tickled her back, which wasn’t fair! 

“I missed you so much,” she panted into his neck when they finished, calling the battle a draw. 

“I missed you too.”

“I know.” I’m sorry.

They settled back into bed, not even pretending this time. Claude settled near the wall and she laid with her back to the door. Claude would alert her if anyone was sneaking up on them. For all that she claimed to be dainty, she didn’t even need to go for a dagger in order to break someone’s wrist. No one ever expected her to be so strong.

The two of them tangled together in a sleepy hug. It was a bit different now that Claude was so much taller than her, but they made it work. 

“Goodnight, Khalid,” she whispered into his hair.

“Goodnight, Hilda,” he murmured back, clutching her just a bit tighter.

 

 


 

 

A dark figure silently entered their room. The figure drifted towards Claude. She watched, terrified, as the figure approached the bed. She didn’t know Claude very well, but he saved her. He was her friend. A gleam of steel reflected moonlight.

“Stop!” she shouted, bolting out of bed. “Don’t! Stop!” The assassin didn’t listen. Claude didn’t wake. Her feet were frozen to the tile. 

The dagger slit Khalid’s throat.

She screamed. This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. Khalid was supposed to already be awake, dagger in hand, and stab the assassin first. Not this time. This time, Khalid didn’t wake. He would never wake.

 

A dark figure silently entered their room. The figure drifted towards her. She watched, terrified, as the figure approached her bed. She didn’t want to die. She shook, watching the steel reflect her own terrified eyes. Khalid would save her. She was too afraid to save herself.

The dagger plunged down. Where was Khalid? He was supposed to be there for her, stopping the assassin and risking his own life for her. Why would he do that? She was just a nobody now, just a stupid slave girl. Why would he risk his life for hers?

Khalid wasn’t here this time. There was nothing to stop the dagger. She tried to move and stop it herself but her limbs wouldn’t move. The dagger struck her chest, slicing her heart, killing her instantly. 

 

Dark figures silently entered their room. She clung to Khalid and Khalid squeezed her back. They were both terrified, but he didn’t show it. The figures approached, waiting at the edge of the bed, their toothy grins glimmering with moonlight. Khalid groped under the pillow for his dagger, but it was gone. The daggers plunged down. She grabbed a wrist to stop the dagger, but her arm was too weak. 

This wasn’t right. Khalid was supposed to have his dagger. She was supposed to be able to stop the dagger. Instead, cold steel plunged into them both. 

 

She stood in the corner, watching Khalid toss and turn in his bed. Her feet were rooted in place. Dark figures poured into the room, outnumbered Khalid. Khalid cried out for her, cried out for help. There was no help. Khalid was all alone. She watched as they stabbed him, again and again and again, brutalizing his corpse. She watched, unable to help, unable to speak, unable to do anything. She left him to die. She left him.

 

Hilda woke with a gasp. Panting, a familiar scent greeted her, a familiar warmth curled around her. She flipped around, staring into the darkness of the room, searching out real movement in the phantoms of void. 

Behind her Claude wheezed, twitching violently in his sleep.

Even though she was terrified, she got out of bed. If there were any assassins in the room, she would punch them before they could stab her. She did it once before. It was difficult to light a candle with how much she shook, but it was a well practiced routine. The only difference was the room. It was something she’d done back in Almyra and it was a habit she kept upon her return. Candle in hand, she walked the perimeter of the room. 

They were alone.

Returning to the bed, she set the candle on the bedside table and began stroking Claude’s hair. Hopefully he still remembered this routine. Waking him up any other way was liable to get her stabbed, so she always stroked his hair to wake him up.

His eyes peeled open, hazy and unfocused as he panted for breath. 

“All clear, Claude.”

“Y’sure?” he slurred, eyes drifting to the candle.

“I’m sure.” She didn’t bother asking him about his nightmare. He always used to dream of hiding from shadows, running from daggers, cowering from abuse, clawing for survival. She doubted it was any different from before.

He groaned, then croaked a laugh. “You were right. I really haven’t changed.” She crawled back into bed with him, hugging him tightly. He hugged her back, just as desperate. “Please don’t go.”

“I won’t.” She squeezed tight, so tight that he was likely going to have bruises to show for it in the morning. “I’m sorry I left. I’m so, so sorry.”

“Hm? Nothing to apologize about.” He rested his chin on her head. “I always knew you would leave.”

“I should’ve stayed.” She left him to fend off assassins all on his own. 

“What? Hah, Hilda, why would you stay? Almyra was nothing but hostile to you. It wasn’t safe for you.”

“It wasn’t safe for you either.”

“Nowhere is safe for me.”

“You’re safe with me. So go back to sleep.”

He choked out a ‘laugh’. “Whatever happened to the spoiled noble girl who refused to pick up a mop?”

 

A dark figure hovered over Claude’s bed, steel glimmering in the moonlight. She was so, so scared. Claude wasn’t moving. Claude was going to die. 

“Stop!” she shouted, lunging from her cot. “Don’t! Stop!” The knife raced down, down, down. “STOP!”

There was a flash of green light. The assassin slowed, the dagger cutting through the air like molasses. Her body was heavy and her steps slow, but she was much faster than the assassin. She barreled into the figure, reaching around and snapping the wrist holding the knife. The knife fell blade first towards Claude’s slumbering form, its sharpened point aimed right at his neck.

Claude’s hand snapped out and caught the hilt, his green eyes having been open the entire time.

Time resumed as normal and the man in her arms choked, struggling to free himself as she squeezed around his body with all her might. His ribs creaked, then cracked, then crunched with a wet, meaty sensation. She let go of the assassin and watched the man tumble to the floor.

“You call those ‘noodle arms’? Really?” She looked away from the man she killed and stared into Claude’s eyes instead. He wasn’t scared like her. He just seemed sad. “First time?”

‘First time’ what? Killing? Watching someone try to kill her friend? Activating her crest? Meeting an assassin? She nodded. Whatever he meant, the answer was yes. 

“You didn’t have to do that, but thanks.”

“He was going to kill you.”

“I would have killed him first. You sure beat me to it, though.” Claude paused, eyeing the corpse. “My parents would tell you to suck it up and get used to it. That’s what they told me the first time.”

“When was your first time?”

“First time I was attacked, or first time I killed someone in self defense?” He shrugged. “Probably a baby the first time I was attacked. First kill was when I was seven. I’ve gotten used to it by now. Hey, take deep breaths. Try to match my breathing, okay? In… and out…”

Claude seemed so unaffected. Claude seemed like he didn’t mind.

Claude's hands were shaking. 

“My parents would tell you to sleep it off, but… Well, maybe this is presumptuous of me, but I assume you don’t want to be alone right now. Right?”

She nodded. His hands were shaking violently, his knuckles white as he gripped the dagger.

“Yeah, me neither. After my first time, I mean. I’m used to being alone now. Why don’t you sit beside me.” 

Her knees buckled and she dropped onto his bed. His hands were shaking but her entire body was vibrating apart. She couldn’t even cry. She just shook. “You’re used to this.”

“Yeah. It comes with being a hated half-blood prince. Sorry that you’re wrapped up in this too. Do you, uh… want a hug? Or do you want space?”

“People try to kill you.”

“Yeah, that’s obvious.”

Very, very carefully, she wrapped her arms around him. Even though she just crushed a full grown adult with her arms, Claude wasn’t afraid of her. He just hugged her back, gently rubbing circles on her back with one hand while his other hand continued to hold the dagger. His eyes were focused past her on the darkness, watchful and waiting. 

Claude was her only friend in Almyra. She had been kidnapped almost a month ago and Claude was the one good thing about the entire experience. He put up with her gripes, he listened to her, he even played with her. Even when she threw a fit he never got angry at her, always waiting with a patient explanation. She listened to him too, because he’d never had a friend before and it showed. He was so painfully obvious about how lonely he was, right from the get-go when he introduced her to his ‘friends’ in the wyvern aerie. He’d talked at the wyverns for ages as if they could understand and respond to him, something she teased him for at first. It took a while for her to notice when her words hurt him, but as soon as she noticed, it became obvious. He never lashed out at her or got angry or even mentioned that she hurt him, but his entire body would droop and his excitement would dull. 

It hadn’t taken long for her to realize how much power she held over the lonely and hated prince of Almyra. He was more open with her than with others, achingly hopeful with every eager gesture of attempted friendship. It took her less than a week to see through his weak attempts of hiding his intentions. He acted tough with everyone else, but whenever she said one wrong word, he acted like a kicked puppy. 

She wasn’t even very nice to Claude. Admittedly, she’d been taking some of her frustration out on him, but he always soaked it up without batting an eye. She was starting to realize that her being ‘not very nice’ to Claude was paradise compared to everyone else in his life. Claude was kind and patient and sweet and maybe a bit annoying with his never ending babbling, but he didn’t deserve to be hated. He didn’t deserve to be attacked. He didn’t deserve to die.

“Why?” she asked, a new feeling overtaking the terror.

“Why what? The hug thing? I dunno. After most attacks I can’t stand people touching me, though when I was little I wanted my parents. I grew out of that of course. Well, this is actually kind of nice. Don’t worry Hilda, if anyone else comes in, I’ll keep you safe. They’re after me, so nothing for you to worry about.”

His hands still shook and he clutched her tightly.

“Why do people want to kill you? You haven’t done anything wrong.”

He just smiled at her. “They think I’m different. People tend to fear things they don’t understand, you know?” He smiled at her even as his hands shook and his eyes sifted through the darkness. He smiled even though he was just as terrified as her. 

‘Then I’ll give them something real to fear,’ she vowed to herself, swearing that no one would hurt her friend ever again.

 

“Oh Claude, that spoiled noble girl is a spoiled noble lady now, I’ll have you know.”

“Hilda, you know I never blamed you for going back home, right?”

She closed her eyes and tried to re-memorize his scent. “I know. You’re too soft for that.”

“Not soft. You’re the soft one. Look, if you didn’t go home, things would have been bad with the Gonerils. Not only did you want to go home, but you had to go home.”

“I wish you could’ve come with me.”

“I was fine on my own. I can take care of myself.”

“I’m tired. Let’s go back to sleep.”

“Mmm… ‘kay. I’ll take first shift.”

“Wake me in an hour?”

“Yeah.” 

His hands traced circles into her back as she drifted off to sleep. ‘What happened to that spoiled noble girl?” Claude had asked her. That spoiled little girl died when she crushed an assassin to save her best friend’s life, and she would kill that spoiled noble lady for the very same cause.

Chapter Text

“I can get it myself,” he grumbled, sulking in bed. 

“It’s okay, I’ll grab it! Marianne said you shouldn’t be walking.” It took Ignatz about half a minute to de-tangle himself from all the feathers, not helped by the stupid wings trying to keep him close.

His feathers displayed his annoyance by ruffling. He knew what Marianne said and he didn’t care. Someone was going to have to do surgery on his legs regardless. If he exercised his legs too much, his muscle would grow into the scar tissue and would need to be cut away too. The tissue had to come out anyways, so he didn’t see the harm in walking (well, limping).

“Your wings are still healing up, so don’t go dragging them all over the floor,” Hilda added, lounging on the bed with him and his stupid wings. She was right that they dragged everywhere now. They were too big for him to rest against his back.

“I’m not going to have a choice soon,” he snapped as Ignatz handed him the glass of water that had been left on the dresser. “It’s been a week, Teach will be coming back any time now. I’m going to be on my own soon.” Wasn’t like he could return anywhere with his massive wings on display.

The other two were silent until his wing snapped out and curled around Ignatz, causing the smaller boy to yelp. He didn’t apologize because it wasn’t his fault that the stupid wings were so needy. That could be blamed on the Golden Deer. They pampered his wings to the point where the damned feathers were constantly seeking people out. They’d lost some of their sensitivity, but not much. He could tolerate some idle feather-pets, but the daily preening sessions were an exercise in humiliation. It took ages for his feathers to get preened, and by the end of every session he was a noisy mess. 

“We’ll figure something out,” Hilda promised. “I’m sure the professor will bring a solution.”

“I’m not counting on it,” he lied. He could barely function, how was he supposed to take care of himself all alone? How could he defend himself? Even walking down to the garden and back sounded nearly undoable.

“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” Hilda murmured, stroking his shivering feathers.

“I’m fine! Stop listening to the feathers, they lie.” He shoved himself away from them both, limping towards the wall. Leaning against something to remain upright, he grabbed fistfuls of feathers and yanked, which was the only method he had to get the damned wings to obey him. The wings uncurled from around Hilda and Ignatz, shaking and twitching with him as the pain scrambled his nerves. “I’m going for a walk.”

“But—”

“I’m going for a walk.”

“Ugh, idiot. Whatever. I’ll hold your wings for you.” Hilda hefted part of his wing, arranging it to fold against his back and holding it in place. 

“I’m going for a walk alone, let go of me.”

“Oh my gosh, I know you’re grumpy, but chill out. You’re gonna hurt your wings by dragging them everywhere.” His other wing groped at her ankles, struggling to lift itself enough to curl around her. “Awww, hey there. See Claude, you don’t really mind.”

“Stop using the wings as a mood reader, they don’t reflect me. I don’t want anyone touching me, got it? Now let go.”

“Claude, look, I just don’t want you to hurt yourself, okay?”

“I can take care of myself!” He yanked at his wings, yanking too hard and doubling over with a hiss. 

“Claude—”

“Let go of me!” He had enough. He was never going to recover with all this coddling! Shoving her, she stumbled back. Huffing, she grabbed his other wrist (which had been reaching for a fist-full of feathers). His wings were useless as they flopped on the floor, spilling out like a carpet. Hilda held onto him with an iron grip. Sick of everything, sick of being told what to do, sick of being helpless, he punched her. As expected, she barely even flinched as his fist struck her side, grunting and frowning. At most he gave her a small bruise. 

His overactive crest tingled.

His legs collapsed as his wings thrashed, straining to stretch out properly. Hilda had the good sense to jump back as soon as the faint light of his crest appeared. Good. He didn’t want to seriously injure her, he’d just been angry and stupid. He writhed as the energy coiled through his wings, ‘healing’ him further by extending their reach once more. Idiot, idiot, idiot! At least it was only a light punch. If he did any real damage, his wings would be swelling out of control. 

“You okay?” Ignatz asked as soon as it was over.

“No,” he whimpered into the carpet. He kept stupidly triggering these mini-crest attacks. So far they hadn’t grown his wings much (he barely did any damage), but it was adding up. Gods was it adding up. Getting through doorways was literally pain now, struggling to stuff his wings past the openings. “Is Lysithea almost ready with that spell of hers? If this keeps up I won’t be able to fit through doorframes.”

“Crest magic is complicated and finicky, so she says. She’s working as fast as she can.” Hilda approached again, patting his head as she stepped on a few feathers (his wings were taking up a significant portion of the floor, so she didn’t have much of a choice). One of his sore wings struggled to wrap around Hilda, eagerly searching for comfort like an abused puppy.

“I think she’s nervous about the spell backfiring,” Ignatz added. 

“She better have that spell ready before you all go back to Garreg Mach. If not, then—”

“Not cutting off your wings, Claude.”

“In that case I’ll have to do it myself.”

Hilda sighed, plopping down beside him. Now on the ground, his wings were able to glomp onto her, bowling her over. “Oof! We’ll figure something out, Claude. Lysithea was saying earlier that she might have it ready tonight.”

“Gonna cast it on me in my sleep?”

“Probably. Sorry.”

“I get it.” He closed his eyes, wishing the carpet would swallow him whole. Since he couldn’t control his wings, it made sense that she’d do it while they were also incapacitated.

“Still wanna go for a walk? I can carry you.”

“No. I just wanna go to sleep.”

“Here, I’ll put you back on the bed.” She gently lifted him, his wings spilling everywhere. 

“…Not the bed.”

She sighed. “The corner?”

“Yeah.” 

Hilda settled him into the corner in his nest of blankets, then proceeded to help him haul his wings into a semi-comfortable position, curled around himself as a blanket protecting him from the outside world.

 

 


 

 

It was just him now. Just him and the dark, lonely house. Everyone else had to go back to Garreg Mach — to their normal lives. Not him though. 

Footsteps creaked throughout the old estate. He huddled deeper into his nest in the corner of the room, hiding himself behind his wings. The footsteps came closer. 

They found him.  

The door opened. Dark shapes ghosted into his room. He didn’t even have a knife to defend himself with. A line of evil men ringed around him as he shook. 

“So this is where our lovely cash-cow ran away to,” one of the slavers hissed, drawing closer. “We lost a lot of lives and money when you fled. We’ll make sure you bleed us that money back.”

He screamed, thrashing helplessly as they dragged him from his corner. His heavy wings dragged uselessly behind him. One of the men held up a familiar mask. 

The slavers were the only ones around to hear his scream. 

Plunged back into blindness and deafness, they took his body away. Away, away, away, so far away that he would never be found again. They threw him into a massive birdcage, laughing all the while. He blindly groped at the metal flooring. 

He waited for the plucking, waiting and waiting. They groped his feathers but the plucking didn’t come. Something was shoved into his palm. A dagger. He thrust at his captor, clinging to his only salvation. 

The dagger slid into flesh and someone screamed. He watched as the light faded from Raphael’s eyes. Light expanded and exploded from his back, taking every last drop of Raphael’s lifeforce. His wings flailed and grew. Lysithea’s spell didn’t work. His wings grew to the edge of the cage and beyond, bursting with feathers and feathers and more feathers. His crest thrummed, hungry as it fed his wings. One wing pressed his captor into the cage wall and crushed the man, feeding his crest with more life. Lysithea’s spell backfired. The growth wasn’t stopping. His wings expanded past the cage, flailing into the chaos of the cave. His other captive classmates screamed as his wings sought them out, eager for touch and affection. The growing mass of feathers and flesh and bone bowled into the remaining Golden Deer, crushing them all. 

He choked on feathers as his wings filled the cavern, unable to stop growing as his crest grew brighter and brighter. The expanding mass suffocated his other captors too, swelling to devour all the remaining space in the cave. His crest urged them on, pushing them into the rocky cavern walls, forcing sprigs of feathers to merge flesh and rock. 

His sensitive wings swelled to the size of the cave, suffocating him with feathers, yet he couldn’t seem to die. Shoving into every last crevice, a new sensation blared through his mind as he felt the rock walls become feathers and flesh.

From within his cage he writhed, feeling as more and more of the rocky mountain became him. Eventually his wings would reach the surface. When that happened, they would kill more people and absorb more energy and his haywire crest would— 

 

“Hhhh!”

He woke with a start, groping at his wings. They were still massive, but they were manageable. No cave, no kidnappers, no wretched slave-mask. He was okay.

“You okay?” Cyril opened his door, peering inside. “Heard ya shout.”

“I’m okay,” he repeated, drinking in the sight of dawn peeking past his window. 

Cyril crossed the room to his corner, cocking his head. “Ya wanna eat breakfast here, or d’you want me to fetch Hilda or Raphael to carry ya? The others just started eating downstairs.”

“I’ll—” His wings interrupted him by tripping Cyril, heaving themselves on top of the poor fallen boy. “Never mind.” He sighed as his feathers greeted Cyril’s feathers. The sensation of other feathers was the favorite sensation of his wings. “Did Lysithea cast that spell on me last night?”

“Nah, she’s still running a few more calculations.” Cyril halfheartedly struggled away from him before giving up, flopping bonelessly on the floor with him. “I’ve got stuff to do, let me up.”

“Don’t tell that to me, tell that to the wings.”

“I am tellin’ that to your wings. They’re ridiculous.” 

He just grunted, doing his best to ignore the way his wings were fluffed up and relaxed, rustling themselves against Cyril’s back and wings. They’d grown to like all of his classmates, but they liked Cyril (and Cyril’s wings) most of all. “You’re not any better.” Cyril’s feathers were fluffed up in reply, twitching and flicking themselves in gentle return-rustles. 

“Your wings are like a baby’s. I’d feel like I was kicking a puppy if I kept my wings stiff, yours are sensitive.”

He grimaced. Cyril wasn’t referring to their physical sensitivity but rather their emotional sensitivity. The kid wasn’t wrong — if Cyril’s wings didn’t reply positively to his wings, they would almost certainly sulk. As it was now, they were downright elated to rub themselves all over Cyril. And Cyril’s wings.

While Cyril went through the five stages of grief at being stuck under his wings again, Claude’s eyes returned to the window in order to watch the dawn. 

A pegasus was riding towards the house.

“Teach!” he cried, failing to jump to his feet. His excitement was killed by sudden dread. “Teach.” Now that Teach was back, the others were going to have to go back to the academy. He was going to be left alone. He could hardly walk, how was he supposed to defend himself?

Cyril’s wings brushed back and forth, but the feathers on his wings remained tight and tense. Not even Cyril’s petting could get the feathers to relax.

 

 


 

 

“Oh my.” 

Teach did not return alone.

“This is… unlike anything I have witnessed. Are you well, Claude?”

“Do I look well?” he snapped at Flayn, his feathers twitching with agitation as she examined them. The only reason his wings weren’t lashing out at her was by virtue of several sets of Golden Deer hands petting him. He wanted Flayn out of his corner. He wanted everyone out of his corner (but his wings wanted the Golden Deer in his corner). 

“You do not look well, no. I was informed that the… excessive growth of these wings was caused by your crest, is that correct?”

“I just told you that,” Lysithea snapped. “I devised a spell that should sever the connection between his wings and his crest, but I need a second pair of eyes to examine my work first. While I am confident that it will work, messing with a crest is… is not something that should be done unless absolutely necessary.”

“Sever the connection? That is an extreme measure to take!”

“Yeah. Sever the wings instead,” he grunted, glared at Flayn.

“What? No! That is even worse!”

“You said you know how to fix this,” Teach stated to Flayn, causing the room to go dead silent.

Slowly she nodded. “I believe I do, yes. Though it is not common knowledge, Almyran wings and Fódlani crests actually share an ancestor. They originate from the same source.”

“Whaaat?” Hilda interrupted. “Isn’t that like, kinda the opposite of what the church says?” If Lorenz was in the room, the noble would probably lecture them all about how Fódlani were more ‘pure’ and ‘human’ than other beast-like outsiders. But if crests came from the same ‘beastly’ source… 

Flayn cleared her throat. “I cannot say I have ever known any Almyrans with crests, especially not with such an, erm, unfortunately compatible crest. However, I believe I know just the spell to help Claude!”

Unfortunately, Flayn couldn’t cast the spell on him. He had to perform it himself. Luckily it was rather basic, but unluckily he was awful at faith magic. 

It took him an entire day of frustration before he pulled it off under Flayn’s patient hand. She explained it simply: all he had to do was reroute his crest’s attempt to heal what it apparently expected to be massive wings into something different. Flayn guided him down the correct magical pathways to… to do whatever the spell did. He asked her, but she was cagey on the details. She spoke as if she personally used a variation of the spell, and that left him dying to know what traits of herself she kept hidden on a daily basis.

Focusing with his eyes shut in concentration, he mentally followed the pathway that Flayn highlighted for him. With a pop, the weight holding him down vanished and he fell forward on his face. 

Opening his eyes, he was greeted with a stark lack of green, brown, and gold for the first time since he had been freed. “They’re gone,” he gasped, reaching around his back. “They’re gone!” He stumbled to his feet, laughing even though his balance was entirely shot. So long as he could keep the wings hidden away, his crest shouldn’t cause them to grow either. A solution! “They’re—ah!”

With a pop, weight crashed into him and sent him tumbling to the floor.

“Well done! Let us continue practicing, this will be far easier now that you have done it once. Until you are more adept at this spell, heightened emotions will release them from their static hold.”

Even after he got a grasp on ‘tucking his wings away’, he was met with a familiar wall. Flayn was able to heal his legs using an unorthodox technique, so he didn’t even need surgery for them. He was able to walk and was free from the claustrophobic presence of his wings. 

And yet he still couldn’t rely on himself.

They stayed in the estate for one more day as he got used to keeping his wings tucked away. In that time he: failed to be useful in the slightest; failed to leave the house without breaking into a cold sweat (and releasing his wings); had three entire panic attacks that saw him hiding in his nest-corner; dropped a plate while trying to help Leonie do dishes because his hands were shaking too hard; hid under two tables, three chairs, and behind one shelf due to loud noises startling him; nearly fell a dozen times despite his legs being fully healed; actually fell a handful of times despite his legs being fully healed; nearly broke his fist by punching a wall in frustration; ripped out five handfuls of feathers from the wings that refused to stay away. Whenever any of the Golden Deer got too close to him, his wings popped out to hug whoever was close, usually causing chaos by whacking all sorts of furniture due to their bulk. Whenever he even saw Cyril, his wings eagerly exposed themselves, heedless of whatever was around him. 

His legs were fixed and his wings could be hidden, but he was still a wreck. There was no good reason for him to still shake whenever someone so much as said the word ‘pluck’. He still lost snippets of time even if it wasn’t as bad as before. Then Flayn dropped another brick on his faltering back.

“You will need to begin an exercise routine for your wings.”

“Why does that matter? I’m not using them. They’re hidden.”

“They may be hidden, but they are still a piece of you. Neglecting your wings is neglecting yourself.”

“Yeah, she’s right! At least, it sounds like she is,” Raphael butted in. “You haven’t been preened yet today, bud. We’re ready for ya in the living room!” At the word ‘preen’, his wings burst from his back and flopped like dead fish (massive dead fish) onto the floor. He glared at them as they twitched in blissful, excited ignorance, ready to be preened and petted.

“You cannot even lift them. This needs to change.”

“How am I supposed to exercise them? As you said, I can’t lift them.”

Flayn hummed. “Well… When I was little, I was trained with this one technique…”

 

 


 

 

“You’re gonna be fine!” Cyril shouted at him over the rush of wind. “Relax! Flayn’s right, this is how we train kids.”

“Yeah, well I’m not a kid!”

“Your wings are kind of baby though!”

“They’re a lot heavier than a baby’s wings!”

“All you’re doing is gliding! That’s literally it! The wind will keep your wings open, all you have to worry about is steering!”

His wings were draped over the back of the pegasus lifting them both higher and higher into the sky. The rest of him clung to Cyril for dear life, something he had been doing since they left the safety of the house. “I can’t!” This was an extremely Almyran method of ‘sink or swim’ learning. It would have been nostalgic if he wasn’t terrified and if his brain wasn’t broken

Cyril patted him. “Either jump, or I’ll meet you on the ground with the pegasus.” With that, Cyril pried his fingers away and leapt from the pegasus’ back. Brown wings snapped out and Cyril glided. The boy’s wings weren’t mature enough for full flight agility yet or to propel himself from the ground, but they were big enough for him to glide and fly a bit so long as he had a boost.

Clinging onto the pegasus now, he screwed his eyes shut. The pegasus would bring him back down to the ground eventually — but in truth, it wasn’t being in the sky that bugged him. It was being in the open. Especially being in the open alone.

He was so sick of failing to do everything. All he had to do was fall.

Before he could think about it further, he rolled off the pegasus’ back and entered free fall. His wings caught the air, spreading wide.

He was flying.

He could fly.

For a short period of time, all his worries and fears fell away. He stopped worrying about hiding his wings at Garreg Mach, stopped worrying about being attacked or kidnapped, stopped thinking. His mind fell pleasantly blank. For the first time, he and his wings flew in sync. 

Looking down at the earth below, he caught sight of his classmates (his friends) cheering and waving at him. When he landed, they would begin their trek back to Garreg Mach. Providing he was up to it (maybe he was up to it), the plan was for him to spend most of the time in the air while they were in less populated areas instead of walking with everyone else. It would be one of his only chances to get airtime in the foreseeable future, after all.

His wings were too weak to steer well, so when he caught an updraft that turned him in another direction, he was helpless. His wings did actually obey him, straining against the wind, but it was futile. He didn’t even have the wing strength to close his wings. With how large his wings were, he might very well soar for hours without being able to reach the ground. Depending on how many updrafts he hit, he might spend days stuck in the air.

His vision was turning dark around the edges as he gulped in breath after breath, unable to bring in enough oxygen. He wasn’t high enough for the air to be so thin but he couldn’t stop hyperventilating. At least his wings would keep him in the air even if he passed out! By the time he made it to the ground, he might end up anywhere — Almyra, Fódlan, possibly over the ocean. 

“Guess you can’t turn after all, huh!” Cyril shouted at him, rising with the air draft. Flapping his wings, Cyril caught up with him and grabbed him. He grabbed the boy back, clinging with barely-suppressed terror. “Careful! I’m going to touch your back, Okay? Trust me! You have to let go though!”

Though it killed him to do so, he let go of Cyril. Cyril drifted above him, ‘landing’ chest to his back. Cyril leaned forward and pressed his full weight on Claude’s wings, forcing them to tilt downwards. Rolling to the side, Cyril was able to steer him back towards the tiny dots of the distant Golden Deer.

“See? I gotcha, nothing to fear,” Cyril said into his ear. He could have sobbed in relief (actually, he did heave a dry sob). 

Their landing was not very gentle, but it was a landing. The Golden Deer cheered for him. Cyril had to help him stand on gelatinous, shaking legs.

He did it.

He did something. He did literally anything!  

“C-c-c-can I g-go ba-ack i-inside?” he stuttered, not sure how much more outside he could take.

They delayed the return trek so that he could hide in his corner one last time. He flew, but he really hoped they weren’t going to make him do it again any time soon. Simply the ideas of walking from the estate to the wagon was driving him to the brink.

Chapter Text

I’m doomed, Khalid thought to himself, surrounded by the strangers he met yesterday as their teacher discussed a tactic that he had never heard of. It was a miracle he made it to the correct classroom in the first place (actually it was a product of following the people he recognized). 

So far he managed to blend into the classroom environment. It would be a lie to say he could keep up though — before waking up yesterday in his future, he’d never spoken in Fódlani to anyone but his mother. Now he was surrounded by people speaking exclusively in Fódlani, bombarding him with slang and vocabulary he’d never heard (never thought he’d need to know either). Simply keeping up with whatever the teacher was saying was hard when he was simultaneously parsing Hilda's whispers and mumbles from his classmates. 

“Claude. Claude.”  

“Claude.” Hilda elbowed him sharply. “The professor is talking to you, stop spacing out.”

Oh right, that was him! “Yes?” he smoothly asked the professor. 

“I asked you a question.” They gestured to the chalkboard. Unknown squiggles filled the board. 

“Apologies, professor. Could you repeat your question?” Please don’t make him try to read!

The low level of mumbling in the classroom went silent. Everyone turned to look at him. What did he do wrong? It was an innocuous question! Right? The teacher narrowed their eyes, cocking their head as their stony expression remained in place. “Have I offended you, Claude?”

Huh? What did he say wrong?! “It’s nothing, professor. I simply spaced out.” Everyone was staring at him.

“I don’t know why you are upset with me. We can speak after class.”

There was no way he was going to display his blatant confusion in front of so many people (in front of anyone) so he doubled down. Crossing his arms, he shrugged. “You know what you did, professor. I see no need to discuss it. We should continue the lesson, yes?”

The silence stretched. A bead of sweat trickled down his neck. The professor seemed to stare through him and into his soul. Finally they broke eye contact and turned. “Lorenz. Answer the question on the board.”

“Why certainly! I, Lorenz Hellman Gloucester, would never be so petty as to allow a personal grievance to get between myself and the learning of my fellow—”

“Answer the question.”

“Y-yes, of course.”

Lorenz’s words washed over him as he examined the conversation again and again? Where did he cause offense? What did he do?  

“Pst,” Hilda whispered, nudging him again, “what was that about? Did you guys get in a fight?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” he hissed back. HE certainly wanted to know… 

 

 


 

 

Picking up the training bow, he came to a horrific realization: Fódlani bows were different from Almyran bows. Eyeing the targets, then his bow, then his arrows, he gulped and got into position. Couldn’t be too different, right? He was an excellent archer for his age (or… for a 14 year old…), and his ability to adapt was one of his best traits. He could make this work.

His first arrow missed the target. His second arrow landed in an outer ring. It took a few more arrows to find his rhythm. By the time he finished his set of twelve arrows, he’d made four bullseyes and managed to split one of his arrows. Not bad at all, especially since he was using an unfamiliar bow. 

“Are you sure you’re recovered?” the orange-haired girl — Leonie? — asked him, strolling over. “That was awful, no offense.”

Awful? He did good! “Look at my bullseyes. And I split an arrow.”

She raised an eyebrow, her voice dry as a desert. “Yeah, you split your arrow. You never split your arrows. That’s wasteful, you know better than that!”

“It’s just one arrow,” he muttered.

“Claude.” It took a beat for the name to register. The professor (seriously, what was their name? Everyone just called them ‘the professor) stood nearby, cocking a brow at him. “You’re using a different stance.”

“Thought I’d mix things up a bit, that’s all.” He didn’t miss the way Leonie’s eyes narrowed. 

“Don’t waste arrows. I expect to see improvement.”

“Yes sir,” he mumbled, glaring out at his arrows. If this was Nader, he’d get his ears boxed for mumbling, but the professor just turned around. 

During his next set of arrows, he attempted to copy Leonie’s stance. This time he didn’t hit a single bullseye. So many eyes followed him as he retrieved his arrows, sizing him up for weakness. 

“Your feet are too far apart,” the green-haired archer (Ignatz? Fódlani names were so weird) quietly corrected his stance. “And why are you holding your arrows in your draw-hand?”

“I know what I’m doing,” he snapped, turning back to the target. To prove his point, he slipped back into the stance he knew and let a dozen arrows fly rapid-fire. About a third of them struck the center of the target, which was really good for how fast he shot. Judging by Ignatz’s frown, his shots weren’t impressive.

His accuracy only got worse as his frustration increased. Everyone in the archery range must be judging him to his 16-year-old standard. He was trying his best! At least this was a sign that his archery improved as he got older… 

As soon as the day’s training was over, he rushed out of the archery range, ignoring the professor calling out his name. He slipped away before they could ask him to stay behind, so he wasn’t technically breaking any rules (right?). He managed to escape his teacher, but Leonie caught him by surprise, snagging his arm.

“Hey, wait up. I’m taking you out to dinner tonight.”

“Why I’m flattered but—” 

She tried to punch him but he dodged. “Don’t make this weird. It’s my apology for the broken saddle. I feel awful about that.”

Sure she did. Now she was trying to poison him. The real question was: did she think he was dense, or was this a more elaborate scheme? “How generous! Afraid I’m busy this evening, enjoy your dinner with literally anyone else.”

He ignored her frown and walked away. Even though she called after him, he sped walked away and she didn’t follow. So far he was one day into this crazy life and he wasn’t doing so hot. On the bright side, ‘Claude forgot a few years of memory’ sounded crazy and far-fetched enough that no one would ever guess the truth. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a clue what he was doing.

His best bet was to search his room for clues while avoiding traps, but in truth the class left him drained (and melancholic). When he felt like this back home, he would visit the wyvern aerie and visit with his only real friends. Setting out, he began his hunt for the academy’s wyvern aerie (they had wyverns in Fódlan, right?)

“There you are,” a familiar voice called about an hour later. He still had yet to find the wyvern aerie, but he did find a cluster of cats to pet. He sat up straight and maintained an aloof expression rolling his eyes and pushing a cat off of his lap as if he didn’t care (mentally apologizing to the poor thing). 

“Here I am,” he replied to Hilda, eyeing her warily.

“Come on, silly! It’s Thursday, we’re all waiting for you!” She grabbed his arm and pulled him to his feet. “Did you lose track of time again? It’s our weekly Golden Deer tea party, mister leader man!”

“Hah, right! My bad. You know how I am, always losing track of time.” 

“Oh I know, you’re always late to the professor classes! Like, I was shocked you made it on time today.”

He made the mental note to be late from now on. “C’mon Hilda, I’m on time occasionally.”

“Yeah, right. And what was up with you today? You seemed so upset with Professor Hanneman.”

Finally someone gave him a name! “That’s between Professor Hanneman and I, Hilda.”

“Come on, you can gossip with your pal, Claude!” She dragged him past the kitchen and into a winery room. She kicked open a hatch that led into the cellar. “Let’s go, everyone is waiting for us.”

“In the cellar?” he muttered, hesitating.

“Uh, yeah? Where else are we gonna drink our “TEA”, Claude?” She curled her fingers as she said ‘tea’. “We’re students, we can’t drink in the open!”

“Right.” Right. Just another thing to deal with! He couldn’t stand being inebriated. Luckily he was good at sleight of hand, but he couldn’t exactly slosh wine onto the flooring of the cellar like he could onto grass. 

She dragged him down into the cellar. The hatch slammed shut above them. Like Hilda said, the rest of the Golden Deer were in attendance. In the glow of candlelight, he didn’t see any teapots, tea cups, or even any open bottles of wine.

“Claude, we need to talk.”

A trap! He scrambled to get out of Hilda’s grip. The hatch above him was shut tight, and besides, Hilda wasn’t letting go. One moment he was standing then his head slammed into the hard floor. Leonie was there too with a length or rope, tying his arms and legs together as he struggled. Lorenz and Hilda held him down as Leonie tied knots — the other students (who he didn’t know the names of) stared at him.

“Now talk! Who are you?”

“I’m Claude!” he shouted, squirming in his bonds. “C’mon Hilda, it’s me, Claude! We can settle this with our words, no need to get violent.” This was painfully, painfully familiar. So many times had he been drawn into back alleys as a child only to be beaten black and blue by people promising him things like candy or secrets or friendship. 

“Yeah right. You’re just like Tomas! Or, Solon, whatever his name really was. Now where’s the real Claude?”

Like everything else in his life currently, he had no idea who Tomas or Solon were. He forced a laugh even as he was bound to a support beam. The knots were sturdy, but if he angled himself just right he could get the knife in his boot and subtly cut the ropes. “C’mon guys, you’re all being ridiculous. Can’t you all go easy on a guy for once? Surely this game of ‘beat up Claude’ gets boring after a while!” How often did they do this to his future self? Weekly? Gods, he was still such a weak, spineless pushover in the end, wasn’t he. Back in Almyra, he would have poisoned all these people until they realized that messing with him was a bad idea.

“You guys really think he isn’t Claude? I mean, I know he’s been acting off, but…” the big one said.

“Think about it,” said the girl with white hair who was around his age, “there was plenty of time when no one else was in Claude’s infirmary room. While he was incapacitated, it was the perfect time to swap him out!”

“I knew that saddle I fixed up was fine! They must have sabotaged it so that Claude would fall!”

“U-um, but… how would they know he would survive the fall?” the timid blue-haired girl asked. 

“Maybe he didn’t,” Ignatz gasped, eyes flying wide.

“Where’s Claude?” Hilda repeated, grabbing a fistful of his hair. “Talk!”

“I’m telling you, I am Claude! You’ve all gone crazy!” 

“Oh yeah? When we first met four months ago, did we drink lavender tea, or mint tea?”

“Come on Hilda, that was four months ago! I don’t remember!”

“Claude, how could you forget? Our professor was there! I bet you even forgot their name again.”

“Of course I haven’t forgotten Professor Hannemen, stop being ridiculous.” Sweat beaded down his neck. As he spoke, he covered the little slink of his boot knife sliding free.

Hilda glowered at him. “I met Claude a year ago, not four months ago. And our professor’s name isn’t Hanneman. You’re really bad at infiltrating, you know.”

“Should we hand him over to the knights?” one of them asked.

“They’ll probably execute him. Right?”

“That or torture him for information. Claude might still be alive…”

“I am alive, I'm right here.” With familiar precision, he sawed through his binds until only the bare twines remained holding it together, something that would be easily breakable. Then he slipped his knife back into his boot and waited for his chance.

“Lysithea, did you get that one spell memorized?”

“Of course I did! He won’t have a choice but to speak the truth.” The white-haired girl — Lysithea — advanced on him. “I’m not afraid of you and your kind, fiend. You’re going to tell us everything we want to know.”

Snapping his binds all at once, he kicked out and hit the girl in the stomach. There was chaos as he scrambled for the hatch, ducking and weaving between— 

“Ack!” His shoulder slipped the big one, Raphael, and he was grabbed. He forgot, he’s bulkier now! If he was still 14, he would have been able to just barely slip past the man — but not at this age! He hit the ground with a thud, a massive weight pinning him to the floor.

“No escape for you!” Lysithea’s hands began to glow. “Now you’re going to tell us everything.”

He thrashed, helpless as her hands touched his temples. A trickle of sparks trailed down his spine, making him gasp. Oh no, no this was bad!

“Now, what is your name!”

“Khalid,” his lips said automatically. Oh no no no, truth serums weren’t supposed to be REAL!

The cellar was filled with gasps. “He really isn’t Claude.” Then, “Where is Claude? Tell us!”

“I don’t know!” he gasped out, struggling against the man holding him down. He couldn’t allow them to know how clueless he was! At best they would take advantage of him, at worst they would kill him! Ignorance was deadly.

“Uh, what did he just say? Did anyone else understand that? One more time. Tell us why you’re here!”

“I don’t know!” he cried out in his native tongue, the words pried from his lips. “I don’t remember where I am!”

“Speak Fódlani! Ugh, I can’t believe those creepy shapeshifters have their own language.” Hilda glared at him again. “What is wrong with you people?!”

“I don’t know!” he cried out again, his heart clenching. “I never did anything to be hated, my birth isn’t wrong! I don’t know why I’m an unlovable, friendless loser!” He clamped down on his lips, but that did him no good. 

“We’re going to have to give him over to the church. He’s just speaking nonsense now. Probably pleading for his life.”

“Wait,” one of the younger students spoke up, drawing closer to him. “What has you so afraid?”

The Fódlani magic made him spill his guts, but at least no one could understand him. “They’re going to hurt me when they find out I’m only 14! I don’t remember anything more than that, I don’t know where I am, I’m so confused! I just want to go home!” The tears he expected last night finally bloomed in his eyes, spurred on by the magic. 

The boy’s eyes narrowed. “Are you a shapeshifter of any kind?”

“No, I don’t even know any magic.”

“Guys, I don’t think he’s like Tomas.”

“Yeah right, Cyril. Look at him, he’s begging for his life.”

The boy, Cyril, shook his head. “No, that’s not what he’s doing. Khalid, why are you here?”

He wanted to scream when the boy opened his mouth and spoke Almyran, but he was helpless to reply. “I don’t know, I think I lost my memories.” Shaking his head, he begged the other boy. “You can’t tell them, please, don’t tell them anything!”

“By the… um, why are you tryin’ to keep that a secret? They think you killed their friend!”

“If I don’t keep it a secret, they’ll use my ignorance against me,” he babbled. “I don’t know who I can trust and who I can’t trust or what’s even going on, if they know that I don’t know, I’m finished! B-but I killed no one, I don’t know who their friend is but I didn’t do it!”

Cyril frowned. “So you are Claude.”

“I think so? It sounds like an alias I would use.”

“What’s he saying, Cyril? How can you understand him? Wait, was Tomas an Almyran?”

“No! Ugh, no, he’s still Claude. He just lost some memory.”

“Stop! Don’t tell them, please!”

Cyril rolled his eyes. “Stop bein’ such a baby! No one’s gonna hurt ya just ‘cause you bumped your head and forgot some stuff.”

“Wait… you’re saying he has amnesia?” Hilda squawked, whirling on him. “Claude, why didn’t you say so?”

“I don’t want to be hurt,” he whispered, shrinking in on himself as the truth-spell forced him to speak. 

“He’s Almyran,” Lorenz gasped, staring at him slack-jawed. “This—the Riegan heir cannot be from Almyra!”  

“Oh no you don’t!” Leonie shouted, jabbing the taller noble. “If that really is Claude, and he really did lose his memory from that fall, that means this is still my fault. I will not allow you to ruin Claude’s career because of my blunder, Lorenz!”

“Guess that explains why he’s so cagey about his past…”

Cyril nodded. “Yeah, he said he didn’t know who he could trust. Ya know you can trust us, right Claude?”

That probably wasn’t meant to be a question, but the spell interpreted it as a question. “I can’t trust anyone. I don’t have any friends. No one trusts the half-blooded demon…” Raphael’s hold on him was loose enough now that he could tuck his knees into his chest and hide his face. “If you’re going to hurt me, at least let me go so I have a fighting chance.”

“Uhhh… I don’t think I’m qualified to translate this. Um, Claude… Khalid? How old do you think you are?”

“I’m 14… though this body is 16, I think.”

“Er, you’re 18, actually.”

“18?!” he shouted in Fódlani, clutching at his hair. “No way, that’s — I’m not that old! That’s old!”

Various heads swiveled to Cyril. “What was that about?”

Cyril grimaced. “Um, Claude thinks he’s 14 and also thinks we’re all about to beat him up.”

“What?! Claude, no, why would you think that?!”

“Well, we were just interrogating him,” Leonie muttered.

“What else was I supposed to think?” he snapped, bristling. “This isn’t the first time I’ve been dragged to a secluded area by strangers, I know what happens next.” 

“Oh, buddy,” Raphael said from behind him. He yelped as Raphael slumped over him, readjusting the hold around him. “I can’t imagine, you must be scared outta your wits! Don’t worry Claude, we’ll help you remember everything!” 

He squirmed, failing to squirm out of the big man’s grasp. Forget being pummeled, he was about to be crushed!

“Er, Raphael, I don’t, erm, I don’t think he wants to be hugged…”

Raphael released him. He bolted away from everyone, but his path to the hatch was blocked off. 

“Wait, so he’s been wandering around all day thinking he’s 14? Aw man, now I feel bad…”

“Erm, how do we help him get his memories back?”

Chapter Text

Even when they were students at the academy, Claude had been a busy-body. Oh, he pretended to have no work ethic to speak of, but Hilda saw right through him. During the day (when he wasn’t taking a nap to recover from his nightly study sessions), he acted lazy during class but was extremely attentive to everything the professor said. After class, he either disappeared to do something that probably looked leisurely but actually had a purpose, or he’d ‘hang out’ with her to people watch or play ‘pranks’ (which, again, always had layers upon layers to why he pulled them). At night he was even worse, though she didn’t know nearly as much about all that. No way was she going to pull an all-nighter with him reading in the library (or slinking around in ‘secret’ spots).

Five years of war did nothing to take away from his workaholic penchants, though he was more in the open about it now. He didn’t have the leeway to hide it anymore, not with holding together the entire Alliance by grit and schemes alone. Now he had to do all that and juggle an entire war effort basically on his own! The professor was around to help him now, so that was something, but they were better at battle-to-battle tactics, not the long-game like Claude was. 

Unfortunately, the dummy didn’t know when to rest anymore. Long gone were his days of napping. During the past few years, she’d taken to bringing him meals or hauling him into bed whenever he fell asleep at his desk. There wasn’t much else she could do, right? Now that there was an actual war effort instead of an avoid-the-war effort, she’d been handed the task of delegating half the army’s problems to people who knew what they were doing (unlike her). She’d sort of become the unofficial quartermaster of the army! It was waaaay too much work, but if she didn’t do it, Claude would probably try to do it himself. Despite her taking the reins of the quartermaster stuff, Claude still overworked himself.

She entered the cardinal room in what was becoming a familiar routine. Claude hovered over a map, muttering to himself as he pushed various different figurines to different spots. In the candlelight illuminating the map, it made his eye bags look ghastly. Despite both of his palms resting flat on the table, he swayed slightly. His hair was an utter mess. The moment she made that observation, one of his hands scrubbed through his messy strands, making the mess even worse. His fingers tugged on the one long strand where his braid used to fall

“Hey,” she whispered so as to not startle him. Predictably, he didn’t hear her, off in his own world. “Claude,” she said a little louder, which finally caught his attention.

“Hilda?” His smile twisted, strained and tired. “Come on, you don’t have to keep checking on me like this. You should be in bed! Whatever happened to getting enough beauty sleep?”

“If I should be in bed, then you should be in bed too, mister leader man.” Planting her hands on her hips, she raised an eyebrow. “You look pathetic right now.”

“It’s late, not like anyone is coming around to see me in this state. ‘Cept you, of course.”

She was tired too, so she stopped bothering with his nonsense. Wordlessly she blew out the candles.

“Hilda! I’m not done yet, I need those!”

“I can’t go to bed ‘till you do, so you are going to bed.” That having been said, she jammed her shoulder into his gut, causing him to sputter and double over. While he bent over top of her, she securely wrapped an arm around his back and lifted him off his feet. He yelped, his feet flailing as they left the ground. 

“Come on, not this again! Hilda!” It was a testament to how tired he must be that instead of sounding commanding, he just sounded petulant and whiney. This wasn’t the first time she carried him back to his room, and it almost certainly wouldn’t be the last.

“If you keep squirming, I’m going to drop you on purpose.”

“That’s the point!”

“Oh, I’m not going to let you get away. I’m just going to drop you, step on you, wait for you to tire yourself out, and then we’ll keep going.”

“Sorry Hilda, you’re really not my type.”

“And you aren’t mine. Now shut up and stop squirming Claude, I am not in the mood.”

Groaning, he went limp. If he wasn’t such a baby about this, she would carry him in her arms or some other position that was more comfortable. “I just need to run a few more simulations tonight. Then I’ll go to bed on my own.”

A month ago, she would have given him a 50/50 chance of following through on that promise. Now? Ha. Yeah right. “You need to stop obsessing over what happened at Gronder.”

“I’m not—”

“You are. You’re second guessing yourself constantly when no one else is around! Gronder was awful, I know. It’s not your fault that it went so poorly.” Quieter, she tacked on, “And between you and the professor, none of us died. The other factions can’t say the same about their top brass.” Bernadetta’s screams still haunted her nightmares. The ever-present face in her nightmares though, and certainly the reason Claude was overworking himself, was… 

“Plenty of people died that day who didn’t need to die,” Claude snapped. 

“Their death isn’t your fault! You’re only blaming yourself because you can’t handle the idea that you had no control over what happened!”

“I could have saved him!”

“No you couldn’t, Claude! You tried, the professor tried! If neither of you managed it, then it was impossible.”

“You don’t understand, Hilda. I could have,—”

“Just because you two were close during the academy, that doesn’t mean anything after five years of war,” she quietly interrupted. “You have to stop blaming yourself for Dimitri’s death.”

She regretted speaking the name the moment it fell from her lips. Claude flinched, then went fully limp. “We made stupid promises to each other,” Claude whispered. “That was all. We weren’t… we were never close.” Oh, Claude… 

They never talked about this. Only the people who knew Claude well understood how broken up he was inside, and even then she (and Lysithea, apparently) were the only two who really noticed. She still remembered the dead look in his eyes when they heard about Dimitri’s execution originally, how he avoided the prince’s name like a plague after that. Claude might not have realized it himself, but she doubted he ever fully believed that Dimitri was dead — not until Gronder. She never pried about what his relationship with the Prince of Faerghus had been, but over the years she had assumed that it was more than just ‘we made a stupid promise together’. 

“You two were inseparable for a bit there.” Before Edelgard.

“Hilda. Don’t talk to me about him.” She nodded, bringing him to his room and finally setting him on his feet. Green eyes searched the dark room with an air of defeat. 

“You need a break,” she told him, her eyes catching on the stack of papers at his desk.

“I absolutely do not. There is too much left to do.”

“Just a day, Claude. You need to rest for a day, you’re going to collapse.”

His grin was jagged. “Nah. The day I’m finished with my work will be the day I collapse.”

“You can’t work through this—”

“I told you to stop talking about this.”

Sighing, she nodded. “I’m just worried about you.”

“Save that worry for anyone else, I don’t need it.” 

‘Oh yeah? Who else would make sure you eat and sleep if not me? You’re falling apart at the seams,’ she didn’t say. Claude hid his grief well, but she saw it. “The war will end one of these days, Claude. You can’t run from this forever.”

“I’m very good at running. There will be plenty for me to do after the war.” His tired eyes gazed through her. “I still have so much left to do…”

Running a war-torn continent would give him plenty to do, she supposed. He was going to burn himself out though. Sighing, she shook her head. “Sleep well, Claude.”

“Mm. Get some beauty sleep, Hilda.”

She didn’t sleep that night. Neither did he, by her guess.

 

 


 

 

“Claude.”

“Hilda.”

“I’m tired. Can’t you learn to go to bed on your own time?”

“Don’t worry about me. I’m fine.”

“No you aren’t. Come on.”

“Hilda! Put me down!”

“No.”

“As your leader, I command you to put me down!”

“As your friend, I refuse.”

She dragged him to his room. This time, she tossed him roughly into his bed and left. 

Five minutes later she returned to his room to find him sitting at his desk, pen in hand, a candle lit. She didn’t bother licking her fingers as she extinguished his candle, ignoring the short bite of pain seeping beneath her calluses. Ignoring his gripes, she picked him up out of the chair again and tossed him back onto his bed. This time he stayed put, watching her in the darkness as she took the hot pot of tea and poured a cup for him.

“Drink.” She took a tiny sip first, then pushed it towards him. “You need to sleep.”

“Chamomile?” he murmured, expression twisting.

“No.” She knew that was his favorite, but it had also been what he used to drink with Dimitri. “It’s Marianne’s lavender blend. So don’t you dare waste Mari’s tea. Drink.”

“Will you leave me alone if I drink?” he snapped.

“Yeah.”

He drained the cup in one go. “Now leave.”

She turned towards the door and hid her smirk. “And, Claude?”

He was already getting out of bed. “I told you to leave. I’m busy.”

“I would lay back down if I were you. Marianne said it’s fast acting.”

Glancing back at him, her gut twisted as the color drained from his face. “You—you drugged me.”

“Sleep well, leader-man.”

He swayed on his feet, crumpling back onto the bed. “W-wait!” His eyelids fluttered as he eyed the window. “You can’t—I’m— Don’t leave me defenseless.”      

“Claude, the monastery’s defenses are—”

He desperately shoved a finger down his throat. Racing to his side, she restrained his wrists. “Don’t! You have to sleep. I’ll stand guard over you tonight, okay? Does that work?”

His hazy eyes stared at her. “I guess… that works…”

A few moments later his body went lax. Sighing, she got to work. First she pulled off his boots, then his gloves, then the rest of his formal-wear until he was dressed down to his undershirt and pants. She took all the books off of his bed and tucked him under the covers. Standing, she took a deep breath and resigned herself to another all-nighter. She probably wouldn’t have slept much anyways. Eyeing his desk, she re-lit the candle and kept herself awake by sorting his pile of paperwork in a line from ‘urgent’ to ‘can wait until after the war’. 

When dawn arrived, she smothered the candle and paced to keep herself awake instead. She left his room only briefly to ask Lorenz to fetch both her and Claude breakfast in a few hours.

When he finally did wake, groggy and confused but appeased by breakfast-in-bed, he wasn’t angry at her like she thought he would be.

“Did you have someone guard my room?”

“Yeah. All night long.”

His eyes slid close. “…Do you think Marianne can spare more tea in the future?”

“I’m sure she won’t mind.”

 

 


 

 

“Claude.”

“Just another minute?”

“Nope.”

He sighed, raising his arms like a kid ready to be picked up. “You sure you’re not going to let me walk?”

“Completely sure.” Wrapping one arm around his knees and the other around his back, she hefted him off his chair and began walking towards their dorms. If Claude had any gripes about the night guard seeing him being hauled to his room bridal-style, he never said anything. These days, he subtly snuggled up to her when she carried him, though he would probably die if she pointed it out. “The tea is already brewed and waiting for you in your room.”

“Ah, tea night again? Already?”

“Every other night.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know.” He clearly resented being knocked out so often, but apparently the trade off for not having nightmares (or ‘sweet dreams’ as he called them) was worth it. “Who’s guarding me tonight?”

“Someone you trust.”

He huffed, but said nothing. When he came under the assumption that the other Golden Deer were taking turns staying up late, she didn’t correct him. It wasn’t like she didn’t trust the others. The other Deer needed to sleep too, though. She could sacrifice sleeping every other night for Claude. She could deal with it. 

 

 


 

 

Claude was doing a lot better now that he was sleeping more often. His mind was sharper, he was more confident in his tactics, and overall he looked healthier. Sometimes he shot her grateful looks, but he never spoke about what she did for him aloud. 

“Has the tea been helping you?” Marianne asked her one day during their group dinner. Thank goodness Marianne spoke so quietly.

She winked and nodded, lowering her voice as if she was embarrassed about it. “It has, thanks.”

“You just seem quieter recently…”

“Oh my gosh, I am so swamped with duties! Ugh, I can’t wait for this war to be over so I can laze about again!” She hammed up her performance, making a note to be more peppy in the future. The makeup she used was enough to hide the bags under her eyes, but she hadn’t considered her body language. What a rookie mistake.

“Yeah, you’ve been really busy, Hilda!” Raphael shouted, evidently hearing her when she raised her voice. “I never see ya around unless you’re rushing all over!”

“It sure is at odds with how you used to be,” Leonie teased her. “You haven’t asked me to do anything in a while. It’s good to see you finally pulling your weight!”

“Oh stop, I barely do anything. I just tell other people to do things, you all know me.”

“Nonsense, my dear Hilda! Your dedication is beyond noteworthy.”

She rolled her eyes at Lorenz. “Oh you flatterer. Name one thing that isn’t telling other people to do stuff!” There was a pause at the table. See? No one could think of anything. Claude raised an eyebrow at her but remained silent. He didn’t count. She didn’t deserve praise now that she was too tired to pester other people to do stuff for her. She wasn’t pulling more weight, she just did less things.

“You take care of an impressive amount of logistics,” Ignatz offered.

“Nooo, silly, I leave all the numbers up to you! With your merchant background, you do such a better job at it than me.”

“Still…”

“Organization and delegation are very important tasks,” Lorenz commented. “Do not sell yourself short.”

“D’aww, shucks. I’m not, don’t worry.” All the other work she did was behind the scenes, carefully out of sight. Plus, she probably did most things wrong anyways. Really, she only did the barebones to keep things running. Everyone would be disappointed in her to realize how little she actually did. 

“You have been up late often, recently,” Lysithea noted.

“Not doing anything important. Just been, y’know, going on a few walks to clear my head at night.”

“Lysithea, how do you know that?” Claude mock-gasped. “Have you been staying up past your bed-time?”

“Watch it, Claude. If you say anything about me, I’ll tell them all about you.”

Claude just winked, but notably fell silent. She rolled her eyes at the two stubborn, prideful geniuses. At least when she bodily hauled Lysithea to bed, the girl actually fell asleep without her prompting. What was she, the group mom? Ugh.

Her head started to bob, which was a bad sign. The warm stew was lulling her to sleep. Standing, she handed her stew off to Raphael. “I had some pastries earlier, not hungry. Anyways, there’s a sale at the marketplace, so I’m off!” Tonight was a guard-night, so she needed to pick up some gross coffee beans. Disgusting as the beverage was, it was becoming her secret staple. 

“U-um, me too,” Marianne said, leaving the rest of her food in place as she stood. “Um, I mean, I need to pick something up too… We can go together, Hilda.”

She forced a smile. “Sure!” She adored Marianne, but this really wasn’t the time for her to tag along. The coffee was a secret.

Marianne whispered to her as they left the dining hall, but it went in one ear and out the other. As soon as she finished with the marketplace, she needed to… do something. What was it…? Probably more reports or supply requests. She also needed to deliver a few orders to various people around the monastery, and divert some of Claude's superfluous paperwork before he saw it (that he REALLY needed to delegate but never did because he was a control freak. Seriously, it was NOT important paperwork yet he kept trying to kill himself to do it all). There were also some letters she needed to post, and she couldn’t forget to send a letter to her brother assuring him she was okay (and also to subtly wheedle him to divert more supplies to the war-front). 

It wasn’t until Marianne’s steady hand gripped her arm that she realized she had been swaying. “I’m fine! Aha, sorry, got lost in my own head for a sec there!”

“Um, Hilda, please don’t take this the wrong way, but you don’t look very good.” Yeah, she didn’t FEEL very good either. It was fine though, she could push through this. Compared to literally everyone else, she was just sitting on her ass all day and twiddling her thumbs. In peacetime she would have complained. In wartime, she knew better than to tax everyone with her tiny grievances. 

“I’ve just got a teeny tiny headache, that’s all. Y’know, maybe I’ll go to my quarters instead and take a nap!” She had some paperwork to do. That said, she wasn’t sure she could keep her eyes open if she tried sitting down right now. She headed for the stairs.

“Hilda!”

Her eyes cracked open to bright light. Marianne was above her, face illuminated with the light of a spell. Footsteps rang out nearby. It was so hard to keep her eyes open.

“Is everything alright, Marianne? We heard you shout!”

More faces appeared over her, eyes wide and shocked. “What happened? Did Hilda slip?”

Marianne nodded, the light fading. As the light faded, so too did the tingling on her head stop. “Y-yes. She fell down the stairs.” The faces above her collectively winced.

“That explains the blood. Good thing you were right here, Marianne!”

Marianne wiped a cloth down her face. Oh, gross. She’d split her head and gotten blood everywhere. Marianne must have stopped the bleeding, but there was wetness on the side of her face, even around her eye. Marianne gently rubbed the blood away, first from her forehead, then her cheek, then the blood smeared on her eyelid. It nearly lulled her to sleep… 

“Hilda,” Marianne gasped, jolting her back awake. “You said you were sleeping…!”

“Huh? I’m not asleep… swear it…”

Marianne presented the bloodied handkerchief to her. Aside from the blood there was a smear of… her… concealer. “Hilda, you told me the tea was helping you sleep.”

“N-no, it is! I’m not that tired, aha, I swear it.”

“The tea?” Claude’s voice was icy. “Marianne, are you referring to your lavender blend?”

“O-oh, um, yes. It, ahem, it helps me sleep at night…” 

“I’m aware. It helps me sleep as well.” Huh? She must be dreaming. Claude wouldn’t be admitting that he needed a sleep aid in real life. He’d never admit to something like that. “Do you give ‘Hilda’ this tea every night, or every other night, Marianne?”

“Um… every other night?”

“Hilda, you hypocrite,” he whispered, kneeling beside her. “You’ve been overworking yourself.”

She shook her head. “No, I’m fine. I just tripped, I’m perfectly fine.” She tried to get up, but in truth it took all of her willpower to keep her eyes open and not slur her words.

“As your leader, I am forcing you to take the rest of the day off, Hilda. The rest of us can cover for you.”

“No! No, no, it’s okay! I can do more, I won’t disappoint!” She heaved herself upright, swaying as the world turned. Claude wrapped an arm around her shoulder, something she helplessly slumped against. “I’ve got things to do tonight.”

“Yeah, sleep.” He sighed. “Guess I’m repaying you. Let your pal Claude carry the lady to her room.”

She shook her head. “No, no, it’s your night to sleep though!”

He paused. “With the tea? Don’t worry, I can brew it myself. Or Marianne can, if you’re convinced I can’t brew a good cup of tea.”

“Y-yes, I don’t mind, Claude.”

“No, you’ll be defenseless though!” He couldn’t stand to be knocked out and alone, she knew this about him. He needed her.

“It’s fine, Hilda, someone else will do it.” He turned around, smiling sheepishly. “I presume no one objects?”

“Object to what?” Ignatz asked, because of course the rest of the Deer were watching!

Claude’s brow furrowed. Green eyes darted down to her, back to the Deer, then back to her. “Hilda, tell me you didn’t…”

“What’s going on, Claude?”

“It’s fine!” she snapped. “Just ignore him! Ugh, I’ll take a nap, don’t worry about me. I’ll be around tonight Claude, you don’t have to say anything.”

He raised an eyebrow. “I know you’re trying to help me save face, but that came out suggestively,” he deadpanned. Rubbing the back of his neck in a clear sign of discomfort, he plowed ahead and spoke to the others before she could say anything. “The sleep aid I’ve been taking knocks me out. I… I can’t stand being incapacitated and unable to defend myself though. Hilda implied that you have all been taking shifts watching over me every other night.”

She hid her face in her hands. “Shut up! You’re vital to the Alliance, and the war effort, and to me, your health is worth a couple hours of my sleep!”

“Hilda,” Lorenz’s scolding voice pierced past the shield of her hands, “you should have involved us as well! Do not take everything on your own shoulders.”

“Yeah! We’ll help out too, of course ya can’t do this on your own!”

The other Golden Deer chimed in to further humiliate her, chastising her and implying their disappointment.

“I’m going to take her to bed,” Claude said, hefting her just the same as she hefted him so many nights. “We can hash out the details in a bit, but I believe Hilda was worried about her duties going unfinished…?” Everyone scrambled over themselves to take over her meager duties that she should be capable of doing herself.

A moment later, they were in her room. She was propped up against a wall, sat on her bed as Claude eased off her boots. As his gentle hand took out her earrings, she failed to suppress a sniffle.

“Let me take care of you for a night, okay?”

She shook her head. “No, you already do so much, you’re under so much pressure. And I can’t even do a few simple tasks without collapsing! You’ve got way too many important things to be doing, so stop fussing over me!”

Claude’s weight settled beside her as she hiccupped. Hesitating, he curled an arm around her, then squeezed her in a tight hug. “I should have noticed. I’m sorry, Hilda.”

“N-n-noticed what? That I-I’m a w-weak disappointment?”

“That my friend was suffering for me.” He squeezed her tightly, as if she might disappear if he let go. “I’ve never had anyone care about me enough to do what you’ve done. So thank you, but please don’t hurt yourself for my sake. You always told me you wouldn’t die for someone else, do don’t overwork yourself to death just for me.”

“I’m sorry,” she sobbed into him.

“Don’t apologize,” he murmured, readjusting her to be on his lap. He cradled her like she was something precious. “Thank you for caring about me so much. You’re the best friend anyone could ask for, and I’m sorry I haven’t been attentive in return.”

“N-no, you’re so busy…” And grieving, she didn't add.

“Yeah, but not too busy to be ignoring the clear signs of your fatigue.” His fingers deftly sifted through her hair. “You’ve been trying to convince me to rely on you, even though we both know I’m a paranoid dastard. So start relying on me too, okay? For as long as I’m around, I swear I’ll be here for you.”

‘So long as I’m around’? She wanted to ask him about that, but her fatigue claimed her first.

Chapter Text

Claude wandered towards the dining hall, bleary-eyed and bruised. Mini-mitri — Alex, he really should get used to calling the kid Alex — held his hand just a touch too tightly. With any luck he would bump into Marianne. Every breath reminded him of the painful bruises that Alex gave him last night during a nightmare. He couldn’t blame the kid, especially since the worst of it was Claude’s fault. He’d figured out before that lighting a candle did not help, but in his half-asleep state he’d forgotten about it. Waking the poor kid to the sight of fire resulted in him being nearly squeezed to death (or at least it felt like that at the time).

Still, his ribs could wait until after breakfast. Worse than the pain was his hunger. He was trying to get Alex into the habit of eating at regular intervals as well, so there was no way he was skipping breakfast.

“Good morning,” Dimitri greeted him and Alex as they sat down together. This was maybe his third reason for being adamant about breakfast. Alex was slowly eeking out of his shell. He rarely had to carry the kid around anymore, thank the Gods for that. Alex was satisfied with just holding his hand in most instances now. A big factor in this was Khalid — Kal, just Kal now — who was eager to learn more about Dimitri’s younger self. It shouldn’t be a surprise, given how attached his younger self was to Dimitri at this point, but it was still weird.  

Speaking of Kal… “Where’s Kal at?” He gestured to the half-eaten plate beside Dimitri.

“Hm? He’s right—…here.” Dimitri ran a hand down his face. “He was right here.”

“Check the kitchen,” he deadpanned.

Five minutes later, Dimitri returned with Kal in tow. The boy munched on a hunk of bread and some cheese, entirely unrepentant. Dimitri didn’t bother lecturing the boy — the prince hadn’t bothered since Claude reluctantly explained why Kal only wanted to eat food straight from the kitchen. Right after the poisoning incident, he’d only trusted food that he watched get prepared (and even then had some other hangups. After all, the food could have been tainted from the ingredient level too). The kitchen staff had been easily charmed by Kal, so no one really minded the boy’s interruption. If Kal was left alone for too long though, that was when he got into trouble. 

Luckily, as odd as it was, Kal was usually perfectly happy to remain with Dimitri, which kept him out of (most) trouble. He supposed it must be just as odd for Dimitri to watch Alex cling to him as it was for him to watch Kal trust Dimitri. 

“Welcome back, Your Princeiness. Morning, Kal.”

“Mmmhmmn,” Kal replied behind a hunk of bread. 

“Still up to our plans today?” he asked Dimitri, raising an eyebrow. 

“Certainly.” The prince flashed him a sweet grin, prompting him to look away. By virtue of their Mini’s, they’d been spending a lot of time together in the past month. In that time-frame, he had learned: a) Dimitri was genuinely kind, b) Dimitri had interesting secrets that he was dying to know more about, and c) Dimitri was kind of cute.

That last one worried him. Dimitri wasn’t kind of cute in the way that Alex was adorable. It was a distinction he didn’t know how to describe. Dimitri’s face made his stomach churn in a way he was fairly certain meant he had a crush. He’d never had a crush before so he couldn’t be sure, but the evidence was damning. When he watched Alex do something cute, he went ‘d’awww’ internally and that was all. When Dimitri smiled just right, Claude wanted to melt and also die. It was probably weird to have a crush on the guy who’s younger self he routinely slept with, right? His crush needed to be over already, but he had a terrible hunch that it was getting worse.

He maintained small talk with Dimitri until the hour-bell rang, signalling time to go to class. They went their separate ways — Kal with two books under his arm to read during class. Alex still didn’t do much in class even though Claude tried giving him all manner of genre to read. How Alex wasn’t dying of boredom every single class period, he had no idea.

“Morning Claude, morning Alex,” Hilda greeted, as was custom by now. 

“Good morning, Hilda,” Alex quietly replied. The boy looked up at him with searching eyes, silently asking for his permission. Like every morning, he nodded his head. Alex let go of his hand to greet everyone with an adorable ‘good morning’. Seriously, Dimitri’s kid-self had the entire school wrapped around his fingers without even realizing it. 

He sidled over to Marianne and requested a quick heal spell before Alex finished. His ribs were so thankful for Marianne. 

After his rounds of ‘good morning’s, Alex returned to him and retook his hand. Not for the first time, he wondered what Alex thought about all day during class. The kid didn’t disassociate or go into fugues very often anymore, so the little-prince probably thought about something. The thought niggled at him more than usual, so when everyone left for lunch (Alex still did poorly with crowds, so one of the Deer brought them lunch from the dining hall), he asked the boy what he thought about.

Of all the potential reactions, he didn’t expect Alex’s cheeks to turn red. “Stuff,” Alex mumbled into his jacket, worming onto his lap and snuggling close. Another truth he would never admit aloud was that he was kind of getting used to having a buddy hanging around him. It certainly had its downsides, but it was… it was kind of nice? Alex was a little snuggly furnace, and something about that was weirdly flattering. Alex could snuggle up to anyone, but he chose Claude to trust. On top of that, seeing how snuggly Kal was with Dimitri… maybe Claude had craved hugs and comfort more than he realized. He’d known he was a little touch starved, but maybe he’d been underselling how badly he wanted a hug.

“What kind of stuff?” he asked back, settling into a familiar rhythm of undoing the little braid in Alex’s hair and redoing it. It was adorable that Alex wanted to copy his hairstyle (and maybe a little mind-boggling), and braiding always calmed Alex down, so he saw no issue with it. 

“Frivolous, unimportant stuff.”

“It’s not ‘unimportant’ if you’re spending all day thinking about it, kiddo.”

“I… I like to… um, imagine.”

“Daydreaming?”

“Y…yeah.” He wondered how shy Dimitri had been at this age and how shy Alex was due to his recent trauma. “Promise not to laugh at me?”

“I promise. I’ll only laugh with you, got it? I’ll never laugh at you.”

Alex nodded, tucking his head against Claude’s arm. “I don’t have to be a prince anymore.”

Not at the moment, no… They were no closer to finding out what happened to bring the two kids here, nor how long they were supposed to remain around (or if they would return to their own time periods). It might be a bad thing to allow Alex to believe he might be free from his duties forever, given he might return to being ‘Prince Dimitri of the past’ at any moment. Still, he wasn’t going to correct the kid. 

“So… I’ve been considering what I want to do…”

“That’s good,” he praised. Looking towards the future was a good sign for the kid’s recovery.

“I want to stay with you.”

Erk. The kid was adorable and sweet. It wasn’t just the older-Dimitri who made his heart melt, apparently. “Well, kiddo, I’m not so sure…”

“I know.” Alex fisted into his jacket. “I just like imagining it. You’ll be busy though.”

“Maybe you and Kal can spend your future together,” he offered up. Kal was in a similar boat, though he doubted the boy would be satisfied with leaving their shared dream down to only Claude. 

‘Maybe you and Kal can spend your future together.’ Gods, did that sound suggestive? No, no, he was looking into it too much. Two friends could spend their future together without it being weird! 

“I wanna help you, though.”

He was saved by Leonie entering the room with his and Alex’s lunch.

 

 


 

 

“You’re certain this is a good idea?” Dimitri asked again. 

“Yep. Kal, Alex, we’re going to be just upstairs, okay? Come get us if you need something.”

Kal was perfectly happy to separate, but Alex’s nod was nervous and skittish. With a parting hair-ruffle, he grabbed Dimitri’s hand and tugged the prince up the stairs and across the library. “Alex needs to get over his — eh, what did Manuela call it? Separation anxiety?”

“Yes. I feel bad for leaving them, though.”

“They have each other, it’s not like Alex is alone.” The kid hadn’t been alone without him for more than a few minutes at best throughout the entire month. “Missions are coming up soon, those two can’t come with us.”

“I suppose you’re correct. I merely worry. He doesn’t act like I did at all, I feel so out of my depths with him.”

It occurred to him that he was still holding Dimitri’s hand. He didn’t need to keep holding Dimitri’s hand anymore. But if he let go, that would draw attention to the fact that he was holding Dimitri’s hand. Did Dimitri notice? 

“Now, the real reason for this scheme!” he rushed to say, ignoring the building heat in his cheeks. If he ignored it, it would go away. “I need to ask you a question without Alex around, I don’t want to hurt his feelings. What’s the best way to wake you up from a nightmare? My poor, poor ribs are tired of being squeezed nightly.”

Those beautiful blue eyes went wide. “Is—oh Goddess, is he hurting you?”

“No! No, no, nothing I can’t handle. Just some bruises.”

Dimitri’s white teeth bit into soft, plump lips. Wow, His Princeliness had some nice lips… “His strength will only increase when he hits puberty. You should wean him off of sleeping with you. If it was me, I could easily crush your ribs without noticing.”

Oh. Damn. That should be terrifying. Damn. His face was burning. Why, why, why did his body interpret ‘I could crush you without noticing’ as something extremely hot? Damn, hot damn. He kind of wanted Dimitri to cru— “Wow! So cruel!”

“It wouldn’t be on purpose! I have always struggled to control my strength, most of all after Duscur. You… you likely have noticed, but Alex has thick burn scars on his hands.” Dimitri held out one gloved hand, palm up. Oh yeah. Claude was holding the other hand still. “The fires of Duscur took much of my ability to feel in my hands, fingers, and arms. Judging my strength was always difficult, but with such reduced dexterity and sensation, it became borderline impossible.”

He frowned down at Dimitri’s palm. Finally letting go of Dimitri’s hand (did the prince notice now?), he cradled the other hand and tugged at the glove. Dimitri inhaled sharply but did not stop him. Pulling the glove off completely, he made a sympathetic tut. “Yeouch. This must have hurt.” He thumbed a circle around Dimitri’s palm, feeling over the rough, almost rope-like texture of the scars.

“I-I did not notice much a-at the time. Ahem.” Dimitri cleared his throat. “Apologies. I’m aware my hand isn’t a pretty sight. Rather disgusting, is it not?”

“Mm? Nothing about you could disgust me,” he absently said, tracing the reddish whorls of Dimitri’s skin. “A shame about your loss of feeling. Does it still hurt?”

“On occasion, but mostly just around my knuckles.” Dimitri flipped his hand over, displaying lesser but still severe scar tissue.

“Yeesh, your hand is dry. Do you moisturize it?”

“No?”

He clasped Dimitri’s hand. “We are so going to fix that later tonight. I have a couple different kinds of moisturizer. I’ll even rub it in for you if you want!” Wait. Was. Was that a weird thing to say? Oh hell he was holding Dimitri’s hand again.

“I suppose you won’t be deterred. Do you moisturize Alex’s hands every night too?”

He blinked. Oh yeah. Alex. Right. “No, his hands are fine. They aren’t scarred.”

“What!? That’s impossible!”

Wincing, he shrugged. “Maybe he got pulled out of Duscur before his hands were burned?”

Dimitri frowned at the ground. “No… I suppose… that’s right. My hands were not burned in the tragedy that took my family from me. They were burned a month later when the tragedy was inflicted upon the innocent people of Duscur in retaliation. I attempted to dig a girl out from a burning house. All I have to show for it is the scars of my failure.” 

Oh. “Welllll… on the bright side, Alex didn’t have to go through that?”

Dimitri nodded gravely. “Indeed. I can only hope he never has to face what I did. It would be better if he was able to stay here. Goddess, I pray she allows him to stay in this time period.”

“Mm, me too.” If Kal went back to Almyra now, it would be six years of paranoia and pain. Nowhere near what Dimitri had to go through, but the constant hammering pressure wasn’t something he would make anyone face. 

About the same time he recognized that he was still holding Dimitri’s hand, the prince’s other (gloved) hand settled atop his. “Your life has not been so easy either. For both of their sakes, I pray Kal and Alex are able to remain here.”

Oh no. This wasn’t fair. What right did Dimitri have to look at him like that? Like he was — important? Special? His intended chuckle came out as a nervous giggle, what was wrong with him! “It’s sort of like comparing apples and potatoes, Your Princeliness! Compared to what happened to you—”

“Don’t compare what happened to us,” Dimitri interrupted. “Both of us have faced a great deal of injustice. It is not a contest.” And what did Dimitri know about the ‘injustice’ he faced? Gulping, he figured that Dimitri must know a lot more than he was comfortable with.

“What did Kal tell you?”

“He hasn’t told me much.” Dimitri’s fingers wrapped around his own, oh NO this was how he was going to die. “But I’ve seen how he reacts to certain things. If I ever meet the people who made you fear for your life so often, I vow that I will make them regret everything.” Dimitri growled. He actually growled!

“I think I’ve been poisoned,” he blurted out as his heart rate spiked and his knees went weak. By the Gods, that growl!

Dimitri blinked. “What?”

“I said, furthering the cycle of hatred only spurs on further violence and resentment!”

“I… I don’t believe that was what you said?”

“Aha, we should check on the kids! It’s been a while.”

“Oh! You’re correct. Well, I haven’t heard any cries or yelling…”

He frowned. “You’re right. I haven’t heard anything either.” Uh oh. What was Kal up to this time?

They descended back to the main floor of the library. The boys were not in the same spot that they’d been left in. In fact, there was a mess of books that looked like they had been abandoned in a rush.

“We would have heard if someone spooked them,” he stated, more telling himself than Dimitri. “I know Kal’s gotten some fowl glares, but no one would go after Alex.”

“What? Who has been glaring at Kal?!”

“Not now, Dimitri! Don’t worry so much, just a few stable hands who think Kal looks a little too much like Cyril.” Claude had the benefit of receiving less sun for over a year now, but Kal was straight out of the heart of Almyra and his tanner skin showed it. At least by hanging around Dimitri so much, no one dared to even get close with the intention to harm. That, and much like Alex, Kal managed to charm the pants off of most of the monastery. “They clearly left in a rush.”

“We were just upstairs, why didn’t they come to us?”

He frowned. “Good question. Kal has an independent streak — er, I did at his age, anyways — but Alex is pretty… well, you know.”

“Clingy,” Dimitri grunted.

“Cuddly and dependent, yeah. He would have come to me if he was panicking.”

Dimitri knelt down and picked up one of the books haphazardly sprawled on its spine. “Kal is typically careful with books, and Alex knows better than to leave a book splayed open like this.”

Eyeing the door to the library, a sense of dread settled in his stomach. “We would have noticed if the door opened.” Well. Maybe he wouldn’t have, he’d been a little preoccupied holding Dimitri’s hand and dying. One of them would have noticed though. There was no one in the library when they left Kal and Alex alone (they made sure of this, since most students were eating dinner). Either someone had been hiding in the library and spooked the pair, or… 

“Dimitri…”

“What?” The prince turned to him, expression turning somber. “…What?”

“I can think of another reason why they would drop their books and vanish on us.”

Dimitri inhaled sharply. “No. You think they were returned to their own time?”

Grimacing, he nodded. “We knew it could happen.”

Dimitri thumped onto the ground, staring at the book Kal had been reading. “We didn’t even get the chance to say goodbye.”

“Well…” Rubbing the back of his neck, he agreed. He’d kind of gotten used to having Alex around as his little buddy… Damn. Dimitri looked even more broken up about it than him, though. “In a way, we’re still here?”

“You know as well as I that they were different from us.”

“Yeah. I know. They’re still us, though.” He patted Dimitri on the back. “And hey, we’re alright. They’ll be okay too.”

“Heh. Am I alright? You have no idea how desperately I wanted someone like you at that age. I was surrounded by death, ghosts, and the haunting knowledge that I failed to stop the genocide of an innocent people. Now Alex is ripped away from the only comfort he’ll know for the next seven years. Kal has to go back to a hostile life where he’s forced to fight for his life every day. The Goddess did this one thing for us, and now she takes it away!”

He didn’t know what to say. ‘There’s no point getting upset’ or ‘I’m going to miss them too’ wouldn’t help. What he did know was that Alex was extremely tactile and cuddly… so it stood to reason that Dimitri might crave a hug just as deeply as Alex had. Kneeling beside Dimitri, he wrapped an arm around his (friend?) fellow house leader. Apparently he was right. Yelping, he was yanked unceremoniously into Dimitri’s lap.

“A-apologies,” Dimitri murmured, briefly letting go of him. “Kal often…”

“No worries. Alex did too.” Facing Dimitri, chest to chest, he pulled the other into a hug. “We can’t comfort them anymore, but I guess we can comfort our inner child. That’ll have to be enough.”

Dimitri’s strong arms wrapped back around him snuggly, abruptly reminding him of his MASSIVE CRUSH. This was WAY more than holding hands! He was sitting on Dimitri’s lap! Dimitri enveloped him, Gods and Goddesses, this was agony and bliss all in one. His face was awkwardly mushed into Dimitri’s neck. Should he move? Or would that just draw attention to how awkward the position was? 

“What’s that sound?”

That was the sound of his HEART having a HEART ATTACK. He couldn’t hear anything over the pounding in his ears as Dimitri tenderly rubbed his back, bracketing him with muscle-bound arms that could crush him in a mere moment but wouldn’t. He had never felt the urge to kiss anyone in his entire life, not until Dimitri’s plush lips invaded his line of sight and tempted him with their sweet, sweet potential.

“No! Take that back, I’m right!” came a distant shout, barely audible over his pounding blood. 

“Nuh-uh, I’m right!”

“Is… that…?” 

The two of them scrambled apart, racing towards the sound. 

In a hidden corner of the library, tucked away from sight, two boys were sprawled together in one of Linhardt’s blanket-filled nap-nests. Kal and Alex were a tangle of limbs, pouting adorably at one another. 

“Claude’s literally an angel though! From the Goddess!” Alex stated in the loudest volume he’d spoken in the entire time Claude knew him. “So he’s the best!”

Kal rolled his eyes. “I don’t know what an angel is and I don’t care. Dima’s really, really strong. He can wrestle anyone and win! He could beat my parents in a wrestling match!”

“So? Who cares? Claude’s eyes are really, really green, they’re my favorite color!”

“Well Dima’s eyes are prettier than real gems! Blue’s my favorite color!”

“Claude’s perfect though.”

“So is Dima! Dima’s more perfect.”

“Nuh-uh!”

“Uh-huh!”

“Nuh-uh!”

Kal crossed his arms, unaware of the death occurring nearby. “You can have Claude. I’m gonna grow up and marry Dima.”

“Well I’m gonna marry Claude!”

“Kiddos!” he shouted, ready to shove his head through a brick wall and die. If an assassin approached right now, he wouldn’t even fight back. “We couldn't find you!”

Kal stuck his tongue out at him, though Alex wore a sorry expression. “‘Cause we are having a private discussion. Go away!”

“U-um, I don’t mind if Claude stays…”

“Then Dima can stay too!” Kal attempted to express himself by play-wrestling with Alex. “Dima’s… better…!”

Alex didn’t have to work hard to beat Kal in a fight, rolling on top of the other boy and restraining his arms in a hug. “Claude’s better,” the boy murmured. “He’s kind. And sweet. And the best. And handsome.”

“Dima’s stronger than you!” Kal grumbled, failing to squirm away. “The strongest, and handsome! And all those other things too!”

His face was burning, but Dimitri looked like he spent too long in the sauna. “Uh, you know where to find us!” he called out, tugging Dimitri away. “Ahaha, kids, right? Wild!”

“C-Claude.” By the time Dimitri stuttered out his name, they had multiple bookshelves between them and their Mini’s. 

“Aha, funny how this whole thing works! My favorite color isn’t blue, but Kal says his is. Makes you wonder what other minute details we’ve influenced!” He waved a hand flippantly, as if that could hide his burning face. “They’re ten, they don’t understand attraction, silly kids. They just like us a lot! Kids can form a crush on anyone they like, you know, Balthus had a crush on my mom when he was, I dunno, a six year old or something.”

“K-Kal once m-mentioned that strength is, ahem, an… attractive… trait where you come from?” Dimitri squeaked.

“Uh, w-w-well! I mean, yeah, that’s true…” He giggled nervously, unable to feel his legs. Was he panicking? He was totally panicking, GAH. “It’s just, y’know, uh, something that a lot of people look for in a partner! Like my mom, you wouldn’t believe how strong she is, and I mean she’s pretty too, but the strength bit is the thing my dad goes on and on about. And that’s not rare! Over there, I mean. Kal mentioned that? Weird! How did that topic come up? Aha, I know I don’t exactly fit into Fódlan ‘beauty’ standards though.” Or Almyran beauty standards either, but he left that out. “Guess Alex is just projecting what he likes onto me—whoa!” 

Dimitri grabbed his arm and pulled, and oh no he was in trouble. Brilliant blue eyes bored into him. “You do not fit into any beauty standard, Claude,” Dimitri carefully pronounced, wrath underlying his tone. “You excel beyond any possible standard — shatter! You shatter the standard! Whoever told you that you are not beautiful was a liar I would be happy to meet.” The ‘I would be happy to meet and punch/murder’ was implied loud and clear. 

“Your Princeliness. Y’know how we just got done talking about how strength is attractive? Yeah? If you’re not coming onto me, then I beg you to stop giving me mixed signals.” He couldn't escape Dimitri's grip if he wanted to (and he did NOT want to).

“No mixed signals.” Dimitri pulled him flush and devoured his mouth. He was delighted to reply in kind.

Chapter Text

Marianne knew she wasn’t supposed to be at the cathedral this late (or this early, by some metrics), but she couldn’t sleep. The cathedral was the place she felt closest to the Goddess. It was the closest place for her apologies to reach the Goddess. She knew she wasn’t supposed to be out so late, but curfew was never enforced. 

Tonight, she was praying for the monastery’s safety. 

There had been strange sightings for days now. Flashes of phantoms. Random blood trails with no apparent source and no missing persons. Sudden sounds of distant shrieks or explosions or spells without any origin. Ringing thunder with no storm clouds. The sightings were few and far between, but they were common enough that people were talking. Some worried that the monastery was being haunted, others feared the Goddess was displeased.

She worried the Goddess was sending this message for her directly.

Earlier in the day, Hilda had been in hysterics over what she saw. A golden ghost limping towards the cathedral, a wicked blade pierced through the phantom’s abdomen. There were other horrific sightings too: A woman who walked despite being burned to a crisp, and a man pierced with uncountable blades who dragged himself forward.

“Please, Goddess,” she whispered under her breath, “please do not harm my friends. Take me instead.”

It wasn’t out of the ordinary to hear footsteps. She stopped speaking. Sometimes Ashe or Dimitri came to the cathedral at the same time as her, though they rarely acknowledged each other. 

It wasn’t out of the ordinary to hear the tell-tale sound of Dimitri’s boots.

It was out of the ordinary that Felix was following Dimitri, hissing angry whispers with every step. She debated on leaving to give the pair privacy. Dimitri strode up to the altar beside her, silent as he knelt and bowed his head. This again was not abnormal, though usually he would nod his head in greeting to her. She wasn’t sure he even saw her. Felix saw her though.

“You.” Felix whipped towards her, causing her to flinch. “You know magic. Something’s wrong with him. Figure it out.”

“O-oh, um… I… I don’t…”

“I’ll have her head,” Dimitri whispered, chilling the night into sudden silence. “I will hang it from the gates of Enbarr. I swear it… I swear it…”

“He’s lost his mind,” Felix snapped, glaring at her. “Either fix him, or run while you still can.”

In a rush, Dimitri stood. “She comes.” He turned, his empty hands clenching. “She’s here.”

She stepped back from him, having never heard such wrath from the kind prince before. 

“Finally… finally…!”  

The click of heels echoed through the cathedral. A flash of vivid red stole her attention. The new figure was hidden in the shadows, illuminated only by the twin lights glowing from their eyes. 

“You witch. I’ve waited so long for this.”

“His eyes,” she gasped, turning to Felix for confirmation. The swordsman nodded. Dimitri’s eyes were glowing icy blue. 

“Still the King of Delusions, I see,” rang out a familiar voice. Edelgard? “Once more you stand in my way.”

“I’ll kill you for all the innocents you have slaughtered!”

“Naive as ever. You are not my target, but I won't hesitate to strike you down. This land must bleed to be born anew.”

“Monster! I will end you!”

“If I must become a monster to set humanity’s fate alight, then I shall do so gladly.”

A chilling chuckle spilled from Dimitri’s lips. “You have no claim to humanity. Though, neither do I. Come, the dead demand their dues!”

The pair raced at each other. Their eyes flared with crimson and cerulean. That same glow gathered in their hands, and then— 

She shrieked at the blast, raising her hands to shield herself as wooden pews split and cracked. The force of the blow nearly blew her off her feet, nearly doing so if not for a hand steadying her shoulder. She watched through split fingers as Dimitri and Edelgard clashed with glowing bone-like weapons. Sparks flew from their ethereal weapons, the light illuminating two twisted scowls on each familiar face. 

“The hell?!” Felix gasped, reaching for the sword at his hip.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” A familiar voice said from behind them. All at once she realized that the hand on her shoulder didn’t belong to Felix. Claude stood behind them, his usual cocky smile replaced with a wan grin. His eyes, just like Dimitri and Edelgard’s, glowed a vivid yellow. “You don’t want to get in their way. Not unless you plan to die tonight. Trust me, you’re no match.”

“What the hell is going on?!” Felix snapped, grasping at Claude’s collar. 

There was another boom as the prince and princess slammed lance into axe. Edelgard followed through by crashing her into the cathedral floor, forming a crater and spraying them with pebbles. Dimitri retaliated by kicking one of the head-sized rocks that Edelgard just blew loose and launching it at her. The princess ducked underneath the rock, letting it launch through the back window of the cathedral and shattering ancient stain-glass windows.

“You two should leave before this gets ugly. Those two are equally matched, so let’s not give them an edge over one another, yeah?” He sighed, piercing gold trailing out towards the ongoing battle between the other house heads. “If we had a Black Eagle student here too, maybe… no. Neither of them would care to stop even if it meant the lives of their ‘friends’. They’re both too far gone.”

“Start talking!” Felix demanded, staring out at Dimitri with horror painting his face in the golden glow of Claude’s eyes. “How do we make them stop?”

“Hah, I don’t think the end of the world could make those two stop.” Another boom shook the cathedral, then — 

The Goddess is coming for me, she thought as a massive boulder was thrown their way. She only had time to close her eyes and sent one last plea for forgiveness. 

She yelped as pebbles scattered above her. Claude stood before her and Felix, a massive golden bow glittering in his hands. “What did I tell you two about leaving?”

“For my father! For Glenn! For Faerghus!” Dimitri roared, heaving his lance in an arc. “Burn in the Eternal Flames for those you have slain!”

“For humanity, and for Adrestia, I will not stop! There is nothing I will not sacrifice for Fódlan’s new dawn!”

“Claude,” she whispered, certain that he was Claude despite his glowing eyes, “why aren’t you fighting too?”

His smile grew slightly. “I’m no match for either of them one-on-one. If I want to win, I must wait for one of them to lose.” His smile fell. “At that point though, as the last one standing, it’s not a win. Not with a bigger threat out there.” Shaking his head, he turned back to the other two. “Dimitri won’t acknowledge the threat and Edelgard is convinced she can fight it off on her own. Heh.” There was a sort of heat shimmer around his stomach, almost in the shape of a… sword? “None of us can win on our own.”

“To hell with this!” Felix snapped, unsheathing his blade. “I don’t know what’s going on, but this madness must be stopped!” 

Claude just sighed as Felix raced forward. “I warned him. Remain on standby to heal him, Marianne. Stay on the sidelines and I’ll ensure your safety.” With that said, Claude raced after Felix.

“Glenn?” Dimitri froze briefly. “No, Felix.”  

That moment was all Edelgard needed to find an opening in Dimitri’s stance. 

“Not so fast!” Claude shouted, firing a bolt of shimmering gold at Edelgard’s axe. Dimitri attempted to abuse this opening to skewer Edelgard, but again Claude’s arrows drove Dimitri back. 

While Claude was focused on splitting Edelgard and Dimitri up, Edelgard’s axe took a swing at Felix as if he was a fly to be swatted. His choking gasp rang through her ears as his body was flung like a rag doll. He landed hard. She was already racing towards him, throwing a readied Physic his way. It was good that Claude warned her because the wound across Felix’s stomach would have been fatal. Just a few seconds less and… 

Instead of dwelling on Felix’s near death, she collapsed to her knees and slammed her hands against his wound, pumping every ounce of healing into his body. 

“Look,” Felix choked out, spitting up blood. She looked instinctively, dread settling in her stomach at the sight. The three house leaders were enveloped entirely in their colored glows, as if wearing a second skin of pure light. Dimitri was larger and looming, armored and cloaked in furs and aether. Edelgard was impossibly imposing as fiery crimson burned around her body, curled horns sprouted from her head. Claude’s gold was a thick shell of sunlight, the glow of his eyes taking on a greenish hue with the rest of him wreathed in yellow. Their imposing aura made her shrink away. After ensuring Felix was stable, she dragged him further from the fight.

“Stop, look!” Felix snapped again, pointing. As the trio circled one another like animals, shimmers of wrongness wrapped around them. Lances, blades, arrows — Dimitri was filled with an impossible number of weapons. The dagger above his heart was a black void compared to the rest of his icy glow. Fire, burns, lacerations — Edelgard looked like she had been charred alive and then had her flesh torn by a massive beast. A sword — Deep violet pierced Claude’s gut. Unlike the other two, she recognized the sword embedded in him. The sword of the creator. Why? Why would the professor…? No, it wasn’t the Sword of the Creator. The professor’s sword had one creststone socket that was empty. The blade piercing Claude had two creststones socketed into the hilt. What…? 

In front of the shattered stained glass window, the professor hovered. No, that wasn’t the professor. Long, ankle-length green hair spilled down their spine, their body clothed in an unknown ceremonial fashion, their eyes alight with slit pupils. The Goddess hovered before the three battling specters, ethereal and transparent. 

The Goddess turned Her head towards them, expression indifferent and stony. There was a flash, and then— 

A throne room. A monstrous creature — melting into the familiar form of an unfamiliar Edelgard. Dimitri extends his hand and Edelgard extends her dagger, burying it deep into Dimitri’s heart.

Fhirdiad, lit ablaze. A massive white beast roars. Edelgard races towards the creature, meeting the blast of holy fire head-first. She screams, then is torn asunder by the beast’s claws.

A battlefield. A towering man wielding a blackened Sword of the Creator. Claude smirks like he has a scheme up his sleeve, but he is alone. Bolting forward, he charges the man, his eyes darting to where other blots of light are fighting nearby. His eyes widen in shock, his smirk vanishing, and then he is impaled upon a blade.

Gronder field. Blue, red, and yellow stretch out in all directions, screaming and clashing with one another. Dimitri screams, dragging himself inch by inch despite the countless weapons embedded in his body. Edelgard is cornered, beheaded before she can retreat. Claude falls from a wyvern, landing with a sickening crunch. 

Blue, red, and yellow blazed through the darkness of the cathedral. The Goddess said nothing, but the command to LEAVE screamed through her mind. Helping Felix stand, the two of them ran.

 

 


 

 

“Hey.” In the morning, Felix knocked on her door. She opened it wordlessly and allowed him inside. His arm was tucked around his stomach as he hunched slightly. He limped over to the chair at her desk and sat down, his usual scowl replaced by a lost frown. “If I visit Manuela or any other healer about this, they’ll have questions.”

“D-does it still hurt? I’m sorry, I couldn’t heal everything last night…”

“Shut up, stop apologizing, and start healing.” He yanked his shirt up to reveal the puckered, semi-healed wound from last night. “I’m not explaining how I got this.”

She got to work healing over the wound. “Um… It’s going to scar…”

“Whatever. I don’t care.”

Nibbling at her lip, she gathered her courage to ask. “Do you, um, do you think the others are okay…?”

“Hell if I know! The cathedral is still a wreck, that’s all I’ve heard.”

“So it truly happened… the Goddess…”

Felix was silent for a minute as she worked. “The boar is going to get all of us killed.”

Seeing the roaring prince of the vision sent by the Goddess, she could understand why Felix called Dimitri a ‘boar’ now, though she wasn’t sure she agreed with it. “I… I think there’s more to this… maybe. You saw it too. All of Fódlan fighting…”

“Tch. Yeah.” Felix hunched forward, bowing his head. “Dimitri’s going to get himself killed.”

“The Goddess surely has her reasons…”

“To hell with the Goddess! What was the point of that?” Snapping upright with a sharp inhale, then wincing as he pulled at his wounds, Felix locked eyes with her. “That’s it. Those visions all contained Dimitri, Edelgard, or Claude. If the three of them killed each other last night.”

Gasping, she covered her mouth with her hands. “No! None of them deserve to die…” But only the Goddess decided who deserved to live and who deserved to die.  

There was a knock on her door. Trading a glance with Felix, he pulled down his shirt as she rose and cracked the door open.

“Marianne!” Hilda greeted her. “Mind if we come up? It’ll only be a sec, promise.” Hilda opened the door further, freezing as her eyes landed on Felix. “Oh. Oh wow, I didn’t think he was your type at all.”

“N-no! It’s not that!”

“I don’t have time for—” Felix stuttered, eyes flying wide. “You.”  

Claude cocked an eyebrow. “Me! Good morning, Marianne, Felix. Sorry to barge in on you like this.” He shot a light glare at Hilda, who held his arm in a vice. “We’ll just be going now.”

“Nope! Marianne, Claude’s been clutching his stomach all morning. He’s totally in pain but he won’t admit it! He refuses to go to Manuela, you know how stubborn he gets about going to the infirmary. Please look him over?”

“Stomach pains,” Felix hissed, eyes narrowing on Claude. “Right around here?” he asked in a mocking tone, pointing roughly to the same spot where the possessed-Claude had been impaled last night. 

Claude’s eyes widened just a fraction. “You too? Huh, must be a stomach bug going around. Nothing that faith can do to heal that!”

“I-I can try to alleviate some of the pain.” 

Claude hesitated, then shrugged. “Fine, since I’m already here.”

“Dummy. Stop hiding how much it hurts.”

“You don’t know anything, Hilda,” he hissed, plopping down on her bed. 

Much like she did for Felix, she had Claude bare his stomach to her (and Hilda and Felix, who were still in the room). Unlike Felix, there was no noticeable wound or scar. She placed her hands on his skin and attempted to cast a heal spell, but there was nothing to heal. “Did you, um, injure yourself last night...?”

“Not that I'm aware of, not unless I jabbed my stomach in my sleep,” he said with a laugh and a wink.

“U-um, does that pain go through to the other side?” She remembered the sword and how it poked out from Claude’s back… 

“It does. You know what’s causing the pain?”

“N-no, I’m sorry. I can’t heal this…”

He shrugged. “Ah well, I’ll live. Thanks for trying.” He was eager to leave the room. “See Hilda? I told you I’m fine.”

“You’re still limping, you idiot. I’ll take you to every healer in the monastery if you keep pretending you’re okay.” 

The door swung shut behind them. She and Felix traded a look. “Do you think…?”

Felix got to his feet in an angry rush. “The boar is no doubt killing himself at the training ground.”

“A-and Edelgard?” Surely she was stuck in bed, wracked with pain… 

“Who gives a damn about Edelgard? In case you forgot, she cut her axe into my gut.”

“B-but was that really her?”

Felix scowled. “I’m certain that was still her.” He left her room and slammed the door behind him. 

She closed her eyes and sent a prayer to the Goddess.

‘None of us can win on our own,’ the Claude from last night said. Taking a deep breath, she left her room. Down the hall, she watched as Mercedes entered Prince Dimitri’s room, her expression worried. Edelgard was probably in her room too…

With that in mind, she left for the marketplace. Edelgard liked sweets, and maybe Dimitri would appreciate some flowers or some chamomile tea… She couldn’t heal any of their pain, but maybe she could help ever so slightly… 

“Why me, Goddess?” she whispered. Unless she was mistaken, last night must have been a sign for her and Felix to prevent an oncoming conflict by helping the three future-rulers come together as one. Her and Felix had to be the worst people for that job though! 

As she watched Claude stop walking and lean against a wall, panting as he held his stomach, she bowed her head and prayed again. The Goddess gave her an impossible task… but she was going to do her best, even though she was certain to fail in the end.  

She spied Felix leaving the dining hall with more than one plate of food. Maybe she wasn’t alone in this impossible task after all… 

Chapter Text

Something felt off when Sylvain woke, but he chalked it up to sleeping on his neck wrong. That niggling feeling ate at him as he got ready for the day, persisting even as he sat down at breakfast with the rest of his classmates. 

“Anyone else feel like something’s missing?” he blurted out after less than a minute of enduring the strangely tense air.

“Thank the Goddess, it’s not just me!” Annette squeaked, throwing up her hands.

Ingrid met his eye from across the table. “I feel as though I’m waiting for dreadful news.” Her hand lingered over her heart. “There’s no logical reason to feel this way though.” Others chimed in with similar feelings. 

“Ah, I’m sure it’s nothing!” he casually lied, kicking back and throwing his arms behind his neck. “In fact, I bet that the Golden Deer house leader threw some of his ‘fancy mushrooms’ in our dinner last night. That explains it neatly, wouldn’t you say?”

The only one he managed to convince was Ingrid, who shot out of her chair and stormed over  to the Golden Deer table. Whoops. Oh well. Better them than him. 

“Has anyone seen His Highness?” Dedue asked as he approached the table. Dedue didn’t really show expression much, but the slight furrow to his brow spoke volume about his worry. 

“Did you check the training grounds?”

Dedue’s expression did not change, but the ‘yes, of course I checked the training grounds’ was silently spoken loud and clear. 

“Oh! Your Highness!” Ashe called, pointing and waving. Squinting, sure enough Dimitri was standing off in the corner of the dining hall. Now, Sylvain’s eyesight wasn’t remarkable (not that he’d ever tell anyone that), but he was pretty sure that Dimitri’s blurry face was shocked. After a moment of hesitation, Dimitri approached the table. 

“Your Highness. I ask that you do not disappear like that again.”

Dimitri’s eyes darted across the table, then his smile twisted. “Apologies, it was not my intention to worry you. This morning has been… ah, very odd.”

“You feel it too!” Annette cried out. “Ugh, what is with this morning?!”

“Ow! No need to drag me!” came Claude’s voice as Ingrid dragged him by the ear. 

“Now apologize!” she snapped at the Golden Deer house leader. “Oh, Your Highness! Good morning. Sylvain said he caught Claude putting mushrooms in our stew last night.”

“That’s not what I said.” He laughed, watching as Claude’s brow furrowed. “I was just saying that maybe he put mushrooms in our soup.”

“Obviously he is the culprit. Now take responsibility, Claude! Apologize!”

“Ingrid, I don’t think—” Dimitri began, only to be interrupted by Claude.

“Hey now, I can’t apologize for something I haven’t done. You need proof before you go around accusing a noble of something so insidious, Ingrid. And you claim I have no manners. If you’re going to frame me, at least do a good job of it.”

“I have no manners?! You just interrupted His Highness!”

Again that little frown creased Claude’s brow. Claude’s head turned side to side, cocking his head. “Did I now? In that case, I’ll apologize… but, hate to break it to you, but His Royal Princeliness isn’t here. Hard for me to interrupt someone who isn’t here, y’know.”

“What? He’s right there!” Ingrid pointed at Dimitri, who was in fact ‘right there’.

“Ah… this is what I was referring—”

“Oh, sorry Your Princeliness!” Claude chirped, giving a mock bow… lightly to the left of where Dimitri stood? “I’ll leave His Invisible-ness to eat breakfast, then. My breakfast is getting cold now, how rude!” Claude slipped out of Ingrid’s grip and skipped away.

“Ahem. This is what I was referring to,” Dimitri repeated, glancing aside. “I’ll admit, I was a touch concerned that I was going crazy. The rest of you do see me, yes?”

Silence. Ingrid was the first to sputter. “Clearly this is Claude’s doing. He’s pulling a crude prank.”

Dimitri shook his head. “Please do not think so poorly of everything Claude does. He is not the only one to have been unable to, er, see me today…”

“Is it a spell?” Annette asked, cocking her head. “I’ve never heard of a selective-invisibility spell before…”

Sylvain nodded. Even a straight-up invisibility spell was on the boundaries of what was magically possible — a spell that only allowed certain people to see the afflicted party? It was far-fetched. Though… “Hey, maybe this is why we’ve all felt weird today. Whatever is affecting His Highness hit us too, just in a different way.”

Annette’s eyes went wide. “You’re right! It must be a spell!” She jolted upright, hit her foot on the bench, and flailed her arms as she tripped. Dimitri caught her before she hit the ground. “Oops. Sorry, Your Highness! Thanks for the save!”

“Oh my, I suppose my theory is disproved now,” Mercedes said with a giggle. “I thought Dimitri might be a ghost.”

“A-a-a gh-ghost?” Ashe gasped, turning his wide eyes on Prince Dimitri. “N-no way, don’t even joke about that!”

Annette puffed up her cheeks. “Mercie! Ashe is right, that’s mean!” She patted Dimitri’s arm. “See? He’s perfectly solid!”

Leaning back, he was about to accept ‘magic spell gone wrong/prank’ as the answer. Dimitri’s expression told another story: eyes askew, lips pressed into a thin line, shoulders hunched… “Prince Dimitri,” he slowly pronounced, rising from his chair. “What’s the last thing you remember?”

The prince’s expression scrunched further. “I’m not certain.”

The hour bell rang, signalling that class was soon to start. “Maybe the professor will be able to help?” Mercedes suggested.

Dimitri’s expression eased slightly. “Yes, perhaps they will know what to do. I’ll admit, this predicament has been rather inconvenient.” Sylvain couldn’t help but see Dimitri’s small smile as fake. The prince knew something. Well, this wasn’t Sylvain’s problem. The rest of the Blue Lions were jumping at the bit to help Dimitri. 

Dimitri hesitated when Dedue opened the classroom door for him. Still, the prince smiled and entered, his posture proper but stiff. Watching his Highness slip awkwardly into his seat should have been a boring affair, and everyone else clearly viewed it as such, not paying any mind as Dimitri slid past through the arm of his chair and into his seat. Sylvain plopped into his own seat and stared blankly ahead, replaying the sight over and over in his head. His eyesight was poor, but it wasn’t that poor. Glancing down at his own seat, he would be hard pressed to sit down without first pulling the chair out. The arm of the chair got in the way. There was no way that Dimitri could have sat down without moving the chair first. 

Okay. Invisibility was one thing, but intangibility too? That was — that was crazy. Right? Glancing around at everyone else, he determined that no one else saw what he saw because no one else was freaking out. 

“Where’s Dimitri?” Professor Byleth asked, killing half of his hope right then and there. 

Dimitri wilted, hanging his head. “If it isn’t too much trouble, would one of you please inform them of my predic—”

“Right there?” the professor murmured to themself, turning towards Dimitri. That was odd… They didn’t appear to be able to see Dimitri… 

“Professor, His Highness has been struck with an unknown curse,” Ingrid reported. “So far, we’re the only ones who can see him.”

Their head cocked to the side. “Dimitri, what happened?”

The prince perked up. “You can see me, Professor?”

They didn’t immediately reply. “No I cannot, Dimitri.”

“But you can at least hear me.”

Another pause. “I can’t hear you either, but someone who can hear you is relaying your words to me.”

“Uh. What’s that supposed to mean?” he blurted out, raising an eyebrow. 

The professor shrugged. “There is an invisible girl who follows me around. She can hear and see Dimitri.”

“Wh-what?! Like a ghost?!” Annette shrieked, shrinking under her desk.

“She is adamant that she isn’t dead. But like a ghost, yes.” They shrugged. “She lives in my head.”

Dimitri’s eyes went wide. “Wait, you mean that little girl?” He pointed to the left of the professor. “Goddess, I thought she was a hallucination.” Then, oddly, both Prince Dimitri and the professor winced in sync. “A-apologies.”

“I’m so confused,” he admitted, thumping his head on the desk. “What is going o—” he bolted upright. “Wait, where’s Felix?” They all exchanged glances. All of them except for Dimitri, who appeared thoughtful. “Your Highness, where is Felix?” For all that Felix trained, he was never late to class.

“I… I don’t recall… I think… I think I saw him last night?” Dimitri scrubbed his forehead. “Blast, I can’t remember.”

Taking a deep breath, he stood from his seat and laid a hand on Dimitri’s shoulder. Sure enough, his fingers met solid, physical flesh. He tugged abruptly, catching His Highness off guard. Dimitri followed his tug, falling out of the chair. Falling through the chair. “Yeah, okay. You’re not just invisible.”

Ashe shrieked. Annette also shrieked. Ingrid turned whiter than a ghost (whiter than Dimitri, at least). Dedue took an aborted step forward, a sliver of terror seeping past his stoic expression. “Oh my,” said Mercedes, apparently not freaked out at all, “does that hurt, Dimitri?”

Dimitri refused to look at any of them, staring at the floor instead. “No. It does not hurt.” 

“You knew, huh.”

“It is rather difficult not to know after accidentally walking through a door, Sylvain.”

“Huh. Can you float?” the professor asked.

“I have no idea,” Dimitri morosely replied, resolutely staring at the floor. “I don’t feel dead, nor do I feel like a ghost. I do feel as though I am forgetting something important, though.”

A chill sped down his spine. “You said you were with Felix last night. Now Felix is missing and you’re all ghostly.” 

The professor understood his message, abruptly leaving their podium. “Class, split up and search for Felix. Dimitri, remain with a partner at all times, understood? Everyone else, remain in pairs.”

They all scrambled to obey. Mercedes and a terrified Annette rushed off towards the library, where Dimitri sometimes lingered past midnight (not that many of them were aware of that fact). Ashe latched himself onto Dedue, who didn’t have the heart to pry the scared boy off. Those two headed towards the training grounds to search for any tracks or trails left behind. The professor planned to ask the other classes if they had seen anything, which saw Ingrid tagging along (suspicious of Claude and planning to interrogate the poor guy, no doubt. The professor would keep her in line). That left him and Dimitri (since His Highness was too considerate of Ashe to tag along with Dedue). 

“Well… got any ideas on where to search, Your Highness? We could just wander around and hope you remember something.”

“The cathedral,” Dimitri murmured. “I don’t know if that was where I went last night, but I spend a frequent amount of the time I’m unable to sleep pacing around the cathedral. 

“Sure thing.” As they began walking, he couldn’t help but take note of how quiet the prince was, clearly lost in thought. Dimitri was so lost in thought that his steps didn’t match the speed of his pace. That’s a ‘yes’ to Dimitri being able to float… 

“Sylvain.” Dimitri quietly jolted him out of his own musings. “If I truly am a ghost—”

“Let’s not jump to conclusions, Your Highness!”

“Please, hear me out. If I truly am a ghost, and my body is dead… then I’m sorry. My death will bring chaos to the realm. None of you deserve to deal with that.”

“Dimitri.” His childhood friend inhaled sharply at the use of his name. “I’m not giving up on you yet, so don’t you give up on me yet either. This may be a curse. There’s no telling what’s wrong with you.” ‘But the most likely explanation is that you’re dead,’ he didn’t add. If Dimitri fully accepted his death, that might mean bad things for his spirit, such as vanishing. Sylvain had never really believed in ghosts, but every Faerghan knew of the possibility of their existence.

Dimitri slowed down, then halted before they ever got to the cathedral. “The Goddess Tower,” he murmured, heading in that direction.

“Ooh, the Goddess Tower. Do you and Felix have a secret to share?”

Dimitri was silent. Instead of leading them up the tower, Dimitri peered over the edge. Oh no. Sylvain didn’t want to look. He really, really did not want to look. “Dimitri, you didn’t—”

“I don’t remember,” Dimitri replied, already climbing down the rocky sheer cliff face. Dammit. Dimitri could probably just float his way down, but Sylvain would have to actually climb in order to follow him. 

“HEY!” he shouted to one of the distant monks near the cathedral’s side exit, motioning for the man to come closer. “This is important. I need you to find Professor Byleth and tell them that Prince Dimitri climbed down there.” He pointed into the misty ravine. “What are you waiting for? Go!”

The pale monk left in a rush. That just left him to follow His Highness. “You better not be dead. Neither of you are allowed to die on me.” And if Felix was dead… well, he had a promise to keep in that case.

He climbed down the cliff-face, choking on thick mist as he went. How far down did he need to climb? Dammit, he’d know Dimitri was struggling for ages now — they all knew. He did nothing though. What was he supposed to do? Everything he touched withered and died. Trying to ‘help’ Dimitri would have surely made things worse. But now Prince Dimitri may have jumped to his death, and maybe took Felix with him.

“Felix… Felix, I’m back…” echoed a familiar voice. “Felix, I found help…”  

Dammit, they were going to need a healer, weren’t they. Sylvain was shit at faith magic. In a pinch, he might be able to pull off one Heal spell though. Goddess, he better be able to pull off one measly heal spell, because he was pretty damned sure he was going to need it. Following Dimitri’s voice, he found a slope, a patch of blood, and a blood trail that led into a small cave.

“Wake up, Felix. I brought help.” Dimitri turned to him, desperate. “Felix, Felix,