A/N: I'm going to apologize SO much for the delay in getting this chapter out. It was…hard to write. I guess I just didn't want to say goodbye, haha. Thank you all for your patience.
SO, there was some confusion last chapter over Corrin's injuries, specifically his ability to shapeshift. Some of that's because they were intended to be resolved in the epilogue, but some of it's on me. So, I went back and edited some of the dialogue to clarify that some are permanent and some they just don't know the full extent of the damage yet.
Shortly after he woke up, he was assigned a team of healers and physicians, to test him and analyze him and then help him with therapy. By then Corrin had experienced the difficulty of feeding himself one-handed, left-handed; he can manage to spoon broth, but cutting a piece of meat is borderline impossible when the hand holding the fork shakes throughout. He'd gladly welcomed the exercises to increase his aptitude with his off-hand and strengthen his weakened one.
Still, over the weeks he gets bored. They're dull, to put it plainly. Simple things like holding quills, squeezing soft plush toys, or even just stretching out his fingers. They're only frustrating with his left hand, but frustrating and painful with his right; he has to literally force it to move the way he wants, and it sends harsh jolts through the weakened nerves. And it never seems to get any stronger, no matter what he does.
His human form isn't the only one to receive medical examination, because he isn't solely human. The healers are wary-eyed when he shapeshifts for his first dragon examination, but he doesn't smell fear or hate on them, and they're nothing but professional as they run diagnostic spells on his heartbeat. Some of the scholars are caught up in fascination, excited at the chance to study a legendary dragon up close, and he humors them, standing still and letting them examine his antlers, his scales, his wings.
For another four weeks, they do therapy with that form too. Instead of trying to learn to use another limb, it's testing how far he can go with his heart. Building stamina. Trotting, jumping, slow gliding (he'd never even known he could until Sakura suggested he try). Swimming, which is surprisingly refreshing and makes the dragon in him purr. Chasing magical orbs makes him feel like a dog, though.
When they finally decide to let him try to rampage, listening wide-eyed as he explained why it's necessary, he almost passes out; he's scarcely torn up three trees before he goes dizzy, usually-elegant limbs folding underneath him like paper. His ears pick up alarmed shouts from the healers nearby, and footsteps as they rush over. Sakura is in the lead, and her eyes shine with fear as she hastily starts throwing spells on him.
"Y-You're going to give yourself a heart attack!" she protests as he tries to get back up, that itch still not entirely sated.
It takes the entire team constantly funneling Psychic spells into his heart to hold out, and everyone is so exhausted they all fall asleep the minute they return to the palace. It works, but Corrin's not happy with it. He can't drag half a dozen healers into Valla with him every time he needs to rampage, they have other duties, and someday there will be someone who needs them more.
It's Kaze who comes up with the solution, listening to Corrin grouse about it as they grab sake—well, Kaze gets sake. He has water. Got to watch that heart after all. "Perhaps, milord, you're going about it the wrong way."
From the décor—paper lanterns and watercolor paintings and rice-paper walls—the inn was originally Hoshidan, but it's started to adapt to account for Elysium's other ethnicities. Low tables and cushions fill the room, having quickly been accepted as the compromise after Corrin's various dinners. The menu still offers mostly Hoshidan dishes, but there are a few Nohrian and Vallite delicacies too. The sight gives him hope, that the citizens have finally started to accept each other, rather than just tolerate. He's cloaked and hooded; it's still too soon after the attack for everyone, himself included, to feel comfortable with him openly being out in public, and he knows there are a dozen ninja hidden among the inn's customers. He feels a bit bad asking Kaze to sneak him out of the castle, but he's just been cooped up in the sickroom for so long—he just needed to get out for a little bit.
Ignoring the itchy sensation of his bodyguards' subtle watching, he sips at his water and asks, "How so?"
"You're worried about building enough stamina so you can rampage without keeling over, and that it'll take too long to do so."
He nods, not seeing where Kaze's going with this. The ninja hurries away from the table, briefly speaks with the innkeeper, and then returns with two cups. He sets one down. "This symbolizes you." He holds up the other cup, tilting it so Corrin can see the water in it. "And the water is your draconic urges."
Slowly, he starts to pour the water in the Corrin-cup. "By my understanding, the urge to destroy will build up in you, like the water fills this cup. If you don't empty the cup—pour out those urges—it'll overflow and destroy you." He stops pouring as the water bubbles over the edges, as if to show his point.
"That's correct," Corrin nods, still not quite seeing what he's getting at.
Kaze pours the water back in the first cup. Again, he starts to fill the Corrin-cup—but this time he stops, while it's barely a quarter full. "Instead of waiting for the cup to fill before emptying it, why not empty it every time a bit of water is poured?"
Corrin's eyebrows rise, and he hums thoughtfully. "Just go out and destroy something daily, and see if that quells it?"
"It's less efficient, but it might cause less strain on your heart."
Rampage a small bit each day to sate the dragon, rather than letting it grow restless… Basically relying on quantity over quality. He can't say he's considered that before. He decides to run it by Lilith the next day, when she drops by for her visit.
His sister frowns when he finishes explaining, which initially makes his heart drop, until he realizes it's not in rejection of the idea—rather, from the distant look in her eyes, careful consideration. "I wish I could say I knew if it'd work or not," she finally sighs. "But like I said, I've never had this problem since I'm artificially created. And Father never spoke much of his attempts to curb the madness."
"There's nothing in the Rainbow Sage's journals?"
"No. Why would there be? All the dragons beside him and Father left before—" She freezes, eyes widening in consideration. Lilith slowly twists her braid in her hands, lips moving wordlessly as she seems to connect dots in her head. "Maybe that's it…" she breathes.
She looks back at him, golden eyes sharp and wide. "Corrin, the Rainbow Sage was a dragon too. He must have had the same urges to destroy as you. And we know that repressing them isn't good for a dragon's health. So where did he let them out?"
Understanding dawns on him. "He probably wouldn't dare go to Valla, with Father still there…and if he tried to do large-scale rampages on the mainland, over so many years…someone would have seen him eventually, or tried to kill him."
Lilith is nodding, bouncing on her heels, growing more animated. "Look at where he lived—isolated in the mountains, in large towers that could easily hold a dragon, with spells that create illusory enemies to fight. What if they weren't just to test newcomers, but a way for him to release that pent-up energy?"
For a moment, he's thrilled, sure they've found an answer. Then Corrin's spirits slowly sink as he examines Lilith's words again. "That's still no proof he was doing it daily, though."
"Isn't it? Corrin, when you rampaged, you destroyed part of a forest. Father destroyed an entire forest. That sort of damage to his home wouldn't be something he'd want to consistently repair, and if he wasn't rampaging as strongly, he must have been rampaging more frequently. Look," she adds, seeing his pensive expression, "I think it's at least worth a try."
So he runs it by the healers, manages to get an agreement. And each day from then on, he visits the old Valla, pushing himself harder than he does in therapy, but not quite so hard as to make him almost pass out again. Only destroying a little forest here, tearing up a bit of land there. It's tiring, but it never makes him feel like he's going to pass out, and it quickly becomes obvious that this way, the team of healers are unnecessary; soon only one stays on hand, just in case.
A week passes, then two, then four. Every day he goes to Valla to "frolic", as Elise teasingly calls it when she writes. It's frustrating to fit into his schedule, and he isn't quite sure it's working, but he hasn't felt any pressing urges to destroy nor madness on his mind, so he assumes it is.
His personal recovery isn't the only matter to be attended to, of course. The kingdom needs to be stabilized, the city cleaned and repaired, any remaining traitors rooted out, his own staff changed—Nestor's betrayal left him bereft of a steward. Fortunately, a candidate is easy to find. Part of him still thinks it's wrong, or at least odd, for his sister to take the job, but she has the leadership experience from her life under Anankos, the management duties from her time as a maid, and more than that he trusts her implicitly. Lilith was overjoyed to receive the offer anyway, feeling glad that she can finally be useful in a way that does not require her to kill.
Three whole months after he wakes up, he's no longer required to sleep in the sickroom overnight, and relishes his return to his bed with Azura. Now that they're sure he's not at risk of killing himself, Leo and Sakura leave for Nohr. Corrin makes sure to treat them to a nice dinner somewhere beforehand. There he teases them about when they're getting married, then about how their faces are turning a matching shade of tomato red.
His relationship with Azura is easier to patch up, now, once he can see her outside visiting hours again. It took her two weeks to have sex with him again; even after they spent hours talking with the doctors, checking for everything he needs to know and being reassured he can if he doesn't strain himself, she still treated him like glass, afraid he'd give out the moment he tried to speed things up.
And—well, it's different. That's not to say it's not nice. Just…different. Very slow, more emotional than physical. Nothing like the frenzied, passionate lovemaking of their newlywed period. And Azura keeps stopping to check if he's alright. But they manage it.
The first time Corrin tries to play the piano for a duet with her, his right hand stutters and spasms, pressing all the wrong keys or pressing the right ones too late, and it's just—awful. The music he produces is awful. Hot tears sting his eyes, and his heart feels like lead in his chest when he finally gives up, conceding defeat. Part of Corrin is ashamed for getting this upset over a piano, but it's drowned out by the sense of loss that's overtaken him.
Azura stops singing and walks to his side, placing a hand on his shoulder. She doesn't say anything, and he's glad for that. Playing the piano was one of his only comforts in his time of solitude at the fortress, during the long, lonely hours when his friends were busy with work and his siblings were at Castle Krakenburg. It was stupid, he knew, but it had almost been a friend to him.
"I know it's no replacement," she says finally, "but I can teach you to sing if you want."
"Maybe later," he replies, hands still resting on the ivory keys.
She sits on the bench next to him and drops her head on his shoulder. Sensing his need for a change in subject, she offers, "The nobles seemed quite happy to see your return today."
"I was surprised by that." Today had been the day he'd officially returned to court, taking up his crown again, and the first time he'd publicly greeted Elysium's citizens since his hospitalization. He'd been pleased by the warm reaction. There'd been respect in their eyes now—as if killing a god wasn't enough—but he did get why. He'd proven himself able to handle internal threats as well as external ones, even if in a reckless manner.
With a teasing lilt to her voice, Azura adds, "I'm not. I'd almost be insulted by the difference in reception, if I hadn't always known they liked you more than me." She smiles at him.
"I'm sure that's not true," he hastens, and she shakes her head.
"You were the one who was always making public visits, passing laws to make life easier on them, being sociable. I'm only the substitute."
"No, you're not," he insists, twisting to meet her golden eyes. "You're my wife and my queen, and you care for the citizens more than you show. You ran into a marketplace that was on fire to help them, and they saw that. I think you give yourself too little credit."
It baffles him, that Azura doesn't seem to realize how much of a blessing she's been. She managed the kingdom's affairs very well as he'd struggled to relearn basic skills. She doesn't quite have his charisma with managing nobles, but her steely spine and poise has earned her their respect, and they gave her little trouble. She also, Corrin admits, has the…he doesn't want to say ruthlessness. Maybe unbending. Unbending will to make decisions he can't. He hopes she'll take a more active role in ruling beside him in the future; maybe then he won't be so prone to foolish decisions.
A pleased little smile pulls at her lips, and she tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. "Nevertheless, I am quite happy to stand back again and let you handle the reins."
"I won't be." She tilts her head quizzically, and he clarifies, "I mean, I don't want to be alone in my decision-making. I need you by my side, Azura."
"I never left it."
A year later, their son is born. Shigure's birth brings a huge celebration across Valla. Corrin's siblings send their congratulations, presents delivered by pegasus or wyvern—stuffed animals from Elise and Sakura, wooden toy soldiers (large enough that Shigure can't swallow them) from Ryoma, a colorful rattle from Xander, tiny clothes he knows Camilla and Hinoka have hand-embroidered. Corrin rolls his eyes with fondness when he sees books from Leo and a shogi set carved from polished wood from Takumi, even though it'll be years before Shigure can read or play. Lilith paints a picture of him and Azura with their son, and his friends throw a small party, separate from the approaching royal one.
There are also presents from the various nobles and daimyos, tributes to reassure their loyalty to the heir. Among them is a humble, mysterious basket, full of turnips. There's no note, no indication where it comes from, but Corrin knows who sent it the moment he sees it. The thought of Gunter retiring on a farm somewhere and growing crops makes him smile.
The royal nursery is painted in calming shades of blue and gray, Valla's royal colors. A side door connects it to his and Azura's room—they'd wanted to care for Shigure themselves rather than relegate it to a wet-nurse, something that had shocked the servants, but after their own experiences as being kidnapped as children they don't feel comfortable otherwise. The crib has a canopy, with Shigure surrounded by his stuffed animals like a plump, happy cat resting on pillows. He blinks his golden eyes at his father and gurgles.
Corrin wonders if this spinning, floaty, overjoyed feeling of being a parent ever goes away, or becomes something you get used to. It's persisted from the first moment Azura told him she was with child, grew stronger as the pregnancy grew longer, and exploded into a supernova of delirious bliss when he first saw his son. He's a little under two weeks old now, and that supernova hasn't burned out yet.
He will admit, part of him is scared of the baby in the crib. Scared for the baby, rather. He doesn't know how much of his draconic heritage has been passed on, doesn't know if that'll come back to haunt Shigure in the future. He's never been a father before and out of the many he's had, he doesn't have many good memories to go on. A hundred thoughts and worries spin in his head, centering on one thing: will I be a good father to you?
Despite the year, the nerves in his right arm remain as dulled as ever, and the arm itself is slow, fine-motor skills difficult. He's learned how to eat with his left hand, and write with his left hand—chickenscratch, it may as well be—and he has only just started to train in swords with his left hand. And for all the gradual improvements, he has never once returned to his peak physical health. Walking up stairs, something he never thought much of, exerts so much effort on him he has to stop to catch his breath. Because of this, it took Azura an hour to convince him to hold Shigure when he was born; he'd been so afraid his right arm would give out and he'd drop him. He still doesn't hold Shigure unless he's sitting down, but he spends almost every moment he can with him, cooing at him and marveling at his tiny finger and even tinier fingernails. He hopes that makes up for it.
He reaches inside the crib and gently strokes one of his son's chubby little cheeks. "The world you grow up in," he promises Shigure, "will be one where you never have to pick a side. Where both sides of your heritage are at peace and the only wars you know are the wars in books."
They're hosting a banquet to celebrate his birth and officially present him to the kingdom in a week, and Corrin feels optimistic it'll go well. Relations between the two halves of Valla have continued to improve. One year since Jiro's Rebellion, as it has oh-so-cleverly been named, three years total since Valla's formation, obviously is not enough for generations of prejudices to die completely. But the beginnings of change have been visible wherever he looks. It's like Azura said after he woke up—there's a little less animosity between the Nohrians and Hoshidans, a little more willingness to help neighbors. He sees soldiers of different ethnicities chatting casually together, bonded by mutual combat experience. His friends tell him of people of similar trades exchanging tips. In the noble's schools, under his new education system, children are being taught to see both sides of the conflict, so the next generation will be less bigoted than this. There are still cultural misunderstandings and slurs hurled and distrust, but there are also people stepping in and trying to diffuse those situations. Who knows where they'll be in another year, in five, in ten?
Azura had also been right about the distrust towards him abating. Lilith's transformation had a part in that—seeing a dragon defend their city, move and think like a human, had given many of the citizens pause. The soldiers who fought with her in the defense of Elysium, at the very least, are fervent defenders, and he thinks she's found a few more friends with them. But seeing him move and act intelligently, knowingly try to spare a defeated enemy, has left people thinking about the bestiality of dragons. And he has reforms in mind—adding a full history of what went wrong and how they work to the education system—make it so that people can understand them. And maybe then they won't fear.
He starts to hum as Shigure yawns, hoping to lull him to sleep. What's that particular line…? "Yet the waters ever change/flowing like time/the path is yours to climb…"
Maybe he's wrong. Maybe things won't go as well as he hopes. He doesn't doubt there will be more wars in the future. But that world, a world of peace and understanding, where prejudice is a thing of the past, is the one he, his wife, his siblings, and his friends are trying to create.
A/N: And that ends this fic. Aftermath was a long project, over a year. It's probably going to be my last Fates fanfic—I want to focus on finishing my Danganronpa work, Extra Life, and doing two multi-chapters at the same time was very tiring. And for me, inspirations for one-shots come and go, so I really can't promise to deliver anymore. But beyond that, I've just felt ready to move on.
This fandom has been an absolute blessing. I've met a ton of wonderful people here, read many enjoyable stories, and was able to spread my wings as a fanfic writer for the first time. I thank every single one of you for sticking to Aftermath with me, especially since I slowed down a lot the past few updates. If it weren't for your continued support, I never would have been able to finish.