When Dimitri woke up, he knew it was going to be a bad day. He swore he could feel cold fingers digging into his skin, demanding his attention. The voices of the dead were loud and insistent, all snarling teeth and black words, drumming in his ears like a demented heartbeat.
Why are you still here?
Why haven't you joined us in death?
Why do you think you deserve this life, when you stole ours?
He closed his eye. I don't.
Dimitri knew he should only answer the voices to rebuke them, and then firmly push them back. But today was one of the days where he felt as if he were mired in a swamp. The dark, muddy water sucked his limbs down and kissed his chin, and it took all his strength just to tilt his head back to breathe, and how could he even begin to hope to swim? It was impossible. He couldn't do it. Not today.
How pathetic, Glenn scoffed. 'Oh no, I'm sad. I better stay in bed all day.'
I know. I know. There was a meeting today about the current funds for rebuilding infrastructure. He had to attend. He had to. He tried to make his limbs move, to push off the covers and start getting dressed.
You have duties you must attend to as king, Father sneered, and yet you have the gall to let them remain unfinished? You're a failure.
Yet still, the cruelty continued. More voices piled in, offering their unwanted opinions, layering on top of each other, a demonic chorus chanting, You should have died at Duscur, at Gronder, at Enbarr—
Byleth's voice was the sun breaking through storm clouds. Dimitri blinked, rolled over. His wife was pushing herself up on one arm, concern creasing her beautiful face. He'd gone to bed with her in his arms, as he preferred; he must have released her and shifted in the night at some point.
She scanned him and he knew that instantly, she knew. Her face softened. She sat up, pulled his head onto her lap, ran her fingers through his hair. At her touch, the voices grew a little harder to hear. He closed his eye and pressed his face into her stomach. "What do you feel up to today?"
It was the same question she asked every time he relapsed. "What can you do?" Not what did he have to do; what could he do. His wife's talent for knowing just the right thing to say never ceased to amaze him. Such a question forced him to think of the facts, assess himself, helped him stay grounded.
He took a deep breath and thought about the various tasks that had to be done. Working was—not possible, but the thought of food didn't make his stomach churn like it sometimes did in these episodes. "I can eat breakfast."
She nodded. "Alright, I'll send a servant to fetch some. Anything else?"
Could he get dressed? No. Bathe? No. "I don't think so. They're very loud today. Could you…?"
"I'll speak with the head steward and my assistant about handling our affairs for the day." Seteth was still stationed in Garreg Mach, so Byleth had found a new assistant for the Northern Church here in Fhirdiad.
A true ruler never burdens others with their problems, Edelgard said in disgust.
No. Byleth loved him and said, repeatedly, she wanted to do whatever she could to help when he got like this. He never pushed more onto those around him than was necessary. Today was just—just one of those necessary days.
As if sensing the turn of his thoughts, the hand stroking his hair slipped under the covers and twined their fingers together. Byleth's free hand plucked a silver bell kept by their bed just for this purpose. With a graceful flick, the bell's light peal rang through the air. Within moments, a servant was in the room, having arrived through one of their secret servant passages that weaved throughout the castle. He bowed. "Your Majesty, Your Grace?"
Look at you, letting even the servants see your disgusting weakness.
With a deep breath, Dimitri sat upright. Byleth flashed him a quick smile, as if he'd done something to be proud of.
I have. You want to keep me in bed and torment me all day, and I'm fighting that. That's something to be proud of.
The voices hissed in displeasure. They reminded Dimitri of wild animals retreating from a flame; held at bay for now, but skulking, waiting to see if the fire would go out. If he was alone, it surely would. But by focusing on the physical sensations around him—the warmth of Byleth's hand, the sound of her voice as she softly gave orders, the gentle fall of her mint hair—he found it easier to ignore the chanting.
When the servant left, he said, "Byleth?"
"Thank you for staying, truly. I know you have your share of things to do as well…"
At that, she placed a chase kiss to his cheek. "None so important as you."