Title: for love, for justice, for vengeance
A/N: For Crossed Realms zine! I decided to crossover with FF15 and do the rewrite I always wanted to fix the tonal issues I had with the game.
Summary: It was supposed to be a fun road trip, a last hurrah before Prince Dimitri married the Oracle Byleth. Sylvain had planned out a bachelor party, Ingrid and Sylvain agreed to be less sticks in the mud, and Dedue would keep away all of the prince's responsibilities.
It was supposed to be. And then the Empire attacked.
The prince was angry. Dedue knew that intuitively, could feel the rage rolling off Dimitri in waves. It was not obvious to most people—even his retainers and childhood friends couldn't always recognize the conflicting emotions that constantly shimmered under the prince's skin. Then again, Dimitri tended to hide his true emotions behind his manners. Even now, as they walked through the halls, the maids and household staff bowing as they passed, Dimitri didn't let his rage show. He greeted each one with a smile, thanking them for their work. It could be forgiven if they thought he was in a good mood.
Yet, Dedue knew better. Dimitri's hand was curled into a fist, his shoulders square, his footsteps slightly louder than they needed to be. All of his innate strength seeped out of him in the smallest of ways, barely restrained. Dedue had often wondered just how much minuscule damage the castle could take, how many generations had released their anger onto its sturdy bricks.
Still, there was no point in asking his highness about it. Experience had taught him that Dimitri wouldn't talk about it until they were alone. Fortunately, it didn't take them long to reach a deserted hallway, utterly clear of any eavesdroppers.
Immediately, Dimitri's smile dropped, his pace slowing slightly. His brow furrowed and each step sent off a wave of tremors. "This is ridiculous," he finally uttered.
This was the chance he'd been waiting for. Dedue clasped his hands behind his back. "What is, your highness?"
Dimitri gave him a sharp look. "I thought you agreed to drop formalities when we are alone?"
"I..." Dedue swallowed, remembering. His tongue felt heavy as he repeated, "What is, Dimitri?"
He smiled sunnily before the clouds reappeared once more. "This sham of an engagement."
Dedue blinked, surprised. Over the years, he had occasionally caught Dimitri in a forlorn mood, longing staring out his windows in the direction of Garreg Mach. It hadn't taken long to guess just who he had thought of in those quiet moments or why he would smile sadly when alone. "I thought you wanted to marry Byleth."
Immediately, Dimitri coloured. "That…it's not that I don't…" Utterly red, the anger washed off him for a moment and he ducked his head bashfully. His voice softened. "It's not that."
"Then…what is the problem, Dimitri?" He could live to a hundred and not be used to saying the prince's name, to acting like their positions meant nothing.
The smile dropped, though Dimitri's cheeks remained slightly flushed. Clearing his throat, he stood straight once more, though his anger was far less palpable than before. "I shouldn't leave my country. Not now, when the Empire could crush us at any minute." His jaw tightened. "I should stay and protect my people. My marriage…it is nothing compared to my duties."
Gently, Dedue squeezed Dimitri's stiff shoulders. "This will protect your people. Byleth is the archbishop, after all. Once she arrives in Faerghus, we will be under her protection."
"I…" Dimitri softened once more, no doubt thinking about her. "I wish I didn't have to rely on her for this, that I could protect us with my own strength."
"You have," Dedue replied firmly, shaking his head slowly. He would never be able to describe how he felt when Dimitri had grabbed his hands all those years ago, dragging a poor refugee from the slums to the castle. "And you will. This will reduce bloodshed and possibly deter the empire. There might not be a war."
"Still..." Dimitri shifted uneasily before stilling entirely. "I wish I did not have to involve her in this at all. That our marriage was not based on this need. Besides, while this is all true, I do not need to escort her here. You or Ingrid could guide her here—I do not want to leave my people in a time like this."
Dedue shook his head. He never understood why Dimitri always complicated matters like this, why it was always so hard for him to accept the simple truths in life. Then again, the prince had often said the same about him, and perhaps they were both obtuse in their own ways.
"Her archbishop needs protection to reach here, protection that only you can give. I am not strong enough to protect her." Dedue smiled sadly, more than aware of how weak he truly was. Compared to the strength of Dimitri's other guards, nobles who had trained their entire lives to protect the crown, his own powers were paltry. The most protection he could provide was as a shield.
Dimitri's frown grew deeper, unable to refute that. "I suppose."
"I am certain she is looking forward to this too. She wants to see you," Dedue added. It was a half lie. From what little he'd heard and seen of Byleth, it was impossible to read her emotions. But he'd seen the letters they'd exchanged, carried by an invisible, sardonic goddess. Dimitri's safe was full of them, biweekly letters carried throughout the years.
That had to mean something.
"That's not why I—" Dimitri flushed once more, the red reaching his ears now.
Dedue rarely disagreed with Dimitri if he could help it. Yet, in matters of his prince's happiness or safety, he had to intervene. "Despite the pretenses leading to the engagement, it is also real."
For a second, hope crossed Dimitri's face. Then, just as quickly, it disappeared, leaving behind a cold expression. Teeth clenched, lips in a straight line, eyes hard—Dedue felt a shiver run up his spine as he slowly looked down the hallway. There was only one person in the castle who caused such a reaction.
Dimitri's uncle walked toward them, his steps echoing in the hall.
Another good reason to get Dimitri out of the castle. Dedue wanted to take him as far from that man as possible.
Under a blazing sun, crystal clear waves lapped a sandy beach. Birds trilled as they flew from palm tree to palm tree, and fish swam under the sparkly waters. In the distance, sea gulls cried.
This was paradise.
Felix hated it. An utterly frivolous tourist destination, Rhodos Coast wasn't the kind of place he'd visit on his own if he had a choice. If he wanted to relax, he'd have stayed home. There was nothing calming about the way the sand burned beneath his rear as he sat. Unfortunately, he was alone in this thought; the rest of his companions were happily scattered along the beach.
"How can you be so grumpy even here?" Sylvain bemoaned, crouching in front of Felix. Dressed in swimming trunks and with a fruity drink in hand, he looked like he was at a party and not part of a prince's guard. "This place is beautiful!"
The bastard was just out of reach for punch, but not for a sword. Felix contemplated the merit of sullying his blade with the wastrel's blood. "This is a waste of time," he growled.
"How?" Sylvain's eyes widened, his expression guileless. Felix knew better than to believe that. "We're relaxing."
"We are supposed to get the archbishop," Felix replied sharply, irritated. It wasn't like this pretense of a mission wasn't a waste of time anyways. No matter how important Byleth was, she didn't need five people to retrieve her. Even if she did, with the boar prince around, they didn't need the sword, spear, and shield of Faerghus all gathered together. "Not party."
"We're here for an engagement, this is a bachelor party," Sylvain corrected smoothly, rolling his eyes. He stood up now and stared down at Felix. "You can have a little fun without the world ending."
"And you can have a little less fun without dying," Ingrid retorted, standing behind him. Her sleeves were rolled up, her usually neat braid slightly mused. She held a crab in hand and he didn't have to ask to know she'd caught it herself. Unlike the idiot, she at least was still in her uniform, albeit a more relaxed version. Her jacket was nowhere in sight, her collar loosened, and with her sleeves and pants all rolled up, she might as well have changed clothing.
Sylvain groaned, turning his head as Ingrid dropped the crab into Dimitri's fish bucket. She'd probably catch more than the prince did, considering how impatient he was.
"Come on, Ingrid, not you too." He looked at her pleadingly, eyes wide, lip jutted out in a pout. It was a look that worked on most. "We're at the beach! It won't kill us to have a little fun."
However, a lifetime had given Ingrid immunity to Sylvain's begging. She rested her hand on her hip, frowning. "Look, Sylvain, this isn't a vacation. We're catching the ferry for Garreg Mach tomorrow. Could you please take this a little more seriously, before you offend some noble?"
"We're going to war anyways," Felix replied, shrugging at the worry. "Who cares how it was triggered?"
"Felix." Ingrid changed her focus to him and gave him the grumpiest look. At least it wasn't her glare.
"You two are terrible, I would never start a war." Sylvain clutched his chest, faking shock. Getting over the betrayal rapidly, he smiled sunnily at them once more. "We're taking a break today, remember?"
"Just because we're waiting for the ferry," Felix corrected.
"And this is Dimitri's last day as a bachelor," he continued, ignoring Felix entirely. "We have to throw him a bachelor party, guys—sure, maybe he can't have a stripper or any of those fun things, but still. It's the principle that matters."
"This is what you preserve your principles for?" Ingrid hissed, unable to contain herself.
"You're the only one who cares," Felix replied at the same time.
"Dimitri cares," Sylvain argued back, gesturing at the prince. "He'll only get married once. Probably. And shouldn't we make this a memorable time for him?"
Felix and Ingrid followed Sylvain's arm to where Dimitri stood in the shallows of the lake, his pants rolled up as he slowly walked parallel to the shoreline. Noticing their stares, Dimitri waved at them invitingly, a smile on his face. By his side, a slightly tense Dedue glanced around warily, as though a monster would pop out of the depths and eat Dimitri alive.
"Well…" Ingrid softened. As usual. Sylvain's charms might never have worked on her, but he'd always been good at persuasion. "I suppose it'll make him happy…"
Felix rolled his eyes, not falling for his childhood friend's usual tricks. "This is a waste of time," he repeated. The prince would also smile when he saw Byleth, if that's what they were after.
"Party pooper," Sylvain sniped, and that was the only warning Felix got before a bucket of water showered him from above, drenching him entirely.
Felix sat there for a long second, his clothes clinging to his body like a second skin, before leaping to his feet. "SYLVAIN."
No one would complain if they 'lost' Sylvain. It wasn't like they needed him to protect the prince after all.
Ingrid knew the sound of death. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn't choked tears or heart-wrenching wails. Those came after, when a person processed what had happened, when people tried to put words to their feelings. The sound of death was just this: utter silence.
She had experienced it once, long ago, when the Empire had attacked. They had fended off the soldiers, protecting Dimitri, but not before his parents died. Not before Glen, Felix's brother, her fiancé, died. It had been silent then as well, when she'd received the news. Everything froze, time stood still, and Ingrid had heard the deafening roar of silence before Sylvain had grabbed her, hugging her tight.
Her ears rang now too as she stood on a ridge overlooking the Faerghus capital. Sylvain was saying something, but she couldn't hear him, couldn't hear anything as she stared at the smouldering ruins of her home. When she'd heard the news at the docks, that the Empire had attacked, she hadn't believed it. How could they have struck the heart of Faerghus again? After everything they'd done to bolster its protections?
And yet, it was true. Ingrid didn't blink, unable to tear her eyes away from the destroyed city before her. Whatever buildings still standing were broken, their walls scorched black from explosions and fire. An acrid scent assaulted her senses, the smell of burning bodies, and suddenly time moved once more. On her right, Dimitri stared in horror, his feet rooted to the ground. Dedue glanced at him worriedly. She should help. She should go to him.
Her feet wouldn't move.
Felix didn't move either, but not for a lack of trying. Sylvain had somehow sensed it ahead of time, locking him down by tightly winding his arm around Felix's in a desperate attempt to get him to stay. He pleaded, "We have to go."
Felix didn't bother to reply, his eyes flashing with fury as he strained tor run forward. No doubt he wanted to fight whatever enemies remained, get revenge for their people's deaths.
Ingrid covered her mouth, realization dawning. Felix's parents. Her own parents. It was impossible to believe they survived but she refused to think otherwise. They had to be alive. She stepped forward, and Sylvain turned to her, eyes wide as he tried to grab her arm. "Ingrid! Don't!"
"There could be survivors," she shouted back, already scanning the ridge for the quickest way down. The slope to the city was too steep to walk, but if she tied a rope around her waist, she could scale it. "We have to save them!"
"We have to protect Dimitri," he argued, struggling to keep a grip on Felix and stop her at the same time. "We have to leave!"
"I'm going down there," Felix growled, trying to yank free. There was murder in his voice and any other time, she would have been on Sylvain's side, keeping his rage in check.
"You'll die!" Sylvain snarled, his temper no longer in check. "You'll both die!"
"If we can save someone—"
"THERE MIGHT NOT BE ANYONE!" Sylvain roared, cutting her off as he said what they were all thinking, what they all knew instinctively.
For a long moment, she and Felix stared at him, eyes wide. Before she could reply, there was an almost inhuman cry from her right. Her head snapped to her right to find Dimitri crying out, a strangled sound escaping his lips. With his wild expression, it was like something in him snapped. Nothing about her childhood friend looked princely right now. No, he looked more like a rabid animal, barely restrained.
The second he stepped forward, Ingrid knew that if she didn't stop him here, there would be no saving him. She didn't spare a second glance at the city, at the direction her house was, and instead dashed toward Dimitri. "You can't!"
"Don't!" Dedue shouted at the same time, grabbing Dimitri by the shoulders.
Enraged, Dimitri tried to shove him away, his monstrous strength directed at them for once. Ingrid grabbed his other arm, gritting her teeth as his rage turned to her now. "We have to go!" she begged, echoing Sylvain's words. Behind her, the city burned, and she swallowed down her sorrow. "There's nothing for us here."
Only death, and she couldn't stand the sound of it anymore.
Sylvain was used to being the joker of the group. When his friends consisted of the serious Ingrid, the noble Dimitri, the stoic Felix, and the silent Dedue, it was almost a matter of survival. They spent too much time in their heads, overthinking things, refusing to crack so much as a smile. It was a dreary way to live, and Sylvain had enough of that with his own family. If someone had to remind his friends how to loosen up, how to have fun, well, he'd gladly take the job.
Yet, despite a lifetime of practice, his silver tongue failed him now. There wasn't a joke or a flirt that could change the fact that Faerghus was gone. There was a smouldering crater where their capital used to be, the Empire was invading any smaller cities that haven't surrendered already, and who knew where their families were. Smoke continued to rise from the capital, mixing with the stormy clouds above.
Even now, he could smell the charred bodies, hear Dimitri's pained cry, feel Felix's muscles strain as he tried to charge off into a doomed battle. It might have only been days since the incident, but Sylvain had a feeling he would remember this sensation even years from now. A feeling of helplessness washed over him and Sylvain forced it down.
There wasn't time for that, not when everyone else was moping around. Sylvain slapped his cheeks, forcing himself to focus on the present. Around him, survivors bustled, and Sylvain was grateful for this small miracle. Not everyone had died. There were enough survivors for a small camp. Sprawled around them was a tent city, with no more than about twenty in it. A small number, in all honesty, but it was better than nothing. He wasn't sure how Jeralt had rounded them up, but it seemed the ex-captain was more skilled than he let on.
Plastering a broad smile on his face, Sylvain walked over to his closest friend. "Hey—"
"Don't." Unfortunately, the closest friend was Felix. Seated on a rock, he sharpened his sword tirelessly, not even looking up to acknowledge anyone's presence.
"Come on, you don't know what I'm about to say," Sylvain replied lightly, though the words sounded forced even to his ears. Even his grin didn't feel natural. "It could be anything."
"Unless it's about how we're going to beat those bastards, I don't care." Felix looked up now, giving him a flat glare. His eyes were slightly red-rimmed and now that Sylvain was paying attention, his voice sounded hoarse as well.
"Felix…" Sylvain swallowed, reaching out to squeeze his friend's shoulder. "I…I'm sorry. I know—"
Before he could say Rodriguez, before he could so much as touch him, Felix pulled away, his glare hardening. "Don't," he hissed, but it sounded more like a plea than an order.
Sylvain had never been close to his family and in all honesty, he never wanted to be. But Felix—he knew the relationship between him and his father was strained, was muddled and confused and with time, perhaps it could have been fixed.
It was time they never got. He had never thought of Felix as fragile before, but every part of the man before him looked like glass, ready to break. And Sylvain had always been a bull in a china shop. He stepped back for now, dropping the smile entirely. "Okay."
There was something else he should say, but he couldn't find the words. Looking around, it wasn't hard to find the rest of his friends. Ingrid flitted from tent to tent, her hands full of supplies and expression determined. Sylvain watched her for a long moment, noticing her tear-stained cheeks and the tiny tremors of her hands as she forced a neutral expression.
Had his friends always been this fragile? This easily broken? He wanted to pull them both into a tight hug, force them to cry it out, but he knew he'd be the one crying. That as responsible as Ingrid was, she'd hold her feelings at bay while she dealt with him and Felix.
She looked at him, her green eyes watery, and Sylvain flinched. He knew her almost better than he knew himself, and he didn't have to ask to know the question running through her mind, Could I have done more? Because Ingrid always blamed herself when things went wrong, always saw it as a failure on her part instead of others.
And if she asked, he wouldn't know what to say. Before she could so much as step toward him, he spun on his heels and all but ran to the edge of the camp. Dedue's hulking figure was easy to spot even from a distance.
His voice cracked slightly as he greeted, "Dedue."
"Sylvain." Dedue offered a half-smile, his expression weary.
"How're you holding up?" he asked, coming to a stop next to him. Sylvain rubbed his arm, trying to force his heart to calm down, to keep his voice from cracking.
"As well as expected, thank you." Even now, he kept a formal tongue, as though to force a wall between them. "And you?"
"Alive, I guess," Sylvain half-joked, not sure how to answer that question at all. Really, this whole line of questioning was stupid, why had he even asked that. He rubbed his neck. "How's Dimitri?"
Dedue sighed, gesturing at the field in the distance. Barely visible was a blue-clothed man in battle. Sylvain tensed, almost about to run after his prince, when he realized there was no enemy. Just a man, in a field, spearing countless invisible foes. Dimitri roared with each thrust, sounding like a wild, rabid animal instead of the gentle prince he'd known for years.
Just where had that rage been hiding, all this time?
"He has not stopped for the last two days," Dedue answered his unasked question. "He barely rests, barely eats, and I fear for his health."
"I…" Sylvain's shoulders sank, and just who did he think he was going to cheer up? He barely knew how to react. "How do I help?"
"I'm not sure if anything can help him right now." Dedue's brow furrowed.
"Then what should I do?" His voice cracked.
A heavy hand rested on his shoulder, and he looked up at Dedue's impassive face. His eyes crinkled kindly, his voice soft. "You live."
Dedue nodded. "Yes, that is what Dimitri, what all of you have taught me. Even if my people are gone, I am here."
Suddenly, Sylvain recognized Dedue's expression for what it was: a man who had lived through this before, who was seeing nothing new. He'd almost forgotten that Duscur was amongst the first to be conquered by the Empire, its people all but wiped out. No wonder Dedue always looked older than he was.
"Living is harder than it looks." Sylvain cracked a smile, and this time it didn't feel faked.
Dimitri was used to ghosts. He'd had his since he had been a child, watching his parents die in a burst of flames and gunpowder. Their voices had never left him—his father screaming at his enemies, his mother begging to be saved. If anything, the ghosts had piled up over the years, the faceless citizens he could have saved, the people he should have protected.
He was used to his ghosts, and in retrospect, seeing his home wiped out shouldn't have affected him as it had. What was the weight of millions more, their voices drowning out one another as they all asked him for the same thing: justice.
No, not justice. His blood boiled too hot, his skin itched too much for this to be as cool and neutral as justice. They wanted revenge.
He wanted revenge.
"What are you thinking of?" Gilbert asked, his voice so low and quiet that Dimitri almost mistook it for a phantom's. The man's presence was as invisible as one, anyways, and Dimitri wouldn't have noticed him in Jeralt's camp if he hadn't called out. Even now, following him through the abandoned caverns near the capital, it was like following a wraith. It was easy to lose him in the gloom.
Dimitri looked at the older man, at the wrinkles lining his face. They'd known each other for years, but he hadn't realized how old Gilbert was till now. "You should be with your family," he replied automatically.
Gilbert's eyes widened before he shook his head. His huge frame almost curled into itself, shame radiating off him. "I cannot."
"You will not," Dimitri corrected harshly, no longer willing to mince his words.
Gilbert's breath hitched, and he nodded. "No, you are right. I will not." His hand curled into a tight ball as they walked, his nails digging into his skin.
Perhaps it was a good thing that he had left the others behind, ordering them to keep watch at the cavern's mouth. There were some conversations Dimitri wasn't ready to have in front of them, some words he wasn't ready to hear from them, and a trip through the dark was preferable than having to process the past week.
"Why?" Dimitri asked. The words came out louder, rougher than he'd intended.
"I do not deserve to see them," Gilbert replied simply, as though that made sense. He gave a resigned smile. "Not after what I've done to them."
And what was done to us?
What do we deserve?
"You can still say that, even now? After the capital was destroyed?" Dimitri asked, resisting to cover his ears. It never stopped the ghosts before, it wouldn't stop them now. He wanted to get through this conversation without rage spilling out of him like lava from a volcano.
Gilbert frowned, his heavy brow furrowed. "That is a fair point."
"However, we will have to discuss it when you return, your highness." Gilbert came to an abrupt stop.
Dimitri looked ahead now, eyes widening as he took in a massive door. Elegant script covered it, a tribute in a dead language, and faintly he could recognize some of the magic ruins covering the stone slab. "This is…"
'Your ancestral tomb." Gilbert paused. "One of them, at least. Inside, you might find the help you seek."
Perhaps there was something wrong about seeking the dead for help, but Dimitri had heard their voices for years. They had guided his hand, whether he liked it or not, and what was one more voice added to the collection.
With no hesitation, he touched the door. It groaned as it slid to the right into a crevasse, revealing a small, circular room with a domed roof. Inside, several statues lined the walls, and he recognized the biggest one as Loog, founder of his country and his first ancestor. In the center of the tomb, a long coffin stood alone.
His feet automatically moved toward it. Dimly, he was aware that Gilbert had stayed outside. Dimitri's footsteps echoed softly in the room. It threw him off slightly and he stopped, looking around. There was no one here but him.
Dimitri froze. There was no one here but him. He had almost forgotten what it was like, utter silence. To be alone with his thoughts. Not even the ghosts were willing to enter this sacred area. Swallowing, he turned back to the coffin, his hands brushing the lid reverently.
What would the King of Lions have done in his place? Revenge? Justice? Or walked away from it all?
A flash of green crossed his sight, the memory of a slight smile, a soft touch. Byleth.
As though to answer him, a sword materialized in the air, identical in form to the one decorating the coffin. Loog's sword, he knew instinctively. The sword hovered in the air in front of him, waiting to be claimed.
His ancestors had spoken.
"I'm sorry," he apologized, banishing any thoughts of a green-haired woman as he reached for the hilt.
The path before him was one of vengeance. Love had no place there.