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And After This, The Dawn

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Dimitri’s lance swings for their head, and they raise their sword.  The metal clangs where it catches against the serrated edges of the Sword of the Creator, and Byleth twists, yanking the lance from Dimitri’s hand.  A roar, seemingly involuntary, erupts from Dimitri’s throat, and despite his weaponless hands, he charges forward.

Byleth hears the swing of metal behind them, and ducks beneath it.  The ax surges just inches from their hair, and Dimitri has just enough sense within him to jerk back before the ax strikes him instead.  Byleth spins, catching Edelgard’s next, smooth swing on their blade. They feel the bone that makes up the sword crack slightly from the blow.  The Sword of the Creator is almost at its limit.

Just like its wielder.

El’s eyes are harsh and cutting, and it stings to see that powerful gaze turned against them — and yet, there’s something else within her eyes as well.  The darkness Byleth had once seen gathered there is no more — only a fierce, brilliant determination remains. She is radiant, and she is....she is going to be all right.

Byleth quickly lowers their sword, causing El’s momentum to jerk her slightly to the side, stumbling as she tries to correct herself.  Byleth swings back around to meet Dimitri once more. He’s taken up his lance again, thrusting it forward, and Byleth bats it away to the side.  Dimitri’s lance shoots to the side, but he keeps coming forward, trying to slam his shoulder into Byleth. Byleth blocks him with the flat of their blade, feet skidding back across the stone floor as Dimitri tries to shove them back with his whole weight.

Dimitri’s fighting is wild and almost uncontrollable, the way Byleth remembers it.  His strength is overwhelming, and in the heat of battle, there is a sort of haze in his one visible eye, as though he isn’t truly within himself.

But despite that — like El — there’s a shard of clarity deep within him.  His seemingly wild, overthrown moves are calculated, causing Byleth to have some trouble countering him.  He isn’t a feral beast, trying to run Byleth down. He is himself — he radiates a powerful, undefeatable presence.  There is no defeat, no desperation within him. He is already planning for the next move, not simply throwing himself completely into one and forgetting his openings.  He is...going to be all right.

In the eaves of the old monastery, Byleth notes where Claude has hidden himself, where he’s pulled back the string of Failnaught, trained on Byleth from afar.  He’s too far, too far for Byleth to see his gaze, to see if the kind, snarky smile is still on his lips, or if the look in his eyes is one that Byleth remembers.  But Claude...of the three of them, Claude has always been good at finding peace even in pain. He will survive....he will be all right.

Byleth dances to the side at the last moment, causing Dimitri’s momentum to shoot him forward, drawing up just before he collides into Edelgard.  Edelgard catches him, and a brief glance passes between them.  

The first tear begins to form in the corner of Byleth’s eye when they see the soft, quiet understanding that seems to pass between the two of them. They’re working together.  They’re allies .  The three of them....

Edelgard starts forward once again, swinging her ax in a wide arc.  Dimitri moves to the side, probably to flank Byleth. Byleth catches the ax once again on the sword.  A little longer, Sothis , they whisper in response to the cracking of the bone.  Just a little bit longer.

“How...many...have been lost?”

The words are hard, even now, to expel from their throat.  But they can’t sign, not while their hands are gripped about the hilt of their blade, and they need to know.

Edelgard’s eyes widen at the sound of Byleth’s voice, and then a terrible, angry expression twists her face.  Byleth feels their heart squeeze. How many? Who was lost? How far will they have to turn it back, to try again?

“We’ve not lost anyone,” Edelgard spits, and Byleth feels the saliva scatter their cheek.  “No thanks to you — you’ve not managed to take a single life today.”

The relief that crashes through them is like a tidal wave.  Byleth nearly tumbles to their knees at that moment.

No one is dead.

They all survived .

After countless times....living them over and over....can it really, truly be over?  Can they have actually reached the end?

In their hands, the cracks begin to spread in fractals down the length of the Sword.  Edelgard’s eyes flicker to the blade she struggles with in surprise. Byleth lets their eyes flicker.  One last time, at the three of them.

Edelgard, before them, keeping them busy by locking blades with them in a tug-of-war she does not expect to win.  Claude, in the eaves, getting ready to fire, a shot he likely believes Byleth has already known is coming, that they will dodge.  And Dimtri, beginning to move, so that as soon as Byleth dodges that arrow, they will find themselves on Dimitri’s lance. They are working together — together, they’ve made a plan to win, by relying on each other.

After everything....after every life...it worked.  They are all together.

The tears begin to fall, running in streaks down their cheeks.  The strength flees their body. They close their eyes.

They do not dodge the arrow.

The Sword of the Creator shatters in their hands, and Edelgard’s ax pierces through, slicing down into Byleth’s breast plate and through it, cleaving into their chest.  Claude’s arrow strikes them in the side, piercing through the crack in their armor, a perfect shot. And Dimitri’s momentum carries him through, even past the space he’d likely expected Byleth’s dodge to lead them, and forward until the lance pieces through Byleth’s other side.

The pain doesn’t begin right away.  It’s delayed, which is something of a surprise.  Byleth’s arms drop to their sides, body held up, for a moment, by the ax and lance that pierce them.  Then, almost out of surprise, both Dimitri and Edelgard yank their weapons back, and Byleth falls.

The stone is cold and hard beneath them where they crumple back, and their blood is warm, leaking through their tunic and onto the floor.  They stare upwards, breath coming short and shallow.  

Ah, they think, breathing slowly.  I can see the sky one last time .

The hole in the monastery ceiling opens up to the bright blue sky, cloudless and brilliant.  As the tears continue to roll down their cheeks, Byleth can’t help but smile at that sky. It looks radiant and shining.  Like the future, they hope. Like the future of Fódlan that the three of them will build.

Despite how far he must have been, Claude’s is the first face to appear in Byleth’s vision.  His eyes are wide, his jaw is clenched, his hands shoot to Byleth’s collar and grips at it, yanking them half up.

“Why didn’t you dodge it?” he yells, shaking Byleth slightly.  “You knew I was aiming at you!! Don’t — don’t pretend you didn’t know I was there!  Why didn’t you dodge it?

Byleth can hardly see for the tears.  The relief is too much. Their body is sagging, no strength to hold them up but for Claude’s hands in their collar.  It hurts to see the tears rolling down Claude’s cheeks, more than anything else. Oh , Byleth thinks.  Have I ever seen you cry before?

Claude’s hands don’t seem strong enough to keep hold of them, and Byleth slips from his weakened fingers and back to the floor as Claude’s body hunches forward.  Byleth hears the sound of metal clanging against the floor, and then again. Edelgard’s ax, and Dimitri’s lance, both discarded, as both of them, one at a time, drop to a knee beside Byleth.

“You must have known,” Edelgard echoes, her voice tight, her jaw tighter.  “You can’t expect us to believe you didn’t know what we were planning. We learned it all from you.”

“You gave up,” Dimitri says, his voice cracking, hands shaking.  “Why did you — let us —”

Byleth wants to look at them, as long as they can.  But their vision is blurring. The pain pulses in their chest as the blood leaks from them, and its getting harder to breathe.  They close their eyes — the sight of the sky, so bright, is too blinding all of a sudden.

With the last of their strength, they pull their hands up to their chest.  Slowly, agonizingly, they twist their fingers and palms into each sign, one at a time.

“Thank....you...” they sign.

Claude’s choked sob, muffled against his glove, breaks Byleth’s heart.  They crack open their eyes, trying to see all three of them around them again, to look at them as long as possible.

“What was all of this for,” Dimitri says.  “What was it for ?”

He tries to reach for Byleth’s throat, like Claude had before, but his hand loses strength before it gets there, crumpling as Dimitri doubles over against his knees, shaking.  Edelgard only stares down at them, her eyes hollow, lips parted, blood splattered against her already red armor.

Their vision is beginning to fade.  They are running out of time. It’s a relief.  It’s a curse. One sign at a time, slowly and painfully, they manage to move their fingers.

“Promise...me.  Stay...together. Create...a better...future.  Together. And...please......smile.”

Their hands slide from their chest, back to the floor.  There is no more strength. Not a single smidgen left, not for a sign, not for a word.

“Don’t go,” the whisper escapes Edelgard suddenly, her lips barely moving, almost involuntary, as though she doesn’t realize the plea that’s left her. 

“I don’t understand,” Claude says, gripping Byleth’s hand between both of his.  “I don’t understand .  You can’t go before you explain.”

Byleth can hardly keep their eyes open anymore.  They feel Dimitri clutching at their other hand, so tight that it might shatter their fingers, but no more words seem to be able to escape Dimitri’s choked throat.  

This is their only regret.  This pain they must feel...it’s the only thing they wish they could have avoided.  But they...they can live on. They’ll be all right.

They’re going to be all right .

Byleth hears the faint sound of bare feet, padding against the stone.  Their eyes roll up, in time to see the fourth head that leans down over them from above.

Sothis smiles at them, sad and understanding.  The other three don’t seem to see her as she kneels at Byleth’s head, pulling their head to rest against her knees.

“You’ve fought for a very long time,” she says.  “Longer than I ever thought possible.”

She brushes the bangs from Byleth’s eyes, and cups their face in her hands.

“You’ve earned a long rest,” she says.  “I only wish I could grant you one among the people you love.”

Byleth smiles at her.  The two of them don’t need words to speak, to understand.

Thank you.  For everything.  For being at my side through this journey.

Sothis laughs softly, a hollow, sad sound.  She strokes Byleth’s cheek.

“Thanking me?  It’s you who did this.  It’s you who sacrificed yourself for them.  It’s you who saved everyone, who tried, over and over and over, until you reached the ending you chose.  All I did was watch from far away.”

Byleth smiles anyway.  If not for her...if not for her, they never would have made it here.  They sigh, deeply, feeling the darkness rising about them.

I am ready to go.

Sothis nods.  She leans down, kisses Byleth’s forehead.  Her lips are cool, sending a rush of cool relief through Byleth’s body, until they feel no pain — until they feel nothing at all.  Their body is empty.

“All right,” she says.  “Let’s go, then. Jeralt’s been waiting a long time, you know.”

Byleth smiles again, the final breaths escaping their lungs.  One last time, they turn their eyes to the three crying faces above them.  

They wish they could have seen everyone.  Every smiling face. Every laugh, every voice calling out Professor!   One last time, to see them all alive and well, to see them grow and love and live after this endless war is over.  At the very least, they wish they could have seen the three of them here smiling one last time. But all they have are the memories — the times they lived that the others do not, and will not remember.  

That’s good.  Byleth does not want them to remember the lives they lived together.  Does not want them to regret.

But...one last thing.  They want to tell them...just one last thing.  But there is no more air for words, and their hands are too weak to even grip back the hands that hold them.  Their eyes fall shut, as Sothis rises, and cradles their soul in her arms.

I want you to know.

Dimitri, Edelgard, Claude.  Everyone...the Lions, the Eagles, the Deer.  Every single one of you. My precious students.  My precious friends.

I want you to know that before, before I met you, I never knew it was possible...to love anyone as much as I love all of you.

Be well.  Be happy.

Tomorrow is a new dawn.