Actions

Work Header

Fifty Ways to Love Your Partner

Chapter Text

The monastery grounds are quiet, yet somehow abuzz at the same time. Certifications week put everyone on edge. If you ventured out of your room or the library at any point during the week, it was common to find more students than usual taking naps in the courtyard, passed out on thick tactical textbooks with their notes strewn about them. The halls are, for the most part, silent, save for the occasional hymns drifting across the bridge.

The dining hall is the only place that is, largely, untouched by the chaos. The tension and bubbling excitement is familiar, even if it is exam driven. Those who have already taken, and presumably passed, Certifications are the loudest. Everyone else is just trying to let off a little steam. Dimitri honestly doesn’t have the time to join them, but Ingrid and Sylvain had all but dragged him away from the training grounds to get some food. They are right, he needs the food for energy later, but part of him can’t help but feel guilty for every second he spends away from his studies. If he wants to pass his swordsmanship Certifications, his time is best spent back at the training grounds. He isn’t entirely a lost cause, or so he likes to think. He can hold his own with a sword, but Felix has bested him one too many times recently, putting him on edge. He piles food haphazardly onto his plate, rationalizing that, if he eats quickly, he’ll probably have enough time to get in a couple more training sessions before his Certification—

“Looking forward to your certifications this evening,” a voice cuts into his thoughts. The Professor. She rests a tray of food lazily across her arms, her face expressionless as usual, but her eyes alight with excitement.

“Ah, as am I,” he lies, bowing slightly, if only to hide the heat growing at his cheeks.

“You seem nervous,” she observes, tilting her head.

“Ah, well, you know as well as I do that swordsmanship isn’t my strong suit,” he keeps his eyes on the ground.

“Only because the skills you do have are unparalleled,” she offers a small smile. “And don’t sell yourself short- you’re quite capable with a sword. You have nothing to worry about.”

“You’re far too generous, professor. I will do my best to live up to expectations,” he laughs nervously.

“You never cease to impress,” she gently squeezes his arm before walking to join Jeralt, who was waiting for her at a far entrance to the dining hall.

You never cease to impress.

The Professor’s compliment rings in his ears. She was always vocal with her praise of her students, something for which they were all certainly grateful. Still, her compliment did raise his spirits slightly. Dimitri makes his way across the dining hall, settling into the bench across from Sylvain and Ingrid and offering up a smile. The two of them are chatting and he absentmindedly listens in to the conversation, picking away at the food he’d barely noticed piling onto his plate. Sylvain shoves his fourth sweet bun of the afternoon into his mouth and Ingrid throws him a look.

“You’re going to choke.”

“Ahm wavenuff,” Sylvain replies, “Ah haven a’ o’ slep in free days,” he holds up three fingers to further illustrate his point, as though anyone had any idea what he was saying in the first place, before swallowing loudly. “I’ve been living off coffee, I swear.

“Coffee is not a meal,” Ingrid groans.

“Well, when you pass your certification exam you can judge my stress management skills,” he elbows Ingrid playfully. “In the meantime, if you need an energy boost, Dedue brews a mean coffee.”

“That is true,” Dimitri agrees, only half intending to join in the conversation. Ingrid rounds on him.

“You’ve hardly touched your food,” she observes softly. “Not that Sylvain’s table manners have fostered an enticing dining environment.” Sylvain snorts and Ingrid grins into her soup.

“I suppose I’m just a little nervous,” Dimitri laughs, wiping his sweaty hands against his pants, as if to prove a point.

“What are you nervous for? We saw you chatting up the professor,” Sylvain winks. The flush returns to Dimitri’s face. “She was smiling at you. There’s no way she’s going to fail you.”

“We merely ran into each other by chance,” he sputters. Goddess, it’s hot in the dining hall suddenly. “And she certainly would fail me if I deserved it.”

“Sure,” Sylvain laughs. “Honestly, I don’t know why you don’t use the whole teacher’s pet thing to your advantage more often. Despite all my charms, she doesn’t compliment me half as much as she compliments you.”

Dimitri opens and closes his mouth, no retort coming to mind. He looks to Ingrid for assistance, but she only raises her eyebrows and fights a smile, suddenly very interested in her now empty soup bowl.

“Oh don’t tell me you agree with him,” Dimitri whines.

“She does give you a lot of compliments,” Ingrid shrugs, still smiling. “Not that the praise isn’t deserved,” she backtracks slightly. “You train more than Sylvain. But she does seem to like praising you.”

“I suppose I haven’t noticed it. Though, I still maintain you’re exaggerating,” he can feel the tips of his ears burning now. Perhaps he ought to pay more mind to the compliments the Professor doled out. She’s not one for flattery, so she must really mean it. It seems odd, that of all his classmates, she would praise him so frequently. Not that he wasn’t grateful for the attention. Truth be told, hearing that she complimented him more than the others made him feel… happy somehow.

He smiles into his lunch.

Chapter Text

She’ll never get used to the chilly Faerghus air. She’d been warned it was cold, but was never really truly prepared for just how harshly the wind could bite, especially first thing in the morning. She pulls her blankets up to her chin, opening her eyes slowly, the room bathed in the soft golden light of sunrise. She reached her arm out to feel for her husband, but his sleeping form was nowhere to be found. It wasn’t particularly odd for either of them to wake before sunrise—even before others in the castle or monastery, wherever they happened to make their home at the moment—as their respective duties kept them plenty busy. (Not that sleeping came easy for either of them in the first place.)

Byleth sits up, keeping herself wrapped tightly in her blankets, looking around the room. Dimitri’s cloak is draped across a chair in the corner of the room, so he can’t have gone far. He thrives in the cold—his cheeks are always colored with a slight pink hue and his eye seems to sparkle in the crisp air—but even he has to bundle up if going out for extended periods of time. Papers are strewn across his desk from the night before—she recalls having to pull him away from his work and convince him to lie down if only for a moment. (To help me sleep, she had pleaded, and only then had he acquiesced.)

She looks across the room to the balcony, noticing one of the glass doors is slightly open—the culprit of the particularly strong breeze. She stands, shivering when her bare feet hit the cold stone floor, and gently walks to close the door, before noticing her husband standing and looking out at the sunrise. His casual attire fits loosely around his frame, though it does nothing to hide his stature or grace. (Though, she can practically hear his voice protesting that he has no grace to speak of. Entirely untrue.). His blind eye faces the door and he is unaware of his audience. He looks tired, but peaceful. With each day that passes, the lines in his face seem to grow more shallow, almost as though time is healing some of his wounds. The scars that line his arms and chest, as well as the large scar marring his right eyelid, contrast with the handsome youth that is returning slowly to his face. He breathes deeply. If she had a beating heart, she’s sure it would swell at the sight of him.

Pushing her way out the door and tightening her grip on her blanket, she walks to join him, being careful to make noise as she approaches so as not to startle him.

“Getting an early start to the day, your Highness?” she asks, snuggling against his side. He looks down at her with a smile, wrapping one of his arms around her smaller frame.

“Good morning, beloved,” he hums, gently pressing a kiss to the top of her head. “I’m just prolonging a peaceful morning.”

“Have you been awake for long?” she asks.

“Not terribly,” he takes a breath, absentmindedly running his fingers across the scar on his shoulder, turning his attention back to the rising sun. He never acknowledges it out loud, but he still has nightmares. He almost seems embarrassed by it. Or maybe he feels that, if he doesn’t verbalize it, it will be as though the demons that haunt him don’t exist. Either way, Byleth understands. She never pushes him to share more than he’s ready to. Healing is never linear, and Dimitri has come a long way.

“I’d be happy to just stay like this,” he muses, looking down at her, his eye soft.

“Then let’s stay like this, if only for a moment longer,” she smiles, “But don’t go catching cold.” He won’t, she knows he won’t, but she likes to fret over him all the same. She opens her arms, her skin instantly chilled by the morning air, and wraps Dimitri in a hug. The warmth of his body does more than her blanket ever could, and she sighs contentedly.

“You worry too much, beloved,” he chuckles.

Chapter Text

Ignatz had made the decision to challenge one of Dimitri’s ideas—privately, of course—staying behind their council meetings when only Dimitri, Gilbert and herself were present. He was right to- tactically, the proposed mission made no sense. They’d lose soldiers they couldn’t afford to, and they didn’t stand to gain anything aside from piling more Empire bodies at their feet. Dimitri wasn’t having it.

“Ignatz is right,” Byleth spoke up. “I say we let the Imperial troops march past. They’re aware of our presence, but if they’re not making any moves to attack, it’s foolish to overextend ourselves until we can bolster our own numbers.”

“If they move to reinforce their own numbers, we will stand no chance even once our own numbers are strong,” Dimitri doesn’t look at her. “Rats must be crushed underfoot before they can multiply.”

“We don’t know that their goal is to regroup with reinforcements,” Ignatz interjected softly. “Unless we know for sure, I just think we’d be better off focusing our attention for the march on Gronder Field. All this mission would achieve is more death,” he looked down at his feet, pushing his glasses further up the bridge of his nose. Dimitri was silent, but his anger was palpable.

“Then you will die,” Dimitri spoke at length. “If you offer such resistance to my orders in the first place, then perhaps that’s all you’re good for.” His voice was even, but it had an animalistic, harsh tone. His eye was void of any light as he glowered at the much smaller man. Ignatz shuffled his feet nervously, but lifted his gaze to meet Dimitri’s.

“Your Highness, I-“ Ignatz starts.

“-Your Highness, I think it would be best if you joined me for a walk,” Gilbert suggested gently, though his voice held a commanding tone. He walked out of the room, and Dimitri followed wordlessly. Once the two of them left the room, Ignatz let out a deep, shaky breath, laughing a little as his eyes found Byleth’s.

“Walk with me,” Byleth offered an arm, which Ignatz took gently. They walked in silence for a moment, taking in the sunset. The monastery was quiet, despite actually having life in it again. Music drifted from the cathedral, and Byleth and Ignatz walked toward it- Ignatz slowly filling the silence with small observations about how Garreg Mach had changed or how morale was.

“I’m sorry,” she said at length.

“Oh, you don’t have to apologize for him,” Ignatz shrugged. “He’s… well, to say he’s going through a lot would be a bit of an understatement, wouldn’t it? I can’t imagine what I’d do in his place. And I don’t want to die,” he laughs nervously, “but if I have to… to put an end to this war, I will.”

“No dying,” Byleth shook her head. Perhaps that’s what Dimitri truly didn’t realize. Of course, many of the former students reunited because of a promise five years ago, but none of them had to stay. A reunion was one thing. Taking up arms, laying down your life? That was another. Whether it was spoken aloud or not, they were all here for him, for his vision for the kingdom. His vision for the whole of Fodlan, really. The would die for him, if asked, because they had the same goal. Dimitri’s version of it was bleaker, and perhaps more blood soaked- tainted by his thirst for revenge- but somewhere, buried beneath the layers of hurt, his true self was alive. Ready to achieve peace.

“I’m glad you came back, Ignatz,” she said. “I think Dimitri is too, even if he doesn’t know it just yet.”

---

Talking about it wasn’t really an option. Dimitri wasn’t much of a talker these days. What he couldn’t communicate with a grunt or a glower simply went unsaid. Sometimes, when he felt particularly talkative, he’d say a few sentences, but it was nothing more than violent prose fueled by the revenge and hurt he carried everywhere with him. Her chest hurt thinking about the pain he must have endured in the past five years. Most of it manifested physically- scars on his face and arms and back and chest. A bag under his remaining eye. Deepened frown lines. But of course there was pain beyond what the eye could see. She understood this, they all understood this.

Ignatz had already forgiven him for his outburst earlier, but Byleth couldn’t let it go. She’d tried. She knew he didn’t mean it, knew the last thing Dimitri wanted was more blood on his hands- especially the blood of those he counted among his friends. And yet, his harsh words kept replaying in her mind, keeping her up tossing and turning, eventually pushing her out of bed. She couldn’t sleep like this.

She stopped off at the training grounds before marching through the halls of the monastery looking for Dimitri. They were likely the only two souls still awake, apart from those who were on first watch. Dimitri had taken up spending his nights in the cathedral – for what reason, she did not know. She never caught him praying, and he never seemed particularly grateful to the goddess lately. Her footsteps echoed loudly as she approached his sulking figure. He said nothing as she stood beside him, offering only a dark glance in her direction.

“I’m angry with you,” she said plainly, after a beat. “Talking to Ignatz like that.”

He scoffed. “And what, you’re here to scold me for it like I’m some petulant child?”

“Not exactly.” She knew he wouldn’t listen to anything she had to say, but clearly they were both angry. She waved a training lance in front of his face wordlessly. He accepted it, and, after a pause, she could hear him following quietly behind her as she moved out to the bridge. Honestly, they could spar in the cathedral, but something about it felt wrong. If Seteth caught word, she’d surely get an earful.

She walked halfway down the bridge before turning to face Dimitri, readying her training blade. He assumed a readied position as well, his eye searching her face for any emotion.

Wordlessly, they lunged at each other. There was a fire in Dimitri- so different from the earnest desire of five years ago when he was a student. He had grown more powerful, his blows more crushing, though certainly not sacrificing any grace. She danced around him, not always avoiding jabs or kicks in her direction. The pain refocused her, redirected some of her anger. Dimitri’s own tension seemed to relax slightly as he furrowed his brow in concentration, taking his own fair share of blows. The night air filled with the sounds of their heavy breathing- filling the silence with what words could not. She’d never been a great orator – her father always seemed to know what she was feeling, what she was thinking, so communication was different for them. Wordless.

After waking up, she found communicating with Dimitri was somewhat the same. Where he had once taught her to communicate and express herself freely, encouraging smiles and laughter from her, she now had to step in with a new form of communication. Wordless. Rather than force him to speak, face demons he didn’t even have a name for, she taught him how to communicate with a glance, with a jab of his lance. Maybe no one else understood him, but she did.

And eventually, the words came.

“I never expected you would stand against me, professor,” Dimitri said, pushing her back and pinning her against the side of the bridge. A light sheen of sweat had formed on his skin and the color had returned to his cheeks. Her back was pressed against the stone, her body curved away from the lance at her throat, threatening to topple over the side. “I thought you, of all people, would care.”

With a sweep of her leg, she caught him off guard, sending him toppling backwards. He doesn’t even manage to look surprised- like he expected to be beaten. Or maybe that he’d given up. She climbed atop him his fallen frame, blade at his throat. She stared at him for a moment, her anger melting away. How lonely he must feel. Bloodshed is unavoidable, he knew this as well as she did. But it seemed like every reckless fight he threw himself into was just another way to tempt fate- to beg for the sweet release of death without appearing to have given up.

“I do care,” she said, dropping her sword. “So does Ignatz. We all do. We’re here to live, to fight for the future. And that future needs to have you in it, don’t ever forget that.”

Dimitri’s eye softened, tears welling up and threatening to spill over. They don’t- he doesn’t let them. He never does. She leaned forward, wrapping her arms around him and lets her head rest on his chest, listening to the sound of his heartbeat. A comforting sound. She heard it slow in pace as his breaths changed from shallow to deep. He remained silent, but gently placed a hand on her back- a silent acknowledgement that he understood. That she was right. That he was sorry. He can’t say it just yet, but the words will come when he’s ready. She knows they will.

Chapter Text

 Divine beasts seemed to be a more common occurrence these days. It seemed every other week they were sending out troops to dispose of those that wandered too close to the monastery, which served as their stronghold for now. Dimitri remembers the first time he laid eyes on one, back when he was a student. It felt like ages ago, but it was so easy to recall how horrendous the huge creatures were. How angry their eyes looked. Finding out they were human once was even worse. It made their cries all the more piercing somehow. Killing them now… it almost hits a little too close to home. He’s sure the feelings once commanding his heart are not that far off from what these creatures feel. Confusion, hurt, anger. Lashing out in order to feel something, anything. He knows, he’s been told that, unfortunately, these beasts are beyond redemption. Sometimes he can’t help but wonder far he was from becoming very much the same. It almost feels as though he is killing his kin, in a way. He tries to not let it bother him – he has enough ghosts following him around as it is.

 He stokes the fire absentmindedly, watching embers rise and disappear into the sky. It’s a humid night. He should feel exhausted, but he doesn’t. Nothing really new. Annette had volunteered to take first watch, despite yawning halfway into dinner. She is slumped over on a soft looking patch of grass several yards away, snoring softly, Dimitri keeping watch in her place. Mercedes had brought a blanket out and draped it around her friend’s shoulders, flashing Dimitri a smile as she walked past, retiring to her tent for the evening.

 A silence settles over the camp. The Professor had ventured out to gather more firewood some time ago. Dimitri knows he has no cause to worry- she’s more than capable of taking care of herself, but he finds himself impatient for her return. He found comfort in her presence, beyond the fact that she was an old friend. There was something different about their relationship- something that neither of them had put words to. They didn’t feel the need. It was simply enough, for now, to just be. He wasn’t really sure when it started happening, definitely sometime after Rodrigue’s passing, but most nights, he was in her room or her tent. Or vice versa. If he couldn’t sleep, she’d let him lay his head on her lap, playing with his hair and she’d just talk. About anything and everything. Nothing was of particular importance, but he hung onto every word. Eventually, he started talking too, sharing stories of his youth, memories of their time together at the academy. Sometimes, when he felt particularly brave, he’d talk about what happened in the five years she wasn’t around.

 And sometimes they didn’t talk. Sometimes she would silently trace invisible patterns into his skin, connecting the lines between his scars. He would close his eyes, relishing in the tenderness of her fingers. Contrasting it with the pain that had been a constant in his life for the past half-decade. Rather than drawing blood from his skin, she drew shivers. Rather than stabbing pain, her touch left behind a gentle warmth that always settled in his chest and made him feel at home. Sometimes it wasn’t her fingers that caressed his skin, sometimes it was her lips. It had taken some getting used to, her gentle touch, but she was never offended when he pulled away- voices in his head telling him he didn’t deserve to feel what he was feeling. That he didn’t deserve the companionship of someone like her.

 When he could sleep, she was there too. A constant. She would curl up behind him on the bed, wrapping her arms around his chest, her breath tickling the back of his neck. When his nightmares inevitably woke him, she would wake too. And she never complained.

 “I see Annette’s watch is over before it began,” the professor’s voice pulls him back to the present. He can feel his heart leap, knowing she’s returned safely. He turns to face her. She smiles fondly at their enthusiastic, red haired companion.

 “She’s never been one for knowing her limits,” Dimitri laughs, standing. He takes the firewood she’d gathered from her arms and sets it into a clumsy pile next to the fire pit- adding one or two pieces preemptively. The fire crackles brighter. He removes his cloak, laying it on the ground and motioning for her to sit. She smiles and does so, unsuccessfully hiding a limp.

 “You’re hurt,” he mutters, kneeling by her side, his hands hovering above her leg, as though waiting for permission to touch her.  There’s a gash in her thigh, but it looks like the blood is mostly dry. It must have happened earlier in the day- it was very much like her to let her wounds go unattended. “I’ll get Mercedes,” he says, moving to stand, but her hands catch his wrist, gently pulling him back down to her side.

 “It’s not that serious,” she says, shaking her head. “Nothing to wake Mercedes over.”

 “Professor,” he means to scold, to tell her she ought to take better care of herself, but she gently squeezes his hand, causing him to fall silent.

 “Byleth,” she corrects him.

 “Byleth,” he repeats. He can feel his cheeks flushing- it’s a correction she frequently makes, but old habits die hard. Not to mention calling her by name feels so intimate. Feelings of inadequacy bubble to the surface, but he swallows them. “At least let me wrap your leg so it doesn’t get infected.” He pulls his hand away from hers, picking up one of the corners of his large cloak and tearing off a strip with his teeth. She makes no move to stop him. Her large, green eyes, filled with curiosity and an odd tenderness as she watches his hands set to work.

 He’s no healer. He’s better at destroying and crushing than he is at anything else, but he would rather die than bring further harm to her, and he makes that clear in his movements. He lets his fingers run feather light over her skin, the flesh around her wound burns- he worries it may already be infected, but Byleth was stubborn at best. If she said not to wake Mercedes, it was best to do as she asked. Besides, Mercedes has the skill to heal a small infection.

 After securing the strip of cloth securely around her wound, he lets his hand linger on her thigh, unsure where this boldness is coming from. It feels… nice. Perhaps he’s overly cautious in the way he touches her, but part of him does like the feeling of holding her in his hands. Usually she’s the one with the soothing touches- he’s merely happy to attempt to return the favor.

 “Good?” he asks, meeting her eyes with his own. She nods, a slight flush beautifully spoiling her otherwise serious expression. She lets her hand rest atop his.

 “Good,” she repeats, reassuringly.

 “You should sleep,” he suggests gently, though neither of them move. Her face shines in the glow of the fire- the orange hues of flame complimenting the striking emerald of her eyes. She moves her face closer to his- his first instinct is to pull back, a voice in his head telling him he’ll hurt her or tarnish her, but there’s a part of him- a part that grows stronger with every passing day- that refuses to let him move. Pushes down the voice in the back of his head and allows himself to feel something other than anguish and pain. He likes being close to her, likes the affection she shows. She brings a hand to cup the side of his face, her expression unreadable, but the gesture seems to give the unspoken permission he needs. He closes the space between them, bringing his lips to rest gently against hers.

 Her lips are soft, as he’d expected. They empty his head of every coherent thought- he’s only able to concentrate on the fluttering in his stomach, the warmth spreading across his cheeks as Byleth runs her thumb along his cheekbone, the way her breath dances across his face as she pulls away before kissing him gently one, two, three times.

When they finally break apart for good, her face is alight with a rare beaming smile. He can’t help but smile in return, a nervous laugh escaping from his lips.

“I should sleep,” she admits, repeating his admonishment from earlier. “You’ll keep me company?” she asks. Without waiting for his response, she lays down, resting her head on his lap and pulling her knees up toward her chest. Dimitri lets his fingers run through her hair, his chest swelling with some unidentifiable feeling as she nuzzles further into his touch.

“Good night, Dimitri,” she says sleepily, reaching up one last time to brush against his fingers.

Chapter Text

Dimitri isn’t religious. He’d told her as much once- a somewhat surprising confession- that he felt they’d all been abandoned by the goddess. How he must feel that’s even more the truth now. And, considering the past five years, he wasn’t entirely wrong. Though abandoned wasn’t quite the right word. That implied a willful neglect.

Nevertheless, he spends a majority of his time in the cathedral, glowering at what was left of its former majesty. Others gave him a wide berth, with the exception of Dedue, who prefers to stay close to Dimitri’s side, just as he did back in the academy days. He hadn’t been back with their party for long, but he easily fell back into his place, the two of them meeting in the greenhouse often- attempting to restore it to even part of its former glory. Annette and Mercedes had fussed over him once he returned to the monastery and he endured it with patience, unsuccessfully attempting to hide a few smiles. His dishes graced their tables once more and, though he never was one for conversation, it was pleasant to hear his voice drifting through the halls every now and again. Even Dimitri seemed comforted by his presence- as though a small weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He seemed to rest easier knowing that the Dedue that haunted him was truly a ghost, a phantom. All he had to do was reach out his hand and feel the proof that his dear friend was by his side once more.

So it was odd to see Dedue in the cathedral alone, Dimitri nowhere in sight. Despite enjoying silence, Dimitri’s brooding personality couldn’t be an easy change to adjust to- though Dedue would never dream of complaining. Of course his loyalty never wavered, but surely even he had to miss the more hopeful boy they’d known in their academy days.

“Professor,” Dedue bows as Byleth approaches.

“I did not mean to intrude on your prayers,” she apologizes. “Please, don’t stop on my behalf.”

“No such apology is necessary. I hadn’t quite started to pray. It’s… hard to even know where to begin.”

Byleth nods in understanding. She hadn’t prayed much as of late, though it always felt strange to do so- especially when she’s had such casual conversations with the goddess already. Was there a point in praying? Wouldn’t Sothis already know the desires of her heart? And even if she did, would she be able to do anything about them?

“I know I’ve already thanked you for watching over His Highness,” Dedue speaks again, his voice soft, “but I want to thank you again. Your support means everything to him. And to me.”

“I only wish I could have done more,” she sighs. Truth be told, Dedue had done more for Dimitri than she ever could. He’d been more than willing to lay down his own life while she was unconscious somewhere. Completely powerless. Sometimes she wondered if things would have turned out differently if she hadn’t been so reckless when Edelgarde started her assault on the monastery. Could she have spared any of her students- her friends– the pain they’d been forced to endure? Would Dimitri have given into despair so much? Of course she wasn’t so vain as to think the sting of betrayal and the ever growing burden of loss and death would be erased simply by her presence. But surely, had she been around, there would have been something she could do to ease his pain. She’d thought of turning back the hands of time herself, righting wrongs, but there was no way to know if her actions would have the desired effect. Who even knew if she had the power to turn back time that far. Instead, she had to wonder. Had to pick up the broken pieces of a man she felt partially responsible for destroying.

“Where is Dimitri?” she asks, not wanting to dwell on her thoughts.

“On a walk with Count Fraldarius. I thought it best to let them take some time alone, so I remain here. Though, as we’ve discussed, my time alone hasn’t proven entirely fruitful,” he laughs. There is a moment of silence between them- an unspoken understanding that, while the light of hope grows ever brighter, it is still bleak. They still have a long journey ahead of them. Any prayers they could offer would be beneficial. And yet, neither of them can find the words.

“They say the gods and goddesses of Duscur knew the feelings of your heart,” Dedue speaks at length. “We prayed, but not so formally as you do in Fódlan. If your heart was consumed by a desire, the gods knew it and could grant or deny the serenity you sought. Our prayers were usually wordless. More like… thoughts we sent to the heavens.”

“Do you still pray to the gods and goddesses of Duscur?”

“Every day,” Dedue nods. There’s a hint of sadness in his stoic expression. “Though, I am finding I am offering more and more prayers to Fódlan’s goddess. For His Highness’ sake.”

“As am I,” Byleth whispers, bowing her head. Dedue follows suit and a comfortable silence falls over the two of them once more. Perhaps it was strange to pray to the goddess the way Fódlan custom dictated. Perhaps it was easier to communicate with or, pray, rather, to Sothis the way Dedue communicated with his deities. She clasps her hands together, letting her eyes close. Sothis is silent- she has been for years- but she never felt absent. Surely that meant Sothis was listening. Or at least familiar with the desires that consumed her heart. Really, there was one desire that shrouded the rest, one thing she prayed for night after night. It was almost like she’d composed a special prayer just for him, and she was waiting for the day her prayers were finally answered.

Goddess. Please watch over Dimitri. Please stay the hands of his enemies, despite how recklessly he throws himself at them. Ignore his pleas for death, keep him from harm, and heal the wounds we cannot. Silence the ghosts at his back and open his heart to the love and loyalty that surrounds him.

Watch over the rest of our party and grant us the strength to succeed in restoring peace to Fódlan.

And thank you for your watchful eye thus far.

Chapter Text

“Thank you, your Highness,” she gives a small curtsy, her face flush, but her eyes sparkling. He smiles and gives a small bow and she quickly disappears- a flash of bright silk- off to find her next partner while there’s a break in the music.

He’d managed to avoid stepping on her feet, which he considers a small victory- though unfortunately, not all of his dance partners of the evening could say the same. None of them were unkind about it- or even mentioned it, really- but he did feel embarrassed. Annette had volunteered to work with him (she had won the Heron Cup, after all, she reminded him grinning from ear to ear), and certainly without her work he would have been a hopeless cause.

He moves to the fringes of the hall as the music picks up again, letting out a sigh of relief knowing that he’d be able to enjoy a brief respite. He’s resolved to accept every invitation to dance for the evening. Somehow, he feels it would seem rude not to, though he hadn’t taken into consideration just how many of his fellow students would ask him to dance. The ball had only been going on for an hour at most, and yet his feet were sore.

Dimitri walks to a far table, grabbing a glass of champagne before leaning against the cool stone wall of the great hall.

The rest of his classmates seem to be enjoying themselves. Mercedes and Dedue are off in an opposite corner of the hall, tucked away from the crowd, but it is clear they are dancing together- Mercedes is positively beaming and Dedue has a rare smile on his lips. Sylvain is, as always, surrounded by admirers. He puffs his chest out and runs his fingers casually through his hair as he addresses them- a trait Dimitri recognizes as a sign of nerves rather than confidence, but Sylvain plays it off so well. Still, his friend’s smile looks genuine. Felix has, surprisingly, been convinced to join the throngs on the dance floor, but when Dimitri sees it’s Annette in his arms, he’s less surprised. She’s the only one who’d be able to convince him to dance in the first place. Ashe and Ingrid are over by a food table, their faces animated with excitement as they speak, gesturing wildly, the rest of their classmates invisible to them.

His eyes flick around the room. He would never admit he’s looking for the Professor, but he was a bit curious as to whether she’d show up to such an event. She’s not standing by Hanneman and Manuela, though he can’t say he’s surprised. Most everyone seems to be giving them a wide berth- they’re bickering about something, clutching their drinks tightly in their hands. They were both wearing their teaching robes- he wonders if the Professor would do the same. As a mercenary, he doubted she had the luxury of a varying wardrobe, though surely Rhea could have provided her with formal clothes if she felt the situation called for it.

He wondered if she would like more elegant clothing. She seemed the type that may find it more restricting than anything, but she was always full of surprises and he’d learned to never make assumptions where the Professor was concerned. He let his mind wander, imagining what she would look like dressed in the trappings of nobility- what her tastes would be. His mental image settled on the Professor in a dark evening gown, tightened around her waist by pink lacing that matched the trim of her teaching robes, the soft skin of her thigh occasionally peeking through a slit in the side of her skirts as she moved. Ribbons in her hair, partially tied up and out of her face. Rouge on her lips. He blushes at the thought, feeling suddenly boyish.

And then he sees her. Speaking with some of the students from Claude’s class. And she looks absolutely radiant.

There’s no evening gown, no ribbons, no new hairstyle, no makeup- just the Professor. As she always is. And she captures his attention easier than anyone else in the room. Maybe it’s the romantic lighting of the main hall, maybe it’s the drinks he’s had, maybe it’s that she was always beautiful to him. 

And, as beautiful as he knew she’d look in formal attire, there was something so magnetic about her, just as the Professor. Just as a strange mercenary who was hard to read and seemed a mystery at first. There was something about the way she looked immediately after a battle, sweat matting her hair and her chest heaving up and down, trying to catch her breath. The way she looked during the first lecture of the day, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes and stifling a yawn. The way she looked when she wrinkled her nose in concentration, attempting to read his messy handwriting. The way she looked when she squatted down to pet the cats roaming the monastery, her eyes alight with happiness. The way she looked at him when she was pleased with his response to a question, or his results on a test. When she was just the Professor, in her plain clothes, her true, authentic self, she was absolutely breathtaking. She’d always been that way.

As though she feels his eyes on her, she looks up from her conversation and meets his gaze. Her eyes sparkle with a curiosity and she offers him a smile. He lifts his glass in her direction, smiling in return. 

Had he the courage, he’d ask her to dance. Though, the thought of them sharing a dance seemed laughable. As partners on the battlefield, they were unstoppable- communicating in a way no one else could perceive. Weaving in between each other, each guarding the other from blows and casting encouraging glances. On the dance floor? They’d be an utter disaster. Surely the Professor wasn’t familiar with any traditional dances, and he barely knew the steps himself. They’d either fall all over each other, or end up simply staring at each other all while standing completely still. Besides, he’d almost rather take on a group of bandits alone than ask her. Not that she would turn him down- she was far too kind for that. It was one of the many qualities he admired about her. But his cowardice seemed all for the best. Their lives were meant to exist outside the battlefield. And, as much as he’d like to daydream otherwise- they were ill matched. She was a Professor, a mercenary, a being of strength and courage and free will. He was a prince, bound by his duties to his people and the future of Faerghus. The helpless should be the first on his mind, as it was his duty to protect them and lift them up until they could stand on their own and guide him to build the change they wanted to see in the kingdom. If only there was a way the two of them could remain together, then perhaps he’d allow himself to take his feelings more seriously rather than pushing them down at every opportunity.

He watches Lorenz whisk the Professor away, her features lighting up with a laugh. She moves gracefully, following Lorenz’s lead. He talks as they dance, and she listens.

He turns from the sight, walking out for some air. Perhaps he’d get a chance to speak with the Professor alone later, away from the prying eyes of the other students. There was a boyish part of him that dwelled on the possibility they’d meet at the  Goddess Tower- the Professor bathed in the soft moonlight, her cheeks flushing, there for him, and him alone. Though, if he hadn’t the courage to ask her to dance, the idea of asking her to the Tower was even more hopeless. The goddess wasn’t likely to trifle herself with a wish as frivolous and selfish as his.

Maybe the Professor was meant to be admired from afar.

Chapter Text

He sits, quill in hand, parchment blank. The task ahead of him seems more difficult than any essay he’s had to write in his time at the Academy. Sure, it’s only meant to be a simple message, and he’s been taught to write quick, gracious messages. As a noble, it is one of his duties to be able to quickly pen messages of gratitude, thanking knights for their service, congratulating other lords or dukes for their accomplishments or the birth of an heir, maintaining peace between neighboring nations. Yet somehow, this feels like it should be more than a surface level note. More intimate, somehow. It’s the Professor’s birthday, after all.

Though he and his classmates have only known her for a short while, he truly feels grateful for her tutelage. He wants to thank her for so much. For protecting him on their first meeting, despite not even knowing him. For her patience. For choosing him—well, choosing the Blue Lion house, rather. They’ve all managed to grow significantly in a few short months, due in large part to her influence. He’s heard whispers that other students were suddenly wanting to join his house—transferring classes wasn’t unheard of, but it was certainly a rarity. She does spend time with the other students, caring for them just as much as she does her own, not really knowing she’s representing his house all the while. In another life, she might have made a good diplomat. In any case, it gives him a sense of pride that, perhaps he should feel more guilty for harboring, but he can’t help it.

Walking the line between too intimate and too formal is proving rather difficult, however. The pile of crumpled parchment beside him is growing. He’s vetoed addressing her by name in his letter- far too intimate, though he wondered sometimes if she’d prefer to be addressed by name. It makes him uncomfortable when his peers—his friends—address him by title, social customs be damned. While she is their professor, she can’t be that far off in age from any of them. Then again, assuming that she felt as though any of them were her peers or friends felt rather bold.

Though it feels a little formal for his tastes, he’s at least settled on addressing her as “Professor.” Great. One word down, an entire message to go. He sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose. There’s a knock at his door.

“Come in,” he sighs, half expecting Dedue. Instead, the door opens and Mercedes steps into the room, a basket in her arms.

“I made a few too many sweets and I was wondering if you’d like to take some before I offer any to Annette and Lysithea,” she says, stopping when she notices the parchment strewn across his desk. “Oh! I apologize, I didn’t realize you were busy.”

“On the contrary,” he laughs. “I can’t quite find the words to make myself busy.”

“If it’s not an intrusion, might I ask what you’re writing?” She walks forward, standing by his side and looking down at the parchment.

“I had wanted to pen something for the professor,” he starts. “But it seems I’m no good at this sort thing.”

“You’ve got a good start,” she laughs, noting the one word he’s written thus far. A pause. She hums a bit. “Well, you’re clearly putting a lot of thought into your writing, so I know the professor will appreciate whatever you end up giving her,” her eyes flick to the stack of crumpled, failed messages. She reaches into her basket, producing a pastry of sorts, and handing it to him. He accepts. He’s never admitted to Mercedes that he can’t taste food, but he’s heard so many wonderful things about the sweets she makes, he always accepts them when offered and likes to imagine what they taste like.

“If I can be so bold as to offer you some advice,” she says slowly.

“Please,” Dimitri encourages.

“When I’m having a hard time writing, I let myself write whatever I want first. I don’t turn it in or send it, I just write. Then, it makes it easier to take a second pass and edit myself down.” She gives him a smile, her eyes glinting with some unidentifiable emotion. He blushes, unsure if she’s implying something. It’s true he has something of a… fondness for the Professor, a curiosity that may be a bit beyond what is proper. However, he’s only just come to the realization himself and has been making quite the conscious effort to never betray any sort of emotion outside of respect for the Professor—surely it was impossible for Mercedes, as intuitive as she is, to surmise his feelings.

She wishes him luck before leaving his room, a smile tugging at the corner of her lips. He stares back at the parchment, his mind a little less blank than before, but he’s embarrassed at the thoughts that are coming to mind. Still, he dips his quill and begins writing, ignoring the heat in his cheeks.

Write what you feel, even if you’re not going to send it—what an odd piece of advice. It’s working, as he quickly fills up a page and a half before setting his quill down and finally allowing himself to feel stupid for the things he’d written. Rather than a birthday message, it had turned into a confession of sorts. He sounded like some sort of love struck child, heaping praise upon the Professor commending her for her work with their class, all falling short of simply telling her he was infatuated. There were a few lines he could salvage, however, and keep in a new message. It would be short, but hopefully the Professor would appreciate it all the same. It was heartfelt and that was what truly mattered in the end.

---

Her old room is empty. Dark. It’s just as well. His eye is used to the darkness of the monastery by now. He rationalizes lighting fires or candles would just easily alert others to his presence—he’d fought hard (and foolishly) to keep the monastery his territory, overcoming numbers of Imperial soldiers and bandits—but truly, he feels most at home in the shadows these days. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that a dark dungeon had been his home for the better part of a year. Perhaps it’s because he wishes he was a shadow. A phantom that the other ghosts plaguing his every thought and move couldn’t touch.

It’s her birthday.

Why he remembers such a trivial thing is beyond him. She is gone. Has been for the past two years. He isn’t sure if she is dead or in hiding. He truly does believe she must be alive, as she hasn’t joined the throngs of angry spirits constantly clamoring in his mind. He never hears her voice screaming at him, never sees her figure walking through the halls when he’s trying desperately to sleep. Part of him wishes, if she really is alive, she’ll find her way back to him. Part of him never wants to see her again. Definitely doesn’t want her to see him like this. A broken, shell of a man, wishing selfishly for nothing but an end to his own pain—whether that end came through revenge or his own death, he did not care.

He remembers the way she positively beamed upon receiving his letter and gift all those years ago. She had confided in him she never really celebrated her birthday. Jeralt told her the day of her birth, never the year, and as mercenaries they couldn’t afford lavish celebrations or a day of rest. When she was old enough, she and Jeralt would spend their night in a tavern, drinking until sleep overcame them or the sun came up in the morning. Jeralt would press a kiss to the top of her head and that was the only gift she needed.

He remembers struggling to pen her birthday message. If he could pen one now, and she could receive it, what would it say? His mind draws up a blank. Nothing but darkness. She is gone. He can’t say she’s left him—certainly toppling over a cliff hadn’t been her intention. Yet, he feels so alone. He is alone. Perhaps that’s what he would tell her. He… misses her.

He quickly turns out of her room, burying old feelings stirring in his chest.

---

Diplomatic meetings have taken him out of Faerghus for far too long. He’s been spending his time in different territories, meeting with lords to discuss how best to rebuild their particular regions. He’s been in Almyra with Claude for the better part of a month, itching to return. It isn’t as though he hasn’t enjoyed visiting so many familiar faces—and under much happier circumstances. It merely seemed cruel he had to be away from his wife’s side for so long, and was expected to remain away even on her birthday. Of course, she was busy herself as the newly appointed archbishop, unable to accompany him, informing him that she didn’t want a lavish celebration for her birthday in the first place. As long as he sent her a letter, just as he did in their Academy days, she would be happy, she tells him.

He did one better – sending her letters throughout the length of his travels, often writing lengthy messages every day, knowing she would likely receive many of them at the same time. Some are more detailed, telling her of how he spends his time, confiding in his best friend and the woman he loves wholeheartedly. Some are simply childish – small notes telling her how he wanted to hold her, how he longed for their reunion, how much he loved her. She writes back when she can, telling him of her own work with the church and how much she misses him, sending her love in return.

He suspects Claude has “accidentally” read some of their letters, asking if Dimitri was planning to return back to the monastery for his wife’s birthday. The two have always gotten along, though after their coronations, they have fallen into an effortless friendship. Perhaps it’s because of that friendship, or perhaps it’s because Claude can sense his desperation to return home, but he feels safe confessing to the man that, as selfish as it sounds, he’d do whatever necessary to return to the monastery. Claude offers a wink and lets him know it can be arranged. Whatever negotiation skills Dimitri thinks he has, Claude just has a way with others—a way that gets him exactly what he wants. He thanks the Goddess they aren’t enemies. The two put in late nights of work, and a week before Byleth’s birthday, a week before he is scheduled to make the return trip to Faerghus, Dimitri is given permission to take his leave.

“I get it,” Claude laughs. He walks to the stables with Dimitri. “These diplomacy tours are… shall we say, less than entertaining. I feel we’ve accomplished a satisfactory amount. And, if I can be so bold, I’m getting sick of you being around all the time,” he jokes.

Their meetings with other Almyran and Alliance leaders have proven to be surprisingly positive and productive. In just a few short weeks, they’ve managed to set up trade routes beneficial to both nations and even began discussions on war reparations—though Almyra hadn’t been directly involved in Edelgarde’s conquest, they’d certainly felt the consequences. Imperial raiding parties, or perhaps it was bandits disguised as Imperial soldiers – there was really no way of knowing, would cross the border and attack smaller villages, leaving Almyran residents hungry or dead. Villages would need to be rebuilt, and lives restored to the best of their ability.

“You have my gratitude, my friend,” Dimitri says with a smile and a bow. Claude folds his arms and laughs, always casual.

“Don’t mention it. Give Teach my best.”

The morning he arrives at Garreg Mach is a sunny one. He’s greeted by the surprised, yet smiling faces of monks and knights as he makes his way through the monastery. Seteth is the first to hear of his arrival, informing him that Byleth is in the Cardinal’s Room, prepping for a meeting. He takes care to note the meeting is some time off, smiling as he walks on to attend to his own duties.

It seems just like Byleth to take meetings on her own birthday.

Dimitri takes the stairs two at a time.

When he enters the Cardinal’s Room, he finds his wife, sitting at one of the long tables, pouring over a stack of parchment. She looks up as he enters, her eyes widening with surprise.

“Dimitri!” She cries, immediately standing and rushing to his side, pulling him into a tight embrace. “I thought you weren’t coming back for another week at least.”

“I negotiated an early departure,” he laughs, pressing a chaste kiss to her lips. He drinks in the sight of her as she beams up at him. She looks tired, yet radiant. “Now, who has given my beloved such a pile of notes to pour through on such a special day?” He gently takes the parchment from her hands, feeling slightly bashful when he notes his own awful handwriting is littering the page.

“I know I should be preparing for a meeting, but I’d just received a batch of your letters and I couldn’t wait to open them,” she admits sheepishly. “Who knew you had a penchant for love letters? And you wrote to me so often, despite your many duties.” She cups a hand to the side of his face, still grinning ear to ear.

“I’m a bit embarrassed,” he laughs, as though the flush spreading across his face didn’t make it obvious enough. She takes his hand in her own and kisses it gently.

“You have nothing to be embarrassed about. Truly, they are wonderful letters.”

“I have another to give you,” he says hesitantly, pulling a wrinkled, folded sheet of parchment from the pocket of his cloak. “You asked for a letter on your birthday, so I’m here to deliver.”

He’d been debating on whether or not to even give it to her. It was… a bit of an embarrassment. And there were so many gaps, so many things that had happened to the two of them since Mercedes gave him the advice to simply feel what he was feeling and write it down. The end result was a long, sloppy message – one that he’d been too embarrassed to read more than once. There was something innocent about the letter, something nostalgic. His boyish self clearly had no way of knowing the tremendous sorrows and triumphant joys that awaited him in the coming years – and the constant through it all: the woman he was lucky enough to call his wife. This letter was the first time he’d truly opened up to her, his thoughts and feelings memorialized on parchment that she was never meant to read. It seems an odd sort of miracle that this particular piece of parchment has survived all these years, tucked into his old room at the monastery. Almost like it was a sign she should have it.

Byleth reaches eagerly for the letter, but Dimitri pulls it from her grasp.

“You have to promise not to laugh,” he says, though he can’t manage to stifle a laugh of his own.

“Laugh at you, your Highness? I wouldn’t dream of it,” she gently pulls the parchment from his hand, standing on her tiptoes and pressing a kiss to his cheek.

“It’s an old letter,” he reasons, as she unfolds the parchment. “I was clearly a boy when I wrote it, though the sentiment is genuine.” He falls silent as she begins to read, watching her emerald eyes fly across the page. He holds his breath and it feels like an eternity passes between the two of them.

“Dimitri,” she whispers softly, as she finishes the letter. “You wrote this back at the Academy?”

“For your birthday,” He nods, blush returning. Of course it was no secret between them that he had been fond of her, though he’d never expected anything to come of it.

She stands silent for a moment, before finally looking up at him, her eyes so full of loving adoration it makes his chest hurt.

“I’m, ah… I’m assuming it wasn’t a completely worthless letter then?” he asks.

She wraps her arms around him, burying her face in his chest. He holds her for a moment, stroking her hair.

“I love you,” she whispers.

“And I love you, beloved,” he replies, smiling as he kisses the top of her head.

Chapter Text

Taking back Fhirdiad has seemed an impossible goal for so long—Dimitri half assumed he’d die before they’d come anywhere close to accomplishing such a lofty goal. He’d cried in disbelief, drinking in the throngs flocking to the palace. Yet, here they are, his friends and classmates, his people, celebrating a hard fought victory. He isn’t sure how the celebration falls together—no one had time to organize such a thing, but in a matter of hours, he and his companions are in the palace, surrounded by food and drink, smiling faces, music. He’s grateful. They’d needed a victory, needed a night to rest. They had a long march ahead of them—everyone silently understanding that their next large assault was to be on Enbarr, but no one dwells on it now, happy to relish in the moment for the time being.

Even late into the evening, the celebration is in full swing, the halls full of chatter and laughter, relief still palpable in the air. He hears Hilda and Sylvain’s loud conversation ringing across the crowd. Ashe, Caspar, Catherine and Shamir seem to be having a drinking competition of sorts—one which Ashe is clearly losing. He smiles, hoping the memory of this evening will replace some of his more recent and… unpleasant experiences in the palace. Though it’s missing some of the familiar faces from his youth, it’s almost starting to feel like home again.

He notices Flayn approaching, moving oddly, weaving through the thick crowd and he notes she’s attempting to hide a tankard with her skirts. She flashes a mischievous smile in response to his quizzical look, moving to stand behind him, hiding herself from view.

“Please do not turn around,” she instructs gently. He complies, stopping mid-turn. “My brother will kill me if he sees me.” A pause. “Well, he will not kill me, but he will be very cross. I simply wanted to try some ale,” she explains with a whine, as though she had to justify herself to Dimitri. “I am more than old enough!” He hears her sip loudly from the cup, suddenly suspecting this is not her first drink of the night. “Honestly, he allows me out on the battlefield, and yet he feels I am too young to share a drink with my friends!”

He laughs, but his eyes catch sight of Seteth wandering through the crowds, clearly looking for someone.

“Uh, Flayn,” he warns. She lets out a small yelp, understanding his warning without needing further explanation. She audibly takes another long swig of her ale before reappearing in front of Dimitri, placing the half empty tankard in his hands and running off before her brother can find her.

“You’re a terrible influence,” he hears Byleth tease. She smiles at him over a glass of her own as he turns to face her.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he feigns innocence, taking a swig from the half empty glass that’s been left in his hands. She laughs.

“I won’t say anything,” she promises. She sighs, her eyes glancing over the crowd. She’s so much smaller without her armor or robes on. Her small frame still exudes a commanding presence, but there’s something… softer about her as she stands beside him. Her fingers brush against his gently, though she remains silent. Her touch is so soft; it could have been an accident. When their fingers brush again, she laces their pinkies together and he knows it’s anything but.

They keep their… affections for each other private—somehow their solace in each other felt improper to share. Self-indulgent. It was an unspoken agreement of silence—the secrecy of their intimacy somehow making it all the more sweet. Just another thing they can share between the two of them. The others don’t know. Not that there really is anything to know. There is no name for what they are, no ground rules. It was friendship, certainly, but simultaneously something else. They found comfort in each other emotionally and, as time went on, physically. It started out innocently enough at first—she’d comfort him through his nightmares, hold him until he fell back to sleep, kiss his scars when phantom pains reared their head. It was odd, having someone treat him with such care—hard to accept. At first, he felt he didn’t deserve it. Didn’t know how to receive her affection. Her kindness was steady, her patience resolute, her affection unconditional. Eventually, his feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness fade, though they have yet to disappear entirely, and he opens up to her more. There are times he has the honor of returning her kindness, comforting her after a difficult battle resulting in the loss of a former classmate, tending to her wounds. Their affection grew and grew, his fondness for her almost too much to bear.

And when he’s finally ready to share himself with her wholly, body and soul bare, she’s there.

“Walk with me?” she asks, softly. He nods, allowing her to lead him out of the palace, no one seeming to notice their absence. The gardens have flourished under Cornelia’s reign—one of the few things in the whole of Faerghus that seem better off for her presence. When they believe they are completely alone, she slides her hand into his, interlacing their fingers and slowing her pace. The moon is at its peak in the sky, soft blue light framing her features.

“How are you feeling?” she asks. He waits a beat before answering.

“I know it seems too early for celebration, but I do feel as though a weight has been lifted from my shoulders,” he says honestly. There are a multitude of emotions in his heart, ones that he hasn’t had time to fully sort through, but he does recognize joy isn’t the only emotion held captive in his chest. There’s no need to worry Byleth with it. Not at a time like this. “It was a bit overwhelming at first, but I think I needed tonight.”

“I agree,” she hums. “I really am proud of you, Dimitri,” she softly squeezes his hand.

“You are far too kind,” he laughs. “My successes only come because of the support I have from others. From you.” He stops walking and turns to her, taking her other hand in his. She looks up at him, her cheeks dusted with a soft, rosy pink. She looks soft again. Small. Fragile. The kind of creature he would normally shy away from for fear of breaking entirely, but he knows the strength hiding in her small frame.

He kisses her fingers.

They resume their walk, the soft chirping of crickets filling in the pauses in their conversation. Byleth chatters away about the festivities, the boost in morale, laughing as she recounts some of the events of the evening. Dimitri is enraptured by every word from her mouth, he always is, but tonight, truth be told, he’s more fixated on her soft, pink lips. The dimple in her left cheek when she smiles. The softness of her hand.

Perhaps she notices, because she leans in closer to him, resting her head against his arm, yearning for the same closeness.

They stop and sit at a bench at the edge of an ornate fountain. There was some sort of charm lighting up the water, gently changing hues every few minutes. Flower petals float on the surface of the water.

“How lovely,” she coos, entranced by the fixture.

“Lovely indeed,” he hums, not taking his eyes off her. The fountain was the farthest thing from his mind. She blushes again, feeling her eyes on him, and leaning over to press a soft kiss to his cheek. He turns to face her as she pulls away, their lips a breath apart. They sit like this for a moment, an invisible current floating through the air between them. She glances down at his lips, moving in for another kiss, their lips barely brushing when she jumps. He turns his head to see what’s caught her attention, his blind side putting him at a bit of a disadvantage.

He looks up in time to see Mercedes and Dedue, both blushing, their hands jerking away from each other.

“Apologies, your Highness,” Dedue says quickly, with a bow. He and Dedue are slightly too embarrassed to meet eyes.

“Pardon us, Professor,” Mercedes squeaks at the same time. “We were simply out on a walk for some fresh air and Dedue was telling me about the enchanted fountains in the gardens,” she launches nervously into an explanation. “We’ll come back later,” she says, hiding a smile.

Byleth and Dimitri seem to let out a breath as their two friends disappear. At least they knew they could count on Mercedes and Dedue’s discretion. Assuming they’d seen anything.

“A popular fountain, it seems,” Byleth speaks after a moment, letting out a laugh. She presses her forehead against his. He still hasn’t quite found the words to overcome his own shock, but joins in her laughter, an odd happiness bubbling to his chest. Happy that, for once, things seem to be looking up. Happy that his friends are happy. Happy that he’s alive to share this moment. Happy that he’s here with someone he cares very much about.

Wordlessly, she leans forward and kisses him, still smiling. She’s soft and gentle, testing the waters, making sure he’s comfortable. He returns her kiss eagerly, cupping a hand to her face. He wonders if she can taste his desperation. He kisses down her neck and she threads her fingers through his hair, letting out a small sigh of satisfaction that makes his heart sing.

“Is there… somewhere more private we can go?” She asks as his kisses move lower, her grin suddenly turned mischievous. He smiles in return, standing and offering her his hand.

They practically run through the garden like children, hand-in-hand and completely overcome with giddiness, caution thrown to the wind. He leads her back into the palace, avoiding high-traffic areas, through corridors and up several flights of stairs, until finally they reach the room he’s looking for. She steps inside, and he closes the door behind them, locking it for good measure. He doubts anyone will wander to his old room – it certainly doesn’t seem to have been occupied or cleaned regularly in his absence – but they’ve already been interrupted once this evening, and he’s not keen on having it happen again.

When he turns back to face Byleth, she’s curiously exploring. The smile as faded from her face, instead replaced with a concentrated and almost somber reverence as she runs her fingers gently over his old desk, an armoire, a bookshelf, drinking in his belongings from what seemed like another lifetime. He seats himself at the foot of his bed, watching her as she moves.

Her eyes fall on his old Academy uniform, tattered, stained, wrinkled and sticking carelessly out of a drawer. Her mood suddenly shifts, he can feel it. She gingerly runs her fingers across the fabric of his blue cape, hesitating before pulling the drawer fully open, as if to confirm the garment is truly what she thinks it is.

“Was this room yours?” she asks. He nods. She bites her lip, looking like she wants to say something else. Instead she turns her gaze back to his uniform.

“Being back in Fhirdiad,” she starts. She purses her lips. “Dimitri, I–” she tries again. “I don’t think I’ve ever apologized to you,” she says finally. She walks to him, standing between his legs and pressing their foreheads together, closing her eyes.

“Whatever would you need to apologize for?” he asks, completely bewildered.

She says nothing, instead gently running her fingers across his cheekbone, the bridge of his nose, his lips, finally stopping at his eyepatch.

“I should have been here,” she says, her voice barely a whisper. “I should have been here to protect you, but instead I left you to suffer for five years. Had I not been so reckless…” her voice trails off and his heart stops. That she felt even partially responsible for his suffering pained him.

“What happened to me isn’t your fault,” he says gently, pulling her into his lap. She opens her eyes and meets his gaze, tear tracks glistening on her cheeks. He brushes them away with his thumbs. “You’ve had no hand in my pain. Only my healing. And I truly mean that.”

He places kisses on her cheeks, the salt of her tears sitting heavily on his tongue.

“Forgive me,” she laughs sheepishly, brushing away fresh tears, “I’ve gone and spoiled a perfectly good evening.”

“You’ve spoiled nothing,” he says, pressing a kiss to the tip of her nose. “I am here for you, as you’ve been for me.”

She leans forward and hugs him, resting her cheek on his shoulder. He runs his hand gently down her back in smoothing circles, the way she did after one of his nightmares. A beat of comfortable silence passes between them.

“You know, I’ve been meaning to steal you away to myself for the evening for quite some time,” she says. Her voice is still quiet, but the sad tone has faded.

“Have you, now?”

“Mm,” she hums, pressing a kiss to his shoulder. She sits up to meet his gaze. “Though, it seemed rather selfish. You looked so happy surrounded by the others, I couldn’t bear to take you away,” she murmurs, pressing a kiss to his collarbone.

“You know very well that I’m happiest with you,” he says, tucking her hair behind her ear. She smells like ink and firewood, with the slightest trace of a floral scent he can’t quite identify.

“Will you lie with me?” she asks. He fingers toy with the laces of his tunic. He nods and she stands.

They’ve laid together countless times, nestled into each other, finding comfort in the warmth of each other’s bodies. Though, the dance of falling into bed had changed over the long months – it started wordlessly at first, Dimitri appearing in her room or tent, clearly shaken or disheveled. She opened her arms, and he crawled into bed beside her, letting her touch soothe him. Whether he fell back asleep or not, it didn’t matter. Then, he found, he was coming to her quarters whether his nightmares were keeping him awake or not. He simply wanted to be around her, just as himself. He didn’t want to talk about the war or strategy for upcoming battles or how best to ration out supplies for the coming week. And she welcomed him all the same, letting him lay his head in her lap, holding his hand, pressing innocent kisses to his skin. Then, there were a handful of times their kisses became heated, their passions unbridled, their bodies and souls as one. Though it is certainly strange territory for him, he enjoys those nights most of all.

He kisses her reverently, softly at first, their kisses slowly deepening. She bites his bottom lip gently, encouraging more. He can feel her fingers fumbling with the strings of his eyepatch, the cool fabric slowly sliding away from his face. He’d been hesitant to remove it around her, afraid of what she might think of him, but night after night, she always kisses his drooping, scarred eyelid so gently it could make him weep. She performs this ritual tonight as well.

She tugs at the hem of his shirt, helping him lift it over his head. Her own shirt comes off next. He nips at her neck, kissing his way down to her collarbone, gently cupping her breasts in his hands.

“Dimitri,” she whispers. He thinks the sound of his name on her lips is one of the most beautiful things he will ever hear. She pulls him backward, falling comfortably onto the large mattress. He climbs on top of her, still pressing kisses into her skin, lower and lower and then back up, wanting to taste every inch of her. He takes a nipple into his mouth, sucking gently before applying slight pressure with his teeth, remembering how she seemed to enjoy the sensation.

She lets out a quiet moan.

He kisses his way back down to her navel, and she lifts her hips allowing him to easily slide off her shorts. He presses kisses into her hipbones and down her thighs – kisses that turn into gentle nips, leaving behind blushing pink skin. After a moment he sits up, admiring his work. She looks truly beautiful like this – naked beneath him, her hair untamed and spread wildly across the pillow, contrasting against the white sheets, her chest heaving, a desperation hidden behind heavily lidded eyes. He can feel his own arousal growing.

“Goddess, you are breathtaking,” he murmurs, dragging his fingers lazily up her inner thigh.

“I want you,” she says, her voice barely above a whisper. He blushes.

“What would you have me do?”

They’ve only shared a bed like this a handful of times. The world of physical affection is entirely new to him, one that he is happy to explore with her, so long as she gives the direction. Explicitly stating what she wants, where she needs him, what feels good. Without her, he is completely lost, much to his embarrassment.

“Touch me,” she says, though it comes out as more of a plea, taking his hand into her own and guiding him to her core. She’s already incredibly wet, he notes, as he brushes against heated skin. He rubs his thumb against her folds, watching her melt into his touch, feeling for that small nub of sensitive nerves. When he does find it, he rubs slow circles, remembering what she’d shown him before. She lets out a contented sigh, her eyes falling closed with bliss. Just as she seems to get used to his rhythm, he picks up the pace, rubbing faster, pulling more soft moans from her lips.

He kisses her hipbones again, slowing the pace of his thumb. His mouth hovers above her core. She sits up onto her elbows, glancing down at him.

“We don’t have to,” she says, gently. He knows she means it. “If you don’t want to, we can stop.”

“On the contrary,” his face reddens. “I just… It’s okay, if I…?” he stumbles over the words, not really confident enough to say what he was wanting to do to her.

Mercifully, she understands his meaning, letting out a girlish laugh and blushing in return.

“Yes,” she nods enthusiastically.

He kisses her thigh again before experimentally licking her clit. She gasps and he licks her again, slower this time. Again. Again. He presses kisses into her folds. Her fingers tangle in his hair as he continues.

“Dimitri,” his name pours from her lips, “Faster.” He complies, the languid strokes he was making with his tongue turning into quick flicks. Her hips buck against him ever so slightly and the sounds she makes are positively sinful, each moan and gasp shooting directly to his cock. He finds it curious – she’s the first flavor he can truly taste – a mixture of sweet and salty, a thick, heady scent. She’s intoxicating.

She pulls him back up to her, kissing him full on the mouth, her lips parting. He explores her mouth with his tongue as her hands unlace his trousers. Eventually, they break apart so he can stand and quickly kick his pants away.

They reunite with another crash of their lips, and she gently guides him to lay on his back, taking his cock into her hands and pumping it a few times, before settling back on her knees. She kisses up the shaft, following her trail of kisses with her tongue, and then taking him completely into her mouth. She bobs her head up and down, the head of his cock hitting the back of her throat. He sees stars. His breath escapes his lungs and he feels every sensation so acutely, his toes curling. When she releases him, he’s just as breathless as she is.

“I need you,” she says. “Please.” He understands, guiding her back gently to the pile of pillows. He hovers over her drawing a gentle line down her chest as she spreads her legs for him, taking his length and lining the head of his cock up with her entrance. They stay like this, taking a moment to catch their breath. The way Byleth looks at him makes Dimitri feel as though his heart will explode.

“I’m ready,” she nods, and he pushes slowly into her. She feels like heaven.

He moves slowly at first, his thrusts shallow and awkward. She wraps her legs tightly around his waist as he moves, drawing him in closer.

“Dimitri,” she says, meaning to instruct, but his name comes out as a partial moan, “You don’t have to hold back. You won’t break me.”

He mindlessly obeys her directions, his pace quickening, his thrusts becoming deeper. He likes watching the way her breasts bounce as he pounds into her, the flush that spreads all the way down to her chest, he likes hearing the string of pleasured curses that flow from her lips, the moans and gasps she tries so desperately to stifle. She tightens her legs around him once more, pulling him closer so they’re chest to chest. His name is steadily pouring from her lips now and he can feel her tightening around him. He continues to quicken his pace, knowing he won’t last much longer, reaching down to stroke her clit with his thumb as he moves.

The sound of his name pouring from Byleth’s lips halts, giving way to incoherent sounds of pleasure. Her hands claw at his back and she twitches beneath him, orgasm finally reaching her. He thrusts a few more times, following shortly after.

He slides out of her, collapsing on his side and snuggling up beside her, the two of them a sweaty, sticky mess. He presses a gentle kiss to her shoulder.

“I’ll get a washcloth,” he says, moving to stand, but she shakes her head, scooting closer to him and pressing her head against his chest. She entwines their legs and drapes an arm around his torso. He chuckles. Nothing in all of Fódlan could make him want to move from her side now.

“I said I wanted you to lie with me,” she reasons, smiling up at him. “We’re just getting to that part.”

He laughs again.

“Thank you,” she says, absentmindedly tracing patterns into his chest. “For sharing yourself with me.”

His heart melts and he pulls her closer. Whatever this is, this new pattern they’ve fallen into, he never wants it to end.

Chapter Text

Spending time in the greenhouse with the Professor is more of Dedue’s thing. In truth, the greenhouse is only as vibrant as it is due to their efforts. He recognizes Duscur flowers in a far right corner, blooming and overshadowing some of the smaller plants. There are potted plants hanging from baskets, vines hanging down and various flowers budding. Vegetables and fruits are toward the entrance. He stands in the middle of the greenhouse, afraid to move, terrified of touching a plant and instantly killing it. The leaves were too fragile, the roots too weak.

“Is Dedue not coming?” the Professor asks, shuffling into the greenhouse. Her arms are filled with various tools and bags of soil.

“He was called away to assist Claude and his house with a mission,” Dimitri explains, walking to her side and offering to take some of her burden. She flashes him a grateful look. “Raphael came down with something and has been in the infirmary for the past couple of days. They were short a man, but it was too important of a task to go without full numbers. So, you’re stuck with me,” He laughs lightly.

“It will be nice to have a plant of our own,” she hums, directing him to a far corner of the greenhouse. He blushes, following behind her.

“I’m afraid I have no experience,” he explains. “I’m a little afraid I might do more damage than help, though I’ll try my best.”

“Nonsense,” she laughs. “We’ll make a gardener out of you, don’t you worry. Besides, we’re not planting anything particularly temperamental today.”

She stops in front of an empty bed and motions for him to set down the supplies. This is the darkest corner of the greenhouse – the air moist.

“I wanted to plant forget-me-nots in this corner,” she explains, kneeling. Dimitri follows suit. “As long as they’re kept regularly watered, they thrive.”

She pulls out a small pouch of seeds, taking his hands in hers and pouring some of the seeds in his hands. She then pours the rest into hers and scoots closer to the bed.

“Dedue and I already took care of the weeding and the soil is freshly fertilized, so all you need to do is make a small dip into the soil and drop in a seed.” She demonstrates, her hands moving swiftly, get gracefully. She barely presses into the soil, making a small indent, before carefully placing the seed and smoothing over the soil with her finger. She turns to him expectantly.

“Your turn,” she says with a smile in her voice. He sighs and clears his throat, doing his best to match her example. The soil is more pliant than he expects, the dip he makes quite deep. His hands falter, looking up at the Professor – was it too deep? He’d tried to be gentle but of course had overestimated his strength.

She doesn’t scold, just gently fills in his mark halfway before encouraging him to plant the seed. With renewed concentration, he drops the seed and, with feather light touches, covers it with soil.

“Very good,” she praises. He can feel his cheeks burning. “We should be able to make quick work of the rest.” She’s already starting to plant her next seed as she talks. He follows suit, doing his best to concentrate. Silence passes between them as they work and it’s a bit uncomfortable, but that may be due, in part, to Dimitri’s already present discomfort. Despite the fact that planting seeds takes more of his concentration and effort than he cares to admit, he can see why Dedue and the Professor must like it in the greenhouse. It is quiet, though the muffled noises of students and faculty passing by offer a calming ambiance.

“Can I ask you something, Professor?” He breaks the silence, finishing his first row of seeds before moving on to the next. He glances over at her, noting he’s moving much more slowly than her far more practiced hand.

“Hm?”

“Why forget-me-nots?” he asks. He doesn’t know much about plants, doesn’t feel strongly about them, but he understands the rationale behind the greenhouse in general. It was a place for them to grow food to feed the hungry students, to grow herbs for poultices, to grow plants from Duscur so they wouldn’t die out. Forget-me-nots seemed… pointless. As far as he was aware, there was no medicinal or nutritional value, nor was there any cultural significance.

“I just think they’re pretty,” she hums, her eyes sparkling. “Actually, they’re my favorite,” she admits after a beat.

“Ah,” Dimitri files that knowledge away, not really sure when he would ever need it. Perhaps for her next birthday he could gather some for her. He’d certainly like to see the look on her face as she received them.

---

His arms are sore. He’d meant to go to the bath house to freshen up before heading in for the night, but his feet carry him to the greenhouse instead. It’s quiet, but he announces his presence all the same.

“Dimitri?” The Professor’s voice calls. She pokes her head from around a particularly large Duscur fern. She has dirt on her cheek. “What are you doing here at this hour?” He knows she isn’t scolding him – there’s curiosity in her tone.

“I had… wanted to check on our – well, the forget-me-nots,” he admits sheepishly, ignoring the blush creeping to his cheeks.

“Oh!” she sounded slightly excited. She brushed her hands off on her shorts before offering a hand to Dimitri. He can still feel flecks of soil in her palm, but her skin is soft and warm.

She leads him to the back corner. Small green sprouts are shooting up out of the soil, fragile and vibrant. He’s not… disappointed per se, but he had hoped to see more… plant. Then again, the fact that anything was growing at all was something of an achievement, considering he’d had a hand in planting them.

“They’re coming along nicely,” the Professor notes, a hint of pride in her voice. “You’re just in time to help me do some weeding.”

Right. Weeding. He’s been volunteering to help water the flowers, hoping to avoid this very situation. It was… difficult at best for him to tell what was a weed and what was a growing plant.

As though sensing his hesitation, the Professor squeezes his hand in encouragement.

“The plants we want to keep already have little buds growing,” she explains, leading him closer to the flower bed. She releases his hand to kneel and point out a particularly strong looking group of sprouts, each with their own buds.

He kneels beside her, noting she smells like the greenhouse – there’s always a floral scent hanging around her. They work in relative silence, making quick work of the few weeds that have sprung up in the past few days.

“I’d say in a few more weeks we’ll start to see actual blooms,” the Professor says, her voice tinted with excitement. “The flowers will be blue when they come in. Just another sign they’re ours.”

Ours.

He likes the way it sounds.

---

She sits in the corner of the greenhouse. Most of the plants are dead, though such is to be expected. Luckily, the Duscur flowers seem to be doing well – they never did need much water or weeding. Lorenz’s rose bush is dead. The hanging baskets are overgrown with dead vines.

Somehow, the forget-me-nots she planted with Dimitri all those ages ago have managed to survive. They look worse for the wear, but they’re not dead. She runs her fingers gently across the tops of the flowers that have managed to stay alive.

Tears well in her eyes.

Dimitri was barely speaking to her. Barely speaking to anyone, really. He spends his days skulking around the monastery ruins like a wounded animal. In truth, catching sight of him causes a pain in her chest. When he does speak, his words sting.

His words today sting, ringing repeatedly in her head.

She’d admonished him for throwing himself a little too recklessly at a party of Imperial soldiers, no backup, no one close enough to help when things inevitably turned south. She attempted to heal his wounds, gently launching into a speech about how they needed him around. He spoke more words to her then than he had in the past couple of months, but every word from his mouth felt like a dagger in her chest.

Maybe it would be better if you never came back.

She knows he doesn’t mean it, but it hurts all the same. She plucks a handful of blooms, ignoring the tears falling down her face, bitterly noting that if she keeps it up, she won’t have to do any watering.

The little blue buds mean more to her now than ever. They reminded her of things she truly never wanted to forget… of happier days, of a happier Dimitri, of a time when the world was filled with more hope. They reminded her of her students, their faces unmarred by the hardships they’ve had to bear over the past five years. Of Dedue… goddess rest his soul.

Yet, as delicate as the flowers look, they’re truly resilient – still standing after time had afforded them nothing but neglect and cruelty. She stands, flowers in hand and walks to the monastery. Dimitri is there, alone, face shrouded by the shadows.

He doesn’t turn to look as she approaches him.

She merely takes his hand – it’s a miracle he lets her, that he doesn’t retract from her touch – and wordlessly places the flowers in them. A silent form of communication.

Their flowers have survived the hardships, they’re bouncing back after years of neglect and loneliness. He can too. They can too.

---

According to Fódlan tradition, the bride and groom have to be separated until the start of the ceremony at dusk. Technically, the first time they will lay eyes on each other will be right at midnight as they are pronounced husband and wife– symbolizing a beginning together. The beginning of a new day, the beginning of a new life, the beginning of a new era. Dimitri explains this to his frowning bride-to-be the night before the wedding, his tone apologetic. It was a miracle they were even allowed to spend these precious few hours together in his private chambers, cutting it awfully close to midnight.

“Couldn’t we just pretend we hadn’t seen each other all day?” she pouts, nuzzling further into his chest. Her hair tickles his chin.

“You know Mercedes and Annette would never allow it,” he chuckles. “They’re far too excited about the whole thing. And,” he pauses, embarrassed at the words about to spill from his mouth, “truth be told, I am rather fond of the symbolism behind the tradition.”

She props herself up on her elbow, looking into his eye and fighting back a smile as she tucks his hair behind his ear.

“I never would have pegged you for a sentimentalist,” she says, pressing a kiss to his lips.

“I only plan to wed once, and I intend to do it the right way,” he laughs.

“Then,” she says, pressing kisses down his bare chest before sitting and straddling him. “We’d best make the most of the time we have left, hm? I have to make sure to give you plenty to think about for the next twelve hours,” She presses another kiss to his lips, grinning mischievously as she grinds against him.

~

She’s never been one for dresses, not necessarily because she had a particular distaste for them, simply because she was unaccustomed to them. Her new archbishop robes were perhaps the closest she came to wearing dresses, but she had the freedom to alter those as she saw fit.

Her wedding dress is a different beast entirely. It takes the help of Annette, Hilda, Mercedes and Marianne to get it on, laced up, and arranged perfectly, each of them cooing all the while. She isn’t used to this sort of attention, though it is nice to be surrounded by her friends. She feels slightly nervous as the ceremony looms, knowing there will be so many eyes on her and not all of them approving. Hearing her friends’ voices helps keep her nerves at bay.

“You look so lovely, professor,” Annette is practically bouncing up and down as Hilda puts the finishing touches on her hair. “Oh, I think I could cry.”

“Don’t cry, you’ll mess up your makeup,” Hilda teases in a sing-songy voice, “I woke up early to help you with it and I won’t have it go to waste. You do look gorgeous, though, professor. Who knew you’d clean up this good?” She laughs.

“Please, call me Byleth,” she reminds gently for what feels like the hundredth time.

“Are you ready to see?” Marianne asks, offering her hand. Byleth takes it and lets herself be led to a full length mirror. She almost doesn’t recognize the person staring back… but she likes how she looks. Her dress is fairly modest – white lace cinched at the waist with pink ribbon. The square neckline dips low, complimenting her large breasts.

She’s acutely aware of a soft knock at the door. Mercedes leaves to answer it. She returns a moment later.

“You have a gift,” she announces. Byleth turns to see a beaming Mercedes, holding a bouquet in her hands. “It came with this letter, too.” She offers the bouquet and parchment to Byleth. Her breath catches in her throat.

Forget-me-nots.

She takes the flowers from Mercedes, cradling them in the crook of her arm as she opens the parchment with trembling fingers. A warmth spreads throughout her chest. Dimitri’s unmistakable handwriting is scrawled out across the page.

Beloved,

I hope you’ll forgive the crude flower clippings – I haven’t the skill you do (Dedue helped me keep them alive). As I thought of what I could give you today, this was the only thing that came to mind. Our forget-me-nots we planted those many years ago. They have stood the test of time, reminded us of the good even when surrounded by the bad. May we always be the same as we spend forever at each other’s side.

It seems the goddess keeps her promises after all.

All my love.

Chapter Text

“Good form, kid,” Jeralt pants, pausing to wipe sweat from his brow. “But your stance is too wide.” With a swift, fluid motion, he drags his lance, catching the back of Dimitri’s leg and knocking him backward.

The moment on the ground seems to give him clarity, the reality of his situation finally settling in despite the soreness in his limbs. He gets to train with Jeralt. Captain of the Knights of Seiros Jeralt. It feels almost unbelievable. And simultaneously strange. The captain of the knights is in high demand – popular with monastery staff and students alike. When he’s not leading missions of his own, he always seems to have someone following him around – usually it’s Leonie or Alois. Dimitri has always been curious, always wanted to know what sort of man the Professor’s father is, but he never seems to get a chance to speak with him other than a quick, passing conversation here or there. The few spare moments the captain seems to have, he prefers to spend with his daughter, understandably so – sharing a meal, taking a stroll into town arm-in-arm, discussing tactics. It feels rude to encroach on that time, so he keeps his distance.

Until a few hours ago, that is.

It’s late – he prefers to do the bulk of his training at night, when the grounds are empty. It helps relax him when he can’t sleep. He tells Dedue (who it took ages to convince he didn’t have to come and could, instead, spend his evenings getting much needed rest) it’s because he prefers to have moments where Felix isn’t breathing down his neck and critiquing him, which is partially true, though Dimitri never minds terribly. Felix would rather die than admit it, but Dimitri knows he’s so harsh because he cares.

He thought he’d get in a quick session with his lance – more so to relax his mind than really practice any new techniques – but it seems Jeralt had the same idea. They’d trained separately at first—Dimitri trying not to be obvious as he snuck glances at the captain’s technique. Jeralt noticed his curiosity and invited him to spar. Hours later, here they were – Jeralt’s lance at his throat, the prince of Faerghus sitting in a cloud of dust.

“You’ve been trained, well,” he smiles. He offers a hand to Dimitri, helping him stand once more.

“I’ve had the fortune of having good teachers,” he smiles, feeling slightly embarrassed. “I owe any success to their instruction.” A pause. “Your daughter included,” he adds, awkwardly.

Jeralt stretches, letting out a gruff laugh.

“Never thought she’d be a professor,” he mutters. “Hell, I never thought I’d rejoin the Knights of Seiros, and yet, here we are.” He sits on the cool stone, leaning back against a pillar. “Ah, forgive me.” He motions to the ground beside him.

“Are you unhappy here, captain?” Dimitri asks, accepting a seat beside the older man.

Jeralt laughs in response.

“Surprised to be here is all,” he shrugs.

“Apologies,” Dimitri speaks, finally. “I don’t mean to pry.”

“Is she well?” Jeralt asks, turning his gaze to Dimitri. His eyes are kind, but serious. Tired. “Byleth. As your professor, I mean. Is she getting on well?”

“Absolutely,” he nods, perhaps too enthusiastically. “I think she’s an excellent professor. I must admit, I was rather surprised when Lady Rhea first informed the house leaders she’d be a professor at the monastery,”

Jeralt laughs again, turning away, suddenly fixated on some distant spot on the horizon.

“As was I, kid,” he nods. “The archbishop certainly works in mysterious ways.”

“But after being in her lectures, under her instruction… it makes sense,” Dimitri speaks slowly, attempting to gauge Jeralt’s reaction, but the man betrays no emotion. “You’ve truly taught her well.” It’s true. While the Professor has her strengths – swordsmanship being her true skill – she seems well rounded, almost as though she has the capacity to learn, understand and teach anything. She’s had no formal training and yet her mastery of tactics, particularly adapting her tactics to the ever changing situations at hand, is truly remarkable. She’s confessed to Dimitri that, prior to coming to the monastery she’s never really used magic, yet Annette and Mercedes seem to be fascinated by her instruction as well. He almost feels jealous, but really what he feels is pride. Pride that she’s chosen his class. He has a hard time expressing it – he’s tried and he thinks the Professor knows. He can only pray she does.

“I’ve taught her plenty about some things, sure,” Jeralt sighs, leaning forward. “I was nervous about bringing her back here. It wasn’t planned, of course. As mercenaries, we mostly kept to ourselves. Teaching her to use a weapon was easy enough. She took to it like a fish to water,” he laughs. “Unfortunately, I haven’t really had the time or the need to teach her the intricacies of social etiquette around nobles or church officials. I worry it’s a bit overwhelming for her at times. I know the rules, and it’s still overwhelming.” He glances over at Dimitri again. “Speaking of which, I’ve been meaning to thank you, your Highness.” His tone shifts, suddenly less casual. Jeralt never seemed one to follow the rules – at least, that’s not what the rumors are – but, he knows how to show respect when it is called for. Still, it feels awkward, having someone he looked up to and respected regard him with such esteem.

“You saved my life on our first meeting, whatever could you have to thank me for?” Dimitri laughs nervously.

“Byleth speaks highly of you, you know,” he says. “You seem to make her work easy. You keep the others in line, you study hard and listen to instruction. She regards you as a friend. That honor belongs to so few. It makes me… glad she ended up with your lot.” He smiles.

Dimitri’s face burns. He attempts to sputter a response, but nothing coherent manages to fall from his lips. Jeralt laughs, standing and dusting off his pants.

“You’d better turn in for the night, kid,” he says, his casual tone returning. “I don’t want to catch an earful about keeping a star pupil up too late.”

“O-of course,” Dimitri nods, standing. “Thank you, captain,” he offers a small bow. “For training with me.”

“I look forward to our next sparring session,” Jeralt winks before turning on his heel and walking out of the training grounds.

---

“-we’ll be running different attack formations in preparation for our mission this weekend,” the Professor says, dusting the chalk off her hands. “If you’ll all report to the entrance hall, I’ll join you shortly with further instruction.”

The classroom buzzes with excitement and fills with the sound of chattering and shuffling of chairs and papers as they prepare to leave. Practical experience, mock battles, running drills – all of it is more interesting than sitting in a lecture hall. Dimitri gathers his notes and books clumsily, cheered by the prospect of spending time outdoors and getting practical experience.

“We’ve been doing more weekend missions,” Sylvain observes, his arms virtually empty. It’s a miracle when he remembers to bring parchment to class – always having to bum supplies off Ingrid or read Dimitri’s notes after class. “That’s gotta be a good sign right?”

“We’ve proven ourselves on several occasions,” Felix states, matter-of-factly. “I’d be insulted if we weren’t trusted with more hands-on instruction at this point.”

“You’d be insulted no matter what,” Sylvain teases, earning a glowering look from Felix.

“You’ll stay behind please, Dimitri,” the Professor’s voice rings through the din of the classroom. He stops gathering his books, instead stacking them neatly on his desk while waiting for the others to file out. Sylvain flashes him a wink before following Felix out the door.

“Is something wrong, Professor?” he asks, once it’s just the two of them.

“Not at all,” she says, not looking up at him. She sorts through papers on her desk, tidying up in preparation to join the others. “Your presence has been requested on a different mission. As you have been performing well in your studies and training, I didn’t think missing drills this afternoon would affect our chances of success this weekend.”

“I see,” he says, feeling immensely relieved. And slightly proud. “What sort of mission?”

“I’m afraid I’m not privy to the details,” she hums, “I’m assuming the mission itself isn’t incredibly dangerous or Lady Rhea wouldn’t have agreed to let you go. You’ll be heading out with the Knights of Seiros shortly. My father is on his way to pick you up now and will fill you in while you prepare to head out. He specifically requested you,” she finally meets his gaze, a small smile playing at the corner of her mouth.

“The captain?” Dimitri repeats, his head buzzing.

“Yes, it seems you’ve made quite the… impression on him.” She sounds pleased. He feels pleased, though he’s not sure what he could have possibly done to impress Jeralt. He could have had his pick of any of the students at the Academy – his stomach drops slightly, thinking of the earful he will have to endure from Leonie once she inevitably catches wind of the situation. Other than their sparring session a few weeks earlier, he hasn’t had much chance to interact with Jeralt. Things went back to relative normalcy – the two far too busy with other tasks to spend any time together, other than a passing nod here or there.

Not to say Dimitri wasn’t excited at the prospect of spending more time with the Professor’s father. The captain’s opinion of him didn’t truly matter in the grand scheme of things, but he certainly wanted Jeralt’s impression of him to remain positive. He was a kind man, though slightly intimidating. It makes sense, of course. An infamous captain, commanding one of the most formidable forces in all of Fodlan was sure to keep anyone on their toes. Yet, there was something also casual and… familial about his mannerisms.

“Ready to head out, kid?”

As though on cue, Jeralt appears in the doorway, arms folded tightly across his chest, though his face holds a smile.

“Of course, captain,” Dimitri turns, bowing slightly. Jeralt motions for him to follow.

“Be safe,” the Professor calls after them. “Both of you.”

Dimitri feels the eyes of others on him as he walks across the monastery grounds alongside the captain. He tries to ignore the feeling, his face burning, instead attempting to focus on Jeralt’s voice. It seems they are to accompany Seteth – issues with some of the clergy of the Western church have cropped up. Of course, diplomacy is the goal, but the knights should be there in case the worst happens. It seems too important a task to ask a student to step in for, but Jeralt brushes off his concerns.

“It’s all going to be boring diplomacy talks,” he dismisses with a wave of his hand. “One of the few instances where the Church likes to remind dissidents of the power they hold. It won’t come to anything. Even if it does, I know you’re more than capable of handling yourself.”

“You seem awfully confident,” Dimitri laughs nervously.

“Ah, you get used to this sort of thing,” Jeralt laughs. “When you ascend the throne, I’m sure you’ll be in similar situations, if you haven’t already.”

“May I ask you a question, captain?” Dimitri purses his lips. Jeralt grunts in response. “Out of all the others you could have taken with your company, why me?”

Jeralt laughs as they walk into the stables, whistling for his horse before busying himself with a saddle.

“I guess you could say… I wanted to keep an eye on you,” he says at length. “I think you have the skill to tag along and I was a little curious about you after hearing so much from Byleth. ”

Dimitri stiffens, his face blushing again.

“Relax, you’re not on trial here, kid,” he claps a hand to Dimitri’s shoulder, laughing once more. “I like you well enough. You’re skilled and you seem a good sort. You’re not half bad. Now, saddle up. The others are waiting.”

---

Dimitri has nothing fancy to say. No eloquent speech, no long list of particularly touching memories. What is there to say? He knows the familiar sting of loss, understands the immense suffering the Professor must be going through.  Though he hasn’t known the captain for all that long, his loss is truly felt, the mood at the monastery completely somber. It seems unjust that the captain would be taken from them at all, let alone so soon upon his arrival at the monastery. It seems unjust that such a skilled warrior, such a good man should be taken from them all because he sought to keep the students safe.

The sun has set and most others have gone to bed. He stands at Jeralt’s freshly dug grave, silently. The Professor stands beside him, letting tears fall freely. He’s never seen her cry before, not after sustaining massive injuries, not out of frustration, nothing. Her eyes are always dry. Until the day Jeralt left them. There is nothing poetic to say about her tears, nothing beautiful about the way she looks when she cries. His heart aches more and more with each tear that falls, wishing there was something he could do to ease the pain. Of course, he stands by what he told her – anything she needed, any support she seeks from him – even revenge- he will gladly offer. He wants to comfort her, to let her know he’s there, that he understands – his life is colored by the same strokes of pain. But, because he understands, he simply lets her be. He lets her cry. He offers no empty condolences, no placating phrases of “you will feel better soon.” Jeralt will always be a hole in her heart – he knows this.

Instead they simply stand. Together.

He remains silent when she takes his hand, seeking some form of comfort.

---

The cool metal of the ring weighs heavy in his hand. His heart seems to have settled in his throat, beating incredibly fast. So much change is happening so fast. He places flowers on Jeralt’s grave before sitting on the grass beside it.

It’s an odd habit he’s picked up. While at the monastery, he can’t exactly visit the graves of his parents, but he feels just as much comfort from visiting Jeralt’s. Sometimes he visits with Byleth, sometimes he goes alone. He feels a little foolish for his current visit, but the sentimentalist in him feels it’s the right thing to do.

He’s used to having the dead always with him. They’ll likely never leave and he’s making peace with that, in his own way. But Jeralt never haunts him like the others. That isn’t to say Dimitri has never heard Jeralt’s voice ringing in his ears, it’s just not a constant. There was something comforting about being able to maintain a relationship of sorts with the man, even though he was no longer around. To change the relationship he has with the dead through willful force. He won’t let Jeralt haunt him, but he’ll let him remain a friend. And so he has.

As his relationship with Byleth has morphed to something entirely different than he would have ever anticipated, his relationship with Jeralt changes too. He’s always cared what the captain thought of him, though that concern has pushed its way to the forefront of his thoughts as of late. He’s come to think of the captain as a father figure of sorts – he’s fortunate to have so many. The one-sided conversations he has at the foot of the captain’s grave become something of a comfort. Dimitri finds himself able to confess things he’d never dream of saying aloud to others.

And now, here he is.

Admitting to Jeralt, and to himself, it is hard to imagine spending his life with anyone other than Byleth. He’s known this for several months now though he’s kept his thoughts and feelings to himself. It’s impossible for him to know if Byleth feels the same way – whatever relationship they’ve fallen into, they’ve never bothered to find words to describe it. Now that the war is finally over and he is to be king, it seems he is at a crossroads. Either he finds the words, or they part ways and live their lives as friends. Of course, having Byleth as a constant in his life is what he desires most, but he’s finally admitted to himself he truly cares for her. Loves her. Will love her until the end of his days, if she lets him.

Perhaps Jeralt already knows all this. Perhaps he’s been watching over them. Dimitri feels a sting of guilt.  He knows he hasn’t been perfect. He’s treated Byleth unfairly – he knows he has been the cause of a fair share of her tears and heartache, despite her patience with him. He knows she has given him more than he will ever be able to give her. Was he a worthy man? Some days he doubted he was. Would Jeralt think he was worthy? Would he allow such a cruel man to ask for his daughter’s hand? To attempt to spend the rest of his life repaying his daughter for the kindness, compassion, patience and love she has shown him?

He clenches his fist around the ring, letting the jewels cut into his skin. If only there was a way he could communicate with the dead. Dimitri sighs, staring off into the distance.

You’re not half bad.

The captain’s words float into his mind – words from what felt like a lifetime ago. Of course, Dimitri was different then. Only a boy. Still, they clear some of the clouds in his heart.

“Not a day goes by I don’t miss him,” A voice cuts into his thoughts and Dimitri jumps slightly. Alois has suddenly appeared beside him, standing on Dimitri’s blind side. He seems to realize his blunder, immediately bowing. “Apologies, your Highness, I didn’t mean to startle you! I should have made more noise.”

“No apology needed Alois,” Dimitri laughs, pocketing the ring. “I’m a little too skittish, it seems. I merely came here for… guidance,” he explains. “But I think I’ve gotten my answer.” He turns to leave, but Alois stops him.

“I wish you’d gotten to know him better,” he says, looking down at Jeralt’s grave with a fond smile. It is unclear whether his words are directed at Dimitri or Jeralt. “I know the captain’s been looking down at Byleth’s deeds. And yours, too, for that matter.”

“I was afraid of that,” Dimitri says, laughing softly.

“Whatever for, your Highness?”

“He knows the true nature of my heart.”

“He probably does,” Alois nods, “And he knows the kind of man you are. The horrible things you’ve worked to overcome. The peaceful future you’ve secured. The boy you were and the man you’ve become. He’s no doubt very proud. So much change has happened so fast. Time flies like an arrow,” he sighs. He pauses for a beat before continuing. “And fruit flies like a banana.” He guffaws at his own joke, an attempt to lighten the mood. It works – Dimitri slightly embarrassed by the loud snort that escapes him, unable to help but laugh.

“I knew Jeralt quite well, and I think he would have liked you very much,” Alois continues, once regaining his composure. He turns to face Dimitri, his eyes glinting and his smile unfaltering.

“Oh?”

“Indeed,” Alois smiles. “So hopefully that gives you the answer you need. I think he’d approve.”

“Approve?” Dimitri repeats his phrase with curiosity. Alois laughs, clapping a hand to Dimitri’s shoulder.

“Your Highness, I’ll admit I’m not an incredibly observant man,” he explains, “Unless it comes to Byleth. She’s my sister after all,” he puffs his chest out with pride, fond of the familial title he’s bestowed upon himself. “I know the two of you… Well, let’s just say, I understand the reason why you seem so nervous and jumpy. Trust me, Jeralt would approve wholeheartedly. Maybe not as openly. Actually, he’d probably be rather coy about his approval. He wasn’t a man of many words. The point is, he’d like you. like you.” Alois grins as he rambles on.

“Goddess,” Dimitri swears with a groan, “Are my intentions that obvious?” Alois laughs again.

That I can’t say for sure. Only that you don’t need to worry about the captain. You have his approval.”

Chapter Text

“You’re back late,” Byleth observes, sitting up and leaning her back against the pillows. Dimitri offers her a tired but genuine smile, sitting on the edge of the bed to remove his boots.

“Apologies, beloved,” he laughs lightly, “I meant to come back much earlier, but I got caught in something of an impromptu meeting.”

“What is it?”

“It is not my intention to bother you with the boring details of my duties,” he smiles. He stands and presses a kiss to her forehead before walking to the armoire to change out of his formal clothes.

“Details of your work never bore me,” she says. “I’m interested in the causes and goals you choose to devote your time to. Besides, it’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one the nobles give trouble to,” she jokes, eliciting a soft laugh from her husband. He pauses before responding.

“Dedue had a proposition for me,” he hums, walking to the bed. Byleth slides over, flinging the large blanket aside so he can take the space beside her.

“Dedue?” she asks. “I thought he was still in Duscur with Mercedes. Are they alright?”

“They returned early. Quite early, actually,” he says. “It seems inspiration struck while they were abroad. They want to open a school. For Duscur children.”

“How wonderful!” Byleth coos, propping herself up on her elbow. “I think they would make wonderful teachers.”

“I very much agree,” he says, but his face still has concern written on it – he is passionate about reparations with Duscur, she knows this. It is one of his main focuses since ascending the throne. Dedue has been appointed to serve as a delegate on behalf of the Kingdom, though talks have been slow. Tedious at best. Duscur’s own delegation has only recently agreed to roundtable meetings. Previously, they were only willing to meet with Dedue and Dimitri. It’s a step in the right direction, but they still have a long way to go, especially now that some of the other nobles are involved. She knows Dimitri has spent several restless nights attempting to resolve seemingly irreparable rifts and diplomatic disagreements.

“I take it some of the lords are likely to object,” she muses, resting her chin on his chest.

“Mm,” he sighs. “Opening a school is a huge gesture. But, to a lot of nobles, it means continuing to open their arms to refugees for an indefinite amount of time. None of them want to offer the land to build it. It would have been a difficult thing to persuade them to do before, but now, after the war, so many territories need to be rebuilt or restored. Offering the wrong location for the school could be seen as insult or worse, if the region is unstable it could bring harm to the children. And then, of course, there is the issue of food and supplies. I was set to discuss trade routes through former Alliance territories toward the end half of the year, but those discussions may have to be moved up if I’m to attempt to persuade nobles to build a school.” He twirls a strand of her mint colored hair between his fingers as he talks.

“Could the Church help?” she asks. “We wouldn’t have permanent room for a school at Garreg Mach, but it’s safe there, at least until we can negotiate a permanent location.”

“I couldn’t ask that of you. Between reunification talks with the Eastern and Western Churches, where would you find the time?” He tucks her hair behind her ear. “ Not to mention you’re already busy getting the Academy back up and running.”

“Seteth can finalize that – he’s more familiar with what it takes to run the Academy, anyhow. Besides, is it not the will of the Goddess to take care of those in need?” she grins. “Again, it would only be a temporary solution, but I want to help.”

Dimitri studies her face, contemplating her offer.

“It may be months or years before we’re in a place to construct the school,” he says slowly.

“Dimitri,” she says softly, pressing a kiss to his nose. “Let me help.”

“You are truly the answer to all my prayers, beloved,” he smiles, pulling her in for a kiss. “Dedue and Mercedes will help, of course. And… it seems they both have their pride. Dedue was reluctant to even ask for my assistance in the first place. From the sound of it, he and Mercedes had planned to build the school with their bare hands.”

“That sounds like them,” she laughs.

“You’ll have to promise you’ll not overburden yourself,” he chides, gently. “And if there is anything you need from me, anything I can do to lighten your burdens, you must ask.”

“Well, now that you mention it,” she hums, pressing kisses to his chest. “I have been rather burdened by my husband’s absence. He’s busy with important work, and I’m very proud of him,” she praises between kisses, “But seeing as he’s here now, perhaps we can make up for some lost time?”

“You’re incorrigible,” Dimitri laughs, unable to hide the blush spreading across his face

Chapter Text

El,” he whispers, reaching out to her. His hand shakes. “It doesn’t have to be like this.”

  She looks up at him, her eyes dark, her expression somber. Her usually regal demeanor is disheveled – sweat and blood covers her face, her hair unkempt.

  “After all this time, your hand is outstretched still?” she asks. He smiles at her.

  “Always.”

  She moves toward him, but jolts back suddenly – her face and body contorting into inhuman shapes, her skin hardening and ripping, scales filling in the cracks. Her violet eyes go red.

  “You know it can’t be this way,” her voice sounds distorted. Different. “You know we’re both destined for the eternal flames. We’re monsters you and I.”

  Her body keeps growing, overshadowing him. He has to crane his neck to see her face.

  “The Savior King,” she laughs, her voice dripping with disdain, “You’ve saved no one. You can’t even save yourself.”

  He feels phantom hands clawing at him, pulling him in different directions. He can’t see all the faces the hands belong to, but he can make out his father’s face. Glenn’s. His stepmother’s. He tries to pull himself out of their grasp, their fingernails digging into his skin, their pleas deafening. He can’t seem to wrangle himself free, helpless as he’s pulled down by the weight of ghosts that surround him. As their fingers claw against his skin, he can feel himself changing. He struggles, on the more he struggles. His own joints crack and bend, twisting – each movement excruciatingly painful. He wants to scream, but he has no voice. Or, at least, the sound that escapes him doesn’t sound like him.

  He looks down at his own hands – his body seems to be taking the same form as El’s, twisted by some form of black magic. Halfway between Divine Beast and man.

  “Why couldn’t you just die?” El asks, still towering over him. She sounds like she’s crying. He wants to beg for her forgiveness, assure her there could have been another way. There was a time he would have accepted that dying in her place was an option. He never wanted to harm her.

  Her eyes find his, and then she explodes, blood raining down on him. He can feel it soaking his hair, dripping down his face, covering his hands, flowing into his mouth—

 Dimitri jolts awake, sitting immediately upright. He’s aware of the cold sweat coating his skin, he’s aware of his rapid heartbeat and ragged breaths. He holds his shaking hands up to his eye in the darkness – he knows it was a dream, only a dream, but he has to be sure.

 Clean. Dry. No blood. Human.

 His surroundings come crashing into focus, pushing breath back into his lungs. He’s in the monastery. In the archbishop chambers. Visiting his wife for the first time in months. He’s safe.

 He lets out a haggard sob, relieved, quickly brushing away the single tear that dared to escape his eye. He buries his face in his hands, feeling a gentle hand on the small of his back. He turns. Byleth is sitting up next to him, her hair sticking out at wild angles, her eyes sleepy but concerned.

 “I’m sorry,” he whispers weakly. “Did I wake you?”

 She shakes her head, but he knows it’s likely a lie. He feels guilty. She’s been suffering through his nightmares for years now. He doesn’t have as many as he once did, the war several years behind them, but they still happen. They’re almost worse in a way, because they’re never expected. They’re more vivid. El is among the ghosts that haunt him now.

 “I’m thinking about getting some fresh air,” she says gently. “It’s past curfew, but I think the gatekeeper will let it slide,” she jokes. “Would you care to join me?” She asks, kissing his shoulder. It’s a ploy to take his mind off his dreams without asking him if he wants to talk. She’s always been good at that. He can’t always find the words to express what he’s feeling. He doesn’t always want to dwell on it – sometimes that makes it worse – but she never pushes. If he needs to talk, she’s there. If he doesn’t, she is simply with him in every moment, keeping him grounded to reality and to himself. And that’s what he needs most right now: her. Her patience, her reassurance, her presence. The ability to exist in the present. To remember that the world isn’t some blurry chasm filled with pain where the line between reality and nightmare is indistinguishable.

 Wordlessly, he nods.

 She takes his hand, lacing her fingers through his, and slides off the mattress with almost childlike energy. The evenings at Garreg Mach are far warmer than they ever are at the capital. While the cold never bothers him much, Byleth takes advantage of warmth where she can, happy to not have to bundle up or huddle next to him for warmth. This never stops her from walking close to his side – their arms always touching or her arms draped around his waist. He is grateful for her physical presence. It’s as though she can instinctively sense what he needs from her.

 He pays little attention to where she leads him, happy to follow along and listen to her voice. She’s engrossed in telling him about upcoming plans to expand the teaching staff at the monastery. Thanks to the efforts of Dedue, Mercedes, Sylvain and Felix, relations with Sreng and Duscur have improved to the point that she’s considered opening additional classes in the Academy. Claude has also expressed enthusiasm at her idea to open the Academy to Almyran students as well. Professors are needed, of course. She immediately thinks of Annette and Linhardt, though she can’t pen letters to them just yet, as there are still some diplomatic strings to tie off.

 “Peace is a remarkable thing,” she muses, “and we have you to thank for that.” She squeezes his hand, emphasizing her words before flashing a smile up at him. It does seem unreal – it seems hardly any time has passed since the war, and yet it feels like a lifetime ago. The world in which they live is completely transformed from the days of his youth. Unrecognizeable. Perhaps that’s why his dreams still plague him – to remind him of how things used to be. Of the sacrifices they’d all had to make to get where they are now.  Or perhaps they’re just old scars that will never heal. He has enough of those to last a lifetime.

 Their footsteps slow to a halt – it seems they’ve stopped at the fishing dock, the waterfall crashing softly in the distance. The gentle lapping of the waves are peaceful.

 Peace is a remarkable thing, he thinks.

 Byleth lets go of his hand, kicking her shoes off before walking to the end of the dock and sitting. She looks back at him, beckoning him to follow suit. He does, placing his boots beside her shoes and walking carefully to her side. Her feet are in the water, kicking back and forth, and her gaze is toward the stars. The moonlight shines on her face, softly lighting up her awestruck expression.

 “Did you know Duscur religion teaches the souls of heroes are held in the stars?” she asks. She lays on her back, putting one of her arms behind her head. With her other hand, she interlocks her pinky finger with his. “When a star disappears from the sky, that soul is reborn back into the world.”

 “Oh?”

 “Dedue told me that after my father died,” she hums. “He’s just there,” she says, pointing to a particularly bright star. “Always watching out for me. I like to think he’s close to your parents.”

 He smiles at that. He never figured he or his wife were particularly fond of sentimentality – either times of peace have softened them, or the strength of their affection for each other is something unexpectedly strong.

 He lays beside her, looking up at the myriad of stars in the sky. If the Duscur beliefs are true, there are so many souls worthy of the title of “hero.” Sometimes Dimitri thinks religion and theories of life after death are just ways humans placate themselves and work through their own emotions. But sometimes he does catch himself believing. Or wanting to believe. Then again, it can’t really be that hard to believe the world has possessed so many noble spirits. He’s had the privilege to know so many in his short twenty six years of life.

 “Do you think El is up there?” he asks, surprised at the question coming from his lips.

 Hero may not be the title others chose to bestow upon her, but why couldn’t she be? While he wish it could have gone any other way, El very much contributed to the peace United Fodlan enjoys. She was unwilling to stray from doing what she thought was right and, ultimately, paid the ultimate price for it – but isn’t that what any hero would do? Her goals, her vision for the people are not so different from the world he has created. While they didn’t see eye to eye, he could admit that she was admirable. Determined. Why shouldn’t she be a hero? Her greatest sin was wishing to cut a path to a better future. He was guilty of the same.

 Byleth gently squeezes his hand.

 “She’s just there,” Byleth says gently, pointing skyward again. To the south, there’s a small flickering star. It is reddish in hue, different from the others that surround it. Unique.  The panic and dread that made a home in his chest is fading and he feels much more like himself again.

 “I miss her,” he says after a moment. While Dimitri and Edelgarde had certainly drifted apart over the years, she remains one of his closest, treasured friends. Sometimes he thinks of what she’d say to him, how she’d chastise him for certain decisions he makes. He smiles. He very much likes the idea that she’s in the heavens, looking down at him from her lofty position, pinching the bridge of her nose in frustration as he somehow blunders through the enormous task of ruling United Fodlan, scoffing at the idiotic things he says during diplomatic meetings. But she’s happy that he’s happy. Maybe she misses him, too.

 “As do I,” Byleth agrees. A moment of silence passes. Dimitri scoots closer to his wife, and she closes the gap between them, resting her head on his shoulder. He kisses the top of her head.

 Life. Death. It’s all as impermanent as the stars in the sky.

 

Chapter Text

She’d told him they needed to better prepare. Their numbers were too small to do much of anything, almost too small to boost morale amongst her former students, even. Yet, Dimitri still seems intent on launching an assault on Enbarr. There are benefits to it. Mercedes even agrees with him, which comes as something of a surprise. It’s the fastest way to end the war, the most direct path to finding Rhea. But they only have one chance. If they march now, it’s a death sentence for all of them. It’s a death sentence for the Kingdom and the Alliance.

He doesn’t listen. She recalls his stubborn streak, even from their Academy days. He was quick to take to instruction, grateful for coaching, but sometimes, a reluctance to depart from his preferred ways would slip out. That defiance is one of the key staples of his character now. He sneaks out of the monastery in the cover of darkness, thinking no one sees him. She and Gilbert do, but she tells him not to worry, not to alert the others. She’ll follow and convince him to come back before he can get too far. Gilbert lets her go, promising to pray on her behalf, vowing to come after her if they have not returned by sun up. She tells him it isn’t necessary, but he refuses to budge. She’s grateful.

Byleth doesn’t know this Dimitri. She’s willing to follow him and fight for him all the same, but she misses the Dimitri she once knew. The Dimitri who would put the living before the dead. Or maybe that Dimitri never really existed. Maybe he was a carefully crafted façade. Either way, it doesn’t change the situation at hand.

“She wanted you alive, you know,” the soldier remarks, pulling her roughly alongside their horse. “The Empress.” She can’t tell much about the mysterious soldier, other than they’re obviously from the Empire. Maybe leftover from the bands they’d been working to repel from the monastery. Maybe from Randolph’s group? She’d thought they’d all been captured or killed, but with the chaos on the battlefield, it is hard to know for sure.

She keeps up in silence as best she can. It’s dark and her lungs burn. She’s limping – a well-aimed arrow lodged into her thigh. She has several deep cuts from attempting to fight the soldier off, but she was caught off guard and at a disadvantage. The initial shot to her thigh dealt her a losing hand even before their combat began. 

The sun won’t be up for another few hours at least, and it looks like a storm is approaching. She laments that their trail may be marred by rainfall, making it difficult for Gilbert to track her down. Whatever happens to her, she hopes he finds Dimitri by sun up, at least. 

“The Empire’s made great strides, between killing that pathetic excuse for a king and felling half the Kingdom, but, well, our morale could use a boost. Victory has come at quite a cost,” the soldier continues to ramble on. Byleth isn’t sure she’ll get out of this, but if she does, she’ll at least have some heartening news to bring back to the monastery. If morale is low within Empire ranks too, it may be possible to bolster their own numbers by swaying some of the prisoners to join their cause. Especially now that they know Dimitri isn’t actually dead. 

“Whatever reward you fetch will likely boost my morale,” the soldier laughs. “The position of Prime Minister is still vacant from what I hear. Von Aegir is dead and his bastard son is nowhere to be found, not that the Empress is likely to trust him with anything important. Rumor has it he always challenged her on everything. Doesn’t seem like the sort you’d want to have as your right-hand man.” 

Byleth bites her tongue. Her body aches. Just when her mind is convinced she cannot take another step and will collapse from pain and exhaustion, the soldier roughly pulls on the rope that binds her wrists, forcing her to move. This is the cycle they’ve repeated for the better part of an hour. 

“And is that reward still promised if I’m dead?” she asks, hoping to slow their progress, hoping to convince the soldier to take a break, let her sit on blessed ground, give her water. Anything. 

The soldier slows their pace, bringing their horse to a slow trot. She can’t see their eyes, but it seems as though they’re mulling over the implications of her words. Which means she at least couldn’t be threatened with death. Not if the soldier truly wanted a reward. She has basic healing knowledge – she’s not near as proficient as Mercedes or Marianne, but she knows she may bleed out if they keep up like this. The soldier seems to recognize this too. 

“Catch your breath, then,” they say, slowing to a halt. Byleth feels blessed slack in the rope and collapses to her knees, chest heaving, head spinning. “I’d heard you were a fearsome warrior. That the Empress looks up to you. Seems the rumors really are just that. Rumors.” 

Byleth keeps her eyes trained on the ground. She won’t give the satisfaction of a response or a reaction – it’s easy, honestly. She doesn’t have the energy for much. She feels a couple soft, cool raindrops splash against her burning skin. What little hope she has left should deflate, but she’s only grateful for the cooling sensation. She closes her eyes, concentrating on the icy jolts that prick the surface of her exposed skin as the rain continues to drizzle. She wonders if she can run. She wouldn’t make it far, certainly not competing against a horse. If she could steal the horse, that may turn the odds in her favor, assuming she survives the ride back to the monastery. It seems the Imperial soldier has a weak spot: compassion. Well, compassion, and a drive to keep Byleth alive in the hopes of a reward. While she doesn’t intend on begging for her life, she’s certainly lived through enough conflict to know how to exploit human emotion when necessary. 

“Water?” she asks, knowing the soldier’s canteen is empty. She’s watched them drink, watched them shake the canteen in vain, hoping to consume the last few drops. 

“I don’t run a damn inn,” they grumble. 

“Please,” she whispers. The soldier sighs, dismounting reluctantly. 

“You’re lucky there’s a stream just a few paces away. Don’t try anything clever,” they warn, tying her rope around a tree. They fetch their canteen from their saddlebag before signaling the horse to stay put. Byleth keeps her eyes down, waiting until the soldier’s footsteps fade, before looking up. The horizon is still, the soldier is out of sight. She crawls to the tree, hands shaking as she works to undo the knot. She’d just as soon prefer to burn the rope away, but it’s too wet for any sort of spell to take, even if she had the energy to cast. 

After what feels like an eternity, the rope comes loose, falling into a pool at the base of the tree. She clumsily gathers the extra length in her arms. Her hands are still bound, but that’s a problem she can’t solve. She doesn’t have the time. With a groan, she pulls herself to her feet, walking toward the horse. It seems unbothered by her presence, quickly warming up to her soothing touches. She hears footsteps approaching, and she knows she has no time to waste. With a deep breath and gritted teeth, she does her best to muffle a pained scream as she steps up into the saddle. She barely has the reins in her hand before she’s urging the creature on. 

“You bitch!” She hears the Imperial soldier call. Her heart is pounding, they’re running after her now, she can hear their footsteps over the galloping pace she’s set. She cries out, feeling a piercing pain in her shoulder. She glances down at the saddlebags – the Imperial soldier had taken their weapons with them, which meant the bow and arrow has worked to their advantage again. She grits her teeth, her shoulder throbbing. Another stabbing pain hits her in the lower back. Her vision becomes cloudy. She can feel herself falling off the horse, only barely aware enough to attempt to angle her fall so she doesn’t push the arrows further into her skin. Instead, she can feel blood trickling down her face, the left side of her head being the part of her that takes the brunt of the fall. 

It takes hardly any time for the soldier to catch up to her now. 

“I’ll bring you back dead if I have to,” they snarl, grabbing for the rope around her wrists. As though by an invisible force, the soldier is blown back, landing several feet away. Byleth has to blink to be sure she’s not hallucinating. 

“You will not touch her!” she hears a roar. It sounds like Dimitri. She blinks again, in an attempt to will away the darkness creeping into the corners of her vision. 

It is Dimitri. 

His lance is protruding from the soldier’s chest. 

Her vision fades to black.

+++

He thinks he may have lost her. Another body to add to his personal body count, another sin to justify the eternal torment he faces. He can’t remember the last time his heart pounded so loudly, spurred on by something other than his nightmares. 

The Imperial soldier has paid for their crimes, he saw to that. He threw his lance, hitting them squarely in the chest, and it didn’t take long for them to die after that, though he dragged it out as long as he could. He’s already lost so much, how dare they attempt to steal from him one of the few things he still holds precious? How dare they steal the Professor for her

He’s bathed his hands in blood, finally turning his attention back to the Professor, fearing that he may be too late. She’s barely breathing as he carefully studies her wounds. She’s been shot three times. The wound on her leg looks deep, though it seems it’s been partially attended to – there’s not much else he can do. He’s more concerned about the arrows protruding from her back. Leaving them in is impossible, especially if they ever hope to make it back to the monastery, but he knows pulling them out completely will make things much worse. Instead he breaks the arrow shafts as close to her body as possible. She won’t be able to lay on her back until the rest of the arrows are removed, but surely that’s the least of their worries right now. Blood is caked onto the left side of her face, matting her bright hair. He gently brushes it aside to study the wound. A scrape that doesn’t look too terribly deep, but needs to be cleaned. 

First things first, they need shelter. The rain is coming down steadily now, though the trees offer some cover, however slight. He pulls his cloak from his shoulders, ignoring the blood staining the hem and ties it to two branches overhead, forming a makeshift roof of sorts. It’s not the most comfortable place to rest, but it will have to do. Gently, he lifts Byleth and places her under the shelter of his cloak. She doesn’t move. 

He remembers the soldier had filled their canteen recently. He walks over to the body, picking up the canteen, mentally kicking himself for lying in wait for so long. He’d heard the soldier’s horse and decided to follow the noise, eventually coming across a wounded Byleth being led along. His heart jumped into his throat then. He wasn’t aware she’d followed him, though he shouldn’t be too surprised. While she’s not the only person intent on restoring him to what she feels is the real Dimitri, she’s certainly the most earnest about it. No matter how badly he treats her, how cruelly he speaks, how much he tries to push her away, she remains. She returns. She listens. He’s never deserved to have someone like her watch over him. Even in his Academy days, when the monster inside his heart was simply lying in wait, coiled and ready to strike when the opportunity presented itself, she was too good for him. Now, it was even more difficult to dispute. He’s evolved into full-fledged monster. Someone touched by the goddess herself shouldn’t have anything to do with him. It’s part of the reason he keeps her at bay. Yes, his mind is entirely focused on avenging the dead, of silencing the screams of his loved ones, but part of that means keeping others away. No one is meant to share his suffering. It is his punishment alone. And if the goddess had given it to him, the least she could do is let him suffer it in peace, rather than sending her chosen one to share in his pain. 

With bandages he’s found in the soldier’s saddlebag, he moves back to Byleth’s side, wiping up what blood he can. His movements are far too rough, he’s sure. He wasn’t made to be gentle. He wasn’t made to heal or restore. Try as he might, his efforts were clumsy at best. He reasons that, if she wanted to be safe or tended to properly, she shouldn’t have made the mistake of following him out of the monastery in the first place, but he knows the fault is his own. The guilt gnaws at his back as he works. Slowly, the dark red stains on her skin disappear, giving way to brightly colored bruises marring her skin. He doesn’t have enough bandages to wrap all her wounds, instead focusing his energy on the deepest ones. She needs a healer, but he’d rather wait until she wakes before attempting travel. 

He’d left the monastery late that night with a single purpose. He’d march on Enbarr himself if he had to. Gilbert and Byleth’s pleas to wait until they’d all gathered their strength sounded weak. Foolish. The path to ending suffering, securing revenge was cut clear before them, it should be an easy decision. Though, they hadn’t stood knee deep in blood like he had, they didn’t have the monstrous instinct and desire for bloodshed that he did, so perhaps the choice seemed less clear to them. Though, the further he traveled, the more his own convictions wavered, Gilbert’s advice and warnings ringing in his ears. In the early days, when he was imprisoned in Fhridiad, he had imagined being reunited with his former classmates would be something of a boon. It turns out it’s a hindrance. They don’t share his vision. They chide him and cast pitying looks, as though he has no hand in the creation of the monster he’s become. They don’t understand. They can’t. They’re not plagued by the dreams he is. They don’t see the ghosts he does. They’re almost more of a burden than the dead. 

The Professor shifts slightly, her brow knitting, but her eyes remain firmly closed. He releases a breath he didn’t know he was holding. She’s alive and she seems stable for now. Why has she followed him? Clearly she disapproves of what he has become. Wouldn’t it be better for the both of them if she’d just let him rush off on his own? 

Hesitantly, he reaches for her hand. 

Her skin is soft. Warm. It feels real, and yet so foreign. Even with her here, right next to him, skin on skin, he feels alone. Like she’s half a continent away. As though he’s so far gone there’s no way they can reconnect. He almost feels remorse, but his observations are just a confirmation of the truth he’s known for so long. He’s more a beast than a man, and there’s no turning back. 

He leans against a tree, closing his eye, though he keeps her hand in his own. Her touch has an odd way of rooting him to reality. When the sun is up, he’ll attempt to wake her. For now, she can rest. And he will be the beast that guards her. He has use for her yet. 

+++

The first sensation she’s aware of is how stiff her entire body feels. She slowly opens her eyes, adjusting to the relative brightness of the sunrise and drinking in her surroundings. She’s still in the woods, but she’s alive, laying on her stomach – the dull stabbing in her shoulder and back are still present, though the pain has subsided greatly from what it was before. The Imperial soldier is nowhere to be seen, though she can hear the soft breathing of their horse to her right. 

“Dimitri,” she says slowly, remembering what had happened before she blacked out. Her voice sounds weak, her tone questioning. She can’t crane her neck to look for him – her whole being aches. 

“I’m here,” comes a gruff voice. She sees his mud covered boots come into view before he squats down beside her. He looks tired. His eye is red from lack of sleep and the bag under his eye seems darker. His hair is sticking out at wild angles, various twigs and leaves tangled in its length. A fleck of dried blood is spattered across his right cheek. She doesn’t wonder what happened to the Imperial soldier anymore, though she feels a pit of guilt in her stomach that she wasn’t able to intervene on their behalf. Dimitri was likely merciless. 

“Thank you,” she says, licking dry lips. She reaches her hand out toward him, half expecting him to pull away, to shun her as he did so often at the monastery. Instead, his eye follows the movement of her hand as she rests it atop his. He leans back, adjusting from his squatted position to take a seat by her side. 

“You shouldn’t have followed me,” he says stiffly, not meeting her gaze. Instead, his eye fixates on some point in the distance. 

“You shouldn’t have wandered off on your own,” she chides. “If the Empire captured you–” 

“– I am not weak enough for the Empire to capture. I am not the boy they held in dungeons all those years ago,” he scoffs. “That boy is dead. You ought to be mindful of your own weaknesses, Professor. It was foolish of you to follow me when you can’t even fend off one Imperial soldier. If you’ve grown soft, you’re useless to me.” 

His words are harsh and she would be lying if she pretended they didn’t sting. But it is the longest string of words he’s said to her in a long time, and despite the anger in his voice, there’s almost a scolding tone to it – a subtle hint that perhaps the real Dimitri is buried somewhere in this mysterious man, that the torture and pain he’s endured hasn’t completely burned him away. That he cares about her well-being. 

She laces her fingers through his, giving his hand a gentle squeeze. Still he does not pull away. Instead he looks down at their entwined fingers, attempting to mask a mixed expression of shock and curiosity. 

“I’ve tended your wounds as best I could,” he continues, even-toned. “We will still need to head back to the monastery soon or you’ll die from your own carelessness.” 

“Gilbert will come,” Byleth says softly, drawing in a shallow breath. “He knows we left. The sun is up. He’s already looking for us.” 

“Perhaps you’re not entirely useless after all,” he hums. “You have to promise me you’ll not do anything so foolish again.” 

“Dimitri, I cannot–” 

“ –Promise me,” he barks. “You cannot throw your life away while I still have need of you for my goal. While I intend to use your strength until the flesh falls from your bones, I do not intend to lose you to something as trivial as one measly soldier, Professor. Promise that you will be more vigilant in the future.” 

“Very well,” she says, studying his face for a moment. His expression is serious, dark. His tone is rough but she swears she sees an earnest glimmer in his eye. He means what he says. He needs her. 

“I promise.”

Chapter Text

The candlelight dances across her features – she truly looks ethereal. Her hair shimmers as he brushes strands between his fingers, her skin is soft and rosy, her eyes –though tired and fighting off sleep – seem to sparkle when she looks up at him. He’s heard Ignatz compare her to the goddess before, feelings of what he now recognizes as jealousy twisting in his stomach. But, Ignatz is right. Surely she is just as lovely as the goddess. He’s already destined for eternal flames, so he allows himself to be so bold and blasphemous as to think she’s likely even more breathtaking than the goddess. More magnanimous. 

Dimitri closed himself off to his emotions for quite some time, but now that he’s decided to kill his thirst for revenge, it’s as though the floodgates have opened. He feels everything with such an intensity.  More so than he remembers feelings things in his youth. He’s always been partial to the Professor, but he’s finally admitting it to himself. Admitting that he finds her beauty captivating, her presence essential. 

While he’s grateful he seems to still have the capacity for emotions beyond rage and sorrow, it seems a double edged sword. His nightmares don’t go away. In fact, they seem to be getting worse. Waking up in a cold sweat, gasping for breath and clutching sheets to his chest seems to be a nightly ritual. He’s tried putting off sleep, staying up late into the night to train instead. The nightmares can’t come if he doesn’t sleep, he reasons. Which, of course, as his ill luck would have it, is incorrect. 

The first night he comes to her room, unable to sleep and unsure of what he’s looking for, he sees the candle light bleeding out from underneath the closed door. He’s embarrassed as he knocks, but she quickly invites him in, immediately sensing his distress. She stays with him until he falls asleep in her arms. Slowly, she replaces his nightly ritual of bad dreams and strangled cries in the dark- instead he’s soothed by the sound of her voice and held secure by her soft touches. 

Tonight he returns the favor. 

Her head rests in his lap as she regales him with stories of her mercenary days, and he hopes to impart some of the kindness she’s shown him in the way he reverently combs through her hair. He watches her lips as she speaks. He’s been mesmerized by them before, but right now he feels as though he is noticing them for the first time – they are pink and full, curling up ever so slightly at the edges when she smiles. They look soft. He’s reminded of some of the romance novels Ingrid, Ashe, and Bernadetta are so fascinated with. Ingrid had loaned one to him once back in their Academy days, when he decided he wanted to see what all the fuss was about, embarrassed as she handed him the rather thick novel. He wasn’t entirely sure what she had to be embarrassed about – judging by the conversations she had with Ashe in between classes, it seemed the stories mostly focused on tales of knighthood. The further he got into the story, the more he understood her embarrassment, though he wasn’t entirely put off by the more romantic and poetic scenes. He simply skimmed them, as he couldn’t find them particularly relatable. And, because he didn’t like that his mind conjured up visions of the Professor when the author described the heroine who was madly in love with a knight from a neighboring kingdom. 

Now, he doesn’t seem to mind so much, thinking of her as a heroine.

“Dimitri?” Byleth asks, pulling him from his thoughts. He looks up from her lips and meets her gaze, blushing at the fact that he’s allowed himself to get caught up in such childish thoughts, though his embarrassment doesn’t seem to stop his mind from dwelling on the same feelings as he notes her lips are slightly parted. 

Without thinking, he leans down and gently brushes his lips against hers, pressing a soft kiss to the very corner of her mouth. She jumps in surprise, though she doesn’t pull away. Their lips barely touch, but he feels as though his skin is on fire – the burning is pleasant, but it seems to draw him back to his senses. 

“Apologies, Professor,” he stammers, as he pulls away from her, suddenly wishing the ground would open and swallow him whole. She sits up on her elbows, studying his face. He can’t meet her eyes, but he notes her cheeks are dusted with a light blush. She gives no sign that she’s upset, but his mind immediately races, wondering if she hates him. Wondering if things are now irreparably different between the two of them. Will she avoid him in the halls? Stop inviting him into her room at nights? 

“Please forgive and forget my foolish actions. I don’t know what came over me. I-” 

His voice catches in his throat when she leans up to kiss him in return. She’s less gentle than he was – rather than a feather light kiss, she leans into him, pressing her lips firmly against his as though reassuring him this is right, this is what she wants. He’s never kissed anyone before, but where he is unsure, she takes the lead, biting gently on his lower lip, coaxing his mouth open so she can explore with her tongue. His earlier worries vanish as though they’d never existed. In their place, his head is filled with thoughts of wonderful her touch is, how soft she feels, how warm he’s becoming. His heart is pounding, threatening to break out of his chest, and suddenly all the clichés in Ingrid’s storybooks make sense. 

Her hand comes to rest on the side of his face as she pulls away slowly, her still keeping her face close to his. 

“Whatever came over you,” she whispers before pressing another kiss – chaste this time, though she smiles into it – to his lips. “I’m glad it did.”

Chapter Text

Felix has a bad habit of overextending. What’s worse, he refuses to take any men with him. He’s strong enough he doesn’t need a battalion, or so he argues. Dimitri has been foolish enough to believe it was true. And, for a while, perhaps it was true. But the inevitable mistake, misstep, lucky shot – whichever it was – had finally come.

Dimitri hadn’t seen Felix go down right away, his attention focused on the battalion charging from the left, emerging from the cover of trees. It was only in the chaos of an enemy fire attack Dimitri realized he was hurt. Groups of soldiers, those that were lucky enough not to be hit directly by the attack, were running, attempting to regroup with the main force of the Kingdom army before the fire spread. Dimitri ignores the panic bubbling up in his chest, looking for stragglers, helping those he could and shouting orders to others who remained behind.

Felix must have been close to the ground where the explosion landed. When Dimitri finds him, he’s on the ground, surrounded by rings of flames. He’s not moving, even with the flames licking his cloak – his skin is covered in a sheen of sweat and blood is spattered across his leather armor. It’s hard to tell if it belongs to Felix or not. The roar of the flames suddenly sounds louder in his ears as he stares, helplessly, at the body of his childhood friend.

His feet move slowly, closer to the body, ignoring how dangerously close he himself comes to the flames.

He feels like a boy again, a suffocating weight sitting on his chest, halting the scream bubbling up from his lungs.

He collapses beside Felix, pulling him into his arms, checking for wounds, checking for signs of life, ignoring the heat building around them.

“Glenn,”

The name escapes his lips before he can stop it.

 

The carriage is in shambles, though he’s left it far behind. Glenn is pulling his arm, telling him they have to keep moving, that they can’t look back. He’s ignored the order, tears blocked his vision from seeing clearly, but he knew his stepmother wouldn’t be joining them. She’d pushed him and Glenn out of the carriage just as it was hit. He wanted to search through the rubble, find her and make sure she was okay, but Glenn made the call to leave.  

“She’s gone, Dima,” he says solemnly. And Dimitri is foolish to doubt him – no one could survive an ambush like that, the carriage had gone up in flames almost instantly. It isn’t as though either of them could dig through the rubble with their bare hands in the first place.  

So they have no choice but to run.  

Their destination is a nearby village – Dimitri isn’t sure how Glenn seems so sure of the way but, then again, he seems so sure of everything. And Dimitri won’t complain. Glenn’s presence is the only thing that’s keeping him centered at the moment. He just wants to find his father.  

The arrow comes out of nowhere. It’s tip is bright, ignited with flame, like a comet or a shooting star, fiery and devastating. Dimitri doesn’t have time to think before Glenn is pushing him backwards. He moved to draw his sword, cutting the arrow out of the sky, but three more flame-tipped arrows soar through the sky, and suddenly it seems as though the sky is raining with them. 

He’s helpless. He can only watch as Glenn falls.  

“Get out of here, idiot,” he hisses, attempting to get to his feet. He’s angrily pulling arrows from his flesh, as though it would help the situation. Maybe he knows its hopeless.  

“I can’t leave you, Glenn,” Dimitri says, his feet rooted to the spot. He’s filled with fear – none of the training he’s ever done in his life prepared him for something like this. 

“I’m not going to say it again,” he pauses to spit some blood onto the ground. He still hasn’t managed to get onto his feet. ”Get the fuck out of here. Reinforcements might be coming. The village is just past that cluster of trees. I’ll hold these dastards off while you make a run for it.”  

“Glenn,” Dimitri takes a few hesitant steps forward, reaching for his friend, trying to help him to his feet.  

“You have to live, Dima,” Glenn says, weakly pushing him away. “Go. Don’t look back.”  

Despite the lack of strength in Glenn’s push, it’s all the encouragement Dimitri’s legs seem to need. He keeps his eyes trained on Glenn long enough to watch him collapse, before turning his attention forward. To the present. He’s running so fast the trees are a blur, ignoring the tears spilling from his eyes. He continues on, determined to make it to the village. He can come back with help. He won’t leave Glenn.  

When he reaches the village he’s only greeted by flames. Screams. Cries for help.  

He left Glenn.

 

He feels a weak squeeze at his hand, pulling him back into the moment. He’s not in Duscur, he’s not a helpless boy, he’s not with Glenn, he’s with Felix who needs him. Felix, who is squeezing at his hand. He repeats these facts to himself, ignoring the panic still fluttering in his chest. His hands shake. He feels lethargic. Felix is in his arms, bleeding out and Dimitri feels like a fourteen year old boy all over again. He wants to scream.

“Dimitri?”

He turns. He hadn’t noticed Annette had joined them, she must have stayed behind to help stragglers as well. He silently thanks the goddess she was around. He isn’t sure he could have helped Felix without her.

“Are you alright? Can you fight?” she asks. He nods, unable to find words.

“Great,” she rolls up her sleeves. “I’m going to stabilize him, just keep an eye on the horizon. I’m not sure if the enemy’s goal was to focus their attack on the troops running back to the Professor, or if they’re coming to finish the job.”

Dimitri nods.

“You shouldn’t be running around without a battalion,” Annette tsks, directing her attention back to Felix. “You’re lucky Dimitri was here to save you.”

“The boar, huh?” Felix wheezes, his voice soft, barely above a whisper. His eyes remain shut. “So he has something akin to a heart after all.” He coughs weakly.

“Hush,” Annette chides, her hands glowing with faint light as she works. Dimitri lets out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding. His eyes scan the horizon, waiting, daring Imperial soldiers to show their faces.

The rest of the battle passes in a blur. He’s not present for much of it – Byleth takes one look at him before ordering him to accompany Felix to the medical tents back at camp, off the battlefield. He doesn’t have the strength to protest. He feels shaken, anxious. His head aches. His thoughts are consumed with Felix. Will he be all right? Dimitri can’t bear to lose him. Not his oldest friend. He once felt he had nothing left to lose, that he would be happy to let the jaws of death swallow him whole. There have been so many moments in this cursed war that remind him he truly stands to lose everything. Someone who has lost so much and whose life is worth so little still has so many valuable things to lose. Things he can’t let anyone take from him. He can’t add to the chorus of voices in his head. He’s not sure what he would do. 

The army returns past sundown, but there’s been no news from the medical tent. Mercedes won’t let him in, saying Felix needs rest and her work still isn’t done. He believes she may be keeping him out, in part, due to his hysteria. He can’t blame her. She reassures him Felix is alive, but he can’t quite bring himself to believe her. He wants to see for himself. He tries to wait by the campfire, but his mind can only conjure up images of the burning bodies that surrounded him in Duscur. He keeps seeing Glenn’s face. How angry would Glenn be, if Felix were to die for him as well? It was a sacrifice Dimitri never asked either of them to make.

He paces back and forth, wandering aimlessly, though never straying far from the medical tent in case Mercedes changes her mind. The pace of his thoughts match the pace of his feet. Eventually, Byleth finds him. She looks tired, but she asks him to walk with her, to confront some of the thoughts and fears buzzing around in his head if he feels ready.

“He’s going to be okay,” she echoes Mercedes’ words, filling the silence that Dimitri hasn’t quite dared to break. “Mercedes says he’s already sitting up, despite her protests.”

“He really is the spitting image of Glenn,” Dimitri whispers. He runs a shaky hand through his hair, hoping Byleth will keep talking long enough to silence the echoing screams he can still hear in his head.

“He’s not Glenn,” she says firmly. “And he’s here with you, alive and well, thanks to your actions.”

“I could have done more,” Dimitri says sheepishly. He can’t bring himself to meet Byleth’s gaze, instead focusing on the ground as they walk. “I should have done more. But I couldn’t do anything. I just stood there.”

He’s not sure if he’s talking about Felix or Glenn anymore. Byleth seems to sense this, falling silent and, instead, ruminating on his words, waiting for him to continue if he so chooses.

“I just let him die,” he says finally. It isn’t that he hasn’t thought about Glenn. He thinks about Glenn with every passing day. He thinks about Glenn, his stepmother and stepfather, about the innocent people of Duscur that lost their lives. “I let them all die.”

“You were only a child,” Byleth says.

“So was Glenn,” Dimitri whispers. “And it almost happened again. I’ve almost killed the entire Fraldarius family due to my own inability. And you all expect me to lead, you trust me with your lives. I don’t deserve that trust.”

“Felix knows what he’s getting himself into every time he heads to the battlefield,” Byleth’s tone is even, “So did Glenn and Rodrigue. We all do.”

“I don’t think I can bear to lose any of you,” Dimitri confesses. He stops walking, for the first time he lifts his gaze from the ground. “When I’m not plagued by nightmares of the dead, I’m plagued with nightmares of the living – of how my thirst for revenge is going to get you all killed.”

“Is revenge still what you’re after?”

Dimitri pauses.

“No,” he says, finally. “I just want an end to this war.”

“That’s what we all want,” she places a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “And we’re wiling to do whatever it takes.”

“I’m… scared,” he admits. Scared doesn’t seem an adequate word to encompass the horrors, the ‘what-ifs’ that keep him up at night. He was scared in Duscur and he’s scared now. Though he’s older, nothing has really changed. He feels like the same fourteen year old boy staring at Glenn’s corpse, the same fourteen year old boy helpless to cease the destruction all around him.

Byleth stands on tiptoes, pulling him into a tight hug. “It’s alright to be scared,” she whispers. “Felix is important to you.”

“I couldn’t help him,” Dimitri hugs her tightly, as though his grip will keep her from the same harm that had befallen Felix. “I don’t want him to die.”

“You did help him,” Byleth reminds him. “He’s going to be okay. Besides, I can only imagine how angry Felix would be if he had given you the impression he was dying for you,” Byleth smiles, pulling away from him and studying his face. Dimitri can’t help but let out a snort.

“Right you are.”

She’s patient, as always, listening to his fears and rooting him to reality. Reminding him of the truth. Pulling him slowly back into himself. As always, he’s immensely grateful for her.

When he seems less shaken, they slowly make their way back to camp, Byleth filling the silence with other topics, driving his thoughts far from Duscur and Glenn. He can feel the tension in his muscles release, and he starts to breathe easier. When they reach camp, they head straight for the medical tent. As expected, Felix is awake, sitting up, Mercedes seated beside him, reading from a rather large looking book. He has to stay awake for the next few hours for observation, she tells them, just to make sure he’s truly recovering. He glowers at Dimitri as he nears, normally an expression that would make Dimitri’s heart ache, no matter how well he knew deep down he deserved it. Yet, the familiar scowl on his friend’s face was a welcome sight. He must truly be feeling better. He’s alive.

As a child, Felix had none of the agile grace he achieved through his studies. He frequently tripped or fell or found some way to injure himself when he and Dimitri were together, but Dimitri was always there to patch him up, his clumsy attempts at soothing his friend met with a chorus of gratitude.

How times had changed. That glower meant more as an expression of thanks than any of the tearful phrases Felix had mumbled when they were children.

Mercedes lets them stay for a moment, before eventually ushering them out, telling them they ought to get some sleep. He’s not sure he’ll be able to sleep tonight, but it’s enough that he can’t hear screams anymore. He feels warmth coming back into his limbs, like his soul is settling back into his skin. He can close his eyes without seeing the tortured expressions of nameless men. He can breathe easy knowing Felix is going to be okay. The Professor’s reassuring words float into his mind and the fear that had gripped him so tightly is finally releasing its hold.

Chapter Text

The winter season in Faerghus is brutal at best. Though, calling winter a season seems generous – as though other seasons exist this far north. As far as Byleth is concerned, it is winter year-round, and it’s never something she will be used to. In the few short years of their marriage, Dimitri has, of course, spared no expense to have her fitted with fur lined cloaks and leggings, fine boots, and thick tunics and dresses. Though. if she’s not venturing outside, which she tries to avoid doing at all costs as the cold weather irritates her bum knee, she prefers the lighter dresses and tunics she wears around the monastery as she feels it gives her more mobility and freedom than the heavy layered clothing in her armoire. 

Despite the large, well-tended fires in every room, the palace itself is still rather drafty, and though her husband has expressed concern she will catch cold, she’d rather shiver when no one is looking than admit defeat or weakness by bundling up indoors. It makes her stick out more than the others who frequent the palace, more so than she already does, most of whom are so accustomed to the chill they only need cloaks. Any layers or furs they wear are more of a fashion statement than anything else. Sometimes she is grateful for visitors from the far reaches of United Fodlan – particularly Ferdinand and Lorenz, who claim they are far too delicate for the cold, and have to bundle up just as much as she. 

Fortunately, however, most of her days at the palace in the winter season, she is free to hole up in one of the many studies or offices, retaining heat from the fireplace and pouring over official church documents, memos from Seteth and letters from Flayn. 

Rather than being apart the majority of the time as their roles would have typically demanded, she and Dimitri have arranged a compromise of sorts, traveling back and forth between the monastery and the palace throughout the year – Seteth looks after the monastery while she is away and, in turn, Dedue will act in Dimitri’s stead. It isn’t perfect and, certainly in the beginning of their marriage and the beginning of United Fodlan, there are times when duty calls upon them to spend agonizing weeks or months apart. Largely, though, they are pleased with the rhythm they have fallen into – content knowing that, aside from the few precious private moments they are able to steal throughout the day, at the end of it all, they can go on their nightly horse rides and fall into bed beside each other, knowing they will not be interrupted at least until the sun comes up in the morning. 

Unfortunately, the months that are easiest for Byleth to be away from the monastery are the winter months – once the ball is over, the school year is winding down and students are busy studying for their final Certification exams, hoping for high marks to show off at graduation in the spring. And so, she gets to spend her days in the bitter cold of Fhirdiad, with only her husband to keep her warm. Her dutiful husband, the Savior King, ruler of United Fodlan, who has enough meetings in a day he’s lucky if he remembers to eat. Which means he has scarce little time to serve as a glorified blanket. 

As such, during the coldest days, Byleth has conceded to at least wear a fur lined cloak throughout the palace. It is her favorite – a deep blue as is traditional for Faerghus’ royalty, though the inside is lined with white fox fur. There are miniscule patterns sewn into the fabric with silver threads. When she gets distracted, sometimes she likes to admire the handiwork. She’s never owned such fine clothing in her life. Currently, however, she pays no mind to the elegance of the cloak, she simply wishes it was warmer as she pulls it even more tightly around her frame. It’s pulled up to her chin and practically around her head as she sends silent prayers that the fur will do something to warm the chill in her bones. Even with the fire and the cloak, she shivers now and again and it takes all of her efforts to concentrate on Flayn’s most recent letter, in which she excitedly discusses construction on the new dormitories. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees snow, contrasting sharply with the darkening sky as it falls quietly to the ground. She’d almost believe it looks beautiful if it weren’t so cold

“There you are.” The gentle baritone of Dimitri’s voice makes her jump. He’s dressed handsomely – a gold circlet, a sleek and billowy silk dress shirt tucked into formal pants, fur boots and his favorite cloak draped loosely around his shoulders. Hardly as bundled as she. She quickly stands from the desk she’s seated at, all but running into his arms.

“You really ought to wear more layers, Beloved,” he laughs, his eye twinkling as he notes the way her cloak is drawn up so tightly. He bends slightly to press a kiss to the top of her head. 

“I’m alright,” she protests, letting the cloak fall to her shoulders to prove her point and ignoring the fact that she immediately regrets it. She snuggles closer to his chest for warmth. “Your meetings are done for the day, then?” 

“Indeed.” He takes her hands in his, half sitting half leaning on the writing desk she just vacated. “Your hands are freezing,” he observes gently. 

“I’ve gotten used to cold hands.” 

“I prefer it when your hands are warm. Winters in Fhirdiad are no trivial matter,” he hums rubbing warmth back into her fingers.

“I’ve survived worse,” she laughs. And it’s true, which almost makes it funny that the cold bothers her so.

“Come, let’s get you warmed up,” he stands, lacing his fingers between hers. 

“Are we not heading to the stables?” Byleth asks. 

“Hardly,” he laughs. “It’s snowing, Beloved. If you’re this cold and this stubborn indoors, I won’t be leading you out into the cold to catch your death.”

She’s silently grateful for his decision to remain inside for the evening, happily following alongside him as he leads. They walk to the west wing of the palace, stopping in one of the many halls of guest suites. It’s quiet as the palace is currently without guests - a rare occurrence, to be sure.

“I’m going to teach you an old Faerghan trick for enduring winter,” he says, opening the door to the first guest suite. It is bright and clean, ready to accommodate guests in a moment’s notice. The fireplace crackles and the pelts and quilts lining the large poster bed look enticing. “It’s a trick I learned as a child. I remember the winters being much harsher then,” he hums, smiling at whatever memories he’s called to mind. “Though, I suppose I’ve just gotten used to them.” An understatement. She’s made the observation before, but he seems to thrive in the cold.

He releases his hold on her hand, walking quickly to the bed and yanking off as many of the thick blankets as the can manage to fit into his arms. He jerks his head, motioning for her to follow him to the next room. They go door to door, like odd harbingers of death, only, instead of stealing life, they’re stealing blankets and pelts.

When their arms are full, they trudge back to the Royal Suite. Byleth is unsure of what exactly Dimitri has in mind, but she’s happy that it at least involves warmth. She can’t quite put a finger on the emotion she’s feeling - though emotions come to her much easier than before, she sometimes has difficulty naming them - but there’s a light bubbling in her chest and she almost feels like she wants to laugh.

She follows Dimitri’s lead, piling the blankets in her arms on the foot of their bed.

“Now what?” she asks, looking up at him expectantly. “Do we just burrow under the stolen blankets?”

He shakes his head, his eye flicking around the suite. He rests his chin in his palm - a sign that he’s thinking. After a beat of silence, he speaks, moving toward the bed and picking up one of the many blankets they’d rehomed.

“I’ve never done this in this room, but I think it will work just as well.” He walks to one of the corners of their poster bed and begins tying a blanket around the post. “You’ve experience building makeshift shelters, yes?”

“Jeralt taught me,” she nods, watching him work. He’s quick- tying blankets to various pieces of furniture, draping pieces expertly. He doesn’t have much built, but what he does have looks oddly cozy. “Though, we never built one indoors.” The idea seems silly, almost defeating the purpose of a makeshift shelter. If you were surrounded by sturdy walls, sheltered from the elements, protected from enemies and predators alike, you were already afforded more than what few luxuries a makeshift shelter could provide.

“We’ve plenty of blankets,” he says, still concentrating on his work. “Add to or improve upon the structure in any way you like. No doubt you have more practical training than I.” 

She pulls a couple blankets from their rather large pile and begins adding on to the structure Dimitri is building. It’s more of an extension of their bed than it’s own shelter, but the way the floor is lined with blankets and pillows, yet surrounded by the warmth of furs and quilts makes it more inviting - they won’t have to waste time trying to warm up silken sheets with their body heat.

“This is a Faerghan secret?” she asks, laughing a little as she works.

“Not so much of a secret,” Dimitri says, “but it was how Sylvain, Ingrid, Felix and I would pass some of the colder winters. Before we were old enough to train or start tutoring, we’d have all the time in the world on our hands. Some of the shelters we built were quite impressive, if memory serves. We’d always be so sad to find the servants had cleaned it up in the morning.”

Eventually, they step back to admire their work. The blankets seem sturdy after several revisions to some of their original attempts. The whole space looked quite inviting. More than any makeshift shelter Byleth had made in her life.

“All that’s left is to test it out,” he says, kicking off his boots. Byleth follows suit, the bubbling feeling in her chest returning. “Shall we?” Dimitri holds out his hand, opening a flap to the tent-of-sorts that had taken shape. She accepts, ducking low and stepping inside. 

Somehow - likely because of their proximity to the fireplace, and the ability of the quilts and furs to retain heat - it seems several degrees warmer than the outside air in the palace. Not uncomfortably so, but enough that she feels warmth in her fingers and cheeks again. 

Dimitri follows closely behind her, ducking much lower than she had to. She laughs at the uncomfortable and awkward angle he’s contorted himself into.

“I was much smaller as a child,” he explains with a laugh. He quickly settles onto the floor, reclining on the pillows they’ve set up and pulling a spare blanket over his lap. He holds it open to her, inviting her to lay beside him. She doesn’t need to be told twice, quickly settling down beside him, using his chest as a pillow and wrapping her arm around his waist. He drapes the blanket over the two of them. 

She listens to the steady beat of his heart, comforted by the sound. He drags lazy fingers through her hair. The chill cannot reach them in their little fortress. All is peaceful. She feels as though she’s in heaven.

“Better?” he asks, as though he didn’t already know the answer. She nods.

“I think I could die happy right here,” she purrs. She hears a contented hum rumble in his chest. “Though,” she looks up at him, resting her chin on his chest and flashing a mischievous smile, “they say the fastest way to warm up is to strip and share body heat.”

Dimitri’s face reddens and he opens his mouth to sputter a reply, but she laughs and presses a kiss to his lips. 

It is supposed to be chaste, her earlier jab only meant in jest, but when Dimitri deepens the kiss, pulling her closer with one hand and unclasping her cloak with the other, she feels a different kind of heat pooling in her lower stomach.

She pulls away, looking at him inquisitively, testing the waters. Asking for permission.

“I don’t want you to be cold,” he says sheepishly, his blush deepening. She snorts. Dimitri is a charming man- quite charismatic, quite persuasive. But he’s not always the best at flirting, often overcome with embarrassment. She never minds. It’s one of the reasons she loves him so.

She props herself up on her elbow, letting her unclasped cloak slide off her shoulders, before readjusting to straddle Dimitri’s waist. She keeps the blanket wrapped around the two of them, pressing kisses into his neck and down his chest. 

“We’d better get to work then,” she hums against his skin.

Chapter Text

“I think if I should have to sit through another peace summit I’ll die,” Byleth groans, lowering herself into the bath Dimitri has drawn for her. He tested the water while she undressed - she prefers water much hotter than he, sometimes he worries she’ll burn her skin, though she seems to be made of sturdier stuff. He feels pleased to see the instant relief spreading across his wife’s face as she sinks lower into the water. He sits behind her on the stone edge of the bath, carefully taking her mint hair into his hands. 

“Surely it was beneficial,” Dimitri hums, combing gently through her hair. She’s been away in western Fodlan, at a summit with the Western Church. It’s been almost a month since they’ve last seen each other, and he’s missed her dearly. It seems childish, but he’s been counting down the days to her return, knowing she did the same. When she arrived back at the palace, he was waiting for her on the steps - formality and decorum were abandoned entirely the moment she stepped foot out of her carriage and they laid eyes on each other, all but running back into each other’s arms. Dimitri knew the servants would talk, would laugh at how boyish he acted in front of his wife when there were no other nobles to impress, but honestly, he didn’t care. He could tell immediately that the past month had worn on her - despite the happiness she expressed at seeing him, she looked tired and stiff. 

Once they’d withdrawn to the Royal Suite, he’d proposed pampering her, offering to draw her a bath and give her a massage, giving her the opportunity to relax and lay down the mantle of Archbishop. He was pleased when he received no protest.

“Well, I learned that bishops are quite adept at swearing,” she sighs, “Though, I suppose that shouldn’t be surprising. But at the very least, I think we have reached the start of an understanding.” Dimitri is almost happy he doesn’t have to sit in on official Church business. He hates that he cannot support his wife in the way she supports him, but they both decided it’s best he not attend Church meetings - the Church is it’s own separate being and has no hand in ruling Fodlan, something they’ve had to work hard to convince nobles, as their Queen was the Archbishop. But by now, the nobles have witnessed Dimitri and Byleth argue enough over political differences to know with certainty neither of them are secretly pulling the other’s strings.

“The Church is lucky to have your leadership, Beloved. They’re better for it. Though they don’t always express it, I’m sure they realize it as well,” he presses a kiss to her temple and gently ties her hair atop her head.

“You ought to remind them of that,” she laughs lightly.

“Perhaps I shall write a royal decree.”

His joke elicits a giggle from Byleth, who turns to kiss him. She smells sweet - her skin has already absorbed the floral scents of the soaps and oils he’s poured into the bathwater. He almost wishes he could climb in besider her and hold her tightly in his arms, but he promised this night would be about her - helping her relax. So instead, he picks up a washcloth, adding more sweet smelling soaps and oils before bringing it to her skin.

Her body has already let go of some of the tension it held earlier, but her muscles are still stiff despite the way she leans into his touch. He quickly, yet gently washes her neck and arms before deciding his hands may be more effective at relieving some of the tightness she’s built up. The soap bubbles between his fingers and his touch is gentle as he continues washing her skin, reacquainting himself with the scars that litter her arms and torso. He pushes a little harder into her shoulders, working out the knots that have made a home there, encouraged by the gentle breaths of pleasure escaping his wife. She leans forward, drawing her knees to her chest, allowing him to massage down her back. He starts low, working his way back up to her shoulders, repeating patterns and slow motions, feeling the stress melt out of her.

He means only to help her relax, but the way she seems to go limp under his touch, surrendering to his ministrations, is absolutely divine. His every thought is consumed with just how much he’s missed her and his movements slowly become more about exploring his wife’s body - a territory he’s charted so many times and feels so intimately familiar with and yet, he’s fascinated and breathless every time he lays eyes on her. He drags his fingertips across her shoulder blades, down her ribs and traces her scars, encouraged by her soft hums of satisfaction. He cautiously brings his hands up to trace her collarbones and she leans back, trying to soak up more of his touch.  She almost lets out a laugh as he dips his hands lower, cupping her breasts.

“Wicked,” she smiles, craning her neck and looking up at him.

“I’ve missed my wife,” he shrugs with a smile. He bends over and presses a kiss to her exposed neck. She rests her hands atop his, encouraging his movements, arching her back as he flicks her nipples underneath his thumbs.

He lets one hand drift down the flat of her belly, watching as her legs part for him. She kisses him as his fingers find her core - he gently parts her folds, the heat emanating from her body so different from the warm bathwater, and rubs her clit with the pad of his thumb. She sighs into his mouth, sinking into his touch, pressing kisses to his lips in between gasps and moans, letting out a happy sounding hum as he pushes a finger inside her.

She’s walked him through this so many times - patient and unembarrassed, as though she were teaching him a new sword technique - showing him exactly the pace he needs to move his fingers, what feels good, where her most sensitive spots are. Under her helpful coaching, he’s started to get the hang of just how to make her unravel beneath his fingers, though he’s never managed to rid himself of the blush that dusts his cheeks as he watches her writhe underneath him, in awe that someone like her would want to tie her life and soul with his. He loves the way a blush spreads across her chest and paints her cheeks. He loves the way her bangs become damp with sweat and stick to her head. He loves the sounds of satisfaction that pour so easily from her throat, he loves how she says his name with such a tender reverence it makes his heart want to burst.

Her hips stutter as his pace quickens, and she grips tightly onto his forearms, crying out his name with a breathy sigh.

He pulls his fingers out of her as her body relaxes, pressing another kiss to the side of her head. She turns her torso, resting her arms on the edge of the bath, chin perched atop her forearms and looks up at him. The exhaustion ingrained into her expression has faded and she looks more relaxed, but the way she bites her lip when she smiles at him is a tell-tale sign she’s anything but.

“I think I’m ready for you to take me to bed now.” Her eyes glint mischievously.

Chapter Text

“I’m here to help,” she says.

“I don’t need your help,” he swats her away. He’s been alone with his thoughts for quite some time. Having to deal with real, living people feels foreign. He’s lost the patience for it.

“Then what can I do? Surely there’s something any of us can do.”

She almost sounds like she’s pleading. It doesn’t suit her- pitiful tones falling from her lips. She’s been gone the better part of five years. Why she’s resurfaced now is something of a mystery. He can’t quite help but feel angry at her about it. He’s angry at all of them, his former friends and classmates. Over the last five years, even after they’d heard of his capture and apparent death, none of them did anything . Even with all the ghosts at his back, he’s felt truly alone.

“You can stay out of my way,” he turns on his heel to face her and stares callously into her deep eyes, her face expressionless as always. Normally, he’d have preferred to stare at the pile of rubble in the cathedral. It’s shapeless form was the one thing in this damned place that didn’t bring back memories he didn’t deserve. He was tired of seeing the faces of his classmates, tired of remembering El, tired of getting sidetracked, tired of being just one man. “You know what my goals are, and you’ve made it quite clear yours don’t align.”

“That’s not true, Dimitri,” she crosses her arms.

“Then you’re happy to help me seek my revenge?”

“I’m happy to help you put an end to this war.”

“A mere byproduct of my goal,” he snorts.

“You can’t truly only care about your revenge. I know you’re hurting, Dimitri, but I know the real you wouldn’t abandon his people and his friends so callously.”

“Wouldn’t he?” he draws himself up to full height, towering over her. He’s bored of the conversation. Wants her to leave. She doesn’t understand. “I abandoned Dedue in favor of my own goals, did I not? Surely you can’t think me a creature worthy of mercy after an act like that.”

It’s only partially true, saying that he abandoned Dedue. That’s ignoring the pleas of his vassal; firm, demanding that he accept this last sacrifice - use his life to exact revenge on those responsible for Duscur. And so, he did. He’d like to say it was reluctantly, but he can’t give himself that credit. Looking back, he regrets it. Dedue was the only one who truly understood him - be it through their shared losses or the hours they’ve spent together across the years or because they are kindred spirits in a way. He hadn’t much left to give, but he thought it especially cruel fate demanded he give up Dedue to exact his revenge. He’d gladly have given up anyone else.

“Dedue believed in you, Dimitri. He-”

“Don’t pretend you knew what he thought about anything,” Dimitri spits. 

“It does no good to dishonor Dedue’s memory in such a way, Dimitri. He put his trust in you because he knew you could make the right decisions.”

“What good does honor do the dead? Did honor keep my parents alive? Did honor stay the hands of Glenn’s killers? Did it spare Dedue’s people? Did honor prevent this war? And what kindness did honor afford Dedue?” He laughs. “Honor gave them all nothing but early graves.” 

All this talk of honor tires him. It tired him back at the Academy, it tires him now. Honoring the dead… he looks into their faces every day, hears their cries, feels their pain, honor means nothing to them. Revenge, justice, these are the things that will finally give them peace. Justice cannot exist without a cruel hand, mercy and honor have no place in exacting justice’s demands. If he has to be the bloody executioner, then so be it. He welcomes it. It is a burden he has always shouldered alone, but the weight fell on him differently when Dedue was alive. Dedue understood how best to help him carry that weight.

She moves to interject, slowly reaching forward and touching his arm. Softly. Gently. With kindness and patience he doesn’t deserve or care for. He shrugs off her touch, drawing back.  

“This is who I am,” he turns away from her, still keeping her in the peripheral of his good eye. “Dedue knew what kind of man I am and he never begged me to be anyone else. The same cannot be said of you.”

“I am not Dedue,” she says, her voice firm. Her expression remains stoic, but she bites her bottom lip, the way she always does when she’s upset. It’s a subtle tell - something he noted she picked up after Jeralt’s death. He almost wonders if she’ll cry. “I cannot help you the way he can.”

“Something you’ve made abundantly clear,” he scoffs.

“But I’m offering my help all the same, your Highness,” she bows, suddenly stiffening, suddenly formal. “When you’re ready for it.” She turns on her heel to leave the cathedral and Dimitri welcomes the emptiness he’s grown so accustomed to. Still, without thinking, he calls after her.

“If it bears repeating, you are free to leave or kill me if you disapprove of what I’ve become.” The words leave his mouth, echoing through the ruins of the cathedral, and he’s unsure if it’s a plea. An invitation. 

“You know I won’t do either of those things.”

She leaves. As much as he wishes to have Dedue at his side, he knows he’s foolish to push Byleth away. As much as he needs Dedue’s calming presence and guidance, he’s lost without hers as well. He knows this, somewhere in his heart, but he isn’t quite ready to admit it. He can’t. The hand of justice must be impartial, unfeeling.

Chapter Text

“Yield,” Sylvain’s training lance is pointed at his throat for the fourth time that evening. His eyes are uncharacteristically serious and Dimitri finds himself grateful they’re not on opposite sides in this war. In the past five years, Sylvain has certainly grown - he was aimless before, never really serious about his studies, managing to scrape by on his natural talent. War has changed him, or, rather, his work ethic. The friend from his youth is very much the same, he is happy to note.

Sylvain offers a hand and a goofy grin, helping Dimitri to his feet once more.

“With all due respect, your Highness, I could get used to kicking your ass,” he laughs. “You’re not going easy on me, are you?”

“Hardly,” Dimitri smiles. “Your victories were well earned. It seems I have my work cut out for me.”

“Ah, don’t beat yourself up about it,” Sylvain claps a hand to his shoulder. “I’m just happy you’re training with us again. It’s good, you know? To have you back. Well, not back, but here . As yourself again,” Sylvain fumbles with his words, clearly unsure how to express himself, unsure if he needs to walk on eggshells around the topic of Dimitri’s… behavior for the past few years.

“I’m glad to be back,” Dimitri smiles in response, watching the relief spread across Sylvain’s face. “I’m even more grateful that you’ve forgiven me.”

“Well, I won’t forgive you if you make me go another round. I can feel my arm cramping up,” he rolls his shoulder as though he needs to demonstrate his point. Sylvain was never one to dwell on heavy topics. “Call it a night? The bath house is screaming my name right now.”

Dimitri nods. “Go on. I think I’ll stay a few more hours.” 

“Suit yourself,” Sylvain shrugs. He gives a mock bow before leaving Dimitri in silence. The sun has long since set, but he feels somewhat at ease with only the lanterns and the sounds of his lance whipping through the air. It’s easier to keep the ghosts at bay. He lunges at the training dummies.

It does bother him, perhaps a little, that Sylvain can easily best him. He can’t catch up on the months of training he’s lost in only a few nights, he knows this, but he feels like he has to try. To push himself to the limits and force himself to be strong in ways he wasn’t previously. To make up for how he’s let his friends down.

He jumps slightly, hearing a noise to his right- his blind side- lance poised at the ready, not that he could do much actual damage with a training lance.

“Goddess,” he sighs in relief, when a head of mint hair comes into view. “Apologies, Professor, you startled me.” He lowers his lance, laughing nervously.

“I should have made more noise,” she says.

“How long have you been here? I didn’t hear you come in. I would have said something-” 

She raises her hand to silence his explanation and the apology she could likely sense forthcoming.

“Long enough to catch your last bout with Sylvain,” she smiles. “You’ve got to stop letting him exploit your blind side and make him beat you fair and square. His ego doesn’t need any more inflating,” she laughs. 

It is good to hear her laugh again. He realizes he’s missed the sound. He heard it so little back in their Academy days - even less so now, and he knew he was partly to blame.

“My blind side?”

“He feints to the left, just into your field of vision, before attacking on the right. You… let him do that, right?”

His silence serves as her answer. Adjusting to his blind eye has been something of a challenge, though he hasn’t considered it affecting him on the battlefield. Though, to her credit, his goal was less about finesse and more about punishing jabs and strength. If he ended up taking more hits from his enemies (and he did) he noticed it less - at least in the moment.

“It seems I still have quite a bit to learn from you, Professor,”  he smiles sheepishly. He feels small, suddenly, like he’s being corrected after receiving low marks in a lecture.

“May I?” she asks, taking a timid step forward. 

“Please,” he nods.

She’s tried to help him train over the past few months, though her efforts have been in vain. Much like Sylvain, she seems unsure how much normalcy he’s truly ready for - and he can’t blame her. After the things he’s said to her, the way he’s behaved… even though she’s well-intentioned it must be hard to see him as anything other than a miserable beast.

Still, when her hands rest atop his armor, her touch is confident. Familiar. She isn’t afraid of him, which he takes as something of a comfort.

He lets her adjust his stance, and she angles the edge of his lance outward. It feels uncomfortable, only because he isn’t quite used to the angle - usually he prefers to keep his weapon closer to his body, but he waits for her explanation.

“You have more skill with the lance than I do,” she begins, taking a step back, “So this is just more of a suggestion. We can work on modifying it if it doesn’t feel right.” She observes his stance, resting her chin in her hand. “If you hold the lance more parallel to your body, it should hinder attackers enough. You’ll be able to feel the attacks you can’t see before they actually end up wounding you. You’d be quick enough, even after a feint.”

“Could we try it?” he asks, eager for her advice. Over the past few weeks, he’s realizing how much he misses training and sparring with the Professor, how much he can still learn from her, how much he misses spending time with her.

She smiles in response, darting quickly to the weapons rack and grabbing a training sword before returning to stand in front of him. Her posture straightens and she readies her blade - her eyes glimmer with excitement, even if the rest of her face is serious.

“One final word of advice,” she says, “Others will see your blind side as a weakness. Whether or not you let it be a weakness to exploit is up to you. It could be an advantage, if you move correctly. On your mark then.”

He nods, giving her the signal to begin. Now that she’s pointed out the fact his blind side is his biggest weakness, he’s on his guard, doing his best to hold his lance at the angle she’s shown him. She moves slowly at first, her movements exaggerated, helping him get used to this new approach, making her movements easily predictable so he can get the hang of blocking with the base of his lance.

Compliments pour naturally from her lips, taking him back to his Academy days when things were far more simple. She encourages him even when he moves the wrong way, or reverts back to familiar movements, opening himself up for attack. Even when she beats him, she helps him back to his feet, her pep talks giving him the motivation to continue. He isn’t sure he deserves her praise, but he wants to, so he keeps at it.

She’s right- of course she’s right, she always is- and it clicks in his mind how open his right side has been all this time. As he becomes more confident in this new grip, she picks up the pace, until they are sparring as they normally would. She moves quickly, even with her feints - his ears can follow her movements, even when his eye cannot. It is useful in sparring sessions, but real battle is never this quiet. He tries to rely less on the sounds of her movements, and more on his line of vision and the tug of his lance. 

After about seven rounds of defeat, it dawns on him what the Professor means by his blind side being an advantage. Enemies will target his blind side - it’s an obvious assumption. But if he can use his blind side to direct the attacks of his enemies, he can open up easier paths to victory for himself. He sidesteps a jab from the Professor’s sword, angling the end of his lance out, knowing she will take advantage of his lack of momentum and follow up her initial attack by moving to stab where she assumes he cannot see. 

He feels her sword lightly clang against the edge of his lance, pushing her attack back with the blunt end before swinging to face her, catching the back of her legs and sending her toppling backwards.

“Yield,” he declares for the first time that evening, his lance pointed directly at her throat. The pride he feels swelling in his chest increases tenfold as she beams up at him. He pulls her to her feet, and she wraps her arms around him. He stiffens, afraid to move as though he might hurt her. He’d only done as she instructed- he didn’t think it worthy of a hug. What’s more, he doesn’t like the voices buzzing in his head, laughing that, somehow, he’s fooled her into thinking he’s a good person, fooled her into being proud of a monster, that he’s corrupting her…

She senses his discomfort, pulling away, but still smiling as she looks into his face.

“You always were a quick study,” she grins. “A few more sessions of this, and it’ll be back to Sylvain admitting defeat nearly every sparring session you have.”

“He’ll accuse me of being teacher’s pet again,” Dimitri groans with a laugh.

“I’m not your teacher anymore, you know,” she says.

“Ah, but there’s still no shortage of things to learn from you,” he says. “I’m grateful. I hope we’re always… close enough that you can share your wisdom.”