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A Caretaker's Guide to Beast Taming

Chapter Text

With nothing better to do whilst listening to the sound of water sloshing in the rusted bucket he’s lugged through the monastery halls, Byleth ruminated on his poor life decisions. Because those are the sorts of things you do when you’ve lived far too many lives.

He was getting awfully sick of all these failed runs. “Runs” he dubbed them, as it felt like a marathon every time. Awful marathons, the kind where you’re sweating buckets and puking blood and cursing the name of the idiot that signed you up for it, only the idiot is technically a major religious figure who may or may not have stuck a god in you.

His second run was with the Golden Deer, naturally. It went well enough, and he was thankful for Claude’s penchant for getting people to talk. The true identities and history of the Church of Seiros, managing to weed out Those Who Slither In The Dark—a mouthful that never ceased to irritate Byleth when forced to say it—and even some choice details about Crest fuckery courtesy of Lysithea, all of it would have gone unmentioned in his life before. And he admired the uplifting nature those little gilded fawns provided, all things considered.

He did another two runs after that, both failed quite spectacularly.

As did his four Black Eagle runs.

Boy, he hated those. There was something sickening about it, even if his students were kind enough. He tried everything he could think of at first; Siding with Edelgard, siding with Rhea. Trying to sabotage Edelgard from the inside, and then the same for Seiros. The only benefit was the gained knowledge, the new perspectives. The absolutely infuriating perspectives. He could never quite make it to the end, either. Not because he was unable, he just knew the end would never be the one he could be content with. Just another failure.

He went back to the Golden Deer one more time after that. That one didn’t last long. There’s a cruel irony that one can only remember their time travel after using it for the first time each run. Honestly, imagine throwing yourself in front of an axe to save a girl, and that’s when you remember everything about that girl trying to kill you. And about how that girl just will not talk about her feelings, something Byleth is fairly certain would solve everything.

What didn’t solve everything was when he just kind of… killed her himself. Turns out when you’re technically a representative of the church and you kill the future empress, Adrestia doesn’t really need to wait around for Edelgard to declare war against your employer.

All things considered that wasn’t his most brilliant tactical move, but emotions are confusing and he was getting desperate. Either way, that run was cut pretty short.

At this point, Byleth knew the only way to succeed in stopping the war and defeating Those Who Have An Unnecessarily Pretentious Name, was to do so before he took a swan dive off a cliff. There’s no way to do both without the knowledge of all three sides of Fódlan, but getting those three sides to cooperate… Well, therein lies the challenge.

It probably would have been easier if he’d even been able to talk to any of the Blue Lions his first few re-do’s.

The Blue Lions were his first run. His life, so to speak; He had built a relatively happy one. Sure, there was heartbreak and loss, but Fódlan had been brought to peace. Everyone’s lives were wrapped in a neat little bow, and he’d made quite a pleasant life for himself with a particularly sleepy crest scholar. But there was always something nagging at him. Maybe it was Sothis, maybe it was just his own conscious. Maybe it was the way his best friend looked at him. He would without fail turn back time for his students if they fell in battle, yet for some reason he failed to do so when they fell into something worse.

Byleth kicked aside a piece of fallen masonry as he crossed the bridge, huffing softly. He was still guilty for ripping away those storybook endings. So much so he could hardly look any younger, bright and bushy tailed Faerghus kid in the eye the next time they met. Which made the day when he wandered into the Blue Lion’s classroom out of force of habit particularly odd, confusing them and the poor Golden Deer leader as he had to awkwardly shuffle his disoriented professor into the correct classroom.

Seeing them on school grounds wasn’t exactly the hard part, though. It was an odd feeling, meeting them in real battle for the first time. Byleth recalled a bit of twisted pride, watching his own soldiers struggle against the Faerghus forces, and he was always curious to see what new classes they would master in a new run. Of course, by the time he met them in battle at Gronder, it marked his own failure. The loss of one of his three integral puzzle pieces.

Cutting down the Prince of Faerghus was never fun, but he would meet him in battle himself every time. It always felt like he owed him that level of respect, at least. Divine Pulses were a rare thing for Byleth to rely on, yet in those moments he often found himself frantically rewinding time at the request of a lance pierced body part. Dimitri was always quite special that way.

A weaker huff escaped Byleth’s lips, his unbalanced steps echoing around the dilapidated cathedral, clumsily letting water spill out onto the dusty floor. It was Dimitri’s fault that he even started this stupid game. It’s his fault that he avoided choosing the Blue Lions again for this long, too. No matter how many runs he does, Byleth can always remember that laugh in the Holy Tomb. It’s not often you get to watch someone descend into madness in real time, especially not someone you care about enough to put up with five years later as he attempts to do a solo speed-run of war. Not something you want to personally experience for a second time.

Dammit, Dimitri. It’s your fault. If you could just swallow your pride for a second and get Edelgard to open up we wouldn’t be in this mess at all. Might be nice to save my dad’s life, for once.

Dammit, it’s your fault. If you still didn't look so sad for all those years maybe you all could have just died of old age in peace and I wouldn’t have gotten so obsessed with stopping this war.

Dammit Dimitri, if you had just opened up to me earlier this run might not have failed too.

Dammit, Dimitri. Dammit dammit dammit. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t still be here wasting my time.

“Dammit, Dimitri!” Byleth shouted, foisting his bucket of cold spring water onto the brooding blue figure. “I told you if you didn’t take a bath by the end of the month I was bringing the bath to you!”

 

---

 

Alright, so maybe the surprise bucket bath wasn’t the most mature way to handle the situation, Byleth mused as he hid from the rabid (and slightly soggy) roaming lion in one of the vacant dorm rooms.

He was so thrilled that this was his reward for figuring out how to wake himself up a few years earlier. Playing caretaker for his catatonic ex-student.

Not like Byleth was certain waking himself up any earlier had much of a benefit at all, even if it took him a few runs to even figure out why his five year cat nap even happened. Similar to his father’s death (no that does not get any easier to watch, by the way) and Sothis’ disappearance, falling into the river was another instance of “fate”, Byleth’s new least favorite thing in the universe. No time shenanigans could keep him from tripping face first into the abyss. However, it turns out the “coma” was never a coma at all. In an instinctual panic, he’s able to freeze time on just his body state and nothing else, including the acceleration acting on it. By the time his time resumes, all that force is long gone and his body simply ragdolls itself back down. Unfortunately, stopping time on just one thing causes a few more hiccups than briefly turning everything back if you’re not paying attention, and that’s how you end up paused above an abandoned riverbank for five years.

But if you’re really focusing, you too can end up only three years into the future instead.

It’s a pretty useless skill, Byleth figured. But it might be useful if he finds himself about to die, and he doesn’t have time to work the days of energy into turning back time to a mercenary encampment about to be accosted by three oblivious noble children. God, turning back time that far sucks.

Maybe that’s why he hasn’t done it yet, Byleth lied to himself.

He poked his head out the dorm room window enough that his luminescent green hair shouldn’t attract attention. From there he could observe the boar prince in his natural habitat, brandishing a rusty spear and spewing death threats Byleth is somewhat sure he wouldn’t actually act on. With his blonde hair sticking to his face and the fur on his cloak matted down with water, his resemblance to an angry post-bath cat was striking.

Byleth’s eyes lit up, just a little. It’s the liveliest he’s seen Dimitri in weeks.

He didn’t like to latch on to unlikely hopes, and the hope that this run is at all salvageable now that Garreg Mach has fallen is practically childish to hold on to. Byleth supposed he still has until Gronder, before shy little Bernadetta is felled on that center podium, to turn it around. Before any students are killed. And yes, he does have an extra two years to work with before the Blue Lions’ unhappy reunion. So logically there’s no reason to restart too early, and deal with all that nasty guilt and the innocent eyes looking to you for guidance you’ve failed to give time and time again.

Byleth wonders if guilt is the only emotion he’s allowed to feel nowadays. Because all of that war-ending logic is bullshit. He hasn’t restarted because he finally has a chance to make up for the mistake he’s made on every single damned run.

To be there for the student who needed him the most.

Even when that student sends a spear through the window two inches above his professor’s head.

...But hey, he has better aim than that. He missed on purpose. Probably.

Chapter Text

Byleth was at a loss.

While the bucket incident did well to get his student up and moving around temporarily, it certainly did not turn out to be a long term solution. The rut growing in front of the Great Cathedral Rubble Pile was a sure sign of that.

Byleth really did not know how to approach Dimitri, especially not now. It’s not like this was all that different from the first time; In fact, their reunion had been strikingly similar despite the two year time difference. Dimitri’s ragged hair had been just a touch shorter, his brilliantly blue cloak slightly less faded. To Byleth’s complete surprise, Dimitri still had both eyes still intact, even if they were just as cloudy as he remembered. But his words and visceral disgust had been much of the same. It always hurt to hear him talk like that. Byleth had become used to his distant snarls on the battlefield, but hearing of the regrets that kept him awake every night, and hearing that snarl devolve into a raspy command for solitude? That he’d worked to push out of his mind. Byleth began to wonder what Dimitri had thought when he’d hear Ashe or Lysithea sputter concerns over ghosts in the monastery, when he was being haunted every night.

God, I could really use Ashe right now, Byleth thought to himself as he worked to clear rubble from the greenhouse. He figured a two year start to the project would save time in the long run, and he was sure Dedue would appreciate having his favorite building functioning.

Byleth bemoaned to himself. Dedue, you would be doing such a better job than me right now.

The lack of students, that’s what made this hard. While they all collectively failed to bring Dimitri back from the brink before Rodrigue’s death the first time, he at least knew he could go to them for advice. Byleth wracked his brain to imagine what someone might tell him.

Felix would probably tell him to go fuck himself, in fewer words. Not very helpful. Sylvain would be equally unhelpful, althought his answer would likely be closer to fucking someone other than himself.

Ingrid or Ashe would likely suggest making small, achievable goals. Not a bad idea, actually. Mercedes and Annette would insist he act mindfully of their Prince’s wishes and boundaries; A good point, but difficult to follow considering those boundaries are what’s stopping him from accomplishing anything in the first place. But its true, if he was to get Dimitri to do anything other than brood, he would need to regain his trust again.

Dedue would offer his assistance in whatever task Byleth presented, but obviously that won’t be much help for a couple years.

Byleth sighed again, a repetitive action even he was getting sick of. Small, achievable goals. Is basic hygiene small enough? Maybe not, no matter how desperately Byleth wished it was. He couldn’t even pester Dimitri into cleaning the blood off his armor, let alone bathing and brushing his hair. Eating? That seems closer, but it’s something he’s already tried and failed, and Byleth was sick of watching perfectly good plates of meat go untouched.

The sound of heavy and unsteady footsteps broke Byleth out of his brainstorming session.

He poked his head out of the greenhouse entrance just in time to see Dimitri make his way up the stairs, undoubtedly heading back to his spot in the cathedral. The lance he always gripped tightly was tipped with red, quickly drying to brown, as were his gloves and arm guards. Byleth idly wondered why he never bothered to train Dimitri in gauntlets, if he was always so eager to use his hands to fight. He didn’t bother to say hello, he knew better than that.

This was the one routine Byleth had managed to construct in the month or so since he’d returned. As foolish thieves and the rare Imperial guard came to investigate the monastery grounds, the professor and his student would alternate who came to meet them. One fighter was usually enough to deal with unskilled bandits and soldiers. On the very rare occasion that the invading force was a touch too big, or when Dimitri just happened to be feeling antsy, the two would work together. Ever since their initial reunion and the occasional mishap, these were the only moments Byleth could get a proper verbal response from Dimitri. Albeit, the conversations were usually limited to halfhearted tactical orders Dimitri would promptly ignore and shout threats over. Regardless, Byleth found some comfort in the fact that Dimitri could still speak; He always resented Felix’s “boar prince” label, but His Highness wasn’t doing much to act human nowadays.

Byleth’s head suddenly popped up, seafoam eyes lighting up. Talking. That was it, that was his first little step.

Of course it had taken a while to occur to him, talking wasn’t exactly his favorite past-time either, nor was it something he was skilled at. But if he could just get Dimitri to talk to him, to say more than “go away”, then that was something. Something to build trust with. And something to break the infuriating silence of Garreg Mach.

 

---

 

It wasn’t exactly hard to get near Dimitri, per say. But he didn’t exactly exude an inviting aura about him, which was why Byleth decided to use his position next to the mountain of religious debris as an excuse.

It might be easier if it seems like I didn’t come here with the express purpose to chat, Byleth thought to himself as he carried his fifth armful of boulder bits to the bucket he brought with him. Rubble hitting metal was the only sound that echoed around the building. Dimitri had yet to voice any concern, but Byleth could feel his eyes on him the entire time. Cold, empty eyes, and yet they were the same striking shade of blue that always managed to catch Byleth’s attention. He knew better than to try to look back and meet his gaze; just the same as with any other cat in the monastery, eye-contact only means you’re threatening him.

It was such an unnerving, awkward silence. There was a time when he could sit quietly with his students, and it was the best moment of the day. The moments where he could be grading papers whilst Annette turned the pages of whatever magic textbook had caught her eye that day. Moments where he could cross blades with Felix without a word passing between them. Moments where he could stand back to back with Dedue and let the flowers they tended to do the speaking. Moments between light hearted conversations and laughter amidst an afternoon tea where he and Dimitri could just enjoy each others’ company.

Byleth lingered around the bucket, a few more trips and it would be too heavy to carry to the disposal site. He lingered, and he wondered if Dimitri missed having company. He didn’t seem to miss it as much as Byleth, obviously, but he still couldn’t stop wondering. He continued to wonder as he hesitantly kicked away a rock he’d missed and sat down, just a couple feet to Dimitri’s side. Enough to be clearly in his line of vision, and even so he could still see the prince’s figure tense up. Dimitri didn’t know what Byleth’s intentions were, and it made him nervous. But the professor just chose to sit there, looking out at colorful shards that used to make up a stained glass window.

He sat there for a while, watching the dust his activity had kicked up fall back into place. He cast the occasional glance at the figure next to him, perfectly rigid, like his pitch black armor was made of charcoal, about to crumble with any movement. Except there was a little movement. He was just close enough to see how Dimitri wobbled, just a little. He would lurch forward slightly, never quite steady on his feat. Had he let go of his spear, it’s possible he would simply topple over.

If Byleth caught him, would he earn back a little trust?

Then again, he’s failed to catch his student from falling more than once.

He should have just asked Dimitri what was wrong. And kept asking when he would give that polite smile and affirm that nothing was amiss. Byleth was so afraid of saying the wrong thing, he said nothing at all. And that was the worst thing he could have done.

I’m not good at talking, Dimitri. But I can listen.

A sudden movement caught his eye, the tattered ends of his cape shifting out of Byleth’s peripheral vision. He snuck a glance up, only to be met with eyes staring at him between tangled strands of gold; Dimitri had held his position for so long, to see him move so suddenly startled the man sitting beside him.

“...I said that out loud, didn’t I.” Byleth swore under his breath. He really, really wasn’t any good at talking. Dimitri didn’t respond, but he also didn’t look away. It was a terribly odd feeling. Despite the fact that they’d been together for weeks now, had even fought on the same grounds a few times, this felt like the first time Dimitri had properly looked at him since they first reunited.

“Would you like me to go away?”

Byleth wasn’t sure if Dimitri’s silence was the answer he wanted.

Chapter Text

Byleth had always been a special kind of oblivious.

If speaking was his weakness, picking up on emotional cues was his fatal flaw.

All of his students knew this, but it was particularly hilarious and infuriating for the Blue Lions. It was clear as day that their house leader had a certain affection for the professor, but while love may be blind, Byleth was somehow blinder.

Aside from graciously accepting the title of “Professor”, Byleth had never really embraced the role as was intended. He still gave lectures and tests, but it always came across more as the work of an overenthusiastic upperclassmen than anything else. It was beneficial for him in the long run, as any staff member who would spend their time eating dinner amongst students and inviting them to private tea parties would get a harsh scolding courtesy of Seteth. Yet everyone seemed to ignore Byleth’s odd socializing style. Perhaps it was the near non-existent age gap (or, the assumed one, considering no one could pin down Byleth’s actual age), or the seeming lack of a power-imbalance as Byleth fought, studied and even tested himself alongside his students. Either way, Byleth was free to continue offering drinks and gifts in his quiet displays of affection, all the while inadvertently courting one noble in particular.

One noble whose water-damaged but legible journal made for a very jarring afternoon read.

Byleth kept glancing over his shoulder at the door frame, always slightly paranoid that an imposing figure would be there, here to rip the book out of his hands and beat him with it. The concern was completely irrational, especially considering it had been Dimitri himself who had dropped the journal unceremoniously in front of him.

Byleth fidgeted with the torn note that had been shoved inside the front cover, recalling how he had frozen with a forkful of elk meat held half in his mouth as the book thumped against the table, stunned at the sight of the prince willingingly leaving his preferred station for a reason other than battle. He regretted not reacting sooner, as the moment he’d worked up his question, Dimitri had already stalked back out of the dining hall.

He peeked at the note for what must have been the umpteenth time. One word, barely readable thanks to the shaky lettering and large stain of ink at the end. Dimitri must have broken the quill pen tip after pushing down too hard. It wouldn’t have been the first time, the thought pulling at Byleth’s nostalgia.

“Listen.”

So he had gotten his beast to speak after all. Or rather, he seemed to be having his past self speak for him. Too little too late, perhaps, but it was enough to bring back Byleth’s hope after his fumble in the cathedral days before. He idly flipped back through the pages he’d already examined. An entry for every day, save for conspicuously empty spots around the end of the Pegasus Moon. From then on the entries were scattered and erratic. He’d lost track of how many times the phrase “I’ll kill her” cropped up before he couldn’t stand to keep going forward.

Instead, he flipped back.

“I arrived at Garreg Mach Monastery today. It really is just as impressive as everyone seems to believe, but I cannot help but feel slightly suffocated. Perhaps everyone’s formality is doing it; My classmates all seem to be such wonderful people, but they seem to shy away and strain their vocabulary for the most respectful language they can think of. Well… everyone save Felix, Sylvain and Ingrid. I do hope they will show the others I’m not someone to be afraid of they have no need for formality around me.”

“Felix is being even colder towards me than before we arrived. I know Ingrid insists I shouldn’t take what he says to heart, but I fear she doesn’t realize how accurate it is. Even so, it is becoming harder to stomach. I have no idea how to approach him about it. He seems happiest during a spar, but that seems like a poor time for a heart to heart.”

“I have never been more thankful to have Dedue by my side. And in the kitchen with Ashe, if it means it keeps Annette out of it. She is such a sweetheart, but… Well, I suppose I of all people should not talk about destroying school property.”

“Classes are to start quite soon. I do wonder who our professor is. Hanneman seems knowledgeable enough, but it seems my classmates would much rather prefer a hands-on approach to learning than a book lecture. Manuela is a capable physician certainly, Mercedes would likely flourish under her instruction, but… I shudder to imagine Sylvain as one of her students. And the third option… Why, I don’t even think I know his name, he’s hardly impressive at all. I would not be surprised if he was to be replaced. Oh well.”

“Today was uneventful, but I can’t help but feel anxious for tomorrow. Apparently, the house leaders are to go out on small mission without the rest of our class. I have spoken with Claude from time to time, and he is kind if not infuriatingly nosey. But… Well, being around Edelgard has been challenging. She has hardly spoken a word to me, unless it is to critique something I may have done or said. I hope tomorrow will help break down some walls between the three of us. ...Goddess, I do wish I could stop wondering if she still has that dagger."

Byleth didn’t know what he felt reading through the entries. He could feel himself trying to shield his heart, as every day was laced with a sadness exacerbated by what Byleth knew would happen in this young man’s future. The neat handwriting always pressed just a little bit too hard into the parchment, politely admitting to no one in particular that he was an irredeemable monster attending school for revenge. His self-deprecation was juxtaposed against every kind thing he had to say about his friends. Brilliant, kind, chivalrous, brave, strong—common adjectives to be found next to every name except Dimitri’s own.

Byleth shook his head, and moved on to the next page, his eyes widening just a little bit.

“Our professor’s name is Byleth. I do not think any of us plan to call him anything other than his proper title, of course. Even if he assured us we were free to speak casually to him. I wonder if it is just as hard for me as it is for the others to speak to me informally. I hope it will become easier, especially as at first glance he could easily be confused for a classmate. His words were kind enough, but his face is stern and from what I saw of his fighting skills the day before his talent in battle will be hard to match. He doesn’t seem to emote at all. I don’t know what to think of him.”

“Our class went into battle today. I don’t think I saw Professor react with any sort of emotion once as he cut down his foes. It is… unsettling. But his commands were sound and we made it through without more than scrapes and bruises, so I suppose I should be happy.”

“My fears are finally assuaged, although I can’t help but grow more curious about the Professor. We spoke before, and he admitted that he did feel poorly about killing his enemies. He is not the demon my anxious mind was building him up to be, and I am so thankful. But now I’m caught admiring his control. I know my own habits, perhaps he may help me learn to keep my emotions in check in the heat of battle.”

“I could not keep my eyes off of Professor during the lecture today. He always speaks with such confidence, I have much to learn about leading still. We are to spar later today, and I’m quite excited. I still have to hold back on my physical strength, but I feel like I can move freely in combat with him. And he is so patient, no matter how many training weapons I manage to break.”

“Professor gave me a bundle of forget-me-nots today. He gives gifts to students quite frequently, so I do not know why my heart fluttered so.”

“I am to focus on riding skills for the time being. It seems as though the Professor himself is a bit unfamiliar with horseback riding. I’m eager to perfect this, perhaps he would allow me to take him riding one day.”

“Professor smiled today. I hope he smiles tomorrow, too.”

“Sylvain keeps commenting on my supposed “puppy-dog eyes” during lecture. I am simply trying to concentrate on what Professor has to say. Although, I seem to have begun neglecting my notes for some reason.”

“I was able to speak to Professor today about my… past, with Edelgard. He listened so intently, so patiently, I suddenly felt as though I could spill everything in my heart to him. I just barely stopped myself from doing so, in fact. ...I deeply regret not asking him for a dance.”

“Mercedes and Annette keep giggling at me for some reason.”

“I was late to my spar with Ingrid. She seemed… Prepared for me to be late, oddly enough. I stayed a bit later in class to speak to Professor about some things, perhaps she noticed.”

“Ashe suggested I go to tea with Professor in his place. It’s odd, he didn’t seem to have any other commitments.”

“Dedue gave me a bundle of flowers he had been growing, and informed me that they were the Professor’s favorite. There was nothing else to do but to give them to him, really, but I was surprised when Dedue insisted I tell Professor they were from me, not him. But after seeing those eyes light up at the sight of them, I don’t think I could have admitted they were Dedue’s idea even if he told me to.”

“We almost lost him today. I think I would have lost myself had he not returned. But to rip a hole in nothing with a divine sword? I felt as though I was looking at some kind of vengeful angel sent to protect us all. I had not realized how badly I needed him by my side until he was almost gone.”

Byleth’s eyes stopped on the last entry of the Guardian Moon, just a single sentence, feeling the flush that had been steadily creeping down his face flare up. He felt odd, as though he was intruding on private matters, even if they were willingly shared. Or perhaps he just didn’t know how to deal with the odd way his heart felt, alternating between shame, regret, and a deep affection that he had been swallowing the whole school year.

“How long have I been in love with Byleth?”

 

---

 

Byleth fingered the pages of Dimitri’s journal, his mind struggling to process everything he was thinking. Everything he was feeling.

He would be lying to himself if he didn’t admit he held an unusual amount of affection for the prince. He wasn’t ready to call it love, because loving someone proved to be a death sentence in Byleth’s eyes. But it was something that always kept him coming back to Dimitri. It was probably what finally forced him to choose to teach the Blue Lions once again.

And as for love, does this Dimitri have any left to give? What was even the purpose of showing him this journal in the first place? Byleth grabbed a fistful of minty hair in frustration, wracking his brain. Was this some kind of sick punishment? A reminder about how badly he failed once again? Certainly, whatever Dimitri felt for him now was a far cry from companionship.

Byleth smacked the book down on the desk in frustration, some of the pages flipping back open. Smudges of ink caught Byleth’s eye; They were darker and messier, with no dates to be seen. But they were entries, ones Byleth had missed. He’d assumed the entries would have stopped after the battle at Garreg Mach. It was genuinely surprising to see that Dimitri had continued to use his journal, the fact that he’d even bothered to look for it in the rubble. Perhaps there was a part of him still desperate for any shred of familiarity as he was forced to watch his world crumble around him. Byleth couldn’t blame him.

“It’s too quiet here now.”

Most of the entries were one sentence, sporadically mentioning “rat infestations” that Byleth figured were bouts of bandits or imperial guards. More threats towards Edelgard scrawled between mentions of voices that wouldn’t go away. Mention of killing a wild demonic beast for its fur as winter approached, how he came across ill-fitting black armor nestled in the back of the armory. But his eyes kept drawing to a few entries in particular.

“He promised to come back in five years. I will wait.”

“I cleaned his room.”

“I wish he would arrive soon.”

“Please do not come to haunt me as well.”

“He shouldn’t see me like this.”

“Please don’t be ashamed of me.”

“I’m sorry.”

Byleth stared at the page and how the entries trailed off to nothing at that point, before looking up and around at his room. Of course he hadn’t noticed. Upon his return to the monastery, he had found his room shockingly livable. Little more than gathered dirt and dust, all he had to do was scrounge up a new set of bedsheets and a more intact chair for his desk. Even some of his books had been placed—albeit haphazardly—on the unbroken parts of his bookshelves. His room had fared far better than the commoners’ dorms next to him, or even the nobles’ rooms above. It was so obvious.

Byleth swore for a solid minute as he walked out of his room, tucking the journal under his cloak, nestled inside his belt. Heading for the cathedral, he decided to take a slight detour, still mumbling dozens of variants on “I’m an idiot”.

 

---

 

Byleth stood a few feet behind his student, gripping a small handful of forget-me-nots, ages of relying on nature alone for care leaving them dull and wilted. He had always found the blue and gold of the petals a good mirror for the blue of Dimitri’s uniform cape and the gold streaks of his hair. Now it seemed as though they wilted to match the way His Highness hunched over his lance, like the weight of a thousand lives rested there and there alone. He cleared his throat, although he was sure Dimitri had noticed his presence the moment he’d stepped into the room.

“Thank you for cleaning my room while I was gone.”

The prince didn’t turn around, but Byleth could see movement. His shoulders seemed to relax, just slightly. His grip loosened on the lance. And his head turned, just enough to see an icy eye peek out between strands of greasy, matted hair. It fixated on the flowers in Byleth’s hand. There was excruciating silence.

“...Of course, Professor.” Dimitri’s voice was raspy, and harsh, and cold. But it was a voice.

Byleth bent down, setting the flowers down, feeling a rush of apprehension and relief at the same time. He wasn’t going to push Dimitri too hard. Trust, that was still Byleth’s goal. He was trusted enough with battle, and with that journal. He did not figure gifts and touching were apart of that trust yet.

Don’t look angry, Byleth reminded himself. Don’t look with pity. Don’t look ashamed.

“I would like your help with something, tomorrow.”

There was no response. The blue eye flicked from the flowers on the ground, back up to Byleth. He let Dimitri decide when eye-contact was okay. No reason to stress him further. And he had been right all those years ago, Byleth was very patient.

He continued. “We’re almost out of stored food, and the last group of bandits didn’t leave us with enough money to go out and buy much more.”

No response, but Byleth’s student had yet to turn away. He was still listening.

“I plan to go hunting when the sun rises. I would-” He was cut off by sudden movement. Byleth watched Dimitri straighten somewhat, and turn to face him. He walked forward, stepping over the flowers, bringing himself closer to his professor. Byleth couldn’t tell if he had intentionally avoided treading on the flowers, or if it was a coincidence.

The prince towered over Byleth, intimidating even despite his characteristic swaying. He looked down through long blonde eyelashes, meeting Byleth’s curious gaze.

“I will join you.”

Chapter Text

Byleth fiddled with the end of his iron bow, listened to the sound of dead leaves crushing under his boots, scanned the horizon to note the most mundane details of his surroundings, anything to distract him from the eyes he could feel boring into the back of his head. There was a certain irony in feeling like he was the one being hunted right now.

He glanced back at the figure following a ways behind him. Dimitri’s stride was shockingly quiet at the moment, compared to the usual a-rhythmic thumping of his steps in the monastery. He knew how to account for the movements of his cape and the weight of his armor, using the end of his lance to steady himself when necessary. It shouldn’t really be that surprising, Byleth figured. The prince had been fending for himself long before he turned up. He quickly flicked his eyes back towards the overgrown path after meeting Dimitri’s for a moment too long.

Save for a strained “Hello, Professor,” upon meeting him at the Garreg Mach front gates, Dimitri remained as silent as ever. While necessary when they slipped down side paths frequented by wayward thieves, the silence had become particularly overwhelming this deep into the surrounding forest. Any attempt at conversation on Byleth’s part was met with grunts or one word answers.

But he was here, Byleth reminded himself. It was progress. But it was also why he startled when Dimitri’s voice broke through the silence, low and softer than he was used to hearing.

“Stop, Professor. There’s something ahead.” Byleth slowed to a halt, and felt Dimitri approach his side, his cape brushing up against him for just a moment. His eyes were fixated on something Byleth couldn’t quite see, the icy blue clear and sharp for once. He had a moment to examine his student’s face without the pressure of a returning glare.

His heart twisted as he realized how gaunt that face had become. Cheeks sunken in and dark circles under the eyes, little scars fading poorly. His skin was paler than the porcelain everyone had dined on when life was kinder to him. In all honesty, Byleth didn’t remember him looking so ragged. But there were echoes of that old Dimitri there, he noticed. The sharpness of his jaw, the tow-colored eyelashes that drooped over perpetually exhausted eyes, the way his eyebrows knitted together when he concentrated—

Byleth frowned to himself. He didn’t remember having constructed such a detailed depiction of the prince, yet there it was. It was strange, and he didn’t care for the instinctual embarrassment that accompanied it.

A rustling of branches snapped Byleth out of his stupor before he could further explore this line of questioning, and a part of him appreciated it. Following Dimitri’s line of sight, he spotted what his student must have sensed the moment before; A stag, grazing without a care in its own little world. It was a wonder that Dimitri had been able to tell it was there, considering as far as Byleth could tell it had been out of sight and out of hearing until this very second.

Perhaps the Boar Prince had that good of a nose, Byleth mused, before deciding that might be an insensitive thought to think.

He felt Dimitri’s gaze return to him and he glanced up to meet it. Byleth watched as he looked from Byleth to the bow in his hand, as if saying, “Go on, then.” Damn brat is so lazy nowadays; can’t be bothered to cook, clean, use that inhuman arm of his to spear deer from thirty feet away, nothing. And so, Byleth reached for the arrows strapped in the quiver on his back, careful not to let the sound of scraping metal signal their presence from behind the brush. He shifted his stance and nocked the arrow, beginning to move purely on muscle memory from a lifetime ago.

Byleth could hear an amused chuckle echo in his ears, as if Claude was lounging about behind him. “Using a bow to take down a deer, Teach? What cruel irony.”

He hadn’t used a bow personally, the first time. But it is an effective way to take down a mounted flier. When they meet on opposite sides of the field, Byleth was sure his skills would be enough to take care of him.

 

...Wait, “when”?

Byleth’s arrow flew from his bow in a clumsy arc, landing on the ground just in front of his target. He stared in wide-eyed disbelief not at his spectacular miss, but at his own mind. His own… indifference. To speak so bluntly of firing upon a student he had been guiding only months before, let alone for years worth of runs? Had he already forgotten of his goal? Had-

Thunk.

The stag crumpled to the ground in a heap, lance embedded deep enough in its neck that it pierced through to the other side. Dimitri was still paused in a flawless throwing form, before gradually straightening and looking back down at Byleth, confusion written across his face. Byleth scrambled to put together an explanation, but he was faster.

“Why did you bring a bow? I never saw you training with one,” Dimitri questioned, quite possibly the most he had spoken at once to Byleth in a month.

“I…” The professor struggled to put together an answer that wasn’t ‘I focused on archery skills two time-travels ago’. “...My father had taught me briefly when I was a child. They’re far more useful in hunting than swords, wouldn’t you say?”

“...
...When you can hit your prey, yes.”

With that, Dimitri stalked off to retrieve his lance. His response was factually sound, but the way he paused before answering added a touch of mockery to the words that Byleth resented. And appreciated, strangely. There was a familiar emotion behind it. A trained politeness masking the childish instinct to poke fun, something Byleth had watched employed by the Blue Lions quite frequently. Without even realizing, it had relaxed Byleth into forgetting about his previous mental hiccup.

Almost.

 

===

 

Byleth watched the reflection of the fire in the blade of his hunting knife, freshly cleaned of deer blood. It was late, he was hungry, they had a bagful of raw protein and the two men were still a ways from the monastery. All reason enough to pause for dinner. Dimitri hadn’t objected, although Byleth was still unsure if he would accept food. He’d set up two skewers of venison on the off-chance his optimism proved true, but if Dimitri decided to continue his trend of refusing supper, well. Byleth was not exactly known for his small appetite.

He looked up in hopes of spotting his companion amongst the growing shadows of the forest, but Dimitri was nowhere to be seen. As he had been setting up the campfire, his student had announced his intent to return before stalking off too quickly for Byleth to stop him. Maybe Byleth’s offer to clean the gore off Dimitri’s lance had scared him off.

“Thanks for leaving me alone with my thoughts, friend,” Byleth grumbled aloud to the apathetic vegetation surrounding him, setting down his knife and pulling his knees up to his chest, plopping his chin down between them. His green bangs fell further into his face, the fire light illuminating his hair more than it already naturally appeared to glow. His mind travelled once again to the conclusion he was beginning to fear.

This would be his last chance. His last run.

The idea of growing indifferent to the horrors of war frightened him. In Byleth’s mind, his students were no longer looking like people, but storybook characters. Or worse, pawns to be managed for some grander, godly purpose. But they weren’t, they were people. Sometimes they were children with grander aspirations than carrying bodies back from battle.

And they were all so, so tired.

Byleth had self-imposed a cycle of misery onto his students, and it was one that was taking its toll. He fidgeted with the ends of his hair, his mind wandering back to Dimitri’s haggard expression. How many times had he forced the young prince to lose his mind? How much of the darkness beneath his eyes was his fault?

The fire crackled back at him in response, warming Byleth’s fatigued body. He was tired. He could not stand to watch his father die again, his students suffering again. His family, suffering. This was it. Byleth couldn’t help but wonder if this war was the same as this fate he detested. If he was trying to stop what was impossible to stop, attempting to fabricate the perfect ending never meant to exist.

He gripped his knees tighter, digging his nails into his flesh, feeling a rare but familiar pressure at the back of his eyes. He was about to watch himself fail for the last time. He was going to fail everyone that looked up to him. The students, the church. Claude, Edelgard, Rhea, Dimitri. He had put all of them through hell, time and time and time again, for nothing more than a fake happy ending where the winners lose sleep at night and the losers died because the wrong professor picked their class.

And Byleth would spend the rest of his life watching Dimitri put on that same polite smile he always clung to, hiding the dagger scar on his right shoulder under royal armor, agonizing over what he could have done to save her and how to atone for a lifetime of sins.

And now he gets to watch those sins in real time.

Byleth mumbled to the ground below him, “I’ve failed you, Dimitri…”

“...You are letting dinner burn.”

..?

Byleth popped his head up, only for it to be thrown back down by the weight of something unceremoniously dropped on his shoulders. It was warm, and heavy and… wet.

“...Ew..?” Byleth held up his arm, seeing blood trickle down his sleeve and stain the grass below him. Dimitri had already moved out from behind him, rescuing the charred deer meat from the fire. Byleth couldn’t seem to care, as he was too busy examining the object currently staining his coat. It was an animal pelt of some unidentifable kind. One that had obviously not been properly prepared for wearing.

“You were pale. Your hands shook when you fired the bow.” Byleth looked up to see Dimitri hovering over him, a skewer thrust towards him. Hesitating a moment, he took it, and watched as the prince backed away and sat opposite him from across the campfire. His lance rested propped up against his body, fresh blood glistening against the rusting metal. The fire light revealed a similar gleam trailing up his arms from his hands.

“...Did you think I was cold..?”

Byleth got no response, but instead was met with his student ripping in to the other venison skewer. It was… A touch disgusting, actually. Table manners weren’t a high priority at the current moment, but at the very least he could have washed the blood off his hands, which was now getting smeared on his dinner, and by extension, his face. He was tearing into the meat like an animal, all fangs and claws, getting grease and blood in his hair.

Yet here he was, sitting and eating the food Byleth prepared for the first time in three years.

And here Byleth was, sitting underneath a slimy, disgusting, smelly chunk of fur that was for all intents and purposes, a gift.

And it was all Byleth could do to not burst into tears on the spot. His hand brushed over his hip, where Dimitri’s journal was still secretly tucked, remembering the young man’s admiration of how well his professor managed his emotions.

Of how much he admired his professor. Of how much he loved Byleth.

Byleth picked at the meat on his skewer, determination spreading subtly across his face, regaining some kind of resolve. No, he had not failed yet. His students could be saved yet, the war stopped early. And he still had two years left. Two years he could dedicate to easing the pain he had placed on the young man in front of him.

Byleth pulled the fur around him instinctively, the chill of the night settling in. His gift.

There was really no reason for such a thing to make his heart pound.

Chapter Text

Byleth did his best not to betray the flash of excitement in his eyes as he watched Dimitri sit down next to him, paying no mind to the cold stone floor beneath them. This was new, Byleth mused as he bit into a fork full of seared pike he had fished up the day before.

Ever since they returned from their shared hunting trip, Byleth had noticed a growing dip in his make-shift food storage. He hadn’t known where Dimitri had been getting his meals from before then, but now it was clear he was picking from what Byleth had previously hunted, fished, trapped, or otherwise managed to stumble upon that seemed remotely edible. Whether or not Dimitri was also cooking these things remained a mystery, but he hoped for the sake of Dimitri’s immune system he hadn’t regressed so far as to gamble with raw meat.

Either way, it encouraged Byleth enough to start cooking two plates worth of meals once more. He had given that up relatively quickly after his return to the monastery, as the sight of perfectly good food going cold on its plate somehow frustrated him more than Dimitri’s silence or lack of personal hygiene. He wasn’t exactly hopeful this second time around, but that made the sight of an empty plate resting outside his door the next morning that much more exciting. And funny, too. Despite having initially left it on one of the pews within the cathedral, the prince had bothered to bring the remaining dish all the way to a spot where Byleth couldn’t miss it. He couldn’t help but make the connection between that and a pet eager to show off its little accomplishments.

He continued to prepare meals for the prince, content in knowing for certain that Dimitri would not now manage to give himself salmonella. But it seemed as though he’d encountered another roadblock. If he left the dish in any place other than the cathedral, it would sit untouched. Byleth had hoped he could cajole Dimitri into eating with him, like he had at the campfire. Yet after every effort, inevitably Byleth would spend his meal alone, staring ruefully at the extra food he felt a little too guilty to eat. Whatever irrational paranoia about Byleth poisoning his meals or some such must have faded, but there was still something about sitting at a proper table that caused Dimitri to blanch.

Well then, Byleth huffed. If he will not come to me, then I will just have to come to him.

Initially, Byleth had sat in one of the back pews, munching away while Dimitri threw mildly confused glances in his direction. Then he sat a few rows closer. And then at the front. And then on the marble floors next to him, which were terribly uncomfortable but Byleth was a man on a mission. And on the day he brought a second plate to offer him, Dimitri wordlessly took it.

And today? Oh, today was wonderful.

Dimitri didn’t just sit down beside him, no. He was using a fork.

...Poorly. He was very poorly using a fork. Byleth held back a chuckle after his student’s fourth violent stabbing of the fish dinner in front of him. He hadn’t actually broken the fork yet, which was an accomplishment in and of itself, for both Dimitri and the fork. Yet those immaculate table manners he had demonstrated every time the Blue Lions gathered for meals were long gone, yet Byleth was somewhat thankful for it. He was a mercenary at heart, after all, and mercenaries were fond of finger food. No longer was he under the pressure of competing with the nobility’s way of dining. If anything, Byleth now looked utterly posh in comparison.

That being said, the two men still wordlessly tore apart their helpless fish with a mix of silverware, fingers and teeth in a way that would probably have made Lorenz or Ferdinand gag, had they been present.

 

---

 

Normally, Byleth would have promptly left after supper to take care of the remaining dishes, but his mealtime successes left him feeling greedy. Setting aside his plate with a gentle clank, and taking away Dimitri’s before it could be set aside with a less-gentle shatter, he unclasped the fur that had been hanging from his shoulders all day.

Now properly cleaned and dried, the pelt Dimitri had gifted him worked wonders for Byleth while he grew reaccustomed to the cold of a mountainous Fodlan winter. He regretted his lack of sewing skills, and Dimitri’s lack of skills in… anything that didn’t have to do with skewering things, as he would have liked to fit the pelt into a proper cloak. Instead, all he had been able to manage was something akin to a shawl not unlike the fur cocooning Dimitri’s shoulders, held over his usual cloak with nothing more than a crude clasp he’d managed to pick off a suit of armor collecting dust in a monastery office. It was nothing to write home about, but it was soft, and warm, and comforting.

And Byleth never got sick of seeing Dimitri’s eyes light up whenever he caught his professor wearing it. A small light, so very brief. But it was undeniably there.

Now it served as a cushion to be spread out on the ground, functioning well as Byleth laid down with his back to the stone, shifting so he would be able to see Dimitri’s face if he glanced over to the side. He was relaxed, but still keeping careful attention to the prince’s body language—whether or not he tensed, if he tightened his grip on his lance, when his stare would turn to a threatening glare.

Again, the animal comparisons flooded Byleth’s mind. You would think a “lion” would be the obvious conclusion, and it was true the things Dimitri did could come across amusingly cat-like. Then there was Felix’s preferred “boar”, which seemed to be the one that stuck the best in everyone’s minds, Byleth included. He didn’t much like it when Dimitri would call himself a “rat”, which cropped up from time to time in his moments of delusional raving. Nor did he like hearing “beast”, or “monster”. At least not laced with the vitriol the prince added when he spoke of himself.

What’s so wrong with being a beast from time to time, anyways?

...Byleth wasn’t entirely sure what he meant by that thought. His head was getting a bit hazy, as post-meal fatigue began to hit him. It almost didn’t register that when he went to glance back at Dimitri, he wasn’t there.

Or rather, he only was if Byleth turned his head a little more to the side.

Mimicking his professor, Dimitri was sprawled along the ground, turned ever so slightly on his side to face Byleth. His cape draped him in blue, the adorning fur functioning as a pseudo-pillow propping up his head. Byleth drowsily wondered how uncomfortable Dimitri’s armor must be in a position like that, and whether or not he would be able to convince the young man to change into loose, casual clothing.

For the express purpose of comfort, of course, or to snag a chance at properly cleaning his armor, Byleth clarified in his own mind at a frantic pace. Those were the only two reasons, obviously.

Byleth slowly shifted onto his side, wincing slightly at the pain in his back and hip from even this short stint on the stone floor. He could see Dimitri’s right hand still resting over top the shaft of the lance laying in front of him, but it was only resting. Easy to grip quickly, but not trapped in its usual white-knuckled prison. It would be an exciting day when Dimitri would finally feel safe enough to fully set his weapon down.

“You should rest, Professor.”
Byleth snapped his gaze from the lance to his face when Dimitri spoke up. Only one eye peaked out, transfixed on the man beside him, the rest of his face hidden beneath shaggy blonde hair. In all honesty, Byleth preferred his hair longer. It framed his face better than his prim and proper short cut ever did. “You should brush that mane of yours,” Byleth declared with an uncharacteristically sleepy mumble. “If you do, I promise not to dump more water on you.”

Dimitri frowned, not necessarily out of what Byleth had said, but how he had said it. “You are exhausted. Sleep.” A command, but a gentle one.

“Your eyebags are worse than mine. You sleep.”

“It is not a competition.”

Byleth huffed in response, on the verge of a pout. But even in his growingly delusional state he knew better than to argue with Dimitri on this one. Byleth had his fair share of tragedies replay themselves on the backs of his eyelids late into the night; he didn’t care to imagine how much worse it was for the young prince.

Instead, he opted to change the subject. “You’re talking more.”

Dimitri glanced away. “Did you believe I had forgotten how?”

“No,” Byleth insisted. “I have just missed our old conversations. You always refuse my invitations to tea nowadays.” Byleth sunk further into his fur padding, some of the longer matts obscuring the thin smile on his lips.

Dimitri just shook his head, remaining quiet. Looking past Byleth, or rather, looking at a Byleth of the past. One with teal hair and dark eyes that hadn’t yet seen how low his student could sink.

“Do you trust me again?”

Dimitri was silent for a long while.

“...No. Not yet.”

Byleth nodded, a part of him expected the answer. “I can wait,” he responded, mustering up the most reassuring tone his lethargic mind could manage. There was a lot of trust yet to earn. There was trust that Byleth was no longer a threat, that much was obvious. But to trust that Byleth would not disappear once again, and leave Dimitri alone with the shadows that always threatened to swallow him whole? That would take a little more time, Byleth admitted.

Byleth would also wait until Dimitri could trust himself, too.

As he concentrated on his thoughts, Byleth didn’t quite notice his eyelids droop and flutter closed, soft, minty-colored lashes resting against his cheeks. He thought he heard a distant voice, a gentle rumble sending him off, but the comforting darkness of sleep swallowed him up too quickly to tell.

---

When he woke up in his own bed the next morning, he couldn’t remember ever walking himself there.

Chapter Text

Byleth stared up at the rafters of his bedroom, feeling the heat still clinging to his cheeks despite the chill of the evening.

After once mysteriously waking up in his bed, Byleth had taken to falling asleep outside of his room each night. Not exactly a challenge, considering he was perpetually exhausted be it from basic living chores or frantic research in an attempt to glean any new information that would help him stifle this war. He would usually end up falling asleep in either the library or one of the staff offices, perched in a nest of fading books that had gone unread for quite some time. And then he would wake back up in his room.

Byleth then took to sleeping in increasingly more obscure places, as an experiment. Because he was a scientist, and Hanneman could eat his heart out. Dining hall, greenhouse, Goddess Tower, it didn’t matter; Byleth would always manage to find himself tucked in bed when the sun rose the next day.

Which meant not only was Dimitri carrying him back to his room, he had begun actively searching for him in the evenings.

Byleth had come to this conclusion fairly quickly, but that didn’t make what just happened any less jarring.

He had decided to raid Seteth’s office this night, hoping he had some extra materials on the Church of Seiros, the knights, even on Rhea. He knew her real identity by now, of course, as well as Seteth and Flayn’s. But names only get you so far, and he couldn’t forget that this war made up more than just the Fódlan nations. And he couldn’t forget about Those Who Slither In The Dark, either…

Augh, it was so much to keep track of. And with such excruciatingly little time, Byleth felt guilty leaning back against the plush office chair to rest his eyes. He could already feel the grip of sleep pulling at his consciousness, enough so that when he heard heavy steps echoing in the adjacent hallway, he kept his eyes shut and his breathing steady. He wasn’t yet asleep, but as far as Dimitri could tell as he loomed curiously over his professor, the green haired man had fallen into repose.

Byleth had no idea what to do when he felt his body shift without his saying so, suddenly being uprooted from its pleasant resting spot to be carried bridal style. Revealing that he was still technically awake would more than likely startle Dimitri, as it would likely startle even Byleth, were their roles reversed. Meaning best case scenario, he would be dropped on the floor in a panic. And so to avoid any potential stupid injury, Byleth forced himself to go limp, keeping his eyes shut tight, but not too tight as to look unnatural.

The feeling was like that of an odd rocking chair, Dimitri’s wavering gait and swaying making Byleth feel as though he had fallen asleep in a swing. Despite this, he felt secure, and couldn’t help but marvel at how easy it was for the larger man to hoist him around like this. Byleth was skinny, but he had enough of a muscle mass that any normal person shouldn’t be able to lug him about like a sack of feathers.

Dimitri shifted his grip as he walked down some flight of stairs Byleth didn’t have the guts to try and peak and see, awkwardly trying to keep his spear where it was, tucked in the crook of his arm. The shift caused Byleth to roll inwards, his cheek coming to rest on the cold black metal of Dimitri’s chestplate, some of the fur off his cape tickling Byleth’s forehead. He felt the prince tighten his grip on his thigh which—well, it made Byleth instantly cognizant of the fact that Dimitri’s hand was on his thigh. And against his back. And if Byleth shifted up just enough he’d be able to rest his head against his neck, something the man was calculating how to do for some reason when he felt Dimitri stoop and lay him on his mattress. Byleth let his head lull to the side, his bangs falling over his eyes in a way that Byleth would be able to see through, but would obscure the fact that they were open. Something that came in handy when his eyes snapped open at the sound of a lance set down with a gentle thunk of metal on wood.

He shouldn’t have opened his eyes. Oh goddess, he shouldn’t have done it.

Had his student’s broad shadow not enveloped him as easily as it did, the flush along Byleth’s face would have been clear to see. Byleth watched with his eyes half-lidded as Dimitri draped his blankets over top of him, moving with smooth purpose that had grown to be unfamiliar. And his face, it made Byleth’s heart ache for the past more than any tragedy he’d seen thus far. Gentle, loving blue eyes looked down at him, soft despite the hard features that had grown around them. The moonlight filtering in through his bedroom window lit them up, just as it lit up the obsidan of his armor and turned his hair from gold to sunlight.

Byleth thought a flood of thoughts, of impulses that were not unfamiliar but deeply repressed.

He fought back the urge to reach up and cup Dimitri’s cheeks in his hands, they were finally filling back out after days of shared meals. He fought the desire to grab at Dimitri’s hand, when he felt the material of his gloves brush against the back of his head, stroking Byleth’s hair just once. He fought the impulse to cling to Dimitri’s cape as he turned away, to pull him back closer, onto the bed, even.

Byleth didn’t do these things not because he was frightened of scaring Dimitri away, but because he didn’t know what to do if the prince stayed.

Instead, he sat motionless, listening to the sounds of a lance being picked back up, the squeak of a poorly-oiled door, and a whispered, “Good night, Professor” as the door’s lock clicked back into its place.

“How long have I been in love with Byleth?” The question bounced around in the professor’s head. He could hear it in his student’s younger voice, not yet raspy or pained, just exasperated.

He wasn’t sure if it was his thoughts or the heat of his face that kept him awake for so long that night.

---

Dimitri felt comfortable enough touching him, now. The question was if the reverse was also true.

This was Byleth’s justification, or purpose, or excuse as he gripped a hairbrush with more intensity than was really necessary. Besides, no one is going to want to work with a king that resembles an old mop more than a man, Byleth reasoned to himself.

He finally found Dimitri sitting out by the fish pond, legs crossed over each other and the edge of his cape dangling off the fishing platform, dangerously close to the water. Byleth had begun running into him at random in new parts of the monastery the past couple days. He wondered if his nightly searches for Byleth’s sleeping spots had forced him into growing familiar once more with his old academy.

Dimitri’s reflection in the rippling water betrayed his activity, and Byleth made extra note of the familiar book spine in his hands; the same one Byleth had been reading the night before, before he was unwittingly foisted to bed. The professor cleared his throat to announce his presence, even if the idea of startling the grimy boar of a man into the water would have been both funny and possibly beneficial.

Dimitri snapped the book shut in one hand, black gloves curling around the edges. Byleth had noticed the night before how the tips seem to come to a point, like claws. His head turned, gaze travelling from Byleth’s face, right to the brush in his hand. His eyes squinted in suspicion.

“No.”

Oh come on, he hadn’t even had the chance to ask yet.

Byleth snapped back, “How did you even know what I was going to ask?”

“Were you going to ask to brush my hair?”

Byleth groaned, resigned. “I am begging you to take better care of yourself.”

Dimitri responded with an indignant huff that would have been cute if Byleth wasn’t growing increasingly peeved with him. “I have begun cleaning my armor after returning from battle, and you have not even noticed.”

He had, actually. He mentally kicked himself for not saying anything, he knew even from his academy days that this student thrived off positive reinforcement.

“That is quite possibly the barest of minimums that you could be doing, but yes, thank you for not walking around in a centimeter coating of blood,” Byleth conceded in a voice dripping with sarcasm.

Dimitri stood up, definitely in order to remind Byleth how much taller he was now, folding his arms across his chest and puffing himself up. His lance still rested on the wooden boards by his feet. “I do not need you lecturing me, Professor.”

Byleth took a step closer, causing Dimitri to instinctively take a step backwards. His cape flapped over the edge of the platform, reflecting a stunning blue in the water. “And I do not need you looking like you have rabies.” Byleth held up the brush threateningly, pointing it at the taller man’s chest. “You don’t even have to do it. Just let me fix your damn hair.”

“You do not get to touch my hair!” Dimitri spat back.

“Oh, but you get to touch mine?!” Byleth recalled the night before, the brief feeling of a hand caught in strands of green.

In a split second, the face that had been cold as ice flared up in a bright shade of red that would have given Sylvain’s hair a run for its money, and his eyes widened in horror. He stepped back away from his approaching professor, sputtering out,

“You were awake- AUGH-?!”

The splash the great boar made as he tumbled backwards into the fish pond was impressive.

---

Byleth could hear little growls coming from Dimitri as he yanked the brush through years’ worth of tangles. If anything, he was probably lucky the water may have loosened up some of them.

Dimitri had his knees pulled to his chest, and was clinging to his lance like a security blanket. Byleth couldn’t blame him for that, at least. Within about five minutes he had gone from the comfort of protective armor, to being damp and in thin cotton garments that could have been ripped open with Dimitri’s own hands. While the pissy lion dried himself and changed, Byleth had taken the opportunity to chuck his underclothes and armor into a tub of soapy water.

Those underclothes were disgusting, and he didn’t want to think about it any more.

Dimitri had no interest in wandering about so exposed (no matter how much Byleth insisted that being fully dressed was not actually that exposing) while his proper clothes hung out on a drying line, so the young man reluctantly submitted to having his hair brushed. He didn’t protest despite Byleth clumsily ripping chunks of hair from his scalp—usually followed by a mumbled apology that was cut off by the sound of more hair being ripped through—but instead resorted to grumbling quietly to himself.

“Thank you for carrying me back to my room every night.”

Dimitri resisted snapping his head to the side, as that would probably end him with a bald spot at this rate. Instead he just grunted, putting a hand to the lower part of his face and trying to will away the blush threatening to form. How could he have not noticed that Byleth had been awake. What had his professor been thinking, what if-

“Ow-!” Dimitri hissed, as his mane was tugged back and the sound of a band snapped into place. The usual weight of his hair wasn’t resting on his shoulders.

Byleth flashed a smile Dimitri tragically missed, pleased with his handiwork. He had had to put up the ponytail fast, before the young man noticed what he was doing, and the result was messy. Quite a few strands still hung loose around his face and neck. The latter was probably for the better though, if only for Dimitri’s peace of mind.

Feeling Byleth's hands retract from their grip on his hair, Dimitri promptly scrambled up, holding his lance as if he was ready to skewer Byleth if he made another move for his head. Byleth held his hands up defensively, amusement sparking in his eyes. “You look good,” he snarked.

He chose to use snark to mask the genuine complement. The prince did look very good like that. Both in regards to the hair no longer obscuring his face and eyes, and the light lounging clothes that revealed just how toned Dimitri had become in his time fighting off entire imperial guard battalions on his own. A far cry from the handsome storybook prince he used to be, there was a rugged beauty there now.

“Professor?”

“Huh?”

Dimitri’s face scrunched up slightly, confused. “Professor, I am trying to ask you a question.”

Byleth quickly turned away, pretending like he was going up the stairs to check the laundry hanging outside the dining hall, and not because he was hiding his pink face. How long had he been staring for?

“What is it, Dimitri?”

Silence. Byleth glanced back to see Dimitri’s arms folded, looking away, looking as if somewhere off to his right shoulder he could find the remainder of his damaged pride.

“...Would you bring my clothes to the bath house when they have dried?”

Byleth thought he was going to cry in relief.

Chapter Text

Byleth didn’t know how many screams it had taken to wake him up. He prayed to the goddess he knew wasn’t listening that it had only been one.

It had been about six months since Byleth’s early rousteing, yet he had never found Dimitri sleeping. He did not even know where it was he chose to retire to, though he had a guess. It obviously wasn’t his room, considering that had been left in disarray and Byleth never heard footsteps coming from the nobles’ rooms above his head. As Byleth sprinted through the unforgivingly long halls of Garreg Mach, peering into every room he passed through but knowing that’s not where he would find his student, he was beginning to believe Dimitri was keeping himself confined to the cathedral at night as a punishment. It was cold and drafty, hard and unwelcoming without the sounds of gentle chatter echoing against immaculate stained glass and marble. Nowadays it was nothing more than a dilapidated chamber haunted by happy memories impossible to return to.

Byleth couldn’t have possibly heard a scream from that far away. Perhaps he had dreamed it. It was possible, but the professor couldn’t shake the feeling that it was a warning, not a nightmare.

A clap of thunder boomed over the mountains as Byleth ran barefooted across the main bridge to the cathedral, rain soaking through the thin cotton tunic he had worn to bed just a few hours earlier. Why must it always rain in times like these? Byleth focused on that thought, because it kept his mind from racing to worse things. It is such a cliche, and an inconvenient one at that.

Byleth chose not to think about how it always seemed to rain when someone died. About the day he stood in the rain and brought a prince from lifetimes ago back to the light. But only after someone died. Someone always has to die, and it always has to rain. Even if the raindrops are teardrops instead.

Please don’t be dead. I have lost you too many times already.

Byleth muscled the massive oak doors open, stumbling into the once-holy building. Looking straight ahead, there was nothing. No hunched blue figure that he’d grown so used to seeing, and had been growing used to seeing out in the rest of the monastery. In the sun, in the light.

Had his foot not slipped on something, or the wind died down for just a moment, he might have turned back.

Instead, Byleth stumbled into more pools of something sticky and warm and sickly familiar. And he listened again for the sound of breathless whimpering. Was he relieved? Was that this feeling as he followed the cries into the deep corners of the room? Byleth was never good at putting names to emotions. He was never good at emotions, period. He didn’t like the way they fuzzied up his thoughts, the way they put images of a dozen spears protruding from the back of a raving beast.

But he wasn’t a beast. And he was getting better. Goddess, he was getting better, don’t take him away now. Let him live, even if it is as a beast. There’s nothing wrong with it, perhaps it is a life more honest than what a human ever lives. Just don’t cut it short, not now. Not ever. Not ever again.

Byleth had finally stumbled across the very edge of his cape when Dimitri cried out again.

Byleth had heard a lot of screams that haunt him now. Old students in death throes, thrashing in pain as they were plucked from their horses and wyverns. The scream of childhood best friends, breaking an old promise to each other. The scream of a father too far away to take the blow for his daughter. Terrible, haunting noises that echo in one’s head for too long. Far too long.

This was one of those screams. A scream laced with the pain of watching loved ones die, and then watching them over and over again in a sick shadow puppet play put on unknowingly by the person you fell in love with who betrayed you and watched your execution a couple times. It was the loud, guttural scream of an eviscerated animal that reverberated around the crumbling walls and compounded into something painfully unnatural. The sound alone made Byleth want to vomit, let alone the sight.

He thought he was getting better. He had seen it. He had seen the life that had come back into his eyes. Dimitri had wanted that light to go away. In the light you can see things, and he was very, very tired of seeing the things that followed him into the dark.

Byleth crumpled next to his student in the growing puddle of blood underneath them both, frantically pulling at his arms, at the hands that clawed at his face. His right hand had already dug its fingers too deep into his eye socket, thick crimson flowing from it and the deep gashes he had left around it. It was all Byleth could do to cling to Dimitri’s arms, the prince’s strength threatening to fling the smaller man off and continue its desperate attempt to make every night stop hurting. Byleth cried out as he felt his student thrash underneath him, pleas for him to stop, reminders that he was there, anything, anything at all. When Dimitri hadn’t regressed into rasping screams, Byleth could make out slurred words, slurred begging, slurred names.

“Mother.” “Father.” “Glenn.” “Dedue.” More names that Byleth could no longer either recognize or comprehend.

“Go away.”

“Make it stop.”

“It hurts.”

“Go away.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It hurts.”

“It’s my fault.”

“Help me.”

“Go away.”

“Help me.”

“Go away.”

“Make them go away.”

“Make them go away, Professor.”

By the time Byleth had managed to pull Dimitri’s hands from where they were digging deep red ruts into his pale skin, he had collapsed onto his professor. He slumped up against him, trembling when his body wasn’t wracked with sobs. When Byleth wrapped his arms around him, the best the smaller man could manage, he sunk further. Byleth was warm, and he was scared. Scared and in pain and so very tired. All he had wanted was sleep. One night of peaceful sleep in this haunted monastery.

Byleth stroked the hair that had long since been pulled from its ponytail, mumbling affirmations and promises in a shakey, cracking voice. He had thought the wetness trailing down his cheeks was from sweat, or rain.

It always rains at times like these.

 

---

 

His shirt hung heavy in his hand, wet from rain and sweat and blood.

But it had been the only thing Byleth could think to press against Dimitri’s wound as he guided him to the infirmary. Dimitri had let him do so without protest, just with a pained whimper. The young prince had sat wordlessly on one of the infirmary beds, resisting the urge to stay clinging to Byleth while he scrambled about the infirmary, looking for any first-aid materials that had been left over. The blood loss had made him lightheaded, it was all he could do to stay conscious. But Byleth demanded he stay conscious. Maybe his professor feared that if he fell asleep, he wouldn’t wake up again.

Dimitri wasn’t sure if that sounded like such a bad thing. But he knew it would make Byleth sad.

So, he stayed awake as Byleth cleaned his face with something that made it all burn, and he stayed awake as bandages were wrapped around his head, quick to stain as the flow of blood still struggled to stop despite the healing magic Byleth used on it, and he stayed awake after Byleth told him to swallow a handful of bitter herbs that were supposed to make the pain stop, and he stayed awake until Byleth took his hand and promised him he wouldn’t leave and made him promise that he wouldn’t leave either. He promised.

Byleth watched Dimitri’s eyes droop closed, the exhaustion and blood loss finally claiming him, despite how much pain he must have still been in. He gripped the young man’s hand in an awkward way in which he could keep his thumb held over the pulse point in his wrist, just so he could know. It was an unfamiliar sensation for him, but in this moment it was the only thing that kept him from jostling Dimitri back awake.

He was getting better. Byleth thought he was getting better. So why had this still happened, despite everything he had done?

Byleth recalled the whispers he had heard floating around the monastery long before. No one had wanted to ask, to bring up old scars, so to speak. They had all agreed Dimitri must have lost his eye to some stray attack over the five years he had been isolated. The long, thin scars that had peeked over the edge of the eyepatch had given them enough hints.

“Maybe it was from a demonic beast! I could imagine His Highness being strong enough to fight one alone!”

Annette had been right, but not in the way she would have intended.

Byleth couldn’t get the image out of his head. Dimitri, collapsing into a puddle of his own blood as the pain overwhelmed him, the only thing that saved his other eye from a similar fate. Sitting alone in the cathedral, panting as he fought back the fever brought on by an infection. Alone, still visited every night by the visions that drove him to mutilate himself. Byleth had left him alone.

Byleth felt a rush of heat come to his entire body, his vision blur in and out as his head grew light headed, his face drained of color and his stomach twisting in nauseous knots.

He had taken to saying his heart could pound, even when he knew it couldn’t. It never had. But he had no other way to describe the way blood could rush to his ears and pound in his head, the way it was doing now. He thought he was going to pass out, or throw up. When he wasn’t thinking about that, worse thoughts raced around his head.

He hadn’t stopped this. Despite everything he’s done differently, everything he thought he was doing right, he hadn’t changed a thing. His student—his friend—was still in excruciating pain and Byleth had failed to take away that pain before he had tried to take it away himself.

Was it fate? Byleth’s stomach twisted tighter, that question ringing in his mind over and over again. Was it all fate? Was the universe looking at his pathetic attempts to change the world and rewinding everything he did while he wasn’t looking? Would Dimitri wake up tomorrow the same man he had been six months ago, too blinded by trauma to see anything else? Byleth had failed to protect him, had let him get hurt, would the trust he’s been so desperately rebuilding topple over onto itself? Was it truly fate for his family to suffer, for the people around him to die, and he had just been forcing them all to relive it forever? What was happening, Goddess, Sothis, fucking anyone tell him what to do what was happening why everything had to hurt all the time and everything he ever did would end with people in pain—

Byleth felt something squeeze his hand.

Byleth hadn’t noticed when his own body began to wrack with sobs, for the second time in the night. It must have been loud. Loud enough that when he looked down, a single blue eye stared back up at him, eyebrows furrowed in silent concern. Dimitri had intertwined his fingers with Byleth’s, squeezing his hand hard. It hurt, a little. But the sensation was grounding, enough to pull the man out of his attack. Byleth’s breaths began to even again, and color returned to his face.

Dimitri didn’t know why Byleth was crying, but he didn’t like it. Byleth only cried when people died, and he wasn’t dead yet.

Byleth didn’t like it much, either.

He tried to put his impassive expression back on, the one that made everyone think that everything was fine. The one that Dimitri had once praised for showing control, poise, confidence. But he couldn’t. Not while Dimitri looked up at him like that.

Instead, he sunk from his seat to the floor, the chill of the stone pleasant against Byleth’s still-too-hot skin. He let his shirt fall from the hand that had been grasping it like a lifeline, while keeping a weak grasp of Dimitri’s hand. He let his head fall against the edge of the mattress. He felt exhausted, and scared, and confused.

He felt another, gentler, squeeze.

Byleth squeezed back.

Both let themselves drift off to sleep, and they dreamed of nothing that night, and that was for the best.

Chapter Text

Byleth watched the water ripple around the fishing line that pierced its surface, his mind floating from one thought to the other. Because that’s what you do when you’re wracked with anxiety about the nature of the universe. You fish.

Byleth had woken up only a few hours after he had drifted off, tending to Dimitri even as the sun crossed the horizon and spilled gold into the infirmary. Dimitri had never stirred, and Byleth was not certain whether he was that adept at changing bandages, or if Dimitri had just been that drained. Either way, he was thankful his student was finally getting what seemed on the surface to be peaceful sleep, and he was not interested in risking disturbing him. That in mind, Byleth padded out of the infirmary with his sights set on the fish pond, taking a brief detour to his room as he was in need of proper clothing.

Byleth mumbled out his frustrations at the carp poking at the surface and not at his bait. “He told me that time, didn’t he. That it was bandits.” Byleth shifted, his line moving with him and spooking his potential dinner. He’d grown a bad habit over the years of blocking out his first run with the Blue Lions. In his panicked state he’d forgotten the little detail he had finally managed to pry out over tea so long ago. Not like it was all that helpful now. “Lying bastard. You could have warned me this would happen...”

“...Not like you would have expected it to happen again,” Byleth amended, his shoulders drooping.

He knew that agonizing over what-ifs wasn’t a productive way to handle the situation, and that what he should be doing is focusing on how to keep moving forward, how to keep working towards Dimitri’s social, mental and emotional recovery, and how to work towards permanent peace. But what-ifs were tantalizing for a sleepy mind, as Byleth had learned from his many conversations with Linhardt. He kept trying to mull over his past runs, pulling for answers to those what-ifs. There was so much he’d forgotten, he hadn’t even considered the runs where Dimitri had managed to avoid any self-inflicted mutilation (or errant bandit arrows, if Dimitri truly had not been lying).

The again, it had been difficult to look His Highness in the eyes when he stood shoulder to shoulder with Edelgard. He blamed that.

Byleth shook his head, but the fog was still reluctant to clear. Again, no use dwelling on the past. And the past of the past. And past futures. And futures in the past. Time travel was confusing. Byleth was sleepy. He cursed as he missed yet another chance to reel in a fish as it took off with the earthworm that had been dangling from his hook. Byleth absentmindedly hoped no assassins were lurking in the shadows, given with his level of alertness right now even a fully armored Dedue could have snuck up on him.

Goddess, Byleth wished he could tell Dimitri that Dedue was alive.

Byleth pulled his fishing line back into his hands, plucking out another wriggling insect to impale upon his hook, before flinging it back into the water. He was beginning to catch himself wishing things like that now. Wishing he could tell Dimitri the truth. Maybe he hoped it would soothe some of the young man’s fears, or maybe Byleth wished to no longer shoulder this burden of knowledge alone. Either way, it was an unrealistic plan, for how could he reveal his time travel habits without it coming across as the rantings of a loon who may have hit his head floating in a river.

It was also the fear that kept his secret sealed. “Yes, my dearest student, it was my decision to make you relive the worst years of your life and experience a slow descent into madness over a half dozen times because I was just really curious about things. You understand, right?” Byleth grumbled, in a tone that mocked his own characteristic flat delivery. No, Byleth would not be telling him. At least, not now. Maybe not ever. The professor wasn’t sure how long the fear would outweigh the guilt, so he left both on the scale for the time being.

Byleth shivered, pulling his fur shawl closer around his shoulders. The rain from the night before had chilled the monastery well into the morning, the clouds above remaining a blanket of light grey. The cold breeze curling around his face elicited wonders about coming snowfall, the coming winter. The Blue Lions always seemed to perk up as the temperature dropped, eager to feel like they were back home in the frozen hellscape that Byleth had learned Faerghus to be. Even Dimitri had seemed to brighten in the past during the first snowfall, the little flakes catching on and disappearing against his pale hair and skin as he stood out in it, observing his friends’ reveries with a bemused smile. He always seemed to give that smile whenever he’d observe shenanigans his princely self couldn’t stoop to participate him, no matter how much he wished he could shed societal convention in order to do so. Byleth had always resisted the urge to shove him into the thick of spontaneous snowball fights or snow-angel-littered embankments in these moments. If only to see that put-together expression fall into something a bit more genuine.

Byleth wished he could have shared his students’ sentiments about the winter months. But they always seemed to carry tragedy with them, even if he was the only one to know it was coming. The Ethereal Moon saw the anniversary of Dimitri’s birth, and the anniversary of Jeralt’s death. Bittersweet was an understatement.

The splashing of yet another missed fish snapped Byleth out of his ruminating; he really needs to stop getting lost in his thoughts like this. Byleth began to pull his line once more out of the water, only to see the bait still attached. The fish hadn’t successfully taken off with it, it had been scared off by movement Byleth had yet to notice. It wasn’t until the creak of the wooden boards underneath him sounded that Byleth whipped his head around to see the source.

He had never seen Dimitri look that small before.

The young prince stood behind him, barefoot and dressed in some kind of thin robe, something he must have fished out from an infirmary closet. Byleth noted with a kind of suppressed wonder that Dimitri had changed willingly out of his armor; when Byleth had left him this morning he had still been clad in black, stained with his own blood. He clutched the cape he still wore, poised awkwardly over his shoulders without a chestplate to clasp onto, but it only served to make him look smaller. The fur wrapping dwarfed his head and shoulders, and the sapphire fabric draped oddly over him without the added bulk of armor to rest against. He was still taller than Byleth, and he could see the taut muscles in his forearm as he clung to the warmth of his cape, but there was a new sense of fragility there as Dimitri looked down at him with his only functioning eye, as his tow-colored hair curled around the bandages cutting through it.

Before Byleth could chastise his student for getting out of bed on his own, for walking out barefoot no less, he was cut off by Dimitri moving closer to him. Only he moved too close, an attempt to kneel down at Byleth’s back turning into an awkward collision with his shoulder, Byleth only just managing to grasp onto Dimitri’s arms before he went tumbling into the pond for the second time in recent memory. It hadn’t even been a day, Dimitri was still struggling with his altered depth perception. The small red marks on his forehead and arms, gifts from the furniture and walls he must have bumped into as he maneuvered around the already too-small infirmary seemed proof enough of that.

Now steadied, Dimitri collapsed next to his professor, leaning his full weight into Byleth’s back and wrapping his arms so tightly around the skinny man’s stomach that Byleth lost his breath in a wheezing huff. Dimitri really had no need to keep his grip so firm, Byleth had already been frozen in place by shock, unable to do anything more than awkwardly pat his student’s hand, staring out at the still pond with blank eyes.

Dimitri was touching him. Hugging him.

Well, either that or he was gradually trying to suffocate him in a very inefficient manner. Byleth attempted to shift back a touch closer, if only to give more space between his gut and Dimitri’s bearish embrace.

Discomfort aside, Byleth felt a lot of inexplicable things swell up in his silent heart. The relief that his fears from the night before where the Dimitri that woke up would be the Dimitri Byleth had woken up to, were unfounded. The joy that his student trusted him enough to touch him, not a distant touch, or one brought on in the throes of trauma, but one made by his own choice, if not urged on by a little bit of desperation. The guilt that his tight grip signaled a fear, probably the fear of Byleth disappearing when he wasn’t there beside Dimitri’s bed upon waking. And there was another feeling, one that Byleth chose to call comfort even though it was a strangely restless way to feel such a thing, brought on by Dimitri’s warmth, felt through the thick layers of Byleth’s cloak and top.

The professor thought he heard something mumbled from the man behind him, but it was either muffled too much by the pelt Dimitri had buried his face into, or it had already been woefully incomprehensible to begin with. Taking a guess, Byleth responded in the most soothing voice he could muster. “I’m right here, Dimitri. I’m not leaving you. I’m sorry for frightening you.”

The grip on his waist grew tighter. Byleth sucked in a pained breath, silent enough for only him to hear.

Byleth stroked Dimitri’s hand with a hesitant thumb, continuing to mutter whatever comforts sprung to his increasingly frozen mind. Over time, the vice grip on his torso loosened, and the subtle trembling began. Of course Dimitri was cold, his cape alone was not enough to block the piercing winds that were beginning to whip up.

Byleth unravelled himself from Dimitri, still keeping a firm hand on his, partially to keep him steady and partially as a silent promise that Byleth would not be leaving him again. Leaving the fishing rod abandoned to frost when night falls, he lead Dimitri back to the infirmary. He had honestly not expected the man to awaken so soon from such a deep slumber, but he didn’t plan to make the same mistake a second time. Byleth had just made it, propping the infirmary door open with his foot as he gave Dimitri’s hand a gentle tug and was met with resistance.

Confused, Byleth turned to see Dimitri’s icy blue eye staring up at the sky, the light landing in a way that the shadow under it was barely visible. His golden hair fell back to waver against the breeze, and his remaining hand held out with the palm catching something Byleth couldn’t see yet.

A snowflake landed on Byleth’s nose, causing him to scrunch it up reflexively. He watched as more fell on the man next to him. Dimitri blinked slowly as they caught in his eyelashes, collected on the fur around his shoulders, stuck like white lace embroidery to the fabric of his cape and robe. The cold air had turned his cheeks and the tips of his ears and nose a soft pink. Byleth had been too fixated to notice when Dimitri’s gaze turned to him, only truly registering the change when he felt a heavy, calloused hand ruffle the little white crystals out of his sea green hair. Byleth thought he saw the smallest of smiles cross his lips, the same color as his nose.

Or maybe his exhaustion had constructed a happy fantasy for him. This whole moment, that’s what it was. Something out of a childish fantasy.

Yet the hand he held in his was real and warm, just as the ice pricking at his face was cold. And should he wait around debating reality for any longer, Byleth would be in the infirmary tending to both Dimitri’s eye and frostbite on his feet. He led the prince of the north in, the building warm only because it blocked the wind. Byleth would have to rekindle the fireplace in a moment. But first, it was a matter of getting Dimitri back into bed, leading to another tug of the hand that was met with no give.

Prepared to argue with him to the end, Byleth was stopped mid-cajole by the sound of shifting fabric as Dimitri removed his cloak, and wrapped it around Byleth with a gentle flourish. Content with how it stayed on Byleth’s shoulders, the young man crawled back into the bed, pulling his bed sheets up in a way that said “I have these. I don’t need the cape right now, you do.” Or perhaps Byleth was projecting.

Either way, he had an unnecessary layer of fur now, which he promptly slipped off from under the too-big cape. “Sit up, please,” he requested, and Dimitri did so—enough that Byleth was able to wrap his fur shawl around his student. Dimitri seemed pleased, but chose to remain silent. Out of necessity, maybe, considering he had screamed himself hoarse the night before. Byleth nodded, before turning to rekindle the fireplace, careful not to tread over the fabric constantly dragging in front of his feet. He could feel Dimitri’s gaze, not accusatory or distrustful like Byleth had grown so used to. Just curious, and tired. By the time Byleth had turned back around, content with the crackling fire he’d restarted, Dimitri had fallen back asleep.

How much of all of that was the result of exhaustion, Byleth wondered. A form of conscious sleepwalking?

Byleth wondered again if he should ask himself the same question.

Letting out an exasperated sigh, he resigned himself to quit wondering and pull up a chair. The over-worker in his mind chastised him for not bringing a book that wasn’t someone else’s diary he insisted on keeping tucked in his uniform, but Byleth knew sleep would claim him before he had the chance to read anything as dry as what this monastery decided to keep around.

So instead of strategy and war, the last thought on Byleth’s mind before he slipped away once more, swaddled in blue fabric and fur, was where he was to find his prince a proper eyepatch.

After all, dirty gauze is unbefitting of a noble beast such as he.

Chapter Text

Byleth still wasn’t sure if his heart beat. Was it still, or just silent? He certainly didn’t feel it when he put a hand to his chest. Either way, it felt but a moment from bursting as he strode through crowded cobblestone streets, brushing past too many strangers to count.

Eyes down, hiding the way they seemed to glow green. Minty hair slicked back and hidden under a handkerchief like some kind of milk maid. He felt naked without the Sword of the Creator strapped to his hip, but had he brought it along he might as well have also worn a great sign with “Professor Byleth” scrawled across it. No, the meager dagger strapped to his thigh would have to do.

The entire ensemble was finished off by the tattered cloak he wore, hood put up for good measure. He had to be extra conscious of any garments he scrounged up from the monastery, careful to make sure there was nothing on it that tied him to the Church of Seiros. The church had either been disbanded or crushed, as far as the Imperial Army was concerned. Byleth wondered just how many Adrestrian soldiers he’d already passed by, the anxiety draining what little remaining color he’d had from his face. The only thing providing him any comfort was the fur he still felt safe clasping over his shoulders. He couldn’t help but wish Dimitri had been with him, but if Byleth’s presence here was dangerous, bringing the should-be-executed Prince of Faerghus with him would have been a death sentence.

Besides, bringing him along would ruin the surprise.

In his get up, Byleth almost looked like a vagrant. Considering how far he had travelled, he felt like one. He bemoaned the loss of the marketplace situated right at the mouth of Garreg Mach, forcing him on a journey into the very edges of Faerghus by horseback. Thank goodness for the thieves dumb enough to bring their steeds with them on attempted raids—even if the stables looked a little pathetic with a single malnourished horse, it was all Byleth needed to get out of the mountains.
Byleth struggled to recall the geography lessons Ingrid had thrust upon him during his earliest school days, when she was utterly shocked to find his mercenary’s education on northern Fódlan territories being a bit lacking. He was fairly sure Galatea, the region Ingrid’s own family hailed from and shared their surname with, was only slightly northeast of here. Ashe was somewhere off to the west, and everyone else had sounded to be clustered up further north (why that majority insisted on going where it was even colder, Byleth had no clue). He racked his brain, but simply could not pin down his own current location.

Not like it was anything to really write home about, of course. Byleth had seen from his marches in past lives how the villages surrounding Garreg Mach and the Adrestrian border had been ravaged, and it was frankly a miracle that Byleth had come across a bustling market as close as he did, maybe just over half a day’s ride from the monastery.

Half a day. He certainly wouldn’t be back by sunrise, especially with any potential midnight snowfalls slowing him down further. Dimitri was bound to pitch a fit upon his return.

The amount of cajoling it had taken to get the prince to even let him leave had been exhausting, particularly as Byleth was obscuring the real reason for his excursion. Byleth stopped to rest underneath the outcropping of a war-crumbling building, making sure to keep his back to the majority of passerby. His mind wandered to the many hours before, even though the part of his stomach that still turned desperately wished he wouldn’t.

 

---

 

“I want to go to a marketplace.”

“You want to go to a what.” Dimitri’s voice was incredulous, snapping his book shut, eye widening. He had been looking for an excuse to quit pouring over the text as the strain it put on his vision was becoming a pounding headache, but this was not his first choice for a distraction.

Byleth shifted on his feet under Dimitri’s stare, crafting his lie. “We’re very limited in what we have here, and I think a trip to a proper shopping center could do some good.”

Dimitri set the book down on the once-polished wood of the cathedral pew, crossing his arms over his chest. Back in armor, back to looking perpetually intimidating. “Are you wanting for something, Professor?”

Byleth hesitated. “...Food?” Why did he phrase that like a question. He was supposed to be good at lying.

“You filled the storehouse after your hunting trip just the other day.” Dimitri emphasized the “your” with an obvious bitterness. Byleth had barred him from hunting—be it prey or people—until he stopped bouncing off monastery columns and door frames and fixed the aim of his lance throws. Byleth didn’t need to risk Dimitri getting injured, or an errant lance flying through his own brain before he could even use divine pulse. Dimitri, of course, was grumpy about the proposition, as he was about a lot of Byleth’s recent coddling. Remember to wash it out every day, no going outside when you don’t need to, stop picking at the bandages—

Dimitri was going stir-crazy, and it was now Byleth chose to go on a solo-trip to goddess knows where?

Byleth’s voice broke Dimitri out of his mental moping. “Maybe I’m tired of eating nothing but game.”

“When have you ever cared for high-class cuisine?” Byleth cursed inwardly at the retort. Of course a man who had lost his sense of taste years ago wouldn’t be swayed by the promise of a fancy meal, and it was true that Byleth had no qualms over their current diet, even if he wished it was Dedue or Ashe doing the cooking.

“...It would be nice to look for new clothing.”

“You’ve worn the same robes every day since I’ve known you.”

“New clothing for you?”

“Absolutely not.”

“New weapons.”

“Unnecessary.”

“First aid supplies. You used them all up.”

“I know for a fact that I did not, and stop pretending you do not know healing magic.”

“Then I-”

Dimitri interrupted, gritting his teeth in clear frustration. “Do tell me why you really want to go to a market and risk your life, Professor.”

Byleth was at his wits end, running out of things he could think to purchase that would change back a mind that had already settled on Byleth not leaving. He briefly mulled over the idea of sneaking out, but if there was any way to throw Dimitri back into a catatonic state, it was by his professor going missing. He met Dimitri’s intense gaze, determined not to back down and let this stubborn boar win. Then his gaze lowered, focusing on the book resting by the prince.

“...Fine. I’m looking for books. Ones the monastery wouldn’t have.”

His response wasn’t as immediate as the others, Dimitri’s eyes flicking down to the object by his leg. The pause as the prince put together his words was deafening in its silence.

“...You have been researching something. Something to do with the church, and Fódlan. I can tell.”

Byleth’s breath hitched in his throat. He knew the spine of Dimitri’s book looked familiar, as had all the spines of all the books he had spent mulling over the past few weeks. They were books Dimitri had caught Byleth sleeping around.

Byleth chose his words carefully. Now was not the time to tell him everything he truly deserved to know. Dimitri had had enough pain for the week. “...There is a war going on, Dimitri. One that I would like to stop.”

The prince’s expression darkened, the psychotic haze he would fall into during battle passing over him. “The war will end when I have that bastard woman’s head. Do not waste your time with anything else.”

Byleth hesitated. He didn’t like feeding into Dimitri’s desires for revenge. He avoided acknowledging it when Dimitri would rave at him, changing the subject as soon as the prince gave him enough time. Byleth knew it would be better to distract him from the bloodthirsty voices in his head than becoming one himself.

But Byleth had been backed into a corner.

“Then I will find you a way to get to her faster.”

It wasn’t a lie, technically. He wanted Edelgard and Dimitri to meet long before crossing blades on Gronder Field, before the throne room where Edelgard would so kindly return the prince’s dagger to him. Even so, the implication that he was promising a sooner demise for Edelgard, at least in Dimitri’s mind, made Byleth’s stomach churn.

But at least his bluff worked. Dimitri relaxed, a flash of surprise crossing his face.

It had been the first time Byleth had promised him aid in his revenge, not just to protect him from himself. While Byleth was feeling a rocking sickness, Dimitri felt a flutter in his chest. His haywire mind constructed a little fantasy, built on Byleth’s single sentence. The image of his professor cutting down those Imperial rats in Enbarr, holding out his hand to guide his student to their shared prey.

Byleth, ceasing to be his caretaker and becoming a beast, just like him. No longer alone, someone to share the burden of sin with. The thought was too wonderful to bare.

Dimitri stood up with an unexpected energy, startling Byleth into attempting to step back, but the young man towering over him took hold of his hands before he had the chance. “Go then, Professor. I am counting on you.” The smile Dimitri wore was bigger and brighter than any Byleth had seen since his awakening, flashing teeth that for some reason seemed just a little bit too sharp in the professor’s mind. It was startling, it should have been the cause for so much mental celebration. Dimitri had smiled, he had smiled spectacularly.

Byleth felt a deep chill down his spine, and he knew the winter air was not the cause.

 

---

 

After three hours of pacing up and down the market streets more times than Byleth could count, he was holding an immense stack of books and was no closer to accomplishing his actual purpose for coming.

What kind of birthday gift do you give to a homicidal maniac?

Byleth bit his lip, as if he had spoken the thought aloud. Silent or no, he didn’t like to say such things about his student. Maybe it was because he felt they were cruel things to say. Maybe it was because he felt he was finally acknowledging some kind of dark truth. The exchange from earlier left him tipping far too close to the latter at the moment.

He hadn’t known what was going through Dimitri’s mind. There’s no reason to be assuming the worst, Byleth reminded himself. If Dimitri was backsliding, he would just have to be there to catch him, keep him on a kinder path; for him, and the people around him. It was neither a time to get complacent, or fall back to despair. Byleth steeled himself, determination lighting a fire in those otherworldly eyes.

That determination lasted about three stalls before he sunk into a different kind of despair.

Useless. Boring. Too fragile. And why would anyone want that?

Of all the social conventions Byleth struggled with during his time as a teacher, gift giving was shockingly not one of them. He had always had an eye for properly pairing students and items, whether it was something they’d lost or something they’d wanted. Even the freshly grown flowers he gave out from time to time were carefully chosen for each student. Most of the students assumed it was Byleth’s (supposedly) unparalleled perceptiveness, but in reality, all Byleth did was listen well. He had listened with particular enthusiasm to the passing wishes of his house leader. Always drawn to tools of war, practical and difficult to mangle. Byleth could recite a perfect wishlist, sure to include chamomile for when Dimitri was the one asking for a conversation over tea. His older self hadn’t changed much in this regard, and he had always looked just as guilty for accepting Byleth’s little bits of affections. But he always knew what to give him to make the prince smile. All he had to do was listen to that calming voice.

The problem is that this particular Dimitri hadn’t been doing all that much talking, and he wouldn’t exactly be putting the Adrestrian Empress’s head in a gift box.

Byleth was on the verge of admitting defeat, planning on returning with books for an uncomfortable purpose and a small bag of black leather and matching tools. He had something he needed to make when he returned to the monastery, anyways. His dejected gaze swept over the stalls of jewelry and statues and other fragile nonsense before stopping abruptly on a weapons vendor. The weapons were all of magnificent make and variety, but one in particular held his attention for far too long.

Would he understand the gift? Would it just open old wounds? It was an awful risk, one he was probably better off not taking. Picking something a little more meaningless, a little bit safer.

Byleth opened the pouch containing church funds he had been pretty sure weren’t currently needed, making the purchase before he could turn tail and run. It was wrapped with a delicate touch and placed in a box much too elegant to be handled by two different pairs of blood-stained, scarred hands. Balancing it carefully on the top of his book pile, Byleth hurried off in the direction of his horse, ready to return before it got any later and the lion waiting at home got any antsier.

Books blocking his vision of oncoming foot traffic, Byleth felt himself bump into a passerby, who then bumped into the pegasus they were leading through traffic, the steed’s disgruntled whiny bouncing off stall tents. “Excuse me,” Byleth said tersely, glancing back at the figure without really looking. He had better places to be. Better people to be with.

Soft green eyes followed Byleth’s back until he disappeared into the crowd, something about that voice beating against the back of her subconscious. Something about the eye that had peaked out from under the hood, much too pale, much too bright. She adjusted the shoulder pauldron Byleth had knocked out of place, and brushed a strand of blonde hair from her face, eyebrows still furrowed. It was only the disgruntled complaints of pedestrians wanting her pegasus out of the way that kept the knight moving away from her professor.

 

---

 

Underneath the soft orange glow of the library’s candles, Byleth swore more than he’d ever sworn before. The number of times he had pierced his own fingers with the needle he failed to make a single proper stitch with was beginning to wear at Byleth’s resolve. Throughout all his lifetimes, Byleth had never prioritized sewing or leatherworking. He really should have taken up Mercedes’ offers for lessons, as Dimitri had.

The library door creaked open from behind Byleth. Speak of the devil.

“Oh, good evening, Professor.” Dimitri trodded in, tracing a gloved hand along the bookshelves lining the wall until he found the correct slot for his book. Then he came closer, his eye peering over Byleth’s shoulder to see the mess of leather and tools.

“Why are you holding the needle like that?”

Byleth paused his wrestling of the leather, contemplating whether or not to shove the needle into Dimitri’s remaining eye. He’d been on edge ever since returning at the crack of dawn this morning, and the prince’s deadpan only-possibly-unintentional sass immediately rubbed him the wrong way. “Because I clearly have no idea what I’m doing, Your Highness,” Byleth huffed.

Without warning, Byleth felt pressure against his back as Dimitri bent over him, one hand plucking the needle from his grip and the other resting overtop Byleth’s. “I could never manage to sew anything myself,” Dimitri started. Byleth could feel his breath hot against his ear. It was terribly distracting. “I would break the needles after a few stitches. But Mercedes had managed to teach me the technique, at least.” Byleth hoped Dimitri hadn’t yet noticed the shade of red his ears had turned.

Dimitri put the needle back into Byleth’s hand, molding it into the proper grip. Byleth felt hot and like he wanted to shiver at the same time. His cape draped over them both, and it made him want to wear it again like he had that night. It was warm, and it smelled like its owner. The scent of musk and iron shouldn’t have been as comforting as it was.

“Like this, Professor.” Byleth heard Dimitri’s voice, but it sounded far away. He let his student move his hand in some motion he probably should have been paying attention to, but he was too distracted by how much larger his hands were, the dark leather enveloping Byleth’s as he guided his professor through the basic skills. It was all Byleth could do to just watch, his head swimming. To the man’s relief, Dimitri seemed fine taking the lead, leatherworking tools absorbing his strength far better than a standard sewing needle. “Were you making this for my eye?” Dimitri questioned, the deep timbre of his voice laced with curiosity.

Byleth nodded, the only thing he could manage. He felt Dimitri’s hair brush up against his own, pale gold mixing with a paler green. Dimitri’s hand gave Byleth’s a squeeze in response, before he let go and finished up without the need for puppetting his professor’s useless limbs. The end result was a functional eyepatch, if not an aesthetically pleasing one. Even though he wasn’t as useless as Byleth, Dimitri was still inexperienced, and sewing skills and leatherwork only overlap so much.

This, however, failed to faze the prince, who took hold of the patch and tucked it up against Byleth’s palm. His palm was so sweaty all of a sudden. He hoped Dimitri hadn’t noticed. Instead, he stepped back, looking at Byleth with an expectant eye.

Oh. Byleth realized. He wants me to put it on for him. How sweet, if only Byleth’s legs hadn’t inexplicably turned to jelly.

Byleth was really getting sick of these temperature swings, he thought to himself as he stood up on shaky limbs, putting on an impartial mask if only to cling to some semblance of emotional control. Just a day ago Dimitri’s words and grin had let his blood run cold. Now, his face was white hot, and he wanted nothing more to rip off the layers of his uniform. Only that thought just made his cheeks flush worse. Whose uniform, again?

It felt like an eternity as Byleth battled with his fingers to get them to tie something as simple as a bow, Dimitri patiently bending down for him. As the young man straightened, he put a light touch to his new adornment, while Byleth rolled up the bandages that had once been in its place. The corners of his mouth pulled back into a gentle smile, the smile not of a madman but of a friend touched by an act of kindness.

Both expressions could exist in one person, Byleth knew. But for that moment he chose to believe that smile was all that Dimitri had to give.

Dimitri, of course, was overwhelmed. Between the promises from before, to the stack of books Byleth lugged home that would surely have clues to their next steps, and now this craft Byleth had attempted and charmingly failed at? He did not care for fragile things, and hope was something more fragile than glass. But Byleth seemed to carry it with him wherever he went, and Dimitri was always inclined to follow, no matter how much the voices screamed in warning. Byleth carried hope, and happiness, and the promise of a quiet sleep where nightmares are a thing of the past. He wanted nothing more than to stay with that light forever, and make it his.

But for now, he would settle on an embrace, careful not to squeeze too tight on the man noticeably flustered in his arms. It was cute.

Byleth let himself be held, hands awkwardly pinned up against Dimitri’s chest because he was too shy to put them anywhere else. Only one thought managed to stay clear through the increasingly turbulent fog in Byleth’s mind, louder than the blood rushing to his head.

How long had he been in love with Dimitri?

Chapter Text

Byleth was not the kind of man inclined to let himself love.

Even as a teenager he barely had a concept of it, beyond what he figured was a love for his father. But romantic love? That was just fiction better left for the bleeding hearts of the world. He never got the chance to watch his mother and father share the affection Byleth had read about in his father’s diary, when he was too wracked with sadness to appreciate it. He had rarely had much time to read, too, so when given the opportunity he chose to mull over battle strategy manuscripts rather than drown himself in boy-meets-girl stories. And any time his fellow mercenaries would bring back a one-night fling, it would be far away from his “innocent”, “youthful” eyes.

As a result, he was woefully unequipped to deal with matters of the heart. And when one is unarmed, one does not engage the enemy. So Byleth ignored it. Buried deep like the rest of his emotions, and when they threatened to bubble up and spill out, he would push them down harder.

This particular skill turned out to be very useful during his first year at the monastery. To say Byleth was popular amongst the students might be understating the matter. The number who’d become utterly enamored with him would have been suffocating, had Byleth not been as utterly dense as he was. Any attempt at courting him met with Byleth returning with flowers, tea parties, and more platonic affection than most students could stand before they gave up their fruitless missions. It was just as well, Byleth knew now. He may have been clueless about a lot of social norms upon his arrival at the monastery, but even he knew student/teacher relationships left a bad taste in his mouth. Frankly, he had wished teacher/teacher relationships were just as frowned upon, if only to get Manuela to stop hounding him.

It was when the war broke out that complicated things. Suddenly, his role as professor existed only in the title his old students insisted on using to refer to him. Those kids were kids no longer, with a few having long since passed Byleth’s estimated age. Just as he would instruct Annette on riding skills, the burgeoning dark knight guided his shaky hand in magic. He was finally on the equal ground he had attempted to artificially craft within the monastery.

And students who had long since given up on their childhood puppy love noticed.

Byleth had fallen into his first marriage a bit by accident. After spending his entire young adulthood ignoring the pangs in his heart, he had no idea how to look for a spouse when the opportunity presented itself so suddenly. What was he to look for, anyways? What was he to prioritize? Physical attractiveness? Shared interests? Strength? Quick wittedness? A pulse?

He had no idea how to tell apart happy butterflies in his stomach and indigestion.
Before he had figured out what now seemed to be the obvious answer, Linhardt had asked for his hand. Answering “yes” had surprised Byleth more than it had his new fiance.

All this not to say he didn’t love Linhardt in his first life, no. He had grown to appreciate the balance he brought to Byleth’s perpetually overloaded existence. And he was thankful for the man’s self-confidence; The professor didn’t think he would have realized his attraction to men so easily without him. Byleth had been happy enough, yes. He had built a good life with someone he had purposefully recruited to his class from the beginning. As far as everyone else amongst the Blue Lions were concerned, the scholar and the holy man made for a perfect pair.

Almost everyone. But Byleth had seemed happy, so he had kept his mouth shut. A king had no business being a homewrecker.

Byleth had also thought he was happy. Byleth had also destroyed everything by resetting time. Byleth was and remains an idiot.

In his remaining runs, Byleth chose not to take a wife or husband. What was the point, anyways? Until he saw the end of the war, he knew there was no point to the matter. He returned to his habits of ignoring the desire of others, and his own. What had been a defense mechanism slowly warped into a perverse kind of punishment. Gods and beasts alike do not deserve love, wherever on the spectrum he happened to fall.

 

---

 

So how’s that working out for you now, Byleth? The young man paced back and forth around his room, gesturing wildly to no one in particular.

Ever since his mental confession, his feelings for Dimitri had been the only thing Byleth could think about. Not only did it really get in the way of his research and his basic duties as a human being who needed to eat to function, it made speaking to the prince nigh impossible. Just glancing at him for too long would force his face to heat up, and it was getting harder and harder to wear his emotional mask while his heart was falling to his sleeve. A part of him longed for the days where Dimitri remained sequestered in the back of the monastery, easily avoided. But no. Nothing could ever be easy for Byleth.

Instead, the prince had taken to following him like an excited puppy. A very large, very scary, very bloodthirsty puppy. Dimitri would find Byleth shoveling down breakfast, eager to share a meal and ask his thoughts on whatever material Byleth had been pouring over the night before. Afternoon would often bring a request to go hunting, or exterminating should there be an infestation that day, as Dimitri had taken to referring to it. Byleth had gotten used to being ordered into such missions, so being asked to slaughter thieves in the same tone as one would offer an evening at the opera was disorienting. If they were ever caught out in the cold night air, Byleth would end up swaddled in Dimitri’s cape without fail. He could never get himself to refuse it. His mind weakly justified it as not wanting to upset his student, but Byleth knew that was bullshit. He was becoming savvy to his own mental gymnastics.

“What am I supposed to do…” Byleth bemoaned, hunched over the small oak table he set up in the center of his room, palms flat against the grainy wood. He had maybe twenty more minutes to work out lifetimes worth of repressed feelings for the future King of Faerghus before he would knock on Byleth’s door. Byleth contemplated cancelling on him, calling in sick. He was almost certain Dimitri had not noticed it was his own birthday today, perhaps Byleth could set up a new, fake birthday in a week when his brain was no longer threatening to ooze out his ears.

Byleth snapped his eyes shut, letting out an exasperated breath. One thing at a time.

Yes. He had fallen for the Prince of Lions. He had fallen for him from the very beginning. How couldn’t he have, he was the perfect prince from the storybooks Byleth never got a chance to read. All complete with a tragic backstory and an air of mystery. Byleth, of course, had no idea he felt such things at the time.

Dimitri did. Which made his professor’s constant invites to tea, the gifts, the praise, the rare smiles seemingly reserved just for him, all that more excruciating. Courting a teacher outright was improper, and the paranoia that he’d been misinterpreting his deadpan professor’s kindness silenced the devil on his shoulder that whispered fantasies of secret midnight rendezvous into his ear. Dimitri settled for being the favorite student, the teacher’s pet that Byleth unwittingly groomed.

He listed off qualities in time with tapping a chewed-on nail to the tabletop. Chivalrous. Brilliant in combat. Strong in body and resilient in mind. Humble to a fault. Kind to his core. Damn gorgeous, Byleth admitted with slight reluctance. Even with a slightly rabid edge to him, he was infuriatingly and occasionally inexplicably attractive. Byleth had watched Dimitri grow, fall, and crawl back to the light, being by his side the entire way. He had a bond with the man he watched become king that few people could say they shared. And few people could say they hadn’t noticed the pride in Byleth’s eyes whenever he watched Dimitri at work as the reigning monarch, or the longing glances their King would throw in the Archbishop’s direction. Yet nothing ever came of it. Why hadn’t anything came of it, Byleth. Why didn’t you say anything, Byleth. Why must you always be so utterly abysmal at speaking, Byleth.

He pounded his fist against the table, on the verge of collapsing onto it in defeat. His head was swimming again, mixing up every Dimitri he had come across in his memories. Unfortunately for him, Byleth’s current prince was rapping at his chamber door.

Byleth scrambled upwards, nearly toppling the teapot he’d set aside as he attempted to fix his frazzled hair and appear at least somewhat put together. His room, at the very least, already looked the part. Loose papers and battle plans neatly stacked together and situated at the corner of his desk, books placed spine out in his bookshelves instead of lying pages-up on the floor. A stack of dirty dinner plates had been removed, and a recovered vase took its place, boasting fresh clusters of Baby’s Breath and Lavender that had begun blooming spectacularly as Byleth slowly revived the greenhouse. His bed had been made so neatly you would think he’d never slept there, and a cute table adorned with a flowery teapot and two matching cups took its place in the center of the room. Byleth had forgone adding cookies, as Dimitri never seemed to have much of an appetite for such things, and Byleth didn’t actually know how to bake in the first place. He had also forgone hosting tea outside; The bitter wind and snowdrifts quickly overtaking the monastery may not have bothered the man of Faerghus, but it certainly bothered the man of temperate deciduous forests.

Byleth sucked in his breath, willing his voice to come out even. “Come in.”

The door creaked open, and Dimitri padded in, hunching to avoid smacking his forehead against the top of the door frame. The ends of his cape dragged in a smattering of snow that met its demise rather quickly in the warm room.

Byleth noted how small the room suddenly felt, either from the added table or the massive bundle of armor and fur watching him expectantly. “Afternoon, Professor.” Dimitri’s eye swept over the simple set-up, a kind of recognition passing over it. The prince hadn’t accepted an invitation to tea since he last wore the uniform of the Officer’s Academy. “...Does all of this bring back memories for you as well?”

“Uh-huh?”

Dimitri blinked at the bright eyes staring back at him. “...Professor?” The poor man looked completely dumbfounded. Perhaps it was a side effect of exhaustion, or surprise that he had finally conceded to meet for otherwise tasteless hot leaf water.

Byleth watched Dimitri take a seat, something he guessed he had offered at some point as he dropped into his own. His student had just returned from the bath house, if the subtle scent of pine soap was any indication. His hair hadn’t yet fully dried, falling straighter than usual, pressing up against his neck and jaw. He propped his elbows on the table, folding his hands together and using them to prop up his chin, eyes just slightly drooped over a gaze that felt like it pierced directly through Byleth’s head, digging out every embarrassing half-thought that floated about. Like how soft his skin looked after a little bit of care, and whether or not Dimitri looked cute with cheeks as flushed as Byleth’s were becoming, to his utter dismay.

This would be a long afternoon.

Chapter Text

Byleth brought the tea cup to his lips, sipping at the increasingly lukewarm chamomile, having long since come to terms with his perpetually pink face. He would just fake a fever or something tomorrow. Maybe force a couple convincing coughs as Dimitri left. Yes, surely that would work.

Cradling the cup in his hands as he brought it away from his mouth, Byleth continued his conversation. “As brilliant as your ideas were, Dimitri, I must admit I found your writing style to be one of the most infuriatingly haughty things I had ever read in my life.”

“You found my essays haughty?” Dimitri scoffed, a bemused look in his eyes. The prince had no nostalgia for the past with such important things to be taken care of in the present. There were certain old topics he was wholly uninterested in speaking of, which Byleth deftly avoided the moment he saw Dimitri’s jaw clench. But hearing his professor’s opinion of his younger self was enticing enough to keep him engaged.

Byleth was just happy to keep the exchange moving so his mind and eyes didn’t have time to wander. The prince may be speaking to him properly now, but he was no longer the conversationalist he once was. “I had to keep a dictionary on my desk at all times, thanks to you,” Byleth continued. “I do not know how effective battle plans that require a noble-interpreter present would really be. But, the logic behind them were always sound so you got off without marks.” He took another sip of tea, omitting the detail that he didn’t like to watch his favorite student’s face fall whenever he received poor scores.

“I suppose you should be thankful I grew to appreciate a simpler approach to tactics.”

Charge, scream and skewer? It certainly didn’t take long to write out, Byleth could concede that.

“I think you could benefit from a little more complexity from time to time.” Byleth spoke with his characteristically monotone voice, but he put forward the statement with hesitation; He generally avoided critiquing Dimitri’s decisions on the battlefield nowadays, and he had always assumed the prince had no interest in Byleth deciding what poor soul would take his lance to the gut.

Much to Byleth’s relief, Dimitri did not react poorly. A gloved finger slowly traced the rim of his tea cup as his eye was cast down in thought. “...Then why do you stay silent on the battlefield now?”

Byleth picked his words carefully. “I didn’t want to… restrict you. And I assumed a grown man had no interest in following the marching orders of his old instructor.” While he knew the latter would come to be untrue as Dimitri came to his senses, it was something he did genuinely believe at this moment.

“You think of your commands as a chain?” The boar prince spoke with civility, but Byleth could see the flickers of something more feral when their eyes met. It was a conflicting image, an uncomfortable in-between where Dimitri was self-aware enough now to speak on his atrocities, but not with regret. When it was not with resigned, matter-of-fact tone, it was with amusement. How funny it was that the chivalrous prince of lions rotted away for so long in his haunted den. “If you think I find your tactics to be a leash, then you should know that I am not averse to being lead around by you, Professor. Not anymore.”

Dimitri had a way of challenging Byleth’s poker face that was unparalleled. Damn him. Byleth coughed into his fist, praying his voice would remain even and not crack like the flustered school boy he felt himself devolving into. “...I see.” He looked up at his student, watching him with a thin smile on his lips. Was he enjoying this, watching Byleth’s mask crack slowly but surely? “I look forward to the honor of leading you once again.”

Dimitri leaned back, bringing his own teacup to his lips. It looked out of place, the clean white porcelain stark against the black of his ensemble, the motif of flowers too delicate to be held in hands like his, ones that could crush the fragile cup in his palms. “Always so impartial, Professor. Perhaps that was the thing I found most infuriating about you.”

Byleth’s fingers fidgeted with the tea cup handle, unable to pull his eyes away from the man across from him. “How so?”

“I could never figure out how you managed it,” Dimitri elaborated. “And I found it unfair. Why could you control with such ease what was ripping me apart from inside.”

Byleth’s heart ached when he heard the bitterness wrapped in those last words. “You would be surprised how much emotion I still do not have a handle on.

“Not anymore, no.” Dimitri set his cup down and leaned forward, his weight from the arms resting on it tipping the table ever so slightly to his side. His hair shifted as his head lowered to be on perfect eye level with his professor, blonde strands falling and casting that piercing azure eye into shadow. His smile stretched back further, a canine poking out over his bottom lip. “You have been struggling to subdue that blush since I arrived. I’ve seen your eyes wander more and more these days, and look away in confusion just as much. And I recall how much those eyes lit up any time you saw something you wanted from me. I suppose what you believed to be an improvement. I began to half-expect you to praise me like the student I once was.”

When Byleth failed to form the words to respond, Dimitri continued. “Did you think I was too absorbed in my own delusions to notice from time to time, dear Professor?”

Ah. So that is the difference between butterflies and indigestion. The fluttering of his heart, or his blood, or his soul attempting to make a break from its foolish mortal prison. Whatever it was, Byleth was desperate for it to stop. It was foreign. Unfamiliar. Scary, just like the young man across from him. Byleth had no clue how to respond, no witty joke to respond with, no gentle chiding or constructive comment. He was frozen in place despite the feeling of burning skin radiating through his entire being. Had he invited the prince to his chambers just to have his psyche picked apart and shattered?

“...Happy Birthday.”

The words had tumbled out of Byleth’s mouth, a subconscious effort to change the subject, end the exchange, anything he could accomplish. His Dimitri from before, the Dimitris in the past, they had never been this perceptive. Not at this point in the game. That’s what this all was, wasn’t it? A game, and one Byleth continued to lose in ways he did not even know were possible.

But perhaps he hadn’t lost yet. Dimitri’s calm, quietly intimidating aura broke momentarily as his eye widened. His birthday? Today was his birthday, was it? He didn’t think Byleth was lying, the weather was much the same as it always was on this day. Was that why this invitation to tea had been tossed out so suddenly, with such hope that he would attend despite months of a wide variety of rejections?

“...My thanks?” Dimitri blinked. Quick on his feet, yet he had never been as quick to recover in a mental sphere as his mentor.

Using Dimitri’s moment of pause to his advantage, Byleth rose from his seat, relishing the moment when his back was turned and he did not have to meet Dimitri’s face. From between a particularly dense stack of books on the shelf, he retrieved the thin box he had purchased from the marketplace before. Taking a momentary breath, he turned back to the prince and slid the box forward on the table. Orange light filtering in from the window enveloped the elegant blue and gold case, causing the gold edging to shimmer. Dimitri stared at it like it was going to speak in a moment.

“I am aware you… Do not often think yourself worthy of kindness, or gifts. So consider this an act of tradition, if you must. But it feels wrong to not properly celebrate it after so many years of being apart.” He thanked his sleepy goddess that his voice stayed strong the whole time, while his hand instinctively wandered to an inner pocket of his cloak. He still had the broach Dimitri and the Blue Lions had gifted him on his own birthday, permanently fixed like a good luck charm to be carried to battle. “You’re welcome to open it, if you’re comfortable.”

After spending a few more moments sharing a staring contest with the box, Dimitri lifted the lid. And he lifted the silk wrappings underneath it, his pale face unreadable. Byleth wondered about a lot of things at this moment, and he also wondered how long it would be before those dark circles latching to Dimitri’s eyes would stay. Even if it meant more unbearable teasing, Byleth wished his prince wouldn’t look so tired.

His prince?

The sound of a breath sucked through teeth snapped Byleth’s attention back to the present. His eye was obscured, his mouth tense, lips curled into neither snarl nor smile. He reached a gloved hand into the box, and produced the contents, fingers curling around it, the sharp tips clawing against the ornate metal.

The dagger fit perfectly in Dimitri’s hand.

Intricate engraving curled down the silver blade, a sharp pattern reminiscent of the Blaiddyd crest. The hilt bore motifs of some kind of mythic beast, the crevices between carved symbols stained royal blue. The blade was a relic of Faerghus weaponsmithing that was growing increasingly stamped out by Adrestia's subjugation.

Dimitri turned it around in his hands, feeling the weight of the blade. Hearing the voices in his head, ones from old memories and not vengeful spirits. Mocking laughter that bubbled up from affection and friendship fostered over years and years. A bittersweet, confusing mess of guilt and fondness and regret and innocence of the world.

What kind of person gives their crush a dagger, anyways?

Byleth watched, hands tensed, holding his elbows while his arms were folded against his chest. He watched as Dimitri brought the engraved blade to his lips, pausing for a moment while the heat of his breath fogged the cold steel. He watched as Dimitri slowly lowered it again, tucking it back within its box. He watched as Dimitri rose, imposing, cape sweeping across the floor in an arc of blue until he came to rest directly in front of Byleth. He watched the man stare down at him, an unreadable look on his face, within his icy eyes. He watched as Dimitri lifted his hand, resting it at the very top of Byleth’s neck, his fingers tangling in the seafoam locks before gripping them like a vice, yanking his head back before Byleth had the chance to shiver under his touch.

Byleth’s eyes fogged over when Dimitri kissed him.

Hard and unpracticed and desperate, and headspinningly warm. Byleth felt his knees buckle, but Dimitri’s firm grip on his hair kept him there, his other hand digging claws into Byleth’s arm. And just as Byleth started to lean in, to prop himself up against Dimitri’s chest and allow his cloak to fall past his arms like a velvet cocoon, Dimitri pulled away.

Byleth didn’t remember what it looked like when Dimitri left, what really happened. By the time his eyes had unfogged, he found himself collapsed on the floor, the sound of a wooden door slamming shut, a deafening rattle in a room otherwise silent save for frantic, shallow breaths.

Chapter Text

Byleth leaned up against the brittle, frozen bark, careful to not let anything snap and reveal his presence. His hand rested on the cold metal of his sword hilt, and the chill wetness of the snow around him seeped into his skin despite the layers of fabric and armor. The weather was unforgiving.

So why. Was he still. So. Damn. Hot.

He knew why. Of course he knew why. But the extent of it was worrying. Any time his mind had but a second to itself, it would wander to that moment, and his body would resume its slow bake. His chest would resume its impossible palpitations. He needed a distraction, and he needed to be very, very far from Dimitri.

Byleth looked out over the small battalion from his hiding spot, soldiers clad with the crests of Adrestria emblazoned on their armor milling about as they prepared to move further up to the monastery. It had been quite some time since the last investigative crew was sent up, but with old bodies buried under snow drifts it was possible they were checking to see if the mysterious Garreg Mach Monster was gone. Good, Byleth thought. They would make a good distraction.

In a moment Byleth dashed out from his cover, unsheathing the Sword of the Creator and extending it towards the nearest soldier all in one smooth motion. The snake-like blade embedded itself in the soft gap between armor pieces on the poor man’s side, before being retracted with a fresh coating of blood. Before the first man even collapsed, Byleth was already wheeling towards another soldier, charging him with an axe. The sound of metal on metal rang out as Byleth blocked the attack, intermixing with confused shouts and barked orders. Shifting his blade and knocking his attacker off balance, Byleth thrust the tip of his sword into the woman’s neck. In a past life, that soldier could have been in a battalion under Byleth’s command. He didn’t like to think about that.

Instead, he continued the one-man defense of his home, the only real home he had ever come to know. His blade whipped around in deadly arcs as he spun to meet each new attacker, his black cloak flaring out behind him like a fan, caught in the dance of a mercenary. Not of a professor. It was freeing in a twisted kind of way. There was something natural to the way his body moved with a blade in his hand, a sense of animalistic satisfaction when he felt the slight resistance of flesh. He was not happy to take life, but Byleth couldn’t deny it was a familiar constant in his lives. His mind knew exactly what to do, where to snap his attention. To the swordsman on his left, to the mage behind him, her robes no protection from his divine relic. His face hardened the way it was supposed to, no cracks in the blank mask. His body felt like fire, but it was the heat of exertion, of adrenaline, not of nerves. It was all so natural, so normal.

Byleth happily let himself become the demon his old nickname alluded to, nothing more than an inhuman blur of black and luminescent green.

He let his sword wrap around the shaft of a lance coming for his gut, ripping the weapon out of the hands of its wielder. Too easy, too refined. These soldiers, every time, always too concerned about maintaining some semblance of pride with their impromptu executions. Byleth quickly wiped off the spatter of blood that threatened to obscure his vision. The battlefield was no place for men.

It was the home for demons and beasts, and Byleth was missing his.

All it took was the one mental hiccup to throw Byleth’s mind from the mountainside to his quarters once again, obscuring the vision of a swordsman sending their blade into his stomach. The pain was searing, disorienting. Acting more on instinct than logic, Byleth unsheathed the dagger strapped to his thigh and jammed it into his attacker’s windpipe, forcing them off of him as they stumbled back, clutching their throat as it oozed red.

It hurts. It hurts a lot. Divine Pulse? How do I Divine Pulse again?

Byleth’s mind felt fuzzy once more, thoughts melting into one another and leaving a thick sludge that made his limbs feel heavy as he attempted to traverse it. He needed to use Divine Pulse, but it required some amount of concentration to activate, concentration that was currently slipping through his fingers. Had it been a mistake to come out here, after spending another sleepless night fretting over his heart? And that, that needed to vacate his mental space immediately. But it won’t. It won’t go away at all. And the more Byleth struggled to clear his mind the more thoughts tumbled in, pulling his attention every which way and not towards the axe swung back and coming to take his jumbled head from his shoulders.

The sound of a guttural scream pierced through the haze, reverberating in his ears as Byleth began to collapse into the snow. The sound of a lance whistling through the air came from above him, as did the wet thunk of it embedding itself in the head of the solider, the corpse now threatening to collapse on top of him. Byleth watched as the snow under them both stained red, just as his gloves did as they pressed to the wound in his stomach. Divine Pulse, Divine Pulse, you need to use Divine Pulse. But why? He finally felt so pleasantly cold.

Shouting, screaming, noises that sounded strangely distant echoed around him. He looked up at the scene acting out in front of him, edged by black shadows threatening to take over Byleth’s vision. He watched the dark figure impale soldiers now only trying to flee, leaving his lance stuck in corpses as he grabbed armored heads and crushed them in a spray of crimson. Swathes of blue obscured the massacre from time to time, but he could still hear the increasingly muffled screams. Screams of terror, and the bellow of an enraged beast looming over his prey with bloody fur and claws and teeth.

And then it was quiet. Good, Byleth thought. It is difficult to sleep when people are being so noisy. It was growing so pleasantly dark, too. And cool. Cold even. No more confusing heat. Was there something he was meant to do?

Hm, the sounds have come back. Odd sounds. Not screaming. Whimpering. Whining. Byleth felt his body shift, and a groan escaped his lips without his say so. He could hear more things. A low rumble. Was the beast speaking words? Byleth couldn’t tell. He could tell when he was lifted out of the snow, though. Put me back, I don’t want to go back to the heat. He could feel the fire lick at his body again, at his cheeks and neck and forehead. He wanted to shiver and sweat at the same time. A fever? Oh. Perhaps it was a fever this whole time. That would explain the way his head swam. The way his head drowned. Too many thoughts. Divine Pulse, that’s what it was. He needed to use it. Go back and dodge the sword. Go back and not think about Dimitri again.

He didn’t want to go back. He felt safe now, strong arms wrapped so tightly around him. No need to go back. Just to sleep. Just a little nap, and then he would get back to work.

Goodnight, Dimitri.

 

---

 

Byleth’s legs felt heavy. Literally. They felt like there was a weight on them.

The man’s eyes didn’t want to open, sleep sand crusting over the edges. Byleth weighed the pros and cons of going back to sleep, but he did really want to know why his body felt so odd. And where he was. The surface beneath him felt plush. Had Dimitri carried him back to his bed again? Where had he fallen asleep this time, Byleth couldn’t remember.

He forced his eyes open, pupils dilating as he reacted to the light. Too bright. The rafters above Byleth weren’t his. Where was he? His eyes slowly panned over, seeing shelves in his peripheral vision stacked with odd bobbles and canisters. The infirmary? Byleth shifted, trying to sit up and only managing to force himself into a pained cry. The weight on his legs shifted. Byleth’s stomach felt as though it was going to tear apart. Perhaps it was on the verge of doing so. But at least he could finally remember. He had fallen asleep on the battlefield. What a lousy place to take a nap.

Byleth sucked in a breath and attempted to sit up again, slower this time. His head hurt more than his gut did. After a couple moments of struggle and wincing, he managed to prop himself up enough to see the rest of the infirmary room.

Byleth wasn’t so surprised when he found the weight on him to be Dimitri, his top half sprawled over his legs, while the rest of him struggled to stay in a chair pulled up to the bedside. One hand had a firm grip on Byleth’s shin while his face, peacefully asleep, was nuzzled up against the blankets on his knee. The young man looked even more exhausted and ragged than usual. How many days had he been caring for his fallen professor? How many days had he been sleeping, Byleth wondered.

His student had never been one to be well versed in faith and reason, but from the look of the dozens of books all scattered around the floor, he must have attempted a crash course. Whatever sloppy mix of first aid and healing magic Dimitri had managed to perform had kept Byleth alive, though. He clearly hadn’t noticed the fever that had begun to wrack Byleth’s body, though. The professor groaned again, rubbing his cheeks. Yes, that really did explain all the heat. Byleth wasn’t sure if he was relieved to know his school boy crush wasn’t single handedly destroying his body, or if he felt like a fool for not noticing he was coming down with some common winter ailment. And then he went off into battle. Brilliant. Byleth was truly an unmatched tactical mind of this generation.

Byleth’s eyes fell back over Dimitri’s hunched, sleeping form again. How frightened he must have been. He didn’t want to imagine the panic that must have wracked his student’s mind, the dread of losing Byleth yet again. He imagined it was something like the feeling Byleth got every time he was forced to stare down the Faerghus prince on the wrong side of the battlefield. Guilt seeped into Byleth’s mind. The last thing he wanted was to bring more suffering to Dimitri than he already had.

Byleth reached out slowly, brushing his sickly pale hands over Dimitri’s hair. It was so deceptively soft. Much like Dimitri himself, Byleth figured. Unkempt and dull from afar, but soft once you’re able to get a little bit closer. He let his fingers tangle in the blonde strands, slowly working out the kinks that had formed in what were likely days of Byleth sleeping. Byleth could feel Dimitri unconsciously curl closer around his legs from the petting, and he hoped the sensation brought him peaceful sleep. Byleth could feel the heat from his body, and it was far more pleasant than what the fever was doing to the rest of him. He supposed he didn’t mind warmth if it was like this. The same kind of warmth he’d get when the prince would wrap him in his cape, or sit beside him by the library fireplace. Despite all the problems the young man brought with him, Dimitri was inextricably linked to protection in Byleth’s mind. He felt safe.

Byleth’s hands unconsciously played with the ends of Dimitri’s hair, his fingers occasionally brushing up against the nape of his neck, the one area his armor failed to cover. His eyes looked over the figure, following the arm that wasn’t currently clinging to his leg. His cape draped over most of it, hiding it from view. But his hand was visible on the corner edge of the mattress, as was the object loosely grasped within it. Dimitri was unarmed in the infirmary, save for the dagger Byleth had gifted him. Byleth couldn’t decide if he had brought the dagger as protection, something to defend him and his recovering professor with, or if he had brought it with him for comfort. A different kind of protection. Either way, Byleth was happy to see the gift in his possession.

Byleth sighed inwardly, mumbling out in the raspy voice of someone who’d failed to speak for some time. His hand still rested on Dimitri, lowering enough that the back of his index finger could stroke against his upper cheek.

“I do believe I have been in love with you much longer than you have been in love with me…” Byleth reluctantly pulled his hand away and laid back down, lethargy already clawing at him once more. “What am I to do with you now, though. What do I do with myself.” It was an odd feeling, admitting it all out loud. Admitting it in a time where there was no reason to keep it secret, keep it repressed. They were no longer truly student and teacher, and they were not yet archbishop and king. They were just a demon and a beast trying to survive together in their own little world. The thought felt almost as freeing as battle did.

Byleth decided he would ask Dimitri if he felt the same after he took one more little nap.

Chapter Text

“Could you raise your arm, Professor?”

“Could you please stop scrubbing the skin off my body?”

Byleth’s chiding was met with a more impassioned scouring of his back that was being increasingly rubbed raw. Monotone sarcasm was all Byleth seemed to have left at this moment, as he sat hunched and bright red from the tips of his ears down to his bare chest. He was beginning to become resigned to this flushed fate.

Byleth had been ordered to remain in bed until his wound fully healed. Dimitri had even used his “I Would Be A King If I Wasn’t Currently Being Feral” voice. As such, that meant no changing his own bandages, no showers, no nothing other than sitting in bed and staring at the wall if he didn’t have a book to read at the moment. Staring at the wall and waiting for Dimitri to come and visit.

After the first couple days spent in and out of consciousness, during which Dimitri remained fixed by Byleth’s bedside at all times, the prince had started returning to his usual routines, as well as tending to Byleth’s as best he could. That meant Byleth could look forward to Dimitri coming back to show a new flower budding in the greenhouse (stop picking them, you brute), or reporting about a couple rounds of fishing (if you break my one good rod I’m going to break your neck), when he wasn’t arriving to tend to Byleth himself.

Byleth could concede Dimitri was doing his best with the caretaking, but he couldn’t help miss Mercedes whenever Dimitri wrapped clean bandages too tight, or fumbled about with a poorly mashed slurry of pain-killing herbs. He was fully barred from attempting any further healing magic after he nearly managed to cast Nosferatu instead of Heal. Instead, the student settled for helping keep his professor clean and kempt whilst Byleth managed his own magic.

Whether or not that was a still a good set up, Byleth had yet to decide. For a man who’d refused to let even his hair be brushed for several months, Dimitri seemed to have no qualms manhandling his professor for the sake of cleanliness.

“No-! No. No no no.” Byleth grabbed back behind himself frantically, pulling Dimitri’s arm up before it could go any lower down his back. He hissed in pain as the sharp movement pulled at his wound. Even if it was just a soapy wet rag making contact with his skin, Byleth’s poor heart couldn’t handle anything more than a scrubbing of what he couldn’t reach on his own.

Dimitri pulled away without protest. “Apologies, I was not paying attention.” The prince was glad he was situated out of Byleth’s line of sight, allowing him to crack any amused smiles he so wished. It was perversely fun to watch his role as a flustered disaster flip with Byleth ever since the end of their academy days. He had no interest in making Byleth uncomfortable, certainly. But he couldn’t deny this new sense of control was as exhilarating as it was to watch his old mentor’s vacant mask crumble with the littlest of actions.

Dimitri handed the washrag off to Byleth, who took to cleaning his front, patting carefully around the gash in his stomach. Putting aside the issues of Byleth’s newfound anxiety over physical contact, he would need a lighter touch now than what Dimitri could manage anyways. The thought made the young man’s heart hurt, so he was better off not thinking about it at all. Instead, Dimitri plucked a hairbrush from the bedside table, setting to work on the seafoam mop in front of him.

Finishing with a quick scrub of legs slowly growing numb from lack of use, Byleth set the washrag aside and worked on keeping his head still while the brush slowly worked through his hair. Aside from the occasional battle with knots, Dimitri was surprisingly gentle at this part. He figured the motion was just an ingrained muscle memory, if Dimitri’s old immaculate, if not considerably unflattering and occasionally string-cheese-like hairstyle was any indication. This was the one part of Byleth’s teamwork grooming sessions that he didn’t hate; even if it was the one part that made the butterflies bounce around in his slightly scrambled stomach the most. It was all the gentle touches. The rhythm of the brush moving from crown to nape, the sensation of Dimitri’s fingers—gloves having long since been removed—combing through the mess of green and occasionally brushing against skin, the breath on the back of his neck when Dimitri leaned a little bit too close—

“So what are you planning on making for dinner?” Byleth sputtered out, wanting nothing more than to stop his train of thought before the butterflies burst out of his injury. It was an odd choice of question, considering the few meals Dimitri had managed to prepare this week were usually unseasoned, slightly burned slabs of meat. Maybe this would be a good chance to suggest the use of pepper or garlic from time to time. Just because the prince can’t taste anything doesn’t mean he should be subjected to the same torture.

He heard Dimitri let out a breathy chuckle behind him. His laughs sounded so off nowadays. His younger self had always had a penchant for holding back any childish giggles, but now it seems as though he’d simply forgotten how to laugh in the first place.

“Always thinking about food, Professor.” You and Ingrid both, Byleth could imagine his old Dimitri adding. But he didn’t talk about them now.

“I was just curious. I thought perhaps I could provide some suggestions.”

“Does my cooking not meet your standards?”

Well you’re no Dedue, Byleth thought. But he could imagine saying that aloud would only end him with a fistful of hair ripped out. Byleth knew he was alive. Dimitri didn’t. When do I tell him. “You wouldn’t have needed to tell me you can’t taste food, I will leave it at that.”

The comment earned him a—thankfully—soft smack of the brush against his head. “You should learn to appreciate the texture of it, then.”

“Yes, the texture of an old shoe.”

“If you continue, that is what will be on your plate this evening.”

Byleth couldn’t help but break into a thin smile, taking a moment to glance back at the man behind him. Even despite the tiptoeing he had to do, Byleth had so missed bantering with his student like this. The feeling must have been shared, based on the glint in Dimitri’s eye, and the way his lips were pulled back into the smallest of smiles. It was all Byleth wanted to get Dimitri to smile without abandon again. He vaguely recalled the young prince having sharper than average canines during the few instances he grinned large enough to show teeth; perhaps that is why his damn shoe-meat cuisine failed to bother him so.

Dimitri ran his fingers through Byleth’s hair one last time, satisfied with his job. Setting aside the brush, he slid off the bed and began walking over to the infirmary shelf that housed fresh bandages. “I hope this will be the last day you will need these.”

Considering how flushed and stammery Byleth got every time Dimitri had to wrap them around his torso, he agreed. He held still, arms already held out slightly as was routine, as Dimitri sat back down on the bed and began unfurling the white fabric. Byleth allowed himself to watch, focusing on little things. The calluses on his hands, the scars along his neck and jaw, the tiny flecks of gold surrounding the pupil of his blue eyes. Byleth had fallen for a strikingly handsome man, he had to admit. Even in his most untamed moments on the battlefield, Byleth couldn’t deny he found the prince attractive. Once again, such odd things for him to admit freely.

Oh, he had something he wanted to ask, didn’t he?

“Do you like being together?” It was all Byleth could do not to slap his own face. He had always had his moments of speaking before his brain had a chance to catch up, and it always ended with someone getting pissed off at him.

Dimitri looked up from the bandages, his eyebrows furrowed just slightly, as if he couldn’t quite parse out what Byleth was trying to ask. “Come again?”

“I mean…” Byleth struggled to pull together a coherent question. “I just wanted to know your… Your thoughts on… All of this?”

“All of this?”

“You know.” Byleth attempted to gesture between the two of them, getting exasperated. “This.” You would think after enough lifetimes he would have finally mastered his weaknesses over words.

“I’m afraid I do not follow, Professor.” Dimitri bit back a smirk that says he absolutely does follow, and was just enjoying watching Byleth struggle.

Byleth let out an exhausted groan, raising his arms more so Dimitri could begin wrapping the bandages around him. “I—”

“You still have my journal, yes? I saw it when I had to remove your cloak the day you were injured.”

Byleth blinked, thrown off from where he was already mentally off-kilter. “...I do, yes.”

“Then you know of all the thoughts that were in my mind for the year you were instructing me. But do you recall at all how I acted around you?”

Byleth frowned a little, thinking back. It was not often Dimitri encouraged talk of the past, which caught him further by surprise, but that didn’t stop the memories from flooding back. “Polite, mostly. You were always very polite. Did everything I requested of you, and then some. You were stiff, holding back on things. Yet…”

“Yet?” Dimitri watched him, his face much too close after leaning in to reach the bandages around his back.

Byleth continued, unsure. “You would say things. Very sweet things, about me. How strong or brave or skilled I was. You would get so excited when I smiled. And…” Byleth couldn’t help the fondness that creeped into his voice. “And then you would get embarrassed about it. You would blush, and stammer. Scramble to come up with an explanation for me. Yet even after your explanations I would still see the way you lit up when invited for tea or the way you’d turn red when I got too close to you during a spar.” Byleth ran a hand through his hair, his wistful expression dropping into one of self-frustration. “...And I always attributed that to other things.”

“Not because you were oblivious.” Dimitri stated as if it was a clear fact. “But because you didn’t want to admit you had paid enough attention to notice.”

Byleth didn’t like how perceptive this Dimitri was. Why couldn’t he just go back to staring at rubble.

He had finished with the bandages, yet this beast continued to stare Byleth down just inches from his face. Any closer and Byleth would probably feel the ends of Dimitri’s hair brush against his cheeks. He could certainly already feel the heat radiating off the opposing man, even despite the armor that should have been trapping it in. Byleth resisted the urge to shrink back, putting all of his effort to save face and not crumble under all the emotions threatening to spill out, a task proving harder than any battle he’s faced yet. He was still struggling to respond when Dimitri beat him to it.

“Come now, Professor.” Dimitri pressed a finger underneath Byleth’s chin, pushing it up so that Byleth had no choice but to look the prince in the eye. “Do not go silent on me so quickly.”

Byleth huffed softly, “Why do you expect me to say out loud something you haven’t even admitted yourself.”

Dimitri’s eyebrow raised just a touch in surprise, it was a more confident response than he had expected. He supposed Byleth was right. And what kind of false king would he be if he couldn’t declare even the obvious truth.

“Fair enough.” He smiled, a sickly sweet smile that said more about how pleased he was to have Byleth like putty in his hands than he was about anything else. “Professor, I a—”

“Byleth.”

“—Pardon..?” Dimitri’s cool composure snapped momentarily, not prepared for an interruption. It gave him a moment to realize how tense he’d become. Even now, feelings that had been sitting deep within his heart for years now were difficult to properly give a voice.

Byleth, on the other hand, felt a surge of confidence flash through him. Or maybe he was just trying to delay the inevitable.

“You may refer to me as “Professor” any other time, but not when you say that. Use my name when you say that.”
Even now, even after years of no longer being teacher and student, Dimitri struggled to refer to Byleth as anything but his title from the Academy. Even if he had managed to write it out, forcing it from his mouth was another matter. It was personal. Too personal. People who got too close to him ended up as ghosts, and “Professor” brought with it a nice sense of distance, no matter how physically close he might have been. Dimitri cursed inwardly, losing his grip on the control he was enjoying so much. The growing fire in those gleaming green eyes was enough to tell him Byleth wouldn’t be swayed on this one thing.

Maybe it was fair, the shared sense of vulnerability. If Byleth was to roll over and show his belly in this moment, so to speak, perhaps the beast prince would need to do the same.

 

“...I love you, Byleth. Even when I thought you gone from my life forever, I loved you.”

 

Byleth felt his breath hitch in his throat. He expected to hear a soft exhale of breath, see Dimitri untense. Yet his breath was still held. He was waiting. Maybe he was waiting in fear.

 

“I love you too, Dimitri.”

For longer than he could ever fathom, Byleth thought as his prince relaxed and enveloped him in a cautiously gentle embrace.

Chapter Text

...What is he to do now?

Dimitri found himself pacing back and forth along a drafty balcony, forced to brush away snow collecting in his hair every couple minutes. A smarter man would go inside, but he liked the cold. It helped clear his mind, sharpen his senses. And he was, by his own admission, also probably an idiot.

“I am— I am in a relationship,” Dimitri mumbled under his breath to the dusty scaffolding, attempting to work out his thoughts. “My old professor is my, ah… Is my… Boyfriend..?”

Dimitri frowned. There was so much of that sentence that felt off. The “my old professor” was an ethical minefield in and of itself, but as the crown prince of a nation his understanding of power dynamics had always been a bit complicated by that status. Perhaps he should, at the very least, finally respect his professor’s original request and refer to him as merely Byleth. There was no pretending that Byleth hadn’t inadvertently weaseled his way into Dimitri’s heart, attempting to forge some artificial distance by refusing to call him by name seemed pointless now.

And then there was “boyfriend”. Dimitri cringed slightly, such a term felt so juvenile. Was it even accurate? Sure, they had confessed to each other a little over a week ago, and Dimitri had kissed him after that evening in his room. That particular memory only elicited another cringe. He had acted more on instinct in that one moment than he ever had on the battlefield. It was a miracle Byleth hadn’t fled the monastery in a panic. But aside from those two things, the two mens’ interactions had hardly changed from how they had been living together before. If anything, Byleth seemed more level headed than he had in ages, focusing further on whatever research it was that Dimitri had left him to. What was Byleth thinking now, did he even consider the two of them partners the way the young man desperately hoped he did?

Is this really the thing he should be worried about right now?

“This is pathetic!” Dimitri roared out into the empty mountains, slamming his fist down on the balcony railing, miraculously leaving no damage. His head drooped and his hands busied themselves by grabbing and yanking on fistfuls of his own hair while he growled in frustration.

What was he doing. He didn’t have time for this. He needed to focus on getting to Enbarr, he needed to focus on how he was to execute Edelgard. He certainly did not need to focus on pining over his professor like a lovestruck child. He had wasted enough time with that during the Academy, the voices echoing around his brain were quick to remind him. He had gone to enact revenge and instead piddled away his time with tea parties and flowers. Perhaps if his eyes had not been so constantly drawn to Byleth’s, he would have noticed that damn woman’s slithering behind the scenes sooner.

He was a fool. A pathetic, selfish fool. A dumb beast quicker to answer to his own animalistic desires than the wishes of all the family he’d left behind.

Selfish, irredeemable, disgusting, useless, worthless-

“—Dimitri?”

Dimitri pulled his hands from his face, having not realized he had slumped to the ground. He looked up to see Byleth looking over him, the sunlight reflecting off his hair and illuminating it like a halo. How symbolic.

The man stooped down, slinging an arm over Dimitri’s shoulders. Dimitri was surprised by how unbothered he was by the action. Just over half a year ago he would have shoved the professor off the balcony, and instead he found himself relaxing under the added weight. He heard Byleth speak, but it took a moment for the words to register.

“I am here if you need me to be.” They were words of comfort, but they held a silent understanding that Byleth would leave him be, if that is what the prince wanted. Dimitri desperately wanted him to stay. Enough so that when words failed him, he was still able to grab onto Byleth’s hand, anchoring him to the spot beside him. Byleth nodded in response, and sat on the cold cobblestone beside him. Dimitri could feel the professor’s head sink into the fur hanging on his shoulder, just a little bit of warmth against the biting cold.

Dimitri didn’t deserve this.

He knew it. He knew it when Byleth found him hunched against a wall, dirty and angry and crazed. Not like those descriptors are all that much different now. And he knew it even as he pushed for Byleth to admit his feelings. He didn’t deserve Byleth’s kindness, let alone any love he had to give. But he wanted it. He wanted it more than food, or water, or air. He almost wanted it more than he wanted the voices to be assuaged. It was the one thing he could make sense of in his mind now, and it was impossible to let go no matter how much guilt dripped from his thoughts and enveloped his heart like oil. It was all Dimitri could do to sit and watch his own mental game of tug-of-war, his ghosts and his professor fighting for his attention, who would be the subject of those frustrating, blinding desires.

He wanted the voices to stop. He wanted to see his loved one’s smiles when he brought them the head of their murderer. He wanted to kill Edelgard, let the steps of an Adrestian castle run red and sticky with her blood. He wanted to destroy her armies, watch that infuriating pride crumble from her face, see the light leave her eyes. He wanted his revenge.

And then sometimes he didn’t.

Sometimes he just wanted Byleth. He wanted him the same way his younger self did. He wanted to see that mesmerizing smile of his, he wanted to hear those rare bouts of laughter, because sometimes when he got that he could forget about that woman. He wanted his professor to pat his head and tell him he was proud of him, and only him. He wanted Byleth all to himself, his kindness, his brilliance, his love, his body. He wanted Byleth to look up at him with his stunning emerald eyes, pinned underneath him just like this.

Just like this?

“Dimitri.” The prince registered the professor’s stern voice coming from beneath him faster than he registered the sight. “It’s time to come back to the real world.”

Byleth had ended up on his back, presumably pushed down there by Dimitri, if Dimitri’s hands restraining Byleth’s wrists to the stone beneath them was any indication. His hair splayed out as much as its length allowed it to, the green contrasting the ever-so-subtle pink adorning his cheeks and ears. Whether that was from cold, or from embarrassment, Dimitri hadn’t the time to figure out. Instead, he dazedly scrambled off of where he had been straddling his professor, who was taking the time to sit back up and fix his cloak.

“I— Forgive me, Prof—Proff-yleth—??” Dimitri grimaced as he tried to sort out his own jumbled apology and poor attempt at referring to Byleth by name.

“It’s fine, Dimitri.” Byleth looked back at the young man, his face giving away nothing of his feelings. What had happened to his charmingly flustered reactions? “You startled me at first, but I knew you weren’t actually going to do anything when you just started staring at me.” Dimitri felt his own face flare up, picturing what must have been a painfully stupid look in his eyes.

“No, it is not fine, I keep acting without knowing what I am doing, I…” The prince’s face contorted into one of disgust. If he was to act like an animal, then he had no business speaking like a human now. “I am sorry, I need to go.”

“Wait, Dimitri it’s fine don’t go I—” Byleth attempted to snatch Dimitri’s cape as it whisked by, only to miss and watch as Dimitri rushed from the balcony and into the shadows of the monastery. Byleth sighed, flopping back down onto the snow-coated ground. He glanced at the books he had set aside before he had moved to comfort Dimitri.

“...I needed to talk to you,” Byleth muttered, finally letting his cheeks turn bright pink as he tried to force the image of Dimitri on top of him out of his mind for the time being.

 

---

 

“Go away, you damn nuisance!” Dimitri bellowed, for the third time in five minutes.

He had found a perfectly pleasant place to sulk, far away from Byleth, only to be harassed by a very persistent owl. The bird, on the other hand, was unfazed by the black gloved hands attempting to throttle it. Moments after it flew away from its perch on the windowsill, it returned, flicking its feathers.

For a time, owls were the only talkative guests Dimitri had shared his empty home with. They were already a staple of the monastery during the Academy, with the particularly smart birds being trained to act as mail carriers. They served their jobs well, inconspicuous enough in nearly every region in Fódlan to allow church officials and nobles a chance at correspondance without the concern of a mailman being apprehended by enemies. The students would abuse the poor birds’ services from time to time as well, using them to send love letters when the most oblivious of professors was not available to deliver them on his students’ behalf. Dimitri himself was the recipient of quite a few snow-white feathers, gifts from an odd mix of friends, hopeful girls, and Byleth. He had honestly appreciated them—with the constant number of quills he managed to snap in half, extra feathers proved useful.

Long after the battle at Garreg Mach, the owls had stayed to greet Dimitri as he stumbled up the marble steps. They seemed to like the quiet, and they managed the kind of rat infestations Dimitri had been less preoccupied with. He didn’t pick up the feathers they dropped anymore.

Dimitri let out a resigned sigh, slumping up against the wall and fidgeting with the lance in his hands, debating whether or not to use the owl as target practice. He had not wanted company. But the owl was indifferent to the prince’s wishes, and only cocked its head curiously as it watched the man play with the shiny pointy stick.

Company.

The thought was unappealing to Dimitri.

Maybe it was just the shame that came with seeing himself compared with a proper human being nowadays, Dimitri found himself much more comfortable as the sole resident of Garreg Mach. He liked the loneliness, as alone as he could be in a haunted home.

Byleth changed things. He hated it at first. He loathed the idea of hearing another set of footsteps echoing around the halls, the brief glimpses of a black jacket passing through his peripheral vision while he failed to pray in the cathedral. Distrust, shame, confusion, yearning that made his stomach knot. Byleth had brought too many things back with him all at once. He thought he could ignore it. Just will Byleth away.

Dimitri had to insist that he was a very stupid man.

Of course Byleth would have stayed. It’s Byleth. Be it stubbornness or stupidity, he wouldn’t let a student struggle alone. It was one of his many admirable traits. It was the kind of mindset that kept him at Ashe’s side after the mission to tear down Lord Lonato’s forces, the mindset that forced Sylvain to speak to his professor seriously, the mindset that kept Felix coming back to Byleth in the training hall time and time again.

The sound of metal bending out of place echoed around the room. The owl gave a gentle hoot in response. Dimitri loosened the grip on his lance before he broke it in half.

He didn’t like to think about those people.

He wouldn’t let Byleth bring up those names, either. A strong enough glare or a grit of the teeth usually clued him in. As far as Dimitri was concerned, his old classmates could remain shadows of the past. They played no role in his little revenge play. The only one who may have had a place was Dedue, and Dedue was dead. Dedue was dead and it was his fault.

Dimitri bit hard into his lip, hard enough to draw blood. He had started to spiral once already today, he did not care to do it again. The guilt would claim him later tonight anyways, Dedue could wait his turn. He had always been his most patient friend.

Friends, no. No friends. No more friends. Byleth was enough. In fact, this was better, Dimitri had decided. At the Academy, he had had to compete for his professor’s attention. Every time he passed by the tables in the gardens and caught sight of Byleth chatting away with another person, he had felt his skin freeze. He had bitten back the desire to rip Byleth away from the table and demand a spar, or a lecture, or anything to pull his attention back to him.

Goodness, perhaps such thoughts were unhealthy. Then again, a lot of his thoughts were and still remain unhealthy. What is one more?

Then yes, this is good. Now Byleth was just his to enjoy. After all he has been through, maybe he deserves this one little light. No, Dimitri didn’t deserve it himself, really. But maybe it was the universe sending an apologetic gift on behalf of the living hell it had constructed for the young Prince of Faerghus. His own little world with the love of his life, plotting to overthrow the Adrestian Empire together. Now that is the kind of company Dimitri could enjoy. Dimitri couldn’t help but smile a little, quite contentedly constructing one fantasy after another in his mind.

It was a shame that bloody owl’s hooting kept interrupting them.

“For the Goddess’s sake, do shut UP-!” Dimitri snarled, pointing his lance at the bird with murderous intent. “Fly away, or we will be finding out if Byleth cares for owl meat in his meals!”

One resolute hoot was all the prince got in response.

The only thing that saved the bird from its skewering was the sun. A little glint, visible when Dimitri stood up to take a lance throwing position. A metallic blue ribbon was tied to its’ leg, partially obscured by the owl’s leg feathers. Or, more specifically, it tied a tightly coiled piece of paper to the owl’s leg.

Something about the sight made Dimitri’s stomach drop.

He slunk over to the owl, reluctance written over all of his movements, including the fumbling he did with the ribbon. He unfurled the paper, a touch water stained from its journey. He read over the message. Short, simple, inexplicable.

He saw red.

 

---

 

Byleth had followed the sounds of distant frustration to the prince’s new sulking spot. He was likely not in the mood for conversation, but perhaps if he found out Byleth had been working hard on his empress-killing research it would bring him back around. And then maybe he would be in a good enough mood to find out his professor could time travel.

Byleth wondered if he would finally have the guts to spit it out.

He slipped through the partially cracked door, seeing Dimitri hunched next to an open window. An owl flicked its gaze to him as he entered, giving another soft hoot and fluff of the wings. So that is what Dimitri had been shouting at. Byleth stepped closer, his concern for his desired discussion turning to concern for the curled blue figure. He held out a hand, hovering over the velvet of his cape.

What escaped his lips in the next moment was not the prince’s name, but a cry of pain as his wrist was seized and his body was slammed into the brick wall beside him.

“WHO HAVE YOU BEEN TALKING TO?!”

Byleth shrunk under Dimitri’s gaze, as enraged and unseeing as it had been on Gronder Field in his first life.

“WHO KNOWS YOU ARE HERE?!”

He saw stars as he was shoved harder into the bricks behind him, punctuating his question. His roars echoed in the small room so deafeningly Byleth’s ears began to ring.

“WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING BEHIND MY BACK?!”

He looked scared. A scared animal, lashing out.

“TELL ME YOU ARE A SPY AND I WILL CRUSH YOUR NECK LIKE A TWIG!”

Byleth felt fingers wrap around his throat before he had a chance to answer the flurry of questions.

“SPEAK, YOU DAMNED LYING DOG!”

The grip tightened. Byleth let out a choked wheeze. The grip loosened, and then it loosened further until Byleth felt himself slide to the floor, struggling to take in air. He hadn’t noticed he’d begun to tremble. Another sharp pain, now from his scalp, as Dimitri pried his head back up to look at a once-crushed piece of parchment held between his thumb and index finger.

The beast hissed out in a voice already reeling from some self-constructed sense of betrayal. His face was contorted in pain and fear and confusion, echoing Byleth’s expression for everything save the added anger. He was trembling too, the piece of scrap shaking like a leaf between his fingers. “What is this, Byleth?”

It was a message. One written in a familiar script to Dimitri, and an unmistakable script to Byleth.

 

“Are you alive, Professor?”

 

It was Ashe's handwriting.

Chapter Text

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?

Byleth kept a hand to his neck, suspecting bruises would form there soon enough. Dimitri towered over him, teeth bared in a perpetual snarl. The message was still held in an iron grip. Byleth was thankful it was the parchment in his hands, and not the lance he had abandoned at the window sill.

Byleth coughed, trying to get his throat to function again. “I haven’t been in contact with anyone other than you.”

“And why should I believe you?” Dimitri snapped back. Byleth could feel flecks of spit landing on his face. Gross.

“What would I gain from lying to you?”

“You would gain the trust I have so foolishly given you!”

Byleth scowled, getting progressively more frustrated now that the fear of Dimitri actually ripping him in two had subsided. “If you trusted me before, why not trust me now?”

“And risk a dagger in my back?” Dimitri scoffed, as if the answer was obvious. It was obvious to a paranoid mind, why wasn’t it getting through to Byleth?

“Use your damn head, you stupid beast!” Byleth finally hollered back, pointing a finger at Dimitri’s chest plate as if he was scolding a petulant child. He saw Dimitri recoil slightly at the insult, a flash of pain crossing his eyes, but in that moment the professor failed to care. Dimitri had nearly strangled him over just a suspicion of betrayal, he could handle a verbal slap to the face. “Why on earth would I send any correspondence from the monastery and risk it getting intercepted by the Empire! Do you really think the two of us right at this moment could take down anything more than a scouting force?!”

“An Adrestian spy wouldn’t be concerned about something like that!”

Byleth shot up from where he had slumped, forcing Dimitri to stumble back despite Byleth’s smaller stature. “If I was a spy I would have killed you already, you moron! I would have let you bleed out when you tried gouging out your own eyes.” Byleth gestured wildly, his voice picking up tones of anger that were unfamiliar and terrifying to his opposing student. “Why would I even need to kill you when you were doing a perfectly fine job of it yourself!”

“Maybe—” Dimitri’s response cracked, his confidence waning and the rage he’d built up falling into fear. “Maybe you were ordered not to kill me. Maybe it would be something that woman would wish to do herself-!”

“No!” Byleth spat back, taking another step forward with the intent to gradually back Dimitri into the wall. “No, she wouldn’t! Because Edelgard is not an idiot! You are the only one in the world dead set on killing someone with your own bloody hands whether it means a death sentence for you or not!”

“I—” Dimitri felt the cool stone come up behind him, staring down at Byleth with eyes wide and anxious.

“How dare you accuse me of betraying you, after all of the shit I have put up with with you!” Byleth jammed his finger against his chest, punctuating each word. “How dare you put your hands on me like that!”

Dimitri shrunk with every word, releasing his hold on the paper message and letting it flutter to the ground. “Please—”

“Please what, Dimitri? What request could you possibly have after assaulting me over your own paranoid assumptions! If you expect me to treat you like a man then quit acting like an animal!”

Byleth’s tirade only elicited a weak whimper from the prince, who looked to be on the verge of collapse. “Please stop…”

Byleth scoffed, bending down to snatch up the fallen parchment. “You had once told me you preferred critique. Here’s your damn critique, Dimitri.” Another whine. Byleth couldn’t believe this was the beast he had fallen in love with. “Pull yourself together.”

It was all Dimitri could do to keep himself standing, let alone stable. His hand was gripping the few bricks that allowed for some form of purchase, his hair was draped over his face the same way his cape draped over his body, his entire being bent at a submissive angle. “Please…” The voice that had been bellowing just moments before, came out hoarse and desperate.

Byleth turned from where he had been examining the parchment, the anger in his face having been replaced with an indifference that was almost more alarming. “I am not leaving you here to sulk alone. Nor am I forgiving you. Not yet. So don’t bother asking for it.”

“Please don’t yell at me, Professor…”

That wasn’t the voice Byleth had grown accustomed to. It was the ghost of a younger voice. One that lived off praise and kind words far more than was ever healthy but it was the only thing it had to drown out the guilty screams and demands. Byleth sighed inwardly, conflicted. He disliked the idea of letting Dimitri play the victim after what he had just pulled. But looking at his student now, the way he seemed to hide within the fabric draped around him, one blue eye peeking out in fear from a deathly pale face, he knew something he had done had flipped one of Dimitri’s many incomprehensible switches.

Byleth rubbed his face, letting out a groan. This boy was a disaster. But he was his disaster, and he would figure out the appropriate disaster response.

“Dimitri, breathe.” The hunched figure shifted slightly, wobbled slightly. Byleth walked over, slowly. Non-threateningly. “I frightened you, yes?”

He received a single nod in response.

“You frightened me, earlier.” No nod, but another wobble.

“I am sorry for upsetting you. But do you understand why I yelled at you? Why I was frightened?”

Another nod, and a soft voice. “I hurt you.”

Byleth instinctively put a hand to his neck, frowning a little bit. “...You did, yes. You may have just been trying to intimidate me, but you hurt me.”

The soft voice began to break. “I am sorry…”

Byleth shook his head. “I am used to you underestimating your strength. The physical aspect is not necessarily what hurts the most.”

“I was scared…”

“That cannot be your excuse forever, Dimitri.” Byleth held out a hand. The blue eye flicked down, and then back up. His hand didn’t move from its perch on the wall. “If you never truly come to trust me, then I cannot stay with you.”

“You shouldn’t.”

That response caught Byleth off guard. He expected something else; A beg to stay, or an order. He had no good response ready.

“I knew I didn’t deserve you,” Dimitri continued, finally sinking to a spot on the ground, his cape pooling underneath him. “You’re never going to fix me.”

One day I’ll shatter and you’ll get cut trying to pick up the shards. Byleth could hear Dimitri’s line of thought, and those thoughts made his stomach knot. “Fixing” Dimitri was all he had been trying to do since he got here. “Maybe not,” Byleth began, hesitantly. “Maybe I have been foolish for thinking I could. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t stay by your side while you work on repairing yourself.”

“You have better things to do than caring for wild animals.”

The matter-of-factness of his statement made Byleth’s heart break, and it was all he could do to keep himself from launching into all the reasons why the prince wasn’t a beast, spitting out apologies for calling him as such. But no, that wouldn’t be honest. “Probably. But it is what I’ve chosen to do. If you are so concerned about the matter, than it is up to you to help me tame the beast living in this monastery.”

“Why won’t you leave..?”

“Because I don’t want to, Dimitri. This is my home.” Byleth tapped the stone floor with his foot. “You can’t kick me out of my home. You can only share it with me.”

Dimitri’s eye followed down Byleth’s arm and rested on the hand holding the message. “I don’t want to share it with anyone else.”

Byleth sat down, wanting to be on equal eye level. “Because you’re scared of having to learn to trust more people?” Dimitri shook his head no.

“I finally have you home. I don’t want to share you now.”

Oh, that’s it.

There’s more to it, Byleth was certain. But such a little admission illuminated a lot of Dimitri’s paranoia, at least one facet of it. Dimitri could accept a life where Byleth was nowhere to be seen, and he could accept a life where Byleth was fixed at his side. But a life where another person could pull Byleth away from him and all he could do was watch? That was unacceptable. His prince was much too possessive for his own good. A part of Byleth’s brain couldn’t help but nag at him, hypothesizing that such a reaction was his fault. A part of Dimitri’s subconscious that remembered lives where Byleth stood by another person, and then he went mad, and then he was executed. Keeping Byleth in his and only his grasp was a self-defense measure.

Whether the theory was true or not, Dimitri’s distrust towards comrades wouldn’t do. Especially not when one was reaching out.

Byleth looked over the young man who had uncurled slightly, who was waiting for his professor to say something. Do something. Think of anything, he needed to think of something. His eyes swept over the room, drawn to the metallic sheen of Dimitri’s lance against the window. Something to convince the prince that living alone like this wouldn’t be sustainable forever.

And something that could help get out the last of Byleth’s pent-up frustration.

“If you don’t care to sit on this hard floor for any longer, I’d like you to join me in the training grounds.” Byleth’s request was met with a confused cock of the head.

“I would like a spar. If you want to make up for your actions today, I’d suggest starting with this.”

 

---

 

Byleth had already removed his cloak and begun preparing a weapon when he heard a second set of slow footsteps wander into the training grounds. A part of him was a touch surprised, the look in Dimitri’s eye when Byleth left him had not been one eager for combat. Eager for much of anything, actually. Yet the young man was there, swapping the lance he had damaged with one that hadn’t been bent in rage.

Byleth wandered out into the middle of the arena, kicking up dirt and dust with each step. He watched Dimitri’s movements with intent, trying to deduce what kind of opponent he was about to have. Dimitri moved sluggishly, without much purpose. As he unclipped the cape from his shoulders, instead of setting it to the side he merely let it cascade down to the floor. The edge of his lance dragged the ground as he walked, metal scraping ringing around the room. For a man who had seemed to only smile on the battlefield, Dimitri was shockingly unenthused to have a weapon in his hands and an opponent across from him.

Byleth began, “We’ll go until one of us is disarmed or deemed incapable of counterattacking.” During the Academy, it would typically be until one opponent admitted defeat. He knew better than to try that with Dimitri now. “You don’t need to hold back, but we shouldn’t be actively trying to cause bodily harm.”

“...An axe.”

Byleth’s eyebrows furrowed, and he followed Dimitri’s blank gaze to the axe Byleth was using to prop his weight up. “Ah, yes. It is.” Good to know his one remaining eye was in working order?

“Why are you using an axe..?”

He should have expected the query, Byleth figured. “Just because I am no longer lecturing students, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t continue to have a wide grasp on weapon types.” A bit of a lame excuse, but if it earned him an understanding nod, then it must have sufficed. “Now, are you ready?”

Another nod, and the prince took a fighting stance, even if it looked as though he’d moved through molasses to get to it.

“Alright,” Byleth frowned, already having reservations over Dimitri’s mental state. But he had to give it at least one try. “Begin.”

Dimitri didn’t move. Neither did Byleth, who suddenly had no idea what to do.

Dimitri always made the first move. Even as a teenager, he was an aggressive fighter. Poised, refined, and well trained, but very aggressive. His professor had grown so accustomed to preparing some kind of parry or dodge that it was all he could do now to stand awkwardly and expectantly in the dirt.

Byleth huffed, adjusting his stance. What kind of mercenary couldn’t adapt to unusual circumstances. If Dimitri had no interest in coming to him, then he should hope he still remembers how to block.

He jetted forward, kicking up a cloud of dust as he swung his axe back, fully expecting Dimitri to raise his lance for a block; Axe attacks were difficult not to telegraph. It was all Byleth could manage to slow his swing at the last minute, the iron clanging against black armor like broken church bells. Dimitri winced, stumbling to the side with the force of the impact, his lance still held in some useless direction.

Stepping backwards, there was confusion written all over Byleth’s otherwise neutral expression. “Focus, Dimitri!” Rocking back on his feet, Byleth launched himself forward, ducking to the side and sending the pommel of the axe into where his ribs would be, eliciting another metallic toll and stumble. Byleth pulled his axe back, hooking the blade onto the bottom end of Dimitri’s lance and ripping it out of his hands. The prince watched as the thin weapon settled into the dirt, before turning back expectantly to Byleth. He was tense. He was expecting Byleth to attack him again, as he stood unarmed.

Byleth retreated, his axe lowering. “Pick up your weapon, Dimitri.” His concern for the young man pulled his mouth into a frown. “I know you are capable of blocking these attacks, so why aren’t you?”

Dimitri pulled his head up from where it was looking at his feet, blonde strands falling back away from his face. “I am not supposed to.”

“I was not aware sparring now meant whaling on an unarmed opponent.”

Dimitri shifted, uncomfortable under this new interrogation. “You said this was to atone for my actions. It is not a punishment if I fight back.”

A sigh escaped Byleth’s lips, as he went to pick up the abandoned lance. “I never said this was a punishment, Dimitri. I asked you not to hold back.” Byleth extended his arm, lance balanced in his palm as an offering. “‘An eye for an eye’ has never been to my taste, anyways.”

It felt like an eternity before Dimitri took the lance in his hand. “If I don’t hold back, I’ll end up hurting you again.”

“Don’t sound so confident about that.” Good. Byleth’s plan hinges on that confidence. “Fight me properly, Prince of Faerghus. And wipe that self-pitying expression off your face.”

That last comment elicited a flicker of something other than pain in Dimitri’s eye, a good thing even if it was a flash of anger. In a moment, his lance snapped to attention. “You cannot get mad at me if you end this match with something broken.”

“I told you not to sound so confident.” Byleth couldn’t stop the smirk from forming on his face. “Now begin, boar prince.”

Dimitri responded to the insult with only a characteristic snarl, barrelling forward just as Byleth hoped he would. The upper haft of Byleth’s axe blocked Dimitri’s swing with ease, but the sheer force sent the professor back a few steps. Byleth whirled, using the momentum brought on by the blade’s weight to speed up his turn and swing, only to be stopped by Dimitri’s own parry, the impact rattling up to Byleth’s ears. He just nearly missed his chance to duck out of the way of Dimitri’s counterattack.

The axe was heavy. Byleth cursed the added weight, his speed was one of the few advantages he had on the prince. Speed and mercenary instincts, that was all. And he couldn’t guarantee Dimitri hadn’t surpassed the latter in his years alone.

Another sweeping lance attack sent Byleth back another few feet, but the next one saw him holding his ground, the heels of his boots dug deep into the dirt. He met the weapon in a block that threatened to leave Byleth barrelled over, and for a moment the two men’s faces were but inches from each other. A competitive fire in their eyes that lit up the other’s face before Byleth twisted his weight, sending Dimitri kiltering off to the side, unable to catch himself. Byleth used the opportunity to swing his axe down, colliding hard with the obsidian protecting Dimitri’s back. The larger man stumbled further, using his lance to catch himself before he fell into the settling dust.

Byleth was about to issue a command for Dimitri to rise, before the butt of a lance jutted out and struck his gut, all of his breath fleeing his body in an unbefitting wheeze. He could make out a pleased grin from between the messy strips of blonde when Dimitri turned his head. The prince wheeled around, lowering his weapon in a bid to sweep up Byleth’s legs with it. The mercenary had but a second to slam the hook of his axe to the ground, catching the lance before it forced him to the ground.

Metal against metal continued to ring out for minutes on end, masking the sounds of grunts and heavy breathing with its violent percussion-only orchestra. Movements began to slow, but neither man cared to admit defeat. The prince had his pride to maintain, and the professor was on a mission. But what was there to do when two opponents were evenly matched, each attack being met with a flawless dodge, and an unforgiving counter? What was there that could give the other an edge?

...Dirt.

Byleth settled on dirt.

After having been brought to his knees by a particularly cruel slam of lance shaft to stomach, Byleth dug a hand into the shifting ground, before flinging the contents from his glove into Dimitri’s unsuspecting and overconfident smug little stupid face.

Byleth was an unrivaled mercenary. No one ever said he was an honorable one. No one except the prince currently stumbling back and spitting dirt from his mouth.

“What in the Goddess was that—!!” Dimitri was nearly launched off his feet as he attempted to keep his grip on his lance, while Byleth used his axe to tear it from his hands. It was all he could do to watch it clatter to the floor for a second time today, while Byleth charged full force into him, the momentum knocking both of them over.

When the dust settled, Dimitri found Byleth atop him, blade of an axe held to his throat.

Byleth struggled to force the words from his mouth while he was busy with heaving breaths. “I win.”

Dimitri responded with a huff and a crass spit of more grime from his mouth. “That was a dirty move.”

“Do you think Edelgard won’t try to play dirty if it means survival?” Byleth steadied himself, ready to be flung off from the mere mention of the name. Instead, Dimitri only frowned, his exhausted eyes darkening.

Byleth continued, trying his luck. “If you can't beat this axe on your own, why do you think you could defeat hers.”

“You’re cruel.”

“Coming from the man ready to strangle his only ally.”

Dimitri let out a harsh laugh, gritting his teeth in frustration yet closing his eyes, his head falling back and his hair resting under it like a bed of gold straw. “This was a lesson, was it, Professor?”

“I told you it wasn’t a punishment.” Byleth removed the weapon from Dimitri’s throat, dropping it with a thunk. “I am going to respond to that message.”

“I don’t want companions.” Dimitri’s eye opened just a sliver, his hand finding a grip on Byleth’s free arm. The man felt as though he weighed nothing atop him, it would take no effort to fling the unyielding professor off. But that would only mean he would return with a different lecture.

What was it he had said? Dimitri struggled to recall it through his exhausted haze. It was up to him to help tame the beast in the monastery? Fine.

Dimitri sighed in defeat. “...But I will accept soldiers.”

The admission earned him a happy pat on the head as Byleth slid off of him.

“Correct answer, Dimitri. Full marks.” Byleth shifted, resting his head against Dimitri’s chestplate as he laid beside him in the dirt. Both their faces were still a touch pink from exertion, Byleth was sure Dimitri wouldn’t notice a blush. Dimitri, in turn, rested a hand against Byleth’s head. The mess of green fluff was satisfying to play with, and he appreciated that his professor didn’t seem to mind his touch.

“By the way,” Byleth added, after a couple moments of silence broken only by weary breaths.

“Yes?”

“If you try to choke me without my permission again, I’m breaking up with you.”

“...Understood.” Dimitri felt his own blush creep up his cheeks. Then Byleth really did see him the way Dimitri prayed he would. The realization lit a warm, childish spark in his chest. Byleth was his boyfriend. The young prince bit back a desire to break into a giddy grin. His boyfriend. How juvenile. How absolutely wonderful. How—

 

“...Wait, what do you mean ‘without my permission'—”

Chapter Text

Byleth watched the sweep of the owl’s wings, feathers illuminated in the sunlight peeking over the mountain tops. It had waited for him patiently, its wise eyes investigating the new parchment replacing its delivered message.

Just a single word. “Yes.”

It must have been at the marketplace. He hadn’t seen anyone he recognized, but unless one of his old students was currently crawling about in the rafters, there wouldn’t have been another instance where Byleth was in the public eye. He mulled question after question over in his mind. Was it Ashe himself who had seen him, or was he in correspondence with someone who had? And if so, who? Was it a student of Garreg Mach, or a Knight of Seiros? Gilbert was a strong possibility, but Ashe really had no reason to exchange letters with Annette’s absentee father of all people. Unless all his old students had been told, in which—

Byleth gave his head a furious shake, strands of mint flipping into matching eyes. No, there’s no reason to be falling down a paranoid rabbit hole now. He could leave the catastrophizing to Dimitri, who was still not wholly enthused by this whole matter. Byleth supposed there was only one real question to answer.

When should they be expecting visitors?

He was surprised by how mixed his feelings were about it. If the chicken-scratch notes splayed out all over his desk had anything to say about it, his half-formed plans for peace required all of Byleth’s little lambs back with him. And having them back just a little under a year and a half early? Surely that would be a good thing.

So why was he dreading the thought?

“Profess- Ah, Byleth..?”

Byleth turned towards the source of the verbal stumble, charmed by Dimitri’s difficulty using his actual name. The prince stood in the doorway, looking out in the direction of the owl’s flight path. He didn’t have much of anything written on his face, but his voice was level. Not angry or betrayed, just a bit groggy after what Byleth could only assume was another restless night of half-sleep. “Did you send the return message?”

Byleth nodded. “Now we just hope it lands in friendly hands.” A simple snowy owl was as common as the rodents it hunted in Faerghus; Surely it wouldn’t attract the eyes of Imperials. Surely.

“Or in a river. A mountain abyss.” Dimitri offered a thin smile, trying his hand at humor. “A campfire, perhaps.” His attempt earned him a roll of Byleth’s eyes, which was reward enough for him. Emotion of any kind—excluding anger—from his professor was a treat, but it seemed to be flowing more freely as of late.

Byleth folded his arms, speaking petulantly. “You are going to make friends, so help me Goddess.”

“If you of all people are invoking the will of the divine, I must be too far gone.” Another eyeroll. Dimitri was doing quite well this morning. “Regardless,” He shifted topics, the joking lit to his voice fading, “I will be leaving momentarily as I believe it was my turn to go hunting, and if I recall correctly you were grumbling about the lack of meat in storage the other day—”

“Let’sgoonadate.” Byleth blurted out the request so quickly it sounded like an incantation.

Incomprehensible as it was, it got Dimitri to stop rattling off daily plans. “...Come again?”

Byleth sucked in a breath through his teeth, holding back the redness of his cheeks through sheer willpower. He had been doing quite well, keeping his lovestruck fluster in check ever since his confession. It seemed as though putting it out in the open freed up space in his mind for some much needed confidence, if not the emotional control he once enjoyed. He’ll get that back sooner or later, he was sure. Hopefully sooner. Please.

“I think. We. Should go on. A. Date.” A delivery as smooth as gravel, but it did its job. Byleth took another breath, focusing on smoothing his speech. “I… Well, I do not know how much longer we will have the monastery to ourselves, and…” He tip-toed around his thoughts, mashing puzzle pieces together until he got a proper sentence. “And now that we have come to an agreement on our relationship, further steps would be favorable.”

Dimitri responded with a befuddled blink, either trying to work out the content of Byleth’s words or why they were presented with three different tone shifts. “You are asking me on… A date.” Yes. Yes, absolutely, of course, it sounds wonderful, why on earth would he ever say no. Except he has to say no.

Dimitri shook his head, despite looking reluctant even doing that much. “Byleth, we have too much yet to do to engage in… Frivolities.” He frowned, gaze moving to an invisible to-do list. “I have squandered enough of my time as it is. And you have promised me a plan to infiltrate Enbarr and defeat that woman, which has yet to be delivered.”

A soft huff escaped Byleth’s lips. The prince really insisted on being difficult at every turn. “Would you like to see the disaster area my room has become to prove I have been working?”

“I saw it the last time I carried you back to bed.”

“That was forever ago,” Byleth waved him off. “And those plans may be changing, if we have more people to work with.” Just going to omit that he planned for those extra soldiers from the beginning. He was finally in a relatively good mood, not going to ruin it with time travel. “I can’t work on an accurate strategy without knowing how many pieces are in the game.”

“How poetic.” Dimitri leaned up against the doorframe, eliciting gentle thunks as his armor met wood.

It was odd for someone who spent much of his time in the past months collecting dust in the cathedral to speak on wise time usage. Which means there’s something else.

“Dimitri, does the idea of spending time for the sake of your own happiness bother you?”

Dimitri met the query with a frown, his eyes darting away from Byleth’s soft gaze. “...The Empire will continue to make their moves while I am busy trying to be ‘happy’.” He punctuated the last word as if it were some odd piece of gibberish.

“As they would if you went hunting, or training, or sleeping.”

“Look at my face and say that I have been sleeping, Byleth.” Dimitri’s gaze fell further, his arms hanging limp at his sides. It was true, that was one thing the professor had yet to properly address. Some color had returned to the prince’s naturally pale face over the course of a few months, but the dark circles under his eyes hung steadfast in their spot. After a moment of silence, Dimitri continued, voice low. As if he was trying to hide from something. “Do you think they will speak kindly to me tonight if I take your offer, no matter how badly I may wish to?”

Byleth thought in that moment how much he would like to muzzle Dimitri’s imaginary dead family. Inappropriate, yes. But he had no solution in shutting up the poor man’s mental jury.

Byleth walked forward, slowly enough that his boots only sounded a gentle padding across the stone. He stopped in front of Dimitri, taking a gloved hand reluctantly given and holding it in his own. “...One day. I’m only asking for one.” He looked up into Dimitri’s weary face, watching him struggle to make eye-contact. “And tonight, do not run off and hide alone. I may not be able to speak to… To them. But I can be with you through it.” He knew such an offer would have been impossible during the Academy, even when he had seen his student wander into classes the next morning masking exhaustion. He was sure what was haunting him at that time was nothing compared to what the older man in front of him was facing, but Byleth couldn’t quite erase the guilt of allowing him to suffer through even his few moments of peace.

Dimitri may have done terrible, gruesome things. So had Byleth. But he had to believe that the both of them deserved to find happiness, or else he no longer knew what he was fighting for.

He gave Dimitri’s hand a gentle squeeze, urging on a response. “Please, Dimitri. If it eases your guilt, consider yourself answering your professor’s request.”

He heard soft air escape Dimitri’s lips, his shoulders falling ever so slightly. He had conceded defeat. “Do you even know how to have a date?”

...Byleth did not. Luckily for him, though he would not admit it, neither did the prince.

 

---

 

Byleth’s eyes drooped, the rhythmic feeling of fingers combing through his hair threatening to put him to sleep. He thought the image might be a bit amusing, making a mental connection as he observed a pair of birds in a nearby evergreen with a lazy gaze. He was being preened by his precious beast.

Dimitri was careful not to tug hard at any point, picking out stray shards of leaf that had fallen into Byleth’s hair during their brief hunting spree. Byleth had offered the unconventional date activity as a way to ease Dimitri’s guilt over his perceived unproductivity. As long as they did it together, surely it could still be considered a date, yes? And it had lead to a delicious impromptu picnic, despite the nippy winter weather. All was well. Byleth was the master of faking competence in things he clearly had no expertise in. Romance would be no different, he assured himself.

“Why is it you like to play with my hair so much?” Byleth muffled a yawn, leaning back a bit.

“It is one of the few delicate activities I find not to be impossible for me.” Byleth could admit it was true, Dimitri was being unusually gentle just as he had while Byleth had been bedridden. The occasional yank on a tangle, but nothing much different from when Byleth brushed his own hair. And the added warmth radiating from behind him made it all the more pleasant. “I must admit, I know the circumstances of its change were not ideal, but…” Byleth could imagine the blush forming across Dimitri’s pale cheeks. “I could not imagine you looking any more stunning, and then you escaped that void appearing even more like an angel.”

An angel couldn’t be further from the truth, Byleth thought.

Dimitri was too caught up in his admiration to notice Byleth’s silence, lightly pinching a bundle of stands between his thumb and index finger. “It practically glows, as do your eyes. That just seems impossible, and yet. Everything about you seems utterly ethereal, like complete fantasy.”

Continue, and all the prince threatened to do was guilt Byleth out of the date before it had a chance to claim Dimitri later. “Dimitri, please,” Byleth offered a weak laugh, brushing off the feeling gnawing at his stomach. “You might as well be writing a love sonnet at this point. An inaccurate one, at that.” The grooming halted, and Byleth bit back an involuntary protest.

“Inaccurate? Byleth, surely you must be able to see how incredible you are.” His incredulous tone held hints of his past self. If Dimitri was practiced in anything, it was complimenting his professor. But now the compliments flowed more freely, more honest. Not caught up in princely restraint. “You are tactically brilliant, not to mention one of the strongest warriors I have had the opportunity to fight alongside.” Byleth jolted slightly when he felt Dimitri’s arms slide up under his own, wrapping around his stomach. “Perhaps it is unseemly to have such thoughts on a battlefield, but watching you single-handedly tear apart ranks of soldiers is as mesmerizing as your smile.” Byleth chose to believe that particular thought came from Current Dimitri, as the idea that the good little prince had been admiring his blood-soaked professor mid-mission made him feel even more guilty. Of what, he was not fully sure.

Dimitri continued, dissuaded by nothing. Byleth felt Dimitri’s forehead press against the back of his head, causing his voice to muffle. “And your smile, Goddess above.” Goddess is unavailable, please take a message, Dimitri. “It is always so kind. You have always been so kind. Every waking minute you seemed to be helping someone with something. I suppose you can imagine how jealous that made me.”

“Don’t pretend like that’s past tense,” Byleth interjected, his red face betraying how overwhelmed he was getting from the flood of complements.

Dimitri let out a breathy chuckle, squeezing Byleth a little tighter. “True. But can you blame me?” Byleth sensed a shift, and suddenly Dimitri’s voice was right in his ear, low and smooth, forcing a shiver out of Byleth that he wasn’t prepared for. “What was I to do when my handsome Professor wasn’t paying attention to me?”

Byleth own voice came out revealingly frazzled. “We have got to work on your possessive streak.”

Another laugh, another unfortunate shiver. “Byleth, is there not some little part of you that enjoys it?”

Byleth scrunched up his face, eyes shut tight. “You are getting a lot better at using my name, good job—”

“—Don’t avoid the question, my dear professor.” The interjection came out in a sing songy voice, gently chiding Byleth’s attempt at changing the subject.

Byleth bit his lip. This was killing him. Literally, he felt his lifespan dropping a year per second, or perhaps every time he felt Dimitri’s breath against his ear. Can your lifespan drop if you’re immortal? Is he immortal, even? Byleth had no way of figuring that out.

“...In…” Byleth was fully prepared for death. End him. “In the right context, maybe…

“And what kind of context would that be?”

This date was a mistake. He was not ready for this. End him, please Sothis come back from the void and end his miserable existence.

The fearless mercenary’s voice cracked like a child. “Something like this.”

Byleth could practically feel the smirk that curled behind him, and he could definitely feel when Dimitri’s teeth briefly clamped down on the ear he had just been cooing into, a little nip that forced a pathetic yelp from Byleth’s mouth and an attempt to scramble out of Dimitri’s grip. The young man allowed his escape, caught up in his own laughter. If Byleth’s mind hadn’t been instantly scrambled in the moment, he would have appreciated the sound; A gentle bellow, free of bitterness that so often accompanied it.

Byleth slid forward on the ground, turning back to face his affectionate attacker, one hand protectively cupped to his ear. “What was that for?!” He sounded more scandalized than he did upset.

Dimitri swallowed up the last of his laughter in order to answer. “I wanted to see your reaction.”

Of course he did. Byleth puffed up his pink cheeks, only half-feigning his annoyance. “You could have warned me.”

“But then your reaction would not be as entertaining. You would have had a chance to put that mask of yours back on, and I like to see you much more with it off.” He pointed to his face, emphasizing his point. A light flush of his own betrayed just how much false-posturing he was doing himself.

“You don’t see me trying to purposely mess with you, you know.”

“That is because you know I am not nearly as strong as you.” He reached out to snatch Byleth’s hand as he offered his explanation. Byleth was always stunned at the ease with which Dimitri was able to yank him around.

“Don’t say you’re not strong when you do that.”

“Do what?” Don’t put on an innocent voice, it hardly matches the face.

“When you pull and lift me around.”

Byleth caught his mistake the moment Dimitri tightened the grip on his hand. “Oh, you mean when I do this.” With little more than a low grunt, Byleth was hoisted onto Dimitri’s lap, a spot he was absolutely not emotionally prepared to be sitting in. It was so close. Too close. Too warm. Too uncomfortable with hard bits of armor poking into his legs, which lead to further discomfort when Byleth’s mind jumped to imagining the armor off its owner.

Something about Byleth’s startled face must have prompted Dimitri to break character, but he hardly heard it through all the blood once again rushing to his brain. “Byleth, are you well?” Sorry Dimitri, Byleth is also out at the moment, you’ll need to leave another message.

“Professor, if I have gone too far, please tell me.” The muffled voice sounded more apprehensive, and he could feel his body already beginning to be pulled off its new perch.

“NowaitI’mgood—” It was words. Sort of. It was similar enough to words to get Dimitri to relax once more, and allow Byleth to settle back into place.

Byleth blinked, allowing himself to focus on the face in front of him. Dimitri’s eyebrows were still furrowed in concern, an icy eye scanning his face for signs of discomfort. “...You are certain?” Byleth nodded, and the face softened further, letting out a sigh of relief. He could feel a hand rest against the small of his back, radiating heat up his spine to meet the other hand absent-mindedly stroking a thumb between his shoulder blades. It managed to be relaxing and forcing anxious jitters at the same time. Conflicting. Everything about this was so conflicting, and new, and different, and strange, and mind-meltingly exciting.

Byleth struggled to recall times he had been this close to another person, at least not when he was feigning unconsciousness.

Byleth did toss around the idea that he was, in fact, unconscious. It was possible. He had eaten undercooked venison and had fallen into a coma. This was all a fever dream. A very vivid fever dream, where the prince in front of him was bright and clear and strong. Not blurry, hidden under foggy layers of subconscious guilt and denial. Yes, this was just a particularly pleasant recurring dream of his, and it would be best if he did what he always did in his fuzzy, shameful fantasies.

The kiss was a lot warmer than usual. Guess he wasn’t dreaming after all.

Byleth could feel the muscles in Dimitri’s arms stiffen from where they pressed against him, every other part of him a mystery under the layers of armor and clothing. He settled for wrapping his own arms over his shoulders, burying his hands in the thick fur of Dimitri’s cape. There was something satisfying about the way the prince froze up, like Byleth was finally able to pluck a little bit of control back from his lips. It was appreciated, as Byleth’s experience was limited and from far too long ago, but it was still more than what the young prince had. A tilt of the head felt more natural, and Dimitri responded in kind. When Byleth let his mouth open just a touch more, the young man followed his lead.

To a more experienced eye, perhaps it was a sloppy, awkward display of affection. But it was all the two knew how to do, and neither was keen to stop. It was warm, and soft. Softer than what Dimitri had attempted the evening of his birthday. Byleth let his hands move from plush fur to silky hair, letting his fingers brush through and tangle up in the blonde strands. He felt himself press closer to Dimitri’s chestplate, the strong arms tightening their grip around him. What was one kiss gradually became many, short breaths taken as quick as possible between each one, eager not to stay apart for long. By the time he pulled away completely, Byleth had cupped Dimitri’s face in his hands, feeling the sharpness of his jaws under the palms of his hands, his thumbs lightly stroking cheeks that had grown thoroughly and preciously flushed. Dimitri’s eye was still shut, gold lashes draped down, peaceful and content and thoroughly loved, even if he did not believe that.

Byleth was terribly proud of being the source of such an expression.

 

---

 

A rare occurrence, yet every time Byleth marveled how dwarfed his room appeared when Dimitri stood in it. Byleth had grown used to the size disparity between the two, but there were moments where it really hit him just how damn big Dimitri was now.

Byleth bit his lip. That’s where that line of thought would stop, immediately.

Dimitri shuffled on his feet, too busy looking awkward to notice Byleth, also looking awkward. “You do not have to allow this, Professor. I know you promised it, but really, I am more trouble than it is worth at night—” Byleth thought it funny, he had begun to notice Dimitri would slip back into his old naming habits whenever he got self-conscious. It was a very endearing tell.

“A promise is a promise. I told you I would stay by your side tonight.”

Dimitri looked around, eye flicking about the room. He had only ever come to this room to deliver his dozing professor, save for the tea party that had been safely during the daytime. Despite everything, despite how utterly ridiculous the feeling was, the prince couldn’t shake the feeling that spending the night in Byleth’s room was inappropriate. Of all the things to do with himself, that was what he deemed unseemly. “Must it be in your room, though?”

The click of a lock was his answer. “I imagined you would feel safer in a locked room, and your old room is still a wreck.” Byleth added as an addendum, “And I would still like to sleep in a bed.”

Dimitri eyed the small bed, anxiety still lacing his face. “...I have grown accustomed to the floor, if you do not mind.”

Byleth nodded. He wasn’t planning on forcing Dimitri into something he was uneasy with, and it was just as well. Neither Byleth’s heart nor his bed frame could comfortably take a second person. “If you don’t mind, I’m going to change.” He padded to his closet, peering in. “I don’t know if I have anything that would fit you, but if you would like to borrow night clothes I’m sure I can make something work.”

“I generally don’t change.”

“I assumed so, but there’s no need for you to hide in armor tonight.” Byleth glanced back over his shoulder, his night shirt draped over his arms. “Sleep comfortably for once, Dimitri. And close your eye or turn your back, would you?”

Dimitri’s eyebrows furrowed for a moment, before realization dawned and he spun on his heel, suddenly very interested in papers strewn across Byleth’s desk. They appeared to be battle plans, but wholly illegible ones to any eyes other than the mercenary’s. Dimitri found some formation designs a touch odd, though. There seemed too many dots for a force of two. It had been but a day since Byleth sent back the owl, no time to plan formations for a whole predicted battalion. And odder still was the sheer lack of these unusual war plans in and amongst overwhelmingly long lists and notes. His tactician had been busy at work, but what kind of work had he been consumed with?

“Alright, you can turn back around.” The voice broke Dimitri from his stupor, the stress that had begun welling up in his soul dissipating at the sight of his slightly disheveled companion. His night robes were simple and loose, familiar Seiros-specific embroidery tracing the edges of the fabric. Parts of his hair stuck up in emerald tufts, where slipping his shirt over his head had disturbed it. His eyes were already drooped from fatigue.

He was so cute.

“Do you need help out of your armor, or are you determined to be even more miserable on the floor?” Byleth came closer, reaching out to fiddle with the straps on Dimitri’s arm guard. It seemed as though there would be no arguing on this matter after all.

“I can manage, thank you.”

“Good. You do that, and I’m going to go pilfer you bedding from one of the other rooms.” Byleth figured the quality and cleanliness of such bedding wouldn’t be high on Dimitri’s lists of concerns, and he promptly unlocked and slipped out of his room before Dimitri could insist it was unnecessary. As Byleth returned with the bundle of down feather blankets, the last of Dimitri’s jet black armor had thunked to the floor, piled in a corner of the room.

Byleth busied himself setting out the bedding, yet still managed to find time to admire his guest between fluffs of pillows. Dimitri’s undershirt was made of a thin, tight black fabric that fit snugly against the contours of his chest and down his arms, and the matching pants did much of the same for his legs. He couldn’t say it left all that much up to the imagination, and it didn’t even need to. If his years alone had done one singular good thing for Dimitri, it was improving upon his otherwise spindly noble figure.

“Professor- Er, Byleth. You’re staring.”

Dammit.

“Just. Just sit and don’t mention that.” Byleth huffed and patted the make-shift bed he’d prepared before falling into his own.

“It’s flattering.” An encouraging smile. The prince got another embarrassed huff back.

“Time for bed, goodnight sweet prince.” Byleth rolled over onto his side and continued to pout at the wall in peace. He had spent part of the evening attached by the lips to someone who was effectively his partner, yet still couldn’t bare to admit he stared at the man from time to time. What paradox was his mind.

“Goodnight, Byleth.” He felt something heavy and familiar drape over his figure, and then the sound of Dimitri lying down on the floor beneath him. It had been a fair amount of time since Dimitri had offered Byleth his cape, the added warmth unnecessary when Byleth kept that old fur gift clipped consistently to his winter ensemble. But in the moment, the soft velvet and fur enveloping him in warmth and a distinctly familiar smell was immensely comforting.

Byleth shifted to his other side, swaddling himself in a blue cocoon, eyeing its owner as he attempted to fall asleep. He looked unusually vulnerable outside of his protective shell, curled in on himself. Vulnerable, save for the glint of sheathed metal that peeked out from under a hand. His birthday gift was clutched loosely in a hand, one little protective lifeline to ease the paranoia. Byleth could see blue that matched the dagger’s handle, staring out into the shadows under his bed.

“Close your eyes, Dimitri. I promise I won’t fall asleep before you do.”

The blue flicked upwards, meeting green. Dimitri gave an understanding blink, and another shift. His eyes gradually fell closed. The wind outside rattled Byleth’s window, a winter rhythm set to help the prince drift off. In time, his face relaxed and steady breaths escaped his mouth.

Difficult as it was to see in the darkened room, Byleth admired the rare moment of peace. He still wasn’t ready to take it away.

“I need to tell you…” The words were muffled and lost against the fur held to Byleth’s mouth. “Before anyone arrives, I need to tell you the truth…”

It seemed as though the guilt pulled at Byleth just as it began to pull at Dimitri. He could hear soft whines turn to restless mumbles, turn to sleep talking with a waking nightmare. It was the same chorus of promises and pleas Byleth had grown accustomed to hearing. He was ready, reaching down to grasp the hand not already busy with a blade. His grip turned to iron for just a moment, his nightly mantra devolving into something different, and incomprehensible. His voice softened in time with his grip, but he never fully let go.

That was fine. He might not know it, but Byleth needed the touch as much as he did.

He hoped more than anything in the world he wouldn’t lose this touch tomorrow.

Chapter Text

Tomorrow came.

Tomorrow went.

Byleth slept poorly that night.

 

The next day came.

The next day went.

Dimitri smiled too many times. Byleth got a forehead kiss that was too gentle. He didn’t tell him.

 

The next week came.

The nausea at night was getting worse. Byleth couldn’t get up, he didn’t want to disturb the prince lying beside his bed. Dimitri had started returning to his professor’s room each night. He had begun to sleep. He felt safe.

Byleth stopped sleeping.

 

The next week went.

Byleth didn’t tell him.

 

The next day came.

Dimitri cooked Byleth dinner. He remembered to use the herbs Byleth had gathered long before. He looked so proud. Byleth didn’t tell him.

The next day came.

Bandits snuck into the monastery again. Dimitri killed them all. Byleth was lethargic, he failed to dodge an arrow, it embedded in his shoulder. Dimitri looked so worried. He helped tend to the wound, his hands equal parts clumsy and gentle. Byleth didn’t tell him.

The next day came.

Dimitri brought Byleth a bouquet of flowers collected from the greenhouse. It was to decorate Byleth’s room. He didn’t think Byleth’s room should be full of nothing but papers for war. He smiled an embarrassed smile. He had begun smiling so much. Byleth didn’t tell him.

The next week came.

Dimitri was antsy. He asked Byleth when the plans for Enbarr would be ready. Byleth told him when he could guarantee they would work. Dimitri asked to see them. Byleth told him no. Dimitri didn’t push the matter further, for the professor looked so tired. Dimitri told him to rest, if he was struggling to do his work. Byleth didn’t tell him.

The next week came.

Byleth was exhausted. He fell asleep while Dimitri held his hand. Byleth woke up screaming. Neither man slept that night. Byleth didn’t tell him what the nightmare was about.

 

---

 

Byleth had never considered himself a particularly strong man. Physically, maybe, but his own students could surpass him on that front.

But people thought he was strong. They would take one look at him on the battlefield, unfazed by the horrors of war, a mask of quiet confidence focused solely on leading his wacky ragtag band of child soldiers to victory. He didn’t understand why that was considered strength. It sounded more like cruelty, but it was what he was ordered to do, and a good mercenary knew how to follow orders.

Byleth knew better. He knew he was a bad person. A bad person trying to make up for bad things by trying to fix one person, even though he knew all he was doing was frantically taping back together shards of a long shattered heart.

He was weak, and he couldn’t tell him. He couldn’t turn that glass to dust with a single stomp.

He was scared. He wasn’t ready for Dimitri to hate him, because Byleth knew he deserved that hate.

And he was so, so tired.

 

“Professor-?!”

Byleth didn’t know how long he had been on the floor of the greenhouse. He had been watering the plants, and it smelled so nice, and the building was warm and reminded him of happy times and he missed his students so badly he thought he might turn back time just a touch. How long had it been since he had last slept? Three days? Four? They were beginning to blend together.

Black and blue flooded his vision as Dimitri kneeled down, lifting Byleth into his arms. Always the feral gentleman. “Professor- Byleth, please,” Dimitri’s voice skirted the realms of begging. “You have been acting ill for days, tell me what is wrong with you. I am no healer but I can try to care for you as I have before.”

Byleth voice came out in a croak that startled even him. “I can’t.”

“What do you mean you can’t,” Dimitri’s grip around him tightened as he pleaded. “Do you not trust me?”

Please don’t look at him like that. Not with eyes like a wounded dog. “I do, Dimitri. I wouldn’t still be here if I didn’t, but…” His voice trailed off, his eyes focusing on the stalks of a fast wilting bunch of daffodils. He hated daffodils. Stupid flowers that bloomed too early and fell to the first cold snap of spring.

“But nothing! Do you expect me to watch you wither, while I remain clueless?”

“I can’t.” His voice was splintering like the branch of a long dead tree.

“I am begging you to talk to me, Professor!” His voice sounded too young. Go back. Go back to when Dimitri spoke with his back to him in a heartless beastial growl. It would be easier to take the hatred then.

“I can’t!” His choked voice echoed around the greenhouse, the voice of a stranger. There was nothing he could do about the water welling up in his eyes, obscuring the blonde staring down at him with horror on his face. He had never properly seen his professor cry.

It was all Byleth could continue to mumble out, “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t tell you,” all in a broken rhythm while tears spilled down his cheeks. Dimitri didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know whether or not to rock Byleth in his arms and coo the way he had wanted people to do to him when his sobs brought him to his knees. He didn’t know whether to run away, or if he even could. The deep, heavy knot in his stomach threatened to weigh him down. He didn’t know how to comfort his dear professor. Suffering was something you shouldered in silence, and wailed about in solitude when it became heavy enough to break your spine. Not something you share in the arms of another on the floor of a greenhouse.

Dimitri could see the fear in Byleth’s eyes, the green glistening wet. He hated it. He hated it more than he hated seeing anger there. His Byleth was strong, he was always strong and he always protected him even when he didn’t want protection. He wasn’t prepared to see fear, a fear that was completely raw and completely his fault. Dimitri knew it was fear of him, because that’s what it always was. His words came out before his brain could stop them. “You cannot tell me, because you are afraid of me.”

The shake of the head he got was hesitant. The denial was a lie, and a poorly given one at that.

“You are afraid of how I will react.”

Byleth’s stomach lurched. Dimitri was going to force the truth out of him, and he was going to lose him as a result.

Dimitri sighed when Byleth did not even attempt to contradict his statement. “I understand,” he offered solace in the most pitiful of voices. “I have not reacted well in the past. Telling me might put you in danger.” It was so frustrating for him. The self-awareness Byleth had brought to him made his acts of compulsion hurt that much more. Flying into fits of rage was so much easier on the soul when one’s eyes were clouded red. But to play the part of a passive audience, watching himself hurt the only person he had left, that was a punishment even Dimitri thought may be too much.

“Is this all to do with how you have not been sleeping?” Byleth gave a silent nod, broken only by a pathetic sniff. Recognition passed through Dimitri’s mind. He could see his own feelings reflected in the dark circles under those puffy red eyes. It was guilt that was eating away at the professor’s body, the same way it picked apart his own. Guilt and fear.

The knowledge turned Dimitri’s skin to ice.

Byleth is a traitor. Byleth is a spy. Byleth has only come to hurt you, to build you back up in time for Edelgard to strike you down. A traitor, a guilty traitor trapped in the arms of a dangerous monster. Dimitri either swallowed back the thoughts, or his own vomit, he couldn’t tell. His mouth tasted like acid either way. The paranoia screamed bloody murder in his mind, and it was everything he could do not to act on it. Not to lash out like his body wanted to, to do what was familiar. Not to be a beast.

He settled for gripping Byleth’s hand too tight. That action had become familiar too.

“If you cannot tell me what is hurting you, then please, tell me how I might help you.” If Byleth was truly a traitor, then he would accept the Sword of the Creator embedded in his back. Such an end would silence the voices just as well as Edelgard’s head would.

Byleth remained silent for a long while, and when he spoke, he spoke weakly. Pleadingly. “I’m sorry.”

For a moment, Dimitri expected that to be the last thing he would hear. Byleth would rise and unsheath his blade and his head would roll into a patch of forget-me-nots like some sick poem. Or the overgrown structure would alight in flames as an Imperial soldier Byleth had let in cast his spell. Or he would cough and spit up blood, his heart stuttering from poison Byleth had laced into an earlier meal. Despite the rage and betrayal bubbling up within his gut, he wanted to accept the apology.

Yet, nothing happened. Byleth remained in his arms, apology after apology spilling from his mouth. Apologies for something Dimitri didn’t get to know had been done. “I cannot forgive you if I do not know what it is you are apologizing for, Byleth…”

The grip tightened on his hand. Dimitri could feel Byleth’s nails dig into his skin. “I’m sorry for abandoning you.”

Abandon?

“But you are right here. I know I was skeptical in the beginning, but I believe you when you say you were asleep all those years. That was not abandonment.”

“Not then. I abandoned you. I kept abandoning you, and everyone.” As Byleth’s voice became more frantic, more nonsense spilling out, Dimitri only grew more confused. Fear of betrayal became fear for Byleth’s mental state. Had he worked himself to insanity?

Dimitri tried to make sense of the rambling, digging out repressed memories. When Byleth had run after his father’s murderer? When he had been trapped in that void? But he returned then, hardly abandonment. Were there times he had left his classmates on the battlefield alone and Dimitri hadn’t noticed? No, no of course not. His eyes had always been drawn to the black-cloaked figure, and that figure had always been there. So when did Byleth speak of?

Dimitri began, speaking as gently as he could muster. “Byleth, I do not understand what you mean. You have not abandoned me.”

“I let you die.”

The single sentence was spoken clearer than anything before it, yet Dimitri understood not a word of it. He was not given a chance parse together a response when Byleth continued, face pale and eyes staring at something other than the glass ceiling above them.

“I fought you on Gronder Field under the banner of the Alliance. It was Hilda who told me the first time. She said your body had been pierced by dozens of Imperial spears. I watched it happen the second time.”

“Byleth, that is impossible, and even if it was, no one was killed during the Battle of Eagle and Lion.” He tried to speak clearly and slowly, as if that would get through to the professor seemingly going mad in his arms. “The war had not yet started, and you had never lead the Golden Deer into battle during our time in the Academy.” It felt foreign to speak so candidly of the past, for the past was very much off limits in normal conversation. But this was not a normal conversation.

“I let the Adrestrian Empire consume all of Fódlan. I watched as Edelgard killed you.” His eyes were wide. “I looked you in the eyes on the battlefield and let her slaughter you.”

Byleth could feel the figure under him tense. “Professor, that is not a funny thing to joke about.” Dimitri forced his voice to remain level. To remain calm, unthreatening, the voice of a proper human. “You are speaking like a madman. You have only ever fought with the Blue Lions. The only war banner you have fought under was that of the Church of Seiros. You have never fought alongside Claude or Edelgard in battle. Only myself, and our friends.” The last bit stumbled out of his mouth. Just a mistake. A mental hiccup.

Byleth looked him dead in the eye, his face and body rigid. It was the body of someone ready for an attack.

“You watched me tear a hole in the sky, Dimitri, and you believed it to be real.”

“I did. I saw it with my own eyes.”

There was a long pause, and a long look into pleading eyes.

“Then will you believe me when I tell you that I can tear apart time?”

 

---

 

Byleth’s knowledge came slowly at first. The two had moved out of the sticky man-made humidity of the greenhouse, settling in the library. Byleth had spoken of his Divine Pulse on the way, his breath coming out in foggy puffs as he spoke of impossibilities in the late winter weather. He spoke of the day they had met, of how he had almost been cleaved in two to save the woman he was currently trying to kill, and how he turned back time to save his life and hers.

And he spoke of how much further he could turn back that time, and how he would only remember it all after that first stupid, selfless act.

He kept speaking, even as Dimitri sat silent, the light of the crackling fire reflecting off an unreadable face.

Byleth spoke of everything before he could get himself to stop. Of the Golden Deer, of the Black Eagles, of the Church of Seiros. Of Those Who Slither In The Dark. Of who he is, of who Sothis is, of who Seiros and Cichol and Cethleann are, of Crests and Crest Stones and Ancient Relics. Of what had become of Dimitri when he chose to teach a different class. Of what will come of Dimitri in this future. The Blue Lions will reunite on the day of the Millenium Festival. Dedue is alive. Rodrigue will die. Edelgard was not responsible for Duscur. You will want to save her. You will fail. She will die.

He spoke of everything he knew, every world coming out in a frightened tumble from his lips. He spoke and he accepted at any moment the image of Dimitri standing up and walking out. Leaving him with a flourish of blue velvet out the door, never to speak to him again. Maybe to get a horse and ride to Enbarr, or to return to his place in the Cathedral.

He accepted another outcome, too. An outcome where Dimitri picked up his lance from where it rested against the library bookshelves, and sent it into Byleth’s heart before he ever had a chance to Divine Pulse back to before he told him everything. An outcome where Dimitri’s hands would coil around his neck once more and Byleth wouldn’t stop him because it might be for the best for everyone if he was gone. An outcome where his students could be safe from time being turned back once again, another tragic play with the same actors.

Instead, as Byleth finally fell silent, Dimitri remained. His single eye had closed, his hands resting politely in his lap. He mouth curved downwards into a slight, concentrating frown. He played the part of the pensive king convincingly.

“I believe you.”

Byleth wasn’t sure what emotion surged through him. But he wasn’t sure anyone would have known. Some emotions are too complicated, too equally positive and negative to be given a name.

Dimitri continued, his eye opening just enough for a sliver of blue to peek through his lashes, looking down at the table between them. “That is not the story of a madman. And…” Byleth could hear his hands fidget in his lap, the leather of his gloves rubbing against each other. “I suppose I was always seeing hints of it. But I had believed your excuses.”

Their eyes met for a moment before Byleth’s flicked away. Dimitri offered further explanation, speaking low despite having the room to themselves. “You knew where to go when you awoke, even though it was not the date we had promised to meet. You were not surprised to find me there. You hesitated to shoot that deer as you held a bow stance identical to Claude’s. You defeated me in battle with an axe, swung the same way she had swung hers in the mock battles. The war plans I have seen on your desk speak of soldiers we shouldn’t have, against enemies that aren’t Adrestrian. You always knew what to do and say to elicit the best reactions from me, from everyone you spoke to. I thought it was perceptiveness. I was not aware it was routine.” His lips curved, frown twisting to a bitter smile. “You knew my favorite tea without need for me to tell you.”

The sound of sliding metal resonated around the room, as Dimitri unsheathed the dagger that had made its home on his hip. He laid it on the table. The blade glowed orange as it reflected the flames sputtering out in the fireplace.

“I had planned to kill Edelgard with this. I thought it fitting. A parting gift from the both of us.”

Byleth stared at the dagger, and he missed Dimitri’s gaze raise to look at his face.

“I believe you. I do not yet understand it, but I believe everything you have told me. But if I am to believe everything, then tell me, Professor…”

Byleth looked up to see a broken man staring back at him. Broken and hurt and confused and lost.

“You are having me relive a hell you tell me I have already suffered through many times. One where I am seeking revenge on the wrong person, for people, some of whom may still be alive.” He looked back at the dagger wearily, as his shoddily constructed reality came crashing around him. He looked back at Byleth.

“If I am to believe you, Professor. Then what kind of path did you intend for me to cut with this dagger?” The resentment dripped from his voice, as every lie and misjudgement came to the surface of his memory.

“And what kind of game have you convinced yourself you are playing?”

 

As they sat in silence, neither the professor nor the prince could hear the voices floating from the entrance of Garreg Mach.

Chapter Text

“Professor!”

The discordant chorus of voices almost knocked him off his feet before the collection of bodies running into him did. Having just rounded the corner, following the sounds of footsteps echoing about the monastery entrance hall, Byleth hadn’t had the time to brace himself. First was the hard collision of riding armor and a heavy blue Faerghus trench coat, then the softer embrace of a young priestess, then a bubbly ginger tripping her way into the three of them.

It was overwhelming, despite its predictability.

“Oh no I’m so sorry Professor—Mercie, Ashe too, are you alright?” Annette offered frantic apologies as she sprung off the pile of bodies she created.

Mercedes responded with a characteristically gentle chuckle, also prying herself from where she was sandwiching Ashe and her old teacher. “Perhaps we should have given him a moment of space.” A couple voices expressed their agreement, one exasperated and feminine, the other low and wholly unamused.

Ashe, on the other hand, failed to take Mercedes’ suggestion and remained attached to Byleth’s torso, eyes already beginning to sparkle with relieved tears. “It’s been years, we’ve been in the middle of a war,” Ashe started, justifying his own clinginess. “Can you really blame us for being excited?”

“Being excited doesn’t justify breaking his ribs, buddy.” The weight on Byleth’s chest was removed as Sylvain plucked Ashe off of him. In a moment, Byleth was just one man staring up at a collection of young, tired, and heart wrenchingly hopeful faces.

Byleth hadn’t realized how utterly unprepared he was for this moment. The one and only other time this reunion had taken place, it had been on a battlefield. And it had been before half a dozen repetitions of war, back when the goal was nothing more than staying alive.

Whatever emotion was coursing through Byleth’s mind must have showed itself on his face, because Mercedes’ face bunched into concern after a moment of silence. “I’m sorry, Professor, you must be so surprised…” She knelt down to his level, taking his hand in her small ones. A part of him regretted his gloves, he was certain Mercedes’s hands were comfortingly warm, and comfort was something he desperately needed even if it wasn’t something he deserved. She guided him back up to a standing position, keeping a steady hand under his elbow. “Ashe, Ingrid, maybe you should explain what brought us here..?”

Byleth finally allowed his eyes to do a proper scan of the students in front of him. They were what he expected, mostly. There were bits of uncanny differences, a gentle reminder that they were all there at the wrong time. Mercedes’s hair was cut even shorter, still settling into the bob she normally wore under her veil. Annette hadn’t yet given up tying her increasingly long locks into fun knots; at the moment, settling on two braids. Ashe seemed to be waiting on one last growth spurt, still falling short of Felix’s height. Ingrid and Sylvain had a handful of small scars that had yet to fade on their cheeks and leave room for new ones. Everyone’s clothes missed a bit of armor or a bloodstain that had yet to be splattered.

But those eyes were all the same. Eyes that had seen too much suffering, unique to each set, yet had not yet lost their light. There was still fighting spirit and the desire to see a peaceful end, much unlike the violent glow he’d grown used to seeing on Dimitri’s face.

Dimitri. Where was he? He’d left him in the library, after the prince requested a moment alone. When would he hear the commotion, how will he react—

Ashe’s voice popped up and halted Byleth’s increasingly anxious thoughts. “Well, it was Ingrid who first messaged me asking about seeing the Professor…” His green eyes passed from Byleth to meet Ingrid’s, who continued the explanation.

“At the market, back in the first weeks of the Ethereal Moon,” Ingrid offered, her hands wringing together. “I was seeking someone out at the border at the request of an official, and you ran into me. At first, I thought I had been seeing things, but…” She shook her head, a determined expression stealing her face. “I was certain it was you. No one’s eyes glow that bright. And it would make sense that you would be trying to hide your identity, and would remain near the monastery. A mercenary like you wouldn’t have a proper home to return when the war began, after all. It all made sense, really…” Her eyes flicked away from Byleth for a moment, her hands returning to wringing, a mental debate over whether or not to continue playing out on her face. “...Save for why you would be hiding away in the first place.”

A tangible tension hung over the group after those words, while Ashe attempted to ease it. “Ingrid and I had already been passing letters before then, you know. Neither of us are particularly influential back home, so we weren’t as closely monitored as Sylvain or Felix or—” His voice stumbled, and he struggled to put himself back on track. The others shifted, mentally filling in the name while Byleth remained ignorant. “It wouldn’t be weird for me to receive a message from her, so that’s how I found out.”

Felix’s gruff voice finally sounded out, more a mutter than an active addition to the conversation. “And you were the one dumb enough to message Garreg Mach, like the Empire wasn’t watching it like hawks.” Eagles would be more apt, Felix. Byleth kept the thought to himself.

Ingrid gave her friend a sharp elbow in the ribs while Sylvain smoothed out the conversation once again. “And it all worked out, we all managed to reunite.” It was impressive how the war failed to damage such a stunning smile. “We all managed to message each other, difficult as it was. Set a nondescript day to meet, those of us who needed to gave our excuses.”

Annette piped up from where she stood at Mercedes’ side, “We thought that would be better than when we originally planned to meet, actually. Even if it’s probably not going to happen, the Millenium Festival is an awful conspicuous time to meet.” She rocked back on her heels, practically thinking aloud. “If anyone from the Empire really is watching the monastery like Felix says, I think more eyes would be on it then than at any other time.”

That… May actually be true, Byleth realized. It hadn’t been something he’d considered, but the enemy always did seem to find them quickly after his reunions. He had assumed it was because a significant bunch of nobles had all left their stations, he hadn’t stopped to consider the time they’d left specifically. If that earns them time to plan before battle instead of merely speeding up this war by a year, then this pit growing in Byleth’s stomach may just have no reason to be there.

That is, if the fear of war is what’s causing it.

Byleth felt a squeeze, Mercedes looking up at him expectantly. Had she said something?

“Are you going to stand there and stare like a dead fish, or answer the woman?” He could always count on Felix to snap him back to the cold reality they all lived in.

“I…” Byleth struggled, the sound of his voice resonating odd to him after the chatter of all his students. “Apologies, Mercedes. I was lost in thought, this is all a bit. Overwhelming.” He looked down at her, returning the hand squeeze. “Would you say it again?”

An understanding smile replaced her concerned face, urging Byleth to relax. “I only asked if you were happy to see us again, Professor. Sudden, yes, but I think we all shared a moment of great hope when we’d been told you were alive.”

“Even Felix seemed excited to get here when we met up!” Annette grinned, sticking her tongue out in a playful gesture at the somehow-further-scowling noble. Sylvain gave Felix a hearty pat on the back to add on to the teasing, which only earned him a hard stomp to the foot. His hiss of pain was covered up by poorly muffled giggling from his companions.

It was one of those moments. Byleth had learned to cling to those moments when he found himself in wartime. Cling to moments where the young soldiers around him were students again, when the only war they participated in was which house could clear out the dining hall menu the fastest.

It was almost always the Blue Lions, for the record. With or without Byleth’s insatiable appetite.

His Blue Lions. Back, and smiling, full of hope for the future now that their Professor was there to lead the six of them to it. Only six, as far as those lions were concerned. And none of them knew how to bring up the matter to their blissfully ignorant leader.

It was Ingrid who tried. Ever the practical one, she knew Byleth would need to know sooner rather than later. She broached the question with utmost hesitancy in her voice. “Um, Professor…”

Byleth cut her off, expecting the wrong question. He’d prepared a response to her earlier concern, not for an obituary reading. “You’re still curious about why I was hiding here, yes?”

Annette looked physically relieved that the impending subject had been diverted. “More like how long you’ve been here, Professor! Where did you get this from?” She snuck around Mercedes to plop against Byleth’s back with a giggle, feeling the fur cloak that had made it’s permanent place in Byleth’s daily ensemble. He’d forgotten it was ever unusual for him to wear.

“Well, it was a—”

“And your hair!” The ginger mage exclaimed, reaching up to fidget with stray strands at the bottom. “It’s gotten longer!”

It has? Byleth’s hand instinctively moved to feel the ends of his hair, which were starting to fall against his shoulder, nearly reaching Dimitri’s length. It had happened so slowly, he hadn’t noticed. His hair didn’t grow during his multi-year sleep, and when the war kicked up he typically kept it trimmed. Perhaps it was Dimitri’s general indifference to grooming rubbing off on him, Byleth just hadn’t been bothered to cut it.

“Well I… I can’t say for sure, but I’ve been here for about eight months? I think?”

Ashe giggled to himself, “Professor, no wonder you could never tell us your age! You really are terrible at keeping track of time.”

“Only eight months? It’s been nearly four years since Garreg Mach fell,” Sylvain countered. “I don’t mean to pry here, but what were you doing that whole time? Sleeping?”

“Yes.”

Grunts of confusion rang around the hall as Byleth once again was forced to explain his situation. This part, at least, had become rote. “When we were trying to defend the monastery, I had been hit by a stray attack that had sent me off a cliff. I…” Byleth frowned a little bit, the anxiety welling back in his gut. Normally he would leave it at sleeping. An injury induced coma. But he needed to tell them, too. “...I will explain in more detail, later. It’s too long of a story to be had in the middle of a hallway.” The expressions around him only grew more confused. “All you need to know right now is that I can stop time, but I cannot start it very well. When I ‘woke up’, it was three years in the future.”

“O-oh,” Was all Ingrid could respond with.

“I guess that’s not the most unbelievable thing to do with you,” Sylvain tacked on, trying to process the information, same as the rest.

“But that means you didn’t abandon us, right?” The hesitant conclusion was offered by Ashe, who continuously glanced over at the others for confirmation.

There’s that word again. Abandon. Byleth really hated that word.

“Of course not, Ashe,” Byleth responded. “And I knew you all would return at some point like we promised.” Just not this early.

The relief on the group’s faces was fleeting. Felix had had enough sidestepping of the elephant in the room. His voice cut through the brief silence like one of his beloved swords.

“Pretty callous of you to say we all returned, when the boar and Dedue are dead.”

Each student visibly stiffened, Sylvain and Ingrid in particular. Heads whipped around to face Felix, who stayed scowling at Byleth, arms crossed and not a hint of pity in his eyes. Byleth looked back in confusion, having forgotten that his students’ reality was far different than his own.

Before Byleth could respond, Ashe stammered out, “We don’t know that for sure about Dedue, Felix! We just have no way of contacting him, and—”

“The boar was executed, what makes you think his loyal dog wouldn’t end up going with him.”

Ingrid’s hushed voice barely broke through, exhausted, with the ghost of heartbreak hanging on it. “Stop calling him that.” The request was met with a scornful huff, while the rest watched for Byleth’s reaction.

Mercedes offered another comforting squeeze of the hand. “I’m sorry, we didn’t know if you knew… And if you were asleep for so long, then surely you must not have heard what’s been happening in Faerghus.” Mercedes’s breath hitched in her throat as she did her best to maintain composure. “I’m so sorry, Professor…”

Byleth was still attempting to figure out how to tell them when heavy footsteps sounded out from the nearby room. It was impressive how quickly his students reacted. Within seconds, swords and lances were drawn from hips and backs, Ashe had already knocked an arrow, Mercedes had left Byleth’s side to stand with Annette, whose hand was already raised in preparation to launch a devastating spell. Years of battle worn reflexes in display, while Byleth scrambled to calm them. “Wait, wait everyone it’s not an enemy—”

He may as well have said nothing, his assurances drowned up by a horrified scream from Ashe, his face so pale you might have thought he’d seen a ghost. He may as well have. Ingrid’s lance fell from her hands in shock, steel clattering against the stone. Sylvain took a step back, Felix took a step forward. His sword stayed raised. Annette’s pale green eyes were wide to match her best friend’s expression. Mercedes’ raised a hand to her mouth, the softest mutter escaping her lips and hanging in the hall.

“Oh no…”

Dimitri stood in the entranceway, frozen mid-fighting stance. His lance was raised, having been prepared for the removal of the new horde of rats from his home. Now, it no longer threatened to come flying towards them. He stood silently, swaying, his icy eye wide in shock. The others were too startled by the menacing fur-cloaked figure to see the pure fear creeping into his face. Byleth was fully aware of it, forcing him to step forward, his hands raised in that disarming kind of way. In the way some would approach a dangerous animal. The image was not lost on the students, despite their stupor.

“It’s alright, Dimitri. You’re alright, it’s just your friends.”

That may have been the wrong thing to say. Before Byleth even had the chance to take his hand and pretend as if nothing an hour before had ever happened, he had already turned tail. His cape billowed out behind him, blue wings carrying him away from all the terrible things that came packaged with old faces. Just as quickly as he arrived, he had fled back into the shadows of the monastery, scampering away to cower alone.

It was a stark contrast from the very first reunion Byleth could remember, when it was his students shrinking away from the prince, snarling blood-thirsty snarls overtop a pile of bodies.

“He’s alive.” Annette was the first one to break the stunned silence with the simplest of revelations. Byleth turned back to her, and answered with a silent nod.

“‘Alive’ seems debatable. He looked...” Sylvain struggled to find a gentle way to word “feral”. “I know he wasn’t doing great in the head when we left him, but that doesn’t even look like the same person.” Maybe it wasn’t, and their professor had simply gone mad too. Tried to replace the student everyone with half a brain and working eyes knew was his favorite with some stranger.

Ingrid shook her head, still stunned. “Is that why they refused to show the public his body? He escaped and they lied about it?” Byleth nodded again, retreating back to the silence he found natural and comfortable. He had learned how to emote with Dimitri, not with them. It would take a little time yet. “Is that why you’ve stayed in the monastery?”

“He needed someone by his side.” A matter-of-fact response, given it was the truth.

Mercedes looked past Byleth to the halls behind him, where Dimitri had fled. “Perhaps he could use that someone right now.” Offering a sympathetic smile, she gestured to the rest of the group. “It has been almost four years, and it was not a happy parting we all had. For so many of us to turn up unannounced, it must be terribly overwhelming.”

Byleth glanced back over his shoulder, his reluctance showing far too clearly to avoid notice. “I think it would be best to give him space for the time being.” It was not as if my presence was comforting him earlier, Byleth figured. He would need time to think, thinking about far too many world shattering things to be thought about in the presence of the world-shatterer.

Byleth sucked in a breath. There were more important things to speak on. Having to force out his grand list of time-bending war crimes a second time felt like a task worse than death, but it was one he hadn’t the luxury of delaying like he had before. “And regardless, there are things I need to speak to you all about, if you’ll allow me.”

 

---

 

“So, let me get this straight,” Sylvain’s gestured his hand about lazily, slumped against the desk. His eyes, like all the rest, were heavy from exhaustion—both physical and mental. “You’re saying we have, at best, a year to try and stop a war that you’ve spent how many years trying and failing to stop?”

“And if we don’t, we’ll have to kill our old friends.” Annette tugged on a braid, the anxiety making her jittery. “And Felix’s dad might die?”

Mercedes’ religiously devout head was held in increasingly weak hands. “We’d been attending school with saints and one of them used you to try and resurrect her mother, who is also the goddess.” Her identity crisis was visible even from Byleth’s spot at the front of the dilapidated Blue Lion’s classroom, leaning up against his old desk and leaving tracks in the dust where his hands rested.

“And instead of fighting Edelgard, we actually need to be fighting a secret ancient society,” Ashe’s weak voice slipped from his mouth. His eyes were still red and puffy, remnants of relieved sobs after Byleth revealed Dedue still lived. “Not to mention Nemesis, the King of Liberation, who has been resurrected and is apparently a bad guy?”

Ingrid hung her head back, staring at the cobwebs hung about the ceiling. “I am beginning to understand how Dimitri is feeling. “Overwhelmed” may be an understatement, Professor.”

Irritated tapping sounded next to her, where Felix was repeatedly drumming his fingers against the adjacent desk. “And you didn’t tell us any of this four years ago, when we could have actually done something about it.”

Byleth’s stomach had long since permanently knotted itself into a neat little bow, but that last cold comment managed to sink it ever lower. “I couldn’t guarantee your safety if I told you.”

“You can control time.” Felix put a hand on the sword on his hip, gritting his teeth. “I could send this sword into my own chest and the next time I blinked I would be sitting here perfectly well.”

“This is more than resetting a single wound,” Byleth countered. “I do not know if I have been trying to fight fate itself, I couldn’t get you all mixed up in that—”

“So instead you’ve been treating us like pawns!” Felix stood, slamming his palms on the desk and startling his comrades. His voice raised in a snarl, more composed than the ones Byleth had heard from the prince, but far colder and unrelenting. “You’re as bad as the boar! You think you can change the world all on your own if you just take the right people out of it!” His hands slammed down in time with his argument. “You didn’t tell us because you were worried for our safety, you lied to us because you’re scared. You’re nothing more than an arrogant coward!”

Ingrid’s voice cut through, commanding. “Felix, that’s enough.”

“Emotions are high right now, but I’m sure we can talk this through,” Mercedes offered, struggling to maintain her usual even, tender tone.

“We trusted you.”

Felix’s hiss of betrayal hung in the classroom, silencing the rest of the Blue Lions, as they turned to their old professor. Their old mentor, the one who lead them into battle and eased their wounds back off of it. Their old friend, more than anything.

Byleth stood rigid, six pairs of eyes boring into his soul. What was there to say. No apology would do them justice. No promises of coming peace would be believable. No amount of begging would would make them forget about all of this.

He could turn it all back again. He could start over. One more time, where maybe he’d just let that axe stay buried in his back.

Byleth’s eyes fell to the ground, no longer able to take any more broken gazes. “I don’t need you to trust me. I just need you to believe what I have told you.”

“I mean…” Sylvain gave a half-hearted shrug, not fond of the crushing atmosphere his dear friend constructed for them all. “You have glowing green hair and a mythical sword. If you told me you could turn into a dragon too I’d ask if I could hitch a ride sometime.” The others nodded in agreement, save for the man fuming at his desk.

Byleth wrung his hands together, the leather of his gloves sticking to his palms. He’d been sweating so badly today. “I never really wanted to be your teacher, you know. I agreed because that’s what Rhea told me to do, and my Father didn’t whisk us away immediately afterwards, so I didn’t have much of a choice.” He forced his head up, making eye-contact with a pair of golden-brown eyes looking at him with more contempt than any real foe ever had. “You don’t have to trust me, because I’m not here to give you orders anymore. All I want is to fight beside you, like I should have been doing from the beginning.”

“You don’t deserve to.”

“I don’t,” Byleth conceded. “I don’t deserve to get what I want. But I think some people deserve to live. And some others deserve to get to find happiness, even if they don’t think they deserve it themselves. And Fódlan deserves a proper peace, not a tentative one while unchecked tensions simmer because the winners didn’t know they existed to begin with.”

Byleth took a slow breath, raising from where he’d been slumped against his desk. “It is your decision now, what to do with the information I have given you, if you truly believe it. Your choices are your own, this run. If your choice is to have me stay, my blade is yours. If you wish for me to leave, then you will never see me again.” He gave a pained, forced smile. An uncanny image that didn’t fit on his face for many of the students watching it form. “I am sure Dimitri would prefer the latter at this moment, so I would not blame you for feeling the same.” Byleth stepped away from his desk, adjusting the fur resting on his shoulders. “Please, consider it for a while.”

Felix's eyes followed him as Byleth stalked to the entrance of the classroom, the suspicion fighting with mild confusion and curiosity. “And where exactly are you going after all of that?”

“I am to go lion hunting for some time. I would appreciate some nice flowers at my funeral, if nothing else.”

Chapter Text

Byleth had expected to find him anywhere else. The Cathedral, The Goddess Tower, atop a steed in the stables ready to flee from the monastery.

It was on a whim that Byleth checked the second floor dorms, most remaining nothing more than a den for dust bunnies. All save for one, where the bunnies scattered to make room for a larger and far more anxious beast, leaving trails of powder floating aimlessly back into place.

Byleth considered knocking, but it would be silly to think Dimitri didn’t hear him coming. Instead, he stood at the threshold, his figure only partially eclipsed by a door falling apart at the behest of insects and weather and too many frantic slams that splintered the wood at the hinges. He waited for permission, like a good professor would.

“Are you not going to enter?” Dimitri didn’t look up, the rough voice creeping out behind a curtain of blonde. His attention was focused more intently on the dagger in his hands, black fingers sliding slowly up and down the engraved blade. His lance was propped against the same bed he propped himself against. Either he found the ground more comfortable, or his newly added weight would crumble the ancient bed boards. Was there any added weight, really? He was taller, but still deceptively skinny. Perpetually sickly. Relying on cold eyes and harsh words to intimidate in its place.

Those harsh words work just as well. Byleth made no move to come closer.

“I’m waiting for your permission.”

“I didn’t give you permission to enter my life, and yet you continue to waltz into it whenever it suits your fancy.”

Byleth let the biting remark hang in the air. Better it pollute the air than an already too-cramped mind, he would figure. And again, he deserved it. If it would ease anything at all, he would stand at the door and take whatever barrage of hate Dimitri had to give him, just as he would for the rest of the students gathered downstairs.

Dimitri had no barrage at the ready, though. And a silence heavy enough to be cut through with the dagger in his hands was no more pleasant. He gave Byleth a grunt, and a glance. From him, to the floor across from him. Byleth accepted the young prince’s silent command, and sat.

“It’s frustrating.”

Byleth nodded. He had done too much speaking today. He didn’t like it. He didn’t want to do any more.

“I should hate you.”

Another nod. His bangs fell into his eyes, shielding the ever-darkening circles. He was due for a trim.

“You could have stopped all this from happening. You could have stopped me from becoming,” Dimitri hesitated, his voice oozing disdain as he pointed the tip of his dagger at himself. Situated somewhere in the vague direction of his throat, in a way that Byleth didn’t care for. “From becoming this.”

Byleth didn’t know whether or not to nod. He didn’t know if he could have stopped it. He didn’t know anything anymore, other than how much he wanted to go back to sleep for a very long time.

The conflict must have read on his face, because Dimitri suddenly didn’t care to look at it. “Maybe you couldn’t have stopped it, at least without killing me before it happened. Maybe that would have solved your little game.” He returned his dagger to its resting position. His thumb rested against the tip, a little challenge of leather versus steel.

Byleth shook his head. Never again.

“It certainly would have saved you and Edelgard some time, yes?”

Byleth’s expression hardened. Another shake of the head.

Dimitri looked up from his hands, squinting at the professor in front of him. “You really believe having me live this life is the ideal ending for you? That spending the rest of my time on this earth trying to wash my hands of innocent blood is your storybook ending?”

A head shake, and the softest voice. It was raspy, strained from overuse, and from the desire to scream and cry. A foreign desire and an even more foreign feeling. “I watched that ending, and it was what forced my hand the first time.”

“Explain.” Short and curt and full of distrust.

Byleth hadn’t told him much of his first run, past the war’s conclusion. Who married who was superfluous information. Or maybe he just didn’t want to think about it. “You spent your entire life trying to atone for those crimes. You told me again and again that it could have been different, that if you had been a better man you could have saved more lives. Edelgard wouldn’t have had to die.” His eyes travelled to the shadows in the room, imagining all the faces hovering over Dimitri’s shoulder, whispering cruel thoughts into his ears. “You spent the remainder of your life haunted by different ghosts. You told me you would live for yourself, but you lied. Just like you lied to me about how you lost your eye.”

Dimitri frowned, Byleth continued. “I was your best friend, your confidant, and the first person to find you at your desk, after you worked yourself to an early grave.”

He remembered now. He had turned back time that very morning. In all honesty, he rationalized it after the fact. Grief makes you do funny things.

“You went back because of me.” Dimitri’s face would have been unreadable had his cheeks not paled. The guilt surged in swifter than any breeze rattling the clouded window.

“I went back because I was selfish.” Byleth responded, quick and strong and ready to drown out the chorus of blame echoing in the prince’s head. “I went back because I wasn’t ready to let go of my best friend. And I kept going back because I wasn’t ready to let go of anyone.” The words that had built up in his brief moments of silence now threatened to spill out in an avalanche. “My entire life was spent with my father and a goddess and I lost them both. But then I found myself given you. All of you. Everyone in the monastery, and suddenly I had people I could care about and people that made me feel things the same way those two people did. I lost my dad and I lost Sothis but fate can’t take away my friends too.” Byleth felt a warm pressure behind in his eyes the same as the one prying his mouth open. “I’m selfish and I wanted to keep everyone and I was too scared to tell them why because I don’t know how to talk and I don’t know how to feel things right but I know how to win a fight so I figured that would be enough.”

Byleth could feel his voice quiver, and it made him sick to his stomach. The quivering worsened the blurrier his vision got, Dimitri’s face contorting into nothing more than blobs of blue and gold. “I wanted to give everyone a happy life. You are all so good and kind and better people than I will ever be no matter how many lives I live.” He had begun to believe that those mercenaries dubbing him a demon was more accurate than any insult directed at Dimitri had been, but what a pathetic demon he was now, sobbing at the Prince of Faerghus on a dirty floor with his knees pulled up to his chest and his divine green hair collecting snot and plastering to his wet cheeks. “All I wanted was for you to be happy and I tortured you because of it. I let you suffer because I was selfish, because I was lonely.” Pathetic. So disgustingly pathetic.

The sound he made when a rough grip tugged him forward was pathetic too, a startled whimper muffled as his face fell against fur that almost matched the pelt Dimitri’s hands kept a firm grip to. He was held there, contorted in a painful position against hard metal plates and a harder hold, one large hand stroking the back of his head with all the delicateness of a drunk wyvern. Dimitri had almost managed to startle Byleth out of his sobbing. Almost. Instead, the fur around his neck collected tears as Byleth tugged on the fabric of Dimitri’s cape, while the prince carefully held him away from the dagger he’d set to the side.

“It’s frustrating. I really should hate you. I should despise you. I should never forgive you.”

Byleth wanted to drown out those words with his cries, but Dimitri was too close. Too, too close. Always too close, or too far away.

“I can’t hate you.” Another sob. “No matter how badly I think I should, I can’t.” Another. “I can’t hate you, Byleth.” Another, loud and distraught.

“It’s frustrating that I’m still madly, pathetically in love with you.”

 

---

 

It was a while before the sobbing stopped. In one day Byleth had managed to let out decades’ worth of tears, all of which refused to dry off that pelt, but Dimitri didn’t seem to mind. He focused on running his fingers soothingly through Byleth’s hair, careful not to let the claw-like tips dig too hard against his scalp. He stared at the wall, occasionally shifting Byleth on his lap to keep his legs from falling asleep, and saying not a word. He didn’t really know what words to say after that.

Byleth focused on steadying his breathing again, watching aimless teardrops roll off his cheek and down the armor he rested against, falling into the groves cut by errant swords and axes. He wished that armor would go away. How warm and soft the prince would be otherwise. But that was a warmth he didn’t deserve, and it left an uncomfortable pit in his stomach.

Was this how Dimitri felt every time Byleth took to comforting him? The impulse to rip away from warmth for one’s own self-inflicted punishments? It was terribly isolating. A frightening, lonely feeling.

Dimitri understood what it was like to fear loneliness. And he understood better than anyone the terrible things fear can drive a good man to do.

“It is funny,” The soft rumble of a voice came from somewhere behind Byleth’s head. “I cannot tell you the number of times I sat in this room, sobbing into whatever I could get my hands on sturdy enough to not snap in two, and fantasizing all the while that you would step in and hold me like this.” Byleth felt a pressure against his back as Dimitri stroked a thumb against its center. “That journal in your belt does not tell you the half of how madly I had fallen for you.”

“I’m sorry,” Byleth mumbled out against the black metal.

“It was not as if you were courting me. It was my own foolish heart.”

“You deserve better.”

“I am a murderer. I am lucky to have anyone care for me at all.”

“I will never deserve you after what I’ve done.”

“Come now, you may be a fool yourself,” Dimitri chided, a soft lit to his voice. “But my Professor is no hypocrite.” Byleth felt the grip around him shift, a hand slipping under his chin to pull his gaze up. Byleth struggled to raise his eyes from the comfort of the floor, but the crisp blue was welcoming. Like a summer sky, the kind he would look up at through windows after the war, trapped in dull administrative meetings aside a bored Faerghus King.

“If a beast like myself is allowed to seek out happiness, then you must believe yourself worth saving too.”

Byleth had believed that. He had forced himself to, for Dimitri’s sake if not his own. Now the sentiment felt like a lie.

The young man continued, moving his hand to cup Byleth’s face. “And I will stay by your side for as long as it takes. If I remember correctly, a particularly kind teacher once offered me something similar.”

Byleth leaned his head in to the hand, out of instinct more than anything. “I don’t understand why you would stay with me now.”

“It is quite simple, Professor,” The thin smile that formed across Dimitri’s face pulled hard at Byleth’s heartstrings. Had he not already unleashed a deluge of tears, he might have started crying again.

“In reality, I have actually been waiting for you to put your guard down, and take the chance to throw a bucket of cold bath water on you when your back is turned.”

 

Byleth couldn’t help it. The weak giggle that squeaked from his mouth sounded like a broken children’s toy, but any remotely happy sound was music to both men’s ears. “You’re still mad about that?”

“Well, if my drive for revenge has been misplaced all these years, I am in need of filling the void. Mind yourself the next time you find yourself near the fishpond.”

Another broken giggle was met with a breathy chuckle from Dimitri, weighed down by exhaustion. Even his joke held a bit of bitterness to it, but there was no use clinging to that bitterness right now. The prince wasn’t all that sure what he was supposed to be feeling at the moment, in all honesty. It had mostly been confusion. Confusion about the past, about his current purpose, about why Byleth had kept it all secret for so long, even if he could take a couple guesses as to how his own general demeanor would discourage world-altering upsetting news. And he was confused why he was so eager to forgive Byleth for everything.

He knew Byleth had done wrong. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and Byleth was marching the entire monastery down it. Yet, only moments after Dimitri had sent Byleth out of the library, he had bitten back the urge to call back to him, to forgive him.

He hadn’t considered himself quick to forgive. The grudge he had been nursing for almost his entire adolescence was one of the few constants in his life. But it wasn’t his own grudge, was it? It was one he held on behalf of the voices in his head. And maybe those voices were his and maybe they weren’t. It was confusing either way.

But he wanted to forgive Byleth. And according to his professor, he wanted to forgive Edelgard. He had tried to forgive her. He did. He did want to forgive her, more than anything. He wanted to know why, what happened, what had driven her to hurt others the same way he did, and then he wanted to forgive her. Maybe that was a bad mindset for a king to have, but he was an awfully terrible king already.

He just wanted to forgive the people he loved. And he loved his friends, the ones he was too scared to see as they milled about under his feet. He loved his step-sister, and he wanted to help rescue her the same way Byleth was helping him.

And goddess, he loved Byleth. He loved Byleth, and he despised the way looking at his pale face was like looking in a mirror, and he despised how his raspy voice matched his perfectly.

Byleth was more like him than he cared to admit.

Dimitri felt thin arms wrap around his torso, hesitant and needy. Byleth’s face had lowered, returning to the cushion of his fur cape. His voice filtered out slowly, breaking through the growing silence of the young prince’s dusty room.

“Thank you, Dimitri.”

“Do not thank me for this, please,” Dimitri requested, the idea making him uncomfortable. Maybe there was something too definitive about it, too dismissive of all his complicated feelings. “Just promise me something.”

The professor shifted on his lap, his face moving enough for a single questioning eye to peer out between tufts of fur.

“You will stay with us through whatever fights are waiting for us, without fleeing through time regardless of what happens. Stay by my side. My side. Not the side of some replacement me. Share this life with me, and I promise I will not abandon you so soon into it.”

Dimitri’s face had fallen low enough to nuzzle against Byleth’s, his breath heating up Byleth’s otherwise chilled cheeks. The feeling of ice stabbing into Byleth’s heart with every pang of lonely fear began to melt away. He could speak evenly, which was good. He wanted Dimitri to know that this, if nothing else, was the truth.

“I promise. This is my last life, and I intend to spend it with you.”

The soft kiss planted on his cheek shot a shiver through Byleth that contrasted with all the heat enveloping him so pleasantly. He was suddenly aware of how tight the grip he’d found to be comfortingly secure had become.

“You have friends downstairs awaiting your return, yes?” The question dripped reluctance once Dimitri finally managed to form it. Both men wanted to stay alone together for just a little while longer.

“They’re waiting for you, too.”

“Well, you see,” Dimitri mumbled, hiding himself by burying his face against Byleth’s neck, eliciting another shiver from the professor. “I am a coward and am much too scared to go see them.”

His sigh echoed oddly against Dimitri’s ear, pressed up against Byleth’s throat. Byleth reached awkwardly around himself, finding the prince’s hand to squeeze. “Me too. That’s why I think we should go together. There’s power in numbers.”

“It is two against six.”

“I never said we were going to win.”

“You are a terrible tactician, Byleth.”

Chapter Text

“Dimitri, Dimitri my hand,” Byleth hissed as polite as possible through his teeth.

The prince whipped his head over, nothing but a massive bundle of anxious jitters. “Come again?”

“You’re crushing my hand,” he whined, attempting to pry his hand from Dimitri’s iron clamp. He was fairly certain the excited buzzing one gets from holding hands with their loved one was not supposed to be the result of having your circulation cut off. “I appreciate the hand holding but I would like to be able to keep it afterwards—”

Dimitri yanked back his hand, dropping his eye to the floor in shame. “My apologies.” Byleth promptly pulled it back, cupping it in his own gloves, guiding Dimitri’s gaze back with it. A few steps further would lead them into the courtyard facing the classrooms, the once sheer-cut grass growing tangled from lack of care. Landscaping was not high on Byleth’s list of priorities. He wondered if the hushed voices floating from around the corner would be willing to help with it. He wondered if they would stay. Or if they wanted him to stay. He wondered about a lot of things, and it brought a tremble to what was supposed to be an assuring hold for the man exuding panic in front of him.

“I won’t run away,” Byleth reassured, voice low both to calm and to keep from catching anyone’s attention too early. “You needn’t be so afraid, Dimitri. I can promise you one thing, and it is that every one of the people in that room still care for you.”

Dimitri shook his head violently, tangled blonde smacking at his pale cheeks. He opened his mouth to begin, but Byleth cut him off with a knowing squeeze.

“Don’t start with the ‘undeserving’ speech. You didn’t see the relief in their eyes when they saw you alive, if not well.” Byleth offered a smile, trying not to betray his own visceral fear building inside him. He watched Dimitri visibly relax, and marvelled for a moment at the power something as simple as a smile had over the prince. “They will come to terms with the man you’ve become in time, I’ve seen it happen before.” Byleth’s smile fell into a lopsided grin, and Dimitri seemed to only melt further, the fear falling from his face if only for a brief moment. “They love you almost as much as I do, you know. Even Felix, even if he wouldn’t admit it with a sword to his throat.”

Dimitri stooped, resting his forehead against Byleth’s, a silent thank you. “They love you too,” he responded, a deep voice forming a wavering whisper. “We all did. You never saw our hearts break when you were taken into that void. Or the words of admiration from the classroom after you had left.” Byleth felt a blush color his paling face as Dimitri planted a gentle kiss on his forehead before straightening again. “They cannot hate you any easier than I can.”

The professor sucked in a breath, not eager to test Dimitri’s claim. “You are speaking of the past more easily.”

“I am about to look my past in the eye.” His own flicked to the side, flashes of paranoia causing it to cloud and clear at random. “In comparison, spoken word is nothing.”

Byleth nodded, and forced himself into stepping onto the grassy opening, leading Dimitri with a tender tug. “I’m proud of you.”

“Do not say that until after this day ends.”

“I am your professor, you can’t tell me what to do.”
“Pardon? I believe Prince trumps Professor, Professor.”

The restlessness in his gut forced out a squeaky chuckle from Byleth, both men becoming unusually talkative out of fear. Too talkative to notice that the steady stream of whispers coming from the Blue Lions’ classroom had come to a halt. By the time they had dragged their grudging feet up to the threshold, six pairs of wide eyes were already staring in stunned silence.

Byleth took another sharp breath, steeling himself for the worst. The difference in his confidence from before to now was striking with Dimitri at his side, but it was still admittedly below his preferred threshold. He could sense Dimitri himself go rigid as a board, but if it meant he was not on the verge of bolting then he would take that—

“AIYEEYAGH—?!”

He was so prepared to say something poised, refined, professorly. The inhuman screech of pain was not that.

Byleth’s knees crumpled and his eyes watered, trying to sputter out his request to be released, but all that came out was a shrill babble. “DimitridimitrimyhandletgoofmyhaaAAAAAAND—!!”

Dimitri was, at the very least, cognizant enough of his surroundings to recognize Byleth’s howling. He released Byleth’s now possibly shattered hand and jerked his own back to his side, clenching it once again to match his other side. He stood frozen save for his natural jerky swaying, caught between wanting to fall into frantic apologies and the instinct to remain emotionless and imposing in front of the six threatening pseudo-strangers and their soul-piercing gazes. The resulting combination left the six foot monster of a man looking like a deer in the headlights, wobbling next to his time travelling part-goddess professor moaning in pain as he curled in a heap on the wooden boards below them.

It was Felix that started laughing first.

He tried to cover it up, his fist brought to his mouth in a lame attempt to muffle, but within seconds his restrained snickering broke into real laughter. Although laced with mockery as it was, it was a laughter that caused a ripple effect through the rest of the Blue Lions. As concerned as they all were for the health of Byleth who was still busy writhing on the ground, the absurdity of the strongest person they knew squealing like a stuck pig while the second strongest looked seconds from passing out was too much. The needle thread tension snapped in a moment, and brought forth a barrage of giggles bouncing around the walls.

Mercedes managed with the aid of Annette to contain her own tittering and rise from her seat, shuffling over and kneeling aside Byleth, coaxing his rapidly swelling hand away from his chest. As she set to healing her professor, the rest of the lions turned their attention to Dimitri.

Sylvain coughed into his fist, forcing his breathing back to normal enough to speak. “That was a fitting entrance, buddy.” He flashed a knowing grin, taking a guess based on the distant bantering the class hard heard coming from outside. “Good to see you’re still as smooth as a bolder. Breaking your boyfriend’s hand isn’t as romantic as you might think it is.”

Ingrid had already risen from her seat the moment Sylvain began speaking, allowing her to pop him hard in the back of the head the moment the comment sprung from his mouth. “That’s really going to be the first thing you say to him you idiot?” she hissed under her breath before turning back to the frozen prince, offering a familiar sympathetic smile. In all honesty, she was grateful for the laughter, and even for Sylvain’s idiocy. Without it, she may have burst into tears. “Forgive us, please. We may all be a little too shocked to see you to react properly. But,” Her voice teetered on the edge of breaking, but she was a strong knight and intended to keep it that way. “But it’s good to see you again, Dimitri.”

“Good? It’s incredible! He’s alive!” Ashe beamed, his eyes sparkling with less resistance to tears than his fellow knight-lover had. “Welcome back, Your Highness! Or, ah, I guess you’ve been here already so uh,” His voice trailed off awkwardly, hands clasped together and eyes darting to the others for assistance.

“You’ve grown,” Annette offered as a recovery. “You look like a real king! A king on the run, ready to take back his homeland. A real, super-scary, totally intimidating one,” she grinned, twisting Dimitri’s old injuries and general raggedness into a positive as her optimistic nature was want to do.

Mercedes hummed in agreement, her hands still lit by healing magic working to reset tiny bones back into place. “We’ve missed you all dearly.” Her soft eyes looked up from Byleth, the closest to Dimitri and close enough to see the way his eye had clouded and hear how his breathing hitched again and again. Her voice cooed, urging the young man to relax. “And we’re all so happy to see you again.”

“Speak for yourself, Mercedes.”

“Hm.”

Mercedes turned back to see Felix’s arms crossed over his chest, stormy eyes staring straight at the rocking beast in the doorway. “I appreciate the karma he just gave the Professor, I guess. But don’t pretend like this is much of an improvement on being dead.” He gestured at Dimitri with a dismissive hand, which Dimitri hardly seemed to register. “Has the boar even heard a word anyone has said?”

He heard one word. A flash of pain and a darkening of an otherwise blank expression.

The sound of boots scuffing the floor and a pained grunt pulled Felix’s attention for a moment, as Mercedes helped Byleth back onto his feet. “You should be directing your insults at me, Felix.” He kept his injured hand subtly out of Dimitri’s line of sight, the dark bruising making it look worse than it felt now. Mercedes was an angel, and more importantly, a prodigy of a healer.

“Don’t pretend like he’s innocent. You expect me to believe that’s a sane man? That beast is any improvement on the one from four years ago? That that is what you’ve been wasting your time on instead of helping us fight the war you knew was coming?”

Shut up, Felix. For your own sake, Byleth thought, his eyes darting again and again to the figure beside him. He didn’t want to make it obvious he was concerned about Dimitri snapping, falling back to aggression and anger. He didn’t want to reveal to the others he could even entertain the idea. But he had no idea where Dimitri was, mentally. This timeline had long since departed from what was familiar, as had the prince’s progression through trauma. Everyone was now unpredictable in a way that made Byleth apprehensive and twitchy. He was grateful Dimitri had progressed enough to agree to leaving his lance in a separate room.

“I told you to direct your insults at me,” Byleth warned as Dimitri rocked so far to his right he almost bumped into Byleth’s shoulder.

“Insults? They were honest questions based on observation, Professor. Now tell me, why have you been frolicking about the monastery with a madman?” Felix spit out the retort, while the others moved a little closer, urging him to calm. Mercedes stepped away from Byleth and back into the throng of classmates, serene on the surface but there was stiffness where she would normally glide from one spot to another. The tension had restrung itself, waiting to snap once more.

How fitting, as Dimitri was very good at breaking things.

Before Byleth had the chance to react, to grab at his hand or his cape or anything with purchase, Dimitri had already slipped by him. He also slipped by Felix, the blue of his cape rippling past him, kicking up air that forced his raven black hair to shift. Seven pairs of eyes followed the prince’s back as he stalked with uneven steps to the Professor’s desk, fumbling about with drawers before procuring a couple sheets of yellowing paper and a pen that may or may not have ink to accompany it. The cluster of young adults watched as Dimitri settled to a spot in front of them, towering over the desk where Felix found himself in the middle of the group.

“...Byleth said Dedue is still alive. Find a way to contact him.” Having been mostly focused on the paper he’d set down on the desk, it took a moment to wrench his eyes away and up to meet his old friend’s. “Make yourself useful.” His voice came out cold, as cold and short as it had when Byleth had first coaxed conversation out of Dimitri. “Insult me as you like.” One more voice added to the chorus wouldn’t make much of a difference. “Continue to insult Byleth and I will string you to the Cathedral ceiling.” With that vague threat out of the way, his eye swept over the rest of his former classmates, friends gathered in a concerned half-circle around their old house-leader. He didn’t like the way they looked at him, all pity and masked distaste. The way their eyes pleaded for the return of a prince long dead. It made his chest contort, swallowing back guilt and anger he was so very sick of feeling. Sometimes that dead prince could hear when the beast who killed him spoke, and was disgusted with his words. The frigidness and the distrust of people he would die for without a second thought. Standing in this room was nothing but a constant disconnect between mind and body, and he wished Byleth would pull him back together, but he was much too busy holding himself together to prop up Dimitri too.

With nothing more than an unsatisfying nod, he turned on his heel back towards the doorway, the eyes boring into his back forcing him into a rigid gait. He passed Byleth, no words to offer. Instead, he brushed his side up against Byleth’s, his cape graciously obscuring his desperate need for touch, brief as it was. It was centering enough for one thing, enough to force the prince into pausing just outside the doorway. He turned as little as necessary, his eye peeking out through frazzled strands of hair.

“Welcome back.”

Byleth was the only one able to see the prince turn in the direction of the dormitories, wishing he could follow. He was thankful the reunion was as anticlimactic as it was, but the echoes of a Dimitri from months ago worried him. And he would be lying if the desire to run away and comfort Dimitri was fueled by only selfless desires.

With Dimitri gone, his jury was once again fully focused on him.

“Well,” Mercedes began, clapping her hands lightly together as she turned to face Byleth. “I do think His Highness is correct, there is no reason for us to to dawdle while our class remains incomplete. Professor, you would know the best place to start searching for Dedue, yes?” Her encouraging smile was bright, overcompensating for the falling faces who had hoped for a happier homecoming behind her.

Byleth shifted, not wanting to vocalize the question that he had left them with before. “I have some ideas, but,” His voice trailed off, glancing over Mercedes’ shoulder and making contact with Felix. “Have you made your decision?”

“Obviously. Why on earth would we kick you out, you fool?” Felix folded his arms from where they had previously been fiddling with the pen Dimitri had left on the desk in front of him. “You got us into this war, you clearly have some ideas on how to get us out of it. Why would we throw away our only chance to end it all and save people’s lives?”

Byleth felt himself nearly go light headed as all the anxiety that had been welling up within him dispersed in a moment. “You wish for me to stay?”

Sylvain snorted as he kicked his legs lazily from where he sat on a desk, “Yeah. And to be honest, watching you roll around on the ground because your boy-toy got spooked and broke your hand somehow magically made most of our resentment go away, I think. Probably because it was really fucking funny.”

Byleth squinted as Ingrid read his mind and smacked the back of Sylvain’s head once again. How the young man hadn’t developed a permanent welt there at this point was a mystery. “There is so much wrong about that sentence I shouldn’t even dignify it with a response.”

“Sorry, I didn’t expect you to be the romantic type. How about ‘star-crossed lover’?” He was smart enough to duck this time.

“That is not what we need to be focusing on right now.” Byleth huffed, waving him off a bit too enthusiastically. “And please don’t make light of the situation, seeing you all again after all this time was likely traumatic enough.”

A smirk twisted around his face as he cooed, “Aww, you really do care about him~”

“I just knew they would get together eventually,” Annette whispered into Mercedes loudly enough for Ashe to hear across the room. Mercedes nodded sagely.

Ingrid groaned, tapping the sheet of parchment. “Everyone, please focus on our actual task.”

“I don’t know why you think it’s so cute, Annette. Professor always had the love-struck puppy following him around. Now it’s just a rabid one, and I think it’s developed mange.”

“Not you too, Felix.”

“Nah, he’s just into the wild types. I get it, they’re more fun in bed, right Prof?”

“Sylvain.”

Sylvain cackled, imitating her scandalized tone. “Ingrid.”

“Uh, guys? Professor? Professor do you need to step out, I think you’re overheating.” Ashe’s innocent eyes were wide with concern, one hand pointing to his cheeks. “Your face is bright red, sir.”

Byleth clapped a hand to his face, feeling the heat even through his gloves. Sothis, please actually, truly end him this time. Why couldn’t they have banished him from the monastery, it would have been a more palatable torture.

“Dedue was broken out of prison by survivors of Duscur and is currently looking for Dimitri if you know of any settlements where Duscur people might be living that’s a good place to start scouting we’ll meet tomorrow morning and continue working out a proper plan alright good night everyone.”

“Professor wait, we—” Ingrid raised a halting hand, only in time for the last of Byleth’s cloak to flick behind the door frame and out of sight, hurried steps heard rustling the overgrown vegetation outside. “—Sylvain, I am going to kill you.”

Sylvain was much too busy rolling on the desk to be concerned. “I can’t believe we took lessons from that guy!”

Mercedes hid her own chuckle behind a sleeve, gliding over to rest a calming hand on Ingrid’s arm. “He must have been close to our age, Sylvain. He never pretended to be some wise master, if I remember correctly.”

Annette hummed in thought, eyes drifting to the chalkboard at the front of the room. “He never did feel like one of the other teachers, even if we called him that.” A thought crossed her face, a conflicting thought. “But I guess I always figured he was perfect, he always seemed to know the right answers. But if he’s just like the rest of us…”

“I would turn back time to try to stop the war sooner too, I think. If I could.” Ashe stared down at his hands, his thumbs twiddling and his voice soft. “We’ve been idolizing the Professor since we were in school. I would do it, but I didn’t think he would.”

“This army is full of idiots,” Felix groaned. “The professor fits right in. I can’t believe he really thought we wouldn’t want him to stay.”

“What about your outburst earlier screamed ‘we trust you and want you to stay’?” Ingrid countered, hands firm on her hips.

“He should be used to that from me by now.”

“We really are so stupid,” Ashe bemoaned, rubbing his face in defeat.

---

“That went horribly.”

“You did just fine.”

“I broke your hand.”

“It’s fine now, promise.” Byleth wiggled a couple fingers for emphasis, gloves conveniently obscuring the dark bruising, while Dimitri sat curled with his knees to his chest on the floor next to him. He didn’t look particularly convinced, especially when Byleth winced after a few moments of the movement.

“I hardly spoke a word to them, and when I did it was a threat and an order.”

“Maybe, but you also could have also thrown Felix through a window after what he said.” Byleth reached out to rub his back, soothing the poor prince while admiring the lack of armor on him. They huddled together in Byleth’s room, Dimitri eager to continue his nightly ritual of sleeping on the professor’s floor. Byleth had begun to pilfer more Dimitri-sized clothing from staff rooms now that he could expect a consistent guest, which he seemed to appreciate. The loose long-sleeved white tunic that hung off his frame was far more comfortable than metal or sweaty undershirts. It was only a bonus for Byleth that his companion happened to look very good in it.

“Staring.”

“Sorry.” The fact that all he had to do was say the word now left Byleth feeling a touch ashamed.

“As I was saying, I believe not committing physical assault is a particularly low bar to clear.”

“So was eating and showering.” Byleth slid his hand up Dimitri’s back, moving to push some stray strands of hair back behind his ear. “I’m proud of you, even if it’s just baby steps.”

“It doesn’t feel like enough.”

“Then tomorrow is another day to keep improving, for the both of us.” A gentle smile helped to ease the pain eating away at Dimitri. “We’re all going to meet in the morning to plan our next steps. I would be very happy if you joined us.”

Dimitri bit his lip, the offer was hardly appealing. Everything in his gut screamed for him to hide in the Cathedral once again, while everything in his head was telling him to throw himself off the mountainside. It was as if his old friends were holding up a massive mirror, showing him just how shattered of a man he’d become. It didn’t seem worth the time to pick up the pieces. “What if I lose control of myself? If someone says the wrong thing, I,” his concerns fell to quiet mumbles, paranoia seeping into his gaze.

“If you lose control, then there are seven highly trained soldiers there to catch you. More importantly, you have seven friends there to help pull you back afterwards.” Byleth leaned in closer, resting his head against Dimitri’s shoulder. He was so tired, the moon outside crawling relentlessly across the sky. “But, if it means anything, I don’t think you will attack anyone. Even at your worst, you tend to prefer self-destructive impulses over assault.”

“That doesn’t make me feel better at all.”

“Ah,” Byleth coughed into his fist, looking straight forward. Alright, not every assurance is going to be a winner. “I just mean, I don’t think you’re violent by nature. You like to protect everyone, just not yourself.”

“Then why is it so easy for me to hurt people?” He shifted onto his side, staring at Byleth’s injured hand before taking it in shaky fingers, like he was cradling a porcelain doll. “Why can I do this without even trying to, without meaning to?”

Because you’ve been cursed with a crest, Byleth thought. You’re not the only one. He wanted to sate Dimitri’s fears, but the prince carried on too quickly.

The fear written deep within those bright blue eyes was painful to look into. “I shouldn’t be able to snap someone’s arm like a twig off a dead tree. I shouldn’t be able to bend steel lances and break oak doors. What kind of child can overtake a full grown knight in strength?” Dimitri had begun biting too-sharp canines into his bottom lip so hard, blood began to trickle down his chin. He didn’t notice. “The things I can do—no, the things I have done, Byleth. None of it is human. You say I’m not a beast, but I can’t be human either. So what am I?”

Byleth made sure he wouldn’t have a moment to continue, yanking Dimitri down by the shoulders and cradling his head against his own chest. The young man sputtered, trying to pull away on instinct, but Byleth’s hold was steadfast. Stroking his hair, he bent down to mutter into the ear not pressed against his body, “Listen, and tell me what you hear.”

The silence held in the room for ages, soft breathing the only thing to break it. Dimitri’s voice was laced with confusion by the time he spoke up. “I do not hear anything. You,” his voice trailed off, and Byleth could feel a hand press to his chest, near where his heart should be. His question was weak, soft and pitiful. “Do you not have a heartbeat?”

Byleth continued to pet him, finding some comfort in the repetitive action. It kept his mind from spiraling too far into questions about his own humanity, or lack thereof. To think Dimitri held the same fears was heart wrenching.

“I don’t. I haven’t had one all my life. It took a different run for me to learn why.” Dimitri pried his head away, looking up in a curious way that was terribly disarming. “I was stillborn. Rhea put the Crest of Flames inside me to give me life. She had other intentions, like I mentioned in the library before. But it’s why I can live without a proper beating human heart.”

“Oh,” was all Dimitri could manage.

“Listen, Dimitri. You’re human, even if you like to skirt the edges of humanity from time to time. I have met you enough times to know that your heart beats the same as everyone else’s. But,” Byleth cupped Dimitri’s face in his hands, who held no qualms with being held. If he was honest with himself, he would say he wanted to be held more, to be wrapped up in Byleth’s arms even if he was too big to fit comfortably in the smaller man’s embrace. “Well, I don’t really think I’m human. Not anymore, if I ever was at all. I’m not quite sure what I am, but what I am is nothing like the people we shared a classroom with. Do you still care for me, knowing that?”

Dimitri hardly allowed him to finish, and for a beautiful minute his eyes gleamed with the earnesty of the teenager Byleth knew before. “I would love you even if you were the goddess herself.” Even Dimitri was growing a bit unsure if ‘even if’ was the right thing to say.

“Then understand that I love you, whether you are man or monster or something in between.”

Kissing Dimitri was growing more natural, so Byleth didn’t think much when he bent down to meet the prince’s lips. Dimitri, on the other hand, was still a touch frozen as he processed what Byleth meant. It allowed Byleth to take the lead for once, and he took the opportunity to pull Dimitri more comfortably against him, spreading his legs so the unwieldy figure could fit in the open space. Yet he felt so small all of a sudden, allowing his professor to tug him about as he pleased. Dimitri clung to the front of Byleth’s tunic, melting against him. The two men were exhausted, and it showed in their slow kisses and lazy touches.

By the time Byleth pulled away, Dimitri’s face had already been lit up with pink. He was sure his own looked much the same. He brushed his thumb over where Dimitri had bitten into his lip, the warm leather of his glove wiping away some of the blood that had dried there. The young man had a dazed expression, eyes drooping with the weight of sleep, but something about that action lit just a bit of a fire behind the icy blue. He moved his head, brushing his mouth against Byleth’s hand, finding any bit of loose fabric. With a little flourish, Dimitri managed to tug off Byleth’s glove with his teeth, revealing the injured skin underneath. Byleth could manage nothing other than feeling his jaw drop against his own volition, while the prince straightened back up and took Byleth’s hand in his own, letting the glove drop from his mouth.

“I finally had confidence for once, and you stole it again,” Byleth warbled, once again forced to stare up.

“Do forgive me, my goddess.” A small smirk crossed his lips as he kissed Byleth’s knuckles, one thumb stroking the bruises light enough to be soothing.

The bright red of his face contrasted the glowing green mess curling around it, Byleth trying and failing to sputter out a coherent response. The best he could come up with was an unconvincing, “I’m not.”

“You said earlier you fused with one, and now you say your heart is really the crest of the goddess? That sounds divine enough to me.”

Byleth could only hum in response, flushed and annoyed. But the laugh it pulled out from Dimitri made him relax.

Dimitri leaned down to steal a last quick kiss from Byleth, letting his hand go free. “Thank you for staying up with me. But you should sleep now.” He leaned back and away from Byleth, choosing instead to prop himself up against the bed while his professor wobbled his way to his feet. “I expect my tactician to be sharp and prepared for his morning war meetings.”

Byleth folded his arms, petulant expression already at the ready. “Sleep with me.”

 

“Eh?”

 

Byleth would be damned if he didn’t wrestle back a little bit of that control tonight. And it worked, if his partner’s comically wide eyes and confused smile had anything to prove. “I mean sharing the bed. Not sleeping on the floor.”

The nervous giggling that floated out of Dimitri was a jarring disconnect between sound and sight, but Byleth couldn’t help cracking a smile as a result. Dimitri’s eye jumped from Byleth to the bed and back again a couple times before he settled on a brilliant counterargument.

“That— That would be improper.”

Sometimes that younger prince would jump out at the oddest of times.

“No, you’re just embarrassed.” Byleth bent down, hooking his arm and good hand under one of Dimitri’s arms and hoisted him up enough that he could push him back onto the bed.

“We’re not both going to fit?”

“Tragic.” Byleth hid his self-satisfied smile as he faced the wall, changing out of the last of his day-wear. Dimitri knew the drill well enough at this point to remember to close his eyes as Byleth slipped into a night tunic, an oversized one that functioned more as a gown than a shirt. He wandered back over to the bed, giving Dimitri’s shoulder a playful shove. “Move over, your highness.”

Dimitri did as requested, squishing himself up against the wall while Byleth rolled into bed next to him, adjusting the blanket so it draped comfortably around him. A part of him entertained the idea of swiping the cape Dimitri had left piled in the corner with his armor, but he supposed he wouldn’t need it tonight.

It was true, the two didn’t fit very well in the bed made for one. The ancient boards creaked under the added weight. Byleth squirmed next to Dimitri—who only seemed to be growing more flustered as the seconds ticked by—until he managed to roll himself almost entirely atop the prince. “Ah, this may have to do. Are you comfortable?”

I believe I am on the verge of death, but aside from that, perfectly fine, Dimitri thought through a panicked haze. He gripped Byleth’s sides and hoisted him up, laying him so their chests met and Byleth could rest his head comfortably in the crook between his neck and shoulder. “Now I am.”

He was so close. But for once, it was comfortable. Comforting. No sharp armored corners digging into his ribs, or too-tight grips crushing the breath out of him. Just a warm, soft body that left a happy buzzing in his head. Byleth nuzzled closer to his neck, breathing in the scent that always laced the cape he loved to cocoon himself in. His hand rested against his chest, feeling the rhythmic thumping that was barely there under his fingers. It was fascinating, and he resisted the urge to press his ear to Dimitri’s chest to listen closer. Instead, he settled for leaving a lazy kiss against his neck, mumbling against the skin as sleep already threatened to claim him.

“Goodnight, my kind beast.”

“Goodnight, my beloved goddess.”

Chapter Text

Dimitri didn’t know what he did to deserve this.

He figured he deserved a lot of terrible things. Isolation, perhaps torture, and a death penalty was a given at this point. He had long since come to terms with all of that.

But this. This was too much, even for him.

“I am begging you two to stop.” His request was deadpan, but he couldn’t get rid of the desperate look in his eye. He can’t feel his arms anymore.

The apologetic chorus that sounded below him didn’t sound all that apologetic. “Sorry, your highness.”

Annette’s big green eyes beamed from below him, her cheek squished up against the fabric of his cape and her arms tightly wound around his waist, just underneath Ashe’s. His freckled face, on the other hand, was staring blankly ahead. It was likely taking everything in his gentle commoner soul to manhandle the crown prince of Faerghus like this. It was nigh impossible a task to ask of him, but it was a necessary evil.

“You need to know we still love and appreciate you, Your Highness,” Ashe mumbled, his face more steeled than Dimitri’s. “You cannot avoid us forever.”

“Plus, we need to make up for lost time!” Annette’s chipper voice was petulant. If she was to be moved it would be done by force. “Years without hugs? No wonder you’re so nervous around everyone.”

Dimitri’s voice and resolve was quickly cracking. He couldn’t say he hated this, if he was to be honest with himself. But with every minute that ticked by he could feel his anxiety threatening to bubble over, and he had no idea what the result would be. That uncertainty was what elicited the jittery twitching that Annette and Ashe threatened to squeeze out of him.

“Please, please let go.”

“Nope.”

“You have made your point.”

Annette pouted, “Clearly not, if you’re still telling us to go away.”

“It has been almost ten minutes. Leave, please.”

“Not until you promise to stop running away from everyone except the Professor, Your Highness,” Ashe responded.

“Did he put you up to this.”

The brief uncomfortable silence told Dimitri everything he need to know about that. If he was already considering tossing Byleth into the fishpond for his years’ worth of lying, this may have just sealed his newfound revenge plans.

Dimitri huffed, glaring down at the mage and the archer attached at his hip with all the compassion of a starving lion. The look was enough to get Ashe to loosen his grip and look to the stones under him for comfort, while Annette only puffed up her cheeks and stared back with twice the determination.

“I will throw you off the highest point in Garreg Mach if you do not let go of me right now,” Dimitri hissed. He mentally kicked himself for falling back on threats again, but he was growing desperate. This would work. This had to work. Annette and Ashe are smart, surely this would get across that provoking the paranoid psychotic with violent, murderous tendencies might not be the best course of action.

“No you won’t.”

For fuck’s sake.

Dimitri couldn’t say he had ever seen sweet little Annette wear a shit-eating grin in the year he had come to know her at the monastery, yet the sight of it now appeared wholly natural and expected, and he felt foolish for questioning the latent power the ginger held deep within her soul. Perhaps that is why Felix was never sharp with her. She is simply too dangerous.

Dimitri let out a shaky breath, trying to put together a response while the thought of chucking them halfway across the Cathedral rang in his ears. “I understand what you are trying to do, An,” His tongue stumbled over her name. He had found most names now cause him problems, not just Byleth’s. Maybe it was the familiarity that made him uncomfortable, maybe it was just the years of never having to address anyone whose name mattered anymore. He tried again, after pushing a swallow down his dry throat. “Annette. But I need you to let go.”

Dimitri lifted his hand into view, from where it had been held stiff at his sides. Ashe’s eyes pulled up, and Annette’s grin faltered when they both saw the way it trembled like a leaf in a thunderstorm. Understanding passed both of their faces, and the two retracted without another world of dissent.

Dimitri immediately stepped back, and let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. He gripped the lance had been purposely forcing away from his two old friends in both hands, to ground himself and to stop the shaking. He wanted to look away from them. The disappointment in their eyes was palpable. Was he really so weak that he could not handle something as simple as a hug? What was he so scared of, had he really fallen so far and become so pathetic, had—

“I’m sorry.”

Was that him? No, he hadn’t spoken. Annette.

She wrang her hands together, glancing at Ashe as she continued. “I didn’t realize that would, I mean,” She struggled to find a gentle way to word it. “I figured maybe you were just being stubborn, like Felix or uhm, yeah.”

“We overstepped a boundary, and we’re sorry, Your Highness.” Ashe gave a small bow, but it might have just been a way to avoid eye-contact. Dimitri appreciated it. Annette nodded with frantic agreement, her eyes big and worried. It took him a moment to recognize the worry was not fear of him, but fear for him.

“I thought it would show you we’re not dangerous, and you can be around us, and we still care about you, and,” Annette took a hesitant step forward, and Dimitri forced himself from stepping back. “I’m not as good at this as Mercedes, you know, I think I’m better at reading books than people.” Ashe nodded in agreement, figuring himself the same. Dimitri would have to disagree. All of the Blue Lions had a bit of a talent for perceiving what he would prefer to remain unseen. Or maybe he was just that easy to read. “So if you could let us know what you’re comfortable with, maybe we can still show you that stuff without making you anxious?”

Dimitri stood rigid, his lance the only thing keeping him upright. How was he expected to answer that? If Annette and Ashe didn’t know what to do to make him comfortable, he had even less of an idea. It had taken Byleth months to manage a full conversation, and now he had to find a way to adapt to six trauma-inducing faces after just three weeks of return? He could hardly look any of them in the eye, let alone feel comfortable with being touched. His attendance at any meetings was limited to standing off to the side in silence, and that alone left him out of commission for the rest of the day.

Annette cocked her head, still hopeful for an answer. So many of them were so optimistic. Optimistic to a fault.

Dimitri thought back to what Byleth had told him a few days before. The curiosity had been gnawing at him, even if he told himself he didn’t need to know. Who cares what his other selves had been like before him. Byleth had said they were dead, be it by sickness or spear. Yet, when it had started to keep him up at night, Dimitri’s pride had conceded defeat and he asked.

Byleth revealed why seeing Dimitri retreat to the Cathedral even now bothered him so. He painted a picture of a bitter, scary beast that took the death of his second father to return to anything resembling a man. Someone who responded to any act of gentle kindness with a bark to go away. Someone who admitted freely he would use his childhood friends as tools with not a care if they lived or died.

It was frighteningly familiar, and in moments like these Dimitri could feel himself waver towards that past self. He still was that self, only now he bit holes into his tongue to keep himself from ordering people away from him, at the very least tacking on weak pleas to the end. And instead of not caring about the fate of his friends, maybe he cared too much. He cared too much about what they thought of him now, what gross images they have of him in their minds. He wished Byleth was bigger, big enough to hide behind more easily. Byleth would know how to answer Annette. Maybe it was just trial and error, but he knew how to ease him further and further away from the rabid creature fate expected him to reduce to.

“If you don’t know yet, that’s okay.”

Ah. He took too long to respond.

Annette offered a sad smile that didn’t fit well on her face. Ashe pressed his hands together, probably a subconscious fidget of the hands but it looked too much like a prayer for Dimitri to leave it unnoticed. “We’ll leave you alone now, Your Highness.”

“Don’t go away.”

The plea stumbled awkward out of his mouth, but he knew what he was saying. And he meant it.

The two looked back from their mournful march out of the room, eyes once again lit with hope. It was enough to send another surge of fear through Dimitri, which he managed by gripping his lance and leaving small dents in the shaft. Dammit. He had finally gotten comfortable with the weight of this one. Ah, what was he saying? What would he say? He should say something now, right?

“Food?”

What?

“Eat food, uh. Lunch?” Yeah, the light coming in through the windows seems light enough. Afternoon, that means lunch. Yes, this is fine he’s doing fine.

Annette and Ashe cocked their heads in simultaneous confusion. He is not doing fine.

“Have lunch together? With me?” It appears as though Byleth has taken ownership of their shared brain cell this day. Fantastic.

Annette gave a little hop and twirl as she faced Dimitri properly, clasping her hands together in delight. As clumsy as the offer was presented, she was more than happy to hear it. “I’m starving! Lunch sounds like a great idea.”

“I can whip something up real quick, if that’s alright with you.” Ashe’s face relaxed in turn, and he offered one of those charming, lopsided smiles that could make anyone’s heart melt.

Dimitri really did love his lions.

He loved them very much, and that’s why he didn’t pull away when Annette hopped to his side, putting a soft hand on his lance, several inches from his own.

“Hand-holding might be a bit much, right? So is this alright?”

A hesitant nod was enough for her, and soon she was charging forward, hand brandished outwards with a dramatic point towards the dining hall. Dimitri could hardly hear Ashe’s muffled giggle from his other side as he was dragged away by one small, very scary mage.

 

---

 

If his stint alone had taught him anything, it was that table manners were an absolute waste of time. Dimitri bemoaned the amount of time he could have spent training, or studying, or spending time with his not-yet-murdered family members as a child that was squandered learning on which side of the knife should the spoon rest or whatever other bullshit Gilbert or whoever drabbled on about.

And to think he perpetuated the thought as a teenager! In what way would his ability to govern be reflected by whether or not he used a fork? That his princely status would be revoked because he licked a bit of grease off his fingers a couple times. Who cares. Down with the nobility, and all that.

 

...Why is everyone staring?

 

Dimitri slowly lowered the pheasant leg he had been gnawing on, a bit of roasted something still hanging out of the corner of his mouth. He hadn’t said anything, hadn’t said a word since Annette sat him down at the table and ushered Ashe into the kitchen. He clammed up even tighter the moment the others filtered into the dining hall, attracted by the smells and rumors that Ashe was the chef today. Or, in Ingrid’s case, just by the promise of food.

He hadn’t said anything, but he noticed the hesitation when they spotted him at the table. The slight stumbles in their strides or the double-takes. It was fine. He couldn’t blame them. He had been eating, he promised Byleth as such, but he had taken meals alone. It had taken a week alone for him to convince his paranoia to shut it long enough to eat meals prepared by his old classmates.

Annette had plopped herself in the seat next to him, leaving a healthy distance but close enough to look friendly. The seat next to Dimitri remained conspicuously empty. Mercedes had been brave and kind enough to take the spot directly across for him, rather than let it remain unoccupied as well.

The silence had been unimaginably awkward. Dimitri thought Sylvain was going to try his hand at conversation, but whatever he had planned to say Ingrid had decided was not worth risking. Her sharp elbow was followed by what he assumed was a stomp on Felix’s foot next to her, muting the inevitable snide comment he had prepared to throw at him.

Bless Ashe for being a quick cook. The arrival of food had finally forced soft conversation from the lions, that grew to be banter that felt remarkably familiar. And it gave Dimitri something to focus on aside from the patterns of lines in the oak table that he could only count so many times before going truly mad.

Except it got quiet again, only a couple minutes later. But he hadn’t done anything, so why was everyone’s attention on him? Were they expecting him to say something? Byleth never said anything when they ate together. Where’s Byleth. I want Byleth, he would know what to say. Are they mad? Scared? Should I leave? Do they hate me? Of course they hate me, but then they should say something! What are they expecting me to do? What am I supposed to say?

 

Ingrid slid a fork in his direction without a word.

 

Sylvain and Annette lost it.

Ashe, Mercedes and Ingrid gave a valiant attempt at muffling their giggles.

Felix rolled his eyes, as if that would distract everyone from the hand he brought up to cover his own smile.

And for the first time outside of Byleth’s influence, Dimitri felt his face heat up and turn a charming shade of pink.

 

Sylvain brought his palm down on the table with a powerful thunk, causing Dimitri to jolt in slight panic and everyone else to quiet down. With his other hand, he took a fistful of his fork and knife and chucked it over his shoulder with a theatrical flourish, grinning the whole while.

“Voila! A show of solidarity for our dear prince, who has finally learned that there's more to life than looking noble!” He pressed a hand to his chest, while his other hand snatched the fork still sitting useless in front of Dimitri and chucked it behind him to join the growing pile. “I for one am proud of you, Your Highness,” Sylvain smirked, casting superior glances at Ingrid beside him.

Annette cheered before Dimitri could even consider a response, tossing her silverware recklessly and almost impaling Ashe on a butterknife. “All food is finger-food, King Dimitri’s first noble decree!”

“I’m not—” Dimitri tried, before dodging a spoon Felix definitely threw at him on purpose.

“If the boar wants to eat like one, then fine, he can make a fool of himself all he wants.” Then why did you throw your silverware away, Dimitri grumbled to himself.

Dimitri debated the merits of arguing that everyone should continue to use forks while he himself would continue not to, but it was too late. Mercedes had already begun picking apart her pheasant with slender fingers, a pleased smile on her lips that she wiped clean with the back of her hand. Ashe too had forgone spoons in favor of slurping soup directly from the bowl, and even Ingrid, albeit reluctantly, had decided her pride as a refined knight was no reason to get in the way of a proper meal.

And in an instant, everyone was talking again. Laughing, smiling, flicking chunks of mashed potato at each other from time to time. Like everything was normal. Like Dimitri was allowed to be apart of that normal.

What an odd thing for them to do.

Despite the “show of solidarity” Sylvain proposed, Dimitri couldn’t help but be self-conscious as he went back to nibbling on his food, more focused on watching the others laugh and attempt to steal bits of each other’s meals than on making a scene of himself. He ate quietly, letting himself exist aside all these familiar voices, voices not screaming at him, accusing him, telling him he was better off dead. Voices that were drowning out those other voices so very well he couldn’t hear anything other than laughter and teasing.

And when Mercedes’ voice let out an intentional belch that would put any other to shame, beaming proudly while the shocked faces around her applauded and cheered, Dimitri laughed.

He laughed, and he kept laughing, even despite the six pairs of eyes that whipped around to face him, wide and bright. And then Annette started laughing, and Ashe, and Mercedes, and Sylvain, Ingrid, and Felix. And Dimitri kept laughing, even when he felt tears prick the back of his eyes and he was suddenly unsure what he was laughing about or crying about but he wanted to keep laughing because he didn’t know what to say to them when he stopped.

He didn’t notice Felix silently move to take the seat next to him, or Annette scooting her chair a bit closer, or Sylvain, Ashe and Ingrid leaning in a bit closer. He felt Mercedes’ hand brush against his. He noticed enough to open his fist enough for her to slip a hastily wiped-off hand into his. His laughter subsided, and he hoped his more misplaced strands of hair hid whatever tears might have slipped out of the corner of his eye.

“We missed you too, Dimitri.” Mercedes pressed another hand atop his. Annette was right. She was very good at this.

 

“Everyone?”

Byleth’s voice cut through the quiet, urgent if not confused at the sight he walked in on. He wasn’t expecting to find Dimitri gathered with the rest of the Blue Lions, for one thing. The sight of him holding back tears was even less comprehensible, but he didn’t have the time to start interrogating. Everyone’s faces darted up to meet his, Dimitri’s especially. He could see the relief wash over his face.

Byleth sucked in a breath.

“He’s here.”

The relief on Dimitri’s face turned into something Byleth couldn’t name. Dimitri couldn’t name it either.

 

---

 

Dimitri hadn’t rushed out of the dining hall with the same fervor the rest had. His feet felt heavy as they carried him down the stairs. He should be relieved. Excited. He should be on his knees thanking the goddess. Or, thanking Duscur, if everything happened the way Byleth had said it did.

Instead, it was taking everything in him to drag himself to the entrance of Garreg Mach and push past the rest of the Blue Lions waiting with bated breath. He stood and he stared, waiting for someone to come into view.

Byleth turned the corner first, looking back at someone. He lit up the shadows around him. Something in the back of Dimitri’s mind said it was pretty, but it didn’t feel as notable as it usually does.

And then Dedue was standing there.

And suddenly Dimitri’s feet no longer felt like lead, and they moved on their own, and they took him flying down the staircase, scraggly hair and tattered blue fabric and fur billowing out behind him like wings.

He couldn’t imagine what Dedue was thinking at that moment, and he didn’t care to think on it himself. Looking at him, Dimitri didn’t have the fear that he did with the others. Dedue hadn’t seen him at his worst. No one had. Not even Byleth, really. But he was close. Dedue was closer than any of the others to know the beast he left behind, and Dimitri latched onto that. Because if Dedue would return knowing what would be waiting for him, then that means he would be willing to meet whatever his prince had become.

Byleth said he would love him, man or monster. Maybe Dedue believed the same. And just maybe that means the others could manage as well. And that thought was scary, because it gave him a lot of hope all at once, and he didn’t know what to do with hope because hope is terribly fragile. So he set that hope to the side and freed his arms to cling to Dedue as he barrelled full speed into his poor, shellshocked retainer.

“Yuh,” Dedue wheezed, struggling to speak after all the air had been forcibly ejected from his lungs thanks to Dimitri’s death grip. “Your Highness,” He gradually recovered, unsure what to do with his hands that settled on laying stiff against the fur pelts covering Dimitri’s back. Dimitri had never been a very touchy person, for obvious reasons. Dedue wasn’t prepared with the protocol for bear hugs. “Please forgive my lateness.”

Dimitri was far too busy burying his face in Dedue’s shoulder to acknowledge the apology. He was too busy marvelling the familiar voice, low and rough, but gentle if you knew how to listen for it, just as it had always been. Dedue no longer dwarfed Dimitri, a lack of size discrepancy that Dedue was still trying to manage at the current moment given the Dimitri he had left had been much younger and scrawny and malnourished near the point of death. But he was still larger than Dimitri, something the prince found comforting. Familiar. Familiar but not scary. It’s just Dedue, and he’s alive, and he’s come back, the man who’s saved his life more times than even Dedue himself knows is back and he’s warm and alive and here.

“Your Highness?”

Dimitri didn’t hear him. He just held on a little tighter, gloves struggling to find purchase on the dented armor, grabbing at the fabric of his scarf, anything that could prove Dedue was solid and still in front of him.

Dedue’s voice became a touch more insistent, the worry in his voice growing more obvious. “Your Highness, can you hear me?”

Byleth stood well off to the side, moving closer to the other students. He wanted to calm Dedue, to tell him he could hear him, and he wanted to tell Dimitri that Dedue wasn’t going away, because he knew that death grip and he knew what it meant. But some moments aren’t meant for divine interference. And as eager as the other lions were to gather around their lost friend, they could sense the same.

Dedue’s voice lowered as Byleth moved away, his mild desperation allowing him something he struggled with even at the prince’s own request.

“It is good to see you again, Dimitri.”

That was all it took. Dimitri wasn’t happy about that fact, but there wasn’t much he could do about the tears spilling forth aside from allowing them to come and attempt to obscure them so he would be the only one to know they were there. Except the tears came stronger, and he could feel himself shake, and he thought he could hear something like muffled wailing, and he was very worried that the wailing was coming from him.

“Don’t ever…” Breathe. “Throw your life away…” Breathe. “For mine…” Breathe. “Again…” Breathe, and break into sobs all over again.

Dimitri didn’t want that to be the first thing he said to Dedue. He choked it out nonetheless. Dedue didn’t mind, even if he minded the order itself. “Understood, Your Highness.”

Given the way Dedue’s arms tightened around him, a large hand pressed to the back of his head protectively, Dimitri was certain the wailing was his. He wished he could get it to stop. It was probably quite annoying. Loud. Uncomfortable.

What Dimitri couldn’t see was the way Dedue’s eyes had softened into a gaze meant for the delicate flowers he cared for years before. A gaze that was understanding, and happy in the most bittersweet of ways. Dimitri didn’t see Dedue look up and offer that small smile to the gathering above him, mouthing a silent apology for all the tears spilling down their cheeks. And he didn’t see Byleth usher his Blue Lions forward.

He felt weight behind him. And he felt very, very warm all of a sudden.

He didn’t see everyone gathered around him, but he could feel the way they gripped at his cloak and his armor, the way they pressed around Dedue and brought everyone just a bit closer together, gentle mumbles of grateful reunions floating amongst them. He didn’t see Byleth slip in amongst them, but he could feel a familiar hand rest against his.

He stopped hearing wails, just sniffing and choked, tearful laughter. He didn’t know what was coming from him and what was coming from the warm bodies around him.

Warm.

Had his family always been so warm?

 

---

 

Dimitri was collapsed on Byleth’s bed, watching the professor’s back as it remained hunched over his desk. Byleth had been at work all day, the exhaustion showing in drooped shoulders and the way his hair stood in funny directions from hands repeatedly brushing through it. He had refused to let Mercedes trim it, and it had begun to curve and fall in messy waves. Dimitri quite liked it that way.

He wished he could rise and aid Byleth, but he found himself unable to move. His attempt to speak earlier had resulted in a strained croak. Byleth had needed to pry Dimitri from Dedue, but after he’d managed the feat, the prince had almost collapsed right there in the entranceway as the stress fell back upon him like a landslide.

He felt pretty pathetic for being bedridden because of a shared meal and a reunion, but Byleth had assured he was proud of him. The words helped. They always did. Maybe he shouldn’t be so eager to please. He shouldn’t be a lot of things, he supposed. Like being so tired. Why must he be so tired.

“Dimitri?”

“Mmn?” His glazing eyes slid from the floor to Byleth, pausing for a second on the parchment in his hands.

“I know you agreed to the plan in our meeting the other day, but I wanted to ask you again. In private.” Byleth rose from his seat and came to kneel beside his bed, pushing aside hair falling into Dimitri’s face. “You are certain you are okay with it?”

“As long as you are still certain it will not be intercepted by the empire?”

“It will not, I’ll make sure of it. But that isn’t the thing I thought would worry you.”

“It only took me three weeks.”

Byleth blinked, thrown off his train of thought. “What do you mean?”

Dimitri gave a lazy smile, “You said the old me took months to talk to everyone. I did it in three weeks.”

“Is that so?” Byleth smiled back, poking his side. “You didn’t exactly do a lot of talking.”

“Tomorrow.” Dimitri rolled a bit, sinking further into the pillows. “I want to talk to Dedue. And I want to eat with everyone again.”

“I can’t believe I’m being replaced.” Byleth laid his face against the edges of the pillows and stuck his tongue out. “You’re going to leave me for Dedue, I knew it. How could I ever compete?”

“Never,” Dimitri dragged out the r sound in a sleepy mumble that made Byleth let out a soft chuckle.

“It’s alright, anyone would fall for those rugged good looks.”

“Byleth?”

Dimitri’s eyes had fallen to the parchment still rolled up in Byleth’s hand. Byleth nodded to him, spurring him to continue.

“Do you think I will be okay?” Even he could hear how weak his voice sounded. How young. All these reunions were bringing him back too far, he thought.

“I think you’ll be more than okay.” Dimitri wished he could have a painting of every moment Byleth smiled. Each one was sweeter than the last. “And you can take as many naps as you need afterwards. I may just have to join you. He can be exhausting, after all.”

“I might miss the monastery just being the two of us.”

“Me too.” Byleth rose again, setting the parchment back down on the desk and pinching out the dying flicker of light from the candle beside it. “But it’s not as quiet now, and I think I like that too.”

Dimitri moved enough for Byleth to slide up next to him, fitting up against his chest like a puzzle piece. Byleth had taken to lying with the side of his head pressed up against Dimitri’s chest. Dimitri knew it was to listen to his heartbeat. If the sound helped lull him to sleep, then he couldn’t mind. “It’s much warmer here now, I think.”

He wasn’t sure if Byleth heard him, his steady breathing revealing just how finished the poor professor was. Instead, Dimitri’s eyes wandered to where he knew a letter was left curled in on itself in the dark. He could picture Byleth’s chicken-scratch script attempting to appear official, one name in shaky, thin lettering.

 

To the Leader of the Leicester Alliance, Claude Von Riegan.