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Like Ink in Water

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Byleth always admired the cobalt blue on their father's hand.

It covered all of his fingers, palm, and wrist. They would trace the edge of his skin where the pigment ended on his forearm when they were younger.

"It was the last thing your mother left me." He had said looking out into the distance.

It only left Byleth more and more confused before they finally asked Dimitri on the second week at the monastery.

"Have you never actually known what soul marks are?"

Byleth shrugged as they continued writing. Dimitri, Annette, and Sylvain were busy as well, studying as well as they could. For Dimitri, that meant a book open and a paper out. Annette had three textbooks open and was copying terms and formations onto cards. Sylvain was busy at work trying to fold his singular notecard as many times as possible.

"It's… hmm…" Dimitri brought a hand up to his chin. "I don't think I've ever had to actually explain this before."

"It's like a hickey." Sylvain interrupted.

"Sylvain!" Dimitri snapped.

"What?" Sylvain straightened up in his seat, stretching his arms behind his head. The splatter of blue on his wrist standing out against his crimson hair. "I'm being honest. It's like a love mark that won't go away!"

"Please Sylvain…" Dimitri sighed before turning back to Byleth. "It's like a symbol of the bond you share with a person. When two souls find themselves compatible and an unbreakable bond forms their unique color appears as a mark on your skin. It can be from friends, lovers, and even your family." Dimitri gave Sylvain a pointed glare.

"I wasn't- ugh." Sylvain pouted. "It's a good analogy, Dimitri. You have to have a special bond with someone to get a hickey. That's a big commitment."

"Oh, is that right?" Dimitri questioned. "Then how come you have a new one every week?"

"That's just because- I bond quicker than other people!" Sylvain retorted.

Annette was quietly giggling in the background, continuing to write down notes. Byleth noticed now how there was a slightly cream mark, almost invisible on her complexion, that traveled from just under her jaw down her neck.

"Anyways, Professor, you've probably noticed your own. It's only proper to have marks from your family and friends after all." Dimitri took a second to unbuckle his left gauntlet before continuing. On his thumb was a beautiful shade of green traveling up his hand. "This one here is Ingrid's. Everyone has a unique color or two to their marks. Ingrid is usually a jade or emerald."

Sylvain thumped his boot on the table. "I've got a pretty one from his majesty himself here." He lifted his pants leg slightly to reveal the gold traveling around his calf. "Dimitri has the most gorgeous color to him. But I'm glad the one from my father is on my arm. It's perfect for my hair and the ladies love the pattern."

"Annette, you have one from Mercedes correct?" Dimitri asked.

Annette smiled and unclasped her collar to show the cream mark on her neck. "It's very subtle but I think she likes that. Plus, it's good to test out swatches if makeup on!"

Byleth sat silent as they continued to explain and show various marks. Sylvain all but tripped over himself to show the strokes of gray on his bicep from Felix, and the emerald on his collarbone from Ingrid. Dimitri stopped him with a well aimed paper ball to the face as he tried to unbutton his shirt to show them more from his family. Annette went oddly quiet, rubbing over the unmarked skin on her hand.

When everyone eventually retired and Byleth finally could undress for the night, they stopped to observe rhemself in her small hand mirror.

The only mark on their body was the perfectly imprinted brand on their chest, right above their heart. Its loops and lines looked as if it was stamped on, nothing like the wild patterns on her students. As far as they knew, they had the mark their whole life without questioning it.

"Interesting." The voice in their head spoke. "I do not think that's natural, or at least, it's not like any mark the children had. Hmm… you do not even have a mark from your father."

Byleth could feel something stirring in their chest. Something that felt like they were choking on words they never said.