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Kinktober 2019

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          Boar king.

          The nickname never made much sense to Byleth five years past, holding name of professor while overlooking her bickering students. Felix and Dimitri, awkward though sweet from the latter, cold and brutish from the former, classmates that were now carefully segmented by fear and lingering distrust—Felix and Dimitri, the latter chained to the floor, his lance stolen from his grip by the former, panting harshly by Byleth’s side.

          Felix and Dimitri, trading words, trading names.

          Boar king.

          It is a strange sensation, seeing Dimitri, true Dimitri, large and powerful and overbearing, a strength unknown that claws at the world around him, chained and held prisoner by his own men. By Syvlain and Felix and Ingrid, who share sorrowful looks and signs, who sigh in unison and hold their heads high, weapons higher. By Ashe and Dedue and Mercedes and Annette, who eat in silence on bloodstained tables with twisted spoons and knives. By Byleth, assigned to feed his majesty.

          Dimitri, who stood tall at the head of his army, who wears his crumpled heart with the delicacy of a maiden waiting under the moonlight, watches Byleth in his leather cuffed chains, his single eye tracing her form. She scoots down to pick up his tray, half eaten with the soup overspilling from the bowl, staring at his fallen form. Stripped off his weaponry, his armor, his dreams—his body seems almost small, bound as it is, a bare shiver through his form at the cold tiles.

          Byleth leaves a crack through the door.

-

          Dimitri does not speak.

          It is not a thought that should surprise Byleth given the situation—obsessed, obscene, a tortured mangled soul of a man behind chains and bars, nude except for the leather strap that protects the little modesty remaining. She waits for him every night, tray in varying states of mess, in silence. He never speaks.

          She does for him.

          “What’s happened?” Nothing.

          “Where is Edelgard? Claude? Your former classmates, where have they gone to?” Nothing.

          “Dimitri, can you hear me?” Nothing.

          “Dimitri.” Nothing at all, but the sharp inhale of breath followed by a series of hacking, his single eye squeezed shut as blood and spit and chunks of potato and leek stew spill from his mouth. Acid stings the air, his vomit spewing onto himself, the floor, some drops even making it to her form. She stares at him, at his shivering form, her former student reduced.

          “I’m going to clean you up.” Nothing. She gathers the tray, now splattered with vomit, and hurries to grab a wet rag. He hunches over, chains rattling, the single strap around his neck preventing him from ducking into himself. He would be mortified, years ago, under her careful eye.

          Now he stares at her, dull, unseeing, as she returns with a bucket and cloth. It is impossible for him to hunch so far with her hovering over, with the chains binding him so, and Byleth finds it easy to wipe down her jawline, his chest, eyes tracing the flakes of red in the otherwise murky puke. The water is unfortunately cold, and his shivering is audible this close.

          “You’re going to catch a cold like this.” Scolding, odd, when she has been serving his slump body for nearly a week. He coughs and curls his legs, but nothing more. When she wrings out the washcloth, the dirtied water hitting the bucket, his eyes drift up to hers.

          She wipes him down again, clean, though he’s only grown colder. He manages something animal, a whispered whimper, and she pauses to appraise his face. Dirtied, dusty, and she rubs tired circles into his cheeks. The cloth comes away grey and she smiles, though it cannot reach her eyes. His eyes flutter, breathing shallow, and she removes her coat to lay over his form.

          “Dimitri.” Nothing.

          She leaves the room, washcloth floating in the bucket in her hand.

-

          Dimitri sleeps for longer lengths throughout the days.

          He sleeps through Syvlain, through Felix, through Dedue. Ingrid grows impatient and pulls on his hair and he awakes with a wild snarl, snapping his jaws in her direction. She startles and slams the door shut behind her, and though his eyes never leave the back of her head, he returns to rest when she leaves.

          When Byleth enters the room, only the top of his hair is visible above her coat.

          Once long and loose on his form, it is now too short to cover both his head and his feet. His calves and feet are exposed to the cold air, shackles keeping them chained onto the floor, and she hums in advance. He twitches but does not move, her coat sleeves dusting the floor.

          “Dimitri.” Nothing. She stares at his hair, long, tangled, and opts instead to slide a finger along his foot. His toes fold but he does not move, content to ignore her presence.

          “Dimitri.” Again. She feels a little silly like this, running her nails along his wrinkled skin, darkened from weeks of laying in centuries of dust and dirt. His foot shakes now, caught tight by the shackles around his ankle, and she pinches his ankle.

          She expects a shout, or a growl, something distinctly inhumane as he lunges at her form, shackles shattering with the brute force in his muscles. Instead, Byleth is treated to a sound distinctly similar to a snort, and the appearance of Dimitri at the head of her jacket. His eyes follow her tickling fingers with the same apathy of any man, but the smile on his face is something she cannot recall seeing in years.

          Her hands still, stock frozen. His eyes trail up her arm, careful, shy, meeting her eyes. Something dull rolls in his body and then he’s frowning, a furrow of his brows, ducking back under her coat.

          Byleth exits the room, knowing he won’t be able to sleep until then.

-

          The Empire has found them.

          They’re attacked at night, a band of misfits armed with swords and spears and arrows, and though they make it through Byleth ends up with a nasty cut along her arm. Ashe replaces her in feeding duty, Dedue spends much of his time in patrol. Syvlain spends more time with her, and Felix spars a bit more gently. It is a matter of four days before Mercedes allows her to visit Dimitri, arms bandaged and healing.

          The door swings open to his pale form, her coat curled still around his body. Felix and Ingrid had tried to remove it after the battle, but Dimitri had howled and snapped at them. Frightened, angered, they had left him be.

          Byleth is glad, seeing his pale form, neck cradled against the crook of her coat.

          He needs it more than her.

          “Dimitri.” His chest rises and falls in gentle beats, face remarkably smoothed. She steps close, closer, until it is just a drop to her knees for her to loom over Dimitri’s sleeping face. Warnings from Ingrid bounce in Byleth’s head, hammering, worried; yet she places her hand on Dimitris’ head, running her gloved fingers through the messy hair.

          It is a millisecond before he is awake, eye sharp and breaths heavy, face a centimeter from hers. His teeth are bared, lips shaking. Byleth cannot do much but stare.

          She rubs his head and he sobs.

          Weeks in darkness have left a lingering odor on Dimitri, something foul and cruel, the scent of human waste and sweat, strong acidity, clings to him. Yet, Byleth finds herself much more taken by the weight of his head against her shoulder, shaking, trembling, as something so innately human manages to sliver from his shackles. Her fingers run downward through his hair, noting again that they ought to find him water to bathe in, when his voice breaks the silence.

          “losn,” is murmured against her shoulder. Byleth’s eyes widen, turning to stare at him shivering form.

          “Dimitri?” Nothing, she is sure. The same tepid silence that haunts her visits will be repeated again.

          “Loss,” Dimitri says. His voice is weak, dry, and his eye is red and puffy as it meets her eye. “You. I thought. Loss.”

          The words must take the last of his strength, for he falls forward against Byleth once more. Her hand falls from his head to his back, nude, cold. It is an eternity before she can slide his body back against the frozen tiles, careful to tug her coat around his body. Loose tears slide down his face, into his mouth, onto the floor. She wipes at them with her hand.

          Loss.

          She leaves the door open as she returns to bed.

-

          He kisses her.

          Against her hand, her wrist, her arm. The tray balanced in her other arm shakes as he licks along her, eye shut. She speaks.

          “Dimitri.” Nothing, just the barest press of teeth against her skin.

          “Dimitri.” Nothing, the tickle of hair brushing her arm, his eye fluttering open to stare upward at her.

          “Dimitri.” It closes again, and then he sighs, baring his throat. She settles the tray on the ground before wrapping both arms around his head, letting him rest against her bodice. He breaths, slow, shallow.

          “Dimitri.” Nothing, and then he’s twisting out of her hold to lick at today’s meal. Cheese, stolen from a discovered cabinet, melted over bread and with charred garlic. It smells lovely, reminiscent, something he might have liked.

          He eats it with the same slow motion she’s come to be used to.

          “Dimitri.” She stands and he stills, eye flickering between the food and her. He tried to crawl after her, but the chains only stretch so far and he stumbles, elbows and knees scraping against the floor as he yelps. Byleth startles, turning to catch him, just barely about to cup his face before he smashes into the floor.

          “Dimitri!” He growls, the vibration of his throat against her hand an oddity. Dimitri removes his chin from her hands, slow to crawl back to his food. He stares at her still, quiet, watching, until she turns again.

          “Dimitri, please. Speak to me.” It is a coax, a prayer, a plea. His eye falls from her to his bread. His arms fall to the floor, and then his legs, and then he’s bowing to her, nude except the strip of leather still clung to his groin.

          Byleth stares at his form, cold, colder, before turning to exit the room.

-

          Dimitri is—an enigma. Byleth thought she understood him once, a time years ago, though really only a matter of weeks to her. Dimitri was always kind, sweet, a gentle boy with charming fragility in his handling of others. He had embraced his new teacher with a startling fierceness, eager to please, even more eager to place a smile on her face.

          Dimitri then had made her want to take him into her arms, let him hide under her cloak.

          Dimitri now keeps the flame lit in her, though she finds herself unable to quite settle the disturbing darkness lingering in her mind.

          Byleth wants to help. She knows that, knows that the Blue Lions house is nothing but people who want to help, to unify their class and their nation under their beloved leader. Yet, the irony of keeping their leader in chains is lost on her. Their trust, their faith, their bonds are wavering, unable to stand the test of time without Dimitri at their centerpiece.

          He needs more. Just, Byleth does not know what she has to give him.

          “Dimitri.” These thoughts plague her as she places his tray on the floor, insistent on continuing her usual feeding schedule despite others, largely Ingrid and Felix, demand that she rest and allow another member to take over the task. Charming as their protectiveness is, Byleth finds herself unwilling to relinquish the smallest tasks that lead her to the man who she once found a shining jewel.

          He may be a little dirtied now, but she figures that’ll change after a nice bath.

          “Dimitri.” The bucket at the end of the room is empty now, waste removed in the morning. She’s been washing it, cloth rags, a broom, all used to clean up the cell used to house Dimitri. It would be better, she knows, to allow him proper rest in a proper bed, a candle to light the room and a crackling fire allowed to warm his tired form.

          Though she was his professor once, Byleth knows she lost such authority long ago. Abandoning her students would forever be an onslaught on her conscious.

          With it, goes her ability to care for Dimitri.

          “You must eat.” They’ve all noticed it, though it was Ashe who pointed it out first—the trays had been coming back less and less touched. The starving hunger in Dimitri’s eyes when Byleth had returned has since dimmed, now evident in his meals. His last tray came back half drunk, bread and cheese entirely untouched. Dedue had frowned, unable to hide his concern, and Byleth had offered to reheat the leftovers for today.

          Dimitri refuses to touch them still. Byleth frowns, unable to quell the growl building in her throat. She adores Dimitri, truly, but this behavior is both irritating and dangerous. Tucked as he is in her coat, she is unable to rattle him, though another idea comes to mind.

          Dimitri startles, a sore gasp coming from his lips when Byleth’s hands suddenly pinch at his mouth, prying it open roughly. His canines scrape against her skin, drawing blood, and though he tries to snap his jaw shut immediately, her fingers wedged against his incisors make it impossible. Grinning viciously, Byleth shoves a hardened block of bread and cheese into his mouth.

          Dimitri coughs, doubling over. Though doubt and worry swirl in Byleth, the knowledge that Dimitri hasn’t eaten properly in nearly a week fuels her onward. She cracks off another piece of bread, prying Dimitri’s mouth open again, and pressing the bread in.

          Open, shove, repeat. Open, shove, repeat. Dimitri’s rasping protests are weak, the result of self-inflicted starvation settling in, and Byleth finds it remarkably easy to sit on him for better access. She keeps one hand on his hand, constantly pinching, as another hand crumbles the bread into small morsels to fit. Crumbs coat his chin, falling onto her coat and his nude chest resting underneath.

          It isn’t until Byleth is out of bread that she releases his face, his jaw snapping shut with an audible clack.

          “Dimitri.” Warning. His eye stares up at her, glossy from unshed tears. Yet, his brows remain narrowed, unwanting, and Byleth simply sighs as she pulls upward the bowl of soup.

          “Drink.” Order, and when Dimitri bares his teeth at her, a low growling noise rising in his throat, her only response is to grasp at the collar on his neck. A startled yelp escapes him, cowed, and then she’s pried his mouth open again, a finger tickling the roof of his mouth. Dimitri shakes his head, craning his neck back, though the shackles leave him nowhere to go. Byleth pours the soup into his throat, and though he sputters and coughs and chokes, the stream only slows, refusing to stop until the bowl is empty.

          The sight of his face, wet with over spilled soup, the beginnings of tears and snot, does something to Byleth. She shifts, suddenly aware of her hips against his waist, and warm rushes to her face. Byleth stands, coughing gently, though her eyes refuse to stray from Dimitri’s scrunched face, wary at her hands.

          Trust, and desire, and five years of disbelief at her death. It’s no wonder he’s wary still.

          And yep, the memory of him lapping at her hand spirals forward.

          “I’m going.” Dimitri’s head snaps upward, mouth opening as though to speak. Whatever he could say is lost in a series of coughs, his chest heaving.

          By the time his choking quiets, the door had slammed shut behind Byleth.

-

          The sounds of chains rattling becomes commonplace during feeding time for the following two days. Growling turns to whimpering, properly cowed from the rough treatment. Guilt and resentment tugging at Byleth had turned to satisfaction as his trays began to return empty, even without her collecting and feeding, and even Felix has a reluctant comment on how Dimitri’s threatening snaps and hisses had begun to wane.

          It’s a step forward, even if at times she feels like she’s taken a step back. No professor would ever be able to treat their students so cruelly.

          Byleth is no longer professor.

          It is only that fact that keeps her shoulders at ease as she unlocks Dimitri’s chains, only to retie them together behind his back. He hisses, something vile under his breath, and her hand tugs not-so-gently at the chains in reply. His head is bowed, throat bobbing as he swallows, wrists rotating gently as she secures the lock in place. Byleth doesn’t bother securing his feet together, instead tugging sharply at the collar of her coat. Dimitri startles, head turning to her, and it is the opportune moment to snap the leash on his collar.

          “Dimitri.” Byleth stands now, satisfied as she tugs on his leash. Dimitri startles forward, knees catching, though he’s unable to still himself with his arms tied behind him. He falls against her legs, in a perfect position to snap his jaws at her, bite through her armor to rip through a chunk of flesh.

          Instead, his mouth is shut, thinned to a line.

          Improvement.

          “Good boy.” The endearment slips out accidentally, and though Byleth’s teeth click shut immediately afterward, the widening of his eyes at her words is well worth it. His chin quivers for a moment, something bubbling in his throat, though when it finally comes loose he offers nothing more than silence. Byleth stares at his sullen form, seemingly so small under the draping of her coat, and she tugs at the lease again.

          It is a shaky moment before Dimitri manages to stand on his feet. His legs, unused to such weight after weeks chained to the floor, collapse under him time and time again. Byleth ends up supporting his weight as he pants, sweat beading along his face, mouth pulled into a trembling frown. Byleth takes a step back, intent on allowing Dimitri to move forward by himself, but it simply causes him to fall back against her arms.

          His legs, shaking with exhaustion, have finally given out. It’s only Byleth’s grasp around his shoulders that keep him from hitting the floor.

          “Dimitri,” Byleth murmurs. It’s soft, softer than any tone she’s taken with her former students in the past two weeks, though she can’t picture any other to address the quivering form clinging to her arms. “Dimitri, sit.”

          His legs fully collapse under him and he falls to the ground on his side, grunting. Byleth grabs the chains tying his arms together, and, knowing the inevitable scolding Ingrid will deliver to her, snaps them apart. Dimitri jerks, a gasp startled out of him, and then his arms and slapping the floor as he makes a hasty crawl away. It’s awkward, slow, a crumpling attempt that spans half a meter before he falls to his side again, gasping.

          “Dimitri, sit.” It’s not so gentle this time, and he stills in place, arms below him. She waits, letting the last length of the leash fall to the ground, raising her hands into the air. Dimitri stares at her, eyes blinking warily, and then he’s prying himself back off the floor, onto his knees.

          His eyes are glassy, exhaustion tugging at his lids. The lighting near the door makes the past month’s events all the more prevalent, from the sagging bags under his eyes to the sullen skin where his muscles once were, now thinning and frail from months of disuse. His lips are dry and cracked, though him finally submitting to proper meals has improved his skin enough to make it less pale. When her eyes finally return to his face, she sees that he’s biting on his lip.

          “Dimitri.” Silence, though his eyes flicker up.

          “Let’s try this again tomorrow, okay?” The words bring about a pang of nostalgia in her, memories of lecture halls and joyful students suddenly swarming her mind. It seems only a few months ago that she ran her hand through Dimitri’s hair, praising him for his vast improvements in his lessons, the dedication that made him so charming.

          The guttural noise from Dimitri is neither an acceptance nor denial, and yep, Byleth finds a smile pinching at her lips. She stands, uncertain whether or not Ingrid or Felix will return to shackle Dimitri back to his previous form, or allow him to rest unchained. After a week of proper meals, however, Byleth finds that he deserves it.

          Proper rest, in a proper bed, with warm food and clothing.

          They’ll make it there, she’s sure of it.

          Byleth adjusts her clothing, preparing to leave, just as Dimitri stumbles forward again. His crawl is unsteady, clumsy as a newborn, and the comparison is enough to freeze Byleth in place. When he finally comes close enough to raise his head against her, height reaching her thighs, she wonders if he’s going to bite straight through her tights.

          Instead, he butts his head against her hand.

          “Dimitri?” What could be an answer is lost in a sigh as he rubs his head. His hair is still sticky with dust and oils, knots catching in her fingers. Careful, she presses her hand against his scalp.

          Dimitri sighs, shoulders falling, and Byleth feels her heart catch.

          Oh. Oh.

          It is too soon before she has to withdraw her hand, the wavering peace shattered as she takes another step towards the door. Dimitri makes no sound, nor move, to follow her, eye simply tracking her footsteps. When she reaches the exit, the last thing she sees before sliding the door shut is the slow travel of his eye up to her face.

          He’s smiling.

-

          It takes four days of—not lessons, just, attempts. Four days of pulling and holding and just breathing in place, heads pressed against heads as Dimitri steadies himself against Byleth. Felix did have angry words about Dimitri’s released chains, but Dedue and Sylvain alike swore on Dimitri’s side, protesting his ability to rest in peace in his cell, especially given Byleth’s plan. It was a lengthy shouting match, but Byleth emerged victorious.

          It’s how she can pull Dimitri to his feet, arms bound together with a simple chain, the leash tied to his collar. She smiles at him, and though he doesn’t smile back, his eye does seem to soften.

          She’s still not sure if it was her imagination or delusion that had Dimitri smiling at her those days past, but the flicker of the image remains firmly in her head.

          She wants to see him smile again.

          “Dimitri.” A tug, gentle, his feet making slow steps forward. Byleth doubts he could run even after daily exercises, certain that his sore legs would have given out long ago. Yet, that stubborn determination that kept him afterhours during school persists still, and a proud grin spreads on her face when he manages to straighten to full height. It’s funny, how she knows he’s taller than she, yet he seems so small in her coat.

          The rest of the class is out today, patrolling the area. Byleth had asked them to, not wanting to parade Dimitri around more than he has been. Annette had been especially enthusiastic about them taking a day to themselves, prompting a light smile. He takes slow, stumbling steps behind her as they pad out of the room. The light of the hall overtakes him for a moment, his eye scowling shut as he stills, and Byleth waits.

          When his feet refuse to budge again, she gives a harsher tug at the leash. This time his eye flies open, surprised evident, though his legs do follow her. The bare scrap of fabric hanging at his hips swings as he moves, clearly not intended for any actual movement.

          It is an arduous process to make it to the stairs, and an even more tiring one to climb them. Byleth is tempted to grasp at Dimitri, carry him herself, but the stubborn grit of his jaw prevents her from drawing any closer. Instead, her tugs get rougher, his breathing harder, and slowly his feet rise from step to step.

          By the time they emerge from the basement, Dimitri’s legs are shaking, sweat dripping from his face along his neck in a line down his chest. His face is flushed, mouth open in pants, all sighs of needing rest. Yet, his eye refuses to lower, staring at Byleth still.

          She smiles.

          “Good boy.”

          Praise, and pets, have become her best reward for him. Dimitri’s lips twitch at the remark, not a smile, though not a frown. Byleth lets him linger a moment longer before tugging again, insistent on having them reach the destination before the others return.

          The process across the hall is remarkably more steady than the trek up the stairs, though Dimitri’s certainly red from ears to shoulder by the time they arrive to closed doors. Byleth appraises him, her dirty cloak still tossed on his shoulders, before pushing the door open. Warmth radiates through her, and she steps in.

          The bath is clean, full of clear, warm water. It had been difficult to secure clean water since the war had broken out, but a farm overrun by bandits had luckily left them with a running bathroom. After nearly every member of Blue Lions had a chance to cleanse themselves, Byleth had decided to take back her portion of water to share with Dimitri. It was Mercedes, with soft eyes and gentle hands, who offered to help her. Ashe and Dedue were only natural in assisting.

          Clean bath, warm water. A dirty boy, chained still, staring at the scene before him.

          Byleth would laugh if it weren’t so terribly tragic.

          “Dimitri.” His head turns towards her way, a grunt in his throat. Byleth ties the leash around her arm twice, securing it, before stepping close to grab at the chain keeping his arms tied. She tugs him with it, pulling him careful steps closer to the bath, before stopping just as they hit the tub.

          “I need to take my coat back,” it’s an apology, must be, with the upset knitting of Dimitri’s brows. Still, something persists in him, and he lowers his shoulder and head to Byleth. She strips him of the coat easily, tossing it to the floor, before pulling off her own shirt. A startled jostle of Dimitri’s chain reveals his shocked face, pink rising to his cheeks.

          “What? I can’t wash you without getting wet.” Humorous, well-intended. Byleth laughs as Dimitri shuffles his feed, arms still in front. He looks younger, back to when they first met and he had clasped his hands together, swinging to and fro. Shy, endearingly so, and she had wanted to shield him from the world.

          The humor dries in her lips.

          Byleth shimmies off her skirt and undergarments with no further words. Her boots are tossed against her coat, equally dirty, before grasping the scrap of fabric keeping Dimitri’s decency. He yelps, legs pressing together, though there’s nothing for him to keep clenched. Byleth snaps the leather strap downwards, a shy whimper slipping from Dimitri.

          He’s, well, large. And equally dirty there as the rest of his body. Furious pink colors Dimitri, no longer from exertion, prompting a chuckle to rise within Byleth. She loosens the chains around his arms until they fall to the floor, pooling at his feet, and then she grasping the leash and pulling him into the tub.

          The water is pleasantly warm to her skin and Byleth sighs. She’s needed this, peace, remembrance, a moment to relax her mind from the grating nostalgia gripping her form every time Dimitri stumbled into her arms. He’s no longer her student, the blue lions no longer her class.

          She’s Byleth, mercenary, criminal. Another life in war.

          She just has to remember that.

          A ripple in the water causes her to turn. Dimitri fidgets, his shoulders drawn up, and Byleth could laugh at how his eye traces the drifting dirt from his body into the water. As though shocked with his own state, he tremors in the water, then pinches his lip as more dirt comes off with the movement. Byleth does laugh this time, prompting him to turn to her, face upset.

          “You haven’t bathed in weeks. Relax.” Weeks, months, maybe more. Guilt stings at Byleth, though it passes just as quickly. Dimitri nods at her, placated, hands clenching under the water. Byleth turns to them, only to end up looking at his groin again. He really should have been cleaned earlier, especially considering he was still being fed and producing waste.

          A dry cough draws her eyes back up. Dimitri’s red again, eye carefully pointing away. She grins, arching her back, aware of how his eye drifts back to stare at her bare nipples before snapping away again.

          Precious.

          All teasing aside, however, he really does need to be cleaned.

          “Dimitri, head down. I’m going to wash your hair.” Theoretically, Byleth knows he can care for himself. He certainly never required her bathing assistance back in school, but then again, he hadn’t need walking or talking lessons either. It is so much easier to coax him with soft words and touches, letting him relax against her hands as his eye flutters shut.

          She wants him to trust again.

          Dimitri’s hair, as usual, is sticky and knotted. Byleth palms a mixture of crushed herbs and tea leaves into her hand, rubbing them along the oily strands. Dimitri bends his face further, nearly to the surface of the water, as Byleth’s hands make progress drawing out the dirt in his hair. She scratches his scalp with her nails, careful to pick at dry skin, and he shivers beneath her.

          It is slow, gentle work, ripples of water shaking as she goes to her knees for better reach at the back of his neck. The collar is still on him, leash simply floating in the water, and she digs her hand under it to pull at loose strands stuck to his back. A whimper slips from his lips and her hands still.

          “Am I hurting you?” His shoulders quake, from pain or anxiety she does not know, though his head shakes no. Byleth frowns, worry flickering within her, and she drags her hands up his head with remarkable gentleness this time. Her hands draw up and down his scalp, digging into the numerous knows in his hair, wetting every strand with the cleanser. After declaring him sufficiently soaped up, she circles his ears.

          “Dimitri, can you bend back for me?” Dimitri murmurs something, some noise, and then he’s turning back, letting her hands drag him back down into the water. Byleth notes, with some smug satisfaction, that his eye has fallen shut, features smooth. Relaxed. Cared for.

          “Good boy.” A twitch in his brow, the smoothing of his shoulders.

          Byleth cleans his hair in silence, admiring how his blonde locks come out smooth and shiny, the darker hues literally washed away. He looks even younger now, breathing deep, chest rising and falling against the water as she runs her hands over his hair. It is almost a shame when she is done, letting his locks fall from her fingers.

          “Dimitri,” his eye cracks open, nearly irritated, and she grins, “take a deep breath. I need to wash your face.”

          It’s not quite as easy the second time around, mostly because Dimitri breaths into her hand at the wrong time and ends up licking the soap concoction Mercedes had found. He ends up coughing into her hands, eye pinched, a trickle of soap seeping into his eyelid. By the time they manage to finish washing his face, they’re both a little exhausted, panting lightly.

          “Alright, let’s get on with this. Turn around!” The sullen expression on Dimitri’s face is a remarkable shift from the blank one she’s come to known, and the generosity of it warms her heart. He shifts in place, one hand coming to the tub edge to steady himself. When he does turn however, he stills in place, realization creeping in.

          Marks.

          Marks she’s never seen before.

          There’s a litter of scars along his back, skinny lines were there must have once nothing but open wounds and blood, blood running down his back. There is barely a space between the end of one scar and another, harsh and brutal, clearly injuries meant to last.

          Byleth opens her mouth, uncertain, certain, only to click it shut at the sight of Dimitri’s fingers curled against the tub, hard enough to crack. She stares at him a moment longer, before shaking her head.

          Five years past, he’s no longer her student.

          It’s hard to remember when it’s so much easier to forget.

          “Let me wash your back.” Placating, promising. Dimitri’s hand doesn’t let go of the tub, though it does loosen its grip. The wash is silent, nearing discomfort, just the motion of Byleth dragging her hands up and down Dimitri’s tense back. He doesn’t loosen until she moves to his side, where he squirms and nearly giggles. Amusement flashes by her face.

          “Oh, right. Forgot you’re ticklish.” It’s probably a little mean when she chooses to run her fingers up and down his sides, causing a wild bit of trashing and laughter to burst from him. The water ripples and crashes against the sides of the tub, overflowing to splash on the floor, finally causing Byleth to still her hands. Dimitri heaves, breaths a desperate tremble as he tries to still his laughter, and she finds herself more content to continue.

          “Turn around.” The stink eye he shoots her is a treasure considering the undeniable smile stretched on his face. Hard not to when he was cackling just a moment before in her arms. Still, victory flares in Byleth’s stomach at the expression, and she places a hand against Dimitri’s arm. When he doesn’t tense at her grip, her fire doubles.

          “I got to wash your front now.” Obedient, loyal, nothing more than a wet dog nipping at her hands. Byleth runs soapy fingers down his front, along his arms, more conscious now to apply amble pressure. There’s scars here, too, though she’s grown startlingly numb to the sight of them. At the very least they seem clean, disinfected.

          Dimitri’s eye droops again as she moves along his body, gently tracing the outline of his ribs down to his stomach. Dirt had settled along the cracks of his skin, made by folding down on tense muscles, and she scratches a little harder at those areas to remove the dirt. The water they’ve soaked in has long gone murky grey with the mass of dust coming off.

          It isn’t until Byleth prods her hands downward that she remembers.

          Dimitri’s half-hard member pokes through the water. Byleth stares at it, feeling something uncertain, something hungry, her eyes flickering up to Dimitri’s face. He’s flushed, light pants shaking his jaw, but his eye remains shut, his head reared off to the side. She could almost mistake him as sleeping.

          He’s not.

          Byleth grabs his cock.

          Dimitri’s eye flies open, a croaking yelp emerging from his throat as his legs kick out. In the small tub, they smack against the porcelain edges, and Byleth takes one hand to steady him as the other scratches along his scrotum. A whine, heavy, confused, slips through his mouth as he stares at her, dizzying haze evident in his face. His stomach curls in a weak attempt to sit up, though he is unable to dislodge Byleth’s hand.

          She palms more soap onto her fingers, and returns to cleaning his genitals.

          The moans slip through with more frequency now, Dimitri’s one hand choosing to grip the edge of the tub, the other tugging at Byleth’s wrist. Weak, almost laughably so, something cruel flickering at her. Wasn’t Dimitri supposed to become strong, so unbearably strong that no one could face him? Wasn’t that why the Blue Lions had become so cowardly, so vicious, as to abandon their so-called leader into a dungeon, locked up in chains, a glittering present for any stumbling foe?

          Byleth drags her nails along the crease of Dimitri’s ass and thighs. He squeals, high, and kicks out his legs again, bowing them at the knees. It does nothing but lock Byleth’s hand into place.

          Warmth flushes Byleth’s face at the high whines and gasps shaking Dimitri’s body. It’s funny, still, the reminder at he is so tall, so muscular, powerful and bulky, and yet here is still, shivering cowed at her feet, unable to do anything but squeal and quiver under her hand. It must be cruelty, must be vengeance, something beyond Byleth herself that convinces her to slide from his ass to his cock, a single finger pressing onto his head.

          The shout he echoes is a word.

          Byleth finds her hand frozen, eyes widening, as the murmuring sobs slipping from Dimitri’s throat begins to form more than rambled syllables in a string, now with proper spacing, gasping, a desire to be heard. Her hand slows as it scratches lines along his thighs. Dimitri cries.

          “Les… hnn… hah, ah, rof…” slips from his mouth. Words, what could be words, the first from him that Byleth can recall since that night weeks ago when he had sobbed into her shoulders.

          She slides her other hand upward from his stomach to his throat. When she angles her finger into the collar, crooking his face upward, she can see the line of drool spilling from his lips along his chin, dripping into the dirtied bath water below. His glassy eye stares, unfocused, as his mouth tries to form feeble words.

          “Dimitri.” Order. Desperation. The quickening of her hand against his dick.

          “Dimitri.” Harsh, insatiable. She jostles the collar, making water splash onto the floor, and he moans, long and breathless.

          “Leth… By… Leth…”

          Her.

          Dimitri’s calling for her.

          Something heavy settles in the burning pit lighting Byleth on fire, and her hand tightens its grip on him. Dimitri shivers, teeth clacking together as he bares his neck forward. Needy. Confused.

          “Mo-re!”

          He wants this.

          Hungry, angry, red hot fury igniting in Byleth’s veins make her press forward, hand dropping the collar to simply grasp at his throat, tossing his head back. His gasp and resounding moan is a vibration against her fingers, submissive, obedient. She fingers the length of his cock in a reward and his legs spasm, wrapped as they are around her arm. It kicks the tub, causing it to creep and shift along the tile floor.

          She wants this.

          Tears, drool, the mixture of snot and bathwater dripping along his face. Dirtied water blocking her view of him, his shaking legs, the quivering folds of his stomach bent in half as he tries to curl. His single eye, glassy, highlighted by the flush of pink sweeping his ears to his shoulders.

          She wants this.

          “Byleth!”

          The door bursts open, familiar red hair sweeping into view. Byleth reacts immediately, jumping back from Dimitri, aware of the splashing sound of bathwater hitting the floor, one hand digging along her clothes immediately to secure a grip on a dagger. Alone, they were supposed to be alone—she doesn’t have time for intruders!

          Armed and ready, Byleth lunges, her teeth bared, muscular scarred body bare. She’s killed more in worse situations.

          Except it’s only Sylvain who’s standing at the door, breathing heavily, Mercedes peering behind his shoulder.

          “Byleth! Are you okay?” Shouting. Why is Sylvain shouting? Byleth hisses, running a hand along her wet head, dropping the dagger back along her abandoned clothes.

          “Fine. What is it?” Cool, simple. Sylvain’s shoulders drop, mixture of exhaustion and irritation flicking by his eyes, before he settles back on Byleth’s nudity. Unexpected pink highlighted his cheeks, and then he’s taking a shaky step back, ducking behind Mercedes.

          “O-oh, you’re naked.” Byleth snorts. Chill and capable as ever. She’s still not certain how she’s managed to strike fear in Sylvain’s heart, given how he normally is with women, but perhaps the title and authority of professor persists still.

          “We heard thrashing,” Mercedes chimes in. Her eyes, unlike Sylvain’s, have yet to stray from Dimitri’s gasping form in the tub. Their dirty water has clearly coated the floor, and Byleth sighs, kicking her coat and clothing over to mop at it with her feet.

          “We’re fine. Just cleaning. He’s really dirty.”

          An accusation, a statement, all in one. Mercedes smiles, hand tightening on Sylvain, and then they’re gone from the room. The door is open behind him, leaving Byleth and Dimitri nude as cold air sweeps into the bathroom. She looks over at him, at his drooping eye, the glimpse of his teeth biting his lip.

          Enough.

          “Let’s finish up. Don’t want to catch a cold.”

          She’s had enough.

-

          Clothing. Clothing, and food, and, for goddess sake, an actual bed. It’s an argument that’s dragged on for too long, furious resentment building in her blood. They were her students, once, and now they refuse to budge on even the simplest matters.

          “He is a beast.” Felix crosses his arms, uncomfortable, unwilling. Ingrid nods, equally fierce, her hands clenched on the tabletop.

          “He’s dangerous, professor. It’s too much.” Byleth grits her teeth. Professor, always professor, only when they feel the title is suitable in discussion. Professor, only when they want to dangle power before her nose, professor, only to draw pity out of her.

          Professor, as though she’s been anything but, watching them torment someone they once called friend.

          “And what? Chaining him, starving him, leaving him to sit in his waste—is that going to make him human again? Is that it?” Fury, righteous fury, born alight is glowing in her eyes. They must tell, fingers tightening, a swallow from Ashe. Fear, and anger, quelled by natural instincts.

          Run, it says, and they cannot. Glued to their seats, cowering under her breath.

          “We want him to heal.” Mercedes, stubborn in the wrong moments, her eye always watching. Too kind for war, too hardened for much else. Byleth laughs.

          “Dust and dirt? Is that all we have to heal now?” A jab, poorly disguised. Annette swallows, her hand coming to grasp at Mercedes. Mercedes head falls, properly surrendering, though her eye stays trained on Byleth’s form. She doesn’t care.

          They can all stare at her.

          She’s not the one who turned their leader into a beast, a walking display, an animal stuck in chains and dirt.

          “Bed.”

          “Bed and food.”

          “Bed, and food, and clothes.”

          Orders, demands, lectures. Her voice rings over the table, palms down on the foggy glass. Commander. Professor.

          “I will not sit here as you turn your former classmate into a beast.”

          It is Felix, stubborn, fearful. Felix, who grits his teeth, who claws his hands, who digs his nails into the edge of the chair, shoulders squared. Felix.

          “He was already a beast.” Byleth stares at him, cold, unflinching. The table quiets, still, watching their eyes. Felix is the one to droop first, eye flickering downward, frustration and indignation shivering his arms. Dedue’s eyes dart to her, waiting, patient.

          “No more so than people willing to leave him in a dungeon.” The flinch across the table is only momentarily satisfying.

          “Bed, and food, clothing and rest. That’s all.” Silence, resignation, fear. The knowledge that she was their professor, once, is enough. Byleth stands, kicking her chair back, letting her gaze sweep the table.

          “I would do the same for any of you.”

-

          A battle breaks out in the Southeast.

          It is a mistake to head out. Partly because Byleth’s torn her arm muscle defending Ashe from a sudden rush of bandits, partly because she’s not prepared to see a familiar face on the other side of the battlefield.

          Claude’s eyes glitter in the dark.

          It is an unspoken promise, a thirst for blood. He is hers, and she is his; it is easy enough to break off from the others to dart to the side where he waits, floating in the air. His eyes see all, the chaos occurring on the grounds, the gashes marking Mercedes arms, her hands outstretched to provide healing and protection. Annette screams behind her, eyes alight with fear, fury. The sight of Dedue destroying remnants of his army must hurt.

          An arrow clips her ear, just barely, drawing a small bit of blood. She stares, grip on her sword tightening, as he fastens another arrow.

          A game.

          A hunting game. He’s the prey.

          Familiarity, in combat, in strategy, in memory of gentler times with Jeralt, fuels her steps. The arrows get flicked out of place, and the advancing shout of Sylvain and Dedue at the front of her army is not enough to placate the thundering of her heart in her ears. Every step is a bit closer, every breath a bit stronger. It is only a matter of time before she’s grasped Claude out of the sky, hand digging into his arm as she drags him along the ground, wyvern screeching noisily as she grips its master.

          He looks good, bruised and bloody, cocky smirk never leaving his face.

          Until it does, his bow dropping to the ground besides him, and Byleth’s got an arm wrapped around her waist.

          “Hey, teach.” Low, secretive. A whisper, and her arm catches him. She’s still got the sword of creator in her hand, ready, wary.

          Claude smiles.

          “How’s Dimitri?” Her hand tightens.

          His wyvern barrels into her side, and then Byleth’s coughing, racking up spit and blood, spinning back onto her feet. It’s too late to catch him, his laughter ringing in the air, delightfully light for a war scene. His eyes soften as they catch hers, floating so gently along the ground. She could swing her sword still, this close, and puncture him through the throat.

          She doesn’t. She can’t.

          He knows. Knows too much, probably, based off the small pouch he tosses her way. She catches it, wary, all too aware of his history with poisons. It must be evident on her face, the way another laugh stretches his body, his eyes crinkling in dangerous delight.

          A game.

          A hunting game.

          She’s his prey.

          The bag contains a mixture of what seems to be teas, herbs, a small vial of oil, another that smells of nothing, but looks faintly purple. She shakes it, watches the bubbles swirl in the vial, arching an eyebrow up.

          “What?” Claude smiles down to her, arms around his wyvern. It screeches, clearly a warning, based off the sudden storming of footsteps echoing on the battlefield. Byleth’s team will be unable to catch his, not at the rate that they move, and she settles for knowing that Claude is no further along revolution as she.

          Edelgard. Edelgard is furthest of them all.

          “I heard a rumor,” unlikely. He must have spied on them. “That his highness has been unwell. I prepared a present for him, just a little peacetime gift for his health. That’s all.”

          She doubts it. Byleth tightens her grip on the vial, feeling the glass pinch under her fingers. She could shatter them here, now.

          “Dimitri’s the fiercest fighter on your side, sans you, teach. You should really help him out.” The smile that lingers on his face is more genuine now. It’s softer by the edges, sweeter in a nostalgic way. Byleth wonders, sometimes, if Claude ever gets tired of pretending.

          “I’d like to see him soon.”

          He must.

          “Give him my regards.” Then he’s off into the air, gaze sharp, pulling his troops back. Byleth waits on the ground below, hands clutching the bag still. When her troops make their way to her, concern about the trail of broken arrows and the trail of blood from her ear to neck, she tucks the bag along her pocket.

-

          Contraceptives.

          A vial of oil.

          Chamomile.

          One long vial of something purple. It doesn’t smell like anything at all.

-

          Annette bakes her scones to place with the tea. Mercedes had offered to help, but Byleth had said that they only needed two. It’s been a while, a long time really, since she’s had a chance to properly speak with the other members of the class. Day in and day out, most of their conversations have been with Felix, Ingrid, occasionally Sylvain—and they tend to end up shouting.

          Annette doesn’t shout, doesn’t scream, just smiles and hums as she presses the dough flat against a tray.

          “Is he alright?” Careful, quiet. On tiptoes, shattered glass, always a little meeker by her fierce teacher’s side. Byleth nods, hand sweeping the dirty boards, stray flour marking them white.

          “He’ll be fine.” Unlikely. Dimitri will be better, Byleth will ensure that, but she can’t guarantee anything more than the little improvements they’ve been making. Even so, there’s still that five years gap between them. Five years where he had once been a smiling, glittering diamond, now trapped in binds his own friends had placed around him.

          Her fingers tighten on a rolling pin, and she drops it to the board.

          Annette flinches.

          They wait in silence, eyes on the slow roasting oven. The fire underneath crackles as it heats the iron tray, the scones slow to warm and rise. It is hot just standing here, a drip of sweat forming on Annette’s nape.

          She swallows.

          She speaks.

          “I’m sorry.”

          Byleth turns to her, eyes widening. Annette’s hand grasps at her skirt, wrinkling the fabric, and though she swallows, her voice continues.

          “You-you were right. We were treating Dimitri, like, like,” her voice cracks, eyes slipping shut as the beginnings of tears pool at her lids, “a beast.”

          “It’s not your fault.” It isn’t, not really, not with the creeping manner Annette’s taken to supporting Byleth. Not with the careful way she and Ashe speak about Dimitri with Dedue, not with the slow manner in which she plates his food with Mercedes, careful to create meals that he’ll like. Not with the burning spirit in her eyes when Byleth had made her argument for Dimitri, quiet, but wanting.

          “It is!” Annette protests, and now she’s crying, really, tears down her cheeks. “I shouldn’t have let them do that! I should have said something!”

          Should, and could, and would.

          Byleth takes Annette into her arms.

          “I could have stopped them.” She couldn’t have. “I could have helped Dimitri earlier!” Unlikely.

          “I could have tried.”

          Truth.

          Byleth’s arms tighten around Annette, sighing as her hand rises to pat at her head. She’s never been good with this—emotional displays, cries for help. There’s no calming the heavy guilt made prominent in the blue lions after Dimitri had begun a path to recovery, but only after Byleth had begun to disobey their rules, forcing Dimitri back into the light. The dawning realization that their chains were nothing more than a flimsy excuse to protect themselves is a crime within itself, and their morale has been nothing but fragile as a result of it.

          They need to see Dimitri, know Dimitri, rely on his forgiveness.

          He needs to return to battle.

          “It’s true,” Byleth sighs, and Annette stiffens in her arms as sobs wrack her body. “You could have tried to do more. But Annette, honestly,” she sways to and fro with the girl, remembering the silly songs Annette used to hum in the greenhouse, “you’re trying now. You’re trying to help now.”

          Byleth stares at the small bowl of leftover dough, too much to fit into one tray. It’s a perfectly round surface, rolled and mashed and rolled again.

          “Isn’t that proof that you’re doing something?”

          Annette sobs through the baking time, and the first round of scones are burnt. Byleth laughs about it, prompting another round of tears from Annette, but she’s smiling this time, red-rimmed eyes and snot pooling at her lips. She wipes her face onto her sleeves, sniffling, when they fit the remaining dough on a second tray.

          “I’m glad,” she says, when the second tray comes out golden, topping the scones with a layer of honey.

          “Glad?” Byleth hums.

          “I’m glad you chose us, professor. I don’t—I don’t know what we’d do without you.”

          A sinking stone. Annette’s smile is soft, fragile, as she carefully pulls two scones onto a flower print plate.

          Dimitri would likely still be mad, mind rile with chained up anger and fury, clawing at his walls. His friendships, his bonds, with Sylvain, Felix, Ingrid—would they survive this test of time? Dedue, Ashe, Mercedes… Annette. They would support him, wouldn’t they?

          Wouldn’t they?

          Byleth places the kettle of water over the flames. The tea tray is rusted and dusty from disuses from years left alone, but Ashe had offered to help clean it for the occasion. It was Ingrid who found the kettle.

          Dedue who asked Byleth to plan the affair.

          “Chamomile was his favorite.”

          Was. Is. A life without Byleth, where she had never awoken, where she had chosen another class. She could be in the sky right now, riding a wyvern, watching Claude spin long tales with the truth carefully seeded in a flimsy line or two. She could be in the ground, holding the bloodied glove of Edelgard, pressing gentle kisses along her white hair. She could be holding Flayn and Cyril close, shoulders high, protecting their tired eyes from the truth of war.

          She is here, with Dimitri, with Annette, in a kitchen that’s two degrees too warm.

          This must be right.

          The kettle rings, shrill in the air. Water is ready.

-

          Dimitri needs her.

-

          Chamomile tea, honeyed scones, a small dribble of preserved orange peels on the side. Nothing so glamorous as the three tier towers that used to adorn most of her tea times, but Byleth finds that this isn’t so bad. Something simple, something sweet.

          Dimitri’s eyes flicker to her face, something near a smile twitching at the corners of his mouth.

          He’s missed her, misses her still, every mission away from her leaves him needier the next they meet. Her coat, now washed, rests around his shoulders still, and he grasps it close to his body even as he stands to greet her at the door. The shirt and pants he wears are too tight for his body, remnants of old clothing worn once by students decades ago, but it was better than nothing.

          His hair is honey yellow and soft, curled around his face. Byleth smiles, inching her way to the table set in the middle of the room. A creaky table, unsteady chairs. Good enough for her, for him.

          “Good boy,” she praises, curling a strand of his hair and rubbing his cheek. He does smile at this, a little curved thing. Precious.

          He drinks the tea in usual silence, though his eyes dart from his cup to her time and time again. Byleth knows he’s waiting, uncomfortable, left leg bobbing against the floor in a steady rhythm. It’s going to hit the table eventually, and she steadies an arm on it in preparation.

          “Dimitri.” The leg stills, his cup nearly dropped as he tips his head up. His hands clench. Unclench. She waits.

          Talk to me, she wants to say. Wants to cup his face, stare into his soul, decipher the oddities that compel her to him so. Is he a man? Is he a beast? The odd configuration of the two, mute, unwilling, a curled child hidden behind bars of rage and resentment and fear, sits so far from her.

          She wants to hear him speak.

          “Dimitri.”

          His leg bobs again. It does jostle the table this time, nearly spilling his tea, and he yelps. It is a hasty hand that slams down onto the surface on his side, harshly enough that the table startles even with her arm on her end, and the tea and scones fly out of their vessels to spill onto his clothing, her coat.

          They stare at the mess for a moment, mouths open, uncomprehending. Dimitri sniffles, drawing Byleth back to his face. His cheeks are red, his nose pinched, one eye pink.

          Twice now she’s made her students cry in her presence. Byleth could scream.

          “Dimitri, it’s okay!” She says, quickly grabbing at loose rags to dab at his clothing. There’s no salvaging the scones broken to the floor, unfortunately, and Byleth isn’t sure how much more chamomile Claude had given her. The priority here is the redness in Dimitri’s face, the brimming tears threatening to spill.

          It’s instinctive.

          Byleth presses her lips to his.

          He stiffens under her, hands tightening, as she simply kisses him. No tongue, no wetness, nothing but the barest pressure of her against him. When she pulls away, her cheeks are wet, his tears already running downward.

          “Dimitri.” Careful. Simple. He’s trying, he is, the smallest beginning of a smile trembling on his face. Is he scared? Of her?

          Of himself?

          “So-rry.”

          Stunned silence overtakes her at the throaty word. Sorry. Sorry. Of all things to say, of all things to utter, the one word breaking the terrible muteness hanging over Dimitri is sorry. An apology, so sincere, made even more so by the beginning of a trail of snot.

          “Sorry.”

          Why?

          “It’s fine. We have more tea and scones.” Lies, she knows it, and so does he. They’re in war, lack of materials, lack of food. The fact that their soup is nothing more than watery carrots and potatoes is clue enough.

          She shouldn’t have taken the preserved oranges. Should have left them right back in the jar.

          “Sorry.”

          “Sorry.”

          “Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry”

          Endless, maddening. Byleth could fume with how the words crawl up her arms, encircle her neck, pull tight at her throat. Sorry, sorry, sorry for what? For who? Why?

          Weeks of silence, for this? For unwanted apologizes? For unwarranted mannerisms?

          Anger pulls her flush against him, his eye widening, lips opening just slightly. It’s—irrational. Irritating. Unbearable.

          She presses her lips against him, harder, wet, her tongue sliding into his mouth.

          Dimitri startles, hands immediately pulling at her clothing, fingers digging into her arms. He gasps, pulling back, only to be followed by Byleth nipping his lips, biting at his gums. A broken moan slips from his mouth, flushing his wet cheeks further pink, what could be a sorry eaten up. She spits into his mouth, feels his throat bob, and gnaws at his tongue.

          It’s not until she draws blood, digging her teeth into his bottom lip hard enough to break the skin, that she steps back. He’s panting, flush, and she can feel him pressed against her thigh. Wanting. Needing.

          Sorry her ass.

          “Dimitri.” Spit. Spat. He shivers, obedient, waiting. His neck bares up, letting her fixate on that damnable collar still tight around his throat.

          Ingrid said he refused to remove it.

          Byleth thinks she knows why.

          “Beg me.” He trembles, hands surely dragging holes into her clothing. Byleth finds she doesn’t care. “Beg me, Dimitri. Tell me. With your words.”

          Human. He’s human, not a beast. Not a mute mutt.

          Dimitri shakes, flush fading, lips gnashing together. Byleth stares up at him, knows he’s taller, knows he’s stronger. He could crush her. He should crush her.

          Human.

          She leaves the room, him, dirtied with tea and crumbs and smelling of chamomile. Her hand rubs against her thigh, tight, digging red circles.

          Chamomile tea, honeyed scones, the remnants of Dimitri in her mouth.

-

          There’s enough chamomile for one more tea time.

          She shouldn’t. Dimitri trusts her, trusts her enough to bare himself to her, hang her coat from his shoulders. He trusts her enough to wait until she’s in bed, watch her descend from the stairs after a battle, waiting. Wanting.

          He wants this.

          She opens the purple vial and spills it into the tea.

-

          They drink. They eat, lunch of sour bread and watery soup. They would talk, if Dimitri were not so cowed under her gaze, unable to meet her eyes. His own drift to her breasts at least twice, and she could snap the table with irritation.

          Nothing happens.

          She breaks the glass tube and throws it into the trash.

          Fuck.

-

          Cooking with Mercedes. Pathing up time with Annette, helping her sew back together the torn ends of their uniforms. Sparring with Felix, getting sweat in her eyes, it in his. Speaking to Ingrid, debating about the morality of their actions. Training Ashe, watching him shoot, knowing he’s getting better even in the hardened time of war. Reminding Sylvain to rest, that the bags sagging at his eyes aren’t a necessary sign of hardship.

          Sitting with Dedue, asking him to trust in her.

          “Of course I do.”

          Knowing that he’s truthful. Knowing that he’s right.

          Dimitri is in her room.

          “Oh.” She stares dumbly at his form in her bed, staring at her upwards. His legs are up, knees blocking much of his upper body, arms around himself. Nude, sans her coat, a scrap of cloth replacing what was once the flimsy leather around his waist. There’s a length of chain on the floor by her bed that wasn’t previously there, and she looks up to him.

          Dimitri shifts his arms, tightening them, gaze wandering from Byleth to the chains back to the bed. The silence ticks something in her, familiar now, and she grunts as she grabs the hem of her shirt and tugs it off her head. There’s an intake of breath from Dimitri, sharp, and she huffs.

          “Do you want this?” Truthful. Blunt. She unhooks her bra, aware of his eyes stuck on hers. He’s still quiet, mouth shut though he’s gnawing at his bottom lip, and Byleth leans down to grab at the chain. Her breasts jostle with the movement, causing another gasp from him, and she could sneer if fury weren’t lapping so greedily at her.

          “Lie down.” He does, looking remarkably frail on the length of her coat. She grabs his arm, waiting for him to relax his shoulders before dragging them up to her headboard. It is ridiculous, how easily she takes to tying his arms back around the headboard, securing him in place.

          Out of chains, only to be put back in.

          She does sneer, this time.

          “Really? All this effort to wait for me, and still nothing?” His eye averts, pink strengthening on his cheeks. She pinches his mouth, pursing his lips open, before lowering herself to bite at his lips. He moans, writhes, needy. Wanting.

          She needs to remember that.

          He wants this.

          Even if she’s cruel, digging her hands into his hair, dragging her nails along his side. She presses down on his shoulders, sweeps along his sides, scratches at his chest. The muscles under her tense, becoming apparent, and she draws lines along the skin.

          He’s hard against her, easy. Byleth laughs into his mouth, biting his tongue, drawing blood. He moans, arching against her, what little gasps and groans emitting from him swallowed up by her.

          When she pulls from him, a line of drool hanging between the two, Byleth digs her hands into his side.

          “Talk to me,” she demands, spitting onto his laugh. What response he could have is lost in a laugh from her fingers, prodding, tickling, digging and stretching the skin. He’s thrashing under her, undoubtedly growing in volume, and Byleth absentmindedly recalls that Dedue had taken the others out.

          Good.

          “Dimitri, talk. To. Me!” He writhes, kicking out, chains pulling against the headboard. Laughing, laughing, laughing, until his face is red, tears threatening to emerge from his eyes. And even then, his brow is pinched, eye squeezed shut.

          She drags her hands up to his neck, cutting off a chuckle in a squeeze.

          His eye pops open to stare.

          “Dimitri.”

          It’s fury. Irritation. Days turned to weeks to months, of his eye on her, of his hands on her, of him wanting her. Silence, stretching always, broken by her. Always her.

          Byleth’s so fucking sick of this shit.

          Her fingers press harsher down, digging his collar against his skin. It’ll leave a mark if she’s not careful, and she finds that she doesn’t really mind. Let him be red. Let him choke, coughing, wheezing giggles quickly fading into gritted silence, quivering lip.

          “Sorry.”

          It’s a whisper, barely there in the air. And yet it sings in her head, finally, finally, and she loosens her thumb just a smidge to let him breathe a little deeper. It must be hard, her on him, and she can feel him shiver with every breath he takes in.

          “Sorry what?” Why?

          “Sorry.” That’s not an answer, and she presses down again. Dimitri winces, eye twitching, as his breath catches. It’s not what she wants, not what he needs, and they both know it.

          Silence stretches between them, Dimitri softening against her, and Byleth finds she doesn’t care. She keeps their eyes locked, thumb pressing still against his apple, refusing. They’ve played by his rules too fucking long.

          It’s Dimitri who drops his gaze first.

          “I want—I want,” sore, quiet. Evidently, he hasn’t taken too much effort in wetting his throat prior. Byleth loosens her hands, taking note to bring him water after.

          “I want to lay with you.”

          His face burns even as the words slide out of his mouth. It’s—something. An admission. A quiet realization, even if Byleth’s known for weeks now.

          She could kiss him, and she does. Softer, simple, just a press of lips against lips. The kind that could placate, could calm, the kind that loosens Dimitri’s shoulders and has him sighing against her mouth.

          “What else?” She asks, leaning back to drag her hands down from the collar to his skin. He shifts, soft moans bubbling out again, wriggling under her touch.

          “I want,” he swallows, eye fluttering shut. “I want.”

          “I want to sit with them again.”

          Oh.

          Byleth lightens her touch, waiting. Watching, the bob in his throat, the pinch of his mouth. The wetting of his lip, when he drags his tongue guiltily along.

          “I want to speak with them. To-to have tea with them. To see them, truly.” His voice drops in pitch as he speaks, quieting, and she prompts his mouth back open with another kiss. He tenses, her arms coming to wrap around his waist, mouth forming soundless words.

          “I want to fight with them.”

          Guilty.

          “I want to fight with you.”

          Guilty.

          “Sorry.”

          Her fingers dig into his skin again at the apology, eyes squeezing shut. Is that it, then? Days and weeks and months of nothing, for this? An admission of—of, not guilt, not really, just… wanting? Desires?

          “Don’t apologize.” Simple. Easy. She wants this, cupping his chin upward, licking at the torn wound she’s inflicted onto him. Her hands run along his hair, his skin, lighter, softer, no longer smudged with dirt and dust and decay. He whines under her, legs shaking, arms pulling just slightly.

          Her eyes flicker to the chains binding his arm up, the collar voluntarily worn. Fear?

          She pinches the skin of his arm, and though it jerks, he quickly returns it to its previous position. She could hum, in satisfaction, in success. Byleth instead nips at his jaw, watching.

          Fear.

          Ridiculous.

          “They want to see you too.” Dimitri’s eye widens, shock so evidently clear on his form. She could laugh if it weren’t for the desire to cry tugging so at her, angry, anguished.

          “What?” Lost, confused child.

          “They miss you. Annette, Annette asked for you.” His breathing stills, uncertain, and she finds her hands frozen as she speaks.

          “Dedue misses you. So does Ashe, Mercedes. Sylvain. Felix, Ingrid. I.” Byleth swallows. Truth. Trust.

          “I miss you, Dimitri.”

          His mouth is truly agape now, unable to speak, unable to formulate beyond dumb confusion. She does laugh, hands scraping down his chest now. Her eyes slip shut, content, comfort.

          He’s given her his bonds. She must give him hers.

          “Claude asked for you.” Air is punched out of him, puzzlement flashing. Byleth scoots further down, letting herself lay on him, her breasts pooling onto his chest. “He wished you well.”

          “Don’t you want to see him?”

          “Edelgard,” tension. Predictable, necessary. She soothes his form with a gentle touch, kissing his collarbone. “Weren’t you fighting to see her? I mean,” she laughs, shaky, “I haven’t been here. I wouldn’t know.”

          “But don’t you want to see her?”

          Lost people, lost friends, lost years gone by in a wink of sleep. Lost families, lost bonds, and here she is, laying on her former student bound, in an empty room that once held happy families, happy faces. Lost, the blood spilled onto the floor, that soaks her skin, soaks his.

          War.

          She licks her lips.

          He speaks first.

          “I do.”

          It’s an admission, guilty, wanting. Dimitri’s eye is shut, his breathing level, though there’s no denying the tenseness with which his hands clench and unclench against the board. She waits, patient.

          She wants this.

          “I want to see them.”

          So does he.

          “Good boy.” Dimitri’s breath leaves him in a sigh at the word, head tilting back as she runs her hand along his hair. She sits up again, moving back, cupping his length. It’s softened in their conversation, though it’s only a matter of shifting her fingers and scratching at the skin before he stiffens again, soft moans slipping from his mouth.

          “I want,” spills from him, arcing, aching. She plays with his head, pressing her nail against his skin and watching Dimitri jerk at the sensation. “I want, I want, to lay with you.”

          “Sure,” Byleth laughs. It’s easy enough to slip out of her tights, her pants, watching Dimitri pant at the sight of her wet cunt. She sighs, pressing two fingers against her entrance, spreading it so that he can see. Dimitri stiffens, red truly flushing him to his shoulders, and Byleth barks another laugh.

          The little vial of oil is useful for lubing her up properly. It’s been a while, a long time, since Byleth has slept with a man, and she knows that their pushing hasn’t been productive to getting her properly wet. She presses two fingers into herself, moaning, grinning as Dimitri’s eyes follow her so fervently. It’s hard to remember sometimes, how innocent he once was.

          She wants to defile him.

          “Beg me.” She shouldn’t, not really. It’s just an indulgent little thing, a push that she doubts Dimitri will follow. But his eye lids, his mouth open, and the punched breath comes out a whine.

          “Please.” Warmth curdles in her. She slips in a third finger, rewarding, and Dimitri groans. His hips jerks, though legs are properly still, waiting. Knowing. Obedient, patient, a good boy.

          Her good boy.

          The thought makes her smile. She hovers over his cock, vagina dripping, just brushing at his head with her entrance. He could thrust up and enter her, likely, but he wouldn’t. She knows, he knows.

          “Please, Byleth, may I, may I,” babbling, unaware. Needy, torn between humane and beastly desires. Byleth finds she likes him best talking.

          “Good boy.” Punctuated with her sliding against him. She groans at the sudden heat, so unused now to the feeling of a cock filling her up. Dimitri shouts, unable to calm, arms and legs pulling to try to curl around his body. Byleth places her arms against his legs, pressing them down against the bed as she lowers herself centimeter by centimeter.

          By the time they’re flushed, her clit against the hair of his groin, Dimitri’s face is fully red, spit spilling from the sides of his mouth. Byleth groans at the sight, desire curling in her heated stomach, and she finds herself leaning over to take his mouth into hers again. He’s so plaint, so easy, and she slips her tongue against his, drawing another gasp.

          “Byleth, professor, please, please.” She grins against his mouth, biting again at his lips. She rakes her nails down his chest, wanting, wanting, fixing her hands on the narrow part of his waist as she wriggles against his dick. His shout is lost in her mouth, and she hisses as her hips raise.

          “So noisy now,” Byleth notes. Dimitri averts his eyes, cowed, and she pinches his face to turn back towards her. “Keep going. I like it.” Her hips fall, burying him back into her fully, and his back arches so sharply she swears that the entire bed shifted with him.

          Something has clearly snapped, as the next moment Dimitri’s got his arms wrapped around her, his head buried against her neck, making nonsensical groans and whines. Byleth ruts against him, hearing the slap of their flesh echo beneath the shouts pulling from Dimitri.

          “Professor! Profess,” she grabs at him again, swallowing his words, sucking in his air. Panting, desperate, his voice flows so easily into her mouth. “Byleth, please, I want, I want.”

          “What,” she hisses, one hand finding purchase in his hair, the other cupping the small of his back, “do you want?”

          “I want to cum in you.” Dangerous, needy, overbearing. Byleth’s smile is all teeth as she drags her tongue along his neck, pulling him back to better bare his skin. Her hips slap against his, groaning at how well, how warm, he fills her up. Inexperience is his lost cause, for he’s tensing around her, arms bruising powerful, words lost in a building shriek.

          “Then do it,” Byleth snarls, pushing them flush, her breasts meeting his so well. His hands grip at her shoulders, her hair, eye wide and glassy as his pants and moans melt into a messy stream. The feeling of his cum filling her makes her gasp, back arching, and she pressed him down to better rest against her as his hips lock, legs tense, unable to do much but scream at the overwhelming sensation.

          Byleth slides her fingers along her clit, groaning loudly as she continues riding Dimitri’s shooting cock. His cum makes an awfully good lubricant for her to grind against, drawing pants from them both. His eye flutters shut, mouth open in constant pants, when she bites down onto his shoulder, feeling the pleasure mount.

          Weeks of stress and irritation come to a dawn in her orgasm, and she pinches at Dimitri’s skin as orgasm takes hold of her body. She bites at the stupid fucking collar still on his neck, pulling and pulling with furious might until it snaps in her mouth. Her nails dig into him, her legs tight as she rocks in the fading bliss, finding her eyes shut.

          She opens them to the dizzying sight of Dimitri, lips bleeding, cheeks wet, and so very pink.

          “Professor?” A whimper, his legs shaking from overstimulation of her riding him still. She shivers, clenching down, feeling him whine and tighten his grip on her. She is certain to emerge with some finger sized bruises, and likewise, she knows that she’s left some marks on him as well.

          “Dimitri?” Byleth echoes. His eye traces her face, haze slowly fading, before a gentle smile begins to creep at his lips. It is ridiculous against his clearly sex-pleasured face, and she finds herself kissing at him.

          “I missed you.”

          Dimitri stiffens against her. His mouth opens, perhaps to apologize, perhaps to protest. Byleth finds that she doesn’t care, more occupied on pressing another kiss at his lips, his cheeks, the crease of his forehead. She steadies herself on her knees, straightening, lifting herself off his dick. Dimitri moans, long, high, the sound of his cum spilling out of her to fall back onto his thighs a relief.

          His arm comes to touch hers, and Byleth stills.

          “I,” his eye averts, “I missed you, too.”

          Five fucking years. A moment for her, but a seemingly long stretch of forever to her students. Byleth closes her eyes, remembering.

          I don’t know what we’d do without you.

          Go mute, apparently.

          “I’m here, now,” not an apology. She’s had enough of the stupid “sorry”s. Her hand runs through his hair, gentler, curling it along her fingers. “I know I wasn’t here earlier. I know that so much has happened.”

          Byleth presses a kiss to his forehead, sighing.

          “I’m here, now. And I’m not going anywhere.” Dimitri freezes, his shoulders tensed, before softening again. When he kisses Byleth, nothing more than his lip meeting hers, his lips are gentle.

          “Thank you.”

          They stay like that, her in his lap, his head pressed against her breasts, her neck, content to doze as she runs her hands in his hair. It isn’t until night fall that she must stand, eying Dimitri’s new scars and stickiness with amusement. Undoubtedly Ingrid and Mercedes will be concerned when they see her later, but, well, it’ll be fine.

          She’s here, now.

          Things have to change.

-

          What was she expecting? What is she doing?

          Ingrid and Felix have taken to watching her with careful eyes as she paces to and fro, fingers digging crescent marks into her palm. Dedue and Ashe had gone silent, previously discussing happier times, plans to have happier futures. They stare at her too now, more openly, confusion and concern spelled on their faces.

          Byleth can’t bring herself to care.

          It’s Sylvain who breaks the silence, running in with a pale face. He’s panting, harsh, drawing Ingrid and Felix to rush to his side as Dedue and Ashe stiffen, grabbing at their weapons on the floor. Armed, ready, for ambush, assault.

          “Talk!” Sylvain shouts, fist pushing against the wall. Felix and Ingrid share an absurd look, uncertain as they pull Sylvain to straighten on his feet. It’s only Byleth who realizes, eyes on Sylvain as his meets hers.

          “Talking,” he pants, gaze unwavering, “Dimitri. He’s talking.”

          She’s pushed past Felix before her mind can catch up, feet thundering up the stairs. What could be fury spitting in the spit of her stomach is replaced with giddy hope, something dawning at the edge of her thoughts and threatening to bubble in.

          She’s greeted by a teary Annette by the door, and though she’s sniffling, the smile on her face is the freest Byleth’s seen since she’s awoken.

          “Professor!” The title, sang, not spit, in her direction. It is as though the world has spun on her feet, and Byleth stumbles on the final steps in. Annette is fast to catch her, though not quick enough.

          Two hands, large, scarred, stable her.

          “Byleth.”

          Dimitri smiles down at her. It’s impossible to quell the waterworks threatening to break free of her gut, made worse by the stifled sobbing of Mercedes in the room. She’s placed her arm around Annette, both grinning as the sound of footsteps coming up the stairs echo around them. Evidently, the others are catching up.

          “Dimitri.” Byleth responds. She’s smiling, truly unable to still the tears coming to the surface. Though his face pinches at her tears, clearly at a loss, it softens when her shoulders shake with a laugh.

          “Dimitri!” Felix is shouting, and then Byleth is stepping back, narrowly avoiding the furious hug Felix and Ingrid tackle Dimitri with. She gapes, only slightly taken back, before realizing that their faces are wet, arms truly shaking as they embrace. Sylvain stumbles behind them, clearly more wiped by the run, though he lazily joins by hooking his arms around Dimitri. Dedue and Ashe come up in the rear, sliding into the space freed by Byleth. When Dimitri spots them, his eye pinched with overflowing tears, Dedue presses his face against the crook of Dimitri’s neck, Ashe grabbing him from behind.

          The sound of tinkering laughter from Dimitri is the kindest Byleth has ever known.