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It is barely seven in the morning—or so her phone says—and she yawns two times more. The waiting room is spacious and pretty scarce, making the already-chill air conditioner feels even colder. Byleth makes another attempt to look at her phone, genuinely annoyed because it hasn’t changed—seven still, and she tightens her jacket to hug her body, moving on to smooth her skirt next.

This is truly crazy.

Leaving the house at five-thirty alone is already crazy enough because her father had not even woken up when she left. Riding early bus gave her a golden one-hour nap she needed, with the other passengers looking just equally half-dead that for a moment she suspected this might be a ghostly bus heading to the underworld that she rode in.

But she knows everything is going to be worth it because her heart thumped the closer she got to the airport. Normally Byleth absolutely dislikes being checked because it reminds her of yet another instance of her being treated as a curious object, but this is the procedure, anyway, not to mention that first and foremost she is dying to see him again.

Dimitri has gone to a family house to take care of few things, he said to her before embarking. Babushka’s old house would need reparations, and for sure Byleth didn’t have the heart to cut in—dear Dima smiled as he vividly recounted the memories he spent in late babushka’s house, and with it taking her into a tour as if Dimitri personally took her hand and brought her to explore the charming little Slavic house, deep near the mountains where the snow is whiter than starlight and the breeze is colder than the coldest death stare known to humankind. But Dimitri’s promise to return in three days prolonged to ten because of the delayed flight and sudden interruption regarding the renovation itself, and by now Byleth wouldn’t be surprised if dear Dima personally fixed the roof.

Byleth shifts in her seat. Jeralt would be gone for various periods of time when she was little. Sure, she would miss her father because Jeralt could leave from a day to three, a week to two leaving her in the care of family-friend Alois if not left and right neighbors aware that the father-daughter pair lived a rather uncommon life like this. But there is nothing compared to missing Dima as she is now, a woman on her own, longing to look into his eyes again. She wants to smack him for making her think of him like this, but at the same time letting those eyes drown her alive might make a good bargain, so…

Byleth gasps. The announcer’s voice yanks her from her own mind that she quickly grabs her backpack, moving to one of the seats located closest to the corridor heading to the arrival gate. Feeling bad for racing a kid who wanted her seat, all the apology in her head disappears when incoming passengers begin to pour into the waiting room.

She spots him.

He looks just as brilliant as ever in his dapper coat; this time that one iconic blue-white one with the fur accent. Byleth giggles softly when she sees Dimitri’s sullen look as he takes off his shoes and passes his belongings to be scanned. Out of emotions she starts to come into terms with after knowing him… after liking him… and now dating him, never once she wants to replace that lady officer with metal detector who takes her time scanning Dima from head to toe like that. What is that for? She isn’t dating him!

Dimitri moves along as he fixes his wristwatch, anyway—but not too long because Byleth swims into his arms. Admittedly it is nice to hear dear Dima’s soft gasp there, but even more so because never once he backs down even out of reflex or surprise, as if he knows that his chest is reserved for her and that nobody else will find themselves there besides this particular Miss Byleth Eisner.

“Professor,” he speaks softly, as if knowing how much she feels at the moment yet how little she can convey for now. His big paw travels around to caress her face, fingertips easily find their way to tuck her hair stands behind her ear. “… Moy vozlyublennyj.”

“You are warm,” she murmurs. “This waiting room is cold.”

“I agree,” he leans in closer that his lips are next to her ear. “Strange isn’t it, moy svet?”

“What is, Bossmitri?” she whispers. “… I mean. Dima.”

“I grew up in cold places,” he smiles a bit. “Babushka’s old house is cold. Even Fhirdiad is located at the colder part of Fodlan. I thought I’m used to it, and yet…”

“And yet?”

“Like this,” Dimitri says. “I regret to have this coat on me. Must be because you are so warm too.”

“… How mellow.”

“Better to you than other people, Byleth.”

“I can’t believe this—but I agree,” she says. “Does this happen often, historically?”

“What, a vojevoda agreeing with a bogatyr?” he raises his eyebrows. “Probably not.”

“Hmmm. What about if one holds another’s hand?” she keeps her face straight and her tone as casual as possible. Slipping her hand into his bigger, gloved one feels like a puzzle piece meeting  the right place to be—Dimitri is right, after all, everything feels so warm and she is wide awake.

“Even rarer,” he, too, keeps his tone neutral. “But then again who cares, lyublimaya?”

“You’ve got a point,” she sighs. “… Welcome back, Dima.”

“Thank you,” he replies, with softness rivaling her own. “… Anyway, you look like my girlfriend.”

“Oh, you’re taken?” she says, snuggling up to him as they keep walking.

“Very much. Does that sadden you?” he nods solemnly on purpose.

“No—me too,” she mutters, fishing a small smile out of him. “Another trip after this?”

“No,” he squeezes her hand. “I’m here to stay.”

She squeezes back as they leave the airport.

Chapter Text

Byleth blinks. She has not even put down the lunchbox she is clutching, yet there she is, frozen with half of a pair of chopsticks still being in her mouth. The rice balls and breaded chicken cutlets she prepared are nice, but that’s beside the point because—because, sorry, what did Seteth ask of her again just now?

“… Miss Eisner,” he says, waving his hand in front of Byleth’s face. “Are you still with me?”

Byleth opens her mouth, dropping the chopsticks in the process.

“I guess not,” Seteth sighs. “So let me repeat.”

Byleth simply grabs the doomed chopsticks and waits for Seteth’s further explanation. Her action gives Seteth the chance to breathe relief although Byleth still waits without saying anything. Seteth pauses for a moment. Byleth is within her rights to feel displeased. Her silence torments him, and at this point perhaps it will be better to see her unleashing anger towards him than having this typical blank look peering into his very soul like this. “No, let me,” she states flatly. “You want me to babysit.”

“Not necessarily like that, but…” Seteth mutters, awkward for a moment.

She managed to word what he actually demanded. Perhaps he should be glad because Byleth actually understands what he implied. Yet at the same time he feels horrible—he has been the first person to voice out his skepticism when Rhea trusts her with tasks they normally give to people with higher hierarchy or authority than Byleth; mostly lecturers or contract-based employees. Byleth is a teaching assistant still, and her position as a graduate student puts her in a unique position if not conflicted because technically she is an ordinary person just like hundreds who enroll at Garreg Mach University. Yet despite his skepticism, pessimism, even, here he is, bringing himself to ask for her help.

“But it is,” Byleth replies flatly, prompting Seteth to look at her again. He tries so hard to find the mildest sign of resentment there, yet her eyes are still peering like that, and her tone remains flat.

“… Alright. It is,” he yields, exhaling. “Yes, Miss Eisner. If you could have Flayn with you this Saturday, I’d be so glad. We can discuss how much I should pay as well, if that pleases you. And then...”

“And then there is something I need to know,” Byleth says. “Like how old she is.”

“Umm…”

“You don’t even know?” Byleth blinks again.

“Well, she is in middle school,” Seteth scratches his head. “If that helps?”

“You should,” she says, this time making no effort to tone down her sourness.

Again, Seteth musters a sheepish smile and she decides not to say anything. Her mind wanders back and forth between Seteth thanking her profusely despite her silence there, to the actual dialogue she had at home in the morning. Jeralt talked about a full-day meeting for Saturday, crosschecking Seteth’s reasor about the meeting he has to take part in as Rhea’s main team and primary staff. Byleth’s mind flies again—this time miles away, recalling her own childhood where Alois would wait on her during the days her father would leave until late at night. Where neighbors would watch over her—inviting her to their home to eat cookies, to supervise her doing homework, everything… and now there’s another girl sharing her experiences. Perhaps Seteth isn’t exactly someone she will call as a friend, but at least for the sake of the little girl, turning him down feels like betraying little Byleth who spent her time alone.

There is another, however—the text she received last night and has replied in affirmative.

I’ve been busy lately, it says as she rereads it once again. Let’s go out this weekend?

Byleth sighs. Dimitri has expressed that it might help if she was to tell her colleagues to fuck off so that they stop piling their workload on her as like. But then she pointed out to him that more or less they are similar because he too cannot turn down a favor especially when he knows he can try making it happen.

Dimitri just got back and probably overwhelmed by the workload he had abandoned for more than a week. Perhaps he’s stressed. He has expressed how he missed her—probably a little bit too much than what he could tell her, considering babushka’s old house is located near the mountain where signal reception is inadequate when it snows and there’s no internet in the house. Dimitri probably only carried simple USB modem to help him with work, but that couldn’t be used to call her.

Byleth excuses herself to the bathroom afterwards. Digging her phone out of her skirt pocket, her hands tremble a bit as she dials a certain number—a number he doesn’t share with just anybody, the fastest and most direct way to reach him. “… Dima?” she nearly whispers on the phone. “I’m sorry…”

Somehow talking to him is hard and she leaves the call hanging.


 

Flayn arrives at her door that Saturday morning. Seeing the girl’s smiling face entertains her a little bit—her heart still feels heavy recalling how she cancelled on Dimitri yesterday, yet here she is trying to make everything worthwhile since the die is cast. And this kid is quite the charmer, Byleth thinks—not only that she reminds her of a porcelain doll because of the pretty rolled green hair, but her eyes are so lively-bright. “Hello, Miss Eisner,” the girl clasps her hands before her as she bows a little bit to greet her. “Good morning! Thank you for having me here this fine Saturday. Allow me to be your acquaintance.”

Byleth looks at her, and then Seteth—and her father who doesn’t seem to notice anything as he puts on his own coat ready to leave the house. “Ah, y-yes,” Seteth scratches his head awkwardly again. “She was sent to prep school and used to be homeschooled. I hope her… uh, perfect mannerism doesn’t bother you.”

Byleth doesn’t say anything. It does, admittedly, because the girl speaks like a noble child in those classical novels she used to read. She imagines Flayn, in Victorian gown with petticoat and perfectly braided hair, sitting down with a governess for her lessons and then being accompanied by a nanny who carries umbrella and snack basket as she walks.

“Hello, Flayn,” finally she says. “Please call me Byleth.”

“Sure!” Flayn’s laughter is as lively as she is. “Miss Byleth.”

Byleth gives up.

Jeralt waves at her to leave with Seteth, whom by then is starting to thank her profusely again for receiving Flayn kindly. Byleth listens without commenting on anything because… who on earth would lash at a kid, especially when she presents herself so politely like this? But the moment both men leave, Byleth begins to panic. What shall she do with Flayn? Interview her, and see how it will proceed from there? Treating Flayn like she is a private student entrusted to her to be tutored?

… Perhaps that part can work. After all she is a teaching assistant first and not a babysitter.

“So, what should we do?” she asks kindly. “Want to watch cartoons?”

“Child’s play!” Flayn giggles, making Byleth feel like scratching her head. As if knowing her comment put Byleth at a point blank, she shifts, comfortably settling down on the couch. “Do you watch them?”

Usually it’s her who asks questions to get to know the students better, but seems everything is reversed now. Seteth needs to pay her double because when he said a middle school kid, she expects a middle school kid. At the same time, however, Byleth reflects on her own childhood, thinking it might be unfair to judge Flayn like that while she was not a typical middle school kid herself.

I cannot tutor Petra the way I tutored Ferdinand, can I?—She recalls her conversation with Dimitri. Her smile slowly rises up. True, and little Flayn is little Flayn who needs no comparison with anyone.

“I do,” she finally says. “Am I a child?”

“You are too tall to be a child,” Flayn points out. “I suppose I’ll be here until dinner?”

That feels so long, admittedly. “We can do your homework and then…” Byleth thinks again. “Nap?”

“Homework?” Flayn looks at her. “On Saturday morning?”

“That gives a free Sunday and a lighter Monday, no?” Byleth says.

“Of course you’ll say that,” the girl grumbles. “You are a teacher.”

“True. How about we start then?” she smiles, gesturing at Flayn to move to the carpet so she can slide closer supervising her. “Do you like anything?” she asks again, opening her fridge. Her brows knit realizing that there are only adults living in her modest apartment, and neither she nor Jeralt cares that much that basically any filling food is okay if it pleases the tongue. Instead of despair, however, Byleth thinks she finds blessing in disguise—she can take Flayn out to eat, wasting time for a few hours until they have to get back so she can shower and eat dinner. Then perhaps she can grade the assignments while Flayn studies or takes over the TV… or she can ask Claude to share top, kid-friendly movies they can watch together after dinner.

“I don’t like math,” Flayn says as she drops her book. Byleth finds herself feeling intimidated once again—this girl has her books covered with beautiful antiquated vegetal-motif papers. What will it be for the next—witnessing Flayn sigh and faint, Victorian style?

“We’ll get through them together,” Byleth says. “It’s like strategy.”

“I don’t like strategizing. It feels like everything around you is potentially lying,” she speaks fainter. “I don’t like having to be suspicious all the time. It’s tiring.”

“Then let’s get through these numbers so that they won’t deceive you,” Byleth says again. Flayn isn’t refusing her suggestion, though, so they sit together—her and some airport glossy magazine she picked up to kill time when waiting on Dimitri, and Flayn with her books and the TV being off.

“I wonder,” the girl startles her. “Usually people will meticulously watch me doing homework.”

“I don’t,” Byleth replies simply.

“Strange,” Flayn mutters. “But you are a teacher.”

“Mmm. More or less.”

“Then why?”

“That’s the thing,” Byleth closes her magazine for a second. “That’s the suspicious part you talked about. I figured people, like flowers, blossom the best when they are given the chance to grow.”

Flayn pauses. “… You are funny,” she sing-songs after a moment. “But you are also nice.”

“Thank you,” Byleth replies simply, returning that smile. “I’ll still check later, though.”

“Of course. This is child’s play,” Flayn responds, returning her attention back to the homework she is doing, prompting Byleth to smile as well. Child’s play? But she is also a child.

Byleth glances on the clock on the wall—eleven now. Perhaps she should start making some food for her lunch, or at least Flayn’s if she as the adult in the house can eat just anything scattered in the fridge. Flayn hums every now and then without leaving her books, and Byleth mellows a bit. The girl is a hard worker despite her unique antics, and she praises her for keep pressing with the homework. Byleth smirks, realizing not even she would make her homework in Saturday morning like that. “What do you like, Flayn?” she asks from the pantry. “Got allergies or anything?”

“Fish!” the girl’s voice is cheerful as she shouts back. “So definitely not seafood!”

“Of course,” Byleth raids her fridge. “… We don’t have it.”

“I’ll take just almost anything,” Flayn says calmly. “I know that when I’m a guest I’ll just take everything I’m served, so thank you!”

Oh, does Byleth nearly weep for feeling so touched. “No. Sometimes it’s okay to say what you dislike,” she returns to the living room, sitting beside the girl. “Some people have things they can’t eat.”

“And you, Miss Byleth?” the girl asks back. “What about you?”

“I’m not a picky eater,” Byleth responds.

“Unfair. This means you’re going to take just anything,” Flayn points out. Byleth chuckles. But the way Flayn said ‘unfair’ reminds her of some certain person. Didn’t they just see each other at the start of this week? A week passed and she is quite dying to see him again?

She turned down his date invitation. Wouldn’t be surprising if he doesn’t reciprocate her sentiment—

“Maybe we should just head out to eat,” Byleth decides then. “We’ll get you the fish.”

“Oh. Really?” the girl beams at her.

“Yeah,” Byleth nods simply. If she is outside with a kid she needs to supervise, perhaps she wouldn’t be busy thinking of Dima like this. She recalls Annette teasing her about the so-called honeymoon period—apparently not only married couples have it, but dating folks tend to feel all over the moon during the first four months of their shared lives as a couple. At that time she wanted to laugh because… because, what are they, a dancing queen and a basketball star, fresh out of high school? She is a warlord and he is a nobleman, so they have to be… different, right? But when she and Dimitri had a small argument of who should end the call first like lovestruck teenagers, she figured perhaps she shouldn’t be laughing anymore. Annette too has been finding less and less reason to laugh after she and Felix shared their fourth dinner at the Blue Lions.

“I’ll finish this quick,” Flayn says.

“Take your time, being quick doesn’t always mean good,” Byleth replies, grabbing an elbow-length cardigan to pair with her gray tanktop as she slides into her room to take her purse.

“You’ve got a guest!” Flayn runs after her. “I think you should open the door. I’m told to always peek first and not make any sound near the door when I hear someone approaching our house.”

“Oh, my. What happened back home?” Byleth gapes for a moment.

“Seteth is so protective,” Flayn grumbles a little bit. “So I’m used to taking precautions.”

“It’s good,” Byleth pats her shoulder. “Besides, many people mean well but their methods are questionable.”

“You too,” Flayn chuckles. “And you didn’t teach me the way teachers usually would!”

“Admittedly I’m new so I have so much to learn myself…” Byleth grins sheepishly.

“No problem,” Flayn chuckles even more. “… I like you, Miss Byleth.”

“It’s mutual then,” Byleth smiles, leaving Flayn back to the couch to continue with homework while she heads to the door to answer it. “Yes—… Dima?!” Byleth stands blankly by the threshold. Dimitri is there. Dimitri is there in simple jeans and sporty jacket while he keeps one hand in his pocket. The Dimitri she sees is totally not the typical dapper, CEO-mode Dimitri she usually sees while they are outside—this isn’t even the typical café-mode Dimitri who will roll his sleeves or loosens his button, clad in formal attire still even though there’s a blue apron wrapping him. This Dimitri appears totally relaxed and casual without losing the rugged charm she adores.

“Privyet, sladkaya devochka,” he smiles, casually revealing the other hand he hides behind his back.

“… Dima, you shouldn’t have…” Byleth blinks when Dimitri puts a single white rose on her hand.

“I should have,” he shakes his head. “That very moment you called me.”

“I suppose you want to talk,” she murmurs.

“Yes.”

Byleth bites her lips, pushing the door wider so he can get in. Dimitri simply walks in, surprised to see Flayn sitting cross-legged there. Flayn tilts her head upon feeling his gaze on her, and the girl waves at him, smiling. “Hello, Mister,” she says. “Are you Miss Byleth’s guest?”

“Yes,” Dimitri, surprised he might be, nods kindly anyway. “And you are, young lady?”

“Miss Byleth’s student for the day,” Flayn stands up, approaching Dimitri with a stretched hand. When Dimitri takes it, Flayn smiles, bowing a little bit as if making a curtsy. “I’m Flayn.”

“… Dimitri,” the blonde returns the courtesy with a slight bow as well, as if it was a formal gathering and a lady actually curtsied to him.

“Dimitri?” Flayn widens her eyes. “You don’t always hear that name often around here.”

“So is Flayn,” Dimitri replies calmly.

“So, what are you?” Flayn returns to the couch while Byleth watches. What should she do? Breaking off their interactions, fearing Flayn pester Dimitri too much? And she figures Dimitri might be displeased that he came here to talk considering she ended the call like that.

“A bogatyr,” Dimitri replies calmly still, prompting Byleth to goggle her eyes.

“A boga… tyr?” Flayn looks at him. “What is a bogatyr?”

“That, I can tell you,” Dimitri’s reply is as calm as prior. “After I speak with your dear teacher?”

“Sure,” Flayn replies, flipping her book. “Oh, a little bit more.”

Byleth quickly grabs Dimitri to the pantry where they can take the dining table to talk. “Dima.”

“Zolatka,” Dimitri simply nods.

“I can explain,” Byleth fidgets with her cardigan. “Admittedly, it was rather childish of me to hang up on you …”

“I require no explanation.”

Byleth blinks.

“… You see,” Dimitri rubs his nose awkwardly. “I was actually wondering if you were mad at me.”

“Oh goddess,” Byleth mutters. “No. How could I?”

“I’m not perfect,” Dimitri replies gently anyway. “… I made mistakes, Byleth.”

“But back then, I—oh,” Byleth’s shoulders slump as her hands move to rub her face. That gesture practically alerts Dimitri, who quickly rises to his feet to approach her.

“What’s the matter, beloved?”

“Dima, you…”

“I’m here. Tell me anything, anything at all,” Dimitri crouches before Byleth. Should he pry her hands down so he can check up on her?  But Byleth slowly brings her hands down, and Dimitri, prepared for anger if not sadness, is taken off guard when Byleth smiles instead.

“… Oh, Dima,” she chuckles. “… Dear, dear Dimitri Alexandre.”

Dimitri blinks, feeling his cheeks warm up a bit. “I suppose you are… okay?”

“Very much so!” she laughs. “Oh, goddess. I thought you were mad at me for hanging up on you after cancelling our plan like that. Yet there you are thinking I was mad or anything, and I just…”

“Me, mad because I didn’t get to go out with you on a weekend?” Dimitri frowns. “What’s that, some vzroslyj rebonok? Of course not. I’m a grown man.”

“Explain,” she ticks his nose.

“Manchild,” Dimitri grumbles a little bit. “Concerned because you hung up on me? Yes. Who wouldn’t, especially after hearing you saying sorry to me like that?” he sighs, cupping her face this time. “… Byleth—my zolatka, milaya, rodnaya, sladkaya. Your safety is my responsibility as well.”

“… But I’m a warlord,” she mutters, awkward and shy because he speaks like that.

“You know a vojevoda is still under a bogatyr by hierarchy,” he replies gently.

“But there’s a velikaya vojevoda,” she still reasons. “… Stop looking at me like that, Dima—otherwise you’ll choke the life out of me. I-it’s like you’re looking at some luminous light or something.”

“There is. But a velikaya vojevoda is still no match for a tsesarevich by hierarchy, no?” Dimitri murmurs. “… And sorry for this little inconvenience, beloved, but how else should I look at you?”

Byleth pauses. And Dimitri follows suit as if he yields, waiting her to be the one starting the conversation.

“… Dima,” she calls then, startling him. Somehow she wants his name in her mouth, again and again…

“… Don’t call on me like that,” he mutters awkwardly. “Like I’m your treasure. I don’t—”

“Sssh,” she ticks him again. “I don’t know another way.”

“… Is that your revenge?” he asks after a moment.

“Is that yours?” she counters.

“I’m not sure,” he replies. “All I know is that you are my girlfriend.”

“That’s all?” she playfully goggles her eyes.

“That, and I love you,” he touches her face gently. “… Stop torturing me like this, Byleth. Seriously.”

She chuckles softly, patting his hand. “… I’m sorry,” finally she says. “It’s just that—I didn’t know what to tell you. It began when…” her story comes out finally, with her voice sounding so faint as she confessed everything to him—she couldn’t turn Seteth down, and little Flayn’s demeanor charmed her. With all due regrets she has  to lightly slap Dimitri’s back when the latter musters a small smirk as he listens to her admitting that she loves him way too much that she didn’t know how else to break this news to him, knowing he’d offer assistance because she understands him so she’d rather have him mad at her instead.

“… Hmmm. So that’s how it is,” Dimitri folds his arms as if he’s analyzing something important.

“Next week, I promise,” she says. “And if Seteth appears with a sudden request, I’ll tell him he has to give me enough raise so I can buy the tank of my dreams.”

“Again, beloved?” Dimitri tries to maintain a serious expression—but failing in the process, anyway, considering the corner of his mouth twitches so sweetly that even Byleth stops talking.

“Look,” she points out. “Dimples!”

“Now?” he blinks.

“Yes?”

“I don’t know.”

“Of course you don’t. You can’t see your own face.”

“Hmmm. Then come here, point them out,” he gestures at her casually, and—

“D-Dima…?”  Byleth squeals a little bit. Dimitri chuckles as he cups her face once again, leaning into her. His lips search for hers and she kind of begrudges how easy they find their targets because… because for the next moment she knows is that his face dives into hers; lips softly brushing over hers tenderly that she wonders if this is a tease or he truly, truly intends to make her melt with so much love and care.

“… Next time don’t scare me like that again,” he murmurs, breaking away to let her catch a breath.

“Didn’t know you were a scaredy cat, Tsesarevich,” she whispers back.

“A lion is technically a big cat, Vojevoda,” he responds.

“So you aren’t angry,” she mutters.

“Why would I bring a flower if I am?” he grins.

“Exactly because you did,” she says. “The thing with uneven number of flowers?”

“Why would I come here to court your father?” he teases back.

“R-right, yes, of course,” she chuckles sheepishly. “Even if you want to, he’s out.”

“… Zolatka.”

“Is that a warning, Dima?”

“I said don’t torture me,” he says. “So stop being so lovely.”

“Stop being so forgiving as well,” she counters. “Aren’t you too soft to be a bogatyr?”

“But the vojevoda is like this. How can I even start to get angry?” he shrugs.

“All these weeks and you still won’t really tell me,” she chuckles this time. “Like the thing you called me when you first arrived. I’ve never heard you saying that as well.”

“Definitely, because why would I call random people my sweet girlfriend?”

“… Oh,” Byleth looks down shyly. “So I’m your girlfriend.”

“I’m not accepting resignation letter for the time being,” he fakes a death glare.

“Bold of you to assume I want to quit,” she glares back.

“… Miss Byleth?” Flayn’s cheery voice startles the lovebirds that they stop bantering. “I’m done! And…”

“D-Done? Sure, sure! Let’s see,” Byleth shoots an apologetic smile at Dimitri, quickly tailing Flayn back to the living room where the girl keeps her books. “Maybe I can check on this one as we eat.”

“… Right. Not a bad idea,” Dimitri smirks a bit from the corner. “Let’s grab a bite. I’m your humble driver.”

“The more the merrier but… wait, with you as well!” Flayn gasps.

“If you don’t mind having me,” Dimitri mutters simply, pretending he didn’t see Byleth’s adoring look. “I promised your teacher we’d go out on the weekend, anyway. This will do.”

“Oh, Dima,” Byleth looks at him. “But this will mean that you—I mean… Flayn—“

“You are going to babysit me,” Flayn cuts in calmly, silencing Byleth, who appears to feel bad. “Is that what you truly want instead of hanging out with Miss Byleth?”

“No,” Dimitri’s response is so honest that Byleth finds herself bracing for what happens next. “But does it matter? I get to spend time with her and make sure you both are safe. That’s more important.”

“… Wow,” Flayn blurts. “You must be an extraordinary friend then.”

“That’s called priorities,” Dimitri hums. “So, little lady. What do you like again?”

“Fish!”

“I see. That’s easy. Come on, hop on. When will Seteth be back?”

“In the evening?” Flayn says. “And you?”

“After he comes to pick you up,” Dimitri replies casually, opening the front door as he patiently waits on both girls to get ready. “If you like fish, perhaps we can go to the aquarium.”

“Oooh that will be niiice!” Flayn clasps her hand. “Thank you very much! This time you and Miss Byleth can talk and hold hands while sitting on the bench as I look at those delicious fishes.”

“… Now hold on,” Dimitri blurts.

“The holding hands part or the delicious part?”

“… Bo—ah, never mind,” he chuckles then. “Yes. That sounds perfect.”

“S-she said holding hands,” Byleth murmurs when Flayn happily walks first to get to the parking lot while Dimitri and Byleth follow from behind.

“That’s not the only option.”

“… Sly,” Byleth steps on his shoe.

“Honestly, zolatka. Looking at fishes swimming with you sitting by my side alone isn’t bad,” Dimitri chuckles. “Not interested in being a swine, though, so what do you call this?”

“Cutemitri.”

“… I swear to God,” Dimitri sighs once again, but Byleth smirks, racing Flayn that he only catches the wind.

Chapter Text

Dimitri glances down to look on his wristwatch. The meeting he is heading is attended by ten other people, representatives from other sides who have specifically come trying to negotiate a deal with Faerghus. Dimitri watches as each of five among them runs spreadsheets, presenting a proposal to him. Ever since returning from babushka’s old house Dimitri has been wanting to try turning on the wheel by helping the local community who lives there, in honor of his own grandmother. The very week which drove him busier than ever to the point of barely having time to text Byleth is specifically due to the matter in hand—Dimitri wants a contractor to open up the forest by the mountain just by a little to build the road. This way cars can pass more conveniently, cutting off two-three hours of traveling time so the locals can reach the nearest town to buy supplies because he knows how cold it is when winter strikes. He can recall babushka saying how dedushka—grandfather—would burn some wool with oil or fat to help them going through long winter nights because back then the road was even a more challenging terrain to navigate that the region went dark even though most of Fodlan was bright. But more fabric to burn would mean leaving the pair with less material to warm themselves with, and babushka, with endearing wrinkled smile, recounted to little Dimachka that the first Slavic Christmas gift Lambert bought for them when he slowly amassed his fortune was a generator.

Dimachka smiled then.

“Your papa would chop woods in the forest,” babushka said. “You’ll soon rival him, malchik.”

“I’ll be stronger than a bear,” Dimachka chuckled. “I’ll be a Siberian tiger.”

“You are blond,” babushka laughed louder. “You are already one.”

Babushka then told Dimachka that back in the heyday people would treat bears with so much respect that mentioning its name was believed to invite its fearsome arrival, so people would use aliases and euphemism, like ‘the honey-eater’, ‘one with strong paw’ and so on. But then again Lambert did not live long enough to witness Dimachka transforming into the very Siberian tiger he envisioned, so Dimitri stopped caring to pull a One-Shan’t-be-Named towards bears either.

This meeting is so boring even for his standard. Dimitri’s eyes swim and dive through graphs, listening to people talking about profits, costs, expenses… and his brain feels burning. Rodrigue glances at him to capture his attention—when that succeeds, the Faerghus Shield glances at the door, making Dimitri want to smirk because catering staff begins pouring in to plate their lunch.

“I can’t believe you are bribing me with food,” Dimitri whispers to Rodrigue when the third presenter speaks.

“You look like you can sleep at any given moment,” Rodrigue replies calmly, anyway. “I’ll ask for a softcopy.”

“Oh, good. I know I can rely on you,” Dimitri sighs. “Glad that I don’t have to decide today.”

At the same time, things do not get to be quieter on his monitor, either. The small informal business circle group chat he follows is just equally busy with chat lines keep coming from the members. Dimitri makes a quick tap to check on it, hoping their general forum has something entertaining enough to at least help him maintaining his professional look rather than a Mom-can-I-go-home-now one.

Claude <strategematicus#4201>
Almyra’s spice market growth for the last month [graphs included]

Dimitri frowns. Not even their group chat is saved? Ah, professional o’clock.

Hil-da, Hil-da <delicateflower#9697>
Holst opens tender in case anyone needs a contractor! [see photo]

Now that catches Dimitri’s attention. Tender with Holst? Life is funny indeed because seems he and Leicester are intertwined anyway, regardless of his private negotiations with Claude or not.

Petra <ridewithpride#7558>
My grandfather also has spicing. Rate below.

Claude <strategematicus#4201>
Petra, I’m interested. I’ll contact you in private.

Petra <ridewithpride#7558>
It is of good. But where is this private? Why need a private? We trading, not warring.

Claude <strategematicus#4201>
Honey, drop me your number—we’ll take it from there.

Petra <ridewithpride#7558>
How does one drop number? Phone drops, kaboom destroyed.

Claude <strategematicus#4201>
Ah, here goes then—I’ll send you my number. Call me.

Petra <ridewithpride#7558>
Okay. I have understanding.

Dimitri shifts in his seat, nodding when the third person finishes with the presentation. “We’ll listen to the rest after lunch. Please, help yourselves,” he stands, clapping his hands while caterers make finishing touches with their plates. The conversations move on to be slower and casual compared to prior, and Dimitri lets the people who share the table with him chat among themselves as he watches his laptop.

Shamir <shuttup#2574>
Our newest stockbroker is smart.

Dimitri’s fork stops midway.

Dimitri <korollev#1185>
That gorgeous lady over there is familiar.

Shamir <shuttup#2574>
Yes. That’s our honorary professor and she just helped securing a worthy investment on behalf of Seiros.

Dimitri smiles a bit. Not many people are aware of his new relationship status although he never hides that he has a partner. Dimitri isn’t keen on burdening Byleth even more by putting her in front of more unnecessary spotlight than the uninvited attention she is already getting by now.

Hrym <notdeathknightnorworm#3435>
Oh, blooming I see... interesting, she moved faster compared to me, a commodity researcher?

Dimitri <korollev#1185>
Nächstes Mal besser machen.

Hrym <notdeathknightnorworm#3435>
… Scheiße. Warum sind sie so ein Depp?

Dimitri <korollev#1185>
Vielen Dank, Sie sind sehr gütig :)

Edelgard <dieadlerkaiserin#0101>
… Dimitri.

Dimitri <korollev#1185>
Ja, El? :)

Edelgard <dieadlerkaiserin#0101>
… Sigh. You need to be reined.

Catherine <spinebreaker#5830>
I’m only gone for five minutes, how come the topic changed into Johnny Depp?

“… So, Mr. Blaiddyd,” the voice startles him that he forgets the group chat for a moment. Dimitri reminds himself to ask Hilda about Holst’s tender and perhaps with a way to reach him the fastest—usually he discovers things when he least expects it, and his sense tells that he may like what Holst can offer than any of these boring presentations. Perhaps people find the most interesting things exactly when they didn’t mean to look. Like him meeting Byleth. Like him falling for her. And now like this as they are now, with him having the privilege to call her his beloved.

“Yes?” Dimitri calmly answers. The vibration under his desk startles him again, though. He looks down. Ah, the private number? Now that is a curious but pleasant distraction.

Everything is so intense here so I drew you.

Dimitri taps the text to see the attached picture—and needing time to compose himself from making fart-like sound out of restrained laughter. Byleth has sent him a photo of dumpling-like something with a drawn face, giving the caricature chopped haircut resembling his own. Dimitri notices her pen work that she has tried to write his name in Cyrillic, and his heart flutters. Can she not put an effort to be sweet every goddamn time? This is supposed to be a drawing of him in which he becomes a cartoon dumpling.

You drew me to relax?—He sent back.

No. To practice Cyrillic, her reply comes immediately.

Oh, no. That will be the death of me, he types.

Don’t you dare dying you jerk, who will read my letters then?—Byleth’s reply is also quick.

“… So, that’s how it goes, Mr. Blaiddyd,” the same person gives him an anticipating look. “What do you think? I suppose someone of your background might have been interested. I heard your uncle is quite the tasteful man when it comes to high arts.”

Dimitri gasps. With a heavy heart he ignores his private phone to keep engaging his colleagues. “Errr. Yes. I mean—yes, my uncle adores classical paintings, yes,” he fumbles through his words again, mind travels to Byleth’s endearing Dumplingmitri she just sent. He didn’t even get to miss that this time she wrote his name correctly, without missing the special letter I in the end. And what—she wanted to send him handwritten letters? In Cyrillic? … Byleth better be aware that he is very vengeful and she will be sorry because by goddess, how can he let this slide? If she proceeds with the plan, he’ll destroy this woman by making her feel so appreciated that she astral-projects back to Garreg Mach.

“Perfect. I know someone like you is different—finesse recognizes finesse.”

Someone like me, Dimitri thinks as his colleagues engaging each other about classical arts—the baroque movement, rococo curves, Raphaelite paintings… yet there he is, smiling just because some girlfriend sent him a caricature of Dumplingmitri. Dimitri steals another chance for a rendezvous with his phone, hands rapidly tapping the screen before his colleagues are aware that his attention is somewhere else.

Zolatka, what am I?

Now he waits.

… A dumpling, her reply states.

Dimitri smiles again. Perhaps he’s not always dumb, proven by his decision to date her.


 

Byleth blinks upon finding people waiting on her by the lecturers’ office. Not only that—Rhea is there too, standing ever so gracefully beside Seteth with a proud look on her face. Byleth doesn’t even get the chance to ask why she, Seteth, and even Catherine and Shamir get to be there to wait on her because someone throws confetti all over her. “… Is this my birthday?”

“I don’t even want to know, but I was drafted to shoot you,” Jeritza reveals himself from the corner, nearly startling Byleth. “… With confetti, Miss Eisner.”

“Thanks for the clarification, Wormy.”

“It’s Hrym,” Jeritza sighs. “… I swear to God.”

“So,” Rhea starts, gesturing at her to come closer. “I heard our stellar teaching assistant succeeded bringing more ammunition for Seiros Group yesterday.”

“Eh, it was just—part of the job?” Byleth blinks again, recalling Catherine and Shamir’s sudden invitation to take her to the stock market. True that she is a graduate student majoring in international business and some folks from the field deal with multinational markets that way. True that she is also a teaching assistant so getting to know the real thing helps her with supplying students with better material. But when Catherine and Shamir filled her in with the latest situation and jokingly asked for her advice, Byleth treated everything just the way she would treat assignments given by Garreg Mach University to her—she strategized, telling both women her decision. Catherine thought it was worth trying, anyway, considering their calculation was that whether they let this one go or proceeded to procure the stocks, the scale would be even. Shamir agreed that it was a bet worth playing, but with Byleth’s simple instruction to buy, the three of them stared with their mouth open because in less than three hours the value rocketed, giving Seiros great bargaining power now that they just procured the stocks.

“Do not downplay your achievements. I’ve always known that you are capable,” Rhea smiles. Byleth looks at her blankly. Is she? Or rather—really, Rhea has always known? Praises and claps aside, duty calls as always so Byleth settles down, under Seteth’s approving smile.

“There will be bonus for this one, Miss Eisner,” he says. “You’re not getting a raise, but this can keep you comfortable for a couple of months.”

“Yay.”

“… I really don’t know anyone else who can say that with a straight face,” Seteth says. “Regardless! This still doesn’t mean we are helping you to buy the tank of your dreams.”

“… Nay.”

“Yay,” Seteth nods with a small smirk. “And I got this from a student before you came.”

Byleth checks out the pamphlet. Art exhibition, it says, at a local museum neighboring the Mittelfrank opera company, close to Adrestian Enterprise’s main headquarter. “Who sent this?” she asks.

“That bespectacled student,” Seteth clasps his chin, thinking. “Who was it again, Mr. von Hrym?”

“Ignatz?” Jeritza cocks his eyebrows. “Ignatz Victor or something like that. You aren’t supposed to tutor art majors, are you, Miss Eisner?”

“Ignatz,” ignoring Jeritza’s sneer Byleth drains her memory to recall the name. “… Yes, I know him. Friends with Raphael from marketing that I tutored. Great passion, weak with numbers. As Raphael went for a tutoring session, I helped Ignatz seeking for better sponsorship for his art.”

“You gave advices like that deliberately, for free?” Jeritza asks her. “… Tch.”

“You don’t need to like me,” Byleth mutters sullenly. “Besides, it’s not like I’m single.”

Seteth blinks while Jeritza smirks.

“… I mean,” Byleth frowns deeper. “What’s bad about that?”

“Your private life, or your little act of kindness?” Jeritza sneers again.

“Do not insult Dima,” Byleth hisses. “… W-well. The latter of course.”

“Feh. I don’t need to do that,” Jeritza responds casually. “As for the latter. Hmmm. To put it wisely, Miss Eisner, this is why I’m a researcher and you are merely a teaching assistant.”

“… That’s a bit harsh,” Seteth says, feeling awkward when Byleth’s eyes catch his.

“Reality is,” Jeritza’s reply is calm, however. “If that be all, I’d rather go back working.”

Never once Byleth feels like agreeing with Jeritza like this. So, in other words she is dumb for providing counsel like that for free, let alone to a student who doesn’t even attend her class or take the major related to her field? Or did he mean that she overstepped her boundaries? But she recalls Ignatz shyly approaching her while she tutored Raphael at the gazebo-like part of the Garreg Mach-U, near the cafeteria and offices. He had been watching them, perhaps out of waiting on Raphael. The bespectacled student nearly spilled the boba tea he was drinking, patiently waiting for a chance to speak.

Byleth recalls Ignatz’s backstory flowing afterwards, supported by Raphael’s own account. Byleth still remembers Ignatz’s meek voice as he vented that he majored art against all odds even though his family disapproved. He just wanted to ask how to approach potential sponsors and galleries, having to do the rest himself. He sold his paintings on the street last summer, he confessed, having to have Raphael do it for him in case anyone related to his family recognized him.

Oh, how could Byleth turn that down. Besides it wasn’t like she did anything more than just a brainstorming chit-chat or even building Ignatz’s network for him. The boys found the topic interesting that even Raphael stayed longer, noting that the marketing strategy to seek for a clientele like that could be used for his family’s inn as well. Before long the three of them had a fun session with Raphael and Ignatz laughing and smiling, relieved and genuinely happy.

Dima, am I… dumb?

Byleth looks at her own text. Half of her is ashamed for even writing that in the first place while another wants to feel good. She has always been struggling to formulate her own emotions, let alone word them when she feels. Now what? She didn’t mean to bait Dimitri into comforting her—she just needs answer.

No.

Byleth reads Dimitri’s reply. Concise and sharp, just like that—rounded NO. It doesn’t put her mind at ease yet. Don’t say that just because we are dating, she writes back.

Bold of you thinking I didn’t have this opinion far prior, he returns the text.

Really?—She responds.

Even dumplings can think, beloved, he replies.

Byleth grips the phone stronger. She wants to believe it. It isn’t easy to put her mind to rest, still, but all she is sure of is that suddenly she misses dear Dima now more than ever. Byleth keeps her mouth shut for the rest of the day with Ignatz’s pamphlet kept close by her side. Perhaps she is still unconvinced, but it will be a lie to say that texting Dimitri didn’t better her mood.


 

Dimitri glances at his side as he takes his steps further into the building. Byleth takes the crook of his arm as always, a gesture she is used to doing every now and then each time they are out together. At first they were rather awkward with it—after all Dimitri keeps his private life low-profile, a drive which resonates with Byleth’s own thoughts considering she isn’t the most expressive person who welcomes sudden attention from the public. If there is something Dimitri never hides, however, is what he truly feels about her and while being around her. By now walking like that has become a habit for Byleth—his coats are nice, and with that pretty considerable height difference, the lion king makes a nice heater. At first Dimitri joked that having her in his arm would be convenient because he wouldn’t have to search for her. “You are quite small,” he once said. “This will save my time searching for you.”

“At least you are gallant enough to say quite,” Byleth sighed. “… Dima?”

“Hmmm?”

“I want a signed agreement that you’re not going to use my head as an arm-stand,” she barked.

“Alright,” he replied lightly.

“You agreed so easily,” she narrowed her eyes at him. “Suspicious. What’s your plan?”

“This,” Dimitri maintained the lightness in his tone as he bowed to kiss her forehead.

“The audacity,” Byleth murmured, ruffling his hair. “You know what, you quite look like my boyfriend.”

“Quite there is most kind. Thank you.”

“… Jerk,” Byleth playfully shoved her elbow at him then.

Dimitri hands the tickets to the guard who waits on the front gate. He runs a metal detector over them while Byleth is still silent the entire time. Dimitri, as innocent as comically possible, averts his eyes to examine himself. What, did he forget to use deodorant or something? Is his coat cursed? Byleth appears like a robot mechanically following the procedure although her arm is still glued to his. Perhaps this question of dumbness disturbs zolatka more than what she expressed, so how should he start?

The museum is pretty packed by visitors and reporters alike. Dimitri totally didn’t expect the traction the exhibition got, but he’s quite used to people following him with questions, back in Faerghus and outside Faerghus alike. Some people nod at him to recognize his arrival and he politely nods back with a small wave. Some other approach him to strike small conversations with him. Faces he recognizes as prominent people from the art and crafting industry, for example, flock to him as what fellow elites tend to do when they are out and encountering other elites of similar social standing.

Byleth keeps her expression blank, dignified and distant as she follows a few steps behind him. She doesn’t necessarily favor this crowd, but at the same time she doesn’t want to leave Dimitri to fend for himself alone. She dislikes being made to feel like a curious specimen, and by now perhaps Dimitri has enough of people keep intruding into his life.

“Professor!” Byleth gasps when she catches Ignatz’s familiar figure by the corner. He looks so contended and radiant that it’s almost like his chest can bust with happiness—especially when a couple of neat, well-dressed folks stroll in and pay attention to his booth where he puts his artworks.

“Him?” Dimitri asks in a comforting tone, startling Byleth once again.

She gives him a small nod.

“Then let’s check the art,” Dimitri pats Byleth’s hand. “Won’t you let me watch your brilliant work guiding him until he got here, beloved?”

“Why did you talk like a Shakespearian character?” she smiles a bit.

“That character copied me.”

“… Dima,” she pokes his ribs.

“Because you are not dumb,” Dimitri states simply, taking Byleth to breakthrough the crowd, including a line of visitors and news-catchers alike. They land themselves at Ignatz’s booth, and once again Byleth feels so touched when Ignatz told her that the marketing strategy she suggested worked well that it didn’t take long for him to land a sponsor and a ticket ensuring his presence at the exhibition.

“It’s because of you,” Ignatz grabs her hands. “Thank you so much, Professor! Uh—s-sure I won’t detain you any longer if you still want to look around with a… companion?”

“Date,” calmly Byleth takes Dimitri’s arm once again, pulling him in closer. Ignatz’s face turns red for a moment, but Dimitri’s cheeks are definitely rosy and he makes sure his complaint be heard as Byleth drags him to enjoy other artworks. The museum has its own collection but puts up replicas of famous paintings, including The Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard and other famous pieces such as Godspeed by Edmund Blair Leighton or The Empress Eugenie and Ladies in Waiting by Franz-Xaver Winterhalter.

“These are so elegant,” Dimitri comments. His eyes feast on the beautiful classic artworks, humming a bit. “To my knowledge Leighton drew medieval and chivalric themes, zolatka.”

“Hmmm,” Byleth says. “I like them all but I wonder…”

“Yes?”

“If I were her, I’d mount to catch up to you,” Byleth chuckles a little bit, gesturing at Godspeed which pictures a knight in chainmail, ready to go to war while his lady bade him a farewell.

“Me?” Dimitri asks.

“Yes? I won’t let you out there alone, you see?” Byleth remarks simply. As if realizing what happened, she looks away a little bit. “… S-sure. The painting. Not you. You’re not—“

“Zolatka.”

“No, forget it. I—“

“Byleth,” he calls again. “Of course. Ride alongside me, my light.”

“… That’s because of my text, isn’t it?” she asks in a low tone.

“Depends. Did you say that because of your text?” he brings himself closer to her.

“I suppose that’s why I’m just a teaching assistant with meager pay,” Byleth whispers. “Someone else would have asked a cut because they’re not paid to tutor a desperate art major. And this person is a professional one because by then they’d laugh at this art major because—”

“… But you did not.”

“Dima?” she blinks. Dimitri folds his arms, looking displeased.

“They may be on a more professional level, but it’s you who got that kid here, beloved, you and only you,” he looks at her. “Are they seriously insulting you because you sincerely put your heart and mind to lift up a desperate person, somehow appearing at the right time and place to be the miracle they’ve been waiting for—is that it? My knuckles would love to say hello.”

“… Knuckles?” Byleth blinks.

“You are a wonderful person—period,” Dimitri exhales heavily, locking her eyes with his. “That kid just now produced beautiful artworks—this place is lucky to have him, no? Yes, zolatka, anyone else would say no. Yes, this thing you are doing probably has no monetary value. But then again exactly, beloved—exactly why that kid is here and you are you. That is also why he invited you, and not just everyone else.”

“You are going to make me so shy,” Byleth throws her gaze away. “Tone down your voice.”

“Make me, lyublimaya.”

“Dima—“

“My voice, my prerogative, Vojevoda Byleth.”

“But there’s my name there, Tsesarevich.”

“Your name?” Dimitri acts like he’s contemplating something. “Oh. No wonder you look like my beloved.”

“You are taken?” she banters back. “Wow. Unbelievable.”

“I know, right?” he raises his eyebrows. “That woman truly has the heart of gold.”

“Heart made of gold? I can’t believe you are dating a robot,” she counters. “Some men.”

“We all have our preferences,” he banters. “And you Miss, if I may ask?”

“My lover has a kind soul,” she bites back. “And that’s precious like a diamond.”

“Soul made of diamond?” he frowns. “If you’re with a robot as well, then how come you singled me out?”

“Hmmm. Perhaps we should just date each other,” Byleth waves her hand. “Then sell this gold and diamond for profit?”

“As a businessman myself, I agree,” Dimitri nods then. “I guess this means I get to call you beloved.”

“Byleth is acceptable as well, but you do you, I suppose,” she says. “And you?”

“Dumplingmitri.”

“Such a curious name.”

“Each individual is unique, lyublimaya.”

“I can’t argue with a dumpling, so I’ll just say yes.”

“That means you are not dumb and these things you are doing aren’t useless.”

“… Dima.”

“How did you find out my human name?”

“Oh, no. You’re human?” she follows anyway. “No wonder you are warm.”

“I am. And what might you be?” he gathers his willpower to keep his face straight.

“Vegan noodle soup,” she replies mindlessly, anyway.

“So nourishing. Is that why I feel so rich, talking to you?” he keeps going.

“Stubborn, aren’t you?” she can’t stop herself from chuckling. Dimitri was just about to reply when a bunch of people come their way. Byleth watches everything unfold that she quickly slips away, leaving Dimitri’s side to explore the other side of the gallery. Victorian animal paintings quickly catch her attention that she finds herself smile a little bit. Ah, Reichert’s cats are so playful. And wow—this Kahler painting, forty-two cats in a frame? Moving on she sees another aisle and her eyes light up. She really, really wants to take Dimitri there. She has questions, and she knows it will be nice be there with him. Replicas of folk paintings by Slavic artists such as Viktor Vasnetsov and Konstantin Makovsky are exhibited just right there, boasting designs of beautiful women in folk dresses and what appears to be fairytale scenes.

“Mr. Blaiddyd! That’s a surprise to find you here!” she halts her steps seeing those elites conversing with Dimitri. “So, a lover of fine art yourself? Which among these you find the most mesmerizing?”

“The one that I lost,” Dimitri calmly replies, increasing his voice a bit. “… Zolatka?”

Byleth gasps. Under the watchful stares of elite, suited people who look like promising young executives from high-end establishments and a couple of reporters who are still taking pictures especially now that VIPs are there, Dimitri makes a small step. His coat billows a bit as he reaches for her, and she takes it—dumbfounded and confused spelt on her face still. Shouldn’t Dimitri… mingle with people of his status? Doesn’t Dima dislike it when elite colleagues and reporters alike hound him for personal questions?

However Dimitri gently draws her back to him, facing those elite business counterparts who are still bewildered like she is. In a dignified manner he proudly presents her, his fingertips weaving with hers and never once he lets go even when he speaks. “Yes. This one, gentlemen,” he says. “And she’s Byleth.”

“Oh?” one of those elite folks finally broke a voice after the looming, surprised silence. “Art lover?”

“No. Teaching assistant.”

“… Teaching… assistant?”

“Yes,” Byleth nods. “Someone I tutored invited me. Check him out, it’s the booth over there.”

“As you see, fine art brings you to another,” Dimitri states calmly again.

“But seriously, teaching assistant?” they exchange glances with each other. “That can’t be, right? Uh—pardon, which piece you like the most?”

“This lion,” Byleth blurts, feeling Dimitri’s hand squeezing hers. “I mean—I mean those animal paintings.”

“… Animal paintings?”

“Yes! Cute, aren’t they?” Byleth replies innocently.

“You must be joking,” they mutter. “No, like, we mean—do you like baroque painting? Rococo? What do you think of Raphaelite artworks compared to the pre-Raphaelite ones and…”

“And I believe she has answered,” Dimitri glares at them. “… Is there a problem…?”

The crowd disperses, leaving Byleth and Dimitri alone once again. Byleth guides him to the animal painting aisle while he follows silently, until they are quite away from people that he starts talking. “… Why, Byleth?” he asks. “If you dislike being here with me, you can just… say.”

“That’s not it,” Byleth says without turning around. “They needed you there.”

“Yes, I can see that,” he huffs. “And?”

“And supposedly, I’m not…“ she sighs in frustration. “Listen. There’s a place for you and Ignatz here.”

“And there’s one for you as well. What is this about, beloved?” he asks back, unsatisfied. “I really can’t see why a gorgeous smart woman can’t make the cut compared to a dumpling.”

“Dima,” she warns, hating how her frustration easily dissolves into a sparkling urge to smile now.

“Dumplingmitri,” he softly mouths to her.

“… Dimitri Alexandre,” she tries to press further.

“Rounded cheeks with shredded cheese hair.”

“Dima—“

“And a well-penned Cyrillic!”

“… Dima…” her hand travels swiftly to jam his ribs. “Cease this teasing.”

“Cease that sorrow first, beloved,” Dimitri replies calmly. “Fair trade, da?”

“You are impossible,” she sighs. “Look—I know you understand what I’m trying to say. And…”

“And I cannot allow it,” he cuts in.

“It’s not about my self-worth,” she says. “It’s giving you the stage when you have to be there.”

“And I want to share that stage with you,” Dimitri approaches closer. “… Byleth, it probably isn’t the focus, but how come I sit idly knowing well it affects you? What did I tell you before?”

“… Riding, alongside you,” she murmurs.

“Exactly. So come along,” he says. “Life is hard, zolatka. Two makes the journey better than one.”

“Well, I know they expected a cultured answer,” Byleth mutters sheepishly. “Because you are Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd and all I could offer was that I liked those animal paintings.”

“… They never asked what truly matters to me either,” Dimitri responds, prompting Byleth to stop talking for a moment. “You like those animal paintings and now sharing the experience with me.”

“Not only that, but…” out of reflex Byleth simply turns Dimitri around so he sees the other aisle. Dimitri blinks for a moment when familiar folk scenes color his surroundings—so much that he can only stare without saying anything for a moment.

“... Beloved, these are…”

“Yes, Dima. I figured you’d like them,” she smiles a little bit. “That, and the canvas kitties. However judging the encounter from prior I have doubts. Like if I could make you happy at all, because I know despite everything, you and I are raised differently and you are… how do I put this, educated.”

“… You are the guiding light who introduces me back to life—how come I’m not happy?” he whispers. “You opened my eyes that life is worth it, zolatka, even until now there are nights where I’d wonder if I deserve your hand at all. Why are you the one standing here with these thoughts, moy svet?”

“Even if you choose to ignore it, the difference is still there, Dima,” she replies patiently. “That’s what I mean. They expected a tsesarevich out of you and I’m aware I’m merely a vojevoda, do you see it now?”

“But I like this vojevoda.”

“There you go again,” she points out.

“If they expected a tsesarevich out of me, then they better start first,” he smirks. “By doing what one should upon meeting the tsesarevich’s chosen—bend their knees and defer their eyes to respect you,” he rubs his nose sheepishly right afterwards. “… I should have said I’m your chosen, anyway. Considering someone like you—anyone could easily fall in love with you. I mean—what’s not to like—“

Byleth shakes her head, taking Dimitri’s arm once again. “Enough of this, let’s see the paintings.”

“See, beloved, it’s just paintings! If you have never seen these masterpieces before, now you have. Do they think they have the right to give my lover a hard time for not being an art snob? The audacity.”

“No knuckle threat, Dima,” she ticks his nose.

“Advise me for a more viable option, beloved,” he captures her finger.

“A tank,” Byleth replies calmly.

“Ah, I didn’t think of that,” he responds, just as casual as her quip sounds.

“You don’t mind dating a girl who likes tanks?” she chuckles.

“No?” he blurts. “Wow, look at that forty-two kitten painting by Carl Kahler.”

“I know, right? It’s titled My Wife’s Favorites because a billionaire commissioned him to paint all his wife’s cats,” Byleth nods. “And she’s the ultimate cat lady of her era.”

“Must be very happy. I respect this cat lady,” Dimitri says. “And over there…”

“Knights?” she follows when Dimitri cranes his neck.

“Druzhina,” he smiles a bit. “… Oh, wow. This feels like my bedtime stories in HD.”

“Which ones?” she asks softly.

“The Vasnetsov ones,” his eyes light up. “There’s a more generic painting though, like this boyarina.”

“Tell me more about it,” Byleth slips her fingers into his hand. “What’s a boyarina?”

“A noblewoman or a wife of a bogatyr,” Dimitri squeezes back. “… Should I say, you?”

“… Dima,” she jams his ribs again.

“Pardon, beloved. But of course, you are a tsarevna.”

“I’ll destroy you,” she sighs.

“That’s better than feeling like you have no right to be here,” he smiles.

“She wears elaborate clothing, like these girls in folk dresses by…” Byleth bends down a little bit to read the little explanations they’ve put alongside the paintings. “… Ivan Argunov and Konstantin Makovsky.”

“Ah, that’s a sarafan and kokoshnik, zolatka.”

“Tell me more,” she repeats. ”I suppose if I get to be a tsarevna, I can order you.”

“Sure.”

“And if not, I’ll buy a tank.”

“I’m supportive.”

“And this one here…” Byleth slowly walks.

“Ah, Koschei the Deathless?” Dimitri looks up. “The folktale says he cannot be killed because he draws his soul out and keeps it guarded in an egg, to be hatched by a mystical duck so others can’t take it.”

“And what is he doing with the lady in folk dress there?” Byleth says.

“Pestering her, what else?” Dimitri grins. “Koschei is known to entrap the hero’s love interest.”

“Wow. I’ll idi-nahuy him considering I’m dating a bogatyr. Bogatyrs are supposed to be the hero, right?”

“No need. He’ll die by my lance if he even tries.”

Byleth sighs… and harbors her deep gaze into Dimitri's then. “… Sorry for prior,” she calls softly.

“No need, lyublimaya.”

“Let’s just get ice cream next time,” she sighs. “Unless there’s Russian paintings like this.”

“Agreed,” he nods then. “But what did I do to deserve you?”

“Sharing those folk tales with me?” she says.

Dimitri shakes his head. Ah, zolatka, forever his beloved that she is. Understandingly he nods, letting a smile with a greater tenderness even compared to a peaceful night to reign on his face. Gently he clasps his hand over hers as they head out. Under the camera lights which may or may not try taking their photos, under the curious look of his elite colleagues following them. But Byleth keeps walking, this time not withdrawing her hand and Dimitri swears to protect its place there.

“Let’s get you Sylvain’s brewed milk tea then,” he announces.

“Walking like this?” she chuckles, holding up their intertwined hands to tease him.

“Like this is fine too,” he smirks, pulling her in so he can sneak his arm around her.

“Didn’t know a dumpling’s arm is long enough to do that,” she says.

“Some of us are unique, talented individuals, beloved,” he banters back.

“Hmmm. But what would you say to your colleagues if they see us like this?”

“I’d tell them to sod off, I love my girlfriend.”

“Dima.”

“In four languages.”

“What’s the fourth?”

“My fist.”

Byleth blinks. Seconds later she completely loses it that he can hear her soft chuckles coming out, almost, almost like a giggle. “Don’t decide things on your own when it concerns me,” purposefully mustering a chiding tone, she leans even closer, taking turn to sneak her arm around his waist. “For example, this way is better.”

Chapter Text

Dimitri drapes his coat over the chair. Office helpers assigned to Faerghus’ seventh floor are plating tea and muffins on the table as he slides to seat himself. They exchange polite nods and smiles when seeing him face to face, and feeling much contended compared to the other day where he sat though presentations, Dimitri could feel his drive that he hums softly, reviewing the compiled documents Rodrigue had prepared prior.

Not long after, the Faerghus Shield joins him. Soft knock which he answers turns into an opened door, revealing Rodrigue’s figure, also fresh and crisp like him, standing by the threshold. He smiles back when Dimitri smiles at him. “Ready, Dima?”

“Yes. That is why you should be here, Uncle Rodrigue,” never once the smile leaves Dimitri’s face when he answers, nodding slightly to acknowledge the family friend’s arrival.

Dimitri adjusts the waistband encircling his crisp black chino pants, feeling hopeful somehow. It’s been a while since meeting various people at Faerghus doesn’t make him feel pressured. He is comfortable, and everything on him seems to reflect the mood as well—it’s still noon, yet Dimitri dresses semi-formally by rolling the sleeves of his slim-fit white shirt and not wearing necktie. With his vintage-style leather messenger bag and shoes nobody would have thought that he is one of Fodlan’s richest heading a big prominent company as his uncle pointed out back home, but Dimitri simply finished his breakfast toast with a small grin because that is exactly the look he had planned in mind.

What he experienced with Byleth at the art museum somehow forces him to confront the fact that he is still, in many ways, a privileged person. It’s not just about their upbringing or how much he has under his name in total compared to her savings, but in general having witnessed people changing their behaviors just because he requested it put something in his mind.

Sure, he and Byleth practically spent the rest of the afternoon glued to each other. His arm enveloped her shoulders at ease the way she found comfort in hugging his waist as they kept tracing the pavement and street blocks as the sky gradually changed colors. They deliberately took time to have the late afternoon walk to enjoy the scenery; with her not saying much while he was contended to feel afternoon breeze with the dearly beloved by his side. He chuckled when Byleth stopped at a street food cart to buy him cheese balls, but for a moment his lover’s eyes turned gray and he couldn’t forget what she said next.

“I wish I could give you more,” she said at that time.

“You remember what I like,” he calmly pointed at the cheese balls.

“Of course. That’s fun to do, anyway,” with the same calmness she responded, but his observant eyes couldn’t be fooled that her smile was rather sad. “But I mean more. I want to treat you things.”

At that time he knew she was miles away even though she ruffled his hair.

Dimitri watches his own reflection on the glass pane. What did she mean, treating him things? He never asked. If anything he loves her so much that he wants to shower her with the best of everything he can strive for—comfort, leisure, things he knows Byleth doesn’t get to enjoy as freely as he does.

Dimitri stops pondering when the door is knocked, revealing a figure he has never met before. The new arriving person looks like a total contrast compared to the solemn, elegant atmosphere of Faerghus, with the pink highlights he wears in his hair and the totally-casual attire he pairs with his stylish boots. The man appears to be fit too and Dimitri must acknowledge his guts to be so open and in-touch with his personal style that not even an individual who disapproves can say this man cannot rock it.

“Mr. Blaiddyd?”

There’s an air of confidence with sense of self-assurance beneath when he speaks. Dimitri notes that this person must have an air of authority about him, and he nods with a smile—he can respect that even though Rodrigue snaps himself out of it as if realizing it’s rude to stare at a person’s face like that. “I am. How can I help you?” Dimitri walks closer.

“Ah, right. Pardon my intrusion, I suppose we haven’t…” his guest grins, but the door is wide open again, revealing a panicked young woman storming inside.

“Brotheeer! Oh—goddess,” she sighs. “Mr. Blaiddyd? Sorry, I lost him when I was in the bathroom.”

Dimitri looks on the new-arriving young woman. Pink hair. The way she called the guest… “Let me guess,” he makes a simple hand gesture signaling that there’s no need to be concerned about. “Miss Goneril, I presume—Hilda Goneril from the group chat.”

“Yes! And I’m also your beloved professor’s student,” the girl winks. “And this is my brother, Holst!”

Dimitri clears his throat. “I did not know that we are… known.”

“Oh, Mr. Blaiddyd. It’s okay! I find it kind of cute she has the picture of you together as her laptop screensaver,” Hilda giggles a little bit. “Let me just say this—young or old, lecturers meet their doom at their desk and ninety percent of the death cause is their own computers.”

“… She kept a photo of… us?” Dimitri’s eyes widen. “… Ahem. I mean. Oh.”

“That’s enough, Hilda,” Holst pats the girls’ head. “Yep. That’s me, Mr. Blaiddyd. My sister informed me you might be interested in what I’m interested in offering—the tender. I’m mostly glued to my own chair back home, so I thought I might need a concierge if I were to travel to Faerghus,” he chuckles. The relaxed mannerism puts Dimitri at ease, and Holst simply follows when Dimitri returns to the table. “Well? Let’s begin then. You might want to wait outside though, Hil.”

“It’s okay. I was just driving you anyway,” the girl in pink grins back. “Or rather, driving your car.”

“As if I could forget,” the older brother smirks.

“Yours has an automatic mode,” the girl pouts. “And I’m only a delicate flower.”

“Dear goddess. Yes, yes, I know—now go get your class,” Holst sighs, casually dumping a fifty dollar bill on her palm. “Here for the taxi. And I don’t know, buy some snacks, maybe.”

Hilda smirks like a Halloween ghost as Holst playfully shoos her away. The girl tackles her older brother to kiss his cheek, biding farewell to Dimitri and Rodrigue before lightly taking her steps out of Dimitri’s office room. “I know I’ll enjoy Miss Eisner’s class today—greatly,” she winks at Dimitri before leaving.

“Some lass,” Holst grumbles although it’s clear that he doesn’t hate it. “Sorry about that, Sir.”

“Pay no mind to it—I like my girlfriend, anyway,” Dimitri musters a raw smirk. “Now, the business.”

He sits down with Holst for the next two hours, listening to what Goneril has to offer. Perhaps it’s Holst’s casual approach and very informal dress code which help Dimitri to feel at ease. Perhaps it’s the random bombing ice breaker from Hilda. Perhaps it’s because both he and Holst are passionate about the project, but soon Dimitri finds that it’s fun to cross ideas with the Goneril oldest. Holst’s approach is non-mainstream, but then again he too has had enough with faux politeness. Holst’s spontaneity easily corresponds with Dimitri’s sincerity and slides move quick as they easily complete each other’s sentences. “Bottom line is, I think I’m aware of the region you mentioned,” he says. “Dude, nice bread.”

“I see. Have you ever been involved in a similar project?” Dimitri responds. “And yes it fucking is.”

“Now you’re talking,” Holst bumps his fist with Dimitri’s as he cackles. “And yeah. Fodlan’s locket is more or less similar to your babushka’s hometown minus the snow and coldness, but each place has its own challenges. If we keep talking about profits of course chances are everything will be half-assed if not missing its primary objective because you keep thinking how to pay back your expenses in double.”

“I agree,” Dimitri grabs the same bread piece that Holst took. “That’s why the question of profit bored me the other day. Sure, let’s be honest, we have to make money. But not at the expense of the actual people who live there. Treating a delicate terrain or environment carelessly doesn’t end well often.”

“Right. And it’s snowballing in a couple of years,” Holst nods. “So you’re saying, this is a charity project?”

“From my part, admittedly,” Dimitri responds sheepishly. “But shouldn’t decrease the value on yours. Frankly, Mr. Goneril, I probably only get my initial expense paid without profit at all should I continue with this one, but that shouldn’t mean I cannot offer a fair price for your service.”

“Pssaw. Holst,” the older Goneril waves his hand. “Dude. I came here looking like summer bloom not to hear people addressing me like that.”

“Okay. Dimitri it is then,” Dimitri smirks. “So?”

“I’d need to see it first, I suppose,” Holst thinks a little bit. “I manage Fodlan’s locket but it faces different challenges compared to having to build in a cold, snowy mountainous region like you said. If the hometown isn’t big with railway the most you can do is building a road to smoothen the travel flow.”

“That seems to be the case,” Dimitri says. “Back then people would even rely on horses.”

“Road it is then,” Holst nods. “Adding railway is another thing. That’s too big even for you—no offense, bro. Railway is an ambitious project and even great divers got lost in the seas, ya understand?”

“Of course,” Dimitri musters a simple smile. “I want to pave a way not doom the entire crew.”

“Send your representative and I’ll send mine. Put those folks on a plane together while we wait for a thorough observation here,” Holst concludes then. “I love traveling but I can’t leave Fodlan’s locket so deliberately like that.”

“Same here,” Dimitri’s mind goes back to his homecoming. Byleth’s warm, deep hug is still fresh in his mind and he just promised her that he had no plan on multiple trips for the time being. Of course he’d have to do it if there’s no other way, but now that he knows his heart is here, the legs want to stay. There’s that raw, somewhat-mischievous smirk again as he speaks. “Maybe we can pay for engineers… and portable Wi-Fi. Hell, at this rate I don’t mind hiring an army engineer.”

“Now that’s what I call taking charge,” Holst grins too, extending his hand. “So, we’re doing this?”

“Yes,” Dimitri returns the grin. “Fortune favors the brave.”

“Heh. I like you already,” Holst finishes his bread. “Damn, this truly is good. What is this gem?”

Dimitri casually drops a card over the table, totally unbothered to hide the mischievous look he wears on his face now. “Bread baked with love from the humble Blue Lions Café.”


 

Byleth frowns for the fifth time in front of her computer. She has been scrolling around without finding anything suitable, or at least anything—anything she knows to be the one. The way one looks at something then understands that the long search has come to an end. And yet…

“You really are fond of… randomness, Miss Eisner.”

Byleth gasps. Jeritza strolls behind her to return to his own cubicle next to hers, and Byleth chooses to ignore him altogether as she scrolls again. Why must everything be so expensive like this? Can’t she find anything good at all? Dimitri explicitly said to like weapons and never minded physical labor work. What should she give—a leg pad? Better buy one for Jeralt first. And what’s so romantic in that?

… Romantic. The word is lost on Byleth’s mind. Romantic. What is that? She reads books. She has watched movies. And supposedly it’s when people are deeply drowning in so much love they have to share with another. It’s when people want to feel good and make their beloved feel just the same.

Beloved. He is, to her. And she doesn’t need to ask where she reigns in his heart.

Byleth isn’t the most expressive person out there. She probably makes the quirkiest, most awkward lover out of everything else—so screw defining how to do romance or even do romantic because… that will be too much work to do. Not because she wants to do it—but ever since her youth, listening to various things people asked her or called her with… Byleth ever spent an entire afternoon locking herself in her room, frustrated, angry, and probably sad trying to formulate her own thoughts and emotions. Jeralt taught her to fight. Teachers taught her school subjects. Alois taught her to fish even though the older she got the more that she rivaled him in the end. Caring neighbors sympathizing with Jeralt’s single father life taught her various things from making simple foods or sewing as she got to sit on their couches on a rainy day. But nobody, not even the books she read and war movies she watched taught her to make peace with her emotions. Nobody taught her to formulate her thoughts. The first time she figured that she was sad, she muttered “Onion,” to her confused father, only to lock herself in her room again. When her throat felt dry that she thought she could feel water gathering by the crown of her eyes, only then she realized she was, indeed, sad.

Byleth cannot describe how she feels about Dimitri. However she can compare to him to the accepting, calming nights to return to, knowing well that it will be peaceful, quiet and fulfilling that all she needs to do is lying down without having to think of anything else. She can visualize him as that warm blanket everyone loves to have during winter—big, perhaps big enough to swallow her as a whole that it’s as if the universe she knows stop but there’s so much comfort she doesn’t know if she wants to go back. Byleth notices his sweet smiles, softened voice when he talks to her. His willingness to listen to her anytime she has something to say, his subtle gestures to walk on the outer side beside her each time they cross the street or sailing the street at night.

“You are like a savior lion. I can still break bones, you know,” she mentioned on one occasion.

“What’s so bad with breaking the dastard’s bones and having your feline finish the job?” Dimitri grinned. “Or alternatively, I don’t mind stealing your job as a bone-breaker and do it on behalf of you.”

“If you want to be my feline, you have to purr.”

“… Beloved…”

“I’m joking, Dima,” she chuckled.

“Your jokes are lethal,” he faked a grumble. “Just like that face.”

“But really. It’s alright,” she said then. “I’ve been out at night many times and will be in the future.”

“I know, zolatka,” he nodded calmly. “If you don’t like my way of caring, by all means, please, do let me know. But if the reason is just that...” he looked at her. “Just because you’re used to it, doesn’t make it alright. You being capable of breaking bones doesn’t mean you should expect people to attack you.”

“Well, if they attack me at least that will save some other individual from trouble,” she pointed out seriously. “Because this one is fighting back.”

“… Exactly because I know,” Dimitri leaned in closer. “How could I let you be, moy svet? Because you are strong, then people can try acting funny as like, is that it? Because you are enduring, then coming at you with a hammer to break you down is tolerable—is that what you want me to agree with?”

“… You do purr,” Byleth looked down, gently squeezing the crook of his arm.

“People aren’t created strong just so it means that they should expect to take and endure pain, beloved,” Dimitri said. “It’s like saying it’s okay to overload your own student just because the kid is smart, net?”

“Take your own advice,” she replied softly. “Come closer, Dima—if you keep walking there chances are a motorcycle may graze you,” she drew him in. “… Actually, why must pedestrians be the one who need to watch out most of the time? There’s a pavement and street light and dumbass driver wants to push through here? I’ll kill them if they hit you.”

“So, you are my shield and I’m your sword,” he chuckled. “At your behest, zolatka.”

“Why do you get to be the sword? Unfair. I like swords too,” Byleth said.

“You like tanks,” he countered.

“I have many interests,” she bantered back.

“Double swords it is then,” Dimitri clapped his hands. “Do we have a deal?”

“Yes,” Byleth replied with a straight face.

“Alright. Nice to do business with you.”

“And where’s the contract?”

“… Where do you want to be kissed?”

“… Rascal,” Byleth hummed. “At least you don’t say things like ‘my lady’ or something.”

“Who speak like that in this day and age?” Dimitri frowned.

“Sylvain.”

Dimitri snorted. “It’s because he doesn’t have one.”

“Atrocious, Gospodin,” Byleth mustered a small smirk.

“Spasiba, Gospozha.”

“You said no my lady,” she slapped his arm.

“But aren’t you… my lady?” he bantered back. “I think your little application has grown on me.”

“How so?”

“Because I have to be creative then,” his smirk grew into something even rawer this time.

“Oh, so you are going to pull a Russian thesaurus on me.”

“Yes.”

“Then I’ll do the same,” she put her hands on her hips.

“… And how will you do so, dear?” he purposefully asked back in a soft, soft meek voice as if he just gasped because something was truly surprising that it scared him. Of course having her fist on his nose as she playfully growled a reply—By violence!—was not something he saw coming either, but he figured it was worth it, anyway. Dimitri parted ways with Byleth with a closing statement that she could tell him any discomfort she might feel, including the way he expressed his love and care towards her. “I’m not always here all the time,” he said as he sent her to the elevator that night. “So I thought the very least I can do when I’m here is making sure you are comfortable and well.”

“If I get to have the sword and do the same to you, I suppose we can have a deal,” she replied.

“Deal,” he smiled.

“But I’ll still keep the tank.”

“Also deal.”

“The Russian thesaurus is off contract,” she warned.

“Not if I get to present the line to you in English,” he smirked again.

“… Dima?”

“Da, moy svet?”

“Ever had a teaching assistant breaking your spine while waiting for an elevator?”

Needless to say Dimitri made the wisest decision that night by yielding.

Byleth ignores Jeritza’s comment, growing even more frustrated by nearly everything she sees on the screen. This wristwatch looks so cool and rugged—definitely will benefit someone like Dimitri with powerful grip because it’s made for the outdoorsy folks who love challenging, adrenaline-pumping activities, but the price is unfriendly. Besides she figures that Dimitri might know these things better as he is more familiar with them. Some prime-quality wine or vodka? Byleth already gave up the idea a long time ago—loving vodka or not, Byleth wouldn’t doubt with the bespoke elegance of Fhirdiad estate, Rufus Blaiddyd’s taste and things Dimitri are acquainted with on daily basis, the idea of trying already feels like handing a fifth-grader’s math book to an engineer. How about… a sword?

“Again?” Jeritza blinks when Byleth begins to seriously Google antique swords for sale.

“Twelve-hundred? Blasphemy,” Byleth growls, instantly closing the antique weapon collector forum she just opened. Jeritza blinks again upon realizing that Byleth truly ignored him, so he settles in his own cubicle, looking a bit disappointed.

“Is it because of something I said?” he finally asks curiously.

Byleth glances at him, shooting him a look as if he’s a giant crocodile trying to jump while making a handstand. She returns her attention to the monitor again, and finally draws her last card.

From: Byleth Eisner <beisner@garregmach.edu>
To: Blue Lions Café <admin@bluelions.com>

Hello, everyone,
I’m sorry having to contact you like this, but literally I don’t know your private emails and I thought you folks might feel rather awkward to share private numbers with me considering I’m a customer but—listen, I apologize in advance, sincerely, honestly, from the bottom of my heart, but what does your boss like, lions? Please, help me. A list will be lovely too; we are all professional here, errr… right?

“… Miss Eisner,” Jeritza calls from his seat.

“Why are you so concerned whether I’m angry or not?” Byleth glares at him. “Idi nahuy.”

Jeritza widens his eyes but returns to whatever he is doing, anyway. Byleth sighs—she cannot believe the first time she ever seriously tried speaking Russian is telling her colleague to fuck himself and she doesn’t know whether she wants to hug Dimitri or smack his head first. Byleth minimizes the screen although she is dying to closely watch for replies. How about some… kittens? Videos of kittens? Kittens committing murders? Kittens driving tanks? … That has to be possible, right?

From: Blue Lions Café <admin@bluelions.com>
To: Byleth Eisner <beisner@garregmach.edu>

Dear Professor,

Awwwhhh aren’t you so sweet!! I’m sure he will appreciate anything you give!

—Annette.

She’s so nice, but that doesn’t help. Byleth grumbles, having to pause the video she is watching only to receive a generic reply. And yes—apparently some people built tanks for their cats. And look at this amateur movie of a cat riding a toy tank to destroy people!

From: Blue Lions Café <admin@bluelions.com>
To: Byleth Eisner <beisner@garregmach.edu>

Miss Bayleaf,

I judge that you are desperate for using ‘literally’ as a figure of speech like that. The boar likes his weapons and he’s quite a snob at maintaining them. P/S: So am I. When can we spar?

—Felix.

A weapon snob. Not even a hobbyist or aficionado anymore. A weapon snob. Good, there goes her life savings then—and all these catalogue already vanquished her dreams.

From: Blue Lions Café <admin@bluelions.com>
To: Byleth Eisner <beisner@garregmach.edu>

Hello, dear professor,

Why don’t you try giving Boss Dima the best night of his life? If you know what I mean ;D but seriously though, considering you are one hell of a cutie of a 10/10, slap his ass (or mine if he doesn’t want it).

—Sylvain.

Byleth gapes.

From: Blue Lions Café <admin@bluelions.com>
To: Byleth Eisner <beisner@garregmach.edu>

Hello, Professor!

Admittedly it’s rather tough considering the boss asked the same question to all of us but never got to actually say what he TRULY likes! He taught me some moves and tips to improve my muscle strength and bought me candies knowing that would cheer me up. But he says thank you to anything we give!

—Ashe.

This is even harder. Byleth glares at the monitor again, feeling sour. She just wants to give something nice for the love of her life, is that too much to ask? Oh, dear, dear Dima, he too has been deep into gift-giving but never let his personal interests truly known to his friends? Cheeky. She’ll kiss him blue then.

From: Blue Lions Café <admin@bluelions.com>
To: Byleth Eisner <beisner@garregmach.edu>

Dear Professor,

As his childhood friend, I can say that the boss loves horses :) my family isn’t as prestigious as his, but we have a ranch we can proudly call our own. Sylvain and I loved taking long rides or even play racing with him when our school was on a break. He rides well, I assure you ;D

—Ingrid.

Byleth freezes on the spot. … Alright, that’s truly classy, Ingrid—and she means it without sarcasm at all even though the blonde’s little emoji there burns her grace to crisp. But then exactly—that is classy, and the only rides she can recall besides public transportation or Jeralt’s own car is a mechanical bull at an amusement park or a rodeo festival as a child. She Googles for a couple of riding boots, feeling her heart sink in the process—apparently the best, prime quality riding boots cost hundreds. Worse, she doesn’t even know his exact measurements, how can she gift him clothing articles then? How can she ask without alerting him that she has a plan in mind? Now that his background is in the talk, it’s even harder for her—there’s no way Dimitri doesn’t own the few best pairs on his own. What if her gift isn’t adequate because there’s always a chance that Dimitri knows the league?

From: Blue Lions Café <admin@bluelions.com>
To: Byleth Eisner <beisner@garregmach.edu>

Salutations, Professor!

It’s the thought that counts! I believe as long as your intention is pure and sincere, the blessing awaits :)

—Mercedes.

If Byleth could sob as easy as one-two-three, she would have.

From: Blue Lions Café <admin@bluelions.com>
To: Byleth Eisner <beisner@garregmach.edu>

Greetings, Professor,

I wish I could help you, but this matter has concerned me for a while too. I always tried to help him with his taste buds by presenting various dishes I could try making, but in the end he would always thank me that I’d be left confused because… because I too would want to make something he’d love. I sympathize with your cause, Professor, and I pray you are most fortunate compared to me.

—Dedue.

Alright, forget wanting to sob—Byleth wants to wail now. Digging into her purse gives her a card and a couple of banknotes. Byleth bites her lips again, trying to recall all the expenses she hasn’t paid for the month. And how much does she have there… oh, right—the bonus from stockbroking. But then again now that Jeralt has decided to settle here, they would need to renovate their apartment. They just bought the dining table a couple of months ago, and the little apartment has started to look like a normal, human dwelling instead of a Spartan barrack. What she got worth around triple of her pay, so it should be alright to give something grand for Dimitri this way… right?

Seventy. Byleth blinks in disbelief—that’s all the cash she has left in the purse?

From: Blue Lions Café <admin@bluelions.com>
To: Byleth Eisner <beisner@garregmach.edu>

Ладно, вали отсюда, Сильвейн. Я нас есть пароль, ты тоже это знаю.

—The Boss.

Byleth stares with her mouth open.

From: Blue Lions Café <admin@bluelions.com>
To: Byleth Eisner <beisner@garregmach.edu>

… I mean. You know I have the access to our mailbox too, don’t you, Sylvain?

—Dimitri.

From: Blue Lions Café <admin@bluelions.com>
To: Byleth Eisner <beisner@garregmach.edu>

If you’d be so kind to tell me what you wrote me before you mutilated me, Boss, I’d be grateful.

—Sylvain.

P/S: Pffft please, the professor is amazing. Sorry (not sorry).

From: Blue Lions Café <admin@bluelions.com>
To: Byleth Eisner <beisner@garregmach.edu>

Sylvain, I told you to fuck off.
Beloved, what question is this? Of course I like you.

—Your Dima.

… If Ingrid burned her grace, that little signature Dimitri had audaciously written there scorched her cheeks.

From: Blue Lions Café <admin@bluelions.com>
To: Byleth Eisner <beisner@garregmach.edu>

… Alright, now I’m sorry.
[Haha I know you’re not angry!]

—Sylvain.

Byleth resists the urge to chuckle. Ah, the lions and their king. Why are they so…

From: Blue Lions Café <admin@bluelions.com>
To: Byleth Eisner <beisner@garregmach.edu>

Then don’t make me >:)
(Of course. … Were you serious though?)

—Dimitri.

From: Byleth Eisner <beisner@garregmach.edu>
To: Blue Lions Café <admin@bluelions.com>

Dima, get back to work.

From: Blue Lions Café <admin@bluelions.com>
To : Byleth Eisner <beisner@garregmach.edu>

… Yes, beloved.

—Dimitri.

Byleth truly, truly smiles this time.

From: Blue Lions Café <admin@bluelions.com>
To : Byleth Eisner <beisner@garregmach.edu>

Will you be so kind to spare us from internet eye herpes, boar?

—Felix.

Like a projector, these past three months and beyond begin to dance in her mind. Dinner with Rufus. Skewered meats Dimitri paid after an expensive restaurant turned her away. The flowers for her when Dimitri got her and Jeralt borscht soup. After dating him, Dimitri didn’t shy away from sharing trinkets and souvenirs from his travels—anything, anything he could find on the road, like the simple matching wyvern and pegasus charms he brought back after taking Claude on a quick Almyrian tea plantation tour. Byleth uses her pegasus charm for her pencil case while Dimitri uses the wyvern one for his bag.

Byleth sighs once again. What did she give Dimitri lately? … Ice cream? Cheese balls? Art museum pass for her because Ignatz didn’t expect her to bring a plus-one that Dimitri had to procure his own ticket from the counter? By goddess, that too—perhaps if the animal paintings and folktale paintings weren’t there, she and Dimitri would have left the place in a bad mood. Now that she was left with seventy by cash for the entire week at the minimum, what can she get?

Somehow Byleth feels… remorse. Those treats sound like snacks fitting for friends or a child while Dimitri never fails trying to make her feel acknowledged as his partner—his woman—in every occasion he could share with her. Dimitri isn’t loud either. And certainly he gets awkward and only proceeds with the plan if she approves. And he will ask. And then asks again to make sure he isn’t pressuring her into things she doesn’t truly feel like doing—from foods they shared together to holding her hands under the moonlight of outdoorsy café when they decided to wait until traffic jam loosened a bit. Dimitri would bring roses but also ready to listen and engage if she wanted to talk about swords and tanks—again.

Byleth bites her lips. She knows how it felt to be average—like that time when her assignments for her own master’s classes returned with nothing above seventy. But somehow, thinking how she only took without giving something adequate in return exposes her to this new contemplation—that creeping feeling like you are not enough and never be, at least judging from how much Dimitri makes in a month compared to everything she can amass.


 

Felix never thought this could happen.

Out of many strange things he has experienced—or being made to, considering Mercedes is a superb ghost story teller—finding Byleth lurking around their backdoor, close to the trash can and warehouse, is never on the list. He would have Sylvain to knock the teeth out of him just to make sure that he truly isn’t dreaming, but their endearing customer is crouching like a tactical soldier trying to infiltrate a building. “… Miss Bayleaf?” he calls. He knows ghosts sometimes impersonate people, so if he calls her with the nickname, that should bring him to the real Byleth, right?

Byleth gasps.

“… Seriously,” Felix helps salvaging a big box she is carrying. “What are you doing?”

“Dimitri,” Byleth whispers, lightly elbowing Felix so he shuts up. “Is he here already?”

“… Yes?” Felix looks at her, triple-confused now. “Okay, what is this about? Why are you crouching like a child playing hide-and-seek? What did the boar do?”

“Nothing,” Byleth responds innocently—so, so innocently that it’s so comical had Felix not known better. “That is exactly the problem, Dima is so nice that I thought I’m going to lose myself.”

“Wait, what?” Felix blinks.

“I’m going to melt,” she responds, sighing. “And I can’t return that.”

“… For the love of sweets, please spare me from…” Felix sulks, but instantly stops when Byleth slumps. “Hold on, Professor. Returning what again? The boar might be dumb, but he’s not a count.”

“Huh?”

“Not a count. Because he never counts,” Felix shrugs. “So what is this about?”

“Did you just dad-joke me?” Byleth gapes. “Unbelievable.”

“There’s a virtue in being a skeptic, Miss Bayleaf,” Felix grins. “But yes. The boar likes spoiling people.”

“Exactly,” Byleth murmurs. “Sometimes I don’t believe I get to call that big cat my sweet Dima.”

“So that’s the problem?” Felix stares at her. “You can’t see him because he is too sweet?”

“Yes?”

“… I need fresh air,” Felix groans, dumping two bags into the bin. He smiles at her while shaking his head, though. “Listen. I don’t even know what you do to the boar, but after meeting you, I can say that he is less, less dumb than the one I used to know,” the barista pats her shoulder. “It’s just Dimitri to me.”

Byleth wants to say something but Felix purposefully leaves after a nod like conveying his gratitude to her. Byleth huffs once again—there is this box she picked up on the way to Blue Lions. There is this thing she needs to get off her chest, yet the moment she arrived, everything she thought of dissolved like sugar in hot water. How can she tell him again? During their first week of getting together, Dimitri clearly conveyed to her that should she feel troubled, he would gladly listen because it would be an honor to be trusted. Because she makes him very happy and he wishes her to feel just as comfortable when she is with him. Because he wants to give something back.

… And Byleth knows that feeling very well—otherwise, she wouldn’t be like this.

Byleth sighs. She hopes Felix can let go this one if she is to enter the café from the back door. Perhaps she can just hand the big box to Dedue or Mercedes considering the two usually work the kitchen that they’d be around the back area as well, closer to the door even compared to Dimitri’s office. And knowing Dimitri likes doing physical labor works at the dining area, perhaps she could disappear right away. Should be easy, right?

Byleth looks left and right. Good, nobody is around.

“Mercedes?” she squeaks a bit to whisper. “Dedue?”

But the very moment she gasps because a big hand covers her eyes. “Aah, what—!”

“It’s me, my beloved.”

Byleth stops thrashing around, feeling another hand sneaks to take the big box from her. Right after that the hand is being removed from her face, and before her the very person she is awkward to see again appears. “… Dima,” she whispers. “How—no, why?”

“I got summoned.”

“… You heard,” she says, glancing at the box Dimitri took from her. “And that…”

“Let me carry it,” he nods simply. “That backpack is already heavy.”

“… How again?” she blinks. “I can’t believe you are perverted towards my backpack.”

“Milochka, I spent my younger years strength-training,” he smiles, resisting the urge to pinch her cheeks. “At a glance I can tell you stuffed thick books there.”

“Oh,” Byleth mutters. “You kept thick books in your backpack?”

“No, dear. Rocks and wood logs.”

“… Wew.”

“That period has passed,” Dimitri opens the door wider. “Let’s talk again. I’ve missed you.”

“Literally we talked five seconds ago,” she whispers.

“Yes, and I miss you.”

“You are just vengeful because I called you my sweet Dima before Felix,” she grumbles.

“Did you regret it?” he chuckles, opening the door to his office for her.

“… Honestly, no,” Byleth sighs.

“My gratitude, my sweet Byleth.”

“Don’t,” she averts her gaze from his.

“Moyu blagodarnost’, milaya.”

“… Ass,” Byleth ruffles his hair. “Krasivyj.”

“Now I’m vengeful,” Dimitri leans on the table while she takes his chair.

“This one shouldn’t be on the floor,” she takes back the box. “It’s… fried chickens. With melted cheese wrap.”

“My sweet Byleth is very sweet.”

“… No, Dima, you got it wrong,” Byleth’s voice turns a bit coarse now.

“Did I?” gently he leans in closer to examine her expression. “My sweet Byleth is sweeter than sweet.”

“There are a couple of spicy wings there too, you know,” Byleth replies with a low tone. “I got that for all of us but—but especially you. Cheese and everything,” she speaks as her hands begin to unbox the package. “Great deal. I recall Felix likes hot sauces. Sylvain likes honey mustard, doesn’t he? Mercedes and Annette might as well like the sweet-and-sour variant, while Dedue…”

“… Is in the kitchen,” Dimitri cuts in, stopping her hands. “Won’t you let me help, zolatka?”

“You already gave me so many,” she takes the box from Dimitri, turning around so he catches her back instead. “And I didn’t know what to give. But really—yes. So I decided to spend my fifty on this one. I don’t know, I mean—I mean I should give you something fitting instead of these… errr, snacks? Cheese balls. Ice cream.”

“And I liked them,” he cuts in again. “More so because you gave me. And you totally went hard for these cheese wraps, remembering not only what I could eat well but also my lions’ favorites.”

“I Googled man food.”

“... Googled what, milochka?”

“Man food?” she blinks. “Foods men would love, you know? But there’s no steakhouse near Garreg Mach. And what can I even get you with a fifty? Instant crispy horse mane?”

Dimitri blinks. The moment after, however, he loses it. He brings his hand to cover half of his face, and Byleth is silent, widening her eyes listening to his tender chuckles coming out freer than water flow. “… Zolatka,” he says in-between chuckles. “Byleth. Ah, myshka—my little mouseling. Malyshka—my baby dear, what can I do without you?”

“… Eating these?” Byleth opens the box. “You seem to be so happy.”

“Not all men are as lucky as me,” Dimitri says.

“... Now that… is correct,” Byleth mumbles then.

“What, zolatka?”

Byleth grows quiet, however.

“Byleth,” Dimitri calls. “Is this about what I think it is?”

“Then tell me what you think first,” she turns around.

“Ah. Nice to have that beautiful face before my eyes again,” Dimitri calmly replies. “Forget Google.”

“No way—that’s the only search engine Seteth knows.”

“Then forget the search results,” Dimitri smiles anyway. “Or forget counting me in coins, beloved.”

“… Oh, goddess,” Byleth slumps, gripping her coat. “Dima—no. Never once I—oh, no. Is this what…”

“It isn’t,” gently Dimitri reigns his forefinger over her lips. “Now please listen to me.”

Byleth nods, looking at him curiously.

“I genuinely liked all these things that you gave me,” he starts. “Besides, considering you already gave me so much, it would be only fair to get you experiencing what I get to obtain so easily on daily basis.”

“But what is?” Byleth responds and her tone is almost pleading.

“If you aren’t comfortable that I brought you trinkets, please, Byleth, just talk to me,” this time Dimitri is the one who backs away, rubbing his nose awkwardly. “… I like giving. I share things with the lions here every now and then. I was simply wondering—how could I not, with you?”

“… I like them,” she murmurs. “But I feel like what I give you can never compare.”

“Now that is atrocious,” Dimitri bends a bit to look at her. “You gave me life, my beloved.”

“Dima,” she chides. “This isn’t the time to pull a thesaurus.”

“Playing thesaurus is easy, milochka,” he shakes his head. “You made me a better person. You made me want to live because all the things you told me—no, not just to me but everyone else here—I didn’t realize life is worth it and not just for all this pain I’m feeling,” he pats her hand. “You encouraged me to tear down the curtains I previously didn’t dare to. You made me believe that the journey is worth it and I don’t have to be trapped in that dark, sad abyss forever—unable to push forward yet not brave enough to go back to hug that little boy who lost his world many years ago. How can I pay that, beloved? And even then you decided to trust me this much to share your life with me. My cards can’t compare.”

“… I didn’t expect this answer,” she whispers.

“I didn’t expect this warmth either,” he rubs her fingers with his. “I’ve been dreading to try anything else even something simple as brewing drinks, Byleth. But look at me now—I go to therapy. I can hold you.”

“I won’t always be as sweet as you think of me, though.”

“Of course I know. I won’t be the perfect Blaiddyd prince forever either, will I?”

“… But you are sweet still,” she looks down.

“And so are you,” he tilts her face up gently. “If you feel anything, anything at all, just tell me. I didn’t do these things to make you feel bad—I simply think you are an amazing person, milochka, and I want to make sure you know that I see you as such.”

“… I suppose there will be moments like this in the future,” Byleth responds. “I’m just—everything is so nice and then…”

“And that’s what I’m thinking too. Zolatka, you’re not the only one confused there,” he chuckles. “But I like you so much and that’s perhaps what returns my feet back to the ground—as well as my senses.”

“… Hmmm.”

“Wait here, I’ll plate these for you,” he pats her shoulder. “And what drink?”

“You’re serving me?” she blinks. “But I’m not a customer today.”

“Yes.”

“But why?”

“Why not? Only if the teaching assistant wouldn’t mind dating a café waiter, though.”

“… You are such an imp,” she slaps his back.

“And you are mischievous,” he nods. “So I think we have a common ground.”

“For starters, I know you like cheese and I want you to eat a lot.”

“That’s a good starter. And I know you like flying objects—hence the pegasus charm.”

“Really?” she clasps her chin. “I like flying objects?”

“Yes. Jet fighters, throwing knives, javelins…”

“Oh,” she blurts. “You know me so well. I could have mistaken you as my boyfriend.”

“You are taken? What a pity. I was just about to ask for your number…”

“Do you ambush your girlfriend near the trashcan often?”

“Only if she looks so sad and forlorn as if that backpack weighs six kilograms.”

“Wow. Maybe you took her lightly.”

“That is the thing, Madam, if it’s just because of the backpack, I know she can lift it.”

“Maybe she can because you lifted the sorrow first?” she turns around a little bit.

“There has to be a mistake—she lifted mine far prior,” he tilts her back to face him.

“… Perhaps I should just slap your ass after all,” she replies with a straight face.

“If it’s just mine without Sylvain’s, I suppose,” he replies with a straight face as well.

“What do you have and he doesn’t?” she banters back.

“Ass.”

“How come he doesn’t have it?”

“Because it’s on his face.”

“What else do you have and he doesn’t?”

“You.”

“… Dima.”

“My beloved.”

“… I like wyverns too,” she says.

“I’ll get you another charm if I go to Almyra again,” his tone is light and crisp.

“Can I still buy you cheese balls?”

“Of course, why not?”

“And cotton candy?”

“Sure?”

“Hmmm. Then you can buy me strawberry milk tea.”

“With pleasure.”

“I'll buy you these cheese chickens again.”

“Anytime.”

“Really?” Byleth begins to smile and Dimitri smiles back, relieved. “What is the best food to give you?”

“Love,” he presses his nose against hers. “And yours.”

Chapter Text

Byleth frowns when Seteth drops the revised syllabus on her desk. He looks pleased, but that’s not her current focus anyway because—because she needs to make something very clear. She has skimmed the syllabus. And now she rereads it for the second time even more thoroughly. At this point, Byleth really doesn’t care if she’s going to age by twenty years—if Seteth wants to doom her, then very well, she’ll take him down as well. “Alright, let’s see if I got this right,” she says, pointing at some parts as she spreads the clipped bundle before him. “You want to add… history of trading.”

“That is right,” Seteth nods. “Our class deals with freshmen and sophomore—laying the foundation to deeper understanding is important before they get to truly select a specific study are which captures their interest. Hence this addition, Miss Eisner,” he explains to her in the manner as if he’s in class, giving lectures. “I encourage active learning, however. You can’t always make students sit in class expecting them to behave well all the time and take notes. International business classes are usually designed for a more practical, pragmatic purpose, no? I suppose I can trust you.”

Byleth puts down her pen. She wants to be proud of herself for not slamming it over the table as she thought she would, especially now that Seteth truly, truly sincerely smiles at her. The revision itself is already irritating because then she has to plan again, the way she would sit and glare at her books and Microsoft Excel to plan for coursework. Rhea made her teaching assistant after a semester passes instead of at the beginning of a new academic year, which in itself nearly sent her into a boxing frenzy because as much as she wanted to hit the gym after receiving the news, she realized that she better started working rather than spending the next an hour and half hitting sandbag with the entire Garreg Mach architecture visualized before her. “… Seteth.”

Her tone is pretty chilling there. Even Jeritza cocks his eyebrows that he makes a subtle move to slide out of his cubicle just so he can watch the scene unfold. Ah, what a pity—perhaps he should have brought popcorns before he came upstairs. But Byleth really has that firm look on her face, and her tone, despite it still being flat as usual, does feel like it’s got some weight in it. Seteth, however, is unaware of Byleth’s sharp look because he is standing with his back turned, packing his things. “I think you can find references in the library, Miss Eisner,” he says then. “I must be off. There’s a conference I need to attend with Rhea and the businesswomen who drafted you as stockbroker some other day.”

“That’s Shamir Nevrand and Catherine,” Byleth replies. “Catherine never gives out her last name.”

“Yeah, well?”

“Well, if you’d be so kind…” Byleth has that urge again suddenly, pointing her forefinger right at Seteth’s nose to give him a piece of what she truly thinks. “… To specify the references?”

“Why don’t you ask Tomas? Or browse the catalogue. Linhardt can help you,” Seteth says still, unaware of the tempest starting to brew in Byleth’s chest.

“Linhardt specializes in historical researches and library data, yes,” Byleth says, feeling like she just spelled everything she conveys word per word. “So why don’t you ask him to be your assistant?”

“Linhardt is working with Professor Essar, Miss Eisner,” this time Seteth turns around, looking impatient. “You don’t usually ask questions—is this your way to say that you are incapable handling your own class?”

“… No,” Byleth replies through her teeth. “I understand.”

“Good!” Seteth says again. “Then I’ll be off.”

Byleth can only stare at the door as Seteth leaves in haste. Byleth tries to concentrate on what she has on the table again, succeeding not ripping it in the process. Sighing, she starts to highlight the new material in the revised paper Seteth just dumped—trading history of Fodlan, it says, with studies divided into ancient, classical, and then modern period featuring key regions such as Almyra, Brigid, and Duscur. Frustrated, Byleth might have slammed her pen louder than she intended to be because even Jeritza peeks into her cubicle next. “Need help?” he asks casually.

“No, thanks,” Byleth glares at him.

“No fun,” Jeritza mutters.

“Indeed I’m not. Where have you been?” she sighs instead.

“I know you are Byleth. Don’t pull that on me,” Jeritza counters. “Well, the Devil knows what makes you so peevish lately, Miss Eisner, but I’m still your researcher partner, no? With such ugly sight of you looking desperate and troubled to complete your own load, I don’t mind stepping in.”

Byleth looks at him. “So I am not only stupid but also naïve—as you stated to me some other day when I tutored that art kid,” her words are fiery despite her tone being calm, reminding Jeritza of a campfire which slowly consumes the dry leaves and wood logs powering it. “And now I’m also ugly and incapable.”

“Interesting conclusion,” Jeritza replies flatly. “If only that was true.”

“Interesting self-defense,” she glares still. “If only that was the case.”

Jeritza pauses for a moment. “… Wait,” he finally says. “You are saying my words hurt—or rather, they hurt you.”

“You're saying I'm not ugly, then?” Byleth blinks.

“Interesting point you chose to bring there,” Jeritza scoffs although he tilts away, returning his attention back to his own computer.

Byleth clicks her web browser, rapidly typing a few keywords regarding the trading history of Fodlan hoping she can get an idea what books she should start with. “Jeritza,” she inhales. “I don’t usually say this, but please, kindly go fuck yourself. I'm busy, so I can't kill you right now.”


 

Dimitri can attest that deep down it’s so tempting to punch something.

He pictures of sneaking out of Faerghus to snatch Felix away from his post so he can spar with him. Actually, forget sparring—anyone willing to get into a cage fight with him can do. Is it the aggressive driver who yelled at him in the morning? Is it that one roller-coastering motorcycle which cut his line like someone on a talent show on TV, risking to get dunked and blown to the other end of the street if he didn’t hit the brake right away? Is it a bicycle rider who yelled at an old lady because he did not want to move some goddamn meter away or two? Dimitri never considers himself a sweet man in his entire life, but never once he had the urge to rear-end a bicycle like what he felt in the morning. If the entire road is so keen on trying to pick a fight with him, then perfect—the mood is a match for now.

Dimitri pours himself some cold water from the dispenser. He needs to sit down. The meeting room is empty because he already dismissed everyone. More people have come to raise a question regarding his charity project to improve the access in babushka’s neighborhood—what was supposed to be a monthly review with head departments somehow turned into a friendly fire where they genuinely questioned his decision to open the forest to build the road. And Dimitri didn’t expect to get caught in such crossfire. He would gladly provide answers to anyone asking, sure, but having to have various people of different divisions presenting their arguments in the smartest way possible wasn’t what he expected. He wanted to hear what they thought if Faerghus to list Brigid as their primary exporter for seafood products because Rufus had been wanting to market them for his hotels.

“Mr. Blaiddyd, these figures show that the place doesn’t have… anything uniquely outstanding, I must say,” one of them said. “It’s like throwing money into the well, blindly.”

At first Dimitri already had mild headache, having to redo figures and numbers again. But when the last line was out he nearly lost it that only the Holy knows how on earth he didn’t lash or use colorful descriptive word to send the person out. “If you’re saying you are afraid you won’t get paid when this month ends, then don’t worry, it’s already budgeted,” he then responded coldly. “By all means, please inform me of things I did not know—but if there isn’t for the moment, I’d rather we talk about procuring seafoods from Brigid via Mr. McNeary.”

“His granddaughter makes the liaison,” the same person said dismissively. “And she can’t even talk right.”

“You can’t either, but I didn’t fire you on the spot,” Dimitri responded calmly. “Anything else…?”

There wasn’t. But when people left, Dimitri felt worse than a murderer—yes, he was angry. But then again he feels bad for feeling angry. He is contemplating what to do next when a messenger owl electrically flies into his phone, bearing a text from another.

Are you interested in a hot pot lunch?

The text cures his anger instantly. Dimitri smiles a bit—sure, Byleth’s presence will do well to help evaporating negative emotions he is having. Being in Faerghus longer doesn’t feel like a nice solution for the time being either because Dimitri truly wants something else than figures and graphics—when they are used to determine the value of people. Of living beings. There are many eateries around Garreg Mach, for sure, because it is a campus and college students are hungry. But even in-between their tightly-packed schedule, Byleth still texts and that alone scored her victory higher compared to his.

Dimitri recalls Byleth falling asleep in the middle of a call last night. Byleth had talked about her own coursework, grinding her own studies to overcome a midterm. And even then she still had to prepare for the students’ midterm, so Dimitri quietly ended the call, followed by a text reassuring her that he knew she fell asleep and that he wasn’t mad.

And a hot pot lunch sounds good, at least for an angry lion king like him.

Sure :), he types then. You saved me from this hellhole.

It’s too early for sweet-nothings, she sends back.

There is this and there is that… for later, milochka—He replies, smirking, praying his dumb text and his stupid brain cells combined failed to make her mad.

… Dima, her text reads. So simple and concise and he finds himself smirking even wider.

Work is hell, he writes. I’m just so happy to get your text.

Same, she says. Let’s cuss about it by hot pot?

Dimitri taps the picture Byleth sent, bearing the name of the restaurant and address. He wants to smile again, recalling Byleth’s fondness of Googling just anything she has in mind right away. He replies with an affirmative answer—no problem. Perhaps he should just input the address into the GPS and let the machine and the car’s automatic mode work for him. Just this once, without all the demands…

Then I’ll be waiting, Dima, Byleth sends another text. Dimitri hates how easy she makes him grin like a school boy, but there’s always that softness each time she calls him that. Yes, his zolatka is strong—and he dares to have his opinion challenged in any way possible. Byleth is literally tough. But then it’s not all that matters because inside she is also a strong courageous woman with an ardent heart and he respects that about her. Dimitri nearly leaps to grab his coat when she sends another text, however.

… Moy kotik.

Dimitri blinks.

I hope everything is alright in Faerghus, she types again, driving Dimitri crazy because—how dare she. She couldn’t just type that and then acted like she wasn’t being endearing to him.

It wasn’t, but I know things will get better when I return, kukalka.

Dimitri formulates his reply as elegant as possible. Byleth called him a kitten? He can deal with that. Byleth called him a kitten in Russian? Now that means war.

I didn’t know that one, Byleth replies in a heartbeat.

Dimitri smirks. Target reached.

Then hurry so I can listen to your troubles, she texts again. You never openly stated it when something truly bothers you—let alone describing it as a hellhole. So let’s talk it through lunch, moy lev?

Dimitri sighs, buttoning his coat as quick as possible. Sure, sure, and she better too, so he can kiss her forehead, perhaps. First, a kitten. Then a lion. And it’s good she didn’t just do these things in Cyrillic—otherwise he will die. What about you, kroshka?—He types. She said same. So same he would do as well then.

I also, perhaps… want to tell you about it, she writes. What even is a kroshka, Dima?

Dimitri stares on his screen. That’s also new—Byleth usually hides her trouble or keeps her lips tight when she no longer can hide it. He recalls the time when Byleth fell asleep at the Blue Lions—her signaling needing an ear sounds way, way better than looking like she is about to combust for holding everything alone like a contained helium balloon. Breadcrumbs, beloved, he types simply. If she can make him feel so comfortable knowing just the right time to make him talk or listen, then he can strive to be such person too for her. He likes her—so very much. The least he can do is supporting her.

Breadcrumbs?—She texts again. How did you write it?

Крошка, he types in a passing because he’s busy packing. Dimitri bumps into Rodrigue outside the meeting room, telling him that he’d go out for lunch and that Rodrigue can expect him to be back at Faerghus by one—if longer, just contact him what he may miss so he can sort everything out from there.

“Lunch,” Rodrigue mutters. “… That’s good, Dima. Take your time.”

Dimitri smiles knowing what Rodrigue implied there. “It’s been a slow journey indeed…”

“Better than nothing at all,” the older man returns the smile.

“I have someone to thank for that,” Dimitri shakes his head softly, frowning at an instant when another text comes in.

The dictionary said baby—the text reads.

Both are correct, he types with a smirk.

… Don’t smirk, says the newest text he just got.

How did you know?—He writes. Are you a goddess, watching over me?

I hate you, she sends back, followed with an additional text right away—… I wish, though.

Dimitri smiles then.

Ya khochu moyego l’va.

The smile fades away at an instant.

This isn’t funny anymore, milochka, he types.

Then stop smiling, she writes back.

… Blin, Dimitri types, grinning. So Byleth just called him a kitten, then a lion, and lastly, the final straw—she totally wrote she wanted her lion. “Rodrigue, I’m out,” Dimitri says. “This opponent is tough. Wish me luck to destroy her.”

“What?”

Did you just call me a pancake?—She texts back.

Problem, Madam?—He writes at an instant.

… Cutemitri.

Dimitri shakes his head again. “Nothing, Rodrigue. I fucking love my woman.”

Rodrigue gapes as Dimitri leaves with a hum.


 

Byleth grunts, dumping the third batch of meat cuts into the pot while Dimitri stirs the other half, filled with vegetables and cleaner broth. He notices Byleth has added another saucer containing hot sauce into the other half of hotpot where she boils the meat cuts. “… Then he said that as if it’s as easy as one-two-three. So not only I am dumb but also expected to do other things that shouldn’t even be my responsibility to begin with? At least they should make up their mind—am I dumb and silly and naïve, or am I this super teaching assistant they can dump anything on, knowing well I’ll break my back to execute everything perfectly even though I barely got appreciation at all? How come an aspiring history scholar can get off so easily just because oh, he’s working with another professor while I take care of everything even though I’m the dumbest, ugliest, lowest one in the hierarchy?”

Dimitri stops stirring. He has been listening to her venting, but something in particular caught him off guard. “Who called you dumb and ugly?”

Byleth stops stirring as well. “… You’re not supposed to hear that,” she murmurs.

“And I’m glad I did,” he responds. “… What did they do to you there, beloved?”

Byleth bites her lips.

“Do you like spicy foods that much?” Dimitri asks again—gentler.

“… Why,” she grumbles.

“Because that’s the third hot sauce saucer you’re pouring into the pot,” Dimitri points out calmly.

“Shit,” she mutters. “I’m sorry. I mean—I mean I’m sorry. You can’t eat this now, can you?”

“The vegetables are nice enough for me,” Dimitri nods simply. “Or we’ll just scoop the broth so I can have something to wash off these cuts before I eat them.”

“… How do I deserve you?” Byleth mutters, quickly scooping the broth before he does.

“Same question I asked regarding you,” Dimitri responds, knowing that she’s disturbed. “But I suppose since I cannot find the answer, I can only wish that you don’t mind me orbiting around.”

“Likewise,” she sighs. “So, history of Fodlan trading. Sounds easy to put on paper, no? And then—oh, we only concentrate on three places!—he said; but that alone already means three reliable, procurable reference books at the very minimum! How am I supposed to find good, unbiased books about Duscur and Brigid especially if we want to look into their ancient histories? What am I supposed to do—dying?”

“No. They should be, though.”

“… Dima,” she sniffs a bit. “I can’t always do everything, you know.”

“I know, beloved,” he brushes her fingertips with his.

“I checked the library. Tomas had a set—a set of seven books. How am I even going to…” she halts her words, gripping on her coat. “And you know the best part? The Duscur volume is missing.”

“Ah, poor zolatka,” he runs his hand over her hair.

“But I don’t want them to see me as incapable,” Byleth bites her lips—harder. “I know I promised you dinner, but I would want to check… bookstores. … Or do you mind tagging along?”

“No.”

“You answered that very quickly,” she blurts.

“Blame some lady who called me felines in my language,” he shrugs. “You can’t neglect your pet, Byleth.”

“You are my pet?” her sad look disappears gradually.

“… Ah, blin,” Dimitri grins again. “Yes. I’ll tag along.”

“Oooh, you are a baby,” she coos.

“It’s going to get dark at such hour,” Dimitri can only smirk as she tilts her head to watch him.

“If that’s not a baby, then what is?”

“Pet lion.”

Byleth musters a small smile as she and Dimitri take turn to scoop more food into their bowls. They savor their lunch without speaking anything, valuing the companionship granted by their break time. Dimitri watches the swimming vegetables boiling nicely in their hot pot, grabbing more tissue because Byleth has insisted to take responsibility for her angry-pouring sauce moment by taking most of the chili pieces into her bowl. “Thanks,” she grumbles once again when he helps cleaning her face.

“Anytime,” he chuckles.

She playfully grabs his necktie to pull him in, however. “I already paid that.”

“… Firetruck.”

“That’s how you censor your cusses? You are classy,” she snorts. “Now your turn.”

Dimitri grows quiet for a moment. He sighs, and not even that escapes Byleth’s observation because she squeezes his arm next. “… I got angry,” he murmurs. “I felt like I wasn’t myself today.”

“So did I, but you said it’s okay,” she responds. “Tell me.”

“… People kept talking about profits,” he rubs his nose again. “If you recall my travel two months ago, beloved—I wanted to improve that region by opening the forest so cars could pass easier. That way that place wouldn’t be completely locked down when winter comes. And winters are never not harsh there.”

“So benevolent,” she comments. “Such a lion king.”

“Ssh,” he whispers, embarrassed. “This is just a late koleda gift for my family from a failing son.”

“What do you mean, a failing son?” she looks at him.

“Well,” Dimitri clears his throat. “I can only do this when they are no longer around to enjoy it. Please, no need to cheer me up—that’s a fact, Byleth, no matter how much I’d like to deny it.”

“I can prove you wrong,” Byleth smirks. “They are proud of you and I know they will be.”

“Oh?”

“When your project is finished, it will benefit so many people,” she nods. “They probably won’t be able to enjoy it, but people will know that someone carrying their blood makes this happen because some man is brave enough to let his compassion to take charge.”

“You call that brave?” there’s bitterness in Dimitri’s voice as he sips tea. “People already subtly called me dumb or blind because I wanted to open that forest little by little instead of just mowing down everything. Cost-friendly, but I’m afraid it will only give further problems if pursued. Animals losing their natural habitat risks them coming into contacts with humans—resulting in a hunt. I’d like to preserve the environment too, and the only person with a similar vision there is Holst—your student’s older brother,” he mutters. “We agree to assess everything meticulously first, but people are…”

Byleth slips her hand into his.

“… Perhaps that’s the real Baba Yaga babushka would tell me about,” he looks away, distant and sad, longing yet regretful. “The disaster we created because we can never have enough. Another failure to add in my list—taking so long to realize the wisdom hidden behind those fairytales. Worse, it’s not like there won’t be any profit at all—bottom line it’s just people oddly questioning why I would want to improve my babushka’s old house and let everyone else enjoy the cake. What is this then?”

“Insanity.”

“… Call me dumb, please,” he rubs his nose. “Maybe I’m indeed delusional and wanting to play hero.”

“No, schatzi.”

“Byleth—liebling,” he sighs. “… I’m sorry, beloved. You are the overloaded one here, and yet…”

“No. That’s not what I meant,” gently she cuts in. “You are really kind and compassion is good.”

Dimitri sighs while Byleth smiles.

“I believe in you and I support your decision.”

“Maybe you are the only one,” Dimitri sips his tea again. “… But somehow it’s more than enough.”

“You are not alone,” she says again. “It may appear like that, but soon you’ll see people rallying behind you—the lions, your loyal team who share your vision, even Hilda’s brother, no? Also…”

“… Yes?”

“Why, Dima, you spoke so softly,” she blurts. “… I mean also your father and grandmother too.”

“… Milochka.”

“Sssh. Eat some more, or it’s going to get cold,” she chuckles, steering her chopsticks to raid the pot, putting more meat and vegetable cuts into his bowl. But she stops chuckling because the next thing she knows Dimitri catches that hand, running his fingers over hers, tenderly, tenderly brushing them.

“My beloved,” he murmurs, bending down to draw her hand closer. “You aren’t dumb,” he whispers. “… Let alone ugly.”

“Maybe you are the only one to ever say that,” she murmurs. “… But somehow it’s enough too.”

He peeks at her, noticing her approving, yet shy smile there. Byleth huffs softly, stirring their hotpot again—but he draws her even closer to kiss her hand and quickly retreats to return eating while she can only stare with her bowl in hand. Purposefully sighing louder, she tries to look away, shoving some meat cuts into her mouth, evading his loving gaze right there. She grumbles once again when the broth sprinkles over her face, but he simply smiles, anyway, grabbing some tissue to clean her face again.

“Such kroshka,” he whispers. “… Tak unikal’ny; takaya krasivaya. So unique, yet so beautiful.”

“Krasivaya,” she whispers back. “You said krasivaya.”

He smiles, giving her a gentle nod. “I did.”


 

Byleth leaves the store. Her expression is sour as she glances down to look on her phone. It truly is getting dark. At least with autumn skies turning gray faster compared to the lively, merry short nights in the summer. “This place doesn’t have it either,” she murmurs, noticing her graying surroundings. Perhaps that’s what her mood is like at the moment if she is to draw it over the canvas. “What should I bring into the class later? I need to study too. I still need to prepare for other classes. This is the third store around here I have asked. What should I do next? Hiring a hitman?!”

“… Take Linhardt to give a seminar instead,” Dimitri clasps his chin. “Or…”

“No,” she quickly cuts in. “It’s not like people aren’t so unaware I’m dating you.”

“I guess that… contributes to the disaster?” Dimitri looks down.

“That is dumb. I’m not ashamed to be with you,” she scoffs. “It’s just that our hands are tied because if you do anything at all they will think I’m coaxing you to step in,” her eyes turn dark as well. “… I suppose that’s also the case with you because I’m not supposed to be with a Blaiddyd.”

“I’m not ashamed either. That is dumb indeed,” Dimitri feels his body tensed that he clenches his jaw. “Tried online shops already, zolatka?”

“To find the missing volume about Duscur? Yes,” Byleth sighs. “Sold out or no longer printed.”

“Then it’s old,” Dimitri ponders. “How about thrift-shopping?”

“Used bookstore,” she nearly gasps when mentioning it. “Oh goddess—yes, yes! You’re so right.”

“Then we need to hurry. What time is it again?” Dimitri holds up his hand.

“Eight. No, past eight,” Byleth hurriedly reaches her phone. “Oh, no. Places like that close earlier than actual bookshops,” she hastens her steps then. “Where—no, no. We need to run.”

“… Then reach for my hand,” calmly Dimitri takes Byleth as they both begin to hasten their steps. “There’s something I’d like you to know as well, beloved.”

“What is?” Byleth asks in-between rivaling Dimitri’s long legs.

“If you cannot get the book or if Seteth refuses to give you the sources you need, it’s not your fault.”

“… Can’t believe you manage to be sweet in-between us getting sweaty to reach a bookstore.”

“Being sweet in-between getting sweaty should be a given—“

“I’ll destroy you,” she hums, slapping his back.

“You paid the lunch. At least give me a chance for revenge,” he raises his eyebrow.

“No,” she argues back for the sake of arguing.

“Merciless, aren’t you, Vojevoda Byleth?”

“One should be if the bogatyr is handsome.”

“… That’s it, beloved, that’s it.”

“What can you do?” she smirks smugly.

“This,” Dimitri shakes his head, and…

“Dima!”

“Faster,” he grins back, sweeping Byleth off her feet while he runs along. “Navigate me, though.”

“Turn left,” she makes a quick swipe of her phone, following the GPS.  “The hotpot gives extra weight.”

“So what, still lovely.”

“I can smack you still, you know?”

“Don’t whip your horse.”

“I don't even kill bugs," she blinks. “… Wait. You are my horse?”

“A humble servant will do too,” he nods.

“Servants don’t flaunt strength-training,” she fakes a grumble.

“Then I’ll flaunt my beloved instead.”

She smacks him. It really is an unexpected turn, with a few pedestrians gawking because she is just there, resting in his arms with a flat, straight look as she instructs him to follow the GPS. “People watch.”

“Good. I’m with a beauty.”

“What’s with you today?” she gives in and starts to chuckle as well.

“It’s just some lady,” he fakes a grumble too. “She lied to me.”

“Sounds horrible,” she nods. “How so?”

“She told me she was a warlord, and that made her evil,” he sighs. “But today she is very cute.”

“I’m sure she would want to destroy you if she heard,” Byleth banters back.

“I’ve got no time, though. Can that be postponed until the next lunch?”

“I’ll tell her.”

“Thank you,” he smirks with a nod. “Is this not the place, zolatka?”

“Hmmm. Ostanovit’—stop,” she pats his shoulder.

“… I’ll duel this application,” Dimitri frowns and stops anyway, casually landing her back to the ground.

“Your little act gave me a chance to study,” she chuckles, breathing relief upon seeing the store is still open. “This is like a dream,” out of reflex as she typically does, she slips her hand in the crook of his arm as he opens the door for them to enter.

“… So many…” Dimitri beams at the book stacks he sees. It’s like they have transported to another world, with dim lights and books piling at their feet, to the left and right in tall shelves. Glancing at Byleth makes him smile because zolatka also appears at peace—he catches her soft sigh, her dilated eyes, optimistic that she probably will find the book there if not something else; and supposed that she doesn’t, then it is fine as well. And Dimitri prays she finds what she needs because he knows if the next lunch gives him another sad, under-pressure Byleth like this one, he will be very angry.

Byleth walks further while Dimitri needs some time because his head bumps into the little bell hung just above the corner. Dimitri follows her around quietly, watching as Byleth converses with the kind old man who owns the store, nodding a couple of times when he says that the set is indeed pretty rare, so he won’t be surprised if a good, old school like Garreg Mach has it. Knowing that Duscur isn’t so favorable, people either dislike that one particular volume or that it’s lost in the hands of collectors considering the set has been out of print for a while now. Much to Byleth’s relief and joy, the owner guides her through an aisle the moment she expresses she needs something she can use for trading history of Fodlan. Byleth thanks the bookshop owner, rubbing Dimitri’s back gesturing at that particular aisle she’s directed to while Dimitri nods with a smile, taking his time to explore.

Byleth walks further, deeper, meeting a few other customers who are also looking for interesting classics like her. She picks up a compilation of medieval Fodlan travelers’ notes, featuring stories of travelers who traversed Brigid, Dagda, and Duscur, with addition of terrain types and what the people did for a living. Byleth even found two sets of the same books she saw at Garreg Mach’s library that day. The bonus she got from the sudden stockbroking comes into mind as she picks up two other handbooks related to her other subjects. Byleth draws her phone, calculating. For some collector-sought book, perhaps procuring the whole set is too much even with the bonus. By now she also has three other books in her embrace, and as nice as it feels to have money, Byleth decides not to spend all of them in one take like this—Seteth left in a hurry anyway, so perhaps there would be more viable option for sources when he is available for a discussion later.

But Duscur is an interesting subject. With the three already in her embrace, Byleth picks up the Duscur book. Another book about Brigid and Dagda catches her interest, but she wants to ask the owner how much it will be for all the four, so she sadly bides her farewell.

On the way to the counter she finds Dimitri looking at things. His back is facing her so she cannot read his expression, but when Dimitri crouches to pick up something, she knows it has to be interesting enough because Dimitri has been glued there for two-three minutes without the intention of standing up. Slowly Byleth approaches, making her steps as silent as possible because she does not want to startle him. Dimitri is rather sensitive with noises—judging from the experience of her finding him traumatized when fireworks broke out.

Byleth peeks from behind his back. Something tender touches her heart—so much, so much that she thought she could melt upon noticing what Dimitri is looking at. Her bogatyr crouches with a big, thick book before him, and his hand travels on the page as if trying to trace a footprint he thought he had lost. “… Dima,” she calls softly, following suit to crouch beside him. “Having fun?”

He gasps. “A-ah, no, it’s just…” Dimitri chuckles awkwardly, scratching his head, shifting to face her.

Byleth slides closer. “Folktales,” she says gently. “… Right, Dima?”

Dimitri looks down and Byleth gets an even better view of the book. Thick, larger-than-usual size book with slightly thicker yellowing pages is spread before them. Byleth notices the entire book is written in Cyrillic, presented so classy and elegant with penmanship reminding her of old calligraphies. The illustrations are beautiful too, with some pages are illuminated that if she is to lie to people by calling it a medieval artifact, chances are people won’t think twice to buy her lie. “… I guess I’m feeling nostalgic,” Dimitri says in a manner of an embarrassed person. His sheepishness reminds her of a kid getting caught in the middle of mischief or someone who shoplifted, and that saddens her too. Why must he feel embarrassed? Because he’s feeling nostalgic? Because he’s not supposed to… feel? To like these things?

“It’s so pretty,” she says calmly, tracing the page where his hand landed. “Folktales then?”

He nods. “A grand compilation of hundreds. Illustrated too.”

“Such a gem,” she smiles. “Want it?”

“No,” much to her surprise, his tone is rather sharp. “I’ve had enough thinking of babushka’s old house today. I still need to think whether what I want is even viable because—“ he stops. “… Sorry, beloved.”

Byleth lets him be.

“Ah, this isn’t important anyway,” Dimitri stands up, giving his hand to take Byleth with him. “I know them anyway. Like Ivan tsarevich and the gray wolf. The unsmiling tsarevna. The frog tsarevna…”

“There is a Russian frog princess?” she asks.

“Yes. The princess is cursed into a frog and can only return to her human form during the night. And the one who cursed her? That Koschei the Deathless character which I told you about at the museum because she disobeys him. The princess' name is Vasilisa and the prince in the story is a brother of Ivan tsarevich—this one takes the usual version where the prince teams up with Baba Yaga to break her curse. See, he thinks she’s hiding something because she keeps running away before he knows that she is actually a frog. But the tsarevich burns her frog skin and then she transforms into another animal—at least until Koschei captures her again…”  Dimitri pauses for a moment. “You are smiling?”

“You like it, Dima,” she nods. “Of course I’m happy. Let’s just get this one for you?”

“No,” he mutters. “I’m done being childish.”

“This isn’t. The one just now is,” she says. “You still remember the story very well.”

“Of course. Ivan tsarevich and Tsarevna Vasilisa really are generic characters in Russian folktales—similar to a Jane and a John, milochka, so they can just be anybody,” he frowns. “So…”

“Nothing,” Byleth shakes her head, holding her smile. “Alright if you don’t want it.”

“I don’t,” Dimitri mutters, although his voice wavers. “I don’t want another ghost from the past.”

“If it is warm, surely it’s not that kind of ghost,” she responds patiently still, rubbing his back. “There are things we carry no matter where we are and how old we become. Even my father keeps a locket containing a photo of my mother and her hair—unbelievable, I know.”

“Not really,” he says.

“Not really?” she repeats, chuckling a little. “Why?”

“I like him.”

“That’s not an answer,” his reply tickles her.

“Then I like his daughter.”

“You should,” she nods with a hum.

“… I suppose I understand what you mean,” he says. “But still. Me, delving in useless nostalgia, let alone acquainting myself with folktales—children’s tales…”

“If it makes you happy, then it’s good, no?” she cuts in. “Children also eat ice cream but we got it the other day because it was delicious and made us happy.”

“Perhaps I can’t win against you,” Dimitri sighs.

“Indeed, you cannot,” Byleth chuckles. “I found the book. Still weighing whether to get the Brigid-Dagda volume as well, though. But for now, I’m taking these four. When I’m done, Dedue can borrow it. After all what’s better than having someone of said origin to enrich the knowledge?”

“… Ah, Byleth,” Dimitri’s voice trembles a bit in his throat. Why, this woman. He loves her. Perhaps much more than what he manages to convey—and she still manages to make him fall in love with her every day. “Hmmm. Where is this book? I figured the aisle is filled with unexpected wonder.”

“Over there!” Byleth calmly points out. “Take your time, sladkiy~!”

“You are officially my enemy,” he clears his throat. “… Svet moey zhizni.”

“That is light, I heard that before,” she grins.

“… Of my life,” he smirks then.

“Shit. I lost?”

“… You shall.”

If only Byleth wouldn’t have to gulp because Dimitri makes that feral raw smirk again. But nevertheless he disappears into the aisle she pointed out, giving Byleth to execute the mischievous plan she had in mind. In the utmost careful manner she picks up a book from one of the stacks on the floor, making big strands to reach to the owner who still waits at the counter. “Done, Miss?” he smiles. “I’m sorry to inform you, but I’m about to close in half an hour.”

“T-this one,” she quietly puts the book on the counter. “I mean. These four. And then…” signaling him to get closer, she leans down, whispering. “… Do you have a Brothers Grimm one too? Illustrated as well?”

“With this one?” the owner looks down at that separate book Byleth put on the counter.

She nods.

“Sure. It’s actually in this shelf, hold on…”

Byleth peeks into the aisle. Dimitri is reading something, and she quickly grabs the ladder before the old owner can even reach it. After finding the book by the owner’s direction, Byleth hops down. “Make it quick, please,” she whispers, handing her card to him.

“You have a good eye,” the owner looks excited. “Those two have been here for God knows how long. Glad that finally they find someone who can read them.”

Byleth grins. “I cannot,” she says when the owner begins to pack her purchase. “… But he can.”

Dimitri returns to the counter with something in hand and Byleth quickly shoves her purchases into her backpack. “Need a strong hand?”

“Backpack pervert,” she says “Um—no,” she quickly turns around before Dimitri manages to look at her.

“Hmmm. I think I left my phone by the windowsill,” he hums. “Would you please check?”

“Phone, by the windowsill, outside?” he blinks. “Ah, sure! Goodness, no, we can’t lose your phone.”

Byleth leaves in a haste. Dimitri slides some banknotes with a smirk. “Quickly, please.”

“Young people today—impatient,” the owner mutters innocently. “Who raced them, the Devil?”

Dimitri merely thanks the owner, humming yet another cuss because he bumps into the bell again. Byleth crouches and bends forward—and waves happily at him the moment she sees him out of the store. “Not here, Dima,” she says. “Let me make a call real quick.”

“Oh, it vibrates in my pants,” he blurts. “I suppose I didn’t actually leave it outside then. Sorry for the trouble.”

“… I understand, but please don’t phrase it like that…” she sighs. Dimitri smirks again even though he chuckles, prompting her to look at him.

“What?” he asks in a passing.

“Two things,” she hums.

“Then fire away,” he nods.

“No, I don’t want you to die.”

“Fair enough—tell me.”

“First, you are suspicious, smirking like that,” she points out. “Second, you are handsome.”

“… And where should I even begin my reply, if it’s like this?” he leans in closer. “You are scary.”

“I am.”

“Scarily lovely.”

“You are insanely nice,” she blurts.

“You mistook me for a kitten,” he chuckles. “No, beloved.”

“But you are one…” she hums. “I guess you can hold this for me?”

“Sure,” he says, taking the sealed package from her. “Hmmm. Heavier and bigger. Handbooks?”

“… Um,” she fidgets. “… Yours.”

“Mine?” he frowns. “Byleth…”

She drags him to a nearby bench by the street lamp. Dimitri simply follows while Byleth rests her purse between them, appearing a bit nervous—or so he thinks because she has been tapping on her purse since they seated themselves like that. “Dima, I’m sorry,” she starts. “But…”

He notices how faint her voice is. “Why do you act as if you are afraid of me?” he asks. “Milochka?”

“Open it,” she gestures at the package. “Just—just do it, please. I can explain.”

Dimitri looks at her but do so anyway. Tearing the paper is easy, but the moment whatever inside reveals themselves to him, he frowns. “… Byleth,” he calls on her. Reflexively she backs away.

“… I understand if you are angry,” she mutters. “But I also understand that you love them.”

Dimitri contemplates the books on his lap—first the illustrated Russian folktales he read at the store, and the other, a Brother Grimms folktales, complete edition, also beautifully illustrated and written in its original language—German. “… Why…?”

“I can’t read them. But you can,” she clutches on her purse. “I just—“

“Zolatka.”

“… I’m sorry—“

“Byleth.”

She stops fidgeting. His arms take each of her shoulder now. “By goddess. There is something I’d dread myself to see—this one, milochka, you being afraid of me or so it appears to be. And no, I’m not angry.”

“… You’re not?” her voice sways a little bit. “I just—I’ve been wanting to give you something nice. And then I saw how peaceful you were, reading that book. So there has to be good memories with these folktales, and that’s… that’s what I want you keep, Dima. If you have this on your own, you’ll think of something better, something brighter—instead of whatever those dark, dark shadows tell you. And I suppose if you have a Brothers Grimm on your own, you can enjoy it again as you are now, without…”

“Edelgard?”

She doesn’t respond. The very next moment she finds herself in his embrace. Warm, warm and tender, so comforting that she does not want to leave. “… Dima, this is the oddest angry reaction I’ve ever…”

“Sssh, radost’ moya.”

She closes her eyes, feeling Dimitri’s quick, gentle kiss on the crown of her head.

“Nice shampoo.”

“Thank you, it was on discount,” she blurts.

“… Nice girlfriend.”

“Thank you, it was—“ Byleth blinks. “Wait. What?”

Dimitri looks at her. “You…” he whispers. And only then Byleth notices the transparent, hot liquid brimming around his eyes. “… You saved me again,” he murmurs with croaked voice. “That’s what we used to do when I was little. My papa—sometimes, sometimes stepmama. She never read me these herself, but I thought when Papa read me, she appeared… serene. Like whatever it was troubling her floating away carried by the wind. And now I get to have this again—as an adult, no—more so that this is the gift from you, rodnaya, I just…”

“Dima, I understand,” she rubs his back. “No need to say it. I understand.”

“It feels cleansing somehow,” he says. “Like rain came down but it cleaned the thick, thick fog.”

“You gave me too much credit,” she smiles back. “You made efforts to drag yourself out of that abyss.”

“I won’t have the courage if not because of you,” he says. “… Spasiba, angel moy.”

“You're a baby,” she whispers, but takes his hand hostage, anyway.

“A baby couldn’t buy this one,” he chuckles softly, placing another pack on her lap.

“What is this?” she blinks.

“The Brigid-Dagda history you contemplated buying.”

“And did not.”

“Yes.”

“… Oh, no,” she sighs. “Does that mean we are always like this?”

“Like what?”

“… Wanting to spoil one-another?” she looks at him. “What do you call this one?”

“Vengeful.”

“Revenge is best served cold—not so warm like this,” she hums, leaning her head against his shoulder.

“Agree,” he also sighs, feeling so relieved, tranquil and light at the same time. The books she bought him are steady in his grip, and truly, truly still he wonders if there’s something he did in his previous life which earned him the right to have her by his side like this. How relieving it is, to have the chance to be vulnerable. How blissful it is that it was her who came to him instead. “… I’m paying the next lunch.”

“I’ll get you ice cream,” she nods. “Revenge is best served cold—and with dark chocolate.”

“Sounds amazing.”

“Ice cream is never not amazing, Dima.”

“Agree again, but I mean you.”

“How come you always get the last word?” she blurts.

“How come you never stock after I took it?” he hums.

“… You robbed my brain cells.”

“Karma, dear.”

“So handsome lions are vengeful.”

“… Byleth.”

“Compassionate lions too, are vengeful?”

“Last warning, beloved.”

“Do you think handsome, compassionate, well-built fit sharp-minded aware smart lions are vengeful?”

“Milochka—”

“… Mmmm.”

Dimitri withdraws with a smirk. “You were so quiet.”

“… I couldn’t… talk,” her hand travels to capture his nose but her cheeks—oh boy, are they bit-red.

“That sounds like I did it right,” he chuckles.

“Didn’t know a bogatyr was good at kissing…” she says.

“Didn’t know a vojevoda was unbelievably benevolent…” he counters.

“A bogatyr is supposed to be graceful,” she blurts.

“I don’t know any woman called Grace,” he responds.

“… Silly,” her giggles finally escape their cages.  “… Going home now?”

"Are you?” he asks back.

“This bench makes me lazy to get up. Maybe it’s cursed?” she replies lightly.

“Hmmm. I can wait as well then,” he chuckles.

“Oh, no. What if you got cursed as well?” she banters.

“Then I can read you this,” he points at the book. “First story for the first lady.”

“That will be lovely,” she smiles, heaving softly. “… I like you a lot, Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd.”

“I like you a lot more, Byleth Eisner,” he responds. “So which one?”

“The Russian one.”

“Alright.”

“The German one for tomorrow night?” she smirks. “… Say. Do you still accept off office-hour call?”

Chapter Text

The cafeteria of Garreg Mach University is packed as usual when she arrives. It’s been weeks since Byleth lands herself there because lately she packs her lunches, and the sight of occupied tables already irks her a bit. Time is precious, and she isn’t really keen on wasting some minutes just to hunt for an empty seat. There’s absolutely no problem for Byleth to take her plate to sit on the floor, but the problem is graduate students have always been seen as a cool adult and now she gets called professor.

“Now that you have joined the workforce of Garreg Mach, we expect you to carry your conduct accordingly,” she recalls Seteth’s welcome on her first day reporting to the lecturers’ office. But then again seems nobody truly expects her to sit with the students at tea and lunches—sometimes—especially when she begins to remember their birthdays and notices when something isn’t right.

“I don’t think it’s wise to push,” she offered an insight when Seteth reviewed records. Marianne von Edmund maintains relatively great grades except for group projects and business conference models Byleth and Seteth usually set thrice every two weeks.

“This can’t do,” Seteth reasoned. “It’s like she purposefully evaded interacting with people.”

“What if it was the case?” Byleth spoke again.

“Then she better stop,” Seteth said. “I need you to tell her to do these all.”

“I’ll talk to her,” Byleth firmly stood her ground, locking Seteth’s eyes with hers. “But not condemning.”

“And how are you going to improve her life?” Seteth hummed, displeased.

“With tea,” Byleth nodded, giving a firm smile. “As always.”

Since then, the cafeteria has become her base a well. Sometimes Byleth will take Marianne to sit with her when they have more time to spend than eating. Slowly the girl opens up about her studies, about life… and their little lunch party grows. Sometimes Ignatz will join them, and sometimes it’s Hilda. Sometimes both will be there, and before long it doesn’t need much effort for Claude to bring his plates over. Hilda begins to follow Marianne around, cheerful and also chirpy, a combination which turns her into an undeniable guest nobody ever expected. When Marianne finally shows up on a model conference, Hilda puts her things right next to hers, ready to glare at anyone foolish enough to give her odd looks or making snide comments because supposedly the holier-than-thou princess is finally willing to mingle with commoners. But with Hilda’s glares and Claude’s delicate approach, Marianne blossoms, excelling in nearly every coursework she takes. Those sharing the lecturers’ office with Byleth are made speechless when Marianne climbs upstairs to deliver her assignment, surprising even Seteth.

“What did you do?” he asks curiously.

“What did you make her do?” Jeritza cuts in again casually.

“I did what you told me to,” Byleth just nods. “… Talking.”

When Dimitri makes another visit to Garreg Mach, the cafeteria is again filled with people, only that this time they talk a lot, nearly numbing Byleth’s ears. She catches a thing or two they said, however, about the dashing Faerghus CEO; a topic which suddenly makes Byleth quiet compared to all the talks she had with Marianne, Hilda, Ignatz, and even Claude. Byleth makes a wise decision to listen more than talk more—something she also did with Marianne and Ignatz as she offered them tea and asked about their days. She cannot help but smiling when a lecturer chuckles recounting her own students having expressed their desire to score internship at Faerghus.

“Lately that’s what they talk about,” said lecturer sighs. “Him. I understand, the boss is a handsome devil. But what makes Faerghus a magnet among students anyway?”

Recalling Dimitri’s innocent blurts and his endearing blushes warms her heart, and she cannot help but frown. Devil—Dimitri? The same Dimitri who needs a push before finally holding her hand for the first time because even though he called her beloved for a couple of times now after they confessed their feelings to each other, the blonde was very cautious if not self-aware that things he touched broke. Dimitri still behaves like he doesn’t deserve good things in the world—another thing which saddens her. Dimitri is still surprised whenever she does little things for him, even more so now that they are dating.

But Byleth doesn’t need to respond because another lecturer cuts in, thankfully. “Faerghus always pays their interns,” the other lecturer offers an insight. “They even have coupons for lunches for interns.”

“I wonder,” the first lecturer says then. “If it is too good to be true, perhaps it indeed is.”

“It’s the younger Blaiddyd, apparently,” second lecturer speaks again. “Perhaps rich folks are just… quirky. This CEO, it’s as if every decision he makes is meant to please people! While it sounds good that those kids are getting fed and paid, but don’t you think it’s… redundant?”

“Redundant?” Byleth finally breaks her silence.

“Yeah. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but as someone occupying such position perhaps he shouldn’t be too soft. It’s already a mistake trying to treat one’s subordinates as a friend, but what can I say—perhaps being so young yet so naïve is a curse.”

“Or maybe he’s just compassionate,” Byleth says, slowly putting down the mug. Something tickles her from within, imagining Dimitri shooting death stare just so Faerghus’ interns can eat. Handsome devil or whatever-devil that they speak of him, she cannot help but feeling funny because Dimitri is actually the opposite of that. Dimitri may intimidate people by his posture and height alone when he approaches, but at the same time this is the same adorable big cat who blushes slightly when she teases. This is also the person who speaks with wavering voice each time he needs to ask for a favor or help, starting his request with nothing less than I’m sorry to bother you… and ends them with I’m grateful.

“Compassion,” two lecturers speak in such manner as if they just heard of the word.

Byleth doesn’t wait for them to finish. She recalls one night when Dimitri disarms a knife-wielding mugger after they went out that night. Admittedly, shopping late-night around Sreng district might not be a wise decision, but her paycheck stalled and their fridge was empty. System error in Garreg Mach’s data halted both her and Jeralt’s pays that month, and Sreng never slept—night clubs but not in high-level kind of exquisiteness like those around the heart of Fodlan where Adrestian Tower stood proud, cheap housing to individuals with bleary eyes and cocaine-colored unsettling smiles and stares lurking behind its dark alleys.

“I’m coming to get you,” Dimitri said when he called halfway to her apartment. Rufus just landed and had returned to Faerghus rather than directly went home to Fhirdiad. Dimitri made a quick visit to see Jeralt to share a pack of nice, expensive cigarettes Rufus brought from the travel, but when Jeralt informed that Byleth had gone to a 24-hour convenient store in Sreng, the blonde tensed.

Byleth didn’t expect she would kick a person that night. But when the second person tried to push her shoulders against the wall, she figured perhaps it wasn’t enough—until said person rasped demanding her purse, drawing a switchblade pointed straight at her neck. Byleth had a dagger, always, as she stated to Dimitri. But Dimitri’s demeanor was cold, and not even once he stuttered or blushed when he ran to the alley to get her. She told him she was perfectly fine, but still, switchblade broke like potato chip in his unforgiving grip, and nearly so the mugger’s buttons when he grabbed him by the collar.

“If she is hurt,” Dimitri’s voice was a pile of burning charcoal to warm a chimney. “… You are doomed.”

But the same raging Dimitri quickly shifted demeanor when the mugger had confessed being hungry. At an instant gone was the charcoal, replaced with the same innocent Dima-tone she had come to secretly adore as he asked for details.

… She really didn’t have another answer besides pulling him in closer and tighter when he asked why she looked at him as if he just saved the world from destruction—Dimitri was a tempest, but she had never known a tempest to be so willing to donate a month’s worth of grocery, sparing a final word about never, ever dream of laying a hand on her again even though the mugger dropped to his knees and sobbed, thanking the unexpected clemency.

“… Compassion?” another lecturer’s affirming question startles her. Byleth lifts her gaze off the mug, nodding with a smile—a motion which surprises them in return. “Actually, I think I recall you talked about Faerghus before…”

“Ah. It’s just—the person I’m seeing,” Byleth says.

“Hmmm. I wonder what the CEO is like for real then…”

“Kind,” she replies without hesitation. “Very kind.”


 

Finding Dimitri at his own office truly makes the most satisfying part of the day. She has taken two students from her class for an introduction session considering they send their applications to Faerghus. As the teaching assistant, Seteth sent her to accompany them for two days before they get to finally start their three-month internship. Of course Seteth might or might not have done so on purpose, but Byleth had no complaint when the man kindly asked if she would rather Jeritza take her place instead.

“No,” Byleth totally did not regret her scoffing tone even though Seteth mustered a small smile. “I mean, let’s be professional here—why does Jeritza have to be there?”

“It’s okay, then?” ignoring her comment, Seteth merely peeked at her, one finger stretched out to reach the phone. “If you agree, then I’d prepare for the arrangement. Just guide those two kids well so they do their best working for Faerghus. Keep Garreg Mach proud, Miss Eisner.”

“Hold on,” Byleth gaped. “What are you doing?”

“Why, telling Faerghus that their interns are ready?” Seteth frowned, but Byleth could have sworn she saw mild mischief there. Byleth simply nodded, nearly stormed out of the lecturers’ office considering her cheeks felt hot. That was rather dumb, she thought—Faerghus made her instantly thought of Dimitri, while… first, the person Seteth would be calling probably wasn’t Dimitri. Second, why would someone on top like Dimitri directly oversee interns? There had to be a subordinate under him for that one.

The moment she arrives at Faerghus, however, somehow her nervousness returns. It is a mixture of excitement and anxiety considering Dimitri didn’t talk about new internship wave when they last communicated, and neither did she about her students. Byleth had picked nicer outfit purposefully for that day, imagining what Dimitri would think when they met. Pairing an above-knee black leather pencil skirt with her accented thigh-high, Byleth put on a cream-colored halter top before layering the outfit with a gray coat.

“Wow, Professor, you dressed up!” Cyril chirps innocently. “Now I feel bad coming here with a collared shirt. I mean—you appear so professional!”

“It’s a glo-up,” Lysithea speaks with a straight face, looking satisfied. The girl throws her silver-haired strands behind her ears, her eyes sparkling with resolve which Byleth instantly interprets as a will to fight. She truly can count on Lysithea to be studious and go-getter.

“A what?” Byleth asks.

“Professor, you are so out of trend. That’s knowledge,” Lysithea says. “That’s the kind of look which demands a kiss.”

Byleth blinks.

“… At your feet,” the girl nods again, looking proud to render her speechless. “Like, vini vidi vici.”

“Oh,” Byleth mumbles. “… Oh.”

She interrupts Lysithea from making another comment by ushering them to get inside. Both students let her take care of everything as she guides them to the elevator, handing their acceptance letters from Faerghus and notification letter from Garreg Mach stating that they are indeed among the interns Faerghus will be cooperating with for the next three months. Summer makes the most desirable internship-hunting for students in general, but colder seasons are often unnoticeable. Faerghus has a pile to do since they start to get busy again around mid-January, considering December forward sees a slower pace because Rufus and Dimitri make time for Slavic Christmas and winter solstice.

Cyril isn’t saying much, but Byleth can see how nervous he actually is. He quietly lets Byleth taking care of the procedure including something simple as talking to the security guard and receptionist at the lobby. Byleth, however, smiles a little upon noticing Lysithea squeezing his hand. “We are in this together,” the girl says. “I’ve got your back.”

Byleth smiles again—that exactly is what Dimitri told her after the mugging incident.

Her heeled shoes make some noises as the three of them begin to explore the expensive, marble-like tiles of Faerghus. Lysithea and Cyril definitely take time to look around, admiring nearly everything which comes into their vision. “What is the CEO like?” Lysithea’s voice shakes a bit. “Why are we meeting him?”

“Because that’s what we are told,” Byleth says. “He likes to see everything personally.”

“Do you know him, ‘Teach?” Cyril asks. “You seem to know many people so… unexpectedly.”

“I know him,” Byleth nods. “And he is so kind. Just be yourselves.”

The secretary who awaits them at the seventh floor definitely smiles when seeing Byleth. Everything would be under control, however, if only Byleth didn’t catch Yuri’s face poking from behind the desk as well—Rufus’ personal chauffeur as well as the Fhirdiad staff she met for the first time on a private dinner nods, almost too solemn for her taste as if welcoming a princess. “Madam?”

“Yuri,” Byleth mutters awkwardly, nodding as well.

“Here for the Gospodin?”

“Yes,” Byleth nods simply. “… With my students.”

“Oh. Khorosho. Truly a professor.”

“Shush now, Yuri.”

“Have a good time!”

That is a generic reply Yuri would spare whenever he is caught in between of her and Dimitri, but somehow her cheeks flare and boy—will Dimitri not think of her as weird if she proposes to murder his chauffeur? Yet they wait until Dimitri’s deep but calm voice tells them to come in, and—ah, Yuri’s small grin means nothing when Dimitri is rendered speechless the moment she enters the room. Generic greetings aside Dimitri does read all the documents Cyril and Lysithea present.

“Don’t be nervous,” the blonde smiles a little bit, although his gaze lingers back at Byleth. “I called you here because you will be stationed right here—at the seventh floor, with the secretary outside. This area isn’t open for just anybody, so at the very least, of course I’d like to see you.”

“Oh,” Cyril breaks a reply. “T-thank you for having us.”

“I’d rather hear that three months later,” Dimitri stands up, followed by Cyril, Lysithea, and Byleth last. “Well? I’m sorry I can’t take you on a tour, but definitely my secretary will make you getting used to what we do in no time. Please see Mr. Gustave Dominic outside, he is the secretary.”

“Understood,” Cyril nods like a squire on command. “T-thank you. Um, for this one.”

“Likewise. Welcome to Faerghus, I wish you luck,” Dimitri nods. Byleth watches Lysithea and Cyril heading to the door, and she smiles at him.

“Excuse me then, Mr. Blaiddyd.”

… If only a big hand doesn’t take her wrist first.

“It’s Dima,” Dimitri pulls her in gently. “How dare you.”

“I’m their professor now,” Byleth chuckles a little. “… But hi, Dima.”

“I’m still this place’s boss, beloved,” he counters. “And hi as well, gorgeous.”

Byleth wishes she could just tell how Dimitri looks absolutely dashing in that formal attire as well, but his smile is so soft as he looks at her that she opts out drawing a container out of a layered tote bag-like pouch she carries in her backpack. Dimitri contemplates on it while she darts her glance around—the room is spacious and presumably comfortable, yes; it’s definitely bigger and more luxurious than the one Dimitri has at the Blue Lions Café. Fhirdiad sparks the magnificent of that royal Blaiddyd taste, but Faerghus has the sparkles of it and seventh floor is the best place to see it manifests. But rather than the comfortable chairs or the fine-quality wood which makes Dimitri’s desk, her focus falls on the piling papers on Dimitri’s desk, with two scattered pens and a laptop pushed to the edge because the desk can barely hold anything anymore. “Dima, this…” she says, pushing back the laptop to save it from the floor.

“Oh. R-right, I was careless. Sorry for the trouble,” Dimitri replies sheepishly. “Can I say… something?”

Byleth smiles. “Sure, why not?”

“… You look—incredible today,” he clears his throat. “I’m sorry.”

“Oh, Dima,” she chuckles softly. “Why would you be? I thought something went wrong because of the look you gave me the moment I took Cyril and Lysithea inside.”

“Ah, so those are their names…”

“You read their papers, and you forgot them already?” she cups his cheek. He tails her around to pull one of the chairs before the desk for her. “Anyway, I got you some soup. I know you haven’t eaten.”

“I did, but eh—you blew my mind,” he rubs his nose and Byleth is tempted to just pinch it right away. Will it be wise to frolic here, right at his office room? Sounds unprofessional. Cyril and Lysithea probably need her back now. “And yes. Old habit dies hard.”

“You are a caring and compassionate man,” finally she cannot resist the temptation to tick his nose. “And that makes you very kind. So please, extend that kindness for yourself, Dima.”

“I’ll remember it,” he smiles back. “I’m really sorry. Shouldn’t make you taking care of me like…”

He stops talking because Byleth’s hand presses over his mouth. “Dima,” she murmurs. “It’s okay.”

“I… thank you,” Dimitri scratches his head. “I was just in the middle of scraping things, but as you know you cannot just do some cut, copy-paste when you mean to revise an entire planned budget. I’ll have Rodrigue and Gustave help me, but the final decision will still be mine and at least I need to point out where to start. … On top of that, I can already imagine debating my uncle about this too.”

“Is Faerghus in trouble?” she bows down, traversing Dimitri’s desk with her eyes.

“Not at all,” he reaches the chair, gently pressing her shoulders with his hands. “I want to pay janitors more.”

“Oh, Dima!”

“… Did that surprise you?” Dimitri sheepishly backs away. “My apologies—is that because of my touch?”

“No. You are very kind!” she captures his hand when he withdraws. “… Eat?”

“… Here?” his gaze follows suit to match her soft tone.

“Anywhere you want,” she sighs. “You really should stop neglecting yourself.”

“Guilty…” he tilts his head.

“You sneeze,” she ruffles his hair.

“It’s just that,” he blushes.

“It’s cold here in Faerghus,” she coaxes still. “Warm yourself up.”

“I’m comfortable,” he shrugs.

“You are sneezing, Dima.”

“People sneeze, beloved.”

“Not everyone works like a warhorse.”

Dimitri has no choice but admitting that she is right—again, as Byleth helps decluttering his desk before leaving.


  

As the wind blows even colder, not even the lions are spared—Byleth flocks to the café with Petra in tow. If Sylvain behaves like half of his face can melt during summer, this time Petra takes the scene except due to colder weather. “I cannot be thanking you enough to treat me drinking hot, Professor,” she says, opening her book as Byleth does her notes. “This be very comfortable. To be warm when studying.”

“The pleasure is mine,” Byleth simply smiles. “I was worried a little bit.”

“I need to be adapting,” Petra says, tightening her jacket. “But Flame Spirit shall protect me.”

Byleth remembers Petra’s pale, bluish lips by the end of the lecture. People already know that Garreg Mach keeps their rooms chill and only turn on the heater in case of extreme cases such as snow hails or winter, but the difference between Fodlan and Brigid is already staggering that it was too much for her delightful student to bear. By the time she dismissed the class she noticed the air conditioner was running, and she would have scolded Petra to keep her seat instead of requesting a change.

“We are having quiz. I want no disturbing,” she said seriously. Byleth truly regretted it. Knowing that they still have a tutoring session together, Byleth didn’t waste time to drag her to the Blue Lions Café.

“See, Petra,” Byleth gestured at the crew, who wear long-sleeve shirts under their apron. She even notices Annette rolling a scarf around her neck while Mercedes layers her blouse with a cardigan. “Even those who are used to colder climate can feel cold too. As the teaching assistant, I’m responsible for my students’ well-being, so call on me next time.”

“Understood,” Petra says. “I want some coffee, Professor…”

At this rate, even if the girl said Eiffel Tower Byleth would just go get whatever she asked.

“Coffee, for one?”

Byleth looks up when a hand pats her shoulder again. Dimitri curves his lips as he carefully sets a cut before Petra. Byleth watches with pride because she can feel the confidence brimming from him, to finally dare enough to take the floor and serve people like that. “I have thanks,” Petra nods without taking her eyes off the book. “Professor, this part I missed because of cold.”

“We’ll get through it,” she reassures her. Dimitri retreats back—or at least he wanted to, if not a small hand stops him in the same manner he did back in Faerghus.

“Yes, zolatka?”

“Let me check.”

“Go on,” Dimitri musters a small smirk then. “… Shirtless, or not?”

“You rascal,” Byleth taps his cheek.

“You said checking,” he chuckles—and…

Byleth frowns.

“A-ah. Sorry, beloved...”

“Dima.”

“I uh…” Dimitri wipes his nose with the back of his hand. “Sorry, that was disgusting.”

“Dima, I’m concerned,” Byleth says. Dimitri sneezed again, louder, worse, not only once but a couple of times at once. Mirroring what happened in Faerghus she tailed Dimitri to the office room, folding her arms. Just like in Faerghus, she can see how cluttered Dimitri’s desk there. However this time it is more concerning, perhaps because the desk at the Blue Lions is smaller compared to what she sees in Faerghus. “Why here as well?”

“My uncle and I had a talk,” Dimitri says then. “Perhaps he thinks I’m trying to turn janitors into new bosses because it’s travel expenses that I plan to cut. For short, if we are sending people, we are just going to pay for the plane tickets and hotels—not the entertainment purpose. Some people…” he sighs. “… Like being made to feel serviced. That’s the thing—I can’t really move easily there so I took these home.”

“Dima.”

“I ate lunch though,” he says solemnly.

Byleth shoots him a look.

“… Okay, admittedly at four.”

“Dimitri Alexandre…” Byleth glares at him now.

“… I need to do this, zolatka,” Dimitri sighs, dropping his weight onto the desk. “Winters are harsh and this year‘s is colder. Maybe it’s time for the money to actually change something.”

“It does,” Byleth says. “And perhaps not completely lost. What if when you wrap up profits and dividends you assess this again? When you get the number, add it as a bonus.”

Dimitri looks at her.

“And you can call it uh—what, koleda gift? And by goddess, Dima, please, find someone to do that for you, otherwise you’ll crash and burn,” she exhales heavily. “You are not alone.”

“That doesn’t seem to be a bad idea at all,” he smiles back. “… You are always… guiding me. Never thought I’d be a dyado koleda for my own janitors’ kids. Right, what if my uncle was just peevish because this means he probably couldn’t procure luxury goods as a souvenir when he’s out to represent Faerghus?”

“You can tell him that my father truly appreciates the gift,” she grins. “Especially the cullebra one.”

“Your father likes the cullebra?” Dimitri says. “Dyadka is going to be so stunned.”

“Right. It’s been out of the trend for a long while, no?” Byleth says. “… Is this solved then, Bossmitri?”

“Thanks to you, Professor,” Dimitri nods. “Now I can go back to Faerghus like a champion.”

“Look at you, professional.”

“Look at you, amazing.”

“… Dima.”

“At least let me say these things before I get to sneeze again,” Dimitri grins. “I don’t think my uncle will reject your idea. He really needs to be braver.”

“You have that in you,” she squeezes his hand. “You should dress warmer…”

“That room,” Dimitri ponders. “The air conditioner is actually just on top of my head. I figured if we are to rearrange it, then the people who visit my office will get cold. I know not everyone is accustomed to such weather as much as a I do. Therefore—“

Dimitri cannot finish because Byleth leans over his back. Her arms reach for his waist from behind, and her head softly lies on his shoulder as he bends down to pick a paper and tidy his desk. Dimitri closes his eyes for a second, feeling Byleth’s arms tighten around him.

“… Beloved?”

“… Don’t be so cruel, Dima,” Byleth murmurs. Her fingertips lace as if telling him to stay still, letting her head rest on him like that a little longer. “I love you for your compassion, but at the same time, I…”

“But it’s only fair, Byleth. I can stand cold better than an average Fodlaner.”

“Perhaps,” she whispers. “But doesn’t mean it has to be you alone all the time. You aren’t.”

“I can take a better coat.”

“I love your coats,” she presses against him. “But perhaps you need… something else?”


 

Dimitri can only blink when Byleth takes him in. The automatic door opens smoothly the moment they bring themselves closer to the store, and a shopping assistant smiles to greet them. “We want to look first,” Byleth tells her, patiently waiting for Dimitri to follow her inside.

“And this place is…?” Dimitri, with the manner which reminds her of a cat adapting to his new environment, glances around, hesitatingly moves to follow Byleth. Is she taking him to a… what now, boutique? “Ah, Byleth. If you want to shop, perhaps I’m not supposed to be here…”

Byleth hides her smile, squeezing Dimitri’s hand in his. … Or perhaps she should say her hand in his, considering the size difference between them. Dimitri is still a Dimitri who appears unsure, as if he interrupts her private time as a woman. By now Dimitri is rather awkward, and had they weren’t there, she would have thought he accidentally walked into a ladies’ restroom. “No, Dima. It’s a hat shop!”

“Hat shop?” he looks at her.

“Yes! They have coats too, but I trust your judgment for that one,” she smiles again. “Come on in!”

Dimitri follows. He is with his light, so everything should be alright. It’s not just business which hinders him from a leisurely shopping time, but events leave mark—and with scars around his body, most of the time Dimitri finds comfort in online catalogues because this way he will not have to leave the comfort of his own chair—more importantly, he won’t need to strip in front of the mirror inside a changing room, accompanied by sudden discomfort as if his scars laugh at him. Maybe he can try this one if she is here. Her presence makes everything bearable and motivates him to do more than just endure, so perhaps…

“Dima, look,” Byleth’s voice startles him. Dimitri takes out his handkerchief, feeling absolutely embarrassed because the tickling sensation is back torturing his nose. What now, he cannot keep his manner in the presence of a woman—more than that, his beloved? His ancestors must be proud… not.

“Excuse—me.”

Dimitri lets out a soft cough as she sneezes.

“… Dima,” Byleth calls softly. Dimitri looks like he’s about to flee.

“Perhaps you better not touch me, beloved,” Dimitri mutters sullenly, returning his handkerchief back to its initial place. “I’ll rest properly and eat well. This is annoying. I can’t even be fancy.”

“Fancy?” Byleth cannot resist to let out a soft giggle. “You already are. Look at you, dapper.”

“I’ll take a scarf tomorrow,” he sighs.

“If you don’t want to be touched, I’ll just do so,” Byleth says. “But if you think it’s because of that—no.”

“… Hmmm,” Dimitri makes a soft hum and Byleth wouldn’t need to play guess to see that he’s still displeased. “I am not in need of another coat. I have errr… a dozen perhaps, in my closet.”

“Oh, Dima. I’m not peeping,” patiently she runs her hand over his arm. “I think you need a hat.”

“… A hat?” Dimitri blinks again. “There’s no need for a cold-struck dumbass to look fancy, zolatka.”

“Now you are acting like a cat. Careful, or you’ll become Felix,” Byleth pats his back. “For you. To keep you warm. I know anyone advising you to roll a scarf when it’s not really snowing will be met with rejection.”

“… Correct,” Dimitri rubs his nose sheepishly. “How do you know?”

“Because I am Byleth,” she says softly. “… Beloved.”

“… I cannot contest that part,” his reply comes in soft tone as well. “I was just…”

“Dima,” Byleth slips her hand in his again. “I’m not going to make you do what you do not want to do.”

“Aren’t I a lucky bastard.”

“No, that should be a given,” she chuckles. “Let’s take a look? If you don’t like anything, we’ll just leave.”

“… Alright,” he hums. “Thank you again…”

Byleth gives a quick hug by encircling her arm around his waist. “You said your air conditioner is above your head. If it’s cold, you can take something to warm you up—and take it off again later. Nobody will look, right? And see, even doctors go to see other doctors when they get sick.”

“Hmmm.”

“You would always make sure that I got home safely even though I’m used to fights and walking alone.”

“… Hmmmm,” red shades begin to appear on the blonde’s face as his voice turns meeker.

Regardless of the banter, Byleth does take Dimitri to venture the aisles. She will stop when he does, letting him feeling at ease and never rushes when he touches anything. Ready by his side, Byleth watches Dimitri, who almost looks fascinated by everything he sees. That makes her a bit sad. Is he just so dead-busy that he hardly ever had time for himself like this? Yet he always makes time for other people. By now she understands that he is very kind, yes—now if only he would do the same for himself…

Byleth gently dismisses shop assistants who ask if they can help him with anything. This feels like teaching someone to swim—letting them adapt with the waters, letting them feel comfortable as they spend more time in it without a rush. She figures that is the case with her big cat over there as well because Dimitri contemplates on things yet behaving in this bashful manner like he wonders if he can actually touch them at all. Endearing as it is, the lion king needs help—and help him she shall.

“Want to try it?” she asks, glancing at some particular rack Dimitri looks on. “… Oh…”

“I’m not sure,” Dimitri murmurs. “I've never replaced my old one since my father died.”

Byleth looks down. Fur hats of specific, if not peculiar design are piled on the rack Dimitri has been paying attention to. “This one, Dima?” again she asks—gently, just gently, as she carefully lifts one up.

“Ushanka,” he murmurs.

“It looks so warm,” she says.

“It is,” his low tone becomes a whisper as he runs his fingers over it.

Byleth steps back, understanding that there’s more that her lover sees in that particular hat than just a fashion article. Days like this exist and they will, perhaps for as long as he lives—and she will make sure that her Dima will not be less perfect as a person and a man just because of it. This imperfection is just perfect for her, only if the Dimitri she loves so much can see that too...

“Excuse me,” Dimitri makes a slow step to approach a nearby shop assistant. “What is this made of?”

“Sheep fur and wool. Also hand-sewn, Sir, just like how it should be,” the shop assistant nods with a smile. “Good eyes. That one is a genuine product crafted by local artisans, yes!”

“Ah. No wonder there are only a couple of them, I suppose.”

“That isn’t really popular in Fodlan either,” the shop assistant thinks a bit. “I was surprised you noticed.”

Dimitri makes a polite smile, returning to that one particular rack with the ushanka in his hand. Byleth strolls closer. “There you are, beloved,” he chuckles nervously. “Sorry for stalling.”

“I never planned on leaving you stranded in the first place,” she purposefully replies in a comforting tone. “Let’s bag this one up?”

“It will be ugly, Byleth.”

“What is?” she takes him to a desolate isle, away from where shop assistants flock together for some sense of privacy. If Dimitri looked doubtful when they entered the store, now he looks… thrown in between, and she wishes she can help decrypting what troubles him. “This hat isn’t ugly.”

“It isn’t. And yet—too familiar. If I am to wear this one, then…”

“Then it will be good, because it finds a home?” Byleth asks again, toning down her voice. “You are very handsome and that definitely makes you not ugly.”

“Under normal circumstances I detest having to say this to a woman, but—shush you,” he looks down.

“Then you are very attractive and that, too, definitely makes you not ugly,” her eyes sparkle mischief.

“… Byleth.”

“Dima.”

“Ah, beloved—let me win at least once, will you?” gently he combs her hair with his fingertips.

“Never,” calmly she counters.

“I suppose this won’t hurt as much because there is no exposed scar,” Dimitri mutters once again.

“As if those scars make you less handsome and attractive, Dima.”

“… Have mercy on me, darling,” he tries so hard to glare at her, and something in him feels relieved when he fails.

“Never as well,” again she maintains the same calm tone she countered him with prior.

“I’ve never touched ushanka again since—that day,” he says. “Now I do. Life is a twisted joke.”

“… Or perhaps it’s the other way around, Dima,” she responds. “Life knows you are ready.”

Dimitri looks at her.

Byleth chuckles. “I suppose I’m not the one to talk about this considering my life itself is weird, like a bunch of but then again being stuffed in a bouquet,” she smiles at him. “But I start to think there has to be a purpose. At least if I didn’t land at Garreg Mach and settled here, I wouldn’t meet you. I never really thought much before—the pragmatic type, you know? I wonder, perhaps this is the side effect of being affiliated with the Church of Seiros.”

“If that is the case, then I’m forever grateful,” he says. “I could meet you. What more can I ask?”

“Better food,” she replies with a straight face.

“I suppose that can be arranged.”

“More timely meals.”

“I will uh… try.”

“More trying to try to eat timely meals and have them filled with good food.”

“… Hmmm.”

“More to saying yes instead of humming.”

“You aren’t convinced?” he takes turn chuckling.

“No, because you sound nice, humming like that.”

“… Vojevoda Byleth, I am a fearsome, vengeful enemy to make.”

“Still doesn’t absolve the possibility of looking cute in ushanka,” she smirks. “Try?”

Dimitri sighs and Byleth squeezes his hand again. She can see how nervous he is—perhaps to him this isn’t the hat shop, but rather somewhere in Fhirdiad, somewhere in his room, perhaps, and she wonders how many years he travels back now. Yet it isn’t important, because finally Dimitri puts the hat on him, and Byleth bestows another gentle touch to acknowledge his effort and bravery. Dimitri sighs softer, returning her touch with a tender squeeze as he opens his eyes again. “… Not bad.”

“Not at all indeed! You are handsome.”

“Again?” he raises his eyebrows.

“Yes,” Byleth chuckles. “… Where were you just now?”

“I don’t know,” he mumbles. “I expected pain, but rather than that, I feel—“

“… Yes, beloved?”

“Relieved?” Dimitri says. “I’m sorry, this doesn’t make sense at all…”

“It does. Really, don’t apologize,” again she responds to him in a soft tone. “Perhaps you are ready and the universe knows it. Sometimes you just know when you do.”

“Hmmm,” Dimitri murmurs. “Admittedly, this is warm. But isn’t an ushanka supposed to be?”

Byleth decides to let that be a rhetorical question as she squeezes his hand again.

“Still. There aren’t many people in Fodlan who wear this,” Dimitri rubs his nose. Byleth notes that he indeed takes the ushanka with him, and decides not to comment on that too. Let Dimitri feel the water by himself, adapting to it as he learns to swim again. Let Dimitri proceeds in his own pace, in the most comfortable, conducive way they can try to achieve. “But why would I be concerned anyway?”

“Hmmm,” Byleth hums.

They walk to the cashier silently, and she lets Dimitri walks first in case the big cat still needs anything. She wants him to be comfortable, reclaiming the time and space he has lost. She will make it possible. She wants him to feel good. Dimitri does appear to be relieved when he finally bags the purchase, and Byleth won’t trade that look for anything. “Let’s go back,” he says softly.

“Ah. Just a moment!”

“Oh. You are buying something?” he turns around, meeting her star-sparkling eyes. She only curves her lips slightly, and to the unknowing ones this Byleth is still the straight-faced, taciturn Byleth they know, but to Dimitri, he can sense something budding underneath.

“Yes,” Byleth replies calmly. “A companion ushanka for me.”

“… Beloved.”

“This is warm, though. Not a bad purchase at all,” her eyes lock his even though her hand is busy handing her money to the cashier. “You are not alone, Dima. Never.”

Dimitri thanks his luck that he doesn’t need to wipe his nose—or eyes, that evening. “Today is so peaceful,” he chuckles as he links his arm with zolatka again the moment they are out of the store.

“… Eat better?” gently she jams her nails against his ribs.

“I’ll set my alarm,” his reply is firm and she knows he will try. “The soup you brought me was great.”

“Really?”

“Of course. Why would I lie to you, milochka?” he smiles at her. “Where did you get it, though?”

“My kitchen!”

Dimitri pauses.

“I can make more,” she murmurs.

“… And I suppose I can—eat more,” he whispers.

“… Dima?”

“Yes, dear…?”

“… I hope you know that unfortunately you are still very handsome even when you are dumb.”

“I hope you know that I love you so much,” whispering in her ear once again he draws her closer, fixing his coat to drape it over her. She lets him enveloping her like that, sighing as she enjoys the shared warmth of this cold, cold night. She admits that he is right—that evening is so peaceful, so, so peaceful as if the world stops to cradle them with so much care that they feel nothing but comfort in the surrounding blissful serenity.

“I like your coat,” she says, snuggling closer to him.

“I know,” he smiles. “And I like you.”

Chapter Text

Dimitri hums softly as he receives the change from the cashier. It’s hard not to smile especially now that he is really in a good mood, giddy and excited like a kid on a study tour. Such idea makes the corner of his mouth twitches a little, modifying the smile he has been wearing into a small smirk instead—perhaps the analogy didn’t really miss the mark even though he is not a kid and definitely not on a study tour, but his lover is a teaching assistant, so that would be rather… qualify, no?

Dimitri wonders if a Garreg Mach student ever crushed on their dear professor—the thought which made him nearly want to swallow his own wristwatch. Silently he thanks his goblin brain, followed by another yet silent curse because… seriously, what did he just think? His beloved is gorgeous and smart, but on top of that she is actually caring and kind-hearted. The thought alone already sends his heart fluttering like a squirrel on a bungee jumping game—even if he is embarrassed for being so head over heels and enthusiastic about his relationship, he cannot deny that the spark is truly there, going even stronger even after dating her for more than four months now. Back then Sylvain would pull the wiseman tone on him because apparently couples in relationships have a honeymoon phase as well, but for Dimitri, there has never been such a thing because there’s always something which reminds him how much he treasures her everyday—even when they argued.

Their workload is piling. Dimitri recalls the days where he would lock himself in Faerghus and then at the Blue Lions Café again, editing the budget planner he has yet to present to Rodrigue to assess. Byleth already told him that she would be busy preparing quizzes, and Dimitri told her how her students, Cyril and Lysithea, have been performing well so far. “Sleep tight, milochka,” he murmured on the phone, chuckling tenderly when Byleth apologized for yawning in the middle of conversation.

“You should too,” she said. “It’s half past one, Dima.”

“A little bit more,” he responded. If only he could lie—but he did not, and his paperworks especially didn’t. He wondered if he could even fall asleep quickly, anyway, because it’s been a long time since he slept properly during the proper hours that even though so far the path to recovery felt good, insomnia had become a habit that it was almost strange for him to be in bed before the clock hit midnight. He would still edit the plan before presenting it to Rodrigue, because even if the latter was supposed to assess it, they still would need a concrete plan first.

“… Dima…”

“What’s the matter, cannot sleep?” he chuckled. Her voice sounded tired yet demure, and he prayed it wasn’t because she was fatigued. “I shouldn’t be detaining you for too long, my beloved.”

“Ya…”

Dimitri blinked.

“Ya khochu…”

Dimitri listened quietly as Byleth tried to weave the new words in her mouth. Before he knew it he had left the monitor unattended as he took his steps away from the table. The softness of his bed enveloped him perfectly as Byleth’s beaded, gentle voice rang in his ears through the phone. He pictured her like someone who just learned to swim for the first time, and as much as he wanted to give her a hand, he knew that she wanted to do this herself and he had no choice but cheering in the background. “… Da…?”

“Ya khochu… chtoby…”

“… What do you want to do, zolatka?”

“No, no, not me, but you!” she quickly drowned his tender reply. He pictured her flustering and half of him died to tell her that it would be okay, darn it, she was trying, and just listening that alone already made him feel so loved, somehow. “Ya khochu, chtoby ty…”

“Ah. What do you want me to do…?”

“Otdokhnul,” her voice rang once again, livelier and cheerier. He smiled along when she giggled a little, apologizing for half-squealing because seems her father grunted a bit in his sleep, she said. “Rested, yes. I want you to rest,” she said then, toning down her voice. He pictured her painting a victorious smile to wear on her face because the sentence flew out much smoother after. “Ya khochu, chtoby ty otdokhnul.”

“Mm-hmm.”

“You are supposed to grade it,” she chided.

“Grade it, darling?”

“Crap. I mean—you are supposed to say something in return,” she murmured. “I am grading.”

“It seems I’m not the only one needing sleep here, Byleth,” he chuckled.

“Alright,” she said with a yawn. “I just finished the last one as we talk.”

“Hmmm. Cheater.”

“You’re like a child,” she laughed back. “How about this then—what do you want?”

“Oh, simple. Ya khochu…”

“Yes?”

“Ya khochu, chtoby ty byla v bezopasnosti.”

“Oh, no. You said it so fast and smooth,” she said. “I can never compete.”

“Nonsense. First try isn’t supposed to sound so pretty,” he murmured. “I want you to be safe.”

“That’s what you said?”

“Yes.”

“This time you didn’t run away,” she yawned again.

“Efficiency,” he said with a smirk now that she couldn’t see him. “We are halted by timezone.”

“What timezone?”

“Sleepy standard time,” finally his laughter was out of its cage. “… I love you, milochka.”

At that time, she ended their call by noting how busy they had been—something he could only nod in agreement. By the time next week rolled in, however, Dimitri already prepared to steal some time just so he and Byleth could have time for themselves in private. By the time everyone returned to Faerghus on Monday, his desk was similar to a collapsing iceberg due to scattered papers over it. During his busiest days there would be at least some sort of resolve to get through everything, but as the clock ticked, Dimitri realized he wasn’t even half done with the pile.

… On top of that, suddenly he realized he missed his beloved a little bit too much.

Byleth was half-asleep before the monitor when a text arrived. Simple and concise, the text sounded so pure and innocent that it made her smile a little—Riddle me this, beloved; I know that I miss you a lot, but how come I resent my typical work load?

Back in Faerghus Dimitri figured leaning over his desk with stretched back looking on the ceiling still would not make the papers to edit and sign themselves. But now that his phone vibrated, he figured there was at least one good reason not to lay sprawling over the desk like that—digging into his own pocket took time, more so when it was the private number which buzzed instead of the working phone on the desk. “You are burned out,” innocently he read what the screen told him. Burned out? He recalled she said he worked like a warhorse. But he also recalled how she said she couldn’t always do everything before they decided to make a little adventure to the thrift bookstore.

Do you?—A single addendum by the end of the text made his lips curve a bit.

That was the little push he needed. Cyril was half-curious half-nervous when he called the intern into his office. His eyes lighted up when the college student confirmed that he did accounting, and Dimitri asked if he and Lysithea could help him making a model plan and early assessment before he truly brought the blade down to have everything meticulously calculated, ready to be edited by Rodrigue. Contacting Sylvain felt easier as he sheepishly asked if the Gautier patriarch could help supervising Cyril and Lysithea while releasing the numbers for them step by step so they wouldn’t have to wait until everything gigantically piled up in the end.

“Took you a while to make you realize you cannot do everything by yourself, huh?” his childhood friend chuckled. “Heh. I’ll ask my pa. You know he’d love to help you.”

Dimitri ignored the reflection of his blushing face as he thanked Sylvain.

By the time Tuesday rolled in, however, he didn’t hesitate to just say yes when Byleth texted if he had time for a movie on Thursday. It was a rather unusual day to have a date, but at that time, he didn’t care. Dimitri figured if he could be made to continuously sleep for four hours in two weeks, surely there should be no problem if he loosened one work day for this one. He hummed like a giddy child for not being able to wait for the clock to tick—Byleth said they would be watching the movie at half past five, and that they should just meet up at the cinema to save time.

He was too happy to oblige that he nearly lost attention to ask her about the place. He could already picture everything to be nice then—he’d watch whatever she wanted to watch. It would be nice to be able to just sit comfortably without having to do anything or think of any numbers for around ninety minutes, and would be perfect if he could take Byleth to eat dinner afterwards. He wasn’t the most enthusiastic foodie out there, still, but meals felt smoother in his tongue and easier to swallow when she was around, so why wouldn’t he want it as well?

“I’m leaving early today, Gustave,” he informed his loyal secretary that day.

“At what time?” ever-steeled as always Gustave grabbed his pen to take a note. “Does this mean I get to take the calls directed for you, Sir?”

“Let’s see,” Dimitri glanced at his phone. “… Where’s the Mittelfrank theater again?”

Gustave blinked as Dimitri scratched his head sheepishly.

And now there he is, humming once again as his watch tells a five-quarter. Byleth should be there soon, and he prays he doesn’t look way too out of place being there. He already mapped the Brionac trade center as he drove to get to Mittelfrank, picturing various restaurants to choose to take Byleth to.

I’m getting you some snacks—will be there in five minutes!

Dimitri smiles once again as he reads the text. Ah, right—snacks! He’s been there queuing and everything, but that part truly escaped him even though the popcorn counter is just next to the cashier he got the tickets from. Dimitri reminds himself not to forget asking Byleth if she wants dessert when they dine later, exchanging glances between his phone and to the distance so he can catch her glimpse.

Everything is perfect. It’s been a long while since he watched a movie like this. But then…

Dimitri gasps and so does the other person. They have been glancing on their phones without paying attention to their surroundings—the other person coming from the entrance, while he is heading out of the building a little bit to spot his dearly beloved should she enter from the front gate. “Oh, pardon…” his words are halted upon realizing the very person who has been standing there. “… Felix?!”

“… Tch,” his raven-haired childhood friend grumbles. But Dimitri, knowing Felix for almost all his life, doesn’t need to be told that Felix isn’t actually truly mad at him, because…

“Wow. Wow. I mean—Fe-Fe, you CAN blush!!”

“Damn it, you are too loud,” Felix mutters. “What are you doing here?”

“Me? What are you doing here?” Dimitri blinks while Felix is more restless than an earthworm now.

“I’m the one asking the question,” Felix remarks sullenly. “Can’t a man be at the movies?”

Dimitri folds his arms. “And I can’t?”

“You don’t go to theaters,” Felix points out. “Especially when it airs romance.”

“Hmmm, you’ve got a point—wait what, so the one’s playing right now is a romance movie?” Dimitri blinks once again, his voice is even louder that Felix, realizing the fatal mistake he just blurted, looking nearly unrecognizable as if he just melted like an overheated ice cream.

“… Shit.”

“Romance movie,” Dimitri repeats, taking turn to flash the other man a glorious, glorious grin now.

Felix grunts.

“And the date is…?”

“Why must I tell you?! It’s not like you aren’t sharing the same fate with me here!” Felix grumbles once again. “Besides, what is it to you? What if I just have the money I can spend however I please, even if it means holing myself in a theater for a romance movie I didn’t even know that it existed?”

“Alright then,” Dimitri replies, cheeks puffy out of holding back laughter.

“I-It’s not that I was desperate enough to be here, you know that, don’t you? Think of it again, boar—would you be cruel enough to let a girl getting stranded after dark and…”

Dimitri snorts. “How gallant of you.”

“B-boar…” red-faced, Felix ruffles his hair. “Alright—yes, I’m here to watch a fucking romance movie.”

“Tell me something I didn’t know, duh,” Dimitri smirks. “Like if you lost a bet with Sylvain again, or…”

But they cannot bicker any longer because a cheery voice startles them from behind. Dimitri blinks and gapes upon seeing Annette—the very Annette, the ball of happiness that is their very own Blue Lions’ endearing ginger, smiling happily as she enters the theater, more so when…

“Felix!” she waves her hand enthusiastically, smiling even wider upon noticing Dimitri is there. “Ahhh, Boss!! Look whom I just met! The professor! Nice coincidence, isn’t it?”

Felix sullenly glances at Dimitri while Byleth stares blankly. “… How gallant of you as well.”

Dimitri scratches his head sheepishly as Byleth shoots him a soft, apologetic smile.

Either luck or a curse, Dimitri and Byleth get the chairs next to Annette and Felix. It’s already funny on its own as Byleth seats herself exactly next to Annette, while Felix rubs his nose and Dimitri sneaks an arm around Byleth’s shoulders without making eye contact with Felix. But the next very moment sees a gasping Felix because Annette leans against his chest, and everything holy be damned Dimitri throws his pride gloriously into the deepest corner of the earth as he wraps Byleth in his coat. “Comfortable?”

“Verily,” she replies softly. “I ran into Annette as I rushed here…”

“That’s right, Felix~! I ran into the professor—here’s your cappuccino, by the way!” the ginger sets a paper cup into the drink-holder hole over his chair.

“Oh, thanks,” still awkward as ever, Felix makes a quick glance, smirking a bit when he notices Byleth and Dimitri are already comfortable in their seats. Now the boar won’t be making eye contact with him—yes, let the world be destroyed, there’s no way he’ll let Dimitri catch his blushing expression for the second time. “Annette, the cup says Felicia.”

“I know! They made a cappuccino for a Felicia who asked for a frappuccino. I decided to take it, it was untouched, anyway,” she whispers because the lights around them are being turned off. “I know you like this better since you can’t eat sweets.”

“No need to go out of your way like that,” Felix grumbles before leaning even closer to pat her head. “… Thank you very much.”

Annette chuckles. And Byleth, hearing everything just fine considering the ginger sits exactly beside her, flashes a grin at Dimitri. “I’m not losing.”

Dimitri blinks once again when Byleth sets a paper bag on his lap. “And this, milochka?”

“Oh, right—I forgot this one,” Byleth digs into her bag, placing a smaller cup on the chair as she shifts. “Careful, Dima, it’s hot,” patting his thigh casually from where she sits, she chuckles as well. “I was just about to tell you—I used the microwave in the pantry at Garreg-U to heat them.”

“… Oh, goddess,” he sighs. “Byleth…”

“You are a bad boy,” she ticks his nose. “Overworking, undisciplined meal takes. I don’t have a choice.”

Dimitri peeks into the paper bag, finding nice, juicy big chunks of five skewered meats she has put in there. “… With cheese sauce as well?” he murmurs, glancing at the smaller cup to which she just nods. “And they came from…”

“Yes. The Byleth kitchen just the same,” she says. “Offer Felix some?”

“Tough luck—no.”

“Oh, Dima. What has gotten into you?” she giggles a bit because he firmly shakes his head.

“Lyubov’.”

“… Again?” she murmurs, sneaking a quick hug as the opening credit rolls in. Dimitri smiles ruefully because… ah, again he lost, but losing never felt so comforting as long as she is the winner.

By the time the movie starts to play, Annette has comfortably leaning over Felix’s shoulder while Byleth finds herself nicely wrapped in yet another Dimitri’s coat that she loves. She doesn’t really understand what’s played, truthfully—Manuela asked her to watch it, begrudging the sudden change in her plan because she was invited to speak on a local health forum. “I don’t even have a date for this one,” the physician grumbled. “But I suppose watching a rom-com will only make me feel even more miserable. You know, why don’t you watch it so you can tell me if it’s worth it?”

“Huh?”

“Isn’t It Romantic?” Manuela sighed. “That’s the title. Actually, perhaps it’s suitable for you after all.”

Byleth Googled the movie. It is supposed to be about a woman who dislikes rom-com because of her past experiences growing up, yet somehow finding herself magically waking up to a rom-com situation after an incident. Determining to get out of the parallel world, she decides to play along because a typical rom-com usually ends when the protagonist finds true love—only to discover that the people she knows have their personalities and role changed as well. Dimitri hums a couple of times as the movie plays while there’s no single sound coming from Annette and Felix who occupy the chairs next to theirs. It’s  actually nice, to just sit and relax like this with Dimitri by her side—without realizing it, Byleth mirrors Dimitri, humming a couple of times as the movie proceeds. How comfortable. How warm. How relaxing. What graded quizzes? What budget reports? What the ….

“… Leaf.”

Byleth startles.

“Oi, Miss Bayleaf.”

This time she blinks. Cupping her mouth to let out a yawn she finds Felix and Annette watching her—both standing, with the theater’s bright light shining above them. Byleth looks left and right, noticing people leaving the building that she gently jams her elbow against Dimitri’s ribs. “… Dima?”

Felix slams his own face with his palm because Dimitri groans and yawns like a lion being awakened from hibernation.

“Wha—oh, no. I fell asleep!”

“Very much so, Boss!” Annette pats his shoulder, giggling a little bit. “You looked so peaceful!”

“Like a baby,” Felix nods in agreement. “If it was just you alone, I would have taken a picture.”

“We were a bit concerned!” Annette says. “Because you slept so soundly. Everything is alright, then?”

Felix smirks. “Of course he is. Look at that typical dumb look,” his sharp tongue playfully cuts in. “Come on, Annette. Let’s grab some sandwich or anything you want before I get you home—safely.”

“Awww, don’t tell me this is the parallel world where our protagonist was sent to. You spoke nicely,” she teases, but conveniently linking her arm with his, anyway. “We are leaving first, Professor! See you!”

“… Tch. No need to be so happy, it’s just food…” Felix yields anyway, letting Annette dragging him out.

“It’s not just food! It’s you being nice! Haha, if you are like this often, I might just fall for you, you know?”

“... Oh?”

Byleth and Dimitri send Felix and Annette to be on their way with their eyes. The cinema is starting to be empty again—at least until it’s time for the last screening scheduled for the day, which is probably around nine or so. Byleth hasn’t moved, and Dimitri makes no effort to fix his coat back. A couple of minutes pass without either of them doing anything until Dimitri breaks the looming silence at last.

“… Milochka.”

“Hmmm?” her reply is soft. “Want your coat back?”

“I don’t mind extra accessory,” he chuckles, gently running his fingertips in her hair.

She hums.

“I’m sorry for falling asleep…” he mutters sheepishly. “We’ve been so busy and now that we have the time for ourselves, I…”

“I fell asleep too, Dima,” she cuts in with a soft chuckle. “It’s not like I’m that innocent.”

“I can’t possibly demand justice considering I also slept, can I?” he says.

“Then that makes the two of us,” she nods simply.

“I suppose,” he finally smiles. “… Would that make me a jerk to admit that it was the best nap I’ve ever had?”

“Definitely not,” she smiles back. “That was the best nap I’ve ever had too.”

“Ah, moy kotik,” he laughs, helping her with the purse as they get up to leave the building. “Let’s go eat.”

“After you,” she smirks.

“That is the plan,” he nods solemnly. “And this shall be mine for a while, beloved.”

“… You want my purse?” she looks at him.

“What else should I do to make you let me pay?” he shrugs. “… I can’t believe it. This purse is small too.”

“It’s just your hand that is big,” she musters an accusing tone on purpose.

“But convenient for this purpose,” Dimitri grins as he holds her hand gently. “… I'll take you to dinner, zolatka.”

“I’ll let you pay this time,” she murmurs.

“Thank you very much,” he holds back a chuckle as they exit the building, hand in hand with her backpack on his shoulder and her purse returned.

“… Dima?” she says sheepishly as they wait for the red light to cross the street. “I’m not sure if I like rom-com.”

“I’m not sure either,” he replies casually. “But I like you, so it’s alright.”

“That’s the thing too—I like you as well, so I don’t mind you paying for our food.”

“Then I’m a lucky man.”

“Hmmm. I don’t know why you seem so happy considering you’ll be losing money, but okay,” she says. “How about we hunt down some promos?”

“No promo is fine with me as well.”

“I know you can buy the entire restaurant but cheap good food is art, you know?”

“Then perhaps we should eat many more dinners together so I know,” he cheekily says. “What do you say?”

“You know, I’m starting to think that we might be in a rom-com,” Byleth huffs, regardless. “But I suppose if having normal meals will help you to eat timely again, I don’t see the problem.”

“Hmmm. I suppose I don’t mind watching ten rom-coms in a row if it means you can nap,” he shrugs.

“Vengeful, aren’t you,” playfully she slaps his back.

“Me, disliking that you fell asleep on me?” he smirks. “Never.”

“Oh?”

“But honestly,” Dimitri scratches his head. “What even is actually a rom-com?”

Byleth looks at him.

“Romantic comrades?”

“Dima.”

“… Romance… commerce?”

“Dima—“

“Roman community?” even more innocently he clasps his chin now that he is thinking hard. “Is that a secret society, or a remnant of the age past? Historical reenactors? Followers of ancient Roman religions?”

“… Dima…”

“Y-you are laughing, beloved,” he stops talking.

“Why, is it weird?” she finishes with a tender chuckle. “Then it won’t hurt to take you to watch another one next time.”

“Of course not. Mesmerizing as always,” he blurts. “But why, though?”

“You are cute,” she says simply. “Careful now, we’ll need to cross the street!”

“Again,” he mumbles. “Always taking care of me. What is this then?”

“Lyubov’,” she smirks, making it clear that the very moment his defeat is imminent.

Chapter Text

Dimitri wishes he could hide a growing smirk he spotted by the time he diverted his gaze from the whiteboard to his own laptop. Before him, his small team consisting of ten people with the extra of two interns they received last month waits anxiously as he runs his eyes to scan whatever his laptop is displaying to him—then back at the whiteboard.

“... Sir...” Cyril breaks the silence, earning sincere admiring look from the rest of the group. None of them expected Dimitri to truly roll his sleeves to run a marker with pages of handwritten note parked in his hand, but the moment the team entered the meeting room as scheduled, they were presented with a coat-less, tie-less Dimitri facing them with his back as the blonde sped-wrote the whiteboard. Even after his typical welcome greeting, presented with a sincere small smile as always, the team was made curious again because Dimitri simply returned to his seat and spent another ten minutes to closely watch his laptop.

“Give me a minute,” the blonde finally defuses the silence, dragging his wheeled chair to observe the whiteboard and the monitor interchangeably.

Nobody says anything until Lysithea makes a small gasp upon noticing the blossoming smirk on the boss—that has to mean happiness, right? Then what is the raw smirk for? But before anyone can utter a question, the landline on the desk softly rings and Dimitri grabs it the way an eagle snatches its prey off the ground.

“Zdravstvuitye,” Dimitri answers the phone with a low voice. “Eto Dimitri... chto?”

He talks for about five minutes more on the phone afterwards. Sparing one last look at his monitor and back to the whiteboard, the team finally catches the full blossom of his smile—the Faerghus CEO looks more than pleased that they can see how his shoulders gently heave as he returns the phone to its initial place.

“Before we start,” there’s clearly satisfaction spelt on his face there. “Let me say I reached my target.”

He doesn’t specify anything else afterwards. The meeting progresses as usual and his silence deters people from asking more, but Cyril and Lysithea groggily accept when he calmly approaches them with vouchers for a high-end dinner at a world-class hotel. “Was this your target then?” Lysithea asks. In discreet Cyril thanks his good luck—being able to enroll at Garreg Mach on scholarship itself is already a blessing, and now, paired with the curious, knowledgeable and studious Lysithea to work at Faerghus? He can make Rhea proud, for sure, so the rector would know that her confidence in him was never wasted. Cyrl still recalls how Rhea informed him about the scholarship, asking if he wanted to compete winning one.

At that time, he responded with the typical demeanor—straightforward and a bit distant. Surely not everyone was being personally approached by the rector, right? Rhea—the Rhea looked for him, personally asked if she could speak face to face with him in the dorm room he occupied by himself ever since he got a notification that he could go to Garreg Mach last spring. “There has to be a mistake,” Cyril said. Guilt crept over him because he forgot to make the place a bit more presentable, but then again he just used his room to sleep or study. To be able to graduate high school alone was a surprise—now to attend the prestigious Garreg Mach as well? There had to be price to pay, and Cyril forgot the last time he occupied the room during typical normal hours because he spent most of his time outside trying to scrape for money.

“Why is that, my child?”

Rhea’s way of speaking to him didn’t surprise him. Garreg Mach was affiliated with the Church, after all, so he expecte a priestly demeanor out of her. What he didn’t expect, however, was the kind tone and the motherly look she treated him with. “... I’m Almyran,” he said.

“And?”

There was no argument he could think of afterwards, and the board declared him fit for the scholarship. He thought it had to be a once in a lifetime chance, but at Faerghus he found something similar in Dimitri Blaiddyd—sure, for starters the CEO isn’t a priest. When he inspected floor after floor to get first-hand experience at anything his employees were working on, simple chit-chat somehow managed to slip past Dimitri’s serious demeanor, revealing a sincere, humble millionaire with warm laughter. The world is odd and Cyril wisely keeps his mouth shut upon noticing the similar screenlock wallpaper the blonde uses and the one he caught from his own professor during lecture.

And now the same demeanor returns. “Old enough to drink yet?”

Lysithea firmly shakes his head, while Cyril poses a daring answer. “... Publically?”

Dimitri hums. “Tell them to replace the champagne.”

Lysithea stares with her mouth open at the voucher while Cyril cannot even blink. “This is a first-class fine dining voucher,” he says.

“It is.”

“Why?” Lysithea asks again. “If it’s because my family works closely with your trade allies or simply because your family and the Church have been partners for generations...”

“You are perceptive,” Dimitri simply nods without any trace of annoyance on his person. “You and Cyril helped me combing through these reports as I restructured the budget—all the while watching my stocks and proposals for the contract I signed last month with the older Goneril.”

“That was about the time when the professor sent us in,” Lysithea puts a hand under her chin. “And at school we happened to just learned to file things, accounting style. Right when you asked us to help you combing through your reports.”

“Exactly. And I paid people who worked for me,” Dimitri responds, cannot help but mustering a smile upon hearing Lysithea’s sincere account. So she remembers after all, and his mind travels back to their teaching assistant. Is there a chance where she never reached out to him?

“... That includes the professor, in a way,” Cyril blurts and Dimitri blushes a little. If these two read his mind, he will... “... Are you going to compensate her as well, Mr. Blaiddyd?”

“I didn’t stutter,” that’s all the response Dimitri can offer before he does, anyway.

The little moment with these two interns prompts his mind to book the earliest fight to surf the memory of his dearly beloved, and goddess knows how Dimitri manages to keep his face straight and demeanor professional because he sorely misses her when lunch time comes.

When Lysithea and Cyril leave Faerghus to return to Garreg Mach shortly after lunch, somehow he cannont contain the longing feeling any longer—more so when he catches Lysithea’s tomato-red cheeks as Cyril whispers if it would be possible for them to go alone to use this voucher together, dressing fancily and all that. “I uh,” he sees Cyril’s eyes brimming with joy while Lysithea kicks a pebble on the street. “... M-maybe I can dress up. If you don’t mind. I’ve got a nice shirt too!”

Dimitri returns inside with various things dancing on his mind. If he could conveniently reward his valuable interns with fine dining, then he can do so much more for his precious beloved. He makes stretching moves as he returns to his office room—now that takes care of his headache a bit. The research Byleth helped him with has been guiding him through the value market and mapping the trends around him, the way his brainstorming her paper landed her an A for her latest class. Dimitri yawns a bit. Funny how his body remembers to demand sleep now compared to the nights where he would beg it to surrender instead...

His project with Holst is progressing as his stocks wipe the trade center’s floors. Suddenly he feels a bit emotional—he needs to blink back since his eyes start to fog. His hand shivers a bit as he digs into his pocket, pondering over the single button left out of a burning coat Lambert used to haul him to safety as he perished in the fire. Finally, giving something back, improving the lives of those who need it as he sets the milestone to open the forest surrounding his babushka’s house in the cold, snowy-white mountain the way Holst holds the Fodlan Locket.

Dimitri twirls the button in his hand. Perhaps he should get a chain and wear it as a pendant instead...

Another tender smile blooms once again. There’s no point denying it—he misses her; terribly so more than he expects. As if they have been separated by the oceans for months, he really wants her to enjoy this with him. She was there through thick and thin. She was there, staying when his own team doubted him. She has always believed in him—he recalls their hotpot moment where she called him kind, where she simply thought that he did the right thing and she’d be there, always.

Dimitri drags brochures from the drawer he normally cares little about—he’s familiar with these places, with the luxuries they offer. He can already portray what they may serve and what to expect.

... But Byleth cannot. If he had no problem pampering two college kids with nice, fancy foods, then...

Dimitri scratches his head back and forth. Great, he has zero problem pampering Byleth, of course—but how is everything so... confusing and leaving him clueless the more he wishes to treat her? He stares at his phone, deciding to go with the last resort—the Lions to the rescue.

Sylvain. What would you do if you’re to pamper a lady for a day?

Sent. And honest to God he has no idea why he surrenders his fate to Sylvain like that.

Ahaaa, Boss. Just say the professor, it’s okay ;D

Dimitri clears his throat.

What’s the plan and how much is the allocated budget?

He ponders once again.

No limit, finally he says.

... Mon Dieu, Sylvain types faster than lightning.

Alright, um, a thousand or four?—He types back. Faerghus just scored a profit—profit, darn it, Byleth deserves a treat or three. He can predict how much Garreg Mach pays her, anyway.

SACREBLEU, Sylain’s reply comes in seconds.

Dimitri sighs. Alright then Monsieur Putain what would you do if you were me?

I’ll make a woman out of her, maybe on a yacht with that money ;D

“Gavno,” Dimitri glares sourly at his screen, ignoring the panicked You asked! follow-up from Sylvain. He tries again, sending the same text to Felix. His raven-haired childhood friend is mean, but he won’t mince words with him... right? At least if Felix thinks he’s being ridiculous, the raven-haired friend can just tell him right away and that won’t require a second text.

Pamper a lady?

Dimitri blinks, reading the reply from Felix. Their recent encounter at the movies resurfaces in his mind. Byleth teases him to be vengeful... maybe he should just go along with it then?

Wouldn’t you want to treat Annette with the sweetness she deserves?

Dimitri cracks his knuckles as he leans back on his chair. Now he waits.

I’m going to murder you, the newest text he received reads.

Dimitri smirks. So that’s definitely a yes because otherwise Felix couldn’t be bothered to reply to him like that. But then again it doesn’t help—alright, alright, it’s very normal wanting to make the person you love feel so cared for; then again how?

He would have sighed if a simple phone call didn’t stop him.

“Dima?”

Just the person he didn’t expect to call. He doesn’t want to be a Blaiddyd at the moment—all he wants to do is grabbing that sweet money to be with his sweet Byleth because his lady deserves the world and beyond. If he is entitled to privilege and comfort, then let him be entitled one more time because he doesn’t want to enjoy everything alone.

After all the trouble to be the one alive...

Dimitri inhales. These voices will not be ruining him today. Not today—he’ll fight them sincerely until they have no choice but withdraw, deep, deep to oblivion. “... Dyadka?”

“What’s the matter? Doesn’t sound so enthusiastic for someone who just scored a profit,” Rufus speaks through the intercom. “Pozdravlyayu vas s dostignutymi uspekhami, i...”

Dimitri inhales again. Of course, there’s always something else afterwards. Congratulations on your success—and...

And he’s just a person. Sometimes he wants the time of the day to feel like that. “I chto potom—and then what?”

“I prizyvayu vas ne skhodit' s izbrannogo puti.”

Dimitri pauses.

“And I urge you to maintain the course. Don’t stray away.”

Of course. And of course Rufus has to refresh his mind by reminding himself how much it is that they have won, and... his share alone, worth half a million under his name. Slowly Dimitri makes a motion to massage his forehead—he was finer than fine just a moment ago, but now this dizziness demands his attention and his head throbs even more as Rufus continues with his calculation. “With taxes and maintenance, I suppose, that shall leave you with...”

Dimitri doesn’t listen. When the news broke on him, all he could think was the sweet bed he had been occupying prematurely for the past two months. That he could open his laptop to deal with more than just numbers and whatever it is demanded of him at the moment, but chit-chatting freely on the group chat in which he is a member. Perhaps calling Byleth earlier than ten. Perhaps taking Byleth on a date—and probably ten. Perhaps he can actually help Byleth with her own papers because lately they spent their evenings at the Blue Lions like complete strangers—her with the papers, him with his reports. He recalls how Byleth would sneak a chance to squeeze his hand every now and then, but he wants more—talking with her, enjoying their companionship. Byleth gave him homemade lunches, and... yes, he cannot cook; yes, he knows next to nothing about spices. But damn everything if it means he cannot share the finest things he comes across with her.

“... Dima?”

He gasps. Good that the phone didn’t break in his hand. “Dyadka, good timing, actually. There are things I’d like to ask, considering you are experienced, the only pro-player I can think of.”

“Oh?”

“Elegance, finesse. You are the king.”

“... Keep talking, malchik.”

Dimitri scratches his head. Can’t believe that out of everything he will eventually get back to this. He wishes his uncle wouldn’t have to point-and-tell considering his cheeks are all red now, but if Byleth deserves the best, then he doesn’t mind being a dunce. When Rufus cackles once again, however, with a not-so heavy heart Dimitri pretends to have something else to attend because no way he will listen to yet another joke about a toothless, confused suitor who pales before Vasilisa the Beautiful.

Vasilisa, he repeats silently. Perhaps that’s what her name actually is, considering she’s the queen of his heart. Dimitri glances down upon hearing the soft buzzing sound on his desk. His lips curve pleasantly upon noticing the number which just made a contact with his phone. Cheekily he refuses to write back—instead, he dials it. Pampering can go beyond money, right? “Privyet, beloved.”

“Ah, Dima!” her startled expression earns his sincere chuckles. Her face instantly enters his mind that he pictures her to be gasping, perhaps making a tsk, tsk sound as she shakes her head. “Sorry for texting you. I got a bit worried.”

He listens to her recounting the nights where he labored himself at his desk, unreachable and concerning because his texts would come so late considering his phone was either busy or unanswered during the day. She deserves to protest him, after all—under normal circumstance he would pick a more suitable time to text her rather than appearing after dark. It was already annoying to him, having to be distracted by being constantly reminded of the piling workload each time he thought of stealing some time for a private phone call. With his own computer refusing to sleep and her emails pertaining the research she helped Cyril and Lysithea with for Faerghus’ sake, Dimitri had to settle with changing his typical email signature from Regards, Dimitri to Love, Dima knowing it’s still formal emails they exchanged between each other.

“Dima?”

He gasps.

“You weren’t listening to me,” Byleth sighs from the other side. “... I really want to steal you away.”

“I listened, zolatka,” he cannot help but making a ripple of sheepish laughter then. “But your voice was lovely, so I’d rather...”

“You are blushing,” she chuckles.

“I’m not,” he remarks, stealing a quick glance of his own reflection and frowns.

“You are,” she hums. “I know you are...”

Dimitri wonders why Byleth keeps forgetting his policy regarding using sweet tone on him like that. Clearing his throat he decides not to prolong the debate between them because... because Rodrigue or Gustave shall no longer bear the power to keep him there as he sincerely means to leave early—if Rufus wants him to behave like a champion, then he’ll knock everything out as a champion; move over, he’s coming to get his beloved and nobody can stop him.

I still want to know if everything is truly alright as you said, her text comes shortly after he ends the call. He purses his lips once again—perhaps they are more alike than everyone expected, him included. She keeps him in check and grounded yet at the same time giving just the right tender room to breathe, so how could he not...

Perhaps I should be the one having to steal you away, he replies. Her concern never actually got past him, and today he’s prepared to return the kindness she has showered him with all along.

From: Dimitri Blaiddyd <CEO@faerghus.com>
To: Blue Lions Café <admin@bluelions.com>

Greetings, Lions!

If the professor comes today, give anything she asks but REFUSE her payment.

—Dimitri.

Now he waits.

From: Blue Lions Café <admin@bluelions.com>
To: Dimitri Blaiddyd <CEO@faerghus.com>

That’s nearly impossible, Boss—she’s more or less an economist, right? If she remembers other people’s money and can strategize for you, there’s no way she doesn’t know her own money. What should I do then, pretend that we’re all dead?

—Sylvain.

From: Dimitri Blaiddyd <CEO@faerghus.com>
To: Blue Lions Café <admin@bluelions.com>

Dear Sylvain,

Yes.

—Dimitri.

Perhaps it’s too childish to grin like what he just did, but at this point he doesn’t care. Dimitri hums one more time as he watches his laptop slowly shutting down. He loads his things into his loyal messenger bag as always, whistling a song as he darts his steps outside the room. Everything feels good. Everything is so perfect. He took notes like a diligent school boy the way he did his meetings and actual brainstorming sessions with Byleth. He can safely say he has memorized all the fancy places Rufus spoke of including their rates—tone firm without fidgeting when Rufus teased if he truly, truly wanted the best. “The better than that,” he remembers responding.

“Ha! Finally, my Dimachka is enjoying life.”

Dimitri composes another text as he throws himself and the bag into the car—I’ll be a bit late though, beloved, would you mind unwinding at the Blue Lions until I pick you up for dinner?

Ah, I’m happy you remember to eat!—Byleth’s reply comes faster than he anticipates. ... Do not text while driving, though, Dima.

Dimitri lifts his eyebrows, smirking as he slows down so a red light catches him. Darn it—and he said this with a smile; his beloved is so accurate at times that it’s scary... and by scary he means lovely.

I wait you at the gym?—Felix’s text startles him.

Yes! Need to burn that sloppiness after sitting for hours for months, he types rapidly since the light is changing color. I want to get sweaty for my beloved.

Dimitri hits the gas, glaring at the driver who incessantly honks at him.

Boar, you are disgusting, Felix replies casually.

Dimitri rereads the text he just sent. Embarrassed but determining to go down with the ship, he scratches his head, inhaling even though Felix cannot see his expression at the moment. Thank you, he replies, revelling in the idea of seeing Felix’s comically sour expression later at the gym.

Cheap price anyway—anything for the lady.


 

“So, what is this thing about pleasing a lady?” Felix grins as he tries to push a strike with his sword. Dimitri trips on his feet and Felix casually kicks his training spear away, meeting the blonde’s sullen look as the tip of the sword is directed at the latter’s neck. “Distraction is lethal.”

Dimitri holds up his hands, yielding. “And how was she, at the Blue Lions?”

“Want me to spy on her for you now?” Felix keeps taunting while Dimitri starts contemplating whether it would be wise had he bludgeoned Felix right away with the back side of his lance. “Or want me to be her loyal guard while you are away? Really? You’re not that subtle.”

“You’re the one to talk,” Dimitri points at the face towel Felix uses. The latter frowns before tilting a little to catch whatever it was Dimitri pointed at—and grunts with a blush upon noticing the little cat embroidery in pink at the base of the towel.

“And what of it?” Felix shrugs. Dimitri purses his lips ruefully—Felix has always been a great fighter, after all, because he damn knows how to counter and parry.

“I’m not judging,” Dimitri musters a humble tone. That’s what they teach when you start picking up a lesson in fighting, after all—drawing the enemy in... right?

“... You can’t,” Felix throws another towel which Dimitri lets to land on his head without a fuss. “Yeah, I got this from Annette, so what? As for your question—hmmm. We offered her all sort of things Mercedes even willing to personally bake from scratch, but she just... refused.”

“Pardon?” Dimitri stops.

“... Tell me you didn’t fight or anything,” Felix sighs. “If you are concerned, then I am concerned.”

“No, of course not,” Dimitri mumbles. Refused? Perhaps what they have in the store today isn’t so appealing for her? But she loves their pastries, what will be the cause?

“Leaving after this?” Felix cocks an eyebrow when he catches that Dimitri is so ready to rush to the shower. He needs to ask—despite the meanness he treats Dimitri with, there’s no way he lets his boar friend be miserable alone. “She had tea though, Dimitri.”

Dimitri slows down at an instant. “Just it? What kind?”

“Your kind,” Felix smirks. “Chamomile.”

Dimitri blushes slightly.

“Don’t shoot the messenger,” Felix keeps his voice flat.

“Excuse you,” Dimitri throws the towel back at him. “Unlike you, I do communicate. With love.”

“... Tch,” Felix tosses the towel onto their bench. “You’re disgusting.”

“Thank you,” like prior, Dimitri merely grins at Felix as he takes his steps further to one of the bathrooms further inside. His mind wanders again, though—why did Byleth refuse to get anything else? He knows she can eat, the way she knows that he can hold his plates too. Even prior to this one he would eat well to restore his strength, more so after a heavy workout session or when the job at Faerghus confines him to his chair. What if Byleth’s texts actually mean... other things? What if she isn’t as happy as she sounded? Dimitri hangs his day pants and digs his phone out of the pocket. Now how does he communicate with love as he bragged to Felix prior? Is he imagining things? What if Byleth is unwell, and she hides her condition from him? Speaking of being alike...

“Boar?”

Pizdec, Dimitri scoffs when his phone nearly slipped past his fingers because the knock startled him. “Yeah?”

“The boys want to know if you’re in,” Felix calls from the outside. “They’re screening a fighting movie.”

“Go on first,” Dimitri replies without thinking. “I want to take Byleth out tonight—she doesn’t know yet.”

“Alright,” Felix croons. “... Communicate, he said. With love, he said.”

Felix softly yells profanity because Dimitri sprays his legs with water from under. Regardless of the banter, everything starts to die down—or so Dimitri thinks because the bustling environment and chatters start to cease, at least from the changing room over there. Friday night tends to make the busiest day because more people come to the gym than usual, probably with the similar intention like his as people want to evaporate their fatigue during the day before entering the blissful weekend mood. Dimitri hastens his bathing—he needs to get back to the Blue Lions as soon as possible, regardless whether or not Felix chooses to watch the movie with the others.

Dimitri yanks the shower stall door open as soon as he finishes. Maybe he should talk to her, after all—how fast can he reach the Blue Lions from here again? Should he start making sudden reservations to the fancy places he has been thinking throughout the day?

In the middle of combing his hair, however, he notices that things are no longer as quiet as they were. He could hear sounds—interesting sounds; people grunting and falling onto the mattress which he expects from a fight. Intense movie, he thinks again, wondering how long he actually spent in the shower if short amount of time already gives a fast-paced action. He feels his phone in his pocket again, making sure he didn’t doom the device after what happened while he was bathing. The gym bros must be enjoying themselves then, Dimitri thinks again with a smile upon noticing how close and loud the volume is. But when the next person yells, his eyebrows quirk—isn’t that too loud? There are small children practicing boxing in the building too!

But Dimitri doesn’t need to wonder longer because one of the gym bros he recognized to be using the expander by the time he and Felix finished practicing rushes in. “... Ah, Blaiddyd. S-save yourself!”

Dimitri blinks.

“T-that woman, that woman—!”

Dimitri blinks... twice. “What woman?”

“You know those gym bros who like to flex on newcomers?”

“... No?”

“Dammmit, Blaiddyd—what are you, a hermit?  They thought they could do the same thing to her, but oh, how the tables have turned. She got Raphael. And then Caspar! And then...”

“... Tch, I yield.”

“That’s...” Dimitri shoots a wary look. “Felix?!”

He runs outside. Oh, dear goddess—he does run outside, messily slinging his messenger bag and latching his waistband next. His shirt is even still unbuttoned as he throws his training shirt and other things into another bag before sealing his messenger bag shut. What a wild night—first a puzzling girlfriend, now the entire gym changing into the very scene of a supposed fighting movie his gym buddies are eager to watch? Dimitri grunts. He just wants a night to pamper his girlfriend, darn it; away from Faerghus, away from his uncle who seems to be in constant disbelief when he does everything at his pace or admitting to like the simple things in life. And now what, he has to literally fight his way out because somehow Supergirl attacked the gym? Dimitri cracks his knuckles—who is the asshole responsible for this? Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, they said.

“Aaah, finally I got the chance to taste your power,” he can hear Felix speaking outside. “Do what you must—proceed.”

“Wait...” and Dimitri gloriously stops with his jaw open upon realizing what truly happened.

It’s Byleth. His zolatka just subdued Felix with a jumping headlock, pinning his childhood friend with her thighs nicely against the mattress. Felix’s cheeks are red from exhaustion trying to break out of the lock, tapping the mattress with puffy cheeks while trying to keep his breathing stable. Around her, Caspar von Bergliez—the Blitzkrieg of his group chat—grunts and yelps after receiving a roundhouse kick while the gentle giant Raphael Kirsten wails as he slumps nearby.

The sudden arrival alerts Byleth as well. The teaching assistant cranes her neck, unable to hide her surprise upon finding Dimitri looking at her, nailed frozen against the floor with the expression she truly, truly didn’t expect him to make—at least not like this, not now, considering she just KO’d three of his gym mates and subduing other three bros prior. But ah, Dimitri really shoots her such an adoring look while his eyes laugh considering he tries so hard not to—aside of that, she just realized he ran outside with only his day pants well-zipped considering his work shirt billows seamlessly now that it’s left unbuttoned...

“Byleth?” he calls casually. “Murdering men?”

“Hi, Dima,” sheepishly, she hops off the mattress, releasing Felix from the misery. “... Apparently.”

“Y-you...” the people who tasted brawling with her start getting up with flaring noses. “Hey, lady! What the hell did you just do? Who are you again, coming here playing tough like that?!”

“Your friend made a kissing gesture at me.”

Dimitri blinks.

“And these two wanted to spar. I know Felix—we’ve been so busy that I haven’t had the chance to truly spar with him,” this time she innocently gestures at the sullen kitty as she pulls him back up.

“Yeah,” Felix stretches his arm. “Oh, that feels good... next time let’s do it with swords, Miss Bayleaf.”

“Sure,” she replies simply.

“Sigh. I told you not to get into fights easily, Caspar,” another voice cuts in. “Ah, it’s you.”

“... Oh. Linhardt?” Byleth turns around. “This is your friend?”

“He’s supposed to eat with me,” Linhardt yawns. “And seems he’s being dumb as usual.”

“H-heheh. I saw strong opponent, I got excited,” Caspar mutters from the corner. “Anyway, I’m Caspar.”

“I thought you were a bank robber,” Raphael grunts as he stands up. “And then...”

“... And then what is this about kissy gesture?” Dimitri hovers closer. “I just finished months-long workload which stole my sleep. I hardly had time to rest and I haven’t had my dinner yet, if anyone here wants to die, I can kill every last one of you without a fuss...”

“Ahem!”

Dimitri turns around. Byleth glares at him now, with her arms folded and expression stern. “I can explain.”

“And then what is this about you overworking yourself?”

Dimitri looks at her. “... I thought you would chide me for wanting to murder... men?”

“No?” Byleth looks back. “But why must your entry be very spectacular and hot at the same time?”

Dimitri stares at her.

Byleth glances around, then back at him... and at herself noticing how messy she is when the mirror at the gym reveals her unkempt hair and folded skirt after brawling with six people like that. “... Okay, I can fix this,” she murmurs, giving a finger-comb of her hair... but Dimitri stops her.

“... Likewise, beloved?”

“T-that too,” she chuckles awkwardly. “I can explain.”

“Then let's start,” Dimitri holds her hand as he ushers her to the screening room. “How are you always mesmerizing?”


 

They look at each other as the screen fades to black. Several people start leaving, disgruntled and peeved while Raphael spreads his arms, looking absolutely confused after hearing people’s complaints left and right. “What?” he asks. “It’s a fighting movie!”

“Yeah, but Lionheart? Come on, that’s cheesy,” one of them comments. Dimtiri shoots a glare at him and he speeds to the front door—no way he forgets it was the random person who made a kissy gesture at Byleth from prior.

Dimitri’s eyes catch Byleth’s as he scoffs. Meanwhile, Raphael looks pretty bummed as he unloads the DVD back into the case. Byleth sighs. And Raphael is made surprised twice because turns out the short lady who took him down in two minutes can also smile—comfortingly so, even! “The movie was good,” she says. “I genuinely liked it. Thank you very much.”

Dimitri is made surprised multiple times when Raphael appears like he’s about to sob, saying he can give her a free dessert should she decide to stop and eat at the inn and restaurant he manages. Dimitri watches as Byleth smiles even softer, asking the address and spontaneously says it appears like the kind of restaurant college students love to hang out at.

They simply sit side by side even then, purposefully waiting on everyone else to leave the gym. Felix merely tells Dimitri to just be with Byleth, anyway, because there isn’t much left for him to do at the Blue Lions at this point. The moment Dimitri informed the Lions that Faerghus would demand his full attention times three for two months, they already braced everything should he didn’t show up.

“... Dima?” she calls softly. Startled, he gasps a bit, and he wishes he can just tell how much he adores her right away because she simply smiles as he stutters his reply. Dimitri smiles back woefully—talk about some alpha CEO who just confidently told his intern that he didn’t stutter during the day... “I probably should have told you I was here. Truth is, I missed you.”

How frank. How brutal, for his faint, Byleth-devoted heart. She missed him? At least the big question he has been dying to ask is answered. So, supposedly she wasn’t mad at him—otherwise she wouldn’t be there, rushing to gym to catch up with him. She wouldn’t even order a drink which easily reminded her of him—her and the Lions know well that it’s his trademark tea, perfect for someone who cannot sleep well like him. “Um...”

“I’m worried,” she softens her voice even more, gently running her fingers above his bare arm. He rolled his sleeves, yet; but of course he didn’t know she was a bit disappointed when he properly buttoned his shirt back. “You told me to wait at the Blue Lions. Then strangely nobody seemed wanting to take my money. You’ve worked so hard lately—how come I’m not concerned?”

“... Ah...”

“Which reminds me,” she clasps her chin. “This means I haven’t paid for the chamomile tea.”

“Felix told me,” Dimitri rubs his nose. “If only I knew you liked it.”

“Hmmm. Frankly, I’m neutral,” she grins. “... But you weren’t there, and something felt missing.”

Dimitri pauses right away.

“I finished earlier,” she shifts to stretch her legs. “So I thought I could steal you for—dinner.”

“... Dear goddess,” Dimitri breathes.

“You’ve been too busy that you needed alarm to eat your meals,” she replies bluntly. “So... Dima—hey, why are you laughing?”

Right. He clutches his stomach, laughing... first they started as faint chuckles, but more and more his voice only gets to be louder, lighter, freeer... while Byleth can only watch. “... Ah, milochka. Pardon me—I used to think I’m indeed lucky, but never this lucky.”

“... For?” she blinks.

“Dating you.”

“Really now?” she chuckles back. But Dimitri’s gaze softens, sealing her lips shut as tenderly, tenderly he reaches out to her, keeping her hand in his as he takes out his phone to show her.

“I won it, darling.”

“Oh!” she gasps. Of course she recognized his whiteboard, his spreadsheet... the very same data she helped Cyril and Lysithea with when they came to her for advice and one-by-one tutoring session. “They didn’t say it was for you—they only said they needed something extra for Faerghus,” amazed, she looks at his phone again—closely. Her smile breaks on her lips then. “Remember when I said I was grading?”

“Yes?”

“I lied,” she smiles sheepishly. “That was part of my research.”

Dimitri shoots her a look.

“I suppose—I wanted to... support you,” her voice is faint, faint... and Dimitri is contemplating whether kissing her will bring her voice back to life or not. “Cyril and Lysithea asked me while Seteth consulted Jeritza—I heard you planned on purchasing some things from Seiros for the construction project regarding your babushka’s house and wanting to sell your stocks without completely losing your bargaining power. And I thought—”

“Thought what... malishka?”

The endearment term in the end makes her pause a bit. “... I simply thought you’d be so happy if you accomplished it,” she says. “And hoping you’d rest more and eat well. ... That, with not wanting Jeritza to win, probably. Foolish, I know, but let’s save that part for another day.”

Oh, goddess, he loses it. He missed her terribly, and now, hearing her frank thoughts, knowing she too missed him, and still thought of his well-being in the process. “... Beloved,” his voice croaks. Why, he feels so much. He loves her much. “Just so I can sleep and eat on time?”

“Yes?” confused, she looks back. “What’s... wrong?” eying him warily she lets Dimitri pulls her in. She hums, breathing in his scent—it feels forever since the last time they could sit so closely like this. Just the two of us, being contended and happy basking in the simple peace out of enjoying little things in life. She rests her head on his shoulder upon feeling his fingers trace hers, like a group of fishes desperate to find their colony, desperate to find their home. She latches her fingers onto his, enjoying the little pleased grunt he makes. It always feels right, she thinks, as long as it’s Dimitri. Until now she still wonders every now and then each time Dimitri mentions how warm her hand is, because... what will it take for him to know that his hand feels strong, strong and energetic that she knows as long as it clings onto her own, nothing feels impossible to endure.

“... Byleth?”

“Dima?”

He laughs. “We keep calling each other’s name like that, don’t we, beloved.”

“Pretty name, why must I complain?” she sighs. “And you?”

“That name belongs in my mind as well as in my heart—how could I forget?”

She laughs back. “... Maybe we should leave before this place closes.”

“Alright.”

“... Tell me though, Dima,” she lightly pinches his cheek because he kisses her hand. “The Blue Lions. Was it your plan, to detain me so I didn’t catch you overworking?”

“Goodness, no,” his laughter comes out seamlessly. “On the contrary, darling. I want you to taste the fruit of my labor.”

“... But you did it?” she looks at him. “I don’t understand.”

“You guided me as always. How do you expect me to revel in my achievement while you are out of the picture? Please, I cannot endure such torture.”

“... Dima.”

“I haven’t seen you in a month,” he whispers. “Of course my heart bled, moy mayak.”

Byleth glances at her phone. “Mayak,” she repeats. “That’s what you said, right...?”

“If so?” he taunts.

“... You called me a lighthouse?” she frowns. “You do have unconventional interests, Lion King.”

“Lighthouse...” Dimitri gapes. “... Oh. Dear goddess, no, no—there’s that, yes, but there’s another implication.”

“Hmmm. Tell.”

“I’m hungry.”

“Dima!”

He simply smirks, though. “You smile even though I dragged you to watch a bad movie.”

“Bad movie?” she blinks. “Oh. Dear goddess, no, not at all.”

Dimitri makes a mental note that Byleth just copied his tone. Seriously, for someone who vehemently stated feeling concerned of his well-being, this woman only makes him wanting to vehemently pamper her as well. ... Will Byleth be alright if he is to kiss her fifty times? “Not at all?”

“No! I find the protagonist endearing,” she hums. “Some people probably considered him a bit dumb or even goofy, but—but he feels. And he just wants to give something nice for his niece. Someone who keeps trying... someone who genuinely loves his family... someone who...” she stops talking, catching his adoring look at her. “... Someone with a lot of love and compassion to give.”

“... I can’t hear you, malishka,” Dimitri murmurs as he leans closer.

“... I feel hazy,” she whispers as he brings her face closer to his.

“What a coincidence—same,” gently he tucks her hair strands behind her ears. “... Byleth. I miss you.”

“I’m sorry—I cannot kiss you, I have a boyfriend,” she responds. Her arms find their way to caress him as they encircle his neck and shoulders. “... Whom I love very much.”

“I respect that decision,” he traces her jawline.

“I suppose—I suppose I can let you treat me that chamomile tea,” she hugs him... tighter.

“I also respect that decision,” he smiles, bending down to find her lips.

“If I let you kiss me, will you let me pay for dinner?” she quickly tickles his ribs.

“No,” he musters a stern tone on purpose. “But I can let you pick the place.”

“Hmmm. How about some nice, hearty big, big pizza. You like cheese?”

“I do,” he nods. “And you.”

“Strange. You sound like my boyfriend,” she says. “We’re getting that, then.”

“... Just pizza, beloved?” he harbors his gaze deep into her eyes. His mind travels back to the brochures and little notes he compiled after chit-chatting his uncle. What if he suggest her a bottle of chardonnay to accompany the pizza? Obnoxious? Probably. Odd? He bets. Does he regret it, however? Absolutely not.

“Just pizza,” she nods. “... And you.”

He expects to spend—not save.

“If you have surplus,” she hums again. “... Maybe you can send lunchboxes to an orphanage. Or ten.”

He blinks.

“I don’t know,” she sheepishly chuckles. “How do you tend to spend your money again?”

... Ah, his zolatka. Precious, precious Byleth—

“Were you saying all these things just so I tell you what mayak means?”

“Yes,” she nods again, drawing his face in as she cups his cheek. “... Welcome back, Mr. Blaiddyd.”

“Glad to occupy your heart again, Miss Eisner.”

“Again?” she ticks his nose. “But your name has always been there.”

“... And your lips, rodnaya?”

“Waiting for yours,” she smiles. “This dictionary revealed new things as I browsed.”

“Oh?”

“Sakharok...” her voice makes a pleasant chant as it melliflulously fondles his ears. “Sladkiy sakharok—have I ever told you that you are such a sweet, sweet, sweet sugar piece?”

“Have I told you that you are my beacon—my light, my hope?”

“... Aha,” she pokes his cheek. “So that was it. Mayak.”

“Mmm.”

“I know you, Dima,” she giggles a bit. “And malishka?”

“... This.”

Dimitri tilts her face gently. Gently, gently, and tender but way, way too sweet to let it just be a tease. Her lips feel soft under his, and he wonders how long it has passed util they need to break away from each other—something he regrets even if only to catch a breath. “Liar, I bet that’s not what it means,” she huffs, easily fishing his adoring chuckles. “... But why does your lie taste good?”

“Why does your honesty?” he quirks an eyebrow.

“Good question,” she sighs. “Maybe we should... redo?”

“... Beloved,” he calls softly as they walk to the parking lot together, hand-in-hand with their arms linking with each other’s. “What if the pizza place is closed?”

“Chicken tenders—tons of it.”

Dimitri smiles and tries again. “... Have you tried... caviar, dear?”

“For dinner?” she asks. “No, but—this is so sudden, how can we even get a table?”

Oh we can and I’ll see that we can, says the Lion in the lion. What’s those sleepless nights for if he couldn’t even treat his beloved a fancy dinner or ten? “All-you-can-eat steakhouse doesn’t sound too bad.”

“Meat,” she says. “That sounds good, but only the two of us? We should take your lions too.”

“How about some nice steak, but with wagyu beef,” he blurts mindlessly.

“How about a taco set with great ice cream afterwards,” she replies. “Or—ah, I know. If you’re sick of cheese, I’ll get the tacos and you eat the steak?”

“No.”

“Alright, pizza it is then.”

“Pizza, and I’m paying?” he says, quickly waving her hand into a handshake before she manages to say anything else. “Deal. I’m game.”

“What’s wrong with you today?” she chuckles again. “I thought you no longer miss me. I mean, we're talking and you kissed me three times.”

“I wanted four, but you said if we weren’t hurry, there would be no pizza,” he smirks.

“But that’s the truth,” she shrugs. “... Dima?”

“Yes, Byleth?”

Again, her name for his name. Let’s try this game again. “... My lion?”

“Yes, my light?”

Persistent, aren’t you. “... Iuchik...”

“... Da, krasotka...?”

Maybe it’s unwise to get trapped in the game he plays, but Dimitri is dead wrong thinking he’s the only stubborn person between them both. She didn’t call him sunrays just to be defeated, dammit—and krasotka? She never heard of that one, how many endearment terms does he know again?

Dimitri unrepentatly maintains his smirk when she puffs her cheeks. Her dictionary yields gorgeous for krasotka, and he evades her wrath and rib-tickling by queuing to get the pizza she wanted. Huffing, Byleth begins to strategize once again. Instructing her fingers to wage guerrilla warfare with the language, she begins to scroll back and forth, copy-pasting anything she her search result gives. She pretends to sip on her orange juice the moment Dimitri glances down to reach his phone. As expected, the blonde darts a stare at her, but she skillfully evades everything by banishing her phone into her purse and acts like she missed his gaze.

Я считаю тебя привлекательным, Dimitri reads the newest text he just got. He’s formulating a counterattack plan, but her other texts quickly come like the storm—Ты хоть себе представляешь, как ты красив?

A duel, Dimitri thinks with a smirk. Does she truly need to master his soul after conquering his heart?

Especially when shirtless like that, her text comes again. How do you say shirtless in Russian?

Dimitri frowns.

I mean—almost. I can see your abs peeking out, you know?

He looks down again, innocently patting his abs. Really? But Byleth hides a sincere laughter from the table she occupies. Oh, he understands now—zolatka really wanted war, but she better not invite more than what she could possibly overcome because there’s no way he’ll spare her after this.

У тебя клевый пресс. Hey, it’s in the dictionary!

“... She wants to ruin me,” Dimitri smirks, receiving the pizza from the cashier. Just a minute longer and this battle is over. Byleth should stop struggling at this point because this will be all.

“Sir—do you have smaller... errr, currency, because you just tried to pay with a hundred dollar bill!”

“Oh. Izvinite, da, konechno—sorry, yes, of course.”

He doesn’t need to play guess to know who just let out a cute, soft giggle like that as he struggles with their pizza box and his thicker-than-usual wallet.

... Мой милый Дима...

Dimitri trips once again as he arches, picking up the wallet he just dropped. That’s it—that’s fucking it. Shooting Byleth the rawest leonine smirk he can muster, he casually lays their food on the table, taking turn to bask in mischievous, mischievous laughter as Byleth puffs once again because he wastes no time making a VIP, exclusive reservation to one of those fancy restaurants lingering in his mind—in rapid, smooth Russian which she fails to catch.