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Dimitri had experienced many a tragedy in his life, many a difficult day and hour, yet this was proving to be the most difficult of them all. 

 

 Byleth's eyes were closing for the final time. 

 

 And Dimitri's heart was being torn from his chest in the process. 

 

 He held her small, wrinkled hand in his own. Merely the sight of her palm turning paper-light and translucent with age surprised him, it felt as if it had just been yesterday that the two of them were young, vibrant and youthful together. 

 

 She still remained beautiful in his eyes. Her head lay on the pillow, lightened mint green hair pulled into a loose bun on the top of her head. She had taken her diadem off and placed it on the table beside her, where it would wait patiently for the next Queen to claim. 

 

 Dimitri knew that his old friends, whomever was left of them, were waiting in the den of the castle for him to make an appearance. Yet, in this moment, he chose to be alone with his wife. The healers and caretakers had left the King and Queen hours ago to allow them to live their final moments together in quiet peace. He studied her intently, watching her chest rise and fall. The wrinkles that lined her face told the story of her long life.

 

 Flayn and Seteth looked as young as ever. Dimitri knew that if Byleth had wanted to, she would've stayed young as well. Yet, she had chosen to age alongside him, a goddess in the flesh that preferred a human life over one of immortality. His heart swelled at the very thought. 

 

 Byleth had been quiet and unresponsive for days. She had stopped eating, drinking - simply laying there as her human body betrayed her. He stroked her hand, whispering "Beloved, you may rest now. I'll follow you soon after."

 

 He could feel it in his bones. His body was beginning to fail as well, and he knew that his death bed lay in wait for him soon to follow.

 

 The crickets of the summer evening chirped peacefully. The breeze blew through the open balcony doors. Peace settled upon the night as Byleth let out a small sigh, and her chest rose and fell more heavily than before - and in that very moment, with peace on her face, she ceased to ever move again.

 

 The only time Dimitri let himself cry was at her bedside, with no other soul in the room. The tears flowed freely with no sign of stopping. He had no ability to hold the dam back any longer, and it finally burst through. His chest was tight, his breathing had shortened, and his stomach churned with a horrific nausea. The King had felt great loss before, felt it's bite at his heart, yet this was an entirely different pain than any he had ever experienced. This pain encompassed every inch of him. His world had stopped spinning.

 

 "Hey..."

 

 He nearly didn't react, thinking the voice was another auditory hallucination come back torment him at the worst time of his life. It was the voice of a woman, yet sounded nothing like Edelgard, which was the only woman's voice that would bother him. In fact, he did not recognize the voice at all.

 

 "Dimitri..."

 

 This time, he looked up. The girl was blurry through the veil of tears, but she was very clearly standing before him on the other side of Byleth's bed. Fearing that he might be seeing things again, he scowled, "Leave me alone, demon. Now is not the time."

 

 "That's rude! I'm in mourning too."

 

 Those kind of words would not ever be spoken by the malicious spirits that frequented his brain. His hallucinations were cruel, looking to hurt him, not mourn alongside him. Wiping away his hot tears, he attempted to get a better look at her, and instantly recognized the small figure before him. 

 

 He had only seen her in crude drawings. Long, unruly hair, green as a leaf in the forest. Childish features, with an intricate outfit. She floated off the ground, and stared at him with an expression of pity. He never thought he'd see her in person, simply knowing her visage from the pictures Byleth scribbled. 

 

 There was still a chance that he was imagining things, manifesting the goddess that resided in his wife's head in her younger years. He stared at her, and watched her levitate in place and stare back at him with big, childish eyes. 

 

 "Why am I seeing you?"

 

 She looked down at Byleth with an expression of sadness flickering across her face. Reaching out a hand, she intended to brush her fingers across the late Queen's cheek, yet only phased through her skin as if she was a ghost. "Her death has freed me, left me without a vessel."

 

 He was able to breath better, the distraction of Sothis before him allowing him to calm his tears, yet his heart still ached in misery. "Where will you go now?"

 

 She pulled her hand back to her chest and thought for a moment, "I suppose I shall roam the world once more. Maybe create a new species of frog, or something. I would be on my way already, but I wanted to speak to you first." She leveled him with an authoritative stare, "You have lived your life well, and done me a great deal of service in your dealings with my vassal, I would like to offer you one request... Anything you wish, I shall grant."

 

 What a load to dump on him in the worst moment of his life. He blinked at her, Byleth's cold hand in his own as he stared at the floating Goddess. He had not been prepared to answer this. It was like the times when someone would ask what his favorite book was, and he would suddenly forget every book he had ever read. He knew there were things he wished for, things he wanted, but in this moment he could only look down at the body of his wife resting before him. 

 

 He knew what he desired.

 

 "I want to relive it all again. I'll suffer through my madness, the war, the hardships... simply to live my life with her once more."

 

 Sothis looked relieved, "Oh, splendid! I thought you were going to ask me to revive her. I don't think I could do that... but control time? That, I can do." She gracefully extended her arms and fingers to her sides, and smiled wickedly, "Are you prepared? Or would you like to say goodbye to your family first?"

 

 He felt like he already had. He knew his own death was coming shortly, his health declining even more rapidly with stress. His children, his grandchildren, they had all said their goodbyes to him throughout the day. He had seen his friends of old for the last time, and was ready to depart from this world. He had full confidence in this, and sent the goddess a determined nod, "I'm prepared."

 

 The moment was heavy, but her smile confident. He held his wife's hand in his own and watched as Sothis closed her eyes and began her spell, "Very well then... I will see you soon, King Dimitri."

 

 His consciousness slowly faded into black, stolen away into sweet nothingness.

 

 The King of Faerghus was found dead that night, slumped in the chair beside his wife, clutching her hand.

 

 His family mourned. The country mourned. The savior King, beloved of the people, the restorer of order, had finally passed away. 

 

 Yet, as it always did, time moved on. The world kept moving, and the Blaiddyd bloodline continued. 

 

 In that reality, at least. 

 


 

 Dimitri was 13 when he began to remember his life before. 

 

 It started with the dreams. Wars, living like a madman, marrying a green haired woman who smiled like the sun itself. He would lay in bed for as long as he possibly could, trying to make the dreams come back after he'd woken up. Lambert would eventually shake the boy out of his cot, and Dimitri would give up on unraveling the puzzle of his recurring dreams.

 

 The most unnerving part for the boy was when he looked at his father. He would hear the screams of a tragedy, and see him lying on the ground, wailing in pain as an ax came down upon his neck. Dimitri would close his eyes and count to 10, and Lambert would be back to the father he knew. Different locations around Fodlan would bring about the same effect - coming into Remire Village and feeling an overwhelming anger. Or camping in Zanado and feeling paranoia.

 

 Being only 13 years old and having never had any of the said experiences in any of those places, it was all quite concerning to him. He could almost swear that he was going mad, endowed with the memories of someone that was not him. 

 

 Lambert knew nothing of his son's dreams and visions. He stayed preoccupied with simply providing a livelihood for him and his son as they traveled. Dimitri was not keen to put more stress on his father's already sagging shoulders.

 

 At times, instead of seeing bloody memories, he would be filled with a strange longing as he looked at his father. His heart would swell with emotion, and he would begin to miss him terribly, as if he had been gone for so long and it was the first time he was seeing him again. This, too, startled him, as he had spent nearly every moment with his father since he was a baby.

 

 The two traveled all across Fodlan. Nightly, Lambert would train Dimitri with the lance, and hone his strength in a way that he could control. He made his son pick delicate leaves off the ground for hours, and for each leaf he broke was another reprimand. Soon, the training grew harder, and Dimitri was made to hold birds, rabbits, lizards, anything that he could easily twist and break. Lambert would speak softly to him, remind him of the innocence and life that was held in his hands. Dimitri never once hurt any of them, yet lances and pencils were an entirely different matter. 

 

 As the young Blaiddyd grew taller, older, wiser, the memories grew stronger. 

 

 At age 15, it began to make sense with the arrival of Sothis. 

 

 She would only speak to him several times a year, as if she was merely checking up on him and leaving upon seeing that he still lived. He would be laying in his sleeping bag at night, near asleep, and her childlike voice would suddenly invade his thoughts with an inquiry of how he was doing. His startled scream had woken up Lambert more than a few times.

 

 On the eve of his 16th birthday, as Dimitri sat outside of his tent and enjoyed the cool winter air, she came to him once more. 

 

 "Do you know what's happening?"

 

 He tried to not flinch at the sudden sound of her voice. He had never known how to respond before, besides a quick answer in his head that she always seemed satisfied with. He truly felt that he was going insane, having memories of someone that he'd never been, hearing the voice of someone he'd never met. She wasn't mean to him, simply curious.

 

 In his mind, he answered back hesitantly, "I don't know..." He didn't know if she was referring to what he was currently doing in that moment, which would've just been sitting, or if she was referring to something much larger that he was unaware of. 

 

 "My name is Sothis," she explained, seeming annoyed at the fact that she had to explain herself in the first place, "And I must admit something to you..."

 

 She sounded so guilty. He stayed silent, yet confused, waiting for her to confess.

 

 "I sort of messed up when I granted your wish."

 

 His confusion only grew. "I've never made a wish from you."

 

 "Oh, but you have. You don't remember now, but it'll all come back. You see, there are many different realities, many different perceptions. It's all quite confusing, I don't really pay attention to any of it. But... you'll get it soon."

 

 He felt the buzz of her presence begin to fade away from the back of his mind. Desperately, he reached out to grab her, "Wait! I've no idea what you're talking about!"

 

 She was gone before she would answer him. Dejected, he returned his focus back to the scenery, back to the breeze in the air, back to the night sky above. He slumped and rested his cheek in his palm as he thought of her words. Different perceptions. Different realities. It'll all come back.

 

 It implied that he was forgetting something. That was the trouble with forgetting, losing something in the storage of his mind. Frustration began to rise in his stomach as he thought, and thought, and thought

 

 Behind him, Lambert unzipped his tent and poked his blond head out to look at his son, "What're you doing up this late?" His voice was gravelly with sleep.

 

 Dimitri glanced at him over his shoulder. He felt another wave of nostalgia and love wash over him as he looked at his father's alive, breathing face. His eyes that were not rolled into the back of his head, and his neck not bloodied by an enemy's blade. 

 

 If only he could remember why he was even thinking of that in the first place!

 

 "Don't worry about me, father. You should go back to sleep."

 

 Lambert was not one to argue about his need for sleep. The man nodded and drew back into his tent, zipping it up and rustling around on the inside. Dimitri drew his attention away again and looked at the sky in pleading frustration. His instincts, something inside of him, nagged at him to remember. Remember. Just search, and remember.  

 

 Frustration kept him up all night. He spent the next morning laying in bed, half asleep and groaning for more rest. Lambert took pity on him and let him sleep an extra hour while he gathered breakfast together. 

 

 "Your mom used to make the best bacon." Lambert called out, sitting outside of his tent and turning the strips of meat over in the skillet, "I miss her food."

 

 Dimitri perked up, lifting his head from his pillow and staring at the tent wall in thought. "Mother... you mean Patricia?"

 

 Lambert paused, confused, "Who is Patricia?"

 

 Who is Patricia?

 

 "I... I'm not sure. I apologize, father. I'm just very tired right now." He dropped his head back onto his pillow and closed his eyes in thought. Patricia. Patricia. The name rang familiar on his tongue. Patricia holding his father's hand. Patricia and Cornelia - whoever that was - drinking tea and watching the sunset. Patricia smiling dearly at him as if to say goodbye as the carriage walls around him shook and yells intruded the peacefulness around them. Fire and blood. Patricia. Patricia. 

 

 Dimitri pushed himself up and peaked his head out of the tent, earning the attention of his father, "What happened to my mother?"

 

 Refusing to look at him, he poked at the bacon nonchalantly, "She died of illness. We were living in Fhirdiad at that time, you were only two. It was only after her death that the Eisner family hired that Cornelia woman to heal the Kingdom."

 

 Cornelia. Eisner. The last name felt sweet on his tongue as he repeated it out loud, "Eisner?" His heart tugged in his chest. 

 

 "Jeralt and Sitri Eisner, the royal family of Faerghus?" He shook his head, "I suppose I've never taken you to Fhirdiad, have I?"

 

 The memories were so close, yet so far. The very action of racking his brain for something to jog into place made Dimitri even more tired. He sighed and turned back around in his tent, giving up. He laid down once more to close his eyes, and to possibly erase the frustrating, out of reach memories from his mind. 

 

 It was only at the age of 18 that his universe clicked into place. The puzzle had finally began to form into it's final picture. 

 

 He stumbled out of his tent on a warm spring morning to spy his father talking to three nearly identically dressed people, looking frantic and begging for help.

 

 And upon seeing that two of them were girls, he patted his hair down onto his head, yet it only stuck up more.

 

 "What's going on?" He asked as he approached the group. One of the girls had long, silvery hair, and eyes that studied him as if he was an experiment. The boy was tan, with a smile that spoke of untold secrets. The girl in the middle looked the most odd of the group. Her hair looked as if it had been cut by a pocket-knife, and her expression was an unnerving blank slate, a mask that would not let anyone in. Three pairs of eyes turned to him, and he felt on the spot as he stared right back. 

 

 Lambert put a fatherly hand on his head, subtly pushing down the hair that was sticking up so he would look more sightly. "This is my son, Dimitri." He looked at him, "They're from the Officers Academy a few miles from here."

 

 He could recall the looming, dark buildings on the side of the mountain nearby. The sight of the monastery in the distance reminded him of better times, of studying and laughter, of betrayal and revenge. It was a combination that made his stomach hurt. "A pleasure to meet you. You're quite far from your academy." 

 

 "We were doing drills in the forest, but we were attacked by bandits. Our teacher ran away, so... Claude ran away too." The silver haired one explained, sending a challenging look toward the boy.

 

 Her words didn't quite register with Dimitri, as he could hardly take his eyes off of the three students and the memories that filled his mind. He couldn't bear to meet the silver haired girl's eyes, lest a wave of regret make his stomach churn with nausea.

 

 "It was a strategic retreat." The boy, Claude, put his hands up in defense. The sight of him made the feeling of nausea turn to fondness, a type of friendship grown over tribulation.

 

 "We'll help you out." Lambert assured them confidently, his charming smile flitting across his face as he grabbed his lance, "My Dimitri here's the best fighter around."

 

 His eyes shot to his father and he furrowed his brows, now embarrassed to have the eyes all on him again. If he didn't know any better, he would say his father was bragging about him in an attempt to endear him to one of the girls. Lately, he'd been trying to give him the sex talk, and Dimitri had managed to avoid it for as long as he could - especially seeing as he had already hit puberty about six years prior. "I am far from the best, father. I have much to learn." He brushed him off, sending him a look of warning as he went back to his tent to retrieve his steel lance. 

 

 The odd looking girl wearing the blue cape over her shoulders spoke up, her voice soft and light, "I appreciate your humility."

 

 Four words. Four, simple, unimportant words.

 

 His reaction to her was not immediate. He glanced at her to acknowledge the compliment, and it was as he did so, as he looked at her face straight on, lance in hand and still wearing his pajamas, that the waterfall of memories let loose, and poured it's painful, enlightening rain down upon him. 

 

 "Byleth."

 

 She was taken aback, it showed only slightly on her face as she stared at him, "How do you know my name?"

 

 Nobody had said her name earlier. Nobody had introduced her. He knew her name because he had been married to her. He knew her name because she was his best friend.

 

 He knew her name because she was the love of his life. 

 

 Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd, 18 year old mercenary living out in the woods with his father and hunting for food and money, was himself once more. He looked at the hand holding his lance, a young hand, one without wrinkles and scars from war. 

 

 He looked back at Byleth, who stared at him as if she had never met him in her life. She wore the same almond eyes and round face. Pale skin and choppy hair. Her expression changed to concern as she, along with her fellow students, watched him even more closely, "Are you okay?"

 

 He didn't think so. 

 

 She wore a Blue Lions uniform. She wore his old cape. She was alongside a future Empress and future King. Eisner was the last name of the Faerghus nobility. 

 

 He looked down at himself. Common clothes. Hands calloused from working all of his life. 

 

 Sothis had messed up. She had tried to warn him.

 

 "Damn that lazy Goddess."

 

 The world spun, and Dimitri drowned under the memories that flooded back to him.

 

 He collapsed onto the ground, passed out.

 

Chapter Text

 No time at all had passed for Dimitri since his fainting spell. It was as if he had fallen asleep, and woken right up again. There was no slow, groggy awakening like most mornings, and no dreams to confuse or puzzle him. He regained his consciousness in an instant, suddenly sitting up straight in his bed. Upon seeing that he was inside his tent, and the only person with him was his father, he felt his heart, his hopes, drop. "Where did she go?"

 

 Lambert simply stared at him in surprise. He held a damp rag in his hands, meant to go on his son's head to cool whatever illness had overtaken him. He looked tired, and concerned, yet shocked at his son's sudden outburst. 

 

 "Who?"

 

 He was incredulous, "Byleth."

 

 "Byleth Eisner?" Lambert's confusion grew. He put a hand to his head to feel his body temperature, "I think you're suffering a fever."

 

 "I suffer no such thing!" Passionate, determined, Dimitri pushed his father's hand away, "Where are the students from Garreg Mach that were here earlier?"

 

 "Dimitri, they're long gone by now. After you fainte- I mean, after you collapsed I left you in the tent and went to go help them," he explained, "We cleared out the bandits, a few Knights of Seiros showed up, and they were escorted back to their academy. It's been two days since that's all happened."

 

 His heart fell through his stomach. The back of his head pulsed, whether it be from the fall or the onslaught of new information, he had no idea. Two days. He was asleep for two days, feeling and hearing nothing. It had truly felt like no time at all had passed for him. He only sighed and ran his fingers through his hair, trying to fidget to distract himself from his own disappointment. Byleth had left, she had fought her battle and left. He looked to his father, "Did anyone get attacked with an ax?"

 

 He was growing more concerned now, "No? It all went well."

 

 That was another thing wrong. It was all horribly, entirely, consumingly wrong. 

 

 He was hot with frustration. Desperately, he wanted to reign himself in and not clue his father into the hurricane of emotion that raged inside of him. He laid his head back down on the pillow and tried to ignore the pulsing of his skull, "Did they say anything about wanting us to visit the monastery?"

 

 "No," he dipped the rag into the bucket of water beside him, ringing all of the excess out into it, "they just thanked me and left. I rushed back here to you as quickly as I could."

 Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. If this was going anything like Dimitri thought it should go, Byleth would ask him to lend his service to the Kingdom. He would say yes, they would go back to the monastery, he would become the professor, and they would fall in love. The entire premise was being ruined from the very beginning. 

 

 "I apologize for my odd behavior, father. I'm not feeling well."

 

 It was not a lie. The young man truly did not feel well. 

 

 He thought back to the night Byleth died, when Sothis had appeared before him. He had never expected this, Byleth not even recognizing him, being in an entirely different role. It was not the fact that he wasn't royalty, as he'd grown quite used to living as a commoner, but the fact that with Byleth being the princess, she was entirely unreachable to someone like him. 

 

 Unless, he could get into the monastery somehow. 

 

 He stared at the ceiling of his little tent, "Do you think they'd let me teach at the Officers Academy?"

 

 Lambert only smiled and dabbed at his son's face with the washcloth, "Your mother used to ask the oddest hypothetical questions, like you just did. She'd ask 'Lambie, who do you think would win in a fight, a cheese sandwich or a vegetable casserole?' I would answer the cheese sandwich, obviously. Yet... she always said it would be the casserole. Odd thinker, that woman," He smiled at his son, the spitting image of himself, who was currently staring cryptically at the ceiling, "just like you."

 

 Dimitri continued to stare, utterly confused and frustrated, "How is that supposed to answer my question?"

 

 "It doesn't, because it's a weird question. Of course they wouldn't let you teach, Dimitri. You're as young as the students that go there."

 

 "Could I become a student?"

 

 He looked hurt now. He retracted his washcloth and stared at his son with concerned eyes, "You would leave me?"

 

 Dimitri sat up to look at his father. His heart wrenched at the expression that he was trying to hide, "You could be a Knight..."

 

 "I don't want to be a knight." he returned his gaze. Their eyes were nearly identical to each other, both clear and blue as the sea on a stormy day. "I hate to admit it, but we're not exactly the type they want in there."

 

 "They take commoners as well, father."

 

 "They take the best commoners," he gestured to the tent around him, unorganized and filled with traveling gear, "we're average at best."

 

 Dimitri thought of himself, wondering if he truly was average at best. He could kick a tree down in one moment, that didn't feel quite average. Yet, he recalled the commoners that had joined Garreg Mach in the past, all wonderful, all intelligent and having accomplished so much at their young ages. All that he had accomplished in this lifetime was clearing small groups of bandits and beating his father at card games. 

 

 "Could we... at least go tour it? And try our luck?"

 

 "You're quite determined to visit, aren't you?" Lambert sighed and put the rag down, "When you feel better we can go. But I don't want you to get your hopes up."

 

 His hopes were higher than the tallest tree, the tallest tower, higher than the clouds. 

 

 He laid back on his pillow and shut his eyes, "Thank you. I think it'll go well, father, don't worry."

 


 

 It did not go well. 

 

 The guards had let Dimitri and Lambert in once the sun began to set. The younger man had planned it for this time, knowing that classes would be let out and he had a higher chance of seeing Byleth. 

 

 Seteth had personally come to meet the two men at the gate and show them around. He was known to give tours to any curious onlookers, being especially good at averting attention from the things that civilians were not meant to see. Oftentimes, entire groups of people from nearby villages would want to catch a glimpse of life behind the tall, dark walls of the monastery on the mountainside. 

 

 Dimitri and Lambert followed the green haired man as he led them up from the marketplace to the reception hall. He stopped in the middle of the aisle, the marble walls making the hall colder than any other place. "This is the reception hall, where we receive guests."

 

 As the name implied. Dimitri laced his hands together and looked at Seteth, "When can we see the classrooms?"

 

 "Oh, it's on our way... Why are you so eager to see them? Is there someone you're hoping to find?" He looked accusing as he put his hands on his hips and stared at the teenager before him. 

 

 Dimitri had experience with not telling the whole truth. He was surely raised better than to ever be an outright liar, yet when the circumstances called for it, he would find himself twisting a few words in order to achieve his goal. He smiled at Seteth in the most princely way he could imagine - while hoping that there wasn't dirt on his cheek or leaves sticking out of his hair. "Oh, I'm just interested in joining your wonderful establishment."

 

 His answer was immediate, "We have no open spaces."

 

 That was entirely a lie. Dimitri knew better. They had let Flayn join the Blue Lions when she was in danger, though nepotism might have had a hand in that. Searching for any line he could grab, he tossed out another bait, "What about a teaching position?"

 

 Seteth only squinted at the boy before him, "How old are you?"

 

 Lambert, obviously embarrassed, put his arm over Dimitri's shoulder and took over, "He's 18, and hasn't learned when to stop speaking yet."

 

 Another lie. Dimitri could stop speaking before Lambert ever could, yet the shame he felt at embarrassing his beloved father was enough to shut his mouth. He sent Seteth an apologetic look, while the man only hummed in a disinterested response and turned around to start the tour once again. "Well, I'll show you the gardens and the classrooms next."

 

 As they began to follow Seteth to the classrooms, Lambert grabbed ahold of Dimitri's forearm and leaned in to whisper, "What are you doing, boy?"

 

 Dimitri gently pulled away, whispering in return, "Nothing, father. I apologize for my behavior earlier."

 

 He merely shook his head and went on with a small smile as Seteth described the very specific type of bushes that they grew in the student gardens, and how tea parties were a part of everyday routine for the students. He said his words with a sort of disinterest, as if he was wasting his time showing the two mercenaries around the academy, when he could be spending his time doing much more important things. Lambert avoided the man's gaze, noticing it's curiosity towards him, as if he was trying to keep himself a secret. 

 

 A group of knights passed by, and Lambert refused to look at them. Dimitri sent them a nod, yet they ignored him. Seteth watched with the two men with growing suspicion.

 

 Dimitri's heart had sunk at what seemed as his final chance at reaching Byleth, yet he knew that there was a chance of her being in the classrooms. The small group began to draw nearer to the courtyard where the classrooms were, and his heart jumped in his chest at his opportunity. 

 

 Byleth. Sweet and caring Byleth, strong and willing to give her life for anybody she loved. He had dedicated his life to her, filled with the memories of raising their children together and bringing peace to the land. Yet, she had looked at him as if she had never seen him before. Even watching him faint weakly, most likely wondering why the man before her had acted so positively weird. 

 

 He shook the thought out of his head. He couldn't afford negativity at this time, not when his next chance was so close.

 

 Seteth stopped in the courtyard and gestured to the buildings. Everything looked the same as it always had, the different banners lining the doors of each classroom. He watched the entrances to see who would come out of them. Ignatz was there, Dorothea, Lindhart. No Byleth. 

 

 "These are the classrooms where our students are taught by their professors. To answer your question earlier, Mister Blaiddyd," he caught Dimitri's attention with his condescending tone, "We have just assigned a professor to the Blue Lions. Emile von Bartels."

 

 Confusion flashed across his face, "Mercedes's brother?"

 

 "How... How would you know?"

 

 To avoid Seteth and his father's suspicion, he played innocent and widened his eyes, "O-Oh we met a while back! They probably don't remember me. Tell me, does he go by the name of Jeritza now?"

 

 "No, I don't believe I've ever heard that name..." Seteth turned his attention to Lambert, "What an odd young man you have here."

 

 "Odd, but good," Lambert assured with a light laugh, though he held a look of worry for his frazzled and outrageous son, "He's very smart, and he fights very well. If not a student, perhaps a knight?"

 

 "We do not need anymore knights."

 

 Dimitri was desperate, "A guard? A janitor? I'll cook if I have to!"

 

 "Your desperation only makes you look worse." Annoyance laced Seteth's every word, spitting them out to the two men as he looked at them disdainfully, "I think it is time for you to leave. We have no open positions."

 

 Getting kicked out of the monastery. Of all the things Dimitri had done in this life, this was the most embarrassing. More embarrassing than watching his father get drunk off ale and challenge everybody in an inn to an arm wrestling match. More embarrassing than speaking just a tad bit too loudly in a mountainous area and causing an avalanche. More embarrassing than knocking down every weapon in the rack at a local training ground. 

 

 Seteth held the two men's arms as he escorted them personally out of the monastery. Lambert and Dimitri both could have broken his bones with no problems, yet were holding themselves back in all politeness as they let themselves be kicked out from the building. 

 

 Once Seteth had left them on the road outside, the gate slowly rolled shut behind them. Lambert steadied his son with a stern, questioning look, "I wish I had known ahead of time that this is what you wished for. I would've... Gods, Dimitri, I would've prepared better! I would've saved money, I would've given you a better education! I would've given you a better chance for this place," He gestured to the monastery, "but it's too late now!"

 

 "It's not your fault, father," he put a hand on his arm in an attempt to comfort him, "I didn't know I had wanted this until now."

 

 It was true. Dimitri had been happily living his life for all this time without a single thought towards the Officers Academy. His only concern had been where to find food for the next day, where to find money, and why he had memories that didn't belong to him. Upon having the realization that they did, in fact, belong to him, he knew where he needed to be. Fate had not led him kindly. 

 

 "Is it a girl? One of those girls from the other day?" Lambert questioned desperately, "You're very handsome, but let's be realistic, we're commoners."

 

 He stared at his father. He may have been a prince in another reality, but even now he still spoke well, carried himself with good posture, and could read and write. His eating habits suffered a bit, and he didn't get to bathe nearly as much as he wanted, but he was not an animal. The fact of the matter was that he knew that he had won her heart once before, and that it wasn't just his title and position that endeared him to her. The two had been married for goddess's sake. "It... is not a girl," again, not the entire truth, "but I would not be lying if I didn't say it was part of the benefits."

 

 "We can find you another girl. You're a man now, I'm not surprised that you're interested in them."

 

 "I don't believe that's necessary, father-"

 

 "Nonsense. You don't have to be embarrassed with me. I've sown my wild oats, I know how it feels."

 

 "Father, reall-"

 

 "We'll go to the nearest village an-"

 

 "Father!"

 

 Lambert looked at his son in surprise, eyes wide and blinking at his younger, mirror image. "Why are you yelling?"

 

 "I... I'm not yelling. I'm sorry if it sounded like I did..." Dimitri knew he had yelled, but his reaction had been immediate, without thought and unintended. He looked at the dirt path beneath him and toed a patch of grass, if only for something to do as he spoke, "I have no interest in going to a nearby village and finding a girl. I'm fine. I just got my hopes up."

 

 "Just as I told you not to." He put his arm over Dimitri's shoulders, the weight was heavy upon him yet he bore it with pride. Lambert went on as the two began the walk back to their campsite, "We are not the type to be accepted into institutes such as that. We belong to the forest, Dimitri, to the mountains. To Sothis herself."

 

 In the back of his mind, Sothis snorted. Her presence began to buzz more clearly in his head, unheard to the man beside him, "If only he knew."

 

 If only he knew the man he was in a different life. Dimitri thought of his father, commanding yet compassionate, regal in his full armor, holding Areadbhar and deliver inspiring speeches to the crowds below him. The man that held him now still held the important qualities, yet was more carefree, more humorous, and most importantly - not dead. 

 

 If he could not see Byleth on that day, he would at least accept the opportunity to bond with his father. Many a time in the past had he wished for simply a moment with Lambert, simply to explain who he was, who he had become and what he went through. Now, he had such a moment before him and he was determined to take advantage of it. 

 

 "I'm sorry that I embarrassed you."

 

 "It's nothing, Dima, no cause for concern. That Seteth guy was stuck up anyway. I just wish that I had known you had wanted into the Officers Academy so badly, I would've started preparing when you were much younger. "

 

 Dimitri kept silent and smiled up at his father, who kept his pleasant gaze ahead of him as the two returned to their campsite. It was not too far off from the monastery itself, and Dimitri knew that they would be moving on from this place soon.

 

 His heart called out to Byleth. Her eyes, her hair, her skin and her lips. He could not stand the thought of leaving her behind, yet knew no other way to reach her. She had no memory of him, and to speak to the future queen of Faerghus as someone far below her would be a difficult endeavor. Every other common boy in the land wanted to speak to her too. 

 

 Father and son camped out for the night under the stars, cooking in their cast iron skillet and talking of Dimitri's mother. According to the older man, she was quite beautiful. The way Lambert's eyes dazed over while he spoke of her qualities only made for Dimitri long for his beloved.

 

 "Father," he began, speaking hypothetically as he chewed on a piece of steak, "what if mother was alive, but she had no memory of you-"

 

 "Do I have memory of her?"

 

 "Yes," he swallowed the steak and went on, putting his hands together in front of him pensively, "and she was inside of a place that you had no access to. What would you do?"

 

 Lambert eyed his son suspiciously. Even without the memories of his past life, he still carried himself like a King. He cut his steak like a King, kept his posture straight like a King, even chewing in a very Kingly manner. "Your hypothetical questions continue to puzzle me, Dima. You've been like a startled cat ever since you collapsed. Are you sure you're feeling well?"

 

 He had not even realized that he was acting oddly. The excitement of remembering who he was had overtaken his senses, overtaken every thought of reason or logic that might come up into his mind. He had one goal: to see Byleth, to speak to her, to have his next chance that he'd been waiting for so long for. 

 

 Dimitri was quite the hyper-focused type. When he was determined to do something, he would go through heaven and hell to get it done. This quality did not always serve him well. He grimaced at the memory of Remire Village, that burning hatred and determination that made him act so brutally. The battles where Felix had realized his true nature had been cut of the same cloth, as well as the five years he had spent wandering Fodlan in his madness. In actuality, he did feel like a startled wild animal, he supposed that was a side of him that was just as important as the more normal sides of himself. 

 

 In this moment, though, he knew he could not give into the wild parts of his personality and let his drive for what he wanted cloud his judgement. He had been acting odd, and it needed to stop if he wished to reach his goals. 

 

 "I apologize," he felt as if he'd said that a million times in one day, "I'm just not feeling well. I suppose I'm just trying to make conversation..."

 

 Lambert accepted his answer and stroked his chin in thought. He had grown out the beard longer than Dimitri had seen him in his past life, yet even now it was trimmed and well groomed. "I think that I would climb the highest, tallest wall for her. And if she wouldn't have me, so be it, but a chance to see her face once more would be worth the trouble."

 

 Of course. Realization hit him like a bolt of lighting. Nonchalantly, Dimitri nodded, staying silent as he began to cut into his steak once again. A comfortable silence fell between the two, with the sounds of crickets and insects chirping as nighttime fell into it's place.

 

 He knew what he needed to do.

 


 

 Dimitri made sure that he could hear Lambert snoring peacefully before he left his tent that night. 

 

 He had prepared well ahead of time. The tent was already unzipped so as to spare him the extra noise that could risk waking his father up. He needed no supplies, besides a sturdy dagger, a rope, and some good boots, the same ones he would use when in Northern Faerghus climbing the icy mountains. 

 

 On his hands and knees, he quietly crawled out of his tent and onto the squishy, leaf covered ground outside. Lambert's own tent was only a few feet away, yet there had not yet been a disturbance in the rhythm of his snores. Slowly, Dimitri stood up and took a few calculated steps away from the campsite. He walked heel to toe, every step slow and thought through. His eyes began to adjust to the darkness as he drew farther away from their campground. 

 

 Once arriving on the road that leads to the monastery, he felt that he could finally breathe again. It's dark walls loomed menacingly in the night, filled with several fires lighting up it's watchtowers high above. 

 

 As he drew closer, he took to the blindspots around the buildings. If he was an intruder, he was a well informed one. The knowledge from spending his more crazed days wandering it's abandoned walls had given Dimitri a know-how of it's nooks and crannies. He found the spot where he had first entered, all those years ago when he was 23 and just trying to find a place to collapse for the night. The rock formation made a perfect shelter, and he paused to look at it in thought. It seemed as if it was used now as a hideaway for students sneaking off together, with empty wine bottles littering the ground, and a bedroll stuffed into the corner. 

 

 He moved on, putting one foot on a small boulder and lifting himself up. It would only take a few minutes to rock-hop up to the wall of the monastery. Fortunately, Lambert had decided to camp on the side that didn't have the steep, sharp cliff that Byleth had tumbled down all those years ago. Dimitri could much easier do his trespassing on the rocky slope they were next to. 

 

 Once he reached the stone wall, the real work began.

 

 He put the dagger into his belt and found a small cranny for his fingers to fit into. Upon pulling himself up, he found a stone that stuck out just in the slightest for him to rest his foot on. Only half a foot off ground, yet it was progress. 

 

 He reached one hand up to feel around for another hole, finding a small one to the right of arm. He reached, stretching and digging his fingers into it. The crest of Blaiddyd glowed in front of him as he pulled himself up once more and dangled for a second, trying to find another small ledge for his feet. He had never been more grateful for the strength that his crest allowed him. 

 

 He continued the process, making it to the ledge and holding himself there for a moment. He knew that no guards hung around the area he would end up in, the graveyard near the treasure storehouse, but he was silent, listening for any sign of life before he would pull himself up over the wall and drop in. 

 

 No sounds were made. He was in the clear. 

 

 Using the crest once more, he pulled himself up completely and vaulted his body over the ledge. Rolling onto the grass, he managed to land as gracefully as he could. There was a small thump from his impact, but nobody had been near enough to investigate. He pushed himself up, and began his journey.

 

 If Byleth was still the same woman he knew, she would still be awake by this time. The nights they spent together, talking until the early morning as they suffered their insomnia together. His heart tugged at the thought. What if she wasn't the same Byleth? What if she was a completely different person in this life, and would have no interest in him? What had even endeared him to her in the first place?

 

 Frankly, he had zero idea. He had never quite figured that out. Even when she would affectionately list off all of her reasons for loving him, he didn't believe a single thing. It was a hard concept for him to understand, for him to ever grasp why anyone would want to spend their lives with someone like him. 

 

 He shook his head, as if to dispel the thought. He didn't have the time to dwell on such things, they would only make it harder to face her. The tiny voice that told him that he should let her be and let her live a happy life was not welcome at the moment.

 

 He pulled the black cloak of his hood up over his head, so that if a guard saw him from far away they would think he was just a student out for a walk. It was far past curfew, though, and he needed to avoid the guards as much as possible.

 

 The first place that he checked was the pond. It was empty. The greenhouse, empty. His heart sank at the thought of Dedue, wondering if his friend was okay, still in Duscur or having somehow made his way to the Academy without him. 

 

 There were so many things that still needed to be figured out. He knew the king of Faerghus still lived in this reality, having not been assassinated. The people of Duscur were not as badly spoken about as before. There didn't seem to be any tension between the different territories. As nice as it was, it was not the world he was used to. He felt as if everything would blow up any second now, a cloud of smoke dissipating to reveal that this reality was much, much worse than the one he knew before. 

 

 Again, he forced that thought out of his head. He would have to search for Dedue as well, but he would find Byleth first. 

 

 Keeping close to the walls, he slunk his way up from the greenhouse area and into the courtyard in front of the dormitories. No lights were on, and nobody was outside. He cut across the lawn with a short burst of speed, and stuck himself to the wall again as he moved on his way to the Knights Hall.

 

 And, with the glow of promise, he saw that there was a light seeping out from the room. 

 

 He didn't want to be caught in the golden light of the fire. He carefully crept up the side of the wall, to the doors, and peaked inside of where he used to spend his days. 

 

 The room was empty. Utterly, devastatingly empty.

 

 His heart sank.

 

 And his reflexes reacted.

 

 He whipped around without thought to grab the hand that was going for the back of his head. He told himself to not squeeze, to not use strength and break his assailant's wrist, yet he held it harshly and narrowed his eyes at the person who had attempted to sneak up behind him. 

 

 Until, the person stopped struggling to get away, and looked at him straight on.

 

 "Byleth."

 

 "Who are you?" She hissed, trying to stay quiet so she wouldn't be caught breaking curfew either. She was frantic, almost, trying to pull her hand away and step back from him. She put her other hand on her arm, tugging it from his grip.

 

 He forced himself to break free from his reverie and let her go. She stumbled backwards, holding her wrist and looking at him with accusing eyes. He gulped, trying to get past the rock that had settled itself in his throat, and stared at her with wonder. She stared back with frustration.

 

 She was waiting for him to respond. He knew that he should say something, yet his tongue was dry, tied into a knot. His brain was a scrambled egg, and he couldn't quite process anything that was happening. They stared at each other in heavy, waiting silence.

 

 Eventually, he waded through the swamp of his thoughts in order to say the first word that came to mind, "Hi."

 

 Intelligent. He was intelligence and charm embodied. He could've hit himself.

 

 Once she had sufficiently rubbed her wrist, her hand went to the dagger kept at her side, hovering over it in a threat to pull it out at any moment and slit his throat. He would've accepted it in that moment, with how much he was internally cursing himself. 

 

 "Who are you? I don't recognize you, and you're not wearing a uniform."

 

 "Oh," he looked down at his traveled, well worn leathers, "yes, well, I'm not a student."

 

 "Then what're you doing here?" Her hand rested even more heavily on the hilt of her dagger now. "And how do you know my name?"

 

 He had to remind himself to not be a fanatic. Don't come off as a stalker who was trying to find the princess, and especially don't tell her about being married in a past life. 

 

 In the back of his mind, Sothis buzzed with energy, visiting him from wherever she had been before. "Lie, you fool! Lie like you mean it!"

 

 He'd never been a good liar. He despised the act of it, and disliked keeping the company of those who did. He grimaced at himself, "I wanted to give you this..." he pulled the dagger from his belt and held it out to her, "It's... from a friend. An admirer, even."

 

 Byleth had always been so quick to forgive, so quick to believe and trust. He had always been the one to remind her to watch her back, even going so far as to watch it for her when she would get into dangerous situations. He thought of this as she stared at the dagger in his palm, and looked into his eyes. Her demeanor of suspicion melted away, and she reached out to take the small weapon, "Well... thank you..."

 

 In his mind, he was chastising her. Don't take weapons from random strangers lurking around at night. Him and her both possessed the quality of naivety and trust, yet Dimitri often took the lead to keep her from being too trusting. At least he had assurance that they still shared that quality. 

 

 She inspected the hilt, a simple red one, and looked at the sharpness of the blade, "This is well made."

 

 It was. He had pulled it off a bandit many years ago, and it was the only keepsake he could think to give her. He didn't think that she would want a cast iron skillet or hiking poles. And he had no jewelry, no pretty things. It was ironic, giving another girl a dagger, Sylvain would be having a laughing fit at the thought.

 

 His heart sank. Sylvain. Ingrid. Felix. His friends who did not even know him. He felt very, very alone in the world.

 

 But at least Byleth had accepted his gift. She didn't seem to recognize him as the one who had acted odd and collapsed in front of her the other day, or at least she wasn't saying anything about it if she did. He watched as she put the dagger into her belt, right next to the much nicer looking one that she already wore. He felt self conscious about the complete commonness of his gift, yet her fingers lingered on it's hilt as if it was a sacred prize. 

 

 That was another thing he adored about his wife, her appreciation for the little things. 

 

 She looked back up at him, catching him staring at her intently. Her eyes widened and she stared right back, "Are you okay?"

 

 "Yes!" He dropped back down to Fodlan, head falling out of the clouds and landing on the ground with a splat as he scrambled to just stop staring at the girl before him, "I'm good, thank you. I... suppose I should take my leave now."

 

 He wasn't sure what else to do. To implore her to remember him would have just driven her away. To try and charm her would've creeped her out - he had never been good at being charming on demand. He was already so cryptic, to be even moreso would have disastrous results, he knew. 

 

 So, with a heavy heart, he soaked in her face as best as he could, and bowed at her politely, taking his leave. 

 

 He only could make it two steps before something rang in his head, making him stop in his tracks and turn around to find her watching him curiously, "By the way, is there a Dedue Molinaro here?"

 

 "No, I'm sorry, I don't think I know that name."

 

 Well, that answered that. Their lives weren't exact models of each other, she had not saved Dedue and there had been no tragedy of Duscur. He could only wonder where his dear friend was. 

 

 Again, he bowed his head to her, and turned around. Once more, he stopped after another step and whipped around to look at her. She, still, stared at him curiously, "My name is Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd. I hope to meet you again."

 

 "Are you the kind fellow gifting me this dagger?"

 

 "I..." he knew he would regret lying, so he didn't, though he hesitated to answer her, "Yes. I am."

 

 "And you're the one that collapsed the other day, your father helped us to clear out some bandits."

 

 So she did remember. His cheeks pinkened and his face fell at the thought, "Yes, that was me."

 

 "You're quite the odd one."

 

 She didn't mince her words, he still found himself appreciating that. He had always been odd, yet it was not hidden nearly so well in this reality. "I try not to be."

 

 "It's okay that you are," she lowered her face and looked at him, almost coy in her mannerisms, "don't deny yourself."

 

 He merely stared. Warmth, compassion, covering him like a heated up blanket. His lips twisted into a nostalgic, loving smile, brows furrowed and eyes focused on her. She returned his smile with a quick, subtle one of her own. He knew that she still didn't remember, but that was okay, he could make it work. Somehow, someway. 

 

 She turned around and walked into the Knight's hall. The golden glow of the fire illuminated her, making her silhouette stand out as she slowly closed the double doors, eyes on him the entire time. He waited until they were fully shut, and he was engulfed in the darkness of night again.

 

 Breathless, satisfied for the time being, he began his journey back to the campsite, a new plan forming in his head.

 

Chapter Text

 As much as it pained Dimitri, the time to leave Garreg Mach had finally drawn near. 

 

 It had been merely a week since he had sneaked into the monastery's walls to see Byleth. Bathing in the memory of her smile upon him, he had been walking on sunshine since speaking to her that night seven days ago. Lambert had not been ignorant of the drastic change in his son's demeanor, and had been keeping a close, fatherly eye on him to make sure he wasn't lucid from the remnants of a fever. 

 

 The two had originally visited the area to take care of a group of bandits, the same ones that had attacked the house leaders during their drills. They had been able to clear out a sizable part of the bandit party, yet they had regrouped quickly enough in order to begin terrorizing the nearby village and travelers once more. The only reason the two were still lingering around the Monastery area was to take care of the remaining stragglers that had regrouped in the Zanado canyon. 

 

 When father and son arrived at Zanado's red, craggy walls, they were greeted to a grotesque sight. The canyon had been littered with the bodies of slain thieves and rogues in varying degrees of decay.  

 

 Lambert only scratched his head in confusion, while Dimitri knew exactly what had happened. 

 

 He had just barely missed Byleth and the Blue Lions. He knew it in his gut. There had been footsteps tracking where the scuffles had taken place, and Dimitri followed each step with his own footwork. 

 

 Where Kostas would have been waiting to face off with only the bravest soldier, there had been a wild set of footsteps that dried in the leftover red mud. He could barely make out where the smaller, woman's foot began, and the larger boot of a man ended. 

 

 One thing he had not gotten an opportunity to explore more fully in his past life was tracking. In his madness, Dimitri would walk until near starvation, until he would finally stumble upon a family of deer and spear one with a lance, eating on it for days before he would let himself starve once more. Sometimes, on a less mentally clouded day, he would disguise himself and go into a town to steel food from stands. He had no state of mind to ever learn tracking and proper hunting. 

 Yet, now he did. Lambert knew quite a lot about how to survive in the wilderness. He had never divulged how his life had been before he married his mother, yet he blended with nature as if he was a forest spirit in the flesh. In his travels with his son, Dimitri finally had the opportunity to learn how to read the scenery around him, letting it tell him a story. It was a skill he had always tried to advance, yet now he excelled.

 

 He put his foot into the into the indent where Kostas had stood. He followed his track, to the left, to the right. Forward, then backwards. He was glad for the rain that had fallen just yesterday, drying the clay-like, thick mud of the canyon to tell Dimitri what had happened.

 

 It had to have been Byleth that was his sparring partner for this battle. It had to have been her small, heeled shoes that danced with the bandit leader. He looked down the craggy cliff that sloped behind him, finding Kostas's body laying upon rocks. 

 

 He slid down the gravelly path, down to where Kostas lay. Pinching his nose shut, he kicked the body with the toe of his boot and turned the large, stocky man over on his back. A slash from a sword drew itself across his chest. 

 

 Disgusted, he turned his eyes away and began his trek back up the slope to meet his father. Lambert was waiting on the edge of the battle-torn area, cleaning dirt from his fingernails with a small pocketknife. He looked at his son as he neared, "Find what you're looking for?"

 

 "Yes." 

 

 He walked past his father without allowing him a further explanation. Lambert shrugged his shoulders, and followed him back out of the canyon. "There goes our pay."

 

 He grimaced. Yes, there went their pay. It looked like yet another night spent camping and eating leftover jerky for dinner. Their money pouches had grown light, and they had the goal to preserve what was left in the case of a medical emergency. 

 

 Despite not getting paid, Dimitri was happy that the class was at least safe, having obviously won the battle. He had missed Byleth only by a day, it seemed, and he felt the sting of disappointment over missing his chance of seeing her once again. Yet, perhaps it was for the best, so she didn't think of him as an oddball stalker. He knew he had to be careful with going about his mission of winning her heart once more, lest her view of him shift into something he certainly was not.

 

 "Where are we going now?" He asked his father after a mild silence had set in. The hiking pack on his back had been filled to the brim with all of their traveling materials, and he held the straps on his chest as he walked. 

 

 "I was thinking we could make our way to Northwestern Faerghus," he jogged to catch up with his son's long strides, "They always need help over there."

 

 It was true. Dimitri could remember trips to the Duscur region in the past, being dazzled by their different culture, yet feeling pity for the people who lived from day to day not knowing where their food would come from. It was truly a harrowing situation in the region. 

 

 His mind went to Dedue. Dedue, who spoke of days mining for iron deposits and watching his father mold them into wonderful weapons. Dedue, who could grow nearly anything under the sun. Dedue, who had given his life for him.

 

 Legs swaying in the breeze, rope wrapped around a neck. Dimitri seeing the silhouette against the sunset as he escaped in a horse drawn cart, hidden under the pile of hay and trying to not make a sound with his tears. 

 

 Lambert seemed to always sense when Dimitri's mood turned sour. It was as if a grey cloud had formed over his head, raining down upon him. He stared at his son with an expression of concern, yet stayed silent.

 

 Traveling together for so long had made the men more sensitive to the changes in each other's emotions. Lambert rarely grew angry, and it was a quality Dimitri himself had grown to reflect in his older years. Yet, now again feeling the high running emotions of an 18 year old, his patience was not nearly as strong as it had been when in his 40's in his past life. Lambert, though, had the wisdom to know to not bother his son when he was overtaken by his mysterious anger and melancholy. 

 

 Eventually, the two reached the next village past Remire, and camped out in a clearing outside of it's shabby wooden walls. Dimitri found himself lacking the will to sleep that night, thoughts of his best friend and his wife running through his mind. 

 


 

 The journey to Duscur became more and more difficult as they reached farther North. Fhirdiad was to the East, and the road that directed that way was well taken care of and patrolled by guards, while the road that led to Duscur was unkempt, hardly even a walked path.

 

 In his last life, he had made arrangements to have the trade roads fixed to make it more open to merchants to travel to and fro. Now, it was grown over, and abandoned. Despite the lack of assassinations, the racial differences still lingered about the country. The thought made him grimace - Faerghus was all the same, in his opinion, a beautiful place of majestic mountains and the spice of evergreens. A crystal frost covered the weeds that lined the path, frozen them in time with the morning dew. His lungs always felt so much more clear when in the North. 

 

 He knew that as they grew nearer to Duscur the air would become even more clear. Despite being a peninsula, there was nothing tropical about it. The ocean was raging, always dark and foamy. The skies remained grey nearly all the time with the threat of rain. In some areas the people grew rice, taking advantage of the increased rain and humidity in the air. In other towns, the food supply was supported by trade between the villages, only focusing on mining and coal trade. It was by boat that they shared their food and materials, hardly by land, due to the increased amount of banditry in the area. 

 

 As they walked, Lambert threw a line of communication out to his son, trying to draw him back from his own daydreaming. "So, which girl was it that you liked?"

 

 Dimitri had surely thought that his father would've forgotten about that. He had even hoped that he had deflected the subject enough that night outside of the monastery to make him not even give it a second thought. Yet, he should've known better - Lambert had the memory of an elephant.

 

 Deflect, deflect, deflect. Act coy. "What girl?"

 

 "The girl," Lambert, too, was acting coy, "the one you snuck into the monastery to see."

 

 Dimitri whipped his head around to stare at his father with wide, surprised eyes. He had knocked the breath from his lungs with just a simple sentence. "What? Y-You knew about that?"

 

 Lambert kept walking ahead of him, only sending him a sly glance over his shoulder, "I am not oblivious to your ongoings, young man."

 

 "Yes sir." His eyebrows had raised up under his bangs, and he almost gave a nervous laugh at the expression his father wore. He had been so quiet, so careful, and had thought in full confidence that Lambert was asleep in his tent when he had left and came back. 

 

 "So, who were you seeing?"

 

 He wondered what his father thought of him. The only lifetime in which he actually gets to have a relationship with Lambert, and he's ended up being so cryptic and odd. If Lambert had been ashamed of him, his heart would've broken even more than it already was. 

 

 "Are you ashamed of me?" He asked, not answering his question.

 

 Lambert shrugged and looked ahead of him, keeping his eyes on the rocky surroundings and the pointy evergreen trees that grew between the boulders. "You're just a boy. I've done my fair share of doing stupid things when I was your age. I was simply wondering what your goal was."

 

 "Nothing bad, I promise," he sighed in relief, "I just wanted to look around."

 

 "How did you know her name? Byleth, was it?"

 

 "Yes..." To hear his father say her name, it was something he had only dreamt about in his past life, wishing that his father could've had the chance of meeting his beloved. Now, the opportunity loomed in the future, and he felt grateful to Sothis despite her mistake. "I've just heard of her, and recognized her... from a painting."

 

 He had a feeling that Lambert could tell he was lying. His heart wrenched, and his stomach churned. Lying made him more sick than anything else, especially to his father, who could always see right through him. Lambert, though, would never pry farther than that, respecting his son's secrets. He understood that every child had some, as he had his own hidden things from his father before. 

 

 "Did you get to see her?"

 

 "Yes. She was very kind."

 

 "Well, I'm glad you got that out of your system," he sent him a smile, then wrapped an arm around his shoulder and pulled him closer, "Just don't break your own heart, boy."

 

 Break his own heart. He supposed that it was more the world and circumstances around him that broke his heart, things that were entirely out of his reach. The only thing he really had the control over was making Byleth fall in love with him once again, and how to go about doing such a thing was entirely, utterly, a mystery to him. 

 

 The first village they reached in the Duscur region was focused on mining. A small mountain surrounded the buildings, acting as a wall to protect it's citizens. Dimitri could feel the mist in the air as it blew on his cheeks. The ocean was only a few miles away, and he wished to visit it's shore to dig his fingers into the sand and watch the foam rise and fall. He had always found it's vast waters fascinating. 

 

 The people of Duscur were not as hospitable as the southernmost parts of Faerghus, though Dimitri couldn't blame them. When faced with constant racism, it was only natural to put up a shield to newcomers entering your village. The people of Duscur were all colors, yet the accent and differences in religion and lifestyles was enough to bring a dark cloud of dislike over their heads from the neighboring territories. 

 

 He and Lambert meant no harm, and went straight to the inn in the middle of the small village to spend the night. Finally, they had raised up enough money with doing small jobs on the way up there to be able to spend a night in an actual room. With how cold it grew in the evening, Dimitri knew he would appreciate the walls around him tonight. 

 

 The two entered the inn, being hit with a wave of hot air from the fireplace in the middle of the room. The innkeeper behind the bar gestured loudly, "Close the door! You're letting all the warmth out!"

 

 Lambert did as he was commanded. Dimitri wiped the frost and dew from the bottom of his shoes off onto the mat in front of the door. He allowed his father to visit the front desk and speak to the innkeeper, while he took a seat at an empty table. 

 

 He scanned the room for a waitress, and upon finally locating her, his eyes were glued to the table she was standing at. 

 

 A man, grey hair, cut into a short crop on the top of his head. A flat expression. Lips moving as he spoke to the waitress. She nodded, and he acknowledged her with a very small, familiar smile. Once she left his presence, he directed his eyes back down to the book that lay on the table in front of him, now reading in silence.

 

 The waitress had neared Dimitri's table, looking annoyed at having to put up with a new customer. "What can I get you?"

 

 His eyes stayed glued to Dedue. His mind had been taken over with a hurricane of thoughts, of feelings, of memories. He was alive, alive, and he was right there. 

 

 "Uh... hello?"

 

 Being shaken from his reverie, he flickered his eyes to the waitress and looked at her in surprise. "I'm sorry, I was... I was zoned out. Tell me, who is that man over there?"

 

 He tried to gesture to Dedue subtly, wanting to disappear into the shadows as he stared at his friend. The waitress followed his small gesture to the man on the other side of the room, "Oh, that's just Dedue. He comes in here after work."

 

 "Work?"

 

 "Blacksmithing... What's it to you, stranger?"

 

 Stranger. He looked entirely too suspicious now. He tried to gulp the rock in his throat and looked at the waitress, "Just thought I saw him before. W-Well, I'll have water, my father will as well."

 

 She looked to his father, blond head of hair bobbing as he laughed with the innkeeper. Of course she would recognize him as his father, they were spitting images of each other. "Where are you two from?"

 

 Good question. He sent her a polite, but brief smile. "Nowhere." It was not a lie, "I promise you, we're not here for trouble," he pulled a silver coin from a side pocket in his bag, and slid it across the table to her, "just looking for work."

 

 She took the coin and slyly slipped it into her apron, "Two waters, coming up."

 

 Dedue had yet to visibly notice him, though he knew his skills of observation were more than what they seemed. He watched as his old friend took another sip of water, eyes flickering over to him just for a split second before they returned to his book, and he set his mug down. He had already noticed him.

 

 Dimitri tried to send him a reassuring smile, yet stopped himself as he realized how odd that would've been. It was not a good idea to go around smiling at random villagers, lest he warrant paranoia among the people. As the waitress put the two mugs of water down onto the table, he kept his head down and took a drink to distract himself. 

 

 Lambert returned and pulled out his chair with a pleasant, satisfied smile. He plopped down across from him, "I got us a job!"

 

 Dimitri took another gulp of water, "Hm?"

 

 "Tomorrow morning," he leaned across the table, "In a cavern down by the beach, there's a group of ruffians terrorizing- hey, why didn't you get me ale?"

 

 "Water is more hydrating."

 

 "I'll drink water when I'm dead."

 

 "Don't say things like that." He reprimanded with a sigh as Lambert called for the waitress to return to their table. His eyes flickered to Dedue again, who was in the process of closing his book and tucking it under his arm, then downing the rest of his drink. 

 

 He had to think of a way to approach him. A way to get his attention. In the past, they had met over tragedy and fire, and Dimitri had no interest in recreating that situation for the sake of having a friend. If he was to make a connection with Dedue once more, it would have to be over better circumstances. 

 

 Dimitri desperately wanted to speak to him. Even with Lambert at his side, he felt so alone in the world. He knew of a lifetime where he had been surrounded by friends, his family who had tied themselves to him through war and hardships. Now, despite his appreciation for his father, none of those friends knew he had even existed. 

 

 Loneliness was like a rock in his gut. Dedue was like a shining beacon in the night, even if the man didn't know it. 

 

 As he left the inn, opening the door and letting a rush of cold breeze back into the room, he sent Dimitri another flat, expressionless look, then walked out without a word.

 

 The next morning was cold, and a very ugly shade of grey. It had been difficult to wake up in the morning when it was still dark and make their way to the cavern on the beach. Dimitri closed his eyes as he walked, wrapping himself in a fur cloak and enjoying the sting of the chill on his heavy eyelids. The sand beneath him sunk with every step satisfyingly, and the noise of the ocean was soothing to his tired ears.

 

 Lambert, despite having drank several pints of ale, was quite sunshiney this morning. He always felt happier when doing a job, when helping people who needed it. Dimitri enjoyed it as well, but wished that they could've began their attack in the afternoon or some other much more pleasant time of the day. Despite his exhaustion, this needed to be done.

 

 The bandits had been terrorizing the village for quite a while. The locals had attempted to take care of it, yet were untrained with the blade and only got injured in the process. The thieves had begun to boldly enter the village and demand money from the locals as a payment to keep them from kidnapping their woman or burning their buildings. Anybody that refused was found dead, or in critical condition.

 

 The thought of such terrible people grew a heat in Dimitri's stomach. Just in the night, as they slept in the cozy room upstairs of the inn, the bandits had came into town once again to shake down the local establishments. He and Lambert had woken up in the early morning to cries and mourning in the street.

 

 The cavern loomed ahead ominously. The day was still dark, but light enough that they could make out the smolders of a campfire, and several sleeping men on the ground around it. It was the hardest time of day for the watchmen to stay awake, Lambert had chosen the perfect time to make his attack. The rest of the thugs were nestled inside of the cavern, so the father and son duo would have to be careful and calculated so as to not take on the entire group at once.

 

 They were quiet as they neared, veering off to sneak against the rock wall that was connected to the cave. Several large boulders shadowed them from view, and they crept quietly along, closer to the entrance. 

 

 Quietly, until they ran into another human being, that is. 

 

 Dedue froze in place. He looked over his shoulder at Lambert and Dimitri, who stood there dumbly staring at him. 

 

 He had been peering around a large rock, ax in hand, readying to begin his strike and run out from his hiding place to attack the first bandit that slept close by. Yet, the father and son duo had found him first, and the three of them stared at each other in confusion.

 

 "Who... are you?" Dedue's voice was deep, and rumbling in his chest.

 

 Dimitri forced himself to keep his happiness contained, knowing that wrapping Dedue up in a sudden hug would only get him a broken arm. His heart jumped in his chest with joy at the opportunity fate had allowed him. Dedue was speaking to him, his closest friend from another life, making contact with him. The world didn't feel as small and cold anymore, even if he stared at Dimitri as if he'd never seen him before in his life. 

 

 "Apologies for startling you." Lambert whispered, "Um, we've been hired to take out this group of ruffians."

 

 "Hm. Nobody told me that."

 

 Dimitri bit the inside of his cheek to hold his smile back, "What are you doing out here?"

 

 He seemed to dislike telling the two men his business, yet gave in with a stony expression as he glanced at the cavern, "They came last night and stole my neighbor's daughter, and... my sister. They are innocent, and do not deserve to be a pawn in their game."

 

 He had taken it upon himself to save the girls. Dimitri remembered hearing of his sister, who he had always remembered so fondly. He felt like he had always known her, despite her dying before ever meeting him. "Let us help each other."

 

 "...If you wish."

 

 Joining their party, Dedue stepped aside to allow Lambert to peak around the corner of the boulder. He was quiet, gesturing to the two teenagers behind him to silently follow him. Dedue was large, yet he could be as quiet as a mouse when he desired himself to. He wore common clothes, with only a leather chest brace to protect him. 

 

 Dimitri's long cloak followed behind him in the sand, making a long, square imprint that trailed his footsteps. There was already sand beneath his fingernails, in his shoes, in his hair, yet he tried to ignore the little annoyances as the group made their way closer to the cavern. 

 

 Lambert had his lance drawn, and was the first to strike. 

 

 The sleeping man cried out in pain, alerting several of the others. Before anymore could wake up, Dimitri ran into the camp with his own weapon drawn, and slashed at another man that had just awoken. It felt wrong to attack them without giving them a fair chance, yet he knew that these men would not ever dream of fairness if the roles had been reversed, and had given no semblance of fair chances to the villagers they harassed. 

 

 Dedue followed with his ax, throwing it into the chest of a man who was just begging to sit up. The noises had alerted the others inside of the cave to run out of the darkness, weapons drawn and faces filled with confusion and alertness. Dimitri turned his attention to them, pushing his cloak and bag off of his shoulders to lighten his movements, and ran to the first man he saw. He ducked under his sword, and swiped his feet out from under him. Once the man had fallen, he slammed the end of his lance into his chest. 

 

 His mind filled with only one thing - to fight. To fight for the safety of the villagers, of the people who couldn't fight for themselves. Lambert knew to give his son room, instead going farther into the cavern to find the girls and set them free. Dedue watched Dimitri with a glimmer of surprise crossing his face, then composed himself and pulled the ax out of the dead man's chest, and threw it once more to lodge itself into another's. 

 

 Dimitri was taking on five at once, and was beginning to be overwhelmed, though he would not let the concern show on his face. If there was anything he was good at, unfortunately it would be killing. He ducked another sword, and kicked a man in the stomach. Drawing on his past sparring sessions with Byleth, he quickly gathered sand into his hand and threw it into the eyes of another man, temporarily blinding him. He drove his lance through the man's stomach, and jerked it out just as quickly. 

 

 Lambert had sneaked his way into the recesses of the cave, hiding behind crates as another group of bandits ran past him to check out the fighting going on at the entrance. Once they moved on, he continued his search for the young girls that had been taken hostage, worried for their safety. 

 

 More men arrived to find Dedue and Dimitri having taken care of the first group. They raised their blades and ran to attack the intruders, only being taken care of in a similar fashion. One of them, though, had a bow, and Dimitri saw him kotch an arrow and aim it towards his comrade beside him. 

 

 It was without thought, impulsive and happening within a second of time. His reflexes kicked in, his instincts to protect his friend, and Dimitri stepped in front of Dedue to shield his back. The arrow tip dug itself into his shoulder. 

 

 The pain was not sudden, giving him a merciful moment to breath before the fire began. He yelled in pain, yet only allowing himself to wallow in the fire spreading through his arm for a simple second, before he pulled a dagger from his belt. He had to get rid of the archer before he could fire once more. He threw the dagger towards his enemy, who turned around to run from the flying blade. It buried itself into his back in an instant, and the fighting finally was over. With relief, Dimitri let himself drop to his knees in the sand. 

 

 There was not often a time when he would curse, or swear, or speak improperly. For a mercenary, his grammar was correct, and his mannerisms chivalrous. It was very rarely that obscene language would escape from his mouth. Yet, it felt very appropriate in that moment, to let out a frustrated, pained, "You've got to be shitting me."

 

 Pained, he eyed the arrow in his shoulder, and merely sighed. The fire was shooting through his back, his neck, and down his arm. He had felt this burn before, though with a dagger and by Edelgard's hand. The arrow had not lodged itself very deeply, but a thin trickle of blood began to drop down his side, and he felt light headed. 

 

 Behind him, Dedue stared down at the strange blond man. The same one who he had caught staring at him last night like a startled deer. He had taken that blow for him. If not for the stranger, he would have an arrow in his back. With Dimitri's height, his shoulder came to Dedue's heart. There was a chance that if he had taken that arrow, it would've went through his rib cage and into his most important organ, possibly killing him instantly. He could only stare in disbelief. 

 

 Dedue dropped to his knees in front of him, and eyed the man with a stony expression. "I do not have any medical equipment on me..."

 

 Dimitri nodded his head in the direction of where he had left his cloak and his hiking bag, "There's rags and alcohol in there."

 

 Dedue furrowed his brows, "This is not the time to drink."

 

 "It's not for drinking," he almost laughed, "It's to numb the pain."

 

 "Oh." He cleared his throat in embarrassment and stood up again to approach the bag. He picked it up, surprised by it's heaviness - the thing nearly weighed him down, how anyone could travel the continent with that on their back was baffling to him. "Where is it?"

 

 "Side pocket," Dimitri huffed in pain and rearranged himself so that he was sitting with his legs folded over each other, "there should be a vulnerary as well."

 

 Dedue dug into the side pocket and pulled out a bundle of rags that looked as if they had been ripped off a shirt. Under the rags was a small vial of clear liquid, next to a slightly larger one of light blue potion. He brought the items to Dimitri, and knelt down next to him. 

 

 "Okay." Dimitri breathed in to prepare himself, a cold sweat beginning to form on his forehead. He put his other hand on the shaft of the arrow, and shut his eyes tightly, "One, two, thr-"

 

 "Don't do that."

 

 Too late. The arrow was ripped from his skin, breaking into splinters in the process. The crest of Blaiddyd glowed gently in front of him. Dedue watched the crest fade as Dimitri gathered the rags and held to his shoulders. Pulling the arrowhead out had only sliced his skin apart even more.

 

 He had broken the wood of the shaft into tiny different pieces, the sheer force of his pull sending the pieces shattered across the area. Dedue stared in confusion at the man before him. "Who are you?"

 

 "Dimitri," he answered, clearing his throat and reaching for the alcohol, "Pleasure to meet you."

 

 "You saved my life."

 

 "I don't mean to argue, but I did nothing of the sort."

 

 "You did," Dedue bowed his head humbly, "You have my eternal gratitude."

 

 This was closely mirroring something that he had lived before. This time, there was less fire, less blood and terror. Dedue had said those exact words to him as children, huddled together in an abandoned barn, traumatized. The memory pained him, and he poured the alcohol over his shoulder wound, letting it's sting distract him from the thought. 

 

 From the back of the cave, Lambert approached the two from the shadows. Dedue's sister held his left hand, while the other girl held his right. Their faces were red and puffy with tears, but their lips held relieved smiles. Upon seeing her older brother, Dedue's younger sister broke from Lambert's hand and ran to him, nearly tackling him onto his back with her cries of affection. 

 

 Dimitri watched, feeling nostalgic. He knew that in their past life, Dedue was so young that he'd never gotten to see his sister any older than an infant. Now, she was a young lady of the age of 10, with braided pigtails and ribbons, and she held her brother as he patted her back and comforted her from the trauma. It made Dimitri happy to know that he was growing up with a family now, getting to experience what had been stolen away from him before. 

 

 They returned to the village, being greeted with cheers and gratitude. Dedue received many pats on the backs, and he disappeared to help prepare a feast for the newcomers who had relieved them from their troubles. That night, Lambert accepted his payment from the lord of the village, and readied to leave once more.

 

 "Where are we going now?" Dimitri asked as they stood outside of the village, organizing their packs and wrapping themselves in their winter cloaks. The evening was beginning to settle in, the world darkening, yet Lambert had wanted to get on the road as quickly as possible. His motivation was always so high after finishing a job successfully and bringing justice to those who needed it, he was eager to move onto the next problem to fix. "I'm not sure. Maybe Gautier."

 

 So, the other side of Faerghus. Of course he would never want to go anywhere nearby, he had to let the wind blow him from coast to coast. 

 

 Dimitri heaved the bag onto his back and stood up straight, "Wherever you go, I will follow."

 

 "That's the spirit!" He clapped his son's shoulder, making him wince in pain, "Oh, sorry. I forgot."

 

 Judging by the sly smile he wore, Dimitri doubted that he had forgotten. He stared at him flatly, "That isn't funny."

 

 "I'm an old man, I forget things. Be kind to me."

 

 "I will be kind to you when you are kind to me."

 

 "I'm always kind to you!"

 

 The sound of footsteps rushing up to meet them was a welcome interruption to their bickering. Two pairs of curious eyes turned the sound, catching the sight of Dedue jogging to meet them. He had a bag slung over his shoulder, and a light cloak covering his back. He stopped in front of them, returning their gazes with a light look of determination, "You're leaving."

 

 It was a statement, not a question. And it was a true one. Dimitri was hesitant to leave his friend behind, yet would not dare to tear him apart from the family he had never gotten to meet before. He sent him a small smile, and nodded, "We are."

 

 "Please," he bowed low, humble, "allow me to accompany you."

 

 Lambert was taken aback, "But what of your family?"

 

 Dedue straightened up, his face serious, "I have already received their blessings. Father will hire a few boys from the village to help him."

 

 "What of your mother and sister?"

 

 "I will write them letters."

 

 That didn't seem like quite enough. Dimitri thought of his own mother, if she were alive he'd want to be around her, to protect her and to see her smiling face. Yet, he studied Dedue carefully. He was still the same man, the same qualities, yet having lived a different life. Different circumstances breed different results, he supposed. 

 

 Lambert sent him a curious stare, "Why would you want to travel with us?"

 

 Again, Dedue bowed, seemingly even lower this time, "Your son saved my life. While I owe him a debt of gratitude, I also wish to make it an example for myself." Slowly, he straightened up his posture, and stared over the heads of the two men before him, "I, too, would like to risk my life for the safety of others. If you will have me along for your travels."

 

 It was a noble goal. He felt pride swell in his heart for his friend, who's morals had stayed as high as ever. He smiled at Lambert, "I'm okay with it, father, if you are."

 

 Lambert thought for a moment. He stared at the young before him, tan skin and grey hair, stony expression and ax strapped onto his back. After a heavy, anticipation filled silence, Lambert finally broke into a wide, familiar grin. In a fatherly manner that made Dimitri feel a wave of pride, he put his arm over Dedue's shoulders and laughed, "Welcome to the family, kid!"

 

 Dimitri's heart felt lighter. He sent a nostalgic, friendly smile to the man of Duscur in front of him. Dedue's lip twitched as if he was attempting to smile, yet gave up after a second of trying. Lambert's airy laugh filled the air once again, and to Dimitri, the world seemed a little less lonely. 

 

Chapter Text

Imperial Year 1185

5 years later

 

 "You need to cut your hair."

 

 "You need to trim your beard."

 

 "You should take a bath."

 

 "I believe it is you who should take a bath, father."

 

 "You both need a bath." Dedue informed heavily. His sigh implied a million words as he attempted to ignore his companions around the campfire, "And your bickering is ruining the flavor of the boar."

 

 "Sorry Dedue." 

 

 "Sorry."

 

 With only a small hint of a self-satisfied smile, Dedue silently returned to his plate. It made Dimitri joyful to see his old friend comfortable enough to say such things, though it was quite rare that he did. It was not often that Dedue would speak more than a few pointed, direct words, but Dimitri was always delighted when he would express himself in more length.  His comfort levels were of a different kind in this reality, making the boys peers rather than Prince and Retainer.

 

 The bickering had entirely been for fun. Lambert, wanting the best for his son, had a habit of critiquing him with the intent to improve. Lately, it had been Dimitri's hair and appearance that he had targeted, while letting his own beard grow out a little more tangled day by day. 

 

 Dimitri hardly ever looked at himself. They very rarely visited villages where there would be storefronts with mirrors or shiny glass windows to see himself in. He would catch a blurry glimpse of his visage in ponds, on occasion, and realize how long his hair was growing out. He looked the spitting image of himself during his madness, only lacking the eye bags and the scowl. 

 

 He had always kept his hair a bit longer in his adult years. Byleth enjoyed it that way. Running her fingers through it and scratching his scalp always helped to lull him to sleep at night. Besides that, she enjoyed pulling it back into short, stubby ponytails. When they had their daughters, they would braid it and insist he wear it in their messy, girly styles to meetings. He could never say no to them.

 

 At 23, now it was grown to the length he liked, and he had no daughters to braid it, no wife to run her fingers through it. He kept it long on the chance that when he did see Byleth again, she would be charmed. 

 

 Lambert, on the other hand, despised his look. Dimitri supposed every parent had the responsibility of arguing with their child about their looks. Dimitri had done it with his own children, and watched his children do it to theirs. 

 

 It was odd, though, thinking about his children from his past life. He could only hope that they were doing well, whatever had happened to them after he left his consciousness behind in that reality. He knew that it was time for him to leave that world, and enter a new one. Being 23 again had fit him very well, actually. Even when Lambert scolded him like a child. 

 

 He thought of this as he stuffed another piece of steak into his mouth. Unfortunately, he still had no taste. The curse would follow him around forever, he supposed. Lambert and Dedue seemed to enjoy the food, judging from the silence and focus on the dinner. Ever since Dedue had joined their travels five years ago, they had began eating so, so much better than before. Simply having an extra body around to help take care of jobs had made their lives easier. Coming from a place of appreciation, Lambert had begun to treat Dedue like his own son, while Dimitri felt more like his brother than ever before.

 

 It was a comfort to have the man around. Yet, despite having gained his good friend back, Dimitri still thought of Byleth daily. 

 

 There had been no war, no tension between the nations. He heard nothing of a rebellion from the Western Church, nothing of the Imperial army gathering. If there was to be a war in the same vein of his past life, it would've happened by now. Either the three of them were living under a rock, or Fodlan was at a wonderful, strange state of peace. He was not complaining. 

 

 He could only wonder where his beloved was, though, whether she was happy or not. Sothis had not visited his mind in five years, not even a peep. She had disappeared, along with any sign of Byleth's presence in the world. Oftentimes, he would stay up late wondering if she was dead or alive. 

 

 She would've graduated four years ago and went back to the Kingdom. He didn't see the need to visit Garreg Mach again, as she most likely wouldn't be there. Yet, he had asked villagers for news from Fhirdiad, and the only news anyone ever had was 'Oooh, Lord and Lady so-and-so had a baby' or 'King Eisner held another jousting match and a new knight has been appointed' - which was far more interesting to Dimitri than baby news. Yet, there had never been any news of Byleth, the princess herself. He could only wonder what the world was hiding from him. 

 

 He was growing more, and more frustrated as the years had passed.

 

 But his time of glory and answers was nearing. They had a job in Fhirdiad. The first job that had taken them to the capital itself. 

 

 Dimitri had tried to convince his father to travel there before, yet Lambert tended to avoid the capital city like the plague. Perhaps it was out of resent, or perhaps the memories of his wife that lingered there pained him too much to return. Dimitri could not bring himself to separate from his father to go to Fhirdiad on his own, and after years of mind-numbing, frustrating patience, it was finally happening. He would catch his next glimpse of her. 

 

 Lambert had gotten word of the job from someone of interest in the territory of Gloucester. He had a habit of finding the most well-informed person in any town, and drawing out information from them. Dimitri and Dedue had only watched as his father approached a woman milking a cow nearby, minding her own business, and began to strike up a conversation with her. Several minutes later, he had jogged his way back to the boys with a satisfied smile gracing his lips, "There's going to be a festival in Fhirdiad and the nobility are looking for volunteer guards."

 

 Dedue glanced at the common woman, who was entirely focused once again on milking her cow, "How did she know that?"

 

 "Her uncle's a guard in Fhirdiad, he had sent her son a letter urging him to join. Apparently," Lambert raised his brows, "it's quite the big deal."

 

 For the royal family to not have enough guards to fill positions for a simple festival, the very thought seemed suspicious of itself to Dimitri. He had never let the number of guards get so low, and even if he had been negligent it still would've never dropped to such a level. To accept volunteers was a risk no noble would dream of taking. Who was running things in Fhirdiad to even allow such a thing?

 

 Despite never having set foot into the capital in this lifetime, he still felt responsibility over the welfare of his people. It was a habit cultivated over years of ruling, and it was not dying easily. 

 

 He thought of Byleth. With the news of the odd festival, and her absence from the minds of the people, his concern only grew. 

 

 The group set out for the capital as quickly as they could. According to the woman Lambert had spoken to, crowds of volunteers, men and women, young and old, were traveling to Faerghus for a shot at catching the royal family's attention enough to be considered for a permanent position. Being a Knight in Faerghus was a difficult task, but with the country's focus on chivalry and military, it was almost like being a celebrity. Crowds would part for knights as they walked in the streets. Dimitri had never liked to appoint anybody that wanted to undertake knighthood for such an vain reason. 

 

 He had to remind himself that there was a different man ruling his country. A different man wearing his crown and sitting on his throne. The country would be different from his own way of rule. He wondered how Jeralt, the rough soldier, was doing in his position, if he was still the same father to Byleth that he had known once before. 

 

 Leicester was warmer than what the mercenaries were used to. Even Dedue sweated under his heavy armor and the scarf he wore loosely around his neck, though he would never complain to his companions about it. As they moved further North and the roads became rockier and the mountains whiter, the heavy fur cloaks were once again brought out and wrapped around their shoulders. Dimitri had nearly laughed out loud at the cloak his father had made for him - it was furry, black and white, and rather heavy. Very nearly the spitting image of the one he used to wear in his madness. He lacked the long blue cape underneath, and the dark pieces of armor that he had stolen from different settlements across the land, but he was grateful for the warmth of the familiar animal furs hanging over his shoulders. 

 

 As the weeks of traveling went by, Dimitri's anticipation grew. 

 

 How he longed for the spiraling white towers of Fhirdiad, the comforting baked potatoes and sweetrolls that one could buy in the bustling market. How he wished to visit the many stables throughout the city and rent a horse for an afternoon and ride a mountain trail though the evergreens trees. A list was beginning to form itself into his mind - introduce Dedue to the hearty dark beers that were characteristic of the capital, then buy enough cheesey bread to last a week, and perhaps visit the largest cathedral in the city and enjoy it's stained glass and how the light shines through it. The list went on - yet the very first thing he wanted to attempt, the most important item of interest, was to locate Byleth. 

 

 Byleth, Byleth, Byleth. He couldn't wait to see her face once more. 

 

 The group arrived a week before the festivities were to begin. Fhirdiad had remained just as he remembered, and it simply took his breath away.

 

 The front gates of the city were open for travelers coming in and out. The land around the city remained cold, frozen, with only rocks and the hardiest of greenery surviving in the harshness of winter. Dimitri wrapped his furs around him and stared at the sprawling buildings in nostalgic awe. 

 

 The cobblestone path was well taken care of, with no weeds growing up between it's stones. The storefronts had been arranged to showcase their wares through large glass windows. Lights had been erected high above the rooftops, and would be lit up and blown out each morning and evening by the men hired to do so. The city smelled of a warm campfire and yeast. 

 

 He felt like a child on holiday. He managed to contain himself as he lagged behind Lambert and Dedue while they walked through it's streets. The citizens were preparing their stores and houses for the upcoming festivities, stringing colorful ropes and papers over their front doors. Several workers threw decorations to each other across the rooftops, tying them to chimneys so they would hang in the sky above the people. A week, when preparing for a festival of such a large proportion, would go by quickly. 

 

 In the town square where several stalls had been set up, Lambert approached a friendly looking man selling bread, "Excuse me, sir, where would we travelers sign up to lend our skills as volunteers for the festivities?"

 

 He pointed a crooked finger at the castle in the distance, regal and elegant in the mountainside it had been built into. A long pathway of stone led to it's front gates, which were guarded by several patrolling knights. "Up there's a way, talk to the gatekeeper."

 

 Lambert thanked the man, though before he could step away and leave, Dimitri took a place beside his father, intending to ask his own question, "Sir, what is this festival for, might I ask?"

 

 Under his scraggly, unkempt beard, he gave the young man a condescending smile that seemed to say 'are you dumb?' "You boys aren't from around here, huh?"

 

 "No, sir."

 

 He scratched his cheek and clicked his tongue, eyeing Dedue standing behind them. "You're not here to cause any trouble, yeah?"

 

 Lambert, ever the diplomat, sent him a sly smile. He pushed his hair back with his fingers and shook his head, as if laughing at himself, "We're gonna try not to. We just came here looking for work, honestly."

 

 "If they accept ya, the pay's good." The man nodded in appreciation, "Well, it's going to be a mighty big festival here."

 

 Dimitri found himself getting impatient with the country bumpkin small talk. In an attempt to hide his emotion, he sent the man a friendly smile, trying to mirror his own laid-back demeanor. "What about?"

 

 The merchant's grin grew larger, and he held a look of pride as if talking of his own children. "Well, son, her Highness Lady Byleth has gone and found herself a husband. It's her wedding celebration!"

 

Chapter Text

 If Dimitri had been made of glass, he would've shattered from the impact of the merchant's words. As it were, his breath had left his body, and a rock seemed to lodge itself in his throat, dropping down to his stomach and tearing through his heart in the process. 

 

 Byleth. Married. Byleth. 

 

 Married.

 

 In the impulsiveness of his emotion, he grabbed the shirt collar of the merchant, and yanked the man closer to him. The old man yelped in surprise and tried to yank himself away, though the crest of Blaiddyd glowed gently between their bodies. The shirt was beginning to rip under Dimitri's tight grip, yet he ignored it and narrowed his eyes, "To Who?"

 

 "L-Let me go-"

 

 "Who is she getting married to?"

 

 Lambert yanked at his son's arm, using his own crest, though failed to make him budge from his position, "What in Seiros's name do you think you're doing, boy? Let the poor man go!"

 

 On the other side of him, Dedue calmly, and gently, put a hand on Dimitri's shoulder. He could feel his friend trembling under his armor and cloak. "Dimitri. You must let him go."

 

 As if the universe was responding to Dedue's command, the merchant's shirt finally ripped apart at the front. He stumbled backwards away from the blond in fear. Dimitri held the rag in his hands and glowered at him, "Who is she marrying?" His words were in the form of a hiss, passionate and vengeful. 

 

 "Hell if I know!" The merchant stared at him with wide eyes, "You're a freak! I'm gettin' the guards!"

 

 Quickly, Lambert rushed around the corner of the stall and grabbed his arm. His own crest glowed silently as he held the merchant in place, who only groaned at seeing yet another crest in front of him. "Now, there's no need for that. Forgive my son, he's very young. Perhaps we can forget this matter..." Lambert hated to resort to this tactic, yet he jingled his coin purse between himself and the old man, "if this would persuade you?"

 

 He felt dirty. The golden silence of coin was certainly not his favorite method of dealing with a matter, yet he knew to be arrested would cost even more. His freedom, and a hefty fine, were not things he was willing to pay. 

 

 The merchant swiped the money bag from him, and patted his ripped shirt, "I'll be needing me a new tunic as well."

 

 Though he was annoyed, Lambert kept the friendly smile on his lips, "Of course!" He threw an arm over his shoulder, "I'll go get you one right now- er, Dedue, follow Dima for me, won't you?"

 

 Dimitri had begun to stalk away as soon as he realized that he would not be hearing anymore information from the country bumpkin. His steps were fierce, quick and built a wall between himself and anyone he passed. Fortunately, that particular area of the town square had not had any guards or civilians milling around to see his display. 

 

 He stalked his way down an alley, going straight for the cathedral in the eastern district of the city. Dedue followed behind, though keeping his distance from his brooding, hurried friend. 

 

 He took a turn, avoiding the heavily populated areas and preferring the winding back alleys. The city layout was still the same as before, nothing had changed from the map of memories in his head. Through the storm of emotions and question and despair that raged in his mind, he noticed Dedue following silently from a distance. He stopped in his tracks and looked at him, "Leave me alone, Dedue."

 

 "I'm afraid I will not do that."

 

 "You will. I need to be alone."

 

 Dedue only stared at him, his expression stony and unreadable. It was his own way of saying 'no' without having to speak at all. Dimitri scowled in anger, whipped around, and began his journey to the cathedral once more. 

 

 Married. Byleth. Wrong. It was all wrong. 

 

 Once the large steps of the holy building loomed ahead, he slowed in his walk. "I will not hurt anyone, or myself. Please," he was forcing himself to be more calm than he truly was, "just wait out here if you can."

 

 That, Dedue would agree to. He nodded slowly, and found a bench in front of the window to sit on. The area around the chapel was vacant, with all of the townsfolk being too busy setting up decorations on their own store fronts and homes to worship at that moment. Dimitri took the steps two at a time, and slipped in through the large wooden doors. 

 

 His target was the glass artwork of Seiros at the end of the room. Candles were lit on the steps leading to a small stage in front of the visage of the Goddess, who looked down upon the altar with a heavenly gaze of mercy. 

 

 What a sham. 

 

 He walked up the middle aisle to the stage, passing by a priest standing in the front pew. "Leave. I need to speak to her. Alone."

 

 The priest was intelligent enough to notice the tone of the stranger's voice, his clenched fist and tight shoulders. He nodded, and ran to an office room to the side of the building, closing the door with a loud bang. Alone now, Dimitri knelt on the altar and looked at the stained glass Goddess in front of him. 

 

 Would she even listen? Has she ever listened to prayers? He had no idea, yet he stared at her anyway. 

 

 "Sothis. You gave everyone else a better life," his shoulders shook, "Dedue has his family, the life he deserved. My father is alive and happy. Byleth lives without the curse of fighting for her life day to day. But as for me... why have you made it so damn difficult?" He slammed his hand down on the ground, "I thought this was a reward! I did not ask for this!"

 

 He did ask for it, just not in the form it was being given. He could've never expected these results. 

 

 His heart was breaking once more. 

 

 Byleth. Married. 

 

 He repeated that in his head. Byleth. Married. To someone that is not him. 

 

 His heart ached, and he held a hand to his chest. He could barely breath as he sat on his knees on the cold, stone floor. Sothis was not there, and the room remained silent. 

 

 As he tried to catch his breath and stop himself from going into a panic attack - something he had not had in a very long time - he registered the sounds of the entrance doors opening and closing with a thud. Barely managing to make out the words, he moaned, "Go away, Dedue."

 

 "Who's Dedue?" 

 

 He recognized that voice. That lazy, carefree drawl. Slowly, carefully almost, he sat up and turned around. 

 

 Sylvain was staring at him with wide, curious eyes. He held a bottle of whiskey up in the air, "You need a drink?"

 

 Gods, he needed a drink. 

 

 The appearance of his oldest friend was enough to keep his panic attack at bay. He simply stared, breathless and trying to process his words enough to exit from his mouth, "Sylvain..."

 

 The red head raised a suspicious eyebrow, "How do you know my... Well," he snorted, "I guess everybody in this town knows my name now." He lazily plopped himself down onto a wooden pew and raised the bottle to his lip, downing a heavy shot of the brown liquid. 

 

 Dimitri pushed himself up. He realized the need to not be a complete and utter weirdo in this moment, as Sylvain did not recognize him either. He slowly took a seat beside his friend, and accepted the bottle being handed to him. The large swig he took was fire on his tongue and throat. 

 

 "Nice," Sylvain laughed, the sound echoing in the rafters above them, "cure for all ailments, am I right?"

 

 Dimitri nodded wordlessly, eyes on the stained glass image of Seiros in front of him. 

 

 He took the bottle again and tipped it back for another swig, then rested it on his thigh. He spread his legs and lounged comfortably on the bench, "Are you a noble?"

 

 Dimitri shook his head. 

 

 "How very fortunate for you."

 

 "Fate is not fortunate to me right now, friend."

 

 "I guess so, with all your wailing," he earned a look of surprise from Dimitri, but only waved him off, "I didn't hear anything you said, don't worry. I won't pry. Fate's not exactly on my side right now either. Which is why I came here in the first, place, I guess... I mean-" he groaned in annoyance, "come on! I can't catch a break with my father! The man doesn't listen to reason!"

 

 Dimitri remembered Margrave Gautier well. He was not reasonable in the least, but then again hardly any of the older generation of nobles of that time really were. Rodrigue and Lambert had always seemed to be the only level-headed ones of the group.

 

 Sylvain stood up and held the bottle of whiskey to Dimitri, "You probably need this more than I do, man."

 

 He shook his head and put his hands up, "I couldn't! That's probably hundreds of gold!"

 

 "Don't worry about it," a twisted, mischievous smile broke out onto Sylvain's lips, "I want to cause a little damage to his coin purse tonight anyway."

 

 He knew the stubbornness of his friend, and the determination when he was in that certain kind of mood. If Dimitri didn't accept it, the bottle would most likely go to a homeless person, someone who would wreak havoc with it's contents. Gently, he took the bottle, and sat it in his lap. "Thank you. I hope... I hope things turn around for you."

 

 Sylvain snorted derisively, "They probably won't. But whatever, that's life." 

 

 Dimitri watched him as he strode down the aisle, and out of the double doors. Perhaps Sothis had not been as kind as he thought, with the contempt Sylvain had displayed for his circumstances; he could only wonder what his old friend was dealing with. 

 

 Lost in thought, Dimitri turned back to face the image of Seiros. The threat of a panic attack was gone, replaced by quiet contemplation as he tried to pick back up the pieces of his heart. 

 


 

 Outside of the chapel, Lambert and Dedue shared a bench. After Lambert had done his dirty bribing, he had gone looking for wherever his son stalked off to. He eventually found the man of Duscur sitting outside of the biggest cathedral in Fhirdiad, seemingly waiting for something.

 

 The two now waited together in a comfortable silence, loyal enough to stick with Dimitri though whatever he needed to work out. Lambert played with his pocketknife, while Dedue had pulled a small book out of his backpack to make the time pass. Books had always been a source of interest between the two men, something they could share with each other and bond over. Dedue enjoyed reading, reveling in the act of it since hardly anybody else in his village could. It was something he had learned over the span of years, teaching himself with the occasional help from a traveler or two. Eventually, his neighbors would seek him out for him to tell them how to read a certain recipe, or to read a flyer they had found blown in from the wind. He enjoyed his skill a great deal.

 

 Lambert respected the comfortable silence, his own mind filled with worry and concern. After a moment, he finally spoke the thoughts that he had been organizing in his head, "Has... Has Dimitri ever spoken to you of hearing voices?"

 

 What an odd question. Dedue looked up from the pages and stared ahead of him, thinking, "...No."

 

 "Well," he fidgeted with the pocket knife, "if he ever does... no matter how much he tells you to keep it secret, I would like you tell me, okay?" He looked to Dedue, a man he thought of as his own, second son, "It's for his own good."

 

 Dedue didn't quite know if he could do that. He respected, perhaps even loved Lambert, yet Dimitri was the closest friend he had ever had. The two were like brothers, and he couldn't imagine betraying his trust. 

 

 Keeping silent, he returned to his book. Lambert pursed his lips and sighed, knowing he had lost in his plea to Dedue.

 

 He could only hope that it would never come to that point.

 


 

 Byleth Eisner was not having a good day. 

 

 Though, nobody could tell by looking at her. 

 

 She kept her face impassive as she watched herself in her large vanity mirror. Not a fleck of emotion would show, not through her lips, her nose, her eyes. She practiced her deep breathing technique, closed her eyes, and let the darkness of her mind engulf her. 

 

 Until Ingrid pulled a bit too hard on her hair once more.

 

 "Ow," she flinched and yanked her head away from her retainer, eyes widening, "please, Ingrid-"

 

 "I know," she interrupted, cheeks pink from the embarrassment of hurting the princess, "I'm sorry." Gently, she returned her hands to the lock of blue hair on her lady's head, smoothing it out until it felt like silk, and beginning to braid it more gingerly this time. 

 

 Byleth's shoulders eased of their tension, and she watched Ingrid in the mirror. The blonde woman nearly stuck her tongue out in thought as she flitted around her head, thinking and braiding and thinking more about braiding, pinning in place and taking a step back to look at her handiwork. 

 

 It was entirely, absolutely, terrible.

 

 Byleth merely stared.

 

 Ingrid stared back at the reflection of the princess in the mirror. 

 

 A few seconds of silence passed by heavily, until Ingrid finally buried her face into her gloved hands, "I'm terrible at this!"

 

 Byleth only sighed and began to pull the pins from her hair, placing them into a neat pile on the desk of her vanity. "It's okay, Ingrid. I'll just pull it into a bun."

 

 "Where's Mercedes when you need her," she groaned, "I'm a knight, not a hairdresser."

 

 "And a good knight too. You keep me very safe."

 

 She could appreciate that her friend was reaching out in an attempt to make her feel better, though Byleth was perfectly capable of keeping herself safe when the situation called for it. Ingrid was really there for more of a precaution. She enjoyed the position, though, spending all day with her good friend and serving the kingdom was something she had no reason to complain about. It was only at times when she was asked to do something a bit more feminine, like do hair or prepare tea, that she found her self confidence lacking. 

 

 Byleth didn't quite care about her hair either, but she had been asked to attempt to look nice in the upcoming days of her wedding. She had only been back in Fhirdiad for a week, yet she already was missing the sweet tropical air of Brigid, and the interesting culture of Almyra. 

 

 "It's nice to be home, at least," Ingrid hummed as she gathered up the hair pins and deposited them into a drawer, "wouldn't you say?"

 

 "I would not." Byleth finally allowed her disappointment, her anger, her frustration, to show itself clearly on her face. She avoided her own eyes in the mirror, and instead looked at her hands folded into her lap. "Getting married is not... exactly my first choice of things I would like to do."

 

 Jeralt and Sitri knew that. They had known that about her since she was a young girl, announcing to the entire kingdom with her childish yells of 'I hate boys! I'll never marry a stinky toe sucking boy!' Sitri took it upon herself to explain that no, not all boys are stinky, nor do they all suck toes, but Byleth had not been convinced. As she grew older, met more men at the monastery and traveled on her diplomatic missions to other countries and continents, she had yet to meet someone who tickled her fancy - even if they did not suck toes or stink. 

 

 Ingrid knelt down in front of the princess. She looked up at her pleadingly, taking her hands into her own, "Do you think you could... find it in yourself to love him? He's not a bad person deep down."

 

 She knew that. It was not him, it was the act itself. The marriage. The giving of herself to another human being. It was terrifying, one of the only things in the world that truly scared her. To be with someone for the rest of her existence, the very thought made her restless legs want to run. 

 

 "You don't understand, you've found your one." Byleth pulled her hands from Ingrid's and stood up, walking to the open balcony doors to look out upon the gardens below, "You actually want to marry Glenn, it's your decision."

 

 "Well, no it really wasn't my decision at first," Ingrid twisted the engagement ring on her finger, feeling the sharp lump under her glove, "but I made the best of it. And now, yes, it is my decision. Perhaps it could be the same for you."

 

 She doubted it. Byleth was not usually so moody. It was not in her personality to dwell on the bad. She would much rather find a way to pick herself and move past the problem. Jeralt never was one to let his child sit around and whine all day. Yet, she saw no solution. No solution other than to just run away from it all, which she would never dream to do. The Kingdom needed her, the Kingdom needed this marriage. 

 

 She knew how childish she was acting, and she wished that she could stop. Her frustration was taking over her usual demeanor of calm and refinement, and it felt positively odd for her to be so huffy. Breathing in the cold air of the evening, she tried to clear her mind. "Do... you want to go fishing?" She looked at Ingrid over her shoulder. 

 

 The lady-knight did not actually care very much for the sport, though she would oftentimes go simply to keep Byleth company. So, she nodded, trying to make her smile as reassuring as possible, "Sure. I'll go get the rods."

 

 As Ingrid left to visit the nearby storage room, Byleth made her way to the small desk beside her bed. She opened the door to pull out her special bait and tackle that she would use when she wanted to catch only the biggest fish. Being gone for five years, she could only hope that it was still where she had left it. 

 

 It was, sitting colorfully in a clear box. Next to it, was a small, red hilted dagger. 

 

 Confused, she grabbed the dagger and held it up to her candle, trying to inspect it for any engravings that might hint to her what it was doing there. Nothing. It was simple, dusty, with no carvings or decoration or designer etching their name into the side. She racked her brain to try and remember where she had gotten it. 

 

 A boy, blond hair peaking out from under his black hood, shifting on his feet awkwardly. That was it. 

 

 She smiled at the memory and strapped the dagger to the belt she wore on her waist. They insisted she wear dresses when in the castle, but she would always wear a belt to hold her sword and potions. The dagger fit right alongside her fine steel sword. Though she did not know who he was or why he had given it to her in the first place, it reminded her of a better time in her life. Garreg Mach was when she was free from any responsibilities other than leading the class and studying. She could spend her days next to her friends, old and new, and not be the princess for once. It had been a relief. Even in her five years of traveling she was still known as the princess in those other countries, meeting diplomats and touring areas of interest. 

 

 "Thank you, stranger," she whispered to the dagger, "I wish I could remember your name."

 

 He had told her, but it had slipped into one ear and out the other. He even had mentioned his hope to meet her once more, though she'd never seen hide nor hair of him. She'd stopped looking for him at the monastery, and he had slipped from her memory entirely over the years. Now, she had the dagger at her waist, and could thank him in spirit once more. 

 

 Ingrid came back with the rods, holding them on either side of her as she waited at the entrance to the room, "Ready to go?"

 

 "Yes." Byleth nodded and followed her out, taking her own rod and carrying it downstairs and to the outside gardens. Jeralt always made sure that the pond was filled with fish, for her and him both. 

 

 As the two girls neared it's waters, Byleth began to make out someone sitting on the dock, alone and head bowed in thought. 

 

 His flash of red hair was curly and untamed, and his clothes black as if he was in mourning. He glanced over his shoulder upon hearing footsteps nearing, and blinked slowly, "By, what're you doing here?"

 

 She resisted the urge to grimace at the nickname, and only held up the fishing rod before her. He nodded, pursing his lips and pushing himself up off the dock, "Guess I should leave you girls to it, huh?"

 

 She didn't answer. She didn't know what to say.

 

 Sylvain was like her older brother. She loved him so dearly, but could never imagine kissing him. She could hardly stand the thought of him at the altar, waiting for her, saying I Do, sharing a bed with him, holding his hand. Her stomach churned at the thought, and judging by the look of uncertainty on his face, it churned his as well.

 

 They stared at each other, silent. Ingrid hovered near them awkwardly. 

 

 "I don't want to do this." He stated.

 

 She nodded, "Me neither."

 

 "Sorry."

 

 "I know."

 

 "I don't have control over it."

 

 "I know."

 

 "I just wish they could see reason."

 

 "I know."

 

 "Maybe I can talk to him," he rubbed the back of his head in thought, "it's not like we need to be married to improve relations between our territories. I mean, we're already all living in Faerghus together!"

 Byleth only sighed, "Crest babies."

 

 "Yeah, crest babies."

 

 "...Do you wanna run away?"

 

 "Hell yeah."

 


 

 Ingrid and Felix did not want to do this. 

 

 "I don't want to do this." Ingrid stated.

 

 Her words went ignored.

 

 "I don't feel like doing this crap." Felix would back up.

 

 His words, too, went ignored.  

 

 They truly did not want to do this. 

 

 "I'm going to lose my job," Ingrid whispered to her future brother-in-law, "they're going to get me fired."

 

 Felix simply shook his head, and returned to the dark beer in front of him. The mug was frosty in his hands, just the way he liked it. If he was going to spend a night of listening to the stupidity of his friends and the complaining of Ingrid, at least he had a good drink in front of him. 

 

 Annette sat beside her husband, gripping his arm tight right as he lifted his mug, her sudden movement making it splash out and onto his shirt. She only laughed louder, snorting, "I'm sorry!" She tried to cover her smile with her hand, failing terribly, "Just loosen up! We're running away!"

 

 This was not what one would usually call running away. Byleth didn't seem to care in the moment about the exact terminology of what she was doing, only truly caring for the beer in front of her. She took a drink, then stuffed cheesey bread between her teeth. With her mouth full, she slurred, "We're running away, Felix."

 

 "Yeah Felix," Sylvain straightened his drooping fake mustache, "run away with us!"

 

 "To drunk asshole land? No thanks."

 

 When appearing out in public, if the princess and her arranged fiance didn't want to be caught and mobbed, they would have to dress in disguise so as to not be recognized. Sylvain, having already been drinking before 'running away' was buzzed enough to think that a glued on fake mustache and some common clothes would keep his identity a secret. Byleth was smarter, wrapping her hair up with a scarf so only her blue bangs were visible, and wearing big round glasses. The dress she wore was rather common, having been borrowed from a maid in the castle who could keep secrets. 

 

 Annette and Ingrid had attempted to disguise themselves as well, but only just for fun. The only people that Annette would be recognized by were her students from the school of sorcery, or her own friends back in the Fraldarius territory. Yet, she had pulled her hair back into a curly ponytail, and wore a heavy scarf around her chin to hide her face behind. Ingrid had merely changed out of her armor, and that was enough for most people to not recognize her. 

 

 Byleth adjusted the scarf wrapped around her head, tightening it by the knot in the back. As she did so, she lowered her voice so only the inhabitants at her table could hear her. The inn was incredibly crowded with travelers that night, all hoping for the chance to get paid for standing around the wedding festival. She leaned into her friends, "Where're we going next?"

 

 "Let's go skinny dipping." Sylvain's suggestion.

 

 Felix glared at him across the table, "I could kick you right now. In fact, I will." He jerked his leg under the table, only making Sylvain fall backwards in his seat as he tried to avoid his friend's powerful kick. His chair tipped back, his eyes widened, and gravity pulled him to the ground with a loud thud. 

 

 Several travelers nearby gasped at the man on the ground, mustache having fallen off and landed beside him. Quickly, he scrambled to stick it back on, and sent them a reassuring smile, "I'm okay!"

 

 Even Annette was laughing at her friends pain. Her husband's twisted sense of humor had rubbed off on her, making her smile more often at absolutely terrible things. Felix wrapped an arm over her shoulder and smirked as he watched Sylvain stand up. 

 

 "You have kicked the future king of Faerghus!" He brandished a fork from the table, pointing it at his dark haired friend, "Prepare to meet your fate!"

 

 Felix picked up his own fork, ready to tussle - he was actually quite interested in this concept, a sword fight only involving forks. He would have to schedule a duel to try that out at some point. 

 

 Before the boys cutlery fight would even begin, Byleth cut it short by dipping her hands into her beer and flicking the liquid at Sylvain. He flinched at the watery attack, "Hey, you're gonna make me smell bad!"

 

 "I'm not marrying you. You're not the future king of Faerghus."

 

 "And quiet down," Ingrid glanced around nervously, "don't announce things like that in public."

 

 Only a few travelers sitting around them had heard the words, and they couldn't care less. That was the good thing about vagabonds and mercenaries, they usually didn't care who someone was, only caring if they could get paid. Byleth knew that coming to this specific tavern was a good idea on how to begin her night. 

 

 Sylvain sat back down in his chair, looking around to see if anyone had noticed his announcement, or even cared. Finally, his eyes fell on someone a few tables away. A blond man, handsome, though he needed to brush his hair. He stared at the group with his eyes wide and his mouth hanging open in shock. 

 

 Sylvain waved, "Oh hey, sad man!"

 

 Sad man.

 

 Dimitri could've died just then, and it would've been alright with him.

 

 Sylvain continued to wave, "Come sit with us!" He pulled out an open seat, right next to Byleth herself. 

 

 He truly, honestly, fully, would've been okay with dying right then. It really would've been alright. 

 

 Lambert glanced at his son in confusion, then followed his eyes to the waving red haired man wearing the obviously fake mustache. "Do you know them, Dimitri? He's calling out to you?"

 

 "Y-Yes," he cleared his throat, "I met him earlier at the cathedral."

 

 Dedue nodded in assurance, "I saw him walk in, then walk out a minute later." He had assumed that Dimitri had scared him off, yet it seemed as if the lightly inebriated man wished to still talk to him. Perhaps they had made friends.

 

 "Well," Lambert nudged him, trying to be encouraging, "answer his call! Go make new friends."

 

 Dear Seiros, if only he knew. These were not new friends. 

 

 Obeying the encouragement of his father, Dimitri stiffly pushed his seat back from the table and stood up. He tried to not look at Byleth - she was wearing big glasses, he thought the look to be very cute - as he neared them. Sylvain continued waving his arm wildly, laughing as he did so, "Sad man! Are you feeling better?"

 

 "Not really," he answered, "Are you?"

 

 "Nope!" Sylvain jokingly held Byleth's hand, who ripped it from his grip in an instance, "We're getting married. I hate it."

 

 Dimitri hated it too. 

 

 Out of all the people in the world, out of all the nobles on Fodlan. Byleth had to be marrying Sylvain. 

 

 Just his luck.

 

 There was a lump in his throat, a fire in his heart. He, once again, could barely breathe. He looked at his former wife, gazing into her almond shaped eyes that he had stared into so many times before. The same eyes that had saved him from himself, the same ones that he had woken up to every morning for nearly 60 years.

 

 "Congratulations."

 

 She stared back at him, her expression unreadable, unfamiliar. The few pieces of his heart that he had managed to put back together were coming unglued, breaking once more. 

 

 "I would say thank you, but I'm not exactly happy about it."

 

 "Then why are you doing it?" His question was odd, invasive and inappropriate, but she didn't seem to mind. 

 

 "I have to. Crest babies, and all," she sighed deeply, staring down at the foam in her beer. "Gautier needs help, and we need them to keep guarding us from Sreng."

 

 Sylvain snorted, inebriated, "We're the 'guard-iers'."

 

 Despite his despair, his heartbreak, and his general distaste for his life, Dimitri couldn't help but laugh at the atrocity committed by that joke. It was one he had even thought of before, but never said for fear of any resulting 'boos'. Sylvain could only stare at him as he laughed, "That's a terrible joke, man. Don't laugh at that."

 

 He continued to laugh, until it dissolved into a more controllable chuckle. It felt nice to find something funny amidst the complete and utter horrendousness of his situation. He wiped his eye, "I'm sorry. It was terrible, yes. I..." he took a deep breath, now calm, and looked only at Byleth as he bowed his head, "I will leave you to your merriment... Goodbye."

 

 The goodbye was the hardest part. His throat nearly choked at the word, and he turned away quickly to disguise his wave of emotion. He hurried through the crowd to the stairwell, taking the steps by two in order to retreat to his room as quickly as possible.

 

 "What an odd man." Annette whispered. She stole Felix's beer to have a drink, then coughed and stuck her tongue out in disgust at the taste, "How could you drink that? It's gross!"

 

 "You know what's gross?" Sylvain pointed his fork at them, "Marriage."

 

 "Felix and I are married, ya know."

 

 "Gross."

 

 "You don't really believe that."

 

 "No. But marriage to By? Gross."

 

 The princess slipped out of her thoughts, now focusing on her friends at the table. Her mind had been elsewhere, dwelling on the familiarity of the man who had just spoken to them. His face was one she had seen before, if only she could remember. Forcing herself to be present to the conversation at hand, she glared at Sylvain, "I'm not gross."

 

 "You're like my little sister! I was there when you were born!"

 

 Ingrid gasped, hand going to her mouth, "Y-You didn't... see her come out, did you? Don't disrespect Queen Sitri in that way!"

 

 "No," he rolled his eyes, "come on, Ingrid, I was two. I waited in the other room with my father."

 

 Annette slammed her fist onto the table, becoming quite inebriated herself, "You cannot possibly remember her birth!"

 

 "I do."

 

 "No, you don't!"

 

 "Oh, Annie, sweet little Annie, I always remember the first time I meet a pretty girl."

 

 "Byleth," she gasped, "control him!"

 

 Once again, she snapped out her daze and looked at her younger friend. She huffed, "Don't start acting like I'm his wife. I don't want to acknowledge it." 

 

 "You keep zoning out." Ingrid noticed, brows furrowing in concern as she eyed her charge, "Are you okay?"

 

 "Yes," she sighed, mind digging deep into her store of memories, trying to find his face from somewhere, anywhere, "I just feel as if I've met that man before. It's bothering me."

 

 "Sad man?"

 

 "Yes... did he work at the academy?" She knew that he was not a student. She had made acquaintances with every student in the academy, and had never once met him. She could only assume that he was a knight, or a merchant, perhaps even a janitor. 

 

 Felix thought for a moment, deciding to be helpful for once, "I've never seen him."

 

 Ingrid and Annette both shook their heads, passing confused glances to each other. Byleth turned her attention to Sylvain, who shook his head as well. "Sorry."

 

 She sighed. It would only frustrate her more to keep thinking about where she had seen him. She had met so many people in her travels, it was difficult to keep track of them all. Downing the rest of her beer, she plunked the glass back onto the table, "I'm ready to go. Where shall we run away to next?"

 

 The group stayed silent in thought. Ingrid was the first to speak up, "We could... take a few pegasi and fly to the top of the mountain and sled down?"

 

 Immediately, everybody was up out of their seats, pushing back from the table and on their way to the door in a united, agreed force. Sylvain took a second to down the rest of his beer, "It's done. And off we go, to run away from our problems once again."

 

 "Well," Byleth allowed him a small, subtle smile, "how else would we ever deal with them?"

 

 "Like adults, probably. I'm not ready for that life."

 


 

 Worried after seeing his retreat, Lambert followed Dimitri to the room they had rented for the night. Once he stood in front of the wooden door, he knocked softly. From the inside, he could hear his son breathing heavily, gasping and hiccuping. A loud thud reached his hears. Fearing for what might've happened, Lambert twisted the knob and pushed the door open, "I'm coming in, Dima- oh gods."

 

 He rushed to his son's side and dropped to the ground beside him. Carefully, he wrapped his arms around him and held him close. Dimitri gasped for breath into his chest, his entire body shaking as he writhed and wheezed. Lambert held on tighter, "You're going to be okay. I promise you, whatever this is will pass."

 

 He knew what this was. Dimitri's mother had the same kind of fits, and Lambert would spend the night cradling her, waiting for her to finally calm down and come back to him. He was in a natural state for himself, holding his most treasured family, whispering to them, "This will pass. You'll be okay."

 

 Dimitri calmed down much quicker than his mother ever did. His erratic, short breathing, began to draw itself out longer. His back heaved, up and down, as he tried to control himself. His hands still trembled, and he stared at nothing as his father held him. "She's getting married."

 

 Lambert had a feeling that he was referring to the Princess Byleth, as he had known his son had always been a little weird when she was the topic of conversation. He didn't understand, yet he smoothed down his unruly blond hair and whispered, "I'm sorry."

 

 "I c-can't-" his breathing sped up, turning into hyperventilating again. Lambert buried his face into his shoulder, and rubbed a hand across his back. "I can't d-o... anything about it." 

 

 He wouldn't usually be one to encourage delusion. His wife had suffered a few of her own, being the person that she was. Dimitri reminded him so much of her, that it hurt to hear him speak at times. He had only hoped that he wouldn't take this side from her as well. He had found in his dealings with her that to just go along with it, and to comfort would be better than putting down his made up ideologies. "You can, though," he rubbed his back soothingly, "you can let her go."

 

 "She's n-not happy."

 

 "But she's serving her country," he pulled back to look at Dimitri's desperate, wide eyed stare, red and puffy from his panic attack, "and that probably brings her a lot of satisfaction."

 

 Dimitri stared back. His breathing calming as he looked at his father, "I don't know what I expected."

 

 "Humans rarely do."

 

 "How can I live when the only woman I've ever loved does not even know me?"

 

 His son was deeper in his delusions than he thought. His heart nearly broke at his words, realizing finally how much he truly mirrored his mother. Her own delusions were similar in the emotional toll that it took on her body. It hurt him to witness it again. "You move on, Dima. That is all we can do."

 

 He sighed, deep and heavy, "You look at me as if you pity me."

 

 "I guess I do."

 

 "I'm not imagining things!" He pleaded desperately, "I am older than you, father! I've lived a life longer than yours! I've ruled Faerghus for so long, with her at my side, I've fought wars, battle after battle. I've seen your head..." he halted, breath shortening again, "I-I'm sorry. I sound... I sound like I need to be hospitalized."

 

 "Yes, you do."

 

 "I'm okay. I'm..." he sat back and looked out the small window of the room, watching the stars twinkle overhead, "I will be okay. I'm sorry. Please don't worry over me."

 

 "I'm always going to worry over you."

 

 "Please do not."

 

 "You can't stop me."

 

 He looked at his father. Spitting image of himself, brushed back blond hair, blue eyes like the sea. The same straight nose and jawline, the high cheekbones. The face that he had never gotten a chance to look upon past the age of 11. He was grateful for him, at least, even if the world granted him nothing else. 

 

 "You need to trim your beard."

 

 "You need to cut your hair."

Chapter Text

 It was a warm day in Fhirdiad, warm as it possibly could get in the barren wasteland of the North. A pleasant temperature of 50 degrees, with a light chilly breeze blowing, reminding the citizens exactly where it was that they lived. Yet, the sky was blue, and that was enough to lift Byleth's spirits on such an annoyance of a day. 

 

 It wasn't as if she hated her citizens. In fact, she was prepared to give her life for them if the need ever arise, yet it was the act of having to put up with hundreds of smiling faces gazing upon her, wishing her the best in her future marriage, throwing congratulations and good fortunes, that made her annoyed. She closed her eyes and simply tried to enjoy the hint of warmth that her country had to offer. 

 

 She, Jeralt and Sitri were taking a ride through the city. There were specific pathways for horses and carriages, roads that were widened and smooth enough for wheels and hooves to traverse. The civilians always knew to stay to the sidelines when a procession of riders would come through, and there was quite the procession following the royal family on this day.

 

 Jeralt rode in front, his horse charming and strong, while Sitri rode beside him. She had a white horse with a braided mane, and her delicate hand waved to the crowds of onlookers. Her health was fragile, so she was rarely seen walking or riding in the city streets. When she was present, it was always an exciting event.

 

 Byleth rode behind her parents, flanked by a set of guards with their shined armor and blue emblems. Her own horse was painted, smaller than the others, but still charming in it's own way. She let the breeze blow back her hair, which was loose around her shoulders, and tried to focus on the trotting of the horse.

 

 It had not been easy for her since the engagement had been announced. She had returned from her travels, finally, riding triumphantly through town and greeting all of her favorite shopkeepers. She entered the castle, unknowing of the misfortune that awaited her, and found the Margrave Gautier and her father looking at her sternly. Since the news, her good spirits had died, buried into the ground and never heard from again. She hadn't even a chance to say hello to her father yet, simply being pounced upon by the announcement of her own marital status. 

 

 Jeralt hated it, he truly did. Yet, he had taught Byleth from an early age that being nobility meant making sacrifices for the people she ruled over. Jeralt and Sitri had always held the idea that as rulers, they were truly servants to the people, shepherds and caretakers. Byleth admired their selflessness, knowing of the lords in other regions who would take advantage of their situation and only use their status to increase their own level of comfort. She did not respect such people, despite her living in her own form of comforts. 

 

 It was a hard thought, yet she knew that she would do it, she would have to marry Sylvain, no matter how little either of them liked it. 

 

 The family and their guards passed by a large training area near a stable-house. In front stood a group of mismatched travelers, being trained by a captain of the guard wearing the emblem of the lion on the front of his armor. He held a spear in his hand, yelling out orders to the volunteers. 

 

 She had thought it stupid to hire more guards simply for her wedding festival, yet there had been a troop of them recently dispatched to assist Gautier in keeping Sreng at bay, and they had begun to run low. Jeralt always tried to keep the finances of the kingdom in order, which meant paying less guards. As it would be such a big festival, effecting everybody in the great city of Fhirdiad, he wanted to make entirely sure that nothing would happen. 

 

 Byleth wondered what he was even afraid of. She could not think of anybody who would have reason to stop the wedding, it was a union that would not hurt any other country, and would help Faerghus to become stronger. There was the fear of another lord wishing to grow in his own power and assassinating Sylvain to open up the position for his own son to take the place, yet Byleth doubted that would happen. The lords that would even be inclined to such a thing were to be kept under strict, yet subtle watch. 

 

 She watched the group of volunteers, all following the orders of the captain who briefed them on their upcoming duties for the next week. The captain's loud voice rang in her ears, giving her a light headache leftover from her hangover. Her back hurt, lightly suffering from the burn of sliding down a snowy mountain on a rough sled the night before. It had been fun, though, and she wouldn't have exchanged it for anything. 

 

 As they slowly trotted past the group, her eyes caught sight of a black and white fur cloak of one man standing at the back of the group. He was following orders neatly, holding his spear like an experienced soldier. His blond hair was pulled into a half-up ponytail style, possibly to keep it from his eyes. The armor he wore was dark, a hodge-podge of different pieces he seemed to have gathered. Next to him, a tall man with white hair and shaved sides followed the movements the captain demonstrated. They were training, having been accepted as volunteers for the festival. 

 

 Sad man, she remembered Sylvain calling him. She wondered why he was sad, and how Sylvain had gotten to know such a thing. 

 

 She turned her attention away, gluing her eyes once more to the back of her mother's head. Her hair was dark green, curly and long. The lightweight crown shone brightly, as if it were a halo. Not one for vanity, Byleth only wore a simple circlet of silver, pinned into place on the top of her head so it wouldn't fall off with every moment. It was not heavy, though she despised the day when it would be, the day when she would have to wear the crown Jeralt wore upon his own head, heavy and sharp and golden, calling attention to himself and telling the world who he was. 

 

 Fhirdiad, at the moment, was a patriarchy. She knew that when Jeralt stepped down she would be given his crown, which would be resized to fit her own head, and the country would become a matriarchy, with her as the queen regnant. Sylvain was only to become her consort, and would get his own crown, taking care of his own territory while letting Byleth take care of hers. 

 

 She absolutely hated the idea of that. Marrying Sylvain. He was her brother, her friend. The thought made her grimace. 

 

 "Princess!" A call broke through the wall of her daydreaming, and she directed her attention to a young girl standing on the side of the cobblestone road. She held a yellow daisy in her hands, smiling widely, "I picked this for you!"

 

 She sent the girl a smile that she could only hope was charming, and leaned down from her horse to take the flower from her hands. Putting it behind her ear, she modeled it for the girl, "Does it look nice on me?"

 

 "Very nice! Thank you!"

 

 "No, thank you."

 

 "I noticed that you looked sad," the girl looked up at her with big eyes, clasping her hands together, "please don't be! This is a joyous occasion!"

 

 A joyous occasion. If only the child knew. Byleth sent her a small, polite smile, and nodded her head in thanks. Despite feeling incredibly bratty about it, whatever enjoyment she had begun to feel was slowly dissipating. She could not be joyous if she tried. 

 

 Several guards passed by her horse to keep up with the King and Queen, who had ridden ahead of her as she stopped to speak to the girl. Only two now stood behind Byleth, waiting for her to move on. The girl seemed to want to keep speaking, looking around anxiously, then turning her eyes to the princess, "I didn't want to do this. I hope you'll forgive me?"

 

 Confused, she lightly touched the stem behind her ear, "I can give it back to you if you wish. I understand wanting to keep hold of a pretty flower."

 

 "No!" The girl seemed close to tears, "I didn't want to-" A woman, perhaps her mother, scooped her up into her arms and covered the girls mouth. She turned away, racing into an alley. Concerned, Byleth watched her go, wondering what was happening. She truly would've given the flower back, it did not offend her in the least. 

 

 With her attention elsewhere, and the number of her guards dwindled to two, it was the perfect time to strike. 

 

 Too bad they missed. 

 

 Byleth's heart skipped a frantic beat as she felt the wind of an arrow rush past her cheek. She flinched, gasping and ducking down. The arrow bounced off the wall of a building in front of her and fell to the ground. It had obviously been meant for her. 

 

 A gasp rippled through the crowd of bystanders. Byleth's instincts kicked in, and she held the reigns of her horse tightly. Looking around, she attempted to find her assailant in the crowd. 

 

 Her guards drew their weapons, and made the crowd back up as they surrounded the princess. From seemingly nowhere, one guard was suddenly overtaken by a ball of purple lightning magic. It's tendrils crawled up his legs, and to his chest, finally reaching his neck and making him cry in pain, then collapse. The other guard gestured while at Byleth, watching his comrade die, "Go! Just run!"

 

 Yet, she could not. The crowd in front of her was gathering, gawking with wide eyes and mouths. She reared her horse back and glared at the people in front of her, "Move out of the way!"

 

 Several people got the hint, yet there were others that couldn't hear her over the cries of fear rippling through them. She couldn't escape without running over her own citizens. It seemed to her that the only way to take care of this would be to fight, or to run on foot. Her hand itched to the sword strapped at her belt. She slid off her horse and drew it from it's scabbard. Her assailant was hiding among the throngs of gathering people, and she wanted to yell at the civilians for making it more difficult for her to see who was attacking. Several blocks away, more people approached to join the ruckus. 

 

 Another bolt of lightning magic, and the other guard dropped to the ground like a dead fish. She was next, she knew. Whoever was attacking was using the gawking people to shield themselves. She turned her eyes in the direction that it had came from, and yelled in her most commanding voice, "Move out of the way!"

 

 They heard that time. The people parted, yet the assailant had parted with them. She could just imagine them slipping between the people, using innocents to hide their identity.  

 

 Taking the opportunity that she had, she took off down the alleyway that was behind the people. Several civilians followed her, trying to keep track of the goings on. She ran, and ran, hiking up her dress around her knees and trying to focus on not tripping over her fancy shoes. She had to make her way to where her parents and the rest of the guards were. 

 

 Turning a corner, she ran squarely into someone's chest, knocking both her and him backwards on their feet. Hurriedly, she stumbled backwards and looked up at him. 

 

 "Sad man." She gasped. His face fell as he stared at her. 

 

 "Yes," he sighed, "that's me."

 

 Well, he did seem quite sad. 

 

 Behind her, another gasp and cry of fear from the crowd. Several civilians had followed her, and were now dropping to the ground like flies. She gasped and yanked his arm, once again attempting to run with him in tow. "You need to find somewhere to hide, there's been an attack!"

 

 He stopped in his tracks, a white crest glowing in front of him as he did so, making Byleth nearly trip and fall backwards. He was strong, unnaturally so. She let go of his arm and tried to steady herself. He stared at her incredulously, "By who?"

 

 She stared back, frustrated, "How would I know? I didn't see who they were. I'm trying to find my parents guards so I can fight them with some help."

 

 Before she could turn around and begin her strategic retreat, the man pulled his lance from it's holder on his back. He readied it, facing the direction where she had been running from. "I will not allow anyone to terrorize this city!"

 

 She looked at him, startled by his passion for Fhirdiad. Had his training with the captain earlier made him so motivated to protect a town that was not his? Or was he perhaps just very dedicated to his job? 

 

 She supposed that if this man felt as if he could take on the unknown assailant in a small alley with only a lance, she could at least help him. She did not have her best fighting sword, only her nicest looking one, but hopefully it would be enough. She stepped up, standing beside him and readying the sword for an attack. They shared a glance, and she sent him the smallest of smiles, "What's your name?"

 

 "Dimitri." He opened his mouth as if he wanted to speak further, yet decided against it and turned his attention to the corner where the assailant would come from. She accepted his simple answer, and focused on the battle at hand. 

 

 The cries of fear from the street were beginning to die down. The wave of panic had dissipated enough to where Byleth could hear footsteps, heels clacking against the pavement as they neared. 

 

 Eventually, she revealed herself. 

 

 Dimitri seethed, "Cornelia."

 

 "You know this woman?" Byleth sent him a surprised glance.

 

 She smiled at her as if she was a sad puppy, condescending and slimey. Byleth stared at her, taking in her form, and Cornelia stared right back. The bedroom eyes, the wavy hair, the womanly body. She was beautiful, yet held a feeling of dread. Perhaps it was the adrenaline, or perhaps it was the snake-like eyes of the woman before her, but the princess felt uneasy. 

 

 "I'm afraid I do not know this man," she cooed, "I'm not sure how you knew my name, sir..." she stepped towards Byleth, unfazed by the sword that could cut her apart at any second. She drew closer to the princess, fluttering her eyelashes, "Are you okay, my dear?"

 

 "Am I okay?" She spat back, "No! You killed my guards! Tell me why you're here and what you want!"

 

 Cornelia tsked, putting a hand on her chest and shaking her head, "My, my, child. You surely are a fireball. No, it was not I who killed your guards. I simply saw it happening, and decided to chase down the assailant. He was an archer," she smiled and inspected her nails casually, "I have found your attacker, and now you're safe and sound, little princess!"

 

 Next to her, Dimitri was tense. His face was stony, eyes unmoving from Cornelia's face, "Do not believe her, your highness. She's betrayed the country before, she'll do it again."

 

 "You must be mistaking me for someone else, young man. I've done no such thing."

 

 "Don't lie to me, snake."

 

 "How rude!" She huffed, "I was just trying to help! I did more than you could, without barely lifting a finger." She flicked the end of Dimitri's lance and laughed, then turned around to lead them around the corner, "Come see."

 

 Lowering her sword, Byleth followed her wordlessly. Dimitri watched, an expression of betrayal washing over his face. He followed as well, until the three came upon a man tied up behind a building, mouth gagged. A bow and several arrows lay next to him on the ground, with an open spell book tossed beside them. Cornelia gestured, "See? It is he who attacked you."

 

 "Thank you," Byleth nodded, sheathing her sword, "I appreciate your help."

 

 Dimitri could only stare at her. How the roles had been reversed. He could imagine himself, in his past life, trusting a strange woman claiming to have caught the assailant, while Byleth pleaded with him to not be so trusting. He supposed living life as a mercenary was enough to teach him the quality of distrust, while Byleth's naivety had only increased with her royal status. 

 

 She turned to him, nodding her head in thanks, "And thank you for wanting to fight, that was very brave."

 

 It really wasn't, he didn't think so. He only sent her a small, polite smile, "It was nothing."

 

 Byleth's attention was fully on Cornelia, though, instead of him. He watched in jealousy as took her arm, talking of escorting her back to the castle and including her in the night's feast. While Dimitri had not done what he did soley for the purpose of being praised, it would've been nice to be the one in Cornelia's spot. When Byleth wasn't looking, the snake-like woman sent him a very childish, very stupid, taunt. She stuck her tongue out at him, and he felt his glare harden.

 

 Clearing his throat to grab Byleth's attention, he bowed to her, "I must take my leave. I have to return to my father and brother now." 

 

 "Oh, yes. Thank you, Dimitri."

 

 To hear her say his name was entirely too pleasing, despite his downhearted-ness. He turned around, cornering the building and going back to the crowded street. His mind was on Cornelia, what she could possibly be planning, what she could want with Byleth. Knowing her, there was a good chance that she had just grabbed some random person, tied him up, and planted the weapons beside him to make it look as if she'd done something good. 

 

 He could only hope that royalty had not made her too naive. 

 


 

 As much as Dimitri wanted to lay in his rented room and wallow in despair, he knew that it would only make his mood worsen. So, he forced himself to act normal.

 

 Dedue was at his side, letting Dimitri lead him to wherever he wanted. Lambert had stayed behind to talk to his new friends that he had made during the training session. They were all ecstatic over being accepted to be guards for the festivities, while other travelers were clearing out and going home, dejected. Dimitri could not find himself getting along very well with the other mercenaries, and much preferred the company of Dedue, who would not mind his gloominess. 

 

 He was quite gloomy. 

 

 Dedue asked no questions, no prying or investigations. Dimitri always had appreciated that about him. He led him around the city, following his mental map from when he lived there before. First, they stopped into a nice bookstore, where Dedue perused the shelves. Dimitri found himself sitting at a table by himself, watching his friend pick out gardening manuals, and drinking on a cup of tea the shopkeeper had made him. 

 

 He dwelled on the events of the morning. Byleth, beautiful in her flowing dress, with the yellow daisy tucked behind her hair. Despite not having Sothis in this lifetime, she was still a Goddess in his eyes. It pained him to think of all the ways Cornelia might be planning to take advantage of her. His grip tightened on the tea cup. 

 

 It shattered. It cost 50 gold. He and Dedue left the shop, pleading their apologies to the miffed store owner. 

 

 Their next stop was a local stable, where Dimitri happily petted the horses. Upon his mind going to thoughts of Byleth, marrying Sylvain, being manipulated by Cornelia, he squeezed the rein so hard that it snapped. 

 

 They, too, left the building, calling out their apologies to the owner. 

 

 The same thing happened in a tea store, a brewery, and the public gardens. Dimitri had always found something to break. 

 

 Eventually, the two decided that it would be the safest to the objects around them if they just sat on a bench and enjoyed the scenery. Until Dimitri broke the handle of the bench. 

 

 Sighing and trying to arrange the splintered wood back into place, he muttered to himself, "I need to keep under control."

 

 Dedue, politely, said nothing. Dimitri felt as if he could hear exactly what that silence meant. Finally getting the handle of the bench back into a more pleasant state, he turned to his friend and sighed, "I apologize for my behavior today. I just have a lot on my mind."

 

 Dedue simply looked at him. 

 

 Dimitri returned his gaze, feeling the need to go on. He was not one to ramble often, usually gathering his thoughts into neat order, yet his thoughts had not been gathered at all since the news of Byleth's engagement had been announced to him. He was not himself.

 

 Every inch of his body craved for understanding, for someone to have a glimpse into his troubles. He found Dedue's quiet acceptance of his odd mood comforting, and it seemed that if there was any good time to tell someone, it would be then.

 

 He took a deep breath, preparing himself. "You see... well, this is going to sound insane, but I promise that I am not." He waved a hand, defending himself, "Dedue, I was married to her in a past life. Byleth, I mean." It was exhilarating, admitting his deepest secret to someone, "It just hurts that... that I can't have that again. I asked Sothis to let me relive our love, and..." he gestured to himself, "this is not what I expected."

 

 Despite the stony expression and his eyes staring ahead of him, he had assurance that Dedue was listening. His friend ooked up at the blue sky in thought. Finally, he began to speak, "There is a legend similar to that in Duscur."

 

 Dimitri's hopes lightened, and he sat up straight, "Is there?"

 

 "Yes," he nodded slowly, "it's simply a legend, but there are tales of the goddess Auraka, who oversees life and death. She granted one of her favorite disciples the chance to live again. His life was very different once he woke up. He was himself, yet his family had no memory of him."

 

 "How does it end?"

 

 "He was driven mad."

 

 "Sounds about right." 

 

 "Eventually, Auraka took pity on him upon seeing his madness, and he was granted death."

 

 "What a lovely story."

 

 "The point is," he looked at Dimitri once again. A rare, subtle smile grew on his lips, "if the legend is true, then you're not alone."

 

 Dimitri supposed that that was comforting, in a way. He appreciated that Dedue was not judging him outwardly for his secret, and instead trying to comfort him. He knew that he could keep a secret, as well, and that everything was said in confidence. It felt good to be able to tell someone, assuring to not be alone in his predicament. 

 

 "Thank you," he returned the smile, "you're a good friend."

 

 Dedue turned his eyes ahead, staring in front of him, "I did not make friends easily at home."

 

 Dimitri stayed quiet in response. He turned away, and thought of his past life. 

 

 Dedue had many friends in the past reality. He was surrounded by them, but only after having lost his entire family. Now, he had his family, yet only two friends. Of course, the reality that they were in was under much better circumstances, yet he wished that Dedue could know the joy he had felt when among the Blue Lions, living his life surrounded by people willing to give their lives for each other. It was a feeling he missed. 

 

 Thinking upon such things, he found himself speaking without thought, "I don't know what to do about Byleth."

 

 "You were married in your other life, yes?"

 

 "Yes. For 60 years. She died at 86, and I at 83."

 

 "And you wish to be married to her again?"

 

 "More than anything."

 

 "Yet, she's getting married this Saturday."

 

 "That's the problem, yes."

 

 "If you like, I could kill the groom for you."

 

 Dimitri straightened up and looked at his friend. The two stared at each other, letting the silence tick by as he searched his face for any hint of emotion. It sounded like something Dedue in his past life would suggest, with his blind following of him and willingness to do anything. 

 

 Eventually, Dedue cleared his throat and tore his eyes from Dimitri's, "It was a joke. I apologize."

 

 Dimitri couldn't help but laugh. He covered his mouth and tried to hide his cheer at the absolute terrible-ness of the execution. He had said it with no inflection, no look on his face, and no hint of it being a joke. The funny part was simply that it was meant to be a joke in the first place. Dedue, too, began to smile softly at his friend's joy over his failure. 

 

 Once it died down, Dimitri sighed lightly, "Maybe I can make her fall in love with me in the six days we have left until she marries. I had a chance earlier to woo her," he snorted at himself, "but something got in the way."

 

 Dedue considered his words for a second, "That might actually work."

 

 "What? Making her fall in love with me in six days?"

 

 "Yes. Why couldn't it?"

 

 "That's not... that's not how it works, my friend. Originally it took us six years to come together, and even longer to actually marry." Dimitri shook his head, "I don't see how I could accomplish that in less than a week."

 

 "Perhaps, but you're doubting yourself before you've even tried. This is a different world than your last one."

 

 It was like a fire coming to life in Dimitri's brain, lighting up the dark recesses and chasing away his pessimism. It was not normal for him to be so gloomy, so lacking of optimism. He was usually the one offering the solutions, fighting his way to whatever conclusion he wanted. Dedue was right. He was throwing aside the only option before he had even tried it. 

 

 It was a different world, a different reality. He was different, Byleth was different. Perhaps, he could make enough of an impression to keep himself in her mind. While he had no intent to ruin the plans of the country, knowing that this marriage was happening for a very good reason, he would settle for what he could get. 

 

 Standing up, smiling largely now and looking at Dedue, he felt determination lighten up his heart, "You're right, my friend. Tonight, I will be sneaking into the castle, and I will get my chance to speak to her."

 


 

 The night was cold, but the moon was large and bright against the velvety backdrop. It provided just enough light for Dimitri to sneak through the hole in the palace walls. The same one he would slip through as a child and teenager, the same one his own children, and his grandchildren, would slip through, thinking that he never knew of it's existence. 

 

 Dedue's mission that night was to distract his father. He told him of his whereabouts, and that his son was merely visiting an old friend. While Lambert wondered what old friends Dimitri might possibly have in Fhirdiad, a place he'd never been before, he was accepting enough of Dedue going to dinner with him in the nicest restaurant in town. The promise of good food was a well-enough distraction for the man. 

 

 The hole in the palace wall was hidden behind a series of thorny bushes on both sides, yet Dimitri knew that one specific bush of the bunch had no thorns. He slipped in through that one, stepping over vines and branches until he came out on the other side, looking the large opening as he steadied himself. It was tough to get his body through, yet with some wiggling and stretching, he finally made it inside of the castle walls. 

 

 Once again, he located the non-thorny bush, and emerged into the gardens. Nearby was a pond, something that had not been there in his days, yet it was beautiful in the darkness, reflecting the moon up above, with green lily pads floating on it's surface. He admired it for a second before moving on to his next challenge. 

 

 Sneaking through the gardens was easy enough. The bushes were tall enough to shield him, and it was a quiet enough night to where he could hear any oncoming footsteps. As he crept his way to the back doors of the castle, the big glass sliding doors that opened into the den area where guests would wait, he could spy a few guards playing cards by candlelight.

 

 He took a turn, creeping behind another set of bushes and making his way to the right part of the building. He did not know which room Byleth would be in, though her personal quarters was always to the right, and up three flights of stairs. He took a chance, making his way to where her window would be. 

 

 There were no guards on that side of the building, with there being no doors to guard. On the balcony that was once Byleth's room, Ingrid stood with her lance, watching the courtyard below her. Dimitri kept his body close to the building, under her nose, so he would not be seen unless she leaned over the railing and craned her neck to look down. 

 

 Around another corner was a small alcove, a part of the building where there were no rooms, and hidden by another sharp corner that jutted out. The only thing on the stone wall of the inverted corner was a trellis, overgrown with vines and weeds. He put one hand on it's wooden structure, and pulled himself up. Oftentimes, as he did earlier in the day, he would use his crest without realizing it. He kept in mind to be very careful with the delicate wood as he climbed higher and higher, not wanting to fall down due to his own strength breaking a handhold off. 

 

 Once to the top, a window with a small ledge was just near enough to grab. He reached out, and held onto the ledge with his hand. Now, he could use his crest to hold himself up as he let his body dangle from his handhold. He could only hope that it would not break in the process. 

 

 He grabbed it with his other hand, and planted his feet against the stones. He was wearing his hiking shoes, the rough bottoms helping to keep friction against the wall. Using one hand, he pushed the window open, and vaulted himself inside. 

 

 It was a hallway, he knew, and a window that was rarely opened. He landed with a thud on the wooden floor, and quickly scrambled up to close the window and find a hiding place before anyone took notice of the noise he made. He walked down the hallway, trying to keep silent, taking note of the many unused rooms that he could dip into if anyone approached. 

 

 There were paintings lining the walls of the hallway, random portraits of beautiful people, beautiful landscapes. Some were new, and some were old. Dimitri remembered looking upon the paintings as a child in his past life. He tore his attention away, and kept on his journey towards Byleth's room.

 

 He really, desperately, hoped that she wouldn't think he was creepy. 

 

 From around the corner, the sound of several pairs of footsteps reached his ears, and his instincts were immediately on high. Quickly, he glanced into the nearest open door, seeing that there was nobody inside, and slipped in, shutting the door behind him. He kept his hand on the handle, and put his ear to the door, listening to the small group of guards make their way past his hiding space, unknowing of the intruder listening to their conversation.

 

 He was still, silent, utterly in the zone and focused on his mission. 

 

 It was only the feeling of a cold blade pressing against the back of his neck that startled him out of his focused engrossment. 

 

 The blood in his veins froze cold, and he slowly held up his hands in front of him to signal that he did not have a weapon. A dagger was against his hip for safety measures, yet he did not expect to be using it. He didn't want to have to use it. 

 

 With his hands in the air, he kept silent, waiting for the person behind him to speak. The sharp edge of the blade pushed dangerously into his neck.

 

 "State your business."

 

 His heart jumped, twisted and shouted. The butterflies - though they felt more like wasps - fluttered around in his stomach. That voice. Byleth. Byleth Eisner. Herself. Holding a blade to his neck. 

 

 Holding a blade to his neck. 

 

 So much for not being creepy. He grimaced, and shut his eyes as if he could shut out the world by doing so. "I, uh..." He hated his lack of words, his lack of processing, he could remember being so well spoken as a prince, hardly ever becoming the stuttering mess he felt like he was now, "I wanted to ask something of you."

 

 "Could've given the message to the guards." She said flatly, running the blade down his neck and to his spine, "You look very suspicious, sad man."

 

 Of course. She was sharp, she would recognize him instantly, even from behind. "This may be off subject- well, it is off subject, in fact, but what are you doing in this room?"

 

 She sounded confused, yet kept her sword on his back, "This is my room."

 

 "I thought your's was... over there," he gestured in the general direction that he was heading, "I saw Ingrid on the balcony."

 

 "How do you know Ingrid? You're only digging a hole for yourself," she sighed, "That's my mother's room. Ingrid is covering for her personal guard, who's sick. I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself for a night. So," in a flash, she returned the blade to his neck, though it hovered just barely an inch away from his skin, "if we are asking questions, now it's my turn. Who are you, and what do you want?"

 

 Slowly, deeming it acceptable, he shuffled in place and turned around to meet her. Actually seeing the room now, he could tell that it was hers. Of course, when he and Byleth had been married, she was in the Queen's room - obviously the current Queen would be in there. The room Byleth occupied now was simple, hardly decorated, and clean. The princess herself was dressed in loose trousers, and a comfortable looking white shirt on top, one long enough to cover her thighs. Her bangs had been pushed back with a pink headband. 

 

 He took her in, drinking the image of her into his brain. It was riveting to be in her presence once more, especially without the onslaught of danger and Cornelia lurking around the corner. He kept his hands up as he spoke, "My name is Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd, I met you earlier wh-"

 

 "Yes, I remember."

 

 "Do you remember five years ago, at the Officers Academy?" His eyes flitted to her hips, where a belt was lazily thrown on. A simple dagger with a red hilt hung from her side, "When I gifted you that dagger."

 

 As much as he would've liked her to react well to that statement, she was entirely unfazed. She raised the tip of her sword to rest under his chin, as if holding his face up for her to study. "Thank you, I quite like it, it's served me very well. Yet... you've still not answered what you're doing lurking around my castle in the middle of the night, wearing all black."

 

 He did look quite suspicious, he thought. Black cape, black leathers, black gloves. He looked the spitting image of a thief. "I told you earlier, I wanted to ask something of you."

 

 "Go on."

 

 "I..." he had only thought this through the tiniest bit, with the faintest idea of what he was approaching her with. He desperately reminded himself to keep in check, don't be creepy, don't be cryptic, "I would like to serve Fhirdiad and the Eisners."

 

 "So you sneaked into the castle to ask for a job?" She was incredulous, "I don't believe you! Why do you keep popping up all over the place? Are you stalking me?"

 

 "No, I promise I am not! Look," he sighed, and shut his eyes, "I'm under a... a special set of circumstances. I was..." think, think, "cursed! A witch promised me a wonderful life, but I was tricked. I have no other future, nowhere else to go. If I'm to live my life suffering, I would like to be serving a cause I think is just while I do."

 

 Her eyebrows furrowed together, and she cocked her head as she stared at him. It was not entirely, fully a lie, he did think of Sothis as a witch at times. He stared back into her eyes, despising the pity she held for him, yet happy to be standing in front of her. Slowly, she lowered her sword, and looked at the floor, staring at the patterns in the rug, "What to you is just about serving us?"

 

 "The royal family are protectors," he drew on his own past speeches that he'd given to knights before, when he was King, "they serve the people. I want to protect those who cannot protect themselves."

 

 She looked at him once more, sword dangling lazily at her side. Behind her headband, the ends of her hair were curling around her shoulders. She seemed to be taking him in as much as he took her. Finally, she spoke, "I don't have the power to appoint you as anything, but my father does."

 

 It was something, at least, something he could grasp and hold onto. Eager, he continued, "How would I get his attention to be considered for such a thing?"

 

 She was hesitant. "This is... something you must not spread around, it's confidential." She stepped away from him and set her sword on her bed, then opened a drawer in her nightstand and began digging around, "My father is a very... stressed out man. Being a king is not really his first choice of jobs, I'm sure he'd much rather live the life of a mercenary." She pulled out a small, sturdy piece of paper and squinted at the words on the page, "Yes, tomorrow afternoon, six miles Southeast, in the valley right before you hit the Tailtean Plain." She walked towards him and handed him the paper.

 

 He looked at it, and noticed the instructions on the page that quoted her words. "What's this?"

 

 "My father holds secret tournaments. The winner gets the opportunity to be appointed as a knight in our service, " she explained. Leveling him with a serious gaze, she sounded commanding, "it's by invitation only, and very secretive. If everybody in town knew, the event apparently wouldn't be fun for him." She rolled her eyes at the thought.

 

 "I thought that your father held jousting matches to pick out new knights." Dimitri could remember rumors of jousting tournaments and new knight appointments resulting from them. It was something he even had enjoyed holding in his own kingship.

 

 "That's a public event," she shrugged, "it's really more for show. This," she tapped the paper with her finger, "is the real deal. I'm cordially inviting you right now, and if you like... we can even go together."

 

 His heart skipped, the wasps in his stomach stung. He bit the inside of his cheek to stop himself from smiling. 

 

 "Where would you have me meet you?"

 

 "At noon, the Ashway Inn. We'll depart from there."

 

 "And if I win against the other fighters, I will have a chance to become a knight?"

 

 She nodded, lips pursing in thought, "Yes, if you beat my father, you'll be consider-"

 

 He froze. "Beat... your father?" 

 

 "Yes." She nodded at him, as if he was slow, "He takes great pleasure in being the... final boss, if you will."

 

 Dimitri stared at her, confused and wondering what in the world he could expect from this tournament. As prepared as he was to move entire mountains for the woman in front of him, he was not entirely sure that he could beat the blade-breaker himself. "Has... he ever been beaten?"

 

 "Oh, no!" She hummed in thought, "But sometimes he's impressed enough by someone to appoint them anyway."

 

 There it was, the small sliver of hope shining through the grey clouds. A tiny, insignificant sliver, but he would accept it.

 

 He looked at Byleth, her hair, her eyes, her nose. To simply be given the honor of living in her presence, even if she married Sylvain and he had to watch them together everyday, he could at least become a knight. He could at least be with her from a distance, making sure she was safe, working towards her happiness.

 

 "I'll do it."

Chapter Text

 Sneaking away from Lambert was on it's way to becoming a second nature to Dimitri. As much as he hated deception, it deemed itself a necessity. His entire existence, he supposed, was a secret from his father, and the thought saddened him. 

 

 Not saddening enough, though, to stop him from reaching his goals, especially when his lady Byleth was involved. In each instance that the necessity to sneak away reared it's ugly head, it always seemed to include his need to see her. 

 

 This instance, different from the others, was taking place in the middle of the day. He was to meet Byleth at noon, at the Ashway Inn. The name rang familiar on his tongue, though his mind held it's origins secret from him. After arriving at the inn, they would begin their two hour trek to the area Jeralt held his odd, secret fighting tournament. He was looking forward to the hike with Byleth, and fussed over his hair as he neared their meeting place.

 

 As he stepped inside the Ashway inn and restaurant, he gently pushed tendrils of his hair out of his eyes and hoped that none of it was sticking up. He looked around it's dining area, and the realization of what this place was finally reached him. 

 

 Ashe stood behind the counter, wiping it down with a damp rag. He smiled at the newcomer in his doorway, "Welcome!"

 

 Of course. This was the inn/restaurant that Ashe ran. Dimitri had memories sitting at the table in the corner, eating the various cultures of food that was served there. He could taste none of it, yet the texture was pleasing, and Ingrid and Byleth always had seemed to enjoy it. 

 

 Byleth herself sat at the same table he would always sit at in the past, finishing off a plate of grilled vegetables and fish. She looked up at Dimitri, her disguise barely concealing who she truly was. Her mouth was full of potatoes, and she covered her lips as she swallowed. Her table manners had never been the most refined, yet the familiarity of seeing her stuff her face was enough to create a tingle in his stomach. A feeling of warmth and reassurance. At least that had not changed. 

 

 He made his way towards her, sending her a soft smile as he did so. She had her hair pulled back into a scarf once more, and big glasses on her face. No civilians in the dining area were bothering her, though, if they noticed who she was they didn't care. She put her fork down, wiping her fingers with a napkin as he claimed the chair across from her. She looked at him, "Ready, Dean?"

 

 The warmth and reassurance that had blanketed his heart disappeared in an instant, turning into the recognizable sting of disappoint, "It's Dimitri."

 

 "Oh," she grimaced lightly, "Sorry. I just... I meet a lot of people."

 

 He could believe it. He himself had met many people in his lifetime when in her same position. Yet, the act of forgetting his name was enough to put him in his place, reminding him who he truly was in this reality. 

 

 "It's okay," he lied, standing up from his chair, "are you ready?"

 

 "Yep!" She stood up as well, and pushed her chair back into it's place at the table, "I already paid." As the two made their way across the dining room, she sent a wave to the grey haired man behind the counter, "Bye Ashe! Thanks!"

 

 He waved back, "Bye, your highnes- I mean- Byleth- crap I mean-"

 

 She could almost laugh at that. She just sent him a reassuring smile as Dimitri opened the door for her. The customers either couldn't hear the mess-up, or simply didn't care. She glanced at Dimitri, who was stepping outside with her and closing the door behind him, "One thing I appreciate about Fhirdiad are the people. If I'm obviously in disguise and don't want to be bothered, half the citizens won't approach me. Then there's the other half, who..." she glanced at a food stall nearby, where a few older woman whispered and stared at her, looking as if they had spotted a wild animal, "well, different people have different priorities, I suppose." 

 

 "I know the feeling." He answered.

 

 "Do you?"

 

 "Yes. But..." trying to distract her as he always did with his father was not so easy, "we should get a move on if we're to make it in time."

 

 She accepted his diversion. "Of course."

 

 The two began their journey. Byleth preferred back alleys, avoiding the crowded streets. She slipped easily through the buildings as if it was natural for her, and it was entirely natural for Dimitri to follow her. 

 

 He thought of his father. He had pulled the oldest trick in the book, faking an illness in order to get out of training. It was not something he did often, thus Lambert was not entirely suspicious of his son that morning. He and Dedue left their rented rooms to go train with the group of other volunteer guards, touring the city and studying their assigned stations and posts. Dimitri supposed that it wouldn't hurt if he missed the tour, he knew Fhirdiad like the back of his hand already. 

 

 Upon exiting through the Southern gate of the city, they began their journey. The first part of the hike was spent in a comfortable silence. He was happy to allow the quiet tranquility to stay, simply content to be beside her. To force conversation out of her would only drive her away, and he noticed the tension in her shoulders dissolving upon realizing that he would not make her engage in tedious small talk. He had never quite enjoyed small talk either. Untroubled, they kept an easy walking pace with each other.

 

 As their journey went on, the more barren part of Faerghus was left behind, being replaced with more life and greenery as the South expanded before them. The mountains were too small to really be called mountains, in all honesty. They were more like very large, rocky hills. Going more Southeast would guarantee true mountains, though Dimitri was happy with the climbable hills that the region had to offer. He knew that as they walked, it would eventually flatten out, revealing the Tailtean Plains and a much greener territory. 

 

 The road was wide and well taken care of. Merchant carts passed by on their way to trade food from the agricultural area with the people of Fhirdiad. Merchant travel became more and more common as the hour drew to a close, and they began to near the plains.

 

 With nearly another hour left of walking, and only having traded a few small words with her - mostly about the scenery or a cool bird that he saw - he was becoming antsy. He attempted to keep himself in check, not wanting to be cryptic, and hopefully let her begin to think that he was a normal person, rather than an absolute oddball who breaks into castles at nights and speaks of curses. He grimaced at the memory, his lie of being cursed. While it felt like it was as truthful as he could be, the recollection of even having to tell her in the first place only wrought embarrassment. 

 

 Trying to distract himself from overthinking, he racked his brain for a subject to speak of. He could not possibly point out yet another cool bird. Against his better judgement, he asked the question that held onto the forefront of his mind, "So, how do you feel about getting married in five days?"

 

 A frown leveled onto her lips, and she kept her eyes on the road ahead of her. Dimitri could almost feel her cold mood seeping off of her, chilling him to the bone. "I answered that the other day when Sylvain saw you in the inn."

 

 Yes, that was right. She had announced that she hated it, and Dimitri had a panic attack, and he couldn't sleep that night, laying awake thinking about how to possibly make sure that she could live a happy life. It was a rock and a hard place, and he was crushed in the middle. Even asking the question in itself had dampened her mood. He cleared his throat, and attempted to recover, "The townsfolk have mentioned that you were traveling for a while. Where did you go?"

 

 The change of subject was enough to lighten her spirits. Her tension eased, and she cocked her head pleasantly, "Oh, everywhere really. I visited Brigid for a while and learned how to swim with Petra - she's an old friend of mine from the Academy. And Almyra was really amazing, I had fun there as well. I traveled by boat often, and got to catch different fish. It was enjoyable, probably the best time of my life so far, other than the Officer's Academy of course."

 

 He was surprised at her answer, "You would say the academy was the best time of your life?" It had it's ups and downs for him, some of the best aspects of his life had come from Garreg Mach, such as meeting Byleth. Yet, attending the academy had also led to his capture, the execution of Dedue, and the fruition of his madness. She had to have had a much different experience. 

 

 "Yes," she was dreamy, looking up at the grey sky, lost in thought, "it's where I met my friends, and learned invaluable skills. Some of the things I experienced will always be with me."

 

 He could only think of the Fire Emperor's mask, rattling on the ground. Edelgard staring at him under the heavy robes. That was something he would always carry with him. 

 

 "Was it... stressful at all?" He knew his questioning was rather specific, yet he had already proven himself to be odd, he supposed that a bit more cryptic-ness wouldn't hurt, "Did the Church of Seiros seem as if they were hiding something? Were there attacks from a mysterious group?"

 

 She blinked in confusion. Looking away, she mulled over her thoughts before finally answering him, "Are you some kind of conspiracy theorist?"

 

 Of course that's what he sounded like. He decided to go with that as his cover, "Not in a... mental way. I've just traveled quite a lot and heard some things." How good at lying he had gotten.

 

 "Well, to answer your question, no. I've not noticed anything odd about the church, we just did normal missions like protecting villages from bandits and guarding different holy places."

 

 That answered that. If she had never met the Flame Emperor or any of their troops, then Edelgard must be an entirely different person than before. He couldn't keep himself from prying more deeply, "The... princess of the Empire, Edelgard. How is she doing?"

 

 Her face was blank, impassive, "She's fine. She's just trying to deal with the trauma that was dealt to her." Upon seeing the look of surprise on his face, she went on, "It's not a secret anymore, everybody in Adrestia knows now. We're all working to monitor whoever had done that to her and her siblings, and to keep domestic abuse among nobles from happening."

 

 It was a nice sentiment, he thought, yet the eradication of the ones who had caused the problem in the first place would require drastic measures. It was odd that Edelgard's motives had changed, and that she apparently didn't feel the need to start an entire war in an attempt to wipe out corruption. Something felt entirely off about the entire situation. 

 

 He had no clue how to warn Byleth of the danger without revealing his entire self, and possibly scaring her away. He thought, biting his lip and keeping his eyes on the path beneath his feet. There had to be something going on, something happening right under everybody's noses. "I think... that you should be careful going about this. Whoever hurt her and her siblings are not good people."

 

 "How would you know?" She stopped in her tracks, staring at him.

 

 He stopped, following her lead, though he avoided her eyes, "I've been traveling the continent my entire life. One tends to hear things."

 

 "Please don't be a conspiracist," she sighed, "it's not worth the paranoia."

 

 "I promise you that I am not. Do you remember... how I told you that I was... cursed?" He was struggling to find his words, to speak them in a way that wouldn't leave unanswered questions, "Well, part of that curse is that I simply know the underbelly of corruption in Fodlan and in the church, alright? I cannot speak of it anymore."

 

 She was hooked into his words, watching him intently. Almost passionately, she clenched her fists, "You need to tell me, I cannot allow corruption to go on."

 

 It was a rare time when he felt like retreating from Byleth. He turned away from her, and began walking up the road once more, resuming their journey so that no more time would be wasted standing in the middle of the road talking about questions that he couldn't answer. "I can't. I honestly do not know the specifics, I have no idea where they're hiding, or what their plans are. I just know that it's happened once before, and the possibilities of what could happen again."

 She chased after him, following at his heels like a nipping dog, "What are you? Some kind of immortal saint that walks the world and knows of it's secrets?"

 

 He resisted the urge to smile at that one. "Yes."

 

 "You're lying."

 

 "I am."

 

 "What might happen with whoever, or whatever you're talking about?"

 

 "War," he sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose, "Manipulation. All I can tell you is to... please keep a close eye on Edelgard von Hresvelg. Trauma may drive one to acquire motivation that would burn the world to ashes if went unchecked."

 

 "Noted." She said it slowly, nodding and staring at the ground as she walked. She looked as if she was absorbing his words, thinking upon them as if they were a very complicated riddle. And he supposed he was speaking in riddles, in a way.

 

 She spoke up once more, "Who are you, anyway?"

 

 "Dimitri."

 

 "No. Who are you to know all of these things?"

 

 An orphan, a king, a warrior, a husband, a father, a multi-dimensional traveler. An absolute madman. 

 

 "I'm Dimitri."

 

 "You're a frustration."

 

 "See," he smiled at her over his shoulder, "you just answered your own question."

 


 

 The tournament was held in a small valley filled with sharp spruce trees, and with a hill of rocks on 3 sides acting as it's walls. It was hidden well, with an overgrown dirt path lying in plain sight from the main road, and a two mile walk until it revealed itself. The valley seemed the perfect setting for a secretive, exclusive fighting tournament. 

 

 Byleth and Dimitri emerged from between the sharp needles of the trees. Ahead of them, pegasi lounged about, tied down by rope, and eating grass as they waited for the humans to finish their fights. It was a small crowd, with 20 people at the most, all gathered in a loose circle as they listened to Jeralt begin his opening speech. "Welcome, all! I hope you've come prepared."

 

 Byleth walked to the circle, with Dimitri following behind like a lost puppy. Several eyes turned in surprise to take in the princess and the newcomer at her heels. Jeralt stopped mid-sentence, and looked at his daughter. His expression turned unreadable, a mixture of confusion and amusement. "Well, well, well, Byleth. Decided to join us this time?"

 

 "I might," she rested her hand on the sword at her belt, "can I become a knight if I win?"

 

 "Nope."

 

 "Then hopefully," she glanced over her shoulder at Dimitri, who was attempting to not look awkward and lanky as he stood behind her, "my friend will."

 

 Jeralt stared at him, eyes raking up and down his body as he assessed the stranger before him. The other warriors, all covered in various sorts of armor with wicked looking weapons, eyed him suspiciously as well. Finally, the king spoke, "What's your name? And what in the hell do you think you're doing?"

 

 "I invited him," Byleth answered, holding her own against Jeralt, "he's my guest. You said that if I ever had any recommendations to bring them, well," she gestured at Dimitri, "here's my reccommendation."

 

 All eyes went to him again. He raised a weak hand, providing a polite, close-lipped smile for the onlookers, "Hello."

 

 "He looks green."

 

 Byleth furrowed her eyebrows, "He's not wearing any green."

 

 She earned a snort from Dimitri, though judging by the look on her face it was not meant to be funny. He put a hand to his mouth, trying to cover his twisted smile, and shutting his eyes, "Sorry. It was just... sorry."

 

 Jeralt shook his head, the smile on his lips condescending, "I guess he can join up. But if your friend gets injured, By, don't come crying to me."

 

 "He'll be fine." She assured, confident. As the group began to disperse and go into their own corners to wait for their names to be called by Jeralt, she whipped around to face an amused, giggly Dimitri, "Stop laughing! Are you going to be fine? I've never seen you fight, so if you end up being terrible, that's on my head."

 

 "I will attempt to not disappoint you, your highness." He assured, pulling his own lance from the holder on his back. He located a tree nearby to sit on, and Byleth took her seat beside him. "So, how does this work?"

 

 "Father has a list," she pointed to him, holding a piece of paper up to a tree and scribbling something on the bottom with a chalk pencil, "he calls out two names, and those two fight. The loser gets sent to a different bracket, and has to fight the other losers. The winners fight each other, and then the winner of that battle and the best loser get to fight. And then that winner fights my father. It's a bit convoluted, but he loves organizing it. It helps relieve stress, apparently."

 "So, even if I lose terribly, I'll still have a chance?"

 

 "Yes," she nodded, then looked at him seriously, "but please try not to."

 

 "Have you bet money on me?"

 

 "Oh no, nothing like that. My father would just never let me live it down if you lost immediately. I'd get made fun of terribly."

 

 He hoped that he wouldn't let her down. Bandits and ruffians weren't exactly trained soldiers in an army, and it felt like forever since he'd actually gotten the chance to fight against someone who truly knew what they were doing.

 

 The other fighters were a mix of different types of people. Several of them were nobles, while others looked like they had been plucked out of a fiction book about knights and chivalry. In this life he had taken to wearing a lighter armor, with touches of iron and on his knees and arms. Yet he felt under dressed looking at the armor of the men before him. They had truly prepared for this, while his mind had simply been on a girl.

 

 Judging by the narrow eyed look of suspicion that Jeralt sent him, he could tell that it was for a girl as well. 

 

 "First up," the king announced, sounding bored, "this newcomer," he gestured to Dimitri, and all eyes went to him, "and Plwmp, Feller of Mountains."

 

 "A mighty name," Dimitri said as he stood from his log. The other fighters formed a loose circle in the clearing of the valley, and Dimitri made his way into the middle. 

 

 Pushing several people aside, Plwmp, Feller of Mountains himself took his place opposite Dimitri. He was a giant man, his beard reaching his chest, taller than Dedue even. In his large hands he held a comically over-sized ax.

 

 Dimitri sent Jeralt a look. The king returned it with a smug, self satisfied smirk. 

 

 Of course he would be up first, and against the tallest and biggest fighter in the tournament. He was not dumb to Jeralt's ploys. 

 

 Plwmp, Feller of Mountains, lifted his ax, and cries of excitement began to ripple through the crowds. Dimitri twisted his lance between his fingers as he watched his opponent give a fierce, deep battle cry.

 

 The ax came barreling down, yet Dimitri only had to take a simple step back. It was casual, almost. If he was the type of man to taunt his opponent, he would've laughed at the absolute slowness of Plwmp. 

 

 He ripped his ax from the ground, sending flecks of dirt flying with it. Dimitri merely watched as the ax swung at him once more, though he only had to take another step backwards to avoid it. A wave of 'boooo' washed through the crowd, and he resisted the urge to roll his eyes. The people wanted action, not slow swings and dodging. He supposed he could give them some, if that was truly what they wished for. 

 

 Dimitri wasn't the fastest opponent, but he was quick enough. His years of dodging arrows and traversing the forest and mountains while on the run from the Empire had trained his reflexes to react as quickly as they possibly could. He could only hope that those skills stayed with him in this reality. 

 

 As Plwmp roared and swung his ax once more, Dimitri stepped behind it's line of attack and latched onto the long, over-sized wooden handle. Before Plwmp could pull away, the crest of Blaiddyd glowed between them, and the handle shattered into splinters upon Dimitri tightening his grip. A blanket of hush fell over the onlookers as the blade of the ax fell dumbly onto the soft ground, burying itself into the soil.

 

 He had done his damage, and now he needed to retreat before his neck would get rang. Plwmp's hands were weapons as well, reaching for him in his fury as he yelled, "You broke my mother's ax!"

 

 "Terribly sorry!" Dimitri ducked under his hands, and delivered a swift, heavy kick to the man's stomach. "I didn't know it was your mother's!"

 

 Plwmp stumbled back, holding his gut, yet he recovered quicker than he could hit. With another roar, he ran at Dimitri, who dropped into a roll and dodged. He was on one knee in an instance, whipping his lance around to hit him in the back with it's side. A crack, a yelp of pain from Plwmp, and his lance fell to the ground, broken in half. 

 

 "Oh," he stared at his broken weapon, "curses." At least it wasn't his mother's. 

 

 A ripple of laughter broke through the crowd. Now, they were enjoying the show. Plwmp himself gave a deep belly laugh, only taking a second to mock his opponent's failure before breaking into a run at him once again.

 

 He had to think quickly. Grabbing the end of his lance, now just a piece of steel with a blade on the end, he jumped to his feet and put a hand up, catching Plwmp's fist in his palm as it had meant to come down upon his head. He held the fist above him, crest glowing between their two bodies. With his other hand that held the broken end of his lance, he jabbed it towards Plwmp's stomach, gently digging the tip into his skin. 

 

 He sent a glance to Jeralt on the sidelines, "Is this to the death?"

 

 "No, kid," he sighed in defeat, "but if it was, he'd be dead already." He clapped his hands together loudly to grab attention, "The newcomer wins!"

 

 With a cry of frustration, Plwmp pulled away, and the crest dissipated into a silver mist. He leaned down to pick up the broken pieces of his ax, while Dimitri picked up the other end of his lance. Jeralt could only shake his head in disbelief as he stared at the bent, broken steel in Dimitri's hands. "How'd you do that?"

 

 He didn't quite care to divulge the details of his accursed crest. He simply sighed, "It's just what I do."

 

 Another fighter from the crowd spoke up, "What's your name?"

 

 "Dimitri."

 

 "Dimitri what?"

 

 "Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd."

 

 "No," he shook his head, "Dimitri, the... what?"

 

 He was asking if he had a title. He had never cared to give himself one, and nobody else had ever bothered. Before he could answer, Jeralt laughed, a deep and carefree sound that filled the air around them, "Dimitri, the Lance Snapper!"

 

 Gods. That was stupid. "Uh, no, that's quite alright. I don't need a-"

 

 "Dimitri, the Lance Snapper!" The crowd cried, chanting his new title. He glanced over his shoulder at Byleth, who was covering her smile with her hand, eyes shining. 

 

 He would be anything that he needed to be for her, even The Lance Snapper. He would fight this entire group of men if only for the chance to be a moon in her orbit. 

 

 Determined now, he looked at the king, "Who's next?"

 

 Jeralt threw warrior after warrior at him, of different sizes and shapes, with different weapons and strengths. Every opponent had been good in their own way, making Dimitri struggle separately with each battle, yet he came out victorious with every one. 

 

 The more sappy side deep inside of him knew that it was simply because he fought for Byleth, rather than for a title or a prize. He had been waiting his entire life to be near her once more, and he would fight until he collapsed for his goal. 

 

 Jeralt had lent him a new lance, warning him darkly to not break it. Dimitri tried his best, though eventually the lance gave way, twisting under his hands like a soft stick of butter. Yet, in their eagerness to see the newcomer fight, he had several more volunteers offering up their own weapons. 

 

 Byleth never cheered, never egged on the competition. She watched from a distance, sitting on her mossy log and resting her cheek in her palm. Dimitri had completely taken over the tournament, and earned the approval from her father at the same time. 

 

 Finally, the moment of truth arrived. Dimitri had kicked his final opponent to the ground, whipping his borrowed lance around and pointing it their neck. Instantly, Jeralt clapped his hands, and silence ensued over the crowd of excited warriors. "Lance Snapper, you've done well." Dimitri pulled his weapon back, allowing his opponent to scramble away, as if he was a cat allowing a mouse run out from under his paw. Jeralt approached him, smirking and shaking his head in disbelief, "You've almost won the tournament, kid."

 

 Almost. He could only imagine what the final battle held.

 

 Jeralt sprung on him.

 

 His lance was drawn in a flash, taking a jab towards Dimitri's waist. He dodged it by an inch, and raised his own weapon to block another incoming hit. He wasn't entirely sure if he could ever beat the Blade-Breaker himself, he'd always been critiqued by Jeralt in the past, ending up with his ass on the ground and the ex-mercenary grinning down at him. 

 

 Yet, that would not happen this time. He would not allow it. 

 

 He couldn't register the cries and cheers of the crowd around him. His only focus was on Jeralt, his every twitch, his every movement, the length of his blade and where it was swinging. He predicted another sweep, and ducked under it just in time. Taking the opportunity, he elbowed the king in the gut, and stood up once more to watch him stumble away. That was one thing Jeralt had taught him, to use every part of his body, his limbs were all weapons as well. 

 

 Jeralt recovered, stepping towards him and jabbing to the left, then to the right. The blade only scratched Dimitri's arm as he dodged, ducked and weaved. He held the lance with both hands, yet in his flurry of jabs, he removed one hand and brought it to his waist. Dimitri's eyes narrowed, and he noticed a dagger shine in the afternoon sun as it was thrown from the king's hand, and towards his chest. 

 

 Sneaky. The dastard was cunning. He smirked as if he knew he had won. 

 

 Reflexively, Dimitri turned his body sideways, only feeling the dagger slow as it grazed against his chest. Before it could reach the ground, he outstretched his hand to catch it. He had seized it by the blade, feeling it's sharp edges dig into his skin. As he dodged another jab from the king's lance, he flipped the dagger in his right hand, caught Jeralt's weapon in a parry with the borrowed lance in his left, and took the opportunity before him. 

 

 Jeralt was open. Wide open.

 

 With the fire of determination clouding his mind, Dimitri lunged at Jeralt's neck with the dagger. His leg raised, he kicked him backwards into the ground. Following him down, Dimitri stopped the blade just before it could slit his neck, and leaned his weight onto his foot that rested on his chest. Jeralt lay under him, looking up at the man with wide eyes. 

 

 He could not register quite yet what had happened. His reflexes had taken over, and as the world around him came back into focus, he mentally thanked himself for not actually killing Jeralt in the moment. The blade was dug in just enough to cause a small trickle of blood to appear from the king's skin, under his scruffy unshaven chin. 

 

 The battle was over.

 

 The crowd was silent. Dimitri's heart pulsed in his ears as he straightened up, pulling away the dagger and lifting his foot off Jeralt's chest. He stepped away, and cleared his throat, "I don't want to be presumptuous, but..."

 

 "Yes," Jeralt sat up slowly, then rolled his eyes, "you've won."

 

 The sudden outburst of cheers nearly made him jump out of his skin. Being so focused on the moment before him, it was as if there had been no sound he could hear besides the beating of his heart in his ears. Several hands crowded around him, patting his back and shoulders. 

 

 His mind was processing what had happened. He won. He was the first ever to beat Jeralt at his own tournament. He leveled him with a stare, "You have to make me a knight."

 

 "I don't have to do anything, kid. But, I will. Because I said I would." He knew that Jeralt had never had his hand forced to do such a thing, always appointing knights simply from his own accord and only because someone had fought well enough to impress him. Nobody had ever beat him, rightfully earning the grand prize of the tournament. "And also, well... you're good." He stood up, offering his hand to Dimitri in a peaceful shake, "I'd be honored to have you serve Faerghus."

 

 Pride swelled in his chest. To serve Faerghus once more - finally something right had fallen into place for him. He sent Jeralt a genuine, true smile, and shook his hand, "Thank you. I look forward to giving of myself for the good of this country."

 

 Jeralt seemed satisfied with that answer. He clapped his hands to get the attention of the weary and worn warriors around him, "Alright, listen up! We're done here, it's getting late, go home to wherever the hell you came from! If you were good enough to be invited again, you'll get a letter."

 

 With a few mumbles of disappointment, the people began to disperse. Dimitri handed his borrowed lance back to the warrior who had lent it to him, and watched the crowd  leave. Some went to horses waiting on the edge of the valley, while others approached pegasi tied to trees nearby. Byleth walked up to her father, and leaned her head on his arm. Dimitri kept his eyes on her, unable to take them off. Her smile was rare, a sight for his sore eyes. 

 

 "Father, what's next for the Lance Snapper?" She asked, looking up at him. 

 

 Jeralt stroked his scruffy chin in thought. He seemed pleased to have his daughter lean on him in a rare show of affection. "He'll have to come to the castle tomorrow morning, and we'll do the whole ceremony."

 

 Such short notice. Dimitri, in his kingship, had always made a big deal out of appointing a knight, with a feast and a party. Yet, it had always been tiring, he could see how Jeralt would prefer a much more casual setting. "I look forward to it- uh, can I bring my father and brother?"

 

 "Of course!" He wrapped an arm around Byleth's waist, holding her close, "If they're as half as good as you I might appoint them as well."

 

 "Thank you, but, sir, I'm not that good."

 

 "If you say so." He snorted, then looked at his daughter, "Ready to go?"

 

 She looked back up at him, "I was going to walk back with the Lance Snapper. I'd hate to leave him alone on the road just as evening is falling."

 

 "Oh," Jeralt smirked at Dimitri wickedly, "he'll be fine on his own. Didn't you watch the tournament?"

 

 "Yes, but-"

 

 Jeralt yanked her away by the arm, basically dragging her to his waiting horse nearby. She protested, digging her heels in the ground, "Are you really going to abandon him out here?"

 

 "Climb on, kiddo." Seeming as if he wanted to frustrate her more, he grabbed her waist and lifted her up onto the back of his mount. She yelped in surprised and attempted to kick him. As cute as she was in her protest, Dimitri's heart stung with disappointment at the turn of events. He would not be able to celebrate with her, to talk of the tournament as they walked back together. He had savored every moment spent with Byleth, and it was being ripped away before his eyes.

 

 Jeralt climbed into the saddle, sitting in front of her. Annoyed, she wrapped her arms around his waist. He held the reins in his hands, turning the animal towards the exit as he glanced over his shoulder at his future-knight, "See ya tomorrow, kid."

 

 Dimitri watched them leave, dumbfounded. Byleth sent him an apologetic look over her shoulder, though it did nothing to ease the feeling of betrayal. Of course Jeralt would give him a hard time, having just nearly ended his life at his own party. Sighing, now alone in the darkening valley, he started on his way down the road. 

 

 30 minutes of walking passed with him observing the rocks and evergreens. As the night grew colder, his annoyance grew greater. He could not remember Jeralt being so cruel. Perhaps kingship had corrupted him, though he hoped that such a thing was not the case.

 

 Ahead of him, the sound of hooves on the mismatched stones of the road reached his ears. He looked up, seeing the dark silhouette of a horse approaching him at a gallop. Putting his hands up, he stopped the animal in front of him, and rubbed it's thick neck to calm it, "What're you doing out here?"

 

 The horse was already saddled, waiting to be ridden. Feeling around the reins, Dimitri's fingers brushed over a paper note folded and stuffed under the front of the saddle. He pulled it out to read, squinting at the words in the darkness. 'Do you really think I would let my knight walk around in the dark with no weapon or transport?' 

 

 So, he was not so cruel as he thought. A smile graced his lips, and he pulled himself up into the saddle. Patting the horse on the head, he took hold of the reins, "He's just trying to prove who's the boss," he said to the horse, who did not speak back, "that's fine, though, he technically is the boss now. I think I can handle a hard time."

 

 The horse said nothing. Dimitri began to trot down the road, the scenery around him moving by much faster now. "I haven't ridden a horse in years. But I bet you've never ridden a horse, because you are... a horse..."

 

 He sighed. Despite the tickle of amusement, he felt tired. His eyes were heavy, and limbs sore. Tiredness had caused him to feel whimsical, telling stupid jokes to himself as an attempt to keep awake on the ride back. 

 

 After nearly an hour of riding, Fhirdiad loomed ahead. It's lights twinkled in the night, and it was enough to wake him up as he neared it's Southern gates. The guards, lazy with the fall of nighttime, asked no questions, and cranked the iron gate open for him to pass under. Once inside, he trotted his way to the inn to meet with his father. 

 

 He left the horse in the stable, promising to return it back to the castle in the morning. He knew he needed sleep, and felt as if he might actually do so soundly for once. The exercise of fighting nearly 20 people in a row was enough to make him want to fall into his pillow and be dead to the world for a while. 

 

 As he entered the inn and walked up the stairs, opening the door to his room, he was struck with a sudden clearing of the throat, and a sharp look. Lambert's eyes were like daggers, piercing Dimitri as he stared. 

 

 "Where have you been?"

 

 It felt cliche. He felt like a teenager sneaking out to see a girl - he was, yet he was an adult sneaking out to see a girl, not a teenager. Dimitri had been grounded before in his younger years, and the look on his father's face reminded him of those times. He was almost expecting to be forbidden from leaving his room. 

 

 "I was out." He answered, cryptic. 

 

 "Out where?"

 

 "At..." he couldn't think of a lie in time, "a tournament."

 

 Lambert squinted at him, "A tournament? There were no tournaments being held in Fhirdiad today."

 

 "It wasn't in town. It was in the woods, up North."

 

 "That sounds barbaric."

 

 It sort of was, if he had to admit. It was not the most fun in his life, not really being his thing, yet it was not unlike having a sparring partner for training sessions. Trying to be optimistic, he sent his father a close-lipped smile, "I won."

 

 "Did you?" Lambert lightened up, but his brows furrowed in concern. The lines on his forehead made a frown as he stared at his son, "I'm worried about you, Dima. You're... you've just been so out of it ever since we left Gloucester. You're acting odd, and I feel like I've hardly seen you."

 

 His mind traced back to his panic attack, when he had spoken so carelessly about Byleth and his love for her. His father had agreed that he was acting as if he should've been institutionalized, and he was surprised that he'd made no such suggestion yet. 

 

 He knew that he had to tone it back, stop sneaking out and lying, stop acting so suspiciously. He closed the door behind him and sat on the edge of his bed, "I apologize. Fhirdiad just... brings out some memories for me."

 

 "What memories, son? You were a toddler when I left this place with you."

 

 "I can be effected by mother's death despite my age," he met Lambert's eyes, "I've been working through some things, that is all."

 

 "Working through them by running off into the mountains and fighting in some random tournament?" He challenged, "I just want to know what's going on with you."

 

 It was tempting, almost, to bare his soul to his father. Dedue had taken to his secret well, yet he knew Lambert would give an entirely different reaction. There was an excuse that Dimitri had waiting for moments like these, yet he knew that it would hurt him, "I just need direction in life, father. I'm tired of going from one end of Fodlan to the next, running away from your problems."

 

 Lambert reared back in his chair, a look of hurt crossing his face. Dimitri forced himself to go on, "I apologize, but I am not you. It's been fun, but I need to settle down."

 

 "Is it a girl?"

 

 Yes. "No."

 

 "What do you expect to do here, Dima? Grow potatoes and struggle to make enough money to buy yourself bread?"

 

 That was the case for many people, yet never him and Lambert. Despite not always having money, the two would find food in the wild to eat, learning to cook over campfire and preserve their meat for later. He had never starved, and was always dressed warmly. It was more than many citizens of Fhirdiad would experience. 

 

 He knew that he couldn't lie anymore. He needed to tell the truth, and hopefully it would be enough to keep Lambert in one place for longer than two weeks. "I've been accepted as a Knight for the royal family."

 

 Lambert stared at him. His expression remained unreadable, stony. Dimitri could've been looking in a mirror as he watched his father. After a beat of silence, Lambert licked his lips anxiously and looked at the floor, "What do you want me to do?"

 

 "Stay here," he put his hand on his father's, "let me buy you a house, let me provide for you."

 

 "I don't want a house. I want to be with my son."

 

 "You can be with me," he assured, "you don't have to have a house. You can hunt, and provide food for those who less fortunate. O-Or I can try to get you a position in the castle."

 

 Silent, Lambert pulled his hand away, putting it on his son's cheek and cocking his head as he stared, "You are so much like your mother."

 

 "How so?"

 

 He pulled back and crossed his arms over his chest, looking at the wall behind Dimitri as if it the patterns in the wood were incredibly interesting, "I loved her dearly, don't get me wrong. But she could be difficult, at times." A longing smile grew on his lips, "She was convinced that I was a king, and she was a queen, and in a past life she had died. When the plague hit the city, she rambled on and on about how history was repeating itself. I wanted to leave Fhirdiad, thinking that it would be good for her to get away from the focus of her fantasies, yet she stayed. She loved this city so much," he looked at Dimitri, "I stayed for her, and I will stay for you as well."

 

 Dimitri, though touched, was entirely confused. "Are you saying that I'm like my mother in... believing that I'm someone I'm not?" Possibilities, theories, swirled in his head like a tornado. His mother was right, she was a queen, and his father a king. She was entirely correct, and knew of the other life that she had lived. The new information swelled in his heart, threatening to pop and cause him a wave of emotion. He wasn't alone. He wasn't alone in his memories.

 

 His mother had known. 

 

 Lambert lacked an awareness of the inner turmoil of his son, going on to explain, "What I'm trying to say is that perhaps you suffer the same illness your mother did?"

 

 Offended, he furrowed his brows, "I really have been accepted as a knight, I want you to come to the ceremony tomorrow morning and see for yourself."

 

 "It's not that I don't believe you," he defended, "it's what you said the other night, during your... emotional moment. You spoke of the princess, of loving her. Dimitri, you've never even met her."

 

 He has. He was married to her. He just spent most of the day with her. 

 

 He could only stare at his father, unbelieving of what was truly happening. "You think that I'm delusional? Mother was not delusional, she was right!"

 

 "Your mother was a very ill woman-"

 

 "My mother was haunted by the fact that she could remember her past life, and that her husband didn't believe her."

 

 "What are you talking about, past life? There is no past life, Dimitri," he stood up from his chair abruptly, "I am done discussing this with you. If you are so dead set on staying here and becoming a knight, you do as you wish, but do not come running to me when the princess does not return your affections."

 

 He turned around, watching his father make for the door, "I don't expect her to return my affections! She's getting married! I simply want to live my life serving others, and being a knight is the best way I know how."

 

 "Leaving Fhirdiad would the best possible thing for you," he held the door handle, though did not look at his son, "you need to escape this delusion of grandeur... But you're an adult, and I don't have the power to stop you."

 

 Lambert was a wise man. His words were true, he didn't have the power to stop him. The only person that could stop him was Byleth herself.

 

 He opened the door, and left, shutting it harshly behind him. Dimitri sat on the edge of his bed, suddenly feeling much more fatigued than ever before. 

Chapter Text

 The minute Dimitri had disappeared from eyesight behind them, the argument that had been looming between father and daughter finally began. While on the back of her father's horse, Byleth challenged, prodded and poked at Jeralt in a way only she knew how. Her special brand of prodding was something subtle, like a small thorn in a sock - difficult to find, yet when stepped upon it could prick through the skin painfully. While her methods were not a weapon of necessity that was employed very often, she found that the sheer annoyance of her coy act was enough to soften the blow of Jeralt's anger when she chose to disobey him. He would be worn down, and too grumpy to deal with her by the end of it. 

 

 "You know, Rhea spoke so kindly of you..." her voice was impassive, calm and gentle, "she said you were always a man of honor. Truly the best house leader that the Blue Lions have ever had..."

 

 "Is that so?" A grumble from the king. 

 

 "She said that you had a reputation."

 

 The bait, dangling before him. He didn't always take it, yet he often proved to be too stubborn to resist the urge. Jeralt disliked flattery, it was not the way to reach his good graces, yet he knew that flattery was not Byleth's aim. She was trying to dig at him, using the power of the one woman who could disgust him simply from hearing her name. Knowing that even when prodding that Byleth wouldn't lie, he took the bait, "What reputation?"

 

 "That you were..." she let it hang in the air between them before going on, "a man of your word."

 

 He snorted. Unbeknownst to Byleth, Rhea had told him that at one time, when he was a boy of 19 at the Officers Academy, and had refused to execute judgement on a runaway noble. Rhea had been using it in a similar way that Byleth was, trying to convince him to do something he most likely would not want to do. Already having seen through her game, he kept his eyes on the road ahead of them as they trotted along, and smirked, "What do you want, kid?"

 

 Her prodding was annoying in the fact that she was coy about it. It was the only instance Byleth would ever be coy. She only hummed, arms around her father's waist, fingers laced together in front of his stomach. "I just want you to be a man of your word."

 

 "I just want you to act normal and spit it out."

 

 It was unlike her to be so evasive. Her blunt form of charm was her best feature, in her opinion at least. That was the beauty of her method, though, Jeralt would soon grow too tired to even deal with her, and she would be able to carry out her plan the way she desired. Moving forward with her mission, she only hummed innocently in response.

 

 Silence fell between them. The world was darkening, the wind biting harshly through their coats. Crickets and cicadas chirped around the road, signalling to her that summer was beginning. It was a lovely sound, one she drank in as she let the anticipation of Jeralt's thoughts rise. 

 

 Finally, he sighed. As awkward about affection as he could be, he was truly a caring father. He preferred to know what was going on in his daughter's mind, never letting secret-keeping become a habit between them. "What're you thinking about?"

 

 Her answer was immediate. "Lance Snapper."

 

 "He's not that handsome."

 

 The teasing had no effect on her, as she was entirely aware that Jeralt knew better than to assume that she could ever care about a man's outward appearance. She had never found much interest in romance, and that knowledge never failed to bring her father contentment. "It's not that, I just... I recommended him for a reason."

 

 "And what reason is that?"

 

 Silence once more. Still trying to lead him somewhere, she took a moment to think on her words. Jeralt looked up at the darkening sky, trying to wait out the anticipation she was attempting to build. 

 

 Finally, she decided to speak, "You said that you'd make him a Knight."

 

 He sighed, "You didn't answer my question."

 

 "I don't want you to go back on your word." 

 

 "Kid, I..." he ran a hand through his hair, shutting his eyes closed as if he could ignore his responsibilities, "you know that that's all just for fun. Nobody's ever won that thing."

 

 Her words were heavy, monotone, closing him off from her as she pulled away and chose to hang onto the saddle instead of his waist, "He won. It's not right to tell someone that they can have something, and then not actually do it."

 

 She was perceptive. As proud as he was of that trait, he wished it would disappear in times like these. She had read his body language, knowing him well. She knew how a knighting worked - it was not something that could just be given out anytime he pleased. Even with the men who he had appointed as knights from the tournament before had to endure years of working for him in lower positions before they could be given the honor of such a title. He wondered who this kid was to have believed him, to have not realized that he was pulling his tail, and to actually believe that tomorrow morning he would go to the palace and instantly be knighted. 

 

 Byleth was right, though, he had dug his hole with his words. He had told Lance Snapper that he would be knighted. In actuality, he was simply planning on having Glenn break the news about it, and give him a job as a city gate guard, or perhaps to patrol the roads outside of Fhirdiad. He deemed that eventually Lance Snapper would have the chance of becoming a Knight, if he worked hard enough. 

 

 The odd fact, though, was his daughter's absolute persistence. Byleth had always been compassionate and caring for others, yet she had never wanted to use her position as the princess to push other's political goals forward. Curious, he approached the subject, "Who's this guy to you anyway?"

 

 Byleth merely shrugged, "He's just a guy. I met him the other day, and he explained why he wanted to be a Knight."

 

 She was so much like her mother, he couldn't help but smile. Only having met this man a day ago, and suddenly wanting to give him the world simply because he asked for it. It was a lovely trait, one he hoped that she would grow out. "Why is that?"

 

 "Why should I tell you?"

 

 Incredulous, he furrowed his brows, "I'd be his boss, that's why!"

 

 "I'll be his boss, then. Make him my other personal guard."

 

 "Kid," Jeralt's tone turned dangerous, and his grip tightened on the reins as the horse slowed, "you've got to tell me the truth here. Do you like this guy?"

 

 Her answer was unfazed and immediate, "No."

 

 "Why are you so persistent?"

 

 "He knows something." She lit up now, gripping the sleeve fabric on his arm, "He talked about Edelgard, and who had hurt her."

 

 "We've discussed this. Her parents are the ones who put her and her siblings in that situation. It doesn't matter who did the torturing, what matters is who put her there in the first place."

 

 "Dimitri said-"

 

 "He's not a part of this," he grew heated, "and if he is, he's most likely just using your compassion to get close to us. Don't be naive, By."

 

 "I'm not being naive," she gripped harder, "I'm trusting in someone. He said that there was corruption in the church, and that we should keep an eye on Adrestia, and tha-"

 

 "I know all of that."

 

 "But if someone like him, a common mercenary, knows that stuff, then it just makes you wonder what he's seen to give him that kind of insight, right?"

 

 "He knows that stuff because he's probably working for them and trying to get into your good graces. And he looks so familiar, too," he had recognized Lance Snapper, though he couldn't place from where, "he's probably been keeping tabs on us for a while."

 

 "You are impossible." It was rare for Byleth to seethe, yet in this moment her frown could've felled even the strongest of men. She crossed her arms in silence, listening to the hooves of the horse trot by on the mismatched stones of the road. Ahead of them, Fhirdiad glowed at the crest of the next hill, a light in the growing darkness. She was impatient to end the argumentative ride with her father, yet she knew what she had to do to accomplish her goal. 

 

 Her silence would bother him, she was entirely aware of this fact. Jeralt was a strong man, unwavering and with noble conviction for what he believed in, yet he cherished his only daughter. She hated to use that against him, yet it would get her the allowance that she required. She knew that her heart and mind would not rest until she could help Dimitri find contentment in the curse he lived with. While her father called it naive, she felt as if trusting Dimitri was the right decision. The look in his eyes as he had endeared her and told her his secret, his gentleness and his sincerity. 

 

 Of course, if it did turn out that he was lying and was there to assassinate her, she'd just kill him. Easy as that.

 

 Jeralt was growing more impatient with his daughter's silence. He was used to her being quiet, though this quiet was a much heavier, uneasy kind. He didn't believe in letting the sun set on anger and disagreement, wanting to keep things civil with Byleth at all times - even through her prickly hormonal teen years, he still managed to keep the peace. As the horse neared Fhirdiad's Northern gate, he spoke up, "I'm just protecting you."

 

 "One day I will rule in your stead. You will not be able to protect me forever."

 

 "Yes, and?"

 

 "I should be allowed to appoint my own personal Knights, if I can't make decisions now then I will not be able to make decisions in the future."

 

 She had a point, though it was not enough yet to convince him. He chose to not reply, riding through the gates and nodding at the saluting guards as he passed through and made his way to the castle. 

 

 Even after arriving at the stables and parting ways for the night, the fighting between father and daughter permeated through the air, stinking up the entire castle. 

 

 Servants avoided Byleth as she stalked to her room, and the guards watched Jeralt with hesitant eyes as he passed by. Sitri stayed quiet, reading a book in bed and choosing to not acknowledge the mumbling and grumbling of her husband as he shed his armor. In Byleth's quarters, Ingrid hesitantly sharpened her lance while watching her charge glare a hole into the wall. 

 

 "Are... you okay?" Ingrid asked.

 

 Byleth grunted.

 

 Having been good friends since childhood, Ingrid knew how Byleth preferred to deal with her emotions. Distraction always proved the be the best method, and Ingrid never failed to handle it in the best way. Leaning her lance against the wall, she gently took a seat on the bed beside Byleth, feeling the mattress sag under her weight as she looked at the princess, "Glenn and I had a fight."

 

 Instantly, Byleth's expression dissolved into one of concern, rather than stony anger. "What happened?" She looked at Ingrid, brows furrowed, and took her hand. 

 

 "You know how he's been... thinking about giving up his inheritance as firstborn?"

 

 Byleth nodded, "Yes, though I know Felix isn't too happy about it."

 

 Ingrid smiled affectionately, "Those boys would be vagabonds if Rodrigue would let them." Sighing now, she went on, "My father's just been sending Glenn some very... pointed letters. Letters saying that he won't be able to support me, or make me happy, and so on. Obviously, he just wants money and to stop our house from crumbling," she grimaced, "and I don't want our house to be in trouble either, but it's really putting a strain on our relationship."

 

 Byleth had never been good at comforting. She was appreciative of the distraction from her own problems, her thoughts now consumed with how to be a good friend to Ingrid, yet the words of comfort and encourage would never visit her tongue. Instead, she looked away, staring at her silk curtains and biting her lip, "Being in a relationship sounds dreadful. Complicated and dreadful."

 

 "It's wonderful," Ingrid sighed, "but only with someone you truly love."

 

 "Do you think Glenn can't support you if he's not going to be the heir of the Fraldarius house?"

 

 "We'll be fine, you just know how he can be." Feisty, hot headed, temperamental. Yes, Byleth knew how the captain of the knights could be. She could only imagine the long, tiresome rants that Ingrid had to endure from her fiance about the offense he took from her father. The very thought made Byleth tired. 

 

 "Why don't you go see him?" Byleth turned to her, gripping her hand tightly now, "You should make up and spend the night together."

 

 Ingrid looked hesitant, "Your father commanded me to stay with you all night."

 

 "He thinks I'm going to be assassinated by Lance Snapper."

 

 "Lance Snapper?"

 

 "Don't worry about it," she patted her hand, "I'm giving you leave to go. Please, it would make me happy to hear that you two have made up."

 

 It was obvious to Byleth that Ingrid wanted to go, her eyes darting to the door and her body turning that way. Yet, out of duty, she hesitated. "I can't disobey hi-"

 

 "You can't disobey me," it was almost playful, the tilt of her head and the commanding tone she took on, "go see your fiance and make up."

 

 Still, the lady knight hesitated. She glanced towards the door, and back to her charge, "I can't just abandon my station."

 

 "You're not abandoning anything," she insisted, "I really want you to go. Please," she squeezed her hand, "I need alone time, and you need time with Glenn. It would do both of us some good."

 

 "What it would do is get me in trouble."

 

 "I'll personally take responsibility if anything happens," Byleth put a hand to her chest in earnest, "but I promise that nothing will. Go kiss your fiance and be in love again."

 

 Ingrid's cheeks dusted themselves with pink, and she stood up to get away from the words coming from her friend, "Don't say embarrassing stuff like that."

 

 "I'll get more embarrassing if you don't leave."

 

 "You wouldn't dare."

 

 "Kissing, touching lips, tongue kissing, even," she had never really even held hands with someone she was attracted to, truthfully, and had a very vague idea of what consisted of romantic affection, "cuddling, and uh, spooning. Yes, perhaps even... pre-marital sex!"

 

 "Oh, my ears, my innocent and holy ears," Ingrid cried dramatically, putting both hands on either side of her head and making her way to the door. She opened it, revealing the hallway, and looked over her shoulder at Byleth with an affectionate smile, "You're very bad at being embarrassing."

 

 "I don't know if that's a compliment or not."

 

 "I'll let you figure it out," she sighed, now serious, "please, please don't get killed tonight. This is a one time thing, so don't get used to having me leave you alone."

 

 "I'll try."

 

 Almost hesitantly, the door shut with a soft click behind her. Byleth sat on the bed and listened to the sound of Ingrid's footsteps fade away down the hall. The day had been long, tiring, and she began to find the will to lay in bed and close her eyes.

 

 Blowing out the candle on her nightstand, she lay under her covers in the darkness. Beside the candle was a common dagger, laying innocently on it's side with the blade shining in the moonlight through her balcony doors. She watched it, and thought of Lance Snapper. 

 

 Who was he? And what was the look in his eyes that lingered in the back of her mind? She had never seen someone look at her in such a way, with a sort of desperation that was different than the usual begging that she got from commoners. He wasn't asking for money, for food, he simply wanted to be of use to her and the Kingdom, to find simply a sliver of contentment in his life. 

 

 Byleth was intelligent, and knew that his story was flimsy. A witch's curse, a life lived in suffering. There was a chance that he was lying for an unknown intention, yet she would cross that bridge when it came, and for now meditated on the look he wore when she offered him a sliver of hope. 

 

 It wouldn't leave her mind.

 

 Sighing deeply, she closed her eyes once more and thought of his crest, of his hair pulled into the messy ponytail, of his gentleness even when fighting. He fought as if there was force inside of him much larger, and much more violent just begging to come out, and he was using every inch of himself to hold said force at bay. It interested her, and was yet another secret for her to unravel. 

 

 Thinking of him, sleep hit her that night like an arrow in the back. 

 


 

 Breakfast at the Eisner table was, for the most part, a quiet and reflective time of the day. A time to soak up the golden sunrise through the large windows surrounding their table, and to fill up on bacon and eggs and think about what each one of them planned to do for the day. 

 

 This particular morning happened to be an exception.

 

 "For the last time, you brat, I will not make that man a knight."

 

 Byleth had her fork pointed down on her plate, scraping against it's ceramic as she jabbed and stabbed violently at the eggs. Her scowl was disturbing, her eyes a storm as she looked at Jeralt across the table. He, in turn, challenged her with his nonchalance, casually sipping from his coffee mug and keeping his own eyes level with her.

 

 Sitri, inbetween the two of them, simply looked as if she was in pain.

 

 "Then I will make him so." 

 

 "You don't have that authority."

 

 He was correct. Byleth didn't have the authority, but she could pretend to. She lifted her chin at him, keeping her eyes locked onto her fathers as she chewed on her bacon. He sipped his coffee once more, and the air only grew heavier. It was a battle of dominance, one that created a tension so thick Sitri felt as if she could almost cut it with a knife. It was torture to the queen.

 

 "It does not really matter whether a man is a knight, or not," Sitri's voice was light and airy, nervous, "what matters is... the state of his heart." She put her hands to her chest, "If he has a kind and generous heart, then he's just fine in my book."

 

 "I cannot read hearts," Every word of Jeralt's stony reply was spitting, venomous and resentful, "His heart may be as black as night, and his intentions even darker."

 

 "I'll just kill him if he turns out to be an assassin," Byleth broke eye contact and turned her gaze to her plate, "then no harm done."

 

 "Someone trying to kill you is plenty of harm done!"

 

 "You talk as if assassination attempts are something new! Plus, we don't know that that's his intention. I, for one, believe what he says."

 

 "You believe the thing that you refuse to tell your mother and I?" He challenged, "If you like him, By, just tell us. I honestly don't care who you sneak around with, as long as you're discreet about it."

 

 She was out of her wits with these accusations. Her father knew better than to assume that she would even care about such a thing. She didn't even want to marry Sylvain, let alone have a secret lover. She leveled Jeralt with a tired glare, "I just have compassion for his situation and want to help. His circumstances are not mine to tell."

 

 "Can you not help another way?" Jeralt stood up from his seat, the legs of the chair making an ugly sound on the tiles as he pushed away from the table. Holding his coffee mug in one hand, he went on, "I'm going to do some work in my office."

 

 Sitri and Byleth watched as he stalked out of the room. The door of the dining hall shut loudly behind him, rattling spice jars on the shelf as he did so. Once his footsteps faded, Sitri only had enough energy to let out a deep sigh, "He's just concerned, you know."

 

 Stubbornly, Byleth chose to not acknowledge her mother's words of truth. Instead, she edged her plate aside and rested her elbows on the table, putting her hands in front of her face in a V shape. Sitri watched her with skepticism, knowing what was coming next. 

 

 "Mother?"

 

 "...Yes, love?"

 

 "Would you possibly feel like disobeying your husband today?"

 

 Now imitating Jeralt in his tiresome scolding of their daughter, she gazed at her with furrowed brows. Her usually smiling face had fallen flat, and she fiddled with the teacup in front of her as she thought about her response. Refusing the large, pleading eyes of her daughter was a difficult feat. Finally deciding to face Byleth, she cleared her throat and spoke up, "I don't know... Depends..."

 

 The middle man, as always. Sitri was a master at playing the passive field. Byleth knew that she could persuade her mother, though, and only leaned in closer, "He's suffering from a curse, I don't know of any details, but he said that he would never achieve happiness."

 

 "Just because he said that does not mean it is true..."

 

 She carried on, "The only thing close to contentment that he can find would be to serve the people of Faerghus. I... cannot get the look on his face out of my mind." She was telling the absolute truth, her throat catching at the thought, "He looked so helpless. He looked at me as if... as if I was the only person in the world in that moment."

 

 Byleth watched as Sitri's expression grew soft, compassionate as she stared down at her tea. She seemed personally hurt by the fact that this man she had never met was in pain. Her lips parted, and she looked up, taking Byleth's hand in her own. "I felt the same way when I met your father."

 

 She was breathless, "Did you?"

 

 "There had been an attack on the monastery one day," she smiled wistfully, "I found him at the goddess tower, bleeding out from a stab wound. I healed him, and he promised me that he would protect my home. I promised him that I would always heal him when he was hurt... that's not very romantic, is it?"

 

 "How did you feel when he promised you that?"

 

 She sighed, chest heaving up as she thought heavily on the past, "Oh, goodness... I believed him. I knew that I could trust his promise. His face was so honest, and I felt actually seen for once."

 

 Her daughter said nothing, only stared. While Byleth's face was expressionless, a flicker of emotion passed through her eyes, and it was just enough for Sitri to catch. She processed the look, mulling it over as she gazed at her.

 

 It was not a difficult decision for the queen. Determined, she stood up from the table, Byleth's hand in hers, "What would you like me to do?"

 


 

 While there had not been a line of saluting knights awaiting Dimitri, there was something so much, so encompassingly, better than what he could ever wish for. 

 

 Byleth waited for him, Areadbhar in hand. Once she caught sight of him, her beautiful face broke out into the most dazzling, world consuming smile. He could've fallen at his knees in front of her, weakened by her delight to see him. 

 

 Lambert was equally stunned, though not particularly by the princess's beauty. He was turned breathless by his surroundings. The spiraling towers and maze of rose bushes was enough to dazzle him, as he had not experienced such things in this lifetime. Dedue, on the other side of Dimitri as they neared the princess and Queen, was stone-faced, keeping his gaze ahead and avoiding eye contact. 

 

 Dimitri approached, clearing his throat of all hesitancy and bowing his head to the two women before him. "This is my father, Lambert, and my adoptive brother, Dedue."

 

 Instead of showing respect with a polite nod or bow, Lambert ripped his eyes away from his surroundings, and instead glued them to the queen herself. His smile grew, and her smile grew, until he burst out into a joyful laugh. Mortified, Dimitri immediately moved to elbow him, though it was blown off by Lambert stepping forward, and grabbing Queen Sitri by the waist and lifting her up in the air.

 

 He was going to die. He knew it. The guards would come arrest him on consequence of his father any second now.

 

 Despite Dimitri's fear, Sitri only laughed, throwing her head back beautifully and enjoying the twirling. Eventually, she was put back down, and she stumbled over her own feet with a laugh. Lambert's hands stayed on her waist as he looked down at her, eyes alight with excitement.

 

 Dimitri and Byleth exchanged glances of absolute shock at the action of their parents. Delicately, Sitri put her hand to Lambert's cheek, "You're beautiful, Lambie."

 

 "You're beautiful!" He laughed, "Royalty suits you!"

 

 "Oh stop," she giggled, "You're absolutely too much," her eyes shifted towards Byleth, "You didn't tell me he was Lambert's son!"

 

  She was taken aback, "I... didn't know..."

 

 Dimitri had lost the ability to form a coherent explanation. He could only stare. He took in the sight of the queen and his father, both holding each other and laughing, as if they had been friends since childhood. As he watched, his suspicion grew at whatever nonsense Sothis had institutionalized in this world. "How do you two know each other?"

 

 Sitri opened her mouth as if to explain, yet Lambert put a finger to her lips, and shook his head, "I haven't told him." He looked at his son, "That's a conversation for another time, my boy. Sorry to disappoint."

 

 "You're not sorry."

 

 Sitri broke free from Lambert and approached Dimitri, now putting up a hand to his cheek. He had to resist the urge to flinch away from her, and instead looked down at the small woman in front of him as she smiled, "You look just like your father, but I see just a bit of your mother there too." She leaned up more and brushed his bangs back from his forehead, "You need a haircut."

 

 That was enough to earn a smile, "So I'm told."

 

 Sitri was comfortable with the thought of keeping secrets from the present company. Stepping away from Dimitri, she took her place at her confused daughter's side, as if nothing had even happened. Lambert was joyful at his back, clapping his shoulder in a fatherly way in an attempt to encourage him. "You've got a knighting to go through!"

 

 Trying to distract himself from the crowd of inquiries lingered in his mind, he managed to choke out the words, "Where's the king?"

 

 "He's not the one doing this," Byleth lit up, "My mother will."

 

 This was not customary. Confused, now he furrowed his brows and glanced around, "Why is he not..."

 

 "You're going to be my retainer, so I am taking charge of this ceremony." Byleth stated very officially, nodding her head and gripping the weapon close to her, "Yet, I don't have the authority to truly knight you. So, my mother will be doing it."

 

 "Does Jeralt not... want to do it?" It was not as if he craved Jeralt's attention specifically, though he had never passed on this particularly duty to Byleth during his own reign. He had always done it, and while the queen could do it if she wished, it traditionally was not something that was ever done by anyone other than the king. What was happening before him, from the odd reunion of his father and Sitri, to Byleth clutching Areadbhar, to the absence of Jeralt, was entirely, absolutely, odd. 

 

 Yet, what wasn't odd in his life now?

 

 Blunt as always, Byleth wasted no time in her explanation. "He thinks you're an assassin."

 

 The very thought mortified him. "I would never lay a finger on you!"

 

 Sitri, desperate to make peace, put a hand on her daughter's shoulder and stepped up, looking cheerful, "Oh, I will defend your honor to the end, Lance Snapper! Seeing that you're Lambie's son, I know now that you're a good man."

 

 Lambie. Lambie. Dimitri had never once heard his father referred to as Lambie. He glanced his way, gawking at the pride his father seemed to take in the nickname. 

 

 Byleth sent a subtle look to her mother, "You cannot always say that the son of a good man will turn out good, Mother."

 

 "Yet," she lifted her chin playfully, "have I ever been wrong with my judge of character?"

 

 Apparently not, for Byleth nodded and quietly relinquished the lance to her mother, who took it with pride. On either side of him, Lambert and Dedue stepped away. He knew what was next, and attempted to dispel the questions and unanswered confusion that whirled in his mind. He took a deep breath, and knelt down in preparation for what was to come. 

 

 He looked at Dedue, who returned his look with a certain sort of subtle pride for his friend. A vagabond, a commoner like him, reaching another height of honor. Dimitri felt a sting of regret for choosing to leave his best friend behind in the mercenary life, though he knew this option was the best he could ever hope for. Knowing that Byleth was alive and safe was the only thing that would give him peace at night in this reality. 

 

 Sitri struggled to hold the lance. Clumsily, she tapped the blade on his right shoulder, "Do you.... what's your name? I'm sorry."

 

 "Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd."

 

 "Do you, Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd, accept the vow of honor and respect that accompanies knighthood under the holy Kingdom of Faerghus?"

 

 "I do."

 

 Lambert beamed with pride. Byleth only bit her lip, as if nervous. 

 

 With difficultly, she moved the lance to his other shoulder, "Do you, Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd, promise to protect and serve the royal family and the people of Faerghus until your very last breath?"

 

 "I do." He would, with every last inch of himself. 

 

 She struggled to lift the lance again and return it to his right shoulder once more, letting out a huff, "Goddess, this thing is heavy- uh, d-do you... Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd, promise to give your life for Byleth Eisner if the situation deems necessary?"

 

 He raised his eyes to her's, breathless. Byleth looked down at him, and he could not bear to look away. Every syllable of agreement rang truthful, genuine, sweetened by memories of a past that she knew nothing of.

 

 "I do."

 

 Byleth's lips parted. She shifted in place, caught like a mouse under his gaze. 

 

 He might've been imagining the red on her cheeks. It might've been wishful thinking. 

 

 He surely hoped not.

 

 "Then, by the power invested in me, I now declare you knight and retainer of the princess. Use your position wisely." Now done,  Sitri let the lance fall to the ground, it rattled loudly as she sighed in relief, "I don't know how Jeralt lifts that! My arms are gelatin."

 

 Byleth kept her eyes glued to Dimitri. He kneeled in front of her, on one knee as if proposing, and stared right back. The entire world could've blown into bits around the two, and neither of them would've noticed. 

 

 "Thank you." She put her hand out to him, attempting to break out of her reverie. He took it, and she pulled him up from his kneeling position, "This will give Ingrid a break."

 

 Her hand was warm. He was knocked breathless. The world was ripped away from him the moment she slipped her hand from his, forcing herself to turn her attention to her mother, who was conversing warmly with Lambert. 

 

 Almost awkwardly, Dimitri forced himself to turn away as well. The tension began to melt like butter as he attempted to distract himself, "Do you've any idea how they know each other?"

 

 "No idea."

 

 Behind him, Dedue grunted, "They look like ex lovers."

 

 Goddess. He was right. 

 

 They do look like ex lovers. 

 

 Lambert held Sitri's hands, looking down at her with an affectionate smile. She returned the expression, her head tilted up towards him and curls falling charmingly over her shoulders as she reminisced over their past. It was in a quiet mumble, words said only in their own universe, unbeknownst to anybody but them. They had moved further away to not be heard with their secret meeting. 

 

 "My father said that you looked familiar," Byleth questioned, hand resting on her chin, "Perhaps he was recognizing your father instead?"

 

 Perhaps he was. It occurred to Dimitri that he didn't know much about Lambert's life before his travels. All Lambert had ever told him was that his mother had passed from illness, and that he had been travelling ever since. The rest of his background was entirely shadowed by darkness, a mystery Dimitri had always been too self absorbed to ever care about unraveling. 

 

 He cursed himself, his selfishness. He truly knew very little about his father. 

 

 Dedue had noticed the look of regret upon his closest friend's face, as if he resented that Dimitri had to feel such a thing on such an important occasion. Clearing his throat, he spoke up, "Lambert. Dimitri needs to discuss details with the queen."

 

 Lambert seemed to break from his reverie, looking up at the man of Duscur and blinking in surprise, "Oh? Yes, I suppose." He stepped away from Sitri, "He is a very important man now."

 

 Dimitri looked at him, unamused, "I'm nobody of importance."

 

 "Nonsense!" He clapped his shoulder, "You're protecting the princess's life! Just remember..." he leaned in, now whispering in his ear so that nobody else would hear, "she's getting married."

 

 Of course. Dimitri's heart fell at the realization that his father still believed that he was entirely mental. 

 

 Unbeknownst to the internal chaos consuming the newly appointed knight in front of her, Sitri nearly pouted, "Don't keep secrets right in front of us!"

 

 "if you were a man, I would let you in on it." Lambert stepped away, "Yet, fortunately, you are not a man. So you cannot join in our secrets." He turned from her and gripped Dedue on the arm, though Dedue tore his arm away instantly. Lambert was unfazed, "Good day! Join us for dinner, Dima!"

 

 He would, if he could. If Byleth could relinquish his thoughts for a mere second. 

 

 Everything had happened so quickly, that he had only a second to recollect his thoughts. He closed his eyes, trying to organize them before he would have to face the princess and her mother once more. Lambert and Dedue had retreated from the castle grounds, and it was only Dimitri left. He opened his eyes once more, catching both women staring at him with the same, identical blank expression. 

 

 Sitri certainly was her mother. He could see it entirely now. The woman only written about in Jeralt's diary of the past now come to life, an older version of her daughter staring at him with large, curious eyes. He couldn't help but form a small, affectionate smile at the sight. 

 

 "So, what now?"

 

 "I..." Sitri thought for a moment, "am going to go kiss my husband and remind him of my love for him."

 

 "Why?" Byleth glanced at her.

 

 "Old flames, my love," she pushed a lock of hair behind Byleth's ear, "take the longest to go out."

 

 They were graced no explanation, besides a look of nervous concern passing over Sitri's face. She turned heel, and hurriedly made her way back to the castle. The guards had been watching with increasing interest, and now were rapt to attention as they opened the doors to let the Queen rush in. Byleth watched her mother go, head cocked and eyebrows furrowed as her figure retreated. 

 

 "Your father seems quite the charmer."

 

 He could laugh at that, if he was feeling more humorous at the entire situation, "I never would've guessed."

 

 "He made quite the effect on my mother."

 

 "I apologize for that. It's not a habit of his, as far as I know."

 

 She returned her eyes to him, piercing him in place, "It better not be."

 

 "I promise that I didn't come here to break up your parent's marriage."

 

 "Whatever the case is with them," she waved her hand nonchalantly, "it's none of our business. Bringing it up more would only stir trouble."

 

 She was right, as she always was. Now hopeful, he continued on, "What now?"

 

 "First thing's first is to visit the captain, I suppose..." She seemed to be asking herself the question, unknowing how to answer his question, "I'm sorry, I usually doze off when my father appoints a new knight. I'm not entirely sure what our next step is."

 

 He knew that she did. She had always let out a soft snore when he would do anything official that didn't involve her. It had never failed to delight him. 

 

 He decided to help her, "I would think that I would visit the captain, and be briefed on my duties." He pulled the animal skin over his shoulder closer, shielding himself from the cold breeze. He looked forward to being given new armor, a set much more suited to Fhirdiad's cold weather "But of course, I'm at your mercy. Whatever you wish I shall do."

 

 "I think I should give you a tour of the grounds first so you don't get lost," she admitted, "It might not be the best time to visit Glenn, I gave Ingrid leave to visit him and, well, making up with that man is always a fiasco."

 

 Glenn. Glenn. The name was sweet on his tongue. 

 

 "Glenn is... alive?"

 

 He could not have stopped the words even if he tried. They had spilled out from his mouth like vomit, unstoppable and quick, accompanied by a bout of nausea swirling in his stomach like a sea-side storm. She only looked at him curiously, though her expression had not changed very much, "Yes, why wouldn't he be?"

 

 Of course. There had been no tragedy. There had been no killing, no fire and murder, no iron scented blood filling the air. He shut his eyes, trying to recover from his own mistake, "Apologies. I was thinking of another man named Glenn."

 

 Byleth was much too sharp to not have caught him in his lie, though her fault was being much too polite to point out anything. Letting him get away with his error, she turned away, clutching the scarf around her shoulders and walking back towards the castle doors, "I'm sure you'll learn how this all works as we go along."

 He knew the customs better than she did. He would learn beautifully.

 

 Naturally, he followed her. He almost expected Jeralt to yell the second he stepped inside of the castle, yet it remained quiet. The door guards bowed their head to the couple passing through, and he followed her into the large receiving room.

 

 He had to remind himself to be careful to not step on the back of her frilly, petticoated dress as he followed her like a puppy at her heels. She gestured to the intricate designs of the wallpaper, gaudy paisley and swirls making it difficult to look at. "This is the receiving room, where we... receive guests. As the name implies." There was a fireplace crackling at the head of the room, and portraits of the family lining the walls around the chimney leading up to it's high ceiling. An elegantly painted portrait of Jeralt and Sitri posing together sat above the hearth, while to it's left was one of Byleth as a young girl in a frilly dress, looking very dour-faced in her likeness. On the other side were a series of painted older men and women, past grandfathers and grandmothers. 

 

 "Why is there a blank space next to your portrait?" He pointed out, seeing enough room next to her's for another painting to fit.

 

 She soured, "That's where Sylvain and I's marriage portrait will go."

 

 His inner disposition matched her sour mood entirely. "I see."

 

 Tentatively, she lingered. Her hand rested on the back of a chair, fingers tapping on it's wood as she stared at the blank space. Without looking at him, she went on, almost as if she was speaking only to herself, "Only four days left until the wedding. I wonder if the townsfolk are getting excited."

 

 Judging by the decor and copious amount of flowers that had been making their way through the streets, he could safely say that most of them were. In a Kingdom where life proved difficult, any sort of pretty distraction from their own troubles usually was enough to lift spirits. His own spirits, though, were restless and dark. "Are you excited?"

 

 Byleth was too polite to ever tell him off for his invasiveness, as she was not even the type to keep secrets on purpose. Her private, blank and blunt nature were not for the purpose of confidentiality, but simply a force of habit formed over the years of training herself to keep under control. She had no issue being open with most people, it was a trait of her's that Dimitri always appreciated. 

 

 She looked at him now, studying him, "No, I'm not. As much as I don't want it to happen, I suppose that it's just a part of life," she tapped her chin in thought, "it's a necessity."

 

 Her words allowed him a twisted sort of comfort. The fact that she was not enjoying her engagement was agreeable enough in his mind, though he wished that it was not a situation he had to think about at all. 

 

 He wouldn't acknowledge the talk of marriage. Instead, he respectfully bowed his head to her, "Thank you for the honor of serving you and the people of Faerghus. I hope I will be of some use."

 

 "I'm sure you will," she reassured, "now, let's continue with our tour. We'll see how far we can get before my father realizes what I've done."

 


 

 Dimitri had never had much of an opportunity to know Glenn as he reached his late twenties, seeing as the man died in his mid-teens. He had looked up to him so much as a child, imitating his fighting techniques and vying desperately for his attention. He and Felix would follow the teenager around, and copy his behavior as he interacted with the other knights and servants of the castle. Eventually, they would be snapped at, and would leave dejected, though it was never enough to stop the two boys from trying again the next day. 

 

 The man before him was older, face having matured into a very Fraldarius-esque structure - high cheekbones, sharp eyes. His black hair was pulled into a low, stubby ponytail behind his head, and he scanned Dimitri critically.

 

 "This is what she gives me to work with?" He deadpanned, "You look like you've not worked a day in your life."

 

 Dimitri had been reminding himself to keep in check, to not say anything incredibly odd or to gawk at the ghost before him. Glenn had haunted him for so long, though the man in front of him was alive, breathing and well, critiquing him with dagger words and a burning stare. It was not entirely too different from his ghost, minus the copious amounts of blood. 

 

 The statement threw him off guard, though, and he couldn't stop the frown that graced his lips. Reminding himself to keep controlled, he cleared his throat carefully, "I have worked nearly every day of my life."

 

 "Byleth told me that you used your crest all throughout the battle tournament yesterday," he leaned back in his chair, resting his fingers in his cheek as he leaned on his hand in a nonchalant manner - though sitting and lower than Dimitri, he seemed so much more in control in that moment, "While crests are useful and prized in our country, I believe that a reliance on one can stump your growth."

 

 Dimitri had not even realized that he was using it so much. It was second nature to him, something he only noticed when he truly didn't want it to come up. "It was not evident to me that I had been doing such a thing," he explained, "I find that oftentimes I cannot help it."

 

 "Then start helping it," he spat, "I can't have the princess's retainer running around with unbridled strength."

 

 Despite the critique, Dimitri was grateful that Glenn had remained the same. He was wise, in his own way, and underneath the hissing exterior, he truly cared for the good of the Kingdom. He could not imagine a better captain of the knights. Accepting the evaluation and command, Dimitri nodded to him respectfully, "I'll control it from now on."

 

 He only made a grumble-like noise of acknowledgement in return. Leaning forward, he picked up his quill and tapped it on the side of his inkwell before writing on the parchment before him, "You'll go to our armory and get fitted, you have a choice between light armor and heavy. You and Ingrid will trade shifts, you'll most likely get the night shift. Which means standing outside of the princess's door all night, so get used to staying awake. If I find you asleep," he leveled him with a glare, "you're being demoted to guarding the city trash pile and fighting possums and raccoons all night. Understand?"

 

 He understood. Trying to drink in his words, Dimitri only sent him a nod. 

 

 Glenn sprinkled sand over the parchment and returned his quill to it's well, then handed him the paper, "Take this to the armory. Try not to break anything, won't you?"

 

 He would attempt it, though no promises could be made. 

 

 Understanding the signal to leave, Dimitri turned around to make for the exit. Before he could reach the door, it burst open, hitting him square in the forehead. The sudden intruder took no notice to the human being he had just assaulted, and instead chose to yell loudly and point at the captain sitting behind the desk, "Glenn! Your woman just threatened to cut off my manhood! You need to control that harpy!"

 

 "Good." He challenged, not caring that his new knight had been struck by the side of his door, "Maybe the harpy would actually do it, and you'd calm down. I heard dogs become complacent once neutered."

 

 Holding his forehead and trying to ignore the sudden pulsing headache, Dimitri watched as Sylvain gaped. His mouth opened wide like a fish. The sheer amount of terror on his face was not at all equal to the challenge Glenn had proposed. "Don't even joke about such a thing!"

 

 Perhaps he could sneak past him, and he wouldn't notice. Dimitri put his back to the open door, and shuffled out of the room. As he took a step into the hallway, Glenn called out to him, "Blaiddyd, you start tonight at 10:30. Don't be late."

 

 He resisted the urge to flinch. "Yes sir."

 

 Sylvain turned to look at the man who had snuck around him, now in better spirits as the subject was distracted from his neutering. His eyes lit up in recognition, "Sad man! How're you doing?"

 

 "Fine," he grimaced shortly.

 

 "You're not still sad, are you?"

 

 Irritation sparked, "You're not still drunk, are you?"

 

 "Not even a little bit," Sylvain, the shield of the King, deflected the insult like an arrow to heavy armor, "I'm saving all my alcohol for the wedding."

 

 Dimitri soured even further, "You're going to get drunk at your own wedding?"

 

 "Not particularly, but any sort of way that I can ruin the occasion is welcome."

 

 Of course he would. Of course Sylvain would want to sabotage the one thing in his life he'd been trying to avoid. It wasn't marriage in itself, it wasn't Byleth, but the simple act of an arranged marriage for the purpose of producing more crested children, putting them into the same situation he'd been all of his life. Dimitri only felt a bit sad for him, seeing his friend in such a situation. "I'm sorry."

 

 It was all he could offer. Sylvain smiled, his cheek dimpling as he stared at the man in front of him. It was half sardonic, half appreciative, a look only Sylvain would be able to pull off. He then looked down at his feet and tousled his hair, "Thanks, man. Byleth told me that you were her new retainer, I hope it goes well."

 

 A moment of peace, of companionship between two men who were once best friends, now strangers. "Thank you, I do as well."

 

 Breaking the moment, Glenn groaned, "Stop talking in my doorway and leave already!" In a very Fraldarius fashion, he picked up his quill, and vaulted it across the room at the intruders. In a moment's notice, Dimitri was down the hall, escaping from the chaos now ensuing behind him. As he retreated, listening to Sylvain complain loudly, he could only wonder about Rodrigue, and all the other people he had yet to encounter. Rodrigue, who gave his life for him, who was like a father when he had none. If he was still alive in this reality, he had no clue. 

 

 He passed by portraits of the ancestors of the Eisner family, slowing in his walk down the hall so he could glance at each one. As he neared the final portrait, he stopped in his tracks.

 

 Nemesis stared through him.

 

 He watched the painting almost as if he expected it to move and attack him. Under the likeness of the old man's white hair and grizzled cheeks was a golden plaque that read 'Nemesis, Founder and Father of The Holy Kingdom of Faerghus.' His eyes were dark, heavy-set, and followed Dimitri wherever he went. He took in the persona of the man, his gut churning like butter.

 

 "This is wrong," he whispered to the painting on the wall, "you're not supposed to be here." Dimitri felt like a crazy person, whispering to a picture, though he doubted that was ever truly, completely free from his madness. Loog was nowhere to be found, no portrait of the true founder, and instead a villain sat in his place, an imitator. "What world am I living in?" He asked, "In what world are you exalted as a true king?"

 

 In this world, he thought. In this world where nothing was correct. 

 

 Sighing, he turned away, continuing to his duties, and attempting to forget what he saw. 

 


 

 Dimitri was late to dinner, which was not a common thing for the young man to be. His timeliness and punctuality was one of his best, most well-respected traits. A trait that Lambert had drilled into his son's head personally.

 

 He grimaced, watching the shadows fall on the world outside of the window near his table. It was getting later, and later, and there was no sign of his son. Next to him, Dedue wrote on paper with a chalk pencil, big scrawling words listing out the groceries he would be gathering tomorrow. Lambert rested his cheek in his palm, watching Dedue write. 

 

 "You're too good for us."

 

 Dedue furrowed his brows, pencil stopping in place, "What do you mean?"

 

 "Dimitri goes off and joins the knights, leaving us behind, and I'm just a whimsical old man. You're too good to be running around with the likes of the Blaiddyds."

 

 While Lambert could have a playful steak about him, he was not whimsical in the least. Dedue stared at the man beside him, who had turned his glare back to the window, "I thought you... supported him?"

 

 "I do," he defended softly, "I'm happy for him. I just..." he stopped, now grimacing, "nevermind."

 

 Lambert had always been private, in the same way that Dimitri had. It never bothered Dedue, who preferred his companions to not pour out every emotion onto him, like dumping a bucket of cold water over his head. He was not the best at handling such things, and appreciated the reclusive nature of the Blaiddyd men. He could not agree, though, with Lambert's thoughts. "I am not too good for either of you."

 

 "He's late."

 

 "I believe he's busy," Dedue returned to his list, slowly drawing out the E in 'eggs', "I'm not bothered by it."

 

 "Well, I am." Lambert grumbled under his breath. He had nothing to entertain himself besides his own complaining and hurt thought processes. It was a dangerous game he was playing, the cloud over his head becoming darker and darker by the minute. "What are you planning to do with yourself, Dedue? He's staying here, and of course I'm staying as well, as much as I despise it."

 

 "I'll stay," he grunted, "I'm able to continue sending money back to my family."

 

 "Are you that loyal to us?"

 

 "Dimitri is my friend." His response answered nothing, and everything at once. Lambert's eyes crinkled with a smile as he looked at the man next to him, appreciating the friend that he was to his son, despite the choices he made in life. He had several friends of that nature at one time too, though his travels had entirely alienated him from anyone he'd ever known. He was shocked that he had not yet run into anyone he knew in Fhirdiad yet, besides Sitri.

 

 The inn door opened, and a gust of cold air blew in from the night. At the complaints from the owner behind the bar, Dimitri quickly shut the door behind him and fixed his tousled hair. He spotted his father, who sent him a respectful, reserved wave, and made his way to the table. 

 

 "I apologize for being late," he gave a polite bow, then took a seat, "getting my armor took longer than I thought."

 

 Lambert eyed his son's get-up, which was black and silver and fitted him like a glove. A blue cape was swung over his shoulders, the colors of Faerghus suiting him. "It's because you're so tall," he couldn't help but feel a small swell of pride at the sight of his son, "I was difficult to fit for armor as well."

 

 "I'm not that tall, Dedue is much larger than I am." Dimitri defended, then turned his attention to the aforementioned man, "How was your day, my friend?"

 

 "Fine," he glanced up from his list, "We trained for the wedding festivities more."

 

 Dimitri hummed, lacing his black gloved fingers together and putting his hands on the table, "Did Lambert happen to divulge anything of interest? Perhaps something about the queen?"

 

 Lambert groaned. Dedue remained unfazed, "Apologies, he did not."

 

 "Of course not."

 

 His father leveled him with an authoritative stare, "I am not obliged to tell you every detail of my life."

 

 "No..." Dimitri said lightly, "but I will continue to remain suspicious."

 

 "Then carry on, my boy. While you soak in your suspicions, I'm going to get a drink." He pushed his chair back from the table, and stood up, "If you know what's good for you then you'd drink too."

 

 "I have work later."

 

 "Oh, look at you, the man with a real job. I'm insanely jealous." 

 

 With his pleasant sarcasm lingering in the air, Lambert left to get a drink. Dimitri and Dedue locked eyes. An understanding silence passed between the two of them, before Dedue finally spoke up, his voice low, "He's hurt. He thinks you've left him." 

 

 Perceptive. A quiet man tended to read the others around him like a book, and Dedue was a good reader in this reality. Dimitri nodded in acknowledgement, and leaned forward, "Do you think I've left you?"

 

 "I am not so effected by this as him," he shook his head, "I was even considering applying for a guard position myself."

 

 "I would like that."

 

 "Lambert would never do anything of the sort, though."

 

 "I know," he glanced over his shoulder at his father, "but I need to do this. I'm tired of running from my father's past. I need to make my own future."

 

 "I understand," Dedue leaned back and sighed, a deep heave that raised and lowered his shoulders. He closed his eyes in thought, "And he will too, in time."

 

 "I certainly hope so."

 

 Lambert returned to the table, holding a frothing mug of beer. He sat down, and looked at the boys before him with a half smile, "Passing secrets, are we?"

 

 "No," Dimitri had retreated into his thoughts, cape falling over his shoulders and his chin resting on his knuckles. He stared at the wood patterns in the table intently, "Just talking about our lives, how they're changing."

 

 "Change isn't always good."

 

 "No... I suppose not. But one must make do," he looked at Lambert now, "In four days, the princess's life will change as well."

 

 Lambert raised his mug, "Four days left to make her heart your own."

 

 "That's never going to happen."

 

 Dedue, not looking up from his list, echoed Lambert's thought, "Four days left."

 

 "Four days left." Lambert repeated, "Your mother fell in love with me within two hours of knowing me."

 

 "That's the worst lie you've ever told."

 

 "How would you know?" He took a sip from his beer, "Better work hard, Dima."

Chapter Text

 Jeralt's response to seeing Dimitri standing in a dark hallway outside of his daughter's room was far less outrageous than the newly appointed knight could've ever guessed.

 

 "Damn that girl," were the only words that escaped from the king's mouth. It was a relief to not be held at sword point. 

 

 Dimitri was tense, though he hoped it was well hidden. The last thing he wished for was to be on Jeralt's bad side, and openly showing his defensive manner to him would've surely soured the king's view of him. The hallway was lit with a dim golden glow by the wall torches, yet Dimitri could catch the dark circles under the king's eyes, the lines around his mouth and on his forehead. He looked so much older than before. He was stressed, and it was written on his face.

 

 "She has done me a great service." Dimitri defended softly, his voice almost a whisper so as to not wake up the sleeping princess behind the door at his back.

 

 Jeralt had no such convictions, his tone the same level as always. "So they keep telling me. She's done me a great deal of stress. Do you have kids, Lance Snapper?"

 

 He had kids at one point, though the years of living as a young man once again had softened his memories. He would never forget his children, and yearned desperately to see them once more, yet he knew that in another reality they were most likely living their lives, having let go of him with content and peace, as he was an old man and it was his time to leave their world. So engrossed in the events of his life now, he felt himself as a single, young man, with no family besides his father and friend. Thinking of this, he answered him nearly truthfully, "No sir."

 

 "Then you wouldn't understand," a tired grunt, "It bothers me that a man who might be out for blood is being entrusted with my daughter's life."

 

 Perhaps he should've chosen to hold his sardonic reply back, yet it slipped out from his tongue before he could think on it's consequences, "I know of no such man."

 

 "Sure," Jeralt's expression soured even further. Done with the conversation, he stepped past Dimitri and continued on his late-night stroll down the castle hallway, "If you hurt her, I'll feed you to the vultures."

 

 He watched the king's back, "I don't doubt it."

 

 The only response he earned was a grumble under his breath. Dimitri kept his eyes on him, gazing at the slumped shoulders and the messy hair on his head. It was around 1 a.m. and the king was wandering the castle hallways like a ghost. He understood the urge, though, having done much of that himself in his own day.

 

 Knocking lightly against Jeralt's hip was a familiar weapon, one Dimitri felt that he had not seen in a very long time. He glued his eyes to the sword of the creator, dangerous and gleaming in the golden candle light. Before Jeralt could be out of earshot, he called out, "Why are you carrying that?"

 

 Jeralt stopped, half turning his body to the knight and sending him a look of confusion, "What?"

 

 "That sword."

 

 He looked down at the artifact, "Why wouldn't I carry it?" He looked at him as if he'd been living under a rock, and Dimitri supposed that he had. 

 

 "Why aren't you carrying Areadbhar?"

 

 "What now?" He scrunched up his face in confusion, then sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose, "Look, kid, I don't know what your game is, but I'm too tired to play right now."

 

 "Areadbhar, the lance. The queen used it earlier-"

 

 "She probably just picked up a random lance from our weapon room," he shook his head, "you're mistaking it for something else. Now, if you'll excuse me." He turned around, and continued down his path. Giving up, Dimitri returned to his tense staring at the wall in front of him.

 

 Areadbhar was not known about, apparently. He couldn't understand how the king himself wouldn't know the weapon from some random lance found in the armory. It was baffling, truly, and slightly disrespectful that his prized family lance would be treated as a common stick. 

 

 He thought more on the sword at his hip. Why wouldn't he carry the sword of the creator? Possibly because it was in a dusty tomb for years, guarded by the church of Seiros. It was confusing, entirely, to think of the sword being passed down from monarch to monarch. Yet he supposed that since Nemesis was credited with the founding of Faerghus, his own sword would be the one to last through the lineages. So, Byleth had not earned it in a battle in the holy tomb. He envied how peaceful her school days must've been. 

 

 The wall in front of him flickered with his shadow. Staying up late had never been difficult for him, having been cursed with insomnia for so long. In his madness, he had even trained himself to stay awake all night in an attempt to avoid nightmares, and the habit was entirely too easy for him now. Oftentimes, Lambert would have to remind him to sleep, for he would fall on his face in exhaustion at some point in their travels. It was a job that suited him well, guarding Byleth's door at night.

 

 Fortunately, the night passed by uneventfully, with no assassination attempts and no assaults. Dimitri was relieved of his duties by Glenn himself around sunrise, who happened upon him still awake. Dimitri, being quite the expert at reading the grumpy Fraldarius men, could catch the look of surprise passing over Glenn's face. He had caught him awake, alert, and still protecting the princess. There would be no trash dump duty for him. 

 

 "You're free to go," he snapped, standing near the door, "Go home, I've got to speak to Byleth."

 

 Nosily, he wondered what he could possibly speak to her about. Yet, knowing it wasn't his place, he merely nodded in agreement and took his leave. Behind him, Glenn knocked on the door, and he could hear Byleth call for him to come in shortly afterwards. 

 

 Heading back to his inn, he thought of what home he was commanded to return to. There were rooms available to rent that would be more comfortable than an inn, and he reminded himself to ask Ashe later that day if he knew of any in his price range. Yet, before carrying out normal-human duties, he would need to get several hours of sleep to be able to function in the way he needed, and to return to work later that night. 

 

 It was happening soon, he reminded himself as he walked through the streets. Saturday was the wedding, and his life would finally settle down. He would watch Byleth marry, and he would protect her, striving for her happiness and for the good of her people. Saturday was the day of his reckoning, he supposed, the day he would imprison himself in his own heart break. 

 


 

 "The royal tailor would like a word."

 

 Byleth sat at her vanity, brush in her hand and rubberband in the other, though she froze upon hearing Glenn's words. Putting her tools down, she now turned on the small stool to face him head on, "Why're you the one telling me?"

 

 Glenn shifted in place, "I was making sure you weren't dead."

 

 "And what if I was?"

 

 "Your parents would probably have another baby, and th-"

 

 "Did my father talk to you about Dimitri?"

 

 "Yes."

 

 Her blank expression fell into one of sourness and annoyance. She huffed, "He's too paranoid."

 

 Glenn would not be the millionth one to remind her that her father only cared for her. He held very little opinion on the matter, and Byleth knew that she could trust that he would stay out of it. He was a perfect neutral, slightly annoyed party. It was a wonderful quality of his. "Mercedes caught me on the way. After..." he chewed on his words, before spitting them out in the politest way he knew, "informing me, I suppose, of the need to do my daily prayers, she finally told me that the tailor was looking for you."

 

 Byleth squinted. She was suspicious, and entirely too aware of the scheming nature Mercedes harbored under her sweet, gentle mask. There had to be something important brewing if Mercedes was involved in her schedule that day. Looking at herself in the mirror and noting the rat's nest on the unbrushed side of her head, she decided that this would be the perfect day to show up to every event looking like an entire mess. It was her own form of protest to whatever was planned for her. 

 

 "I'll be there in a minute." She informed Glenn, who only grunted in acknowledgement and opened the door to leave before faltering in his tracks.

 

 "My father arrived this morning," he stated.

 

 Her heart softened. Rodrigue, he had finally gotten a minute away from his duties to come see her. Appreciative, she mustered a smile and sent it the captain's way, "Thank you, that makes me happy."

 

 "Whatever." Glenn always tended to turn sour at the mention of his father, though Byleth could never figure out why. He turned away, and shut the door behind him. Byleth listened to his footsteps disappear down the hallway before standing up to move towards her large dresser in the corner of the room. She would not invite any maids in to help her lace up any corsets, not today. She would be comfortable in the dirty shirt that she stole from her father, and the riding trousers and boots. As she dressed in her frumpy clothes, she could only enjoy the girl looking back at her in the mirror.

 

 She was too entirely boyish and plain, she thought, it would be nice to see the tailor gawk at her, and pronounce her unworkable. Then, perhaps, Margrave Gautier would realize that she was not good enough to marry his son, and throw off the entire wedding. As unrealistic as it was, she reveled in the fantasy.

 

 Sighing now, she left her room, on her way to meet whatever fate the tailor had in store for her. 

 

 The fate being her wedding dress fitting. She had not known that it would be that particular day, and was not expecting the monstrosity that awaited her in the royal tailor's gallery.

 

 After walking across the castle grounds to the tailor's shop, and being pulled into a dressing room with no time to even greet Rodrigue and the others who waited to see her, she could not even bare to look at herself as Mercedes and Annette stuffed her into the gown. It truly amazed her how the dress had taken up an entire wall when hanging from it's heavy-duty steel plated hanger, and how strong her friends truly were as they manhandled her into fitting into it's nonsensical design.

 

 "Here we go," Mercedes grunted, pulling the lacing on her corset one last time, then tying the two ends together, "Now, I don't know if we can even find your feet to put on your shoes..."

 

 "Don't worry about it." Byleth sighed.

 

 "We'll be waiting out here," Annette and Mercedes made their way to the large theater curtain that separated the dressing room from the presentation stage, "Try to not trip over your train."

 

 She glanced over her shoulder at the heavy train of fabric that followed her from behind. There could be no promises made there. The two girls disappeared from behind the curtain, and Byleth listened to the hushed whispers of her friends and family waiting to see the monstrosity. She supposed that this moment would be special for many girls, yet she just felt annoyed.

 

 Stepping forward and parting the curtains, she attempted to ignore the gasps of surprise from the audience. "This is... really not my style."

 

 The tailor's glare could've killed a man, "Nonsense! This dress is all the rage in Adrestia!"

 

 But they were not in Adrestia, they were in Faerghus. They were in back-country, cold, harsh, Faerghus. Fashion was not a necessity in their country, nor were gigantic frills. 

 

 Byleth stood on a low stage, growing weary under the large iron hoopskirt at her waist, and the even larger amount of white frills and feathers that decorated the outside of her cage. Under her arms was the tightest corset she'd ever worn. Byleth had become quite accustomed to the tightness of a corset, finding it rather easy to move in - and it helped her back as well. Yet, this corset had been tied with the intent to cinch in her waist as far as it could possibly go, and she was rather uncomfortable. 

 

 Stiffly, she moved her hand to her neck to pull at the large white bow that was tied around her windpipe, "I feel..."

 

 The audience of her friends and family leaned forward in anticipation. 

 

 "Like a wrapped present. It's terrible."

 

 She knew it was terrible. She could entirely, absolutely tell that it was terrible, without even having to see much of herself in the mirror. In a row of seats in front of the stage, she watched the audience before her react to the sight of her wedding dress.

 

 Jeralt's cheeks were red, and he was nearly coughing while trying to hold back his laugh. Sitri was more polite, her hands folded in her lap as she stared at her daughter with a cocked head, and a hardly disguised look of curiosity on her face. Next to her, Margrave Gautier and Rodrigue tried desperately to conceal their horror, and replace it with a mask of politeness as they studied her. Annette and Mercedes and Felix, on the other hand, whispered among themselves, giggling as if they were playing a prank on the princess with the comically oversized gown.

 

 "You can stop," she addressed her friends, only making Felix smirk and Annette cough to cover up her laugh, "I know it's terrible."

 

 The tailor looked hurt, taken aback by her blunt tone, "This is in fashion right now," he challenged, "all the important ladies are wearing things like this!"

 

 Things that dug into their armpits and made her feel quite sweaty. Yes, she could imagine some noble ladies wearing such a thing. Yet, it was entirely not her style, and entirely laughable. The Margrave cleared his throat, "It is what I had asked for..." Yet, not what he had imagined. 

 

 Byleth resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Of course she wouldn't have even been given the honor of picking out her own wedding dress, the job going to the father of the groom. It was irritating, every bit of it. Jeralt's fake cough dissolved into an expression of pity as he stared at his miserable daughter on the stage. Sitri patted his arm, an affectionate gesture of comfort and solidarity. 

 

 "Can we not..." she tried to find a polite way to speak her mind, "possibly mend together a more simple gown?"

 

 The tailor's jaw grew stiff as he stared at her, "This gown took me an entire month to make, by hand. Have you ever made anything fashionable by hand?" He eyed the rat's nest that was her hair, and her unwashed face, obviously answering his own question in his mind before she could retort. 

 

 Sitri had the same expression as her daughter, one of hesitance. Byleth knew that it would be terrible to throw away the tailor's hard work - even though he knew about her marriage far longer than she even had. With it being Thursday, and the wedding Saturday, making an entirely new gown fit for a princess would be difficult. Desperate, Sitri spoke up, "Shouldn't we have done the fitting much earlier, anyway? What if something had been wrong with the sizing of the dress, would you have been able to fix it in time?"

 

 The tailor lifted his chin arrogantly, "There's never anything wrong with my gowns."

 

 As Sitri was currently wearing one of his gowns - a much more subtle and classier one, albeit - she quieted down, and simply nodded. Jeralt snorted and wrapped his arm over her shoulder, still eyeing his daughter with amusement.

 

 It was fine, Byleth supposed, why should she even care? She didn't want this marriage in the first place, so as a result the dress didn't quite matter either. "I'll wear it," she sighed, "Thank you for your hard work."

 

 He made a humph of satisfaction and turned away, "I'll write up the bill for you."

 

 The bill. So much money put into a wedding she, nor Sylvain, even cared for. It was maddening. 

 

 "I think you look beautiful," Rodrigue offered.

 

 Felix snorted, "Don't lie, old man, it doesn't suit you."

 

 "I'm not lying!" He gestured to Byleth, "It... really does look nice..."

 

 "You're covering your laugh."

 

 "I just have a cough."

 

 It seemed as if they all had been suffering from a cough that day, with how much her dress tickled their throats. Sighing, she turned around, the hoop skirt around her brushing against a nearby vase and knocking it over. The tailor rushed to grab the vase and scoop up the plant, as Byleth only grimaced, "I'm sorry, I'll just, uh... go take this off. Annette, Mercedes?" She looked at the girls, "Would you help?"

 

 Always quick to respond to a call for help, both women left their seats and rushed up the stage to follow Byleth back to the dressing room. Annette pulled the large curtains closed, blocking out the pitying looks from her friends and family, while Mercedes began working on untying the laces.

 

 "Your hair is a mess." She informed.

 

 "I know."

 

 Annette sighed and pulled the front of her bodice as it slowly loosened from Mercedes handiwork, "I'm sorry."

 

 "Don't be."

 

 Mercedes tugged at another lace sharply, "It'll be okay. Perhaps I can..." she lowered her voice so the tailor wouldn't hear, "cut off some of these layers. And these sleeves..." she grimaced, pushing down the puffiness on her shoulder, "they can go as well."

 

 "I'm thinking of keeping it." Byleth mused, studying herself in the mirror, "It's a day I'm going to hate anyway, it would be a shame to wear a dress that I actually like."

 

 "I think it would make you feel better if you liked how you looked." Mercedes loosened up the last lace, and pulled apart the two sides of the corset, revealing Byleth's back. It was smooth, free from scars, a princess's skin. "It might make the day just a slightly bit brighter."

 

 "I still put on my dress sometimes," Annette mused, "it's nice to have it around, at least."

 

 "You married someone you love."

 

 "That doesn't matter. The dress is so much fun!"

 

 Annette's dress was fun, her entire wedding was an absolute blast. While Byleth had never been the type to muse over what her wedding might be like, in the rare times she did she always imagined it small, with friends and family who loved and wished the best for her. Annette and Felix's wedding had been so perfect, and Byleth wished that if she had the choice, it would be something similar. 

 

 "I'll just wear this," she shook her head, "I might take you up on alterations later, Mercie."

 

 "Alrighty." The priestess was soft spoken, and sweet as she tugged the dress down just enough for Byleth to step out. She nearly stumbled as she did so, her foot becoming caught in the mass of frills on the floor. Annette gasped and leaned forward, catching her wrist, just as Mercedes grasped onto her waist. The debacle ended in laughter between the three friends, a moment of peace before the storm in the upcoming weekend.

 

 "We should go out tonight!" Annette suggested, eyes wide with life, "A bachelorette party!" 

 

 Annette's own personal party had been stylized perfectly for her. Her mother and uncle had insisted that she behave herself and not go entirely wild, as she was becoming wife to one of the most esteemed noble households in Faerghus. Annette, thinking herself incredibly wild, spent the night with her friends, creating a class syllabus and reading textbooks by the fire and drinking hot chocolate. Perhaps her chocolate had a spike of rum in it, nobody besides Annette would ever know, and she frequently looked back on the event with excitement as a very wild, very boisterous night. 

 

 Mercedes had found it in herself to enjoy Annette's party, of course, in support of her best friend. Yet, her views of what a bachelorette party were happened to differ entirely too much from Annette's. She was not married, and not planning to be so, and Ingrid had not even set a date for her own wedding yet. Byleth's wedding was the perfect occasion to fulfill her master plan. With an innocent smile, she hummed in thought, helping Byleth gather up her boyish shirt and riding pants to get redressed, "Oh yes, I agree with you Annie. I know just the way to spend it."

 

 "I don't wish to celebrate." Byleth's answer was flat, tired. She pulled her pants up and stuffed her shirt into the waist, "It's not something I'm exactly happy about."

 

 "Oh, but, you only get a bachelorette party once!"

 

 "I don't want one in the first place."

 

 There was a certain gift that the two women had when their forces were combined. Annette and Mercedes proved a powerful, persuasive entity. They stood beside each other, watching the princess fit the simple circlet back onto her head and glare at herself in the mirror. Nearly in unison, both women stared at her with large, pleading eyes, and clasped hands. 

 

 "Please." Mercedes begged.

 

 "Please." Annette echoed.

 

 "You need this."

 

 "You need a night of fun and relaxation."

 

 "You need to unwind."

 

 "You need to see the brighter side of things."

 

 "You need eat chocolate bon bons and get your feet rubbed!"

 

 Byleth was taken aback, her face scrunched in horror, "I don't want my feet touched! And I don't like chocolate!"

 

 Annette gasped dramatically, "You don't like fun? Is that what you're saying, Byleth? You hate fun?"

 

 The princess shifted uncomfortably in place, twirling a lock of dark hair on her index finger, "I don't... I don't hate fun..."

 

 She was entirely too oblivious, entirely too out of touch with human emotion to realize the manipulation she was under. Mercedes almost felt bad for the tactics she and Annette employed with their friend, who had never been able to realize when she was being teased. Oftentimes, it worked in her favor, and other times, she simply felt guilty for exploiting the princess's lack of humor. Byleth was good at catching a villain when she saw one, yet jokes and dramaticism were an entirely different matter. 

 

 Yet, she was too excited for her idea of a bachelorette party to give up out of guilt. Clapping her hands, she lit up and turned towards the exit, "Oh yes, I'll go inform Ingrid. And we'll have tons of fun tonight!"

 

 "You are a devil, Mercie."

 

 "I am a saint, you'll see." With anticipation looming over the room like a rain cloud, Mercedes smiled sweetly, "I'll get everything together, be ready by 6:30."

 

 "I don't want to get crazy," Byleth warned, "Don't do anything rash."

 

 "You know I wouldn't."

 


 

 Dimitri had woken up around 2:30 p.m. to the sound of a banging fist on his door. He shot up, hair sticking up from his position on the pillow, and immediately jumped from his bed. The pounding continued as he straightened his night shirt and flattened his hair, then approached the door. "I'm coming, stop knocking." It was giving him quite the headache. 

 

 He opened it to reveal Mercedes. Surprised, he froze in place, and stared down at the gentle woman in front of him. Her hair was cut short, yet her face held the same comforting smile that it always did. He resisted the urge to scoop her up into his arms and drink in the fact that she was alive and standing before him. Holding himself back, he stuttered, "M-May I help you?"

 

 "Oh yes," she answered softly, her voice dripping with plans and dark intentions, "I've heard that you're Byleth's new retainer."

 

 He could only wonder where she would hear such a thing. His new duties had only begun yesterday, yet even the innkeeper had been caught gossiping about it. Lambert had reported to him that he had several citizens had approached him and asked for him to ask his son to give flowers and letters to the princess. News spread quickly, like a wildfire, from mouth to mouth it went. He raised his brows at her, "Where did you hear that from?"

 

 "The florist," she mused, "She heard it from the gate guard, who heard it from Annette, who had heard it from Felix, Lord Fraldarius, I mean, and he had heard it from Sylvain Gautier, who had heard it from Ingrid, the other retainer, who had heard it from Glenn, who had heard it from queen Sitri, who... of course, heard it from Byleth. I asked Glenn where you were staying, and he asked Felix, who asked Annette, who asked Sylvain, who asked Sitri, who asked Byleth, who asked the gate guard, who aske-"

 

 "That's enough, thank you."

 

 "Oh? Well, if you insist," she smoothed out her priestess dress and lifted her chin to look Dimitri in the eye, "I tracked you down because I wanted to ask for your assistance."

 

 He wondered what she could possibly want. He had not yet to begin his duties until the sun fell and Ingrid turned in for the day. It was hours until he was needed, and he had been planning to spend the day with Dedue and his father, who had been wandering around the city aimlessly. This seemed to be the longest week of his life, only having been in Fhirdiad for five days so far, yet it felt like an eternity with an event happening every day since his arrival.

 

 Yet, he was not one to refuse a request from Mercedes. Nodding, he signaled for her to continue on.

 

 She nodded, "I would like to throw Byleth a bachelorette party. We're going to hike through the woods, and I want a ghost to chase us."

 

 His heart fell. Whether it was from the fact that he was being invited to celebrate the love of his life's marriage to another man, or the fact that her bachelorette party would be a ghost filled hike. Both prospects sounded entirely terrible, and he couldn't believe the absolute seriousness that Mercedes radiated as she informed him of her idea.

 

 "Y-You've got to be kidding me," he was taken aback, "you can't give her a haunting for her wedding!"

 

 "I think it'll be quite heart racing," she clenched her fists and squared her shoulders, staring past his waist as she excited herself with her thoughts, "We can just be walking along in the dark, minding our own business, and then you, in a white sheet, appear behind us, making an ungodly moaning sound!" She held her chest, eyes widening, "We all scream, and run away! Annette trips, and you drag her into the darkness! Terrified, we retreat, and Annette appears to us next, now a ghost as well! You've killed her, and she's going to haunt us for running away and not helping her!"

 

 Absolute nonsense. Incredulous, he interrupted her fantasy, "What would actually happen is that Annette would trip, and Byleth and Ingrid would kill me, and then the entire night would be a disaster, and I would be dead."

 

 "That is not for certain!"

 

 He groaned, rubbing his tired eyes, "Don't say that. Byleth deserves a better party."

 

 Mercedes thought to herself. As she did so, she stepped past Dimitri and into his room, trespassing into his rented area, and her eyes taking in the strewn about clothes and armor that lay all over the floor. He could only imagine the pity passing through her mind as she looked at the mess before her. She took a seat on the bed, and sent him a smile as she shut the door behind her. "She doesn't even want a party, so why not give her something exciting enough to distract her from all of this?"

 

 She had a point, yet he still had no desire to chase the girls through the woods wearing white sheets. He decided to challenge her, "Why not give her something that would provide comfort? She may need it in this time."

 

 She smiled, a subtle expression covered by her hand, "You've only known her for five days, yet you say what's best for her?"

 

 "You've only known me for three minutes, yet you're asking me to chase you and your friends through the woods?" 

 

 "I don't know what else to give her," grieved, Mercedes pulling at her fingers anxiously, "When she isn't busy, she just stands in the training room all day, hacking away at the dummies and muttering to herself. She hates this arrangement. I just want to give her a night of distraction."

 

 He knew the feeling. He didn't know what Byleth had been doing in free time, yet he could imagine her - and Sylvain's - reaction to such an event. It hurt him to imagine her in pain, having to go through such a life changing course that neither of them had chosen for themselves. "I care for her," he admitted, earning a look of surprise from the priestess, "I do. I haven't known her for long, yet I care for her happiness."

 

 Mercedes was silent, staring up at him from her place on the bed. She had stopped her fidgeting, and was now still as they locked eyes. Softly, her lips parted, "I believe you. I don't know your story, but I can see that you're sincere."

 

 He wouldn't tell her his story. He didn't want to run her off, to have her go to Byleth and admit everything she heard and ruin his chances at even a sliver of contentment. This was the only way he could possibly see to secure her happiness - to watch from behind and make sure that she was safe, that she was taken care of, that she could find enjoyment in life. He would do anything, even assist in throwing her a bachelorette party for her marriage to another man. "If you want my suggestion, perhaps just a simple camping trip with her closest friends? You can tell ghost stories, but nothing extreme. And pack plenty of meat and crackers. You won't even need my help."

 

 "I... suppose..." she seemed to struggle with letting go of her wild ghost chase idea, though she eventually sighed, her shoulders sagging, "You're right. She would enjoy that so much more. We can even go fishing."

 

 "Fishing at night may yield interesting species that she's never caught before." He only knew such a thing from being married to her for so long, and spending weekend trips fishing waist deep in cold waters simply to catch a creature that she'd never seen. He would do it all again if only to see that kind of happiness bloom on her face. 

 

 "You're right," Mercedes stood from his bed, putting her hands together in front of her, "I apologize for barging into your room and bothering you."

 

 "It's quite all right," he opened the door to let her out, "I'm happy to help."

 

 "You're sweet," she passed by him, smiling, "what's your name?"

 

 "Dimitri."

 

 "Mercedes." She held a hand out to him, which he took and squeezed in a gentle way. "You look familiar, are you related to Rufus?"

 

 Yes, and no. It was odd, the mysterious disappearance of his uncle Rufus from his current life. He had not approached the subject so as to not rise suspicion in his father, yet he wondered where the wild old man had gone off to in this reality. The fact that the name was exiting from Mercedes mouth was enough to stun him. "It... depends on what Rufus you're speaking of."

 

 A vague answer. She dropped the subject, waving her hand in dismissal, "Oh, nevermind then. You just look like this fellow that wanders around town often."

 

 "Wanders?"

 

 "Drunkenly, yes. Poor fellow," she sighed, putting a hand to her chest, "I've tried to set him on the right track, yet he refuses any help. He rambles incessantly about his brother and nephew."

 

 The information was dissolving into his mind like sugar in rain. He reminded himself to breath, to act normal and not abandon Mercedes where she stood in order to find his uncle. Controlling himself, he stiffly asked, "Where would I find him?"

 

 "I'm sorry, I've no idea." She admitted, "I haven't seen him for quite a while. I know he used to hang around the Eastern bridge, yet he seems to have disappeared." She half turned to take her leave, "I should let you get back to your day."

 

 In a thoughtful daze, his plans and motivations formed endlessly in the back of his mind. He mumbled a distracted goodbye to her, "Yes, stay safe, Mercie." He barely caught the look of confusion crossing over her face at hearing a stranger mumble her nickname, though she brushed it off and took her leave down the hallway, walking to the stairs leading to the main area of the inn. 

 

 Stiffly, he stepped back into his room, and shut the door. Brother and nephew. Rufus had apparently spoken of them so much that it was important enough to mention for Mercedes to even mention. He took a seat on his bed, feeling the mattress squeak under his weight, and brooded over the possibilities. 

 

 Brother and nephew, he spoke of his brother and nephew. What it meant, he had no clue. He could only think, and think, until he put his armor on, and hurriedly made his way to the street below. 

 

 The Eastern bridge waited, Rufus waited, and Dimitri would find the answers he sought. 

 


 

 Sitri watched the crowd of girls laugh among themselves as they made their way through the courtyard and to the castle gates. Annette held a lantern, while Ingrid kept an eye on her lance, ever watchful for any possible assailant. Byleth and Mercedes swung their clasped hands high between them as they walked, looking like children in their joy. Sitri stretched more over the railing of her balcony, and found that she couldn't hold back her smile. 

 

 "They're so sweet," she informed Jeralt, who leaned against the frame of the balcony behind her, "I'm happy to see her having fun."

 

 "The kid wouldn't know fun if it bit her in the face."

 

 "Don't say that!" She scolded her husband. Now stepping away from the edge and approaching him, she pouted, "You are a very mean man, Jeralt Eisner."

 

 He rested his hands on her waist, "You are a very sweet woman, Sitri Eisner."

 

 "Don't flatter me."

 

 "I would never."

 

 "You always do." Abandoning him, she pulled herself from his grasp and entered their shared bedroom. It was decorated with her flowers, and with his weapons strewn about like laundry. Carefully, she stepped over an abandoned sword, and made her way to her large vanity in the corner. "She's growing up."

 

 "No she isn't." He scoffed, following her inside and shutting the sliding glass doors closed, "She's just a child."

 

 "If you keep saying that you'll only push her away."

 

 "I'm not saying it to her face."

 

 Sitri couldn't even count on her fingers the amount of times Jeralt had said that to Byleth's face. Instead of doing so, she picked up her brush and ran it through her hair, trying to smooth out the waves that formed naturally, "She'll be married on Saturday."

 

 "That's not something to celebrate."

 

 "I'm not happy about it either, you know."

 

 He knew. She knew that he was aware of the lack of excitement his wife held over the arrangement. He himself wasn't too giddy over Byleth marrying, no matter who it was to. Sylvain was a good man, he was aware of that fact, yet the unhappiness in Byleth's eyes was enough to hurt him simply by looking at her. "Do you think they'll choose to live here, or in Gautier?"

 

 "Hopefully here, but our wishes aren't important right now." She switched her brush to the other side of her head, now running it through slowly and watching Jeralt in the background of her mirror. He looked uncertain, his posture slumped as he leaned against the wardrobe and watched her reflection. "We'll be okay no matter what."

 

 "You're too optimistic."

 

 "You're too negative, my love." She sighed and stood up from her stool, placing her brush down and approaching him to wrap her arms around his shoulders, "I adore you, and Byleth adores you. She's not leaving you by her choice."

 

 He rested his forehead against hers, closing his eyes, "Who's choice is it, then?"

 

 "The political landscape's."

 

 "I hate that nasty thing."

 

 "Me too. But it'll be okay..." Growing silent and taking in the subtle nuances around her, she closed her eyes. The soft feel of her husbands hair between her fingers, the crackle of the fireplace in the corner, and the cicadas chirping outside. She was at peace, grounding in herself and freeing her mind from anxieties over the upcoming marriage.

 

 Finally, she took a deep breath. It was the moment she knew would be the best to break the news, the moment that she had been waiting for. With a heavy heart, she spoke once more to break the quiet between them, "I saw Lambert again."

 

 The quiet was broken, yet not peacefully. Jeralt jerked away with a sharp movement, nearly making her trip over herself as he loosened himself from her grip. He stared at her with wide eyes, "That asshole?"

 

 "He's not an asshole." She defended, all of the energy that once was in her system being sucked out and replaced with a tired feeling, "He was my friend, and besides, he poses no threat to you."

 

 "He did at one time." Jeralt's reminder was true, though ineffective in swaying her defensive manner. He turned away from her, not wanting to meet her eyes, "When did you see him?"

 

 "He's Dimitri's father."

 

 "Lance Snapper? So... he did marry, uh, what's her name? Leila?"

 

 "Leliana. She was your classmate, Jeralt."

 

 He knew, though it had been so long ago that the memory of his classmates had slipped his mind. It usually was customary for one to remember who they attended Garreg Mach with, yet he had never been one for customs, despite him being the Blue Lions leader at that time. "That's just one more reason for that kid to not be here."

 

 She was incredulous, "It's not as if Lambert is working here alongside him! And even if he were, you'd have nothing to worry about!"

 

 Jeralt was not one to become easily jealous or hot headed, usually being as laid back as possible, yet the subject of Lambert Egitte Blaiddyd always proved enough to kindle a fire in his heart that refused to die down. Sitri regretted ever having mentioned it to him, though she knew that it was the right thing to do. He thought for a moment, running his hand through his hair, "Wasn't she crazy?"

 

 She groaned, "She had a very difficult life, don't be insensitive."

 

 Jeralt ignored her scolding, and instead leveled her with a serious, pleading gaze. "I know I can't control you, Si, but it would make feel a hell of a lot better if you stayed away from Lambert Blaiddyd."

 

 She wouldn't meet his eyes, "He knows I'm married, he would respect that."

 

 "I know, but please, for the sake of my sanity," he put his hands on her shoulders, "I almost lost you to him once."

 

 Finally, she looked at him, "That's not true. He loved Leliana far longer than he even knew me."

 

 "You're a wonderful solace for suffering, you wear everybody's burdens on your shoulders as if they were light as air." He put his hand under her chin, stroking her skin, "That quality sticks with people. It stuck with him. No matter what he went through with Crazy Lily, you were always there to hear out his frustrations. Don't think I forgot how often he wanted to spend time with you."

 

 "Finding comfort in someone is not the same as loving them romantically."

 

 "It can be pretty damn close."

 

 With his words lingering between them, he stepped away from her. Casually, as if the conversation had never happened, he stepped over his mess of weapons and made his way across the room. He neared the door leading to the bathing room attached to the quarters, "I'm gonna relax for a while. Keep an ear out for the girls, won't you?"

 

 She would attempt to, though her mind was elsewhere. With her hands folded in front of the bodice of her dress, she thought of Leliana. The student with the sunshine smile, and her hair like waves of caramel. She thought of the times spent sitting in the corner of the chapel with her, the girls holding each other's hands as Leliana cried of another world, of dying from a disease, of Lambert being a king. Sitri never judged her, never wavered in her support.

 

 "This will help," Rhea's voice was soothing and motherly as she brushed Leliana's hair back, "she will feel better in no time."

 

 Sitri sat across from the student at the small tea table in Rhea's private quarters. The Archbishop never failed to be hospitable to the girls, especially Sitri herself, her lady in waiting whom she gave special attention to. Upon hearing of her concerns for the Leliana, Rhea had personally gathered a tea blend and invited her to her room for lunch.  Leliana herself was calmer than ever as she held the delicate cup in her hands. She breathed through her parted lips, staring at the wall over Sitri's shoulder. "Thank you..."

 

 "Oh, child," Rhea brushed her fingers through her hair, whispering, "now, won't you tell me more about this world you see?"

 

 Leliana was dead. Sitri had attended her funeral in disguise, wearing a black hood to cover her face as she watched Lambert stare at her body entering the ground. A young blond boy had clutched his leg, unknowing of why his mother was leaving him. Lambert had been unaware of her presence in Fhirdiad at all, as the identity of the fiance of king Jeralt had not been yet announced to the public. By the time the two had actually married, Lambert had already left the city in grief. 

 

 She would not be able to rest with the thoughts of the past circling her mind. Taking a deep breath and grounding herself once more, she forced herself to approach the balcony and open the doors. The breeze was chilly, but comforting, a familiarity that she would revel in. She took a seat and watched the courtyard below her. 

 

 "It'll be okay." Her words were spoken for herself, for Byleth, for Lambert and Leliana, a prayer to an unknown god whispered into the nighttime air, "May Sothis protect and comfort you."

 


 

 "Mercedes, the favor I am about to ask you is with all genuine sincerity and love, and I will despise you forever if you refuse."

 

 "Yes, Byleth?"

 

 "Will you seduce and marry Sylvain for me?"

 

 The laugh from the gaggle of girls around her was immediate, and loud in her ears. It was disappointment that now settled on Byleth's face as she watched Mercedes cover her giggle with her hand, and shake her head wildly, "Oh, Oh! Goodness, no. Not in a million years."

 

 "Poor Sylvain," Ingrid cried, "No girl wants to marry him!"

 

 "Plenty of girls want to marry him, just not us." Annette corrected, earning another laugh from her friends. 

 

 The four women trotted down the street, a force to be reckoned with. If one could not recognize them as nobles with the princess, one would avoid their path simply out of the fear of a group of young women. Byleth didn't understand why groups of women were intimidating, yet she herself oftentimes fell prey to their power. It was intoxicating, being with her friends as they fearlessly made their way through Fhirdiad, arm in arm. 

 

 They neared the Eastern bridge, a structure built over the lower part of the city where horses and carts would travel through. As they walked up the bridge, a womanly figure was silhouetted in front of them. She leaned over the side, arms crossed over the stonework as her hair fell over her shoulders. The S curve of her back was prominent, and her eyes shifted towards the display of noble ladies that approached her. 

 

 Cornelia pulled away from the ledge, and sent Byleth a charming smile, "My, My! Princess By! What're you doing out here?"

 

 Despite the uneasy air about the woman, Byleth had no ill will towards her. The group stopped and looked at the newcomer with curiosity, while Byleth gave her a nod of her head in greeting, "Hello. We were just having a small get-together."

 

 "How fun!" She flipped her hand, "I don't think I've met these friends..." her eyes scanned over Annette and Mercedes, who had been busy with their own affairs since the assault in the back alley, and Cornelia saving her life. 

 

 "This is Annette and Mercedes," she now gestured to the woman, "This is Cornelia, she's a guest of my father's. She's the one who caught my assailant several days ago."

 

 "Oh!" Annette lit up, "I forgot that that had happened! Thank you," she looked at the lithe woman before them, "anybody who helps Byleth is a friend of mine."

 

 "How wonderful to hear." She demurred, yet the slamming of a door, and the rattling of an argument reached her ears. Cornelia's eyes lit up with recognition, and she quickly returned to her place at the ledge, leaning over deeply to see where the noise was coming from, "Excuse my rudeness, dears, I'm doing some investigating."

 

 "Investigating?" Ingrid asked, as she was usually the one doing such things.

 

 "Yes..." lowering her voice, she pointed a manicured nail to a building on the lower levels nearly block away, "that man looks quite familiar, right?"

 

 Now curious, Byleth took a place by Cornelia's side, and squinted to see who it was she referred to. Her friends looked as well, and Mercedes was the first to gasp in recognition at the commotion. "Dimitri!"

 

 "Dimitri? Do you know him?" Cornelia was playing coy, and it was not a game Byleth enjoyed. Ignoring her, she focused on the commotion. A blue knight's cape, a flash of blond hair, the man stumbling across the stone ground as he was pushed from the doorway. 

 

 "Get outta here!" The innkeeper yelled, "We don't accept your kind!"

 

 Your kind being a knight, Byleth thought with distaste. There were certain parts of the city where officials were not welcome, though legally they could be anywhere they pleased. It was generally avoided when alone, though, for fear of attack. She watched as Dimitri steadied himself and looked to the innkeeper, "Please, I'm just trying to find someone! I need he-" The door slammed in his face, and he let out a groan of annoyance.

 

 Cornelia pulled back from the ledge playfully, "He's having a bad day, I see."

 

 "Must be." Mercedes answered, and upon seeing the look of confusion flash over the princess's face, she lit up to explain, "I met him earlier today to discuss your party."

 

 "You... discussed my bachelorette party with my retainer?"

 

 "I wanted him to be a ghost."

 

 Of course. "I assume he refused."

 

 "He convinced me otherwise."

 

 "Good man."

 

 She watched as he now slumped against the side of a building, hand covering one eye and shoulders heaving in a deep sigh. Cornelia, not even bothering to be quiet, stated to the girls, "He's quite handsome, isn't he?"

 

 It was as if Dimitri was aware he was being spoken about, as his head turned towards the sound of Cornelia's voice. His eyes glued immediately to Byleth and her friends, and they all froze in place as they stared back at him. With a laugh, Cornelia turned tail, and made her way down the slope of the bridge, hand raised in goodbye. Her damage had been done, and she was retreating, leaving the girls to deal with the consequences of her incredibly loud, embarrassing statements.

 

 Awkwardly, Dimitri raised a hand in hello. Four hands raised in greetings back to him. Despite being separated by differing elevations, a bridge, and several feet of road, the awkwardness tied them all together heavily.

 

 Annette was the first to break. She let out a nervous laugh, and ran. Her sudden burst was enough to kick Ingrid, Byleth, and Mercedes in gear, following after their retreating friend. Dimitri watched with wide eyes as the girls scattered towards the Eastern town gate, laughing and pushing each other along the way. Annette had always been a nervous laugher, and awkward silences made it all the more worse. 

 

 Once having passed through the arches of the gate, ignoring the odd looks sent to them by the guards, the girls were finally able to calm down. The world was dim, but there was enough light to see their path as they slowed their retreat and began walking.

 

 Ingrid caught her breath, and stretched her arms high above her head as they passed an incoming merchant cart, "Glenn is more handsome."

 

 Annette snorted, "No, Felix is way better."

 

 Mercedes had nothing of value to add, instead clasping her hands together in front of her and closing her eyes as she walked, "I think the most beautiful being in the world is Seiros herself, no man can hold a candle to-"

 

 "It's Felix, I assure you."

 

 "It's Glenn, I assure you."

 

 Mercedes cleared her throat, "Well, why don't we have Byleth decide who the most handsome is? It's her night, after all."

 

 Truthfully, the princess had no interest in picking out which of their husbands/fiances that she thought the most handsome. Neither of the men were quite her type, despite being good friends with both of them. She scanned the rocky scenery as they moved along the road, gathering her thoughts in a way that wouldn't offend the present parties. "I... don't know."

 

 "That's a terrible answer."

 

 "Sorry."

 

 "Have you ever thought a man handsome?" Ingrid asked, curious, "Of course, it would be fine if you didn't. I've just never heard you actually verbalize being attracted to someone."

 

 "I haven't ever been," she scrunched her nose, "how could I be attracted to someone I don't even know?"

 

 "What about someone you do know?"

 

 She wasn't entirely sure then either. She had looked at people and noticed obvious beauty, yet had never felt the urge to actually draw closer to someone simply because of their looks. With those she was close with, she only proved to ever appreciate them in a platonic sense. The urge to be with someone romantically had never quite occurred to her. Yet, she wanted to satisfy the curiosity of her friends, "I haven't... but I suppose that if I were to find someone attractive, he'd have to be, oh I don't know... kind, and strong, but respectful of me. He'd need humility and..." 

 

 It was an awful thought. An absolutely awful thought that had came into her mind. Her cheeks grew pink and warm at the embarrassment of it all, and she avoided the eyes of her comrades. The group had stopped in the middle of the road, now staring at Byleth in silence and waiting for her to go on. 

 

 "...and...?"

 

 She supposed it wouldn't hurt too much to tell them, they were her closest confidants, after all, and would be able to keep her secrets. Taking a deep breath, she continued, "This is really odd, and I promise that I'm fine, I promise, really."

 

 "Get on with it!"

 

 "Well... nice hands..."

 

 "Hands?" Ingrid squinted at her, while Annette began laughing. "Hands? Really?"

 

 Byleth looked at her own hands thoughtfully, "Yes, big, with long fingers, and calloused too."

 

 Mercedes resisted the urge to smile, "I thought you were going to say something embarrassing, like you want him to be a chivalrous knight out of a storybook."

 

 "No, just hands. Oh, and body hair," she nodded, "yes, like a gorilla."

 

 "You're just making things up now!" Ingrid groaned and turned around, "I'm going to the campsite, you can talk about gorillas all you want."

 

 Annette was all in, supporting the princess's lie with as much gusto as she could muster. She chased after Ingrid, "Come on? Don't you want a man's man? A manly man, with manly back hair?"

 

 "I'm sure we can find Byleth a brown bear out here somewhere. I think they have big paws too." Mercedes suggested. 

 

 "Too hairy."

 

 She furrowed her brows, "What level of hairy are you looking for?"

 

 "I'm kidding, Mercie."

 

 "I wonder if Dimitri is hairy..."

 

 "Why don't you ask him and find out?"

 

 The priestess shook her head, "No, no, that would be improper."

 

 A grumble from Annette's stomach followed the conversation, and she held her abdomen and groaned, throwing her head back dramatically, "I'm so hungry!"

 

 "Then hurry!" Byleth began jogging, her face blank as she passed by the two girls in the front, "I might eat all the crackers before you get to."

 

 "You wouldn't! I won't let you!" With a cry of determination, Ingrid hurried her speed, and ran after the princess. Trying to keep up, Annette broke into a run after the two girls.

 

 Mercedes stayed walking casually, watching them draw further away. Quietly, and just to herself, she whispered, "They don't even know where I set up our camp."

 

 The night of chaos ensued, yet no bears were encountered. As the women eventually were led to camp by Mercedes, they settled down to speak of life and love, eating snacks and drinking tea over a rippling fire. 

 

 Little did the girls know, Sylvain was facing a fiasco of his own. 

 

 In Fhirdiad, Sylvain lay in the grass in the castle garden, apple in one hand and book in the other. The area around him was lit by a lantern he had carried outside with him, trying to escape the suffocating walls of his guest room. He lay on his back, with one leg resting on his knee, and eyes reading the page. 

 

 He brought the apple to his mouth, yet before he could take another bite, a shadow crossed over his lantern, making him unable to read the letters. Looking up, a beautiful woman stood over him, smiling innocently. 

 

 "Well," his heart skipped, and he set the book spine-up on his stomach, "Hello there. I'd say you're in my light, but your beauty shines brighter than any lantern ever could."

 

 "Oh," she giggled, "You're too much. My name is Cornelia." She leaned more heavily over him, long hair falling around her face and tickling his cheeks, "I'm afraid I'm lost. Would you mind showing me to the guest wing where my room is?"

 

 Tempting, tempting. He had promised himself that he wouldn't run around any longer since he was engaged, and wait for the marriage to actually happen before he began his flirting once more. This woman, though, was throwing herself at him with every movement, every word, and every smartly arranged cut-out in her revealing dress. 

 

 She wanted something. He was not blind. 

 

 Yet, he was not opposed to playing her game either.

 

 "Of course, sweetheart," he took a lock of her hair that hung down, and kissed it softly, not breaking eye contact with her as he did so, "You can tell me about yourself on the way."

 

 She pulled back, standing up straight as he pushed himself up into a standing position. He tossed the apple aside, and dog-eared the page in his book. Offering his arm, he noticed her intelligent, sharp eyes as she scanned his every move. "Aren't you a gentleman."

 

 "I try. Where're you from?"

 

 "Anywhere, everywhere. Where are you from?"

 

 "Gautier. What brings you to Fhirdiad?"

 

 "Business. I'm a friend of Jeralt's," she smiled demurely, "We went to school together."

 

 An older woman with the confidence of someone his age, he could work with that. Moving on as they entered the castle doors, he continued the verbal game of chess, "Are you here for the wedding?"

 

 "Oh, By-By's wedding? I'll attend, I suppose."

 

 Byleth's wedding, she had called it. She paid no heed to the fact that it was his wedding as well. He assumed that she didn't know who the groom was, and he would not be the one to tell her. "I'll save a dance for you."

 

 "Why thank you."

 

 The two continued up the stairs, and into the guest wing of the castle. She lit up as they approached the first door in the hallway, stopping in her tracks and gesturing, "This is me, I think. Thank you so much!"

 

 "No problem, I should've been heading this way anyway," he nodded his head to the door next to hers, "This right here's my room."

 

 There was a fire in her eyes, a match suddenly lit as she flicked them between him and the door. "Oh? What a coincidence. I was feeling so very lonely up here by myself."

 

 He would take the bait, and he would take it knowing that it was a dangerous game. He was not the kind of fish to shy away from a snack dangling right before him. "I could spend the night with you, if you want."

 

 "Would you?" She mused, hand on the doorknob, "A handsome man like you probably has a lady..."

 

 He laughed, "Not one that loves me. She won't care." He leaned one arm against the wall, a calculated move that would show her his physique - he practiced it in the mirror often. "I'm lonely too. No sense in both of us being lonely."

 

 "You're so smart," she patted his cheek, opening her door and letting him in, "I'm ever so excited for our night together, Sylvain."

 

 He froze. He had not yet told her his name.

 

 She waltzed by him, making her way to the mattress covered in various dark magic spell books. Acting natural, Sylvain half turned towards the door as her back was to him, and wiggled the knob. 

 

 Locked. 

 

 His hand prickled with heat, and began to sting through his skin, making him curse and jerk away from the handle. A spiral of smoke drifted up from his palm. Annette had used the same spell on his door at the academy once when Byleth had ordered him to stay in and study for the night. He could recognize the same burn. 

 

 "You're kinda freaky if you think I'll be into this kind of stuff," he waved his red palm at her, "At least let me pick out a safe word."

 

 She turned to face him, sharp and twisted dagger in hand. Her smile was wide, and mocking, "I'm afraid I can't allow a safe word. In fact, you won't be saying any words from now on."

 

 Though shaken, he managed to keep his composure of nonchalance, proving his dominance over her scare tactics. "What's your aim, beautiful?"

 

 "Your heart."

 

 "No, I mean what's your goal?"

 

 "To kill you."

 

 "But why?"

 

 "Oh!" She lit up, fingering the tip of her blade, "Well, it's rather complicated. But let's just say... I'm in the business of war, you see."

 

 "Starting them, or ending them?"

 

 "My, you're a curious one." She stepped forward, tracing the blade down the side of his neck. While he was not tied down by any means, he felt frozen in place. He wondered if she had cast another spell on him, something that prevented him from taking any action against her. His knees were gelatin, and his arms paralyzed at his sides. Her voice lowered to a whisper as she leaned in, lips brushing against his ear, "Please don't marry the princess, I would like you for myself."

 

 "I'd like me for myself too, babe."

 

 "Tragic." She pulled away and clicked her tongue, "Please rest easy knowing that this is the best possible course of action." She raised the knife in the air in front of him, aiming for his chest, "Your sacrifice is appreciated. Goodbye, Sylvain!"

Chapter Text

 The old women of Fhirdiad had made the discovery that the newest knight was quite strong, tall, and surely in want of good work and chores. 

 

 That's what they had assumed, anyway, as they commanded Dimitri to hang garlands and tulle from their walls and buildings. The rumor of him being a very helpful and polite young man had spread around the town quickly, and with his specific armor and bright blue cape, he could easily be spotted from a distance while walking home from his late night duties. He had nearly forgotten how quickly the gossip mill ran in Fhirdiad. 

 

 "Higher," the old woman commanded, pointing a bony finger at the exact spot where she wanted her flowery ribbons to be hung, "it has to be perfect, boy! The princess must love my decor!"

 

 Byleth's favorite flowers happened to be tulips, not daisies. These were daisies. Their yellow petals fell into his hair as he stretched up higher to meet the woman's command. He deigned to reply to her, not wanting to argue over how Byleth would most likely be so overwhelmed during the ceremonial wedding parade that she wouldn't hardly notice anything around her. yet, whatever pleased the people, he supposed. 

 

 In this world free from war, it was only natural that the citizens would be more lighthearted. He enjoyed the optimism of the city folk, rather than the bleak and worn faces of the war-torn innocents that he remembered. While life in Fhirdiad was still difficult in this world, and could wear even on the most strong-hearted, there was enough leisure for them to enjoy a royal wedding. He enjoyed seeing the festivities coming to life, despite his dislike of the occasion itself. 

 

 "Oh, knight! When you're done with her, would you please help me to hang my wreath?"

 

 He glanced over his shoulder to see a young woman with a boy clinging to her hip. Carefully holding a hammer in one hand, and nails in the other, while on his tip toes, he sent her a nod, "I'll be right there!"

 

 She smiled at him. He turned around to position the nail, and nail the flowery ribbon into place. Once it was set well enough, he pulled away, and the bossy old woman sent him a toothy grin, "You're a doll!"

 

 He felt much too dirty from leaning against her filth covered building to be a doll. Hopefully the next request would be less demanding. He made his way over to where the other woman waited for him. As he leaned over the woman's door to position the wreath, she hummed and pushed back the hair on her son's head. It was an absent sound, barely heard over the bustle of the streets, yet it earned a glance from Dimitri. She caught his eye in return, and attempted to make small talk, "Are you excited?"

 

 He positioned the hammer under the green needles of the decoration, and sighed, "As much as I can be."

 

 "Oh, don't sound so gloomy," her son buried his face in her leg, and she giggled, "It's nice to celebrate somethin' like this."

 

 He supposed it would be nice, if only it wasn't his moon and stars that was getting married to another man. His view of the wedding would certainly be different from anybody else's in attendance. He gave the nail a quick rap, yet drove it through the wood in one sharp go. It splintered, and the wood around it cracked with the unmistakable sound of it splitting apart violently. He stepped back, wide eyed, "I-I'm terribly sorry! I didn't mean to break your door-"

 

 She stared in shock, while her son gasped at his strength. "You have a crest."

 

 "I do," he cleared his throat, embarrassed, "it doesn't like to behave. I'm terribly sorry-"

 

 "You're nobility, sir?"

 

 "No..." not in this world, "I don't have a lineage."

 

 "How odd..." she was hesitant, stepping away as if she didn't believe his words, "it's fine, we were goin' to replace that board soon anyway..."

 

 "Do you need help doing so?"

 

 She shook her head, closing her eyes to shut him out, "No! It's all okay. Just... you can leave now, sir." Her demeanor had shifted, and she was gripping her son's arm as she spun him around to walk behind her, passing by Dimitri slowly. "I'm terribly sorry for botherin' you."

 

 "You're not a bother," he pleaded, "I'm no noble, and I'm happy to help. There's no need to need to apply me any special respects."

 

 All the woman could bear to do is shake her head, bow to him, and scurry away. Several bystanders meandering by sent suspicious glances, wondering what the young knight had done to scare away an innocent woman and her child. He sighed in defeat, and returned the tools to the merchant that he had borrowed them from. 

 

 As he walked back to his inn, he thought of crests, of nobility. He was used to being put on a pedestal due to his lineage, though it was not something he encountered so much now. He was not blind to the absolute unfairness of the caste systems and crests, having seen it's effects on close friends and schoolmates - and it having a hand in the upcoming wedding as well. Edelgard had made her point, yet her road was paved with the blood of innocents, and that was not something he could abide.

 

 His muscles tensed. He ground his teeth, and stopped in his tracks, forcing his mind to focus on the road. Focus on the dandelions growing up between the stones, on the ground beneath his feet. The cool kiss of the breeze on his cheeks. He would not let anger and revenge cloud his judgement -  he was not the same beast he was back then.

 

 He slipped his black glove off, and dug his fingernails into his palm sharply. Pain, any kind, was enough to bring him satisfaction until he could sufficiently distract himself from the black memories that threatened him. Crests, and castes, a terrible world that she had wanted to burn. He was just one of the strong protecting those who couldn't. Even if the civilians didn't realize it, he would always be there to protect them, no matter what life he lived.

 

 The inn sat ahead of him, and he spotted his father sitting on the bench in front. Quickly, he inspected his palm to see red half moon shapes on his skin, and slipped the glove back on. Lambert eyed him as he approached, and Dimitri sunk down into the seat at his side. Attempting some semblance of casualty, he looked at the cloudy sky above. "Looks like rain."

 

 "...Yep."

 

 "That's not good."

 

 Lambert ripped a piece of dried meat in half with his teeth, and chewed on the corner, "Nope."

 

 Dimitri eyed him. The high cheekbones, the hair pushed back and the beard around his chin. In different clothes, he would've been the king he remembered from his childhood, save the wrinkles forming around his eyes and the laugh lines around his mouth. Dimitri wondered if this generous, rugged man was who his father truly was, who he would've been if he had survived Duscur. Had kingship dried him of his humor in the past life?

 

 Lambert caught his son staring, and offered the jerky to him, "Have you eaten?"

 

 He hadn't. He hadn't left Byleth's door, though he was informed that his vigilance wasn't incredibly necessary, as the princess was skilled at defending herself. He only left to use the restroom, and hurried back to his duties as quickly as possible. Taking the other half of the jerky, he chewed on it. "I'm tired."

 

 "You never get tired."

 

 Lambert was only half correct, as Dimitri was still human. The Blaiddyds, due to their crests providing extra stamina, could go longer without food or sleep, though it wore on them greatly. When Dimitri did sleep, it was deep, and dreamless, and only happened when dropping from exhaustion. When forced to sleep on a regular basis, Dimitri tended to have nightmares, and Lambert would wake up grumpy and muttering about things of the past. 

 

 "Lo and behold," he yawned, "I grow weary."

 

 "Of me?"

 

 "Yes."

 

 Lambert wrapped an arm over his shoulder and patted his back - though his crest glowed in front of him, making Dimitri spring forward with the sheer force of his father's touch and nearly choke on his jerky. "You're hilarious, boy. You're going to break my old heart, you know."

 

 Dimitri recovered, finally swallowing his food, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't of been sarcastic." He would've never dreamed of speaking in that way to anyone, though the years behind him had left him with light taste for being sardonic at the worst possible times. He blamed Claude's influence in his past life. 

 

 "You're so serous," Lambert pointed out, "I was just like you at your age."

 

 "Were you?"

 

 "Oh yes, all business, all the time. It was tiring, really."

 

 "I don't feel that it's tiring," he mused, "I suppose that's just how I am."

 

 "Nothing wrong with that," Lambert gestured to him with his jerky, "but when you're all business you tend to overwork. I don't want the bourgeoise pushing you around and making you do the worst jobs just because we don't have a lineage."

 

 Lineage. Dimitri thought of his and his father's crest, it had to have come from somewhere. Gathering his bravery, he spoke up, "Father, where... uh, I mean rather-"

 

 "Please don't stutter, you know I hate that."

 

 "Well, I was wondering if you knew of the name Loog?"

 

 "Wasn't that the man in Duscur who sold bombs?"

 

 "No. I mean yes, that was him, but I'm thinking more of a... Loog, descendant of Blaiddyd."

 

 "Blaiddyd?" He asked, as if that wasn't their last name.

 

 "The elite," he grew more heated, "The warrior who was part of the ten elites that were championed by the Goddess?"

 

 "I never taught you much history, now did I?" He shook his head, and then began counting on his fingers, "See, there's Reigan, Lamine, Goneril, Fraldarius, Gloucester, Dominic, Gautier, Daphnel, and Eisner. I'm sorry, I don't think our ancestor was one of them."

 

 Yet another puzzle piece, yet another shape that was so blurry and disfigured that he couldn't figure out where it would sit. It made a little sense, of course the Eisner's would've been one of them, yet it made no sense that he still had a crest, and that history itself was erasing his family from the minds of the people, even his own father. "Then how do we have crests?"

 

 "How would I know?" He shrugged, "Perhaps somewhere down the line someone messed around with a noble, and we're the result of it. You can't really count on human biology making sense. Besides, while I'm as devout as anyone, there's no knowing that the church's explanations are the truth. Look at how Dedue believes," he shook his head, "his faith in his many Gods is just as strong as a priest of Seiros' is."

 

 Except for the fact that Dimitri had once married the vessel of the Goddess, spoke to Sothis, and was only alive and in this world because of her. It was quite enough to convince him, despite his lack of interest in being devout. "It just doesn't make sense."

 

 "You're getting a bit loopy, if you keep thinking about this you'll be up all day." Lambert stood now, and opened the door to the inn, "You should get some sleep."

 

 Lambert always gave up on his explanations, never digging as deep as Dimitri wanted. Yet, he couldn't blame him for his lack of understanding of his son's odd behavior and thought patterns. "Perhaps," Dimitri ran his hand through his hair, feeling his way to the half ponytail in the back and pulling the band out, "I'll be working all day tomorrow."

 

 As he followed him inside, Lambert lit up with the change of subject. "Oh, yes, I'm stationed to be by the brewery tomorrow. Dedue's going to be at the city gates."

 

 He walked up the stairs, dragging his heavy legs up each step to escape the noise of the dining room behind him, "I'll be in the chapel, though they have me at the side of the room. I believe the servants and other Knights are quite suspicious of me."

 

 "So they put you to the side where they could get you if you do anything stupid," he laughed, "You're going to have to work hard to earn their trust."

 

 "I know, but it'll be worth it."

 

 They stopped in front of his door, and Lambert looked at Dimitri head on. He was only two or so inches shorter than him, yet he commanded the air around him with the tilt of his head and the authority in his eyes. Putting a hand on his shoulder, he leveled him with his gaze, "Are you sure?"

 

 "That it'll be worth it?" He didn't have to think on his answer, knowing it immediately, "Yes, of course it will. Please don't worry."

 

 "I'll never not worry." Satisfied with his answer, he smiled, "You're never going to escape me, my boy."

 

 "Even when I'm old and grey?"

 

 "I'll haunt you," Lambert's eyes widened jokingly, yet Dimitri's blood grew cold upon processing his words. Unbeknownst to the sudden change in his son's blood pressure, he put up two hands and wiggled them jokingly, "I'll be a ghost, forever at your back, forever nagging you to be careful and to brush your teeth in the morning!"

 

 Composure. Dimitri had none, yet he could act as if he did. "T-Terrifying."

 

 It was terrifying. He'd lived that reality, minus the teeth brushing and good intents. He watched Lambert laugh, and make his way down the stairs, disappearing around the corner. Dimitri kept his hand on the doorknob as he stared at where he was, almost expecting his father to return with a bloodied neck, white eyes, and reminders of revenge on his lips.

 

 He never came. His hand shook as he pushed his door open, leaving crushed imprints of his fingers on the knob. 

 


 

 "Of course, of course this would happen. Why would I ever think my son would let something go well?"

 

 "Margrave, this isn't the time to panic."

 

 It was very much the time to panic.

 

 The Margrave scowled, "It is very much the time to panic!"

 

 It would not be Byleth who panicked, though, as she was feeling unnaturally giddy. Sylvain had done it, and he'd done it so well. He truly did have his and her's best interests in mind with this stunt, and Byleth attempted desperately to keep herself under control in front of the grieving, panicked Margrave.

 

 Jeralt only looked annoyed. He stared flatly at the man, and sent a questioning glance towards his daughter, who would only send him an innocent shrug in return. The Margrave scurried around Sylvain's guest room with Sylvain's note in hand, checking the window sills and the walls for any clues of a struggle. 

 

 "He might be back tomorrow," Jeralt thought out loud, "It might be a prank. I remember the day before my own wedding, I was nervous and ran off to be by myself too."

 

 "Did you leave a note saying 'Oh, hey, sorry dad I can't do this. Goodbye forever'? Did you, your Majesty?" He was mad, eyes wide, "Because this," he balled up the paper, throwing it harshly onto the floor in front of him, "is not normal!"

 

 Byleth felt that it was rather normal, there were runaway grooms and brides all the time - at least in the books she read. It had to have happened before. She stepped aside as the Margrave stalked past her and out of the room. Jeralt sighed and rubbed the back of his neck, though she swore he was biting his cheek to keep a smile at bay. "We'll keep going with the wedding, he might change his mind and show up tomorrow. The kid knows right from wrong."

 

 Her father didn't understand the absolute stubbornness of Sylvain Gautier. Byleth only nodded, and bent down to pick up the crumpled ball of paper. In front of her, the balcony doors were opened, with a very cliche rope of bed sheets tied together, leading to the castle courtyard below. There was no sign of a struggle, only a man running away from an arranged marriage. 

 

 She smoothed out the paper on the bed, sitting down to read over his words once more. The handwriting was surely Sylvain's, careless and scratchy. He was never one to put much thought into the shape of his words. 

 

 The letter was simple, and she mentally read it in his voice.

 

 Father, 

 

   I can't be the son you want. I'm not sorry. 

 

 Sylvain. 

 

 "One thing I'm thinking about, though," she spoke up, catching Jeralt's attention, "is that Sylvain's not one to shirk off the responsibility of inheriting his region."

 

 "Hasn't the kid always resented that he was the heir, though?" The king questioned, sitting next to her on the bed, "In his mind, it wasn't fair to Miklan." She sent him a questioning glance, and he smirked, "He got tipsy and told me all about it over dinner earlier this week. He's a good kid, I don't mind him when he's not chasing skirts."

 

 "He's a good man," she mused, staring at his words, "as much as the circumstances bothered him, taking care of his people and his region was important to him."

 

 Jeralt stood, "Like I said, it may be a prank. He's probably gonna be back tomorrow."

 

 "The wedding's still on?"

 

 "Sorry, kid."

 

 She would still have to wear that dress, and walk down that aisle, trounce throughout Fhirdiad for all to see as if she was some sort of prize. Her lips twisted into a barely concealed scowl, and she set the paper down on Sylvain's bed. Her father was right, though, it certainly could've been a joke. Perhaps just another part of Sylvain's plan to cause the upmost amount of chaos possible. 

 

 Yet, if he had truly ran away, then she would stay single. The possibility was the sun shining behind the storm clouds. Her hope grew. 

 

 She left the room, making her way down the stairs and to the training yards outside. Ingrid joined her as she emerged from Glenn's office, switching into a jog to catch up with Byleth and match her stride. A look of concern passed over her face, "Figure anything out?"

 

 "No," Byleth sighed, "Father thinks that he'll be back tomorrow."

 

 "Sylvain's too stubborn." As annoyed as she sounded, Byleth knew that Ingrid was worried for her childhood friend. Despite her constant scolding, she cared deeply for him, and was trying her best to stay calm about the situation.

 

 Byleth cared as well, though she was at peace enough to not be worried for him. He was strong and could take care of himself, and she would accept anything that would deter the wedding from actually happening. "We'll just have to see what happens."

 

 "Are you okay?" She rested her hand on her arm.

 

 "Yes..." she neared the training grounds, and pulled away from Ingrid to grab a sword. Her eyes would not meet her friend's, and she instead held the sword in both hands to test it's balance, preferring to not even talk about the subject in the first place, "I'm not hurt by it. And it doesn't matter anyway," sighing, she targeted the wooden dummy across the yard, "whatever happens will happen."

 

 Ingrid watched the princess take off into a run, striking at the dummy and slicing the wood through at the chest. She stayed where she was to the side, now speaking louder to be heard over Byleth's attempts to drown out reality, "Tomorrow's a big day, you've got to be feeling something."

 

 "I am."

 

 Hope, confusion, irritation. The easiest course of action would, obviously, be to ignore them all.

 

 "You should be resting."

 

 "I don't want to."

 

 "You're getting married tomorrow."

 

 "I might not be." 

 

 With a crack, the dummy toppled over on it's side. The thin wood of it's stand had splintered, and finally given into the pressure from Byleth's attacks. She stepped away, and dug the dull tip of her blade into the ground. Ingrid shook her head, "If you two don't get married, what's going to happen?"

 

 That was the question of questions. Byleth had an answer, though it had been something she was trying to ignore. "I'm selfish, aren't I?" She looked at Ingrid, emotionless.

 

 "Not wanting to marry someone that you don't love isn't selfish." Ingrid approached her, and put a careful hand on her shoulder, furrowing her brows in concern, "If he does show up tomorrow, I bet you a hundred gold that you'd still go through with it."

 

 She would, if only out of responsibility. "If we don't marry, the economy would drop. Margrave Gautier would become spiteful and not offer as much assistance," she scowled, "trading would lessen between our regions. And there's the threat of Sreng raiding us. There wouldn't be crest babies to take over our respective territories, and so on."

 

 Ingrid listened, and looked at the ground softly, "It's a thin line to walk, By, but don't feel like you're selfish for not looking forward to marrying him."

 

 "Should I feel selfish if I didn't marry him, and everything I just described happened? Possibly endangering the lives and welfare of our citizens?"

 

 "Yes," her answer was immediate, "Sylvain's selfish as hell for running off like this. If he doesn't show up tomorrow, I'll personally search him out, and knock him over the head myself."

 

 "You're such a good knight," Byleth couldn't help her smile.

 

 "Faerghus comes first, and I would hold myself to the same standards." She reassured, "But yes, I would be really bummed out over having to marry someone I didn't love, even if it was for my country."

 

 "You should be the princess, you'd be better at it."

 

 "Nobody could do what you do, By."

 

 It was an odd statement to hear, as Byleth felt that she did absolutely nothing.

 

 She was blank, blunt, and lacking of charm. She felt plain, and her beauty inspired nobody. In her diplomatic travels, she was as pleasant as she could manage, though nobody besides Petra wrote her letters, looking to see how she was doing. Her presence had effected nobody significantly, and her only use was as a baby maker and marriage pawn. 

 

 It was a nice feeling to help, though, in whatever way she could find. She supposed that was why she had been drawn to helping Dimitri, a man who looked at her so desperately. It was a small gesture, knighting him, yet it felt good to be something to someone, rather than the figurehead she usually ended up as. 

 

 "And what do I do?" She asked out of curiosity. 

 

 Ingrid thought for a moment, tapping her chin as she glanced at the grey sky above them. "You're just you," she decided finally, "you're a friend to myself and so many others. Remember back at the academy when you finally coaxed Bernadetta out of her room and we went to dinner? Do you remember how she smiled?"

 

 "I thought that smile was out of fear."

 

 "No, there was a genuine smile there... I think. And remember when you stayed up all night helping Marianne's horse give birth? Or the time you fished all day so you could feed all the animals? Or th-"

 

 "You can stop," she put up a hand, "my head might explode with my ego growing so large."

 

 "You're just embarrassed."

 

 "Maybe." It was all she allowed as she lifted her sword once more, stepping away from her friend and readying herself into an attack position, "Train with me?"

 

 Ingrid knew Byleth well enough to understand that she needed a distraction. She would be there for her, as always, unsheathing her lance from her back and readying it for battle, "If you insist, your highness."

 


 

 Saturday

 

 The tension in the chapel was suffocating. 

 

 Dimitri, from his post at the side of the room, watched as Felix and Annette shifted uncomfortably. She laid her hand on his arm and whispered to him, and Felix kept his eyes ahead, furrowing his brows. In the front row of the chapel, the Margrave's knee bounced uncontrollably. 

 

 The chapel was filled, and decorated with white lace and flowers. A white carpet ran down the middle of the pews where Byleth would walk, lined with pink and red rose petals. The guests were all nobles and important people, and the priest stood at the altar with a prayer book in his hands. 

 

 It hurt all the more when Dimitri realized that this was the same chapel he and Byleth had married in. It had been decorated differently, yet the building itself held the memories only he could recall. He didn't attempt to hide his scowl. 

 

 Something odd was going on, though, and it was enough to distract him. The royal family had not arrived yet, most likely still making their rounds throughout the city so the commoners could catch a glimpse of the princess on her way to be married. It was an entire parade, and he could only imagine the fanfare and festivities happening outside of the quiet chapel. It was a whisper from outside, the cheers and music barely reaching his ears through the walls. The commoners were having more fun with their festival than the wedding guests themselves. 

 

 Rodrigue was in the crowd, sitting next to Felix. Glenn was missing, as was Ingrid, yet two empty spaces had been saved beside him with their name cards on them. Dimitri eyed the man, who was masking his concern with a face of peace and content. Felix fidgeted once more, and scowled silently. 

 

 The other nobles whispered among themselves. He caught sight of Gilbert standing in the back with his hands behind him, chewing on his lip and sending worried glances to the door. Of course he was ignoring his daughter entirely. 

 

 What in the world was happening? He could basically see the rumor mill churning as the faces of nobles he didn't recognize leaned into each other and whispered about the absence of the groom. 

 

 Sylvain was meant to be on the altar next to the priest by now. 

 

 In his heart, Dimitri felt relieved. To see the spot for the groom empty was the only thing holding back his misery at the entire situation. The other guards at the corners of the room glanced around, confused as well, as the tension in the room only grew.

 

 Finally, more cheers from outside the chapel rose to meet his ears. As if on cue, all heads turned around, and the doors swung open to reveal the fanfare that had been making so much noise. Civilians had followed the royal carriage through the streets, and flowers and cheers were being thrown into the air. The carriage stopped, and the door opened. 

 

 Dimitri leaned forward to catch a glimpse of what was happening. He could make out Jeralt stepping from the carriage, and offering his arm to Sitri. She was dressed in royal blues, black, and gold, her hair intricate and braided on the top of her head. He led her up the stairs, and into the chapel. 

 

 Neither of them smiled. A violin could barely be heard over the cheers of the commoners, itching to catch a glimpse of the royal wedding inside the chapel. Jeralt led Sitri by the arm down the aisle, keeping in march with the soft violin of the orchestra at the side of the room.

 

 Finally reaching the front row, the mother and father took their seats and waited, keeping their eyes ahead. 

 

 The cheers grew, and the crowd parted. The anxious wedding guests looked over their shoulders, leaning forward and up to see the princess herself coming out of the carriage now.

 

 Her dress was huge. 

 

 If Dimitri was in better spirits, he would've laughed. 

 

 Byleth did not look happy. She kept her hands folded in front of her, holding a bouquet of red roses and trying to not scowl. Alone, she walked up the stairs and through the chapel doors. Ingrid and Glenn followed behind her. They avoided stepping on her long train as they shut the doors, and the crowd outside booed at having their view of the ceremony cut off.

 

 Finally, the string orchestra could be heard. Byleth paused at the front of the aisle, taking a deep breath as she listened to the rhythm of the music begin. Ingrid and Glenn rushed up the side and past Dimitri, skirting through the other guests as they took their saved seats beside Rodrigue.

 

 The dress she wore was so opposite of what Dimitri had married her in. Before, she had worn something simple, elegant, and entirely her. This dress was large, poofy, and looked uncomfortable. She was decorated like a gaudy cake, and he could only imagine how much she hated it.

 

 Still looking grumpy, she began her walk. Her eyes stayed glued ahead of her, on the spot where Sylvain should've been. The bottom of her dress caught the flower petals as she walked, and the end of the train pulled behind her. 

 

 She took her place in her spot. The priest cleared his throat, and the violins and cellos quieted their song, until the noise was gone, and the room was filled with the tense, anxious whispers of the wedding guests once more.

 

 Nobody said a word. Byleth closed her eyes. The priest shifted uncomfortably. 

 

 The silence was deafening.

 

 Sylvain was gone. The Margrave gripped at his hair, and buried his face into his hands. 

 

 It was time to wait. 

 

 Dimitri and the crowd watched with anticipation. 30 minutes passed.

 

 The groom did not show.

 

 Jeralt had begun to dig the flask out from his jack and take a swig, leaning back on the pew and tapping the wood impatiently. Byleth merely looked bored.

 

 The 30 minutes turned into an hour.

 

 Dimitri was counting the stones in the floor. Byleth had pulled all the petals off her bouquet. Several guests had dozed off. 

 

 Another 30 minutes. Knees were bouncing, children were crying. The commoner's festivities were loud and merry, ignorant of what was happening in the chapel itself. 

 

 It was obvious by now that Sylvain would not show up, though Jeralt had seemed to want to carry on the waiting for even longer, if only to make a point. He continued to send pointed looks to the Margrave, who only returned them with glares. 

 

 10 minutes passed. Dimitri's back was beginning to hurt from standing for so long. 

 

 "I'm done." 

 

 It was Margrave Gautier who spoke. He stood, all eyes in the chapel drawing to whoever was stupid enough to be the first person to walk out of the royal wedding. He glared at the crowd of guests, "I'm so sorry that my son has failed you all." He put his hand behind his back, and bowed deeply, "I will promptly return all of your gifts. I apologize if you traveled far to come here for this."

 

 With those terse, short words, he walked down the aisle, all eyes on him, and pushed the doors open. He slipped away, and the doors shut behind him with a quick bang that made several people jump. The guests sat in stunned silence for a moment.

 

 "Well," The priest shut his prayer book, "Go on, then!"

 

 Byleth stayed silent as the crowd began to stand and file their way out of the pews and to the doors. Nobody dared say a word any louder than a whisper. The royal family stayed where they were, along with the Fraldarius family and Mercedes sitting at the back of the chapel by herself. 

 

 Once the room had significantly emptied, Byleth finally cleared her throat, "Can I go?" Her voice echoed in the empty chapel.

 

 Jeralt snorted impassively. He waved his flask at her, "Go ahead, kid. Go wild."

 

 In her seat at the pews, Ingrid spun around to stare at Dimitri across the room. She nodded her head towards the princess as she rushed down the aisle, holding up her dress to move faster. Dimitri raised his brows at the other knight in confusion, and Ingrid only grew more annoyed. She stood up, and nodded once again in the direction of the retreating princess.

 

 While he was not catching exactly what cue she was sending, he assumed that it meant that he should follow Byleth. He shimmied through the pews, meeting Ingrid in the middle of the aisle to follow Byleth out of the chapel. She sent a glance over her shoulder at Glenn, who looked at her in confusion.

 

 Byleth pushed the doors open to reveal the festivities. Several civilians caught sight of her, and cheered, raising their drinks and food and flowers up at the princess who stood before them on the chapel steps. Behind her, trying to not step on her train, Ingrid leaned into Dimitri, "The crowd is wild tonight, we need to keep an eye on her."

 

 The princess looked at Ingrid, having heard what she said, "Would you go get everybody else and tell them to meet me at Ashway?"

 

 She bowed, "Of course. Be right back."

 

 "Come on, let's go." She stepped down, and Dimitri realized that she had been speaking to him. He followed her, keeping behind her as she walked through the crowd. The people parted automatically, and the cheers were nearly deafening as they walked through. 

 

 "Do you want me to hold your train?" He had to yell over the noise.

 

 "What?" She looked at him, cupping her ear, then processing what he said and lighting up, "Oh, no I'm okay! Actually, can I borrow your dagger?"

 

 He glanced down at the small dagger at his hip. He had his lance on his back, yet he kept the dagger just in case. Wondering what she could possibly want with such a thing, he pulled it out and handed it to her. The commoners crowded around the two, yet Byleth was unbothered as she leaned down and gathered the thick white material up with her hands. "Could you help me get it all together?"

 

 He grabbed the end of her train, now turning brown from the dust and grime of the city road. He bunched up the fabric in his arms, and she pulled it taut between her and him. With a pleased smile, she stabbed the fabric with the dagger, and ripped a jagged line across the hem of her dress. 

 

 Several drunk bystanders cheered. Dimitri couldn't help but let out a laugh. 

 

 Once the hem of the dress was thoroughly cut and the train removed, she spun around slowly, holding the knife in her hand, "Freedom!" It was the loudest he had heard her yell.

 

 "Freedom!" Several in the crowd echoed, and others laughed and 'wooed', while some of them gasped in horror. 

 

 Byleth stepped towards him, and took the gathered fabric from his arms. She approached a young girl, who was staring at her with wide, starry eyes. She gave her the fabric, "I'm sorry it's dirty, but it can be cleaned. Make something nice, okay?"

 

 "Y-Yes!" She squeaked, then bowed her head, and ran to her mother yelling excitedly about her gift. Her mother only stared in horror at the princess wearing the ruined dress in the street.

 

 Byleth began weaving through the crowd just as her friends and family emerged from the chapel behind her. Dimitri followed, listening to her muse, barely heard over the noises of the festivities. "I need to get this stupid thing off." She tugged at the large bow tied around her neck. "I feel like a collared dog."

 

 "You look fine." He dodged a drunk man as he trailed her.

 

 She sent him a glance, "Don't tease me, Dimitri."

 

 He wasn't, he truly had meant his words, though pushing the subject now would've only proven to push her away. As they raced through the streets, slipping between the people and the horses that crowded each block, Dimitri caught sight of his father standing outside of the brewery. He paused for a moment, meeting his eyes, and earning a quizzical look. 

 

 He only shrugged. Byleth stopped ahead of him, turning around to look at her knight, and gesturing at him to keep up, "We have to hurry before all the tables at Ashway are filled."

 

 He tore his eyes from his father, "I'm sure you'll get a table even if they're filled."

 

 As he spoke, a man bumped clumsily into her, making her stumble away from the contact. Quickly, Dimitri stepped up to her, linking his arm with her own - and ignoring how improper it was, as the entire situation itself was improper anyway. Shielding her from the crowd, he led her away, feeling Lambert's eyes on his back as he did so. 

 

 Ashe's inn was only a few blocks away, and the family would be close behind, though most likely taking a carriage or horses as walking through the streets was a difficult task with the crowd. Byleth clutched his arm with both hands, leaning into him as they rushed. "Thank you, I've never seen Fhirdiad this lively."

 

 He took a turn down an alley that was less crowded. The world around them quieted down as they slowed into a walk, now more calm. Sighing in relief, he glanced at the girl on his arm - how well she fit against him, like pieces of a puzzle. "How do you feel?"

 

 A dangerous question, most likely one that should've been avoided. Yet, he was a brave man. She only mused in thought as they walked before giving him an answer, "Like I need some food. I haven't eaten all day."

 

 "You should always eat before a big event." He was a hypocrite, as he hadn't eaten either, not feeling like he could handle anything on his stomach. 

 

 "This dress is too tight to eat in," she put a hand to her stomach, "would you loosen my corset?"

 

 Even without the train, it was still a large dress. They both stopped in their tracks, with nobody around them now. Dimitri was shocked by her request, yet would not refuse. He took the dagger from her, and carefully examined the laces of the outer layer. She had to have been wearing several tied corsets, yet losing one layer would help her feel much less trapped. 

 

 He had never untied a dress like this before. Byleth preferred simple cloth dresses that she pulled over her head, not the intricate petticoats that she wore in this lifetime. Now, suddenly nervous, he brought the dagger to the top lace, and cut it in two, and did the same to every other lace. 

 

 Under his careful hands, she snorted, "That's not how you loosen it."

 

 "Oh," he jerked away, cursing himself, "I'm sorry. I've never done that before."

 

 "It's okay," she shimmied gently, and pulled the outer layer away from her skin, "Just go ahead and cut it all off."

 

 How intimate, to cut off her clothes. Red painted his cheeks as he finished the job, and watched her push the heavy fabric off her body. 

 

 Underneath the corset was yet another, though this was more simple, and looked more comfortable without the beading and designs of the heavy layer she had taken off. It looked normal, and less extreme. Usually, in Faerghus, only the nobility wore corsets, and that was during important events. Heavy wool, and cotton were preferred against the cold wind of their country, rather than the fancy silks she had been dressed in.

 

 She pulled at the large bow around her neck, "I think this is sewn together. Would you cut it off too?"

 

 Wordlessly, and trying to not touch her skin, he pulled at the fabric at the back of her neck, and sliced through it with the dagger. The bow fell in front of her and tumbled to the ground. Clearing her throat, she sighed, "I'm sorry, but one last thing..."

 

 Teasingly, he pushed a finger into the puffy sleeves around her arms, watching it deflate underneath his touch, "These?"

 

 "Yes, please. If it's not too much trouble."

 

 Despite the awkwardness swirling in his mind, it was no trouble at all. He inspected the sleeve, and tugged at the fabric. His crest glowed in front of him as he grabbed the sleeve and ripped it off in one clean sweep. She gasped, and inspected the part where the puffiness had been, poking at the strings dangling from where it had met her shoulder. Satisfied, she turned, so he could do the same to the other arm.

 

 It ripped cleanly, leaving her sleeveless, and letting her arms feel the cold breeze of the air. She stepped away to model herself for him, "Do I look like a bride?"

 

 He eyed her. She looked like a mess, yet a beautiful one. 

 

 Her dress was jagged, missing a layer, and much less poofy, and he trailed his eyes down to the end of the dress where the hem had been cut off. He smiled upon seeing her legs, "Boots?"

 

 She lifted a dark, muddy boot, "Oh, yeah, I didn't think anybody would see my shoes."

 

 He was in awe. His heart did an entire gymnastics routine.

 

 "You're beautiful."

 

 She stared at him. She had probably heard those particular words a million times over, so many times that he was just another echo of some desperate man hoping for her attention. He cursed himself, though he told the absolute truth, and hoped that she believed him. 

 

 Her face was unreadable, and it's blankness unnerved him. It was a rare time that he couldn't read her expression, and she most likely meant for it to be that way. She turned around wordlessly, and continued on her way to Ashe's restaurant. 

 

 She said nothing. He followed her, clearing his throat in an attempt to dispel the air of awkwardness that he had created. "I'm sorry if that was too forward."

 

 "It's fine," she shrugged, yet she did not look at him, "I just want to put this day behind me."

 

 Of course she would, she had gotten left at the altar. No matter how much she had not wanted to be married, the day was still an absolute waste for her. Dimitri knew that it wasn't right for him to say that to her, not when she had experienced that mess of a wedding. "There's probably a lot on your mind, I shouldn't have made it awkward. I'm terribly sorry, you must know that."

 

 "It's fine," her voice was quiet, meek almost, if she could ever be such a way, "You didn't make it awkward. I just feel bad that all these people are excited over something that's not even happening. I don't deserve to be beautiful, or inspiring, or anything good like that."

 

 Incredulous, he followed at her heels, "Marriage or no marriage, you're still a good person. You can't help that Sylvain wasn't there."

 

 "I love that he wasn't there. I'm ecstatic, Dimitri. I'm so happy, and so grateful," walking more quickly now, she clasped her hands together, and shook her head, "I'm terrible for thinking that, aren't I? Me and Sylvain's selfishness is going to make the lives of the people of Faerghus all the more harsh."

 

 "Sylvain isn't dead, right?" He questioned, "He just didn't show up?"

 

 "He ran off Thursday night, and left a note saying that he couldn't be who the Margrave wanted him to be."

 

 Dramatic. It sounded like Sylvain. As much as he despised the words about to come from his mouth, he would find himself saying them anyway, "I could find him for you," he offered, and she slowed in her walk, listening to him, "I could go search for him, and try to convince him to come back and do what's right for Faerghus."

 

 She stopped, looking at him now, "Do you think that's possible?"

 

 "Do you want to marry him?"

 

 "No, but I have a responsibility..."

 

 "It's possible." His voice softened. Every word was another stab in his heart as he promised to bring back the man who would marry his love, "I would do it for you, for Faerghus."

 

 "I don't know you very well," she stated, looking up at him, "why would you do such a thing for me?"

 

 "Lie." 

 

 Sothis's voice was a sudden, unwelcome shock through Dimitri's system. He nearly jumped, though kept his composure in front of Byleth. His eyes widened as her one word echoed through his mind. Why did she only show up when encouraging him to show dishonesty?

 

 He would have to question her later as to where she had been the entire time. Trying to regain his suddenly scrambled thoughts, he stuttered out an explanation to Byleth, "I-I care for the people, and it's the job of the strong to defend the weak."

 

 "Are you strong, and I'm weak?"

 

 Backtrack, backtrack. He put a gloved hand up, "No, that is not what I meant. You and Sylvain are in the position of the strong, the people don't have the power to control the circumstances around them, while the nobility do. I want to have a hand in assisting the strong in any way I can. I can fight, I can track, and I can be persuasive enough. Let me find Sylvain," Boldly, he took her hand, small in his own, "Let me help you."

 

 Her lips parted thoughtfully, and she stared at their joined hands, his gloved, and her's bare, "Your hands are so warm."

 

 "Have they always been?" 

 

 The words echoed in his hands. His stomach churned, and throat tightened. There was no rain, no life changing deaths, no shifting of his destructive mindset. Byleth had said those words almost casually, the complete opposite of the past. This entire world was an opposite, and this moment felt like a mockery of that moment, standing in the rain together and talking about life. He was so in love with her. He is so in love with her. 

 

 Yet, the memory also made him feel as if he was about to throw up.

 

 Quickly, he pulled his hands away, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't of touched you. We can talk about Sylvain later as well."

 

 A flicker of confusion passed over her face. He stepped past her and walked ahead, and she was now the one following at his heels. Again, it was incredibly improper for him to be in front of her rather than behind, yet she seemed to not care for being proper. He was merely trying to not pass out from exhaustion and dizziness. 

 

 "You're a confusing man." She complained, "And you walk too fast."

 

 His legs were quite longer than hers. He stopped, and bowed his head as he stepped aside to let her take the place in front of her. "I'm sorry."

 

 "You already said that, Dimitri."

 

 He knew. He had to resist the urge to say it again. 

 

 She stood beside him, instead of walking in front of him. He sent her a prompting glance, yet she continued to look up at him, "Walk beside me. I don't make Ingrid walk behind me either."

 

 "I'd rather walk behind you, your highness."

 

 Her face fell. The expectant expression melted into one of annoyance, and her lips contorted into a frown. She turned, giving him a shoulder colder than Faerghus itself, and began walking down the alley once more. 

 

 Of course he had ruined it. What else did he expect? Sothis's presence sat in the back of his mind, heavy and observant. He could hear the echo of her snarky giggle at the situation, and mentally, he shushed the goddess. In return, her giggle turned into a laugh at his expense. 

 

 "You witch," he thought, "This is your fault."

 

 "No, no, this is your fault." She retorted, offended now, "You humans always blame me for everything. Have you ever thought that your own stupidity is the cause of your suffering?"

 

 He knew that she was correct, yet it was difficult to admit. "Where have you been, Sothis?"

 

 "I'll tell you later. For now, stop paying attention to me. Focus on..." she yawned, "the... girl..."

 

 The girl. She meant Byleth, who was making a point to hurry ahead of him towards the inn. Parked in the stable beside it was the royal carriage - the rest of the family and friends were already inside. They had spent longer in the alley than Dimitri had thought. 

 

 He caught her eye as she glanced at a commoner nearby, yet she turned away immediately. His heart fell upon seeing the look of embarrassment coloring her features. It dawned on him that Byleth wasn't mad at him - she was embarrassed. It was his fault, though he couldn't pinpoint how such a thing had happened, or how to fix the situation. 

 

 "I'm sorry, your highness." He reached to her as they approached the entrance.

 

 "Don't say that unless it's necessary," she retorted, "Please? This has been a terrible day, and I just want to eat shepherds pie and drink spiced rum with the people I care about."

 

 He nodded, "I'll stay out here and guard the door."

 

 "I don't know you well," she finally turned to him, standing on the front step, "but I care about you too, okay? I care about your situation, and I know you're genuine. You just need to let me care."

 

 Let her care? He could hardly process what she was saying, and only stared at her incredulously. She was hypocritical, and he was speaking his mind before he could hold his tongue, "I could say the same thing for you."

 

 She opened her mouth to reply, yet no words came. Her lips formed into an O, before she shut them tightly, and turned around to open the door and let the smell of fried potatoes and chicken drift into the street, "Just come inside and sit down."

 

 He would oblige, though he was hesitant as he followed her inside. Once the door closed behind her, the room erupted with a wave of cheers and more 'woos' from some sloppy commoners. At the biggest table, towards the back of the room, Jeralt raised his mug to her, and gestured with a wave, "We saved you a seat, kid!"

 Sitri gasped at the sight of her daughter making her way through the crowd, "What did you do to your dress, child?"

 

 "Nice!" Annette laughed, "I like this look much better!"

 

 "It's fitting," remarked Ingrid, looking very pink under Glenn's arm, "much more your style."

 

 "Dirty and uneven is my style?" Byleth clutched at her choppy dark hair, "I guess you're right."

 

 "Most boring wedding I've ever been to," Felix raised his mug, "Congrats."

 

 Mercedes giggled from her spot besides Sitri, and she and the queen shared a smile, "I thought it was interesting. You should've heard the rumors flying around."

 

 "I can only imagine." Byleth took the empty chair and sat, then pulled out the chair next to her for Dimitri. Hesitantly, he took it, trying to ignore Jeralt squinting at him in suspicion across the table. 

 

 Rodrigue sat next to Jeralt pleasantly, and ignored the king's glare as he leaned over his family to shake Dimitri's hand. Dimitri returned the handshake, and sent him a subtle, polite smile. Rodrigue sat back in his chair, and eyed him with a hospitable look, "We're glad to have you, Blaiddyd. I hear you're quite the knight."

 

 "I'm very new to this," he avoided noticing Jeralt's eye roll, "but I'll try my best." 

 

 Ashe hovered nearby with a pitcher of water. His eyes were wide, and his smile nervous, though it was mostly directed to the queen and king in front of him. "I-It's an honor to have you here, your Majesty! I'll be serving you personally tonight."

 

 "You don't have to act weird around my parents, Ashe," Byleth reprimanded, "You're a Blue Lion, so you're part of the family. Why don't you sit down?"

 

 "I couldn't possibly do that! I'll go get you more ale!" He set the pitcher on the table, and quickly rushed behind the counter to grab the drinks.

 

 Byleth watched him, then sighed and glanced at Dimitri, "We went to school together."

 

 He nearly forgot that she didn't know that he was a Blue Lion as well. It felt intimidating, yet comforting to be at a table of the other Lions, though he missed Dedue at his side. He eyed Felix and Annette, bickering over what they should order, and Ingrid, who was reprimanding them. It was a welcome change to have Glenn, Jeralt and Sitri, faces he thought he never would've seen his lifetime. 

 

 Jeralt's voice commanded attention without him even attempting to, "What a shit show that was, huh?"

 

 Sitri elbowed him for his language, though she looked as if she agreed entirely. Byleth only nodded as the table quieted down with talk of the wedding, "I really thought he would show up."

 

 Ingrid knocked her fist on the table, "He has a responsibility to his region and his country!"

 

 "Damn right," Glenn agreed, "He's a coward."

 

 "We don't know the full extent of the situation..." Rodrigue interject softly, earning a groan from Felix in response. 

 

 Annette huffed at Glenn, "Your father's right. Don't talk so badly of Sylvain! We don't know what really happened. Someone may have kidnapped him!"

 

 "He may be in trouble..." Mercedes mused silently, looking worried, "I wonder if we should be concerned."

 

 Felix waved his hand, "The fool ran off because he didn't want to get married! I mean, I get it-" Annette punched him in the arm, yet he flinched away and continued, "but seriously, the Margrave was making his worst nightmare a reality. Of course he ran off."

 

 Aware of his surroundings, Dimitri glanced over his shoulder to catch several tables of quiet commoners, staring down at their drinks and eavesdropping to the loud conversation of the nobles and royal family. Rumor would spread quickly. He looked away to catch Sitri's eyes, who had noticed the same people listening. "We need to be more quiet," Sitri informed, "this is not a cause for panic."

 

 Byleth fiddled with the white fabric of her dress, twisting it around and off her finger as she stared down at her lap. Sitri's warning went unnoticed as she spoke, "I'm going to find him."

 

 Jeralt snorted, "And when did you decide that?"

 

 "Now." She looked up at him, "I'll take a search party. Me and Dimitri will go," she looked at him, who stared back at her with wide eyes, "And we'll find him, and tell him that he's being foolish."

 

 "I see right through you, kid. You just want to travel again."

 

 "Yeah, well, it's a win win." She shrugged, "I get to travel, and when I find Sylvain, we'll get married and give the Margrave what he wants. Trade will resume again, we'll be protected, and I'll have my last... hurrah, I guess."

 

 Dimitri felt like a fish out of water, with the eyes on him as Byleth spoke. He wondered what was going through their minds concerning him, this stranger at their table, pretending that he was one of them. He was, he knew it, but they didn't. 

 

 Jeralt shook his head, "Not happenin'."

 

 "It is."

 

 "No, it's not."

 

 "It is."

 

 "Byleth, no it's not."

 

 "Yes it is."

 

 Sitri was annoyed, a rare feeling for her, "Stop. We're having a family dinner here, can you keep the arguing to a minimum?"

 

 Father and daughter both quieted, yet they stared each other down through the middle of the table. Their silence was just as loud as before. 

 

 It was Annette who broke the tension, with her being all too used to the antics of Byleth and Jeralt. She snapped her fingers, eyes wide, catching everybody's attention with a loud 'uh huh!'. "I know what I'm ordering! Steak, dipped in bread crumbs, with gravy all over it- oh, oh, and chocolate cake! I would like a cinnamon hot chocolate as well, and-"

 

 "I'm not helping you eat that!" Felix interjected loudly. 

 

 "I don't need help!"

 

 "I'll help you." Ingrid's eyes were wide.

 

 "I don't need your help!"

 

 Ingrid looked up at Glenn, who gave her a flat stare. She tensed up, as if in battle, though her battlefield was the dinner table, "I want that too. Except I want two steaks."

 

 He squinted, "Do you think I'm made of money, woman?"

 

 As the friends erupted into mini arguments over food, Sitri and Jeralt both softened, and Byleth returned to her fiddling. Besides Dimitri, Mercedes sent him a smile, and leaned in to whisper, "I hope we're not scaring you."

 

 "No, in fact I feel quite at home," he returned her smile, and Byleth looked up at him upon hearing his answer. He turned his gaze to her, "Thank you for letting me be here."

 

 "Thank you for wanting to join us," she put a hand on his arm, and across the table Jeralt's gaze hardened into stone once more, yet Byleth took no notice, "You'll have to be patient with us."

 

 "That's easy."

 

 "Not always." She pulled her hand away, "but you're stuck here now."

 

 As he listened to the family around him, Rodrigue trying to quiet his boys down and only getting snapped at in return - he was as patient as ever - and to the sound of Jeralt complaining about not having enough beer in front of him, he felt happy. Sitri was politely doing needlework, where she had pulled the sewing materials from, and why she was doing it in a crowded, loud inn, he had no idea, but she was a rock of calm and steadiness among the chaos. Mercedes only hummed innocently, while Byleth sipped on the spiced rum she had ordered. 

 

 "I'm happy to be stuck here," his answer to her was quiet, only for her ears, "this was my decision."

 

 "Tomorrow," she whispered in return, "meet me at the Southern gate. We're going to find Sylvain."

 

 

Chapter Text

It seemed that not even Dimitri, in all his cleverness, could be free from the traps of an overprotective parent. Sneaking out, even, was near impossible to achieve when Lambert was near. The man barely slept, and had eyes like a hawk, trained to catch his secretive son as he crept to the door. 

 

 Early in the morning, the dining room had emptied. Only Lambert remained, sitting in the corner languidly. He sipped on a mug of water, sporting reading glasses as he gazed at the book in front of him. It was a tale of adventure, a book Dedue had recommended. It was a rare thing for Dedue to reccommend him anything but old informational tomes and recipe books. Lambert could only appreciate stories of the fantastical sort, as they tended to remind him of Leliana, who would drink them up like water. 

 

 Dimitri looked nothing like his mother, Lambert had noticed. He eyed his son, watching him take slow steps towards the front door, sticking to the corner of the room and hoisting his travel bag over his shoulder. Leliana had brown hair, brown eyes, soft features - Dimitri had the opposite. It was like looking in a mirror when face to face with his son, and he wished he had at least gotten something from his mother. Something that was not her delusions, that is. 

 

 "Dimitri."

 

 Lambert watched as he froze. They locked eyes across the room. 

 

 "G-Goodmorning, father... I hope you're well."

 

 He was well. Lambert would've never guessed that he'd be the type of parent that enjoyed catching his child red-handed so much.

 

 "It's 4 o'clock in the morning, my boy," he snapped his book shut, the noise resounding through the empty dining room and making Dimitri's shoulders tense, "They're not making you go into work this early, are you? I'll talk to Sitri and see if she can get you a better schedule." Ignorance, and well-intentioned innocence, the perfect mask for his sheer amusement. 

 

 "That's quite alright," Dimitri rolled his shoulders and offered him a tight, close-lipped smile, "I don't mind my schedule at all, really."

 

 "Oh, no no, it's not alright." Lambert stood from his seat and deposited his reading glasses onto the table, crossing the room to grant Dimitri a fatherly pat on the shoulder, "You deserve much better than this! I'll march right up there and talk to the Queen and King myself! I'll wake them up out of bed if I have to!"

 

 Dimitri had a keen eye for when Lambert was milking a situation, though his father attempted to cover up his intent with a charming twist of his lips. Truthfully, Lambert would always allow Dimitri to keep his secrets, and he would keep his own. It remained an unsaid agreement between the two, and it had not yet failed them. Yet, as a father, looking out for his son would never cease, and no matter the amount of teasing, he would go to the ends of Fodlan to make sure he was okay. 

 

 "There's no need for that," Dimitri stepped away, "I don't mind my schedule at all."

 

 "Your schedule involves packing your things and creeping out as quietly as you can?" 

 

 Dimitri remained quiet. His gaze did not waver, only staring back into Lambert's with a look of desperation, pleading, and determination. He had seen the same look in Leliana's eyes, once. 

 

 "What would Dedue think?" He questioned further, prodding with his words, "He misses you. He'd never say it, but you're his best friend, and neither of us have barely gotten to see you all week." Now, getting more passionate, he put his hands up, entreating him, "It's exactly what I feared. You become a knight and then we never see you again. You're suddenly too busy, and I've lost my son - Dedue will lose his closest friend. I don't want to make your future about us, but Dimitri, you have to think about the people around you. You can't just be caught up in your own life all the time!"

 

 He forced himself to stop. Mid breath, halting the emotional word vomit. His chest heaved up, then down, and he finally exhaled deeply. His shoulders tensed, and his head began to ache with stress. 

 

 Leliana. Leliana. Leliana. Soft hands grasping for his own, gasps for help as she ran out of air. She was a tragic solar system, and he was merely debris floating in her gravitational pull - something not even taken into account by the very nature of Leliana. 

 

 Dimitri stared at him in the same way she always had. The same mixture of emotions. Desperation. Pleading. Determination. 

 

 The large grandfather clock in the corner of the room ticked, and the sound grew so large it took over Lambert's mind. He only registered the tick. Tick. Tick. 

 

 "Keeping secrets will do us no good," Lambert whispered, "please tell me where you're going."

 

 Unsaid words. I can't bear to lose you. 

 

 If only Dimitri knew the struggles of fatherhood, the pain that came with someone being the only thing left in his life worth living for. He hoped his son would never have to experience such things. 

 

 He watched as Dimitri tasted his words. He looked away, finding a spot in the wooden patterns of the floor to stare at as he mulled over the plea from his father. In a show of affection and encouragement, Lambert took his hand, and squeezed his fingers. Finally, Dimitri flickered his eyes to him once more, and opened his mouth to speak. "The wedding didn't happen."

 

 "I heard." The news had spread like wildfire yesterday, though it failed to stop the people from enjoying themselves. Only a few particularly patriotic souls had mourned the lack of nuptials, yet the majority seemed to agree that the festivities would continue nonetheless, and their drinking and eating remained unfettered. Lambert, personally, had thought nothing of it, nobles and royalty were all fickle anyway. "And?"

 

 "Byle- uh, the princess, I mean, is worried that the people of Faerghus will suffer if she doesn't marry Sylvain Gautier."

 

 He nearly rolled his eyes. How very princess-like, to focus on such a small thing as an arranged marriage. Lambert understood that there were political implications, yet what a small problem it seemed in the scope of such a big world. There were far worse things to be worried about, and the people would recover from the lack of political arrangements. "Let me guess, my heroic knight, you're going to go find him and bring him back?"

 

 Dimitri blinked in surprise, "Yes... How did you know?"

 

 "I would do the same if I were in your position, if I cared that much." They were much too alike, "Dimitri, honestly, you know that there are bigger fish to fry in the world. Her marrying this Gautier boy won't matter in the long run."

 "It matters to her," he defended, pulling his hand away, "what matters to her, matters to me."

 

 Lambert hated how he sounded. He recalled being a young boy, headstrong and set in his ways. His own father had given him the same kind of speeches, and in those moments he had hated him for disparaging what he cared about so dearly. He echoed his father's despised words. "Don't count your eggs before they're hatched, my boy."

 

 Frustration sparked, and Dimitri turned on his heel to head for the door, "The eggs have already been hatched, grown up, and put on the table for dinner, father." Whatever in hell that meant. 

 

 Lambert found himself frustrated as well, and bemoaned the fact that nearly every conversation he had shared with his son through the week had turned into an argument. "Your own delusions have convinced you that you're in love with the princess, who you met literally 7 days ago! And now you're prepared to leave your family to go on some hunt for a man who doesn't even want to marry her?" He knew his words would sting, yet they flowed from his mouth like a waterfall, "I just wish you'd get out of your own damn head and be realistic for once!"

 

 His response was immediate, striking back with the same ferocity that had been dealt to him. "You have no idea, father," Dimitri reached for the handle, and yanked the front door off it's hinges with a sharp crack, "Shit. Ugh..." he shook his head, "Listen, I know it doesn't make sense to you, but this is what I want." Frustrated, he shoved the door back into it's place crookedly, speaking as he adjusted it, "I'm going to be happy with what Sothis has given me, and that simply means making Byleth happy."

 

 "You're one track minded," Lambert accused, "You're going to push everybody away if you keep that nonsense up."

 

 The irony of it all. He was confused at seeing the bitter smile that graced Dimitri's lips. "If you're so distraught over this, why don't you do something about it?"

 

 With the remark so uncharacteristic of the humble boy he had raised, Lambert was taken aback. He watched as his son turned away, giving up on the door, and stormed down the cobblestone street. The city was barely waking up by this time, unaware of the boy who walked it's roads, ready to push aside anything that stood in his way. 

 

 His words rang clearly in his mind.

 

 Why don't you do something about it?

 

 Well, of course he would.

 

 How Lambert loved a challenge.

 


 

 Dimitri did not enjoy who he had became with his father. 

 

 Being 106 years old mentally, yet feeling the emotional level of a 23 year old, made for an odd hormonal, emotional cocktail. There were the 83 years of his life spent trying to hold back the ghosts of his father's whispers, pushing and prodding at him to carry out whatever his brain thought was sure logic at that time - minus the five years spent actually giving into the prodding, and the years before his father's death that were spent actually happy and relatively normal. 

 

 The truth that was held somewhere inside of him told him that his father was right, he had this chance to have a normal friendship with Dedue, to have his father, to have a family. He was throwing that away. 

 

 Yet...

 

 Byleth Eisner. 

 

 In his madness of another life, he had called her a vile seductress. She, who only distracted him from his murderous goals. In this lifetime, with the past personality traits of those five years still lingering, she was his goal. He was not the boar, the monster, any longer. Yet, this is what he had wished for, to be with her in any way possible. He was going to have that - if only his father would understand. 

 

 He and Lambert had argued nearly every day of the week. It was not something that either of them were used to, and he wondered if this was how it would've been if Lambert had been with him growing up in his past life. He had idolized his father so much, yet the past years had shown him that the King was simply a man, simply a father who loved his son. Dimitri had shown the same incessant concern with his own children - as fuzzy as their memory was to him now. 

 

 That was problem with this reality that continued to sadden him. He remembered Byleth, the war, his madness, yet his children, his family - they all were beginning to fade. He grasped for them desperately, but they floated away on the tides of time, fading into the distance. It pained him to forget them. He reassured himself by the reminder that he had chosen this, he had chosen to leave them. 

 

 He felt cruel.

 

 A cruel man, who argued with his concerned father, who left his children and grandchildren behind. The pains of old age had left him as well, and he was 23 again, one track minded and only focused on the love of his life. The small part of him that lingered from the past, the old man who had lived 83 years, scolded him for being so selfish. 

 

 He stopped mid-step, and glanced over his shoulder towards the inn in the distance. The door had been unevenly shut, and he made a mental reminder to give the owner some money as repayment for breaking his hinges clean off. Lambert no longer stood in the entryway, and Dimitri felt very alone in the empty Fhirdiad street. 

 

 Sothis had not returned him since yesterday. He had left the Ashe's restaurant after conversing for a while with Rodrigue, and allowed Ingrid and Glenn escort Byleth back to the castle. Jeralt and company continued their dining and drinking late into the night after Dimitri and the others retired. Upon returning to his rented room, thoughts of the mission with Byleth cradled him to sleep like a lullaby. 

 

 She had expanded upon her statement later that night, telling him to meet her at 5:00 a.m. - she wanted an early start on their journey. It was one of the few moments of true excitement that he had felt thus far in this lifetime, to be traveling with her. And realistically, he knew that he would eventually return to his father and Dedue, and he would not be leaving his family forever. 

 

 Possibly, if life worked out in the way he wished it, he would have the best of both worlds. 

 

 Byleth knelt down in a squat, scratching a stray dog behind it's ears. The world around her was beginning to lighten up with the blanket of morning. The guards at the gate had traded shifts, yawning as they watched over the lone princess before them. 

 

 Dimitri clutched the strap of his bag as he approached, and she looked up at him with a blank expression of greeting, "You're early."

 

 She had always been more early than she needed to be, having gotten used to teaching a class of drowsy teenagers in her past life. It seemed that the trait had followed her into this lifetime. He'd always been just as punctual, if not moreso, than she was. "I wouldn't dream of being late."

 

 Pleased with his answer, she stood and watched the stray dog trot away in satisfaction. She had dressed in commoners clothing, similar to what she had worn as a mercenary before. A black overcoat, black pants with lace up boots, and a high collared shirt with a choker. Her dark hair was pulled into a short, stubby ponytail. "Are you ready? I don't know how long we'll be on the road for."

 

 "I expected this to be quite the journey. Sylvain could've gone far in the past few days," or eaten by wolves, that was a possibility, though he desperately hoped not, "And your father approves of this?"

 

 She averted her eyes, silent.

 

 "He doesn't know, does he?"

 

 "Well... what he doesn't know won't kill him."

 

 His sense of morality overrode his desire to be with her. Sighing, he sent her a flat look, "Prof- Byleth- ugh," She looked at him curiously, but he went on, cursing himself for his slip of tongue, "Your highness, we may be out here for weeks. Truthfully, I expected an entire fleet of soldiers ready to help us, and Jeralt's full approval of our search."

 

 "He's searching," she retorted, "he's got several knights out there already. I just..." she cleared her throat and avoided his eyes, "I believe I can do a much better job."

 

 Of course she did. 

 

 "Why me?" He furrowed his brows, "Why not Ingrid, or Glenn?"

 

 "You don't argue with me and tell me what you think is for my own good."

 

 Because I'm so in love with you that I'd fight an army if you told me to. 

 

 He forced the thought out of his head, looking away from her. His mind went to Lambert, who had done to him exactly what she complained about now. He understood the feeling. It was nice, actually, to be the one she put her trust in. He knew how tiring it could be in her position. "I will not be a blind follower," he assured, "yet... I trust you to make good decisions."

 

 Satisfied, she stuffed her hands into her pockets, and rocked back and forth on her heels, "Well, thank you, though I can't promise you that they'll always be good."

 

 She, who had led his army to victory and had brought the church to reformation, was being humble about her decision making. If only she knew what she had done, what she was capable of. This princess who had only traveled diplomatically and fought bandits, never a war, knew nothing of who she really was. 

 

 "And if we get caught by your father's men?"

 

 "We run."

 

 "If we can't run?"

 

 "We're dragged back by our ears."

 

 "I might lose my job."

 

 "I wouldn't let that happen."

 

 "I believe I trust you."

 

 "I hope you do."

 

 He did. He couldn't help it. 

 

 She turned from him, and began her way out of the Southern gate of the city. Very few were awake in town by that time, yet it was enough to drive her to begin her journey. The gate guards kept their eyes straight ahead, he assumed they had been paid for their silence, letting the princess leave Fhirdiad without any problems. 

 

 It was reminiscent of their walk to Jeralt's fighting tournament, though the role he played was different now. He was her personal retainer, the lance on his back dedicated to protecting her life, even if it meant giving his own. In just several days, his position had changed, and he couldn't thank her enough for the circumstances he found himself in now. 

 

 They walked, him behind her. She was natural, casual, the steel sword at her hip bouncing with every step. He eyed the weapon, "Do you not carry the Sword of The Creator?"

 

 "I will when I become queen," she spoke over her shoulder, "for now, I don't have any special weapons."

 

 "What about Areadbhar?"

 

 "What's that?"

 

 He sighed, distraught, "Nothing, excuse my question."

 

 She excused it, now jumping from that subject to another, "This would be a perfect time to tell me all your secrets, you know."

 

 "You sound like a Riegan."

 

 "I suppose Claude rubbed off on me a bit last time I visited him."

 

  "How is he doing?"

 

 She sent him a furrowed brow with a frown, "Fine... You know him?"

 

 A slip of his tongue. He cursed himself, and quieted, "Only by here-say..." Letting the subject drop, he continued to walk in strict silence. The morning was cold, though the wind was beginning to calm with the onset of the sun overhead. It would be a rare sunny day in Northern Faerghus, something he appreciated on the few times he could get the chance. 

 

 Aside from being reminiscent of their hike to Jeralt's tournament, the walk also reminded him of traveling with his father and Dedue. They rarely ordered carriages, and would walk from one end of the continent to the other. Yet, they always had a goal, a place to go, and this hike with Byleth felt entirely aimless despite their intention. Breaking the few minutes of silence that had passed by, he spoke up, "Do we have any leads as to where Sylvain would be?"

 

 "West," she sighed, "I don't know for sure, but it seems the general consensus is that he'd try to get as far away from home as he possibly could."

 

 It felt foolish to track down someone on a guess of where they could be, though he would continue to follow her wherever she pleased. Perhaps Jeralt was correct in his assumption, she just wanted to travel, wanted to escape. It was nice to be a part of that, at least. He would take what he could get.

 

 The two fell into a comfortable silence once more. Dimitri listened to the birds waking up around him, and their steps on the dirt road as they followed it. An hour passed by, and they neared the fork where they could go East or West. Byleth veered West, away from Gautier as promised.

 

 The conversation was few, though pleasant. Dimitri felt no need to force her to speak, and she felt no need to force herself to speak either. Byleth had always preferred her own contemplation over conversation, though he assumed that was when she had Sothis to mentally jab back and forth with. Sothis wouldn't even speak to him now, showing up and disappearing whenever she wished in the most frustrating of ways. Before, she had been stuck with Byleth, her mind like a jail cell, and speaking to the professor was all she had. 

 

 Whatever the princess was thinking was unknown to Dimitri, though he didn't find it in himself to pry. Any words passed between them were usually about the scenery or an interesting lizard or bird that one of them saw. As silent as it was, he found himself content. Simply being near her, letting her lead him to wherever she pleased, was enough for him. 

 

 The day passed peacefully. Byleth had stopped to speak with the several merchant carts that had passed, yet their news remained unsatisfactory for her so far. As the two walked and played a rather boring game of I Spy, Dimitri noticed the blanket of darkness falling over the world. 

 

 An entire day had passed so quickly, it seemed, and they had only stopped for lunch and snacks once. Byleth had as much stamina as he had, and had not complained of pain or hunger through out the entire hike. Now, evening was falling, and he halted to point out the sunset to her. 

 

 "It's beautiful," she commented, her voice light as she pulled herself up onto a few rocks that had fallen off the cliffs beside the roadway. She sat on the top, and let her legs dangle as she admired the painting of orange, yellow and pink. Dimitri grasped for a handle of the boulders, and began trekking his way to meet Byleth where she sat. 

 

 Eventually, he found a spot a few rocks away, though he wished that he could be at her side. He stood, steadying himself, and covering his brow with a hand so he could catch a better view of the sunset over the distant valley. "This day's gone by fast."

 

 "It has," she nodded in agreement, "but Faerghus looks the same no matter where we are."

 

 It was true. The rocks in the Western area looked the exact same as the rocks on the Eastern. Usually, the mountains would shield the sunset from view, yet the valley just beyond their current spot was the perfect point for admiring it's color. "Would you like to make camp?" He asked.

 

 She hummed in thought, "I don't want to camp beside the road, we might be found. If we can..." she stretched herself to see any pathway that might be made into the valley below, "perhaps we can find a spot down below?"

 

 It was born into any citizen of Faerghus to be entirely comfortable with the natural terrain of their country. Without word, Dimitri let himself slide down onto another boulder. It was steep, but not steep enough so as to be dangerous to any experienced hiker. He turned around in place, and found a foothold from the root of a tree, and used it as a step to lower himself onto another spot where he could safely stand. "I think we can make it," he called to Byleth, who watched from her place above, "Just watch for snakes."

 

 She grimaced. "You can't really watch for snakes out here, you know. You just keep climbing until you step on one and die."

 

 "That's a positive thought," his laugh was short, breathy, as he focused more on lowering himself into another level spot for him to hang onto. It wasn't a straight, up and down slope, and there was enough dirt and limbs where he didn't have to rely on his grip holding onto boulders, but it was enough to injure him if he was to fall backwards. 

 

 He looked up to catch Byleth copying his movements as she made her way down. He was happy that he was below her, trusting himself to catch if she lost hold of wherever she was climbing. 

 

 Also, her had a nice view of her rear end. It was merely one benefit of their positions. 

 

 "It's slippery over here," he felt the wet moss underneath his fingertips, and grasped for a more dry spot to hold, "but we're almost to the ground."

 

 Finally, the tip of his toe felt the flat surface of the valley, and he let himself loosen his grip. He stepped away as Byleth made followed his lead into the forested area at the base of the small mountain. Not much time had passed, yet the sky darkened even more, and the sunset was out of view. 

 

 Byleth sighed as she jumped down beside him and brushed off her dirtied coat. After dusting herself clean, she began to brush at his blue cloak, and pick a green leaf out of the fur of the animal skin that lay over his shoulders. "You have something in your hair," she stated, gently, almost hesitantly, pulling a small twig from behind his ear, not daring to let her fingers touch his skin, "It's like you were rubbing against a tree or something."

 

 He sighed and pulled his hair back, yet had nothing to tie it with. He wished that he had thought to bring the rubber band he had carried all across Fodlan in his travels. Now, of all times, he had forgotten it in his room at the inn. "Or perhaps I was climbing down a cliff?"

 

 "Perhaps," she mused, "Do I have anything on me?"

 

 She had a vibrant green leaf in her hair, it's stem stuck between her scalp and the silver circlet she wore. He decided that the leaf would stay, and he would be free from having to rob himself of the joy of seeing her look incredibly silly. "No, nothing."

 

 Unaware, she nodded, and stepped past him to find a path through the trees and thorns of the valley. 

 

 The air was growing colder, and the sky darker. Dimitri reached over Byleth and pushed a limb out of the way before she ran into it, and she sent him a nod of thanks as she continued on through the trees.

 

 It was rare for Faerghus to be heavily forested, yet some areas between mountains would produce beautiful valleys, with rivers and cedar trees running through the hills like a painting. Dimitri had always felt safe between the thick trunks of the evergreens. It was in these areas that he had spent weeks at a time running from Cornelia and Edelgard, living off the land and drinking from the rivers like a wild animal. The thick forests kept intruders out, and kept him blanketed within. 

 

 It was a perfect place to camp. The two continued pushing their way through the brambles, Byleth and Dimitri both cutting at the dry wood and vines with their daggers. The vegetation grew thinner, and a clearing showed itself ahead. 

 

 It was small, but cozy. With a nonverbal agreement, the two stopped, and inspected the area. Dimitri kicked up several rocks and brushed aside piles of leaves to check for snakes. Byleth broke overhanging limbs and tossed them in the middle of the clearing, where she would make a small fire for the night. 

 

 "I can stay up and watch for danger," he suggested, "I don't mind."

 

 "Are you sure?" She squatted down by the pile of sticks and snapped her fingers, letting a small magic flame light up the tips. She dug her hand into the sticks, and watched as the flame caught the dry wood, but sputtered out. Dimitri handed her a few dry leaves, and she attempted the process once more. "We should take turns."

 

 "I don't sleep," he informed, squatting beside her and adding more kindling to the pile, "At least not well."

 

 "You must be exhausted."

 

 "You must be moreso."

 

 Her gaze shifted into one of flat annoyance, "We'll discuss it later after dinner. Did you bring anything to eat?"

 

 He paused, a dry leaf between his fingers, and his eyes widening, "I was supposed to bring something?"

 

 "I... hoped that you would..."

 

 She was a princess, royalty, of course she would rely on her retainer to be prepared. Even when she was a mercenary she oftentimes proved woefully unprepared. He smiled at the memory of having to explain how classes worked to her on her first day at the academy - it was nice to see that she hadn't changed. 

 

 "I'll go hunting, there should be boars in this area," he stood and dusted off his knees, "Or bears, though they're quite gamey."

 

 Finally, the fire from her fingers caught onto the pile, and she carefully covered it from the wind to allow it to grow under her hands. Keeping her eyes steadily on the flames, she responded blankly, "I'm not picky, whatever you find is fine."

 

 "It won't be fine dining."

 

 "I'm okay, really," she glanced at him, "I don't need stuffed turkey and red wine every night. My father's had me hunt my own dinner before, I'm actually quite accustomed to bear."

 

 Jeralt had her do such a thing in preparation, he assumed, for if their kingdom was ever taken and she had to be on the run and fend for herself. He had been quite thankful of his own preparation and training for such a thing when he had made his escape before as well. 

 

 "I'll find you the best bear possible, my lady." In a rare show of playfulness, he bowed to her. A smile graced her lips, and he felt as if his dumb joke had won a prize, the honor of making her smile. 

 

 He found no bear in the woods, yet he did manage to locate a birds nest and gather eggs, and spear several small fish from the nearby creek. It was enough for the night, and he reminded himself to buy a bow in the next village. Having actual hunting weapons would make feeding him and Byleth much easier. 

 

 After their odd dinner of bony fish and boiled eggs, Dimitri settled against a tree, crossed his arms, and looked at the night sky. Byleth lay on the other side of the dimming red coals and watched him from her spot in her sleeping bag. Her cheek was settled into her palm, and her eyes were as wide as the moon as she stared at him. 

 

 He could feel her gaze on him, yet did not dare to meet it. The silence they had fallen into after dinner was comfortable, something he cherished and enjoyed. He sighed, closed his eyes, and took in the crisp, cold air of Faerghus. 

 

 Byleth continued to stare. She blinked, and blinked, and he had yet to look at her. 

 

 The wind blew. She snuggled deeper into her sleeping bag, and laid her head on her jacket that she had folded to make a pillow. Dimitri opened his eyes once more to look at the stars above. 

 

 "I really can take first watch, Dimitri."

 

 He frowned. "For the last time, that will not be necessary. I'm just fine."

 

 "I can, though," she mumbled, "I don't mind."

 

 She was the same in that way as well, wanting to give of herself for the comfort of others. It made him happy to know that even when she was not his teacher she still was concerned for his well being. "I would just be lying awake anyway, I might as well use this time to keep you safe."

 

 "Well," she yawned, "thank you, I appreciate that. I knew I had made a good choice in asking you to come along."

 

 That piqued his interest. He tore his eyes away from the sky and looked at her as she buried her face into her jacket. "Why did you ask me? Why not Ingrid? I'm sure you two have much more to talk about."

 

 "I can't tear her away from Glenn any longer. They've put off their wedding for far too long because of work." She shook her head and frowned, her dark lashes lining her closed eyes, "I don't know how long it will take to find Sylvain, and I know that she misses Glenn every day that they're apart."

 

 Perhaps it was the odd tasting fish he just ate, or his whimsy at being alone with Byleth, but he couldn't the joke escaping from his lips, "So this is a singles only retreat?"

 

 "I didn't know you were single," she snorted in amusement, "I just don't know you well enough to tell when you're sad or missing your girlfriend."

 

 "So what you can't see won't hurt you."

 

 She lifted her head, now frowning, "No, not at all. This is just something that needed to be done."

 

 He rubbed his neck, and sent her a bashful, close lipped smile, "I apologize, it was just a joke. I don't mean to accuse you of selfishness," he sighed, "we're trying to find your fiance that you don't want to marry simply because you think it'll be good for your people. That's not selfish."

 

 She rested her head on her arm again, her brows furrowed, "You think it's silly, don't you?"

 

 His fathers words rang in his mind. A silly princess who didn't understand that there were bigger fish to fry. "I think we all have our problems, and just have to do what we can about them."

 

 "I know there are worse things happening in the world," she closed her eyes, "Edelgard's torturers are still out there. There's racism, prejudice, people starving. I don't know what else to do other than play my part. This marriage... the economy will be better - and trade routes will open, and there'll be heirs..."

 

 "You don't have to be optimistic in front of me." Goddess knows he's shown her his least optimistic side before, despite her not remembering it - thankfully. 

 

 Byleth accepted his answer. She nodded slowly, and sighed. A deep sigh, one that rang from her shoulders to her toes. "Goodnight, if you get tired just wake me and I'll take over."

 

 "Thank you," he smiled softly, "but I don't tire easily."

 

 She hummed, "Is that because of your curse?"

 

 "No, it's just how I am."

 

 "That's another problem I want to fix."

 

 "How I am?"

 

 "Your curse."

 

 "I appreciate that, but I'm afraid that nothing will fix it."

 

 She opened one eye, "Curses are always breakable."

 

 "Not this one."

 

 "Then it's not a curse."

 

 It sure as hell felt like it. Yet, many things in his life had felt like curses. Sothis was no witch, though, and Dimitri had the faintest idea of how to approach the life he had been given. He kept quiet in reply to Byleth, letting her think what she wanted as she drifted into sleep. 

 

 True to his word, he didn't tire. He had allowed himself to doze on and off through the night, and it was enough to get him through the next day. By the morning, Byleth awoke with a start, hand going to the dagger she kept close to her, and glancing wildly around the small encampment. 

 

 The fire had gone out hours ago, and the sky above was beginning to lighten from black to grey. Dimitri was still leaning against the tree, legs crossed over each other, and arms folded in front of his chest. He watched as Byleth took a deep breath and loosened her grip from the dagger, focusing her eyes on the knight that watched her. 

 

 "You didn't wake me up."

 

 He didn't. "I never felt tired. Did you sleep well?"

 

 "Like a rock." She sat up, the sleeping bag falling from her chest and to rest on her hips. She covered her mouth with a hand as she yawned and arched her back. He could hear a pop from her joints, his own muscles feeling stiff themselves from staying in one place for hours. 

 

 Dimitri glanced at the sky, noting the position of the rising sun and shadows, "It's still early. I believe we're near the Western edge of the plains."

 

 To avoid hitting the coast, they had gone South, then West, making their ways towards the larger mountain ranges that separated Mateus and Kleinman. Byleth claimed that Sylvain wouldn't be at the coast simply because he hated sand and rain. Dimitri argued that he would be at the coast for a chance to see a half naked girl on a warm day. Byleth argued in return that there were so very few warm beach days that Sylvain would take his chances more in Arianrhod and find some buff soldier-lady who would have him for a night. He could argue no longer with her logic, and they agreed to make their way to Arianrhod. 

 

 It was another day's walk along the road to the closest village. Fhirdiad had several small settlements surrounding it, yet Byleth had avoided them for fear of running into her father's search party. By now, she knew that there would also be a search party for herself, and was taking even more precautions. Her paranoia grew as the sun rose, and they ran into more merchant carts along the road. 

 

 "Someone may report us," she informed him as the friendly cart they had passed disappeared over the hill behind him, "We should probably cover up."

 

 He agreed, though wasn't as worried as she was. To entirely disguise themselves, they'd need to give up their armor, and Dimitri knew that the steel plating of his knight's armor would save his life in a scrap. Being a traveler and mercenary himself for most of his life in this world, he also knew that if he saw someone walking down the road, he wouldn't be able to tell a princess apart from an eccentric traveler. "I think perhaps if you take off that diadem," he eyed the circlet, shining silver in the grey cast overhead. The leaf that was stuck in it had fallen out hours ago, yet her hair still wrapped around it messily, "we'd be better disguised."

 

 She frowned as if she was scolding herself. Wordlessly, she tugged it away from her head, untangling her hair braided through it. She held it in her hands in front of her and inspected it's thin surface, "You're right. We should pawn it for gold."

 

 "That's... not what I meant."

 

 "Why not?" Her eyes were wide, curious, "I don't need it right now."

 

 Incredulous, he blanked, "You can't just pawn your diadem."

 

 "I can do what I like with my royal ball and chain."

 

 Royal ball and chain his ass. The circlet seemed to barely weigh her down, yet she stared at it as if it was a dog's collar that was choking her. Not wanting to pry, yet intensely curious, he found his middle ground, "Is it that terrible for you to keep?"

 

 "I just don't want it right now," she shook her head, "It's not who I am at the moment."

 

 "What if we find Sylvain within the week, and have to go back and your father sees that it's gone?"

 

 She leveled him with a blank stare, "It doesn't matter, really. I'll be wearing my wedding tiara after we marry anyway, and this thing won't even be used anymore," carelessly, she twirled it around her finger like a toy, "I might as well get some use out of it before it's put away in a closet to grow dust."

 

 It was not good enough for him, "What if one of his knights finds it in a shop and thinks that you've been murdered for your money?"

 

 "My father will most likely assume where I've gone. If he's sent anyone out to find me, it's just out of spite."

 

 What an odd way to carry out familial arguments, though Dimitri supposed it was characteristic of Jeralt to send search parties out for his daughter who didn't want to be found, if only for the purpose to aggravate her. Despite her knowing this, she still maintained her paranoia about being caught, not wanting to deal with the consequences of soldiers who would drag her back to Fhirdiad in their attempts at getting a promotion. 

 

 She wouldn't even be surprised if her father had put a bounty on her head. Bring back the runaway princess and get a bag of gold, that would surely drive her up a wall. 

 

 In their journey, they had yet to encounter any such thing, yet Byleth still took measures to cover up. Taking a few moments, she put the circlet into Dimitri's bag for safe keeping, and let her hair loose from it's ponytail. Dimitri watched her loosen her hair, and pursed his lips in thought, earning her attention with his stare. "What?"

 

 "I was just wondering," he felt the slightest bit embarrassed, "If you're not using that band, could I, perhaps, use it?"

 

 Like two girls sharing hair brushes in class. She smirked lightly, and gave him the rubber band. Dimitri accepted it with quiet thanks and pulled his hair into a small ponytail at the back of his head. Brushing stray hairs behind his ears, he smiled, "That's so much better, thank you."

 

 "Why don't you just cut it if it bothers you so much?"

 

 Because his wife liked it long. Because it was a reminder of who he had been. Because it was so different from how his father wore his hair and they looked enough like each other already. Because it grew so quickly that even if he cut it it would just be back in several months. The list went on. "Does it not look good?"

 

 She twisted her lips, "I never took you for one to fret about appearances, Lance Snapper."

 

 That nickname. He had hoped she'd forgotten. "I'm not, really, but it's my one vice."

 

 "I think it's fine, albeit messy. Do you ever brush your hair?"

 

 "Why would I do that?"

 

 A fine question. She ran her hand through her own choppy locks, catching her fingers onto a knot resting at the back of her neck. The only time her hair was styled was when she had an event to attend. The maidservants relied on Ingrid to keep Byleth in good appearances, yet the lady-knight often forgot to brush her own hair, and never quite succeeded on making sure that Byleth brushed her's as well. 

 

 There was not much Dimitri could do about disguising himself, not willing to lose the warmth and safety that his cloak and armor provided him. To the villagers, he assumed that they would just see a knight escorting a young woman, a not unusual sight. They walking continued, him behind her, and little snippets of conversation passed between the two naturally. Dimitri had taken to spying the local wildlife, something his father had always done in their own travels, and Byleth listened politely. He assumed that she had always traveled by boat or carriage, never walking such long distances as he had done all of his life. He was entirely used to having to entertain himself between towns. 

 

 He was satisfied to find that he had been correct in his prediction, they were on the western edge of the vast expanse of the Talitean Plains - which were not very plain-y in some places, oddly enough. Mateus was ahead, and the region of Eisner lay behind them. In his world, it had been Blaiddyd, yet the name had been replaced, like everything else in this life.

 

 There was a village on the border between the regions, he knew, a village with a blacksmith who he had stolen from once at the age of 19 on the run. He had felt terrible at the time, and left as much gold as he had on the smithing table where he swiped the weapons. In his later years, he would steal without a care, and left nothing but dust and misery in his wake. 

 

 There would be no stealing in this lifetime, as he had his steel lance on his back already, waiting to be used. He had brought extra gold for a replacement in case he broke it, though he hoped that there would be no need to fight at all in their journey. 

 

 After an hour of walking along the road, the village waited for them ahead. It was built into the side of a small mountain, and required a hike to reach. Dimitri and Byleth were sore and eager to rest. Being on a main road, the village was well acquainted with travelers, and they blended in seamlessly. 

 

 Upon entering the area, the two kept to the corners of the main road going through the market area of the village. The roads were dirty, dust kicking up as the residents went about their daily business. Market stalls were set in a circle, and busy with the bustle of daily chores. It was only mid-afternoon, and the warmest part of the day when the breeze had died into a whisper. Soon enough, it would pick up once more, and the people would retreat into their homes to escape the cold. 

 

 For now, though, the small town kept busy. Dimitri followed Byleth as she avoided the crowd and made her way towards the building at the head of the market square. The wooden sign sitting in front was peeling with age, 'Bed and Breakfast' it stated. Dimitri knew of these sorts of places, their breakfasts were usually watered down coffee and potatoes. Yet, weary travelers that hadn't eaten for days would thank even the soggiest potato for whatever small amount of nutrients it provided. Dimitri and Byleth hadn't eaten breakfast, and the growling of their stomachs had been politely ignored on their journey.

 

 "Are you up for a rest?" She glanced at him curiously, "We could ask if Sylvain's passed through here."

 

 "That sounds good." He had barely slept through the night, and it was finally beginning to hit him. His stamina could only protect him so far. He would not allow the exhaustion to show on his face, as he had stayed awake for far longer in the past. One night of no sleep was not enough to defeat him. 

 

 He followed Byleth around the market stalls to the front door of the inn. She pushed the door open to find the dining room empty, and carefully stepped inside. Dimitri let the door bang shut sharply behind him as the two stood in the empty room, waiting to be greeted. 

 

 In Fhirdiad, every inn and restaurant was always bustling with activity during the day. With the amount of residents moving about outside, it was unnerving to see the emptiness of the dining room before them. Hesitantly, Byleth made her way to the front desk and leaned over it. 

 

 Dimitri glanced around. The decor was out dated, yet functional. Old dusty curtains covered the windows, and the white paint on the tables was peeling back with water and beer stains. He cleared his throat, feeling very loud in the empty room, and called out, "Hello? Is there anybody home?"

 

 A crash from the back, the sound of wooden crates falling to the floor. Byleth stepped closer to him, and the two watched the kitchen door swing open to reveal a frazzled, middle aged woman. She stared at the them with wide eyes, her mouth open and gaping like a fish out of water. 

 

 A beat of silence passed. Byleth stepped behind Dimitri's arm, and raised a brow at him as if to say 'you take care of it'. He grimaced, then looked at the frazzled woman. "I'm sorry to startle you, ma'am-"

 

 "A knight of Fhirdiad!"

 

 What little spirits he had fell to the floor. He sighed. "Yes?" He had hoped that his cloak and armor wouldn't attract attention so easily.

 

 "You're just what I need," she gestured widely, "look at this place!"

 

 He had looked. It was a mess. Byleth, out of politeness, feigned interest in the empty, dusty room around them. Dimitri merely raised a brow at the woman, "Is there... something you need help with?"

 

 He half expected the woman to ask him to help redecorate, as the women of Fhirdiad had done just the other day in preparation for Byleth's wedding. His back had hurt from so much lifting and reaching and hammering - he found that he had zero interest in the prospect of moving this woman's furniture. Yet, she had other motives in mind, and clasped her hands together, looking desperate, "You've got to help our town. You've got to me help me! My inn's empty!"

 

 "I'm afraid I don't know much about running a busines-"

 

 Byleth lightly slapped his arm, earning his attention. She sent him an expectant glare, "You need to help her, Dimitri."

 

 He was being scolded like a child. He opened his mouth to argue, though her expression quieted him. The older woman, unfettered, went on, "I'm not getting any business because of that stupid bear!"

 

 "Bear?" She had earned their attention.

 

 "Bear!" She cried, holding her chest in grief, "That red eyed, snarling, rabid bear!"

 

 Obviously, bears did not have red eyes, nor did they particularly snarl. Byleth had caught on as well, and stepped forward to lay a comforting hand on the innkeeper's shoulder, "What bear do you mean?"

 

 "The people are terrified," she gasped, "it's been terrorizing the village for weeks. Nobody wants to go out at night and come here to drink. Nobody wants to travel through the area or stay the night. With all the people that have gone missing, it's too risky these days. I've got no business!"

 

 People were missing and she was worried about how much beer she was selling. Yet, her story had intrigued him, and he spoke to catch her attention, "How big was this bear?"

 

 "Very large," she nodded, "with very big claws. As big as my building itself, sir."

 

 "Has it occurred to you that it... is not a bear?"

 

 She rolled her eyes, "Well of cours- I'm terribly sorry! That's disrespectful, forgive me, I'm quite stressed. Yes, sir, of course it's no normal bear. We just don't know what else to call it... We've never seen anything like it."

 

 Byleth kept a comforting hand on her shoulder, and looked away in thought, "I'm not sure what it could be either. I've never heard of such a thing."

 

 Dimitri had. The idea was forming in his mind - red eyes, large claws, as big as a building. He wondered if he could take on a demonic beast without Areadbhar, and more importantly, what such a beast was doing in the area in the first place. 

 

 He was impatient to find out, yet he waited for Byleth's approval. She looked at him, and the two locked eyes in a silent conversation. It was decided, and he stayed silent to allow Byleth to answer the woman in a soft, comforting tone, "We could hunt down this bear for you."

 

 "Isn't that why the royal family sent you?" Confused, she eyed Dimitri's knightly armor, then turned her eyes to the dark leathers and long jacket that Byleth wore, "And you're his little assistant, right?"

 

 He would've laughed at that if it wasn't incredibly disrespectful. Byleth quieted him with a look, and he hid his smirk with an averted glance. "Actually, ma'am, we're both knights from Fhirdiad."

 

 "Oh, excuse me!" 

 

 "It's fine," her smile was small, forced, "We're on a mission to find someone, but we can take care of your bear problem in return for lodging for the night."

 

 "Would you?" She clasped her hands, excited, "I would feed you for free too! If you drink you can have free beer, and I'll even give you the good pillows in your room!"

 The good pillows, that sounded nice. He was more determined now to find the demonic beast, and stepped forward to send the desperate woman a reassuring, close lipped smile, "We're happy to help you and the people of this village."

 

 She seemed to swoon, something that took him aback. "Oh, thank you, kind sir, none of us in this village are fighters. How I've been praying for a strong man to help me!."

 

 Byleth pointedly ignored the dramatics, "You say that people have gone missing? Have there been any signs of a struggle?"

 

 "Yes, of course. Farmers, dragged away from their livestock in the night. Young ones attacked while sneaking out into the woods. It's been torturous, simply terrifying!"

 

 He could only imagine. To be someone who had no way to fight against such a terrorizing beast, their plight tugged at his heart. He had the strength to fight, and his chances of survival were far greater than a farmer with a pitchfork's. He and Byleth shared a look of determination, thanked the woman, and made their way out of the inn as she bid them a safe journey.

 

 His stomach growled in protest as they stepped outside. She looked at him, one side of her lips lifting into a questioning smile. He returned it, and shook his head, "I'll be fine."

 

 "I'm hungry too, actually, " she admitted, "let's grab something to eat before we go fight that... thing."

 

 She hadn't encountered any demonic beasts in this lifetime, it seemed. How fortunate for her, to not have to hunt down Miklan and see what he would become. As the two made for a stall selling meat kabobs, he thought of the older Gautier. Sylvain would never look for his brother, and Miklan generally terrorized his own region, yet he wondered what had become of him in this lifetime. Was he the same violent man who stole relics for the sake of spite and pride? Had he already become a monster, and did that fate still lay in store for him?

 

 There were still so many unanswered questions. He thought of these while chewing on the small amount of food Byleth had acquired, sticking to the side of the market square and watching the people bustle about. Upon studying their faces, he could see the fear settling into their expressions. It was a village having been terrified for days on end, an unknown beast stealing their people and striking fear into their hearts. He hated the sight of misery contorting their features. 

 

 It was something familiar, though, to be helping these innocent ones. Badness and villainy would always be present no matter what reality he lived. It would never fail to disgust him.

 

 Dimitri and Byleth began their journey in the last area the beast had been reported. A local merchant had informed them that several goats had been massacred right outside of the village, and they would know where they were by the copious amounts of blood upon the rocks. After a short hike into the wooded area surrounding the village, they found the bloodied, torn up clearing where the attack had happened. 

 

 Goat fur in matted tufts were stuck to broken tree limbs. A streak of brown, dried blood painted onto the side of a large boulder. Byleth silently eyed the deep claw marks dug into the ground under her feet.

 

 "I wonder if it's wise of us to fight this thing alone," she mused, being able to fit her entire foot into just one gash that had been left in the ground, "I don't doubt our prowess, yet I'm not sure what's waiting for us at the end."

 

 She gazed at the trail of broken limbs ahead. The beast had made it easy to track, almost boldly going about it's massacre as if it knew nobody could challenge it. Dimitri soured, thinking upon what lay in wait for them, "I don't know either, but if it's anything like what I've fought before..." his words earned her rapt attention, curious eyes staring him down, "it has low accuracy. If we just remain quick on our feet, and patient with our attacks, we might have a chance."

 

 "You've fought something like this before?"

 

 "In... other circumstances, yes." Desperate to change the subject, he cleared his throat and stepped past her, making his way through the broken limbs.

 

 Byleth was polite enough to not pry, yet he felt her eyes on his back. She hurried her pace to keep up with his long strides, "Whatever information you have would be appreciated, Lance Snapper. I'm not sure what we're about to face."

 

 "I'm not either," he shrugged, "I apologize that I'm not much help."

 

 "You only choose to not be of any help."

 

 He pinpointed the annoyance in her tone, and couldn't help but smile. "You may think that if you wish."

 

 "I wish."

 

 So she did. In silence, he trekked on through the trees and rocks. It was not a thick forest like the one they had stayed the night in, yet there was enough greenery among the mountainside to signify where the monster had gone. He followed the broken limbs, the upturned rocks with fresh dirt and moss facing the sky. The occasional gash in the ground from claws would appear, and his anticipation for what awaited them grew. 

 

 The trail led to an outcropping of rocks, all fallen over each other in a landslide to create a tent-like shape. Dimitri and Byleth ducked under the rocks and kept following the trail of broken limbs until they came upon a naturally formed cave in the side of the mountain. The trail ended at the mouth of the cavern, and Dimitri sharply put his arm out to keep Byleth from venturing into it's shadows. 

 

 "We have no chance of winning in that enclosed space," his mind went to Miklan, the battle in the fortress where his attacks threatened to bring the ceiling raining down upon them. They had only won that battle with their numbers, and that was not something he had now. 

 

 "What do we do then?" She asked, looking up at him from behind his arm, "Lure it out with insults and taunts?"

 

 She said her words in jest, yet Dimitri's plan of action was not far off. He picked up a large rock that fit into the palm of his hand, and rear his arm back. The crest of Blaiddyd glowed silently in front of him, and he vaulted the rock into the shadows. It disappeared into the cave, and Dimitri perked his ears to listen for any impact. 

 

 A thunk. A thud. It scattered onto the ground, broken by the sound of it. Byleth had heard the same, "I don't think it hit the wall, it would've been louder."

 

 "Yet, it hit something." Dimitri could almost predict what would happen next, unsheathing his lance in preparation and ushering Byleth to step away. She pulled her sword from it's place at her hips, and corrected her footing, ready for battle.

 

 The demonic beast groaned, a sound that could never be recreated in nature. The noise never failed to make his hairs stand on ends, and his blood freeze cold in his veins. Byleth's lips parted in surprise and her grip tightened on her weapon, yet her footing remained confident and unwavering. The beast emerged from the cave on all fours, matted hair growing in patches upon it's scaly back, and claws digging into the dirt with every heavy step. 

 

 "I don't think that's a bear." Byleth whispered.

 

 "You're correct," he spun his lance in his hand, grabbing the beast's attention, "it may even have been human at one time."

 

 She was breathless as she stared up at him, "Human?"

 

 Dimitri deigned to answer, instead keeping his attention on the beast as it opened it's mouth to roar in intimidation. He eyed it's teeth, long and sharp, yet he had truly seen worse in his lifetime. He may have not had Areadbhar, yet he had something to protect. He glanced at Byleth, noting the analytical gleam in her eye. Once a tactician always a tactician - she was already making her plan of attack. 

 

 Dimitri did not wait to hear it, as now was the perfect moment to make the first strike. The ground beneath him proved soft, and broke under his foot as he vaulted himself into a run, lance pointed straight at the beast's right shoulder. It was too slow to dodge his attack, and he dug the tip of the lance into it's scaly armor using every bit of his strength. Sharply, and as quickly as he could manage, he jerked the lance out, and made his retreat. 

 

 The monster roared in pain, yet it's protective armor was not yet broken. Byleth watched studiously, and snapped her fingers, yelling to be heard over the roar, "You have to break it's armor to actually hurt it, right?"

 

 She caught on quickly. Dimitri sent her a nod, and she now turned her attention to the beast, determined with having seen it's weakness first hand. It was not the Sword of The Creator that she held in her hands, yet she carried the steel sword in the same way. It was long, and heavy, yet she held it with ease as she ran up to the beast and rolled under the spray of poison that spewed from it's mouth. The heat of it's attack sizzled at her hair and skin, yet she felt very little, the Crest of Flames glowing in front of her as she attacked the same place Dimitri had. 

 

 It's armor shattered, hair-line cracks reaching across it's shoulder plating and falling from its skin. Dimitri followed Byleth up, ducking under her. They moved in battle as if they had been born for it. One thing he had learned from Byleth in the past was to use every part of his body. She had always fought like an animal, a mercenary who made her living in death and survival. It was nearly comical how hard he elbowed the beast in the face, making it stumble away. He thought he heard Byleth laugh as she watched the confused look in the beast's eyes.

 

 "You remind me of my father," she yelled, leaning down to pick up a rock and vault it at the it's nose. Again, it simply looked confused and irritated at having such a thing thrown it's way, as if they were disrespecting it's very existence by fighting with rocks and elbows. 

 

 "Thank you," it was exhilarating, carrying on their conversation as they danced in battle, side by side, jabbing and hitting, dodging and pulling each other into better positions. 

 

 The beast sprayed poison, yet Byleth's crest kept her safe from it's attacks. Dimitri did all he could to ignore the saccharine sting of the green ooze on his skin where it was dissolving through the steel plating of his armor. He had lost all feeling in his right arm, yet it still held the lance in his left as tightly as ever. 

 

 Byleth was in control of the battle, as she always had been. He merely followed her movements, taking her cues for him to jump in after her and stun the monster with an attack from his lance. He had to keep rapt attention on everything she did so he could follow her cues, letting her lead this dance. It was only when she was faced with the beast's bloodied, dirtied black claws, that he would step in. 

 

 It swiped at her, the movement so unnaturally quick that neither of them could predict the attack. The world stopped spinning, the wind stopped blowing, and his blood stopped cold. 

 

 Byleth stumbled away, wrapping an arm around her stomach. Her back was hunched, and her head down. The monster had grown so agitated that it's strength had increased in anger, and it's attack was too quick to dodge.

 

 Without a single thought, Dimitri took his place in front of her. Byleth fell to her knees behind him, yet lifted her head and watched as he reared his lance back, holding it with both hands, and shot forward. He hit the beast between his eyes, burying his weapon into it's skull. In his focus, he was unaware of the poison spewing from it's mouth, covering Dimitri's stomach and dissolving through his armor with a hiss. 

 

 Byleth's crest silently, peacefully, lit up in front of her. She felt pain no longer, forcing herself to stand up and slash at the beast's neck, shattering it's armor, and going in for another stab through it's thick skin. Dimitri fell back, his lance sticking up from the monster's skull like a shining horn. He landed on his bottom, and watched as Byleth dug her blade as deeply as it could go into it's jugular. 

 

 In one last attempt to gain victory, the beast lashed out at Byleth once more, knocking her backwards with it's claws and making her stumble onto the ground, next to Dimitri. 

 

 It roared in pain, tripping over itself, and eventually losing it's balance and collapsing onto it's side. Dimitri watched none of it, only hearing the roar and the large thud, feeling it vibrate the ground underneath him. He kept his eyes on the grey sky above, and just focused on breathing and ignoring the pain in his abdomen. 

 

 Next to him, Byleth lay with her hands holding her stomach, covering the blood that oozed between her fingers. She, too, was controlling her breathing, but having a better time than he was at keeping herself steadied. She looked at him, and he looked at her, eyes locking across the dirt and weed covered ground between them.

 

 A beat of silence. They were alive. The world still spun, the birds began to chirp once more, and the demonic beast lay dead. Nothing could describe the relief he felt at seeing Byleth staring at him, eyes full of life.

 

 "You're hurt." She stated.

 

 Pained, he managed a half smile, "You're hurt too."

 

 "No, you're hurt because you were protecting me."

 

 She was arguing with him at a time like this, it was almost funny. "You're hurt because you were protecting me. That's not how it's supposed to go. I'm the retainer here."

 

 "Yes, well," she frowned, "you're my retainer, so I'm not letting anything happen to you."

 

 "No, I'm the one that's supposed to risk my life for you. You have it backwards, your highness."

 

 "I would risk my life for anyone," she retorted, huffing, "especially since my crest grants extra strength for healing, I have a better chance at not dying."

 

 "Yes, but if you did die while in my watch, I would never forgive mys- Oh Goddess," he rolled over, clutching his stomach as the poison hissed wickedly and ate at his skin, "I hate poison. I would prefer being set on fire to this, anything but poison."

 

 She looked as if she was chastising herself for arguing when her knight was in such pain. She sat up, and pushed him over so he was on his back once more, and inspected the eaten away armor. The poison was beginning to work on his skin, slowly but surely knawing at him. If left unchecked, it would've eventually dissolved right through his stomach, an entirely unpleasant experience. Quickly, she scurried to his bag that he had tossed aside earlier, and pulled out extra wrappings and rags. She attempted to wipe the poison off his skin, yet it ate through the flimsy cloth in an instant.

 

 Working on her plan B, she hurriedly searched for his water canteen, ripping off the lid and pouring it over him. It hissed in anger, with tendrils of smoke reaching up. As it bubbled and complained, she could finally wipe the watered down poison off, and began the only healing incantation she knew. It was weak, but would be enough. 

 

 Dimitri watched as she focused on healing, the white light underneath her palms covering his abdomen. His vision was blurry, but he kept his eyes on her. "Please, your highness," he sounded tired, but forced the words out, "don't ever risk your life for me."

 

 "I can't live that way," she shook her head, "I can't be that noble that just allows people to sacrifice themselves for. My life is not more important than anybody else's."

 

 He understood that logic perfectly, it had been his own as well. Unfortunately, reality never seemed to quite agree with him on that point. "Your life is more important to me. Please don't risk it."

 

 It seemed a good enough in-between for the two to settle on in their argument, and Byleth only sent him a reassuring, rare smile, "I'll try." 

 

 That smile was enough to lift his spirits, even a little. It proved magnificent. He returned it, and lifted himself up so he could sit. He was quite wet with her having poured water over him, yet the fire of the poison had reduced to a mild tingle, and it was bearable enough to allow him to breath more easily. 

 

 He eyed the demonic beast, laying on it's side with his lance poking out from it's head. Byleth's sword lay discarded near it's corpse, covered in black blood and grime. He stood, wobbly on his feet, but able to make his way to the fallen beast and jerk his lance from between it's eyes. Byleth gathered her sword and wiped the blood off on the ground before sheathing it. 

 

 Her entire front had been covered in blood, though it was not all her own. Her leather covering had been ripped apart, revealing her stomach, which was healing slowly with a dim glow. Her crest had always protected her, getting her through the most difficult of injuries. Yet, Dimitri watched as an expression of hurt flitted across her face with every step she took. She was still in pain, as was he. 

 

 "If I may," he was hesitant as he stepped up beside her, gently taking her arm and throwing it over his shoulder, "I wasn't thrown around as much as you in that battle, I might get us back to the village faster."

 

 "I was not thrown around," she defended.

 

 "You were like a ragdoll."

 

 "I was not."

 

 She was. "I hope this isn't too bold... but it's for the best."

 

 Before she could protest, he snaked an arm around her waist, leaned down and lifted her up with his other arm under her knees. He was attempting to be gentle, yet she still made a cry of surprise as the ground escaped from underneath her, and she lay in Dimitri's arms like a bride. 

 

 In defiance, she stole her arm away from around his neck, and crossed it over her chest. Begrudgingly, she allowed herself to be carried back to the village, ignoring the barely hidden look of satisfaction blossoming on his face. 

 

 As he entered the town square with her in his arms, he registered the looks of shock from the residents. With his armor dissolved and his stomach oozing some sort of green, poison goo, and Byleth's entire front painted dark with blood, he could only imagine how they looked to the people. Byleth kept her arms crossed over her chest, and avoided the curious, horrified stares sent their way. As unhappy as she looked in his arms, she felt internally grateful for him carrying her, as her crest could only heal so much. Her knees felt like gelatin, and her vision was beginning to spin. 

 

 Dimitri was not having a much better time than her. His own vision would fall out from under him and return with dizzying speed, yet years of living with only one eye in the past reality had taught him how to keep walking when the world around him proved to be unstable. In this life, he had both eyes, yet his old habits of favoring his left lingered. 

 

 There was no way to walk through the village subtly, so he took the main road back to the inn, as the villagers parted to make way for him. Byleth snorted at the sight, and Dimitri nodded in thanks to the hesitant commoners surrounding him. Standing on the doorway of the inn was the owner, who shook her head in shock upon seeing the knight carrying the bloodied girl.

 

 "Did you..."

 

 He answered her unfinished thought with a tired nod. 

 

 She nearly collapsed in joy. She clutched the kitchen towel in her hands, and let out a deep exhale of relief. "Oh Goddess, I thought you would die for sure!"

 

 He blinked, staring at her. In his arms, Byleth furrowed her brows, "That's quite reassuring."

 

 "I apologize," she sputtered, opening the door and stepping aside so Dimitri could carry her in, "obviously, you two are very seasoned warriors! I never should've doubted you. Oh, sit her down here, dear," she pulled out a chair, and watched as he gently set Byleth down, then dropped himself into the chair beside her, "I'll go get the healer!"

 

 She scurried out of the entrance, shooing away curious onlookers poking their heads in. Dimitri could hear her in the street calling for the village healer, and he sighed, "At least she's hospitable."

 

 "Yes," Byleth yawned, then winced in pain with the movement, "t-that is nice. I think we did something good."

 

 "We did, and we didn't die before we could find Sylvain."

 

 "Ah yes, I'm going to be married," drowsily, she lay her head on the crook of her arm, leaning on the table, "I'm not a monster hunting mercenary. I nearly forgot."

 

 She hadn't, he knew, he could see the truth in her jest. Sighing, he kept his eyes on her, observing as she allowed herself to drift into a light doze. He almost didn't take notice when the healer entered, and approached her with slow, hesitant hands.

 

 "May I?" The healer, an older man with kind eyes, looked to him for approval.

 

 Dimitri sent him a nod, "Please do. We've had a long day."

 

 Hesitantly, as he was afraid to wake her, he knelt onto the ground beside her chair, and began his work. Byleth's eyes fluttered open, yet she registered who was casting the light magic on her, and relaxed her shoulders. Her head still lay on her arm, and she took a deep breath in relief as the spell spread across her stomach and chest. 

 

 The owner of the inn took the chair at the other side of the table and absently picked at the peeling paint on the wood. She and Dimitri shared a look, then returned to watching the healer. Quietly, the owner whispered to him, "Thank you, I know you risked your lives for us."

 

 "We're happy to," despite the pain, he would not regret helping those who could not help themselves. Drowsily, Byleth caught his eye, and graced him with a small, genuine smile. He felt his heart do yet another gymnastics routine in his chest, complete with flips and twirls and a mild explosion at the end.

 

 He had not felt such an emotion since the first time he had ever witnessed her smile, 17 years old and falling in love with his professor when he really, truly, did not want - or need - to. The feeling was saccharine, nostalgic, and tasted sweet in his memory. Unlike the first time when he denied himself the feeling, he embraced it now, drank it in, and stared at her, completely, and utterly enraptured in the tilt of her lips. 

 

 It was not as if he hadn't seen her smile yet, she had smiled at least three times already on that day. Yet, they rarely shined genuinely, and rarely gave her that twinkle in her eye that he desired so much. This smile, that she sent to him across the table, her cheek pushed against her forearm as she tilted her lips and stared, it was a smile he would imprint onto his memory, refusing to let go.

 

 Her gaze lingered. She was reading him, yet Dimitri was careful to keep his inner awe to himself. Finding him closed shut to her analysis, she gave up, and lifted her head to speak to the innkeeper instead, unaware of the feelings of the man across from her. "We're actually looking for someone," she began, now with more energy gained from healing, "A young man, with red hair and a shit-eating grin?"

 

 The healer pulled away from Byleth, and began his work on Dimitri. He never enjoyed being fussed over, but begrudgingly leaned back to allow the man to inspect his abdomen. He tried to ignore the healing and listen to the conversation before him, watching the innkeeper mull over Byleth's inquiry. "I don't know, dear. We haven't gotten many travelers through here because of that bear."

 

 "I see," she covered her disappointment with a blank look, and tapped her fingers on the table aimlessly, "we were hoping that he'd stopped through here."

 

 "Well..." she thought for a moment, "there was a group that came by, and they all were... quite odd. Pale, sickly looking things, needed some good steak to perk them right up!" She shook her head, "But they didn't eat a thing, and didn't really talk to anybody. There was a young man among them, now that I think about it."

 

 Dimitri and Byleth shared a look. She only sighed and shook her head, "I don't know who's pale and sickly that Sylvain would travel with, it can't be him."

 

 The old woman then giggled, and her cheeks painted a blotchy red. She twirled a lock of her frizzled hair, "He was so charming, really. I-I couldn't see his face very well," she held up her hands to her cheeks and grew excited, "he wore a hood, oh he was so mysterious! He told me that I was the prettiest woman he'd ever seen, a-and he kissed my hand, and he wanted to stay the night, but that red haired witch traveling with them wouldn't allow it. Oh... well, I've spoken too much. Was that too personal?"

 

 Yes, but it was exactly what they needed.

 

 Byleth's eyes narrowed. A look of understanding passed between the two, and Dimitri nodded, "That's got to be Sylvain."

 

 "Red haired witch..." Byleth chewed on the words, "I wonder who that could be, though..."

 

 His mind went to Cornelia. A red haired witch, and with her having been in Fhirdiad right before the wedding. Now that he thought upon it, he hadn't seen her at all during the ceremony. 

 

 He tensed, and ignored the healer complaining at him for interrupting his work by leaning forward towards Byleth, "Cornelia."

 

 "The healer?" She furrowed her brows, "But she's my father's old friend from the academy."

 

 He was determined now, and the healer had given up on him, standing up and pulling away with a huff. He no longer felt the burn from the poison, and only felt chilled on his abdomen where his armor was eaten away. Yet, he ignored it, and pushed forward with his theory, "I know her, your highness, she's not a good person."

 

 "How do you know her?"

 

 A pause. He leaned away. "...I can't tell you."

 

 Frowning, she crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair, eyeing him with a look of disdain, "You're entirely too frustrating."

 

 "I'm sorry," he sighed, "but please just trust me. She is a witch, a backstabbing, conniving witch."

 

 Excited and desperate to be apart of the conversation, the innkeeper clapped her hands, now looking angry, "She is! She was so rude to me, pulling my handsome suitor away and hissing, 'ooh, no no Sylvie we can't stay the night with old hags' - how rude! I am not an old hag!"

 

 Sylvie. This woman was proving to be an incredibly terrible informant. 

 

 Both Dimitri and Byleth looked at her in shock. Byleth was the first to speak, her voice hushed and disbelieving, "She said 'Sylvie'? That's what she called him?"

 

 "Yes, I'm sure of it."

 

 "There's no way that's not Sylvain. So, he's traveling with a group," Dimitri spoke slowly, "and one woman is red haired, and uses childish nicknames. That sounds like Cornelia."

 

 "i don't understand what her motive could be, Dimitri, it doesn't add up."

 

 "And it won't until we find them..." he locked eyes with her, holding her gaze steadily. 

 

 She returned his look, but bit her lip in thought, "They could just be... running off together? Their rooms were right next to each other, I wouldn't be surprised if he had tried to seduce her."

 

 "Then who would the other people traveling with them be?"

 

 She shrugged, "I don't know, paid guards? Friends of hers? Excuse me for not jumping to terrible conclusions."

 

 "You don't know her the way I do."

 

 "Perhaps not, but this doesn't change our goal," she stood from the table, and turned towards the stairs, "I'm exhausted, I think I might retire, wake me when dinner is ready and we'll talk about this later."

 

 He was desperate to have her understand his paranoia. Sylvain running away with Cornelia and company was nothing to brush off, yet he couldn't explain the consequences of such a thing without revealing his story. There seemed no way to tell her what she had done without sounding like an insane person. 'Oh, turns out Cornelia betrayed my entire family and ruined my life, took over my country and killed my citizens back when I was the prince of Faerghus!' Fancy that. He'd be thrown in a mental institute the second he uttered the words. 

 

 He watched as she went upstairs, following the babbling innkeeper as she directed her towards the room with the good pillows that they had been promised. Dimitri sat alone, the healer having left moments earlier. His stomach growled in hunger, and he stared at the wall with his head in his palm. 

 

 Cornelia. What could she possibly want with the likes of Sylvain? Perhaps he was just a pawn to put the wedding off, or part of something much larger. Perhaps she was just carrying out some old fashioned villainy and messing with Byleth for the sake of it. He had no idea, not having encountered her more than once or twice in this reality. If she was still the same woman from before, he had reason to worry. 

 

 His stomach growled again persistently, and he knew that it was time to put it aside for the night. Perhaps he would indulge in a free beer, that would make Lambert proud, surely. 

 

 And as it turned out, Lambert was proud - albeit for entirely different reasons. 

 

 His son had made it quite difficult for him to be tracked, carrying out everything that he had taught him in their travels. Fortunately for him, he had a general idea of where Dimitri was going.

 

 He followed what footsteps he could find, yet it seemed that Dimitri had taken to walking on the side of the road less muddy so his footprints would not dry. He had avoided messing with the surroundings or overturning rocks, leaving behind very little sign of his presence. Even in the campsite he had found, the fire had been covered with leaves and dirt, and the area where they had slept was disguised so as to look untouched. Lambert had taught him well.

 

 He hiked back up to the road where Dedue and Mercedes waited. They looked at him expectantly as he pushed his hair back, now on steady ground, "They camped out here in a little clearing half a mile down."

 

 Mercedes looked at him with wide eyes, "How do you know it was them?"

 

 "I would've picked the exact same spot," he shrugged, "I know my son."

 

 Dedue, who was quite a bit less faithful and much more skeptical than Lambert, had no choice but to agree with him. "I believe you're right."

 

 Lambert lit up, but Dedue only leaned past him and grabbed a few blond hairs that were hanging off a prickly tree branch. He held them between his thumb and index finger, up to the sky and letting them shine, "Dimitri's hair."

 

 Lambert flattened. Of course Dedue would find the most obvious clue in the most simple way possible. "Yes, yes, well, I thought my evidence was good too."

 

 Mercedes sent him a pitying smile. What a brutal young girl, he thought, too sharp for her own good. "It was, don't worry." She was humoring him. 

 

 The priestess had caught Lambert and Dedue as they left Fhirdiad early in the morning, a few hours behind Dimitri and Byleth. She had not even asked to join them, simply taking her place behind the two men and following them, letting the dirt of the road stain the bottom of her white robes as she kept pace on their journey. Lambert had been incredibly suspicious, while Dedue accepted her presence quietly and without question. 

 

 "I don't mean to be disrespectful," and it was true, Lambert would never purposefully disrespect a young lady, especially a priestess, "but why are you here?"

 

 She had been asked this question by him just earlier, and now he was asking it once again. Just like before, she only smiled at him, and stayed silent. As confused as Lambert was, he respected the wisdom that accompanied her lack of response. She had her goal, he assumed, and he and Dedue were merely helping her reach it. That was fine, he had his own motive to fulfill as well.

 

 "Anyway," he cleared his throat and turned back towards the road, "they're either heading to the coast across the mountains, or to Arianrhod-"

 

 "Tell me, Mr. Blaiddyd," Mercedes interrupted him, an unexplainable gleam in her eyes as she leveled him with her innocent smile, "Why are you here? Your son is an adult, not a runaway child."

 

 Dedue grunted, "She has a point."

 

 "I thought you agreed with me!" He defended, then sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose, "Listen, I have my reasons. Dimitri can't just go running off with the princess, aside from how incriminating that looks, it's just... selfish!" 

 

 Mercedes sighed, "The woes of child rearing are a stressful burden upon you, I see."

 

 They were. He knew it was dramatic, yet what else could he have done? He had no intention of staying in Fhirdiad, letting the memories of Leliana cloud his mind. The entire week had been stressful, and every conversation with Dimitri had ended in an argument. The city seemed to bring out something odd in his son, something he wanted to avoid. 

 

 All he wished for was to return to the way it was before they had come to Fhirdiad. Traveling with Dimitri and Dedue, hunting for food and helping the people. He would find Dimitri, and convince him that the traveling mercenary life was a much better one, and he had full confidence in achieving his goal. Nothing would stop him from achieving it, and reuniting with his family. 

 

 Yet, he was not the only one with the goal of finding Dimitri in mind. 

 

 Flying far above the group on the road, Glenn and Ingrid leaned out of the saddle of the pegasi, and watched them closely. 

 

 "I wonder what they're talking about," she said just loud enough to be heard over the rushing wind, "Poor Mercie, being kidnapped into their vile plans!"

 

 Glenn leaned over his fiance's shoulder and eyed the group below, "Go up higher, I don't want them to see us." 

 

 She complied, pulling at the reins and leading the pegasi up higher into the sky, feeling the flap of it's feathery wings around her and the air grow even stronger as they rose. Ingrid circled above like a bird, with Glenn holding onto her waist for dear life. "When do you want to strike?"

 

 Glenn grunted in thought, and rested his chin on her shoulder, feeling her blonde tendrils tickle at his cheeks. "We'll wait and follow them. Let them lead us to that bastard."

 

 She nodded in agreement. The two watched the group of three, small as ants below them. They continued in their walk, Mercedes slight figure following behind the two men as they made their way down the road. Ingrid frowned at the sight, worried for her friend, and even moreso worried for Byleth.

 

 Determined, she kicked the side of her pegasi, making it rear back in the air and flap it's wings wildly, taking off like an arrow through the sky. It weaved and bobbed, turning and dipping as she flew above the valley between mountains. Glenn gasped in shock and tightened his grip, "Slow down, crazy woman!"

 

 "I'm just angry!" She yelled over the wind, "I will make Dimitri pay for kidnapping the princess!"

 

 "Don't worry, love!" He yelled to be heard, "He'll be in a jail cell by the end of the week, I promise it!"

 

Chapter Text

 The pillows were not as good as promised, but they proved far kinder to Dimitri’s head than the cold ground. Byleth seemed to agree as she greeted him in the morning with her yawn, looking far more rested than the night before. 

 

 He took a seat at her table, observing the inn’s dining room. It was far from full, with a few curious stragglers meandering around in the corners, sending him and Byleth a glance every few minutes or so. Nobody looked as if they meant any harm, and were most likely just village-folk who’d never seen a Knight before. 

 

 Dimitri had thrown aside his armor before going to bed last night. The chest and stomach pieces were ruined by the acidic poison from the demonic beast. Now, he wore a loose white shirt, and his iron greaves that had survived the battle. In all, he felt incredibly silly, and Byleth must’ve thought so too. 

 

 “We’ll have to find a blacksmith,” she mused, eyeing him with a curious look, “Perhaps it would be smarter of us both to change our looks.” She gave a glance down to her own body, not wearing her front piece either due to the tears, “We wouldn’t be recognized as easily if we looked more like regular travelers.”

 

 “The Knight’s armor is quite…” he pursed his lips, “Ostentatious.”

 

 “Gaudy. I-I mean,” she put up a hand to defend her own words, “You looked fine in it. It’s just rather… eye catching.”

 

 If Dimitri actually had listened to Sylvain for once, he would’ve taken the perfect opportunity laid out before him. Byleth, telling him that he looked fine, eye catching even? It wasn’t a direct compliment, but it would’ve been enough for Sylvain, and it should’ve been enough for Dimitri.

 

 He looked at her blank expression, how she stuffed her breakfast into her mouth with dead eyes, and how her hair stuck up from her sleep. 

 

 He decided that now was not the time to be flirtatious, and he, in fact, did not have that kind of boldness in him anyhow. 

 

 “We should probably make a cover story,” Dimitri forced his attention onto the plate of eggs and potatoes set before him by the innkeeper, “in case we spend far longer than we expected on finding your fiance.”

 

 Byleth chewed on the thought for a moment, fork dangling midair in her hand as she averted her eyes and mused. Finally, she broke from her processing to look at the innkeeper who was busy pouring a cup of orange juice for Dimitri, “Excuse me?”

 

 The older woman looked at her with surprise, her lips growing into a fond smile, “Yes, my dear?”

 

 “How long ago was it that your, uh… suitor came through here?”

 

 Her cheeks pinkened, “O-Oh the red haired boy? I have far more suitors than that,” she glanced at an old man watching her from the corner, then giggled as she looked away once more, “Well, the entire group left at different times, and believe me, I was glad to be gone of them finally.”

 

 “But Sylvain?” Dimitri pushed, “The red haired man that flirted with you?”

 

 “He got here Friday around 4 a.m. - I was already awake because of my arthritis, damned sickness. I believe he left on Saturday.” She gathered her jug of juice and bowed her head casually, “I’m real sorry, but I’ve got more food to make. ‘Scuse me.”

 

 “Thank you,” Dimitri watched her go, then looked at Byleth, who was nibbling on a piece of toast very seriously as if it would help her solve this mystery, “He was here two days before wedding, and arrived so early, almost as if he left Thursday night and walked for hours.”

 

 “That’s the day I was out with my friends… He was just staying at the castle that night,” Byleth sighed, “I said goodbye to him before I left.” It was also the night that she had seen Dimitri in town, being kicked out of an inn, with Cornelia watching him on the bridge. 

 

 Another piece of the puzzle clicked. Byleth lit up, “I haven’t seen Cornelia since that night.”

 

 Dimitri felt some sort of pride for having predicted the main villain of this mystery. He gave her a look, and she returned it with her eyes narrowing as if to say ‘don’t get ahead of yourself.’

 

 He very well would get ahead of himself! 

 

 “She kidnapped him.” He stated.

 

 “We don’t know that. Cornelia, well… She had…” Byleth cleared her throat and gestured to her chest, cupping both her hands under her breasts, “ assets . Sylvain is a breast man, and she could’ve easily seduced him. They probably just ran away together.”

 

 Dimitri frowned. Sylvain was more of a butt man, at least from what he remembered. He had always prefered the backside to the front, and had lectured Dimitri on the differences many times in the past. He wondered if it changed - what an odd thing for Sothis to change - or if Byleth truly didn’t know him as much as she thought. 

 

 Aside from his friend’s preferences, there was also the fact that Sylvain wasn’t simply a slobbering dog on a leash just because a woman batted her eyelashes. Women were just a fun time to him, something for him to use to work through his own screwed up past. Unless Cornelia had put a spell on him, he wouldn’t have put aside his duties for his country just for a pretty face. 

 

 It didn’t make sense. 

 

 “What would he gain from being with Cornelia?” Dimitri leaned in closer, “He would’ve found a more… outlandish way to protest the wedding. And Cornelia doesn’t care about crests or lineage or nobility, there would be no reason for him to care about playing around with her.”

 

 Byleth eyed him suspiciously, “You know Cornelia that well?”

 

 “I’m afraid I do.”

 

 Cutting at another hash brown, she twisted her lips thoughtfully. “He could’ve been drunk.”

 

 “For several days at a time?”

 

 “Listen,” she sighed, “I know you’re some oddball conspiracy theorist, but I’m not . It doesn’t matter what happened, we’re just going to find him, and drag him back to Fhirdiad by his ear. That’s all.”

 

 She didn’t sound angry, but her voice lacked joy. She was done with the conversation, and Dimitri felt his hopes drop at the sight of her little frown. “You always think the best about everyone.”

 

 The statement surprised her, raising her eyebrows, “Do I? I don’t think I do.”

 

 “You do.” Of course she didn’t realize it, she never would think something so high of herself, “If you won’t be concerned for the situation, your highness, I will.”

 

 “Then do so,” she gestured with her fork, “And if I’m right, I can rub it in your face as much as I wish.”

 

 “I certainly hope you’re right, believe me. I’d give anything to be wrong here.”

 

 She ate the last bit of eggs on her plate, standing up and speaking with her mouth full as she pushed her chair into the table, “Nonetheless, we should get a move on. I’m going to go speak to the blacksmith, you… finish your meal.”

 

 He felt no hunger. HIs plate was full of food, most likely good food, but he didn’t care to touch one bit of it. Byleth, even in this world, even when she wasn’t his wife, still made sure to look out for him. It was saddening, in a way, that it was just her nature, and not something she did specially for her husband. 

 

 He sighed, “I’ll meet you there soon.”

 

  Dimitri kept to his promise, meeting Byleth only 15 minutes later at the smithery. Being in a hurry, she picked out pieces that wouldn’t need to be worked on, and fit them onto Dimitri like a puzzle. 

 

 The armor Byleth had picked out was a hodge-podge of iron, some dented and some new. It was dark, and Dimitri thought that he looked exactly like his old self.

 

 His reflection was faint and blurry in the window, but he could make out the long hair, the black armor lining his body, and the blue cape. It was almost laughable, if he didn’t feel such a dread in his stomach. 

 

 “Are you okay?” Byleth asked as she pulled her hair into a stubby ponytail, eyeing him with concern. 

 

 “Yes, fine,” he sighed, “I just look like my old self.”

 

 “Your old self?”

 

 He sent her a smile that he hoped was reassuring, “Yes. It brings back memories.”

 

 “Bad ones?”

 

 “Mostly, but there were a few good ones.” Like finding out that Dedue was alive, or when Byleth held his hand in the rain. 

 

 Byleth looked amazing, though he thought that she would look amazing even in a potato sack. Her own replaced armor was leather, dark, covered by a long jacket that she buttoned up, with a hood that would cover her head when needed. She frowned upon hearing his response, “I can get you something different, if you like.”

 “No,” he nearly jumped, putting up a gloved hand, “I’m happy to wear whatever you choose.”

 

 “I think you look nice,” her eyes raked down his body if only for a second, “Very rogueish.”

 

 “Is rogueish good?”

 

 She shrugged, “I think it’s fine.”

 

 Her thinking that it’s fine was good enough for him. Despite what his reflection said, there were differences enough for him to be comfortable with it. There were no bags under his eyes, his body had filled out and wasn’t a hollow lanky stick as it was in the past. HIs scowl was not as fierce, and not as present. 

 

 And he had both eyes. That was a very noticeable, very wonderful difference. 

 

 Dimitri’s fingers lingered on his right eye as he watched himself. “I think it’s fine as well…”

 

 Byleth seemed to take notice of his odd expression, but was too polite to ask. She turned away and stuffed her hands into her pockets, “We should probably get a move on.”

 

 “Yes,” he tore himself away, “let’s.”

 

 


 

 

 It took two days to finally reach Arianrhod, and now they stood at it’s large gates, staring at the walls as if they were massive behemoths challenging them to a duel. 

 

 “I’ve only been here on diplomatic missions,” Byleth informed, neck craned and mouth open, “Never as just a traveler. I wonder if they’ll treat me differently.”

 

 The roads certainly had. Over the two days, they passed by merchants and mercenaries alike, none proving dangerous to them, unless if one counted offending the princess of Faerghus as dangerous. With Byleth dressed as a normal person, most of the people they passed assumed that Dimitri was her husband, and chose to speak only to him, not even acknowledging her. 

 

 Dimitri thought he could see the ironic pain in her eyes. The fact that she was so determined to be married - for her economy - and yet despised the sexist culture that affected married women so deeply. They weren’t even married, or in a relationship, yet she felt what it was like to be a wife in such a country dominated by antiquity. 

 

 “It’ll be fine,” Dimitri assured as the massive iron gates groaned open, “the people may be rough, but they’re genuine.”

 

 “I just hope that Sylvain is here.”

 

 There was the massive, ground-breaking chance that Sylvain was not there, and that the group he was traveling with had gone in an entirely different direction. Yet, it was difficult to get through Faerghus without making a stop into Arianrhod, as the villages past the large fortress city held barely anything besides mountainous, secluded people, and cold sea air. 

 

 “Should we split up?” Byleth mused aloud as she stepped over the drawbridge and into the city street. 

 

 Dimitri followed at her heels, “I don’t think that’s quite a good idea. The last time I was here my father got mugged by a group of children.”

 

 She sent him a look, “Did he?”

 

 “He ended up charming them and becoming something of a father figure to many. One of them stole my left shoe the day before we left.”

 

 “Did you ever get it back?”

 

 “No, I had to walk around the city with no left shoe until I found a vendor willing to sell me one.”

 

 She hummed in thought, continuing her walk and slipping through the meandering citizens on their daily business. The city wasn’t as marble-esque and cold as Fhirdiad, but it had a certain charm with it’s stone buildings and water features running through the streets. 

 

 The weather was much nicer in South Western Faerghus, and wouldn’t freeze so terribly during winter. This left more room for the city designers to become creative with Arianrhod and allow little canals to run alongside some parts of the city. The canals were not only nice to look at, but also allowed a strategic advantage if ever under attack. 

 

 Dimitri himself, in the past, had pushed one or two of Edelgard’s soldiers into the canals to drown. He could only pass by the them and wonder how many bones lay at the bottom. 

 

 “Where should we start asking?” Byleth wondered. 

 

 The streets were packed, and Dimitri had to nearly yell to be heard over the wave of the crowd. “The first inn we find, I suppose.”

 

 She glanced around. Each store and building had little signs that hung high above the heads. One waved in the breeze happily showing a carved drawing of a bed and a moon, signifying that it was a place to sleep. It was the closest to the main gate, and most likely where the most travelers would choose to stay. 

 

 “I wonder, though,” she thought out loud, “If Sylvain and his group would rather choose a more seedy side of town?”

 

 Not that Sylvain was the seedy type, but he was intelligent enough to not stay at the first inn he saw. Dimitri nodded in agreement, “He would most likely choose the most unassuming place.”

 

 “Well, if we’re going for unassuming then that would mean this inn,” she gestured to it’s door, “he would assume that we’d assume different and look elsewhere, making this inn the most unassuming.”

 

 A pause. Dimitri blinked. “How about we just check every inn?”

 

 “Deal.”

 

 He stayed at her side, his arm brushing against her shoulder as she moved through the crowd. She carried the money, and with his body blocking her hip where the pouch lay, any thieves and pickpockets would have a difficult time pilfering. Byleth’s posture was calm, blank and comfortable as Dimitri stuck close. 

 

 The two, knight and princess, undertook their plan. It was only 30 seconds of the plan being undertaken that they were stopped by something entirely, unwholly, unpredictable

 

 “Is that a wanted poster with our faces on it?”

 

 Byleth squinted at Dimitri’s inquiry, “Lance-Snapper, don’t try to scare me. It’s not funny.”

 

 “Your highness, look.”

 

 She looked. She froze. 

 

 She scoffed, “Are my ears really that big?”

 

 No, they weren’t. In fact, the portraits were so comically inaccurate that he thought, just for a minute, that he mistook them for other people. Yet, no, his name ‘Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd’ was printed in large, sloppy letters under a caricature of his face. 

 

 Next to his poster, was Byleth’s. She looked serious, almost angry in her sketch, with large ears and big, furious eyes. Underneath, it said ‘Wanted - Alive. Byleth Eisner.”

 

 There was nothing on her poster about it being for the Princess, and only the words ‘20,000 Gold Reward’ provided some insight into who might’ve put the posters up in the first place. 

 

 Jeralt was looking for his daughter in the most irritating way possible. 

 

 Byleth stomped to the pole and ripped the papers off. She crumpled each up in her hands and stuffed them into her bag, then leveled Dimitri with a subtle, angry stare, “I cannot believe he would do this.”

 

 “Right,” Dimitri deadpanned, “the artist obviously drew me worse than you.” He looked like a criminal in his, with a sloppily drawn scowl and eyebrows raised to his greasy-looking hairline. “Is that truly how your father sees me?”

 

 “He knows I’m self conscious about my ears,” she covered the sides of her head, “he’s probably having a grand time right now, thinking he’s hilarious.”

 

 It was, actually, pretty funny, even at their expense. Dimitri could hardly stifle his smile, “I-I think your ears are lovely.”

 

 “Shush,” if Byleth could physically move herself to pout, it would’ve been in that moment, “let’s just take all these posters down.”

 

 A new quest had been undertaken by the knight and the princess - scouring every inch of the Fortress City to rip down their wanted posters, and hoping to do so without anybody noticing that it was their faces on said posters. 

 

 This quest, unlike the last one, lasted hours. 

 

 As Jeralt’s knights had put a poster on every pole, and on the side of every building. 

 

 It was hours later when the knight and princess finally reunited in a tired, cold huff. Dimitri leaned against the wall of a stable, and Byleth plopped down beside him carelessly. It smelled like horse poop, and was loud and dirty, but it was a comfortable place to sit. That was all the two could truly ask for. 

 

 “I can’t find a room,” Dimitri informed flatly, “every inn is packed.”

 

 “It’s a holiday weekend.”

 

 “What holiday?”

 

 “Beer Fest.”

 

 Of course. Lambert adored Beer Fest, Dimitri wondered how he could ever forget that dreaded festival. “Your father scheduled your wedding and honeymoon during Beer Fest?”

 

 Byleth sighed, “I’ve gotten too crazy the last few festivals and he wanted me to be away on my honeymoon while it was going on.”

 

 That was something he missed, Byleth’s liquored-up bouts. She always tended to make snow angels in the back courtyard, take off her shirt, and cry over small dogs. There was never a dull moment. Dimitri smiled reminiscently, “We could celebrate it now. We’re in the midst of it,” he gestured to a group of drunken passersby, arm in arm and stumbling all over the place. 

 

 “I’d love to,” she sighed, “but I can’t rest until I know Sylvain isn’t abandoning his country.”

 

 Uncomfortable at her reply, he shifted to glance at her, admiring her profile against the setting sun, and the small bit of hay that had stuck itself behind her ear. “I’m not saying this because I’m tired of looking for him, or because I disagree with you, but could you not just marry someone else?”

 

 “That marriage alliance wasn’t for us,” she shook her head, “It was for the Margrave and Gautier family. Yes, we could use the trading and the extra soldiers, but our alliance would help the Gautiers more than the Eisners.”

 

 “So Jeralt is marrying his daughter away out of the sheer kindness in his heart?”

 

 “Well…” now it was Byleth’s turn to shift uncomfortably, twiddling her fingers in her lap and crossing her legs over each other, “not exactly.”

 

 “What is it, if you don’t mind me asking?”

 

 A tense pause. Byleth held back, eyes wide. 

 

 She gulped, then blurted, “Nobody else in the country wants to marry me!”

 

 Silence dropped between them like a heavy brick out of the sky. 

 

 Dimitri was utterly, undeniably, confused. 

 

 “B-But you’re beautiful,” there was not even an ounce of shame in his tone, no regret and no dishonesty, “I don’t understand.”

 

 “I… have ruined every ball since I was the age of four,” she spat bitterly, “it doesn’t matter how I look. When you’ve managed to spill cheese dip on every noble lady’s dress at every single party, they suddenly don’t want you to marry their sons!”

 

 “Cheese dip is certainly not a good enough reaso-”

 

 “I’ve set fire to five people! I’ve burped while giving speeches! I’ve insulted every gentleman’s honor from one end of Faerghus to the other!” Byleth turned to him, now clutching his hands with wide, serious eyes, “At the academy, I tackled Seteth, the right hand of the Archbishop, because I thought he was an assassin. That was on my first day there. I sprained his hip!”

 

 Dimitri could not hide his smile even if he wanted to. “There are still greedy people that would marry you nonetheless.”

 

 “Of course there are,” she pulled back flatly, “but they wouldn’t marry me out of love for me. That’s Jeralt’s one request, that they like me, that they don’t find me humiliating to be around. I’ve gotten proposals,” she shrugged, “but upon seeing even just the tiniest hint of disdain, my father’s kicked them out and banned them from asking again.”

 

 It was all too dramatically funny to be real. Dimitri stifled a chuckle, earning a glare from the princess beside him. Her frustration only made it more difficult to hold back his outward amusement. “I-I’m sorry to hear of your troubles, your highness.”

 

 “Byleth,” she deadpanned, “Call me by my name, please.”

 

 “Byleth.” It dissolved sweetly on his tongue. He savored it. 

 

 “Byleth,” she affirmed. 

 

 There had been many a romantic, heart wrenching moment in his life, both of his lives, where his breath had been taken away. This moment, with the sun setting and a horse pooping in the stall behind him… was not very romantic. 

 

 But Byleth lay her head on his shoulder. Quaint, content, something so small and beautiful, that he had not even realized how much he truly longed for it. 

 

 Her hair brushed against his arm. Her eyes closed, her cheek squished up against him. With him being so tall, he assumed that she wasn’t as comfortable as she could be. He shimmied lower so she could rest her head more easily. 

 

 His smile was unstoppable.

 

 This was small, but it was something, and he would take it happily. 

 

 


 

 

Byleth slept on his shoulder, surrounded by hay and horses and Dimitri’s cloak. He shimmied it off his back when she shivered, and lay it over her until she was warm once again. Politely, ever the gentlemen, he used every ounce of self control within his accursed body to not join her under the blanket and spend the night cuddling. 

 

 How he wished to cuddle. How he missed it. 

 

 Instead, Dimitri settled for smoothing her hair back and bathing in the pure glee he felt at having her sleep on him. Ecstasy. He adored every minute of it. 

 

 Until his lower back began to hurt and he had to finally lay down with her head resting on his arm instead. It was good enough, he supposed, but not as good as before. 

 

 Morning came around 4 a.m. when the owner of the horse stall began rummaging around outside. Dimitri opened his eyes with a start, and gently nudged Byleth awake beside him. 

 

 He sat up, as she rubbed her eyes with a fist and yawned. “Come on,” he whispered, “we have to go before we get arrested.”

 

 She frowned, but complied with him pulling her up. There was a back door, the opposite direction of where the owner was, and if they were quiet enough, he would never guess that the two were even there. Byleth stumbled out the door, with Dimitri keeping a protective hand on the small of her back as she walked. 

 

 More awake after taking a few steps, she broke into a faster pace as they left the stables behind. The streets were empty, besides the few early morning workers, and several drunken citizens laying on the ground. 

 

 With no inns making breakfast quite yet, Byleth and Dimitri wandered the streets and admired the canals and buildings, not daring to acknowledge how they had slept together so soundly. The sun would come out in several hours, and Arianrhod proved to be a much different place under the candlelight of the street torches, and the dim moon above. 

 

 The few awake workers they did pass by had no answers for their search, and only looked at the two disheveled travelers oddly as they asked ‘have you seen a flirtatious red haired man around here?’. Dimitri supposed that if their wanted posters didn’t get their reputation spoken about, their questioning would. 

 

 It was finally around 8:00 a.m. when the streets began to be packed once more, and Beer Fest was in full swing again. In the mornings, it was orange flavored beer, and waffles with beer syrup dripped over them. Dimitri had gotten a waffle from a vendor, and had eaten Byleth’s too, as his lack of taste had not betrayed him to it’s absolute sweetness. “It tastes terrible,” she said as she handed him her dripping waffle, crinkling her nose, “I’ll just grab some bacon.”

 

 “Am I your trash disposal?” He teased, but took the treat anyway. 

 

 “My father always eats the food I don’t want,” she informed smartly, “that’s what men do for young women.”

 

 That’s what fathers and boyfriends do, he mentally corrected. Of course, he would never say it outloud, and was honored to be her trash disposal nonetheless. 

 

 The crowds were quickly thickening. Dimitri could only wonder what else Arianrhod held for him and Byleth. Perhaps, another night spent sleeping side by side, or a ride in the boats through the canals? Perhaps a brush of the hand, or a romantic date spent in a restaurant? 

 

 Of course, this was all hopeless dreaming, as fate, in all it’s wonderful, unpredictable glory, answered his question for him. 

 

 “Stop right there!”

 Dimitri stopped right there. 

 

 The crowd parted to reveal Ingrid Brandl Galatea, holding a waffle in one hand, and pointing at Dimitri with the other.

 

 Swallowing his own waffle, he gestured to his chest and raised his brows, “Me?”

 

 “Yes!” She took another big bite, but kept her eyes locked onto him as her front teeth dug into the sweet breakfast treat. 

 

 Byleth, who was holding a bouquet of bacon, could only stare at her other retainer and long-time friend with a confused, furrowed brow. “Ingrid? What’re you doing here?”

 

 “Arresting him! Stay back,” she waved her waffle seriously, as the crowd murmured and closed in with shocked whispers of ‘arrest?’, all eyes going to Dimitri - he was sure he had syrup on his cheek, and that made it all the much worse. 

 

 Byleth was incredulous, “ Why ?”

 

 “He’s kidnapped the princess!”

 

 A wave of gasps. ‘Princess?’ ‘goodness no!’ ‘what a terrible man!’ The chaos was growing, and Dimitri took the opportunity to wipe his cheek, and throw aside his waffle. It landed on the ground, and Ingrid gasped at the careless display of wastefulness. 

 

 “I’ve not done anything!” He would lie, as he had become so accustomed to, “I think you have the wrong people, you crazy woman.”

 

 Protectively, he wrapped an arm around Byleth, steering her away and towards a nearby alley. The crowd would not part for them, and he put a hand out to move aside several gawking strangers as he attempted his retreat. 

 

 Ingrid quickly shoved the rest of her food into her mouth, her words becoming unclear as she jogged after them with sticky, syrup hands, “Eeht ‘ack ‘ere!”

 

 Finally swallowing her waffle completely, she stopped suddenly to put her fingers to her lips. The crowd watched as she whistled, a clear and loud sound that was quickly followed by the deafening woosh of white wings. 

 

 The people parted to allow a pegasus to land. Ingrid climbed on, kicked it’s side, and like an arrow through the sky, the knight and the pegasi shot up and over the tall buildings. 

 

 Silence. A shocked pause. 

 

 “Beeeer Feeeest!” One guy yelled, receiving a sudden eruption of cheers and applause. 

 

 Byleth and Dimitri had been quickly making their way down an alley when the cheers began, and Dimitri slowed in his jog to glance over his shoulder. There was hardly anybody around besides the occasional bum, and no sign of Ingrid following. He sighed, “What should we do?”

 

 Byleth huffed in frustration, “Talk to her when she calms down, I guess? I don’t understand why she’s even here. Unless it’s my dad just trying to piss me off.”

 

 “I can’t imagine Ingrid really going along with your father’s pranks,” He shifted in thought, running his fingers through his hair, “And I can’t imagine him lying to her about what truly happened. You said that you left a note, right?”

 

 She nodded.

 

 “What if… that note never got to him?”

 

 “So you’re saying… what if the wanted posters aren’t just to frustrate me? And what if the entire Kingdom thinks you kidnapped me?”

 

 “Yes.”

 

 “That’s preposterous.”

 

 He huffed, “I apologize, but why do you always have to argue with my conclusions?”

 

 “Because it’s insane,” she put her hands up, “You don’t know them like I do!”

 

 He knew them more than she thought he did. In fact, he’d known her friends and herself far longer than she’d ever known them. He leveled her with a look, “I know how the world works, your highness-”

 

 “Byleth.”

 

 “ Byleth . I know the world, I know how things work, and I know that no matter how preposterous you might think something is, there will always be a huge, unignorable fact, that it very well could happen.” He gestured to the other end of the alley, “Hell, Glenn could even show up this very second and challenge me to a duel for your ‘freedom’.”

 

 “That’s silly. Glenn is probably at home training new recruits.”

 

 As if to confirm their own theories, both Byleth and Dimitri looked to where he gestured.

 

 Glenn stood at the mouth of the alley, sword drawn, eyes locked onto Dimitri. 

 

 Amazing. 

 

 Perhaps Sothis had given Dimitri the power to predict the future? He nearly laughed at the irony. 

 

 “Return the princess.” Glenn commanded, glowering and pointing his sword at Dimitri. 

 

 He raised his hands in defense, “I didn't kidnap her.”

 

 Byleth would come to his aide as well, stepping in front of him like a shield, “I don’t know what you’re doing here, but you need to go home. Dimitri didn’t kidnap me.”

 

 He smirked, “Hah, brainwashing. Oldest trick in the book, Lance-Snapper.”

 

 “No,” she spoke slowly as if he was dumb, “not brainwashing. I’m here by choice.”

 

 “Stockholm syndrome!”

 

 “Uh, no.”

 

 “Enough talk,” he cut his sword through the air, taking a stance as he was ready to run at Dimitri, “now we fight.”

 

 He looked so much like Felix. The scowl, the fierce air. He ran at Dimitri and took a jab, but he sidestepped and broke into a roll across the ground. Byleth gasped as Dimitri kicked Glenn’s foot out from under him, yet he remained upright, not stumbling from the blow. 

 

 “Stop!” She yelled, pushing Glenn into the wall. He hit the bricks, whipping his around to the princess with a furrowed brow and gaping mouth. 

 

 “You’re defending him?” He seethed, “This boar?”

 

 Dimitri smiled bitterly. Ah yes, he had missed the Fraldarius’s so much. 

 

 Glenn ignored anything Byleth attempted to convey, instead taking another swipe at Dimitri. He could only move fast enough to avoid the sword hitting his chest, and it instead scratched the skin of his arm. He held it, ignoring the sting and the warmth of blood on his fingers, glaring at Glenn, “I won’t fight you.”

 

 “Then die.”

 

 He ducked another jab, kicked him in the stomach, got kicked back, and was instantly punched in the face. Stumbling away, Dimitri could only narrow his eyes, holding his nose where it throbbed in pain. 

 

 Byleth, once again, pushed Glenn away, earning a glare from the knight captain. She huffed, “Stop it right this instance, or I’m never coming back.”

 

 “You’re coming back no matter what!”

 

 “Would you just…” she groaned in frustration, “please tell me what’s going on? What’s happened in Fhirdiad since I left?”

 

 He straightened up and looked at her incredulously, “What do you think has happened? When we found that you and Blaiddyd were missing, we put two and two together. Your parents are worried sick, hell everybody is sick with worry.”

 

 “Did you not… get my note?”

 

 “What note?”

 

 Dimitri and Byleth locked eyes. Dimitri was not one to gloat usually, but he couldn’t help the casual shrug, “I told you so.”

 

 She frowned and tore her gaze away, back to Glenn, “So, you’re telling me that my father truly thinks that Dimitri kidnapped me? And he put out wanted posters? And he sent you and Ingrid to find me?”

 

 “Yes.”

 

 “That’s not…” she put a hand to her head, “No. That’s not the case. I asked Dimitri to come with me to find Sylvain.”

 

 Before Glenn could express his thoughts, whether he believed her or not, a giant white pegasus landed with a loud swoop between Glenn and Dimitri. Ingrid hopped off, anger coloring her features as she swung her lance at Dimitri’s head. 

 

 He ducked soon enough, and dodged another hit a second later. “Ingrid, please stop!” He yelled as she hit him in the rib cage with the side, making him double over in pain. 

 

 His nose hurt, his arm was bleeding, and now his ribs hurt. Just a normal, run of the mill Beer Fest. 

 

 “You fiend!” She yelled, ignoring Byleth’s pleading hand on her shoulder, “You cannot just kidnap the princess and get away with it! What did you do to her?” She whirled onto Byleth, face shining with concern, “What did he do to you?”

 

 Byleth groaned, “nothing.”

 

 “You can tell me, there’s no shame.”

 

 Glenn pushed the pegasus aside. The mount was much too large for the small alley, and it was quickly becoming cramped. Several onlookers stopped to watch the argument between the nicely dressed people with curiosity, and Dimitri once again felt like all eyes were on him. 

 

 “My love, hit him again,” he urged, “the dastard deserves it.”

 

 “I told you,” Byleth seethed, “He hasn’t done anything!”

 

 Ingrid took another jab at him. Dimitri rolled his eyes, grabbing the lance in one swift movement and snapping it between his fingers. The glow of his crest was bright between them, illuminating Ingrid’s face as she gaped at the show of strength. 

 

 It split instantly, and he dropped the broken steel onto the ground with a clatter. Silence fell, and Dimitri had had enough. 

 

 “Listen to me,” he enunciated, “I didn’t kidnap her highness, we’re not on the run together, and she left a note. Do you need me to say it more clearly?”

 

 With a flash of steel, the tip of Glenn’s sword was at his neck instantly, “If you didn’t kidnap her highness, then why did Cornelia tell us that you did?”

 

 His heart dropped. 

 

 “Cornelia… what?”

 

 With his free hand, Glenn dug into his pocket and whipped out a folded piece of parchment. “She sent us a letter the day after Byleth was found to be missing.”

 

 Ingrid took it, unfolding it and clearing her throat to read aloud, “Dear Eisner Family, I am writing while on the road to inform you that I have fallen in love with Lord Gautier and that we’re running away together. Sorry. As an apology, I would give you information about a certain man working under your daughter. 

 Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd is a criminal and a liar. He’s conned many noble ladies, myself included, and I have reason to believe that he’s now targeting your dear Byleth. I know that I’ve stolen her fiance for purely selfish reasons, but I would not forgive myself if I were to not warn you of the danger your daughter faces. 

 Keep an eye on that man. If your dear girl disappears, it was him.”

 

 Glenn’s eyes narrowed dangerously, “The writing is on the wall, Blaiddyd.”

 

 There was a fire lit in Dimitri’s heart. He had not felt such anger, such rage, since his days of facing Edelgard on the battlefield. Clenching his jaw, he stared at the Fraldarius, the cold steel of his blade digging in his neck. “She’s lying. I’m being framed.”

 

 “So,” Byleth mused, drawing closer to Ingrid’s shoulder and watching him with suspicious eyes, “That’s why you couldn’t tell me how you knew Cornelia.”

 

 “I would not touch that woman with a ten foot pole,” Dimitri snapped, “She’s framing me! I don’t know what for, to be honest, I haven’t done anything to gain her ire.”

 

 Had Lambert done something? Had Dedue? Had he looked at Cornelia wrongly somehow? Or was he just a pawn in her little game, and she simply needed a poor fool to frame?

 

 It was all so confusing, and all of it an obvious lie. Yet, how could they possibly believe one word over another?

 

 Byleth looked torn, but stayed close to Ingrid nonetheless, keeping her eyes on him. He gazed back, looking genuine as he searched her face for any hope of her believing him. 

 

 “I’ll cut you down where you stand,” Glenn threatened, “but first, do tell us what your game is, yeah?”

 

 “My game?” He looked at the captain, “I don’t have a game. I’m just helping Byleth to find her fiance.”

 

 “Don’t act innocent.”

 

 “I’m not acting,” he muttered petulantly, “I promise you, I’m a much worse actor.”

 

 “How do you know Cornelia?”

 

 “From a past life.”

 

 “What does that mean?”

 

 “Exactly how it sounds.”

 

 “Explain.”

 

 He didn’t know what more to say. If he could just spit it out without it sounding incredibly mental, he would’ve. ‘Oh, Sothis rewinded time so I could be with my wife again but she messed up and now it’s really dumb and complicated’. 

 

 As if that would ever work. 

 

 Dimitri began to speak slowly, carefully, “Cornelia made my life very difficult at one point. I wanted a job at the castle so I could live happily, that’s all. Her Highness and I are looking for Sylvain, and I would never even dream of hurting Byleth in any way possible. I’m not a conman, nor am I a liar or a criminal.”

 

 Byleth, now, was the one to step forward. She brushed aside Ingrid, clasping her hands in front of her chest and staring Dimitri down, “How can I believe you?”

 

 He gazed in return. “I don’t know. I can’t think of any physical way to prove it to you.”

 

 The blade dug deeper into his neck, and Glenn scowled, “You’re lying, asshole!”

 

 “I’m not, I promis-”

 

 “Tell us the truth and I’ll be merciful!”

 

 “I am,” he struggled, “I don’t know what else to say!”

 “What do you want with her highness?”

 

 “Nothing!”

 

 “Tell us! Why did you want to work for her so badly?”

 

 The pressure was on. Byleth gazed at him with distrust. 

 

 Glenn pushed the sword further, drawing blood. 

 

 Words were like vomit, unstoppable and bitter. Anxiety pushed Dimitri’s words up and out, before he could even think upon stopping them. 

 

 “I’m in love with her.”

Chapter Text

 “Are you insane?”

 

 Dimitri was certainly starting to think so. 

 

 The world began to slip away. It was a whirlpool of color surrounding him, the image of Byleth stretching across his vision like a smeared watercolor. The air rushed into his ears and out through his mouth as he shut his eyes and held back his motion sickness. 

 

 Kneeling down, Dimitri tangled his fingers through his hair. Putting his head between his knees proved the only way he could take the sudden, unknown assault. “What in the Goddess’s name is happening?”

 

 “What do you think is happening? You imbecile, you absolute fool ! I cannot believe what I just saw!” 

 

 Sothis’s insults reached him through the whirlwind. She sounded childlike, dripping with annoyance. With another sharp woosh of the hurricane, Dimitri’s flapping cloak finally settled against his shoulders and back in peace. Gripping his head, he opened his eyes to stare at the unfamiliar grey stones beneath him. 

 

 The humidity was nearly suffocating. Looking up, all he could see was fog, and absolute darkness stretching into the distance. No longer was he surrounded by Arianrhod and it’s festivities. The world he knew had been replaced by cold stone and nothingness. “Where am I?” 

 

 Where Byleth had just stood before him was a set of stone stairs. Moss covered each stone, leading to the top where Sothis waited for him. She stared with a scowl that could’ve toppled nations. 

 

 Dimitri stared back. This couldn’t possibly be a hallucination. He had never hallucinated something so detailed before. The moisture in the air kissed at his arms hotly, making him sweat under his armor as he gawked at the girl on the throne. 

 

 She narrowed her eyes at the dumb look on his face. She seemed like an annoyed child, though he knew the power she held was not to be underestimated. “You’re with me, this place doesn’t really have a name,” a flicker of the eyes, a thoughtful pursing of her lips, “Byleth would visit me here often.”

 

 He lit up at her name, “Byleth?”

 

 “Yes,” she lifted her chin, “in her dreams. Now, I brought you here. Though this time it’s much more my choice, rather than the consequences of Seiros’s actions.”

 

 In his confusion, Dimitri could only stare. “Aren’t you Seiros?”

 

 “No,” she huffed, “she’s my child.”

 

 Her child. Such a thing was never mentioned in scripture, though Dimitri supposed taking her word for it would be best. Gulping, and reminding himself to tread carefully, he went on, “What do you mean, we’re here by your own choice?” The question of where is here lingered in his mind, though she had already given him as best of an answer as he supposed he would get. 

 

 Sothis shrugged, “I’m not a part of Byleth anymore, so I’m free to come and go to this place as I please. I have as much power as I could possibly salvage.”

 

 “Salvage?”

 

 “There’s so much you don’t know about the world,” she outstretched a small hand gracefully, “you never looked, did you? You had your country, your war was won, and that was all you cared about. That Claude fellow would’ve dug deeper, you know.”

 

 Dimitri only shrugged and frowned, “What was the point? Byleth and I restored peace. We lived happily.”

 

 “That might be true, yes, but aren’t you curious? I know your wife was.”

 

 Byleth had always looked for answers. Rhea gave her so little, and Edelgard died before she could explain who had helped her in the war. Claude dug some, but kept his secrets close to his chest. Dimitri had never been interested. 

 

 Sothis must’ve seen the disinterested expression flicker across his face, for she only grimaced and sighed. Her hand ran down her eyes as she shook her head, “You’re hopeless. Ugh. Do you even know why I brought you here?”

 

  I’m in love with her. It rang through his mind like a sickening reminder of his own awkwardness. Dimitri could only grimace in pain. “To stick my foot in my mouth?”

 

 “Yes.”

 

 “Please do.”

 

 “You have two choices,” Sothis raised a slim brow and lifted her chin, a true Goddess on a foggy throne high above him, “as apology for my mistakes, I will allow you to turn back time. But only once.”

 

 “Yet…” he tasted the idea on his tongue, “you allowed Byleth to turn back time so often.”

 

 “Well, she was my vassal.”

 

 He huffed, “I don’t understand the difference. I’m here where she stood, and you talk to me as you did her.”

 

 Her eyes were wide as if she couldn’t believe his stupidity. “You have a human heart, you fool! We’re not connected in any way other than me feeling pity for you! You’re really testing my patience, Blaiddyd.”

 

 The world thundered around him with the boom of her voice. He composed himself with a sigh, reminding himself of who this young girl truly was. “I apologize.”

 

 “I accept,” she squeaked highly, “Listen, I really am sorry about messing up your request. My powers have been so chaotic lately, I haven’t controlled them on my own since that idiot stole my bones-”

 

 “Stole your bones?”

 

 “Yes! My bones! You really don’t know anything, do you?”

 

 He supposed not. Dimitri rubbed his neck in an attempt to look humble before the short tempered Goddess. “Again, I apologize.”

 

 She sat back in her stone throne and humphed. Her legs crossed over each other as she continued on boredly, “Anyway, so my powers are chaotic. And for that, I apologize. You better be grateful I swooped in to save you from that embarrassment,” she smiled, “jeez! You really just blurt things out, huh? Byleth always thought that was cute about you, but it was rather irritating for me.”

 

 “I apologize…?”

 

 “Don’t sound so hesitant! Straighten up, you’re a King!”

 

 He did so. Sothis smirked in satisfaction, “Good, now, I am going to give you two choices here.”

 

 Dimitri would’ve straightened to attention even without her command. His eyes widened, and his mouth parted as he watched the Goddess begin. She had her hands resting on the arms, chin lifted and face regal. The mist floated around his eyes, but his attention was fully on her. 

 

 Sothis paused for anticipation before beginning. Dimitri bit his lip in due anxiety.

 

 “I can erase this, Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd. I can send you back in time the moment I appeared before you, and allow you to die peacefully and naturally as you were meant to.”

 

  Or .

 

 “Or, I can pulse you back to two minutes ago. Back before you blurted out that monstrosity about loving her. You can say something else - something much smarter .”

 

 Something much smarter indeed. 

 

 Anticipation grew in his stomach. He looked down, gulping and feeling uncomfortable under the Goddess’s eyes. She awaited an answer, yet he had not even given such an option any consideration before. 

 

 To go back to his old life would’ve been the smartest choice -  to die peacefully beside his wife, beside the woman he knew loved him back. The woman he’d spent his life with. 

 

 The stones beneath him were steady though the world looked as if it might fall out from under him. Sothis stared with expectant eyes while Dimitri could only stare at his feet. The decision refused to come easily. 

 

 “I don’t know,” he choked on his own words, “there’s so much I’ve experienced that I never got before.” His hand went to his eye, where he had grown so used to being blind. It was difficult to remember how to act with two seeing eyes now, but something he enjoyed. 

 

 Sothis offered a helpful wave of her hand, “you have your father in this life. Dedue has his family. Neither of you have experienced tragedy.”

 

 To remember the tragedy of Duscur was to experience it, but at least he carried the burden alone. Dedue didn’t have to haul the suffering on his shoulders any longer, his friend could be a normal person, they both could be normal people. “There’s no war,” he suggested, “at least not yet. It’s all so backwards…”

 

 “Areadbhar sits in a dusty room, unused. Loog’s name is not known in history, replaced by Nemesis.”

 

 “Yes… that’s all wrong.”

 

 Sothis shrugged, “Sorry about that. Time’s hard to control, Dimitri. You do one small thing, and it’s a ripple effect across all of history. I don’t know what happened to make the Eisners rule Faerghus, but there was something that changed early on.”

 

 Something he desired to discover, no matter how little the discovery would change. Perhaps he truly was just as curious as Claude, and all it took was a push to make him so. He mulled, he shifted, he fidgeted, thinking over every detail as Sothis watches with bored eyes. 

 

 “My father,” he glanced at the Goddess, “we know each other now.”

 

 “Do you like what you’ve met?”

 

 “I do,” he chuckled humorlessly, “though he’s more of a handful than I thought.”

 

 “He’s a different man, different responsibilities.”

 

 Sothis was right, but Dimitri didn’t care. He wanted to know the man underneath the stress and Kingship, the man he could’ve been. 

 

 The decision was made. His route was chosen. 

 

 Smiling and sending a nod to the Goddess on the throne, he began, “Please, send me back a few minutes before the confrontation with Glenn and Ingrid. I wish to try things differently this time.”

 

 The girl straightened up. Her hand left her cheek as she stared at him below, eyes wide. “Oh? Really? I thought for sure you’d be a bigger person and just own up to your mistake.”

 

 Byleth had told him of Sothis’s unpredictable nature, though he had never expected to meet it personally. He blinked at her in shock, wrinkling his nose and furrowing his brows, “Uh... why do you say that?”

 

 “Well, I mean,” she shrugged, “You’ve always been a goody-two-shoes. The Byleth I knew liked your honesty and humility,” she snorted in absolute disgust, “she thought your embarrassing outbursts were cute.”

 

 His stupid little outbursts were the worst part of him. He had been controlled by his emotional impulses at one point, and it only ended in hurt and anger for the others around him. If there was anything about him that he would change, it would be that. He narrowed his eyes, “What do you mean?”

 

 Another disinterested shrug, “She might be charmed by you saying you love her.” 

 

 “Charmed? More like creeped out.”

 

 “You’re a handsome guy! And you said it so genuinely! I’m sure she’d be charmed to know a nice, honest boy like you is in love with you!”

 

 Sothis sounded like a mother trying to reassure her son. It was difficult to believe, but with another encouraging smile from the Goddess, the thought was beginning to sink under his skin. He shuffled awkwardly and twiddled his fingers, “You think?”

 

 “Yeah!” Her voice reached a high pitch as she encouraged, “You say you love her, and she’s like ‘oh wow someone loves me, I could just be with him instead of getting married’ and then bam, you’re back in each other’s arms.”

 

 “...She thinks I’m a criminal, though.”

 

 “ Glenn thinks you’re a criminal,” she corrected with a wag of her finger, “not Byleth. Remember, she’s in your old position, that means she’s stupidly trusting.”

 

 “I’ve never been stupidly trusting!”

 

 “Oh, yes you have, don’t even try to argue about that. I’ve been with you all the time Byleth knew you, I see everything .”

 

 Everything. Everything? Even the love making? 

 

 Dimitri’s eyes widened. Sothis only smirked. 

 

 She went on triumphantly, “All I’m saying is that you’ve already gotten your awkward little confession out of the way. From here on out it’s just smooth sailing, kid! She’s going to be so into the idea of a handsome guy loving her that she’ll fall for you back in a snap!”

 

 In a snap. His heart skipped a beat. The humidity of the dream-like surroundings was starting to make his underarms sweat, and he wanted to feel the cool breeze of Faerghus once more. Closing his eyes as if to shut out his own hesitation, he nodded. 

 

 “Fine. Don’t reverse anything. Just send me back.”

 

 A laugh - more like a mischievous snort - and the world began to whirl around him. He opened his eyes to catch Sothis smirking, and wondered, just for a moment, if she was rather a goddess of mischief, instead of a goddess of creation. 

 

 She had to be. She simply had to be evil, and there was no denying that. How well she had disguised herself in society, when she, in reality, just wanted to ruin lives! How well she had persuaded him! How well she had ruined him!

 

 Dimitri exited the whirlwind of time in the same spot he had begun. Byleth stared at him with disbelief coloring her face.

 

 The air was cold against his cheeks, yet there was no longer sweat coating his skin. He sighed in relief from the heat of the dream world, and closed his eyes as if he could ignore the accusing, confused stares from the rest of the party. 

 

 “You’re in love with her?” 

 

 Yes. Yes. A thousand times, yes. How could he not be?

 Charming. Be charming. Sothis’s encouragement lingered in his mind - Goddess of mischief or not, she was quite reassuring. 

 

 “I always have been,” his eyes opened to gaze at the shocked princess, “ever since we met five or so years ago, outside of Garreg Mach.” That was when he had remembered his love, but the memories lasted far longer.

 

 A pause. A tick, a tack, a drop of a pin. Silence, save for the shouts and jaunts of the festival surrounding the alley. It was their own world, and nothing could break through. 

 

 “That’s so creepy.” Ingrid wrinkled her nose in disgust, “She told me about that, I remember,” glancing at Byleth, the girls shared a nod, “she thought you had a few screws loose.”

 

 Of course she did. 

 

 His hopes crashed to the ground and shattered. 

 

  “Sothis? Are you there? Please, I change my mind, send me back. Just do it, come on.” His own voice echoed in his mind, and he shut his eyes as he awaited a response. The group continued to stare, while Dimitri began to realize that Sothis would not answer. 

 

 Damn Goddess. He’s never going to church again. 

 

 Glenn sent a hesitant glance to Byleth as he held the blade to Dimitri’s neck, “What do you think, your highness?”

 

 “I think…” she bit her lip in thought, “well, I’ve heard worse. This is the most tame confession I’ve ever gotten. But, yes,” she sighed and nodded gravely, “it is a bit creepy that you got a position at the castle simply because you liked me.”

 

 Loved her, not like. It was love, and always would be. He supposed that she was right, yet the truth was not meant to come out - especially not in this way. He put his hands up in defense, “I never had any ill intentions, nor any intent to, uh, woo you.”

 

 Glenn’s sword was threatening to dig even deeper, though Dimitri did not have much neck left to give him. The knight captain scowled, “What is your intent, then?”

 

 “To protect you!” He defended with exasperation, trying to step back to escape the onslaught upon his throat, “I just wanted to see that you were happy! I have no other motives other than to just live my life knowing that you’re safe and happy.”

 

 “And… if I were not?”

 

 His eyes lingered on her, “I would try my best to make it so. Like now, I want to help you find Sylvain because I know they wouldn’t,” he nodded his head towards a scowling Ingrid and Glenn, “and I know that’s what you want. I just want what you want, and I’m here to make that happen!”

 

 “What are you expecting in return?”

 

 “Fulfillment, I guess?” He shrugged desperately, “Satisfaction knowing that you’re living and well?”

 

 Byleth’s eyes narrowed. They were dark, thickly lined with lashes as she looked at him with suspicion. Her arms crossed over her chest uncomfortably. “What about your curse?”

 

 Dimitri truly wished he had not listened to Sothis. He wished that he was not so easily persuaded. Perhaps if he had accepted the offer to rewind before all of this happened, then he wouldn’t be on trial. 

 

 Impulse, his worst trait. It only grew worse with nervousness. He sighed, “I’ll tell the truth for once.”

 

 Glenn scowled, “For once? How many lies have you told her highness?”

 

 “Only a few,” he answered slowly, “and it pained me each time. Byleth,” he looked at her, “My curse is that you’ll never know me the way I know you. I wasn’t lying when I asked to be a knight because it was all I had left, your highness, I truly see no other way to live besides serving Faerghus, and… serving you.”

 

 A pause. Byleth fluttered her eyes away in a thoughtful look, a familiar expression he could stare at until the end of time. Ingrid wrapped a comforting around over her shoulder, while Glenn simply looked bored. It was the Knight Captain who intervened upon the silence, “Pretty words, Lance-Snapper.”

 

 “I’m not trying to make them pretty,” Dimitri defended softly, “I’m just telling the truth.”

 

 Glenn looked to Byleth,  “He’s a criminal, your highness. He lies beautifully, but the end result will only get you hurt.”

 

 “What if…” she glanced at him, “What if Cornelia is the criminal? What if she’s the one that’s lying?”

 

 “And what if she’s not ? She’s not the one here right now, is she? She’s not the one traveling with you? She’s not the one who could stab you and pull out your insides and wrap them around his neck like a necklace, and she’s no-”

 

 “That’s gross, you can stop.” 

 

 Dimitri eyed the princess, “I don’t wear necklaces.”

 

 “Right,” Unamused, she sighed, “he has family, Glenn, perhaps we should speak to them?”

 

 “Ah, yes, family,” he laughed humorlessly, “they got here an hour before we did.”

 

 That was news to Dimitri. Under Glenn’s blade, he lit with joy. His father and Dedue were in town, and they seemed his only hope. “They did?”

 

 “They followed you, probably to assist in killing her highness!” The eldest Fraldarius hissed, “How do we even know that they’re your real family? I bet they’re lying criminals just like you!”

 

 Byleth blanked, “They look exactly alike. Save for, uh, Dedue, was it?”

 

 Dimitri nodded, “Yes, he’s simply our friend, but like a brother to me. The other is my father.”

 

 “He’s certainly his father,” Byleth defended flatly, “they’re mirror images of each other.”

 

 Hope was beginning to shine through the clouds. Dimitri lit up, nearly not feeling the tip of the blade against his neck any longer. It was Ingrid who decided to dash said hopes away with a stroke of her words, “Familial ties only mean stronger lies, you know,” she was wise as she held Byleth closer, “he’ll probably just make up something to make his son look innocent.”

 

 His hope fell into a frown, “My father is the most honest man I know! He would never lie!”

 

 “Says you.”

 

 Byleth’s words cut through the chaos like a swift blade. She put up a hand and frowned, “Enough!” Ingrid’s argument died, and Glenn’s sword wavered. Dimitri, instead, only felt the dread beginning to bubble further in his stomach. Byleth went on with an air of royalty and command, “We keep Lance-Snapper tied up until we can speak to his family. I’ll make my decision of his fate when I’m ready.”

 

 “Fine,” a scowl, a jerk of his head towards his fiance, “Babe, get the rope.”

 

 “Don’t call me babe,” she sent him a glare over her shoulder as she gathered the rope from her pegasus’s saddle. Dimitri lowered his hands behind his back to allow Ingrid to wrap the flimsy tie around his wrists.

 

 “I could break this in an instant, you know,” he reminded Byleth, annoyed, “do you have something stronger? Wootz steel, maybe?”

 

 Ingrid tightened the rope with a quick tug. It dug into his skin uncomfortably, yet he ignored the pain in favor of keeping his eyes level with the princess’s. A small, mischievous smile that resembled Sothis’s crept to her lips, “I don’t. I suppose you’ll just have to be good.”

 

 He would try his best, but no promises could be made. “I can’t help what my crest does sometimes.” Ingrid pushed against his back, and he stumbled as he walked. His tied hands gave him no grace as he followed the group across the road. 

 

 “To have a crest,” Ingrid muttered behind him, lugging her pegasus along as they wove through the alleyway, “you must be noble.”

 

 “I’m not, not that I know of.”

 

 “A bastard, then?”

 

 “I couldn’t tell you how so.”

 

 “How odd,” she mused to herself, “there’s so much we don’t know yet.”

 

 “Ingrid,” Glenn called over his shoulder as the mouth of the alley drew near, “Don’t fret, he’s probably lying now too.”

 

 “You’re really very determined to prove me a liar.”

 

 He scowled, “Because I know I’m right!”

 

 Throughout the banter, Byleth remained silent. She walked ahead of Glenn, head held high. The crowd thickened as the alley let out into a side street. Byleth stopped, and dug her hand into the bag resting at her side. 

 

 Glenn stopped to watch her curiously, “Your highness?”

 

 “I just thought,” she sighed, leaning more into the bag, “well, perhaps I should wear this.” She pulled the circlet from her bag. It was smudged with loose dirt, yet she wiped it away with a frown, “I suppose it’s time to quit pretending.”

 

 That time would always come, and it was not always a happy moment. The group watched as she fitted the circlet onto her dark hair. Clearly unhappy, her frown could’ve chilled the warmest of climates. The crown fit on her as if it belonged, though she wore it like it burned. 

 

 “You look sad.” Dimitri noted slowly. Ingrid jabbed his back with her elbow, making him lurch forward and squeeze his eyes shut as the pain fizzed up his spine. It was only three words, but too much for a prisoner to dare speak. 

 

 “Be quiet,” she commanded, “I don’t want to hear anymore from you.”

 

 “Well,” Byleth shrugged, “he’s right. I am. I was almost having fun.”

 

 Almost. Almost. Dimitri took a deep breath to ward away the pain as they continued weaving through the crowd. Almost having fun, she had said. He filed the detail away for later. 

 

 No crowds parted, yet Byleth earned a few wide eyes from several of the civilians. They were a group of knights, a tied up man, and a pegasus, it was certainly an attraction to the alcohol addled mind of the festivity goers. 

 

 Glenn led them to an inn. It was in a bad part of town, but conspicuous enough to not gather attention. He pulled Dimitri by the collar through the dining room, and up the stairs. He stumbled as he followed, leaving Byleth and Ingrid behind him. 

 

 Glenn pushed the door open, and vaulted Dimitri inside. He tripped over his own feet, while the Knight hissed in his disgust, “Don’t go escaping. I will find you.”

 

 “Not that I’m planning on it,” Dimitri settled himself with a huff, arms still tied behind him, “but how would you find me if I did?”

 

 He huffed, “As if I’d tell you! Asshole! You’re just trying to trick me!”

 

 “I’m really not the tricky type.”

 

 “Says you!” he barked a humorless laugh, “I see right through you! You’re a snake, slithered up to Fhirdiad to charm our princess!”

 

 So, at least one person thought he was charming. It was all much too ridiculous, Dimitri’s patience level was beginning to thin. He offered the eldest Fraldarius a grimace, it was all he could manage through the nonsense. “I simply want her to be happy.”

 

 “So do I,” he sneered, “more than you ever will.”

“Are you sure about that?” An innocent tilt of the head, blue eyes widening like a child’s as he watched Glenn steam in the doorway. 

 

 Over a 100 years old mentally, and Dimitri had only grown more taunting with old age. There was no wisdom, only awkwardness and bad decisions. 

 

 It was odd how much Glenn resembled Rodrigue. If only the anger was gone, the wave of his hair and the shape of his face would’ve mirrored his father so perfectly. It seemed wrong to egg on the spitting image of the man he respected as a second father, yet Glenn’s scowl was a reminder of the differences. 

 

 His hand tightened on the doorknob. “Yes, I am. I’m completely sure that you’re suspicious, and I’m completely sure that there’s something going on here. You may be able to gain Byleth’s sympathy,” he began to close the door, “but not mine.”

 

 Glenn, who had haunted him for so long. Glenn, who gave his life for him once upon a time. Glenn, who was like an older brother to him. 

 

 Dimitri shrugged and sat on the bed. It creaked under his weight, and the sounds of the festivities outside were muffled through the walls. He sat, staring at the wood patterns in the floor, and thinking. 

 

 He supposed he understood. Glenn cared deeply, so deeply that he would work until he bled just to keep his loved ones safe. Byleth, in this life, was his loved one. And Dimitri was merely a threat. 

 

 If only they knew the truth. He snorted in contention as he layed back on the bed and closed his eyes. 

 

 The first time in this entire lifetime that he tells the truth, and he ends up a prisoner, untrusted and held at sword-point. 



 


 

 

 “I’ve got the criminals, and, uh, Mercedes.”

 

 Mercedes. Byleth narrowed her eyes as Ingrid announced the group. She stepped aside to allow a tall, blond man walk through the doorway, followed by an even taller dark skinned man with a stony face. Dedue, Byleth recalled, was followed by the lithe and smiling Mercedes. 

 

 Glenn stood in the hallway just barely out of view. He guarded the door to Dimitri’s room, while the group gathered in another rented room down the hall. Byleth sat on the bed, waiting as Ingrid directed the ‘prisoners’ to their positions. Glenn always insisted on having a full view of the situation, and the group had to stay where he could see them. 

 

 “Excuse me for my rudeness,” Byleth rested a calm hand on her chest, “but remind me of your name, sir Blaiddyd?”

 

 “Lambert,” he answered coolly, arms crossing over his chest as he shut her out with narrowed eyes. His gaze was piercing, a much wiser and more suspicious version of Dimitri’s. “I’m not a sir, it’s just Lambert Blaiddyd.”

 

 “Okay,” she kicked her feet, though reminded herself to not show her anxiety physically, she could not allow him to see through her poker face, “And you’re Dedue, correct?” An affirming nod, and she flickered her eyes to Mercedes, “I already know you.”

 

 The priestess rested a frail hand on her lips, “Oh?”

 

 Oh. Byleth could’ve rolled her eyes at the coyness. “Yes, Mercie. What’re you doing here?”

 

 “Ingrid brought me.”

 

 “Not here,” she huffed, “I mean here , in Arianrhod. With them.”

 

 Ingrid shuffled in place, holding her lance beside her for comfort, “I found these three milling around Count Rowe’s estate.”

 

 “What were they doing?”

 

 Her expression darkened, “Trying to break in.”

 

 “...How?”

 

 Ingrid sighed. Mercedes hid her smile behind her hand, while Lambert’s piercing gaze grew even colder. “I was lifting Dedue and Mercedes over the fence, and they were trying to pull me up. I was halfway up when your knight found us.”

 

 The thought of Dedue and Mercedes, side by side, leaning over the great fence and hauling a grown man up flashed through Byleth’s mind. She looked away to hide her smile, instead staring out the window in an attempt to distract herself from the image. Ingrid even allowed a small snort from her spot at the side of the room. 

 

 “So,” the princess cleared her throat, “what was your goal there?”

 

 To her surprise, it was Dedue who answered. His face was expressionless as he spoke up between the priestess and older man, “Lambert had to use the restroom.”

 

 “So you were breaking in?”

 

 “The gate guard wouldn’t let us in.”

 

 Lambert smirked, “See? We did what we had to. Excuse me for not wanting to use a bush.”

 

 Nonsense. Dimitri’s father was far more irritating, she didn’t know if that could be possible. Byleth sighed again, feeling more like Jeralt as the moment’s went by. “What’re you all doing here in Arianrhod?”

 

 “Well,” Lambert answered, “I’m looking for my son. He left without saying goodbye. Isn’t that good enough reason?” Glancing at Dedue, he earned an affirming nod, “He’s our family. We’re concerned.”

 

 It was answer enough, though Byleth made a mental reminder to question them further. She glanced over their shoulders to catch Glenn leaning over to get a better, more accusatory look at the group. 

 

 Ignoring the Knight captain, she looked to Mercedes, “And you?”

 

 The priestess blinked innocently, “Curiosity, your highness.”

 

 “Curiosity?”

 

 “I saw…” she hummed in thought, “well, I saw something that was pretty interesting about Dimitri. I thought that his father would be the best to lead me to him.”

 

 “Out of curiosity, though?”

 

 “Yes,” she nodded gravely, “if you please, I’d like to speak to him. Alone.”

 

 “But… why?”

 

 “Curiosity.”

 

 This entire group was frustrating. The circlet weighed heavy on her head as she frowned. It almost seemed like the three were mocking her diplomacy, her sad attempt at commandment. 

 

 Yet, what could it hurt? The headache forming behind Byleth’s eyes lessened her resolve. “Fine. I trust you, Mercie, if you have other intentions then please tell me now.”

 

 “I just have a few questions.”

 

 Lambert stared at the priestess with furrowed brows. He huffed through his nose, almost as if it amused him. They had been traveling together for days, apparently, and Byleth could only wonder what the three had experienced together.

 

 “You followed us just for a few questions?” Lambert and Dedue shared a questioning look, “That’s a lot of work and traveling just to have a conversation.”

 

 “They’re very interesting questions, but probably not to anybody else here,” she admitted peacefully, “They actually don’t have anything to do with you, your highness.”

 

 “Well, may Glenn still listen? He may hear information that’ll help us make a decision.”

 

 Dedue and Lambert mirrored each other instantly. Their faces dissolved into questioning furrowed brows, into frowns and a flash of panic. Dedue spoke, “Decision?”

 

 “Nothing bad,” Byleth reassured with a raised palm, “we just want to know the truth.”

 

 “The truth?” Lambert asked, growing more emotional with every passing second, “About what?”

 

 “About Dimitri,” she offered, “I can fill you in while Mercedes speaks to him.”

 

 


 

 

 Dimitri had ripped the rope off in his sleep. His crest was destructive as always, and the rope lay in shreds around his wrists, littering the top of the bed. He raised his hand to his face and inspected the pink lines that tattooed where it had been. 

 

 That’s why he slept so well, he assumed, when he dozed off he had pulled the bonds apart. They were behind his back and quite uncomfortable underneath him, and his crest had simply taken over. Sighing, he lowered his hand and rested it on his stomach, staring at the ceiling. 

 

 Voices murmured outside of the door. The sky remained blue and light out of his window, it had to be mid afternoon, and he had not even finished his waffle this morning. 

 

 A knock at his door caught his attention. Glenn’s voice was muffled, “you better be decent.”

 

 Dimitri frowned in disgust, “Why wouldn’t I be?”

 

 A muffled curse, a disinterested hiss. The knob turned to reveal a scowling Glenn, with Mercedes standing at his shoulder with clasped hands. 

 

 Dimitri sat up on his bed. Glenn eyed the rope shreds, “You broke it. That was our only rope.”

 

 “I’ll buy you a new one.”

 

 “Yeah, I’ll hold you to that,” he snorted and stepped aside so Mercedes could float into the room, “you’ve got a visitor, scum.”

 

 Scum. He went from criminal to scum. He had fallen so far just in the short span of one nap. Glenn glared, and shut the door as Mercedes stepped further in. 

 

 Dimitri’s eyes lingered on the priestess. Was she the same as before? Was she a completely different person? She held herself the same as she tilted her head and sent him a sweet smile. “Hello.”

 

 “Uh, hello.”

 

 “I…” a thought, forming as she spoke, “wanted to talk about Rufus.”

 

 Guilt was an instant flood. Dimitri had completely set aside his search for his uncle, and had not thought about it hardly at all since. “What about him?”

 

 Mercedes took a seat, staring him down, “Who is he to you?”

 

 “My uncle.”

 

 “Lambert’s brother?”

 

 “...Yes,” he huffed, “you know my father?”

 

 “Yes,” she affirmed with a simple nod, “and I know Rufus.”

 

 The first conversation he had with Mercedes rang in his mind. It had been the night of Byleth’s bachelorette party, and she had asked for help in planning it. 

 

 She mentioned Rufus. She mentioned a drunkard who rambled endlessly about his nephew and brother. 

 

 It was a lead to one mystery, though one he could hardly bring himself to care for. When Byleth awaited somewhere, deciding what his fate in her service would be, he thought he had an excuse enough to not care. It was only pure curiosity that moved him to answer, “You know him?”

 

 “He was a drunk,” she sat back in her chair and folded her hands over her lap, “I would take care of a lot of sick people in the part of the town he lived in. I’ve cured many a hangover for him.”

 

 “I’m sorry, but how is this a help to me?”

 

 “I don’t know,” she shrugged, “but it’ll be a help to me, at least.”

 

 “How?”

 

 “Rufus disappeared last year. It’s the duty of the royal priesthood to find missing persons,” she grimaced tiredly, “I thought that, perhaps, his family could give me a clue.”

 

 She was on the job, then. She was simply fulfilling the duties given to her. Yet, Dimitri knew Mercedes, and how seriously she took such things. She most likely held the life of his drunken, womanizing uncle, on her shoulders. 

 

 Dimitri simply had no idea how to help. Frowning, he sighed, “I’m sorry, I’ve never met him.”

 

 She looked up, “Why were you looking for him that night, then? At the Eastern bridge?”

 

 The Eastern bridge, where he had tried to ask questions. The people in that part of town didn’t appreciate a Knight inquiring, especially of missing persons. It was all too suspicious. He had been kicked out of an inn, and heard Cornelia call him handsome - looking towards her to catch a group of tittering women staring at him with big, gawking eyes. 

 

 It was a weird moment for Dimitri, to say the least. He had set aside the Rufus mystery ever since. “I just wanted to meet my uncle,” he explained, “I didn’t know he had disappeared. Nobody told me that.”

 

 Mercedes thought for a moment. She put a finger to her lips and tapped it, eyes flickering past his shoulders. Dimitri felt too big for the bed he sat upon.

 

 Finally, she spoke, light and cheerful, “Okay. I believe you.”

 

 “Thank you,” he raised his brows, “was I a suspect?”

 

 “Yes, of course. It’s quite frustrating that I don’t have a lead, though.”

 

 He could only imagine. “I’m sorry. Perhaps he just wandered away one day?”

 

 Sighing gravely, Mercedes stood. Her hands folded in front of her as she bowed in respect, “I hope so, Goddess. I’ll keep both you, and him, in my prayers.”

 

 “Thank you?”

 

 “You’re welcome! On Nemesis’s name, I swear to it,” she put a hand to her chest, “I will find your uncle.”

 

 Another churning of anxiety. Another word that knocked the breath out of him. He frowned, and gulped the rock in his throat. “On… who’s name?”

 

 Mercedes blinked, confused. “Nemesis?”

 

 “Who’s that?” 

 

 “You don’t know Nemesis?”

 

 “I mean, I do,” he waved a hand, “I just don’t think I know him like… you do.”

 

 “Well, I’ve never met him.”

 

 “I mean, who is he in, uh, society?” He was failing terribly at acting normal, “A founder? A, uh, friend of Loog’s?”

 

 “Loog?”

 

 “Nevermind that,” another churn of anxiety, “who’s Nemesis? My father never taught me history.”

 

 Mercedes blinked. She stared at him blankly, hands folded and shoulders straight. Pausing, she looked away, “Well, he was the founder of the Kingdom. He fought for our independence in the war.”

 

 Dimitri stiffened, “That doesn’t make sense, though, Nemesis died far before Loog was born.”

 

 “Loog? You keep mentioning that name, I don’t know-”

 

 She couldn’t know. Dimitri had been stupid, speaking his thoughts aloud as if she would understand. 

 

 “It’s fine!” he waved a hand and stood abruptly, earning a gasp from the priestess. Ignoring her shock at his rudeness, he strode past her and to the door, “Thank you for the information, I apologize that I couldn’t be of any help to you.”

 

 Mercedes eyed him as if he was mental. Perhaps he was, history was rewritten, and none of it made sense. She avoided his eyes as she walked past, and into the room where the rest of the group waited. 

 

 Glenn glared, “You just go back in there and behave yourself, kid.”

 

 “Right,” Dimitri sighed bitterly, “ sure , behave myself. I’ll try my best.”

 

 


 

 

 “You must try to understand, my son is delusional.”

 

 Lambert spoke as if it hurt him. His eyes closed, his mouth grimaced. He dug his nails into his palms as he turned away from the princess, instead choosing to look outside. He didn’t want to look at her, and Byleth couldn’t begin to understand why. 

 

 “Delusional?” She tasted the word on her tongue. Mercedes approached from the hallway with confusion coloring her features, but she stayed silent as she rejoined the group. 

 

 Dedue merely looked disgusted. He glanced at Lambert with a frown that spoke more than he felt, “I disagree.”

 

 “Of course you would,” Lambert defended softly, “you never met his mother.”

 

 “His mother?” Byleth asked.

 

 He nodded, “Yes, your parents knew us. Leliana was a Blue Lion as well.”

 

 The ‘as well’ could’ve referred to anybody. The room was filled with former Blue Lions, and Jeralt had been one as well. The monastery was where her mother and father had originally met. Byleth thought on this, staring at the floor, “What about his mother?”

 

 Dimitri had never mentioned his mother, though they had only been traveling together for a few days. Yet, Byleth could not imagine not talking about one’s parents at all. Lambert only grimaced as if the conversation pained him, “She passed before Dimitri could remember her. He was only two.”

 

 “I’m sorry to hear that.”

 

 “Don’t be sorry,” he shrugged, “your father took care of the pandemic that was going through at that time - or should I say the mage did.”

 

 “The mage?”

 

 “Yeah,” he rubbed the back of his neck, “it was some castle mage lady that cured everybody.”

 

 That was news to Byleth. She looked at him with curious eyes, watching Ingrid over his shoulder only shrug in confusion. The pandemic was long ago, but not past her time. Fortunately, nobody in her family had died of it personally, and she had been much too young to be affected by the tragedy. 

 

 She shrugged the thought away. Not wanting to be sidetracked, she moved forward, “I’m sorry, I don’t remember anything about a mage. What were you saying about your wife?”

 

 “Ah yes,” he nodded in recognition, while Dedue shifted uncomfortably at his side - it was as if he had never heard this tale, hinting to Byleth that this was not a subject often discussed between the men. Lambert drew a heavy breath before going on, “Leliana. She was… emotionally distraught,” he seemed to taste the words on his tongue bitterly.

 

 Byleth furrowed her brows. Lambert noticed her confusion and put a hand up to divulge further, “Delusional.”

 

 “You keep saying that,” Ingrid interjected, “what do you mean?”

 

 “I don’t know,” he shrugged tiredly, “it’s just the best way to describe it, I suppose. Leliana thought we had a past life where we were royalty, and that Dimitri was a prince. She kept saying that we were in a different world where everything was wrong. At first it was fun, and I’d play along,” he smiled guiltily, “but it wasn’t funny anymore after a while. She started telling Dimitri all about his ‘old life’, and…”

 

 A heavy pause. 

 

 Dedue’s eye’s widened in shock. He looked at Lambert with parted lips, almost as if he’d been hit and was out of breath. Byleth watched him carefully. 

 

 Lambert drew the courage to go on, finally, “She knew how she would die, from a disease. I mean, it was just a coincidence, but when she realized she was sick she got so much worse. The stories she told were weirder, and weirder. Dima really thought he was a prince. After she passed,” another sigh, “he stopped thinking that. But I guess I haven’t paid enough attention.”

 

 Byleth spoke slowly, deliberately careful so as to not break the tension, “What do you mean?”

 

 “He’s just like his mother,” Lambert shrugged, “He thinks he had a past life. He’s convinced that you and him were married before.”

 

 Lambert allowed his words to hang between them. Byleth stared with blank eyes and a silent tongue, while Ingrid quietly grimaced in pity. It was like a soft rain, how the explanation sunk in. She mulled over the words, but could draw no conclusion. 

 

 Truthfully, it didn’t really phase the princess. 

 

 Byleth shrugged, “Okay, that makes sense.”

 

 He blinked, “Uh, what?”

 

 “It makes sense,” she echoed, “I’ve heard worse.”

 

 Mercedes was the first to giggle and dispel the tension. “Much worse. Byleth once had a man insist that she was his hamster reincarnated.”

 

 “...Are you?”

 

 “I don’t think so.”

 

 Ingrid snorted, “Oh, and that time some lady thought you were the houseplant she killed!”

 

 Lambert’s eyes continued to widen. He tilted his head, “Are you?”

 

 “I believe not.”

 

 Mercedes hummed in thought, “Oh, and there was also that time that guy was convinced you were an evil twin, and had locked up the good twin in the dungeon.”

 

 Byleth shook her head, “We don’t even have a dungeon.”

 

 “That’s nice to know.”

 

 The air of comradery grew, and Byleth couldn’t help a small smile. She looked at Lambert in reassurance, “So, please, your son thinking we were married before isn’t the oddest thing. I would never judge someone for a mental illness, he probably can’t help it.”

 

 He stared at her in pleasant surprise. Taken aback, a smile grew on his lips, a face that would’ve lit up cities, “That’s very kind of you, your highness!”

 

 The only one not amused by the sharing of stories was Dedue, who sat back in his chair with a steady frown. Byleth knew to not single him out, and instead ignored him in favor of giving Lambert a reassuring pat on the hand, “I’ve never felt unsafe around Dimitri. You and him are quite alike in that way, you know.”

 

 He raised a brow, “Harmless?”

 

 “Harmless,” she echoed, “I just hope you’re not lying to me.”

 

 His eyes widened, “I would never! And neither would Dima! He wouldn’t touch a hair on your head!”

 

 “I believe you,” she pulled away to send him a serene smile, “but I’m afraid we have to go back to Fhirdiad, Ingrid and Glenn surely won’t let me run around with him any longer on account of all this.”

 

 “I understand,” he nodded, “and hopefully, Dimitri, Dedue, and I can continue our travels.”

 

 “Of course,” her smile held it’s secrets, “you can trust me.”

 

 


 

 

 It was a known fact that nobody could trust Byleth Eisner with anything at all. 

 

 And it was much too bad that Lambert was not a part of her family, and did not know that very well known fact. 

 

 She struck at midnight. Night had fallen, yet the festivities in the streets continued. The drunken brawls and jaunts would be loud enough to cover her steps, and the crowd would be her disguise. 

 

 Glenn had gone to bed an hour ago. Byleth had volunteered to guard Dimitri’s door, and the knight captain was much too tired to argue. She waited patiently in the hallway until the light from Glenn’s room darkened - then she made her move. 

 

 She pushed the door open just a crack. Peeking inside, she caught Dimitri’s silhouette against the silver light from the window. She slipped in, and shut the door behind her quietly. 

 

 He was leaning on his elbow, with his cheek in his palm. He cast a bored glance over his shoulder, but stiffened and sat up straight upon seeing Byleth standing in the shadows. She leaned against the wood of the door, watching him with pursed lips. 

 

 The two stared. Slowly, his cheeks pinkened under the moonlight streaming through the window. His mouth opened to speak, yet nothing but a disjointed stutter escaped. 

 

 “Quiet,” she commanded in a whisper, “nobody knows I’m here.”

 

 He gave a shaky breath, “I-I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me, I panicked an-”

 

 “Shush,” Byleth flitted across the room, hoping that her footsteps on the wooden floor were quiet as she approached, “it’s fine. Your father told me everything.”

 

 “...Everything?”

 

 “You think we were married before, right?”

 

 Dimitri’s face fell. He stared, stoney and angry. Byleth watched him in silence as he soaked up her words, expression growing darker by the second. Finally, he furrowed his brows, staring past her at the wall, and spoke, “He told you that?”

 

 Byleth remained unaffected, “You know, it occurs to me that I didn’t tell you your father was here. I should’ve had him come in and say hi… though that’s his own fault, really. He just went downstairs to drink afterwards.”

 

 Dimitri’s fist clenched, and he grimaced, eyes flickering to meet hers in the shadows of the room, “Is he still there?”

 

 “I don’t know, I’m sorry.”

 

 “I’m going to kill him,” he nodded to himself, “I'm going to punch him so hard his grandchildren will feel it.”

 

 “Your children?”

 

 Dimitri paused, “Well, perhaps not. But nonetheless, I am going to kill him.”

 

 Byleth waved a dismissive hand, “That’s nice, and all, but can you do that later? We have a journey to go on.”

 

 She earned his attention instantly. His fist loosened as he stared at the princess with wide eyes, shocked at her words. “A journey?”

 

 “Yes,” she nodded, “I’m not done looking for Sylvain.”

 

 “You… still want me to come with you?”

 

 “You’re the only one who would,” Byleth insisted in a whisper, “Glenn and Ingrid would never allow this, and I don’t want to go alone,” she paused, “...and I know that you’re probably going to deny what Lambert told me, but I don’t care either way. I don’t care if you’re imagining things, what matters is you .”

 

 He gulped. His senses were on high, standing on their ends as he stared. “Me?”

 

 “You,” Byleth sent him her most inspiring smile, “We work well together. And if it truly is Cornelia that’s with Sylvain, you’re the only one who might lead me to her.”

 

 “What if… what Cornelia wrote was true, and I’m a criminal?”

 

 “I don’t care,” she nodded, “what Glenn doesn’t realize is that I’m not a child. I’m not about to be manipulated for my money,” she rolled her eyes, “so even if you are what she said you are, there’s no danger for me.”

 

 As odd as it was, Dimitri felt a smile grow on his face. It was mischievous, a game, almost, “What if I’m an assassin?”

 

 “I would just simply not die.”

 

 “Ah,” he nodded as if her response made perfect sense, “are you not creeped out by my, uh…” what to say, how to speak so casually of his past life, he simply couldn’t, “by what my father said?”

 

 “It’s odd,” she shrugged, “but you’re harmless, you would never hurt me.”

 

 Harmless. Harmless, she said. Dimitri grimaced, “Yes, that’s me. Harmless.” Hands covered in blood, a throbbing eye as he runs from an Imperial mage. Death on his lips, and ghosts at his back. 159 consecutive kills in the span of two years of exile, and he had begun to stop caring. 

 

  One thing was entirely, undeniably true, though, and it was that he’d never hurt her. He’d never lay a finger on her, and she was correct to trust that. 

 

 Byleth, pleased with herself, turned away to quietly stride to the door. “Are you ready to go?”

 

 Dimitri was caught off guard, “Now?”

 

 “Yes, we certainly can’t go in the morning,” she informed sardonically, “we need to get out of Arianrhod before everybody wakes up.”

 

 His muscles were sore as he pushed himself up. Being stuck in the room all day had been more tiring than he anticipated, but he found himself eager to leave. To leave with Byleth, nonetheless, was the opposite of what he expected. “I thought I’d be dragged back to Fhirdiad in chains.”

 

 She froze in front of the door. Her hand rested on the knob, and her shoulders stiffened. Dimitri approached from behind, yet froze as he saw the grimace and furrowed brow gracing the face of the princess. She bit her lip, “Ah, I forgot.”

 

 “...About?”

 

 “You’re a wanted criminal,” she nodded heavily, “my father truly thinks you kidnapped me.”

 

 “So it… wasn’t just him trying to be irritating?”

 

 “No,” she shifted uncomfortably, “Glenn told me everything. They never got my note,” she glanced at Dimitri, “We can go back to Fhirdiad, if you wish, and explain ourselves. I don’t want to put you in danger-”

 

 Dimitri put his hand up to silence her. She shut her lips as he stepped closer, shaking his head. “If we go back they’ll never let you leave.”

 

 “It’s just…” again, she was distraught, bouncing her knee in thought, “I guess anybody can find Sylvain. It’s not a big deal, we can send a team of knights, and-”

 

 “Byleth.”

 

 “Hm?”

 

 “You want to travel one last time before you’re married, right?”

 

 He had struck her in the heart. He had aimed an arrow, and hit the very center. Byleth looked up, staring at him in shock, “You… what m-makes you think that?”

 

 Dimitri’s smile was bitter, soft, “We were married in another life, I know you well,” he revelled in every inch of his words, the sheer casualty of acknowledging their mother, of speaking about it to the one person it mattered to, he was enraptured in the feeling. Going on, his smile grew crooked, “You were just using Sylvain as an excuse to go traveling before you have to get married. You and I both know that if Sylvain never came back, you’d be engaged again in an instant.”

 

 Byleth gulped and looked away, “I care about the economy too…”

 

 “I know,” he reassured, “that’s why you’ll still do it, right? You’ll end up married no matter what, but…”

 

 She tied the open end with a sigh, “I just want to travel one last time.”

 

 “And I want what you want.”

 

 “I hope you don’t think I’m terrible.”

 

 “That’s impossible.”

 

 “I manipulated you. I lied about my intentions, and…” she shook her head, “gods, I just really don’t want to get married right now.”

 

 “By,” using her nickname, Dimitri placed a hand on her shoulder, sending her a confident look, “I’ll go anywhere with you. I’ll do anything you want me to.”

 

 “Then…” a pause, another secretive smile, “let’s go.”

Chapter Text

  Arianrhod was far too easy to escape from. The backdoor of the inn was placed so wonderfully out of sight, and the buildings of the city so pushed together and cramped that hiding places practically begged to be used. The guards cared not for the man and woman leaving before dawn. Many travelers, mercenaries, and soldiers left at odd times in the night. These two were no different, and had no attention even glanced their way as they casually walked out of the front gates. 

 

 It was a hopeful morning. It was a wonderful, joyous morning. It was a morning to celebrate, as Dimitri had told the truth. It was out there, and he was free from his own web of lies.

 

 Then, reality set in, as it tended to do. 

 

 He should’ve known better to get his hopes up. 

 

 It was entirely true, and entirely terrible, that Dimitri should’ve known better. He was more intelligent than this, far more, and he should’ve seen this coming. 

 

 Byleth thought he was an absolute creep

 

 There was a quote that often came to his mind, ‘Naivety is the sister of innocence and the cousin of stupidity’ - and while Dimitri didn’t think himself very innocent, he was certainly quite naive. Two lives lived - and having gone through puberty twice - one would think that he’d have learned his lesson by then. Yet, he had not, apparently, and hope reared it’s tantalizing head once more. 

 

 “How about you search that way, and I’ll search this way?” 

 

 Wonderful plan. An absolutely wonderful plan that merely served as a thinly veiled excuse for Byleth to get away from him. Dimitri knew her well enough to see the flash of concern flicker over her face, then disappear like a blown out candle. She could not keep the mask on for long, especially not in front of him. 

 

 “If…” he inhaled deeply, thinking, “if you think we should. Whatever you wish.” He kept his voice at a steady tone so as to not betray his emotions. 

 

 Byleth nodded, her lips pressed together, “And uh, I’ll… be back. With berries. For breakfast. Breakfast berries…” her cheeks paled the longer she stared at him, “So, uh, bye.”

 

  She turned on her heels to stalk into the sharp pine trees that littered the mountainside. Dimitri had picked this little-known back road for their travels simply because it was far emptier than the main roads going out of Arianrhod. The roads he picked were so secluded that Byleth looked as if she was afraid he’d murder her and bury her body in a ditch somewhere.

 

 Yet, if Dimitri even attempted to bring up her concerns, he knew that it would only increase the creepiness. He had to try his best to stay as neutral, and as normal as possible. 

 

 The constant waves of regret were killing him. 

 

 Literally. His stomach churned so deeply and harshly that he thought he might vomit on the roadside. He thought he might just collapse and lay there forever, becoming part of the scenery. Travelers would give directions such as ‘Once you see the sad man laying on the road, you’ve gone too far’. 

 

 The journey had started so well. It had been nice to be at Byleth’s side with the truth set clear before him. He had smiled with such relief and joy. He had gazed at her with such admiration. He had been so very appreciative of her accepting and kind nature. 

 

 For about 30 minutes. 

 

 The discomfort set in slowly. It melted into her shoulders and stiffened her back, it flickered across her face and shined in her eyes. Her hands wrapped around her arms and she walked more quickly so she wouldn’t be next to him. He could only watch as the princess slowly began to realize what she had done. 

 

 Dimitri held himself back and gave her as much space as he possibly could. The adoring smiles slipped into an easy poker face, a look of impassive boredom that mirrored Byleth’s usual expression. It was difficult to keep up, as the hurricane of emotion inside of him was far more passionate than what he portrayed. 

 

 Regret. Utter regret. From both Byleth, and Dimitri. 

 

 Finally, her stomach rumbled, and she had her excuse. Bow in hand, she offered to go catch breakfast. Dimitri watched her disappear into the trees and over the rocks, her escape plan having begun. Once she was fully out of sight, he buried his face into his hands and groaned. 

 

 The ground was hard under his bottom, yet the discomfort of the cold morning air and the rocks digging into the skin of his arms was nothing compared to how he felt. He had not been so humiliated since he was a teenager and accidentally flashed an entire crowd because he went through the wrong door in a bathhouse - Lambert had never let him live that down either. 

 

  “She thinks you’re craaaazzzyyy!”

 

  He looked up, glaring at the wall of trees in front of him. The voice came from his own mind, in the high pitched tone of a young girl that was annoyingly distinct. Grimacing, he spoke aloud, “You think you can just come and go in my mind when you please?”

 

 Sothis snorted, “Oh yes. I love this freedom. I was stuck inside Byleth for so long, it’s nice to take a vacation.”

 

  A vacation, she called it. He didn’t even know where to begin, “Where’ve you been?” It was a demand, yet he sounded more in pain than he would’ve liked to, “You tricked me into not using divine pulse, then you disappear again! Do you know how much that ruined things?”

 

 Now, a scoff. He couldn’t see Sothis, but he could imagine the look on her face. “It was just a suggestion! Jeez, you’re so ungrateful. I miss being in Byleth’s head, she was far nicer.”

 

 He must’ve looked like a mad man, sitting on the ground in the middle of the road, talking to the empty trees with such passion. It was yet another reason why he had picked such a secluded and less traveled path. “She thinks I’m insane, Sothis. She doesn’t believe me.”

 

  “Have you spoken to her about it? Maybe she just had to pee.”

 

  “She’s trying to get away from me, I saw the look on her face.”

 

 Another scoff, “I saw it too! A-And… you’re right. She thinks you’re a creep.”

 

  Once again, he buried his face into his hands. Gripping the edges of his hair, he pulled and grimaced with his head between his knees. The further he thought on it, the madder he must’ve looked. “I would never hurt her.”

 

  “I know…”

 

  He looked up and sighed, “I just have to apologize and… I don’t know, take it back or something - insist that my father was lying.”

 

 Sothis seemed to halt. Oddly enough, he could feel her inhaling in hesitation, and imagine her furrowed brows as she mused over his words. The sensation was intuitive, almost as if she was a part of him, a piece of his personality that had a mind of its own. For Byleth to have felt that for so long was something he could never imagine. 

 

  “I would offer to divine pulse again, but it’s a little too far back,” she sighed, “you could always just give her some space and let her warm up to you.”

 

  Honesty and sincerity, as he naturally wanted to show. Lying and secret-keeping had started to become almost second nature to him, it felt refreshing to imagine simply owning up to himself. 

 

 Dimitri had never been able to truly hide his emotions. He was an open book, whether he liked it or not. Even those years that he hid his revenge from those around him, his darkness seeped through the cracks like water in the palm of his hand. No matter how tightly he gripped, it would always escape. Felix saw it, Rodrigue saw it, and Byleth had even seen it. That was all before it was on full display for the world to see. 

 

 No matter how much he lied, Byleth could see him now. He could insist that Lambert was lying and that he was just joking about their marriage earlier, but it was already said and lingering in her mind. It would show in the way he looked at her, in the way he spoke to her, and in the way he protected her. 

 

 Loving Byleth was such an integral part of Dimitri that he could not even begin to hide it. 

 

 “You’re right,” he offered Sothis, “I’ll just give her space.”

 

  “Oh good,” she sounded relieved, “I’ll keep an eye on you too. I can offer you another divine pulse if you say something truly abhorrent.”

 

  The very thought tickled his fancy. He perked up and crossed his legs over each other thoughtfully, “You’re planning to stick around?”

 

  “No!” Her voice was laced with offense, “You think I’d spend my time watching you fawn over my vassal? Booooring! I’ve got things to do now that I’m a free Goddess, but if you ever need me then just call on me and I’ll help you out.”

 

  Irritation pricked at the corners of his mind. He was sure Sothis could feel his emotions, for she quieted instantly. “I’ve called on you before and you never answered.”

 

  “Yes, well… I was busy.”

 

 “Doing what?” She happened to be busy at the times he needed her most. 

 

  “Goddess stuff! Jeez, I should strike you down for your insolence,” she could, but she wouldn’t, Dimitri knew that much, “ I’m helping people, you know. I haven’t been able to be a true deity in a very long time, and I’m making up for that.”

 

  Making up for it how? Causing random miracles and ignoring prayers? Dimitri’s gaze flattened, “You’re just spying on people and making new species, aren’t you?”

 

  “...Perhaps.”

 

 Of course. 

 

 He pushed himself up from the ground and brushed the dust off his clothes. Pebbles bounced off the ground and dirtied his palms while he stretched his complaining muscles. “I can’t just talk to myself all day, I should start searching for food as well.”

 

 Offended, Sothis offered no goodbye. It was a childish humph, one accompanied with a foreign flash of irritation that flickered in his chest, her own emotions that entered him while she was in his mind. Her presence slipped away slowly and calmly, like the rise and fall of ocean tides. He closed his eyes once she left and took a deep breath to celebrate the mental freedom.

 

 His mind had never been a private place. The ghosts of his family had haunted it for so long that he had grown used to never being alone. Yet, to have such a living, breathing, powerful being taking up every inch of space he had left, it was jarring. He couldn’t imagine how Byleth had ever gotten used to Sothis’s presence. 

 

 Taking a deep breath, he stepped off the road and pushed through the trees. The forest in this part of Faerghus wasn’t very thick, but it was sharp. Blackberries thrived in the brambles, and that was what he looked for. 

 

 Byleth had not even come near when he was speaking to Sothis. He half expected her to pop out of the trees and catch him speaking to himself, the thing to put the final nail in the coffin of her opinion of him. Yet, she stayed away, and Dimitri couldn’t help but wonder if she was running from him. 

 

 It was still their first day of travelling since Arianrhod. The morning was young and just barely bright, it had only been several hours of walking that passed. Yet, he could imagine how she felt, leaving her friends behind with the shock of what happened still lingering, just to realize that she had willingly chosen to be alone with a man who believed that they were married in a past life. A man whose own father had warned her about. 

 

 It was entirely too scary. While Byleth was a strong woman, she was still a woman nonetheless, and knew the harshness of men and the world they ruled. Dimitri was no fool to the anxieties of the people around him. 

 

 To travel alone with someone who insisted that they were married in a past life was a risk. Dimitri would’ve been wary if he was in her position, no matter the gender. 

 

 Yet, she had been so confident before. She had been so kind and accepting in the inn when she came to get him. She had taken his words with ease, and it had given him hope. 

 

 It seemed that reality had finally set in for the princess. 

 

 Dimitri knelt down and sighed. He rustled through a thorny bramble in search for berries, ignoring the scratches against the back of his hand. They itched, but weren’t deep enough for him to give them any attention. Gently, he moved a thin branch aside and reached in further. 

 

 Scavenging in the woods while on the run was far too familiar. It was unnerving, yet he couldn’t deny that his familiarity with living in such a way came in handy. He remembered all the best hunting spots, what plants to not touch, and where he could sleep in safety. He knew the mountains and forests of Faerghus like the back of his hand. 

 

 He pulled a few blackberries from their spots, careful to not squish them between his fingers. Finally, after several more minutes of scavenging, he had a palm full. It wasn’t very much, but it was something. 

 

 He had not gone far from the road, not as far as Byleth must have. Standing up, he gently carried the berries through the trees and back towards the main path. He slipped between and under branches, leaves crunching satisfyingly underneath his boots as he went. 

 

 Enough time had passed for Byleth to return, thankfully. Once he saw the flash of her blue cape and dark hair through the branches, his heart began to soar at the realization that she stood there, waiting for him. She had not abandoned him just yet. 

 

 Her face was hesitant as he emerged from the trees. With his hands cupped together to keep the berries safe, he stood at the edge of the road and stared at her with an open mouth. Quickly, he reminded himself to shut it and try his best to look neutral. 

 

 She watched him with furrowed brows. She held her own neat pouch of berries, and a dead rabbit lay at her feet. Her search for food had been far more productive, though she hadn’t spent half her time away speaking to an annoying Goddess. 

 

 “Hello,” he gulped, hating how awkward his voice sounded out loud, “I, uh, found some blackberries.”

 

 “Great,” her lips pressed together in a line, “I did too. We can save the rabbit for lunch.” She glanced down at the bloodied animal as if he hadn’t already seen it. 

 

 He nodded. He couldn’t speak too much, not nearly as much as he wished to. He had to seem normal, and rambling like an idiot was not normal. 

 

 She leaned down to wrap the animal in her leather pouch. Dimitri held back at a safe distance, popping a berry in his mouth as he watched her. “Do you need help?”

 

 The look she gave him through her hair was almost fearful. “No, thank you.”

 

 He popped another berry - he was stress eating, of course. It was sweet and plump on his tongue, though his anxiety distracted him from the enjoyment. He was absolutely ravenous, as nobody had brought him dinner the night before. It seemed like forever ago that he had been tied up in that room. And forever ago that Byleth had come to get him and whisk him away in the night to continue her travels. He had so much hope just several hours ago. 

 

 He couldn’t take it anymore. 

 

 “Look, I know this is odd-”

 

 “Yes.”

 

 Such a confident and instant reply. He had basically read her mind, it seemed. “I just want to be open with you, your highness. I have no ill intent towards you.”

 

 She pulled away from her work and sighed, “I need to bleed this rabbit out somewhere. Is there a village nearby?”

 

 None for many miles, yet she was avoiding the conversation. It was a classic Byleth move, one he was entirely used to. He sighed and dropped the rest of the berries into his own sealed food pouch. Wiping the rest of the purple juices from his hands onto a stray leaf, he went on with more confidence, “Would you like me to escort you back to Arianrhod? Glenn and Ingrid should be waking up about now.” If they hadn’t already discovered the missing princess and ransacked the whole city by then. 

 

 “No.” Her answer was immediate, though she refused to look at him, “This is what I wanted. Don’t overthink it.”

 

 He crossed his arms over his chest and flattened his gaze while he stared at her. She worked quickly to wrap the rabbit up and tie the top of the sack tight, trying to keep the air out. Her attempts to avoid the conversation were not subtle in the least. 

 

 Sighing, he stepped forward and grabbed the leather sack. “Let’s just start a quick fire and cook it before traveling. It’ll be less messy,” she opened her mouth to protest, but he was already carrying the sack away from him and off into the trees, “I know a spot nearby.”

 

 Finally, Byleth deigned to give him some attention. Following at his heels, she tried her best to keep up with his long stride. He moved through the trees and rocky terrain with the ease of one who’d traveled all over the mountains. 

 

 “How do you always know of these spots?” She called over his shoulder, her breath halted as she tried to keep up, “You’re my age, you can’t have traveled that much.”

 

 Sothis returned. She slipped back into his mind like a ghost possessing his body. “Tell the truth.”

 

  What more could it possibly hurt?

 

 “I was exiled in my old life and lived as a vagabond for many years,” his tone was flat and emotionless, “When there was nobody around to steal from I lived off the land.”

 

 Behind him, he heard her feet halt. The crunch of leaves stopped, and she no longer walked at his heels. With a heavy heart, he slowed, and turned around to face her. 

 

 Byleth stood, silent, staring at him. The shadows from the leaves overhead cast shapes onto her face and shoulders. The mountain was alive with energy, though it sounded far too loud for the bubble of tension surrounding the two. 

 

 Regret tasted bitter in the back of his throat. It didn’t wash over him softly and slowly like earlier. Instead, it felt as if someone had dumped cold water over his head. It froze every inch of his skin and dug its claws into his heart. It was paralyzing, the look on her face. 

 

 Byleth had never been an expressive woman. For her lips to part like a gasp for air, for her brows to push together in disbelief, and her eyes to stare at him with such confusion, he knew what storm raged on in her mind. He knew that she was trying to process a realization. 

 

 It was the same expression she had given him the night Edelgard revealed herself as the Flame Emperor. And it was the same expression she had given him when she found him sitting in a dark corner in the Goddess Tower. 

 

  Pity. Pity and fear. 

 

 It sickened him. Not for her, but for himself. 

 

 “You actually believe it, don’t you?” 

 

 Damn Sothis. Dammit. Lying was far more convenient. 

 

 He hated the shaky tone of his own voice, “Do I believe myself? Yes, I do.”

 

 “I’m sorry, Dimitri,” she looked away, “I don’t.” But she was wary, as anybody would’ve been, “I got caught up in the idea of traveling and finding Sylvain that I didn’t think about…” 

 

 He could finish for her. She didn’t think about the repercussions of traveling with someone so obviously delusional. 

 

 His heart deflated, falling into his stomach and joining the wasps nest that stung him from the inside. “I thought as much.”

 

 “I just thought… I just realized what I was doing earlier, you know? I just realized how risky this is, and how odd it...” she shifted in place uncomfortably and wrapped her arms around herself, “I guess I just didn’t understand how real it all is to you.”

 

 Sothis was entirely too quiet. She was there, but holding her tongue. Dimitri mentally thanked her for her silence while he processed his response. “It is real, but that doesn’t mean…” his throat caught and he gulped before forcing the words out, “It doesn’t mean I’m going to harm you. I know that you don’t know of what, uh…”

 

  Of what we used to be. He wanted to say it. He couldn’t spit it out. 

 

  “You don’t know of the past,” he went on, “but I promise you, Byleth, I just want your happiness... Even if that means sacrificing my own.”

 

 Sincerity was a difficult trait to ignore. Sincerity was the most obvious of all qualities, and one Dimitri wore on his face like a mask. Byleth watched him, her shoulders loosening with every word he said. 

 

 It was odd, their reversed roles. The Byleth he married in the other life would’ve never randomly hired a knight that broke into her place of living twice just to see her. Once in Garreg Mach, and second in Fhirdiad. The Byleth he married would’ve never given him a second of her time - she was far less trusting then. 

 

 The Byleth he married was his teacher, his emotional support that stayed at his side through his worst of times. The Byleth he married looked at him with love and held his hand even in the dark. 

 

 The realization was like a slap to the face. His chest felt heavy as he broke the beat of silence, “We live in a very odd world, your highness.”

 

 She nodded in uncomfortable understanding. 

 

 “And sometimes,” he took a deep breath, “things happen. Things that cannot be explained so easily. I’m a living testament to that,” he offered a nervous chuckle. “Despite everything I know to be true… I know that I cannot expect time to repeat itself perfectly. I’m not accompanying you because I want you to fall in love with me…”

 

 And he realized, suddenly, that he meant it. 

 

 Her eyes softened. She had her guard down, her lips parted, and face soft as she stared. Breathy, she asked, “What’s the reason, then?”

 

 He could answer that easily, “This is all I’ve ever known, your highness-”

 

 “Byleth.”

 

 “Byleth,” he corrected, “this is all I’ve ever known. Fighting, and surviving and… protecting you.”

 

 Another heavy pause. Another blanket of silence while he gathered his thoughts. 

 

 She was patient with him. Finally, he began again, “I’m willing to follow you around all of Fodlan just so you can procrastinate your own political marriage, and I will not expect anything in return from you. You don’t even have to ever speak to me again, and I will accept it with no complaint.  I’m just… I-I’m just happy if you’re happy and safe.”

 

 She paused. She stared. He stared back, feeling weightless and heavy all at once. There was a vague nausea swirling in his stomach, something like anxiety and dread in a stomach acid cocktail. 

 

 Birds chirped overhead. The world was beginning to awaken, and Glenn had to be up and have noticed the princess gone by then. 

 

 Dimitri went on with a heavy gulp, “And if you would feel more comfortable with me leaving and never showing my face again, then I shall do just that. Say the word, Byleth, and I will leave you alone forever.”

 

 Silence. Byleth let out a shaky breath.

 

  “She’s falling in love with you.” Sothis whispered reverentially, as if she was afraid speaking too loud would ruin the tension in the air, “I was right!”

 

  Sothis had the creativity of a child, seeing something out of nothing. Mentally, Dimitri retorted, “I could list you 100 reasons why that’s not possible. Now shush.” Silence was needed. Dimitri had a rock in his throat that he had to swallow before he could ever think to speak again. His own words nearly punched all the air from his body, yet they needed to be said. And they were entirely too true. He meant them with every inch of himself. 

 

 Byleth gulped. She sighed. She held her arms around herself as if they were the only thing keeping her up. 

 

 “I can’t understand you the way you want me to, Dimitri,” her voice was softer than ever, barely heard over the rustle of leaves from the morning wind, “But I do know… that I don’t want you to leave me just yet.”

 

 The rock in his throat slipped away. It was something , at least. Something he couldn’t even begin to uncover, something he could spend all day thinking about and not even begin to understand. But something. It was tangible, and wonderful, and hopeful

 

 He swore he heard Sothis squealing like a little girl in the back of his mind. 

 

 “As you wish, your highness.”

 

 


 

 

 “He never even said goodbye.”

 

 “I’m sorry, Lamby, really I am. Parenting is hard.”

 

 “He doesn’t care about me!”

 

 “He cares for you a lot! He’s just going through a rebellious phase.”

 

 “The boy is 23! He’s too old for that!”

 

 That was one statement Mercedes couldn’t quite argue with. While it was possible for someone to be rebellious in their twenties, she knew that if she insisted upon it then Lambert would only have yet another retort. He was full of arguments, as most parents were. 

 

 She laid a soft hand on his shoulder. Across from her, Dedue shook his head at her kindness, as if to say ‘don’t give him sympathy’. She sent him a frown. 

 

 Lambert watched the wordless conversation between Mercedes and Dedue with the deepest of frowns possible. He leaned over his shot of whiskey and took in the woody scent, a relief from the situation at hand. 

 

 “Did I do something?” He looked to Dedue for an answer, “Was I a bad father?”

 

 A deep sigh. A flat gaze, holding very little emotion. He finally spoke under the chaos going on around their little table, “You were fine.”

 

 “That’s all you have to say?” Lambert nearly blew up, “I was ‘fine’? You’re lying to me, aren’t you? I was terrible!”

 

 Dedue proceeded to ignore him. 

 

 “You’re my only good son,” he announced with a flat hand smacking down onto the table, “you’re the only one that cares about me! You’re the only one left worth living for!”

 

 Mercedes tittered and gasped. She set her water down once Lambert stopped assaulting the breakfast table, and placed a small hand on his shoulder. He seethed while she scooted closer, “Lambert, please, you have more to live for than Dimitri. I’ll be your child as well.”

 

 He sent her a grateful, bleary eyed glance, “You’re too good for this family, Mercedes.”

 

 In fact, it was more so Dedue who was too good for the Blaiddyd family, yet that went unsaid. He merely sighed and sat further back in his chair while Lambert took another gulp of his whiskey. 

 

 The inn was practically ablaze with energy. Lambert had barely slept, given the task of keeping an eye on the doors at night to make sure Dimitri didn’t escape. Yet, he had turned away for just a moment, and was entirely sure that his son had made his escape in those few seconds. He was sneaky, and entirely too clever, just like his mother. 

 

 The nail in the coffin was that Dimitri had kidnapped the princess again .

 

 “I did not raise a princess kidnapper,” Lambert explained confidently, “obviously, my son’s been possessed by madness.” Or some type of brain controlling bug, which was his other theory. 

 

 Glenn threw a fit, to say the least. He tracked every movement of the kidnapper that he could find. He tore up the window coverings, he overturned mattresses, he checked behind cupboards. He was determined, and the search had just begun. 

 

 “We have no choice now,” Ingrid explained with crossed arms and a deep frown, “I’ll be returning to Fhirdiad to rally the troops. Glenn will be tracking Dimitri and Byleth.”

 

 Dedue offered an understanding nod, though the disapproval was clear in his face. He stared the lady knight down from his spot at the breakfast table, lips set into a thin line and eyes critical. “I have to disagree with your plan.”

 

 She shrugged, “I’m sorry that you disagree.”In truth, she was not sorry, as who could possibly be apologetic to a man of Duscur? 

 

 Dedue went on to voice his disapproval, “You have the wrong opinion of Dimitri,” his eyes flickered to Lambert, “as do you.”

 

 Lambert perked up with offense, “”Scuse?”

 

 “You believe he’s delusional,” he gestured, “you’re not even willing to hear him out. And you,” he looked back to Ingrid, “what if this is what your Highness wants? You’re ignoring her will completely.”

 

 Annoyance set in like a flickering flame. She spoke through her teeth, “Respecting Byleth’s will is not the same as protecting her. I would gladly ignore her wants if that meant keeping her safe.”

 

 “So you admit that this is what she wants?”

 

 Her eyes flickered over Dedue’s shoulder, over to her fiance. Glenn stomped down the stairs and across the dining room, weaving through tables to approach the bartender and owner. He leaned on the counter and barked several orders. He was entirely enwrapped in his mission, and wouldn’t hear his fiance even if she wanted him to. 

 

 Looking away, she sighed and lowered her voice, “I am beginning to think so. Byleth wouldn’t just allow herself to be taken. Even if she was overpowered his escape wouldn’t be so clean while carrying an unconscious body and both of their bags.”

 

 Now she was thinking on Dedue’s wavelength. Lambert simply eyed the two as they spoke, looking betrayed. Mercedes laid a comforting hand on his arm and whispered, “See, he’s not a criminal.”

 

 “I know he’s not,” he relinquished a sigh, “it’s far more complicated than that.”

 

 Ingrid was not one to work with such people, as they were civilians and it was her duty to work for them. Yet, they were involved civilians, and she saw the opportunity on the horizon. 

 

 Taking a breath, she began slowly, “How about we make a deal?”

 

 Dedue raised a brow at the offer. He wouldn’t expect a woman such as herself to make a deal with a mercenary, and a man of Duscur, yet she seemed full of surprises. He, Lambert, and Mercedes leaned in to listen so Glenn wouldn’t hear across the room. 

 

 She spoke slowly, and quietly, “Send Glenn on a wild goose chase, get him off their trail. I’m coming after them with my own troops, and I’ll make sure Dimitri’s name is cleared. Glenn wouldn’t allow that if he were to catch them himself.”

 

 Lambert’s eyes widened, “Why’re you helping us?”

 

 “I care for her. I’m going to bring her home, yes, but I saw how he looked at her,” she shrugged nonchalantly, “he cares for her too. As weird as he is, I don’t think he deserves what Glenn would give him.”

 

 Mercedes glanced at the older Fraldarius across the room, barking frantic orders to the innkeeper. “What would happen if he were to catch him?”

 

 Ingrid offered another shrug, “He wouldn’t listen to a word he says. Once Glenn gets his mind made up, you have to move mountains just to change it. I’m going to move that mountain eventually, but it’ll take a while.”

 

 Silence fell. The sound of voices carried through the room, though his words were inaudible. Dedue stared Ingrid down with distrust, yet he knew there was no other choice. A shared glance with Lambert confirmed his thoughts. 

 

 “Okay,” Lambert nodded, “We’ll do it.”

 

 

 


 

 

 

  Your Majesty, Jeralt Reus Eisner, His Kingliness,

 

     I do hope that you and yours are well. I write to you today out of concern, for my heart has been heavy with dread since the news of your daughter’s disappearance has reached my ears. It was ‘through the grapevine’ as the common folk say; that grape vine being the mouths of very noble Lords and Ladies such as ourselves. How fast rumors spread! 

 

   I do not envy you. Fortunately, my dear Edelgard is bed ridden and unable to disappear without a trace. She is watched every second of every day, and I never have to fear her being snatched up in the night. I can only imagine the pain you feel, and this being so soon after the wedding cancellation! Again, I can only imagine the pain of being left at the altar, your dear Byleth must have been heartbroken!

 

   I would like to offer my aid, and thus the aid of Adrestia herself. Myself and my entourage will be visiting your wonderful capital very soon, and will be bringing resources and finances to help you and yours through these difficult times. A lost princess is no small matter, and as your ally of many years I will justly make sure that she does not stay lost. Her kidnapper, as well, will feel the swift hand of Adrestian justice. 

 

    I beg of you, Your Majesty, do not let your Faerghusian ways cloud your judgement. I know your people are righteously stubborn and very courageous, but even the strongest of warriors need assistance. Expect me and mine by the next month, and I will help and advise in whatever way accepted. 

 

   Good health to you!

 

        Sincerely, Lord Volkhard Von Arundel



 “Pretentious asshole.”

 

 Jeralt could truly do without the niceties. His life would be so much brighter if everybody just said what they meant and stopped treating him like a ticking bomb. 

 

 He rubbed his forehead and groaned. Setting the letter down, he sat back in his chair and stared at the ceiling. The raised ceiling with the spider web in the corner, the spider long gone. Byleth always insisted he never kill insects, so he didn’t, as per request. It felt sacrilege to do so especially in her absence.

 

 Sitri watched from across the room. She usually enjoyed sitting in the corner of his office reading a book or sewing by the fire while her husband worked, yet not much had gotten done through the day. She was distracted, her stitching lay untouched in her lap, and her eyes lingering on her husband. 

 

 “What did he say?”

 

 Jeralt let out another deep, annoyed groan, “Lord Arundel is coming.”

 

 Her concerned expression fell flat, “Oh?”

 

 “Yep.”

 

 “What does he expect to do here? Judge our architecture and spit out our food when he thinks we’re not looking?”

 

 “No, no, that’s just what he does as a guest,” Jeralt and Sitri spoke from experience, as the last meeting of leaders from Adrestia was a disaster that lingered in their minds for years, “He’s coming as an advisor.”

 

 She scoffed, a very un-Sitri like noise, “To advise on how to find our daughter? As if we aren’t already sending our best knights after her?”

 

 Jeralt offered a shrug, “Don’t know. We’ll just have to see what he has planned.”

 

 The Queen fingered her needle and thread absentmindedly, looking down at her lap and watching the shadows from the fireplace jump across her dress. Finally, she spoke, more softly and with far more concern, as her mind finally left the subject of the creepy and slimy Arundel. “Is he bringing that girl?”

 

 Edelgard. Her name didn’t need to be said. “I assume she’s too weak to travel.”

 

 “I would like to see her again someday,” Sitri’s finger traced a shadow softly, “before her heart gives out.”

 

 “We will,” he closed his eyes to block out the ceiling again, “after we find Byleth. We’ll go see her.”

 

 “I’m concerned, you know.”

 

 As she always was. Jeralt could only smile, “I know, my love. Don’t worry, I’m taking care of it.”

 

 He opened his eyes and leaned forward again, now looking over the letter once more. Setting it aside, he prepared his own parchment and quill, ready to write a reply. 

 

    Lord Volkhard Von Arundel, 

 

      We are not well, but you may visit anyway. Bring weapons, and give your niece our love. 

- Jeralt. 

 

 

Chapter Text

Imperial Year 1185

Red Wolf Moon 

 Two Weeks Later

 

 

  “Oh, that guy? The red-head with the silver tongue? Yeah, he came through here.”

 

  Finally. Finally

 

  Like an oasis in the desert, like rain during a drought, like a breeze of cold air on a hot day - the tavern owner had seen Sylvain. 

 

  Finally. It had been almost two weeks since they had a lead.

 

  Dimitri heard the exchange from his spot at the table nearby, his eyes lingering on Byleth’s back. The old man behind the counter had no subtilty about himself, he spoke as if addressing the entire room. The only other people that would hear the exchange was a shady man in the corner, and an old woman knitting at a table by herself. The building was empty with the darkness of midnight blanketing over the world - normal people were in bed by this time. Yet, it was obvious that Dimitri and Byleth were not normal. 

 

  It was a small village, it had very few houses, and even fewer businesses. The tavern was the biggest building, yet it remained empty. Dimitri found himself comfortable at the table in the corner while he watched his traveling partner question the owner. Byleth always insisted upon being the one to speak to everybody, she liked to be in control that way. 

 

  “Did he mention where they were going?” She leaned forward on the counter, her hands flat against the surface while she questioned the old man, “Was he okay? Did he act odd at all?”

 

  A scoff that echoed through the empty room, “Odd? Hell yes, he did! He was all over this one big chested lady,” he put his hands to his chest as if to emphasize the sheer volume of this woman - most likely Cornelia, Dimitri realized with a bristle. The man’s eyes widened as he recounted the experience, “but then he left her and went after my wife! And the missus is loyal, lemme tell ‘ya, but this boy was sure charming. Heck, if I was a younger man…”

 

  Was there some sort of discrepancy in this world that made Sylvain truly charming now? Or perhaps Dimitri’s memory of his dear friend was corrupted by his distaste for his flirtatious manner. Whatever the reason, he had been womanizing a complete trail through Western Faerghus. 

 

  Byleth had a wonderful poker face. She raised a brow, her lips set into a line. She did not even react to the old man with his hands on his chest, “Did you happen to hear where he was traveling to?”

 

  “South! South, they all go South. That gang o’ kids who hang around the woods said he and his weird friends were heading South!”

 

  Garreg Mach, South. The Oghma mountain range separated Faerghus and Adrestia. Sylvain would have no choice but to stop at the monastery to be able to move any further Southwards. Dimitri rested his cheek in his palm and thought for a moment - would it be the monastery, or Enbarr? Both options were plausible, with as little information he had about the cretins that he traveled with. 

 

  Byleth had the same line of thought. She looked over her shoulder to eye Dimitri across the room. Her lips moved silently, mouthing something that seemed like ‘the monastery’. Her brows furrowed in that way they always did when she was worried over something she couldn’t immediately fix. 

 

  “So uh,” the tavern owner broke the beat of silence with narrowed eyes and a gruff clearing of his throat, “you his mother, or something?”

 

  His mother? Byleth? Who was younger than Sylvain? 

 

  He couldn’t possibly be serious. 

 

  “Excuse me?” The royal voice had emerged out from her monotone, her lips parting in shock. Yet, this old man was serious. Byleth stared with narrowed eyes, “I am not his mom.”

 

  “Ex-lover, then,” another nonchalant wave, “kids these days, with all your boyfriends and dates. Frankly, I miss the days of arranged marriage! The princess had the right idea!”

 

  If only he knew. That arrangement was not the princess’s idea. 

 

  Unamused, Byleth turned away from him. She was done with the conversation, her face blank as she approached Dimitri. He offered a smile while he read the most subtle of expressions that flickered across her features - she was annoyed, worried, miffed. She was not in a good mood today. 

 

  And that was okay, she was tired. They'd been traveling for two weeks straight. As she sat down in the chair across from him, he slid the plate of jelly covered bread to her, “Eat. You deserve it after that.”

 

  “No, no,” she pushed the plate back, “you haven’t eaten since yesterday.”

 

  “I’m fine, really.”

 

  “Lance-Snapper, you need food-”

 

  He nudged the plate back towards her, “I’m fine, your highness. You eat.”

 

  “We are not having this argument again.”

 

  “We are. And you need it more than I do.”

 

  “You are so stubborn.

 

  A rueful, amused smile, “Yes, I am. And I’m right.”

 

  “I’ve already eaten today, Dimitri.”

 

  “Eat again, it’s been a while. I can handle it-”

 

  “No, you can’t. It’s been 24 hours.”

 

  How did she know? Was she keeping track by the length and direction of the shadows? Even he didn’t bother to pay attention to such things. It was in the last two weeks that they’d begun their travels again, when he finally noticed just how observant she was in this lifetime - possibly a result of being raised as royalty. One had no choice but to be observant of the little details of life, and the people around you. As a mercenary, she was far more one track minded. 

 

  And she was most likely correct, it had been 24 hours since he ate that chicken leg, stolen from a farm in the village several miles away - He was very good at stealing chickens. 

 

  “I’d rather you have it,” he held the plate towards her so she could not push it away any longer, “please? I heard your stomach growling earlier.”

 

  It had been, he knew that she was hungry. His crest allowed him to go longer with his extra stamina, and his high tolerance for pain. He would be fine for another few hours. 

 

  Yet, Byleth narrowed her eyes at him. They were fetching, as always, dark and lash lined with a certain kind of intelligence flickering behind them. She sighed, looking suspicious, “How much money do we have left?”

 

  Very little, which is why he was giving the food to her. They barely had enough for that piece of bread, let alone two whole meals.

 

  “A bit.”

 

  “A bit? Let me see the pouch.”

 

  He knew he was caught. Sighing, he unstrapped the coin pouch from his side and handed it over to her. She snatched it away and opened the top to peer inside of it’s dark confines.

 

  “It’s nearly empty.”

 

  “Yes, well, that’s what happens when you spend it.”

 

  She looked up, wide eyed, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

 

  A shrug, “I didn’t want you to worry. I’m used to living like this, your highness, it’s not that shocking to me, I suppose.”

 

  “Well, it’s shocking to me,” she peered inside of the bag once more, closing one eye as she lifted it closer to her face, “Goodness, we can’t even get a room tonight.”

 

  “We can get a small one,,” he tapped the edge of the plate to grab her attention, “you just eat this. I can go hunting tonight.”

 

  “So no sleep or food?”

 

  No, not tonight. At least not for him. He sent her a subtle smile, a close lipped expression that spoke a million words she’d never understand in this lifetime. She always looked at him as if she didn’t know what he was thinking - he hadn’t seen that look since before they were married. It was refreshing, but odd, new and old at the same time. She simply didn’t know him now. 

 

  She, also, didn’t quite understand the lengths that he would go to keep her happy and healthy. “I’ll be fine. I’ve told you before that my crest allows me extra stamina.”

 

  Her shoulders fell, “I just don’t think you should push it-”

 

  “I’m your knight. Let me be… knightly.”

 

  “It’s not very knightly to collapse from exhaustion like you did two days ago.”

 

  “I apologized for that,” for her having to drag him across the road, straining her shoulder in the process and worrying over whether her traveling partner was dead or not. It had to have been at least a little bit traumatizing to have him fall face-first into the dirt. “But I’m okay, trust me.”

 

  Trust him. He hoped that she could one day, he hoped that she might just let herself do so. Sothis assured him that she was beginning to, yet he had trouble seeing it. 

 

  “I should just go hunting with you-”

 

  “Your highness, please,” he put up an argumentative hand, “I’ll be okay. All I want is for you to get some rest.”

 

  A beat of thoughtful, hesitant silence. The sound of the old woman across the room and her knitting needles filled up the space between them, coupled with the grumbles of the tavern keeper speaking under his breath. Dimitri loved the silence of taverns after midnight, it was the most calming time of day for him. 

 

  “Okay…” Defeated, Byleth took a bite of the bread and closed her eyes, savoring the flavor, “Don’t get hurt, I can’t hunt as well as you. I’d starve if you went missing.”

 

  She’d starve if he went missing. Well, he couldn’t possibly allow that to happen. Keeping her safe was his number one priority. 

 

  “I promise I’ll make it back safely, your highness,” she had stopped trying to correct him into saying her actual name, an interaction that always reminded him of himself and Dedue. He had newfound understanding of his retainer’s insistence on titles now, having actually been in that position himself as of late. 

 

  He stood from his chair and pushed it back into the table. She took another bite of the jelly smeared bread and closed her eyes, sighing deeply as she chewed. If she was happy, he was too, no matter how much his stomach panged with hunger. He could handle it, he knew that she could not. 

 

  “I’ll be back later,” his eyes went to the nearly empty money pouch on the table, “go ahead and get a room for the night. Lock your door, too,” his voice lowered to a whisper, “that man over there has been staring.”

 

  Byleth, while observant about the people around her, was unobservant about the feelings of others. She straightened up, mid-bite, and glanced about the room. It was so empty that her eyes landed rather quickly on the stranger sitting at the table far away, in the shadows. He was not staring in that moment, but Dimitri had a perfect view of him so as to catch his subtle glances towards Byleth. He could’ve been dangerous, a spy - or simply a curious villager who couldn’t sleep. 

 

  Whatever he was, he was suspicious. Byleth looked back to Dimitri, “I’ll keep my sword close.”

 

  He smiled, “I’ll try to return as quickly as possible.”

 

  Another bite of her bread, another sigh, “Stay safe, Dima.”

 

  “...Excuse me?”

 

  The nickname hit him like a slap to the face. He couldn’t recall if she had ever called him that before, if he had ever noticed it. He didn’t know. But now, in this moment, she said it. The name that had been tagged onto him for his entire life. His father called him Dima, and Byleth used to call him that in another life. But now, she was not his wife, and they were not in love - mutual love, on his end he was still very much in love with her - and ‘Dima’ had fallen into disuse for the most part. 

 

  Yet, now, here she was, looking up at him with wide eyes. She had no idea the havoc she could wreak with those lips of hers. 

 

  “Do you not want to be called that?” Respectful, as always, she sent him an endearing frown, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”

 

  “N-No!” He nearly shrieked in his absolute shock and panic, “No, your highness, I apologize for my odd behavior.”

 

  “It’s… uh, quite alright.”

 

  “It just caught me off guard,” he put a hand to his chest and sighed, trying to steady himself, “I didn’t expect it, is all.”

 

  “Are you… okay with it?”

 

  Was he okay with it? 

 

  Were the birds okay with flying? Were flowers okay with soaking up the sun? Was the ocean okay with it’s beauty? 

 

  “Of course,” a smile of relief, of happiness, of a marriage long forgotten, “I’m absolutely okay with it.”

 

  “Okay… Call me Byleth, then.”

 

  “...No.”

 

  She didn’t understand, and how could she? She wouldn’t understand how much it hurt. 

 

  “Fine, sir knight,” her chin lifted as she took another nonchalant bite of her bread, avoiding his eyes in favor of the wall in front of her, “then you shall never be known as ‘Dima’.”

 

  What a wicked woman. He swore he could hear Sothis snickering in the back of his mind. 

 

  And it was perfectly fine that she would not refer to him as such. It would most likely catch him off guard every time, he would never grow used to it again. Not unless they were married like they used to be. The nickname ‘Dima’ shouldn’t be used by someone such as her. It was teasing, cruel - his heart could only take so much. 

 

  He smiled in the most charming way he could - which was not very charming at all. Byleth’s eyes flickered towards him and lingered as he gave a short, polite bow, “I’ll be back later. Stay safe, your highness.”

 

  Another flicker of emotion, another unreadable face. She bit her lip, staring at him. Her lips parted to say something, but no sound came. 

 

  “She’s blushing.” Sothis whispered. 

 

  The goddess herself was absolutely insane. He’d never have guessed that an almighty deity would be so speculative, so dramatic, so as to see something that was not there. 

 

  “Goodnight, Dima.”

 

  It struck his heart like lightning. A rock caught in his throat. 

 

  “Goodnight, your highness… I’ll be back soon.”

 

  He needed some fresh air. He needed to get out of there, out from under her eyes. 

 

  Some days, he just couldn’t take it anymore. 

 

 


 

   

   The most terrifying part of this altered reality were the memories of his life before. 

 

  And how they had begun to fade. 

 

  Every day, Dimitri did the same exercise. He would walk through the woods of Faerghus and close his eyes. His feet knew the way from years of walking these same trails. Byleth would oftentimes be beside him, but today she was not. It was dark, and she was back at the tavern buying a room for herself. Dimitri was alone tonight, and he could think far better than usual. He could try to remember. 

 

  It was only natural, he supposed, that memories fade. The faces of his children had begun to disappear, his oldest son with his sarcastic sense of humor. His daughter, with her stern demeanor that masked the sensitive girl underneath. They were his life, and they were probably raising their families right then, long past the mourning of their elderly father. He hoped that his eldest was good at ruling the Kingdom, at least. He had a feeling he’d be fine.

 

  Yet, as terrible as it felt, their faces had begun to blur. It had been 23 years in this new reality, and they didn’t exist now. Perhaps, in another timeline, everything was as it should be. It was all too confusing to even comprehend, their existing and not existing at the very same time. He wished he didn’t have these memories, it was too scary to think of losing them. 

 

  One thing that would never fade were his memories of Byleth. She never left him, as she promised. The wedding, the years they spent together, the children they raised. 

 

  As he walked through the woods, listening to the sounds of crickets around him, he thought of the past, his real life. It almost seemed as if it had never existed in the first place. 

 

  Did he want it to exist? Why had Sothis given him this life, in particular? Did she truly mess up, or was this on purpose? He could have the relationship with his father, the one he had always desired. And he was spending this opportunity on wooing Byleth once more. 

 

  Guilt began to eat away at his heart. It was slow, like a dark cloud hanging over him. He looked at his feet, muddy and wet from trudging through half melted sleet on the corners of the trail. It was the wettest time of year, and Lambert’s favorite. His father had always loved autumn and it’s changes. It was something he didn’t know about him until knowing him now, in this altered reality. 

 

  Yet, his father thought he was delusional. He would not even listen to his defense. It was probably for the best, even if Dimitri didn’t know how this entire ordeal would end. 

 

  There was a very good chance that he’d be thrown in jail by the end of all this. Frankly, he found himself not caring. 

 

  Byleth was safe, that was all that mattered. He’d made sure of it. 

 

  He was not one for archery, but he could shoot well enough to catch dinner. He had a cheap bow in his hands, pilfered from the last village since he had broken three of them already. Byleth figured out rather quickly that she could not waste money on weapons, as Dimitri would oftentimes break them after just two uses. This bow was new, sturdy, but cheap. The string dug into his fingers as he flicked at it absently, walking through the woods in the dark. 

 

  He didn’t know what to expect this night, he didn’t know if he would even catch anything. This part of Faerghus, the Southwestern border, was not very ripe with game. It was far more bleak than Fhirdiad, rainier and more humid with an odd mixture of weather, as if the clouds could not make up their mind. He didn’t quite like this part of the country, but the forests were thick, and he could find solace in the moist greenery around him. He’d hidden from many search parties in the tall branches of this place. 

 

  The moon above was bright, providing enough light for him to see by. It silhouetted the mountains in the distance, the highest trees rising above him. It shone down on the ground as he walked, trying his best to not trip on overgrown roots in the carved out trail. He was simply glad to not be climbing the side of the mountain for once - his legs ached with the past week’s traveling. 

 

  While there was not much light, he could see well enough. He fancied himself more accustomed to the dark, forced by his chronic insomnia and his love of the quiet. He felt comfortable, his bow in his hands, shoulders straight and to attention. He nearly didn’t notice the shadow standing on the trail in front of him. 

 

  A man. A thing. Something, some type of creature. Appearing as if summoned by the shadows themselves. 

 

  His eyes shone golden like a cat’s. Dimitri’s heart rose to his ears and skipped a heavy, painful beat. His breath stopped, his blood froze, his skin crawled. It smelled like sulfur.

 

  There was someone there, in the dark. Nobody had been standing there just a moment ago. He had appeared in all of his dark glory, eyes locked onto Dimitri. 

 

  His reflexes told him to lie, to put on an act, as if he was just a simple hunter looking for food. It would be too far from the truth. He could only hope that the strange shadow would not notice the royal blue color of his cloak, and the significance in it’s tones. He could only be a simple hunter in this moment, nothing worth bothering. 

 

  “W-Who goes there?” he faked his best terrified stutter, his senses on high alert, “I-I see you!”

 

  A tendril, like those fried squid the cooks would always make at the academy. How odd, to see the outstretched hand of a shadow reaching for him across the trail. He took a step back, hair raising on his arms as he tried to catch his breath. 

 

  “Who are you?” The shadow asked. It’s voice was like hell, what he imagined the fires of Aleill would sound like if they could speak. 

 

  “I'm a hunter,” he answered, “who are you?”

 

  The shadow would not give him the response he wanted, “Why are you here?”

 

  Why else? He was far too old for these nonsensical games. He’d seen too much in his life to be scared by some random person cloaked in darkness, he’d fought Hubert before, he’d seen worse. “I’m looking for food.”

 

  “No,” a hiss, an entirely too human hiss. Pale skin flickered for just a moment under the moonlight above, the wrinkled cheek of someone who had lived past their prime. Dimitri squinted at the sight, watching the shadow lose it’s composure, “Why are you here? You’re out of place, hunter. You’re not meant for this world.”

 

  Not meant for this world. He was correct. He was entirely too correct. He was the only person to ever know that his existence was not meant to be. 

 

  Now, the fear set in. Dimitri felt cold, goosebumps rising on his arms. His hair stood on it’s ends as he stepped away. He kept his finger on the notch of the bow, ready to attack if need be. With his heart racing, he asked, “What do you mean?”

 

  “That girl,” the man disguising himself as a shadow explained ominously “Byleth. Bring her to Garreg Mach.”

 

  Did he really think that would work?

 

  A cloud passed from it's spot over the moon above. It shone down on the shadow and revealed the bright eyes and wrinkles behind his dark magic. Dimitri let his shoulders drop in sudden surprise as the face smiled at him across the woodlan trail, “Solon? Is that you?”

 

  A pause. A glare.

 

  The shadow flickered with annoyance, “No! Quiet, you asinine ape-”

 

  “I have ended you before,” he held his bow up, arrow pointed at the Agarthan, “and I will not hesitate to do so again.”

 

  The shadow began to flicker more quickly as if he was about to retreat. Solon himself was cloaked by the darkness, yet the bright moon above betrayed his ghastly form. With golden eyes, he stared at Dimitri, wide and entirely too reptilian. “Bring the princess to Garreg Mach!”

 

  “Like hell I will!”

 

  “You are a fool,” the old man spat bitterly, “you have a chance to change the world for the better, to do what you had wanted before! You were held back by human restraints, your Majesty. You do not need to stay weak as you are now.”

 

  Held back by his human restraints. Weak. How could this shadow possibly know of his past life? “You died long ago, Solon, you know nothing.”

 

  “Ah, but now I am alive,” he spread his hands apart, “And I can help you. Take the princess to Garreg Mach, and she shall love you again. The world will be right once more. Isn’t that what you want, your Majesty? Isn’t that why you’re here?”

 

  “Enough!”

 

  Scowling, Dimitri let loose an arrow. It flew from his bow, flying through the air with a whistle. It passed through the smokey shadow and lodged itself into the ground behind him. The noise was deafening, but the smell of sulfur and fire had disappeared. 

 

  Solon was gone. The shadow was gone. Dimitri was alone once more. 

 

 Silence set in, thick with anxiety and tension. His racing heart slowed as the crickets began to chirp in their usual song. “Goddess,” he ran his hand through his hair, “I’m stupid. I should’ve captured him.”

 

  “I don’t know if you could’ve,” answered Sothis smartly, “but it’s fine, at least you know where not to go.”

 

  A sigh, “Byleth has her sights set on the monastery, she knows Sylvain is there.”

 

  “Sylvain is not her primary objective, though, is he?

 

  No. He was not. Byleth just wanted to run away for a while, and Dimitri was the fool who helped her do so. 

 

  He would obviously end up in jail at the end of all of this. He knew what awaited him.

 

  And now, with the Argarthians involved, he could only wonder what it was that they wanted. Solon was far more intelligent than that, he would not appear to Dimitri so suddenly, so obviously, and simply ask him for whatever he wanted. He had to know that Dimitri would not give in to any requests, if he had one bit of sense. 

 

  So, what was his point? What did he know about him? And how did he know that he didn’t belong in this timeline? It was all too confusing, too odd, and too stupid. 

 

  He let the situation sink in. Solon, who had tried to kill Byleth once before. Perhaps he was waiting in the monastery for her arrival, ready to kill her again. Sothis was not with her this time, though, and she could not cut her way through the sky. She was normal in this life, she was only human, for once. The very thought brought a shiver through his veins. 

 

  “This is too damn confusing,” he told Sothis, “If Solon is involved, so is Edelgard. Just like I thought.”

 

  “I thought there was no war?”

 

  He bristled in disgust, “Not every war has to be played in public.”

 

  “Hmm,” the Goddess mused in the back of his mind, her presence filling the forefront of every thought, “But Byleth didn’t seem concerned about her earlier.”

 

  He didn’t miss a beat, “Was I ever concerned about her before she took off the mask?”

 

  “...Good point. What are you thinking, then?”

 

  “I’m thinking… that we need to avoid the monastery.”

 

  “Distract her from Sylvain?”

 

That wouldn’t be difficult, as concerned as she was for her fiancé, he was a good excuse for her to continue their travels. Yet, Garreg Mach was the only safe way South - unless they moved the complete opposite direction and went through Alliance territory. 

 

 Byleth was terrible at reading maps, she had Dimitri always do that for her. He could lead her East, towards the Alliance, and completely bypass whatever awaited her in Garreg Mach. With the high profile Sylvain and his posse kept, he was sure that they’d hear at least something of him in their travels. 

 

  Yet… Sylvain could also be in danger. He might need Dimitri and Byleth’s help as soon as possible. Could he really afford to be selfish? 

 

  What that Agarthan said was odd - almost as if he knew who Dimitri truly was. How could they possibly know that? Despite their dark magic, they did not have the power of Sothis. 

 

  It was far past his understanding. He’d always known that there were odd, unexplainable things in Fodlan. The very existence of his wife was one of them. Yet, he’d never bothered to unravel the mysteries. He was far too busy. 

 

 Sothis was waiting for an answer, quiet for once in the back of his mind. He wondered if this was how Byleth spent that one year of her life, haunted by the ever-heavy presence of a Goddess. It was invasive, distracting. He sighed, “I’m not sure what to do. I don’t want to take her to Garreg Mach, but what if Sylvain needs help?”

 

  An amused huff, “He seems perfectly fine! What I’m wondering is why Solon had acted so stupid. Last time we met he sent Byleth into oblivion.”

 

 “... What do you mean?” He recalled the battle, the gut wrenching feeling when he thought he’d lost her, he never wanted to experience that again. 

 

 ”What do you mean what do I mean? Are you dumb?” 

 

  He had newfound respect for Byleth dealing with this Goddess as long as she did. 

 

  Sothis huffed like a child, “It’s far too obvious! He tells you to go to Garreg Mach, he ought to know that you won’t! Maybe he wants you to stay away from there.”

 

  Yes, or… “Maybe he’s just stupid in this timeline.”

 

  “Stupidity doesn’t change based on timelines!”

 

  “Why not? Everything else did!”

 

  “You’re rude,” another huff, a high pitched squeak that reminded him of how his youngest daughter used to pout. He wondered if she took after the Goddess in her girlish mannerisms. Sothis was part of his family, after all, in some odd way that he never understood. 

 

  Without a goodbye, she left. Her presence filtered from his mind like a mist dissipating with the sun. She came and went as she pleased - it almost felt like his mind was not his own. 

 

 Dimitri stood in the dark, in the middle of the forest trail. The bow was empty in his hands, and he had not yet caught dinner for the next day. Byleth was most likely retiring to her room by then. 

 

  He sighed and readied another arrow between his fingers. While having traveled with Lambert and Dedue this lifetime, they were adverse to staying at inns. He preferred the ground over a soft bed, yet he knew Byleth’s back was accustomed to modern comforts. He would give her that - he’d give her anything. 

 

  With Sothis gone, he could finally think. He walked down the trail and kept his eyes open for anything lurking in the woods. He wasn’t the best at hunting, but he knew how to survive, he knew how to take care of those he loved. The next village was miles away and would take nearly another day to get to, with nowhere to stop in between. 

 

  Then, there was the other option, to go East, to bypass Garreg Mach completely. It would be far more difficult to travel, and there was the chance that it would not even be safer. 

 

  Perhaps Sothis was correct. Perhaps it was a trap. 

 

  The forest was alive with the sound of bugs, the falling of autumn leaves onto the soft floor. Behind him, a branch snapped with a quick noise that perked at his ears. 

 

  His heart skipped a beat. He whirled around to face the direction the sound came from, “Who’s there? Solon?” 

  

  “Uh… Byleth?”

 

  Her hair and her clothes were far too dark in the shadows of the trees. She blended in behind the thick tree trunk she leaned against, pushing her palms flat against the bark and watching him from a distance. All he could see was the silhouette of her body, the light color of her skin, the sword reflecting at her hip. 

 

  Her voice was unmistakable. Relief flooded his senses as he let out a short sigh. He lowered his bow and offered a smile, “Oh, I apologize. You just snuck up on me.”

 

  A beat of silence. She watched from her spot on the trunk, shifting on her feet as if she was uncomfortable. The forest at night had that effect on its visitors. 

 

  “... Who’s Solon?”

 

  He wasn’t quite sure how to answer that.

 

  “How much did you hear?”

 

  “I just arrived,” a shrug in the shadows, “was there more for me to hear?”

 

  A sigh. His heart had begun to race once more. What could he possibly say to her? To explain that some magical old man told him to take her to the Monastery? 

 

  Yet, it was in these moments that his supposed delusions came in handy. He could simply tell the truth. 

 

  “Well,” he shifted uncomfortably, “you know how I’m from an alternate reality? This old man from that time appeared, and uh, he just insulted me is all.” An understatement, to say the least. 

 

  “Ah… I see…”

 

  He was so on the spot. He felt like a light was shining over him. Byleth simply watched. 

 

  He’d creeped her out again. Why couldn’t he just stop doing that?

 

  “So,” he cleared his throat, “may I ask what you’re doing here?”

 

  She was supposed to be at the tavern, sleeping in her bed. Yet, she took a step towards him with her eyes wide in shock. She glanced around the woods as if she was under attack, “Is that Solon man still around?”

 

  “No!” He reassured, putting up a hand, “he left when I tried to shoot him.”

 

  Her eyes flickered to the arrow sticking up from the wet ground ahead, then back to him. She was wary, tense, “Are you okay, Dimitri? Are you… uh, seeing things?”

 

  She hadn’t looked at him like that since Arianrhod. 

 

  The world wanted to stop around him. His mind wanted to take a break, to tune out the insects of the forest, the wind whispering through the trees. His heart caught in his throat as he stared at his beloved, soaking in every detail of the suspicious expression she wore. 

 

  How many lifetimes would it take for him to escape the stigma of his trauma?

 

  “I-I promise it really did happen,” his voice stuttered with an emotion he didn’t want to identify, “your Highness, I did not imagine that. He was here, he just disappeared. I don’t… I don’t hallucinate.” Not anymore, at least. 

 

  Byleth looked away. Her hand remained on the hilt of her sword, her eyes avoiding his in the soft shine of the moon above. She would ignore his promises, answering instead, “I didn’t get a room. I felt bad for you out here alone.”

 

  Avoidance, whether it be from chosen ignorance, or fear. He could go with the flow she created, pushing aside his own anxieties in order for thinly veiled comfort. 

 

  “You need rest,” an assurance, “if not the inn, then allow me to set up a tent for you.”

 

  Her hands drew from her sword, to her chest, where they clasped together as if she was trying to hold herself together. Only he would catch the hesitation that flickered through her eyes. 

 

  “I came out here to hunt with you,” she finally responded, “to see how you do it. I thought that if I learned, then we could trade and you could get some sleep.”

 

  A nice gesture, one he hoped that she wouldn’t regret. Yet, to imagine teaching her, to spend extra time alongside her. It was tempting not to accept her offer. 

 

  “I don’t know,” he allowed a sigh, “what if the King finds out I was putting you in danger? You could get mauled by a red wolf, it’s that time of year.”

 

  Byleth’s gaze hardened. She spread her hands and gestured to the woods around her, “This entire trip is dangerous. If you were that worried then you’d had taken me back to Fhirdiad by now.” 

 

  He hated that she had a point. But he is that worried, he was only here for her sake - to make her happy. He’d most likely be in jail by the end of it all anyway. 

 

  As hesitant as she looked, she still stared with endearing eyes. He gulped, “I… I can’t resist that look. Fine, if you really want to learn then I’ll teach you.”

 

  The most subtle of smiles. His heart skipped a beat, the air left his lungs. He would never be used to her.

 

  “Thank you, Dima.”

 

 


 

  

   A whirlwind of shadow, tinted purple with dark magic. The air smelled of sulfur and fire. Heat filled the room as Thales watched his subordinate materialize in front of him. 

 

  “Report.”

 

  He breathed a deep, heavy sigh. His voice croaked with age, “The boy was not interested.”

 

  “Has that ever stopped us before? Was not Edelgard resistant?”

 

  The old man spread his crinkled hands apart, “The girl is different-“

 

  “Why?” A hiss from a thin set of lips, “She had a goal, as does he! Keep trying, you fool. He will give in eventually.”

 

  He would, as they all do. 

 

  A knock at the door broke the thick tension of the room. Thales sat up to attention, while Solon conjured another teleportation spell. Dark magic swirled around him and entered his lungs, taking his body far, far away. 

 

  “Lord Arundel?” Asked the servant behind the door, “I apologize for bothering you, but the King is holding another meeting and requests your presence.”

 

  His face was in the process of morphing back into a human’s, “Oh yes, I’ll be there in a minute, thank you.”

 

  The king. The Eisner family was full of too trusting fools.

 

 


 

 

  While one old man reported to Thales, another reported to Ingrid, hundreds of miles away from the capital. He slipped into her camp, silent as the night. 

 

  “Sir Knights,” he bowed to her and Glenn, “They just left the village, presumed to be traveling Westward.”

 

  Glenn kept his eyes on the flickering flames of the campfire. One hand held his sword, the other holding Ingrid’s in a rare show of affection. 

 

  “Garreg Mach,” he mumbled as he glanced towards his fiancé, “that has to be where they’re going.”

 

  She sent him the softest of smiles, “I’ll send a battalion there to warn them. They can capture him as they arrive.”

 

  “Wonderful idea, dear. That loser’ll be in jail in no time.”

 

  She merely smiled. Glenn got carried away so easily, he believed everything she told him. It was the fortunate side of being in love. 

 

  Ingrid stood to approach her Pegasus knights at the other end of the camp. She passed by her and Glenn’s tent, large like an army general’s. His own battalion of knights were all swordmasters, who were trained to work with her Pegasus knights. They took care of their mounts as Ingrid approached. 

 

  Her second in command stood to attention. A hand went to her forehead in a salute, “Sir Knight! To attention, ladies!”

 

  Ingrid clasped her hands behind her back while the knights lined up in front of her. They watched, and waited for the command to come. “Knights, are you ready for your first assignment? You’ve been traveling for weeks, break time is over.”

 

  “Yes, sir!”

 

  A smile, “Great… and remember, this is between us. Do not tell anybody your assignment.” 

 

  She glanced at the swordmasters across camp, all of them loyal to Glenn only. 

 

  Clearing her throat, she went on, “Ladies, you are to go to Garreg Mach, and warn them of our princess kidnapper’s arrival.”

 

  A chorus of surprise went through the group. Ingrid smiled again.

 

   “And tell them to welcome him with open arms. He is to be a guest of the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus."

 

  "A... guest, sir knight?"

 

  She nodded in assurance, "Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd is an honored guest. His father and companions will not be far behind. If they are not there in two weeks... Find them, and bring them there."

 

  "Yes, sir knight! As you command!"

 

  Ingrid watched them gather themselves together. They would be ready to take off in just a few minutes, to carry out her betrayal against her fiance. She glanced behind her shoulder to find Glenn giving commands to the spy who had been trailing Dimitri and Byleth. Two weeks of trying to be subtle, following them with their battalions without being seen. This was the moment she had been waiting for. 

 

  "Mercie," she whispered as she made her way towards her shared tent, "please be careful. This won't go on much longer."

Chapter Text

 “Right there. Right… right over there. No, Dima, right there. Dima, look, look, it’s right there!”

 

 Byleth Eisner, princess of the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus, was simply trying to help. She was trying to be of assistance to her dear knight, leaning over his shoulder and pressing her body against his back. Her hands were impossibly warm, and her hair smelled like strawberries. 

 

  She had no idea the effect she had. That was the most dangerous type of woman, the one who didn’t realize her own powers. 

 

  Dimitri closed his eyes and let out a shuddering breath. Byleth would mistake this as him trying to concentrate on the bow and arrow in his hands. Little did she know, his heart pounded in his chest, his cheeks were warm, and his palms were becoming sweaty with anxiety. It was a sweet sort of anxiety, the same kind he felt as a young boy the first time he’d ever met Byleth, in his last life. He could have laughed at how childishly smitten he felt in her presence, as if he had not been married to her for over 50 years once before. 

 

  Concentrate. A deep, steadying breath. Aim the end of the arrow and note what way the wind was blowing. This was breakfast on the line. 

 

  “Dima, right there-”

 

  “Your Highness,” his whisper came out more harshly than he intended, “I see it.”

 

  It just so happened that the deer he was hunting had better hearing than he would’ve guessed. His heart dropped as it perked it’s head up, eyes wide, and darted off into the trees. It moved faster than he could shoot, with his arrow landing in the tree where it just stood.

 

  Byleth pulled away and pressed her lips together. Dimitri only sighed and lowered his bow, “It’s okay. We at least know they’re around.”

 

  “I’m sorry.”

 

  She had pulled away from her spot against his back and now sat on her knees in the fallen autumn leaves. Her fingers tapped anxiously on her leggings as she stared at him. Byleth was not particularly emotional, but he could see the guilt in her eyes. 

 

  He offered a close lipped smile, something meant to be reassuring. He wasn’t very good at comforting, and fortunately Byleth wasn’t good at accepting it much. What could he possibly say to her? That the scent of strawberries and the warmth of her body against his back had distracted him so heavily that he couldn’t take the shot when he truly needed to? That would’ve been more creepy than he already was.

 

  “It’s okay,” he shook his head and held out his hand, “Can I have another arrow? I know there’s more around here.”

 

  Byleth reached over her shoulder and produced an arrow from the quiver resting on her back. Gently, Dimitri took it and notched it into place, between his fingers, as he stood and stepped out into the small clearing the doe just stood. 

 

  Byleth followed at his heels. She brushed the brown leaves off her knees and bottom as she raced to keep up with Dimitri’s longer stride. Nonconsciously, he slowed to match her pace, and the two walked along in complete silence. It was comfortable, only marred by the feeling of unsaid words hanging in the air between them. 

 

  It had been a week of traveling. He had some idea of where they were, but an idea is all it could be. It had to be Southern Gaspard, along the line of the Oghma Mountain range, the Western edge of it. Byleth insisted, instead, that they were already in Magdred and if they went straight South they would run into Remire. Dimitri doubted her claims, but tried to keep an open mind. 

 

  In most cases, being mildly lost would have unnerved him. He’d wandered the continent with Dedue and his father for years, and Lambert was so controlling that he always insisted on directing the group. They had ended up in Southern Adrestia once, when the goal was Ordelia territory. While Dimitri wouldn’t give up the memories of his father for anything, he could do without the lack of direction he had. 

 

  This was different, though, this was Byleth. He didn’t mind being lost if it was with her. 

 

  He trudged through the piles of fallen leaves and pushed aside a branch to step through. He held it aside for Byleth behind him, and she took it from his hands as he went on through the forestry. She was rather at home in this environment, making him wonder if her natural comfort in the wilderness was something left over from her past life. 

 

  Some things had changed, obviously, such as her ability to hunt. In their past lives, they both knew how to hunt, but Byleth had years more of practice over his head. She had lived on the roads for so long, while he had only been trained to hunt in highly controlled environments. He learned how to survive in the five years of exile that had been thrust upon him, and he always thanked Professor Byleth for teaching him how to set traps at the Academy.

 

  It was reversed now, and it felt far too odd. Dimitri was the one who had lived his life on the roads as a mercenary, while Byleth had only been taught forestry in controlled sessions with her tutors. Her aim was good, but she didn’t know how to step quietly so as to not startle the deer, or how to make sure water was safe to drink, or what berries were poisonous. The last several weeks had been dedicated to teaching her all of the necessary knowledge, in case anything happened to him. 

 

  Fortunately for him, Byleth was a good student. He almost felt as if she should call him professor now. 

 

  “Heel to toe,” he reminded her as she crunched a pile of leaves underfoot behind him, “And always keep your eyes open.”

 

  She looked down at the soft ground, eyes wide, “Okay. Okay, I can do this.”

 

  She could. He sent her a smile that he hoped was reassuring, “You’re doing great.”

 

  Byleth almost looked apologetic as she returned his gaze, “I think Gustave tried to teach me this stuff once, but I didn’t listen. I wish I had.”

 

  Of course Gustave would’ve tried to teach her how to hunt. He was a full believer in the possibilities life could take. Dimitri nearly laughed at the thought of when he was 11, when Gustave had dropped him off in the forest with only a dull knife and a rusty bow. His only instruction was ‘go catch a deer’. He had tried to do the same to Dimitri’s own son at one point, Dimitri only made sure that his knife was sharper - and that he had a warmer coat. 

 

  “You’re smiling again.”

 

  Said smile fell. He tensed as he walked ahead of her, ducking under branches and raising them up higher so Byleth could walk under them. She gave him a curious look as she passed by. Dimitri pressed his lips together, “I apologize, I was just lost in thought.”

 

  A huffy sigh, “You don’t have to apologize, I wasn’t criticizing you. I was just pointing it out.”

 

  It probably drove her crazy, to not know what he was thinking. Byleth had always wanted to know his every thought in the past, and even now she was the same. They were not even lovers, yet she still consistently wondered what went through his mind. He supposed he was the secretive type, no matter how much of an open book his face was, or the beating, throbbing heart that lived on his sleeve. 

 

  She didn’t have to ask, the concern was obvious in her eyes. Dimitri walked beside her through the woods, heel to toe, going far more slowly than he was ever used to. He was hunting, and should not have been speaking, but he could not resist the urge to let her into his world. It was the strongest feeling he’d had, as of late, since she had found out about his past life. It was an unexplainable feeling, one he didn’t take the time to understand. 

 

  “I was just thinking about when I was child,” his voice was low, a whisper, not nearly loud enough to disturb the chirping bugs, or the birds overhead, “My tutor dropped me off in the mountain one night and told me to go catch a deer. All I had was a knife and a bow that looked as if it was about to break.” He actually did break it, after three whole uses, “It was terrifying at the time, but I look back on it fondly.”

 

  She slowed, hands clasped casually in front of her. Staring down at her feet, she chewed on her lip, and opened her mouth as if to speak, before closing it once more. Dimitri paused to watch her as she processed his admittance. 

 

  It had been a while since he’d spoken of his past life. He was almost beginning to seem normal. He wondered if this was too soon, or if he should just not ever speak of it at all. Byleth’s discomfort came off her in waves. 

 

  Finally, she met his eyes, “You said you were exiled.”

 

  “Uh… hm?”

 

  “A while back, you told me you were exiled, which is how you knew Faerghus so well, you’d spent years living here.”

 

  He caught on instantly. The concern in his face melted into worry, “Yes. I was.”

 

  Byleth worried her lip again and averted her eyes, brows furrowing, “Where were you exiled from?”

 

  What a loaded question. He had forgotten about searching for deer by now, the notched bow in his hands merely a prop as he absently fidgeted under the weight of her inquiries. “Ahh… Everywhere, I suppose. There wasn’t really anywhere I could live comfortably.”

 

  “So rather than an exile,” she spoke slowly, trying to understand, “You were more on the run, right? Like, a criminal? Goddess, that’s rude of me to say. I’m sorry.”

 

  The irony of it all. He was a criminal on the run now too. He wondered if that would be a constant in every life he lived, he surely hoped not. 

 

  “It’s fine,” another smile that he hoped was reassuring, “Yes, you’re right. I was on the run wherever I went.” Might as well spill every gruesome detail, “I was wrongfully blamed for regicide, but my brother took my place instead.”

 

  Her eyes widened for half a second before she contained herself, “Regicide of who?”

 

  She must have been imagining her own father, Edelgard’s father, or even Claude’s grandfather. Regicide happened to be one of those very specific crimes. He wasn’t sure how to break it to her that her father was merely a mercenary in a past life, or the fact that their positions in the world had been switched around. It sounded even worse to include that he used to be a prince, comical even. 

 

  He turned away and shimmied between trees again, speaking as he went, “The King Regent of Faerghus, that’s all. I didn’t kill him, of course, but it didn’t stop Cornelia from accusing me of such.”

 

  “Cornelia did?”

 

  “Yes,” a scowl at the memory, “I hope that gives you some insight into my distrust of whatever she says.”

 

  “It does.” Byleth spoke lightly, airily. She spoke as if she was deep in thought. Dimitri glanced over his shoulder to catch her staring into the distance, absolutely zoned out. He remembered that look fondly, it was the same she wore when teaching classes, speaking as if she was in a different world. 

 

  Now, it was his turn to pry. “What’re you thinking?”

 

  She hummed, “Well, I don’t believe you, for one.”

 

  Anxiety struck him as he walked, “Oh? About the regicide, or just in general?”

 

  “In general. I mean, how could I?” She shrugged, “But I like to know anyway.”

 

  A pregnant pause, “...Why?”

 

  Byleth spoke so casually in this moment. She spoke as if she was talking about breakfast - which had not even been caught yet. Dimitri stood in his tracks, silent, watching her purse her lips in thought and hum. His heart caught in his chest when she finally spoke, “It helps me to understand you better. If I know what you… believe, then I can finally understand you.”

 

  Her answer caught him off guard. He tensed, butterflies in his stomach. He didn’t understand why they were called butterflies, they felt more like wasps. Gulping in anxiety, he stared at the ground as if it was the most interesting thing in the forest. “Could you not understand me before? I don’t think I’m particularly mysterious.”

 

  Byleth answered quickly, “You have an odd perception of yourself. You’re the most mysterious person I know.”

 

  He didn’t want to be. He wanted to be open with her, to wrap her up in himself and be in the same world. He’d never cared for mystery or thrills all that much, especially if Byleth didn’t even believe in them.

 

  Grimacing, he moved forward again. He kept his eyes open - thankful to have two of them in this lifetime - and shimmied through the trees. Deer tracks had imprinted into the soft mud underfoot, a trail left for him to follow. Forcing himself to focus, he only muttered in response, “Don’t throw your pearls before swine.”

 

  Byleth rolled her eyes at the verse, “Just because I don’t believe you lived two lives doesn’t mean you’re swine. We’re still friends. I’ve had weirder companions, believe me.”

 

  That was a small comfort, at least, though he wondered who could possibly be weirder than him. And it was not as if he considered them friends, how could they be? It wasn't what he would call their odd companionship. “Come, I know you’re hungry.” He’d heard her stomach growling earlier, and desperately wished to change the subject. If she didn’t believe him, he wasn’t sure what else there was to talk about. 

 

  “What tracks are these?”

 

  Misshapen hooves, mixed with the imprint of claws. Dimitri paused to inspect the shapes in the mud, while Byleth watched with wide eyes. She had a love for learning, especially with things that would help her to survive. She always seemed so amazed that Dimitri could tell apart the prints of animals, it gave him an odd sort of pride - and butterflies again, though they were far more pleasant than before. 

 

  “Deer, probably mountain lion as well,” he grimaced as he squatted down, “Just keep your eyes out, and listen for the birds. If they stop singing then we’re being watched.”

 

  Her eyes widened, before she gave a confident nod. She didn’t wear her royal circlet much anymore, but she looked more like a princess than ever. Heavy leathers, a furry cloak, a hood that framed her face and made her dark hair stick up with static. Despite the common material of her clothing, she was so obviously soft, and untouched by nature. Even this last month of traveling had not been enough to ruddy-up her cheeks, or melt the certain gleam in her eye. She never had that gleam in her last life, but then again she had never been raised in a sheltered castle before. There was no room for naivety in her role as a mercenary. 

 

  His chest warmed as he stared up at her. This was his wife, the woman he had loved for so very long, but she was also simply Byleth Eisner. She was someone so very different, while so very similar to his professor. She was allowed room, now, to have been a kid, to be naive, to be taken care of. She had not fought in any wars, and she had never killed anybody. 

 

  He didn’t want to take that away from her. He didn’t want to put the thoughts of his past life in her mind. She didn’t need to know who she used to be. 

 

  “Let’s go,” standing, he clenched his bow tightly, avoiding her eyes as he walked down the pathway, “I’m hungry.”

 

  “Alright, Dima… I think there’s a deer right there.”

 

  “Hm?” He paused and followed her outstretched finger.

 

  “Right there. Right over there."

 

  She pressed her body against his back again and clutched his arm. All he could do was sigh, welcome the return of the butterflies in his stomach, and enjoy the scent of strawberries wafting from her hair. 

 

 


 

 

   Hours later, Dimitri realized that Byleth was correct. They were in Magdred, and far closer to Garreg Mach than he realized. 

 

  He was not a prideful man, not when he was feeling mentally healthy at least. He could admit, easily, that Byleth was correct and that he was not. That was not the problem here, the problem was their proximity. The proximity to Garreg Mach, to whatever Solon had wanted from him, to wherever Sylvain was. It had fallen on him like a sudden rain, drenching and surprising. 

 

  And all Dimitri knew how to do in this lifetime was lie. “It’s still a good month from the Monastery,” he tried to sound confident as he walked alongside her, “especially on foot.”

 

  The walls of the village drew even closer. It was a small town, where everybody most likely knew each other. They had built messy clay and hay walls that served as their protection from bandits and wolves, complete with a shabby opening that Dimitri assumed was an entrance. It was guarded by a young man with a rusted lance, who gulped as he and Byleth approached from the road. 

 

  After breakfast and resting by a campfire, the two had finally found the road once more. The roads in this part of the country were sparse, but they existed if one looked hard enough. The stones had been overtaken by grass and mud for years, but Dimitri knew they were there, and as he approached the familiar village, he realized exactly where they were. And that he was wrong, and Byleth was correct. 

 

  He didn’t know the name of this village, but he knew the people were kind. They were just trying to survive, as many were. It didn’t have much opportunity for trade, but Southern Faerghus allowed for better farmland, despite the rocky mountain terrain. They were most likely doing perfectly fine, and staying for the night wouldn’t hurt anybody. It would give him time to build up his lie. 

 

  Byleth furrowed her brows in confusion, “A whole month, really?”

 

  A tight lipped hum, “There’s a lot of climbing between here and the Monastery.”

 

  There really was not. There was a lot of climbing between here and the Leicester Alliance. If they kept on this road, it would eventually smooth out and turn into the main highway that would take them straight into the Monastery. Yet, he wouldn’t follow the road’s curves, he would go straight ahead, hit the mountain range as it turned Northward, and drop down into Alliance Territory. 

 

  And then play it dumb. 

 

  “I don’t remember having to go through much mountain to get there,” Byleth mused, “I thought there were roads carved out that we could follow?”

 

  “But you haven’t gone there from this direction, have you?”

 

  “I… I suppose not.” She’d only come to Garreg Mach from the far North in Eisner territory, where a road was so perfectly placed. It led straight down into the Monastery, and was very well traveled. There was no mountain climbing if one was going from that direction - or following the roads at all. Dimitri simply counted on Byleth not knowing the wilderness of her own country that well. 

 

  Byleth dropped the subject as they approached the entrance. The guard stood to attention as if he was protecting a castle. She cleared her throat, and tried to look friendly, “Excuse me, is there an inn here?”

 

  “No ma’am!"

 

  Her face fell. Dimitri grimaced, “We could keep traveling, but there won’t be another town for at least two days.” Unless someone had set up a village without his knowing, and he doubted it. Not much in the terrain and locations had changed in this life. 

 

  The young guard with the rusty lance stood to attention even straighter, somehow. "Watch yourselves out here! We had an odd group pass through just a week ago!"

 

  His curiosity piqued, "An odd group?"

 

  "Bunch of hooded fellows!" He spat onto the ground at his feet as he spoke, a true country-man, "They didn't say nothin' to nobody, they just came through and stole all our food, a few horses, and left. Even a pretty young woman was with them," his cheeks turned pink, "I don't understand why she'd run with a group like that."

 

  It was almost too good. It was far too good. Dimitri and Byleth had been on Cornelia and Sylvain's trail the entire way, somehow. It was almost as if they were being led somewhere. Nothing could ever be that good.

 

  Byleth sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose, "We'll deal with that later, I'm tired. Let's find a place to camp for the evening."

 

  The only problem was that they had been camping out for a week straight. His back was beginning to hurt from the hard ground, and Byleth had found a snake under her blanket the other night. With it being the Red Wolf Moon as well, he found himself even more wary than usual. And besides all of that, it was late in the month, and getting colder. 

 

  He had to take care of Byleth. He had to make sure she was safe, and warm, and not mauled by a giant wolf. He stepped through the entrance and sent her a wary look, “Let’s see if someone will let us sleep in their barn.”

 

  She lit up at the thought, “Good idea! It looks like it might rain tonight too.”

 

  It did. The sky was darker than usual. The grey clouds above were a threat to his warmth, and he had no desire to spend another night huddled under a tree in the forest. 

 

  It seemed as if it was a good idea, and it would have been, if the universe liked him. He wondered if he’d truly offended Sothis for good - she’d been absent as of late, again - because it seemed as if absolutely nothing he intended would ever work, ever

 

  “No, you can’t stay here,” a farmer, covering the entrance to his stables with his body, “My horses need all the room they can get!”

 

  The next farmer was nicer, but smelled of feces. The entire facility stunk of it. “Sure, you can stay here!”

 

  Byleth could only nudge him and whisper, “I don’t want to stay there. I can’t even see the floor.”

 

  A good call. Yet, the village was so small that not many had room for travelers. Another person rejected them on the basis of ‘I don’t want you messing up my hay!’. And another villager simply scoffed at them. Followed by another villager who charged an obscene amount of money for them to simply sleep underneath his frontyard awning. 

 

  This village was not as kind as he remembered. Cornelia and her posse must've did a number on their food and horse storage.

 

  He and Byleth sat on the ground in the marketplace, watching the clouds above threaten their downpour. She frowned at the sky as if it had done her a personal wrong, her chin resting in his palm and her knees pulled up to her chest.  “You’d think we’re criminals or something,” she huffed, just quietly enough for any nearby merchants to not overhear, “Do we look scary? Like we’re going to rob them?”

 

  Technically, he is a criminal. He was wanted for ‘princess-kidnapping’ and most likely a whole other slew of nonsense that Cornelia had made up. He deigned to mention that detail to Byleth in this moment, it would only darken her already black mood. He only sighed and rested his palms on the ground, “I understand it, they don't want to get burned again after that witch came through here."

 

  Another huff, “But do we look like bandits?”

 

  He wasn’t sure what he looked like, but he was confident that she didn’t. Even in common clothes, bundled up for winter and covered in mud, she was elegant. She made dirty leather boots like high fashion from Enbarr. 

 

  He, on the other hand, was sure he looked like a wreck. His hair was half pulled into a ponytail, and he knew that his loose strands were stringy around his neck and forehead. He had the slightest bit of scruff on his cheeks, and his armor was splattered with mud, leaves, and twigs. He was sure he looked like some sort of forest monster that had escaped from the trees. 

 

  “You look fine,” he assured with a sigh, “I probably look too wild for their comfort.”

 

  Byleth scoffed, “I was thinking the exact opposite.”

 

  She caught him by surprise. He tensed, looking up and watching her profile. She had her head lifted to the sky, nose curved and silhouetted against the setting sun of the day. He blinked a few times in confusion before laughing under his breath, “You must be blind, your Highness.”

 

  She frowned at the clouds, “You look fine, Lance-Snapper. You look… I don’t know,” the barest hint of a frown, of pink on her cheeks, he thought he was imagining it, “You look fine. Don’t worry.”

 

  How to respond to such a thing? It was so simple, so stupid. He felt like a school boy with a crush once more. It was almost pitiful how his heart skipped a beat and how his throat dried up in response. Clearing it, and looking back at the ground, he managed to spit out, “You do too. Fine, that is. You look fine.”

 

  “Ah, thank you.”

 

  “N-No thank you!”

 

  Byleth frowned, “Dima, please don’t be weird.”

 

  “Right. I apologize, I’ll try to be calm.”

 

  “Thank you.”

 

  A pregnant pause. Byleth continued to stare at the sky impassively. The merchant square was beginning to clear out and quiet down as the villagers went to their homes for the day. 

 

  Only one woman remained. She lingered in a nearby alley like a ghost, but her eyes remained locked onto the knight and princess sitting on the ground. She leveled her gaze with Dimitri’s as he noticed her presence, and sent him a motherly smile. 

 

  He returned the gesture with a polite nod, then looked back to Byleth. She was zoned out again, and did not notice the sound of footsteps approaching. Dimitri tore his eyes away from her and pushed himself up to greet the odd woman that walked towards him. She was older, and looked innocent enough, with wide hips and a dirty apron wrapped around her waist. She had kind eyes that crinkled in the corners when she approached Dimitri. 

 

  Before he could open his mouth to greet her, she interrupted in a soft voice, “Children, are you two really going to sleep outside tonight?”

 

  Byleth dropped down from the clouds and landed with a shock. Her eyes widened as she scrambled up to appraise the woman, “Y-Yes. I mean, if we have to. There’s nowhere els-”

 

  The woman pursed her lips in a way that quieted the princess in an instant. “No, no I won’t allow it. Don’t you know?”

 

  “Know what?”

 

  Dimitri and Byleth exchanged a look. Hesitant anticipation, relief, and a little bit of wariness. The woman ignored the look and went on, “There’s going to be a storm tonight! A snow storm,” her eyes widened, “not the first one of the year, of course, but it’ll be the worst! That’s what my fortune teller says, at least.”

 

  While Dimitri was not one to care much for fortune telling, he could tell where this was going. The concern in this old woman’s face was evident, and relief washed over him like a wave on the shore. He nodded along, as if he believed fully in this fortune of hers, “Oh, yes, you can really taste it in the air. That cold front is going to be really heavy.”

 

  Byleth glanced up at him as if he was crazy. The entire country of Faerghus was a cold front, that never changed. Yet, the old woman clasped her hands together, excited now, “Right? I feel it in my knees, they’re aching! And my fortune said that I’d have good luck if I sheltered someone, so… well,” a tilt of her head, and a smile, “How would you two like to stay in my house for the night? I can’t possibly leave you out here in the oncoming blizzard.”

 

  Sweet Sothis, her mercy had touched their lives. It was quite cold, despite it not even being dark yet. The clouds were starting slowly with their onslaught, with just a light drizzle that made Dimitri’s hair frizz in response. It wouldn’t be this soft of a rain for long. 

 

  And he was cold. And Byleth was cold. He didn’t miss her shivers, no matter how hard she tried to hide them. 

 

  “We would love to,” he answered, shaking the woman’s hand softly in his gratitude, “Thank you so much.”

 

  “Seiros would strike me down if I didn’t,” she chastised as she stepped past them and began walking along the road, “Follow me, children. I’ll get you warmed up real quick.”

 

  She led them down an alley between two buildings. It let out into a small garden of strawberries and greens, which the woman carefully stepped around as she made her way through. Dimitri and Byleth followed her lead, until she went through a squeaking gate door, and led them to a tiny cottage nestled into the corner of the village. 

 

  It was cute, and it looked warm. Smoke wafted into their air from the chimney, a homey sign that gave Dimitri a sigh of comfort. For once, in weeks, he’d be able to sit in front of a fire and warm his toes.  Byleth had the same idea. Excitement sparkled in her eyes, though her smile was subtle and barely there. He cast her a look, and felt his chest skip a breathless beat as he took in the sight of her. She didn’t seem to notice him staring, nor did she notice the affection in his eyes, and nor did she notice the blush on his cheeks. 

 

  Intoxicating, that’s what she was. And she didn’t even know it. He had fallen in love with that same smile in his past life. 

 

  The woman rambled as she led them to her door. Once she stood in front of it, she sighed and turned towards the zoned out travelers behind her. Her own smile was big and toothy, “It’s not often we get such a cute couple in our village!”

 

  A pause. 

 

  A tick of silence. A heavy realization. Dimitri dropped back down to Foldan, and his eyes widened as he processed her words. 

 

  Couple? 

 

  What?

 

  “Oh, uh… ma’am, you-”

 

  “Don’t be shy,” she winked outrageously, “I know a man in love when I see one! I wish my late husband looked at me like that,” she sighed dreamily, “You’re one lucky lady.”

 

  He looked at Byleth to gauge her reaction, and almost laughed at the sight. She was stone-faced, in a very Dedue-esque way. Her lips were a thin line, and her eyes held no emotion. Her face was pale, and brows twitching as if they wanted to furrow together. 

 

  It wouldn’t of been right to take over the situation, especially with Byleth knowing full well that he’s in love with her. They had never talked about it since that day in Arianrhod, but he would be stupid to assume she didn’t remember. She had to remember him barfing out the words ‘I’m in love with her’ in front of Glenn and Ingrid. 

 

  To take advantage of this woman’s misconception would be slimy. To take advantage of Byleth like that, he couldn’t. Grimacing, he looked at her, awaiting her response. 

 

  Slowly, nervously, her eyes shifted to meet his. The silence only grew more awkward. 

 

  The woman cleared her throat and turned around to push the door open. She rambled as she went, “It all works out, you know. I’m not very comfortable letting two unmarried persons sleep in here,” a tsk, a shake of her head, “No debauchery or immorality allowed here!”

 

  Oh Goddess. Oh Sothis, she really did hate him. The universe wanted him dead. 

 

  Their host looked at them, her eyes accusing, "You two... are married, aren't you? Because if not... well, I'd have to ask you to leave."

 

  As if on cue, both Dimitri and Byleth burst into fake, canned laughter. He nudged her, and she nudged him, and he slapped his knee, and she put her hands on her stomach. The woman looked at them with wide eyes, as if they were insane. Dimitri went on with his faked amusement, “Yes! No need to worry about that! W-We’re as married as can be!”

 

  Byleth, grinning scarily with her hand resting on the small of Dimitri’s back, nodded, “Oh yes, you’ve never seen a more married couple!”

 

  The wind blew harshly out the window. The rain began in fat, heavy drops. It seemed cold outside, and the fire inside was so warm. Dimitri found himself even more motivated, “The Mrs. is pregnant, you see,” he ignored Byleth’s glare as he rested a hand on her stomach, “so we really appreciate your hospitality.”

 

  It was fortunate for them that this woman seemed a bit slow in the head. Her eyes widened as she fluttered about, moving her hands in some sort of odd dance as she looked at Byleth’s completely flat stomach. “Oh dear! Oh my! Have you thought of names yet?”

 

  “Reus.”

 

  “Egitte.”

 

  They looked at each other. Byleth huffed, and looked back at the woman, “Reusgitte.”

 

   She paused, her mouth open and her tongue clicking against her teeth. She processed the name ‘Reusgitte’ for a moment, before clearing her throat and looking away. “Oh how nice… Uh, your room is this way, dears.”

 

  Relief flooded over him. As she turned her back to lead them down a hallway, he sighed. Byleth pushed his hand aside and followed her, her shoulder colder than Northern Faerghus. The relief was quickly replaced by dread as he realized just how angry the princess might be for his little story. But he knew one thing about overwhelming old women, they loved babies, and women who carried them. There was absolutely no chance of being thrown out into the heavy rain now. 

 

  “Oh dear, it’s going to be a boy, I can tell,” she rambled in excitement, the odd name and the nervous manner of her guests forgotten, “Your complexion is giving it away, you’re all red and blotchy. Rosacea, hm? I’ve got some herbs for that.”

 

  A nervous laugh from Byleth as she rested her hands on her stomach, “Oh, thank you…”

 

  “And you,” she pointed a thick finger at Dimitri, “you better treat her good! Get her all kinds of food, never say no to her! Don’t make her cry, you hear?”

 

  “Y-Yes ma’am.”

 

  “Good!” She pushed the door to her spare room open, and sighed, “It’s a bit dusty in here, sorry for that. I’ll get some wood to start a fire.”

 

  She squeezed past Dimitri at the doorway and disappeared into the kitchen down the hall. He and Byleth locked eyes, silent, staring at each other in their varying degrees of embarrassment and humiliation. Their host was correct, her cheeks were red and blotchy. 

 

  He was grateful that they both wore gloves, so the woman would not notice their lack of rings. Byleth did have an engagement ring from Sylvain that she kept at the castle, but other than that she was not one for jewelry, and neither was Dimitri. They would have to keep their gloves on all night to keep their shelter from the rain. 

 

  Dimitri pressed her lips together, “Reusgitte?”

 

  She huffed in sudden annoyance, “Don’t say anything else to her. We’ve got to keep our stories straight if we want to stay inside for the night. I’m only a month along, we live in Arianrhod, and we’re visiting my mother. I want a girl and you want a boy.”

 

  “But I want a girl-”

 

  “Ugh, fine,” she rolled her eyes, “You want a girl and I want a boy. Just keep your mouth shut and let me handle it!”

 

  If he’d kept his mouth shut earlier there might be a chance they wouldn’t be taken so well care of. He doubted that Byleth would label herself as pregnant for the sake of a warm bed and hospitality, and he doubted that he would’ve done the same in her position. Living with Lambert for so long had turned him into quite the politician, and quite the liar.

 

  “I don’t have much,” the woman’s voice echoed down the hall as she approached, “All the blankets I have are on the bed, same for pillows. I’m sorry it’s not a palace.”

 

  Dimitri took the wood from her hands and went towards the fireplace to begin warming up the dusty room. It looked like it used to be a child’s room, but the bed would be big enough for Byleth herself. He set the wood down and searched for matches as he listened to her comfort their host, “It’s beautiful, really. You’ve no idea how grateful we are to you.”

 

  “Oh no problem! Have you eaten?”

 

  “We got something in the market earlier.”

 

  “Oh good,” she smiled, relieved, “I’ll leave you two alone, then.” She watched Dimitri catch a piece of kindling ablaze, and sent him a warm grin, “You take care of this lady, you hear?”

 

  He cast her a glance over his shoulder and a grin, a genuine one, for once. “Yes, ma’am!”

 

  Like a mother would a child, she closed the door gently, and quietly. Her footsteps echoed down the hallway as she retreated to her business, and Byleth sighed in relief. She still rested her hands on her obviously not-pregnant stomach, and looked at the ground with a scowl. Dimitri worked on the fire silently, the grin having left his face the moment the door closed. 

 

  He found it ironic that they were in this situation. He had been married to her once, and now he could only pretend, and it was simply to have a roof over their heads for a night. Yet, the fire was warm on his cheeks, and his fingers began to de-thaw as he spread them out before the flames. It felt almost worth it, despite the scowl on Byleth’s lips. With the wind and rain picking up outside, he began to wonder if there truly would be a blizzard.

 

  She turned around and dropped her hands, sighing as she inspected the bed. “She said the only blankets and pillows are on the bed already. It’s… Hm, I wonder if I can use the cushion of that chair.”

 

  He looked up in surprise, “Why would you do that?”

 

  “Well, one of us has to sleep on the floor.”

 

  “And you assume that it’s you?”

 

  “Why wouldn’t I? You don’t think me so presumptuous as to assume I have the bed, right?”

 

  No, he didn’t. But he also thought that she would know him well enough to guess that he’d never let her sleep on the floor. He stood from his spot in front of the fireplace and grabbed the cushion of said chair, plopping it down on the rug beside the bed, “I’ll sleep here. You take the bed.”

 

  “Really, there’s no nee-”

 

  “Your Highness,” he met her gaze, trying to look and sound confident, “I can’t let you sleep on the floor.”

 

  “Yes, you really can.”

 

  “No, I really can’t.” He settled down and rested his head on the cushion. It was far too hard and bulky to be used as a proper pillow, but it was better than his arm. He wouldn’t dare to take off his armor either, not in these unfamiliar surroundings. In circumstances such as these, protecting Byleth and making sure she was comfortable was his main goal. And she should know that. 

 

  She eyed him as if he annoyed her. She simply looked tired, her hair frizzy from the light drizzle they had been caught in earlier. She stepped over Dimitri’s legs and buried herself under the light covers of the bed. 

 

  “Do you want my blanket?”

 

  “No,” he sighed, “you need it. I’ll be fine.”

 

  “If I get the mattress then you should at least get a blanket.”

 

  “You need it more, your Highness.”

 

  “Dimitri please.”

 

  “I’m fine,” he pulled his cloak up higher around his shoulders and tried to close his eyes against the hard cushion, “I’ve dealt with this before.”

 

  “In your past life, or this life?”

 

  She sounded so skeptical. She sounded so angry. He opened his eyes again and grimaced at the shadows of the room, worry settling into his chest. Above him on the bed, she didn’t move at all, only staring at the ceiling and frowning. 

 

  He could understand her anger. This entire situation was mildly frustrating, and he did not judge her for the harshness of her tone. He was entirely too stubborn, and knew that she hated to be argued with in this way, especially when it came to taking care of others. Byleth preferred to be the caretaker, not the opposite. 

 

  To answer her question, it would be both of his lives, though the former was far harsher than this. All he found himself saying was a quiet, “Does it matter?”

 

  She sighed in sudden defeat, “I suppose not. I just don’t understand why you act like this.”

 

  “Like what?”

 

  “Why you…” he saw her bite her lip in the grey darkness, “Why you always give me everything. I can take care of myself.”

 

  So that’s what it was. He blinked in sudden realization. Byleth thought he took care of her so ardently because she was fragile. That was so opposite of the reality of this situation, but he understood the assumption. She’d most likely been treated as such her entire life. 

 

  Bravery. He needed bravery. He needed to take a deep breath and build up his courage. 

 

  “I don’t do what I do because I think you need it,” he spoke slowly, letting each word melt on his tongue as he thought them through, “I do it because… Well…”

 

  Bravery! Sothis in heavens, give him courage! Give him boldness! His throat felt dry as he found the sheer difficulty of continuing his thought.

 

  A pause as he processed his words. Byleth stared at the ceiling. The only light in the room was the warm golden glow of the fire, but it was not very big, and only cast the lightest of shadows across her profile. He was far enough away on the ground to see the outline of her nose, and her hair splayed out around her on the pillow. 

 

  How could he say it? How could he tell her that he worshipped the ground she walked on? How does one say such a thing to a woman who doesn’t even know of the life she lived before?

 

  Byleth parted her lips and took in a soft breath. Dimitri’s thought process disappeared as she broke the silence, “Is it because of what you said back then?”

 

  “Back then?”

 

  “In Arianrhod,” her brows furrowed, another flame flickered her shadow against the wall, “That you’re in love with me? Is… Is that it?”

 

  It was like she could read his mind. He wondered if she truly could. 

 

  There was some sort of sick relief in the fact that she guessed it so easily. He felt the tension leave his chest, and he could finally close his eyes and take a deep breath. She guessed it, she remembered it, and there was no more questioning whether she had understood a word he said. As humiliating as it all was, he was tired of hiding himself. 

 

  What did he even have to lose? He was already going to jail by the end of this all. 

 

  “Yes.”

 

  “So you treat me like this because… because you love me?”

 

  “I care about your comfort so much more than mine.”

 

  “And you love me because we met in a past life that only you know about?”

 

  Well, he wasn’t sure if he was the only one aware of the past life. Rufus, and Solon, and Sothis, they all knew as well. Even his mother seemed to know. It was all too confusing, too subjective, for him to even give it a second thought. His heart skipped a beat as he answered her, “Yes.”

 

  He opened his eyes to look at her once again. He saw her complexion turn splotchy. Perhaps she did have rosacea and needed those herbs their host had talked about. She stared at the ceiling as if he wasn’t even there, speaking to her in that dark room. 

 

  “May I ask an invasive question?”

 

  He shrugged against the hard cushion under his head, “I don’t know what could be more invasive than me blurting out that I’m in love with you, but sure. Go ahead.”

 

  “Well,” she twiddled her fingers above the blanket, “If I wanted to believe you, how could I begin to?”

 

  How could she begin to believe him? How could he possibly convince her of a life she’d never had a glimpse of? Even he had a difficult time believing himself on occasion. 

 

  He never thought he’d be here, having to answer this question. He wasn’t prepared with anything eloquent, or reasonable, or well-thought out. His father would already have convinced her by now, but he wasn’t that charming, and he didn’t feel as smart, and he didn’t have that way with words. 

 

  What could he do? What could he possibly say? Patient, Byleth awaited his answer. 

 

  “Well…” another heavy pause, the flickering of the flames was the only sound. The room was quickly warming up and becoming more comfortable, and even the floor was mildly pleasant to lay upon. He shut his eyes and tried to think, “To be honest. I don’t know.”

 

  “I see.”

 

  There wasn’t much Dimitri knew that could apply to this life, other than fighting and surviving. He didn’t have any countries to oversee, and he didn’t have any politics to manipulate. He was the King of nothing, with no wife and no children. Yet, despite all of that. There was one thing he still knew very, really quite well. 

 

  He still knew why he adored Byleth. He still knew her, his wife. Realization hit him like a sucker punch to the face. 

 

  He needed no bravery for this. He needed no prayers, no hymns or sermons. A sudden wave of confidence washed over him as he lay on the ground, and stare at the Byleth’s frowning silhouette in the darkness. 

 

  “You’re actually really queasy at the sight of blood. You don’t tell anyone because you don’t want the people around you to worry.”

 

  She furrowed her brows. Her frown grew deeper. 

 

  Dimitri went on, “You hate tomatoes. Cutting them is too much like cutting human skin, it creeps you out. Your favorite food is grilled salmon with lemon imported from Brigid. You also like Brigid coffee, and chocolate.”

 

  She shifted, looking uneasy, “What’s my favorite type of chocolate?”

 

  “Very dark, with almonds.”

 

  He watched as she sat up and twisted around. She laid on her side and rested her head back on the dusty pillow, staring at him from her spot. He returned the gaze. 

 

   There was even more. Memories were flooding his mind as he spoke. “You like climbing trees and hiding from your father in them. Your favorite flowers are daisies, white ones. You cut out holes in your jackets because your favorite book character does that, and you think it looks cool.”

 

  She smiled at him in the darkness. He returned the smile. 

 

  Even more confident now, he went on, “Your silliest fears are long, dark hallways. You feel as if a giant hand is going to reach out and grab you. And ceramic dolls. You really hate ceramic dolls.”

 

  “I’ve never told anybody that before.”

 

  Wrong. She told her husband. 

 

  Dimitri only smiled. 

 

  Silent, Byleth reached out a hand to him, holding her palm up as if she was expecting him to hold it. “You can sleep in the bed with me, if you want.”

 

  “It’s okay, your Highnes-”

 

  “Byleth. I’ve told you before, call me Byleth.”

 

  He could barely read her expression. He had prided himself before in being able to read her emotions so fluently, but in this moment she was entirely unreadable. It was something unexplained, something he’d never seen before glimmering in her eyes. He found himself breathless when she smiled, and wiggled her hand in the air.

 

  “Byleth.” He repeated. 

 

  Her smile grew. He felt his throat go dry, and the butterflies were back. Once again, she had no grasp on the severity of her influence on him. She rendered him useless, a school boy with a crush once more. 

 

  “I’m okay with you sleeping next to me tonight, Dimitri.”

 

  That bed was so tiny, and he was a large man. He wasn’t exactly sure what she was trying to get at, why she invited him up there, and what her intentions were. When he didn’t answer, she sat up and pulled the blanket off the mattress with a sharp yank. 

 

  Before he could process what happened, she was on the floor beside him. She tossed her pillow down, and spread the blanket over her body, and his. It was big enough for the both of them, sharing its warmth over the two bodies underneath. 

 

  She smiled as she laid her head on the pillow, now on the floor. She lay on her side, facing him. 

 

  “Your highness-”

 

  “Byleth.”

 

  “Byleth, you should sleep on the bed.”

 

  “I think…” her eyes flitted away for a moment, and her lips quirked into something mischievous, “I think I’d like to sleep next to you tonight.”

 

  What could he have possibly said that was so persuasive? Did he charm her without realizing it? Her expression was unreadable, and odd. It was excited and anxious and eager all at the same time. Hesitant, he laid his head down, across from her. 

 

  Byleth wasn’t done. She stared at him, scooting closer to give the blanket more room to cover them both. Her arm nearly touched his, her hands balled up in front of her, and just inches away from his own. A hint of strawberry smacked him in the face again as she pulled her hair back. 

 

  “So, tell me, Dima. When did you fall in love with me?”

 

  That was a loaded question. He had answered it before, in the past, but he had never given her an answer satisfying enough. He wasn’t entirely sure when it was. He was more so aware of how it was. Slow, and terrifying, and beautiful. 

 

  How to answer? Slowly, he took a breath, and stared at her lips as she lay across from him, so close. “It was over time. I just… I just started thinking about you, and you never left my mind. You smiled at me once, after a battle, and you were so happy, and beautiful, and smart. And I felt as if I could stare at that face for the rest of my life.”

 

  Her hand shifted under the blanket. The back of her fingers brushed against his. She whispered, “Why did you fall in love with me?”

 

  That was a question he had an immediate answer to. “How could I not? Have you met yourself?”

 

  “No.”

 

  “You’re strong, and the smartest person I know. You’re kind, and selfless. Oftentimes, I felt as if we were made for each other. I guess… I guess that’s a bit much to say right now, is it?”

 

  “Yes,” she quirked her lips into a smile once more, “but I don’t mind. I’m just elated that someone thinks so highly of me.”

 

  Confusion set in, “Why wouldn’t someone?”

 

  “Oh, I don’t know,” she shrugged and her smile fell, “I’ve just been controlled all of my life, and everybody always says it’s for my own good. Even my engagement to Sylvain, no matter how much I fought it and reasoned that there are much better matches, I was ignored. I just wonder if my family thinks I can’t take care of myself, or that I don’t know what’s good for me. Everybody’s always thought that.”

 

  Oftentimes, he found himself thinking her naive in this lifetime. And perhaps she was, in certain ways, but she was far more than that. She was smart, she was determined. She was willing to run away from the comforts of her home just to be free for a bit. She was stronger than anybody gave her credit for. 

 

  “I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with that, Byleth.”

 

  Her smile returned, thankfully. She brushed the back of her fingers against his once more, causing a shiver to run down his spine. 

 

  “So, you don’t need to take care of me so much. I know you love me, and all, and you know all of that stuff about me, so you should know that I don’t like being coddled.”

 

  He frowned, “I wasn’t coddling you.”

 

  “Yes, you were. Dimitri, Lance-snapper, I know it’s coming from a good place, but really. I’d like to be your equal.”

 

  An odd request, but not unexpected. He sighed, “Why?”

 

  “I want to know you as such,” finally, sweet relief as her finger tangled with his. It was only one finger, but it was a step towards the right direction, and the very movement made his heart skip. She kept speaking, “You’ve given me a lot to think about tonight. Can’t I want to understand you as a friend, rather than my knight?”

 

  She didn’t understand how tempting she was. She didn’t understand the whirlwind of emotion in his stomach. She didn’t understand the implication of her words. Such a small, simple thing, causing such commotion in his heart. 

 

  And what did she mean? He had given her a lot to think about, and rightfully so. He’d named off secrets and facts that very few people would know, especially a stranger who had never even been to Fhirdiad until the last month. He spoke as if he’d been by her side all of her life. 

 

  Would it be so terrible to allow her to know him as a friend? It was tempting, so very tempting. And he had come to this reality in order to love her once more, to live this life with her again. This is what he had been waiting for. 

 

  Behind the curtain of excitement, lay one problem. 

 

  Anxiety, and distrust. 

 

  “I don’t want to get my hopes up. I’ve… I’ve already resigned myself to a life separated from you.”

 

  Her smile fell, though her finger remained intertwined with his. “What?”

 

  “You’ll marry Sylvain, I’ll be put in jail,” he was whispering, though his words were heavy and difficult to say, “It already hurts enough, being in love with you. I can’t possibly get my hopes up.”

 

 “I won’t let you go to jail-”

 

 “It doesn’t matter!” He pulled his finger back and scooted away, just an inch. He stayed under the blanket and it’s warmth, but he was hesitant to touch her, “You’ll still marry him. If not him, then some other noble. I want to be your friend, Byleth, I want you to be happy, trust me. But I cannot let my hopes get up.”

 

  Her brows furrowed, “So… what do you want me to do about that?”

 

  “Treat me as your knight, not your friend.”

 

  Another deep frown, “I don’t want to do that. You’re my friend, whether you like it or not.”

 

  He couldn’t help the words spilling from his lips, “You’re being selfish.”

 

  A pregnant pause. 

 

  Byleth blinked. She soaked in his words like rain on her clothes, before her eyes narrowed and her mouth twisted into a scowl, “I’m being selfish? You just told me all these things about myself that nobody knows, and you say I’m the selfish one when I express wanting to get closer to you?”

 

  He would not let down his guard. Huffing, he twisted around and faced the opposite direction. She groaned as his back faced her and he glared at the dark wall, watching the shadows of the fireplace flicker against the ugly wallpaper. “You’re getting married to someone else. If we start being friends then I’m going to get too emotionally involved.”

 

  “You’re so damn confusing! You searched me out, right? You looked for me, wanted to work under me, and now as I’m offering you something more you’re refusing me?”

 

  He ignored her point, “I’ve had time to think things over, and I believe that getting my hopes up is out of the questio-”

 

  “You’re so stupid!” She shoved his back, and yanked the blanket away, “This is all your fault, anyway!”

 

  He spoke slowly, sighing. Many things about the world were his fault, what was new about that? “You’ll have to be more specific.”

 

  “You’re too damn handsome for your own good! I wouldn’t be in this damn situation if you weren’t so charming! Goddess, you and your pretty words, do you not understand the effect they can have on a girl?”

 

  She groaned and kicked and rolled herself up in the blanket. She turned away so her back faced him. His heart seemed to stop in his chest. 

 

  What?

 

  He’s too damn handsome?

 

  Did she know she was talking to a bridge troll with stringy hair and too pale skin, sharp features and a wiry body? Did she see him? Did she ever hear him speak? How he stuttered over his words and fumbled his apologies, his tongue was stone, rather than silver. He spoke politely, and formally, but he had never said a pretty word. 

 

  And what was her problem? Why was she so offended that he loved her and wanted to protect her? How could she be so offended by him wanting to not get his hopes up? Could she truly be so cruel as to make him fall even deeper in love, just to marry someone else?

 

  He stared at the wall, brows furrowed. Her words replayed in his mind, as he picked apart the meaning of each and every one. A few silent minutes passed. 

 

  Until finally, he was able to speak again, “You think I’m handsome?”

 

  Her groan was immediate. “That’s what you’re focusing on?”

 

  “Really? Do you?”

 

  “Yes! Ugh,” she pulled the blanket even tighter around her, “I don’t even know how to handle all of this. Those things you said about me…” her voice began to soften, “I don’t understand how you knew all of that.”

 

  He blinked, “I told you, we were marr-”

 

  “Shut up, I know. I just don’t believe it’s real.”

 

  “...You don’t have to, your Highness.”

 

  “I…” 

 

  A pregnant pause. They lay, back to back on the ground of a dusty, spare room. She closed her eyes as he did, and let the silence drown out each unspoken thing. 

 

 Byleth finished her sentence with a barely heard whisper, “I want to believe you. I want to believe that… that someone could love me for me, and not for my station, or my power, or what I could give them.”

 

 He knew the feeling. Memories of girls asking him on dates in Garreg Mach came to mind, and how they would only be after the position he offered. Everybody had wanted to be the next Queen of Faerghus, and nobody had wanted to know Dimitri for himself. Byleth, being a woman, must have had it much worse. Princesses, oftentimes, were under stricter control than their male counterparts, as unfair as it was. 

 

  Would it be worth it? Would he only have a broken heart in the end, more broken than it already was? He didn’t know if that was possible. Gulping down his dry throat, he stared at the shadows on the wall, and whispered, “Whether what I say about the past is true, or not, know that my feelings are genuine. Even if I’m incredibly delusional, I still love you as real as a man could love a woman. So, your wish has come true, there is someone who loves you for you, Byleth.”

 

  As terrifying as it was, nothing exploded. Nothing blew up. His heart was still intact, and he was still alive. Sothis was not even there to make fun of him. He had said his peace, and he could live the rest of this cursed life in mild content. 

 

  He could not truly be happy, of course, because Byleth was not at his side in the way he wanted. And he would not marry anyone else. He would do his time in jail, he would travel with Dedue and Lambert, and he’d live the life he didn’t get before. And Byleth would forget about him eventually. 

 

  He would wait for that day, when he would fade from her mind. He might attend her wedding, and watch her kids grow up. He might see her sometimes, from the balcony of the castle, and send her a wave. She wouldn’t recognize him, because he wouldn’t show his face after this entire debacle. And she’d be happy, and he’d find some way to be content. 

 

  Byleth was the first to break the settled silence, “Thank you.”

 

  He opened his eyes, “For what?”

 

  “For loving me.”

 

  “Oh… you’re welcome.”

 

  “I hope it’s not too terrible of a burden.”

 

  “Not in the least.”

 

  “Promise you won’t leave me anytime soon?”

 

  His chest warmed in a way he absolutely hated. He was trying his damndest to not be even more charmed by her than usual. “I’ll finish what I started here, at least.”

 

  She sighed in relief, “Thank you. And Dimitri, I do have another invasive question.”

 

  “Hm?” He was beginning to grow tired, his eyes heavy. The floor was far nicer than he thought. 

 

  “If you could do anything in this world, what would it be?”

 

  It was a good question, and was truly quite invasive. It woke him from his doze, making him stare at the shapes on the wall and think for a moment. He pursed his lips, and hmmed, and hawwed. He already had traveled with his father, and he had a normal friendship with Dedue, the one he’d always wanted. What else was there?

 

  The one thing he had been avoiding. The one subject that caused him the most pain. His biggest regret in life. 

 

  “I’d like to meet Edelgard Von Hresvelg.”

 

  He did not see the smile on Byleth’s face. He did not see the gleam in her eye. 

 

  “Consider it done, my friend."