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Byleth paused in his search for a stag as he heard that sound again. He had lived in these woods his entire life and had never heard such a noise before, a terrible bellow that echoed through the trees. He assumed it was the reason the forest seemed empty that day. Even the birds were silent and still. There was a part of him that wanted to run in the other direction. Anything that frightened the animals so much was dangerous. At the same time, he did not want to share this forest with whatever was making that noise. If he could take it out, he should and bring it Lord Fraldarius. He considered his options and when he heard the sound again, he moved towards it.

He wished his father was here. Jeralt would know what made such a sound, but the man passed last winter, leaving the title of Master of the Forest to him. It was an impressive title and he was proud of it, but he functioned as the guardsman of the forest who also brought Lord Fraldarius fresh game and pelts. He actually never even met his Lordship, bringing the meat, poachers, and occasionally bandit he caught to either the cook or the head guardsman. It was not a bad life, but it was a quiet one and he missed his father terribly.

He heard the low bellow sound again, much closer this time and he ducked into the undergrowth as he continued to move forward. The sound had not moved and he was wondering if it could not. That would be better. It would make for a quick kill and hopefully it would be worth something to Lord Fraldarius. As he got closer, he could smell the scent of blood and death. It made him shudder and his gut told him to turn back.

Finally, Byleth got to a small clearing and he heard the bellow again. He saw a shape move and hid in a bush while looking out. There were the bodies of three men, poachers he had caught once before scattered about. In the center of the clearing was a giant cat with large gashes and gaping wounds covering its body, probably from the poachers. It had to be the biggest cat he had ever seen in his life. It was tan with long hair on its head. Its leg was stuck in a steal trap and it bellowed again as it struggled against it.

He knew that beast was not native to this forest, but he did recognize it from the banners in Fraldarius’ castle. His father had called the creature a lion, the king of the beasts. It seemed like a fitting title for such a cat. It must have been the lion that killed the men after they caught him, probably not expecting to find such creature in these woods. He watched as the lion desperately struggled and felt pity for him. He was magnificent and did not deserve such a death, trapped like a mouse, waiting for thirst, hunger, or an infection to kill him. Byleth hesitated for a moment and then emerged from the bush.

The lion turned to him and roared his outrage. The roar was powerful and sounded like thunder. He understood why the animals of the forest had fled. He held his ground and looked closer at the beast. It was the first time that he noticed the lion was missing an eye, but the other one was a beautiful deep blue. The lion roared at him again, showing huge fangs.

He put his sword down and raised his hands, “Do you wish to die like this, Lion?”

The lion snarled at him, but was watching him closely. He put his bow and arrows down as well. “I would prefer not to kill you, but you will die if I leave you.”

The lion continued to show his teeth. “It is up to you.”

The beast stared at him for a very long moment, but finally closed his mouth. Byleth took a slow step forward and the lion did not nothing. He continued to move forward until he was almost within striking distance. The lion was watching him, with a cold distrustful eye, but had not tried to strike out.

Byleth had seen cats before, but this lion did not have cats’ eyes, the pupil was not almond shaped, but round like a human’s eye. Its eye was also far more intelligent, it seemed like he understood what Byleth was saying. He knew why these were considered the king of the beasts.

“Don’t kill me, Lion or you will die here.” He said softly and stepped within striking range.

The lion growled softly, but did not move. Byleth took another step forward and finally stopped before the great cat. He knew the beast could kill him in a second, but he took a breath, “This is going to hurt Lion, but I am going to remove the snare, don’t strike me.”

The lion huffed and then moved the ensnared leg forward. Byleth hesitated for a moment and then knelt down before the lion. He pulled open the jaws holding the leg, though they clearly were not well maintained and it was a struggle. The lion bellowed his outrage again, but did not move to strike him. After a breathless moment, the jaws opened and the lion was free.

The trap had cut to the bone and the lion was bleeding everywhere. Byleth looked at lion who was still there, examining his leg. “It needs to be healed. If you come to my cabin, I can heal it. It is not far.”

The lion looked at him and then stood carefully on his leg. He attempted to walk, but the leg almost gave out on him. “Well?” He asked the lion.

The lion huffed but slowly moved towards Byleth’s belongings. He took that as a positive sign and grabbed his weapons. It was a slow walk, the lion was in obvious pain, but he knew if the lion could make it to his cabin, he would be alright. He attempted to put his hand on the lion once, but earned a snarl for the action. He allowed the beast to hobble on his own.

When they finally arrived, the lion collapsed on the ground, panting and sweating. Byleth hurried into his cabin and grabbed his supplies. “Don’t bite me, Lion.” He told the beast again, “I am going to help you, but this will hurt.”

The lion groaned in response and just closed his eye. Byleth worked quickly, cleaning wounds then stitching the larger ones while providing healing magic on the smaller ones. He was not a great healer, they never had enough money to properly train him, but he could patch up simple wounds. The lion kept his eye closed and tolerated the pain as best he could.

After a while, Byleth sat back. “I did-”

But the lion did not let him finish, springing up and limping into the woods.

Chapter Text

Byleth brushed out the last of the pelts and sighed. He wondered how the lion was doing. He had not heard any bellows in the last few days, so he hoped the lion was well and had not died of infection. The forest seemed normal again, with the birds singing and rabbits hopping near his clearing. It was unsettling, with everything seeming the same, even though he knew a lion was in the forest.

There was a part of him that hoped to see the lion again, to know for sure that he was alive, but there was another part that feared that very thing. The lion had not attacked him, but he did not know how much the lion understood or how intelligent he actually was. Lions were the symbol of the Royal Family, but he had never seen one in person and did not know much about their behavior.

Byleth examined the pelt he had been working on and put it in the bundle with the rest of the things he was bringing to the castle. He put the pack on his back with a shake of his head; it was useless thinking about the lion. He would either appear again or not and Byleth had work to do. He needed some more supplies and would hopefully be able to find a new cloak before winter. The days were growing comfortable and the nights were lengthening. It was the beginning of fall and it was important to start preparing for the harsh winters early. He opened the door and jumped when he found the lion was sitting on the other side.

The lion glared at him with his one eye and he examined the beast. He looked better, but several of the wounds had reopened and the one on his leg had mud on it. Byleth sighed and put the pack down. “You should have taken care; you are still healing.”

The lion snorted at him and held up his wounded leg. “I see that, give me a moment and I will get my supplies.”

He was not sure what to think of the reappearance of the lion, but at least it answered one of his questions, the beast was intelligent and understood things. Hopefully, that meant the lion would only come here for healing and not when he needed something to eat.

He returned to the lion’s side and earned a low growl. “If you want me to heal you, I need to touch you.”

He got another growl but the lion held out his paw. He began to work on it first, checking for any infection and closing up the wound. It was not as bad as it could have been, but it needed more magic if it was going to heal properly. The other wounds were mostly clean and just needed some new stitches and a little magic to get them back on track.

Soon Byleth was satisfied and sat back, pleased with his work, “Please ta-”

It was too late; the lion had taken off into the woods again. Byleth sighed and picked up the supplies. At least he knew the lion was alive and doing well.

***

Two days later, Byleth found the lion lying on the roof of his wood shed, taking a nap in the sun. “Hey, no, no you cannot be up there.”

The lion was big and the little shed was not designed to hold that sort of weight. The lion opened an eye and yawned at him, showing those large fangs. “No, don’t you try it. Get down, you are going to break it.”

The lion growled at him and then rolled onto his back. Byleth hesitated, he really did not want the lion on his shed, but he also was not going to face down the lion about it either. “If you fall and injure yourself, I am not going to fix it.”

The lion snorted and yawned at him again. Byleth shook his head and walked away, knowing he had been bested by the beast.

They settled into an uneasy peace after that, with the lion sleeping on his wood shed and Byleth stayed away from him. If he went too close to the shed, he earned a growl or snarl, but for the most part, the lion seemed content to let him work. The only time Byleth was allowed close to the lion was when he needed to be healed, which was frequently. He was not sure what the lion was doing in the woods that caused so many injuries, but at least none of them were severe, mostly nicks and cuts.

Byleth had to admit that while he wished the lion was friendly, the situation was not so bad. He enjoyed having something to talk to during the day and the lion had enough intelligence that it would sometimes response to his words with a snort or a grumble. Even if the lion did not seem to particularly like him, he did not have to return to the cabin either. He could go anywhere in the forest, but he chose to return to wood shed.

He was taking a break from pulling vegetables from his little garden, eating some old bread and cheese when the lion walked over to him. He looked at lion curiously and watched as he sat a few meters off. He was not hurt, so Byleth was not sure what he wanted. “Tired of your shed, Blue?”

The lion cocked his head. “You need a real name; I’ve decided on Blue.”

He had been thinking about this for a while. He was not sure what would be the proper name for a lion, but this one had a blue eye and the banners with lions were always blue. The lion seemed to consider it for a moment before yawning. “I am going to take that as a yes to the name.”

Blue looked at him with annoyance but gave him a sniff. He came a little closer and seemed to be eyeing Byleth’s food. “I’m not feeding you. You are a big lion, go hunt.”

Blue huffed at him and Byleth sighed. If Blue really wanted food, he was not going to be able to stop him. He had appreciated Blue for not stealing the smoked meat he provided Lord Fraldarius, which he had hoped did not smell right to him. “It is just bread and cheese, no meat here.”

Blue sniffed and came even closer. Byleth backed up and held out the bread. “Fine, you want this?”

Blue snorted and turned his head, as if in disgust. “Not good enough for you?”

He held out part of the cheese and Blue took immediately interest in that. He tossed it a few meters in the other direction and Blue quickly grabbed it and swallowed it down in a bite. “I had no idea lions liked cheese.”

Blue turned his attention back to Byleth. He thought about telling the lion off, but the cheese was not worth it. He threw the rest of it to Blue. “I suppose I should be grateful the only thing you have begged for so far is cheese.”

Blue snorted at him. “You can hunt on your own, but I work for Lord Fraldarius and most of the animals I kill have go to him.”

Blue’s ears perked at that and Byleth took a bite of his bread, “Did you think I was a poacher? No, I am the Master of the Forest for Lord Fraldarius. I hunt in forest and keep an eye for any bandits or poachers for him.”

He had not been finding many of either recently and he had a feeling Blue might have something to do with it. “It… isn’t a bad life, very quiet, but peaceful.”

Blue was watching him and he wished the lion would allow him a pet, but he knew better than to try

Chapter Text

It was a month later when two men appeared in the clearing. Blue had gone out, probably hunting, and Byleth was taking some time to mend his clothes. It was uncommon, but not unusual to get visitors, since travelers would stop by his cabin to buy food or get directions. When King Lambert was alive, they got a large number of travelers and merchants heading between Fraldarius territory and Fhirdiad, but since his murder and the spread of bandits, travelers rarely came anymore. His father had hoped things would settle down once Prince Dimitri took the throne, but the Prince’s twenty birthday had passed a few years ago and they still did not have a King.

Byleth closely examined the two men as they approached. They appeared poor, but on closer inspection, it was obvious they were only trying to look poor. Their clothes were old but they were too finely made and their weapons were expensive. It set Byleth on edge. They did not look like bandits, but one could not be too careful. His sword was next to him, so he put down his mending and gave a friendly wave. “Greetings, travelers.”

“Greetings.” The red head said with an overly charming smile. “You will have to forgive us; we are just passing through and did not realize there was anyone living nearby. I am S-Sal and this is Fred.”

He nodded and gave them a small bow, “Byleth Eisner, Master of his Lordship Forest.”

The shorter one with long black hair seemed startled by that. “I had not realized we have come so far.”

“Indeed, if you need meat or skins, I can sell it to you. You can catch fish, but his Lordship does not tolerate any poaching.”

“Of course, we would never poach.” ‘Sal’ said with a bright smile.

“Right.”

They looked at each other and then Sal spoke up again, “But could you point us in the direction of the nearest village, I think we may have come too far.”

Byleth narrowed his eyes but nodded. He was supposed to help wayward travelers, but there was something off about them. They were lying and he did not appreciate it. “Where are you trying to go?”

Fred and Sal looked at each other and then Fred quickly said, “Cavan.”

“Cavan?” Byleth asked, “You are heading in the opposite direction.”

“Yes, we got turned around.”

“Well, turn back and walk due west for twenty minutes. You will bump into a river, the first river you see. Go down stream for thirty minutes and you will reach Cavan.” Byleth hesitated, “Where are you two from?”

“Uh, Fhirdiad.” Sal said.

“Ah, if you aren’t used to the forests, you should probably have a guide with you.” He really did not want to be their guide, but he also did not want them to get lost either if they were telling the truth. “I can accompany you to the river at least.”

“Oh no, we don’t want to trouble you like that. I have a compass and we should have no issue finding that river.”

Byleth frowned but did not argue. “If you have any issues, just turn around and come back. There is no shame in needing some help in a new forest.”

“I promise we will be fine.” Sal said with a warm smile, probably the first smile that Byleth actually believed. “If you have some dried venison, though, we’ll take some.”

“I have dried fish, rabbit, squirrel, and pheasant. Venison is his Lordship’s meat.”

“Of course, my mistake, we’ll take some rabbit.”

“One gold piece.” It was twice what he would normally charge, but the gold was handed over without complaint or even an attempt to haggle, which was odd. He went in to get the meat and when he came out, he found both men looking at his wood shed. “Do you need some wood?”

“No, just…there are some odd marks on this shed. Do you know what caused them?”

Byleth looked at the marks they were referring too, scratches from Blue jumping up and down and it looked like Blue had clawed the backside of the shed, marking it as his. He took a breath and feigned disinterest, “No, it is an old shed, probably a deer rubbed on it.”

“Ah, that makes sense.” Sal replied.

“Is there anything we need to watch out for?” Fred asked, not looking at him. “Bears, wolves, and the like?”

Byleth hesitated, “Bears and wolves are always a danger, but you should not have to worry about them. Bears are focused on getting fat on fish right now and the two wolf packs have been north of here the last few days.”

He thought it may have been Blue that scared the wolf packs off, because he had not seen them in a while. “What about lions?” Sal asked.

“Lions?” Byleth felt his heart stop.

“I’ve heard tale of a lion wandering these woods.” Sal replied, watching him closely.

“There are many tales about these woods, but lions are not native here. If you see one, it will be a shock.” He prayed Blue stayed far from these two.

They all stared at each other and after a moment, Sal grinned, “Great, thank you for your help, Byleth.”

“Of course, safe travels.”

Byleth watched them returned to the woods and sat down. People have been talking about lions. It was exactly what he had feared. He shook his head at himself. It was silly to care for a wild animal, especially a wild animal who did not seem to particularly care for him in return, but he still did not want to see Blue turned into a rug or have his head mounted on the wall. He would just have to try and speak to Blue, see if the lion could understand the danger.

***

Later that afternoon, Blue walked back into the clearing and jumped up on his shed. Byleth hesitated a moment and then walked over to him. Blue gave a low growl and his tail flicked dangerously. “Blue, I need to talk to you.”

Blue’s tail kept flicking, but he stopped growling. “You need to be careful. People are talking about you. Two travelers came by and heard tale of a lion. If such a thing reaches his Lordship, he may want your skin and there will be nothing I can do to stop it.”

Blue’s ears flicked to him and it was clear the lion was listening. “Lord Fraldarius is a good Lord, but I don’t think he will care that you are my pet.”

Blue snorted and shook his mane. “I am serious, Blue. Be careful.”

Blue looked at him and then yawned. He put his head down and closed his eyes. Apparently, this conversation was over.

Byleth sighed. He had done the best he could, but he could not control a lion. He would just have to hope that Blue was smart enough to stay away from other people, especially those two travelers.

Chapter Text

Byleth was sitting on his doorstep watching the stars. He should have been enjoying the peaceful night, but he was still concerned about everything that had happened earlier that week. He knew he would not rest easy until he was sure that Sal and Fred were gone or he found out what they really wanted. He had a feeling that that was Blue and he had no intention of helping them find the lion. Blue was not particularly nice, but he still had a soft spot for him.

Suddenly, he heard a noise. It sounded like something heavy had fallen into one of the bushes. He knew it was not Blue, the lion left in the evenings and he could not think of any animal that would be so careless at night. He listened and heard it again, the rustling of the bushes and twigs snapping under the weight of heavy creatures inexperienced at walking in the woods at night. He went into his cabin, grabbed his sword, and doused the fire. The cabin had been slightly illuminated by fire place, but he knew this clearing and these woods far better than whoever was coming for him. He was not concerned about the dark.

As his eyes quickly adjusted to the night, he could make out the shape of five men on the edge of the clearing. He stayed still and waited. He wondered if those two men from earlier were among these five or if they were sent by them. As both sides waited, one of the five grew impatient. “You will pay for what you did Huntsman.”

He stayed silent, unsure of what the man was talking about. “Thievery may be a crime, but so is murder.”

Byleth had not murdered anyone, but he did not answer them either. “We never thought you capable of such cruelties, running them down with a pack of dogs.”

Blue must have killed some bandits and these five were seeking revenge. Byleth wanted to curse. He had noticed that while Blue had killed men before, he did not eat them, which would make it obvious a normal wild animal was not involved. Byleth figured that they had found one of their fallen comrades and followed Blue’s tracks right back here. He sighed, but knew he had no other course of action. He moved forward, as slowly as he could, using the shadows to cover for him. “Yo-”

The man was cut off as Byleth’s sword sliced through his stomach. He actually did have permission to kill any poachers or bandits who fought back and this was not the first time he killed. He may have been outnumbered, but these, now four, men were not as experienced with the forest or the night. The other men cursed when they realized he was already among them. He quickly drove his blade into the nearest man while they were still confused and unsure of his location.

Byleth turned, ready to face down a third, when a mighty roar came from behind his cabin. He did not have time to even flinch when Blue went charging past him and pounced on a man, killing him with a single snap of his jaws. The two remain men screamed and fled, but Blue followed them into the forest. He heard one scream and then soon another.

Byleth waited there, panting as he stared at the three dead men. He would report the two he killed to the guards in the morning. He considered what to do about the other three. He could move them into the forest and leave them to rot, but that did not sit right with him. He decided that he would move them into the forest and then ‘discover’ them in a few days and report them as victims of an animal attack. It was true enough.

He looked up when he heard a noise, tightening his grip on his sword, but it was just Blue, returning to the clearing. He could smell the blood on Blue and moved closer. “Are you hurt?”

The lion shook his head. Byleth nodded and hurried back to the cabin, grabbing a candle so he could actually see. He examined the three men in the clearing, but did not recognize them. “Lead me to the other two you killed.”

He followed Blue and sighed after he examined both men. “The two I spoke too aren’t here.”

Blue looked at him. Byleth did not get many visitors at his cabin, seven in less than a week was very odd. “I don’t know if they are connected, but it just seems like too unlikely those two would show up and then these five.”

He thought about it, but then he realized that the two were asking about a lion while these five assumed he was the one killing the bandits with a dog. They may not have been related, but he had no way to be sure. The entire affair was very frustrating and he sighed again. He looked at Blue who had blood all over his muzzle. It was Blue’s careless actions that had caused this, but he had to remind himself that Blue was a lion. He did not know any better. “You need to be careful, Blue. Those men earlier were asking about you and these men tried to kill me because they think I am using you to murder them. You are going to get us both killed.”

Blue looked uncomfortable. “I am serious Blue, you need to be more cautious. I do not want anything to happen to you or to me.”

Blue looked away, but his ears were back. It was probably the most regretful he had seen the lion look. He was not necessarily against dead bandits. The bandits had done a lot of awful things to the people around here, but Blue needed to be more careful. If he continued to kill them and leave tracks coming to the cabin, eventually the bandits would return. “Come on, I need to take care of these bodies.”

He moved the three Blue killed further into the woods, until he was unlikely to smell them as he waited a few days before reporting them. He then took the other two and wrapped them before sticking them in his shed to wait until morning. Byleth sighed once the grim work was done and he looked at Blue. In the dark, he could not get a read on what the lion was thinking, but he had remained by Byleth’s side this entire time. He then thought of something. “How did you get here so fast?” It had been mere minutes after the attack when Blue showed up.

Blue put his ears back again and Byleth considered it for a moment. Blue had come from behind the cabin and he did not think they were loud enough to be heard in the forest on the other side. He went in that direction and looked at the grass behind his home, right next to the chimney. It was crushed in form of a large circle. “Have you been sleeping here?”

He knew Blue left in the evenings, but he did not know that the lion had been returning at some point after dark. Blue looked embarrassed, but Byleth could understand why he would prefer to be by the chimney. The nights had been getting cold and chimney gave off some heat.

He considered the possibility of inviting Blue in. Blue frequently growled at him, but except for when he was in the trap, he never actually lunged at Byleth. He could not see Blue attacking him while he slept. Not to mention, that while this was mostly Blue’s fault, the lion had also rushed to his rescue, and he was grateful for the support. “I am thankful you were there, but you don’t have to sleep out here. Come on.”

He led Blue into the cabin. The lion hesitated at the door and looked inside, examining everything. Byleth watched him and after a long moment, Blue entered. The cabin was not large, but it had been big enough for him and his father and it was not too tight with Blue. He grabbed an old blanket and some of his furs and spread them out in front of the fire place. “This should be more comfortable.”

Blue sniffed the blanket and furs and then settled down on top of them. Byleth reached out and earned a soft growl. “Sorry.”

Blue stared at him and then looked away with his ears back. After a moment, the lion put his head down and closed his eye with a heavy sigh. Byleth got up and left Blue alone. He had to remember that Blue was not a pet.

Chapter Text

Byleth watched the line as it floated in the small creek that ran along one edge of the clearing. It should have been a relaxing afternoon. His father had taught him how to fish and they had spent many hours indulging in the activity, but his thoughts were troubled. Byleth had only been able to find two of the men Blue had killed two weeks before. He had been able to find a single leg, left behind, but he could not find the bones. He figured an animal had dragged it off for a meal, but it still upset him. He knew there were plenty of bodies hidden in the forest, but it was unsettling knowing he was responsible for one of these missing people. Part of him hoped that he would find it one day, but that part also hoped that only bones would be left at that point.

He glanced up when he heard a grunt and saw Blue was heading over to him. They had settled into a new peace. Blue would sleep in front of the fire place and did not spend all of his time on the shed’s roof, which Byleth appreciated and he shared his food with the lion. It still surprised him when Blue would actually come over to him as if they were spending time together. He was not allowed to touch the lion except for healing a wound, but Byleth enjoyed having company.

Blue sat down near him and Byleth was about to say something when he felt a pull on his line. It took just a couple quick tugs before he landed the fish. He had already caught a few and so held it out to Blue, “Do you want it?”

The lion sniffed at it and, after a moment, took it reluctantly. Byleth snorted, “You are the most spoiled lion in the Kingdom. I don’t know what you would have done if I wasn’t here to supply you with cheese and cooked meats.”

Blue snorted in returned and started to eat his fish, picking at it delicately.

“You should be grateful. I was thinking about moving to the castle and I couldn’t keep you a secret there.” Byleth said, as he put more bait on his line.

Blue made a noise. Byleth looked over at him and saw the lion staring at him. “Ah, why was I moving there? Well, living out here was great when my father was alive. I got to run around all day, learned sword fighting and hunting, and just enjoyed life.”

He looked at his pole, “And then my father died and suddenly the silence became overwhelming. I thought it might be nice to live in the castle, come out here during the day and go back to the castle and have people around at night.”

The lion huffed again and when Byleth glanced at him, he cocked his head. “Why didn’t I go?” Byleth shrugged, “I don’t really know anyone in the castle. What if I was absolutely miserable there? After my mother died, my father found peace living here, something he could never find among other people. Plus, now I have you.”

Blue snorted and Byleth smiled, “You are a mean and smelly lion, but you aren’t bad company.”

Blue grumbled at the words but he did not leave either. Instead he approached the edge of the water and started to watch the fish. “If you get wet, you will regret it.”

They were firmly in fall now and the water that ran from the mountains was cold. It was pleasant in the summer, but not now. Blue ignored him and watched the fish in the creek. He almost looked like a normal cat like that. Byleth had always liked cats, there were a few in the castle who would come up and let him pet them, but his father had refused to get a pet. Once, they had an impossibly old horse when he was little. It did not do much but graze, but his father refused to sell it or do anything with it, just allowed it to live out its days in peace. He remembered the way his father cried when they found the horse dead one day and he refused any other pets after that.

Suddenly, Blue reached out with his paw and slapped the water, bringing up a fish impaled on his claws. Byleth swore the cat wore a smug look as it dropped the fish by Byleth. “Yes, alright, you can catch fish, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be grateful. I know you prefer cooked meat.”

He was pretty sure Blue stuck out his tongue at him on purpose as he walked away and jumped up on the woodshed for a nap. Byleth shook his head but went back to fishing with a smile. He was not lying; Blue was good company even if he really was a mean smelly lion.

***

He was sitting at the doorway of his cabin, watching the stars when he saw Blue wander in from the forest. Blue still went out for runs and to hunt. Byleth did not know what he hunted since the only thing he brought back was the blood on his muzzle, but he hoped Blue was being smart and leaving people alone.

He gave Blue a wave and Blue shook his head in response. He sat down near Byleth and looked up at the stars as well.

“If you had come a few months earlier, the Lion constellation would still be in the sky.” His father used to point out the constellations to him, telling him stories. He loved those night, when the air was cold and so his father would hold him close and point out the different shapes in the stars. The memories were bittersweet now, but he still enjoyed the night sky.

The lion snorted and Byleth glanced at him. “Do you know about the constellations? I suppose I should not be surprised by that.”

Blue really was the smartest beast he had ever met. He could not talk, but there were times when Blue felt more like a man than an animal. He understood why lions were the symbol of the royal family if they were all like Blue.

“Are you lonely Blue?”

He felt Blue’s gaze on him. “Well, you are the only lion here, you must miss having other lions around.”

Blue laid down and seemed to consider that for a moment before nodding. “I understand. It is a shame that lions aren’t smaller, if you were, I could try to either sneak you out of here or another lion in.”

The lion looked startled and then shook his mane. “No? You are fine with just me as company?” Blue snorted and put his head back on his paws.

Byleth smirked, “I am going to take that as a compliment. I like you too, Blue.”

Blue grumbled at him in response. Byleth ignored that and turned his attention back to the sky. “So, do you just know the Lion constellation or do you know more of them?”

Blue looked at him. “Well, is the Pegasus up there?”

The lion nodded. “What about the sea snake?”

The lion shook his head. “That is pretty good Blue. Do you know their stories?”

Blue looked at him for a long moment and then shook his head again.

“Well…”

Chapter Text

Byleth heard a groan and looked over to see Blue stretching as he got up from his spot in front of the fireplace. It was funny, there were times when Blue felt more like a man than a beast, but then he would do a stretch like this and reminded Byleth of the cats at the castle. The lion then shook his head and looked over at him.

Byleth held out one of the carrots he was preparing for pickling, but the lion refused it. He never knew what foods were going to interest Blue, but he was never particularly enthusiastic about vegetables. He returned it to the pile and felt Blue’s gaze still on him.

He looked up and saw Blue was sitting by the door. When it was warmer, he left the door open for Blue, but as they got closer to winter, the door had to stay shut. Blue had been put out by that at first, but once Byleth proved he would open it on Blue’s request, even when the lion was asking to go out or come back in multiple times an hour, he accepted it. “Going for your run?”

Blue nodded. Blue did not leave the clearing, or even cabin as much as he used to, but he still enjoyed his afternoon runs. Byleth got up and opened the door for him, “Alright, see you at dinner tonight.”

The lion huffed in reply and wandered outside.

***

Byleth knew it was sunrise, though clouds covered the view. He had not slept at all last night. Blue had not returned. He had waited all night, even leaving the door open, hoping his lion would wander in. He picked up his sword and examined the clouds above. They were dark and heavy and he knew it was going to be a nasty storm. He had to head out now if he was going to find either Blue or Blue’s tracks.

He searched for almost an hour, calling the lion’s name after being unable to locate any tracks. The lion had done a good a job at covering them and he wanted to curse Blue for actually being careful for a change. Suddenly, he heard the jingle of horses and he came upon a couple of the Duke’s guardsmen. They looked grim and serious, but they quickly recognized him. “Greetings, Forester.”

“Greetings.”

“What are you doing calling like that?”

He thought quickly, “My dog went missing last night.”

“Ah, I am sorry to hear that, but, unfortunately, we need to inform you of some terrible news. Lord Fraldarius is dead.”

“What?” Byleth asked shocked. He did not know Lord Fraldarius, but he knew the man was not particularly old and had not heard any rumors of him being ill. “How?”

“He was murdered yesterday.”

Murdered, they would not use that word if he was killed by an animal. “Murdered? That is awful. Did they catch the murderer?”

“Yes, she was struck down immediately.”

Some of the fear in his gut went away, it was confirmed that a woman and not an animal who killed the Duke. “That is shocking. He was a great Lord. It is hard to believe anyone would want to harm him.”

The guard leaned in, watching him closely. “I hear she was aiming for someone else and hit the Duke instead.”

He shook his head and said, “I am very sorry to hear that. May he walk by the Goddess’s side.”

The guard looked at him for another moment and then relaxed, “Indeed, we are scouting the forest, in case she had allies. Have you seen anything?”

“Nothing, the forest has been fairly silent these last few months, but if I do, I will let you know.”

“Thank you Forester and I am sorry to bring you such bad news.” The guard said, seeming truly regretful, “What does your dog look like? We will be searching these woods for a while yet. If we see him, we will let you know.”

“He is a large hound, tan, but not particularly friendly. If you do see him, I’d appreciate you letting me know.” He shook hands with the guards, hoping they did not see Blue, and parted from them.

He hesitated and returned to his cabin. He did not know what to think, but there was a part of him the dreaded that Blue might have been involved somehow. He could not imagine how, but it was too strange that Blue disappeared the same night that the Duke was killed. A girl had killed the Duke, though, and the guards had been confident about that. Perhaps it was just coincidence, but he doubted it. With people searching the woods though, he could not continue to search. He would just hope that Blue would be alright and stay hidden for now.

***

Byleth considered his plans for tomorrow as he paced. He would search the southern part of the woods and set out the smelliest cheese he had to see if that would draw Blue home. He was hopeful the guards would be finished with their search in the morning, and he could go out to look for Blue without risking stumbling across one of them.

He stopped when he heard something outside. It was hard to hear over the rain, but then he heard it again, a low, pained moan. He ran outside and was shocked by the sight before him. There was Blue, bleeding from a gash in his side and looking absolutely defeated, his ears pinned back and his head low.

“Blue, what happened?” He asked as he rushed to the lion’s side.

The lion shook his head and buried his face into Byleth’s stomach, almost knocking the man over. Byleth was shocked, but after hesitating for a moment, wrapped his arms around his lion’s head and stroke the soaked and matted mane. “Oh Blue.”

Blue moaned again and Byleth held him tight, feeling the sadness radiating from him. He did not know what happened, but something was very wrong. The rain was cold though and he knew they could not linger in it any longer. “Let’s go inside.” He said gently.

Blue remained where he was for a long moment, before pulling back with a nod. He followed Byleth inside and sat by the entrance, looking as though he was unsure of his welcome. Byleth knelt down and examined the wound on Blue’s side. It was not fresh, but the rain and movement had caused the scab to break and begin to bleed again.

He sighed and then began to tend to it. It was not bad, thin and shallow, as if made by a knife, but he could not imagine who would attack a lion with a knife. He thought about the murder of the Duke. The guards did not say how he was killed and Byleth hoped his attacker was not wielding a knife. Once he was done, Blue put his face in Byleth’s stomach again. He sat down and Blue got as close to him as he could. He did not actually sit on Byleth’s lap but Blue’s front legs were around his torso and it felt like a hug. Byleth returned the hug as best he could, wrapping his arms around Blue and gently stroking his head.

He could feel Blue shaking and it pained him to see his proud lion brought so low. He did not know what had broken Blue’s heart, but he wished there was something he could do to ease the pain. He heard soft whimpers and tightened his hold.

Eventually, Byleth’s damp, cold clothes got to him and he slightly pulled away from Blue. “Let me dry us off.”

Blue shifted so Byleth could get up and he quickly got a set of towels, first drying himself and then turning his attention to Blue. He took his time with the lion, working over his thick mane, carefully dabbing around the healing wound, gently going over his body and healing any tiny nicks and cuts Byleth found as he went. Blue quietly tolerated his attention, stretched out on the floor. He made a noise every once in a while, but Byleth was sure it was not a physical wound that caused him pain. Eventually he was finished and threw the towel in the corner. “I am sorry Blue, for whatever happened, but I’m glad you are back…I was so worried about you.”

The lion huffed at him and rubbed his face against Byleth’s. Blue had never done that before, but Byleth had seen the cats in the castle do it to each other. He put his arms around Blue and gently rubbed back. Then, Blue put his head on Byleth’s shoulder and he held the lion for as long as he could.

Eventually, the lack of sleep from the night before began to catch up to him and he realized he was falling asleep on Blue. “Forgive me, but I need sleep.”

Blue looked up at him and then shifted so Byleth could stand again. He quickly readied himself for bed and when he turned around, he was surprised to see Blue laying on the bed, his back turned towards him. Blue had never gotten on the bed before, usually content to his blankets by the fireplace. Byleth considered this for a moment, but when he heard another small whimper, he accepted it and climbed into bed next to the lion.

Blue shifted until they were pressed up against each other, almost spooning, and Byleth wrapped his arms around him and buried his face in Blue’s mane. Blue had a musty smell, but he also smelled of the forest and, oddly enough, of magic and Byleth found he did not mind it as much as he thought he would. It helped that Blue’s fur was soft and he was very warm.

“Good night Blue.” He whispered into Blue’s ear.

Blue whimpered and Byleth knew that if lions could cry, he would be. Byleth tightened his hold on the lion and hoped that tomorrow would be easier.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Byleth slowly woke up. The sun was already high in the sky, but he had gone to bed far too late last night and had barely slept the night before. His pillow slowly rose and he realize he was lying on top of Blue. He looked at the lion who clearly had been awake for a while. Blue turned to him when he realized Byleth was up and he saw the same heartbreak in Blue’s eye. He reached out and gently stroke the lion’s cheek. “What happened Blue? What can I do?”

He knew Blue could not answer such a complicated answer but the lion rolled over and pressed up against him. Byleth wrapped his arms around Blue’s neck and buried his face into the lion’s mane, smelling that strange combination of musk and magic. If this was what Blue needed, he could do it. He would do it for as long as Blue allowed.

They laid in bed together for most of the morning, dozing and cuddling. Byleth had never been one to just stay in bed after he woke up. There was usually too much to do but he was willing to indulge just this once.

Eventually, his need for breakfast was too great and he was forced from the bed, earning a grumble from Blue. Blue followed him, keeping close to his side as he prepared a light breakfast for them. It was a little odd having the lion pressed up against him, but he also welcomed it. He was finally able to freely touch him, which he frequently did, resting a hand on his shoulder or absentmindedly running his fingers through his mane. He had to fight down his feelings of happiness, knowing how sad Blue actually was. He would have rather Blue be happy than needing this comfort.

As soon as breakfast was done, Blue returned to the bed and grunted at him. “No work for today?” Byleth asked as he joined him.

Blue snuggled against him and he felt him shake his head. Byleth pressed his face against Blue and nodded, “Just for today.”

Blue wrapped his paws around him and pulled him into what felt like a hug. He listened to the lion’s steady heartbeat and closed his eyes.

***

It was a quiet couple of weeks as Blue grieved and Byleth supported him. It was challenging since the only real cure for grief was time, but Byleth did his best to at least stay close to him, hunting by the cabin and keeping his trips to the castle short. He remembered how devastatingly lonely the cabin was when his father died and he did not want Blue to know that feeling. The lion mostly stayed at the cabin, sleeping and following Byleth around, though he would go out once a week to run in the forest, which was a relief for Byleth. As much as he enjoyed having Blue around, it was good to see him going out and he thought the exercise would help. Slowly, Blue began to brightened and became a friendlier version of his old self.

Byleth was sharpening his sword when he found himself with a face full of lion’s mane as Blue nuzzled him and rubbed their faces together. He smiled and rubbed back. Blue then flopped over on his side, putting his large head in Byleth’s lap, and demanding a head scratch. It surprised Byleth to realize just how affectionate and cuddly Blue could be, often rubbing himself on Byleth and allowing Byleth to cuddle and stroke him. They continued to share a bed at night. Blue was large and smelly, but Byleth did not realize how much he enjoyed having someone else there at night.

There were still some quirks about Blue. He only liked having his head, shoulders, and the front half of his back touched. He would pull away if Byleth’s hands went too far down his back and he did not like having his sides or stomach touched, but the man respected that. He was just happy Blue allowed Byleth to pet him, if he had certain spots he did not wish to be touched, Byleth would make sure to avoid them.

After a few minutes of running his fingers through the lion’s mane, getting some of the knots out, Blue eventually rolled off him, stretching in the sun. “I forgot to tell you, I need to head to the castle tomorrow.”

Blue looked at him with a cock of his head. He had gone to the castle only two days ago and it was usually a week before visits. “I need to swear to the new Lord.”

It sounded very fancy, but when he was first sworn into his position, it was actually one of the secretaries who did it. He had little doubt one of them would see that he renewed his contract to the new Lord Felix Fraldarius. Blue put his ears back at the news. “Don’t worry, it will only take the afternoon. I will probably be back before sunset.”

Blue looked troubled at the news but, suddenly, turned his attention to the woods. Byleth watched as Blue’s ears flicked and after a moment, the lion fled into the cabin. Byleth was concerned about that, but hoped it was just a sign of people visiting. As far as he could tell, Blue had gotten better about not approaching or attacking strangers so he hoped these visitors just needed some food or directions. He brushed himself off and quickly began to work on his sword again, to appear busy.

After a few minutes, he heard footsteps and was surprised by who he saw. It was Sal and Fred, though they looked different from their last visit. They both looked exhausted and Fred, in particular, seemed upset about something. “Good afternoon.” Sal said, approaching.

“Greetings.”

They looked at each other and he was about to ask what they wanted and why they had returned when he heard footsteps coming from his cabin. “Stop Blue!” He ordered, but it was too late. The lion was out the door and walking towards them.

His grip tightened on his sword, ready to attack, but Blue calmly approached, rubbing himself on Byleth before sitting between him and the others. All three men stared at the lion for a long moment before Sal said, “Blue. huh.”

Blue huffed and Byleth did not know what to think. Sal glanced at Byleth and eventually asked, “I..hmmm…how long as…Blue been staying here?”

He looked at Blue who nodded. “Almost three months.”

“Ah. We were wondering.”

“You know Blue?”

“You could say that.”

Byleth looked at them, “Why did you come back here?”

Sal hesitated and then said, “We were passing through and I was hoping for some more of that delicious jerky.”

That was obvious a lie, but he looked at Blue who nodded again. “Sure, 2 gold coins.”

Sal either did not remember the price last time or did not care because he handed the gold over without complaint. They were definitely nobles. He pocketed the gold and Sal followed him as he went to get the dried rabbit meat. Out of the corner of his eye, Byleth saw Blue approach Fred and the man went down on one knee and whispered in his ear. Blue seemed relaxed so he allowed Sal to come with him. It was his chance to finally learn something about Blue.

“How long have you known Blue?”

“A while.” Sal admitted. “We knew he was in this forest, but we hadn’t realize he found someone here.”

“What is his real name?”

Sal went quiet for a moment, “Never had one, so I think Blue is just fine, but how did you find Blue?”

He told Sal the story of finding Blue in the trap and deciding to release him. “I probably should have killed him, but it seemed like a shame.”

Sal nodded, “Yeah…wow…yeah, I really appreciate that you didn’t kill him. Has he given you any trouble?”

Byleth shrugged, “In the beginning he was…a bit testy…but he is friendly now.”

“Testy, huh? I guess that is a word for it.” Sal said with a slight smile.

“Do you know how he got in this forest?” Byleth asked.

“…No, I don’t.”

“Ah, how did you meet him?”

“We bumped into him one day. As you said, it was a shock to see a lion in these woods.”

Byleth fought down a blush but did not deny it. He had not lied to them, but he was misleading. “So now what?”

Sal shrugged, “He continues living in your cabin? We can’t exactly get him out of these woods and he is probably better off here. As long as you are willing.”

“He is welcomed.”

Sal smiled, the first real smile he had all day. “Good, thank you for that, but if you could do me a favor?”

“What do you need?”

“If anything happens to him, could you try to send word to me? I…just need to know that our lion friend is alright.”

Byleth nodded, “How would I do that?”

“I am friends with some of the guards at the castle, if you tell them you have a message for Sal. They will be able to get it to me.”

Byleth nodded and they shook hands. “Thank you, I really appreciate it.” Sal said.

They turned and walked back to were Fred and Blue were. Fred was leaning his head against Blue’s mane, but he suddenly pulled away, wiping his eyes. “Let’s go.”

Sal gave Byleth a guilty look and nodded, “Of course, thank you for the jerky! Blue, be good.”

Blue yawned at him and sat down next to Byleth. Sal snorted and then hurried off to follow his friend. Byleth crouched down and put his arm around Blue, leaning into his shoulder. “So were you a nobleman’s pet before running off?”

Blue look sharply down at him and then shook his head indignantly. “I will take that as a no.”

Blue nudged him and he looked up at the Lion who cocked his head, “Your friends are nobles. I can tell that. The red head had no idea dried rabbit should be no more than 2 silver coins and they didn’t even try to barter. Even the richest merchants will always try to barter for a better price.”

Blue snorted and coughed, which Byleth had always took to be his laughter. “But is it safe that they know you are here? I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

Blue nuzzled him. Byleth smiled and, as the scent of magic lingering on Blue got stronger, said, “Yes, Blue, I love you too.”

Chapter Text

He draped the blanket around Blue’s shoulders and checked to see how it would fit him. It did not cover his hind quarters very well, but it would be better than nothing until Byleth was able to buy some new fabric. He tied the string he stitched on one side and admired how it looked. The blanket was old and worn, but Blue wore it well. “You look very handsome in that.” He informed Blue, who puffed out his chest at the words.

“But I will try to get some new fabric.” Blue cocked his head at him.

“You need a proper cloak for winter, but I think this will work until I can get it.” Winter was almost here. Snow had started to fall overnight, though it would melt by noon. Unfortunately, it was still too cold for Blue, with his thin fur and Byleth wanted him to be comfortable.

Blue made a huffing sound and jumped up on Byleth, resting his front paws on Byleth’s shoulders. Blue looked at him for a long moment and then rubbing their lips together. It was a strange sensation and the scent of magic made his nose itch. He pulled back and pushed the lion off him.

The lion's ears went back and he flopped over in front of the fire. Byleth was not sure what had come over the lion, but he had become oddly needy since the visit of his two friends. He was constantly rubbing his face against Byleth, but more peculiarly, attempting to rub their lips together. He had never jumped up on Byleth before, and the more he thought about it, the more it felt like a kiss. If Blue had been a man, it would have been a kiss.

“Blue.” He said softly and Blue looked over at him. “Could you come here?”

Blue sighed and walked over, placing his massive head in Byleth’s lap. He looked down into that one blue eye which stared at him with such intent. He scratched behind Blue’s ear which made him sigh and close his eye. “Do you…” He started before trailing off, it was a stupid thing to ask.

The lion nudged him with his nose and Byleth sighed, “Have you been trying to kiss me?”

Blue immediately sat up and nodded. “Do you want me to kiss you?

He nodded again. “Why?”

Blue grunted his annoyance and Byleth scratched his ear in apology, it was too complicated a question. “Will something happen if I kiss you?”

The lion looked pensive for a moment and shrugged. “Maybe…does it have to be on the lips?”

Blue nodded for a third time.

Byleth sighed and then said, “Just this once, alright?”

Blue chuffed at him and rubbed his head into Byleth’s chest, almost dancing around with excitement. Byleth smiled and stroked his mane. If it made Blue that happy, a single kiss was worth it. Then, Blue jumped up, resting his paws on either side of him. He lifted the lion’s chin, looking into that excited eye. He took a breath, closed his eyes, and gently pressed a kiss to the lion’s lips. The scent of magic filled the room, and when he tried to open his eyes, a gold light blinded him. After a few moments, the light faded and a naked man was standing over him.

He let out a yelp and punched him, scrambling back and looking around for his lion.

“Wait, Hunter! It is me; it is Blue.” The man said, holding his jaw with one hand and reaching out with other one. The man was large, with shaggy blond hair and a single blue eye with the same scar over the missing one.

“Blue is a lion.” He argued anyway, grabbing a knife since his sword was too far.

“No, Blue was never a real lion, I was cursed to be a lion, please.” The naked man replied desperately.

The words were crazy, but everything about this situation was crazy and it was hard to argue with him while looking into his eye. It was Blue’s eye. He kept the knife in his hand, “Explain.”

“…could I have some clothes first?”

It was a fair request, but Byleth did not have much available. His father’s clothes would have fitted the strange man, but most of that was gone now, turned to rags or eaten by moths. He eventually found a pair of trousers that almost fit and Blue’s blanket for his shoulders. The man struggled with getting the trousers on, obviously not used to standing on two legs.

Byleth hesitated and also gave him a cup of tea. He was still weary of the entire situation, but he also felt sorry for the man watching him from the table, looking at him with such hope. He was not sure why his lion was now a man, but he had a feeling it was an unpleasant story. He even put the knife away as he sat on the other side of the table.

The man stared at the tea and hesitantly grabbed it. He lifted it and smiled to himself. He then tilted the cup and, obviously without thinking, lapped at the tea. Byleth looked away, taking a sip from his own cup, when he heard a soft slurp as if the man remembered the way humans drank.

“So, who are you?” Byleth finally asked, breaking the silence.

The man’s cheeks were red and he sighed, “My name is Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd.”

Byleth stared at him “You are the Crown Prince?”

“Yes.”

Byleth sat back and then shook his head, “That doesn’t make sense, I have not heard the Prince was missing.”

“It was a secret. With everything that happened after the Tragedy of Duscur, we did not want more turmoil. No one knows I was cursed besides the Duke of Fraldarius and a few of my friends.”

“But how did they hide it?”

“It is easy to keep people at a distance when you're royalty and if I did need to make a public appearance, a little magic and having Dedue, my retainer, stand next to the body double convinced people that he was me.”

It made sense why Dimitri never became King, the man currently sitting on the throne was not actually him. Suddenly, Byleth thought of something else. “So Sal and Fred are really?”

“Sylvain Jose Gautier and Felix Hugo Fraldarius.” Dimitri cleared his throat and then said, “I was very impressed you figured out that they were nobles so quickly.”

“They were not particularly good at poising as poor people.”

“I will be sure to rub that in their faces later.”

Byleth fought down a smile, “So why were you cursed?”

Dimitri sighed and looked down. “I was not well after the Tragedy, I watched almost everyone I loved get slaughtered so cruelly and I had been stabbed and left for dead. It changed me. I raged horribly, was cruel and nasty, and I needed help. Rather than assist me, though, a witch cursed me, said if I was going to act like a beast, I should be a beast.”

“That does not seem helpful.”

“It was not, we realized later Cornelia was involved with the Tragedy, but it was too late, she had turned me into a lion. The only way I would be able to turn back is if I got a kiss from someone who loved the beast.”

“I…didn’t love Blue romantically.” Byleth said uncomfortably.

“I know, do not worry.” Dimitri replied, “It did not have to be romantic. We actually tried my friends at first for that very reason, but it did not work. It took us a while to realize that the person had to actually love me as a lion and just as the lion, and my friends did not love the lion. They just wanted me, the man, back.”

“That is why your friends wouldn’t tell me your real name.” Byleth said, finally understanding the tricky situation Blue or Dimitri had been in.

“Yes, they could not risk it.”

“If you were trying to find someone to love you as a beast…why were you such a jerk when I first met you?”

Dimitri smiled, “I had given up at that point. We had been trying for five years and found no one. I was just angry at everything.”

“Wait, have you been here for five years then?” Byleth asked, startled and confused on how he missed a creature like Blue for so long.

“No, I actually came here six months ago. I was moved to this forest because it was larger and less populated than the Royal forest and people were trying to hunt me there. I think Rodrigue was hoping, given some time, I would calm down.”

Byleth hummed, “Rodrigue…you mean…”

“The Duke yes.”

“His death then…”

“Was my fault.”

“Dimitri.” Suddenly, he realized that he probably should have been using Dimitri’s title, but the man had not complained.

“No, it really was. The girl who killed him was aiming for me. She was… connected to one of the bandits we killed that night. I think she was related to the body you were not able to find.” Byleth felt sick. He knew the missing bandit was going to be an issue, he just wished the Duke had not been killed because of it.

“She was seeking revenge. She saw Rodrigue talking to me and flew into a rage.” Dimitri closed his eyes, “I saw a lot of myself in her that day.”

The Prince went silent for a moment and Byleth could almost hear the thoughts racing through his mind. Then the other man shook his head and continued, “Rodrigue told me to go and find happiness and I realized that was here, in this little cabin with you. After that, I was determined to try and act decently. Quite frankly, it was the very least you deserved after saving my life and putting up with a grumpy lion for months. Then you told me you loved me and I cannot explain the agony of being so close to having the curse broken. But I needed you to kiss me.”

“Was that part of the spell?”

“I do not know if it was intentional, but lions physically cannot pucker their lips. I tried.”

Byleth couldn’t help but to chuckle at that. “Alright, that is why you kept rubbing our lips together. I had wondered.

“You will have to forgive me. At first, I was hoping I could kiss you, but when that did not work, I was hoping you might catch on.”

Byleth nodded, most of his questions answered, but he had one more. “Why did Lord Sylvain and Lord Felix keep coming here?”

“The first time, I think they followed me. The second time, I did it on purpose. I am supposed to meet with them weekly, but I didn’t go that day and they came here since they knew I was spending time here.”

“Why did you want that?”

“I wanted them to see that I was safe and doing better. I know I worried them a lot and they deserved to see that I was finally behaving.”

Byleth understood, “What now?”

“I am supposed to meet with them again in three days. If you don’t mind, I would appreciate being able to stay here until then.”

“Of course.”

“Could I ask you one thing, though?”

“What is it?”

“What is your name?”

It was a strange thought, that just like he did not trust Blue’s true name, Blue had not known his. “Byleth Eisner.”

“Byleth.” Dimitri said and then bowed, “Thank you Byleth, for everything.”

Chapter Text

It had been a long and awkward night. Even though Dimitri had been extremely polite and helpful, Byleth still felt out of sorts. He missed Blue. He missed leaning against him as they sat in front of the fireplace and curling up with him in bed, listening to his steady breathing. Blue’s fur was still all over the cabin and he had not convinced himself to pick up the furs in front of the fire Blue laid on. Perhaps it would have been easier if he had more space and time to think about it, but it was still a small cabin with a single room and single bed.

The thing that made it more difficult was that Blue was still there, inside of Dimitri. The man acted like him, had the same mannerisms, the same quirks, even in the way he moved. He had actually greeted Byleth that morning with a headbutt, just like Blue would have done. Dimitri had immediately apologized, obviously deeply embarrassed. Byleth did not mind since he knew the young man was struggling with this as well, but it still made him think of his lion.

He saw the way Dimitri looked at him, slightly hurt when he pulled away and yet desperately hopeful every time Byleth relaxed in his company and he felt a little guilty. He knew it was not Dimitri’s fault, he was real victim to the curse, but it was still challenging to get used to the fact his lion was now a handsome young man.

“I am done with the logs.” Dimitri said, walking over to Byleth, who picked up the bow he was supposed to be repairing.

“That was quick.” He said, looking at the large pile of wood in his shed. It was still scarred with Blue’s marks and he wondered if he would ever be able to look at it without seeing a lion sleeping on top of it. “Why did you spend so much time on the shed?”

“It was high up and right in the sun. It was a good spot to take a nap.” Dimitri replied, glancing back at it as well with a fond smile. “Is there something else I can do?”

“I thought the wood would take most of the day.” Byleth admitted. “Do you know much about arrows?”

The young man shrugged, “If you show me what needs to be done, I can assist you, but I have never crafted one.”

Byleth nodded, “It isn’t complicated.”

Dimitri sat down next to him and Byleth walked him through the steps of repairing the arrows. It was mostly sharpening the heads and checking for any signs of breaks, but a few needed their heads removed so they could be added to new shafts. Dimitri’s inexperienced showed, but the man was eager to learn and they soon settled into a comfortable silence. Byleth could not help but noticing how happy he seemed. He looked proud as each arrow passed Byleth’s inspection and the pile grew larger.

“You are enjoying yourself.”

Dimitri smiled, “I know it is work, but I have never done something like this before. It is…good to see what people do. Also, and I am a little embarrass to admit it, it is very nice to have thumbs again.”

Byleth actually laughed, “Alright, that is fair.”

“Oh and I would like to repair your woodshed.” He said, adjusting the makeshift eye patch. He did not talk about how he injured his eye, but he admitted to Byleth he would prefer a patch for it. It was not perfect and the fabric had a tendency to come untied in the back, but Dimitri seemed more comfortable with it on so it was worth scrapping a bit of old linen early.

“Repair it?”

Dimitri blushed, “It groaned under my weight a few times. It did not break, but I think I damaged it. I would like to repair it and make sure it survives the first heavy snow fall.”

Byleth had not realized, but shrugged, “You don’t have too, but I won’t say no either.”

“Thank you, it is the very least I can do.” Dimitri said beamed and once he finished the arrows, began working on the woodshed.

They worked for a few more hours, but as the sun began to set, Dimitri’s shivers became more noticeable. Byleth was able to redo the stitching on a shirt so it was large enough to fit Dimitri, but the shirt had been thin to begin with, so even with the blue blanket wrapped around his shoulders, he had to be cold. “Go inside, I will finish up here.”

“Is there anything else I can do to help?”

“You can start dinner.”

Dimitri’s cheeks were pink, “I am not particularly skilled at cooking, but if you have a recipe, I can follow it.”

“That is fine, just get some water on the fire.” Dimitri nodded and quickly headed inside.

Byleth sat back on his heels and looked up at the sky. He knew the other reason he was upset that Blue was now Dimitri. It meant Dimitri was going to have to go home soon. It was the right thing for both the Prince and country. He deserved to go home to his friends and loved one and the Kingdom needed their King back, but Byleth was going to miss having someone around. He already missed Blue and he had a feeling he would miss Dimitri as well.

***

It was two days later and Byleth kept waiting for Dimitri to head out. He hoped the man would say goodbye first, but noon past and he had not stopped working on the small shed. It had become a bit of a project for him, first he strengthened the post holding it up and then he began to replace the boards. Byleth had told him he did not have too, but Dimitri had insisted and seemed quite pleased with himself as he worked.

After another hour, Byleth finally approached. “It is after noon.” He told him.

“Mmm?” Dimitri hummed, as he pounded in another dowel.

“You are supposed to meet your friends.”

“Ah, right. I have thought about it and, if it is alright with you, I would prefer to have them come here.” Dimitri said his cheeks slightly red, from the cold or exertion, Byleth could not tell.

“Oh?”

“Quite frankly, while I appreciate the feet covering, I don’t think I will make it to our meeting spot with just rags on them.” Dimitri said looking at the literal rags that covered his feet, “You would think after spending five years running around on bare paws, my feet would be tougher, but they are not.”

Byleth nodded, “That is fine and you are welcomed to stay as long as you need too.”

Dimitri brightened, “I appreciate your hospitality and this will allow me to finish the shed, cannot leave it half finished.”

“Of course not, but here, since you are staying, you have worked through lunch.”

He handed Dimitri some bread, dried meat, cheese and one of the last fresh apples. Dimitri gave him a grateful smiled, “Thank you.”

It was two hours later that Sal and Fred or Lord Gautier and Lord Fraldarius appeared at the edge of his clearing. The Margrave gave him a friendly smile. “Byleth! Just the Master of the Forest I was hoping to…”

“Sylvain, he knows.” Dimitri said, coming from inside the cabin.

Gautier and Fraldarius stared for a long moment, before Gautier beamed, “Your..I mean..”

“Sylvain, he knows everything.”

“Oh, thank the Goddess.” He said with smile and pulled Dimitri into a tight hug, “I can’t believe it, Your Highness, you are back!”

“It is about time.” Fraldarius said, approaching the pair. He did not hug Dimitri, but did allow himself to be pulled into a hug.

Byleth enjoyed seeing Dimitri with his friends, but he knew this was the end of Dimitri’s time at the cabin and it hurt more than he realized. “And look at you, I might have gone for a cute girl, but getting a handsome Forester is not bad either.”

Dimitri went red, “It was not like that!”

“Oh no?” Gautier asked slyly, “How was the curse broken?”

Dimitri sputtered for a moment and then gave them a version of the truth, that Byleth had kissed his forehead and that was enough to break the spell. Byleth appreciated it. He really did not want people to know that he had kissed an animal on the mouth, even if it had been on the animal’s request.

Gautier shook his head, “I can’t believe it is over.”

“I know, I am still getting used to walking on two legs.” Dimitri replied, “I was hoping you could bring me some clothes and proper boots.”

“Here?” Gautier asked.

“Yes…I cannot go to the castle dressed like this.”

“We could sneak you in.” Fraldarius said.

“No, it would be better if you brought it out here.” The Prince replied.

Gautier looked at Dimitri for a long moment, before he smiled, “Yeah, we can do that.”

“Do I look like a delivery boy?”

“Hush, Felix.” Gautier said, “We can definitely bring it here. I’ll also send a message to Fhirdiad to let Ingrid, Dedue, and Gustave know you are back to normal. It would make more sense for you to show up with them rather than just us.”

“Sylvain-” Fraldarius began, but Gautier ignored him.

“As long as you don’t mind, Byleth. We would be imposing on you for at least another three weeks.”

“Three weeks?” Dimitri asked as confused as Byleth was. Fhirdiad was not that far from here.

“By the time I get around to writing the letter, getting a messenger, sending that messenger to Gustave, I think it will be three weeks.”

“Of course not, …uh…my Lord.” Byleth said, a part of him relieved that Dimitri would be around for a little longer.

“No, no, none of that. You broke the curse and saved His Highness, call us Sylvain and Felix.”

“You don’t get to decide that for me.” Felix grumbled, looking thoroughly exasperated and slightly confused, but he glanced at Byleth and shrugged, “Felix is fine though.”

He nodded and Sylvain grinned. “Perfect, we also bring some extra supplies for the castle. If you are going to have his Highness here for three weeks, you are going to need a lot more cheese.”

“Sylvain!”

Byleth smiled as Sylvain threw his arm around Dimitri again, “I even miss having you yell me.”

Dimitri grinned and it was clear how much he missed his friends. “That will not last long.”

“Sylvain.” Felix suddenly spoke up, “The letter.”

“Ah right, well you got a letter from Claude.” Sylvain said.

“What did it say?”

Sylvain and Felix looked at Byleth but Dimitri spoke up, “He knows about Cornelia.”

“Ah, well then, with Cornelia dead, Claude believes Faerghus should be stable, but he would appreciate your continued support.”

“Good, let him know that he has it.”

Sylvain nodded. “I’ll send him a message.”

As Byleth watched the three men continue to discuss things, he felt something relax inside him. As much as he missed Blue, this felt right. A little bittersweet, but it was still right. Dimitri needed to be human and he was not cruel enough to wish for Blue’s return. He was going to have to accept it if he was going to enjoy his last few weeks with Dimitri.

Chapter Text

It was two days later when Byleth heard the whiney of a horse as he was cleaning up after breakfast. He went outside and was surprised to find that Felix and Sylvain had returned, those this time they had horses, helping them with supplies. There were more items than Byleth would have expected for a three week stay, but he was grateful for them. He had not planned for two people this winter and he could use the extra supplies to bulk up his stores.

“Good morning!” Sylvain called out as he dismounted a handsome black horse.

“Midnight!” Dimitri suddenly gasped from behind Byleth and hurried over to the pair.

Sylvain smiled, “Your boy missed you.”

“And I missed him.” Dimitri replied, smiling softly as he scratched the horse’s head. The horse snorted and rubbed his head against the Prince. Byleth felt a pang as he remembered the way Blue used to do that to him, but he pushed the thoughts aside.

Felix snorted as he dismounted and then shoved a bundle into Dimitri’s chest. “Get dressed. I am tired of seeing you in rags”

“I will admit, I am ready for some proper boots.” Dimitri smiled as he took them and headed back to the cabin.

As they waited for Dimitri to change, they began to unload the horses. There were a large number of packages, including several bags of grain, and horse gear. “Is Midnight going to stay here?” Byleth asked, looking at the brushes and blankets.

“Yes, and this boy too.” Sylvain said, patting the packhorse that had been tied to Midnight. “If that is alright with you.”

Byleth considered it. “They are welcomed, but I don’t have a place for them to stay…unless…”

He looked at the woodshed. It was not very large, but it might be able to fit two horses. It had three sides and would protect them from the wind. “We could put them in there.”

“What about your firewood?” Felix asked.

“We will just need to move it and put it under a covering. It will only be for a few weeks. Though, it isn’t fenced; will that be an issue?”

“No, they were trained not to wander and, if need be, they can tie them.” Sylvain replied.

“Then, it is fine with me.”

After a few more minutes, Dimitri emerged from the cabin. The clothes were not what Byleth would have expected a prince to wear; simple and sturdy, but obviously well made. He looked less like a beggar and more like a guardsman. He was, quite frankly, very handsome.

“That is a lot better, Your Highness.” Sylvain said and then turned his attention to Byleth with a wink, “Doesn’t he look good in that?”

“Syl-” Dimitri started; his cheeks flushed.

“He does.” Byleth admitted, not quite looking at the other man.

“Anyway,” Felix said with a roll of his eyes, “we’ve also brought some food and gold.”

“That is appreciate.” Byleth said and led them into the cabin. It was not really designed to have four people, but Dimitri moved the two chairs from the fireplace to the table so everyone had a seat.

They opened the packages to reveal bread, cheese, eggs, vegetables, dried fruits, and other cooking supplies. “I didn’t bring meat since I know you hunt.” Sylvain said as they examined the different items. “But if you want pork, beef, or something like that, let me know.”

“That is fine, this is more than enough.” Byleth said going through everything. There were a number of spices as well and he was excited to try them.

There were also several bottles of liquid. Dimitri looked at one of them and snorted, “Really, wine?”

“I brought a few different kinds. Have you ever had wine, Byleth?”

“No, my father was more interested in whiskey.”

He had not been a big drinker, though he would have glass with his father every once in a while. However, once his father had passed away, he did not bother with alcohol. He still had a bottle of whiskey left in case of an emergency, but it was probably bad at this point.

“Well then, you will have to just try these and let me know which one is your favorite. Speaking of which.” Sylvain opened another package and revealed an array of sweets; candied peels, sugar drops, and what looked like chocolate. “Do you enjoy sweets?”

Byleth nodded, “Occasionally, yes.” He had tried candied peels and sugar drops before and in the winter, he would make maple syrup and freeze it in the snow. He had never tried chocolate before and was curious what it tasted like.

“Have one.”

Byleth examined the treats and looked Dimitri, “Which ones do you like?”

“I am not the biggest sweets person, but try the chocolate.”

He tried one and was surprised to find nuts inside. It was sweet, salty, and very tasty, “These are good.”

Sylvain grinned, “I will be sure to get more of that in the future.”

It was a bit uncomfortable being the only one eating, especially with Dimitri and Sylvain watching him so closely, so he offered the package to Felix, “Would you like one?”

“No, thank you. I don’t like sweets.”

“Ah.”

“I also brought some books for you.” Sylvain said after an awkward moment. “Something to do on these long winter nights.”

Byleth was not the strongest reader. His father had taught him letters, but they never had any books. It took Byleth a moment to figure out the word on the cover, “Poetry?”

“Just one book of poetry, but I thought it might be fun.” Sylvain said a wink, “His Highness is excellent at reciting it. One night, he should recite you some.”

Dimitri’s face was red again, “Really?”

“That might be interesting.” Byleth said, as Dimitri’s cheeks grew redder. “Did you recite a lot?”

“Ah, no…not really.”

Felix snorted at that, but suddenly said, “You have a nice blade.”

Byleth looked at his sword which was resting by the door, “It was my father’s, he spent quite a bit on it.”

“Do you know how to use it?”

“Felix.” Sylvain said.

“I do.” Byleth replied.

“Good, duel me.”

“Alright.”

“Come now, should you really be crossing blades with our new friend?” Sylvain asked, crossed about something.

Felix gave him an almost mischievous look. “When was the last time you’ve gone for a ride, Dimitri? You should go with Sylvain while we are sparring.”

Dimitri seemed conflicted but then said, “It would be nice to get back on Midnight, but we can just go around the clearing a few times.”

Sylvain shook his head and sighed. “Well, I guess that settles that.”

After they put the food away, they went back outside and Dimitri’s face lit up as he approached Midnight. It was obvious how much he missed his horse. He gracefully mounted Midnight and it was clear that he had ridden enough that even five years of being a lion had not overridden his muscle memory. The horse snorted and Dimitri’s smile was the largest Byleth had seen so far. It was a lovely smile.

Dimitri rode around the clearing twice to warm up and get used to being in the saddle again. When he approached them the second time, he was still grinning, “It is nice to be riding again.”

“If you want, you should take the trail, go down to the river.” Byleth said. Dimitri deserved to have some fun and he had a feeling Felix wanted to speak to him alone.

Felix nodded, “Go with him Sylvain, take Louis.”

Sylvain gave him a look, “I don’t know.”

“Go, I’m not going to murder him.” Felix replied firmly.

“Fine.” Sylvain grumbled, but he seemed more chipper when he got on one of the other horses and followed Dimitri out of the clearing.

They drew a circle on the ground to mark out their fighting area and then Felix turned to Byleth, “First to either be driven out of the circle or the first to a kill position? No first blood.”

Byleth nodded and drew his sword. They stood on opposite sides of the makeshift circle for a long moment before Felix rushed forward. Almost immediately, Byleth knew why Sylvain was concerned; Felix was incredibly skilled and he was not holding back. It had been a while since Byleth had a real sparring session, but as the fight continued, he felt himself fall into the familiar routine. He enjoyed sparring with his father and it was fun going against someone new, especially since that person was not actually trying to kill him. He watched Felix closely, looking for his weakness. Eventually, he realized his one advantage over Felix. The other man had been taught to fight by other nobles, who focused on how to fight honorably, not how to fight for survival. It was a very different fighting style and it gave him a small advantage as Felix ignored weak points that his father would not have. It was for that reason, that it was his sword resting in the kill position at the end of their bout.

Felix was smiling though, “Well fought.”

Byleth nodded and shook his hand, “Same to you.”

He led the young man to the well for some water and as they recovered, Byleth looked at Felix. There was something that had been bothering him about Blue and this was probably his best chance to learn the truth. “May I ask you something?”

“Yes.”

Byleth hesitated for a moment and then asked, “I…don’t mean this in a negative way, but why was I not told about Dimitri being in the forest? Or at least told there was lion in the forest and not to kill him?”

Felix shrugged, “It’s a good question and we did consider it, but we did not know you well enough. If it got out that we released a dangerous lion into the forest, we were worried a mob might come to kill him. We actually told Dimitri to stay away from everyone.”

Byleth considered that for a moment and nodded. He knew the local townsfolk had formed hunting parties in the past for wolves or bears who were maneaters, with or without the Duke’s approval. He could see them doing that for a lion. “That is fair.”

Felix smirked, “You have no idea how annoyed we all were when we realized that he was not only approaching people, but had approached the Master of the Forest. We just hoped you had not realized what was damaging your shed.”

“Oh, I knew, for the first month after I found him, he spent all his time on it, growling at me whenever I got too close.”

Felix snorted. “That figures.”

Eventually, Dimitri and Sylvain returned from the woods. Dimitri’s cheeks were flushed as he was laughing at something Sylvain said and his joy about getting to ride with a friend was clear to Byleth. Byleth waved to them and Dimitri's grin grew brighter as he waved back. He heard Felix mutter something next to him, but ignored that in favor of enjoying the sight of Dimitri truly happy.

“Everyone in one piece?” Sylvain called out to them.

Felix rolled his eyes, but he had an almost affectionate smile, “Indeed.”

“How was it?” Byleth asked Dimitri.

“Wonderful.” He said with a grin that looked almost boyish. “I had forgotten how much I enjoyed riding. How was sparring with Felix?”

Byleth could not help but to smile back, “It was fun, he is quite skilled.”

Dimitri seemed surprised by the answer, but nodded, “Well, I am glad you enjoyed yourself.”

Byleth nodded and looked at the horse standing near him, “We should get the shed ready for these two if they are staying.”

“Indeed. It will be easier with all four of us.” Dimitri said, giving Sylvain a look.

“Wait.” Sylvain started, but Felix smacked his shoulder.

“You are the one who decided to leave two horses here.”

Sylvain gave a heavy sigh, “Fine.”

Dimitri laughed, “Come now, once we are done, we can open one of the bottles you brought.”

Sylvain brightened at that and Byleth snorted his amusement. Moving the wood would be hard work, but it would be fun with these three with him.

Chapter Text

Byleth watched Louis as he grazed. It was a few days after Sylvain’s and Felix’s last visit and the horses had settled into their new home. Midnight seemed a little put out with his makeshift lean too, but he got over it as Dimitri fed him plenty of treats. Byleth was quickly growing fond of the horses. Midnight seemed calm for a stallion, but he was getting some greys on his muzzle, so Byleth had a feeling he might have just been old. The horse was sweet though, with the way he followed Dimitri around and leaned against him. Louis, on the other hand, tended to be on his own, picking at the last of the dying grass or nibbling at the grain that Sylvain and Felix had brought for them. He was a calm, but gentle gelding. Both of them were normal animals. Neither one had the weird intelligence of Blue and it was comforting to Byleth. It had been a long time since he had interacted with horses, but he vaguely remembered the lessons his father taught him.

He took a breath and slowly approached the horse. Louis lifted his head and flicked his ears towards him. Byleth stopped a few feet away and after a few minutes of watching each other, the horse approached with a swish of his tail. Byleth knew he was cheating since he brought a carrot and Louis was a bit of a glutton, but he was still pleased that the horse came to him.

Louis sniffed him; his ears still pointed forward. He did not have the same quality as Midnight. It seemed likely he was of standard breeding, but he reminder Byleth of his father’s horse with his soft brown coat and gentle eyes. Byleth hesitated and then gently stroked Louis’s face which he tolerated.

“As long as you are holding that carrot, Louis will let you do anything.”

Byleth turned and look at Dimitri, who seemed amused, “Was he one of yours?”

“No,” The Prince said approaching him, “I think he was a Fraldarius workhorse, probably for the guards, but I know his type. I have owned a few greedy horses over the years. Have you spent much time with horses?”

“My father had one, but it died when I was small.”

Dimitri nodded, “Since it has been a while, try rubbing his neck, I think he will enjoy that.”

Byleth did as he suggested, stroking the side Louis’s neck. The horse sighed and stood there for a few minutes before he gently nudged Byleth. “I think he wants his carrot.”

“Probably.” Dimitri said. He gently took Byleth’s hand and placed the carrot flat on it. Louis immediately took it and happily began to munch away.

Dimitri suddenly stumbled forward and Byleth looked back with confusion. There was Midnight standing behind them, his ears back. “Excuse me, Sir. You already got a carrot this morning.” Dimitri said, pushing gently on Midnight’s face.

Midnight snorted and nudged him again. Even after five years of being a lion, Dimitri’s horse was still affectionate to him. “He’s very attached to you.”

“I had him since he was a colt. Rodrigue let me pick him out from the foals that year. I think I took the best of the lot.” Dimitri’s smile grew sad, “He is getting old now, almost 15.”

“He is still very handsome.”

Dimitri brightened and scratched behind Midnight’s ear, “He is. I should not admit this, but he is my favorite.”

Byleth smiled and looked at Louis who had taken another mouthful of grass, but was still allowing him to stroke his neck. It was nice having an animal in his life again, a real animal. He had considered getting a dog in the past, but perhaps after Dimitri left, he would get go through with it. He knew the castle frequently had puppies and he could probably purchase one of them.

“Would you like to go for a ride?” Dimitri suddenly asked, “It would be fun.”

“I can’t remember the last time I’ve even been on a horse.” Byleth admitted, looking at Louis. He could vaguely picture being put on his father’s horse, but he could not remember when that happened.

“That is fine. Riding is easy.”

Byleth considered it for a moment and then nodded. “Alright.”

“You will have fun, I promise.” Dimitri said with a grin. He put on Louis’s bridle and then turned to Byleth. “I will help you mount. Put your right foot in my hands and I will lift you up, swing your other leg over Louis’s back.”

“There is no saddle.”

“Do not worry about it this time.”

He did as he was told and soon found himself on Louis. It was odd, sitting on a horse, but Dimitri had a firm grasp on the reins and Byleth trusted him. “How is it?”

“Fine, a little odd.”

Dimitri snorted, “You will get used to it. Just shift back a little.”

He did as he was told and soon found Dimitri sitting on the horse in front of him. “Umm.”

“We will have to keep it quick since I do not want to over work Louis.” Dimitri said looking back at him.

“Alright.”

“Put your hands on my waist.”

Byleth gingerly did as he was told, but as soon as Louis suddenly began moving forward, he held on a little more securely. Midnight followed them, nickering at Dimitri, but soon settled into just walking with them, looking as put out as a horse could look.

It was a strange sensation, to be moving without walking, especially feeling the rhythm of Louis’s steps under him. However, as they slowly did a circle around the clearing, he began to relax. Even though the day was cold, the sun was bright and horse and Prince were very warm. Quite frankly, his hands practically burned from their spots on Dimitri’s hips.

“Did you go riding a lot?” Byleth asked, needing to focus on something else.

“All the time, it is my favorite thing to do. On the back of my steed, I could relax and forget about all my problems.”

“That sounds nice.”

“It was… it was one of the things my father and I did together.”

Dimitri did not speak about his father very often, but Byleth understood the memory was painful. “That must have been fun. Did you go with him a lot?”

“At least once a week.” Dimitri cleared his throat, “What did you do with your father?”

“Usually we would hunt or spar, but he also would tell me stories.”

“Oh?”

“All sorts, he was good at weaving a tale.”

“I wish I could have met him.”

“He probably would have grumbled and called you a brat.” Dimitri let out a shock laugh at that. “He was not the most social man… I would have liked to have met your father.”

He actually found the idea of meeting the former King horrifying, but if he thought of him as Lambert the woodcutter, it was easier to imagine such a meeting.

“I wish you could have met him. He would have adored you.” Dimitri said softly.

Byleth fought down a blush. “Thank you.”

Dimitri cleared his throat again and then said, “Come on, we are going to speed up a little.”

He nudged Louis into a trot. Byleth tightened his arms around Dimitri and pressed closer to his back. Trotting was uncomfortable and awkward, but as he felt the Prince’s hair tickle his cheek, he thought he could get used to it.

***

Dimitri poured them both a glass of wine. They had already eaten all the sweets, well Byleth had eaten most of them, but this was the first night they were trying one of the bottles. “I cannot promise how good it will be, but Sylvain has decent taste.”

Byleth shrugged, “I’m sure it will be fine.”

He took the glass and gingerly tasted it. It was surprisingly sweet, but not unpleasant either. “What do you think?” Dimitri asked him.

Byleth tried another sip, “It is pretty good. Do you like it?”

“It smells nice.”

They sat down in the chairs by the fireplace and it felt very homey. While winters could be difficult, there was something special about sitting by the fireplace with someone by his side. He glanced over at Dimitri who was staring intently at the fire. He did not look particularly relaxed and Byleth was going to ask him when he suddenly got up. He watched as the Prince retrieved the furs Byleth finally put away. Dimitri spread them out and then finally sat down on one. He looked at his cup as he said; “I hope you know; I would never ask anything of you that would make you feel uncomfortable, but… I would like it… well…I would enjoy it if you choose to sit by my side again.”

Byleth considered it for a moment and then left his chair, sitting next to Dimitri on the furs. “It is a little different, now that you are human again.”

Dimitri seemed pleased, “I could lay down, so you could lean against my side like you used to.

He rolled his eyes, fighting down his own smile. That had been how they spent their evenings, when Dimitri was Blue. “I think you would regret.” Byleth said, teasing him back.

“Probably, I remember this floor being much more comfortable.”

“I guess being a lion gave you extra padding.” It was nice being able to discuss the lion casually.

“It must have.” Dimitri said, “I enjoyed it though, those nights. It was so peaceful. It had been a long time since I felt such peace.”

“I liked them too.” Byleth admitted and then gently added, “This is nice too.”

He grinned, “It is great being able to finally talk to you. You have no idea how much I wished to respond to what you were saying. It was maddening.”

“Then this is even better than before.”

Dimitri glanced at him with surprise and smiled, “Thank you.”

Byleth took a sip of his wine and looked at the pile of books. “Do you want to read something…or perhaps recite?"

“Recite?”

“The poems, Sylvain said you enjoyed reciting.”

“I…I think enjoy is not the right word.” Dimitri said with a flush. “I know how too, but the only poetry he brought is romantic.”

“Ah, well if it will make you uncomfortable, we can forget it.”

“No, no, I can go through one or two. I did not wish you to be uncomfortable.”

“I will be fine.” Byleth said with a slight smile.

Dimitri nodded and retrieved the books. He flipped through the pages before stopping on one. He took another sip of wine and then said:

“The fountains mingle with the river
And the rivers with the ocean,
The winds of heaven mix for ever
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine
In one spirit meet and mingle.
Why not I with thine?—"

Byleth had never considered what it would be like to have a handsome man reciting romantic poetry to him. The few times he went to the inn with his father, he had heard songs, both romantic and bawdy, but it had never meant anything. Sitting in front of the fireplace, with just Dimitri meant something; to him at least.

“See the mountains kiss high heaven
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister-flower would be forgiven
If it disdained its brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth
And the moonbeams kiss the sea:
What is all this sweet work worth
If thou kiss not me?”

Dimitri had kept his eyes firmly on the page the entire time, but Byleth’s cheeks were still red. He remembered their own kiss. The awkward brush against lion’s mouth and he wondered what it would be like to kiss Dimitri. He hesitated a moment and then said, “You would still be a lion.”

The Prince laughed and the odd tension in the room left as they both relaxed. “Yes, yes I would be. Anyway, we should try another book.”

“That sounds good.” Byleth said, eager to get away from romance.

Dimitri looked through the small pile, “Do you know this one?”

Byleth glanced at the cover, but it was a waste on him and he shook his head. “No.”

“It is a good. It is a collection of tales about a traveler and his journeys.”

“That sounds interesting.”

“It is.” Dimitri opened the book. “Chapter one: They say all great stories-”

After a few minutes of listening, Byleth could not resist temptation and leaned against Dimitri’s side. He briefly stumbled over his words, but quickly found his place again as he wrapped his arm around Byleth. It was different from an evening with Blue, but he also liked it better.

Chapter Text

It was the end of their second week together and Dimitri was following Byleth as they searched for game. Dimitri was, for obvious reasons, an experienced hunter, but it had been a while since he last hunted as a human and Byleth thought this was a good chance to practice since it was just the two of them. Sylvain and Felix visited regularly, at least every three days or so, and Byleth enjoyed their visits. Felix was quiet and a little standoffish, but he was a great sparring partner and Byleth enjoyed his company. Sylvain could be ridiculous at times, but he was also very friendly and funny. It was fun watching the three old friends bicker and banter with each other and he enjoyed feeling like he was part of their little group.

He still preferred the days with just Dimitri though. He liked spending time with the Prince and Dimitri really was a sweet young man. He made getting chores done around the cabin much easier and they had more free time, most of which was spent teaching Byleth how to ride or setting up the woodshed so the horses would be more comfortable. He wished that time would slow down so he would get to enjoy the last few days they had.

Suddenly, Dimitri stopped and Byleth glanced around, attempting to see what animal had attracted his attention. “What is it?” He asked quietly.

“This way.” Dimitri whispered back.

Byleth followed him until they reached a clearing. He looked around, but did not see anything, “Do you hear something?”

The Prince shook his head, “This is where we met.”

It looked different now. The leaves had fallen, the grass was dead, and there was no lion crazed with pain. It was amazing such a peaceful place had completely changed his life. “I hadn’t realized.”

Dimitri smiled and walked to the center. “You know, I had spent a long time thinking I would be alright if I died as a lion. I thought I deserved that, after everything that happened, but when I was actually facing death that day, I wanted to live.”

“I am glad to hear that.” Byleth said softly as he followed the other man, imagining the fear that he must have felt when Byleth suddenly appeared from the forest that day. “You certain seemed ready to kill me.”

“Oh, I was. I knew there was a Master of the Forest, but I thought you were a poacher. I was ready to do everything I could to take you down with me, but then you dropped your weapons.” Dimitri stared at the forest, “Why did you spare me?”

“I thought killing you.” Byleth admitted, “I wasn’t sure what to do… but I had never seen a lion before and you were magnificent. I didn’t want to kill you and if I wasn’t going to kill you, I certainly wasn’t going to leave you to die in that trap. You have no idea how glad I am that I didn’t end up murdering you.”

“I am very grateful for it too.” Dimitri said with a slight smile. “Grateful for everything, you saving me, healing me, and putting up with my nonsense.”

Byleth put a hand on his arm and gave it a gentle squeeze before he became too negative about himself. The Prince had a tendency to do that. “You know, I enjoyed it too. You were new and interested. I was both thrilled and terrified when you returned to be healed that first time.”

“I remember the way you jumped when you saw me.” Dimitri teased with a soft smile and put his hand over Byleth’s, “I should have gone to the castle for healing, but I would have had to dealt with Rodrigue’s and Felix’s disappointment and you were a good healer.”

“You probably would have less scars with a professional healer.” Dimitri had a large number of scars, some that definitely came from before he met Byleth and some that came after. It had been distressing the first time he noticed them and saw just how poorly Dimitri had been taking care of himself. Byleth hoped that going forward, he would be kinder to his body.

The Prince shrugged, “I was going to have scars and a couple of scars is worth being human again.”

“That is fair.”

Dimitri looked around the clearing and then said, while not looking at him, “Do you still miss him?”

“Who?”

“Blue.”

Byleth considered the question for a moment, “I miss the fluffiness, but you are Blue or rather, Blue is you. So, no I don’t.”

Dimitri gave him a relieved smiled, “I do suppose I am less furry now.”

“Yes, but I enjoy being able to talk to you.”

“So, does that mean I am still one of your friends?”

There was a time he would have said Dimitri was his only friend, but he was hoping that was not true anymore. He hoped that Sylvain and Felix would continue to visit him after Dimitri left. “Yes, you are.”

He grinned, “Good. I…I hope that you will visit me in Fhirdiad then.”

“If you are not too busy.”

“Ha, no.” Dimitri replied, “I am going to be King, I will always be busy, but I still would like it if you came for a visit. I actually need you too.”

“Oh?”

“I owe you a boon, for saving my life.”

Byleth had not considered that and immediately knew the one thing that he wanted that he could actually have, “Could I have Louis?”

Dimitri stared at him, “You…want Louis?”

“I like him and I think he likes me. It would be nice if he stayed.” He had learned a great deal about horses from Dimitri and he was starting to feel rather close to Louis.

“How is it possible you think of the one of the few things I cannot actually just give you? Technically speaking, he is Felix’s, so I will ask him, but no, that is not enough for your boon. You saved my life; I would like to think it is worth a little more than one of my friend’s old workhorses.”

Byleth had to fight down a smile, but he was pleased that Dimitri was thinking a little more positively about himself. He also realized that more than just a gift, this was a promise to see the other man at least one more time. He was as grateful for that as any boon Dimitri could give. He did not know what Fhirdiad would be like, but he hoped that he had the chance to meet Dedue and Ingrid when he was there. “What about for your coronation? I would like to see that, if that works for you.”

Dimitri’s hand tightened on his, “I can have that arranged.”

“Alright, I will visit you in Fhirdiad.”

“It is a promise.”

They began to walk again, Byleth’s hand still resting on his arm. Byleth was not sure what the future would hold or even how much he would get to talk to Dimitri at the coronation, but at least when their time together ended here, he would have one last chance to see him.

***

“Giant beasts swam beneath our ship, each larger than the ship itself. I could just make out their grey flesh through the waves, I could never have imagined such beasts living in the sea.” Dimitri paused from reading the book and let another yawn, “Pardon me.”

Byleth looked up from his spot leaning against the Prince. He was not surprised Dimitri was falling asleep, between teaching him how to ride and building a new woodshed, the man had been working hard. “It has been a long day; you should go to bed.”

Dimitri shook, “Forgive me, but I can probably finish this chapter.”

“It can wait until tomorrow. You have been working so hard, it is impressive, but you need some sleep.”

The younger man seemed to puff up a little at that and nodded, “You do not mind?”

“Not at all, I will join you shortly.” He just needed to put the dried dishes away, make sure the candles were out, and lower the fire.

“Very well, good night.” Dimitri said and then headbutted him.

He had a tendency to act more like a lion when he was tired, but it was still an unpleasant surprised when their foreheads for knock together.

“Damn it!” Dimitri cursed, holding his forehead as Byleth rubbed his own. “I am so sorry.”

“It is alright.”

“No, I need to get better about that.”

“You haven’t done it in a number of days.”

“Only because I stop myself at the last minute.” Dimitri sighed, “I cannot be headbutting people every time I get tired.”

“Maybe it is me.”

“Byl-”

“No, just listen. You don’t headbutt Felix or Sylvain. Honestly, I never seen you even make the motion like you would. I am the one person you regularly did that with when you were a lion, so the habit is probably with me, not everyone.”

Dimitri was quiet for a moment, “I guess that could be true, but I do not wish to hurt you.”

“I appreciate that, but remember, it will just take time.” Byleth looked at Dimitri and smiled slightly, “Come here.”

Dimitri leaned over and Byleth gently touched foreheads with him. He looked deep into that blue eye and whispered, “I know you need to stop eventually, but for right now, this is nice.”

Dimitri rubbed his forehead against Byleth’s and then wrapped his arms around him, “Thank you.”

Byleth rubbed back. It was slightly strange, feeling skin and hair rather than soft fur. It was nice being close to Dimitri though, and being free to just touch him. Byleth closed his eyes and relaxed against him.

“Byleth?”

“Hmm?” Byleth asked, opening his eyes again.

He had never seen such an expression before and it stirred something inside of him. Dimitri’s gaze wandered over his face, almost looking for something. He felt as Dimitri’s hand gently touch his chin, tilting his head up.

“Thank you.” He repeated, and then pressed a soft kiss to Byleth’s cheek. It felt like time stopped for a moment as Dimitri’s breath teased the spot he had just burned with that kiss. Byleth wondered how he could breathe at all. Suddenly, he realized that Dimitri had grown tense, “Forgive m-”

Byleth leaned forward and silenced all words with another kiss.

Chapter Text

Byleth woke to the smell of sausages and eggy toast being fried. He slowly opened his eyes and looked over at Dimitri, who was standing by the fireplace, hovering over the food. The man was not a bad cook, but he was not confident either. He needed exact measurements and directions, which made the sight before Byleth so surprising.

He yawned and slowly sat up, “Good morning, do you need some help?”

Dimitri smiled at him and came over to give him a sweet kiss before hurrying back to the fireplace. “Good morning and no, it is almost done.”

Byleth laid back in bed with a sigh. He had no idea how Dimitri was not tired. They had been up far too late last night. His cheeks grew warm thinking about what they had done. It had been his first time. He had never had a sweetheart before, or even the chance for one, since it was hard to find a partner when living alone in a forest.

He glanced at Dimitri who was still fiddling with the eggy toast. The Prince seemed like a good lover, or at least what he imagined a good lover to be. He had been attentive and focused on making sure Byleth was comfortable and enjoying himself, though Dimitri did seem determined to introduce him to all the possible ways two people could come together. It had been lucky Sylvain had been both confident and wicked enough to sneak a vial of pleasure oil into their supplies.

Byleth closed his eyes. He was not sure what to think about last night. Given, the kiss he received this morning, he was guessing Dimitri did not regret it. Truthfully, He did not regret it either. He knew this was going to make their parting more painful, but he was happy for the chance to be with Dimitri, even for just a few days.

He had not realized he had fallen back asleep until he was awoken by a soft kiss. He opened his eyes and Dimitri was sitting over him, smiling at him. He had never seen such a smile on him before and Byleth could not help but to stroke his cheek as Dimitri said, “Breakfast is ready.”

Byleth gave him another kiss and though he was tempted to linger over the soft lips, he pulled back, not wanting food or Dimitri’s hard work to go to waste. “It looks great.”

The Prince gave him a boyish grin, “Thank you.”

Byleth knew they should talk about what happened and the reality that was facing them, but everything felt like a dream. In a week’s time, Dimitri would be gone, but for right now he had him in his bed and in his arms. He did not want to talk about the truth. So instead, he exchanged bites of slightly under seasoned eggy toast with his sweet Prince and allowed the dream to continue.

***

Unfortunately, that dream ended three days later when Sylvain suddenly rode into the clearing. They had been working on his riding skills and were both startled that the man arrived late in the afternoon. It was very unusual since when the pair would visit, they usually arrived by noon. Byleth quickly became alarm when he realized Felix was not with him and saw the grim expression upon his face.

“Your Highness, Byleth.”

“Sylvain, what is it?” Dimitri asked, taking a hold of Louis.

“I got a message from Gustave. He received my letter and was not amused. He will be here tomorrow with Ingrid and Dedue. From here, you will go see Felix and myself on a royal visit.” He threw a satchel over to Dimitri, “I brought you some proper clothes.”

“Ah.” Dimitri said, looking at the satchel with dread.

“And some extras if you should need it.” Sylvain said with wink.

“Thank you.”

“Good luck.”

Sylvain gave them a bow and immediately took off again. Dimitri tried to continue the lesson, but it was obvious that he was distracted and truthfully, Byleth did not have the heart to continue either. He thought he would have more time. He had hoped for the full three weeks and the knowledge that Dimitri was leaving tomorrow hurt far worse than he expected, but there was no other choice. Dimitri had to return and start ruling the Kingdom again. Byleth had to remind himself that he gotten months with Dimitri and that he would get to see him again at the coronation.

It was at dinner that Dimitri finally broke the silence that had fallen over them since Sylvain’s visit. “I need to talk to you.”

Byleth dreaded this talk, but knew they had to finally discuss everything that had been going on between them. “I know.”

Dimitri took a deep breath and then gently held his hand. “I do not want you to feel pressured about this. I had been hoping for more time before we had this conversation, but it seems like our time has run out, so I just need to put it out there…”

“Yes?”

“Will you come to Fhirdiad with me?”

“I thought we already discussed this? I will be coming for your coronation.”

“No, I mean, I want you to move to Fhirdiad.” Dimitri said softly.

“What?” Byleth did not know what to think, this was an option he had never thought about before.

Dimitri sighed, “I know you are not happy here, well you were not happy here when you were alone and I cannot stand the thought of you being alone out here again. I would much prefer it if you moved to Fhirdiad, but if that does not appeal to you, I would appreciate it if you would consider living with Felix or Sylvain, I can assure you they would both happily accept you into their households.”

Byleth had considered the possibility of moving into Fraldarius Castle before, but he could not see himself doing so now. It would be too odd knowing Felix in such a personal way and still have to maintain the relationship of Lord and Servant. He imagined the same issue would appear at Gautier Castle. He thought about Fhirdiad. He was unsure about how he would fit into a city, since he knew nothing about city life. Still, he liked the idea of being there, of getting to be close to Dimitri, but he did not know if he could handle being so close and only getting to catch glimpses him in passing. “Would we…would I get to see you there?”

Dimitri stared at him and then sighed again, dropping his head, “I am doing this all wrong. Byleth, I would marry you right now if you would allow it, but that is really rushing things and I do not think that would be fair to you.”

Byleth felt his breath hitch at the word marriage. He was surprised that Dimitri would think of such a thing. “What do you mean by fair?”

“You would be agreeing to something you do not fully understand. Being a Prince is hard. It can be miserable and lonesome, even when surrounded by people. It is not the fairytale everyone thinks it is, but I want you to have the chance to come to Fhirdiad and see if being with me, living in the city is something that would make you happy. I think it will be, but I want you to have the opportunity to experience it.”

Byleth was feeling slightly overwhelmed and took a moment to think. He was not sure what to address first and went for the easiest thing. “Are we not courting now?”

Dimitri blushed, “I mean properly, I want to court you properly. Get to know you outside of the absolutely bliss that has been this cabin these last few days.”

Byleth felt himself relax. It was very sweet of Dimitri to give him the chance to get to see what he was getting himself into before asking for a promise of forever. It made him feel more confident in going for it. It was still a large risk, but he wanted to take. He did not want to be alone in the forest anymore. “What is Fhirdiad like?”

“It may be a bit of a shock to you. It is a city, small, but beautiful in its own way. There are plenty parks though and the Royal Forest, for hunting and riding.” Dimitri replied, hoping growing in his eye, “There are also theaters and shops, if you are interested. I am sure we will be able to find something that you enjoy there. Will you come?”

Byleth took a breath “I don’t know how this will work out, but yes, I will come with you.”

Dimitri looked shock and then grabbed Byleth, pulling him into a tight hug. “Thank you.”

Byleth leaned against, but wondered if they were not just trying to extend the dream, since he immediately thought of one issue with the arrangement. “But don’t you need someone who is nobility…or a woman?”

Dimitri nodded, “I need heirs, but I do not require a Queen for those. I would not be the first King to have a Prince Consort. There are contracts in place for the role of the Prince’s or Princess’s Mother.”

“I hadn’t heard about that.”

“It has been a while; I think it was my great-great grandfather who had one last.” Dimitri said relaxing, “I actually discussed such a possibility with my father. He was the one told me about the contracts. Do you know what he said, though?”

“What?”

“Man or woman, he would support me as long as I found someone with a kind heart and noble spirit.” Dimitri smiled at him, “I meant it when I said he would have liked you.”

Byleth blushed, but could not help but to smile back, “My father would have still called you a brat, but I think he would have liked you too.”

Dimitri laughed and kissed him. Byleth felt like his heart was bursting with joy. This was not the end of him and Dimitri. He did not know if life in Fhirdiad would suit him, but he could not wait to try.

***

Dimitri helped Byleth dress the next morning. It turned out the extras Sylvain had mentioned were clothes for him. He was actually a little impressed by how close Sylvain had gotten his size. The boots were a little small, but his boots were high enough quality to function for now. “You should probably be thanking Felix.” Dimitri said as he finished tightening the last strap “I am pretty sure Sylvain just raided his wardrobe since you two are similar in size.”

Byleth shook his head with a snort. “I really should have figured it out sooner that he was playing matchmaker this entire time.”

Dimitri smiled, actually dressed in clothes fit for a Prince. Byleth would have felt imitated by it if he had not known him so well. “I was trying not to make it too obvious. I did not want you to feel pressure if you were not interested and if it makes you feel any better, it is also Sylvain, courting is his thing.”

Byleth’s bag was packed with the few items he was going to bring with him. Most of the items in the cabin had little value to him, but his father’s sword, his mother’s ring, and the blanket that Blue used to sleep on were coming with him. “Will you talk to Felix about retrieving the food brought here? I don’t want it to go to waste.”

“Yes, I will.” Dimitri then kissed his cheek, “Are you sure you are ready to go? I am actually the Prince, we can spend one more night here if you wish, even if Gustave has other plans.”

Byleth pressed his forehead against Dimitri’s making him smile, “No, we can leave today.”

They headed outside and got the horses ready. It was weird, getting ready to leave the cabin. It had been his home, and the only place he had known his entire life. He looked around and could particularly see his father standing in the doorway, Blue sleeping on the woodshed, and the many years he spent working on it. He took a breath and turned away from the little cabin, he was prepared.

They heard voices in the distance and Dimitri held out his hand. “Ready?”

Byleth took it and gave it a squeeze, “Yes.”

***

Dimitri: Savior King
Byleth: Guardian of the Wilds

After a short courtship, King Dimitri announced his engagement to Lord Byleth Eisner. At first, people were weary of this unknown man, but he quickly became popular for his compassion, intelligence, and understanding of the issues faced by the poor. The Kingdom flourished under the pair. Though they had their disagreements when it came to ruling, the pair were deeply in love and devoted to each other and it was not unusual to find them in an embrace with their foreheads touching. Every summer they returned to the woods and would spend a month in their little cabin, living the simple life, first just the pair of them and soon followed by a gaggle of children. History remembers this time as the beginning of the Golden Age of Faerghas.