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He seriously feels thrown between two worlds.

He has been feeling like that ever since a gentle stewardess woke him up from the nap he took while on board. Her sweet but firm voice did not do anything to ease the surging waves inside his chest, and even now he can still recall how uneasy his manner must have been because he is still as fidgety as he was back then. The stewardess calmly asked him to fasten the seatbelt and tidy up the folding compartment fliers used to eat because they would be landing soon. The flight was actually pleasant. Blue clouds shut his head up like morphine for the vague sense of peace, calm and almost lulling. He was nowhere and somewhere at the same time, high and untouchable, unreachable. The world had stopped for a while because the clouds were the only things that he saw as far as he gazed into the window right to his side, and they changed into a beautiful curtain of jet-black silk decorated with golden stars as he reached the other side of the world… sort of.

Regardless, it’s over now. No more hypnotizing clouds, no more bewitching stars. There’s a good, solid ten hours which separates St. Petersburg from his next destination—a district he will have to call home for at least a year. Everything happened so fast back home, too fast that his mind was a blur. The death, the funeral, his uncle’s buzzing words turning into undecipherable sounds he couldn’t recognize beyond all the demands directed towards him.

He tries to sleep some more on the bus, regretting that he had been asleep for too long while on the plane that he is wide awake now. At home, he heard that the district is lively, buzzing, and diverse; all qualities which do not bother him at all. After all, familiarizing himself with everything and getting close to everyone isn’t what landed him here from faraway in the first place. The person who always supported him has died. He is left alone in a new place which gives a mission to accomplish—be better, complete the courses, and then return to help with family business with his uncle.

Except it’s not easy. He cannot even remember whether he cried at the funeral or not, whether he cried too little or too much, what his eulogy said, what his uncle said…

“Garreg Mach up next!” the bus driver’s voice startles him. It’s definitely not as gentle as the stewardess who woke him up, but the contradiction, surprisingly, does not bother him as much. Perhaps because he starts to make peace with the fact that he is finally here, after all, in Fodlan District; while the stewardess, while gentle, ripped him off from the prolonged nap he intended to take by forcing him to deal with the reality he wanted to escape from.

He nearly stutters when he takes his suitcase from the seat. The bus driver flashes him a small smile as he drags his legs off the bus. Does he look that miserable that a stranger he just met, obliged to nothing else but driving the bus in which he is a passenger, to give him a small encouragement?

His mind flies back home…

A man does not drag his  suitcases, Dima—he lifts them.

And he smiles. Bitter like the coffee he took on the plane when they gave him breakfast shortly after taking off. Sankt Petersburg was dewy when he left. The Pulkovo Airport was of petrichor smell and the sky was of dark grayish-blue hues. It might be too selfish to assume that his birthplace had cried with him like a mother he never had, but…

But his father is not here. Lambert Blaiddyd is no longer in this world to school him whether he drags his suitcases or lifts them. Warrior culture mixes with the art of the pen shaped his childhood upbringing, but even then not the strongest lion could escape death.

“Good luck,” the bus driver says.

He watches when the door is drawn closed again. Dark, dark like his thought, like his new surroundings right now. He left when the city was barely awake, now arriving in Fodlan when the district is about to sleep. One point to another, creeping in the background while the world stops rolling as if slipping away. He lifts his suitcase at ease as he climbs over the short staircases to the waiting automatic door right before his face. Breathing in, he walks further, feeling rather uneasy when the door closes itself behind him. When someone looks up from the counter upon noticing his arrival, he breathes in again—deeper this time because he knows he will truly need it.

“Hello. How can I help you?”

Smiling back awkwardly, he starts with his name, hand digging behind his jacket to find the blackhole that is the cloth bag where he keeps all the important documents. First the passport, then the pouch where he keeps all the procedural letters he printed off his email. “Zdrastvuite,” he mutters. “H-hello.” The hard H sound which comes off naturally without his control nearly throws his confidence, but thankfully the man at the counter still waits without sweating anything. “I am new.”

****

 

She hooks her leg to retrieve a tennis bag from the ground.

The sky is dark when her taxi finally makes the last turn before Garreg Mach. Tightening her runner sweater around her body, she bites her lips, noticing how there is no turning back now that the distance which lies upon her only gets to be... shorter. 

There isn’t much left for her to carry—her things are minimum, and she has always wanted to keep it that way. The trip is bedazzling. Rather than due to motion sickness or distance, it’s herself—there’s a giant hole inside her chest, dark and hollow akin to a shady path leading deep into a mysterious forest.

And the worst of it all, she cannot even… grieve.

Her chest feels tight. It’s almost like the nerves in her body twitch and scream like they are about to burst, but at the same time something keeps that from happening. Like a plug. Like a duct tape over a fractured porcelain; too fragile to hold everything in, but strong enough to keep the pieces together. Instead of tears, there’s been clouds—dark, akin to the ones she can see before the rain, making everything slow down and languid.

If it’s fatigue, not even sleeping nearly the whole day shirtless did anything different. She woke up groggily; nervous and odd that for a moment she truly thought she got lost in her own house because… someone had to move the stairs, considering she tripped there thrice. Someone had to misplace her clothes because her things didn’t feel like hers.

But she has no pets or siblings. She has dead parents.

She chokes when she gets out of the taxi.

Violent cough follows soon after she drags her legs to the building right before her. It feels so strange to be engulfed with sudden nausea brimming from the pit of her stomach. She didn’t have any food even before she started the trip. She ignored the hot dog kiosks when the train finally arrived at the intended station, granting the same treatment when she navigated through the terminal to hail a taxi. There’s nothing in her stomach to be thrown out, anyway—perhaps only the memory of her dead father being laid to rest at a small cemetery not far from their farm.

Jeralt Eisner has died. Peacefully in his sleep, with his hands folded above his chest as though he expected it to come. Or perhaps he did. Perhaps her dead mother came for the exhausted lover who lost every mirth in him, worn down by grief.

Jeralt Eisner died only three weeks after they buried Sitri Eisner.

She doesn’t understand what complications the doctor talked about—either hollowness or actually crassness that won that day, in all honesty, she did not care. Besides, the man in white coat spoke foreign things, undecipherable words like the cryptids her parents used to speak of when she was a kid and too eager to sleep.

Her father’s apprentice Leonie wept as they arranged Jeralt’s body to rest under the earthly bed with his departed wife. The redhead yelled for his name; so hurt and wounded as if she just lost a limb.

She, on the other hand, only stared and stared even after they were done burying him.

Time resumes for her. Back to school, back to Garreg Mach to complete the degree she promised her mother with. Leonie promised her to come and check up on their house back then, but instead of lifting the clouds, the closer Garreg Mach reached out to her, the heavier everything was.

Garreg Mach housing complex welcomes her silently when she arrives. The student-oriented apartment still looks pretty much the same when she left it last year, except for the new paint job she notices because the walls are now soft calming blue instead of white. There’s Alois’ familiar face at the lobby and she wonders if it makes her feel better at all because the family friend’s presence only reminds her of the dead father back home.

“Byleth,” he smiles. “How are you feeling?”

Heavy. Hollow. Empty. Numb. Everything and nothing at the same time. Nauseous.

“I don’t know,” she replies simply. “Nothing.”

He throws her a concerned look, but shifts his gaze into her suitcase at the feet instead. “Let me help you with this,” he says then. “Come on. This is the least I can help you with.”

The fatherly manner somehow catches her off guard. Images of Jeralt dropping her off for the first time begin to flash again—her father’s carefree smile, his helping hand that always insisted on helping her with her loads even though she is capable of carrying them herself. She isn’t a castle princess, anyway. Forged under the sun, wide awake at night to do the chores and ward off wild animals. Yet somehow a shadow makes the most formidable challenger out of everything she knows, and before she can help it, her hand flies to swat off Alois’ offer.

“It’s alright,” she says. “It always is.”

Alois looks at her with pity, but she simply invites herself further inside. To the elevator. To the room she will occupy for the next academic year, perhaps. To whatever it is the new key in her hand leads to. And she is glad that despite the new walls or Alois’ position at the counter, the corridors are still dim-lit. That helps her not to feel so exposed.

But turns out she isn’t alone, either. Not even the dim light succeeds in concealing the new person’s presence next to her. The height, build, and posture give off an intimidating vibe at the first sight, but he steps aside when he catches her approaching the elevator there.

“Go on,” she says. “You’re first here.”

“No, you go,” he replies faintly. “First.”

The last thing she hopes is to feel so exposed. Why can’t this stranger just keep standing? Chivalry is not dead—it never existed because it’s all politeness and probably a specific upbringing of the knights. But they are students, and her stomach growls; there’s no time to debate when chivalry died because she isn’t in the mood to discuss… death.

“Alright,” she says simply, turning around to get to the stairs.

And that surprises him. “Wait,” he makes a hand motion at her. “No climb. Don’t.”

“I’ll do whatever I damn want,” gritting her teeth, she turns around. She needs her bed. The way she has been there for hours after the last of her bloodline left her. Fourteen hours, Leonie said when she woke her up to get going. She had slept for fourteen hours that Leonie thought something horrible happened to her.

“No, no. Elevator. For share,” he says again.

“Then go first,” she gestures with her chin because her luggage rests in her grip while the other is preoccupied with her bag.

“Oh. I go in,” he repeats. “Before you do?”

She gives a curt nod. However something in her gently reminds her to be considerate, and something tickles her from within, almost prompts her to laugh. True that she is not a social butterfly either. Words are bad. Listening is much easier. And people will leave you alone when they think that you are dull.

… He holds the elevator for her, though. But the second she catches his eyes trying to read the key and the small envelope with a card that comes with it, she sharply turns around. “I didn’t say you can read.”

He looks at her, and she wants to drop her weight onto the floor—exhausted.

“I live here,” he  searches into his dress shirt’s pocket, showing her the same envelope with a similar card in it. “I wonder where…”

“Third floor,” she reads his card. “When this stops, turn left, and look for the first room.”

“Oh. Stop, left, first room.”

“Pretty much.”

“Thank you, um…” he scratches his head. “Should I… no, can I…” mumbling to himself, he checks on his phone. “No, no. May I help you with the luggage?”

“No,” she replies flatly.

“Oh,” he hums. “I beg for forgiveness.”

“Forgiveness?” she tilts her face slightly. “What for?”

“This… uh,” he grunts under his breath. “Dammit, words are hard.” She imagines that has to be what he is saying because the rest is unintelligible to her. But they finally part ways because he gets off the elevator before she does, leaving her with an apologetic nod. “I think,” his accented speech follows as he holds the elevator again, this time for his own sake. “I think if helped, then not hard.”

“What is hard?”

He pauses.

She pauses too.

His nose nearly gets caught in the midst of the closing elevator door, but despite the looming clouds and tormenting hollow nausea, she cannot be mistaken—there has to be a blush as he hurriedly drags… no, lifts his luggage like a toy sword above his head.

“I have to study,” he mumbles to himself. “Harder…”

His glance travels back at her again.

“N-no. Better. Must be it. Yes, better.”

He disappears as the elevator door closes, throwing her back into silence, engulfed with her own emotions and the thoughts she cannot even interpret.

… At least she can admit that the intrusion is nice.

Secretly.

Chapter Text

“Byleth.”

“Hmm.”

“Byleth—”

When she hears her name being called for the second time, she finally turns around, finding Alois’ dismayed mustache at her face. The family friend has come to check on her again to offer his consolation and help her with the moving, but much to his surprise, everything in her apartment looks neat.

Her bed is made and tidy. A blanket he recognizes to be the gift from Jeralt in the last Christmas celebration he was invited to is nicely folded on it. The floral smell of detergent from the crisp, fresh laundry is a bit overwhelming somehow—or is his nose just that weak?

“Byleth, if you need anything…”

“Yeah,” the young woman stares blankly at him. “Sleep. A good sleep.”

“Of course. Of course, sure. Nurture your health before classes start, yeah,” Alois replies. He’s got a feeling that she is sending him away, yet at the same time he knows he cannot refuse—Byleth Eisner looks so exhausted and fatigued, dark circles discoloring the area under her eyes that it’s hard to miss when they look at each other within a short distance.

Byleth watches Alois leaving her room, dropping her weight onto the bed. Closing her eyes, slowly the strong detergent smell begins to invade her nostrils as well, filling her with everything that is fragrant but undefined. Too strong, yet too vague at the same time. This smells nice, but what is this? Just like her grief. There’s something, but she is unsure. If she is sad, why can’t she cry? If she is angry, why does she only want to sleep?

Her mother loved flowers. There were specific flowers she loved the most compared to the others; some flowers which her father liked to bring home whenever he was out of town. Some flowers she had expressed of wanting to grow herself if she wasn’t so frail. Some flowers her father never minded to go out of his way to procure.

The detergent is strong. It’s very fragrant. Very undefined too because she has thrown other things into the machine when she washed them all—perfumed softener, one of those liquid spray to smooth up wrinkles when the clothes are ironed. The list is endless. She shopped various fragrant substances shortly after her mother died—

She had to drown them. The smell of her mother; the source of comfort and then grief of her father. He had eaten so little when Sitri Eisner was finally entombed. Byleth forgot what it was like to sleep when the night was still young, and now she wakes up only to wait for her next turn to sleep.

Byleth Eisner, twenty-five. A returning student of the prestigious, versatile, and diverse Garreg Mach Monastery, a top-notch campus located in the busy city of San Francisco. A once-thriving, specific religious university, it retains its former glory including the beautiful cathedral. The graceful woman who headed the congregation activities on campus told the students that they could always come to her when life feels like a burden. Lady Rhea is dubbed as the archbishop by the students because of this motherly approach, but…

But her mother dies. She doesn’t need another. There will never be another.

“You look… forgive me for reading your face, my child, troubled,” she told her when she joined new and transfer students for campus orientation session in the morning.

“Yes. I haven’t set up my bed yet,” she gave her a simple reason then.

At that time, she noticed the blonde she met at the elevator wasn’t there.

Byleth picks up her phone. Leonie sent her unanswered texts. She is tempted, tempted beyond belief to just blacklist the number, but there’s no point in running away because there are things she needs to know. Like the will. Like the farm. Like the…

Strong, fragrant-yet-undefined smell.

She closes her eyes. Bed time.

****

 

“Are you a spy?”

“How did you come here, riding a MiG? A Sukhoi?”

He puts down his book, mouth slightly open. “Net. Those are planes. Why riding?”

They laugh and give each other a high-five—something new to add in his vocabulary list. He writes it down. He’s a good man, or so his father said. And he will be. He will always have to be. His uncle said he is a good boy; fair enough because they had an agreement—ten year old Dimitri is not to tell Lambert that Rufus brought a woman to stay for the night. In their family home. In his study. And the woman was so messy when she came out of there, chuckling when he asked if she needed the bathroom.

“You’ll make a bad spy,” one of them continues.

“I am no spy,” he replies, dumbfounded.

“And what are you doing?” another taunts.

“Doing the study. Doing English,” he replies, innocently holding up his notebook. “Tell me about the high-five. Why is five, high? That is below average.”

Prosti, Papa—ya ne mogu idti dal'she. Forgive me, Papa, I can’t keep going.

The other two throw a look at each other. “No fun,” someone mumbles. “He’s faking it.”

Are you tired, or are you faking everything just so you can neglect your lessons?

“He couldn’t have been here if he’s… you know, like that.”

They leave. His question remains unanswered. He is close to asking why would he have to ride a jet-fighter, though—that is absurd. Nobody travels easily in that. He’s a student. Transfer student from the grand Sankt Petersburg, where the beautiful Hermitage Museum is. Where the Mariinsky Theater is. The stage he dreamed of performing before his father found out that he had an unseen side—a passion for arts and music. Fitting for an old aristocratic family like his, but not so much for the warrior culture of the Blaiddyd family, of the entire Faerghus branch which spreads to the Celtic lands.

He breathes in again. Must he be concerned because he has been doing that so casually since arriving? But there’s a sense of respite in doing that. To feel fresh air invading his lungs. He is Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd, twenty-three, applied mathematics major, computer science minor. He is to complete his studies at the top-notch Garreg Mach campus, under the hot weather of San Francisco, and the spell of the beautiful beach nearby.

“I am proud of you to be cultured,” so said Lambert one night. “But this—this one, I don’t…” the older man heaved. His hair was blond, just like him; tall and fit, just like him.

Dead, unlike him.

“... Dima, you are not to become… my brother.”

Dimitri smiled back then. He was supposed to be a mathematician. Not someone who tailed stage actresses to know how performance art worked. His uncle loved stage actresses too, but he figured it had to be something other because he wouldn’t sneak up with roses only to kiss passionately behind the curtains.

Of course he isn’t his uncle. He’s set to be an heir. A successor. A Blaiddyd tsesarevich.

“I understand,” he said simply, fingers-crossed, praying that Lambert didn’t find a stash of musical sheets under his pillow. Lambert smiled back and patted his head. With muffled cuss, he wished he could hate his father that night.

Then Lambert died. People came to offer him words of consolation. His uncle, in a grim expression he wouldn’t usually catch from him, looked at him in the eyes during breakfast. Black suit like what he wore, pained and regretful just like he was.

“Dima,” he whispered. “You are not to become… me.”

He nodded. He understood. He was a good boy.

“Scram now, fools,” another voice startles him. Tall, almost imposing, but to him, the stranger is a crutch. A savior disguised as a human. He doesn’t feel too strange anymore because the stranger is taller than him, even, and his hair is of silver color, looking good on him. “That’s dumb,” he says, frank and gentle. “New student?”

“Yes. Transfer,” he replies. The handshake is kind. He likes it.

“I’m Dedue,” the other person says. “Agriculture major. You?”

“Di…” he stops. “Daniel,” finally he says. “Daniel.”

The gentle giant hums; his eyes shoot him a condemnation. Warm, though. It almost reminds him of home. A happy home before his father became too… concerned of shaping him into a worthy Blaiddyd heir, because pearls would be clutched and tears would spill if the succession went to Rufus’ bloodline instead. The friendliness takes him back home. To his grandparents, like babushka’s gentle chiding when he stole a pastry right off the oven.

“Come on, who are you fooling? That’s not your name.”

He smiles. Perhaps the first one he makes ever since he landed in Fodlan. Small, but better than nothing at all. “Dimitri,” he says. “I am Dimitri. Hello.”

“That’s better,” Dedue smiles as well. “Need help around?”

He nods. He is a good man. He understands.

Chapter Text

He ponders on the booklet before him. He has read everything so far, more than once if he is to be completely honest. When he rereads the booklet again, he does that more slowly, more meticulous and careful than prior. Probably a habit he built up knowing well that his hands destroy fragile objects without his consent. Probably something else. Something unexpected that left him speechless but jarred, prompting him to meticulously nitpick on the reading material again and again to see if there was any mistake. Misplaced punctuations that might alter the context, for example, or a typo that ruined an entire word by making it to be whatever that it wasn’t.

Ламберт был объявлен мертвым в 09:30.

There had to be a typo.

(There is none.)

But there had to be.

(Sometimes some things are as blatant as they are.)

Lambert couldn’t be pronounced dead at nine-thirty; his father loved that hour.

(His father would complain about the heat, but he doesn’t remember.)

“Electives,” he whispers the word, eyes glued onto the booklet. His courses basically stay the same if not familiar—calculus, multivariable calculus, algebra and linear algebra and numerical analysis. Nothing he has never encountered so far. The computer science minor allows him to take three computer science courses within the topic of data analysis, programming languages, or artificial intelligence machination. But there’s one free elective he can take for the sake of fulfilling the credit quota, and the booklet says he can contact the department in question and see if his schedules match the class.

Music class, his mind says. The humanities department opens an elective class about twentieth century music. It just feels in-line with what the folks at the humanities department tries to aim—seeing how societies shifted as the world entered what would be referred to as the modern age, and how socio-cultural elements differed compared to the previous Victorian decadence.

He reads. Again.

“Rachmaninoff,” another whisper. “Scriabin. Vyshnegradsky.”

He recalls the nights when he read Nietzsche under the pillow with a flashlight because Vyshnegradsky wrote the music for an opera performance based on it. Scriabin’s exploration of color in music, akin to synesthesia in visual art, captivated him so much because he saw a pattern in the colorful arranged keys as stated by the music book he borrowed from the school library. He may not remember everything, but the feeling—how can he forget it? There’s pattern, there’s order just like in mathematics; what appears to be chaotic go well together when they are arranged or meeting each other like a beautiful mix.

Like his Fodlan campus, perhaps—full of new things that make his heart want to bust. He smells variation. He never expected it to be… dreadful, actually, compared to his tailored life back home. A tailored life befitting a family heir; someone who won’t disgrace the family’s good name. But he also played Rachmaninoff’s Elegy from Morceaux de Fantaisie when his pent-up thoughts evolved into a headache. He played it again when all the well-wishers left after they buried his father. He played it when he thought he could hear a giggle from Rufus’ room at the corner. He drilled Vyshnegradsky’s fugue instead of doing calculus—

A phone call interrupts him, though. Just like that fated day, after the text he nitpicked because he was desperate for a typo…

“Dima! How are you? Why didn’t you call?”

Of course, he thinks. His uncle would want to know how he manages. He forgot.

… Did he?

“I took a rest, Dyadka. I’m looking at my courses now.”

“Good. What are the choices there? Hmm… programming languages, eh? AI? Oh… ah, I see. Is that all? No other electives?”

He breathes in.

“Dima?”

“D-da. Yes. Sorry, I…” another exhale. “I haven’t bought a new card for my phone.”

“Kak zhe tak? How come?”

“I forgot,” third exhale, this time with a reply.

“Seriously, boy…” his uncle sighs, and he’s glad he isn’t there to watch him doing that. Something in him wants to snap, though—Lambert no longer sighed when it was apparent that Rufus had no intention to stop his… merrymaking routines. He simply told little Dimitri to study like a good boy; a Blaiddyd isn’t supposed to disturb one-another. A wolf dog recognizes another wolf dog. A lion respects another lion’s territory, or so he was taught.

“I will do so. Don’t worry, Dyadka.”

“Why don’t we video-chat for the forty-day commemoration of your papa’s death?”

That truly is not the offer he expected. Actually, he never expects his uncle to offer him anything. His uncle doesn’t know anything, and perhaps it’s better that way. He was too polite to say he didn’t like Rufus’ laughter when Lambert found out he had been snooping around theaters, anyway. Just because his womanizing uncle does that every now and then, doesn’t mean he has to do the same, right? Perhaps it truly is a foreign concept for Rufus to understand that a man can enjoy music too, not just the beautiful actresses who create it.

“I will…” his throat feels dry. “I will clean up.”

“Great. Everyone is curious how our brightest lion is doing.”

For a split-second, he is sure that a hammer just knocks hard against his chest. He has to gasp for a breath now, otherwise he’ll pass out. He is drowning. He cannot feel the surface anymore, yet at the same time he cannot see the water. He swims, of course. Just like everyone else back home, especially in the winter. His father always made sure he had all the skills befitting for a Blaiddyd heir too, with the brain and the brawn alike. What did Lambert say? Right, his destiny is not to be Rufus. He knows what being held underwater is like.

He doesn’t know what this is, though.

“Kakogo cherta ty dumayesh’—what the hell are you thinking?! It isn’t supposed to be a party.” The silence from the other side is deafening. He wonders where that even came from; Rachmaninoff’s pieces are solemn, and Nietzsche’s writings, as far as he remembers, are contemplative, something Vyshnegradsky managed to transfer onto his musical notations.

Transferring. Just like him. Far from home, with a family that doesn’t feel like home.

“Dima?”

He swallows. Hard.

“Dima, were you yelling at me, or was it a signal problem again?”

He swallows. Harder.

“The latter, Dyadka. My apologies.”

“Ah. You really should buy a fitting card, malchik. You’re there for a long time, anyway.”

“Da, konechno—sure.”

“Although of course our family money is more than capable of paying for your phone bills. You know Lambert left a lot for you, my boy. Use the resource as you see fit. After all, you are the heir of this family, and we depend on you.”

“I… understand,” this time, he squeaks his reply. “Later, Dyadka.”

He can see everything when the call ends. The water, the waves; blue, just like the walls of this student-oriented apartment. Why didn’t he notice this sooner? It’s everywhere now; there’s no escape. Where is his door? Ah, right there. Rather blurry too although his head isn’t hurting the way it was when the hospital ambulance came with Lambert’s body inside. His door is right here. Not over there, fenced by well-wishers with wet eyes and pitying looks specifically darted at him. The whispers of people who landed their gazes at him for the first time, the silent question whether this was truly the prided Blaiddyd heir because he looked so hollow and weak.

He grabs the doorknob. Outside, the corridor is pretty empty; fresh air fills his lungs that his head starts to clear too. He isn’t drowning, right? His room is on the third floor. A pretty nice studio setup even though it isn’t that big, let alone luxurious. He likes it that way. In a sense, he feels… normal.

“... Exactly what I’m saying. A hotpot sounds awesome!”

“Bleh, my legs feel numb.”

“That can be cured with a hotpot!”

“If it’s decided, I don’t mind.”

Chatters begin to fill the corridor. Dimitri turns around, finding a group of lads stopping at their tracks exactly as he finds them there as well. What an odd encounter—are they marking him? But ah, that’s the kind new face who helped showing him around, what was the name again…

Right, Dedue. Thanks to him, Dimitri knows the closest minimarket and a good place to get a quick breakfast and morning coffee. Dedue even tells him when the apartment’s cafeteria closes in case he needs a meal but doesn’t have time to go outside. And now he stands there with a unique bunch—a tall redhead, a raven-haired man who complained about his legs, and lastly a man with freckles who suggested the hotpot. “Uh,” the blonde nods awkwardly. “My apologies. Was I too loud?”

They look at him in return.

“Who is this?” the redhead asks. “I’ve never seen you around.”

“The new transfer student,” Dedue explains.

“Oh. The Russian one,” the raven-haired one glances at him. “Felix.”

“I’m Sylvain,” the redhead winks at him. “And hotpot boy here is Ashe.”

“Nice to meet you! You’re from where? Wow, so far away. I heard your winters are deadly cold! What are you majoring in?”

“Da. I mean, yes. Ah—slow, please. Slower.”

“Oooh, I’m sorry! What is your name again? Want to join us for the hotpot? Should be okay if he tags along—right, guys? And right, I’m Ashe, by the way!”

He blinks. The silver-haired man shakes his hand—nervous but warm, regardless, while the redhead who introduces himself as Sylvain welcomes him with the kind of familiarity and friendliness which doesn’t make him feel forced. Felix casts an appraising look and frankly asks if he plays any sport, and whether he’s interested in a challenge. Quite an unlikely way to approach a new person, but he doesn’t mind this way—frank without pretense. Such a unique bunch indeed. Lively but natural at the same time.

“Yes. Show me the pot that is hot. I am Dimitri Alexandre.”

He excuses himself to grab his wallet and jacket while they wait outside. The booklet is still on his bed just like the last time he left it—open in the middle of the offered course list.

He heaves.

Dima, tvoy otets mertv—your father is dead.

“Hey, Dimitri! We’re gonna wait by the elevator, okay?” Sylvain shouts. “Come on, guys.”

He glances down again. Right, his father is dead…

Fingers crossed, he drags his pen over the booklet. He is taking that elective music class.

Chapter Text

Everything around her is dark.

Taking time to readjust, she blinks a couple of times—first her eyelids feel like betraying her, and her head throbs as well. What time is it again? She went to bed in the afternoon only to wake up when the world is dark, exactly what she has been doing for a week following Jeralt’s death.

A flicker of faint light distracts her as she rubs on her head. Strange, where is she again? A night full of fireflies, like one of those nights where she sneaked out of the farm, trying to breathe whilst hoping that her father would show up at the field with a smile as always? One of those moments where he would tilt his head to face her, a chiding smile worn on his lips but his eyes spoke of an understanding—there is never a need to rein her in because she has always been an active child even though she does not say much. She likes the feeling of sunshine over her skin. She likes the heavy chores they need to do at times. And at night, fireflies would make a spectacular little show—the weather would be quite warm, her father would smile and her mother would laugh.

Except that flickering light is not a firefly; rather, it’s her phone.

Byleth, how are you feeling? Answer me.

Without saying anything, she simply locks her phone again. What does she need to tell? That she has arrived instead of dying somewhere in the middle of the road? That her taxi did take her back to the student-oriented apartment, back to the complex of Garreg Mach?

She is slightly older than Leonie. Even if she chooses something other than feeling sad, it’s still her right no matter how distasteful it is. Leonie can...

She stops there. Whether Leonie can or cannot isn’t supposed to be her problem but Leonie herself.

Byleth kicks herself off the bed. She fell asleep in shorts and tanktop, leaving her shivering a bit out of cold. To the side of her bed, her curtains billow softly, allowing cold night breeze to fill the room. Hollow eyes scan her surroundings as she closes the windows quietly, lips shivering a little bit because of the sudden difference in the weather. Perhaps her own body is crying out to her, asking to be nurtured and fed because she didn’t eat anything since the morning. Byleth

To her, night time is wonderful because the universe has grown quiet. People’s activities begin to cease. The world stops for a while only to roll again after the sun rises, giving her the comfort and safe feeling that she has been deprived of. Better this way; if only the strong detergent smell lasted much longer as well...

The blanket is there, on the bed. She imagines it to be staring at her, asking her the question she dreads the most. She can pretend that Leonie isn’t waiting for her answer, but the motionless blanket is still there on her bed, messy because she dove her fists into it. She twisted it. Wrapped it around her. Buried her face in it. But even after the many naps of countless hours, some things remain the same—like the sense of dread she cannot untangle, or how the blanket, now laid messily against the floor, reminds her of Jeralt when the latter was in contemplative mood. She would walk in, surprise him a little bit only to see him sighing and commenting how mischievous she was. Despite the soft grumbling, those eyes appeared warm, and he would place his hand on top of her head, ruffling her hair.

Her father loved to call her as ‘kid’ while other parents gave other nicknames to their daughters. Shortened version of their names, endearing ones that spoke of sweetness. Princess, for example; but to her father, it was just ‘kid’.

And she likes it that way.

Groggily, Byleth puts on her jacket. While she is sure she has no problem to go back to the bed and sleep again for the next millennium to come, her body screams for food. New class starts tomorrow and she just wants to be done with everything quickly, something hard to achieve with an empty stomach. At least she remembers where she stashes her purse.

Byleth drags her feet. Her steps are strong but languid. Rain swipes the ground by the time she arrives downstairs. The chill air starts to wrap itself around her—like a shroud. Like the bedsheet they used to cover Jeralt Eisner until a doctor came to truly make sure that he was dead. Chill and lifeless, just like how Jeralt’s hand felt when she touched it.

But the rain is lively, and has always been a loud crier while being a modest feeler. It makes itself heard after concealing everything perfectly; one loud cry while nobody can predict when the gloomy sky finally gives up.

Perhaps the rain cries so that she won’t have to?

And the rain isn’t supposed to sound moaning like human. Byleth stares blankly at the sight of a person slumping on the couch like she is nearly swallowed by a quicksand. “Manuela,” the name comes out smoothly out of her lips. The Garreg Mach professor was among the first who offered her condolences when her father died. Manuela also supported her decision when she came for a council to pause her study for a year because her mother’s condition worsened. But now the charming professor looks rather miserable in her current state, and Byleth catches her when she tumbles off the couch. “Manuela—Professor... is everything alright?” Even her hair looks disheveled. Manuela has never been seen looking less than well-groomed as far as she recalls, but now...

“Who?” there’s a whisper coming from the couch, and Byleth gently flips the older woman to sit on her back rather than having her face swallowed by the couch.

“I’m Byleth,” she says, plain and simple. She retrieves her shoe, propelled under the couch like a missed projectile to fix it back on her foot. “Have you been... drinking?”

“Drinking? My, my, I just started,” the older woman chuckles. With whatever is left on her, she manages to stand up, tidying her askew dress. Eagerly, Byleth picks up the shawl to drape it over her shoulders, examining the older woman silently with her eyes. “I haven’t been drinking,” Manuela scoffs. Her breath reeks alcohol, but Byleth decides to let it go. “If anything, I have been rejected.”

Ah.

“Again and again,” she says, this time glancing into a distance.

Byleth picks up the older woman’s phone from the floor, messily thrown near her shoe prior. It had to fall off when she dove into the couch. Manuela’s gaze follows when Byleth’s lingers on her phone’s screen. “Sorry,” Byleth mutters. “I was just checking for damage.”

“It’s okay,” Manuela replies. “Discarded and thrown away—like me.”

“Let’s just get you upstairs,” Byleth says. “Come on. I’ll help you.”

The older woman’s phone buzzes and flickers, vibrating as Byleth slings an arm to help her walk. The food can wait. Perhaps she can just order one of those twenty-hour delivery service. It’s just food. It shouldn’t even matter what goes in—it’s not like she has been paying attention to what she eats lately...

The rain only gets to be heavier as the air becomes colder. No wonder nobody is out. It’s close to midnight; Byleth has been making peace with her irregular sleeping hours knowing well she wouldn’t taste her bed again until dawn before her first class starts at ten.

“Your phone is buzzing,” Byleth says, her tone gently as though coaxing a child. “Wouldn’t you want to check it? Maybe from some concerned people.”

“I don’t think so,” Manuela’s lips curve into a cynical smile. “Besides, who?”

Good question. Byleth cannot answer that.

“Besides, it’s just this dating application I’m using,” the older woman chuckles then hiccups. Manuela trips on her shoe, causing the heel to break. Thrown off balance she leans against Byleth’s shoulders, her nose nuzzling against the latter’s abundant mint-colored hair.

Byleth smiles slightly when Manuela cusses, her legs disobeying her. Something feels familiar somehow; she was grieving, sad and angry at the same time. She still is. Hearing Manuela starts cussing about her broken shoe or the dates who left her after the fun was over is cathartic. The thought makes Byleth pause whilst Manuela tries to regain her balance by wrapping her arm around her waist. It doesn’t feel right to feel this way, but she won’t lie that hearing someone blast anger that she cannot, in fact, feels right regardless of deranged or not.

And Byleth appreciates frank people who can just voice whatever they are feeling because she knows it is hard. She cannot. She couldn’t even reply Leonie’s simple question. Her head feels like an undefined area, a constantly-loading web page but blank at the same time. How is she going to even rumor these questions? She did not want people to be concerned of her. Yet at the same time Alois’ and Leonie’s constant... bothering to check up on her makes her feel less alone. Like for a moment the blanket has turned into a mere fabric and not this shadow bearing her late father’s face judging her in silence.

“Can you walk?” Byleth asks. Perhaps if she concentrates on working on other people, she will forget that herself needs some work too.

“Why, of course,” Manuela giggles, but her eyes spit fire. “I let men walk out. Why wouldn’t I be able to walk to my own room?”

“Come on,” Byleth nudges her softly. “The elevator is just right there.”

“Aww. Don’t talk to me like that, young Byleth. Are you going to leave as well? They left after giving me that tone. They all said that—come on, as they would, but they hardly ever cared where I came from,” Manuela’s bitter chuckles once again sing their score. “Theeere, you seem to be annoyed. Won’t you say anything, dear? I’m heavy, aren’t I?”

The taunt doesn’t bother her. Will it be odd to actually feel glad to appear having emotion as Manuela pointed out? She looks annoyed? That seems like a fresh air compared to the hollow, empty blank stares save for the eyebags that haunt her each time she faces her own mirror in the room. Gentle but firm, Byleth’s strength makes its way to steady Manuela at her feet as they gingerly trace the floor together.

“No, I’m not. But we’ll need to go back now,” she replies simply, her tone gentle and comforting. For some reason, Manuela’s response reminds her of her mother’s apologetic lines as her condition worsened. Each favor given would be followed with a response of apology that was never asked for. When Sitri Eisner became bedridden, she would whisper the apology each time she was helped to eat or dress...

“You are kind,” Manuela mutters. “Veeery kind.”

Byleth’s lips quirk bitterly in return.

Yet it then becomes apparent that she is not alone in the corridor. Some regions have their urban legends, a fated meeting place like a gate or a vortex. Perhaps this is the case with the elevator at the student-oriented apartment of Garreg Mach University because the tall, blond person whom she met during the day of her arrival was also there, dressed in shorts and simple tanktops that his appearance seems to be so out of place in the midst of a setting like this. He nods at her politely, gaze falling on the slurring, messy Manuela in her embrace. Byleth’s eyes bark a silent warning at blonde, telling him that he better keeps his mouth shut and saves his judgment for himself.

It seems that shutting up is not going to be the case for a fellow night-roamer like him. Perhaps she shouldn’t be surprised—someone who is still up at such hour, let alone dressed like that during a heavy shower, could have been a force to be reckoned with. Still, she braces for any comment, gauging whether it is necessary to give a blue eye if needed.

“Is she... alright?”

Byleth stops moving. The blonde looks at her curiously, yes; but rather than silently judging or looking flabbergasted, his concern comes off... sincere. “Drunk, but I’ll make sure that she will be,” she says simply, wondering why he still waits. “Uh,” she gestures at him. “You are the third floor resident from the other day, right?”

“Yes. Dimitri,” he gives her a hand. “I’m not a bandit-stalker.”

Something pokes her in the chest when he said it. “I didn’t mean to imply...”

“No problem. Ladies do everything to stay safe.”

Byleth pauses. The way he replies reminds her of her own, in a way—rather blunt, but sincere. “Still,” she muses. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be assuming weird things about you.” He appears to be taken aback as though he lost his voice and can only stare at her. Sensing how conflicting he behaves, she asks again. “What’s wrong?”

“None,” Dimitri responds. “I am very honored.”

“Honored?”

“Touched. Yes, touched,” he mutters. “Very much appreciated. Thank you very much.”

Ah.

“Are we there yeeet,” Manuela’s words slur and trail. “Oh no, a man. One trouble gone, here comes another.”

“Please, pay no mind to her—she doesn’t mean it,” Byleth says. However Dimitri simply shakes his head, giving her a little smile. Somehow her chest flutters a bit when he did just that—how come that little nice touch turns out to be... very nice?

“Understood. No angry,” Dimitri blurts. “I’ve seen this case before...”

“Huh?” Byleth looks at him as he cranes his neck to approach the older woman.

“If you permit, may I carry you to rest?”

“Go on. Do your worst. This life has a knack to do it to me, anyway,” the older woman cackles, but a cough stops her bursts in her throat.

“Pardon...” Dimitri nods at both ladies, almost behaving like he is bowing at them. His movement is quick and Byleth can see how his biceps contract as he sweeps Manuela off her feet. The sleeveless shirt he is wearing can only do so little to hide the beautiful shape of his biceps; strong muscles teaming together with the gentle gesture creates a perfect harmony that she never knows can exist.

Byleth presses the elevator button for them all. Somehow an impish thought starts to bake in her mind—too tempting to be let go just yet. “I suppose this time it’s my turn,” she says lightly, gesturing at the elevator which door she then also holds for him.

“I did kindness not for a payback turn,” Dimitri replies—firm like a scoff. However he withdraws soon after, glancing at the half-asleep Manuela who is cradled safely in his arms. “Pardon again...” this time, the blonde makes out a whisper. “English... I am trying.”

That has to be third ah Byleth made for the night. Something in her rises. The rain is still coming down out there, but somehow her chest feels... warm. “We are all trying, Dimitri,” she murmurs, suddenly feeling cheeky for testing his name in her mouth like that. Alas, it feels fitting too. “In that part, or something-other. It's alright.”

“You are right,” he hums.

She hates how nice he sounds when he drops his octaves like that. “Not cold?” with a simple gesture, she points at herself, making motions with her hands to signal around the clothes, hoping to give him a simpler time to understand what she hints at.

“Oh, no. I come from a cold place. This is just alright.”

Silence again and Byleth is back being the one to hold the elevator for them all as they arrive at the floor where Manuela stays. “To the right,” she whispers, glancing at Manuela. Dimitri simply navigates his moves without question.

“I’m not asleep,” the older woman protests. Byleth strokes her hair gently.

“Do you usually help drunk people?” she says. “Or just drunk ladies?”

That was a tease, but judging from Dimitri’s expression, Byleth feels a bit guilty. She is ready to clear everything up and even apologize as she should, but the blonde’s honest answer bites back every starter she can think of. “Sad ladies,” he says. “When I was younger. Some cried after meeting my uncle.”

Byleth stares.

“You,” he continues. “Looking for what?”

She closes her eyes. “Food,” finally, an answer. “I overslept. Silly, I know.”

“No. I would love to oversleep. Peaceful.”

Byleth glances down. Her fringes chaotically fall around her face, framing it; hiding her expression from the apartment’s newest resident over there. “I agree.”

“Phone flickers,” Dimitri points out what she did before.

“She told me it was a dating application, so not important,” Byleth answers.

“Oh. Why make one if not liking it?” Dimitri asks. Byleth gestures at him to wait at a certain door while Manuela tries to find her key, drowned in her purse.

“Because we all need to feel something,” the older woman sighs, giving her key to Byleth. “My head spins. Help me, darling, if you please.”

“Sure,” Byleth replies comfortingly. Dimitri excuses himself once again as he asks where Manuela’s bed is so that he can take her there. Byleth, on the other hand, ponders on the simple line Manuela gave her; Dimitri’s broad shoulders hinder her sight to reach the older woman, but considering there is no more sound coming from the main bedroom, she assumes Dimitri has accomplished their mission perfectly.

“She is about to sleep,” Dimitri says. “I put water on counter.”

“That is very nice of you,” Byleth gives him a hand in return. “I’m Byleth.”

“That is very nice of you as well,” he takes it. His handshake is strong. His grip is. However, at the same time it’s also... warm. Again. “The lady told me she ordered three large boxes. Boneless chickens. We can take one each.”

It’s tempting for her to smile in return. “I can’t believe she is paying us with chickens.”

“But you looked for food,” Dimitri replies seriously. “Nice feeling, no?”

We all need to feel something.

“Better, perhaps,” Byleth says. “Professor Manuela?”

“What is so professor-y about me in this state,” Manuela grumbles. “Profess... sorry, yes.”

“You talked to Alois today,” Byleth hums.

“Damn right I do. The man’s got a family waiting for him back home,” Manuela replies under her breath. “I have these jackasses on the phone. Life is funny.”

“If no like,” Dimitri blurts. “No need to reply.”

Both women stop talking.

“They should not ask for an explanation. No itself is an explanation.”

Byleth truly smiles a bit as she and Dimitri leave Manuela’s apartment with a box of chickens in hand. How odd. She probably doesn’t need the jacket over all because the night turns out to be much warmer.

“I feel like a warlord,” Dimitri blurts. “Help woman, take her food.”

“It’s a gift,” she says. “Going back?”

“Da. Hope you too. So late now.”

She hums again.

“I have this idea,” Dimitri blurts suddenly. “Had I known Fodlan nights to be this warm, I might not even need a shirt at all.”

Byleth smiles.

Chapter Text

Because we all need to feel something.

She twirls the pen between her fingers. Being a student of Garreg Mach, it does not take long for her to kick off a good start. She does not need a matriculation; after all she is a returning student. Most of everything is still the same, the way they were when she left last year. There has not been any major changes that caused her eyes to leave their sockets, but Humanities courses tend to see big classes due to inter-major students looking for a liberal arts subject to complete their semester credits.

Byleth drowns her face behind the backpack she places on her desk. Her seat is cold because both of the air conditioners in the large classroom directly face her; one from behind, and another from the front. With the cold air haunting her back and the rotating fan blowing chill wind on top of her head, it’s getting hard to stay awake. Her sleeping schedule is messed up at this point, and with the monochrome colors she tends to wear on a daily basis, the least she would expect to happen soon is not just her falling asleep in daylight—it’s people assuming her to be a vampire.

Perhaps the good part about being a returning student like this is that many people she used to know have already graduated. It’s probably much preferable to have these new faces and younger colleagues to stay away from her than having to redo all the introduction process altogether, especially with the possibility of telling people about her life because she was absent for a year.

Because we all need to feel something.

She feels cold. She feels sleepy. Is that not enough?

She blinks when something hits her in the back. Her head accidentally bumps against the desk, but before she manages to react, a voice already intrudes. “Oooh, I’m so sorry!! That was truly unintentional, are you alright?”

Byleth quickly takes her slumping head off the desk. The person who accidentally knocks her bends down to check on her, giving her a sight of neat rolls of green hair adorned with a gold hairpin. Why, this face feels familiar. The color, too… “Have we met? My memory is rather hazy,” Byleth says, taking out her phone to check on herself. There’s a red mark that starts appearing on her forehead.

“My, you are bruised…” the girl drops her books beside her.

“Not a big deal,” Byleth shrugs. “Everyone needs to feel something.”

“Huh?”

“Nothing,” she says. “So you are…”

“Flayn!” the girl enthusiastically shakes her hand. “I think I saw you at the office.”

Byleth carves a bitter smile. Of course. That has to explain why the green hair looks familiar. Like Rhea’s well-groomed strands or even Professor Seteth’s nicely-combed hair. How could she even forget why she despised that office? She felt her life drained; the office smelled like death because…

Because Sitri Eisner also had fabulous long green hair, lifeless like fine threads as they laid her in state. Her mother looked so pure and fragile in the white dress they clothed her with, lifeless hands filled with her fresh favorite flowers—peonies and hyacinths that she loved, and camellias of red and white which she had grown to treasure because her father liked giving them as a token of love and appreciation. Her mother was, in the words of her father, life itself. Everything that is good about life or how an ideal one is supposed to be—very kind and optimistic, cheerful and compassionate.

Such life died with her. The other side of life also died with him.

But Flayn is not Rhea or Seteth. She met the girl once when they were taking a general class together. It’s thanks to her that Byleth had a better understanding of their introduction to philosophy class because the girl had a good grasp of the old texts. “Oh, right…” Byleth replies, rather weakly. However it’s hard to deny that meeting Flayn turns out to be better than she thought—the girl is everything that is familiar and not familiar at the same time. Such an odd balance, perhaps, but then she figures she doesn’t mind…

“I’ll be taking this one and the religious studies class,” Flayn whispers a little because their lecturer has entered the class, nodding with a smile at the faces who will decorate the classroom for the current academic period. There are probably fifty students and more sitting in the twentieth-century music class that she takes, but the classroom, despite being spacious, is quiet enough that the girl won’t risk the lecturer hearing them.

“Nice,” Byleth replies, her mind half-asleep. “You can help me again.”

Flayn smiles. “I remember your nice singing voice when we tried that hymn.”

Byleth doesn’t respond. The introduction session starts as an ice-breaker because their lecturer will be only talking about the syllabus and summarizing the upcoming courses. Her mind starts to fly by the time the lecturer casually asks class attendants about their major and what lands them in the music class in the first place. Bed, bed bed; the warm blanket which she left to dry after dousing it in the strong fragrant detergent once again. The air conditioner is cold. This class is chill. Just like how the ground felt when they set down her father’s coffin. Just like the fateful night when rain broke over the sky to cry for Sitri Eisner’s unexpected departure.

“Ah, so most of you are history majors, performance art majors, or visual art majors,” the lecturer smiles, looking pleased as she starts to write down the groups in question on a clean, wide whiteboard. “Besides the humanities folks, of course. To begin with, what first crossed your mind when you thought about this class? What do you think you would learn, and what do you want to see from this class? Don’t be shy, speak your mind. I’d like to hear from the non-humanities majors first, please, any volunteer?”

Byleth shivers. Cold, cold, cold. The black coffee she took in the morning was the only food besides the boneless chickens from Manuela that she already cleared that night.

“I’d like to see modern history. Human history. It’s getting boring with all the petticoats and corsets, you see?” a history major jokes, earning a few chuckles from everyone else.

“I’m majoring in education. I’d like to be an educator, so this is essential for me,” another answer immediately receives a few thoughtful nods.

“As a performance art major, I’d like to explore my potential through music. At the same time, I also wish to reach more people by understanding how music shapes our world. Perhaps we can heal each other this way,” there comes another answer, and the class is soon filled with sincere claps from the admiring students.

Byleth grits her teeth. Cold. Way too cold. Is it the room, or is she sick?

“Interesting, very interesting! All of you have such a great mindset to begin with,” the lecturer also nods in return, glancing back at the eager students with a smile. “Before we move on… oh, wait. The gentleman over there. How about you?”

Everyone darts their eyes at a certain location, startling a certain person in the process. Byleth shifts in her chair to bury her hands under her thighs, accidentally ramming against the other student’s desk in return. He looks at her, and she gives him a short apologetic nod. She should have brought another cup of coffee into this class.

“Me?” he says. “Me…?”

From the corner of her eyes, she recognizes him. Dimitri, the blond transfer student.

“I uh,” he fixes his sitting position as he speaks—straight with his back pressed against the chair, but at the same time also… poised. He appears so awkward and uncomfortable, as though he wishes to bury his face under the ground like an ostrich. “Vyshnegradsky. Oh, did you mean me? Ah, pardon, I… am an applied mathematics major.”

Suddenly, silence.

“Wow, that is quite unlikely,” the lecturer blurts. “It’s more common to see a STEM major to cross to study music, but a humanities department getting one of them is rare.”

“Computer science minor,” Dimitri blurts again. “What is rare about me?”

“God, he’s a nerd,” some people whisper with a chuckle. “But with muscles.”

Dimitri stares blankly, and Byleth quickly drops a note.

It’s alright. Everyone needs to feel sometimes.

She apologizes for bumping against his desk again as she fixes her awkward sitting position, left hand buried under her left thigh for some warmth. However the surprise is hers rather than his for having the desk rocked that way—she thought she saw a glimpse of a shadow coming from behind, only to find a two-sizes-bigger jacket draped over her. Warm like a protective cocoon…

“You are cold,” Dimitri states simply, one hand beckoning at the deadly air conditioner shadowing her from the front. “It is alright to feel cold. You can borrow.”

Byleth gives him a simple thankful nod. Everyone truly needs to feel some things sometimes.

****


Dimitri dribbles the ball past Sylvain.

The redhead grunts when the blonde saves himself from the attack, dodging the former’s stretched arm aiming to take the ball from him. Felix tries to rival him with speed more than anything, so Dimitri pivots to run backwards, letting his posture to block Sylvain’s attempt at seizing the ball. He quickly moves the ball to the other hand when Felix approaches, and jumps higher as Ashe tries to take his chance. 

But Dedue is the immoveable mountain that he cannot conquer. Standing taller and formidable with more solid defense than he is, Dedue thwarts Dimitri’s attempt to score a dunk, swatting the ball off the latter’s hand to land a beautiful dunk on its own. Dimitri drops his weight onto the ground because Dedue’s perfectly-executed move throws him off balance, and the rest of the group claps enthusiastically when Dedue wipes the court by scoring the highest among them.

“You okay there?” he glances down. Dimitri chuckles, splashing his scraped knee with the mineral water they placed together with the bags.

“It’s alright. Just a scratch.”

He has found a nice companionship among the lions, or so the group call themselves. Blue Lions, they say, apparently because their previous study group was named that way. Coming from the same high school formed a tight-knit bond, but not even college separated them because regardless of the differing majors, the group stays as the friends keep supporting each other in various other ways. Sylvain, the redhead, says he wants to be an immigration lawyer, while Felix surprisingly has his eyes on public health. Dedue already told him about his agriculture major because he dreams of committing reforestation for a better future, while the humble and just Ashe is aiming to be a nurse.

Their group consists of the most unlikely bunch, perhaps, due to the widespread and diverse talent each of the individual possesses. However the camaraderie is strong, and they make a lively but sincere bunch, and Dimitri cannot feel any more happier to be there.

Perhaps it’s even more relieving to know that he’s not alone—Sylvain and Felix so far expressed their discomfort with their family while Ashe and Dedue find themselves constantly saving money because they come from a less privileged place compared to the rest of the group. However, Dimitri finds his lips tightly sealed when Sylvain, with his typical suave flamboyant approach, asks how life was back home.

What can he tell them? His womanizing uncle? The hefty expectation they placed on his shoulders? The snowy days where his father took him to swim and do sports to strengthen him? The headache nights out of stealing to study music under the blanket with a flashlight?

“How do you like your classes so far?” Ashe asks as they sit on the ground to cool down. Dimitri looks completely fried—face red like a lobster, shirt drenched in sweat. The shorter man wisely refrains himself from pointing out that the blonde had looked refreshed and lively during their friendly free-play.

Liberating.

“Nice,” Dimitri mumbles after closing his eyes a bit. He does not feel like elaborating any further, and the group doesn’t feel like asking, either, thinking it was due to the language barrier. “I don’t know if we will practice. But there is a lot of reading.”

“Ah, yeah, humanities classes tend to be like that,” Sylvain ponders. “Like mine too.”

“That is where I struggle,” Dimitri says. “Although I not understand.”

“What is?” Dedue is the one who asks, giving the blonde a sympathetic smile.

“Music,” Dimitri responds. “It’s not to be read. You have to play. Feel it.”

“Ha, spoken like a true musician. Are you sure you’re a mathematician?” Felix blurts as he wipes his face with a clean towel. “Why don’t we get changed and grab some food?”

Dimitri’s lips stretch slightly to form a sad smile. Felix didn’t mean anything for saying that, but needless to say, his words add more thoughts into his already crowded mind…

“Too bad our schedules are conflicted. We’d love to assist you more,” Ashe ponders. “Is there nobody you can get close to so you can learn the ropes?”

“Ah. There was this lady from last night…”

Sylvain whistles. “Man, you are quick.”

“N-not that kind of night lady!” Dimitri blushes and stutters while Felix pats his back. “And why must I learn about the ropes? That is a woman, not a bunch of spinach.”

“Your imagination, though, Dimitri,” Sylvain breaks a laughter. “I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you mingle with more people? Who knows, something interesting may come out of it.”

“Mingle with more people?”

“See, like this. Take a look!” Sylvain swipes his phone screen, and Felix fakes a cough.

“Not that one, please, and thank you—better not turn our new guy here to follow your wayward ways.”

“Wayward ways. How redundant, Fe,” Sylvain teases. “At least this helps if you get too shy to talk in person, no? Or perhaps—perhaps you can find another person who has read these books you are told to. Maybe you can hook up with a cute music major or something.”

“Why hook up? That is a lady, not a coat hanger.”

Felix smirks while Dedue smiles.

“Making more friends without having to face them directly,” Sylvain nods, however. “See, like my profile over here. First we’ll need to find you a suitable picture…”

“You eat cats for breakfast?” Dimitri frowns. “But you told me you loved cornflakes!”

“Eh, n-not that one, holy shit—I’m editing it,” Sylvain grabs his phone back. “Now…”

“Eh, whatever. I’m soaking,” Dimitri pulls the shirt from over his head, pouring the content of his mineral water over his face. He waits a bit to dry everything with the towel like Felix did, dumping the sweaty sport shirt into an extra bag he prepared in his backpack, layering his body with the jacket from the class so that he isn’t completely shirtless. And…

“You know what, that is good.”

“Huh?” Dimitri blinks because Sylvain takes a quick shot.

“Yes, like this! Listen, I’m less than decent, but I’m honorable. Look!” the redhead grins, parading his capture like a war trophy to the blonde. Dimitri frowns again.

“Me in no shirt?”

“That will get the babes better, Dimitri!” Sylvain nods.

“But I want adult humans. How are you going to expect a baby to understand a college module?” Dimitri frowns deeper. “Wait. Oh, no—if I get awkward and do bad English, they will probably think I’m a Russian spy again.”

“Hmm. Fair point. Then don’t use your name,” Sylvain croons. “Is there another way to call you? Something other than Dimitri?”

“There is another Slavic variant with Dimitar,” the blonde replies… in a serious manner.

“As if they could tell the difference,” Felix snickers. “I tell you what, this won’t work.”

“Oh, but it will,” Sylvain winks. “Because Dimitri isn’t you, Fe.”

“Bleh,” Felix responds… totally in a very mature way. “He’s good like this. I bet it’s more fun dealing with numbers than people because numbers aren’t you and they don’t even talk.”

Dimitri’s lips curve a little. Sometimes truth needs no wine to be summoned…

“Alright, age?” Sylvain types when Dimitri hands him his phone out of curiosity.

“Twenty-three just like most of you.”

“Got it. I’m just going to set up your account, you can always fill your profile later,” Sylvain cracks his knuckles as if he’s facing a tough opponent. “And what should you call yourself here then? Dimitar sounds way too close to Dimitri. Need a better name for alibi.”

“Hmm. My middle name is Alexandre,” the blonde touches his skin, reveling in the sweet cooling wind that wipes the fringes off his face. “Ah, how about this—use a Sasha.”

“Shashka?”

“No, no. Sasha. That’s a sword,” Dimitri says.

“Oh? Now that’s interesting,” Felix blurts from the corner. 

“F-folks. Alibi? Are we setting him a dating application profile, or planning murder?”

“Shut up, Ashe,” Sylvain and Felix find a rare moment of agreement. The redhead returns the phone again to Dimitri, showing his latest creation. “So, it’s like this! Feel free to tweak it as you like. Wish you luck, my friend.”

“Tweak?”

“Customizing it as you see fit!”

“Hmm…” Dimitri ponders. His face reddens a little. “I’ve never done this before.”

“There’s always a first time, baby.”

Probably true. Like defying his family by taking that music class.

Because we all need to feel something…

“It flickers,” Dimitri mutters. “What do I do now?”

“Why, found someone cute there?” 

Everyone now crowds around him out of curiosity. Sylvain whistles again because the photo he took for the profile gained a considerable amount of likes in due short time while Dimitri looks at his phone, bewildered. There’s some sense of comfort upon seeing that it’s the new American card that runs his phone, not the card from home. He already defied his family behind their back by going back to music even for a little bit, and with the baggage he is already dragging figuratively at his feet, guilt is not that easy to forget when he tries new things he couldn’t even imagine.

“The photo is steak,” Dimitri mumbles. “And it’s a…” he reads again. “Bayleaf.”

“Are you kidding me,” Felix blurts.

“Meatleaf. What do you call that again?”

Dedue decides it’s time to help the new guy out of his misery then. “Meatloaf?”

“Ah, right…” absent-mindedly, Dimitri swipes, and… “What does this mean?”

“You are matched,” Sylvain looks down. “She swiped too. Wanna chat her up?”

“Chat the meatloaf? I suppose… that’s what you typically do?” Dimitri asks. “Ah, sorry. I didn’t do this back home. I was always busy.”

“Well,” Felix shrugs. “I’d probably talk to a steak than a human woman at this point either, so who can blame you again?”

“As if these women would choose you over a steak,” Sylvain sneers, giving a finger-gun at an awkward, apologetic Ashe. “Did you message her, though?”

“Hmm. I suppose…” Dimitri mutters. "And now what do I do again?"

“You wait. That simple. And see if it's fun,” Sylvain pats his him on the shoulder. “Congrats, my dude, now let's eat?”

Dimitri nods silently, rereading the message he just sent.

Sasha
Greetings, Meatloaf.

His friends are right, though—all that is left to do is waiting. After all, this isn't so bad. He got the help he needed—it is meatloaf and not meatleaf. He really needs to ask if there's a bayloaf too later. So, language-wise, he's got everything covered and this doesn't have to end up as a date. What can go wrong again?

Chapter Text

“Byleth, we really need to talk about this,” Leonie’s voice rings in her head. She lifts one leg up, leaning it against the wall; her other pillow goes under her back. Has she truly turned old after having lived this life for a quarter century because her back aches?

“Hmm?” Byleth asks, her eyes glued towards her laptop. Her department begins to distribute course materials, including some readings, ebooks, and even PDF documents. She figures Leonie starts to lose her cool as well because the redhead sighs audibly, her frankness turns into something more demanding.

“Byleth,” she starts again. “I said you’d need to look into some things because your parents left a couple of things in their will. Your mother prepared an attorney for it.”

“Yeah.”

There’s a pause coming from the other side, and Byleth pops a handful of potato chips into her mouth. Leonie tones down her voice when she speaks to her again. “Byleth,” she says, almost begging. “Let’s do this again. You can’t just pretend this isn’t happening.”

“Mmmphdhaslfjlsfooosthun.”

“Wha—?”

Fuck.

Byleth grabs a bottle of water at the foot of her bed. Swallowing it like a stranded sailor who had to live off ocean water, she returns her attention back to her phone, and then Leonie. Nearing nine. She just woke up from her nap… again. “If you are so good at taking care of this all, then why don’t you just do it then?”

Another silence.

“... What do you mean?” Leonie asks, her tone wary. Or so Byleth imagines because her frankness vanquished, leaving a startled person who comes off meek instead. Did she catch her off guard, like a surprised horror movie protagonist who immediately lost their voice after a surprising encounter with the beast in question?

“You are so good at this,” Byleth replies.

“Oh,” this time the other girl’s tone changes—low like a hiss. “Then you are bad at this.”

“Yeah.”

“Byleth.”

“Yeah?”

“Byleth, what do you mean?”

“What do you mean?”

“Byleth…”

“Oops, my group wants a brainstorm. Talk to you later.”

“Hey, wait!”

But Byleth kills the call, her eyes hollowly staring at the screen. Nine now? Seriously. Does she truly need to buy food again? Seriously not—there’s at least five cup noodles left in her pantry. She has proven it herself that skipping meals for a day or two didn’t kill her, anyway, surely that stash can last for a week?

Byleth stares blankly at her screen. She really needs this brainstorm, alright. This is a matter of importance, something that can tip the scales for humanity to either fail or prevail. Proud students of a good school such as Garreg Mach prepare themselves for this. And that will be about…

Ah, right. The tenth cat video she watches on a roll ever since she woke up from the nap. Isn’t that the purpose of her awakening? Look at that cat; so clever, so good at everything that it hops and jumps. From what angle did it come again? Such a graceful jump. Oh, its whiskers glisten under the abundant light peeking into the house; now compare that to her own apartment with sealed windows and the curtains she didn’t bother to part again ever since that cold night.

The cold night where she met the sympathetical transfer student. What was his name? What was this cat’s name again? What was she reading before getting distracted? What was she supposed to do again? Her birthday? Zodiac? Is she alive?

We all need to feel something…

Byleth orders her hand to sneak into the chips bag. “Empty,” she whispers in disbelief. Why, somehow this is heart-breaking. Perhaps her pet fish dies. Is this what Manuela felt that night? Is this why she outdrank herself? And here Byleth thought drinking would numb out the senses—doesn’t sound like the right option to pursue when one wishes to feel instead. But Manuela set up a dating application. She said getting messages did make her feel things. Like loved. Like wanted.

Bayleaf, 25. Student. Lives in Fodlan District…

Byleth smirks bitterly. Nobody needs to know her name and who she actually is. Strings attach and hook. She hasn’t let go; therefore she does not want to have to choose between what to keep and what to let go—she wants to keep both of her parents there a little longer.

Byleth coughs. Sounds like coffee time then. Wow, she didn’t know she had the talent to be a coffee sommelier. Coffee is like that too; no strings attached, the taste stays only for so long until it gets swept away with water. With something sweet. With yet another instant noodle cup. With two other cheesy potato chips she can never get enough of.

Manuela said she didn’t know what drove her to adding more and more shots that night.

Likewise, Byleth wonders what drove her to ask the older woman about this dating application, so much that she ended up setting one too. Manuela warned her that the men over there could be a total douchebag—sometimes forceful, sometimes manipulative, sometimes getting way too frank through vulgarity, leaving that unpleasant feeling of being used only to be discarded and ignored in return.

At that time, Byleth listened. She promised Manuela to be careful, but her fingers crossed themselves when the older woman turned around. After all, she wants to feel. She wants to know what it’s like to be emotional; to be sad and angry, to cry or even curse. And she thinks Manuela nearly drunk herself to oblivion exactly to numb her heart—on the other hand, Byleth wants something other…

Bayleaf, 25, student. Should be enough for a fling. Should be enough to deter people who want to get to know her deeper and further. Twenty-five, listing only student as a profession? Surely nobody wants that, right? Surely everyone wants this cool independent woman who already knows what she wants and figures who she is at twenty-five. But of course, not too independent to scare men away. Not too absorbed in her hobbies because a twenty-year old woman is very old, duh, suitable only to bear children and pay her taxes—but not that much to the point of not needing man’s sweet money to support her.

Bayleaf, 25, student. She doesn’t even know why she is there, but Manuela talked about feeling good while it was good—and now she is curious. Making her feel good with the help of another person? Cut the good part, she will still feel. Mission will be accomplished then.

But even then, fooling around turns out to be harder than she imagines. She has no clue why a photo of the last steak she had with her father only got two likes so far—the steak was well-cooked! The meat looked so good! And she thought men liked steaks! She has heard Mercedes, a fellow student and aspiring doctor, needs to castrate her supposedly very manly patient’s dignity with a charming style by putting him on a vegetarian diet for a while. Her steak is there without pretense. On top of that, it’s also naked. What more can men ask for?

Bummer. Nobody cares to swipe her profile too.

Greg
Are you here to snoop on your cheating spouse or something?

Byleth pauses the eleventh cat video she is watching.

Bayleaf
No, are you?

Byleth glances around. Is her bedroom area normally this messy? Can’t be; she cleaned like an obsessed person when her mother died. Not just her room back home—the entire house too. All the rinse-and-repeat for a weekly schedule which she turned into three days then repeat. The bathrooms which she cleaned again and again, morning and night, hoping to give her weary legs and burning back for crouching and bending out of scraping the floor by hands.

Oh, but there are two empty chip bags on her bed…

Greg
Come on, Karen, it has to be you. Who the fuck used a photo of a steak with a bogus profile to flirt?

Byleth blinks. Is this the kind of exhilarating feeling that Manuela talked about? Juicy.

Bayleaf
So you cheated lol?

The man blocks her. Byleth clicks on the next link. Twelfth cat video is playing when her phone buzzes once again...

Byleth looks down. A human man seems to have swiped at the same time. Sasha, twenty-three, also a Fodlan resident, and… a mere kilometer away from there? Look at this man—his face might be hidden or unincluded in the photo, but with a cool night like this who put on an outer layer without a shirt? He seems to be quite well-built if that little sneak peek truly doesn’t lie—there has to be some toned muscles underneath that outerwear. Both of his hands are free, gripping on the fence-or-whatever it was by his side; is this man a frog who took his photo with his tongue? Ah, but his mouth is closed!

Sasha, 23, lives in Fodlan District. A mere kilometer away…

Oh, no, probably a murderer. Finally, something to fear.

… Should she? She does HEMA and holds a kickboxing blackbelt. Not even the thrill of having a possible murderer living nearby is so thrilling anymore now.

Sasha
Greetings, Meatloaf.

Byleth blinks. Finally, someone who is interested in her steak!

Bayleaf
Meatloaf?

Thirteenth cat video at the ready...

Sasha
My friend told me ‘meatleaf’ is incorrect. And there’s no such a thing as a ‘bayloaf’.

Byleth does not play the video.

Bayleaf
Your friend is correct.

Sasha
Oh, thank goodness. I’d hate to be wrong again!

Bayleaf
Wait. -You- hate to be wrong again?

Sasha
He is a wonderful man. They all are. I thrust.

Byleth minimizes her browser.

Bayleaf
Sasha… wait, that is your name?

Sasha
Yes. And yes also.

Bayleaf
Sasha—I’m sorry, did you mean tRust?

Sasha
Oh yes. I suppose ‘thrust’ is stab? I am not a murderer.

Byleth reclines more comfortably on the bed. This isn’t what using a dating application is supposed to be like, right? Where is all the racy-saucy things Manuela talked about?

Bayleaf
Eh. Yes.

Sasha
Oh God then no. I haven’t killed anyone yet.

Byleth blinks. Yet?

Bayleaf
Sasha, are you seducing me?

Live honestly, love unconditionally. That’s what her father said…

Sasha
Seducing you with murder?

Byleth puts down her leg. She is comfortable. Somehow she is very comfortable.

Bayleaf
You are pretty cute.

She wonders what Manuela will say. But first and foremost, she is an adult woman, not a coat hanger. Of course she can tell between cute and a murderer. 

(Allegedly. Since when being an adult guarantees one to be wise?)

Sasha
I am verily sorry, it seems you misunderstood—I am not cute.

Well, well, the gods be damned then because his honesty is.

Bayleaf
No? Are you sure?

Goodness, she has never felt so tempted to use an emoji in a text prior to this one.

Sasha
I am a man. If you are looking for a cute lady, my apologies; I am not one.

A man called Sasha. A man called Sasha who is frank but endearingly honest. A man called Sasha who talks like this but seems to be coming from a good heart. It’s decided then—this Sasha is quite cute. Hey, she does think it is quite cute. Of course she knows boundaries; she has her layered walls too. Wording matters or so she thought—hence, ‘quite’.

Bayleaf
Cute is gender-less. At least for me.

Now she waits.

Sasha
Oh, I learned something new then. Spasiba.

Byleth frowns.

Sasha
I mean, thank you. I am sorry. I struggle.

Her lips quirk into a sympathetic curve. Same, Sasha, same.

Bayleaf
It is alright. Sorry if I surprised you.

Well, she can apologize too.

Sasha
Interesting. Maybe you can teach me more?

Teaching him? Quite a unique way to initiate something… intimate then.

Bayleaf
Teaching you the way to… what?

Is he nice, or is he decent then? One can’t possibly hide for so long.

Sasha
These things. Besides, I have much books to read.

Byleth gasps. Dear—Lord?

Sasha
Is it ‘many books’, or ‘much books’?

Byleth sinks deeper into her bed. She is now very comfortable.

Bayleaf
Many, because you can count the books by one-two-three. We call it a countable noun.

Sasha
Incredible, I owe you!

She came into the application thinking she would not feel the way Manuela would. Or rather, she would feel the way Manuela did—satisfying, in another way. But just that. All that is intimately fun will be over when she closes the application. But now she isn’t sure. What is this overflowing… warmth, all of a sudden?

Bayleaf
Maybe this is not so bad…

Sasha
Ei Bogu—by God—I promise you I am not bad. I will not steal your money.

Now, now—

Sasha
Or offend your honor.

Byleth blinks.

Bayleaf
Sasha, are you… 

She deletes what she is typing. Asking where he came from sounds rude. It doesn't matter anyway, right? Even if someone writes in English, doesn’t necessarily mean they speak it. And who the hell cares? Nobody should. People simply exist anywhere, with or without English. Besides, interactive communication and passively reading something are two different activities.

Bayleaf
Sasha, are you a time traveler?

Sasha
Yes, time travels because it’s relative but also constant as its own existing device.

Byleth ponders on her phone. Truly?

Bayleaf
Yeah?

Sasha
I suppose yes. Hence we measure it through its correlation to other dimensions, as proposed by Euclid and Newton; juxtaposing it with other dimensions such as space and distance, we get it working.

Byleth holds her phone more attentively now. Is he only convincing himself that he is not seducing her?

Sasha
I self-teach and started with textbooks. Apologies for the weird words, my dictionary gave me 'juxtapose'.

She cannot be seduced. She can only be seduced if she invites herself into it.

Bayleaf
No problem! Tell me more? So you are saying, time itself is independent, but to have it defined and measured, you have to connect it with the other dimensions, as proposed by these mathematicians?

… What did she say before? She forgot, but she is only human, dammit.

Sasha
Yes. Euclid called that three-dimensional theory. You are very smart, Miss Meatloaf.

… So this man is not a murderer, but an endearing… what, honor student?

Sasha
I mean Bayloaf.

Byleth maximizes her browser again. What nice food can she order for a real dinner?

Sasha
Oh, Bayleaf! Yes, yes—that is your name, I am very sorry again.

Byleth is glad that she bookmarked her favorite Chinese restaurant. Dandanmian sounds rather unusual for this hour, but who cares? Suddenly, she is hungry. Its spiciness will nicely compliment this newfound enthusiasm. What will Sasha do next, draw her like one of the French girls in those antique paintings?

Bayleaf
Can you draw?

Sasha
Without a ruler? Average.

Ruler?

Bayleaf
Oh, sorry—I mean, can you paint?

Sasha
Paint? Goodness, not at all.

Oh, good. He is not going to draw her like one of those French girls. She is not going to be seduced, alright? Besides—don’t these men have better things to do besides seducing her? Or, don’t these men have more specific people to seduce besides her? Like herrings, perhaps? Real men eat fish—her mother said; and her father was an excellent fisherman.

Bayleaf
Then what can you draw nicely?

Byleth refuses to surrender to the temptation of dropping a winky-face emoji.

Sasha
Trigonometry triangles. Prisms. Asymptotes. The usual.

“Fuck,” Byleth blurts. Also, ‘the usual’, he said? The audacity.

Sasha
I’m sorry for my abruptness, Miss Bayleaf. May I perhaps contact you again if I have questions?

“YES,” Byleth thinks. What is this sudden enthusiasm again?

Bayleaf
Well, let’s see later. Anyway, your English is not bad.

Sasha
Oh, I thank you very much, how wonderful to hear it from someone else…

Alright, it’s official then—Sasha McNerdson is adorable. But surely she won’t say that right away. Play it cool. Besides, what is she, a triangle? But a triangle is probably getting all the attention in the world from him. Wow, she despised triangles in high school. Bastards.

Bayleaf
You are welcome!

Sasha
Does this mean you allow me to continue messaging you?

Damn right she does.

Bayleaf
Here? Eh, sure.

Byleth bites her lips. And he is the one struggling.

Sasha
Alright. If it becomes too much for you, please frankly tell me off :)

… The audacity of this man indeed.

Sasha
Thank you again, Miss. Sorry for the emoticon, but I figured it would make things easier. Good night.

“Miss, he said,” Byleth mutters, staring at her screen in disbelief. Sasha is no longer there, but... 

Alright, he called her that. And he seems to be genuine and sincere. And boy, does the man know his manners! How dare he—

—Not texting her back as promised then if he indeed does not.

Bayleaf, 25, student, lives in Fodlan District; allegedly cannot be seduced.

… Unless she allows it.

Byleth sighs. What is that restaurant’s number again?

Chapter Text

He looks around nervously.

Sweat dropping, he looks on his phone again, making sure that this is truly the place Dedue talked about. The cafeteria near the student-oriented apartment he is staying at is bustling even in such early morning—his phone tells him that it’s six now, but he truly is mistaken thinking there won’t be many people around.

The apartment lobby is busy. Some have that hollow look with an undone jacket while some others are the complete opposite for looking so refreshed after a morning exercise. In the morning, Dimitri woke up with three missed calls from his uncle back home, completely unnoticed because he had gone to sleep much earlier last night. He excused himself from having to chat with the new dating application acquaintance longer than he already did, thinking it would be impolite to prolong everything until it reached midnight. 

However there is no denying that he had an awfully peaceful sleep last night after the unexpected encounter with Miss Meatloaf, so a little celebration won’t hurt, right?

It actually did not take long for Dimitri to find the cafeteria because Dedue gave out a clear direction instruction, even writing down distinctive street clues to guide him around. A fire hydrant between two shops, he said; the left one being a beauty salon. Dedue even wrote down the cafeteria’s name for him just in case.

And it is only after queuing at the counter with many others that Dimitri realizes he has never ordered anything for a sit-in after arriving in Fodlan. His uncle put him in business class aboard. Even then due to the card privilege he was entitled to a nice lounge at the airport with refreshment and a comfortable couch to rest. He wouldn’t need to say anything because these amenities would be delivered to him. If he needed to say something, a finger would be enough to do the talking…

But definitely not here. Dimitri wonders how he truly feels right now—he isn’t that happy because nervousness starts to overwhelm him a little bit. The cafeteria starts to get packed. People speak so fast and call for their orders faster. People consume whatever they are taking from the counter at lightning speed, while those who prefer to have their drinks on the go leave the cafeteria at lightning speed just the same.

“Good morning, how are you?”

Dimitri nearly trips on his own shoes when the waitress greets him. Now this is easy. Textbooks use this starter most often when they want to touch basic greetings. He surely can pass this one. “Fine, and you?”

The waitress gives him a tired smile and Dimitri wonders why some people look at him blankly. Something in his head screams a faux pass immediately, wondering if asking back is just textbook courtesy to keep conversation flowing and definitely not really recommended for real-life interaction. He clears his throat. The waitress doesn’t appear to be annoyed, though—so he will hold on to that.

“What will it be for today?”

“Tea!”

The waitress looks at him again. Dimitri shrinks.

“Tea,” he repeats, toning down his voice. Gods, if he was that nervous before that he shouted his order out, this time he must have sounded like a lost child at a grocery store.

“Just tea?” the waitress asks again.

Dimitri stares back. Oh, suddenly he misses home. Perhaps not home-home as it is now considering his own house isn’t going to feel the same only with his uncle there, but the crowd somehow feels overpowering. It is as though only then he realizes that his new life truly begins, forcing him to deal with all the new environment that comes with it—a new routine, the language he barely uses on a daily basis outside of school or written emails. The people around him live a different kind of lifestyle, which somehow makes him feel separated from the rest of the crowd even though he is literally there, living in Fodlan just like them.

“Sir?”

He gasps. “Yes.”

The waitress stares at him without bothering to hide the doubtful expression on her face, refusing to leave the counter just yet. “Are you sure?”

Dimitri begins to feel his heart sinking. Is he sure? About his own tea? But of course. Even if he orders the wrong thing, it’s still his order—he will take full responsibility too if somehow his tea has turned into a nice cup of radioactive. “Yes. Sure.”

This time he feels a bit better for being able to put up a confident tone.

“Just plain then?”

“H-huh? Oh, no, with sugar of course.”

“I figured. How much?”

“Two spoons.”

“Like how many cubes?”

Dimitri scratches his head. He rarely used sugar cubes—perhaps because he is quite pampered and comfortable back home, but more importantly, he is not alone, taking his tea this way. And now—

“Two as well, I suppose.”

He can use the extra calories if the sweetness is going to murder him on the spot.

“Black, green, red oolong, or dark tea?”

“I—sorry?”

“No, I mean, what kind of tea do you want?”

“Black. Yes, black tea, but it would be reddish—”

The waitress looks at him again.

“Eh. Milk?”

“Oh, no…”

“Earl gray?”

Now this time he sure knows this one. He didn’t imagine that his father’s quite well-off status would be the one to save him from the misery that is an American shop, though. Is this the proof that his father has always been with him all along? Or…

Or perhaps Papa is ashamed of me.

Dimitri has never wanted to slap his own head so badly, either.

“Oh, no. Not that one.”

“Or is it fruit tea?”

“Lemon, thank you!”

The waitress stops then. “So you want lemon tea or…”

“No, no, but the tea is taken by fruit,” Dimitri blurts. “I mean. Taken with fruit.”

“Sir, admittedly I’m a bit lost,” the waitress says then. “You want black tea but you also want it reddish. You don’t want fruit tea but you ask for lemon. You want some sugar but seems you aren’t sure about… the sugar itself. How do you take your tea?”

“Russian.”

When the waitress takes a pause to decipher what he said, Dimitri gladly excuses himself from the line by opting out for a cup of plain full-cream milk instead. He receives dirty looks from other queuers who impatiently click their tongues, some sneering or even making comments about how he takes too long and gives a hard time to the waitress.

Dimitri leaves with a cup of milk he doesn’t feel like finishing. From behind, he can hear the people who go after him ordering articulately. Sure that they still speak too fast for his ears, but they truly know how to get what they want—soy milk, skimmed milk… all kinds of things, detail-oriented and precise.

“Finally you answered! Where were you last night?” Rufus picks up his call after the second beep. Again, Dimitri doesn’t know whether he has to be happy about it.

“Asleep.”

“Oh. I suppose. I forgot this time zone thingy, malchik.”

“I’d rather think that you might forget that I no longer live with you,” Dimitri replies, startling himself for the unexpected sourness that came out of his lips. “And I’m a man now. Who cares what I did or what I did not last night?”

When silence ensues, Dimitri gladly downs the cursed milk.

“First of all, l’vonchik, you are my nephew still—and that will make you forever a malchik to me. May I gently remind you again that there’s a good three decades separating us both, Dima?”

“The three-decade difference doesn’t rule out that I’m an adult.”

“It does, when you are barely settling somewhere so far from here.”

“You didn’t say anything when I had a three-month internship in Moskva!”

“Dima,” Rufus chuckles on the phone, making the younger Blaiddyd uneasy. “Moskva is Moskva and San Francisco is San Francisco. Even if it was far-further Vladivostok with you riding the train for six days from Sankt Petersburg, I wouldn’t care as much.”

“Da, perhaps you wouldn’t.”

“I see. Is it the distance, or the warmer climate over there that made you talk like this?”

Dimitri sighs. He could barely get any single word out to order some morning tea, yet there he is, throwing words like a flamethrower at his uncle so easily like this. “Apologies. I haven’t had breakfast.”

“Then go eat. You said you’re a man now, act like it.”

Dimitri sighs when a car passes in front of him. Rufus surely won’t hear that one.

“So, what do you require, Dyadka?”

“You haven’t emailed me about your plan for the semester and probably beyond,” Rufus says. “I can’t wait to see what lies ahead because this way we can coordinate our plan well. Actually, I just got a few words back from several multinational companies. They cannot wait to meet the new Blaiddyd lord and have the opportunity to work with you.”

Blaiddyd lord? He can’t even order his tea.

“Did you say anything to them at all?” he shouldn’t grip the cup too hard.

“Oh, no. After all, in the end it’s your choice,” Rufus’ tone is crisp and light and Dimitri swears he can almost imagine what happened prior—nice satisfying dinner, or his uncle, again, had a woman to romance… as always. “That is why we need to talk.”

“So, I need to choose one of your choices.”

“Hmm?”

Another car passes by. Dimitri thanks God.

“This week is full of introductions, so the classes haven’t started yet,” he says. If Rufus wants customer service politeness from him, he too has a customer service response.

“Oh, perfect then. This means you are quite free.”

Gavno.

“I… suppose?”

“And I have to ask you because the attorneys want to talk to you too, malchik,” Rufus says. “We haven’t opened Lambert’s will. I don’t even know what he left for me, but that's surely something you can check too.”

Ah.

“That said…”

The third car is a truck and it honks—loudly.

“Bozhe moy. What’s going on there again?”

“Signal. I’ll call you back,” Dimitri replies demurely. Six-thirty, and he’s very tired.

****

 

Byleth stares on her monitor. She has not blinked.

No, this time there is no cat video to watch—come to think of it, at this point it can just be said that she has seen nearly all the popular cat videos on the internet. Cats in a cardboard tank? She has seen that one as well. Cats reenacting a scene from Assassin’s Creed? She bookmarked it. Cats eating sushi off the plate, fed with chopsticks? Also a yes.

“Byleth, you’ve got fourteen wrong out of fifteen,” says Flayn’s email that lies flat at her face. Suddenly she pictures Flayn saying that in front of her, tone gentle but also concerned. Flayn’s trademark wavy-roll green hair will sway when she bobs her head to lean in closer, studying her face to find any signal of distress.

They brainstormed. Byleth wanted to refresh her courses too. They sent mini quizzes for each other to review the past chapters as they move on to the next chapters. This time Byleth runs out of potato chips. Byleth runs out of cat videos to watch. Byleth nearly runs out of coffee to chug. But ah, the beauty of the internet and gaming, her laptop runs an emulator application to replay old games, and her list is long—just like the well-wishers who came for Sitri Eisner’s funeral. Her mother was very much loved by everyone who knew her; gentle and kind, sweet and soft, a generous person with her smiles.

Unlike her.

She and Flayn are drilling for an advanced course related to religious studies, in continuation with a philosophy class she took before she paused her studies for a year. Byleth agreed to go back to a certain chapter, suitable with one of the topics in her syllabus, so hearing this is disappointing—she took her time, for sure, what is Flayn talking about?

She took her time. She worked diligently…

On her PokeDex. She is playing an old Pokemon game.

“We had these just before you left,” Byleth reads Flayn’s notes again, complete with actual citations and even source books and detailed footnotes to backup everything. Of course. Just like Flayn—someone who genuinely loves school. Must be why the girl is terrifying at times. “Shall we go again?”

Nice offer. She is tired. She switches her game. Speaking of being tired, school forces her to readjust her sleeping schedule—no more night-roaming as often as before. She couldn’t go to bed at five or even seven like prior, but at eight like this, she is barely awake.

“Naaah, just done with Goldenrod City. Lost to Whitney’s Miltank.”

Byleth cusses because Flayn’s reply comes right when she is trying to finish a battle map.

“Byleth, I can only help if you are willing to pay attention.”

Now Flayn pulls out a mom-friend tone on her. She is the oldest of the bunch here—older than Flayn, older than Leonie. And now they are all speaking like an aunt she never had. Or a grandmother she never knows of. Or a mother she lost. She isn’t dysfunctional, right? Can a dysfunctional person actually assemble a standing army to race to a village before mountain bandits ransack it? She even put her lord on the front line. She is courageous.

Sasha
Hello again, Miss Bayleaf.

Byleth looks down, hoping this one won’t give her a motherly tone as well.

Bayleaf
Hi, Sasha.

Sasha
Am I interrupting?

Sasha McNerdson is probably the first person to ever ask so far and she appreciates it.

Bayleaf
Not at all, Newton.

Sasha
But he is dead?

She hopes he is as pure as the yoghurt she ate in the morning.

Bayleaf
Hey, Sasha, since you are so smart, what do you call a boring atom?

She must be possessed by a ghost. And fuck this game for making her restart because she lost her archer, and she does not want anyone to die. Ever again. Like her parents, for example.

Sasha
A neutron :)

Byleth frowns. So Sasha is real. She has never dreamt in emoji.

Bayleaf
Yeah?

Sasha
Because it is neutral. Bland soup is boring.

Well, fuck Sasha—nerds aren’t supposed to be charming.

Bayleaf
Wrong again, Einstein.

Sasha
But Einstein is also dead?

Her father once said that a smart person is typically very dumb at something simple.

Bayleaf
It’s neither neutron or electron. It’s mono...tone. Geddit?

She sends a follow-up quickly.

Bayleaf
Geddit = get it.

Sasha
...

Byleth cringes. Dear God, she must be the dumbass her father talked about. Except she isn’t smart because based on Flayn’s complaint, she didn’t even score half of the questions right. Anyway, what was she studying again? What is she studying? Who the fuck knows, everything around her feels so odd like the TV noises in horror movies. Everything inside of her feels so hollow, but can an empty person even play video games?

Sasha
You are funny and smart. That one is very good.

Byleth lets an enemy unit murder her archer again. She is funny? And smart?

Bayleaf
What are you studying, Sasha?

Sasha
What are you?

Bayleaf
Humans and their human things.

Sasha
Then, not-humans.

Byleth winces, watching her monitor. She sucks at this game? She played this before.

Bayleaf
Wow, you surely can recite the Pi to the last digit.

Sasha
Ah, that does not define a human.

Bayleaf
But can you?

Sasha

Sasha
Yes.

Byleth stares. Is she talking to a legit human being, or an E.T spy in disguise?

Bayleaf
Answer me truthfully, Sasha.

Sasha
On my honor.

Byleth stares wider. 

Bayleaf
What do you eat for breakfast?

Sasha
Artificial fried kernels.

Byleth waits.

Sasha
The flakes of corn.

“Ahhh,” Byleth sighs. Sasha is indeed human. But somehow basking in such fact alone makes her feel utterly happy—Sasha is a real person. So it is a real person who called her funny… and smart. All in one sentence! And those magazines think women can’t have it all?

Sasha
I was wondering, Miss Bayleaf, are shops here very fried? That is what I wanted to ask you.

Bayleaf
Fried?

Sasha
Varied. Yes, varied. They sound similar. I mean varied.

Byleth’s lips curve slightly.

Bayleaf
It’s okay! If the English language isn’t constantly shooting its own foot, we won’t even have a spelling bee contest.

Sasha
Your language has foot? How many?

Byleth sincerely wishes Sasha had a nice dinner.

Bayleaf
I mean there are irregular elements, like the verbs that change depending on the tenses.

Sasha
Oh. And why the shooting? Because you all have guns and many famous movie stars?

Byleth Eisner, twenty-five, secretly admits she wants to smile sincerely.

Bayleaf
You are very smart too, you know.

Sasha
Am I? I do not know. I had trouble ordering tea.

Byleth wants to pat his back. And probably sees his face too.

Sasha
Should I say ask for someone and order a drink? I want a difference.

Bayleaf
What do you mean?

Sasha
Ordering a person sounds bad. I’m no lord.

So he has toned abs, actually funny, can count, and kind too?

Bayleaf
What happened?

Sasha
Waitress asked me too many things like immigration officer. People wait and then angry.

Byleth frowns. 

Bayleaf
You said knowing the Pi doesn’t define a person.

Sasha
Yes. You will still need to solve the trigonometric algebra.

Oh, such a dark subject. His interest must be unconventional, but Byleth reclines slowly like one of those corseted girls in antique French paintings. Again, why French paintings?

Bayleaf
And what happens next?

Sasha
Not be a dumbfuck asswipe.

Byleth blinks.

Sasha
My friend Felix taught me those words. He said, you are welcome.

Byleth nods now.

Sasha
But I am already here? I am welcomed again?

Yes, yes, he is very welcome—but Byleth did not say that.

Bayleaf
Sasha, feeling out of place is very normal. You are fine this way.

Sasha
Oh…

Bayleaf
Everyone needs to start somewhere. You need to start somewhere. Some people like their drinks varied, but I suppose people also forget that things don’t have to be that complicated, which is why they were surprised when you asked for something simple.

Sasha
You are very kind. I sincerely thank you, Miss Bayleaf.

Byleth loses again, but this time she does not mind. Who are these cartoon characters thinking they can ruin her? She is resetting to redo the map she needs to clear.

Sasha
You also explained things clearly too, are you a professor? Smart, funny, and kind.

“Goshdangit, Sasha, someone is trying to win a game here,” Byleth grumbles. He can compliment her just like that? Seriously. Apparently hips don’t lie, and neither do abs.

Bayleaf
Shush. I’m trying to win a game and commit mass murder.

Sasha
What are you playing?

Bayleaf
One of Fire Emblem games! But the AIs are smartfuck asswipes.

Sasha
Oh. AIs can be tricked...

Byleth hits pause. So he can also hex digital people?

Bayleaf
Explain!

Sasha
Please bear with me, I will try slowly.

Bayleaf
No problem, I’ve got all the time in the world, darling.

She deletes the ‘darling’ part, but something inside her admits she doesn’t regret it.

Sasha
AIs are programmed to react in a certain way when the command triggers. They move with patterns so you need to read them to break them. Then you can commit your mass murder nicely.

Byleth hums.

Sasha
For example, see who moves first and where after you do what. Like chess.

Bayleaf
Let me guess: you PLAY chess?

Sasha
Me? Da, sometimes.

The corner of her mouth twitches begrudgingly. What a nerd. What a sincere nerd. What a charming nerd. What an alluring nerd. She expected some slam-bam-thank you Ma’am lines on a dating application, not being assisted to commit digital murder while getting a crash course about artificial intelligence behaviors.

Bayleaf
Holy shit Sasha what are you really?

Sasha
A man as I told you; not a cute lady.

Bayleaf
Oh, right, you told me that. Then what’s next? Are you handsome?

She deletes the last line. 

Sasha
Try placing the strongest or solid unit you have within the enemy’s punch range. This unit must eat a hit, heal it and end your turn. They will move. Then you study the move.

She does just that.

Sasha
Typically AI is designed in ‘if this then that’ manner. When the order is disturbed, it does not work.

Byleth lands her fifth kill.

Bayleaf
That really helps. You are amazing. I still have much to learn.

He does not reply for the next ten minutes and she starts to worry.

Bayleaf
That was a compliment, I swear! Sasha?

Sasha
Y-yes, I am here.

Bayleaf
Sorry, you stopped responding so I thought you took it as sarcasm.

Sasha
Oh, n-no, not at all, I got shy...

Byleth rereads that text ten times. So he praised genuinely, and became so shy when she praised back frankly that he needed some time to compose himself? How strange. How endearing, though. How… cute.

Bayleaf
Hey, Sasha?

Sasha
Yes?

Bayleaf
How do you take your tea again?

His profile says he lives in Fodlan District. A kilometer away from her apartment makes it either one of the shops around or that field where a Garreg Mach student goes to for sports. And he says he is a student! Where in the Garreg Mach world can he be?

Besides, she needs to know if he is handsome. Why, for science, of course.

Chapter Text

Dimitri puts on a pair of glasses he typically wears when he knows he is going to work on a computer for a long hour. Before him, a MATLAB editor spread is laid open, fully written in colorful algorithm lines. There is a notebook to his right and a cup of tea to his left, and the blonde shifts his chair when the library’s neon lamp causes a blinding refraction.

He starts to feel annoyed. First of all, his quest of getting some tea on his own is yet to be fulfilled. If the other day he left the cafeteria with a cup of full-cream milk similar to what small kids take in the morning, today is slightly different. Better than the other day, today he manages to get out of the cafeteria with a cup of tea. But the tea is completely left plain without anything else because the waitress, a different person this time, couldn’t be bothered to confirm or check again whether what he got is what he truly wanted.

Dimitri yawns. His screen loads a series of error notices in red, prompting him to cut the yawning shortly and returns his attention back to the monitor. Beside him, Sylvain is deep with his own study, two thick textbooks burying his face with a notebook on his own and a marker that nearly runs out. The redhead grabs his morning coffee as Dimitri grabs the bland tea he has no choice but finishing. Which variable did he misplace? If his algorithm won’t run, then something along the strings has to be wrong.

Apparently, a famous scientist once noted that if the second World War was waged with rockets and missiles, then the third would be fought with swords and spears. Dimitri has to agree—look at him, writing down his formulae manually on paper again to perform a check on the equation model he is trying to project. 

Dimitri wonders why he is just that unlucky. One of the computer science minor classes assigned them homework on a lottery—or so he thought because who got what was decided on random. The other participants got to do a typical, normal scenario—population projection, economic growth based on how much a fictional city earns every year and how strong their spending capability is, the medieval plague projection… and there he is, winning the lottery to calculate a planetary motion with some kind of probability model. This assignment is as sweet and refreshing as being bludgeoned in the morning.

“You know that when it comes to the universe, there is no such a thing as certainty,” their professor said… with a smile while Dimitri resisted to scratch his back with a rake. “So all these elements in the equation we are using—such as velocity, distance, and even the diameter of the imaginary quadrant or the lines you shall use to project your orbital line—can change. Treat your finding as a probability instead of a number-proven axiom.”

Dimitri was glad he raised a hand to posit a question. Dimitri was sad that he even raised a hand to posit a question because the entire class gave him a murderous look. “Ma’am, you are saying, treating this as probability. Therefore that too needs to be counted.”

“Yes! A little matrix and triangulation as a package. Typical data projection!”

Dimitri laughed nervously while the students who sat around him conveyed murder like a snake—hissing. “A little matrix, she said,” one of them grumbled. “This little matrix she is talking about is our fucking galaxy. Welp, thanks a lot, Dimitri.”

“I don’t get intimate with galaxy,” he blurted. The innocent reply probably saved him from the nerds league’s wrath because… because at least they got to do normal things while the mission of projecting a supposed planet onto a MATLAB sheet fell on his shoulders.

Dimitri keeps writing as Sylvain slurps louder. Stretching, the redhead takes a look curiously, whistling upon noticing that the blonde is dissecting an algorithm manually. “Cursive Cyrillic, huh? Nice. Copying your shit is a nightmare.”

The blonde smirks a bit. His hand digs further into his hair, scratching it even though his scalp isn’t itchy. Counting is counting, but one error line means redoing everything all over again. “Machines are fragile,” he mumbles. “While humans have senses.”

Sylvain stops reading a law-related textbook he is holding. “You don’t trust the  computer to calculate for you? Man, there I was, asking Wolfram Alpha to integrate my math.”

“Oh, no. Computer good. Humans better, though—computer can only help if you as the human counting it submits a proper input, yes?” the blonde replies calmly, driving Sylvain into a pensive mood. Felix, who occupies the chair with a direct view to the library door, seems to be struggling with the same thing.

“I hate to say this,” he grumbles. “But the data seems to be a whack.”

“You need to calibrate it,” Dimitri blurts. “If you allow?”

“You’re helping me,” Felix looks at him. “Even when the universe literally gets dumped on your head?”

“You all offered to get me my tea the next day,” Dimitri says. “Because of Dedue, now I know where the cafeteria is. Because of you, I know campus facilities I can use. Because of Sylvain…”

“You know how to use a dating application,” Felix muses.

“So? Look at your phone, barren,” Sylvain strikes back. “Met any cutie yet, Dimitri?”

Dimitri trips on his shoelaces while Felix glares sourly at the redhead. “You’ve seen him swimming and trying out the field—if my mouse broke accidentally, on you, Sylvie.”

“What’s the price of a broken mouse compared to a damsel’s broken heart…”

“You people need a proper breakfast,” Dedue shakes his head, but his tone gentle.

“Not after hearing that line. I’ve got goosebumps,” Ashe sighs.

“That’s what she said,” Sylvain smiles. Felix gladly steps on his foot under the desk.

“Now run this again,” Dimitri gives a soft tap over Felix’s shoulder, tilting the laptop to return it to the rightful owner. “I replaced the strings. Let’s give a try with Excel. Calculate this entire column, if good, we take it to the next level.”

“Wew, Dimitri is a secret romantic,” Ashe blurts again. “Maybe he’s got better luck.”

“I can’t believe it. My student is getting laid while I’m not,” Sylvain mutters.

“Getting laid? But we are not in bed?”

Dimitri looks around when a few people snicker. Felix, however, cuts a contact with his computer because he glares back. Dedue doesn’t look too pleased, either, while Ashe stops rummaging through his pencil case, his expression reminding Dimitri of a school boy who prepares to throw rocks at a group of people for laughing.

He feels awkward all of a sudden. He likes his new friends. He’s thankful for all the things they have done so far, but being the center of attention exactly when they are trying to defend him is not something he truly wishes. He feels so open. So open under many other eyes, under people’s observation…

“It is okay,” he says simply. His phone rings, and he wonders if it truly is. Of course he knows who calls. “Dyadka?”

“Where is your good morning-whatever and properly addressing me?”

Dimitri glances at his friends. Dedue makes a gesture with an open palm, calming him down a little bit. The tallest of the group signalled at him not to worry, so he throws him a small thankful nod to appreciate the gesture. “I’m at the library.”

“Oh, good, good! This means we can talk. Here’s a Vasiliev wanting to talk to you.”

“Wha—?” Dimitri blinks. Who? 

“Dobroe utro, Gospodin,” another interrupts the call all of a sudden. “As your uncle said, I’m Ivan Vasiliev, and I’m an attorney.”

Dimitri cups his phone with his hand, nearly swallowing the small communication device as a whole. His back slumps and he resists to flatten his face over his own notebook. “I don’t think I know you, Mr. Vasiliev, despite the ubiquity of the name.”

“Sure you don’t. The late gospodin made it clear that we would only meet in case he was rendered incapable,” the voice replying to him is calm and collected, a total contrast to his curt, venom-spitting hiss. “Like your education fund, for example.”

Dimitri grits his teeth. His fist starts clenching before he can help it.

“Your father made it clear that the will can only be opened with your consent, as you are the new head of this family; thus the inheritor of everything he owned. My rough calculation is… ah, right—do you want me to deliver the estimation in rubles, euros, or US dollars?”

“I want you to leave me alone—that is not necessary.”

“Ah, sure, sure, Mr. Blaiddyd, no insult to you, of course—we know it’s your specialty,” the attorney chuckles in his ear, deafening his senses. “So, your father said…”

“Neither he nor you knows anything about me.”

“Pardon?”

Dimitri sighs louder. The Blue Lions gang stop studying, warily scanning his person. The newest member of the pack was pretty lively and even downright blushy when they started touching about the delicate subject that is Sylvain’s prescribed dating application, but now he is growling, his body tensing and his legs shaking. Even if nobody in the group catches what he is saying, that really looks far from alright.

“What did he say?” Dimitri asks, twirling the pencil in his hand. Looking down, he finds a little note from Ashe on his lap.

All okay?

Dimitri blushes. Like a reined warhorse, he pushes his emotion into the pit of his stomach, sudden nausea nearly engulfing him. “I’m studying. Apologies for my impatience.”

“It’s on us, Gospodin. Apologies for disrupting you,” the attorney replies politely. “Your late father did say that everything falling under his name would be yours in due no time. Like if he retired from heading your family and business…”

“And in death,” Dimitri whispers. “Continue?”

“Rendered incapable, such as illness. But… yes,” the attorney’s voice softens as well. “And he said what should be yours would be yours indeed, but you’d need to donate to a charity first. You know he would always like his things ethical and kind.”

“Oh...”

“Thus, I have a few recommendations!” Rufus’ cheery tone cuts in so suddenly. “If you are busy, you can leave everything to me. And then we’ll see what lies in front of us.”

Dimitri barks a cynical bitter smile. That too doesn’t fly out of the Blue Lions’ radar. “What are you planning this time?”

“Huh?”

“You promised your current woman something, perhaps?”

“What are you talking about, Dima? I know it, hot climate makes you funny.”

Perhaps.

“I don’t want to talk with you being all belligerent like this. Perhaps later when you are done with school. At night, perhaps. I can talk to you during my lunch.”

“Perhaps not. I want to look around for some work,” Dimitri says.

“Work?” Rufus blurts. “Why, don’t you have your cards already?”

“Yes, but…” Dimitri scratches his head. “I’ll just—I’ll call you later.”

Another call, another one that ends so abruptly. Another day to pass without dragging his foot back to relish the memory he is still not ready to face and confront head-first. Dimitri closes his eyes, imagining his father’s pale lifeless face when the ambulance arrives. The morgue managed to prepare his body nicely considering the condition they found him in—accident, they said; a luncheon went wrong because the private helicopter which took him and his host crashed as they passed the panoramic Kavgolovskoe Lake, around seven miles to the north of St. Petersburg. Dimitri recalls the heavy rainfall. The vigil his household held, hoping for some kind of miracle that would halt his sudden departure like that. But past midnight a phone call destroyed the last hope he tightly held on to.

“Dima,” even his uncle’s voice shook like an earthquake. “They found the body.”

It was supposed to be a nice outing for the workaholic Blaiddyd senior—an informal conference because one of his business colleagues owned a nice place around the region. His father was supposed to close the day by being served all the best Italy could offer through a mind-blowing first-class dinner at an antique Italian restaurant back to St. Petersburg, probably with a fine wine. Lambert had been wanting to take him around for wine-tasting. His studies approaching completion, the l’vonchik—lion cub—could use some gentlemanly art as a respite, or so Lambert said in-between of his carefree laughter…

“Dimitri?”

Ashe’s concerned expression makes him gasp. “Y-yes?”

“Is everything alright?”

“Yes, yes, of course,” he says. “And…”

The numbers on his notebook blur, replaced with the short estimation his family’s attorney managed to let out before Rufus completely hijacked the call. He cannot even read his own handwriting this time—what language is this? It looks like anything and nothing at the same time—

“Look at that face, evolved, I’d say.”

“What was that, Ivan, a nuclear code?” laughter and sneers join in.

“Goshdarnit, here we go again,” Dedue sighs. “Hey…”

But Dimitri closes his notebook, definitely much louder than expected. Now that he kicks himself off the chair he is occupying to stand straight, he looks rather imposing—his posture, his height, his broad shoulders… especially with the kind of expression that does not hint at any friendliness at all. “One word,” the blonde mutters, colder than a snowing tundra on a rigorous army campaign. “I will destroy you.”

They prepared his father so well—Lambert Blaiddyd died at forty-eight as he was five years younger than Rufus. His father looked so serene as though he was just taking a long nap; very peaceful without any trace of injuries resulted from the fall. There were gashes around his limbs, but the morgue team took care of those as well. It was only a man clad in the finest white sarafan with a blue belt.

Dimitri threw up in his room.

Dimitri went to see a doctor the next day, being told that he was severely stressed and exhausted. But even then sleep hardly overtook him because he lay in bed with his eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling…

Dima, they found a shard of this bottle nearby.

The wine he brought home as promised but never got to enjoy together as promised.

Dimitri stood motionlessly as the funeral mass began. He nearly emptied an entire bottle of vodka by himself when the custom called for pouring one out for the deceased. He took two shots to push the pominki—post-funeral meal—into his throat; his father’s colleagues' voices escaping him like the tears that he never got to feel running down his cheeks.

Kak vy sebya chuvstvuyete, Dimitri? How are you feeling?

Dimitri watches as people stare back at him—some gasp, some wait for a signal to fight.

Ne znayu. I don’t know.

One person stands up.

Dimitri stares down.

Another stands up as well.

Dedue leaves his seat.

When the third person begins to stand, Felix, Sylvain, and Ashe grab their things and kick off their chairs as well. Dimitri sighs. Without saying anything, he packs up his laptop, closing the lid even though his vectors are in the middle of running. Maybe two hours of effort will only see nothing but errors or interrupted computing, but at this point he does not care. Ashe tails him. Dedue scans the rest of the students like a hawk. Sylvain holds his sporty, heavy tumbler instead of banishing it into his bag while Felix isn’t wearing his jacket back the way the fabric wrapped around him upon arrival.

“Are you alright there?” this time it’s not a note—rather, it’s Dedue, putting his hand behind his back; comforting but also protective.

And this time Dimitri responds. “No,” he whispers. “Probably never.”

“You’re lucky he doesn’t know enough English to cuss you out,” Felix sneers at the people who acted like they anticipated a fight prior. “No problem, though. I’ll teach him well.

Sylvain smiles. He offers to treat the blonde’s lunch this time.

“We can get what you typically have at home!” Ashe suggests. “Or we can recreate it. Leave it to me, Dedue and I aren’t good at saving money for nothing!”

“Yeah. Say it so, buddy, and I’m your man,” Sylvain chimes in.

“I want the most American thing I can get,” Dimitri murmurs. “I don’t want home. Not this time.”

****

 

Dimitri tilts his face to check on his phone when it vibrates, thinking his heart will jump out of his throat at any given moment. Relieved, he tilts around to face his monitor again. Thank goodness he set his laptop to commence sleep mode automatically if the lid is closed—he isn’t losing what he has worked prior. The computing process resumes albeit slower, but that surely is better than having to rewrite the equations all over again.

He pauses, though. He purposefully put his phone on flight mode to Rufus-proof everything. His uncle can sulk if he wants to, but at least if an email upsets him, he can always afford a walk-out or opt out for reading it later when he feels better. This means the one contacting him just now would be the Lions or his new classmates; or…

Dimitri seizes his charging phone like a bald eagle. There is another person, alright—

Bayleaf
Hello again, Sasha. Look at this one over here.

Curious, he taps the picture she sent. His heart beats faster. Miss Meatloaf wouldn’t need to send him any sexy pictures to make his mind wonder—her bluntness already did.

One, two…

Dimitri blinks when the picture fully loads.

Bayleaf
My new acquaintance told me about this place. A Slavic-style spa. Pretty niche!

He muzzles his phone thinking he can escape home and his overbearing uncle, but...

Sasha
Tell me, Miss Bayleaf.

Bayleaf
Yes?

Sasha
If my home is not sick, is it odd?

Dimitri pauses. And Googles.

Sasha
If my home is not missed, is it odd?

He frowns.

Sasha
If I am not missing home, is it odd?

He no longer frowns.

Bayleaf
If you ask -me-, then no.

Dimitri returns his gaze back on his laptop, feeling so hypocritical all of a sudden. He asked her that, and yet there he is, venturing around online shops thinking he can order a samovar set. If he can brew his own tea just like at home, he won’t need to visit the cafeteria every morning, drowned in guilt as if he is taking people’s time trying to let his order out. No more troubling the Lions, either—Dedue and Ashe live on the second floor, to the older building where the rent is cheaper. Felix and Sylvain occupy the third floor like he does—Sylvain docks in room 310 directly facing his own, Felix in 301 just by the elevator.

And they all offered to adjust their schedules for a few days until he can order his own breakfast in case he wants his daily tea potion.

Sasha
No?

Bayleaf
This is probably fucking ridiculous, but alright—I think home is wherever your heart can rest.

Dimitri gloriously forgets the bronze samovar set which caught his eyes five minutes ago.

Sasha
I have… a rather… private question, Miss Bayleaf…

His face reddens.

Bayleaf
Ask me about the privates.

His face reddens—deeper.

Bayleaf
I mean, ask me this private question. 

Sasha
Someone in my class fu… ahem, got intimate with a galaxy. Now you too, but with an adjective. Is this part of the culture?

His phone is silent and he begins to panic—what the heck did he just ask her? Yet there he was, being all decent all along and even promised not to offend her honor.

Bayleaf
OH MY GOD.

Sasha
Y-yes, tell your God I am sorry! I wasn’t thinking straight, my apologies!

Dimitri hates this cheap vodka he grabbed at a glance from the minimarket.

Bayleaf
It’s a figure of speech! You can use ‘fucking’ to emphasize something.

Sasha
But why? Why not just ‘very’?

Bayleaf
Because I fucked everything up—

Dimitri starts sensing that fucking something isn’t the same with fucking up something.

Bayleaf
Did it get send…?

Sasha
Yes.

Bayleaf
Well. Uh. I’m sorry.

Dimitri calls for Google’s help and declares Urban Dictionary an ally afterwards.

Bayleaf
You know what, why don’t you try? Fucking everything.

Dimitri wonders where that tingling sensation in his chest comes from. First he was angry. Then he was sad. Now he wants to smile?

Sasha
I have to refuse, because everything will be sad.

He waits.

Bayleaf
Quick study, aren’t we. Now you can banter. Great!

His lips stage a rebellion by twitching.

Sasha
Your sentence is like a linear algebra, Miss Bayleaf.

The room feels colder than usual. Is his dead father laughing at him?

Sasha
It’s like there is opening and then an ending. I only move the variables. Now we are equal. Random(serious topic)^2 + fun topic + punchline = banter. To get a banter, these topics must fulfill each other and be defined by the punchline. I moved ‘everything’ to the front; it is now a subject variable rather than a resulting variable, da? Y = ax^2 + bx + c.

Ten minutes commence, equal to his shyness back then. He will call the police. He will turn himself in for murdering the poor woman by proxy.

Sasha
M-my apologies! I will try. You are fucking nice. Is this correct?

Dimitri observes his phone like a cat.

Sasha
Maybe it should be like this! You fucking are sure fucking nice. 

He Googles again. How should he tell Fodlan police that he voluntarily surrenders?

Bayleaf
You too as well.

He chokes. He wanted to grab that cheap vodka, not the hand sanitizer bottle.

Bayleaf
Sasha, you sincerely are so fucking nice, wow, fucking fuck.

Dimitri knows he should have drunk the hand sanitizer instead then. Also, ah, finally, the finest American taste he experienced after the fast food galore he ravished with the Lions!

Sasha
I don’t think so, Miss Bayleaf. I am confused. I don’t want to miss home, but I miss home at the same time. What is this?

Bayleaf
That one is called normal.

He reads his screen again…

Bayleaf
Some things just never left us I suppose. Then we grow to resent it. Over time, we make peace with it. Perhaps it is the process of healing, but I tell you what, it’s the hardest stage to experience.

Dimitri wonders if this is the greenlight to order the samovar set.

Sasha
And how do you know this?

Bayleaf
Maybe because I’m trying too, and it’s not always pretty.

He pauses.

Sasha
Like me. You said we are all trying.

Bayleaf
Yes. Like you...

He puts the samovar set into the basket, ready for a check-out.

Bayleaf
Sasha? You are not alone.

He gasps.

Bayleaf
The people around us aren’t always the best at this, but… maybe they are trying too. Funny, I couldn’t dissect my thoughts like this before talking to you. Perhaps nobody is ever truly alone, after all.

Everything starts to blur, but his head no longer spins. His eyes are dry, though.

Sasha
Then what do you say, Professor?

He wonders whether she smiles when reading that. He wonders if she blushes.

Bayleaf
I honestly don’t know. I can only say try giving yourself some time.

Dimitri sighs. Does he want to see her smile, or does he want her to see his smile?

Bayleaf
Even timezones exist. Crazy that half of the world is sleeping while the other half is wide awake, huh? Perhaps that only proves that each person has their own pace and it’s okay to keep it that way.

Alright, decided then—it’s more of the latter.

Sasha
Professor, I—

Bayleaf
What happened back home, Sasha?

Dimitri twirls his phone. He breathes in, counting to ten and releases. He inhales again.

Sasha
Very recently I lost my father...

His phone is silent for the next five minutes, but now he can tell which one is his vodka, and which one is the hand sanitizer. His algorithms run well too.

Bayleaf
… So did I. Life is… strange, don’t you think?

He reads that one. Actually, he reads her replies as soon as they come, but he surely won’t tell her that.

Sasha
I will listen if you want to talk. My deepest condolences.

She listened to him without laughing. She patiently answered all his questions, making everything easier and clearer to understand. He told her he studied non-human things. Opposites don’t always fight each other, apparently, because somehow he finds a kindred soul in Miss Meatloaf. She suffers the same thing as he does. She openly admits—in her own way—that she struggles. However she was probably the only person to tell him that not feeling alright itself is okay, and…

And he wants to talk more.

He wants to talk a lot more. 

Bayleaf
… Got time?

Dimitri smiles a bit.

Sasha
I’ve got all the time in the world, милочка.

He deletes the last part before sending. What was he thinking again?

Bayleaf
I can probably tell you that my dad was great at fishing. What about yours?

Sasha
Oh, goodness, he was bad. Broke poles often. Like me.

Bayleaf
Hey, Sasha?

Sasha
Yes?

Bayleaf
Before I continue—what did Pythagoras name his pet?

Dimitri frowns.

Sasha
It’s a pet, so… Acute one.

He hopes he is getting better at this.

Bayleaf
Not a hypo...potamus?

Dimitri frowns.

Bayleaf
Or a hypothe...moose?

He gives up. This woman causes all sorts of volcanoes in his chest—too formidable.

Chapter Text

Byleth wants to disappear.

… But really, if only she could just do that. There is no point in running away now because Alois has taken her aside to talk. Thankfully, the apartment lobby is quiet because there aren’t many people around by the time she comes down.

Something is different this time, though. She had a good sleep. Finally she rationed her potato chips instead of turning them into a primary meal along with her cup noodle stash. Yesterday went pretty well too—for the first time since what felt like forever after returning to Garreg Mach, Byleth took her dinner outside, at the cafeteria with the others.

That night was chill. The cafeteria wasn’t too crowded, but all the tables were occupied. When she was considering a take-out, a group of girls occupying a table for four waved at her, signalling her to join in. And from there, Byleth found new acquaintances…

“Byleth, Leonie left me a message,” so says Alois when she finally strolls closer. Byleth holds her breath, suddenly wishing something would bring her back to last night. New nice acquaintances who sincerely asked if she wanted to join them and didn’t sweat that she looked less than pleasant. Or perhaps not these new acquaintances. Perhaps…

“Why?” Byleth asks back, eyes half-closed at this point. Perhaps if she truly closes them, she will be transported back to her sleep. Where anything that she does not want to stop disturbing her peace. Leonie seems to think that she is running away, huh? Perhaps she is not running away—she is postponing everything… in an indefinite time. There should be a difference.

Alois pauses. Seconds after, he drops his hands over Byleth’s shoulders—a gesture which surprises the younger woman, regardless. “Good. At least now you asked, Byleth.”

She wishes her phone starts buzzing now. Why is it barely nine… in the morning instead of nine at night, legit past-meridien, so that she can trade messages with Sasha again? It is admittedly surprising to have someone genuinely swiping her profile and making a conscious effort to message her in the first place. But Sasha is proven to be decent so far—even though he might be troubled trying to express what he wants to say, his approach is honest that his sincerity transcends beyond language barrier.

And she wonders why her nights feel warmer afterwards. There’s something to look forward to and enjoy at the end of the day, and no longer does she want to keep drowning herself in the long naps she takes so that the day will fly. Or perhaps gradually shifting to live a normal life again isn’t so bad—sleep during normal hours, wake up at a typical hour…

Warmth makes her feel alive even only just for a bit.

“What does that mean…?” warily she eyes Alois. Her legs shake a little bit that her mind begins to urge her to leave—retreat as always, retreat to the safety of her room where her own feelings cannot touch her; Leonie can wait until she picks up the clue that Byleth is not at all interested in being reminded that her parents have died.

But they are dead, something in her protests. You talked about it last night with Sasha—

Byleth stops fidgeting. That’s right, Sasha. She has received some other messages ever since she set up her account—from condescending insults thinking she is as real as a salsa-dancing dinosaur simply for using a steak as a display picture, to people who walked into her direct messages whispering nothing but degrading racy comments.

When those so-called amorous messages made their way into her phone, she thought she would understand what Manuela craved—and loved. But it only gave her a hollow laughter so far, nothing worthwhile compared to the sense of companionship she received from her random chatting with Sasha. He didn’t seem to demand anything from her. Sasha spoke of his dead father, concise and to the point; had he been wanting to win her sympathy, there were other methods he could have tried.

And yet—

… And yet, where does he live again?

Alois senses her dwindling thoughts, or so it seems, because he takes off his hands from her shoulders. “Because back then you wouldn’t even ask, Byleth,” he says. “This is better.”

Byleth keeps her silence, eyes harboring into Alois’ in return. This is better? But she merely threw back a ‘why’—better this way? “What did Leonie say?” finally, curiosity wins over her. Another question which she pushed forward. Perhaps her chatting back and forth with Sasha has been slowly making everything… smoother. Much smoother that she started to feel normal even though just a little.

“Only asking you to call her as soon as possible,” Alois responds.

“... Oh,” Byleth mumbles. Now that is another thing she didn’t see coming—why wasting her own effort to just let everything through? Leonie knows Alois is not a stranger to her or her parents alike just like the girl herself—he is almost like an uncle to Byleth, and definitely can be trusted with anything.

It was also Alois who carried Sitri Eisner when she first collapsed...

“I’ll do that,” another mumble. “Later.”

Byleth makes her peace right there. She knows she cannot just scoff at Alois. If anything, he is probably the closest to a family that she has now. Her voice loses its weight, leaving a meek reply filled with guilt and... shame. Somehow. Perhaps she is incapable. Perhaps that is also why someone is there to take care of things on behalf of her. There’s Leonie needing her immediate response, there’s Alois who noticed how different she has been ever since the death of her parents. Other people might find comfort in being attended to, but it isn’t the case with her. Powerless and incapable; yet at the same time she also wishes that she can just... be.

“Byleth?” Alois calls again when she turns around. “Take care of yourself too.”

Byleth nods. She just wants to be. Neither a strong-grieving person, nor a weak-grieving person. Just grieving in general, just Byleth, without anything that will determine in which box she truly belongs. And that is the last thing Byleth cares at the moment—Flayn was right; even her own classes need polishing because everything seems to escape her mind.

Glancing down on her own messy file folder doesn’t make her feel any better, either—participants of religious studies class just received their graded quizz; a glorious letter D and numeral score decorating her paper.

Byleth smiles bitterly. She shouldn’t be surprised—faith died with her father that day.

****

 

“I want you to help our transfer student.”

Byleth blinks, her jaw ajar; yet there isn’t really anything she can muster despite giving her lecturer a bewildered stare. The modern music history class has been pretty fun so far because she got to read books that talked about music and songs starting from the Edwardian era—and if it’s not fun enough, twentieth century music across cultures, tracing one place to another. Traveling is expensive. Gauging plane tickets typically kill people’s moods even before they start counting the money they can save for the year. These books give a way to be a free time-traveler; if only the lecturer knew how much she wished to be anywhere but in a world which constantly reminds her of her parents...

Dead parents. Yes, dead parents.

“Byleth?”

“No,” Byleth mutters out of reflex. “Absolutely not.”

“Frank, aren’t you,” the lecturer frowns. “Please. My assistant is already overloaded for the semester. I can only ask you, a senior student, to assist the new kid.”

“You gave me a D,” Byleth replies, quickly adding when the lecturer’s eyebrows start diving deeper than they already wrinkled. “And you said you wouldn’t tolerate late papers regardless of the circumstances. You said nobody could retake the quiz without a doctor’s notice, which explicitly says the aforementioned student must stay in bed.”

“Yes...?”

“But this responsibility somehow falls on my shoulder.” Byleth stops for a moment, feeling her heart sinking. Oh, no. She wants to shout, clawing her way out; where is this ocean suddenly coming from? Everything around her is dark and suffocating. “If he fails, then it’s automatically presumed that he never tries. That he is lazy.”

“... Miss Eisner, if this is about my grading your quiz as D...”

Reflexively, Byleth takes a step back. “No,” she whispers. “Of course not.” The water in her chest is replaced with a bright, burning bonfire—she is now hurting, hurting so badly that something carnal inside of her jolts awake. She wants to fight. Does she want to fight this lecturer? Probably not. But does she want to destroy something? Probably yes. In the end people do not care. In the end people keep assuming, accusing.

In the end, she is tired.

“Great then! Wish you luck. I know you are good with people.”

Is she? Or rather, does the lecturer know, indeed?

Sighing, Byleth gathers her books. The image of that one moment where she chose the cursed seat—or so other students dubbed it, for being in the middle of two air conditioners at the same time—intrudes into her mind once again. The transfer student never says much during class so far; it’s almost like he is shrinking to his feet. Such an odd mission to fulfill if that is the case then. With such height, how can he hide? People already marked him since day one simply because of his unlikely introduction. He was already a lost child to begin with—like their lecturer said, when was the last time someone from the math department strolled into humanities department for music history?

But that transfer student simply caught that she was cold, and lending his jacket to her so easily. Dimitri... ah, right, Dimitri, her apartment neighbor downstairs; Dimitri of room 304. The same Dimitri who would apologize profusely to her, the same Dimitri who simply offered his help to carry Professor Manuela when the latter was intoxicated.

She must have been walking idly then. Dimitri sits outside, looking absolutely fried under the beautiful late-spring sun over his head. He occupies a long table by himself while another one close by is packed with students. Perhaps she shouldn’t look because such contrast is jarring—he probably realizes it already. Perhaps she shouldn’t look because his muscles glisten under the sun, too, courtesy of his comfortable-looking simple white shirt.

Byleth walks silently. The transfer student’s predicament is already unique at the first glance—calculator in hand, a dictionary in another. From her position she catches that his laptop is wide open, vector lines crossing the black screen divided into quadrants with green line as the axis. However a PDF reader is there, too, running what she recognizes to be the reading material their twentieth-century music theory class assigned last week

He is trying—

Everyone is, she ponders. So is she.

“Um...” somehow it’s rather awkward to approach him just like this out of a sudden. She conveyed her gratitude with her eyes, but her lips were mute back then. “Uh—privyet?”

He blinks. Oh, boy, it is probably rather deranged of her to think like this, but there’s something endearing in the way he instantly blushes when she greeted him like that. The downside, however, he drops his calculator, but she gladly assumes responsibility to save it from ruin. Her steady grip catches it before it lands on the ground. “Thank you,” he says, quickly exiling the device to a safer place, vanquishing the probability of it having to get knocked down by his elbow again. “Uh,” he tones down his voice, cooking it into a whisper in his throat. “Ty govorish' po russki? Do you speak Russian?”

Byleth gapes.

“I suppose... not?” Dimitri asks again. “Sorry about that! You greeted me like that, so...”

“Oh,” awkwardly, she unzips her backpack. “An acquaintance taught me greetings.” Again, her mind wanders. She just really have to think of Sasha again and again, huh?

“Hmm. Is there a surge of interest towards Slavonic studies in this school, I wonder?” Dimitri responds. “Recently, I taught an acquaintance basic conversations as well.” Standing up, he stretches his arm while another grabs his things off the desk. “After you. In any case, your gesture is much appreciated. I thank you kindly, very much.”

Byleth hates how sweet he actually looks when the corner of his mouth twitches to form a subtle smile like that. Not to mention the gaze appears soft, almost unbefitting for someone who appears so somber and troubled as though the weight of the world fell on his shoulders. “I’d like to thank you,” she says, taking out the umbrella out of her bag, shielding him.

He looks up. Her umbrella stops the strong sunlight from haunting him, but that gesture... “For.. what?” he asks, hard R coming out of his lips naturally. He blushes. Again.

Byleth breathes in. Shaking her head, slowly she settles down to sit, her umbrella isn’t leaving Dimitri only a little bit. “For the jacket.”

“Oh,” he mutters. “That was no deal big.” Before Byleth can make any response, Dimitri grabs his phone, scrolling down, frowning. “I mean, no big deal. My friend Sylvain said so.”

Byleth knows it’s more than tempting to smile now. Definitely not to laugh at him—just like how everything felt when she talked to Sasha so far; warm and touching... “Dimitri?”

“Y-yes?”

“It’s okay,” speaking softer, she begins to take out her syllabus and a notebook. “It’s okay to just be. Like this. It’s okay, go on. Pozhaluysta, prodol... zhad?”

He pauses. “Prodolzhayte. Go on.”

“Oh,” Byleth blurts. “How do you say it again?”

“The emphasis is in the hard ‘zha’ sound,” Dimitri says. “So, there is this rule...” he stops, feeling Byleth’s eyes on him. “I forgot asking. Coming here, need something?”

Her demeanor turns sheepish at an instant. He gestures at her notebook and syllabus for the music history class, slowly explaining to him that the lecturer has assigned her to be his partner in the class. She tries to chew her words around, hinting that she will assist him as far as literature review and reading requirements are concerned, but words are hard, and that sweet expression slowly changes into something more... bedazzled, perhaps. Byleth swallows. There’s no easy way about this. Not even when she honestly expresses that she doesn’t think he is dumb or lacking—even the lecturer, despite the request, didn’t say anything to hint of Dimitri’s inadequacy.

“I suppose,” she says, accompanied with another gulp. “Perhaps because you’re a transfer student from abroad, and your major is so different compared to what we typically have. Did you take any music-related class before? Did you take some sort of matriculation class?”

He shakes his head. Ah, those eyebrows furrow like swaying violin strings in the middle of fiddling an elegy...

“Net,” a murmur. “But I am mostly... samouchka. Autodidact. Uh...”

“Self-taught?” Byleth verifies, her lips begin to curve subtly.

“Yes. Teaching self,” Dimitri replies, relief coloring his face. “Outside of school.”

“Then I’ve got a good feeling about this,” Byleth hums. “Shall we start?”

"Oh. I have request,” Dimitri blurts. “May I hold umbrella? I’m tall...er.”

“So I’m short?”

Dear God, another blush. How adorable. What is he, a cat? A lion cub? “A-ah, no. I mean, by metric, yes. Eh, I mean...”

“Dimitri,” her calm tone cuts in, putting him at easy. “I’m messing with you.”

“Messing with me? But I assure you, I am tidy. My pants are zipped.”

“Dimitri...” she looks at him. What is this abundant warmth poking inside of her?

“Yes? You can look, no? Nicely zipped. I am not careless after bathroom,” he blurts still. “But I want your umbrella because if you keep holding like this, you will be tired.”

Ah.

“I have an idea,” Byleth chimes in suddenly. “My umbrella for your jacket.”

“Nice business. Deal,” he sincerely shakes her hand. “But this means you will have to sit next to me. Okay?”

“Roger that,” Byleth nods.

“Who is Roger?”

****

 

Bayleaf
Evening, Sasha.

Sasha
Evening, Miss Bayleaf.

Bayleaf
I have to thank you for the little lesson! It worked.

Sasha
Really? Ah, I am glad.

Bayleaf
Yes! It helped me approaching a classmate too.

Sasha
Speaking of which, Miss Bayleaf. Last night we talked about our parents.

Bayleaf
We did. Another thing I have to thank you for.

Sasha
O-oh, please, no need for thanking...

Bayleaf
Why? You don’t like me thanking you?

Sasha
It’s not that, but I will get shy.

Bayleaf
You get shy easily?

Sasha
I swear to God, Miss Bayleaf, I didn’t even know.

Bayleaf
Ouch, too bad because I’ll make you even shyer.

Sasha
E-eh, pardon?

Bayleaf
Yes. Thank you very much, Sasha, spasiba, you are so very kind.

Sasha
But you didn’t mind hearing me talking about my father breaking poles.

Sasha
Of course fishing poles, Miss Bayleaf, he never killed any Polish person.

Sasha
Or any person, really!

Sasha
My apologies! Where were we?

Bayleaf
You are very kind and sincere.

Sasha
O-oh...

Bayleaf
-That- shy, Sasha?

Sasha
I—suppose.

Bayleaf
Ah. Am I making you uncomfortable? But really, I think you are kind.

Sasha
Maybe I am not using yet.

Sasha
**Maybe I am not used to this yet.

Bayleaf
Don’t worry then, I can just repeat.

Sasha
You are an imp, Miss Bayleaf. Are you a cat?

Bayleaf
No, I’m a bay leaf. Jokes aside, again, thank you. Learning new things is nice.

Sasha
Yes, I agree. I have a good partner for a class I am struggling.

Bayleaf
Is that so? That’s nice, good luck!

Sasha
Yes. She is kind. Her smile is mesmerizing.

Bayleaf
Huh?

Sasha
She is gargoyle.

Sasha
Oh, I should have said gorgeous.

Bayleaf
Oh...

Sasha
I wonder, Miss Bayleaf, is there a center of Slavonic studies in Fodlan District, or do people suddenly want to speak Slavic?

Chapter Text

Byleth tosses around in her bed.

Tomorrow should mark that she finally passes her first month living within Garreg Mach compound again, and she isn’t even sure what to feel about it. A part of her is tempted to celebrate, but then again what for? Is it something worth-celebrating? It isn’t that she hates her home, but at the same time it isn’t that she loves being in Garreg Mach, either. Her room starts to look like it’s nothing but a hermit cave to pass the night and sleep. 

Of course there’s comfort there, somehow; knowing that she won’t need to approach strangers or be approached back, either. It’s as though time stops the moment she is back in the room, and that alone gives her comfort because she doesn’t have to put up a brave facade, human enough to make her look verily okay—citation needed—instead of someone who only wishes to eat in bed and sleep.

But at least she managed a month without breaking down. Doesn’t that deserve a little bit of celebration as well?

Byleth checks her phone. There have been other messages from the dating application besides those which she received from Sasha, but those other messages paled in comparison somehow. They are nothing but flirtatious lines; some went overboard, some are simply bland. The strangest above all is that even the good ones did not excite her as she predicted. Isn’t that what she thought she wanted? To feel something because she is feeling numb? To feel wanted and adored because the world is too cold for a hurt person who cannot cry? To think that there’s another person who wants to get to know her beyond the funeral tidbits…

Maybe they don’t. Maybe they just want to make her moan through texts.

But then again at first she thought it would be it. No strings attached because it’s been proven again that attachment hurts. She still cannot let go. She probably does not want to. Those are her parents, why must she let them go? She didn’t stop being their chil just because she has become a college student.

Byleth, I don’t know if Alois has contacted you, but please, let’s just talk.

Byleth frowns. Leonie’s text came right after she disabled the flight mode. Those tips don’t work, anyway—read a good book and kill your phone to help you sleep better and quicker? Without distraction, her mind wanders only for the deaths to visit her again and again, trapping her like a black hole.

Byleth truly wakes up now. Perhaps there’s always a way to numb her head besides wasting time by watching the same cat videos over and over again. “You better shoot me straight, Leonie, because I’m behind the rest of my class,” Byleth whips her phone, not bothering to grant the other girl as much as a greeting.

“Wow,” Leonie yawns on the other side. “I barely got out of bed.”

“Oh,” Byleth blurts. “Well, I didn’t sleep.”

A pause.

“I haven’t slept,” Byleth continues.

“Seriously? Your classes just started, right—”

“If that’s all you are going to say, then don’t contact me again,” Byleth replies with a flat tone. Who hounded her asking to be contacted for a week straight again? This is too early to be getting a lecture—some people already gave her similar lines, anyway; from an astonished Flayn to her own lecturer alike.

“Wait!” Leonie almost yells. “Alright, dammit, let’s talk. First of all—how are you?”

Byleth sighs, prompting Leonie to pause.

“That doesn’t sound like a good sign,” the girl finally says, mumbling.

“Indeed not,” Byleth replies simply. “So, what do you need?”

There’s a pause from the other side of the phone, which only comes to an end because Leonie clears her throat. “Byleth…” she starts. 

Byleth stiffens. It’s as though there’s a circuit being cut off inside of her because the way her name being called there does so little to appease her mind. Silently she hates how easy it is to be transported back into the black hole she desperately tries to crawl out of.

… Or perhaps not so desperately. Perhaps there’s comfort in the suffocating black hole since all she needs to do is yielding—sleeping, letting her mind being so crowded and empty at the same time, existing in her own time zone. Night becomes the day as the day becomes the night, or whatever she wants it to be. And she doesn’t have to be anything; do anything or whatever it is that other people expect her to be.

In other words, just let her be miserable in peace.

“I’m still alive, Leonie,” Byleth says. At this point she doesn’t care how she sounded. Cold or even apathetic, she doesn’t care—she is still alive…

Her parents aren’t.

“Well.” Perhaps it’s her insomnia, but Byleth dares to swear under oath that Leonie’s tone shifts, softening a bit. “Get some sleep. I’ll contact you later in the evening I guess.”

“Oh, midnight will do. Usually that’s when I wake up.”

“Huh?”

“Have a great day, Leonie!” Byleth quickly switches, forcing her tone to be cheerful. Leonie pauses again—perhaps out of wondering whether that was truly her who said it just now. But Byleth gladly murders her phone once again by putting it through a flight mode—later means later, and Byleth means Byleth; not even a flabbergasted Leonie can change that right away.

Sleep resumes. She’s back in the black hole again—hurting but numb, silencing her already-muted emotions with a pack of fresh ice cream she picked up from the minimarket the other day. Yes, ice cream makes a strange breakfast meal, but at least this isn’t potato chips; most importantly, she takes a meal if at all.

Her parents must be so proud—

Byleth buries her face under the blanket. She cannot breathe.

****

 

Morning breeze swipes his fringes aside, framing his face. However this time he stands in defiance, hands perching over his hips, his blue eyes look back at the sun—he is a conqueror in the making, scouting his opponent far yonder. He is Alexander Nevsky gazing into afar, watching the Livonian knights trying to cross the frozen Novgorod plains. Russia has never been a merciful mistress in the winter, and that is how he intends to one-up the bright San Francisco sun. He is Dimitri Donskoi challenging the Mongols upfront, Alexander Peresvet going into fistfights against Tatar warriors at the Battle of Kulikovo. In other words, he is ready. Fodlan skies better beware for he shall ride his wind—

“Oi. The heck are you doing, Dimitri, staring into direct sunlight like that?”

Dimitri blushes and scratches his head, receiving the friendly back-breaking from Felix. The raven-haired student stands amused, though, and together they push into the crowded cafeteria where most residents of Garreg Mach Apartment get their breakfasts. Felix shakes his head softly—he swears, five second ago the blonde stood as if they were going to kill someone in the cafeteria, but now he’s as apologetic as a puppy…

“So,” Felix says, quickly seating Dimitri into an unoccupied table. With a sharp glare, he shoos off other students who try racing them to seize the fortress… ahem, the masterless table. “Back off, you fucks, too slow.”

The other students nicely call him an asshole but Felix truly doesn’t mind—that smirks advocates for him, and Dimitri decides to let the fuckers and asshole fraternize in peace as he begins to slowly read the menu board. “Bozhe,” he mutters, “I didn’t know this place had that until a month living here.”

“Really?” Felix chuckles.

“Yes. All I saw, soldiers on rap page,” Dimitri replies innocently before hurriedly checking on his dictionary application. “Rampage.”

“Not wrong,” Sylvain shrugs. “So, Dimitri! What will it be for today?”

The blonde looks at him. “But you don’t work here?”

“I don’t indeed!” Sylvain winks. “But our mission today is getting you the tea you want.”

“Sylvain…” Dimitri blinks.

“Awh, don’t give me the look of an adoring maiden,” Sylvain pats his shoulder. “It’s okay. You’re a Blue Lions now—once you roar with us, you’ll always be a part of our pride.”

“Pride?” the blonde asks again. “But what did I do to make you proud?”

“Eh—we’ll talk about this later,” Sylvain scratches his head. “So! Tea?”

“Like this,” Dimitri takes out his phone again to show the redhead. “After all, I come here prepared. No bringing a harpoon to a submarine warfare, you said.”

“It’s a knife into gunfight, but I… alright, whatever works then,” Sylvain hums again. “Okay. Let’s go get some Russkiy chay.”

“And we’ll sit outside. Look what I smuggled,” Dedue gives a rare grin, showing the group a box containing well-made spring rolls inside. The smell is truly distracting, and he explains while Dimitri peeks like a curious cat. “You probably miss homemade cooking, Dimitri. But I’m not familiar with the kind of Slavic stuffed cabbage leaves you eat,” he says. “Well, Ashe makes a great roommate for being the vegetable peddler between us. Go on.”

“Wait,” Dimitri says. “You say these are for me.”

“Heh. Told you folks need a proper breakfast,” Dedue replies calmly. “And perhaps if Sylvain eats more vegetables, he’ll get rid of those… ahem, raw, carnal thoughts.”

“Thank you, Mom,” with an exaggerated comical act, Sylvain glomps Dedue, kissing his cheek. “Hey, what’s the matter, Dimitri? Felix always buys the same thing, so if you see ten similar white sporty shirts, rest assured he bathes and changes them… I hope, Fe.”

“Bleh,” Felix puts up his response so eloquently… not. “Dimitri is fawning at us.”

“Dimitri never stops fawning after we took him sightseeing that day!” Ashe chirps.

“And now he checks his phone often,” Sylvain intrudes silkily, making absolutely no attempt at all in concealing his teasing towards the now-awkward blonde. “Well, well. Seems the dating conquest proceeds just fine…”

“N-no, it’s just news from home, yes,” Dimitri quickly drowns his phone back into his pocket. “There’s a pretty considerable time zone between me and my uncle and he forgets it often, so…”

“Oh, didn’t know your uncle writes in English.”

“Sylvain!”

“Oops, turns out not, just the phone menu,” Sylvain cackles while Dimitri copes with having his lifespan shaved by two decades all at once. “Wew, you’re easy to tease.”

“O-oh. Is that why she…”

“Ahaaa, a she!”

“A...she?” Dimitri glances at his side. “But Ashe is here.”

“No, no, that’s ash-Ashe, like trash-ash.”

“That’s mean,” Dimitri blurts.

“There’s a long way ahead,” Felix says. “But languages be damned, the road is splendid.”

“Languages be damned? But they are no sinners…” Dimitri’s words trail like languid steps over a snowing land. His eyes immediately catch something—a crowd of four girls, two of them laughing and giggling. One girl is busy stuffing her face with the breakfast bagel they got from the counter, while the last girl is just… there. Nodding, her body language looking receptive and attentive while those eyes widen… hollowly. Someone who is present but simply isn’t there. For some reasons, that kind of gaze reminds him of himself. “Ah…”

“Dimitri just knows where the cute girls are,” Sylvain whistles. “Hi, gorg… wah, Ingrid!”

The blond girl stops gnawing on her breakfast bagel, turning around the moment she hears her name being called. Sylvain immediately switches his demeanor into more deferring as the girl frowns—not unfriendly, but definitely unamused. “Sylvain!”

“Hey folks. Ingrid, Dimitri. Dimitri, Ingrid—an old friend just like Felix,” the redhead laughs nervously. “This is the transfer student I told you the other day—one of us now.”

“You’re not running a mob group,” Ingrid says warily.

“No, but he’s with the Blue Lions now,” Sylvain pats Dimitri’s shoulder. “And these are…”

“Wait, I know you!” the woman with short, strawberry blond hair color interjects. “Ashe, right? Oh, dear, never thought I’d be running into my nurse here! Hi, I’m Mercedes, an aspiring doctor! Ashe and I are taking a class together, and he’s now interning at the hospital where I’m one of the co-assistants. Our rocket scientist Annette here is my best friend!”

“Hello,” says the smallest girl among them. “She exaggerates it—I study physics. It’s just my specialization being astro physics.”

Sylvain’s jaw drops while Felix looks at her. “Maybe she doesn’t,” the raven-haired man responds. “There’s no exaggeration there. Rather, you downplay it.”

“I know you,” Dimitri cuts in. “You are taking one of my computer science classes.”

“Yep! Dimitri, right?” Annette replies happily. “He’s a prince when it comes to numbers.”

“That is exaggeration indeed. I do well because numbers do not talk,” Dimitri replies.

“Really~? Maybe Your Highness here can tip me about… hidden numbers—”

“Not that,” Dedue sighs. “For fuck’s sake.”

‘That’s exactly it, though,” Sylvain smiles as he hides behind Dimitri before Dedue gets to smack him flat. “And the gorgeous one over there…”

Dimitri glances at Byleth. Somehow he doesn’t have the strength to rebuff Sylvain as always even though Felix already makes a sharp here we go again eye-roll at him. Ah, right, the music history classmate who whispered privyet to him so softly that he dropped his calculator like a fool. By then he understood that she didn’t mean to startle him—or even attracted him, alright; but he’d be a stone-cold liar if he couldn’t acknowledge that her voice was indeed pleasant and nice to hear. The woman didn’t speak much, but she made a small subtle smile at times and somehow that got him weak in the knees.

… That woman is probably the descendant of Penthesilea. Or perhaps Hippolyta. Which mythical Amazon queen again who is said to battle Achilles and hold him captive through her smirk alone as their gaze met, in the middle of crossing swords?

Reflexively Dimitri crouches to feel around his foot. Thankfully it is fine. He did play basketball again with the Lions last night, but Achilles took an arrow and Ashe insisted Felix couldn’t bring a weapon to the court. So?

“Dimitri,” Sylvain nudges him. “Hello? Earth to Dimdim?”

“Y-yes. How do you do, Earth,” Dimitri blurts as Byleth looks at him. “I mean…”

“You mean you are paralyzed because she smiles,” Felix whistles. “Oh, Dimitri.”

“That’s not very nice! Our new acquaintance here is helpful,” this time Annette says, pouting a bit. “Also! I didn’t catch your name prior. I’m Annette!”

He pauses because that downwards curl turns upside, forming a lively smile. “Why?”

“Dumbass, she asks your name, not your social security number,” Sylvain elbows him.

“Because… you have a name?” Annette stretches an arm for a friendly handshake while Felix remains stupefied. “I mean—what should I call you again?”

“Yes, of course. I have three names. Take one.”

Sylvain cackles. “It’s Felix, but Dumbass works too.”

“I’ll remember that,” Annette musters a devilish grin. “We ran into Byleth yesterday,” she starts, because Felix remains vanquished and Dimitri has turned into a vending machine against his will. Dedue wisely hides his mouth-watering spring rolls from cafeteria workers because they aren’t supposed to bring food from outside without ordering anything. “And she saved us from one of those elevator pranksters! Truuuly a blessing, mind you, it was pretty late and Mercie was dead tired because the hospital was more crowded than usual.”

“Heat stroke,” Mercedes nods. “So please use sunscreen and keep yourselves hydrated!”

“Don’t stare at the sun like you’re ready to fight it bare-handed,” Dedue nudges Dimitri. The latter mutters in affirmative in a sheepish manner while Ashe smiles. 

Byleth smiles politely, choosing to strike a conversation with Dimitri instead. It doesn’t take long for the group to come together as a larger circle, but this time everyone is talking to a different person about a different topic—Byleth offers Dimitri her notes for the next time, and as the conversation commences, she begins to realize that she isn’t as tired as she usually is somehow. Perhaps Mercedes is right about the sun. But then again there’s a bright sun outside this cafeteria, while inside it’s just Dimitri, nodding with a subtle smile at her, thanking her effort to assist him so far. Her eyes slowly peek as he follows her finger when she shows him a pointer… his fringes falling around his temples, his soft hums of “Oh,” and “Ah,” being nice to listen to…

“I’ll give you the copy next time,” she nods.

“What can I...” he says in return, slow but firm, sincerity blasting in every breath he takes to muster the words. “Offer in return?”

She pauses. “Well, Annette there said you were good with numbers.”

“Oh, no, just the usual...” it definitely takes some time for his response to come out, but she doesn’t begrudge it. “I—I do mathematics. Decency at it is just responsibility, no?”

Byleth pauses again. Doing something well as an act of responsibility in regards to your life? It sounds so simple. It sounds so cliche too, and yet…

And yet somehow it bludgeons her right in the solar plexus, and she needs to think.

“You want me to do mathematics?” again he asks oh-so innocently; his lips curving into a nice little shape of letter O, brows furrowing but not frowning. “But do what?”

“... No,” finally she says. “Your jacket again. I don’t understand—it’s just… warm.”

****

 

He smirks triumphantly, dragging a wheeled chair out. Cracking his knuckles, he comfortably sets in—the apartment isn’t that grand compared to the wealthy Blaiddyd family home, but it’s sure comfortable and knows just the right ways to pamper the students living there. He likes how the apartment he occupies is blessed with natural light, just enough to keep the lights off until it truly gets dark outside as the sun begins to set.

Breakfast went well. So well, actually, if only he could stop being dumb just because some woman is too pretty that his tongue got stolen effortlessly. Finally after a month of living in Fodlan District, he got the tea closest to the typical samovar chay he usually takes back home. Dedue’s food is heavenly and he likes his evil plan of buying his downstairs neighbor their groceries for the month. His father wanted him to do some charity? Then charity it would be. Now now, how can he leave all the good things at Dedue and Ashe’s door without being apprehended by Alois like a laundry thief?

Perhaps Alois can use some treats too. Perhaps the gorgeous neighbor upstairs can—

Dimitri clears his throat. He is here for the Schwarzschild radius as a group project for the computer science class with Annette—her explaining the formula in a practical sense helps him a lot and he does his labor by running the calculation for her. Great, now they’ll just need to test their vectors again and see if those lines can take a shape.

Schwarzschild radius—or as Annette said, the Einstein translator; the black hole calculator for him, though. For this one he is truly happy because Annette didn’t think him as dumb. He let the smart girl formulate everything, and now that night time has come, he tries to translate that all into the given numbers while she catches some sleep.

“Velocity, time, distance,” he mutters, eyes straight to the monitor, one hand keeps typing in numbers. Always double-check by manually calculating them on paper. Triple-check by running it on the calculator before the program can run it. And ultimately, cross-checking his brain with the calculator’s brain and computer’s brain alike.

Dimitri sighs. Byleth conveyed responsibility was good. Doing so means he is good. And now her bullet pointers are on the paper. That piece is now on his desk…

Dimitri frowns. His lines are ruined. He inserted the wrong number. Do it again. Out of reflex he casts the paper aside with care, as if gently telling her not to distract him.

And now he nods in satisfaction. The lines criss-cross nicely; angles are matched and the quadrant fits everything Annette thought in the beginning. Oh, she will be pleased.

Now, Byleth’s notes again—

“Dear Annette. I have saved the project, but on paper it is like this. I email you,” Dimitri types as fast as he can. “So, as you see, the graph shows that…” he pauses. The graph shows what again? Impossible—these are all his numbers!

Dimitri glances on his phone. Miss Meatloaf isn’t texting. Something feels missing…

But Byleth’s paper is still there. He is full again.

… Too full, perhaps. The graph shows WHAT?

Dimitri has set aside his hand sanitizer. He isn’t drinking. There’s no mistake this time, but her face only gets to be clearer while his brain cells desert his command. Maybe if he takes a breather for five minutes or so, they will come back and heed him?

“Stop following me around or you will regret it.”

Dimitri frowns.

“You can’t turn me down just like that. You didn’t even leave a specific address—this is important, so please, at least give me a word when and where we can talk!”

“I don’t want it. Why don’t you stay in touch with Leonie?”

“You didn’t reply.”

“Well…”

“Which room is yours? Seriously, Miss Eisner…”

“Nope. No, no, no.”

“Hey, wait!”

“Nope. I want to sleep and be dead.”

“Wait, hold on a second, it’s important! Which room? Hey, come on—”

Dimitri thinks he doesn’t need to listen to more than what he already did. Quietly, he grabs his keys, closing his door seamlessly as he strolls outside. There’s a pocket knife attached to the keychain because his father told him to never come unprepared—in anything. The corridors are empty. He isn’t surprised at all—it’s ten. Fellow nightcrawlers like himself are probably napping only to be resurrected at an ungodly hour…

Like Byleth.

Like the woman with that subtle, yet mesmerizing smile who ruined his numbers.

And now she is running towards the third floor, half-panting, her mouth opens in surprise upon finding him there. “Uh,” she murmurs. “I’m sorry, but eh—your floor?”

“Yes?” Dimitri replies. “And this one is?”

“I don’t know him,” Byleth mutters.

“I can explain if only you’d stop and let me catch up!”

“Catch? What are you, a kidnapper?” Dimitri narrows his eyes on him.

“It’s catch up, not catch,” Byleth sighs. “But…”

“But you said no,” he approaches… closer. “You don’t want him.”

“Oh shit, I was too loud,” Byleth mumbles. “Well…”

“Will you leave?” without realizing it, he already puts his body in front of her. Surprised, she doesn’t move from where she stands, but nevertheless it doesn’t seem like she minds the gesture. “Leave, downstairs—and disappear?”

“D-disappear?! Why, I’m a lawyer!”

Lawyer, Dimitri thinks, his head begins to pound. She is literally running from one just like him, trying to stall whatever that honorable Vasiliev tries to tell him. Whatever happened to her, he doesn’t care—somehow he only sees… similarities. “And what?”

The man stops flailing around while Byleth… looks at him too now.

“You are a lawyer. And then? You have your job but she rejects. Now go,” Dimitri folds his arms, standing straight and menacing. “Is this how people in Fodlan flirt? Announcing your job thinking it will entice the lady or something?”

“Entice?! You misunderstood!”

“I did not, it’s in the dictionary!” Dimitri raises his voice a bit. “And why do I care? She says no, fullstop, get out of here.”

Byleth gapes as the lawyer, probably too stunned but definitely afraid , hurriedly crawls back into the elevator. “We’ll meet again for sure, Miss Eisner—this isn’t the kind of matter you shall put on hold forever.”

“You meet her again, I meet you too if you don’t behave. Shush now!” Dimitri glares at the man, watching until the elevator truly lands. Sighing, he returns his attention to her… “Are you fine, Mentor?”

“Dimitri, I—” Byleth scratches her head. “I’m Byleth. Just call me that.”

“But you are instructing me in class. I respect you.”

“You make a nice classmate, I like that as well,” she replies stubbornly. “Uh—”

“It is okay. No need thanking,” he pats her shoulder only to withdraw in a second, completely bedazzled by his own action. “I… my apologies. Pardon. I was just…”

“Checking,” she hums.

“Yes. But not Sylvain-style checking,” he mutters sheepishly. “Like if you are okay.”

“... Oh. Not that kind of checking?” another hum, this time softer.

“I do not mind that but then again—Lord God, what am I… I mean, n-no.”

“Alright,” Byleth nods. “It’s concerning my family. He’s got a point but I…”

“Tired,” Dimitri blurts. “You are tired.”

“That’s a wise way to put it,” she claps her chin. “How did you know?”

“Probably because me too,” Dimitri’s answer is akin to a breeze—faint, but still there, regardless. “May I…” a gulp.

“Yes?”

He stops. Is she smiling? “Take you to room?”

Oh no, now she gapes.

“Your room! Your place—” he scratches his head. “I uh… understand if you do not want to! I’ll just be here in the elevator. You can enter safely. Don’t want him to come back.”

Ah.

“O-or! Perhaps, if you want my number. My American number, of course, no need for extra roaming fee. I told that man I would see him again if he still won’t behave, didn’t I?” he stops his own action right away. “N-no? I mean… gah, I will flatten Sylvain—”

“I understand!”

He stops fidgeting. Thankfully his own pocket swallows that phone. “Um,” a whisper. “Eh.”

“Accepted.”

“O—oh?”

“Yes! 202 accepted,” she nods. “They said you are the prince of numbers.”

“Exaggeration.”

“202 from me still. I can treat you to tea if you want,” she nods. “My place is a wrecked ship-kind of messy but I swear I still have some tea for you if you want. I heard you’ve been having trouble trying to order a cup.”

“I—don’t know,” he whispers. “Somehow I can’t think.”

“Huh?”

“408,” Dimitri slaps his head voluntarily this time. “408 time out.”

****

 

Sasha
Miss Bayleaf, it seems the night can get dangerous at times. Please be careful.

Bayleaf
That’s very kind of you! Don’t worry though, I can protect myself.

Sasha
Really? That is most reassuring to hear. But please do not lower your guard.

Bayleaf
Yeah. Sadly you can’t just kick anyone as you please.

Sasha
If it’s night time and followed for talking, why can’t she? Why can’t you?

Bayleaf
She?

Sasha
Oh. First-hand witness. I am grateful she is alright. So I remember you.

Bayleaf
You went on some knight-errant and remember me? That’s kind of cute.

Sasha
Why won’t I want you to be safe?

Sasha
I am… cute?

Bayleaf
Admittedly it’s pretty nice to be helped every once in a while. I can just be, yknow?

Bayleaf
I mean I can just exist. No need to be strong. It’s tiring. I’m exhausted…

Bayleaf
Sorry for texting you rather late, Sasha.

Sasha
N-no problem.

Bayleaf
You don’t want me to call you cute for saving a woman?

Sasha
Oh, it was just that...

Bayleaf
Still cute. People hardly care for other people’s well-being these days.

Sasha
I

Sasha
I uh

Sasha
...

Bayleaf
You know, maybe I should just take the number.

Bayleaf
Good God, Sasha, blushing again?

Chapter Text

“You turned down Vasiliev, and now refuse to talk to me. What changed you, malchik?!”

Dimitri rubs his temples, messily grabbing the mineral bottle idly laying on his desk. A nice cracking sound follows the moment he places his hand around the bottle’s neck, prompting him to… sulk. His grip must have been acting again—is this his father from the realm of the dead, criticizing him as well? Is it actually Lambert criticizing him on the phone, using his own older brother as a medium to reach out?

… Again, why must he be reminded of his father’s monstrous strength right when he feels like escaping his overbearing uncle? It’s not like he hates his family or home—he can do without Rufus’ meddling like this. Besides, he is in the middle of something tiring and hot… literally. Done with Schwarzschild and the black hole equation, the two of them are paired for another task, this time projecting temperature distribution. Seasons have been rather unstable, with the winter being warm and the summer rather chill.

Dimitri feels like howling when he puts down his phone, letting Rufus call his name in many variations the latter can think of while he strolls to grab another bottle from the fridge. The faint speaker still broadcasts whatever Rufus tries doing there, though, and Dimitri huffs, a sarcastic smile peeking out of his lips—his uncle really needs to recite every variant of Dimitri he knows there, doesn’t he?

“Dima,” Rufus calls there. “Mitya, Dimochka, Dimusha, I know you are there.”

Dimitri holds his breath as he slowly tries to open the bottle again.

“Mitenka?”

He drinks. Perhaps it’s the water, perhaps it’s the nickname; either way, he really has never heard of such diminutive being used in the 21st century except in old literature, but hey, Rufus often whines about the so-called ignorant millennials, so he’ll give his uncle that.

“I’m here, Dyadka.”

“Oh, good, and here I thought you were dead!” Rufus scoffs in frustration.

Close, Dimitri thinks again, dragging a mop with his foot to clean the water spill he caused prior. Would Lambert Blaiddyd be proud because that grip is more than capable to break someone’s neck, or would he cuss him instead because this old noble family is supposed to raise an heir instead of a beast? “No, I’m doing…”

Dimitri glances at his monitor. He matriculates the data Annette sent him, showing the nodes which mark the varied temperature of Fodlan District for a year. Everything is well so far. Linear algebra assists him in doing number theory, and he’s confident he should be done by dinner because Annette already sent her projected hypothesis as well. He’ll only need to count and graph it so that everything can be emailed for her to compile. Nice, right?

“Yes?”

Dimitri really forgets that Rufus is still waiting for his answer. Numbers don’t talk. He prefers to keep it that way, but he needs to remember that humans do.

“Temperature projection,” he says, sketching another algorithm as the program he is using starts building the graph he envisions. He frowns. Ah, finally a pseudo-inverse has graced one of his wide matrices with its presence. Time to tighten the flanks then and see if his rows are linear. In other words— dammit, as he cusses now.

“I sent you far to be a weatherman?”

Dimitri knows he is lucky because his pen doesn’t break right away. “No, Dyadka. Group project with a classmate, we are vectoring how Fodlan behaves for a year,” he tries again. His uncle might be an excellent businessman, but perhaps that’s where he meets his nemesis—something countable, but not money.

“Classmate,” Rufus repeats.

“Yes. She is very smart. Someone like that can take us to the moon,” Dimitri hums a bit, remembering how sprightly and diligent his new friend is. In all honesty, though, he is in awe. Annette probably has the best mathematical grasp out of all the people he knows so far, but at the same time she is also lively and sociable—something he is lacking, something even his engineer-turned-businessman father admitted to be rare.

Dyadka said a man is either likeable or dumb, Papa.

Lambert’s blue eyes looked so kind back then, wrinkles slowly disappeared as his lips parted into laughter. “You can be likeable and smart, still. Ask him which one he is, I guarantee you, he’ll want to punch me in the face.”

So there is always something other to think of, right? There’s always an alternative to consider—he doesn’t have to be one over the other only , he can be something else.

“I don’t think he will, Papa, you are strong,” at that time that was the only reply he could think of, which apparently brought so much delight for Lambert because the smile evolved into a perfect, boisterous laughter. Lambert’s hand felt so warm when touching him, saying that he would grow into a stronger man than he ever was.

Lambert’s hand was cold and limp without any trace of that leonine strength when he held it for the last time. Open casket, typical Slavic funeral; his blond hair didn’t look so glistening anymore because it was as dead as his master then. He resisted to grip that cold dead body on the shoulders, shaking it… perhaps Lambert then would wake up, telling him it was just a prank and he was hiding a present somewhere. But the moment his hands met those shoulders, Lambert felt so… small and fragile like a rag doll, making him wonder if it was truly his father that he was clutching…

“Well, well, Mitka, you seem to enjoy your time there.”

Dimitri gasps. He really forgets they are still connected. Now that another diminutive is out, he perfectly understands that his uncle is getting impatient for real. “I’m trying, yes.”

“Then why did Vasiliev get a cold shoulder?”

“I’ll talk to him.”

“And not now, while I’m able?” Rufus says. “Not now, Dimitri Alexandre?”

“But I’m currently unable,” Dimitri replies lightly, tapping the enter button to let the program build his graph again. Another algorithm solved. Bye, evil pseudo-inverse! The lines are flat, his matrices are connected but independent at the same time. Suddenly he feels proud, and it’s as if it’s been a long while since he ever felt that way…

“Then when are you available again, Sasha? Don’t stall me like this.”

Dimitri needs another sip. The only person who calls him that so far is the woman he met through a dating application, and his uncle’s line sounds like coming straight out of one. “You’ve used all the diminutives you know. There’s no other left.”

Rufus sighs. Dimitri smiles. He wins…

And he hates it because he feels so different. So unlike the Dimitri Alexandre he knows, and worst of all, he now understands how to coax others… forcefully, with elegance too. Distraught, he watches his own reflection as his monitor grows dim because it’s been left idle for a while. He inherited his father’s hair. His eyes too; how could he forget? Soon, his father’s wealth would be his as well—unreservedly, undoubtedly.

Dimitri’s hands fly to feel around his jawline. He isn’t sure anymore. Everything blurs; who is he?

How much did my late father leave for my uncle?

Dimitri crosses himself. Vasiliev the attorney will read it the first time he checks his emails in the morning.

****

 

Byleth Eisner, twenty-five, wants to fight.

But no, really, she wants to punch someone. Punching Leonie crossed her mind a little, admittedly, the idea of her taking a long commuting trip by train only to bet on one chance to throw a duffel bag at Leonie’s face, perhaps. To throw the gloves, making her jump out of her office so that they can fight at the parking lot like some sort of a freestyle competition.

Finally after a month of being in limbo, Byleth can confess about one thing…

She is miserable.

She isn’t even sure if she can count the last phone call she had with Leonie as a fight. But the other girl clearly disapproved of her actions, and while she rightfully believed Leonie made a point, something else in her rebelled.

“The attorney hounded me!” Byleth says. Thankfully the music history class is a big one. Even if it’s rather loud, other people don’t really care what she is doing because everyone seems to know everyone at some point, thus people flock with their friends to form their respective chatting groups before their lecturer arrives. “I looked like a fool, running around the floors trying to lose his track nearing midnight. The hell were you thinking?!”

“And the hell are you doing?” the other side snaps as well. “I was trying to reach you! We were all trying to reach you! You have no slightest regard about that at all, don’t you?!”

“I’m not running away!”

“Yes? Is that a lie you’ve been telling yourself, Byleth?!”

“I am sad! Don’t you understand, I am sad…” Byleth stops talking. Another shadow approaches the desk she is occupying, and she offers him a polite smile.

Right. Him. Dimitri, the transfer student. The person she strikes a business deal with—she tutors him, and he’ll lend his jacket because this cursed seat and the aisle of air conditioner intersection is ever the last-minute choice due to how cold the air is. The thing is, she tends to be among the last-minute arriving students due to the tiredness and the naps she steals. Dimitri is among them because the building where all his math classes are conducted is located rather far from the humanities department. Thus the alliance starts…

“Privyet.”

Byleth stops. She really forgets how nice that killer voice sounds when he murmurs like that, with castrated octaves and toned-down volume…

Byleth gestures at her phone with a nod. Dimitri mutters a simple “Oh,” apologetically as he starts arranging his things over the desk he shares with her.

“Sad? You didn’t cry at the funeral. Then it’s as if you stopped caring. You know what, Byleth, it’s almost you are ungrateful despite being Jeralt’s child, flesh and blood!”

Byleth freezes.

“I adore your father! You slept and shunned us off while I ran my ass to keep everything running smoothly. Who called the florist? Who checked the catering? Who confirmed the morgue? Where were you? Where were you when you weren’t napping and eating chips?!”

“Shut up, fuck you, shut up!!”

Everyone stops chatting and doing anything they are doing at the moment. Byleth stands, gasping, her hand reflexively flies to cover her mouth. She just yelled. So loud and clear in public, under people’s bare eyes to see, within people’s convenient earshots to listen to. Her lips tremble as hard as her hands, ghostly stare looking far-yonder hoping she will get to see something… different. Something worth it.

… Flayn stares back at her, bewildered and stunned in her seat. The nerds from the history department watch in horror while the closest folks to her seat appear to be thrown between checking up on her or pretending the entire argument isn’t happening.

“Leonie,” Byleth hisses. She wants to get out. Her chest hurts. Her everything hurts. She wants to crawl. Did she not cry at the funeral? Apparently not. Apparently she wasn’t enough then, and isn’t enough now. Perhaps she will never be. “I’m sorry to break it to you, but you will never be my father’s child.”

“Then act like it,” the other woman replies just as bitterly, teeth gritting hard. Byleth imagines Leonie seizing her limbs, shaking her so strongly that her arms might fall. And what wouldn’t she give to be able to have the chance of grabbing Leonie’s beautiful orange locks only to drag her down by the hair in return? “If my parents died, at least you can bet that I would be there to do everything for them as my last gesture of respect.”

Byleth tries to breathe. She cannot. She needs fresh air. She runs outside, her pencil case shattering over the clean ceramic tiles. She couldn’t care less. She is drowning, and that’s too much violence in a day to fantasize about. She doesn’t only want to rip Leonie’s hair with her bare hands; she wants to smack her face too. But at the same time she also wishes to face herself like that so she can beat that useless Byleth senseless as well.

Perhaps it doesn’t make sense. But who cares at this point? She does not.

“I respect your father the way I respect my own,” Leonie continues. Byleth wonders if she also sobs there. She hears something shattering. She wonders if Leonie’s pencil case also shatters. “Or perhaps more than my own. Your father never laughed at my aspiration like my old man would fucking do.”

Byleth stops. She cannot breathe. She really cannot.

“Dare you tell me that I’m feeling good about this, Byleth?” another hiss. Byleth chokes. “Dare you tell me I’m calling you to flex? To show off? Because I earned my adoption card better than you, who is there out of courtesy of the womb?”

Byleth gags.

“Do you think I want something out of this? Is that it? I’m pestering you about the lawyer your mother hired when she knew she wouldn’t live long—like that, Byleth Eisner?”

“Fuck you,” Byleth mutters, eyes burdened by crystals forcing their way out. “Fuck you.”

“Then where the fuck was that line? You should…” an exhale. “You should have punched me before you left. You should…” and another. Leonie’s voice grows fainter and she gives up, a hoarse little sob betraying the crassness she displays. “Fuck this, By. Fuck cancer.”

“Fuck that, yes,” Byleth’s voice is just as hoarse, if not worse. “But fuck you too.”

A chuckle this time. Sinister, but no longer as angry. Most importantly, not malicious either. “Byleth,” Leonie shifts into a whisper. “I asked you how you felt. I asked if you were okay.”

“You asked?” Byleth replies. Her hand begins to make a perilous journey to reach her eyes. “Is that how you asked, Leonie? Asshole.”

“Yes. Problem? Definitely better than someone who put her phone on flight mode all the time,” Leonie responds. “Asshole. Fuck you too as well.”

Byleth tries to breathe.

“... I couldn’t do words,” Leonie murmurs this time. “I’m sorry.”

“I can’t even word,” Byleth mumbles. “And I didn’t know what to say besides telling you that I don’t know. I thought I’d be sad. I thought I’d cry. But I’m just…”

“Numb?”

Byleth pauses.

“Byleth,” Leonie laughs bitterly. “I got reprimanded for the third time at work this week.”

“... Leonie.”

“At least none of us manages to get her shit together. I guess I have to go back to Sauin now if they are firing me.”

“They won’t.”

“Nice sister, aren’t you.”

“No. I’m going to make your life hell,” Byleth replies flatly. “... But you know that there will always be a room at our farm for you. The way my parents would always say.”

“Nice sisters, aren’t we,” Leonie mutters on the phone, trembling. “Seems we need…”

“No time for that,” Byleth snaps. “I’m behind in my class. I haven’t found a nice job yet either. You want me to throw money at a total stranger while baring my soul vulnerably to tell them my sad stories? I can’t even cry.”

There’s a pause from the other side until Leonie speaks again. “Maybe that’s what we need the most,” she whispers. “A good cry. Heck, a cry will do, but that alone is hard. What are we?”

“Strong women,” Byleth answers without hesitation. “Which is why we’re miserable.”

Leonie laughs. The bitterness is no longer there.

“By,” she says then. “I implore you, please talk to the attorney.”

Byleth tries to breathe again. It’s easier this time.

“You are Jeralt’s daughter. Only you,” Leonie speaks again, startling her. “There are things only you can do. Only you have the right to. And I can’t be there even if I’m deranged enough trying to kick you off there. Even if you want me to take up that position. It’s not me, Byleth—it’s always you.”

Byleth mutters an undecipherable word.

“And get some sleep,” Leonie’s tone softens. “Get some proper sleep, asshole.”

“You first,” Byleth murmurs. “Asshole.”

Leonie chuckles and ends her call. Byleth isn’t putting her phone back to flight mode...

“Byleth.”

She turns around. Dimitri is there, looking at her…

“Dimitri,” she calls out to him back, awkward. “That was uh…”

“Home news,” the transfer student says quietly.

“Not quite,” Byleth clutches her phone tighter. “But close.”

“Your purse…” the blonde holds up the very thing he salvaged from the classroom, frank yet honest, sincere yet almost demure at the same time. Her purse looks so small in his hand now, but seeing how unhesitating he is for doing her the favor is something else…

“I… thank you,” she takes the black purse from his grip. His palm feels fitting when it meets her own, the similar warmth she has been accustomed to feeling these days returns. She blinks in disbelief. Dimitri doesn’t withdraw, not until she does it first.

“Lecturer will come, soon,” Dimitri raises his left arm to show her his watch. “Probably.”

“Probably?”

“He tends to come five minutes after the supposed time, da? If ten times we have class with him and this behavior persists then for the eleventh time the probability is close to eighty percent and maybe more,” the blonde blurts. “... Oops.”

She looks at him.

“I am sorry. I do not mean to attract you with my numbers.”

“What?”

“I do not mean… to distract you… with…” Dimitri begrudgingly runs his palm over his hair. The half-updo ponytail is ruffled. Byleth wonders why he is cute, and thankfully Dimitri cannot read her mind the way he reads his numbers. “Ah, gavno. I keep making mistakes…”

Byleth watches. He digs into his pocket to take out… a handkerchief. “Uh…”

“Eyes are wet. Were you crying?” he clasps the handkerchief into her grip. She didn’t expect for a strong-looking big hand like that to be so gentle and nurturing.

“I wasn’t,” she replies. Quietly. But perhaps she wishes she was, though.

“Ah.”

“Sorry, that was…”

“No sorry. That was okay.”

Byleth blinks. Dimitri unfolds the jacket he neatly holds only to drape it over her…

“And this is okay too. Crying is okay. Wet the handkerchief. It’s okay.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Byleth says, but her lips are a tremor, and her legs an earthquake. “That is ridiculous. Do I look like the crying type? Don’t you even want to ask why? You are lending me this so easily too—should I ask you why? Like, why would you…” her lips tremble harder. Her legs nearly give up.

“I don’t need asking. I don’t know if crying is a type. I lend it because I want to. Then again you need it, da?”

Simple questions. Simple kindness. Sincere touches full of warmth and comfort.

“You are ridiculous,” Byleth says. “So… ridiculous.”

“My uncle says the same thing often,” Dimitri smiles faintly. “Take it. It’s okay.”

“No way,” Byleth insists. Her grip over his handkerchief tightens. “No… way.” That is perhaps the tightest she ever clutches a handkerchief. “... Impossible…”

Byleth wonders what drives her to do it, but Dimitri’s chest is an open field, inviting and sympathetic at the same time. She dives into his arms, face-first. He can hear her sobs, her calloused hands fisting into his shirt; her tears wetting his collar and her hair strands tickle his nostrils.

He doesn’t care.

It is awkward at first, but her body feels right to be there as well, and he knows his father will smite him from the dead if he cannot even be a decent gentleman right now—

His arm moves to encircle her shoulders. “I think, Byleth,” he says, right by her ear, close to her lips, much to his regret. He withdraws—respectfully. “If you can still think about it, then it’s not completely impossible. Even an irrational number is still a number, and a zero isn’t empty.”

“You do know your numbers,” she says as she sobs. “I hate this, Dimitri. I hate this.”

“And what if it’s because I do,” soft husky voice graces her senses once again, “hence I think it is totally okay and understandable to cry.”

“Your father must be so proud,” she hums, snorting into his handkerchief.

“No, he is not proud. He is dead.”

Byleth stops crying…

But Dimitri nods gently, neck arching to level her height as he wipes her eyes.

… He smiles this time, and she tightens her hug, crying a little bit more.

Chapter Text

Byleth cannot believe this is truly happening.

Sitting vis-à-vis with a person donning a well-tailored suit itself already feels odd. She still dons her so-called academic look with dark circles that just won’t give up. Beside her, Alois sits quietly, doing nothing but merely sipping his drink. The cafe they go to is probably not the fanciest place to discuss something like this.

Admittedly, the phone call with Leonie lifted her burden a bit. Raining tears over Dimitri’s shirt also helped. Now the transfer student is here, even quieter than Alois. The cafe boasts a peaceful ambience instead of the busy, bustling cafeteria near Garreg Mach apartment. There’s some kind of unmasked happiness on his face considering never once he takes his eyes off the tea he ordered five minutes ago—black tea with lemon slices which reminds him of home…

And Byleth can’t look at him somehow.

Dimitri was nothing but kind yesterday. He let her cry on him, fulfilling the alliance pact they agreed on. His jacket stayed with her without question throughout the entire class. He noticed she barely took any notes herself after her call with Leonie, but turns out Byleth made a reliable alliance partner as well because she continued tutoring him.

Being in the cafe for seven minutes still doesn’t change the fact that it’s hard for Byleth to look at Dimitri for a reason or another. Dimitri just held her until she was done crying, even asking if she needed anything else. He even tidied her things and tried to salvage whatever left from the shattering pencil case.

Byleth sighs. She will need to shop for stationery soon. Using a literal plastic bag doesn’t bother her, but she starts despising the looks she received from the people around her when the first class started today. On the other hand, she offered them no explanation.

“Well,” Alois coughs softly, breaking the ensuing silence. The attorney gasps, and Byleth catches how Dimitri’s gaze quickly seizes that reaction like a hungry hawk. “I’m sorry for roughing you up like a bandit, but…” this time his gaze travels back towards Dimitri. The blonde stops stirring his tea cup—instead, he sits straight that it’s almost intimidating.

“But you made her run,” he says. “She told you no, you insisted.”

“And Dimitri here reported you to me,” Alois scratches his head. “Did he tell you that he is her late mother’s lawyer?”

“When cornered!” Dimitri scoffs. “Why not be decent and just announce who you are?”

“Huh…?” the attorney glances at him. This time, however, Byleth snaps back.

“Hey. You are not going to make any comment about his accent and speech.”

Dimitri peeks at her from his cup. Byleth robs a sight from the ice coffee she is sipping. She glares at him—feigning one, of course, because he looks at her gratefully; the blissful five seconds making her feel… adored.

“What?” Byleth replies, purposefully sounding curt. Dimitri purses his lips, however.

“Nothing. Thank you.”

Byleth really should have made it clear to him that he isn’t allowed to use that killer tone.

“Well,” Alois clears his throat. Dimitri takes a big sip. He chokes when the tea burns his throat. Unfortunately, that’s the case too with Byleth. “You can go on. I’m her family-friend, I’ve known Jeralt Eisner for decades and I regarded his lovely wife as a sister.”

“Oh, y-yes. Mrs. Eisner did mention you a couple of times… and here as well.”

Byleth breathes in. Dimitri puts down his cup, casually dropping his jacket over her clasped hands. The warmth is back. “Words are hard and messy,” he says. “But action…”

Suddenly, Byleth has a wild thought—would it be too brazen to hold his hand instead?

“Miss Eisner, before we start, I wonder if you have any… certain estimation in regards to what your parents left as they passed away?” the attorney shifts, laying a sealed envelope over the table. He isn’t opening it. Byleth clutches on Dimitri’s jacket tighter.

“No,” Byleth says. Dimitri spares a nod and she wonders if he praises her. “That didn’t concern me back then. That doesn’t concern me now. Open it.” She inhales again. This is hard, but as Leonie said… “Open it, please,” her tone softens. She feels Dimitri’s gentle pat over her shoulder, and half of the heftiness is gone.

“Alright,” the attorney replies solemnly. Dimitri shifts his gaze at him again. “First of all, I’m truly sorry for scaring you like that the other day. You never returned any call, so…”

“Are you sorry, or are you not?”

Alois blinks. Dimitri holds firmly, however, and the attorney gulps.

“I am sorry, Miss Eisner.”

Dimitri sips his tea as if nothing happens. This counterfeit samovar chay tastes great.

“You inherit the farm,” the attorney points out in a certain section on the paper. “And this includes all the property built over your land. The house, the silo, the tractor…”

Byleth clutches on her coffee cup tighter. Her fingers begin to feel numb, but at least she feels something now—so, good? “Everything then,” she murmurs. Everything. Jeralt was proud of the tractor and he hardly let her try driving it so far. He liked maintaining it. Oiling and machine-checking activities would never fall on her, and yet everything is hers too.

“There’s only one problem,” the attorney speaks in a lower tone now. “Apparently Jeralt took a loan to finance your mother’s treatments. He expected to gradually pay everything back starting this month when the harvest season arrives, and yet…”

“And yet he died,” she finishes what he cannot. Dimitri pats her again.

“Yes,” the attorney says. “With a heavy heart, Miss Eisner, I must tell you—you are in debt, and these things we just discussed might be repurposed to pay everything back.” Byleth opens her mouth. She thought she lost her breath, but everything is so silent and she can hear her own heart beating… without any word to come out. “You can declare bankruptcy, and then the district will…”

Byleth sips her tea. She truly chokes on it now.

****

 

Доброе утро Господин, это Васильев.
Твой отец сказал это очень ясно—насколько зависит от вас.

Dimitri loses count how many times he has reread the reply he received. The Blaiddyd family attorney, as expected, emailed him back in the first instance he was able to. He should have known that someone must be truly reliable for Rufus and Lambert to trust without a doubt, and this attorney has proven his worth—attached copy of Lambert’s assets, his original signature, literal sections where Dimitri’s name is mentioned…

“And for my l’vonchik—lion cub—I leave him the family jewels as well. In my passing, may he find a person worthy of the world to be worthy of his parents’ wedding bands as well,” Dimitri repeats a line he is reading. He is sober, but something in him wishes that he isn’t. This is too much to chew in a night; the fast food dinner is barely half-eaten and now he has to trace every footprint Lambert left on a paper. His eyes feel cloudy so suddenly. Perhaps there really isn’t anything technical or business-like in Lambert’s documents… rather, these papers bear the testament of love. Considering he has been drinking more conveniently lately, he’s glad that he doesn’t have anything nearby to grab out of reflex.

His feelings are eating him.

Dimitri recalls Rufus’ bombing him with other variations of his name to get his attention during a call, but Lambert’s notes are just so simple. His father mentioned his full name first and ‘Dima’ second, with various endearing terms commence after. For my bear. My only son. The Blaiddyd wolf-dog. The little bee. Lion cub…

Dimitri raises an arm, bringing his sleeve close to his eyes. There isn’t much to wipe there somehow, and his mind flies back to the recent event. Byleth Eisner, the classmate and assigned tutor for his music history class of the humanities department. She confessed to him that her mother died last month of blood cancer, apparently, and her father followed the poor woman to the grave only a couple of weeks afterwards.

He has seen how her canals broke, tears spilling out of the typically-taciturn face like blood drips coming out of a deep gash. It is probably so wrong to harbor this thought, but after seeing her defense crumbling like that, he wishes he could do the same—crying, sobbing without pretense, without having to carry whether he looks proper or not. The last time he checked, a heart is just a heart no matter the gender is—now where can he wail in peace, without having to attract unnecessary attention, especially that of his neighbors’?

His late father isn’t speaking like a businessman in the letter.

“And the samovar we got as a souvenir from Kazakhstan,” he continues reading. “Since you always like tea more than coffee, Dima, may that be yours as well.”

Dimitri pauses. Distraught, he takes off his shirt, burying his face in it. He wants to yell and howl like a wounded lion, yet there’s only darkness enshrouding his vision as he waits for spilling tears that never come. This hurts. So, so badly. And worst of all, he cannot even fight back—this isn’t similar to any of the training targets Lambert would set up for him. Cannot push a log on a snowy day and fall onto the ground? Get up and try again. Cannot hit the sandbag as good as his father told him to? Take the hit and hit it back.

His father taught him numbers. His father taught him to fight…

Except nobody was ever around to teach him how to deal with his emotions. Nobody was ever around to teach him how to deal with grief, let alone when it is his own father that he is grieving about. Whatever it is which finally penetrated Byleth’s defense, he doesn’t even have it. Someone who would initiate a conversation he dreads to have, but allows for his emotion to break so he can feel. So he can properly feel.

Good morning, Sir—your father was clear about it; how much is up to you.

Dimitri groans. So he not only inherits things now, but also rules them. The will says that how much Rufus shall receive is completely up to him because he now owns the entire family fortune, except for what his grandfather already bequeathed to his uncle…

He isn’t even ready to assume the responsibility yet, and now he has to decide his uncle’s destiny with a stroke of his pen? Is this why Rufus keeps pestering him to look into the documents soon? Not because his uncle is concerned that he hasn’t been himself ever since the terrible news knocked on his door?

Dimitri buries his face further. His shirt is going to suffocate him if this persists, but at this rate it’s hard to believe anything anymore. As though there’s a betrayal even if nobody is lying to him… disorientation is perhaps the only way he can think of to describe how he feels. And his fridge, where is it? Barely a month living in Fodlan gives him the chance to look at his affairs from a different perspective, and he almost clears his third vodka bottle like this.

You are not to become my brother.

Dimitri growls. His father’s words hit him like a brick.

You shall not become… me.

He tumbles onto his own bed. Why isn’t anyone telling him that repressing his emotions will cause him literal body pain? His mind flies back to one of those insomniac nights which landed him downstairs only to find a drunk Manuela. Before long it also wanders back home, thinking of his own uncle who downs shot after shot in a frustrating night only to return to chase for ephemeral affection and happiness from one woman to another.

Perhaps that’s why they drink. Perhaps that’s why he feels like doing it too now; we all need to feel, Manuela said—but what to do when one thinks he isn’t supposed to feel? When one thinks he isn’t supposed to feel this way? When he isn’t expected to cry?

Dimitri groans. He feels so weak…

“Dimitri?”

He stifles his voice furthermore. “Who?” putting the shirt back on, he wipes his face to vanquish any trace of sadness from there. When the door opens he finds Felix there, concerned but also quite dressed for the night. “Oh. Felix.”

“Everything good? I thought I heard you growling.”

“Yeah, well…” Dimitri scratches his head. Felix darts a glance, eying his messy shirt.

“Hot weather?” the raven-haired man phrases his question as simply as possible.

“Yes. Must be it,” Dimitri bites regardless. “Sorry for loudness.”

“Don’t sweat about it. You heard it from Mercedes, heat stroke smacks people in the ass more compared to last year. Gotta stay healthy. Have some sunscreen already?”

Dimitri shakes his head, dumbfounded.

“Then you need to get a tube soon. If you pass out I’ll need another person’s help to carry you here,” Felix whistles. “We’re your neighbors. Got a question, just knock on our doors.”

Can you teach me how to cry?

“Um,” Dimitri mutters.

“Bleh, don’t be shy. See, if I’m in your place I’m probably going to need some winter tips from you,” Felix shrugs. “Where are you from again?”

“Sankt Petersburg.”

Felix stops talking for a moment. There really isn’t anything strange, judging from the blonde’s room—nothing is disorderly, only that the laptop is on, giving him a glimpse of an opened email. Is it what stresses him a lot? “Dimitri,” he clears his throat then. The newest member of the pack is pretty private despite not shying away from conveying his support towards the other Lions. How can he try without making the blonde feel pried? On top of that, he is already not the best contender when it comes to words.

“Yes?”

“I’m going to this bar if you wanna come,” Felix says. “No Sylvain either.”

“You go to bar?” the blonde asks. “Doesn’t look like the barring type.”

“Ha, now you’re talking,” Felix replies, amused. “No. I wanna try scoring a job.”

“She said it,” Dimitri hums. “Crying type. Seems everything can be a type.”

“Ah, the mint-haired woman we ran into at the cafeteria,” Felix says. “She seems to be…”

“Yes. Nice friend,” Dimitri nods back in return. “She bears a lot. Her sad face haunts me.”

“Oh?” Felix looks at him.

“Maybe you are right that I need fresh air,” Dimitri says then. “Does the night out there feel just the same?”

“The weather?”

“Yes.”

"Then yes too," Felix replies casually.

“Then as you said one day,” Dimitri shrugs, grabbing his keys and wallet as he discards his undone jacket. “Fuck this shit,” he throws the clothing article onto the couch. 

Felix chuckles, patting his back as he zips up his leather jacket. Both of them ride the elevator down to exit the building, with Felix taking him to walk some more until they can get to a bus stop. Dimitri quietly listens to Felix’s rambling about the motorbike he parks in the apartment’s basement—they could have ridden it together if only Dimitri had a helmet on his own, otherwise he would get fined. “I do have a spare, yeah, but it’s small,” he says. “Besides, this way I can take you around. Are you used to living here already?”

“I cannot say,” Dimitri says. “Pardon.”

“Ah, it’s better. Back then you would say no,” Felix shrugs. “See, the motorbike needs some adjustments. I’ve been working on it, but lately there’s been a nice help. Do you know machines as much as you do your numbers? I can kidnap you for a test drive if Dedue is busy.”

“Smaller helmet,” Dimitri replies lightly. “A lady’s?”

Felix stops walking. They join other queuers who want to hail the bus. The night is chill, some people are giving the blonde a bedazzled look because he’s the only one who shows up in a simple blank tanktop. “Well,” the raven-haired man stutters. “Gah, fuck me, I know you’ll ask.”

“No? I don’t even know you that well.”

“Dammit, Dimitri,” Felix sighs. “Alright, it’s Annette’s. She’s been helping me notice the flaws in my machine.”

“Your machine?”

“The motorbike, thank you,” Felix huffs. “I’ll kill Sylvain for the greater good.”

Dimitri smiles softly, dropping a heavy arm around the now-blushing Felix. “Well, that’s the bus. I’ll treat your drinks…” he gazes afar. “I know I need some tonight.”

****

 

Byleth starts to think that this might not be a wise idea after all.

It isn’t only about the stacking shots she compiles under her tab—this doesn’t help. There is nothing left, not even her dignity in the slightest, or so she thought, after the meet-up with the attorney. That really isn’t what she had in mind when she finally steeled her resolve to talk to him. She thought the grief on its own would be the worst to bear, but…

Leonie hasn’t contacted her ever since they had that fateful phone call. Byleth asks for another shot, fiddling the phone between her fingers as her mind yells louder. She wants to tell Leonie, yet at the same time something in her prevents from doing so. Leonie barely feeds herself lately as well, will it be wise to drop this news just yet? Does Leonie know? Has she always known all along, but cannot bear to tell so that she goaded her into talking with the attorney instead?

Byleth asks for more ice. The bartender simply gives without protest. She came there already looking like a ghost, but not drunk so that they couldn’t find any specific reason to turn her away. She was quiet when she stepped into the establishment too…

Byleth bites her lips. She feels so, so betrayed. So betrayed even though nobody is lying to her. She starts understanding why Jeralt did what he did, but…

Byleth sighs. Right when she thinks she has gained everything, she must choose to let go of them all. The grief, her parents’ death, and now the house she grew up in and returned to every school break, the farm she loves with all of her heart. Her parents’ love nest where her mother’s bright smile lit up the rooms and her father’s flowers scenting them.

She wants to cry… again. Yet there she is, thinking she has exhausted every teardrop which she spilled over Dimitri’s shirt.

… Dimitri’s chest. Warm and broad, comforting and safe.

Byleth clears her throat. She cannot tell Leonie—

“Hey, you look so sad. What’s going on?”

“Fuck off,” Byleth shrugs, rebuffing some man’s advance on her. That’s it, no more drinks for the night. If she has to punch her way out, then her legs need to be steady. From the corner of her eyes, she catches a glimpse sliding to get behind the counter. Byleth clicks her tongue, truly annoyed now. What, more strangers thinking they can take her off guard by surprise the way her life already did? Now that’s something she can punch unlike her life. “Bill, please,” she gestures in a passing. It’s hard to sound nice when her mind is a tempest.

“Here you go!”

Byleth pauses. The cheery voice, the gentle tap on her hand… before long she faces Sylvain’s smiling face winking at her. “I think I know you,” she blurts.

“Yeah. One of the Lions. I gotta eat and pay bills, you know,” Sylvain shrugs casually. “And I think I know you as well. Our Dimitri’s assigned tutor.”

Byleth smiles a bit.

“Look, that guy has been looking at you ever since you took your first shot,” Sylvain arches his back to whisper at her. “If you want to call a taxi or something, I’ll keep an eye on him while you stay here. Or better yet, I can take you to the door.”

“Never mind. If something happens, I’m not going to be the one on the ground,” Byleth sighs. “But well, water, please.”

Sylvain returns her smile and turns around to get what she asked.

Byleth huffs. This is never meant to be one of those dramatic, sad movie clips. Right when she figures out how to pay for school, the debt falls on her like a debris. Perhaps it’s indeed the right time to give up. To admit that she is weak, miserable, vulnerable. Perhaps…

“Forget that, boyo. You won’t get the job acting like that,” Byleth hears another voice. By now Sylvain is back with the water she asks and her bill alike. Opening her purse, she stuffs two fat dollar bills into Sylvain’s open hand. The redhead blinks because she tips him generously, but Byleth smiles with a nod to reassure him.

“I’ll drive the taxi myself if I have to,” the redhead mutters. “Hey, I’m not going to leave until I know you get a safe ride home, okay?”

Byleth simply nods. Even if Sylvain drives the taxi himself, that still won’t solve the imminent problem she is currently facing, will it?

“Then test me yourself. If you deem me incapable, I’ll gladly fuck off.”

Byleth glances at the door. Perhaps she can use one of those riding services to call home. But buses conveniently pass here too, and it isn’t actually that late for the bus and the streets are pretty well-lit. She can do this—she can protect herself at least.

… Lately the list of things she is confident enough to be capable of doing seems thinning.

Sylvain follows where she looks. “Yep, that’s my buddy,” he grins. “Unfortunately.”

Byleth smiles faintly again.

“Not much of a talker, huh,” Sylvain says. “I’ll just serve this one and we’ll walk outside.”

“Thank you.”

“Well, that’s a pretty sight right there,” Sylvain smiles back. “Done now. Shall we, dear?”

“Nyeh,” Byleth replies, but accepts the offer nonetheless. Sylvain chuckles and crosses the counter to walk her outside, leaving the post to be manned by one of his coworkers. Crossing their way out, another surprise awaits because they run into Felix by the door, and…

Sylvain pauses as well. “Wow, look at this familiar face. Do I know you?”

“I gotta eat,” Felix shrugs. “And Dimitri gotta drink.”

Sylvain cackles. “Being neighbors isn’t enough, apparently? Move over though, I’m on knight errant duty escorting Her Royal Highness to the bus stop.”

“What happened?”

Byleth looks up. Again, it’s Dimitri. And tonight she learns that it is truly hard to escape his eyes, more so when those are looking for hers as well. Is he checking up on her? Thinking she will cry again? If she makes that face one more time, will he lend his chest for her one more time? Or will he be… disgusted instead?

“Dimitri.”

“Professor,” he blurts. “I mean, Byleth.”

“You want a drink,” Byleth states simply.

“He had three shots,” Felix snickers. “Bar boss—what about my application?”

“I took three?” Dimitri responds in return. Byleth shakes her head.

“What happened?”

Dimitri pauses a little bit—her tone is just as soft as that head shake. “Pechal’.”

Byleth nods.

“I mean…” the blonde scratches his head.

“It’s okay,” Byleth replies. “If that’s the first thing you could think of, it must be important. There’s no need to translate it for me.”

“... I might want to,” he speaks in a low tone. “I see it on your face.” Slowly he brings his fingertips to navigate their way around her face, tracing the curve as though there’s an invisible barrier between them. “Right here…” he makes a circular motion around her eyes without touching her at all. “And here…” her cheeks come next. “And this seals all.”

Her lips.

“You say this to everyone?” Byleth sneers. Perhaps finally the alcohol kicks in. “Or just…” another flashback barges into her mind. “Ladies?” her voice breaks. “Sad ladies, you said?”

“No,” Dimitri mutters simply. “Because looking at you feels like facing a mirror.”

Byleth stops. Neither Sylvain nor Felix dares to interrupt.

“That mirror must be ugly,” she scoffs. Apparently her commentary tickles him so much that he cracks a small smile.

“Pardon,” he says. “I differ.”

Byleth stops. “You really are fond of sad ladies, aren’t you…”

“I’m not my uncle,” the words fly before he manages to stop it, sounding like a statement nobody asks for; a declaration of resolve which comes out of nowhere. Or perhaps not-so nowhere-nowhere—perhaps this sudden line comes from something greater than himself...

The rest of the group shoots Dimitri a concerned look, but he confines the rest of his thoughts in the throat. Byleth opens her mouth. The silence is deafening and nobody says anything until the bar boss approaches Felix again to discuss the position he is applying for. And somehow under the light Dimitri’s eyes catches a glimpse of a lone piano sitting idly at the corner. Such a fine acoustic piano, discarded and abandoned, silently watching the merriment around it commences. How long has it been there? Does it still remember to strike up a tune? Does it ever get tired wearing its own skin and bones?

… Does he even remember what life felt like? Does he even know how to live, or is he simply existing as a glimpse so far? An extra in someone else’s character, but never a protagonist of his own story? Because such thing has never been there in the first place—the stories he thought to be his turn out to be a spin-off or a filler of someone else’s chapter.

Is his life?

… Is this his life now? Does he even have the right to whine anymore?

Perhaps he needs better liquor. Perhaps he needs one of those expensive, festive vodka bottles taken in fancy glasses and measured in a very moderate consumption. Perhaps…

“Well, if you think you can GTFO-me like that, you’re dead wrong.”

Felix whips his head around as Byleth yawns, finding the familiar face who aggravated her prior. Sylvain shifted into an alert position, sparing Felix a quick glance with a nod as his nose points at the man. Felix nods back. They subtly move closer to Byleth.

“Then I’m not interested since you make me feel crappily uncomfortable. Clear now?” Byleth says, her fists start balling in her pockets. However her eyes are fierce, and she moves forward without showing any sign of fear. “You know what, please just go. I already feel beyond crappy today, and I assure you, I’m the least person you’d want to flirt with.”

“Sure, babe, if you can pay the toll with your mouth.”

“Fantastic. I’ll bite your dick off,” Byleth steps forward, casting her jacket. She knows the fancy leather shorts she wears to go out doesn’t hinder the necessary movements. Felix whistles while Sylvain looks absolutely entertained upon hearing her sharp, fearless reply. She doesn’t care. Just so happens there’s someone she can brawl with right when her mind is in ruin. The universe works in a mysterious way, huh?

“Well, shit. I’ll be careful if I were you,” the man cusses, stepping forward.

Byleth is ready. She is hungry. Hungry, hungry, hungry. Crying is tiring. It’s nice, but she knows fighting is nicer—more so when she sees her problems piling up, manifesting over this disturbing man’s face. If she knocks him down, will the debt go away? Or will she get jailed so that she won’t have to think of it… at all?

“That is not very nice. I’ll apologize if I were you.”

Byleth blinks. Felix catches the swinging hand, his voice is just as calm. Sylvain rushes for a minute to call for the boss, and the latter stands stunned upon seeing the ongoing commotion. “Back off, I wanna teach this girl a lesson.”

“He is right,” Dimitri speaks as well. “Please leave, she hates you already.”

“What, want some as well, eh, blonde?”

Something in her chest feels burning when she sees him take a swing to punch Dimitri. After crying on his chest? After having him supporting her during the class because she was so distraught? After having him supporting her again as she sat with her mother’s lawyer? After hearing his sincere sympathetic remarks?

… Not on her sight. Not tonight. Probably never.

“Don’t you dare!” her yelling wrecks the sky above them. Byleth reacts faster before Felix or Dimitri can even think—her dominant leg swipes forward, launching a powerful kick that lands straight into the offending man’s ribs. The latter gasps and tumbles in pain, but Byleth coldly looks down… everything is buzzing—Felix’s praise, Sylvain’s adoring comment, and…

And Dimitri.

Byleth breathes in.

“Byleth,” he says.

“What,” she snaps, waiting for a derogatory comment or anything that can crush her further. Perhaps he can tell the entire class that she’s the oddest Fodlan girl he encountered so far. The class already saw her snapping, yelling at Leonie through her phone. And…

“You are really…” the blonde says, quiet and careful, but also eager.

“I’m really what?!” she has no time for this.

“Soft.”

Her mouth hangs agape.

“I mean like kind,” the blonde says then. “And the burdens here,” he points at his chest, “never make you...” awkwardly, he fidgets a bit, digging into his lexicon graveyard. “Uncompassionate. You are caring.”

“And that makes me soft?” she asks in disbelief.

“Da,” Dimitri nods firmly. “I’m sorry. No dictionary.”

Byleth truly wishes she could just swim into his chest once again.

****

 

Sasha
I have a question, Miss Bayleaf.

Bayleaf
Fire away, Sasha.

Sasha
Suppose you have power to change someone’s life 270 degrees.

Bayleaf
Sorry, do you mean upside-down?

Sasha
Upside down? Like quadrant IV {x, -y} kind of down?

Bayleaf
Like, completely alter another person’s course.

Sasha
On my honor, I’ve never hacked into a school computer!

Bayleaf
I mean… changing their life, completely?

Sasha
Oh! Yes, exactly!

Bayleaf

Sasha
Um—

Bayleaf
Go on :)

Bayleaf
I’m only using this emoji so you know I’m not being sarcastic, you see.

Sasha
Ah, I see.

Bayleaf
I didn’t mean to smile at you, don’t worry.

Bayleaf
And I’m not smiling at you either now.

Sasha
Were you?

Bayleaf
What’s your quadrant, Sasha?

Sasha
My quadrant?

Bayleaf
I mean, question.

Sasha
Ah. Well, suppose that is the condition…

Sasha
With a fixed course like the limit theory.

Bayleaf
Huh?

Sasha
Like when the function F(x) is defined, thus granted you a [Lim] x—>1 for example.

Bayleaf
… Alright :)

Sasha
Oh, another emoji.

Bayleaf
I saw a cat :))

Sasha
Cats are cute, I will smile as well C:

Bayleaf
Totally agree :D

Sasha
So, supposedly like that, but then you want to rebel. You do not want to choose. But not to choose means you have to cut your own path. Going against a pattern is hard. You are an irrational number.

Bayleaf
I’d say it’s courageous.

Sasha
Ah…

Bayleaf
I remember something interesting, Sasha.

Sasha
Please, do tell.

Bayleaf
My classmate once said an irrational number is still a number.

Sasha
Oh, I have to agree with this one. If you multiply -4 with -4, you get a rational 16.

Bayleaf
But to be -4 you need to stir from zero.

Sasha
Zero is not empty, it is just a value.

Bayleaf
Funny, he said the same thing!

Sasha
… He?

Bayleaf
Yes, this person is a man.

Sasha
Oh.

Bayleaf
What’s the matter?

Sasha
Oh, it’s okay, nothing matters…

Bayleaf
Huh? Sasha??

Sasha
I mean, it is nothing!

Bayleaf
I see.

Sasha
Continue?

Bayleaf
I think not choosing is a choice too, and it isn’t always bad.

Sasha
I’ve… never thought of that.

Bayleaf
By doing things your way, technically you are also choosing something, right?

Sasha
I have never…

Bayleaf
I wish I could help you more, Sasha, but lately I’m not in my best condition.

Sasha
Please, I’d gladly lend you a knowing finger.

Sasha
What is the synonym for lending an ear but for typing?

Bayleaf
You really are something.

Sasha
Something?

Bayleaf
Ridiculous—

Sasha
My uncle says that often.

Bayleaf
Yeah?

Sasha
And that beautiful classmate said that too.

Bayleaf
Beautiful classmate?

Sasha
Yes. She has the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen in a human person.

Bayleaf
I assure you, I mean ridiculous but in a rather endearing one. Did she mean it like that?

Sasha
I did not ask.

Bayleaf
She’d better be not mocking you.

Sasha
She is very kind like you, I dare hoping. Thank you very much, Miss Bayleaf. Is there anything else I can do in return?

Bayleaf
Yes, I have a question too—

Sasha
I’m all fingers, Miss Bayleaf.

Bayleaf
You are an octopus.

Sasha
But how am I all ears if I am texting you?

Bayleaf
Good point.

Sasha
Your question, please :)

Bayleaf
Is there a word that sounds like ‘pechal’ or something?

Sasha
In Russian?

Bayleaf
Yes!

Sasha
Written like this печаль then yes.

Bayleaf
Ouch, sadly I have no idea.

Sasha
That one is sorrow.

Bayleaf
Huh…

Sasha
Yes. Sadness. Grief. Sorrow. Mourning.

Bayleaf
… Interesting.

Sasha
Pardon my insolence, Miss Bayleaf.

Bayleaf
Yes?

Sasha
Are you feeling better?

Bayleaf
Honestly yes :”)

Chapter Text

When he gets up the first time in the morning, something changes.

First of all, the sun doesn’t feel as strong as it did before. Somehow his eyes feel more at ease after living in Fodlan for a month and a day, no longer shying away from the blinding light which tends to be the case every morning when he wakes up.

Dimitri lets the warm sun grace his face with a nice hello that morning. How nice it is to wake up feeling like a new man like this. His night was pretty peaceful despite the new revelation that is the reply from his family’s attorney. They want him to be either the savior or the executioner of his own uncle? Then perhaps he indeed has a choice—neither.

He spent the night thinking about… everything. Like the attorney’s genuine question if he wanted to convey Lambert’s will to Rufus as well; letting the latter know that Lambert ultimately left everything completely in his control to decide. However despite the stormy thoughts about… many things, there were several pleasant interruptions as well.

Like Byleth Eisner’s expression when he said that she was soft. When she put her body upfront to shield him from the man who was troubling her, when she chastised her own attorney from making an unpleasant comment about his English conduct. Her question stabbed his conscience, amusing because of how frank it was; contemplative at the same time that everything forced him to reconsider. Is he really fond of sad ladies? On the contrary. His uncle’s well-known womanizing tendencies caused the tears to rain that a woman’s sad expression wasn’t really something he never encountered as a kid.

But is he fond of a sad lady?

… Now that is a more interesting question indeed. He confessed to Miss Meatloaf, the texting acquaintance, that Byleth possessed the most beautiful eyes he has ever seen so far. However despite confessing to Felix that her sad face haunted him, it’s getting harder to deny that the little curves she does with her lips every now and then make his heart flutter. Fortunately, though, it seems to happen more often lately, so he can safely assume that her life improves. Never in his life Dimitri would guess that such serious expression is capable of giving birth so much warmth with a little twitch.

And then…

Dimitri looks at a shard of a shattering-something he managed to rescue the other day. Glancing on his watch, he hums a little bit. His life speaks of orderly routine so far… just like numbers. Just like the very subject of his field. Lambert might raise him with love and care, but he was still Lambert, after all, and discipline and honor have always been drilled into any Blaiddyd child’s head for generations.

Perhaps his uncle threw everything away the moment his grandfather changed his mind by making Lambert the heir instead, but then again…

Dimitri holds his numbers close like a weapon, and in that case, there’s no way he doesn’t remember what comes in his schedule next. His first class, computational geometry, is supposed to be scheduled at ten. His timetable shows that they will tackle algorithmic geometry first in the morning, but after doing a series of matrices and vector lines with Annette, suddenly the thought of having to deal with another polyhedron makes him want to dive back into his bed. A Blaiddyd is a Blaiddyd, yes; but a Blaiddyd is still a human, after all.

Dimitri skims his textbook. Oh, so they are supposed to talk about the closest pair problem as well? That topic is so close to computer science’s territory because the geometry which they will be doing is computational, tracing between spaces and metrics to calculate the distances between them. Dimitri wonders if any of the Lions practices divinity because he really wishes he could conjure Euclid now, and… take the ancient Greek mathematician for a good arm-wrestling contest. Euclidian plane, the book says? Well, he’ll gladly fly Euclid in a plane to somewhere remote so his head can get a vacation.

Closest pair problem, he thinks again. A piece of Byleth’s shattered pencil case which he appraised is still there, unmoving, of course, but somehow the simple thought manages to set his face ablaze. Pair problem? He is supposed to be a mathematician, not a word-smith. But closest pair problem demands him to calculate distances between computational metrics. So perhaps a well-meaning gesture can...

Dimitri clears his throat. He’s clean and feeling breezy; he just took a refreshing bath, after all, and being clean-shaven gives him a good feeling. He can’t probably conjure Euclid or even learn divination in the first place, but there is something he can do and not even Euclid’s magnificent numbers can…

Dimitri packs up his keys, wallet, and other essentials into his backpack. Evading the elevator like a secret agent on a mission, Dimitri runs one-floor under to make his way to the roommates babushki who occupy a complex in the second floor—Dedue and Ashe. Impatiently, he rings their bell…

Dedue opens the door on the first ring, smiling when finding him there. “Emergency?”

“Yes,” Dimitri blurts. “Wait, n-not… really. I mean…”

“Well,” Dedue opens his door wider for him. “What confuses you today?”

“Stationery,” he says. “I need… pencil case.”

“Hmm. Want some tea first or what?”

“No need. I will…” the blonde says, “I will buy it for you on the road.”

“Huh?”

“And this month’s grocery. I mean yours, let that be on me too,” Dimitri says. “Oh, no. I planned on leaving it at your door but now I can’t anymore.”

“You really make a bad liar, my friend,” Dedue chuckles along. “Hold on. So you want me to show you a store this early because of a pencil case.”

“Yes.”

“But didn’t you say you have a morning class today?” Dedue frowns. “It was when we went swimming. The moment when you complained about the heat.”

“True.”

“So you want to…”

“Yes. I will commit fault this once,” Dimitri says then, digging into his pocket to take out his wallet, showing everything inside to Dedue. “I hope this is internationally accepted?”

Dedue blinks. The newest member of the pack holds a gold card.

****

 

Byleth closes her eyes.

She clutches a booklet, tightly pressing it against her chest. The hall is currently empty; members of campus choir haven’t arrived for their usual practice yet. The choir club, Seiros Knights, typically perform and drill under the tutelage of Manuela and Rhea, but their rehearsals tend to be staged in the afternoon.

Byleth looks around. The hall really is empty. She is alone, accompanied by silent inanimate objects such as the microphones and chairs normally allocated for the members of Seiros Knights who play heavy instruments such as the cello. She sighs once more. One trouble passes, comes another, with life offering her no respite at all because being alone in her thoughts like this only makes her mother’s visage stronger.

Clearer, brighter, more vivid than ever…

Sitri Eisner loved singing. Her mother possessed an enchanting angelic voice; not even her father could just keep doing whatever he was doing without stopping to listen to her singing. Perhaps life is indeed a joke—a cruel joke because Sitri had always been frail despite being a cheery woman, yet her spirit was unyielding, and the gift of voice served her well even when her health didn’t allow her much in life. And it was through singing that she managed to bring so much warmth into Jeralt’s life. It was her voice which managed to calm baby Byleth’s nerves whenever thunderous heavy rain broke.

Sitri Eisner, whom she inherited her eye color from.

“A…”

Byleth stops. Hearing her own voice sounds so odd, but anything will do at the moment. She is desperate, dear God; Jeralt never talked about borrowing money so suddenly in a large sum too as long as he breathed. Perhaps her father didn’t see his own impending demise by then. Perhaps he miscalculated… gravely, as much as Byleth scorns word pun at the moment.

Byleth recalls Sitri’s gentle strokes over her hair whenever she felt sad. Her mother’s calming smile lifted her spirit when she was down, when she confessed eloquence wasn’t something she would ever be good at.

Guten Abend, gut Nacht, mit Rosen bedacht
Mit Näglein besteckt, schlüpf unter die Deck
Morgen früh, wenn Gott will, wirst du wieder geweckt.

Byleth exhales. Sitri liked to sing various songs for them when she was still a child. Their family has always been modest—Byleth never got the chance to take extracurricular activities or fancy clubs which required expensive subscriptions, but her mother never stopped singing and the Wiegenlied lullaby is the closest memory Byleth has about her.

You are lying, Mom, Byleth’s fists clench. Even after adorned with roses and covered with carnations, even with all the prayers and soft cover, you never wake up.

Guten Abend, gute Nacht, von Englein bewacht,
Die zeigen im Traum dir Christkindleins Baum
Schlaf nun selig und süss, schau im Traum's Paradies.

“Guten Abend, gute Nacht…”

Byleth stops. Her throat feels dry so suddenly. Good night? She told her mother that. Good night, she said, retiring from the hospital after the visitation hour was over; Leonie driving her in an old car which needed a desperate makeover. Her father stayed with her as he would, going home just to change his clothes, catch some sleep, and fill in whatever he missed until the evening visitation hour opened again. She bade Sitri Eisner good night. She remembers kissing her mother’s pale cheeks, the latter clutching her hand so warmly the way she would do to little Byleth every first day of school.

“Dad, you gotta rest too. We can switch,” Byleth recalls her gentle urging. Leonie smuggled some sandwiches for Jeralt to eat before they left.

“I’m in good hands,” Jeralt smiled then. “With your mother.”

Byleth wants to bite her lips. So, so badly. So badly until she bleeds. Perhaps if she is in pain then this pang in her chest will stop. When she first started training in karate, her father and then instructors would tell her to face her fear. To not be afraid of her own body; it’s growing, it wants to get stronger, and more importantly it’s adjusting. Yet there she is, trying to face her fear… how come she feels so sad right when she wants to ambush it in the memory lane, negotiate with it perhaps so it calms down and stops tormenting her like this?

“Mit Rosen…”

Her mother looked so ethereal when they finished arranging her body. The flowers. The roses they put on her hair. The carnations and other flowers surrounding her.

“Mit Rosen—”

Byleth gulps.

“Byleth?”

She gasps. Flayn makes her way quietly into the hall, making Byleth ashamed at an instant. She really forgets that the ace of religious studies-related classes in the humanities department is also a budding soloist after Dorothea, the club’s concert master. “I uh,” Byleth replies hoarsely. “You wanna use the hall?”

Flayn fidgets with her cardigan. “I want to say sorry.”

Byleth waits.

“Back then when you…” she says. Byleth’s gaze maimed the ground, but the girl gently holds her hands. “I’m sorry.” A murmur. “I should have done better. I was…”

“Surprised. I understand,” Byleth responds, awkwardness creeping into her.

“Yes, but the least I could have done was genuinely asking if you were alright,” Flayn says. “The transfer student ran after you; I thought showing off would rather…” she breathes in. “I shouldn’t have let my doubts stop me from reaching out to you.”

“I appreciate it.”

Flayn pauses, looking at her. After some silent seconds, she gently rubs on her back, running her fingers there in a manner which reminds Byleth of a sister she’s never had. “Byleth,” she says. “It’s okay to… not.”

Slowly, Byleth tilts her face at her.

“It’s okay not to accept,” Flayn speaks again. “Just let me know. Just let us know.”

Byleth pauses.

“It’s okay to be troubled,” the other girl isn’t willing to give up just yet. “It’s okay to just… be.”

“Time for pechal’ then,” Byleth mutters.

“What?”

“Ah, nothing, just something new I learned from Dimitri…” Byleth pats her head. “I cannot afford it,” she confesses. “I’m in trouble that I didn’t even create, and then—” she wants to try spitting everything out. She is sad, she is grieving… she wonders if she will ever be consolable at one point, but there is this unsettling fire that refuses to die just yet, and it is confusing her. Her heart already feels heavy—must her head follow suit?

“Take your time,” Flayn smiles. “I’ll see you later in class?”

Byleth can only hum back. Taking her time? To be able to do so is a privilege on its own. Perhaps if she spills little by little, then it won’t be so heavy anymore. The way a water pitcher gradually feels lighter as the journey commences because what is inside will be consumed, processed, and spilt. Because what’s inside will be dropped little by little along the way. Perhaps if she can do just that, she will be able to heave without feeling as if there’s a boulder lying on her chest. And then she will strategize… to rise again.

… That seems so far, far beyond reach. For now, though…

“Guten Abend, gut Nacht, mit Rosen…” she tries again. Her voice is clearer this time and she can feel the weight in it. Breathes in, breathes out; she stretches her vocal chords once again. “...  Bedacht! Mit Näglein besteckt, schlüpf unter die Deck…”

“... Noch' proydet, i opyat', budet solntse siyat'. Noch' proydet, i opyat', budet solntse…” 

Byleth turns around. Another figure stands by the door after Flayn leaves. The brilliant sunlight casts a crescent shape over his head, making his hair shine. Bright, so bright yet calming; reflected in the peaceful lake that is his eyes.

“... Siyat'.”

Dimitri mumbles the last line of the lullaby she is singing, his lips part into the lovely letter O as he closes the door. There is no sound coming from him; his gestures are as gentle as the way his footsteps tread closer to approach her. Byleth freezes. He is closer, closer… only to stop a few steps in front of her as if signalling for a respectable distance.

“Dimitri,” she mutters.

He nods politely.

“Uh,” she says. “You heard.”

Another nod. “Brahms’ Wiegenlied?”

His nod immediately meets her own. “My mom loved it.”

“My father would…” clasping his chin, Byleth notices how he tries to escape her eyes. But his feet are perfectly nailed to the ground, and he surrenders—the hand is down, giving her a clear view of the soft red shade coloring his cheeks. “He sang to me. Same thing.”

“Only translated,” she mutters. The big cat before her smiles shyly.

“Yes.”

Byleth returns the smile. “And what would he do?”

“He sneaked in,” Dimitri shrugs, but his eyes sparkle. “Because, busy man. Night time, he is my papa.” This time he blushes more. “My… father.”

“Your papa,” she repeats softly.

“I suppose I cannot win…” the shy smile is back. Suddenly she has this wild thought. If she keeps teasing, will she see that adorable smile more often? “I like music because of that.”

She waits.

“His hand on me. Very kind and loving. His voice makes… made…” Dimitri blurts, looking guilty for a second. “Oh, right. He is dead. I should have said, his voice made…”

“It’s alright,” Byleth touches his shoulder out of reflex. He stops fidgeting. Likewise, she stops talking. Somehow that touch doesn’t feel as light anymore now because the sudden contact kind of subdues… her eyes. “I mean. I suppose when someone we know dies, a part of them stays with us,” she clutches on the music score the choir club uses for practice. “And sometimes it stays… long. And probably will never go away.”

“Maybe,” Dimitri murmurs. “Perhaps. Yes.”

“What miracle did his voice make then, Dimitri?” she gently asks. Her clutch over the score loosens.

“Because of that voice, thunders shut up,” the blonde replies. “There was…”

“Warmth?”

He stops talking. Reflexively, her hand traces her own lips.

“Yes,” his voice is definitely softer now. “There was that.”

Byleth smiles discreetly.

“But I cannot do music. My family needs something stronger. Something that can truly help them instead,” Dimitri scratches his head. “So here I am. Bad part, numbers keep me up late at night. Good part, I can sing myself to sleep. Maybe a good bargain.”

“... You really are humble, aren’t you,” Byleth whispers.

“Me?”

“Nothing,” Byleth says. “You know what, now that you are here, why don’t we just sing this song? I tell you the original version, you tell me your papa’s translation. Deal?”

“Like jacket?”

“Yes?”

“Then deal.”

“That easy?”

“You are a good businesswoman, Byleth,” the blonde replies innocently. “So yes.”

Byleth resists the urge to chuckle… and squeeze his cheeks. “I wonder, though. How did you find me? This is the music hall, so naturally sounds are dampened here. Saw Flayn?”

“I was looking for you,” Dimitri rummages into his bag, taking out a neatly-wrapped something from the inside. “Because, this one.”

“Dimitri, this…?”

“Pencil case broke, remember?” he says. “I went shopping.”

Byleth’s jaw drops. “You bought me a new pencil case?”

“Yes. Today I am a bad man. The boy who wanted this one could not reach it when I held it,” he says again. “But I negotiated with him. I found something he truly liked.”

Byleth pauses. “Sounds like I’m not the only good business person here, eh?”

“Oh, I have to be. So it’s okay,” Dimitri nods. His mannerism is so honest that every fiber of her skin dances, tickling her to smile. What is this sensation again? “And then…”

“And then,” Byleth murmurs, “you got me a pencil case with a cat motif.”

“It is cute, yes? You like it or not, is the more important question.”

“I do.”

“Thank God,” the blonde sighs, relieved.

“How did your numbers work, for this one?” she teases. “Maybe you counted everything before the cashier was done pushing the register.”

However this time Dimitri does not blush. Byleth watches him nodding with a firm smile… comforting, yet reassuring. Like a shelter she never knew she would need. “Byleth,” he speaks in a low voice—almost husky. “For better things in life, I do not count them.”

She tilts her head to look at him. “You couldn’t be paying with your eyes closed,” she blurts, feeling so dumb for giving him such reply.

“I did not,” Dimitri answers. “That is why I used a card.”

Byleth heaves.

“Oh, no,” Dimitri squeaks. “Are you disapproving?”

“No, it’s just…”

Dimitri pauses. His lexicons staged a mass rebellion by escaping his brain altogether, leaving a few but brain cells that refused to cooperate, paled before this warm woman with the beautiful eyes once again. He can only stand motionlessly, thinking he must be in the wrong time zone—that too, if it still exists anymore—because Byleth smiles. Bright, brighter than the first star he saw last night; refreshing, nurturing, soft but also strong…

“Thank you very much. You are very kind.”

He is vanquished. He is in shambles…

He yields.

****

 

Bayleaf
Sasha, I have a confession to make.

Sasha
I’m much honored, Miss Bayleaf, but I’m not a priest.

Bayleaf
Oh, not that kind of confession! I mean, I will be honest with you.

Sasha
Please continue.

Bayleaf
Turns out it is actually… nice to be helped sometimes.

Sasha
Ah.

Bayleaf
You are laughing at me, aren’t you?

Sasha
Not at all, Miss Bayleaf. Recently, I realized something similar.

Bayleaf
Really? Your turn!

Sasha
Yes. My friends help me living here. My classmate...

Bayleaf
The same beautiful classmate?

Sasha

Sasha
Yes. She fenced for me.

Bayleaf
Fenced? With swords?

Sasha
Oh, I mean, fe...nd?

Sasha
Defended me. Like a knight.

Sasha
But there are other things that I learned.

Bayleaf
I’m all fingers too.

Sasha
My friend said, ‘all ears’ is fine as well.

Bayleaf
Yes, but I’m talking to you. This is Sasha o’clock.

Sasha
O’Clock is not my last name.

Bayleaf
It’s okay, I understand.

Sasha
Hmmm. It’s just this…

Bayleaf
Yes?

Sasha
First, cats are indeed cute.

Bayleaf
Oh, very much agreed!

Sasha
Second, apparently a reminiscence does not always have to be…

Bayleaf
Scary?

Sasha
Yes. I am more relieved.

Bayleaf
Are you texting me in the toilet or—

Sasha
N-no, definitely not! By God.

Bayleaf
Sasha, I’m just teasing you…

Sasha
Your teases are deadly, Miss Bayleaf…

Bayleaf
I understand what you are trying to say. Something similar happened to me too.

Sasha
I’m so happy to find you, Miss Bayleaf. It’s not everyday you can find a kin.

Bayleaf
Sasha, I’ve got a question.

Sasha
Water away.

Bayleaf
Oh, you tease back. Character development!

Sasha
We are playing games?

Bayleaf
Maybe I can play you in chess.

Sasha
Oh, sounds great! I haven’t been able to do something fun lately.

Bayleaf
What do you do for fun then?

Sasha

Sasha
Chess.

Bayleaf
You are such a NERD oh my God.

Sasha
You know curious topics. You must be smart too.

Bayleaf
Do you really live in Fodlan District?

Sasha
Yes! My friends are my neighbors too.

Bayleaf
Must be great then.

Sasha
You also live in Fodlan District for real, Miss Bayleaf?

Bayleaf
Miserableville but yeah.

Sasha
I have never heard of that village.

Bayleaf
I mean, yes.

Sasha
Oh.

Bayleaf
So you do non-human things… you know math… your name is Sasha.

Sasha
Typically in a movie plot Miss Bayleaf I should be the one spying.

Bayleaf
Then watch better movies.

Sasha
Will do :)

Bayleaf
It cannot be a Sasha. Slavic names have diminutive forms, right?

Sasha
Yes! See, you are knowledgeable.

Bayleaf
Well, the classmate I told you about also said something similar.

Sasha
Ah…

Bayleaf
Maybe you can hang out with him?

Sasha
And be double spy?

Bayleaf
Haha, now you counterattack. Nice.

Sasha
I learned from the best :)

Bayleaf
So what is it then? What makes a Sasha?

Sasha
An Alexander.

Bayleaf
… Oh. Not… Dimitri?

Sasha
Pardon?

Bayleaf
Nothing. This is so odd, suddenly I remembered someone else.

Sasha
Oh…

Bayleaf
Maybe I need uh… to go to sleep earlier? Maybe I’m tired.

Sasha
Of course, sure. Please, Miss Bayleaf, your comfort first.

Bayleaf
Alright. Nighty-night, Alexandre.

Sasha
H u h ??

Bayleaf
*Alexander. Sorry, typo!

Sasha
Oh. Oh… a-ah, yes, of course.

Bayleaf
Are you okay there? Seems you were… shocked?

Chapter Text

The first thing she does in the morning is cracking her knuckles.

It definitely feels nice to be able to do that again after being in a limbo for weeks, let alone after getting a normal night sleep compared to the other nights where she lost her sense of time. Her sleep feels nourishing too because she did not hear her own guilt screaming at her in her dreams. She feels better…

And that cute new pencil case does make a fine addition in her bag. Smiling feels like a pastime which only gets to live in memories rather than something normal to do. Everything has been nothing other than dark gloomy clouds. However what happened at the music hall sheds a new light within her. She didn’t expect to be able to smile again after everything that happened, especially given the new situation in hand. And yet…

Byleth runs her hand over the new pencil case. How odd. Did the air conditioner malfunction because this too feels warm?

She needs to get ready now. Checking on the wardrobe somehow gives her newfound enthusiasm rather than taking whatever available at the top-most rack. Byleth hums pleasantly, feeling her mood improves as she digs deeper to find the clothes she is most comfortable to wear. There’s this cheekiness which brews when her hand meets a certain clothing article in the closet. If memory serves her right, the music history class is supposed to be scheduled today…

Byleth grins. Anyone who has ever been in that special classroom where they take the twentieth century music class should have known about the ungodly air conditioners. But then again she has an alliance, so with a not-so heavy heart, she knows she can forget that her own jacket is actually well-ironed and unworn. Smirking, she grabs her favorite short-sleeved shirt. With her habit slowly resuming to normal, there’s been plenty of chips lately; there should be no problem to spare the best bag for some transfer student who has been a nice ally so far.

Her phone is merely a plug away, ready to be ripped off its charger at any given moment. Byleth really feels complete now. The phone isn’t the only one being recharged here. Byleth pours some hot water into the instant noodle cup, holding the lid in its place with her book. Whilst waiting for the noodle to cook, Byleth begins to assess her purse. The essentials. The moisturizing lip gloss. The pastilles. Her wallet. How much did she take after that drinking night again?

Byleth is ready...

Her phone call is answered at the second ring. She really has no other option but admitting that Leonie’s discipline is unparalleled. “By,” the other girl groans. “Wait, you managed to get out of bed at this hour?”

Byleth breathes in. Deeply, deeply, deeply. She can do this. She has to do this. “Yeah, well...” she mutters. Her hold of the phone tightens as well. “I talked to my mom’s lawyer. Finally.”

Byleth can hear a soft gasp, but Leonie isn’t cutting her in.

“And turns out that everything is mine now. Everything, Leonie.”

Including the debt that I had no idea about.

“Oh, that’s cool. Do you need anything renovated while you are at school, or...?”

There won’t be any cent left for renovation.

“Um. I haven’t checked for the details, though. Especially if...” Byleth closes her eyes. “Like, whether or not my dad left anything for you.”

“Byleth,” this time, Leonie’s response comes faster. “You know damn well I don’t care about it that much. Jeralt sent me to where I am now and I cannot be any happier. Who let me crashed on your couch when I got evicted so suddenly because they were changing the fee?”

Byleth smiles a bit. True. Leonie, the rival and sister she never wanted. The girl who left home to find a better living and got slapped by life in the face. The sudden disruption she never even dreamed of having, but never knew needed either. “Yeah. I know...” now that her head clears a bit, perhaps she can allow a little bit of reminiscence as well. “But look. My dad wouldn’t let you starve on the streets, so I won’t either.”

“Well,” Leonie’s tone is pretty sharp, but Byleth cannot sense curtness there. “It’s too damn early to make me feel things. Whaddya need?”

Money. A lot of it.

“If you have time, can you look into the tractor to see how much cash it can fetch?”

There’s a pause and Byleth doesn’t blame her at all. “Why?” Leonie finally replies. “You’re selling it? But that’s Jeralt’s favorite. And you used to say you really wanted to use it.”

I know.

“Oh, nothing. I’m dealing with this matter now, so shouldn’t I be more... precise?” Byleth seizes a chance to reply before her voice betrays her. Leonie sighs. Byleth expects the latter to comment on her rushing or even sounding enthusiastic, but...

“You speak like a lawyer and somehow I don’t like it.”

Me too, Leonie. Me too.

****

 

“C’mon, you cannot unsee the boss’ face when you stepped in, Fe. That was marvelous, marvelous, just so you know, he’s got that big ‘oh shit’ moment on his face!” Sylvain cackles. Felix, on the other hand, throws a simple smirk, his hands gripping the mouth-watering beef sandwich before his eyes.

The Lions sit together on a rounded table, various sandwiches decorating their simple plates. The cafeteria is crowded beyond belief with people coming and going, but for Dimitri the matter is less concerning compared to the breakfast crowd. At least the ones working at the counter are more patient by gladly helping him to order. Dimitri merely smiles faintly upon hearing Sylvain and Felix’s bickering as always. His hand only moves to dig further into his sandwich lunch.

“I get the job,” Felix says. “But you gotta see Dimitri’s woman. That kick is a ticket to murder.”

“S-she is not...”

“Whatever she is, can’t deny that the move is unexpected, huh?”

Dimitri simply smiles faintly this time. “Very courageous. I did not expect her to defend me.”

“Speaking of,” Sylvain chimes in. “If you meet her today, the boss seems to be interested.”

“What?”

Felix whistles. Dedue gives the blonde a subtle glance. “Not for that purpose, Dimitri. The bar is short-staffed. They need two other people—one bouncer, and another for that idle piano you saw yesterday,” he shrugs. “Temporarily until the DJ comes back to work.”

“What happened to the DJ?” Dimitri munches his sandwich.

“Giving birth, from what the boss told me,” Sylvain sips his cola. “They can’t hire another one while she’s in maternity leave because other DJs known around are fully-booked. Beats me though, apparently the due date came sooner than expected.”

“Oh. I hope the mother and child are alright,” Dimitri blurts.

“I suppose that’s why they want two bouncers,” Felix shrugs. “They want to try a new concept to grab the market now that the new trendy club is there. Something more elegant, I guess. I’ve been told that the area is quite a party-epicentrum so they can use some help.”

“Especially now that summer is peeking at us in the corner!” Sylvain winks. “Man. Would be great to go on dates. I’m feeling so burn-out this semester...”

Dimitri’s eyes widen. “Summer!” he interjects. “You mean it’s going to get hotter than this?”

“My condolences,” Felix hums with a nod.

“But look at the bright side. You can swim as like,” Ashe cuts in. “Perhaps we can unwind at the beach. Dimitri gets the cool wind, and Sylvain gets...”

“I know you will understand, friend!” Sylvain chirps.

“Vacation,” Ashe finishes his sentence. Sylvain glares sourly that Felix cannot hold back a snicker. “Nevertheless! Perhaps you should tell Byleth about this. I caught her mumbling about wanting a ton of cash the other day... n-no way. She cannot be planning to rob a bank, can she?!”

“With that strength and beauty, people would just give their wallets to her,” Sylvain whistles.

“I’ll tell her,” Dimitri says. His mind flies back to the counterfeit samovar chay he got to taste a few days ago—the attorney was there, bringing a hammer down with such a heavy topic which stunned her. Yet just a few days ago the mint-haired woman tried to gain her footing back, not showing any signs of faltering despite the emotional phone conversation he walked into. “A question, please.”

“Yes, please,” Dedue responds calmly to mirror Dimitri. The latter blushes.

“What do you do here if you are bankrupt?”

The Lions stop talking. Dedue glances at the blonde once again, recalling the sleek wallet which holds a very powerful credit card. The new transfer student has been living modestly so far, but knowing him for a while now Dedue begins to learn that if there’s something immodest about Dimitri, it’s his generosity to quietly step in whenever less fortunate students start running out of resources. However for someone who can easily spare an abundant month-worthy grocery to leave at his door, Dimitri doesn’t seem to be in crisis. So what prompted it?

“Bankruptcy,” finally Dedue repeats the word. “Like if you are in debt?”

“Yes,” Dimitri simply nods. “Based on what I’ve studied, the process to declare one typically the same—you list your assets and see if any of them can be liquidified, then fill in the forms to see if you are available to get a pardon.”

Sylvain whistles. “Wew. Suddenly you speak of heavy topic here, buddy.”

“The virtue of learning English through texts, I suppose,” Dimitri simply chuckles lightly.

“But how did you get to know this?” Ashe asks. “I thought you do numbers.”

“Taught since birth,” Dimitri murmurs.

“Huh?”

But the blonde simply gets up, piling up the plates previously housing their sandwich lunches. Felix grins once more, his hand conveniently resting on Dimitri’s shoulder. “After Byleth kicked that guy, it was you who hauled him into the trash can,” he says. “You can probably do this kind of job too. And here I thought you were some kind of sheltered nerd who worked out at the library...”

“One can be both and do both,” Dimitri jokes back. “But what would Byleth feel if I took her purse?”

“Purse?”

“This job opportunity. This...” the blonde makes various motions with his hands. “This thing that can give her money.”

“Hmm. But why would she need money that desperately?” Ashe asks again, poking Felix’s ribs with the back of his fork. “Your plate as well.”

“Maybe Dimitri knows things about her that we don’t,” Dedue cuts in. That calm demeanor neutralizes the other Lions’ bickering, but somehow it succeeds making Dimitri lose his voice and gut at the same time. “Well, regardless, this means you should talk to her, no?”

“Maybe over coffee or something...” Sylvain joins in.

“Over coffee?” Dimitri gasps. “B-but I’ll just meet her in class after this.”

“Talk to her in class, talk to her again afterwards,” Sylvain winks at him. “You said it yourself, Dimitri, one person can have it all by doing both.”

“O-oh,” sheepishly, Dimitri scratches his head. “I did?”

“He’s gone autopilot,” Felix chuckles. “Well, well. Aren’t you a bandit.”

“All tactics are valid in the name of war and love!” Sylvain rebuffs, feigning an annoyed expression.

“But I do not want to make war with her,” Dimitri quickly offers a piece of his mind, hoping it will cease all the teasing and bickering he has been enduring as they are taking their lunches. “I want...”

“To make what, then...?” Sylvain’s eyes glisten with glee.

Yet Dimitri’s reflex is sharper and fueled by absolute mess of shyness that he lands his hand over the redhead’s back to prompt him to stop teasing. Sylvain gasps so hard the moment that raw strength knocks the air out of his lungs. Dimitri blinks back, realizing that Sylvain is now practically begging for merci as his head kindly meets the table they dine in. With Sylvain’s face turning red, Dimitri peels his redheaded friend from the table, rubbing the back he previously patted too strongly by accident. Felix whistles as Dimitri blabbers his apology bilingually while Ashe’s eyes widen. War or not, it seems Sylvain will have to find another way to tease their new friend now. Likewise, considering how red Dimitri’s cheeks at the moment, asking Byleth out for some nice coffee doesn’t seem to be a viable option for now either...

Dimitri buries his face with the soda cup he’s sipping from. Asking Byleth out? My, my. His uncle sent him abroad to go to school and find new enriching experiences, not find a new kind of love!

Dimitri stops drinking. New kind of what again?

Dedue puts down his fork. Dimitri coughs so hard because the cola gets caught in his throat.

****

 

Byleth fidgets with her shirt.

People begin to fill in the class—some eyes glance at her, some others prefer to avoid her. Whichever it is, she simply stands by the door, intending to catch their lecturer after the class ends. Probably even earlier, if she can, because she really needs to talk today.

However as Dimitri predicts, that week their lecturer doesn’t come by the supposed time, so Byleth has no choice but returning to her seat empty-handed. The newest text from Leonie says that she starts looking for an agent or a person who can probably help them appraise Jeralt’s beloved tractor, leaving Byleth with some encouraging comment about how well-preserved the machine is so that she shouldn’t have to worry about anything.

Byleth can only smile sadly as she locks her phone to bury it in her purse. She knows she wouldn’t have to worry about the tractor—Jeralt maintained it so diligently, never once lacking to check and test the machine routinely. Byleth simply tells Leonie that banks wouldn’t have to worry about giving them credits—the latter takes it as a great news while Byleth mourns in discreet. The banks wouldn’t have to worry, indeed, because they wouldn’t have to now that she is about to lose everything she holds dear all along; parents, farm, childhood home...

“Byleth, prostite no...”

“What?” Byleth snaps out of her contemplative stance. The first thing she sees is Dimitri’s concerned face with the latter already taking off his jacket as always to lend to her. Taking it silently, Byleth mumbles her gratitude while Dimitri simply nods.

“I said, excuse me, but...”

“Oh,” Byleth gasps. “Sorry. Sure. Yes?”

“Biting frost?” the blonde asks, taking out his notebook. “Too cold?”

His simple attention contains just enough power to restore her faint smile. “No, not frostbite,” Byleth says. “Something else. Something...” she tries formulating her thoughts as Dimitri waits. “Something else,” finally she says.

“Home news,” the blonde murmurs.

This time Byleth cannot disagree.

They remain silent afterwards. Byleth tightens Dimitri’s jacket around her. The latter simply leaves her be, hoping that the warmth of his jacket bring her the comfort she needs to ease her mind. Both of them simply sit side-by-side as agreed; Dimitri reviewing his notes under Byleth’s instruction. Even until Dimitri asks a couple of musical terms, Byleth speaks no more of her troubles, so out of respect Dimitri prefers to keep going as well. He will be lying if he says he cannot guess what truly lingers in her mind, though—the last ‘home news’ call she received successfully reduced her to tears. The last time he discussed about his father’s will, he felt like crying as well.

Byleth glances upwards. Dimitri’s hand gently perches on her shoulder, patting it... he quickly brings the hand down with a blush, realizing that she has been looking at him in return. “I... pardon me...”

“It’s alright,” Byleth says. “Thank you. Spasiba.”

Their lecturer finally comes with the help of three other people, carrying a piano from the music hall which Byleth and Dimitri saw the other day. Murmurs and chatters resume as laptops are turned on and cables are connected—the class begins, started with a quick resume of what forms twentieth century music and why it affected modern-age music, how it differs from Victorian-period classical music and so forth. “Before we get to tackle the music we know as of today, we’ll get back to assess these things,” the lecturer says. “Modernism, microtonal music, minimalism, and then neoclassicism. Twentieth-century music is also flavored with nationalistic tendencies because colonies started rising. People gained their sense of unity as one as well.”

Byleth checks her phone and tries to write a series of words over Dimitri’s notebook. The latter looks at her—messily-written Cyrillic, transcribing the pointers on their lecturer’s PowerPoint. “Byleth!” he says in disbelief, eyes lighting up.

“You’re not the only one who can learn,” she shushes him quietly, but her eyes spark as well. “I installed this one to help you for this class,” smirking, she slides her phone to show him.

“Like a guiding light?”

“Hmm?”

“A-ah, no, my apologies, where were we?” Dimitri kicks his other foot under the desk.

“Microtonal music,” Byleth whispers. “It’s not here, though. Micro... tonal...”

“Maybe it’s this one,” Dimitri takes his pen, writing something in Cyrillic on his book in return. “Mikrohromatika,” he explains. “The music is called that way because the intervals are small.”

“You know?” Byleth says.

“Ah, I was just...” before Dimitri can reply, however, their lecturer startles them both.

“Anyone ever heard of this? We don’t have music majors here, do we?” the joke is thrown, prompting a few people to laugh. “Anyone can point out influential twentieth-century musicians who worked around classical music framework? Anyone?” the question is met with silence now. “Anyone?”

Dimitri shifts in his seat. The days of sneaking into theaters start to emerge in his mind. The days of him trembling with excitement whenever he had music classes during high school come to haunt his head as well, making him restless. Glancing around, he can see that people are confused—which is understandable, because so many people love music but probably aren’t well-versed in its technicalities unless they seriously play an instrument.

“Dimitri?” Byleth calls softly.

Dimitri gulps. How shameful. He promised Lambert he would forget this all, but now even Byleth can see how giddy he is to try. “No,” he mutters. “I was just...”

He is probably no longer there in the class, but back to the elegant Blaiddyd house back home, to the cold study of Lambert’s. Back to when Lambert questioned if he was even serious with his studies because that was the third time his father caught him sneaking into various theaters to learn more about music. That it was supposed to be a charming, elegant hobby for a wealthy family like theirs instead of absorbing his soul into it.

“Try,” Byleth says. “You know this, don’t you, Dimitri?”

“I—don’t. I don’t...”

“Dimitri,” she stops him right there. “Nobody in this class knows, and they don’t even try.”

Dimitri pauses. She gives him a gentle encouraging nod, and somehow he feels his shackles break. Something wakes up and he knows it. He can no longer tame the passion in his chest—he is here, far away, with a chance to live a life the way he wants no matter how short the chance is. Before he gets to be the Blaiddyd lord his father and uncle want, perhaps he can have a little bit of fun while it lasts. And how knows it simply takes two beautiful mint orbs to remind him of what his heart needs? And Dimitri never thought that he was that cheap.

“I,” the blonde squeaks as he stands up. Nobody speaks. Eyes are widened and goggled when he holds up his hand. Dimitri’s face changes colors—this is probably a grave mistake, but...

But Byleth Eisner pats his shoulder, doing the very thing he did to ease her mind. He stops stuttering.

“I’d like to try,” he says with a clear voice. “Bela Bartok. George Enescu. Ivan Vyschnegradsky. Microtonal because the intervals are small. In the West, it’s based on ancient Greek music, which is why this music is kept alive in Slavic or Balkan lands... I... have no idea about the East.”

The class is so quiet. Nobody speaks. Nobody says anything...

But Byleth shoots him an adoring look, shamelessly taking advantage of his eyes not capturing hers.

“What does small interval even mean, nerd? Up until a few days ago you stuttered like a bird!”

Byleth drops one of her textbooks over the chirper’s foot. “Dammit, my hand missed,” she says sweetly, her tone being apologetic but her eyes flash a threat.

“I... can show,” Dimitri makes a motion with his hands. “There. At piano.”

This time, the class grants him a curious look.

“Ancient Greeks... called a series of four notes, tetrachords. They separated these notes with these small intervals,” Dimitri says. “And they measured these intervals with... bear with me please, but I am serious—logarithms and matrices.”

“Well,” the lecturer mumbles then. “If you would please come forward here.”

Dimitri tilts around. Byleth smiles at him.

“I explain awkwardly,” Dimitri runs his fingers in his own hair. “But Ivan Vyschnegradsky can be your example. He composed this one which he then named as Chant Douloureux—the song of pain.”

Byleth turns pensive at the same time. Is that how Dimitri buried his sadness so far? To let the tunes advocate for him? She watches with unexpected newfound pride and joy as the blonde walks through the aisle to approach the piano brought by the lecturer. Dimitri seems to be nervous, so nervous; as if he’s facing something invisible, something out of this world.

Perhaps he is—Byleth can see how he breathes in. Is he asking for a blessing? Is he asking for the forgiveness he thought he never obtained?

Their eyes meet again. She smiles...

And his expression softens.

It’s like nobody breathes as Dimitri plays a piece of Vyschnegradsky he explained to the class. The lecturer looks at him as though meticulously appraising him, not moving from the seat. Dimitri doesn’t look like himself during the little demonstration—it’s as if there’s a new life breathing inside of him, making him appear so alive that it’s almost... ethereal.

“That was,” his fingers stop dancing. “A small... performance. I mean. I mean, the idea is like that.”

He shyly returns to his own seat with the kind of demeanor which says as if he wants to hide and flee from there. He isn’t used to be the center of attention like this; his musical adventures are done in figurative trenches if not the Narnia under his own blanket. But this is different. Even back then he’d sneak into theaters during the day, but now the entire class of fifty or so is watching him play. Byleth Eisner’s perceptive, beautiful eyes never once leave his person, and he really thinks he is going to melt when he finds his seat back.

“I...” he murmurs sheepishly. Byleth shakes her head and Dimitri gingerly waits for the verdict. Lambert did that upon finding he ditched the arithmetic extracurricular activities his father planned for him. Rufus did that upon finding that he did all the labor jobs behind the screens—paid with free lunches, just so he could see how stage performers played. His high school teacher sincerely wondered why his scores in geometry were relatively lower compared to music.

And Dimitri realizes there’s not any defensive layer left in him. He enjoys giving the short performance. He relieves experiencing those joyful things which remind him of... life itself. The life he thought he could no longer taste or savor.

That is beautiful.

Dimitri blinks. Byleth passes him a note...

... And smiles.

By God, she smiles, leaving his soul flutter and shiver.

“Is it?” he whispers.

She simply nods, smiling even brighter without saying a word.

Ah.

“Like you?”

Alas, she hears this one. He gasps.

“Is that all though?”

Dimitri heaves. She does not. And suddenly he wonders if he’d feel better if she did instead.

“No.”

“Too bad,” she says. “I want to hear all of it.”

He looks at her in disbelief.

“Or rather,” she twirls her pen. “I want...”

“Y-yes?”

“Forgive me, Dimitri.”

“I absolve you.”

Third smile. Dimitri knows he cannot take it more than this—especially not if she decides she will smile for the fourth time, so he takes a refuge in hoping that her smile was meant to laugh at his English.

“I mean,” she says. “I’d like to hear you performing it. You looked so...”

Happy?

“Free.”

Oh—

“Well?” she gives him a nod. “Music hall before the choir folks use it?”

Fourth smile. Dimitri’s cheeks blush like ripe tomatoes. His chest explodes.

****

 

Bayleaf
Mmm I suppose I need to tell you something, Sasha.

Sasha
Sure, Miss Bayleaf. Go on, please.

Bayleaf
I know it’s unlikely to text you this early, but eh.

Sasha
I am not bothered.

Bayleaf
I don’t think I can text you aroud tomorrow night or the day after tomorrow, also at night.

Bayleaf
Or probably not at night either—I don’t know.

Sasha
Have I offended you?

Bayleaf
Oh, not at all! I asked my classmate for a date—

Bayleaf
I mean, a date for an appointment, yes! We haven’t decided on it yet, though.

Bayleaf
Wew, I couldn’t English. I’ve been being a bad instructor for you then.

Sasha
Oh, no, no, I do not mind at all!

Bayleaf
Really?

Sasha
Yes, certainly. For a second I thought I’ve said something hurtful.

Bayleaf
Oh, no, not at all! You are VERY courteous so far, I’m telling you.

Sasha
Ah. Am I?

Bayleaf
My classmate might be your contender but then again, yes.

Sasha
You deserve respect, Miss Bayleaf. If I’m the only one, I am disappointed.

Bayleaf
Wow you are also sweet like him.

Sasha
Am I? Is he?

Bayleaf
Ye—ahem, just so we clear, it’s an appointment, not a date.

Sasha
Understandable, Miss Bayleaf. I just made the same.

Bayleaf
A date?

Sasha
Ei, by God, NO! An appointment, of course! How can this be a date?

Bayleaf
Right?! So easy to mistake that kind of things these days!

Sasha
Exactly! Imagine how easy life would be if such mistake happened easily.

Bayleaf
I have to say, you are right. A date understood and accepted as one...

Sasha
Without having to propose it as one...

Bayleaf
Nailed it.

Sasha
Nailed it? Nail what? I am not building a shelf.

Bayleaf
Like you got it.

Sasha
Like I understood?

Bayleaf
Yes!

Sasha
If only, Miss Bayleaf, but I am no mind-reader. How do I know what she thinks?

Bayleaf
I assure you, Sasha, that kind of problem is gender-free.

Sasha
So I don’t suffer alone?

Bayleaf
Yes again.

Sasha
Is it bad that I feel better, hearing that?

Bayleaf
I assure you, nope.

Sasha
Maybe I should... ask?

Bayleaf
Good idea. I’m clueless about this shit.

Sasha
Hmmm. Clueless meets clueless is dead end. Maybe you can hint.

Bayleaf
Hmmm...

Sasha
So he can interpret but you won’t need to feel shy.

Sasha
My God, I give suggestions a lot for a shy person.

Bayleaf
Character development is good.

Sasha
It’s been a long time since I did what I did today, so if you’d excuse me, Miss Bayleaf, I’d like to refresh my memories. I’ll be watching more videos.

Bayleaf
Don’t worry, I’m studying as well. What videos?

Sasha
Neo-classical music. What are you studying?

Bayleaf
Russian.

Sasha
Oh?

Bayleaf
Is it okay if I turn to you for guidance?

Sasha
Most welcome. Back then you explained to me three pages of my book in a way I understand.

Bayleaf
Alright then, my ally.

Sasha
Good night, Miss Byleth.

Bayleaf
Excuse me?

Sasha
*Bayleaf. Oh, turns out you are also not alone in the matter of making typos.

Bayleaf
AH YES YES SURE OF COURSE—

Bayleaf
Oh sorry Sasha I pressed the capslock!

Sasha
Worry not. Caps or no caps are fine.

Sasha
I hope your phone isn’t acting strange though. Electronics are like that, you never know when they truly break.

Bayleaf
R-right again you are!

Sasha
You also stutter in texts like me?

Chapter Text

This isn’t the baby step she had in mind when she wakes up with a newfound resolve in the morning. However she figures this isn’t actually so bad, either, because at the very least she isn’t left completely alone with her own device without a way out at all.

However when she shows up at the bar that evening, her confidence rises. She is probably one among the few bouncers who got a call instead of having to try her chance by going from one door to another… can she add that her position is a female bouncer at that as well?

“I’m here,” that is the first thing Byleth says when she meets the boss. “And I’m ready to give what your money is worth.”

“Whoa,” the boss replies. “I’m not hiring you to be a hitman here, you know.”

There is no difference, at least for her. She wants to get everything she can take. There’s no time to waste now. Perhaps if she pays attention to the bar customers, she can take her mind off everything as well. But more importantly, money…

However it all changes when Dimitri enters the bar. The atmosphere shifts and Byleth feels her heart sinking somehow. All eyes are on him. The boss personally walks up to approach him—why, this feels so very familiar. It feels almost like an inherited memory, relieving the experience like this. If she is prepared to be denied the very fortune her parents left her, perhaps another rejection won’t bring her down.

… She can almost smell it. The boss’ hopeful look he cast on Dimitri, everything…

“Hey there, I’m glad you decide to give us a chance.”

Byleth looks at Dimitri. The transfer student appears awkward for being approached like that in the first place, and he glances back at her.

She smiles instead.

It’s not like Dimitri maliciously destroys her chance to get hired. If anything, perhaps it’s the other way around instead—didn’t he come to the bar with Felix? And wasn’t Felix there to apply for a job? Aren’t bouncers typically hired through a network? Dimitri is a transfer student. He lives far from home. He surely can use some help—she is still here. This is her town. So…

So she nods at him next, calm and collected, softly signaling him to just go on.

He locks eyes with her again. It’s still the same as the last time—intense, but caring. Curious, but also kind. Dare she assumes that he’s concerned about her more than she is of himself? Perhaps it’s too much and upfront.

… But one can hope, right?

“No. I am not here to bounce… I mean, be a bouncer,” Dimitri says. “My apologies.”

Byleth stops moving. Dimitri turns down a job offer so easily like this?

“I am here to…” shyly he points at the piano which sits idly by the corner. “Try that one. As for the bouncing part, I believe she is a very suitable candidate.”

And Byleth is nailed to the ground…

“Dimitri,” she runs after him. The boss says he has to retreat back to the office and will make his decision later. “Dimitri, just… just wait for a minute,” eventually she catches up with him at the piano. Dimitri stops just so he can move aside to share the chair with her. Byleth stops as well. It’s always those little mindful gestures that make her feel all these cheeky strange things inside her chest.

All the cheeky, strange, warm things to be exact.

“No, no, no stand,” the blonde makes a motion with his hand. “Sitting down is nice, right?”

There’s always a reason to keep popping a small smile when Dimitri is being like that.

“Can you play that Chant Douloureux again?” she asks. Her fingers begin to gnaw against her jacket. Admittedly, Dimitri plays beautifully. It’s almost as if all the things he left unspoken and all the feelings he suppressed have decided to emerge. Are they demanding retribution from him? Or is it the way he talks, through his fingers, dancing his feelings on the keyboard until he’s too tired to continue and too exhausted to feel?

Byleth feels guilty. She shouldn’t be projecting like this, and yet.

“I can. Yes. But.”

Dimitri’s tone somehow comes across like a musical performance. Determine. Confident. And then slowly subdued like a good anti-climax. Does he have a term for this as well? Can his numbers explain this one? Probably not. Byleth isn’t here to listen to number theories. “But?” she asks.

“But that means,” Dimitri’s voice is… soft. “You are watching me play.”

“I’m sure I’ll enjoy your performance greatly!” Byleth smiles again. “You look like a pro.”

“Oh, n-no, that isn’t my concern at all,” he quickly says. “I… get shy.”

Hearing that from him somehow struck the softness radar in her. Ah, isn’t he humble, being like this. Such an interesting contradiction to be found in a person. He seems to know his abilities, yet has no intention to flaunt them. He looks pretty enthusiastic to be able to try playing music again, then getting… shy because she is watching him?

“Ah, but Dimitri, you are performing in a bar!” Byleth says. “Look, there are people around.”

“Ah. Yes. But.” 

“But?” Byleth asks again. Oh, no. Only then she realizes she might have scared him into performing instead. The last thing a stage performer wants to be reminded of is this realization that all eyes will be on stage and give them the very stage fright they do not want to experience, right? “I’m so sorry. I understand, stage fright!” she quickly says. “Was just simply thinking that you played well and the crowd would be lucky to have you.”

“Why is the stage afraid?”

“I mean,” gently, she rests her hand on his shoulder. “If you are nervous.”

“Of other people?” he asks in the endearing innocent tone she adores. “No.”

“Then what is the problem?” it’s tempting to chuckle back now.

“Pardon me in advance…”

“Pardoned.”

“It’s… you,” Dimitri tilts his face from her. His hands are already on the keyboard, but he hasn’t started tuning. “Somehow I am nervous when you are near.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry for distracting! Maybe I should get away so you won’t be antsy?” Byleth responds, but Dimitri quickly grabs her hand back before she even tries.

“No, no! I don’t fear ants, so don’t go.”

Byleth pauses. Dimitri brings a hand to cover half of his face as he turns around again. However with the softest tone she can muster for the day, Byleth pries that hand down, giving him a comforting nod. “I won’t.”

He thanks her, and somehow it’s her turn to blush.

****

 

Something unexpected happens to both of them when the next day rolls in.

Byleth anticipates the music class more than she ever did so far. She is determined to try spinning the wheel this time—she will cut her own path. The final verdict is not made yet. Perhaps if she works really, really hard and manages to save a lot for the next month, she can finally face Leonie again to tell her about the debt.

… And of course, Dimitri. She cannot wait to see him again. Sasha didn’t text last night, but somehow it doesn’t bug her a lot—she will see Dimitri again; will he play more songs?

Coincidentally, Dimitri looks just as happy to be able to interact with her. He still doesn’t say much the way she does not, either, but judging from the way his eyes shine when she enters the classroom, Byleth keeps this faith that the feeling is mutual. After all so far she and Dimitri make a great team—she can help him with his literature reviews and all the assigned reading materials, and he’ll try to explain these musical terms she doesn’t understand.

They have an alliance, and it’s expanded beyond warm jackets and course notes. It’s nice. It’s convenient. With her feeling foreign after returning to Garreg Mach, Dimitri’s perceived foreignness by many students allows them a better bonding time. It’s comfortable…

And they realize they have been talking mostly to each other so far. There’s always something new to learn from him. Likewise, there’s always something he’s keen on asking from her. Will it be too much to say that she has been feeling less lonely ever since getting to know him?

“Byleth,” Dimitri stops her as the class ends. “I received a call.”

Suddenly, Byleth feels embarrassed. She has been keeping her phone on flight mode again during the nights lately. She really hasn’t found the courage to tell Leonie, and even if courage isn’t the problem there, how can she start? Where to start? Destroying Leonie again by dropping the bomb? Leonie probably won’t take anything from her ever again afterwards.

“Call?”

“Yes. From bar boss…”

“Oh,” Byleth mutters. Sure. Of course. Between hearing being rejected or having to listen to being rejected as rendered by another person, she cannot choose. Can she choose? Should she? “Congratulations.”

“I haven’t said anything yet,” Dimitri says. However the way he conveys it is almost like crooning—gentle and amused. Is he? Is this the way he jests and banters? “Byleth, you and I are the same. We are both good.”

“What?” Byleth looks at him.

“Yes! We are both hired. You be the strong bouncer. I am pianist.”

Byleth blinks. He waits for her reaction anxiously, but there is no need to speculate because Byleth’s pupils dilate, her lips part as she squeals. “FOR REAL NOW? OH WOW!”

“Happy?” Dimitri asks curiously.

“FUCK. YES.” Byleth yells, her hand balling into a fist. “Oh, thank you for telling me. Thank you! Wow, seriously, I’ll treat you to dinner. Thank you—”

She stops moving. Dimitri, likewise, also doesn’t say a single word. Yet he lets her to just be there, and Byleth gasps—

She hugs him.

She is hugging him out of reflex. Euphoria and relief may confuse each other, but if there’s something she genuinely regrets, it’s not the hug—rather, this protruding question of whether her sudden action disturbs him or not. It must be bewildering to receive such reaction so suddenly, but…

“Why stop?”

Byleth blinks. Did she hear it right? “Well, maybe because—because I’m hugging you?”

“You are. Am I nice to hug?”

Byleth pauses. Somehow that question is too much for her to answer. Sure. Yes. Of course. There has to be a reason why Dimitri’s chest is rather unforgettable after that moment where she broke down crying on him. He’s nice. He’s also kind and warm despite not saying much. Or perhaps not able to, but it doesn’t make him any less than that.

Yes.

Will she bet on her chances to tell him just that? Everything is taken from her—parents, and soon, a house she grew up in and a place she loves the most. Not even the courses where she typically excels can serve as a consolation because only recently that she started to bounce back again, trying to reclaim her throne.

“I’m sorry, Dimitri.”

He stops as well. But the corner of his mouth twitches just a little bit as he draws Byleth closer, startling even her. “I cracked joke,” Dimitri nods. “Why stop? Are Slavs bad to hug?”

“That sounds like a stereotype,” she replies. Does he know that the little mouth-twitching he did there almost… sent her flying high?

“Oh. Am I a stereotype?”

“You are a person,” Byleth replies, amused by his answer.

“Then why stop?”

This time, she has no answer for that one. At least Dimitri makes the same subtle smile again, so it sounds like a win.

****

 

The bar is crowded—or as Felix says, tighter than an ass.

But since it is Felix, by then Dimitri has learned that he has always had a choice: check the dictionary, or take notes of everything to show Byleth and Dedue later. Sylvain sadly has been fired from the ‘reliable people who can be trusted with words’ list, yet he doesn’t need to debate how tight this metaphorical ass is supposed to be like because the bar is, indeed, crowded.

The night seems to be pretty here in Fodlan District. Dimitri nearly loses his count of how many times new people come inside as soon as a table is left unoccupied. Even the counter isn’t spared, either, because customers flock for some drinks. Felix’s voice of asking for youthful-looking people's IDs is almost robotic by now, and Byleth has to assert her dominance just to be taken seriously by customers—she is a bouncer, and she’ll punch them if she has to; she is not a decoration doll that is there to be laughed at or even touched.

Despite everything, Dimitri likes this night. True that he has been constantly playing the piano because the bar-goers keep tipping him. Some request popular songs. Some ask for oldies. But when one of them challenges him to play something classical, Dimitri’s fingers dance to exactly give just that.

He’s been deep in the tunes that the change of air in the room slips past him. It’s only until he finishes with the last key that he realizes the bar has grown so quiet, with people surrounding him like a hero or a curious wizard performing a magic trick. Dimitri lifts his face from the piano, meeting thunderous applause and glasses being lifted to cheer for him, his eyes widen in shock when a customer even gives him a drink.

He didn’t expect any of these things when he took the stage… ahem, that little corner with the lone untouched piano a moment prior. Sylvain’s service of drink-shaking and ice-stirring stops because not even the redhead wants to miss the crowd. By the door, Felix’s jaw has dropped onto the floor while Byleth clasps her hands in front of her, shooting a glassy stare at him. Dimitri tilts left and right, weirded by this sudden… fame that he gets.

“You should have tried professional!” Byleth exclaims. Sylvain and Felix pat his shoulders each with pride, but he feels…

Guilty.

Guilty, guilty, guilty. Didn’t he promise Lambert to complete his study? Didn’t he promise Rufus not to play around but to finish his schooling like a champion? Like a true Blaiddyd heir?

“No, I don’t belong.”

“Oh, don’t be silly, that was perfect,” even Felix erases all the jesting-trolling mannerism off his response. “Right, Syl? If Dimitri is recording, he can probably take the market.”

“Yeah. Felix is an asshole, but he’s not a liar, you know,” Sylvain chuckles. “Hey, Dimitri, why don’t you make a video channel or something? Send your piano demo? Post audio clips of you playing these errr, eh, rich people old music?”

“It’s classical, dumbass.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever, cat.”

“Oh. I just—I just love Moonlight Sonata,” Dimitri mutters awkwardly. “When I get very sad, I listen to this. Then I play it. I become a member. I mean, I remembered the tunes.”

“Not everyday someone can recite this entire piece without a sheet, though,” Felix says. “You’re taking computer science classes too, right? Why don’t you build up your own site or something?”

“My… site?” the transfer student almost whimpers. Byleth wonders why.

“That costs money. There are other services you can use for free,” Sylvain offers a thought. “You’ll just need to store these clips somewhere else and embed them to your site. Or better yet, why can’t we just record? Someone good-looking like you is also nice to look at.”

“O-oh. I… really? No, it’s just that…”

“Alright then, Sylvain, get back to work!” the bar boss intrudes. “Holy shit balls, dude. Honestly, why are you even here? People like you typically can be seen haunting concert halls already. What brought you here?”

“I study. I am transfer.”

The atmosphere shifts. Byleth can sense how awkward he feels. She understands. She’s also introverted; a recluse after her parents died. It must have been so mind-blowing to receive all kinds of attention so suddenly, especially when he barely started like this. Byleth recalls how shy and awkward Dimitri behaved in the class they are taking together. How, despite impressing their lecturers and nearly everyone else, Dimitri behaved as though he was being repentant; as if his musical talent and capability aren’t something that should be seen to begin with.

“I guess he’s overwhelmed, Boss. Let’s make a room for Dimitri a little bit.”

“Right. I suppose. Well, what can I say? Welcome to Fodlan, kid.”

“I thank you.”

“When you’re done taking a breather, come here again, yeah? I’ve been told that you’re Slavic. I’ve got me some Slavic clients who seem to need an interpreter’s help.”

“If they speak the same language as me,” Dimitri replies quietly. When the boss leaves, Byleth grabs a glass of water to give him.

“Are you alright?”

“Yes…”

“Dimitri,” she sits beside him. “It doesn’t look like that to me.”

He pauses.

“You helped me, Dimitri. I’d want to do the same,” she tries again—gentler this time. “You hate having to play the piano? Because you want to be the bouncer instead?”

“Oh, no, not that,” this time he quickly retorts. “Byleth, do you think I… fit?”

“Playing the piano?” she confirms. He gives her a small nod. Her comforting smile rises upon receiving such reaction. “Of course. Why won’t you? See, you have strong hands.”

“Yes. Therefore—”

“Therefore you can do other things,” she continues. “That isn’t about punching people.”

That really stiffens him. “I never. I mean.”

“Everyone needs to start somewhere, though,” she nods. “You did a great job.”

However what she said only seems to make him feel even more uneasy. “You think so?” he murmurs. “If only my father was… no, why couldn’t I find someone like you around?”

Byleth stops. That line, though. What’s with this sudden… intimacy, so to speak, because he has been being so melancholic that not even knowing him for these past few weeks prepared her for this reaction. She wouldn’t be surprised if he confessed that being a sudden rising star and getting noticed by many people isn’t something she is used to; heck, even she would confess that being a center of attention makes her uncomfortable.

“Dimitri…?”

“Ah. Why am I telling you this again—forgive me, I must have been delirious.”

“No, no, it’s alright!”

But Dimitri has another obligation to fulfill, so she lets him slip past her. She has to return to the door too; her job doesn’t end just because an emotion-ripper pianist manages to paralyze the entire building with his performance. She doesn’t want to eavesdrop, but something about Dimitri is worrying her. He was enthusiastic. He seemed to be glad to be able to play an instrument, yet when he performed well, he hated it?

“Ah, there you are,” the boss sighs, relieved. Dimitri awkwardly nods at the newly-arriving clients. “They claim to be booking a certain table, but we cannot find the data in the register. Can you confirm with them? It seems they are waiting for the other party to come.”

“Not because something happened to the computer?”

“Ah, heck. Right, that can be it. Confirm please and lemme run my registry.”

Dimitri can only nod. He shivers a little when the boss truly leaves him with the customers. “Dobriy vecher,” he tells them, waiting to be responded in the same language to see if there’s anything he can help.

“Dobriy vecher! Ah, here to assist us?”

“Da…”

At least the night isn’t going to be completely ruined, Dimitri thinks as he patiently waits for more. “Regarding the RSVP,” he starts. “I’d like to confirm a few things first, Gospoda.”

“Sure. So I have this receipt…” one of them pulls out his wallet to grab a piece of paper, and…

“Wait a minute,” they gasp. “You—aren’t you… oh, dear God, heir to the Blaiddyd family, right? The construction tycoon of Sankt Petersburg?”

Dimitri blinks.

“Oh, God. We are about to catch a flight tomorrow back home,” another chimes in. “What an honor to meet you! I’ve heard so much about you from your uncle. Still can’t believe Lambert passed away. Our condolences, son.”

Dimitri smiles politely and accepts it even more politely.

“Truly a Blaiddyd heir. Even when enjoying college life, he’s building connections here and there. My, an apple doesn’t fall far off from the tree.”

“No, I am not…”

“Ah, don’t be shy. Don’t be shy! We were young once too. Who can blame you to chill here? Only one question though, Dimitri Alexandre, why are you at the piano? Why are these people tipping you? Why is the owner asking you to serve us?”

“Ordering, Ilya, ordering. It does seem like it.”

“Look at Arkady here, making assumptions out of his ass! He can’t be ordering Dimitri, what’s his business with him? People typically confuse us Slavs with each other, they see a Slav, they immediately think we are all related.”

“Hahaha! Only this night we are lucky indeed because it’s the lion king that we encountered,” another one speaks. “Come here, Dimitri. Say, why aren’t you joining us? Nobody will turn a Blaiddyd from any meeting desk—nobody, I assure you!”

“Oh, no, I…”

He catches Byleth’s face, peeking at him. Somehow that gives him courage. Somehow that fuels his yearning to fight for his own path. For his own right to just exist.

“I’m deeply sorry, but tonight I’m preoccupied.”

“Too bad! Let’s talk again when you are home. Rufus cannot wait to make you part of the glory, anyway—just point a finger and choose.”

“Look at him, studious and serious. Truly a Blaiddyd through and through. Ah, Lambert…”

“He must be proud. I’m sure of it. He will rest easy now.”

Dimitri leaves. He doesn’t remember how polite his polite reply is, and what he even said to excuse himself from his family’s business liaisons. His head spins. He’s sweating. Cold sweat breaks around his neck. Funny, Fodlan is supposed to be warm, not chilling like this. No—

“Dimitri, are you alright?” Byleth stops him by the door.

“Net, get away!”

“Dimitri?” Byleth gasps.

Dimitri coughs so hard, one hand clutching against the wall by the back door. It’s much quieter there compared to the front door where the crowd is, with a trash can and stray cats that sing and wail at the same time, digging for their supper.

“Byleth—”

He vomits.

“Byleth, I—”

He vomits again.

“Byleth…” panting, Dimitri grips his hair, wanting to rip the strands. What was that? What did he do? What was that? It isn’t supposed to be this bad. It shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t—

He doesn’t see Byleth when he’s done wiping his mouth. He can’t blame her. He cannot.

Disgusting.

He clutches his stomach. He doesn’t have gastrointestinal problems so far, besides the sudden spasms he suffered the night before Lambert’s funeral. His drinking habit? What a joke, everyone drinks; he’s just an average guy for that case. Or, as Rufus says, fucking mild.

Disgusting.

What was he thinking, touching the piano?

Disgusting. Disgusting.

“... Papa.”

Disgusting, Dima.

He yields. It has to be right. And now—

“Dimitri?”

And now he gasps. Byleth smiles before him with a drink in her hand.

“Byleth?” he says, dumbfounded. Why did she come back? Even he is disgusted.

“Ginger ale! That can calm your stomach,” she says. “Let me see you.”

“No.”

“Dimitri…”

“No, no—I’m disgusting! The whole thing is!”

Byleth pauses. Dimitri pants, horrified by his sudden outburst.

“Forgive me,” he whispers, almost begging. “Forgive me, please. Byleth, I…”

“I know.”

He stops wailing. Byleth crouches beside him, her fingers run on his back. Gently.

“You are not.”

He lets out a muffled yelp. What kind of a lion king is he? What Blaiddyd heir?

“Your performance is not.”

Oh, no. Now he wants to sob.

“Your music is not…”

He wonders how long he can last.

“... And liking music is not.”

Dimitri writhes as though he is in pain. Byleth searches into her pocket, handing him a pack of tissue, tearing one from the little box. She runs it over his face, across his lips… wiping him clean, down to his chin, under his bewildered stare… under his bewildered teary stare.

Dimitri heaves.

“Is there anything else I can do for you?” again, her voice is soft.

“N-no. I won’t—dare. No…”

“Dimitri,” this time she clutches his wrists. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Dimitri blinks. A moment later Byleth feels his head leaning on her shoulder, his breathing being so close to her ears.

“Take me home,” he whispers. “Take me home. With you.”

She hugs him.

Chapter Text

Dimitri should have known that sooner or later his uncle would want to speak to him again. His family attorney has not contacted him ever since, but even then he knows that there are a team waiting for his decision as the family business’ heir—even if he wants to give this impending real-life issue a middle finger, he cannot.

Sooner or later, everything is bound to be his, anyway. Lambert entrusted everything to him. Dimitri understands well that personal emotion has so little place in an ideal Blaiddyd world. His father didn’t speak much of his mother, either, spare some courteous words of honoring her when they commemorated her death. Dimitri cannot even recall the last time his father appeared pensive even for a moment to reminisce about a dead wife, and…

And he hates it.

Surely wishing Lambert Blaiddyd to be reduced into a sobbing mess is way too much, too impossible to imagine. His father had always been duty-oriented. The path to become the next Blaiddyd lion is clear; not even Lambert’s doting on him was supposed to change that.

And Dimitri wonders why he processes numbers better than his own emotions…

He lies in bed.

It started as a little act of relaxation to rest his weary waist. Doing a surface integral while feeling less than alright already takes more than he can handle, but by the time his emails started rolling in again, he changed his opinion—it’s no longer unbearable. Rather, it’s hard.

No, it’s not about the integral itself. Thinking in imaginary lines before applying it to a real-life case is something he is expected to do, anyway, so supposedly it’s no longer a question of whether he can or he cannot—rather, he should. Three-dimensional space, lines forming an imaginary rectangle as its base among other rectangles and angles. He has been careful so far—he cannot confuse a three-dimensional surface integral with a typical double integral. There’s no room for failure. There shouldn’t be…

Unlike him.

Even his pen feels heavier to move around.

True to her words, Byleth brought him back to the Garreg Mach Apartment. She didn’t leave until making sure he was alright and taken care of—she waited on him taking a hot shower. She ordered some comforting junk food when he was in the bathroom. She asked if she could make some tea, which he said yes, of course; because his primary concern was to make her feel comfortable being in his apartment.

When he came out of the shower, he found two large boxes of fast food goodness with a cup of tea waiting on him. Byleth calmly sat by the couch, smiling to welcome him as he rinsed, completely annihilated by the simple kindness she displayed.

“Welcome back,” so she said with a crisp voice. She didn’t fault him for dropping his weight onto the couch looking disoriented and hazed—rather, she reasoned to him that junk food, to her, had always made a nice comfort food when the world felt collapsing and there wasn’t really a viable option to choose besides sleeping and eating to one’s heart’s content.

He couldn’t agree more for this one.

However something bothered him nonetheless—Byleth was, and still is, in the middle of a financial catastrophe. Yet again she didn’t think twice to buy these things for him?

“You aren’t feeling alright,” she said simply. “You need to eat. I know nourishing foods taste strange when we aren’t at our best, but it’s still important to restore your strength.”

And Dimitri could have sworn that he couldn’t recall the last time someone else to treat him so compassionately like this. He couldn’t recall the last time someone else spoke so kindly, either. But she was there and she was real—proven when he bumped into his own bedroom door later that night, which made sure that he wasn’t just dreaming the whole thing.

“Byleth,” he reasoned last night. “You should not have paid for me because I can.”

He regretted not to phrase his words better, but Byleth didn’t sweat it, either.

“You know, Dimitri, I think I recall someone used to tell me that he didn’t count the price because some things in life are worthy and cannot be counted,” she smirked. “Give my regards to him, will you? And tell him to get well soon.”

He blushed. Should have seen that coming too. Actually, no—should have known that he didn’t have a chance of winning against her. None.

Dimitri presses a pillow over his eyes. His surroundings darken. Byleth purposefully ordered a bunch of fast food so he could just heat them back in the morning. Deep down he praised her rationality. He admired her decision-making process. But most of all, her kindness tore every defiance he thought he had left.

And he never knew that spicy fried chickens could taste amazing.

Dimitri twirls his phone in his hand. His wallet is just by his elbow, which he resents for the time being. Feeling disturbed for being wealthy alone already makes him feel so wrong and odd—more so when being wealthy, but having a bankrupt lady to treat him food.

He hates feeling indebted like this. Within a set of obligations to fulfill, is there truly no way to be… fully in control of life as he wants it to be? What is this wealth for, then?

His phone buzzes.

Dimitri picks up the call without making any effort to remove the pillow hindering his vision. “Hello. Yes, this is Dimitri.”

“My, my, look at you, answering my call in English. So professional.”

Dimitri can feel his stomach churning, but at the same time his body is too reluctant to assume a better sitting position. He is a plank. He is not sentient. He is the void. “Sorry.”

“Is that how you speak to me, your uncle, who has postponed a meeting just to talk to you?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Dima,” Rufus mutters under his breath. “Why didn’t you tell me about Lambert’s will?”

“Apologies.”

“Have you done anything at all while you are there? It’s nearing three months now. Three.”

“My fault.”

“I already know it’s your fault. Say something else.”

“Pardon me.”

“It’s going to be midterm soon, yes? You haven’t spoken anything, anything at all about your study so far. I don’t even know what classes you are taking!”

“Oh, I’m terribly sorry…”

“Are you going to go on a loop now?”

“My apologies.”

A pause. Dimitri pauses as well.

“... Dimitri Alexandre.”

“I’m doing good. Grades are manageable.”

“Manageable isn’t reliable.”

“Oh. My fault.”

“You know, maybe this manageable could have evolved into perfection had you not wasted your time playing organs like a beggar.”

“Pardon?”

“Dima,” a snarl. “We didn’t send you to the best schools to play dumb.”

“No, what did you mean, a beggar? Street musicians deserve respect and even beggars are human too!” he shoots back. “Some people are simply hungry, Dyadka!”

“Some people, Dima, but not you.”

Dimitri feels a jab straight marching into his gut.

“You know damn well I won’t even fuss actual street performers or beggars if that is the case. I’m not talking about them—I’m talking about you,” Rufus speaks again. Slowly, Dimitri’s hand moves to clutch his own stomach. It’s burning again. “I know what you were doing. My business associates met you at that modest bar.”

“I didn’t know business associates doubled as a secret agent.”

“Correction, malchik—I know what you were doing because I know you.”

“No, you don’t.”

“You think so?” Rufus chuckles bitterly. “I thought I knew you well enough, hence why I would never have imagined you going behind my back to speak to the attorney.”

Dimitri forces himself to sit. He needs water.

“So, tell me then,” Rufus growls again. “What is the meaning of this, Dima? You hate me?”

Probably.

“You hate our family?”

What?

“You resent your dead father, is that it?”

No—!

“There! Speechless and spineless now, aren’t you?”

Dimitri gulps two large sips of water.

“I… want to see the world on my own,” he says. Water is an elixir; now he can speak.

“When have I forbidden you from traveling the world?”

“No, not that kind of travel, Dyadka, about my passion…”

“Passion! You’re a grown man now, I surely don’t have to tell you how to do it!”

“Not that kind, either!”

Another pause.

“I’m not going to be like you,” Dimitri finally speaks again.

There’s a cynical chuckle from the other side. “And what will you be?”

The question is simple, but somehow Dimitri feels so… defeated. “I—”

“You are too naive,” Rufus murmurs on the phone. “Perhaps Lambert knew that too.”

Am I?

“It’s absolutely irresponsible to be so deliberate while our family’s fortune and future lie in your hands, Mitenka,” the old diminutive is back. His uncle truly has a way to make him feel so… little, huh? “I don’t know what movies you’ve been watching lately or whatever-else those first-world millennials tell you, but when your life is full of a series of greater responsibilities, l’vonchik, passion is afforded, not given.”

Dimitri stills. Is Rufus implying that he’s being… ungrateful?

“And who do you think has been running the business smoothly back home while you are deep in this…” a cynical snicker follows. “Philosophical quest of self-discovery whatsoever?”

“Dyadka, I know what I was born into.”

“Frankly, Dima, I’m unconvinced. I’m telling you these things because I care.”

Care?

Suddenly Dimitri chuckles. “That, or because you want to make sure you won’t be running out of cash even though Papa is no longer here with us?” gasping after opening fire at his uncle like that, Dimitri feels his chest knotting. That’s been in his thoughts for weeks, but never once he thought he’d really say it. He just cornered Rufus by asking straight if his uncle sees him as nothing but a money bag? Oh—goodness.

And then there’s silence.

Eerie, eerie silence…

“What did Vasiliev tell you?”

Dimitri’s phone gives up. The battery is insufficient—

And Dimitri has never felt both relieved and crushed at the same time. He drags himself back to the table to finish calculating all the spheres and radiuses for the surface integral from prior, pen in his hand, calculator by near the elbow as always. Strange, though—he cannot think this time. His formulae lost their way…

Perhaps just like himself.

****

 

Byleth never knows she has this in her.

It has felt like forever since she ever casually went out with a group of friends or even paid them a visit just-because because, yet there she is, crossing a floor down-under with a little hope burning in her chest.

It’s barely seven, or rather, the time when she wakes up from a nap because she didn’t expect working at the bar could be… that exhausting. And that was her first day. She knows her body will need some adjustment, but needless to say she spent nearly half of her off-day sleeping.

Sleeping is miraculous. She can be temporary dead and completely unaware of everything happening until it’s time to rise again. Like an undead roaming the night. Thrilling, but also peaceful. She exists and doesn’t exist at the same time. Convenient.

Perhaps there’s more to what the eyes can see when she decides that she is quite curious about what her classmate-friend is doing. Thinking of it, Byleth feels rather awkward. Are they friends? Can she call him her friend? Are they merely acquaintances, connected because of a series of chance meetings and by now it’s too late to withdraw? Because it’s comforting, because she doesn’t have anyone else around her so far, and because they both caught each other at their less-than-reliable states.

… Or perhaps the worst state, but.

A human’s brain is a magnificent organ, capable of subduing or elevating its master—

Byleth decides to stop thinking. It just so happens that she made too much soup for a person, and it just so happens that Dimitri was rather unwell last night. Ginger ale might be a witch doctor’s potion, but a nice warm soup is a cure-all of the gods; if she would just take this pan for him, what can go wrong?

Byleth breathes in. Why, it’s just soup. It’s just Dimitri—

… No, exactly because it is Dimitri.

She knows where he lives, anyway, because it was she who helped him home after the bar incident. It was she who wrapped his hands in her jacket this time, much too small for him to wear, sure, but just right to form a warm mitten to give him a sense of comfort.

Dimitri didn’t protest. She hopes her jacket is as nice as his.

And thankfully neither Sylvain nor Felix, his neighbors, can be seen around the corridor.

She presses the bell.

No answer yet. She inhales.

She wants to press again. Will this come off persistent? Why is she here? Why did she even come out of her room? How odd and out of place. She isn’t even supposed to belong there in the first place. She shouldn’t have returned. Going back to school, in the midst of a financial crisis? Ah, Byleth, dear Byleth; you are never the brightest soul out there, aren’t you?

… Byleth clears her throat. A human’s brain is a magnificent organ and a vicious one at the same time. The problem is, a human-person cannot handle both at the same time.

She presses the bell again.

“... Kto?”

The answer sounds slurred.

“Dimitri?” Byleth brings her face closer to the door. “It’s me, Byleth.”

“... Ah.” Outside, Byleth can hear a weak groan, but Dimitri still opens the door and mildly yelps because his forehead bumps into it.

She purses her lips faintly. “Again?”

“Yes. I am cursed,” he sighs. “Oh, sorry, please come…”

“Excuse me then,” Byleth replies calmly. 

Dimitri closes the door without a sound, immediately blushing as Byleth lands herself inside. He really forgets the mess he creates as he works on his homework—spread papers, hapless notes, a calculator on top of his pillow because he could no longer concentrate after the fateful phone call just now. And who was this dumbass again, thinking bringing that calculator to lie in bed together will magically give him the numbers he wanted?

“Pardon,” the blonde mutters sheepishly. “I was at war.”

It isn’t like he lied, though.

“Life is,” Byleth says quietly. Dimitri stops fidgeting. Shadows of late sunlight peek into his window, creating various gradients of dark gold and orange colors, reminding him of all the melancholic classical tunes he used to play.

He closes his eyes. Again? Music again, right when he should not?

“You are right,” he replies, just as quietly. She shakes her head.

“No. I’m Byleth.”

He pauses.

“Sorry for the dad-joke,” Byleth sighs. “Dammit. Being close with Alois did that to you.”

Dimitri goes pensive for a moment… “Is it… okay to joke about… dads?”

… And Byleth stops talking as well. “Dimitri?”

“Oh, sorry,” just how many collections of this he is keeping under his head? “Was thinking. Because, you know, since… my papa is dead, and yours, too…”

Byleth has gone completely quiet this time.

“Forgive me, I didn’t mean to make you sad!” panicking, he quickly says.

Byleth breathes in again. One. Two. Three—

“You know, I probably should thank you.”

His eyes widen. “Thank me?”

“Yes. I wouldn’t even have dreamed of dad-joking until… what, five minutes ago,” she says. “But then it came out just like that. Perhaps bantering with you has that healing effect, who knows?” she holds up the pot before him. “Soup?”

“Me?”

“No, Dimitri, I mean, if you want some soup for dinner…”

“Why?”

Byleth shrugs, but her gaze is… warm. “I don’t know. Maybe because I’m nice,” she replies nonchalantly. “If you have tea, then it will be perfect.”

“I have.”

“Alright, then I’ll leave it here,” she says. “Where is your pantry?”

“You first leave soup, then leave as well?”

Byleth stops moving. “Why?” unable to resist her own curiosity, she asks back.

“You said you are nice, da?” he counters. “Then privyet, nice, I am dad. I can use this little tea date.”

Byleth stops.

"I mean appointment! Drinking tea, with you!"

Dimitri looks at her…

They start to sniff. Quietly.

****

 

Sasha
Hello, Miss Bayleaf. Sorry for not contacting you for a while.

Bayleaf
It’s alright. Same with me. Life is a bitch.

Sasha
Oh. What did she do?

Bayleaf
Anything and nothing at the same time, catch my drift?

Sasha
Please wear seatbelt.

Bayleaf

Sasha
Expression again?

Bayleaf
You know what, Sasha, you might be right.

Bayleaf
Approaching things with prudence. Saving your strength and stamina.

Sasha
Yes. The best way to fight an opponent whose fighting skill you don’t know.

Bayleaf
Haha, now you are talking!

Sasha
I am typing.

Bayleaf
I am Bayleaf.

Sasha
Then I might not be right.

Bayleaf
Hi, wrong.

Sasha
No minus-axis?

Bayleaf
No. I want a surplus.

Sasha
Why?

Bayleaf
In need of money, but eh, that aside—

Sasha
No no, don’t put aside. Talk to me.

Bayleaf
Do you think it’s ridiculous wanting to… try?

Sasha
Try?

Bayleaf
Like you want to know how hard you fight and how far you can go until you really declare defeat.

Sasha
Oh.

Bayleaf
Or bankruptcy.

Sasha
Bankruptcy?

Bayleaf
Ugh no, forget it, I just wanna chill here.

Sasha
Me too. I want to swim more. I am roasted, my friend said.

Sasha
Maybe this is an unpopular opinion, Miss Bayleaf, but I don’t think it is bad.

Bayleaf
Yeah?

Sasha
Yes. You are stubborn only if you keep going without paying attention to other things, right?

Sasha
Like driving. If always straight and no turn around you will crash.

Bayleaf
Hmmm…

Bayleaf
And how do I know when I have to stop?

Sasha
I cannot answer that for you, Miss Bayleaf, I suppose you can only know until you are there. The way you just know when you do. The Pi has many numbers. Some people stop at 3.14 and some others recite in full, depending on the needs.

Bayleaf
Ah.

Sasha
When 3.14 is sufficient, no need to go further. When it does not, we go further.

Bayleaf
Hmmm…

Sasha
The Avogrado constant gives you a 10^23. It is no longer imaginable with the typical approach, but it does not make it less valid.

Bayleaf
You know what Sasha never in my life that I thought numbers actually make sense.

Sasha
No, Miss Bayleaf. They don’t.

Bayleaf
How can you say that? You are doing this.

Sasha
Because they need guidance. Context. Spatial frame. Objective.

Sasha
And sometimes there are so many options that lead to a dead end, yet one can help but continue trying to solve all of them to see if there is a way to breakthrough…

Sasha
Oh, my apologies, maybe I am not making sense.

Bayleaf
… Hey, Sasha?

Sasha
Yes?

Bayleaf
Your birth is not a mistake, nothing needs forgiveness there!

Sasha
A h . . . .

Bayleaf
I mean. It’s okay! Honestly, this is interesting. Don’t you think this is a testament of hard work?

Sasha
Hard… work?

Sasha
I’m sorry, I don’t understand.

Sasha
I mean. I am not sorry, I do not understand.

Sasha
Since it is okay not to apologize all the time—

Bayleaf
Yes. You want to choose the best way that is fitting for the context like you said. So you weigh in all of them? I find it wise, actually. After all when you are easily pleased and satisfied, you don’t improve.

Sasha
Is that not imperfection?

Bayleaf
If perfection exists, dear Sasha, why does math have many different equations?

Bayleaf
… Those are called equations, right?

Bayleaf
*Dude. Sasha. Haha, dumbass autocorrect.

Sasha
… Miss Bayleaf?

Bayleaf
Ye?

Sasha
You helped me a lot :)

Sasha
Have you considered to be a professor?

Bayleaf
Bleh wew you flattered me.

Sasha
But a professor’s job is not to be right all the time, yes? To guide and enlighten?

Bayleaf
No, you don’t get it, I’m behind in my classes, I’m the resident clown.

Sasha
There is a clown in your classes??

Bayleaf
I mean. I do not have the best grades.

Sasha
I believe grades are not a common discriminant, Miss Bayleaf.

Bayleaf
… Eh.

Sasha
If it is universal then why is it b^2-4ac for the second degree and cubic polynomial for the third degree uses b^2 -c^2-4ac^3?

Bayleaf
Why?

Sasha
Because for a third degree that requires integration (x^3) it requires a different kind of calculation :)

Bayleaf
And to every action—

Sasha
There is always opposed an equal reaction :)

Bayleaf
And how do you know which one is right?

Sasha
All the involved Forces are equal when the object remains in an equilibrium state with no other forces coming. That means, action and reaction are valid because one affects the other.

Bayleaf
Yeah, I know that. There are alternatives but which one is right?

Sasha
Then try again. When a pendulum swings and there is an impact it can completely go off course.

Bayleaf
You know what, this reminds me of your question.

Sasha
Yes?

Bayleaf
That means it is alright to be on your orbit. Something you want to figure out yourself, something that is outside of the supposed design, like this pendulum and the Newton law you described!

Sasha
Miss Bayleaf...

Bayleaf
… Newton law, wasn’t it?

Sasha
Yes.

Sasha
See, you are smart :)

Bayleaf
Like, life hits you. Shit hits your pendulum. How do you expect the object to be static?

Sasha
Mathematically, I know this is true.

Bayleaf
Yea but then again life isn’t like this. Not even Newton can predict if you tear your pants it will damage the crotch part or the ass part.

Bayleaf
Wew I am so crass, sorry.

Sasha
It’s okay. I find it charming, makes me understand easily.

Bayleaf
Huh?

Sasha
If you become professor, I will always root for you.

Sasha
This is probably weird, Miss Bayleaf, but I swear my head feels lighter.

Bayleaf
Lighter-good, I hope?

Sasha
Yes :) I did not swallow chloroform or hand sanitizer.

Bayleaf
Oh, thank God.

Sasha
Oh, thank YOU.

Bayleaf
… Sasha?

Sasha
Yes?

Bayleaf
How come you are single?

Chapter Text

“This feels like a cult meeting,” Felix pouts, crossing his legs comfortably on the mat. Beside him, Annette glares sourly, pointing at a cheese bite he stole off her.

“It’s not,” she says. “Will a cult lure you in with food?”

“Yes?” he looks back at her. She steals back what he took.

Before them, Dedue, Mercedes, and Ashe simply chuckle. They are sitting in a circle on a mat laid over a sandy surface. Various snacks are arranged between them—bite-sized sandwiches, some fresh fruit slices, and even fresh canned juice. Besides treats, other things scatter around their group—towels, sunscreen bottles, even a shirt and two surfing boards.

It started with a cry of help.

When Felix found himself nearly falling asleep for the third time that week, the Lions agreed that they all might need a charging moment. Sylvain called Dimitri to his apartment because he needed help moving a few cabinets to fix a kitchen faucet, but when Dimitri behaved like a mermaid sorely missing the sea when the water splashed at him, the consensus was reached—a relaxation time would do everyone nicely. It was already pretty funny to watch Dimitri nearly losing his so-called proper face when their… or rather, Sylvain’s car, finally parked conveniently from the beach.

“I thought you only cared for your numbers,” the redhead teases when Dimitri literally pulls his shirt with a quick yank.

“I care for coolness,” the latter says. “And I saw this from plane. Couldn’t wait to taste it. Besides, the weather is ducking merciless.”

“Du...cking?” Ashe looked at him.

“Oh. I thought that’s what your phone does if you have a profanity filter on?”

And then it just so happens that the other side of the group, or so Felix says, is also there. Nothing surprised the Lions more than finding Ingrid and Annette appear to be miserable as they drag their feet across the sands. Annette whines about the unbearable heat while Ingrid desperately wants to dip herself in the water. The beach is crowded, worse than usual—the two have been wandering around to find a place to lay their mat, but it’s always in the middle of other people sitting together or blocking a passage, and their search is getting desperate.

And Dimitri is too polite to point out that Felix offers their group to join forces in a heartbeat. Of course he doesn’t miss Sylvain’s kind offer towards Ingrid, but when Mercedes and her Victorian-wide beach hat nearly knocks their parasol, Ashe understands that it is only wise to let her join their not-so-little anymore camp. However Byleth’s arrival is met with echoing cheers because she has two cooler boxes dangling on her shoulders.

Dimitri wishes he won’t have to appear like a half-soaking asparagus like this—retiring under the parasol, a messy unbuttoned shirt which grants a peak of his bare chest as he sweats and sighs with the third empty beer can at his foot. He goes unnoticeably silent as she strolls closer—something which has never happened before so far, back home or here alike. Yet it doesn’t sound like it’s bad. Her arrival somehow serves as a mood booster…

The last thought instantly gets him thinking. Does this mean she makes him… happy? 

For some reason and another, he doesn’t feel like entertaining the thought. Why, she isn’t his object of amusement. However it is rather undeniable that being with her does make his days more bearable. Meeting each week with their unexpected alliance of convenience—his jacket for her notes, the days where he gets to walk with her after work because of their shift at the bar, the foods they share with each other sometimes—her planner he helps projecting in exchange of her literally taking him to walk back and forth around Garreg Mach so his disorientation can turn into map orientation this time.

And there he is, suddenly feeling the world changing because she arrives. Thankfully Byleth simply grants them her typical subtle smile, mint eyes harboring on the Lions who voluntarily move to make some room for her. 

“Thanks,” she says. “It’s pretty hot.”

“Oooh, what are these? How kind of you!” Ingrid’s eyes light up at an instant. Cooling snacks? Here? For free? And there are two big boxes as well. Definitely not something to be missed. However she tones down her enthusiasm because Sylvain grins at her.

“You sure these are even for us in the first place?”

“I-if not!” Ingrid bites back as her face changes color. “Why is she bringing them here?”

“Maybe she wants to eat them all,” Felix shrugs. “You know, all by herself.”

“No way, she isn’t you!”

Felix pouts. Ingrid glares back at him. However Byleth calmly puts down both of the cooler boxes dangling on each of her shoulders, laying them down in the open for the Lions to see. Unperturbed by their bickering, she opens the boxes, revealing what looks like leftover ice sticks inside. “Yes, these are yours. Have at it,” she says, grabbing a couple of the sticks to give to the others.

“See?” Ingrid not-so gently thwacks Felix’s head, enthusiastically taking what Byleth offers. Felix takes the lemon-flavored stick, however, despite the pout he generously grants her. One by one the Lions begin to take their share off of Byleth’s hands, leaving one lone ice stick on her palm.

Byleth realizes Dimitri hasn’t said anything since she joins their group. She looks at the pensive transfer student again, putting the remaining single stick in his hand. “What’s wrong?” she asks. “Not the flavor you like?”

“O-oh,” Dimitri gasps, realizing he has been staring without saying anything. “How did you…” making motions with his hands, he points out at the cooler boxes. “Get these? Buying these for us?”

Byleth smiles simply. “I didn’t buy.”

“Oooh, winning a lottery?” Ashe chirps.

“No,” she says. “It’s my job.”

They all look at her.

“Well,” Byleth replies with a straight face. “When it’s this crowded, who wouldn’t want an extra lifeguard at the beach? Look at those kids! I’ll just… okay, hold on!” she runs off to leave them all with the ice sticks, jumping into the sea to drag the kids she pointed at back to the shores before it gets too far. Dimitri watches Byleth swimming—there’s power but also grace while she dips underwater. Not only that, Byleth even approaches the kids’ absent parents to make sure that they are totally close to endangering their kids by comfortably hanging out by themselves, leaving the kids unattended.

… And Dimitri somehow smiles at that too. This hot breeze, this blinding sun; the bright blue gentle waves as far as he can see. Her presence stealing all his attention—refreshing like the waters, astounding like the powerful sunlight which forces him to bow his head…

He stops discerning on her to reevaluate his thoughts. Since when did Byleth appear bigger than the world itself? Yet there’s no doubt that her being there alone manages to lift up his spirits. There’s peace—something that has been robbed from him. And by now Byleth runs back towards them, smirking and absolutely triumphant for being able to tell neglectful parents to do their job while she is doing her own…

“There it is. Sorry for the distraction,” she wipes her head as though she just finished throwing a rivaling wrestler onto the ground. “And don’t worry! The sticks are the leftovers from my shop. Thankfully I’m allowed to take them—they’re going to throw these away.”

“Shop?” Dedue blinks at her.

“Yes! There’s a seaside shack over there,” she points out in a certain direction. “My shift won’t start until the afternoon, but I’m here for the lifeguard part,” chuckling a little bit, she lowers her voice with a grin. “This isn’t a promotion, but their yakisoba is mindblowing.”

“Wew. How many jobs do you work on?” Sylvain blurts. “You’re still studying, right?”

Dimitri catches Byleth’s sad look. He claps his hands, startling the Lions altogether. “Maybe she has reasons,” with a calm unassuming tone, he defuses their curiosity. “Like me going to school here. Or maybe she is a beach spy, since I am here as a student?”

Byleth quirks her lips, throwing a grateful smile at him. This feels like an alliance indeed. She tutors him in his readings without throwing a single laughter. He lets her have her peace and never makes her feel less dignified ever since he found out about the attorney…

Something feels warm, warmer than the sun. Yet something also feels hotter than it. Is it in her chest, or is it her eyes?

… Doesn’t matter. Dimitri is still there. And he takes the leftover ice stick.

“Just what I need. Spasiba, moy kotik.”

Byleth looks at him. 

… He blinks back at her in utter shock, eyes widened that one hand reflexively touching his own lips. How odd, but also adorable. It’s almost like he just learned to feel again after this brief five-second quip.

“You ran back and forth,” Dimitri’s voice trembles a little as he makes a motion with his hand. “Like a cat.”

Cat?

“Will not do that again. How audacious of me,” he clears his throat then. “Thanks for ice.”

Byleth hums. “I guess a feline recognizes one-another.”

He cannot argue with it. The conversation shifts as the sun humbles itself a little bit—they no longer ask why Byleth holds 123 jobs; rather, plans are made. Perhaps it’s the breeze. Perhaps it’s the togetherness and snacks they share with each other. Dimitri listens and nods, occasionally joining the conversation to offer his opinions when they ask. His heart is full—it’s like soaring; peaceful but also wholesome, more so when the sun tilts so it doesn’t directly slap his eyes anymore. Annette talks about a grand internship. Felix wants to go back doing the hobby he put on hold—fencing—when summer break is here. Sylvain just wants to be independent first of all, and Dedue and Ashe are thinking of seriously interning at restaurants so that they can open the cafe of their dreams.

Dimitri feels so wholesome and a little sad at the same time. Even his friends have plans. Meanwhile he probably can only follow what’s expected and demanded of him…

“Here you go, have more,” Byleth startles him, putting yet another stick in his hand. “Missing home?” she asks that so casually, but Dimitri, understanding what it implies given their shared grief, cracks a softer smile. Perhaps Byleth does, hence her question.

“I like staying cool,” he says innocently, taking his phone out of his pocket. He has scrolled through the older photos in his camera roll many times. Typically at night, when he woke up with a cold sweat with a gripping fear that he might overcome the grief… too comfortably that he forgot what his father looked like. However the sun is still up there as he does so this time; most importantly, he is not alone. His Lions are here as they sit close to each other, necks arching with genuine interest, waiting for him to show the photos. He feels better. He has been talking… living… and most importantly…

“Thank you for trusting us with your photos!”

She is here as well.

Byleth Eisner, the treasured classmate and irreplaceable ally, is among them.

“Look,” his voice is soft. “This is me in the snow.”

“Why are you… in your underwear?” Dedue blinks.

“Swimming!” Dimitri nods even though the others basically lose their marbles. “There is ice-diving. In culture, tied with Orthodoxy.”

There’s a pause. Dimitri waits. But not for long because the Lions talk again.

“Oooh! Like literally? Swimming like this?? Tell us more!”

“Y-yes. That is why summer swimming is soft. I mean, tame.” Dimitri scratches his head. However Byleth nods at him, and somehow…

The courage is there.

It’s like a gentle urging clutches his hand, taking him to traverse a terrain he previously dreaded to tread on. There’s a soft smile there and Dimitri wonders why he is saddened that she gets up, wiping the sand grains off her monochrome-colored diving-style swimming suit. The merciful sunlight cuts a shadow over her figure—golden but not blinding…

“You can do it,” she gives him a gentle nod. Refreshing. Enlightening. And he…

“And you?”

“I am needed there,” casually she points into the seas again. “And Dimitri?”

“Yes…?” he mouths back at her while the others are still gushing over the white, white wonderland that is St. Petersburg December. Over the older lion in one of those photos; laughing and smiling, powerful and confident to take the world.

Lambert Blaiddyd was like that for as long as Dimitri could remember. Naive, his uncle would say; just like him. His spirit soars—wasn’t it from his father that Dimitri learned… courage? To aim for the impossible, to try something other people have never been before?

You can do it.

Byleth’s words are a guiding compass. How did he forget what’s most important all along?

You can do it.

She has disappeared into the waters, probably pulling another child out of the sea. Perhaps it’s an adult who lost a command of their own body while swimming, who knows; but…

But Dimitri feels so abundant. In warmth, in spirit, and… strength.

“Papa,” he whispers. “I think it’s time for you to rest and for me to live.”

Of course, none of the lions understands what he just said. It doesn’t matter to him now—Byleth waves from afar, one arm stretching to point at a certain cottage nearby. She nods with a grin, and he smiles back at her.

The shack. Of course.

Suddenly, it dawns on him that he should be very, very grateful for being well-off. And he is. Now that there’s light, the path to the future is clear.

****

 

“You aren’t bothering me, Gospodin. You know that I’ve been working for your family for decades. Now that you are the heir, only normal for me to assist you as well—after all, I know that a Blaiddyd clock is different from a typical person’s clock,” the voice speaking to him on the other side is crisp and jolly. Dimitri glances at his computer—it has to be… what, around one in the morning in St. Petersburg?

“This pertains to my uncle,” he says. “I realized I’ve put this matter on hold for a while now, and the sooner my father’s will to be taken care of, the better.”

“I sincerely commend you. Your uncle is probably worried, but then again I told him you had to be busy. It’s nearing four months—yes, it’s long, but when life barely started, even a year feels like nothing,” the attorney chuckles. “However, regretfully I cannot stay up for long, Gospodin, your office needs me earlier tomorrow.”

“Ah, yes, yes, I definitely won’t hinder you!” Dimitri says. “Vasiliev, I’ve received several… ahem, nice job offers. A few of them are from multinational companies, and it seems to me that regardless of their non-existent ties with our own, the offer is tempting.”

“Oh? Bozhe, Gospodin, I have to congratulate you! Maybe we shall pop a bottle tomorrow, who knows?” there’s a sincere friendliness replying to him on the other side of the phone, and only then Dimitri realizes he sorely missed it. The sense of familiarity that doesn’t come off choking or holding his soul hostage by being unnecessarily pestering that family becomes nothing but an overused phrase where he finds neither solace nor refuge in it.

His lips curve. “No need. I’d like you to schedule me a formal appointment with my uncle.”

A pause. He expects it to happen.

“You are… making a sudden trip back home?”

He also predicted the attorney would ask this.

“No. I mean, there’s something I need to talk about with my uncle, and I want it to happen during office hours,” he says calmly. “Please contact me again when he can find an agreeable time. This isn’t me calling home, Vasiliev, I’d like to speak to him formally.”

“Hmmm. But the time zone…”

“Dyadka won’t need to worry about it. He mentions his time, and I’ll adjust mine.” 

Dimitri wonders if it’s even wise at all to feel rather proud for being able to speak in this manner again. The lion he never thought he had in him. The willpower he didn’t expect to come. All because of some simple, guiding light—illuminating and enlightening his path. Is this what his deceased father waited all along? To hear him saying goodbye, to know that at the long last, he could… move on?

The warmth returns. This time it’s his eyes—there’s no mistake.

So much for raising me, he thinks, watching a transparent line quietly making its way down his cheeks. He has practically begged for his tears to come out—so much that grieving without a vent exit like this made him physically ill. But once there’s peace—

Dimitri grabs some plies of tissue by his elbow. Byleth’s note that he borrowed from the last music history class is still there, proudly laying down side-by-side with his algorithm notes. There’s peace indeed. There’s an honest dialogue that has been taking place all along, going on strong even without his acknowledgement and consent alike.

There’s light…

“Gospodin?”

“That,” he sniffs. “That will be all.”

“Gospodin, are you alright? You sound… different.”

“Very fine. I’ve never been—this fine.”

“Gospodin, are you in pain or…”

“No, no, I’m fine. Contact me again when Dyadka agrees, da?”

Dimitri kills his phone. He still needs to email his attorney later on, asking if these offers are indeed prospective and truly worth a shot. But of course he doesn’t forget that there are Felix’s and Sylvain’s rooms just around his; Dedue and Ashe’s a floor under. And then…

He swallows. Byleth is his neighbor upstairs, and he hasn’t returned her soup pot. Oh, he is a terrible cook, though—his uncle used to complain he has no sense of spices and seasonings. But at the same time he believes he isn’t that terrible as a young CEO and decision-maker, alright, because while his cooking skill will, no doubt, betray him on the spot, the places he trusts will save his soul.

… And probably Byleth’s hunger too. He has seen her digging into the cafeteria breakfast like a starving vulture, after all, and he doesn’t mind taking it to the next level in exchange for her smile. To see clouds disperse from her face. To see rainbows in her eyes...

The way she helped him navigate through this grief. This pain, this sadness and anger which they share. This life they try to reclaim—

Dimitri hasn’t closed the gallery application on his phone just yet. Lambert’s smile is there still, as though waiting for him to come home. Waiting for him when he’s ready. Lambert’s smile in the midst of winter wonderland. Lambert’s smile when he graduated high school. Lambert’s smile when he got his black belt. Lambert’s smile when…

When Lambert was his father. His alive father.

Dimitri sobs—

Tears pour out of his eyes like deluge, unstoppable flood breaking through an invisible canal. Papa, he whispers in-between, but he no longer cups his face with a pillow or tries to drown everything by burying his head with his shirt. There’s no nausea, neither is there an odd churning sensation in his stomach. True that his chest tightens that it hurts, but he takes comfort in thinking that anyone’s would; if they sob and sob and cry like he does now.

Cry?

Dimitri’s voice squeaks. He watches as the rain keeps coming down, the collar of his shirt soaking while his nose is red, cheeks smeared by tears. Tears that keep coming…

And then he smiles. This time, he recognizes the reflection in the mirror.

****

 

Sasha
I have to be honest, Miss Bayleaf.

She lies exhausted on her bed.

Physical labor is never something she dreads for, though—after all, it’s always been her forte. She isn’t without prowess and her legs can hold up just fine… most of the time, however, considering it isn’t the case this time. Waitressing is hard, that she knows it already; but throwing her apron only to don a lifeguard kit and braving the ocean multiple times?

Byleth wants the sweet release of death.

… Or at least until tomorrow, perhaps, because there’s a quiz she cannot miss. Her legs are sore. Her arms are numb. But ah, what’s more tempting than checking the phone when it’s best to go to sleep afterwards? Sometimes the more tired one gets, the harder it is to sleep.

Perhaps because she isn’t as miserable as she was prior to this, either, but who knows? Who can be so sure? True that Dimitri looked so charmingly soft that day—that, too; why didn’t anyone warn her about this? That he could be this adorable without trying?

How dare he.

Bayleaf
Yeah?

Bayleaf
No reply = dead.

Sasha
What?!

Bayleaf
I mean, I’m fucking tired. Holy shit I’ve been working like a warhorse for not-so awesome money.

Sasha
Oh. My God, I thought something happened. Like you were in danger.

Bayleaf
Haha, don’t worry, my place is safe and we’ve got a guard at the lobby.

Sasha
Oh, very pleasing to hear.

Bayleaf
Besides, turns out my neighbor downstairs is pretty attentive.

Sasha
Attentive? Attending to you?

Bayleaf
Oh, not specifically like that but can be, yes. Turns out that Slavic classmate of mine is a neighbor.

Sasha
How convenient! I hope he treats you well.

Bayleaf
VERY well, actually. I even feel rather guilty texting you like this, hmmm… I wonder.

Sasha
Guilty, Miss Bayleaf?

Bayleaf
Yes! Like… like it’s making me confused.

Sasha
He plays riddles?

Bayleaf
Oh no, no. Like… for some reason, I’ve got this doubt somehow. Like I shouldn’t be texting you? But not because you disturb me, but rather, more like… I probably should be texting him instead.

Sasha
Why not?

Bayleaf
Don’t have his number :/

Sasha
Just ask.

Bayleaf
What if he thinks I’m weird.

Sasha
You said he treats you very well. Why would he feel this way?

Bayleaf
Hmmm. You’ve got a point. It’s so odd don’t you think, literally he is a classmate and a neighbor too but then again maaan talking is hard. Words are hard to come out.

Sasha
Haha, I understand, Miss Bayleaf. Very well as well, actually.

Bayleaf
Oh?

Sasha
Oh, too many wells. Redundant.

Bayleaf
No no no, go on.

Sasha
My situation is pretty much the same. She is so close, but so far at the same time.

Bayleaf
IKR and you fear you only ruin everything if you step out of the barrier.

Sasha
Pardon, what is IKR?

Bayleaf
Oh! I know right.

Sasha
But I did not, sorry.

Bayleaf
No, no, IKR = I know right = I agree.

Sasha
Oh… if that’s the case, yes; perfect, Miss Bayleaf. Exactly. Worst, barrier is invisible.

Bayleaf
YES like that. You don’t want to be weird, but you also want to be there.

Sasha
Because the person is precious, you only want them to be happy.

Bayleaf
Precisely!

Sasha
There is this classical poetry that I adore, Miss Bayleaf, it is by Alexander Pushkin.

Bayleaf
That isn’t too far off from my subject. What does it say?

Sasha
“And for a while the feeling may remain; but let my love no longer trouble you, I do not wish to cause you any pain.”

Bayleaf
That… is perfect. Sigh. I guess. 

Sasha
Pushkin has the mood...

Bayleaf
Perhaps the people who live before us are correct after all, Sasha.

Sasha
What about?

Bayleaf
“If you love someone, let that person go.”

Sasha

Bayleaf
Oh, no. I didn’t mean to discourage you! I think you should approach her, who knows?

Sasha
No, it isn’t that, Miss Bayleaf. I learned something important today.

Bayleaf
Yes??

Sasha
When we love, we care. That person before us.

Bayleaf
Yes…

Sasha
Therefore we let them go. We make them at ease. We give peace.

Bayleaf
Ah…

Sasha
Peace is powerful. It is a great gift you can bestow for free.

Bayleaf
And here I thought you said you dealt with non-human things.

Sasha
No indeed, but this lady is very humane and I learned a lot from her.

Bayleaf
Oh?

Sasha
Yes. And I suppose, I… laid my papa to rest this way.

Bayleaf
I admire you.

Sasha
Do you? Why?

Bayleaf
It isn’t easy. I am so proud of you to be able to say goodbye.

Sasha
… Ah.

Bayleaf
Feeling better?

Sasha
Lighter. Much lighter.

Bayleaf
It’s okay. Sometimes some days ‘better’ feels too abstract.

Sasha
Yes. Exactly it.

Bayleaf
But you can do it. I believe in you.

Sasha
Miss Bayleaf, I—

Bayleaf
?

Sasha
Pardon me, that’s… no, she said the same thing.

She pauses. Where are chips when she needs them? She has been feeling much better that she donated her chips to Dimitri yesterday, with her notes which she lent him as well. Dammit. What is this sudden loneliness? Because some faceless internet stranger on a dating application is attracted to another person that isn’t her?

Sasha
And somehow I kind of feel guilty.

Byleth stops texting. Strange—so does she. As though she shouldn’t be thinking of Dimitri and texting him at the same time. As though she shouldn’t…

Byleth quickly hooks her phone with a T-kick before it slips and shatters on the floor. Thinking of Dimitri? And feeling guilty for having a rather intimate conversation with...

Bayleaf
I wonder why I feel the same thing too. I mean, this is rather ridiculous. Nobody should stop us from interacting with whoever we want, but somehow there’s this part that’s like—

… Like what? Like speaking so intimately with another person that isn’t Dimitri?

Byleth hurriedly grabs her phone again with her hands.

Sasha
Yes, I wonder myself; as if it’s best if I can talk like this with her instead.

Byleth blinks.

Sasha
I will always be your penpal (is that how you call it?). I guess right now my mind is full.

Byleth finds the last bag of chips, finally. She is glad it was there.

Bayleaf
Same, Sasha, same. You are a friend. That won’t change anything.

She munches her chips. This is odd; she is lonely, but she isn’t… sad.

Sasha
Yes. Miss Bayleaf, if I might say this to you?

Bayleaf
Yeah?

Sasha
I’m so sorry. First I am not a cute lady as you thought I was. Then it seems I can only offer you… friendship. I mean. This might be so wolfish of me to say; after all I do not own her no matter what—

Byleth smiles. 

It is lonely, yes. It sure is. But then again beggars cannot choose, and life does have a knack of meeting you with the right people at the right time; only fair for some of them to part ways when the time is no longer right.

Like her parents.

Like her mother after dedicating so many years to love her. Like her father after raising her and watching her blossoming into adulthood.

Sasha seems to be fond of this lady more than he thinks he is. Is she lonely? Probably, because if Sasha is no longer alone, she has to start being mindful with her texts. Not that she knows because she will send him… odd texts. But like Pushkin said, like that old adage says which she quoted to Sasha—the most sincere form of feeling is love, and one of the greatest gifts one can give to another is peace. And there’s comfort in peace—she has to let go. She has to start learning if not immediately; it’s not only Sasha but…

Her parents.

Her dead parents.

The shadow of her dead parents.

Bayleaf
Don’t worry, Sasha. A genuine friendship is more worthy than gold. I thank you very much.

Sasha
So do I, Miss Bayleaf. It’s so odd, we were so very sad, but now it’s lighter.

Bayleaf
Then this friendship is good. I hope she treats you much better than this.

Sasha
Same, Miss Bayleaf. This bastard better knows that you are a very kind person and he should treasure you as such.

Byleth pops another batch of chips into her mouth.

Bayleaf
Sasha?

She doesn’t want to wait for his reply to type another text.

Bayleaf
You cannot force love, though.

By then Byleth wonders if the gentle warning is meant for him or herself.

Sasha
I understand, Miss Bayleaf. But I can make a sincere good-bye :)

Byleth smiles. She doesn’t need the chips…

True—it might get lonely when your friend starts dating, but at the same time somehow she feels so at peace. There’s no grudge, no jealousy or anything; if there’s something she can point out, however, there’s relief instead because this only solidifies something else—

Byleth coughs. When Dimitri’s face comes into her mind, she realizes she isn’t bothered if Sasha truly announces that he is dating someone, anyway.

Chapter Text

Byleth drops a bunch of clothes onto her bed.

Carefully, she folds them all. One by one, sorting everything, every piece she can find. The simple bed is now filled with every kind of clothing article she managed to pull out of the closet—mostly t-shirts and shorts, with some others are other clothing articles she didn’t even remember purchasing. What is this… frilly swimsuit? A vintage scarf? A very cute sundress in floral pink? Tanktop with spaghetti straps?

Byleth sighs, separating them into a different pile for later. True that she found a thrift shop when stocking on the chips during one of those irregular trips she made after her father died—trips which she hardly can even recall anymore. Ten bags of chips, a bag of clothing articles she grabbed on the go. She couldn’t even recall what it actually was which attracted her to shop them in the first place…

She sighs louder. Now for sure she wasn’t even paying attention when packing her things as she prepared for a return to Garreg Mach. Who needs these anyway? Perhaps a grief-stricken Byleth did. Oh, wait—grief-stricken Byleth also thought she could sustain herself on ten large bags of chips for two weeks, but even then, this Byleth in the past has been constantly proven wrong.

Perhaps it was the sadness. Perhaps it was the depression. Or perhaps Byleth thought of treating herself to a well-deserved vacation under the warm San Francisco summer sun because having her world falling apart at twenty-five, is, despite whatever those good movies make it to be, not as easy as they look. There is no savior who swoops in to save the day, rescuing not only her farm, her dying parents, her failing courseworks and now finances alike and lastly herself off her feet—rather, sometimes a drama means a neglected farm, a grieving young woman and her rival-slash-friend, and another ten undisposed chip bags at the corner of her miserable room.

… Oh, she is so going to dispose these all. When the campus talked about accepting donations for victims of a Californian earthquake, Byleth couldn’t wait. Something resonates with her even stronger now that she is on the verge of losing everything—even before, her mother would always say that sharing is caring, and giving things to other people wouldn’t make a person ‘less’. She learned firsthand when Sitri donated lunches for an orphanage near her farm. She learned it from Jeralt too when he told her to share things with Leonie—some people were unlucky, and many more people didn’t receive the support they should have during the most tumultuous times that it wouldn’t hurt to be a little compassionate.

And these clothes are as good as new because they are never worn. It already feels too wicked to compare them to the famous six-word prose—for sale: baby shoes, never worn—but the grief somehow… feels relatable. She dreamed of a light in the end of a tunnel, ending all the dark times she was struggling with. She imagined waking up to Jeralt waiting on her at the table as always, reminding her that the breakfast is ready. She thought she would be saying her goodbye because she’d be at the beach, at a barbeque party—whatever it would be, and definitely not her father’s funeral…

Byleth rummages further. A normal blouse that isn’t a sundress or whatever-else found inside like the others. Strawberry motifs? She has this one? Off to the pile then. What else can she find, beach-style jean shorts, looking stylish and funky? There’s nothing stylish or funky here—she wants black clothes, she wants a witchy-hermit look that barks her will at random people to leave her alone. And...

Detective-style trench coat, in black?

… No. This one is staying.

Now all she needs to do will be sorting these things into a box. And then…

And then she can proceed moving the rest of her things from the farm to here. To her small and modest Garreg Mach apartment. From her family home. From the room she has occupied for all her life. From the farm where her parents settled, where they shared so much love with her and each other. From the initial place where she got to know what happiness was like. The closet in her old room, the vintage wooden cabinet which she snagged out of an antique store’s clearance sale, the nice smell of a wooden cabin…

Byleth stops midway. 

The box in her hands feels heavier than usual, somehow. When she steps out of the door, the corridors aren’t so quiet either—there are several people bringing boxes just like her, containing provisions they are ready to donate as well.

… And it just so happens that the resident downstairs-neighbor is out too. Byleth flashes him a little smile. Somehow her heart flutters when he returns it—even kinder, perhaps. She cannot help but notice that something is changing in the transfer student’s… something, because she cannot really wrap her mind around it. The demeanor? Stays courteous as always. Dimitri behaves just as polite as he typically does, but if she really has to point out…

Those blue eyes appear… gentler.

Gentler—more at peace, rather than ashen-somber as she would notice of him during stolen moments. Perhaps during times when Dimitri felt too weary and exhausted to keep his human skin. Perhaps when he was nothing more but a sad, sad volatile tempest.

“Privyet.”

And she starts liking it as well. The gentle tone, the soft humming, the husky guttural voice when he whispers like this. Perhaps Dimitri feels comfortable around her because she cannot, for the love of her, recall if he ever greeted anyone else like this—outside and inside the music history class alike.

“Privyet…” she nods back. Ah, somehow she is tempted to respond just the same. His eyes subtly light up. The corner of his mouth twitches a little, carving a beautiful crescent shape on that handsome face. A fair trade, she thinks—if her heart beats this fast, then it means she is truly alive. “Hi there. Up early?”

“What is up?”

“You—waking up early.”

“Oh,” again, that subtle sheepish smile. It’s probably a blessing on its own knowing that Dimitri despises hot weather because there’s more of a chance to catch him clad in a sporty tanktop—arms out, biceps shown, and sadly, framing his figure well.

Too well for her eyes, perhaps.

“It’s okay. You seem to be…”

“Different?” he asks.

Yes. Peaceful.

“Happy.” That’s all she says. “I don’t know.”

“Happy is probably a strong word…” Dimitri mutters. “Too strong. Just like this heat.”

She agrees silently.

“Regardless!” the blonde claps his hands. “I did have a great sleep.”

Now she truly smiles. “That’s a good start, Sleepmitri.”

“Yes. Feels like forever since I had one. And you?”

Byleth hates how easy his way of caring to make her heart flutter. “Same.”

“I am glad.”

So am I.

“Well,” Byleth shrugs. “I’m just going to drop this box at the donation post out there. Wanna…” now this is hard. It’s peaceful, but at the same time the chest-fluttering sensation makes it hard to look at Dimitri in the eyes—and why, she doesn’t know. “Grab tea?”

“Sure, why not? Actually, I was just running.”

“Oh.”

“And this box…” he looks at her.

“They’re setting up a donation post for the people affected by the earthquake,” Byleth says. “It’s over there, Dimitri! I’ll just put this box there as well with many others.”

“Pardon me in advance,” Dimitri scratches his head. “May I help?”

Byleth chuckles a little. “Why, these arms aren’t spaghetti. I’m good.”

“Oh, I don’t think you are bad. You are very good, actually…”

“I mean,” she clears her throat. “I’m alright carrying it alone.”

“O-oh. S-sure, sure. That and the other!” an awkward chuckle flies past his lips as well. Dimitri seems to be dying to say something, so she waits. He clears his throat again and Byleth starts wondering if the heat has become too much this early. “Do you have…”

“Yes?” Byleth nods. She smiles again when Dimitri opens the door for her that the big box in her hands won’t need to be dropped just so she can get out. “Thank you.”

“Pozhalusta. I mean, you’re welcome. You are very welcome. Eh.”

She frowns.

“Byleth, I was thinking about you last night. I wonder if...” Dimitri tails her like a loyal golden retriever regardless. “Oh, no—the box!” he quickly catches it when Byleth looks at him dead in the eyes with an ajar mouth.

“You were thinking about me last night?”

Dimitri blinks. Rapid stuttered Russian flies out of his mouth before out of reflex before he can even control it. He truly didn’t see this coming—cheeks blushing hot and redder than a nicely-seasoned grilled chicken, he drills into his lexicons and vocabularies one more time as Byleth waits, widened eyes not leaving his person. “I—”

… He really cannot say that a simple talk with a nice penpal made him realize that there’s more about her that he has been… thinking about lately. What, Bayleaf prompted him to sort out his emotions and feelings? That he has been appreciating a certain person more than he should? And just great, right as he fumbles through his words to remedy the awkwardness he has caused, his stomach…

Growls.

It really has to growl like that, huh?

“I think you are hungry,” Byleth remarks calmly, pointing at his stomach.

“I… maybe yes. Eh—haha, um…” Dimitri blushes, slapping his body out of reflex. Her eyes twinkle when his stomach simply betrays everything because it only grows louder.

“That does seem to extend beyond 'maybe',” she chuckles now. “Cafeteria then?”

“With you?”

She pauses and so does he. However it’s clear that despite the hot blush and eaten words, Dimitri doesn’t regret asking. When her small smile emerges with a nod, Dimitri knows that despite everything, he makes the right decision to ask. At least this is better. Didn’t he wake up feeling better, thus, determined to live better as well? This is a new dawn; for the first time since forever, he manages to wake up without feeling any sense of guilt whatsoever. 

It does feel good to be able to run again instead of locking himself in his room and only goes out when his classes need him. It feels superb to start the day by making small talks and contacts with his room neighbors left and right without feeling stressed. To find her by the stairs is the cherry on top of the morning and he intends not to let it be wasted as well.

At last she should know that he values her. A lot.

He lets her take him to the cafeteria. Unrepentant, he musters a smirk, reaching for a pair of sunglasses inside his pocket. Alright, he understands—perhaps not many people store that kind of thing inside the pocket of sporty shorts either, but every person has their own vices to combat, and so does he. What did it say again… ‘the cold never bothered me anyway’, right? The cold never bothers him indeed. But if other people can don a mantle casually, then he’s entitled to a pair of sunglasses.

Putting it on feels like an act of rebellion somehow. The bright sunlight cannot touch him and ruin his eyes. Cafeteria-goers won't need to look into his eyes and notice when he stutters or gets nervous. He’s ready. And he’s ready to speak with his uncle as well later—

“Dimitri?”

He gasps. The realization that he has to do this sooner or later feels so close yet so far at the same time. He knows he wants to, he knows that he has to, but now left idle with his own thoughts, shadows are merciless. So perhaps it’s best to concentrate on the present. “Yes?”

“Sorry for startling you,” Byleth says. “Just this, and then food.”

Dimitri watches as she bends to drop the box at a table where a few volunteers dock. Byleth takes a step back after giving her box. With folded arms, she watches as other people begin to approach the post with their own boxes, dropping near hers. The air seems to shift a bit because gone is the cheery atmosphere Byleth displays prior, replaced by this sudden pensiveness. Curious, Dimitri walks up to her. “Is it because of startling me? It’s okay.”

“No, it’s just…” Byleth licks her lips. “Never mind. Cafeteria it is then,” out of reflex she grabs his elbow, casually directing his footsteps towards the intended place. “Other people can give so many…” she whispers. “I wish I could do more.”

Byleth catches Dimitri’s lips twisting under the sunglasses. Is that a smile? Laughter? Is he laughing at her… cynically? “I think you did the right thing,” the transfer student remarks simply as he holds the door so that she can pass first. He glances at the donation post once again—an idea emerges in his mind. It will be interesting if he can steal a chance to speak with these volunteers. Byleth is right—he doesn’t have much to give because he only packed what he needed when he transferred, or at least what he thought he needed. But then again neither Byleth nor the donation post mentions anything about cash… “I still think you are kind. It’s one thing to give when you have, but to give when you don’t have?”

Dimitri feels a soft impact against his ribs. Her elbow parks there. Is it just a matter of visual trick since he’s bespectacled now, or is that truly a soft pinkish shade that she wears on her face? Is she blushing? Probably not. But then if yes…

“How do you take your tea again?” Byleth says, tilting her face aside so that she won’t have to see him. Her purse is already out, eagerly waiting for him to try describing what he wants so that she can help him get exactly just that.

Oh, but not today.

“Black tea. Strong,” Dimitri says, concise and to the point. His voice feels steadier that it has more weight than usual. “With lemon, please.”

Byleth blinks. Oh, so the sunglasses not only make him cooler but also dig out his superpower? Interesting. Imagine if he wears a suit.

“And how do you take your tea again?”

Her lips curve.

“What’s… wrong?” the blonde’s demeanor changes. Carefully he walks closer to her side while waiting for his tea. “Byleth…?” her name has never tasted so fitting and fine in his mouth when he calls. It doesn’t help that his voice has softened by then because there’s a furrow on her face, which he sorely regrets. “Byleth, was it me?”

This time she shakes her head. “No, no, you’re fine! Somehow I remember my father,” she waits by the counter with him. “Because he could never remember somehow. One detail recalled, another forgotten—always like that. Green tea with two sugar cubes I said, he’d get the tea right and the sugar wrong… or vice versa.”

“If it’s painful,” Dimitri murmurs. “Then I’m…”

“No. It’s good,” Byleth says. “It’s good to be able to relish in this.”

Dimitri pauses.

“... So it’s green tea,” Byleth repeats… softer. “With two sugar cubes.”

“Here’s your tea,” the waitress at the counter pushes a cup.

“And green tea with two sugar cubes for the lady,” Dimitri replies simply. “Sorry for troubling…” his eyes harbor on her. “I will not forget, Byleth.”

Byleth pauses as her purse hangs mid-air.

“Oh. Can you please get table,” Dimitri scratches his head. “Sylvain said breakfast-hunters can be mean thieves? I will be back.”

Byleth looks at him.

“There is something I don’t understand,” Dimitri replies innocently.

“Alright,” Byleth shrugs then. “But this means you’re going to return to me again, right?”

He looks at her now.

“... For… your tea. Since I’m bringing it?” Byleth blurts sheepishly. “To our table?”

“Ah, right, right! Our table!” Dimitri quickly replies. Right. What is he thinking? But it’s a good thing that Byleth clarifies what she meant—otherwise, he would have said yes.

… Now he regrets that he did not. Such a wasted opportunity…

Regardless, Dimitri blows a relieved whistle now that Byleth has completely gone from his sight. Tilting his head to watch for her, he digs into his pants, taking out his wallet… and pays for them both. Tempted by the smell of a freshly-baked sweet bun at the counter, he leans closer with a whisper. “I want this… just one.”

“Just one?”

“Y-yes. Not… not for me,” Dimitri replies sheepishly. “I mean.”

“Oooh, aren’t you very sweet!”

“No, no, no loud!” Dimitri hurriedly pays. Byleth waves at him from a table by the corner. With an awkward smile Dimitri drags a chair and hands her the bun with her money. “You got a frisbee,” he says, praying that she would accept. Praying that the bun is to her liking. Morning breeze swipes his fringes aside as he takes off his sunglasses, receiving the cup she also hands him with. 

“You mean a freebie?” she says.

“Yes. Frost bee,” Dimitri nods then.

“I didn’t know they were giving this for free,” Byleth muses. Dimitri decides not to respond to her and down his tea instead. Something odd happens. Unexpected, almost uncanny, but it’s not like it’s unpleasant. This cooling breeze. The bright blue sky outside. The typical breakfast which suddenly tastes way, way better than usual. Her eyes too, why is it so hard for him to ignore them? To look away and just sip his tea in peace?

“I… didn’t know either,” Dimitri muses. It isn’t bad to enjoy the morning like this with her. Perhaps life is brighter than he thought; but then again without the right guidance he wouldn’t know that life could be this bright. He feels energized too. When he decides to smile back, life responds even kinder… and he aims to seize the day, being smiled at or not. “Warm still. Is it the tea, or is it your hand?”

Byleth lifts her face from the cup.

Dimitri looks back…

“You,” she murmurs. “Truly know how to be sweet… without trying.”

Her chest soars when she catches Dimitri sneaking to drop a donation at the post. 

****

 

She is nervous.

Commuting back to the farm to pack up the rest of her things? Unimaginable. If there’s something she’s glad about having to return to Garreg Mach, it’s for not having to touch this place again because she knows it will be hard. The porch where her mother used to sit in the afternoon, enjoying the late sun and the breeze before it got too cold. The porch where her father would take her mother for breakfast to lighten up her mood ever since she became too weak to move as like. 

However today is different.

It’s so unplanned, admittedly, considering she drags Dimitri with her. People say that the first step to everything will always be the most difficult of all, but whatever force which drove her to approach the transfer student in the first place—she wants to thank it profusely now. It was simple. So darn simple. She contacted Leonie that she would be home to pack the rest of her things for her closet at the Garreg Mach apartment. The latter sounded glad if not enthusiastic, and Byleth prayed for luck.

“Where we go?”

Dimitri’s question startles her. They are sitting side by side on the bus. Byleth has her suitcase, but she knows there will be a couple of boxes at the farm that she can use as well. Her stomach tightens again. This question needs an answer considering she really takes Dimitri with her, anyway. “My house,” she says. “The farm.”

“Ah.”

She smiles sadly as he adjusts the air conditioner panel on top of their seats. With most of it tilting towards Dimitri’s direction, her seat is warmer and more comfortable now. Again, the little action which shows his caring side. Perhaps despite everything she and Dimitri share that trait—speak less but do more considering words are never their forte. “Dimitri,” she says then. “Why did you… just agree?”

“Pardon?”

“Other people will have questions, of course,” she responds. “Understandable.”

… The corner of his mouth twitches. “Are you a horror movie murderer? No?”

She shakes her head.

“Then what am I supposed to be afraid of?”

That answer seals her thoughts.

“Byleth,” he starts, gentler this time. “Your eyes were very sad.”

“Oh, welp. Sucks,” she forces a chuckle. “And that made you come without question?”

“No,” Dimitri kicks his backpack to tuck it between his legs so that her suitcase can rest more conveniently at her feet. “Because I wanted to.”

Byleth pauses.

“I don’t know,” the serious demeanor loosens as his hand digs back into his hair. “Back then you were just there. Unhesitating to help me,” he says. “Can’t I? Or am I only meant… to take? As people keep giving?”

Byleth averts her eyes from the ground. The bus adds more speed as they are out of the metropolitan area of Fodlan, diving further into the countryside. Slow but sure fields start to come into their sight. Cornfields, paprika fields… Dimitri’s question remains unanswered but it seems the blonde is content even though she is silent. The ride keeps going—smoother than what Byleth imagines it to be. She expected a traffic jam. She expected a packed highway. However none of it comes true because she starts seeing her stop when the bus takes a sharp turn…

And she understands.

She knows what Dimitri means, no matter how awkward his phrasing is. She has been there. She is probably still there, questioning many, many things as her birth home only gets to be more vivid in her mind. Her father, laboring himself to death so that she can stay in school while her mother receives treatment. Leonie, who takes care of everything in her absence, remote and not. Her mother wasn’t that old when she died. Her father wasn’t, either. Then why did she die? Why did her father? Why…

Why not me? I’m useless. Not even as sweet as my mom.

The morbid thought creeps into her head, but not for too long. Dimitri’s hand rests politely over her back, patting it. He nods gently at her…

“Want to cry?” he whispers.

“No,” she scoffs. “... Probably no for now. Perhaps. Maybe.”

He waits.

“But can you like…” she makes a motion with her hand, gesturing at him to slide closer. “I don’t know,” this time she whispers as well. “I’m not sure. But. You know.”

“I know. Khorosho—it’s fine,” he does slide closer, his arm slinging around her. Perhaps it’s due to reflex. Perhaps it’s something else. Yet Byleth leans her head against that arm.

“Dimitri?”

“Hmm?”

Ah, that soft, soft husky reply again.

“You’re also warm,” she mutters. “Your jackets must be really, really nice.”

He chuckles. Softly.

“Tell me about your home,” she says.

He closes his eyes. “Very cold.” Lambert fearing him turning into music and abandoning his field. Rufus sending him to sleep without bothering to explain about the different women he takes home; a few sometimes leave in the morning looking less than happy. “Very…”

“Yes?” she waits.

“I don’t know,” he admits. “Very much my papa.”

She takes turn chuckling. Same. Somehow everything is just the same, exactly why coming back is hard. There’s this urge to squeeze Dimitri’s hand somehow—can she? Will that make him… uncomfortable? What does Dimitri think of her? “Am I heavy?” she asks in a passing. He blushes and clears his throat, prompting her to laugh again. Ah, this adorable big cat. He probably thinks she’s holding her at a figurative blade point. “Go on. Be honest.”

“No,” he blurts. “But even so,” another throat-clearing. “I’m used to being your desk mate.”

Needless to say, she leans in even more comfortably afterwards.

****

 

Turns out that the farm doesn’t change a little bit.

Slowly, Byleth drags her feet towards the unattended field. There’s been weeds. The porch where her parents used to be spending a lot of time is clearly neglected because of the unmowed grass and old paint.

… It’s still the same compared to the way it was a couple of days before Jeralt’s death. When her father looked as though he was too tired to live and Byleth began to lose… everything. Sense of time, sense of reality; appetite, or Leonie’s face to something else; something-other than what is… there.

Byleth breathes. Slowly, slowly, slowly.

“Here we are,” she says then. “Welcome to my house.”

Dimitri glances around. It is probably not as big as a typical farm, but judging from the wildflower growing around the field, he can imagine how the farm must have looked like in the heyday of its glory. Crouching, he feels the soil under him, feeling it with his fingertips and smells it. “It’s a beautiful place,” he replies sincerely. The cabin looks charming too. It’s a simple wooden house, two-storey, with a warehouse and a garage. “This one?”

Byleth’s heart sinks. Of course, Jeralt’s prized tractor. “My father,” she speaks quietly. “He restored this antique tractor.”

“This is good,” Dimitri nods. “Byleth…”

“Will you come in and make yourself at home?” she says. “I can probably—I don’t know. Oh—shit. I don’t even know if Leonie keeps anything here. I’m so sorry.”

“Ssh. Let’s just order,” Dimitri replies, his tone firm but comforting.

“But,” with a heavy voice, she watches as he sits down, occupying the comfortable couch where Jeralt used to sit. Where her father used to cuddle her sickly mother as they watched anything on the TV in the evening—sitcom and whatnot alike. “Dimitri, I don’t know if…”

“I’ll take care of it,” Dimitri nods at her. “What do you want to eat?”

“What do you want to eat?” she asks back.

Dimitri shakes his head—gentler. “What makes Americans feel better when sad?”

The question tickles her. “What makes Russians?”

The corner of his mouth twitches. “A face happier than this one will do.”

Byleth wonders where even she gets the courage to do this, but the next thing she knows, she jumps into the couch. Her fingertips sneak against Dimitri’s ribs, twisting-pinching his skin there. His gasp is met with her smirk—mischievous, mischievous and vengeful now that she isn’t willing to stop just yet. Her fingers dance and make loops—they bop him on the nose, quickly making a retreat before he can react. His attempt to secure his periphery by catching her wrist is met with yet another resistance—those fingers strike a tune once more, dancing over his cheeks, playfully pinching them. “What’s that?” she teases. “What’s that, Dimitri?”

“Like that,” he finally gives in. “Like that…”

“... Closer?”

There’s a whisper. He stops fooling around as well. “Probably—yes.”

“And why?”

“I’d like to—see you,” he breathes. “More.”

“Oh?”

“Get to know you…” a heave. “Also more.”

“Really? Then at least you need to return the courtesy. You aren’t even sharing a nickname. What are you usually called, you know, for… convenience?”

“Con...venience?”

“If,” she murmurs sheepishly. “If I’d like to—to call you—” she breathes back. “More.”

Suddenly Dimitri wonders how his diminutive will sound like when it comes out of her mouth. Suddenly he has a feeling that he’ll probably like hearing it whispered or being called loudly just the same—in person, on phone, maybe, on a quiet night, when the moon looks nice. Suddenly he wonders what the sky looks like from her apartment. Actually, never mind; if she hates her view, he can actually… invite her in. What, does she think he can’t make his own pelmeni and kotlet?

“Dimitri?”

Dima.

He gasps. “Apologies,” his voice is deep but also… guttural. “I got distracted.”

“Of?”

“A realization which I should have known all along. You are—gor…”

“I am?”

Byleth’s vibrating phone on the table destroys the sudden blissful moment between them both. Clearing her throat, she sits more properly while he makes no motion to hinder her. It’s good that she receives a call because he can use the chance to tilt around, hoping to have enough time to wipe the deeper blush adorning his face.

Oh, Bozhe. Ya stradayu—I suffer…

“Leonie,” Byleth says on the phone. “I’m here. Come for dinner with us?”

Slowly, he looks at her. She nods with a smile.

… No takzhe v vostorge. But also in rapture.

“I’m here with a friend. He’s buying a ton of fast food.”

“Yeah? Grrreeeat. Free food is always nice!” Leonie’s chuckles are too cheerful to be missed—even Dimitri smiles a little bit. “Hey, By?”

“Yeh?”

“You’re feeling… fine, right?” the other girl says, tone shifting.

“Nah. But I’ve got… a support,” she hums, eyes darting back at him. He blushes. She pouts. What does it take to make him accept that she acknowledges his kind deeds towards her? That she is glad to take him there? To make him know that his acts of compassion are not as little as he makes them to be? Pinning him back onto the couch? Ticking his lips with her forefinger so that he shuts up as she praises him? “And you as well,” she inhales. “Leo.”

There’s a chuckle—louder than before. Byleth knows Leonie smirks. “Always ready to kick your ass,” Leonie says. “Alright, I’ll be there in around twenty minutes or so. The traffic sucks as fuck, By.”

“I know, right,” Byleth nods sympathetically. “Leonie?”

“Yes?”

“... You are courageous,” she mutters. “And I admire that about you.”

“The fuck. I’m gonna get there faster,” Leonie blurts, taken aback by the sudden sincerity. “Although to be honest, you’re strong as heck. I’ve always…” she breathes in as well. “I’ve always respected you for that.”

Silence. Perhaps there’s something happening to her circuits indeed, had she been an AI. The way it was comfortable and nice to frolic and joke with Dimitri, and now being heartfelt with Leonie. And she’ll talk to her afterwards; the debt, the move and everything. Perhaps she can do this, after all, and…

And Dimitri still waits with a kind smile, conveying that he doesn’t mind even though the call lasts longer than she intends to be. The blonde takes out his phone, typing—asking her if she would prefer him to move somewhere else to give her the privacy she’s entitled to. But Byleth returns the phone, head shaking, mouthing back at him.

Stay.

So he does just that.

“Leonie?” she calls again—softer.

“Y-yeah?”

“Then come here sooner than that,” Byleth says.

“If not?”

“I’ll hunt down your ass with a rake.”

“Okay,” another chuckle, and the call ends. 

Byleth breathes in.

Dimitri answers the door when their food comes. Byleth doesn’t recall that the bar they work at pays them that well, but Dimitri isn’t bluffing when he says he’ll take care of everything. The coffee table is full of everything good—from deep fried chicken tenders to hotdogs, not the healthiest choice out there but definitely will help bring some sense of comfort. Leonie’s visit is treated to a whole mess of the living room with the food boxes and a stain of honey mustard sauce on Byleth’s cheek. The girl brings them cups of classic boba tea with grass jelly and tapioca pearls as well as a few beer cans—something that makes Dimitri’s eyes light up a little because he has never tried such tea.

“So!” Leonie chuckles when Dimitri takes a generous sip. “You’re her classmate?”

“Yes. Was assigned to me. I’m transfer.”

“Ah,” Leonie hums then. “What should I call you?”

“Dimitri is fine.”

“Leonie,” she shakes his hand. “Thanks for taking care of Bylie.”

“Oh, no problem.”

“... For all of us…” Leonie murmurs, glancing at Byleth from the corner of her eyes. The latter is too busy with the fifth chicken tender she’s keen on demolishing while the TV plays some kind of rom-com that nobody pays attention to. “You made her eat,” she tones down her voice. “Real food.”

“Ah.” Dimitri nods calmly. “Then so did she,” he continues, “about me.”

Leonie shoots an understanding look and pats his shoulder. “Alright, listen up—I know the best boba places around here, so you probably wanna take notes…”

However as foods are eaten and boxes are set aside, Byleth knows that the most important part awaits. She patiently waits for Leonie to finish the last piece of her chicken nugget, flushing everything down with her boba. She still waits as the girl pops a can…

“I did what you requested, By,” Leonie says, making a very satisfied aaahhh sound after finishing her drink. “And you’re right—that tractor is worth a field of gold. Figuratively, yes, but, well, you know,” stretching her legs, she grins at Byleth. “So don’t worry. The future is bright! We’re going to save this farm. You know what, I just talked to Lorenz. He said…”

“Lorenz,” Byleth snorts. “You said his hair was insufferable.”

“Only the hair!” Leonie blushes a little. “But listen. He knows to do business—he says you can take a loan from the bank, By. This farm is reliable; you can put it as a guarantee. See? The tractor, for example. And the soil is fertile. He’ll even support us if you need to talk to a bank director or something. He trusts you.”

“Actually…” Byleth looks down. She shivers. Her boba makes a spill against the floor.

“By?” Leonie puts down her beer can. “You alright?”

“No,” Byleth nearly chokes on her words. “Listen—”

“Yes?”

“God, fuck—I’m so—”

“Byleth,” Leonie cuts in. “We talked about this. Spill it out. Don’t apologize first—at least,” she breathes. “At least let me decide that for myself, will you?”

Byleth nods weakly. It feels so odd to hear her own voice, venting everything to Leonie like this. The debt—slowly she explains to her about the attorney’s shocking discovery; Jeralt’s decision to negotiate with a loan shark because he was desperate to afford Sitri’s treatment. How she has come to pack the rest of her belongings, planning to have a property assessor visit their farm and see how much cash she can hope to fetch to pay everything back. Jeralt Eisner hardly left anything in his will besides the farm and everything pertaining to it—fortune is lost to fund Sitri’s treatments… but then again they never possessed a lot to begin with. Byleth’s own college fund. Everything. And—

“And I’m sorry,” her voice truly breaks this time. “I’m so sorry—so, so sorry for…” her sob is a layer away from being let loose. “I don’t know. Everything,” she says. “Everything.”

“By?”

Byleth gasps. Leonie’s hand darts crassly against her cheek. However instead of hurting, that slap is launched out of shock value because there’s no pain nor an ugly mark—rather, Leonie looks Byleth dead in the eyes, tears pooling around just the same.

“How dare you,” suddenly the redhead draws Byleth into a tight, tight hug. “How dare you keep me in the dark, By. I told you I regard your dad as my own family. Fuck—you don’t owe me shit. Your family has been kind to me too—I’d want to do something,” she sobs while Byleth writhes silently in her arms. “Or perhaps more than that. I’d want to do everything,” Leonie mewls. “And you’re saying, you’ve been suffering this much all along? Without me knowing? Without me knowing, By?”

“I—”

“Those texts, those calls,” Leonie ruffles her hair, lips biting hard. “I’m sorry too.”

“Well, I just,” Byleth mumbles.

“You stop that,” not-so friendly, Leonie pinches her nose. Byleth gasps again. “Fucking stop that. You just what? Suffering in silence? Grieving alone?”

Byleth’s gaze falls.

“I mean,” Leonie tightens her hug. “You’re not alone.”

“Leo…”

“You don’t have to be,” she repeats. “I’ll talk to Lorenz. I promise. We’ll sort it out.”

“I’m ready,” Byleth replies firmly—sad but also resolute, with tears that refuse to fall but also reject to dry just yet. “We’re selling this place, Leonie.”

“But,” Leonie withdraws a little, as if Byleth just slaps her back.

“It’s fine,” Byleth replies, a sad smile adorning her face. “Your apartment?”

“I’m a good tenant,” she scoffs. “Claude won’t kick me out soon.”

Byleth chuckles.

“So stop worrying about me and let us focus on you, dammit,” the redhead replies. “By…”

“It’s okay, really,” Byleth squeezes the redhead’s hand. “I’ve made up my mind. If there’s something I learned recently,” her eyes meet Dimitri’s. “Sometimes you just…” she breathes in. “Sometimes you just have to say goodbye and let go.”

Leonie pauses as her hug loses its weight. “Byleth,” a whisper. “Please.”

“I’ve spent nights thinking,” Byleth says. “I’ll do this. I know my dad won’t like it if you have to drill your ass flat just to help me with…” her chest tightens. “Money.”

“Well,” Leonie counters. “He won’t like it if you flatten yours to help him, either!”

“True,” with a calm sad nod, Byleth responds. “But he’s dead.”

Leonie stops talking. Byleth looks at her, and the two women once again lock themselves into a tight, tight hug. Warm but also strong. Byleth starts feeling her collar to get wet, but Leonie be damned, she knows she must have spilt some good tears on the redhead’s cardigan as well. “We’ll do this,” Leonie whispers to her. “Do you need anything else?”

“Help me pack,” Byleth replies just as softly. “Since you’d want to flatten your ass, I guess.”

“Sure.”

“And perhaps I can…” Byleth coughs. Her nose is stuffed. Her vision blurs, and her cheeks are very, very wet. “I can take a tour for the last time as we pack all the albums and everything,” she tries to speak. Her words are in shambles, just like her heart. “My room. Mom and dad’s room. Did you know that I broke their bed as a kid?”

“Well,” Leonie holds back another sob. “Shit.”

Byleth laughs. So does Leonie, and they let each other go to take a breath.

“Now?” the redhead whispers.

Byleth nods.

“Ready when you are,” Leonie whips her phone out of her pocket. “Lorenz?”

“Babe?”

Byleth shoots her a look. Leonie glares back with a blush.

“Byleth is here.”

“Ah?”

“She’s… packing,” Leonie murmurs. “And so am I. Well,” she clears her throat. “I mean. Can you perhaps… please come so that,” another throat-clearing. “So that we have another car. For. You know. Everything.”

“Sure. I’ll tell Claude.”

“Gosh. You are in the middle of a meeting with him,” Leonie gasps. “One does not just ghost the property tycoon like that.”

“So what. Be there in ten minutes,” Lorenz’s calm voice successfully restores some sense of stability for the grieving people in the room. “If fifteen, then the traffic.”

“... Lo?”

“Yes?”

“You’re sweet,” Leonie says. “Ah. Welp.”

“Ssh,” that’s all Lorenz says before he ends his call.

Leonie beckons at Byleth to lead her upstairs. Byleth nods—

And Dimitri tails behind her.

“Tissue?” he asks.

She dives into his arms. Again.

****

 

Bayleaf
I’m so sorry for this sudden text, Sasha, but.

Bayleaf
I’m feeling so miserable.

Bayleaf
Yet at the same time I’m hopeful and confident, you know?

Bayleaf
I don’t even know why I’m saying this, but eh.

Bayleaf
… Is it odd at all? Maybe you’re laughing, but understandable. I don’t even know right now, fuck.

Bayleaf
Um.

Bayleaf
Eh—sorry to bother you. I gotta… clean up.

Bayleaf
I guess.

Bayleaf
I hope your night has been fantastic.

Dimitri grumbles because his nose bumps against the handrails. What is it just now? Oh, his phone vibrates. How convenient, he too has been wanting to text Rufus. Byleth and Leonie have gone upstairs to start sorting things out. Byleth did invite him upstairs, but what if Leonie’s boyfriend comes in? Chivalry or not, someone has to watch the door.

Дядька, мне нужно с тобой поговорить.

He pauses. He just told his uncle that he wanted to talk.

Вероятно вскоре.

Right, perhaps this will make Rufus contact him sooner as well. Probably soon, he writes.

Это срочно—

Dimitri inhales. He tells Rufus that it’s urgent…

Пожалуйста, свяжитесь со мной.

He ends his texts by asking his uncle to contact him. Right as he weighs in whether to follow Byleth upstairs, he can hear the sound of a car making its way into the farm. A purple-haired well-dressed man wastes no time to run out of his car once he arrives, hurriedly locking it as he runs to get the front door.

Must be Lorenz, Dimitri thinks, checking on his phone once again. No reply—perhaps Rufus is still sleeping or driving to work. Admittedly, this is still early in St. Petersburg.

He frowns. Bayleaf texted him?

“Leonie,” Lorenz calls from the outside. “I’m here. It’s Lorenz.”

Ah.

Dimitri returns his phone into his pants pocket. He hopes Bayleaf doesn’t mind waiting.