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The Moonlight's Blossoms

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“You know, you’re a young woman, Byleth—have you thought of getting married yet?”

Byleth snapped her concentration from the forest floor to the sound of her father’s voice. Jeralt was somewhat of an untraditional mercenary band leader—he was once a Knight of Seiros, the most elite military soldier one could be, before leaving the order to lead his own mercenary group. His sternness overshadowed his softness, especially for his daughter.

She only snorted, lightly slapping her father’s shoulder. “Father, please. Haven’t we been over this before?”

“Hey, hey! I just want to make sure you have a happy life. I loved your mother a lot. I want to make sure you find that special someone, too,” her father replied, winking. But his tone was soft as well as teasing—he always got reminiscent when speaking of his wife, who passed away long ago.

Byleth smiled, shaking her head. “Right, right. But I’m just a young adult. I still have a whole life ahead of me—do you really want me to settle down so quickly, popping out babies, while you lead the group alone? I have my own wishes and responsibilities, too, you know.”

She cared for her father—but sometimes it seemed like he wanted to lessen any burden that came before her. But she hated it whenever he did that—she should be the one taking care of him, not the other way around, especially since she was a grown woman now. She didn’t have time to think of love or marriage—she had to think of her duties.  

Although . . . the thought of courtship did pass her mind occasionally. She remembered when she was younger, she dreamed of becoming a princess, marrying into the most prestigious of royal families, being unconditionally loved by her future husband. Of course, now that she was older, those fantasies stayed fantasies—but she blushed thinking of being romantically involved with any man. She was so caught up with fighting, strategizing, and leading, that she barely thought of romance. It would be nice to be cared by someone that wasn’t one of her troops or her father . . . but, as of now, it was unrealistic.

“Oh, look, you’re blushing! So you do wanna settle down!” he laughed. The soldiers behind them were giggling ferociously, and she turned around to give them a fierce glare, and they cleared their throats and stopped immediately.

“Father. Please,” she rolled her eyes, “You’re embarrassing me.”

He slung his arm around her shoulder, giving her a half hug. “It’s because I care about you. I don’t want you to end up like me, old and alone. Hey, how about we set up a blind date for you? What about that cute archer, the guy who always asks if you ‘come here often’?”

She guffawed. “You mean Rowan? I remember I walked past him once and he fell off his horse, ogling at me. If I married him, he’d forget to breathe.”

“That’s a bit harsh! OK, OK, what about—”

His next suggestion was cut off by the sound of a bloodcurdling scream.

Everyone was immediately alert, shouting and whispering, readying their weapons. Byleth’s father was already giving out orders, and soldiers flew past him to the sound of the shriek. His gaze fell onto Byleth, and she was already nodding.

As the troops flanked their sides, the two of them rushed ahead, leading all of them. The source of the sound was in a clearing right ahead of them, covered by the underbrush of the forest. Byleth and her father were already crouching behind it, surveying the area.

Three people, dressed in intricate military uniforms, most likely nobles, were surrounded by a group of snarling bandits. In an instant, one bandit leader was already charging at one of them, a young woman with a bright scarlet uniform and snow-colored hair. Panic rushed through her veins—if she didn’t stop the attack now, there was no doubt the bandit would slaughter the woman and her companions.

Without thinking, she charged ahead, her father shouting behind her to stop—but her legs were already sprinting. Adrenaline roared through her veins as she came upon the bandit, who was ready to lodge his axe into the woman.

Byleth let out a war cry and intercepted the attack, just before the axe was about to reach the woman—lurching forward, she stepped in between them, bracing herself for any kind of impact. The woman, shocked beyond words, had her mouth agape—and she was forming words, but before Byleth could hear them, she felt cold metal sink into her back.

She let out a strained gasp, feeling the axe crush into her bones, and stars were forming in her vision. No, no, no, no, no, this is where I die, I can’t die, I can’t, I’m too young, Father, I’m so sorry . . . Air was leaving her lungs quickly, and she collapsed on the ground.

She could feel tears forming in her eyes—Mother, will you be on the other side . . . ?

Everything went black.

 


 

Darkness. She was swimming in pitch-black darkness. She felt her body floating, an odd tingling sensation flowing through her entire form.

Is this what the afterlife is like? If so, it’s pretty shitty so far . . .

Suddenly, she was no longer in a weird, trance-like state—she felt herself being propelled forward, and suddenly she was standing in an empty room—with one exception.

At the front of the room was a throne—and sitting upon it was a young, sleeping girl. Messy green hair adorned her head, as well as intricate jewelry. Her entire body was . . . glowing. She seemed to be the only source of light in the room.

Byleth shook her head, trying to determine if any of this was real. Where am I . . . ? She gulped. Stepping forward, she tried to be as quiet as possible, but her footsteps only reverberated loudly across the room.

Finally, she was only a few feet away from the young girl. Now that she was closer, Byleth could ascertain even more strange features from her—she had pointed ears, and her attire was also odd—it was as if she was bound by chains.

Should I wake her . . . ?

Before she could even make a decision, the young girl awoke, slowly rising from the throne. She wiped the sleep from her eyes, yawning the entire time. Byleth’s throat went dry. Was this girl some kind of forgotten, old god? Would she curse her for interrupting her long sleep? She felt like a child again, being read stories of foolish adventurers who dared to defy the will of the heavens . . . was she the fool this time?

“Oh my. What could’ve brought you here?” the voice echoed to her, breaking Byleth from her thoughts. She widened her eyes, too stunned to speak.

The girl continued to stay still on her throne. “Well? Don’t just stand there! Say something! I’m just as confused as you are, you know.”

Byleth only blinked. “I . . . uh . . . who are you? Where am I?”

The girl rested her head on the chair, one arm propped on the armrest. She seemed puzzled herself. “Well, I just woke up, you know. I . . .” she trailed off, a frown starting to appear on her face. Her confidence seemed to diminish, and worry overtook her face.

“I . . . I don’t know, to tell you the truth. I . . . oh, my name is Sothis! I remember that much! It seems . . . I’ve lost my memories. Well, that’s plausible after being asleep for so long!” she chirped. Despite her apparent memory loss, the young girl was as optimistic as ever.

“Am I dreaming . . . ?” Byleth whispered.

Hearing her, the young girl shook her head. “Nope! Real as reality can ever be. Although, you did die, right?”

Her blood ran cold. How did this strange girl know what happened? And where the hell was she?

“H-How . . .”

“How do I know? I mean, I am in your conscious.”

“My what now?” Byleth sputtered, her eyes bulging out of her head. She thought she couldn’t get more incredulous, but apparently today was just full of surprises. This girl was in her mind?

Sothis smirked, “How else do you think I’m talking to you? Anyway, it seems we’re both lost, but we can sort that out later. How about we work together? You do have a nasty bandit to take care of, right?”

She didn’t reply, still staring in absolute astonishment at what was happening.

Sothis rolled her eyes, sighing, “Fine. A human like you wouldn't understand the true value of your life, right? Honestly . . . Well, it's up to me to guide you from now on, right?”

She suddenly stood, clapping her hands. Byleth’s whole body was shaking, stepping away cautiously. Sothis only furrowed her brow, clearly annoyed.

“I’m not gonna hurt you, geez! You technically have an axe lodged in your body, so I don’t know how you can get any worse than that. Anyway . . . I’ll talk to you soon. You definitely have your own problems to deal with,” Sothis explained, staring at her nails.

She was now directly in front of Byleth. Byleth looked down, and the strange girl only looked back, a mischievous expression on her face.

She was gone in a second, and so was Byleth.

 


 

Darkness. So much darkness. Floating in space, stars around her, then, the familiar clang of metal and screams—the sound of time rewinding, if there was a sound of that.

Byleth opened her eyes with a start, and saw the world in a strange, purplish tone. She saw herself taking the axe for the unknown woman, from far away.

Is that . . . me? What is going on?!

She didn’t have time to answer her own question. Without missing a beat, she was back in her own body, and she saw the bandit much farther away this time. She was stricken with shock at what was happening, but she couldn’t afford to waste time—whoever that strange girl was, she couldn’t waste being given another chance to live.

She pushed forth her body in action, this time turning around where her back was facing the white-haired woman, and her own body facing the bandit. Consumed with rage, the bandit continued screaming, his axe ready to plunge itself into both of the women, and then—

Byleth successfully parried the hit with her sword, forcing all her energy into the block—and the bandit went flying backwards, face first into his own soldiers.

She breathed a sigh of relief. Somehow, some way, she was still alive and standing—and she protected an innocent. She felt her shoulders sink in relief, but before she could allow herself to relax even more, a shout resounding in the distance came to her attention.

“Hey, over here!”

She gripped the hilt of her sword, ready to strike again, but it was the same people who were with the woman before. She relaxed her hand, seeing two men coming towards them. One was in a black and yellow uniform and had deep brown hair and skin and bright jade eyes. The other was a paler boy with blonde hair and icy blue irises, in his own black and dark blue uniform. These people . . . they were definitely nobles, but something about them suggested they were not just the standard, offshoot kind. Perhaps dukes and a duchess?

But if they were high-ranking nobility, they definitely didn’t act like them—they all gazed at her warmly and in awe. She felt her face flush just from their admiring looks.

“Um, so—” Before she could even begin questioning them, they all broke out at the same time.

“That was simply amazing! Thank the Goddess you saved us, we owe you a large debt, my lady! How do we even begin thanking you?!” the darker-skinned man applauded, bowing humbly and deeply. His face was beaming with gratitude and joy.

“Truly, we would not be here without you. Many thanks. What is your name, pray tell?” the paler boy nodded, his tone more calm. He lightly bowed his shoulders, but he was still chivalrous nonetheless.

The woman she had saved spoke up, as well. “Just as Dimitri and Claude said, we would not here without you. Thank you so much for saving me. Are you a mercenary, by chance? We are eternally grateful for your help.” She bowed as well, a graceful smile adorning her face.

Before Byleth could respond to any of their praise, the sound of her mercenaries cried from behind. They were cursing at the bandits who were now running away into the darkness. Jeralt was commanding them, and as soon as he saw his daughter, he breathed a sigh of relief and came up to the four of them.

She was just about to explain herself when she was enveloped in a bone-crushing embrace from her father. She squeaked out in surprise, but eventually hugged back. She could sense every fiber of his worry and concern.

“Byleth. Don’t ever do that again. You had me so worried . . . Goddess, I thought I was gonna lose you,” he whispered, shaking. She hardly ever saw him so worked up and vulnerable—and she felt even more guilty. She remained silent, and only hugging him harder.

He eventually let go, sighing deeply. He turned towards the nobles, who were standing awkwardly at the family reunion, clearly not wanting to interrupt the heartfelt moment.

Gruffly, he only said, “So, who the hell are you guys that my daughter found it necessary to risk her own life to save you?”

“Father! Don’t be so rude!” she chastised, even more heat coming to her face. She shook her head, sighing. “I’m so sorry about him—I, uh, never answered your questions, so, sorry about that. My name is Byleth, as you probably heard . . . my father and I lead a mercenary band, and we were out on patrol when we saw you guys under attack.” She bowed, beyond flustered.

The young woman only laughed softly, shaking her head. “No need to apologize, my lady. Indeed, we should be the ones saying sorry—you risked everything to come save a couple of strangers, and for that, we thank you again. My name is Edelgard von Hraesvelg, future Empress of the Adrestian Empire.”

“We clearly worried your dad here, so sorry about that again,” the darker skinned boy, who seemed the most laidback of the group, said, “My name is Claude von Riegan, future Leader of the Leicester Alliance.”

“And I am Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd, prince of the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus. A pleasure to meet you, and thank you so much again for your assistance,” the boy—Dimitri—said, bowing deeply this time.

Byleth didn’t think she could be even more shocked today, but apparently today was a haunted house field trip, because her jaw dropped to the floor.

First I apparently die and have a weird magical girl inside my mind making fun of me, I come back to life and rewind time—TIME—and when I do come back to life, it turns out I save ALL of the heirs of the three countries of Fódlan?!

Her entire body was wobbling and her mind was clouded with dizziness. She felt like she was about to pass out yet again, and a hand reached out to steady her—Dimitri looked at her with a worried gaze, and she felt herself blushing even harder.

Ah. Haha. Ahahahaha. The prince of Faerghus is touching my shoulder. By the goddess indeed.

“I’m so sorry, this must be taking a toll on you. It is quite shocking, isn’t it? But the reason we’re all here is that we were making our way to the Garreg Mach monastery—the military academy,” Dimitri explained, his hand still on her shoulder.

Byleth’s face was as red as a bleeding soldier. Edelgard and Dimitri seemed to think she was sick, but Claude only smirked, clearly aware of how flustered she was.

Edelgard nodded. She’s regal in every aspect. Even her head movements are so noble-like. “Unfortunately, we were ambushed by bandits, as you saw. But thanks to you we’re all alive. I can’t even imagine to think of what would’ve happened if you weren’t here. Please, how can we repay you?”

Byleth couldn’t even respond. Never in her life had so much action and drama happened—much less in a single day. Holy shit.

“Your thanks is enough. Let’s move on, By—”

“Wait! What if you came with us?” Claude interrupted. His sly smile was gone, replaced with a serious look. His arms were no longer crossed, now on his sides. He took her hands in his, and somehow, her face became even hotter.

“Like, as a student? I’m sorry, but my daughter is plenty skilled in the sword enough—” Jeralt assured, but Claude continued.

“You are obviously skilled as a mercenary and a soldier. And you defended Miss Edelgard beautifully. What if you came with us to teach at Garreg Mach? We could use talent like yours to teach the future generation of Fódlan,” Claude elaborated. His eyes were alight with fascination and wonder—had she really left that much of an impression on all of them?

“W-What?!” she exclaimed. She dropped her hands suddenly, and cursed herself for being rude, but she couldn’t help it. She was being offered a position at Garreg Mach? As in, the most prestigious military school in the whole continent?

What. Is. Going. On.

Jeralt’s face was one of extreme calm. “Garreg Mach . . . hmph. It has been a while since I was there.”

“You? Wait . . . don’t tell me . . . are you the Jeralt? The former Knight of Seiros? It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir!” the formerly calm and placated Edelgard broke her demeanor for just a moment, her eyes alight with admiration.

Now Jeralt was in the spotlight. “I . . . uh . . . yes, that would be me. How do you know . . . ?”

“Oh, sir, they always talk of you in Adrestia! They say you were the best knight of them all, and legendary in the battlefield! It seems your skill has passed down to your daughter,” Edelgard marveled, her perplexed lavender eyes studying his face like it was an ancient sculpture.

“Ah, well then . . .” Jeralt coughed. It was clear he had no idea what to say. While he was skilled in the battlefield, conversation was an entire different field—one out of his expertise.

“My, my. Well, with all of this, now you have to come with us. The legendary Jeralt and his daughter that saved us all,” Claude winked. His coy face was back again—and his eyes were boring into Byleth, as if analyzing a piece of literature.

Jeralt cleared his throat. “May I have some privacy with my daughter?”

Dimitri lowered his head. He truly was the embodiment of chivalry. “Of course, take your time. It’s a big decision. Although it is your choice, I for one welcome your help.”

The three heirs walked away, near a large oak tree, discussing their own plans. Jeralt turned to face his daughter, and sighed even louder than before. He massaged his face with his hand, clearly lost.

“Well . . . today has certainly been something, hasn’t it?” Jeralt groaned, pinching his nose with two fingers.

They both sat down on a log near a pond. Byleth could see both of their expressions reflected by the water—they were both consumed with exhaustion, noted by the bags under their eyes. But Jeralt seemed infinitely more fatigued than she did, which made the situation feel even worse.

They didn’t speak for moment, only listening to the cicadas humming in the quiet of the night. The moon was full—its light gleaming a pale, silver color. How did things change so quickly and so drastically? It felt like years since she was bantering with her father, training with her friends in the band, sinking her blade into enemies and monsters alike. But now, everything was different. She died and came back to life, she coincidentally saved the future heirs of the three major countries in the continent, and now she was being offered a teaching position in the most celebrated school in perhaps the world.

But, for some reason, all she wanted to do was go home and sleep.

Truly, she and her father didn’t really have a home—their base was always changing, and she had known sleeping in cramped tents and bunks most of her life. But Fódlan was her home. The frigid north of Faerghus, the long stretches of deserts in Adrestia, the dazzling waterfalls in Leicester—her entire life had been a journey, neverending travel, and she loved it. But she never cared to really think what she would do after she had fully matured, after Jeralt would be long gone . . . would she continue leading the group? Would she hand it off to a trusted general? Would she truly settle down, make a family, and become a docile housewife? What did her future entail, really?

“You’re thinking about all of this, aren’t you?” Jeralt asked. He always read her easily.

“Yeah.”

“It’s up to you, Byleth. I’ll follow whatever you do. But . . . if I can say something . . .” he stared into her eyes, and she felt like she was conversing with some divine, wise being, not her teasing and loving father.

“You really have the opportunity of a lifetime here. If you want it, take it. I can’t think of something more interesting than teaching a bunch of students the ways of the blade and the book—I feel like, if the Goddess really does exist, She would’ve made this happen on purpose. I don’t know much about fate, but this all seems so . . . in place. For you,” he went on, now gazing at the stars.

Byleth stared with him. She remembered so many countless, sleepless nights of just gazing at them until she fell asleep—by now, she memorized most of the constellations. Different patterns and stories of the great Ten Heroes, embedded into her mind. She wished that they could give her guidance now. She was never sure of her future, but now . . . everything had changed. She felt her heart beating against the black armor of her breastplate, and she closed her eyes.

That strange girl . . . Dimitri, Edelgard, and Claude . . . Father . . . Mother. Mother, what should I do? I wish you were here . . .

She turned her head towards a nearby lily. It started to blossom, its petals reaching towards the moon.

Perhaps that was a sign in of itself.

She stood, patting away the dust from her armor. Jeralt stood with her, looking at her without any sort of emotion betraying his thoughts.

“You’ve decided.” It wasn’t a question.

She firmly nodded.

He already knew, it seemed.

She walked confidently towards the three nobles, who were still discussing various matters. They saw her approaching, and immediately straightened their stature.

“Have you decided? We would love to have you, but we understand if you do not want to go,” Dimitri asserted.

“I have. Take me to Garreg Mach, your Highnesses,” she deeply bowed, one hand over her heart, as she got on one knee.

They were all astounded—not just by her respect, but by her decision. Edelgard stumbled for words, Claude was scratching his neck awkwardly, and Dimitri seemed to be blushing.

“Please, no need for such formality. We’re friends now, aren’t we? We’re equals,” Edelgard declared, a warm smile on her face.

“I agree. Please stand. I’m more used to assassination attempts than people prostrating,” Claude joked, although he was clearly overwhelmed by her show of respect.

“Like they both said. We should be bowing to you, really,” Dimitri smiled. He seems like he doesn’t smile much . . . Byleth thought. She couldn’t help but smile back. He offered her his hand, and she gladly took it. It was warm, for a person with such an icy-looking face.

As she steadied herself, her father appeared before her. “Well, we better get going. The soldiers are still riled up after that whole ordeal.” Jeralt nodded towards the nobles. “Looking forward to traveling with all of you. It’ll be nice seeing Garreg Mach again.”

“Of course,” they all said at once.

Soon, their entire group headed to the monastery—and the journey began.

Byleth looked back at the lone lily.

A blossoming flower. I’ll take it, mother. I hope this is the right thing to do . . .

Chapter Text

As Byleth sunk into the white satin of her new bed, she stared blankly at the ornate ceiling above her.

She hadn’t had time to shower or even eat—they arrived in the morning at the monastery, and while it definitely was impressive, her day was more of a celebratory event than anything. She was busy with touring the school, meeting all the students and teachers, and observing the Knights of Seiros in action. Only now did she actually get a chance to relax.

Her muscles were sore from the trip and walking all day, and more than anything, she needed a nap. But she couldn’t seem to sleep. She couldn’t look to the stars, either—only classical art of the Divine Seiros was painted above her.

Byleth never really thought much about religion—her father wasn’t religious and didn’t try to raise her as such. She didn’t remember much about her mother’s faith . . . and of course, she was more worried about life and death than believing in saints and the Goddess. Besides, she always reasoned to herself, if the Goddess really did exist, why didn’t she prevent all the death and bloodshed and senseless wars that had plagued Fódlan for centuries?

But now . . . everything was different. There was no scientific way to explain what happened the night before. Of course, maybe it was something related to magic, but . . . the girl she met seemed so old, despite her young appearance. And her attire . . . for some reason, it reminded her of something a priestess would wear. It also didn’t help that everyone she met also kept constantly mentioning that her circumstances were so bizarre that it had to be the Goddess’ workings.

Whatever it was, it was unexplainable. And Byleth hated the unexplainable. She wanted to know the reasons and causes for anything and everything, and this was the first time in her life where she simply didn’t know.

She sighed heavily, turning to her side. She was in a fancy nightgown, probably worth more than all the fortunes she had ever acquired with her mercenary group. All of this formality, these fanciful meetings made her worn out—she felt like some important noble when she was just the opposite.

Did I really make the right decision . . . ?

She thought back to her journey towards the monastery—conversing with all the nobles, getting to know them better. They were quite amicable for future leaders.

“Claude? What was it that you said earlier, about ‘assassination attempts’?” Byleth had asked. They had been walking in their own small group, with her father far ahead of her, conversing with the rest of the band.

Claude threw his head back with laughter, tears springing from his eyes. She first thought he was about to admit that he was joking, but then he replied, “Ah, it’s no big deal, really. The Leicester Alliance is filled to the brim with unruly and envious nobles. I’ve gone through this since I was born.”

Byleth raised her eyebrow. “I . . . can’t imagine having to fear for your life constantly.”

“Who said he was afraid?” Dimitri asked, letting out a rare laugh. At the sight of his remark, Byleth smiled—again, she got the feeling, that for some reason, he didn’t laugh or smile much—or perhaps he didn’t allow himself to.

Claude happily responded, “Exactly! Fear not, my lady, for I am the bravest of all in Leicester, nay, Fódlan! Let me protect you from wicked evildoers!”

“She’s no damsel in distress, you know,” Edelgard chimed in, albeit quietly. Byleth glanced at the young woman—Edelgard, out of all of them, had probably gone through the most, especially to assert her right to throne. For that, Byleth admired her—and she felt like the two of them would become fast friends.

“Ah, forgive me if I insinuated otherwise, Miss Edelgard! I just wish to be a martyr, protecting humankind from all naysayers and heretics—behold, the power of my mighty bow!” Claude continued his antics, this time trying to get an arrow in his beautifully handcrafted bow. Edelgard continued to tease him as he fumbled, and they ended up falling farther behind Byleth and Dimitri.

Byleth’s neck began to flush again. She was standing, alone, with the prince of Faerghus—but she didn’t know why she was so flustered. Maybe her younger self was resurfacing, bedazzled by walking next to and even befriending a handsome young prince.

Handsome . . . well, she supposed he was quite good looking. His hair was a bright golden color, looking casual yet formal. He had a calm, yet well meaning expression. And his eyes, while piercing, seemed to hold much compassion. She was horribly drab compared to him—her teal hair was always messy and she was self-conscious of her own haircut, her skin was marred with bruises and scars, and her eyes were too big and doe-like. She was like a plain ragdoll compared to an expensive jewel. She always envied the other girls in her mercenary group, because they somehow managed to stay beautiful and prim while also mercilessly killing monsters and men.

Dimitri didn’t just excel in looks alone, though—he seemed to be the most empathetic of the whole group, Byleth surmised. He always checked up on her group’s soldiers to see if they needed food or water, relentlessly thanked Jeralt for allowing her to go with them, and she even noticed he would step aside if a colony of ants were passing through.

“Hm? Oh, is there something on my face?” Dimitri suddenly inquired, absentmindedly rubbing his cheek. She realized she had been staring at him this whole time.

Damn it, Byleth, hold yourself together! If you’re gonna stare, at least do it from a distance, not right next to him!

“O-Oh, n-no! Sorry, um, I just got lost in my thoughts . . .” she stuttered lamely, now looking at the ground in embarrassment. She subconsciously gripped the hilt of her sword again. It was a sort of coping mechanism at this point.

Dimitri only smiled, looking forward. “Contemplation is a sign of wisdom. What were you thinking about, if I may ask?”

Goddess, how is he so smooth all the time?

“U-Um . . . well, just about everything, I guess. I mean, how often does this kind of stuff happen? I almost die protecting you guys, turns out you’re all princes and a princess. And now I’m teaching at Garreg Mach. Garreg Mach! Where my dad used to be a knight! It’s . . . weird,” she confided. She felt like she was blabbering her mouth off, so she worriedly looked at his expression—he caught sight of her glance, and he only smiled back.

“Of course. It’s very unusual. It just doesn’t happen to anyone, you know. But maybe it’s a sign of favor from the heavens—maybe you’re destined for something great. I don’t think you’re any ordinary soldier, Byleth,” Dimitri mused, looking at the clouds now.

Byleth cocked her head. “Not ordinary?”

“Oh, I don’t mean that in a negative way. It just all seems so fateful . . . but perhaps that is for the better. I know I’m grateful to have met you. I do hope you decide to teach the Blue Lions.”

“Decide? Blue Lions? Is that like a fraternity?”

“O-Oh, n-no! My, I really need to explain myself better,” Dimitri stuttered. For a brief second, his composure was lost, and now he was the one blushing. “The school is split into three main houses—the Blue Lions, the Black Eagles, and the Golden Deer. Of course, I lead the Blue Lions, students from Faerghus; Edelgard leads the Black Eagles, those from Adrestia; and Claude leads the Golden Deer, students from the Leicester Alliance.”

“I think I understand. So what are the main differences?”

He went on to explain all the different specializations in combat and magic the houses were adept in—and she felt herself drawn in and fascinated by all of it. Garreg Mach, she heard, was famous for its unification of the once warring countries—and it excelled precisely because of the system of houses. It was all so complex yet understandable.

“Wow . . . That’s all really cool. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anything like it,” Byleth admitted. They were walking side by side, and she couldn’t help but take note of all of the prince’s mannerisms—his every step was one with purpose, precise and graceful. He took things into consideration heavily. And his concern for others was genuine—while Claude and Edelgard seemed to be deeply caring, Claude seemed to have something hidden behind that easygoingness. And Edelgard’s noble air seemed to be a wall between her and others.

Dimitri, though, seemed fascinated and intrigued by every little detail—and sincerely so. But, that nagging sensation returned to her, that perhaps there was something more to him—his smiles were warm, but they were strangely . . . sad.

She shook it off. Perhaps she was overthinking it. She had only just met them, after all. There was no point in over analyzing them. Especially Dimitri.

“Truly, one would think the system would divide more than unite. But it seems to have increased cooperation,” Dimitri stated, “And like I said, it’d be an honor to have you teach me and the other students of Faerghus. But, of course, that’s up to you.”

“You keep saying that but I’ll still feel bad if I don’t pick you guys,” Byleth joked, and Dimitri chuckled heartily.

Byleth rubbed her eyelids. Dimitri was nice. Really nice. Maybe too nice for her brash, awkward self. She wondered if she truly deserved his camaraderie—really, any of the nobles’ friendship was an honor she felt like she didn’t deserve.

She was tempted to sneak out of her bedroom—the place was beginning to feel claustrophobic. She even heard footsteps outside—from giggling and rebellious students, no doubt. But the lull of sleep dragged her into its comforting black oblivion—after being on her feet all day, she needed rest.

She closed her eyes, and accepted the darkness.

 


 

The towering arches of Garreg Mach monastery still impressed Byleth, even after seeing them so many times.

It was now two weeks since she arrived at the monastery, and she was going through a sort of student-teaching training period, from Professors Manuela and Hanneman—learning the ropes of teaching, making lesson plans, assigning interactive projects, and keeping students engaged. It was all so much and overwhelming—the most teaching she had ever done was simply helping lead her mercenary group with her father, and that was it. But it was a military academy, and the subjects were all rooted in strategy, combat, and magic—which she was skilled at, so she wasn’t too worried.

She had now met all the students from the respective houses, and they all were colorful and charming in their own ways. Dedue from Dimitri’s house was strong and silent, but endearing within. Ferdinand from the Black Eagles was confident and regal, yet his “rivalry” with Edelgard was somewhat entertaining. And, Lorenz was . . . well, he was certainly a stereotypical noble, but she could tell he was serious about his duties, especially when it came to protecting Claude.

The sheer beauty of the monastery still never failed to astonish her—she remembered first setting her eyes on it, with her father at her side. While she was beyond amazed, he simply had a nostalgic smile on his face. The architecture was gothic and beautiful—long, ancient arches surrounded by sky-touching castle towers, all nestled in the natural fauna of the craggy mountain. It was surreal to even be standing inside it, and yet incredibly enchanting.

The inside was also captivating—marble walls, ceilings reaching to infinity, candelabras decorating every corner. The art was also breathtaking—gazing at pictures of the Goddess and the Divine Seiros felt like she was there a thousand years ago. Visiting classrooms felt straight out of a dream, whether it be inside or outside—students sparring with each other, lifting objects with their magic, or learning about the extensive history of Fódlan. It was no wonder Garreg Mach so acclaimed, for it was truly distinguished from any other normal school.

With all this information, she had still yet to decide which house to choose. Claude’s house certainly was the most carefree and eccentric, with Raphael’s passion for food and socializing making him a lovable member of the house, Hilda’s easygoing and frivolous personality easily getting on the nerves of others (but still adored), and Lorenz’s flirtatious yet serious attitude caused him trouble yet admiration. Edelgard’s house, the Black Eagles, were also an interesting cast—Hubert was a bit scary at first, but he seemed to deeply care for Edelgard, Ferdinand was the epitome of a challenging noble, and Dorothea was a kind and aspiring girl.

For some reason, though, Dimitri’s house interested her the most—Felix seemed like the typical, sarcastic myrmidon, but Byleth could tell he truly cared for his childhood friend, Mercedes was as sweet as sugar, and Dedue was gentle as a butterfly, despite his intimidating demeanor. It all seemed like one large family—Ashe being the rambunctious and easygoing little brother; Sylvain being his older brother who constantly teased him; Dedue being the father of them all; Mercedes, compassionate as a mother; Annette, the timid little sister; Ingrid, the cool older sister; Felix, the standoffish yet cool cousin; and Dimitri, the eldest one who looked after them all. It was strangely sweet.

A part of her also wished for a larger family. She loved her father dearly, but it felt so small and limited sometimes. Sometimes she wished she had siblings, or her mother was still alive. To have friends who were like family would be . . . nice.

Of course, then there was Dimitri. She mostly maintained herself around him now that she knew him better, so thankfully her stutters and sudden blushes didn’t suddenly overtake her. She felt like she could talk to him about anything forever—he was skilled at the lance, and she once asked him why he chose the weapon and he and her conversed about the art of combat for two hours in the gardens. She never thought in her life she would befriend a prince, and even if she did, she assumed they’d all be snobby, creepy nobles—but Dimitri was so different. He had the princely air of dignity and intelligence; but that’s because he was—many princes and princesses were trained to only act righteous and kind because of their image, but she felt Dimitri was truly himself out of all of them.

He seemed more than that, though, which compelled her to want to be closer to him—while he was talented in academics and etiquette and combat, there also seemed to be more to him than he let on. She saw it sometimes in the days she had gotten to know him—sometimes, she thought, he was holding himself back from truly enjoying the moment.

He was an enigma; more so than Sothis or Garreg Mach or the Goddess Herself—and enigmas intrigued Byleth, to the point where she had to solve the mystery itself.

Then there was the fact that she just liked him—he was open and genuine and just plain nice. He didn’t treat his retainers or guards or commoners like they were lesser than him. He always had a smile on his face when he greeted her. If she was feeling troubled, she came to him first.

She was walking through the courtyard after touring the barracks—there was still so many people to meet, and everyone wanted to meet the famed savior of the three future leaders of the countries of Fódlan. Her arm was sore from just shaking eager hands and accepting enthusiastic hugs. She wasn’t used to the attention, and she felt bad for not appreciating all of it—but she just wanted to actually start teaching, and hopefully fade out of everyone’s mind. Apparently, she was next scheduled to meet the current Archbishop of the Church of Seiros, who was impressed with her deeds and talent.

Just another ordinary day, you know.

Byleth was about to return to her quarters when she heard the familiar sound of silver on silver—she whipped her head to the source, only to find Felix and Dedue engaging in a duel with Dimitri. He was fending off the both of them at the same time, which was even more impressive—Dedue lunged forward, trying to connect his training sword with his lance, but he successfully knocked him back without even blinking. Felix then tried to get a swing on his side, leaping forward, but it was to no avail—Dimitri countered it easily, even knocking the sword out of his childhood friend’s hands. Droplets of sweat flung from his hair, and a victorious smile stretched out on his face, and Byleth couldn’t help but watch and admire it all.

As he laughed and wiped the sweat from his brow, Byleth coughed quietly, trying to mask her oncoming blush by putting her hand over her mouth. Everyone’s head turned towards her, and she immediately straightened her posture.

“Oh, Byleth! It’s nice to see you!” Dimitri gave a half-smile, still sweating from the exercise. Dedue tried to offer him a handkerchief but he politely declined.

Noticing her, Felix smirked, “Enjoying the show, Miss Byleth?” Felix was a keen swordsman and seemed to have caught onto the fact of her particular favor towards Dimitri, and never ceased to tease her about it.

Instead of succumbing to his jest, she merely gave a closed-eye smile, and lightly bowed. “Of course. It’s my favorite one to watch.”

Dimitri simply shook his head and bowed lightly to Byleth. “Excuse his teasing, Byleth. What has brought you here today?”

She wasn’t necessarily aiming to visit them, but in her meandering she happened to come across them. “Er, I was just strolling and noticed you guys and decided to watch. All of you are such talented fighters.”

Dedue let out an affirmative grunt, although an appreciative one. Felix grinned and stayed silent (for once). Dimitri humbly nodded, continuing to speak.

“Worthy praise from someone as talented as yourself. How are you enjoying your training so far? Do you know when you’ll start teaching?”

“You better choose us, you know! You won’t get better men than this—although, I’m not sure women can get with this boar here,” Felix winked, slinging his arm around Dimitri’s shoulder. He waggled his eyebrows and Dimitri only sighed. He seemed used to his childhood friend’s teasing manner.

Byleth lightly laughed. He wasn’t necessarily wrong—many of the men were attractive, not just in looks alone. She also admired the beauty of the other girls—Mercedes hair was always styled so perfectly, Ingrid’s makeup was flawless, and Annette was just plain adorable.

She finally responded, “I’ve been liking it. Professor Hanneman is very absorbed in his studies and really smart, and Manuela is very skilled herself. Although they don’t get along very well.” She let out a small giggle—she never quite understood the two’s aversion to one another. Perhaps it was an ongoing competition?

“Ah, I’ve forgotten about how those two dislike one another. Perhaps it’s some dramatic rivalry. Manuela would definitely enjoy something like that, considering she used to be in the opera,” Dimitri mused, one finger on his chin.

“Whatever it is, it’s annoying. I remember one time Manuela told her student to steal one of Hanneman’s candles because she ran out of some, and then he told one of his students to steal her entire lipstick supply as revenge. It was chaos for weeks,” Felix dramatically sighed.

The three of them all laughed, and even Dedue slightly smiled. A family . . . yes, that’d be nice, Byleth thought to herself.

Byleth added, “I should start teaching very soon, though. I think I’m starting to get the hang of things.”

“And that means you’ll just have to teach us. Good-looking men and women, amazing fighters, and a close-knit family to rival the others—what more could you want?!” Felix pressed, speaking with his hands dramatically. He waggled his eyebrows even more, one hand on his hip.

Before Dimitri could chastise Felix again, Byleth spoke. “I . . . actually have been giving it some thought. And I want to teach the Blue Lions.”

Everyone’s attention snapped towards her—Felix loosened his hand on his hip, eyes wide, Dedue rose an eyebrow, and Dimitri’s eyes fixated on her in surprise.

Maybe she spoke too soon or contemplated too rationally in this, but . . . she was confident in her decision. Everyone in the Blue Lions were so interesting and diverse, and while many of them seemed careless or reckless—there was true care deep within them, which she treasured above all else. They were steadfast and loyal, and she felt like she could tell them anything. Dimitri, too, was someone on a league of his own—she wanted to get to know him better, and she felt like teaching the house would be the best way to do that.

Everyone, at once, cheered and applauded her, piling praise and congratulations. She sheepishly grinned, but she welcomed their enthusiasm. She caught sight of Dimitri, who was standing right next to her—and for once, she felt like his smile didn’t hold even an ounce of melancholy.

 


 

It was the first day of class, and she was the one who was late.

After telling the officials she would teach the Blue Lions, it only became hectic from there. She finally got a classroom of her own, and the night before she stayed up devising lesson plans, a syllabus, potential assignments and essays, and debating whether or not she should give homework on the first day of school.

She received many lessons and much feedback from Manuela and Hanneman, and they seemed to have differing opinions on how one should properly teach. While Manuela was more eccentric and carefree with her teaching style, Hanneman was more practical and strict—and when Byleth had asked the both of them which was better, they started bickering for half an hour before she could even interrupt the two.

So not only did Byleth stay up the whole night trying to memorize her introductory speech, she was also debating how she should even teach. Would being too lenient make the students think they could get away with slacking off? Or would being too strict cause unwanted tension? She supposed that she could make some kind of compromise. But how does one even begin mixing those two mentalities?

I could just be myself. But is “myself” even good enough as a teacher? These thoughts plagued her the entire night, so much so that she didn’t get a wink of sleep. She was currently running on a magic potion Manuela had given her the day before that increased stamina, and she hoped that it wouldn’t make her too frantic . . . especially on the first day of school, when impressions were everything. She knew she shouldn’t worry too heavily—after all, she had met the Blue Lion students before, so it’s not like they’d hate her at the beginning of the semester. Still, that ever-present anxiety consumed her entire being.

As she sprinted down the endlessly long halls of the academy, she realized how much of a mess she looked like—her hair was barely combed, she didn’t have time to wash her face, and papers were flying out of her book. She just prayed to the Goddess that she wouldn’t get taunted about it.

She finally reached her classroom, already out of breath—she was panting like a crazed wolf, sweat dripping down her forehead. She coughed, trying to compose herself, and took a deep breath.

The doors swung open, and she walked in, trying to be as nonchalant and confident as possible—sort of like she intended this to happen. (As if anyone would believe that, but still . . . ). She strolled passed the murmuring students, who were whispering to each other—most definitely on her lateness—and she finally got to the front of the room. Dimitri was seated near the front, and he only gave her a concerned stare.

Of course he worries about my wellbeing, not if this is appropriate. Now I feel even more guilty . . .

“Ahem. Thank you all for patiently waiting. So sorry for being late, but that’s in the past now. Now, where shall we begin?” she started, flipping open her books, studying the pages and her notes. Confidence is key, she thought. If you act unbothered by it, they will too. It seemed like her mentality was working—the murmuring stopped, and all the students were rapt, their eyes fixated on her.

After scanning through the book—annotations and bookmarks over the subjects she wanted to cover first were scattered throughout it like a mad scientist’s journal—she thought maybe starting off with academics first would ease them into combat, and hopefully improve it in some way. Looking up, she serenely smiled, and started speaking, hoping she gave off a dignified aura.

“Welcome to Garreg Mach monastery. I’ve met you all before, but I will be your teacher this year, and I look forward to working with all of you. Call me teacher, professor, Byleth—I’m good with anything, really,” she strode across the classroom, making sure to maintain eye contact with everyone, “Here, you’ll learn everything you need to know about combat, magic, history, and more. I’m not gonna require you to write ten-thousand word essays, but I’m expecting you to work as rigorously as you can.”

She paused, standing in the middle of the classroom, and everyone’s gaze was still pointed towards her. She finally smiled, “I chose to teach the Blue Lions for a reason, so I expect the best out of all of you. Put in all your talent, effort, and hard work, and I will ceaselessly be proud of you.”

There was silence, and Byleth worried that perhaps she spoke too much or too arrogantly. Everyone was staring at her, but she couldn’t discern what was running through their minds.

Before she could say anything, Annette stood up and started clapping. “You’re so cool, Teacher! And it’s just the first day of school!”

Byleth’s face got warm. “O-Oh, why, thank you—”

“Of course, we have to expect only the best out of you as well, right, Professor?” Felix smiled, although he was impressed as well.

“Don’t get too cozy, Felix,” Ingrid giggled.

“Y-Yeah! I mean, even if you don’t do your best, you’re still cool, Professor!” Ashe excitedly exclaimed, stars in his eyes, his hands clasped together.

“Geez, Ashe, way to suck up to the teacher on the first day. Be a little more subtle,” Sylvain drawled, who was about to put his legs on his desk and lean back, but once he saw Byleth’s stern glance, he immediately straightened his posture.

“You could at least learn some matters, Sylvain,” Mercedes daintily teased.

Dedue firmly nodded, “I agree.”

As all of them started bickering and teasing each other, she felt a hand being placed on her shoulder. She blinked, seeing that it was Dimitri, who had gotten out of his chair to make the gesture.

“You’re already doing great,” he warmly asserted, the ends of his mouth in a small smile, “Thank you again, for choosing us. I’m sure you’ve made all of them, including me, quite happy.”

She gaped at him in surprise. “Thank you . . . that means a lot.” The sensation of his touch was consoling. She was glad, as the seconds ticked on, that he didn’t move it.

As the two of them spectated the Blue Lions arguing, cheering, and discussing, she let out a small giggle. “It’s nice to have this. It’s like one big family.”

She could sense the weight of his gaze on her. He must’ve been stunned that she said that, because he was silent for a long time.

He said softly, “Yes, you’re quite right, I suppose. I’m glad you chose ours, then.”

 


 

“Teaaaaaaaacher! When will we get to sparring?! I want to pick up the blade and challenge Felix!”

Class had just started, and Sylvain was already eagerly at Byleth’s desk, pleading his case. She had been teaching at Garreg Mach for a month now, and she was mainly going over academic subjects—the history of Fódlan, the legends of the Ten Heroes, the theocracy of the Church of Seiros, the engineering aspect of weapons. She decided to start with the technical side of things first in order to ease them into combat—while they probably already knew the basics of fighting, she decided it was important they knew other things as well, such as alchemy, politics, science, etc.

“Hah! As if you even deserve to be challenged by me!” Felix roared with laughter, and Sylvain pouted, yet again starting another argument with him. She was used to this by now and just let them squabble.

Rolling her eyes, she walked towards her desk, casually skimming her latest book—War and its Machinations, by Countess Galatea Belmont. She needed to study more strategy if she were to be both leader and tactician of these students.

She suddenly shut it, slamming it on her desk. That caught the attention of everyone, even Sylvain’s one-sided fight with Felix.

“Actually, Sylvain, you’ll get your chance in about two minutes. We’ve finished our academic unit, and now we’ll move onto one-on-one combat, starting today,” Byleth announced, a sly smile gracing her face. All the students whooped with jubilation, knowing they would finally start fighting.

Hell yeah! Oh, um, I mean, heck yeah!” Sylvain hooted, instantly slapping his mouth over his vulgar language. Felix started teasing him yet again for cursing in front of the teacher, but Byleth waved it off.

“Now, now, you guys know I don’t care what language leaves your mouth. We’re all about the same age anyways,” Byleth interjected, and Felix simply pouted.

“Awesome! Wait, what did you mean by ‘two minutes’ exactly? Are we leaving now?!” Sylvain jolted with anticipation, and Byleth could practically see the energy coursing through his blood.

Byleth smirked, “Yes, we’ll leave in two minutes. To test your guys’ current level of skill, I’ve decided all of you will face me in one-on-one combat to see who will win, and what you can improve. This will be a learning experience for me too.”

“Hurrah! I’m so excited I can ba—wait, what?!” Sylvain started off with wonder, then quickly widened his eyes, realizing Byleth’s words. His jaw dropped to the floor, and all the students started whispering instantly, wondering who could possibly win against their teacher.

“You heard me right. And since you’re so excited, you’ll get to go first!” Byleth smiled, clasping her hands together.

“I-I . . . u-u-uh, I c-can’t . . . Teacher, how am I supposed to win against you?! You defended Edelgard, Claude, and Dimitri against a team of bandits all by yourself!! And you’re a lady, I can’t possibly—”

“It’s just one-on-one, Sylvain. And you better drop your chivalrous mentality now, or else you’ll be killed on the battlefield if you happen to find yourself across a female soldier who wants your rip your heart out of your chest,” Byleth chirped, casually walking past the stunned student, “Now, everyone, to the courtyard. Let’s see what you’ve got!”

Everyone started following her one by one, all the students babbling with fear, excitement, or both. Dimitri was at her side, as he usually was. She’d grown used to his accompaniment, and was secretly grateful he was always at the front of the room—it was reassuring to have him there, whether to steal a knowing look or an inside joke.

“What an interesting way to assess your students, Teacher. Although, I suppose this form of diagnostics is the best way of going about it,” Dimitri remarked as they neared the door to the courtyard. The sun was shining through brilliantly, casting its light right onto his face—his normally light skin was a warmer tan, his eyes a darker blue. She couldn’t help but admire all of it.

Byleth simply hmphed and let out a chuckle. “I thought I told you to stop calling me that, Dimitri. I knew you before I became a teacher, so Byleth is fine. You’re my friend.”

Dimitri raised his eyebrows, but only nodded. “Of course, Byleth.” He shielded his eyes as they went outside. “I’ve noticed something about you.”

“Hmm? And what is that?” she playfully hummed, glimpsing now at him. He really was more alive in the sunlight.

“You’ve become more confident since you became a teacher—and a more confident teacher in general. Experience and time are truly the best pair to have, and it seems you’ve mastered it,” Dimitri noted. He was so genuinely admirable of her—and she swallowed hard, trying not to betray any emotions.

She couldn’t help it, though. Whenever he complimented her, it felt like a gift from the Goddess. She nervously laughed, “Well, thank you. Although I can’t say I’ve mastered it. I still have a long way to go. But I do think I’ve definitely become better at it.”

“It’s good you recognize that. You can never underestimate yourself.”

“Thank you, Dimitri.”

Finally, they were in the middle of the courtyard, with plenty of space to spar. Everyone tried to get behind each other in a line, and Sylvain was still trying to get someone to take his place. Dimitri ended up last in line, coolly observing her from afar.

“Alright, alright, settle down, everyone. Sylvain, you’re up,” she proclaimed, and Sylvain reluctantly went up to her. He was obviously nervous—she had to go a little harder on him, to show him how he couldn’t let his biases prevent him from fully putting his all into combat.

She brought her trusty silver sword—it was nothing special, but still a precise and handy weapon. She remembered her father gifted it to her when she was thirteen years old, and she fell in love with it. It was fast yet sturdy, light yet deadly. It was the same sword she used when defending Claude, Edelgard, and Dimitri on that fateful night.

Sylvain was gripping tenaciously on his lance—although he had the advantage when it came to weapons, she had experience and her own confidence. She would win, no doubt, but she couldn’t let her self-assurance consume her.

Byleth narrowed her eyes, focusing on the redhead ahead of her. She raised her sword to a fighting stance, and beckoned to him with a singular hand motion.

Sylvain fidgeted—just for a second—and she took that opening. Before he could even blink, she practically teleported to where he was standing, lunging her sword straight to his torso. Caught off guard, he lost his balance and yelped, and in a frenzy, lifted his polearm in an effort to block any impact. He managed to stave off her blow at the last possible second and hastily regained his footing.

“Don’t allow your enemy even a second’s worth of an opening! And forget my gender, for a second, will you? Fight with all you’ve got!” Byleth yelled, gripping onto the hilt of her sword. She hadn’t even started sweating yet.

Sylvain started to say something, but she cut him off, “And never underestimate yourself!”

She evoked Dimitri in her words, and she already felt like Sylvain was starting to get the hang of it. She could see his stance improving, his eyes more focused, and his legs ready to leap at any second.

“Good, good! Now prove yourself through your actions!” she barked. In an instant, she was charging towards him, and she could hear the oohs and ahhs of the students around her. She bit her lip. Her mouth still tasted like the buttery pancakes she had eaten earlier for breakfast.

Sylvain immediately prepared himself, this time not remaining still—he charged back, letting out a rallying cry, and their two weapons met with a loud crack. The steel of his lance met ferociously with the silver of her sword, and the two struggled for dominance. It was like they were arm wrestling, but with weapons—and it was getting harder to maintain Byleth’s balance. While he had the advantage of a longer-reaching weapon, Byleth’s sword was easier to wield. She could already see his arms starting to sag with soreness, and she found her opening again.

She forced all her strength into her hold of her sword and swung forward. Sylvain let out a gasp, and his arms went limp as his lance fell the ground, and in less than a second her sword was pointed towards his face as he stumbled to the floor.

Everyone broke into applause (Felix was jeering the loudest), and Sylvain was still starstruck with what just happened. Byleth lowered her blade, and offered him her hand, and he slowly took it.

“Now, what did we learn today?” she inquired. Sylvain was still shaking, though not from fear.

“Th-That I need to improve my technique! A-And to not underestimate myself, or my enemies . . . and it doesn’t matter if they’re a woman or a man, they still pose a threat to my life!” Sylvain stuttered. He already gained more confidence in that one session than in his entire month at Garreg Mach.

Byleth nodded. Her stern expression wore off, and she smiled, “Good job, Sylvain. Now improve!”

“Y-Yes, Ma’am!” he saluted her, trembling the entire time. He scurried off quickly.

“So cool as always, Miss Byleth!” Annette clapped, still amazed at her performance.

Byleth bowed graciously, “An honor. Would you like to go next?”

The entire class snickered as Annette stuttered, and soon another duel began.

The rest of the students proved to be capable fighters, albeit each with their own flaws. Mercedes, as skilled as she was with the sword, was held back by her kindness. Annette hesitated too much when it came to the lance and bow. Felix was extremely skilled in one-on-one combat, but his arrogance proved to be his downfall. Ashe just needed more practice in general. Ingrid’s strength was mainly her speed, but her blows weren’t as impactful as they should’ve been. And, while Dedue was massively strong, his hulking figure prevented him from much of the grace involved with swordplay.

Finally, it was Dimitri’s turn—and Byleth’s heart was already beating at the rate of a pegasus’ wings. While many of the students were exceptionally talented, she knew Dimitri was by far the best—his noble standing helped him get the best tutors around the continent, no doubt, but his natural talent was also no joke. She feared she would be no match for him—and even if she was, the fight would be long and very, very difficult.

It also didn’t help she’d probably get distracted by his sun-kissed skin. Goddess, she really needed to stop being so absorbed in that.

“Byleth. It’s an honor to spar with you. The best of luck to both of us,” he smoothly said, lowering his head. All the students instantly began murmuring, trying to place bets on who would win. It was an intense match, for sure.

Byleth managed to keep her composure, though. “The same to you, Dimitri.”

Dimitri fastened his grip on his lance, and Byleth pulled out her sword from her scabbard.

The battle had begun.

Byleth was already tired out from her duels with the previous students, so she knew she’d be slower and less precise when it came to fighting Dimitri—and she couldn’t afford to let that hinder her. The two were circling each other, trying to find the perfect opportunity to strike—and Dimitri attacked first.

He went for her shoulders, and she immediately ducked out of the way, jumping to her side as the pointed end swooped at air. Once his back was turned to her, she sprung forth, thrusting her body to hit his back—

But she was too slow. He abruptly turned around, and her blade hit his spear with a clash. She was locked in the same battle for strength like she was before with Sylvain—except, this time, Dimitri was just as strong as her, if not stronger, and had no inclination to go easy on her because she was a woman.

She gritted her teeth, but couldn’t help smiling as her eyes met Dimitri’s. He was struggling just as much as she was to maintain his hold on his lance, and upon noticing her toothy grin, he smiled right back.

Goddess, he really does look hot right now. She couldn’t help it—dueling with him made her feel very attracted to him—sweat glistened his face, and his usually sweet smile was now a coy smirk—which made her heart skip a beat.

No distractions, she reminded herself.

“Distracted, Byleth?” Dimitri cocked his head. They were still pushing exorbitant amounts of force on each other’s weapons, the metal scraping so much it felt like it was shrieking.

“I do believe you’re teasing me, Dimitri. I didn’t think it was possible, to be honest,” Byleth sharply laughed. She gave up on her battle for strength with Dimitri—it’d only last forever and get them nowhere, and she already felt her strength being sapped from her body. Instead, she focused on her agility and dodging abilities—perhaps she could get him worn out enough to her level so they could be on even footing. She released the tension from her sword, and just as Dimitri was about to swing at her, she pounced back, her feet sliding on the concrete ground like nails on a chalkboard.

Dimitri raised his lance above his ahead, pointing it downwards—his favored stance, she noticed. He was still smirking, which was both infuriating and enticing. “The more you know, I suppose. Have you given up on fighting, then?”

He attempted to strike her chest, but she dodged elegantly by propelling her herself to the side. “You’re a fool if you think avoiding isn’t a form of combat in of itself,” she responded, while launching her sword towards his leg.

She connected the hit, and he was briefly caught off balance—she was about to go in for another attack, still crouched from the deep blow she had to make earlier, her arm retreating from her prior strike—when his lance suddenly lashed out towards her chest. She didn’t have enough time to counter it, and she fell onto the ground.

“Still think avoiding will help you?” he asked, his poignant smile still present on his face. He was hovering over her, ready to call victory—

“Actually, yes,” she quipped, and before he could react, she jabbed her sword towards his legs, knocking him off his feet. He yelped, tripping onto the ground, and now their positions were switched.

Just before he landed face-first into the ground, he jolted out his arm, steadying his fall with his lance, preventing him from splattering onto the floor like paint. He was back on his feet, but this time much more sluggishly—she had successfully worn him out, and now she knew he was just as exhausted as she was.

I’ve got a much better chance now.

“Very fair, very fair, Byleth. But you won’t fool me with that again,” he nodded. His smile was gone—now his face was one set on winning. His formerly soft blue eyes no longer emulated the calmness of the sky, but the ferocity of cutting-edge ice.

“We’ll see about that,” she grunted, and they were back at it again.

It was now a dance of sword and lance—they kept blocking, striking, blocking, striking. It was never ending, but eventually one of them had to win. The students were now frantically changing their bets and absolutely captivated by the fight before them—it truly was like the expression of what would happen if an immovable object met an unstoppable force. No one could truly predict who would win—and to do so now seemed foolish, with both sides displaying equal power and precision.

Byleth could hear Dimitri panting, even when they were far apart—she worried that he was pushing himself too hard, but she couldn’t let herself be concerned about that now. She was determined to win—maybe because she hated losing, maybe because she wanted to look good to her students, or maybe simply because she wanted to impress Dimitri. She didn’t know, but she knew she had to do it.

She raised her sword. She was starting to get dizzy, but she couldn’t back down now. Dimitri steadied his lance again, breathing shakily.

“I think I’m ready to win,” she laughed breezily. Dimitri smirked yet again, that damn smile, and only scoffed.

“I shall say the same, then,” he remarked.

She let out a loud cry and swung at his side, but he easily countered it, which she expected—which allowed her enough time to bounce back and point the end of her blade to his throat.

“Are you ready to admit defeat?” she asked, almost tauntingly.

“I told you to not underestimate yourself, but it seems you’ve taken it too close to heart,” Dimitri spat back.

Before she could question his remark, her body was jammed forward unexpectedly, and her face met with hard armor—her eyes snapped up to see that he dragged her right into his body with the sheer force of his arm.

How did he . . . ?

“It wasn’t very hard to knock that flimsy sword out of your hand and simply grab you, you know,” he gazed down at her, his eyes studying every aspect of her face.

She suddenly realized he was very, very close to her right now—their faces were inches apart, and she could smell the sweat emanating from his face. His hands were gripped right on the collar of her shirt, his lance pointed towards her back. His eyes were boring holes into hers, his icy irises burning fervently. Her breath caught in her throat, and it seemed he realized this too, because the confidence from his eyes transformed into captivation, his eyes roaming over every inch of her face. She could hear the sound of both of their heartbeats, and she suddenly found her eyes transfixed on his lips, which were parted slightly away from each other—most likely in surprise. She could feel his eyes staring at hers, too. Her face suddenly felt extremely hot, and her heart was thudding against her chest like a raging storm.

Before any of them could say anything, the entire class erupted into applause and cheer.

“Way to go, Dimitri! That was so close!” Ingrid clapped instantaneously, her eyes blazing with excitement.

“By the Goddess, I felt like I was watching a real battle. You guys are too good,” Felix whistled, doing a slow clap.

“You’re still the best, Teacher!” Ashe whooped.

“I bet on your win, Professor, but I’m still impressed,” Sylvain admitted.

“What a show! I still have so much to learn . . .” Mercedes acknowledged.

“How is she even gonna assess that?” Annette whispered.

“Through careful recollection and contemplation,” Dedue gruffly remarked.

As everyone was talking at once, it seemed as if Dimitri was broken from his trance, because he suddenly let her go. Letting out a squeak, Byleth stumbled as she tried to regain her footing after being held by Dimitri for so long, and he reached out his hands to steady her.

“M-My, I’m so sorry, Byleth. It seems like I really got into that. Apologies if I made you . . . um, uncomfortable,” Dimitri stammered. He was holding her shoulders still, but his eyes were looking away. Was he . . . embarrassed? Byleth noticed a faint red dusting his cheeks, and she only smiled.

“You didn’t, Dimitri. You were amazing. Thank you for giving your all,” Byleth softly murmured. She hesitated at first, but she decided to reach out her own hand, placing it on his right arm, which was still extended towards her shoulders.

Dimitri’s eyes widened at her touch, but he didn’t move, either.

Surrounded by all her students—her family—and Dimitri, she never felt more at home.

 


 

“You like him, don’t you?”

The teasing voice of Sothis penetrated the atmosphere of the empty throne room, and Byleth only narrowed her eyes in annoyance.

That night, she was visited yet again by the strange girl—she hadn’t got another (vision?) of her since the night of the incident.

Of course the first thing she says to me is about Dimitri . . .

“You do realize you can’t hide your thoughts from me, right? I’m in your M-I-N-D,” Sothis mocked, making sure to spell out every word of “mind” for maximum sarcasm.

“Listen—Sothis, right?—could we just focus on the topic at hand? Like, explain yourself? I haven’t seen you in a month, and the first thing you talk about are boys?” Byleth grumbled, crossing her arms. She just had about enough of this weird, old-talking young-looking girl. She wanted answers, not “girl talk.”

“But this is important, isn’t it? You looooooove him. I can just feel it. How scandalous! You, a lowly mercenary, falling in love with the prince of the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus! Adorable! Just don’t think any naughty thoughts, OK? I know everything about you,” Sothis grinned. She was leaning her head on the throne, smirking like some kind of gossipping elderly woman.

Byleth moaned, “I do not. I mean, he’s nice, and maybe I had a crush on him once, but I only think of him as a friend. I mean, he’s attractive sometimes, but so are a bunch of men! I—”

“Tsk, tsk, excuses, excuses. Honestly, you guys would be so cute together. What would your babies look like?! Ooh, I can see it now—a blue-haired daughter with his piercing ice-blue eyes! And a son, with golden flowing hair and the teal of your eyes. How precious!”

“Sothis,” Byleth snapped.

“Alright, alright. I’ll stop the teasing. But I think you’re just lying to yourself,” Sothis yawned. She descended from her chair, now walking across the dark empty space of her . . . mind, she supposed.

“Now can you just explain to me what exactly you are, how you saved me, and what the hell I’m supposed to do now?” Byleth gritted her teeth. She was practically seething now.

Sothis sighed. Her expression was now a serious one—she had a melancholic expression on her face, and her eyes were lost. Byleth’s shoulders relaxed at the sight of this.

“It seems I’ve truly lost my memories. I only woke up when you arrived, and I only know my name. I don’t know if I’m truly inside your mind or not—maybe my past self somehow placed herself inside of you, but I don’t know why. The only thing I’m sure of is that I’m here for a reason—and that you specifically are of importance,” she turned to look at Byleth, her seriousness now at full force, “I can deduce that I’ve been sleeping for a long time—how long, I don’t know. But it seems my sleep was somehow meant to be interrupted as soon as you were meant to die. Perhaps it triggered something—whenever you died, I was to act as a measure to save you.”

Sothis was now pacing around the room, her arms drawn behind her back. Despite her young appearance, she had wisdom beyond her years—her face was contorted in concentration and deep thought, and it was likely she was much older than what she looked like.

“So what you’re saying is that you’re here for a reason, and your purpose was solely to save me, in any event I was in danger,” Byleth concluded.

Sothis turned to her, now smiling. “Precisely. Why, I don’t know—I have a feeling we’ll find out soon. But then, how my powers work is an entirely different question . . .”

She stopped pacing, now staring at Byleth. “It seems I have the power to rewind time, as you saw when you were attacked by that bandit—you saw it too, right? How everything was sped up, people and sounds were moving backwards? I think that was my doing.”

Byleth’s hands were trembling. Time travel? How is that . . . what?!

“I know. I’m just as shocked as you are. But I can only do it for a limited time—if I do it too much, we risk meddling with the balance of the universe and time itself—not to mention, I get incredibly exhausted even for just doing it one time. I slept like a baby after you disappeared,” Sothis laughed. Suddenly, the young girl choked in surprise.

“Wait . . . I slept. For a long time . . . Maybe that means the reason I was sleeping before is because I saved you . . . or someone else!” Sothis exclaimed. Her eyes were wide with excitement, her entire body jittering.

Byleth nodded. Her idea made sense—but that also raised the question of who exactly she saved, and how important were they?

Sothis sighed, lost again. “Of course, that even leads to more questions . . . I guess we’ll find out soon. My point is, you’re a teacher now, right? You’ll soon lead your students into real-life battle. So, if one of them gets in trouble, I can rewind time to save them—but please don’t use it too much. Who knows what will happen if I overextend myself . . .”

“I promise you I won’t,” Byleth agreed.

Sothis massaged her eyelids. “It seems that’s all I have to say. See you soon, Byleth.”

She nodded, and was gone.

 


 

Time travel. Someone important. A mysterious girl . . .

All these thoughts continued to plague Byleth’s mind. She truly didn’t know what to make of her situation—and if she should even tell anyone. Would they all make her out to be a maniac? Would they send her away to a mental institution for insanity? Oh yes, a talking pointed-ear green-haired girl whose very young but sounds a thousand years old is in my mind, and saved my life by rewinding time. Do you know how this could’ve happened? Lovely weather, by the way.

She was strolling through the library while she battled with these thoughts. She originally came to check out more books about tactical combat, but she couldn’t help but think of everything that had happened—she was tempted to just quit teaching and move to a faraway land.

She sighed. Maybe I could see if there are any books about this . . . ? But where do I even start?

She thought about every aspect worth studying of her strange circumstances—Sothis reminded her of an old being, perhaps divine—maybe connected to the Church of Seiros, somehow? And her ears were pointed—didn’t many dragons in human form sport those kinds of ears? Perhaps there could also be some books on time and its relation to the universe.

I feel like Hanneman, researching all this weird crap . . . but I suppose I don’t have any other choice.

Sighing for what seemed like the umpteenth time that day, she grabbed The Art of Strategy and went to the history section. Her eyes perused the titles and subjects, until she got to the D section.

Let’s see . . . Drawing & Cartography, no . . . Dreams and other Dimensions, I’ll pick that one up . . . Diaspora of the Adrestian People, no . . . although, Edelgard would probably like that, I’ll get it for her . . . Divine Dragons! Yes!

Just as she was about to reach out to grab the spine of the book, another hand met hers.

She looked up, ready to tell the other person off, when she met the familiar azure eyes of Dimitri.

“Oh, Byleth! I didn’t expect to find you here. It seems we’re both interested in dragons, no?” Dimitri smiled, his countenance friendly as ever.

Clearing her throat, she tried to hold back any sort of oncoming blush. It seemed like the two were always meeting, intentionally or not. “Y-Yeah . . . well, you can have the book if you want, I—”

“No, no, please, it’s yours. I’d hate to hog it from you—”

“Really, Dimitri, it’s fine, I—”

“Ugh, you two lovebirds make me sick. Can’t you share it?” a sudden voice interrupted their conversation, and Claude was standing right in front of them, his arms crossed and his ever-present smirk gracing his face.

Now her cheeks were as warm as a burning fire. “C-Claude! When did you—”

“I like spending time in the library. Shocker, I know,” Claude joked. He was lazily scratching his head now.

Dimitri was still frozen. It seemed like the word “lovebirds” set him on flight or fight mode.

Byleth took this as her chance. “Well, it’s nice to see you, but lay off the teasing, alright?” she nervously laughed, “I—er—r-right, we can just share it, right, Dimitri?”

Dimitri was broken from his trance and his eyes snapped to Byleth. “U-Um, yes, that’s a good idea. We could read it together today? And then weekly, if you have time, perhaps?”

Byleth was more at ease now and grinned, “Right! Excellent idea! I look forward to it!”

His eyes were softer now and he was back to his regular self. He gave her a closed-eye smile and chuckled, “Yes, that sounds good.”

Claude made choking noises in the back, and as soon as Byleth shot him a deadly glare, he stopped.

“Well, I’ll be on my way now. Enjoy your date,” Claude let in one last tease, before disappearing from their sight.

Byleth squeaked in surprise at his choice of words and stood there like an idiot, stuttering her ass off. She buried her face in her hands, not even sure of how to respond to that. That little piece of shit . . .

She felt a warm touch grace her hands and she saw Dimitri’s hands prying away her fingers from her eyes.

“Don’t mind him. Claude . . . well, I suppose that’s just his personality. Do you want to start reading now?” he asked. Usually, whenever he touched her, she’d feel all sorts of emotions—her stomach would be swarmed by butterflies, her entire face would turn beet red, and her pounding heart would fall out of her chest—but this time, she felt . . . strangely at ease. His touch was like a welcoming bonfire, warm and soft. She was calm.

She only nodded, and two made their way to a nearby table.

The tension and awkwardness from earlier was slowly sapped away as the two read the book—they decided to take turns reading out loud each page, which made it all the more interesting and captivating for Byleth. She loved listening to Dimitri’s voice—every breath and word he uttered was infused with passion and poetry. He emulated the voice of the author so well it felt like he was the one who wrote it. Whenever it was her turn to read, she felt embarrassed because she wasn’t nearly as good as Dimitri, but his encouragement carried her on.

“Go on. Your voice is soothing to listen to,” Dimitri said so quietly, at first Byleth doubted if he even spoke.

Her eyes widened at his words, and she couldn’t help but stare at him in shock—he gazed back, confident with his statement.

After a brief moment of silence, she continued, this time a little more brave when she spoke.

“‘The Church of Seiros has a heavy connection with divine dragons, as it was said the first Divine Seiros was a dragon herself. Because of this, the Church places heavy symbolism and honor towards them,’” Byleth spoke. So, no doubt Sothis is somehow affiliated with the Church . . . but in what way?

“How fascinating! No wonder that famous mural has the Goddess right above a beautiful white dragon,” Dimitri noted. His eyes were wide with interest, paying close attention to every syllable Byleth uttered.

“Beautiful?” she questioned, tilting her head. She never heard anyone describe dragons that way—most people just saw them as pests that needed to be killed.

Dimitri stayed true to his words. “Of course. Many view dragons as feral beasts, but . . . they are living creatures too, so they are worthy of respect. And if the Church places such emphasis on them, they must be important in some way.”

“I never thought about it like that,” Byleth admitted. Dimitri seemed to surprise her everyday—but in a good way.

“It’s good you’re so open-minded. I’ve actually discussed this topic before with a few others, but they always give me an odd look,” Dimitri confessed, laughing lightly. He awkwardly rubbed the back of his neck with his arm. “To be honest, I was tempted to just let you go with the book, because I didn’t want to look like a fool who worshipped dragons, but I’m glad we’re on the same page. Literally.”

“That was an awful pun,” Byleth snickered, lightly hitting his arm, and Dimitri broke out in another smile. Her hand lingered on his for a little too long, but he didn’t pull away, either. “But yes, you’re right. I feel like people should be more empathetic and open-minded.” She hesitated with her next few words, but she continued anyway—“And you’ll never look like a fool to me, Dimitri.”

Silence. Finally, he spoke, “ . . . Thank you, Byleth.”

They continued reading on. The afternoon sun was peeking through the stained glass windows, and Byleth could already feel herself sweating. She wished she could open the windows to let in some air, but she wasn’t sure if that’d make the library even hotter or let in unwanted bugs.

She couldn’t take it anymore. Sighing, she rummaged around her pockets for a hairband—she wasn’t wearing her armor today, since there were no classes, simply a loose white tunic and brown trousers—and fished one out. Tying her hair into ponytail, she felt instantly lighter without the weight of her hair making her neck humid as hell.

As soon as Dimitri finished reading, he looked up, and he seemed surprised at her new appearance.

“Something the matter?” Byleth asked.

“O-Oh, no. I just didn’t notice your new hairstyle. It . . . it looks nice on you,” was all he said. He seemed in a distracted daze, his eyes fixated on the stray locks going down her ear.

Her heart was pounding more rapidly now. “Ah, well, thank you.” Who knew something as small as making my hair into a ponytail would make him notice . . .

He slid the book across the desk to her, and she began where he left off. As her mind focused on learning about ancient draconic languages and mystical runes, she felt a sudden sensation of warmth on her ear.

Dimitri was only a few inches away from her face—he was leaning forward from his seat, his fingers tracing where her stray strands of hair used to be.

“Your hair. It was falling from your ponytail,” he stated, almost matter-of-fact. Byleth resisted the urge to let out a small mewl, and only swallowed. His breath was fanning her face, warm and smelling like mint tea. She sat completely still as he tucked the last strands away behind her ear.

Once he sat back down, she cleared her throat, stumbling through her words. “R-Right. Where were we?”

“I believe on the caption of the ancient painting of the storm dragon.”

“Ah, yes, that. ‘Here is an ancient depiction of the famous storm Divine Dragon. It was said it had no gender, human form or no. Its lightning strikes burnt the earth before it, and you can still see its marks today in Faerghus . . .’”

“Also engrossing. I must visit it one day.”

And they continued on until nightfall. They were interrupted when Dedue came in and said Dimitri was needed in the foyer to greet a transfer student to the academy, and Dimitri deeply bowed and apologized for leaving, wishing her the best of luck on her literary journey.

As he left the room, Byleth let out a long breath she didn’t know she was holding. Cicadas were beginning to hum outside, and sleep tugged at her every muscle, but she couldn’t stop thinking about him. Why did he make her feel so . . . vulnerable? And yet, so cared for at the same time?

She groaned, stuffing her face in her hands. She was so hopeless. But she couldn’t help it—the way he touched her when he drew back the locks of her hair, his quiet surprise when she told him he wasn’t a fool, and of course his neverending empathy for even dragons . . . she didn’t know why she pondered over these things, why he affected her so much . . .

These thoughts plagued her mind for what seemed like hours, and she sighed with a heavy moan. As she lay her head on the desk, she felt the familiar hands of sleep reach at her body, and she couldn’t help but accept them.

 


 

“Hmm? Teacher? What are you doing here?”

Byleth awoke to the sound of Annette’s voice, who was hovering over her face. Not noticing the distance between them, Byleth shot up, and their foreheads hit each other like clashing swords.

“Ow . . .” Byleth groaned,  rubbing her forehead. A bright red bump formed instantaneously, and she cursed at the pain.

“Ah! I’m so sorry! That was my fault entirely!” Annette hurriedly apologized. She was rubbing her forehead as well, but she was more concerned about Byleth than herself. “Are you OK?! Do you need to go to the doctor? Manuela’s office is open right now, so you could—”

“I’m fine, Annette. Please don’t apologize,” Byleth croaked. The pain was starting to leave her. “I guess I fell asleep in here . . .”

“Ohhh, I see! Were you with Dimitri?”

“Yeah . . . wait, how did you know?” Byleth questioned. Were her students spying on her now?

“A-Ah, s-s-sorry, I should’ve clarified! You’re wearing his cape, so I guessed that you fell asleep and he came back later to make sure you weren’t cold during the night,” Annette stammered.

Byleth raised her eyebrows, and looked at her shoulders—and there lay his familiar cobalt cape, wrapped around her back. He came back just to do that . . . ?

“Oh . . . I see,” was all she said. He didn’t have to . . . but he did. She felt the blood rush to her cheeks. He did so much for her, and she barely gave in return . . .

“Lord Dimitri is truly chivalrous, isn’t he? He cares about everyone! I’m not even surprised he did that for you. It seems like he cares about you a lot!” Annette sang, her cheeks a rosy red. Byleth could practically see her daydreaming about him in full-on knight armor.

“Mhm,” Byleth whispered. She tucked the cape closer to her shoulders, appreciating its warmth.

His warmth.

 


 

Leaves fell down the window, golden and brown and scarlet, as the wind wisped them away like fairy dust.

Byleth was currently studying with Edelgard outside on one of the benches—Garreg Mach had extensive paths built near its gardens and parks, and it was still breathtaking for Byleth to walk through. Songbirds chirped harmoniously as squirrels munched on acorns, and windchimes sung a haunting, yet beautiful song. Autumn was already in season, and while it was getting colder, the weather was still pleasant to go outside in without wearing heavy furs.

“Alright, what is the landmass located southeast of Fódlan?” Byleth asked, a flashcard right in front of her.

“Morfis!” Edelgard answered as soon as Byleth pronounced the last letter of her question.

“Correct. What are the two types of Crests?”

“Major and minor!”

“Also correct. In what way are they passed down?”

“By blood. These questions are too easy, Byleth,” Edelgard whined. She was right—probably a three-year-old citizen of Fódlan could answer them, but they would still be on the upcoming exams, so Byleth wrote them down anyway.

“You’ll get harder ones soon, I promise. Now, what are the two types of magic?”

They eventually finished all the flashcards in under half an hour—which Byleth was extremely impressed by, but considering Edelgard’s work ethic and intelligence, it made sense. The two gazed out at the park before them, observing passersby and the nature.

“How are you, by the way, Byleth? You’ve seemed to have gotten used to all this,” Edelgard asked, looking towards her friend. The two had grown quite close since they first met—and it wasn’t just because Byleth saved her life, either. The two had discussed the intricacies of geopolitical science, the morality behind war, and even the origin of the Crests—which seemed to get Edelgard fired up the more they talked about them. Byleth could tell Edelgard trusted her—which she felt honored to earn.

Byleth nodded, humming softly, “Yes, it’s been quite a journey. A lot has happened but . . . I think I’m finally getting used to it. I’ve made many friends and I’ve found myself enjoying teaching. What about you, Edelgard?”

Edelgard smiled widely, “That’s good to hear. Not everyone could recover from what you’ve gone through. As for me, I’m too absorbed in my studies to know.”

“C’mon, Edelgard, you can’t be concerned for me and also not let me worry about you. Has something been troubling you?” Byleth pressed. She noticed her friend had become more quiet recently, more drawn into her thoughts—which she supposed wasn’t a bad thing necessarily, but she still want to find out why.

Edelgard waved her hand. “No, really, I’m good. Just the imperial game and royal expectations have been tiring me out. I don’t know how my parents do it, to be honest.” She let out a light laugh.

“Alright. But hey, I’m here for you, OK?” Byleth smiled. She rested her hand on Edelgard’s shoulder.

“Right, right. I wanted to ask you about something, though. You seem to be livelier since you came to the academy. Has someone . . . met your interest, perhaps?” Edelgard winked. She rested her chin on her hand, a sly smile crafted on her face.

She and Sothis look like twins right now, Goddess . . .

“W-What? N-No, why do you ask?!” Byleth sputtered. She looked at her feet in embarrassment, like a child who was being scolded by her mother. How perceptive was Edelgard?

“Oh, don’t lie to me, Byleth! You seem more ready to get up in the morning, more energized in your combat and lectures. You smile more. And your cheeks are always red,” Edelgard implored, a devious expression on her face.

Byleth shook her head, trying to look convincing, “I am not. Can’t I be happy and not have a crush on someone?”

Edelgard innocently shrugged her shoulders, “That’s true, but there’s something more. You’re so easy to read, Byleth. You seem distracted recently. You’ve gotten more clumsy. And you trail off on your sentences a lot, like your thinking of someone. Please, just tell me! I need to know!” Her usually cool demeanor was now exuberant, clutching her cheeks like a fawning school girl.

“I—Edelgard, seriously? I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Byleth huffed, turning away.

But Edelgard pressed on. “OK, OK, let me guess. Is it Felix? He is quite the looker.”

“No! I’d never be interested in him anyway, he’s so arrogant.”

“Hmm, fair, fair. Alright, what about Sylvain? He’s just your type—sweet, caring, laidback and all!”

“Ugh, no! He’s somehow even more flirtatious than Claude.”

“Oooh, is it Claude, then? He’s got a keen eye, you know.”

“NO.”

“Dedue? He’s quite older and stern, but I feel like he has a soft side!”

“Goddess, no!”

“Geez, I’m running out. What about Dimitri? He’s a bit nerdy but he’s sweet inside.”

Byleth couldn’t help it. She didn’t immediately deny it, and instead her face was fuming red. Edelgard tilted her head, but then her eyes widened in realization.

“Ohhhh, I would’ve never guessed! How romantic!” Edelgard was practically squealing. This is so unlike her. She was acting like a sidekick from a romantic play.

Byleth pouted, trying to frown as much as possible, “What the hell are you talking about?! That doesn’t mean anything—”

“Well, then, deny it!” Edelgard challenged. She had the most coquettish expression on her face.

“I . . .” Byleth tried to speak, but she couldn’t. She wanted to yell no at Edelgard’s face in the loudest possible voice she could muster, but she just couldn’t.

By the Goddess. She couldn’t deny that she liked Dimitri.

She placed her hand over her mouth. It wasn’t just an infatuation, or a short-term crush.

She . . . she loved him.

No no no no no no no NO I do NOT, I have absolutely NO feelings for him. This can’t be happening . . .

She always thought of her nervousness around him as just that—anxiety from hanging around a goddamn prince. That was normal, right? She was surrounded by royalty everyday. And sure, she got flustered sometimes, but who wouldn’t, when someone was always that close to you?

But as much as she tried to deny it, she couldn’t bring any evidence to support her claim. In fact, she found more evidence against it—the intensity of her heart pounding against her chest when they had sparred, when he pulled her towards him, like he was afraid of letting go; the feeling of his breath against her face as he tugged at her hair, like he was fascinated by her presence alone; their endless conversations about fate and dragons and the moral compass; the first day of school, his goddamn touch; his words of encouragement and faith in her . . . She loved and treasured all of it, and she couldn’t deny it. She looked forward to seeing him everyday, she chose the Blue Lions to teach, god damn it, she strove to know more and more about him.

I love him, I love him, I love him.

Oh no.

Edelgard smiled with satisfaction, and she simply patted her friend’s shoulders. “I know how hard it must be. There’d be a lot of rumors flying around if you got together. But you do love him, right?”

Edelgard was right. The prince of Faerghus and a lowly commoner mercenary, together. It’d cause the whole continent to shake. But . . . she loved him so much, she didn’t even care.

“I . . . I do,” she finally admitted. To finally say that out loud felt like a large weight was lifted off of her shoulders.

The white-haired woman smiled more sincerely this time. “Love is hard. It always will be. But I feel like you’ll guys make it work somehow. Because I think he loves you too.”

The thought of him reciprocating her feelings was too much to bear. She felt like her heart might explode at the mere thought of it.

What am I going to do now?

Chapter Text

Byleth couldn’t sleep.

The words Edelgard had told her earlier that day—that Byleth loved Dimitri. They still reverberated throughout her mind like the constant beat of a drum.

She hated those words because she knew they were true.

She hated those words because she knew it would never be real.

What even were the chances of Dimitri liking her back? Maybe that closeness—those heart-pounding moments, heated blushes, intense eye contact during class—maybe it was all her imagination. Maybe Dimitri was even uncomfortable with it, and she didn’t know. That theory was probably the most embarrassing one—if he didn’t enjoy those moments as much as she did, she would be mortified

Hell, he was a prince. The prince of the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus, no less. And she was just a lowly mercenary, invited only to the most prestigious school in the continent simply by coincidence. Even if he did like her back—which was a very, very slim chance—it would be a huge scandal and surely prevent him from gaining the throne. The crown prince of Faerghus, in love with a commoner? Disgusting, surely, to the masses. She was no high ranking noble—their union, if there ever was one, would be scorned and forbidden. She couldn’t do that to him.

It was all so hopeless. She was hopeless. Curse her damned stupid, flighty heart, for falling in love with him in the first place. 

She was currently scowling at the ceiling—and in frustration, threw her blanket to the ground and started pacing around the room. She wished she could find a solution, an answer on what to do—and she was screaming internally for it—but to no avail. 

She let out one last groan and collapsed on her bed again. She felt so stuck and helpless—and she hated it. She hated losing control, especially of her own emotions.

Maybe I should get some fresh air . . . The balcony would be nice. 

Slowly getting up from her existential position on her bed, she let out one last sigh before exiting her room, tiptoeing down the hallway. The student and teacher dorms were all in one enormous building, and while she technically had no curfews, she didn’t want to wake anybody. 

Navigating the labyrinth of doors and stairs was always an adventure, even when there was daylight—and even now, nearing winter, she couldn’t help but stop and admire the decor. Chandeliers made of crystal glittered like stars above her, classical paintings of ancient kings and queens adorned every corner, and the crimson colored rugs laid out on the floor made her feel like royalty. It was all so extravagant and beautiful—so much so it felt like she was an interloper, not worthy enough of even being inside. 

Finally, she reached the highest floor of the dorms, and once she saw those stained-glass doors, she breathed out a sigh of relief. She carefully entered, and the breeze smelled like pinecones and frost. Smiling, she closed her eyes and breathed in the sweet scent—it was intoxicatingly comforting, and exactly what she needed. Finally, a place to collect her thoughts, be free of her worries and doubts—

“Byleth? What are you doing here?”

That voice froze her in her place and she slowly turned around, meeting her eyes with familiar ice-blue ones.

“D-Dimitri?” she squeaked. She jumped in surprise at his presence—and most notably, his clothing. She had never seen him out of his usual armor, and now before her, he was wearing a loose white tunic and silky pajama pants. His hair was tousled and disheveled, probably from waking up, and she couldn’t help but blush. She feared her footsteps probably caused his slumber to break—but his face looked more worried for her than anything.

“I—I’m so sorry, oh my gosh, did I wake you? I just couldn’t sleep so I thought I could get some fresh air . . . I’m so sorry again, I’ll be leaving . . .” she stuttered, her face flushed from embarrassment. She suddenly decided to bow as well, hoping for some reason it’d resolve her transgression. 

Dimitri didn’t respond for quite a while, and Byleth was too mortified to look at his expression, so she hurriedly straightened her posture and scurried to the doors, staring at the ground the entire time. 

Right before she was about to leave, she felt a tug on her arm, and she snapped back to find Dimitri’s arm holding hers, stopping her from leaving.

Her mouth was agape and went dry. She couldn’t process what was happening—his arm was on hers, holding onto it for dear life. She slowly lifted her eyes, and met his—and for the first time, she saw that closely guarded countenance he always had broken—his eyes were wide, desperate, pained . . . and most of all, as if they were pleading her to stay. His grip on hers only tightened when the two’s gazes met.

“Please . . . stay,” was all he said. He looked down now, biting his lip. His voice sounded so hoarse, so defeated, so tired

She was silent from shock for a long while, and it looked like he was about to loosen his hold when she finally replied, “Of course, Dimitri.”

He let out a shaky sigh—one of relief. He finally let go, now more at peace. 

The two stayed like that for a while. Byleth could still feel the phantom touch of his hands, and selfishly, she wished they were still on her skin. 

“I couldn’t sleep either, so that’s why I was up. You needn’t worry. I didn’t even know you were awake as well. And please, don’t bow to me. You’re my equal,” he explained, looking a bit flush, “I suppose we both needed to get out,” Dimitri chuckled, although somewhat hollowly, “Why don’t we watch the stars?” 

His eyes were transfixed at the shimmering sea of darkness and glittering white before them. He seemed fascinated at every little thing—that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. Curiosity in all things was such an innocent, uncommon trait in people nowadays.

“Right, of course. I was just worried . . . and I never took you for the philosophical type,” Byleth joked, trying to ease the tension.

Dimitri chuckled—one of the rare genuine ones she had heard. “I suppose I am.”

The two sat down on the bench perched on the balcony. It was quite small, squeezed to fit the already scarce space the terrace provided—so Byleth ended up sitting side-by-side Dimitri, their bodies touching from the closeness. Her cheeks burned even brighter, and she swore she heard Dimitri clear his throat from nervousness. 

A few minutes passed. Closing his eyes, Dimitri finally whispered, “I am sorry if I made you uncomfortable. I seem to be losing control of my emotions more and more often, haven’t I?”

“You didn’t. You never make me uncomfortable, Dimitri . . . in fact, just the opposite happens, really. I—I like spending time with you,” her cheeks heated as she said this, and she almost wished she hadn’t added the last part—what was she thinking? Real subtle, Byleth.

Her resolve seemed to shock Dimitri—he turned to look at her, and his face was yet again only inches away from her lips. At this realization, she could see his eyes anxiously flick away. Was he flustered?

“I . . . am glad to hear that. I enjoy the moments we spend together, too,” he responded. The faintest tinge of scarlet adorned his snow-colored cheeks. 

Byleth smiled, “Good. And you shouldn’t be afraid to let out some emotion—if you keep it all bottled up, that’s no good. Letting others know how you feel is good.”

“Sometimes I think I don’t deserve you, Byleth,” Dimitri whispered. It was so quiet she thought at first she imagined it. 

“What makes you say that? Of course you do! You’re a good person, Dimitri,” Byleth chided. She bit her lip in concern as she stared back at him, trying to uncover the mystery behind those words. 

Dimitri only bitterly laughed, “Right. That’s what everyone says. But how do I know that’s true? Everyone perceives me as a good person but . . . how do I know they’re not just lying? What if I’m just . . . hurting everyone, and I don’t know it?” 

Byleth’s heart dropped. She had never seen him like this before—his usual confident, chivalrous aura was gone, replaced with self-doubt and a kind of vulnerability she never thought possible lying within him. If he had been keeping this all to himself . . . all this hesitation, this sadness . . . what was he going through?

She wasn’t going to let him berate himself, though. “They’re not lying because they’re your friends, Dimitri. Friends don’t lie to each other. That’s just your innermost worries talking—you know you are a good person when you look deep inside your heart. And I think you’re a good person.” Her arms were hanging lamely at her sides, so she slowly raised her left arm and placed it on his shoulder. 

He seemed to appreciate the gesture—his breathing became more even and the darkness in his eyes weren’t as intense as before. 

Letting out a long sigh, he confided, “I suppose you are right. To be honest, I have not been feeling the best lately. Evidently by my long rambles.” 

They both chuckled at that, and Byleth smiled—at least he was feeling a little bit better now. But, she was still worried by what he said—“not feeling the best” seemed code word for something more serious.

“I’m here for you, Dimitri. If you ever need an ear,” Byleth asserted. She couldn’t leave him like this—as his friend, she needed to be there for him. 

“Ah. Woman after my own heart,” Dimitri smiled again, and Byleth’s heart skipped a beat.

They both turned to gaze at the stars. Byleth’s head swarmed, trying to remember the names of all the constellations. She remembered being so fascinated with them as a child—the fact that she could see space all the way from the ground was mind-blowing to her at the time.

“See that one there? That’s Goneril,” Dimitri pointed to a swath of stars Byleth could barely make out. 

She squinted her eyes. “I’m not seeing it that well.” She pouted—how did she lose her touch so easily?

Just as she was about to attempt to look further, she felt warmth crawl up her shoulders—and she squeaked softly when she found Dimitri’s arms now around hers, one arm wrapped around her shoulders, another holding her hand and raising it to the sky. 

“Let me help you,” Dimitri breathed, and she felt his voice fan across her neck, which made her blush even more. He had never been this close to her before besides the sparring session—and her heart was pounding a million times faster. His hand was holding hers, for Goddess’ sake! And it was so nice. His hand was so warm, too—a stark contrast for a prince from the frigid north. And his half-hug of sorts was even more comforting—it felt right with his arm on her shoulder, and she felt safe encased by it.

She felt at home.

A sensation she had never felt before in her life—until she had met him. Until she had chosen the Blue Lions to teach, she always felt so alone and isolated. Now, everything was different—and she wholly welcomed that difference.

She felt like she was soaring through the clouds as he intertwined his fingers with hers, raising their hands upwards as he pointed to a pattern of twinkling diamonds in the ebony sky. Suddenly, with his hand in hers, with his arm wrapping her body in warmth—she saw it. The familiar archer’s bow, the sharp body of Goneril—with his guidance, her eyes had opened. 

“It’s beautiful,” she whispered. Her eyes were twinkling with wonder and amazement—she felt like a child again, where every single aspect of nature intrigued her, where she swooned over dreamy princes—now, she was being held by one. Now, she loved one.

A pause. Dimitri nodded, and she could see he was blushing. 

At least I’m not alone. 

“I’m glad you found it,” he smiled. But he didn’t let go—they stayed like that for ages—even though she found what she was looking for, she didn’t want to let go. 

His presence, his warmth . . . 

Home.

He didn’t want to either, it seemed. He continued holding her hand, and his arm never fell off from her shoulder. 

Gazing at the stars, learning more about Dimitri, experiencing his touch . . . all of it was so much, but so welcomed. But now she felt the familiar claws of sleep raking her body, and couldn’t help but close her eyes—and the last thing she remembered before she fell into the familiar realm of darkness was her head resting on Dimitri’s shoulder. 

 


 

Byleth awoke to the sound of a maid scurrying into her room, mumbling apologies rapidly as she quickly swept the dust off her floor. 

After assuring her that she wasn’t intruding in any way, the serving girl visibly calmed down, but nonetheless was gone in an instant once her task was done.

Byleth looked around in a daze—she didn’t remember going back to her room last night. The last thing she could think of was her head lying on Dimitri’s shoulder, wanting to stay there forever, the comfort of it reminding her of simpler, more innocent days . . .

Her face burned in embarrassment at the memory—she fell asleep on his shoulder, by the Goddess! That must’ve been so awkward for him, she thought—would he be annoyed at her now, for having to deal with her suddenly falling asleep on him? The poor boy . . . 

Or, perhaps, he welcomed it—and perhaps he was as much as a bumbling, stammering mess as she was around him. It seemed less likely, but she couldn’t rule it out completely

“He carried you out, like a regal princess!” a familiar, childish voice sang, and Byleth whipped her head to the source—and her jaw dropped at the sight before her.

Standing right in front of her bed was Sothis, in fully realized physical form. Her green-haired braids, intricate jewelry, pointed ears—all of it. Not lounging around inside her head. Real. Right in front of her.

“W-W-What are you DOING HERE?!” Byleth shrieked, scuttling to the frame of her bed in pure terror as the little dragon-like girl stood in full form. Was she hallucinating?! How was Sothis—someone who only manifested in her dreams—in the real world?

“You’re not hallucinating. And I can still hear your thoughts, y’know?” Sothis grinned. She was definitely tormenting her. And Byleth despised it. 

“That doesn’t answer my god damn question, you brat!” Byleth hissed. Her fists were clenched—what the hell was going on? “Aren’t you concerned someone might see you?!

Sothis sighed, reclining herself on a nearby chair. She was currently examining her nails nonchalantly. “Trust me. No one will see me besides you. And . . . I don’t fully know myself, OK? I . . . just appeared here, suddenly, and I guess maybe you have new powers? I honestly don’t know. But I’m here now, so I guess you’ll be seeing more of me!” she chirped enthusiastically, clapping her hands.

Byleth gave her a deadpan stare, and she proceeded to plant her face in her covers, groaning in absolute defeat.

She could hear the covers shuffling and the sound of Sothis sitting on the edge of her bed. “I know you’re not exactly thrilled, but it’s not like I can do anything about it.”

Byleth finally looked up and saw that the girl was telling the truth—in fact, her expression was twisted into one of remorse and confusion—like she blamed herself for what had happened.

She sighed, shaking her head, “I’m not mad at you, OK? Whatever this is . . . I guess we’ll find out soon enough. But, what did you mean about me being a regal princess or whatever?”

Sothis’ familiar devilish grin came back, which, for some reason, made Byleth feel at ease. At least she was back to her old self again. 

“Haha! As if you’d ever pass for royalty. No, I meant that your boyfriend carried you to your bed when you fell fast asleep on his shoulder. It was pretty romantic, though! I was squealing like a cooing old grandmother!” Sothis crooned, her hands propped up on her cheeks, dreamingly gazing with heart eyes on her face.

Byleth’s face flamed up even more. Dimitri carried her here? Her students did know where her room was, in case they needed help with assignments or required ways to improve their technique, so that would explain it . . . but her face went bright red at the thought of Dimitri carrying her, bridal style, gracefully at that, to her room, placing her under the covers, maybe stealing a k—

Goddess, what am I thinking?! Byleth stuffed her face into a pillow. What had gotten into her?

She only lamely admitted, “He’s not my boyfriend, Sothis.”

“Mmm, but you wish he was. King and Queen of Faerghus, at that! I support it!”

“Please, stop.”

“Alright, alright.”

 


 

As the king toppled to the floor, a cackling laughter ensued, echoing throughout the room in a melodious cacophony. 

“You should’ve admitted defeat long ago, Byleth,” Claude smirked, crossing his legs and arms, basking in his victory. 

“I don’t give up so easily. I still had pawns to use. So I hold onto hope,” Byleth dryly smiled at the man before her.

“Right, but I’m a master at the game. You hold onto foolish optimism. Oh, I forgot to say! Checkmate,” Claude grinned again, gloating over his army of wooden pawns, bishops, knights, rooks, and standing king and queen. Byleth’s was currently made up of three standing pawns and a pathetically knocked over king. 

The alternating-colored square battlefield was a massacre.

It was right before midterms and currently, all the students were either locked up in their rooms, cramming for their academic exams, or battling it out in the training grounds. Having nothing to do besides coaching a few students, Byleth was wandering around the courtyard when Claude offered a game of chess to her—and when she questioned him about his studying habits, he confidently said that he’d ace them without even a second of studying. Knowing he wouldn’t back down his resolve, she obliged.

It was quite fun, too. She hadn’t played chess since she was very young—she remembered when she was little, it was a sort of practice her father would conduct before she actually started wielding a sword. She was worried she had forgotten the rules, but as soon as she sat down with Claude, she could feel her muscle memory at work as she picked up her pawn. 

Byleth rolled her eyes, “You can be so arrogant, Claude. Don’t let that be your downfall, alright? I worry about you sometimes.”

“Teacher, you wound me! How dare you insinuate weakness?!” Claude teased, winking coyly, “But seriously, I’ll be fine. I’ll just mask it with my picture-perfect smile!”

“That’s . . . somehow even worse.”

“Hmph! Well, let’s see what your prince will say!” Claude beckoned, waving his arm to someone behind her.

“W-What?” Byleth stuttered, snapping her head back—and there Dimitri was, strolling with Ingrid, engaged in some deep topic she probably had no understanding of. As soon as Dimitri caught sight of them both, his face immediately brightened and he began walking over to them.

“Y-You little . . .” Byleth seethed. I am going to kill him after this.

“I’m doing you a favor, Teach. Trust me,” Claude only winked, and Byleth swore the table shook with her pure anger.

As soon as the pair arrived, Claude dramatically started his antics again—“Dimitri, Ingrid, I need to know your opinion on something. Would you say it is appropriate for someone—specifically one of noble standing—to act arrogant and hide their emotions with a smile, provided they do it for their own self-preservation?”

Ingrid cocked her head, “I’m not sure what you—”

“Why are you referring to yourself in third person, Claude?” Dimitri asked.

Seconds passed and immediately Ingrid and even Byleth started guffawing madly. Claude was in utter shock, but Dimitri seemed very confused.

“Huh? Why is everyone laughing?” Dimitri questioned. He seemed unaware he had just told a joke.

“Are you serious? You’re not even cognizant of the fact you just obliterated my character?” Claude whimpered, defeated. He had his face in his hands, dramatically sighing.

“I . . . thought you were just talking about yourself. I mean, that’s how you usually act,” Dimitri admitted. The laughter only intensified. 

“No matter! I seem to have gotten my answer. Alas, it is my time to leave this wretched place,” Claude sighed, standing and pushing his chair in, and waltzed off.

“I’ll go check on him to make sure he’s not legitimately hurt,” Ingrid decided, and hurried after the bemoaning archer.

Now, it was just Byleth and Dimitri. Alone. Again. Does the Goddess do this on purpose? Oh Seiros, what did I ever do to you?

“Well . . . um . . . wanna play chess?” Byleth asked. She was still sitting down and Dimitri was awkwardly standing there, not sure what to do.

Dimitri smiled and answered, “I’d like that.”

As soon as he settled down, they began arranging the chess pieces into the standard order. It was quiet for some time before Dimitri piped up.

“I’m assuming you and Claude were playing chess before we came? How did that go?”

“I lost, of course. He’s quite good at the game. To be honest, I thought I’d do a lot worse since I haven’t played in a long time, but it seems I still have some of my skill left over,” Byleth hummed, her eyes focused on the board before her. She was glad Dimitri accepted her offer—she didn’t know what to do for the rest of the day, and she savored every moment spent with him.

Dimitri turned the fallen king piece upright. “He is quite skilled at the game. I believe it’s commonplace for all Fódlan nobles to be given chess lessons, actually. It’s excellent as a precursor to actual battle and tactics study.”

“Really? I guess my father teaching me all those years ago wasn’t for nothing, then,” Byleth chuckled. She wondered how the academy life was treating her father—what it was like to be back leading the Knights of Seiros. She hadn’t gotten much time to speak to him what with her teaching duties. 

“Jeralt’s a wise man. If only half the nobles followed his example of chivalry,” Dimitri remarked. He spoke in a jesting manner, but Byleth detected some truth lying in his statement. 

The pieces were done being set up. It was Dimitri’s turn to go first, and she could see him deliberate extensively on his first move—no doubt that training was coming back to him.

He moved his middle pawn forward, and looked up expectantly at Byleth. She caught his eye for a split second and she could feel her insides twist into butterflies—just his stare was enough to make her overwhelmed. Those icy eyes always seemed so cold and calculating on the outside, but underneath that layer held so much warmth and passion. That fire, she noticed, only seemed to light up for her.

She gazed down at her own pieces as if trying to unlock a puzzle. While she was analyzing them, she asked, “Do you mean to say most nobles aren’t very honorable?”

Dimitri hesitated at first. But then he answered, “Truly? Yes. Many are thieving, conniving, lowly scoundrels. My family, the Bladuds, have dealt with unruly and power-hungry lords and ladies for generations. It’s nothing new. Claude and Edelgard deal with similar threats all the time,” he sighed deeply, obviously troubled, “It’s not even just the ones who want the throne. It’s all of them—schemes, backstabbing, assassinations—they’ll do it all to get what they want. It’s so tiresome, and oftentimes I cannot understand their motives. Power . . . it corrupts people so easily.”

Byleth widened her eyes. She had no idea he and the others dealt with this—especially for their entire lives. She knew the nobility and politics were messy, but not to this extent. Now she was extremely grateful she was a simple soldier-for-hire.

She finally moved her leftmost pawn and looked at his face again—it was twisted in pain and careful contemplation. 

“I’m sorry. I can’t imagine having to live in that kind of climate. It makes me saddened to hear how humans can be so . . . vicious when it comes to something as trivial as Crests or noble blood,” Byleth consoled. At first, she was hesitant to even say the last part—would he be offended of her basically insulting his heritage? She was about to retract her statement when he spoke up.

“I agree. It’s refreshing to hear someone share the same sentiment as me. Commoner or nobility, we’re all still people. Many forget that,” Dimitri sighed. He picked up his knight gently, moving it forward. 

Byleth deliberated between moving her bishop or her rook. She was relieved he wasn’t offended—although, it would be a surprise to her if he was. She didn’t think she had ever seen him even slightly angry. 

“It makes me glad I’m not one, to be honest. A noble, I mean. I don’t think I could ever survive being some princess or duchess,” Byleth laughed, before placing her bishop forward.

“I wouldn’t want you embroiled in all that conflict, either. Although, you do have the makings of one already—you’re already more regal than most I know,” Dimitri responded. He knocked her bishop over with his knight, and she bit her lip—both at his comment and his move.

“What makes you say that?” Byleth inquired.

“You’re everything a noble should be. Kind, generous, cool-headed, strong-willed. You carry a warm heart and beauty inside and outside,” Dimitri stated in a matter-of-fact manner.

Byleth almost choked at his words. Kind? Generous? Strong? Beautiful?! He must be joking, right? She couldn’t process what he was saying—it felt like a dream. Something she’d fantasize about, not something he’d actually say. 

She wish she had ice nearby just to cool her face. It seemed that having a hot face was happening more and more often. 

“T-Thank you. That’s kind of you to say,” she managed, “You think I’m . . . beautiful?”

“Of course. How could I not? Anyone would be a fool not to recognize it,” Dimitri said, still focused on his chess pieces. 

She only gulped. She thought back to her previous worries—how plain-looking she was, how she’d never find a husband, because who would willingly marry a woman with so many scars and flaws? Yet, Dimitri proved her wrong again, by shattering all her expectations of him. 

She could see the corners of his lips upturned—he seemed to be enjoying her reaction.

Two can play at this game, Prince.

“You’re a good noble, Dimitri. When I was younger, I only saw things in black-and-white and either saw nobles as dreamy, fantastical beings or evil shadow-kings. But you’ve opened my perspective a lot. You’re strong and compassionate. And I can tell you care deeply for your friends. You’ll make a great king, Dimitri. And your pulchritude is evident within and outside as well.”

She gazed up after putting forth her rook, and lo and behold, his eyes were wide from surprise—and she saw him conveniently cover his face with his arms. 

“W-Why, thank you. It’s an honor hearing that from you.”

Byleth smiled triumphantly.

The game went on, lengthening into an intense battle of strategizing for hours. It seemed both of them refused to give up. Currently, Dimitri had more pieces on the board, and his king was still strongly guarded—while Byleth’s king and queen were huddling in the corner, surrounded only by a few rooks, bishops, knights, and no pawns. 

“I’m not going to tell you to give up, by the way. I feel like that’s something Claude said to you,” Dimitri quipped.

“I hate how accurate you are.”

The both of them shared a good laugh. Byleth couldn’t stop smiling—even though she was losing, she couldn’t help but be jubilant. She loved seeing Dimitri like this—she loved seeing him be happy. She loved being happy with him.

“Dimitri?”

“Hm?”

“What’s it like . . . I dunno, having a lot of expectations? I already deal with a lot with me being a teacher and all, but it must be so much harder being an heir to a major country,” Byleth asked. It was a question with many layers to it—but it had been plaguing her mind ever since she first met him.

Dimitri moved forth his king. He seemed to be in deep thought again. It was a while before he answered, but he eventually did, “It is . . . very hard. I remember being younger and thinking I could get away with anything. I once got into a fight with Felix when we were kids right in front of his parents, and I didn’t see anything wrong with it, so I was confused when my parents were livid with me. To me, I was just mad at a friend because he stole my teddy bear. But, in reality, I was endangering not just myself, but my family and their alliance with the Fraldariuses.” 

Byleth was taken aback by his response—she never expected him to learn about the cruelty of being born a noble so early. Especially when he was just a child . . .

“I . . . that’s horrible. I am so sorry. That’s an awful way to find out . . .” Byleth trailed off, staring at the table. She thought being a commoner was hard, but she never truly thought about all the responsibilities and pressures nobles had to deal with on a day-to-day basis.

“Don’t apologize. It’s a lot, but it’s a duty I must accept. Lives depend on my leadership. I cannot afford to make a mistake,” Dimitri conceded. His eyes darkened—his irises were plagued by dread and melancholy. Emotions Byleth wished she could just wipe away. 

“It’s still unfair, though. It’s unfair that just because who your parents are, that determines how hard or easy your life is. No one is capable of bearing that much responsibility and guilt. You’re only human, Dimitri,” Byleth said quietly, “And . . . well, I’ve said this before, but you’re never alone, OK? You’ve got me and your friends with you. Don’t feel like only you and you alone can shoulder all of this.”

“ . . . Thank you, Byleth,” Dimitri breathed. His hands were clasped tightly together, but his body was at ease. “You . . . you go through so much as well, though. I can’t be complaining as if I’m the only one.”

Byleth shook her head, “It pales in comparison to you. I just started half a year ago, and you’ve been doing this all your life. But there’s no use in comparing our hardships—everyone deals with tragedy and difficulty. That’s a fact of life.”

“You’re right. You sound a thousand years older than you actually are, Byleth. I envy your wisdom.”

“Ha! Thank you. I wish some of my students realized that.”

They both chuckled harmoniously. Trying to ease the tension, she asked, “A teddy bear, though? That’s kind of cute.”

Dimitri stuttered, realizing what he said. “I—well, I was very young, so—”

“Dimitri, I’m not making fun of you. I had a stuffed pegasus when I was a kid,” Byleth giggled. 

Dimitri’s expression softened. “That is quite adorable as well.”

Dimitri’s army of mahogany was slowly advancing towards hers. Byleth narrowed her eyes in concentration, trying to salvage what she could. She knew there was a way to win, but how? Last time she blindly put her pieces forth without thinking about protecting the most valuable thing to her—the king—and it ended up in her defeat. She couldn’t afford to do that again. 

In an instant, she knew what to do. She slid the queen across the checkered landscape. It was guarded by all her remaining pieces—this was her only chance of protecting the king, and she had to do it fast. And if it meant potentially sacrificing the queen, it had to be done. 

Dimitri’s brow furrowed, clearly confused by her move. He ended up moving his king carefully across the board, which was flanked by pawns. 

His eyes widened, seeming to realize his mistake, but it was already too late. 

Byleth smiled leisurely as she knocked over the king with her queen, and leaned back in her chair, crossing her legs. “Checkmate.”

Dimitri sighed in defeat, although he was still impressed. “Congratulations. I couldn’t read you for a second there. You seem to be getting better at the game.”

“Thank you. It seems I have,” Byleth said quietly. 

Her eyes met Dimitri’s again, and she was grateful they were as peaceful as hers. 

 


 

The garden was always so vibrant and teeming with life. 

Byleth bent over, taking a lily in her hand and thumbing its soft petals. Even in winter, it was still alive—she was stunned by it, and she quickly grabbed the blossom, storing it in her pocket. She was captivated by its beauty—she simply had to keep it, maybe even ask the florist how it had survived for so long. 

“Like that lily? So do I!” a flirtatious voice echoed in her ears, and Byleth turned her head to meet the amber eyes of Sylvain boring into hers. 

She immediately took three steps back and frowned. “Sylvain, doesn’t your exam start in an hour . . . ?”

“I have plenty of time! I thought I’d explore the garden to relax my mind, and I just happened to stumble across another beauty on my way there,” Sylvain winked, his lips in a suggestive grin, waggling his eyebrows. 

“Sylvain. No.”

“What do you mean no? I just complimented you!” Sylvain whined, his puppy dog eyes trying to tug at her heartstrings. It wasn’t working. 

“I mean stop. Don’t you flirt with the girls in your house enough?” Byleth shook her head, continuing to stroll around the garden. She tried to admire the fauna, but Sylvain kept following her around like a lost kitten. 

He prodded even more, “I just do that for fun. But you, my dear Byleth, are a sight like no other! Truly, we were meant to be!”

“Right. So you’re just in it for my looks?” Byleth deadpanned. 

“W-What? N-No, of course not! I appreciate women not just for appearance! Their heart is what I’m truly after!”

“To toy with?”

“Absolutely not!”

“Sylvain. I get it. You’re young and hormonal, but I’m not interested. Please stop,” Byleth reiterated, sighing. She neared an array of snapdragons, studying its saturated colors. 

Just as she was reaching to pick one up, a hand stealthily grabbed the blossom and she looked up to see Sylvain holding it, grinning even more. He slightly bowed, offering the flower as he grabbed her hand like he was about to propose. 

“Sylvain.”

“Milady, will you—”

“She said to stop,” a voice interrupted, and they both turned to the sudden source of the sound.

Dimitri strode over, his jaw clenched and his eyes narrowed—he looked frustrated and annoyed. Was he . . . angry at Sylvain?

Immediately Sylvain dropped the flower and straightened his back at the sight of his house leader, clearing his throat. His face was white from shock and embarrassment, but absentmindedly, he was still holding onto Byleth’s hand. At the sight of this, Dimitri firmly grabbed Sylvain’s arm, and the red-haired boy squeaked and quickly dropped her hand. 

“I—I’m so sorry, milord, I didn’t mean to—”

Dimitri was trembling visibly now—from pure anger, it seemed. A shiver went down Byleth’s spine—she had never seen him like this before, so bothered, so fiery, so . . . protective. 

In a dangerously low voice, he seethed, “You knew exactly what you were doing, Sylvain. If a woman tells you to back off, you do so. I won’t accept this kind of behavior from you.”

Sylvain nodded quickly. His entire body was shaking. “O-O-Of course, milord, I deeply apologize. I made a foolish mistake. It won’t happen again. It wasn’t my intention to make Miss Byleth uncomfortable.”

Dimitri’s stance softened a bit, but he was still on the defensive. He shook his head, and sighed with deep reservation, “That doesn’t matter if it was your intention or not. What you did affected the person negatively.”

Sylvain nodded again, his head facing the ground in shame. “I-I’m so sorry, Dimitri. And Byleth, I am sorry to you too. I shouldn’t have done that.” 

Byleth tried to comfort him, “It’s fine, Sylvain. Just be more respectful next time, OK?”

“O-OK! I’ll be going now . . .” Sylvain stuttered, and dashed away like a guilty child. Dimitri looked after him, unimpressed, to say the least.

Byleth turned to Dimitri, and she could see that he was still bristling. She didn’t expect him to get so passionate—especially around one of his classmates. 

Why did he react like that . . . ?

Dimitri sighed again, holding the bridge of his nose in his hand. “I’m so sorry about him. I know he’s a flirt, but I didn’t think he’d try to go after you.” The way he referred to her was strangely more pronounced—a special kind of care, reserved for her. 

“Never mind that. Are you OK?” Dimitri asked, concern coloring his eyes. He was now much softer, examining every inch of her face. The amount of care and consideration in his eyes was enough to make her blush—she never had someone that worried for her before. But she appreciated it. 

Byleth shyly looked away from his intense gaze. “I’m fine. He can be a bit . . . eccentric, but it’s not harmful.”

Dimitri chuckled, “You’re far too forgiving. But I trust your opinion.” She could feel his eyes roam her face, as if trying to ascertain any hint of discomfort from her encounter with Sylvain. He felt like a protective mother or a concerned friend, making sure she was alright, always. 

“I’m fine. Really, Dimitri,” she smiled, and eventually he seemed convinced. 

“I just . . . wanted to make sure,” was all he said. Almost unconsciously, he lifted his hand, and hesitated to touch her cheek—her breath was caught in her throat at the gesture, but her eyes practically pleaded with him to continue, and eventually he obliged and tucked a stray strand of hair from her ears. His fingers lingered on her face for a second longer, and he eventually pulled back. 

“You’re a good man, Dimitri,” Byleth said. She had never seen someone so concerned and protective of her—and she strangely liked the feeling. 

Instinctively, she patted his head, ruffling his blonde locks. Dimitri stood absolutely still, and she could see his face heating up steadily.

She giggled, covering her mouth with her hand. He could get so flustered sometimes. It was adorable.

“W-Well, I should get going . . . I have an exam to take,” Dimitri coughed, beginning to turn away. 

“Right. I’ll be going as well. Um, Dimitri?”

“Yes?”

“Good luck. You’ll do amazing,” Byleth reassured, winking. 

Dimitri gave a small smile. “Thanks, Byleth.”

As he walked away, Byleth felt herself falling forward more and more in love with him—and she was beginning to feel like maybe it wasn’t so one-sided after all. 

 


 

As the melodic clock tower rung, a series of cheers shook the building, and students filed out like a herd, rushing to their dorm rooms to begin packing up for the break. 

Exams had just ended, and Byleth sank into her chair, relieved to hell and back. Endless tutoring, prepping, and teaching went into this semester, but she felt like she accomplished much—and she was sure her students did excellent. 

Winter break started after midterms finished—right at noon—and horse-drawn carriages were already lined up in front of the school, headed by anxious parents or hired chauffeurs eager to get their child home for the break. She and her father decided to just stay at the monastery over the break since accommodations were already there for them, and they really didn’t have anywhere else to go. Plus, it’d be mostly empty, so they’d have the place for themselves. 

She stretched for a couple of minutes, waiting for the tide of students to disperse, and eventually left the classroom when the hallways were nearly empty. She couldn’t stand large crowds—unless she was leading an army, she would get nervous trying to navigate through a sea of people. 

Byleth yawned as she walked through the hallway, already tired out—she couldn’t wait to collapse on her bed and just sleep. Teaching and battling was so exhausting, and she had a well-deserved break right in front of her. 

Just as she was about to reach her room, she noticed a door slightly ajar in front of her. That’s strange. Most of the students should be gone by now . . . Deciding to investigate, she peered in, and was surprised by the sight before her. 

Dimitri was sitting on the edge of his bed, empty cases in front of him. He seemed unwilling—or unable—to get up and start packing, instead staring at his wardrobe in an indiscernible emotion. 

Byleth bit the inside of her jaw. She wasn’t sure if she should intervene or not—perhaps he just needed some alone time. 

Yet . . . she wanted to see if she could help, either way. Holding her breath, she gently knocked on the open door. 

Dimitri’s head perked up, and whipped to see her leaning against the doorway. She casually waved, trying to not seem intrusive. His expression softened, and he waved back—but it seemed to lack so much strength for some reason. 

“Hello, Dimitri. You seem to be the last one left,” she stated, awkwardly at best. 

“Yes . . . I suppose I’m just a bit sentimental. Even if it’s just for a few weeks, I’ll miss Garreg Mach. I feel so at home here,” he confided, his eyes glazed with faint nostalgia, “I’ll miss you the most. Your guidance and presence is much appreciated.” 

“I understand where you’re coming from,” Byleth admitted. She tried to mask the oncoming blush from gracing her cheeks—he’ll miss me the most—and focused on his expression. He seemed vaguely . . . lost. His usual chivalry and calmness was replaced by something more deep-rooted, but she couldn’t say what. 

“I’ll miss you as well. But hey, we’ll be back in no time, right? And you get to spend some time back in Faerghus, with your family and friends!” Byleth encouraged, trying to find positives in his situation. 

But at the mention of family, his face seemed to twist in pain. He didn’t say anything, but that moment seemed to reveal it all—his sudden frown, pained eyes—and Byleth only worried even more for him. 

He was silent, and Byleth started sweating. Shit, shit, shit, that was the wrong thing to say. Fuck, how do I salvage this?

“Um . . . hey, the winter holiday is over the break, right? I’ll get you something!” Byleth promised, giving him a wide smile. 

Dimitri seemed to break out of his trance, and he gave a halfhearted smile, but a smile nonetheless. “You don’t have to, Byl—”

“Really, my treat. I’m getting you something, and that’s final!” she crossed her arms stubbornly, gleefully confident. 

Dimitri shook his head, but he was still smiling. “Alright, then. I suppose I shall get you a gift as well.”

 


 

A sound awoke Byleth in the middle of the night. 

She couldn’t pinpoint what it was—all she knew was that she was no longer dreaming and surrounded by strange dragons and multicolored unicorns. Narrowing her eyes to adjust to the darkness, she groaned, wishing to fall back asleep, but the sound echoed again.

I can’t rest till I hear what it is . . .

Sighing, she grabbed her candle, knowing she probably looked shit-faced right now—her wrinkled nightgown, drooping eye bags, annoyed expression—whatever she was about to encounter would probably be frightened by just looking at her.

She quietly tiptoed out of her room, looking both ways, trying to ascertain the source of the sound. It was only her and her footsteps.

Byleth was about to give up when the sound reverberated again—this time much louder. It was still so muffled she still couldn’t even tell what it was, but she decided to follow it to see.

Her feet led her farther down the hallway, walking past room after room. Perhaps a student had forgotten something in their dorms? 

Her eyes widened as she located the source—it was coming from Dimitri’s room. Was it appropriate for her to interrupt . . . ? Then again, he was her friend, and she was worried for him—she felt like she had to help, no matter what.

Taking in a deep breath, she managed the courage to quietly open the door—it was unlocked—and the sight before her paralyzed her entire body.

Dimitri—the young, kind, well-mannered boy with a heart of gold and a temperament of patience and calmness and joy that rivaled gods—was leaning against his bed frame, tears quietly rolling down his cheeks, his hands clutching his sides for dear life, sobs rocking his body as he tried to stifle the sound of his cries.

She had never seen him so vulnerable since the night they gazed at the stars. Sprawled out on his bed, soaked with tears, utterly broken and miserable—a kind of grief she had never seen on a person before. It was as if he was letting out all his emotions at once, pouring out a passion and a sadness he had been keeping inside him for so long. 

The serene, wise Dimitri was gone. It was never there to begin with—it was his mask to the outside world, to hide his sorrow, his anger, his memories he had withheld for the sake of himself and his loved ones.

And Byleth was heartbroken. Her blood ran cold as soon as she saw what lay before her. Her heart felt like it had been ripped out of her chest twice and been stuffed forcibly back in. How could she not know? How could she have allowed him to feel this way? To feel so alone? She blamed herself, for all her oversights, her errors, her lies she told herself that maybe he was alright in the end. She would never know the pain he was going through, so she only had sympathy in her heart—and that would never be enough.

At the sound of the door creaking, Dimitri’s head jerked up, and his face paled. He looked like he had seen a ghost, and she could see him immediately wipe away the tears, trying to come up with excuses, but the more he did it, the more he broke down.

“God fucking damn it. Why in Seiros’ name did you of all people have to see me like this?” Dimitri bitterly recoiled, his muscles tensing up even more than before. He only hung his head in shame, refusing to look at Byleth.

Byleth was stunned for several seconds, not sure how to respond. How was she even supposed to approach this situation? How could she possibly comfort someone who had been keeping in all this trauma for so long?

You don’t need to save him. You don’t even need to give advice. All you need to do is listen. 

That revelation steered her on the right path. 

She knew what she needed to do.

She took a small step forward. “Dimitri. I didn’t mean—I didn’t know—”

“Of course you didn’t know! No one fucking knows what’s going through my head!” Dimitri spat, his lips in a vicious snarl. His entire body was vibrating with fear and rage. “Why, Byleth? Why is it—why is it always you I have to depend on? I feel so . . . so useless.” 

He quieted down. His eyes were distraught and humiliated. He was a broken man, no longer the epitome of nobility or regality—he was just a person.

Under all that placidity was a beating heart who bled just like anyone else. 

She wished she realized that sooner.

Better late than never, she supposed.

She took another step. “Everyone depends on someone, Dimitri. That doesn’t make you weak or useless.”

“No, no, no! Y-You’re wrong!” Dimitri seethed, shaking his head, but it was clear he was trying to convince himself as well. “I am a prince. I cannot forge bonds, I cannot trust anyone but myself. That is the fate of nobility; marriages are just for political clout, friendships are just euphemisms for contended alliances. I cannot allow myself to get close to anyone. I cannot afford to feel so much pain—not—not again,” he hollowly whispered. He was trembling now, and Byleth was afraid he might pass out because of his shaking.

Byleth was now in front of Dimitri, sitting halfway on his bed. He was trying to hide himself again, burying his face in his hands, shying away from her presence.

She only whispered, “If you wall yourself off Dimitri, you won’t feel pain. But you won’t feel love, either.”

Silence penetrated the room for quite some time. The clouds masked the moon, before revealing it again. 

“I care for you, Dimitri. All the Blue Lions do. Your teachers. Edelgard and Claude. We’re here for you. Please, just let us in. Don’t let yourself be shrouded in darkness or harbor all your pains to yourself. You . . . you can’t burn yourself to keep others warm,” she finally said. She faltered for a second, but decided to pry his hands away from his face, holding them in hers. 

They were so cold. 

His face peered at hers. His bangs were messy and disheveled, his cheeks tear-stained, his face white as a sheet. She slowly wiped away the tears with her thumb, then parted his stray locks back in place. He closed his eyes, breathing deeply.

A beat. Then two. Byleth bit her cheek until it bled. Perhaps she said the wrong thing. Maybe it would be better if she just le—

Abruptly, she felt two strong arms grasp her entire body, pulling her forth. She let out a squeak of surprise, not expecting Dimitri to embrace her so boldly, but she welcomed it nevertheless. He held onto her for dear life, it seemed, as if he was afraid she’d fade away at any moment. Byleth slowly clasped his own body, bringing him closer to her, and they stayed like that for eternity. He was so desperate and afraid, and she felt that through his bones, the tightness of his grasp. She patted his back soothingly, gripping onto him, basking in his warmth, her head nuzzled into the crook of his neck. 

After a while, they finally released each other, although Byleth never truly let go of her hold of him—she would always look after him, in her heart. She felt like he made the same promise, too.

Dimitri didn’t let go of her hands, though. His body was still shaking, and her hands were like a lifeline for him. So she gladly allowed him to clutch them as much as he needed to.

“I never thought . . . I’d hear anyone say those words to me,” Dimitri sighed. It was not one of sadness or tiredness, no, it was one of relief. 

“Well, I’m here, aren’t I?” she asked, smiling warmly. 

“Indeed you are. And I’m so grateful for that,” he breathed. His eyes were staring into her soul, filled with absolute devotion. Her heart skipped a beat.

As she massaged his calloused fingers, she began her journey towards listening—and hopefully, finding out what exactly he was going through. 

“Dimitri, how long have you felt like this? How long have you kept all your feelings to yourself?” Byleth asked. Her eyes were concentrated on his hands, but she could feel him tense up at the question.

He eventually relaxed, though, answering, “I . . . to tell you the truth, my whole life. I was raised to always stay at a distance to others, and if I ever got close, it was to be for purely political purposes. Every interaction was to be one of malicious purposes, not genuine friendship. And I hated it,” he flinched when talking about his childhood, but he continued on, “At first, I rebelled against my parents’ wishes. Sylvain, Ingrid, and Felix are my closest friends, after all. I got away with it for a little while. But . . . it didn’t last for long.

“One day I bravely said, as a child, when I married, it’d be a union out of love, not out of loyalty or political advantage. I said I didn’t care if the girl was a commoner, either. My parents . . . they were not very happy with that,” he balked even further, but pressed on, “I said that when some of their noble friends were over. They put on a good show, treating me like what I said was a joke. And as soon as they left, my mother and father screamed at me like banshees. Yelled at me over and over again that I was a shame to them, embarrassing them like that in front of their closest allies. If I ever married out of love, I would never get away with it, not over their dead bodies, and if I did, they’d disown me on the spot. Then they asked me if I really felt like I had any friends, and I said yes.”

He was convulsing as he exhaled, “I remember my father slapping me across the face. He told me I was too foolish to ever rule Faerghus, and he left me in my room alone, my mother in tow. I wasn’t allowed to leave my room for weeks as punishment.”

Byleth’s jaw dropped. His parents treated a child like that? Their own son? She couldn’t believe what she was hearing, and yet, she knew it was the truth. It was the reason why Dimitri was so closed off, so hesitant to share his feelings, why it always felt like he was putting distance between him and others.

“Dimitri . . . I . . . by the Goddess, I’m so sorry . . . you were so young,” she whispered. His eyes were closed, reliving the harrowing memories he just repeated to her. Her heart ached for him; all his struggles, his sorrow, his agony he had been harboring for all his life. 

No matter what she said, it couldn’t fix his past or his pain. 

But she was there for him. That was all that mattered. She was here, now, listening, trying to heal wounds that went untended for years.

She reached out her arms, bringing his quivering body to hers. He let out hollow breaths and silent tears, and she massaged his back in soothing circles, hugging him so tightly she saw stars in her vision. 

“It’ll be OK. You’ll be OK. It’s all over. It’s not your fault for what happened,” she consoled. 

He only held onto her tighter.

After some time, they finally let go. His tears had stopped, and the only evidence he had ever wept was the wetness on his face. He began drying his face with his hand when Byleth asked him a question.

“Dimitri . . . did you not want to leave because you didn’t want to see your parents?”

He nodded.

“I loathe spending time with them. That’s why learning at Garreg Mach was such a relief to me—it was a life away from them. That’s why I dread any vacation that comes up. Because I know if I come back home, it’ll be more of the same pretentiousness, more torment, more prodding as to when I’ll be betrothed to a noblewoman. It’s so suffocating,” he croaked, “So when today arrived, I just couldn’t do it. Even if it’s only for a couple of weeks, I still hate it so much. So I don’t know what to do now. And I can already imagine how infuriated they’ll be if I stay here.” He let out an empty laugh, tinged with bitterness. 

Byleth glanced up at him. His aversion to his family was understandable—and she couldn’t imagine being in his position. She only ever had her father most of her life, and he was the kindest, most supportive father she could ask for—if he had treated her like Dimitri’s parents . . .

“Dimitri. Stay with us over the break. Stay . . . with me,” she requested, her eyes determined, yet pleading. 

He had always put up a wall between himself and others. A shadow hung over his face where his cheeriness was present. 

And yet.

When she came to teach at Garreg Mach, her presence melted away that icy facade he was so used to putting up—she remembered Annette thanking her after class one time, saying that Byleth’s presence seemed to make Dimitri open up more. Or how Felix reluctantly admitted that his lord seemed happier in recent days. Even the stoic Dedue told her his Highness seemed more upbeat than usual since she started teaching.

That carefully guarded exterior was challenged by her burning passion, her fiery resolve that could bring down bandits and kings.

She wanted to crush that wall and turn that shadow into light.

His eyes widened in surprise, overtaken by her request. He didn’t respond for several seconds, not being able to fully process her words.

Finally, he let out a sigh that was plagued with all his worries, fears, anguish, and despair. His eyes bored into her with a kind of hope she had never seen in them before.

“Yes. I would like that very much,” he whispered. Byleth’s smile reached her ears, her cheeks flush with joy.

“Thank you.”

A comfortable silence surrounded them, before Dimitri continued.

“After what happened, I . . . found myself not being able to forge friendships as much as I did when I was younger. I hesitate to trust people, even my own soldiers and comrades. I reminded myself daily I was just a pawn to be used. But I couldn’t handle it. My weakness gave way to the doubt and sadness building up in my mind . . . but you changed that,” Dimitri said, “I have never met anyone so genuine and loving and kind as you. When you told me you saw no difference between those with Crests and those without them, commoners and nobility . . . I was so happy. Your wonder, your fascination, it’s so . . . refreshing. I’m glad to have you by my side.”

For once, Byleth confidently placed her hand on his cheek, and she felt the warmth radiating from it. He instinctively caressed hers, and the two sat still like that for what seemed like years.

“I’m glad you’re by my side, too, Dimitri. I don’t know what I’d do without you. Thank you for telling me about this. I . . . I am always here for you. I promise that will never change,” she murmured softly.

“I will never let you go, Byleth. I promise that,” Dimitri whispered. 

She smiled sheepishly, and for once, she wasn’t overwhelmed or overtaken by blushes—she knew in her heart it was true. 

There was something she needed to say, that she had been too embarrassed to address with him before.

“I wanted to say . . . thank you for looking after me. When you placed your cape over me when I fell asleep in the library to keep me warm . . . when you carried me to my room after we sat together on the balcony . . . that was very generous of you. Thank you,” she acknowledged shyly. She looked down in embarrassment. She can’t believe she just got to thanking him for what he did months ago.

She felt her head being slowly being lifted up, and her breath caught her in her throat when she realized what he was doing. His fingers were placed under her chin, tilting it up to meet his eyes. 

“You don’t need to thank me for that, Byleth. It was my pleasure. We’ve got to look after each other, right?” he smiled.

“Yes, you’re right,” she grinned back. A promise she’d always keep, deep in her heart. “I . . .” she trailed off. She should probably go back to her own room, but . . .

“Please. Stay,” was all Dimitri said. That feeling of loneliness and desperation briefly flashed through his eyes, out of fear, no doubt. 

Her smile softened, and she only nodded. She lied her body adjacent to his on the bed, snuggling deep under the covers, facing him. They were inches from touching—they always seemed to be—and the last thing she felt before she fell asleep was the heavy, familiar gaze of his eyes on her.

 


 

She awoke to find the bed empty next to her, still warm from where Dimitri slept. 

Her dreams were pleasant last night—she dreamt of warmth, a basking light, a field of sunflowers. Usually she had gotten more nightmares recently, so this was a pleasant respite from her frequent night terrors. 

She slowly got out of Dimitri’s bed, examining his room. It was quite neat and well-kept, laundry folded neatly, books arranged on shelves accordingly, paintings lining the wall. A paper stuck out of a shelf caught her eye, and she walked over to it, peering at it further. 

It was a charcoal sketch, crumpled and aged. Four figures were drawn, arms intertwined—a young girl with short hair holding hands with a darker-haired boy with a devious grin, who was rubbing the head of a lighter-haired boy with a smirk, who in turn had his arm around a sheepish looking light-haired boy. They all looked slightly older than toddlers, but younger than preteens. A date was scrawled in the corner from a little over a decade ago, with a signature accompanying it, the letters “DB” written in the corner. 

So Dimitri drew this . . . ? I didn’t know he was an artist . . . I’m guessing this is Ingrid, Felix, Sylvain, and Dimitri when they were younger. 

They were all bright-eyed and hopeful. A more innocent time, Byleth thought. 

She tucked back the paper in its place, and decided to go to the mess hall to get something to eat. Her stomach was growling all the way there, and she was surprised to find a meal already on the table where she usually sat. 

“Morning,” Dimitri said, and she turned around to find him sitting next to her, wiping his hands with a towel. 

“So you can cook and draw. I’m sure your wife will be extremely lucky,” Byleth giggled. The plate before her looked absolutely delicious—pancakes with whipped cream and strawberries lazing around, soaked in maple syrup. A steaming cup of coffee was sitting next to it. All of it felt so . . . domestic. And she savored every second of it.

Dimitri suddenly cleared his throat, trying to fight back a blush. “I—erm—I suppose so,” he stammered. Clearly her words made him flustered, and butterflies stormed across her stomach. “But how did you know I drew?”

Byleth started scarfing down the pancakes. Her mouth was in a sugary heaven, and with chunks of strawberries in her mouth, she replied, “I saw one of your drawings sticking out of your shelf, of you and your friends when you were younger. I can barely draw a stick figure now, and you were drawing hyper-realistic sketches when you were little!”

The blonde-haired boy chuckled, “Well, thank you. I haven’t drawn in a while because of my duties, but I just might get back to it . . . hey, slow down, you’ll get stomach pains.” He jokingly chastised her, and she only grinned impishly.

She finished in less than five minutes, and her stomach was already screaming at her, but she was famished and she couldn’t help herself. 

“You have a whipped cream mustache on you right now,” Dimitri teased, and Byleth only stuck out her tongue like a child.

Suddenly, he got out a napkin and started wiping the cream off her lips—and she couldn’t help the blood rushing to her cheeks. She felt like a child again, where her mother and father would never leave her side, watching and fussing over her relentlessly. 

This time, it was a prince she was hopelessly in love with.

“Is this what you meant by ‘never letting me go’?” Byleth joked.

“Mmm. I suppose so,” Dimitri grinned.

 


 

“Open yours first!”

It was the morning of the winter holiday, and Dimitri and Byleth were huddled near the fireplace, shielded from the frigid cold of the outside. They were finally giving each other’s promised gifts, and Byleth was bursting from excitement—she couldn’t wait to see Dimitri’s reaction to what she got for him.

“Alright, alright,” Dimitri gave in. He wanted to show her gift first, but Byleth insisted she go first. Her nerves were fired up and her heart was racing—she couldn’t wait any longer.

She nervously waited as he unwrapped her gift, which was wrapped in dark blue paper and silky white ribbons. Slowly, the wrapping unfurled, and she could see him take a sudden intake of breath.

A box of charcoal sticks lay in front of him, bundled next to sheafs of blank paper. 

“Byleth . . . this is . . . thank you so much!” Dimitri gave her a closed eye smile, and he enthusiastically thumbed the drawing supplies in wonder. He had that familiar, captivated look on his face she loved so much. 

“I’m glad you like it. You said you wanted to get back into drawing, so . . .” she sheepishly smiled, rubbing her neck. 

“It’s perfect. Thank you so much,” he breathed in excitement, and gave her a sudden hug. She yelped in surprise, but nonetheless returned it, happy to be enveloped by his joy and excitement.

They soon parted, and he clutched the supplies tight to his chest. “I promise I’ll make my first drawing worthy of your gift.”

She was overwhelmed by his statement, but she let him keep his promise. He worked so hard already, but she could tell he was truly passionate about her present.

“OK, now let me give you yours,” Dimitri said, pushing forth a small box in front of her, wrapped in golden paper and a red bow. 

Her heart hammered against her chest as she slowly untied the ribbon, and eventually the wrapping paper. 

Inside the small box was a silver necklace, situated next to a small folded paper. Byleth gasped in delight, lifting up the necklace—it glittered against the firelight so brightly it made her eyes hurt. On it was a pendant in the shape of a roaring lion, carved with such detail it boggled her mind. It was the symbol of the Blue Lions, no doubt—a gift she’d treasure forever. She quickly put the jewelry on, still admiring the craftsmanship and pure beauty of the necklace. 

She soon unfolded the paper, revealing a small ink drawing. It was her and Dimitri, standing next to each other, smiles reaching their eyes. She flipped the paper, and on it was a message:

Happy holidays, Byleth. Thank you for everything.

Sincerely,

Dimitri

She smiled so hard it felt like her face was about to break. Without any hesitation, she squealed with absolute elation, and attacked Dimitri with the fiercest hug she could manage, knocking them both on the floor. Dimitri let out a surprised yelp as Byleth fell on top of him.

“Thank you so so so so much Dimitri! I love it! I love—” she exclaimed, and embarrassingly cut herself off. Oh my Goddess, I was about to confess my entire heart out . . . ! 

“I—just—thank you! It’s so pretty! And your drawing is so beautiful! Thank you, thank you!” she squealed, her face beaming with glee.

She realized she was practically hovering over Dimitri’s fallen body, and her face started steaming with heat. Dimitri’s eyes were as wide as saucers, and he too was blushing fiercely. 

He stuttered, “I-I’m glad you like it, Byleth.” He was clearly flustered, but his smile was the biggest she had ever seen. 

She grinned cheerfully, and embraced him without reservation. He let out an oof of surprise, but eventually hugged back just as tight, chuckling lightly. 

“That necklace looks good on you. I wanted to make sure that you remember our class for as long as you live, so I decided to make it for you. And the drawing . . . well, I wanted you to remember me, I guess,” Dimitri explained. 

His face was aflame with red, and it only made Byleth’s heart pound even more. He made it himself?! Goddess, he’s talented. He wanted me to remember him, too . . .

“Thank you. I love it so much. It’s so beautiful. I’ll wear it till the end of my days,” she beamed, her smile reaching her eyes, “And you’re still such a talented artist. I’m jealous.”

Dimitri stared at her with absolute fascination and bliss. “It’s no big deal, really. They are proper gifts for an exceptional woman.”

She blinked, trying to keep her eyes from falling out of her head. “Me? Exceptional?”

“Of course. Talented at teaching, strategizing, fighting, and most importantly, listening. I haven’t yet met someone more extraordinary than you,” he asserted. His eyes were fixated on hers, filled with awe. 

She lightly slapped his arm, looking away in embarrassment, “Stop. You’re flattering me.”

“But it’s true!” Dimitri indignantly stated.

“You really think so?”

“I’d never lie to you.”

She rolled her eyes, but she was smiling. “Alright. I’ll trust you on that.”

They lay like that for hours, listening to the crackle of the fire against the wood. What seemed like hard pellets drummed against the roof of the monastery, interrupting their lull of half-sleep.

“It’s snowing,” Dimitri realized. 

“Do you want to go outside?” Byleth asked, peering up at him. As a prince from the north, he probably missed the coldness of winter and the snowflakes that graced his kingdom. 

“I’d like that,” Dimitri responded. His lips were turned upwards in a nostalgic smile.

Soon, the two were bundled in layers of warm clothing, strolling outside. The monastery was a winter wonderland—inches of snow buried the ground, decorated the pine trees, and permeated the air. Icicles hung off like vines in every corner. Byleth gazed in wonder and a childlike buzz.

It seemed like her cloak and scarf wasn’t enough to shield her from the cold bite of winter’s jaw—she soon found herself shivering from the temperature. She wasn’t used to such coldness; usually, whenever her mercenary band found themselves in a freezing spot, they’d try to go south or stay inside most of the time. 

It seemed like Dimitri noticed, because he worriedly looked down at her, and slowly lifted his thick, fur-lined cape—an offer. She gladly took it, huddling closer to him, now closely tucked in by his cape and held by his firm arm. She had gotten so used to his touch that now whenever they got close, it was more natural and she didn’t get as flustered as she used to.

“Are you not used to the cold? I suppose I shouldn’t say anything, since I’m from Faerghus,” he laughed lightly as they walked. 

“Nope. Not in the slightest. Whenever it got chilly, we’d just hunker down in our tents and wait for it to pass. I’m not used to wearing so many layers of clothing, either,” she sighed. Her cloud of breath materialized in front of her, then quickly disappeared, swept away by the harsh winds. 

“Ah, I see. I’ll just be your walking source of warmth, then,” he joked, and she giggled. 

“I’d appreciate that . . . oh, look, a bird!” she pointed towards a tree branch near them, and sitting on it was a robin cleaning its feathers, shivering from the cold. 

“I didn’t expect to see any left because of the cold,” Dimitri said with wonder. 

Byleth stretched out her gloved hands, and the robin jumped into them with gratitude. It nuzzled into the cloth with comfort. 

Her eyes were about to pop out of her head. She had never been good with animals, but now, a bird had gladly jumped into her hands, and she felt like her heart was about to explode. She laughed with joy, her cheeks a rosy red as she reached out her finger to pet the small creature, and it happily chirped. 

“It seems to like you,” Dimitri smiled. He seemed so fascinated by her and the bird’s interaction—utterly captivated, and she felt a warm blush overtake her face at his gaze.

“Here, maybe it’ll warm up to you as well,” she murmured, afraid any loud sound might disturb the robin. She gently pushed it towards Dimitri, who quickly outstretched his hand, not prepared for her gesture. She giggled as the robin seemed unwilling to leave her hands, but eventually the bird scooched itself to Dimitri’s black gloves. 

“Is there an appropriate way to handle birds?” Dimitri asked, eyes wide with slight terror, as if he was afraid of crushing the small thing. 

Byleth covered her mouth with her hand, but still giggled anyway, “It’s a bird, Dimitri. Just be natural.” 

“A-Alright . . .”

She snuggled closer into his cape, watching with admiration and wonder as he started lightly petting the robin’s head. It in turn started cooing happily, lightly nipping at his finger in appreciation. 

“It’s biting me. Did I do something wrong?” he panicked, retracting his finger instantly. 

Dimitri. That means it likes it. Here, like this,” she took his hands in hers, guiding his finger gently to the bird’s head. It started nipping the both of them now, chirping with even more delight. 

“I see. I’ll have to take note of this, then,” he remarked. Byleth swore she could hear his heart beat faster, not used to her taking the initiative when it came to hand holding—she victoriously smiled at his reaction. 

She hummed, “Ha, it’s like we’re its parents, taking care of a small child and all!”

She could hear him freeze at her words, and she suddenly realized what she just said. Byleth, will you ever cease to not embarrass yourself in front of the guy you like?

He stuttered, “I-I suppose so . . .”

As she continued petting the small bird’s head, Dimitri continued, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone so well-liked by animals. Or, rather, good with handling animals.”

Byleth glanced at Dimitri—he seemed genuinely admirable of her skills, no exaggeration in sight. 

She laughed, “Trust me, I’m not as good as you think. I guess this robin in particular likes us,” she pondered, and started to reminisce, “My mother . . . my earliest memory of her was the songbirds singing along with her. I wish I could be half as good with animals as she was.” 

“Your mother . . . she . . .” Dimitri trailed off, obviously hesitant to finish his question. 

She shook her head, “Don’t feel bad, really. She died when I was very young. I sometimes can’t remember her face . . . but that’s OK. She’s watching over me now, I think.” 

“I’m sure she would be proud of the person you’ve become today,” Dimitri softly said, gazing at her with care. 

“Thank you, Dimitri,” she responded. 

She glanced at him again—the robin had jumped to his hand again, and he was frantically trying to soothe it, while also keeping an arm around Byleth. The blistering cold and the gentle snowflakes falling down, his warmth comforting and protecting her, the baby bird shared by their hands—it all felt too good to be true, and yet it was real. 

I wish this moment could last forever.

She knew it couldn’t, but she wished. So she savored every second, every moment spent with him, basking in his warmth and his kindness and his joy.

Chapter Text

A blade sunk into her abdomen, knocking the wind out of her chest. 

Byleth struggled to breathe as her vision went blurry and she fell to the ground. She clutched her stomach, bile building up in her throat as she wheezed for air. The cruel, wicked smile of the man before her clouded her vision, and she feared it was the last thing she’d ever see.

No. I am not giving up. Not today.

With one last ounce of her strength, she picked up her sword, and channeled all her energy into the blow, striking forth and slashing the enemy’s legs. 

With a cry, the man fell forward, landing on the ground with a hard thud. She now hovered over him, and the man’s eyes begged for mercy. 

As if. The bastard just tried to kill me.

She heaved as she sunk her sword into his chest. He screamed an ungodly shriek, cut off shortly by her blade. A flock of birds in the forest sung with fear, fleeing quickly from the tree they were habituated in. 

She closed her eyes, feeling the last of her energy sap away as she fell to the ground. She coughed up blood as her body jolted with pain. 

Goddess. I can’t die here. Not now.

She and the Blue Lions had gone on a rescue mission for Ingrid, who had disappeared mysteriously from Garreg Mach the night before—rumored to be kidnapped by the Death Knight, who was an enemy of the Church of Seiros. The group set out at once when Ashe came hollering in the mess hall that she hadn’t been seen in the monastery since the night before. As soon as they reached the domain of the shadowy figure, they were attacked by masked soldiers. Byleth got separated from the rest when one soldier tackled her off a steep hill, right into a wide, churning river. 

Now, she was barely alive—her wounds, left untreated, would surely kill her. Her entire body was scratched by the undergrowth from her fall into the river, deep red lines of blood seeping out of her arms and legs. A dark purple bruise rose from her forehead where her face collided with a rock from the river, creating a constant migraine surging through her brain. And, of course, her lower abdomen was gushing with blood from the cut the soldier gave her.

I have the worst luck, don’t I?

As she struggled to inhale air, she couldn’t help but worry for Dimitri. He was probably in a panic right now, relentlessly searching for her. He would never let her out of his sight again if he saw her in her current condition—he’d insist she never battle again, she’d bet. And she’d never hear the end of it from Manuela, as well. 

I have to stay alive. For my father. For my friends. For Dimitri.

She swallowed as much air as she could, before forcing herself to sit up. Next to her lay the slain body of one of the cronies of the Death Knight—his dead face still paralyzed from fear. She was used to taking lives on the battlefield—she was a mercenary, after all. Yet something about this man in particular made her stomach churn, and she looked away, feeling guilt accumulate in her stomach. 

Why do I feel bad? He tried to kill me . . .

She shook her head. She couldn’t get distracted now. Her main focus right now was staying alive. She had to find a way to heal her wound, even temporarily, and regroup with the Blue Lions. After battling with the soldier, she had completely lost her way—every tree in the forest looked like the same tall, barren-leafed oak she had seen before, and every color seemed to mesh together in varying degrees of blue, green, and brown. It didn’t help that she felt lightheaded and dizzy and that she was hearing a constant ringing in her ears, either. 

A sharp pain shot up her side again, and she crouched over, trying to subdue the sensation. Goddess, this isn’t looking good.

Taking in a deep breath, she leaned over the side of the river, barely managing to extend her arms as she washed her hands clean of blood. Quickly unfastening her belt, she grabbed two empty flasks, both filling them with water, one for her to drink, the other to wash her wound clean. 

Spotting a nearby tree, she slowly dragged herself to it. More excruciating bursts of pain bubbled in her torso, and she barely managed to make it when she started seeing stars again. Her hands were starting to get clammy, and her face felt unnaturally hot, sweat rolling down like a raging storm’s raindrops. She was starting to lose even more blood, and if she didn’t treat her wound soon, she didn’t know what would happen.

Goddess. I don’t know how much longer I’ll last . . .

No. She couldn’t give up, not now. Not after all she had been through. Her friends, her father . . . Dimitri. She couldn’t go dying on Dimitri. They promised they’d never let each other go. 

She had to keep her promise, too.

“OK, OK, I can do this,” she whispered. She wiped the sweat off her brow, and chugged as much water as she could, setting the glass down. She opened the pouch that clung to her belt, grabbing a roll of bandages. Tearing off a wad, she applied gentle pressure on the wound, trying to stop the bleeding. It quickly got soaked, and she repeated the process for half an hour.

Finally, she could see the color gradually return to her skin, and she sighed with relief. She lifted the current patch she had against the wound, and it wasn’t as bloodstained as before—it finally stopped bleeding.

Regaining some strength, she reached for the second flask of water, opening the cork and drizzling water over the injury. She had to clean the stab wound before it got infected—if it did, she would suffer a slow, painful death. Soon, most of the dried blood was gone, and she grabbed another small glass from her belt. It was an emergency ointment Manuela gave her when she first arrived at the monastery, for any kind of deep cut. She was thankful to her for giving it to her—she thought she’d never need it, but alas, here she was, damaged like an abused ragdoll. Pouring out the liquid on her wound, she quickly tore out another strip of the bandages, and applied the dressing to the wound, tying it around her waist.

She leaned against the tree for what seemed like hours, still not believing she was still alive. She had somehow managed to defend herself from an attacker and survive the ordeal. 

But she still wasn’t done. Her limbs were still bleeding, and if she didn’t treat them fast, she’d go unconscious. Thankfully, now that she had more strength, she was quickly able to clean the cuts the underbrush of the forest gave her and bandage them up in mere minutes. When she ran out of bandages, she tore off pieces of her cape and tied them around her arms and legs. 

The only thing left still giving her pain was her migraine, but even now it was alleviating, as the formerly intense migraine had subdued into a minor headache. Her vision was clear again and her breathing rate had returned to normal. She was feeling almost as fine when she originally stormed the territory of the Death Knight—she was in no condition to fight, but she could manage to fend off a foe or two if she needed to.

Byleth sluggishly got up, her hand still clutched to the site of the wound, and she used her sword as a sort of walking stick to trek through the forest. She still had no idea where she was—and she only got more lost as she went forward. Trees, streams, hills, and even more trees—a panic started manifesting in her chest that she would never find Dimitri and the others again, but she quickly shook her head, dispelling her anxious thoughts. She’d find them. And if she couldn’t, they’d find her.

She tried to remember where she was last, closing her eyes as she stood in the middle of the woods.

It was quiet. Too quiet.

The Blue Lions had rushed to the rumored Death Knight’s territory, but the forest lying before them was eerily silent. It was still morning, the daylight excruciatingly bright. Ashe was panting as he wildly swung his head, trying to find any sign of Ingrid; Felix was unusually timid as he snapped at every little noise, his hand constantly clutching his rapier; Annette was mewling in fear, her hands shaking so much that she kept dropping her tome; Mercedes was holding onto her bow so tightly it looked like she was about to faint; Sylvain was infumed with rage as he angrily muttered under his breath about all the different ways he’d slaughter the Death Knight; Dedue’s eyes were cold and fixed with determination, and Byleth was cursing herself internally for allowing one of her students to be taken like this. 

Dimitri was the most concerned of them all—as he led them through the thick forest, he could see him inflamed, anguished, and the most frightened of them all. No doubt this was personal to him—he had known Ingrid since childhood, so this action by the Death Knight would never be forgotten by him—and she suspected it would not end with peaceful negotiation, either.

Byleth dashed up to him, struggling to keep up with his quickened pace. His eyes were hurting and lost, and she feared his anger would overtake him, so she tried to console him the best she could.

“This isn’t your fault, Dimitri. We’ll find Ingrid, I promise,” she swore, her eyes glued ahead, searching for anything out of place or any stray sound.

“I know. I know, but I still can’t help but feel I should’ve been able to do something. How could this happen?” he shook his head, clearly troubled.

“I don’t know. But the important thing to remember is to stay focused. Ingrid wouldn’t want you blaming yourself,” she comforted.

“You’re right. I just hope we can find her, and put an end to this madma—”

His words were cut short by sudden, hideous cries, and in an instant, they were surrounded by black-clad soldiers armed with silver scythes, daggers, and bows. They were cackling and grinning madly—something about the look in their eyes was . . . unsettling. Their faces were obscured by strange-looking masks, and only their irises and mouths were visible.

“Blue Lions! Attack!” Dimitri yelled, instantly drawing his lance. The students gave out a rallying cry. The battle had begun.

Dimitri instinctively stood in front of Byleth, guarding her front as she watched his back. Ashe and Mercedes sprinted away and huddled near a bush, shooting arrows from a distance. Felix screamed as he swung down on one enemy, slashing their chest, blood splattering on his face. Dedue drove his axe into a dark mage, infused with a kind of strength she had never seen before. Annette muttered spells under her breath, casting cantrips and magical missiles at swordsmen running at her, finally calm and collected. Sylvain roared as he pierced a cavalier with his lance, straight through their chest.

Byleth saw a pegasus knight charging towards her, and she cursed, not knowing the best course of action to take—if she ducked, she would leave Dimitri vulnerable, but there was no way she could take down the knight in time. 

“Dimitri!” she called, and in a flash, he was standing beside her, readying his lance. Her sword was pointing outwards, its sharp tip twinkling. They both shared a brief glance—they knew what they needed to do. 

Without a word, they separated, and when the pegasus knight was only seconds away from attacking, they simultaneously attacked the beast from both sides, causing it to whinny and crash instantly. The knight shrieked in surprise, falling from the air, and landing with a loud thud on the ground, lifeless.

Byleth let out a sigh of relief—she caught Dimitri’s eyes again, and she gave a quick smile, nodding with appreciation, “Thanks.”

“Anytime,” he replied, nodding back. He seemed relieved she was unhurt.

She was about to go over to him to see if he was unwounded as well, when an ear-splitting howl ripped through the air. 

She could see words forming on Dimitri’s lips, his body running towards her, arms outstretched, but it was all in vain as a soldier slammed into her, the collision knocking out her breath. She collapsed on the ground, the man still holding onto her with a death grip, but it didn’t stop there—they kept moving, rolling, until Byleth realized they were situated right next to a ravine, where the ground fell into a downwards slope, right into a deep river. She cried out in pain, trying to escape, but her squirming only propelled them further, and the last thing she saw before they fell was Dimitri’s hand, desperately leaning over to catch her, his cries piercing the air. 

Byleth bit her lip. She couldn’t imagine what Dimitri was feeling now—not only did he lose Ingrid, but Byleth as well. That thought motivated her all the more to keep walking on, trying to find any kind of hint of a human soul wandering in the woods.

She fell down a ravine—yes, and right into the river. She remembered struggling to stay afloat, with the raging current and all, but she had managed to crawl herself onto land, before the enemy soldier attacked her again. She turned back, trying to see if she could locate the river again—but she had gotten lost yet again. Even if she did somehow manage to find her way back, there was no way she could scale the gorge—with her condition and notable lack of climbing equipment, she’d fall flat on her ass. Again.

As she walked forward, she couldn’t help but wonder about the safety of her students. Would they be alright without her? Could they manage to win the ambush? She hoped no reinforcements from the Death Knight had come—if there were, they had no chance of survival. She winced just thinking about it.

Her mind changed to Ingrid—she was such a kind, softhearted girl. She grew up with Sylvain, Felix, and Dimitri, so she put off her dreams of becoming a knight to look after them. She didn’t deserve to be spirited away by this Death Knight—Byleth wouldn’t allow it. She hoped to the Goddess that Ingrid would be alright and that she’d be found soon.

Just as she was about to turn around, Byleth heard a crack of a branch echo nearby. She held her breath and readied her sword—she worried if she fought now, she’d end up even worse than she was before, but she had to prepare herself despite that. The sound came from a cave below her feet, and a path led towards the opening ahead of her.

Her blade still in her hand, she slowly moved towards the cavern, making sure to be as silent as possible. She couldn’t see the inside of the cave at all, due to it being shrouded by shadows, so she had no idea what lay ahead of her.

Finally, she was only footsteps away from the entrance to the grotto—and she still only saw pitch-black darkness. Her heart thumped against her chest like it wanted to jump out, and a cold sweat started perspiring down her back. She gulped, breathing in and out, before venturing forth.

The cave seemed to go on forever—and the darkness only prevailed. Byleth barely managed to find her way by touching the walls of the cave as her eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness. No torches or lanterns were in sight, and she was no mage, so she couldn’t cast a light spell, either. Her breathing occasionally hitched as her heart pumped harder and harder against her chest, blood roaring in her ears. She wasn’t afraid of the dark or small spaces, but the childish fear within her threatened to take hold, and she fought back viciously to control it.

After what seemed like centuries, she seemed to reach the end of the cavern—she turned her head in all directions, but there was no sign of human life. A couple of dead branches lay in a pile ahead of her, charred with black dust, presumably from a fire. But whoever had lit it had long left. 

She was about to turn around when a muffled cry rang in her ears.

She snapped back to the sight of the fire, but there was still no one there—did the cave reach farther than she had previously thought? Byleth hurriedly continued forward, facing the cave’s wall, and she noticed a glimmering light at the center now that she was up close. It looked like a sort of rune, and she gently traced it with her fingers, trying to remember if she had ever seen it before.

As soon as her fingers pressed to the stone of the cave, she fell forward, shrieking in surprise as her face met the ground. 

Groaning in pain, she steadied herself, quickly checking her stomach—miraculously, her wound hadn’t reopened, and the bandage was still in place. Byleth yanked her head behind her, and her heart almost stopped from what she saw.

The wall of the cave that she had just been facing was now completely gone—it was if it had disappeared into thin air. She now sat in a new room of the cave, completely circular, almost too perfectly carved. 

Another cry pierced the air, now much louder, and Byleth swiveled her head in front of her. 

There, hands bound with rope and mouth covered with cloth, was Ingrid, her face white as a sheet, struggling to escape from her bonds. She was now screaming even louder once she saw her teacher, and Byleth covered her mouth in absolute shock and relief.

She was right by Ingrid’s side as soon as she saw her, seizing her dagger in an instant as she cut the rope that tied her hands together, and hurriedly untying the cloth that covered her mouth. As soon as the blonde-haired girl was free, she gripped Byleth with a fierce, clenching hug. 

“T-T-Teacher! I’m so glad you found me! Th-They kept me here since last night, and I-I was so worried y-you guys w-w-would never f-find me!” Ingrid wept through anguished sobs, her entire body shaking. The usually refined, dignified noblewoman was now in a vulnerable, erratic state, and Byleth only patted her back, hoping she’d calm down soon—but she wouldn’t blame her even if she didn’t. Being kidnapped by someone called the Death Knight would make anyone traumatized.

As her sobs quieted down, Byleth placed her hands on Ingrid’s shoulders, determination flashing in her eyes, “I’m so sorry that this happened Ingrid, but we have to get out of here. Do you know where you are? The Death Knight took you, right? Do you know if they're nearby?”

Ingrid shook her head sullenly, “I-I don’t remember a thing . . . the last thing I remember was walking to the dorms in the evening, and suddenly I was covered by darkness . . . I-I-I heard myself scream, and being taken somewhere, and th-then I w-woke up here . . .” She was clearly ashamed she couldn’t help, and she began crying even more.

Byleth frantically patted her back again, trying to soothe the distressed lady, “Shhh, it’s gonna be OK Ingrid. It’s OK. Don’t blame yourself for this. We’ll find a way, we’ll be OK.”

Ingrid slowly nodded, wiping away her tears. She mourned, “They took my lance . . .”

Byleth grabbed one of the daggers from her belt and placed it in Ingrid’s hand, “Here. You can still defend yourself, even if it isn’t your weapon of choice.”

Ingrid gave a small, grateful smile, “Th-Thank you T-Teacher . . . for everything.”

“Don’t mention it. I’m always here for you,” Byleth smiled back. She helped Ingrid stand up, who was still shaking from fear and anxiety. The young woman breathed in and out, and she finally managed to calm down a bit, clutching Byleth’s dagger for dear life. 

“I think I-I’ll be OK . . .” Ingrid murmured. Byleth surveyed her—she was unharmed for the most part, which was strange. Why would the Death Knight keep their hostages like this? Perhaps for a ransom, but it was odd someone who paraded away students proudly and had the word “death” in their name wouldn’t resort to more drastic measures. Either way, Byleth wasn’t complaining—she was glad Ingrid wasn’t injured, and could still stand and fight.

Byleth led the way, now more used to the darkness. She kept glancing back to make sure Ingrid was still following her and fine—she was now mostly quiet, still worriedly looking around, her hands never letting go of the dagger. Byleth’s eyes softened—she hoped Ingrid would still be alright after this. No doubt she would need plenty of time to recover emotionally. 

The two were finally back at the entrance of the cave, and Ingrid’s face went alight with joy as soon as she saw the nature and light surrounding them. 

“It’s good to be outside again . . .” Ingrid whispered, and Byleth nodded, a sad smile gracing her face.

“Now that we’re back, we have to find a way out of here . . .” Byleth pondered, trying to find the best direction to go in. She hoped the two could work together to reunite with the Blue Lions.

“Wait, you went alone, Teacher? Where’s everyone else? And Goddess, are you OK?!” Ingrid suddenly yelped, now aware of Byleth’s condition in the full light of the day’s sun. Her eyes flicked over to Byleth’s abdomen wound and bandaged arms and legs, as well as the bright purple bruise on her forehead. 

“Um . . . long story short, all the Blue Lions went together, but I got separated from everyone else when one of the Death Knight’s soldiers attacked me. And I ended up like this. But it’s no big deal. I’m fine. What matters is that we get you out of here and back to Garreg Mach,” Byleth awkwardly retold her story, scratching her neck. This would probably be the first of many instances of her explaining herself.

Ingrid pouted, worry still strewn over her face, “A-Are you sure . . . ? If you don’t get proper treatment soon, I’m afraid that—”

The sound of hooves beating against the forest floor interrupted Ingrid, and the two’s attention snapped to the source. A horse was barreling right towards them, and on top of it, a figure like no other Byleth had seen before. 

A heavily armored knight rode on top of the animal, with the mask of a strange skull, red eyes glowering from behind it. Horns curved from atop the person’s helmet, spikes of bone growing from every corner of their armor. A blood-red cape rippled in the wind from their back. Clutched in their hands was a long, silver scythe, aimed right towards both of the women’s throats. 

The Death Knight.

Byleth gulped audibly, and Ingrid started shaking again, her eyes bulging out of her sockets. They seemed frozen in place, unable to move as the Knight stopped their horse in one sudden movement, only inches away from where they stood. 

As fear trickled down Byleth’s bloodstream, the Death Knight only stared at the both of them, their red eyes boring holes into their heads. The person behind the mask was heavily breathing, which made the hairs on Byleth’s arms stand upright. 

“You . . . shouldn’t . . . be here,” the Death Knight finally spoke, eyes ablaze with rage as they leered directly at Byleth. Her heart was beating so fast she feared she would die from how much blood the organ was pumping. At the Knight’s words, she took an involuntary step back, not being able to control the whimper that left her throat. 

“Foolish . . . all . . . so . . . foolish,” the Death Knight continued, the spikes now glinting in the sunlight, “Stupid . . . girl . . . you were supposed to . . . stay in your place . . .” The Knight’s fearsome gaze turned towards Ingrid, and she yelped in fright, looking like she was about to faint.

Byleth regained some of her strength and confidence, not willing to back down. This . . . person kidnapped her friend, her student. And she wasn’t about to let them do it again.

She pointed her sword towards the Death Knight, unflinching, as she growled, “Don’t think you can get away with what you’ve done. You cannot and will not walk away free after harming one of our own.” 

The Death Knight remained motionless, fixated at Byleth’s sword.

Before she could say another word, the Knight started chuckling. A cold sweat ran down her back as she saw the cold, imposing figure before her laughing, which gradually evolved into a hideous guffaw, overtaken by madness.

“You think . . . you can . . . defeat me . . . that is . . . very . . . funny . . .” the Death Knight heaved. 

Before Byleth could even blink, she felt a sudden pain shoot down her entire front body, and she collapsed on the ground, her vision slowly darkening, filled with specks of red. She looked down and let out a bloodcurdling scream—her stomach was oozing with blood, her previous wound reopened. Above her the Death Knight was roaring with laughter, their scythe stained with her blood.

She was in so much shock that she couldn’t even concentrate on her pain—she was only focused on the blood, gushing out of her body like a ripped teddy bear, her heart drumming against her chest like it was about to burst. She was going to die. This was how she was going to die. Slain mercilessly, without warning, by a shadowy enemy who kidnapped her friend. And no one could help her. 

Ingrid emitted a nightmarish shriek, dropping her dagger and rushing over to Byleth, crouching over her, saying words Byleth couldn’t hear over the pain. She felt her life being sapped out of her, her vision blurring, her ears ringing. People said that one’s life flashed before their eyes when they died—she wondered if that was true, as her consciousness slipped away from her. She started seeing a faint outline of a woman staring at her, her eyes kind and warm and soft. Was that her mother? Was her mother on the other side? Mother, you’re so warm. Please, give me your hand. This place is so cold and cruel. Mother, please . . .

The woman faded away, and she saw Ingrid disappear from her peripheral vision. It hurt to move her head, but she saw the Death Knight glowering at the woman. Had he pushed her away? Ingrid was sobbing in pain, clutching her side. No, don’t cry, no, this is all my fault, I should’ve been able to protect her . . . I should’ve been able to react quicker . . . this is all my fault . . .

The Knight was hovering over here, scythe raised. They're  going to end me, once and for all. I can’t go . . . no, I’m not ready to go. I don’t want to leave everyone behind. My father . . . my friends . . . my students . . . Edelgard, Claude . . . Dimitri . . . I can’t leave them behind. No, no, no, please, I don’t want to die. I can’t go . . . not without telling Dimitri how I feel . . . I can’t . . .

The Death Knight swung down their scythe, gleaming like stars in the sun, and Byleth braced herself for its cruel slash, not ready for the release of death. She closed her eyes, afraid and scared of the permanent darkness to come.

But it never came. Byleth opened her eyes, and the Death Knight was no longer hovering over her. She should be dead. And yet she was still alive. 

Instead, she saw the Death Knight lying on the ground, their horse running into the forest, a lance lodged in his stomach. She gasped, clutching her bleeding abdomen, and Ingrid screeched in surprise. She struggled to sit upright, but once she did, her breathing stopped.

There, the Blue Lions stood, weapons at the ready, like a shining light in the darkness. Ashe and Mercedes surrounded the Death Knight, arrows pointed at their chest, Felix calling to their troops to search the area, Sylvain holding Ingrid in his arms, Annette casting protection spells on everyone, and Dedue guarding the area.

And there was Dimitri—he was standing over the Death Knight, sneering in absolute disgust. He ripped his lance out of the mysterious figure, a kind of ruthlessness she had never seen on him before. Their eyes met, and Byleth felt herself getting dizzy, ready to fall on the ground again.

Right before her body met the ground again, she felt strong arms catching her, and she slowly blinked, watching as Dimitri held her fiercely, his eyes fraught with incredible fear and worry, his face pale as snow as he shakily reached to caress her cheek. His touch was so warm compared to the coldness that clawed her body. He gazed down at her bloody body, horror and guilt washing his features.

“D-Dimitri . . .” she croaked. She shakily grasped his hand, which he readily accepted, squeezing hers anxiously. 

“Byleth . . . Goddess, Byleth, I’m here for you. I’m so sorry this happened. This . . . I shouldn’t have allowed you to get separated from us, I’m so sorry . . .” he trembled. Tears threatened to escape his eyes, and Byleth’s heart hurt even more.

“No . . . please don’t . . . blame yourself. This isn’t your fault. I—” she was cut short as her body convulsed, even more blood draining out of her system. She struggled to form words as her eyes drooped, opening and closing.

“No! You can’t go! You are not allowed to die. We promised, remember? That we’d never let each other go. Wake up, Byleth! Byleth! Annette, come over here!” he screamed, shaking her, his forehead pressed against hers. It was warm and dripping with sweat. Annette rushed over, muttering as many healing spells as she could under her breath.

Her head only felt even more heavy. Her hands were stained with her own blood, but she still held onto Dimitri, fearing he might fade away. He held on even harder.

“Dimitri . . . know that I . . .” she whispered, but darkness began to consume her even more, and the last thing she heard were Dimitri’s screams. 

 


 

An unending black swamp of ink, cascading at her sides, enveloping her like the warm sun. A sweet, summer breeze untangled her hair. She could smell the daisies blooming—from where, she couldn’t tell. Only the blackness surrounded her, hugging her, tempting her farther and farther into its depths.

She wished she could stay like this forever. She felt so at peace; such a stark contrast from the previous world she was in. Why would she ever want to return, when she was living in such a pure world? It was like heaven. It was heaven.

“Byleth.”

A voice echoed in her ears, and annoyed, Byleth narrowed her eyes and turned to the source. Who dare interrupt her beautiful, wonderful, blissful dream?

“You have to wake up, Byleth,” the voice said again, and it got closer and closer to her, but Byleth couldn’t make out the person who was talking. Their body was enveloped by pure white light.

“S-Sothis?” Byleth sputtered incredulously. The person’s form was now fully realized, the young-but-old girl standing right in front of her.

“Yes. This isn’t real, Byleth. It is not your time to die. You have to open your eyes,” Sothis stated, so serenely that Byleth doubted for a second that it was even her.

Byleth shook her head. It was starting to hurt from all the confusing things Sothis was saying. Not real? Not her time? What did she mean by that?

“You told yourself this is a dream, didn’t you?” Sothis asked. The girl cocked her head, her sharp ears glaring in the light.

Byleth held her head in her hands now. “I-I . . .” she murmured. Sothis wasn’t wrong. She did call it a beautiful dream . . . but that meant . . .

“It means that you still have to wake up. Your friends are waiting for you on the other side, Byleth. Your father. Dimitri,” Sothis said quietly.

Dimitri.

That name. It was a peaceful name; a kind name. It reminded her of the sweet scent of lilies and sitting under the moonlight and . . . and . . .

It reminded her of home.

Home.

She remembered now. 

Dimitri. Her prince, her pupil, her friend, her first love. Love that she never confessed. A burning, kindling sensation ignited in her heart and set fire to her entire body, the inferno blazing and sparking desire and warmth and passion and love within her.

She had to get back to all of them. To him.

“Are you ready?” Sothis asked. She was smiling now, her body awash with even more light, golden now, almost blinding.

“Yes. I think I am,” Byleth breathed. 

Sothis extended her hand, and Byleth took it. 

The world went white.

 


 

“Please, Sire, you have to leave, she still needs time to recover—”

“I can’t leave her alone. I have to be by her side. What if she wakes up alone? What will happen? She’ll panic, and she’ll end up even worse than she was before. I have to be there, please, Miss Cazagranda!”

“Goddess, alright, alright! Just don’t make a mess, OK?”

Familiar sounding voices stirred Byleth awake, and she let out a whine as she opened her eyes. The darkness was gone. She was awake.

She was alive.

She assessed her situation—she was currently in the infirmary, resting on one of the beds. The mattress was thick and soft, and her head was lying on three fluffy pillows. Lights from the candles lit the room, and she slowly turned her head to the nightstand—on it were dozens of bouquets, teddy bears, get-well-soon cards, and candies. 

How long have I been out . . . ?

She turned her head again, and she tried to move, but found herself stuck. She peered down at her condition, finding that she was bound by heavy wool blankets. With some effort, she lifted them, and stared at her body—her entire torso was wrapped by layers and layers of bandages. She set down the sheets, breathing out a long, heavy sigh.

A part of her felt guilty that she was even still breathing. How much work, how many resources were allocated towards her just so she wouldn’t die? How many other troops had to be sacrificed for her wellbeing? Was it even worth it to save someone as minor as her?

She didn’t have time to grapple with these questions, as the door opened with a loud bang, and she jumped at the noise—well, as much as she could jump, sitting in her bed. As the footsteps got louder, the person walking towards her started running as soon as they saw her open eyes.

“Byleth,” Dimitri choked, holding back tears, and in an instant he was crushing her in the biggest hug he had ever given her. Byleth wheezed, but not out of pain—she was so relieved to finally see him again, her Dimitri, her prince—he was here, with her, hugging her, in the flesh. Byleth stretched her weak arms back, hugging him as tightly as she could, tears running down her cheeks as sobs racked her body. 

I’m alive. He’s alive. He’s with me, and he’s hugging me.

He separated from her when the two of them needed to breathe, albeit reluctantly. He pulled up a chair near her bed, gazing over every inch of her face, his eyes glazed with relief and solace and absolute delight that she was awake and there with him. He held her hand, as always. She missed his touch.

“I was so scared. I thought we were going to lose you . . . when we got separated I—I lost it. I couldn’t handle losing you. We searched for hours, but we still couldn’t find you. When I saw your body lying there near the cave, surrounded by blood, that damned Death Knight about to kill you . . . I . . .” Dimitri trailed off, his voice shaking. It was obviously difficult for him to recount his experiences, and Byleth’s heart broke at the sight. She embraced him again, soothing him, making sure to let him know that he didn’t have to continue if he wasn’t comfortable doing so.

Byleth murmured over his shoulder as she clutched him, “I’m so sorry, Dimitri. I caused everyone so much trouble, I shouldn’t even be al—”

“No. Don’t even finish that sentence,” Dimitri said harshly. He looked at Byleth’s eyes with fierce determination, squeezing her hands tightly, “Don’t ever say your life isn’t worth saving. You didn’t cause anybody trouble. We looked for you and rescued you because we care about you. You're so dear to me, and I—I don’t know what I’d do without you.” 

Byleth’s tears only proliferated, and Dimitri raised his gloved hand, wiping them away carefully. She held onto his other hand, fearing she might fade away into darkness if she let go. 

Every time she thought Dimitri maybe didn’t care for her as much as she cared for him, or he didn’t share her feelings—he proved her wrong. Time and time again, he had shown himself to be the most loyal and caring and breathtaking person she knew, and she could only thank the Goddess he existed and had chosen her out of all people. She wished so desperately to just spurt out her love for him right then and there, but it’d only complicate things further. Her old fears of his reputation being endangered came back to her, and she only bit her lip, resisting the temptation to tell him.

“I’m sorry. I . . . I just . . . Thank you,” Byleth breathed. Dimitri only nodded, his face relieved to hear her words. She continued, “What happened after I fell off the edge of the battleground? How did you find me?”

“As soon as we lost sight of you, most of the enemies were either defeated or had fled. The ravine was far too steep for all of us to safely travel at once, so we wandered for hours, trying to find another path . . . Every second was torture without you. I couldn’t stop imagining all the different scenarios in which you were hurt or died and I hated myself. I was so afraid of losing you . . . eventually, we found a way down, and imagine my face when we found a dried pool of blood and a dead soldier near the river,” Dimitri explained. His face was more lighthearted, but still obviously buried with guilt and shame.

Byleth stroked his cheek, “I imagine you were very relieved and still scared, since I wasn’t there. Somehow I managed to kill him and heal myself, and after that I left to go searching for you guys. That’s quite funny, I suppose. We were going in opposite directions, searching for each other.”

He held her hand gratefully, at peace with her touch. “Yes, I suppose so . . . You’re very resourceful, as always.” he lightly laughed, and Byleth was happy to see him chuckling again.

She smiled back, “Thanks. And Dimitri, please don’t blame yourself for what happened. It wasn’t either of our faults that I got separated. Let’s make another promise, OK? That no matter what happens, we won’t blame things on ourselves or each other that are out of our control.”

He nodded, “I promise.” It would be difficult for the both of them—they harbored guilt easily, but it was a promise, so she knew they’d both try to stick to it as hard as they could.

“After that, we followed what seemed to be your footsteps . . . and finally, I saw you, struck down by that wretched Death Knight, Ingrid pale as a bone. I was so afraid, so angry that I threw my lance right into that bastard’s body . . . Luckily, that was enough to save you, but that scoundrel still managed to get away and survive. The Knights of Seiros are actively looking for the Knight now that we know the rumors are real and we’ve seen them with our own eyes. So, for the most part, you’ll be safe. But I’m never leaving your side again. I cannot allow you to be in that kind of position again,” Dimitri’s eyes flashed with pain, “So, please, if you could refrain from going into battle in the future, for at least the time being . . .”

Byleth shook her head, “No. Dimitri, being a teacher is my job. Battling is basically integrated into my lesson plans. I can’t do that. I’m sorry.”

Dimitri’s expression was crestfallen, and his eyes drooped further, and Byleth’s stomach twisted in regret, but she knew she couldn’t give up. Combat was her life, she couldn’t just give it up, even temporarily. It was ingrained in her; it was her.

“I know you worry for me, Dimitri, but please, I’ll be fine. Of course I still need to recover, but . . . you can’t expect to protect me forever. I know battle like I know how to breathe. It’ll be hard, but you have to trust me,” Byleth continued. Her eyes pleaded with him, and eventually, she seemed to have gotten through when he sighed in defeat.

“ . . . You’re right. I cannot bar you from that. You are your own person. Just . . . please, stay by me, OK? If I even lose sight of you for a second, I’m afraid I might faint,” he relented.

“I promise,” Byleth squeezed his hand again, “Also . . . how long have I been out?”

Dimitri rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly, and eventually admitted, “Erm . . . about eleven days.”

Eleven?! I’ve been out for almost two weeks?! Goddess . . .” she burst out, the entire bed shaking. Through the window, a worried nurse frantically glanced in her direction, and Dimitri hurriedly mouthed and did hand gestures to signal she was fine.

“I’m going to be so behind on classes . . . wait, whose been teaching you guys?!” Byleth bemoaned.

“Hanneman. I think he strayed from your lesson plan a bit, as he’s just been talking about Crests . . .”

“That imbecile! I’m going to smite him! We’ve already had a unit on that, we need to focus on hand-to-hand combat!”

Seeing Byleth worked up made Dimitri laugh even more, and Byleth embarrassingly ended her tirade, her cheeks filled with a familiar warmth. 

“I—um—excuse me, I can get passionate about my teaching . . .” Byleth cleared her throat, stuttering.

“No, no, I enjoy your enthusiasm,” Dimitri confessed, trying to stifle his laughs, but he failed.

Byleth blushed even more, but she smiled again—she was glad she was alive. She was glad she had gotten out of that weird, dreamlike state, and that she had decided to take Sothis’ hand. She didn’t know what she’d do without her students and her father and her friends and, most of all, Dimitri. He was an unexpected, yet welcomed light in her life—and as the two held hands and laughed together, she only wished it could continue eternally.

 


 

After Byleth was finally discharged from the infirmary—despite Dimitri’s insistence of staying for just one more day—she got back to teaching, and she couldn’t be more overjoyed. Her wounds had completely healed, but it was still difficult to walk and digest food easily, so she took daily walks with Edelgard on the weekends, discussing their favorite books and artists, and did physical therapy with Claude after class was over, doing anything from stretching to odd “meditative” poses. As the Knights of Seiros searched all of Fódlan for the elusive Death Knight, Byleth’s life began to turn back to normal.

With this mundaneness returning, it also meant the school year ending—and Byleth didn’t know whether she was terrified or relieved. She was glad for a long, summer break, but at the same time, she knew she would miss all her students dearly. The bonds she formed with the Blue Lions were eternal, something special that could never be replicated. Just in a year she managed to get close with every one of them. Even the closed off Dedue and prickly Felix had become close to her. 

Not just her own students, but students from other houses as well—she enjoyed sparring with Leonie from the Golden Deers, getting to discuss strategy with Hubert, gushing about martial arts with Caspar. The faculty, too, were a joy to get along with—Hanneman’s strangeness beguiled his true passion for knowledge, Manuela’s love for the opera made her inspirational, and even the once intimidating Rhea was like a mother to Byleth.

The familiar rattling of horses’ hooves and carriage wheels against the cobblestone road echoed throughout the entrance of the monastery, and as Byleth hugged and promised to write to her students, her mind was focused on only one thing—Dimitri. Would they be able to visit each other? Was that even allowed? Would he even want to visit her?

As these questions swarmed her mind, her arms became sore as she waved the last of the students away, smiling a bittersweet smile. A sudden tap on her shoulder caught her attention, and her heart fluttered when she turned around.

Dimitri was carrying his luggage in one hand while a servant frantically tried to grab it from him, insisting that he carry it, while the prince persuaded him for what seemed like the hundredth time that he could handle it. The page reluctantly agreed, sulking as he returned to the carriage.

It was just the two of them, standing on the stone bridge that connected the monastery and the outside world. The sun was setting, golden rays of sunshine lighting his face, and Byleth couldn’t help but admire how pretty he looked, basked in it all. The two seemed hesitant to speak up first—and their eyes were glued to each other, filled with yearning and want.

“I . . . I’ll miss you,” Byleth piped up, looking shyly down at the ground. She wondered how different life would be now, how it would change with the new class of students next academic year—a new house leader, a new batch of students. She’d miss Mercedes’ constant smiles and Annette’s optimism, Dedue’s guidance and Felix’s humor, Ashe’s energy and Ingrid’s politeness, even Sylvain’s laidback attitude. But most of all, of course, she’d miss Dimitri—his support, his friendship, his closeness . . . she didn’t know what she’d do without seeing him everyday.

Dimitri raised her chin so they were looking at eye level, and Byleth couldn’t help but gulp. It was something he’d do often with her, but it never failed to make her flustered. 

“I’ll miss you too,” Dimitri said softly, his eyes tender. They always crinkle so softly at the ends, Byleth thought. “I wish I could take you with me. To Faerghus, I mean. But my parents would riot,” he chuckled, “And I can’t pull you away from your passion.”

As much as she wanted to drop everything and run and be with Dimitri forever, he was right. She’d grown to love teaching at the monastery—it was a love she hadn’t realized she harbored until now. She just wished she could have the best of both worlds.

She placed his hand over his, and their fingers intertwined. It was so natural at this point. “I’ll send letters as much as I can. And gifts! Plenty of gifts. Do you like chocolate?”

“Quite. I look forward to reading them. And your chocolate.”

Both of them giggled. The sky began to darken, the faint outline of stars appearing.

“Prince Dimitri, milord, please come quickly!” his retainer wailed, practically begging at this point.

“I’m coming, Walter! Just a second!” Dimitri yelled back. His gaze switched back to Byleth, who was quietly snickering.

“He seems quite eager to leave.”

“He’s always been a worrywart. I think he has a fear of bandits attacking the horses in the dead of night.”

“The horses? Not you?”

“I’m afraid I’m not nearly as important.”

Byleth laughed again. She would miss these moments most of all—joking and bantering with Dimitri like old friends. His humor, when he showed it, was undeniably charming.

Dimitri sighed, staring at the stars. He had a reminiscent look on his face as he breathed, “Do you remember when we looked at these?”

“Of course. How could I forget?”

“Right, right. I’ll miss this,” Dimitri sighed again.

“Hey,” Byleth encouraged, placing her hand on his shoulder, “I’ll miss it too. But remember, we’re always together, even when we’re apart. We look at the same sun and the same moon and the same stars. So, no matter what, I’ll be looking at the same sky as you.”

A sorrowful, but blissful smile graced Dimitri’s face. He stared into her soul, with so much affection and gratitude, that Byleth felt her heart swell. Suddenly, he pulled her into a hug, and she breathed in surprise, but eventually she tightened her arms around him too. 

I’ll miss your hugs. Your strong arms enveloping me whole. Goddess, I’m so in love with you.

She savored every second of the moment, her head resting on his shoulder as he engulfed her with his appreciation and perhaps even love. When they finally separated, Dimitri’s face was one of nostalgia and faint bittersweetness.

“We can always visit each other, you know,” Byleth suggested.

“I’ll do everything in my power to make sure we can. Damn what my parents say, what the royalty thinks. I’ll die before I never get to see you again,” he promised, his words bold and fiery, and Byleth’s cheeks was once again red-hot.

She nodded, a silent promise.

He reluctantly turned away from her, walking to the carriage and his impatient servant—and a single tear left Byleth’s eye, and she quickly wiped it away, for fear he might abandon his duties just to comfort her weak soul. He edged closer and closer to the horses, and her heart exploded with saudade already.

At the last moment, he turned around, his eyes fixed on hers with absolute certainty. She squeaked in surprise, not expecting him to meet her eyes again.

“Byleth. The Kingdom of Faerghus has a ball every winter. Be my guest,” he bowed deeply, and her eyes finally soaked itself with tears.

She nodded as quickly as she could, fearing her head might fall off as she shouted, “I will! I’ll be the happiest woman on earth!” Her face was not plagued by tears of sadness; rather, they were ones sprung out of joy.

She swore as a faint light caught his face that a tear left his eye, too. He nodded back, gratefully, and he replied, “I look forward to it. See you soon, Byleth.”

And with that, he entered the carriage, the horses leading back north to a kingdom of frost, its prince one of warmth.

 


 

“Sit still! This dress isn’t going to make itself!”

“Ow, ow, I’m trying, alright?!”

The white-haired child prodigy poked another needle at Byleth’s side, and the teal-haired teacher only yelped more.

“What did I say about staying still.” It wasn’t a question.

“I’m sorry! I’m not used to this!”

“Well, you’re not used to going to balls either, so you’ll have to learn!”

Byleth sighed, defeated as she let Lysithea continue torturing her with her tailor’s instruments. It was the night before the winter ball Dimitri had invited her to—and honestly, probably the second-most important night of her life, before tomorrow, the first-most important night of her life. She had been looking forward to the dance all school year, and now, finally, it was only a day away—and her heart threatened to collapse on itself in excitement. Lysithea was visiting, along with Mercedes and Claude, and she had asked them all to help her with preparing for the ball—Lysithea with making her dress, since she was surprisingly good at tailoring; Mercedes with etiquette, because she was the epitome of perfection; and Claude with dancing lessons, because he claimed he was the best in the entire continent (while she knew he liked to boast, she felt like she could trust him on that part).

As soon as the snow-haired girl had entered Byleth’s room, she was already ripping apart her wardrobe, criticizing her fashion choices like an old school teacher.

This is the best gown you have?” she had said, holding up a plain, white dress she wore to an awards ceremony a couple months ago.

“Y-Yes?” 

“Absolutely ridiculous. I’ll take the liberty of sending a tailor from Leicester to buy you new clothes. This is unacceptable.”

“You don’t have to do that—”

“You don’t have a choice.”

After many hours of rummaging through her bags—she had brought suitcases of cloth, beads, threads, and needles—she begun stitching a dress from scratch after quizzing Byleth on her favorite colors and her personal style.

“Um, how about white and blue? Since I am going to Faerghus.”

“Right, but does that truly reflect your inner personality? Do you actually like white and blue?”

“I mean, yeah. My hair’s blue.”

“But does that reflect your true identity?”

“U-Um . . .”

She now had the base of the dress mostly completed, and currently, the young girl was attaching additional layers, ruffles, fabrics, and flower decorations on her. It was a long, arduous process, and Byleth was not accustomed to it at all.

As Lysithea continued prodding her with her needle, she asked out of the blue, “So, Dimitri invited you?”

Byleth raised her eyebrows. The usually childish, impulsive girl was now asking her a question?

“Oh, don’t be so surprised. I’m not just thorns and daggers,” Lysithea added, furrowing her brow as she balanced the needle in her mouth, reaching for a new bead.

Byleth hummed, “Yes, he did. A while ago, too. So I want to make sure I get everything right. Thank you for agreeing to help me, by the way.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s my pleasure, I guess. So . . . do you fancy him?” she asked innocently.

Byleth’s face heated up, and she scoffed incredulously, “W-What kind of question is that?”

“I dunno. It’s a yes or no answer.”

Byleth crossed her arms and huffed, “Well, it’s none of your business.”

“I’m taking that as a yes.”

“Lysithea!”

“Oh, c’mon! It’s so obvious. You guys were practically making love with your eyes anytime you two were together last year!”

“S-Stop that! That’s so inappropriate of you. Incredibly so. We were not .”

“Mhmmm. Don’t get me started on when he saved you from the Death Knight’s lackeys. He carried you so majestically when you were bloodied and bruised, right to the castle gates. No one does that platonically.”

“G-Goddess! Alright, fine! I like him!”

Lysithea finally stopped poking her with her needle, and grinned devilishly. She obviously found what she wanted to hear, and a stone of regret formed in Byleth’s stomach.

“Ha. I knew it. It’s cute, though. I’ll support you guys. Why else would he invite you, if he didn’t like you back, after all?” the girl suggested. As she got out her scissors, Byleth’s head started spinning. She did have a point . . . inviting her to a ball his kingdom hosted was quite . . . romantic. 

Stop. I can’t get so hopelessly foolish, or else I’ll be disappointed.

She sunk back in her chair. She hoped she wasn’t appearing . . . needy with all her preparations for tomorrow night. The last thing she wanted was to look clingy.

Although . . . the thought of dancing with Dimitri entered her mind again, and she felt herself burn up just thinking about it. His strong arms on her back, gently guiding her through the marble floors, his eyes fixated on only her . . .

“Alright, you’re done. Give yourself a spin and a look in the mirror.”

Lysithea’s words interrupted her fantasy, and Byleth eagerly stood up, looking down at her dress, and her breath was taken away—beautiful cerulean silks slid down her waist and graced her chest, making her feel like a princess. Her childhood dreams of becoming one was in full form, and she was in love with it.

She spun around, the dress following her, and her heart beat a wonderful tune as the gown followed her dance. It felt so magical .

She finally glanced up at the mirror. Lysithea had done more than an amazing job—she was like an angel on earth. A beautiful, sapphire-colored gown adorned her body, the skirt wide and covered with a thin pattern of white snowflakes. A beautiful ribbon acted as a belt, and above a sleeveless floral landscape graced her chest, thin transparent sleeves starting from a little bit below her shoulders and ending at her elbows protecting her arms. Her hair was up in a bun, held by various golden pins shaped in crescent moons. Her sapphire-colored locks were curled, two strands peeking from her ears.

She felt beautiful.

What made her happiest was the singular piece of jewelry on her neck—the necklace Dimitri had given her that wonderful winter last year, the lion pendant resting against her neck comfortably. 

Tears of happiness started forming in her eyes. She couldn’t help it—she was so happy, so overwhelmed, so grateful. She attacked Lysithea with a hug, and the aloof girl squeaked with surprise, before finally returning the hug.

“You look great. And you’ll do great,” Lysithea said as they parted. She had a genuine smile on her face, and Byleth smiled back.

“I can never thank you enough.”

“Like I said. It’s my pleasure. Now, let’s go, you’ve got some etiquette and dancing lessons to go to.”

As soon as Claude and Mercedes saw Byleth, they were both incredibly stunned and couldn’t stop complimenting her, which made her even more bashful. Mercedes said she looked more regal than any princess, while Claude jested he might just try to steal her away from Dimitri, to which she promptly slapped his arm in embarrassment. After many hours of learning how to properly greet nobles and hold tea cups from Mercedes and receiving instruction on various dances from Claude, she felt more confident and ready than she ever had been before.

Soon, the full moon was high in the sky, and her ride to Faerghus had arrived—the journey would take well over a day, and by then, she’d arrive to the royal palace, where the ball was held. After many teary goodbyes and energetic encouragement from everyone, she set off to the main hall of the building.

Her father was waiting by the door—still in his usual mercenary attire, with the proudest smile on his face. Byleth’s lips almost broke with how widely she was smiling—she was glad her father had always stood by her, even now, as she went to attend a ball, like from the fairy tales she used to fantasize about as a child. When she had come back, almost half dead, from raiding the Death Knight’s territory, he was there, by her side—when she had fully recovered, he confessed of how terrified he was that she would die, and how he couldn’t handle losing her, just like he lost her mother. 

He had been through so much, and he was still here today, supporting her tirelessly. Byleth almost wept at the sight of him—he was the only family she had left, and he never stopped believing in her. She couldn’t ask for a better father.

“Dad,” she finally spoke as she reached him. Her father’s smile reached his eyes, and she swore she saw water forming in his eyes. She hadn’t seen him cry since her mother had died.

“You look so beautiful. Just like your mother,” he whispered, and finally, the tears rolled down his face, and Byleth’s body shook violently as she embraced him in a bone-crushing hug.

As her father patted her back, he continued, “She’d be so proud of you. Hell, I’m so proud of you right now, I’m afraid my heart might burst.”

“Dad . . .” Byleth joked, “You’re so sappy. Thanks.”

As their embrace ended, he slowly wiped the tears from his face, and he heaved a long sigh before saying, “Go get ‘em, kid. I love ya. And I’m sure that blonde kid will fall head over heels with you.”

“Father!” Byleth blushed wildly, before lightly punching his arm. He had joked about her crush on him in the past, but she didn’t think he would actually catch on . . . although, to be honest, it wasn’t much of a secret anymore.

“What, it’s the truth! Also . . . you’re a young woman, Byleth. Have you thought of getting married yet?”

Their conversation from so long ago flashed through her head—he had said those words to her right before that fateful night, when she had met all of the heirs—the night her life changed forever.

Byleth only cheekily smiled, “Mmm, depends if he would accept my proposal.”

Jeralt scoffed, “If he hasn't bought a ring yet, then he’s not worth it.”

Byleth crouched over from laughter, clutching her belly as tears of laughter jumped from her eyes.

“Goddess. Never change, Dad,” she wheezed, before standing back up. Jeralt only smiled softly.

She turned to the open doors, where her chauffeur and carriage was waiting—Dimitri had arranged everything for her, and her heart sped up just thinking about seeing him again.

“Have fun, Byleth,” Jeralt said, starting to wave, and she nodded astutely—it wasn’t an order, but a good luck wish.

“See ya, Dad,” she replied, before lifting her dress and dashing across the bridge in her snow-white heels.

 


 

The gentle rattle of the wheels against stone stirred Byleth from her rest.

She slowly opened her eyes, wishing for even one more second of sleep. It was pitch black outside, and voices of townspeople murmured outside the carriage, as well as musicians, peddlers, and animals.

Deciding to stick her head out the window to survey the area, her eyes almost popped out of her head at the sight before her.

They were currently in the town square of Blaiddyd, the capital of Faerghus—and she could tell based on the endless crowds of people packed before her and the layer of snow covering the area. The street was filled with vendors selling homemade food and expensive garments, bards retelling ancient legends to eager children, instrumentalists playing old tunes on their guitars and flutes, and tittering nobles strolling among commoners. The blistering wind made Byleth wince—cows along with elderly women were covered head to toe with expensive, warm cloths to protect themselves from the cold, of which the denizens probably knew all too well.

“Ah! Mistress Byleth, you’re awake!” the chauffeur exclaimed, and Byleth swung her head to the eager woman heading the horses ahead of her. Her name was Vivian, Byleth learned, and when the former mercenary asked, she seemed quite surprised and almost flattered. Vivian’s cheeks were a rosy red, contrasted with her pale complexion, and she too was wearing a thick coat, her voice muffled by a plaid scarf.

“Y-Yes, I am . . . I assume we’re near the palace?”

“Of course! Only a couple minutes now. The town square is right next to it. I suppose the nobles don’t want to give off the impression that it’s exclusive somehow.”

“That’s quite interesting. Most royal families would want the opposite,” Byleth mused. The horses whinnied, trying to navigate through the jammed streets.

“Not the Blaiddyds, Miss! Anyway, we’re about to arrive. His Highness said that he’ll meet you inside,” Vivian informed. They were going faster now, and Byleth stuck her head out again, seeing that the crowd had cleared, and they were on the path leading to the castle—and she was impressed yet again as they neared. 

Tall arches and towers touched the sky, a beautiful, pure white coloring the castle, wide open doors radiating light as carriages lined the entrance. Guards patrolled the grounds, shining the royal seal of Faerghus, showing the epitome of a knight. Women in beautiful dresses walked arm-in-arm with their partners, the men dressed in armor or dark suits. 

Byleth never thought she’d get to experience this. After dreaming as a little girl for ages of someday marrying a handsome prince, or being invited to a magical ball . . . it almost made her weep at the sight of it. She took an intake of breath, trying to steady herself as they slowly stopped at the entrance. That sense of alienation came back to her—that she didn’t belong. She was just a commoner, no one special. Did she really deserve to be here?

She shook her head. No, I do. Dimitri invited me here because he cares about me. That’s deserving enough.

She lifted her gown again, stepping cautiously out of the carriage. The cold air met her with full force, and she shivered, gripping her arms as a shield to the cold. How does Dimitri do it . . . ?

“I’ll be waiting here, Miss, when you depart!” Vivian chirped.

“Thank you,” Byleth replied, waving her arm in thanks. She stared ahead of her—inside, she could see the beautiful atrium of the palace, filled with dazzling people and decor beyond her imagination.

With small footsteps, she ventured forth. Whispers immediately began circulating around her, some nobles in awe of her attire, others trying to discern who she was. She held her ground, keeping her head held high—advice Mercedes had given her. Nobles will always try to judge you, even if they just met you. Show confidence that your resolve is not weak, she had said.

Just before she reached the doors, a familiar voice piped up, "Stay safe, alright?"

Byleth whipped her head to meet the green eyes of a familiar sharp-eared girl. She frantically looked around, and no one seemed to pay any notice to the small, green-haired child standing right in front of her.

"I've told you time and time again that no one else can see me. So calm down, alright?" Sothis sighed with exasperation. 

"What are you doing here?" Byleth hissed as quietly as possible, snapping her head around to make sure no one was watching her—the last thing she wanted to happen was people thinking she was a lunatic for appearing to be talking to herself.

"Geez, give me a break!" Sothis whined, stamping her foot like a child, despite her ancient demeanor, "Can't I just wish you good luck? You're about to go to a fancy ball, and I just wanna make sure you'll be fine! After all, you will be dancing with a dashing prince," she winked.

Byleth's cheeks heated up, and she stuttered, "I-I . . . oh, blast it, fine. I guess you're being sincere," Byleth scratched the back of her neck, trying to cool down her face—she must look like such a fool right now—and continued, "Thanks, Sothis. I'll be OK. And I'll be sure to tell you all the juicy details when it's over," she gave her a playful smile, and they both snickered like they were two old, gossiping housewives.

"Good, good. When he confesses his love and snogs you, I'll be fanning myself in the back," she giggled, before disappearing.

Byleth's face became even redder. Damn you, Sothis, for even suggesting that . . . Byleth's heart threatened to jump out of her chest just thinking about it—if that happened tonight . . . if he truly loved her back . . .

Goddess, I need to focus.

With a heavy sigh, she continued forward, her dress trailing behind her as she finally entered the palace. The guards gave her an affirmative nod once they caught sight of her. They seemed to recognize her—perhaps Dimitri had informed them of her coming, although they seemed a little surprised at her appearance. They probably didn’t expect her to look so refined.

Byleth couldn’t help but stare in awe at her surroundings—the foyer was decorated with gorgeous fauna, and chandeliers made of ice glittered with crystals. Golden staircases led up to the ballroom. Butlers and maids skittered around the room, guiding the guests, as well as offering refreshments. The walls were wide and patterned with marble and stunningly realistic portraits of the Blaiddyd family—Byleth craned her head as she caught sight of Dimitri’s. In the painting, he looked handsome and regal as always—his small, collected smile and icy blue eyes permeating as always. Even in a drawing he was dignified.

“Are you Mistress Byleth, perchance?” a high-pitched voice squeaked, and a young maid scurried towards her, giving her a low bow.

“I am. Do you know where Prince Dimitri is?” Byleth asked, albeit a bit awkwardly. She wasn’t used to people paying so much respect to her.

“Ah, yes! The Prince is currently preoccupied at the moment—right now he’s meeting with diplomats from Sreng, milady. He said he’ll meet you as soon as he can,” the maid elaborated.

Byleth’s stomach tingled with anticipation. The longer she waited for Dimitri, the more she’d faint from excitement.

“Alright. I suppose I shall wait in the ballroom then.”

The maid nodded and quickly sprinted to the next person, and Byleth sighed. She couldn’t wait to see Dimitri—she missed him so much. They couldn’t manage a visit all year because of his increasing duties as crown prince, but they still kept up their correspondences. Receiving a letter from him always filled her with delight. She learned that he had started to draw more, which made her happy that he was continuing his passion from so long ago—he even sent her a headshot he had done of her. Even though they hadn’t seen each other in ages, he still remembered how she looked, which left her undoubtedly impressed.

She traversed up the staircase, navigating through the multiple lords and ladies who were standing there to chat. She overheard some trivial gossip on the way that she couldn’t even figure out the meaning of. She just wanted to see him.

Finally, she reached the ballroom, and yet again she was blown away at all the fanciness. Dining tables stood to the side, various balconies perched near the end of the room, and the floor was a beautiful stainless white, filled with chattering nobles. On the ceiling was a mural of Seiros and the Goddess, aligned with the great hero Blaiddyd. Violinists and pianists played beautiful crescendos and cadences, opera singers from around the continent sang sweet ballads, and a comforting aura of belonging surrounded everyone.

Byleth closed her mouth, fearing she looked like a foolish peasant ogling at the sight, and resided to grab some food from the buffet—professional cooks and caterers lined the tables, and exquisite foods and beverages sat enticingly on the white tablecloth. A shimmering golden liquid caught her eye—and she was about to grab a drink when a voice interrupted her thoughts.

“Oh, you must be Lady Byleth!” a singsong voice interjected, and she spun her head to meet the pale grey eyes of a formal-looking nobleman, his eyes alight with wonder, dressed in extravagant robes and jewelry. He had a thick brown mustache, accompanied with a scraggly beard and a mop of mahogany hair.

“Er, yes . . . how do you know me?” Byleth questioned. Her eyes were still set on the drink, wanting to escape the conversation.

“Oh, everyone’s been talking about you, of course! They say the prince invited you himself. My, my you must be pretty important if that’s true! What region do you hail from? A Countess, or duchess perhaps?” the man eagerly quizzed her, eyes wide with curiosity.

Byleth finally ordered her drink, sipping it nervously as she laughed, “Um, no. I’m just . . . a person, I guess.”

“You jest! I’ve never met a lady so modest of her upbringing!” the nobleman raucously laughed. He expected her to say something, it seemed, by the look in his eyes, but Byleth only stared blankly at him.

“Oh . . . you’re not kidding. Wait . . . don’t tell me. Are you the Byleth? As in, the one who saved Princess Edelgard, future Leader Claude von Riegan, and Prince Dimitri? Their former teacher?!” the man stuttered with surprise. He didn’t seem offended she wasn’t a noble—in fact, he only seemed more intrigued. Her shoulders loosened a bit at his countenance.

Byleth shyly confirmed, “Yes, that’s me . . .”

“It’s an honor to meet you, milady! Thank you for your service in saving our Prince Dimitri all those nights ago, and for teaching him when he attended the Officer’s Academy!” the nobleman bowed, and Byleth’s ears went pink. A noble was bowing to her?

Not knowing how to respond, she only stuttered, “U-Um, th-thanks? I was just following my gut, I guess . . . um . . .” She only just realized she didn’t know the man’s name.

“Oh my, I’m so rude. My name is Frederick von Beaumont! And really, please, don’t be so humble, milady! You are truly the most noble of us all.”

“Me . . . ? I don’t think so, but thank you . . .” Byleth wasn’t used to such praise, no less from a nobleman who just met her.

Frederick’s eyes glittered with awe, and he deeply bowed again, this time extending his hand. “My lady, it would be an honor if you would have this dance with me.”

“I-I d-don’t . . . I mean . . .” Byleth scrambled for words. She was not expecting that. It would probably be ill-mannered to dance with another man since Dimitri was the one who invited her, but at the same time, she didn’t want to seem rude to Frederick.

“Sir Frederick, I find it quite rude you’re stealing my guest of honor away from me,” a voice interrupted, and the two swung their heads to the source, and Byleth almost fell apart then and there.

There, standing with so much poise and majesticness, was Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd—a man she ached for so long was finally before her, the most beautiful she had ever seen him, at that. He was wearing a handsome dark grey tuxedo, his blonde hair styled with grace and perfection, and a white lily fixed on his breast pocket. Her heart almost stopped—he was so beautiful, just like she last saw him, and her heart felt like it was about to fall out of her chest. 

She gasped loudly, covering her mouth, not being able to believe it was really him—but it was. Her cheeks flamed with heat, darkening her skin with a rosy red. It’s him. It’s really him. I think I’m gonna die from excitement.

Frederick, meanwhile, was practically prostrating himself before Dimitri, apologizing profusely and begging for forgiveness. “My lord, I meant no offense! Mistress Byleth was just so stunning, I had to ask for a dance, but now I realize my grave sin. Please, please spare me!”

“You’re forgiven. If you could leave us be—”

“Of course, of course! I am immensely sorry, your Highness!” Frederick lamented, before disappearing from their sight.

Dimitri sighed with both relief and exasperation. His head turned back to her, and Byleth gulped audibly. 

I’ve missed those eyes.

“I apologize about him. He can be quite a handful, but he means well. Now then . . .” he trailed off, and he closed the distance between them. Her stomach turned to mush as he stared captivated into her eyes, his breath fanning across her already warm cheeks. His hands found hers, and she held on tightly. 

“I’ve missed you,” she breathed, not sure what else to say.

Dimitri smiled with pure joy, “And I, you. Goddess. You’re so beautiful.” His eyes roamed over every inch of her dress, absolutely breathtaken by her appearance. They landed on her necklace—and he widened his eyes in surprise and joy as he said, “You still have the necklace.”

Her legs went weak at his words, and she swore that she’d melt into a puddle right then and there. The first time he called her beautiful, she was in denial and utter shock—and now, she still blushed like mad, but she knew his words were true.

“Th-Thank you,” she murmured, her face red as a beet, “Of course. I had to wear it. It seemed only proper.”

He smiled widely, his eyes alight with appreciation as he said, “Thank you.”

She nodded, and she mustered enough bravery to say, “You look so handsome tonight.”

Now it was his turn to go red. “Wh-Why, thank you,” he laughed with embarrassment, looking flush as he scratched the back of his neck, “I’m sorry I couldn’t come earlier. Political duties and all. I was so grateful when I finally got out. I just . . . wanted to be with you.”

Her heart hammered in her chest at his words. “No, no, it’s fine, really. We’re together now. That’s all that matters . . . How have you been?” she suddenly asked. She wanted to know everything that had happened, words that could only be said face-to-face. 

He massaged her fingers as he spoke, his eyes still transfixed on hers, as if she was the only thing in existence that mattered, “I’ve been good. Life isn’t as fascinating without you, of course.”

“The same goes to you. I wish I could see you everyday.”

Dimitri’s fingers traveled up to her face, cupping her cheek earnestly. She returned the gesture, his face almost seemingly melding into hers, perfectly sculpted for her hand to hold. He closed his eyes in comfort, his countenance one of heavenly bliss.

“I promise one day we will,” he whispered, opening his eyes again. 

His intense stare transformed into one of longing, and eventually he dropped his hands, bowing gracefully, holding out his hand, “May I have this dance, my lady?”

Byleth’s heart and the music in the background sped up, the violinist passionately playing a sonata and the pianist accompanying it with a matching duet. Couples started gliding to the dance floor, twirling and laughing.

She took his hand with fervor, saying, “I could ask for nothing more.”

Dimitri smiled sheepishly, leading her to the floor. His hand soon found its way to the small of her back, her arm resting on his, as the other held her hand upwards. They were only inches apart now—and Byleth’s breath hitched as his lips were seconds away from touching hers, his eyes focused on hers alone. Even his touch on her back made her feel lightheaded.

The pianist’s playing intensified, and they were off.

He guided her through the ballroom floor, and Byleth surprisingly did quite well—those last minute lessons from Claude came in handy, as they gently and slowly danced through the ballroom floor. Byleth could feel all eyes on them as they cascaded through the room, hearing faint whispers and giggles from surrounding couples.

Dimitri whispered in her ear, “Don’t pay attention to them, OK? Focus on me.”

She wasn’t expecting such closeness from Dimitri, and she lightly gasped when she heard his voice so close to her—her pulse quickened as his low voice entered her ear, only to soon leave. His eyes were still on hers, enraptured.

Byleth nodded, more confident—she didn’t care what others thought of their prince dancing with some lowly mercenary girl. This was their night, after all. She ought to enjoy it.

One particular whisper did catch her ear, though—a gossiping lady from nearby squealed, “Oh, look at how cute they are! Do you think they’re lovers, James?”

She didn’t get to hear her partner’s response, as they soon were whisked away as they danced. Her face blazed with scarlet, and as she met her eyes with Dimitri, he seemed to have also heard them—his cheeks were a bit pink.

“What about me is fascinating, per say?” Byleth suddenly questioned. They were now dancing in much broader strokes, their legs carrying each other across the floor. 

Dimitri hummed, “A lot of things. You’re so different from everyone I’ve met. Of course, your kindness and compassion is one thing—there for everyone, admirable and genuine,” the piano became more fast paced, the violin frantically attempting to keep up, “You’re a strong warrior. But you have the patience and dedication of an experienced leader, sticking by someone no matter what,” they spun with the tune of the music, Byleth’s dress fluttering like a butterfly’s wings, “The way you become so engaged and enamored in subjects is simply charming as well. Most people lack passion for anything, but you seem delighted and optimistic about everything. I like that in a person.”

Dimitri dipped her suddenly, his arm clutching her back tightly as he leaned over her, his voice low as he said, “And you are an enigma, above all else. I cannot fathom how beautiful and kind a person like you exists. I simply have to thank the stars.”

With his eyes boring into hers like fire, his hand holding onto her back, the other still clutched above her, his being hovering over her with so much intensity and desire, Byleth wished so desperately to pronounce her love for him right then and there—but there were too many eyes watching, too many ears listening. She bit her lip, and she only resolved to whisper, “You’re exaggerating.”

“No, my lady, I’d never dare to over accentuate you. I only speak the truth,” he spoke, and Byleth fell in love with him all over again.

“T-Thank you so much . . . I . . .” she didn’t know how to respond, and the music swept her off her feet before she could finish.

They glided effortlessly now, keeping up with the fast-paced song, the opera singer’s volume only raising higher as the violinist violently belted out a powerful melody, the pianist following suit. Byleth had so many questions racing through her mind, so many topics she wanted to discuss, but the song would end soon, and she was already preoccupied with not messing up the dance. 

“How do you keep up so easily? I’m impressed.”

“Years and years of practice. Being a prince means receiving weekly lessons in dancing. As well as chess. Priorities,” Dimitri sharply laughed, twirling her in the process, their bodies briefly separated, before he wrapped his arm right back around her. Her steps slightly stumbled a bit, and she almost fell, but his strong arm held onto her back tightly, and she snapped her gaze to see Dimitri casting a worried glance towards her.

“Just hold onto me. You’ll be fine,” he reassured her, and she nodded meekly, still overwhelmed by his closeness. She gripped onto his shoulders, and couldn’t help but blush as she noted how broad they were, feeling the muscle underneath.

The dance continued, and Byleth felt like she was soaring through the sky as they traversed the floor. Her body felt light as a feather as the prince dipped and spun and led her across the room. 

“How is everyone else? I’ve only been able to keep up with Mercedes and you, really.”

“Sylvain’s still trying to find a girlfriend. I tried giving him advice but he gave me a scowl for some reason,” he laughed lightly, “Annette and Ashe are starting to go on hunting trips together. It’s quite adorable.”

“Those two need to get a room.”

“I agree. Felix is trying out horse riding for the first time in his life, after I suggested it to him. He already dislikes it. Calls horses ‘dull-eyed beasts’.”

“Why am I not surprised? He’s the opposite of Marianne when it comes to animals. What about Dedue?”

“He insisted he accompany me to the ball tonight. I asked him how he thought a three person dance could work.”

“Ha! He just cares for you, though.”

“I know. Besides that, I’ve noticed he’s gotten more into literature. I joked about him starting a book club and now he’s taking it seriously.”

“That’s wonderful. Ingrid? Is she doing alright?”

“She’s mostly recovered from what happened last year, so don’t worry about her. She’s currently on a trip to Adrestia. Said she wanted to explore the continent. I just hope she’s OK . . .”

“She will be. She’s capable, and a strong woman.”

“You’re right. I still can’t help but worry, though.”

The dance soon slowed down, the violinist and pianist evidently worn out, and the opera singer’s voice began to soften into a delicate harmony, akin to a lullaby. Couples began leaving the dance floor, until eventually it was just the two of them, standing still in the empty ballroom, their breathing the only sound heard.

Dimitri gave her one last dip, and she struggled to concentrate as his face was again only inches away from her, deeply entranced in hers. His arm securing her back, the other raised in the air, intertwined with hers—it all felt so surreal, to be held so safely and tightly by a man she so desperately loved. Her dreams of falling in love with a prince were real.

Now, if only I could ever tell him . . .

He raised her slowly back up, his hands still holding hers as he stared into the depths of her eyes, “You’re a natural dancer, Byleth. You were amazing.”

“A-Ah, thank you . . . ! I actually got lessons from Claude last night since I didn’t know beforehand . . . I’m glad to know I did well for a beginner,” she shyly admitted, obscuring part of her face in embarrassment. He always praised her so much—often undeservedly so, in her opinion.

“Still, I can’t think of anyone else who would do so well. You’re committed to your goal. I like that,” he persuaded.

“T-Thanks . . . you were a great partner. Dancing partner,” she stuttered. When will I not slip up?

“An honor to hear that from such a beautiful woman,” Dimitri bowed deeply.

Byleth swore she might pass out from the heat stroke her cheeks were giving her. “I-I . . . you’re too kind . . . hey, how about we go to the balcony?” She hurriedly tried to change the topic. Dimitri’s compliments were welcome, but she always fell apart whenever he showered her with them. 

Dimitri’s gaze turned to where she was looking, and he nodded, musing, “Ah, good idea. Just like last time.”

She nodded—the vivid memory of them looking at the stars, his touch enveloping hers, teaching her about the constellations . . . it gave her a nostalgic feeling. 

Once the two were outside, the very same constellations were in their sight again—Goneril, Charon, Gautier, all the Ten Heroes forever immortalized in the stars—it never failed to amaze her at the beauty of them all. 

“Do you think the Ten Heroes intended to be glorified so much?” Byleth asked as she stared at the sky, remembering what he had taught her all those days ago. She found Goneril easily, then Charon, Gautier, Riegan, and Blaiddyd.

Dimitri was standing near her, although not touching as they usually did. He squinted, deep in thought, but finally answered, “I suppose not. They were just fighting for what they believed in. I doubt they’d foresee the power they still hold today, through legends and their Crests.”

Byleth nodded, “Yes, you’re right. Would you . . . would you want to be remembered like they were? Legendary, never forgotten?”

He chuckled, “Ah, I’m afraid not. I just want historians to tell the truth. When I become King, I don’t want to be glorified and whatnot . . . I’d rather be known for my good deeds, not overzealous myths.”

Byleth smiled appreciatively towards him—he was so honorable and humble as always.

“That’s good to hear. I wish all royalty was like you, to be honest,” she sighed. Her eyes surveyed the stars, wondering what galaxies lay beyond theirs.

“Trust me. When I become King, I’m going to change everything. Someone has to stop the endless cycle of the strong trampling the weak . . . so much corruption and useless bloodshed that can be stopped, but we do nothing. It’s time for change,” Dimitri acknowledged, his voice determined, almost far-off sounding. He seemed to be thinking of all the plans he had for the future—raising the poor from their poverty, stopping the infighting in his own kingdom, and perhaps, even marrying for love. 

Byleth admired him even more—she never saw someone so committed to his cause, no less someone from the royalty. 

“Whatever happens, I’m with you, Dimitri,” she promised. She turned her head towards his—his fantasizing stopped as he seemed surprised by her words, almost . . . bashful?

As she leaned over the balcony’s rail, she felt him shift closer to her, ever so slightly, to where their hands were almost touching. Her heart only beat faster.

“Look! It’s snowing again!” Byleth breathed in wonder. The sky was now a shimmering sea of white, as hundreds of snowflakes fell from above. From the balcony, they could both see the town center, which was already covered in a thin layer of snow—soon, the whole capital would be covered in it. 

Dimitri nodded, a faint smile on his face, “It’s always so beautiful. I’ve seen it time and time again from growing up here, but . . . it never fails to astound me.”

“You always say how passionate I am, but I’m nothing compared to you,” Byleth half-joked. In truth, she envied him greatly—he had gone through so much, and yet he still managed to find beauty in everything. Meanwhile, she was cynical and doubtful of herself and others—evidenced by the few people she truly trusted.

“You once said not to compare our hardships. So you shouldn’t compare our virtues, either. Besides, you’re the most enthusiastic and honorable person I know,” Dimitri pressed. His eyes were attached to her, all his attention directed towards her. 

She shook her head, sighing, “You say that, but . . . I never truly believe it. I don’t know how you’ve managed to stick by me for so long, to be honest. I’m so flawed and sensitive to everything. Really, it’s a miracle you’re still here.”

Byleth was about to turn her back away from him to create distance—she felt ashamed admitting all her weaknesses, her flaws—but the breath left her throat when she felt a hand grasp hers.

She looked up to find Dimitri closer than ever to her now, his hand resting over hers on the railing, another holding her waist. His touch was always so tenacious, yet gentle and loving at the same time. She snapped away from his intense gaze in embarrassment, but he held her chin firmly, making her face heat up instantly.

“I’ve stuck by you because you’re a good person, Byleth,” he asserted, a fire lighting in his eyes, “You helped me, of all people, because you wanted to—not because I was the house leader, not because I’m the prince of Faerghus—but because you saw a desperate, broken soul, and you were there for me because you wanted to help me. Because you cared for me,” his cheeks were now a dark crimson, “And you see no difference between nobles and commoners. You genuinely want to help all people. You say you’re sensitive, but that’s your greatest strength. Your empathy is everlasting, and you don’t discriminate on who receives it. And . . .” 

Dimitri took in a deep breath for his next words, his ears turning a ruby-red, “You asked me what fascinated me about you. I left one part out. Your unconditional love for others. When you love someone, you always stick by them, no matter what. It’s riveting to me because I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It fascinates me because you’ve rubbed off on me, in that sense—I’ve become more open to the idea of love, whereas before I shielded myself from it,” he was almost shouting now, his passion flaring brightly, “You once said yourself that when I closed myself off, I never felt pain. But I never felt love either.”

Byleth felt like she might pass out from his words alone. He was holding her so closely now, and she couldn’t help but focus on his lips. Those damn, beautiful lips she just wanted to kiss, always so tantalizingly close to her—and her heart roared against her chest like the frantic violin when they were dancing, and she couldn’t help but wonder if his was too, beating like the piano’s turbulent keys, in sync with hers. She couldn’t believe this was happening—him, talking about love so passionately, and she dared to wonder if he was about to say what she longed to say to him since the day she fell in love with him.

She was smiling now, so furiously she was afraid her mouth might just break. She croaked as she only held onto him harder, “Goddess, Dimitri. Thank you . . . thank you so much. I never really thought about it like that . . .”

He smiled, satisfied, “Modest as always, you are. I envy the man who captures your heart.”

Her eyes widened, and words buried inside her heart for so long screamed at her, begged her to finally unleash them. The lily pinned on his chest dazzled in the moonlight. 

Time froze as she whispered, “What if that man was standing before me right now?”

Dimitri’s lips parted in surprise, his eyes a beautiful blue ocean that was tumbling through waves of shock, disbelief, revelation, relief, and finally, pure elation and undeniable love. He let out a shaky, stunned laugh, his arms shaking as he raised his hand to cup her cheek, his thumb grazing against her skin lovingly. She returned the gesture, her heart crying out in joy as his smile reached his eyes, and he closed the distance between them at last. 

As soon as his lips touched hers, her world exploded into a dizzying black tide of stars, pure euphoria rushing through her veins as they kissed. He’s kissing me, Goddess, he’s kissing me, he loves me, he loves me, he loves me, and I love him. She sighed with pleasure as his tongue met hers, his breath warm and sweet. He was so close that she could hear his heartbeat, rapid and excited. Her body was pressed against his, held by his strong arms, and she held onto his shoulders with love and jubilation, his broad muscles relaxed and at ease. It was just them, kissing, finally knowing their love for each other, underneath the stars and moon, illuminating the lovers with a brilliant white light, as the snowflakes melted onto their bodies. It was freezing outside, but his touch, his presence warmed her beyond belief. It was a passionate, but tender kiss, filled with so much fiery intensity and yet undeniable delicacy that it made her heart burst and her stomach swirl with giddiness and joy. It felt like they were floating, unstoppable, soaring through the sky, their duties and responsibilities unimportant, irrelevant—just her and Dimitri, above the entire world. It was divine.

They finally ran out of air and parted, albeit reluctantly. Dimitri was still holding onto her fiercely, his eyes exuberant and affectionate, so relieved and at peace. His love was so apparent and endless, and Byleth didn’t doubt it for a second—and, finally, she knew she was deserving, not just of his love, but of all the fortunate circumstances that brought them together.

She caressed his face, which was slightly wet from the fallen snowflakes. She was glad he was holding onto her so tightly, for she feared she might fall from how happy she was. 

“I’ve been waiting so long to say that,” she giggled lightly.

“You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting to do that,” Dimitri replied, smiling furiously, “I thought it was just me, but . . .”

“Never. I . . . I love you, Dimitri,” she breathed. A heavy weight lifted off her shoulders. It felt so freeing to finally utter those words. Tears of happiness flooded down her eyes—she couldn’t help it. Goddess, I’m such a sap.

Dimitri, as always, wiped away her tears, his eyes becoming wet as well. He kissed the top of her forehead, light and chaste, and he murmured softly, “I love you too, Byleth.”

As he held her in his arms, she noticed the lily glittered again, so beautiful and alive. With sudden realization, she reached into the pocket of her dress—she insisted Lysithea stitch them in, as she couldn’t live without them—and pulled out a violet lily of her own. It was still teeming with life, after all this time.

“It’s beautiful,” Dimitri whispered, fascinated by the flower.

“I picked it when we were in the gardens. When Sylvain was trying to woo me,” she chuckled, twirling its lavender petals. 

Dimitri let out a sharp laugh, “Good thing I interrupted him when I did. It’s beautiful.”

“Oooh, were you jealous?” Byleth teased, a playful grin on her face.

“I—I was just . . . OK, fine, I was,” Dimitri huffed, his face warm with a light pink dusting his cheeks.

Byleth giggled, “Well, I’m glad you did too. Anyway, this lily . . . I don’t know how it’s managed to stay alive all this time. I wanted to give it to you.”

Dimitri blushed harder, clearly not expecting such a gift. He examined the lily with immense curiosity and wonder, before looking back at Byleth.

“I love it. Just . . . it would find more use with you. Here, let me,” he explained, before taking the lily and fastening it on her hair, near her ear. 

“See? Now we’re matching,” he smiled sheepishly. 

Byleth lightly touched the lily, its soft petals soothing her heart. She smiled widely, looking back at the one pinned onto Dimitri’s attire—it was a beautiful white, still full of life. Light illuminated the flower, and she stared at the moon, an endless disk of white, dotted by silver specks.

“The moon seems to like our lilies,” he chuckled, his eyes shifting from his own to the one perched on her hair, “The moonlight’s blossoms, eh?”

Byleth nodded, a content smile on her face. She remembered when she first saw that lone lily, its blossoms stretched to the moon. She took it as a sign from her mother, to go with Edelgard, Claude, and Dimitri to the Officer’s Academy. 

Now, she couldn’t be more thankful she followed through. 

Thank you, Mother.

As the moonlight shone its silvery light onto their lilies, she rested her head against Dimitri’s chest, and he instinctively placed his hand on her hair, caressing her teal locks. Engulfed by his warmth, she felt strong and safe in his arms, untouchable by all the monsters and bloodshed in the world. 

As long as she was with him, she would be happy.

“I’m never letting you go,” she whispered.

“And I, you,” he replied, his voice transcending the stars, their fates, and the moon itself.