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Chapter Text

Byleth wakes up.

 

This particular fact is not unusual. Some days, before bed, Byleth wonders if he'll live through another night. Every morning he wakes once more, he's always surprised to see the sunrise. This time, however, Byleth wakes to a dark chasm of green and black, lights blinking behind his eyes.

 

The Holy Tomb.

 

Byleth sits up faster than a shot, his head ringing in protest. He groans at the vicious headache tearing into his skull with what seems like greedy delight, as the pain only worsens when he thinks on it too long. His eyes widen as he sees that the throne he's splayed out before is not entirely empty.

 

A girl steps down from her seat on high, steps delicate and light. There is a certain air about her that makes her seem ethereal despite how young she looks. "Sothis," Byleth breathes, "I've missed you."

 

Sothis comes to a stop in front of him and yanks at his left ear with bony fingers. The vicious pain starts up once more. "You FOOL!" Sothis booms, and Byleth mentally adds going deaf to what seems like a intensive list of injuries. "What in the world were you thinking, getting yourself hit like that?!"

 

Getting hit?

 

Dimitri.

 

Byleth forces his limp body off of the ground and pushes himself to his feet. "I have to go back," Byleth breathes, "are they safe? Are they okay? Did I move Dima in time?"

 

Sothis frees his throbbing ear to pull at both of his cheeks mercilessly instead. "You, massive, idiot!" She emphasises each word with a tug to his face. "You moved the princeling in time, but you had go to and die for it, didn't you?"

 

"It's fine-"

 

"IT'S NOT FINE!" Sothis finally frees his cheeks as well to yank on her hair in frustration. "You used all your divine pulses! All of them! Is that even possible?"

 

Byleth swallows. "So what now?"

 

"Now?" Sothis pushes him down on the floor to sit properly, then gathers all of her robes into one hand before joining him. "Now, you die, I suppose."

 

There is a long pause. "And you don't even care, do you?"

 

"As long as Dima and the rest are okay, I'll be fine."

 

Sothis punches him in the arm. "How selfish! They clearly love you! How can you speak of your own life with such disregard!"

 

Byleth blinks. "I'm sorry, Sothis. To you as well."

 

"You'd better be," she huffs. "Well, luckily for you, you're not actually dead." She opens her mouth to say something, then firmly shuts it.

 

Byleth doesn't know what to say to that, so he waits for Sothis to compose herself first. "You are aware that when you were first born, you had no heartbeat? Even now, you do not possess one. And then, later on in life, you had learned that I had granted you, ah, a divine pulse, so to speak. That pulse is quite literally the only pulse you possess. So when it runs out, and you die, you die for real. That was what was supposed to happen in theory- and yet, the proof against such a claim sits right in front of me."

 

"...So I'm not dead?"

 

"But you should be," Sothis concludes. "You and I are as one. I would know if you were truly dead."

 

Byleth blinks. "I feel dead."

 

"Oh, hush, you really did die. That Edelgard is quite strong in that form. Hegemon. How terribly ironic." 

 

"Are my students dead?"

 

Sothis shrugs, and a swirl of potent fear churns Byleth's gut. "I told you, you and I are one. I cannot truly see without your eyes. I do not know anything you do not know."

 

"I have to go back," Byleth repeats, grasping Sothis' hand. "Please, you have to help me."

 

She hums in response, but still grips his hand back tight. "Don't you think I've tried? It seems as if fate had other plans for you, though."

 

"What do you mean?"

 

Sothis takes a breath. "If you're supposed to be dead, and you're with me, of all places, that means you really were not meant to meet your end there. And yet, you had used up all of your divine pulses. Which means-"

 

"Which means?"

 

"Don't interrupt me!" Sothis chides, looking distraught. "Which- Which means you're about to wake up."

 

"Sothis, what-"

 

.

 

Byleth wakes up.

 

This particular fact, is not unusual. Some days, before bed, Byleth wonders if he'll live through another night. Every morning he wakes once more, he's always surprised to see the sunrise. However, the man hovering over his face is quite the unusual sight. 

 

Especially since he's been dead for over five years.

 

"Hey, time to wake up," Jeralt says.

 

Byleth stares up at his father's face, eyes wide. If he had a heartbeat, it would have halted in this moment, at the sight of a dead man walking. 

 

"Father," Byleth breathes, and Jeralt gives him a confused look. 

 

"What's up with you, kid? I know it's early, but you seem really out of it. Hurry and put on your armor." Byleth, still in shock, cannot do anything but comply. Even as he steps behind a screen to change, his eyes never leave his father's figure, as if he would completely disappear the moment he left his sight. 

 

When Jeralt sees that Byleth's finally in full armor, he nods. "Were you having that dream again?"

 

Byleth cannot do anything but stare openly, but then he clears his throat. "Father," Byleth repeats. "Father, you're here..."

 

Jeralt gives him an odd look. "This is our house. Of course I'm here."

 

As quick as Byleth is to swallow his sobs, a tiny whimper leaves his mouth before he can suppress it. Jeralt, sharp as ever, catches the sound. He turns on Byleth with wide eyes. "Kid, what-"

 

"Father," Byleth sobs. "Father, father, I-"

 

"Byleth, are you crying?"

 

"I had the most awful dream, and-"

 

Jeralt does not hesitate to gather his child in the cradle of his arms. "Why are you crying? Kid, this is the first time I've ever seen you cry!"

 

"You died, and-"

 

Jeralt shushes him gently. "Are your tears for me? There's no need, kid. I'm right here." His father reaches up to brush one of his tears away, thumb rough against his cheek.

 

"I'm so, so tired..."

 

"It's alright, kid. I think you can take a quick nap for another ten minutes or something, get a glass of water, calm yourself down. You have all the time in the world."

 

Byleth almost laughs, because ha! How terribly ironic. Despite time being quite literally at Byleth's fingertips, it had always seemed to slip out of reach during important moments. 

 

"Hm? Good grief. Everyone is already waiting outside."

 

One of the mercenaries his father leads bursts into the room, looking out of breath. "Jeralt! Sir! Sorry to barge in, but your presence is needed!"

 

They do a double take when they see Byleth's face. "K-kid! Are you crying?! That's never happened before! Wait 'til the others hear-"

 

Jeralt steps in front of Byleth to shield him from view, scowling at the mercenary. Byleth hurriedly wipes at his eyes, blinking away any stray tears and getting rid of any expression whatsoever on his face. He's quite good at that, after all.

 

They march out the door, hands on their weapons, and Byleth feels nervous for some reason. Was it because he was just crying? Was it because he was tired? He had no clue, until the sight of three very familiar people caught his eye.

 

Claude. Edelgard. Dimitri.

 

Byleth takes in a shuddery breath once his gaze rests upon them. They look so young. Looking at their soft faces and their big eyes is like a slap to the face.

 

How is this possible?

 

"When I tried to send you back," Sothis begins, at the back of his mind. "This happened. Incredible. We're about seven years into the past!"

 

Byleth doesn't flinch, but it's a near thing. They're so young. It's almost jarring to see Dimitri with two eyes, to see Claude's baby face clean of facial hair, to see the future emperor with ribbons in her hair still.

 

He wants to gather this Dimitri into his embrace and protect him. This boy had already suffered so, so terribly, and there was no way to protect him from that, but Byleth could still protect him from battles yet fought, suffering yet waged, future trauma. He wants to protect Claude, who fought desperately to save his people, who called to them in times of trouble, who handed them his relic with a smile. 

 

Edelgard.

 

Edelgard...

 

He doesn't know how to feel about her.

 

Byleth can't help but resent Edelgard, feel a sickening sense of recoil build in his chest the longer she stands next to Dimitri and Claude. He can't look directly at her without seeing someone who started a war, without seeing someone who had caused not only the pain of someone Byleth held so near and dear to their heart, but also the deaths of tens upon thousands of people across Fòdlan. The grim hands of Hegemon. Reckless abandon. Arrogance. Whatever was wrong or right, did one person have to decide it for the rest of the country?

 

And yet. 

 

And yet.

 

Byleth didn't know everything.

 

There was no question in Byleth's mind, knowing what he knows- Lady Rhea was one of the most suspicious of them all. There was no doubt that she had her own plans for Byleth- likely, when he sat upon that throne, Rhea was expecting something would happen. And Dimitri definitely did not have clean hands either. Not only that, but Byleth was willing to bet anything that Claude had bloodied his own hands to keep his people safe.

 

Byleth had no doubt that fate would change no matter which hand he had taken. 

 

But seeing a young Dimitri standing in front of him now, desperately pushing away his own ghosts and hiding his trauma from the world, any other option fell away.

 

Byleth had to prevent this war.

 

"So, what will you do?" Sothis asked him, as the figures of his former students approached. "Will you let that bandit kill Edelgard this time?"

 

I doubt she'll die, Byleth thought to himself. Sothis laughed in response. 

 

"Well, we'll see, won't we."

 

"Please, forgive our intrusion." Byleth startled at how much softer Dimitri's voice was. "We wouldn't bother you were the situation not dire."

 

"What do a bunch of kids like you want at this hour?" Byleth's father demanded, voice more stern than he had remembered.

 

Byleth immediately assesses his soon-to-be students. It was a habit he'd picked up after monthly missions, so he'd know when to push them onto Mercedes or Annette, or even Sylvain. A few scratches here and there, nothing too serious, but were Byleth still capable of healing he would still patch them straight up.

 

"You are," Sothis interrupted his thoughts.

 

Huh?

 

Even without seeing her, Byleth knew she was rolling her eyes. "Eloquent as always, aren't you? Try it out."

 

Still confused, Byleth raised a hand and a heal spell washed over the students. Byleth blinked in surprise. He didn't see that coming. 

 

"Thank you," Dimitri said, looking at Byleth with wide eyes. "You're a healer?"

 

Byleth, not ready to be addressed, shrugged. 

 

"Smooth," Sothis said, cheerful.

 

"A-anyway, we're being pursued by a group of bandits. I can only hope that you will be so kind as to lend your support. Uh, again, I mean."

 

Jeralt gave Byleth an odd look before turning back to look at the kids. "Bandits? Here?"

 

"It's true," Edelgard replied, and it took Byleth everything he had not to flinch. "They attacked us while we were at rest in our camp."

 

Claude decided to speak up as well. "We've been separated from our companions and we're outnumbered. They're after our lives... Not to mention our gold."

 

Sothis hummed. "Well. This is awfully familiar, is it not? Memory eludes me now, but isn't this exactly what they've said before?"

 

Byleth feels as if it's word for word. He doesn't remember everything, but he remembers that next, he and his father would be dragged into battle to help fight off the bandits, so that they would not reach the village. All he remembers was feeling distinctly annoyed, disoriented, and quite tired from a lack of sleep.

 

With the lure of battle guiding him forward, Byleth steps into battle, sword drawn.

 

Compared to all the battles he's fought recently, these bandits are laughably easy. Byleth takes to fighting like a bird takes to flight, and he needs to let off some steam, so he allows his sword to sing for him. Battle is the perfect way to stop Byleth from thinking.

 

It's like clockwork, slipping back into battle with the three of them. Of course, Byleth knows Dimitri's fighting like an extension of his own sword. But extensive research on Edelgard's moves, and fighting alongside Claude during that port siege, as well as the many mock battles they'd fought over time, Byleth knows how to direct the three of them as well. He knows how Edelgard favors protecting her left side, and how Claude will back off if he was getting flanked. He knows Dimitri's tendency to take on all of the burden, so Byleth runs with him to the front lines and covers his back while he runs ahead.

 

One of the bandits swings their axe at Dimitri's head, so propriety be dammed, Byleth yanks the back of Dimitri's shirt so he's repositioned behind him. Parrying the move, Byleth ducks to slide his blade into the bandit's chest. He thinks he hears a whistle from behind him, but he's not entirely sure.

 

Soon enough, the bandit leader Kostas makes a true appearance, so Byleth turns to make eye contact with Claude, and nods in the leader's direction. Claude blinks before nodding back, notching an arrow and letting it fly. As soon as it hits Kostas, distracting him, Byleth steps forward and knocks him in the forehead with the hilt of his sword. Kostas hits the ground so hard it almost reverberates. Byleth sighs. Hopefully it'll keep him under for a little while.

 

Of course, just to spite him, Kostas gets up instantly. Byleth frowns. Maybe he didn't hit him hard enough. He steps forward, ready to draw his sword again to protect Edelgard- 

 

"What are you doing!? Have you forgotten what happened to you because of that girl?!" Sothis shrieks, indignant. The back of his head rings. "Remember, you've got your divine pulses back now. It's seven years in the past! Why don't we watch how this turns out? Besides, your little princeling and Claude are too far to take the blow for her. Let's just watch how this plays out."

 

Are you actually angry that I died because of her? Byleth asks, confused.

 

Sothis snorts. "No, why would you ever think- OF COURSE I'M ANGRY!" 

 

Byleth flinches, feeling chided. "You are to stay put and watch, young man." Sothis scolds. "Stay put."

 

Byleth can only watch as Kostas descends on Edelgard, axe raised in a swing. Byleth's eyes widen as Edelgard whips out a dagger. This, he remembers. However, he was not aware at the time that this was the very same dagger that Dimitri had gifted her when they were children. The dagger Dimitri had found when Jeralt was killed, the dagger that Dimitri had handed back to Edelgard before the final fights.

 

Could it be that Edelgard had already planned this entire situation out from the beginning?

 

As Byleth watches the axe swing down, he wonders if it was alright for him to wish that she was at least scratched by the blade. Perhaps even cut by it. There is a certain feeling bubbling up in his chest, a feeling that gnaws at him, his sword hand, his head. Byleth doesn't think that he's ever wished death on anyone, not really, save for Kronya. Perhaps Edelgard as well, when Dimitri would think of nothing but vengeance and the ghosts that would claw at his back. But not as much as others. 

 

"It's called bloodlust," Sothis says. "You should know. You've seen it in your little princeling enough."

 

The axe swings down. Of course, Edelgard is too skilled a fighter to be felled by one axe. She quickly parries it with the dagger, but the tiny weapon is no real match for the heavy axe. The axe continues down its path, only slightly altered, and slices a good part of Edelgard's left arm. She groans in pain, and sinks partway to the floor before jabbing the dagger into the meat of Kostas' thigh, who howls in pain. Swearing and cursing up a storm, Kostas flees the scene, limping the entire way. Of course, that is when Alois and his knights appear, making the rest of the bandits flee.

 

"Pity," Sothis sighs. 

 

Sothis.

 

"What?! Fine. But she's not dead, is she? I bet she'll soon make it so you wish she was."

 

That may be so, but that wasn't nice.

 

Sothis scoffs, the sound harsh on Byleth's ears. "And? She killed you, among thousands of others for the sake of some lofty ideals! Because she thought her cause was just, her reign was just! Who is she, to measure lives against one another for a cause? Is it her and her alone that decides the cost of life, the cost of the future? Does she get to decide who lives and dies for her own view of what peace is?! I'll never understand that girl!"

 

Sothis, please calm yourself-

 

"I AM CALM!"

 

Byleth is shaken out of his stupor by Alois running over to his father, heavy armor clanking along with his steps. He's waving enthusiastically at his father, and in turn Jeralt looks as if he'd just witnessed the calamity coming ever so closer, step by step.

 

"CAPTAIN JERALT! IT'S BEEN AGES!"

 

"Aw man," his father groans. "Not this again..."

 

"IS THIS YOUR CHILD?!"

 

Byleth's about to walk over and save him from Alois' overenthusiastic nature, until someone taps him on the shoulder. He whirls, hand on his sword hilt, to see Dimitri standing there, wide eyed. 

 

"Pardon me, but you healed us earlier, right?" A nod. Dimitri sighs in relief. "Would you mind healing our friend again? She was hurt by the bandit."

 

Byleth allows Dimitri to guide him over to where Claude's helping Edelgard to sit up properly, hand on her back. With one wave of Byleth's hand, the wound closes up. He can practically see Sothis pouting in the back of his mind.

 

"It may leave a scar," Byleth replied, voice low and soft. "I am not a skilled healer."

 

Edelgard shakes her head. "Nonetheless, I am grateful. You are a skilled fighter, though. That much is certain."

 

Claude grins. "You were quite the force of nature back there! I've never seen anything like it."

 

"Ah yes," Dimitri added, looking quite flustered. "I forgot to thank you for helping us out, and forgot to introduce myself!" He does a short little bow. "I am Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd."

 

"Claude von Riegan," Claude says, quirking the side of his lips. 

 

"And I am Edelgard von Hresvelg. Once more, I must thank you for coming to our aid. You are Captain Jeralt's child, are you not? The Blade Breaker. Former Captain of the Knights of Seiros, oft praised as the strongest knight in history. No wonder you were exceptional out there. Did I miss anything?"

 

Byleth tilts his head to the side. It's still odd for his father to called Captain Jeralt, at least in his eyes. "Captain?" He replies, head tilted to the side.

 

"You mean you don't know?" Claude asks, intently watching him. "Even I've heard the tales of his blade piercing the night, swift as the wind, breaking blades as easily as he breaks open a flask." 

 

Byleth frowns at that, and Claude, picking up on it immediately, backtracks instantly. "Ah, it's not a bad thing! I was just saying that he's quite strong."

 

"I believe I've heard stories of you as well," Dimitri continues, hand to his chin. "The Ashen Demon, the Blade Breaker's only equal, striking down enemies with not even a hint of pleasure or hate. Nor a speck of blood on your clothes! The mercenaries that were meant to come with us as battalions all but sung your praises back at the monastery! You were just as exceptional as the stories say!"

 

Hearing that Dimitri knew of him before they had even met made Byleth feel warm. 

 

"Which brings me to my proposition. The way you held your ground against the bandits' leader was captivating! You never lost control of the situation. It showed me that I still have much to learn."

 

"Your skill is precisely why I must ask you to consider lending your services to the Empire." Edelgard cut in. "I might as well tell you now. I am no mere student. I am also the Adrestian Empire's-"

 

"Halt, Edelgard. Please allow me to finish my own proposition."

 

Byleth definitely remembered this. The students, eager to attempt to endear the idea of Byleth lending his strength to one of their lands, would bicker back and forth to each other. As of now, such a sight was harmless. But Byleth, who knew the events of the future, struggled violently against his own nausea. He could barely hear what they were saying over that terrible ringing-

 

"Byleth, they're asking you a question! Byleth!"

 

"Uh- I- I don't know." Byleth then swore violently to himself in his head. Was he allowed to use a divine pulse for this? They seemed to refresh everyday, either way. He was totally allowed to use a divine pulse, right? It was his own power, anyway!

 

Sothis sighed. "Why are you like this. They were asking you where you were born!"

 

Then I wasn't actually lying!

 

"You don't know?" Claude asked, looking surprised. "You just keep getting more and more mysterious as the day goes by..."

 

"How do you not know?" Dimitri said, incredulous. "Next thing you'll tell us you don't know anything about the Church..."

 

"I don't."

 

This, too, was not entirely a lie.

 

"What?! You live in Fòdlan and you don't know anything about the Church of Seiros?! I'm sorry, but that's just incredible. I almost can't believe it!" Claude insisted, eyes shining as if he'd just laid eyes on a delectable looking sort of prey.

 

"But you can heal," Edelgard insisted. "Normally people of no faith whatsoever cannot use any healing spells!"

 

Byleth thought to himself for a moment. "I have faith in my skills. My father. My battalion. That's all."

 

For some reason, the three of them look absolutely stunned. Was it so odd a statement?

 

"I suppose you didn't need to tell them where you were born to impress them," Sothis sighed. "It seems as though no matter the time, these three will always be just so taken with you."

 

Byleth blinks, slow. It's not as if I'm trying to impress them. At this, Sothis laughs. 

 

"Perhaps that is the problem." 

 

No matter how much Byleth prods, Sothis refuses to tell him why she had said such a thing.

 

.

 

Jeralt had taken him aside, explained the entire situation, and then suddenly they were off to the academy, Byleth's ears being talked off by every single person here.

 

I must do things right this time. I must do things right this time. I have to stop this war before it begins. I have to protect Dimitri. I must do things right this time-

 

"Please stop, you're giving me a headache, and I am quite literally divinity," Sothis groaned. "Besides, they all want your attention. Why not give them some of it?"

 

"Byleth is your name, correct?" Alois boomed, practically skipping at Jeralt's side. "Goddess, you look absolutely nothing like your father! That shade of green looks quite familiar, but I don't know why..."

 

Byleth reaches a hand up into their hair and is shocked when they pull down a pale green coloured lock. Sothis hums quietly at the back of his mind. "I suppose this is quite telling that we're not from the right time. Explains why you still have access to all your pulses again. I wonder... If you called to the Sword of the Creator while in range, would it come to you?"

 

Called to it?

 

"Well, yes-"

 

"Ah, that reminds me! It looks like Lady Rhea's hair, almost!"

 

Byleth is aware that there is probably a deeper meaning to that. How familiar Rhea treats him, how partial Rhea always was to him, how he had once woken up in her lap to her singing. 

 

But right now, Byleth's too distracted by everyone trying to talk at once, along with the knights all speaking to each other, trying to catch up. It's rowdy, and Byleth's head is already too loud.

 

"I would be happy to show you around the monastery once we get there," Dimitri is saying, a pleasant smile on his face. "We can get to know each other as we walk!" It's odd to Byleth that they're not walking side by side. Before battle, the two of them would bring up the rear, talking strategy amongst other things. If Dimitri was feeling nervous, he'd take Byleth by the hand. It became a habit later in war, when Dimitri had learned to face his demons head on.

 

This Dimitri was still yet plagued by his own demons, and could not trust anyone with them, not even Dedue or any of his childhood friends.

 

Byleth desperately wanted to take his hand and search for easy comfort in their familiarity. It got to the point where Byleth could do that with any of his students- but now, Byleth was incapable of even walking at Dimitri's side.

 

"It really is Fódlan in a nutshell," Claude added. "The good and the bad. I can also walk you around if you want!"

 

"Like it or not, we'll be there soon." Claude pouted at Edelgard's words.

 

"What's wrong with some friendly banter?" Claude asked, still cheerful.

 

"There is nothing wrong with conversation." Edelgard replied, sticking her chin up in the air. 

 

"Then I'll just keep talking. Byleth, right?" It was odd to hear his name pass the lips of his students, instead of professor. "We've got some great food in the dining hall. We've even got a fishing pond, if you're into that kind of stuff."

 

Byleth opened his mouth to contribute. "I like fishing." And then closed it.

 

Sothis groaned. "Way to contribute. Don't you want to get to know them better, to talk it out more? Say something else!"

 

Luckily for Byleth, Dimitri picked up the slack. "Then I think you'll have fun at the academy with us. You look about our age. We'll have fishing tournaments, I hear. You can catch all the fish you like. It'll be grand. Can you cook?"

 

Byleth nodded. He could hear Sothis clapping her hands in sarcasm. So he tried again. It was much harder to speak without people who knew his tells, his subtle gestures. "Spicy fish and turnip stew," Byleth said. "Sweet and salty whitefish sauté. Super spicy fish dango, fish sandwiches. If it's got fish, I know how to cook it."

 

His stomach growled at the thought. How embarrassing! Luckily for him, he had mastered the stoic face long, long ago, and didn't flush when Dimitri grinned and Claude laughed in response. "Forgive us," Dimitri said, a smile in his voice. "When we barged in on your house we prevented you from breaking your fast, haven't we? You can get a meal at the dining hall. We could share a meal together, actually! The way you're talking about these fish dishes is making me hungry as well."

 

Claude laughed. "Please stop trying to steal him away with the allure of food."

 

"I'm not trying anything," Dimitri retorted. "I just want to share a meal with him, is that so wrong?"

 

"Ah, we're here!" Alois announced, voice cheery. "Welcome to the monastery!"

 

It was like whiplash, seeing the monastery in a full state of repair. There were no bodies littering the area, nor stray arrows, nor crows picking away at scraps. There were no giant holes in the walls and no debris strewn across the flower fields. It stood tall and majestic, a flattering shade of gold in the sunlight. Byleth half expected it to catch fire the moment he laid eyes on it. 

 

He would spend a year here trying to end a war that had yet to start. 

 

Byleth would be lying if he said he was prepared.

 

Alas, time would not wait for him to be ready.

Chapter Text

It should be reassuring, relieving, to step once more into a monastery without decay or rubble, with smiling students and full halls but all Byleth could feel was an all-consuming sense of dread and ruin. These were all people that Byleth was now responsible for, that Byleth had to protect.

 

Byleth could not help but gawk at the pristine statues, the waxed floors, the high ceilings with nary a scratch. It felt almost as if Byleth would reach out and touch anything, they would crack and crumble under the slightest brush.

 

Byleth shuddered at the thought of this place submitting to chaos once more.

 

He feels as if he's in a daze. He's running around, words passing through one ear and coming out the next, the buzz of all of these people flooding his senses. Byleth's talking to Edelgard. Then to Claude. Then to Dimitri. Then to everyone else. He's not even speaking but they're filling the silences. Everyone is so young- too young- unaware of the trauma they'll face and of how their past trauma would catch up to them soon. Everyone is smiling. The sky is blue. Dimitri's eyes- plural- are blue. 

 

It's as if he's surrendered the reins of his body to someone else. Walking around on auto pilot, responding to questions, nodding silently at words.

 

It's so much. It's too much. The light in their eyes is invigorating and yet intimidating all the same. People are staring, at his hair, his eyes, his gait. 

 

Byleth is afraid.

 

"It is not your burden alone," Sothis murmured. "Nor should it be seen as one. Rather than look upon this task with gloom, perhaps you should think of it as a gift of sorts. Not everyone is allowed to rewind their mistakes wholly."

 

I suppose, Byleth thought back. I must do all that I can.

 

A pause. "I've oft wondered why you've always taken on these hooligans' troubles and worries. Without any sort of reward, even. A terrible mercenary, you are." 

 

Well. Byleth's never been told that before. 

 

"You are told their traumas and their innermost thoughts, and bear them all on your back, silently, a mere pillar for them to bounce words back off. I spent a long time wondering why you wouldn't simply distance yourself from such frivolities. Then I realized. You simply love them all, don't you? Foolish boy. What about your own feelings?"

 

What about them?

 

"You are utterly ridiculous," Sothis chides, voice still tinted with humour. "Ah. You are being called on."

 

Byleth blinks and he's standing in front of Rhea, Seteth frowning disapprovingly at him. At his sides are Manuela and Hanneman, both staring. 

 

Seeing Seteth look at him with such a distrustful expression is almost nostalgic. Rhea, spine outstretched to the heavens, looks as passive as ever. Byleth almost shudders.

 

"Forgive me," Byleth says, his voice almost a whisper. "What was it that you were asking of me?"

 

"If you were paying attention, you'd know that you are choosing which house to lead now," Seteth bit out, arms folding across his chest. "More proof that you are entirely unworthy of doing so." Rhea sends him a look that makes Seteth curl into himself slightly, and if Byleth did not know the man, he wouldn't even have noticed.

 

Byleth doesn't even bat an eye. "The Blue Lions," Byleth says, without hesitation. Sothis snickers at the back of his mind. 

 

Manuela claps her hands together. "Then dibs on the Black Eagles!" She smiles widely at Byleth, winking. "Phew, I'm glad! I wanted to teach Dorothea again!"

 

At his other side, Hanneman sighs. "You weren't even planning to pretend that I had a choice in the matter, would you, Manuela? Well, it's fine by me. I wanted to teach the Golden Deer either way." His eyes twinkle. "Their Crests are most interesting..."

 

Byleth glances back to Rhea to see her smiling, in her distant sort of way. "Your heart has made its choice, then. All I ask is that you guide these open minds with virtue, care, and sincerity." She's looking Byleth directly in the eyes as she says this. It's eerie to have all of her attention on him, but Byleth does not show it.

 

Seteth's frown deepens. "They are all promising youths who bear the weight of Fódlan's future upon their shoulders. I hope you appreciate what an honor it is to lead them." He too, stares Byleth down with an intensity that Byleth cannot cower from.

 

Footsteps. "Brother?" From the back of the room, Flayn emerges, a skip in her step. She takes one look at him, glances away, then immediately turns to look at Byleth once more. "Pardon- pardon me, sir, but your hair, and your eyes..." 

 

Unconsciously, Byleth lifts a hand to the pale green hair that now crowned his head. 

 

Seteth clears his throat, and Flayn immediately clears her own. She won't look away from Byleth, however. "I am so sincerely sorry," Flayn continues, eyes still on Byleth's face. "I did not mean to interrupt. Pardon my rudeness, but... Who is this?"

 

"This is our newest professor at the academy... Flayn, did you require something of me?" 

 

Flayn's eyes widen. "Oh my! A new addition to the Officer's Academy! I am so very pleased to meet you, Professor..."

 

There's a pause before Sothis flicks him gently, at the back of his mind. "Byleth," he responds. "Byleth Eisner."

 

"I am Seteth's little sister, Flayn! I am so happy to make your acquaintance!" Flayn stares at him once more, and Byleth nearly frowns.

 

"What is with all these people and staring," Sothis demands, sounding aggrieved. "It's making me uncomfortable too..."

 

"Have we met somewhere before?" Flayn asks, and Byleth's cool facade almost crumbles. "You have quite the discerning hair and eye colour!"

 

We have met, Byleth thinks to himself. I remember you asking me to fish something for you, and that turned into fishing together every so often. I remember your defiant look when you convinced Seteth to join my class. I remember you laying fresh flowers on your mother's grave. I remember being forced to taste test your creations in the mess hall. I know your sorrows, your worries, your secrets. I remember the way your hands shook as I called on you to fight in the battle against Edelgard. I remember you.

 

"I don't think we've ever met," Byleth replies instead. 

 

Flayn frowns. "Are you sure? You seem so..."

 

Seteth clears his throat once more to get everyone's attention back on him. "Flayn. If there's nothing too pressing, then let us focus on the topic at hand. There is something you should be aware of."

 

He then goes on to explain the mock battle between the three houses in a few days time, and how Byleth specifically should not disappoint the Archbishop. Byleth tries not to cringe at the idea of everyone fighting each other again. 

 

When he finally excuses them, Manuela and Hanneman slide up to him, looking eager. "So," Manuela asks, "where are you from, handsome? Those green features of yours are striking."

 

Hanneman yanks Byleth out of her grasp. "Please do not scare off the new professor with your wiles, Manuela. I would like to see if he has a Crest, before you whisk him away."

 

Manuela rolls her eyes and yanks Byleth back. Byleth feels distinctly like a doll being fought over by two rowdy children. "Please, no one cares about your dusty old Crest research. You can steal him away after I get to know him better."

 

"What did you say? I'll have you know that-"

 

This is commonplace in the Academy, so Byleth uses their bickering to sneak out of the audience chamber. 

 

Sothis is humming. "Odd. I don't remember them saying anything like this before. Perhaps you are not the only one who has changed. Was any of your actions significantly different compared to last time?"

 

Edelgard was wounded, Byleth thought back. But why would that affect whatever Manuela, Hanneman and Flayn would say? 

 

Another hum. "Perhaps they are not the anomaly. The anomaly is you."

 

Byleth nearly missed a step at Sothis' ominous words. It was odd. His hair was the pale green it'd been when he had fused with Sothis. He had been able to heal, a skill he'd only learned a few months after he had joined the Academy. Byleth wondered if anything else had changed greatly.

 

He stepped outside the audience chamber and was immediately ambushed by two familiar faces. "Finally," Claude said. "We were waiting forever. What did Rhea even want from you?"

 

"Don't be rude, Claude." Dimitri stepped up behind him, a frown on his face. "He doesn't need to tell you everything that you want to know."

 

The sight of these two boys standing in front of Byleth was a shock. Even Sothis seemed to stop in her tracks at the sight of them. "That didn't happen last time," Sothis hissed. "What in the world are they doing here?"

 

Byleth blinks. "What brings you here?"

 

Dimitri smiles at him. For some reason only now does Byleth realize that Dimitri has dimples. This information is shocking. Perhaps only here did Dimitri possess them? Or did Byleth not notice before? "We did have plans to share a meal together, did we not? We've come to collect you."

 

As if on cue, Byleth's stomach rumbles at the mention of food. Claude laughs. "Here, let's show you the way."

 

Byleth allows himself to be led as if he's never been here before. They share a companionable silence the entire way there.

 

"Ah," Dimitri says, when they finally reach the dining hall. "Luckily for you, Byleth, they've got bourgeois pike on the menu today." He swiftly orders three and they sit at the closest table. Byleth is still very confused at this turn of events. And at the use of his proper name.

 

"Lucky for us," Claude corrects. "I love that dish, and I am starving!" He digs in with vigour, and Byleth does the same after one sniff of the meal. It tastes just as wonderful as he remembers. During the war, Byleth was not allowed to be picky with his meals, and just ate whatever the dining hall could afford to feed him and the army. He hums around a bite of fish, luxuriating in the subtle spice, and the tenderness of the fish. It's incredible.

 

In front of him, Dimitri is smiling pleasantly, fork lifted to his mouth. He seems to be staring. Byleth raises his eyebrows, and Dimitri glances away before looking back at him. "Ah, I am full just watching other people eat," Dimitri says, finally pushing the food past his lips. Byleth's mind quickly brings up memories of a future past, of Byleth trying to teach Flayn to cook. For some reason their conversation flowed to talk about their fellow soldiers, including Dimitri. Flayn had told Byleth before, a hush in her voice, that Dimitri could not taste a single thing. Such information had haunted him for the rest of the night.

 

The extravagant pike in Byleth's mouth now tastes extremely bland, but he forces himself to swallow and pick up a fork full of vegetables.

 

"What are you going to teach here?" Dimitri asks, once he is done chewing. "I heard you got a teaching position."

 

Byleth's mouth straightens into a line. He's still chewing.

 

"Ah, you're still eating. Then allow me to guess." Dimitri puts a hand to his chin. "Swordsmanship? With your skills, it's quite likely."

 

"Isn't Jeritza or whatever that guy's name is teaching that already? I guess we can have more than one swordsmanship teacher. Maybe he'll teach a class instead so you can take over his position." Claude adds, looking thoughtful.

 

"Jeritza doesn't speak much, though." Dimitri counters. "Can he really lecture a class? Byleth, what do you think?"

 

"I've never met him," Byleth lies.

 

Ah, Jeritza. Byleth has no idea if he's even met him, what with his odd stupor when he first re-entered the Academy, but Byleth has a strange desire to rip off his mask and demand answers for all that he has done.

 

"We should stab him," Sothis says. "Go right now."

 

We cannot just stab people without a plan, Byleth hurriedly thinks back. Sothis huffs.

 

"And why ever not?"

 

Byleth is about to explain why stomping up to Jeritza and running him through with his sword is a terrible idea, but then the bells suddenly ring, marking it as afternoon. Dimitri and Claude startle at the sound. "Ah, that reminds me! We're supposed to meet our teachers now! Forgive me, but I've got to go!" Dimitri stands from the table, picking up his cleared plate as well as Byleth's, handing them to the dining hall workers before hurrying out the door.

 

"Me too," Claude says quickly, shoveling the rest of his food in his mouth and doing the same. "Gotta go bye!"

 

Byleth feels distinctly as if he's been hit by a whirlwind. 

 

"That was so odd," Sothis murmurs. "That did not happen last time. I was right! You are an anomaly! Why does it feel as if you've already bonded with them? And didn't you go and meet their class directly last time?"

 

Maybe it wasn't just my hair and skills that have transferred over.

 

He can feel Sothis' grin. "This is so interesting. What else has changed? What has stayed the same? Well, hurry along then. Go meet up with your students."

 

Byleth, as always, feels strung up in everyone else's pace.

 

.

 

When Byleth pushes the door of the Blue Lions' classroom open, eight very familiar people stand from their seats and stare at Byleth with wide eyes.

 

"Wait!" Annette squeaks. "Does this mean our new Professor is... No, I really can't believe it! But I was speaking to you so casually, as though we were companions!"

 

Byleth is about to interject, when Annette barrels on. "Oh, I am so sorry Professor! You look the same age as the rest of us, and... Oh, and I'm sorry I just said that too! I really must watch my tongue..."

 

Annette resembles a kicked puppy, so Byleth hurries to console her. "I don't mind if you treat me as a friend."

 

"You say that," Annette replies, "but... I just don't know about all of this!"

 

"I'll admit, it doesn't sit well with me either!" Dimitri spoke. "I was too forward... I accidentally called you By- your name! I'm sorry that I was so disrespectful!"

 

Sylvain butts in with a cheeky grin and a whistle. "So forward, Your Highness." Dimitri swats at him, and Sylvain steps away to dodge, laughing. "It's fine, isn't it? If the professor says it's okay, and if you consent, it's all fine if we're less formal! We're already speaking this way to our future king, so we might as well, right?"

 

"Well," Dimitri begins, looking contemplative. "We're not in the Kingdom, so it only goes to follow that we should all speak companionably..."

 

Sylvain jabs him playfully with an elbow. "You also hate being called Your Highness, right?"

 

"Sylvain!" Dimitri complains, put out. "Fine. I concede. If the professor says it's fine, we ought to accept that kindness gratefully."

 

Ingrid shifts nervously in the back. "I'm not sure that I can manage that... It's too weird for me to not show authority figures due respect!"

 

"You don't have to force yourself if it's too difficult," Mercedes says. "You're fine with that too, right professor?"

 

Byleth nods, swept up in their pace once more. He feels comfortable in the usual banter of the Blue Lions. 

 

"You're too good to us, professor," Sylvain winks. And uh oh, Byleth knows what's coming. "If you were a girl I would ask you out right away. Actually, you know what, I'm gonna do that anyway. Let's go for tea!"

 

Felix huffs. "Control yourself, Sylvain. I have more important matters to discuss with our professor. Come to the training grounds later. There, you will show me what you're capable of."

 

Byleth doesn't even think as the next words leave his lips. "Okay. Actually, if you all don't have anything planned, shall we go now?"

 

Sothis nods in approval. "I see what you are doing! You're going to appraise them and see if they have changed as well!"

 

Byleth hums quietly back in approval, as the Blue Lions stare. "You two aren't wasting time, are you? Count me in for any such battle!" Dimitri agrees, shoulders squaring at the proposal of sparring.

 

"Pardon me," Ashe interrupts, "but I would also love to train with you! Oh, only if that's okay!"

 

Dimitri smiles again and once more Byleth is shocked by his dimples. Byleth probably does not remember them due to the more prominent image of a scarred, angry Dima who forced nearly all of his smiles. 

 

"Perhaps this Dimitri is different," Sothis says, and Byleth can almost see her narrow her eyes. "...no. There is still a shadow that follows him around. All of these kids have still suffered greatly."

 

Byleth almost sighs. If he were to change one thing, it'd be the fact that all of these students have had terrible traumatic experiences. Too bad his divine pulse did not send him back too far.

 

"Yes," Dimitri announces, "let us all train together!"

 

Mercedes giggles. "Wow, everyone's so excited! Even Dedue looks happier!" Byleth looks at him. There is a slight smile on his face, and it makes Byleth want to grin in response. He too, was likely infected by Dimitri's happy air. "If you get injured, simply say the word and I'll patch you up straight away!

 

"Your highness," Dedue immediately says. "Please do take care not to go overboard."

 

Byleth tilts his head to the side. "I want to spar with all of you. If that's alright. I won't force you to," Byleth would never wish a forced world of fighting on them, ever, "but I would like to see where your skills are at prior to the mock battle."

 

Mercedes' face falls slightly. "I'm not skilled with weapons, I only know reason and faith skills as of right now."

 

"That's alright," Byleth responds. "I know some magic too. We can spar like that."

 

"Ah, you know magic?" Annette perks up. "I can use magic too, as well as the axe! I went to the school of sorcery before!"

 

Felix seems to vibrate from where he's standing. "Hurry up, let's go. I want to spar already!"

 

At this, Sylvain laughs. "You're excited, aren't you? But isn't it wrong that we bond over crossing blades rather than something else? Like talking?"

 

"Huh, I never thought of it that way. Well, if that's how you feel, I suppose you'll just stay behind while the rest of us are at the training ground?" Ingrid teases, mouth fighting a smile. 

 

Sylvain shakes his head. "Ingrid, my dearest friend! You really are too harsh on me!"

 

Felix is already at the door. "Come on already! We've talked too much! I will defeat the professor first!"

 

.

 

Felix hits the floor in under five minutes, training sword to his throat. 

 

The Blue Lions are giving a stunned round of applause at the sight. Scowling, Felix picks himself up off the ground, but is looking at Byleth in a wide eyed sort of way.

 

"I told you that Byleth- ah, the professor, was strong!" Dimitri is announcing to Ingrid, eyes shining. 

 

Byleth huffs. He wasn't expecting Felix to be anything like the dancer he was in the future, speed and dexterity out classing most of their enemies, but he wasn't disappointed in the slightest. "You're too arrogant," Byleth begins, and is sort of stunned when the Blue Lions fall silent to listen. "I bet you're not very good with Authority."

 

Felix's frown gets deeper, but he's listening intently. Byleth knows that he responds better to criticism rather than praise, after all. "If you always try to strike first, your enemies will notice, right? You've got the basics down pat. You're quite talented, I can see that for sure. But you had no intention of using all of the space the training ground provided and your parrying needs work. But still, very good job. I can see you've been training a long time."

 

The students are staring. Again. "I know that we just met," Sylvain says, slow and languid. "But I think this is the most that I've ever heard you speak."

 

Byleth has no idea what to say to that, so he doesn't say anything at all, and waits patiently for Felix to regain his composure.

 

After a moment that Felix uses to wipe his mouth with the back of his hand, he speaks. "Again. I'll get you this time."

 

"No, no." Dimitri stands from where he's sitting on the bench. "My turn next! Shall we fight with swords, professor?" 

 

Ingrid drags Felix to the bench while Dimitri examines the rack of weapons. "No. Use what you think is your best weapon, and I'll use the same." Byleth found himself saying, as if he didn't know that Dimitri practically grew up wielding a lance, and that his hero's relic was a indeed a lance.

 

Hearing this, Dimitri obediently picks up a training lance, and so Byleth steps over to the rack to pick up their own. Byleth wasn't as good as Dima was, but this was not Dima. This was a younger Dimitri, who did not brace their weight on Areadbar and did not sleep with it within arm's reach. Dima wielded his lance as if hundreds of others insisted he did. This Dimitri, though still haunted by these ghosts, did not yet wield a weapon as if it anchored him to existence. 

 

Byleth hoped this Dimitri never had to. 

 

"If you fall to the ground, lose your weapon, surrender, or leave the designated area, you lose! Three clean hits and you win! On three," Ashe said, when they were on opposite sides of the training field. "One, two, three, begin!"

 

At this point, Dima would charge forward. But not this Dimitri. Aware of his professor's words, he would simply circle Byleth for now, evaluating his steps. Unfortunately, Byleth had no intention of letting Dimitri do such a thing. 

 

With five long, quick steps, Byleth crosses the field and whips their lance out at Dimitri's chest like an extension of his arm. He is careful to not jab Dimitri with the point of the lance, but does not treat him delicately- the firm rod of the spear hits the side of his torso and Dimitri stumbles back.

 

"One!" Ashe calls. Byleth thinks it's Ashe. He can't focus on anything save the battle right now. 

 

Dimitri does not back down, even though Byleth made sure to hit him hard. He charges Byleth, ducking under Byleth's second swing and trying to jab at Byleth's arm. Probably trying to disarm him. Two could play at that game. Spinning to avoid, Byleth uses the momentum to sidle up closer to Dimitri space, too close for Dimitri to make a wider swing to knock him off balance, and jabs the butt of his lance into the base of Dimitri's.

 

Dimitri does not drop the lance. It seems as if Byleth's underestimated his strength too much. Even at a young age, Dimitri was obviously strong. The royal family of Faerghus was all blessed with such strength, after all, and he held onto the lance tightly.

 

He surprises Byleth by immediately retaliating and trying to jab Byleth with the butt of his lance. Byleth dodges, but it's a near thing. The base of the lance brushes Byleth's arm. He is faster than Byleth has been expecting, and stronger too. If that hit would have connected Byleth knew for a fact that it would have bruised.

 

Really, Byleth shouldn't underestimate Dimitri, no matter the age. 

 

Byleth steps away from a wider swing, then moves back in, ducks under another, and jabs Dimitri in the abdomen with the hilt of the lance. Dimitri bites back a huff, and tries to counter immediately, but is blocked by Byleth's lance.

 

"Two!" Ashe announces, sounding a tad more excited. 

 

"You're quite strong, professor," Dimitri comments, a little grin pulling at his lips now. Byleth is suddenly reminded of how much Dimitri enjoyed sparring before the war. He was much like Felix in this way- excited at the idea of strong opponents.

 

"Did you expect me to be weak?" Byleth counters, stepping up into the range of Dimitri's lance once more. Dimitri's swings become more calculated, extensions of his arm and back muscles rather than mindless. His eyes narrow the more Byleth practically dances out of the way.

 

"Of course not," Dimitri insisted, looking quite sheepish for someone swinging a lance around his head. "But I am still in awe of how many weapons you seem to have mastered."

 

Byleth felt as if he was cheating. As of right now, his lance skills were more polished than Dimitri's. Dimitri was fluid, but too textbook. It was clear that he honed these skills more on the training grounds rather than in actual battle.

 

These were skills he had yet to technically learn, so Byleth really did feel slightly cheap.

 

Only a little, though.

 

Byleth liked the feeling of winning more than most things in this world. He was practically raised on the battlefield, after all.

 

So with the taste of victory on his lips, Byleth runs directly up to Dimitri, dragging the base of his lance across the ground as he goes, bringing up a cloud of smoke that temporarily blinds Dimitri, who coughs at the surprise. Byleth taps him gently on the torso with the lance, then knocks the lance out of Dimitri's hands. "I win," Byleth says. 

 

"Three!" Ashe announces, and Byleth finally turns to look at him. "The professor wins!" 

 

Ashe and the rest of the class are quite literally on the edge of their seats, save Felix and Dedue, who are standing. Felix looks quite impatient, shifting his weight from foot to foot.

 

"You're quite skilled and strong with the lance," Byleth says, voice quiet. "Although you tried to analyze me, as soon as I rushed you, you stopped and then went on to charging. You shouldn't stop analyzing your opponent, ever. You also should use more of your body in your attacks. Guide the lance with your footwork alongside your arms. Treat it like an extension of yourself."

 

When Dimitri finally blinks the dust out of his eyes, he grants Byleth an eager grin. "That was incredible," he remarks, running a hand through his hair. "I want to spar again." 

 

Mercedes is already out of her seat, waving a heal over Dimitri's body. When she's satisfied with the work she's done, she nods and Dedue urges Dimitri to sit back down, ignoring his protests.

 

Ingrid stands from her seat. "Ah, it's my turn next, your highness!"

 

.

 

When Byleth's finally sparred with all of the Blue Lions, the sun is bleeding out into the horizon. He's made some observations.

 

First, despite how young they are, he really should not underestimate them. Dedue had gotten a particular look in his eye that meant he was about to hit harder than usual, and Byleth had to scramble out of the way. Higher skills aside, it would still really hurt if he was hit.

 

Second, while some skills were not at all polished, it was clear that some of his students possessed skills that they did not before. When Ingrid had assumed a position that meant she was about to hit Byleth with a tempest lance, Byleth was almost too shocked to parry at the last moment. Thankfully, his strength as well as the lance held firm. Mercedes had even pulled out a Bolganone at the last minute, which Byleth had failed to counter. He still won, but he was pleasantly surprised, and very proud.

 

It was clear to Byleth that some things were different, yet some things were the same. Byleth had no idea why. Even Sothis was drawing a blank.

 

What was most odd was how the Blue Lions immediately accepted Byleth into the fold. Byleth distinctly remembers feeling awkward in front of his students before, how Byleth felt nervous about even speaking with any of them. How they seemed to be nervous around him as well. But they were engaging in conversation with him during the spars and in between breaks. It wasn't that Byleth disliked it, it's just that it was... odd.

 

"Byleth," someone called, as the Blue Lions were putting the weapons away. The chatter of the students instantly stops at the sound. Byleth turned to see his father stepping out of the door.

 

"Father," Byleth replies, putting his weapon away on the racks, before crossing the hall to meet him. It's still a shock to see him. Byleth feels as if he has to quickly run to his side, lest his father disappear right in front of him.

 

Jeralt glances over the hall before eyeing Byleth oddly. "Are you done training? I have to speak with you."

 

Byleth turns to look at his students, who have already put away all the training equipment. "Don't worry," Dimitri calls out. "We've taken care of everything. Go and speak to Captain Jeralt!"

 

"Okay," Jeralt says, gruff. "See, your little pupils have got everything under control. Let's go."

 

With one quick glance back to his students, Byleth follows his father back to his quarters.

 

.

 

Once the door shuts on them, Jeralt sits down on Byleth's bed. For some reason, they're here, instead of Jeralt's own quarters. Byleth doesn't question it. He's just happy that he can question his father now, too. Sothis is practically vibrating in excitement at the back of his mind.

 

Jeralt sighs, long and deep. "So, kid. Mind telling me why your hair is suddenly looking a hell of a lot like Rhea's?"

 

"Oh." Sothis says, voice soft. "Oh, that's interesting."

 

Byleth's mind blanks. What in the world was he supposed to say to that?

 

"Communication is important," Sothis whispers, almost a croon. "Open up a little! Communication is important, especially between loved ones! A lack of communication is potentially lethal, after all. We've seen that first hand. Now. Communicate!"

 

Byleth takes a deep, deep breath and attempts to banish a certain rainy day from his mind.

 

"I'm from the future."

 

Sothis slaps the back of his head. "Not like that, you absolute fool! Use your Divine Pulse! Now!"

Chapter Text

Byleth is hit with the sudden realization that life-changing statements should be said with a certain grace and poise to them, qualities that Byleth knows that he has never once possessed.

 

Jeralt's face is stoic, as always, but he gains the sort of look that never failed to make Byleth seem like more of a child. That look alone convinces him- he has to use a Divine Pulse now.

 

As usual, it's absolutely horrid.

 

If the sudden vertigo, endless pulsating, and relentless pounding alongside a vision filling with stars was anything like what having a real heart was like Byleth wanted absolutely nothing to do with that. The Pulse is quick. It always is- but the more Byleth uses it the more Byleth feels sick to his stomach.

 

When it's over, Sothis finally relaxes, and gently floats down from where she was levitating in favor of leaning on Byleth's back. There's no real weight there- but a sort of pressure that Byleth is only aware of because he knows that she's there. "Phew." Sothis sighs, peeking from out behind him to stare at Jeralt, who has just now sat on the bed. "Okay, let's try that again. Good thing you've got thirteen of these a day."

 

Byleth steels himself to actually speak. It's his father, one of the only ones that he is comfortable speaking with, but such a unworldly topic makes his palms clammy. His father likely won't mock him, that's true.... But Byleth is worried that he won't be believed in at all.

 

At least his face will not betray how nervous he currently feels.

 

Jeralt gives him a once over. "Hey... Did you just...? What did you just do?"

 

Byleth's brow furrows slightly. That was new.

 

"You did something just now, didn't you?" Jeralt repeats, glancing at him with a curious expression. 

 

"No..." Byleth replies, but despite his own stoic tone it comes out like a question. "What do you mean, father?" 

 

Sothis is yanking at his sleeve like an impatient child. "No way- no way! Is your father aware of the Divine Pulses? What in the world does that mean?" 

 

Byleth ignores the yanking in favor of just staring back at his father, who sighs when he realizes that Byleth wasn't about to answer.

 

Jeralt runs a hand down his face. "Okay, maybe you'll open up a little once we get to talking. What happened to your hair?"

 

Sensing an opportunity, Byleth squares his shoulders, and takes a deep breath. "I'm from the future."

 

"Nooooooooo!" Sothis shrieks. "You absolute imbecile! This is why we used Divine Pulse again in the first place!"

 

How else am I supposed to phrase it? Byleth thinks back furiously. I don't think that there's a way to make me sound any less insane than I already do!

 

Jeralt's giving him that look again, that look that makes him feel like he's a child again, being fussed over by Jeralt's healers, while Jeralt fumed silently in front of him. Even with his terrible memory, Byleth remembers some things. Byleth would sit on a log, heal spells washing over him, as his father would scold him for being so reckless. It didn't show on his face, but Byleth remembers that it really hurt- and that he really wanted a hug from his father. Luckily for him, his father could practically read his mind. 

 

It seems time did not change everything.

 

"You think I don't believe you," Jeralt begins, gruff. He picks at a string coming out of the blanket. Byleth almost gulps. "You know what? You're kind of right- I really don't. There's no such thing as being able to go back in time."

 

For some reason, that makes Byleth want to cry. He looks down at the floor, silently grateful for Sothis, who delicately slips her own hand into Byleth's.

 

"But at the same time, I do believe you."

 

His head shoots back up in record time, to see his father look deep in thought. "The first time I saw you cry was only just several hours ago. By the way, I didn't question you about the hair because you were crying. Of course I've already noticed by then. You, who I've tried to keep away from the Church, who are usually the only ones capable of Faith magic, are suddenly able to cast a heal spell. You spoke far too easily to those students, and again, your hair is that colour. Am I missing anything?"

 

Sothis whistles. "I've totally underestimated your father, it seems."

 

"It should be impossible that you're from the future, or however you put it. But I- I am aware of what happened to you when you were born." Jeralt groans again. "Why is everything so complicated now? Suddenly, after over 20 years, we're back at the Church, and you've got Rhea's hair... I was hoping this talk wouldn't have to happen until much, much later."

 

Byleth crosses the room to sit down next to Jeralt on his bed. "Father," he begins, struggling to find the words. "Why- why don't I tell you first what I know, and then you tell me?"

 

Words are elusive to him. They do not come easy, not ever. He relies on his father to speak for him, and later on, the Blue Lions to fill in his gaps. Byleth's words are not his own. He is not a story teller, but he likes to think carefully over his own words- what would make the person he's saying them to more happy? What would they think about him after he's said them?

 

Byleth allows himself to be crass, for once. A babbling child could weave a better narrative, on top of that all, his memory is flawed. But he tells his father all that he remembers. 

 

Ashe's shocked face as Catherine draws her sword on Lonato. The way Sylvain could not lift his lance to fight his brother turned beast. Mock battles that foreshadowed real ones. The Death Knight. How Tomas was actually Solon.  Crest stones, and their curse. Byleth curses Monica out under his breath, and he ignores the way his father almost laughs. He also ignores the way his father stares when Byleth tells him exactly what Monica has done. Edelgard's face behind the Flame Emperor's mask. The sickening crunch of Dimitri crushing the skull of an Imperial Soldier in one hand. A declaration. Fire. Five years of eternity. 

 

War.

 

Byleth doesn't realize that he's crying until his father wipes tears from his face with a gentle hand. Sothis is sitting next to him on the bed as well now, clinging to Byleth's arm. She says nothing. She knows his heart as if they were one, after all.

 

Jeralt waits for the quiet hiccup of Byleth's sobs to stop before he tells his own story. He does not stop to pity Byleth with empty words, and for that, Byleth is grateful.

 

"You look exactly like your mother," Jeralt sighs. "Not so much before, with the darker hair, but you had her features. Now, if you grew your hair out, you'd look almost exactly the same." Jeralt runs a finger down the ring he had once left Byleth, a lifetime ago. Byleth cannot help but watch the motion.

 

"I had once been on the verge of death," his father says, gaze unsteady. Byleth gripped his hand tight- it looked as if Jeralt was going to float away with his reminiscences. "Rhea saved me. She gave me some of her blood, and miraculously, I lived. Thinking back on it now, she could have just healed me up. There was no need for her to use her blood- but I, just like your mother, and yourself, was just an experiment of sorts."

 

This makes Byleth sit up. Thankfully, Jeralt does not stop his story. He does not hear the odd noise that Sothis makes at the back of her throat, or feel the way her hands tighten around his arm.

 

"I don't know the full details of why she did it, or how," his father is saying, like Byleth's entire world isn't changing, "but she quite literally created your mother. Now, I have literally no idea why she did that. I still don't, even to this day. But then, I fell in love with her. The reason why I'm so good at reading you is because I had to learn to read her first."

 

Intrigued, Byleth leans in. 

 

"Her name was Lilith, and I swore that the heavens opened up when I first laid eyes on her. At first, she didn't smile, and didn't speak, especially to me. But she was a crazy incredible healer, and she brawled like her life always depended on it. To be honest, after the first impressions, I thought she was stuck up. All holier-than-thou because she wouldn't speak to anyone! But one day, I saw her knock the teeth outta this one bandit and immediately thought 'that's the one.'" His father chuckled, a smile tugging at his lips. Byleth felt himself smile just watching it happen.

 

Even in Byleth's past life, his father would never speak about his mother, save for the time they visited her grave. He wasn't too attached to the idea of her, and felt slightly bad about it- she had traded her own life for his, after all. Hearing these stories was an entirely new experience.

 

"Well, eventually we both fell in love. Nothing made me happier than seeing her smile. And when she became pregnant with you, she would smile every single day." Jeralt smiled even bigger, and it was so infectious that Byleth did the same. Sothis gasps from the side.

 

"I can see the resemblance now!" She exclaimed. "You've got the same smile! It's tiny, and you never see it- but it's charming all the same!"

 

Hearing that they had something in common, Byleth felt a little embarrassed, but happy at the same time. He had always been pestered with questions as to why he and Jeralt look nothing alike, but now Byleth knew that they shared at least one thing.

 

"She was smiling even when she told Rhea to prioritize your life above hers," Jeralt mutters, resentful. Before Byleth can flinch, his father sighs. "We both knew the risks of her pregnancy. And even now, over 20 years later, I know she would still make that choice. Heck, even I... Never mind. What's important is what came after."

 

Jeralt's face darkens. "To save your life, Rhea used you in an experiment as well. I'm not saying that I'm not grateful, really, kid. But Rhea kept going on an on about how you were her 'greatest success' and how happy she was that you turned out well. I knew something was wrong when you arrived and that you didn't cry. Even the healers were amazed. On top of that, you had no heart beat. No heart beat!"

 

Byleth knows the rest of the story, but he listens intently to the same words he'd trailed a thousand times over with his eyes leave his father's mouth. The fire Jeralt started to feign his death, the way he stole away in the night to escape the church.

 

There's a pause.

 

"I'm guessing that's why you were able to go back in time or something," Jeralt hisses. "Rhea. I bet you bear a Crest or something. Goddess knows how her blood's affected me..."

 

"So... what now?"

 

Jeralt chuckles. "What now? Kid, I should be asking you that. Aren't you from the future or something?"

 

Byleth gapes openly. "Y-you believe me...? Truly?"

 

"I may not believe that time travel is real," his father says, "But I believe in you. Always."

 

Byleth's heart is suddenly so, so so full. "I love you," Byleth says, overwhelmed with emotion. In both lifetimes, he thinks that this is the first time he's ever said such a thing. "I love you, dad."

 

"I mean, I know," Jeralt responds, which earns him a swat to the arm, "but it's really nice to hear it. I love you too, kid."

 

Sothis curls up against Byleth's arm, a smile on her face like a cat who had just won the cream. "Communication."

 

Jeralt clears his throat, an air of awkward happiness around him. "Right. Well. Should we just kill Edelgard, Jeritza, and Tomas now and then run off to Dagda or something?"

 

"Father!"

 

"See, your father agrees," Sothis croons, pleased. "We should just kill them and wipe our hands of it."

 

Jeralt is openly laughing now. "Alright. Almyra, then? We'll round up the mercenaries, kill everyone involved in the war and Crest experimentation, and then move countries."

 

Byleth huffs. "I don't think that it would be that simple."

 

"It could be," Sothis says, smirking wide. 

 

"Edelgard is still a princess. Without evidence as to why she's planning out this war, we'll probably die as soon as she hits the floor. And if we kill Jeritza or Tomas without any explanation, Rhea will probably have our heads."

 

Jeralt scoffs, but still considers the idea. "Not you, I don't think. She wouldn't kill you."

 

"She wouldn't?"

 

It's an honest question, but it makes the room go silent.

 

"...are you not able to travel back in time? Why not kill Tomas or Jeritza, and then see what happens?"

 

Both Byleth and Sothis shake their heads, even though Jeralt cannot see Sothis. "Guards will probably just take me away to be executed. I can't provide any reasoning for me to kill them. And the last time I traveled back more than a day, I died," Byleth replies, somber. "I have no idea how far back I can turn."

 

His father gives him a look that Byleth pointedly ignores.

 

"We should do some research on that Crest of yours," Sothis says, fingers to her temples. "It would be more useful to know your limits before you go off and die again."

 

Jeralt groans. "Good Goddess, this is giving me a headache. But I can't imagine how it feels like for you. Going back in time as if a war didn't just flash before your eyes, like the last time you didn't see some of these people was before they died? Why you, of all people? Are you meant to do something specific?"

 

Sothis' fists ball up in her dress. 

 

"Okay," Jeralt says, standing and walking to Byleth's bulletin board. "First, we need to plot out a timeline to see what happens and see what we could potentially prevent before it occurs."

 

.

 

The sun is peeking through Byleth's window when they finally their diagram on Byleth's board. Byleth wants to curl up and sleep already. Good thing classes don't technically start for another day. After more time spent of Sothis yelling at Byleth to just get it together and remember what happens already! they've come up with a semi-coherent timeline.

 

"First, the mission that Rhea sends you on is to take care of that bandit, Kostas, who you're sure was hired by the Flame Emperor, who is actually Edelgard." Jeralt states, sounding tired himself. "Instead of killing him, this time, you should kidnap him and bring him back to the monastery so we can question him directly in front of Rhea and maybe push the Flame Emperor to appear earlier."

 

Byleth nods. Sothis is already curled up, asleep on his bed. Goddess, he wishes that were him.

 

"Next is Lonato, your little pupil's adoptive father. We should find a way to not kill him this time either," Jeralt hums thoughtfully. "If we want to get rid of some of the church's influence we should make Lonato say his peace before anything goes down."

 

That makes Byleth wake up, a little. "Get rid of the church's influence?"

 

His father is shrugging, looking disheveled. "Or at the very least, Rhea. I'm not starting a war or anything. I just don't want her anywhere near you. I don't like her, and I don't trust her. She said that if she was gone, that you'd be in charge of the church? I don't think so. There's something odd about that."

 

Byleth stops to think for a moment. "I... also don't like the way that the church acts." He's spent many a sleepless night thinking of why Edelgard could possibly hate a woman- a religion so much, that'd she'd attempt to rule all of Fódlan for it and kill everyone in her way to achieve such a goal. Especially before the final battle, when Dima and Edelgard had that conversation. 

 

What was it that she had said?

 

If after all of this you believe the weak will be weak, that is only because they are too used to relying on others instead of themselves.

 

Byleth really had to wonder what in the world Edelgard was on about when she had said that.

 

What determined weakness, anyway? Birth? Social status? A lack of mastery over weapons? Crests, and lack thereof?

 

If her goal was to remove the power from all those with high social status, then what exactly gave her the right to remain in charge and decide for everyone else?

 

At first, Byleth thought that she had simply desired Rhea's head, and to have her influence spread across the entirety of Fódlan. But that was proven wrong when they had received news that Rhea was being held captive by her. 

 

Byleth had several theories. One, that Rhea was being used as bait to lure them in. Two, the one that Byleth favored more now that he knew the truth of his birth- that they were using Rhea for her blood, for experimentation.

 

Experimentation of what, Byleth still had no clue. Likely had something to do with whatever the hell Edelgard transformed herself into in the final battle.

 

And, once all of Fódlan was Edelgard's, what would happen next? Did she really think that the weak would not still suffer under power? As long as there was still someone in charge, there would still be those beneath. Byleth may be only a mercenary, but he knew that much.

 

Byleth swallows his words. 

 

"I don't want to kill Lonato either," Byleth says. Ashe's face filled with tears won't leave his mind. "I don't want my students hurt. Is there a way we could possibly stop Catherine from coming with us, to further ensure that Lonato could live?"

 

The two men frown, deep in thought. His father scratches the back of his head roughly. "You know what? Let's take this one thing at a time. Mock battle, then Kostas."

 

Byleth nods. 

 

"I'll go and try some find some evidence on our suspects. In the mean time... Why don't you do the same? Pester Jeritza into having tea with you or something. I'm gonna sleep. That took forever." Jeralt pats Byleth on the head, and is about to leave before he stops in front of the door. "What should we do about this board?"

 

The board is covered in paper that had been roughly ripped out from Byleth's journal, pins sticking out from every piece. There's small doodles of some of Byleth's students with string connecting their pins and tacks. Edelgard is connected with a doodle of the Flame Emperor, a terrible picture of her terrible uncle, and Hubert. Similarly, a thin string connects both Mercedes and the Flame Emperor, with a question mark drawn above. The board is overflowing with such detail, it almost looks like art.

 

"No one ever comes in here," Byleth says, reluctant to take it down. "won't it be fine?"

 

His father sighs. "Kid, you don't know that for sure. I know your memory is terrible, so you won't remember all of it, but I'll remember. It would be safer to destroy it and keep it-" Jeralt taps his temples, "up here."

 

Byleth sighs, but eventually complies, sluggishly standing from his desk chair, ripping the paper down and setting it alight with a small Fire spell. His father nods in approval. 

 

"I'm going to sleep. You should too. Ah, and before I forget." Jeralt turns to Byleth, face more serious than ever. "If you really want to up and leave the monastery, just let me know. I'm serious. You are the most important person to me, here. I value your safety above everyone else's. Screw the war or whatever- all I want is to keep you safe."

 

With that, his father leaves the room, closing the door shut behind him. Once again, Byleth feels warm and fuzzy. It's a pleasant feeling.

 

Byleth lets out a huge yawn and walks over to his window to see the positioning of the sun. It's barely dawn. No one will be up for another three hours.

 

Byleth decides that it's the perfect time to head to the library. This way, he knows Tomas won't be there, and he won't have the sudden urge to shove his blade into Tomas' greasy throat.

 

He blinks. Where did that thought come from? It was so unlike him.

 

"Me."

 

Byleth jumps to see Sothis floating behind him, giggling slightly. "You and I are one, remember? I know your heart, and you know mine."

 

In response, Byleth frowns. "Ah, don't be like that," Sothis teases. "Let's hurry and head to the library so we can actually sleep. Your face may be clear of expression, but your eye bags say otherwise."

 

On that note, Byleth makes the most drowsy trek to the library ever, filled with awkward stumbling and eye rubs. It doesn't help that Sothis is yawning loudly next to him, and commenting on how soft and nice Byleth's pillows would be. 

 

Byleth has a fleeting thought about whacking Sothis with one and Sothis immediately flicks him between his brows.

 

Once he reaches the library, Byleth takes out every single book that looks like it'd be about Crests and wobbles over to a table, practically slamming the books down. They make a loud sound. Byleth doesn't know why he's surprised. 

 

"Ah. Do be more quiet, will you?"

 

Byleth's head shoots up. The voice is far too masculine to be Sothis, so he's quite surprised. He didn't notice anyone when he came in here, and Sothis didn't inform him. 

 

It's Linhardt. He's sitting across from him at the table, his own books open and strewn about the flat surface.

 

Byleth's sure they met yesterday, but the last true memory that Byleth possesses of him was meeting on the battlefield. They locked eyes, and Linhardt turned right around as if they hadn't seen each other. He doesn't know what happened to Linhardt after that battle, but he hopes that he was safe. Despite Linhardt not being in his class, Byleth was quite fond of him- his honest personality was quite endearing and whenever they were meant to tend to the greenhouse together, he either filled the silence or was content with a comfortable one. Sometimes they would sit next to each other and fish, content in the shared tranquility.

 

But that was a Linhardt of a different time.

 

"Sorry," Byleth mumbles, flipping open a book in favour of looking at him. He can barely read through his drowsy haze. 

 

He spends about five minutes staring at the same word on a page before Sothis smacks him on the back of his head. "Dummy. Why don't you just ask Linhardt? He researches Crests, right? At least, that's what I'm picking from your memory."

 

Byleth looks up from the book to see Linhardt already staring at him. 

 

"What do you know about Crests?" Byleth asks, before he loses the nerve. 

 

"Why do you want to know?" Linhardt asks, then adds, "professor."

 

"I didn't know anything about Crests before I came here," Byleth admits, and this too, is not really a lie. "Do you know something about them?"

 

He expects an arched brow or something of the sort, but Linhardt's eyes sparkle with fervent curiosity. "Really? There's no way that someone who lives in Fódlan doesn't know what Crests are! And yet, you don't seem to be lying..."

 

Linhardt reaches over the table to grab one of Byleth's books, and flips open the pages to reveal the Crest of Saint Cethleann. "This is the Crest that I possess. A minor Crest of Saint Cethleann. Ah, I'm getting ahead of myself. Crests are said to be blessings bestowed onto the people by the Goddess, granting those who wield them special powers, like a high aptitude for magic, or strength. They're inherited by blood, so many of the Crest bearers are nobles...."

 

Now usually, Byleth would be paying full attention, but his brain feels like mush after that all nighter trying to piece things together. 

 

"...do you know what the Crest of Flames is? Have you heard of a Crest like that?" Byleth asks, impatiently. Normally he would feel rude, but after a day of being violently thrown back in time he feels more tired than anything.

 

Linhardt does stop, then. "...I can't say that I have."

 

Curses. Maybe I shouldn't have said that. Hanneman has yet to discover my Crest, anyway.

 

"You think?!" Sothis demands sarcastically, shrill in his ear. "Should we use a Divine Pulse? We cannot reveal too much of what we, at this time, technically do not know."

 

However, there's a particular look in Linhardt's eyes that makes him pause. "I'll look into it for you if you so desire," he says, even as he lunges across the table for Byleth's other books and flips open the pages furiously.

 

That's all the confirmation Byleth needs to pass out at the table.

 

.

 

In the few days before the mock battle, not that many things happen. Honestly, Byleth's surprised how easy he falls back into his professor routine. 

 

Dimitri asks him if he requires help with lectures, and Byleth waves him off with a hand and a thank you- and then proceeds to drill them all on what they all struggled with in the future. When Byleth notices their shocked expressions at his lectures he makes up a half-hearted excuse about how he was taught by and how he taught his fellow mercenaries like this. Byleth calls them up one by one. He is relentless yet merciful- once they seem like they cannot learn any more he sends them back to their desks. He knows what they're capable of, and what they can accomplish. At first, when Byleth began teaching, it was awkward because Byleth had honestly no idea what he was doing and he had no idea how to make the most of his time.

 

It's a different story now.

 

He makes sure to set their goals properly, eyes on a harsh future that he has no plans on making a reality- but it couldn't hurt to be prepared.

 

When the students walk back to their desks, they have this sort of starry eyed expression that cheers Byleth on.

 

It's Felix and Dedue who seem to struggle the most in the first class. Byleth knows that Felix has a hidden talent in Reason, so he makes sure that he is quizzed on that constantly, and that it remains one of his goals. Dedue struggles with horse riding, and honestly, any animal, but Byleth insists that he makes horseback riding one of his goals. Although Dedue could be a defensive wall, movement was important.

 

After two days of classes, Ingrid asks Byleth if he's really never taught any other class before. He says he hasn't. It's not a lie. He's only ever taught the Blue Lions.

 

Byleth also marches straight over to Ferdinand, whom Byleth also had last met on the battlefield and asks him about tea. Two hours of tea later, a delicate porcelain tea pot decorated in purple flowers is practically forced into his hands and Byleth is made to keep a promise to meet up for tea again.

 

He subtly high fives Sothis. Byleth's still got it.

 

What's difficult is inviting Jeritza to tea. 

 

Byleth has really no plans on making friends with him. He's got some connection with Mercedes, he's sure, but Byleth cannot help but see him and then see Remire Village up in flames behind him.

 

That won't stop Byleth, though. He's stomached enough interactions with Edelgard without being sick to his stomach. 

 

He's rejected time and time again. 

 

Byleth's undeterred. 

 

He has tea time with other students and staff instead, including a memorably awkward one with Cyril gushing over his hair colour and how it looked so similar to Rhea's.

 

Hanneman yanks him to his office to see if he's got a Crest. Of course, he does, and Hanneman kicks him out of his office just as quickly as he's shoved him in there. What's different about this particular event, however, is that as soon as Byleth walks out, Linhardt brushes past him to walk in.

 

Sothis and Byleth stare at each other before shrugging the entire event off. It could be harmless, and have no effect whatsoever, but only time would tell.

 

Another day.

 

The mock battle arrives.

 

.

 

The Blue Lions' mock battle team consists of Dimitri, Byleth, Annette, Ashe, and Felix. Byleth wondered if he should bring adjutants. He felt as though his students were skilled enough to handle them, but wondered if that was cheating. 

 

Then Byleth realized that he enjoyed winning, mock battle or not, and decided to do apply adjutants anyway. Felix got paired with Sylvain, because Byleth trusted that he would be capable from keeping Felix from running headstrong into battle from the get go. Ashe got paired with Dedue, so he could get follow up attacks in case his arrows were not enough. Dimitri was paired with Mercedes, because Dimitri apparently had a death wish, no matter the age, and liked taking on the full force of the attacks. Byleth decided to bench Ingrid for this battle, because she was a fast learner and pulling quickly ahead of their entire class in terms of skill and training.

 

Byleth took a deep breath.

 

It was only a mock battle. No one would die. Byleth's been in battle a million times. No one would fall. He was practically born and raised on them. Everyone was safe. Stepping onto a field is like coming home.

 

And yet, knowing what he knows, his hands won't stop shaking-

 

"Professor."

 

It's Dimitri.

 

"Dima- Dimitri." Byleth coughs around the nickname. "What is it?"

 

He's smiling, a soft, tiny smile. "Come on. The class is waiting for you!" Byleth allows himself to be led to where the class is waiting on their side of the field. 

 

When they're all gathered, Dimitri clears his throat and looks at Byleth with wide eyes. As much as Dima knew Byleth's cues, Byleth does not know the tells of a younger Dimitri, and just stares openly at him.

 

The moment drags on for a second too long, before Sylvain butts in. "Speech! Speech!"

 

"That's right," Dimitri says. "We'd like to hear some words of encouragement from you, professor. They'd really help a lot, and our morale would raise!"

 

Sothis laughs from where she's standing beside Byleth. "Aha! Don't you just hate speeches? Well, good luck!" She poofs back into the far reaches of his mind. Traitor.

 

It was Dima that usually gave speeches when he was capable of them, especially after they defeated Cornelia. Byleth would stand by his side and proudly watch as the king rallied the troops with inspiring lines and confident words- and then hold his hand as she shook behind the scenes, out of sight from all the soldiers. 

 

Dima would know what to say.

 

Even as he shook with fear, with self-loathing and pity, Dima would spin any sort of speech if it meant his troops would smile the night before battle.

 

Byleth does not.

 

He opens his mouth. Closes it. Then settles on what he knows. Either way, he could use Divine Pulse if the result was terrible and he accidentally dropped everyone's morale.

 

"I don't like to lose," Byleth says honestly.

 

There's a silence that makes Byleth want to crawl into a hole and never come out. Then Annette whoops. 

 

"I don't want to lose either!" Annette cheers, voice infectious. "I want to feast after the battle!"

 

"Losing would look terrible to the ladies," Sylvain is saying, as he dodges Felix's elbow. Felix too, has a slight quirk to the side of his mouth.

 

Byleth's quite surprised. He's only said one thing, and yet everyone's smiling and looking quite cheerful. He glances over to Dimitri to see a determined look in his eyes.

 

"I couldn't have said it better myself, professor," Dimitri grins. "I'm sure you're looking forward to the feast as well?"

 

A pause. Byleth gives him a look.

 

"Forgive me, I couldn't help but tease you, professor. It's just... Forgive me for saying this, but I think it's far too easy to tease you." Dimitri's eyes rove over Byleth's face, and his dimples become more prominent. "Ah, don't get mad! I apologize, really!"

 

There is a moment where all is still.

 

"Shall we destroy them?" 

 

There is no darkness hiding behind these words, but Byleth shudders anyway, blinking away the image of Dima crushing a man's skull in his hand.

 

Face blank, Byleth marches on.

Chapter Text

Just like in Byleth's previous lifetime, the Blue Lions win the mock battle. 

 

It's quite odd, however. The students were all gung-ho and always charging on ahead, but would still listen adamantly to his instructions. They would defeat a classmate, and look to where Byleth was with wide, eager eyes, as if looking for- something. Or Byleth would try and step in, but one of the students would reposition themselves before the blow and steal Byleth's hit or parry a blow for him. Anytime anyone was actually scratched up, Mercedes or Annette would suddenly appear from thin air and heal them straight up before Byleth was even able to worry. Once, Felix broke formation and Sylvain immediately yanked him back into position. But that was the only anomaly, and Byleth had already accounted for it.

 

Byleth didn't even break a sweat.

 

It wasn't even that hard of a battle, but Byleth swore that he didn't even raise his sword. And when he did, he took great care not to harm the other students, aware that his skill far surpassed theirs at the moment. The shocked look on Hilda's face when Byleth had knocked out Lorenz in one blow was almost funny.

 

Almost.

 

He'd fought this battle before, and at the time, didn't think much of the tactics he'd used. But since Byleth was taking extra care to not make mistakes, he took careful steps in his strategy. He didn't even have to use any of his Divine Pulses, which was a relief.

 

A few days ago, he'd learned not to underestimate his students. But Byleth also had to learn not to overthink. During the war he would have to think about what the enemies would do, and how hard they would hit, and when. He learned to be wary of Edelgard's gambits, and so he was prepared for them. When Edelgard only came at them with a training axe, Byleth almost laughed out loud. Then he realized that most of them haven't learned gambits at this point in time, and forced himself to relax. He was waiting to see the gleam of Claude's hero relic, and braced himself for a potentially hit, only to feel extremely relieved when he only saw the gleam of a regular bow.

 

Still, he used tactics he was familiar with. Tactics Byleth employed like he was at war rather than in a mock battle, like it was five years in the future rather than in the past. Luckily, the Blue Lions could keep up, despite how much pressure he'd put on them. Maybe Byleth would give them a day off.

 

Goddess knows how much he would have loved to do that in the future.

 

Even the other professors were surprised.

 

After the battle, when the three leaders were shaking hands and making merry, Hanneman and Manuela pulled him aside on the walk back to the monastery, surprise evident in their expressions.

 

"I know you were a mercenary," Manuela whines, hanging off of Byleth's arm. "But you could have taken it easier on us! You and the kiddies really did a number on our class!"

 

Hanneman's got a hand to his chin, regarding Byleth with thinly veiled curiosity. "I wonder if your strategic talent has anything at all to do with your Crest!" It's more of an exclamation than a question. "I've got to add this to my notes..."

 

"No one cares about your dumb Crest research," Manuela snaps, then swoons dramatically against Byleth's arm. "Comfort me. I was almost bruised."

 

Hanneman rolls his eyes. "Never."

 

"I was asking professor Byleth, not you, so shove off, old man!"

 

"Old? We're almost-"

 

"Don't you dare finish that sentence-"

 

Refusing to get swept up in their antics, Byleth steps away from them in favour of walking next to his father's horse, alongside his Jeralt's mercenaries. The students are all chattering behind them noisily. His father's mercenaries are all discussing the battle. It's oddly peaceful. No one is trying to kill anyone. No one is crawling over the rocks with their teeth to spill another's blood on the ground. 

 

"How did I do?" Byleth asks, soft. When he was growing up, and in the early months of his academic teaching, he'd only ever use the strategies taught to him by his father. This was probably- this was the first time Jeralt's ever seen one of his strategies.

 

The chatter directly behind them hushes. Like most things, Byleth ignores it.

 

Jeralt is still looking straight ahead. "You've been working hard."

 

Four simple words are enough to lift Byleth's spirits. 

 

His father's mercenaries are snickering. "Hey, captain, can't you look your kid in the eye when you compliment him?"

 

"Shaddup," Jeralt scolds, leaning off his horse slightly to punch the loose-lipped mercenary on the arm. The man dodges, laughing.  

 

"Aw, Byleth is blushing," another one of them coos, slapping him on the back. 

 

Byleth reaches up to feel his face. It's still pleasantly cool as always, and doesn't betray him, unlike these guys. He levels the accuser with a glare, which makes all of the mercenaries laugh. 

 

This is nostalgic. When his father was killed in his previous life, he decided to pay all of his mercenaries handsomely as thanks for helping him all these years and then send them off to new employers. But they wouldn't leave. All of the mercenaries just looked him in the eye, and laughed, and demanded why they thought that Jeralt was the only one that they were loyal to. Most of them practically raised Byleth alongside Jeralt, growing up. 

 

It's been awhile since everyone has been together, merry on the road. He's rather grateful to them.

 

Byleth feels the corner of his mouth pull.

 

"A-are you smiling?! Are you smiling right now? Everyone look! Byleth is smiling!" 

 

Everyone turns to Byleth at once, including the Blue Lions, who look expectant. Byleth's face immediately falls. 

 

"I am not smiling," Byleth huffs. He hears Sylvain hurry and cover a laugh, so Byleth turns a stare on him that makes Sylvain freeze in place.

 

"Sylvain."

 

"Uh oh. Am I in trouble?"

 

Byleth makes him squirm underneath his gaze for another moment. He's well aware of how some people find his stare intimidating, because of the little emotion behind it. "Thank you for keeping Felix in line today. You used opportune times to cut in for a follow up attack. Nice work."

 

For some reason this makes Sylvain incredibly flustered. Usually, the boy was really good at covering up his fidgeting, but not under Byleth's watchful gaze. "Ah, no need to compliment me. I got it, I got it..."

 

"What about me, professor?" Ashe pipes up. His eyes are starry. "Any comments on my performance?"

 

Byleth puts a hand to his chin. "You're a very skilled archer. We never had to worry about follow up attacks, since you were always covering our backs. But make sure that you don't cut off any of our allies' attacks when you line up an arrow."

 

Despite the slight criticism, Ashe looks pleased. "Yes, of course! I'll remember that in the future!"

 

It feels as if Byleth's suddenly unleashed a wave, because he's bombarded with questions from well-meaning lion cubs.

 

"Professor, what about my healing? Anything that needs work?"

 

"What did you think about my footwork? What about my stance? I tried copying a technique you used with a lance-"

 

"I got stronger in that last battle. Duel me again as soon as we return."

 

Byleth sighs, but feels warm.

 

.

 

When they return, Byleth is immediately cornered by Dimitri and the Blue Lions, who insist that they all share a meal together. Of course, Byleth accepts. Victory meals tasted better compared to any other. They've got onion gratin soup, Garreg Mach meat pie, and saghert and cream on the menu for the feast. Byleth's stomach rumbles at the sight.

 

"We all worked hard today," Dimitri booms, once they've all got their meals and are sharing a table. He's got a goblet filled with water raised in toast. "Especially you, professor!" 

 

Byleth's already got a spoon of onion gratin lifted to his lips. "I didn't do anything," Byleth says, not looking at them. He's gazing longingly at the soup instead, and the golden crust of the meat pie. He's trying not to look directly at the dessert, lest he inhale it in one go. "In fact, I wasn't able to do anything."

 

He can't see it, but Byleth knows that Felix is rolling his eyes. "They just wanted to show off."

 

"I seriously don't want to hear that from you, Felix," Ingrid scolds, over her own protesting stomach. Byleth takes that opportunity to push the spoon past his lips, and good goddess, the gratin is incredible. The cheesy top is practically oozing with flavor, creamy and thick against the broth. It's incredibly full bodied, and Byleth immediately dives in for more. He's missed the taste of a full meal that wasn't watered down in favour of more helpings. During the war, Byleth always made sure that all of his students and that all of the refugees ate before he did, so having such a big portion to himself was a luxury. He hurriedly takes a bite of that crisp, golden meat pie and almost sighs. The filling is a delightful contrast against the the crust, and the little tomatoes peppered in only enhance the flavor.

 

"What are you talking about, professor?" Dimitri demands, sounding scandalized. "Your tactics and your experience gave us the edge and push we needed to win that fight! It was incredible, like we were all flowing as one!"

 

"Flatterer," Byleth retorts. The next words don't even seem to come from him. "So everytime you repositioned me so you could either take a hit meant for me, or steal a hit from me, that was part of my tactics as well? Was that, too, fluid?"

 

Dimitri flushes, and Byleth stops. 

 

Sothis.

 

Sothis replies instantly. "Yes?"

 

Half of those thoughts were not mine. You pushed them into me.

 

She huffs. "I want to chide them as well. Your Dima is quite reckless in all stages of life, is he not? Foolish boy."

 

He is not Dima.

 

Byleth can feel her shrug. "He will be."

 

Byleth still remembers Dima's hand shoving him away in the Holy Tomb, then using it to crush a man's skull. He remembers being asked if Byleth was here to haunt him. Byleth remembers Dima talking to himself in the cathedral, as if his echoes would answer him.

 

Not if I can help it.

 

Before Byleth can use a Divine Pulse to rewind this entire conversation, Dedue steps in. "The professor is correct. Your highness, no matter how much you desire to show off, your health and safety take top priority."

 

"Dedue, I was not showing off. It's just nice to show off what the professor has been teaching our class."

 

"Of course, your highness," Dedue says, but Byleth's known him long enough to read his face well.

 

Bullshit! 

 

Of course, Dedue would never say such a thing, especially not to Dimitri, but the thought was hilarious.

 

"This is so good," Annette gasps dreamily, smiling around a bite of dessert despite the fact that she hasn't even touched the main course yet. 

 

Mercedes is giggling at her side. "I know you're excited, but you'll choke on your food if you eat that fast!"

 

"You haven't even touched the main course," Ashe laughs. "Isn't the saying 'save the best for last?'"

 

"That's right," Mercedes agrees. "You won't grow any bigger if you keep eating like this!"

 

In retaliation, Annette scoops a spoonful of the cream into Mercedes' mouth. "But it's so good," Annette insists. "And look at professor! They're practically inhaling their food- oh no! Was I too rude?"

 

Byleth, who had been busy shoveling as much of the gratin as possible into his mouth, looks back up at them when he's called. "What is it?" He asks them, around a mouthful of savoury pie.

 

For some reason, this makes the Blue Lions laugh, save for Dedue, who only quirks his lips. Even Dimitri lets out a tiny snicker, then instantly covers his mouth as if he's ashamed of it. At the sound, Sylvain and Ingrid smile wide.

 

The sound is striking in Byleth's ears. He wonders how many times he's heard Dimitri laugh in his last life. Or if Byleth's heard him laugh at all.

 

"Ah, Ingrid. You've got a twin in pigging out now," Sylvain teases. "I think the professor could actually beat your own appetite!"

 

Ingrid turns up her nose at him. "The professor and I just have great taste. Why don't you just mind your business and eat your food?"

 

"Why don't you stop stealing bites of my saghert?" Felix pipes up, picking up his own spoon and beginning to eat. Despite his words, he's got the tiniest grin.

 

This makes Ingrid flush. "You weren't eating it!"

 

"You should start eating too, Dedue," Ashe insists, nudging the boy sitting next to him. "Your soup will get cold. And it's pretty good soup! Not as good as yours, of course!"

 

Dedue takes that as his cue to tuck into his own meal, Ashe watching to confirm that he was eating, and then with a smile, continues eating his own meal.

 

It's been a long, long time since all of the Blue Lions have simply shared a meal, and Byleth feels very warm.

 

"I personally think a feast should be bigger," a voice says, snapping Byleth out of his reverie. Byleth looks up briefly from his meal to see Claude with a tray of food standing behind him. "Move over, won't you, professor? Let us in on the party!"

 

Byleth moves over slightly, even though the table the Blue Lions are sitting at is extremely long, with many seats still not filled. Claude immediately sits down next to him, and all of the Golden Deer follow behind, taking their own seats at the table. 

 

For some reason Byleth expects it to get awkward. And then he's suddenly very aware that these students have not yet fought with each other, in a real battle that would determine the fate of an entire nation. Everyone is chatting amiably. Ingrid is scolding Raphael's table manners. Ashe is trying to coax Marianne to look up from her food and join a conversation with he and Dedue. 

 

The world is spinning.

 

Byleth feels very alone.

 

Out of the corner of his eye, he notices Edelgard and the rest of the Black Eagles take their own seats at the table behind them. "Impressive work today, professor," Edelgard says, when their eyes meet head on. "It seems that your strength is not a fluke."

 

"With the way the professor worked in Remire village, how could you even doubt his skills, Edelgard?" Claude asks, voice hanging just on the cliff of a tease. 

 

"It's just fascinating to see him in action," Edelgard retorts, "it was like everyone in the field was swept up in your moves and your moves alone. Whenever I moved, it felt as if you had already accounted for where I would go and reacted accordingly."

 

"The professor is brilliant, I agree," Dimitri praises, looking just as pleased were he himself to receive the compliment. "I know we've discussed this before, but everyone did wonderfully today! I'm so glad that we had the privilege to learn with you all!"

 

Claude reaches over the table and in front of Byleth's food to swat Dimitri on the arm. Dimitri doesn't dodge. "I don't want to hear it from someone who won," Claude teases. "But seriously professor, despite the fact the Lions absolutely refused to let you fight anyone-"

 

A chorus of hey! rung out from their table. Claude continued, undeterred. "-your tactics were incredible! I couldn't keep up! I know you're a mercenary and all, but wow, you showed absolutely no mercy to us!"

 

Byleth wiped his mouth with a napkin before responding. "I don't like to lose," Byleth said easily, repeating his 'speech' from earlier. For some reason this makes Claude laugh. Pushing his empty bowls aside, Byleth pulls the saghert and cream to him and stares at it reverently for a moment before digging in. Annette was right. It was amazing. Soft, melt in your mouth goodness... even Sothis was pleased when Byleth took a bite. It was just the right amount of sweetness to pair well with the other savoury dishes.

 

"I better not get on your bad side," Claude jokes. "Hey, is it too late to recruit you as our teacher?"

 

"Claude," Dimitri scolds, voice tinged with disappointment. 

 

"Kidding! I'm kidding, I'm kidding," Claude insists, and begins to eat his own meal. He pauses, and leans in to Byleth's ear. "Not kidding," he faux-whispers. 

 

"Claude! Stop that! Respect the professor's boundaries!"

 

"Okay, okay, I get it!"

 

.

 

Despite today's festivities, Byleth is still meant to go on patrol. It's late, and these days Byleth gets more tired easily, but he still walks the grounds. It's the same routine. The students' dorms, then the greenhouse, the dining hall, the school grounds, the pavilions and gazebos, the stables, training grounds, and then onto the second floor.

 

Byleth has walked this path many, many times and nothing has been odd. He ran into Lysithea once, but that was an entire lifetime ago. The only thing odd about the pavillions at night was seeing how empty they were. However, this time one of the gazebos was quite literally glowing. 

 

It's faint, but it's pulsating green, and the sight of it snaps Byleth to full attention. Sothis, who was trying to kick rocks as she walked alongside him, stopped as well. "Ah. Now what do we have here? Let's go check it out!"

 

Byleth is very, very aware that approaching glowing things in the middle of night usually spelled anger and suspicion, but Byleth had the bad habit of running into danger and then falling back on his Divine Pulses, so he heads over to the gazebo, back straight.

 

As he approaches, the glow pulses, and then fades out completely. 

 

"You should touch that orb thing," Sothis insists. "Look at the floor, it's got our crest. I only have good feelings about this." 

 

Byleth did not. But Sothis was a terrible enabler.

 

He touches the orb and waits to be blasted into the next life, but something more puzzling happens. The floor rumbles, and parts open to reveal a set of steps leading underground. 

 

It's incredibly dark. There's no light source, but with the guidance of the moon and the stars, Byleth can see the deep green of the walls and stairs, and the pitch dark of the tunnel that suggests a long, long walk into obscurity. There are torches pinned to the wall, but none are lit. The steep steps are uneven, and broken, as if worn down by time.

 

Sothis practically squeals when she sees it. "How exciting! Let's go already!"

 

He's about to protest but Sothis cuts him off before he can say anything. "Come on, come on now! I know your heart as if it were mine!" She laughs a little, because the irony of it all is striking. "You want to go too, mister mercenary. Adventure is your life blood! Ah, you should take a torch and light it with a fire spell. Well then!"

 

Sothis hops down the stairs, not intending to wait for Byleth in the slightest, and Byleth sighs before following, stumbling down the awkward flight of stairs and prying one of the torches off the wall. With a snap of his fingers, he lights it. 

 

The hall, though now touched by light, seems that much more ominous. 

 

Sothis smirks at him, and the shadows cast onto her face stretch out her smile. "After you," she says.

 

Shaking his head, Byleth steps out into the darkness. Unbeknownst to him, someone follows closely from behind.

 

.

 

The walk isn't that long, but the odd echo of footsteps makes the trek seem that much longer. Byleth isn't afraid of much, but the sounds are quite eerie. The torch casts flickering shadows of himself on the wall. What really gets to Byleth is the fact that Sothis does not cast a shadow. He refuses to think on it too long.

 

When Byleth and Sothis finally reach what seems to be the end of the hall, they're met with a shocking sight.

 

"The Holy Tomb?" Byleth demands, looking confused. He had no idea that the Tomb had any other entrance. When he went with Rhea, they had taken a special contraption hidden away in the cathedral, locked to prying eyes. When he was last here with Sothis, he was dead. Byleth had no idea that there were other ways in here. 

 

Sothis is staring at the tombs lining the path to the throne. For once, Byleth can feel her silence, as if it was a physical pressure pushing down on his chest.

 

They're facing the steps leading up to Sothis' throne, standing where the Flame Emperor was before she revealed herself. With the daunting amount of space between them and the steep stairs, Byleth feels distinctly wrong, as if he shouldn't be here at all. That he should turn back. That there's no purpose for him here.

 

"How curious," intones a voice. "I had no idea that there was a place such as this underneath the academy."

 

Byleth and Sothis both jump, Sothis to hide behind Byleth even though no one could see her, and Byleth draws his sword, tempered by years and years of fighting. 

 

Linhardt is standing behind him, a distinct frown on his face. "Ah, hello professor. I didn't mean to startle you. Could you please put away your sword now?"

 

Byleth blinks, then forces himself to sheath his blade. "What are you... doing here?" Byleth asks, quiet.

 

"I could ask you the same," Linhardt shoots back. "Well, I was just heading to the library, and I saw your crest flash, so naturally I had to follow. I didn't even notice that the gazebo bore your crest before today! How very exciting."

 

Thinking back, Byleth's footsteps were probably not echoing at all, rather, they were probably just Linhardt's. With a sigh, Byleth forces himself to relax.

 

"It's way past curfew," Byleth admonishes. "Head back to bed now."

 

Linhardt's eyes grow dramatically wide. "But professor," he says, the pitch of his voice raising. "I couldn't bear to go back knowing you might be in danger down here by yourself. Well, that settles it. I'm staying right here with you."

 

Sothis huffs, finally stepping out from behind Byleth. "What an odd boy. Alright. Time to use Divine Pulse."

 

"No, um," Byleth tries to compromise instead. He would rather not waste any Divine Pulses, and plus, the feeling is absolutely horrible... "Why don't we both go to bed?"

 

At this, Linhardt frantically shakes his head. "I am not sleepy. Are you?" With this, he turns and heads down the steps. Byleth is confused for a moment. Isn't that boy always tired? Sometimes, he would see Caspar literally drag him to class, Linhardt yawning the entire way.

 

Sothis reaches up and tugs at his ear. "Divine Pulse! Now!"

 

It's fine, isn't it? I don't want to use it if I don't need to... My head always hurts after it.

 

Freeing his ear, Sothis folds her arms across her chest. "Fine. Fine! Just don't regret this later!" With that, she stomps down the stairs after Linhardt.

 

Without any enemies, the area really does feel like a tomb. The air is thin. The lighting is oppressive. It feels as if not a single living thing has touched this place in ages. There's green literally everywhere, and Byleth touches his own hair, self conscious. He follows them both down the steps.

 

Linhardt has already walked right up to a tomb, examining the sides. "It feels as if no one has been here in ages," his voice seems to echo, "yet there's no dust on anything. I'm certain that we were only able to enter from the gazebo because of you, but I see no visible crest symbols anywhere as of yet.... Very intriguing." 

 

For a moment, Linhardt turns to examine Byleth, then immediately turns back around.

 

"Can I open this, professor?" Linhardt asks, not looking at him. 

 

Sothis rolls her eyes. "Oh, now he's asking for your permission? How very rude!"

 

"Please don't," Byleth says hastily, aware that this place was a tomb. Linhardt sighs, but actually listens, stepping away from the casket.

 

"Everything here is green..." Linhardt says, after a moment. "The walls, the floor, the lights, the gazebo that let us in. Even you." Linhardt nods in the direction of his hair.

 

Byleth looks at him. "You too, you know. You've got green hair."

 

This makes Linhardt pause. "Yes, I do. And my crest is... hm. Interesting." Linhardt turns to Byleth with a tiny smile. "Thank you, professor. I'm discovering new things."

 

What in the world did I do?

 

The boy raises a hand to yawn into it, long and loud. "That staircase is quite intriguing. Shall we go check it out?"

 

Byleth gapes. "I thought you said you weren't tired?"

 

Linhardt waves him off with a hand. "You're imagining things. Well, come on. Let's go check it out." His gait, while sluggish, slows down even more once he realizes how steep the steps are. He looks at Byleth expectantly. 

 

"I am not carrying you," Byleth says, starting up the steps. 

 

"Wow, professor," Linhardt replies, shocked. "How did you know what I was thinking? Well, you are quite strong, we all saw that in the mock battle today. It could be practice for you?" When Byleth doesn't turn around, Linhardt sighs before joining him up the stairs.

 

Sothis floats up next to Byleth, shooting him a smirk. "It must be awful," she mocks. "Having to climb all these dreadful steps."

 

You should mock that boy instead. I can hear him panting, he sounds like death and we're barely up the stairs.

 

With a sigh, Sothis frowns. "That boy cannot hear me, it is not that amusing."

 

Byleth really has no idea why Linhardt is panting so much. In reality, the climb barely took them a minute. 

 

However, the sight at the top of the stairs makes him lose any sort of breath. Sothis quite literally drops to the floor next to him.

 

Linhardt, who was not at all paying attention to Byleth in favour of looking at the floor, bumps into Byleth's back. "Professor, what-" he looks around his back, and his voice stops. "What in the world is that?"

 

Goddess if Byleth knows.

 

Because on the throne, where Sothis would usually sit, sat Byleth, asleep.

 

She sits there, slumped over in her seat, and Byleth already knew that she had no breath in her body. No heartbeat either, if he had to guess. 

 

It wasn't himself, actually, at a second glance. If Byleth was born a girl, this was probably exactly what he would look like. He had a gut feeling. Longer hair. Shorter. Softer face.

 

Her hair was too, pale green. The most eerie thing, however, was that she was dressed in an outfit Byleth himself would choose, if he would wear clothing directed towards girls. Everything about her was just screaming Byleth's likeness.

 

The floor around the throne is scattered with an assortment of various items. There's a particularly plump looking Zanado fruit, several rings, a shield, a sword. If Byleth didn't know any better, he would say that these were offerings-

 

"What in the hells is going on here?!" Sothis shrieked. "Is that- no, it can't be! Is that you, Byleth? What is that Rhea lady even doing?"

 

Byleth feels as if he's experiencing a Divine Pulse of sorts, nauseous, head spinning. What did one say, exactly, when face to face with their own likeness, as if crawled out of a mirror and given life?

 

Sothis is still shrill from somewhere behind him. "Oh no, that Rhea didn't. She- what is her goal? What is happening?!" 

 

Especially now that Byleth knew that he was essentially an experiment. 

 

That his mother too, was an experiment.

 

How many more people were like him...?

 

Was this person even like him?

 

What in the world was Byleth? What was he made for?

 

"...Do you perhaps have a twin?" Linhardt asks, voice still calm. Of course. Linhardt was not privy to Sothis' shrieking nor Byleth's mental breakdown. "Or do you know if you had cousins, anything of the sort?"

 

Like always, in situations of stress, Byleth chases his cool facade and forces it on. "I do not," Byleth says. He takes a step forward, then another, then another, until he's standing right in front of the throne. For some reason, he felt as if the world should have exploded the moment he approached.

 

Byleth checks for a pulse, and unsurprisingly, there is none. Next, he checks for breath. Nothing. Linhardt approaches behind him. "Are they dead?" 

 

Only years of mercenary work let the words pass through his lips. "There's no pulse," Byleth replies, unconsciously rubbing a thumb over where his own pulse point was meant to be. "They're not breathing either."

 

"So they're dead," Linhardt concludes. "Or maybe they weren't even alive to begin with. But what does this area have to do with you? Your crest let us in here..." He reaches a hand out to touch the body, but decides against it, yanking a hand back to his side. He settles on observing it with focused eyes.

 

Byleth shrugs, because what else can you do when you're presented with more questions than answers? Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Sothis back further away from the throne, eyes dark.

 

Sothis?

 

Sothis doesn't look at him. "I am not touching that thing. I shouldn't touch that thing, actually."

 

I never said you should. What's wrong?

 

"How can you be so calm?!" Sothis snaps, finally looking at him. "What the hell is that thing? It looks as if it's never been alive. It looks like you."

 

One of us has to be calm. It's alright, Sothis. I'm sure there's a reason for this.

 

At this thought, Sothis takes a few deep breaths. "We're leaving," Sothis decides, and this time, her tone leaves no room for argument. 

 

"Linhardt," Byleth calls out, soft. "That's enough. We're going now."

 

Surprisingly, Linhardt complies without a fuss. "Okay. I've got a lot of information anyway." His eyes shine. "Next time you come here, you must tell me."

 

"There won't be a next time!" Sothis shouts. She's already at the bottom of the stairs. 

 

"Oh, and," Linhardt waits for Byleth to look at him before he continues. "I won't tell anyone about this. You shouldn't either. I just have a feeling that it might turn out bad for all of us."

 

Byleth nods, but decides on telling Jeralt. Communication was important after all, and the more Byleth had to keep things to himself the more Byleth felt as if he would explode.

 

"We are never coming back here," Sothis hisses, clinging to Byleth's arm when he comes down the steps. "That was abhorrent." 

 

Byleth doesn't try to think about the fact that it was Sothis' idea, but it must slip, because Sothis yanks on his ear again. At the back of his mind, the part of Byleth that is all Sothis is swirling and changing, covered in a layer of fog.

 

.

 

A knock on his door.

 

"Professor?" A familiar voice wafts in, from the other side of the wall. "I'm coming in, alright?"

 

Before Byleth can respond, Dima opens the door and steps inside. He closes the door firmly shut behind him. It's odd, seeing him inside Byleth's room- especially with that cape on, he dwarfs everything inside the room. When he had last invited him to tea, Dimitri had nearly knocked over the table with his leg. Byleth found it endlessly amusing. Dima did not.

 

Byleth, who was writing in his journal, places his quill down and gives Dima his full attention. "Yes? What is it, Dimitri?"

 

Dima has to take a moment to compose himself. He looks distinctly like prey caught on the other side of an arrow. Almost as if he were not expecting Byleth to even be here. "What are your plans for after the war ends?" Dimitri asks, looking uncharacteristically nervous. 

 

"I have no plans," Byleth says simply. "Rhea told me that I was meant to be in charge of the church, but I have no intention of doing so."

 

At this, Dimitri balks. "Wh-why not?"

 

Byleth leans back in his chair. "Isn't it odd? Leaving a person that's lived their entire life without knowing anything about the church in charge of it? And even if I was put in charge, the first thing I would do would be to separate religion and state, and then I would leave it all to Seteth. Why?"

 

"Separate religion and state?" Dimitri repeats, looking confused. Byleth nods.

 

"Yes. I find it quite odd that the church can just behead anyone they want if they so much as believed that they were pointing their blade toward the heavens." Byleth hums a little. The topic is bitter, leaving his tongue. "Do you understand?"

 

Dimitri nods, and without any more prompting, sits on Byleth's bed. Byleth turns in his chair to look at him properly. "I understand," Dimitri answers. "I have also been at odds with the church and their decisions before. Like..." 

 

He trails off. Byleth is about to prompt him again, but Dimitri opens his mouth before that can happen. "Like when you were first assigned to us as a teacher. I didn't know that you should actually teach us. You had no experience in teaching. You seemed lifeless, bored, as if you were driftwood, lost at sea. I didn't see you smile for weeks after we met." Dima flushes. "Ah, I guess that's not a good example. You became very dear to me in the end, anyway. I am never not grateful that you're still here with me- That's not the point. Ah, yes. When we were assigned to kill Lonato. That was one thing I hated myself for."

 

"I understand," Byleth says. 

 

"And when we were sent to kill Miklan," Dimitri says quickly, as if he was timed. As if Dima could not get the words out quick enough. "And when those priests from the western church were executing without being heard out."

 

For a moment, Dimitri searches Byleth's gaze with an intensity so strong that Byleth almost has to turn away. "Am I wrong to think that we should have heard them out first?"

 

"Not at all," Byleth responds, voice hushed. "Not in the slightest." Byleth knows that he's not just thinking about their foes in Dima's school days.

 

Dima runs a hand down his face. "How grim," he chides himself. "This wasn't at all what I came for. Your plans for the future. You have none, yes?"

 

Byleth nods.

 

"Then-" Dimitri cuts himself off, turning a bright red. "Then, then! Would you be adverse to perhaps, staying in the Kingdom with me? With us. Yes, us. I meant us."

 

Dima takes a breath. "No, actually, I meant me."

 

Before Byleth can say anything, Dima barrels on. "There is no one I trust more to stay at my side. You, who has raised their blade for me time and time again, and guided my hands. You, who has taught me how to live once more. You scold me, praise me, keep me in line. You remind me that there is so, so much good in the world. Even your mere presence keeps my ghosts at bay. You could be my advisor, or the head of my knights, anything you desired, if you just stayed by my side. Those five years have made me a desperate, shallow man, and now that I am at your side again, I do not know how to live without."

 

Dimitri takes a deep breath. "I am a weak man. A terrible king. An awful person. Ever since the day that you and Rodrigue made me see the light of day, I grow ever more selfish. I want to be happy. I want to be a good person. I know I can be, eventually. I cannot imagine this happiness without you."

 

He stands from the bed and takes Byleth's hands in his own. For a moment, his finger glides over Byleth's ring, and lingers there. "Please," Dima says, his voice tiny. There's something in his voice that urges Byleth's heart to beat. "Please, just- consider it. My life is already yours. I know that I am unworthy, but... Would you consider making your future mine? There is no one else for me, p- Byleth."

 

Dima laughs, but it's shaky. "I'm really not selling this well, am I? I really am just desperate for you to look my way."

 

Throughout all this, his voice has become more steady, and his face more red. Dima is searching Byleth's soul with a single, piercing eye. He traces the ring with a single finger, then touches his forehead to Byleth's and closes his eye. "Consider it, please," Dima says, and before Byleth can respond, Dimitri is out the door, walking into the light. Byleth's hand reaches out for him, but he's already-

 

Byleth.

 

Byleth!

 

Professor!

 

Byleth feels awful, and groggy. He runs a hand down his face, yawning a little. He recognizes that voice, so he doesn't startle. "Dima...?" He asks, voice slow. "Five more minutes, Dima..."

 

"You idiot!" He hears Sothis shriek. "This isn't your Dima! Get up!" 

 

Byleth blinks his eyes open to see a young Dimitri standing over his chair, looking worried. His face is flushing bright red at the proximity. "...You're not Dima," Byleth says, sleepy. And then shoots up from his reverie. "You're not Dima. Oh, my apologies everyone, I fell asleep at my desk. Forgive me."

 

Byleth distinctly remembers assigning them reading, being aware that he was tired from the day's events, and letting sleep take him. Goddess, he feels awful. Every single one of the Lions is looking at him with traces of worry.

 

"D-dima?" Dimitri repeats. "Ah, no worries, professor. We're just done with silent reading, so we thought that we should let you know... But you looked so peaceful, we didn't want to wake you." Aware that he's too close, he backs away, blushing a deeper red.

 

Mercedes is nodding. "That's right. You had the mock battle, then Seteth still made you go out on patrol... We felt bad, so we just let you rest for awhile."

 

Byleth's surprised that they actually worked in the time that he was asleep.

 

"Who's Dima?" Annette asks, then claps a hand over her mouth.

 

He yawns before responding. "Don't worry about it." Linhardt must be rubbing off on him.

 

"Must be someone important, if you're dreaming about them." Sylvain teases. He is immediately smacked on the arm by Ingrid. "Ow! Hey, it's true! Professor even mistook Dimitri for this Dima person!"

 

Sothis laughs. Byleth would too, if this entire situation was less insane to him. "Oh my, if only they knew!"

 

"They're both blond, I suppose," Byleth says. "No matter. I assume you're all done your reading? I apologize once again."

 

"Professor," Dedue chimes in, refusing to let the matter go. "You arrived incredibly late last night to your room, even if you were on patrol. Is everything alright?"

 

"Why were you up, Dedue?" Byleth shoots back, watching Dedue's mouth curl. 

 

"Professor, I am a light sleeper. You woke me when you returned. Please do not deflect. I- we are worried about you." Dedue retorts.

 

Immediately, Byleth feels ashamed. "Forgive me," Byleth says. "I am just really irritable these days, and taking it out on you."

 

Flashes of last night's events and Dima's trembling hands come to mind.

 

Dimitri clears his throat. He's still standing at the edge of Byleth's desk. "Is there anything that we can do to relieve your burdens?"

 

Find a way to send me back to my Dima, Byleth thinks, and then hates himself for it. He needs to stop whining about this glorious chance. Talk with Edelgard properly. Talk her out of this. Shake Rhea and demand answers. Do the same with Jeritza and the rest of the snakes lying low in the school.

 

"It's alright," Byleth says instead. "I can handle this."

 

Behind him, Sothis frowns.

Chapter Text

It seemed as if no matter the year, the passage of time would always be elusive to Byleth. One moment he would be napping and the next he would be delicately looked down on by Seteth. Honestly, it was quite amusing to see him so irritated. Byleth was quite fond of the man- he was strict and straight laced, but he was kind and protective over those he loves. So when Byleth was being subtly chewed out by him in front of Dimitri, he didn't zone him out entirely.

 

"As you have already been notified," Seteth spoke, an air of self importance around him, "your mission is to subdue some bandits. Our students have been learning about combat through study, but this is a precious opportunity to provide them with practical experience. The knights will support your mission and are prepared to offer their assistance if necessary. In short, this is no mock battle. You must- are you even listening to me?"

 

Byleth blinked back the call of sleep. 

 

"'M listening," Byleth murmurs, pointedly ignoring Dimitri's chuckles.

 

Seteth frowned. "This is not a game. The lives of these students are in your hands."

 

Behind Byleth's back, Sothis was giggling, a hand pressed to her mouth in an attempt to smother the giggles despite knowing that no one could hear. "What else is new?" She retorts, voice petulant.

 

"I understand," Byleth replies, trying to sound more awake. Seteth sighs.

 

Out of the corner of Byleth's eyes, he sees Dimitri's back straighten. "On the subject of lives," Dimitri begins, folding his arms across his chest. "The professor had just led a grueling mock battle, and yet you had still put him on patrol. What if someone had really attempted a siege on the academy? Lives can be lost from lack of rest just as easily as a blade. It was quite irresponsible of you to push him like this."

 

Now, Sothis, Seteth, and Byleth were staring at Dimitri openly. "What in the world has gotten into this one?" Sothis demands, looking surprised.

 

Seteth clears his throat. "Yes, well, I shall endeavor to remember this in the future." He sounded quite flustered. It was easy to dish out punishments to the average student in the academy, but not to the literal crown prince of an entire Kingdom. "But watch your tone, young man."

 

"I shall endeavor to remember this in the future," Dimitri retorts pleasantly, head cocking to one side. "Forgive my tone, Seteth."

 

Sothis bursts out into uproarious laughter as Seteth and Dimitri stare each other down. Byleth wants to crawl into a hole.

 

Who taught you things like this?! Certainly not me!

 

Seteth opens his mouth as if to say something, closes it, and then nods. "Excuse me," Seteth says, and then leaves the room. Sothis is wheezing, leaning onto Byleth's back for support. 

 

Dimitri turns to Byleth with a pleasant expression. "This will be our first true battle. I'm looking forward to fighting alongside you, professor."

 

"Dimitri," Byleth scolds, trying to put as much disappointment into his tone as possible. 

 

For some reason, he looks as though he's fighting down a grin. "I will not apologize for speaking out for your safety," Dimitri continues. There is no sort of shame or embarrassment present on his face.

 

Byleth huffs. "...Don't do that again," Byleth chides. 

 

A pause. "...During the mock battle, your commands were thoughtful and thorough, as was your strategy." Ah. So he wasn't going to make any promises. "With you on our side, I'm confident we will prevail."

 

Finally recovered from her fit of laughter, Sothis is wiping tears away from her cheeks. "I like this one," she insists. "I liked him before but I really like him now!"

 

When Byleth doesn't say anything, Dimitri gets a sort of boyish grin on his face, open in its amusement. His dimples are very prominent. "Well! It seems we have some time before our departure. Let's use this opportunity to prepare as best we can."

 

Byleth is too amazed at the sight to scold him properly.

 

.

 

"Father."

 

Byleth opens the door to Jeralt's quarters to see him sitting at his desk, reading prior entries in his diary. He's rolling something around in his hand. "Ah, Byleth. Great timing. Catch." He tosses that something into the air in Byleth's direction. Byleth catches it easily in one hand and stares down at the item. 

 

It's Jeralt's ring.

 

"Father?"

 

He stares back up at his father to see him already watching. "I'm sure that I've told you this before," Jeralt begins, putting down the diary, "but this was the ring I gave your mother. And now, it's yours. I hope one day, you'll give this to someone you love just as much as I do her."

 

Byleth feels his eyes water at the words. At how familiar they are. At how emotional they make him.

 

At his side, Sothis' lip trembles. 

 

"Aw, kid..." Jeralt says, getting up from his chair and crossing the room to pull Byleth into a hug. "I gave you this ring to make you happy, not to see you cry. Come on now. No tears. Especially not like this."

 

"Father," Byleth babbles, bringing his arms up around him. "Father...!"

 

"Shh, kiddo." Jeralt says, running a hand through Byleth's hair. "All my life, I've wanted to see you open with your emotions, but not like this. Definitely not like this."

 

Last time, when he and Jeralt were in front of his mother's grave, he didn't know what to feel about the ring. Since Byleth had never actually met his mother, and since Jeralt never brought her up, Byleth's never missed her. And at the time, Byleth was incredibly baffled at the idea of sharing his life with another. He was a mercenary. After the school year, he was sure that he was going to take to the road again with his father and the rest of the mercenaries, but...

 

Jeralt pulls away from the hug, with another heartfelt pat on the back. Sothis floats up to Byleth as well to give him her own pat. The awkward displays of affection make Byleth quirk a tiny smile.

 

He doesn't know when he's become such a crybaby. Perhaps he always was one, and was just incapable of showing it.

 

Perhaps everything that happened last time was the source.

 

Byleth's tears were brief, so he makes quick work of clearing up his face. He's clenched his fist into a grip so hard that the ring leaves an indent on his palm. Byleth takes off his left glove and slips the ring onto the appropriate finger. It's a perfect fit. 

 

Odd.

 

He slides the glove back on before he can overthink it, and pointedly does not meet Sothis' bewildered stare.

 

Jeralt clears his throat. "Well then. After you tell me what you came here for, why don't we visit your mother's grave? I can tell you all sorts of stories about her."

 

Sothis jerks. "Ah yes, that's right! We had nearly forgotten about what we came here for! Tell your father about that soulless thing that we found in the Holy Tomb!"

 

"Sothis says we should tell you about the Holy Tomb," Byleth says, tone even. Jeralt tilts his head to the side.

 

"Ah yes, the goddess' namesake... perhaps the actual goddess.... ghost.... thing..." Jeralt trails off. Byleth ignores her squeals of protest at being called a thing. "You mentioned her in your story, but you didn't say that she was still following you around."

 

Byleth shrugs. "She and I are one and the same," he says simply. 

 

Sothis crosses her arms, her brow furrowing. "And I am not a thing."

 

"She says she's not a thing," Byleth adds, on her behalf, pretending that he isn't amused. 

 

His father frowns in disbelief. "Then what is she? The literal goddess? No way."

 

Sothis squares her shoulders and tilts her chin up as if looking down on them both. "I am the beginning-"

 

"Anyway, that's not important," Jeralt interrupts. It's quite unfortunate that his father cannot hear her sputter indignantly. "What were you trying to tell me?"

 

Byleth launches into a brief explanation about the body that they found in the Holy Tomb, while Sothis, unheard, adds her own poignant dialogue. Byleth is sure not to leave out how Linhardt had followed them there. 

 

Jeralt makes a gruff sound at the back of his throat. "Sounds like another one of her experiments. And you're sure that you didn't see this... lookalike in your last life?"

 

Byleth shakes his head in response.

 

"Huh."

 

For a moment, he thinks to himself. "But then again," Byleth adds, "I had never gone down there this early. So I don't know."

 

Jeralt runs his temples. "Okay," he begins, sounding rough around the edges. "So there are likely two reasons. One, that person was there before, and you didn't get to see them. Two, that person was never there before, and something had happened to bring them here. Maybe Rhea, when she saw your hair. Maybe someone entirely different."

 

The rest lies in the air, unspoken.

 

Maybe you.

 

"I don't get it though," his father continues. "What could you have possibly done that would have made this happen? But then again, that's only if you're the odd one out in this situation."

 

Everyone in the room sighs.

 

Sothis tugs at her hair in frustration. "Argh! Why is this so complicated?! What is happening?!"

 

Byleth feels the same way. If he were the type to pull out his hair, he might be bald at this point.

 

"Should we go check it out tonight?" Jeralt asks. "Rhea's sending me out tomorrow on recon for a few days with some of her personal knights. I'll take the time to see if they know if anything is up."

 

"Be careful," Byleth says, the curve of his mouth smoothing out. 

 

What would I do if something happened to you again, and I wasn't able to turn back time?

 

I can't protect him if I'm not even there.

 

What if-

 

Jeralt grins. "I'm not even leaving yet, kiddo. But of course. I can't let you cry again."

 

That's as good as any promise that Byleth might get. He glances to where Sothis is daintily floating, and sees her nod. "Okay," Byleth decides, "let's go tonight. We have to be careful about it, though. Linhardt might attempt to follow us there."

 

.

 

Byleth's having a late dinner with his father and Manuela when Linhardt practically crashes down in the seat next to him, a confused Caspar and Dorothea behind him, trays in hand.

 

"Professor," Linhardt breathes, sounding genuinely excited. It's something Byleth has never really heard before. "what are your connections with Archbishop Rhea?"

 

"Linhardt!" Dorothea scolds. "Sorry about him, professor, he's been weirdly excited lately." She tugs at his arm to pull him up from the seat, but Linhardt doesn't budge.

 

Byleth was quite fond of Dorothea. In his past life, he had recruited a few people into the Blue Lions, and they were still a part of their house in his heart. Dorothea was one of them.

 

Technically in his last life, he didn't recruit anyone. They came to him after class, or during the day, asking to join. Byleth was too shy to ask anyone himself.

 

Dorothea asked to join, as well as Marianne, Hilda, and Lysithea.

 

Perhaps if Byleth was less reserved, he would have asked Linhardt. He felt a strange affinity towards the boy.

 

Not at this moment, though. 

 

At this moment Linhardt's soup was spilling all over Byleth's hand.

 

"Linhardt," Caspar chides, looking put out. "Where are your table manners?"

 

For a moment Linhardt loses the sparkle in his eyes. "Coming from you, Caspar?"

 

"Hey, what's that's supposed to mean? Wanna fight-?"

 

"Hey now," Manuela cuts in, a little puff of air leaving her lips. For a moment Byleth feels incredibly grateful. "Come on, sit down! Food always tastes better with company!"

 

Scratch that.

 

Dorothea and Caspar take that as an invitation and slide onto the remaining seats. Of course, that is the cue for Ashe and Ingrid to enter the hall, see Byleth, and decide to squeeze in next to him on the other side. That is also apparently the cue for Raphael, who had just finished precariously balancing his meals onto one tray to slide into the seat next to Jeralt. Ignatz, who was waiting for him, slides his own tray onto the table.

 

The dining hall is filled with noise once more.

 

If Byleth hears Sothis giggle, he refuses to acknowledge it.

 

.

 

When the moon hits the highest point in the sky, Byleth creeps out of his room.

 

He feels bad about waking Dedue the last time he went out late, so he takes extra precaution to be more quiet. Even Sothis is tip-toeing across the floors, despite the fact that she has no real reason to. 

 

She looks incredibly amused, so Byleth refuses to be the one to take the wind out of her sails.

 

Jeralt is already waiting outside his door, so they nod at each other before heading for that gazebo.

 

Because nothing goes as Byleth desires, they bump into Linhardt in the corridor, who is feigning a casual air. 

 

"What a coincidence," Linhardt says smoothly, raising a hand, with a purposeful tone. "It seems that we had the same idea."

 

His father gives Byleth a pointed look, one that Byleth is much too tired to read deeply into.

 

Face still blank, Byleth stares the boy down. "Sorry, Linhardt."

 

Sothis sticks a tongue out at him. "Divine Pulse, now!"

 

For this, both Byleth and Sothis are in agreement. Linhardt opens his mouth to protest, but freezes mid-motion. Byleth closes his eyes against the stars and the pulsing waves of nausea and finds himself back in his bedroom. He ignores his throbbing headache. It's only temporary, so it should be fine.

 

This time, Byleth directs his father into a longer route, off the beaten path. Jeralt doesn't question it. Byleth feels a little bit bad about purposefully ignoring Linhardt, and decides to give him a fishing float or a flower tomorrow. Hopefully, despite the fact that Linhardt wouldn't find out, it would stop him from feeling guilty.

 

They pass by the gatekeeper, who looks very tired. Still, he greets the two of them cheerfully. Byleth makes sure to nod at him. He's quite fond of the gatekeeper, after all.

 

"Here," Byleth says, when they reach the gazebo. He touches a palm to the orb and the ground opens up, revealing the same path of stairs.

 

Behind him, Byleth's crest flares in and out of of existence.

 

He winces. The light might be enough to attract attention.

 

His father glances at Byleth, and nods. They both take the steps at the same time, and Byleth grabs another torch off the walls, setting it aflame.

 

The walk is shorter this time, because Byleth is more confident in what's at the end of the tunnel, and because Jeralt's strides are much longer than his. Byleth has to either walk faster or lengthen his strides in order to keep up, which Sothis giggles at.

 

She is walking alongside them, but her feet don't touch the floor. It's as if she's precariously balancing on an invisible beam.

 

When they reach the end of the corridor, Jeralt doesn't gawk at the wide, cavernous emptiness of the Holy Tomb. He gives everything a once over and then walks on.

 

Byleth follows close behind.

 

"Up the stairs is the throne where you saw this person, right kid?" Byleth nods in response. Their footsteps make clattering sounds against the floor. It's eerie, but Byleth feels much safer knowing his father is taking this path with him.

 

"Are you not surprised at anything here?" Byleth asks, a little curious. Even after being here multiple times, Byleth finds that there's always something new to ponder over. Questions like 'why is everything green' and 'why is there a throne in a tomb?'

 

His father shakes his head. "I've seen a lot of crazy things, Byleth. A big mysterious tomb isn't that surprising to me."

 

Next to them, Sothis gawks at Jeralt. "My goodness," she begins, tone appraising. "I do wonder what sort of things your father has seen, to not even have the slightest reaction."

 

They start up the stairs, his father taking two at a time. Byleth hurries to match his pace, but doesn't take two at a time out of a fear of tripping over the steps.

 

The three of them reach the throne.

 

"Holy shit," Jeralt says, looking at the person seated there.

 

.

 

For Annette's birthday, Byleth invites her for tea.

 

It's a splendid time. Byleth widens his eyes slightly when Annette tells him, eyes much wider than his, that he had somehow picked out one of her favourite teas. It's a sweet apple blend. He shrugs when she asks about it, and directs her attention to the cookies and tarts instead. 

 

To be honest, it would have been better were the entire Blue Lions class not watching them from the bushes in the least subtle way possible. 

 

Picking up his own tea cup and adding two cubes of sugar, Byleth pretends not to notice them all shushing Felix, who is asking them why the hell they're even doing this.

 

Byleth passes her a new hair clip, one that he had seen in town. It was a small, delicate thing, but when Byleth picked it up he immediately realized that the pin itself was made of stronger stuff. Aware that Annette's birthday was coming up, he immediately bought it. It's shaped like a butterfly and is a dazzling sapphire colour, one that would compliment her general aesthetic scheme. "Happy birthday," Byleth says, when her eyes glow with happiness.

 

Annette immediately pins the butterfly into one of her little hair loops. "Ooh, thank you, thank you!" She reaches up to adjust it. "How do I look?"

 

Byleth gives a little nod of approval that makes her flush with embarrassment.

 

"Maybe I should have baked us a cake or something..." Annette trails off, finger to her chin.

 

From the bushes, Mercedes' eyes sparkle with ideas.

 

.

 

When it's Mercedes' birthday, Byleth has every intention to have a tea party with her as well. He's even brought an Albinean berry blend, one that he knows she favours, as well as some gemstone beads that would match Annette's and some fancy cloth.

 

As soon as she sees him, however, Mercedes yanks him into the dining hall where the rest of the Blue Lions are already gathered in the kitchen.

 

"For my birthday I wanted all of us to make a cake," she explains, hands clapping together. 

 

Annette and Ingrid are already drooling. "I love cake," Annette gasps. "Can we add lots of frosting?"

 

"It's Mercedes' birthday cake, so she gets to choose," Ingrid scolds, but Byleth can see the idea of frosting behind her eyes. 

 

Dimitri is wringing his hands awkwardly, furthest away from the fire oven. "Well. I will stand here and support you from the sides."

 

For a moment, Byleth is confused, then he remembers his ageusia. Mercedes beats him to whatever Byleth was about to say, however. "No, no no," she scolds. "Everyone is going to help out. Even you, Felix. I see you trying to sneak away."

 

Felix, who was in the process of doing just that, sighs but relents.

 

"Here," Mercedes says, passing Dimitri some eggs, a bowl, and a fork. "Whisk these together. Dedue, Ashe, you're with me on flour and other dry ingredients. Annette, Ingrid, you're on frosting since you were so excited to do so! Felix, Sylvain, measure out the wet ingredients. Professor, please cut up the fruits. I've written out the recipe for you to follow."

 

Without questioning anything, Byleth slips off his gloves, grabs a knife and begins to quarter the peach currants. For a moment, Byleth saw an older Mercedes, toughened by time but still incredibly kind, leading her troops into battle.

 

But with cake.

 

"Ugh," Felix complains, even as he delicately measures out the milk. "Sylvain, can't you read? Measure out the butter properly."

 

"I am, Felix," Sylvain replies, with the delicacy of someone that communicates in teasing and in teasing alone. "Watch that milk, now."

 

"Ugh."

 

A sinister crack makes everyone look up from their work. Dimitri is standing there, horrified, with an absolutely crushed egg in one hand. The yellow mess of the shattered egg is dripping down Dimitri's wrist. "I think I used too much strength," he confesses, looking as if he was caught in a terrible crime.

 

Ingrid, Sylvain, Annette, and Ashe burst out into horrendously loud laughter, which only makes Dimitri look flustered instead of guilty. 

 

"You boar," Felix accuses, looking a little amused himself.

 

"Switch with me, your highness," Dedue says, passing him a cloth to wipe his hands on. 

 

With skill, Dedue cracks open two eggs at once, one handed, and drops them into the bowl. Ashe oohs and aahs. He then passes the bowl back to Dimitri. "Now whisk," Dedue says.

 

Ashe's eyes are still wide with admiration. "You must teach me that, Dedue," he insists, excited at the prospect.

 

Dimitri begins to whisk with a fork. Luckily, the sides of the bowl are quite high, so the egg does not fly in every direction. Byleth can tell that Dimitri is holding back. He's quite proud.

 

"Oh no," says Ingrid, not sounding sorry in the slightest. "I accidentally added too much sugar into the frosting. Clumsy me. Oh well. Nothing we can do about it." She and Annette whip out spoons to taste the frosting, smiling around the utensils.

 

Mercedes is sighing, but smiling at the same time, so everything seemed to be alright. 

 

Sothis is giving unhelpful directions as Byleth cuts up fruit. "Make it smaller," Sothis says, insistent. "Make it rounder. Too small!"

 

A new set of footsteps enter the hall and Byleth looks up to see Jeritza- the Death Knight- walk in, hands behind his back. 

 

He stands there awkwardly at the counter, just watching. 

 

Sothis' eyes narrow. "Creepy," she says. "If he tries anything you've got that knife."

 

You don't have to tell me twice.

 

Ashe is the first of his students to notice. He clears his throat. "Um, professor Jeritza? Is there something that you needed?"

 

This makes everyone turn. They aren't exactly wary of Jeritza, but most of them glance over to Byleth in a silent question. Byleth's hand tightens over the knife.

 

Mercedes smiles at him, because that's just what she does. "May we help you? Ah, would you like to bake with us?"

 

It's Jeritza's turn to look away. He purses his lips, and shifts his weight from side to side. "I heard that it's your birthday today, Mercedes. Congratulations on living this long."

 

Everyone stares.

 

Sothis slaps her forehead. "Could he say it any weirder than this?"

 

Of course Mercedes takes it all in stride. "Thank you so much!"

 

A pause so dense and thick that Byleth could use the knife to slice through it. They all watch the man tense up, and then force his shoulders to relax.

 

"Here."

 

Jeritza presents his hands from behind his back, and both Sothis and Byleth tense, ready for a weapon, but dangling from his hands is a pendant.

 

Sothis gasps. "Is that...?"

 

Byleth knows exactly what it is. He's seen many of them in his lifetime, and they all seem to share a very particular aesthetic.

 

A hero's relic.

 

It gleams when it catches the light.

 

But Byleth has never seen this one in his past life.

 

The crest bearers all freeze up at the sight. Of course they are able to recognize that this is a hero's relic. Sylvain in particular looks away.

 

"Take it," Jeritza insists, when no one moves. "Now."

 

Mercedes is the first to break out of the stupor. "Ah, yes. It's so lovely! What a beautiful gift. Thank you so much! Ah, but my hands are covered in flour. Professor, would you mind?"

 

After wiping a hand down on a piece of cloth, Byleth takes it from Jeritza with his free hand. He's still not entirely comfortable with letting go of the knife. 

 

They lock eyes.

 

"Duel me later," Jeritza says. "Then maybe I shall accept your invitations to tea."

 

He nods at Byleth, and then steps away from the counter. Sothis sticks her tongue out at him. Jeritza is about to leave when Mercedes calls out.

 

"Emile?" She asks, a little quiet. Then louder, once she has gained confidence. You are Emile, right?"

 

Jeritza pauses in the doorway. "The boy that answered to that name is dead." Then he steps out.

 

All is quiet for a moment.

 

Then Mercedes laughs. "That's Emile, alright. Okay, next time, he's not getting away. I will definitely get some answers."

 

Annette gasps. "No way. Professor Jeritza is your long lost brother?! I guess the hair colour is similar... but he's nothing like you!"

 

"We've got the same smile," Mercedes says, with a tiny grin. 

 

"Yeah," Annette replies, "I don't see it."

 

"Ingrid," Byleth asks, "are your hands clean?"

 

She wipes her frosting covered hands down on a cloth, then looks at him. "They are now! What do you need?"

 

"Please move Mercedes' hair out of the way," Byleth says, "I am going to put it on her." Obediently, Mercedes tries to stay as still as possible while Ingrid gathers her hair up and away from her neck. Byleth fastens the pendant at her nape.

 

"There you go," Byleth says, stepping away.

 

Mercedes looks at the pendant with wide eyes. "It's... pulsating. Like a heart beat!"

 

Ashe's jaw drops. "It's what?"

 

For a moment Byleth didn't know why Ashe was confused. He's definitely seen a hero's relic before. Even in his past life, when Byleth was given Failnaught, he had made Ashe wield the weapon. But then, Byleth realized that even he shouldn't know what a hero's relic is, at the moment.

 

"It's a hero's relic," Dimitri says, studying the pendant. "Of course it moves. It is quite pretty. Prettier than most."

 

Sylvain smiles to cover up his shudder. This doesn't escape the eyes of his childhood friends, nor does it escape Byleth's eyes. "Yeah, the relic of house Gautier does the same. It... wriggles."

 

"Emile gave me a hero's relic?" Mercedes demands, even though no one has answers for her. "Ooh, that boy. Wait until his birthday..."

 

They finish baking the cake without further interruptions, but Ingrid and Sylvain tease Dimitri about breaking the eggs the rest of the process.

 

It's a delicious treat. Byleth makes sure to give his own gifts to Mercedes, and she thanks him happily for them.

 

They all pretend not to notice when Mercedes puts a piece aside, presumably for her brother.

 

Sothis, who is leaning against Byleth's arm, sighs. "I hope he doesn't try anything this time. It might get complicated if Mercedes and the Death Knight are too involved with each other."

 

Maybe we can use this to our advantage?

 

Even the mere thought is laughable. The two of them know that they always have to prepare for the worst.

 

.

 

The day of the mission finally arrives.

 

Before leaving, Jeralt had split up half of his mercenaries, because Byleth refused to take all of them. Half went with his father on recon, and half were accompanying Byleth on his mission. Some of the knights of Seiros accompanied them as well, as battalions for the students.

 

Byleth should have made his father take all of them. 

 

"Byleth was such a cute kid," one of the mercenaries say, arm draped around Sylvain's shoulders. "Always following the captain around with a little toy sword. What happened?"

 

"He's still cute," Sylvain replies, loud and flirty enough for everyone to hear. His mercenary group guffaws.

 

Felix rolls his eyes so hard Byleth fears they'll get lost in the back of his head.

 

It was a day trip, so they left at dawn. The group probably would not be able to reach the canyon until the very next day, so they packed tents and sleeping bags.

 

Jeralt's mercenaries are singing, loudly, scaring everything in a ten mile radius. Good thing they brought rations.

 

"Do they always do this?" Ingrid asks Byleth, who is standing away from the loud group. 

 

He nods. "They are always singing, or telling stories. It's good for morale, so father and I encourage it."

 

"Singing?" Ashe adds, sounding confused. He's walking in tune with the beat, though.

 

Byleth shrugs. "What else do you do on long journeys?"

 

"So you sing too, professor?" Annette asks, smile wide. "Me too! I love to sing. Why aren't you singing with them?"

 

Of course the mercenaries hear.

 

"Yeah, come on Byleth!"

 

"You've got the voice of a siren, kiddo!"

 

"Tryna look cool in front of your students?"

 

"Don't be chickenshit!" 

 

Some of the students balk at the rough language. The knights of Seiros stop in their tracks. But Byleth is used to crude language. He had also forgotten that his students have yet to interact much with his group of mercenaries. In the future, Annette usually sang along with them.

 

Byleth ignores them. They burst out into another song, about a cruel, ice cold beauty that won't even look their way, about how their hearts are broken and can never be repaired. Sylvain is almost on the floor.

 

Sothis nudges him. "Sing. Come on now. Siiiing."

 

Byleth really, really wishes that he made his father take all of them.

 

.

 

Even though the canyon is just a few more short hours away, they all decide to set up camp. They already had been walking all day, and some of the Blue Lions, unused to such a trek, look exhausted.

 

For rations, they've got bread and some sweets that Annette and Mercie had brought, flasks of water, and dried fruit. Byleth still sends some of his men out to see if there's any game in the area.

 

The Blue Lions are sitting around the fire when Byleth speaks.

 

"Tomorrow you might kill someone," he says, because there's no way around it.

 

They stop and stare. Byleth grasps Sothis' hand for comfort, because he despises attention, even from the people he holds dear. "Tomorrow might be your first kill. It might be your tenth. You might not even kill anyone tomorrow. You might fatally injure someone, and just the same, their life is over."

 

Felix folds his arms across his chest. "So?"

 

"Felix," Ingrid snaps, voice low.

 

His gaze is accusing. Byleth tries to meet the challenge. "I am under no delusion that I am able to take the high ground," Byleth replies, voice soft. "I am more aware of this than you know."

 

Sothis curls against his arm, watching the fire spark. It gives Byleth comfort.

 

"There is a world out there where no one has to die useless deaths," Byleth continues. "Unfortunately, we do not live in one. Battle is more than blades meeting. It is a disagreement. It is fights over land, land that could provide for their families and the generations to come. It is morals clashing, because everything has gone much too far to talk it out. Everyone fights for a reason. Even those bandits."

 

The Blue Lions are silent. Byleth takes that as a sign to continue.

 

"There is no life that is worth less than another. The moment you think someone has to die- because you believe that they are beneath you- you become arrogant. Complacent. Then you die, because someone thinks the same of you. However," Byleth swallows. "That does not mean that some people do not deserve to die."

 

Dimitri's hands clench into fists.

 

"But you should know that is entirely up to interpretation." Byleth shrugs. "Who is allowed to decide what's wrong? What's right? Do we decide? Does the goddess? Does someone else?"

 

"What if," Dimitri cuts in, eyes dark. "What if someone does something absolutely unforgivable. Absolutely unspeakable. What then? Are we allowed to judge them then?"

 

Byleth pauses, thinking about a way to answer. Making sure no one from his mercenary group is in range, he stares into the fire. "There was a woman once," Byleth has to control his anger at the thought of her, "she had attempted to kill my father."

 

And she succeeded.

 

But Byleth doesn't say that.

 

"I was furious. I wanted to rip her limb from limb." His voice is still carefully even. "And then someone else killed her." 

 

Byleth stares up at the Blue Lions. "Do you think that I was satisfied? She was gone. One less stain on the fabric of humanity."

 

No one answers. Then Dimitri quietly shakes his head.

 

Byleth looks up at the stars. "I suppose to me, that would be the definition of absolutely unforgivable. Those who hurt the ones I love are absolutely unforgivable. But I wouldn't be happy killing that woman. Perhaps I would be satisfied, for a moment. Perhaps I would have been happy to see her blood on my hands. But what next?"

 

"What do you mean?" Dimitri asks. It's almost inaudible. 

 

He shrugs in response. "My father would still be-" Byleth cuts himself off. "My father would still be gravely injured. There would be no way around it. Blood does not wash off blood. And blood cannot repay blood. Her death would be useless to me."

 

"But-" Dimitri tries to say, but stops himself. "But wouldn't it be all over then? Everyone- everyone would be satisfied."

 

Byleth almost wants to laugh. "No. Even if she died, there would still be people trying to kill m- my father. There are people that yet live, that have every incentive and possibility to kill or harm the ones that I love. Does that mean that I should kill everyone, in order to ensure that no one harms them? Is there a real way to totally prevent tragedy? Even if I do end everyone with evil intentions, they could still fall ill and die of sickness. They could break their neck falling down the stairs. They could kill themselves. Being alive is it's own risk."

 

Silence.

 

"Apologies, Dimitri. There is no real answer to your question. Right and wrong are subjective depending on the situation, and that is the problem." 

 

Byleth sighs and takes a swig of the water. "That is why we must see things from all perspectives, and then decide from there. My point is this. I do not want you to kill. At least, not without a reason. That doesn't mean you will not. That doesn't mean you already have. And I am a hypocrite. I know that very well. Tomorrow is a real battle. You must keep that in mind. Lives will be lost, and you should take care that you will not be one of them. What are you fighting for? What are you living for? Can you talk it out? Can you agree?"

 

He stands from the fire. "What makes it just to kill? Is it ever alright to kill? What does it mean, that we're still alive, even though many others- stronger ones, loved ones, are not? Despite everything, we are still here. We are still alive."

 

Felix opens his mouth, but then closes it just as fast. His hands curl in his lap. 

 

Byleth hums. "I want you to think about it. Goodnight."

 

.

 

They reach the canyon in the morning. 

 

Before they meet with the bandits, Byleth stops them all in their tracks. "I think we are getting close," Byleth says simply.

 

That's the cue for his mercenaries to get rowdy. Everyone is shaking hands, slapping backs, bringing their foreheads together, yelling and getting louder and louder by the moment.

 

"What is going on?" Mercedes asks. "What are they doing?"

 

"It's our ritual before battle," Byleth responds, letting some of the mercenaries ruffle his hair or tug at his cheeks. Luckily, his face remains calm, even as his students gape at the way the mercenaries pull at their professor. "Incentive to stay alive."

 

A few of the mercenaries come up to Byleth and crush him in hugs. "Don't die," they all say, grinning wide. "Don't you dare die out there! What would we tell the captain?"

 

"You too," Byleth replies softly. He gets more tugs on the cheeks and slaps on the back for it. One of them slings an arm around his shoulder and brings their foreheads together, laughing when Byleth doesn't pull away.

 

It's a merry moment.

 

Byleth refuses to let any of them perish.

 

"Don't die," Byleth tells his students solemnly. 

 

They smile at him. "You too!" Ashe says, still cheery despite the grim conversation last night. In fact, all of them look surprisingly upbeat. 

 

He wonders what they talked about when he left for his tent.

 

That's the incentive for the Blue Lions to all join in, throwing arms around each other, holding hands. Dimitri punches Dedue's arm, lightly, with a grin. Sylvain is trying to get Felix to hug him. Ingrid pats Byleth on the back with a huge smile. Ashe has been brought into a group hug with Annette and Mercedes. It seems as if the mercenaries' glee was infectious.

 

Sothis is smiling at Byleth, but her eyes are narrowed. "If you die out there, I will be so upset with you."

 

I won't.

 

She scoffs in response. "You better not." With a wave of her hand, a crest flashes out behind her. Byleth feels instantly safer. "I may not be able to fight," Sothis adds, "but I can help. This should be able to bring your resistance up."

 

Thank you.

 

"Thank me by not dying," Sothis sneers, but slips her hand into his to give it a squeeze. 

 

.

 

The layout of the canyon is exactly as Byleth remembers, so he positions them all over on one side of the bridge. Kostas notices them immensely. 

 

"It's you punks!"

 

One of the knights clears their throat. "By order of-"

 

Byleth steps up, and reaches deep, deep down, for the part of him that is all Sothis. "Kostas. Will you and your band come back with us quietly to the academy? There are some things that I would like to ask you."

 

Kostas bursts out laughing, which causes all of the bandits to laugh as well. Dimitri stares at Byleth, looking confused. 

 

"Yeah yeah," Kostas says. "Can you die quietly? Actually, scratch that. I want to hear all of you scream!"

 

Byleth sighs as all of the bandits let out an uproarious cheer. 

 

"It appears as if these ruffians will not go quietly with us," Sothis says. "Oh well. We have to keep Kostas alive, though."

 

Kostas frowns at their group. "Hey. HEY! Why did you bring mostly brats?! Are the knights not taking us seriously enough!?" The bandits start to boo. "'Ey boys, if we send all their heads back to the academy, maybe they'll care a little more! CHAAARGE! Across the bridge!"

 

Sothis disappears back into Byleth's mind. "Beat him up!" She cheers, sounding particularly excited. Byleth wonders why.

 

"It's because of you," Sothis responds. "If you are me, then I am you! Of course I would love battle. It's a part of me that was born from you, mostly."

 

Byleth has no time to think about her words. The battle has already begun.

 

"Take the bridge," Byleth directs them. "Before they cross it." He draws his blade and runs into the fray, his students and their battalions close behind.

 

Thank the goddess for battle.

 

Byleth was much better at swinging his sword compared to speaking.

 

As soon as several bandits cross the bridge, axes raised high, Byleth rolls out of the way and slides his sword through one of their legs. The familiar hum of a fire spell flies through the air, and so Byleth hurriedly dodges. The fire hits the bandit head on, and they fall off the bridge, screaming the entire way down.

 

Annette, who had cast the spell, exhales deeply. "I did- I did it!"

 

Two of the other bandits are taken down by Dedue and Felix, who are surprisingly fighting back to back. When Felix ducks, a sharp hum of metal fills the air for Dedue to quickly counter. Felix is fast and is able to finish off any enemies that Dedue cannot finish off in one blow. They join Byleth and the three of them make quick work of the enemies on the bridge.

 

Ashe's arrows fell every bandit still able to stand. Byleth watches him notch a few arrows. His hands do not shake. Sothis whistles.

 

Anytime Byleth passes a bandit felled by an arrow, he quickly rips it out of them, and hands it back to Ashe. For a moment, his eyes flicker, but they narrow in determination. He marches on.

 

The rest of their troupe charge ths bridge, unwilling to allow themselves to be cornered and all shoved into one tiny area.

 

When they cross the bridge, it becomes a bit more complicated. The terrain is uneven and they're clearly outnumbered, but Byleth refuses to be intimidated.

 

One of his mercenaries is stuck hard by a lance, goes down, and stays down. Immediately Byleth uses a Divine Pulse, willing the vertigo away, and stepping between the mercenary and the lance. It only scratches Byleth, but it still stings. The mercenary jabs his own lance through the bandit's chest, nodding at Byleth. 

 

"Twelve more," Sothis reminds him, just in case.

 

Mercedes, who was accidentally left by herself due to Dimitri and Ingrid quickly advancing, is cornered by three bandits. Byleth quickly repositions Sylvain to take a few blows for her, which he quickly counters, and anything that does connect is swiftly healed up courtesy of Mercedes. Byleth takes care of any Sylvain cannot take down quickly. Both Sylvain and Mercedes nod at him.

 

"Ashe," Byleth shouts, over the cacophony of battle. "Take Mercedes and Ingrid with you, and go over to where the chest is. There's a slope that will loop around to where Kostas is. We'll corner him. Everyone else, with me!"

 

"Yes," Ashe calls back, taking out another arrow. Ingrid cuts a path for them, and they quickly make their way over to the chest. 

 

Byleth turns around to notice that Felix is trying to run ahead again, and that he's taken one two many hits. "Annette!" He yells, repositioning her on the other side of him. Byleth catches Dimitri's eye, and he nods. As Annette rushes to heal Felix, Dimitri and Byleth cover her. Dimitri slashes a bandit's chest with his lance, and the bandit crumples to the floor.

 

"Sorry," Felix grumbles, when they reach him. He stays still to let Annette heal him. When Sylvain is closer, he repositions Felix behind him and ruffles his hair.

 

After making sure that the group Byleth had sent over to the chest was doing alright, Byleth takes down another two bandits, sword a blur. They're slowly but surely advancing.

 

They reach a set of stairs that Byleth knows is hiding an archer. "Annette, use a fire spell over here." She doesn't hesitate to do so, and jumps when a groan rumbles out from the side of the stairs. Ignoring the staircase entirely, Byleth slides down the slope and brings his blade down on the archer to finish him.

 

His students hurry down the staircase. "Need healing?" Annette asks, and nods when Byleth shakes his head.

 

"Kostas is on a healing tile," Byleth explains, over the din. "He won't be moving anytime soon. We must clear out the other bandits first."

 

"Okay," his students agree, getting into a formation which blocks Annette, so she can follow up. Sylvain is splattered in blood, as crimson as his hair. When he reaches up with a sleeve to wipe it away, it smears across his face.

 

The rest of his students look about the same. Their clothes are torn and their shields are a bit battered. The red on Dimitri's visage makes Byleth do a double take. 

 

For a moment, he is five years older.

 

Luckily, Sothis interrupts his train of thought. "I don't think that you even have a speck of blood on you," she says. "Are you just that skilled?"

 

...Cleaning up bloodstains is annoying.

 

She bursts out laughing.

 

Over the group of bandits that Dimitri and Dedue are felling with ease, Byleth can see Ashe's group appear, looking a little scratched up, but nothing too serious. Ingrid, their main attacker, is doing quite well. Byleth has to remind himself to give her some flowers when they returned to the academy.

 

Actually, everyone deserved flowers. They were all working together quite well.

 

Dedue takes down the last bandit, breathing heavily. Only Kostas was left.

 

Kostas laughs and laughs when he sees them approach. "So, you took the boys down, huh? I won't go down as easily as them!"

 

The students and the knights look ready to charge at him, but Byleth raises a hand. 

 

"Let me," Byleth says, and allows himself to get within range. 

 

Kostas laughs and laughs. "You think you're hot shit, huh? You think you're better than me? Trying to take me down one on one? You'll regret this!"

 

It's laughably easy. Although Kostas is strong, Byleth is stronger, and faster, and more skilled. He attempts to separate Byleth's head from his body with a swing of his axe, but it's as easy as stepping out of range, stepping forward again, and knocking the axe out of his hands. The axe flies a good ways away, and Kostas hits the floor from the recoil.

 

Byleth points the sword at his throat.

 

The blade sings as it is pressed to his neck.

 

His mercenaries appear from behind him, passing Byleth a length of rope. For the first time, fear flashes in Kostas' eyes. 

 

"What are you doing, professor?" One of the knights ask. "Hurry and finish him off!"

 

"I have a few questions I would like you to answer," Byleth murmurs, as if he never heard the knight speak.

 

"You think I'm gonna fuckin' answer anything?! I-" Kostas swallows as the sword digs into his skin, drawing blood.

 

Byleth's face is blank. "You don't have a choice. I am going to bring you back to the academy and you will answer my questions there. Maybe you'll live if you follow everything I say."

 

Dimitri steps forward. "What are you trying to do?" It's not accusing, like the knights. He sounds genuinely curious. 

 

"Isn't it odd that an entirely random bandit was able to stumble upon three of Fódlan's most important students? On accident?" Byleth's lip curls. "Something is up."

 

This makes Ingrid tilt her chin in thought. "You're right," she agrees. "That is... odd."

 

Dimitri nods. "Very well. Let's head back to the academy with him. Perhaps Lady Rhea can question him."

 

The mention of her name snaps the knights out of their trance. "Lady Rhea said to take down the bandits. Isn't it fine to kill him now? It's not as if he'll be of any importance."

 

Byleth shakes his head.

 

One of the knights puts a hand on his hilt, and immediately Byleth's mercenaries step in front of him. Even the students balk. "Are you threatening Byleth?" One of the mercenaries demand, sounding cross.

 

"What? No!" The knight exclaims, looking flustered. "It's just- if professor Byleth cannot kill him for some reason, I can do it for him!"

 

The mercenaries laugh.

 

Byleth tilts his head, glancing evenly at the carnage around him. "I am perfectly capable," Byleth replies, slow and smooth, "of killing someone."

 

When no one has anything to say to that, Byleth nods. "Please tie up this man. Make sure he doesn't have any weapons. Good job today, everyone. Sorry for the trouble." The mercenaries immediately pat Kostas down, and then quickly tie him up. One of them set him on his horse. When he struggles, Byleth knocks him out- and he stays out. Finally.

 

Sothis smiles in the back of his mind. "Phew," she sighs. "One thing down, a million more to go."

 

The back of Byleth's mouth tastes like iron.

Chapter Text

Byleth has no idea why he thought this entire situation would go smoothly.

 

First, when they reached the academy and were eagerly waved in by the gatekeeper, Kostas was still knocked out. That was nice, but Byleth couldn't exactly bring the horse into the school, so he had to carry the bandit inside. At first, he wanted to carry him, arm under the knees and around the shoulders, then wondered if that was too weird. So he lugged the man over his shoulders.

 

Of course that woke him up.

 

So as Byleth carried the bandit, who was screaming and cursing up a literal storm, he was followed by his students, who were covered in dried blood and looked thoroughly unkempt by battle, as well as the knights of Seiros, who were muttering to themselves in the back, and Jeralt's mercenaries, who were still singing, unphased.

 

This all happened in the entrance hall of the academy, where several knights, staff, and students were. 

 

These people included but were not limited to a gaping Lorenz, a laughing Claude, a shrieking staff member, and a barking dog, who ran up to Byleth and nipped at his heels.

 

Eventually they were all shooed away by Kostas' unholy shrieking. However, not before Byleth grew so very sick of his screaming right next to his ear that he decided to carry the man bridal style anyway.

 

Claude, who saw this, had to hold onto a pillar in the hall to support himself, wheezing with joyous laughter. "This is the weirdest bridal procession I've ever seen," he proclaims, and Byleth cannot help his dirty glare.

 

"I'm glad someone's having fun in this situation," Sothis scoffed, hands over her ears. 

 

Byleth takes the opportunity to turn to his students, as well as the rest of the ones accompanying him. Over the cacophony of shrieking, he addresses them calmly. "Please go clean yourselves up now. Good work."

 

The Blue Lions were very clearly not trying to laugh at Byleth's back, and now that he's facing them, he can see it clearly in their faces. Annette cannot hide a snort, and she immediately apologizes.

 

"I'm sorry," she begins, covering her mouth with her hand, "it's just- it's just- you look so unphased, professor, and he's shrieking, and you're holding him like that-!"

 

Byleth tilts his head. His lip thins out.

 

"See you later, professor!" Mercedes quickly says, dragging Annette and Ingrid off into the direction of the sauna. Soon, most of the Blue Lions follow, also intent on cleaning themselves up. Felix has taken his hair out of his bun, ripping his fingers through the knots. Ashe winces at every audible sound, and Sylvain is trying to help Felix out, but every attempt is waved away. They are all nearly jogging to the sauna to clean themselves up.

 

Byleth looks at the remaining two with a quizzical expression. "Will you not follow them?"

 

"If I may, professor," Dimitri begins, dipping a little into a bow, "I would like to follow you, in case we are questioning this man today. I too wish to hear his motives."

 

Dedue nods after Dimitri is finished speaking. 

 

"Only if you so desire," Byleth replies, turning on his heel. He can't see it, but he knows Dimitri is grinning. Perhaps with those dimples of his.

 

"I do desire," Dimitri responds, and then coughs loudly. Odd.

 

Second, when they all arrived to the audience chamber, Jeralt was there, who had presumably returned from his mission and was telling Rhea the details. This was not necessarily a bad thing, however, as soon as his father laid eyes on him carrying Kostas bridal style, he barked out a laugh that immediately transformed into a terribly awkward cough.

 

"Pardon our intrusion," Dimitri says, as they arrive. Seteth's wide eyed stare makes Sothis burst into raucous laughter, ringing like bells in the back of Byleth's mind. "We would like to request an audience with you, Lady Rhea, as soon as possible."

 

"Now, wait just a moment!" Seteth exclaims, face flushing in indignation. "What is the meaning of this?"

 

Lady Rhea regards Byleth with a cool expression, not even sparing the squirming Kostas a glance. "Please. Be at ease, professor. I always have time for you. It seems that you have brought back a... guest."

 

When Dimitri and Dedue both look Byleth's way, he realizes that it's up to him to explain everything. "I brought back the bandit," Byleth begins, as if it wasn't already obvious. "I was hoping we could question him."

 

Kostas is snarling in his arms. "Put me down, you blank stared bitch!"

 

"What did you just say to Byleth and I, huh?!" Sothis snaps, stomping her feet. Byleth sighs inwardly. "You insolent-"

 

"Your mission was to eliminate the bandits," Rhea replies, and it sends a jolt down Byleth's neck. "However, I am pleased with your actions, professor. It seems as if you really are making the students' safety your top priority."

 

Sothis rolls her eyes. "She's not wrong, but how did she get all of that from your words?"

 

"It would be most prudent to discover exactly why these bandits were after our students," Rhea continues, hands folding together. "A blade pointed at the students under the goddess' protection is blasphemous, after all. Thank you, professor. It seems... It seems that I was right about you."

 

Rhea's eyes crinkle with a smile that make her already ageless, ethereal face seem that much younger.

 

Byleth decides that it's the perfect time to place Kostas on the ground. He's still fervently struggling against his bonds, snapping at Byleth as if he were a feral mutt. "I ain't telling you shit," Kostas hisses, "You ain't getting nothin' outta me!"

 

At Rhea's side, Seteth's eyes narrow. "Watch your mouth in front of the Archbishop," he reprimands, stern. Kostas sneers. 

 

"Archbishop? Who gives a damn?" Kostas shoots them both a glare. "No goddess that exists ever could give a fuckin' shit about us little folk."

 

Rhea's expression smooths out. "It seems as if you have been terribly misguided." Her hands squeeze together, tighter than ever. "How unfortunate. Most unfortunate. You have always been in the goddess' thoughts."

 

Her eyes narrow the tiniest fraction. "And yet, despite this, you continue to act in such a vulgar manner."

 

Everything about her tone, her body language, and her words shriek danger at Byleth. His fingers twitch for his sword.

 

Before Byleth can do anything like flinch, his father steps up and crouches down, eye level with Kostas. 

 

They stare each other down for a moment.

 

"Byleth," his father addresses him, not looking away from the bandit. "How many fingers does a man need to be interrogated?"

 

Sothis gasps.

 

"You're bluffing," Kostas spits, but he is unable to hide the tremor in his voice. "An upright knight of Seiros wouldn't do such a thing."

 

Jeralt ignores him. "Byleth. How many?"

 

"Father," Byleth replies, unsure. He knows that they've done worse in their line of work, but it's so odd to hear him say things like that when they're not on the job, and when they're not really needed.

 

What is going on?!

 

Sothis is jumping up and down from adrenaline, pulling and pulling on Byleth's arm. "Don't ask me!" She screams, shrill and high pitched. "Ask your dad!"

 

Jeralt sighs. "Fine. No fingers." Before Kostas can relax, his father trails a hand slowly down the hilt of his sword. The bandit watches the movement, eyes wide. 

 

"Have you heard of castration?" Jeralt asks, voice carefully even. "Does a man need that to confess?"

 

Sothis' jaw practically hits the floor.

 

Byleth watches, transfixed, as all of the blood rushes out of Kostas' face. It seems as if no matter what status you were born with, a man would still tremble at the thought of such a thing happening to them.

 

"Fine, fine!" Kostas yelps. "I get it! I get it okay, so can you get your hands offa your sword!"

 

His father draws out the motion, but eventually he frees his grip on the weapon. Kostas sighs in relief, tilting his entire body away from Jeralt.

 

"It was some stuck up guy in a mask calling himself the Flame Emperor," Kostas confesses, and Byleth feels some weight leave his shoulders. "I don't know anything more than that!"

 

Jeralt stares at him, and the bandit flinches so bad Byleth can practically feel himself jolting. "That's really all!" Kostas insists, looking terrified. "He wore all red. The guy probably did something to his voice before he came to us. Lots and lots of bullions to spare! He just asked us to get rid of some royal brats that were expected to be in the woods that night, and it was free gold! How could we say no!"

 

"So," Dimitri cuts in, and Byleth almost jumps. Sothis actually does leap into the air. They both had forgotten that Dimitri and Dedue were standing there. "This Flame Emperor person somehow knew that the three of us were all going to be there, at that moment, huh? Intriguing."

 

Dedue looks thoughtful. "He likely knew all your identities as well," he adds, brow furrowing.

 

"The Flame Emperor..." Seteth trails off, looking thoughtful. "What sort of features did he possess?"

 

The bandit laughs. "Why the fuck do I gotta-" Kostas notices Jeralt stare, and coughs to cut himself off. "Red, I guess? He had a stupid lookin' feathery thing coming outta his head. He wore an outfit that covered any sorta body shape. No figure whatsoever, and kinda short."

 

"I see," Seteth responds, glancing over at Rhea for a moment. "Anything else?"

 

Kostas shrugs as best he can, bound up in tight rope. "He just dropped off the gold and left. That's all."

 

"That's really all?" Jeralt asks, eyes narrowing. 

 

For a few moments, Kostas withers under his stare. "Okay, okay. Fine. Before the red canyon shit, the Flame Emperor came back to us, called us useless, then told us to die. Somethin' like that. Whatta fuckin' punk. But he warped away."

 

"So a mage?" Seteth inquires, leaning in. Kostas shakes his head.

 

"Naw. With the way he was clunkin' around everywhere? No way. He's probably got someone to warp for him." Kostas groans. "Okay, that's all I know! Really!"

 

Jeralt searches his eyes for a few moments, then his shoulders drop. He glances over at Byleth, and then Rhea, who nods. 

 

"The goddess smiles down upon you for being truthful," Rhea says, serene as ever. "What a good child you are."

 

The bandit rolls his eyes.

 

"What should we do with this man now?" Seteth asks. "We can't exactly let him go."

 

Before anyone can say anything else, Jeralt violently yanks the collar of Kostas' shirt and stands, dragging him close enough that their noses are nearly touching. "Never speak to my kid like that ever again, got it?" When Kostas nods frantically, Jeralt drops the man to the floor unceremoniously. He glances over at Rhea. "You can do what you want with him now. I'm going to clean myself up."

 

Jeralt ruffles Byleth's hair as he walks out, and Byleth cannot help but blink. "Your father is quite impressive," Sothis observes, and Byleth cannot help but agree.

 

There is an odd moment where everyone waits for Jeralt to close the door behind him. When he hears the door shut, Byleth looks up at Rhea. "May we be dismissed now, Rhea?"

 

"Be more formal with the Archbishop!" Seteth demands, shooting Byleth a glare, but Rhea lifts one hand.

 

She turns a smile on Byleth, and it practically shines. "I do not mind," Rhea announces. "You may call me Rhea. Thank you for your hard work, professor. You and your students are dismissed."

 

Dimitri gives a short little bow, while Byleth and Dedue simply nod, before heading for the door.

 

"Hey wait," Kostas yells. "What are you gonna do with me!? Hey!? I told you everything that I know!"

 

"Guards," Byleth hears Rhea call, before shutting the door behind him. Byleth and Sothis share a look, then continue to walk.

 

The three of them are walking down the halls before Dimitri speaks up.

 

"Professor?"

 

"What is it, Dimitri?" Byleth asks, eyes still staring straight ahead. He's eager to clean himself up as well. 

 

Dimitri clears his throat before continuing. "Your, your father. He is quite the extraordinary person, is he not? Jumping to another's aid, fiercely protective, strong... I can see the resemblance now."

 

"There was always a resemblance," Byleth replies. When Dimitri and Dedue look at him, insistent that he elaborates, he decides to indulge them. "We have the same smile."

 

A laugh escapes from Dimitri's mouth, one that surprises both Dedue and Byleth. The tiniest smile appears on Dedue's face. "You never fail to amaze me, professor. I would love to see that smile again."

 

"Is it so rare an occurrence?" Byleth asks, stepping down the stairs. 

 

Dimitri purses his lips, as if in thought. "That's a part of what makes it special, but to me any expression of yours is sp- I mean. It is quite rare. Like Dedue's."

 

Byleth watches Sothis jump down the entire flight of stairs, landing without a sound. "Dedue's smile is nice," Byleth responds, thoughtfully.

 

"You are exaggerating, professor."

 

Dimitri chuckles. "Does the professor seem like one for exaggeration, or lies? No, Dedue. Listen to the professor. Your smile is also wonderful."

 

Byleth nods, a little jerk of his head. Dedue sighs, a small puff of air, but he sounds amused. 

 

"Do we really not look alike?" Byleth asks, after a moment. 

 

"Besides the smile?" Dimitri asks. For some reason, Byleth thinks a hint of his voice sounds teasing. "No. Jeralt's got that sandy hair colour, and a broad stature- although your shoulders are quite broad as well. And your face is really-"

 

Dimitri coughs loudly. Was there a flu going around the school? He has been coughing rather frequently.

 

Byleth shrugs his shoulders experimentally. "No. Yours are wider. You and Dedue." Then Byleth frowns. "My face?"

 

"Not that wide," Dedue interjects, but Byleth shakes his head. For a moment, it looks as if Dimitri is shooting him a grateful look.

 

"No. Very wide. I can see the hard work and dedication you all put into your training." He insists. "Good job. I am very proud."

 

A deep, pink flush spreads out across Dimitri visage, one that travels down his neck and across his ears. Concerned, Byleth presses a warm, gloved hand up to his forehead, which he jolts under.

 

"Are you sick?" Byleth asks, concerned. "Perhaps you should hurry on ahead to the baths."

 

"Perhaps I should!" Dimitri exclaims, trembling under his touch. His declaration is loud enough to grab the attention of everyone in the halls. "Let us go now, Dedue!"

 

Dimitri takes long, quick strides out of the hall, not waiting for Dedue to follow. Dedue sighs and nods at Byleth before taking off after the prince.

 

Sothis and Byleth stare at each other, then shrug.

 

.

 

There is apparently a dungeon underneath the academy that Byleth has never known about, despite the fact that he's been here for over a year. But then again, he's passed by many a priest or monk within the chapel claiming that they too, have never seen the entirety of the monastery despite being there longer than Byleth ever has.

 

Byleth only discovers this crucial information when he's speaking to the gatekeeper, who informs him about it when Byleth passes by.

 

"Professor," the gatekeeper had said, chipper as always. "Did you and the rest of the knights put that bandit in the dungeon? I heard that he was causing quite a lot of trouble for you."

 

After more prodding, and more information, Byleth discovers that there is really a dungeon, and that he really shouldn't be surprised that it is underground and only accessible from a door past a gate near the chapel.

 

And so Byleth finds himself there, in the middle of the night, a satchel and an axe slung over his shoulder. Past the guards and the doors, the gates, and one eerie hallway, for the first time in two lifetimes, Byleth finds the prison cells of the academy.

 

They're dark, but surprisingly well kept. Maybe Cyril cleaned down here as well. It is an entire hall of cells. No windows. It doesn't look at all like the Holy Tomb, but it gives Byleth that same, uneasy feeling.

 

"It's not that creepy," Sothis disagrees, hiding behind Byleth's back.

 

There is a single prisoner in the long line of cells. No guards. No visible keys anywhere. It looks as if the door has been welded shut to the bars with magic.

 

He's looking down at Kostas, who is still being incredibly loud behind a set of metal bars, cursing up a storm at the walls.

 

"Hello," Byleth greets, because he has no idea what else to say.

 

Kostas whirls around, eyes wide. Then they narrow. "Ah. That mercenary's brat. What do you want? Here to tell me that daddy dearest is really gonna chop off my dick?"

 

"No," Byleth responds, face blank.

 

"Then get the fuck outta here," Kostas spits. "Don't waste both of our times. I knew what I was gettin' into when you dragged me to the monastery. Even if I'm not executed, they'll probably starve me down here. But it's better than out there."

 

"Why?"

 

The bandit scoffs. "Don't ya get it? If the Flame Emperor finds out that I spilled the beans, the guy'll probably kill me. He seems strong an' shit. I'm done for."

 

Byleth nods. He sits down on the floor in front of the cell, and opens the satchel. Inside is a few slices of bread and fruit that he had taken from the kitchen. He offers Kostas a slice, wordless.

 

For a moment, all Kostas does is stare. "What the fuck is this?"

 

"Food."

 

"Don't play dumb, brat," Kostas sneers. "Your pity is useless to me."

 

Byleth shakes his head. "I have my own reasons. And I was hungry. So I might as well bring food for you as well."

 

Kostas glares at the piece of bread as if it has personally wronged him, then snatches it out of Byleth's hands through the bars. He devours it in a few seconds, and then glances at the rest of the food. Byleth passes him a good chunk of the bread and fruit, and they eat in silence.

 

"What're ya doing here anyway?" Kostas asks, through mouthfuls of unchewed food. Sothis pretends to gag at the sight.

 

"Waiting," Byleth responds. 

 

Kostas shrugs. "Fine, alright. Don't tell me."

 

A few more moments pass before Sothis' head quirks up. "Someone's coming," Sothis hisses, and Byleth immediately gets to his feet, brushing the crumbs off of his lap and drawing his axe, which he brought specifically for this occasion. When Byleth stands, Kostas also snaps to attention, shoving the rest of the fruit in his mouth.

 

"What? What's happening?"

 

The low sound of the floor creaking reverberates through the hallway. Byleth adjusts his stance. 

 

A man steps out of the staircase and into the dim light of the hall. 

 

When Kostas sees him, he relaxes. "Fuck, you brat. It's just an old man. Scared the shit outta me! Thought they changed their mind and were gonna execute me anyway!"

 

Tomas chuckles. "Peace, my friend. Lower your axe. I'm just making the rounds."

 

Byleth feels an odd grin creep upon his face that feels entirely like Sothis pushing it out of him. 

 

"I was hoping it would be the Flame Emperor," Sothis murmurs, slow and sweet. "But it seems as though I am still not disappointed. Let's get rid of this man before he tries to kill everyone in Remire!" 

 

To be honest, Byleth was hoping that the Flame Emperor wouldn't appear tonight, so he was incredibly grateful. 

 

A little part of him felt a little bad for making Kostas bait. Only a little, though.

 

"Why is the librarian making the guards' rounds?" Byleth asks, tilting his head to the side. He makes no attempt to lower his sword.

 

That's all the warning Tomas gets before Byleth dashes out and attempts to slash the man across the chest. "Woah!" Kostas yelps. "What the fuck are you doing?!"

 

Tomas barely dodges, but it's quite quick for an old man- his robes are torn and he looks unphased. "What are you doing?" Tomas insists, looking distraught. It warps his already unsightly face. "How could you attack me like this, professor?"

 

Byleth doesn't give him time to breathe. He swings again, and Tomas ducks out of the way, agile. The axe connects with the wall, a screeching noise that reminds Byleth distinctly of Kostas shrieking. 

 

"I will have no choice to retaliate if you continue," Tomas insists, a hand raised up to cast a spell. Byleth is stronger, and faster. He was also ready for this. He adjusts the grip of the axe to hold it in one hand, steps into the man's personal space, and yanks the man's wrist- and then brings his knee up and hand down at the same time, breaking Tomas' arm over his knee.

 

"You filthy mongrel!" Tomas shrieks, sinking to the ground. "What have you done?!" Byleth can hear a bit of Solon in his voice, and he doesn't need to strain his ears to hear it.

 

"Solon," Byleth says, soft and smooth. "Hello."

 

For a moment, Solon blinks up at him, still in agony over his broken arm. Then he smirks, and it's ugly and raw- Byleth shivers just looking at it. "So you know who I am then, do you? You must be one of us, then."

 

Byleth says nothing.

 

Solon's form flutters, and he takes on his original appearance, uglier than normal. He laughs, and it's horrible- like a broken, wounded crow. "If you know who I am, then you shouldn't have done this. Thales will have your head."

 

"I don't care," Byleth replies. He levels the axe to Solon's face. 

 

"Come now, you don't know who Thales is? Pitiful worm."

 

Byleth's grip tightens around his weapon.

 

Solon rolls his eyes. "Put that axe down, brat, I can clearly see that you're stronger than me. Don't tell me you're protecting this half-breed beast? He'll be more useful in our experiments then he ever was in any other aspect of his life. You should be grateful that I haven't decided to use you instead. You're better as a pawn under our foot."

 

Byleth stares at him, expression vacant, as if seeing into a different time. "Thank you for killing Monica."

 

He brings the axe down. 

 

"But that's all that I am grateful to you for." 

 

Solon's body falls to the floor.

 

"Holy shit," Kostas says, from his cell. "Holy shit," he repeats.

 

"I used your axe," Byleth says simply, finally looking up at Kostas. "The one you used at the canyon. Would you like it back?"

 

Kostas laughs, but it sounds like it was punched out of him. "Brat. Brat! That was ruthless! What the hell did he even do? And why the hell would I want it back? I ain't plannin' on suicide!"

 

Byleth levels a hand at the door and releases a powerful fire spell at it, blasting the door away. 

 

The bandit stares at the wreckage beside him. "You could have warned me!" Kostas screams, and Byleth puts a finger to his lips.

 

"Shh. The guards might actually come." Byleth reaches down and yanks the axe from Solon's body, before passing it to Kostas, who looks down on it with wide eyes. "Go."

 

"You're letting me just fuckin' leave? Just like that?"

 

Byleth shrugs.

 

"Well, I ain't complaining. I'm getting the fuck outta this hellhole." Kostas is about to hurry up the stairs, when he looks back at Byleth. "I ain't forgettin' this. I owe ya one."

 

He leaves.

 

Sothis hums. "Do you think we'll see him again? Should we just kill him too? You know, this might come back to haunt us."

 

"I don't know," Byleth replies. There was no need for him refrain from speaking aloud to Sothis- no one was here but him. Crouching down, he makes sure that Solon was really dead, then when he's really sure, Sothis kicks his body. Her foot phases through, but she seems satisfied. 

 

"I hate this man," she announces. "But what was he talking about when he said Thales?"

 

Sothis has to reach into Byleth's mind to pull the memory out. "Ah. The one that pushed you into the abyss. Let's kill him too."

 

"Violent," Byleth replies, but doesn't disagree. "What will happen now? If I have killed him here, then the church might never have found out that he was... Like this."

 

She frowns. "Well, he died in his Solon form, and he's still in his Solon form, so maybe they'll tie the disappearances of the sudden disappearance of their librarian and this guy together. But I would rather have him dead sooner than later. Who knows what other experiments he's been conducting on the other poor souls. It's a good thing that we were able to be rid of him."

 

"Okay," Byleth concedes. "Should we just leave the body here then? Or bring it somewhere else."

 

Sothis puts two fingers to her temples and runs them. "On one hand, if we leave the body here, people will ask questions. If we do something about it, people will still ask questions. Hmm."

 

"Say we do dispose of the body," Byleth utters, "they'll inevitably tie Kostas leaving and Tomas' disappearance together, and they will all mourn him."

 

"If we leave the body here, I wonder if they'll be able to tell that it's Tomas," Sothis wonders aloud. "Probably not. What to do, what to do..."

 

Byleth purses his lips. "Leave him," Byleth says finally. "If it turns out that we made a bad decision, then we can use a Divine Pulse."

 

"Can you travel back that far without consequences?"

 

"We'll find out."

 

.

 

The next day, the entire monastery is alive with terrible news. The evil bandit, Kostas, had escaped. The librarian was missing. An unknown man, found dead in front of his jail cell. Multiple knights are sent out in search of the bandit for answers, but no results turn up. The Archbishop has even sent out one of her best knights, Catherine, to look for the man.

 

Jeralt is sent out to look for the Flame Emperor, a task that he knows will be fruitless. Before he leaves, he ruffles Byleth's hair affectionately. 

 

"I have to be gone for at least a week or two to convince Rhea that I am looking," he mutters, then steps out of his son's personal space. He brings half of his mercenaries again, and leaves half with Byleth.

 

Lord Lonato has declared a revolt on the church. Ashe goes pale when he hears the news, and the Blue Lions all hurry to comfort him.

 

Byleth gives the Blue Lions a day off.

 

When Byleth is assigned a mission to subdue Lord Lonato, he nods at Rhea. Catherine is far from the monastery. He can work with this.

 

.

 

"Happy birthday, Sylvain," Byleth says, handing him a board game over tea. The Blue Lions are hiding in the bushes, again, muttering loudly to themselves.

 

"Wow, professor!" He looks stunned at the gift. "Can I really have this? How did you even know that I liked this sort of stuff? Even the tea. I don't remember telling you that I like Bergamot!"

 

Byleth had nearly forgotten how observant Sylvain was. "You are always playing these games with people," Byleth says, trying his best not to gulp because Sylvain will definitely notice- "and when you go out to tea, if the girl doesn't specify that she wants a certain one you always get this."

 

Sylvain regards him coolly for a few more agonizing moments, before he grins again, a real smile. It's crooked, which somehow makes it more charming than his usual one. "You're always paying real close attention to us, huh? Always pampering us. A guy could get used to this."

 

Byleth takes a sip of tea, not knowing how to respond. 

 

"It's my birthday, right?" Sylvain asks, as if he didn't just get invited to birthday tea and was given a birthday gift. "Let's go out and celebrate for it! Get over here, guys."

 

The Blue Lions awkwardly step around the bush. Byleth feels incredibly amused.

 

"Ah," Sothis says. "So he was pretending not to see them, too."

 

"No," Ingrid replies, when she's close enough. "You're gonna bring us to some place that you'll hit on girls. And we'll have to rescue you from every single one of them that takes it harshly."

 

Sylvain bats his eyes up at her. "Aw, no I'm not! I was thinking of going to a nice little inn that has great meat pies. And even if I was going to hit on girls, aren't most of you trying to become a knight? Isn't it your duty to save me?"

 

Ingrid, Felix, and Ashe swat him on the arm. He laughs loudly. "Hey! Give me a birthday present before you hit me! Even the professor did!"

 

Dimitri rolls up his sleeves. "I see," the prince says, cracking his knuckles. He's wearing a playful grin. "How old are you turning again?"

 

Sylvain, realizing what Dimitri is about to do, gulps audibly. "Zero," he says. "Zero, I am turning zero, I'm actually negative years old-"

 

"Okay," Annette butts in, but she's holding back laughter. "Okay, no hitting the birthday boy without presents."

 

"Annette," Sylvain gasps, hand to his heart. "Annette, have I ever told you how much I love you?"

 

Annette reaches out a takes a cookie from the tray of sweets that Byleth has procured, and hands it to Sylvain. He takes it from her, giving her a confused look. "Happy birthday, that's my present." Annette swats him on the arm.

 

"Ow!" Sylvain exclaims, even though from the sound, everyone knows that it didn't hurt. Felix cocks his head to one side and picks up the tray of desserts, presenting it to Sylvain, blank faced. Only the edge of his mouth is betraying him.

 

"Happy birthday," Felix says, shoving the tray into Sylvain's chest. "How many is that?"

 

"It's none, it's none!" Sylvain leaps out of his chair. "Felix! I love you man, but please have mercy on me- GAH!"

 

.

 

Sylvain, through endless pouting, has convinced them all to head out into town for his birthday, where the end destination is apparently a restaurant. 

 

He's at least happy that the Lions seem to be having fun.

 

Because Byleth is not.

 

"Professor!" Annette practically glows with a smile. "Wanna buy me another hair clip? It'll match the one you gave me!"

 

"Please, professor," Ingrid is saying, "Felix and Dimitri keep asking me for whetstones so I don't have any more- could you please buy me another two? Or three?"

 

Felix is eyeing the swords on display in the market. "Those look nice," he says simply, then looks at Byleth without saying a word. Byleth has to look away.

 

Dedue is looking at flower seeds. He's silent, but looking at the flower seeds with apt fondness, which makes Byleth want to buy him all of them.

 

"Professor, it's my birthday! Buy me this lipstick!" Sylvain picked up a tube of it, winking flirtatiously at the woman manning the stall.

 

'So I can give it to girls' remains unsaid. Byleth sighs. "Only if you promise to wear it."

 

All of the Blue Lions are asking for new stuff, and Byleth knows that they're totally incapable of saving. It's the reason why he's the treasurer of sorts- they're all terrible with money, save for Ashe, and Byleth absolutely refuses to discard things until he's used up every part of it. He thinks it's because one had to be constantly frugal on the road- a feeling that Ashe understood well.

 

Still, knowing that Ashe was so upset these past few days, Byleth had bought him a new book of legends that he had gushed over once he saw it. Ashe, of course, had refused it, and then once Byleth had bought it, thanked him profusely.

 

And so everyone was assuming that Byleth would all buy things for them. Which meant trouble for Byleth.

 

"You should buy them all nice things," Sothis is saying, drooling over the street foods they're promoting. "They all worked hard in that last battle!"

 

I already gave them at least a bouquet of flowers each. It was true. Byleth had a bit of a green thumb, and liked to garden with Dedue and the other students whenever possible. He always ended up with armfuls of flowers which he would gift to the students, and then a surprising amount of vegetables, which he used to cook with. The rest was given to the dining hall staff.

 

Now Sothis is pouting alongside them as well. "I know you have money," Sothis reminds him. "From that bandit battle and from Rhea."

 

Saving for the future is important.

 

"Boooo. Didn't you buy like 10 earthworms the other day? And then you fell asleep on the dock? And Linhardt, who you were fishing with, also fell asleep? And then Caspar woke you both up by yelling?"

 

That's besides the point. And earthworms are cheap.

 

Although Byleth doesn't buy anything without purpose, he decides to indulge his students, at least for today. He buys that whetstone for Ingrid, the seeds for Dedue, a new sword for Felix. He doesn't buy Annette a new hair clip, too expensive, but he does buy her some sort of candied fruit on a stick that she shares with Mercedes. And he doesn't buy Sylvain the lipstick, but he caves and buys him a new handkerchief, which he earns another crooked grin for.

 

Byleth spots something in the stalls and picks it up, examining it for a moment, before waving Dimitri over. Dimitri was the only one who hadn't seen anything he wanted, so Byleth decided to take it upon himself to buy him something useful.

 

"Professor? What is it?"

 

"Put out your hand," Byleth instructs. Dimitri, despite being confused, puts out his hand and Byleth takes it. With the other hand, he slides a silver accuracy ring onto his ring finger. There's a tiny indigo gem in the middle of it, nothing too fancy, but it should work.

 

Dimitri flushes up to his roots. His other hand grips into his pant leg so tightly Byleth can practically hear the rip. Byleth wonders if he should send him back to the academy. This flu doesn't seem to have left him, and it's been a few days. 

 

"P-professor! I-I! I am, that is to say-" Dimitri seems to choke on his own words. Byleth can practically feel the heat radiating off of his face. "I am so flattered, and unworthy, but our positions- and-"

 

Frowning, Byleth slides the ring off of his ring finger and places it onto Dimitri's thumb instead. It's a little bit too large for his other finger right now, but it fits his thumb nicely. "There. It fits now. Will you accept it?"

 

For a brief moment, Dimitri goes quiet, biting down on his lower lip. His hand is shaking. Dimitri seems to be struggling with something again, searching Byleth's gaze. He nods his head quietly, looking down at the floor. "Yes," Dimitri whispers. "Yes."

 

"Good," Byleth says, relieved now that all of his students had received some sort of gift. "It'll help with your accuracy."

 

"My what."

 

From afar, Byleth hears Sylvain burst into horrendously loud laughter. He brushes it off as another one of the boy's antics. "Your accuracy in battle. This ring will help out." He turns to the shop keeper and hands her the correct amount of gold. 

 

"My... accuracy. This ring is for my accuracy." Dimitri repeats, sounding incredibly lost. "Oh my goddess, what in the world is wrong with me. Of course it wasn't for-"

 

Byleth nods. "Would you like a critical ring as well? It doesn't matter if it doesn't fit now. You will grow into it."

 

Sylvain makes a sound like a dying cat. Dimitri smiles at Byleth, dimples flashing again. "Pardon me, professor," Dimitri says pleasantly. "I have to murder Sylvain now."

 

.

 

The Blue Lions all push into small benches at wooden tables at the inn, all wide eyed at the sight. People are drinking, and making merry, and dancing and singing. Byleth wonders if they've never been to such a place before.

 

It's just about time for dinner, so the inn is alive with travelling mercenaries and common folk looking for a good meal, all alike. Sothis is wandering the area, clapping her hands along to songs and making starry eyes at the bar.

 

Sylvain is waving down a pretty barmaid, who winks at him before coming over. "What can I do ya for, sweetie?" The woman asks, then gasps when she sees Byleth. "Oh my stars! Welcome back! Gonna drink us outta house and home again?"

 

Byleth's students stare at him, so he holds back a groan before launching into an explanation, leaving out certain parts that he wouldn't expose to them, like the reason why he was at the inn.

 

A few nights after he had explained his entire situation to his father, Jeralt had rounded up the mercenaries, grabbed Byleth, and headed out into town to grab some drinks in order to 'keep their minds off the situation'. Of course, Jeralt's mercenaries could never say no to free drinks, so they were very excited to go. It had somehow devolved into a drinking competition- while Jeralt could hold his liquor, Byleth was absolutely incapable of feeling any sort of alcohol, no matter how disgusting or potent. He could taste it just fine, but it all went down like water. 

 

That didn't mean he was completely unaffected, though. Byleth had later found out that it was Sothis who was quite affected- and she felt the effects of the alcohol a few drinks in- passing out in the back of his head. He wonders why.

 

People were taking bets on them. It was an interesting night, to say the least.

 

Byleth shakes his head. "No."

 

"That's too bad," the barmaid says, batting her eyes. "You were such a man."

 

"What does drinking have to do with manliness?" Sothis demands, suddenly behind Byleth in a flash. "I don't like the way she looks at you. It's the same way that-"

 

Dimitri clears his throat, a hand running across his new ring, as if confirming that it was still there. "Shall we order, now? I have heard that your meat pies are delicious."

 

The barmaid simpers at him. "Sure thing, sweetie. Anything else? Drinks? Dessert?"

 

Sylvain opens his mouth to say something, but Byleth instantly cuts in. "Water. Thank you."

 

Looking at bit disappointed, the barmaid walks away. Sylvain immediately turns imploring eyes on his professor, a look that has never worked on Byleth. "Come on, professor! It's my birthday!"

 

"It's a school night," Byleth scolds him, "and you said that you were turning zero. Babies aren't allowed to drink."

 

Someone kicks Sylvain under the table, and he yelps. "Ow, what was that for! Who was that?"

 

"Mercedes," Felix says, tone cold. "It was Mercedes."

 

Playing along, Mercedes frowns at Sylvain, but her twitching mouth betrays her. "It was me," she confesses, falsely. "For your hubris."

 

"Your hubris," Dedue repeats, and even Felix cannot help his snicker.

 

The rest of the night goes quite smoothly. Annette leads a 'happy birthday' song when Sylvain gets his meat pie, and the rest of the folks in the house, most of them inebriated, join in. Sylvain flushes- part embarrassment, part happiness, and pretends to blow out a candle that does not exist.

 

Someone across the inn buys a drink for the birthday boy. For about two seconds, Sylvain looks eager, but Byleth snatches it as soon as it is placed on their table and chugs it without breaking a sweat, wiping away the excess from his mouth. Ashe, who looks amazed, starts clapping, awestruck at the sight.

 

Sylvain was telling the truth. The meat pies are delicious. Better than the ones at the academy, these ones have fluffy potatoes, a better crunch on the crust, and whatever they put in the meat made it more savoury and satisfying, imploring Byleth to eat more and more.

 

As soon as they're done eating, Byleth hurries them out of the inn. It's still a school night, after all, and they arrive back at the academy just before curfew. The gatekeeper winks as he lets them in, wishing Sylvain a happy birthday as well.

 

They all part ways for their respective dorms, and as soon as Byleth reaches his, he collapses onto the bed. Socializing, even with his students, was quite exhausting.

 

Sothis? Are you there?

 

"'M here!" She announces, materializing next to him on the bed. Byleth blinks. Her face is weirdly flushed.

 

Don't tell me that one drink got you drunk.

 

Sothis laughs, but it's too long and too airy. "It didn't! Silly Byleth! I am a goddess. We cannot get drunk!"

 

Okay, Byleth replies, because he knows how drunk people are. You're not drunk.

 

"May I ask you something?" She asks, her words surprisingly clear. However, she's drawing out every s sound that she makes. It's almost funny.

 

Byleth nods his head. 

 

"What do you think a god exists for, Byleth?" Sothis asks, inquisitive. Her gaze is piercing through him. She doesn't wait for an answer. "A god exists for the people."

 

"What does this have to do... with me?"

 

Sothis laughs, airy and bright. She pats him delicately on the head, as if soothing a child. "My dear Byleth," she coos, "you are a god."

 

Byleth frowns. "I'm not."

 

"You are," she counters immediately. "If you are not a god then am I a mere mortal? Besides, you already have the powers of a goddess."

 

"Borrowed from you."

 

Sothis clicks her tongue. "It's not really borrowing if you are me," she insists. "As I am you." 

 

"I'm not a god," Byleth repeats, sure. "I'm just a mortal."

 

"Listen," she cuts in, as if she hadn't heard him, "a god exists for the people. Power exists for the people. A god gives life. A god can just as easily take it away. You are your own sort of god."

 

She kicks her feet out where they dangle over her seat, idyllic. "A god is someone with the power to warp time and space, and who carves out their own fate. A god can grant power, and take it away so very, very easily. All mortals are bound by the fabric of reality." Sothis pokes his chest. "And we are not. You and I are equals."

 

"I believe that people can make their own fate," Byleth retorts, feeling heat rush to his face.

 

"Goodness, you are so naive!" It's said lightly, rather than an actual scolding. "Byleth. Do you really think that you wouldn't make the exact same choices in life if you had no idea what was to occur? Even if you chose another house, even if you had decided to take another's hand- guess what! Mostly everything would stay the same! Edelgard would still start a war. Your father would still be killed!"

 

Her gaze unfocuses, as if Sothis was seeing through time itself. "There are some things that you cannot change without proper knowledge."

 

"Does this mean this entire endeavor is useless?" Byleth asks, voice shaking. His hands clench into fists.

 

Sothis hums. "You're not getting my point. It should be useless. In fact, you should have no knowledge of what comes to pass. But you are me. And I am you. Our power is equal."

 

Byleth shakes his head, and Sothis sighs, slumping in her seat. "You are powerful," Sothis reminds him. "Even if I wanted to grant this Divine Pulse to others, they wouldn't be able to use it. You exert a command over your men people are jealous over, not to mention your swordsmanship. People are in awe of you. Almighty. Well loved. Well respected. Righteous. That's true power."

 

Reaching down for Byleth's hand, she gently uncurls his fingers from his tight fist and places her hand in his. "A god exists for the people," she repeats. "A god can only go so far with power alone. Without equality and mutual respect, there is no difference between a god and a mortal and a master and their slave."

 

"Everyone follows your lead, Byleth," Sothis continues, squeezing his hand. "Everyone wants your approval, wants your respect, wants you to look upon them with kind eyes. Everyone believes in something or someone. And a lot of people believe in you. Past and present."

 

"That's not-"

 

"The same?" Sothis giggles. "Perhaps not. Gods are only gods when they are referred to as such. You have a power that even gods would bow down to."

 

"Sothis, I have no idea what you're talking about," Byleth replies, genuinely confused. "I am very lost. I don't understand..."

 

She shoots him a little smile that Byleth translates to mean that she will not explain anything. "That's alright. I am you. We can learn this together. I am already learning so much- from the past and present, and from the people around us."

 

Still confused, Byleth sits contentedly in blessed silence with Sothis before he speaks again.

 

"Do you love them?" Byleth asks, curious.

 

Sothis scoffs. "Of course I love your precious students. And the staff, and o- your father, of course. It's not just because I am you. They're all dedicated, close-knit people whom we have watched over and helped grow. Or helped us in turn. And they..." Sothis stops. "They love you in turn. You- we are surrounded by such loving people, Byleth. They love and care so deeply for those they hold dear. It's insane. That I could feel so deeply for those who do not even know that I am there..."

 

Their fingers interlock. "I am here," Byleth whispers. 

 

"I know," Sothis replies. "I know. Sometimes- sometimes I dream of days where you and I grew up together, like siblings. Where we were really siblings, really a family. Where we would learn to fight together under father, and where I would tease you for a blank stare and you would tease me right back for some other nonsensical reason- and where we would go to the academy together."

 

Byleth doesn't comment on the fact that Sothis referred to Jeralt as her father as well. 

 

"What would you teach?"

 

"I wouldn't teach," Sothis replies. "I would replace that crusty librarian- he's already gone- and spend my days reading about places of the world. Or I would teach choir and sing until my throat refused to. I don't know. It's a fool's wish."

 

Shaking his head, Byleth grips her hand tighter. "It's not. It's a wonderful wish. But..." Byleth clears his throat. "But some of it has already been granted, has it not?"

 

He waits for Sothis to compose herself. "What do you mean?"

 

"I mean," Byleth tries to say, voice higher than normal. "I mean I think we're already family. Siblings, maybe. Something like that."

 

A shuddering, shaking gasp. 

 

"You are a fool," Sothis breathes out. "An absolute fool. God or mortal."

 

And then she passes out, snoring lightly. 

 

Byleth blinks, surprised, and then chuckles lightly, positioning her on the bed so that she's lying on a pillow, and tucked nicely under the blankets.

 

"I envy your dreams, Sothis," Byleth whispers, aloud. It's so quiet, he wonders if he's even said it. 

 

Whenever his eyes close, Byleth sees Dima. Every single time. He doesn't know if it's a blessing or a curse. He doesn't know if he wants to know.

Chapter Text

When Byleth bursts into the classroom, soaked in the sudden shower of rain, he happens upon an odd sight.

 

"Will you accept this quill, Annette?" Sylvain is asking, sliding it into her palm. He's chuckling so hard his shoulders are shaking. For some reason, all of the Blue Lions are just watching it happen, including a snickering Ingrid, a Mercedes trying not to laugh, and a fiery, red faced Dimitri.

 

Annette sighs, then bats her eyes dramatically, looking down at the floor and then up. "Yes," Annette says, her voiced pitched higher than normal. "Yes."

 

"Stop that at once!" Dimitri- well, Byleth would never think that Dimitri would whine, but his tone sure sounded like he just did. Dedue doesn't even look like he's trying to intervene. Byleth knows him well enough to realize that the man is highly amused. "I do not sound at all like that!"

 

"You need to sound more soft," Ashe adds, laughing into his hand. "More yearning. More eager." It sounds as if he's quoting something from some sort of novella.

 

"He means more pathetic," Felix cuts in, looking smug. "Did you see the stupid look on his face when the professor-"

 

"When I what?"

 

All of the Blue Lions scramble to their seats. Byleth sighs, wiping a stray droplet off of his cheek. "Sorry for being late."

 

"It's alright, professor," Dimitri squeaks, still entirely red. 

 

Byleth gives him a cursory once-over that makes the boy shake in his seat. "I've told you that if you are feeling unwell, that you must go to a healer at once."

 

"He's fine," Ingrid insists, giving the prince a look. "He's not sick." Dimitri shoots her a half-smile.

 

Sylvain coughs long and loud into his hand. "Well, depending on your definition of sick, loves-"

 

"Sylvain!" Dimitri exclaims, voice squeaky. 

 

"Settle down, everyone," Byleth cuts in, voice low. "Sylvain, don't antagonize Dimitri."

 

Despite Dimitri's scolding and Byleth's intervention, Sylvain still looks quite pleased. He leans back in his chair with a smirk. "Got it, got it."

 

With everyone settled, Byleth straightens at the front of the room. "We were going to use the training grounds today, but it's raining, so we cannot." Byleth's eyes narrow at the prince. "I do not desire that any of you become ill. Let's focus on your skills."

 

The class is long and arduous today. Byleth can hear the gentle pitter pat of the rainfall, soft against the walls of the classroom. Sometimes, it's loud enough to drive out his already quiet voice. He sighs.

 

"That's five," Ingrid pipes up, and then quickly covers her mouth. "My apologies!"

 

Byleth turns away from the board to look at the girl. "Sorry?" He asks, inquisitive.

 

When Ingrid realizes that her professor isn't upset with her accidentally speaking aloud, she continues. "That's five times that you've sighed today, professor. Anything wrong?"

 

For a moment, Byleth weighs the consequences of telling this truth in his mind, then decides that there's no harm against telling them.

 

"I don't like rain," Byleth says simply.

 

Mercedes, who would always fret over everyone's wellbeing, blinks at the easy statement. "Is that really all?"

 

To think that the first time I saw you cry... your tears would be for me.

 

But you seem to have all the answers... So tell me, professor. Please tell me... How do I silence their desperate pleas? How do I... How do I save them?

 

"That's all," Byleth replies. 

 

The Blue Lions shoot each other a few looks that do not go unnoticed by Byleth, so he hurriedly tries to change the topic. "I am more of a snow person myself."

 

"You would like the Kingdom," Dimitri says, "perhaps you should visit sometime!" Byleth watches Dimitri valiantly ignore the smug looks he's receiving from the rest of his classmates.

 

"I've been to the Kingdom for missions," Byleth replies, "and the morning that I met you, Dimitri, we were heading out to the Faerghus for another."

 

"What did you think of it?" The prince blurts out, then frowns, as if he wasn't meant to say anything. 

 

Fhirdiad was a beautiful place. Too bad Byleth's most prominent memories of it was the mocking, sneering face of Cornelia and the golems she'd wielded as a guide. Sothis reaches down, down into memories that Byleth didn't even realize that'd he'd forgotten.

 

His father was right. He really was a forgetful person.

 

"I believe I went skating there as a child," Byleth says, blinking past the surge of sudden memories. "Other than missions, I mean. I liked the idea of knife shoes."

 

Byleth remembers staring up into a gray sky, snowflakes falling down, down. It feels as if these memories don't actually belong to him. "I wasn't very good at it, however."

 

"We should go back to the capital together then," Dimitri blurts, looking flustered. "I can teach you how to skate, and I would be most happy to show you around! Fhirdiad is a beautiful place. I am most certain we can find many things that you will enjoy about it."

 

All of the Blue Lions are shooting Dimitri a smug look. The prince hurries to correct himself, and snaps his quill in half by accident. "Forgive my forward nature!" Dimitri says, face pink. "I do not wish to pressure you into anything-"

 

"I would like to go," Byleth replies, before Dimitri can backtrack on the prompt. Perhaps this time, he would be able to take Dimitri's hand. "It has been a long time since I have been anywhere without needing to do a mission first."

 

Dimitri sits up straighter in his seat. "Good." He breathes, crushing the remaining pieces of the quill in one hand. "That's good! I'll be looking forward to it, then!"

 

"Good for you, your highness," Dedue says, the tiniest tug at his lip. "But maybe let go of the quill."

 

"Not you too," Dimitri replies with a groan. 

 

Byleth watches the entire interaction, still entirely confused. It seemed as if there were still things that Byleth did not understand about his students.

 

.

 

"My, professor!" Flayn exclaims, lifting her cup of tea to her lips. "It smells exquisite! How did you become so well versed in the art of brewing tea? And how did you figure out which tea is my favourite?"

 

Byleth shrugs. "Think nothing of it, Flayn. A lucky guess."

 

She takes a sip of the sweet-apple blend, and gasps when it hits her tongue. "Mm, wonderful," she praises, kicking out her feet from under the table. "You have been so very kind to me, professor. The tea, the sweets, the gifts... Well, I dare say this set up would be perfect if not for one thing."

 

"What?"

 

Flayn levels a glare at the other man sitting on the other side of her. "The unwanted company," she hisses, turning her nose up at her brother.

 

Seteth takes a sip of his own tea. "Please, continue on with your conversation as if I were not here. I am just making sure that there are no untoward advances toward Flayn." At this, he shoots Byleth a heady glare.

 

"Brother!" Flayn snaps. "You're embarrassing me in front of the professor!"

 

"Why would there be anything embarrassing about this?" Seteth asks, oblivious to her discomfort. Or perhaps ignoring it. "We are simply sharing a bit of tea."

 

"That's not the issue here!"

 

Byleth slouches in his seat, letting the father-daughter argument wash over his head. He really didn't want to get involved. 

 

After the mass that Rhea had held, Byleth had stopped Flayn after the choir finished singing and asked her if she wanted to join him for tea. Of course, as soon as she agreed, Seteth had appeared as if out of nowhere and barged on into their plans. 

 

Which had led to the three of them sharing a very awkward tea time in one of the pavilions.

 

"This tea is subpar," Seteth says, as if Byleth didn't know how to blend tea specifically for each person he knew, and as if Byleth didn't know how to read the man by now. In truth, Byleth feels quite offended. 

 

Flayn takes another huge gulp of tea. "Are you saying that my favourite tea is subpar, brother?"

 

The next few minutes are spent by Seteth hurriedly apologizing to Flayn, who ignores and swiftly dodges every attempt at his forgiveness.

 

"My gift was better, right Flayn?" Seteth demanded, eyes wide and inquiring. Flayn's eyes sparkle. 

 

"I liked professor Byleth's fishing lure better," Flayn declared, presenting it to Seteth proudly. "It's one I've never used before, so I am quite excited about it!"

 

Sothis, who was busy trying to pick up the cookies from the tray, smirked wide at Seteth, who was practically vibrating with anger. "Ooh. I do believe that he is getting angry."

 

As if on cue, Seteth stands from his seat. "Fine then! Professor Byleth, you and I will hold a fishing competition! The victor with the best fish will present their catch to Flayn." He turns to the girl. "Flayn, I will prove that I am a far superior gift giver than this man."

 

He stomps off to the fishing pond. Byleth and Flayn share a look. "Please ignore him, professor," Flayn sighs. "He's always been a bit overprotective. You do not have to feel as if you must indulge him."

 

"I like fishing," Byleth replies, and follows after the man. The Blue Lions, who were all hiding in the bushes, peel away from their camouflage and follow their professor, intrigued. Flayn jumps at their sudden appearance.

 

"Were you all just in the bushes?"

 

.

 

"Brother," Flayn begins, an odd look on her face. "I appreciate... your efforts, but you are quite terrible at fishing."

 

They're sitting next to each other on the docks, where Byleth has amassed an entire basket of large fish and where Seteth has caught none. The Blue Lions, who have given up all illusion of hiding, along with a few other students from other houses, are watching the spectacle. Byleth is pretending to not see money exchange hands.

 

"I am perfectly capable of fishing," Seteth replies, as Byleth reels in yet another platinum fish. 

 

Flayn nods slowly. "I see. Well then, why have you not caught a single one yet?"

 

Calmly, Byleth frees the hook from the fish's jaw and tosses it into the basket. "The professor is throwing off my concentration," Seteth accuses. 

 

"Would you look at that," Sothis observes, peering into the depths of the pond. "It seems as if the fish are blatantly ignoring Seteth's bait!"

 

"Am I really?" Byleth asks, bringing the basket over to count the fish that he's amassed. "Then perhaps I should move out of the way." With extra exaggeration in his movements, he counts out every fish individually, noting Seteth's scowl.

 

"Perhaps that would be best," Seteth responds, tilting his chin up in a show of false pride. 

 

Byleth stands from where he was sitting at the docks and makes a show of brushing himself off, which makes Flayn giggle. He can't help it. First, his tea making skills were critiqued, and next his fishing skills. Besides his swordsmanship and other such mastery over weapons, such skills were ones he took immense pride in. He waves over his students with a beckoning hand. "Would you like to fish as well?" He asks, handing them all fishing rods. 

 

"You are so petty," Sothis accuses, as the Blue Lions reel in their own fish. Byleth shrugs. At least there would be a feast of fish that night.

 

.

 

Over the feast of fish, Flayn leans over the table in an attempt to whisper something to Byleth in a hushed voice. "Thank you for the extraordinary day, professor. Seeing my brother worked up like that was quite hilarious. You know, he thinks highly of you as well, right?"

 

Byleth has to swallow a bite of stewed fish before he answers. "I don't think that you are correct."

 

Flayn gives him a look that gives Byleth the impression that she is much, much older than what appears to be her years. "I've known him for a long time. I know my brother very, very well. I am not the only one that he desires to impress."

 

She gives a glance to the rest of the Blue Lions, who are digging into the meal with increased vigor, and her brother, who is still slaving away at the stove, hellbent to create the perfect fish dish for Flayn. "I feel as if it is always a fun day around you, professor. It seems as if so many exciting things revolve around you and your students. I would really love to join- no. Let's save that for another day, shall we? I should discuss with my brother first."

 

With a satisfied look, Flayn leans back in her seat and tucks into her meal. Byleth has more questions than answers, but decides to follow her lead. All of these fish were calling to him, after all.

 

.

 

Byleth feels as if he's giving all of the students odd impressions about him. On free days, he would always want to give out gifts to the Blue Lions for working so hard, such as flowers and little trinkets, but he didn't want to neglect the other students as well. But now Byleth feels as if he's giving these students odd expectations.

 

For example, just the other day, he had returned a lost item to Ignatz and he had responded in the most odd way possible. 

 

"Ah! I knew you would find this if I wasn't able to, professor. Thank you!" Ignatz had said, cradling his lost work of art in his arms. Did the students just expect Byleth to know where their lost items were at all times?

 

He would present Dorothea a bouquet of flowers and she would already be holding out her arms, as if expectant of the gifts. "Ah, always on time!" She had stated, looking quite pleased. "I was wondering whether or not you would deliver all the forget-me-nots you planted to Mercedes or Annette. I'll be sure to make good use of these flowers as always. I've already got perfume ideas for the next ones!"

 

Another time, Byleth would walk up to Lorenz, intent on celebrating his birthday, and he immediately focused on Byleth with a piercing gaze. "What sort of tea were you planning on making for me today?" Lorenz demanded, as if he were already aware of Byleth's intentions. 

 

"Either bergamot or a seiros tea," Byleth responds, automatically. "But I also found a rose petal blend that I was sure that you would enjoy."

 

Satisfied with that answer and looking quite eager, Lorenz nods. "I see. How befitting. It seems as if the rumours are true. You are quite talented at spoiling the students. Well then, let's hurry along. I am most eager to taste your excellent tea brewing."

 

Even the Blue Lions seemed quite pleased about these sorts of interactions and gifts, even if they were not the sole focus. He had once spotted Ashe, Caspar and Linhardt at the dining hall sharing a meal, where Ashe then proceeded to brag about how Byleth would praise them for a job well done in class, and then usually present them with more gifts and flowers.

 

"I once got patted on the head," Ashe said, as if to boast about such an action.

 

"Luuucky," Caspar groaned, looking jealous, of all things. Linhardt put a hand to his chin, as if deep in thought.

 

"I wonder if I would be patted on the head as well if I were in your class..." Linhardt asked, trailing off at the end. "Maybe professor Byleth would let me nap..."

 

But wasn't that completely normal?! To want to praise your students?! And reward them for a job well done?

 

It was just plain odd how everyone was acting.

 

He decides to ask Sothis about it, as he's harvesting roses in the garden with Dimitri, Felix, and Dedue.

 

Sothis?

 

"Yes?"

 

Am I spoiling my students that much?

 

Sothis slaps the back of his head. "Yes, of course you are! Are you just that oblivious that you've never noticed it?!"

 

I am not oblivious.

 

"Yes you are," Sothis immediately countered, still admiring the roses. "Denial is unhealthy. I do not understand how one living being can go around and live their lives while being so incredibly, painfully obtuse!"

 

"Professor," Dimitri crosses the greenhouse to present Byleth with several gorgeous red roses. "Here. For- for you."

 

"Thank you, Dimitri," Byleth replies, eyes still on the seeds he's sowing in the ground. "Would you mind putting them with the rest of the flowers in that pile over there?"

 

"Ah." Dimitri takes a huge breath, seeming to be quite nervous, something Byleth doesn't have to see in order to feel. "Actually. Professor, these roses are for you! For all of your hard work. And, and! For always looking after me- us! Looking after us. Yes."

 

Felix wipes dirt away from his brow before speaking up. "Are you seriously trying to gift the professor roses that he grew?"

 

"Felix," Dedue murmurs, low but still audible.

 

"Well he is," Felix immediately bites back. "The boar is literally trying to give the professor-"

 

"Felix," Byleth chides, finally finished with the row of seeds he was planting. He stands and wipes the dirt off of his clothes. "Do not call him boar."

 

Felix bites down on his lower lip, but says nothing else. Satisfied, Byleth turns to Dimitri, who's visage matches the colour of the roses. He's crushed the rose stems in one hand.

 

Byleth sighs, but it's a fond sound. "Thank you, Dimitri. For the roses."

 

"My pleasure," he squeaks out. He reaches out the fist that's crushing the flowers, presenting them proudly. Byleth can't help but notice that the thorns have already been meticulously removed. 

 

He strips off his gardening gloves to take the roses from him. "Thank you again," Byleth repeats, to reassure the boy. When Dimitri doesn't let go of the roses, Byleth gives him a puzzled stare.

 

All of the red has left his face. "Professor?! You're married!?" Dimitri exclaims, looking incredibly shocked. His eyes are wider than Byleth's ever seen them. Byleth follows his gaze down to the ring he wears.

 

"Ah," Byleth says simply. "I am not married."

 

"T-then why are you wearing such a ring?" Dimitri asks- demands, crushing the rose stems even more. Byleth winces at the sight. 

 

"This was my father's engagement ring to my mother," Byleth explains, sliding the ring off to show Dimitri properly. Like little ducklings, Dedue and Felix cross the greenhouse to take a look at the ring as well. "I am meant to present this ring to the one I want to marry- but right now I am just wearing it."

 

The prince seems to breathe a sigh of relief. "I see now. Thank you for clarifying."

 

Sliding the ring back onto his finger, Byleth shrugs. "Why do you ask?"

 

Once more, his pale face flushes with fierce colour. "Well-"

 

"Hey," Felix cuts in, "doesn't your precious little ring have sort of the same colour as the professor's?" The boy looks smug about the observation, shooting Dimitri a look.

 

"Dimitri's ring has a little gem that matches one of the colours on Byleth's," Dedue agrees, looking straight at the prince, who is very blatantly ignoring their gazes.

 

Byleth takes Dimitri's free hand, the one without the crushed roses, and swiftly takes off the gardening gloves. "Professor!" He exclaims, sounding embarrassed. 

 

"Forgive me," Byleth responds, letting go of Dimitri's hand. "I didn't mean to touch you so familiarly."

 

Dimitri squeezes his eyes shut. His next words sound like a wheeze. "I don't mind you touching me-! Wait, pretend I didn't say that-!" Felix laughs loudly, the sound bright. Dedue is too busy trying to cover up his own smile to admonish Felix from laughing again. 

 

Dimitri presents his free hand back to Byleth, who, after another moment, decides to take it again. His hands are pleasantly cool, and he yelps at the touch of their hands.

 

Felix barks out a laugh that turns into a cough when Dedue elbows him.

 

"You're right," Byleth replies, after he's regarded the ring again, sliding it off and then back on. "There are some familiar colours. It's almost as if we're matching!"

 

"That's great," Dimitri replies, sounding faint. He finally passes the flowers to Byleth. "I am going to sit down now." He sinks down onto the floor, next to the flowers, looking as if the wind was knocked out of him.

 

Byleth watches him sit there for a moment.

 

Felix rolls his eyes. "Can't believe you talked me into this and now I've been forced to witness this entire mess..." Felix grumbles, yet still harvests the crops efficiently.

 

"Please do not worry about his highness," Dedue says to Byleth, with a short little bow. "He is experiencing some new emotions."

 

"Okay." With that reassurance out of the way, Byleth continues to pile roses and other flowers into a basket, as well as fruits and vegetables into another for easier sorting.

 

He takes a few of the biggest roses and places them gently into a pile. "Who are those for, professor?" Dedue asks, voice low and quiet. "I am sure that you'll give out many flowers, like always."

 

"Edelgard-"

 

"Edelgard?!" Dimitri demands, shooting straight up from his seat. "Edelgard?!"

 

Giving Dimitri an odd look, Byleth nods. "I do believe her birthday is soon."

 

"You are not giving Edelgard flowers," Sothis hisses. "I absolutely forbid it! Do you not remember what she's done? What's she's doing right now? What she's about to do to you and the rest of Fódlan?!"

 

Sothis...

 

"Don't speak to me like that! It is I who should be speaking to you in that tone! Have you forgotten the pain? The suffering? The years of war and oppression?" Sothis snaps, genuinely angry. 

 

I would like to find the most peaceful way to resolve this situation.

 

Sothis snorts, floating in front of Byleth's face as to ensure that all of his attention rested there. "A few measly flowers are not about to stop her war. She will not bend. The only way to stop her is if she breaks. Don't be naive. You cannot find a way to take everyone's hand."

 

But I-

 

"Who is your top priority?" Sothis demands. "Who are you trying to protect? Who is in the way of those plans?"

 

Byleth pauses. I want to protect the ones I love.

 

"Then act like it," Sothis reprimands. "She must bend to your will, or break against it. Is your resolve that weak so that you will lose against some weak feelings? We have seen that she is capable of rising against all challenges, including cutting down those that she once held dear. Will you rise to her challenge? Or are you still unable to cut a path of your own, even with the answers laid before you?"

 

Byleth doesn't get a chance to answer.

 

"Professor?" Dimitri asks, "did you hear my question?"

 

"No," Byleth says, tone even. "Would you please repeat it for me?"

 

"Why are you giving Edelgard- rather, why are you giving the students these gifts?" Byleth raises a single brow.

 

"Do you not enjoy them?" Byleth turns the question back on him. 

 

"It's not that," Dimitri immediately says, rushing in to deny the words. "It's just- what do you gain from this?"

 

Both Byleth and Sothis cock their head to one side.

 

Felix sighs. "The boar means to ask why you're doing all of this. You don't have to give us gifts. You don't have to grow all these flowers. You don't have to butter us up after we do well in class. So why?"

 

"Why not?" Byleth responds, genuinely confused. "You all deserve nice things."

 

For some reason, no one can say anything back.

 

.

 

"Happy birthday," Byleth announces, presenting the roses to Edelgard. He ignores the increasingly loud complaints from Sothis, which only double in creativity and volume, and ignores the way the Blue Lions are all peering around a pillar.

 

After a debate with Sothis, they had made a compromise- flowers were fine, but no tea time. Which was fine with Byleth. Truth be told, Byleth was also not entirely comfortable with the idea of conversing over tea with Edelgard.

 

Hubert is glaring at him- or perhaps that's just his face. Byleth has no room to judge. 

 

Edelgard takes the bouquet of roses, smells them, and grants Byleth a small smile, half hidden behind the roses. "Thank you, professor. I'm glad that you remembered my birthday."

 

Over the increasing pressure of Sothis' anger in his mind, Byleth offers a short nod, then turns on his heel to walk away.

 

"Will you not invite me to tea?" Edelgard interrupts, face still half covered by red roses. "I hear that is the sort of thing you always do on birthdays."

 

If Byleth possessed a heartbeat, it would likely stop in this moment.

 

Sothis stops the pressure to scream. "This was a mistake! I told you, I told you so! Divine Pulse! Byleth, so help me, if you do not use a Divine Pulse-"

 

"I do not know your favourite tea," Byleth replies smoothly, over Sothis' yelling and the panic of the Blue Lions behind the pillar. They're all shoving at each other to get a better view, save for Dedue, who has given up all pretense of hiding.

 

"I hear that's another one of your talents," Edelgard continues, gaze evaluating. "Knowing exactly what tea someone desires, and then brewing it to their liking, despite them not telling you what blend they desire."

 

"It's all in the eyes," Byleth answers, tone unreadable. It's hard to hear himself over Sothis' screeching and the loud hushing coming from the Blue Lions, courtesy of Annette.

 

Edelgard's eyes seem to sparkle. "Is that so? And what are my eyes telling you?"

 

"They're telling us that you should really, really go now, Byleth!" Sothis hisses, practically vibrating with tension.

 

Byleth tilts his head to one side. "Bergamot."

 

He spots a wider smile behind her roses. "Impressive," Edelgard compliments. "Truly, a man of many talents. Well then, if you know what tea I desire, then let us-"

 

"Lady Edelgard," Hubert cuts in, leveling another glare at Byleth. "Let us depart for our meal."

 

Sothis sighs in relief, so loudly that Byleth can hardly believe that no one has heard it. "Of all people, I cannot believe that Hubert is saving us."

 

Edelgard glances up at Hubert, her face falling a little. "Very well." She turns back on Byleth, and immediately Sothis seems to rumble angrily at the back of his mind. "You see, Hubert here does not want us to spend time together. You'll have to forgive him for that."

 

Hubert's face warps. "Lady Edelgard-"

 

The future emperor hides a giggle. "Yes, Hubert. We may go now." The pair of them brush past Byleth, and Byleth forces himself to refuse to relax.

 

"Oh, and," Edelgard continues, looking back to Byleth, "we will have tea one of these days. Invite me again after your mission, will you not? I have a feeling that you and I would have many things to talk about."

 

With that, they finally leave, the echo of their footsteps filling the halls.

 

Sothis is cheering.

 

Byleth's eyes turn to where the Blue Lions are trying to hide. "Come out now," he says, and the Blue Lions step out from behind the pillar, looking incredibly sheepish. Even Felix is refusing to meet his gaze.

 

He allows them to uncomfortably squirm under his eyes for a few moments more, before breathing out a little puff of air. "We should eat as well," Byleth declares, and all the tension is visibly sucked out of the Blue Lions.

 

Byleth wishes he could say the same for himself.

Chapter Text

In his past life, Byleth only remembered a few of his dreams. The dreams, although sparse, were as vivid as midday. He can recall telling his father about these dreams- of war, and eventually, of Sothis.

 

Byleth isn't aware that his dreams are actually dreams until he's aware of everything wrong about them.

 

He's sitting on a plush chair in the dining hall with a feast laid out in front of him, a napkin tied around his neck. His feet do not touch the floor. A grand lion is sprawled across his lap, head resting between the cradle of his thighs, the rest of its body on the floor. He- and Byleth is sure that the lion is a he- is fast asleep.

 

A single dish is laid out in front of him, covered by a white sheet. The rest of the dishes are on the other side of the table, and they seem to drift farther and farther away the more Byleth stares at them. They look delicious. The covered plate does not.

 

From the corners of the dining hall, a singular doe limps its way to the table, pressing its nose to Byleth's face before reaching down to the table with an open mouth and yanking away the cloth with their teeth.

 

A dead eagle is lain across the plate.

 

For some inexplicable reason, Byleth's stomach rumbles. The lion wakes up. Byleth reaches out with a fork and knife and makes a delicate cut across the wing, cutting off a slice.

 

Red spills out from the wound. It pools in his plate, and then down to the floor, down, down, until it's high enough to touch his feet. When it makes contact with Byleth, it twines gently up his legs like vines. The crimson liquid does not stain the lion, but it tugs at his legs, insistent on his attention.

 

Byleth feeds the lion the piece.

 

He savors the bite, rumbling approvingly. Blood drips out of his mouth and onto his mane.

 

"What is this?" Sothis asks, suddenly behind Byleth. Surprised, Byleth drops the fork and knife onto the table, and the entire table collapses in onto itself, sinking into the red below.

 

The lion growls at the intruder, but one proper look at Sothis and he ceases the noise. He disappears, as if he'd never existed.

 

"Sothis," Byleth says. "I think this is a dream."

 

She puts her hands on her hips. "You think?!"

 

Byleth winces. "I had only just realized it."

 

Sothis sighs, long and loud. "Well then. Where even are we? It seems as though you will not be waking up anytime soon."

 

When Byleth stands from his chair, it sinks into the ground. For a moment, it looks like the throne in the Holy Tomb. "It looks like the dining hall," he replies. 

 

She gives him a look that makes him feel like he was shriveling up and dying. "Astute observation."

 

He shrugs. "My dream."

 

"Perhaps you're just always hungry, and that's why we're here," Sothis says, as the scenery shifts, so quickly that Byleth feels dizzy. They're standing in Gronder field. "Or not."

 

Right next to them are a pair of men, one kneeling on the ground, the other standing above him. 

 

"Ah," Sothis gasps, when she realizes who they are. "Isn't that-?

 

Dima is kneeling before Byleth, looking up at him with a single, reverent eye. He's crying, covered in gore and blood and filth, the golden hue of his hair tainted by a smear of dirt and grime. 

 

A wide smile is pulled taut across his face. He's blushing, grabbing onto Byleth's thighs as if he were an untrained dog, eager to please and desperate for attention.

 

The Byleth standing before him draws his sword out of his scabbard, the metal singing as it rings in the air. 

 

It's dripping something pitch black. 

 

Whatever is oozing out of the blade, it's so dark that Byleth can see his reflection upon the surface, and it's thick and slow, sliding down the weapon in an almost teasing manner. Almost like honey, but spun out of the night sky.

 

Dimitri cups his hands out to the point of the sword to catch the oozing mess and- licks it off of his hands with such enthusiasm that it's almost unbearable to watch- like Byleth was intruding on some sort of sacred moment. He doesn't let a single drop free. When he's cleaned up the sleeping darkness covering his palms, he reaches up to the blade with trembling hands and brings it to his lips.

 

Sothis gives him a look which Byleth feels deeply offended by.

 

"I don't know what's happening either," Byleth hisses.

 

At the sound of his voice, Dima turns toward Byleth with a flushed face and a happy, dopey grin. "Professor," Dima drawls, drawing out the syllables. "Come a little closer, please. Don't you want to see me come undone before you?"

 

Byleth blinks.

 

The other Byleth uses his free hand to cup Dima's face, and Dima shudders into his touch. 

 

Sothis covers her face with her hands. "I cannot watch this," she shrieks into her palms. "I cannot watch this, there is no possible way that you could force me to watch this."

 

On the opposite spectrum, Byleth cannot bring himself to look away.

 

"What are you, Byleth?" Dima asks him, still arching into his palm. His tone is a sweet lull, coaxing, as if pulling away every part of Byleth that does not wish to be seen. The darkness is seeping from the other Byleth's hands now, which makes Dima pant, flushing deeper and deeper. "What are you?"

 

"Your sword," the other Byleth replies. Byleth wonders if he's always sounded that cold. "I am your sword."

 

Sothis peers through her fingers.

 

Dima takes the hand and presses it to his mouth, dragging the fingers over his lips and smearing the dripping, yearning, endless darkness there. "You are my god," Dima replies, tone reverent, filled with worship, dripping with as much darkness as the sword and Byleth's hand-

 

The look in his eye is haunting.

 

"That's enough," Sothis snaps, "wake up, Byleth. These dreams are nothing to you. Wake, now. There is a Dima that needs you."

 

The statement is enough to snap Byleth out of whatever trance he's been put under. "You're right, I apologize." Byleth swallows, and his throat feels dry. "Sothis-"

 

When he turns, Sothis is no longer there. Byleth is no longer in Gronder field, but in the Goddess tower, and Dima's forehead is pressed to his own.

 

They're so close, Byleth is acutely aware of the powerful line of his body, the hands on his waist, Dima's pulse breathing life into Byleth's chest. Dima's hands are rubbing small circles into Byleth's waist, and his single eye is alight with depths Byleth cannot look into lest he drown within them.

 

So close, that there is not even tension between them. So close, that Dima could steal a kiss from Byleth's lips. So close, that every breath shared is provocative, tempting.

 

"How long are you going to pretend that you don't want me?" Dima asks, searching Byleth's visage for- for something- "I have never taken you for the type to play games, professor. To tease."

 

His hands tighten around his hips, but in doing so, Byleth only feels more secure. "A tease?" Byleth prompts, barely a whisper. 

 

"It's unbearable," Dima remarks, "that we are yet so close, and that your heart is so far away. Choose me, professor. I am right here, and I love-"

 

Byleth's eyes squeeze shut. "Please don't say it. I am unworthy of such words. I left you behind, after all."

 

Dima grants him a smile that is so soft and tender around the edges that Byleth can feel himself melting in his embrace. "Byleth," Dima replies, bringing one hand up to his heart. "I am right here."

 

Byleth scoffs.

 

"You're not my Dima anyway," Byleth says, before the Goddess tower crumbles around them. Knowing this, he still doesn't move away. "Dima would never say such things. I need to leave you now."

 

Dima chuckles, and that alluring darkness spills from underneath his eyepatch. "Then you still have yet to understand me. As long as we're still under the same sky, we'll meet again." He presses a brief kiss to Byleth's forehead. "I will be waiting."

 

.

 

Byleth wakes up.

 

This is not an unusual thing for him to do, but Sothis is hovering over him with a worried face, so he sits up as quickly as he can. "What's wrong?" Byleth demands, his voice as even as possible. For some reason, his brain goes to the worst places instantly- Edelgard's war, declared early, someone dying, someone dying in Edelgard's war-

 

"The room next door is making weird noises," Sothis hisses. "Isn't that Dedue's room?"

 

Byleth immediately leaps out of bed, night clothes be damned, grabbing his sword and storming out the door. In a few quick strides, Byleth reaches Dedue's door and slams it open-

 

Only to see Dimitri kneeling over Sylvain's body on the floor, a pillow raised to the heavens as if to strike him down with one blow. Pillows are strewn across the room. The rest of the Blue Lions, including a safe-looking Dedue and an Ashe swallowed by blankets on the bed, are flushed, laughing at the sight. They all turn to see Byleth, sword in hand, at the door, and their laughter stops.

 

The Blue Lions all look rather cozy. There's blankets and pillows strewn across the room, likely taken from their respective dorms, and there's two trays with drinks on top of the desk, as well as some cookies. They're all in their night clothes, and most of them, like Ashe, are huddled in a blanket.

 

"Professor," Dimitri breathes, turning bright red. He brings the pillow down slowly, from where he was likely about to murder Sylvain with it. The motion makes him flush heavily, and he awkwardly stands from where he was pinning Sylvain down to the floor. 

 

Sylvain doesn't look as if he was in fact, about to be absolutely destroyed by a pillow. He looks oddly pleased, like one of those cats that swarmed Byleth when he was fishing, eager to steal one from his basket. "Why, hello professor," he says sweetly, "here to join us in our little game of truth or dare? Why, it was my turn, and I just asked our dear prince a great question that I would love to repeat for you-"

 

A pillow is whipped at Sylvain's head by Ingrid, who looks very irate. "Sylvain," she hisses, as a warning. 

 

Sylvain takes the pillow head on, laughing. He sits up from the floor. "I get it, I know, I have to let Dimitri sort it out, you've told me a million times."

 

"Sort what out?" Byleth asks, finally relaxing his grip on the weapon.

 

"Nothing," all the Blue Lions chorus.

 

In a very obvious attempt to evade Byleth's question, Dimitri ducks into the conversation with a smile. "What are you wearing, professor?" He asks, his voice a little strangled.

 

Byleth looks down at himself. The nightgown he's wearing is a simple one- white, goes past his knees, quite flowy. He preferred wearing loose clothes to bed, they were easy to move around in and felt much better after a day of wearing armor. The collar of his nightgown is frilled, so perhaps Dimitri was commenting on that. It didn't match what he usually wore, which were usually dark colours, and full armor, so that might explain their reaction. "My nightgown," he replies simply.

 

He looks back up to see all of his students immediately glance away, then back, then away once more, when they realize that their professor is still watching. A few of them trail their eyes across his exposed throat and the poofy collar, pink. Byleth doesn't want to ask why.

 

Instead of drawing the moment on any further, Byleth huffs out a tiny breath. "What are you all doing in here? It's past curfew."

 

"We're a having a sleepover," Annette explains, looking cheery. Her smile glows with more force the longer Byleth doesn't respond. When the silence draws on too long, Annette gains a panicked sort of look. "Don't kick us out!"

 

"Tomorrow we march," Byleth says carefully, and tries not to watch Ashe's hands clench in the blankets. "It would be rise to rest early. In your own rooms."

 

"We will rest early," Mercedes replies, looking earnest. "I promise. Won't you please let us have the sleepover here? We'll go to bed right after."

 

"Is that why you're all playing truth or dare, then?" Byleth inquires, watching the way they all avoid his gaze. He sighs. "Why Dedue's room, of all places? Why not one of the ones upstairs?"

 

Felix snorts. "Well, that's because it's-"

 

With impressive speed, Dimitri lunges across the room to cover Felix's mouth with his pillow. If they had loaded the pillow with a brick, Dimitri could possibly use it on the battlefield as a deadly weapon. Byleth listens to the two boys struggle a moment longer before he clears his throat. They separate instantly.

 

"If I hear any more noise..." Byleth trails off, leveling all of them with expectant looks. Ashe and Annette nod their head frantically. He sighs. He wouldn't want Ashe to be alone tonight, either. "Sleep early," Byleth reminds them, before shutting the door. He doesn't have the mental capacity to handle the Blue Lions and their antics right now. Besides, a little sleepover never hurt anyone.

 

With a concealed yawn, Byleth slinks back to his room, closing the door behind him.

 

"Sorry for waking you," Sothis says, not sounding very worried at all.

 

Byleth becomes one with his bed once more before answering. "'S alright, 's normal," Byleth murmurs, fully intent on falling back asleep. He closes his eyes and tries to burrow into his pillow. "'S kinda weird how they're all... friends already."

 

"Is that a bad thing?"

 

Byleth has to fight his sleepiness off just to answer. "No. 'S, it's just because it took them all a lil longer to come together. It used to be the childhood friends hanging out together and such in the first months. I think they only all really started to bond wit' each other after Miklan."

 

He yawns, as Sothis puts a hand to her chin. He can feel her digging around in his memories- of Felix and Ingrid barely tolerating Dedue, who in turn reciprocated such wariness. Memories of Ashe being unable to even speak in Dimitri's presence, memories of Annette glaring at Sylvain, of Mercedes struggling to speak with anyone that was not Annette. 

 

Sothis floats to sit on top of the covers, twisting a lock of green hair around one finger. "Byleth?"

 

"Mm."

 

"Do you," Sothis begins, before cutting herself off. "Were you dreaming before I woke you?"

 

He pries open his eyes to look up at Sothis. "Was I dreaming?" Byleth asks, tugging the blanket further up his body. "I don't remember."

 

She lets out a little puff of air. "Good."

 

"Why?"

 

Leaning forward, Sothis pokes him in the middle of his forehead. "No reason."

 

Before Byleth can let the sweet embrace of sleep take hold of him, Sothis pokes him again. "What?" Byleth demands, still a whisper. 

 

"If you were able to go back to that past timeline, would you?" Sothis asks, tone unsteady. 

 

That makes Byleth sit up in bed. "What brought this on?" He asks, careful to keep his voice quiet. 

 

Sothis shrugs in a way that means that she's definitely hiding something. "I am allowed to ask questions, am I not? Phooey!"

 

"And I'm not." Byleth adds, already knowing the answer.

 

"Correct," she responds, folding her arms across her chest. "Now. Answer the question. Would you?"

 

Byleth clenches the sheets with two shaking hands. "I can't say that I haven't thought about it," Byleth mumbles, noticing Sothis' face fall. "But I would rather stay here."

 

"Why?"

 

"I am dead in that world."

 

If Sothis was corporeal, Byleth knows that she would have tossed one of the pillows at his head. He bites back a small smile. "But the people that I love are here. My father, my students, you..."

 

A viciously satisfied smile climbs its way up Sothis' face before she can hide it from Byleth. It fades just as quickly. "Don't you love your students in the other timeline, too? I dare say that you love them more."

 

"I love them differently," Byleth responds. 

 

She raises a brow. "Elaborate."

 

"No," Byleth declares, voice still soft. He buries back under the sheets, ignoring Sothis slapping his arm. If he strains his ears, he can hear the Blue Lions still chatting in Dedue's room.

 

Letting up on her hits, she pauses to shake him. "Byleth. One more question before you go back to bed."

 

"Mmrph," Byleth grumbles into the pillow. Sothis takes the sound as incentive to continue.

 

"Do you love Dimitri?"

 

It's a simple question, but for some reason it makes Byleth's thoughts halt. "Which one?" He murmurs, rolling away from the pillow.

 

"You know which one," Sothis snaps back, as soon as the words leave his tongue. "You would do well to not play the fool."

 

Byleth can feel his drowsiness catching up with him, once a silent pull, now an urgent plea. "Don't you already know the answer?" Byleth replies, letting himself doze off. Sothis' indignant calls trail off into nothing.

 

He doesn't believe that he dreams that night, but he swears that he could see Dima in every pitch black drop of darkness.

 

.

 

Since his father had already returned to the monastery, and since Rhea had no plans to send him out on a mission for another week, Jeralt entrusted the entirety of his mercenaries to Byleth.

 

"No," Byleth says, once he sees them all lined up at the gates, looking chipper and far too awake for dawn. "No," he repeats, once he sees that the Blue Lions are already speaking with the mercenaries, looking surprisingly bright. He was expecting that, at the very least, the students would look half dead from their sleepover. However, they looked just as starry eyed as usual, save for Ashe, who had taken to sticking to Dedue's side.

 

There was a bone-deep weariness about Ashe, one that Byleth had seen daily on his face- five years in the future. He ached to relieve him of such stress.

 

"They're excited to follow your lead," his father says, tone not gruff enough to hide his teasing. "They want to see how you do without me around."

 

"Half of them already have," Byleth replies, sullen. He's too tired for this. 

 

Jeralt pats him on the head. "Let them have their moment, kid. I wish I could come with you, but Rhea might..."

 

Byleth understands. "Stay safe."

 

In response, his father snorts. "I should be telling you this. You're the one about to mess with time."

 

"I know. I'll be careful."

 

"Professor," a voice calls. Both men turn to see Rhea standing there, flanked by Seteth, as well as a dozen knights of Seiros. 

 

Byleth ducks his head a little. "Rhea." Sothis laughs as she watches Seteth twitch at her side, itching to correct Byleth. 

 

He can feel his father tense up beside him. "It's a little early, don't you think?" Jeralt accuses, tone pointed.

 

"Come now," Rhea replies, smooth and soft. "I wanted to see the professor off, as well as gift him a few knights. I have no doubt in his prowess, but safety is our priority."

 

"No," Sothis groans. "No, we can't let them come! We got lucky with Catherine, but these knights are an unknown variable!"

 

I can't see any way around it. Byleth thinks back furiously, a little ticked himself. Catherine brought knights last time, as well.

 

"Is there a problem?" Seteth asks, and Byleth nearly flinches, until he realizes that the question is directed at his father. 

 

"Do you doubt my son?" Jeralt inquires. His posture is relaxed, but there is an almost tangible string of tension in his words, begging to snap. His father already knows what's at stake.

 

Seteth seems surprised at the apprehension. "This is not about doubting. Wouldn't it be safer to bring more knights, not only for your son, but for the students? We have no idea how grand the threat may be."

 

"The threat," Sothis snarls, sharp and mocking, "is a handful of common folk that must scream to be heard by you! That die in order to reach your ears!"

 

Jeralt backs down at Seteth's words. Any more of a push, and they really might be suspicious. "Fine."

 

"Any objections?" Rhea asks, but now she's giving Byleth another one of her pointed stares.

 

"Switch tactics," Sothis hisses. "I would suggest a Divine Pulse to maybe leave earlier, but we have no clue as to what number we'll need later on."

 

So Byleth makes his eyes slightly wider, his posture more relaxed, his frame smaller. A false submission. He feels like a fool, taking a page out of Hilda's books. It didn't suit him at all. "I couldn't possibly take this many knights with me," Byleth says, glancing down at the floor, then back up at Rhea. "I am aware that you are worried for my safety, but with such a large group, rations would run out easier, we would risk the element of surprise, and more people may die."

 

Rhea's eyes are piercing. Byleth forces himself to meet them. "I am also more accustomed to leading a smaller group," Byleth insists, keeping his voice even. He ignores the fact that he would lead full-scale armies into war. "Even if we are meant to take down a revolt, more men would mean more chance for the civilians in the area to be harmed."

 

Now Byleth was just making things up. He had no idea what he was saying. There was a reason he hated speaking, why he left all the speeches to Dima.

 

"I understand," Rhea concedes, and it seems that Sothis is about to throw a party in Byleth's head, until the Archbishop continues. "Then bring half of these knights only."

 

Sothis groans aloud, and Byleth wishes he could join her.

 

.

 

The march to Lonato's territory is agonizing.

 

The six knights that Rhea insisted on them bringing were all green, excited at the idea of their mission. Byleth could see a bit of his younger self in them- excited to be useful for someone, somehow, not thinking about the fact that lives were about to be lain across their blades. Perhaps he could use that to his advantage. 

 

Jeralt's mercenaries were all singing, again, some sort of love song that Byleth's only heard in taverns when everyone was drunk enough to forget that they were, in reality, tone deaf and wouldn't know what a note was if it stabbed them. As per usual, they try to drag Byleth into singing with them, so Byleth hovers at the back of the group, evading their earnest eyes and beckoning hands.

 

Meanwhile, the Blue Lions are eerily upbeat. Mercedes is busy running around her fellow students and knights, offering cookies to everyone. Annette and Ingrid are cheerily munching on theirs, while Felix is going out of his way to avoid the sweets that Sylvain is trying to feed him. Byleth doesn't know what Dimitri's doing, but he's shooting looks at Byleth, as Dedue gives him occasional looks that seem to be encouraging.

 

And at the very back, walking at Byleth's side, Ashe is wringing his hands.

 

Byleth frowns at the sight. "You may return to the monastery if you so desire," Byleth murmurs, careful to not be overheard. The Blue Lions were obviously putting on a show, trying to get Ashe's attention, but Ashe is too preoccupied with his own thoughts. 

 

"No," Ashe begins, almost a whisper. Then his jaw tightens. "No, I must learn for myself why Lonato is doing this. I- I have to know why. Professor, I swear to you, he's a good man! I don't understand why he's doing such a thing!"

 

A 'good man.'

 

Byleth had no idea what made a man 'good.' Every single person had the capacity to hurt, whether or not their intentions were 'good.'

 

He only knew a few things about Lonato. First, his son was assassinated by the church. Second, he had adopted Ashe and his little siblings, despite Ashe breaking into his house, despite everything. Third, there were people that believed in him and loved him so much that they were willing to put their lives on the line for him.

 

Ashe spoke about him in such high regard, and Byleth held Ashe in such high regard that he respected Lonato as well.

 

When Felix had landed the finishing blow upon Lonato in his first life, Ashe could hardly look at him for a week, which was absolutely reasonable. Felix was antsy about it as well, and Byleth couldn't help but resent himself for commanding Felix to end him- he should have at least taken that burden from his hands.

 

There was also the matter of Catherine killing Christophe, Lonato's son.

 

Byleth happened upon their conversation on accident, and from then on, decided that they shouldn't battle together, ever. He had no idea whether or not Ashe had talked to Catherine about it further in his past life, or if Catherine felt any sort of guilt for it.

 

Either way, he was aware that the absence of Catherine would probably make or break Byleth's plans to spare Lonato.

 

"If you say he's a good man," Byleth began, looking into Ashe's eyes, "then I believe you."

 

"...Professor, I can't tell if you're being serious or not." Ashe replies, still picking at his hands. He's fidgeting with a blister on his palm. 

 

"Do I look like the sort to lie?" Byleth asks, ignoring every truth at hand.

 

"No!" Ashe exclaims. "No, of course not! It's just... Ever since Lonato's announcement, everyone's been demanding answers from me. Not a lot of people believe me when I insist that he's still a good man, and an excellent knight, deep down."

 

Byleth hums. "You don't seem like the type to lie either."

 

Ashe chuckles, and the sound is a little wobbly. He picks at his blisters, ripping at the skin. Immediately, Byleth waves a hand, and a heal spell washes over Ashe's hands, before Byleth takes one hand in his own, and squeezes it briefly before letting go.

 

In front of them, Dimitri, who was watching, trips over a rock, and stumbles to stay upright.

 

"No picking at your wounds," he scolds Ashe. 

 

For some reason, Ashe is staring down at the hand Byleth has squeezed. "Got it," Ashe replies, sounding a little squeaky. "W-why did you-?"

 

"I am not good with words," Byleth admits, as if it wasn't already obvious. "If I can support you in any other way, I'll do my best."

 

For the first time in days, Ashe regains a starry eyed look. "Thank you," Ashe breathes. "It means- it means a lot, professor."

 

There's a pause.

 

"Ashe-"

 

"Professor-"

 

"Ah, you first."

 

"No, no, please go ahead!"

 

When it's clear that Byleth isn't going to speak, Ashe takes a deep breath. "Have I told you about my siblings and I before?"

 

Byleth shakes his head, so Ashe tells Byleth about Lonato and his siblings- how Ashe broke into his house, how he and his siblings were adopted, how he grew up with Christophe. For the very first time in his lifetimes, Byleth learns the names of Ashe's siblings.

 

"Anise is my little sister," Ashe explains, "and Aster, my little brother, is only three years older than her."

 

He vows to commit these names to memory. They were names that belonged to people that Ashe loves, after all. 

 

"They look like me," Ashe continues, not noticing Byleth's nods to himself. "Freckled, gray hair... They're a bit shy, though, and take a bit to warm up to strangers."

 

Byleth nods along, not really having anything to say, but it seems to suit Ashe just fine. "They loved Christophe immediately, though."

 

"Did you love Christophe?" Byleth asks, sensing a part of the conversation that he could actually jump into. The boy nods eagerly. 

 

"He's the one that made me favor the bow, actually!" Ashe exclaims, sounding a little excited. "He said something like 'I'll worry about you constantly if you insist on taking to the front lines,' and 'I'll always protect you from the front, so you need to have my back.' The thought of being useful to him in any sort of way just made me happy, you know? My siblings and I, we were on our own for awhile, right? I had to look after them constantly, so I only realized that I wasn't looking after myself properly until Lonato and Christophe became a part of my life."

 

Ashe blinks, hard, in an effort to fight the stray tears threatening to escape. "Oh, goddess," Ashe gasps, "I'm sorry, professor, I-"

 

Byleth waits for him to collect himself. 

 

"Do- do you have any siblings, professor?" Ashe hurriedly asks, in an attempt to redirect the conversation. 

 

"No," Byleth replies immediately, then tilts his head to the side. "Actually..."

 

"A sibling like Christophe was to me?" Ashe prods, looking quite interested in the answer. Even some of the Blue Lions have given up all pretense of hiding the fact that they were listening in.

 

Byleth, of course, was very aware that the mercenaries were right there, and were around for practically his entire life. So instead, he shakes his head. "It's nothing."

 

"Are we not family?!" One of the mercenaries call out, interrupting their song. "Byleth, you wound us!"

 

He gives them all a blank stare. "Do I have to say it to reaffirm it?" 

 

The mercenaries blink, then storm up to Byleth to ruffle his hair. Maybe Byleth should have taken the knights of Seiros exclusively, and left his father's mercenaries behind.

 

.

 

Because Byleth's lived this life before, he knows that they'll be ambushed in the fog on their trek to Castle Gaspard, in Magdred Way. So he stops them before the fog can get any thicker, and before they enter the pass.

 

"We should take into account this fog," Byleth begins, nodding at everyone. "So let's wait a moment."

 

This, of course, is incentive for the mercenaries to throw themselves at each other, and at Byleth. The knights are pulled into the commotion with the mercenaries as well, and start hugging and slapping each other on the back. One of his father's mercenaries slaps one of the knights on the ass, and Byleth immediately looks away.

 

Dimitri strolls up to Byleth, smiling wide. The dimples appear on his face once more. He looks uncharacteristically nervous, wringing his hands. He's playing with the ring that Byleth gifted him.

 

"Hello, professor. Don't die out there, alright?" He's sounding more like he's announcing these words, rather than saying them.

 

He pats the prince on the shoulder. "You as well." Byleth watches as Dimitri's smile curls, wobbles, and grows bigger, somehow all at once. He's not sure if Dima would have ever made an expression like this, in his past life.

 

One of the knights run up to Byleth, panting. "Professor! We're surrounded!"

 

Byleth sighs. It seems the battle had already begun. "With me, everyone. Ingrid, Sylvain, you're on torch duty. Everyone, no killing."

 

The knights gape. "But, but Lady Rhea said that-"

 

"I said no killing," Byleth repeats, tone even. "We'll try to reach a compromise first."

 

Ashe shoots Byleth a grateful look. "Thank you, professor."

 

He shakes his head. "Don't thank me just yet."

 

.

 

Because everything in Byleth's life falls apart, the entire battle goes to hell immediately.

 

It starts relatively simple, everyone huddling close together, not willing to part in the thick fog. The torches, which Byleth had remembered to bring, only cast their light so far.

 

They step into the fog and one of the militia charges at them, snarling. "Lord Lonato doesn't deserve such sadness and anger... Now it's your turn to suffer!"

 

When Ashe winces, Ingrid and Dedue nudge closer to him.

 

Byleth, who was at the front, dodges the blow easily, stepping out of the way. He's about to knock the soldier out with the back of his blade, but one of the knights immediately guts the man on his spear. In horror, Ashe watches the man slump, a wet gurgle falling from his lips.

 

"Lord Lonato," the man gasps, blood spilling from his teeth. "I failed... you."

 

The knight pulls the lance from his chest with a horrifying loud squelch.

 

"What are you doing!?" Dimitri snaps, before Byleth can say anything. "What part of not killing anyone do you fail to understand?!"

 

"This is our mission, your Highness," the knight protests, sounding small. "We have to get rid of those who oppose the church!"

 

"They don't have to die for it!" Dimitri snarls, as several more mercenaries descend upon them. One of them gasps when they see the dead man at their feet, and turns on the knight with a hostile look, eyes on their lance, drenched in blood.

 

"You," the militia hisses, drawing back their bow and letting the arrow fly. The arrow sings in the air as it reaches its target, piercing the knight's skull. He doesn't even have time to scream.

 

In horror, the rest of the knights descend on that archer, who only notches another arrow. Byleth realizes that he's crying, blinking fat tears away. "Come at me, you murdering, monstrous fucks!" The archer screams, letting another arrow fly, nicking a knight in the shoulder. His screams alert more of Lonato's troops to follow, judging by the sudden, heavy footfalls.

 

Ashe isn't even moving, kneeling at the man's feet, eyes wide with horror.

 

Sothis doesn't even have to say anything. Byleth allows the wave of nausea to wash over him, and is once more standing in front of Dimitri, playing with the ring. "Hello, professor. Don't die out there, alright?"

 

Byleth takes a deep breath. Twelve.

 

No matter how Byleth phrases his words the knights don't listen to him, at first. 

 

The next time around not only does a knight not listen to him, the events play out very much the same as last time. However, this time he also dodges the arrow meant for his skull, and it rips right through Dimitri's arm. When everyone's distracted by the prince getting injured, another one of the militia sneaks up behind them and slashes at Felix with an axe across the face. He goes down.

 

Byleth isn't there long enough to hear the end of everyone's angered screaming. He refuses to look at Felix's fallen body. Eleven.

 

Next time, it's a different knight that starts the chaos. While Byleth had switched up his words in the 'no killing' speech, that didn't stop another one of the knights from charging into the fog and leading about twenty of Lonato's troops to them. If this was five years in the future, he would have been alright leading the mercenaries and the Blue Lions into battle. Difficult, but doable. However, these are not his war hardened troops. Two of his father's mercenaries hit the ground. Ten. He feels like throwing up.

 

This time, Byleth punches both knights in the face, and makes sure that it's the fist that he wears the ring on. Sothis is sticking her tongue out at them. "No killing," he hisses, ignoring the shocked faces of his students. As long as no one died, they could look at him any way they wanted. Besides, although Sothis wanted to punch the knights as well, there was a part of Byleth that ached to do the same.

 

If this was war, these sort of soldiers could have compromised the entire battle, costing hundreds of lives. Byleth couldn't stand these sorts of people, the sort that broke formation and were unable to listen to simple orders. He already took into account his own students' tendencies and habits, as well as the ones his father's mercenaries possessed, but he was unused to these knights.

 

When the first soldiers arrive, the knights hang back. The two that were punched in the face glare at Byleth, but his father's mercenaries see this and stand in between them. They start up a fairly good rhythm- Ashe, Annette and Mercedes would wear down the troops lightly with arrows and magic, and the rest of them would knock them out. Ingrid and Sylvain would take to the front, being the torch bearers and all, and reveal the hidden enemy in the fog. Despite the fact that Byleth had to punch the soldiers in order to get them to stop causing trouble, it seemed to be going well so far.

 

Ashe's relieved face was worth all this trouble, however. The Blue Lions, who were also likely expecting to kill today, seemed pleased as well. Even though Byleth's head was spinning with endless stars, as long as his students were fine-

 

"The fog has cleared. There's nothing left to hide you or the filthy Central Church from the judgement of the goddess!" A voice booms.

 

Byleth hadn't realized how far they had run, and how many enemies they had knocked out, until they see Lonato. He looks at his feet, and sees a dark mage, unconscious at the floor. Likely the one causing the fog.

 

"Lonato?" Ashe calls, somewhere behind Byleth. He steps up beside Byleth, to join him at the front lines. "Why are you doing this, Lonato?"

 

"Stand down, Ashe. I must destroy these evil-doers by any means necessary!"

 

"Please surrender, Lonato! Whatever your reasons for doing this, we can still talk it out!"

 

Lonato scoffs, not looking at Ashe. "Rhea is an infidel who has deceived the people and desecrated the goddess! We have virtue and the goddess herself on our side!"

 

Ashe turns to Byleth, seems to look for something in his gaze, and then nods. "Why don't we talk it out, Lonato? I am sure that we can come to an agreement-"

 

And then Ashe stops.

 

An arrow has pierced his throat. 

 

Paralyzed with shock, Byleth watches as Ashe hits the floor. He retraces the trajectory to one of Lonato's men, who's already been grabbed by the collar by Lonato.

 

"What are you doing?!" Lonato bellows, eyes wide. "What are you doing?!" 

 

"Forgive me, Lord Lonato, I didn't mean for it to actually hit your son-!"

 

Mercedes is already pushing past the mercenaries to run to the front lines, waving wave after wave of a healing spell over Ashe. Her hand is trembling over the arrow, terrified of pulling the weapon out. 

 

Ashe's eyes are closed.

 

"Lord Lonato!" One of the knights spits, "you would even kill your own son?! You heretic, goddessless beast! Chaaarge!" 

 

The six knights storm on ahead, weapons raised. Byleth doesn't even stay to watch what happens next. Nine.

 

This time, Byleth wakes up in his bed, kicks off the sheets, and runs to Dedue's room, waking all of the Blue Lions up. They're all cuddled up in blankets on the bed, or on the floor near the bed. They startle when Byleth shakes them awake, but they don't ask questions as to why they're being woken up so early. 

 

"Get ready, and get my father's mercenaries from the barracks," Byleth says, before he stomps back to his own quarters, slipping on his armor and grabbing his sword. He heads to his father's quarters, feeling the nausea in his head like a tangible sort of pressure, making him see stars.

 

"Father," Byleth says. "Do you have any advice for circumstances out of one's control?"

 

Jeralt sits up on the couch, where he seemed to be uncomfortably dozing prior to Byleth coming in. He rubs the back of his head. "How many times have you done today?" He asks, because he's a wonderful father and Byleth loves him.

 

Byleth tells him what's happened, and Jeralt sighs, standing from the couch. "Okay. Here's what we're gonna do, okay? We're going to leave right now, and I'm coming with you."

 

Before Byleth can say anything, Jeralt pulls on his armor and walks out the door. With a sigh, Byleth follows his father out the door.

 

They meet the Blue Lions at the gates, alongside the mercenaries, who make a face when they see Jeralt walking with Byleth. The Blue Lions just look very tired. Annette's leaning on Dedue's back, and Felix is only just putting his hair into a bun. More of the strands stick out compared to usual.

 

"Boo," one of them complains. "We wanted to be led by Byleth!"

 

"And you will," Jeralt groans, waving over a guard to bring his horse over. "I'm just coming along for the ride. As a 'knight of Seiros.'"

 

His tone is absolutely dripping disdain.

 

"Let's ride," Byleth says, unable to hide the fact that he's incredibly tired. He sounds like death. He probably looks like it too, judging by the way that everyone's staring at him.

 

He doesn't want to risk being caught by Rhea again.

 

.

 

Like the first time around, the trek is completely normal. The mercenaries are singing, Jeralt's pretending that he's not walking to the beat of their song, and the Blue Lions are doing their usual antics, while sending nervous looks at Ashe, who is once more pouring his heart out to Byleth.

 

This time, after Ashe finishes talking about his siblings, Byleth looks at him. "May I hold your hand, Ashe?"

 

Visions of Ashe dying plague his mind.

 

It's not the first time Byleth has seen him die in battle. In his past life, he's seen everyone perish at least once, but he never wanted to see it ever again.

 

Ashe's horse getting attacked by enemy troops, Ashe slipping off and breaking something, unable to move. Ashe choking on his own blood. Ashe sobbing, as Annette desperately tries to mend the hole in his chest, crying alongside him.

 

"Y-you may!" Ashe says, holding his hand out, as if he was distributing food in the dining hall. "What brought this on?"

 

"I think it's comforting," Byleth replies. "I enjoy holding hands with people. You have soft hands."

 

Ashe makes some incoherent noise for some reason.

 

"Well now!" Sylvain declares, joining them at the back of their group. "Are we all holding hands, now?" In a dramatic flourish, he grabs Byleth's other hand and winks at him.

 

Byleth stares.

 

Sylvain squeezes his hand, and sends a leer Dimitri's way, who blushes furiously. 

 

Byleth really doesn't want to know. Luckily for him, the feeling of their hands in his keep him upright.

 

.

 

They do their pre-battle ritual, Dimitri tells him not to die, and then Lonato's men descend upon them once more. 

 

Byleth is tired. 

 

So, so tired. 

 

His head pounds and pulses with the strain of several Divine Pulses, but he doesn't know what's wrong with him. In his past life, he would use way more than this in under thirty minutes during a terrible battle and feel absolutely fine-

 

On the battlefield, the Blue Lions and the mercenaries are working in sync to break down the enemy's defenses and then knock them out, which works just fine for Byleth, but he doesn't know why Dima hasn't appeared yet to scream at them for their false pride and worthless pity. Dima would have already slaughtered them all by now, but where is Dima?

 

"Byleth?" Someone asks, voice dreamlike, fuzzy. It looks like Mercedes, but Mercedes hasn't had long hair in five years. "Is something wrong?"

 

"I think I used too many Divine Pulses," Byleth says, mouth dripping tar. "But I've done this before, I don't know why, I must be Dima's sword and shield-"

 

So he doesn't know why he feels like he's about to collapse. He can do this. He's done this before. One sword has no business being so heavy in both hands.

 

"Byleth!" His father screams, as Byleth slips in a particularly wet patch of mud. He doesn't know why his father is screaming, Jeralt's been dead for five years. He can't see him right now. Byleth has no business dying yet, Dima is waiting for him. 

 

Pain blossoms in his chest, and Byleth's suddenly face to face with Sothis in the Holy Tomb- which makes no sense because Sothis has been gone for five years.

 

Byleth smiles weakly up at her. "I've missed you, Sothis."

 

Sothis lifts a hand and slaps Byleth across the face.

 

"Ow," Byleth says, lifting a hand to his cheek. "Sothis, why?"

 

"What's the last thing that you remember?" Sothis demands, hands on her hips. Her lower lip is wobbling. "And eight, by the way. You've got eight Divine Pulses."

 

"I saw Jeralt," Byleth replies obediently, because he doesn't like to upset Sothis. "So that must mean that I am dead, right?"

 

Sothis' hands curl into fists. "You went back too far," she says, and her tone is awkward, on the verge of collapsing and breaking in her throat. "Okay. Okay! I can deal with this. We had no idea that it would affect your mental state. Next time- Next time-"

 

And Byleth watches Sothis burst into tears right in front of him. Byleth's eyes widen. 

 

"Sothis, what's wrong?!" 

 

For some reason this only seems to make her terribly angry. "What's wrong? What's wrong?! I should be asking you that. Why are you the only one suffering? Why can't you just let these people die?!"

 

"I- I don't understand-"

 

"Every time," Sothis continues, as if she hasn't heard him. "Every single time, you are forced to witness their deaths. Of course that would have an effect on you! Why can't I help you? Why can't I relieve you of this burden? Why is it that you must suffer under this knowledge with such compassion?!"

 

Byleth stares at her. "It's alright, Sothis."

 

"It's really not," she hisses, wiping at her tears. Byleth doesn't know what to do, and is aware that any attempts to comfort her would likely be brushed off, so he waits for Sothis to regain her composure. "Do you remember now?"

 

A moment passes before Byleth's eyes widen. "Lord Lonato. Yes. Send me back in, Sothis."

 

Sothis looks at him, really looks at him, and Byleth is struck dumb suddenly with the knowledge that Sothis really is a goddess, just from the way she's looking at him. He gives her a patient smile. "Thank you, Sothis."

 

He watches her bite down on her lower lip, obviously fighting with whether or not she should say something to him. But Sothis merely frowns.

 

"Thank me by not dying again." She's not looking at him anymore.

 

When Byleth blinks, he's on the battlefield.

 

.

 

"The fog has cleared. There's nothing left to hide you or the filthy Central Church from the judgement of the goddess!" Lonato announces, once the dark mage has been knocked unconscious. 

 

"Lonato?" Ashe calls, appearing beside Byleth. "Why are you doing this, Lonato?"

 

"Stand down, Ashe. I must destroy these evil-doers by any means necessary!"

 

Ashe's eyes widen, but his hands only tighten around his bow. "Please surrender, Lonato! Whatever your reasons for doing this, we can still talk it out!"

 

Lonato scoffs, not looking at Ashe. "Rhea is an infidel who has deceived the people and desecrated the goddess! We have virtue and the goddess herself on our side!"

 

"Then let's talk this out," Ashe pleads. "Please, I don't want you to be hurt!"

 

"Then stand down," Lonato chides, hand on his lance. "I do not wish to see you hurt either, Ashe!"

 

The battle has fallen silent around them. Byleth is hyper aware of the tension in the air- and how it could shatter at any moment. The idea of using another Divine Pulse makes his stomach churn. Sothis herself is sullen about it, in the back of his mind. 

 

Despite every truth about him, he opens his mouth.

 

"Catherine killed your son, did she not?"

 

Ashe does a double take. "Professor, what-?"

 

Lonato sneers, and several of Lonato's men tense, ready for an order. 

 

It doesn't come. At least, not yet. "How do you know that?" Lonato demands. He sounds calm, far too calm for this situation, which makes Byleth tense up.

 

Before Byleth can say anything more, Jeralt strides up to him, dismounting his horse. "Because I told him," Jeralt lies easily. Byleth tries not to relax.

 

"And who are you supposed to be?" 

 

"I am Jeralt the Blade Breaker," he announces, and gasps of recognition rise up from Lonato's men. "Former captain of the knights of Seiros."

 

"I have no quarrel with you," Lonato says simply. "You did not ask for my son's head, and you are no longer a supporter of the Church, correct? But if you continue to stand in my way, I'll have to strike you down."

 

The Blue Lions tense up behind him.

 

Jeralt shrugs, but Byleth can see the line of tension in his back. "I'm not too keen on fighting you either," Jeralt replies, "but you've involved innocent townspeople. That was a mistake."

 

Byleth is so, so sure that the tension is about to shatter. His students and the mercenaries are shooting Byleth looks, and Lonato's own men are twitching for an order-

 

Then Ashe opens his mouth again. "Father," he pleads, and everyone stops to stare at him. "Father, please, talk to me! There are no knights here. And I am your son! Please, please don't shut me out!"

 

"Go home, Ashe," Lonato snarls. "This is no place for games."

 

"Communication is important," Byleth adds, and almost jumps when everyone turns to stare at him. "It is," Byleth insists.

 

"On the march here," Byleth begins, "Ashe told me how much he loves and respects you. At first, my mission was to get rid of you. But I wanted to see if we could talk this out beforehand."

 

Lonato actually laughs. "Words cannot end a war," he admonishes. He can feel Sothis silently nodding at the back of his head.

 

Byleth shakes his head. "But they can prevent it. I have no intention of sullying my blade with your blood. I have no intention of killing your men," Byleth says, gesturing at the unconscious troops around them. "I have no intention of killing you, either."

 

"My son is dead," Lonato hisses. "More men- more good men, just like him, will continue to die at Rhea's hands should this continue!"

 

"I am not saying that you're wrong," Byleth cuts in. "I am not saying that you shouldn't strive for revenge. That would be absolutely ridiculous of me."

 

"Then what are you saying?"

 

Byleth takes a deep breath. He doesn't know how to phrase this. "When you storm the church, were you planning on cutting down Ashe as well?"

 

Ashe whirls on his professor, eyes wide.

 

"That was not my intention-!"

 

"Then what was it?" Byleth asks, aware that he's balancing precariously on thin ice. "Were you hoping that Ashe would never learn of the rebellion? That he wouldn't rush into battle to see if the rumour were true, that he wouldn't be absolutely heartbroken to see you level a blade at him for no reason? And what of those innocent? Would you turn your blade on the orphans that live at the monastery?"

 

Lonato's hand tightens around his lance, and Jeralt angles himself so he's covering more of Byleth's form. "Enough," his father whispers. "Enough, Byleth. You've already done so much."

 

Silence.

 

One of Lonato's men glances at their lord. "Lord Lonato?"

 

He doesn't answer, in favor of staring at Ashe for a few moments, watching tears fall down his son's face. His own visage hardens.

 

For some reason, Lonato fixes his gaze on Byleth, lance raised in his direction. "You."

 

The Blue Lions and his father's mercenaries rush to Byleth's side, including Ashe, who's tears are streaming down his face. Jeralt's hands flex around his own weapon. 

 

Lonato watches this all in stride. "What is your name?"

 

"Byleth," he responds. For some reason, this makes Lonato grin.

 

"Ah. The Ashen Demon. I've heard so much about you. What an unfitting nickname."

 

"What now, Lonato?" Dimitri calls, voice hard. "Will you surrender?"

 

Lonato does not even turn to look at him. "Your Highness, do take heart to not be deceived by Lady Rhea. Something's not right about her."

 

Dimitri blinks. Before he can say anything more, Lonato directs his attention back onto Byleth. "You said that you have no intention of killing me?"

 

Byleth nods, the movement slow.

 

"I will not forget this," Lonato announces. "Men. Pick up those unconscious fools. We're leaving."

 

All of Lonato's men shoot each other incredulous looks, but rush to comply when Lonato barks at them again. Even the Blue Lions look absolutely shocked.

 

In the back of Byleth's mind, Sothis' jaw has crashed to the floor.

 

"Ashe," Lonato proclaims, attention shifting to his son. "I will not yield on my thoughts of Rhea or Catherine."

 

Ashe tilts his jaw up, trying to look stronger. "I am aware."

 

"You should think about it, too. What it means to be a knight. And who to place your faith in."

 

"I have already placed my faith in someone worthy of it," Ashe replies, glancing at Byleth out of the corner of his eye. Lonato nods.

 

"Look after your siblings for me," Lonato says, "we'll meet again. Oh, and be wary on the day of the Goddess' Rite of Rebirth." 

 

With a jerk of his chin, he and his men disappear into another man-made fog.

 

A pause.

 

"What the fuck just happened?" One of the mercenaries announce, incredulous sounding. That's apparently the cue for everyone's tension to drain from their shoulders. Mercedes actually sighs.

 

Byleth almost sinks to the ground in relief. 

 

"You can't keep doing this," Sothis scolds, sounding quite pleased despite her words. "First Kostas, next Lonato? This will come back to haunt us, and you know it."

 

I can try.

 

Sothis shakes her head. "One of these days we need to experiment with how many Divine Pulses you can handle," she chides. "Because that earlier reaction was not at all normal."

 

He can feel her worry and fear like a wound in his chest. Do not worry, Sothis.

 

"That's all I seem to do, these days." She exhales, the sound bright. "What will you do when we eventually run into an enemy you cannot convince with words?"

 

She doesn't have to say a name for Byleth to understand.

 

I will be ready.

 

Sothis snorts, but doesn't correct him.

 

Jeralt clears his throat, breaking up everyone's mini celebration. "I shouldn't have to say this, but we can't tell anyone that we let Lonato go."

 

Of course, his mercenaries nod immediately, but more surprisingly, his students agree just as quick. Felix is sighing.

 

"I wanted more of a challenge," Felix groans, which makes Ingrid groan in turn.

 

"Why don't we spar when we get back?" Byleth suggests, watching Felix's face light up slightly. 

 

"No," Jeralt scolds. "You are going to rest. You've worked far too hard today."

 

Felix opens his mouth to protest, but closes it just as fast. "Fine then. We spar at dawn tomorrow."

 

He let that go surprisingly fast.

 

"Maybe it's because you look like death," Sothis agrees, while rolling her eyes. 

 

Byleth sighs in agreement. "Ashe, why don't you go check out the neighbouring village? Make sure everyone's okay."

 

Ashe blinks away a few more tears. "My siblings! That's right!" He turns away, then turns back just as quick, doing a little bow to Byleth. "Thank you, professor. Thank you, thank you, thank you so much! I won't forget this!"

 

.

 

They return to the academy with the usual fanfare. The gatekeeper practically shines when he sees them all return, the students stop and stare- but Rhea and Seteth are waiting for them in the middle of the entrance hall.

 

"Professor," she says simply. "I am glad to see that you have returned safely. The goddess is gracious with her divine protection. But it was not only her divine protection that shielded you, was it? You are just as skilled as I had hoped."

 

Ashe tenses visibly, and Dedue and Ingrid move to stand in front of him.

 

"Forgive me, Rhea," Byleth starts, looking her dead in the eyes. "I wanted to leave as soon as possible, so please forgive me for not greeting you properly."

 

"Truly a pity," Rhea replies, sounding as if she was perhaps really upset. "I was going to send some knights with you, to further ensure your safety."

 

Jeralt raises his hand from where he was standing in the back of the group. "No need," Jeralt tacks on quickly, "I came along. Wanted to see my son in action and all."

 

Rhea's mouth curves into a little smile. "Commendable as ever, Jeralt. You did of course quell Lonato's rebellion?"

 

"Of course," Jeralt replies, before Byleth can say anything. Rhea nods. 

 

"I thank you all," Rhea nods. "I understand that many of you must be hesitant about fighting militia. However, we must punish any sinner who may inflict harm upon believers, even if those sinners are civilians."

 

Byleth can practically feel everyone tense up beside him. Dimitri and Sylvain in particular open their mouths- and then close them immediately. Byleth takes the opportunity to speak.

 

"I believe that people are plotting to target the Archbishop on the day of the Goddess' Rite of Rebirth," Byleth announces, watching Seteth tense.

 

"Those heretics!" Seteth declares. "The Rite of Rebirth is of paramount importance. It is when the Church of Seiros and its believers unite to pray for the return of the goddess. The Archbishop and I will be confined to the goddess tower once the ritual begins."

 

"Is that true?" Rhea asks. Rather than accusing, or demanding, she's simply prodding, as if she has no real opinion on the matter. "Then I must assign you and your students to help with security on that day. While there is no need to fear for my safety, we cannot turn a blind eye to those who would blaspheme so heinously."

 

Byleth nods. "Please excuse us," he says, too tired to continue to speak. "We must clean ourselves up."

 

Rhea nods, and with a swish of her robes, strolls away with Seteth. As soon as she's out of sight, Ashe sinks to the floor.

 

"Ashe!" Annette exclaims, as Felix hurries to hold him upright.

 

"I just don't know what to believe anymore," Ashe gasps, and Byleth's chest aches, and aches.

 

.

 

Byleth wakes up in a cold sweat.

 

He looks around his room. Sothis is curled up onto the bed next to him, fast asleep. If he listens closely, no odd sounds are coming from Dedue's room. All is well.

 

So why does he feel so nauseous? 

 

Slipping out of bed and almost collapsing on the floor, Byleth winces. He doesn't want to wake Sothis up. She's been upset with him recently.

 

Deciding to get some fresh air, Byleth quietly tip toes out of his room and sees Linhardt there, sitting on the crates piled haphazardly outside of his room. He waves a lazy hand at him once he sees Byleth.

 

"Hello, professor," Linhardt says, sliding off of the crates to stand at his side. "Will you stop avoiding me now? I wish to go see that area once more with you. I have a few more hypotheses- Professor?"

 

Byleth crumples to the floor, the world an indigo, spinning mess, and vomits into his hand.

 

"Professor? Oh dear," Linhardt says, with his usual deadpan. Byleth swears that he can hear a bit of fear in his words, however. "Was there a wound on the battlefield that you received today, and didn't heal? Caspar does that sometimes too. Both of you are so worrisome."

 

Linhardt waves a hand, and a heal spell washes over Byleth, but it only makes him more dizzy. On his knees, Byleth vomits out onto the floor. 

 

In the pale moonlight, Byleth only just realizes that it wasn't bile, but blood. Linhardt seems to notice it at the same time, for he pales as well.

 

"Professor," Linhardt breathes. "We must go to Manuela, right now." He reaches around Byleth's shoulders and tries to get him to stand.

 

"No-" Byleth wheezes, trying to gather all his strength to stand. "No, no healers."

 

"So stubborn. No. We're going right now."

 

"No," Byleth gasps, clinging to Linhardt's front. "No, no, just set me on my bed."

 

Linhardt's nose wrinkles. "That would not be wise, professor. I insist that I take you to a healer. I will worry all night long."

 

"Please," Byleth murmurs, unintentionally leaning all of his weight onto Linhardt's chest. "If this happens again you can knock me out and take me there. But no, not this time. Please."

 

He's aware that Linhardt is stronger in magic compared to strength, but it really does take awhile for Linhardt to drag him to Byleth's bed, even with Byleth's poor attempts to relieve some of the weight from him.

 

Linhardt gently places him onto the bed, which Byleth is grateful for. He might throw up again if Sothis agitated him, and luckily, she stays asleep. He doesn't bother to crawl under the blankets, instead relaxing onto the pillows.

 

Byleth blinks stars away from his vision, and suddenly Linhardt is five years older. 

 

"I like that bun in your hair," Byleth hears himself say, before darkness takes ahold of him. "It suits you..."

 

.

 

Thank Sothis for small mercies, his headache does not persist until the next morning. Byleth's still kind of upset that he still has to hold class the next day, though. 

 

Even Sothis seems tired, and she was asleep longer than Byleth was. But Byleth isn't jealous or anything.

 

When he walks into class, he can see his students try and feign awareness. Sylvain isn't even trying. He's half asleep at his desk. When Byleth brushes past Annette's desk, he can see herself pinch her hands in an attempt to keep herself awake.

 

To be honest, Byleth has every intention of giving them a day off. But as soon as he reaches the podium, someone bursts into the Blue Lions classroom, shocking Sylvain awake.

 

Linhardt is standing there in the doorframe, looking disheveled. There's bags under his eyes that could rival Marianne, and his hair isn't even tied back like it normally is- it falls over his shoulders in a style Byleth distinctly remembers from the future.

 

He opens his mouth to yawn, then fixes Byleth with a patient stare. "Can I... help you?" Byleth asks, a little confused.

 

"I have made up my mind," Linhardt declares, through another yawn. "I will be joining your class, if you'll allow me."

 

That announcement wakes up both Byleth and the Blue Lions.

 

"What?!"

Chapter Text

For a moment all Byleth does is stare.

 

"I am joining your class," Linhardt repeats, closing the door firmly behind him. "Of course, only if you'll allow me."

 

Byleth and Sothis share a look. 

 

"Don't look at me," Sothis says, "it's your fault for bringing him to the Holy Tomb when I explicitly told you to use a Divine Pulse!"

 

He holds back a sigh. "Alright," Byleth concedes, although he was secretly pleased. He was fond of the boy, despite his eccentricities. "You may join the Blue Lions."

 

A whoop from the rest of the class rings out. "Welcome!" Annette cheers, waving both hands at Linhardt. "Oh, this is so exciting! I'm so happy that you're joining, Linhardt!"

 

Mercedes claps her hands together. "Linhardt, what sort of sweets do you like to eat?" Mercedes asks, voice pleasant. "Anything in particular?"

 

"Now now, ladies," Sylvain says, grin stretching across his face. His eyes are slightly narrowed. "Don't pressure him to speak! You'll scare him away! Now, why did you join us? I am dying to know."

 

Linhardt blinks slowly, then meets Byleth's eyes. For some reason, Byleth has a bad feeling-

 

"Last night, I met up with the professor and he collapsed into my arms-"

 

Byleth has never been so thankful for his blank face as all of his students turn to look at him.

 

"Linhardt!" Byleth exclaims, raising his voice for what seems like the first time in forever. The Blue Lions can't seem to decide who to gape at- their professor, who always seemed calm and collected, or Linhardt, who had disturbed the peace with a single sentence.

 

"Byleth!" Sothis hisses, yanking his ear. He tries not to wince as she rummages clumsily through his memories. "Why didn't you tell me about this?!"

 

"The professor what-?!" Dimitri exclaims, standing from his chair. A dangerous looking blush is running up the sides of his neck. "What are you saying, Linhardt?"

 

Linhardt regards Dimitri with a cool expression and an arched brow. "Why do you sound so scandalized? I am talking about the way the professor threw up blood last night."

 

"Oh," Dimitri sputters, looking a little embarrassed. "Well- My apologies!"

 

He then turns a hurt expression on Byleth. "Professor! You threw up blood?! We must take you to a healer!"

 

Byleth waves it off. "I am fine."

 

"Clearly not, if you were vomiting blood," Felix scoffs.

 

"It's alright," Byleth insists. "Linhardt, why don't you speak with your new classmates while I step outside for a moment."

 

"Don't think that we've forgotten about your injury!" Ashe calls out, tone a little too even.

 

Without responding, Byleth leaves the classroom and is immediately screeched at by Sothis.

 

"You moronic, daft imbecile!" Sothis shrieks, as soon as the door is closed. Byleth's very lucky that no one can hear her scold him. He doesn't know how he could teach a class if she just yelled at him the entire time. "You must tell me these things! What if you were dying! And why didn't you go see Manuela?!"

 

I apologize.

 

"Apologies are worthless," Sothis hisses, her voice booming across the courtyard. "Next thing you know, you won't tell me that you were being stabbed! You irresponsible idiot!"

 

I am sorry.

 

Sothis folds her arms across her chest, red faced. "And stop with your curt sentences! Don't use that tone with me!"

 

Byleth is about to think back 'what tone' but he likes being able to hear, so he decides against it.

 

"I CAN HEAR YOUR THOUGHTS!

 

...I really am sorry, Sothis.

 

She finally calms a little, her fists clenching and unclenching. "I know."

 

Please don't be upset.

 

Sothis jerks her chin up. "I am not upset. I am angry." She leans against the door of the classroom with a sigh. "Please don't keep things like this from me, okay? We- we're a team."

 

Byleth allows himself the tiniest smile and reaches out to pat Sothis on the head. She looks as if she's about to swat the hand away, but instead she allows the touch, frowning even more. Of course we are.

 

"But why didn't you go to a healer?" Sothis demands, finally pushing the hand away. Without even opening his mouth, Byleth brings his hand to his chest. "Ah."

 

In one swift movement, Sothis brings her own hand up to Byleth's chest, over his own hand, over his heart. She closes her eyes.

 

"I'm sorry," Sothis murmurs.

 

Why are you the one apologizing now?

 

Sothis doesn't answer to his inquiry. She opens her eyes. "If I had a body," she began ominously, hand still over his heart, "I would kill those women twice over."

 

Byleth's face scrunches up in confusion. What?

 

"You better go back inside," Sothis says slowly. "They're waiting for you." 

 

She slides her hand off of his chest and then fists both hands in her dress. With an eerie smile, Sothis gestures at the door. 

 

Still a little perplexed, Byleth walks into the classroom-

 

-to see the Blue Lions pestering Linhardt with questions.

 

Sylvain's got an arm around Linhardt's shoulders, a giant grin on his face. "-last night, huh?"

 

"What were you guys doing?" Ashe asks, beaming wide. All of the students are giving Linhardt wide-eyed looks.

 

Even Dedue seems to be participating, although he isn't crowding around Linhardt like the rest of them. "You were quite quiet. I would have heard you if you were even the tiniest bit loud."

 

Dimitri's sitting at his desk, pretending that he wasn't interested in the ongoing interrogation. Byleth can see him twitch everytime anyone says anything.

 

"Was the professor wearing that cute nightgown-"

 

"So when he collapsed into your arms, how did you-"

 

"Is he as buff as we-"

 

Byleth clears his throat, and the room disperses. Sylvain hastily releases a pale Linhardt from his grasp. Linhardt graces Byleth with a tiny smile, then makes a show of dusting himself off.

 

"I apologize on behalf of them," Byleth says, after a beat. 

 

Linhardt shakes his head. "No no, I was expecting this. I knew that they all admire you. I suppose we all share the same tastes-"

 

With that sentence, Linhardt breaks into a fit of light coughs. Byleth really should send his entire class to Manuela, just in case.

 

.

 

"You thief," Manuela declares, at dinner. 

 

It was a peaceful sort of night. Byleth was sharing a meal with his father and Alois. His father had snuck in some sort of alcohol, while Alois had been taking every sort of opportunity to attempt to steal it away from the man, despite the fact that his father had not taken a sip of it yet.

 

The Black Eagles table is boring holes into the back of Byleth's head. Which was not pleasant.

 

Meanwhile, the Blue Lions table was rowdy, as always. Linhardt seemed to hesitate when walking into the dining hall, but Ingrid had tugged him over to the Blue Lions table with a huge smile. They all seemed to be getting along, which Byleth was grateful for.

 

Byleth looks up from his stew to look at her. She doesn't look too angry, so he decides to tuck back into his meal without a word. It looked as if she didn't even want an answer.

 

Manuela slides into the seat next to Byleth, across from Alois. "I don't blame the boy," Manuela sighs. "You are quite charming. But I've been teaching longer than you have! Am I so inadequate?! Comfort me, professor!"

 

He takes another spoonful of stew before responding. "You're a better teacher than I," he replies, and he's not lying.

 

Sothis takes the time to rummage through his memories and pluck them out, one by one. Byleth being terrible at lectures. Byleth not knowing what to say when his students do poorly on exams. Byleth blanking out during seminars. Lovely memories, really.

 

"You're just saying that," Manuela coos, swatting his arm playfully. Her smile becomes a little more real, so Byleth is satisfied. "But really, take care of Linhardt. He's a smart kid. Maybe you can convince him to actually take school seriously. Or convince him to come to class more often."

 

Byleth shrugs, because he's got a spoonful of food in his mouth.

 

"If I were a student," Manuela declares, "I would transfer to your class as well. I mean, look at you!"

 

Jeralt runs a hand down his face. "Please don't flirt with my kid in front of me," he groans, but Manuela sticks her tongue out at him.

 

.

 

Class with Linhardt is... interesting.

 

Byleth learns to check his room before heading to the classroom, because Linhardt might still be asleep, facedown in a book. He also learns that Linhardt would frequently fall asleep in class, and that Linhardt would tune out anything that didn't interest him.

 

He also learns that he responds well to praise.

 

When Byleth takes him to the front of the class to tutor him on his faith skills, and Linhardt responds correctly to all of his questions, Linhardt regards him with wide eyes. 

 

Byleth pats him on the head, and his eyes seem to shine. "I'm not used to such praise," Linhardt would say, with a little grin, even though Byleth had only patted him on the head and said 'good job.' He resolves to praise his students more often.

 

It's a challenge to make Linhardt train.

 

All of the Blue Lions take to sparring effortlessly, so it was quite different compared to what Byleth was used to working with.

 

"I hate fighting," Linhardt groans, and then almost yelps when Annette flings a wind spell at his head. 

 

"You must learn," Byleth insists. "Or would you rather fight me instead?"

 

"No thank you," Linhardt replies immediately. 

 

When Linhardt shows even less enthusiasm about basic training, like jogging and stretching, Byleth sighs. He knows that Linhardt was a powerful mage. He just wants to coax his potential out of him.

 

"I'm going to enter you into the upcoming magic tournament," Byleth announces one afternoon, and Linhardt groans. 

 

"I don't want to," he complains, leaning onto Ashe for support, despite the fact that he's barely lifted a finger during today's training. "You can't make me..."

 

Byleth frowns, because yes, he didn't want to force him to fight. But knowing what potential future was waiting for them, he refused to let up. 

 

"If you enter the tournament and win," Byleth begins, looking Linhardt directly in the eyes, "I'll take you back to that place."

 

Immediately, Linhardt perks up, but then instantly deflates. "Impossible..."

 

Shrugging, Byleth turns away. "Then I guess we're never going back there."

 

"This is bribery," Linhardt announces, but throws himself into training with a surprising amount of vigor.

 

Dimitri raises his hand slowly. "Professor?" The prince waits for Byleth to look over at him. "Excuse me, but where is this place that you are talking about?"

 

Byleth puts a finger to his lips. "Secret."

 

He looks put out, but doesn't push the issue. Unfortunately for Byleth, all of the Blue Lions have gained a sort of look in their eyes that Byleth knows to mean that they won't let the subject go so easily.

 

.

 

The magic tournament is the very next day, right after classes.

 

All of the houses are there, including some staff and a few of the the branch students, who belonged to a house but were not necessarily a part of the class. Even Jeralt and his mercenaries are there, and as soon as the mercenaries see Byleth, they wave eagerly at him.

 

With a cool expression, Linhardt gives the crowd a cursory once over. He then turns to Byleth and the rest of his class. "I can't do this," he states calmly.

 

"Yes you can!" Ingrid exclaims, flushed from the excitement. "I saw you training with Mercedes and Felix. I know that you can!"

 

Sylvain slaps him on the back, and Linhardt makes a choking sound. "You'll be fine," he insists. "The professor wouldn't send out someone he didn't think could win."

 

Dimitri nods along, looking pleased. He did love fighting, after all, so tournaments and the like really appealed to him. "I agree," he says, and then shoots Byleth a private smile that Byleth doesn't really understand. "The professor doesn't like to lose, after all."

 

"I'll be here to patch you up if you're hurt!" Mercedes declares, and Linhardt seems to pale even more, which is an impressive feat.

 

"Reassuring," Linhardt says, his normally detached tone wavering.

 

The tournament was set up so that there were two brackets- a mix of students and knights, where the brackets would face their respective opponents and then branch off depending on the winners.

 

"Linhardt von Hevring to the field," the referee calls out. "Linhardt von Hevring, to the field!"

 

As Ashe rubs the boy on the back sympathetically, Linhardt looks at Byleth. "If I die I will be cross with you," he declares, then steps onto the field.

 

Linhardt has to face five opponents to win the tournament, which isn't exactly an easy feat. However, he sweeps the first two opponents without much of a sweat, and everytime Linhardt lands a hit the Blue Lions and Jeralt's mercenaries burst into roars of encouragement. Even Dedue is clapping.

 

Occasionally, Linhardt will turn towards them as if looking for encouragement. Of course the Blue Lions comply.

 

"I believe in you!" Annette cheers, jumping up and down.

 

"Make them regret they were ever born!" Felix would add, cupping his hands around his mouth.

 

Sothis gives him a look. "He's got the spirit, I suppose."

 

The third match doesn't go as easily as the last few. It's a knight of Seiros, and they show no quarter as they hit Linhardt with fire spell after fire spell.

 

Even Byleth has taken to raising his voice. "Dodge!" Byleth calls out, as Linhardt narrowing avoids the incoming flame, sliding onto the floor to dodge. "Now!"

 

Complying, Linhardt unleashes a devastating cutting gale on the knight, and she goes down. 

 

"Three! Two! One! Knockout!" The referee calls, and the arena explodes with excitement. 

 

Linhardt turns to the referee with a small incline of his head. "I would like to use one of my heal opportunities," he calls, and Mercedes immediately darts onto the field to patch him up. She uses a quick heal spell, hugs him tight, and then rejoins the crowd.

 

The next opponent isn't as simple, either. It's Dorothea. As soon as the Blue Lions see her, they all groan as one. Linhardt turns to Byleth, looking unsure, then turns back to face her.

 

Dorothea opens her mouth and says something, but since she's too far away, Byleth can't hear her, nor read her lips. All he can see is Linhardt stiffen at the words.

 

"Dorothea is a strong magic user," Dimitri says, hand on his chin. "This will be a difficult match for Linhardt."

 

Sothis immediately covers her face in her hands. "I can't watch," Sothis declares, even as she peers through her fingers.

 

The referee swings his hand down, and the match begins. Linhardt immediately steps away, trying to create more distance between them, but Dorothea is already whisking thunder spells at Linhardt, trying to close the distance. 

 

"If Linhardt steps out of the ring, it's an automatic disqualification," Ingrid hisses, hands clenching into fists. "Don't back up too much-!"

 

Of course, Linhardt cannot hear her, so he keeps backing up closer and closer to the edge. Byleth is on the edge of his seat.

 

Dorothea is only moving closer and closer to Linhardt, and her thunder spells are so powerful that Byleth can practically feel the magic in the air, thick and heady, like syrup.

 

Part of her spell catches Linhardt's hair, and the Blue Lions all wince. Linhardt's hair falls into his face, and he seems to sigh.

 

"Hey, Dorothea!" Someone calls out, and Byleth turns to see that it's Caspar. "Don't actually hurt him!"

 

Dorothea doesn't even twitch, and Byleth already knows her plan- she said something at the beginning of the fight, something to rouse Linhardt's pacifist nature, and was planning on merely edging Linhardt out of the ring, betting that Linhardt wouldn't actively try and raise a hand to her.

 

Linhardt's backed all the way up to the edge, now. Annette has taken a hold of Byleth's sleeve, tight with tension. "Come on, Linhardt, fight back," she urges.

 

Dorothea's only a few feet away from Linhardt now, and close enough for Byleth to read her lips. "Back out of the ring, Linhardt," Dorothea says.

 

Linhardt stares at her. 

 

What none of them are expecting, however, is for Linhardt to dash past Dorothea, skidding to a stop at her back. With a snap of his wrist, he unleashes a weak wind spell, not strong enough to hurt, but strong enough to push someone over-

 

Dorothea is knocked off of her feet and is pushed out of the ring.

 

Sothis screams in jubilation, the first one in the training grounds to react.

 

"Linhardt von Hevring is the winner of the semifinals!" The referee declares, and the Blue Lions cheer and scream so loudly that Byleth fears that they'll lose their voice.

 

When Byleth looks across the ring to try and catch his father's eye, he meets Edelgard's instead. She tries to force him to hold the gaze, but Byleth immediately turns away.

 

There's two more matches until the finals, so Linhardt is allowed to return to the bench. "I hated every second of that," he declares, even as he's hugged by Mercedes, Annette, and Ashe. He sinks into the bench as if to become one with it.

 

"You did well," Byleth praises, and watches his mouth curl into a half smile. Byleth moves closer to him, sliding across the bench, and reaches out for his hair. "May I?"

 

When Linhardt nods in approval, Byleth makes quick work of tying his hair back into a half-do bun. Linhardt hums in thanks.

 

"So you weren't lying when you said that you liked buns," Linhardt states, voice still bland.

 

"When did you say that, professor?" Ashe asks.

 

"When-"

 

Byleth slaps a hand over Linhardt's mouth. "I just know how to put hair into buns and ponytails, is all."

 

This wasn't a lie. Sometimes, Felix would be much too lazy to tie his hair up in the mornings, and so Byleth learned how to tie his hair up into a messy bun for him, so his hair wouldn't get caught in everything he walked past. He also learned it when the girls would invite him to spend time with them- and learn things like intricate buns or braids.

 

Before the final battle, Dima had tied his hair up into a half-do, to keep his hair out of his eye. Byleth remembers his eyes being drawn to his face that day, his eye, his golden halo of neat hair-

 

He looks up from the bun to see Dimitri touch his own hair, as if self-conscious. For some reason, Byleth feels as if he must explain himself. "I used to do F- the hair of the mercenaries."

 

"But do you like the style of hair that's tied back?" Sylvain asks, a slow smirk spreading across his face. Ingrid steps on his toes. "Ow!"

 

"Linhardt von Hevring to the field for the finals!"

 

The Blue Lions look to the field to see Linhardt's opponent. 

 

When Byleth sees Lysithea standing in the middle of the training grounds, he almost groans aloud. Sothis certainly does.

 

Lysithea was a menace in battle, Byleth knew it firsthand. He was her professor for a long time, after all.

 

Turning to Linhardt, he's almost surprised when he sees a look of calm on the boy's face. Linhardt stands from the bench without a word, and walks to the center of the arena.

 

The referee goes over the rules once again. Things like 'no fatal injuries' and 'no matter the circumstances, if you leave the center, you lose.' Byleth can't really hear it over the din of the crowd, however.

 

The referee swings his hand down.

 

Immediately, Lysithea lifts her hands and Byleth winces, because he knows from her stance that it's Swarm Z, and it's going to hurt, but Linhardt lifts one hand-

 

-and Lysithea disappears and reappears outside of the designated area.

 

"He warped her," Ingrid breathes, and then, alongside a chorus of others, "he warped her!"

 

"He can warp people?" Felix demands, looking both scandalized and impressed at the same time. "I want to spar with him!"

 

Sothis is staring. "Well, would you look at that. That requires an impressive knowledge of magic to learn. When did he..."

 

The referee takes a moment to collect themselves. "Well, she left the area... T-the winner is Linhardt von Hevring!" He announces, and a resounding, yet confused cheer rises up from the audience- the Blue Lions especially. In fact, all of them save Byleth have rushed to the center of the training grounds to congratulate him. A few others, Lysithea especially, are grumbling about how the outcome was unfair, but don't speak up.

 

Linhardt turns to look at Byleth. 

 

'Tonight,' he mouths, and Byleth wants to disappear.

 

.

 

When Byleth opens his door later that night, intent on picking up Linhardt from his room to take him back to the Holy Tomb, Dimitri and Dedue are standing outside of his room.

 

"What a coincidence, professor!" Dimitri greets, pretending like he wasn't just casually standing outside of the door. Dedue nods at him. "Lovely night, is it not?"

 

Sothis slaps a hand over her face. "Oh no. Now everyone in the world is aware that you and Linhardt have been sneaking off to somewhere."

 

Not everyone, Byleth thinks, and then Ashe and Annette emerge from Dedue's room as if they were there to immediately contradict his thoughts. Sothis stares at him and Byleth tries his best not to look her way lest he explode into flames.

 

"Wow," says Annette, who has always been terrible at being blasé and subtle. "What a coincidence, professor!" 

 

"Yes, wow," Ashe says, his voice slightly coy. "We're all here, outside, on this lovely night!"

 

Byleth nods at them. "Hello," he says, because what else does one say when cornered by wild lions. "Well. Excuse me then-"

 

Dimitri strolls up by Byleth's side in one short stride. "Such a beautiful night for a walk, is it not?" He shoots Byleth one of his small, polite smiles that could outshine the stars in the night sky. 

 

"Just lovely," Annette agrees, stepping up to the two of them to match their steps. Dedue and Ashe follow from behind the two.

 

Sothis floats to sit atop Byleth's shoulders and immediately yanks at his hair. "Do something, Byleth! We can't take them all to the Holy Tomb!"

 

What do you suggest I do?

 

"D-divine Pulse, maybe?" She suggests awkwardly, tugging at her own hair. 

 

Even with time at Byleth's fingertips, they've run out of it. They're already at Linhardt's door. Byleth pushes open Linhardt's door to see Linhardt, half asleep, sitting around a board game with Mercedes, Ingrid, Felix, Sylvain, and...

 

"Oh!" Caspar exclaims, waving a hand. "Hey, professor! You and the others interested in playing a round with us?"

 

Sothis slips off of his shoulders and glides slowly to the floor, lying there, motionless. "Oh nooooooo...." Sothis complains, hands over her face. "How are we going to get away from this one?!"

 

Linhardt spots Byleth at the door, who is on the verge on banging his head into the door frame. He shakes himself awake, brushes dust off of his knees, and waves. "Hello. Let's go now."

 

"Wow," Mercedes says, hand to her mouth. "You all are going somewhere? Exciting! Let me join you!"

 

"Let me in on this!" Ingrid agrees, unable to keep a smile off of her face.

 

"Sounds fun! A little nightly stroll? Romantic," Sylvain croons, his smirk spreading across his face. "I'm coming along."

 

While Felix doesn't say anything, he stands along with the rest of them and gives Byleth a look.

 

"Wow!" Caspar exclaims, standing from the floor. "You're all heading somewhere! I want to come along!"

 

Byleth closes his eyes. Divine Pulse time.

 

"Wait!" Sothis shrieks, clambering up from the floor. "Wait, wait, how far are you planning to go back?!"

 

He tilts his head to the side in thought. Maybe... before the tournament, so I can tell Linhardt not to say this aloud?

 

Surprisingly, Sothis shakes her head frantically. "No, no, no no no. No way. No Divine Pulses that take longer than a couple of hours in time."

 

Why?

 

She slips her hand into his. "Remember what happened last time you went back nearly an entire day?" She waits for Byleth to nod in understanding. "Yes. Before we do anything like that again, we must test this out on a free day, where there are no variables like this. We have to find out the limits."

 

So... We're just going to let them tag along?

 

Her face crumples at his words. "Ugh, you're right! I don't want them to see the Holy Tomb like this, though! Who knows what the consequences will be?! But most of all, I do not want any harm to come to you ever again!"

 

The students push past Byleth and out the door. "Well?" Linhardt prompts, looking at Byleth. "We can't go there without you."

 

Byleth stares up at the ceiling for a moment as if it would grant him strength. "Why don't we... do this another time, Linhardt?"

 

Now, Linhardt would never be the sort to pout, but the look on his face could be nothing else but one. "Professor. You didn't lie to me, did you? You said if I entered the tournament, and won, that'd you would take me back there."

 

"I did say that," Byleth allows, "but I never said when I would take you back there. And I never agreed to take anyone else there."

 

The look on his face really becomes a pout. "Professor..."

 

"No," Byleth insists. 

 

Sylvain slaps him on the back. "Come on now, professor!" He slaps him on the back harder, and Byleth wonders what he's done to deserve this. "He's worked hard, right?"

 

"I spoil you all too much, it seems," Byleth says, and they all wince as one. "I apologize, Linhardt, but I will not bend on this matter."

 

"But why," Annette says, drawing out the last syllable. "Why so secretive? It can't be something so secret that you have to keep it from us all!"

 

"It can't hurt to confide in us," Ingrid insists. "It can't be a big deal to let us know, right?"

 

It can be.

 

Byleth sighs, but before he can say anything more-

 

"Hey. You kids. It's late, and you've all got class tomorrow. Back to your rooms." Byleth looks around the crowd of students to see his father standing there, hands on his hips. Sothis lets out a huge sigh of relief.

 

"Father," Byleth greets, trying to show as much relief on his face as he possibly can, although it's a difficult feat.

 

His father nods in his direction, then turns to the others, arching a single brow. "I don't need to escort you all back to your rooms, do I?"

 

Everyone groans, Felix especially, but they all disperse, save for Linhardt. Jeralt steps up to Byleth and gives him a pat on the head. "Hey kiddo. Feeling better?"

 

"Sooooo much better," Sothis exclaims, as Byleth nods. "Thanks for saving us!"

 

Linhardt looks between the two of them. "May we go now? I'm sure that if it's just us, you'll allow me to accompany you."

 

"Go?" Jeralt inquires.

 

"Why, underground, of course." Linhardt's eyes sparkle. 

 

Jeralt frowns. "Ah, yeah, that place. Yeah, why not? I've been curious about something myself."

 

Byleth and Sothis shoot Jeralt a betrayed look. "I guess we're going anyway," Sothis whines, sinking her face into Byleth's side.

 

"Father-"

 

His father rubs a hand over his face. "To be honest, I've been wanting to test out my own theory from last time myself. Of course, only if that's alright with you, Byleth."

 

Linhardt perks up, suddenly very awake. "Of course that's alright with him," he exclaims, and Byleth can practically feel the earth open up around him.

 

"Byleth?" His father asks again, a little quieter now.

 

He sighs. "Okay."

 

They walk to the gazebo in relative silence, until Linhardt of all people speaks up. "So are we ignoring the fact that they're all following us right now?"

 

Byleth, Sothis, and Jeralt sigh in sync. Byleth's father shoots the pillar they're all trying to hide behind a glare, and Dimitri and the rest of the Blue Lions sheepishly stumble out of their poorly concealed hiding spot. Caspar isn't even trying to hide.

 

"Take us with you!" Caspar declares, hands on his hips. "You're going somewhere cool, aren't you?"

 

Even Linhardt looks exhausted now. "No," he states, ignoring Caspar's indignant squawk, and then turns towards Byleth. "Let's do this again another night."

 

"Fine by me," Jeralt yawns, ruffling Byleth's hair before leaving for his quarters. Byleth watches all of his students, making sure that they disperse properly, and then leaves for his own room. 

 

"That was awful," Sothis groans, once they finally return to Byleth's room. 

 

Byleth strips off his armor before he looks at her. Sothis?

 

"Mm?" She's already dived underneath the bedsheets.

 

Is it really a bad thing to let them see the Holy Tomb this early?

 

Sothis sighs. "It's not that it's a bad thing per say, but it would be in our best interests to make sure that we don't accidentally set off some events that might ruin us in the future."

 

Linhardt already saw, though.

 

Rolling her eyes, she fluffs up a pillow, despite the fact that she cannot touch it. "Linhardt is dangerous," she says, as Byleth thinks of the older boy napping in his food, "not in the way you're thinking, of course, but in the way that he's still an unknown variable. If it was say, Lysithea, or Dorothea, who had joined your class in the past, I think it would be better."

 

Why?

 

"You know them better," she replies, satisfied with her pillow fluffing. "You know where their loyalties lie once they join you."

 

Byleth takes off his boots, one by one, and piles them neatly at the foot of his bed. Mm. Should I try to recruit more people, then? Just in case?

 

Sothis puts a finger to her chin. "It may be a good idea. More allies. But that also means more ways that it could go wrong."

 

Like? 

 

She puts a hand up to tick off a few fingers. "Caspar's big mouth. Ferdinand's tendency to want to one up Edelgard. Marianne's fragile nature. The fact that Hilda would likely tell Claude everything she learns-"

 

Making sure his door was firmly shut, Byleth walks back to the bed and relaxes on it. Is that such a bad thing?

 

"Huh?"

 

Wouldn't it be in our best interests to team up with Claude? 

 

At this statement, Sothis snorts. "Claude would be the most dangerous variable of all. Who knows what that man was thinking when he gave you Failnaught. I mean, come on! Couldn't he at the very least stay in Fódlan to help us finish the war, and then go off on his important journey?"

 

I want to trust him.

 

"That's why I have to distrust him," Sothis insists. "You're easily influenced by others, and far too compassionate."

 

Am not.

 

"Are too." 

 

Their exchange continues into the night, when Byleth cannot remember falling into a restless sleep- until he wakes up the next morning- the feeling of Dima's hands around his neck.

 

I am your sword.

 

.

 

Saint Cethleann day is interesting, because all of his students are insistent on sitting upfront with Byleth. Normally, most of them would shrink away from standing in the front- either unwilling to sing or far too shy about it. Only Annette and Mercedes seemed somewhat eager to sing.

 

It was normal for Sylvain to try and sneak away, for Felix to get a glazed look in his eyes, but even they are strangely intent today, watching Byleth's every move. It's almost unsettling.

 

But now all nine of them are squished onto a pew, with Byleth standing in front of them. 

 

"Please rise for the closing hymn," Seteth declares, and they all stand.

 

Byleth is quite adamant about making his students sing- their faith would improve, and it would make their bonds stronger. It was easy, after all, for music to bring people together.

 

But none of them are singing.

 

They're just staring at Byleth's face.

 

"Do you not know the words?" Byleth whispers, a little after the choir begins to sing.

 

"No," Dedue says, a little quicker than normal. "We do not."

 

"Why don't you sing, professor," Ingrid offers, looking everywhere but in his eyes. "And we'll try and follow along."

 

"I don't know the words either," Byleth murmurs, careful not to draw attention to himself. For some reason, that seems to make them all deflate. "Remember? I did not grow up learning these songs."

 

"But-" Annette begins, and then winces when Seteth shoots her a sharp look. 

 

"I can hum along," Byleth says, when they still look a little disappointed. He joins in with the choir, taking the melody, and humming alongside them. Annette immediately joins him in humming, smiling to herself.

 

Inexplicably, this makes all of them happier, so when Seteth pulls him aside and chews him out, he still thinks it's worth it.

 

Byleth makes sure to present a huge bouquet of flowers to Flayn with Seteth in sight. It was her birthday, after all.

 

.

 

"This is some great tea, teach," Claude says, after a huge gulp of the Almyran pine needle blend that Byleth had carefully procured specifically for his birthday.

 

Byleth takes a sip of his own tea before answering. "I'm glad. Happy birthday, Claude." He passes Claude his gift, a new pair of riding boots. His smile practically glows once he sees them. "Wow! Is this for me? You really shouldn't have, teach!"

 

"You're welcome," Byleth replies, feeling a little awkward. He still doesn't know how to interact with Claude.

 

He was fond of Claude, really. He was smart, and charming, and yet a total enigma. Byleth knew about two things about him, and he was sure that those facts were probably incorrect. It felt as if whatever Claude designed to show him was at least somewhat false- even when giving Byleth Failnaught, he still couldn't read him.

 

But he cared for him. There was something about his total trust in Byleth and Dimitri- an assuredness that they would come and rescue him, that he would risk his entire life and an entire town on it. An intimate trust that Byleth had no idea that he was even worthy of. Before this, when Byleth met him on Gronder field, the last thing Byleth wanted to do was harm the man.

 

So he let him leave the battle, relatively unharmed.

 

Seeing the man younger, face still a little soft with youth, it made Byleth's heart swell. He wanted to protect this person, too. Even if he didn't entirely understand him or his motives, he wanted to protect him.

 

Claude takes a bite of a peach-flavoured tart before he speaks again. "You're such a mystery," he states, and Byleth is momentarily unsettled by the focus in his eyes.

 

"I disagree," Byleth responds, finishing his cup of tea. He pours himself another cup, careful to not let the liquid pour over the rim.

 

Byleth hopes that that statement kills the train of conversation entirely, but Claude does not let up.

 

"Well, I disagree," Claude retorts, finishing the tart and licking the crumbs from his mouth. "Your life must be so interesting right now. You coincidentally meet with royalty, and now you're teaching at the most prestigious school in all of Fódlan, blatantly favored by the Archbishop of the most prominent religion on the continent? And you don't even seem phased."

 

Instead of responding, Byleth takes a long sip of his tea. Seeing this, Claude leans back in his chair, assessing Byleth carefully while trying to pretend like he wasn't.

 

"See," Claude insists. "Look at you. You know, most people would kill for this sorta power and influence, right?"

 

When Byleth doesn't respond immediately, Claude braces his elbows onto the table, leaning in. "But you're not most people, are you?"

 

Sothis starts to look irritated, so Byleth forces himself to speak up. "I... don't know how you want me to reply to that."

 

For some reason, this makes Claude laugh a little. "I'm surprised that you answered at all, actually. Your blank stare is kinda intimidating, you know? At least you're pretty. You've even got that hair... Interesting colour, right? Looks a lot like the Archbishop's hair."

 

Unconsciously, Byleth reaches up to touch his pale green hair. "I guess."

 

"Are you secretly related?" Claude says, leaning in a little more, eyes shining. "Gah, you should have taught my class. I don't like when the mystery is revealed right away! We should have taken our sweet time learning about each other."

 

"I... wasn't going to tell you anything."

 

"Aha. So you do have a reason why your hair is that colour."

 

Byleth freezes, but hopefully Claude hasn't observed him long enough to notice. "Is that why she favours you so much? Because you're secretly related?"

 

"I wonder if there's a term for 'she created my mother through artificial means but isn't actually her mom,'" Sothis wonders aloud.

 

"I think that it's just a coincidence," Byleth lies. "I don't think that we're really related."

 

"Hmm." Claude replies, and then takes another gulp of tea. "Sure, whatever."

 

"Yeah," Sothis sighs, leaning against Byleth, "he doesn't believe you at all."

 

"Let's change the subject," Claude says, after he eats another tart. "Did you hear that they're finally gonna do something about that body?"

 

"What body?"

 

"The body of that guy that they think Kostas killed, of course!" Claude says, beaming wide. Byleth wonders if that's something to grin over.

 

Byleth will always be grateful for his blank expression. "Oh?"

 

"Yeah," Claude continues, snatching a chocolate cookie off of the tray. "Apparently, Seteth approached Dimitri and asked if he could get in touch with that famous healer or whatever from Faerghus, and invite her over. Something is up with that dead dude's body, or so they say."

 

For some reason, that's ringing a bell. Several bells. "Famous?"

 

"Yeah, the one that like, stopped a plague or something," Claude shoves a cookie into his mouth, as if for dramatic effect. "I think her name is Cornelia?"

 

Byleth almost drops his tea cup. Immediately, Sothis dives into Byleth's memories, and freezes.

 

Cornelia, who had arranged the murder of Dimitri's uncle, and Dimitri's execution. Cornelia, who was responding for Dedue's near demise. Cornelia, who was also responsible for the oppression of those who lived in the capital, and who allowed for Edelgard's influence to spread all throughout Faerghus.

 

Sothis smiles at Byleth. "Let's kill her. As soon as she arrives."

 

"No."

 

"No?" Claude inquires, tilting his head to the side. Byleth realizes that he's said the word aloud, and has to physically stop himself from swallowing. Claude would definitely latch onto that one little movement.

 

"Ah, my apologies," Byleth says, trying to cover up his little slip of the tongue. Of course, this only makes Claude regard him oddly. "I didn't mean to say that out loud."

 

Claude picks up his tea again, frowning a little. "Aw, the tea's become a little cold," Claude states, in an effort to make Byleth lower his guard.

 

Byleth's waiting for it. 

 

"Care to share what's on your mind, teach?"

 

There it is.

 

"No," Byleth says, tone even. "No, nothing's on my mind."

 

"Are you sure?" Claude asks. "I would love to pick at your mind a little, see what you're thinking. You don't share much, save for maybe with your dad."

 

Byleth carefully sets his tea cup down. "If we're sharing, why don't you share something about yourself?"

 

Claude puts a dramatic hand to his chest. "Me? I am definitely not as interesting as you are, teach."

 

With as much drama as he can possibly place into an action, Byleth picks up the tea cup again and lifts it to his lips. "Ah," he says, monotone, "the tea has become cold."

 

Eyes wide, Claude gasps dramatically. "Are you mocking me?" Claude exclaims, a little high pitched. "Why, teach, I am so offended right now!"

 

"I would never," Byleth says, voice still a little bland. This makes Claude chuckle a little. 

 

Claude eats a few more cookies, thanks him for the gift and the tea, and then leaves, whistling the entire time. The bush concealing the Blue Lions rustles slightly, and Byleth knows that they're all trying to escape unseen.

 

Sothis sighs a little. "So, he's still not going to share anything with us. Fine, be that way. Byleth, do you really want to be allies with him?"

 

I do.

 

"Then we've got to get him to open up as well," Sothis declares. "I still think that we should kill that Cornelia woman."

 

It's not that I don't want to, I just think that it'll be less simple to kill her right now compared to Solon.

 

"That's right," Sothis murmurs, looking deep in thought. "Right now, she's still important to the Kingdom. It'll be far too suspicious if she just dies randomly. Still. I do wonder what they found strange with Solon's body?"

 

I don't know, but-

 

"Professor?" 

 

Byleth looks up from the table to see Dimitri sliding into the seat Claude had just vacated. He notices a few stray leaves in the prince's hair, presumably from the bush, so he reaches out and brushes them out with his hand. At his touch, Dimitri flushes deeply.

 

"My apologies," Byleth says, a little quiet. "I touched you without permission."

 

Dimitri blinks quickly. "No, no! You don't need permission to touch me-! Ah, that is, I-"

 

The bush lets out a laugh that sounds distinctly like Sylvain, which makes Dimitri flush harder. "It's alright," Dimitri insists, a little quieter now. "Do as you wish with me."

 

It's Byleth's turn to blink, because those words are... "...What brings you here, Dimitri?"

 

"Well, I was hoping to share some tea with you, professor," Dimitri says, not looking at him. 

 

"Okay. The tea has grown cold," Byleth says, standing. "I'll make something new."

 

Dimitri stands with him, pushing out of his chair. "Oh! Allow me to join you!" Dimitri allows Byleth to lead him to the dining hall, when the Blue Lions try to follow them from behind. 

 

Byleth is standing in front of the shelves, trying to decide between certain chamomile flowers, when Dimitri speaks up.

 

"Professor?"

 

"Yes?"

 

"I was wondering... There was something that you said to Lord Lonato the other day... Something about how ridiculous you thought it was, to talk that man out of revenge."

 

He stills. "What about it?"

 

Byleth doesn't need to be looking at Dimitri to know that his hands are clenched up into tight fists. "Well. Do you begrudge the fact that he wanted to take revenge on both Rhea and Catherine, for being directly involved in the murder of his son?"

 

"I wouldn't begrudge anyone for being angry," Byleth begins, unsure about how he'll say this. "But he still involved innocents, which is what I can be angry at him for."

 

Dimitri pauses. "Ah." Byleth can practically see the prince force himself to relax.

 

"Do you think that he's justified in wanting them dead?" Dimitri whispers, under his breath. "Is that alright?"

 

"Of course he is," Byleth replies immediately, "I would be more concerned if he felt nothing when someone he loves was murdered."

 

Dimitri breathes a sigh of relief, but Byleth isn't done. "I think that the best revenge is letting go and living a good life," Byleth says, and before Dimitri can lash out, "but it's impossible for most. Even for me. I'm not a good person."

 

"That's not true," Dimitri states, and the force in his voice wills Byleth to turn around to look at him. "You're so good. So compassionate, despite all your hardships... I am the one who-"

 

He cuts himself off abruptly, hand trailing absently over the finger Byleth knows wears the ring. "I want you to think that I am a good person, too."

 

"You are," Byleth says, a little desperately. He knows Dimitri thinks that Byleth has no idea what he's really agreeing to. "You are a good person."

 

Dimitri smiles at him, a little soft, miserably forlorn. His dimples are prominent on his face. "Then I had best live up to your expectations, then. Come now, professor. I have always wanted to see how you brew tea."

 

Byleth doesn't press the issue.

 

"You coward," Sothis murmurs, and Byleth does not refute the accusation.

Chapter Text

"You're staring."

 

Of course, this only makes Dima's stare more intense, the weight of his stare hefty. His eye crinkles with glee. "Can I not stare at you? You're saying something important, after all."

 

He squeezes Byleth's hand gently. 

 

"I'm not."

 

"You are," Dima insists. "You never talk about yourself. It's quite odd. You are so very dear to me, and I know you as you are now, and I know you on the battlefield, and I know the exact shade of your eyes and how you take your tea- but I don't know much about your past. So when you say anything about it, why are you surprised that I am hanging off your every word?"

 

Byleth hums. "It's not really that interesting."

 

"It is," Dima replies, lacing their fingers together. "You are an enigma, Byleth. I want to learn everything about you. You already know everything about me."

 

In response, Byleth shakes his head. "I don't."

 

"You do," Dima says. "I know that you're quite observant. You know when to bring me flowers when I am having a rough day, when I am about to break another lance. You know that I bloom in your presence, yearning to be seen, like a flower begging to be blessed by the sun."

 

"...I didn't know that."

 

"You didn't?" Dima exclaims, eyes suddenly wide. "I had the most embarrassing crush on you when I was a student! I practically begged you to come back to Faerghus with me, instead of you becoming Archbishop! And that wasn't long ago!"

 

It's Byleth's turn to stare. "I thought that you wanted me an advisor, or a general."

 

For some reason, this makes Dima laugh. He takes Byleth's free hand and turns so that they're facing each other. Byleth is struck dumb by the stars in Dima's eyes, by their close proximity. 

 

"Allow me to make this clear," Dima begins, and it's soft, breathy, like a whisper. "I want to spend the rest of my days learning everything there is to know about you. I want to learn what you were like as a child, I want to know how you spent your days, I want to know everything. I wish to learn what you look like when you wake in the morning, and I want to know what it's like to kiss you. I want to know if you'll blush if I tuck your hair behind your ear. I want to know the heat of your body, pressed against mine. Is that acceptable?"

 

Despite the fact that Dima was blushing heavily throughout that entire statement, his tone remained calm. Byleth wishes that he could say the same for himself. "How forward of you."

 

"If I don't say it like this," Dima begins, only now beginning to flush, "you may remain blissfully unaware even as I spiral into a wanton, desperate mess at your feet."

 

"I don't know what to say," Byleth replies. "I hardly know anything about myself."

 

"That's alright," Dima says, his eyes crinkling with the force of his smile. "That's really the entire point of learning. We'll discover these things together."

 

Byleth is suddenly hit with the full force of his emotions. He loves this man, he loves him so dearly that surely Byleth's own heart actually beat within Dima's body, that every pulse of his heart gave life to Byleth's chest. For years Byleth had wondered where his pulse had gone, or if he had even possessed one in the first place. In reality, his heart was not his own alone- but Dima's, and that it beat steadily there, sure and strong. His heart did not beat for himself. It beat for Dima, and the Blue Lions, and his father. It beat for the mercenaries, as well as the others that had helped him along. It beat for Sothis. It beat for all of his loved ones.

 

"Why me?" Byleth asks, instead of all the other questions bouncing around his head. Inexplicably, he suddenly fears the answer.

 

Dima only smiles. "While you've been learning about me, and the rest of us... I have been learning about you as well, you know?"

 

"And what have you learned?"

 

Another smile, slow and sweet, practically dripping honey. It's slightly slanted, a little teasing, and several kinds of awful- the kind of expression that leaves Byleth breathless and at a loss for words. "That I love you. Even the parts that I do not know. That I have never met a person so compassionate, so giving. That I would lay waste to nations to have you look my way. That I am a lucky man, to even have you here with me, tonight."

 

Byleth opens his mouth, closes it, and then settles for looking away. Dima laughs and somehow, presses closer to Byleth, filling not only his mind and chest but his personal space. "You don't have to say anything. You do not need to return my feelings. I just wanted to make sure that you are aware of them."

 

"I..."

 

Dima, impossibly, leans in closer. His eyes possess a sort of fondness Byleth had no idea that he was even worthy of. "Byleth? May I?"

 

"...May you what?"

 

"Byleth..."

 

Byleth.

 

"Professor Byleth!"

 

Byleth shakes himself awake, pushing away from the table. He fell asleep in the library, poring over several books about the most famous bloodlines in Fódlan. Rubbing at one eye, he blinks up at Dimitri and Dedue, who stood over his chair. "Ah," Byleth says, through a small yawn. "Is it time already?"

 

"Professor," Dimitri begins to scold him, "you haven't been sleeping well, have you? We have told you time and time again to go to a healer!"

 

"It's not my nonexistent wounds," Byleth repeats, for what seems to be the millionth time. "I have never slept well."

 

His words are pointed, and Sothis, who was waking from her nap on the chair across from him, shoots him a weak glare. "Not..." Sothis pauses to yawn, "not my fault you inherited some of my traits. There are thousands of people that would be honored for me to share a body with them! You should be grateful."

 

Louder than necessary, Byleth shuts the books, and Sothis flinches at the noise. "Let me just put these away, and I'll join you."

 

Eager to be of some help, Dimitri eagerly scoops up a few of the books. Dedue immediately follows in his footsteps, taking some of the books out of Dimitri's hold and stepping away before he can grab them back. Dimitri shoots the other boy a half-teasing, half-serious frown, and Byleth turns away before they can see his small grin.

 

"Professor?"

 

"Yes?" Byleth asks, not facing the boys. He's sliding the books back onto the shelves carefully, trying not to be as loud as he was closing them. 

 

"Why were you reading about House Bartels and House Hyrm?" Dimitri inquires. He sounds more curious than accusing, but Byleth still straightens. 

 

Instead of saying something like, say, the truth, Byleth shrugs. "Before I came to the academy, I knew nothing of nobility or crests. Might as well read up on it."

 

"I would be happy to teach you about the royals and nobility of Faerghus," Dimitri offers, sounding a tad bit excited. He wonders why the prince's voice is positively radiating with happiness, then realizes that Dimitri had always liked to be helpful. 

 

"Perhaps after we're done with today," Byleth responds, pretending like he doesn't see Dimitri fighting back a bigger smile.

 

When they're finished with putting all of the novels and books away, Dimitri and Dedue lead Byleth to the cathedral. On the way there, Byleth prods Sothis.

 

Sothis?

 

Sothis floats down from where she was hovering above them, legs kicking out. "What is it, Byleth?"

 

You can see my dreams, right?

 

She wrinkles her nose. "Is this about when your Dima- and the sword- and the seeping darkness- because trust me, I have already done my very best to forget all about it."

 

No. For some reason, Byleth feels almost embarrassed. Something else.

 

Dropping to the floor without a sound, she matches his stride. "Well then, out with it! Don't dodge the subject when you were the one to bring it up!"

 

Byleth swallows. I believe that some of these dreams are not really mine.

 

A pause. "What do you mean?"

 

Well, Byleth thinks, somewhat nervous. Rather than them not being my dreams, I don't think that they are my memories. Recently, I've been dreaming about the past, and of Dima, and I'm wondering if they're just products of my own mind, or my real memories, the past that I cannot escape from.

 

Sothis takes a moment to rummage through his thoughts. "I think these are your memories," she says, after another pause. "No, I am positive that they are your memories, and not some figment of your dreams. Why?"

 

I do not believe that Dima would say such things.

 

"What things?" Sothis asks, staring at him with an odd expression.

 

Byleth blinks. I won't repeat them.

 

A smirk crawls across her face viciously, one that reminds Byleth distinctly of Sylvain and makes him incredibly uncomfortable. "Oh? What things? Things like, 'I wish to learn-'"

 

Please don't.

 

She pouts. "You're absolutely no fun whatsoever. Fine. If you don't get it, I will repeat it again for you. These are your memories, even if you don't remember them. I wouldn't expect you to anyway, you've always had a terrible memory. The only thing that you can remember without thinking deeply about it is fighting! Honestly!"

 

It feels as if the space within Byleth's chest has been filled with clouds, taking up all the space there and creating devastating storms within his body.

 

"Wait, are you upset or something? Or rather, do you not believe his words?" Sothis demands, sounding incredulous. "I thought you-"

 

"Professor?"

 

Byleth blinks away the turmoil festering and bubbling beneath his skin. He can still feel it crawling and creeping along his insides, pulsating like a heart unbound. "Yes?"

 

Dimitri clears his throat. "The Goddess' Rite of Rebirth is finally here. I asked Ingrid to round up your mercenaries! Let's move ahead with our plan."

 

"Leave it to me," Dedue replies immediately, nodding. "Professor, are you in as well?"

 

With a nod, Byleth agrees. "I'm hungry," he says, which was the truth.

 

"Umm... Oh!" Annette cuts in, before anyone can say anything. "Well, I'll be sure to whip you up some tasty treats when this is all over!"

 

He inclines his head again in thanks. 

 

Sylvain is groaning. "Ughhh. I can't believe we have to go on patrol when there's a festival in town! Professor, can't we sneak out and leave the patrolling to someone else?"

 

Byleth is about to refuse, but then he thinks about it. Although he was fighting to stop a war, there was no telling what sort of action could set it off. Perhaps he should let his students enjoy the festival. There was no telling when they would be able to enjoy another event.

 

"...Huh," Sothis begins, looking deep in thought as well. "Can you take on the mages by yourself?"

 

I can, Byleth thinks back. And I've got the mercenaries with me.

 

A little thrill goes up and down his spine. He wouldn't say he was reckless, running into battle like Felix, but there was no denying that Byleth enjoyed a good battle. And, as soon as he got his sword back...

 

Byleth missed the Sword of Creator dearly. After wielding that blade for so long, any other weapon had felt wrong in his grasp. Silver swords, gauntlets, even magic didn't seem right. He'd been spoiled by the sheer power of the relic.

 

"Oh!" Sothis exclaims, sounding a little excited. "And maybe we can battle the Death Knight without worrying about the students? Or perform what seems to be your favourite action right now... talking the enemies down..."

 

Another rush of adrenaline fills his veins. Byleth was never one to shy away from a good fight. If anything goes wrong...

 

"...We have thirteen Divine Pulses," Sothis finishes. "This is either the most stupid or brilliant idea we've ever had. Actually, I think it's quite stupid. But I can feel your excitement as my own. This is so moronic. Let's do it."

 

...I thought you wouldn't enjoy the idea.

 

Sothis shrugs. "I don't, not really." Before Byleth can reply, she barrels on. "But if you've inherited my tendency to sleep for long periods of time, you've infected me with a thrill for battle. I've seen your memories. I know that there's nothing more exciting to you compared to the heat of battle, and fighting difficult battles. And we've got multiple chances. And dozens of your mercenaries. As stupid as they seem, your father wouldn't hire any unskilled hands. Besides, I remember those mages being distinctly weak. Hurry and tell them, before I change my mind!"

 

With that decided, Byleth focuses back on his students. "...If you want to enjoy the festival," he begins, a little quieter now. "You have my permission."

 

The Blue Lions only stare.

 

Sylvain rubs the back of his neck, uncharacteristically nervous. "Professor, you know I was joking right? Come on, aren't you supposed to say things like 'don't go' and 'please stay?'"

 

Rolling his eyes, Felix crosses his arms across his chest. "What are you even saying? Have you been reading out of Ashe's novels? Or have you been using those lines on everything with a pulse?"

 

Ashe sputters, and before he can defend himself, Dimitri cuts in. "Of course we wouldn't abandon you for some festival, professor? Come now."

 

All of the Blue Lions nod in earnest agreement. Even the mercenaries, who are snickering to themselves.

 

Byleth can feel Sothis' glee rippling across his mind. He glares at her. ...You weren't actually planning on making me go in there without them, were you. You knew that they would disagree.

 

She examines her nails as if they bore the secrets of the universe. "Of course not, dummy."

 

Then why go along with it?

 

Sothis shrugs. "You're the one being an idiot. You actually believe that your Dima did not care for you. How could you possibly think such a thing, with the truth right in front of you?" She gestures lazily at his students, who are all watching him with wide eyes.

 

"Excuse me, professor," Linhardt asks, cutting into his thoughts before Byleth can reply to Sothis.

 

"What is it, Linhardt?"

 

The boy fidgets with his hands for a moment. "Say we do run into enemies. Will we have to... will we have to kill them?"

 

There's no skirting around this topic. "Yes. If it cannot be avoided, then yes."

 

Linhardt seems to deflate. "I- I see. Alright then." Mercedes inches closer to him, pressing a comforting hand to his back.

 

Felix scoffs. "Did you not have to kill anyone on your missions when you were with the Black Eagles?"

 

"Felix," Ingrid scolds.

 

"I did," Linhardt replies, a little more bland than usual. He's staring down at his hands, flexing them nervously. "I did."

 

"Well," Annette cuts in, forcing a cheerful smile. "On our last mission, we didn't have to kill anyone! We just knocked them out, and it was fine!"

 

The boy raises his brows. "But I heard that you quelled Lord Lonato's rebellion?" 

 

Ashe swallows, and looks over to Byleth. When he nods, Ashe turns back to Linhardt. "It's a long story that probably should be saved for later. But to summarize, we just had to... knock some people out."

 

Linhardt turns to Byleth. "How do you know when someone's knocked out for real, professor?"

 

Byleth makes vague hand movements that could possibly communicate fighting. "When it makes a 'thunk' sound, I think."

 

The Blue Lions stare. "I'm sorry," Ingrid begins, looking floored. "A what sound?"

 

"Thunk," Byleth says once more, swinging his hand down with slightly more enthusiasm.

 

"Thunk," Ashe repeats, looking slightly starry eyed. 

 

Dimitri lets out a little chuckle, one that has them all staring. It's such a happy sound, that many of the Blue Lions smile along with him. "You're- you're so cute, professor."

 

"Cute?" Byleth asks, a little confused. He's never been called cute before, save perhaps by the mercenaries. 

 

The prince waves it off, but now he's a little pink in the face. "Sorry, sorry, it's nothing. We're counting on you, professor."

 

Like last time, Seteth and Flayn appear as if from out of nowhere, approaching their group with a determined gait. "You seem a mite too relaxed for my liking," he accuses, "the Goddess' Rite of Rebirth is about to begin. While we are in the Goddess Tower, we are relying on you to secure the locations that are lacking in defense."

 

Flayn hides a giggle behind her hand, giving a Byleth a look filled with abstract glee. "May I let you in on something, professor? My brother can be a bit... callous."

 

Seteth gives her a wide eyed look, but she forgets on, as if she could not see it. "He told me that he was concerned about you, and hinted that perhaps you would be better off patrolling a coffin!" She laughs again, not hiding this sound behind a concealing hand.

 

Byleth can practically feel the nervous energy radiating off of Seteth. "That was said in jest, Flayn. And in confidence," Seteth hisses, making Flayn turn to hide a teasing smile. "Please remain by my side and do not cause any more trouble."

 

Annette and Mercedes laugh, and then stifle the sound awkwardly with a cough when Seteth turns their way. This makes Flayn seem to glow happiness.

 

The man clears his throat. "As a professor, you would do well to remember that it is your duty to guide your students down the path of righteousness." Seteth insists. 

 

Inexplicably, this makes all of his students bristle behind him. Flayn must sense it too, for she hurriedly joins the conversation. "Please excuse us, everyone. We shall see you again after the ceremony has concluded!"

 

The pair walk off. Once they're out of earshot, Byleth gives all of his students an assessing gaze. "What was that?"

 

"What was what?" Ingrid asks, head tilted to one side. 

 

"Why are you so on edge now?" Byleth asks, a little concerned. 

 

Annette pouts. "I think that he was judging you too harshly," she confesses. "What does he know about the path of righteousness, and what you're teaching us?"

 

"That's right," Ashe agrees, nose scrunching up. "I think his tone with you was a little too harsh."

 

Byleth purses his lips slightly. "I have no idea what you all are talking about. And besides, he was worried about you all. I don't blame him. He just expresses his concern in different ways."

 

"How do you know that?" Felix demands, sounding slightly testy.

 

How do I say things like, I knew him from a past life?

 

Sothis smiles. "You don't."

 

So Byleth shrugs instead. "I think that I can read people fairly well."

 

"Unfortunately for his Highness, you cannot," Sylvain insists, which makes Dimitri reach over to swat the boy. Sylvain ducks, letting out a loud squawk of protest.

 

Although he's a little afraid to ask, Byleth does anyway. "What does that mean?"

 

"Nothing," the Blue Lions chorus.

 

Dedue clears his throat. "It's time."

 

With a nod, Dimitri squares his shoulders. "All right. Let's hide where we can watch over the entrance to the Holy Mausoleum. If anyone suspicious enters, we'll follow them in and take them down. Got it?"

 

They're about to walk over when Ashe lets out a little 'eep.' Byleth's already got a hand on the hilt of his sword, and he turns to see Catherine standing at the entrance of the cathedral, with a few of her knights. She waves, and walks over to the Blue Lions, stride long and filled with confidence.

 

All of the Blue Lions, including a confused Linhardt, move slightly so they can hide Ashe from her direct line of sight. 

 

Sothis slaps a hand on her forehead. "Uh oh," she says, and Byleth is inclined to agree.

 

"Hey there," Catherine says, when she reaches them. "I don't think we've been properly introduced. I'm Catherine, a knight of Seiros. You must be the new professor. Captain Jeralt's kid, right?"

 

"Yes," Byleth nods. "My name is Byleth."

 

"Nice to meet you," she says, with a grand smile. "And, oh, I shouldn't have to say this, but don't hurt Lady Rhea, alright? I'll have to take care of you, if that happens, if you catch my drift." Catherine laughs a little when she says it.

 

Byleth nods, trying not to look at Ashe, who has flinched so hard Dedue had taken another step in front of him. 

 

"Oh," Catherine begins, peering around their shoulders. "Is that Ashe back there?"

 

Ashe takes a deep breath, and steps out around Dedue's back so he is more visible. "Yes," he begins, through gritted teeth. "Hello, Catherine."

 

Catherine frowns, likely sensing the tension around him. "Sorry to hear about Lord Lonato," she says, and Ashe's fists curl up and relax, very, very slowly. "I know that you cared for him dearly."

 

"Not," Ashe begins, sounding a little out of breath, "not your doing," he bites out.

 

Byleth hurries to cut in. "I am sorry, Catherine," he begins, hoping he doesn't sound as frantic as he feels, "but we really must continue our patrol."

 

Catherine slaps him on the back. "No worries, no worries! I gotta get back to my own patrol anyway. Hopefully I'll see you around later! Bye!" 

 

With another wave, she walks out of the cathedral, knights in tow.

 

"Ashe," Byleth says, as soon as she's gone. "Are you... are you alright?"

 

Ashe's fists are clenched into his uniform, and Dedue is rubbing his back slowly. "I will be," he hisses out. "Just- just give me a moment?"

 

Byleth stands off to the side as the Blue Lions all try to comfort him, but after a few moments, Ashe breaks away from the group to grasp at Byleth's hands. He gives them a tight squeeze.

 

"Ashe?" Byleth asks, when Ashe doesn't say anything more.

 

Another squeeze. "I'm alright now," he says quietly. "Let's go."

 

.

 

"It is as we suspected," Dimitri whispers, as the Western Church mages trickle into the Holy Mausoleum. "The enemy is within."

 

A mysterious mage, presumably the head of the group, barks orders as soon as he sees them. "Those Central Church dastards have spotted us... Buy me some time while I open the seal on the casket!"

 

"On it!" The soldiers call, and that's the cue for Byleth to look back on his own mercenaries and students, and nod at them silently.

 

They nod back. 

 

"Alright," Byleth begins, Sothis bringing up his memory from the last battle. The foes from the Western Church did not approach until they were approached, so there was no real reason to split up, unless Byleth really wanted his students to go on a fighting spree, which he did not want. "Stick together unless explicitly told otherwise. Yes, that means you, Felix. Mercedes, Linhardt, stay in the rear, preferably behind Dedue."

 

Byleth's eyes travel across the field until they land on the Death Knight. "Do not engage that one," Byleth says, "not yet."

 

"Not yet?!" Sylvain asks, a little shrill. "He looks kinda tough, professor."

 

Byleth rolls his shoulders. "I'm stronger," Byleth says, a little quiet.

 

This makes Sylvain laugh. "I don't doubt that you are."

 

They move as one group, picking off the stray mercenary or two. The students are careful not to kill anyone, delivering blows that would only knock people out, or at the very most, disable them for the rest of the battle.

 

"Thunk," Ingrid says, voice colored with glee, as she takes a mage down. For some reason, it makes Byleth sort of embarrassed, and makes the rest of the Blue Lions laugh.

 

"Do not get distracted," Byleth insists, and they all snap to attention, looking a little sheepish.

 

Although there were many soldiers that seemed to want to engage them, as soon as they saw them pick off individuals one by one, they seemed to hover nervously in the background, worried about their own safety. This makes Sothis roll her eyes. "Cowards."

 

The head mage, who was busy with the seal, finally glances over his shoulder and lets out a yelp so loud Byleth can hear it from across the hall. They're making good time. Byleth was sure that they would be able to reach the mage before he would call reinforcements.  "Death Knight," the mage exclaims, shrill. "Prove your strength and scatter these fools!"

 

The Death Knight's hand clenches around the hilt of his scythe. "I don't take commands. Or waste my time on weaklings."

 

"Fine, fine!" The mage shrieks. "I have to do everything by myself, don't I? You worthless fools! You're too late anyway!" 

 

The mage breaks the seal.

 

Byleth stops in his tracks. 

 

Even the mercenaries have stopped to stare. 

 

"Aha," the mage laughs, reaching into the casket, "it's not what we were expecting, but it will do!"

 

"Huh," Sothis murmurs softly. "That... that did not happen last time, not this early. Divine Pulse? Or shall we see what will happen next?"

 

"Oh no," Dimitri says, raising his voice. "We've got to stop him from taking whatever is in that casket!"

 

For some reason, Byleth is not all that worried, even when the mage lifts the Sword of the Creator out. It gleams in the light, and all Byleth can think is 'unworthy.'

 

How dare he, Byleth thinks, and it's so unlike his own, previous thoughts that he wonders if it was Sothis instead.

 

"What a beautiful weapon," the mage coos, running a hand down the blade slowly. Sothis shudders at the back of his mind. "I dare say that it's a hero's relic, therefore it belongs with us, the Western Church!"

 

He waves it around experimentally, and cackles once more. "Well, what are you doing just standing there? Clear a path for me, and let's get out of here!"

 

"Byleth," Sothis warns. "Maybe now would be a good time..."

 

"Professor," Mercedes says, trying to catch his eye. "What now? Block the doors off?"

 

"Wait," Byleth says, and then stops.

 

No one is expecting what comes next.

 

The blade of the sword wraps around the mage's arm, as if alive. It curls up and around the limb, movements distinctly snake-like, and it's so eerie Byleth can practically feel it upon his own skin. "W-what the hell?!" The mage shrieks, letting go of the hilt. The blade does not stop its slow ascension up his arm, and then it tightens- so much so that Byleth can practically hear the crack- although it would be covered up by the mage's shriek of pain.

 

"Help me," the mage screams, as he sinks to his knees. He's shaking his arm frantically, clawing at the blade with his other hand in an attempt to pry it off of his skin. "Help me! Don't just stand there, you fools! Help me- agh!"

 

The Sword of the Creator pulses red.

 

As if on cue, massive tendrils shoot out of the sword, black as night, glowing and pulsating an ugly shade of crimson. It snakes out of the blade and quickly climbs up the mage's body, the darkness alive with merciless movements, eager to consume the man's body alive.

 

I thought this only happened if there was a crest stone! Byleth thought, in abstract horror. He'd only ever seen Miklan transform, and that seemed like an entire lifetime ago.

 

"He wasn't worthy," Sothis replies, sounding far too calm for this kind of situation.

 

Sothis, is now really the time to be vague-

 

The mage screams in horror, clawing at his mask and writhing on the floor, sounding more monster than man.

 

For some reason, Byleth is reminding of the darkness that Dima had licked off of his palms and off of the blade- then is immediately shaken off by the memory, as he watches the darkness seep into the mage's robes and into the crevices of his mask. 

 

The mage sounds like he's choking, like he was being strangled under the insistence of the dark mass of horrifying tendrils. Once the mage had been completely consumed by the void of pitch black tendrils, they spread out around him, pulsating endlessly, twisting and bending into a bigger form.

 

It bubbles, and writhes, and pulsates, a mass of unending horror. If Byleth listened closely, he could hear the mage still howling in what seemed like terrible pain, underneath the beast's roars.

 

The mass of carnage finally deigns to take a shape. Like the beast Miklan had become, it's as dark as night, four legged, and with a massive, deadly looking horn atop its head- but unlike Miklan, it's covered in glossy black scales, and it's sprouted wings- wings that did not take the form of any sort of wyvern or bird, but rather a mockery of them, as if the tendrils were merely mimicking the outline of wings rather than becoming them. What Byleth found most eerie, however, was that its entire body was covered in eyes, scarlet coloured, blinking sideways. The eyes came in different shapes and sizes. One of them seemed to take up the beast's entire face. They seemed to glow, and focused on every single individual in the room. Byleth counted seven eyes looking at him alone. 

 

The beast let out an ear-piercing roar.

 

"What the fuck," one of his mercenaries hiss. "What the actual fuck is that."

 

"Seconded," Sylvain says, but it comes out as more of a whisper.

 

"I'm out," one of the enemies shout, jumping down the stairs leading up to the casket. Creepily, all of the eyes focus on the man as one, and with one quick swipe of the beast's tail, the man is shot across the room and into one of the walls. 

 

The Blue Lions all look at Byleth as one. "That was a hero's relic," Dimitri exclaims, hands tightening around his lance. "What now, professor?"

 

"Let's run," Linhardt says, voice slightly shaky.

 

Byleth gives them all a once over, but before he can open his mouth, he hears the clattering of horse hooves. He turns to see the Death Knight charging at the beast, scythe raised. The beast roars, erecting a barrier, which the scythe bounces uselessly off of.

 

The beast opens its mouth and breathes fire, which the Death Knight only barely dodges.

 

"I thought that guy was with them," Felix says, jerking his chin at the fleeing enemies. 

 

Byleth shrugs. "I think that he only wants to fight the strong," Byleth says, before looking at his students. "You may run if you wish," Byleth insists, aware that they might not be ready to fight a beast. Besides, Byleth's fought a few by himself before at Zanado, before his students could reach him. They were tough battles, but he won nonetheless.

 

Despite this, he turns to his mercenaries and arches a brow. He doesn't have to say a word for them to stiffen. 

 

"Yeah, yeah," one of them says, readying his sword. "Let's get this over with! That thing is fuckin' freaky as hell!"

 

His mercenaries cheer, and then charge the beast. Byleth is about to follow, but then is stopped by a hand on his wrist. It's Dimitri, who flushes when they meet eyes. "You didn't think we'd abandon you to run away from this thing?"

 

"I wouldn't blame you," Byleth replies, "but if we're doing this, we're doing it now."

 

"Right!" His students exclaim, even the less enthusiastic ones. They run up the steps and charge the beast.

 

His mercenaries have already done a decent job of taking down a few of the beast's barriers, and surprisingly, so has the Death Knight. Byleth watches him hack at a few of the exposed eyes, and nods in approval.

 

"When the barriers are down, aim for the eyes," Byleth calls, and smiles a little to himself when he hears an overwhelming 'yes!'

 

Even though his students have yet to fight a demonic beast, he's surprised that all of them are falling into an easy rhythm. He can hear Annette murmuring to herself, things like 'it's like any old enemy, but bigger,' which seems to not only reassure her but the people around her.

 

The beast has a few devastating attacks which Byleth has to force himself to get used to, like how with a flap of the artificial wings, everyone is pushed far back, and how it could literally spew fire- intimidating, but not impossible to beat. The eyes, which seemed a little terrifying at first, only served as targets.

 

Byleth can feel himself ordering his students around like he would during the war, and has to make himself ease up a little. It was only one beast, and despite strong, with even stronger defense, it had nothing on the tougher beasts leading up to Edelgard in his past life. 

 

He could even ignore that the Death Knight was, for some reason, being oddly helpful.

 

The beast swings at them with his tail once more, and Ingrid is caught by the edge of the attack, groaning as she falls to the floor. Immediately, Mercedes runs over to her and heals her up as quickly as she can, which leaves her vulnerable to an attack. 

 

Several of the eyes focus on Mercedes, and Byleth stiffens. He's too far to reach her. He looks around frantically, then realizes that the closest person to her, Linhardt, is not only weak to most of the beast's attacks, but also perhaps a little farther than he'd like. And Dedue, whom he trusts to be able to handle at least one of the attacks, is next to Byleth, hacking away at the revealed openings in the barrier. "Mercedes!" Byleth calls, digging his sword into another eye to hopefully distract the beast. It doesn't work. The beast's claw is about to swipe at her-

 

The attack doesn't connect. 

 

Byleth freezes up when he realizes that the Death Knight has taken the brunt of the attack for Mercedes. He'd dismounted from his horse, and leapt in front of her, ruining his armor with four humungous slashes across the torso-

 

As well as knocking off his mask and sending it careening across the room.

 

To Byleth's feet.

 

"Are you-?!" Mercedes demands, sounding rightfully terrified. She immediately waves a healing spell over him, closing his wounds.

 

The Death Knight hurries to cover his face with his hands.

 

"Hey!" Ashe calls, notching three arrows and letting them fly- only one of them hits an eye, but it directs the beast's attention all the same. "Over here you- you ugly monster!"

 

Felix and Sylvain immediately step in for a follow up, breaking the last of the beast's barrier. Sensing an opportunity, Dimitri immediately sends his lance through the beast's largest eye, and the beast lets out a final, ugly roar, before crumpling to the floor.

 

The darkness dissolves, revealing only the mage, and the Sword of the Creator.

 

Out of the corner of his eye, Byleth can see the Death Knight not so discreetly searching for his mask. Byleth quickly picks it up, examining it for a moment before calling out and waving the mask around. "Looking for this?"

 

When the Death Knight realizes that Byleth was the one holding the mask, he stiffens, and- warps away. 

 

"Wait!" Mercedes calls, hand outstretched. When she realizes that he's really disappeared, she lowers her hand. It trembles slightly, and Byleth has to turn away.

 

Byleth allows himself a sigh of relief. "Well," Sothis begins, sounding oddly pleased. "Despite everything that was different, that went oddly fine! Despite the nightmarish beast and how the mage somehow unlocked the seal quicker than last time! I wonder if Mercedes recognized him."

 

When the mercenaries start patting themselves on the back, and hugging each other, the Blue Lions realize that the fight seems to be over.

 

"That was horrible," Linhardt exclaims, as he's brought into a hug by several of the mercenaries and Ashe. "Absolutely dreadful."

 

"It seems as though hero's relics really do possess terrifying power- wait, professor?" Dimitri exclaims, sounding slightly panicked. "What are you doing?!"

 

Byleth doesn't acknowledge him. He walks over to the sword, and picks it up, marveling at how nostalgic it seems to feel to hold the Sword of the Creator, finally. The familiar weight in his hands make him relax.

 

"Professor, don't!" Annette shrieks, hands over her mouth.

 

He gives the blade a few experimental swings, and it pulses red in his hands before finally settling. A little relieved, Byleth presses the blade to his chest, and- it wraps around his body, too.

 

"Get it off of him!" Sylvain shouts, running to the professor's side, alongside his other students.

 

"It's okay," Byleth says firmly, even if he's a bit confused at the way it crawls up his torso. "I'm alright."

 

The sword seems to rumble, and shake. Byleth glances down at the sword. "I think it's... hugging me?" Byleth says, and it comes out as more of a question than a statement. 

 

It flies back into Byleth's hand when it seems to be satisfied, and when Byleth attaches the sword to his hip, it seems to curl up there before settling.

 

"What the hell," spits Felix.

 

"Seconded," Sothis murmurs, despite the fact that no one can hear her but Byleth.

 

As if on cue, Catherine and her knights burst down the door, sounding frantic. "Sorry it took so long to get here! We had to catch the others, who were trying to escape-" Catherine glances around the ruined Mausoleum and gapes. "What the hell happened here?"

 

A few seconds after she declares this, Jeralt comes flying in through the doors, looking frantic. His eyes narrow on Byleth.

 

"Byleth," his father begins ominously, and Byleth has the decency to feel slightly sheepish.

Chapter Text

"Is that what happened?" Rhea asks, serene as always. Her fingers are clasped tightly together, after Byleth finishes his tale. It wouldn't do well to lie right now.

 

"Yes, Rhea," Byleth says, attempting to put as much emotion into his voice as possible. 

 

Inexplicably, she smiles kindly at Byleth. "I cannot thank you enough for defeating those invaders in the Holy Mausoleum, and especially for protecting the Sword of the Creator. That sword is one of the Heroes' Relics, and the most precious artifact in the church's possession. It is also a weapon of terrifying power- which was demonstrated to you, as per your tale. See to it that you keep what transpired there is kept to yourself. Please ensure that the students who accompanied you understand that as well. Have I made myself clear?"

 

Byleth nods. "...Rhea?"

 

"Yes?"

 

"Why did that mage transform?" 

 

Her hands tighten across her chest. "I am assuming that you are referring to that unfortunate heretic," Rhea replies, her voice tight. "The one who dared lay their hands upon the relic despite being unworthy."

 

Byleth waits patiently for Rhea to collect herself. "His transformation into a monster was nothing short of divine punishment from the goddess. Punishment for someone arrogant and foolish enough to use a Hero's Relic even though they were unworthy and unqualified."

 

Seteth, who had not spoken until now, clears his throat. "If someone without a crest were to wield the relic you possess, they would meet the same fate as that mage."

 

"So, Seteth was aware of this," Sothis comments blandly, hands on her hips. "Interesting."

 

"But you," Rhea begins, and Byleth is startled by the present fondness in her tone, "you are worthy of wielding the Sword of the Creator, so there is no need to worry. I will entrust the sword to you. Please, use it wisely."

 

"Lady Rhea, wait!" Seteth exclaims. His brows furrow deeply. "Do you truly mean to give the Sword of the Creator to this stranger?! Surely it is not the sort of thing one hands over so readily, even to someone who has the ability to wield it!"

 

He glances at Byleth, shoulders drawn up into a tense line. "If someone like Nemesis were to appear again, all of Fódlan would be consumed by war!"

 

Sothis sighs. "He does have a point. Really, Rhea is quite impulsive, is she not?"

 

"Nemesis?" Byleth inquires, because he doesn't quite remember anything about this man. He remembers something like a dream, a faded memory, weapons falling from the sky, but whether or not that was the man that they were talking about-

 

"Nemesis, the King of Liberation," Seteth explains, eyes closed as if to keep emotions at bay. "He is an ancient king of mankind who was defeated by Seiros over a thousand years ago. When Fódlan was attacked by wicked gods, it is said that the goddess gifted Nemesis with the Sword of the Creator. Nemesis used that sword to defeat the wicked gods, saving all of Fódlan. Henceforth he was dubbed the King of Liberation. However, his power began to corrupt him until he, himself, turned to the darkness. Saint Seiros was forced to destroy him."

 

I thought that this story would resemble that dream I had when I first met you, Sothis.

 

Sothis reaches into Byleth's memories to find the man in question from his dreams. She chuckles. "Do all kings dress so sloppily? That is, if this man is Nemesis." Byleth can feel her pause as she rummages through the memory. "Hey. Byleth, doesn't this woman look like-?"

 

"Lady Rhea," Seteth intrudes, sounding as if he were near begging. "I beg you to reconsider. Given a little more time, we could accurately assess this stranger's abilities."

 

Rhea shakes her head, and Byleth cannot help but notice how her headpiece stays in place despite the movement. "No. I have faith, Seteth. Faith that our friend here will not be corrupted by wickedness.  Since the death of Nemesis, none have been able to wield the Sword of the Creator. Now, after all those long years of being sealed away, it has returned and found a new master."

 

"Rhea," Seteth replies, and Byleth is likely the only one who has realized that he did not call her 'Lady' Rhea, "are you truly satisfied like this? With entrusting... that, to a stranger?"

 

Rhea lifts a hand to her mouth to cover her tiny grin. "Well. It seems as if the sword itself has chosen the professor, correct?" She gestures to the sword curling lazily up Byleth's arm. It wraps around him, light enough so Byleth barely recognizes that it's there.

 

This didn't happen last time, Byleth thinks, a little desperately. 

 

"May I ask you something?" Byleth asks, quieter than ever.

 

"You may," Rhea nods. 

 

"Why is the sword... moving?"

 

Byleth definitely does not miss the way that Rhea and Seteth look at each other. "It is a special sword imbued by the power of the goddess," Rhea explains, although Byleth's sure that's true, it's not the case in this situation. "It surely has secrets and powers that even I have yet to see."

 

"...There you have it, professor." Seteth interrupts, a little too quickly. "See that you do not betray the trust the archbishop has seen fit to bestow upon you."

 

Sothis gasps, indignant. "They're totally ignoring your question!" She even stomps her foot.

 

Byleth opens his mouth to say something, but is swiftly interrupted by Seteth. "You are dismissed, professor."

 

Woodenly, Byleth walks out of the audience chamber. Outside are the Blue Lions, who smile and wave at him once he's out, and his father, who gives him a look.

 

"Uh oh," Sothis says.

 

Byleth nearly gulps. "Pardon me," he says to the Blue Lions. "I must speak to my father before we can discuss today's mission."

 

Annette mouths a 'good luck' to him as he's escorted to his father's office.

 

His father opens the door for him, and Byleth walks in slowly. There were not many things that Byleth would say that he was afraid of, but he was afraid of people angry at him, or disappointed in him.

 

Jeralt closes the door and locks it.

 

The sound seems to resonate around the room. 

 

Byleth doesn't want to be the one who speaks first, so he waits for his father to speak.

 

"Byleth," Jeralt begins.

 

"Yes..."

 

His father opens his mouth, closes it, then groans loudly. He runs a hand through his hair. "Dammit, Byleth, I'm too old for this. You worry me so much. Do you know how terrified I was when I heard the news? That you ran off without telling me? You know, we can actually fight these ones together, right?"

 

Ah. 

 

Another one of his greatest fears.

 

People worrying about him.

 

Jeralt pulls Byleth into his arms, hugging him tight, and Byleth collapses into his embrace. "Sorry," Byleth murmurs into his father's chest, "sorry."

 

They spend a few moments more like that, where Byleth pretends like he cannot feel his father shaking and like he cannot feel his eyes become a little wet. Finally, Jeralt releases his grip. "Okay. Now you're going to tell me what happened in there, because Rhea refuses to divulge anything."

 

Byleth tells the story again, but this time with a little more detail. Once he's done, his father puts a hand to his chin. 

 

"So you're absolutely positive that this didn't happen last time, especially the transformation," Jeralt recaps, as Byleth nods in turn. "Huh. Okay, so let's think. What have you done that's different?"

 

"Kostas," Byleth responds, lifting a finger. "Sparing Lonato..."

 

"It might be Lonato," Jeralt admits gruffly. "Didn't you say that he was working with the Western Church?"

 

Sothis sighs. "Unless Lonato learned how to quickly open ancient seals, I seriously doubt it." Byleth quickly tells his father what Sothis just said, and his father frowns deeply. 

 

"Maybe he's just lucky," Jeralt says, then scoffs bitterly. "Or unlucky, depending on how you look at it. Poor idiot. I wonder if the early exposure to demonic beasts would change anything... Speaking of that sword, why is it crawling up your arm? Did it do that last time as well?"

 

He gestures at the sword, which now has transferred to the other arm, sliding around it like a snake. 

 

"No," Byleth says, and despite himself it cannot help but come out as a little whine. "I am aware that relics move, but the Sword of the Creator has never moved unless I willed it to."

 

"Willed it to?"

 

He nods. "In battle," Byleth begins, and the sword flies to Byleth's hand so suddenly that Byleth blinks, "the sword can stretch out and attack far away enemies." Byleth demonstrates, careful to not hit his father or anything else in the room. It cracks out like a whip.

 

"Huh," his father replies. From anyone else, it would sound dismissive, but his father never liked to think aloud. "Bit freaky, isn't it? It looks like a spine."

 

When Byleth runs a hand down the blade, it seems to tremble. "You're right," Byleth says. "What in the world are these things made of?"

 

"Hm," Jeralt says. "A spine, capable of stretching, attacking, and moving. What the hell."

 

Byleth nods his agreement.

 

"Okay," his father says, clapping his hands together. "I'll try and look into it too. For now, we should plan out the rest of the months. It's Miklan, and then the Death Knight kidnapping Flayn-"

 

Sothis perks up. "Speaking of the Death Knight, tell your father what happened!"

 

"That's right," Byleth begins, a little fast. He takes the mask out of his cloak. "I knocked off the Death Knight's mask and kept it. I doubt that will stop him, but you never know. But..."

 

His father motions for him to keep speaking. "But...?"

 

"I think Mercedes saw-"

 

A loud thump at the door prevents Byleth from continuing. His father looks at him and nods. As one, they walk cautiously to the door, weapons in hand. Jeralt swings the door open and-

 

-the Blue Lions fall into the room, stumbling a little.

 

"Hi, professor!" Annette announces, a little awkwardly. "We were just waiting for you!"

 

"We definitely weren't spying or anything," Ashe adds on, voice shaking.

 

Felix groans. "Maybe we could have been spying," he begins, "if anyone could hear anything over Sylvain's insistent muttering!"

 

"Hey," Sylvain hurries to defend himself. "It wasn't just me! Mercedes and Dimitri were whispering to themselves too!"

 

"Listen," Linhardt cuts in. "All of us were whispering... but especially Sylvain."

 

"Okay, okay," Jeralt interrupts, and escorts them all inside, closing the door. "Get in already, you're blocking off the hallway. You wanted to talk to Byleth, right?"

 

As one, the Blue Lions stare at Dimitri. He squares his shoulders. "I was listening in on Rhea, Seteth, and Shamir's conversation with the apprehended men- they're from the Western Church, and that they were not only behind this incident, but they were also behind the manipulation of Lord Lonato. I imagine that the Western Church's intention was to eliminate Lady Rhea, and the Central Church's authority along with her. Naturally, the knights will be riding out to question the Western Church's top officials. Or rather... to punish them. As for the men they have captured... They... They will be executed."

 

All of the Blue Lions tense up. 

 

"When they ride, your Highness, we will likely be asked to carry out said punishment." Dedue says, a little solemn.

 

Dimitri nods, then turns to Byleth. "Indeed. Now, I don't mean to be rude, professor, but I must say your situation is rather unusual. You had said that you grew up knowing nothing about either Church, correct?" The prince glances at Jeralt. "For someone to grow up in Fódlan and yet never have any contact with the Church of Seiros is... it's hard to believe."

 

"I just didn't want my kid getting involved with any of that," Jeralt interrupts abruptly. "That's all."

 

Dimitri opens his mouth to try and say something, but he must think better of it, so he closes his mouth. 

 

"I wonder why the archbishop would hire someone like that as a professor," Dedue adds thoughtfully, and Byleth and Jeralt share a look that everyone else in the room catches.

 

There's a moment of thick, heady tension in the air that no one seems eager to break. 

 

"Um," Ashe begins, sounding faint. "So Lady Rhea had those people killed, right? What... what would she do if she caught Lonato...?"

 

Linhardt tilts his head to the side. "Caught?"

 

Ashe looks over at Byleth, eyes pleading, and Byleth nods. "Well... We were able to spare Lord Lonato, but he ran off. I just... I couldn't bear to hurt my father! Please don't tell anyone, Linhardt!"

 

Linhardt yawns, shrugging at the same time. "I wouldn't tell anyone. Besides, useless bloodshed is abhorrent. You should never be expected to raise a hand to your own father, no matter who you are."

 

"Linhardt," Ashe breathes, and then collapses onto Linhardt's chest, hugging the boy gently. Linhardt wheezes quietly, and his face seems to twist, but he hugs Ashe back ever so softly.

 

Mercedes clears her throat a little awkwardly. "Excuse me, everyone. I have something to... to say."

 

When she has attracted everyone's attention, she clears her throat again. "When that knight's mask was knocked off... I could be wrong, but I swear that I saw Emile underneath the mask."

 

"Wait," Ingrid breathes. "You mean your brother? Like, professor Jeritza?"

 

Mercedes nods slowly. Her hands shake a little, so Annette takes one of them and squeezes them softly. "Yes. I might be wrong, because it's been years and years since I've seen his face. But I... I think that was my brother!"

 

She turns wide, teary eyes on her professor. "Please, please, professor! What if someone from the church finds out that he was the one helping the Western Church's forces?! What if he was killed for it? I don't know what that boy is thinking, joining those men and helping them break into the Holy Mausoleum, but I swear that he's a good person, professor!"

 

"What do you want me to do?" Byleth asks, a little bewildered.

 

"I- I don't know," Mercedes breathes, gasping for air. "I don't know. He'll run away if he sees me, but maybe he'll listen to you. Please, professor, help Emile."

 

"I'll do my best," Byleth says, and is careful not to make any promises.

 

"Maybe..." Felix begins to say, then frowns when everyone looks at him. "Maybe he just wanted to fight strong things, like the professor said. He did try and take down that... that thing."

 

"Speaking of that thing," Sylvain says,  sounding a little bewildered. "What the hell was that?! And why do you still carry that sword, professor?" He gestures lamely at the Sword of Creator, still curled on his arm.

 

Byleth shares a look with Sothis, who nods. "That was a demonic beast," he explains, and then urges the sword to fly to his hand. "The mage turned into one because the sword deemed him unworthy."

 

"The sword?" Ashe inquires, still clinging to Linhardt.

 

"Yes," Byleth replies. "A hero's relic."

 

"Now that you mention it..." Dimitri trails off, inspecting the sword. "It does move and look like one. But I've never seen a relic move this much!"

 

Mercedes' hands fly up to her pendant, clutching at it with desperate hands. "Mine pulses like a second heartbeat," she adds, and her eyes go misty.

 

"Areadbhar, the relic that belonged to my father, seemed to twitch as if it possessed fingers," Dimitri adds, looking lost in thought.

 

"And the Lance of Ruin, my house's relic, just wiggles," Sylvain offers, his smile a little too tight around the edges.

 

Ingrid hums thoughtfully. "I've never seen Lúin move, but then again, I haven't seen it in almost a decade, because my father likes to store it away."

 

Felix scoffs, folding his arms across his chest. "I've never seen the Aegis shield move."

 

"Have you wielded it before?" Ashe asks.

 

"No," Felix replies, "but I'm sure I would have noticed it by now."

 

"I've never seen my family's relic, Crusher," Annette admits, "it's my uncle's. But from his descriptions, I am pretty sure that it moves around."

 

Linhardt's eyes sparkle. "This is all so fascinating," he seems to gush, "weapons that align with crests, that somehow have the mind to turn those unworthy into beasts?"

 

Byleth shakes his head. "Interest is fine, but you all are not allowed to divulge anything that happened here today." He waits for them to all nod.

 

"Besides," Annette cuts in, a little mystified. "Don't you also have a crest, Linhardt? Does your family not have a hero's relic?"

 

He shrugs. "If we had one, it wouldn't really be ours. I'm sure that one exists, but I am also sure that it was buried with Saint Cethleann."

 

"I'm still a little confused," Dimitri says suddenly. "Why is it that hero's relics turn people into monsters? Is it only hero's relics?"

 

Sothis peers into Byleth's memories. "It's also due to those crest stones, but I'm not sure if we can say that. And the Sword of the Creator is even missing its stone! But how was the imperial army mass producing them? I'm sure you cannot go outside and dig up crest stones from the dirt. There must be some way that they were creating multiple beasts at a time..."

 

"I don't know," Byleth replies, confused himself. "Either way, it's not something we can look into right now."

 

"Why not?" Dimitri inquires.

 

Byleth only realizes then, that he said all of that aloud. "I was just thinking to myself..."

 

"About?" Ingrid prompts, eyes wide. All of the Blue Lions are leaning in.

 

"Nothing," Byleth replies, a little too fast. They wilt a little under his quick response. "Either way, it's getting late. Get some rest. If you have any other questions, you can tell me them in the morning."

 

"Yes..." The Blue Lions chorus, then leave the room.

 

Jeralt ruffles Byleth's hair when they leave. "Next time, kiddo, you gotta keep me in the loop. Next is Miklan, right? Be careful."

 

"I know," Byleth responds, small. "I'll try my best."

 

.

 

When Byleth returns to his room, Jeritza is standing in the middle of it. Immediately, Byleth draws his sword, and despite the fact that Sothis is unable to attack the man, she lifts her fists as if she were about to punch the life out of him.

 

"Get him!" Sothis shrieks, sounding a little too excited.

 

Sothis.

 

"What? Ugh, you're so boring."

 

Jeritza doesn't even draw his rapier. "You saw, didn't you."

 

Byleth's lips straighten out into a thin line. Jeritza nods. Although Byleth wouldn't claim to know the man all that well, he seems uncharacteristically lost, as if presented with a great dilemma.

 

"Then why have you not told the Archbishop yet?" Jeritza asks, the inflection in his voice not giving anything away.

 

"It's not as if I am doing this for your sake," Byleth replies evenly.

 

"That girl..." Jeritza trails off, a little morose now. "I hardly even remember, and yet..."

 

Byleth flicks his wrist sharply, and the Sword of the Creator whips out, curling around Jeritza's torso and arms, bringing the man close enough so that Byleth can feel his breathing, so that the the two of them are eye level.

 

"I don't particularly care if you're with the Western Church or with Thales or whoever," Byleth murmurs, and doesn't miss the way that his eyes widen. "Don't involve the innocent with any of it, or any of my students. Got it?"

 

He motions for the sword to release Jeritza, and the man stumbles to the floor. "So you're not going to tell the Archbishop, are you."

 

"Again," Byleth says, whisper soft. "I'm not doing this for your sake. There's someone out there that thinks you're capable of good. Don't prove her wrong."

 

"I-" Jeritza begins to say, then shuts his mouth so hard that Byleth can practically hear the clatter. "I will not stop at this," he admits, and Byleth shrugs.

 

"I didn't think that you would," Byleth responds honestly. "I don't really know what your circumstances are, but... I can always spar with you. But you're not getting your mask back."

 

Byleth gestures at the door with his sword. "Leave, or we can fight now. Think about what I said, alright?"

 

Jeritza stands gracefully from the floor, brushing off imaginary dust. "We'll spar someday soon," Jeritza says, and then leaves, closing the door behind him.

 

Sothis immediately reaches up to tug at Byleth's hair. "You're an idiot!" Sothis hisses, yanking harder than usual. "Why didn't you kill him!? He was right there!"

 

"But Mercedes," Byleth replies softly, and Sothis ceases her pulling.

 

"Aargh!" Sothis shrieks, tugging at her own braids now. "Why did she have to say something like that! Why did someone so sweet have to be related to that- that man!"

 

"Did you hear what he said, Sothis?" Byleth asks.

 

"What."

 

"That he 'hardly even remembers.' What could that mean?" 

 

Sothis sighs, pulling at her dress now. "I don't know. You were reading about House Hyrm earlier, were you not? Didn't it say something about how the house now belonged to an adoptee?"

 

"Yeah," Byleth nods his head in approval. "And Jeritza uses the last name 'von Hyrm.' In our past life, Mercedes mentioned how House Bartels used her mother to create a child that would bear a crest, and how they had to leave that child behind when they ran away."

 

"That book also said that the members of House Bartels died under 'mysterious circumstances,'" Sothis replies, now a little mystified, "and that the deed went to Emile, but he disappeared."

 

"So what I was thinking," Byleth shares, "is that they did something to Emile and he killed them all. Or perhaps, some other individuals killed House Bartels and Emile left with them... and did something do them. And somehow, he ended up as Jeritza von Hyrm."

 

Sothis puts a hand to her chin, frowning. "Abandonment, even accidental, is traumatic at any age," she continues. "So essentially Mercedes and her mother fled, were unable to take Emile, unspeakable events occurred, and then House Bartels perished. And now Emile is under the guise of Jeritza, head of house Hyrm as an adoptee."

 

They both look at each other. "That's absolutely insane," Sothis murmurs, "does no one at the academy do a background check? I mean, look at you. They hired you, with no experience whatsoever!"

 

"But then again," Byleth adds on, "Solon worked here for many, many years, and no one caught on."

 

Both Byleth and Sothis sigh. "So what you're saying is that those years in between is probably what led Emile to become Jeritza, kill many of his family members, and become the Death Knight."

 

"We can't be sure yet," Byleth replies, "we'll need to talk with him to get the full story. I am pretty sure that it had something to do with Solon and Thales, however. In Remire village, the Death Knight worked with Solon, remember? That cannot be a coincidence. We also must think about the possibility that the books in the library are false, or deliberately glossing over the truth."

 

Sothis groans. "What in the world is happening," she demands, flinging herself onto the bed. "Why is it that even this is complicated..."

 

Byleth does not dispute the fact. Instead, he gets ready for bed.

 

.

 

Like in his last lifetime, Rhea and Seteth give him and the Blue Lions their next mission- to take down Miklan, who has stolen the Lance of Ruin from House Gautier.

 

When he announces this in class, Sylvain smiles at him, the grin warped around the edges, and excuses himself from the classroom. Ingrid, Dimitri, and Mercedes follow after him, their seats clattering. Felix seems as if he's about to stand, but only scowls and looks down at the desk. The rest of the class is staring at Felix.

 

Byleth dismisses class quickly after the announcement, and Felix is the first one out of his seat, cursing the entire way. The rest of them follow after, leaving in one large group. 

 

Instead of following, Byleth sighs, feeling utterly and totally worthless.

 

.

 

Later in the day, Dimitri approaches Byleth in the entrance hall. "So... We are to eradicate thieves in Kingdom territory. And... Miklan, Sylvain's older brother."

 

Dimitri shakes his head. "I'm sorry for dragging you into the Kingdom's petty squabbles. This should not be your burden to bear, but my own..."

 

It's Byleth's turn to shake his head. "I'm happy to help," Byleth replies honestly.

 

With that statement, Byleth is treated to one of Dimitri's earnest smiles. "Thank you, professor. Hearing you say that puts my mind at ease."

 

Byleth nods, and tries for a smile. It must not work, for Dimitri is now staring intensely at him, with that blush that seems to permanently rest upon his cheeks nowadays.

 

"I was wondering, professor..." Dimitri trails off, rubbing the back of his neck. He's looking at Byleth, but not directly at him, and everytime Byleth tries to catch his eyes the prince seems to flush. "Would you perhaps want to. See the town with me? Together? We could perhaps grab a bite to eat."

 

Byleth tries to catch his eyes properly. "That sounds lovely, Dimitri."

 

"Ah- I'm so honored, thank you," Dimitri replies, a little too quickly. The blush is a deep shade of red, now, and he's clasping his hands together and fiddling with his ring. "I'm looking forward to it."

 

"Yes," Byleth says, "it'll be nice to have an outing with all of the Blue Lions."

 

"With what."

 

"Your Highness?" Someone calls, appearing from behind Dimitri. It's Rodrigue, and the sight of him makes Byleth's chest clench. "Ah, it's been ages!"

 

One of Byleth's biggest regrets was not using a Divine Pulse to save Rodrigue, a regret that Byleth would carry with him for the rest of his life.

 

He would never forget the way Dimitri seemed to crumble as the man died before him, how Felix, despite all his claims to hate his father, would not talk to anyone for days after his death, not even his childhood friends. Sometimes, Byleth would see Sylvain or Ingrid or both, sitting in front of his door, waiting for him to come out.

 

Byleth was fond of the man, despite everything. Byleth knew about Glenn, and what Rodrigue had said to Felix, and how he seemed to favour Dimitri over his own son, but Byleth was still fond of him. His death laid heavily over his army for the rest of the war.

 

Dimitri's eyes widen. "It's been a long time! Two years, if I'm not mistaken."

 

"Indeed, your Highness!" Rodrigue grins. "You've grown so much in those years. I hardly recognize you."

 

Dimitri must notice Byleth's fidgeting, for he smiles at him and introduces Rodrigue to him. "This is Rodrigue, an old friend of my father's. I believe I've mentioned him, if you recall? When my father died four years ago, he looked after me as though I were his own son."

 

Rodrigue laughs, the sound bright and cheerful. "You flatter me, your Highness. It was my honour to care for such a fine, young man." He turns to Byleth with a little nod. "It's nice to finally meet you, professor. My son, Felix, has mentioned you on occasion."

 

"What brings you to the monastery, Rodrigue?" Dimitri asks, brighter than normal. "Is it the thieves plaguing the Kingdom?"

 

"I'm afraid so," Rodrigue answers, suddenly serious. "This is not merely a problem for House Gautier, but for everyone. The thieves have set up their headquarters in Fraldarius territory, and are mercilessly pillaging the villages of that area. You have our full support in stopping those dastards. I thank you for your help, both of you."

 

He trails off a little bit. "I also am here to inform the Archbishop that Cornelia will not be able to arrive until next month, due to some extenuating circumstances. She sends her regrets." 

 

"I don't trust that," Sothis whispers, hands on her hips. "I don't trust that at all."

 

Byleth nods. "I must be going. Professor Hanneman wants to see me." He nods again at both Dimitri and Rodrigue before walking away.

 

He can hear part of their conversation, still. "I heard that, by the way," Byleth hears Rodrigue say, his tone inexplicably teasing. "Your professor? Really, Dimitri."

 

"Rodrigue!" Byleth can hear Dimitri exclaim, indignantly.

 

Professor Hanneman tells Byleth about his crest, which Byleth already knew about, and sends him on his way. Linhardt is waiting outside the door for him.

 

"Anything new?" Linhardt asks, impatient sounding. 

 

"No," Byleth replies, shaking his head. "Nothing that I didn't know already."

 

"You know," Linhardt begins, conversationally. "It's quite odd that you know more about your own crest compared to a crest scholar, especially since you grew up outside the influence of the church."

 

He's doing his best to prod, but Byleth won't let him. He shrugs. "Perhaps," Byleth replies, and leaves it like that.

 

Linhardt frowns when he doesn't answer properly, but does not press the answer.

 

.

 

On Manuela's birthday, Byleth invites her to tea and presents her with a mint blend that he knows that she prefers.

 

"Thank you so, so very much, professor," Manuela bats her eyes at him. "You really know how to treat a woman right. You even got the amount of sugar I put in right! I'm really flattered, truly."

 

Byleth takes a loud sip of tea instead of responding. 

 

"How unfortunate that this isn't a one on one date," she sighs, lifting the cup to her lips. "I wanted it to be just the two of us, but of course your students always follow you around like little ducklings."

 

She gestures with her free hand to the bushes where the Blue Lions are hiding.

 

"Do we really have to hide like this," Byleth can hear Linhardt hiss blandly, and then hears about five people shushing him. He sighs.

 

"If I graded them on stealth, they would all fail," Byleth states, which makes Manuela burst out into laughter. 

 

"Looks like you have another rival, your Highness," Byleth can hear Sylvain coo. What did that even mean?

 

Sylvain falls out of the bush two seconds later from a punch to the arm, and Manuela and Byleth politely pretend that it didn't happen.

 

"Ah, young love," Manuela sighs, taking a sip of tea. Byleth won't even pretend to understand Manuela or the Blue Lions.

 

.

 

Byleth's walking around the monastery when he sees Gilbert, meandering around the entrance hall.

 

It feels as if it's been ages since he's seen the man, and he looks exactly the same as he did five years into the future past, but for some reason, seeing him feels nostalgic.

 

"Hail, professor." Gilbert introduces himself with a short bow. "If I may introduce myself, I am Gilbert. My life has been spent as a dedicated knight. I am to accompany you on your assignment. I may have slowed a step in recent years, but I pledge to you the full extent of my abilities."

 

"Are you Annette's father?" Byleth asks, because he's never known subtlety or grace. 

 

Byleth watches the man stutter through his words before he leaves and locates Annette and tells her that a man that shares her hair colour is in the entrance hall.

 

Annette practically shoots out of her seat, yelling her thanks, and dashes out of the room.

 

Sothis and Byleth bump their fists together.

 

.

 

"Sylvain?" Byleth calls out, knocking on his door. He can hear mysterious thumping in the room, so he braces himself as he walks inside. "I would like to talk to you about-"

 

When Byleth walks into Sylvain's room, he's treated to the sight of Sylvain, sprawled across the floor, half on the bed and half not. Felix is quickly bringing his arms in, as if he had just pushed Sylvain off of the bed.

 

"Hello, professor," Sylvain drawls, raising a hand. He makes no effort to get up. 

 

Felix nods at him, not at all acknowledging Sylvain on the floor. "I am hiding from my old man," he announces, and Byleth decides not to say anything about it.

 

"Okay," Byleth replies, closing the door behind him. "Actually, I am here to talk about Miklan, if that's alright."

 

Sylvain and Felix share a look, although Felix scowls as he catches himself. Sylvain sits up, frowning and rubbing the back of his head.

 

"You're not about to start pitying me, are you?" Sylvain asks. It sounds light and carefree, but Byleth doesn't let his guard down. "Because really, professor, I am so sorry that I had to bother you with that trash in the first place. Really, Miklan's just a brat, and like always, other have to pay for it."

 

Byleth won't beat around the bush. He refuses to disrespect Sylvain like that. "Rhea asked us to kill the bandits, as well as your brother. I'm asking if you want us to spare him."

 

Sylvain scoffs, and glares at Byleth, although it might be unconscious. "What brought this on?"

 

"We spared Lord Lonato," Byleth says simply. 

 

"Yeah, but we spared him because Ashe loves his father. And trust me, there's no love lost between my brother and I. Do whatever you want, kill him, arrest him, I seriously don't care."

 

Byleth nods. "If that's what you really want," Byleth replies evenly. "Then we can kill Miklan. But it's not too late to change your mind about it. And, another thing... Your brother stole the hero's relic, correct?"

 

Sylvain nods, solemn.

 

"He may turn into a beast as well," Byleth says.

 

"I thought we weren't talking about that?" Sylvain jokes, trying to lighten the mood. "He can burn for all I care. Seriously, professor, your worry is wasted on me. Trust me."

 

"I will worry nonetheless," Byleth responds, and offers his hand to Sylvain. He takes it, and allows himself to be pulled upright. "You are certainly worthy of care and compassion, Sylvain."

 

Releasing his hand, he nods at Sylvain, and then Felix, who turns his head as soon as he realizes that Byleth is looking at him. "Sorry for ruining the mood," Byleth announces, and leaves while Felix is sputtering.

 

.

 

Byleth walks into class, fanning himself lazily with a few papers, and walks up to his desk. "Hello, everyone. Good morning."

 

A few cheery greetings ring out, and Byleth spreads the papers out onto the table. "Today, we will- uh. Hello."

 

When Byleth looks up from his papers, he sees two people that don't belong to the Blue Lions stare back at him. 

 

"Please, continue!" Lysithea says, tapping her quill against her cheek. 

 

"Uh," Byleth repeats intelligently. "Hello, Lysithea. What. What are you doing here?"

 

Byleth was quite fond of the girl, because in his past life, she was a part of the Blue Lions. But that didn't exactly explain what the girl was doing here.

 

"I hate losing," Lysithea explains with a huff. "I absolutely cannot believe that that lazy oaf Linhardt beat me! I have never even seen him train! Therefore, I was curious about your teaching skills, because it certainly wasn't his own efforts, and so I am here. On a test period of sorts. I'll give it a month and see if you impress me or not."

 

"Okay," Byleth replies, still a little lost. He watches Lysithea glare at Linhardt, totally unaware of her ire as he dozes on. "And what about you, Ferdinand?"

 

"Me?" Ferdinand exclaims, looking shocked that he was even addressed. "I must admit that I am a bit curious about your teaching skills as well. Did you know that the first time I've ever seen Linhardt train was when he was running away from me? And yet, he actually took the effort to approach you himself! Needless to say, I was absolutely surprised. So I am here now, also on a trial period."

 

"Uh," Byleth says. "Okay. Welcome, I suppose. For this month, or longer if you decide to stay, you are a part of the Blue Lions."

 

The Blue Lions, excitable as ever, burst into cheers that wake Linhardt, the source of all this, from his nap. Confused, he turns to Dimitri. "What are they doing here?" He asks the prince, tilting his head to the side.

 

Sothis groans into her hands. "Why are there more of them?!"

 

.

 

Byleth collapses onto his bed, weary from the day. After Ferdinand and Lysithea had inexplicably joined his class, he had to rearrange his entire training plan to include them, so he was rather exhausted. Despite all this, however, he was unable to fall asleep, so Sothis deigned to tell him some stories.

 

It somehow delved into serious conversation.

 

I think that it's rather cool.

 

"...Cool?" Sothis' nose scrunches up. "You think that the fact that I can wipe your existence from this mortal coil and take your body as my own is cool?! It's not the slightest bit daunting to you, that I could rip the control of your body from your grasp and make you into an entirely new person? That I could quite literally kill you, right now. As we speak. Is that cool?!"

 

Byleth hums, a little perplexed as to why Sothis seems upset. Yeah. Besides, I trust you.

 

Her lip wobbles dangerously. "Well then. I see," Sothis murmurs, and Byleth is polite enough not to comment on her voice cracking in the middle of the words. "You know, I trust you too."

 

Then show it once in awhile, Byleth teases back. He gets a gentle flick to the forehead. Ow.

 

"Sleep now," Sothis murmurs, softer than ever. Her fingers drift across his forehead, brush green hair from his eyes. "Your hair is getting longer. Do you think it'll grow out like mine?"

 

It would be hard to maintain.

 

"I think you'd cut a nice figure, even if you would let it become dreadfully shaggy," Sothis says, whisper soft. She tugs ever so gently on the strands. "Rest. Let the flames die for a moment, Byleth."

 

What can else can Byleth do but comply?

 

.

 

It's Byleth, but not Byleth. 

 

It's his body, but not his body.

 

He's moving, he's breathing, he's existing, but everything is condensed behind a light fog. Not enough to disorient him. Just enough to make him aware that he has no control.

 

It's very strange.

 

Byleth remembers that Sothis told him that she could take control at anytime, so he relaxes. He trusts her. Perhaps she just wanted to experience fishing or something.

 

Sothis?

 

Sothis, is this you? You should warn me beforehand.

 

No answer.

 

Sothis? Can you not hear me?

 

His body is walking up a set of stairs, footsteps too soft to be human. His head feels as if it's been layered with a soft cloud. Byleth realizes that he's being escorted to his father's room, and stiffens slightly.

 

Byleth can feel his hand raise to knock at the door, three sharp raps, but he had no control over that either.

 

No answer.

 

Byleth's mouth sighs. Six sharp raps.

 

"Yeah, yeah," Jeralt's voice calls from inside. "Yeah, I'm coming, no need to keep knocking."

 

Jeralt pulls open the door, looking disheveled and extremely tired. Byleth feels really terrible. Byleth had no intention of hurting his father whatsoever, and the fact that he had even hurt him inadvertently like this was practically criminal.

 

"Byleth?" His father asks, sounding quizzical. "What are you doing up at this hour?"

 

"Jeralt Eisner," Sothis says, and Byleth knows that it's Sothis. No one else possessed that accent.

 

"...You're not Byleth," Jeralt says, and for some reason, that makes Byleth's chest flood with warmth. 

 

He can feel the hum of approval. "My, you are so intelligent. Tell me, dearest Blade Breaker, you know who I am, correct?"

 

Jeralt's eyes narrow, before gesturing Sothis to come in. She crosses the threshold dutifully, and closes the door silently behind her, making sure to fasten the lock.

 

"Is Byleth okay? ...Sothis."

 

"Full marks," Sothis replies, and Byleth can feel her own fondness alongside his own. "He is currently fast asleep. Do not worry. He's been really tired as of late."

 

His father snorts. "Kid needs the rest," Jeralt scolds, sounding fond.

 

Jeralt huffs, and moves to sit on the couch. Without asking, Sothis sits across from him. "Can he hear us right now?"

 

"No," Sothis replies. "I made sure of it."

 

Huh.

 

Then how could Byleth...?

 

"I suppose you came here for a reason," Jeralt states, sinking into the seat. "Especially with that expression. Go on, then."

 

Sothis huffs. "I came to tell you about my goal, and my goal alone. I would like an accomplice in my endeavors. Byleth must never know."

 

"Is this about the body in the Holy Tomb?" Jeralt demands, sounding quite suspicious. "Or something else entirely? Because I'll be honest, I know nothing of time related shenanigans."

 

"Full marks again the first time," Sothis replies, and Byleth can feel their lips turn up. "I plan to make it my own. That is, the body."

 

Byleth blanks out.

 

Jeralt's face hardens, expression stormy. "How would that even work? How is that even possible? Will you be alright? Will Byleth be alright?"

 

Sothis smiles, and it's not pretty. Even unable to see it, Byleth knows.

 

"I don't know. I am a goddess, though. I will find a way to make it work."

 

"Then why-" Jeralt clears his throat. "I don't really understand your relationship with my son, not fully, but I don't think you would actively seek to-"

 

"I have a reason," Sothis replies, and her fists clench into Byleth's clothes. "There's something that I wish to accomplish, and I cannot use Byleth for these goals. He's far too compassionate, far too caring. During the war, he couldn't bear to cut his own students down. He would beg them to retreat, even if they were not technically his students in the first place. Towards the end of the war, he thought himself a sword, a weapon instead of a mortal. He even had compassion for that warmongering stain on humanity. He still does. That's why I cannot burden him with this."

 

His father sits up, attentive now. "What is it?"

 

"It's alright if he hates me for it," Sothis continues, and Byleth can feel her apprehension like a snake slithering down his spine. "I would rather he despise me than become hurt."

 

His father's brows furrow. "Hey... Wait, you're not suggesting..."

 

"That's why I will do it for him," Sothis announces, drumming her fingers on their shared thigh. "I will kill Edelgard and if needed, Rhea."

 

.

 

The next morning Byleth is awake before Sothis. He's sitting cross legged on the bed, staring up into the ceiling.

 

Sothis stirs, out of his body and curled up onto the bed. As if last night never happened. She rubs at one eye, yawns loudly, and turns to Byleth. Sothis searches something in his gaze, in his memories, and her nose scrunches up slightly. "...I suppose you heard all of last night."

 

"Yes."

 

"And you have some things that you would like to say to me." Rather than sounding resigned, she sounds... Excited.

 

Byleth breathes deeply, in and out. "Yes, Sothis. Let's talk."

Chapter Text

It feels as if Byleth and Sothis are seated perilously across from one another on a set of scales, and one wrong word could tip the already fragile balance they share and send them careening over the edge into a pit of misunderstandings.

 

"You start," Byleth offers, waving an awkward hand in her general direction.

 

"No, you," Sothis insists. "You were the one who wanted to bring up this entire discussion in the first place, remember?"

 

Byleth shakes his head. "I wouldn't know where to begin..."

 

Sothis yawns, stretching out her limbs and luxuriating in the morning's sweet silence, as if the result of this conversation had no real effect on her whatsoever. "Then I suppose that we're at an impasse."

 

"No," Byleth replies, clenching his fists into the bedsheets. "No, you're going to start, Sothis."

 

"Why?"

 

"Because I cannot read your mind, Sothis," Byleth says, far more impatient than he's used to being. He cannot recall ever feeling impatient in his life. "Although you know everything about me, and although you insist that we are one, I am hardly privy to the inner working of your mind. Please share your thoughts with me, Sothis!"

 

"Okay," Sothis allows, swinging her feet off of the bed and kicking them lazily into the air. "I want to use the body in the Holy Tomb as my own and kill Edelgard. Perhaps Rhea too. There. Satisfied?"

 

"No," Byleth says. 

 

"No?" Sothis mocks, hand curling into fists at her sides. "I must say, Byleth, that I have really no idea how you've managed to talk your way out of battle when you're this obtuse and inelegant."

 

He shakes his head. "Insulting me won't diffuse the situation. We must talk about this, Sothis."

 

"I've already said what must be said." Sothis says, voice hard. 

 

"Then-" Byleth stops himself, coming up at the end of a chain which halts any sort of thought. "Then convince me of it."

 

Sothis turns to look at him, brows raised. "Convince you of what?"

 

It's as if the rattling balance they're sharing has stilled, if only for a moment. "Convince me that Edelgard must die," Byleth announces, then swallows tastes like blood coating his tongue, "and if you succeed, I'll kill her myself."

 

Sothis' eyes shine in a way that seems more childlike than blood thirsty. She searches his gaze, his thoughts, and when she finds nothing but determination her smile seems to brighten even more somehow, as if like the sun. "Excellent."

 

Byleth raises a hand. "I am not finished. I'll also try my best to convince you otherwise."

 

"Hah!" Sothis scoffs, swinging her legs back onto the bed and kicking at his shins, "good luck with that, Byleth."

 

Sothis straightens her posture, gathers her hands into her lap, and smiles so sweetly Byleth can practically see honey drip from her mouth.

 

"Edelgard killed you," she begins, and before Byleth can even retort to that, she barges on forth with the arrogance and confidence only one possessing power could possibly hope to achieve in her tone and in the slant of her mouth. "And you're not the only one who has died by her hand. How many lives have been sacrificed in the pursuit of her war?"

 

When Byleth says nothing, only inclining his head as an invitation for her to continue, she closes her eyes.

 

"Mind you, you've made me absolutely awful. This is such a terrible way to say it, but you've made me- more human, I suppose. I must confess that I do not remember ever being divine, but I am not going to pretend like this isn't at least partly personal. I felt it, you know. When you died? It was if a part of me was there- and then gone. You did not leave me slowly. The lives of mortals are so fleeting, so quick to burn out, like a candle desperately trying to keep alight despite a raging storm. I never imagined that you would leave me the same way."

 

"I have always been with you, even when you thought I had left. I have been watching over you all this time." Sothis continues, looking down into her lap. "I cannot remember a time without. And then... you were gone. Just like that! No goodbyes, no chance to heal you, you were simply gone. Like you never existed. You had no Divine Pulses, so I tried my best with what little power I could scrounge up, but..."

 

Sothis stares up at the ceiling, as if it would provide answers. "So I must say that it's at least somewhat personal."

 

"But then again..."

 

Sothis waves a hand, and Byleth hits the sheets, the world going dark.

 

"...I have many more reasons."

 

Byleth sits up in the Holy Tomb and shoots Sothis an incredulous stare. "Did you knock me out?"

 

"What a crude way of putting it," Sothis allows, "but I did indeed put you to sleep. This way we can both experience your memories once more."

 

Sothis waves a hand and they're sitting on a tomb, watching Dimitri- Dima, cackle maniacally, as if possessed by not only his own haunted thoughts but the spirits that clung to him in their wake. 

 

"Is this some kind of twisted joke?!" Dima bellows, and Byleth's chest aches.

 

"...Are you really going to use Dima against me?" Byleth asks, almost a whisper.

 

"This is important," Sothis replies, but at least has the decency to sound apologetic. "Remember this, Byleth. Edelgard is the Flame Emperor. In order to commit such terrible crimes, such as the Remire village tragedy, she donned a mask as to not implicate the Empire when she committed them. Pathetic."

 

"But..." The Tomb around them ripples, and they're now standing in the burnt wreckage of Remire, watching the Flame Emperor approach both Byleth and Jeralt. "She said here that she had nothing to do with this one, at least."

 

Sothis shakes her head. "Even if that were the case, she still did nothing to stop it. I'm assuming that she was still watching, and yet despite her words, did not step in. And are you really trusting her words despite knowing the truth of it all?"

 

"But we don't know everything either," Byleth says, and winces when Sothis shoots him a glare. "It's true. No one really knows anything about the truth. Edelgard is acting against the church because she believes that it's evil, and that is her truth."

 

"Hah!" Sothis laughs, pointing a daring finger at him. "No matter what her truth is, she too doesn't know every single part of it! It's not as if she's totally privy to every single thing that the church does! And you, Byleth, honestly! It doesn't matter what her truth or justice is. Our truth is that we have lived through a future in which Edelgard has caused a war where she has seized Fódlan in the bloodiest possible way!"

 

Byleth swallows. "I just want to know why she's so... dissatisfied with the church, and why she feels as if she must take all of Fódlan under her control to achieve her goals."

 

Sothis rolls her eyes. "Well, that's easy." She snaps her fingers and Byleth and Sothis are standing in the Audience Hall with Rhea, and a past Byleth. Seteth runs into the room, out of breath, and tells them that Edelgard, alongside the Empire, has declared war on the church. He recites her speech from a letter- likely sent out all throughout Fódlan.

 

"The leaders of the church have misused its creeds to fulfill their true desire- to rule the world," Seteth reads, hands shaky. "They have fooled the people of Fódlan."

 

Sothis is choking on her own laughter. "But doesn't Edelgard herself want to rule the world? Why else would she spread the Empire all throughout the continent?"

 

"Shh," Byleth scolds, trying to follow along.

 

"Long ago, they divided the Empire to create a Kingdom and then... divided that Kingdom to create an Alliance. They did all this to make the masses bicker amongst themselves. They caused instability in order to reinforce their own authority."

 

This statement makes Byleth puzzled. Was that really how it happened? Byleth would have to figure it out himself.

 

"Didn't the Kingdom itself wish for independence? Byleth, we must read up on this." Sothis says, a little confused.

 

Seteth continues to read on. "They did all of this to make the masses bicker amongst themselves. They caused instability in order to reinforce their own authority. They gathered gold and lived in extravagance. How? By praying on the devotion of those who wished for the goddess' salvation."

 

"Eh?" Sothis says. "Extravagance?"

 

"Those corrupt hypocrites cannot lead Fódlan to true peace. Their foul belief system must be torn asunder so that true wisdom may finally prevail! And so, I have decided... By order of the Adrestian Emperor, Edelgard von Hresvelg... The Empire hereby declares war on the church of Seiros!"

 

Sothis claps her hands together. "Alright then. Let's recap. Edelgard believes that the church is evil, and corrupt, and using the money of their believers in order to reinforce their extravagance. That the instability of Fódlan is due to one single institution, and not the combined institutions and beliefs of many. Therefore, declaring war on the Church and anyone who defends it, as well getting rid of the Kingdom and Alliance and imposing the Empire upon everyone will result in everlasting peace as well as a well-founded country. Am I getting this right?"

 

Byleth doesn't say anything, so Sothis seems to take this as incentive to continue. "A country allied under one flag may sound nice at first," Sothis admits, "but it usually results in such things such as the death of diversity, belief, and so on and so forth, and it really ignores the pain and bloodshed caused in order to be 'united,' as well as the suffering and the bitterness of the subdued. Rather than being for the collective whole as well as the people, it's more so for the leader and the groups who has put such a thing in place. Unifying a continent is difficult because there are already set religions and beliefs in place, depending on where one lives. It's not that simple. As long as there is war, there will be opposing sides. Snuffing out the biggest flame does not mean that there will not exist a spark. Long live the Empire, death to nationality." Sothis mocks.

 

"I'm guessing that Edelgard believes that this is the right thing to do for her ideals, and that she doesn't doubt herself even when blood has to be spilled in order to achieve said goals." Sothis continues, rolling her eyes.

 

Byleth tries to speak up. "I'm sure that she must have moments of doubt, and that she must feel terrible-"

 

"Feeling terrible does not mean that Edelgard will stop killing," Sothis retorts, but it's more withdrawn than chiding. "Feeling terrible cannot undo years of war."

 

Byleth closes his eyes. "She still has not committed such crimes, Sothis."

 

"Byleth, Byleth, Byleth." Sothis shakes her head. "For some reason you now believe that the best way to subdue a snake is to coddle it. I liked it best when we were of same mind. You should know by now, the best way to subdue a snake is to cut off its head."

 

Sothis snaps her fingers, and they're back in the Holy Tomb. She seats herself upon the throne, and settles in, making herself comfortable. "Besides," Sothis maintains, "who knows what crimes she's committed as the Flame Emperor. She's already put her plan into motion. We should as well."

 

"Will you not listen to me?"

 

"Will you continue to defend her despite everything?"

 

"I am aware that Edelgard has done unspeakable things," Byleth agrees, "and although I don't want to kill her, this isn't because I am not angry at her or anything. I am angry. My students were forced to join a war. People were conquered, and killed, and trampled. People would climb the gates of the monastery to be provided food and shelter. There were more orphans than families. More people walking onto a battlefield than walking off. I thought that I was used to it, when I was a mercenary. I was wrong."

 

Byleth closes his eyes. "You also forget that Edelgard is the Adrestian Empire's only princess. Her death alone is enough to start a war. It's not just that Edelgard is dangerous. If she's able to command thousands of soldiers and demonic beasts for an army, she must have backers. People in the Empire, as well as people well versed in the crest's powers. She is not the only one in want of a revolution."

 

"Didn't Edelgard say herself that the Adrestian Empire seemed to fall in power in recent years?" Sothis asks, and conjures up a memory from his past life, from when Byleth had saved her from Kostas' axe. 

 

Edelgard is smiling at Byleth in this memory, although it's subdued. "...Though the Empire has fallen from its former glory, the other regions are merely offshoots that pale in comparison."

 

The memory fades, and they're back in the Holy Tomb.

 

"It doesn't make any sense," Byleth says, almost to himself. "Edelgard says all that, but then as soon as she takes the throne, she reverts the power entirely and marches to the church, armies at her back. Rather than the Empire not having power, it might be that they have been saving power for this very moment. She's been planning this for likely years, sure, but... Whatever her reasons for this war, Rhea or otherwise, feeling bad for starting a war does not refute the fact that she still started a war."

 

"You are aware of all of this," Sothis begins, and her voice is becoming a little more dangerous, "and you still do not wish to kill her?"

 

"Don't misunderstand me, Sothis," Byleth responds, and he sounds a little hollow. "I will do whatever I can to reach for her hand. The best possible scenario is to avoid this war even starting in the first place. That means we have to look at this from every angle. It's not as if only Edelgard desires a revolution, a war. I want to prevent as much bloodshed as I can. But if Edelgard's death is the only way..."

 

A ripple of happiness rushes through his veins. "Sothis. You shouldn't be happy about this. It's not right, to wish for someone's head."

 

"It seems as if I am being blatantly marched into a point," Sothis retorts, twirling a strand of hair around a delicate finger. "One that I will do my very best to very obviously and shamelessly avoid."

 

Byleth parts his lips, frustrated with both Sothis and himself. He's never been one for transparent emotion, but he can feel it- Sothis trickling down her own frustration and stubbornness down his spine and into his throat, heavy and ultimately dangerous. He wonders how much emotion can be poured into one person until they shatter into a million pieces and nothing remains of them.

 

"You had told your students once that blood does not wash away blood," Sothis reminds, "but it does make me feel better."

 

Byleth sighs. He understands dismissal when he hears it, and he's not finished discussing Edelgard, but he yields anyway. "Well then. What about Rhea?"

 

"I don't trust her."

 

This makes Byleth's brows raise. "That means that we should kill her?"

 

Sothis shrugs her shoulders lazily. "No. I am saying that if it is needed, I shall kill her. You cannot possibly think that she is completely and utterly trustworthy. Not only is she privy to the secret behind the demonic beasts, she hired you for reasons still yet unknown, and your father had to stage a grand fire in order for him to escape with you. Does that not ooze suspicion?"

 

"...I respect Rhea," Byleth replies. "Although I cannot say that I trust her, nor can I say that I understand her, she still defended the monastery when Edelgard invaded, and she seems to care about the students-"

 

"It's always those students of yours with you- Wait. That's right. Rhea transformed into a dragon when she defended the monastery, did she not?"

 

"Can I turn into a dragon?" Byleth asks, genuinely excited at the idea despite his still-bland tone.

 

Sothis pinches his cheek. "That's not the point!"

 

"Ow."

 

"I hope it genuinely hurt," Sothis mutters, but relaxes. "It's no wonder that she likely knows where all of these experiments and beasts are coming from if she can turn into a dragon herself."

 

"But the beast transformation isn't voluntary," Byleth responds, and conjures up the memory of Rhea smiling at him, before transforming into a grand dragon. "I think that Rhea can choose to transform, and that she's still fully conscious of her actions. She defended me, after all."

 

"That means nothing," Sothis spits. "You forget that she's definitely using you for something."

 

"When am I not being used?" Byleth asks, genuinely curious.

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"Let's say I joined Edelgard," Byleth offers, and Sothis seems to shudder at the thought. "I would definitely aid her to spread the Empire's influence all throughout Fódlan."

 

Sothis snorts. "Definitely in your past life, with your reckless compassion and devotion, as well as the fact that you're easily influenced. What a horrific thought."

 

"And since I am allied with Dima," Byleth continues, "of course I would fight to defend the Kingdom. And if I joined the Golden Deer, I would fight alongside Claude."

 

"So what you're saying is," Sothis says slowly, following along, "you believe yourself some sort of pawn that very well may change the tide of the war."

 

"It sounds rather arrogant when you say it like that," Byleth declares, slightly embarrassed. "Not really. I have no idea what my life would be like had I chosen the other houses. I was actually thinking that perhaps Edelgard would not have waged her war."

 

At this statement, Sothis shakes her head. "Definitely not. With her resolve and her planning? No way. And besides, I find myself agreeing with you the more that I think about it. You have the power of a goddess, the power of time itself. Of course you would be able to influence the world."

 

"Daunting," Byleth responds, solemn. "Anything else about Rhea that you would like to mention?"

 

"No," Sothis says, a little too quickly.

 

"Sothis."

 

"Fine!" Sothis declares, folding her arms across her chest. "I was thinking that Rhea is quite possibly the biggest target, and a really grand influence on the war."

 

"Isn't that quite clear by now-"

 

"No, Byleth," Sothis shakes her head. "Not like that. I'm sure that Rhea has some sort of important background, due to her resemblance to that one woman in your dreams."

 

When Byleth doesn't respond right away, Sothis rolls her eyes and snaps her fingers, and they're standing in the battlefield within Byleth's dreams. "This woman," Sothis gestures at her. 

 

Byleth remembers her from his dreams. A tall woman, clothed in all white, with flowers in her hair. Long green locks, bright green eyes, staring down a buff looking man with an intense glare.

 

"She doesn't just look like this woman," Byleth says, voice incredulous. "Everything about them looks exactly the same!"

 

"That's..." Sothis trails off. "Don't tell me that they're the same person."

 

"What are you talking about, Sothis?"

 

Sothis is making grand hand gestures, her movements wild and excited. "Okay, if your dreams are seriously the real thing," Sothis begins, everything about her screaming exhilaration, "that woman calls that buff looking man Nemesis! Which means... Which means this is Seiros."

 

"What exactly does that mean?"

 

Sothis tugs sharply at one of Byleth's ears. "It means that Rhea is Saint Seiros, dummy!"

 

Byleth gasps. "That's impossible. The fight between Nemesis and Seiros happened so long ago! It's impossible that anyone is able to live this long!"

 

"That's only if the stories are true," Sothis chides, practically bouncing up and down with excitement. "Besides, wasn't Seiros a child of the goddess or a messenger of the goddess or whatever? It's not completely absurd that someone possessing such power would be able to live that long."

 

"It is absurd, Sothis!" Byleth exclaims, feeling as if a hole had opened up beneath his feet. He never raises his voice, but such a claim is nearly unbelievable. "There's no proof that these dreams are even the real deal, anyway!"

 

"Ugh," Sothis groans, hand over her eyes. "You killjoy. You're right, though. In this battle, Nemesis and the Elites are fighting together, although it said in the myths that Seiros and the Elites fought to take Nemesis and his army down."

 

"That's only if they're telling the truth," Byleth admits, curling up into himself a little.

 

"So either these dreams are the real deal, and Seiros is Rhea, alongside the fact that the church is for some reason censoring the truth about the battle," Sothis begins, head resting on her hands, "or these dreams are completely false."

 

Sothis seems to deflate at her own words, which even makes Byleth wilt a little bit. "Maybe we should come back to this one," Byleth suggests helpfully. "Rather than make baseless claims, we should find a way to research if this is true. I'll talk to my father to see if he can figure something out as well."

 

"It'll be difficult if the church is really censoring the truth of that battle," Sothis murmurs, "but alright."

 

Byleth waits a few beats before bringing the next subject up. "What about the body?"

 

"The body?"

 

"The body in the Holy Tomb," Byleth clarifies, wringing his hands a little. "The body that you said that you wanted to make your own."

 

"Yes, that!" Sothis exclaims, sounding bright and cheerful. "I want a body that's not yours!"

 

"Sothis..." Byleth trails off, slightly worried. "That body may be someone else's body. It is a Tomb, after all."

 

Sothis rolls her eyes and places her hands on her hips. "They should be honored then, that a goddess should deign to take over their body."

 

"Sothis."

 

"Okay, okay, I get it," Sothis complains, staring up into the ceiling. "I am working entirely off of the idea that that body is just one of Rhea's experiments, an unused, soulless body. So it should be alright. If I am sharing a consciousness with anyone, or taking over a body that belonged to someone else prior, I am quite sure that I would realize it."

 

Byleth blinks, slow and hard. "Why do you want a body? Besides, of course, the fact that you want to kill Edelgard."

 

Sothis looks at him, one of those piercing, soul searching gazes that never fail to make Byleth aware that he is sharing his body with divinity. "You and I both know that we cannot coexist like this forever," Sothis murmurs, and gestures him closer with one hand.

 

He moves towards the throne, and kneels so that they're eye level. Sothis places one hand on his cheek. "I want you to live a full life," Sothis soothes him. Her hand is pleasantly cool. "A life ripe with emotion, with passionate love, without the threat of war or the burden of literal divinity. That is my only wish, Byleth. I do not wish to disappear, and I do not want to separate myself from you entirely. We are family. I hope to build a peace for you that is everlasting. So I cannot use you, or speak through you. This must be done with my own hands."

 

"I will help you," Byleth declares, and Sothis chuckles.

 

"I really did think that you would say that," Sothis says, and her voice oozes fondness. "But there is no need to bloody your hands any further than necessary. Help me take that body, Byleth. I have an idea about how I can possess it."

 

"Rhea will notice that it's gone," Byleth reminds. 

 

"I'm counting on that," Sothis chuckles. "Before we plan anything out, we must focus on Miklan first."

 

Sothis pats his cheek gently.

 

"I said that I would kill Edelgard if need be," Byleth states, low. "But I will not stop looking for a more peaceful method."

 

"I did not think that you would," Sothis replies, almost lazy in her candor.

 

.

 

"Father," Byleth gasps, hurrying towards Jeralt's table, where he was sharing a meal with some of the mercenaries as well as Alois, "would you help me hide a body?"

 

"Yeah," Jeralt replies, not missing a beat. "Of course."

 

Alois drops his cutlery loudly onto his plate, coughing loudly.

 

"We would too!" The mercenaries call out, whooping out jovial, excited cries. "Just say the word, Byleth, and you got it."

 

"I'm sure that this is somewhat wholesome to all of you," Alois begins, pretending like he didn't just almost choke on his meal, "but I really do hope that there isn't really a body that needs to be hidden."

 

Byleth gives him one of his famous blank stares. "Of course," he lies. He grabs his own meal and joins them at the table, listening in onto their conversations without actually joining any of them.

 

"Are we going to steal the body from the Holy Tomb?" Sothis asks, taking a seat next to him on the bench. Byleth takes another spoonful of the spicy fish before he answers. 

 

No. At least, not yet.

 

Sothis frowns, her chin wrinkling. "And why is that? But then again, I cannot think of a place we can hide it."

 

Another bite. Linhardt might find out.

 

"UGHHHHHHH." Sothis groans, and it's a miracle that no one is able to hear her.

 

.

 

Byleth escorts the Blue Lions into the training grounds and nearly trips when he sees Jeritza in the middle of the field, polishing a rapier.

 

"What is he doing here?!" Sothis demands. "I thought he would have left by now! It seems as though we must still yet keep a closer eye on him..."

 

He didn't explicitly say that he would be leaving the academy, Byleth thinks back, but his gaze still wanders over to Mercedes, who is shaking slightly.

 

"Hello, professor Jeritza," Byleth greets. He casually steps in front of Mercedes, as if to block her from sight. "My class was scheduled for the training grounds today."

 

Jeritza does not answer right away. He merely gazes at Byleth, as if he could see through him to peer at Mercedes.

 

The Blue Lions gather together in one clump, all standing in front of Mercedes. Felix practically has his sword unsheathed already, his grip white-knuckled upon the hilt.

 

Byleth doesn't say a word, but the Sword of the Creator curls lazily around Byleth's right hand, as if inviting Byleth to wield him.

 

Ferdinand and Lysithea, who are only now aware of the tension, look between Jeritza and the Blue Lions with obvious discomfort. 

 

The silence is choking. It's as if someone's squeezed all of the air out of the arena. 

 

"Who will yield first?" Sothis murmurs, a little whisper breathed over the shell of Byleth's ear.

 

Mercedes places a hand on Byleth's back, between his shoulder blades, and he forces himself to relax.

 

She steps out around from the students and Byleth's misshapen shelter, straightens her shoulders, and tips her chin up, daring, bold. The shadows seem to part for her. It's as if she glows under the searing light of a noontime sun.

 

"Emile," Mercedes greets. 

 

"Mercedes," Jeritza replies, one half-beat later. Byleth is surprised that he doesn't correct her, doesn't tell her to call him Jeritza. With his accent, and his emphasis on vowels, her name is bitter upon his tongue.

 

"My class is here to train," Mercedes states, her hands straight at her sides. "Will you spar with us?"

 

"We may spar together," Byleth offers, when he doesn't answer right away. "If you're amenable, of course."

 

The pair of siblings don't even look at him.

 

"I am amenable," Jeritza replies.

 

The Blue Lions seem to sigh out the frigid tension.

 

"What in the world has just happened?" Lysithea demands, and Annette smiles at her, almost dismissive, still kind.

 

The Sword of the Creator flies into Byleth's hand at the mere mention of battle. 

 

"No," Byleth tells it, and despite the odd looks he receives, he knows better than to dismiss the odd behavior of a Hero's Relic. "Not now. We cannot show you off to him."

 

As if pouting or perhaps grumpy, the Sword of the Creator reattaches itself to Byleth's waist.

 

"Can it actually understand you?" Sylvain demands, and he sounds so incredibly surprised, that Byleth decides to answer at least this.

 

"Rather than it understanding my words," Byleth replies, "I think it understands my feelings."

 

Jeritza nods as if those words made any sense to him at all. "Shall we?"

 

The Blue Lions settle on the benches, incredibly tense. Dimitri in particular, Byleth worries over, for he's gripped the wood so hard it's splintered slightly. Mercedes heals the scratches caused by the bits of wood in his hands.

 

Byleth picks out a steel sword from the rack, lighter than its brethren. Jeritza draws his rapier, and it sings as he lowers it in front of his face. They face each other.

 

"F-first to land a neat blow wins," Ashe declares nervously. He doesn't blame his students. Mercedes, out of the watchful eye of her brother, has her arms wrapped around her torso as if to physically hold herself together.

 

Byleth decides to make this quick.

 

"Begin!"

 

Jeritza is strong, and fast, and fights with the sort of fury that declares him unmatched by his usual peers. But Byleth is not a common swordsman. The mercenaries had always joked that Byleth had learned to swing a sword around far before he had said his first word, much to the chagrin of his father.

 

Parry, overhead swing. The swell of sword-song. The screech of metal is music to Byleth's ears, and he dances alongside it.

 

He's never seen the Death Knight battle on foot. As infantry, he loses the sort of finesse usually granted by one accustomed to swinging their weapon around wildly. The rapier is such an odd weapon for him to use, if Byleth's being completely honest. The scythe was cumbersome, and looked heavy, while the rapier seemed to bend over on itself during huge gusts of wind.

 

Byleth will not allow himself to underestimate Jeritza, despite this.

 

Jeritza swings an arc so deadly that, if had connected, would have severed clean through any sort of limb. Byleth can see it now, flashing before his eyes, and that's when he decides to end the match.

 

Byleth steps into Jeritza's personal space and in one swift move of the sword, jabs the hilt of his sword into the softness of his torso and swings upwards, knocking the rapier briefly from Jeritza's grasp. 

 

The crescendo of music dies when Byleth points the tip of his sword delicately under Jeritza's chin.

 

They're practically nose to nose.

 

Frozen, Jeritza does not move away, despite the slight pinprick of blood that emerges from underneath the point. "I yield," Jeritza announces, and Byleth finally moves away. He lowers his sword, blade facing the ground.

 

A single drop of blood falls to the floor.

 

The declaration snaps Ashe out of his trance. "Er," he begins awkwardly, "the winner is professor Byleth!"

 

"Fight me," Felix declares, so sudden that it shocks everyone there. "Professor Jeritza, fight me right now."

 

"Felix," Ingrid scolds, although she too, has begun to relax.

 

Mysteriously, Byleth cannot help but notice Dimitri's eyes drawn to the drop of blood spilled onto the floor. He turns away when Dedue notices it as well.

 

Byleth waves a heal spell over Jeritza and walks away to place his sword back onto the racks. When no one else moves, he tilts his head ever so slightly. "I don't hear any training," Byleth begins, and the Blue Lions, as well as a very confused Ferdinand and Lysithea- bolt out of their seats.

 

Out of the corner of his eye, Byleth notices Jeritza and Mercedes share a look. 

 

Byleth looks away.

.

 

"Since we have a few new members in the Blue Lions," Sylvain began, already striking fear into the hearts of many, "why don't we do some... bonding exercises?"

 

That's great and all, Byleth thought to himself, but why am I here.

 

The Blue Lions, plus their new additions, are strolling down the market. Byleth only wanted to buy supplies. As if on cue, the Blue Lions emerged behind him, and practically demanded to accompany him.

 

"They want to spend time with you," Sothis coos, part mocking, and part fond. "Isn't that sweet."

 

"I don't see the point," Lysithea scoffs, and for some reason the resemblance between her and Sothis right now is absolutely striking. "I just want to study! This is such a waste of time."

 

Ferdinand shakes his head, and inexplicably Byleth is reminded of the dogs that roamed the monastery freely. "Lysithea!" He declares, voice booming across the market. "You cannot say such a thing! I, for one, am looking forward to these bonding exercises! It'll be grand to get along with my fellow classmates!"

 

The Blue Lions groan as Sylvain throws an arm around Ferdinand's shoulder, smirk curvy. "Well, that's just great, Ferdinand!"

 

"Sylvain," Dimitri warns.

 

"Heeeey," Sylvain whines, pouting at Dimitri. "Come on, your Highness! I can play nice!"

 

"I would like to see evidence of that," Felix scoffs.

 

Sylvain bats his eyelashes dangerously. "I was only going to ask what sort of people Ferdinand here is interested in."

 

"Sylvain!" Ferdinand declares, sounding absolutely scandalized. "That's- not-!"

 

"Not?"

 

"Sylvain." Byleth begins, and Sylvain avoids his gaze. "Please don't scare the new people away."

 

"Fine, fine," Sylvain pouts. "I'll just ask the professor."

 

"SYLVAIN!" Dimitri booms. Sylvain's smile twists in a playful, goofy sort of way that Byleth hasn't seen since the mission was announced, so he decides to let it slide for now. Such a question was likely harmless.

 

"So what kinda people are you into, professor?" Sylvain asks, a little smile on his face. "Do you favor the fiesty ones? Maybe the more shy type?"

 

Byleth shrugs. "I've only ever been in love with one person, so I don't know."

 

He only realizes his error when all of the Blue Lions turn and gape at him. 

 

"Who?!" Annette demands, and it's halfway to a shriek. "Who is it, you have to tell us everything!"

 

Mercedes is unhelpfully trying to hide her own little squeal behind her hands. 

 

"Who cares?" Felix demands, irritated. Both Annette and Mercedes glare at him, which makes him flinch slightly. Byleth can relate. Having the full force of their stares on a single person is quite intimidating.

 

"I bet it's that Dima person," Sylvain teases, "the one that you called out for in your dreams."

 

"Don't be crude, Sylvain!" Dimitri scolds, but his voice cracks a little in the middle, which only makes Sylvain's smirk grow. "Who the professor... whoever the professor loves or does not love is none of our business!"

 

Sothis cackles, long and loud, leaning against Byleth for support. "I'm dying," she wheezes, sounding breathless. "This is just unbelievable!"

 

Help me.

 

Sothis disappears instantly into the far reaches of Byleth's mind, giggling the entire way. Byleth nearly curses aloud.

 

I have thirteen Divine Pulses a day, Byleth reassures himself. But what should I say?

 

"It doesn't matter," Byleth insists, face carefully blank. 

 

"You can't say things like that, professor!" Mercedes retorts, eyes so wide and round they might consume the rest of her face. "Love always matters, so you absolutely must not say things like that!"

 

Byleth has to look away from her earnest expression. It's too much.

 

"So you should tell us," Ashe joins in, looking oddly interested. Byleth cannot help but notice that his expression resembles something almost teasing, bordering on sly. "About this Dima person."

 

Byleth wants to hide his head in his hands.

 

"You know that we'll keep bothering you until you tell us about this person," Sylvain coos, hands to his cheeks. "Come on. Who's the lucky lady."

 

"First of all, he isn't-"

 

Byleth only realizes that he's fallen into Sylvain's trap when the Blue Lions seem to explode with an intensity bordering on delirium.

 

"HE?!" Annette shrieks, eyes shining. "Professor, you have to tell us more!"

 

"That's one part of the mystery solved!" Sylvain says, his grin only climbing higher and higher up his face. Byleth frowns. 

 

"Sorry, professor," Sylvain simpers, not sounding very sorry at all.

 

"What's he like?" Mercedes asks, the very picture of innocence- save for the curl of her lips. Byleth wants to curse to the high heavens.

 

"Did you pine?" Ashe demands, sounding far too exhilarated for the situation.

 

"Does the professor really look like the sort to pine to you," Linhardt asks, but even he is terrible at hiding his own curiosity.

 

Lysithea folds her arms across her chest. "This is so pointless!" Byleth politely ignores the way her eyes shine.

 

Byleth closes his eyes and thinks of Dima. There was one night, just after the Cornelia battle, where Dima had pushed aside work to come eat with the Blue Lions. Sylvain and Annette had said something, and Dima had laughed so hard that he began to turn pink, and Byleth swore that time had stopped in that moment.

 

It was a blush that resembled more of a bruise, splotchy and inelegant, spread unevenly across his face. Byleth found it immensely attractive for some reason. Ridiculously, Byleth found himself wanting that flush to spread and flood his pale skin with colour. It was such an odd desire that Byleth himself was taken aback by it, and he mentally berated himself.

 

"He was really pale," Byleth began, only realizing after the words were out in the open that they really didn't sound like a compliment.

 

"And very sad," Byleth follows up with, and then wonders why he had said such a thing. "Very sad."

 

Sothis hides her face in her hands. 

 

"Wow," Sylvain whistles, hands behind his head. "You're really selling this guy, professor."

 

"I am not good with words," Byleth responds sheepishly. "I do not know how to describe him..."

 

"In a way that won't utterly expose you," Sothis adds helpfully.

 

"Well, what did he look like? Besides, you know. Pale and sad." Annette offers, and her eyes widen when she realizes what she said might have been offensive.

 

Byleth's already dug himself a hole, might as well dig deeper. "He was very pretty."

 

"Pretty?" Lysithea demands, forgetting that she was meant to play uninterested.

 

He nods. "Very pretty. Despite that he was taller than me, and more built, and likely had more muscle- he was pretty."

 

Ferdinand nods along as if he could see the person in his mind. "And?"

 

"And?"

 

"Forgive me for being forward, professor," Ferdinand says, sounding a little sheepish. "But I've seen the ring you wear. Are you married?"

 

Byleth shakes his head. "No. This was my mother's ring. I was meant to give it to the one I wish to marry."

 

"Not- not this pretty person?" Mercedes asks, sounding slightly lost. 

 

Sothis, how do I say that I died before I could ever give Dima this ring?

 

She doesn't answer, save for a ripple of pleased amusement. Byleth thinks, desperately, of all the curses he knows.

 

"He's not here anymore," Byleth replies, even as he hates the words when they leave his lips. But they aren't exactly a lie. 

 

"Oh." Ashe says. 

 

The Blue Lions are quiet, now. It's clear that they don't know if they should offer comfort, or say anything.

 

All of his students begin to fidget uncomfortably when Byleth doesn't continue. "Professor," Ferdinand begins, "I am so-"

 

"You don't need to apologize," Byleth says in return. "It's been a long time. I am sorry for killing the mood."

 

Five years, in fact.

 

Byleth sighs. "Run along now," Byleth says, more solemn than usual. "Call me over if you want to buy something."

 

Dimitri parts his lips, but says nothing.

 

The students look at each other, look at Byleth, and then scatter, save for Sylvain. Byleth blinks. "Already find something that you wish to purchase?"

 

"No, I," Sylvain rubs the back of his head awkwardly. "Sorry for bringing it up, professor."

 

"It's okay," Byleth responds. Byleth feels sort of terrible, now- his students must feel bad that they even pushed the subject, while Byleth had only said a twisted truth. "I could have stopped talking about him at any time."

 

"It's not okay," Sylvain snaps. When Byleth's eyes widen a fraction, Sylvain swears under his breath. "Sorry. Sorry, I didn't-"

 

Byleth flicks the boy gently on his forehead. "Stop apologizing. Run off to your lover and buy them something nice, or something like that. It's okay, Sylvain."

 

It's Sylvain's turn to look puzzled. "My lover?"

 

"Weren't you..."

 

"Weren't we?" Sylvain's eyes seem to light up and fade, all at once. "Ah, you mean Felix and I. Don't worry, we weren't doing anything inappropriate, and we're not even together. We were just talking. So don't worry about us."

 

"So Felix pushed you off a bed," Sothis questions, in disbelief.

 

Byleth tilts his head to the side, a little confused. "But you... Hm. Never mind."

 

Sylvain looks at his professor for a few soul searching moments, then shrugs as if he's decided it didn't really matter. He shoots Byleth another smile before walking off.

 

"What is it?" Sothis asks, and Byleth wordlessly nudges her towards his memories.

 

"Fe, come on-"

 

"Don't call me that," Felix spits back, even as he allows Sylvain to edge closer. Sylvain steps into Felix's personal space silently, tilting his head ever so slightly when Felix backs against the pillar.

 

Byleth, just rounding the corner of the corridor, slaps his hands over his mouth and ducks around the wall, praying to Sothis that he wasn't seen.

 

They don't even seem to have heard his clumsy, awkward movements, too lost in their own little world. Byleth thinks that's incentive to look around the corner.

 

Felix is cornered. He certainly looks the part. Byleth's never seen such a look on his face, not even in battle. It's near shocking, he doesn't know how to explain his dark eyes nor the curve of his neck. Byleth cannot watch. To exist is to intrude.

 

"What should I call you then?" Sylvain asks, reaching up to Felix's head and releasing his bound hair. It glides down in dark, elegant waves. "Darling? Sweetheart? Love?"

 

"You disgust me."

 

"Then tell me to stop," Sylvain replies, and Byleth has to strain his ears to hear it. "Tell me that you hate this, and I'll step away. I'll never call you nicknames again. I'll back off. Tell me, Fe."

 

Felix is looking anywhere but his face. "I loathe you," Felix breathes, and somehow, with just those words, the tension builds and climbs and ascends up Byleth's chest and throat and core- and it's not even directed towards him. It's not even kind. It's not saccharine sweet, nor steeped with flowery language. It's more of an accusation than a confession, but it drips wild emotion nonetheless. Felix is not a maiden in love, and yet he does not move away. Felix does not collapse into Sylvain's arms, and yet it's as if he's held prisoner by the weight of his own words.

 

The situation is turned on its head now. Sylvain is cornered, even if Felix is still backed against the wall.

 

"I'm swooning," Sylvain tells him, and presses the lines of their bodies together. "You know exactly how to sweet talk me."

 

"You're a masochistic bastard," Felix remarks, even though it sounds more fond than accusing. 

 

"Sweetheart," Sylvain replies, and kisses him more softly than the tension in the room would suggest.

 

Byleth decides that it's time to go.

 

Sothis blinks away the memory. "Ah."

 

Ah. Byleth agrees.

 

"Well, I can see why you would think that they were together," Sothis allows, clearly still affected by the memory. "But this was just before the final battle, right? Maybe they didn't get together yet. Or perhaps, in this world, they won't be together at all."

 

Byleth hadn't considered that possibility. In the future, after Sylvain had nearly died saving Felix's life, they seemed to never be far from one another. Although Byleth wasn't privy to many of their interactions, Byleth knew that they cared deeply for another, even if they didn't show it on the surface.

 

Even now.

 

"It's quite fascinating to see how the students act when they think that you aren't around," Sothis states, her expression one of earnest contemplation. "You also have to take into account that it's both easy and quite difficult for feelings to blossom during war time."

 

What do you mean?

 

"Mind you, I am just looking into your own memories, but..." Sothis trails off, sounding a tad more quiet despite the fact that only Byleth can hear her. "Fighting life or death battles in which you both learn the value of life as well as learn that you may have someone you hold dear add to the body count... well. It's quite daunting, is it not? Not wanting to be in a relationship because of the war... falling in love in spite of it... Really. You mortals are hardy in the most odd ways."

 

Was that a compliment?

 

Sothis huffs. "Not at all."

 

Byleth decides to stop thinking about this, and heads out to look around the market.

 

He thinks that he's even able to spend a little money on himself this time, and decides to get a new pair of black gloves. Luckily for him, there's a stall set up selling gloves and scarves for the upcoming moons.

 

"Hm," Byleth hums, hand to his chin. He's appraising the gloves carefully, for they would have to last a long time and withstand many a battle. Sothis, which ones should I get?

 

She groans loudly, the sound rumbling in the back of his mind. "It doesn't matter, does it? You're just going to pick a black one."

 

There is nothing wrong with black.

 

"Professor," Dimitri calls out, and Byleth turns to him. 

 

"Ah. Perfect timing," Byleth waves over a confused-looking Dimitri and a solemn Dedue, trailing behind his liege. "Help me pick out some gloves."

 

For some reason, this makes Dimitri brighten. "Ah, of course, professor! I can- guh."

 

Byleth is sliding his old gloves off of his hands when Dimitri makes an odd noise. It's a slow process, because the gloves have long been fitted for his hands, and they nearly peel from his hands and wrists. "What is it, Dimitri?"

 

"Nothing!" Dimitri replies. He sounds rather squeaky, and his eyes are trailing over Byleth's hands in an odd manner. "Professor, has anyone told you that you have very slender wrists?!"

 

"That's not really a subject that comes up often," Byleth attempts to joke. "I think that my wrists are a normal size."

 

"Excellent, professor," Dimitri seems to wheeze. 

 

Byleth pulls on a set of black gloves. They seem sturdy, and are slightly more soft compared to his last ones. "Dimitri, Dedue, what do you think about these ones?"

 

Dimitri looks at his hands, then his face. He swallows, before reaching out and grabbing Byleth's hands. 

 

He squeezes their palms together. "I like the material," Dimitri confesses, voice soft, as he laces their fingers together. He meets Byleth's eyes, and smiles. 

 

Dimples, Byleth thinks stupidly.

 

"Then I'll buy these," Byleth says immediately. For some reason, Dedue has closed his eyes, very, very slowly, face tilted up towards the sky.

 

"That's great," Dimitri remarks faintly. He untangles their hands, as Byleth takes out the gold to pay for the gloves. 

 

As soon as Byleth's done paying, Dimitri calls out to him again. "Professor?"

 

"Yes?"

 

"I should learn to be more direct if you cannot understand," Dimitri states, as he laces their hands together once more. "I won't give up," he declares, before letting go of his hand. 

 

Dimitri smiles, grand as ever, and walks off. Dedue nods at Byleth before trailing after him.

 

"...Oh?" Sothis murmurs, "how interesting."

 

What?

 

"Figure it out yourself," Sothis admonishes.

 

.

 

Byleth's simply attempting to reach the fishing pond without accident when he hears something suspicious.

 

"Professor Byleth-" Byleth hears, and he ducks around one of the pillars by the dormitories.

 

A few meters away he sees Edelgard, Hubert, and Ferdinand speaking. Sothis practically falls on top of Byleth's head and scrambles around his shoulders to peek at them.

 

"This is so exciting," Sothis murmurs, her voice charged with energy. 

 

Ferdinand sounds vaguely excited himself. "Professor Byleth is so kind to us students! I can see why now the Blue Lions dote upon him!"

 

Sothis gasps. "Is Ferdinand spying on us?" Sothis demands, before she shakes her head. "No... I doubt it. Look at that boy. I think he's been sent to spy without even knowing that was his goal in the first place."

 

"-with his teachings, I'm sure that I can best you even easier," Ferdinand declares. "He even saved me from a few wild-"

 

"But have you noticed anything off about him?" Hubert demands, clearly impatient. 

 

Even from here, Byleth can see Ferdinand's nose wrinkle. "Why are you speaking to me?"

 

"I don't particularly wish to converse with you either, you-"

 

"Enough," Edelgard declares. "Ferdinand, have you really not noticed anything unusual about professor Byleth?"

 

Byleth decides that it's time to step out from his hiding spot. "Odd about me?"

 

To Edelgard's credit, she does not waver or flinch. "I only hope that you're treating Ferdinand well. He only just transferred, after all."

 

Byleth can feel Sothis rolling her eyes. He coughs slightly. "Ferdinand. If you have problems with me or my teaching, do not be shy about letting me know."

 

Seemingly embarrassed, Ferdinand smiles sheepishly. "Of course! And of course, I have no problems with you or your teaching, professor! You're an excellent-"

 

"Lady Edelgard," Hubert cuts in. "We must take our leave now."

 

Edelgard nods along. "Of course. Professor. Ferdinand."

 

As if as an afterthought, she turns toward Byleth. "I do hope that you have not forgotten our promise for tea," she inquires, the tiniest smile on her face.

 

Byleth knows this game. "I'm looking forward to it."

Chapter Text

Jeralt and the mercenaries ambush Byleth after class.

 

"You're always hogging Byleth," one of the mercenaries whine, slipping an arm under Byleth's arm. The Blue Lions stiffen at the usage of Byleth's first name. "Our turn now."

 

"That's right," another one declares, clinging to his free arm as if their life depended on it. "Byleth has always been accosted by you brats. That's why we're stealing him away."

 

Jeralt sighs, but does nothing to stop them. "Sorry, kiddo. They seemed hellbent on this."

 

"Professor," Dimitri begins, sounding slightly wary. The Blue Lions seem to all be waiting for Byleth's explicit declaration that he was fine with the situation. Byleth feels a little warm knowing that Dimitri and the rest of the Blue Lions worry for him. Completely unnecessary, given his strength, but nice to know.

 

Byleth, well aware that he could easily separate themselves from his grasp, stares at Dimitri and the rest of the Blue Lions blankly. "It appears as if I am being kidnapped," he states, as monotone as possible. Which isn't exactly difficult.

 

"Haha!" The mercenaries declare, and yank him away from the classroom. 

 

"I can walk just fine by myself."

 

"But then you would run, By!"

 

Byleth blinks at them. "Where to?"

 

For some reason that makes the mercenaries chuckle. 

 

Byleth cranes his neck to look at his father over his shoulder. "Where are we going?"

 

"We're gonna go see your mother," Jeralt says simply, and Byleth nods. "I brought flowers."

 

"We also brought food!" One of the mercenaries exclaim. "It's been awhile since we've had a meal together, just us!"

 

A small bit of guilt rises up Byleth's throat, but is instantly quelled by their kind smiles. "Is it alright that we're eating at the grave?"

 

Jeralt chuckles lightly. "Trust me kiddo, I know she wouldn't mind."

 

They reach the tombstone without any fanfare and plop unceremoniously onto the grass before it. Jeralt lays a bouquet of red roses atop the stone, running a slow hand down the side. "Hey, Lilith," Jeralt greets. "Brought the family."

 

A chorus of cheerful greetings ring out from the mercenaries. 

 

Even Sothis greets her. "Hello there, Byleth's mother."

 

"Hello," Byleth says, and it feels awkward on his tongue. He hates himself slightly for it. "Mother."

 

A few of the mercenaries procure baskets of miscellaneous foods and inconspicuous flasks. One of them yanks a flask away from another man, pops the opening, sniffs it, and frowns. "Boss! Jesper's drinking the whiskey again!"

 

"They have names?!" Sothis demands, legitimately surprised.

 

Sothis.

 

"What? It is not as if you ever refer to them by name. That is entirely on you and your horrendous memory." Byleth stifles a sigh.

 

Jeralt scoffs, sitting down next to Byleth. "Like you're not enabling him, you brat."

 

The mercenary sticks out his tongue at Jeralt. "Not a brat. I have a name, you know."

 

Sothis' eyes widen in surprise, and Byleth cannot help this sigh. "They all have names?!"

 

Were you just grouping them together under the mercenary category, Sothis? Did you all think that they possessed no other name but 'mercenary?'

 

She doesn't answer right away, so Byleth assumes that he's right.

 

His father leans over Byleth's lap to reach into a basket, procuring two fish sandwiches and handing one to Byleth. "Here. We stole them from the kitchen."

 

"Borrowed them without permission," another mercenary pipes up. 

 

"Stole them," his father repeats, face completely void of expression. If not for the slight crinkle around his eyes, Byleth would not have noticed his amusement.

 

"What's that one's name?" Sothis asks, genuinely curious. The mercenaries have already begun to eat. Byleth is extremely jealous.

 

Their name is Klaus, Byleth replies, and tries not to fidget openly in the wake of her awe. 

 

Sothis throws herself onto the grass next to him, pointing at each mercenary in turn. "What about that one? Or that one? Or the one that looks far too disheveled for noon?"

 

Jade, Byleth thinks back. And that one is Mistel, and that one is-

 

The goddess leans back onto Byleth's arm. "My goodness. So you really weren't lying. They do possess names! No matter how many mortals we encounter, I shall never, ever grow accustomed to the sound of human names. It's quite odd. You've shared many a battle with them, and yet until now, I had no idea what their names were!" 

 

Instead of answering, Byleth takes a bite of the fish sandwich. The bread is pillowy soft, and the fish is juicy and tender underneath a crispy, golden batter. There's some sort of savory sauce that coats the underside of the bread, as well as some leafy greens, which add overall balance and texture to the dish.

 

All in all, it's a perfect dish. Byleth hurriedly gobbles the rest of the sandwich up, licking the crumbs off of his fingers and eagerly reaching into the basket for another one.

 

"Woah there, Byleth," his father admonishes, "the food ain't going anywhere. Take your time."

 

"Hey Byleth," a mercenary calls, and Sothis is practically bouncing up and down when she realizes that it's one that she knows the name of, Mistel, "what kinda fish is it?"

 

"Armid pike," Byleth responds instantly. 

 

"Ooh," the mercenaries applaud. "Impressive, as always."

 

While he and his father sit in silence, the mercenary group begins to eat and drink merrily, toasting each other despite the fact that the sun was still high in the sky. 

 

Sothis frowns, her brows furrowing. "When I get a body, I want to try this sandwich as well. It seems as if all of you are enjoying this meal immensely."

 

Sure. I can make you one, if you desire.

 

Jeralt sighs, finishing off his own sandwich. "If you're done eating, scoot. Gotta talk to Byleth about something."

 

"Yes, captain!" The mercenaries exclaim, hurriedly finishing up their meals. They each do a little half nod or lift a hand in goodbye at the tombstone before they leave.

 

Byleth and his father watch them stumble up the stairs.

 

"Byleth-"

 

"You talked with Sothis," Byleth states. It's not a question.

 

Jeralt sighs, standing from the grass and wiping off the crumbs and debris. "Was just about to say that. You beat me to it."

 

"I talked with her as well," Byleth continues, beginning to stand. His father reaches his hand out to help him up, and he takes it gratefully.

 

"Oh?"

 

Byleth nods. "Yeah. She has already told you this, but she wants to kill Edelgard and take that body."

 

"Yeah," Jeralt says, rubbing the back of his head. "Listen, kiddo. I don't really know any of the details, really, but our best bet is to probably kill that Edelgard girl before she starts the war."

 

"So you agree with Sothis," Byleth responds. 

 

His father nods. "Yeah. I just don't know what you're planning on doing, Byleth. We have to look at all of our options here. Besides, do you have a plan to stop her, anyway?"

 

This statement grinds Byleth's thoughts to a halt. "To be honest," Byleth trails off. "I've never really thought about it. Have I done anything remarkable yet? Perhaps everything that I've done up until now might have been pointless."

 

Suddenly, his father ruffles his hair so aggressively that Byleth flinches. "Father-"

 

"You know that I didn't mean it like that, Byleth." Jeralt scolds. Byleth hangs his head a little, and at the sight of that, his father ruffles his hair a little harder. "You've been doing a great job."

 

"It feels as if I have done nothing so far."

 

"Wrong," Jeralt replies. "You have. It's just that those events seem so small, in regards to a full-scale war."

 

Byleth stares at the tomb where his father laid in his past life, and clenches his fists. "I am not sure that I have done anything of note."

 

"Kostas," His father lists off, "You spared him."

 

"That's-"

 

"That's one life," Jeralt interrupts, and throws an arm around Byleth's shoulder, patting it roughly. "That's one card in your hands. Even a single person can change the tide of battle, kiddo. You know this."

 

When Byleth doesn't respond, Jeralt continues. "You killed that Tomas guy. Glad he's gone, creep. From what I've heard, he would have killed everyone in Remire? You've saved many a life already, son."

 

"It will not matter if the war starts up again."

 

"But you won't let it happen. You've always been the stubborn, headstrong sort. Like your mother."

 

On Byleth's other side, Sothis slips her hand into Byleth's own.

 

"Don't forget that you've saved that Ashe kid's father," Jeralt reminds. "Lonato. As of right now, he might be one of your most important cards."

 

"Why?"

 

"Well-renowned nobility, already a leader of his own troops, likely affiliated with the Western Church," Jeralt lists off, and then snorts. "Probably not anymore, after we talked to him. He did inform us that they would probably come during the Goddess' Rite of Rebirth, correct? Yeah. That guy's probably screwed his head right 'round this time and realized that he was being used as a statement, or a pawn."

 

Byleth's fists have already relaxed at his sides, but they clench up again at the mention of Lonato. "That's what makes him dangerous," Byleth whispers. "I don't know what he'll do. He never lived this long in my past life."

 

"It's just another battle, Byleth," Jeralt reminds him. "And like every other battle you've fought before, you'll come out victorious. What's the key to battle?"

 

"Strategy," Byleth replies immediately, reminded of his younger years, where he would follow his father around with a toy sword and wordlessly ask to be taught.

 

"So, what do you know about the enemy? Or in this case, Lonato?" 

 

Byleth closes his eyes. "He's a leader on horseback. Skilled. Fueled by vengeance, which makes him significantly weaker and short-sighted. His troop looks up to him, and listens to him without question, a mix of respect and adoration. Good for morale. They head in first, which makes him more vulnerable than he thinks. One well timed arrow, and it's over."

 

Jeralt hums. "What else? What's his weak spot?"

 

"Ashe," Byleth replies immediately, and then frowns. "I am not using Ashe like that."

 

"I am not suggesting that you use one of your little pupils," Jeralt replies. "While you wonder about this man and his plans, you gotta realize that he's sizing you up as well. You've got a big weakness of his right here, loyal to you. Trust me, Byleth. It might seem that you've got no cards, and that you're fighting something bigger than yourself, but the tides are already changing. You're the most dangerous piece on the board. Now, what does Edelgard have?"

 

"Years of planning. A royal background. Armies at her disposal, alongside people that can seemingly create demonic beasts. The Empire."

 

"What do you have?" Jeralt asks.

 

"Time," Byleth replies, bleakly. It sounds rather lacking, compared to everything Byleth had just mentioned. "Knowledge of the future."

 

Sothis squeezes his hand. "The power of a goddess."

 

There is a brief pause. "Do you hate Edelgard?" Jeralt asks, quieter now despite the gruff tone.

 

"I hated her," Byleth replies, and Sothis gasps at his side. "But I believe that I am numb to it now. I have spent many a night cursing her name and the Empire while we buried our dead and prayed for our living. I am tired of her and of this war. Besides, Sothis hates her enough for the both of us."

 

Jeralt doesn't speak. "You know that my offer to just kill her and run off to Dagda is still valid, right, kiddo?" 

 

Byleth manages a smile.

 

"You have me as well," Jeralt adds simply. "You have your students. You have people that love you. It may not seem like much, but you already know that one person can change the future as we know it. I mean, look at you. Look how much good you've already done. You're gonna turn the world on its head, Byleth."

 

For a moment, they stand in silence. Byleth allows his chest to fill with hope.

 

"Thank you," Byleth murmurs, pressing himself more firmly into his father's side.

 

"That's just what dads do," Jeralt responds. "No need for thanks. ...Hey, did I ever mention how much your mother liked flowers?"

 

Byleth appreciates the change in subject, no matter how awkward or abrupt. "No," Byleth says, staring at the roses that Jeralt placed there.

 

"I'm pretty sure that you got your green thumb from her," Jeralt says. "She taught me all sorts of things about flowers- like about alkanet flowers. Do you know what they are?"

 

Byleth shakes his head. He's pretty sure that he's never grown those in the greenhouse. He listens to his father explain their meaning and gradually relaxes.

 

.

 

"May I speak with you for a moment, Cyril?" Byleth asks, waving a slow hand at him. 

 

Cyril wipes his hands off onto a cloth before turning to him. Byleth's just caught him weeding the area around the classes. "Sure, professor. Lady Rhea did say that I should help you with whatever I can."

 

Byleth nods. "Then that makes this easier. Cyril, please join my class."

 

The boy blinks at him confusedly. "Er... I can't be a real part of your class, but I can help out with missions and stuff! And I can attend some classes, if I am free."

 

"That's not it," Byleth interrupts. "I want you to join my class."

 

"Why?" Cyril demands, beginning to sounding rather offended. "There's no need for me to be there."

 

"Have you ever been in school, Cyril?"

 

Cyril shakes his head. "I've never seen the point. All I need to do is to help Lady Rhea in any way I can, and studying will only hinder that."

 

"Have you never thought about how learning could aid you more?"

 

"Not really."

 

Byleth tries to think about the Cyril from his past life. He was fond of the boy, despite his attachment to Rhea. Stubborn, loyal to a fault, and incredibly blunt. Upon a wyvern, he was absolutely unstoppable in battle. He had only just learned to read when Byleth had recruited Lysithea into the Blue Lions. 

 

"Cyril, do you know how to read?"

 

Cyril shakes his head. "Naw. Hey, are you making fun of me?"

 

"Not at all. Do you not believe that you cannot help Rhea by learning new things?"

 

Cyril turns back to the pile of weeds. "I see what you're doing here, professor. I may not be able to read, but I can promise you that I will never not help Lady Rhea. Besides, I'm from Almyra. Your students will probably hate having me there."

 

"Let's find out, shall we?" Byleth says, then marches over to the Blue Lions' classroom.

 

"Hey, professor, hold on-!" Cyril exclaims, jogging to catch up with him. Byleth doesn't stop as he pushes open the door and meets everyone's eyes.

 

"Hello, professor!" Dimitri greets. "Oh, and hello Cyril!"

 

Byleth clears his throat and waits for the noise to die down. "How would you feel if Cyril joined our class?"

 

A pause.

 

"Cyril!" Annette exclaims. "You're joining our class!? Yes! I've always wanted to get to know you better!"

 

"I haven't actually-"

 

"This is so exciting!" Mercedes exclaims. 

 

"I can't be a student!" Cyril declares loudly, and everyone falls silent. "I can't read, and I'm too busy with chores from Lady Rhea! I'm also from Almyra, don't you guys dislike me?"

 

Lysithea smiles at him. "Isn't that what learning is for? We can teach you how to read, obviously."

 

"And about being too busy," Ingrid begins, with a tiny grin, "you're already working so hard. You deserve to relax, too. I am sure Lady Rhea would approve of you taking time for yourself and learning in a classroom."

 

Dedue attempts a smile of his own. "I am from Duscur. I understand your apprehension, but I have come to have people that appreciate my presence here. You need not worry."

 

"I for one would be happy to have you join the Blue Lions, Cyril," Dimitri adds, giving him a gentle smile.

 

"...Fine." A cheer rises up from the Blue Lions. "But if Lady Rhea needs me, I have to go, okay?"

 

Ashe stands from his seat violently, looking so excited he seems like he's glowing. Linhardt, who was sleeping on the desk next to him, jerks violently awake. "I have an idea that may help you learn to read!"

 

Cyril blinks awkwardly, surprised in the face of Ashe's infectious enthusiasm. "Y-yeah?" No one can resist the force of Ashe's smile, apparently.

 

"Let's start a book club!"

 

"Ooh!" Ingrid says, her own smile beginning to blind. "An excellent idea, Ashe!"

 

Byleth watches as Cyril is slowly accepted into the fold. He sighs. 

 

"That's another person in the Blue Lions," Sothis says, the curve of her lip sharp enough to cut glass. 

 

We might as well have as many allies as possible, Byleth thinks back.

 

"...right, professor?"

 

Byleth jolts at the address. "Yes. Yes, sure. Of course. I was listening."

 

Lysithea is smirking at him. "Well then, that's settled. You'll be the supervisor of the book club."

 

Sylvain grins, reaching into a pile of books on his desk. "I've just the book we can start with. It's a book of poetry, but only certain poems are good. Just- don't look at the ones I don't recommend."

 

"You don't read poetry," Ingrid insists, trying to swipe the book out of Sylvain's hands. He dodges the grab easily, tutting softly, but now he's in perfect range for Byleth to swipe the book out of his hands and flip to the page he had bookmarked with a slip of paper.

 

"Professor!" Sylvain exclaims, sounding terribly scandalized.

 

Byleth flips open to the page and suddenly he's lost any sense of coherence and any ability to read.

 

...I press my tongue to your throat, your thorns, the curl of the vine. I lick the dew from the fruit, I taste your sweetness and I lap up your dreams and call them mine.

 

You strip me of my wings, and I thank you, I moan, I beg, I pray for mercy, mercy, for you are my god. I worship the skin, the sweat, your smile, your light, and kiss bruises onto your neck that I dare not claim, I praise, I beg, I sigh, I fall to one knee to meet you. Holy are you, I confess sins into your throat and when I sing gospel I know your name alone, I worship at your altar, I know only devotion-

 

"Sylvain."

 

"Yes, professor?"

 

"See me after class."

 

"Yes, professor."

 

.

 

Byleth bursts into his father's office with the urgency of an impending war on the horizon. It's not an entirely inaccurate comparison.

 

"I have to ask you for some favours," Byleth begins, disheveled from the slight run. 

 

Jeralt looks up at him from his papers. "What is it? Something happen? Are you hurt?"

 

"While I am away, could you please possibly befriend Rodrigue and Seteth? You could talk about being fathers, or something?"

 

"Wait, Seteth is a-"

 

"Could you also please teach a seminar for my students right now? I must have tea with professor Jeritza, and this is one conversation I cannot allow them to listen in on."

 

"Like, right now-"

 

"Yes, right now," Byleth interrupts hurriedly, running around the desk and coercing his father to stand from his chair with his hands. "I just realized that I might not have time."

 

"Hold on, hold on," Jeralt cuts in. "Okay. Breathe. What's going on?"

 

"Flayn will be kidnapped in a few days," Byleth explains, "but I have no idea when. I will talk to Jeritza, see if I can somehow persuade him out of it, or see if I can delay it some how, so I can catch him and any of his allies in the act. Perhaps interrogate them, if we are lucky."

 

Jeralt sighs and picks up his lance. "Alright. Your brats are in the Blue Lions' classroom, right? I'll make sure they settle in for a seminar. Teach them some authority or something. While you're away, I'll also keep an eye out for Flayn, make sure that that girl ain't preemptively kidnapped. But you gotta slow down, kid. You gotta realize that you've got time."

 

Byleth makes a show out of taking a few deep breaths. "Of course," he says slowly, "thank you, father. I'll go look for him in the training grounds now."

 

"He's right, you know," Sothis drawls. "You've got time." She laughs at the irony of the statement. 

 

Yes, well, it does not really seem that way.

 

Byleth finds Jeritza in the training grounds, alongside-

 

"Felix?"

 

Felix looks up at him, eyes narrowing. He lifts an arm up to his forehead to wipe his sweat off with the sleeve. "Professor," he greets. "I was training with professor Jeritza."

 

Jeritza doesn't even nod at Byleth. He simply holds his gaze. Byleth cannot help but notice that he has not put away his weapon yet.

 

"I see," Byleth responds, even though he clearly cannot. "My father is about to hold a seminar for your class, so you must go."

 

Frowning, Felix sheathes his sword. "Fine, fine." He's halfway out the door when he turns back to Byleth. "Professor."

 

"Yes?"

 

"I find that the best way for our kind to communicate is through battle," Felix says inexplicably. He meets Byleth's eyes and tilts his chin up, as if in challenge. "Don't you?"

 

With those final words, he leaves.

 

"I really don't get it," Sothis begins, and Byleth has to agree with her, "but that boy is weirdly perceptive about the oddest things."

 

I am aware.

 

Byleth had every intention to invite Jeritza to tea, but after Felix had said such a thing...

 

"Jeritza," Byleth greets after a moment.

 

He doesn't respond. 

 

Despite Byleth's own preference to stay silent and allow others to do the talking for him, he wasn't entirely used to quieter people, especially since he was constantly surrounded by rowdy students.

 

"...Maybe you should invite him to tea, like in the original plan," Sothis murmurs, sounding bemused. "Perhaps he would be more eager to speak over a nice cup of chamomile or albinean berry blend."

 

Word games aren't my forte. And not mind games.

 

"Clearly," Sothis giggles. "You've always had others to fill in the blanks for you."

 

"Are you just going to gawk?" Jeritza asks, his sword finally lowering.

 

"He speaks!" Sothis exclaims. 

 

Byleth tilts his head to the side. "Would you like to join me for tea?"

 

No answer.

 

Sothis huffs. "This one is so rude."

 

"I sparred with you earlier," Byleth reminds him. "And won."

 

Jeritza shakes his head. "You'll find that if we spar again, the results will change."

 

Now normally Byleth isn't one to express most of his emotions, but this statement makes him bristle slightly. Even Sothis seems to straighten. 

 

"It's not as if that scythe of yours would help you win against me," Byleth retorts blandly, and only his instincts allow him to dodge Jeritza's sudden swing at his head.

 

Byleth ducks, narrowing his eyes- if the attack would have connected, it would have separated his head clean from his shoulders. 

 

"It seems as if this is the only way you both know how to talk," Sothis says, and the Sword of the Creator practically sings as it's called to Byleth's hands. Blade in hand, he parries a blow aimed at his torso and pushes Jeritza back, the strength of his swing making Jeritza's feet skid across the floor. He stumbles, but quickly collects himself.

 

Jeritza keeps swinging the rapier at him, not letting up in the slightest. He's slowly backing Byleth into one of the pillars of the training grounds.

 

Byleth's eyes narrow. He dodges another stab- straight between his eyes, and hurries to widen the space between them. Thinking fast, he cracks his srist and his sword flies out, snake-like as it curls around Jeritza's rapier. Once the weapon is taut, he yanks at it and the rapier flies out of Jeritza's hands.

 

"Stealing someone else's moves, are we?" Sothis mocks cheekily, "go beat him up!"

 

Byleth doesn't have to be asked twice. Jeritza, stilled temporarily from the shock of losing his weapon, has no time to move before Byleth closes the distance between them and punches the man in the face.

 

He hears a sickening crunch as Jeritza goes down. 

 

The sword retracts, and Byleth sighs, kneeling down next to the man. "Ready to talk-"

 

Suddenly, Jeritza reaches up and tries to hit Byleth with a punch of his own. It barely clips his nose, but the results are the same- Byleth throws another vicious punch at Jeritza, who has not given up at clawing at Byleth.

 

"Byleth!" Sothis exclaims, hands over her mouth. 

 

It's ugly, and raw. There's none of the finesse or foot work of swordsmanship. Jeritza is yanking relentlessly at Byleth's hair, and he's made one good hit upon Byleth's jaw that has him seeing stars, and Byleth has not let up with his fists- both his knuckles and Jeritza's face are a bloody, angry mess. The mask has cracked slightly under the assault.

 

They tussle and roll in the dirt, kicking up an ugly sludge that only makes them look even more filthy, Jeritza's pale hair dyed in the unflattering colours.

 

Byleth wins when he overpowers Jeritza and forces him completely to the ground, straddling his torso and pinning both of his the man's fists to the ground with a single hand.

 

He allows Jeritza to struggle and kick under his weight for a bit, and then the man practically collapses when he realizes that he wasn't going anywhere.

 

Sothis allows her shoulders to relax. "Goodness, Byleth, all you ever do is scare the life out of me!"

 

Jeritza's cracked lips part, blood running down his nose. There's a smear of blood on his broken mask. He looks so unbelievably unkempt, and raw. The white of his outfit is caked with blood and dirt. Byleth wonders what his own face looks like. 

 

When he speaks, Byleth has to lean in to hear. 

 

"I didn't think that you would be the type to fight dirty," Jeritza murmurs.

 

Byleth has to hold back a huff. "I am a mercenary. I did not think that you would be the type to attack without warning."

 

"Then I don't believe that you know me at all," Jeritza says, "despite everything you seem to know."

 

"Oh?"

 

"I think that you know more than you let on," Jeritza murmurs, and Byleth only realizes that they're close- too close, when he feels the tiny puff of Jeritza's breath upon his face.

 

Byleth sighs, and slowly stands from Jeritza's body, tense in awaiting another attack. Surprisingly, Jeritza makes no move to get up.

 

"I did promise to speak with you," Jeritza allows. "Forgive me for attacking you without warning."

 

He would sound almost polite and sincere were there not blood running down his face.

 

"Is he serious right now?" Sothis demands. "He nearly killed you!"

 

Byleth offers him a hand, which Jeritza stares at for a long moment before taking it and allowing himself to be pulled, sitting upright.

 

Byleth lifts a hand and waves a heal spell over the both of them, not saying anything even when he can feel the weight of Jeritza's stare upon his skin. Reaching into his cloak, Byleth procures a handkerchief- given to him by Mercedes- and hands it to Jeritza. 

 

The man wipes his face upon the handkerchief, and it only smears the blood across his face. Sothis snorts at the sight, her smile wobbly. When Jeritza tries to hand it back to him, Byleth shakes his head.

 

"Keep it," Byleth says, trying not to wince at the sight of blood upon the delicate white fabric. Jeritza nods in response.

 

"I don't know how much you think I know," Jeritza continues, still looking at him strangely, "but I only follow orders."

 

Sothis groans, head in her hands. "Why is it that we only get to speak with lackeys!?" Byleth has to agree. They're not getting anywhere, nor are they learning much about their enemy.

 

"But."

 

Both Byleth and Sothis snap to attention. "Cornelia's allegiance does not lie with Faerghus."

 

"We know this already, that sly little-"

 

"Whatever you have heard," Jeritza continues, eyes still on the bloody handkerchief, "it is not entirely true that she was summoned here. She is coming here, of her own volition, for several reasons. And one of them is you."

 

Byleth allows that information to sink in. What could she possibly want with Byleth?

 

It doesn't seem as if Jeritza will continue, so Byleth nods. "Thank you for letting me know," Byleth replies. "May I ask you a question?"

 

Jeritza nods. 

 

"What do you want to do with Flayn?" Byleth asks, and Jeritza stills. 

 

"So you do know about it-" Jeritza begins, but is cut off by the door to the training grounds slamming open.

 

The Blue Lions spill in, followed by a tired looking Jeralt. "Sorry, kiddo, I wanted to stall them for longer than thirty minutes, but as soon as they heard that you were- what the hell happened here?!"

 

Byleth looks down at himself. His armor is scuffed, covered in dirt and blood and other miscellaneous grime. Luckily for him, he was wearing his old gloves, for these ones are now torn at the knuckles and are a pulpy, bloody mess. And he cannot even see his own face. He wonders who looks more tousled- himself or Jeritza.

 

"Definitely Jeritza," Sothis replies, examining the other man with narrowed eyes. "You broke his nose, and even with a heal spell he looks absolutely barbaric."

 

"Professor!" Dimitri exclaims, running over to Byleth's side. He picks up Jeritza's rapier as he hurries towards his professor. 

 

He reaches up and cups Byleth's face with one hand, and Byleth freezes under the familiar touch. But Dimitri's only checking if his nose is broken, or if his jaw was unaligned. 

 

Despite the little harm to his face, Byleth can hear a crunch- Dimitri's fist has tightened around the hilt of the sword so firmly that it's warped and broken. 

 

"What have you done?" Dimitri demands, whirling on Jeritza. Byleth startles. He has yet to hear any sort of looming darkness from this Dimitri, but the way his voice sounded just then was like...

 

"Dima," Sothis finishes.

 

"It's fine," Byleth says, stepping in between the two men. The rest of the Blue Lions, save for a Mercedes trying to readjust her brother's nose- have made a wide circle around them. "It was just a regular duel," he insists.

 

"It looks worse than you would think," Jeritza says, and both Sothis and Byleth startle at the unexpected assist.

 

With both professors refusing to admit to any of what had just happened, the Blue Lions have no choice but to back down. 

 

Jeralt catches Byleth's gaze, and his eyes narrow. Byleth mentally prepares himself for the scolding of a lifetime.

 

.

 

"Happy birthday, Dedue," Byleth greets him at the gate. The Blue Lions are already up, bright and early to face Miklan. Despite the early dawn, the sky is already ominous with the incoming storm. "I am sorry that we must depart on a mission on your birthday. I promise that I will invite you to tea and give you your gift once we get back.

 

"It is of no matter," Dedue says, with a tiny nod. "Your thoughts and well wishes are enough."

 

"Allow me to treat you at times," Byleth replies. "You deserve it."

 

Dedue shakes his head silently. "It is more than I deserve. Thank you."

 

Byleth does a head count. Half of his father's mercenaries, Gilbert, the Blue Lions and a tired looking Sylvain, who's hands were gripped tightly around the reins of his new horse...

 

His eyes settle on Cyril. "Cyril."

 

The boy straightens at the address. "Yes, professor?"

 

"You're not coming," Byleth tells him, and waits carefully for the boy to react.

 

Cyril straightens his shoulders, as if to seem taller. "I am. Lady Rhea said to help you in any way-"

 

"If you are to help me, then you are going to stay behind," Byleth says bluntly, and the students startle at his tone. "You are fourteen. You are inexperienced, and I have not trained you for long. I am not introducing you to battle without your consent."

 

"But I don't mind-"

 

"That is exactly why you cannot come," Byleth says. "You do not mind. Not about your wellbeing, if it means you can be useful. I may have coerced into joining my class, it's true, but I will not force anyone who does not fight to fight."

 

Byleth stares at each of his students individually. "That goes for all of you. You may kill someone today. You may lose more than a life today. Everyone must realize that."

 

Cyril looks as if he's about to stomp his feet. "But I understand that-"

 

"Cyril," Byleth insists. "Please. I want you to think about what you want to do. Not what Lady Rhea wants you to do. If you are going to learn anything from my class, then learn some self care. You have a will of your own, and when you think it over, if you truly wish to fight, then you may join. You have time."

 

The boy flushes up to his roots in indignation. He opens his mouth as if to say something, but stomps off instead.

 

Silence.

 

"I think that you did the right thing," Lysithea says simply. Of all people, Byleth did not expect her attempts at comfort or reassurance. "Pressuring children into matters out of their hands is despicable. Even if they think they've thought it through, or if they think that they have to..."

 

"You're still a child," Sylvain jokes weakly. "And barely older than Cyril."

 

As if on cue, Lysithea puffs up in anger. "Don't treat me like a kid!"

 

Ferdinand raises his hand as if they were still in the classroom. "I also think that you did the right thing. While he does seem determined to help..."

 

"All that Rhea worship is seriously getting to him," Felix comments, rolling his eyes. "He's like, five."

 

"Fourteen," Ingrid corrects.

 

"Same difference," Felix confirms.

 

"Are you sure that you're not secretly nobility?" Ferdinand continues, examining Byleth with a pleasant smile. He's soothing his own horse gently.

 

Byleth stares at him.

 

"Professor?" Ferdinand inquires, looking distinctly puppy-like. "Is there something on my face?"

 

Sometimes I look at you and see your face and hair matted with blood, Byleth doesn't say. Sometimes I can hear you rallying your troops, eager to prove your worth to Edelgard. Eager to win. Eager to live. Sometimes I close my eyes and you've fallen out of your saddle once more, slumped against the floor, wheezing for air. I would wonder if you would have allowed me to persuade you. I wonder if you would have backed down. I wonder if I'll ever be able to look at you without knowing how your flesh yielded to my blade.

 

"Nothing," Byleth says, instead. "Shall we get moving?"

 

.

 

"It should be in our sights soon, professor," Dimitri says, after a few hours of walking in the chilly rain. Linhardt had already given up on walking an hour ago, in favor of sitting on the back of Ferdinand's horse and falling asleep, slumped against Ferdinand despite Ferdinand's loud voice. Ashe has taken it upon himself to sit with Sylvain, trying to make the boy smile. Mercedes has been desperately trying to keep a tiny fire spell alive in the pouring rain, to little effect. 

 

Byleth nods, as Dimitri approaches with Gilbert in tow. Annette has been unsuccessfully trying to catch Gilbert's eyes the entire march, which in turn makes Felix, Ingrid, and Lysithea glare at the man.

 

"The abandoned tower those thieves are using as a base... Conand Tower."

 

"This area was the site of a massive battle several hundred years ago," Gilbert adds, "That's when invasions from the north were at their peak. Back then, this tower was built for both surveillance and defense. It will be difficult to seize it."

 

Dimitri, who was also slightly upset with Gilbert for not acknowledging his daughter, flashes him a smile without dimples. "You're very well informed, Gilbert! Please, tell us more."

 

Flustered, Gilbert folds his arms across his chest. "Well, I... Ah. You're joking."

 

The prince turns back to Byleth. "Professor. Did you see the local villages?" When Byleth nods, Dimitri continues. "They were in rough shape, no doubt because of the thief attacks. They're not going to make it through the winter in that condition. If the thieves had taken up pillaging in order to survive, that would be deplorable... but understandable."

 

Face dark, Dimitri shakes his head. "But this... This is something else entirely. It looks as though they destroyed those villages purely for pleasure. No matter what their reasons may be, that sort of behavior cannot be allowed. Ever."

 

On the back of his horse, Sylvain trots up next to them, a disheartened looking Ashe sitting behind him. "Don't bother wasting your head over those lowlifes, your Highness," Sylvain spits. "It's wasted effort."

 

"Sylvain..." Dimitri trails off. "Your brother, Miklan. I know that he has been disowned, but..."

 

"He's no longer a member of house Gautier... or my brother. He's nothing more than a common thief." At his back, Ashe curls up into himself.

 

Dimitri too, looks a bit sad. "Are you sure about that? It would be understandable to find this situation... well, regrettable, to say the least."

 

Sylvain laughs, and it's such a bitter sound that even Sothis winces in sympathy. "Regrets? Heh, you must be joking. You know we're far past the point of regret. And it always falls on the younger brother to clean up the mistakes of their elders, doesn't it?"

 

"Sylvain," Ashe begins, his voice trembling.

 

"Ashe," Sylvain says, his voice a little softer now. "I know your big brother loved you. But that's not the case with Miklan and I. If anyone should feel bad, it's him. Trust me on this."

 

Byleth stares up at Sylvain, who is haloed by a coming storm. "So what do you want to do?"

 

Sylvain shrugs, noncommittal. "I don't care at this point. I trust you, professor. Do whatever you want to that sad excuse of an older brother."

 

He urges his horse to walk away. Dimitri sighs in the wake of his absence. "This rain threatens a coming storm. We must hurry and begin our war council before the heavens let loose."

 

.

 

The tower is a steep, terrible climb, especially with some of the ceiling and walls cracked. Blistering air and freezing rain occasionally slip through and assault them. Even Linhardt is awake now, jostled by the harsh horse ride in the tower.

 

"The enemy is close by. We're almost to the top floor," Gilbert announces.

 

Dimitri cracks his knuckles. It seems to be a habit now for Dimitri to play with his hands before battle. His fingers twist the ring Byleth had given him. "They are merely thieves, but they have a hero's relic. Do not drop your guard."

 

"Don't hold back for my sake," Sylvain declares, with a painted smile. "My brother is going to pay for everything he's done."

 

Byleth closes his eyes. He can't see a way around killing Miklan. He doesn't know what will happen if he keeps him alive. Miklan was the type of person to steal a hero's relic and use it to destroy and pillage, the kind of person to push his little brother down wells. He can't say that he doesn't understand why, but Byleth cannot sympathize with him. 

 

"Besides," Sothis whispers, reading into his thoughts, "who knows what he'll do if he lives. You may have spared Lonato, but it was partly for Ashe."

 

I suppose that we are killing him then.

 

The battle begins. 

 

"Annette, Ingrid, Dedue, stay behind with Gilbert. There may be reinforcements. The rest of you are with me."

 

"Yes!"

 

The battle goes as well as it possibly can. The bandits seem not all surprised that they're there, but are surprised when Byleth cuts off their stream of reinforcements. 

 

In Byleth's last life, the battle didn't go as smoothly. At this point in time, he had only around five Divine Pulses, and used four of them- one, to save Mercedes, who was descended upon by reinforcements, and the rest of them on Miklan- one while he was still human, and the rest of them for when he became a beast and killed Ashe and Annette in one blow.

 

He's actually surprised at the progress they're making- until an arrow from above hits Ferdinand's horse, sending the horse bucking, and tossing Ferdinand out of the saddle and onto the floor- whilst the horse goes wild, knocking a few of their enemies down but also felling an unaware Linhardt and Ferdinand- trampled in its wake. Lysithea and Ashe are screaming.

 

Byleth closes his eyes and allows a wave of nausea to rush over him. 12 remaining. "Ashe," Byleth commands, "I believe there's an archer on the other side."

 

Ashe doesn't ask questions. He lets an arrow fly through a gap in the wall, and only relaxes slightly when he hears the gurgle of a fallen unit. "Done and done, professor." His gaze is solemn.

 

They just barely turn the corner, and Byleth can hear Miklan barking orders from the other side, as well as the rest of his students alongside Gilbert, hurry to join them.

 

Of course, that's when reinforcements seem to peel out of the walls behind them. Byleth allows himself a curse. He had totally forgotten about these reinforcements. Three of them gang up on Dedue. When he hears Annette shriek his name, Byleth doesn't even have to think- he allows another Divine Pulse flow through him and fights the urge to vomit. 

 

Before they turn the corner this time, Byleth breaks part of the wall and the hidden corridor crumbles in on itself.

 

He waits a few moments before they pass the corner. Nothing but the sound of his students' footsteps. Byleth tries not to think about whether or not the bandits were caught in the rubble.

 

This time, when they turn the corner, Byleth runs smack into someone else. He can hear someone exclaim his name, but he's too surprised at the sight.

 

"What the fuck are you doing here?" Kostas demands, axe lowering. A few of his men have stopped in their tracks.

 

Sothis looks like she's about to scream. 

 

"I could ask you the same," Byleth says, lifting the Sword of the Creator to Kostas' chest.

 

Kostas tries to back off. "Hey, hey, hey! I thought that we bonded and all that! Can you put that thing away, please?! Shit."

 

Pressing the sword into Kostas' chest, Byleth stalks forward. "Not until you tell me why you're here."

 

"Fuck! Fine. It's just bandit work, innit?" Kostas attempts to explain. "I gotta get some of my boys back together, but some of them already joined this crazy Miklan guy! I regret being here already- I just knew that they would send knights over when that dumbass stole the relic!"

 

Byleth narrows his eyes.

 

"Byleth," Sothis hisses, "we don't have time for him! Just kill him already!"

 

Wait.

 

"If you don't want me to kill you," Byleth says simply. "Wait until after the battle. I have a job for you."

 

"I like my head attached to my shoulders, thanks," Kostas says, but backs off. "Boys! Get over here! Don't attack the brats!"

 

"You traitor!" One of Miklan's men say. Kostas rolls his eyes.

 

"I ain't dying for that crazy asshole," Kostas declares, and runs the other way. Several of the men follow.

 

"Coward!" The same man screams.

 

Dimitri shoots Byleth a look.

 

"I promise that I shall explain everything in due time," Byleth says, "please just trust me for now."

 

Dimitri nods, but shoots Byleth a look that promises that this conversation isn't over.

 

Felix makes a face. "Do all bandits know each other or something?"

 

I am in big trouble. Byleth thinks desperately.

 

"Yup," Sothis nods.

 

The Blue Lions, finally all together in one group at last, make quick work of the remaining mercenaries.

 

"I'm out of magic," Annette says, and out of nowhere, Gilbert wordlessly hands her a spare axe. "...Thank you." 

 

There is a noticable pause during battle, where Miklan's loud order have stopped suddenly, and Byleth's eyes narrow. "...Sylvain. He's coming."

 

"I... I know."

 

The remainder of the bandits seem to part for Miklan. "Why have you come, you crest bearing fool?"

 

Sylvain's nose scrunches up, eyes narrowing. He looks dangerous. "I'm here for the Lance of Ruin, Miklan," Sylvain declares. "Hand it over. I don't want to humiliate you, but I will."

 

Miklan scoffs, the sound angry. "Hmph! Hurry up and die already. If not for you... If it hadn't been for you..."

 

Dimitri, Ingrid, and Felix all turn to Sylvain as one, eyes wide. 

 

"Shut up!" Sylvain yells, "I'm so tired of hearing that. You've always blamed me for something that isn't my fault."

 

They collide. 

 

Miklan waves the lance around, flailing wildly. It seems inelegant, and random, but when Sylvain dodges and the lance collides with the wall, it crumbles.

 

Byleth takes a step towards them.

 

"Sorry, professor," Sylvain yells, "but this is my fight!" He jabs the lance at Miklan's head, and it just barely misses- but Sylvain's eyes narrow in realization. If Miklan were not wearing the heavy, clunky armor, then he would be able to dodge further.

 

Sylvain digs the heels of his boots into his horse's side, and Miklan's eyes widen, just barely dodging a fate of being trampled.

 

"Coward!" Miklan screams. "Fight me as equals, as infantry!"

 

Byleth can practically feel Sylvain's ugly laugh churn his insides. "We've always been equals. You're the one who has been refusing to see it!"

 

He punctuates the last word with a jab to Miklan's throat, and this time Miklan is unable to dodge completely- and the blow connects with Miklan's cheek. He howls in pain.

 

Miklan jumps back, wiping the blood from his face with the back of his hand. "Not bad for your kind," Miklan mocks, and Byleth's eyes widen in recognition. These were the words he had said before he transformed. "A bunch of spoiled, rotten children."

 

As if on cue, the Lance of Ruin pulses with energy, adamant on consuming Miklan.

 

"Run," Byleth urges his students, but they're all busy staring. "Run!"

 

After a second yell, they seem to snap out of their trances. Ferdinand, Lysithea, and Gilbert look confused, but they still follow. Sylvain urges Gilbert onto his horse.

 

"Professor," Ferdinand begins, but he shakes his head. 

 

"Please, not now! Just- clear the way!"

 

"Professor!" Linhardt yells, and the volume of his voice is so startling that Byleth turns and looks at him. "Is he transforming here?!"

 

"Yes, that's quite clear, Linhardt!" Sothis exclaims, face flushing with indignation.

 

Linhardt swallows. "Professor, this isn't a large area like the Holy Mausoleum! The walls are going to break!"

 

Byleth nearly curses aloud. That's right. In his past life, when Miklan had approached them, they forced him into a corner- or more specifically, a large room at the top of the tower, where Miklan proceeded to transform.

 

The black beast would hardly be able to fit in these corridors without destroying everything in its path.

 

Over the cacophony of Miklan's pained screaming, Byleth yells. "Just go! Go, now!"

 

He risks a look behind him to see the beast already taking form, the bandits, still stunned, watching the transformation. Some of them have already realized the severity of the situation and bolt- keeping pace with Byleth and the Blue Lions.

 

Miklan seems to pulse and pound and crawl until he takes shape into the black beast. It howls, sending a chill down Byleth's spine. Standing on its hind legs, it picks up an unfortunate bandit and throws them into the walls.

 

Byleth, still running towards the staircase, watches the black beast trample the bandits that didn't flee.

 

And then it turns to them.

 

"Go!" Byleth screams, louder now, and he can distantly hear his students scream as the black beast charges them on all fours, weight enough to break through some of the floor and wild enough to break the walls as it runs, uncaring of the rampage.

 

If they were in that large room, Byleth would be confident that they could fight it, but the tower has already begun to fall around them. The beast, aggravating the old tower, has already toppled a few walls and destroyed part of the floor. As expected, the tower seems to groan with the stress.

 

The Blue Lions round the corner, skidding as they run. It's only gaining on them, and the corridors are only becoming thinner. Byleth thinks about using a Divine Pulse, but he wants to see the outcome of this first. 

 

Every crush of brick behind them only seems to get closer and closer.

 

The black beast, running at full speed, tries to run around the corner to catch them- but it seems to have overestimated its speed. Trying to keep a grip on the floors is difficult when they're already covered in rainwater, so the beast skids, and instead of turning the corner, it slams into the tower walls and nearly falls out of the hole it has created with its weight.

 

It roars, barely catching the edge, drooling and huffing. The beast's claws dig into the stone, holding on for dear life. It is strong enough to pull itself back up.

 

Byleth won't miss this chance.

 

He runs back to the beast, ignoring the calls of his students. Sword of the Creator in hand, he cuts through the barrier and in one large swing- cuts off the limb holding it to the tower.

 

Roaring, the black beast falls to the ground below.

 

Byleth turns back around to his students, who are all staring at him with wide eyes. "The tower may fall any minute now," he informs them. "We have to go."

 

"You don't have to tell me twice," Felix says, and dashes to the staircase. A beat later, the rest of the students follow, Byleth close behind.

 

.

 

Thankfully, they make it safely below. Sylvain immediately urges his horse to his brother's side when he finds him- no longer a beast, but his brother. The Blue Lions follow.

 

Hurriedly, Sylvain leaps off of his horse, kneeling next to the body, and presses a hand to his brother's pulse points. "Miklan's dead," Sylvain says, and it comes out as a breath.

 

He scoffs. "Look at him. Holding onto the Lance of Ruin until he died," Sylvain murmurs, and no one points out how his voice wobbles.

 

Sylvain takes the lance from his brother's hands with ease, and laughs spitefully. His eyes are slightly wide. "Guess not. I guess even he will let it go easily in death."

 

No one says a word over the pouring rain.

 

Byleth steps forward, and kneels next to the body. The dirt is soft from the rain. Taking off his new gloves and his ring, Byleth begins to dig a hole with his fingers.

 

"Woah!" Sylvain exclaims. "Listen, professor, you don't have to do this for-"

 

"I can do as I please," Byleth replies evenly, digging despite the rain and the sludge underneath his fingernails.

 

Ingrid steps forward, kneeling next to him. "It'll be easier with two people," she says calmly, taking off her own gloves and beginning to help.

 

Dimitri immediately joins after that, and with a scoff, so does Felix. The rest of the Blue Lions quickly kneel and decide to help, peeling back their gloves and digging quickly.

 

Sylvain takes a huge, shuddering breath, then kneels next to them. "If we don't hurry," Sylvain begins, "the hole will fill up with rainwater." His voice is shaking as he puts down the lance.

 

It's a shallow grave, and the bottom of it is lined with water, but they lower Miklan into the grave anyway and throw the dirt they just dug out over him. Byleth picks up his gloves and ring and shoves them into his cloak, not wanting them to be covered in mud.

 

They stand in silence. 

 

Felix, Dimitri, and Ingrid have all stepped closer to Sylvain. They're huddled together, miserable and wet from the storm.

 

With a daunting finality, Sylvain stabs his own lance into the ground next to the buried body, and picks up the Lance of Ruin. He stares up at the sky.

 

"Let's go?" Sylvain offers, and one by one, they slowly drift from the grave, save for Sylvain and his childhood friends. Byleth realizes that they want some time alone, so he begins to leave, but Sylvain grabs his hand.

 

"Professor?" Sylvain asks, grip tight on Byleth's hand.

 

"Yes?" 

 

"...Thank you. I mean it." 

 

Byleth nods at him. "You are welcome, Sylvain." Sylvain's hand slips away quietly as Byleth turns to walk away.

 

Stepping around the grave, Byleth hurries to join the rest of the Blue Lions.

Chapter Text

Off in the distance, Byleth spots Kostas and his men scurrying away frantically, in hopes of not being spotted. 

 

"Those little snakes!" Sothis declares, pointing a finger at them. "Well? Don't just stand there, Byleth! Go after them!"

 

You don't have to tell me twice.

 

"Ferdinand," Byleth calls out to the boy, not even looking his way, "I will be borrowing your horse for a few moments."

 

"Okay- Wait, what?" Ferdinand exclaims, looking adorably confused, and then panicked, his face turning white. "Professor, where are you- what are you-?"

 

Byleth, not even listening anymore, hopes onto Ferdinand's horse with a practiced ease and jerks the reins, heading toward Kostas at top speed.

 

He can hear the man shrieking as he approaches. Things like 'holy shit' and 'fucking run.' He can't say that it doesn't make him feel a little amused.

 

"Of all things to make you smile," Sothis accuses. "Is this it? Really? You sadist."

 

Am not.

 

"Are too."

 

Am not.

 

"Are too- Hey, careful, you're gonna trample them!"

 

Byleth yanks at the reins in order to stop the horse, mentally apologizing. Kostas yells, bringing up his arms to preemptively protect his head.

 

When the horse calms, Byleth points his blade at the man's head. "Hello," Byleth greets.

 

"Fuck," Kostas snarls. "I thought we bonded?! C'mon man!"

 

"If we have bonded," Byleth says slowly, "then why are you running?"

 

"Because you're fucking terrifying, you know that?" Kostas accuses. Byleth blinks slowly. "Why are you acting like you don't know shit? You fuckin' massacred my crew, kicked my ass, then kidnapped me, then your dad nearly cut off lil Kostas, then you killed some fuckin' old man without blinking an eye- like fuck! I respect that you're terrifying, and that you saved my ass, but I respect that from a distance!" 

 

Byleth tilts his head to one side, contemplative. "Fair."

 

"Fuck man," Kostas spits. "You're so fucking creepy lookin'. With your blank stare and blank eyes and blank expression... Do you even smile?"

 

Byleth attempts a grin that feels more like baring his teeth, and Kostas and his men flinch. "Shit. Sorry I asked."

 

Wiping the rain out of his face, Kostas squares his shoulders. "I was hoping you'd forget about me. Go our separate ways as uh, brothers in arms, maybe share a drink later in years when shit's settled down or something. Whaddya say?"

 

"I have a favor to ask of you," Byleth says, as if he hadn't heard him. 

 

Kostas rolls his eyes. "Yeah, yeah, I knew it wouldn't be so easy. Go on."

 

Byleth meets Sothis' eyes for a brief moment, before steeling himself. "I would like for you and your men to be my spies."

 

"Eh?" Kostas spits. "I thought you were gonna ask us to kill someone or something like that."

 

At this statement, Byleth cannot help the small quirk of his lips, a deadly curve so sharp the men around him dare not move- lest they be speared upon it. 

 

Trying to cut the tension, Kostas coughs loudly, still barely heard over the rain. "...Yeah. Stupid of me to assume that. You can do that all on your own, huh. But why spying? And what's in it for me?"

 

Very, very slowly, Byleth points the Sword of the Creator to Kostas' crotch, and the man seems to pale further, if such a feat is even possible. "Point," Kostas breathes, through clenched teeth.

 

"I am unable to do recon of my own, you see," Byleth begins, talking slightly louder so he could be heard over the rain, "and there are people that I would like you to look after for me. I would like for you and your men to enter Lord Lonato's ranks. I am sure you know of him. A few men within the ranks of his mercenaries should do the trick- sympathetic church haters, indignant taxpayers- I do not particularly want you to hurt him or anything, but I would like to know what he is up to. And..."

 

Byleth purses his lips. "If you have enough men, implant some within the Empire among the soldiers and join their ranks. I am not looking for anything in particular save for movement. I do not expect you to suddenly get cozy with the prime minister, or generals of the army, or anything like that. I just want someone on the inside. Little details are fine."

 

Kostas opens his mouth, but Byleth shakes his head. "It would be best for both of us if you did not know the details."

 

"This is a really tall fuckin' order," Kostas admits. "I've got about a few dozen more men, but holy shit, dude. I have no fucking clue what you're doing, and honestly, I don't want to know- but holy shit. I'm not sure my dick is worth all this mess."

 

"I saved your life," Byleth reminds.

 

"I might still lose it doing all this shit for you," Kostas retorts. "And besides, you nearly killed my ass first."

 

Byleth can feel Sothis roll her eyes. "I am not asking you do attack them or anything. Nor am I asking you to expose their secrets, or anything. I just want someone there, to let me know of any movement. You are absolutely free to escape if things head south."

 

"You're a shit negotiator," Kostas replies. "You can't exactly keep an eye on me from the academy, you know that, right?"

 

Byleth shrugs. "It would not be a hit to my conscience to send the knights of Seiros after you, so that you spend the rest of your life on the run. I also could just kill you all, right here. It would not matter all that much to me. I am simply making an offer."

 

"What the fuck," one of Kostas' men says.

 

They stare at each other for a long moment.

 

To everyone's surprise, Kostas laughs. "Arrogant assholes like you are my favourite," Kostas says. "Whatever you're planning must be a shitshow. Count me in."

 

.

 

The storm seems to pass on the way back to the officer's academy. 

 

Even the mercenaries are dead silent on the road back, a far cry from their usual song and dance. Ingrid has taken the reins of Sylvain's horse, and she, Sylvain, and Dimitri are shoved onto it- despite the fact that there's barely room for all three of them- and Felix walking behind the horse and pretending that he isn't watching over them.

 

Sylvain has not looked up from his folded hands since they left, nor the Lance of Ruin.

 

"Ferdinand, Lysithea," Byleth murmurs, when the church is back in sight. "I am sure that you have already figured this out, but you are not to tell anyone about the beast."

 

"Of course, professor," Ferdinand smiles easily. Byleth cannot look directly at his face. Both he and Ashe have the most blinding smiles.

 

But Lysithea is not one to easily set a matter aside. "Judging by the way that you're only addressing us," Lysithea offers, "you've all seen a beast of this manner before. Am I wrong?"

 

"Gosh, this girl..." Sothis trails off. "So direct."

 

Byleth shrugs. It's not as if he's able to hide this matter from her. "Yes."

 

"It was in the Holy Mausoleum I bet," Lysithea adds, voice getting louder with excitement. "Us students and common folk weren't allowed near for days. But what could have caused this?"

 

Despite the fact that Ferdinand seems to have decided not to press the issue, he looks oddly interested in the answer. Two pairs of wide eyes are turned on him, and Byleth turns to avoid their gazes.

 

"Professor-"

 

"Byleth."

 

Byleth nearly heaves a sigh of relief when he sees his father at the gate. He hastens his pace in order to reach his father quicker.

 

Even the mercenaries seem to burst into a sprint. Jeralt ruffles Byleth's hair aggressively. "Nice work, kiddo," he greets.

 

"I have yet to say anything about the details of the mission," Byleth says, but leans into the hand anyway.

 

"Me next!" A mercenary calls, teasing. 

 

"If you want me to pat your head," Jeralt calls, "then wash your greasy hair for once in your life."

 

"Does-"

 

Yes Sothis, that one has a name as well.

 

When the Blue Lions don't move, Byleth realizes that he must address them. "...Leave the report to Lady Rhea to me," Byleth says. "Please, go wash yourselves up."

 

Most of the Blue Lions follow his orders and head right in. However, Ingrid directs Sylvain's horse to ride up next to Byleth, Felix and Dedue following close behind.

 

"May I help you with anything?" Byleth asks.

 

Dimitri clears his throat. "Yes, well," Dimitri begins, looking a little shy. He then suddenly sheds any sort of reserved skin and meets Byleth's gaze head on.

 

Sometimes, Byleth forgets that Dimitri is royalty. Moments like these, where Dimitri looks more like Dima and more like a future king- seem so few and far between, at complete odds with the Dimitri who presents himself as a student and a Dima who wages war against his own thoughts.

 

"I was wondering why you let Kostas go," Dimitri says, reminding him of their earlier conversation in the tower. "Would you care to explain, professor? You did say that you would tell me."

 

Sothis swears a colorful string of words while Byleth tries not to visibly panic- swallowing or twitching was out of the question, and Dimitri would absolutely notice.

 

"I ordered it," Jeralt cuts in, and even Sothis, the goddess herself, is singing his father's praises. "Knight of Seiros business. No need to worry, princeling."

 

"Ah," Dimitri replies, still not looking convinced. "Well. If that's all, then I trust you both."

 

The unsure look in Dimitri's eyes says otherwise. He may trust them, but he definitely does not believe that statement fully.

 

Ingrid nods at them before directing the horse through the gates.

 

"Thank you," Byleth says, once he's completely sure that they're out of earshot.

 

Jeralt shrugs. "No problem. If you have any more issues like that, just lay the blame all on me."

 

"You might be in danger."

 

"You would be in much more danger than I, kiddo," Jeralt squints. "Don't take this lightly. Tell me all about Kostas later."

 

"Of course." Byleth nods, and steps away so that the mercenaries can surround his father.

 

.

 

"Professor," Rhea smiles at him in greeting. It's an odd sight, seeing her sitting at the desk in the room next to the audience chamber. Byleth wonders if she's ever had bad posture. "The goddess is indeed generous with her divine protection. I have already heard Gilbert's report about what happened. I have said this before, but see to it that you keep what transpired at the tower to yourself."

 

She stands from the desk, putting her quill down. If Byleth squints his eyes, he can vaguely see a few words- something about orders, and about reconnaissance. Before he can properly examine it, Rhea gestures him with one hand to follow her into the audience chamber.

 

Byleth does not particularly want to evoke her distrust, so he follows without complaint.

 

Can you read that, Sothis?

 

She huffs a sigh. "I cannot go too far from you, and not for long," Sothis confesses. "Give me a moment."

 

Sothis floats off. In the audience chamber, Rhea's voice goes slightly hard. "People would lose faith in the nobles should rumors spread of one using a Relic and transforming into a monster. All regions of Fódlan would fall into chaos. We must avoid that at all costs."

 

When Byleth doesn't answer, Rhea looks to one side, looking distraught. "His transformation into a black beast was nothing short of divine punishment from the goddess. Punishment for someone arrogant and foolish enough to use a Hero's Relic even though they were unworthy and unqualified."

 

Byleth nods, even though he's not really hearing the words. At this, Rhea inclines her head. "The church will formally return the lance to House Gautier. If you would..."

 

Byleth's lips thin out. "I..."

 

In his past life, he had refused to give the lance to Rhea, making her upset with him. However, Sylvain claimed it for himself, after Rhea ensured that he would not misuse the lance.

 

He didn't particularly want to make Rhea upset with him, but...

 

"Ahem, excuse me."

 

Sylvain walks into the audience chamber, head held high. He looks like nobility. Although Byleth was aware that many of his students were of noble descent, they didn't particularly present themselves in a noble manner before him in their classes, or outside of school. They were simply his students. 

 

But now...

 

"Lady Rhea, I am overjoyed and beyond grateful to you for recovering the Relic of my family, House Gautier," Sylvain greets, with a practiced bow. 

 

Byleth shudders at the formalities. Before coming here, he was simply a mercenary on the road. Bowing and polite speech did not come easy to him, especially he had no use for it in battle. 

 

Sylvain smiles, and Byleth wonders if Rhea can see that it comes out as more of a grimace. "Now, may I please take that lance?" Sylvain asks, despite the fact that he was holding it. "I have received direct approval from my father to take possession of it."

 

"As the next head of House Gautier," Rhea says, tone holding great finality, "do you swear that you will never cause such a deplorable incident to transpire?"

 

"On my family's name... and on my brother's life, I swear it," Sylvain declares.

 

Rhea sighs softly, eyes on the lance. "Very well. However, I have one condition. You must never allow another to wield this lance. You brother clearly demonstrated what fate awaits those who break that restriction."

 

"Yes," Sylvain breathes. "I... I will not soon forget."

 

With this, they are dismissed. As soon as they are free of the audience chamber and Rhea's piercing gaze, Byleth slaps Sylvain on the back.

 

"OW!" Sylvain shouts, making a few passerby stare. Byleth blinks. "Professor, what the heck was that for?"

 

Byleth stares at his hand as if it would reveal the secrets of the universe. "I- I am sorry. Did I hit you too hard?"

 

Sylvain runs his back, groaning aloud. "Yeah, you definitely did! You almost hit as hard as his Highness does!"

 

"When giving encouragement or support," Byleth begins, almost sheepish, "the mercenaries hug and pat each other on the back."

 

"You could have, you know, just hugged me!"

 

"I did not think that you would be the type for unprompted hugs," Byleth says, which makes Sylvain chuckle for some reason.

 

"I am definitely not," Sylvain confesses, rubbing the back of his head, as if embarrassed about it. "But you can still hug me, if you wanna. I wouldn't mind a hug from you."

 

Byleth opens his arms encouragingly, Sylvain laughing harder at the gesture. "You're so awkward, but it's kinda cute," Sylvain says, and steps into his embrace. They hug, and Byleth makes sure to pat the boy in a softer manner. Byleth cannot help but notice that Sylvain is trembling.

 

"I am sorry, Sylvain," Byleth murmurs, into the crook of his neck. He rubs a hand soothingly on his back.

 

"Me too," Sylvain whispers, and Byleth has to clench his eyes shut when he hears the tiniest break in his words. 

 

Sylvain detaches himself from the embrace slowly. "Well!" He declares, very obviously trying to shake off his demeanor. "Dimitri is waiting for you, by the way. I believe that he's still in our classroom."

 

"Okay," Byleth replies, slightly thrown by the change in subject. 

 

Inexplicably, Sylvain's smile widens. "Oho, wait until he hears what I've just done..."

 

They part ways, Sylvain to his room, and Byleth to the staircase. As soon as Byleth takes a step down, he can feel Sothis being flung back into his head as if thrown there.

 

Sothis, what the-

 

"Sorry," Sothis says, wincing a little. "I got distracted. I was trying to see if she would do anything else when you two left. Unfortunately, she was utterly boring! She just stood by the window and looked out of it! Unbelievable!"

 

Sothis.

 

She rolls her eyes. "I know, Byleth. Show a little patience, will you?"

 

I am not going to hear that from you of all people.

 

"Rude!" Sothis declares, but relents. "Actually, the letter was not a letter at all, but a series of notes. I have no idea what the contents were, however. She was writing something about 'Agarthans,' whatever those are. Although I cannot help but think that that word is achingly familiar..."

 

Byleth hums a little, just now reaching his classroom. I have never heard of the word either. Perhaps I will ask father about it later.

 

He opens the door, and Dimitri is standing there, poring over a book. When he spots Byleth, he smiles, putting the book down on a desk. "Is your meeting over, professor?"

 

There is a sort of tightness around his eyes that make him look troubled. "Are you weary?" Byleth asks, voice soft.

 

Dimitri's face hardens. "I was just thinking about something. Professor, the possession of Relics and crests have been highly valued in Faerghus since ancient times. It's far from uncommon for someone to lose their ability to lead their house because they don't bear a crest. Just like Miklan."

 

Byleth thinks he remembers this conversation from his past life, but his memory is horrendous, and he likes talking with Dimitri, so he listens intently. 

 

"It happened to my uncle as well," Dimitri continues. "The eldest child of the king, and yet he never ascended to the throne. All families that bear crests of the ten elites are very much the same. But House Gautier takes it a step further, and absolutely requires an heir who possesses a crest."

 

"Why are they so obsessed with it?" Byleth asks, still haunted by the look in Sylvain's eyes.

 

"To that house," Dimitri explains, hand on his chin, "the power of crests is a necessity, not a luxury. House Gautier hold the most northern territory in the Kingdom, and they have fought with the people to the north for many years. The head of that house is responsible for protecting that territory from fearsome invaders, whom they keep at bay with the power of crests and relics. In exchange for that responsibility, they are granted special privileges within the Kingdom."

 

Byleth frowns. Even when it was revealed that he had a crest, he had never placed much faith into its power. "Strength is strength," Byleth says simply, "with or without a crest."

 

At this statement, Dimitri smiles. "You would think that, wouldn't you. I believe the same. Ability cannot be measured by the possession of a crest alone. I believe Margrave Gautier was wrong to disinherit Miklan simply because he did not bear a crest."

 

Sothis nods along, patting Dimitri's back even if he cannot feel it. "Hear hear," she agrees.

 

Shaking his head, Dimitri returns to frowning. "Still, there is always a reason for why such customs stand the test of time. Imagine what this world would be like if no one placed any stock in crests... Bloodlines that carry crests would dwindle. The metaphorical blade used to oppose threats would eventually rust."

 

With a deep sigh, Dimitri runs a hand through his hair. "This same argument has been made time and time again across the years. Both sides are at once right and wrong."

 

"What do you believe, Dimitri?" Byleth asks, despite knowing the answer. This was a statement he could have never forgotten, even if he tried.

 

"I believe that those with crests and those without should acknowledge the others' strengths and learn to respect each other based on personal merits," Dimitri says, and Byleth has to hide a smile. "And that doesn't apply only to crests. The same holds true for lineage, race, faith, ideologies..."

 

Dimitri catches Byleth's eye, and takes a deep breath. He steps into Byleth's personal space, taking one of his hands gently.

 

"Woah!" Sothis exclaims, and hides her face in her hands. Byleth cannot help but notice her peeking through her fingers. "What is he doing?!"

 

"If we could just accept each other and make mutual concessions, one step at a time... Perhaps... Who knows if that's even possible." Dimitri closes his eyes, still holding Byleth's hand. He wonders if it's subconscious. "Everyone has something that is unacceptable within them. I certainly do, and I would wager you do as well."

 

His head tilts down, and Byleth is so close that he can feel Dimitri attempt to slow his breathing. "I wonder which is best, professor... To cut away that which is unacceptable, or to find a way to accept it anyway..."

 

Byleth shakes his head. "No," Byleth says, and Dimitri's head whips up so fast Byleth worries for his neck, "no, I think it would be unacceptable to cut away that which is unacceptable."

 

"...What do you mean?"

 

"You said it yourself just now, that everyone has something within them that they refuse to let see the light. But it is entirely impossible to cut away a part of you. No matter how treacherous, how dark, it is still very much a part of you. You simply must learn to live with it."

 

"And what if it is something entirely unforgivable?" Dimitri asks, a line of tension in his voice. He's careful not to crush Byleth's hand, but the hand he's using to hold onto the desk has splintered the wood.

 

Byleth shrugs. "Then you must learn to live with it as well," Byleth says. "Rather than pushing it away, or ignoring it, or attempting to kill it, you must learn that that part of you will always be there. It cannot be solved right away. Nothing can. The only thing capable of forgiving your own great sins is yourself."

 

Dimitri stares at Byleth with wide blue eyes. "...I see."

 

Sothis frowns. "I suppose a few words would definitely not be able to sway his ghosts, like you said."

 

It's not about swaying, Byleth thinks back. I would just like to help him in any way I can. Only time can heal such wounds. And even then, it may never heal. Not completely, and not at all.

 

Dimitri seems to be unconsciously rubbing circles onto Byleth's knuckles with a single thumb. It's soothing, so Byleth doesn't comment on it. "I enjoy speaking with you, professor," Dimitri declares. "Truly."

 

"It is because I do not speak much, right?" Byleth attempts to tease back, although it comes out as deadpan.

 

"No, no!" Dimitri shakes his head. "Not at all! I just love hearing what you think! Truly, I do!"

 

"But I really don't speak much-"

 

"But when you speak, you hold the attention of everyone," Dimitri cuts in, looking so sure of himself that Byleth blinks. "And you are always so careful with your words. You are very insightful, even if you yourself cannot see it. And you listen well. Whenever you listen to me speak, and think over my words, it makes me feel quite special, actually. To hold your attention is more that I could ask for."

 

"Flatterer."

 

"No!" Dimitri insists, and only realizes that it's meant to be a tease when Byleth lifts a hand to hide his smile. "...Oh, professor, please, please do not hide your smile from me."

 

The prince reaches up to take Byleth's hand, and guides it away from his face, pressing Byleth's fingers up against his lips. Dimitri looks up at him from beneath long lashes.

 

Distantly, Byleth can hear Sothis shrieking.

 

"...Dimitri?" Byleth breathes out, uncharacteristically nervous. "What are you..."

 

The door bursts open and Dimitri jumps away, yanking his hands away and bringing them up to his chest. He bites back a yelp. Byleth is just confused. What just happened?

 

"Hey, teach!" Claude greets, Hilda following close behind him. "How was the mission- oho?"

 

"Claude," Byleth addresses.

 

"Claude!" Dimitri hisses.

 

The boy smiles, and he looks as if he's trying to- unsuccessfully- hide a laugh. "Have we interrupted something?"

 

Claude wiggles his eyebrows and Byleth fights the urge to sigh. Dedue soon enters the room, looking slightly apologetic.

 

"I attempted to stop them, your Highness," Dedue says, and then nods at Byleth.

 

"Stop us?" Claude asks, still grinning. "Whatever could we be interrupting? I just wanted to ask about your mission."

 

Hilda is just wheezing, leaning on a desk for support. 

 

"Claude," Dimitri begins, sounding slightly dangerous. 

 

"That's my name, don't wear it out!"

 

When Dimitri turns a shade of angry red, Byleth decides that it's time to slip out of the room.

 

Sothis is practically stomping out of the room. "Just when that idiot was making a move..."

 

What?

 

"Nothing," Sothis replies, sing-song. She's even started to whistle. Byleth decides not to pry.

 

.

 

Byleth wonders how to approach someone and ask where they sleep without being creepy and intrusive.

 

"The fact that you have to think about it is creepy and intrusive in of itself," Sothis says, a little too pleased with herself.

 

Please do not make this more difficult.

 

Ever since their return, Byleth's been keeping Flayn in his sight. Byleth didn't know when, exactly, she would be kidnapped by the Death Knight, but he wasn't going to risk it. All he remembers was that it took place sometime near the beginning of the month.

 

He doesn't think he's slept. Even his father has begun to notice, and has enlisted the mercenaries on Flayn watch duty, even if he has not divulged to them why.

 

Even with the support of his father, Byleth cannot relax. The one time Byleth had spotted Jeritza, the man had practically ran off in the other direction.

 

Byleth nearly stormed after him, Sword of the Creator in hand. Unfortunately, he was in class, so he couldn't give chase.

 

"It doesn't seem as though Jeritza will make a move, though," Sothis says softly, "I believe that he would have done so already, correct? Besides, the fact that he's still here is telling enough. And there's no need to find Flayn's room so you can camp outside it. You father has mercenaries looking after her at all times. The more worrying issue is when Cornelia-"

 

Byleth rubs a hand down his face. I hope her carriage gets in an accident on its way here.

 

"Professor?"

 

"Ah, forgive me Dedue," Byleth replies, busying himself with his tea cup. "I was simply lost in thoughts."

 

Dedue attempts a smile at him over a cup of Almyran pine. "No, it is my fault for being an inadequate conversationalist."

 

Byleth and Sothis shake their heads. "No, please, not at all!" Byleth insists. "Dedue, believe me, I am worse than you at speaking!"

 

"Are we really just going to sit in these bushes and watch them play 'who's worst at talking' over tea?!" Lysithea demands, although she has made no effort to move. "Why have you dragged me over here, anyway?!"

 

A day or so ago, Byleth had walked into the classroom expecting both Lysithea and Ferdinand to be gone. However, Lysithea was there, in the front row, like nothing had happened. She had even quirked an eyebrow at him, as if daring him to say anything about it. 

 

So he supposes that Lysithea was an official member of the Blue Lions now. It made him feel somewhat happy- the first few days, Byleth would scan the classroom and still get surprised when he realized that his recruits were not there. Lysithea being added made him feel as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders.

 

"Is this what you all have been doing in the bushes? Spying?!" Ferdinand booms. Byleth risks a glance over at him. He looks a mix of scandalized and weirdly excited.

 

"Shh!" The Blue Lions shush him. Even Cyril has joined in.

 

"Right! Sorry," Ferdinand declares, still at his regular volume.

 

Ferdinand, however, did not stay.

 

Or so he thought, at first.

 

Byleth assumed that Ferdinand had wordlessly returned to the Black Eagles, and trusted that he would not tell a soul about what transpired at the tower. He seemed like a good man, after all.

 

And then Byleth happened upon Dimitri and Ferdinand speaking in the hallways.

 

"-saw you talking with Manuela about officially transferring classes," Dimitri had been saying, looking puzzled. "So why have you not returned to class?"

 

"I am eagerly awaiting the professor to ask me properly!" Ferdinand had replied, stars in his eyes. "I am sure that he has recognized my worth, but I just want to be sure of it! He will definitely ask me any moment now! I know it!"

 

Blinded in the face of Ferdinand's excitement, Byleth had 'accidentally' stumbled in onto their conversation and invited him to officially join.

 

"Professor?"

 

Byleth snaps out of his thoughts. He feels terrible about neglecting Dedue, so he resolves not to think further on any other matters. "Yes, Dedue?"

 

"I must thank you," Dedue begins, and before Byleth can ask what for, he continues. "You have introduced so many wonderful people into his Highness' life. And mine as well."

 

"I didn't do anything in particular," Byleth responds.

 

Dedue shakes his head. "Professor. Do not belittle yourself. You are bringing many people together, people that make his Highness smile. Including yourself. For this, I thank you. I am glad we met." He runs a hand down the side of Byleth's gift for him, a new watering can, and his eyes crinkle around the edges.

 

"I am glad we met as well, Dedue," Byleth replies sincerely. In the past, when Dima had told their group that Dedue had passed away protecting him, Byleth had been devastated. His passing had carved a hole within Byleth's chest, unable to be filled. When Dedue eventually reappeared on the bridge, it felt as if his family was back together again. He was and always will be eternally grateful for Dedue, for his support, his strength, and for his mere existence. 

 

Byleth attempts a smile, and Dedue gives him a smile of his own. It's a little awkward, but Byleth feels warm.

 

"What do you think," Dedue begins to say, "of his Highness?"

 

Byleth can hear the bush gasp and giggle. 

 

"Dedue-" Dimitri begins, but is suddenly silenced by several hands covering his mouth.

 

Even Sothis looks thrilled at the potential answer. "Well? Go on! Tell us how you truly feel."

 

Sothis, you can read my thoughts.

 

"That is not at all the point!"

 

Byleth takes a bite of a sugar cookie before he answers. "Dimitri is a compassionate, strong individual with great skill and potential."

 

Dedue nods along. "Yes. I agree. Any more thoughts?"

 

Dimples, his mind offers. "I enjoy seeing his smile," Byleth confesses. "It is very pretty. Are you satisfied with my answer?"

 

The bush chokes.

 

Dedue nods in response. "Very."

 

"I enjoy seeing your smile too, Dedue." Byleth adds, finishing the cookie.

 

"...Thank you," Dedue says quietly, his lips curving.

 

.

 

Byleth heads into the training room, intent on searching for Jeritza, and finds Dimitri teaching the orphans swordsmanship instead.

 

"No, lift your blade a little higher," Dimitri insists, adjusting a boy's grip on the wooden sword. "Yes, that's it. Perfect."

 

Distracted, Byleth sits down on a stair. He had forgotten that Dimitri had done this during his student years as well as his adult years. 

 

Sothis settles down next to him. "Are you just going to watch?"

 

Yes.

 

With this statement, Sothis curls up on the stone step. "Alright," she says, yawning. "Wake me once you decide to get going again."

 

She begins to snore lightly. Byleth chuckles a little, then settles in properly to watch.

 

With the children, Dimitri is patient when they do not understand, and forgiving even when they whack him with the wooden swords. Byleth cannot help but notice that he's not using any weapon himself, merely dodging their attacks and helping to adjust their stance. He was likely nervous about accidentally hurting the children, if they were to properly spar.

 

Dimitri ruffles the hair of one of the orphans and Byleth has to blink away the after-image of Dima standing there.

 

He closes his eyes against the rush of sorrow pouring into his lungs. With Sothis asleep, Byleth only had the company of his own thoughts. 

 

Sometimes, Byleth misses the Blue Lions. Not the ones from this timeline, but the ones in his previous life. Felix, who would invite him to spar if he so much as thought he felt down, Mercedes, who would know his food preferences without asking, Ashe, who would wordlessly settle down by his side with a book- everyone. His Blue Lions. Byleth misses the nights where Sylvain would challenge him to drinking competitions, where Ingrid would confide in him all his worries, where Annette would sing to him, where he and Dedue would just coexist together silently, needing only the company of each other and their flowers.

 

Dima, who would brush the hair out of his eyes. Dima, who would trust in his strategies, who would wordlessly have his back in battle. Dima, who had allowed Byleth to remove his eyepatch and touch his scar gently.

 

Byleth wonders if they're alive.

 

Byleth wonders if Dedue ever had the courage to ask Ashe to start a restaurant with him. Byleth wonders if Sylvain asked Felix to marry him. Byleth wonders if Ingrid had been knighted. Byleth wonders if Annette and her father had made up, properly. Byleth wonders if Mercedes had stood up to her father, and taken matters into her own hands.

 

He cannot stop the onslaught of thoughts, now. Byleth wonders if Dima would have asked Byleth, properly, to stay with him. Byleth wonders if Dima is eating properly, if he still likes chamomile. Maybe Dima had already moved on from him. Maybe someone else has touched his scars. Maybe he has a family. He hopes that Dima is well-loved, well cared for. Byleth presses every inch of hope from his chest and head into his prayers and sends them to the sky.

 

Only now has he realized that he has not allowed himself to mourn until this moment.

 

"Professor?" 

 

Byleth's blinks away the memories to see Dimitri approaching. The children have already left. His smile is nearly enough to cast away any lingering thoughts. "Were you watching? Please, feel free to join us next time! I have had difficulty teaching all of them, and would really appreciate your assistance."

 

"Of course," Byleth agrees easily. He finds that it's quite difficult to say no to Dimitri, in any time. "I am able to offer my help."

 

"Thank you," Dimitri breathes, still smiling. Byleth cannot stop himself. He reaches out and pokes Dimitri on the cheek, directly atop his dimple. "Professor?"

 

Should I use a Divine Pulse. Byleth thinks desperately.

 

Dimitri blushes up to his roots. "Professor? What are you doing?"

 

"Apologies," Byleth says, moving his hand. For some reason, his head is offering him images of when Dimitri had pressed Byleth's fingers to his mouth.

 

"No need," Dimitri seems to squeak. 

 

Eager to change the subject, Byleth clears his throat. "I have noticed that you didn't get to spar with the children," Byleth says, a little quieter now. "Would you like to spar with me?"

 

Dimitri seems to brighten at the notion. Both he and Byleth enjoyed battle, after all. "Of course! Please, do not go easy on me, professor!"

 

They pick up the practice wooden swords and begin.

 

Byleth falls into battle with ease, determined not to lose, even in a mock match. They spar back and forth for a few minutes, none of them deciding to take the offensive at first. After a few more moments of this, Byleth decides to retaliate, hoping to pressure Dimitri out of the ring with a few wide swings.

 

But Dimitri surprises him with his own strength, as always, by being able to push back Byleth's swings without much effort.

 

"You didn't think that this would be an easy match," Dimitri asks, as their swords collide, "did you? Just because I excel most with lances does not mean that I have not been working on my swordsmanship!"

 

Dimitri is pushing Byleth back. Because of his crest, no matter the age, Dimitri would always outclass Byleth in raw strength.

 

Byleth, determined not to let this match go on for too long, ducks and sweeps Dimitri's feet out with his leg. Dimitri hurriedly tries to right himself, but he falls to one knee.

 

"How dirty, professor," Dimitri teases with a small smile, despite his loss. Byleth's eyes narrow- Dimitri was likely trying to distract him as he planned his next move. "I did not expect you to use-"

 

Byleth cuts him off by lifting his chin with the tip of the sword. "Yield."

 

Dimitri gulps, turning pink. He stares up at Byleth for a moment before glancing away. "I- I yield," Dimitri breathes, voice deep from what was most likely exertion.

 

"Okay," Byleth says, lowering the sword and offering his hand. Dimitri takes it, and allows himself to be pulled up. "That was an excellent spar."

 

"I won't lose next time," Dimitri declares, still flushed from the match.

 

Byleth quirks his lips. "Then I shall be looking forward to it." Without prompting, Byleth takes Dimitri's wooden sword and puts both of them back onto a rack.

 

"Professor?" Dimitri calls out, fidgeting with his hands. He waits for Byleth to turn and look at him before he continues. "I was wondering. Why don't we-"

 

Someone clears their throat, and both Dimitri and Byleth turn. 

 

Linhardt steps out from behind a pillar. "Hello."

 

"H-hello," Dimitri greets, blush only darkening. "How long have you been there?"

 

Linhardt shrugs in response. "Long enough. I was sent here to tell professor Byleth that captain Jeralt is looking for him. Actually, you too, prince Dimitri. Apparently, that Cornelia woman is close to the academy."

 

Dimitri loses all of the colour from his face. "I see. Then I should clean myself up before I meet with her... I'll excuse myself now, professor, Linhardt."

 

He briskly leaves the training grounds, running a hand through his hair. Byleth suppresses a sigh.

 

Sothis.

 

Sothis... Wake up. Sothis!

 

"I'm awake!" Sothis yelled, sitting up from where she was curled up on the steps. 

 

Cornelia is coming.

 

Sothis groans into her hands, but it turns into a yawn halfway through. "Fine. I guess that we must go now. Gosh, let's just run that woman through with our sword, okay?"

 

I wish.

 

Byleth nods at Linhardt. "Thank you for telling me, Linhardt. I should be off now."

 

"Wait."

 

Byleth turns back to the boy, who's not looking directly at him. "I have a question for you, professor."

 

He takes a deep breath. "Professor Byleth," Linhardt calls, voice slightly less deadpan compared to the usual. "That Dima person..."

 

"Mm?"

 

"How did you know that you. Well. How were you aware that you cared for him?"

 

Byleth shrugs. What more harm could he possibly inflict upon whatever image his students have conjured up about him? "He was the one that made me realize that I cared for him. I did not notice at all, until he told me of his own feelings. Why?"

 

"Did he now." Linhardt sounds faint.

 

"It was a day just like this one, I think," Byleth smiles faintly at the memory, and then back at Linhardt. "I don't remember most of it. I do believe that is when I started to realize."

 

"Just like this one," Linhardt echoes, and stares at Byleth, something waging wars behind his eyes. "I see."

 

Like most things, Byleth does not notice.

Chapter Text

"Why do we have to greet this waste of air," Sothis grumbles, practically stomping towards the gate. Jeralt's already standing there with Seteth, looking downright frosty.

 

"-I just don't get why we have to be here to greet that woman," Jeralt is saying. Byleth is pleasantly surprised at how his father and Sothis are in sync.

 

Seteth is frowning at Byleth's father, arms crossed. "She is not simply any woman. She is a respected guest, and we must treat her as such, as well as escort her to the Archbishop."

 

Jeralt arches a brow. "So I'm guessing Rhea didn't tell you why Cornelia suddenly decided to come either, huh. Come on. You can tell me."

 

"Th-that's besides the point," sputters Seteth, clearing his throat. His eyes dutifully wander around to find something with which he can change the subject. The man nearly sags with relief once he sees Byleth. "Ah. Professor. I am glad you have made it."

 

Byleth offers him a nod before turning to his father and shooting him a look that hopefully conveys 'I don't want to be here.' Thankfully, his father is wonderful and gets the memo.

 

"Don't you have papers to grade right now?" Jeralt offers, as an out. Sothis pumps a fist in victory.

 

He nods, but before they can wax poetic about papers that don't exist, the gates part, revealing a pink horse-drawn carriage, and a single brown one following close behind. Sothis makes a face.

 

"Extravagant for someone who represents the Kingdom," Sothis comments, frowning. 

 

Even Seteth is looking quite perturbed, his forehead wrinkling.

 

A little confused, Byleth tugs discreetly at his father's sleeves and lifts a brow.

 

"Ah, that's right, you never cared for politics when I explained them to you," Jeralt says, and Byleth fights a frown. "Listen kiddo, the short story is- if you're representing or are a figurehead of a huge part of a region of Fódlan, aka, the Kingdom, you need to display it. It's common courtesy, something about treaties and peace. Of course, if you're moving incognito, then it's another story. But Cornelia is a respected, known figure of the Kingdom. Even if she's only visiting some other place, there wouldn't be a soul in the Kingdom that didn't know about it."

 

Byleth nods, but is still a little lost. Sothis sighs when she sees his lost expression. "Think of it like this," Sothis begins to explain, "the Flame Emperor, or Edelgard, wore a mask so as to not associate her actions with the Empire or her people. That was because she likely didn't have the capability or power, at the time, to not implicate her nation. Every action is scrutinized, especially the actions of powerful figureheads. But when she declared war, many of her soldiers flew Empire flags. It's a statement. Of loyalty, of power, of prestige. Think back on the invasion and the results of it upon the church. Flags burned, torn up, destroyed. From someone like Edelgard, desecration of a flag is a declaration of war. Like spitting on a nation itself."

 

When Byleth doesn't respond save for blinking slowly, Sothis slaps a hand across her forehead. "You never were one for thinking outside of battle, were you? Think of it like a crest that appears in battle, or to heal, or something. It's to describe authority, and powerful lineage."

 

His father sees his lost face and takes pity on him. "Let's say the carriage was wearing the Faerghus flag," Jeralt offers, "sure, it'd be a huge sign to many bandits who want to make a quick buck and said the carriage- if they don't value their lives. I'll use that little princeling as an example for the carriage rider. Sure, maybe they got lucky and killed or kidnapped him, great, that's cool. Maybe taken some gold or supplies. But then, in order to save and protect their crown prince, or any other high ranking Faerghus noble who could represent Faerghus, the full force of the Kingdom would be upon those poor bastards. News travels fast. What do you think would happen to those bandits? What if they had families? Lovers? It would be a bloodbath, no matter their reasoning, and no matter who actually planned to attack."

 

There is a pause.

 

"Like the Tragedy of Duscur," Byleth murmurs, and his father nods.

 

"Exactly," Jeralt says, softer than usual. "But that's not the point here. Flags exist for a reason, kiddo, and Cornelia ain't showing one off."

 

Byleth hums in response. "I hate politics," Byleth whispers, and Jeralt laughs so loud it fills his chest with warmth.

 

"Me too, kiddo. Don't even worry." His father quirks the corner of his mouth, and Byleth wonders if he looks like that to other people when he smiles. Pleasant and charming. Byleth hopes that he's able to present a fraction of that smile.

 

Sothis is twirling a strand of hair around her finger. "And of all colours to show off," Sothis spits. "Pink. Well, we always did know that she was aligned with the Empire, anyway."

 

We don't know that for sure.

 

"I am quite sure that we do, actually-"

 

No, Byleth hurriedly thinks back. She could have her own plans. Perhaps she was with Solon.

 

The goddess scoffs a little. "Yes, well, I am sure that he was aligned with Edelgard- hm. You know what? You may be correct. Besides, it would be safer to think about this problem at all angles and sides. It's not as if she was the only one that wanted this war."

 

That tends to happen, you know. I am right sometimes.

 

"Do shut up, Byleth!"

 

The pink carriage finally reaches them, through the parted crowd in the market. A solider, who was directing the horses, walks over to the door of the carriage and pulls it open.

 

Cornelia steps out.

 

With an ease that could be called graceful, Seteth offers Cornelia a hand. She smiles at him, none of her teeth showing. "Why, thank you," she simpers, and allows Seteth to help her out of the carriage. 

 

When she's on solid ground again, Seteth releases her hand and bows slightly at the waist. "Welcome to Garreg Mach monastery," Seteth greets. "The Archbishop is expecting you. It is a pleasure to meet one so brilliant."

 

"Oh no," Cornelia replies, still smiling. "The pleasure is all mine."

 

Sothis' face pales. "I am going to throw up," she states, genuinely looking sick.

 

Are you okay?

 

She opens her mouth to reply, but closes it just as fast, as if she were revising what she was about to say. "Perfectly adequate, thank you. It's just- the sight of her churns my stomach."

 

Are my memories of her affecting you that much?

 

"Your memories- Yes. Your memories. Of course."

 

Sothis, are you-

 

"And who is this?" 

 

Cornelia turns to him so suddenly Byleth nearly jolts. The way she goes about looking at him is creepy as well, as if her head was upon a swivel.

 

"She's like an ugly owl," Sothis observes, and Byleth bites down on his lip to hide a smile. Unfortunately, Cornelia must take it the wrong way, for her smile only widens. Byleth can see a flash of pearly white teeth.

 

"Goodness, she's ugly," Sothis says, wincing at her smile. Byleth agrees. Perhaps this sort of smile would be attractive to some, but aware of her deeds, Byleth can only wince.

 

"Byleth," he greets, barely inclining his head to give her a nod. He ignores the glare he gets from Seteth, likely from being so rude. But absolutely no one could blame him for being curt around this woman.

 

Now she's practically beaming, and she licks her red lips as if she's just found something about him that was particularly delicious. "I've heard of you. The Ashen Demon, correct? I wonder, just why did they allow someone like you to become a teacher?"

 

"Well, she's got you there." Sothis says amiably.

 

Byleth is about to reply with an eloquent shrug, but Seteth, of all people, decides to speak up. "His students look up to him, and he is an excellent instructor- or so the students do say."

 

"How wonderful," Cornelia says, although her tone says anything but. She folds her hands over her chest, almost reverent. "I am aware that your academy produces talented and brilliant individuals. Come here, Monica!"

 

"What?" Sothis demands. "No way. No- way..."

 

From the closest brown carriage, a girl with fiery red hair descends. Her smile is wicked. Byleth knows this smile. It's flayed open his nightmares and ruined his life. He once fantasized about cutting that grin from her face.

 

It's a good thing Byleth has lost his voice very suddenly, otherwise he would scream absolute murder.

 

"My maid, Monica," Cornelia introduces. Monica does a little curtsey.

 

"Great to be back!" Monica declares, puffing out her chest. "It's been awhile!"

 

"Monica?" Seteth demands, sounding incredulous. "You're alive? I am... glad to see it, but- How?"

 

Monica waves his questions away with a hand. "Well, I was kidnapped, but the lovely Lady Cornelia saved me!"

 

Bullshit.

 

He can see her mouth move, see her gesture animatedly with her hands, but he cannot hear a single thing.

 

Byleth can hear a pin drop, can feel his heart drop into his stomach, can feel rage bubble and boil over his insides until he is no longer Byleth but the Ashen Demon, a mere vessel for his anger and vengeance and pent up, disastrous wrath.

 

"-heard so much about you! The Ashen Demon, and the Blade Breaker-"

 

The Sword of the Creator hums when it is called to his hand. He can see only red when Monica addresses his father, how dare she, how dare-

 

Kronya falls silent when the sword is brought to her throat. Distantly, he can hear Sothis screaming, hear his father calling his name, but he can only see the the pale curve of her neck.

 

"How dare you," Byleth says, and separates her worthless head from her shoulders in one fell swing of his sword, hand guided by rage. "Know that you will be worth more dead compared to alive, you scum."

 

The world turns dark.

 

Byleth is dropped unceremoniously into the Holy Tomb, feeling the uncomfortable vertigo of a Divine Pulse thrumming through his marrow.

 

Sothis is watching him carefully, assessing him. Byleth cannot blame her. Her fists are clenched in her dress. He takes a few deep breaths before speaking.

 

"I should not have done that," Byleth begins, cautiously.

 

"And?"

 

"I won't kill anyone important without prior discussion."

 

"And?"

 

Byleth stares at Sothis, frowning. "I will not apologize for killing her, if that's what you desire."

 

Sothis waves an impatient hand. "I wouldn't expect you to," Sothis replies, sighing. "Besides, I already forced you to use a Divine Pulse. She's still alive right now. We cannot kill her properly just yet. Is it out of your system yet?"

 

Byleth blinks away the after image of a rainy day. "Never," Byleth responds. 

 

She nods at him. "Good. Do not forget that feeling, Byleth. It is one of the reasons you are here. You can make sure that she never harms anyone again. It's better that's she's here, rather than out of sight somewhere else."

 

Byleth forces down a rush of fiery anger. "I despise feeling," Byleth forces out. "I cannot bear the sight of her. Is this what Dima felt?"

 

Sothis tilts her head to one side. "Everyone suffers differently," Sothis says. "Everyone grieves in a different manner when they have lost those they love."

 

"Even you?"

 

The smile that appears on her lips is a tiny one, laced with sorrow. "Even me."

 

Something about that statement is ringing bells in Byleth's head, but he forces it aside. "If Cornelia and Monica are working together, I am assuming that Cornelia is also not really Cornelia. Perhaps she is someone masquerading as her, the way Kronya is for Monica. But why? And how?"

 

"Very good observation," Sothis says, eyes widening. "I thought that I may have to point it out!"

 

Byleth resists the urge to sigh. He doesn't miss the fact that Sothis is avoiding his questions. "What now?"

 

"Now? Now, we will return back to the regular flow of time, and if you are to kill Monica again, you have twelve Divine Pulses left." 

 

That statement makes Byleth chuckle a little. He blinks, and when he opens his eyes, he's back at the gates, and Dimitri is jogging slightly to them off in the distance, Dedue following close behind. Monica has stepped behind Lady Cornelia, head still attached to her body, the very picture of a subservient maid. Byleth cannot look directly at her. Seteth is speaking to Cornelia, something about Rhea.

 

Jeralt is staring at him, with a raised eyebrow. Byleth arches one of his own in return, but his father shakes his head. He's about to say something when Dimitri finally reaches them.

 

"Forgive my tardiness," Dimitri greets, nodding first at Byleth and his father before bowing a little to Cornelia and Seteth. "It has been awhile, Lady Cornelia."

 

"Prince Dimitri," Cornelia greets, barely nodding at him. Even Byleth can notice the tension radiating off of the two of them. Dedue is frowning at the bland greeting. "Why have you not told me in your letters about your professor?"

 

"I had no idea that you're reading my letters to my uncle," Dimitri says, a little pointedly. Cornelia's eyes narrow, imperceptibly. "Besides, we only talk business. And I had no idea that you have employed a new maid."

 

"I am Monica," she greets, with a more subdued curtsey. Monica bats her eyes a little at him, and out of the corner of his eye, Byleth can see Sothis gag.

 

Dimitri only nods at her with a small smile, before returning his attention to Cornelia. "You've never shown an interest in maids before," Dimitri continues.

 

"You know me," Cornelia replies sweetly. "I must always aid the miserable, unfortunate creatures of this land, and she needed a place to stay."

 

Jeralt and Byleth share a look, and his father mouths the word 'creatures' at him with an incredulous expression. 

 

"So of course you made her your maid," Dimitri declares sarcastically. Byleth is kind of surprised. In his past life, Byleth understood why there was tension between the two, but right now he wasn't sure as to why there was tension between them. He's also surprised that Dimitri is using that sort of tone. He's only heard it a few times, all of his lives combined.

 

Cornelia tilts her chin up, haughty as ever. "Of course I did." She must be eager to change the subject and escape Dimitri's clever gaze, for she turns to Byleth again. He nearly grumbles aloud.

 

Her gaze is awful. She's looking at him up and down, eyes carefully assessing. Byleth feels as if he must spend a few hours scrubbing himself down to remove her leer. "...What is it?" He forces himself to ask, before Sothis can really vomit with all of the fake gagging she's doing.

 

Cornelia steps into his personal space, and Byleth wants to step back. Far away. Perhaps on the other side of Fódlan. She reaches up to his face with a slender hand.

 

"You are quite handsome," Cornelia admits, a long, manicured nail to his chin.

 

"Excuse me?!" Sothis demands, trying her best to shove her way between them.

 

"Pardon?" His father asks, sounding as if he cannot quite believe the words coming from her mouth.

 

"Hngh-guh!?" Dimitri sputters. Byleth can absolutely relate.

 

Seteth clears his throat. "Well. I hate to break this moment up, but I must insist that I lead you to your rooms now. Please, follow me." He walks off without looking behind him.

 

Cornelia drags her nail lightly up his chin, forcing him to tilt his head up, and then steps away. "I do hope we can meet again soon," Cornelia says, a lilt in her voice even Byleth can detect.

 

She joins Seteth, and Monica follows her, only a few steps behind.

 

Sothis lifts her hand in a vulgar gesture. Byleth sort of wants to as well.

 

"What the hell," Jeralt states, hand on his hip. "She was so... ugh. I hate that she touched you like that."

 

"I know," Byleth murmurs back, hand rubbing at his chin.

 

Dimitri turns to him, eyes wide. "I am sure that she didn't really mean anything by it, professor," he attempts to reassure.

 

Byleth tilts his head to one side. "So I am not handsome?"

 

The prince turns so red, so quickly, it's almost comical. "No! No, how could I ever imply that?! You are the most- I mean, look at you, I-"

 

"Dimitri, I am joking," Byleth tries to soothe. He doesn't know why both his father and Sothis are laughing. Even Dedue puffs out a little laugh. "It is alright."

 

"Yes," Dimitri immediately says, "yes, well, I wanted you to know that I don't think that you are anything less than handsome. Mesmerizing, as well."

 

"That's very kind of you," Byleth responds, when Dimitri seems to have regained his composure. "I too, think you are handsome."

 

The prince freezes in place, face still steaming hot. He's so still, Byleth wonders if he's breathing. Byleth almost wants to wave a hand in front of his face. "Dimitri?"

 

"Byleth one, Dimitri zero," Sothis wheezes, still cackling.

 

"He's alright," Dedue cuts in. "I don't think he has ever been more alright, professor. Do not worry."

 

Perhaps Byleth really should brush up on his social skills, if he always feels left out of the loop like this.

 

.

 

Byleth cannot relax.

 

First, Cornelia and Monica are here, and he has no idea why or what they're planning. He's assuming that they're teamed up with Edelgard, and by extension, Jeritza. But he hasn't seen the man in days. He knows he's here, Felix has told him that they train together occasionally- but he always leaves before Byleth can even catch a glimpse of the man.

 

Byleth considers bursting down the door to his room, but decides to do it as a last resort.

 

Besides, Cornelia seems to be a bigger problem right now. Because the mercenaries have been shadowing Flayn, Byleth is aware that she's been following the girl around for awhile. She's never approached her properly, and never struck up a conversation- but she is always near. And where Cornelia is, Monica follows. Even Seteth has taken notice.

 

And she's not the only one Cornelia seems to be keeping tabs on.

 

"I was instructed to pass this to you," Gilbert says, waving a white note around. Sometimes Byleth forgets that Gilbert knows Cornelia. "From Lady Cornelia." It's lightly perfumed with something that smells like roses. Sothis pretends to gag.

 

"Thank you," Byleth says, taking the note off of his hands and folding it open. 

 

Allow me the honour of inviting you to tea, handsome.

 

Byleth hands the note back to Gilbert. "I can't read," Byleth says, voice as dry as a desert.

 

Gilbert does a double take. Before he can misunderstand the situation some more, Byleth escapes the situation by running in the other direction.

 

Sothis is slow clapping. "Smooth."

 

Byleth has instructed the mercenaries to keep a closer eye on Flayn. He trusts them, but there's only so much he can do, and he doesn't want them to die if the Death Knight finally decides to make a move or if Cornelia does something. He cannot relax at all.

 

Even the presence of his Blue Lions cannot offset his anxiety.

 

"Let's begin the first official meeting of the book club!" Ashe declares, beaming wide at all of them.

 

They're sitting in a circle in the library, Byleth a little off to the side. He's pleasantly surprised at the turnout. Ashe is here, of course, as well as Ingrid and Felix, who was dragged in by the ear and hasn't stopped grumbling, yet made no effort to move. Lysithea and Cyril are here too, already sharing a book, and Linhardt is present as well, despite the fact that the boy was half asleep. Ferdinand is here as well, sitting up straight in his chair and grinning. Byleth can see that his own book is filled with little notes and dog-eared pages.

 

"Is everyone here?" Ashe asks, voice still bright.

 

"Sylvain's coming, I think," Ingrid says. "Dimitri and Dedue wanted to come. They send their apologies. Mercedes is baking and can't be away from the food for too long, she said that she'll bring cookies. Annette is helping her."

 

As if on cue, the door bursts open to reveal Sylvain... and a scared looking Bernadetta, as well as Lorenz, of all people.

 

"I'm here!" Sylvain calls, plopping down in an empty seat next to Felix, throwing his arm around the back of his chair. Felix pushes it off, but Sylvain effortlessly props it back up. Felix sighs and gives up. "And I brought more friends!"

 

Lorenz lets out a dramatic sigh. "I am only here because I am curious about this club," Lorenz says, with an arrogant air. Byleth still smiles at the sight of him. The last time he had seen him was- 

 

Byleth shakes his head to dislodge the memory. He cannot think about it right now. What matters was that Lorenz was still here, and still breathing.

 

Lorenz sits next to Byleth and folds a slender leg over the other. When Byleth notices that his own book is dog-eared, Byleth hides a smile.

 

Bernadetta is still standing in the doorway, clinging to the wall as if needing it for support. "It's okay, Bernie," Byleth can hear her saying. "Everything is fine. We're just reading. No one is going to make fun of you. Everything is fine and dandy!"

 

"What are you doing, still standing in the doorway, Bernadetta?" Sylvain calls, and she lets out a little squeak. 

 

Ingrid smiles at her, then turns to Sylvain. "You didn't force her to come, did you?"

 

"Of course not!" Sylvain says, looking scandalized. "I just asked her to come! She's such an amazing writer, after all, I wanted to know her thoughts on this book!"

 

"She writes?" Lysithea asks, looking somewhat amazed. "That's incredible!"

 

Bernadetta slams the door of the library shut.

 

"Look what you've done, Sylvain," Ingrid scolds.

 

"Hey, it wasn't me!"

 

Byleth stands from his chair, and walks towards the door. He pulls it open to reveal Bernadetta crouching on the floor in front of the door, head in her hands. She's mumbling something.

 

"Bernadetta?" Byleth inquires.

 

The girl jumps a foot in the air. "AAAAAA!!!"

 

Byleth, the master of blank faces, is incredulous. He's never had her in his class before, and doesn't know how to act around her. 

 

The last time he saw her, she was a crumpled figure on the battlefield, flames licking at her calves. He could not believe that Edelgard had actually planned to set fire to the middle grounds of Grondor from the beginning, and stationed Bernadetta there...

 

Byleth closes his eyes and attempts to banish the memory. "Hello. I did not mean to scare you. I apologize."

 

"I-It's fine!" Bernadetta replies, still shaking so hard Byleth can practically feel it.

 

"Would you like to join this meeting of the book club?" Byleth asks patiently.

 

Bernadetta gulps. "I'm not... Not good with strangers."

 

"You do not have to force yourself," Byleth says gently. He feels as if he's speaking to his flowers, or perhaps the animals on the school grounds that startle easily.

 

Bernadetta stares at him for a long moment.

 

"CAN I-" Bernadetta clears her throat, looking embarrassed at her volume. "Can I sit behind you? Please? You're kind of scary, but in a good way! No one will cross me if I'm with you!"

 

Sothis chokes on a laugh she was trying not to let escape. Byleth can say with confidence that in both lives, no one has ever called him scary in a good way.

 

They walk back inside the library, Byleth narrowing his eyes at any of the students that look at Bernadetta too long. He didn't want her to run away again.

 

Ashe clears his throat when Bernadetta pulls up a chair behind Byleth and hides behind his back. "Alright then! Let's discuss our thoughts on the Moon Knight's Tale. Felix, would you care to start us off?"

 

A rise of laughter emerges from the students. "Why me?" Felix groans. "I barely read the thing. The fights were so unrealistic-"

 

"So you did read it," Lysithea drawls. Felix glares at her, heat rising to his cheeks.

 

"Only to see if the fights would get better," he hastily defends. "Look, I'm just saying, no one can pull off maneuvers like that."

 

"Not even you?" Sylvain teases. Felix whacks at his arm, but takes a deep breath and begins to explain.

 

The rest of the book club meeting passes normally. It's quite amusing, actually, to see his students getting worked up about a novel. He has not read Moon Knight's Tale, but he appreciates their passion for the story. He's proud to see even Cyril sharing his opinion, even when he had only learned how to read just recently. Even Linhardt has designed to offer his opinions- only when he believes someone is totally wrong about theirs, which leads to a battle of words between him, Lysithea, and Lorenz. Ferdinand is only getting louder. When Byleth believes he knows enough about the story to add his own opinions, Dedue and Dimitri burst into the room.

 

"Professor," Dedue calls, looking distraught. "May I speak with you for a moment?"

 

Byleth nods, standing from his seat. Bernadetta squeals when her cover is blown, and frantically looks around for somewhere to hide, deciding on the table.

 

"Please," Byleth tells them, "carry on." He steps out into the hallway with Dedue and Dimitri and shuts the door firmly. Before speaking, he glances left and right to make sure no one was listening, then nods.

 

"I have a favor to ask," Dedue says. He glances at Dimitri for support. Dimitri nods at him.

 

"Dedue is already aware," Dimitri begins, "but you should know there's been an uprising in the Duscur region, in the western part of the Kingdom."

 

Byleth purses his lips. He remembers this. He didn't think much of it back then, but is eternally grateful for it now- the Duscurian people whom they have saved from the soldiers saved Dedue from certain death in his time of need. This was important, just in case such a situation occurred again.

 

But Flayn... 

 

Byleth shakes his head. He would much rather potentially ensure Dedue's life, over a kidnapping. Besides, he would leave the most of the mercenaries behind, and his father would be here as well. 

 

He listens to Dedue explain the situation alongside a few additions from Dimitri, nodding along. "Alright," Byleth says. "Shall we leave soon?"

 

Both Dimitri and Dedue shoot him wide eyed looks, which only confuse Byleth. "Were you not asking for my aid?"

 

Dedue blinks rapidly. "I- Well. I did not believe that you would easily agree. Nor I did I expect you to offer before I."

 

"I would gladly lend my aid to any of you," Byleth says, offering a tiny smile. He's recently been working on his expressions, with Sothis' help.

 

"You have my most sincere gratitude," Dedue says, bowing low.

 

"And mine as well," Dimitri adds, the tiniest curve to his lips. "But we must move fast. I will go and alert the others... as well as apologize for interrupting book club."

 

The Blue Lions, after direction from Dimitri, quickly stumble out of the library to prepare themselves. Byleth takes this time to inform his father of where they're going, and he assures Byleth that he'll watch over Flayn in his absence.

 

When Byleth tells Cyril that he must stay behind this time as well, he does not complain, merely nodding his head.

 

Surprisingly, they move with haste and arrive on the battlefield as soon as the Kingdom's vanguard does. 

 

"We cannot stand by and allow another massacre," Dedue says, eyes closed. He's searching the people of Duscur on the field, as if trying to find people he used to know. Byleth turns away. "But we cannot obstruct the Faerghus army, either. Our best hope is to force the troops of Duscur to withdraw before the Kingdom soldiers get to them."

 

Dimitri's eyes narrow on a point of the battlefield. "The main body of the Kingdom's army is bound to arrive soon. Until then, let's aim to quell this uprising ourselves. Once the main force arrives, we will be out of options. We must move fast."

 

The battle is over quickly. Byleth knows this fight like the back of his hand, as well as the terrain and the movements of the soldiers. He sends Sylvain and Ferdinand out on their horses to hurry and help the furthest Duscurian soldiers, as well as Ingrid, who has just recently learned how to ride a pegasus. 

 

They all hurriedly escort them off of the field and out of sight. Dimitri in particular keeps his head down, lest he is recognized by any soldiers.

 

It ends quickly, and without bloodshed. No Divine Pulse needed. Byleth sighs in relief, but almost squeaks when Byleth is pulled into a bush by Sylvain. 

 

"Sylvain," Byleth begins, but then realizes that the rest of the Blue Lions, save for Dedue, are in the bush. Sylvain lifts a finger to his lips. "Ah. We're spying."

 

Dedue is speaking with the Duscurian general. "...will not abide the needless death of my own people."

 

"You must know that as long as there is breath in me," the general is saying, "that I will fight."

 

"Then fight, and be defeated," Dedue retorts seriously. He looks more solemn than usual. "But so long as you pose no threat to His Highness, I will not end your life."

 

"Idealistic fool," the man spits, folding his arms across his chest. "Not until we've taken back the homeland you monsters stole from us!"

 

"I can't hear them clearly...!" Lysithea hisses. A ring of shushing fills the air.

 

"...promised the people of Duscur a home," Dedue continues, holding his chin up high. "His will be a Kingdom that is proud to harbor the blood of both Faerghus and Duscur."

 

Dimitri, in the bush with them, squares his shoulders and straightens his spine. He looks honored.

 

The general shakes his head. "That's impossible."

 

"Believe what you will," Dedue says, sounding almost proud now, "but Faerghus will change under his reign. That is my firm belief."

 

Dimitri emerges from the bushes, completely pretending that he wasn't hiding in them. "The Kingdom army has retreated to the fortress," Dimitri says. "There should be no further danger.

 

"Prince of Faerghus!" The general scoffs. His hands seem to twitch for his axe. "You monster!"

 

Ignoring the comment entirely, Dimitri regards the man. "Can you still run? Then I suggest you do so now. Your people are waiting for you on the other side. Remain hidden from the Kingdom army."

 

For a moment, no one speaks. Then Dedue nods. "May our paths cross again."

 

Turning away, the general's tone becomes more serious. "I certainly hope not. But remember this... The people of Duscur never forget their grudges. Nor do they fail to honor favors."

 

When the two are sure that the general has fled for safety, Dedue turns to Dimitri and bows. "Thank you, your Highness, for fulfilling my selfish request."

 

The prince shakes his head. "Think nothing of it. This is something I wanted to do as well. If you really must give thanks, direct it at the church for allowing us to join the battle, and to our professor for leading the charge." 

 

Dimitri pats the other boy on the back. "It's about time we headed back. The professor and the others are waiting."

 

Dedue smiles at Dimitri kindly. "I am right behind you." Byleth takes this opportunity to tip toe out of the bush, but Dedue spots him immediately. "Ah, professor. Were you spying?"

 

For some reason, this makes him extremely embarrassed.

 

.

 

Tonight's the night I find Flayn's room.

 

"Please," Sothis is practically begging him. "Please learn how to phrase things properly. You sound so unbelievably creepy, it is unbearable."

 

How else am I supposed to say it? Byleth demands. Sothis shrugs, noncommittal.

 

He steps out his door and practically trips over Linhardt, who has propped himself outside of Byleth's door with a blanket and a pillow.

 

"No," Sothis says. "No. No no no. Why is it always Linhardt?! This is unbelievable! Has he just been camping out here, waiting for you?"

 

Linhardt yawns, lifting a hand in greeting. Before the boy can say anything, Byleth steps around his body and keeps walking, intent on finding Flayn's room without interruption. He can hear the boy frantically gather his things and speed walk after him.

 

"Please wait for me, professor," Linhardt calls out, finally reaching him. "You are completely aware that I am incapable of running."

 

Sothis' eyes sparkle. "Run."

 

Sothis.

 

She groans. "Byleth, what if something goes wrong? Linhardt should not be there, what if he is injured?"

 

...You're right. It is simply tedious to keep asking him.

 

"Linhardt-"

 

"Are we going to that area again today, professor?" Linhardt asks, sounding slightly more animated. "You did promise, and you have yet to take me again. I have dozens of new theories."

 

Byleth shakes his head. "No. So you should head back to your room-"

 

"I think not," Linhardt cuts in, a small smile on his face. "Besides, everything is much more exciting when I'm with you. You really are such an intriguing person, professor. You tolerate my crest speeches, my naps, my presence... There are few people around me like you."

 

Now Byleth just feels bad. Sothis.

 

"No."

 

I-

 

"No, send him back now, you absolute pushover."

 

Byleth doesn't realize they've been walking toward the cathedral before they reach it. Well, he was intending on exploring the areas past the gates, anyway, but he doesn't want to make much noise in the middle of the night. So he settles for exploring the areas accessible through the cathedral.

 

"Are we going back to the Holy Mausoleum?" Linhardt asks, and his voice echoes in the chapel. Byleth winces. 

 

"No," Byleth says, "there's a room I have always been curious about right next to the Goddess Tower." It wouldn't hurt to explain, if Linhardt was hell bent on following him anyway. He was hoping that it was Flayn's room, because raising the gates around the chapel in order to check what was past them would be way too much noise and would instantly alert the guards.

 

"Are we breaking in?" 

 

Byleth doesn't answer.

 

For some reason, Linhardt seems even more intrigued now. "Incredible. Let's do it."

 

They reach the door near the Goddess Tower without much fanfare. Byleth sighs in relief, and procures a set of hair pins from his cloak.

 

"You came prepared," Linhardt comments, sounding impressed. 

 

Byleth shakes his head. "Not at all. I always have these on my person."

 

"To gift to your students?" Linhardt asks.

 

"To break into places. A useful skill, as a mercenary," Byleth explains, kneeling so he could pick the lock quicker.

 

A click.

 

Byleth tests the knob.

 

It opens easily.

 

Linhardt's eyes widen, imperceptibly. "You're quite good at this," Linhardt comments, and is about to step past him into the door, but Byleth shoves him behind his body, just in case.

 

Byleth peers in cautiously, hand on the hilt of his sword.

 

It's a bedroom. There's a large bed in the middle of a room, propped against the back wall, and no windows. Several bookshelves line the walls, and various books for children are strewn across the floor. A few fishing rods are propped up unceremoniously against the wall.

 

In the middle of the bed, Flayn's green hair pops up from underneath the blanket. Byleth sighs. 

 

"First try," Sothis says, sounding impressed. Byleth also wants to pat himself on the back. It was trial and error looking for the right corridors where the dungeons were.

 

When Byleth hasn't said a word, Linhardt pushes past him and stumbles into the room, sighing. "It's just a bedroom," Linhardt whispers, sounding disappointed. "Let's get out of here." 

 

Sothis has taken this opportunity to read every title of the books lining the shelves.

 

Satisfied now that he knows where Flayn's bedroom is, Byleth nods in agreement.

 

He sees Linhardt's eyes widen. "Professor-!"

 

Byleth feels a sharp pain in the back of his neck. He struggles against the wave of drowsiness that washes over him, but it brings him to his knees, and he slumps to the floor, hand twitching uselessly around the Sword of the Creator. His eyes dart around the room- he can see a blurry pair of legs, and the distorted figure of Sothis, trying to shake him. Linhardt has been subdued by something, and has joined him on the floor, eyes wildly searching the room. He can see that Flayn has finally woken up, jolting up in bed, eyes wide, mouth outstretched in a scream. The last thing he sees is Linhardt and Sothis mouthing his name before he blacks out.

Chapter Text

Byleth wakes up. 

 

He has no idea where he is, to be perfectly honest. There are people falling to their knees, people choking on their own blood, soldiers stepping over corpses. Blue and white tile decorated in crimson, like the flags that cover the walls. Demonic beasts trampling ivory pillars and downing friend and foe alike. With each body that hits the floor, more and more seconds and chances are added to the lives of those that still stand and live to fight. It's battle. It's familiar, it's like coming home.

 

"Professor! Pay attention!"

 

A girl on a pegasus swoops down and covers his back, hands firmly gripping a silver lance. Ingrid smiles down at him, but it looks more like a grimace. "What's wrong, professor? You cannot get distracted, now of all times!"

 

Her hair is clipped short, down to her chin. For some reason, Byleth thinks that the last time he saw her, her hair was much longer than it was now.

 

"Edelgard is just up ahead!" Ashe calls, from his right. He notches an arrow and downs the archer that had taken aim at Byleth's head, in a last ditch attempt to kill the man. 

 

Byleth only realizes that there's an arrow in his upper thigh when Ashe and Ingrid both stare at it, worriedly. 

 

"I haven't forgotten," Byleth replies, even though it seems as if it couldn't be further from the truth. His head is foggy, and whenever he licks his lips he can taste blood- and hopes and prays to Sothis that it does not belong to him.

 

Reaching down, he rips the arrow out of his leg with a sound that is dreadful to his own ears. 

 

"I'll get Marianne," Ashe says, and yanks at the reins of his horse. 

 

"No," Byleth calls, beckoning him over instead. He slips the arrow into Ashe's hands when he's close enough. "Remember?"

 

Ingrid and Ashe watch the wound knit itself back together, as the crest of flames flashes briefly behind Byleth. Ingrid nods again.

 

"Don't get distracted now, professor," Ingrid calls, eyes narrowing. "It's now or never."

 

"I know," Byleth replies, and bearing an ease that he himself is surprised with, slips right back into the fray.

 

Edelgard is ahead, in the throne room. She's right there. The end is just in the other room, and so close Byleth can practically taste it upon his tongue.

 

Byleth is shaking.

 

Every step feels heavier than the last.

 

"Professor," Sylvain calls out to him, joining his side to team up on a soldier and raising his lance to gut them, "are you scared? Hop up on my horse, if you like."

 

Despite everything, he's still teasing. Byleth doesn't resist the urge to roll his eyes. "I am not afraid. And no thank you, Sylvain. I am stronger as infantry."

 

Byleth levels a bolganone at an armored unit unsuccessfully trying to hit Sylvain with his spear. "I don't doubt it, professor," Sylvain says, "but you're shaking. Wouldn't want you to die on us because you couldn't lift your sword."

 

"Sweet of you," Byleth replies, still moving forward, onward, "but I am not shaking from fear. Watch Flayn's back for me, I am going on ahead."

 

"I've got yours too, professor," Sylvain calls out, and joins Flayn's side. She's busy rescuing Felix from another room, who became separated from them through a wave of reinforcements.

 

Byleth enters another long corridor and cannot but help but wonder about the decor. Were the walls required to have Imperial flags on every inch of them?

 

A demonic beast roars its displeasure at him as soon as it turns the corner. He huffs.

 

Demonic beasts no longer seem daunting, even to his students that once flinched in their presence. To be completely honest, he feels a little sad watching them, especially since he had an inkling of what they really could be-

 

"Professor!" Annette calls out from behind him, folding her hands together. Her battalion does the same, and they level a devastating magic spell that knocks the beast into paralysis. "Please stop running off without backup or a healer!"

 

"I can heal-"

 

"I know you can," she cuts off, eyes still on the beast. "Dedue, a little help!"

 

Dedue appears behind her and chips away at the shield with a strength that Byleth is near envious of. "I've got your back," he says simply. 

 

It's enough of an opening for Byleth. 

 

He runs up to the beast and separates its head from its shoulders. The beast lets out one final roar, but it stops halfway through, choking on blood and dark ooze. Byleth takes a breath.

 

"I'm going on ahead," Byleth says, and can hear his students calling out to him, indignantly, but a wave of reinforcements descend upon them. Byleth swears and runs back to them, letting his sword whip out and take a few of them out all at once. Heads fly. More crimson. Byleth is honestly sick of the colour by now. He thinks that he could live a better life without seeing it ever again.

 

Dedue and Annette tag team the last one, Annette whittling the bandit down with a cutting gale and Dedue slicing at the man with an axe. It's so in sync, Byleth has to smile.

 

"Long live... the empire," the man groans, attempting to spit their blood out onto Byleth's face. Byleth steps back silently, watching it fall and dribble to the floor.

 

When he directs his attention back to his students, they're already watching him, as if waiting for him to run off again. He sighs. "Alright. I will not run off again. Let's hurry and go."

 

Dedue and Annette follow. Byleth has to wonder if all castles are this large, because every room and every corridor seems never ending, and there's only more and more enemies at every corner.

 

One takes a wild swing at him. Byleth is clipped on the shoulder by the slash of his sword, but Byleth's used to the pain of blades- and without flinching, quickly slashes at the man's neck. Blood sprays him everywhere. 

 

Annette raises her hands as if to heal him, but he shakes his head. "Save it for a wound that requires more attention," Byleth tells her, a frown on his face. "It's only a scratch. Besides, I saw you heal Dimitri a few times earlier. I know that you do not possess that many heals left."

 

"Then allow me," Mercedes says, appearing behind him with Felix in tow. Byleth quickly assesses the two of them for damage. They've both got cuts and scratches on their body, and blood stains their clothes, but most of it doesn't seem to belong to them.

 

"No," Byleth reprimands. "Please save your heals, still. I've got many concoctions left." 

 

He's got one concoction left. And three Divine Pulses. Divine Pulse number one was used when one of Hegemon Edelgard's attacks connected, and knocked Ingrid off of her pegasus when she was flying high to avoid certain enemies, and she was sent sprawling to the floor below, reaching out for hands that would not save her. Byleth doesn't think he'll ever forget the sound of his students screaming out in agony, nor her broken limbs trampled by the empire's soldiers. Divine Pulse number five was used when Dedue took a spell to the head meant for Sylvain, and he was sent flying back, cracking his head open upon the walls. Divine Pulse number eight-

 

Byleth shakes his head.

 

It would not do, to think of such matters now.

 

Mercedes narrows her eyes at him, but doesn't press the matter. "If you say so, professor. But remember, I'm right here for you."

 

Byleth nods. "I know. I trust you."

 

The battle rages on. It's practically mindless now. It has been mindless for a very long time. Byleth can practically see where the enemies are headed, who they plan on attacking, and how hard they will hit. Which mages know moves that practically kill in one blow, which enemies can hit twice, which ones will scream and beg and call for reinforcements and mercy despite all that they've allowed to happen.

 

Unceremoniously, Felix is warped right next to Byleth, a scowl on his face. "Professor. There's a mage up ahead that you have to take care of. They keep using meteor on the boar and Lysithea."

 

Byleth nods at the dancer. "Got it," Byleth replies, and moves forward, rejuvenated. The mage barely has time to direct their attention to Byleth before he blows their head off with a spell. Byleth refuses to wince as his students catch up and see the carnage. They do not flinch. Byleth cannot help but hate the way that none of them are no longer visibly appalled by the sight of blood.

 

"The entrance to the throne room is here!" Mercedes calls out, and is about to step inside when Byleth shoves a hand out to block her.

 

"Wait."

 

"Professor, reinforcements-"

 

Byleth shakes his head. "We must wait for everyone," Byleth tells her. "We do not know what awaits us inside."

 

They pick off the few that dare step inside the little room they've decided to camp out in. They do not have to wait long. The rest of the Blue Lions arrive caked in blood, but still very much alive.

 

Dima leads the rest of the Blue Lions to them, lance in hand. There is a fat smear of blood on his face, blood dripping down Areadbhar, blood caking his armor, but his eyes are clear with strain and sorrow.

 

It's odd, to stop in the middle of a battle. There are still imperial soldiers after them, which Byleth can hear through the walls. And he knows for a fact that the soldiers in the throne room know that they're in the room over. Byleth does a head count anyway. 

 

All of the Blue Lions are here.

 

They look tired and weary. Ingrid's white pegasus is caked in blood. Felix's hair is rumpled, strands escaping his ponytail. There's a worrisome dent in Sylvain and Ashe's armor. Mercedes has lost her veil. Everyone looks like a complete and utter war stained mess.

 

But they are alive.

 

Byleth looks at Dima. "Ready?"

 

"Not at all," Dima replies, and leads the charge into the throne room. The Blue Lions follow, wordlessly, chins up, standing tall.

 

They step into the throne room, and it is as if the entire atmosphere changes. Edelgard- Hegemon Edelgard, is standing in front of the throne. Byleth doesn't know how describe her. She looks absolutely monstrous. There is no remnants of an emperor. It is a beast, a monster, a demon, and all of her own doing.

 

For some reason, despite having killed the man, Byleth still expects to see Hubert at her side, like always. 

 

She is alone.

 

Even the stray remnants of her army seem to fear being near her.

 

Byleth cannot stop his shaking hands. Noticing this, and likely misinterpreting it, Dima takes one of his hands briefly, to squeeze it.

 

"So," Dima begins. "That monstrous creature was Edelgard, was it? If she is prepared to transform her very body to fight for this future of hers... Then I have no choice but to defeat her, even if it costs me my life! We must defend the present... After all, it is all that we truly have."

 

Even words possess so much power. Byleth seems to shake harder at the words, and he's not the only one- the Blue Lions seem more determined. Byleth bites down on his lower lip. He cannot help but be proud.

 

The soldiers keep coming, grow more desperate. One even lobs their axe straight at Flayn's head. They miss, of course, but Byleth makes sure to make quick work of the solider- desperation was potent and dangerous enough to be called a weapon, after all. It seems to be spreading, though. Some soldiers flee at the sight of them, fear flashing through their eyes. Some look crazed enough to try and tear them apart with their teeth. One of them lands a good hit on Annette with a near insane look in their eyes, and Byleth uses a Divine Pulse. He wants to vomit. Two left. 

 

Byleth wonders if it's loyalty driving the imperial soldiers. Maybe spite. Perhaps stupidity. Whatever it was, everyone has already made their choices. Something would end today. Byleth would make sure that it was the empire.

 

With a single arrow, Ashe ends the final soldier in the throne room.

 

As one, the Blue Lions turn to Edelgard.

 

And then, they turn to Byleth. Even Dima. 

 

Byleth lifts his sword and ascends the stairs, the Blue Lions close behind. Dima is a reassuring presence at his back.

 

Up close, she is even more daunting. Something about her presence is so distinctly inhuman- and not just her looks. Byleth cannot begin to explain it.

 

The sword of the creator flashes in his grip. To be honest, Byleth has nothing to say to her. But with one look at him, Edelgard's dark eyes seem to shine.

 

"Facing you... I grow weak..." 

 

Byleth would be lying if he said that he understood her.

 

He raises his sword, and the Blue Lions attack. They make quick work of her shield, dodging her enormous hands and her desperate spells. 

 

"To be changed beyond all recognition... That is what lies at the end of the ideals you served so diligently," Dima says quietly. There is a sorrow that hangs around him, one that Byleth cannot read into. He knows their shared history, but dares not pry. Some things were just kept between two. "I have no pity for one such as you. If that is the future you hoped for, then you deserve no compassion."

 

Compared to the horde of soldiers, Edelgard is almost easier. She seems to only want to aim for those weak against physical attacks, so Byleth is sure to protect them. Wave after wave of healing spells rush through the air, and soon they stop entirely. They've only got concoctions left. The healers swear violently.

 

It's difficult to fight in such an enclosed space with the Blue Lions, but Edelgard must be having a much more difficult time, for she's thrashing wildly, swinging her arms out and lobbing attack after attack at them.

 

Byleth thinks it's going better than fine until one of her hands gut him. 

 

He gags out blood, dropping the sword. Byleth doesn't have time to examine the look in her eyes before he uses a Divine Pulse.

 

One left.

 

Now he really feels sick to his stomach. Despite how his crest could heal some attacks in battle, Byleth can practically feel each and every wound left upon his body, even if they occured in a different time. He can feel a thousand arrows piercing his back, a sword through his throat, magic running up and down his spine and paralyzing him- a hand through his body.

 

Nevertheless, Byleth raises his blade.

 

One strike to send her down!

 

Edelgard's shields fall. She roars in pain.

 

Dima looks at Byleth, and he nods at the king. 

 

"This battle is over," Dima declares, and raises Areadbhar to the heavens. He swings down.

 

Edelgard falls to her knees.

 

The throne room is silent as she transforms back, the monster peeling back to reveal the girl. She is still Edelgard, in spite of everything.

 

Byleth regards her crumpled posture. All light has left her eyes. She seems small, too small. There is no blood upon her clothes. As if summoned, a beacon of light stretches from the sky and pierces the windows, shadowing her profile.

 

Edelgard's head is bowed. It is not a sight Byleth ever believed that he would see in his lifetime. He can see her breaths becoming shorter and slower, her eyes fluttering weakly, and knows that she is dying in front of their eyes.

 

Very slowly, Dima offers her his hand. 

 

"El."

 

At the sound of her nickname, Edelgard looks up. 

 

Dima offers her the tiniest quirk of her lips. It takes a moment, but Edelgard returns it, and Byleth's eyes narrow imperceptibly.

 

He has always trusted his instincts. 

 

That's why, when Edelgard has thrown her dagger at Dimitri, Byleth has pushed in front of him, sword already swinging. Edelgard slumps to the floor, the Sword of the Creator embedded in her body.

 

Edelgard is dead.

 

Byleth slumps to the floor in relief. The war was over.

 

So why was Dima screaming?

 

He can hear Dima calling for Mercedes, for Annette, for any healer, to come help them. Byleth doesn't understand. Did Dima want to heal Edelgard? If that was his desire, then-

 

Ah.

 

Byleth has only now started to become aware of the dagger in his throat.

 

He can practically hear his father telling him to assess the situation. He's choking on his blood, he only has concoctions left, and any sort of healing spell wouldn't be able to rescue his damaged throat. He has no strength left. Byleth is dying, and quickly. He's losing far too much blood.

 

Byleth can hear himself wheeze and spit up blood. It isn't a pretty sound. He's coughing and choking and he cannot breathe but at the very least Edelgard was dead. Dima is cupping his face and mouthing his name.

 

How many Divine Pulses did Byleth have, again? One. It was fine. Everything was going to be fine. 

 

He reaches for the Divine Pulse and comes up with nothing. He tries again. Nothing. Nothing, save for more bile trying to force its way up his throat. The very idea of using a Divine Pulse is splitting his skull in two. He cannot feel anything but pain, pain...

 

But Byleth was so sure that he had another-

 

Byleth is now suddenly aware that he wants to live. He wants to see Dima restore his Kingdom, and live out the rest of his days by his side. He wants to visit his father and mother one last time. He wants to see Felix and Sylvain dance around the most unbearably awkward courtship known to man, he wants to see his Lions live long and fulfilling lives, he wants- he wants-

 

Byleth wants to cry.

 

There is a moment in which Byleth is only aware of Dima, his muted screams his hands, his eye welling with tears, and then there is a moment where Byleth is aware of absolutely nothing at all.

 

.

 

Byleth wakes up.

 

He feels as if he's taken several swords to the head. His ears are ringing violently, and his body aches with the sort of pain one can only achieve after a long and arduous battle.

 

Taking note of his surroundings, he's pretty sure that he shouldn't be here.

 

Byleth distinctly remembers dying, after all. 

 

The room itself is quite grand. The bed he's on is covered with several blue blankets, ones that are very soft and smooth. There are piles of matching pillows, and a gauzy curtain draped around the bed, presumably for decoration. On both sides of the bed are nightstands- the one Byleth's closest to is neat, and has a single journal and candle sitting atop it. The other table is covered in miscellaneous items- several books, even more whetstones, an oil lamp, something that appears to be a scarf- Byleth stops looking at it to gape openly at the rest of the room. 

 

On his right are the largest windows he's possibly ever seen, alongside a door that leads to a balcony. There's a giant round blue rug in the middle of the room, two armchairs next to each other, and three massive bookshelves. One corner of the room has both Areadbhar and the Sword of the Creator propped up against the wall.

 

Byleth is slightly happy that Areadbhar was there. Perhaps that would explain why Dima was currently asleep next to him in bed.

 

Byleth considers the possibility of being totally and truly dead, but that would mean Dima would be too, if he were really here, and that is a line of thought that he refuses to follow.

 

Sothis?

 

No answer. 

 

Wait. Why was he calling for Sothis? Didn't they merge into one? Why was he-

 

Byleth leaps out of bed. Where in the world was he, where was Sothis-

 

"Byleth?" Dima calls, and it's so sleepy and fond that Byleth cannot help but turn to look at the man. "It's too early to be up. Come back to bed."

 

When Byleth hesitates, Dima cracks his good eye open and tries to encompass as much of a puppy dog eyed look as he can into his stare. "Please? The bed is cold without you."

 

At this admission, what else can Byleth do but comply? He falls into bed next to Dima and curls up against him, feeling distinctly warm- and confused.

 

.

 

It only gets weirder. 

 

Byleth is whisked into a world he feels that he does not belong in. There is black ooze coming out of the castle walls- and yes, he is in the castle, Dima's castle, which is an odd thought- but every time he tries to focus his gaze upon it, it disappears.

 

It doesn't seem like anything is wrong, but it doesn't feel like anything is right, either.

 

His Blue Lions are here. Dedue and Ashe allow him to taste test their food. They're trying to open an inn together. Annette invites him over to her family home over tea. He witnesses Ingrid's knighting ceremony. 

 

Byleth is Archbishop. Archbishop!

 

Anytime he asks after Rhea, his head seems to fill with fog, and his surroundings disappear and are suddenly filled anew, with people, with requests, with Dima.

 

He greets the people of the Kingdom. They take a shine to him, for some reason. For some reason, every time he tries to focus on a face, they only seem to blur.

 

Byleth has no idea what's happening.

 

It feels as if time is passing weirdly, as if Byleth is missing a good chunk of himself and his memories. But he can't exactly think upon it when-

 

"Dima."

 

"Yes?" 

 

"Stop kicking me under the table."

 

Dima opens his mouth to reply, but Sylvain cuts in from his place at the other side of the table. "It's called 'playing footsies,' professor."

 

He is swiftly and promptly elbowed by Felix, who is sitting at his side and pretending like his stomach wasn't rumbling.

 

Byleth does a headcount, head still throbbing in pain. Dima, himself, Sylvain, Felix, Ashe, Ingrid, Mercedes, Annette, Dedue. Lysithea, Dorothea, Hilda, and Marianne. Flayn and Cyril.

 

He frowns. 

 

"Where are Linhardt and Ferdinand?" Byleth asks, and knows that as soon as the words leave his mouth, that he's missing something important.

 

All conversation stops, for a moment.

 

Then, as if Byleth's said absolutely nothing, the chatter continues. Byleth turns to Dima with wide eyes, and stands, indignantly.

 

"What is going on?" Byleth demands, raising his voice for the first time in what seems like- how long has it been? He cannot recall.

 

He smiles at him, and Byleth loses any train of thought he's once possessed. "They're bringing out the wine and bread now, love."

 

Byleth's head fills with fog.

 

Byleth sits down at the table, eager for the meal. Nameless and faceless servants fill the room and place down baskets of bread rolls and golden goblets filled to the brim. Curious about the contents, he peers inside of the closest one.

 

It's pitch black. The contents are viscous and seem to ooze up and down the sides, like it was alive. It hardly resembles wine, let alone a liquid.

 

Byleth blinks.

 

"What's wrong, Byleth?" Dima asks, and it seems as if he's already taken a sip from his goblet. Black ooze spills from his lips, a tiny bit drizzling from his chin. Byleth has the oddest urge to kiss it off. When he blinks, it's simply red wine.

 

Across the table, Annette is splitting a bread roll with Mercedes.

 

The insides are pitch black. The insides bubble and boil.

 

He peers back into his goblet.

 

Red.

 

Swirling the liquid around, he knocks the goblet back and empties the contents down his throat.

 

.

 

Dedue and Ashe open their inn. Their specialities are dynamic and homey mixes of both Duscur and Fódlan cuisine. Sylvain and Felix leave the Kingdom, very briefly, to make further peace with Sreng. Mercedes cuts off her father. Annette makes peace with her own. He hears tales of Ingrid's knighthood every single day.

 

Dima and Byleth talk. They draw borders, sign laws, and peace treaties. Claude visits, from time to time, and they joke as much as they debate and agree on politics. Byleth reforms the church, little by little. His plan is to pass off his duties to Seteth, in the future. Dima is still attempting to reform the crest system.

 

Sometimes, when no one is watching, Dima kisses him softly on the cheek, and on the forehead, during council meetings and paperwork. Sometimes he kisses him in plain sight of the Blue Lions, and they all giggle and tease. Never on the lips. Byleth doesn't ask why.

 

Time is moving, but Byleth cannot feel it move.

 

.

 

Byleth is sitting in a garden of crimson red roses, staring up into a lilac sky. Brilliant green hedges trap him into a gorgeous cage.

 

Why is he here? He hates red.

 

Dima is daintily plucking thorns off of the roses, and feeding them to Byleth. He is daring enough to press his own fingers to a delicate tongue. The thorns drip something as dark as night, a void among the cacophony of colours.

 

Very, very slowly, Dima licks the excess of his fingers, and grins.

 

"I hate red," Byleth informs him, still watching his fingers.

 

Dima's smile only widens. "Okay," he says simply, and the roses turn a dazzling, deep blue. 

 

Byleth takes a moment to admire the roses and Dima's thoughtfulness before something occurs to him.

 

That's not right, Byleth thinks. This isn't-

 

Dima presses another thorn to his lips, and Byleth stops thinking entirely. This time, Dima is bold enough to lean in and pepper gentle kisses all over Byleth's neck and face.

 

"Kiss me," Byleth pleads, and Dima complies. "Again. Again."

 

Dima peppers his face with little pecks, and Byleth can feel him smiling against his skin. "Again. Again, please. Again."

 

.

 

Byleth becomes aware out of the blue.

 

He's arranging documents at his desk, battle plans and strategies, just in case. The war was over, but there were always rebels and rebellions, and those who would spill blood simply for the fun of it.

 

Byleth nods at the papers, and decides to show his father, to make sure everything was-

 

His head seizes and throbs with pain. Didn't his father die years ago? Didn't he watch him die? Didn't he die in Byleth's own arms? 

 

It's a brief moment of clarity, but it's enough. 

 

Jeralt is alive. 

 

But not here.

 

Byleth stands from his chair and bursts into his bedroom.

 

As expected, Dima's getting ready for bed. As soon as he sets eyes on Byleth, he smiles, so softly and sweetly, that Byleth forgets his purpose. The thought of his father is enough to knock the fog from his head, though.

 

He ignores Dima's outstretched arms and stomps over to the corner, where the Sword of the Creator lay, and points it at Dima's neck.

 

"Where am I?" Byleth demands.

 

"Sweetheart," Dima says, and it's so tender that Byleth shakes, "There is no need for the sword, okay? We're safe. The war is over."

 

"Where am I?!"

 

Dima squares his shoulders. "We're in our castle in the capital, Fhirdiad. We're in our bedroom, and everything is alright."

 

Byleth reaches down into his terrible memory and yanks at anything he can find.

 

"My name is Byleth Eisner," he begins, bland as ever. "I died killing Edelgard, and traveled back in time thanks to Sothis to prevent a war. My father and I are alive, but not here. And you are not Dima. Where am I?"

 

Dima regards him quietly. "But I am Dima," he says simply.

 

"I dreamed you once," Byleth says, as if he hasn't said a word, and a thought occurs to him. "And I suppose I am dreaming you again."

 

Dima doesn't speak. 

 

Byleth is suddenly, very, very aware of everything wrong. "Linhardt," he breathes suddenly. "And Flayn! They kidnapped them. They kidnapped us! I'm dreaming now, aren't I?"

 

"Only you have those answers, Byleth," Dima says, standing and crossing the room to him, despite the sword still leveled at his throat. Byleth swears quietly under his breath. "Why not stay until you wake?"

 

"I cannot stay," Byleth says, and the fogginess begins to fill his head again. He shakes his head in an attempt to be rid of it. "No one wants that. I have to go back."

 

Dima cups Byleth's cheek tenderly. "What do you want, Byleth? Be selfish, for once. You deserve it, more than anyone."

 

Byleth wants many things.

 

The words leave his lips without permission. "I want to stay here with you," Byleth admits. He thinks he may actually be crying, which is totally unacceptable, but in the face of the one he loves most, he cannot stop his emotions. 

 

He lowers the sword and crumples into Dima's arms, because he does not know when he'll be able to do it ever again.

 

"Then stay," Dima says, as if it's that simple. "I want all of that too."

 

"But this isn't real," Byleth insists, even as he makes no effort to move away.

 

"It can be," Dima says. "Sleep isn't so bad."

 

"I've got the fate of a continent upon my shoulders," Byleth replies quietly.

 

"It doesn't have to be yours," Dima says, and Byleth pushes out of his embrace, sword at his throat once more.

 

"Dima would never say such a thing to me," Byleth hisses, eyes narrowing.

 

Dima tilts his head. "But it is what you want to hear. Is that so wrong? It's okay, Byleth. Wanting things isn't so selfish. What do you want, Byleth?"

 

Byleth has been afraid of wanting things. During the war, he has wanted peace so badly that even saying words of hope aloud made them seem worthless. He wanted Dima to stop hurting, but he knew just as much as anyone else that simply wanting wounds to heal would not heal a thing. He wanted- he wanted-

 

"I am afraid."

 

"What are you afraid of? Why are you so afraid of making a decision? Why are your hands shaking now?"

 

Byleth's lower lip trembles, despite everything. He wants to say Edelgard. He wants to say that he fears even thinking of slaying her. He wants to say that he hesitates over killing someone so important, so 'royal', so set in their beliefs that every other person that says otherwise must and should be wrong. He wants to say that he does not want to be the catalyst of a series of events that would shake the world. Byleth wants to say that he does not want another person's blood on his hands, but was that really the truth?

 

A thought occurs to him, so sudden and sharp that it appears to be more of a revelation than anything else. A sudden flash of light. The hum of metal. The taste of someone else's blood.

 

The slow crawl of his lips seems to slow time around him.

 

"I am afraid that I would enjoy killing her too much."

 

Dima smiles.

 

"I love you, Byleth," he says suddenly.

 

Byleth drops the sword.

 

"I love you too," he declares, and it's such a relief to say that Byleth feels as if he may soar into the sky with the declaration alone. Even if it is not his Dima. "I love you, Dima."

 

Despite everything, Byleth loves him. Every single part of him. The years apart and the losses and the grief and Byleth dying- in his arms, the wounds that not even love nor time could fill. Dima's smiles, so rare now. His efforts to try and rebuild and to make things better, not only for his Kingdom but also for himself. His compassion, which made him both vulnerable and vengeful and yet still tender and kind. Byleth has loved every moment and every part of him and he wouldn't trade his love for the world.

 

"With a sentence alone you've made me the happiest man alive," Dima says, and rubs a careful thumb across his cheek before freeing Byleth's face from his grasp and grabbing onto his waist instead. With a strength Byleth is still in awe of everytime he sees it, Dima picks up Byleth and spins him around, laughing and tilting his chin up to kiss Byleth's neck and chin. He only puts him down again when Byleth pushes his face away, half amused and half exasperated.

 

"I love you, Dima," Byleth says again, as if the words were fleeting, mere figments of a passing dream. "I love you."

 

Dima laughs, and Byleth presses a single finger to his mouth. "Your turn. I want to hear you say it again."

 

"I can say it as many times as you want," Dima replies, and Byleth is sure that he's never seen anyone so beautiful. "I love you, Byleth. I love you. More than you'll ever know."

 

Byleth swears to memorize this moment, to immortalize it within his heart and preserve it within his bones as long as he draws breath, and even beyond that.

 

"I love you," Byleth repeats, "and that's why I have to go. I love the Blue Lions, I love my father, I love the academy, I love Sothis- there are so many people that I love, and that's why I have to leave now, Dima. This is for everyone."

 

"I know," Dima says, and it's a true smile. "Godspeed, Byleth. I love you. It's time to wake up, now. Sothis is waiting. I am waiting."

 

Dima kisses him on the lips this time, and Byleth closes his eyes.

 

When he opens them, he's someplace entirely different.

 

"Finally!" Sothis says, waving a hand in front of his eyes. Despite her accusing words, she looks relieved. "I kept on calling and calling, but you didn't answer! Listen, they kidnapped you, Flayn, and Linhardt! Get up!"

 

The bone deep relief Byleth feels at the sight of her makes his knees weak. "Sorry, Sothis. I am awake now."

Chapter Text

At the back of Byleth's skull and behind his eyes, there's a throbbing, pulsating pain that seems to echo throughout the rest of his body. Touching the back of his neck, his fingers come back with dried blood. He's distantly aware of his dry throat and his empty stomach, but focuses more on conjuring a heal spell to fix himself up. When his vision is less blurry, he focuses on Sothis, who looks slightly more pale than usual. She looks as if she's worried her lip into near bleeding. Byleth feels absolutely terrible- and like a complete moron. How could he possibly let anyone sneak up on him like this? Perhaps he was becoming softer in an age without war.

 

"...And that's basically what happened. Questions?" Sothis finishes, nodding to herself.

 

Byleth inclines his head slightly, eyeing his tied hands. He's loose enough to wiggle his fingers around, and his hands were free enough to wave a spell, but even the slightest movement makes him feel dizzy and see violet flashes of light behind his eyes. Yes.

 

"About what?"

 

Everything. Sorry, I wasn't paying enough attention.

 

Sothis swats at his arm, but it lacks actual weight. Still, Byleth winces. Sothis retracts her hand quickly, looking a little surprised.

 

"Sorry," she whispers. Byleth shakes his head. 

 

It's okay. It doesn't actually hurt. But I don't think that I can stand.

 

Sothis frowns. "Are you alright? Didn't you just use a heal spell?"

 

I think that one spell already took a lot out of me. How long have I been out?

 

"I don't know."

 

Byleth blinks, slowly enough that Sothis looks slightly embarrassed. You don't know.

 

Sothis throws up her hands, looking a mix of exasperated and embarrassed. "I am an all powerful goddess! Do you think that trivialities like time matter to me? I am above such mortal matters!" 

 

He nods at her. ...So, you weren't sure.

 

The goddess ducks her head a little. "Yes. Sorry."

 

It's okay, Sothis. I know you've done your best. Before you tell me anything more, let me check up on those two.

 

Byleth sighs, leaning his head back. The back of his head, damp and sweaty, meets the cool wall behind him, and he nearly groans aloud in relief. The cold stone is a balm against his tired head. For the first time, he takes note of the area around him, and the figures curled up next to him on the floor, knocked out. 

 

Linhardt is sprawled inelegantly on the floor next to him, forehead sweaty. Byleth scoots over to his sleeping figure slowly, and with great difficulty, checks his pulse and his breathing. He breathes a sigh of relief when it seems as if all of Linhardt is intact. He checks on Flayn next, curled up into a little ball on his left. Quickly checking her pulse, he notes the smallest little pinprick on her neck with a frown. He didn't see that on Linhardt. 

 

Sothis?

 

"What is it?"

 

Do I have anything on my neck?

 

She leans in, examining his neck and chin before frowning. "Nothing but your sweat. Why? Is there something wrong? Do you feel pain anywhere near there?"

 

Wordlessly, Byleth points at the tiniest little dot upon Flayn's neck, barely a blemish, yet still noticeable to Byleth's trained eye. When Sothis notices the mark, her frown seems to worsen. "...What is that?"

 

I was hoping that you would know. You were awake this entire time, were you not?

 

Sothis searches his expression for a brief moment. "...You forget that I can only stay apart from you so long, Byleth. Flayn was likely separated from you for a moment, so I have no idea."

 

There's something strange about that statement that Byleth cannot put his finger on. The moment passes before Byleth can think any further upon the matter, and he groans again, shifting his head to lean against cooler tile.

 

Once he's sure that they're both alive and relatively unharmed, Byleth drags their bodies over to him and delicately places their heads upon both his thighs, like a pillow. He figures that hard stone and tile would be killer on the neck. 

 

The two of them do not stir in the slightest. Although Byleth knew that Flayn did wake eventually, he had no idea if any of that would change, especially since now both he and Linhardt were thrown into the equation.

 

Sighing, he directs his attention back to Sothis. Okay. Sorry for the wait. I am listening now.

 

She huffs quietly, and rearranges herself so that she's propped up against the wall and leaning on his right shoulder. "Okay. So you were an idiot who didn't look behind you and you got kidnapped by the Death Knight."

 

Byleth shrugs. He figured that it was probably Jeritza. He wordlessly motions her with one hand to continue. 

 

"So the Death Knight knocked you out with some magic, then got Linhardt, then got Flayn. All of you got knocked out with magic, if my memory isn't mistaken. Then that horrid Monica-"

 

Monica? Not Cornelia? Not the Flame Emperor?

 

"Shh, I'm not done!" Sothis scolds, eyebrows scrunching together. "Anyway, where was I before you so rudely interrupted me? Yes. So Monica was there too, behind Emile, and did one of her horrible ugly cackles before picking up the Sword of the Creator-"

 

She took my sword-

 

"Let me finish!" Sothis interrupts once more, looking slightly pissed. "She took your sword, but then she immediately passed it to the Death Knight. I don't remember what she said, but I am pretty sure by how quickly she passed it over that she was aware of what would happen should she hold onto that sword for too long."

 

...Jeritza didn't become a beast, did he?

 

Sothis nods. "Ah. So you noticed. Well, he is related to Mercedes, who does have a crest of her own. So Jeritza likely has one as well."

 

I don't understand how these hero's relics work, Byleth admits.

 

"Well, those with crests not pertaining to the weapon in question can wield them," Sothis confesses slowly, "albeit after awhile, it will begin to hurt them."

 

How do you know this, Sothis?"

 

Sothis glances away briefly. "Your memories," she replies, curling up further onto his shoulder.

 

Byleth tilts his head to the side, so that their heads are touching. I did not notice this. I am not even sure if I allowed other students to wield hero's relics that are not their own. Ah, but I did allow Ashe to wield Failnaught, but he doesn't have a crest, and didn't seem hurt. Don't tell me he was bearing the pain without telling me-

 

She shakes her head, effectively cutting off that thought process. "Failnaught's always been like this," Sothis murmurs, and then clears her throat. "No matter. The point is, is that the Death Knight took you back to that secret corridor from his room, and that if Cornelia was involved, she sure did not show her face."

 

Byleth's eyes narrow on the door at the end of the room. It's taken a while, but his eyes have slowly adjusted to the dim light being cast upon the cold walls and floors. He can barely see the outline of a keyhole upon the door, and sighs.

 

So, should I use a Divine Pulse? Byleth asks, but is surprised when Sothis shakes her head violently from side to side.

 

"No," Sothis exclaims, frantic. "No, no. Look at the sight of you! Look how terribly haggard you are! Remember when you used a Divine Pulse to rewind an entire day, and you could barely even remember where you were and how dazed you felt? I cannot bear to see you like that again, Byleth. Do you know how awful I felt when you were being dragged away and I couldn't do anything about it?! And I have no idea how much time has passed since you've been kidnapped!"

 

Byleth swears quietly under his breath. Sothis sighs alongside him. "I know, I understand. It could have been weeks wasted down here, and we wouldn't even know!"

 

He bites down on his lower lip. I may have missed Petra and Dorothea's birthdays.

 

Sothis gives him a stare that chills his insides. "Are you serious right now?"

 

Birthdays are an important part of life, Byleth replies, and Sothis then proceeds to stomp her feet on the floor.

 

"We've got more important things to worry about here!" Sothis shrieks, Byleth wincing at the sudden sound. His ears and temples ring shrilly in protest. "Like how we're going to get out of here, or what we'll do if the Death Knight or Monica comes to check up on us-"

 

Byleth nods, determined. Sothis takes one look at his face and grins, all teeth. "Have you got a plan to get out of this mess, Byleth?"

 

He gives her a confident look, barely concealing a smile of his own. I turn into a dragon-

 

"You cannot turn into a dragon."

 

But I-

 

The door creaks open, sliding against the floor with a scrape that rattles and picks at Byleth's ribs.

 

The Death Knight steps through the door, haloed by an eerie, yellow light. His footsteps seem to echo on the tile, and every single one of his movements is slow, almost lazy, punctuated by the focus of his red stare. In one hand, his scythe. The other, the Sword of the Creator. It seems to hum when it sees him, and wriggles out of Jeritza's hands to curl up at Byleth's feet.

 

Jeritza's eyes seem to flash.

 

Byleth is not impressed. 

 

The Death Knight is giving him a look that makes it blatantly obvious that he can see that Byleth is awake, and Byleth closes his eyes very, very slowly. 

 

He waits one moment.

 

Byleth carefully opens one eye to check if the Death Knight is still watching him. He is. Byleth slams that eye shut in an attempt to pretend like nothing just happened.

 

"I saw that," Jeritza points out gruffly. "I know that you're awake."

 

"You saw nothing."

 

"Did too."

 

"Did not. I can't even hear you. I am asleep," Byleth replies, eyes half open now.

 

"You are clearly not asleep."

 

Byleth curls on his side, facing away from Jeritza and his stupid scythe. But in doing so, he is now facing Sothis, who looks red-faced in anger and indignation. Byleth carefully turns the other way to pretend like he didn't see her, but in doing so, he faces the Death Knight once more. Sighing loudly, he gives up all pretense of sleeping and gives him a lazy once over, tilting his chin up at the man.

 

"You knocked me out," Byleth says, and it's more a statement than anything else.

 

Jeritza- the Death Knight- Emile- whatever, nods. Byleth inclines his chin in turn. "Explains the sloppy job," Byleth says, surprised at his own words. There was something about the man that made him want to fight him.

 

"It did the job," Jeritza replies, roughly. Aha. So he would respond to taunts.

 

"I would have done it better," Byleth retorts, and he can practically see the man's lip curl underneath his mask.

 

Sothis is staring at him in wide eyed disbelief. "Byleth. Byleth, Byleth, please do not tell me you are fighting over who would knock the other out best."

 

We are not, because I would have done a better job knocking him out.

 

The goddess sighs, long suffering and loud. "Maybe you should use a Divine Pulse. I cannot bear to watch your interactions with this man."

 

Byleth rolls his neck around, delighting in the loud cracks that hum in the air. "Is it truly alright to just give me back my sword?" Byleth drawls, tone still incredibly bland. He wants to rile this man up, and attempts to channel Felix in his words. "Your master wouldn't appreciate you running off your leash like this and disobeying, would they?"

 

"I have no master," Jeritza replies, voice grating on Byleth's pulsating skull. "I just want to talk."

 

"You didn't have to kidnap me to talk to me," Byleth replies, voice cool. He wasn't one to start fights, but something about Jeritza just made him very angry, a tad more impulsive, and brought his competitive side to the surface.

 

Jeritza seems to visibly struggle with his next words, and Byleth watches as Jeritza sinks to the floor awkwardly, sitting down across from him. Sothis' nose wrinkles as the man takes off the mask, and sets it on the floor between the two of them, like some sort of barrier. 

 

He sets the scythe down on the floor next to him. Byleth watches warily.

 

"I must admit that I was not intending to kidnap you," Jeritza confesses, but Byleth honestly could not care less at the moment. He's tired, and hungry, and desperately wants to use a Divine Pulse so he can gut Monica, maybe Jeritza, perhaps Edelgard. "But the Death Knight-"

 

Byleth closes his eyes and leans his head back against the wall. Sothis actually snorts a little, and he can hear her try and muffle the sound with her hands.

 

"...I am trying to hold a conversation with you," Jeritza says, a little desperately. Even someone as oblivious as Byleth can hear it. 

 

He cracks one eye open. "You'll find that people do not usually try and hold polite conversations with one another when one party has been kidnapped."

 

Byleth watches as Jeritza bites down on his lip hard enough to draw blood, and the man stands from the room, marching out of it and slamming the door behind him. 

 

Both Sothis and Byleth blink.

 

"...Perhaps being absolutely infuriating was the correct choice of action," Sothis murmurs, slightly astounded. "Whatever. I didn't hear a lock turn. Shall we get out of here?"

 

Byleth meets her gaze and then glances quickly back down at the two asleep on his lap. Sothis actually pouts. "Why is it that your students make everything so much more complicated?" She demands, but relents for now. "It is of no matter. You have Divine Pulses for a reason."

 

Besides, I am sure that my students will come for us," Byleth thinks back. And my father will as well.

 

"You are going to be in so much trouble," Sothis informs him, and Byleth hangs his head slightly. "And you best believe that as soon as we are out of here, that I will yell at you too."

 

You're already yelling at me, Sothis.

 

"Listen here-"

 

The door slams unceremoniously open once more, Jeritza appearing in the frame. He's kicked open the door. This isn't a particularly unusual sight. What surprises both Sothis and Byleth the most is what the man is holding in his hands.

 

One hand, carefully holding a white teapot. The other hand, holding two white cups, the rims painted gold. Jeritza kicks the door shut again, and settles down across from Byleth, once more sitting unceremoniously in front of the man. Byleth can hear the tea sloshing precariously inside the teapot, and he almost winces.

 

Jeritza places the teapot and cups down with a gentleness that startles Byleth more than any of his actions prior, and carefully pours them both cups of tea. He can smell the strong fragrance, a honeyed-fruit blend that Byleth had not expected the man to enjoy. 

 

When Byleth doesn't move, Jeritza pushes the tea cup closer to him with a scowl. "Go on. I know that this is the sort of thing that you enjoy."

 

Byleth wordlessly raises his tied hands. Jeritza nods at him, and lifts up the scythe to slash at the bonds, the rope falling into Byleth's lap.

 

"Don't drink that," Sothis scolds, as Byleth lifts the tea to his lips and takes a generous swig, downing the cup in one go. Ignoring her scathing glare, Byleth pours himself another cup.

 

Jeritza watches all of this with a barely-contained fascination. "I thought you would hesitate more," Jeritza murmurs. "Maybe ask me if it was poisoned, or otherwise tampered with."

 

Dry throat in mind, Byleth takes smaller, slower mouthfuls, then wipes at his lips with the back of his hand. "If you wanted me dead, I would already be so."

 

Jeritza blinks at him. "You understand me."

 

To avoid answering, Byleth takes another sip. A few long moments pass without the other speaking.

 

"This... is a questionable pastime," Jeritza offers, attempting to make another opening for conversation. Normally, Byleth would disagree, but he merely takes another sip.

 

Silence.

 

"Good tea, bad tea. It's all the same."

 

The slightest inclination of Byleth's head. 

 

"I-I'm deathly allergic to this sort of thing."

 

Another gentle sip.

 

"Goddess dammit," Jeritza suddenly exclaims, so suddenly that Sothis nearly jumps. "You are the one that seems to enjoy these tea parties! Do not ignore me."

 

Byleth takes his time wiping at the condensation on the rim of the cup, and setting it down gently upon the tile. Then, finally, he speaks. "Did you dump the entire sack of sugar into this teapot?"

 

"I like sweets," Jeritza spits, turning up his nose. "What of it?"

 

"When making tea, you should only add sugar or milk after the tea is done brewing, and only in individual cups, and not the teapot," Byleth says, a little bitterly. "And you brewed this tea for too short a time. A few minutes more, and it should have deepened the flavor."

 

"Byleth." Sothis chides.

 

Byleth catches his mistake, and slams his mouth shut. 

 

"So you can speak," Jeritza comments softly. 

 

"Drink your tea," Byleth says, monotone. 

 

Inexplicably, Jeritza chuckles. The sound surprises even himself. Obediently, he takes a sip, closing his eyes as he savors the flavor of the drink.

 

Byleth watches him, eyes narrow.

 

He doesn't understand this man. He claims to care for Mercedes, yet he would raise a hand against her in battle occasionally. He says that he doesn't take orders, but lowers his head to the Flame Emperor. He wants to kill Byleth- 

 

And yet here Byleth was, reluctantly sharing tea with the man.

 

One motion and Byleth could cut the man's head off. It would be easy, probably. Byleth was faster than Jeritza, and, unlike his scythe, the Sword of the Creator would come if called. Besides, Byleth knew that his students and his father were coming. It was a matter of when. In the commotion, Byleth could slip his sword quietly into the man's back. Or even now. Throwing the scalding hot tea in the man's face, then killing him. Cracking the tea pot against his skull. Beating him to a bloody pulp with his fists, but finishing the job this time.

 

What was stopping him?

 

Mercedes, probably. A desperate attempt to prove that his morals were perhaps, still intact. A potential ally in Jeritza, despite everything he did not know about the man.

 

Perhaps Byleth was staring too long, for Jeritza catches him quickly.

 

"I welcome any of your attempts to kill me," Jeritza says, out of the blue. He meets Byleth's gaze. "In fact, I am anticipating them."

 

Byleth doesn't say a word, but Jeritza continues. "I know that you are the only one worthy of ending me in a true battle," the man continues. "Killing you in your sleep would be a true waste."

 

Sothis fakes a gag. "Everything he says rubs me the wrong way," Sothis murmurs, sounding extremely creeped out and put off.

 

"What happened to you?" Byleth asks, a near whisper, but Jeritza hears it anyway.

 

"You won't find answers merely with words," Jeritza replies. "If you want to know my heart, know my sword."

 

"I don't give a shit about your heart," Byleth replies evenly. Both Sothis and Jeritza give him shocked looks. He supposes that he hasn't really said anything vulgar as of late, not around his students and not in a time of peace. "You are perhaps one of the most infuriating people I have ever met. I don't understand you, but I am trying. What is it that makes you obey the Flame Emperor? Why do you care so much about fighting me? Who are you, anyway?"

 

A pause.

 

"That is the most that I have ever heard you speak," Jeritza says quietly. "Are you always so rude?"

 

"Not to the people I like."

 

"I feel special, then."

 

Sothis gives the man a look. "How in the world does that make you feel special?"

 

"It's an honor to be shown sides of you that you do not show to anyone else. Yes... Yes, I have heard of you before. The Ashen Demon. Killing without expression, without mercy, without a single thought otherwise. You're just like me," Jeritza says, and looks near elated at the idea. Sothis shudders at Byleth's side, expression twisting. "We can help each other. You can slay the Death Knight within me, and I can murder the Ashen Demon within you."

 

Something hollow in Byleth seems to stir.

 

"You're wrong," Byleth replies, a tad more chilly compared to his usual bland tone. "I am the Ashen Demon. I am me. And so too, you are the Death Knight, and Jeritza von Hyrm, and Emile. There is not a single 'us' that we can kill or cut out of ourselves. We are not the same, and I have no need of your help."

 

Jeritza stares at him, lips slightly parted. His grip is so tight on the tea cup that Byleth can see little cracks start to form. His eyes are taking on a sort of glazed look, one that is actually beginning to startle him, although Byleth has never been shaken by the man prior to this.

 

"...Maybe I need yours," Jeritza whispers, barely a wisp of breath upon the wind. 

 

"Why?" Byleth asks. "I feel as if you've made your decision. Stay with the Flame Emperor, however, and I will cut you down."

 

Jeritza's gaze turns a little more foggy, and Byleth awkwardly pours himself a cup of tea to avoid that gaze. 

 

"I would love nothing more," Jeritza continues, "than to have you kill the Death Knight. It would be the greatest honor. As soon as I saw you in the Holy Mausoleum, with that sword, I knew you were the one. I knew you would be the the only one capable of doing it. What a joy it would be, to have your piercing gaze upon me, just barely sharper than your sword, as I die by your hand."

 

Byleth has noticed, just now, that both he and Sothis are pressing up against the wall awkwardly, in an attempt to slink away from the man.

 

He sighs, transfering his tea to his left hand, and spreading his right hand open, palm side up.

 

The Sword of the Creator flies into his hand and Byleth points it at Jeritza's neck. 

 

Jeritza stops moving. Byleth cannot even see the man breathe, nor blink. He presses the line of the sword further against the pale incline of the man's neck, and Jeritza shudders, absentmindedly. 

 

The tiniest drop of blood slides ever so slowly down the sword.

 

"I was hoping for a fight," Jeritza murmurs, "but I don't seem to mind this idea."

 

Byleth's eyes narrow.

 

He lowers the sword.

 

"Jeritza," Byleth says quietly, "despite everything, I have no interest in killing you. Nor do I have an interest in dying by your hand. We both still have much to live for."

 

For some reason, Jeritza looks near disappointed, even angry, at Byleth's casual remark. "The Death Knight will not stop killing," he claims. "He will never be satisfied until we duel, a proper duel to the death."

 

Byleth doesn't rise to the comment. He only sighs. The tea is now a disappointing lukewarm. 

 

"You know," Byleth begins, softer now. "Mercedes asked me to look after you. She still cares for you, you know."

 

Jeritza doesn't say a word.

 

"She left a slice of cake aside for you on her birthday," Byleth continues, mercilessly. "Mercedes never takes off that relic you gave her. She still calls you Emile-"

 

"Stop," Jeritza says, but Byleth has never really been one to relent.

 

"Mercedes looked ruined when she discovered that it was you under that mask."

 

"Don't."

 

"She was pleading with me to protect you, you know."

 

"Do not say another word-"

 

"For the next couple of days, she showed up to class with puffy eyes and-"

 

"STOP!" Jeritza cries out, stopping the tea cup in favor of his scythe and raising it over his head, slashing down at Byleth. Byleth merely quirks his head to the side dodging the fatal blow. It still scratches his cheek, and instead of tea, the faint smell of blood fills the air.

 

"What do you gain from telling me this?!" Jeritza demands, still shaking. "I cannot go see her. I cannot be at her side until the Death Knight is-"

 

"I don't care about whether or not you think you can be with her," Byleth replies, downright cold. "What matters is what she thinks. I don't care for you, truly."

 

Absentmindedly, he traces the rim of the tea cup with a long finger, before setting it down. "Whether you like it or not, Mercedes has always been thinking of you. There has always been a place for you at her side. I honestly could not care less what you do with this information. But if you hurt her, I will make you experience things worse than death. Understand?"

 

Silence.

 

Jeritza's lips part.

 

Suddenly, a soldier bursts through the door. "P-pardon!" Jeritza lifts the mask off of the ground, and slips it back on before turning towards the man.

 

"What is it?" Jeritza demands, tone icy. Byleth watches the man swallow visibly. 

 

"T-the Knights found us! What should we do?"

 

Jeritza glances briefly back at Byleth, who quirks the side of his lips and lifts the tea cup to his mouth. He turns back around. "To your stations. Bring me my horse. It's time to play."

 

The man scurries off, looking eager to escape from Jeritza's presence. With one hand, Jeritza rips the scythe from the wall. "We are not done talking."

 

"Are we not?" Byleth asks, tilting his head to one side. "I've said my peace. Whatever happens next is up to you. Go on, then. I'll play off of your next moves."

 

Jeritza studies Byleth for a few seconds. "You confuse me," Jeritza confesses. "I don't know what to do anymore."

 

"That's not my problem," Byleth says. 

 

One final look, and Jeritza leaves, slamming the door shut.

 

Sothis is running her hands down her face. "It is about to be our problem," Sothis complains, looking even more worried than before. "What will you do if more serious consequences happen because of this talk?!"

 

"...Divine Pulse?" Byleth offers quietly. "I'm sorry, Sothis. But Jeritza makes me so angry."

 

She sighs loudly. "Better than feeling nothing at all. By the way, you are insufferable. What now?"

 

Byleth picks up the Sword of the Creator, running a finger over Jeritza's blood. "I was expecting Monica or Cornelia to show up," Byleth confesses quietly.

 

"You're right!" Sothis exclaims. "And wait, doesn't the Flame Emperor make an appearance after the battle? We must be ready!"

 

Byleth gently guides both Flayn and Linhardt's heads off of his lap, making sure not to lay their heads upon the broke shards of the tea cup. Once he's sure that they're not going to roll and cut themselves onto the sharp bits, he uses the sword to help prop himself up, shaking the entire time. He's finally to his feet, and yet Byleth feels wildly out of breath. It feels as if it's been hours.

 

"What kind of spell did that man hit me with?" Byleth demands, his voice trembling with exertion. 

 

Sothis puts a finger to her chin. "I think that he just whipped a thunder spell at your head and hoped for the best," Sothis replies. Byleth blinks.

 

"I feel terrible," Byleth says simply.

 

"It was a head wound," Sothis responds. "Even the greatest of warriors can fall to the dumbest of blows."

 

"I appreciate the backhanded compliment," Byleth says, inching himself closer to the door. Once he's at the other side of the room, he collapses onto the wall right next to the doors, feeling weak in the knees. 

 

Sothis places gentle hands on his arms, to help prop Byleth up. "I'm sorry that I couldn't be much help," Sothis says.

 

"S'okay," Byleth replies, a little sleepy. "I know you did your best. But you gotta fill in the blanks later, alright?"

 

"Hm?"

 

"I think that there's something that you're not telling me," Byleth tells her, never one to dodge a subject. His voice is really shaking now. "But it's okay. You can take your time. I-I trust you."

 

Byleth cannot hear her reply. He's too focused on the sweaty back of his neck, the familiar grip of the Sword of the Creator in his hands, Flayn and Linhardt tucked in the corner of the room.

 

He takes a deep breath and waits.

 

The door swings open.

 

Stepping out from behind the cover of the door, with the last of his strength, Byleth whips out the sword as hard as he can. Whoever it is, they catch the blade, and it pierces through their gloved hand, blood dripping to the floor.

 

Byleth doesn't even have time to be surprised as the person tugs at the blade and pulls him out of the shadows.

 

"How dare you use the professor's sword, you-

 

A blink.

 

"Professor?" Dimitri demands, sounding incredulous. Dimitri loosens his grip on the blade, uncaring of the deep, bloody gashes left in his palms. 

 

Byleth cannot answer. 

 

He's far too shaken by the sight of Dimitri absolutely covered in blood.

 

It's stuck in his golden hair, tucked into his clothes, decorating his lance, smeared across his face, nestled in the hollow of his throat. 

 

It's so reminiscent of Dima that it steals Byleth's breath away from his lungs and drops him years and years into a future past that Byleth would not wish upon anyone.

 

It's not the Dima that kissed him softly under white bedsheets and it's not the Dima that sent him off with a smile so gentle that it had imprinted itself onto Byleth's soul.

 

It's a Dima Byleth has not seen since-

 

Dimitri drops his lance and brings both hands, despite them drenched in blood, up to cup Byleth's face. He presses his forehead against Byleth's, then pulls away to rub a thumb over the cut that Jeritza left on Byleth's face.

 

The prince opens his mouth and Byleth can hear nothing else, not even the cacophony of fighting beyond the door.

 

"Who did this to you?" Dimitri asks. It's soft, and surprisingly tender, yet so dark that Byleth can hardly see the bottom in his words. It feels as if Byleth's going to be swallowed up.

 

Desperate to find his words, Byleth tries to speak. "Did- did you, Death Knight- was he-"

 

"The Death Knight? He was here? Did you see him?" Dimitri demands, and now Byleth is just more confused. Did Jeritza not join the fight? "Did he do this-"

 

The last thing Byleth sees before he passes out is his own reflection in Dimitri's eyes, stunned, and green, so very green.

 

.

 

Byleth wakes up and everything is a mess.

 

He wakes up in Manuela's office under thin sheets, and is promptly pulled into his father's arms. Byleth nearly sobs in his embrace, pretending not to feel the tears falling onto his head. The mercenaries are at the foot of his bed, fast asleep, hastily picked flowers gripped so tightly in their hands that even sleep was not enough to loosen their grip.

 

The Blue Lions are there as well, even Linhardt, who surprisingly woke up earlier than him. It's Annette that moves first, bringing Byleth into a hug that crushes him. Everyone joins in soon after, pressing Byleth to their chests and not letting go. He ignores their sniffles, and politely does not watch Ferdinand wipe a stray tear from his eye nor Ashe scrub at his face with his sleeves.

 

Dimitri does not join the hug, but he tucks a strand of pale green hair behind Byleth's ear, almost absentmindedly, watching Byleth but not seeing him.

 

He takes note of how Felix watches him, watches Dimitri too, with wary eyes. He wonders what Felix is thinking.

 

He wonders what they have seen. He supposes he could ask later.

 

"I'm fine," Byleth tells them. 

 

Judging by the way they follow him to the audience hall, they do not believe him. The Blue Lions follow him so closely he can feel the heat of their bodies follow. He knows for certain that they will listen in. His father has a careful hand on the small of his back, and guides him inside.

 

"I'm not weak," Byleth says, trying to keep the bitterness out of his voice.

 

"You never were," his father whispers back. "I know that, I know. But... Just let me dote on you for now? I was so, so worried, Byleth. Don't ever do anything so reckless ever again."

 

Byleth swallows, and allows himself to be led into the chamber. Sothis slips a comforting hand into Byleth's own.

 

The audience hall is just as daunting as usual. Rhea, a glaring Seteth, and-

 

Cornelia. And Monica.

 

Byleth doesn't have time to wonder what they're doing here before Rhea strides over to him.

 

"Oh, my goodness, Byleth," Rhea says, and cups his face gently. "You are alright, correct?"

 

"I- I am."

 

"That's a great relief," Rhea breathes, brushing at Byleth's bangs. "I wouldn't know what to do were you injured- I wouldn't be able to bear it!"

 

Byleth and Sothis share a look.

 

"I am grateful for your worry," Byleth begins, a little slow. "But it is unnecessary. I am alright now."

 

"Please, allow me to worry for you," Rhea insists, still soft sounding. 

 

"I worry enough for the both of us," Jeralt cuts in, tone gruff. "It's fine, Rhea."

 

Rhea takes a moment to collect herself before smiling again, serene as ever. "You're right, Jeralt. I apologize if I seemed overbearing."

 

Byleth shakes his head, desperate to clear the awkward air. "No, no," he denies. "It's fine."

 

Seteth clears his throat loudly. "So, professor. What really happened? I heard that you were the only one awake-"

 

"If you're going to accuse my kid of kidnapping Flayn," Jeralt interrupts, voice sharp and dangerous. "Then I won't be content to just stand here quietly-"

 

"That was not my intention. I-"

 

"No, Seteth, enough." Rhea cuts in, glaring slightly. "We have Byleth right here. He can tell us what happened. Who did this? Was it the rumoured Death Knight? We have yet to see him again, although we cannot ignore the fact that he may be a part of this."

 

Seteth scowls to himself. 

 

Byleth takes note. He probably entertained the thought that he kidnapped Flayn, and thus was a target for his distrust, even though that couldn't be further from the truth.

 

He takes a deep breath, and a dangerous gamble.

 

Thirteen Divine Pulses. 

 

"It was Monica," Byleth says, monotone. 

 

"What?!" The woman in question shrieks. 

 

Well, Byleth wasn't entirely lying. "I was out on patrol with Linhardt when she struck us. I don't know when she kidnapped Flayn, but when I woke up, Flayn had been kidnapped as well."

 

Monica turns bright red, nearly as red as her hair. "He's lying," Monica spits. "I wouldn't do something like that!"

 

"I have no reason to lie," Byleth continues flatly. 

 

"These are serious accusations," Seteth steps in, eyebrows raised. "Do you have any proof?"

 

Keeping his tone as bland as possible, a very simple feat, Byleth cocks his own brow. "I was there when she knocked me out," Byleth continues. "I wouldn't mistake the one trying to kidnap me."

 

Monica begins to panic, hands fisting in her skirt. "I- I didn't do anything! These are unreasonable accusations! Unjust!"

 

Jeralt folds his hands across his chest. "Okay. Linhardt, come in."

 

Linhardt opens the door to the audience hall, face blank as ever. Byleth almost curses aloud. He forgot to factor in whether or not Linhardt had seen Monica before passing out, or whether or not he would confess to the Death Knight being the one to knock Byleth out.

 

"Linhardt," Rhea begins. "Was Monica the one to attack and kidnap you?"

 

The boy raises a hand to cover his yawn, but meets Byleth's eyes, not looking away for even a moment. "She was," Linhardt agrees. "Monica was, in fact, there."

 

Seteth straightens. "I've heard enough. Miss Monica, anything to say about that?"

 

Monica pales, turns green, and then turns red, all in quick succession. She looks at Rhea and Seteth, then Byleth and Linhardt. Jeralt steps in front of them, hand on the hilt of his sword. She turns to Cornelia, as if making a decision. 

 

Well, if she pulled out a weapon, Byleth would kill her. 

 

"She ordered me to do it," Monica spits, pointing at Cornelia with an accusing finger. "She was the one who- guh-"

 

Cornelia raises her hand, and Monica sinks to the floor, a hole in her chest. Sparks dance across her fingers. The girl sinks to the floor, hands desperately clawing at the wound, as if trying to scoop the blood back inside. 

 

"You... Betrayed..." Monica wheezes, and then dies.

 

Byleth feels nothing.

 

He wanted to be the one to do it.

 

"The desperate, false accusations of a desperate woman on death's door," Cornelia simpers, eyes cold. "Pay no attention. I ordered her to do nothing. I hope that you believe me, professor."

 

Byleth looks at her, gaze solemn. "If you say so," Byleth says, monotone. The blood seeps into Byleth boots and Byleth takes a deep breath of new air.

 

What does it mean, about them, that Linhardt is the only one to flinch away from this sudden death, the sudden sight of blood? Byleth allows Linhardt to tuck his face into his shoulder as Rhea orders the knights to clean up the mess.

 

A meaningless, hollow death befitting a meaningless, hollow woman. Byleth walks out of the chamber, shoulders lighter. 

 

He would think of a way to get rid of Cornelia later. Now, sleep.

 

.

 

There is a quiet knock on Byleth's door that night. He presses a pillow to his face and whines a little before sitting up on the bed. He's missed an entire month, and despite the fact that he was asleep for most of it, he felt as if he was awake the entire time. He has so many things to catch up on.

 

Sothis rolls over in the bed, rubbing at her eyes. "If that's Linhardt, don't answer."

 

Linhardt would not knock.

 

She groans, stretching out, distinctly catlike. "You're right. Just in case, bring your sword."

 

Byleth complies without a word, opening the door with his right hand and hiding the sword behind it on his left.

 

Flayn stands behind the door, hands on her hips. "Professor," Flayn greets, trying her best to sound stern. 

 

He is momentarily stunned at the sight of her. "Flayn? It's the middle of the night. You should be sleeping."

 

"I could say that to you, many nights ago, and yet you still slipped into my room," Flayn drawls. "Don't think that I have forgotten."

 

Sothis swears up a storm, as Byleth opens the door wider for her to come in, already dreading the conversation.

 

Flayn steps inside, arms folded across her chest. "Leave the door open a bit," she demands, and Byleth cannot blame her. He props the sword against the wall and crosses the room in hopes of making her feel more safe.

 

Flayn gets straight to the point.

 

"May I begin with asking you what on earth you were doing in my room? You and Linhardt? If you do not divulge the truth, I will go to my brother right now and have him come after you."

 

Byleth doesn't see a way around this. He takes a deep, deep breath. "I'm from the future," he says, and Sothis screams into a pillow.

Chapter Text

For some reason, they're all kneeling in the center of Byleth's room.

 

Byleth began sitting with his back straight and his fists clenched across his lap, and Sothis precariously leaning across his back, but the more and more he kept retelling his story and the more scrunched up, disbelieving looks he received from Flayn, the more he slumps over and wilts.

 

"Divine Pulse," Sothis reminds him, but she is also not immune to Flayn's odd looks, and it soon becomes a chant. "Divine Pulse, Divine Pulse, Divine Pulse Divine Pulse Divine Pulse-"

 

Sothis, I can hardly hear myself!

 

"Perhaps it's a sign from some higher power that you should stop talking," Sothis retorts pointedly, curled up like a cat on his back. "I mean, look at her! Look at her judgemental face! She clearly doesn't believe you in the slightest!"

 

Byleth chances another look at Flayn. She's not looking at him anymore, actually, but she's got one hand to her chin and she's glaring at her lap as if it held all of the answers.

 

"So... that's it." Byleth says simply, finishing off with the shortened version of his untimely death. Actually, he was still sort of angry about his death. How could he die to a dagger? He's survived worse, much much worse, and yet he still died in such an unfortunate manner.

 

No, there was nothing he could do about it now. There was no reason to think on it any longer.

 

...But there Byleth was, still thinking about it, still wondering what he could have done to prevent dying, to protect Dima... 

 

"So I was kidnapped by the Death Knight," Flayn says, almost whimsical about the matter. "Therefore, in this lifetime, you burst into my room to try and prevent me from getting kidnapped in the first place. However, not only did you not prevent me from getting kidnapped, but you yourself got kidnapped, as well as Linhardt. Am I right?"

 

Byleth nods quietly.

 

Flayn takes a deep breath and stands. Byleth rises to join her, but she whips out an accusing finger at him and he immediately drops back to kneeling upright. "No, you stay down there," Flayn practically commands him, doing her best to emulate Seteth in her tone. "I still haven't decided if I believe you or not! And whether or not you had good intentions, you burst into a lady's room in the middle of the night!"

 

Sothis' fists are raining down on Byleth's back. "Byleth!"

 

I know what you want to say, Byleth thinks back desperately, but even if I used a Divine pulse, she would still come to my room! What do you think I should have done, Sothis?

 

"I don't know," Sothis scoffs, "maybe not tell her that you are from the future?!"

 

But I don't want her to think that Linhardt and I were intruding on her room for unsavory or nefarious reasons, Sothis.

 

"Lie and say you heard a sound or something from her-"

 

"Professor!" Flayn declares. Byleth's spine straightens.

 

"Yes?"

 

For some reason, his response seems to have thrown her. "For someone that may be in big trouble," Flayn comments, "you seem rather calm. Have you accepted that I am going to tell my big brother and have him rain hell down upon you and Linhardt?"

 

Byleth sighs quietly. "I'm telling the truth," he says softly, "I don't expect you to believe me, though. I genuinely was worried about your safety and well being, and realize only now how rude of me it was to simply burst into your room, regardless of intentions. I could have told you about-"

 

"But I would not have believed you," Flayn says, matter of factly. 

 

He inclines his head in response.

 

"Byleth?" Sothis whispers.

 

Yes, Sothis?

 

"When did you become eloquent without my know how?" Sothis demands, sounding so surprised that Byleth is almost insulted. "That apology was somewhat articulate! I am so very proud."

 

Wow. Thank you, Sothis.

 

"I do not appreciate your sarcasm, Byleth-"

 

Flayn clears her throat. Maybe Byleth was conversing with Sothis too long, for it seems as if Flayn's come to a decision. He's absolutely ready for her to bolt out of the room and return with a bloodthirsty Seteth, eager to separate his head from his shoulders.

 

So when she gives him an appraising eyebrow, Byleth is almost surprised. 

 

"Professor," Flayn begins, doing her very best to sound serious. He politely pretends that he does not hear the cracking dip in her words. "I want to believe you. The entire time you've been here, you've seemed very kind. Even to me, someone not of your class. That's why... That's exactly why I want to believe you. But a war? Edelgard and the Adrestian empire declaring war on Fódlan and the church and using beasts as a means? That's almost too incredulous to believe, professor!"

 

Byleth nods. "I wouldn't expect you to believe me so simply." 

 

Sothis slaps her palm across her forehead. "Byleth, perhaps if you want her to believe you, maybe you should not try and convince her otherwise."

 

Flayn's fists clench in her dress for a moment. "You have said that I had joined the Blue Lions. That we were close allies and friends. So tell me. Tell me something about myself that you should not know, and I will believe you."

 

Byleth stares for a moment.

 

"Well?" Flayn demands, tapping her foot impatiently. "This should be easy for you. If you are from the future, and we were close, you should know something about me that you should not know in the moment. Or were you making all of this up?"

 

He purses his lips.

 

"Seteth is your father and not your big brother," Byleth blurts, hoping that will be enough.

 

Flayn goes wide eyed, mouth gaping wide open, alike to the fish she adores. Byleth tilts his head to one side, wondering if that was truly enough to convince Flayn. A thought occurs to him. "Oh. Your favorite fish is the Teutates herring," Byleth continues, hoping that it's enough to sway her opinion.

 

"No, no, wait, what?!" Flayn demands. "What did you say?"

 

"Your favorite fish is the Teutates herring," Byleth repeats dutifully. 

 

"No, professor, you know what I mean! The thing you said before!" Flayn demands, a wild look in her eyes.

 

Byleth makes a tiny sound of understanding. "Ah. Seteth is your father."

 

Flayn sinks to the floor slowly, fingers to her temples. She's mumbling to herself loudly. Byleth allows her to mumble in peace.

 

"But... Father... Did I ever...? No, it has to... Why did...?"

 

Sothis sighs, finally relaxing against Byleth's back. "I think that you broke her," she comments quietly.

 

Flayn continues to mumble to herself for a few moments longer.

 

"Okay!" Flayn declares, startling Byleth out of his daze. "Tell me the story again."

 

Byleth really just wants to sleep. "Can this wait until morning?" He pauses. "Please?"

 

"No," Flayn says, shaking her head so hard her hair whips around with the movement. "No, tell me again, professor. This time, I'll listen properly. I believe you now."

 

.

 

Apparently, Byleth, Flayn and Linhardt have not been kidnapped for long. It's still Horsebow Moon, although late in the month, and Byleth has missed Petra's birthday, but not Dorothea's. He's trying to think of plans to celebrate but it's really difficult when he's half asleep and trying to teach a class.

 

Byleth still can't wrap his head around the fact that it took everyone less than two weeks to find them. He's still really surprised. The month wasn't even over yet, and yet everything seemed odd.

 

For one, his students were definitely being odd.

 

Flayn had finally left his room an hour before classes started, finally satisfied with his story. He couldn't sleep for another half hour, because Sothis was yelling at him that entire time before passing out.

 

Thirty minutes later, he woke to the sounds of polite knocking at his door, and found Dedue on the other side, who offered to walk him to class.

 

Which was good and fine. Byleth loved Dedue. He enjoyed the polite, amicable silence they could share, and the soothing quiet of his presence. However, Byleth could not help but notice all of the Blue Lions try and subtly follow them. Byleth pretends like he isn't seeing Mercedes' getting her hair stuck in the bushes nor Ferdinand accidentally bumping into walls in an attempt to not let his eyes leave Byleth.

 

He supposes that they must have been slightly worried about him, so he allows them to follow both himself and Dedue without pointing them out. They reach the classroom without much fanfare, although he does see Claude and Hilda laughing hysterically at the Blue Lions' attempt to be sneaky and hide behind the benches.

 

Byleth politely turns a blind eye as he enters the classroom with Dedue. The boy slides into his desk without a sound.

 

"Professor!" Annette calls out, as she enters the Blue Lions classroom, like she didn't just follow him here for the past ten minutes. Mercedes and the rest of the Blue Lions follow close behind, far too casual to be genuine. She bounds up to him, and throws his arms around him, jumping into his arms. "I'm so glad to see you!"

 

Byleth catches the girl easily, twirling her around so he doesn't stumble under her weight. He sets her down. "You saw me yesterday," he tells her, and for some reason that makes her giggle.

 

"But I didn't see you for over a week," she whines. "And I was so worried about you!"

 

"What happened to you, professor?" Ashe asks, settling down into his desk. "Seteth nor Rhea nor your father would give us any details beyond the fact that that Monica did it!"

 

"That's right," Byleth begins, tapping a finger against his chin. "Annette, please head to your desk. Thank you all for saving Linhardt, Flayn and I. I'm proud of you."

 

The Blue Lions flush a delicate rosy pink at the compliment, but Byleth does not notice. "Okay. Can you tell me what you did in class while we were absent?"

 

"Woah, professor," Sylvain cuts in. "I can't help but notice that you dodged Ashe's question! What happened? Why were you all kidnapped?"

 

Byleth shrugs. To be honest, he still had no idea why he was kidnapped. Likely something to do with Edelgard, but he wasn't entirely aware of the specifics of the situation. 

 

There was that pinprick on Flayn's neck, there was the fact that it seemed as if they did not touch Linhardt nor himself, and then there was Jeritza, who didn't seem to join the battle this time. At least, Byleth was not sure of it. He distinctly remembers a really terrible tea party with the man, and how riled up he seemed whenever Byleth mentioned Mercedes, but Dimitri had seemed confused when Byleth had brought him up.

 

Byleth was also extremely wary. Did the Flame Emperor appear this time? Why did Cornelia just kill Monica like that? Not to mention, Dimitri was... 

 

"I don't know," Byleth says simply. "I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I also don't know why I was kidnapped."

 

"I think we were just," Linhardt begins, interrupting himself with a yawn, "in the wrong place at the wrong time."

 

Sothis huffs. "I feel as if this boy is only helpful when it may be entirely unnecessary," she says, looking at the boy with narrowed eyes.

 

"I have questions for you as well," Byleth says. "How did you all find us so fast?"

 

"What do you mean, professor?" Mercedes inquires.

 

Byleth cannot say 'because in my past life it took us a month to find Flayn.' Instead, he shrugs.

 

All of the Blue Lions look at each other, save for Dimitri, who is diligently staring at his lap instead of anywhere near Byleth. Byleth doesn't read too much into it.

 

"Well," Ingrid begins, folding her arms across her chest. "We didn't see you at breakfast, which we kinda shrugged off at first because you haven't been sleeping well lately and we assumed that you were just sleeping in- anyway. Not the point. We went to class and neither you nor Linhardt showed up for an hour."

 

Byleth's just surprised they waited in class for him for an entire hour. "And then?" Byleth prods carefully.

 

"And then," Cyril speaks up, running a hand through his curls. "Then we went to look for you guys. We thought you both were sleeping in. But you weren't in your rooms. So we went to go see your father to see if you were with him, and we went to the Black Eagles classroom to see if Linhardt was there..."

 

No one speaks. Byleth hums in acknowledgement. "What happened next?"

 

"We went to your dad," Annette says slowly, drawing the syllables out. "And he... He, uh..."

 

"He absolutely lost it," Felix cuts in, suddenly impatient. All of the Blue Lions shoot him a wide eyed look. "What? It's true."

 

"It felt as if he knew more than he was letting on," Ingrid continues, slapping a hand over Felix's mouth. "He immediately stormed out of the room, called his mercenaries, and marched to the audience chamber to, uh, yell, at Rhea. But he wasn't the only one. Seteth burst in soon after asking after Flayn."

 

Lysithea breathes out a little puff of air. "Ergo, kidnapping. Your father was so angry at Seteth. Did you know Seteth thought you had taken Flayn and Linhardt and ran? Ridiculous."

 

"I thought I was about to see the Blade Breaker in action," Felix says, sounding as if he was genuinely looking forward to it.

 

"Felix, not now!"

 

Byleth feels a little pleased. Perhaps it was odd to feel happy that someone was willing to throw down on the gauntlet on his behalf, but he was content nonetheless.

 

He cannot blame his father for being worried. Especially with the things he's told him. Hell, if any of his students, or his father, or the mercenaries got kidnapped, Byleth would likely be angry as well.

 

Byleth doesn't realize that his students are still talking until Felix says something that lays a hush upon the room.

 

"...Besides, the professor didn't see how the boar was acting when he was gone. An animal bending the knee because of their m-"

 

"Felix," Dimitri warns, and Byleth only realizes that this is the first time he's spoken since he's entered the room.

 

Even he can sense the tension simmering just beneath the surface. Byleth, in a hurry to change the subject, clears his throat. "Okay, everyone. That's enough."

 

But Felix is not done. "What is it, boar?" Felix spits. "Afraid you'll show the professor what's really lurking underneath those shallow depths? Afraid you won't be the perfect prince in front of him anymore? Pity."

 

Dimitri's fist clenches around his quill, and it snaps in half. The sound seems to echo around the classroom.

 

"Please don't fight-"

 

"Hey, guys-"

 

"Everyone-"

 

"That's enough," Sylvain declares, standing from his seat. His voice is hard enough that even Sothis snaps to attention. "Felix, cool it. Seriously."

 

"But that boar-"

 

"I know," Sylvain says, tone serious. "But this is not the time or the place. You might say something you'll regret later. Everyone's on edge right now."

 

Felix makes a sound resembling a growl before slumping in his seat and kicking a table leg. "Whatever."

 

When it doesn't seem like Felix will protest any longer, Sylvain slumps back down into his chair, looking exhausted. Byleth sympathizes.

 

"Your highness," Dedue says softly, cupping his hands around the hand that has broken the quill. "Let go of the quill. You may cut yourself on any of the sharp edges."

 

Dimitri takes a deep, deep breath.

 

He releases the pieces of the quill, and they fall into Dedue's hands. Dedue sets them on the corner of their shared table. "Professor," Dedue begins. "Could we borrow an extra quill?"

 

"I- I have one!" Ashe says, turning around and sliding a spare quill across their table. Dedue nods in thanks, and then nudges Dimitri softly.

 

Byleth watches as Dimitri visibly shakes himself out of whatever trance he's in to accept the quill. "Thank you, Ashe," Dimitri says, with a brittle smile.

 

The Blue Lions classroom is filled with the sort of heavy air and tension that Byleth wants to crumple under. He rustles a few papers at the front to have something to do with himself instead of wilt under the pressure.

 

Despite his two lifetimes, Byleth spoke better with a blade than with words. 

 

"...I hope you all did not neglect your training," Byleth says, softly.

 

The entire room bursts, eager to answer and to dispel the raising apprehension. "I obviously did my very best, as usual, in my training!" Ferdinand offers, bright and chipper.

 

"I learned a new spell," Mercedes adds, doing her best to ease the awkwardness.

 

Sylvain raises a hand in a smug manner. Byleth has no idea of how he was capable of doing such a feat smugly. "Well, I didn't train much," he says honestly.

 

"Sylvain!"

 

"Sylvain..."

 

"Seriously?!"

 

Byleth catches his wink and lazy stretch of his arms. He appreciates his attempts to make everyone shake off the odd tension.

 

Just as soon as the pressure had seemed to disperse, Flayn bursts into the room, Seteth hot on her heels.

 

"Hi, professor!" Flayn says, cheerily, with a wave. "I'm joining your class!"

 

"No, you are not," Seteth tells her, and judging by his tone he's had to repeat it several times.

 

"Yes I am," Flayn declares.

 

"No you are not."

 

"Yes, I am."

 

"Flayn, it is very dangerous! Even though your kidnapper is far gone we cannot ignore the fact that there are many other people that would wish to kidnap you!"

 

Flayn shoots Byleth a grand smile before she slams the door of the Blue Lions classroom shut. Yelling starts up behind the door, and a few of the Blue Lions immediately sidle up behind it and press their ears to the wood.

 

Byleth doesn't understand why. He can hear the bickering family from the front of the room. 

 

"...It has been a very long time since I have been a child...!"

 

"You don't understand how dangerous it is to..."

 

A moment of silence. 

 

The door bursts open and the Blue Lions go sprawling. 

 

"I'm joining your class!" Flayn declares, clapping her hands together cheerfully. Byleth does not miss the heavy glare Seteth's shooting him, and he and Sothis share a look.

 

.

 

After initial greetings and after class, Dimitri strides up to Byleth with the sureness of a war-hardened general stepping into yet another battlefield, confident that he will walk off of it again. "Professor," Dimitri greets, and Byleth has just lifted a hand in greeting when his hand is yanked away.

 

"Felix?" Byleth asks, confused, as the boy whisks him away from the prince, practically stomping away.

 

Felix says nothing as he drags Byleth out of Dimitri's direct vicinity, pulling at his hand harshly. Byleth allows this for a few moments, before deciding to say something about it. 

 

"Did you want to hold hands?" Byleth asks coolly. For some reason this makes Felix flush furiously and stomp away with even more aggression. He watches the boy go, now with more questions than answers.

 

This continues for quite some time throughout the rest of the day. Whenever Dimitri even so much as looks at Byleth, Felix appears out of nowhere and drags Byleth away by the hand, the wrist, an arm around the shoulders. 

 

Byleth indulges him for a little while longer until Dimitri begins to look like a kicked puppy and Dedue is sending Byleth almost pleading glances. 

 

The next time this happens, Byleth confronts Felix.

 

"Are you ready to explain why you've been trying to make sure that Dimitri and I never interact as of late?" Byleth asks, gently freeing his hands from Felix's tight grasp.

 

"I'm just surprised that it took you this long to ask," Felix spits, brows furrowing together. He looks shaken.

 

Byleth waits patiently. Finally, Felix collects himself.

 

"You need to be careful around him, professor." Felix warns, an underlying danger hiding just underneath the surface of his tone. "You don't know what he was like when you were kidnapped. More beast than boar. He's dangerous. You don't know what lies beneath that veneer of polite prince, professor. Trust me."

 

Byleth does not want to dismiss his student's concern, but wasn't it far too early for Dimitri to allow his wrath to make itself known? 

 

"When I was kidnapped?" Byleth prods softly.

 

Felix shakes his head, dodging the question. "It's not safe for you to be near him," he insists, avoiding the question entirely. Byleth frowns. He wasn't entirely convinced that his disappearance was enough to startle Dimitri that much. "He's not what you think he is."

 

"What I think he is?" Byleth asks. 

 

Felix nods solemnly. "Yes. That boar-"

 

"I just think that he's Dimitri," Byleth says simply. "That's all."

 

Inexplicably, the boy looks stunned. Then, he narrows his eyes. "No one knows that boar like I do," Felix says. "So you have no idea of how much danger you could be in."

 

"I never claimed that I know him more than you," Byleth says.

 

"That's not what I-"

 

"Felix," Byleth begins, and Felix falls silent. "Thank you for worrying about me. You're kind. I won't dismiss your worry, I promise. I'll be careful."

 

The boy says nothing for a moment before he scowls and brushes a few stray strands out of his face. "You shouldn't become any closer to him than this. He's already too attached, that boar. He's always- no, never mind. Duel me, professor."

 

Now, this is a ground Byleth feels steady upon. "You're on, Felix."

 

.

 

A firm knock at the door.

 

Byleth sighs. Recently, his space has been invaded by so many people. Sothis, taking up seven eights of his bed, Jeritza, who appeared briefly in his room several nights before, a curious Flayn, a worried Dedue, and now potentially, someone else.

 

He glances briefly over at Sothis, fast asleep in the gap between the wall and the bed, limbs sprawled everywhere. For a moment, he considers waking her, but ultimately decides that she needs her rest and that he's still got the day's Divine Pulses at the ready.

 

Byleth opens the door and Dimitri is standing on the other side, cheeks splotchy pink. He's biting down on his lip, near the point of bleeding.

 

His eyes are dark.

 

"...Can I help you, Dimitri?" Byleth asks, a little cautious. Although he's sure that he has yet to let all of his anger rise to the surface, Felix had been sure that he had seen something. Felix had always been incredibly observant, a skill that served him in battle and off battle. Although he was blunt and had no filter, Felix was quite intelligent. Byleth would not let down his guard.

 

Dimitri blinks, and then gives Byleth a once over, as if memorizing every bit of him, drinking in the sight. Byleth doesn't know how to explain such a gaze, so he ignores it entirely. 

 

"May I come in?" Dimitri asks, and Byleth wordlessly cracks open the door to allow the prince to pass inside. "Thank you."

 

Dimitri is about to sit down on the edge of the bed before he realizes it might be rude, so he looks at Byleth again. "May I please sit here?" Byleth nods, and he settles in onto the mattress. "Thank you, professor."

 

"I hope you don't mind," Byleth says, barely a whisper. "Seteth has given me some paperwork to catch up on. I'll have to work on it, so my attention will be divided. I hope that's alright."

 

"It's fine," Dimitri whispers. "I just- I just..."

 

Byleth hums. "You don't have to force yourself to tell me right away. Just take your time. I'll be here."

 

A sharp intake of breath. Byleth does not notice, pulling out the wooden chair of his desk and sitting down on it unceremoniously. He casts a brief fire spell upon the candle to light it. 

 

To be honest, he was going to ignore the paperwork, but he needs to find a way to keep himself awake as Dimitri finds his words. Byleth picks up his quill, dabs it briefly in a bottle of ink, and begins to write.

 

"Wh- what are you writing about, professor?" Dimitri asks, still soft.

 

Byleth brings the feather end of the quill to his lips. "Mm. Something about battalions. Because of my prior work as a mercenary, Seteth has been giving me small reports to fill out from time to time."

 

"About?"

 

"Work ethic," Byleth replies, starting to write again. "How much we pay them, how much it takes to restore their weapons, and so on and so forth."

 

Byleth thinks that the conversation is over, but Dimitri immediately asks another question. "I had no idea that you are in charge of such a thing."

 

"It's not something that you need to really know," Byleth responds slowly. He dips the end in ink once more. "Allow me to take on these simple burdens. It's of no real matter."

 

"O-oh."

 

Inexplicably, it feels as if Dimitri's gaze holds true physical weight and heat. Byleth knows that Dimitri is probably looking at his back, searching for words, but his stare is so intense Byleth can feel it upon his skin. He sighs.

 

"Are you ready to talk with me, Dimitri?" Byleth asks, looking at him over his shoulder.

 

Dimitri doesn't answer, in favor of staring at Byleth's face. It's not until Byleth quirks an eyebrow that Dimitri looks away. "Sorry. I didn't come here with any specific reason. I just... wanted to make sure that you were still here."

 

"I'm here," Byleth reassures him softly. "And I'm fine. There's no need to worry anymore."

 

"You don't understand, professor," Dimitri says. "I just... I just don't know how to explain it. I just wanted to see you. I missed you."

 

Byleth blinks. "I'm right here."

 

Inexplicably, this makes Dimitri laugh. "I know. But I... When you were kidnapped, I didn't know what to do. Usually, when I am in need of guidance, you are right there, ready to support and encourage me. But this time..."

 

Dimitri stands from the bed slowly. It creaks in protest as he crosses the short distance between them.

 

"When you speak," Dimitri begins, teetering dangerously between dark promise and soft, simple affection, "it quiets everything else."

 

Everything else?

 

Byleth ignores Sothis snoring in the corner of his room. "You and I are the only ones here," Byleth says.

 

"Were that it were true," Dimitri mumbles, heartbreakingly quiet. 

 

"It's just us," Byleth informs him. "You're okay, Dimitri."

 

There is a moment where nothing moves, and then suddenly Dimitri's hand is near Byleth's neck. It takes every inch of self control for Byleth to not flinch away or call his sword.

 

Dimitri's index finger settles on the hollow of Byleth's throat, and Byleth ceases to breathe. It's a barely-there pressure, feather soft, but still there, and still too intimate for Byleth's tastes.

 

"You have a beauty mark here," Dimitri comments, too casual. "Just a tiny one, difficult to see, but there nonetheless."

 

Byleth gently bats Dimitri's hand away to run his own fingers over the spot, as if he could touch it himself. "I haven't noticed," Byleth replies softly.

 

"There's a legend in Faerghus," Dimitri says, stepping out of Byleth's personal space and holding his hands behind his back as if preventing himself to touch Byleth any more than this, "a legend that says that a beauty mark or a mole represents a wound one has received in their past life."

 

For a moment, Byleth freezes.

 

Was Dimitri-

 

He allows himself to dwell on the thought a moment longer before mentally shaking his head. No. Unless Sothis had been secretly living in Dimitri's body as well, there was no way. Byleth was absolutely confident. 

 

"I'll still be here in the morning," Byleth says abruptly, and Dimitri seems to shake himself out of whatever trance made him so bold. "So it's okay. Sleep well, Dimitri. Don't think that I have not seen those eye bags."

 

Knowing a dismissal when he heard one, Dimitri steps away from Byleth and towards the door. He's smiling, dimples showing. Any trace of darkness still lingering is still flickering briefly across the prince's face, haloed by candlelight. "Good night, professor," Dimitri says. "Don't you dare think that I have forgotten about the Death Knight. Or about the secrets you are hiding. Sleep well."

 

Dimitri leaves the room, shutting the door gently behind him. 

 

"Good night," Byleth tells the air, and then blows out the candle.

 

.

 

"That's enough for today," Byleth tells the Blue Lions, wiping sweat from his brow. "Good work, everyone."

 

The sun was already setting upon the very next day. Byleth had to work on a training regimen for Flayn, who he knew had weaker defense than most, and was skilled with magic, so he paired her up with Dedue for sparring. Although Dedue was a wall, Flayn did manage to get some really good hits in, which seemed to even the odds.

 

Like the other additions to their class, the Blue Lions had taken to Flayn quite quickly. He appreciated that they did not treat her like glass, nor Linhardt. Especially not after Byleth had relieved some stress taking Felix down with one swing. He was still very, very angry that he was managed to be knocked out by Jeritza.

 

Speaking of Jeritza, Byleth was curious as to where he went. He asked Mercedes, and a few of the staff, and yet no one seemed to really know. Manuela had commented about seeing him sometime after the kidnapping, but other than that, apparently nothing. Byleth kind of wants to kick down his door. He probably was no longer there, but he indulged the thought for a moment longer before tossing such thoughts aside. Another time.

 

His father opens the door to the training hall suddenly, flanked by the mercenaries. "Hey, Byleth. Training okay? Didn't find anything wrong?"

 

Byleth shakes his head, and then turns back towards the Blue Lions. "Please clean up before you leave. You are dismissed. Please go and have dinner."

 

"Where are you going, professor?" Ferdinand asks, and Byleth has a feeling that they want to tag along to protect his dignity or something else as equally ridiculous. 

 

"Nope," Jeralt says, shaking his head. "Brats can't come. We're going to a tavern."

 

"I am an adult," Sylvain informs them. The mercenaries all laugh as one.

 

"Captain said no brats," a mercenary says, shaking their heads. "Besides, we've been planning this outing for awhile and-"

 

Several mercenaries cover their friends' mouth with their hands, shushing him.

 

Byleth tilts his head to one side. "You have? But you told me about this only this morning?" He glances at his father, but the man only shrugs. 

 

"We're stealing Byleth away for the evening," the mercenaries say, grabbing Byleth from all sides. Byleth sighs and allows himself to be kidnapped. 

 

Jeralt ruffles his hair affectionately, then gives the Blue Lions a brief look that can only spell trouble. "Happy birthday, kiddo," Jeralt says, fondly. His smile crinkles affectionately around the edges.

 

"Oh," Byleth says. "I had forgotten." 

 

"You forgot?!" Sothis shrieks, a tad bit incredulous. "Even I know when your birthday is!"

 

Sothis, we share a body.

 

She sticks her nose up at him. "Well, this is your body, and you don't know your own birthday! I wished you happy birthday this morning but you were half asleep and waved me off! Goodness, Byleth!"

 

You did? Thank you, Sothis.

 

"W-well, you don't need to thank me..." Sothis mumbles, a little shy now.

 

"Professor!" Annette declares loudly. "It's your birthday?! And you didn't tell us?!"

 

"It's not that important," Byleth tells them, shaking his head. "I hardly remember my age."

 

Ashe sputters. "Not that important? Professor, you always go all out whenever someone has a birthday! Let us celebrate together!"

 

Mercedes claps her hands together with an innocent glee. "Let's make a cake, professor!"

 

"Nuh uh," a mercenary says, clinging to Byleth's arm. "We called dibs. We bought gifts. Get in line."

 

"On that note," Jeralt says, a little more cheerful than usual. "We're kidnapping your professor. See you."

 

Before he's dragged out the door, he can see the Blue Lions huddle together. Whatever that was, he could worry about later.

 

.

 

It didn't take long for the mercenaries to get absolutely drunk. 

 

They're standing on tables, singing shanties, weeping on Byleth's shoulder about how old he is now and how cute he was as a child and how they thought his hair being paler was some sort of rebellious phase- all sorts of embarrassing things. They keep singing happy birthday every hour, raising their mugs of beer to the ceiling and being a general nuisance. Unfortunately for Byleth, their energy was infectious, and it didn't take long for the entire tavern to get rowdy, too.

 

Byleth sighs, but can't hide a smile. He's carefully moving his meat pie occasionally to make sure a drunken mercenary or otherwise patron of the tavern steps on his food in the bar. "Have you admitted defeat yet, father?" Byleth asks Jeralt, raising his own mug to his lips. Sothis has already passed out in the back of his mind. "Besides, you know that you are not supposed to drink this much."

 

Jeralt pats Byleth's back affectionately. "It's fine, it's just one night. And it's your birthday." His father has raised his voice so he can be heard over the cacophony of noise. "We gotta celebrate."

 

"If you are going to give me a birthday gift then give me the gift of you stopping drinking."

 

Jeralt makes a grunt. "That's right. I do have a gift for you, Byleth."

 

Byleth feels like an excited child again, waiting for his father to present him a gift on his birthday. Jeralt presents him to him a dagger. Byleth gasps when he sees it. He knows this weapon. He knows the curve of the blade, the design upon it, the monotone colours that gleam in the dusty, yellow light of the tavern.

 

Byleth knows this dagger. He knows this blade, this weapon, because it is what Kronya used to kill his father in his past life.

 

"I had a sheath made for it," his father tells him, presenting him with a black leather cover for the dagger. "You told me that I died in your past life to this same dagger. So, here it is. My life, in your hands."

 

Byleth immediately slips it into the sheath and pushes it back into his father's hands. "I don't want it," Byleth says, and despite everything, his voice is shaking.

 

Jeralt pushes it back towards him. "Take it. Okay, I'm sorry about the comment about my life being in your hands. That was insensitive of me. I don't plan on dying any time soon, and you better not be dying either. But you told me about how this wasn't any old dagger. Manuela did say something about how it killed my insides or something more eloquent than that, right? Well, I think a weapon like this would go to waste in the hands of someone like Monica. Rhea told me to take care of the body, and she had this on her. I'm surprised that she didn't use it on me."

 

"Don't say that," Byleth pleads, and then leans his head on his father's shoulder. "Please don't say things like that."

 

"I'm sorry," Jeralt says, sincere, and full of regret. "But, kiddo. I seriously want you to take this. It'll give me peace of mind."

 

Byleth glances down at the Sword of the Creator, attached to his hip, then glances back at his father. Jeralt snorts.

 

"You know just as well as I do that the more weapons, especially hidden ones, the better."

 

Byleth sighs, relenting. He takes the dagger from his father's hands, shaking quietly. He glances down at it, and unlike the emptiness he felt while looking at Monica at his feet, he feels a dark rage crawling up his throat, desperate to be freed.

 

"Couldn't you have gotten me a normal dagger?" Byleth asks, and his father laughs. He tucks the dagger into his cloak and feels wildly uncomfortable at the added weight. 

 

"I also bought you some new gauntlets," Jeralt says, a little quieter now. "But they are back at the academy."

 

"Thank you," Byleth says, trying to forget the weight of that dagger in his hands.

 

Jeralt nudges him with his elbow. His father carefully scans the tavern, and listens to the level of the loud noise in the tavern before dropping his voice to a whisper. "Come on. Tell me stories about that... that past of yours. You told me the important things, but I wanna hear the smaller details too."

 

Catching on to his father's attempts to change the subject, Byleth quirks the side of his lips and takes another swig of his drink. "What would you like to know?"

 

His father stares down into his drink, then smiles at Byleth. "I don't know. Maybe about the Blue Lions, grown up? Like that princeling. That kid went kinda wild when you were gone, huh. Tell me about the him from your future."

 

"Ah," Byleth says. "Well, I called him Dima. Dima and Dimitri are two entirely different people, as of right now."

 

Jeralt nods along, taking another sip. 

 

"Ah, that's right," Byleth says, a little distracted. "I was going to marry him."

 

Byleth watches in complete and utter awe as his father spits out his drink. "You were going to what?!" His father shrieks, and Byleth briefly deliberates on the fact that he's never heard his father's voice become so high pitched before, when he realizes what he's just said.

Chapter Text

After Byleth helps his father guide the trashed mercenaries into their assigned barracks, and after his father pushes another gift in his hands and kisses him on the forehead softly like he did when he was a child, Byleth finds himself sitting on his bed, examining the dagger.

 

He pulls it out of the sheath and luxuriates in the sound of a singing blade. Casting a small fire spell, Byleth examines the dagger- nothing about it seemed out of ordinary. Byleth could already tell by the sound- it was sharpened and created by someone who knew their way around daggers. He did not begrudge the dagger, rather, the person who wielded it, but he still didn't want to keep it. 

 

It's as if Byleth's become possessed. An urge washes over him, at first slowly, then all at once. The tiniest temptation, a small whisper multiplying into the roaring echo of a crowd. He wants to touch the dagger, press the tip of the blade to his fingers. It's a mind numbing curiosity, one that he's almost about to act out on-

 

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Sothis says quietly. She's materialized next to him, a hand on his. Her skin is almost shockingly cold. 

 

Byleth stares at the dagger for a moment. "You're right," Byleth whispers back. "I don't know what came over me."

 

"I tend to be right," Sothis slurs. Byleth has only now remembered that she is affected by what Byleth drinks.

 

He laughs a little. "Sothis, are you drunk?"

 

"If I was, it'd- it's- it would be your fault," she declares. "Idi- idi- dummy." Although Byleth is inherently aware that no one can hear her anyway, he shushes her, still chuckling. He supposes that he was still affected by the infectious attitude of his father's mercenaries. Laughter did not come to him so easily.

 

Sothis, surprised at his laughter, allows a giggle past her lips. 

 

"I'm glad you're awake," Byleth tells her, setting the dagger aside on his pillows and standing from his bed. "I was worried that the day would end before I could say it."

 

"Say what?"

 

"Happy birthday, Sothis."

 

She blinks, then, uncharacteristically, she raises a finger at herself, a quiet question.

 

Byleth smiles, reaching up to his shelves to bring down his tea pot, and two cups. "Yes, you, Sothis. Happy birthday. I'm very glad that you were the one to inhabit my body."

 

Sothis snorts. "Yes, well, it's not as if there were an abundance of bodies to take. And you certainly kept me waiting! And what is with your memory, remembering only some things and absolutely forgetting the rest!?"

 

Byleth rummages through his drawers for the Seiros tea he was setting aside for this occasion. "Okay," Byleth says. "Come with me, but close your eyes."

 

"What?"

 

He huffs dramatically, as if her question was a bother. "I said, close your eyes, Sothis."

 

"This is moronic," Sothis announces, but closes her eyes obediently. Byleth does not hide his smile. 

 

Balancing the tea pot and cups in one hand, Byleth takes Sothis by the other hand and heads toward the dining hall to boil some water. He catches her peeking and arches his eyebrows at her. 

 

Sothis rolls her eyes, but Byleth can see her flush indignantly. 

 

Once the tea pot has been filled with hot water, he takes her hand again and directs her towards the greenhouse, glancing back occasionally to make sure her eyes are closed. Sothis' eyes are clenched shut, and she's frowning with the force of her expression.

 

Byleth cannot hold back another chuckle. "Okay," Byleth says, "open your eyes."

 

Sothis opens one eye very slowly. Then the other. She stares.

 

At their feet in the greenhouse, a row of purple zinnia flowers are blooming, dewy in the moonlight. 

 

"I had no idea what to give a goddess," Byleth says, slightly nervous now. "I did not even know that zinnia flowers existed. Apparently my mother enjoyed them. I had to ask my father and the mercenaries for help in breeding them so you wouldn't know. It is very hard to make gifts a surprise if you share a body with them."

 

The nervousness is making the words just fly from his lips. And Sothis has yet to say a word.

 

Another moment.

 

"You..." Sothis begins, and just as abruptly, cuts herself off. "You. When did you...?"

 

Byleth shrugs. "You fall asleep often. I just had to to my best not to think about the gift, so you wouldn't bother to look in my memories for it." Byleth tells her. "Oh, that's right. If you dislike these, I can apparently breed green zinnia. Or red. Or yellow. I also bought you an armoured bear, but I didn't know if you would like that."

 

"Well, you had no idea if I would even like flowers," Sothis spits, and Byleth freezes in place. "Besides. You know I cannot touch these, right? What would I do with flowers?"

 

"Admire them?" Byleth asks, shoulders tight with worry. "I can always get you something else. When you have a body, you can do whatever you want with these flowers. We can figure it out together."

 

Sothis crouches down, eye level with the flowers. She reaches out to one, and her fingers pass through the petals. 

 

Byleth does not know how to explain the look on her face. Something about her expression, highlighted under the pale light of the moon, is so very melancholy that Byleth is stunned into silence.

 

"Get me some tea," Sothis says.

 

Byleth blinks.

 

"Now, Byleth!" 

 

"But you cannot drink it, Sothis."

 

Byleth cannot see her face, but Byleth can sense her frown. "Well, you got the two tea cups for a reason, right? Get me some tea!"

 

He huffs in response. He was intending on having a pseudo tea party with Sothis, but it was odd to be commanded to have tea with someone.

 

Jeritza comes to mind. Byleth makes a face at the thought of him, and busies himself with preparing the cups of Seiros tea, sitting cross-legged on the greenhouse floor.

 

When he looks up from the steaming cups, Sothis is sitting in front of him. Byleth's mouth gapes slightly. "What?!" Sothis demands. "Got anything to say?"

 

Tucked into her hair are two purple zinnia flowers, somehow held up by her ornamental head piece. Byleth closes his mouth, then opens it again. "How did you-"

 

Sothis tilts her chin up arrogantly, as if looking down on him. "I said, got anything to say to me?"

 

Byleth closes his mouth, and Sothis nods. "That's what I thought," she says. "Well, go on! You know I cannot drink this myself!"

 

He hurries to pick up the cup and take a sip. Instead of drinking from her cup, Sothis swirls a finger around the rim. "Well?" Sothis asks. "How is it?"

 

"It's good," Byleth tells her after a moment, letting the flavour fill his mouth. "I prefer black teas over fruity teas."

 

Sothis reaches up into her hair to adjust her flowers almost nervously, but Byleth isn't sure that they would ever move. "When... when I had a body," Sothis begins, and Byleth struggles not to choke on his tea lest he interrupt her, "I think that I liked black tea."

 

"Oh?" Byleth prompts, hoping she would continue.

 

"I don't know," Sothis persists. "Perhaps it is because you like it that I like the tea."

 

"That's fine," Byleth replies. "When you get your body, I will make you this tea again so we can figure it out together."

 

The goddess smiles at him. "That sounds wonderful, Byleth. It's a promise. Oh. And make me some sandwiches. And those cookies you bring to your tea parties. I am not even sure that I have had cookies before."

 

Something comes to mind, unprompted. "Sothis?"

 

"Yes, Byleth?"

 

"How much do you remember about your past, again?" Byleth asks, pouring himself another cup. "For some reason... I thought that you remembered some things...? Am I remembering wrong? Like you have said many times, my memory is not impressive. Perhaps your memories are the key..."

 

No answer.

 

Byleth looks up at Sothis to see her already staring at him, face wiped of any and all emotion. "Sothis?"

 

"Can we not talk about this right now?" Sothis says, voice hard. "It's our birthday. A later time. I promise."

 

Something about her expression silences Byleth's thoughts. "Okay," Byleth relents. "But later. You promised."

 

"Later," she agrees, practically staring a hole through him. "Have you decided what to do with that dagger?"

 

Byleth knows an out when he sees one, even as dense as he normally is with social queues. "Ah. I guess that I am keeping it. It was a gift, after all."

 

"I think it'll be useful," Sothis agrees easily. "Manuela said that it was a strange weapon, sometime in your past life, correct? A hidden weapon is always useful, Byleth. You would do well to hide it.

 

He frowns at the thought of using the weapon. "I understand," Byleth allows, and really, he does, he just never wants to use the dagger. 

 

"Bestow upon it a name," Sothis suggests, watching the steam rise from their cups and disappear into the air. "You cannot keep thinking of it as 'the dagger' or 'that weapon' forever, Byleth."

 

"But it is just a dagger."

 

"If so, then why are you so angry?"

 

Byleth blinks. "I'm not."

 

"You are," Sothis insists, gesturing down to Byleth's clenched fists. He loosens them up, and she smirks. "Byleth. It's alright. You will not let your father die this time. The dagger will be a tool for you to rid yourself of your enemies. It is only a dagger, Byleth. And you are above it."

 

The tea swirls soundlessly in the cup.

 

"I'll name it pointy," Byleth says.

 

Sothis' jaw actually drops. "You are not naming it pointy."

 

Byleth feels a little offended. "What is wrong with the name?"

 

"Absolutely everything," Sothis says. 

 

Byleth can feel himself actually pout. "Fine. What are your ideas?"

 

She puffs up a little at being addressed. "Well, what about the dagger of-"

 

Immediately, Byleth shakes his head. "Rejected."

 

"You didn't even let me finish!" 

 

Byleth cannot handle Sothis' names either. "Ah yes. My dagger called the dagger of the something. Astounding. Our enemies will surely tremble at the name alone."

 

"I don't know where you learned sarcasm from," Sothis spits, "but I don't appreciate it. And isn't your sword named the Sword of Creator?"

 

He shakes his head. "I did not name it. So no, this one was out of my control."

 

Sothis sighs. "Fine. What about..."

 

"...Dima?" Byleth suggests.

 

"That's worse than pointy," Sothis sneers, her expression enough to make Byleth look away. "You are absolutely not naming your dagger after your maybe-betrothed. Besides, you shouldn't refer to the dagger that once killed your father as Dima."

 

Ah. That was indeed correct. "You're right," Byleth says. "Okay, Sothis, anymore names?"

 

She puts a hand to her chin, as if deep in thought. "Hm. Well, perhaps something more abstract?"

 

"You're the one with knowledge," Byleth says simply. "I don't know anything."

 

The goddess smirks, long and languid. "You hardly need to put yourself down to egg on my ego, Byleth. But... Hm. Nuada? Airgetlam? Xifídio?"

 

"Wait," Byleth says. "You said one I liked. Eir something."

 

"Airgetlam," Sothis says. "A fine choice."

 

"Lammy for short."

 

"Absolutely not."

 

Byleth nods. "I've decided. Lammy the dagger."

 

.

 

When Byleth walks into class, he is faced with an odd sight. 

 

The Blue Lions are all huddled around one desk, looking as if they are holding an important meeting. They gasp when the doors open, and immediately run back to their desks as if nothing ever happened.

 

"Good morning, professor!" Ashe says. "How was your sleep? What did you get for your birthday!? And happy- uh. Happy belated birthday!"

 

Both Linhardt and Ingrid, who were sitting on either side of him, nudge him so hard he yelps.

 

"Literally what part of subtle do you guys not understand..." Byleth hears Felix grumble to himself.

 

"Thank you Ashe. I slept well." Byleth responds, walking to the front of the room. "And my father gave me a few weapons. The mercenaries gave me-" 

 

Byleth wonders if saying 'a headache' would be too much. "They paid for my drinks and dinner," Byleth says. "I also received some new teas."

 

Dimitri clears his throat. "May I ask what weapons?"

 

Byleth hums to himself. It couldn't hurt to tell them. "New gauntlets," Byleth says. "And a dagger."

 

"Ah," Dimitri says. Dedue nudges him. "Well, uh. Do you like them?" The prince then winces, as he didn't mean to say that.

 

"I do," Byleth replies. "I always could do with more weapons."

 

"If you had to ask for a specific gift," Annette asks suddenly, her hand shooting up, "what would it be?"

 

Byleth has to take a moment to think about it. A whisper of a thought.

 

Edelgard's head. The answers to his questions. The reasons why Rhea seemed to favor him so much, and why did his sword move, and why the dagger was able to kill his father so fast, and why he was dreaming of a false Dima, Edelgard's reasoning-

 

"I don't know," Byleth says. "I have almost everything I need."

 

"Boo," Sylvain says.

 

Byleth frowns. "Money, I guess."

 

It's Mercedes' turn to frown. "Professor, that's too impersonal!"

 

To be honest, Byleth has never cared much for material things. Living as a mercenary made him appreciate his sword calluses, the clothes on his back, warm stew and good company on cold nights, and of course, money. 

 

He shrugs. "I have everything I need."

 

Silence. Then suddenly, Sylvain speaks up again. "Okay, but if you did want something, what would you want?"

 

"I already told you that I have everything I want," Byleth says simply. "Well. I want you guys to live long, happy lives. Is that enough of a wish?"

 

Untouched by war and Edelgard's ruling fist, Byleth doesn't say.

 

The Blue Lions are silent, staring at him wide eyed and open mouthed. Byleth assumes that he's never this sappy. He clears his throat. "Well, shall we start class?"

 

"Wait, professor!" Lysithea calls, raising a hand. "Free your schedule this weekend."

 

"Why?"

 

Lysithea stomps a foot under her desk. "Just- just free it up!"

 

"Alright, I will," Byleth agrees easily. Besides, he spends his free time running around for the students and the staff anyway.

 

.

 

The rest of the week seems to get weirder and weirder.

 

Dorothea asks him his opinion on certain songs. Ignatz inquires as to what sort of art he likes. Even the staff are asking him odd questions, like Manuela wondering if he likes chocolate cake or vanilla. His father seems to be accosted by the Blue Lions on every occasion, and whenever Byleth asks what they're asking Jeralt, his father just ruffles his hair and his Lions suddenly find that they're meant to be somewhere else.

 

The advice box questions are odd as well. He gets questions as to whether or not he likes certain teas, or if he's allergic to anything. Byleth has no idea why any of the students or staff actually care about such information, or if it actually matter to them in their day to day lives.

 

There's a memorable one in the mix, too, just because it is so much longer than the usual notes.

 

I have an embarrassing crush on someone that I one day wish to share with them. They have given me a ring, allowed me to confide in them, gave me courage and strength, and so much more. They have supported me through so much, even if they themselves are not aware of it. 

 

Although I have no plans on confessing until later in the future, when I am worthy of them, they are so terribly oblivious to any sort of advances from me or any other person that I fear that one day I may get down on one knee and they would worry about my clothes getting scuffed. In fact, their birthday was just recently, and they neglected to tell us because they didn't think it was important, and that they had forgotten! They are so blissfully unaware about my feelings for them, let alone platonic ones. What should I do? How should I make them aware that people care for them?

 

Byleth puts a finger to his chin, then writes back.

 

They sound horribly unaware. Perhaps try and be more direct about your feelings? Surely they are aware of the signification of a ring. Good luck. Oh, and greet them happy birthday for me.

 

Satisfied with his answer, Byleth slides the paper into the advice box and leaves to sit at a pew. Mere moments later, Dimitri walks up to the advice box, flanked by Sylvain and Dedue. He reaches in and reads one of the papers. 

 

Byleth watches in confusion as Dimitri buries his face into the paper. Sylvain and Dedue pat him on the back sympathetically.

 

The odd week continues.

 

Caspar barges into the Blue Lions classroom one morning, looking disheartened and bright eyed.

 

"I just realized something," Caspar had declared, voice loud despite the early hour. "I think that if I had been in your class, that professor and Linhardt wouldn't have been kidnapped on my watch- wait, why are all of you looking at me like that?!"

 

After a few more yelling sessions, Caspar had plopped himself down into the seat next to Dimitri and had absolutely refused to leave.

 

"Heyyyy!" Caspar exclaims, raising his hand for a fist bump.

 

Dimitri stares at it for a long moment before covering Caspar's closed fist with the palm of his gloved hand. Like the most awkward handshake in the world.

 

"Goddess above," Byleth hears Sylvain whisper.

 

"I guess that's another one," Sothis groans loudly.

 

.

 

The weekend arrives and Byleth is about to leave his room, when he finds Ferdinand on the other side of the door.

 

"Hello professor! Good morning!" Ferdinand greets, far too cheerful for early morning.

 

"Good morning," Byleth greets. Sothis peers at Ferdinand from behind Byleth's back, and glares weakly at him. 

 

"At least it isn't Linhardt," Sothis snarls. 

 

Sothis.

 

"What?!" Sothis demands, and Byleth winces away from the sound.

 

Ferdinand clears his throat, smiling widely. Byleth is a little stunned in the wake of all of this positive energy so early in the morning. Normally, he's incoherent for the next few hours until lunch, but the brilliant shine of Ferdinand's grin jolts him awake.

 

Byleth straightens his posture. "May I help you?"

 

"I was wondering if you would like to eat breakfast with me?" Ferdinand asks, and his voice is nearly teetering on the side of too loud. 

 

"Sure," Byleth agrees easily. "But why not just meet me in the dining hall and ask me there?" 

 

Ferdinand flinches. "Uh, well, I was wondering if we could. Eat somewhere else today?"

 

Byleth is getting a little suspicious. "What happened," he demands, shifty. "Did Annette set the kitchen on fire again?"

 

"No!" Ferdinand exclaims, then, a little quieter. "No..."

 

"So why aren't we eating there?"

 

The boy looks literally everywhere else but Byleth's face. "Well! I was hoping for a change of scenery! Perhaps the greenhouse? Or in the classroom?"

 

"I don't mind," Byleth says easily, even more suspicious now. "But where are we going to get the food from if not the dining hall?"

 

Ferdinand practically jumps. "OH-! We had forgotten- oh- uh! Professor! Just meet me in the greenhouse! I shall fetch us some food!"

 

Byleth watches as Ferdinand runs off- in the direction of the dining hall. He sighs and leaves his room for the greenhouse.

 

Busying himself with caring for the flowers, Byleth waits for Ferdinand to arrive. Barely a few minutes later, Ferdinand hobbles into the greenhouse with a platter of eggs and some bread.

 

They sit on the edges of the flower beds, eating in polite silence. Then, Ferdinand speaks, after a particularly large bite of eggs.

 

"I'm really glad you invited me to join your class, professor," Ferdinand admits.

 

"I'm glad you joined," Byleth says easily. He really does care for Ferdinand. Although he didn't know him as well in his past life, he did care for the boy, and regret that they had to cross paths on the battlefield. 

 

Ferdinand smiles softly, poking gently at the yolk of an egg so it spills over the white. He dips a piece of bread into the runny yolk. "The Blue Lions... they're very kind to me. And the rest of us who transferred. Dimitri is a very good leader. He will be a fine king someday. He is someone that could potentially be Edelgard's equal... No. At this moment, he's probably more suited."

 

"Well," Byleth begins slowly. "You're a lion too."

 

For some reason, Ferdinand's eyes widen imperceptibly. "...You are correct. I am indeed a lion now! Ah, and don't tell Edelgard that I said that."

 

Byleth raises his eyebrows. "Said what?"

 

"Said that I think..." Ferdinand blinks. "Ah. You are very clever, professor!"

 

He takes a bite of the egg-soaked bread before saying anything more. "I think... Professor, can you keep a secret?"

 

Byleth nods quietly.

 

Ferdinand's voice drops, even though no one is in the greenhouse save for the two of them- and Sothis, who is trying her best to stay awake on Byleth's shoulder. "I think that Edelgard is trying to spy on you," Ferdinand whispers, which is not at all what Byleth expected him to say. 

 

That jolts Sothis up from her sleep-induced stupor. "Wait, what?!"

 

"...What makes you think so, Ferdinand?" Byleth whispers back, matching his tone.

 

"Well, when she wanted me to join your class, she asked me to report anything about you that I found suspicious," Ferdinand says. "But don't worry. I don't think you're suspicious at all. In fact, I think you are the very model of a perfect professor, professor!"

 

Byleth nods, waiting for him to continue.

 

"I think that she was unsatisfied with my lack of reports," Ferdinand says. "She also asked me what happened when... When we fought Sylvain's brother. Obviously I kept it a secret. I told her that nothing of note happened, and she was even more upset. She didn't even say anything when I requested to leave the Black Eagles!"

 

There is a moment in which Byleth can hear Ferdinand's voice tremble, and hear every little bit of insecurity in his voice. "Her loss," Byleth says. "In the upcoming battle of the Eagle and Lion, we'll make her regret that she didn't try and keep you in the Black Eagles."

 

Ferdinand stands, plate in his hands. "You're right, professor! She will rue the day that she ever underestimated Ferdinand von Aegir!"

 

Byleth nods along, finishing his breakfast.

 

"Allow me to take your plate back to the dining hall, professor!" Ferdinand says, brightly.

 

"I thought that the dining hall was closed?" Byleth says, watching Ferdinand turn pink.

 

"HAHA! Did I say dining hall? I meant. Uh. I meant-" 

 

"We'll take it from here, Ferdinand," a voice calls from the door.

 

Ingrid and Ashe stand just outside of the greenhouse, smiling. Ferdinand takes that opportunity to run out of the greenhouse, shouting goodbyes and laughing awkwardly loud.

 

Ingrid and Ashe whisk him away to the library to ask him what books they should use next for their book club. When Byleth tells them that he has no real opinion, they force him to sit down and read through a few myths and legends with them, as they share their opinions with Byleth. A few hours pass just like this, and suddenly Linhardt and Flayn appear, of all people, and yank Byleth away to do some fishing.

 

"I haven't forgotten what you've done," Flayn tells Linhardt, as she attaches bait to a rod.

 

"Really? Well, I've forgotten already."

 

Flayn's face floods with colour. "You..."

 

Linhardt sits down on the fishing pier, kicking his legs up in the air. "Me...?"

 

Predictably, despite everything that has just happened to them, Linhardt and Flayn get along, and then don't get along, and then get along, and just as quickly fall asleep on Byleth's shoulders. Byleth sets them down gently on the ground next to him, and continues fishing until the day turns to dusk. A few cats come by, attempting to take some fish. Byleth allows them to steal a few before swatting them away. He does want to keep some, after all.

 

Someone tugs on his sleeve.

 

Byleth looks down to see Linhardt pulling at him, one arm over his eyes. "What is it, Linhardt?"

 

"You cannot be this dense," he says, as a greeting. "I know you're aware of what the other lions are doing."

 

"Mm. What are they doing?" Byleth asks.

 

Linhardt doesn't answer. He takes a deep breath. "Professor. Do you trust me?"

 

Before Byleth can say anything, Linhardt sits up, yawning into his hand. "I want you to trust me, professor. I think you know exactly why we were taken. And I think you told Flayn."

 

Byleth knows his face is perfectly blank, but he still wants to wilt under Linhardt's intelligent gaze. "I don't know," Byleth says, still honest. He may be vaguely aware of why they were taken, but he doesn't know the details.

 

"Why have you told Flayn and not me?" Linhardt asks, barreling on as if Byleth had not even spoken, and Byleth cannot remember a time that he's ever heard him sound so... Petulantly. Indignant. Pouty. 

 

"Told Flayn what?"

 

Linhardt sighs. "So you won't tell me. Don't worry. I'll find out what you're hiding soon enough."

 

To his surprise, Flayn comes to his defense, awake now. "The professor? Told me what?" She rubs at one eye, sleepily.

 

The boy makes a face. "So you're both in on it. It's fine. The rest of the Blue Lions should be expecting us by now."

 

He walks off towards the dining hall, yawning once more. Byleth watches him go, swearing quietly in his head.

 

Flayn nudges Byleth. "What are you going to do about him?"

 

He shrugs.

 

"More importantly, what are you going to do about Edelgard?" Flayn asks, a hush now. "We must plan it out."

 

"We?" Byleth asks, and Flayn puts her hands on her hips. 

 

"Of course, we! How could I sit idly by whilst Edelgard plots Fódlan's doom?" Flayn declares, and Byleth shushes her. "In fact, I have been trying my best to disrupt her plans as best as I can! I tripped Hubert and the halls and passed it off as a mistake, when I really did it on purpose!"

 

Byleth has no idea how that helps their plans, but he appreciates her enthusiasm. 

 

"Are you coming or what?" Linhardt calls, already at the top of the stairs before the dining hall, and Byleth and Flayn hurry to his side.

 

The dining hall is dark when they enter, but suddenly the windows fly open, and a few dozen fire spells are lit, revealing the hidden people in the room. 

 

Dimitri and the rest of the Blue Lions stand in front of Byleth, presenting him with a cake. There's a little lion decorated onto the frosting.

 

"Surprise!" The Blue Lions declare. "Happy birthday!"

 

"Belated birthday," Linhardt corrects.

 

"Belated birthday!" They cheer again, enthusiasm not curbed in the slightest. "Happy belated birthday, professor!"

 

Byleth stares at them for a moment. There's frosting on Sylvain's cheek and flour all over Dedue's clothes. In the corner of the room sit Jeralt and the mercenaries, who wave when Byleth looks at them. Mercedes' hair has been pulled up into a bun, and Felix's hair has something that resembles egg stuck in a few of the strands. The dining hall is covered in little decorations- paper flowers, actual flowers, streamers, and candles. There is already a feast laid out on the long tables, dishes of delicious looking steamed fish, a clear soup with noodles inside, roast meats with gravy, some sort of vegetable looking dish- the aroma is incredible.

 

"Ah." Byleth says.

 

"Is that all you have to say?!" Lysithea demands. "We worked so hard-"

 

"No," Byleth replies. "I'm just surprised. You did all of this... For me?"

 

"Of course they did," Jeralt calls, from the corner. "These brats have a weird attachment to you!"

 

Byleth regards all of them, their wide eyes and their round cheeks. They are all so very young, eager to please, eager for acknowledgement. 

 

"Thank you," Byleth says, trying to put as much emotion as possible into his voice. "Really, I mean it. Thank you." He smiles too, for good measure.

 

The Blue Lions stare.

 

"What is it?" Byleth asks.

 

"Your smile... is mesmerizing!" Dimitri says, after a moment. Byleth blinks, because he knows this line. He's sure that Dima has said this before, an entire lifetime ago. "I love seeing you like this!"

 

"Yeah!" Annette agrees. "You have such a beautiful smile, professor! You should smile more often!"

 

"Oh," Byleth says, a little embarrassed now. "Well, thank you."

 

Dedue looks at Dimitri, and when the prince nods, Dedue takes out a book from behind his back. "Here. You said that you didn't have any need for material things, so we had this made for you."

 

Byleth takes the book from his hands. "Thank you," Byleth says, as he opens it. "You didn't have to get me anything..."

 

Professor! Thanks for letting us start a book club, and for everything you've done for me and my family! I've told my siblings about you, and they really want to meet you! It's kind of embarrassing to write down my feelings like this, but I am so grateful that you are my professor! You have given me so much confidence and strength! Please let me know if I can help you with anything in the future, if you need me, I will run to your side! - Ashe.

 

Byleth's eyes widen. He flips to a random page.

 

Professor, thank you for the fish! And for trying to save me! And for keeping my brother at bay!

 

Thank you for always helping out prince Dimitri and I. Know that I will always be in your debt. I appreciate your constant help.

 

Even though you steal my students, I am really glad that you came to the academy! Let's go drinking sometime, handsome!

 

You're a decent sparring partner.

 

I love you, kiddo. I will always be there for you.

 

Words cannot express how dear you are to me. For everything that you are and everything that you do, thank you. Thank you for being in my life.

 

There's more from each student, pages and pages of thanks and nice thoughts. Byleth's eyes widen the more he reads it. "Oh," Byleth says, quiet.

 

"I hope that's a good oh," Ingrid says. 

 

"It is," Byleth says, still reeling. 

 

Ashe coughs into his fist, shifting from foot to foot. "Well? Do you like it?"

 

"I love it," Byleth responds honestly. "I really do. Thank you."

 

"It was Sylvain's idea," Dimitri admits.

 

For once in his life, Sylvain looks a little shy. "It was all of our ideas," he says, not looking at Byleth.

 

"Okay," Cyril says, "I am glad that you like it, but can we eat already? I'm hungry."

 

Byleth sighs, but bites back a chuckle.

 

They dig into the meal with fervent enthusiasm. Of course, Annette starts with the cake, and Mercedes scolds her. It is very obvious to anyone within hearing distance that Sylvain is attempting to play footsie with Felix under the table. Lysithea is trying to steal Flayn's dessert, much to the girl's chagrin.

 

It's a wonderful meal. Sothis teases him about smiling too much.

 

At the end of the night, when everyone has full bellies and are stumbling back to their rooms, Byleth is pulled aside by Dimitri.

 

"May I speak with you for a moment, professor?" Dimitri asks.

 

Inexplicably, Sylvain is crooning Dimitri's name teasingly from a distance. Byleth ignores it in favour of turning his attention to Dimitri.

 

"Of course, Dimitri. What is it?"

 

"I wanted to formally greet you happy birthday," Dimitri says. "And give you... A gift. From me. Not the entire class, just me."

 

He pushes two boxes into Byleth's hands, procured out of nowhere. "I wanted to get you a dagger," Dimitri tells him, "but your father already bought you one."

 

"I don't mind more weapons," Byleth tells him, opening one of the boxes. Dimitri's hands cover Byleth's and slam the box shut gently, but abruptly.

 

Dimitri is bright red. It's obvious even in the pitch black darkness. "Please don't open it in front of me," Dimitri says. "Well, goodnight!"

 

Without another word, Dimitri practically runs away.

 

What was that all about?

 

"I don't know," Sothis says, with the tone of someone who absolutely knows something. "But you should probably open it now."

 

Byleth heeds her request and opens the first box, which has a beautiful brooch inside. It's wonderfully made, even to Byleth's untrained eye, with a lion insignia on the front. Byleth immediately attaches it to his front.

 

The second box has a ring inside.

 

"Oh," Byleth says. "It's a critical ring." He examines it before sliding it onto his finger, noting the ring of blue on the inside and the pleasing appearance to the eye.

 

"Fits quite well," Byleth comments. "What a thoughtful gift. It will be quite helpful in battle."

 

Sothis drops her head into her hands and makes a muffled sound.

 

.

 

Byleth is quite surprised at the amount of visitors that he is receiving recently. He almost wants to hang a sign up on his door, telling them not to knock during certain hours. Perhaps that would dissuade them.

 

A knock.

 

Perhaps not.

 

Still, it could be important, so Byleth slides out from under his bedsheets and opens the door a crack.

 

Rhea is standing on the other side.

 

Byleth is so surprised he nearly slams the door on her face.

 

"Hello, professor," Rhea says, serene. "May I come in? I have something to discuss with you."