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Believe In Me, As I Believe In You

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Believe, believe in me, believe, believe
That life can change, that you're not stuck in vain
~”Tonight, Tonight” by The Smashing Pumpkins

It was yet another night where Dimitri couldn't sleep, not when the ghosts were screaming at him so.

They all hated him for surviving when they didn't, condemned him for failing to bring them peace… although, he was starting to even wonder where their loathing ended and his own began. It was nearly impossible for him to tell anymore, but at least one thing was certain - like one who felt pain from the sun after remaining so long in the darkness, the persistent overtures of kindness from his companions cut him deeper than any sword or lance ever could. Perhaps madness was his albatross, and yet in a way, it was also his savior, the only armor he had to protect himself from the compassion that his forsaken friends unfalteringly bore for him.

… From the compassion that she still bore for him.

Byleth…

Out of them all, she had the most cause to despise him, especially after how he’d treated her - after what he’d done to her. And yet, she was ever his steadfast ally, always fighting by his side to help him accomplish his mad ends, despite receiving nothing but his harsh words in return for her tireless efforts.

Why? Why did she stay with him, with the Kingdom army? Unlike the others, she had no ties to Faerghus, no duty to him as a sovereign - her obligations were to the Church and Lady Rhea, not to him. All he wanted was for her to go, to be free of him before he dragged her into the abyss with him, trapping her there forever just like he was.

Or, maybe he already had. That awful day, in her quarters, maybe he already…

And now Rodrigue was dead, another person dear to him gone, another who had died while he yet lived.

It felt as if he’d fallen off a cliff so long ago, and now he was just desperate to hit the bottom, for it to all finally end. But no matter how far he fell there was no ground in sight, there never was, and instead he just kept falling and falling and-

“Dimitri…”

Byleth.

His head snapped in her direction, noticing how the strange but intoxicating shade of her hair and eyes seemed to glow against the backdrop of the dark, night air.

But… why had she come to him? Why did she have to look at him in that way, especially after…? Didn’t she realize how much it hurt him to be cared for, especially by her of all people, when all he truly deserved was her scorn?

As he continued to stare at her, he let his madness embrace him like a welcomed lover, intending to push her away once more - to keep on pushing until she finally stopped coming back. But after Rodrigue had died, he was in too much pain to even muster forth any of the dormant anger toiling within him, too drained to wield it like a weapon against her.

“Please… just leave me,” he pleaded instead, his voice breaking at the request. He simply couldn’t bear it anymore, how she tormented him, how everything tormented him…

“Come inside,” she said in return, ignoring his appeal. “It’s raining out… you’ll catch your death out here.”

Rain? Yes, that’s right, he could feel it dripping down his face, unlike the tears he seemed unable to ever cry. But she was wrong, because the rain wouldn’t kill him - he’d never be so lucky. Until his ghosts were satisfied, death wouldn’t find him, wouldn’t release him from this world.

If it were that simple, he would have taken his own life long ago. But his life, it wasn’t his to give… as the sole survivor of that horrid day, his life belonged to them, his ghosts…

“Dimitri,” she said once more when he remained silent, but this time, she reached out her hand to him.

Her hand…

She’d done the same thing several months ago when she’d first reappeared at the monastery, but he hadn’t taken it then. In that moment, he’d been certain that she was only one of his ghosts - after all, he could so clearly remember the potent despair he’d felt when she’d died, having to live those five years with the knowledge that she was yet another he’d loved and failed to protect.

Even so, he'd gone to the tower that day - on the very day of their promise - because he'd wanted her to be alive, for her to be there. He'd wanted it so badly, with every fiber of his being… and she actually came back.

She came back.

And now here she was once more - no matter what he did or said to her, she always came back - patiently waiting in the freezing rain for him to take her hand, as if she could hear him begging to be saved.

Her hand, though… her touch. It was so warm, so kind… just like her.

This time he allowed himself to reach for her, clasping her delicate fingers in his rough ones as he let her lead him away, knowing at that moment that he would do anything she asked of him - even fall onto his lance if she so wished it.

And yet, she never would wish it, would she? No matter how much of a monster he became, no matter how much of a wretch, those same hands had always protected him, kept him safe…

But as if the dead could feel that they were starting to lose their grip on him, their voices began to rise up again to claim him once more.

"Professor…" he muttered, clutching at her tightly. He wanted to use her name, her real name - Byleth - but he revered her so much that her name felt almost like a holy word, one that he had no right to even speak.

"You seem to have all the answers,” he then continued. “So, tell me… please, tell me. How do I silence their desperate pleas? How do I… how do I save them? Ever since that day nine years ago, I have lived only to avenge the fallen. It was the only thing that kept me alive, my only reason to keep moving forward. I can’t just…"

As he trailed off, she looked at him for a long moment, and at first it seemed like she wasn't going to answer him, that she'd taken his questions as rhetorical.

But then, she sighed, shaking her head as she looked to the ground.

"I can see now how I failed you as your professor, Dimitri," she told him. "What you always needed from me… it wasn’t lessons in swordplay, or tactics. Instead, I never taught you the one thing that you truly needed to learn."

"And what is that?" he asked.

"… How to live,” she explained.

“Oh?” he scoffed, nearly snorting. “So, I suppose you’ll tell me now that I should live my life to the fullest for those who died? That that’s what they would want of me?”

“No,” she responded, to his surprise. “If you did that, you'd still be living for the dead - just in a different way. So, I’m going to tell you the same thing that Lord Rodrigue tried to - that you should live your life for you, and you alone."

He bowed his head, and he could see large droplets of water starting to fall from his soaked hair as the rain continued to pour.

Rodrigue… 

"You make it sound so simple," he told her, his voice so soft that it was nearly a whisper. "But as the sole survivor of that day… is it not selfish of me to live that way? To see my life as my own?”

"It's not," she assured him, shaking her head to emphasize the point. "Your life is your own, Dimitri - it belongs to no one else. Not your ghosts, not the dead, not me, or any of us - just you. You asked me how to move forward earlier? Well, that's how. By living for yourself - by living for something you believe in.”

Something… he… believed in?

Only, what did that even mean? What did he believe in?

He supposed a thriving, prosperous Faerghus, first and foremost. But, also… a world in which the people of Duscur and all others could live without oppression. A world in which those with strength didn’t trample all over the weak.

A world without war, without the constant and senseless deaths of loved ones and innocents.

That’s what he believed in… that was the world he wanted.

“But, can I really do that?” he pressed, desperate to follow her advice, yet still too broken to hope. “There's already so much blood on my hands… how can I possibly turn back now? I'm nothing more than a monst-"

"It's all right," she promised, sounding so sure, so unwavering. "Everything's going to be all right, Dimitri. And you aren't a monster… I wouldn't be here if that were true. We've all done terrible and unspeakable things under the mantle of war - every one of us here. But, you… you've suffered so much, and because of that, you've lost your way. So now you have to trust in yourself… trust that what you believe in will lead you back to the right path."

“I… but, I can’t,” he insisted, pulling his hand away from hers so that he could grab his head as his voices fought against him, against her. “Please, I… I can’t do this alone! I’m not… I'm not strong like you are, Professor… I'm not strong enough to defy the ones that haunt me at every moment, to ignore their demands and follow my own path…”

She shook her head again. “But you are,” she insisted. “Your strength burns so brightly within you that it's almost blinding - can you really not see it? And besides, you aren’t alone, of course. We’re all here for you… I'm here. And I'm not going anywhere, Dimitri. Know that I will follow you until the end, whatever that end may be."

Those words… he'd said those same words to her once, not long after Jeralt died…

She held out her hand to him once more, and this time, he took it without hesitation. Because now he realized that there was something else he believed in - her. And for reasons he couldn't explain, she believed in him in return. But even if he didn't understand it, just the knowledge alone was enough, and it gave him a strength that had previously seemed unfathomable.

Byleth…

For nine whole years, he'd believed that he had no claim on his own life, that he had no choice but to live as a vassal for the dead. But maybe Rodrigue had been right, maybe she was right, and he could finally… finally…

“Come… let’s get out of the rain,” she suggested, squeezing his hand to emphasize the request. Her hand was so small compared to his, though, and he only felt the pressure in a few of his fingers. Still, even despite that, somehow the warmth of the gesture traveled throughout the entirety of his body…

He nodded, following her without question while they walked hand in hand, until he eventually realized that she was taking him to her quarters.

Her quarters… that was where he… where he'd abused her, defiled her…

He suddenly froze, causing her to look back at him with a curious expression.

“Not there,” he pleaded, not wanting to face it, and he could have sworn that he saw her bright, green eyes darken for a moment as she recalled what he did to her.

“It’s all right,” she assured him, but for the first time that night, her words seemed insincere. Even so, she continued to lead him, and this time, he followed without protest.

After they entered her room she shut the door, protecting them both from the cool outdoor air, although they were still shivering from the rain that clung to them. As she removed her shoes and left them on a nearby mat to dry, she then instructed him to do the same with his muddy boots.

“Here,” she said, removing his heavy, blue cloak and hanging it on her door, not seeming to mind as the dribbling moisture from the sopping garment formed a small puddle on her floor. She then grabbed a nearby blanket, wrapping it tightly around him.

She was so focused on the task that she didn’t seem to realize how close she’d gotten to him until his wet hair started to drip onto her from above, and as she looked up, she was almost startled to see that he was gazing down at her with intense scrutiny.

For a long moment, neither of them moved, but she eventually shook her head and turned around.

“I’m going to make some tea,” she told him, shedding her own wet cloak before donning a dry one. “Would you like some?”

He nodded in response to the offer, and despite everything, he almost chuckled. The professor and her tea… she seemed to just love hosting her little one-on-one soirées. He remembered the first time she’d asked him to join her… it had been five years ago, on his birthday. So often she was full of authority, and yet on that day, she’d seemed so shy to invite him, as if he could ever actually refuse her anything.

After tea, she would always give her students gifts - in fact, she often liked to shower her students in gifts. She claimed that it helped raise their motivation, which in turn helped them learn, and although he found it all to be quite silly, he couldn’t argue with her results.

But even if she was a bit strange, his professor - his Byleth - such gestures always showed how thoughtful she was. Never in his life had he felt closer to anyone, but he knew that everyone had felt close to her for that very reason - it was just a part of her essence, to draw people in.

That’s why he never could have fathomed that she’d actually love him in return, him of all people.

… But then, he’d only punished her for such feelings, hadn’t he? He’d hurt her in the worst ways imaginable in order to drive her away, because he'd known he didn't deserve her - that he didn't deserve happiness. In that moment, he'd needed only to ensure that she wouldn’t make the mistake of loving a wretch like him ever again.

How could he… how could he have…

“Dimitri, what’s wrong?” she asked, her apparent concern manifesting into a frown. “You haven’t touched your tea. Is it the conversation? I thought you enjoyed talking about equipment upkeep?”

“Hmm? Oh, no… that’s not it,” he assured her, tempted to join her in her dance of keen avoidance. But as his eyes caught sight of the desk he’d taken her so roughly on, he knew that he couldn’t… it wasn’t fair, not to either of them.

“You know, I’ve committed so many atrocities during these last five years,” he then started. “… Some things too horrible to even speak of here. They all haunt me, each and every one of them, and yet, the thing I regret the most - the one thing I can’t live with - is what I did to you.”

She promptly looked away from him, but not before he saw the sadness in her eyes, and goddess, how he hated himself for it.

“What I did… it was unforgivable, the deepest form of betrayal,” he continued. “All you’ve done since I met you is try to guide me kindly… even on that day, when you called me into your office and you told me that you… that’s what you were trying to do, wasn’t it?”

She didn’t answer him, didn’t speak, instead continuing to avoid his gaze. But like him, she had two sides to her - the unreadable stoic, and the warm professor with the mesmerizing smile. When acting as the former, it was impossible to know what she was feeling - if she was even feeling anything at all.

Yet still, he pressed.

"My actions were… truly detestable,” he noted, although the description didn't seem nearly severe enough. “So, tell me, Professor. How… how is it that you've forgiven me so quickly?"

Her eyes shifted to the desk, her expression still indecipherable.

"To be honest with you, Dimitri… I haven't actually forgiven you at all," she then admitted, and although her words pained him, he knew such pain was nothing less than he deserved.

"I see…" he grunted.

"But, this forgiveness you think you seek - in truth, it means very little," she informed him, sighing tiredly. "Do you really think my forgiveness would make you feel absolved of your guilt? Would it take away my pain or anger when I think back to what happened? No… ultimately, it would change nothing."

He bowed his head, burying his face under his long hair so that she wouldn't be able to read his expression, although he couldn't seem to stop his body from trembling.

How pathetic he was. He'd wanted nothing more than her contempt because his penance demanded it, but he'd overestimated how much weight, how much pain, he could bear.

"Dimitri… you aren't hearing what I'm telling you," she noted, sounding worried, and he latched onto the kindness in her voice like a starving dog might reach for scraps at the dinner table.

"I meant it when I said this changes nothing. What I promised you before outside - that I wouldn't leave you, that I wouldn't ever let you face anything alone - that's all still true."

He lifted his head, unable to withhold his shock.

"After all, I still care for you," she revealed. "I still…"

Loved him?

He could only pray that was what she'd meant to say, although he knew it would still be some time before she blessed him with such words again, considering how cruel he'd been the last time she'd spoken them.

But the fact remained that he'd hurt her, and he had to right that wrong somehow, someway… And even if that was impossible, he couldn't give up, he couldn't ever stop trying.

"I am glad to have you at my side," he told her, although such words of gratitude didn't seem to be enough. "From the bottom of my heart… I am forever grateful. And yet, if you really mean to stay with me, then would you at least allow me to try and atone for my actions?"

Of course, she owed him nothing - less than nothing - but still, he prayed she might still grant him this much. Yet even though her eyes remained expressionless at his offer, the slight tilt of her head conveyed her curiosity. 

"How?" 

"Well, you see, I…" He swallowed hard. "To start, I should probably tell you that I've been in love with you for quite some time now… even as far back as when I was still your student."

But his words didn't stir much of a reaction in her, as he'd hoped they might. Instead she only sighed, as if she were unsure how to even respond to such childish musings.

"Ah, so you don't believe me, then?" he questioned, slightly surprised. "Actually, as your student, I always thought my feelings for you had been rather obvious - that there was no way you couldn't have known. Although, I suppose I can't really blame you for your current doubt. We both know that I’ve been in a… in a bad place as of late. But when you and Rodrigue told me that I should live for myself, I finally realized something. I realized that what I want, what I truly want, is to have you by my side - always. At the very least, as an ally and friend, but if you’d allow it - if you would let me - then also, as my… my beloved.”

"Dimitri…" she breathed, almost as if she were in awe from his admission - although, she then shook her head, clearly conflicted by her feelings. “But, it just… it isn’t that simple anymore, not after…"

“I know,” he agreed. “And I know that I can never take back what I did to you. But if you’d allow it, I’d like to at least replace that horrible memory with a better one. Of course I don’t deserve for you to ever let me back into your heart again, and I don’t expect this or anything else to change that. And yet, even still, I want you to know just what you truly mean to me… so if you can't take me at my word, then please, let me show you.”

He was surprised, but encouraged, when she started to blush. “And how would you go about doing that?” she inquired, averting her eyes.

But he could still feel the scorn of the dead burning into him so blatantly, so potently, that it made him hesitate. Could he really do this, then? Could he really take that first step toward a life that he knew he had no right to claim?

Yes… yes, he could - he had to. Because to share his life with her with her was what he wanted - what he believed in - above all other things. And if he couldn't fight for this, for her, then how could he ever face the ghosts who haunted him? To follow his heart, in this and all other matters, was the only way he could ever try to atone for his sins.

Gathering his courage as if he were preparing for battle, he hurriedly cleared his throat, looking to her for strength - as he so often did.

“Well, first,” he then began, rising to stand. “… I would kiss you. Not in the way I did before, like some kind of feral beast… but in a way meant to demonstrate how precious you are to me.”

He held out his hand to her, relieved when she accepted the gesture, thereby allowing him to pull her to her feet. But he quickly let go, bringing his hands instead to the sides of her face as he gently ran them through her wet hair.

By the goddess, she truly was gorgeous…

Byleth…

“May I?” he then asked her, and although her eyes were wide with apprehension, she nodded, as if she were somehow as captivated by him as he was by her.

He wanted to appear calm and in command, but the truth was, his heart was beating at a mile per minute as he leaned down nervously to kiss her. As if instinctively, his eyes then closed just before his mouth met hers, and he wondered if he’d ever before felt such content, such bliss. Yet if he'd thought her hands had been soft before, that was nothing compared to her lips - goddess, her lips - and while his hands remained entangled in her hair, he continued to press his lips tenderly against hers, scarcely allowing himself a moment to breathe.

And yet, it still wasn’t enough - he needed more of her - and as if on its own accord, his tongue soon brushed against her mouth to seek entry.

He almost pulled away right then and there, angry at himself for not taking things slowly like he’d promised himself he would; yet, such thoughts were immediately abandoned when her mouth opened and her tongue met his.

Goddess, how he would have given anything in that moment to know what she tasted like! Until now, he’d never rued the fact that his sense of taste had been taken from him at Duscur… And yet, even so, the feeling of her tongue pressing against his was so meaningful, so intimate, like a heartfelt promise that could never be spoken.

Eventually, though, he forced himself to break the kiss, resisting the urge to return his lips back to hers - instead, catching his breath so that he could speak to her once more.

“Somehow, the closer I get to you, the closer I yet need to be,” he then told her, letting his fingers idly caress her beautiful face. "But if you wish it, I could be content to worship at the altar of your lips forever…"

"Could you?" she challenged, guiding his head down to hers until their noses were pressing together, her warm hand brushing against the nape of his neck. "Is that what this whole exercise of yours is for, then? To show me how you feel by demonstrating your restraint?"

He felt his cheeks starting to redden as she teased him.

"You jest with me, but… surely you must know how I… how much I…"

For a moment there was a strange kind of softness in her eyes, yet she then closed them and bridged the small gap between his lips and hers.

"Byleth…" he breathed into her, saying her name out loud for the first time and enjoying how the word seemed to linger on his tongue. "Tonight, I wish to know every inch of you. Were you to allow it, I would undress you now… not quickly, but slowly, so that it would surely be the most wonderful form of torture…”

To his surprise, she nodded to grant him permission, and his eyes drifted to her body, admiring the way in which her wet clothes clung to her. Still, he was even more anxious to see her without them, and as his mouth returned to hers, his hands managed to find the small string tying her cloak together. 

Slowly, carefully, he pulled at it, until the garment dropped sensually to the floor.

Her collar was next, but this time his mouth followed his hands to her neck, to her chest where her broach hung, causing it to take an inordinate amount of time to undo the small, white buttons. He was just too distracted by the feel of her skin on his lips, by her alluring scent, by the curvature of her breasts… by the way she instinctively seemed to arch into him. But when it was finally off, joining the growing pile on the floor, he then went for her bodice.

Before, on that terrible day, he’d been too impatient to even notice that it was held together by a zipper. Yet, this time, he brought his lips to hers once more as his hand reached for the zipper, pulling it down slowly - ever so slowly - until it finally fell to the ground.

Unable to resist, he pulled back so that he could look at her, swallowing hard at the sight.

“For… forgive me,” he murmured, his voice nearly catching as his eye kept scanning her up and down. “I wish to tell you how beautiful you look, but I’m having difficulty finding adequate words…”

Her eyes shifted away from him. “Dimitri…”

“I, um… of course, this time, if doing things right, then I… I would want you to see me, too,” he told her, although the thought caused him to blush. “So, I would then-”

“Dimitri?” she promptly interrupted as she returned her gaze.

“…Yes?”

She smiled, her green eyes alight with amusement. “You really don’t have to narrate anymore…”

His blush deepened.

“Oh, right! Of… of course. I-”

But she silenced his stuttering with another kiss, and quickly enough, his embarrassment was forgotten.

Somewhere amidst his stupor, he felt her tugging on his armor, trying to get it off. Taking a precious moment, he pulled away to unclasp it in the necessary places before removing the plates and pulling the tunic beneath over his head.

But once it was off, she gasped.

“Dimitri…” she mumbled, and he nearly flinched as she brought her fingers to one of his scars - not because it hurt, but because her touch was so warm against his cold skin.

“I’m sorry… I suppose I should have warned you,” he noted, shifting away from her as he heard his ghosts begin to laugh at him. “My wounds from when that girl attacked me at Gronder are still healing, and also… Well, that horrible night nine years ago - even though I survived, I was badly wounded. I’m afraid that some of the scars never faded completely. To be honest, it never bothered me - the mental scars were so much worse after all. But now, I find myself wishing that they weren’t there, if only so that I would be less repulsive to you.”

“Repulsive?” she repeated, as if surprised by the word. “Oh, Dimitri… believe me, that couldn’t be further from the truth. But to see the remnants of all those wounds… it’s just a miracle that you were even able to survive…”

“A miracle? Hmph,” he scoffed. “I never considered it as such. In fact, I always thought of it as a curse. For so long, I wish I had just died on that fateful day along with everyone else…”

“Don’t say that,” she admonished, bringing her hand to his cheek. “I hate the idea of a world where we'd never met…”

Her words filled him with a sense of joy that he knew he had no right to feel, but this time, he refused to listen to the ghosts that were calling to him, loathing him, as they tried to reject her kindness. Instead, he just let himself revel in the happiness she brought him, let his own wants take precedence over those who sought to haunt him.

And yet, truth be told, he often thought the same - in his darkest of times, he imagined what his life would have been like if they’d never met, or if she hadn't picked the Blue Lions when offered the choice in which house to lead. What would have become of him then? He was almost certain that he would have led himself and all of his friends to a fruitless death by now in his quest for vengeance.

“Byleth…” he then groaned, his want - no, his need for her evident in his tone.

Reaching for him, her lips returned to his, and he pressed her tightly against him, reveling in how much better her ample breasts felt against his bare skin than his armor. He also couldn't help but notice how her hands would occasionally drift to his own chest, touching his taut muscles, or brushing her fingertips lightly against them - not that he minded, of course. All of his training had never been for the sake of vanity, but even so, he was glad that she found his body appealing.

“Can I see the rest of you?” he then whispered into her ear, his voice breathless from their countless kisses.

In response, she grabbed his hands - which had been previously preoccupied with her breasts - and brought them to her lower waist by the band of her shorts.

Kneeling, he first placed a kiss on her belly button - goddess knew that he’d spent enough time staring at it whenever he’d ever so inappropriately fantasized about his professor - before slowly tugging down her shorts and tights.

As he lowered them, he followed the trail downward with his lips, but she shifted when his mouth soon reached her sex.

“Are you all right?” he asked. “Do you want me to stop?”

“Don’t stop,” she pleaded.

The near desperation in her voice surprised him, but he wanted to please her, so he returned his lips to the sensitive area, fascinated by how her muscled thighs tightened against his hands as his tongue prodded her in forbidden places.

There was one small nub in particular that seemed to drive her mad, and when he focused his tongue on that spot, she started to writhe against him, bringing her hands into his hair and pulling at it as if she weren’t even fully aware of what she was doing.

He kept at it, focusing at that particular spot with the same tenacity that he might try to hit a specific target during sword practice. Even so, he was careful, experimenting with different ways to stimulate it and gauging her reactions to see if he was on the right track - although, the increasing vigor of her moaning nearly stunned into stopping.

“Dimitri, I…" she cried out, arching her head back as her fingers continued to run through his unruly locks. "I… oh!”

This time she tugged at his hair especially hard, and her thighs nearly smothered him. But he was mostly fascinated by how an abundance of moisture began to gather between her legs, wishing once again that he had the luxury of tasting her.

Getting to his feet again, he realized that she was breathing hard now, her eyes still closed as a deep red blush stained her cheeks. But when he put his hand lovingly against her face, he was then startled to feel how warm - no, hot - it was.

“Profess- … Byleth! Are you all right?” he asked, worried that he’d managed to hurt her once more.

When her eyes finally opened to look at him, her pupils were wide and dilated, as if she were in a daze.

“Goddess… are you ill?” he asked, suddenly alarmed. He had kept her out in the rain for far too long earlier…

“Perhaps we should-”

But before he could pull away from her, she threw herself against him, wrapping her arms around his lower back and holding him tightly to keep him in place. His concern had made him tense, yet he could feel his muscles relaxing against her touch, and as he brought his arms around her in return, he was amazed as ever by how petite her stature was in comparison to his.

“Dimitri, I'm fine… more than fine," she promised, although she seemed more bashful than usual as she spoke. "So if you even think of letting me go right now, I am going to get the Sword of the Creator and completely ruin the rest of your night.”

Her words greatly befuddled him, but he could at least recognize that there was some humor in them, and soon enough, he chuckled.

“All right,” he assured her. “You don’t have to worry - I won’t let go.”

“So, then… does that mean it's my turn?” she abruptly asked, looking up at him. “I mean… to see the rest of you?”

He wanted that - goddess, did he ever want that - but he was also wary of breaking this magic spell between them, of reminding her of his brutality from their last encounter.

“I…” he started, unable to keep his conflicting feelings buried within.

But her hand soon found its way to his face.

“Dimitri… it’s okay,” she promised. “I want this. I… I want… you.”

As she blushed from the admission, he was certain that he’d never before seen such a beautiful sight. Goddess, he didn’t deserve her - he didn’t deserve this second chance that she had given him.

“Byleth,” he muttered, bringing his lips to her ear so that he could whisper words meant for her and her alone. “I love you. I think I’ve loved you since the moment I first saw you so deftly dispatch those bandits outside of Remire, when we initially met all those years ago…”

Truthfully, it had taken some time for him to fully trust her - to ensure that she was something more than just a callous killer - yet right from the start, her captivating but methodical approach on the battlefield had made her seem like his kindred spirit, in way.

She gave him an odd look, but there was also a glimmer in her eyes, and knowing that he’d brought her such joy made his own heart soar.

“Dimitri… has anyone ever told you that you have a… unique perspective on romance?" she teased.

He tensed, and then sighed.

“Sadly… yes,” he admitted, now somewhat embarrassed by how he'd worded his confession. “After all, I already told you about the dagger I once gave to-”

… Edelgard.

The thought of her was more potent than one of Claude’s poisons, putting a damper on the happiness that had been building between them, and his ghosts started to scream at him once more, louder than ever after having been silenced for so long.

"Dimitri?" she inquired, and he focused on her voice, letting her return him once more to sanity as he fought to ignore the dead's demands. "Are you okay?"

“I’m… sorry,” he then told her. “Apparently, I also have a special talent for killing the mood…”

“Surely at least a fraction of the charm I taught you in battalion training has to translate into a situation like this?” she wondered, causing him to laugh.

“You never let up, do you?” he murmured, smiling as he shook his head. But how did she always manage to do that, make everything feel… lighter

Yet, the spark soon fell from her eyes, and he was alarmed to see such an abrupt change in her demeanor.

“Can I speak honestly with you, Dimitri?” she then asked while wrapping her arms around herself, as if she only just realized that she was still naked.

“Of course,” he promised, wanting to reach for her, but unsure if he should.

“What you said earlier, about replacing that… terrible memory with a better one? I… I want us to try. That’s why I… I don’t want to stop just yet.”

His mood darkened as thoughts of those events resurfaced.

“If your aim is to forget, then I can tell you it won’t work,” he informed her. “Trust me… I know more than anyone how the past lingers.”

“I know,” she agreed. “You’re right. What happened that day… it’s not something I can ever forget…”

“Byleth-”

“Please, let me finish,” she insisted. “Because on that day, I was certain that I’d lost you forever. But, to see you smile again… to see you laugh… to be reminded of how deeply you care for others, of how deeply you love, of your kindness and compassion… I don’t think I even realized until I couldn't reach you anymore how much I truly need you.”

He just stared at her, blinking as if she were speaking in the strange dialect of Sreng and he couldn't understand her words. But, he… he truly didn't understand them, they just didn't make any sense. Kindness? Compassion? How could she use those words to describe him after all the people he'd killed, after what he'd done to her? How could she need him when she was the one who had always guided him, always saved him?

“Please, Dimitri,” she tried again when he remained silent. “The last time, when we… you were trying to push me away, weren’t you? To make me hate you in the same way that you hated yourself. But now, I… I want you to do the opposite. I want to feel closer to you than ever before. Is that something you can-”

He didn’t let her finish, though, pulling her to him and silencing her plea as he covered her mouth with his.

"Byleth," he huffed between kisses. "Both you and Rodrigue have helped me to finally realize that my life belongs to me, and me alone. But my heart… that belongs to you, and it always has. So, perhaps now it is finally time for you to lay claim to what is rightfully yours…”

Their lips met once more, but this time, he could feel her hands fumbling with his belt. He buried his own in her hair to resist from speeding up the process, but he could think of nothing else the moment his pants fell and her hand found its way to his growing erection.

Her small, warm hand… touching his throbbing cock… goddess!

He’d promised himself that he’d move slowly this time, that he wouldn’t scare her like before; but perhaps he really was nothing more than a mindless beast, because as she played with his cock, he could think only of taking her.

Effortlessly he lifted her up at her hips so that he could bring her to the bed, and she in turn wrapped her legs around his waist, her position and their close proximity allowing them to continue to face one another while he carried her.

Neither of them seemed to miss a beat as he then made the short trek to her bed, their mouths scarcely leaving the other’s except to explore other enticing ground. In fact, if anything, he was growing increasingly frustrated that he had to choose only one spot at a time to kiss, hating that he couldn’t have all of her at once.

They only parted upon reaching the bed, so that he could carefully lower her down, and in an instant he was kneeling over her. He then brought his hand to the area of her sex that she so enjoyed having his mouth on earlier, surprised when she cried out and dug her nails into his back as he rubbed the sensitive nub.

“Dimitri…” she moaned, looking up at him, and he could see the pain in her eyes.

No… not pain… an ache. The same ache that he felt as he yearned to be inside of her.

Her hands found his cock again, stroking it up and down across its length as if to coax him to take her, but he truly needed no further coaxing.

“Byleth,” he gasped, although he didn’t know how he found the breath to even speak. “I want to… I need… I…”

He had no idea how to even ask her for permission to proceed, but she seemed to understand the question, parting her legs for him as if in invitation. Still, she turned her head to the side and shut her eyes tightly, as if preparing herself for something painful.

But he never intended to hurt her again - not in this or any other context - and this time, he guided himself into her as carefully as possible, his entry especially seamless due to how wet she was for him.

“Byleth,” he prodded, causing her to look at him, and he could see the surprise on her face. “Are you all right? Do you want me to stop?”

“Dimitri…” she responded, almost dreamily, her wide eyes brimming with potent desire. “Don’t stop… please, don’t stop.”

He brought his mouth down to hers and kissed her first before thrusting. She broke the kiss to gasp, and for a moment he paused, afraid that he’d accidentally hurt her with his brute strength - just like the time when he'd broken his sword all those years ago while training with Rodrigue. But once she then started to grind her hips against his, as if to encourage him to thrust again, he relaxed again and willingly complied.

His motions were meticulous to start, and he was careful in his thrusts to rub against the small nub that gave her such pleasure, while his hungry mouth sought out her tantalizing lips, her neck, her breasts. At first he was completely mesmerized by the utter ecstasy on her face, but as her warmth continued to clench around him, he inevitably became lost in his own oblivion.

It wasn’t much longer before she arched into him, releasing a final, satisfied cry. The feel of her contracting wildly around him, the sight of her breasts heaving upward, the sound of her bliss - as much as he wished to prolong his own pleasure, he couldn't manage to do so, and his unrestrained release soon followed. This time, though, he remained inside of her in the moment, loath to remove himself even after he finished.

Still, he eventually did remove himself, allowing them to get more comfortable in the bed. Yet he felt a growing sense of content - a warmth that filled him all over, in a way that only she could - when Byleth's petite frame immediately snuggled against his torso.

By the goddess, her eyes… they were shining so brightly now, and as she looked at him like that, his chest started to ache.

“Byleth… I love you,” he told her, needing to say the words, even if it wasn’t the first time he’d spoken them tonight. She was truly so dear to him… his beloved.

“I… I love you too, Dimitri,” she responded, to his surprise, and he instinctively clutched her more tightly. He didn’t deserve the words again, he didn't deserve such happiness after committing countless, unspeakable sins, but she’d gifted him with them anyway, and he couldn’t be more grateful to her.

As the night wore on, he had no intention of sleeping, refusing to let the ghosts of his past bring nightmares to him on this particular night. After all, how many years had it been since he was kept awake by hopes for the future, rather than by nightmares of the past? Instead, he was content to simply watch as Byleth dozed off in his arms, marveling at how small and vulnerable she looked in her sleep. He just didn't understand how she could be so strong on the battlefield when she felt so frail in his arms, and now more than ever, he feared that one of his many enemies might someday succeed in taking her from him. But no matter what it took, he resolved then and there to protect her from all harm, just as he knew she’d always protect him in return.

… Because spending the rest of his life with Byleth, however long or short it may be - that was something he could live for, something he could believe in.

And even though they were still in the midst of a war - even though he could still hear the voices of the dead crying out to him in the darkness, and he likely always would - somehow, he knew that he’d never be lost again, not as long as she remained ever by his side.