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Dimitri jumps back, avoiding the blade slicing through the air where he stood seconds before. Gears whir in his brain as his eyes scan for even a sliver of an opening—every puff of breath comes out heavy, and sweat clings to his neck and back like a second skin. He doesn’t know how long it’s been exactly, but all signs point to “long enough.” He needs a quick finish.

The chance he needs comes in the form of a split second of hesitation from his opponent as he draws the sword back to his chest. Dimitri dives forward, thrusting his lance at his opponent’s stomach, pointed tip ready to slice through fabric and pierce into flesh—

Until he pulls back, slowing down the momentum of the lance until its tip just barely pokes its target. “Well fought, Claude,” Dimitri says, wiping the sweat from his forehead. “You’ve improved, I see.”

“Thanks for your pity, your Princeliness.” Claude flashes him a trademark grin, sliding the sword back into the sheath at his waist. His hair is equally tousled and slicked with sweat, which he attempts to remedy by haphazardly running his hands through it. “How many times do you have to say “You’ve improved, Claude—” (here, his voice goes down an octave and drips with mockery) “—before I actually manage to beat you?”

“You can’t assume that you haven’t improved merely because you haven’t managed to beat me,” Dimitri protests. “Also, I hope I don’t sound that insincere whenever I offer a compliment.”

“You can make it up to me by going to the shooting range one day and letting me give you some pointers.”

“I’ll have to decline.” He doesn’t doubt Claude’s archery skills—far from it, since he was there to witness Claude’s prowess firsthand the night they met—but the few times he’s picked up an arrow he’s snapped them in half, and they don’t make steel arrows like they do lances or swords. 

“You wound me, but alas.” Claude shakes his head. “And speaking of wounding, I’m glad that didn’t happen this time around. You had me for a second, though, at the last second. I was sure it would run straight through me.”

“On a battlefield, it would have.”

“It did last week, and if I remember correctly, we weren’t on a battlefield then.”

Claude, as Dimitri knows, is referring to the injury Dimitri had inflicted on him during their last training session. The fact that he hadn’t had the control and precision to draw back at the right moment hurt Dimitri’s pride more than it had physically hurt Claude. He had waved off Dimitri’s profuse apologies at the time—the wound was fresh and oozing; Claude had been forced to press a hand to the growing bloodstain at his hip—so Dimitri can only assume that his mention of the incident now comes from a place of teasing rather than actual bitterness. Dimitri chooses to respond in turn. “I’d hardly consider a flesh wound to be the equivalent of a fatal injury.” 

“An injury to my heart.” 

Dimitri’s face immediately begin to burn as he tries to formulate a suitable response, but half the words get stuck in his throat and he instead ends up sounding like a blubbering idiot. The worst thing about these training sessions, ever since they started a few weeks back, is that Claude has figured out that Dimitri is rather easily flustered—especially at offhand, flirtatious comments. 

It’s a new discovery, even for Dimitri himself. He would’ve assumed he’d grown accustomed to such things while in Sylvain’s presence, but he realizes being the target of such comments is a rather different experience from being in mere earshot of them. Unfortunately for him, there’s nothing Claude loves more than catching people off-guard.

And, as expected, the corners of the trickster’s mouth twitch upward at Dimitri’s visible distress. “Anyways, what was my slip-up this time?”

Dimitri clears his throat, trying to get his blush back under control. “A lack of seriousness, as usual. But to be specific, your uptake is a little slow after you attack—”

“Oh, wait a sec—Teach!” Claude shouts, waving a hand to the woman dashing towards them at full speed, coat flapping behind her like a cape. She comes to a stop, not a hair out of place—as if she hadn’t just dashed across the whole of the courtyard to reach them—and gives them both an acknowledging nod. 

Dimitri hasn’t interacted with Professor Byleth all too much, due to his house being led by Hanneman, but the times she’d stopped to talk to him have been nothing but pleasant. Then again, she’d never approached him at the speed of a rampaging bull before. But Claude—whose house is led by Byleth, and thus has the most interactions with her out of the three house leaders—keeps chattering like nothing is out of the ordinary. Dimitri has no choice but to follow suit.

“So, what brings you here, Teach?”

Byleth digs in her pockets, then pulls out a letter. Intricate edges, a pinkish shade, and a heart stamped at the dead center—can one fault Dimitri for staring? “I have a letter for you.”

With deft hands, Claude swiftly deposits the letter into his pocket. “Thanks, Teach. Off to deliver more goodies to other people, I assume? Well, don’t overdo it.”

Byleth smiles and, with a parting wave, dashes away.

“I’m sure people mistake her for the official Garreg Mach delivery woman instead of a professor.” The fond chuckle that follows is warm, a warmth that leaks into the core of Dimitri’s chest and lingers there. “Sorry Dimitri, you were saying?”

“Oh—um, yes. So, your follow-up—”

Dimitri’s explanation is rushed at best and sloppy at worst, his concentration ricocheting between sword-fighting tactics, the letter in Claude’s pocket, and the chuckle that rings in his ears.

 


 

He knows it’s the thought of the letter that’s the culprit behind his inability to sleep. Its golden lining, twirling against the envelope’s edges, the laughably obvious symbolism of its light pink hue, and the heart. The stupid heart. He is almost certain that there was a hint of lavender wafting from it—or perhaps that’s the construction of his own sleep-muddled brain. But if it’s true— lavender. How dastardly.

But while the concept of a love letter is rather unfamiliar to Dimitri (not that he doesn’t or hasn’t had admirers in the past, but there’s a stark contrast between the formal requests of courting in the guise of a love letter and the amateur, emotional, over-dramatic outpouring of words he’s witnessed Sylvain compose), he’s certain that Claude’s no stranger to the idea. He must have received more than a couple by now. There’s no denying the charm that he commands with his warm, teasing nature, helped by his silver tongue and quick wit. Of course, his good looks may also play a part. Dimitri’s not blind.

A familiarity with love letters explains why Claude pocketed the letter without a single bat of his eye. Rather quick to do it, as well. He must be getting sick of them.

The thought comforts Dimitri. Weirdly. It’s unsettling. He’s unsettling himself.

The fact that this letter is bothering him as much as it is contains disturbing implications. Dimitri’s not so emotionally inept that he’s unable to identify the specific emotion that’s on his mind: it’s jealousy.  

But of what? Claude’s popularity? His charm? His easy way of drawing out smiles from those around him? But Dimitri’s never been one to vie for popularity, approval, or attention—so what is it?

“Your Highness,” Dedue says, cutting off his thoughts. “You’ve barely touched your food, and you seem to be suffering from a lack of sleep. Is something the matter?”

“Ah.” Dimitri glances down at the omelette in front of him. It might as well be plastic for how little it tempts his appetite (or his lack of one). “Hunger is not tempting me much this morning, is all. Thank you for your concern, but there’s no need to worry.”

Dedue frowns, clearly worrying. “Could it be a coming sickness? Shall I escort you to Manuela?”

“There’s no need.” Dimitri’s attention is drawn away from the conversation as he spies a flash of yellow out of the corner of his eye. Sure enough, it’s Claude entering the dining hall with his usual entourage of Golden Deer, every bit his normal, jovial self. No indication of lost sleep whatsoever.

It strikes Dimitri, then, how ridiculous it is that he should be obsessing over someone else’s love letter. He feels his ears burn.

Sylvain, who had been engaged in animated conversation with a less-than-animated Felix, chooses that moment to glance in his direction. “Oh Dedue, I think Our Highness is a little sick. A little lovesick.”

Dedue remains stony-faced, brow creased with worry, clearly having dismissed Sylvain’s comment in search of a more practical answer. 

Dimitri finds it hard to share his vassal’s indifference. “S-Sylvain!” he hisses, eyes glancing to Claude to ensure he hadn’t caught Sylvain’s comment (despite Claude’s seat being situated at the opposite end of the dining hall). “How could you say something so—so preposterous?”  

“It’s not a completely ridiculous idea, you two have had a lot of ‘training sessions’ together—”

“At Claude’s suggestion!” Dimitri says, indignant. “That’s a public space, we couldn’t possibly—” He feels his cheeks heating up, and knows that he’s digging himself into a deeper hole, one Sylvain seems to take great joy in watching him fall into. Why do people like to tease him so. “A-and we’re set to be leaders of two different countries—”

“Who says love is logical? The heart does what it wants.” Sylvain shrugs. “No need to get so defensive, Your Highness, I was just having a bit of fun—”

“I am not being defensive!”

Despite the obvious paradox there, Sylvain raises his hands in surrender. “Yes, not defensive, certainly not. I apologize, Your Highness, and I humbly ask that you forget about this whole conversation— oh, is that Annette? Gotta go catch up to her, I’ll see you two later in class!”

After Sylvain rushes off, despite Annette being nowhere in sight, Dimitri turns to Dedue. “Did I seem defensive to you?”

Dedue, like the good friend he is, just shrugs. “I’ve heard Professor Byleth is adept at handling personal matters between students. Perhaps you should consider consulting her?”

Dimitri does not have feelings for—anyway, he doesn’t. But he is curious about the volume of love letters Claude has received in the past, whether or not such a thing is common between students, and if such love letters lead to anything significant. (The last two questions are for the sake of educating himself on the nature of this letter culture, nothing more, he tells himself.) And there seems to be no one better to answer him than the deliverer of these letters herself. 

“Brilliant idea. I’ll do that this afternoon, if the Professor is free.”

Dedue nods. “Please be sure to not let your health decline any further. No matter what lingers on your heart.”

Dimitri sighs and shovels the tasteless omelette into his mouth, defeated. “I can promise you that, Dedue. It is not as big of an affair as my physical state makes it out to be, I assure you.” His eyes drift back to Claude, energetically chatting with his classmates over breakfast. How big of a headache he’s become.

Dedue glances to the side, following Dimitri’s line of sight. “If he poses any threat to you, emotional or otherwise—”

“That will definitely not be necessary!” Dimitri sputters. But he’s oddly touched. To have protection against something as trivial as (heartbreak, he almost thinks, except it hasn’t escalated to that yet, and never will) this. “But—Thank you, Dedue.”

Dedue nods, and they finish the rest of their meal in comfortable silence.

Chapter Text

As if the Goddess herself had willed it, things fall into exact place. Hanneman ends morning classes a few minutes early, allowing Dimitri to hang back and observe the Golden Deer students leaving class one by one. When Byleth finally appears ten minutes later, trailing right behind Ignatz, Dimitri jumps to intercepts her.

“Hello Professor. I’m sorry to bother, but do you have a quick moment?”

There must be something about the way he says it, because she looks him up and down before asking, “A quick moment?”

He’s a bit frightened at how well she reads him. No wonder students flock to her for a listening ear. “Perhaps a moment on the longer side,” he admits.

She tilts her head. “Why don’t we come into my office?”

Byleth’s office is smaller than the other professors’, a probable consequence of being the unexpected hire of the year. Just from the state of her office, it’s hard to tell if she’s managed to warm up to her position at all. Most of the walls and shelves remain barren, aside from a few books belonging to the school’s library and a cork board pinned with neatly-written lesson plans. The only personal item in the room is a plain, porcelain kettle on the windowsill with a few teacups sitting beside it. Byleth moves toward it right away.

“Oh, Professor, there’s really no need—”

“It’s chamomile,” Byleth says. “Good for nerves.”

Her words are coated with gentle but firm insistence. Goodness, does he really look that anxious? He should’ve taken the time to correct his disheveled appearance before approaching her. Maybe then she’d view him with a bit more curiosity rather than the calm, knowing expression in her eyes. 

“It’s one of my favorites, thank you. I guess it would be only polite for me to accept.” 

She pushes the teacup into his hands. Porcelain clinks. “What can I help you with?”

Dimitri takes a long, drawn-out sip. “There’s no serious issue; lessons are fine—Hanneman is a fantastic instructor, even if he tends to go on tangents one too many a time—”

He squirms. The professor is listening intently, yes, sipping her tea with eyes trained on him—but her eyes see. Dimitri clears his throat.

“I was merely curious about—about the letter you delivered to Claude yesterday. The nature of it. It was—correct me if I’m wrong, Professor—it was obviously a letter expressing adoration. The lavender scent—of course, you must have figured the same.”

More passion seeps into his voice. His words steadier, stronger, as Dimitri barrels onward. “But what is the intention behind such letters? I’ve witnessed Sylvain writing many an affectionate letter, but to my knowledge, none of them have ever led to a relationship. But he mainly writes these letters to girls he barely knows—would anyone be swayed by the empty flirtations of a faceless stranger?”

Byleth blinks. It's rather anticlimactic. ”I’ve never read the letters I deliver.”

“Oh. I see.” Dimitri deflates, emotion in his chest whooshing out in an instant.

“But.” She taps her chin. “The ones who ask me to deliver their letters usually feel that they would never have a chance with their crush in person, or would never be able to talk to them face-to-face. But they still want their affections to be known. It’s a shot in the dark, so to say.”

A shot in the dark. Usually a person who has little chance of being reciprocated. Dimitri brightens. “Ah, I understand. You’ve been a great help, Professor, thank you.”

Although he has full intentions to end the conversation there, Byleth is not as hasty. “Did you receive a love letter, Dimitri?”

“M-me? Oh no, nothing of the sort.”

“Why the sudden curiosity?”

“O-oh, well, I’m unsure, myself. I suppose after I saw you hand the letter to Claude… well, he’s never mentioned any romantic pursuits while in my company, yet he must get such letters regularly, which led me to conclude that they’re rather ineffective." He bites his lip. "Are they common?”

“A bit. There have been a couple addressed to Claude. He’s perceived as more attainable than the average noble, I think.”

“He is quite… lax.” So his hypothesis about Claude having received letters in the past was correct. A spike of bitterness grips him and he slumps.

Byleth points to his teacup. He takes a dejected sip.

She seems to consider him, as if working through a puzzle. “Why did you assume he’d received multiple letters?”

“His lax nature, as I mentioned. And it’s obvious he has a more approachable presence compared to, say, myself or Edelgard. He's a good man, and even if he is on the more easy-going side, he takes his duties as house leaders seriously and cares well for his classmates. And of course, objectively, he’s very charming.”

“Charming,” she parrots. The concentration in her gaze loosens, as if she’s come upon her answer. That frightens Dimitri, because he's finally come to a realization—after this conversation, he’s surer than ever that that his jealousy stems from the affections that Claude receives while he doesn't. As much as he’s wished to believe he had no interest in being the center of romantic interest, perhaps this is the day to concede.  

And Byleth must have stumbled upon the same realization.

“I know it is a rather… simple thing to be jealous over,” he confesses.

“Hm?”

“I shouldn’t let such emotions manifest in such bitter ways… Especially over something so trivial as a love letter. Tainting my relationship with a valued sparring partner because of the number of advances he receives wouldn’t be displaying much maturity, would it?”

“Dimitri.” Byleth frowns. “I don’t think that’s quite the problem here—”

“Teach!”

Both he and Byleth freeze at the new voice. The door swings open and Claude’s face pops behind the door, only to turn splotchy-red the instant he meets Dimitri’s gaze. It’s easy to see why. There is a familiar rose-colored letter in his hand, a tear on the side of it—opened. 

“Dimitri! I didn't expect, uh—sorry Teach, I should’ve knocked, I’ll come back later—”

“No need, I just finished talking with the Professor,” Dimitri says, already getting up, ducking his head so the shame of being caught by Claude of all people can’t be seen pasted across his entire face. “Thank you for your time and the tea, Professor, it was a pleasure.”

He rushes out, taking care not to look at Claude on the way. 

(Therefore, he misses the integral information that Byleth catches: Claude’s equally averted gaze and the blush that’s ever-so-slightly dusting the curve of his cheeks.)

 


 

Even with his emotions haphazardly sorted out, they refuse to be at peace, kicking and clawing at Dimitri’s chest throughout the rest of the day’s lectures. He drums his fingers on the table at a constant, frantic pace, speeding up to the point where Felix’s glare from two tables behind him is a palpable jab at the back of his neck. It’s really no use—it’s not as if Dimitri has any semblance of control over them. Anyone who’s witnessed him around anything remotely fragile can tell you that much.

There is, however, one place where his uncontrollable strength can be of use, where excess energy can be dispelled without fear, where his focus can be honed into one thing rather than scattered about the tribulations of daily life. And as soon as class is over, he sets out for that place. The training grounds.

Many students share his sentiments about the training grounds—Caspar, Felix, Leonie, to name a few—but luckily, none of them are here at this particular time, most likely having made a beeline for dinner with the rest of their classmates, meaning he can be as aggressive as he wants with the training dummies and no one will be around to express concern for his emotional state.

So, he grabs a training sword from the wall and starts hacking away. He feels at peace, feet moving in time with his jabs, muscles burning with a stinging but satisfying sort of pain, nothing but the rhythmic sound of slicing hay and the thought of his next move, his next attack. 

He doesn’t know how long it’s been when he pauses at the creaking of the entrance door, announcing the arrival of a visitor. Dimitri lowers his sword.

“Sylvain, hello.”

“Hey, your Highness.” If Sylvain spies the training dummy—barely a pile of shredded scraps at this point— he doesn’t say. Instead, he scratches the back of his head, looking a bit—the emotion is hard to place, but if Dimitri had to describe it—sheepish. “I just wanted—the thing from this morning, it was a dumb joke, and I wanted to say sorry. I noticed you looking pretty bothered during class, and when both you and Claude didn’t show up to dinner, I wanted to make sure I hadn’t made fun of something serious and came off as a bit of—excuse my language—an ass.” 

Claude didn’t show up to dinner. These words stick to his thoughts first and foremost, and with them a torrent of questions (Could he have gone to confront the person who had written him that letter? Gone to give them a response? Perhaps, to initiate something more?), but he forces himself to dismiss them, focusing on the more important matter of giving Sylvain a response. In truth, he’s rather surprised—Dimitri didn’t think Sylvain thought much of the words that came out of his own mouth.

“I’m touched by your thoughtfulness Sylvain, truly,” Dimitri says. “But your teasing was just that—teasing—and you had meant it as such. There was nothing wrong with what you said. My apologies if I reacted a bit sensitively.” 

“Okay, good to hear. So there’s nothing going on between you and—I mean, you and Claude are on good terms, right?”

“Yes, we are.” He’s about to stop there. But ending it there sounds curt, even to his own ears. There’s nothing wrong with being open about it, Dimitri supposes. Sylvain is, after all, a friend. “Admittedly, this recent problem that has been bothering me is mostly my own doing. I saw Claude receive an anonymous letter of admiration the other day and became a bit… jealous.”

“Jealous?” Sylvain repeats, brows furrowed.

“Yes. I was uncertain as to the cause of my jealousy until this afternoon, but after speaking with Professor Byleth, I’ve come to realize that I’m simply jealous of Claude’s natural ease at which he attracts affection.” Dimitri lets out a humorless chuckle. “I’m slightly embarrassed to be admitting aloud, it’s a rather shallow reason… But I’m glad the Professor brought it to light when it had just taken root. Jealousy has the power to ruin friendships, I believe, and Claude and I have started to become what I hope are fast friends. I would’ve hated to lose it because of superficial envy.”

For multiple moments, Sylvain stares blankly at him. “You’re kidding, right? No, you’re not,” he amends, squinting at Dimitri, examining him up and down. He then pinches the bridge of his nose. “You’re not. Okay, first of all, if that’s what shallowness is, I must be the most shallow person in the world. Or, maybe I am…  but that’s not the point! It’s not shallow to be worried about that stuff from time to time. But secondly,”

Sylvain raises his finger as if to jab it into Dimitri’s chest, then seems to think better of it. “Are you even listening to yourself? Anyone who’s known you for a couple days and has half a brain would know that you’re the last person to be jealous over how many letters someone gets.”

“I’m fully aware, which is why I found the revelation shocking, myself.”

“Not only is it shocking, but it makes absolutely zero sense. That’s not the kind of person you are. You would never want that kind of surface-level affection and you know it. It wouldn’t make you happy. You’re the kind of guy who values the closeness of a relationship, not the number of them.”

“I suppose… you’re right. I suppose such things don’t make me happy, nor do they have much weight in my life.” Dimitri considers this new Sylvain, a Sylvain that’s strange to him, yet, the closest he’s ever gotten with the man. “Have you always been this considerate?”

“Hey, again, anyone with half a brain could tell you as much.” Sylvain grins, and then pauses. Takes a breath “Since you trust my people-reading skills so much, hear me out, okay? No teasing here.”

He says, slowly, “So if you know you’re jealous, and it’s not about the letters that Claude is getting, what are you jealous about? And if you’re more into one, deep relationship than multiple so-so ones… well, in this case, the deep relationship would be the one between you and Claude, right? It’s the one you’re invested in. So if you’re not jealous of Claude, maybe you’re jealous—”

Sylvain stops, cutting himself off. “It’s a theory, take it from a guy who knows a lot about being jealous of people. But then again, I don’t really do deep, committed relationships so who knows?”

“No,” Dimitri says, voice firm. “I appreciate your opinion. And it’s… a good point. Maybe even the truth.” Even as it says it, the tightness in his chest loosens, as if finally reaching closure. Thinking of the magnetic energy he’s always associated with Claude as being his own attraction… it makes sense. Everything makes sense.

But with that realization comes a fresh wave of anxiety, flushing out the feelings of tight jealousy and replacing them with a creeping sort of fear: things are going to change between him and Claude. Dimitri knows he’s the sort of person who wears his heart on his sleeve and his emotions on his face, because only the deepest and oldest of secrets have ever successfully remained concealed. He needs practice in hiding feelings, and secrets that are less than a month old have no chance of remaining hidden for long. 

His fears must show on his face (as expected), as Sylvain says, “From what I hear, Claude’s a chill guy. Even if he turns you down, he’s not going to make it weird. You could have a bit of faith in him too, you know? Soooo… Of course, it’s your choice to tell him or not, but I’d tell him. Just to get it out there and out of the way.”

Dimitri feels comforted, despite the easy, flippant tone of Sylvain’s voice. Feeling a surge of gratitude, he says, with as much sincerity as he can muster, “Thank you, Sylvain.” And then, with a slight smile, “I appreciate such wise and valuable advice from a man who ‘makes things weird’ with woman on the regular.”

Sylvain snorts. “Um, Your Highness? I don’t think you understand how that sentence sounds from an outside perspective.”

“Speaking of which, we should really discuss your flirtatious activity as of late, Ingrid has been voicing some concerns again—”

“And that’s my cue to head to my room,” Sylvain announces, turning away with a wave. “Dining hall’s still open, you should get yourself a bite or two before Dedue kidnaps you there.”

After seeing Sylvain off with a parting wave, Dimitri’s eyes go back to the training sword, lying where he’d dropped it.

It’s tempting to just throw himself into training again. Despite the sound logic behind Sylvain’s advice, it’s one that he doesn’t want to follow for obvious reasons. He knows how ‘chill’ Claude is and knows he’s not one to overreact to an out-of-the-blue confession. 

But he will be rejected. That much is fact. Because no matter how strong attraction is, it cannot beat out implausibility. Not only does the fate of the love letter remain a mystery (he remembers it still, clutched in Claude’s hand as he’d entered Byleth’s office, still retaining some significance instead of being forgotten in a desk drawer, as Dimitri had predicted and expected it to be), but so do so many other things; he’s barely had a chance to interact with Claude outside the training grounds. All he knows is the ‘Claude who is getting better at handling swords’ and, on the rare occasion, the ‘Claude who waves at him in the dining hall’. And the same goes for Claude: does he know another version of Dimitri other than intense, sweaty, training Dimitri? He should think not.

As soon as the rejection hits, even the hope, the maybe scenarios, will all be extinguished. Dimitri wants to hold onto the hope of a Claude who will say flirty things and mean them, who will smile openly and genuinely at him, and above all, a Claude who will let Dimitri get to know him.

He knows his thoughts become dangerous when they start to spiral, which his why his fingers itch for the feeling of the sword hilt. It takes everything in his power not to just start hacking away again the moment he picks up the blade, but he manages to set it back on the rack and turn away.

He is going to tell Claude tomorrow. But first, he wants to be surrounded by the company of friends who he knows are waiting for him at the dining hall.

Chapter Text

“Pardon me.”

The weather is nice again. Not atypical for this time of year, but the students seem determined to cherish each sunny day as they mill about the greenery, lazing about on the grass, fishing on the lake, all sorts of things. The monastery looks livelier than ever.

Hilda and Marianne appear of the same mindset. He’s almost certain he saw them strolling along the stables yesterday, yet here they are again, seated in the gardens and with a pot of tea at their side. He’d often seen Byleth doing the same with a number of students. Trust the monastery’s most mysterious professor to make tea parties a trend, of all things. 

He had originally been seeking out Marianne—the only member of the Golden Deer he’s talked to at length (besides Claude, but he’s nowhere to be found this morning)—but she and Hilda have been connected at the hip these days.

“Well, if it isn’t Dimitri!” Hilda greets, peering curiously at him. 

Marianne turns to him as well. “Hello Dimitri, it’s nice to see you.”

“You as well, Marianne, Hilda,” he says, giving each of them a nod. “Enjoying the weather?”

“We sure are. It’ll be Horsebow Moon before you know it, and then it’ll be too cold to hang around outside.” Hilda sighs, already dreading the prospect. “You should enjoy it too, instead of letting Claude drag you to the training grounds all the time. You are allowed to say no to him, you know.”

“Ah, it’s no bother. I would be going alone otherwise.” Dimitri clears his throat to calm the embarrassed flush of his cheeks. “I hadn’t realized our practice sessions have become such… a spectacle.”

“Two house leaders getting all buddy-buddy with each other? I’m sure even the Black Eagles are whispering about it by now. Plus, it’s not like either of you try to do it in secret. Claude spends about as much time in the training grounds as he does in the library, which is saying something.” Hilda rolls her eyes and mutters something that suspiciously sounds like, ‘Boys.’ 

Marianne shoots her a sympathetic look. “Did you need something from us, Dimitri?”

“Well—” It’s a little hard to ask now, now that he feels so… exposed, regarding his relationship with Claude. He doesn’t want to confirm rumors, but it’s hard when said rumors are true. “I was hoping to find Claude, actually. Would you happen to know where he is?”

The same moment Hilda responds with, “In his dorm,” Marianne responds with, “Hiding.” Both Hilda and Dimitri’s heads turn to stare.

Marianne’s cheeks color with the most hue Dimitri has ever seen on her face.

“Well, you’re not wrong,” Hilda says, reaching over to pat the other girl’s hand. “It’s about the letter, right? If it is, then Claude’s definitely hiding.”

Dimitri starts at the mention of the letter. “Did Claude… tell you about it?” 

“Maybe a few things. But only because I might’ve pried a little bit.” Hilda huffs. “Can you blame me, though? He was running around all over the place with it yesterday making such a fuss, I had to find out what was up.”

Hilda tends to exaggerate, he knows, so all over the place with it may be just that—an exaggeration. But then again, it might also not be. Dimitri can already see the possibilities. Claude, running all over the monastery to track down the writer of the mysterious letter. Claude wanting to meet with this mystery admirer on his own accord.  

His imagination, for as vivid as it is, always seems to work against Dimitri’s best interests.

As if reading his mind (or seeing it on his face, as Byleth had—Dimitri has long conceded to the fact that he’s just easy to read), Hilda snorts. “I don’t know what Claude has to be afraid of when here you are, looking like a kicked puppy.” Before Dimitri has the chance to process her words, she stands from her seat. “I guess I have no choice but to him for you. Sorry, Marianne, I’ll be right back.”

After she’s out of sight, Marianne gestures to the teapot. “Would you like some?”

“Oh no, I’m fine, but thank you.” 

Marianne takes a sip from her own tea. A moment of silence passes. It’s not uncomfortable—-rather pleasant, if anything. Not that Hilda’s presence was unpleasant, but she is quite a whirlwind, similar to the leader of her house. It’s no wonder she’s unofficially recognized as Claude’s right-hand (although how she came to earn that title is a mystery, considering how reluctant she is to do the smallest of tasks). 

Plus, Dimitri thinks is desperate for a bit of peace, right now. 

“This tea is good for the nerves,” Marianne says suddenly, “But I don’t think you have anything to be nervous about.” A ghost of a smile flickers on her face.

There’s no reason to deny the state of his frayed nerves, not when Hilda’s already seen through him. “And what, if I may ask, makes you so certain of that?”

“I don’t want to ruin the surprise. But he mentions you a lot, if that helps.”

Dimitri opens his mouth to probe further, but the arrival of a certain someone serves as an instant distraction.

“Hey there, Your Princeliness.” Claude grins. “Have a moment to spare?”

 


 

“Claude, when you said a moment, I was not expecting a full-on excursion. To the archbishop’s floor, of all places,” Dimitri hisses. The third floor of the monastery, only open to high-ranking members of the church, which he and Claude are most certainly not.

Claude shushes him as he peers around the corner for any oncoming guards, completely unfazed by Dimitri’s growing anxiety.

Dimitri is not a coward. But putting oneself in needless risk is, in his opinion, idiotic. And while he knows Claude is far from an idiot, his insistence on keeping Dimitri in the dark is quickly making him doubt that assertion, and also not doing much to boost his reassurance. Even now, after ten minutes of sneaking, Dimitri’s not any closer to understanding what exactly warrants this sort of reckless, illegal behavior (“It’s not illegal,” Claude had said, as if they wouldn’t be subject to the wrath of the archbishop herself if they were caught). And after all this stress to his heart, he’s not sure the payoff will be worth it.

“Don’t worry, even if you’re to receive divine punishment, I’ll still think of you as the righteous, pure prince of the Holy Kingdom that you are,” Claude teases, giving him a cat-like grin. “And trust me, whatever spectacular punishment the Goddess dishes out, it’ll be worth it for this.”

At this point, Dimitri thinks he could trust Claude as far as he could throw the whole of Fodlan. But he’s in too deep to escape now.

(Too deep with Claude, if he’s being honest with himself. They’re technically not in trespassing territory yet. Dimitri could just get up and walk away. But the mischief in Claude’s twinkling eyes entice him to say, and he can’t find it in his heart to deny the call.)

“How can you be certain that the archbishop won’t be here?” Dimitri frets after passing another set of patrolling guards.

“Trust in my schemes a bit, won’t you? She’s…occupied.”

Not only is that ominous, but it’s also asserts that, indeed, Claude’s head next in line on the chopping block of the Goddess. Dimitri feels a little faint.

“I’m not committing treason, here,” Claude says, nudging Dimitri back to full-awareness. “In fact, I think I’m sharing the Goddess’s gift with the people.” A quick scan of the hallway shows that it’s completely empty—beyond strange, for the floor that contains one of the most important rooms in the monastery. Dimitri supposes it’s the doing of another of Claude’s schemes. The grin on said lord’s face seems to confirm this.

“C’mon. We’re making a run for that door over there.” Claude points in the opposite of the archbishop’s large oak doors, towards the door at the far end of the hall. Sunlight streams in from its stained-glass panes, providing light to the otherwise dark space.

Without warning, Claude grabs Dimitri’s wrist and pulls him along at a sprint. Dimitri almost takes a spectacular fall to the ground, but thanks to years of reflex training, his feet react on their own, untangling themselves in time to match Claude’s pace. He’s acutely aware of the warmth radiating from Claude’s fingertips, and under them, his own pulse, beating at what must be ten times its regular speed. 

And when Claude pushes the glass doors apart, Dimitri’s heart does stop; not from overexertion. But exhilaration.

Claude grins. “Welcome to the Star Terrace.”

What Claude has led him to is a balcony overlooking the entirety of Garreg Mach. There are benches and small pools of water dotted with lily pads, adding to the tranquility of the space; despite the chatter of hundreds of students down below, the terrace is still, closer to the heavens and the wide expanse above. Further beyond, Dimitri spies the vast mountain range that forms the boundary between the Kingdom and the Alliance, the Kingdom’s rolling hills on one side and the Alliance’s flat plains on the other. The clouds are sparse today, clustering around the peaks of the mountain range, giving the illusion of the mountains simply fading into the palette of blue sky.

“I knew you wouldn’t be disappointed.”

“The opposite, in fact,” Dimitri admits, wandering closer to the edge to get a better view of below. “But I still don’t understand why you felt it necessary to be so secretive.”

Claude joins him at the edge, leaning his elbows against the brick wall that separates them from a three-story plummet. “Would’ve ruined the surprise.”

“I can’t imagine your descriptions would ever do this view justice, no matter your poetic talent.”

“Yeah, so I wasn’t going to try. Better to just show you firsthand.” Claude smiles, looking out at the scenery. “The best artist is nature itself, I say. Beautiful, isn’t it?”

Dimitri glances at him. At the sunlight hitting framing his face, the golden rays streaking through his hair, the smile on his face that reaches the corners of his emerald-green eyes—an easy smile, but a rare one. “Quite.” Dimitri smiles. “You have taste, Claude.”

“A sense of the dramatic, more like. Dear Goddess, Hilda laughed at me when I told her about this, you know?”

“This? The view?” Dimitri asks, confused. “Why’s that?”

“No, this, this whole grand thing I’m doing right now. And you’ll get why once I tell you.” And at the last word, Claude reaches into his pocket and pulls out…a letter. The letter.

Dimitri’s heart pounds against his chest.

“So, you’ve seen this a couple times by now.” Claude glances to the side, drumming his fingers against the envelope in his hand. Despite the light tone of his voice, Dimitri gets the distinct feeling that Claude is… nervous. “Teach told me you caught on to the fact that I've gotten a few of these in the past. They’re usually the same. A couple of them have been poems—we have a lot of good writers at this school, you know that?”

Claude looks at the letter. “In the past, they’d just end at that. Or they’d ask me to write back, but it was easy to ignore. But this one asked to meet in person, that she’d be waiting no matter what. I felt sorry, thinking about how she’d wait for who knows how long, so I went to meet her to tell her in person that I was touched, but not interested.

“She got upset. Not towards me or towards herself, but upset. While I was helping her calm down, and that’s when I realized, this is what I’m doing to people, when I ignore them. The letters were just nice to read, but that was all. For me. But not for them.”

Claude pauses. “Actually, I couldn’t put all this into words until I went to talk with Teach yesterday. Most of this is her wording. But then she asked me, “Why not give her a chance?” She really stumped me with that one.” He chuckles. “The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. The moment I read the letter, I knew my answer was going to be no. Same with the other letters. 

“At first, I was sure it was because a relationship doesn’t really have a place in my life, as it is. I came to this academy because I have dreams that are important to me, dreams that are going to take a lifetime to reach if I don’t dedicate everything I have to achieving them.” 

Claude stops. And when he speaks again, there’s a touch of softness to his words. “But Teach helped me see that wasn’t the whole story, that maybe there’s been one person in the back of my mind who I wouldn’t mind making that commitment with.” Another pause. “Commitment is a big word. A chance to get to know better would be more accurate. And if fate pries us apart—you have your own dreams and I have mine. I wouldn’t want to hinder either. Promising to be together forever already seems a bit hasty when we don’t know what’ll be in our future, right? But that’s not to say we can make that promise in the future. But this is a chance to make that promise later on.” Claude finally looks up to meet Dimitri’s widened eyes. “Do you understand what I’m trying to say?”

Dimitri doesn’t. At least, not completely. A part of him wants to burst into laughter, because what kind of trick of the Goddess is this? The day after he comes to terms with his feelings, he receives a confession? The very thing he thought to be out of reach? A divine joke if he’s ever seen one.

A part of him is in disbelief, in denial. It’s become a habit to brush off so many of Claude’s flirtatious words that his first instinct is to deflect these words as well. Again, it feels like a joke the fates have decided to play, a dream he’ll wake up from at any moment due to how similar the situation feels to the fairytales of his childhood, of knights and nobles and forbidden relationships.

But the continual fluttering of his stomach, the throbbing anticipation clutching at his chest say differently. A chance. A chance at something more with Claude and—a dim possibility, but a possibility all the same—at something forever.

“I do,” he says, words tumbling out of his mouth before he has a chance to stop them. “And I think I would like to take that chance.”

Claude smiles. It doesn’t reach his eyes. “Do you really? It’s quite a gamble, you know. I’m a slippery one.”

“Claude.” Dimitri steps closer to the other’s side, their hands on the verge of touching. “I wouldn’t want you to give up your dreams for my sake. So if there comes a time where we must part for greater things—I understand.” A faint blush rises to Dimitri’s cheeks. “I only hope that—when you feel comfortable—you’ll be open to sharing your dreams with me.”

The look at Claude gives him—Dimitri is almost knocked back by the sheer intensity of it. If he has to name the emotion on Claude’s face, he thinks he’d call it…adoration.

“...I’d really like to kiss you right now, but it might be a bit early for that, right?” 

Gone is the usual confident swagger in Claude’s voice, replaced by something more…timid. Tender, even. 

Dimitri’s sure his face turns bright red. Somehow, he manages to prevent his voice from shaking as he replies, “I wouldn’t be opposed to it, no.”

A gentle hand cups the right of his face as Claude draws near. That touch is what burns as opposed to the kiss itself—a mere peck on the lips, barely milliseconds long. He wonders how many people have ever glimpsed this side of Claude, who is known for being the confident strategist of his house. Many would say that nervousness is nonexistent in Claude’s emotional dictionary, and worry even more so. But the caution Claude is exhibiting in every movement now clearly proves otherwise.

It’s fascinating. Endearing, as well; Claude, a complete mystery from day one, still finds ways to surprise.

“I wasn’t expecting you to ask. I would’ve thought you more impulsive than that.” Dimitri blinks. “You never fail to charm me, Claude.”

“No comments on the kiss? I’m a bit hurt.” It’s hard to take Claude’s words seriously when his face is blushing bright red. It’s also hard to resist teasing a bit more.

“We can consider working on it in the future. During our training sessions.”

Claude smirks. “I’ll hold you to it. I have high expectations for Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd,crown prince of Faerghus, heir to the royal throne of the Holy Kingdom, to keep his word.”

“As long as you don’t continue your theatrics, I will.”

Claude gives him a shove. The laughter that bubbles from Dimitri’s throat is warm and open, and it floats gently and happily through the breeze like a songbird’s melody.

 


 

(Epilogue)

“Claude—” Dimitri sighs, lowering his sword after his third point against his opponent. “Your concentration is off again. For your sake, could you please pay attention?”

“It’s hard to concentrate when the enemy is so handsome,” Claude says flippantly. “No need to worry—opponents on the actual battlefield won’t be this good-looking, so there’s no problem there.”

“It wasn’t just your concentration—your follow-up is still lacking, although it’s improved from last week.”

“It was so much easier to tease you before we started seeing each other,” Claude laments. “You’re gaining immunity to my taunts. My one advantage over you.”

“Your bow skills are far above mine,” Dimitri retorts. “And your sword skills are becoming on par with my own.”

“Ah, yes. I’m better at you in the one weapon you refuse to touch. The second part is flattering, but debatable.” 

Dimitri pauses, thinking. “I suppose… your displays of affection are still less awkward than my own.”

Claude grins. “Is that a roundabout way of saying that I’m good at kissing? Good one, but you’re not winning me over that easily anymore, either.” He shifts into stance, sword extended, eyes glinting with determination. “Let’s go again—I’m sure I’ll trip you up this time.”

Dimitri smiles. “Try your worst.”