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Where the River Meets the Sea

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Seven years had passed since the end of the war and Byleth could see how her friends had changed and grown.

How she herself had not.

The thought hadn't occurred to her before that point. Before, it had just been a theory, a throwaway comment, a potential curiosity, but it hadn't been a solid idea. But now, now it felt like an impossible truth.

Dimitri was still young, not yet thirty, and yet the passing of time was starting to leave its mark. His eye was marked by fine crows feet, a sign of the happier moments he had found, and his shoulders had softened without the threat of death around every corner. It was a comforting sight, and yet it left Byleth on edge.

Still, it was hard to feel anything but joy as she cradled a blond baby boy in her arms and marvelled at the weight of him. He would be handsome like his father, she could already tell, but for all their hard work and suffering, his brow would not crease with the worries and guilt of a thousand men like his father had before him. 

"We thought it was only right to visit, once Mercedes was cleared to travel and the weather permitted," Dimitri said, a fondness in his eye as he watched on.

"He's beautiful,” Byleth looked up with a gentle smile.

"And healthy,” added Mercedes, serene as ever. 

“How long will you stay?” Byleth asked as she passed the sleeping babe back to his doting mother. 

“A week. We will need to move on to continue trade negotiations in old alliance territory, particularly as relations between Fodlan and Almyra start to repair, but we thought it would be nice to spend a little time with our dear professor.”

“I’m glad you came,” She admitted, “It gets a little lonely up here all by myself.”

“Archbishop, please.”

All eyes turned to the austere man who walked through the door at the moment.

“Alright, some of the company’s not too bad,” She conceded with a smile and watched as Seteth rolled his eyes at her flattery.

“It is a pleasure to see you again, your Majesty,” Seteth said, ignoring her comment as he continued into the room.

“And you, Seteth. I trust everything is running as smoothly as possible?” Dimitri answered genially.

“As smoothly as it can, though much of that can be attributed to the Archbishop’s work and the approval she has gained from the people," Seteth bowed slightly in her direction, making her huff. She didn't know why he tried to put on such a formal air when others were around, especially with friends.

Her thoughts were broken when baby Blaiddyd started to squall, his round face red and wrinkled as he let out his frustration as vocally as possible.

“Mercedes, if I may?” Seteth asked and held his hands out. Mercedes seemed unsure, but the tired young mother handed over her child in hopes of relief.

Seteth held the baby against his chest as he began to pace with a wide, loping gait. When the bub continued to wriggle unhappily and bleat his displeasure, he began to hum patiently.

The three young adults watched in amazement as the young prince settled in the man's arms and promptly fell asleep.

“You’re a natural,” Mercedes said in wonder as Seteth gently handed her son back to her. 

“He’s starting to teeth,” Seteth said as a way of explanation, “He’s just cranky because his mouth is sore. Ensure he has plenty to chew on, and if you can make it cold it will help soothe him.”

“Can I take you back to Fhirdiad with me? I can read every book on childrearing as I can but none of it seems to help in practice,” She pleaded in jest. The older man simply chuckled and shook his head.

“So, how have the trade negotiations been going so far?” Byleth asked as she turned towards her old friend and student, “Do I need to flex my monastery muscle for you?”

The occupants of the room laughed.

Later, when the monastery was quiet and the monks and nuns were asleep, Byleth sat into the lounge chair as Seteth passed her a steaming cup of tea before taking a seat of his own across from her.

Seteth’s solidarity and support had become a great comfort for her, knowing that he would be there to lend a hand whenever she needed it. Navigating her role as Archbishop was never easy, but it was made even harder by her lack of diplomatic skills or religious upbringing. He had been there for her to answer her every question, and assuage every concern.

But it was times like this, when they simply enjoyed each other's presence without worrying about the outside world, that Byleth had come to cherish the most.

“I imagine you must have enjoyed seeing his Majesty for their visit,” He commented as he took a sip, “I know how you’d like to be able to visit your friends, even if you don’t often mention it.”

“Yes, it was, and seeing his son more than makes up for the solitude. He will be a strong boy, and a strong leader,” She agreed warmly, yet found herself sighing all the same.

“That does not make you happy?” Seteth queried.

"He asked me to marry him, after the war," She admitted softly to him, "I didn't accept. Every time I see him now, a part of me thinks, I could have had that."

Seteth's emerald eyes bore into her, and she watched the way they scanned across her face for her oft-hidden emotions, "You didn’t accept his proposal, but do you… love him?"

"I don't know. Maybe I did, once. But I knew I couldn't be the Archbishop, his confidante and his queen. I can barely handle being one of those, I couldn't be all three."

"Lady Byleth, you know that's not the case. I would have been here to support you whenever you needed it," He frowned.

"It hardly matters now, you saw how happy he is, and his son is beautiful. I think this was the way it was meant to be." She said softly and heard Seteth hum in response, whether in agreement or to refute the statement, she didn't know.

For a while, neither of them spoke. Byleth watched the steam swirl up from her cup, how the amber liquid glinted in the candlelight. In the silence, she was brought back to her concerns from earlier, and when she looked over at her companion she knew he would be the only one who would be able to answer her truthfully.

"I'm not dying, am I?" Byleth asked as she looked out the dark window to avoid his gaze. She could see the alarm in his face through the reflection.

"Why would you ask that?" Seteth queried, leaning his body towards her as he began to inspect her for injuries.

"No, I mean…" She paused, thought through her words, "I'm not...aging. I know I’m not human, not really, but I thought..."

She could feel the heat of Seteth's stare he pondered her words, mulled over his own response.

“As it stands, it would appear that your observations are correct. It is very likely that your own life will extend far beyond that of your friends and comrades. When I said you were one of us, I meant it in every aspect.”

She closed her eyes, breathed in through her nose as she felt a stabbing sensation in her stone heart.

“I’ll have to say goodbye to them all, won't I?”

“One day, yes, but not today. Not for a long time,” He answered in that soft, soothing voice of his. When she turned back to look at him, she saw his own pain hidden behind his eyes.

“That’s the same thing you said to Flayn when she left, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, and she’s enjoying what time she has to the fullest,” Seteth smiled wistfully, “And when the time comes, I will be there for her. Just as I will be there for you, too.”

It was a small comfort.

 

-

 

Thirty-One years had passed since the end of the war, and Byleth looked over the room that had been her home and refuge for the past three decades as she prepared to say goodbye to it. 

There was only so long one could be in a position of power before the masses began to wonder and theorise as to why their benevolent leader didn't look a day older than she had when she had started. Byleth wanted to be a strong leader, but she never wanted to be a deity.

So, when Seteth mentioned that perhaps it was time for the two of them to move on to greener pastures, she’d agreed readily and began to settle her affairs. 

A soft knock wrapped against the door to her room, and she called out her permissions. It was unsurprising to see Seteth’s head pop around the corner before he entered. There were few in the church that Byleth had grown close to, despite her attempts. Perhaps she was only meant to make friendships in the depths of war, and what friends she did have were finding the travel harder with each passing year.

“It will be strange to say goodbye,” He said as he perused the room, bare of the knickknacks and eccentricities that Byleth had decorated it with over the years, “It is a shame that we will have to leave before Flayn returned, I had hoped we would all travel together. I can only hope my communications have reached her.”

"You still haven't heard from her?" She asked, and he gave a short shake of his head. It was a shame.

Byleth paused in folding her clothes and sat back, changing the topic, “It’s funny, I never really considered it but… Garreg Mach has been the only home I’ve ever known. Before that, it was just camps and foggy memories. Will you miss it?”

“Yes, I think I will. Though not all the memories I have of this place are pleasant, it has also given me great joy and personal growth,” He crouched down next to her and began to methodically fold the clothes on the floor, and added, almost as an afterthought, “After all, it did bring me to you.”

She looked over at him, his hands busy and his head down. It was a curious statement to make, and yet...

"Before we settle, you might want to consider choosing a new name for yourself. While your name has increased in popularity in recent years if we are to remain discrete…" His voice petered off as he noticed the distant look in her eyes.

"But- My name…"

“It is not a pressing matter,” He amended quickly, “If you do not feel comfortable doing so-”

“It’s not something the average person must consider,” She stated.

They fell into silence. Byleth was lost in her own thoughts, while Seteth continued to distract himself with the menial task before him to prepare them for travel. By the time everything she could take with her was packed away in her travel bag, the sun had already begun to set early in the afternoon. Soon, the frigid chill of the coming winter would blanket the monastery, but that would be a thought for the future Archbishop, whoever it may be.

"I hear the weather in Brigid is quite pleasant this time of year," He mentioned with a small smile and a sideways glance towards her. She smiled back.

"I think Brigid sounds like the perfect holiday."

 

-

 

Forty-Three years had passed since the end of the war, and the news had come of the King of Almyra’s ailing health. They had both been travelling at the time, somewhere just past the great Airmid river on what used to be Alliance territory, when the news had spread south from Derdriu that the man who had once been their leader did not have long left. While their relationship had dwindled in the years since Byleth’s tenure as a professor of the officer’s academy, Byleth recalled Claude with fondness and remembered that it was his warm demeanour that had helped to lessen the hostilities between the two countries, and she felt it was only right to pay him one last visit.

Seteth had agreed readily when she had brought up the idea, and Byleth set off to make the trek across the country and borders while Seteth remained, certain that he had finally gotten a lead on Flayn’s whereabouts. In hindsight, Byleth should have known the journey would be an arduous one as the passage through the mountains was unachievable without a wyvern or pegasus, so she had resorted to travelling by boat to make it to the mainland of Almyra.

By the time she made it to the capital some three weeks later, Claude was already gone.

The funeral had been magnificent, the streets filled to the brim as the people mourned their king together. Byleth remained on the outside, her hair hidden under a scarf, and she stayed for the festivities as Almyra celebrated his life and achievements, yet confusion and frustration settled in her gut as she watched on. How could they do that? Didn’t they know that someone had died ? That a beautiful and brilliant mind had been lost to the world? Yet they feasted as they cried, danced as they mourned, and it only made her angry.

Byleth’s breath caught in her throat as she realised this would not be the last time she felt this. This was just the beginning of the cycle, bound to repeat itself again and again until no one else was left.

Only her.

When she returned to Fodlan she had already been swallowing down her emotions for weeks, but as she crossed the threshold of the little shack that had been their temporary home and saw him stand up with concern, they finally bubbled over.

"I-I didn't make it," Byleth whimpered. Her vision began to swim behind the tears that were welling up. In an instant, the man was across the room and rubbing her arms in a small attempt to comfort her.

"Byleth, I'm so sorry."

"By the time that I… They were preparing the funeral. I couldn’t get close, I feared that if I did I might have been discovered,” She gasped out, and her hands reached out to clutch at his shirt, hoping it would stabilise her from the swimming motions she was feeling.

Seteth cupped her cheeks and held her face in his warm hands, his thumb wiping away each tear as it fell.

"Seteth, I-"

"Hush," He hummed, "Everything you are feeling is perfectly valid. You needn't apologize, not to me. Every life is important, and as such, it is important that we allow ourselves to feel and to mourn."

Byleth looked up into his eyes, so full of wisdom and a hundred lifetimes worth of pain and regret. She wondered how one man could withstand all he had been through. She wondered how she had failed to notice the adoration he held for her, barely concealed in his expression, or how she had ignored the feelings of fondness in her chest that had bloomed into something more.

He was so handsome.

“Did you- Did you find Flayn?” She asked, hopeful. Hopeful until she saw his expression drop, just for the barest of seconds.

“I did,” He answered, soft and unsure, “She’s doing well.”

“And?”

“...and she’s happy where she is right now, and sends her regards,” He finished, his eyes closed.

“Oh, Seteth…”

She huddled in closer to hug him, felt his hesitancy as he brought his own arms up around her. Byleth wasn't sure anything she felt could compare to the feeling of rejection and loneliness he must have been experiencing. She tilted her head up to look at him and found him looking down at her with that look in his eye again. The one she only saw so often, where he looked at her like she was some strange creature he couldn’t quite understand, but it didn’t matter because even now, even as they stood there as two broken people, he made her feel like she mattered.

She leaned up to kiss him.

He pushed her away, "Byleth, you're upset."

“Of course I’m upset,” She pleaded, pulling at the pleats of his shirt to bring him closer. Yet, he still resisted, his hands dropping down to hold her hips at a firm distance, “But that doesn’t change what I want.”

“You may feel that way now, but tomorrow it will only lead to regret,” He disagreed, his expression stern.

“Aren’t you lonely?” She retorted, spurned by his rejection. "I’ve seen it in your eyes, much as you try to hide it. Let's be lonely together."

“I will not- I refuse to take advantage of you in your vulnerable state,” Seteth shook his head.

“It’s not taking advantage if I-”

“Please, Byleth. I don’t have the restraint to-”

“Do you want me?”

“I-...”

“I want you Seteth. We might have forever, but I don’t want to wait that long,” She whispered as leaned up on her toes and brushed her lips against his, hesitant and questioning.

“Byleth…”

She felt the moment he relaxed under her fingers, as his firm lips softened to mould against hers. She arched into him as his fingers pressed into the divots in her spine, working lower and lower until his palm pressed hot against the sway of her lower back.

Byleth couldn't tell when it was that they had traversed the room to the bed, or when he had divested her of her shirt to press reverent kisses to her heaving breast. She could only focus on how soft his hair was as her fingers tangled in his locks, or the way the muscles in his back twitched and tensed as he catalogued every part of her body from head to toe. When they were down to nothing but their underwear, he pulled back and Byleth prayed that the moment hadn’t broken.

She didn’t think she could bear it.

“Are you sure you want this?” He asked as he towered over her reclined form like a magnificent beast. Her fingers reached out and delicately traced down his chest and abdomen, curling around the edge of his undergarments to pull them down the ridges of his hips. 

“I want all of you,” She whispered back, hopeful. She could see the concern in his expression, the fear that they were making a terrible choice. Maybe they were, but they would make it together.

His hand brushed against her own as he removed the last of his clothing.

Her legs locked over his back as he rocked into her. He moved like the ocean, gentle and coaxing as he pressed in, but leaving her body begging to follow him as he pulled back. They were both out of practice, him by centuries more than her, but their instincts drove them to follow an ancient rhythm that left her moaning out loud.

"Please," She gasped out, her fingers clutching his back, scouring his skin with pink marks. He bucked into her with a startled moan, and pressed a hand between them to help her along.

“You’re so beautiful,” He whispered into her ear as she shuddered through her climax, his strong arms cradling her in his embrace.

Beautiful, she thought. 

Beautiful but broken.

 

-

 

Fifty-Seven years had passed since the end of the war, and they had still neglected to settle in any one place for too long, not that Byleth minded. Moving from place to place reminded her of her life before , and while they were not picking off bandits for money the familiarity of sleeping in inns and in the trees was something Byleth thought lost in her life, after.

The sleepy seaside town on the coast of Boramas had caught their attention most recently. The inn was only metres from the sea, and they had a brilliant view from their little room that Seteth enjoyed far more than he let on.

When Byleth woke to an empty room she was filled with confusion. It wasn’t very often that she woke alone, and when she didn’t wake to Seteth’s arms wrapped around her he was usually in the room reading. What made it more curious was that the bed was cold and yet the sun had barely risen. Wherever he had gone off to, he had left some time ago. 

Byleth pulled on a loose shirt over her nude body and looked out the window to inspect the sun’s position in the sky, but she pulled short when she spotted a figure standing on the beach. Her destination set, she grabbed a pair of trousers and clothed herself to a respectable level of decency before she left the quiet inn and headed for the sand.

She watched with interest as Seteth waded through the shallow waves, his breeches tucked up above his calves to prevent them from getting wet, though it seemed a futile endeavour. His tunic had also been discarded at the shore, as had his undershirt, leaving his upper half bare to the chilly morning air. 

“What are you doing out here so early?” She called out. Her toes curled into the wet sand as the chilled ocean water tickled her ankles. Seteth turned at her voice, startled out of his thoughts, and made his way back to her.

“I was collecting shells,” He admitted, his cheeks taking on a flushed tone that betrayed his embarrassment, “Flayn used to adore them, and her mother would string them together and make them into necklaces for her. It’s a habit I cannot seem to kick whenever the sea is in such close proximity.”

Of course, how had she forgotten? Today was Flayn’s birthday. Seteth’s odd mood suddenly explained itself with crystal clarity.

Byleth stepped into his space and pressed a kiss against his chest, just below his collar bone, “It’s sweet. Maybe we could make some for when we next see her?”

“I fear she has grown out of her childish fancies,” He muttered, and his chest expanded with a deep breath, moving her head with it.

“She’ll come back to you,” She said as she looked up at him, taking in the sharp line of his jaw and the pinch of his brows, “She just wanted to see the world first.”

“Perhaps,” He answered softly, noncommittal.

His arms came around her and pulled her into him, swaying them gently to the rhythm of the morning breeze.

Byleth’s chest still ached when she paused to think about how her group of friends seemed to dwindle with each passing year, but for now, Seteth had more than willing to take her mind off of things. Perhaps, she too was a balm to smooth the cracks in Seteth’s broken heart.

“Would you like to stay one more night? The chambermaid mentioned that they will be serving their award-winning fish stew tonight,” She asked softly.

“That sounds perfect,” He agreed, but when he leaned down to kiss her, she thought it tasted bittersweet.

 

-

 

Sixty-Four years had passed since the end of the war, and Byleth was wrapped in warm furs as she sat in the private family quarters in Fhirdiad, a place she had once associated with warmth despite the frigid temperatures. Now, she only felt apprehension.

Dimitri looked like a ghost in comparison to her memories of him, his face withered with age and his once flaxen hair now a stark white, but his blue eye still pierced through her very soul when he looked at her. She knew that time would have damaged him, but seeing him this way was something she never could have prepared for.

"Your hands are still just as warm to me," he whispered as he stroked his thumb over her skin, "You're just as beautiful as the day we first met."

Byleth huffed at the thought and shook her head at him, tried to make a joke, "I think I got a wrinkle."

He chuckled softly and shook his head, “You never were very good at jokes.”

“You never had a very good sense of humour,” She quipped back. Behind the wrinkles, his lips pulled into a smile.

Dimitri sighed, the air wrattling as it escaped his lungs, “I am glad that you came. That I got to see you one last time.”

“Don’t say things like that,” She frowned and squeezed his hand. His eye closed as he reclined further into his chair, and for a while, they simply sat in silence. 

“Did you know, back then? Was that why you rejected my proposal?” He asked, turning his tired, piercing gaze towards her.

“I hadn’t considered it a possibility, but there had been evidence to suggest that I had changed,” She admitted, and she felt strangely guilty like she had been hiding some filthy secret from him.

“So then it was true what you said, that you didn’t love me,” He concluded, but he didn't seem hurt.

Byleth reached over to stroke the paper thin skin of his cheek, feeling as he leaned into it. She smiled sadly as she said, “Dimitri, I have always loved you. Just not the way that you wanted me to.”

“It is inconsequential now, and as I see it, perhaps it was for the best. I have lived a happy life, watched my children and grandchildren grow into strong, capable people. I don’t think I could bear the thought of having to leave you if you…”

Byleth closed her eyes against her emotions and shook her head, “Maybe, but I can’t bear it either.”

“Oh, Byleth…”

She sat with Dimitri until late in the night, though they conversed very little. Dimitri was old, far older than most men ever acheived, and she could see his body giving up on him. He was tired, but he was ready, he had said. Only, she wasn't ready to let him go. Not now, not ever. When she returned to her rooms later that night, tears dribbling down her cheeks, Seteth was there to gather her up in his arms and kiss the tears away. As his lips pressed against her own, soft and affectionate, Byleth couldn’t help but think his kisses tasted like bitterness and ash.

She pushed him away.

“Byleth?”

“I don’t think I can do this anymore,” She whispered, shocked at her own words.

“What do you mean?”

Byleth stepped back, eyes wide as she tried to grab at the thoughts rushing through her head. When she focused on him, she thought she could see his heart breaking, “I don’t think I can be with you anymore. I don’t think I can do this forever”

"Is an eternity by my side an idea so hard to stomach?" Seteth asked scathingly, covering his wounds under a veil of anger.

"Yes! No! I don't-" She swallowed down her words and her frustration, but her knuckles cracked as her hands squeezed into fists.

"I was never meant to live at all, Seteth. I was never meant to live forever."

He moved in and grasped her upper arms, his grip warm and comforting, "I know. Goddess, I know how hard it is. But please, Byleth, please understand that I would do anything for you. I love you."

Her breath caught in her chest as she looked up into his searching eyes. In all the years they had been...something more, he had never said the words out loud. Maybe words of affection and devotion as they melted into the sheets of their bed, but never anything more.

Then again, neither had she.

"Then let me go,” She pleaded.

Seteth stared at her for a long time, and she watched the emotions that played out in his eyes. Confusion, shock, pain and regret, and finally a deep sadness. If she had a heart, she thought the sight alone might have broken it.

His hands dropped from her shoulders and he stepped back, turning his head to the side as he straightened his posture.

“If that is what you wish, then I am obliged to grant it, my lady.”

“I’m sorry, Seteth,” She said as she backed away, “I’m sorry I couldn’t…”

“You have nothing to apologise for. It was my own fault allowing us to become involved as such,” He answered, tried to cover up the bitterness behind his austere air. It didn’t work, but it still hurt like a lance to her side nonetheless.

Byleth turned and left the room, walked through the halls of the grand palace and out through the main entrance. She walked past the courtyards and gardens, and when she came to the gates she didn’t look back to find an ancient man with hair the colour of evergreen trees watching her walk away from her life.

When the news spread that the Hero King of Faerghus had passed away peacefully in his sleep, Byleth didn't bother going to the funeral.

It hurt too much to say goodbye.

Chapter Text

One-Hundred and Eight years had passed since the end of the war, and Byleth found herself taking on a new name, one that she had never come to expect to take on.

It was Mother.

She hadn't intended for it to happen. Byleth had been passing through a village in the Brionac Plateau when she had been caught up in a rescue effort when a local farmer’s house had caught fire. 

A little boy, not yet three, with hair the same colour as the fires he had been pulled from, cried out in agony and confusion as he was carried away from the remains of his home. Byleth felt her non-existent heart leap up into her throat as she watched on. She didn't know what prompted her to stay around and watch as the villagers discussed what to do with the little orphan, but stay she did.

“I’ll… I’ll take him,” She murmured.

The villagers looked at her with distrust.

“I’ll take him to the monastery. He’ll be cared for there, treated well and given an education,” She continued. While she didn’t want to return, it seemed like the fairest option for the boy. It's not like anyone that remembered her was alive now, anyway.

Eventually, the villagers relented to her decision, as none of them had enough resources to feed another mouth that was not their own. When Byleth turned her path towards the centre of Fodlan, she did so with a toddler swaddled to her back.

The baby squawked and screamed as she walked, and she tried her best to tune it out. However, there was only so much she could take, and after hours of endless squeals, Byleth sat down on the path and untied the makeshift strap that held her to him. Finally free, the boy began to clumsily walk-crawl away from her. 

She picked him up and held him to her chest, humming firmly in an attempt to calm him, trying to remember how he had done it. Did it even work on toddlers, or just babies? She rocked back and forth in her seated position until the boy's struggles seized, and when his screams settled into soft little hiccups. 

Byleth combed her fingers through his soft red fringe, finding it curious. It had been so long since she had last held a baby. She knew it was a bad idea, and yet...

“Jeralt,” She whispered against his forehead. His little fist clenched at her shirt in response.

Byleth settled down in the outskirts of Arundel. It was a big enough city that she wouldn’t raise any eyebrows, while it gave her the stability she felt she needed to raise the boy. It seemed like the right choice, however, when she watched Jeralt grow from a clumsy little boy to a young child that climbed trees and skimmed stones in the lake.

It was hard to explain to him why he continued to grow and develop while she changed little, how the parents of his friends seem far older than his own mother. How was one supposed to tell their son that they were immortal, that her body had not always been her own? That she had lived out countless lifetimes and would continue to do so until she was struck down.

"I'll be with you forever, mama," He had said as he cuddled up to her one night, unaware of how his comment had made her stone heart ache.

Still, she did her best to raise him, and raise him she did. Before her very eyes, her baby boy became a young man, strong and capable and just as capable with a lance as his grandfather had been. She was there for him when he got married to the prettiest girl in the village, there for him when he awkwardly tried to explain her predicament to his wife, and she was there for the birth of his first child.

“Mom, promise you’ll watch over her when I’m gone?” He asked as she combed her fingers through his hair, just as she had done when he was a child. It was the first time he had ever brought up his own mortality in front of her, and she blinked back the tears that welled in her eyes.

“I promise. There’s nothing more important to me than you and your family,” She said with a smile, putting on a strong face for him. He grinned up at her, exhausted by his anxiety and yet his cheeky smile still captured her heart.

Time felt so short to her now. The longer she lived the shorter each year felt, and before she knew it her boy’s hair was no longer a passionate red, and he could no longer skim stones in the lake.

Byleth kept her promise to her son and continued to watch over his children and grandchildren. They were bold and brave and so much like her son that it lessened the pain of losing him just a bit. But when his great-grandchildren no longer called her family and she became the strange, ethereal woman who came to visit, she knew it was finally time to move on.

She had kept her promise.

 

-

 

Two-Hundred and Seventy-Four years had passed since the end of the war, and Byleth found herself in a position not so unfamiliar. She had turned back to the roots she had grown up on, only now it was without Jeralt by her side (her father, her son ). Slipping back into the mask of the Ashen Demon was not so difficult, and well, no one here had ever heard the stories anyway.

When she decided to leave the only continent she had ever called home and travelled the vast seas to Dagda, she hadn’t had much of a plan other than to escape her own thoughts and memories. What she found was a bountiful land with its own history and enough space that she could travel it for decades and never be recognised. Unfortunately for her, what little money she had was not accepted currency on the new continent, so she began picking up small tasks and picking off bandits as she went. 

Her battle prowess preceded her, and eventually, one enthusiastic farmboy looking for a taste of adventure became two, and before long she was travelling with a merry band of mercenaries across the continent. It worked out to be more convenient than she expected. The soldiers were genial with her and respected her greatly, but none seemed to have the desire to break through her stoic shell to see the ‘real’ her. As was the way with things, one would fall in love with a pretty girl in a town they passed through and left the caravan, or came across a business venture that was too good to pass up. Sure, there were rumours about Byleth’s seemingly endless youthfulness, but none were around long enough to really question it. 

Her renown had led her to this point, where she and her band had been hired for temporary surveillance of Dagda’s parliament as it readied itself for the inauguration of a new, controversial leader. She cared little for the politics of it all, in a way that reminded her more of her father than she cared to think about, but the pay was good and it gave her an opportunity to explore the Abenhal, the opulent capital. Colloquially known as the marble city, it was a masterpiece built upon a history of blood. Byleth had thought it prudent to survey the city for its historical monuments that could be potential targets during protests, while also scoping out high points perfect for assassins to hide.

She had not, however, expected to find him.

She found him in a grand old library, his hair tied back and his bangs long. At first, she didn't recognise him, saw him as just another face in a faceless crowd, but when she approached she saw the sharp tip of his ear peak out through his hair before he’d reached up to cover it once more.

Byleth stood there, simply staring. Like a ghost from a past life, yet still breathing. Still warm.

Still alive.

When he lifted his head from the paper’s he had been perusing at his desk, she was so surprised to see that he’d grown his facial hair in, but there was no mistaking that shade of colour. He looked just as shocked when it registered just who it was staring back at him.

“Your hair, it’s…” He stopped with a gesture. She instinctively reached up to comb her fingers through the short strands.

“It’s easier to work with,” Byleth conceded with a shrug.

"It's different."

"You don't like it?"

"I- Well, it's of little consequence what I think,” He paused before shaking his head and returning to his work. She stood there, unsure whether she should say something or leave and pretend they had never met.

It was like she was unable to move. She couldn’t find it in her to move towards him and speak, yet something was holding her back from turning away at the same time.

“When I heard about a mercenary group lead by a woman who went by the name Eisner, I had wondered,” He commented as he continued to mark his ledger. He didn’t look up as he worked, and there was a tension in his shoulders that she hadn’t seen since they had first met.

“I didn’t think you would ever leave Fodlan,” She admitted.

“The Church of Seiros is falling in popularity as of late, and while there are some of us that know the truth of it, it is not my place to try to sway the people to think differently,” He said as he glanced up at her, “Not anymore. I thought it prudent to settle my affairs and take an extended break.”

“I see. Well, it was good to see you again…” She stopped, leaving her sentence hanging as she had no idea what to call him now.

“Matek.”

“Matek, the children’s author,” She wondered aloud. She had seen the books in the store windows, bright and colourful fables that had charmed the children of Dagda. She never gave it a second thought.

He shrugged slightly at the comment, and for a while they simply stared at each other in silence. It made Byleth's skin crawl, and she turned, ready to flee and forget this ever happened.

“Eisner,” He called out. She stopped and closed her eyes on a deep breath, ready to face him.

When she turned around he had finally stood from his desk, and as he rounded the corner to walk up to her she felt the echo of a long lost memory seeing his lithe figure once more.

She had always thought that when he walked he seemed to glide across the room, but now he looked more like a caged beast prowling closer.

“Yes?”

“It would please me greatly if you could keep in contact, in the future. My daughter misses you greatly and has often wondered after your safety. It would bring her peace of mind if you would,” He said stiltedly.

“I-” She stopped, her tongue stiff in her mouth.

He thrust his hand forward towards her, a piece of paper clenched between his thumb and forefinger, “My address.”

She reached out and took it without thinking, and when their skin brushed it felt like static electricity zapped straight through her. 

“I’ll… I’ll consider it.”

His chin dropped down to his chest in a half nod. 

“That's... all I can ask of you. Goodbye, then, Eisner.”

“Yes. Goodbye.”

When she left, she told herself she could forget it. That she would forget it. But the piece of paper she held in her fingers told her not to, and when she came to the great river that bisected the city, her fingers refused to release it into the water. With a frustrated huff, she stuffed it into her pocket and returned to her mission. 

The dream ended when one of her men, with ashen blond hair that fell in front of his pretty blue eyes (so familiar) , got down on one knee and proposed to her. Promised to take care of her until the end of their days, fighting side by side.

She had told him she would consider it, but when the mercenary group woke to the rising sun the next day, she was already gone.

Later, as she waited to board a boat set to return to Fodlan, she twirled her growing hair around her finger and looked back. She wondered if her letter would ever reach him.

-

 

Three-Hundred and Thirty-Five years had passed since the end of the war, and Byleth thought she caught a familiar face in the crowd of festival-goers.

Her hair was just as long and luxuriant as she remembered, with a white lily tucked behind her ear in a way that made the golden crown missing from her head just that more tangible. Her dress was long and flowing, and she looked like a spirit against the glow of the firelight as she weaved through the crowd and smiled at the children.

Part of her wanted to march up to her and demand something from her. Anything. How she could have let her own grief ruin the lives of others. How she had ruined Byleth’s own chance at a happy ending. For a second, Byleth wanted her to suffer just as much as she had suffered, so she could understand the pain.

The other part of her whispered that perhaps, she already knew what that pain felt like.

As Byleth turned and walked away, she briefly wondered what her name was, now.

 

-

 

Four Hundred and Three years had passed since the end of the war, and Byleth was tired.

So, so , tired.

 

-

 

Four Hundred and Fourty-Seven years had passed since the end of the war, and Byleth was recognised by a girl studying her history books while she ate lunch. She had a forkful of meat hanging midair between the plate and her mouth as a heavy textbook was dropped on the table and a stubby little finger pointed to the page. On it was a recreation of a portrait painted of her in all of her archbishop regalia, staring up at her with the smallest of smiles. She vaguely remembered sitting for hours with Ignatz as he worked, and how the muscles in her back smarted from the stiff posture she held for it.

“You look just like her,” The girl proudly pointed out. Her finger dragged along the page to underline the title, “Archbishop Byleth.”

“How interesting,” Byleth said with a smile as she put down her fork.

“Maybe you’re related!” The girl exclaimed. She wasn’t sure why, but she found the youngster’s enthusiasm infectious.

“Maybe,” She played along.

The child leaned in as she read the paragraph, "She was an important figure in the unification of the continent of Fodlan, but she disappeared from history some thirty years after the war. There are no records of her after her tenure as Archbishop, though some historians theorise she retired with her advisor, Seteth. Wow, she sounds like an amazing lady, don’t you think?"

“I think she did what she had to do, for the peace of the country,” Byleth answered softly. The little girl looked contemplative for a moment before she shrugged.

“I want to be like her when I grow up,” She decided, giving a firm nod. Byleth blinked in surprise. 

“Why do you want that?” Byleth asked out of curiosity, as she thought about the life she had lead that had caused so much admiration. Why would anyone want to emulate that?

But then, she looked into the little girl’s bright eyes, full of hope and wonder and dreams for the future. Was that what she had looked like once?

“Because I want to help make the world a better place.” She said with a decisive nod. She closed her textbook and pulled it into her chest, giving Byleth a look over once more. 

“Can I get a picture? My history teacher won’t believe it.”

“I-” Byleth paused, stopping the rejection at the tip of her tongue. What would the harm be, really? It had been so long, and so much had changed, that no one would even consider...

“O-okay.”

The little girl squealed in excitement and grabbed her hand, yanking her out of her chair and dragging her across the cafe, calling out to an older woman across the room.

“Mom! Mom, can you take a picture of me and--”

“B- Brianna,” She finished dumbly.

She gave a small smile as the light flashed before her eyes, and wished the girl well in her studies before they left. When she returned to her meal, it was stone cold and she no longer felt she had the appetite to eat it.

That night, Byleth dreamt of her friends. She dreamt of Dimitri and the rest of the Blue Lions, of her fellow professors. She dreamt of Jeralt, her father and her son. She dreamt of them, just as young and beautiful and unbroken as they had been when they had first met, and for the first time in a long time, it didn’t hurt.

She dreamt of him.

She dreamt of his small, secretive smiles he tried to hide when something had charmed him. She dreamt of how his palm was warm when he grasped her hand, firm and comforting. She dreamt of the way his beard scratched the sensitive curve of her neck as he hissed ancient forgotten words into her ear when she reached her ecstasy. She dreamt of the slow, constant beat of his heart against her ear.

But mostly, she dreamt of his eyes. Those beautiful jades that reflected back a world of wisdom she could never begin to fathom. 

Byleth’s cheeks were dry when she woke up, and she didn’t feel guilty for letting herself smile.

 

-

 

Four-Hundred and Eighty-Five years had passed since the end of the war, and yet Garreg Mach Monastery still stood strong and austere amongst the mountains.

It was funny, Byleth thought as she continued her trek forwards, that she had never expected to see the place again when she had left all those centuries ago. She had expected it to be destroyed in a war, or fall to ruin from neglect, crumbling away until it became one with the mountains once more. And yet, she couldn’t help but be glad that the place that had brought her so much pain and so much happiness and so, so much sadness was still there to welcome her back. Was it selfish, perhaps, to be thankful that her trials had not yet been forgotten to history?

As she took a turn in the path that opened to the vast stone stairs that lead up to the monastery, she stopped in her spot and gasped in surprise. There were more people at the gates than she had ever seen before, excitedly chattering as they waited to enter. There were no monks, or nuns, or students, they were just… people. Just ordinary people, ready to visit the stone monument in the mountains. 

She eventually reached the front of the line, leading into the grand entranceway. The walls past the pillars were lined with glass cases, and inside them were the heroes relics, only now they sat quiet, no longer pulsing with venomous life. 

When she looked towards the stairs, she found him there.

His hair was still the same, indulgent shade of green, but he had cut it back short once more, and as he turned she saw him clean-shaven for the first time. He wore a simple white button-down and fitted black trousers. His black boots gleamed in the sunlight. On his chest sat a nametag - Jakob, Museum Curator.

She wondered if she would always find him as devastatingly handsome as she did, or if there would ever be a time where the sight of him would no longer take her breath away. Considering how many centuries had already passed, Byleth had begun to accept it as a constant.

A boy, perhaps fourteen, had hair a familiar shade of green tied back in a short ponytail. He was tall for his age, but still gangly with youth, and his smile was bright as he waved at the visitors that gathered. Could he have been…

As she approached, his voice broke through the crowd as he began the tour for the gathered people.

"Garreg Mach was the stronghold and monastery of the Church of Seiros, the dominant religion of Fodlan during the period. It served as both the epicentre for many of the religious events on the Imperial Calendar, as well as an officer's academy for the youth of the wealthy elites." He called out as he walked slowly, pointed out the architecture as he went. Byleth stayed at the back of the group, and yet it seemed like they were fated to seek each other out, as their eyes met and he paused in his speech.

There was only silence as they stared at each other.

"Excuse me, I have some matters to attend to. Klaus, if you would?"

"Of course, sir!' The young boy sprang forward, taking over with his well-rehearsed speech.

Byleth watched with baited breath as he moved towards her, stopping a scant few metres away. When the crowd moved on to their next sight, they were left in relative solitude. Just the two of them, and the grand entrance hall of the monastery.

How familiar it felt.

"I didn't think you would come," He spoke, clasping his hands behind his back.

"I wasn't sure I would either," She admitted. When she had received a letter requesting her presence for the grand opening of the Museum of Garreg Mach, she had initially planned to turn her path towards Almyra and explore the newly opened path that had been excavated through Fodlan’s throat. Something about seeing his familiar calligraphic scrawl on the paper, tentatively asking about her welfare and if she could perhaps make time for the event, brought back memories that no longer hurt, but instead, filled her with...happiness.

It had scared her more than expected.

"Nevertheless, I am glad you came," He conceded, and gestured for her to follow him as he began to walk, "How are you, have you been well?"

"Yes, I have… Funny, it's been a long time since I could say that," Byleth looked over his shoulder to the distant crowd and the boy who enigmatically gestured at a feature or some such. "The boy, is he…?"

"My nephew, yes."

"Flayn had a-"

"Yes. She and her partner lived a long and happy life together until the time came," He said and turned to look at the boy himself, “Klaus has come to understand our...predicament, and he has found great interest in learning our history. I was happy to have help.”

"I'm glad, for them. Where is she now?"

"Travelling, currently. But she visits quite regularly,” He glanced her way from the corner of his eye, “Though I imagine it is more for her son than it is for me. Still, it is nice to have family around.”

For a while, neither of them spoke. The distance between them felt strange as they walked, yet Byleth only had herself to blame for putting it there to begin with.

“Is the cemetery still intact?” She asked as they walked through the grounds.

“Mostly. The...significant headstones are still accounted for,” He broached hesitantly, and she could see from the corner of her eye the look of concern he passed her way, “Would you...like to see them?”

“I would,” She said, swallowing down the emotions that had crawled up her throat.

When they reached the stairs that lead down to the green patch of grass covered in old, weathered headstones, he remained at the top of the stairs while she headed down to the corner. The ground was damp with the morning dew as her knees pressed into it. She leaned forward, brushed her fingers over the marks that had been worn down by time, unreadable to the eye but forever etched into her stone heart. 

“Hi Dad, it’s been a while,” She murmured as she stroked his name, “A lot has happened since we last talked. You have a grandson, did you know? Maybe you’ve already met him…”

Byleth paused, suddenly overcome by the emotions she had buried away for so long, and her breath shuddered as it passed her lips.

“He was beautiful and brave and everything you would hope your grandson could be, and he made me very proud. I… I hope you’re proud of me, too. I know my life isn’t what either of us thought it would be, but I’ve tried to make the best of it. I-I’ll continue to try. I promise.”

“I miss you.”

The tears felt cold on her cheeks as the wind blew, but as it ruffled through her hair like Jeralt’s hand once had, it didn’t make her sad like she had expected. Instead, she felt awash with relief.

When she turned, her knees digging into the grass and staining her pants green, she found him standing some distance away. His awkward half pace displayed his own indecision to leave her be in during her private moment, or perhaps…

Perhaps he still felt the urge to step in and comfort her, much as she had spurned him over, and over.

A small flame that had shrivelled and died inside her centuries ago suddenly sparked alight at the thought, and it confused her greatly.

She stood up and walked over to him, clasping her hands together to cover the shake, “Thank you.”

“You have no need to thank me,” He said with a shake of his head.

She turned her head to look away, "It's late, I should be heading off."

"You can stay the night if you like. The rooms are fully furnished"

"I… No. I’ve already sought out accommodation in the town. But, thank you, for the offer,” She declined.

“Allow me to walk with you, into town then,” He asked, something in his voice gently pleading at her.

“Okay.”

He smiled briefly and held out the crook of his elbow for her to take. She reached out and looped her arm into his, feeling the familiar strength he hid behind starched sleeves.

The walk to the town was not short. Byleth didn’t know what to say, yet he seemed happy enough to fill the silence with his observations of the flora and fauna of the area, and how proud he was of the work that had brought the museum to fruition. Byleth found it soothing to listen to him, and when he made her smile and his face lit up at her response, it felt like it had centuries ago.

When they stopped in front of the hotel, he released her arm and stepped back. 

"Will you keep in contact? I would appreciate it if you would keep me updated on your whereabouts." 

She nodded in agreement, feeling lost for words.

“And… I hope I will see you again, soon.”

“You will. I promise.”

 

-

 

Four-Hundred and Ninety-Nine years had passed since the end of the war, and Byleth enjoyed the warmth that settled into her skin as she enjoyed a cup of tea in the courtyard of the Museum of Garreg Mach. The area had become a cafe to the visitors, but now, in the warmth of summer as the sun set, it was empty to tourists.

“How were your travels through Sreng?”

“Cold, as always, but the mines are starting to bear fruit, and the people are excited. When the ports are finally completed the economy will finally begin to flourish,” She said with a small smile as she sipped her tea.

“How exciting,” He murmured as he slathered cream onto his scone, “Perhaps now that they have put their cunning minds to pursuits of gold instead of conquest, they will be able to find the peace they have always sought.”

“Perhaps. Maybe you should visit sometime.”

“I think not, I am far to busy with my duties at the museum,” He said with a shake of his head.

“Is that so? Klaus told me he’s learned quite a bit from you and is looking forward to a ‘promotion’ soon,” Byleth said slyly.

“Yes, well, even if that was the case I- well, it is far too much work for a single person.”

“He thinks you need a holiday. Says you’re becoming too much of a stress head.”

“Byleth, in all the centuries we have been acquainted, when have you ever known me not be a ‘stress head’?” He asked, deadpan.

Byleth laughed out loud, shocked by his admission, and she kept laughing as the empty hole in her chest felt light with glowing warmth and not dark and heavy as she had always remembered.

As she watched him roll his eyes at her reaction, watched as he coughed on a crumb when her foot curled around his ankle under the table, that’s when she knew.

She knew this time would be different.

"I think I'm ready," She said with a smile, and for the first time in her life, she felt unburdened by the weight of living.

"Ready..?"

"To be with you, by the sea. For however long we live. I'm ready to watch the seasons go by, to see histories be made, with you."

"Byleth, I…" His mouth muttered on silent words, so obviously at a loss to her admission.

For a second, she felt unsure, “Unless you don’t want..?”

“No, that’s not it! I just never, I-,” He said hastily, knocking over his empty cup as he leaned forward to grasp at her hand, “Are you sure?”

“There’s never been anyone else?” She asked instead, looking down at their hands. She watched as his thumb stroked the back of her hand, familiar even after lifetimes of separation. His callouses rasped and prickled against her skin, bringing her back to the nights they had spent together and made her prickle with warmth.

“I never thought I would find anyone after my wife, and then I found you. I would not imagine I would be so lucky third time around, so I never looked, nor did I want to,” He looked at her earnestly, his eyes wide and bright with emotion. It only helped to confirm her suspicions. 

"Then yes, I'm sure. I won't lie, I don't think it will be perfect, and there will be day, months , where I might want nothing to do with you. But I… I love you, and I think I've only just realised that these feeling have always been real. I hope that love will make up for the bad times."

He stood from his chair to round the small table, and he kneeled before her, still gripping her hand tightly within his own. His other hand came up to cup her cheek, and as his thumb smudged wetness across her skin, she realised she was crying.

"My love," He crooned, his voice hushed, "No relationship is perfect, but when I promised you I would always be there for you, I meant it. I only hope that you promise me that you will always come back to me, in return. I will always be waiting for you, until my time has come."

Byleth reached and took his face in her hands and brought him closer as she leaned in, pressing her forehead to his. His own hands moved to gently hold her shoulders.

"What should I call you?" She whispered.

"The first name you knew me by."

"Seteth." She sighed and felt warmth suffuse through her like she hadn't felt in centuries. Her fingers curled into his soft waves of hair and traced against the tipped edge of his ear, and it felt like coming home.

Her nose brushed against his and she pressed her lips to his in the barest caress, whispered against his skin.

"Seteth, take me home."

"As you wish, my love."

 

-

 

Five-Hundred years had passed since the end of the war, and Byleth thought it was time to finally stop counting.