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“Linhardt, behind!”

Byleth's voice echoed across the battlefield, reaching Linhardt just in time for him to narrowly dodge the sword that swung dangerously close to his face. He spun around and, seemingly on instinct, propelled himself back with a powerful burst of white magic.

The bandit shrieked as the magic hit them square in the chest, throwing them back where they slammed into the ground. As Linhardt recovered, he looked to where the bandit had landed. There they laid motionless, blood beginning to stain the grass near their head.

Linhardt blanched, and suddenly he was on the ground, his legs having buckled underneath him.

“Linhardt!”

Suddenly, Byleth was at his side. Touching the side of his face, she gently forced him to look at her. She'd replaced her sword on her back already, and seemed wholly unphased by the splatters of blood staining the front of her armor; for Linhardt, his wide-eyed, shocked gaze fell on the stains, and he couldn't look away, a tremor washing through him.

“Are you all right?” Byleth asked, her emotionless eyes flickering over his face, trying to gauge his overall wellness.

“I...” Linhardt glanced over Byleth's shoulder, his eyes once again finding the bleeding, broken body. “I... killed them. What have I done? The... the blood...”

Tears welled in the corners of his eyes as they finally met Byleth's, and she was surprised by how distraught and horrified he was as he repeated, “I killed them.”

Byleth bit her lip, suddenly feeling completely out of her depth. She glanced around and found that most of her students, all varying amounts of disheveled, beaten, and bloody, were beginning to make their way over.

“Is Lin okay?” Dorothea asked, her tone evidently worried. She was the first to come over, dropping to his and Byleth's sides, looking as if she wanted to help but being incapable of it.

“He's... Everything's fine,” Byleth said quickly, and then addressed the class as a whole. “Good work, everyone. You did well for your first proper battle. Gather your bearings, and then we'll head back to the monastery.”

She turned her attention back to Linhardt, who still looked shell-shocked from the encounter. “Caspar,” she called, looking to the other boy. “Help Linhardt walk back, he's... shaken.”

Caspar, having already stripped off his gauntlets, nodded and came to Linhardt's side. With Byleth's help, they hauled the boy to his feet, and Caspar immediately situated himself under Linhardt's arm, having to prop him up when he nearly fell again.

“I'm... I'm sorry,” Linhardt mumbled, and Caspar just shrugged, giving him a grin.

“Don't worry about it; that must've taken a lot out of you.” He let out a tone-deaf laugh as he went on, “Didn't think you had it in you, Lin!”

Byleth didn't miss the way Linhardt's face lost all of its color at Caspar's remark; but, not knowing what else to do about it in the moment, she merely did a headcount of the rest of her students and, deciding not to spare it a second thought for now, led them back to the monastery.

---

Later that evening, Byleth made her way to the dormitories.

Since their return early in the day, she hadn't been able to get Linhardt out of her mind; she'd seen people go in white in the face like that, but only ones that had been unfortunate enough to meet the end of her sword.

Killing had never done anything but fill her with adrenaline, every battle won a rare sort of thrill, every life taken a reminder that she was still alive, unbeating heart be damned. She'd never seen someone react to a won fight the way Linhardt had – not even her other students (save Bernadetta and her eternally volatile state) had taken their first kills so poorly. So, she only felt a bit helpless as to what to do in this situation.

Part of her had just wanted to let it go; surely, Linhardt would get over it eventually on his own, after some more time on the field. Bloody your hands enough, and washing them after soon becomes just another chore.

But Linhardt hadn't been at dinner, and she couldn't help the niggle of worry in the pit of her stomach as she realized it. Regardless of her lack of understanding, she was still his teacher, and if he was struggling, she assumed it was part of the deal that she help him.

So, once dinner had finished and she'd escaped the chit-chat Manuela and Dorothea had roped her into, she found her way to Linhardt's room, not even taking a detour to change out of her bloodstained clothes. She hesitated, the thought that he might merely be napping suddenly occurring to her; but she couldn't know for sure, and so just forced herself to rap her knuckles on the thick wooden door four times, calling, “Linhardt? Are you there?”

There was a long, long pause, wherein Byleth wondered if Linhardt had indeed just taken a nap. Then, the door slowly creaked open, and a haggard-looking Linhardt appeared from behind it. His face was pale, eyes red-rimmed and bloodshot, hair untied from its usual ponytail and disheveled. As he saw who had come to his door he winced, and he was noticeably having to force himself to look at her directly.

“Oh, Professor,” he said, his voice strained. “Can... can I help you?”

Byleth felt a strange tightness in her chest as she surveyed his appearance, and her expression softened into a rare look of concern.

“I just wanted to check on you,” she said, and gently touched his shoulder; he tensed but didn't pull away. “And to say I'm sorry, for the battle this morning. I shouldn't have positioned you where your back was vulnerable. You might not have been targeted if I'd been more careful. My apologies.”

Linhardt didn't seem to be paying her much attention. His eyes had drifted to the over-sized jacket draped across her shoulders, locked on the drying blood that caked on the material. She could just barely notice his breathing become shallower, and, much to her alarm, he was suddenly looking nauseous.

“Linhardt-”

His eyes snapped up to meet hers. “It's... it's quite alright, Professor,” he said, only the slightest, near imperceptible quiver in his voice. “I've been thinking of it as... a learning experience. I've... I've never...”

He seemed to choke on his own words, and his gaze dropped like a mace to the ground. In a quiet, shaken voice, he said, “If you'll excuse me, Professor, I'd like to take a nap. I'm not used to such... strenuous activity, so I'm... very tired.”

She felt unsure, but if he didn't want to talk, there wasn't much else she could do.

“Of cour-”

The door was shut before she could finish. Byleth stood there for a moment, stunned.

“Acting like Bernadetta...” she mumbled to herself, her concern only growing. After a moment, she sighed. “I'll... check on him later.”

Might as well change out of those bloody clothes while she was letting this situation rest for the moment. With one last, concerned look at the door, she swept away towards her own room.

 

When Byleth returned later that day, she found the door to Linhardt's room slightly ajar.

Peeking inside, Linhardt was sprawled out on his bed, an open book resting on his chest, quietly napping. Nothing out of the ordinary.

“... Worrying too much,” she chastised herself, and softly closed the door behind her as she slipped back out.

---

From his seat in the classroom, Caspar piped up, “We're fighting more bandits?” His eyes seemed to glitter with excited anticipation, and Byleth couldn't help the trace of a smile that crossed her face. Her smile faltered as she noticed Linhardt, seated beside the excitable other boy, hadn't so much as lifted his head from where he'd laid it the moment Byleth had finished her instruction.

Lately, he'd seemed detached during the lessons themselves as well; she hadn't been at the monastery for more than a couple months, sure, but she'd gathered enough in that time to know that Linhardt not taking detailed notes of anything, especially the subjects that actually interested him, was an oddity to say the least.

Worrying, a voice whispered in the back of her head, but she quickly shook that thought away. Returning her attention to Caspar, she nodded.

“This won't be as difficult as your first outing,” she said, tapping her pointer on her palm. “This is a pettier group of bandits, harassing a small village near the monastery. Lady Rhea asked that I – we – look into it.”

“More bandits?!” Bernadetta's squeak was loud and clear, despite her current seat under her desk.

“Yes, more,” Byleth replied. “There's always more bandits needing to be dealt with; when Jeralt and I were mercenaries we were hardly short of work. I'd advise getting used to it now.”

A tiny whimper was all she got in response.

As she surveyed her class, that trace of a smile returned. “I have to say, it was... a pleasure, being at your side for your first true battle. You handled yourselves admirably.”

“We would be nothing without your guidance, Professor,” Edelgard said warmly, beginning to stand from her seat. Hubert followed her up like a shadow.

Glancing over each of her classmates, Edelgard cleared her throat before addressing them, “We shall meet at the gates in an hour. You should all prepare immediately.”

With that, she dipped her head to Byleth, giving her a quick, “My teacher,” before striding out of the room, Hubert diligently at her heels.

Following Edelgard's lead, the rest of the Black Eagles began to leak out of the classroom; Bernadetta sprinted off like a startled rabbit the moment she realized they were free to go. After a few minutes, the only ones left in the classroom were Byleth and Linhardt, whose head was still firmly planted on the desk.

The incident from a couple weeks prior flashed in Byleth's mind and she sighed.

Maybe she hadn't been worried enough.

Though she'd successfully managed to convince herself that all was well that day, she couldn't deny that it still needled at her. Now, she had to admit it to herself: He hadn't been okay that day, and he hadn't been wholly okay since.

Since being placed as their teacher, she'd gotten the hang of how to run lessons fast enough (her adaptability had always been the thing Jeralt was quickest to compliment her for), but the mental and emotional states of her students was new, confusing territory. Dealing with other people had never been her strong suit, not unless the conflict could be settled with her sword.

For her, do to most of her life being a hazy void, the battlefield was the only home she'd ever known. Killing was... normal, as natural to her as the stillness in her chest. She'd never known a battle she regretted, a death she mourned, and so the mental ramifications of battle had never been an issue for her, nothing she was conscious of at least.

But her students, she was gradually realizing, weren't battle-hardened Ashen Demons – most of them had never so much as held a dagger before coming to the monastery, never mind driven one into an enemy's chest. This was a huge transition in their lives, being put in actual battle with both their lives and the lives of their opponents on the line, and the toll that might take on their emotions was something that hadn't so much as crossed her mind.

Linhardt's current state was the unfortunate result of that lack of foresight, and now she had to fix it.

Tiptoeing over to her sleeping student, she gently shook his shoulder, saying in a soft voice, “Linhardt, class is over.”

Immediately, Linhardt jolted awake, nearly falling out of his chair in panic. He took a few heavy, panting breaths as he looked up at Byleth, fear still tinging his expression.

“Professor,” he said warily, beginning to regain his bearings. “You... you frightened me.”

He glanced around the classroom, seeming to take note of the absence of his classmates. “Ah, class must have ended. We're... going to battle, correct? I... I should be going.” He stood, hastily beginning to gather his materials.

Before he could finish and give Bernadetta a run for her gold on the 'hide in your room' front, Byleth placed a gentle but firm hand on his shoulder.

“A moment,” she said, giving him a serious look.

Linhardt made a face. “Professor, I have to prepare-”

“There's still an hour before we leave,” she cut in. “I just need a moment.”

Linhardt hesitated, but then relented, setting down his books and retaking his seat. Byleth leaned on the corner of the table, crossing her arms over her chest as she observed him. She caught his eye and attempted some facsimile of a smile, though it came off more strained than genuine.

“Are you... doing alright?”

The boy went tense, though his expression betrayed nothing but his usual cool, relaxed demeanor; still, Byleth couldn't ignore the way he immediately avoided her gaze.

“I'd like to think I'm doing well,” he replied, drumming his fingers nervously on the cover of one of his books. “Is that all you wanted?”

Byleth clicked her tongue, her impenetrable eyes searching his expression for... something. “You've seemed... more on edge, since last month's mission. I know it was everyone's first foray into actual battle, so-”

“Professor,” Linhardt interrupted, catching Byleth off-guard. “I... I appreciate your concern, but... please trust that I'm fine.” He stood, once again gathering his things.

As he piled his books and journal in his arms, Byleth couldn't help but notice the slightest tremor in his hands. She reached out to touch his shoulder again, furrowing her brow in worry.

“Linhardt-”

He shrugged away from her touch and gave her a shallow bow.

“Thank you, Professor. Now, if you'll excuse me.”

Giving her no space to object, he hurried out of the classroom. She watched him go, feeling an unfamiliar swirl of unease in her stomach.

Maybe... maybe I should... sit him out, for the battle tonight-

She shut off that thought immediately. He was the only one of the class with any healing capability at the moment – that alone made him too important to keep off the field.

Lady Rhea assured me this battle wouldn't be as difficult, she thought, going back to her desk. I'll just... keep him in a suitable position. Pay more attention. Be careful.

Yes, careful.

She could do that.

---

The bandit gang had proven as tame and rudimentary as Byleth had been told, something she found strangely relieving. There was only a handful of bandits left – she couldn't help but wonder why bandits refused to ever retreat, no matter how many of their allies they watched get slaughtered so easily – and the only one of her students that had taken even a scratch was Edelgard. Being she was at the forefront of every encounter, purposefully drawing all attention to herself the entire battle (Hubert close behind as always, should she need his assistance), it was neither troubling nor surprising.

Having just downed the last of the bandits nearest her, Byleth glanced back over her students. Her eyes immediately fell to Linhardt.

True to her revolutionary idea to be more careful, she'd instructed Linhardt to never leave Bernadetta's side, near the back of the group and flanked by Caspar and Ferdinand. With Bernadetta's preference for the bow keeping her (and Linhardt by proxy) away from the thick of fighting and Linhardt's naturally relaxed aura keeping Bernadetta calmer than she normally was, Byleth was pleasantly surprised how well this new configuration had worked. A perfect position, in her humble opinion.

“Edelgard,” Byleth called, and the girl, just a few paces away, readied her axe, an exhilarated grin on her face.

“Yes, my teacher!”

Byleth gestured to the bandit nearest Edelgard. “Forward.”

With an emphatic nod, Edelgard needed no further prompt before rushing at the bandit. She struck him down with a decisive swing of her axe, which she brandished triumphantly in Byleth's direction.

Giving Edelgard a nod of approval, Byleth swung around to find her next target, but stopped when she saw that one of the bandits was no longer where she'd last seen him. She spun around completely, doing an instinctual headcount of each student still locked in battle, searching for the missing enemy. Finally, she caught sight of them; her eyes went wide as she realized they had circled around the back of her students, coming up the one opening Byleth hadn't thought necessary to cover.

“Bernadetta! Linhardt!” she shouted, newfound panic surging through her body as she broke out into a sprint, desperately racing towards the twos' position.

“Ah!” Bernadetta shrieked, startled by Byleth's outburst. “What?!”

When she glanced over her shoulder, only to see a gauntleted bandit charging at her, she shrieked again. Without hesitation, she slammed her bow on the ground and took off in the opposite direction, breezing passed the other students like a lightning flash and off the battlefield, disappearing into the surrounding forest. It was enough to momentarily stun Byleth, halting her in her tracks – she'd known Bernadetta was quick to panic, but that reaction was certainly new.

By the time Byleth regained her bearings, the bandit had already switched gears, charging now at Linhardt who just... froze.

“Don't just stand there!” Byleth shouted, seeing him lock up and feeling this unfamiliar sense of panic spike within her because of it.

The bandit closed in on Linhardt, and his eyes went wide, hands out but shaking. He seemed to get a hold of himself for just a moment, and, letting out a panicked cry, gestured as if to cast a spell.

Nothing happened.

As Linhardt looked at his trembling hands, his panic increasing tenfold as he seemed unsure of what just happened, the bandit swung one gauntleted fist at him. It slashed across his torso once, twice, three times, ripping through his robes, each impact accompanied by Linhardt's yelps of pain. A final one smashed into his jaw, sending him crashing flat onto the ground.

“Linhardt-!” Byleth exclaimed, breathless, staring in shock as her student hit the dirt, now wholly unable to defend himself from the bandit still looming over him.

A dull kind of rage knotted itself in Byleth's stomach, and she readjusted her grip on her sword before charging full force at the bandit. They barely had time to react before she bashed the hilt of her sword into their chest, momentarily stunning them.

Taking advantage of their daze, she shoved them to the ground and raised her sword high, driving it ruthlessly through their chest with an enraged snarl. She held it, listening to them wheeze and gurgle helplessly for a moment, and then yanked the sword back out, her grip on its handle turning her knuckles white.

Immediately, she turned back to Linhardt. The boy was curled in on himself, the cloth on his chest shredded and bloodied, his eyes squeezed shut as tears streaked down his battered face. He let out a wheezing cry that turned into a hacking cough, and Byleth winced as she saw viscous blood dribble from his mouth.

Finished with their fights, the other students were now surrounding him, Caspar and Dorothea knelt down at his sides.

“Professor,” Dorothea said, her eyes glittering with tears as she looked up at Byleth with an otherwise stunned, frightened expression.

“This looks real bad, Professor,” Caspar said, his tone teetering on the edge of full-blown alarm. He, too, looked up at Byleth like a kicked puppy, waiting for her to tell him what to do.

Coming over and gently nudging Dorothea out of the way, Byleth dropped to Linhardt's side. After a moment's hesitation, she tore a shred of mostly unbloodied fabric from his already ruined robes and wiping the blood from around his mouth before shifting her attention to Caspar.

“Caspar,” she said, reaching out her hand to him, “the vulnerary.”

“Oh!” Caspar scramble to pull out the small flask Byleth had given him prior to the battle. She hurriedly uncorked the potion, carefully lifting and holding up Linhardt's head and so she could press the mouth of the flask to his lips.

“Drink,” she ordered, her voice remarkably level.

His eyes were unfocused and he let out a low groan, but he managed to comply, swallowing the vulnerary. Once finished, Byleth tossed the empty flask over her shoulder.

“He'll be... He's stable,” Byleth said, letting out a small sigh of relief.

“We should get him back to the village immediately,” Edelgard spoke up, slinging her axe over her shoulder. “There's a healer who can tend to him there until we can return to the monastery.”

Byleth looked to Edelgard and nodded. “I'm going to retrieve Bernadetta. You take them back to village. Wait for me there.” She then glanced at Caspar. “Can you carry him?”

“Yeah, yeah, of course,” Caspar replied immediately, still looking distressed.

“Is he going to be alright?” Dorothea asked nervously as she watched Caspar quickly start bundling a barely conscious Linhardt into his arms and lift him up.

Pausing, Byleth's eyes fell on Linhardt's limp, battered body, now cradled awkwardly in Caspar's arms. A pit hollowed out in her stomach, and she forced herself to look away, out where Bernadetta had taken off.

“Take him to the healer. I'll be back with Bernadetta as soon as I can. Be on your guard,” she added to Edelgard specifically, her tone harsher than intended.

“Yes, Professor,” Edelgard replied without batting an eye. She addressed her peers, “You heard the professor. Stay close. Keep your eyes open.”

With that, she began to trek back the way they'd come, the rest falling in step behind her.

Byleth stayed an extra moment, watching them go. Unease swirled within her as the image of Linhardt – panicked, frightened, overtaken so quickly – flashed in her mind. She'd been right to worry. He hadn't been alright. She shouldn't have let him brush her off.

Augh, enough.

She shook her head. There was no time for that kind of thinking. Bernadetta was somewhere in the forest, alone, and it was near dark. She needed to find the spooked little rabbit before then.

Once they were all safely back at the monastery, she could deal with Linhardt.

Going over and picking up Bernadetta's damaged, abandoned bow, she slung it over her chest and started off in the direction the young girl had gone, putting her worries temporarily to the back of her mind.

---

The trip back to the monastery had been uneventful. Byleth and the students sat in tense, unpleasant near-silence the entire way, everyone too worn and worried to make much conversation.

Upon their arrival, Byleth handed Linhardt off to one of the Knights, who whisked him away to the infirmary immediately. The rest of the class dispersed back to their rooms with a brief farewell to Byleth, Bernadetta in particular, still shaken from both the encounter and from getting lost in the wilderness for nearly half an hour (Byleth had never scolded someone so harshly in her life), once again racing like a rabbit back to her room.

Once they were all gone, Byleth had gone up to report to Rhea, who seemed concerned for Linhardt but overall pleased with Byleth and the Eagle's performance. She sent Byleth off with a fond well-wish and a promise of prayer for Linhardt's safe recovery.

As she exited the archbishop's chambers, Byleth felt exhaustion crash over her. She sighed and shook her head, immediately heading down the hall to the infirmary instead of giving in and going back to her room. Manuela worked fast: It was likely Linhardt was conscious by now, and Byleth needed to speak to him.

He couldn't evade her this time.

“Manuela,” Byleth called as she arrived at the infirmary. At the back of the room, she could see Linhardt laid out on one of the cots. She sucked in a breath, feeling a squirming in her stomach as she saw him.

“Oh, Professor,” Manuela said, sounding completely unsurprised to see her. She was seated at Linhardt's bedside, looking tired but not worried. That alone was enough to quell some of Byleth's unease.

“How is he?”

Standing up, Manuela cast a soft glance at Linhardt and then smiled at Byleth, crossing the room to meet her. “He's fine. All patched up, good as new. Still shaken, of course, but that's nothing a little rest can't fix.”

Relief washed over Byleth. “May I have a moment?”

“Of course, Professor,” Manuela said. “I'm just hovering. Think I'll pop down to the dining hall.” She cast Byleth a soft smile. “Just... call if you need me.”

Byleth nodded, and Manuela dipped her head as she passed Byleth out of the room.

Now alone, Byleth hesitated.

Was he even awake? If not, should she wake him? What if he still refused to talk?

Once again it was flooding over her how ill-equipped she was to deal with this; but she couldn't do nothing, and that alone was enough to propel her forward. Something wasn't right, and there was enough danger on the battlefield without adding her students self-destructing on top of it.

Crossing the room, Byleth could see that, while he was curled up with the cot blanket pulled up to his chin, Linhardt was wide awake. His eyes flickered to her as she approached, and he seemed to curl in on himself tighter.

“Hello, Professor,” he said, his voice weak, quiet and defeated.

“I'm glad to see you awake,” Byleth said, sliding onto the stool Manuela had been using. And she was; a part of her had definitely feared he'd still be unconscious once she got here. She looked over his face, taking note of the garish purple bruising that flowered over his pale skin. He'd taken a few hits before, most accidental during training or mock battles, but these were definitely the hardest, and the ones most filled with deadly intent.

It's only going to get worse from here, she thought. Regardless of how unused to, how... unsuited he was to battle, he was here at the monastery, he was a student of the Officer's Academy, and he was going to have to fight. Left unchecked and untended to, this would only keep happening, and another incident like this, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, could prove fatal.

Her blood went cold even considering it.

“I'd... like to talk about what happened,” she said, folding her hands in her lap.

He briefly met her eyes and winced as he did so, immediately closing them.

“With all due respect, Professor, I would prefer not.”

“I can't just ignore this, Linhardt,” she pressed, her tone firmer.

He didn't respond.

Byleth hesitated, and then she let out a heavy, regretful sigh.

“I've already ignored it enough.”

She leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees as she looked Linhardt directly in the face. “Look at me,” she ordered, clasping her hands together.

There was a beat, and then he reluctantly opened his eyes. They were bloodshot, his left one only able to half-open due to swelling. Byleth frowned. He looked so... upset. Exhausted. Scared.

“You tried to fight back, against that bandit,” Byleth began, her voice quieter, less harsh. “What happened?”

A long paused stretched between them, where Byleth wasn't sure he was ever going to answer.

Then, he let out a defeated breath and said, “You saw what happened, Professor. I tried to at- attack them, and I couldn't. There's nothing else to say.”

“Why couldn't you attack?” Byleth asked, not wanting to let this thread she'd been given go.

He stared into her eyes, and all Byleth could see was the frightened young boy he still was. He swallowed hard.

“I... I keep seeing that bandit. The first one. The one I...” His voice cracked as he forced himself to say, “the one I k- killed. I see them in my dreams.”

Linhardt closed his eyes again and pulled the blanket tighter around himself.

“They don't say anything, they don't do anything, they just... stand there. Staring at me. And they're bleeding- the blood, there's always so much blood, and I can't leave and the blood just pours from their wounds and it floods the room, and I can't get away even as the blood fills my mouth and covers me until I'm drowning in it and it's my fault there's so much blood I killed them-”

He cut himself off, holding back a sob as unbidden tears streamed down his cheeks.

His voice was quieter, shaking despite his clear attempt to try and keep it level, as he said, “I'm sorry, I caused everyone trouble. I've caused you trouble. I'm sorry, Professor.”

It felt like a weight settled in Byleth's chest. She reached out, laying a gentle hand on the side of his face, unsure of what to do otherwise.

“Linhardt, Linhardt,” she crooned, brushing his disheveled hair out of his face, hoping there was some comfort to be found in that act but knowing full-well she had no idea what to do.

So many lives taken by her hands, and she had never, not once, felt this deep a remorse, this fearful kind of guilt.

Part of her felt lucky.

Another part – Envious.

“People... People die, Linhardt,” she said, trying to choose her words carefully despite feeling like she was in the thick of battle without her sword. “And... and sometimes we have to kill them. You can't fight and expect to keep your hands clean forever – that person, that bandit, would have killed you in a second had you not reacted, and they wouldn't have felt half this... guilt for it.”

Linhardt took a ragged breath and then said, “I don't want to fight. I don't want to kill anyone.”

Byleth hesitated, a long, tense pause, and then bowed her head, collecting her thoughts.

“You should get some rest,” she finally said, standing from the stool. “I'll check on you tomorrow.”

Linhardt just gave a weak nod and then rolled over in the cot, slow and painfully, so that he was facing the wall, and he curled into himself even tighter.

Casting him one last, impenetrable look, Byleth glided out of the room and began to make her way downstairs.

 

She took the long way around the Officer's Academy, deciding to stop by the dining hall to make sure Manuela knew she wasn't with Linhardt anymore. Then, with that done, she headed back to her room.

Once she closed the door, Sothis appeared, floating near the foot of her bed, arms crossed, watching her with a kind of vague curiosity.

“You had more to say to that boy,” she remarked, and Byleth let out a heavy sigh.

“No, I did not.”

“You did not think it would be helpful?”

Byleth set her jaw. Irritation was a new emotion, one she didn't enjoy, and Sothis was neck and neck with Sylvain for how often she lit that feeling in Byleth's chest.

“No, I did not.

Sothis huffed. “If he was as reasonable as he thinks he is, the truth would not upset him like you think it would.”

Byleth didn't respond. She stripped down to her underclothes, crawling onto her bed and curling up.

As she laid down, both Sothis and Linhardt's words repeated in her head.

You had more to say to that boy.”

Of course she'd had more to say.

The truth of this world of theirs, the truth she had learned young, that had kept her and Jeralt alive all these years had been dancing at the tip of her tongue, urging her to just say it, to try and speak some sense into him.

She couldn't. Because suddenly, in the face of this broken, crying boy, with his envious desires to never stain his hands red again, to never have to end another's life to preserve his own, she couldn't find it in her say it to his face.

I don't want to fight. I don't want to kill anyone.”

Sometimes, in this world, there was no other choice.

Feeling defeated, she pulled the cover entirely over her head, cocooning herself in bed. Tomorrow she could talk to Manuela, see if anything could be done about nightmares. Talk to Linhardt again, hopefully with better luck. For now, she just tried to will herself to sleep, clearing her mind.

A night's sleep should help the both of them feel better.

Hopefully.