They had finally defeated the Empire. Edelgard is gone. Another threat follows, slithering in the shadows. The same people who kidnapped Flayn and experimented on Lysithea. They've killed so many. How much more bloodshed? How many more have to die by his hands?
Byleth lays in his bed, darkness surrounds him. How long has he laid here? How long has he been awake? Byleth rubs his eyes. His limbs are sore. More scars have dug their way into his flesh. His body begs for rest, but he couldn't be more awake.
When did spilling blood get so draining? When Byleth was a mercenary, he killed plenty. But, this was was different. The faces of those he killed weren't strangers. Watching life fade from the eyes from those you once called students, friends... What has happened cannot be undone. Byleth cannot change it.
Byleth rises from his bed and opens the door to his room. Night greets him. The sky is clear. The moonlight shines freely. Byleth let's his body carry him. Every step aches, another feeling he's become accustomed to. Byleth has ventured through the monastery many sleepless nights, everytime he forgets how beautiful it is. How quiet it is. Well, usually.
"Teach?" Claude almost bumps into Byleth as they cross paths.
Byleth nods in acknowledgement.
"Couldn't sleep, huh?" Claude sighs, "Me too. Tried some late night reading. Didn't help much."
"What about?" Byleth asks.
"I tried to find something useful about all this blood and Crest experimentation, but I had no luck." Claude runs his hand through his hair, "We know where they are, but not why. Why? It's driving me mad!"
"You'll find out soon. Once Rhea has rested you can ask more questions. We will fight them soon anyway. You'll learn more then. We should focus on this upcoming battle." Byleth rests his hand on Claude's shoulder.
"You're right. I need to focus." Claude takes a deep breath, "Do you mind if I stay with you, just for now."
Byleth smiles softly, "I'd like that."
Claude follows Byleth. They go up another flight of stairs to the third floor balcony.
Claude chuckles as he looks around, "I always forget this exists."
"Most people do," Byleth stares down, studying the reflections of stars in the pond. "It's a good place to be alone."
"I guess that means I'm ruining your 'me time' then?" Claude asks with a laugh.
"No," Byleth answers, "It's nice to be alone with you."
Claude sits by the small pond and invites Byleth to join him. The two sit in silence for a while. Watching the water ripple as as the winds passes.
"How... How are you feeling, Teach?" Claude doesn't look up from the pond.
"Sore." Byleth replies.
Byleth remains silent for a moment, but eventually, "Sadness, guilt, all the pain that comes with war. I can't change what has already happened. I know I can't, but I want to. I want to so badly."
Claude nods, "We did what we had to. A lot of the people who died were once my classmates. But, we didn't have another choice. We have to keep going. Killing... What happened with Edelgard, I'm sorry."
Byleth doesn't speak.
"I could've done it. But, I swore to follow your orders. It could've been me who finished Edelgard off." Claude's voice strains, "You already- you never let any of us deal the killing blow. Whenever we had to fight our classmates, you were always the one. I can't believe I just realized it recently."
"I didn't want any of you to live with the guilt." Byleth pulls his legs into his chest.
Claude struggles to hold back tears, "And you should? Who's the leader? Who is the one deciding where we battle? When we battle? It's my dream we're trying to make happen. If anything, the burden should be mine."
"Claude," Byleth reaches out and wipes away Claude's tears, "Before I came to Garreg Mach, before I met you, the only person I cared about was my father. I rarely ever thought about other people, never cared about Fódlan. But the Golden Deer, you Claude, I used to only fight to survive. Now, I fight for you and everything you fight for. You're dreams have become my own. You already have so much on your plate. I just... I didn't want it to be any more difficult for you."
"But what about you? I don't want you living with all of the guilt that belongs to me. Your life shouldn't be awful because of me." Claude rests his hand on Byleth's then pulls away once he realizes what he did, "Teach- Byleth, I rely on you again and again. Just please, please, ask for my help. I want you to rely on me like the day you woke up and clung to me."
"That was the only time you ever asked me to help you. You told me how scared you were, that you needed me to hold you so you knew I was real. I was so happy to see you, but, you needing to be in my arms," Claude's face flushes as he hears himself speak, "You always take care of me, but you never let me take care of you."
"Claude, I didn't- I'm sorry." Byleth wraps his arms around Claude and pulls him close to his chest, "I'll try to rely on you more. I guess- I still have walls up I didn't know about. I'm sorry."
Claude returns the embrace, his face hiding in the nook of Byleths shoulder, and shudders as more tears flow from him, "I worry about you, Byleth. You're amazing, you can do so much, but I know you can't handle everything on your own. I'm here for you, Byleth. I love you."
Claude tenses up. What did he just say? He knew he meant it, but he never planned on telling Byleth. Claude's tears fall faster and he grips tightly to Byleth's shirt. Claude needs to stop worrying. Byleth won't hate him, but rejection terrifies him. He doesn't even know if Byleth likes men. Claude promised himself that he'd not let his feelings be known, that it wouldn't have an impact on their friendship.
Byleth pulls his arms away. Claude's ruined everything.
"Claude," Byleth places his hands on Claude's cheeks. "I love you too."
Byleth leans into Claude. Their lips touch for a moment. Byleth pulls away but their faces remain close.
Claude's eyes are wide, "You do?"
Byleth smiles at him, "How can I not? You're amazing. I've been in love with you for a long time, Claude."
Claude melts into Byleth's touch, "'A long time?' And I thought I figured you out."
Byleth chuckles and kisses Claude again. The two let themselves have this moment. They pull each other closer, the kiss deepens.
Claude pulls away with a chuckle, "It's hard to kiss you with you smiling like that."
Byleth rests his forehead on Claude's, "Sorry, I'm just so happy. I never would have thought... If I knew you felt the same, I would have kissed you sooner."
"Well, you have me now."