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in the shadow of your heart

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The warm Italian winds brought a breath of fresh air to Byleth and her family. The city of Rome, although not precisely the pioneer of architecture in Byleth’s mind, was beautiful and impressive enough to cause an everlasting impression. Its buildings and structure brought a memory to Byleth, a memory she couldn’t quite grasp, but that continuously nagged at the back of her head. It was the image of a city not much different from this, with beautiful establishments and a magnificent opera house—its charm and elegance worthy of being a renowned imperial capital.

Byleth, however, found herself more interested in the grand cuisine she would find at the restaurants she visited with her family. The pizzas and pasta would taste far more splendid in their country of origin than in the takeaway restaurants she would often order from after a day of excruciating studying. There were different dishes she had an interest in trying, some traditional to Italy, others rather more traditional to Europe as a whole—an interest perhaps that came with visiting a foreign continent. 

Byleth had always been one for traveling, her wanderlust a habit she had picked from her now late father. He would often take her with him on the journeys he would go on from his job, would often let her wander around the lands and show her every imaginable thing. Byleth had been to many places in her natal land, had seen the pyramids, had swum across the beautiful beaches—she had even visited the jungles that surrounded the southern lands, and taken pictures of scarlet macaws and quetzals. 

But with the loss of her father to cancer, and the grief that had soon engulfed her, it had taken Byleth five years to regain herself. She had refused to travel anywhere—however close these places were to home, and had instead settled down at her grandmother’s place, where she could be as quiet as she desired. But an interest to travel across the seas had always sparked her attention, the desire to see all across the world, always a wish she had hoped to settle. From her childhood, Byleth had an everlasting calling to travel across Europe, visit all those seemingly familiar places, reimagine what she had once called her home. That was why, upon her cousin’s offer, she took a ticket and traveled beside her.

The Trevi Fountain was what had caught most of her attention from all the places they had visited since the morning. She rather liked the notion of tossing a coin for the once Roman Gods to fulfill every person’s wish. It was rather romantic—very much like the movies she had seen. It was just the thing her cousin Flayn would be drawn to. Byleth had never been much for architecture, could hardly call herself an expert on art, but she found the place to be beautiful, enthralling even, and she enjoyed the feeling of familiarity that it brought simply by gazing at her cousin as she tossed a coin inside the fountain.

There was, however, something that kept her gaze away from the fountain, something she hadn’t expected to see, not for a lifetime. There was a young man amidst the chaos, with bright blue eyes and a striking smile. He was handsome—undoubtedly so, his long, blond hair braided in a half ponytail, the firm line of his muscles peeking out of his blue shirt, making eyes shift from side to side to gaze at him. Byleth couldn’t help the notion that she had seen him once before, had spoken to him, had fought alongside him, and cured his wounds .

She wanted to reach out to him, to speak to him again as his velvety voice engulfed her. There were several people walking in between, everyone immersed in their own thoughts and their own people. Flayn had run away to speak to her father, and Seteth would greet her with open arms, ready to listen to her adventure. Her grandmother, Rhea, was standing at the back, watching intently as couples took pictures beside the fountain. Little children would run around playing and chattering in a language Byleth could understand—though not as well as her own Spanish. But those blue eyes, and the name that kept nagging at the back of her mind, absorbed Byleth.

Dimitri , Byleth thought as she approached. Dimitri Blaiddyd, the crown prince of Faerghus, the saviour king of Fódlan .

She waited for him to answer a call, eagerly listening to his voice that, although new to her, seemed all too familiar. She couldn’t even tell how she already knew his name, how she could remember a place known as Fódlan, or his residence in Faerghus. The memories that had plagued her mind from her childhood were altogether too confusing, too vague and unfamiliar; but she could remember seeing his face in her dreams, hearing his gentle voice as he whispered sweet nothings in her ear. Her recollections almost brought tears to her eyes, almost made her fall short against the sidewalk.

The young man in question hadn’t noticed her arrival, hadn’t spared a glance in her direction. He continued with her call, in a language Byleth could hardly understand at all.

“Biodh oíche mhaith agat, a dheirfiúr,” he murmured against his phone, his voice barely audible to Byleth’s ears. 

She stopped for a moment, unable to process what he said—the language a kind Byleth had never heard before. She thought of inviting him over to share a gelato, to ask for his name and introduce herself. She watched as he finished the call and turned his gaze to her, but as their eyes locked, she found she could not muster any words, the fear of not being understood piercing through her. She couldn’t tell whether the young man could speak English at all, or a language perhaps, that they both could share; but before he could say something to her, she turned on her heel and left, the distant voices of her family bringing her back to reality.

Perhaps it was not in this lifetime that they could meet again. 

 


 

Dimitri stared out at the Venetian canals with a book in his hands. It was a beloved play, a work by Shakespeare that heavily involved the city he was in. He had read it countless times, had basked in the nostalgia the story brought him every time he picked it up. It had been one of his favorites from his teenage years, the reasoning behind it something he couldn’t quite point out. He liked to carry it with him throughout his travels, liked to highlight his favorite quotes with light blue.

The city of Venice had proved itself to be striking, far more than he had initially thought. There was something so romantic to it, something that brought him peace. He had always found himself more at ease around the water, beneath the rain and moonlight. He had always thought it to be the calmness with which it flowed, the ease at which it moved with no certain goal in mind; but also the way with which it thundered under a tempest, the way oceans drowned entire ships and boats, its unnatural strength and indomitable will a force to be reckoned with—a force for no human to fight against. It reminded him of himself, a person he had once been; a servant of the moon, and a sovereign of the rain. 

He had arrived in Italy for those reasons alone, to understand that one person, and his calling to be near such places. He could barely remember having been to a city similar to Rome, could barely recall the dreams in which he had conquered it, and fought against someone dear. There was something to the place that gave him unease, perhaps those putrid memories, perhaps his sister’s last calls. But despite his troubled emotions, and the nagging recollections at the back of his mind, he found himself much happier as he crossed the Venetian lands.

He could faintly hear the music playing a few streets back, baroque songs he had learned about in his childhood when his father played the piano and sat beside him so Dimitri would pick up on each note. It was a cherished memory, one not so faraway as the others, but rather something he could still remember from this lifetime, from a few years back. His father had always been one for music, for dancing and the like. He had once mentioned the city of Venice in his childhood, and the desire to one day see a festival of masks. 

When his father passed, Dimitri had promised himself to fulfill that dream in his stead, to watch the people dance around, even if only from a mile away.

Dimitri had never been fond of dancing, had never been the kind to up and jump away. He always found it rather silly, embarrassing even, if he could recall the distinct, solemn voice of his sister whenever he had missed a step. Ballroom dancing was perhaps the worst of all his nightmares--ballet was something he enjoyed seeing from afar, but he could never attend nightclubs, shifting around from side to side as his friend Sylvain made his way towards another girl he had barely just met. However, as he slowly made his way towards the hotel he had been staying in, he noticed a head full of green locks that immediately caught his gaze.

It was the young woman he had seen in Rome near the Trevi fountain, the one with emerald eyes and a smile that could turn the entire world around. She had approached him that day, had almost spoken to him, before she turned around and left. He couldn’t help the way his stomach sank as he had seen her go, how his breathing hitched when he had realized he had missed his opportunity to speak. He couldn’t quite discern what it was that had drawn him to her, why her face seemed so familiar, and yet not at all, but he strongly desired to see her again, to hear her voice and laughter.

He made his way towards where she stood, his eyes gleaming with curiosity as he watched her sway from side to side with the young woman beside her. There was a mask in her left hand, with black feathers and pink accents that made it stand out. There was a drink in her other hand, and from her carefree demeanor he could tell she’d been drinking for some time. He could faintly hear the gentleness of her laughter, how she whispered with the other young lady in a language he could barely make out. He realized with a tug at his stomach how at ease that voice made him feel, how alike the waters and the rain.

He thought of gently approaching her, of clearing his throat to catch her attention. He didn’t dare scare her while she was having fun with her companion, not when she looked so happy and radiant, her beautiful long hair swaying from one side to another to the rhythm of the music. He considered even offering his hand for them to dance, the awkwardness of their movements perhaps a perfect synchronization amidst their chaos, but just as he was about to speak, another man approached them and led them away.

Dimitri watched with a frown as the young woman stepped into a gondola, the other young lady and their male companion soon following her. She seemed rather crestfallen by the sudden departure, her eyes shifting towards the group of people she had left behind—people she hadn’t even approached but had smiled at. When the gondola moved, her gaze shifted back to her companions, and then, unexpectedly, landed on him. Dimitri didn’t know what to do, didn’t know how to speak, but as soon as the young woman smiled at him, he returned the gesture, his heart beating fast against his chest.

“Slán a fhághail, mo grá,” he muttered, his lips slowly moving against his will. “Tá súil agam tú a fheiceáil arís.”

 


 

The Duomo Square was crowded by the time Byleth and her family had arrived to the place. There were children running around, a group of young women taking pictures before the cathedral, families of all sizes walking from one side to the other, hoping to get a glimpse of the beautiful and impressive buildings. 

There was something to Florence Byleth found herself rather intrigued by, perhaps its striking difference to the architecture in Rome, or the warmth with which the morning sun covered her and her family. Byleth had always been prone to tans, a trait she had gathered from her diligent father, who would always spend hours working under the sun. However, the lovely shade of her tan had dissipated after the years she had spent locked in her grandmother’s home; the lines that had once traced over the delicate skin of her shoulders disappearing to leave a few freckles behind. 

She watched quietly as her cousin Flayn and Seteth took pictures of their cathedral, his gentle voice speaking over the sizeable crowds of people passing, explaining how the city had been built. He was a knowledgeable man, studious and meticulous in his work. It was why Byleth’s grandmother had grown so fond of him, so much she had come to treat him as her own brother—and in a way he was, both having been raised in the same vicinity, by the same woman, their rooms only a few feet apart. Often Byleth would gently listen as they told stories of how they would sneak out of the house with a few coins in hand, only to return to their household with few pieces of sweet bread they had gained at the bakery from across the street. Other times, she would carefully listen as Seteth told her about the new fairytale that was taking up his time.

That was perhaps why Flayn had grown accustomed to such romantic fancies, the vigorous mind of a young quinceañera only prompted by a gentle father who spent his free time writing short fairytales for her to enjoy. It was with much happiness that Byleth realized Flayn had never grown out of those, not even as she soon approached her adulthood and with it, her desire to move on. No, Flayn had always stayed faithful to each of her aspirations, her bright mind always seeking adventures, to make wishes and to one day grow old enough to find her true love. Byleth almost envied her, were it not because she had grown to enjoy her bitter humor, and the resemblance it all had with her own father’s.

She went to sit quietly on a bench, her eyes roaming from her family to each of the buildings that gathered around her. Her grandmother sat somewhere near behind her, her own green eyes glinting as she took a few pictures of her own to share with her sisters, pictures of the beautiful cathedral and pictures of herself sitting before it. She wore a garland of white lilies in her hair, a garland she had acquired from her travels through San Miguel de Allende. It was a little gift Sitri had given to her before her passing one year prior—the grief that had engulfed her after losing her husband far too much for her to bear. Byleth had almost lost her own breath upon receiving the grim news. Mama Rhea was hardly any different. She would always carry the garland with her, always wore it to her utmost favorite places, uttering how it was her own way of keeping her daughter around her. Byleth could hardly blame her.

She quickly stood up from her seat, the hot weather becoming far too overwhelming, as were her own thoughts. She didn’t enjoy dwelling on the thoughts of her parents for far too long, some memories still too fresh of a wound for her to touch. She headed towards a little place a few streets across, motioning to her grandmother that she would be back to them soon. The small establishment offered fresh gelato, a small cozy corner full of people from every place. She had noticed some young ladies she had seen earlier taking pictures, chattering and laughing to themselves. There were children pulling at their mothers asking for a cone to taste, old ladies and gentlemen sitting peacefully behind the counter, a young, handsome man hidden by the corner with his phone in hands.

It took a moment for Byleth to recognize him, to look at the long golden locks that fell from his head, his piercing blue eyes flooding with concern. He held his phone tightly in his hands, his fingers shaking as he promptly ended a call. Byleth couldn’t quite realize what he was saying, couldn’t make up the words in a language she didn’t speak. But she could make out a word among the pile of sentences and expressions he had muttered, a word she had heard once before. It was the word deirfiúr, an Irish word that upon hearing him mutter before, she had quickly searched on her phone. Sister , a creature that could bring a person joy and anguish all the same, a family member, a beloved one—the family Byleth lacked.

Byleth quickly made a move towards the counter, her eyes gleaming with satisfaction as she looked over the diversity of flavors the establishment offered. She settled for a strawberry-flavored cone—a favorite of hers from her childhood; and with the few coins she had left in her pocket, she asked for the lady at the counter to give her another one to accompany hers. This one she had settled for something as simple as vanilla, which despite not being outstanding as the others, was sweet and comforting enough to bring someone back to their senses. It had been, after all, her mother’s favorite.

When the young lady handed her her orders, Byleth had stepped courteously towards the young man still hidden in the corner. It took a moment for him to look up from his stupor as Byleth made her way towards him, took a long moment for their eyes to interlock once again after centuries of not being with each other, after three days when they had travelled through Venice. But as soon as he had gazed at her, a small smile formed on her lips, and when he watched her hand over a small cone to him, that smile merged into a wide grin.

“Duitse,” Byleth murmured, her voice as gentle as her own smile.  She took a turn away from the establishment and hoped for the young man to find his peace again as recollections of his sister flooded her mind.

 


 

Dimitri took a sip of his wine, his eyes hovering over the beautiful landscape before him. He grew rather fond of Tuscany, its warm weather—which although rather difficult to handle for a man who had grown in more unforgiving weather—was comforting in its own way. He admired the small streets that shaped Volterra, the beautiful old buildings and cozy houses. He liked to stare up at the flowers that decorated balconies, that colored the fields and made the city brighter. Had Dedue accompanied him here, he was certain he would want to take some of these flowers with him.

Dimitri had spent his day in tranquility, far from sizeable crowds and clamorous establishments. There was a winery towards the south of the town Sylvain had recommended to him, a place that although more difficult to find, was cozy and lovely enough for Dimitri to find himself drawn to it. It wasn’t often that Dimitri took a drink after drink; he had acquired a liking for wine from his uncle, a fresh bottle in their pantry every other week. His uncle had a rather lavish taste for all he enjoyed, particularly wine and whisky; but despite the consistency with which Dimitri found himself surrounded by carefully crafted bottles of wine, he only took a glass or two for himself.

That night, however, he had held another argument with his sister, an argument that had elongated for far too much time. It wasn’t a family issue, not at all to do with their parents, or the conflict that had ended between their mother and his father. They had come to terms with that from their childhood, had accepted that perhaps their relationship wasn’t an ideal to have. Edelgard had settled back at home with her own father and had spent the last of her years building a perfect home for herself and her younger siblings to rest. She had always had a knack for business, had the perfect mind to run a place on her own, and build an empire for her family. It was Dimitri’s resolve to do the opposite that gnawed at her.

He had always been more prone to little things, to help people more directly than at a larger scale. He liked to make his presence known when a friend was in distress, liked to offer his warm hands were someone close to him in need. Not that he didn’t care to help everyone around him, quite the opposite, but he found the approach from his sister rather colder—too unlike him. When he had informed her he dearly wished to become a teacher for the disabled children who lived around his town, she had immediately called to him to ask to reconsider the path he was taking, to remind him he was capable of doing so much more.

Now that he had graduated, her calls had increased in number, and her distress was growing all the more.

Dimitri took another sip of his drink then, his mind becoming fuzzier than was his resolve. He didn’t like to be at odds with his sister, didn’t like to be the cause of her concern. They often quarreled when they were children, silly things like who got to play with their gaming console, and who got the bigger part of the cake. Edelgard had always been more stern in how she carried herself. Dimitri had always admired that part of her, how determined she would be in teaching him the ballet steps she had learned earlier in her own class, how despite his clumsiness she would see that he would follow her movements until they both grew tired. She wanted him to be like her, wanted him to follow in her footsteps as he had done in their childhood. But he couldn’t be the person she wanted him to be and remain honest to himself.

He took a step outside towards the balcony of the establishment to get a breath of fresh air, his steps a little clumsy from all the drinks he had taken. Twilight had painted the sky with lavender, lovely shades of pink and yellow. It was warm, perhaps the most beautiful sky he had ever seen; the ones from his homeland always remaining a tad bit more towards the grey, the rain still prevalent even amid summer. Dimitri had always been fond of the wet weather, but he could always appreciate the beauty of something quite as colorful as opposite of himself. 

He drank the remainders of his drink with one gulp, his mind growing fuzzier with thoughts. He couldn’t help the nibbling guilt at the back of his head. He was well aware of how this entire journey had been for the sake of forgetting the pressing disquiet of his sister as he had taken a minor job at an orphanage in the small town he had settled in. He had ignored a few of her calls with the excuse of his phone having only little battery left as he was on the road. He liked the clarity traveling often gave him, liked the peace and quiet the landscapes he would often find himself engulfed by would give him. Italy was beautiful, after all. Quite unlike his own home, but a perfect distraction nonetheless.

He found his eyes drifting to the small group of people making their way towards the winery, tufts of green hair swaying with the gentle flow of wind. He realized with a jolt of his stomach that the pretty green-haired lady was among them, her usual slight smile spreading across her cheeks as they slowly entered the establishment. Dimitri quickly shook his head and ran towards the entrance, his heart beating loudly against his chest. He wanted to thank her for the gelato she had given to him when he felt down, a little sign of comfort for someone who sorely needed it. He couldn’t quite tell how she understood his emotions, or how she had learned that small phrase from his language, but he was altogether eternally grateful to her, to that lady from his memories— to Byleth .

It took a moment for her to notice him making his way towards her, her gaze too distracted by her group of companions and the smiles and words they shared. It had taken him a while to recognize the language in which they spoke, but with further inspection he acknowledged the language to be Spanish. He stood in front of her, his eyes widening as once again their gazes interlocked. When he finally caught her attention, and with it the ones from all her companions, he gestured vaguely at a Vespa stationed before the winery.

“¿Quieres--?” he tried to murmur as his fingers pointed more diligently at the motorcycle, hoping to make his point across. “¿Tal vez... algún día, esta noche...?”

The young woman parted her lips to reply, her eyes glinting with enthusiasm, when the older lady placed a hand over her arm. “Vámonos, Byleth. Está borracho.”

Byleth was forced to turn on her heel and go.

 


 

Byleth carefully tucked a letter inside the cobalt stones that surrounded the beautiful statue of Juliet Capulet. It was a strange notion she wasn’t certain what had pushed her to follow, having never been the one to follow romantic notions in her family. Flayn had tucked one of her own, her wishes a secret she wasn’t yet ready to tell, but would certainly do so towards the end of their trip, if Byleth knew anything of her cousin at all. Byleth herself had sought the young Shakespearean heroine in hopes to gain some closeness with her mother, to communicate with her in a way that she would have enjoyed. It was rather silly, Byleth was well aware, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that had her mother been with them that day, she would have encouraged Byleth to accompany her to leave a letter of her own.

She sighed loudly as she slowly walked away from the wall where all letters were tucked, her eyes roaming over the beautiful statue that laid before the famous balcony from a most beloved novel. She had read it once, of course, barely the same age as the young Capulet herself. She hadn’t always been one for tragic romances, always preferring the happy endings herself, but she couldn’t help the smile that formed across her face whenever her mother would murmur about the utterly romantic idea of two spouses dying in each other’s arms, only to be greeted by eternity—where they could be together forever, side by side.

The air blew gently against her face as she made her way across towards where Mama Rhea and Seteth stood, his quiet voice barely audible as he carefully explained the story of Romeo and Juliet to her grandmother, Flayn walking around with another young lady nearby. Byleth felt rather odd standing awkwardly against the pavement, her gaze quickly shifting from the venerated statue to the balcony in front of it. It was then, that with a glint of hope, she realized the young man she kept encountering was also there.

He stood from the balcony, his curious blue eyes glinting as he took in the landscape before him. She rather appreciated his seeming enthusiasm for these little things, the way his eyes would always widen when they locked with hers—with recognition, and a gentleness that made her stomach flip. It didn’t take too long for the young man to see her, to make his way towards her as he had done only a few days prior, only to be stopped by her grandmother and her unmerited concerns. 

When she finally reached him at the top of the stairs, she noticed an elderly man had stopped him, his hand hovering over the pale skin of the young man’s forearm. They were murmuring, the elderly man asking for directions towards a hotel Byleth had never heard of before, a place somewhere in the centre of the city, with directions that although Byleth hadn’t seen for herself, she could understand with perfect care. The elderly man was speaking in English, and so was the young man she kept running into, the one she couldn’t help but to feel she had known once before.

“Make nothing of it, it was my pleasure to be of help,” the young man—Dimitri, murmured. When he turned back to look at Byleth, a small smile spread across his lips. “Dia duit! Una disculpa... el día en Volterra--“

“You speak English, Dimitri,” Byleth interrupted. “So do I.”

Dimitri’s eyes widened in surprise, then his expression softened. Whatever thread of fate that had once held them together bloomed as they took a step towards each other. “Byleth,” he murmured, making her stomach jolt. “Please allow me to take you somewhere to have dinner one of these days.”

Byleth giggled, her eyes crinkling with anticipation. There were a few weeks she had left before she parted again towards her country, enough days to meet this young man again, and hopefully rekindle whatever relationship they had once had. “Funny, I was actually about to ask you the same.” His smile widened upon hearing her words, and gently, he took one of her hands. “There was a lovely place a few streets from here, if you’d like to try. My cousin says their pizza is fantastic. We could rent a Vespa and I could drive if you don’t mind.”

“It would be my pleasure, Miss Byleth,” he mumbled. With an ounce of bravery, Byleth felt herself squeezing his hand gently.