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When she was a child, Byleth had been told she could turn to the church in times of need, but back then it wasn’t really true.  When her mother Sitri died after struggling with an illness, leaving behind a five year old daughter and a husband who struggled with giving hugs, the church had lied to them both.  There were no proper answers to Byleth’s questions of “why,” only politely worded orders for a child to show faith while hurting.  Even Jeralt received little more than paltry promises that the goddess would be with them, the community barely rallying behind them.  Each week after mass, they went home a little more bitter, a little more quiet, until a year had gone by.

They moved out of the town of Remire, leaving behind the community they’d thought they’d had and going to the city of Enbarr.  There were better paying jobs there, and more chances for Byleth to meet other children.  It was a big enough change that they both kept one old habit for balance: mass on Sunday, their tithe to a goddess they weren’t sure listened.

Byleth prayed for friends at first, within the church’s walls and at her new school.  She wasn’t given much, not many other children at their church and most children at school already having formed groups.  Jeralt saw, and he did what he could to keep her smiling while they waited for Byleth to grow old enough to do something outside of school.  They discovered it on a long day out when Jeralt, out of words, did what he had always done with Sitri when the conversation lulled: he turned on the radio in the car.

The song was familiar to them both, and Byleth did what came naturally: she sang along.  Jeralt laughed at first, but soon grew quiet as he listened.  Her voice was clear, her pitch perfect.  When a new song came on, Byleth kept singing, and she smiled because Jeralt was grinning for her and her alone.  From then on, she sang and played at making music whenever she had a moment to herself, and Jeralt bought her books on music while saving for a private class on whatever instrument she could possibly want to play.

————

Something special happened in mass one day in the summer before her seventh birthday.  Byleth sat next to Jeralt in the pew in the back row, swinging one foot so he would not tap her legs for swinging both.  They waited for the service to begin, but Jeralt stood suddenly and lifted Byleth with him.

“Hang on, kiddo,” he said.  “Just letting these folks past.”

She nodded and held onto his jacket.  Another man carrying another girl slipped by them and sat down in the space next to Byleth.  The girl was younger than Byleth, smaller and holding tight to the man’s hand.  She stared at Byleth, and Byleth stared back when Jeralt set her down because she had never seen such a pretty shade of purple in another person’s eyes before.

“Ionius,” the man said quietly, offering his other hand to Jeralt.  “Thank you for sharing your space.”

“Jeralt,” he said, taking his hand and shaking.  “We don’t usually have people clamoring to sit way back here.”

“El’s a bit sensitive to the incense,” said Ionius, smiling slightly as he patted the girl’s back.  “Edelgard, dear, say hello to Mister Jeralt and…”

“Byleth,” Jeralt said.  “Come on, kiddo, you say hi, too.”

Byleth waved.  Edelgard waved back.  Byleth smiled tentatively, and she wanted to grin when Edelgard smiled back.  Edelgard was so cute.

Nobody tapped their heads for whispering to each other during service, and Byleth was almost giddy where she sat because she had never gotten to talk to another person her age about how to sing and have them look at her and pay complete attention.  She had never gotten to hear someone her age explain how sound worked like Edelgard did.  It was something magical, hearing a cute girl explain science so easily to her.  Neither of them noticed their fathers looking at each other in surprise, but they did see how they smiled when they finally looked away from each other.

Ionius kept bringing Edelgard with him to every weekly mass after that, and as he and Jeralt built a rapport, single fathers doing their damnedest, so too did Byleth and Edelgard.

They were a year and a few months apart in age, and would have been a year apart in school had Edelgard not promptly tested out of first grade to join Byleth in second.  It wasn’t until the third grade that Byleth noticed how people looked at Edelgard, small sneers of contempt that spoke of being unwelcome.  When she heard someone call Edelgard a “filthy rich brat” behind her back as they walked through the halls, she thought she knew well enough to turn around and punch the boy in the mouth.

It made Edelgard not talk to her for the rest of the day, though, and Byleth regretted her actions when Edelgard reported it to Jeralt when he came to pick them up that afternoon.  It should’ve been the start to a good weekend, a sleepover they’d both begged for for weeks, but Byleth found herself staring at her dinner and not wanting to eat.  Jeralt patted her head until she did, and he sat the two of them down in Byleth’s bedroom before leaving them alone.

“I’m sorry,” Byleth said, a weight settled low in her gut.  “I didn’t know hitting him would make you mad.”

Edelgard said nothing.  She was so small, sitting with her legs pulled up to her chest.  Byleth pushed her luck and scooted closer.  Edelgard said nothing, and Byleth scooted closer still.

“Edelgard, I’m really sorry,” she said, voice cracking as her throat began to hurt.  She sniffed, eyes burning, and that finally made Edelgard look up.  She saw the tears in Byleth’s eyes and scrambled to hug her, the two of them clinging as only children could.

“I’m not mad, Byleth,” Edelgard had said, struggling not to cry.  “I wasn’t ever mad at you.”

It was a misunderstanding, one they talked through under the impenetrable fortress of a sheet propped up over several pillows.  Edelgard had been terrified that such a comment would drive Byleth away as it had so many others, bitter over matters of adult money.  The terror was so great she began to cry, hiding her face in a pillow as she spoke of how desperately she did not want to move again, how Enbarr was her favorite city and Byleth was her favorite friend.

Byleth did not struggle with what to do.  She did what came naturally by then, and she moved closer, sat up straight, and put a hand on Edelgard’s back as she began to sing.  It was the very first song she’d ever made herself, a melody she came up with watching the trees in the nearest park sway in the wind on a summer day.  Edelgard stopped crying to listen, eyes a beacon of lovely lilac in the light of the fake candles Jeralt had given them.

No matter what came to them after that, they did not falter.  Edelgard ignored every grumbled comment and held tight to Byleth’s hand, and Byleth came up with so many songs for the both of them, for Jeralt, and even for Ionius when he fought tooth and nail to spend time with them.  It was rare to catch him away from the office, but he managed and Edelgard was always elated when he could.

Byleth adored Edelgard’s smile above everything else, and it was more than enough to keep the music with her.

————

When Byleth was nearly thirteen and Edelgard was twelve, something happened.  Edelgard missed the first day of school, and then the next, and then the next until a full week went by with no sign of her.  Byleth did not let Jeralt start the car that Friday, not even getting in after opening the door.

“Dad, please call Mister Hresvelg,” she said.  “Edelgard didn’t come to school this week.”

“Okay, okay,” Jeralt said.  “Hop in first and close the door.  We don’t need to share the call with everyone.”

Byleth nodded and climbed into the passenger’s seat, pulling the door closed behind her.  She watched, fingers digging into the center console, as Jeralt fished his phone out of his back pocket and made a call.  The wait was worse than waiting for results on a history test; she had to swallow down a swell of nausea.

“Hey, Ionius?” Jeralt said.  “Sorry to call you out of the blue, but By just got out of school and told me lil’ Edel hasn’t been in class.  Is she doing okay?  I know a bug’s been going around, so—”

He froze.  He listened.  He nodded vaguely as he gripped the steering wheel.

“I understand,” he said quietly.

Byleth stared at him.  She reached out and grabbed his sleeve.

Then, he shattered the world around them by saying, “Is she well enough for visitors?”

Dad—”

“Hang on, Byleth,” he said, letting go of the steering wheel to hold her hand.  He listened and nodded again.  “Okay, well enough for them and asking for us specifically.  That’s good.  When’s the soonest we can come?  Okay.  Tomorrow in the morning.  We’ll be there.”

“Mister Hresvelg, please tell Edelgard we’ll see her tomorrow!” Byleth said loudly.  Jeralt moved the phone closer to her, just close enough that she could hear a choked “I will” from the speaker before the call ended.

She didn’t sleep.  Neither of them did, sitting together on the couch and watching nothing worth paying attention to all through the night.  The alarms Jeralt set were more to keep them on a tight schedule: one to eat something, one to clean up, one to get dressed, and one to get moving.  Byleth held Jeralt’s hand from the moment they left the apartment, and he held tight to give her something steady against her shaking.

Byleth hated hospitals.  She had all but fought to not go after breaking her arm following a ridiculous dare from Hubert, a friend she and Edelgard had made a year before.  Any other day would’ve seen her turn tail and run.  Then, she held Jeralt’s hand even tighter and walked straight inside.  Ionius was at the front desk, waiting for them, and he gripped Jeralt’s free hand like a lifeline.

Edelgard was in a private room, which Byleth had thought were a myth from movies and shows.  The amount of machines in the room and lines of IV drips in Edelgard’s arms were directly from the worst kind of horror movie Byleth could imagine.  Despite it, despite how drained and exhausted she clearly was, Edelgard smiled when she saw Byleth, Jeralt, and Ionius.

“Papa,” she said quietly, “you let them come see me.”

Jeralt held Byleth back just one moment to let Ionius go to Edelgard first.

“Of course I did, El,” Ionius murmured, stroking her hair.  “They were so worried.”  He turned, nodding, and moved back to let Byleth rush in to stand at Edelgard’s bedside.  He looked at Jeralt and, both of them pale, stepped back slightly to lower his voice as they spoke.

Byleth didn’t pay attention to them.  She held Edelgard’s hand carefully, not sure if it helped or hurt, and floundered for words.

“I’m sorry,” Edelgard whispered, each breath a struggle.  “I didn’t want to—make you scared.”

“What’s wrong?” Byleth asked.  “What’re you sick with?”

“Papa says they’re not sure yet—but that it’s probably—leukemia.”  She turned her head slightly and pointed at her neck and the swollen spot under one ear.  “You saw—that.  Remember?”

“Yeah,” Byleth said, voice breaking as her heart sank.  It had been Thursday the week before; she asked if a bee had stung her when she brushed her hair back.

“Thank you,” Edelgard said.  “I told—Papa.  We came here and—the doctors are helping.”

“Can they fix it?” Byleth asked.

“I don’t know,” Edelgard said, tears filling her eyes.

Byleth’s feet froze to the floor even as her knees threatened to give out.  She failed to speak, but let Edelgard squeeze her hand tight as she closed her eyes and began to cry.  The sound of voices behind her drew her attention back over her shoulder.

“It runs in the family on her mother’s side, Jeralt,” Ionius said, staring at the floor with a hand on his brow.  “It took her mother—her grandfather.  This is—it’s spreading quickly and she’s doing so poorly with chemo—I can’t lose my girl like this.”

“You’ve still got time,” Jeralt said, and he held tight to Ionius’ shoulder.  “You’ve got options, right?  Hresvelg has a big hand in med research, doesn’t it?”

“We do,” Ionius said quietly.

Byleth turned back when Edelgard tugged on her hand.  Leaning in close, close enough that she all but hung on the bed, she asked, “What’s wrong?”

“Can you sing something?” Edelgard asked.  “Please?”

Byleth nodded and pulled herself up onto the bed so she could sit up straight.  She sang for Edelgard, a sweet and soft lullaby, and held her hand all the while.  She and Jeralt stayed for most of the day, Byleth telling Edelgard about the school week while Ionius paced the room, making phone call after phone call.

They settled into a new routine.  Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, Jeralt would pick Byleth up from school with her guitar, a present from two years prior, and they would go to the hospital to sit with Edelgard and Ionius after Edelgard’s treatment courses.  The gentler songs Byleth had written over the years helped with Edelgard’s pain, with Ionius’ exhaustion, and any tiny smile Edelgard managed was worth all the time Byleth lost to do homework.

Sunday arrived and Edelgard missed mass for the first time in years.  Byleth wasn’t sure what to pray for, sitting between Jeralt and Ionius and staring at the pew in front of them.  Asking for a cure outright was something she’d tried with her mother; she would not chance it again.  She deliberated the entire service between asking for Edelgard to hurt less and for her to be able to eat food again before giving up, hedging her bets, and praying as hard as she could for both.

Despite them sitting in the last row of pews as always, the priest, an archbishop because their church was so large and old, managed to catch them before they left.  She was older than Jeralt and Ionius and shorter than Byleth, but looked at all of them as though they were lost toddlers.

“You’re missing one,” she said.  “Where is your smallest?  Where is Edelgard?”

“In the hospital,” Ionius said.

The archbishop raised a brow.  “And you did not ask us to pray for her?”

“I,” Ionius said, but he fumbled for a few moments.  “It—it didn’t come to mind.”

“Grief and fear do terrible things to your mind,” she said.  “Are you comfortable with me saying something to our house members?  Edelgard is a sweet child and deserves none of the suffering she’s enduring.”

“Yes,” Ionius said, voice breaking.  “Any prayers for her are welcome, Sothis.”

She smiled and took his hands gently.  “Take heart that the goddess does not wish her harm and that she has given her the best chance by being your daughter.”

“Thank you,” he whispered.

Byleth went still when the archbishop looked at her then, shoulders rising.

“Even if you fidget like during service,” the archbishop chuckled, “stay at her side, little one.  True friendship and love is strongest when facing adversity.”

Byleth blushed, tongue tied in fifty knots, and nodded.

Another week came for them.  Edelgard lost more weight, struggled with pain.  Ionius made even more phone calls.  Byleth kept singing for her, praying each night to take back what she’d already asked for in the hope that the goddess would listen this time around.  On Thursday night, she broke down in tears in front of Jeralt over her prayers and asked if it was her fault.

“No,” Jeralt said, hugging her tight.  “It’s not your fault Edelgard’s sick or that it’s hard right now.  Don’t ever think it, By.  Medicine doesn’t work like snapping your fingers—sometimes it gets worse before it gets better.  But Ionius is putting everything he has into getting Edel her care.  And he loves her just as much as I love you, so you’ve gotta have faith, kiddo.  Okay?”

“Okay,” she whispered into his shoulder.

They went to the hospital after school the next day, Byleth already practicing chords in her head.  Ionius was there to greet them at the front desk, a measure of hope on his thinned out face.  He took them to Edelgard’s room, and Byleth nearly dropped her guitar because Edelgard was sitting upright for the first time in over a week.

“The Hresvelg Group has been working on a new treatment for this kind of leukemia,” Ionius said as Byleth hurried to climb onto the bed.  “It’s less taxing than chemotherapy, though there are potential issues with physical side effects.”

“Hey, as long as she can get up, run around a little, I think you can live with that,” Jeralt said, clapping him on one shoulder.

“I think we can,” Ionius said, laughing faintly.

Byleth played and sang with a brighter smile on her face than anything she’d managed for days.  Edelgard smiled back at her, finally without looking as though the pain was just an inch from making her cry, and Byleth was sure the goddess was listening at last.

One week passed, and then another.  Sure as the sunrise every morning, Edelgard got better.  When she was released from the hospital nearly a month later, safely in remission, Jeralt let Byleth skip school so she could be there and help Ionius get her home and settled.  Edelgard clung to Byleth on the drive, crying against her shoulder and saying “thank you” again and again.

Edelgard did her catch-up schoolwork as quickly as possible to go back to class.  She was welcomed warmly, and the church welcomed her just as warmly when she returned to mass.  Only Byleth saw how her expression faltered when the archbishop thanked the goddess for granting Edelgard grace in her illness, and she tugged on her hand when they were alone later.

“Do you not think the goddess helped you?” Byleth asked.

Edelgard hesitated.  She said, “I don’t know.  The doctors helped, so I guess she did.  I’m lucky…Papa was able to get those doctors.”

“I’m just really glad you’re okay, Edelgard,” Byleth said.  She opened her arms tentatively, smiling because Edelgard hugged her at once.  They held tight, neither wanting to let go.

————

The physical side effects of the treatment were obvious, but tolerable.  Edelgard never grew much taller than five feet, never weighed more than Byleth could easily carry, and her hair started to grow in silvery white six months after the treatments ended.  She bore them as marks of honor, testaments to a life she could still live fully.  People learned quickly that she would indulge no fools, and Byleth only had to punch one or two of the stragglers who wouldn’t leave Edelgard alone from just her words.

By the summer Edelgard turned sixteen and Byleth was nearly seventeen, they had plans that stretched as far as the sky.  Edelgard would continue to dive into science, biology, chemistry, all in the effort to fly through medical school and become a researcher in the Hresvelg Group with the intent to make treatments that were accessible to all who needed them.  Byleth would go on the path she’d been walking for years, learning music to write and perform and sing and conduct, something she’d never dared dream before that year and Edelgard’s boundless support of it.

Of the two of them, only Edelgard learned how to drive.  Driving, city or otherwise, scared the daylights out of Byleth, and she only relaxed completely if Edelgard or Jeralt was behind the wheel.  Edelgard took them out of the city after getting her license, going to a forest they’d frequented as a cobbled together family so they could sit under the trees.

Byleth wasn’t sure if she was about to ruin her life, sitting there next to Edelgard on a great fallen tree.  She sat with her elbows on her knees, Edelgard leaning against her shoulder as she so often did.  Byleth’s coat draped around her shoulders, always too big but just warm enough.  One hand on Byleth’s.

“Edelgard?” Byleth said quietly.

“For the hundredth time,” Edelgard chuckled, “just call me ‘El,’ Byleth.”

Every muscle in her back and her arms tightened up.  She gripped her knee with her free hand and didn’t know if she wanted to swallow or clear her throat.

“Can I,” Byleth said, “do something?  And then you tell me if I can still call you that?”

“Of course,” Edelgard said, lifting her head.

Byleth looked at her.  Looked at her eyes, that lilac color that was still so striking.  Looked at her hair, glittering silver in the sparse sunlight coming through the leaves.  Looked at her lips and the questioning little quirk in them.

Byleth leaned down before she could stop herself with doubt any longer and kissed Edelgard.  A wild spark ran through her, making her jerk back on her own as the doubt rushed in.  Edelgard looked at her with raised brows; Byleth wondered how long it would take to walk back to Enbarr.

A second later, Edelgard put a hand on the back of her neck and drew her back in for another kiss.  The spark was softer, but kindled a much better flame in Byleth’s chest.  She put a hand on Edelgard’s face, marveling at how blessedly soft her skin was.  Wondered if she was soft everywhere.

“You can call me El,” Edelgard said when they leaned back.

They drove back to Enbarr holding hands, Byleth sneaking in kisses to Edelgard’s cheek every so often.  Byleth told Jeralt what happened that night, or at least the details he needed to know.  He laughed, ruffled her hair, and said he wasn’t surprised.  When she received a text later on from Edelgard saying Ionius laughed and said the same thing, Byleth curled up on her bed smiling a fool’s smile.

The last year of high school was a blur of tests and applications for both of them.  Byleth found herself praying again for a scholarship at Garreg Mach University for the Arts, the one university in Enbarr that offered a robust enough music program for her dreams.  Her prayers were split with ones for Edelgard to be accepted to a separate branch of Garreg Mach focused on the sciences, competitive in the utmost with limited class sizes and high tuitions.  Edelgard sat with her as she prayed, hands on her knees and murmuring the many reasons they were qualified for their dreams.

They were on holiday from classes, sitting in Edelgard’s room on her bed.  Byleth sat with her laptop and top tier headphones, gifts from Edelgard, Ionius, and Jeralt that left her speechless for an hour, composing a new song.  Edelgard sat leaning against her back, drawing in a sketchbook as she always did when she struggled to calm down.

Byleth’s laptop chimed first, the single bright bing of an email arriving.  She closed her eyes tight to not see the preview notification, dread filling her completely.  Edelgard put her sketchbook aside to turn around and wrap her arms around Byleth’s waist.

“It’ll be okay,” she whispered.  “I can read it to you if you want.”

Byleth shook her head.  She took a deep breath and switched to her email.

“‘Dear Byleth Eisner,” she mumbled, “‘we are writing...inform you that...we are...overjoyed to…’  Oh goddess—El—”

“‘Overjoyed to welcome you to the Garreg Mach University Music and Performance department, as well as grant you with the Saint Seiros scholarship’!” Edelgard laughed, reading over her shoulder.  “Byleth, that’s the full scholarship!”

Byleth turned enough to look at her.  She was radiant, skin a beautiful porcelain shade dusted with pink on her cheeks.  Byleth had discovered she had just a few freckles on her face.  They were wonderfully cute, though Edelgard would shove her a little if she called her cute to her face.

She nudged Edelgard back a bit.  Just enough to turn around.  Put a hand on her shoulder.  Pushed gently.  Edelgard lay back, smiling even as she blushed.  She reached up to put a hand on Byleth’s cheek and slowly brought it down along her neck.  Past the collar of her loose button-down shirt.

Edelgard’s phone chimed then, a three note chirp that repeated twice for a new email.  Edelgard scrambled to take her phone from her low, flat headboard and stared at the screen as the app and email loaded.  Byleth waited, holding her breath, as Edelgard read.  When Edelgard laughed faintly, Byleth took a breath.

“I’m in,” Edelgard whispered.  She looked up at Byleth.  “I’m in the track I wanted.  Byleth, I—I get to—I can help people.”

Byleth kissed her, putting her phone aside.  Edelgard melted a moment, and then pulled her closer.  Byleth melted in turn, bracing herself with her arms down on either side of Edelgard’s head.  She turned one hand and put her fingers in Edelgard’s hair and—

Byleth wanted.  Wanted Edelgard’s smile, her voice, the scent of her sweet perfume, the way her skin felt under her fingers.  Wanted heat, wanted to put her hand on Edelgard’s chest to feel her breath hitch.  Wanted everything.

“Byleth, please,” was Edelgard’s reply.

It was the best way to be driven insane.  She brought a hand to Edelgard’s breasts to brush her fingers over them.  She wore such a pretty sundress that day, heavy enough for modesty and warmth but still thin enough that Byleth could see her nipples grow hard.  Even as Edelgard started to unbutton her shirt, all Byleth could think about was sliding the straps down Edelgard’s shoulders and pulling her dress down to—

They heard the townhouse’s front door close heavily on the floor below.  Edelgard grabbed Byleth and pulled her down on top of her, hiding her face in her neck as she grumbled, “Oh for heaven’s sake—”

She wasn’t really upset, and neither was Byleth.  They couldn’t be when the rest of the day was a celebration and the start of even more planning.  Between Byleth’s scholarship, Edelgard’s funds, and Ionius available as a co-signer, apartment hunting was less a question of budget and more finding an acceptable balance of distance between the two Garreg Mach locations.  Though landlords tended to start off looking askance at Byleth and Jeralt during tours, Edelgard and Ionius turned such sharp glares upon them that they stopped in seconds.

They moved into an apartment together in July to have time to settle and find routines before classes started in August.  Byleth had never lived somewhere so nice in her life, bowled over by their kitchen and the fact that there was a room set aside just for her and her music.  Putting in the acoustic foam on the walls took up the better part of the first day for Byleth, Edelgard working on putting together a desk for herself in the main room and Ionius and Jeralt out buying groceries.  She gladly stopped working when Byleth was done to have a tour, smiling because Byleth could not stop pacing the room and describing how she could set it up for vocals or guitar tracks or even cello if the university would let her borrow—

“Byleth,” Edelgard laughed, catching her hands when she came back to the door again, “breathe a moment.”

“But—El, this is amazing!” Byleth laughed.  “I can make music and not have neighbors bang the wall on me!  And I won’t bug you when you’re studying!”  She put her hands on Edelgard’s face and kissed her gently, trying to say half a thousand things in the gesture.  Edelgard kissed back, and the way she hooked her fingers in the collar of Byleth’s t-shirt reminded them both of how they’d been interrupted.

They stopped, looking toward the front door.  Edelgard kissed Byleth’s cheek and murmured, “Later.  Come help me with my desk?”

She did so gladly, turning it upright after Edelgard double checked all the screws and shelves and moving it where she wanted.  They went on to arrange the bathrooms, the laundry room, and the kitchen before Jeralt and Ionius returned with supplies.  They only lingered long enough to have a hearty lunch of pizza and make sure the heaviest pieces of furniture were in place, leaving them to be adults on their own for the first time.

“I thought my dad would get mad at me for saying I didn’t want to buy a separate bed,” Byleth said as they finally started on their bedroom.  The notion of “their bedroom” sent a giddy thrill through her, but she still added, “Or—embarrassed, I guess?”

“He caught me sneaking into your bed the last ‘sleepover’ we had before graduation,” Edelgard said mildly, unpacking the suitcases her clothes had been packed in.

“He—did?” Byleth asked, stopping short in putting the fitted sheet on the bed.

“You don’t wake up after just one knock, you know.  And you don’t wake up the first time someone shakes you, so he came in when I was still curled up on you.”

“Oh.”  She put the sheet on the bed before spreading out a blanket.  “Your dad was okay with it?”

“He paid for the bed, Byleth,” Edelgard chuckled, taking several dresses into the closet.

Byleth smiled and put pillows in cases.  She sat on the bed, pushing at the mattress to feel how soft it was.  She rubbed her leg, trying not to dwell on how there was a hole in one knee of her jeans.  The sound of footsteps made her look up, and every thought was driven out of her head with how Edelgard kissed her then.  She put her hands on Edelgard’s hips to steady her as she moved to sit in her lap, knees beside Byleth’s legs.

How many times Byleth had daydreamed about having Edelgard in her lap like this numbered somewhere in the hundreds.  They’d had moments, but they were all just moments, anxiety over doors opening ruining each of them.  Then, all the time in the world was theirs.  Byleth could run her hands over Edelgard’s skin to see what made her shiver, made her squirm, and only worry about Edelgard telling her to move differently.

Edelgard kissed her thoughtfully, hands wandering in counterpoint to Byleth’s own.  As Byleth ran her fingers along the hems of Edelgard’s shorts, Edelgard began to inch Byleth’s t-shirt upward.  They broke apart so Edelgard could take Byleth’s shirt off, but she began to laugh when Byleth turned them about to lay her down on the bed.

“How long have you wanted to do that?” Edelgard asked, reaching up to bury her hands in Byleth’s hair.

“A really long time.”

“Then keep going,” she said with a smile that set a fire in the base of Byleth’s spine.

Edelgard was every bit as soft as Byleth had thought since the first time they’d kissed.  Her skin was like flower petals, yielding so very gently to Byleth’s fingers as she took off her blouse and bra.  She blushed terribly, cheeks and ears and chest and even her shoulders going rosy red the more Byleth kissed her, undressed her, tasted her skin.  With the bright afternoon light filling their bedroom, her blush was fully on display for Byleth to savor.

It could not be said that Edelgard was one to wilt in bed, however, as for every time Byleth made her blush she sought out a way to make her go twice as red.  The best way, they found right away, came from Edelgard’s mouth and the delightfully wicked cant she used.

“I want you on top of me,” she said, purring like a contented cat as she undid Byleth’s bra.  “Your mouth all over me.”  Ran her hands up Byleth’s sides to cup her large, heavy breasts.  “Mine all over you.  I’m sure you taste wonderful, Byleth.  I want to hear how you sing when you come for me.  You’ll sound so beautiful, look so beautiful.”

Byleth buried her face in the crook of Edelgard’s neck, kissing over and over and sneaking in the gentlest of bites to make Edelgard gasp.  Careful, so careful, she pushed Edelgard’s legs apart to kneel between them.  Edelgard, breath already growing heavy, looked up at her with hazy, dark eyes.  She smiled and stretched out a hand to touch Byleth’s stomach.

“That’s something I’ve wanted to see for over a year now,” she said.  “You on top of me in nothing but your jeans.”  She lifted her hand, curling a finger to beckon one of Byleth’s hands to her.  Smiling, she brought Byleth’s hand to her lips to kiss her palm.  “You have such wonderful hips, Byleth…you look amazing in those jeans.”

“Is that your way of saying I have a nice ass?” Byleth asked, grinning even as her face and ears burned.

“Perhaps.”  She kissed Byleth’s palm again before bringing her hand to her chest.  She curled Byleth’s fingers until she took the hint, and she lay back as Byleth cupped one of her breasts.  Byleth stroked her nipple with her thumb, smiling as it hardened under her touch.  She moved closer between Edelgard’s legs, putting her free hand under her hip.  Curled her fingers to squeeze her ass.

“I wish I’d wrote a song for this,” Byleth murmured.  “I’d have something to say.  Maybe.”  She took a shaking breath and pinched Edelgard’s nipple gently.  “You’re so pretty, El.”

“Write a song for next time,” Edelgard murmured.  Her smile was downright sinful in its desire as she said, “I want you as often as you’ll let me have you.”

Byleth was more than happy to give.  It let her see Edelgard in ecstasy, hear her lovely wicked voice, and always ended with Edelgard curled up with her in contentment, after all.

————

For years, they focused on their studies.  They always made time for each other, came home for dinner every day.  There were days early classes made them miss each other at breakfast, but Edelgard refused to let either of them leave the apartment without kissing Byleth at least once.  Whenever they had time, had energy, they pulled each other to bed and everywhere else in the apartment to make love and whisper devotion to one another.  The weekends were theirs without fail, and even if Edelgard did not follow the faith very closely anymore she always went with Byleth to mass on Sundays.

They argued over little things, sometimes: Edelgard forgetting to put dishes away, Byleth forgetting to start laundry on Saturdays because she was too occupied with jotting down a few new notes in the piece she was working on at the time.  Larger arguments were less common, the occasional hard scraping of nerves about things like money and Byleth’s recurrent guilt over using Edelgard’s, or Edelgard not paying close attention to how hard she was working and how she was starting to lose weight.  They always talked, though, taking time to cool off before sitting together and figuring it out.

“I love you,” Byleth said whenever they talked, whether or not they’d been arguing.  “I love you, El.”

“I love you too, Byleth,” Edelgard always replied, the sweet notes of her voice enough to make Byleth smile.

Their undergrad years went by so much faster than they’d expected.  Edelgard had no intention of slowing down, already accepted early into the med school track continuing on the Garreg Mach campus.  Byleth, though, found herself going to her advisor Seteth, unsure why he’d emailed her for a meeting as application deadlines loomed on the horizon in the winter.  When he started their meeting by introducing the woman sitting in his office as Rhea, the dean of Garreg Mach rumored to have a temper to rival a dragon, she wondered if she was about to be expelled for some impossible slight.

“I’m glad to meet you, Byleth Eisner,” Rhea said, standing to offer her a hand.

“Thank you,” Byleth said quietly.  She sat down and tried her best to be small.  Rhea saw, and she laughed.

“No, no, little one,” she said.  “Put any thoughts about being in trouble out of your mind.  I am not here with ill intentions.  Though Seteth has grumbled a bit about your proclivities for sneaking instruments off campus.”

“Sorry,” Byleth said, still quiet.

“I am here because Seteth was informed by one of our teaching assistants that you do not intend to continue your studies with a graduate degree,” Rhea said.  “Having heard the portions of the orchestra you’ve been turning in for assignments, I was quite shocked to hear this.  You have a truly wonderful gift, Miss Eisner.  May I ask why you would stop your studies now?”

“It’s not cheap,” Byleth said.  “I looked at scholarships, but all the ones I found for PhD degrees are partial and I don’t—I don’t really want to leave school with a lot of debt and have to ask someone else to pay my bills.”

“By ‘someone else’ do you mean your family?  Or a lover?”

“Both.  I don’t want to make Edelgard pay for my school stuff.”

“Edelgard?  Ionius’ daughter?”

“Do you know the Hresvelgs?” Byleth asked.

“Not a soul in Enbarr doesn’t know them, little one,” Rhea laughed.  “I understand how you feel.  You do not want them to feel as though your love for them is an obligation to provide you with so much.  It is a very old teaching of the goddess’s to offer your love without any expectations and I applaud you for practicing it.  But at the same time, there is another teaching that those with means above and beyond that of others should strive to offer a hand to lift those in need up.”

“To that end,” Seteth said, putting a hand on a stack of stuffed file folders, “I’ve had the department’s administrators go through the list of scholarships or stipends that could be applied to our DMA program—Doctor of Musical Arts, Byleth. Most graduate routes aim for a PhD, of course, but given your talents in composition over writing papers, a DMA is the better fit.  And it would be ideal if ever you wanted to pursue a professorship later in life.”

Byleth stared, eyes wide and brows raised, as he offered the folders.  As she took them, she asked, “There’s this many?  Are they all partial?”

“Some are partial, but there are several full scholarships as well as stipends.  The full scholarships are competitive, of course, but I believe you could make a case for yourself with the extent of your personal body of work.”

“I would not see you give up on your studies when you’ve done this well, Miss Eisner,” Rhea said.  “Please review these scholarships and the DMA program before you come to a decision.”

Byleth nodded, and she went home with a potential future in her backpack.  Edelgard found her at the dining table when she returned home, glasses on to read through all of the documents spread out in front of her.  She smiled, said nothing at first, and made hot chocolate for the both of them before sitting down to help.

Jeralt cried from sheer pride that summer, the four of them celebrating Byleth’s acceptance into and full scholarship for Garreg Mach’s DMA program and Edelgard’s acceptance into an accelerated track through med school.  Byleth couldn’t remember the last time he’d cried, and she’d certainly never seen happy tears on his face before. He got quite drunk at the restaurant they went to, as did Ionius.  Edelgard drove both of them home, Byleth helping Jeralt up to his apartment.

“You’re doing so damn good, kid,” he said to her at the door, hugging her hard enough for her ribs to creak.  “Mom’s proud up in heaven.”

“Thanks, Dad,” Byleth said, and she made she he’d drunk a full glass of water and was in bed before hurrying back downstairs.  When they stopped at Ionius’ townhouse, she stayed in the car while Edelgard led Ionius inside.  It left her fidgeting, playing with the velvet box in her pocket until she heard the doors unlock on their own.  Edelgard got into the driver’s seat with a little laugh, tucking hair behind her ears.

“I’d say I envy them for being able to drink,” Edelgard said, putting her seatbelt on, “but I won’t envy them their hangovers tomorrow.”  She checked to make sure Byleth’s seatbelt was on before starting the car again and driving away.

“Me neither,” Byleth said.  “I don’t think you’re missing much with drinking anyway.  All the stuff I’ve tried just burns my throat.”

“An acquired taste, I’m sure,” Edelgard said.  “Like Hubert with his whisky or Ferdinand with the absurd amount of wine tastings he drags Hubert and Dorothea along to.”

“Hasn’t Dot tried a million times to make him stop inviting her?”

“Yes, but you know Ferdinand.”  She took one hand from the wheel to put it against her chest, deepening her voice as she said, “Dorothea, you simply must join us!  The white wine this season is absolutely delicious and I insist that you bring some home to Petra and Ingrid!”

Byleth laughed.  “Now Dot, El.”

She turned her hand, nestling the tips of her fingers under her chin, and softened her voice to say, “Ferdie, dear, I would love to go with you and Hubie again, but I really should go practice my arias, Professor Manuela has been at me for missing notes again and I don’t want to be pulled from Byleth’s orchestra. Edie will kill me.”

Byleth laughed again, reaching to put one hand on Edelgard’s leg as Edelgard put both hands back on the wheel.  She sang for Edelgard, something bright to match how the evening had gone.  Edelgard hummed along, adjusting her grip on the wheel to be able to hold Byleth’s hand.  They got home soon enough, Edelgard kicking off her low heels the moment the door was closed behind them.  Once Byleth had taken off her sneakers, Edelgard stood on her toes, wrapped her arms around her neck, and pulled her down for a kiss.

“I know I’ve said it a hundred times by now,” Edelgard said, “but I’m proud of you, Byleth.”  She smiled, brushing Byleth’s hair back, and murmured, “It’ll be nice.  Calling you ‘Doctor Eisner’ when you call me ‘Doctor Hresvelg.’”

Byleth was incredibly aware of the box in her pocket.  One corner was digging into her hip.  She was also very aware of how narrow their entrance hallway was and how it didn’t let them move much in terms of crouching.  She shuffled just enough to scoop Edelgard into her arms and carried her into the main room, smiling because Edelgard laughed.  Setting Edelgard on her feet, she kissed her again.

“I’ll call you ‘Doctor Hresvelg,’” she said, “but…um.  Can—can I do something?  And you tell me if I can call you something else?”

“Of course,” Edelgard said.  She stared, going bright red, as Byleth sank down on one knee and took the little box from her pocket.  Byleth, blushing up to her ears, opened the box to show the platinum ring inside.

“Will you marry me?” Byleth asked.  “So I can call you my wife?”

Edelgard smiled, brilliant as the sun, and burst out laughing.  She reached into her purse to retrieve a little box of her own, kneeling down to kiss Byleth again and again.

“I was waiting until we got home to ask,” Edelgard laughed, starting to cry.  “Papa would’ve made such a scene if I asked you—Byleth—of course!  Of course I’ll marry you!”

Byleth kissed her, wiping her tears away with her thumbs until she was certain Edelgard was no longer crying.  She picked Edelgard up once more and took her to their bedroom.  For a little while, they lay in bed together wearing their rings, Edelgard marveling at the sunset-colored gems in her ring and Byleth, a blush on her face, smiling at the deep blue sapphires in hers.  Edelgard rolled onto her side to lay her left hand over Byleth’s heart, giggling at the sight of the ring on her finger.

“You know,” she said, “I’ve wanted to marry you since I was ten years old.  You were tall and brave and sweet and then you just became so beautiful, Byleth.”

“Says the woman in a ridiculously nice dress to her girlfriend in jeans and another t-shirt,” Byleth said with a wry smile.  She laughed when Edelgard moved to sit on her hips, fingers sliding under her shirt.

“You are beautiful, Byleth,” Edelgard said, a firm tone in her voice that Byleth thought befitted an emperor.  “In so many ways.”  She tilted her head, smirking, and said, “Not least of all being that you fill out your jeans wonderfully.”

“You and my ass, El,” Byleth laughed, and she rolled them over to pin Edelgard beneath her.  “The only thing you’re worse about are my boobs.”  She put a hand on Edelgard’s cheek, running her thumbs over those faint freckles, and said, “I knew I loved you way before I kissed you.  I think I knew before you went to the hospital, I just didn’t get what it was.”

“We’re rather hopeless, aren’t we.”

“Pretty much.”  She let Edelgard pull her down for a kiss, reaching down with both hands to catch the hem of Edelgard’s dress.  The sight of lacy red lingerie on Edelgard made her freeze up and go crimson, and she cleared her throat.  “Okay, no wonder you didn’t let me watch you get dressed this morning.”

“I had to give you another present if you said ‘yes,’” Edelgard purred.  She stretched under Byleth, arching her back with her arms over her head, and bent one leg to press her knee up between Byleth’s legs.  “This is that set you like best, yes?”

“It is,” Byleth murmured.  She ran one hand up Edelgard’s side, cupping her breast as she leaned down to kiss her neck.  “I can’t believe you let me pick that for you.”

“I had to,” Edelgard whispered in her ear.  “You let me take you against that fitting room wall.”

Byleth choked on a laugh.  “Please don’t remind me of that.”

“But it’s a wonderful little memory,” Edelgard said.  “Your face was so red while I touched you.  Almost as red as the lingerie.”

“Goddess, you just proposed and you’re trying to drive me insane,” Byleth huffed against her neck.

“You do amazing things when I drive you mad, Byleth.”  She made Byleth lift her head, combing back her hair with both hands.  “Will you do your beloved fiancée a favor?”

“Of course.”

“I would like to not be able to walk properly tomorrow,” Edelgard said with that wicked smile Byleth adored.  “Would you be so kind as to ruin me tonight?”

“One condition,” Byleth said, grinning back to make Edelgard shiver.

“Which is what?”

“Tell me that story while I ruin you.”

Edelgard laughed aloud, kissing her cheek.  “You’re in quite a mood tonight, asking for me to tell you a dirty story.”

“You’re too good at it.  Please?”

She smiled and kissed her properly, holding her close as she sucked on her lower lip.  Not letting Byleth draw back far, she murmured, “Our favorite toy, then.”

A shiver went through Byleth from the bottoms of her feet to the top of her head.  She kissed Edelgard’s neck thoroughly to make Edelgard shiver for her, only getting out of bed when Edelgard reached down to pinch her backside.

They kept their various toys in a box under the bed, close to the headboard and easily in reach.  It was easier than secreting them away in the closet, given how often the mood struck them.  Byleth opened the box, rummaged a bit, and looked at Edelgard significantly as she lifted the large, bright red strap-on and its harness.

“Light of my life,” Edelgard said with a smile, “do you really think you can make me feel the slightest bit embarrassed anymore about how much I want you?”

“Not really.  I just like seeing your eyes go dark like that.”  She set the toy and a bottle of lube on the bed before going to the bathroom for a towel.  Because Edelgard beckoned to her, she went to her with the intention of kissing her red, red lips.  Edelgard kept her upright with a hand on her side, leaning close to kiss between her breasts, both of her nipples, and lingering on her stomach near her belt buckle.

“Byleth,” Edelgard murmured against her skin, undoing her belt.  She kissed her chest again as she unbuttoned and unzipped her jeans, nuzzling her breasts.  Byleth put a hand under her chin to make her look up, kissing her to capture her smile for just a moment.

“I’m not telling a story, I know,” Edelgard chuckled.  She moved back on the bed, watching Byleth take off her jeans and underwear with hunger in her eyes.  As Byleth began to put on the strap-on, she hummed softly and tilted her head as she thought.

“You were so taken with this set when we walked by it,” she said, running her fingers along the lace on her bra.  “To the point where you asked that I try it on.”  She chuckled as Byleth tightened the harness’s straps and said, “And insisted on being in the fitting room with me.”

“You look good in red, El,” Byleth said, getting onto the bed.

“Yes, and I suppose we could say that red looks good in me.”  She smiled at how badly Byleth blushed, and she reached out to catch the harness with both hands and pull Byleth steadily closer.  “You were so, so red that day.  I could tell you would be very eager to get home regardless of if we bought this set.”

“I knew you’d look good in it,” Byleth said, even as she reached behind Edelgard’s back to unclasp her bra.  She took it off slowly, tossing it to the end of the bed before bowing her head to Edelgard’s chest.  She kissed her breasts, ran her tongue over her nipples to make Edelgard hum, purr.

“I do,” Edelgard said, winding her fingers in Byleth’s hair.  “Seeing you realize how good I look in it, though…it was so tempting to let you have me that day.  But you jumped at the tiniest little command from me.  And I couldn’t let you make a mess of the lingerie.”

“Like you’re making a mess right now?” Byleth said, lips to Edelgard’s neck as she reached a hand between her legs.  The feeling of heat, of wetness soaking through the fabric to coat her fingertips made her shiver.

“Why do you think I took off the bottoms before anything?” Edelgard whispered.  “Even when you don’t set a finger on me, you make such a mess of me.”  She moaned in Byleth’s ear when she moved the fabric aside to slip a finger into her.  “And you see the state of me when you do touch me.”

“I do.”  She rocked her finger in and out, holding her breath to focus on hearing Edelgard.  The little hitches of her breath, the soft wet sounds her body made around her finger as she moved.  She touched her lips to Edelgard’s shoulders, nuzzling her neck when Edelgard tugged on her hair.  Smiling while Edelgard could not see, she drew her finger back entirely before sinking two into her, knuckle deep.  She curled her fingers and felt Edelgard jump.

“Goddess—Byleth,” Edelgard whispered.  She grasped Byleth’s arms, leaning against her for balance.  She whined while Byleth found a rhythm, a high note that left Byleth’s nerves vibrating.  She made Edelgard lie back, sitting up over her to watch her fingers move between her legs.  Edelgard squirmed, gripping the sheets, and bit her lip when Byleth added another finger.

“Tell me the story, El,” Byleth murmured.  She drew her fingers out to take off Edelgard’s underwear, the fine lacy garters, and tossed them to the end of the bed.  “Please.”

“Of course,” Edelgard said, taking Byleth’s dry hand to kiss.  She settled back as Byleth moved between her legs with the lube and towel in hand.  She kept herself from chuckling at how quickly Byleth moved, spreading lube on the strap-on before wiping off her hands and moving closer.  When Byleth lined up and pushed into her, so gentle and so sweet, she pulled Byleth close and moaned in her ear.

“We were only there for—a pair of shoes for you,” Edelgard said, voice hitching when Byleth began to thrust into her.  “But we passed by that set of lingerie and—yes, Byleth, just like that—oh, the look in your eye.  You could’ve set fire to—ah!  Set fire to anything with how much flame was in your eyes.”

Byleth kept her head to Edelgard’s shoulder, desperate to have her voice in her ear.  She moved slowly, drawing out her moans and little whimpers as she spoke.

“You—hah—you snuck into my fitting room, Byleth.”  She laughed.  “You knocked, but you weren’t supposed to be there with me.”

“Wanted to see you,” Byleth said, sweat beading on her back, her neck.  She gripped the sheets for purchase as she pushed in deep and ground her hips against Edelgard.  It earned her a shivery little laugh; a jolt ran between her legs.

“I’d never seen you so—mmm—dumbstruck, Byleth.”  She gripped Byleth’s hair when Byleth drew back almost completely before sinking back into her.  “I had to take pity on you.”  Chuckling, a deep, dark sound that made Byleth whimper to hear it, she said, “I took such good care of you that day, didn’t I.”

El,” Byleth whined.  She felt Edelgard’s heels on the backs of her thighs and moved faster, harder.

“You were such a good girl for me,” Edelgard whispered in her ear, pulling her even closer.  “You stayed—mmm!  You stayed so quiet for me.  Harder, Byleth—yes, just like that.  I could see you wanted to sing, but you were so good for me.”  She kissed Byleth’s cheek, legs trembling as Byleth fucked her into the bed, and laughed faintly.  “You’re so fond of calling me—goddess, Byleth—calling me your good girl.  I finally understood why that is.”

Byleth wanted to keep her head down to hear everything.  Edelgard’s voice set a fire all through her; the sound of the sheets moving against their skin fanned the flames ever higher.  Her legs shook with every thrust and her face burned because she could feel how wet she was under the harness.  When Edelgard put her hands on her face and lifted her up, she almost resisted.

Edelgard looked up at her, smiling in absolute bliss.  She ran her thumbs over Byleth’s cheeks, biting her lip as Byleth continued to thrust into her.  When she finally let her head fall back, opened her mouth, and moaned as she came, Byleth had only to thrust in once more.  She had been on the edge for minutes, Edelgard’s voice almost enough on its own, and angling her hips gave her just enough pressure to fall over the edge.

It took a long while for Byleth’s senses to come back to her.  When she was aware of things again, she realized her head was nestled in the crook of Edelgard’s neck, and Edelgard’s arms were around her.  She was tracing letters on her back, humming the very first song Byleth had ever come up with, and only paused when Byleth lifted her head.

“Good girl, Byleth,” Edelgard chuckled, and she laughed when Byleth kissed her neck again and again in retaliation.

————

They agreed to wait at least a year before getting married.  They were unsure of how graduate courses would go, how much stress they could add.  They still started to plan for their wedding, though, taking time on the weekends to go over things like guest lists and food.  It was too early to have arguments about anything in particular, only bits of teasing about who wasn’t allowed to sit near them at the reception.

Byleth was on the verge of asking Edelgard something specific for the wedding in the spring when she was given an assignment.  The small chapel on the sciences campus for Garreg Mach was in the midst of a renovation and it needed someone with proper hearing to check the building’s acoustics and the tuning on the pipe organ.  She went there gladly, if only to have the opportunity to take Edelgard to lunch the days she was on campus.

It was relatively quiet work, only her voice or the notes she played to hear.  It was calming, getting to be alone with the colored lights of the stained glass windows.  She took some time for herself one day, checking the harmony of a song’s vocals by walking up and down the main aisle while singing.  The few notes that came back slightly sour were ones she noted in the notebook she always kept tucked in her back pocket, and she went to the front of the chapel to start again with revisions.

The door to the chapel creaked far too loudly as it opened, its rusty hinges protesting every inch as Edelgard struggled to move the door.  Byleth hurried over even as she stared, opening the door to let Edelgard inside and closing it after her.

“You’d think they’d oil the doors first,” Edelgard sighed, brushing hair back over her shoulder.  Her hair was down that day; her red button down shirt and black slacks had been picked for a presentation Byleth knew had been scheduled for early that morning.  Despite having dressed up a bit for being on a different campus in new jeans, a blouse, and a blazer, Byleth still felt underdressed when faced with her fiancée.

“Everything go all right?” she asked, taking Edelgard’s left hand.

“Quite well,” Edelgard said.  “It was a relatively informal presentation on where my work is at the moment.  Professor Hanneman was pleased early on and let me get on with my day.”  She smiled as she looked about.  “I hoped I’d catch you here at this hour.”

“I’m slacking a little,” Byleth admitted, smiling sheepishly.  “The pipe organ’s pretty much in tune, but I wanted to check how something I’m composing sounds.”

“Oh?  Is this something you’ve let me hear yet?”

“It’s part of the orchestra.  I’m focusing on the vocals and it helps to hear them in an open space.”

“I see.”  She kissed Byleth’s hand and asked, “May I stay?  We still have some time before the lunch hour.”

“Sure!  You can sit anywhere you want, I’m just going to walk around while I sing.”  She gave Edelgard a kiss once she had nodded, heading back to the front of the chapel again.  When she turned back, she smiled to see Edelgard sitting where she had always sat: in the back row, left of center and leaving a space for Byleth on one side of her.

When Byleth began to sing again, she was completely at ease.  She saw Edelgard lean forward and close her eyes to listen with absolute focus and raised her voice just that much more for her.  She sang, bright and clear, and felt far better when she reached her revisions.  By the time she finished, she had come back around to Edelgard and sat down next to her.

“You’ve been working on that section two thirds in,” Edelgard said, opening her eyes.  “You said you’ll have strings backing up the vocals there?”

“Light strings.  It’s why I wanted some time to practice here.”  She smiled wearily and leaned back, saying, “We’ve got so many people visiting the chapel on my campus that I almost never have a chance to get it to myself.”

“So you jumped at the chance to have the empty sciences’ chapel,” she chuckled.  “How pragmatic of you, my light.  Renovations aside, I don’t think I’ve seen any of my student body come here.”  She looked about before leaning against Byleth’s shoulder.  “It’s a pity.  The stained glass here is quite pretty.  It might help some students with stress.”

Byleth hesitated.  She patted her knees.  After a long while, she said, “El?  Would it bother you to get married in a church?”

“What do you mean?”

“I know the church isn’t very special to you,” Byleth said.  “But…it kind of is to me.  And I’d really like to get married in a church, but not if it would bother you.”

“Byleth,” Edelgard said, taking one of her hands, “please don’t look as though you’re scared I’ll break our engagement over this.”

Byleth looked down when Edelgard squeezed her hand, finding that she was holding her knees with a white-knuckled grip.  She let go at once, face burning.

“I’ve always wanted to marry you in a church, Byleth,” Edelgard murmured.  “That has never changed, regardless of how I struggle with my faith at times.”  She kissed Byleth’s knuckles and smiled as she said, “I’m sure the sight of you walking down the aisle to me will make me cry, and that wouldn’t happen if we just went to court.”

Byleth exhaled shakily and began to smile.  She laughed weakly and said, “Thank you.  Now I feel kind of stupid for how much I’ve been worried about asking you.”

“No, I understand,” Edelgard said.  “And I appreciate you not wanting to make me uncomfortable.”  She set her head on Byleth’s shoulder.  “But every time my faith wavers about if the goddess is truly kind or not, I think of you.”

“Why me?  It’s not like I’m an actual vessel for the goddess.”

“Wouldn’t that be a sight,” she laughed.  “And to be fair, I think of our fathers as well.  Because seeing how much you love me and how much they love us is the best reminder that true good exists in the world.  For whatever else may happen, I can believe that the goddess did give us the capacity for that kind of love.  That is all I need to want to be married in a church with you, Byleth.”

Byleth sighed in relief and tilted her head to kiss Edelgard’s hair.  “Thank you, El.”

“Of course.”  She looked to one side of the chapel toward the front, and straightened up slightly.  “Are they actually removing things in here?”

Byleth followed her gaze.  “You mean those two curtains?”

“They look a bit like dropcloths from here.”

“No, there are actually rooms behind them.  Come on.”  She stood, offering Edelgard a hand to hold as they went to the curtains.  Byleth pulled one curtain aside, showing the open door behind it.  The room beyond was small, a padded bench seat against the back wall and one wall dominated by a heavy wooden grate, dotted with the four-pointed stars seen throughout art for the church.  Light came in through the grate, painting Byleth’s face with pale stars as she sat down on the bench.

“I had to ask what these were when I started checking the acoustics,” she said, patting the narrow shelf under the grate.  “I didn’t know this was a thing, but something the church used to do is have people come in and confess their sins to a priest.”

Why?” Edelgard asked, one brow raised.

“The priest said it was kind of to make people come in more and give more tithing money while they were here.  It was phased out before you and I were born, which tells you how long these have just been sitting here in the church not getting used.”

“What will they be doing with these?”

“Converting them into storage spaces, I think.”  She tapped the grate with one knuckle.  “This wall will come down, since it’s already pretty thin.  I vote they do something like turn it into a space for a choir or art from students, but I don’t know how the architecture would work.”

“Or a little indoor garden.  It would be nice to have a green space here.”  She smiled as Byleth settled back against the wall.  “Have you worn yourself out?”

“A little,” Byleth chuckled.  “It’s not easy to sing that loud for so long.”

“I can only imagine.” She looked over her shoulder at the door.  She looked back to Byleth, her lips slowly curling into a smile.  Humming softly, she moved back to draw the curtain closed and shut the door gently.

“El?” Byleth said.

“Rest your voice,” Edelgard said.  She moved closer, tapping Byleth’s feet with her own until she spread her legs.  Chuckling, she leaned forward to kiss Byleth’s brow.  Her hair fell around her shoulders and brushed against Byleth’s cheeks; the scent of her perfume made Byleth dizzy in the closed space.

“Byleth,” Edelgard murmured.  She tucked hair behind her ear as she straightened up slightly.  Byleth stared up at her, at the stars and shadows on her face and how her eyes were growing dark.  She was too enraptured to react when Edelgard hummed a laugh, brought her other hand out from behind her back, and ran her thumb over the stars painted in the gap between her eye and her brow.

“Do you have anything to confess?” Edelgard asked quietly, and her smile was truly wicked.

Byleth went crimson.  She opened her mouth and failed to produce a single sound, and she inhaled sharply when Edelgard put a finger under her chin and lifted to make her close her mouth.  She moved her finger to Byleth’s lips, still smiling.

“Shh,” she whispered.  “Rest your voice.  Tell me quietly.”

“El—”

“Tell me no and we will stop.  Just as anywhere else.”

Byleth took another breath, far less steady.  She glanced at the door, at the grate, and looked at Edelgard imploringly.

“You lovely woman,” Edelgard murmured.  She thought a moment, considering the size of the bench.  “Of course it’s only designed for one.”  She leaned down again, brushing her lips against Byleth’s cheek.  “We’ll make do.  Now tell me, do you have anything to confess?”

“Nothing I think is bad,” Byleth said, looking up at her and the stars on her.  She lifted a hand to touch Edelgard’s face, fingertips tracing the soft edges of those stars.  “Just…you still drive me so crazy.”

“Only in the right ways, I hope.”

“Only in the right ways.”  She shivered when Edelgard put a hand on her thigh and began to trace a path inward, upward, along the seam of her jeans.

“I would hope,” Edelgard whispered in her ear.  “You drive me mad constantly.”  She brought her hand between Byleth’s legs.  “That fluttery hitch in your breath—”

—she pressed hard on the seam of her jeans, smiling when she heard Byleth gasp—

“—yes, that one.  It’s such a delicate sound from you.”  She rubbed slow, hard circles, bringing her other hand down to hold Byleth’s legs open.  “I was never so fascinated by sound before I met you, Byleth.  But I must confess I constantly want to tease these sounds from you.”

Byleth put a hand over her mouth to muffle herself when Edelgard curled her fingers slightly on the next hard press.  Her exhale was noisy against her fingers when Edelgard relented for a moment.

“Knowing that you’re mine,” Edelgard said, undoing her belt, “is a remarkable thing.”  She undid the button of her jeans, the zipper.  Smiling at how her fingers immediately found wet skin when she slipped her hand past the band of her underwear, she murmured, “Feeling how wet you are is such a treat.  You’re so pretty when you squirm for me.”

“El,” Byleth whispered into her fingers.  She barely caught her moan when Edelgard’s fingers brushed against her clit, the sound breaking inside her mouth.  Edelgard heard, and she kissed Byleth’s nose gently.

“Stay quiet for me,” she said, “and I will let you do whatever you want to me when we go home.”

“Anything?”

“Anything.”

“Let me record you.”

Edelgard paused, making Byleth whine.  “What?”

“Not—not a video.  Just an audio recording, just for me.  Please?”

Edelgard exhaled a laugh.  She began to move her fingers again, still slow, still teasing, and said, “You’d make love to me in your studio?”

“No,” Byleth whimpered.  “I’d have to handle the recording.”

“Ah, so you’d ask me to touch myself while you watch.”  She chuckled, slipping one finger into her.  “You enjoy that so much, my light.  Watching me shiver for you, how my fingers go in—”

—she pushed in until she was knuckle deep; Byleth’s toes curled in her shoes—

“—and out.  You look at me so adoringly.  It’s quite flattering.”  She gently worked another finger into Byleth, leaving both fingers buried as she rubbed her clit with her thumb.  “It would be very nice to record for you, I think.  If only to be in your wonderful chair for a bit.  Would you like that today, Byleth?”

Before Byleth could answer, Edelgard began to move her fingers, rocking in and out.

“Or,” she purred, “would you like to wait for this weekend to have a longer recording session?”

Byleth wasn’t sure what kind of consequences there would be for catching on fire in a chapel, but she couldn’t bring herself to care.  She hid her face in Edelgard’s shoulder to stay quiet, legs tense as her nerves burned from pleasure.  Edelgard continued to move, gentle and steady but always insistent.  She coaxed the flames higher and higher until Byleth could all but feel them in her mouth.

“Or would you like both?” Edelgard chuckled.  “A shorter version and a longer version?”

She nodded against Edelgard’s shoulder, breath hitching as the flames turned to sparks.

“Gladly.”  She tilted her head to look at Byleth’s face, took pity on her and her crimson blush, and brought her lips to Byleth’s ear.  She moaned, “Byleth.”

Byleth could not muffle herself perfectly as she came, a high sharp sound threatening to leave her.  Edelgard pulled her closer at the last moment, letting her bury the sound in her chest while she trembled and quaked and slowly went limp.  When Byleth eventually leaned back and looked up, she was still completely crimson.

“I promise to listen to every instruction tonight, my light,” Edelgard said, kissing her cheek with a smile.  Byleth burst out laughing, hiding her face against Edelgard’s chest once more.

————

By all rights, there was nothing on the line with the performance in the fall.  It was not tied to a grade, as she had already received full marks for her orchestra following a performance before the board of professors.  It was not a matter of money, as it was a free performance for Garreg Mach students and any invited guests.  But Byleth still spent the entire day before her first public performance as a conductor fretting.  Jeralt and Ionius, having come to their apartment for the day in anticipation of the performance that evening, joined Edelgard in watching Byleth pace the apartment.

“Kid,” Jeralt said at half past four.  When Byleth, deaf with nerves, ignored him, he sighed, stood from the couch, and went to stop her in her tracks.  “Byleth.  Did you hear what Edel just said?”

“What?”

“It’s almost five, Byleth,” Edelgard said.  “We should let them go to campus ahead of us so we can get you ready.”

“Oh.  Yeah, good point.”  She coughed when Jeralt caught her in a hug and thumped her hard on the back.

“Clear your head out before you get there, By,” he said, ruffling her hair as he grinned.  “You’ll do fine.”

Ionius chuckled at how Byleth struggled with smoothing her hair down, standing from the dining table to give her a hug as well.  He patted her shoulder and said, “We have our invites and we’ll see you on stage, dear.”

Byleth nodded, waving to them as Edelgard escorted them to the door.  Her feet were frozen to the floor by the time Edelgard returned, and she looked at Edelgard with a plea in her face.

“I’m surprised how much more nervous you are, Byleth,” Edelgard said, going to her.  She wrapped her arms around Byleth and held tight, head resting on her chest to listen to her rapid heartbeat.  Humming softly, sweetly, she traced letters on Byleth’s back.

“I know it’s stupid to be nervous when I’ve already conducted the entire orchestra,” Byleth sighed.  “Sorry.”

“Being nervous before a performance is hardly stupid.  I just want you to dwell on all the reasons why you’re fully prepared to perform in front of others.”

“You’re right.”  She took a deep breath before putting her chin on Edelgard’s head.  “I know the performers know their parts, and I know that we can flub some notes.  And I know everyone can see me well from my spot in the front for conducting.”

“Are you nervous about conducting in front of us?” Edelgard asked.

“A little.  I practice in front of you all the time, but Dad’s never been to an orchestra performance.  I don’t want him—to be bored, I guess.”

“With how energetic you are and how energetic the orchestra itself is, I doubt he could be.  And Papa is prepared to give him little details on what you’re doing if he notices that he’s confused.”

“You won’t?”

“Byleth, I’m going to be watching you.  There might as well be an auditorium of empty chairs for how little I’m going to pay attention to other people while you conduct.”

Byleth laughed against her hair and hugged her tight.  Bit by bit, her heart calmed down and let her move her feet again.  She took all of Edelgard’s help in preparing for the night, following every instruction on how to style her hair, which shirt and which pair of slacks to wear.  She relaxed all the more while watching Edelgard get ready, drinking in the sight of her in a gorgeous red dress and her hair done up in a fine braid.

Before they left, Edelgard took Byleth’s left hand and kissed the back of it, leaving a perfect print of dark lipstick.  Byleth took care not to smudge it as Edelgard drove them to campus, settling for playing with her engagement ring instead.  They parted at the auditorium, Byleth heading backstage after kissing Edelgard lightly.  The musicians greeted her warmly, and she went from person to person to check on them and their instruments.  She stood by to listen to Dorothea’s vocal warmups, smiling brightly when Dorothea looked at her for approval.

In no time at all, it was quarter to seven.  The musicians gathered up their instruments and went to the stage to settle and make sure everything was in tune.  Dorothea led the other vocalists out next, and Byleth took a moment to breathe deeply before following their lead to go on stage at one minute to seven o’clock.

A polite, soft wave of applause greeted her as she came on stage, and she lifted a hand in greeting as she went to the microphone at the very front of the stage.  She tapped it, heard the tiny pff of feedback, and stepped close to speak.

“Thank you all for coming tonight,” she said.  “My name is Byleth Eisner and I’m one of the graduate students in Garreg Mach’s music department.  What you’re about to hear is the first public performance of an orchestra I’ve been writing for about five years now.  Before we begin, I want to say ‘thank you’ to a few more people.  First, thank you to Professor Seteth for his help over the years, and thank you to Dean Rhea for agreeing to a public performance.  And of course, a very big thank you to my performers for tonight as well.”

She turned slightly to clap for them, waiting until the audience had applauded as well.  She cleared her throat before the applause was fully over, turning back to the mic.

“I also want to thank my father for supporting me through all my schooling and coming here tonight,” she said.  “And my future father-in-law for the same, thank you both.”  She smiled when Jeralt and Ionius nodded to her from the front row before finally looking at Edelgard.

“And of course, I have to thank my fiancée,” Byleth said.  “I absolutely never could’ve gotten here without all her support, guidance, and putting up with me forgetting to do laundry because I was working on this thing.”  She grinned because Edelgard laughed along with the rest of the audience, and she took a deep breath as the laughter ended.

“This orchestra’s title is ‘Crimson Flower,’” Byleth said.  “Please sit back and enjoy.”

Byleth nodded to the young man handling the electronics as the audience applauded again.  He cut the power to the mic before quickly taking it and its stand away.  The lights over the audience dimmed as Byleth moved to the podium before the orchestra.  She opened the book of sheet music on the stand to the first page as the musicians did the same.

“I hope you can hear this, Mom,” she whispered.  As she picked up her baton, she let her eyes linger on the lipstick print on her left hand.  She smiled, kissed her ring, and said, “Keep my hand steady, El.”

Byleth looked up.  The musicians looked at her, at the ready.  She took one more deep breath, raised her hands, and finally brought her orchestra to life.