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Dawn Of Reality

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Byleth wasn’t one to stand back and watch as things unfurled, she’d bare her blade and rush headfirst into the action. Which is what landed her at the bottom of a canyon and left her asleep for five long years. Things had changed, so much so that she wasn’t sure there was much she could do to help the situation in front of her.

Claude and Dedue grasped onto Dimitri, barely able to hold him back as he tried to run after Edelgard. It was all but bloodlust left in the disowned prince who looked crazed to any bystander. No soldier dared tried to stop Dimitri, lest they become nothing but vermin under his lance. Dimitri was impossibly strong, it wouldn’t be long before he’d escape their hold.

At least Claude still had his quick wits about him, taking the risk of letting go of one arm to grab a dagger from his armband. Pressing the blade to Dimitri’s throat, daring to cut his flesh if he moved an inch. “She’s gone, Dimitri! There will be another chance!”

Dimitri didn’t hear anything, even with the blade drawing a red line across his throat. “I’ll have her head, unhand me!” thrashing about, teeth bared like a wild animal.

“Your highness, please--” Dedue pleaded, he didn’t want Claude slit his throat. He’d sooner let Dimitri go than have Claude kill him. At this moment, he didn’t have much control of the situation to decide anything.

Byleth couldn’t stand back anymore, no longer would she be out of the picture and allow her former students to kill each other. She strode out in front of the crazed prince, Sword of the Creator in hand and the tip of it now under his chin.

“That’s enough, Dimitri,” there was so much she wanted to say, but it would have to be at a later time. Her eyes were full of pain despite her hard expression, she truly didn’t want to use this weapon against him.

Silence seemed to fall over the battlefield, even the soldiers seemed to be holding their breaths. Dimitri’s finger clenched harder against the grip of his lance, threatening to split it in two like so many before. Finally, he relaxed his grip and let the weapon fall to his side. Tension in his shoulders as he scoffed at her, chin raised in disgust.

“You will not stop me, professor.”

Claude and Dedue finally released their grip on him, Claude drawing the blade back to its holster but keeping his eyes on the prince.

“I know,” she spoke in response, lowering her sword as he turned away from her.

The leader of the Golden Deer turned to the prince’s right-hand man, “That went well,” voice dripping in sarcasm. “Keep him near our camps, make sure he doesn’t try to one-man army the Imperial forces.”

The stress was written all over Dedue’s face, knowing that Dimitri doesn’t take orders from anyone. “I will try, but I make no promises. Perhaps the professor can persuade him.” They all could tell he didn’t put any weight into the statement, how could he when Dimitri was on a rampage?

“I’ll try, Dedue. Please, feel free to rest at our camps,” she spoke in return. A short nod was exchanged before he parted ways to catch up with the single-minded prince.

That left the leader of the Alliance to speak with, she could tell he was irked by the turn of events. It didn’t take long for him to vent his frustrations, “You should have given him a warning slice.”

“Claude,” she sighed, turning to walk back towards the camps.

“Kidding, kind of, Teach,” he shrugged, removing the blade and wiping the blood off with the end of his cape.

Time had taken its toll on him too, Claude wasn’t the same student she knew from years ago. There was a darker edge to him, she could tell that he was upset at her for being gone that long. Why had she sacrificed herself at the battle of Garreg Mach? The Golden Deer needed her, he needed her. She’d run straight into the battle, leaving him behind and then pretending like nothing was wrong when she appeared like a ghost at the Goddess Tower.

At that time, he didn’t have any kind words for her. “I see, I didn’t think you had died, more like jumped sides… Did you?” he had asked, staring off into the dawn.

She had shook her head, staring at the profile of an older Claude. His hair had become disheveled and long, falling over his forehead. There was a cloth covering where his right eye was, he looked so much more rugged. Like he didn’t take care of himself as well, just enough to continue giving out orders for the war effort.

He was still there underneath his rough exterior, but it was evident that the hopeful version of the past was long gone. Jaded, and unafraid to use any means to an end. He seemed tired, most of all, she wasn’t sure if he’d be able to trust her again.

This was who she chose to side with, and she would see it through to the end, whatever that new dawn may be.

~~~

Night had fallen over Fodlan, and Byleth had intended to keep her promise to Dedue and try to speak to the prince. It took her well over an hour to find where he’d hidden himself away. By a lake away from where they had set up camp. His back rested against a tree with his lance leaned against the surface, always near him. Not that that surprised her.

Knowing better than to sneak up on him, she spoke his name into the night. “What do you want?” he spat, hand grabbing onto the lance as a force of habit.

She held up a bottle of aged wine, a sort of peace offering. “I have no weapons, Dimitri. Lay down your lance.”

“Foolish, you should always keep a weapon on you,” he spoke while setting aside his lance. From what she had heard, he had spent years as a vagabond. In a constant state of killing and keeping on the move. It came as no surprise that he was always ready to strike anyone who came near.

Sitting a few feet apart from him, she uncorked the bottle and took a swig, offering it up to him with the tilt of her hand. All he did was wrinkle his nose at her while she sat it down between them (in case he changed his mind.)

“Why are you here?” he grumbled.

“You sound like Felix,” deflecting the topic.

No comment. To be expected.

One more swig before she attempted to broach the topic. “Join our side for now, Claude wouldn’t stop you from taking Edelgard’s head.”

He didn’t look at Byleth, staring out into the lake and watching the waves ripple. “I need more than her head off her shoulders. I need the Empire destroyed.”

“I could bet that Claude needs the empire destroyed too, I imagine it’s a part of his grand scheme.”

All Dimitri gave was a grunt in repose, it wasn’t a hard no at the least.

In fact, Byleth didn’t know much of what Claude planned anymore. He was once someone who whispered his plans into her ear, snickering and smiling when she’d tell him to dial back. Nowadays, no one knew what was up his sleeve, simply believing the Alliance leader would lead them to victory like he has been doing. It became apparent too that he still didn’t fully trust Byleth. Now it felt like all she could do was damage control after any of his schemes.

“I don’t care for his childish schemes, I only care about getting my revenge.”

She looked at him again, waiting until his eyes met with hers before speaking: “I know, Dimitri. At least for now... Join us, I won’t stop you from seeking it.”

“Your involvement matters not,” he stated, grabbing the bottle of wine and taking a long swig. “Our goals are aligned for the moment... I will comply for now.”

It seemed like he was finished discussing the matter any further, silence fell between the two with only the sound of crickets filling the air. In her mind, she thanked whatever God that he’d at least stick with them a while longer. Byleth would have to concoct her own scheme to keep the boar prince from throwing away his life. Part of her was afraid that he’d become fodder for whatever Claude planned, and she was going to have to step in before either party did something with lasting consequences.

~~~

Back at Garreg Mach, they returned from Gronder Field with the remains of House Blaiddyd’s forces in tow. The push to the Imperial capital of Enbarr was going to be a difficult challenge with the Impregnable Fort Merceus as their foe. Now they had Dimitri on their side, it would help with the lack of Alliance forces Claude was unable to secure.

It was a waiting game, they’d manage Hilda’s idea of getting Imperial uniforms to disguise themselves as. Dimitri refused to wear a costume and go with the plan, he spat out that he’d fight when Edelgard presented herself and not at some Fort in an Imperial dog’s outfit. In the meanwhile, he mulled about the remains of Garreg Mach and didn’t speak to a single soul. Not even Flayn or Dedue could break his icy barrier.

Claude’s return from speaking to the Lords of the Alliance was less than stellar, he’d arrived back in a foul mood. Grumbling that the damn lords only cared about securing their own hide, not in the fact that they might have nothing to rule over if the attack failed. Dimitri’s unwillingness to help out at the Fort made him snap out at the prince.

“You think you’ll be able to get to Edelgard alone?” Eyebrows twisted at the taller man, Claude no longer had the patience to deal with the stubbornness. “Please, your plan didn’t work at Gronder, it won’t work here.”

In the Cathedral of all places they choose to pick a fight, the poor nuns and monks all look terrified to see Claude poking a finger at Dimitri’s chest. Ignatz had run to grab the professor as soon as he’d seen the leader hot on the prince’s trail. By some miracle did she manage to make it before all hell broke loose.

What is Claude thinking?! she wanted to yell from down the aisle. Instantly putting her hand on Claude’s chest to push him back from the other. Her face had anger written all over it, this wasn’t the place to lose her cool. “What happened to presenting a unified front?” she hissed at him, too low for any onlookers to hear.

The leader was biting hard onto his bottom lip, willing himself to not attack while he stared down the boar. She felt the rage rippling through his body, gloves clenched and wanting to push the professor away. He let up at last, shrugging her arm off and hitting Dimitri’s shoulder with his own as he passed.

Through all of this, the boar prince didn’t react nor say anything to the distraught professor.

“Dimitri, Claude is doing his best yet even he has limits,” she started, waving her hand to the church-goers to signal them to continue their day. “Give us a little room to work with you, and I promise you’ll get what you crave.”

He chose to keep silent for a few moments, rolling the proposal over in his head. “Fine,” he stated.

It was like dealing with a stubborn child. Alas, progress was progress, even with her having to yank it inch by inch from him. Now for the real challenge of the evening, something that the Golden Deer students begged her to fix.

Dimitri’s smell, he needed a bath and in the worst sort of way. She remembered Claude remarking after they fought that ‘he could give foes poison damage by being in his vicinity.’ Hilda had grabbed the professor by her cloak and pleaded that she do something about it before her eyelashes fell off. It came down to her to fix that, and with no plan in mind, she leapt head first into the request.

“You need to bathe, the smell is becoming detrimental to your allies,” she spoke, plain and simple. No point in appealing to his emotions, it’d be better to put everything into the frame of battle success. The one thing he seemed to care about anymore.

His lip curled up at her, lowering his chin to smell at the fur around his shoulder. It had been some time, he was still coated in blood from previous battles. Bathing wasn’t a necessity when he could dunk fully dressed into lakes to wash off well enough.

“... Fine,” he grumbled, scowling at his own smell.

Baby steps, Byleth reminded herself.

~~~

Dedue offered to accompany his highness to the sauna now that it seemed like he’d calm down from the battle. Dimitri was quick to brush him off and said he wanted to be alone, only accepting the spare nightclothes from the other. He’d manage to convince his highness to at least let them clean his sullied armor.

Considering that Dimitri was never without a weapon or protection, he felt uncomfortably vulnerable despite being alone in the sauna. His fingers fidgeted and dragged across the wooden bench, the steam of the room making his chest tighten and nerves heighten. Though he knew Dedue was right outside the building, that didn’t stop him jumping when the door opened.

“What are you doing here?” he spoke, sitting back down onto the bench as he eyed the Professor.

“Is the sauna not open to the public?”

A ‘tsk’ sound came from the man as he folded his arms together, irritated that she seemed to be following him around.

“Also I came to make sure you don’t reek anymore,” she side-eyed him, relaxing onto the bench a few feet away from him. “You need to be kinder to Dedue, he does so much for you.”

His teeth were bared at her in response, “I didn’t come here to be lectured by you.”

Byleth was too tired to argue all night with him, it was time for a bit of tough love. She would have to dig past his hard exterior, cause she certainly wouldn’t last if he and Claude were going to be at each other’s throats. If he was going to be mad at her, may as well get out of his system now.

“I know, that’s why I have this,” she replied. Where had she pulled out a bucket of water from? And why was he frozen in his spot as she dumped the water over him?

“You--!” he leapt up, looking like a wet dog with his hair covering most of his face. How dare she try to make a fool of him? He was practically squaring her up once on his feet, glaring down at the professor a good foot shorter than him.

“To the baths, your highness. If Dedue were here I wouldn’t be,” standing firmly in her spot.

“I am not a child, I don’t need supervision.”

“With the way you’ve been acting, no one has been able to keep their eyes off you.”

Silence, this was starting to become a predictable pattern with him. Again, all he did was scoff and turn away towards the baths with Byleth following after. He figured if she was going to follow him this far, she knew that he’d be naked. Not giving her any attention as he tossed off the old house loungewear into a basket. The open baths typically had hours for when the women could go or the men. It was long past close, but Byleth had requested the sauna boss to leave a time slot open for Dimitri.

There were countless scars across his frame, some more faded than others. There was even one on his side that was red and aching, it looked as if he never took care of them. Nothing more than a concoction to soothe the ache before returning to battle. She supposed that infections weren’t a concern as long as his body kept moving. Byleth made a silent goal to help tend to the wounds before the night was over.

He submerged himself into the water and watched as grime started to taint the clean surface. Maybe this wasn’t the worst thing to be forced to do, but he could certainly do without the audience. Pushing his hair off his forehead, he’d completely forgotten about the eyepatch still on. It nearly stuck to his eye once he peeled it off and placed it on the edge of the bath. The warm water soothed muscles he didn’t realize were sore as he began to cleanse himself off.

Perhaps Byleth shouldn’t gawk at a moment like this, however it hit her like a wyvern’s tail that he’d grown older. The once royal prince was now broader and more muscular than in his academy days. It wasn’t something she’d notice when he was covered in dark armor and heavy furs. Her eyes fell to the back of his neck, droplets falling down the wide expanse of his strong shoulders.

It wasn’t the steam from the sauna causing her cheeks to grow warmer, forcing herself to turn away lest her mind wandered. Busying herself with gathering a small basket of goodies to help wash up. She’d brought one of her cleansing oils to use on his hair, and moved to kneel behind him. There were endless knots in his blond hair, yet Byleth knew better than to push her luck too far in one night. She’d been lucky to have gotten this close to him.

“Can I wash your hair?” she asked, the steady stream of water being the only sound in the room.

“Do as you will,” his voice was nothing but a low murmur. ’Why ask? You already dumped water on me’ a part of him thought.

This time she took a small basin and poured water over his head slowly. Grabbing a wide-toothed comb to start undoing the knots, Dimitri tried not to pay attention to her slender fingers working their way through his strands. When was the last time he’d been touched so gently? He could not remember, attempting to will himself not to grow tense under her touch. He had killed people without a thought, but now a woman washing his hair made him nervous.

If his nerves were causing his shoulders to grow tense, Byleth didn’t let it deter her. It was almost sad how he reacted, not used to being tended to, as if he was undeserving of such affections. With all of the knots gone, Byleth set to coating her fingers with the fragrant oil. Carding her fingers through his long strands, massaging his head and riding him of built up dirt. The steady build of tension started to dissipate from him the longer she worked.

His good eye slid shut, maybe it would be okay for him to relax? For the first time in five years, the voices in his head went quiet. The thirst for revenge and blood disappeared like the bubble in the bath. Even if it was temporary silence, Dimitri felt like he could let go of the breath he’d been holding onto for so long.

Rinsing the oil out of his hair, she felt a shift in the mood of the room. It was an incredible sight to see the prince relax, nearly melting into her hands when she used her blunt nails to massage deeper.

After rinsing his hair our, Byelth seemed to linger a moment too long staring at the hard edges of his shoulders. Was it wrong for her to be checking him out at a time like this? No, no, she was simply checking to see if he was clean, that was the lie she was going to stick with. He shifted in the water, running a rag over his arms. Byleth was definitely staring at the way his muscles flexed and relaxed as he twisted it. All that time with his lance was evident.

She coughed once, no time to be gawking like a schoolgirl. “I’d like to clean the wound on your side, and then I’ll be on my way.”

Expecting him to argue with her, her mouth fell open when he rose out of the water and sat on the edge of the bath. No semblance of modesty as he shifted his legs apart and let everything air out in the open. It took every ounce of her strength not to gasp while her cheeks told a different story. They were as red as the Black Eagle’s flag.

“Excuse me,” teeth clenched together as Dimitri seemed unaffected by it all. If his shoulders didn’t have her wide-eyed, the cut of his abs and legs--Wait, don’t look south, Byleth. She had to remind herself.

Using what healing magic she knew, the red cut changed to a raw pink, way better than before. Too bad her face was still left as red as before. He lowered his arm down, eyeing his side before sliding back into the water. “Are you warm, professor?”

Byleth wanted to disappear like the steam in the room, she could have sworn she saw him smile. Perhaps Dimitri was still able to tease underneath his dense exterior. It must have been some sort of miracle for him to have made a comment like that. “A bit,” she smiled to herself.

Byleth began to make her way out as promised, gathering her goods in the basket until Dimitri spoke up, “Thank you.”

“Anytime, Dimitri,” she hummed, there might be hope for the future if Dimitri warmed up to her.

~~~

Claude had observed Dimitri and Byleth leave the sauna house from the roof of the dorms. One of his favourite spots to observe the night sky while he smoked an Almyran pipe. He knew Byleth would chide him if she saw him smoking, so he saved it for these quiet nights when he needed reprieve from noble bickering.

Dimitri seemed to stand taller, less moody if you asked Claude. They’d been in there for a while, not that he was counting the minutes or anything. Dimitri was filthy afterall, but it didn’t seem necessary for Byleth to help him out. He started to feel peeved the longer they were together alone, why was that? It could be traced back to when she first returned, he firmly believed that she had swapped sides, and maybe gone after the boar.

She had been giving more attention to the rabid prince the past few days, soothing his pains instead of assisting the leader of the Alliance. The ugly emotion of jealousy crept through his bones, making him agitated and causing him to snap at the boar in the cathedral.

It was obviously making him feel so much better that he was watching the two from a rooftop. Dimitri’s hair had been pulled half-way up, it looked softer and cleaner than it's probably ever been. He could two and two together, the professor must have done that; Cleaned his hair and arranged it, seen him barren and--

The pipe was almost snapped in two the more his mind filled in the gaps, however he wasn’t the boar prince with uncontrollable strength. In fact, he was going to use this situation to his advantage. If she could tame the beast, it might make his war efforts go a lot smoother.

~~~

And so when Claude climbed down the side of the dormity as casually as he could, he made it look like he’d run into the group “coincidently.”

“Fancy meeting you here, teach,” his arms folded behind his head.

“This is my room, but nice to see you’ve calmed down,” she returned. Dimitri paying no mind to the leader, Dedue was mannered enough to bow his head.

A fake smile graced his face, none of them ever seemed to reach his eyes. “Sorry about earlier, your highness. Here’s to our temporary partnership,” he continued unperturbed, reaching a hand to shake the others.

The bathwater must have been blessed with the Goddesses’ tears, as Dimitri shook his hand. “I will remain as long as I get her head,” the handshake was over as quickly as it was said. No more room for conversation as he turned away to retreat to, well, wherever he chose to sleep for the night.

A quiet ‘hmm,’ and smile was still on Claude’s face when the other two departed. “What did you put in the water, Teach?”

Byleth resisted the urge to roll her eyes at him, instead headed past him to relax in her room till daybreak. Claude’s arm reached across to block her from grabbing the handle, resting against the frame of the door.

“You didn’t answer my question,” tilting his head to smile at the dear professor, there was anything but kindness in his expression.

“Nothing, Claude. All I did was show a broken man some kindness,” she said evenly, eyes burning a hole into him.

A dark chuckle came from him, lifting both hands in mock defeat. “Keep it up then, however…” his voice was right next to her ear, body pressed up to his without a chance for her to react. “Be careful, I’d hate to see you hurt by the boar’s tusks.”

The touch against her cheek was almost too soft to register, her nose caught a smoky scent lingering off him as if he’d been near firewood. His cape fluttering past her as he left with a wave of his hand, as if he hadn’t made a threat laced between his warning.

“Have a good night, my friend,” the chuckle sent a shiver down her spine. Her fear of becoming just another cog in his schemes was becoming all the more real.