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Chapter 1

Prologue

Imperial Year 1176
Return from Duscur

Jeralt rolled his eyes as the palace healer forced him to lay back down on the bed for the 5th time that morning. Goddess forbid, he just wanted to sit up so he could speak with the king at a more respectful level. After shooting the healer a glare and forcing her to back off, Jeralt propped himself up against the headboard.

Lambert chuckled at Jeralt's ministrations and sat himself down in a chair beside the bed. By doing this, Jeralt wouldn’t feel like Lambert was towering over him. He wanted him to feel at ease and not uncomfortable.

“Sir Jeralt, while your wounds may have made a quick recovery, I insist that you remain here in Fhirdiad for at least a few more days to ensure that they will not be reopened.” His own burns and injuries from the attack had yet to make a full recovery, so he could not possibly allow the savior of his family to travel the distance back to Garreg Mach in such discomfort.

Jeralt inwardly cringed at the title, “Just Jeralt is fine. And I appreciate your offer, your Majesty, but I wouldn’t want to be a burden by using up resources here when the Kingdom is still in disarray. I’ve made many trips with injuries before and I’ve been fine.”

“I could do without the titles as well. As our savior, I would be honored if you called me Lambert.” A bright smile graced the King’s face, which Jeralt couldn’t help reciprocating, even if he thought this whole ordeal was a bit ridiculous. The King was honored for Jeralt to call him by his name? Ridiculous.

“You are of no burden to us, Jeralt. You have saved mine and my family’s lives as well as countless others. Surely, this is but a mere small repayment for your deed. In fact, I have a proposal for you, if I may.” Jeralt grunted. “I would like you to lead the royal knights of Castle Blaiddyd. I am prepared to send a letter to the Archbishop to request that you come to serve the Kingdom. Before I do that, however, I would like to know your thoughts?”

Jeralt pondered for a moment. Was the fucking King of the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus really asking him to leave the Knights of Seiros to serve under him directly? As much as the proposition was appealing to him, he couldn’t afford to entertain the idea. He had a daughter to get back to, and like hell Rhea would let him just up and leave with Byleth without a fight.

That was more effort than it was worth. He knew, because he’d tried.

Besides, he didn’t need all this special treatment. He was just at the wrong place at the right time and happened to save the royal family from tragedy. Nothing crazy.

“I’m honored, Lambert, I really am, but unfortunately, I have to decline. My daughter and I reside at Garreg Mach with her grandmother, and I will not leave her behind. The monastery is all she’s ever known. I know her grandmother would not be happy with the idea of her leaving, even if I wanted her to be able to see more of the world outside the monastery.”

Don’t get him wrong, he didn’t decline because he cared about what Rhea thought. Hell no, he just didn’t want to deal with her. He wasn’t about to tell Lambert about that though.

“Surely, her grandmother would understand. I can guarantee that your daughter will be safe here and that all the resources she requires to live comfortably here will be provided. Perhaps, she could also make some friends outside of the monastery. Dimitri would benefit to have another friend around in the palace.”

“Hm, not if her grandmother is the Archbishop.” Jeralt almost burst out laughing when Lambert’s eyebrows lifted to high heaven. “While I’d love for Byleth to make friends, Rhea’s stubborn and it’d be difficult to convince her otherwise.”

The king cleared his throat, “I see. I was not aware of your family ties. I really do wish to repay you for your bravery, however. Perhaps we can negotiate further before creating an agreement.” Lambert couldn’t help feeling disappointed to have his offer declined, but he understood having to appease the in-laws.

He tapped his finger on his knee to brainstorm other ideas. Then suddenly, he remembered something that Jeralt had said.

“Pardon me if I am intruding, but you mentioned that you would like your daughter to experience life outside the monastery?" Jeralt offered a nod. "Would the Archbishop not agree to allow her to visit Fhirdiad? We would love to host her, and you as well, as honored guests of the royal family.”

Jeralt let out a sigh. Lambert wasn’t going to let up, was he? As much as Jeralt would love to share his full reasoning, including his slight distaste for the Archbishop, that probably wasn’t the best idea. He respected Rhea, sure, but he couldn’t trust her as readily as he had in the past after what happened to Sitri. He was reassured to an extent though, that Rhea would never harm Byleth and cared for her as a grandmother would. Didn’t mean he liked it though.

“Rhea’s always been overprotective of Byleth. I highly doubt she’d permit a trip like that unless there was an official reason, or if the monastery was under attack.”

Now that got Lambert’s cogs turning. “An official reason you say?” Jeralt raised a singular brow.

Perhaps his age was getting to him, but prior to the attack in Duscur, Lambert had been thinking of encouraging Dimitri to become more acquainted with the young ladies of the court. If Jeralt’s daughter was close to Dimitri’s age, the arrangement would be perfect; both children would be able to make a new friend, Byleth would be able to leave the monastery, Lambert would be able to repay Jeralt for his bravery, and perhaps, the two young ones would be able to find love and companionship within each other. Not to mention the union would be beneficial to both politically. The Archbishop couldn’t possibly refuse an agreement made between her most trusted knight and the King of Faerghus, especially if it was made out of good faith and gratitude…

“I have a proposition,” Lambert inhaled slowly. His fingers fidgeted against his knees nervously as he prepared to ask the loaded question.

“What are your thoughts on an engagement between my son and your daughter?”

*

Imperial Year 1182
18th Wyvern Moon
Garreg Mach Monastery

Jeralt sat at his desk watching Seteth pace back and forth in his office while expressing concern after concern about the preparations for Byleth’s journey to Fhirdiad. Just listening to him talk made Jeralt want to have an aneurysm.

Seteth’s concerns weren’t unfounded though.

Byleth was due to leave for Fhirdiad in a few days time to meet with her “betrothed,” and even though Jeralt was escorting her, he couldn’t help but dread the trip.

Taking a swig from his flask and savoring the burning warm liquid that traveled down his throat, he tried to remember why he had accepted that ridiculous agreement in the first place? Oh, right, Lambert and his insistence. Not to mention what Jeralt wanted for his daughter. What was better for her, being stuck at Garreg Mach for the rest of her life, like Sitri had, and being forced to become the next archbishop? Or Byleth having the chance to experience more of the world outside, whilst also being away from Rhea? Granted, she was tied down by an engagement to a man she didn’t know, so in retrospect, both situations kind of sucked in their own way. Jeralt and Lambert had agreed though, that ultimately, Dimitri and Byleth would be the ones to make the decision for themselves after a courting period. The fathers would not force their children to wed if the feelings were not there.

If Jeralt were being honest though, Byleth could do much worse than a prince, especially since Prince Dimitri himself was very respectful and polite almost to the point of making Jeralt want to gag. Despite the prince’s amiable qualities, if he ever made Byleth cry, he could expect to have the Blade Breaker’s lance up his princely ass within a second’s time.

Jeralt took another swig.

And at least this way she wouldn’t be dragged off by some snot-nosed noble (she had received her fair share of proposals from said nobles once she turned of age), or stuck marrying whoever Rhea wanted her to marry. Unless that was truly what she wanted, but from their father-daughter talks, she made it clear that she opposed the idea of becoming a baby maker for crest-hungry nobles.

Rhea had also discussed with her briefly about potential suitors over their routine tea-times, and while Byleth didn’t mind entertaining her grandmother, she couldn’t guarantee that any of these suitors would catch her interest. She also knew that Rhea was just trying to convince her to annul the engagement with the prince.

Jeralt still remembered the day when the Archbishop of the Church of Seiros marched all the way to his office with a letter stamped with the Royal seal of Faerghus gripped tightly in her hand. He remembered having to watch her do multiple rounds of breathing exercises in between each her outbursts. Years later, she still wasn’t fond of the agreement, but she at least tolerated the idea now. She wanted her granddaughter to be happy, she really did, but also quietly hoped that the prince and Byleth ended up not being compatible.

That was when Jeralt also remembered the night he had first breached the topic of engagement to Byleth years back. It was pretty comical since she merely shrugged and gave him a brief, “Sure,” before recasting her fishing line into the lake from the dock they had been sitting on that night.

He also wasn’t sure if he should have felt relieved or concerned about her response.

In the end, the concern was too powerful and he found himself trying to pry more from her about how she truly felt. Eventually, she admitted that she was just looking forward to traveling to the Kingdom. She had said that with a smile on her usually neutral face. That alone made Jeralt’s heart swell up. If Byleth was excited about something, he sure as hell wasn’t going to take it away from her. He did emphasize to her that the trip wasn’t just for a vacation though and that she was committing to much more. Her response was to dismiss him with a wave of her hand, “I’m know, Dad. This trip is mainly to become more acquainted with my fiancé.”

At the time, hearing her say that out loud made him want to have a drink. Simply recalling the memory had Jeralt tipping his flask as far as he could to get every last drip of liquor out of it.

“Jeralt, would you be so obliged to actually listen to what I’m saying rather than drinking your brain cells away?” Seteth’s voice cut him out of his thoughts. The green-haired man had his arms crossed over his chest, his face staring in disbelief at Jeralt’s drinking problem.

Jeralt placed the flask down on his desk with a thud, loud enough to make Seteth flinch. “Hm? You say somethin’?”

*

“Is this not exciting?! We finally get to leave the monastery!” Flayn swung her legs off the edge of Byleth’s bed with such fervor that Byleth thought she would start rattling the whole bed post.

“I’m still impressed that Seteth is allowing you to come,” Byleth finished tying up her hair into a ponytail before turning to look at her aunt cousin. “I was sure he would give an affirmative 'no' as he always does.”

“Oh, Father can be quite a stick in the mud at times, but once I explained that you would be without a familiar companion to confide in if you were to be lonely, both him and Aunt Rhea reconsidered,” Flayn explained matter-of-factly with a single pointer up. She smiled proudly at her accomplishment. “What do you think the prince will be like? I remember he was here in the officer’s academy years back, but Father hadn’t let me mingle much at the time.”

Byleth tilted her head and brought her hand to her chin as she often did while thinking. She recalled seeing him about the monastery with his classmates while she was on the way to her own private classes. While her grandmother did allow her to mingle with the students on occasion, her schedule was oftentimes too full for her to mingle for long. She did recall becoming acquainted with a few students. What were their names again? Annie, was it? Mercie? Lin-something? Mary? Dear Sothis, was she horrible with names.

“I had helped him pick out flowers for someone in the greenhouse one time, but I believe that was the only time I talked to him. He never did say who he was picking the flowers for, but he looked at them very fondly.”

Now that she thought about it, who was he picking the flowers for? A small trace of anxiety formed at the bottom of her stomach. If he had been picking them for someone he admired, then was she preventing him from pursuing the one he truly liked?

As if reading her mind, Flayn frowned and crinkled her brows in concern. “Perhaps those flowers could have been for an injured classmate, and if they were not, surely the relation was short-lived. Do not worry, dear cousin! All will be well!”

She hopped off the bed and wrapped her arm around Byleth’s, “Now, why don’t we share a meal? I hear they are making two-fish saute today.”

*

Imperial Year 1180
Red Wolf Moon
Garreg Mach – Greenhouse

After her lesson with her grandmother on faith magic, Byleth headed to the greenhouse to pick a few small flowers to accent her tea arrangement for when she would meet with Manuela later. The older woman had another falling out with a knight and needed comfort. Much like her father, Manuela was too quick to resort to drinking to ease her pain.

Enter Byleth’s idea to have the older woman drown out her sorrows with the comfort of tea and cookies Mercedes had shared with her, rather than with liquor.

She decided on gardenias to possibly help Manuela clear her mind. Entering the greenhouse, she hadn’t expected to see the Blue Lions house leader there. He stood with crinkled brows and an overwhelmed expression on his face.

She knew him to be her betrothed as it was hard to hide that he was Prince of Faerghus; however, she was not sure if he knew who she was. He likely knew her name, but didn’t have a face to go with the name.

Should she introduce herself? Or was it too soon? If she was going to, how should she approach him? Byleth didn't have much experience speaking to boys, especially possible suitors. Perhaps, it would be better to wait for the right time before she introduced herself as his fiancée?

Panicking, she looking around to find the best way to run away and avoid the situation, but it was too late.

“Excuse me, miss?” Well, if she needed a confirmation that he didn’t know who she was, that was it.

Turning around, she was taken-aback at how close he was to her now. She awkwardly blinked at him, taking in his appearance. While he didn't tower over her, he was definitely taller by at least five inches. He was also rather handsome, but she expected no less from a prince. His appearance didn't really matter to her if his personality was shit.

Having stared at him for a second too long, she sent him a polite smile, “Can I help you?”

The prince returned her smile, before scratching the back of his head, “I apologize for bothering you, but I must ask if I could spare a minute of your time?”

Her first thought of him was that he was very polite. She nodded, “Do you need help picking flowers?”

“Oh, yes, please! That is precisely what I need help with,” he gestured further into the greenhouse and she followed. “I am looking for a flower to gift to someone. Something that represents admiration for someone’s efforts and hard work.”

Her next observation was that he was straightforward and didn't try flirting with her. Compared to the red-haired fellow from the Blue Lions, the prince was a model gentleman.

She took sneaky glimpses at him as she scanned the various flowers as part of her investigation, but soon realized she was being ridiculous. Collecting herself, she began to actually focus on the task at hand. Helping him pick flowers.

Perhaps a carnation? That may be too romantic in notion. Dandelions? Nah.

“How about a bouquet of heather?” She pointed to the small lavender blooms. “I quite enjoy these because they are a symbol of protection, good luck, and admiration.” She crouched forward and picked one for him to smell. She handed it to him and continued admiring the nearby blooms, brushing her fingers on the petals.

Dimitri accepted the flower with a bright smile, “That sounds wonderful.” He crouched next to Byleth and began scanning the flock of flowers for the perfect ones, “Thank you for your help, miss-,” Turning to the girl beside him, he paused when he found her gazing out fondly at all the flowers. She looked so comfortable and at home here. He couldn’t help, but find her energy contagious. It was very comforting.

Realizing that he was staring at her, he cleared his throat and looked down at the flowers he was picking. “My name is Dimitri by the way, if you hadn't already known me as the Blue Lions house leader.” That seemed to have brought her out of her daze as she turned to look at him. “May I have your name? So I can properly thank you? Of course, if you’re uncomfortable with that, I completely understand!”

Byleth blinked at him for a moment before offering a small chuckle, “I go by, well, By. And you’re welcome.” She stood up and brushed away any dirt from her skirt. “It was nice to meet you, Dimitri. Unfortunately, I must be somewhere, so I will take my leave first. I hope that whoever receives those flowers will love them.”

She gave him a small smile and a brief wave before making her exit.

“Thank you, By. Perhaps when we meet again, I can show you my full gratitude.” She turned back to see the prince give her respectful bow and a wide grin.

She returned the beaming smile before waving another time and finally walking away. She needed to hurry because she was sure that Manuela was sulking in her office right about now with a bottle of vodka on hand.

As Byleth left, Dimitri looked down at the flowers and gave them a sniff. He was sure Marianne would love them. Then, he thought back to By. He had seen her briefly here and there feeding the monastery animals and teaching the orphans, but she didn’t seem to be a student. Perhaps she was a nun? He did remember thinking that she was very pretty the few times he saw her... and if she was in fact a nun, then he needed to beat down on those thought right away.

Wait, what if she knew the Archbishop’s granddaughter? His supposed fiancee was here at the monastery, but he had yet to actually meet her. Maybe next time he saw By, he could ask her about his betrothed. And then, Dimitri remembered the flowers he held in his hands and who they were for.

Thinking about it all made his head hurt. Sylvain had been the one to originally encourage him to enjoy his current freedom to date around before he got officially engaged. Yet, at the same time, the Gautier heir was also the one to compare his supposed love life to one of those melodramatic operas that Dorothea had starred in.

The day his love life turned into a melodrama was also going to be the same day Gustave would get over himself and return home. Realizing how insensitive that sounded, he shook his head and left the greenhouse with his bundle of flowers.

 *

Imperial Year 1182
25th Wyvern Moon
Castle Blaiddyd

Dimitri felt like screaming. Not just screaming loud enough for all of Fodlan to hear, but loud enough that Sylvain went deaf in one ear… or maybe both.

Okay, not really, but if the red-head didn’t shut up, he might find himself impaled by Ingrid’s meat skewer if not Felix’s sword.

“Hey, hey, calm it with those,” Sylvain raised his hands up in the air, “I’m just excited for His Highness is all.” He used his finger to lower Ingrid’s skewer, but she instead jabbed it at him again, making him squirm.

“I mean, after the whole ‘one who must not be named’ situation, I think it’s perfect that His Highness has a back-up gal in the form of the Archbishop’s granddaughter! If I remember correctly, she’s even hotter than you know who.”

Dimitri sent Sylvain the dirtiest look he could muster, “Please refrain from speaking of both in such a manner. And were you not the one who told me to enjoy 'my freedom' while I could?" He shook his head, "Also, I will not be offended if you mention Marianne’s name. We had a mutual understanding and we agreed to remain as friends.”

“You might not be offended, Boar, but don’t think we don’t see you sulking in the corner. Pathetic.” Felix sheathed his sword and crossed his arms. Glaring at Ingrid when she elbowed him.

“Don’t listen to them, Your Highness. These things take time, so don’t feel bad,” Ingrid, the usual voice of reason for the three troubled gentlemen, put a reassuring hand on Dimitri’s shoulder. “Even though I don’t agree with Sylvain’s wording, he isn’t entirely wrong (Seee!). I do believe getting to know Lady Byleth can help you move on. I heard from Mercedes and Annette that she was very kind when they would have tea together during our academy years.”

Dimitri thought about it. Ingrid was probably right, as she usually was about these things. The fact that even she saw a positive out of this arrangement was significant for Dimitri, since he knew of her own situation with her father.

“I suppose you’re right. I just worry, because we will be hosting the Founding Day ball this coming moon and our friends from the officer’s academy will be invited, including those from the Golden Deer. They will be staying a few days as well.” Dimitri rubbed his face with his hand, brushing some of the loose strands from his half-ponytail out of his face. "I'm sure that Lady Byleth will have to be introduced to them and I fear there may be tension. Not to mention if Hilda attends... or Claude."

Ingrid bit her lip and looked at him with sympathy, while Felix scoffed from the window he was standing next to.

Sylvain was the only one to break the silence, “Now, now, everyone. Let’s not sulk before anything actually happens. That’s all a later problem. Why don’t we deal with the now problem? Like the fact that your dearly betrothed is arriving today?”

As if on cue, Dedue approached the four to announce that the entourage from Garreg Mach had arrived.

*

Lambert was so ecstatic to meet is future daughter-in-law that he was drumming his fingers along Patricia's arm. While the queen consort was also excited to meet the lady, she did not express as much noticeable energy. The King had been talking her's and Rodrigue’s ears off the entire morning describing the possible scenarios that could play out in the coming weeks.

As the honored guests' entourage came into view, the king and queen waited at the entrance to greet their new guests. Dimitri waited alongside his father and his step-mother while his friends waited to the side. He had been encouraged to dress formally today, so he had opted for black trousers, a white button up shirt and a navy blue vest with accents of gold. Clean and simple, the way he preferred it.

The line of horses and a carriage suddenly came to stop.

Climbing off a brown stallion was the captain of the Knights of Seiros, Jeralt Eisner, or also known as his future father-in-law. Compared to the last time they saw each other, Dimitri was roughly the same height as him, perhaps taller. He noted that Jeralt still held himself in that way that made people second guess getting in his way. Dimitri remembered Jeralt very briefly from when he had stayed at the castle all those years ago, and from when he had attended Garreg Mach.

Lambert opened his arms wide to give his friend a hug, “It’s nice to see you again, my friend. Your letters don’t hold a candle to actually being glared at in person.” He laughed while clapping Jeralt on the back, “It’s kind of nostalgic.”

The knight grunted, but offered his old friend a smirk and a pat on the back. “Good to see you’re still the same.” He bowed to the Queen and greeted her before turning his attention to the prince.

Turning his gaze from the king to the prince, Dimitri instantly felt himself straighten and begin to sweat. “Hey, Kid.”

Realizing he likely looked like a fool, he brought one arm to his front and one to his back and bowed, “It is a pleasure to see you again, Sir Jeralt.”

Jeralt chuckled and patted him on the shoulder, “Chill, Kid. We’re not at the monastery anymore. Just Jeralt is fine.” Dimitri nodded his head and released a breath he didn’t realize he was holding. “Now, we’re not here for me, right?” Jeralt sent Dimitri a smirk.

He turned toward and approached the carriage, knocking on the door, “Kid, you ready?” When he didn’t hear anything, he frowned and opened the door a crack to peek inside. Immediately, he slammed it closed. He exhaled deeply and rubbed his eyes.

“Monterey!” A knight from the back ran up to his captain and saluted. “Where are Lady Byleth and Flayn?” Jeralt asked in that tone that all the knights referred to as “death, calamity, and regret.”

“A-a-are they not in the carriage, Sir?” Dimitri felt for the knight. He was practically disintegrating from Jeralt's glare.

“If they were, I wouldn’t be asking you would I?”

“Have the ladies been captured? I can release a search this instant,” interrupted Lambert.

Jeralt simply lifted his hand and shook his head. “Don't bother. My kid has a habit of wandering off. By must have slipped out during a stop. I apologize for this. I'll make sure to fetch her myself.”

Now, that caught Dimitri’s attention. Did he just call her, By? The same name as the girl from the greenhouse from his academy years? This couldn’t be her, right? His fiancée’s name is Byle- wait. By… Leth.

Oh.

Lambert’s voice broke Dimitri out of his reverie, “Do not apologize, my friend. I understand that this is the first time she has been outside of Garreg Mach, so she must be eager to explore.” He gestured Jeralt to straighten himself out of a bow. “It would not be inconvenient for me at all to release a search party, if you’d so like.”

Before Jeralt could respond, Dimitri spoke up before he even knew what he was doing, “I would be happy to help look for her and her companion.” Suddenly, feeling on the spot, he cleared his throat and looked back at his friends for support and instantly regretted it when Sylvain started waggling his eyebrows.

“We would love to offer our assistance as well, Your Majesty,” offered Ingrid with a bow.

“Yeah, after all, they won't be hard to find looking like they do,” Sylvain whistled quietly, dodging Ingrid’s fist and Jeralt's glare. “What I mean to say is that we had seen both Lady Byleth and Flayn around during our time at Garreg Mach, so we know what to look for.”

“It’d also be less unnerving for the people if we didn’t have the royal knights parading the streets,” added Felix, scowling and turning his head away when Rodrigue nodded his head in approval.

And so, it was agreed the small party of four would go searching the streets for the Archbishop’s granddaughter and her companion.

Sylvain had joked that Dimitri was quite literally finding himself a fiancée.

Oh, yeah, for sure, he was finding himself a fiancée alright. A fiancée who had helped him pick out flowers for another girl... whom he also used to have a thing with.

Just great.

Chapter Text

Imperial Year 1182
25th Wyvern Moon
Fhirdiad

Byleth wondered why anyone in their right mind would ever choose to live in such a frigidly cold area? As if answering her question, the blue banners hanging above rudely reminded her that her future-in-laws were indeed “those in their right mind.”

She felt Flayn huddle closer to her. The smaller girl holding her cup of warm cider tightly to combat the frigid air. Feeling her shiver, Byleth wrapped an arm around her cousin, feeling guilty for dragging her into this.

Byleth really hadn’t intended to “ditch” the group, but after spotting and smelling the most delightful looking stew, she found herself out of carriage before she even knew what happened. If she was going to be rebellious, Flayn had to be a part of it.

Despite what Jeralt thought, she was aware of her wandering tendencies. She’d already been subjected to more than a handful of lectures from her grandmother, her father, and even Seteth. No, especially Seteth. Her father wasn’t nearly as concerned about it since he trusted her, but he did tell her, “Just don’t get yourself into deep shit that you can’t get out of,” and she was proud to say that she hadn’t. Well, at least not yet.

Besides, wandering only occurred when something had truly piqued her interest, more so than whatever her current situation was at the time. She wouldn’t consider herself easily distractible either.

In fact, she had prided herself in being very attentive when she was younger. Grandmother had even complimented on her focus during their early faith lessons. When people spoke, she made sure to actively listen and give them her full attention (unless she disliked them, or they were saying unfavorable things).

Even if this quality was considered positive for most people, there were still those who criticized her. As the Rhea’s granddaughter, criticism and rumors were common, but not to her face, of course. There had been more than a handful of people who had whispered about how unnerving her intense stare and stoicism was. Byleth was not oblivious to what others thought of her as some didn’t try hard to hide their comments.

She still recalled the day she had heard various students and some staff around the monastery referring to her as an unfeeling ghost under hushed whispers. Hearing that hurt, even if she understood why they said that. That day, she raced back to her room and hid under the covers of her bed. Jeralt had to lure her out from the covers with some special candy he found at the market. She never did tell him what she had heard, but he always had an inkling. Heck, even he heard the whispers on occasion to those who were dumb enough to say such things around him. Anyone he heard sputtering those rumors would be at the receiving end of his intense scrutiny for the next month.

Jeralt didn’t forgive and he certainly didn’t forget when it came to wronging his daughter.

Since that day, Byleth practiced smiling in the mirror every morning. Surely, smiling more and acting friendlier would change other’s opinions, right? Unfortunately, the young Lady Byleth still heard the comments, and sometimes, they were harsher. A particular comment she remembered was how creepy she looked smiling.

She would be lying if she said their words hadn’t hurt.

Apparently, the hurt had been so strong that it reflected on her face causing her grandmother to question her about it one night over tea.

Rhea had listened and hadn’t asked any questions as she waited patiently for Byleth to try putting her feelings into words. Well, as best as an emotionless ghost could.

The Archbishop sent one of her warm smiles that Byleth loved so much, and yet, her eyes reflected sadness within them. “My child, there is no need to pretend,” she enveloped her grandchild in a tight embrace, as if protecting her from the world. Byleth felt her hand petting her head, while the other held her close. “Simply be yourself. That is all you can be.

“Your genuine smile is a precious gift, Byleth. Only allow those who deserve it to see it.”

Byleth remembered her eyes glistening with tears for the first time, but they never fell.

Ironically, after that night, Byleth found herself smiling more genuinely without even realizing what she was doing. Seteth had brought it up one night over dinner. He had been delighted to see her happier and wished to do what he could to encourage her further. Flayn had agreed with him, mentioning that she had a beautiful smile.

Oh, how Byleth missed her family. The memories brought a warmth to her chest that she wanted to capture and hold there forever.

Even if Flayn and her father were here in Fhirdiad with her, she still missed her grandmother and uncle back at the monastery. They were always her allies, even when they had differing opinions and views for her life. She would miss her grandmother’s nightly hair brushing and tea parties, and her uncle Seteth’s nightly, “Are you sure?” discussions. He’d asked that on many occasions for many different situations that it was routine at this point. He was someone she thought would benefit from a drink.

“Do you believe mixing this cider with some sweet-apple blend would bode well?” Flayn’s voice broke her out of her thoughts.

Byleth glanced down at Flayn’s cider, which was quickly losing its heat to the cold air, evident by the lack of steam rising from it. She pulled her cloak closer to her and lifted her hood to protect her ears. She noticed, to no surprise, that Flayn had done the same from the beginning ever since they “fled” the entourage.

“That concoction doesn’t sound nearly as unappealing as your other ideas,” she answered.

Flayn puffed up her cheeks, “I will have you know that my recipes are plenty wonderful. One of the chefs back at the monastery even complimented me on my execution.” She lifted her chin in the air, “‘Your precision while chopping the vegetables is outstanding,’ is what she told me.”

No comment was made. Byleth supposed it would be best to allow Flayn to have her moment of pride, even if execution and taste were two completely different topics. She couldn’t help but twitch the corners of her mouth upward, though.

“I suppose we should direct ourselves to the castle?” She changed the topic. “My father is likely furious at this moment.” She really hoped he wasn’t rampaging through the city trying to find her. If he was, that’d be no surprise to her whatsoever.

She did just ditch a meeting with the King and her fiancé after all, no less because of a stew.

The said stew had been delightful though. Slow simmered high-quality cuts of pork with a wide selection of vegetables and warm cider to wash it down with? There was nothing more comforting in Byleth’s eyes.

Suddenly, she felt Flayn tug her arm toward a stall. “Oh! Look at this!” The two stopped right in front a fish market stall. There were different species of fish and preserved varieties displayed for customers to survey.

“I have the highest quality catches you can find in all of Fhirdiad!” The merchant gestured his hand toward the array of fish. “And only the best preservation methods! Today, our featured catch is the Northern Faerghus hake.”

The shorter curly-haired girl was practically vibrating beside her.

Byleth sighed. Perhaps, the King would allow her to use the kitchens once they arrived? “We will take two of the hake, please.” She rustled through her skirt pockets in search for her coin purse.

As the merchant prepared her purchase, she noticed him occasionally glancing sideways at her. If she caught him looking, he would quickly blink and look away. Byleth supposed that she and Flayn looked odd, with their green hair and all.

“Pardon my rudeness, ladies, but you do not hail from Faerghus?”

Shaking her head, “No, we do not,” was her blunt answer.

“We are here to visit from Central Fodlan. The capital has been beautiful thus far!” Flayn excitedly clasped her hands together.

The merchant hummed in response, presenting them with their wrapped fish, “That is unsurprising. Features such as yours aren’t often seen around here.” He took the money Byleth handed him, cheeks tinged pink when her fingers grazed his. “Two beautiful ladies such as yourself should be careful to avoid certain sleazy individuals. I recommend avoiding the southern outskirts.

“Please enjoy. I recommend frying the hake and serving it with a shellfish cream,” he said, flashing them a smile, very pointedly looking at Byleth.

Byleth bowed her head, “Thank you.” Flayn bid her goodbye as well and the two went on their way. They didn’t notice nor mind as a horse rider bearing the crest of Fraldarius trotted past them, seemingly mistaking them as regular citizens out purchasing groceries. Their hoods hid their abnormally verdant hair well and only people who were directly in front of them could see the strands. The cloaks themselves were of high quality, but compared to the cloaks of Northern Faerghus, their cloaks weren’t unsimilar to those worn by the common folk. Or at least by the wealthier common folk, anyways.

Byleth also wasn’t one to wear cloaks with the symbol of the Church of Seiros stitched into them when travelling, and neither was Flayn. As such, they were spared from any special treatment or identification.

*

Dimitri, Ingrid, Felix, and Sylvain met up at the square to share their findings, or rather their not-findings. Dimitri had asked Dedue to stay back at the palace to fill him in on anything he missed while about the city. The Duscur man had objected initially, but finally gave in after being entrusted the task.

“This is why I can’t stand women,” Felix scowled, “We could have just waited for them to find their way. It’s not exactly hard to find the castle.” He would’ve much rather been sharpening his blade right about now instead of searching the city streets for two “young maidens,” as Sylvain had referred to them. He promptly ignored the pointed look Ingrid shot his way.

Pssh, whatever.

“It certainly is strange though. I have not come across anyone with green hair, or with the crest of Seiros etched to their clothing,” Dimitri brought his hand to his chin. “Do you think perhaps we should search by foot?”

Ingrid recovered from staring daggers at Felix to regard the prince, “The city is quite large, Your Majesty. With Founding Day arriving, there are far more people on the streets than usual. We won’t be able to find them by day’s end on foot.”

“Ingrid’s right. Why don’t we just call out to them then, like Marco Polo?” Sylvain flashed one of his toothy grins.

“I see your point, Sylvain, but I do not wish to alarm the citizens.” Dimitri gathered the reins of his horse, “Why don’t we begin asking the merchants and city guards?” Everyone dipped their heads in agreement and split off their separate ways.

Felix took the west, Sylvain the east, Ingrid the south and everywhere the sky allowed, and Dimitri would search the central area.

If Dimitri was being frank, he was greatly relieved to have this time to prepare himself further. He was already brainstorming what he would say when he met her.

First, he would apologize for not realizing who she was.

Two, he would thank her properly for her help back then. How? Well, he wasn’t sure yet, but he had a little more than a moon to figure it out.

Three, he would clarify the flower situation. Yes, they had been for a friend. And since Marianne had still been a friend at the time, he technically wouldn’t be lying. Besides, everyone and their mother knew he couldn’t lie for shit.

He inwardly nodded to himself, trying to ease his anxiety. Yes, that sounded like a fine plan. All he had to do now was to execute said plan. Well, after he found her, obviously.

Approaching the marketplace, he unmounted and entrusted his horse to one of the patrolling city guards while he scoped the area by foot. The market was a crowded area on the daily, but with an upcoming celebration, the streets were littered with people, adults and children alike.

He had opted to check here first considering visitors tended to gravitate toward the shops. Fhirdiad was quite barren outside of the city due to the climate and terrain; thus, there were not nearly as many spots for sight-seeing as there were in coastal cities, such as Derdriu over in the Alliance. This led people to the shops, memorials, and historic buildings of the capital city, with many of these sites being concentrated near the center.

Even with the heavy crowding, Dimitri had no issues seeing where he was going. At times like this, his height was a blessing as it helped him see over most people’s heads. On the downside, however, he had to be extra careful for those of the shorter population.

This included a short woman who donned a modestly thick cloak that effectively covered her from head to toe. Dimitri hadn’t noticed her because she’d blended in well with the other (taller) people conveniently around her. She seemed to be looking for something, or someone?

Whomever she was looking for must have been even shorter because this lady primarily kept her eyes at her eye level and lower, completely missing Dimitri approaching her. And then there was the fact that Dimitri hadn’t even noticed her approaching him until she outright smashed into his chest, the wrapped fish she had been holding flying out of her hands right into a dirty puddle.

“My hake,” She stated with urgency, an octave or two higher than a normal speaking level. She dropped to her knees, traces of distress evident in her voice.

Her very familiar voice.

“I sincerely apologize! I did not see you there, Miss,” he extended his hand out to her, nervousness building up in his chest. Could it be… ?

The lady turned her head, strands of misplaced green-colored hair spilled out from her cloak as two glistening mint-colored eyed peered out from underneath the shadow of her hood. Her eyes widened.

Dimitri sucked in a breath, his own face undoubtedly betraying his surprise as well. By, or rather, Lady Byleth. His betrothed.

Neither said anything, frozen in place. Dimitri, with his hand extended out to her and an open mouth. Byleth, still crouched to the ground, looking up at him with widened eyes.

*

Meanwhile…

A small green-haired girl with curly hair had gotten separated from her cousin as the crowds got thicker. Feeling overwhelmed, she had searched for a less crowded street to collect herself. This was her first time in a city, no less by herself now that she’d lost Byleth, so she was slightly anxious.

No, Flayn would not be afraid! She knew a good handful of reason spells that would help her defend herself.

Well, that’s what she thought until she got abducted by a mean-looking man with blue hair.

If her father found out, he would without a doubt have an aneurysm the size of a crest stone and demand that she returned to Garreg Mach.

“I demand that you let me go this instant!” Flayn squirmed, trying to yank her arm out of his hand, beating on him with her small fists.

“You’re Flayn, right? Green hair, green eyes, looks like a child, you fit the criteria.” The mysterious man’s face retained his hateful scowl as he dragged her towards his horse. “Now get on the horse. I’m here to bring you back to the castle.”

The said “child” froze and give him the most appalled expression she could muster, “I will have you know that I am much older than I look.” When the man merely raised a brow, she brought her mouth into a thin line, “I am an adult! I make very adult decisions much like you do. What self-important person are you to insult me so?”

“… Felix Fraldarius. Now get on the horse.”

“I see,” recognition flashed through her eyes when she officially looked at him, “You were that violent swordsman from the Blue Lions house!” She studied him, nodding her head when she was sure it was him, noting how his eyebrow twitched when she said that.

Clearing her throat and yanking her arm away from him successfully, she dusted off her clothes. “Fine. I will use my sound and adult judgement to allow you to escort me, then,” she said as she struggled to mount herself due to her poor height.

Felix felt his eye twitch.

*

The once bustling marketplace was now silent as the shop-goers turned their attention to the scene before them. The Crown Prince stood frozen in the middle of the street, extending his hand out to the mysterious maiden with mint-colored hair. Recognition sparked within both of their eyes, leading the crowd to lean their heads forward in suspense. There were likely some obscene backstories brewing in the minds of the common people.

Dimitri broke the awkwardness first. Clearing his throat, he moved to kneel down next to her, whispering, “I really do apologize. Please allow me to compensate you for your,” he looked down at the tragic scene of her purchase, “… fish.”

Byleth mindlessly nodded, reaching her hand out for his own outstretched hand. The instant their hands made contact, he lifted her up to her feet and the two of them sped them away.

She didn’t even have a chance to glance back at her fallen fish before Dimitri had swept her away.

He led her a few streets down before turning into a wide alley, away from the prying eyes of the street-goers. Both bent over, catching their breaths. Their hands remained clasped within each other’s, keeping them only a short distance away from each other. Becoming hyperaware of their hands, Byleth looked down at his larger hand as it enveloped around her own. He must have not realized that he was still holding it.

Not sure how to breach the topic of it with him, she slowly tried slipping her hand out of his own, only for him to reflexively hold on tighter.

Alarming her, her head shot up to look up at him, which caused him to realize what had happened. Quickly, he released her hand, almost as if she had burned him, “Oh, I had not been aware. I apologize if I have made you uncomfortable. I hope you will forgive me.”

Truthfully, she didn’t mind. She had just assumed that since they had successfully fled, they didn’t need to keep their hands like that any longer. If Dimitri had wanted to continue holding hands, she must’ve been rude to pull her hand away. She felt bad now, if only she was better at reading other people and situations. Maybe this was a sign that this engagement would never work out. If she was so clueless, how could she ever expect him to want to get closer to her.

Perhaps, she wasn’t ready for marriage after all? Who would want to marry an emotionless clueless ghost?

But for her father, she would try her best.

“No, I must be the one to apologize,” she shook her head, “I had not realized that you wanted to continue. Please, let me correct this,” she extended her hand back out to him. Rather than immediately taking her hand, his eyes switched from looking at her hand to her face and then back to her hand. His face quickly turned into a light shade of pink, “Is something wrong? Is this not what you wanted?”

He laughed nervously, “It’s not that, exactly, but…,” he took her hand and looked anywhere, but her face.

Byleth tilted her head to get a better look at him. “Did I misunderstand?”

“Of course not!” He was quick to assure her, his face still as bright as an Ailell pomegranate.

She nodded in response, finding it amusing that he was more of the nervous type. She had always thought he would be the kind of person to be composed at all times, but now, she supposed that was just another example of how little she knew about reading people.

“Please, let me know if I do anything odd. I admit that growing up at the monastery has made me bit ignorant on the ways of social cues and conversation,” she lifted their clasped hands, “I won’t take offence if you inform me,” she said, offering him a small smile. Upon hearing her confession, he relaxed considerably, which in turn helped her feel a bit more comfortable, “In fact, I would grateful if you did.”

“If that is something that bothers you, I will do everything I can to help you,” he declared, offering her a reassuring smile.

“Thank you,” she felt her cheeks warming up, but wasn’t sure why. Looking at him now made her feel nervous, so she turned her attention away towards the street.

She decided to change the subject before she became any more uncomfortable, “So, considering that you were in the marketplace, would it be too much of a longshot to guess that you were looking for Flayn and I?” She chanced a glance up at him, trying to give him the most apologetic look she could muster. “I am so sorry for our tardiness. I hope your father isn’t upset.”

Dimitri laughed, “It is quite alright. I much prefer this meeting for us than a formal one at the castle.” With one hand still holding on to her much daintier fingers, he placed his other arm behind him and bowed down to her, “It is a pleasure to meet you officially, By, or rather Lady Byleth Eisner,” he brought her hand up to his lips, flashing her an amused smile. And was that humor she heard laced in his tone?

Returning the favor, she presented the perfect execution of a one-handed curtsey, “The pleasure is all mine, Your princeliness.”

She couldn’t help the tilting of the corners of her lips as Dimitri laughed, “Please, call me Dimitri.”

“Byleth,” she said, feeling her eyes slowly begin to crinkle and her mouth curve up into a wide warm smile as she watched him laugh.

Dimitri froze, absolutely mesmerized by the beautiful smile gracing her face. He felt his jaw slacken and his cheeks begin to heat up again. She looked absolutely ethereal, standing there with her hair spread across her shoulders, a bright smile on her face that could put the sun to shame. She had smiled at him before, a good handful of times if he included their first meeting.

But there was something different about this smile. There was a raw, genuine warmth that radiated from her that also reached her eyes. The mint color of her irises was so rare to find that Dimitri couldn’t help but feel privileged to be able to see them. It was almost like witnessing the Goddess herself smiling at him.

He remembered being mesmerized to see Marianne’s smile for the first time, but he dared to say that Byleth’s smile had a certain magnetism to it.

A magnetism that made the recipient of it desire to see more. To do whatever they could to see it again.

Suddenly, a strong gust of wind ripped him out of his trance. A Pegasus descended from the sky onto the street, signaling that Ingrid had found them. She unmounted and approached them, not oblivious to their joined hands. “There you are, Your Highness. Felix has found Flayn and they’ve safely returned to the castle.”

Dimitri nodded his head in acknowledgment and led Byleth out of the alley. “Thank you, Ingrid. I must retrieve my horse first before I head back. Please escort Lad- Byleth back first.” He guided Byleth forward, “This is Ingrid, one of my closest friends. She is the daughter of Count Galatea. You can trust her to get you back to the castle safely. I will meet up with you after retrieving my horse.” He released her hand so that she could step closer to the other girl and her Pegasus.

Byleth nodded, oddly missing the warmth his hand provided to her cold fingers. Turning to Ingrid, she offered a polite curtsey as she was taught to do in front of other men and women.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Lady Byleth,” Ingrid bowed, offering her a welcoming smile. “Have you ever ridden a Pegasus?”

Byleth returned the smile, “Yes, I have. I’m quite fond of pegasi as I’ve practiced combat while riding them before. And please, call me Byleth.”

This caused Ingrid to brighten up. Another female who liked pegasi? Perhaps, they could become good friends.

After mounting, the flier offered a hand to help Byleth up. “We’ll be making our departure now, Your Highness. I’ll let Dedue know that you’re safe so that he can stop pacing.”

Dimitri sighed and sent them off with a wave.

*

Imperial Year 1182
25th Wyvern Moon
Castle Blaiddyd

Jeralt slammed his hands down on either side of Lambert’s Desk, facing towards Byleth and Flayn, who stood on the opposite side. They both stood inside Lambert’s study with the door closed. Lambert and Dimitri waited to the side. “Of all the times you decide to wander off, why now?” staring Byleth down much like a disappointed father would while scolding his daughter. Even Flayn was bowing her head as if she was being scolded by Seteth.

While Byleth’s face remained neutral, she felt guilty for upsetting her father. Opting to not lie, she shared the only excuse she had for ditching, “Well, Dad, there was this decadent stew that-”

“A STEW?!” He interrupted before she could even finish.

“Come now, Jeralt. She must have been starving,” Lambert defended her, coming closer and placing a hand on her back. “Why don’t we overlook this? Dimitri found her safe and sound, and she’s here now, is she not?”

Jeralt glanced at his old friend, before looking back at his daughter. He watched her for a long minute before he pursed his lips and sighed. When did she get so good at that sad puppy look? To everyone else, she didn’t look that remorseful, but to Jeralt, who had raised her from a small stoic bean to the now large stoic bean she was today, he knew exactly what to look for.

Shaking his head, his eyes scanned the room until he found Flayn, “You. I’m counting on you to make sure she stays out of trouble while you two are here. I don’t want to hear about anymore escapades. I got enough of that when we were back at the Monastery.”

The said girl saluted and nodded her head repeatedly, “I will do my best, Uncle!”

Jeralt cringed at the name, but didn’t comment on it. He was still getting used to this whole family thing that he’d been taking part in for Byleth’s sake. On another note though, he wasn’t sure if Flayn’s best was enough considering her track record, but it would have to do since he would be heading back to Garreg Mach in a few days’ time.

“Perfect. Now that that ordeal has been resolved, I must speak with Jeralt about the matters of your stay, Lady Byleth.” Lambert sent Jeralt cheeky grin, making the other man groan. “Why don’t you get yourself acquainted?” He looked toward Byleth before finding Dimitri, “My son will show you around, won’t he?”

“Of course, Father,” Dimitri sent his father an affirmative nod, and like the gentleman he’d been taught to be, he offered his arm for Byleth to take.

She accepted the offer, wrapping her hand around his elbow. The two made their way out of the room with Flayn in tow, who walked much further back in order to give them their privacy (even though she was undoubtedly watching like a hawk).

The first area Dimitri wanted to show Byleth was the gardens in the back where his friends were likely waiting to meet her. Well, at least Sylvain and Dedue were since she had already met Ingrid, and Felix could care less.

Upon arriving there, they saw Felix furiously sharpening his sword with a whetstone in one of the garden chairs, Dedue tending to one of the nearby small gardens, and Ingrid talking at, not to, Sylvain as he laid in the grass with his arms behind his head, eyes closed, and one leg propped over the other.

Hearing footsteps approaching on the garden tiles, the group of four looked up.

Dedue stood up first from his crouching position and bowed his head, “Your highness,” he said, turning to Byleth and giving a proper bow, “Lady Byleth.”

Dimitri gestured to his loyal friend and retainer, “Byleth, I would like you to meet my good friend and right-hand man, Dedue. We are practically like brothers,” he said proudly, “Don’t be afraid to ask him for assistance if you ever need anything and I am not available.”

Byleth remembered Dedue quite well. Since she often frequented the greenhouse back at the monastery, she had gardened in the presence of him countless times. They never spoke, but they would at least acknowledge each other with a friendly smile whenever they saw the other. She recalled noting that, despite his hard exterior, his eyes carried a softness to them that she could only translate as kindness. She saw it in the way he regarded others and respected their space whenever he interacted with the other students. Mercie had spoken of him often when they would meet for tea. “It’s nice to see you again, Dedue. You may call me Byleth.” Her smile widened when he offered her a familiar grin.

“You know each other?” Dimitri asked, his eyebrows lifted high on his forehead. He didn’t think he ever saw Dedue speaking with Byleth when they had been in the academy? Then again, he also never noticed Mercedes or Annette talking to her either, despite what Ingrid had said about them being acquainted. And didn’t Sylvain seem like he knew of her prior?

“Yes, we tended to the plants in the greenhouse back at the monastery around the same time every night.” Byleth provided a confirmation nod to Dedue’s straightforward answer.

“I had not been aware,” was Dimitri’s equally short answer.

Deciding it was time to join the spotlight, Sylvain jumped up from his spot in the grass and pranced himself over, “Well, Your Highness, you were probably too busy attending to other things… or rather, other people,” he said, offering Dimitri a hateful wink and a shit-eating smirk. Turning his attention to Byleth, he extended his hand, “Hi, I’m Sylvain Jose Gautier. It is a pleasure to officially meet you, my fair lady.” Byleth hesitated for a hot minute about taking his hand, but for the sake of a good first impression, she succumbed to his lechery. He promptly brought her delicate hand to his lips before leaving a very long-timed kiss on her hand, winking in the process.

Byleth raised her eyebrow. Fuck first impressions. This one was the red-haired player from the Blue Lions. He was infamous the year he had attended. “Ah, I remember you. You have left quite legacy at the Monastery, Sir Gautier. Female students still mention you from time to time,” she told him blankly, watching as Ingrid came up from behind him and dragged him away when it had already passed 20 seconds since he began kissing her hand.

She sent the blonde woman a grateful look.

“Oh? What have the ladies said about me?” Sylvain said innocently from his spot on the ground where the blonde had dumped him.

“I believe they said that you were- what was the name? Man whore the second of Faerghus, I believe?” Byleth placed her finger on her chin, then who was the first? “I also recall Seteth warning Flayn and I about you.”

At that moment, she remembered Flayn had finally arrived at the gardens during the middle of Sylvain’s introduction.

She gestured to her cousin behind her, “Have you all met her? This is my cousin, Flayn.” The said girl gave a polite curtsey and graced everyone with her bubbly grin.

Other than Sylvain, who was having a fake heart attack in the background from being called a “man whore,” Dimitri’s other friends, save for Felix, all mentioned remembering Flayn from the Academy. Even though the shorter girl hadn’t been allowed to mingle much, she still found ways to sneak out to the dining hall or fishing dock to talk to and make friends with the students. Somehow, she had more of a reputation than Byleth amongst the students. What Seteth didn’t know didn’t hurt him.

On the topic of Felix, once Flayn spotted him back by the garden table, her face instantly twisted into a grimace. She turned her head away with a “hmph,” making the others raise their brows at the cold shoulder.

“And finally, this is Felix. He is the heir to house Fraldarius and the son of Rodrigue, a good friend of mine and my father’s,” Dimitri gestured his hand towards the Fraldarius heir. Felix briefly looked up from his task before grunting and turning his whetstone over to use the other end. Dimitri looked apologetically at Byleth, “He can be a bit… distant at times, but he is by no means a bad person.”

“We’ve actually sparred before,” she shared, noting the deepening of the blue-haired man’s frown. “After he saw me training with one of the Knights of Seiros, he challenged me to a duel.”

“Who won?” Sylvain piped up, having seemingly recovered from his heart attack.

“I did,” she said, to everyone’s surprise. “His swings were swift and precise, however, that left his left side open. He had been a formidable opponent nonetheless,” when Felix froze, she continued, “I would be glad to spar with you again if you ever desired to.”

Now, that got Felix’s attention. He immediately stood up and pointed his sword at her, “You. Me. Now.”

“Felix, this is hardly the time,” Ingrid brought up.

Byleth shook her head, “I wouldn’t mind at all. However, Dimitri is to show me around, so perhaps after if there is time to spare.”

Hearing his name, the blonde man perked up, “Ah, yes. We were about to head out after the introduction.” He scanned the faces of his friends, “I must say, I am surprised though that most, if not all of you, have met Byleth previously. I had only ever encountered her once at Garreg Mach.”

Dedue chuckled, “Pardon my rudeness, Your Highness. But we had all assumed that you knew.” The others nodded in agreement, making the prince feel stupid for not noticing such a thing.

From this interaction, Byleth was able to conclude that her soon-to-be-husband was also slightly slow.

*

The rest of the tour had progressed with the idle chatter of Dimitri and Flayn, Byleth only making the occasional comment to answer Dimitri’s questions. Dedue had tagged along, but chose to stay a few steps behind. Despite her previous oath to watch from afar, Flayn ended up walking beside her cousin and future cousin-in-law to ask numerous questions about the activities available in the main city.

When the smaller girl learned about the fishing lake further back on castle grounds, she practically begged Dimitri to bring them there. Dedue offered to bring her there ahead of the couple to give them some privacy, which Flayn gladly agreed to before practically dragging the larger man ahead.

This left the two betrothed individuals alone.

Dimitri attempted to fill the silence with small talk, but Byleth only provided brief answers, not being particularly great at small talk.

They had long been released from each other’s arms and now stood about an arm’s length away. Byleth was unsure if she should move closer? Stay a respectable distance away? Or would that be rude?

It was moments like these that she remembered that, despite the myriad of knowledge she had acquired under the tutelage of her private tutors and family, she really was hopeless when it came to talking to the opposite sex.

Or at least her fiancé, anyway.

She decided that now would be a good time to ask the question that had been nagging her these past few days.

“Something that I had been wondering about ever since our first meeting was, who had those flowers been for?”

Dimitri jumped, not expecting her to ask a question, let alone the exact one he had been actively praying to the goddess to have her not ask. He wiped his sweating palms against his trousers.

Guiding her over to a bench, he exhaled heavily, “They had been for a friend of mine.”

That reminded her of something Sylvain had mentioned, “Are they also the one Sylvain mentioned you being busy with?” she asked innocently, her head tilting. A part of her was anxious to find out the answer, but the other part had to know. If Dimitri had someone important to him, she wouldn’t feel right breaking them apart.

The blonde-haired man’s breath hitched, damnit Sylvain. He’d have to punch him later.

“Yes, she is the same person,” He answered honestly, not wanting to lie to her. If they were to start a relationship, there would have to be trust between them. “We had been getting acquainted during the school year… but now we remain as just friends.” Sparing a glance at her, he didn’t know what to think of her blank stare. Was she not mad? Not worried?

What Dimitri didn’t know was that Byleth was indeed a bit worried, but not for the reason he’d thought. She wanted to know why they still remained as friends. How close had they gotten before they ended it?

“Is it because of me?” She asked, averting her gaze to her hands in her lap when he made eye contact with her.

Dimitri noted her discomfort as she asked the question. He didn’t want to make her any more nervous by looking at her, so he sat forward, leaning his arms on his knees and looked out to the nearby pond. He couldn’t blame her for asking and he wanted to provide her clarity.

“No, we had a mutual agreement after we graduated to not continue our relationship. It had nothing to do with you… I’m sorry.” His apology at the end was due to his own guilt for not considering her feelings. He really was horrible.

Back then, he knew he had already been betrothed, but… he had to know if there was a chance for him to be with someone of his choice. In the end, Marianne had refused his proposal and left him standing in the goddess tower alone. It hadn’t been a good night for him, but he was grateful to have his friends there with him. Even Felix had sat with them in his room, while Sylvain tried to convince him that there plenty of other fish in the sea, including his actual betrothed.

He felt guilty for doing such a thing, but he had been young and impulsive.

He had seen Marianne various other times after that as well as after they graduated. They had talked things out, but Dimitri still didn’t feel like he had closure on the situation. She never told him the exact reason why she rejected him, but it might have been for the better that he didn’t know. If he was being honest, he was still hurt from her rejection and may still even harbor lingering feelings. He couldn’t bring himself to tell Byleth about what had transpired, but he swore that he would when he was ready.

He also carried the worries from the rejection with him into his engagement with Byleth. What if she too rejected him when it came time for him to officially propose? What if she didn’t like him? What if-

A hand on his back dragged himself out of his own head. Byleth had moved closer to him on the bench and placed her hand on his back out of concern. Her eyebrows were crinkled together and she had turned her body towards him. “Are you okay?” she asked, her voice barely a whisper.

He offered her a weak smile, before turning away and closing his eyes, “I am fine. No need to worry yourself.”

“You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.” She gave him a squeeze on his shoulder before retreating her hand.

“Whenever you feel comfortable enough, I will be here to listen.”

Dimitri’s eyes snapped open, whipping his head in her direction. She must had understood that he needed space because she had began moving away.

He quickly placed his hand on hers before she receded to the far end of the bench, “Thank you, Byleth.” He gave it a brief squeeze before retracting his hand. “I appreciate it. Really.”

Her eyes widened a fraction at his touch, “Of course.” A soft curve appearing on the sides of her lips, “We can’t help how we feel about other people,” He didn’t respond, instead opting watch her as she spoke. “And I’m sure this person left a great impression on you.

“I don’t know the extent of your relationship with this girl, but I understand if you need time. I would be happy just becoming friends with you.” She turned her head away, in favor of watching Flayn in the distance pointing at various fish in the pond next to Dedue.

“You don’t give yourself enough credit, Byleth,” his comment had her whipping her head towards him again, surprised to see him still watching her. He was staring at her intently with piercing blue eyes, as if he was searching for something. She felt like she was being dissected under his gaze. “You had said that conversation wasn’t your strong suit, but I don’t find that at all,” He began fidgeting with his hands in his lap, “I feel very at ease talking to you like this.”

She felt warmth spread over her body, despite the decreasing temperature as the sun began setting.

This was the first time anyone had said that to her. Not even any members of her family had told her that. “Thank you, Dimitri,” she muttered, unsure of what else to say.

He suddenly stood up and bent himself over into a bow, his neck extending up so that he could look her straight in the eyes.

“I may not be able to offer you my heart right now, but I promise, with all my being, I will do everything within my power to make you happy.”

Chapter Text

5 Days since Byleth’s Arrival…
30th Wyvern Moon
Castle Blaiddyd

Since the day of Byleth’s arrival, the days following had flown by quickly. Dimitri was busy tending to his duties in preparation for when the King would step down from the throne. That left Byleth to her own devices, trying to find different activities to supplement her need for engagement.

These activities included having tea with Lady Patricia, feeding fish in the ponds with Flayn, gardening with Dedue, and sparring with Felix, Ingrid, and Sylvain. Dimitri’s circle had been welcoming to her, occasionally inviting her to participate in activities with them. Even if they thought she was odd, they at least had enough tact to pretend they wanted to get to know her.

Well, that was what Byleth thought, anyways.

She’d never had the chance to get close to others, usually because people were either intimidated by her, thought she was cold, or feared her because of her grandmother.

For the group of three, they oddly didn’t seem fazed by her. Ingrid always regarded her with respect whenever they crossed paths. At most, it just seemed like the blonde didn’t know how to approach her. They had shared a short chat when Ingrid had escorted her to the castle on the first day, but since then, they hadn’t had a proper conversation. It wasn’t until Byleth had visited the stables while the other woman was tending to her Pegasus, that they were able to bond.

She got a proper introduction to Estella, the trusty steed that Ingrid had been gifted as a child. Estella had taken a liking to Byleth after she gave her a carrot, and even allowed her to ride without Ingrid. The blonde had originally been nervous about letting her ride out of concern if Byleth got injured while on her watch. In the end, all was well when she was reassured of Byleth’s proficiency with flying by Flayn, who had been conveniently passing by. Impressed with her skills, Ingrid had proposed a mid-air sparring session, which had also attracted the attention of Felix and several others.

Despite the mint-haired woman’s obvious skill with the lance, it became evident that her strong suits were with the sword and with magic use. This alone had Felix demanding that both fliers duel with him at once, training weapons only, but magic allowed. The match was hardly fair, but the Fraldarius man wouldn’t let up. Sylvain eventually joined too since he refused to be left out. This then lured Lambert, Jeralt, Rodrigue, and Dimitri out of their lairs to see what all the commotion was about.

Seeing his friends and fiancée spending time together brought a sense of contentment to Dimitri, happy to have them getting along. He was tempted to join them when a fire ball nearly took out Flayn, who had just been returning from the gardens with Dedue. The small girl had been knocked out and promptly transported to the medic wing.

And that was the end of that. Like children, the four adults were scolded for taking their sparring session outside of the training grounds.

The next few days had been quite dull as Dimitri was stuck in his office for most of the days helping his father with paperwork, while Ingrid and Sylvain prepared to return to their respective homes. Before they left, however, Byleth brought it upon herself to have tea with each one at least once, which they both thought was quite nice of her.

Ingrid had enjoyed talking to Byleth about her training with Jeralt as a child, and how many weapons she had mastered. Both being more comfortable with weapons and armor than gossip and cosmetics, they’d hit it off right away with Ingrid admitting that she liked spending time with Byleth more than with her childhood friends.

“You’re one of the few female friends I’ve made that doesn’t boast intentional feminine appeal or encourage me to be more like other girls.”

“Is that a positive thing?”

“Of course! That’s what I appreciate about you, Byleth. I might like talking with you more than the guys, honestly. But don’t tell them that, especially Dimitri and Sylvain.”

“And Felix?”

“He’s... special.”

She concluded that day that she also liked Ingrid very much. The Galatea girl was very modest and straightforward, just the way Byleth liked all things in her life to be. She could tell that she was the voice of reason for the three troubled males, especially Sylvain. She noted how much closer Sylvain and Ingrid were compared to the other two. Perhaps, there was something more to their relationship than meets the eye? That investigation would have to wait till she saw them next time.

Speaking of the Gautier heir, he’d spent the majority of their own tea party flirting with her and asking her mildly inappropriate questions, but she had a feeling that wasn’t who he was at his core. It wasn’t until she asked him why he acted the way he did, did his demeanor and manner of speech become more serious.

“As the daughter of the Blade Breaker, do you know if you have a crest?”

“I do.”

“And has that crest changed the way people treated you?”

“… I’m not entirely sure. Aside from my title as Archbishop Rhea’s granddaughter and daughter of the Captain of the Knights of Seiros, my crest has had little impact.”

“Interesting. And do you think anything would change had you been born crestless?”

“I don’t believe so. Others would still have thought I was strange regardless and would’ve avoided me just as they have now. That is not to say that whether one is born with a crest or not should change how they are treated, if that is what you’re asking.”

Sylvain had watched her for a good five minutes before reverting to his façade. “Sooo, how are you planning on seducing His Highness?”

*

After Sylvain and Ingrid had made their departure, it was Jeralt’s turn to prepare to leave for the day after. That had ignited a small bout of anxiety in her as she’d never been in a foreign place without her father before, as embarrassing as it was to admit.

“I’ll miss you,” she’d told him that morning before he went on his journey back to Garreg Mach. A part of herself wanted to go back with him. As much as she liked the acquaintances she’d made so far, she still felt like a stranger, and thus, felt like she was intruding.

“Since when have you been so sentimental, Kid?” Her father patted her on the head. “This will be just like when I’ve gone on missions and left you at the monastery.”

“No, it’s different,” she shook her head, “This time, you’re leaving me and heading back home. That’s the difference.”

Jeralt’s face softened, feeling touched by Byleth’s show of emotion. “You’ll be fine, Kiddo. I’ve already had a talk with the prince, and he agreed to make sure you’re comfortable,” he brought her into a hug, “I’ll miss you too, but it’s time for me to let you see the world for yourself, away from Garreg Mach.”

She didn’t say anything, opting to hold onto her father tighter, burying her face in his chest.

*

Dimitri had been watching the scene from afar with a heavy heart. Watching Byleth cling to her father brought him back to when his own father would leave for weeks or months at a time when he was younger. His heart ached for her, understanding the feeling of being left behind.

Jeralt had spoken with him last night, practically threatening to impale him up the arse with his lance if the older man heard even the smallest rumor about him doing anything that would make Byleth doubt her decision.

“This is the first time she’s been away from the monastery, and it’s to possibly marry you. I don’t want to hear anything about you making her regret her decision, you hear me?”

“Affirmative.”

“Good. Promise me you will protect her, physically and emotionally. The kid’s had a lot of scrutiny thrown at her since she was young. I trust that you will treat her kindly and make sure that others mind their business? She doesn’t need anything else to make her feel bad about herself.”

Something about that made Dimitri feel his heart sink, “I promise with all my being, Jeralt, that I will ensure that she is treated fairly.”

Jeralt studied him carefully, before offering a smirk and patting him on the shoulders, “Good. I know you’re a good kid and will stick to your word.”

He was brought back to the present when the knight gave him a pat on the shoulder accompanied by a stern look.

“And I hope you remember our discussion?” Dimitri nodded. “Perfect! Well, I’ll be heading out now. I’ll see both of you again during the Founding Day celebration.” He gave both a grin.

“Love you, Kid,” he said to Byleth, giving her another affectionate head pat before mounting his horse, waving, and ordering his men to head out.

That left Dimitri with Byleth, who watched her father leave castle grounds with a solemn expression not unlike when puppies were taken away from their mothers.

“Love you too, Dad,” he heard her whisper, still staring off into the distance even after the entourage had long disappeared.

He couldn’t imagine what it was like for her to be in a foreign land without any people she knew well other than her cousin. And she was here for him, someone who couldn’t even offer her his everything at the moment. He felt obligated to make it up to her, in any small ways he could.

Guilt already filled his conscience when he remembered that he’d been unintentionally avoiding her the past five days by consuming himself in work. Even after the conversation they had in the gardens the first night, his own social ineptitude with the opposite sex had him avoiding her out of fear of awkwardness and failing to keep his promise of making her happy.

He only now realized that he was making his failure a self-fulfilled prophecy by avoiding her out of his own fear, not even taking a moment to put himself in her shoes. If Felix knew about what he was doing, he would be right to call him pathetic.

She had seemed comfortable here, partaking in different activities with other people, making him think she was adapting well. But watching her now revealed how lonely and insecure she really was, unsure of her place here.

Finding his resolve, he stepped up beside her, startling her.

“Would you like to accompany me horseback riding?”

*

When the two arrived at the stables, Dimitri chose his usual white stallion, Andreas, who he’d been gifted for his 10th birthday. The stallion was very keen on not allowing anyone else to ride him except the prince.

Byleth had chosen an infamous black mare known by everyone in the castle as, Mint the self-righteous. It was ridiculous to refer to the horse as such, but that was the reputation the mare had reaped after becoming highly selective of who could touch and groom her, let alone ride her.

Thus, it was highly surprising when Byleth casually began petting the said mare and Mint had no qualms with the gesture. Prior to that, the two had just stared at eachother as if communicating through their eyes. Then, the mare moved closer to Byleth, as if choosing her human.

Had Mint found a kindred spirit? Because of Byleth’s Mint hair… ?

Dimitri had to stop himself before he started laughing at his own bad joke.

“She is quite the gentle soul, this one,” Byleth said as she assisted a servant with preparing the sable.

Dimitri couldn’t help snorting, “As gentle as a wolf in heat.”

“She is nothing of the sort,” She defended, blocking Dimitri from the mare’s sight, “Don’t listen to him, Minty. You’re just misunderstood is all.”

He cracked a smile, “For a second there, you kind of reminded me of-” he paused, “an old friend.” She merely raised her brow, but chose not question it.

After situating themselves, they made their way out of the stables and along the trail that led into the woods. Dedue had briefly stopped them to inquire if his presence was needed, to which His Royal Highness declined.

The first half of the ride was mostly quiet, Byleth cooing at “Minty” with Dimitri just watching her incredulously. They really had hit it off.

“She normally only allows a select few servants tend to her. Even then, she wouldn’t allow any of them to ride her. She’d shake herself, trying to get them to fly off.”

“That’s odd. She’s being very well behaved now? Who was the last person that she’d allowed to ride?”

“My mother. Her and Mint were inseparable, apparently. She died when I was very young, so I don’t remember much about their relationship.”

“I suppose that makes two of us. My mother died giving birth to me, so I don’t have any memories with her either.”

That made sense now, considering how it was only ever their fathers communicating, never Byleth’s mother. He felt he could relate better to her now, knowing that they shared a similar family history. “Have you ever wanted to know what she was like?”

She tilted her head in that way she seemed to do often while thinking, “Occasionally. Grandmother has portraits of her hanging in her bedroom and Dad has a small portrait of her in his office.

“We share a very strong resemblance, apparently. I never saw it looking at the portraits, though.”

“Well, I am confident that she was likely very beautiful and kind for Captain Jeralt to fall for her,” he moved his horse closer to her so that they were riding side by side.

“That’s what I’ve been told. Dad said that her smile was enough to make him propose. She was quite sickly, so the only taste she had of the world outside of the monastery was through the stories and flowers he brought back for her.”

Dimitri found that awfully romantic, “I never took Jeralt for the romantic type,” he chuckled.

“He’s not, but I’m sure my mother had really left an impression on him,” she said, removing some acorns that had fallen on her during their ride. “How about your mother?”

He had to contemplate that one. His father never spoke much of his mother, likely because the memories were too painful to recall. “My father doesn’t like to speak of her much,” she nodded in understanding, encouraging him to continue, “The staff of the castle and those in the main city did mention that she was a woman of few words, but when she did speak, her words always held meaning and purpose. She was also very kind, being seen visiting the orphanages and homeless shelters often.”

“I would have loved to meet her,” Byleth started, “She sounds just like the kind of person I would want to associate with. I used to teach the orphans back at the monastery about basic skills as well as weapon usage.”

“Ah, yes, I remember seeing you playing with them often when I was at the academy,” he smiled, remembering a time when he heard one of the orphans refer to her as their professor. “I also remembered seeing you sparingly around fishing, especially during my night walks.”

Byleth turned to him, “And what were you doing up so late?”

“I could ask you the same.”

“There are certain species of fish that are only available at night. I would never have the chance to catch them during the day with all the activity going on,” she said, as if it was the most logical explanation.

“That’s interesting. It’s never occurred to me that the fish available depended on the time of day,” he brought his hand to his chin, crossing the other arm over his chest. He noticed her staring at him, likely waiting for his answer to her question. “If you must know, I occasionally have bouts of insomnia accompanied by unpleasant dreams. Nothing to harp over.”

That gave her every reason to be concerned. She sent him a pitying look, obviously worried.

He threw his hands up, “There is absolutely nothing to worry about, truly. This has been happening ever since the Duscur incident. It is really quite normal for me at this point. My father and the castle medics are aware.”

Unconvinced, she tightened her lips and nodded. Warily turning her gaze back to the path that they headed down, “If you ever have a difficult night, do not be afraid to join me for night fishing.”

“I couldn’t impose on your nightly therapy. Besides, I don’t know how to fish and I doubt that my crest would allow me to without breaking your fishing rods.”

“You would not be imposing. I would not mind the company now and then,” she offered a smile. “I would also be delighted to teach you how to fish. It’s a wonderful activity that many would enjoy given the chance.”

He couldn’t deny her when she referred to it like that, so he nodded and offered his own smile.

*

After they’d returned from their ride, they were directed to have lunch with the King and Queen after freshening up. Byleth decided to switch to wearing a dress, having worn riding pants for the activity. Throughout her stay, she had switched between wearing trousers and tunics to wearing dresses, depending on her mood every morning.

She liked trousers when she knew she would be training, or she didn’t feel like assimilating to the female roles that day. Otherwise, she mainly wore dresses, the simple but elegant kinds. The dress she changed into for this particular lunch outing was white with short slightly puffed sleeves that left her shoulders bear. Over it, she wore one of the fur-lined royal blue cloaks she was gifted from Lady Patricia to combat the cold of Fhirdiad. As a final touch, she sported her favorite pink headband that was usually seen in her hair more often than not.

Normally, she would have lunch with Flayn, Dimitri, Dedue, and Felix (if he wasn’t too “busy” for lunch), or with Lady Patricia. Today, however, Lambert was free for once, and thus, he wanted to enjoy his lunch with his family and future daughter-in-law.

They were seated in the dining hall with Dimitri and Byleth on one side and the King and Queen seated on the other side, facing them. Lunch mainly consisted of Lambert and Patricia asking Byleth questions about herself and her life at Garreg Mach. Some of the questions extended to her education and skills she had learned from her private tutoring.

“Byleth, that’s quite impressive. Knowledge on swordsmanship, lances, axes, and in both reason and faith magic? Not even the best of knights have quite the resume!” Lambert praised, “Not to mention that your mentors were Jeralt the Blade Breaker and Archbishop Rhea of the Church of Seiros! There cannot be a single man in his right mind who would not drop to his knees for your hand.”

Dimitri, beside her, brought his hand up to cover his face, “Father…”

“It is true that I have received many letters of proposal ever since I have come of age.”

“And have any ever caught your interest?” asked Patricia, curiosity laced in her eyes.

Byleth shook her head, “None have been able to tempt me. I don’t have any interest in their money or possessions.”

“That’s honorable of you, Byleth,” Patricia smiled, taking a sip of her wine. “I’m sure you would have made great friends with my daughter if you two ever had the chance to meet.”

“Daughter?”

“My step-sister, El, or Edelgard. She was the house leader for the Black Eagles,” Dimitri clarified for her. “She visits occasionally, but she is the heir to the Empire, so she does not have much time to travel.”

“I think I do remember her. Her retainer hissed at me once,” Byleth brought her finger to her chin, “Humphrey, was it?”

This caused small bits of laughter to erupt from the other three recipients.

“I believe you’re talking about Hubert?” Dimitri said while patting his mouth with his napkin, a smile still on his face.

“That boy has always been a bit cold, even more so than Felix if you’d best believe it,” laughed Patricia, taking another sip of her wine.

“Did he really hiss at you, though?” inquired Lambert.

“It was either that or he growled at me for greeting Lady Edelgard.”

*

Lunch continued with the idle chatter of the King and Queen, with Dimitri and Byleth contributing every so often. Byleth was more interested in devouring her meal, while Dimitri preferred to listen. After lunch was over, everyone excused themselves. Dimitri had informed her of his business in town and that he would see her later that night, possibly for a walk or other activity.

She never did see him though.

She instead spent the rest of her day reading in the library and playing chess with Flayn. The smaller girl had debriefed Byleth on her own activities that she took part in throughout her days here.

Flayn enjoyed talking with the knights as well as with the healers in the medic wing. She’d made a few friends who she would visit throughout the day and help them with their daily tasks. She occasionally bothered Dedue in the gardens, but lately he had been busy assisting the prince with his own duties. Then, there was the rare chance that she would pass by Felix while he was practicing swings with his sword.

“You should have seen it, By! He sliced every single piece melon I threw at him.”

“I thought you didn’t like him?”

“He’s still insufferable to be around, but he’s at least made him useful as my own personal fruit chopper!” Flayn giggled, using her hand to cover her mouth. “I find it to be much more productive than just using that sword to cut people down. Am I not wrong?”

“You may be right, but it’s also important to remember that might be his hobby.”

“I had not thought of that! Insightful as always,” the smaller girl leaned her head against Byleth’s shoulder as they sat on the couch in the library. “On to other topics, you must tell me how your ride through the woods was with prince Dimitri?”

“It went well,” Byleth continued reading her book.

“Just well? There must be more to it than that. What did you speak of? Did he ride close to you? Did you watch the sunset together?”

She couldn’t help rolling her eyes at Flayn’s antics, “Nothing romantic happened, if that’s what you’re asking. Besides, there was no sunset to watch...?” She sent Flayn a strange look, “We talked about our mothers and I invited him to join me for night fishing sometime.”

“Oh! Night fishing? That sounds awfully romantic to me. You needn’t worry about me interrupting.”

“Hmmm.”

*

Later that night, Byleth found herself at one of the ponds, dipping her toes into the cold water. Dimitri had returned late from his expenditure in town and was ready to retire to his quarters early. He at least had the decency to seek her out himself to apologize for not having spent any time with her that evening. She understood his reason, of course. He was busy taking care of official business and that took precedent over spending time with her. They still had more than a moon left together, so she wasn’t concerned in the slightest.

As she swished in her feet in the water, she had to remind herself that she’d need to acquire some fishing equipment tomorrow. Perhaps she could go into town and explore while on her search. The castle likely had such equipment, but she wanted an excuse to leave the grounds.

Footsteps through the grass were heard behind her and small part of herself hoped it was Dimitri.

Turning her head, she instead saw Felix standing there.

“What are you doing?” He prompted, walking up beside her to look out at the pond.

She regarded him, noticing that he must have just left the training grounds, his breathing still slightly uneven and his hair out of place, “Dipping my feet in the water.”

“You’re weird, you know that?”

“I’m aware.”

Silence filled the air, leaving only the sounds of crickets, owls, and the wind blowing to fill the void.

“Why are you here?” Felix finally spoke up.

“Couldn’t sleep and I like water.”

”That’s not what I meant. Why are you here, in Fhirdiad?”

She paused for minute, “To get to know Dimitri.”

“I know that, but why did you accept this engagement? You don’t seem like the type who would agree to tying yourself down to a stranger.”

Well, wasn’t that ever the loaded question?

“At the time, I supposed I agreed to it because I wanted a reason to leave Garreg Mach.”

“And now?”

“I didn’t think I would find anyone who would want to marry me as I am, so marrying someone my dad chose for me seemed reasonable. My dad said that Dimitri was a good man.” This was the first time she ever admitted to this out loud, and it surprised her how helpless she sounded.

“There are many noblemen out there who are ‘good men.’ How could you have been so sure you were making the right decision?” Felix scoffed, bending his one arm and resting his hand on his hip while the other gesticulated while he made his point. “And who’s to say that no one would marry you? Sounds like self-deprecation to me.”

She chanced a glance at him to see him scowling much deeper than he had been since she’d officially met him. “People have always thought I was I odd, so it only made sense that possible suitors would think the same.”

“I personally don’t think you’re that odd, honestly.”

Byleth raised her eyebrows in surprise. She had not been expecting him to say that, “Did you not say I was weird earlier?”

He grunted, “I meant what I said, but I think you’re weird in a good way, unlike your cousin. Your skill with the sword is impressive and I’m wondering what someone like you, who’s so proficient in many areas, is doing chained here to the boar?”

She didn’t have a clear answer for him on that one. He continued to surprise her with his questions and how he shared his perspective. She also had to keep reminding herself that “Boar” was Felix’s nickname for Dimitri.

“I…,” she managed, but was unable to find the correct words to continue her thought.

“Forget it. This isn’t any of my business, anyways. I just wanted to warn you to not get too close too fast. The boar has issues he’s working on, and I’d hate to see someone like you be brought down by shit he’s done.” He moved to leave, but was stopped when he felt Byleth grip is sleeve.

“Are you talking about the girl he was acquainted with?” She looked him in the eye, her brows crinkled ever so slightly.

Felix snickered, “Acquainted? Is that what he called it?” He almost pitied her at that moment. She didn’t even know the full story, yet she was here, ready to give her all for Dimitri. Yet he was still hung up on some other girl. For that, he was slightly annoyed with his friend, but even he understood that the circumstances weren’t ideal.

That didn’t stop him from feeling bad for Byleth, though. She was very capable and self-directed unlike the other girls he’d met.

Heck, even he would’ve proposed to her if he could.

“Forget I said anything. If you ever need to let out anger or sadness or whatever, you know where to find me,” he said, looking anywhere but her.

Byleth released his sleeve, “Thank you, Felix,” she smiled gently, appreciative of his concern.

Felix felt his cheeks tinge pink as she whispered her gratitude to him. Glancing at her quickly had him feeling slightly embarrassed, but he didn’t regret what he’d said. Her smile was worth it, he thought.

“Tch, whatever.”

*

Preview...

Goddess, this whole situation was ludicrous. They were simply talking! He had nothing to be worried about. They were just two people—who happened to be of the opposite gender—having a normal conversation in a secluded area in the middle of night. Nothing odd about that, right?

Right?

It wasn’t until he saw Felix turn to leave, did he notice the tightening in his chest. The feeling exacerbated when Byleth reached out to grip the other man’s sleeve in haste, almost as if in panic.

Dimitri didn't know what overcame him, but he was out from behind his cover and marching over before he knew what hit him.

Fuck. What was he doing?

Chapter Text

Upon Dimitri’s return to the castle earlier that night, nothing sounded more welcoming than resting in his quarters till morning. The meeting with the merchants had his brain numb by the end of it and he didn’t think he could bear any more mental stimulation. He'd promised Byleth that they would do an activity of her choice the following day to make up for tonight. She was very understanding as usual—for which he was grateful. On the contrary, her indifference did bother him the smallest amount, but not enough to counter the lethargy flooding his body.

Much like every night, when sleep was almost in his grasp, he would be jolted awake by the feeling of panic that pounded his heart against his chest and drenched his forehead with balls of sweat. He would down the water beside his bed before laying back down to try again only to suffer the same fate. This wasn’t a new occurrence for him, unfortunately. The events of Duscur still plagued him heavily in his moments of vulnerability, specifically in the form of voices calling out to him during hypnagogic states or as nightmares replaying the horrors he’d witnessed that day. A voice and face that appeared most often was that of Felix’s late older brother, Glenn. The eldest Fraldarius sibling had risked his life for his liege, holding off the attacks until Jeralt and his battalion were able to interfere. Unfortunately, Glenn died of severe burns and sepsis from his injuries not long after.

For those reasons, Dimitri was most comfortable during the day; there wasn’t the foreboding fear of what lurked in the shadows. His mind had difficulties differentiating between what was reality and what wasn’t. Sometimes he swore he saw faces staring at him from the shadows in the corner. When he blinked, they would vanish. These hallucinations, which were all they were, only acted up at night. When he was awake and alert, they didn’t plague him, hence why he spent very little of his days sleeping.

He wouldn’t have to fear panic attacks waking him up if he didn’t sleep in the first place.

Night walks weren’t uncommon for him. They allowed him to reflect on his day without the fear of falling asleep in his bed and being taunted by whatever voices or faces his mind created.

Giving up on the idea of sleep, he rose from the bed and slipped on his boots and a cloak. He left his room with nothing, but a white-buttoned night shirt and black trousers with his hair out of its usual half-ponytail. He wondered if Byleth was still awake, considering her habit of night fishing and taking walks. There were still many subjects he wanted to speak with her about—some topics leisurely, while others were more serious, involving their situation. Now would be the ideal time since there would be little interruption.

He checked the guest wing Byleth and Flayn shared, but found no one. Save for Dedue who was in the kitchen randomly sharpening knives and polishing cookware, everyone else in the castle with any sense had long retreated to their quarters for the night.

Along his trek, he eventually found her sitting by a pond further back in the gardens. His position on the balcony accompanied by the moonlight and the pathway lanterns gave him a relatively clear image of her. She looked to be dipping her feet in the freezing pond water? Of all her various strange tendencies, this was the most concerning to him. Was she not afraid of frostbite?

The slouching of her shoulders and the way she leaned back on her hands indicated that the temperature didn’t seem to bother her much, which only made him sigh that much harder.

He was already making his way over when a figure approached her from behind. Instinct had him ready to running over, but his judgment proved better when he identified the figure to be Felix. While he was relieved that she wasn’t in danger, he sincerely hoped that the Fraldarius man didn’t share too much or say anything hateful that would offend her.

Getting close enough to make out their facial expressions, his worry quadrupled when he saw Byleth’s brows furrow together while her lips dipped into a frown. She didn’t look insulted, so at least that was a relief, but whatever was being said didn’t have good implications.

Aside from his curiosity about the conversation, something else about the whole ordeal bothered him. He first surmised that, perhaps, he was just uncomfortable with the situation because they were both unmarried individuals meeting up for a late-night rendezvous—which was considered taboo. And maybe he was worried about their image in the event they were caught by someone other than him? While honorable for any other noble, it was unlikely the case for him. He was hardly the kind of person to worry over such a thing.

Although, he had to admit that the scene didn’t look great from an outside perspective.

While losing himself in his thoughts, it never occurred to him that he was technically spying on the two until he felt his hand brush against the bush he hid behind.

Goddess, this whole situation was ludicrous. They were simply talking! He had nothing to be worried about. They were just two people—who happened to be of the opposite gender—having a normal conversation in a secluded area in the middle of night. Nothing odd about that, right?

Right?

It wasn’t until he saw Felix turn to leave, did he notice the tightening in his chest. The feeling exacerbated when Byleth reached out to grip the other man’s sleeve in haste, almost as if in panic.

Dimitri didn't know what overcame him, but he was out from behind his cover and marching over before he knew what hit him.

Fuck. What was he doing?

Not once has Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd ever marched blindly into a situation without any semblance of a plan, and yet, here he was. His plans in the past didn’t always work, but at least he’d been prepared. Now, however, was a different story. He lacked any sort of foresight and fabricating anything on the spot would be futile knowing that Felix could sniff out his lies as quickly as Ingrid inhaled her first course.

But then again, what did he have to lie about anyways?

“I’m happy to see you two are getting along amiably.”

Byleth jumped, her shoulders jolting up as she turned around. When their eyes met, a small smile graced her face, immediately lessening the tension in his chest.

“What are you still doing up, Boar?” Felix questioned evenly, shifting his body in the prince’s direction.

Felix being the perceptive man that he was, he knew exactly why the prince was still awake. He’d known about Dimitri’s insomnia and night terrors for years. Hell, his room had been right next to the prince’s back at the academy, and Dimitri was the exact opposite of stealthy when he'd leave his room late at night for his midnight walks. Felix never brought it up since it wasn’t his business, but he wasn’t blind to the signs of sleep deprivation in his friend. Now that he’d been staying at Castle Blaiddyd for a moon or two, it was evident that Dimitri’s sleep obstacles continued to persist.

“I was feeling a bit restless and thought that I would walk about the grounds.”

“Hmm. How convenient that you’ve ended up here?” Felix scoffed, “Don’t let me interrupt you on this ‘walk’ of yours, Boar.” Felix nodded to Byleth before walking away, glancing at Dimitri from the corner of his eye with a glint of something as he passed the other man.

The two remaining people watched the other man disappear into the distance before turning their attention to each other.

“Care to join me?” Byleth gestured toward the spot next to her. Dimitri happily obliged. “It is quite convenient that you happened upon us during your walk, I have to admit,” she joked.

Dimitri coughed, “Ah, well, if I may be honest, I was looking to see if you were awake as well. I didn’t forget your invitation for night fishing, you see. Though, in retrospect, I don’t believe you have the needed equipment for it yet.”

“You’re not wrong about that. I was hoping to visit a shop or two soon to acquire some.”

The conversation led itself naturally through various topics—current events, festivity preparations, noble relations, and diplomacy with the Empire. Despite their outward conversation flowing well, they both had difficulty breaching the topics that were truly on their minds. Eventually, they both succumbed to silence, a nerve-wracking silence that had Dimitri fidgeting with his hand.

Byleth broke the silence first, “I’ve noticed that Felix is much more perceptive than he lets on.”

Dimitri looked at her curiously, “Why do you say that?” he asked. He knew Felix to be a very sensitive individual, but that was only because they were close friends. Not even Felix’s father, Rodrigue, knew the extent of his son’s emotions. So, he wondered how Byleth came to that conclusion?

“I suppose that he had noticed a bit of my apprehension, so he came to check on me.” Having nearly forgotten her near-frozen feet, she lifted them out of the water and shook the excess off. She brought her knees to her chest so that her dress skirt could protect her feet from the wind, completely unaware of Dimitri’s inquisitive look.

“Ah, I see. It is a bit unlike him to worry about another’s wellbeing, but he isn’t without his moments of kindness.” He brought his hand to his chin, “He is definitely one of those people who, despite not interacting with others needlessly, pays close attention to those in his environment.”

She nodded, “I can see that. He was very thoughtful just now; he offered me some insight as well as an ear if I ever needed someone to talk to.” Dimitri wasn’t given the chance to reply before she pinned him with an intense stare, “And some of this ‘insight’ he provided was rather interesting, actually. I’d like to know what you think of it.”

He gulped, feeling uncomfortable under her piercing gaze.

“I recall telling you previously that I'd be willing to wait for you to overcome your current struggles before we developed our relationship further. However, I’m starting to believe that whatever information you haven’t disclosed to me yet may actually be more important to the success of this engagement than I originally thought.”

She allowed him two blinks before continuing.

“Please define for me what being ‘acquainted’ with another person means, if you could?” Byleth didn’t know where she was getting this sudden boldness from, but her short conversation with Felix had awoken a desire for clarity.

She needed the security that this whole arrangement would not be in vain—that she was making the right choice.

Dimitri cleared his throat, “Would that not mean getting to know another person, familiarizing yourself with him or her?”

“Then would you say that we are ‘acquainted?’”

“I- well- yes, I suppose you could say that we are.”

“I see, thank you for the clarification,” she said, her intense stare not letting up, “Earlier, Felix found my wording funny when I used ‘acquainted’ to refer to your past relationship. I wonder if I’ve misunderstood something? From my understanding, I was given the impression that you two were only 'acquainted.'”

Ah. So, that was what the two had been talking about.

Dimitri inhaled deeply, letting the cold air fill his lungs, grounding him. “No, you have not misunderstood anything,” he shook his head, “I am the one at fault for withholding the full story from you. I offer my sincerest apologies for causing such confusion.” His head hung low. “I know excuses are not enough, but I promise that I would have told you eventually—soon, in fact.”

Silence filled the air around them as Dimitri gathered his thoughts. Byleth couldn’t bring herself to look at him, instead opting to stare at the moon’s reflection in the water as she waited for him to continue.

“The truth is that I had been informally courting Ma- the other girl. I had even proposed to her,” he massaged his nose bridge, “but as you can see, my attempt was not successful.”

Byleth froze. So, there was a proposal involved in all this. It now made sense why he was so deeply affected.

He continued, “I was already aware of our betrothal, but a part of myself needed to know if there was any way for fate to play out differently. I understand that was selfish of me and I feel awful admitting that to you now.”

She could feel his gaze looking her way, but her eyes remained trained to the pond. She didn’t know what to think or what she should be thinking in this situation. Even if she had secretly expected as much, the news wasn’t any less shocking. He had proposed to this girl, which was proof enough of his devotion to her. Proof of feelings that couldn’t be simply forgotten so quickly, even years later. She knew she should be angry, that she had every right to be, but she couldn’t find it within herself to hold resentment. Rather, she found herself empathizing with him instead—as much as she, an emotionless ghost could, anyway.

Dimitri was still healing from whatever circumstances that ailed him, so to be thrown this soon into the engagement with her must’ve been difficult for him. She did not want to be the reason for his misery, assuming that she was the reason the relationship never grew to fruition.

Wracking through her brain for a plan, she came to a decision, one that she thought would be beneficial to them both.

Before she could share her plan, swift movement from her periphery caught her attention.

While she’d been thinking, Dimitri had brought himself into a standing bow. His head was dipped low, leaving his long hair to obscure her view of his face. “Byleth, I am deeply sorry for my lack of communication. I completely understand if you cannot bring yourself to forgive me, or if you wish to nullify our engagement.”

Her eyes widened, while her mouth agape, unsure of how to respond. Rising, she placed a gentle hand on his back, “Dimitri, please, stand up.” He complied, remorse evident in his eyes. “I’ll admit that while I would have appreciated knowing this sooner, I can’t fault you completely. Our desire as humans to test the boundaries of what is permitted and what is not can be much too tempting at times.” She smiled softly. Turning away to look out at the pond, the breeze brushed her mint strands against her rosy cheeks. “I, too, have had my own selfish desires, which is why I can’t possibly condemn you for your own.

She inhaled deeply before continuing, “If I’m to speak freely, this arrangement has served as an... excuse of sorts for me—so that I may have a valid reason for my grandmother to let me leave Garreg Mach. I've always wanted to travel and see more of the world, you see.”

“But then wouldn’t our engagement and marriage technically hold you in Fhirdiad? Your desire for travel would not be satisfied through our union.”

“Perhaps, but I do recall our fathers’ agreement stating that this engagement isn’t binding if we both agree that the connection isn’t there. In the past, I’ve been courted by several noblemen due to my inheritance and status, yet my personality, or lack thereof, tended to drive them all away. Truthfully, I assumed that our engagement would end up much the same.”

“I see,” Dimitri felt his jaw slacken. “In other words, you were hoping that this wouldn’t work out between us?”

“When you state it like that, I sound much more conniving,” she tilted her head, a finger on her chin. “I wouldn’t say I was hoping, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if you held no interest in me—which brings me to my next point.”

He nodded, urging her to continue.

“How about breaking off the engagement, at least temporarily? I don’t believe this is the right time for us to have such a commitment.” She hesitated briefly, “I also wouldn’t want to prevent you from pursuing what you truly desire,” she offered, the last part barely audible, yet Dimitri still caught it all the same.

He paused, concern reflecting on his face, “But is this what you truly want, Byleth? My past relationship is over and I do not wish for you to think that I would prefer that situation over you.”

“But is that not the truth?” He remained silent. She sent him a small smile, one that he noticed did not reach her eyes. “This is what I truly want, Dimitri. I wish for us to only court if we genuinely want it, and if it brings us happiness.”

“Then, what of our fathers?”

“I believe that they will understand. We won’t necessarily have to tell them if we choose to continue being acquaintances.”

“Well, I would love nothing more than to stay friends with you, Byleth. I enjoy your company and I appreciate being able to talk to you like this.” The blonde-haired prince sent her a tender smile that she couldn’t help reciprocating.

“I… would love to stay friends with you, too. You are one of the few people who sees me as a person, not as a ghost, or as human chattel. So, thank you.”

“Of course, and I’m grateful to you all the same for your understanding, fairness, and patience with me. It is a pleasure to be friends with you, Lady Byleth.”

“Likewise, Your Highness.”

A comfortable silence settled into place as the two continued to appreciate each other’s presence while admiring the nature around them.

It wasn’t until Byleth shivered that Dimitri extended his elbow out to her, “Shall we head inside? It is getting awfully cold.”

She nodded, lacing her hand around his arm, unintentionally huddling close as the windchill hit.

The small shivers that wracked her body had Dimitri draping half of his cloak around her shoulders, pulling her to him to shelter her from the frigid wind.

Byleth couldn’t help but lean into his warmth.

*

The weeks following proved to be much more eventful than the last. What walls remained between the two were broken down steadily as they grew more comfortable with each other—not as betrothed individuals, but as two adoring friends.

As a token of their friendship, as well as an apology, Dimitri hand-delivered a new set of silver fishing equipment to Byleth’s quarters one morning, accompanied by an offer to go morning fishing. The mint-haired woman took to the gift immediately, excitement virtually radiating off her person in waves. He didn’t think he’d ever seen her look so happy. Her smile was downright mesmerizing to say the least and he was proud to know that he’d contributed to such happiness, especially after having caused her nothing, but doubt and confusion. While he stood there like an idiot admiring her gleeful expression, she proceeded to examine rods with great care before promptly slamming the door in his face.

And so, the prince was left waiting for her in the corridor while she readied herself for their expenditure. The instant she was done dressing, she grabbed his hand and practically warped to Flayn’s door to invite her cousin to fish with them. Unfortunately, the smaller girl was grumpy to have been woken up so close to the edge of dawn that she declined, instead promising that she would feast on their catches later in the day.

Surprise was an understatement for Dimitri when the first thing his female companion did, once they reached the woods leading to the river, was to hunt for worms and grubs under rocks and rotting logs. Her explanation to his questioning look was, “We need bait.” He didn’t think he’d ever seen a noblewoman dig around in the muck for insects only to store them in her freshly washed and ironed handkerchief. The whole scene was slightly comical, but also oddly charming in its own way. Unable to leave her to do all the dirty work, he rolled up his sleeves and got to work.

Dimitri learned two things that day. One, he was better at catching fish with a spear or with his bare hands rather than sitting around waiting for a bite. Two, Byleth was one of the most patient people he’d ever had the privilege of meeting. How she could sit for hours on end with the utmost concentration was beyond him.

“Practicing patience is one of the most important lessons I was taught,” she explained.

“That would make sense for Lady Rhea to teach you such a thing. Patience is definitely a virtue that I’m afraid many people can’t say they have, myself included.”

“You don’t strike me as the type of person to be impatient,” she examined him. “Someone who is impatient, would be our dear Sir Felix.”

“Can’t say you’re wrong there,” he laughed, “Although, I do have to give him his credit where it’s due. You will have noticed that he’s easily irritable, enough to stab someone, especially when it comes to Sylvain?”

She nodded.

“Well, would it surprise you to say that he somehow hasn’t yet? Not even when Sylvain teased him about Anne-” he coughed before correcting himself, “highly unfavorable moments that Felix would rather bargain with the Goddess to have him forget than to be reminded of.”

If Felix found out that Dimitri almost revealed one of his “weaknesses,” a sword of Zoltan would absolutely find its way up his ass before he could blink. He could only pray that Byleth didn’t notice his blunder, but the glint evident in her eyes told him differently as she eyed him. Fortunately though, she decided to spare him by diverting her attention back to her hook and beginning to hum quietly instead.

To prevent further blunders, he opted to stay silent.

Her humming fit harmoniously with the woodland sounds around them, so much so that he couldn’t help closing his eyes to bask in the peaceful atmosphere. He decided in that moment that he greatly enjoyed the soothing quality of her voice. He could even imagine himself at his desk completing paperwork while she sat on the lounge chair humming while she read—the image left a surprisingly warm feeling in the pit of his chest, one that he hadn’t felt in a very long time.

Very rarely was he able to find time to enjoy these simpler aspects of life, like he was now. His days were typically spent in his office working or in meetings with other authoritative figures. He knew his responsibilities would only continue to grow as his father delegated more and more to him. Lambert was soon to retire, leaving the Kingdom in his hands; hence, the King’s nudges for him to take on a princess consort. Of course, while his father claimed that he was merely suggesting Dimitri begin his courtship with Byleth, he knew that the older man was eager to have her as a daughter-in-law. Unfortunately for the aging monarch, that would not be the case, at least not for a while, he surmised.

Then, there was Lady Patricia, who was no better. With Edelgard taking the reins of the Empire, she had less time to visit her mother whom craved her feminine presence.

Cue Byleth filling in that feminine void for the Queen Consort. They regularly had tea together, typically 2-3 times a week. He still remembered one day when he’d heard Byleth teaching his step-mother about the rich taste of coffee and how pairing the beverage with pastries was a culinary delight. Lady Patricia, intrigued by this foreign drink, requested his father order some of these rare coffee beans for the castle later that evening over dinner. He could always count on Byleth to share her interest in eating with other people. Shame that Ingrid wasn’t there to enjoy the conversation.

Reflecting on the past month or so, having Byleth and Flayn here had proved to brighten everyone up in the castle, especially with winter’s dreary weather approaching. Flayn often ran about the castle helping with one task or another whilst also keeping the staff company. Despite claiming that she was around the same age as her peers, her youthful behavior did well to cheer up the atmosphere of any room she entered. Even Felix seemed to be tolerating her better now, even to the point of helping her chop firewood whenever she requested. Oh, and no one could ignore her horrible attempts at cooking—at least that’s what he was told—and unique love for all things fish related.

Then, there was her dear cousin. He had to commend his female companion for her myriad of interests, many of which were not as common among nobles—including, but not limiting to, fishing, weapon maintence and sparring, gardening, and eatingcooking. Ironically, while Dimitri grew up in the castle, he did not have the luxury to explore the abundance of activities common children were able to. His governesses always emphasized learning leadership qualities and skills that would be beneficial for a future monarch. Of these skills, his favorites were learning equestrian practices and tactical maneuvers. Although, he had to note that Gustave was technically his instructor for those topics, rather than his governesses. The lessons he abhorred the most were when he had to practice scripture. Most of the lessons involved trying to hold the quill without splintering it into a million pieces.

That made him wonder then, as the future archbishop, did Byleth also have to learn similar leaderships skills? Likely. Albeit, there was probably more leniency in her training with how proficient she was in various “commoner” activities, as his governesses would have referred to them as.

A rapid splashing of water forced his eyes open and he looked towards the source.

Byleth stood beside him, struggling immensely to pull a biting fish out of the water. Dropping his own rod, he rushed over to assist her only to have her rod smack him right in the face from the momentum as the fish flew out of the water.

He bit his lip to prevent himself from calling out as he felt his nose crack a bit, wetness beginning to seep out from his nostrils. Where did she get strength like that from anyways?

“Got one!” Byleth exclaimed, seemingly unaware of the damage she had caused. “Ah, looks to be a good sized salmon. This would taste great with some of the Duscurian spices I procured for Dedue,” she said, turning, “A squeeze of Brigidian lemon would also do the trick-” she froze, her eyes wide at the sight of the prince before her with a red mark down his face and a oozing bloody nose.

Dropping her fish in a bucket, she quickly fumbled for her spare handkerchief, “Sorry, I didn’t realize you were there.” She guided him to sit down and pressed her handkerchief to his nose. “Here, allow me,” she dabbed at the blood. Noticing him flinch, she questioned, “Does it hurt much?”

He shook his head, covering her hand with his larger one, “It is only a bit tender.”

Feeling the warmth of his hand, she froze, eyes deeply seated on their touching hands. Her eyes scanned the area until she was met with his blue irises. They were so close; the closest they’d ever been, that their breaths were mingling in the crisp morning air.

Were his eyes always that blue?

They reminded her of the tender blue forget-me-nots she grew this past spring. They were beautiful—whether she meant the flowers or the cobalt hue of his eyes, she wasn’t sure.

Similarly, Dimitri reveled in how petite her hand was compared to his. He had placed his hand over top hers reflexively to lighten the pressure on his nose, but for some reason, he found himself unwilling to let go. She was so close, her natural scent of mixed tea leaves and mint hit his nose as hard as her fishing rod had. If he had to get another nosebleed just to have another chance to appreciate her fragrance again, he would do it many times over. As the breeze blew strands of her hair forward, he noted the way she’d chose to style her hair today. She had it in a high ponytail with strands on either side of her head braided into the ponytail. That left her bangs and small strands to frame her face perfectly, allowing him full view of her ears and her neck. He had never been close enough to notice how slender her neck and collarbones were under her cloak, let alone the skin that reached further dow-

Byleth removed her hand from his nose and leaned back, averting her gaze, her cheeks pink, “Please keep the handkerchief,” she said softly, “Will you need healing? I'd be happy to heal you, if you wish.”

Dimitri felt heat rushing up his neck to his ears, unable to face her. Could he be any more shameful, ogling his friend like that? He knew her to be an attractive individual, but why did he have to eye her like a piece of meat? If he thought he’d fucked up before, now he did for sure. What would she think of him now? That he was no better than Sylvain? That he was just like all the other men who looked her body up and down? Don't think he didn’t notice the stares she got when they traveled into the marketplace.

“Dimitri?” She placed her hand on his arm, making him jump at her contact, “You don’t have a concussion, do you?” Placing her other hand on his cheek, she turned his face so that she could examine him for uneven pupils.

When she looked at him with her head tilted like that, concern laden in her eyes, he felt like he needed to back away from her. Fast. “I-” he coughed, “I am quite fine, thank you. I don’t believe my nose is fully broken, so no immediate healing will be necessary,” he said, quickly retreating to his fallen rod with shaky hands and red ears.

*

Flurried snow graced the Faerghus skies when Byleth and Flayn decided to head into town to gather tea leaves and ingredients. Felix, despite being hateful the whole time, accompanied them because he apparently was sick of the castle and was planning on “surveying the weapon stalls, anyways,” apparently. He also apparently claimed joining them was, “For convenience sake,” he said.

Apparently.

Byleth never did see him browse said stalls, even when they passed by them.

“Felix, won’t you stop brooding?” said Flayn, shooting him an unamused look from over her shoulder.

“Hm.”

“Have you not noticed that people cower away as we trek past them?” Flayn pointedly eyed a pair of children who looked frightened by Felix, especially so after he scowled at them directly.

“It must be because of that look you always have—the one where you look like someone kicked your cat,” Byleth said casually, placing her finger on her chin. Flayn giggled, sticking her tongue out at the brooding man walking behind them.

“A brilliant explanation, indeed!”

“More like the look I have because I have to escort you two around when I could be polishing my collection instead of wasting my time shopping,” he spat, crossing his arms.

Byleth, completely unfazed by his mean tone, scanned a merchant’s stall displaying specialty teas, “Hmmm, but were you not the one to volunteer when Dimitri requested someone come with us?”

Felix didn’t reply, muttering something about annoying boars under his breath before walking off ahead of them a few steps.

“My, a pleasant gentleman as always, I see,” Flayn sighed, grabbing Byleth’s sleeve just as she was about to wander off.

Both females couldn’t help but think the Fraldarius man wasn’t unlike a feral cat hissing when poked and prodded at with a stick, a thought that had Flayn giggling and Byleth smirking to herself.

Nearing the end of their trip, the trio passed by a bakery on their journey back to the castle. Exiting the small shop was a pair of familiar faces—a blonde-haired bishop and her ginger-haired warlock best friend. To be expected, the reunion was quite the scene with many hugs, squeals, and tears to be had between the females.

Mercedes was currently running a local orphanage not too far from the castle as a representative of the church. The everyday tasks of caring for the children kept her occupied throughout the day, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. When she wasn’t running the orphanage, she spent her free time knitting and sewing clothes for the orphans and baking bread to accompany their meals.

For Annette, she currently held a teaching position at the Royal School of Sorcery with a focus on reason magic. After classes were over, being the busy body that she was, she spent much of her time planning and developing lectures, attending seminars, participating in studies with her fellow teachers, and honing her faith magic skills. As usual, the small warlock knew nothing of the term, “relaxing.”

“While I am still here, please consider visiting the castle as my guest. I’m sure Dimitri wouldn’t mind,” Byleth encouraged, “I would enjoy having more familiar faces around to keep me company. Not that Flayn and Felix aren’t pleasant company enough.” She gestured to Felix who was oddly much further back than the last time she saw him.

Mercedes and Annette tilted their bodies to look around Byleth for said man.

“Oh Felix, I didn’t realize you were there!” Mercedes smiled, “You should have said something.” She moved around her group to give him a hug, one that he hesitantly reciprocated by offering her back a few pats. “I thought you were in Fraldarius this whole time. It’s great to see you!”

“Likewise,” he said, a barely noticeable smile making its way onto his face.

The air was light until Felix fixed his gaze on Annette, whose demeanor had changed drastically. Her expression hardened, a small frown tempting to appear.

“Hello Felix.”

“Hello Annette.”

Neither bothered to say anything else, instead opting to borderline-glare each other down. Byleth merely blinked, wondering what all the silence was for. Perhaps they didn’t like each other? Flayn snapped her head back and forth between the two, her curls nearly slapping her cousin on the arm each time. The smaller girl was very obviously interested in what underlying circumstances led the two to regard each other with such coldness.

Mercedes clasped her hands together, stepping in between the two tense individuals. “Ah! On another note, what brings you to Fhirdiad, Byleth?” She redirected the attention. “I believe I heard you refer to Prince Dimitri by his name. Are you close?”

Byleth blinked, taken aback by the question, “Oh, well, I suppose you could say that I am here as King Lambert’s guest. My dad is friends with the King.”

Felix snickered, “That’s a way to put it.”

Having forgotten about what had previously transpired, Annette stepped around Felix, looking at Byleth questioningly. “Captain Jeralt is friends with His Majesty?! Were you and His Highness friends at the academy? I didn’t think you knew each other?” she questioned, until another thought occurred to her, “WAIT! Are you two childhood friends? That’d be so cute if you were!”

Byleth cracked a smile, “To answer both your questions, no, we are not. We have only been getting to know each other very recently.”

“Oh wow, I had the impression that you knew each other well from how you spoke of him just now,” Mercedes placed her hand on her cheek.

Flayn giggled, “It really does seem that way, does it not?”

“Wait…” Annette grabbed both of Byleth’s hands and held them up, “Don’t tell me… are you two courting?”

“Oh my!” Mercedes brought her hands up to her mouth.

Byleth suddenly felt overwhelmed, being put on the spot. What could she say? They still hadn’t told anyone about their decision to call off any binding relations between them. Even then, their engagement technically hadn’t been official anyways. The two friends looked at her expectantly, Flayn looked just about to explode, and various townspeople had stopped in their tracks to indiscreetly eavesdrop. Her eyes scanned all the faces watching her intently, until she found Felix, whom she silently—and unintentionally—pleaded for help from.

Recognizing the panic in her eyes, Felix immediately blocked her from everyone’s view by hiding her behind him, “Even if they were, I don’t believe that is information to be shared so publicly.”

She was grateful that he understood her. She’d have to thank him later with a pre-spar tea session.

What Byleth didn’t see though, was Annette's confused stare flicking back and forth between her and the Fraldarius man protecting her from public view.

What was going on?

*

Next chapter…

Disarray at Garreg Mach. The beginning of the Kingdom’s Founding Day Celebration. Various familiar faces arrive in Fhirdiad.