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The sun isn’t yet shining into El’s office when Byleth decides to squeeze her hand for the first time since sitting down. So she does. And El squeezes back. And Byleth’s heart lurches. El has that effect on her. It’s odd. But it feels right, too.

It’s peaceful. Besides the occasional birdsong through the window, the only sounds are those few coming from El. Her papers, rustling whenever she sets one aside and reaches for the next. Her quill, scratching whenever she writes on her current paper. And her soft, steady breathing as well. Comforting. She’s not saying much, though. Nor is Byleth. Only every now and then does El ask for her perspective on the contents of her papers. She has experience in at least some of the topics at hand. But that’s work talk. Otherwise, they’re silent, since El can’t concentrate while they’re chatting. Byleth knows that from the times they did this before.

Those times are few though. It’s rare that Byleth sits with El as she works on her papers. It took a lot of convincing the first time around. And even now, it sometimes takes a while. She always tells Byleth of other things she could be doing. That she’s free to do as she pleases. That she could spend her time in much better ways. Byleth disagrees.

But she does like when Byleth sits with her. It’s obvious in the way she smiles. In the way she holds tight on Byleth’s hand. And also, she says she does. She only resists because she finds it difficult to let herself enjoy things. To let herself have things. Her hurdle, that she always has to overcome. But this time, it was easy. She couldn’t come up with any good reasons for Byleth not to sit with her, and without any excuses, she’s allowing herself this. Which is good. And she is smiling about it, too. Which is even better.

Byleth was thinking about her all morning. She didn’t have any specific tasks to work on, so she did lots of sparring instead. She trained with Caspar, and with Jeritza, and with a dozen of El’s soldiers too. It’s important that they all continue to practice, continue to stay fit, continue to be ready to fight. There’ll be more fighting in the future. The war is over, but threats remain. And those threats are why Byleth still trains.

But they aren’t worth thinking about any more right now.

Byleth still trains, and her friends do too. And El. But she couldn’t join this morning; she was busy with meetings instead. Byleth could have come with her, but she always insists that Byleth would be better off anywhere else. The meetings are boring. Certainly not worth her time. Byleth disagrees. If El’s hand is in hers, her time is well spent. But El insisted, and so she only had her thoughts.

That was the case, anyway. Up until El finished with her meetings for the day. She took a moment to visit Byleth, right before she moved on to her paperwork. It can’t ever wait. She must get on with it. And, since Byleth wanted—and still wants—to be with her, here they are. She walked with El back to their quarters. She quickly washed off. She walked through to El’s office. And she pulled a chair next to El’s, and she sat in it, and she took a hold of El’s hand. And that was that.

It’s so comfortable, too. El’s chairs are so plush and soft. Just like her. And when Byleth redressed, she didn’t put on her whole outfit. She just has the comfortable pieces on. Her shirt, her shorts, her tights. And her underwear. The days are getting cooler, but it’s not quite the cold season yet. So it’s nice and warm in El’s office, and Byleth isn’t cold. El is comfortable too, since she took some of her own outfit off. Her boots and her cape. More comfort. Less on her shoulders. She didn’t take her crown off, though. Since it would take so long to put it back on, and she may still have to leave her office again. She can’t be seen without it.

She’s so brave, though. Byleth doesn’t mind having her scars out in the open, but El is different. She doesn’t like to bare hers. Yet despite her usual discomfort, she let Byleth take her gloves off anyway. She was so brave to let them come off in the first place, and she’s still being so brave now by keeping them off. She trusts Byleth enough to be vulnerable around her. The thought makes Byleth’s heart feel bigger. Warmer. Makes it lurch again, too. Odd. But right.

And, since El’s glove is off, Byleth gets to feel her ring on her finger. Which further adds to the warmth in her heart. And she can touch El’s skin directly, too. Though the scars she has on her hand are rough, they’re still parts of her. So Byleth loves them all the same. Her hand is so lovely and warm, too. It fits perfectly in Byleth’s own. It feels right to be holding El’s hand.

And Byleth can only hold her hand due to how she placed her chair. One of her favourite strategies. When she drew her chair up, she placed it touching against El’s own. They’re sitting right next to each other, with their joined hands resting on the touching armrests. And so El can get on with her work, making the world a better place, with Byleth at her side.

Where she belongs.

And Byleth is holding El’s left hand with her own right. Since El can only write with her right. They’re sitting just right.

Right?

Byleth’s heart lurches again. She sees the humour in her thought. A chance to make El laugh? Byleth must be excited, that’s why her heart jumped.

So she gets El’s attention by gently pulling on her hand. She looks over from her work, and Byleth quickly relays all her thoughts to her before they’re gone. In her haste, she stumbles over the words. It’s relatively new for her to struggle to speak. It’s also odd.

But El giggles anyway. Maybe at the wordplay, maybe at Byleth’s difficulty in communicating it. It doesn’t matter either way. El is laughing, and now Byleth is smiling wider than she was before.

 


 

Byleth looks over at El. She’s concentrating. She doesn’t see Byleth looking at her. Her eyes are darting left and right, scanning down the paper she’s holding before her, her brow furrowing deeper and deeper with each new line.

She stops reading. She takes a deep breath. She sighs.

So Byleth squeezes her hand.

Now she does look over. The furrow in her brow is gone already. She’s smiling instead, and she’s so beautiful.

 


 

The sun is shining on Byleth’s back when she notices it. Now it is shining into El’s office. It’s far enough into the afternoon for that. And El’s office is placed just right, so that it can shine in through the window. And her chairs have open backs, so it can shine through them. And since Byleth doesn’t have her jacket on, it can shine directly onto her back. On El’s back too, without her cape blocking it.

El likes the sun. So her office is very good for her. Though, she does have her desk facing away from the window. She doesn’t like the sun as much when it’s shining into her eyes. But just as long as it’s there, shining on her in some comfortable way, she’s happier. And, as expected, right now it’s shining on the little window in the back of her dress, and she looks happier. She has a cute little smile. El likes the sun.

And Byleth likes El’s office. It makes her happy, and it smells like her, and it has lots of her things scattered about. There are bits of red and white and gold and black all throughout, matching her clothes and herself. It’s colourful, like her. And it is fairly busy. But then, so is she. It feels right. It reminds Byleth of her. Though she rarely has a reason to go in when El isn’t there, she sometimes does so anyway. Just to be near her in some manner when she otherwise can’t.

Plus, Byleth likes having the sun on her back too. It’s lovely and warm. Not as warm as El’s hand, but it's still nice. It makes sitting with her just a little bit better. Though Byleth would sit with her anyway, even without the sun. But it’s good that that’s not the case today.

Yes. This is going very well. Byleth has had a wonderful time so far. El’s still going with her work, and she has the sun on her back, and she’s still smiling. She’s happy. Byleth is too.

The only thing that could make it better would be if Byleth could do more to help. All she’s doing is holding El’s hand, and giving her perspective whenever El asks for it. But she’s not actually doing any of the paperwork herself. She’s just sitting here, holding El tight, waiting for her to speak up again.

And she did offer to help more, she always does. She may not yet understand the full contents of the papers, but she’s a quick learner. But while El does consult her every now and then, she refused to let Byleth deal with any of the papers herself. She always does. She would be happy for Byleth to learn more about ruling an empire, but the papers are about the worst way to do it. They’re nothing more than a nuisance, an utter waste of time. And Byleth already does so much. At least let her handle this, so Byleth doesn’t have to worry about it. Byleth agrees. She can focus on El instead.

But she still hasn’t done enough. She squeezes El’s hand again, and El squeezes back. Good. But Byleth can do better. Can help more. She could…

Hm.

She has no ideas. But—

Movement from El brings Byleth’s focus back to her in an instant. She’s searching through her papers now. She lifts the corner of one, looks under it, releases it again. Moves on to the next one. She soon lifts the side of a whole stack up, looks under it, and lets it thump back down. She sighs and moves on again.

It’s not long before she starts trying to push her chair back. She’s missing a missive from Hubert, she says. She needs to go and get it, it’s important that she deals with it soon, she can’t believe that she forgot it.

Byleth just smiles. That’s how she can help. So she stands before El can, and El looks over, and her eyes are wide. Byleth answers her questions by pulling her hand up to kiss the back of it. She responds with a cute little blush and a stammered thanks. Byleth smiles wider.

But she can’t leave just yet; her muscles feel odd. She needs to stretch; she was sitting for a long time. So she walks into the more open space before El’s desk, and she does stretches for her whole body. She finds herself making noises; grunts and sighs and whatever else comes out of her mouth. She wasn’t so loud before, but ever since her heart started beating, these things started happening. Nobody seems to mind, though, and it feels odd when Byleth tries to stop them. So she lets them happen. And sometimes El will smile when she makes a particularly unusual sound.

In fact, El may be smiling right now. So Byleth looks over to El’s desk, past her legs as she folds forward. And El is watching her. She’s not smiling, rather, her mouth is a little slack. But she is blushing again—and it’s very cute—and when her eyes drift down to meet Byleth’s own, they widen and she hurriedly looks away. She could have kept watching if she wanted. Her blush darkens further as she starts stretching her own arms, too. Which is good; she won’t have cramps.

Byleth is done stretching, so she stands back up and waves to El. El pauses her stretch to wave back, much more rapidly. But Byleth won’t be gone long. She’ll make sure of it. So she leaves El’s office with haste, heading for the main door to their quarters.

But she can’t help but gasp when her foot touches the stone floor of the hallway. It’s very cold. Very unpleasant. Her tights aren’t doing much to insulate her. So she makes a brief detour to rush for their drawing room instead; she has boots there. She shouldn’t go out without them. The palace floors are also cold.

It’s a relief when she arrives. The carpet is much warmer. Much softer. Much nicer. Byleth doesn’t like walking in the hallway. Not without her boots, anyway. So she starts looking, and she finds a pair in no time. Next to a counter. And she also finds the board game she got for Hubert; it’s on top of the counter. Convenient. Byleth can bring it to him now. It’s one she knows he doesn’t have yet; she checked. Maybe he’ll invite her to play again. Not today, though, she has to return to El.

Right. She has to return to El.

So she quickly pulls her boots on, and she takes the board game under her arm. But she pauses before leaving. The board game was covering a scrap of paper. One with writing on it. Byleth picks it up.

It says her name. It says she’s like the sun. Bright, warm, beautiful. It also says it loves her. All written in black ink, handwriting neat and precise.

El’s handwriting.

So it’s another note from her.

Byleth’s heart jumps. Twice. Then continues beating much faster than normal. Very odd. Very right too. Byleth needs to return to El as soon as she can, and she needs to tell her how much she loves her too. And that she’s also like the sun. She’s very bright, very warm, and very beautiful as well.

So Byleth puts the note in her pocket and heads out of the drawing room again. The hallway is more pleasant, now that she has her boots. It clacks with each step she takes. It’s a nice noise. She runs faster, and the clacking gets louder. Byleth is smiling again.

She leaves their quarters and relocks the door behind her. And she heads down the corridor, clacking all the while. The air is colder out here, but she’s comfortable anyway, since she’s running. There’s warm sunlight coming through some of the windows she passes too. And it’s not far to Hubert’s office, anyway. She doesn’t go there too often, but she remembers all the same. Just a couple of corridors away. Across from Ferdinand’s office. And since no one’s in sight to obstruct Byleth, she can run at full speed. She’ll be back soon. Good.

It’s no time at all before she arrives, and she enters without delay. His office is dark, like him. It smells like coffee, like him. And, it doesn’t get much sun. Unlike El. Very like Hubert, though. His office is good for him, just as El’s office is good for her. Byleth is glad they can both have offices that suit their needs.

But Hubert isn’t here.

The missive is, though. It’s on the front of his desk. Addressed to Her Majesty. Addressed to El.

Byleth picks it up and swaps it for his board game. Hubert will know the missive didn’t go missing. And he’ll be happy to receive the gift. He likes board games. Good.

And since Byleth now has the missive, and since she no longer has the board game, she has no reason to stay. So she turns and leaves Hubert’s office. It’s good for him, but Byleth still prefers El’s. So she starts heading back for it.

Back to her preferred office. Back to El’s side.

Back to where she belongs.

 


 

El is staring at nothing.

She hasn’t glanced at her current paper since she placed it before her. Her quill is lying to the side of it. Untouched for minutes now. She has her free hand balled up in a fist on her desk instead. And every now and then she clenches down on Byleth’s hand.

Her eyes look less colourful than usual too. Less purple, more grey. She can’t be thinking about anything good.

So Byleth squeezes her hand back. But she doesn’t react.

So Byleth squeezes harder. She leans over too, to use her free arm to give half a hug. She buries her face in El’s neck as well. Holding her as close as she can without standing, without leaving. It’s a bit uncomfortable.

But it’s worth it, it’s enough, it gets El to react. She jumps and exhales, her breath shuddering a little. It’s only a short moment before she brings her other arm over to hug Byleth back. She turns her head and buries her face in Byleth’s hair. Pressing back against her, pulling her in closer.

She sighs again, sounding a little less shaky. Byleth holds her tighter.

 


 

The sun is also shining on the back of Byleth’s head when El’s stomach gurgles. She sits up straight, very fast. She slowly turns her head to face Byleth, and there’s a little bit of pink in her cheeks. Byleth just smiles. Another way for her to help. Another problem she knows how to solve. And she’s also hungry, now that she’s thinking about it. Neither she nor El have had anything to eat since breakfast.

El’s brow starts furrowing; she must be misunderstanding the intent behind Byleth’s smile. So Byleth stands, and El’s expression turns worried instead. Byleth answers the question in her eyes with a kiss on her cute little nose. And she lights up in response, her blush darkening further. She knows Byleth won’t be gone for long.

Byleth’s muscles feel odd again. So she walks around the desk to do more stretches. She’s careful not to look in El’s direction this time. So she can watch, if she still wants to.

And when Byleth is done, she stands back up and waves to El again. El waves back again, and her cheeks are a little red. Again. Byleth left her boots in El’s office this time, so she pulls them on and makes her way out. She clacks her way out of their quarters, heading in the direction of the palace kitchens. They’re much farther than Hubert’s office. Along many corridors, down many staircases. But Byleth knows the way. She visits often.

This time, she does see people. Guards and servants alike turn their heads in her direction as she approaches, and stand aside to make way for her. They salute her as she passes, and Byleth greets them all. None of the officials El was meeting with in the morning are still around, so Byleth knows everyone’s names. She doesn’t have to leave anyone out. Good.

As the kitchens draw closer, the smell of food makes Byleth’s stomach gurgle, the same as El’s did. She’s a lot hungrier than she thought. It used to be so easy to ignore. But now that she’s thinking about it, she doesn’t think she could go without food for much longer. She speeds up.

And when she enters the kitchens, the sound of the doors opening makes the few chefs that are there look over. Their shocked expressions relax when they see her, though. She greets them all too. And she wastes no more time in getting food for El and herself.

Normally she’d spend a lot of time cooking something. Some things. But Byleth needs to return to El soon, so she goes for food that’s faster to make instead. Some of the chefs help her a little, too. They know who she’s getting food for. And they have some food already prepared, and they say Byleth can take some, too. Which makes it even faster.

She ends up with some vegetable stir-fry and peach sorbet for El. And three of her own favourite main courses for herself, things that El won’t mind the smells of in her office. Byleth doesn’t need as much as usual, since she’s not going to be very active for the rest of the day. She also takes a pitcher of water and some cups, since they need to stay hydrated. She thanks the chefs as she finishes gathering it all up. One walks over to ask if there’s anything else they can help with. Since Byleth’s always so helpful. They could make her something for later?

Byleth considers. El loves sweets. And Byleth does already have something sweet for her. The sorbet. But she could get more, something that takes longer.

Something bigger, too, maybe? Byleth also likes sweets. Not quite as much as El, but still a lot. Especially when El makes them for her. It’s not common, she’s always very busy, but it’s lovely every time. Like the cake she made for Byleth’s birthday. That was excellent. Byleth is smiling again.

The chef is still watching her, though, waiting for a reply. Byleth should hurry up.

So, no. These sweets wouldn’t be for her, they’d be for El. Something that El likes, that takes longer to make.

Such as sweet buns. El likes those a lot. But not too sweet, not like everyone else has them. And not nearly as sweet as Lysithea and Constance have them. No, El likes somewhat sweet buns. And she likes them small, small enough to eat in one go. Tiny. Miniature. Just like her.

Byleth doesn’t have to communicate any of that though. As soon as she mentions sweet buns, the chef nods. They’ll get right to it. Bite-sized not-too-sweet buns for Her Majesty. Byleth is smiling as she thanks them again. They’re smiling as they turn and walk off. And El will be smiling when the buns are ready. She does prefer when Byleth makes her food. But the chefs are better at it. And it would take Byleth too long to do so now; she has to get back to her. She does enjoy her food either way. It’s better than nothing. So it’s okay. Good.

Byleth returns to organising their food. She places the meals they’ll start with on one tray. There’s not enough room for it all, so she gets another tray for the rest. And she gets a couple of metal covers too. They’re circular, and the trays are rectangular, but they fit over the food anyway. They’ll keep it both safe and warm while Byleth is walking. So she has everything she needs, and it’s manageable.

So she carries it all back. It’s difficult, since there’s a lot to carry, and she can’t run like this. She walks as fast as she can instead. Instead of saluting, the people she passes give her concerned looks and offers of help. But Byleth doesn’t need it, and she tells them as such. It’s nice that they offered, but she can do it without help. And no one else is allowed in their quarters, anyway.

When Byleth does return, she manoeuvres all the food inside and locks the door again. She takes it all through to El’s office. El looks up when Byleth walks in, and she’s smiling again. Byleth is, too. El’s presence, her attention, her scent, are all so comforting. It’s good to be back.

But then El’s eyes lower to the trays, and they widen. She looks back up at Byleth’s face. She stares. She blinks. And she looks away, shakes her head, and looks back down to the paper on her desk. She shouldn’t be working though, she has food to eat.

So Byleth sets one tray down. In a space that’s free on a side table, next to one of El’s vases of carnations. She keeps the one with their starting meals. And at her approach, El does stop working, which is good. She clears some space for Byleth to set the tray down on her desk. Byleth sets her boots aside again before returning to her seat. She leans over to quickly kiss El’s cheek, before removing the tray’s cover and starting with her food. El takes a moment longer, but she soon takes her stir-fry from the tray to start eating too. Good.

Byleth’s whitefish sauté is still quite hot. And it’s very good. It’s sweet. It’s salty. Byleth has always liked it a lot. Her stomach agrees. She looks over to make sure El is enjoying her stir-fry too.

El doesn’t see her looking. Her eyes are closed, head tilted back a bit as she chews. Byleth watches her, now uninterested in her sauté. Eventually El swallows, and she sighs in such a contented way. She opens her eyes to look back at Byleth. And she thanks her for getting the food. Byleth is such a great help. She doesn’t know what she’d do without her.

She won’t have to find out. Byleth is smiling again. They both are. But Byleth is still hungry, so she returns to her food. El does too.

And they can’t hold hands while they’re busy eating. But that’s okay. They’ll be done soon. In the meantime, however, Byleth moves her foot to cover El’s. It’s not quite the same, but it’s still nice. El likes it too. She pauses her chewing to crinkle her eyes at Byleth. Byleth is doing the same. Even more so when El brings her other foot over to cover Byleth’s. It’s nice.

 


 

El keeps glancing over at Byleth’s fish sandwich. She seems interested in it. Maybe Byleth should have brought her her own.

But Byleth is quite interested in her stir-fry, too.

So she offers a trade. She gets El’s attention by tapping her with her other foot, and she watches as Byleth separates off some of her sandwich. She places the portion at the side of her plate. El blinks at it.

Then she makes a soft, surprised noise, and she starts doing the same with her own food, on her own plate. When she’s done she wastes no time in taking the bit Byleth made for her. And Byleth takes the portion from her, too.

Her stir-fry tastes very good. Byleth always enjoys it, and it’s even better knowing it’s a gift from El. And she looks like she’s enjoying Byleth’s sandwich, too. Excellent.

 


 

The sun’s no longer shining on the lower half of Byleth’s back when El finishes her meal. Byleth is already done with her first two. So she takes the tray of now empty dishes aside, and El returns to her work. But Byleth brought her more food. Her sorbet is a little melted by now, but she never minds. It will taste the same. So Byleth swaps the old tray for the next, and sets it down on her own side of the desk. There’s enough space for El to keep working over on her side, just as long as the dishes remain on the tray. And El can keep working, and she can hold Byleth’s hand again, too. It’s not often that Byleth has a reason to use this strategy. But now’s her chance.

So she returns to her seat. To her place at El’s side. And she returns her hand to its place holding El’s. She squeezes El and El squeezes back. Byleth is smiling again. She takes the spoon in El’s sorbet, and she scoops some of it up. And she offers it to El.

El is smart. She remembers the strategy. She knows it already, she knows how to fulfill her role. She always excels in following along with Byleth’s tactics, and now is no exception. Without looking away from her papers, without pausing the scratching of her quill for even a moment, she opens her mouth. Exactly as Byleth once devised.

Byleth fulfills her next part in the procedure by moving the spoon into El’s mouth. El fulfills her own part by closing it again. And when Byleth pulls the spoon back, the sorbet is gone. All is going to plan.

The corners of El’s mouth rise, and she hums. An appreciative hum. A pleased hum. And she’s still smiling when she swallows the sorbet. She likes sorbet a lot, and Byleth likes feeding it to her. She’s smiling wider than she was before. Her strategy worked flawlessly, and El is happier now.

All that remains is to repeat it. There’s lots more sorbet in the dish, and lots more happiness for El. So Byleth goes to get more. She’s using her left hand, since her right is still busy. Unlike El, she can use either hand. El says she’s versatile. Linhardt says she’s ambidextrous. Dorothea says she’s good with both hands. El may not be any of those, but that doesn’t make her any less brilliant. All it means is that Byleth has to sit on her left side to hold her hand while allowing her to keep using her right. But Byleth can still help her at the same time. Which is very good. The most important part of a strategy is to make use of everyone’s strengths to accommodate for the others’ weaknesses. And Byleth and El make an excellent team. They always have.

El‘s still enjoying each scoop of sorbet, but Byleth has her own meal to eat too. It’s still on the same tray. So Byleth puts El’s spoon back in her sorbet dish and picks up the spoon for her fruit and herring tart instead. She’s not supposed to eat this sort of thing with just a spoon, but she doesn’t have enough hands to use a fork as well. The spoon works. And the tart is excellent. The chefs are very skilled. It’s nice knowing the herring was probably one that Byleth caught too.

From there, Byleth alternates between feeding El the rest of her sorbet and taking bites of her tart. With each spoonful she eats, her stomach gets fuller. And with each spoonful El eats, her heart gets fuller instead.

 


 

Byleth is smiling as she signs at the bottom of her and El’s letter to Petra and Dorothea. And when she’s done, she pushes the letter back over to El. She gives her her quill back, too.

And El starts writing again as well. Next to Byleth’s signature, this time. Byleth peers over. El’s signature is exactly as she remembers it. The same as her handwriting, it’s much neater than Byleth’s own. It’s elegant, and it’s curvy, and it’s very nice to look at.

Just like El.

And since she's so skilled, her signatures are always perfect.

Just like El.

 


 

The sun is only shining on a little of Byleth’s head when El tries to stand again. She’s about to run out of ink, how could she not have noticed, it’s such a pitiful display of absentmindedness. Byleth disagrees. El has a lot to worry about. And Byleth can help.

So she gets her to stay seated. She’ll get more ink for her. And El looks over and thanks her, again and again. She wishes she could do more than just thank her. She doesn’t know what she did to deserve her.

Byleth knows. Her heart lurches again when El starts stammering about how much she cares for her. It’s still odd. It’s still right. So Byleth reaffirms her own love too, and El gifts her with such a cute blush in response.

Byleth knows.

She stands from her seat. She would kiss El’s forehead, but her crown is in the way. So instead, she settles for kissing her nose again, and once more on each of her cheeks. They’re very warm under Byleth’s lips. Byleth is smiling again. They both are.

Though Byleth already misses the feeling of her hand. So she’ll return to her as soon as possible.

She’ll return.

Right. She has to leave. She needs to get El more ink.

The closest storeroom is quite far away. So it's a good chance to return to the kitchens, too. To bring the dishes from before back, and to retrieve El's sweet buns. They should be ready by now. And Byleth could get tea for them both, too. And possibly a snack for herself as well. Excellent.

Byleth‘s muscles feel odd again, so she does more stretches. She resists the urge to look at El some more. It’s tough, but she manages. She pulls her boots back on after, and she stacks up the trays of empty dishes. She can’t wave to El as she leaves, her hands are occupied, but El doesn’t mind. She waves back anyway, and Byleth nods to her instead.

She leaves and clacks along the hallway. She can move faster now, since the dishes are empty. So she does. It’s not quite her full speed. But it’s much faster than walking, no matter how rapid it is. Byleth will be back sooner thanks to her haste. Good.

Soon she’s back out in the palace corridors, and she heads for the storeroom first. So their tea won’t cool while she’s there. And it will be easier to search while she has less to carry. Again, she makes her way past the palace residents, and again, they stand aside to let her pass. They give her more space, this time. And more salutes, and more concerned looks, too. Byleth greets the people she didn’t already greet earlier.

When she arrives, she enters the storeroom, and she finds that it is dark. And cold. There’s a crate with nothing on it near the doorway; Byleth sees it in the light trickling in. So she sets the trays down on top of it to free up her hands. Convenient. She conjures a flame in one hand to see better. And the room isn’t as dark, now. A little less cold, too. There are barrels and crates scattered around the area. There must be ink somewhere, so Byleth starts searching.

It’s good that she finds some very soon. A full inkwell. Many, in fact. El only needs one for now, so Byleth only takes one. She places it on the tray, she allows her flame to go out, and she picks the tray back up, leaves the room, and starts heading for the kitchens again. She has to move slower again, so the ink doesn’t fall. But it’s still faster than walking.

It’s not as soon as Byleth would have liked that she arrives at the kitchens. But it’s as soon as she was able. She did her best. So it’s okay. The chefs don’t notice her entering this time. She was too quiet with the doors. So she greets the few there as she approaches them, and now they do jump. They soon calm again when they see her though.

They have El’s sweet buns ready. They made Byleth some fish dango too, spicy enough for her tastes. And they’ll take care of the dishes as well, so Byleth can get back to El. Byleth is smiling again. She thanks the chefs and hurries to make her and El’s pot of tea.

Since the palace chefs are so helpful, Byleth is on her way back to El sooner than expected. Which is very good. She only has one tray now, but she’s back to walking again anyway. The tray is stocked with many valuable things. Byleth can’t afford to drop any of it. But she does her best to walk quickly anyway.

And when she finally returns to El’s office, she removes the tray’s cover as she walks in. To show how successful she was. El sees the other things she got straight away, narrowing her eyes at the buns in particular. She worries about eating too much. But Byleth knows she exercises enough. Byleth knows she eats very healthily. When she does eat. Byleth also knows that if anything, she could do with putting on more weight. And Byleth likes feeding her, too. She always looks so contented. So cute. So lovely. She loves eating sweets, and Byleth loves getting them for her. So Byleth starts moving again, returning to her place at El’s side.

El does thank Byleth for getting the ink. And the tea, she adds, sounding a bit like she didn’t notice it before. But she continues giving wary glances in the buns’ direction. Meanwhile, Byleth sets the tray on El’s desk, and sets her boots aside after. She takes her seat again, and takes El’s hand again too. She squeezes El, and El squeezes right back. And Byleth picks up the fork she got, and she stabs a bun with it, and she offers it to El.

El’s eyes scrunch shut. She exhales slowly. She opens her eyes again and looks over to Byleth. Byleth looks right back at her. And she looks down at the bun. And back up to Byleth again. She stares some more.

And finally, she looks away, with some pink starting to tinge across her cheeks. She opens her mouth and Byleth feeds her the bun. Immediately, El closes her eyes again, humming her appreciation as she chews. El loves sweets. If she lets herself enjoy them. And right now, she is. Byleth is smiling again.

She sets the fork back down to pour their tea out as El chews. Two cups of bergamot. One for each of them. When Byleth moves a cup over, El drops her quill to take it up. She brings it up to her lips, pauses a moment to swallow, and takes a sip. And she sighs in appreciation as she sets her cup back down. She loves bergamot too. And Byleth does as well. It reminds her of El. It’s even better when she’s sitting with her, watching her enjoy it. And she is, right now. Byleth is smiling wider than she was before.

Byleth wants to start on her dango and tea, too. But she wants to feed El some more first. So she does. She picks another bun up with the fork, and El doesn’t hesitate this time. She just eats it right up, humming again. As expected, she looks happy. So contented, so cute, so lovely. So much sweeter than the bun itself.

 


 

El pauses her work to ask if Byleth is doing alright. If she’s comfortable. If she’s still happy to sit there with her.

Byleth is. So she says so. She’s doing very well. She’s very comfortable. There’s nowhere else she could be that would make her happier.

And El squeezes Byleth’s hand, and she’s smiling again.

And Byleth squeezes back, and she’s smiling too. Again.

And El returns to her work. And Byleth returns to her thoughts.

Apparently she smiled a lot before, too. Particularly around El. Dorothea says so, anyway. But Byleth wasn't so aware of it, back then. Now it feels like her face can't handle how often and how wide she smiles. Her cheeks ache every day, just from being around El.

She's not going to stop, though. It feels good. It feels right. And El likes when she does, too. She always matches Byleth’s smiles.

 


 

The sun is starting to leave El’s office when it occurs to Byleth how long El’s been sitting. She should take a break. So Byleth says so. And she resists. She can’t stop now, she can’t afford to slow. She still has so much work to do, so many papers to—

They can go for a walk. They can walk out in the sun before it sets, and they can stop to smell the flowers, and they can walk hand in hand the whole way. Her papers will still be there when they return.

El hesitates.

But eventually, she does agree, another smile growing across her face. She’s doing so well. Byleth’s heart feels warmer than it did before.

They both stand. Together. Byleth’s muscles don’t feel quite as odd this time, it hasn’t been that long, but El’s must. Byleth doesn’t have to say she should stretch, though. She knows to do so anyway. She wastes no time in starting her own set. She definitely won’t have cramps. Good.

Byleth would stretch again anyway, but there’s not enough room for them both to do so. So she watches El instead. Her form is perfect. It always is. She holds each pose without difficulty. She always does. And she’s a lot quieter than Byleth is. That wasn’t always the case, but that’s because Byleth changed. Not El. She’s still as flawless as she always was. Byleth is smiling again.

When El finishes her last stretch, she rises again to stand at her full height. Now she does sigh. It’s a good kind of sigh, though. Not like how she sighs at her papers. More like how she sighs at her tea. Good. She turns to look at Byleth. Their eyes meet. Her cheeks flood with pink, and she quickly looks away again.

Oh. Byleth was staring again. It’s easy to forget that El sometimes finds it odd.

But there’s nowhere else she’d rather look. Nothing else that could possibly be better for her eyes to do. So she says as such. And El squeaks, her cheeks going even redder. It’s very cute. And she still doesn’t say anything, so there must not be an issue. Excellent.

Despite her blush, El goes to get her gloves, and she starts pulling them on. She’s comfortable having her hands bare around Byleth, but not anyone else. But that’s okay. Byleth is proud of her for keeping them off for so long, anyway. And she knows pride is what she’s feeling; she can feel it in her chest. In how it feels bigger. Fuller. Warmer. El’s doing so well, and Byleth is proud of her again. She always is, in fact. And she always will be.

But…right. El has since moved to get her cape and boots. Byleth needs her boots too. And it will be colder outside, so she needs her jacket, as well. So she slips past El to go and pull them on. There’s no need for the rest of her outfit. She’s safe with El. So she skips her armour. And when she’s done dressing, she turns, and El has just finished too. They’re as synchronised as ever. The thought makes Byleth smile at El. And she smiles back. Very good.

Since they’re going out, it’s a good chance to return the tray to the kitchens. So Byleth goes to pick it up. She’s still able to carry it alone, but when El notices what she’s doing, she insists that she carry some too. But there’s only one tray, and Byleth doesn’t want to leave it all to her.

So Byleth devises a new strategy.

She gets El to hold one side of the tray with her right hand, and Byleth stands on her left and holds the opposite side. They each have a free hand between them. So they can keep holding hands. Evidently, El likes the new strategy a lot. She’s grinning up at Byleth as she grabs her hand. And she gives a firm squeeze that makes Byleth’s heart lurch again. She’s happy to return the squeeze. And keeping the tray balanced is easy. They’re still an excellent team. They’re still in complete synchronisation. And their hands still fit perfectly together.

They leave their quarters, first heading for the kitchens. El insists that she handle the doors. She only releases Byleth’s hand to do so, and it always returns right after. Which is very good. Holding her hand is different when she’s wearing her glove, but it still feels right.

Byleth does prefer when she’s not wearing her gloves. It makes Byleth’s heart fuller to see El’s skin. To touch it directly. To hold her unobstructed. But since El is more comfortable with her gloves on right now, Byleth is as happy as ever. In fact, she’s just overjoyed to be holding her hand at all. She’s smiling again. Very wide, in fact.

And she’s still smiling as they walk off the staircase onto the ground level. Some guards are down the corridor. It’s a bit odd that they hadn’t seen anyone yet. But regardless, the guards salute them as they pass. El nods at them. Byleth greets them all, since she hadn’t seen any of them earlier. Some of them voice concern that El is carrying the tray. But she’s well equipped to do it, and she insists as such. The guards nod and take up their positions again. El’s so diligent.

The chefs that see them also salute when they arrive in the kitchens. There are more around, now. Working to prepare evening meals for the palace. Byleth would normally offer to help, but she and El have a walk to walk. El must not see it quite that way. She says to Byleth that she’ll wash the dishes herself. They’ve plenty to deal with already. She can handle it. Being the Emperor is no excuse.

A chef must have overheard, since they slowly approach. One of the ones that helped Byleth before. They bow as they offer for El to leave it. It’s far below her. They’d be glad to handle it instead.

Byleth agrees. She and El are busy. And if the chef is glad to handle the dishes, everyone will be happy.

But El’s about to insist. Byleth can see it in how she stands a little straighter. Can feel it in how she clenches down slightly on her hand. Can hear it in how quickly she inhales.

But they still have a walk to walk.

So Byleth says so.

El looks over to her. Her eyebrows are raised, but she’s already changed her mind. Byleth can tell. She’s standing less straight, she’s relaxing her grip, she’s slowly exhaling again. She’s going to let herself have just a little bit more. Byleth’s heart lurches again at the thought.

And she’s pleased to see that El does voice her acceptance, looking back over to the chef. Oh, alright then. Just this once. And she thanks them too. Their work is invaluable. They’re a fantastic boon to everyone in the palace. And to her personally, as well.

Byleth also thanks them. They were a great help earlier. Even more so now. They always have been, and they always are.

And Byleth is smiling again as the tray leaves their hands. And so is the chef, as they turn and walk off with it. And so is El, as they walk together out of the kitchens. As expected, everyone is happy. Excellent.

El takes the lead from there. They’ll leave through a side door. It’ll be quieter than the main entrance. They won’t have to worry about anyone interrupting them.

Byleth is happy to follow.

And when the door opens before them, air rushes through it. It’s cool outside. Long shadows are cast across the grounds by trees whose leaves are now changing from green to orange. The sun is getting low, but there’s still enough light to walk in. Which is good. El likes the sun.

She likes the gentle breeze, too. Once the door closes again behind them, she leads Byleth a few slow steps away from it. She stops. She breathes in, long and slow and deep. And she sighs it all back out again. She’s smiling as she looks back up at Byleth. She thinks it’s lovely outside.

Byleth agrees. She follows El’s lead again. Breathes deep of the cool outside air. It smells so much like flowers and leaves and nature that Byleth can taste it. It reminds her of El. Byleth is also smiling as she looks to El and agrees again. Audibly, this time.

El squeezes her hand and starts walking. Byleth squeezes back and follows. They walk in step with each other along the palace grounds. And it’s quiet. El was right, there aren’t many people around. Most will be getting food, and none of those that are still outside are nearby. So no one notices them. No one salutes them. No one is there except Byleth and El. Byleth’s heart is beating faster. It must be because of the physical activity.

El leads them to the gardens first. They walk through the rows of hedges, and she tells Byleth about the book she’s been reading when she finds the time. An old fantastical tale of knights and dragons and adventure. She’s not particularly impressed by the main character’s devotion to their liege. But she enjoys how light-hearted it is. She enjoys reading about someone else defeating dragons, too.

Byleth can’t remember if she enjoyed the book when she read it. But it’s odd that El didn’t mention the princess the main character is fighting for. It’s quite an important element of the story, and she’s normally so meticulous. She must not have read that far yet. So Byleth avoids mentioning it, so she doesn’t spoil the book for El.

They’re soon walking past the lake, and Byleth informs El of all the fish she caught since the last time she updated her. Lots of Albinean herrings. It’s late enough into the year for those. White trouts, as well. El listens more intently at their mention. But Byleth has yet to beat any of her records from Garreg Mach.

El thinks she might be being too loud. She has been making a lot more noise since back then. Don’t the fish get scared away by that sort of thing?

Oh. Byleth hadn’t considered that. El’s so smart. So she tells her as such.

El doesn’t think so though. Anyone could have figured that out. It’s nothing impressive.

Byleth disagrees. So she’s the one to insist, this time. She didn’t figure it out. She mentioned it to some of their friends, and no one else did either. El was the only one.

And eventually, El accepts it. Oh, if Byleth says so.

Byleth does say so. Again. And El sighs, but there’s no force behind it. She’s smiling again. They both are.

Not long after, they’re back in the garden. El likes seeing what Byleth grows, so Byleth takes the lead now. She brings her to the patches of flowers she’s been working on. It’s been a while since she last saw them, so there’s lots of progress for her to see. Byleth shows her the yellow sunflowers and the green pitcher plants. The regular pink lilies, and the white lilies of the valley. The red roses, and also the…violets. They kneel down together to smell the blooms. El smiles a little wider each time. Byleth does, too.

And El hasn’t seen her carnations yet, so Byleth leads her in their direction as well. Byleth worked hard to grow a lot of different colours. The red ones are El’s favourites, but she also likes when there’s a variety. And Byleth does too. The colours are nice to look at.

El lights up in a much wider smile when she sees the assortment of colours. But when Byleth says she grew them for her, she instead turns wide eyes Byleth’s way. There are so many. She shouldn’t grow such a large amount just for her. Byleth disagrees.

But she carefully avoids showing El the patch of exclusively red carnations anyway.

It’s not long after that El starts trying to return to her office. She’s taken long enough to herself. She needs to get on with it.

But the sun’s about to set. They should watch it together.

El resists at first. But it doesn’t last long. She soon agrees with another sigh, but there’s a smile on her face whenever she thinks Byleth isn’t looking.

So Byleth leads her back into the palace. Through the halls, up the stairs. There’s a balcony on the west side, high enough up that the horizon is visible over the city. Bernie sometimes brings Byleth there. She likes it since it’s rarely occupied. Which makes it perfect for their current needs. Byleth walks quickly enough that they don’t miss the sun, but slowly enough that El can keep up. Her legs are shorter than Byleth’s own. She’s so cute. But Byleth knows not to say so.

When they arrive, it’s clear that Byleth chose the correct walking speed. She didn’t leave El behind, and they didn’t miss the sunset either. Both of which are good. As expected, there’s no one on the balcony. And it’s cooling more. All the heat is fading away, leaving with the sun. It’s not enough to make Byleth shiver though. El will be comfortable, too, since she’s wearing more than Byleth is.

It’s so quiet, too. There are no sounds besides the slow breeze. Down in the city, more lights are coming on, the distant activity slowing a bit. But Byleth and El have the balcony to themselves, they’re both comfortable, it’s peaceful, and there’s still some time before the sun reaches the horizon. So they settle together, looking out over the city, leaning against the railing.

And each other. Before long, El is leaning on Byleth instead. She’s in front of Byleth’s arm, and she has her head tilted back a bit, back against Byleth’s shoulder. She fits perfectly against Byleth’s side. Thanks to her short legs. Byleth puts her arm the rest of the way around El’s back to pull her closer, and her other hand comes to rest on the railing, sandwiched between both of El’s. She leans her head over too. El’s crown is a little in the way, but Byleth can feel the softness of her hair against her cheek anyway. El is very warm, and Byleth is very comfortable. They’re perfect together. Byleth is smiling again.

The sun soon starts to disappear below the horizon. The sky’s bright yellow turns an intense orange instead. There are few clouds in the sky, but those that are there only add to the colours. There’s still a little yellow, there’s bits of red, and there’s lots and lots of orange. There’s so much colour. More than the flowers. More than anything else Byleth can think of, can remember at all. Nothing she had ever seen before was as colourful as this. Nothing in her whole life.

The sunset is very pretty.

Byleth pulls her head away a bit. She looks down at El’s face. To see what she thinks.

She’s lit by the fading sunlight, her eyes reflecting all the colours, her expression so contented and at peace. She looks up at Byleth, and her smile is wide. Warm. Warmer than the sunlight. Warmer than the sun itself. She holds Byleth’s hand a little tighter, and Byleth holds her tighter in response.

But then El’s hands come away from the railing. Away from Byleth’s hand. Byleth’s heart lurches in a less pleasant way, this time. Uneasiness. It only lasts a moment though, before El turns in her arm and instead places her hands on Byleth’s cheeks.

And El stares deep into Byleth’s eyes as she pulls her face down. And Byleth’s heart starts beating faster.

And El rises onto her toes, getting closer and closer. And Byleth’s heart speeds up more.

And El kisses her.

And Byleth’s heart is going to escape her chest with how fast it’s beating.

It’s so odd.

But it’s so right, too.

So Byleth wraps her arms around El’s back to pull her even closer. She closes her eyes, she sinks further into her hands, into her lips. El is so warm. And it’s still not too cold, but now Byleth does shiver. In a good way. In such a good way.

The only sounds are Byleth’s heart thundering in her chest, and the soft noises from El. And her sounds are so sweet. Her lips, too. And her scent, as well. Everything about her is so warm, so lovely, so sweet. Byleth would stay like this forever if she could.

But she can’t; she needs air.

No. She does need air, but right now she needs El more.

But…eventually, El pulls away a little in Byleth’s arms. Only a little, though, so she’s still very close. Still holding Byleth’s face between her hands. Still crinkling her eyes. So Byleth’s heart continues racing in her chest. She takes deep breaths, easing her need for air, gradually recovering a bit. And El’s doing the same in front of her; she’s between Byleth and the railing, now. The fading sunlight is behind her. Making her glow. Framing her in all the colours of the sunset.

And all the sun’s yellows and oranges and reds surrounding her are definitely very pretty.

But the pink spread across her cheeks is much prettier.

 


 

That song Dorothea was singing the last time Byleth saw her…

It’s nice. Byleth can hear it in her head.

It goes along, and it goes up, and it holds up there for a bit. And it goes back down, down, down. And then it goes back up—no. No, it stays down for a bit. And then it goes up. That’s right.

And—and El’s humming it, now. It sounds so lovely coming from her. How did she know Byleth was thinking of it?

She notices Byleth watching her. And she looks up at her, grinning, her head tilting to one side. Only for a moment, before she returns to leaning against Byleth. To looking out over the city. And to her humming, as well.

Oh.

Byleth must have been humming it too. She didn’t notice. That’s been happening a lot lately.

But El is humming it so well. Byleth wants to join in.

So she does. And they hum together. Byleth isn’t very good at it; she’s struggling to remember the song, and struggling harder to hum it. But El doesn’t mind. She keeps humming it properly, and whenever Byleth loses her place, she just stops and starts up again by following along with El’s lead.

Their voices sound good together.

 


 

The sun’s no longer shining when they return to El’s office. So Byleth leaves El’s side. Only briefly, though. To go around lighting candles as El takes her boots off and sits back down. It was still light enough to see on the way back, but it will get darker soon. And El needs to be able to see for her work.

When Byleth is done, she takes her boots off too, and she returns to her seat. Her hand finds El’s in no time. El also took her gloves back off. It feels right to have El’s hand back in hers again, even if it was only gone for a moment. Byleth is smiling again. And her cheeks are beginning to ache; she’s been smiling enough for that.

The thought makes her smile wider. It aches so much, but it only makes her smile even more. Soon, she can’t stop herself; she starts laughing. Quietly at first, so quiet that El doesn’t notice, but every time she thinks about how sore her cheeks are it gets harder to suppress. All her feelings, building up, bubbling over, spilling out of her.

It’s not long before El does notice. She looks over with a bit of a grin, but she has a tilt to her head and a raised eyebrow too. She doesn’t understand why Byleth is laughing. And Byleth would try to explain. But she can hardly breathe. She doesn’t know what else to do with it, so she reaches over with her free hand to give El another half hug, resting her head on her shoulder, searching for a little bit of control over herself. El reaches over too, patting Byleth’s back as she shakes against her, the burning of her cheeks only making it so much worse.

And just when tears are starting to form at the corners of Byleth’s eyes…

The sound of a quiet giggle from El breaks the last of her composure.

She’s wheezing as El also starts to laugh. She’s holding desperately onto her as the hand on her back stops moving and instead holds her tight. Tears are rolling down her face as El begins shaking as well.

Byleth must be soaking El’s shoulder with her tears. The thought makes her laugh harder. And the sound of El’s laughter coming from right above her ears, so free and unrestrained, only makes it funnier. Though it fills her heart with warmth too, which makes the aching a little easier to bear.

And every time she or El finally starts to quieten in the slightest, a giggle from the other starts it right back up.

Eventually, though, El calms herself enough to firmly squeeze Byleth’s hand. It’s comforting. It gets Byleth to calm down a bit too. Her and El’s laughter finally subsides a bit, and they pant for air together, only interrupted by the occasional small giggle.

When Byleth feels a bit more in control of herself, she pulls away enough to look into El’s eyes. She’s a bit blurry through the tears, but she looks very happy. She’s smiling very wide. And Byleth is definitely still smiling too; her cheeks are very sore. She doesn’t mind though.

El leans over to kiss Byleth’s nose this time. She pulls away, and she’s grinning again. Finally, she shakes her head, she calls Byleth ridiculous, and she looks back down to her work. She means it in a good way though, so Byleth doesn’t mind. It’s nice.

Byleth wipes the tears from her face with her free hand. She dries her hand on the sleeve of her jacket, and she conjures another flame to light a candle on El’s desk. She pushes it near the paper El is working on. And El looks over again to thank her. She’s smiling again in the flickering light. She’s so beautiful.

It’s quiet, now that they aren’t laughing. There aren’t any birds singing. Just El’s papers rustling, her quill scratching, and the candles crackling as they burn away. All so relaxing to listen to. El’s office isn’t as warm as it was earlier, but Byleth now has her jacket too. El is still so warm, as well. And her warmth is…so relaxing, too…

So much so that…

Byleth yawns.

She never used to. But now she does.

It means she’s sleepy. She had a productive day. She helped El. She ate well. She got some exercise, too. Her sparring, her running. Their walk, their laughter. And Byleth is sleepy now. It’s the natural result of such things.

But she wants to stay awake. To keep being there for El, in case she needs her.

She can be there, though, even while asleep. El will wake her if she needs to. So Byleth leans over to rest her head against El’s shoulder again. It’s actually not damp, which is good. It’s more comfortable like this.

El makes a surprised noise. Byleth caught her off guard. She didn’t mean to, but El doesn’t seem to mind. She’s smiling in the corner of Byleth’s eyes. She leans away a bit, and when she comes back, she has her cape in her right hand. She must also have taken it off before. Byleth didn’t notice. But it doesn’t matter. She tries to get her cape covering Byleth, but she struggles a bit; she only has one hand free. So Byleth helps her. She acts as her other hand again. It’s much easier together.

And once El’s cape is covering Byleth completely, Byleth is much warmer. The weight of El’s cape is pressing down on her. It’s nice. Comfortable. Relaxing. She moves her free hand to cover their other clasped hands, and El turns her head to kiss the top of Byleth’s head. Byleth is smiling again, and her sleepiness makes it a lot more controllable this time. El’s shoulder is keeping her comfortable, El’s cape is keeping her warm, El’s hand is keeping her happy.

And El herself is keeping Byleth safe.

Byleth finds herself yawning again. And this time, El does too. It’s very cute, but…

Byleth hopes that she won’t work too late.

But she’s been doing so much better lately. There’s nothing to worry about. She’ll take care of herself. There’s no need to worry…

So…Byleth closes…her eyes…

El is…so warm…

 


 

El does not have four arms.

Or, well. She does. But that’s unusual for her.

But she’s smiling. Holding all her arms out, beckoning for Byleth.

Everything must be okay, since El’s smiling. It doesn’t matter. El’s smiling; that’s what matters.

And when Byleth approaches her, she lifts her up, she takes her up in her arms. All four of them. And she hugs Byleth. She holds her tight, rocking her back and forth, keeping her safe.

And Byleth hugs her back. She’s where she belongs.

 


 

The moon is shining into the room when Byleth opens her eyes. She can’t see much. There’s only a little blue light visible past the curtains. But Byleth is lying on her back, and she’s very warm, very comfortable, very safe. She must be in her and El’s bedroom. In their bed. And El is…

El is lying on top of her. She has her head under the covers, against Byleth’s chest. She likes to fall asleep listening to her heart. She must be able to hear it quite well; it’s beating very fast right now. And she’s hugging Byleth; all two of her arms are around Byleth’s back. And with her legs, as well; they’re wrapped around Byleth’s own legs. El is holding her in every way she can. Her weight is pressing down on Byleth, keeping her warm, and safe, and happy.

Byleth’s hand is already resting on El’s head. In her hair. It must have ended up back there, where it belongs, in her sleep. She doesn’t have her crown now, so Byleth starts brushing down through her hair. And El sighs quietly, hugging Byleth tighter. It feels so good. But she’s still asleep, she always is when Byleth does this. She likes when Byleth brushes her hair. And Byleth likes it too. It makes El happy, and her hair is so soft and lovely. Just like her. Byleth would brush it forever if she could. She can’t though, or El wouldn’t be able to concentrate on her work. But Byleth will enjoy it while she can.

They weren’t in bed before, though. They were in El’s office.

So El must have carried Byleth through. She’s so strong. And…she must also have dressed Byleth for bed, and the same for herself. And she didn’t work too late. She’s doing so well. Taking care of herself. Byleth’s heart feels fuller at the thought. And her cheeks are a bit sore. She’s smiling again, isn’t she?

Yes.

El makes her smile. El makes her heart full. El makes her life so colourful.

El’s the reason her heart can even beat, can even lurch, can even fill with warmth in the first place.

El, who she’s in love with. El, who she’s going to marry. El, who she’s going to have at her side for the rest of her life.

And El is in love with her, too. El is going to marry her right back. El will have Byleth at her side for the rest of her life as well.

Byleth’s heart likes that idea.

So she holds El tighter. Pulls her in. To keep her safe, like she’s doing for Byleth. And Byleth yawns again; she’s still very sleepy…

She closes…her eyes again…

El is…still…so…warm…