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Have heart, my dear

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Climbing the stone steps leading up to the Goddess Tower, Byleth breathed a sigh of relief. The dance had been wearing on her. She wasn’t used to being in such a large crowd of people, always keeping to herself in her life as a mercenary. She’d grown more accustomed to it in the months she’d spent at Garreg Mach, but tonight it was especially overwhelming.

 

To make matters worse, it seemed like each student of the academy, even some of the professors, wanted to dance with her. She obliged, always one to go with the flow and willing to go along with what others wanted for her. But she soon grew tired of dancing and feeling alone in a crowd of people and managed to steal away for a breath of fresh air.

 

She’d heard the rumors of the Goddess Tower, that it was a place where lovers stole away for secret trysts. Surprisingly, it was deserted at this late hour. It seemed that the knights had done a good job patrolling and shooing wandering students back to the ball or to the dormitories for the night.

 

Byleth entered the tower and stretched her limbs skyward, feeling tension draining away from her in the solitude. It’s not that she was a loner, just that something about being surrounded by so many people and having repeated dialogues of small talk and surface-level conversations left her feeling drained and stressed. Having a reprieve like this was a relief, though a part of her still longed for company.

 

There was one person who Byleth would be happy to see tonight, one person whom Byleth didn’t get the chance to dance with. She could almost hear the sleeping Sothis in her head chastising her for having feelings for a student. Inappropriate, she’d scold, as she had many times before when Byleth’s thoughts wandered to her favorite student. Byleth would argue that her feelings were friendship, nothing more. She wasn’t sure if she was even capable of more.

 

There was just something about Edelgard that she felt drawn to from the moment they met; a sort of kinship: two wandering souls. Edelgard had slowly begun opening up to Byleth as the months drew by, showing her beyond the cold surface of the Imperial princess. She’d shared about her nightmares, the tragic loss of her siblings, and their shared Crest of Flames. Byleth felt honored that Edelgard had opened up about these things with her. Byleth in return would tell Edelgard stories of her time on the road as a mercenary, never really having a home. She’d never really experienced something like that before, had never really had a friend, someone to trust and confide in—well, apart from the sleeping girl that resided in her head. It was nice to have a friend.

 

It was then, as if by some happenstance of fate, Byleth could faintly hear the sound of heels on the stone steps leading up to the Tower. Turning, Byleth saw Edelgard walking up the steps. Her silver hair was down, and she was wearing her typical purple ribbons and school uniform. The light of the full moon cast an ethereal glow around her head, and Byleth couldn’t help but think she looked beautiful.

 

Upon realizing that Byleth was in the tower, Edelgard’s eyes lit up and her lips curved into a faint smile. “Ah, there you are, professor. Are you waiting for someone?”

Byleth averted her eyes. Should she say she’d been waiting for Edelgard? She had been thinking of her, but not necessarily waiting for her. She wondered briefly what Sothis would tell her to say. Finally she replied, “I wasn’t waiting for anybody. I just needed some fresh air.”

 

“Oh, good. I would not wish to interrupt anything,” Edelgard said, looking down at her gloved hands.

 

“Is something wrong? Did something happen?” Byleth asked, wondering why Edelgard would stray from the merriment of the ball. Had she come to find her to tell her there was an attack, that a student had gone missing again like with Flayn?

 

Edelgard glanced back up at Byleth, her violet eyes seeming to stare right through Byleth. “No, nothing in particular. Actually, that’s why I came here tonight.” Edelgard paused, seemingly lost in thought. “This place, the Goddess Tower… It was special to my parents. My father had attended the Officers Academy himself. A few years after he graduated, he was crowned emperor. One day, on a visit to the monastery, he snuck into the Goddess Tower on a nostalgic whim. And there she was, my mother. She had just enrolled into the academy that very year. They were instantly drawn to each other. Love at first sight, you could say. It was the first time either of them had truly been in love… or so the story goes.”

 

Blinking owlishly, Byleth asked “Their first love?”

 

“Yes,” Edelgard said, and Byleth could feel her cheeks getting warm. “Of course, as emperor, my father had already married for political reasons. As the Empire demands many heirs, he also had numerous other lovers. In the end, my mother settled for becoming one of his many consorts. But I choose to believe there was a genuine love between them.”

 

Edelgard walked over to the window and looked up to the night sky. She chuckled, “I suppose it’s a silly story to cling to.”

 

“I don’t think it’s silly,” Byleth said seriously, watching Edelgard stare up at the starry sky. “It’s a lovely story.”

 

Edelgard turned, facing Byleth. “It is, isn’t it? It’s a shame that the lovely stories ended after I was born. For as long as I can remember, my mother had already been exiled from the capital.” She sighed, “It’s strange. Something about you makes me reveal all of the things I so carefully keep concealed.”

 

Suddenly, Edelgard grinned exuberantly. “Anyway, what about you? It’s your turn to reveal some long-held secret!” she said, a teasing smile on her face. “You can share a story about your past… or perhaps tell me about your first love.”

 

Shaking her head, Byleth said, “I don’t think I’ve ever been in love.” She paused, staring down at the stone floor. “I don’t know if I’m capable of it,” she mumbled.

 

“Professor! Don’t say that,” Edelgard said, rushing forward and taking Byleth’s hand.

 

“Sorry…” Byleth said. Edelgard’s hands were warm, and she hadn’t meant to upset her friend. Should she have said something else, made up some story about her past? She didn’t want to lie.

 

“No, it’s me who should apologize,” Edelgard said. “I hadn’t meant to pry. I’m just intrigued by you and your mysterious past.” She gently squeezed Byleth’s hand and said, “I know you’re capable of it, Professor. Every day I see the love you have for your students. I can see the love between you and Jeralt. Remember when I caught you smiling after you rescued Flayn? You might not show it easily, but I know you care.”

 

Byleth felt warmth spreading through her chest at Edelgard’s words. They made her feel bold, they made her want to---

 

“Edelgard, would you like to dance with me?” Byleth asked, cocking her head to the side.

 

Edelgard smiled softly and nodded. “I’d like that. Shall we return to the ball?”

 

Byleth shook her head, “No, I meant we should dance here. I don’t feel up to going back down to the ball tonight.”

 

“But there isn’t any music…” Edelgard said, looking around.

 

Tilting her head to the side, Byleth said, “Hear the crickets chirping, the frogs croaking down by the pond? It might not be very orchestral, but it’s still musical.”

 

“You’re right, my teacher,” Edelgard conceded. “Let’s dance.”

 

Byleth took a step closer to Edelgard and put a hand around her waist. Edelgard rested a hand upon Byleth’s shoulder, and the two joined hands. Slowly they swayed to the sound of music only they could hear. Byleth never thought of herself as much of a dancer and had reluctantly danced earlier in the night with a variety of partners. Dancing with Edelgard was different. It made a warmth blossom in her chest and brought a soft smile to her face.

 

The two women lost themselves to the music, and time began to slip away. After a while, Byleth could see Edelgard suppressing a yawn, and she reluctantly acknowledged mentally that they should probably retire for the evening soon. Before saying something that could halt this moment, Byleth led Edelgard into a dip, Edelgard’s back arching on top of her hand and her eyes growing wide, looking up at Byleth who grinned. Byleth pulled Edelgard back up, and suddenly they were a hair’s breadth apart. Byleth could feel every nerve in her body knowing that if they were any closer they could—

 

Edelgard pulled herself out of Byleth’s arms and coughed once lightly into her hand. “This was lovely, professor,” she said. “Let’s leave it there for today and retire for the evening.”

 

Byleth felt the chill of not having Edelgard’s body near her anymore and she immediately missed the closeness. She nodded once and watched Edelgard turn and walk back down the stairs.

----------

5 ½ years later…

 

It had been a long week, and Byleth was more than ready for it to be over. The Imperial army had returned from Arianrhod earlier that week after a trying battle. 

 

Byleth had almost ran out of Divine Pulses and exhausted herself in the process. When they returned and heard the news about Arianrhod’s fate, being destroyed by javelins of light from Those Who Slither In The Dark, Byleth was devastated. She’d also vehemently disagreed that they should hide who the culprit of that attack was from the rest of the Black Eagle Strike Force. Their group had been through so much, had overcome so much together, and she was firm in her opinion that they deserved to know the truth. For the first time, she and Edelgard butted heads, arguing fiercely in favor of what each of them believed was right. The argument had ended with Edelgard storming off to her room while Byleth stood there, feeling as if she might cry for the first time since Jeralt died.

 

No tears were shed that day, but things hadn’t been the same between the two women since. Byleth had remained quiet about the culprit of the attack on Arianrhod out of respect to Edelgard, but she and her former student had been actively avoiding one another. They still saw each other in passing and at war council meetings, where Edelgard usually still did not directly address Byleth, relying on Hubert to converse with her regarding strategy.  

 

It hurt Byleth to keep her distance from her friend, and she felt woefully ill-equipped to handle attempting to mend this. She found herself wishing Sothis was still here, confident that her friend would know how to handle this situation without making a mess of things.

 

To both celebrate their victory against the Church and the Kingdom at Arianrhod along with to pay respects to the dead, a grand ball was underway at the monastery. Byleth found herself reminded of the Officer’s Academy ball more than five years ago.

 

Truth be told, she did not want to be there. Lately all she wanted to do was hole up in her room and, well, mope. But Dorothea insisted she should attend, that it would be good for morale. How would it look if one of the Empire’s top generals and star tactician skipped out on such an event?

 

That was how Byleth found herself reluctantly seated at a table in the reception hall with Dorothea and Petra. The two women were sitting close together, and Dorothea kept leaning over to whisper things in Petra’s ear, who would then giggle and somehow draw ever nearer to Dorothea. Something about observing them made Byleth feel an uncomfortable twinge in her chest. Dorothea kept refilling Byleth’s wine glass and Byleth was beginning to feel the effects of the drink, her insides growing warm.

She kept being approached by people asking her to dance, but she felt less obliging than she had five years ago. After turning away yet another person requesting a dance, Dorothea turned to Byleth.

 

“Are you just going to sit there and glower all night, Professor?” she asked. “That last one was very handsome, you should have danced with him!”

 

Byleth pursed her lips and took another sip of her wine. “I’m not in the mood to dance,” she said.

 

“That just means you haven’t had enough to drink yet,” Dorothea lilted, reaching over and filling Byleth’s glass yet again.

 

Shrugging, Byleth turned away and stared into her glass.

”Is this about Edie, Professor? Don’t think we all haven’t noticed that you two haven’t been talking since we got back from Arianrhod,” Dorothea said. “What happened?”

 

Byleth shook her head. “I can’t talk about it,” she mumbled, finishing off the rest of her glass of wine. Her head was starting to feel foggy. She briefly wondered how her dad had been able to drink so much and be seemingly unaffected by it.

 

Looking up, Byleth could see Edelgard across the room. She was wearing a flowing red gown that trailed behind her as she walked and her hair was done up in buns the way she typically wore it these days with her horned crown atop her head. Byleth thought she looked radiant. The emperor was talking and laughing with a brunette man that towered over her who Byleth didn’t recognize. Her stomach churned as she watched them. The man was standing awfully close to Edelgard, bending down to whisper something in her ear that made her laugh.

 

Byleth felt sick.

 

“I’m going to go get some air,” she said, wobbling while standing up from the table.

 

“Professor—” Dorothea called, but Byleth was already at the door to the courtyard, bottle of wine in hand.

 

Pushing through the door and stepping outside, Byleth inhaled the cool night air. All she could think about was how she wanted to be alone, to get away from the ball and the crowds. How she couldn’t bear one more moment watching Edelgard caught up in the attentions of some noble. How she wished she was the one bringing a smile to the emperor’s face, making her laugh, maybe even dancing with her the way they had danced together five years ago in the Goddess Tower.

 

She now had a destination in mind to find her respite. Shivering as a cold breeze passed by, Byleth set out for the Goddess Tower. She was uncharacteristically unsteady on her feet and could feel the alcohol in her veins muddying her gait with each forward step. The campus of Garegg Mach was remarkably empty; the cold night air had driven most of the ball’s attendees indoors for the evening. Still, Byleth passed by more than one couple engaged in amorous embraces along the way. One such couple looked remarkably like Ferdinand and Hubert, though Byleth wasn’t sure at this point if it was really them or if her mind was playing tricks on her. 

 

Increasing her pace, she finally arrived at the steps of the tower. Byleth slowly ambled up them, careful to maintain her balance all the while cursing herself for wearing heeled boots. Entering the tower, she walked over to the window, setting her half-full wine bottle down, and lifted herself up to sit on the ledge. Her chest was heavy with sorrow, and she gazed out into the night sky. 

 

It was alight with glimmering stars and a uminous full moon. She saw the shimmering Blue Sea Star in the distance and was reminded of Jeralt. When she was small, he had told her that star was where her mother lived, and that she was watching over them from afar. It had brought her comfort then, for it had been a time when she had realized that other kids had mothers and she didn’t. Knowing that she did have a mother after all, and that she shined brightly in the night sky had filled her with wonder.

 

Of course, she knew better now, and her mother was buried in the same plot of land on monastery grounds as her father.

 

Uncapping the wine bottle, Byleth took another drink, feeling the wine’s warmth as it coursed through her. After she set the bottle back down, she cocked her head to the side, hearing the sound of heels climbing the stone steps leading up to the tower. Bracing herself to shoo away whoever was coming to disrupt her privacy, Byleth hopped off the ledge of the window, only to be stunned silent by seeing Edelgard’s ethereal form walk through the tower’s threshold. 

 

Byleth was transported mentally back in time, to when they were teacher and student sharing secrets and dancing the night away. Things were simpler then, and tonight Byleth tensed upon seeing Edelgard, not having the will or mental faculties to revisit their argument.

 

“Professor?” Edelgard called, tilting her head to the side and gazing at Byleth. “Are you making it a habit to hide away here on the night of a ball?”

 

Byleth shrugged her shoulders and remained silent as Edelgard stepped closer.

 

“I saw you rush out and wanted to make sure you were okay,” Edelgard explained. 

 

“I’m fine,” Byleth said. “You didn’t have to do that.”

 

Edelgard knitted her brows together, frowning. “I know I didn’t have to. I… I care about you, Byleth. One little disagreement isn’t going to change that. I’m sorry that I’ve been distant. It felt like you needed space, and I wanted to give that to you. To be honest… I’m glad that we don’t agree on everything. I have enough yes men in my life as the emperor; I need people like you who aren’t afraid to voice their opinions that differ from my own. I have to make hard choices. You might not always like them, and that’s okay. To me, you’ll always be my… dearest friend.”

 

Byleth tilted her head to the side. “Do you really mean that?”

 

“You should know by now that I don’t say things that I don’t mean, my teacher,” Edelgard said, placing a hand on her hip. Her eyes seemed to notice the near-empty bottle sitting on the window ledge for the first time. “Professor! How much have you had to drink tonight?”

 

Byleth waved a hand, dismissing her. “It’s fine, I hold my liquor like dad,” she said, swaying a little on her feet, contradicting what she’d just said.

 

Edelgard scoffed. “That remains to be seen. Come on, you should lay down. Let’s get you to bed.” Edelgard walked forward and wrapped an arm around Byleth, ushering her forward, down the steps of the tower and towards the direction of the dorms. Byleth leaned into her warmth, blushing in the darkness while thinking about how soft Edelgard felt.

 

The two women had to pause more than once for Byleth to empty the contents of her stomach in a nearby bush. Eventually they made it to Byleth’s door. Byleth fumbled for a minute searching for her keys in her jacket pocket, finally pulling them out. Edelgard took the keys from her, evidently not trusting Byleth’s coordination, and unlocked the door.

 

Edelgard led Byleth to her bed, motioning for her to lay down. Byleth complied, climbing into bed and sinking down into her mattress. The room had started to spin so she closed her eyes. She felt the sensation of her boots being pulled off her, and felt a blanket being laid overtop her. The room was silent, and Byleth was close to drifting off to sleep.

 

“I’ll go get you some water,” Edelgard said, and Byleth heard her leaving the room. Her mind was growing heavier and she could feel sleep pulling her under. She thought she heard the sound of Edelgard returning and placing a glass down on the nightstand beside her bed.

 

The next morning, Byleth couldn’t be certain, but as she gulped down the glass of water, she thought she could remember the sensation of Edelgard leaning down and kissing her head before she was claimed by sleep.



-----------

 

After the war

 

Blades of grass were tickling the back of Byleth’s neck as she lay in the grass, breathing in the fresh air and listening to the soft sound of her newly beating heart. It was still something that she was growing accustomed to. Not only the sound, but the feeling. The sensation of her heart rate speeding up while training, or how it felt as it slowed down before falling asleep at night.

 

Right now her heart was beating relatively quickly. She quietly acknowledged that what she was feeling was called nervousness, maybe even anxiety. Emotions were still something she was learning… her grey world had slowly been filled with color ever since she had come to Garegg Mach. And now, after almost six years, she would be leaving.

 

The war was over, the Empire had emerged victorious. There had been loose ends to tie up at the former Officer’s Academy, but those ends had been tied and today Byleth and the rest of the Black Eagle Strike Force were returning to Enbarr and the surrounding lands where individual members resided. A small retinue of Imperial troops would be staying behind to secure the monastery, but they now resided in a time of peace and wouldn’t have to worry about opposing forces attacking.

Peacetime, much like Byleth’s heartbeat, was still something she was getting used to. Her entire life had been spent in one battle or another, and now…

 

She would be following Edelgard to the Imperial Palace. Her services as a tactician would still be needed for the occasional small rebellion, and she would be serving as a member of Edelgard’s council. Byleth just wanted to remain at her Emperor’s side, come what may. Which is what was contributing to her current state of anxiety. She planned to give her father’s ring to Edelgard today before they left for Enbarr.

 

They had grown closer throughout the length of the war. Edelgard inspired feelings inside Byleth that she had never felt before, and she attributed her newly colorful world largely to meeting the young emperor. They’d had their ups and downs, miscommunications, but any challenges they faced ultimately made their friendship stronger. Byleth was fully aware that now her feelings for Edelgard went beyond friendship. Her father had once told her to give her ring to someone that she cared for as much as Jeralt had cared for Sitri. Byleth could now say with certainty that was how she felt about Edelgard. El, she reminded herself.

 

A soft bump to her cheek brough Byleth out of her thoughts. Blinking, she moved her head and saw a tiny white kitten inches away from her face. It mewed at her and Byleth slowly sat up, picking up the kitten and placing it in her lap. She scratched behind its ears and it started purring happily. “Well aren’t you just adorable,” she said. Church bells began to ring, signaling the start of the new hour. Byleth widened her eyes and stood up, holding the kitten in her arms. She was supposed to be meeting Edelgard… right now.

 

Hoping the kitten would be enough of a distraction for Edelgard for her to ignore Byleth’s tardiness, Byleth cradled the tiny animal in her arms and took off for their meeting place--- the Goddess Tower.

 

She climbed the stone steps up to the tower and saw Edelgard with her back turned, staring out the window. Byleth cleared her throat as she entered the tower, alerting Edelgard to her presence. The emperor turned, a slight frown upon her face which melted upon seeing the kitten in Byleth’s arms. Byleth walked over to where Edelgard stood and handed the kitten over to her.

 

“Isn’t it cute, El?” Byleth asked.

 

Edelgard nodded, patting the kitten on the head. “Yes, it’s cute. Is this why you’re late?”

 

Byleth placed her hands behind her head sheepishly. “Not really, I just lost track of the time.”

 

Edelgard held the cat with one hand, reaching up and placing the back of her hand on Byleth’s forehead. “Are you feeling alright? You’ve been… spacey lately,” she said, concern miring her features.

 

Reaching up and taking Edelgard’s hand in her own, “I’m fine, El. In fact… there’s something that I wanted to give you.”

 

“Oh?” Edelgard asked, tilting her head to the side. Byleth couldn’t help thinking that she looked incredibly cute. Looking at her made her heart swell, and she felt even more confident in her decision to give Edelgard her father’s ring.

 

Byleth reached into her jacket pocket and felt around for the ring which she kept in a drawstring pouch. She pulled the pouch out of her pocket. Opening the pouch, she pulled out the ring and presented it to Edelgard. The sun shone off the silver ring, and the purple gemstones in it shimmered in the light.

 

“My dad gave this ring to my mom, and he passed it on to me to give to someone who I felt the same way about as he felt about mom. El, I knew there was something special about you from the first day that I met you. Maybe that’s why I jumped in front of an axe for someone I barely knew. You’ve always supported me, and you’re one of the only people who’s encouraged me to walk my own path rather than just going with the flow and following the destiny that others have laid out for me.” Byleth clutched her other hand to her chest. “You are my heart, and I want to stay by your side for as long as you’ll have me.”

 

Edelgard’s eyes shone with tears. She set the kitten down on the floor and stepped forward to take the ring from Byleth’s outstretched hand. Taking the ring and placing it on her finger, she smiley softly at Byleth. “I’ll always want you by my side, Byleth. You are my guiding light through the darkness… when you collapsed after fighting The Immaculate One, I was devastated. I don’t want to imagine my life without you.” She closed the distance between herself and Byleth and captured her lips with her own. Byleth leaned into the kiss, wrapping an arm around Edelgard and cupping her face with her other hand.

 

The two stayed there like that, locked in a passionate embrace for quite some time, lost in each other. They only broke apart due to a quiet mewing and looking down, they saw the kitten pawing at Edelgard’s skirt. 

 

Laughing, Edelgard leaned down and scooped up the kitten.

 

“Should we take her with us?” Byleth asked, reaching over and scratching the kitten between its ears.

 

Edelgard nodded, smiling fondly at Byleth. “It would be nice to have a piece of Garegg Mach back home. Speaking of, we should get going. I told Hubert that we would meet him in the Reception Hall to warp to Enbarr. If we take any longer, he may start plotting against you.”

 

Byleth laughed and leaned down to press a kiss against Edelgard’s forehead. “Alright, let’s get going then.”

 

The two women and their newly adopted kitten left the Goddess Tower, heading forward into their future together.