I need to get away, just for a little bit , is what he thinks as he walks through the halls of the Almyran palace, back to his study.
Nader is at his heels, as he usually is nowadays, and follows his new king no matter how many turns and sharp corners he cuts to try and ditch him. Claude knows what he’s going to say. He’s been his combat instructor since forever, and sometimes, even a stand-in for his real father who was usually too busy to have time for him, or most of his other half-siblings.
He doesn’t try to shun him away once they reach the study. Nader simply closes the door as Claude plops down on the chair and slaps the newly-signed treaties and agreements onto the desk. If he wants to leave by tomorrow morning, he needs to finish these today. So he takes out the ink block, and the wax stick, as well as two separate stamps with the royal family’s emblem on it.
Ever since becoming king, he’s realized a lot of disputes were because official documents had a quantity of one. If it got lost, then it was difficult to discern who was telling the truth, and who was trying to get the best deal out of assumed information.
So Claude—King Khalid of Almyra—decided that making multiple copies was a better alternative to prevent forgery and ‘accidents’ of losing the pieces of parchment. One for whatever noble brought up the complaint—one for each, actually. One for the official records, and one for his books, just in case someone ‘lost’ the official one. He’s replaced most of the people in his father’s cabinet, specifically the ones who held and still hold nothing but contempt for him. His new cabinet he’s picked based on a variety of factors, so he can trust them, but one can never be too careful.
As he stamps every single document copy, and the one in his books, Nader stares at him. Claude can feel him doing so. Then he hears him go over to the table near a pillar and soon starts to smell a brew of fresh tea.
Mere seconds later, a cup of it is placed in front of him. That’s when Claude finally sighs and looks up at the much older man.
“Looked like you could use it, kiddo,” he tells him. “If you’re not gonna get food in your belly, at least drink that.”
Claude simply grunts before he takes a sip. Almyran pine needle; his favorite since he was a child. A faint smile passes over his lips as he remembers Byleth telling him that was one clue that made him wonder if Claude was Almyran all along.
Even when he eventually told him, he didn’t think anything of it. Merely said it’s his own business why he’s here, and no one else’s: “You don’t need to tell me anything, and I won’t ask.”
His Teach for a whole year. A friend—first friend, actually. His right-hand in the Fodlanese War of Resistance against the Adrestian Empire. His first crush. First love.
And now his fiancé.
Gods, how he misses him.
Hence, back to the present, why he’s working himself to the bone to finish signing and archiving all of these documents of squabbling nobles so he can meet his beloved in Derdriu sooner than later. He and Byleth finally managed to schedule that rendezvous they desperately needed amidst their demanding duties as Archbishop Sovereign of the United Kingdom of Fódlan, and Great King of Almyra.
The meeting with his dear Teach can’t come soon enough.
Maybe Nader is aware of this, or at least suspects it, because he doesn’t bother Claude after that. He simply tells him not to stay up too late, even though he’s well aware Claude will burn the wick until the candle is gone, if he’s left to his own devices.
Which… actually happens. Nader brings him his dinner later, tells him he’s already had it taste tested, and waits for him to finish.
Admittingly, having a full stomach does help him become more productive. He manages to finish copying and signing all the documents, officiating them with the stamp, and placing them in their appropriate piles on his desk or hiding them in his study.
“Nader,” he asks when they’re back in his bed chambers, “I’m going flying again.”
The older man sighs. “You didn’t have your rendezvous scheduled until the end of the week.”
“Yeah, but I’ve already made preparations for my early absence.”
“Of course you did,” he says tiredly, but smiles nonetheless. “Let me guess. The instructions are already in my own study.”
Claude grins at him as he fastens his cloak for the chilly night. “You know me so well, old man.”
⟣ ⋯ ⟡ ⋯ ⟢
Getting to the wyvern roost is normally an easy task. But since he doesn’t want to be seen with a satchel of his belongings, sneaking around isn’t as simple as it used to be when he was younger. And getting to his prized white wyvern, the king’s wyvern that has the best nest and is guarded at all times, will be a no-go today.
He takes another wyvern, one he used to practice on before his current mount. He’s smaller and quieter than the more aggressive mare, but not any less reliable.
They fly silently through the night among the stars. Over the Throat, and toward the sea where the glittering city of Derdriu rests. It’s not late enough for lights to be out, so he smiles down at the hustle and bustle of the night life. A thing the people can do again now that there isn’t a war looming over their heads.
He lands the wyvern in the roost of the Riegan estate to inform the stable hands he’s here, and not to alarm them. Then he sneaks with his belongings up to the ivy growing on the side of the large mansion, and climbs along it until he reaches the balcony of his old room when he was duke.
Well, now it’s his and Byleth’s room, actually.
Claude creeps through the glass doors and sees his fiancé slumbering in the canopy bed. He has the sheets up to his nose, and his seafoam hair shimmers when the moonlight hits it.
Although he tries to be as quiet as he can, he sometimes forgets who he’s promised to marry. An ex-mercenary who is only just now getting used to sleeping heavily. So when Claude’s boots hit the floor, that earns a groggy sound from the man behind him.
Byleth blinks the sleep out of his eyes, and turns over. “Claude?” he asks in a scratchy voice.
“What time is it?”
“Time for you to go back to sleep.”
Even with a drowsy expression, Byleth manages to still cast him a dead unamused stare. “We weren’t supposed to meet until this weekend.”
“And yet you’re also here a few days early.”
That shuts him up for a minute. He looks to the sheets, and admits, “...Was really looking forward to it, I guess. I also needed… a break.”
Claude smiles warmly at him, and says softly, “You and me both.”
He finishes undressing out of his travel clothes into something more comfortable to sleep in. Then he slides in next to Byleth on the soft bed, made warm already by its current occupant. Byleth gives him a sleepy smile before he’s reaching for his hand, and says, “Glad we were on the same page,” before his eyelids start to droop again.
“Me too,” Claude replies, scooting closer and bringing him into his arms. He kisses the top of his head. “Me too, By.”
⟣ ⋯ ⟡ ⋯ ⟢
He wakes up to a gentle spring breeze, and the sound of birds chirping outside. Claude groans, feeling the soreness of the saddle on his legs and ass, wondering if it had been that long since he’s last ridden one of the airborne creatures.
When he’s more focused, he sees the bed is bare, but the table on the balcony isn’t.
Byleth is sitting at one of the chairs, gazing out at the seascape in the near distance. There’s a cup of tea in front of him, and a covered plate of what Claude assumes is breakfast.
He gets up and stretches, and at least washes himself in the adjoining bathroom, before he’s taking a seat across from his beloved.
“Morning,” he greets.
A smile spreads on Byleth’s lips. He doesn’t look at him, just keeps observing the beautiful scenery. “Afternoon, actually.”
“Is it really ?” Claude asks in genuine shock. “Geez, I didn’t think I was that tired.”
Byleth chuckles, and turns to him. “It’s fine, Claude. I didn’t want to wake you up for breakfast because I thought you could use the rest. Lunch was just made, though, so I hope you have an appetite.”
He sees that his own plate is littered with crumbs. Smiling, he says to him, “And let me guess, you couldn’t wait?”
It’s always satisfying to see the faint hint of pinkness on his fiancé’s cheeks. “Well, the chef was making salmon today, and you know how much I like that particular fish compared to most others…”
Claude teases a finger along the edge of Byleth’s plate, poking at a stick that peeks out from the corner. “And what’s this?”
The other man swipes it away and hides it under a napkin. “Nothing.”
“Was that a wooden skewer?”
“It was, wasn’t it?”
When Byleth doesn’t respond, Claude laughs.
“I still like the small fish skewers, okay?” he defends defiantly. “I know most people don’t, but if you add a little spice to them, honestly they’re fine. Hapi still likes them too, last I heard from her.”
Claude reaches out for Byleth’s hand that’s on the table. The one with the engagement ring on it. He entwines their fingers, and says, “I know. I’m not judging you or anything. Guess I’m just… thinking of how endearing it is that some things never change, even with time.”
“Like how you can still be a cheeky bastard when you’re feeling like it?”
He laughs, and says, “Oh but you love me for it, you know you do.”
A warm smile spreads across Byleth’s lips, and he nods. “Yes, I do.”
They get to eating lunch properly after that. No talk of their individual responsibilities as archbishop or king. Just whatever is on their itinerary for their much-needed vacation. Unfortunately, because of their respective roles, they can’t take their break for too long. A week max is allotted to them, but getting a head start couldn’t hurt.
It’s mostly Claude wanting to take him around the beautiful sights of Leicester that they didn’t get to do in the years prior for several obvious reasons. Or to visit other places around Fódlan, like Adrestia’s opera house, or the lakes and rivers of Faerghus where they can do some fishing.
Byleth’s eyes immediately light up, and Claude chuckles.
“Oh, I have your attention, do I?”
“I heard the rivers are ripe with lots of different fish this time of year. And I’ve been practicing my cooking. Maybe not as good as yours, but, eventually I’d like to make something for you.”
“And I would be honored, my love.”
Byleth smiles at him, and takes another sip of his tea—
“There’s also a secluded pond in the mountains that I hear is good to try skinny-dipping in.”
—before he chokes on it.
Claude laughs and pours him a glass of cold water which Byleth drinks quickly.
“Really? That’s part of the plan?” he asks incredulously.
“Well it has been a while since we’ve enjoyed each other in all of our naked glory, so why not?” he replies with a wink.
Byleth grunts, but smiles at him nonetheless. “We’ll see then, von Riegan.”
“Okay, soon-to-be Eisner-von Riegan.”
At that, he gets a soft smile from his fiancé, and a single nod, before Claude goes back to his breakfast.
The rest of the day is spent at the estate, for as much as Byleth wants the vacation as badly as his beloved, Seteth is ever diligent and thus convinced him, somehow, to at least take the work with him that he was finishing up back at the monastery.
But that won’t do for his future husband to be holed up indoors. So, around evening, just as the sky is about to turn pink and orange, Claude whips up a spontaneous dinner. One neatly tucked away in a picnic basket.
He all but drags Byleth out of his study down to the trail leading to the shore. The waves lap at the sand and the warm reflections of the ocean make the water glitter like fireflies. There, a few paces from where they’re walking, is a picnic blanket laid out with candles set upon a wooden plank.
“What’s all this?” Byleth asks him with a slight smile.
They sit down, and Claude says, “The official start of our much needed vacation. And I really do mean that. You’re all done with your paperwork, right?”
“Yeah, just one more document that—”
“Can wait until our mini-vacation is over.”
Claude sets out the plates and the glasses. Byleth watches with rapt attention as the wine is poured. Claude hands him one, and the other takes it with a smile. He grins, they toast with a gentle clink, before taking a sip.
“You will be pleased to know, sir,” Claude starts playfully, as he takes a covered plate out of the basket, “that I always have your best interests in mind.”
He sets it on the plank, and when he uncovers it, Byleth’s eyes widen just a bit. “This fish is…”
“Salmon, yes, garnished with tiny little fishes dabbed in spices and herbs. No skewer needed.”
Byleth laughs as Claude hands him a fork. “Are you going to have some?”
“That depends on how powerful my culinary skills are. If they can make these little fishes actually palatable, then I'll have a few.”
His love shakes his head at him good-naturedly, before biting into three of the little things all at once. “Mm, they’re good. Better than the ones I had earlier.”
Claude tries the smallest one on the plate, and nibbles exaggeratedly on it. Byleth chuckles and tells him to stop being a big baby about it. He smiles at him, and says, “Oh, what do you know. These actually taste pretty good, all thanks to me, I’m sure.”
Sighing dramatically, and placing a hand on his chest, he comments, “What a burden it is to be perfect at everything.”
Byleth throws a leafy garnish at him, and Claude laughs.
They eat their dinner watching the sunset, and letting themselves be soothed by the lull of the waves. When the only light is from the candles next to them, and the stars up above in the sky, they decide to head back to the estate to treat themselves to a nice warm bed.
When they’re perfectly comfortable in their sleepwear, and snuggled under the blankets, Claude brings Byleth into his arms again. The other man smiles at him, rubbing his upper arm in gentle strokes.
“To think,” Claude starts, “one day soon, we can be like this more often than not.”
“I can’t wait for that day to come.”
Claude kisses his forehead, down to his nose, and smiles against his lips, before he pecks him. Sweet, slow, and chaste. He feels his love smile against the gesture of affection.
“That makes two of us.”
⟣ ⋯ ⟡ ⋯ ⟢
He doesn’t like to brag, but Claude thinks he does a fantastic job of keeping in mind the things Byleth likes doing, after years of knowing him.
The first day of their vacation is spent out on a fishing vessel in the ocean. Claude himself isn’t one to spend hours on end looking for the biggest catch, but it lights up Byleth’s face as the other man stares intently at the water. Like a cat waiting to pounce on its prey.
He’s not surprised that by the end of the day, they return to the estate with the biggest tuna Claude has ever seen. The fishermen were shocked Byleth pulled that thing out of the water with such ease. Even the most burliest of the sailors had difficulty carrying it.
“Don’t underestimate the power of a man’s hunger for food,” he lightly explained to them.
The fish was so big that it fed pretty much all of the household staff.
But after that day, Claude and Byleth pack up their things to begin the rest of the itinerary of their spontaneous rendezvous. To see the sights of Fódlan.
The wyvern is big enough to carry them both, so they first fly south into Adrestia. Though it wasn’t planned, they make a quick stop at Gronder Field. It’s empty, with the only inhabitants being them and the birds soaring in the sky.
Unlike those years ago, with the fog and the screams of the dying, the grass isn’t stained with red. Or the corpses of allies, or people they knew during their academy days. There’s a monument now up on the hill. The one Edelgard set fire to, and anyone who couldn’t escape the flames perished, regardless of the side they chose.
Byleth comes back with some picked wildflowers and sets them on the monument. It’s to honor all the fallen on this field, even those who had been imperial soldiers. Back then, even they both knew most of these men and women didn’t want to fight. But it was either that, or they starve. (Or worse.)
“I hope they all find their peace,” Byleth says when it’s quiet for too long. “It’s been a few years but…”
“Yeah, I feel the same way.”
“...I wish he would’ve been spared. To… see this peace with us. To see how much Faerghus has improved since then.”
“He can see it. Pretty sure he’s always been watching. I hope he, more than anyone else, can finally rest.”
The mood gets lighter once they leave the field. The renovated Enbarr is a hub of trade and entertainment, so they spend some time at the opera house, watching familiar faces perform on the stage. They don’t stay too long, for they only have about a week of leisure, and so they spend only another day and a half here. Mainly to engorge themselves on food from the finest restaurants, or spend some time at the beach. The waves lap at their feet as they walk along the shore, hand in hand.
Their next stop is back west, up north to Faerghus. Even during the tail end of spring, it’s still much cooler than Adrestia or Leicester, but not enough that they need a coat.
They fly over one of the lakes. While Claude doesn’t see anyone around, he still guides his wyvern to a more secluded area blocked off by the natural formation of rocks.
And like he had told Byleth, it’s very ideal for skinny dipping. Which he promptly does, much to his fiancé’s embarrassment.
“You’ve seen me naked before plenty of times,” Claude throws back at him as he’s waist deep in the water. “Why are you getting all shy now?”
“It’s been… a while,” Byleth replies slowly. He’s hesitant to chuck off his shirt or pants from the way his hands linger there on his clothes.
Claude wades through the water, and takes his hand. “Then we should make up for lost time, shouldn’t we? Who knows when we’ll next see each other. Even after we’re married, it’ll be difficult to get time to ourselves.”
It’s a combination of that sound logic and a charming wink that finally has Byleth cave, and join his future husband to soak. Sharing a few kisses here and there, some playful splashes, before it gets too cold when evening sets in.
They pitch a tent to protect them from the elements under the night sky. And there, they do in fact, make up for all that time lost, warming themselves quite ardently. Their clothes from earlier still discarded outside.
The scenery around is so tranquil that they decide to spend another day there. Fishing, in Byleth’s case, and collecting some curious plants on Claude’s end. Some which are simple herbs that they can add to their fish dinner, and others for his personal collection. Byleth under-seasons the fish, and maybe burns a little of it accidentally, but Claude eats it anyway and reminds him Enbarr wasn’t built in a day.
“You still have a long way to go, but don’t be too hard on yourself.”
“Because you’re perfect at everything so I shouldn’t compare my progress to yours?” Byleth asks with a brow raised, an incredulous smile on his lips.
“Oh you know me so well,” he replies with a grin.
⟣ ⋯ ⟡ ⋯ ⟢
The next morning they make their way back over the Oghma mountains. A quick stop at the Valley of Aillel has Byleth question Claude’s sanity, but he says the volcanic rock is for experiments back in Almyra whenever he gets a moment to himself.
“You’re still making concoctions?”
“Well gee, By. I think I’m allowed to have a little bit of fun every now and again, considering how hard I work.”
“And has anything exploded?”
“Of course not! ...At least not in the past seven months.”
Byleth shakes his head with a light eye roll, but a smile is on his face nonetheless.
“You’re right,” he says, when they get back on the wyvern.
“I’m right about many things. You’ll have to be more specific.”
He gets a light slug in the arm at that. “That some things never change with time.”
Claude hums, and nods with a smile.
Their last stop, before getting back to Riegan territory, is just outside it, on the border to Daphnel. It’s on a grassy cliffside with small white flowers. They set up a camp there. Byleth watches over it while Claude returns sometime later with pheasants. His fiancé watches intently as he cooks them a meal over the campfire with the cooking utensils he brought with them.
Their dinner isn’t over until the stars speckle the navy expanse of the sky. Even on the go, Claude has to say he’s proud of himself at cooking an appetizing meal. Not just with taste, but presentation. A compliment Byleth gives him as he takes his plate.
“It’s good to know the lay of the land,” Claude says as they dig in. “What fauna are around, what herbs grow out in the wild. Safe fungi to eat, as well as natural vegetables that haven’t been half deteriorated by bugs. That, and knowing how to season with spices.”
Byleth chuckles. “So that’s why you always read so much when we were younger.”
“What can I say? I’m the kinda guy who likes learning for learning’s sake.”
“Well, I’m glad for that. It’s made you resourceful.”
“True.” Then, quieter, “Feel like that’s kept me alive as long as I have over the last few years.”
There’s nothing left for their dinner, so they put out the fire and leave only a lantern lit as they lay side by side, and gaze up at the stars. Claude tells him of some of the constellations back in Almyra, things Byleth already knows, but he retells them anyway. The stories always put him to sleep, in the best kind of way.
Their hands rest on Claude’s chest, and he entwines their fingers together.
Coming back to Derdriu the next morning means their vacation is also ending. The last day, they spend it hiking around the forest regions of the city during the early hours, combing the beach for interesting shells during the afternoon, and at night, relax back in the estate.
Just a quiet moment. Cuddled in bed under the covers. Something mundane, like going over one of the books on Leicester’s flora, so Claude can show Byleth how he memorized each of their functions and the quickest way to identify them out in the field.
When his beloved yawns, Claude closes the book. “Alright, time for bed.”
“If I sleep, then tomorrow you’ll leave.”
“I know; I’m sorry,” he replies gently.
“Don’t be. I understand.”
They turn off the lantern at the bedside, and dig themselves further into the covers. Claude grasps Byleth’s hand, and kisses his knuckles. “The wedding is coming up in a few months. Even if we won’t see each other as much during our marriage, eventually things will work out.”
“I know that too. I trust you. I always have, since back at the academy.”
Claude smiles at him, and Byleth smiles back. Hilda had told him once he only smiles genuinely whenever he’s with their dear then-professor. But he’s never had to explain himself. Even back then, she knew the reason.
It still makes leaving early the next morning difficult. Byleth still slumbers, and Claude kisses his temple before getting dressed and ready to soar back over the Throat. He leaves a letter at his bedside, one he wrote even before their rendezvous. Temporary parting words, so Byleth can remember the promise Claude made to him.
Soon after, his wyvern takes to the skies just before dawn can breach the horizon. He’ll miss Byleth for a while, but things will get easier the harder they work so they can have more time for each other.
Claude reaches into his shirt for the ring that hangs on a chain around his neck. He clutches it and presses his lips to his fist, awaiting the day when he can finally, officially say, “I do.”