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Yuri Leclerc has no obligations to the Officers Academy.  The Ashen Wolves exist as a symbol; a banner to rally behind, a rude gesture to the prestigious school that functions above Abyss without a care for those in need.  He belongs to one purpose - helping the helpless - and nothing more.

Yet, here he sits, in Professor Byleth’s seminars, taking notes as quickly as his quill will move.  Students from all houses have been taken in by the mysterious newcomer, drawn by rumors and ambitions.  Even Balthus, Hapi, and Constance show up to his lectures now.  Curious, Yuri comes with them with every expectation to sneak out halfway through.  However, as Byleth begins to talk, Yuri quickly realizes the allure.  Byleth lacks life experience, but his focus for battle has been sharpened into a needlepoint.  He explains tactics in a straightforward manner, devoid of emotion and attachments.  That, more than anything, Yuri finds valuable.

For all the blood Yuri has spilt, his heart bleeds for every failed mission, every lost face, each name written in a faded journal.  Perhaps Byleth and his hardened heart will offer some solution.  At the very least, attending these classes is a good distraction from the pressures of leading Garreg Mach’s underworld.  Byleth is a good distraction.

The bells tolling above causes several students’ heads to rise from their desks.  Byleth trails off and takes in their obvious hope with a small nod.  “All right.  That’s enough for today.”  Benches eagerly scrape across the floor as students hasten to leave.  Some linger around Byleth’s desk to ask questions.  Prince Dimitri asks for more time in the stables.  Ferdinand asks for Byleth to witness his improved techniques.  Petra asks for certain points to be clarified.  Byleth is admired and he is utterly unaware of it, taking the time to address each question matter-of-factly and patiently.

Yuri lingers in the corner of the classroom, caught in shadows, until the zealous students file out. Byleth begins wiping the chalkboard, and Yuri makes his move.  He’s light on his feet, but it doesn’t matter.  Byleth acknowledges him without even turning.  “Yuri,” he greets.  “Need something?”

A smile plays at Yuri’s lips.  “Depends what you mean by need, friend.”

Byleth turns around at this, but Yuri can tell the innuendo has flown far over his head.  It’s sort of annoying, but mostly adorable.  “Is something wrong?”

“No, not anything more than usual,” he replies. “Before you ask: no, I don’t need your help.  In fact, I was going to ask if I could help you.”

It’s rare that Byleth’s guard slips.  His eyebrows rise, his eyes widen, and Yuri feels a little thrill.  “Help me?  With what?”

“You work too much.  Dealing with all these nobles and knight wannabes must be exhausting.  Not to mention all of those certification exams that need grading this week.”  Yuri jerks a thumb over his shoulder.  “Come down to Abyss for a drink.  On me.”

It’s not new to see each other outside of the classroom or the battlefield.  Byleth invites him to tea sometimes, visits Abyss with sleeve-fulls of treats and candies for everyone, and notes when the dining hall is serving his favorite foods.  They spend a lot of time together recently, and Yuri figures it’s time to extend some invitations of his own.  He hates feeling indebted to anyone, even if Byleth assures him again and again that he doesn’t need to.

Byleth accepts with a soft smile.  It might be a little dangerous, getting so close, but if he can get Byleth to drop his guard even further then perhaps he can figure out how he keeps it so high in the first place.  At the very least, maybe he’ll get some leverage.

The little smile hangs on Byleth’s face the entire walk from the Officer’s Academy to the entrance to Abyss, a narrow little passage near the dormitories.  The Abysskeeper welcomes them with a winded report.  Yuri listens to what he has to say, tapping his foot impatiently, and Byleth stays close until the report dissolves into a rant about the knight Seteth had appointed, who hasn’t visited in a few days.  Yuri’s attention drifts with him, watching as two children run toward Byleth expectantly.  Wordlessly, Byleth produces two neatly wrapped slices of cake.  The kids take it with stars in their eyes, calling him a magician and asking him to pull a bunny out next.

“Maybe next time,” Byleth says.

“Boss, are you even listening to me?” the Abysskeeper huffs and follows Yuri’s gaze.  He gives a low chuckle then fixes Yuri with a strange gaze.  “Oh, I see.  Planning on working late tonight, huh?  Well, don’t let me keep you from your, uh, objectives.”

Yuri bristles, but keeps up the easy smirk.  “Careful.  If you keep running your mouth like that you could bite your tongue.”  He turns back to Byleth.  “You all set over there?”  Byleth waves goodbye to the children before following Yuri to the tavern.  The Abysskeeper gives a meaningful cough behind his hand as they pass.

The Wilting Rose Inn is lively this time of night.  Folks pouring in eager to forget the drag of daily life.  Though the quality of ale has gotten considerably better since their renewed relation to the church, it still takes more than most for Yuri to feel a buzz.  Byleth is different.  He hardly gets through his first pint before his cheeks are rosy and he’s slouching in his seat.  His face pinches after each sip, but dutifully finishes the entire glass.

“Easy there,” Yuri laughs.  “You don’t have to drink it if you don’t like it, you know.”

Byleth shakes his head, licking his lips.  “I don’t… dislike it.  But, I have to say, I think I prefer tea.”

“I think you just prefer those sweets you serve along with tea.  Exactly how many cakes do you keep on your person, dare I ask?”

Byleth touches his chin in thought.  “Just a few if I plan on visiting Abyss.  Or if I need to bribe Bernadetta to show up to class.  Luckily, I have several students who enjoy baking.  Lysithea alone could ration a small army with her cakes.”

“So you planned to visit Abyss tonight even before I asked you?”

“Yeah.  Oh.”  Byleth fumbles in the small pack at his side and pulls out another delicately wrapped parcel.  “This is for you.”

Yuri hasn’t had nearly enough alcohol to warrant feeling this warm, but it’s as good of an excuse as any as he accepts the gift with a grin.  “You sure know how to charm a guy.”

Byleth takes another deep sip, shivering and frowning.  “You like this?” he asks, gesturing to the glass.

“It serves a purpose,” Yuri answers easily.  “I suppose you can call it an acquired taste.  Have you really not had alcohol before?”

“I’ve had it before.”

Well, that’s interesting.  Byleth’s tone is recollective, hinting at a past that none know much about.  A mercenary’s life isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination.  Perhaps Byleth’s focus stems from something there.  Yuri slides another glass toward him.  “Oh?  You mean before you came to the monastery?”

Byleth takes the glass without question.  He shakes his head.  “My father wouldn’t let me.  He said it wasn’t good for my heart.”

“Nice to have a parent watch your back.”  He wonders if it’s Jeralt’s influence after all.  There has to be more to it than that.  “But surely there were times Jeralt wasn’t there.  Your curiosity never got the better of you?”

“Only when Manuela said it helped with stress.”

“Stress?”

“Teaching.  It’s stressful.  All the questions.  Never stops.  Sometimes I just want to fish.”

“...Fish.”

“It’s relaxing.”  Byleth squints at the bottom of his glass then sighs up at the ceiling.  He mimics reeling in a fishing line.  “Fun.”

“I’m learning all sorts, aren’t I?  So, you clear your mind with fishing.  Is that how you manage to keep so collected during battle?”

“Collected?”  Byleth hics.  “No.  Sothis helps.  She stops time.”

“...Right.  I think you might have reached your limit already, friend.  What a shame.  I was hoping we’d get to know each other a little better.”

Byleth slouches in his chair, watching nothing in particular.  “Sothis said you shouldn’t flirt so much.  It makes me stupid.”

Yuri freezes.  “Is that… right…?”

Byleth nods.  “Can’t focus sometimes.”

Yuri has badly miscalculated.  He always assumed that Byleth’s lack of reactions equated to a lack of emotion.  It seems that Byleth just has a master poker face.  The sharp focus is, in actuality, a dulled expression.

“She says I can’t keep using her power to go back and cover up my embarrassing mistakes.  But they’re embarrassing.”

This is more entertaining than he expected, but there’s also a small sliver of shame creeping up his spine.  It’s an old feeling, rarely felt when life’s balance has been swayed out of favor for so long.  Yuri decides he needs more alcohol; a lot of it.

Byleth grumbles something about Sothis again then shushes no one in particular.

“Another round over here,” Yuri says.

.

“Ah.  You’re not gonna be able to get home, are you?” Yuri blinks at the half-asleep man resting his head on the table.  Yuri heaves a sigh.  He supposes this is his responsibility.  He was the one that gave him alcohol, the one that asked him to stay, the one that eagerly accepted all Byleth’s gifts and affections without much returned to him.  The least he can do is make sure Byleth gets back to his room safely.  “Up and at ‘em, professor.”  He slings Byleth’s arm around his shoulder and heaves him up.

Byleth manages his own weight well enough, but when they start to walk he begins to sway.  Yuri’s own tipsiness catches up to him.  The ground tilts and rights itself again.  Byleth chuckles against Yuri’s neck.  “Dizzy,” he mutters in lieu of an explanation before laughing again.  The sound reverberates against Yuri’s skin.

“Don’t start being cute now,” Yuri grumbles as he lugs them toward the exit.  Byleth’s free hand finds Yuri’s at his waist and his head falls onto Yuri’s shoulder.  A familiar warmth spreads across Yuri’s body.  “You’re gonna be the death of me, you know that?” Yuri scolds.  He’s been wanted before, been admired by nobles and thugs alike.  But this pure affection is something new and something addicting.  Byleth doesn’t want his services.  He doesn’t want his body or his name or his secrets or his gold.  He just wants to be in his company.

When they reach Byleth’s door, Yuri finds that it’s locked.  “Key?” he asks.

“Hm?” Byleth lifts his face and Yuri’s heart knocks right into his rib cage.  His eyes are wide and honest.  His face is flushed but happy.  He’s had far more alcohol than Yuri, but Yuri is the one who feels drunk.  Anyone else, he might have stolen away a moment or two.  Instead, Yuri fishes in the little pack on Byleth’s side for a key.  He finds two vials of vulnerary, a tin of tea leaves, a game piece, and some old parchment pieces.

Byleth nearly slips out of his grip as Yuri deftly lifts the keys from the pack to the lock.  Byleth loses his balance just as the door opens, sending them both toppling to the floor.  “You really push your luck, Byleth,” Yuri mutters as he sits up.  “Oh.”

Byleth laughs, blue hair spilled across the floor like a halo and the moon hitting his face like a blessing.  His eyes sparkle like they hold every prayer that’s ever passed Yuri’s lips.  Byleth's room is filled with Hero’s Relics, gold, and rare spellbooks; ripe for the picking.  Yet the only thing Yuri wants is currently giggling into the carpet.

“Okay,” Yuri steels his nerves and gets to his feet, “can you get into bed on your own?”

Byleth considers it for a few moments, surveying the distance from the floor to the bed, then nods.  “Yeah…”

“Good.  I should come make sure you’re still breathing in the morning.  Wouldn’t want your precious little students to find you dead on the floor.”  Byleth shakes his head rapidly and clutches Yuri’s ankle, nearly sending him right back to the floor.  “By--!”

“Don’t go,” Byleth whispers, and, gods, he’s pouting.  “Stay.”

This has to be karma.  The only time Yuri tries to grow a conscience and do the honorable thing, Byleth won’t let him go.  His hand loosens its grip but Yuri’s feet still stay rooted to Byleth’s floor regardless.  “Do you have any idea what you’re even saying right now?”  Yuri swallows around the knot in his throat.  “I… can’t.”  He holds his head in frustration.  “This is the first time I’ve ended a good date early.  What is wrong with me?”

Byleth’s eyes blow wide.  “This was a date?”

Yuri bites his tongue.  He really needs to watch his words with Byleth, who takes everything at face value.  He crouches down and pokes Byleth’s cheek.  “If you remember this in the morning,” he bargains, “then it was a date.  How’s that?”  Byleth nods, head thunking back onto the floor with enough force that Yuri winces.

He ends up helping Byleth into bed before he gives himself a concussion, but he doesn’t tuck him in.  Byleth falls ungracefully atop his covers with a groan, room no doubt spinning.  Yuri can’t help but reach out and part Byleth’s hair from his eyes, which flutter closed at his cool touch.

“Don’t forget, now,” Yuri whispers before drawing back and slipping out of his quarters before he can convince himself otherwise.

.

The next morning, Yuri wakes with a headache.  Balthus is in the bunk beneath him, snoring in time with the pounding in his head.  He burrows further into the covers for a moment.  One of the good things about Abyss is that it is always dark, which makes nursing a hangover a little easier and hiding from embarrassing feelings even easier.  Balthus’s snores, however, are an inescapable force of nature.  Yuri slinks out of bed, shooting a glare at Balthus’s direction, and heads up the hall to Burrow Street.

The torchlight is enough to sting his eyes and the smell of burning wood leaves him nauseous.  For once, he finds himself wanting fresh air so he heads towards the exit.  The Abysskeeper greets him in a loud, brass-like voice.  “Hey, boss!  I’ve got something to report!”

Yuri curses under his breath.  “If it has nothing to do with imminent danger or Balthus choking to death on his own spit then it can wait.”

“Depends on your definition of danger.”  The Abysskeeper grins and holds up a little parcel.  “The professor left this for you.  Swung by earlier this morning and said to thank you for a lovely eve--”

Yuri swipes it out of his hands with red cheeks.  “If you breathe a word about this to anyone, I’m feeding you to the creepy dolls downstairs.  Got it?”

The Abysskeeper grins but mimics zipping up his lips.  As Yuri stomps up the stairs, he swears he hears the keeper sigh, “Ah, young love…” Yuri would have thrown the parcel at him if he hadn’t been so curious about what was inside.

It’s a cloudy day with rain in the breeze.  The parcel is heavy in his hand, but he tears open the cheap parchment with a single flick of his wrist.  It’s a small vial of antitoxin.  On the corner of the parchment, there’s a small note scribbled in messy writing: Still a date?

Emotion clogs his throat.  It’s just a vial of medicine. Cheap and easily found even in Abyss.  It’s an odd gift, but Byleth had been thinking about him.  Wanted to help, wanted him to be comfortable, and wanted him to know he hadn’t forgotten their conversation last night and meant what he had said.  This genuine care, totally pure of ulterior motives or selfish gains, is something more valuable and fragile than any treasure or secret Yuri has owned before.  It’s too much.

He doesn’t take the antitoxin and he doesn’t go to the Officer’s Academy.  He pockets the vial and turns back to Abyss, eager to put some distance between them.  The Abysskeeper is surprised, but doesn’t ask questions.  Yuri’s expression must have answered for him.  All thanks to Byleth and his odd ways of caring about people.

Balthus wakes up a few hours later and stumbles into the Ashen Wolves’ classroom with a yawn.  “Ah, Yuri!  What time is it?”

“Nearly noon, I’d say,” Yuri replies coolly.  “You missed class.”

“Damn!” Batlhus blinks.  “Why didn’t you wake me up?  Professor’s gonna have my hide.”

“Don’t call him that,” he grumbles.  “It’s not like we’re really students. Don’t forget what we’re doing down here.”

Balthus takes a seat beside him.  “Whoa.  Someone sounds extra cranky.  What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong.”

“He’s lying,” a new voice calls from the door.  Hapi leans against the threshold.  “Yuri bird’s been in here sighing all morning.  It’s driving me nuts.  Like an itch I can’t scratch.”

“Oh, so he’s not cranky.  He’s moping.”  Balthus chuckles.  “What?  Did Byleth kick you out of class or something?  It’s not like you to be down here when he’s teaching.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Yuri snaps. “You think I don’t have anything else to do with my time but go listen to Professor Byleth's monologues about swords?  You’ve all been spending too much time above.”

Balthus hums in thought.  “I don’t know about that, but you’re the one who visits the monastery the most.”  He nudges Yuri with a wink.  “In fact, you’ve been awfully social ever since the professor invited you to sit in his lectures.”

“Enough,” Yuri hisses.  “Whatever you’re thinking, think twice.”  He stands up and ignores his friends’ amused faces.  “I’m going for a walk.”

“To the surface?”

Yuri grits his teeth, tells them that he most certainly is not going to the surface, and fumes even as his feet carry him higher and higher up anyways.  He stays clear of the Officer’s Academy, choosing to just linger on the outskirts for a bit of air.

He tries to clear his mind.  He needs to remember his priorities.  There’s an entire underground city depending on him, and he won’t waste his time more than he already has on feeble hopes.  Go home, he tells himself and yet doesn’t move.

Byleth finds him far faster than he expected.

“Yuri,” he greets in a flat tone, but there’s that sparkle in his eyes that Yuri’s never noticed before last night.  “I’ve been looking for you.”

Yuri grits his teeth.  “Well, you found me.  Terrible timing, though.  I was just on my way to something important, so, if you’ll excuse me…”

Byleth starts to follow him.  “How are you feeling?”

“Fine.  Of course.  Thank you.”  Yuri picks up the pace, heading for one of the few passageways back to Abyss.  Byleth mirrors him, absolutely oblivious to the tension.  “Byleth, look, I…”

“I remember,” Byleth says and Yuri stops in the doorway.  “It was a date, then.”  When Yuri doesn’t reply, he continues, “Can I ask for another one?”

Yuri exhales.  “You don’t want to date me, Byleth.”

“I don’t?”  Yuri turns around and almost laughs at how serious Byleth takes his words, touching his chin in thought as he weighs his own emotions.  “No, I think I do.”

“It’s a bad idea, I mean,” he tries again.  “You’re the golden boy of Garreg Mach.  Lady Rhea’s favorite, Captain Jeralt’s prodigy, beloved professor, and ally of Prince Dimitri.  You’re meant for something else.  Someone else.”

“I don’t see how my job or my friends would interfere with anything.”

“Of course you don’t.”  Yuri crosses his arms.  “You need to look at the bigger picture.  I’m a thug, Byleth.  I belong in the underworld.  I’ve killed and cheated and lied more than any god can forgive.  If you stay with the church, or if you get higher up in the Kingdom, then having me at your side would be even worse than a thorn.”  Damn Byleth for making him emotional.  He hasn’t felt this raw in a long time, everything bubbling over at once, and it’s all because he let his hopes run away from him again.  He feels like a little child, wishing he could fly away.  

“Oh.”  Byleth nods.  “You’re saying that people would judge me for your past.”

“See?  You understand.  It wouldn’t be--”

“I don’t care.”

Yuri’s gaze snaps up.  “Huh?”

“I don’t care.”  Byleth sets his hands on his hips with a stern look on his face.  It’s the ‘Sylvain, quiet down and read’ look, the ‘Caspar, sit down and listen’ look.  He’s not Yuri’s professor, but Yuri feels scolded all the same.  “You’re worrying about things that haven’t happened.  Who says I’ll still be a professor?  Or some advisor in the Kingdom?  Maybe I’ll be a mercenary again.  Or something completely different.  Like a… a…”

“A fisherman?”  Yuri gives a small smile.

Byleth softens.  “Yeah. I don’t know where the flow of time will take me.  I only know where it has brought me to.  It’s brought me to this monastery.  And to you.”

Yuri laughs, bitter and flattered at the same time.  “And what exactly is it about me that has you so determined?  My looks?  My sharp tongue?  Maybe you’re just attracted to danger?”

“No.  You’re a leader who cares for those in need.  You’re smart and resilient and kind.  I admire what you do for your people, and I admire what you do for me.”  Yuri must look shocked because Byleth quickly adds, “O-of course, that’s not to say you’re not beautiful.”

Yuri stares as Byleth begins babbling, looking like a fish out of water, and then laughs.  Byleth stops, hopeful and wary, but Yuri is defeated.  He invited Byleth out in hopes to learn how to guard his own heart, but ended up opening it even more.  Maybe that’s okay.  Maybe that’s a type of strength, too.  “Byleth Eisner,” he chuckles, “you are truly adorable.”  He composes himself.  “You can have your second date, but let’s not spend it drunk and stupid this time.”

“Of course.  Whatever you want.”

“Whatever I want, huh?”  Yuri smiles behind his hand.  “My, you might regret those words later, you know.”

Later that night, after a simple dinner where they carry a surprising amount of conversation, Byleth invites him into his quarters.  At dawn, Yuri sneaks out of the dorms, making sure no students are taking a morning walk, before making the short journey back to Abyss.  Once underground again, he surveys his disheveled appearance - uncombed hair, lip gloss smeared - and vows to be more prepared next time.

Low laughter snaps his thoughts back to reality, and he glowers at the Abysskeeper, who has no qualms at showing his amusement.  “Work run a little late?” he suggests with a wink.

“Say, friend,” Yuri fixes his hair, “have you ever seen my boyfriend’s Relic?  A more relevant question: do you think you could outrun it?”

.

The following months are, without question, the happiest of Yuri’s life.  Byleth brings many changes, which overwhelms Yuri at first but now he isn’t sure how he got along without him.  The most dramatic change is that Yuri spends less nights wide awake and alone, and more mornings awake and in good company instead.  Byleth doesn’t sleep much, and Yuri loses track of time underground so he finds himself waking with the sun.  It’s all far more chaste than any sort of arrangement Yuri’s had in the past, but it’s good.  Just a simple kiss is all that’s needed to turn an early morning into a cherished memory.

“The ball is coming up,” Byleth says.

Yuri turns the page of the book Byleth snuck out of the library for him.  “Oh, yeah.  That explains why it’s louder up here than normal.”

Byleth glances to the side.  “Everyone has been looking for their dates.”

“Kids will get excited over anything,” Yuri agrees then is hit with the strangest sense of deja vu.  He blinks and looks at Byleth, who picks at a loose thread in his sleeve.  “Have we had this conversation before?”

Byleth’s shoulders raise defensively.  “Not this exact conversation,” he says carefully.

Yuri squints.  “You’re acting weird.”

“People always say that.”

“Weirder than normal.”

“Oh.”  Byleth shrugs.  His ears are pink.  Yuri feels like he knows what’s coming and he sighs.  His boyfriend really is too cute, and he supposes appearing at formal events like this is something he indirectly agreed to when they started dating.

“You want to go together?” he asks, closing his book.

Byleth gives a hesitant nod.  “If you’d be okay with it.”  Yuri smiles despite himself as Byleth adds, “There’ll be wine for non-students, and hors d'oeuvres, and dancing.”

“Hors d’oeuvres?”  Yuri laughs.  “Sounds fancy.”

“I have no idea what they are,” Byleth admits, and Yuri laughs even harder.  “I’ve never been to anything like this.”

“Goddess, you are a disaster, aren’t you?” he wheezes.  “Maybe it’s best that I go along, actually.  You’d probably get eaten alive.”

Byleth’s expression snaps back to its default seriousness.  “What?  Are they dangerous?”

“Hors d’oeuvres?  Not at all.  Spoiled rich kids at a party?  Absolutely.”

The night of the ball, Yuri ignores his friends’ whistlings and well-wishes as he tries to leave behind some instructions on what needs tended to in Abyss while he’s gone.  “We got it, boss,” Balthus assures him.  “Go have fun for a change.  It’s not like you’re going far, and Sothis knows you need a full night away from this place.”

Yuri glares.  “You will come and get me at the smallest sign of trouble.”

Constance places a hand on her chest.  “Why, it almost sounds like you doubt my abilities to protect these old halls.  Fear not!  My shrewd prowess is unmatched by all who dare to--”

Yuri turns to Hapi.  “I’m counting on you to keep an eye on them.”

Hapi raises a hand.  “I got it.”

Constance and Balthus sputter indignantly, but Yuri is already on the move.  He’s not exactly excited to have to mingle with a bunch of students, but he’s curious to see how Byleth will handle them.  Besides, it’s not often they get to do things like this together.  By now, everyone knows the Ashen Demon and the Savage Mockingbird are something of an item.  Never has Yuri wanted to flaunt it.  Until now.

However, Yuri quickly learns that school dances are exceptionally boring.  It’s got everything he hates: pretentious music, uniform dancing, and courtly manners.  The only benefit is that Yuri gets to slink around the chaperone’s table, where there is plenty of wine and gossip.  The other professors don’t seem to mind Yuri’s presence.  In fact, they seem to know more about him than Yuri usually allows.

“Well, our new professor doesn’t talk much,” Manuela says, “but, when he does, he often has a lot to say about you.”

Hanneman huffs as he takes a sip.  “As if you’re not the one constantly goading him for details, Manuela.”  He looks around the ballroom.  “Where is Byleth, anyways?”

“Oh, he got whisked away by that pesky Golden Deer kid,” Yuri laughs, nodding to the dance floor.  Byleth looks completely perplexed as Claude von Reigen breaks from routine and dances off-rhythm.  It’s all in good fun, and Yuri knows how much the students adore Byleth.  So he just nods when Byleth’s frantic eyes meet his own from across the room, silently gesturing for him to dance while he pulls information from the other tipsy faculty members.

“So, where were we?” Yuri asks as he returns to the conversation.  “I believe Byleth has been saying things about me?”

Manuela laughs, Hanneman groans, and Yuri learns quite a bit.

When Byleth is mercifully released from Claude’s clutches, he finds his way back to Yuri.  “Can we leave?” he begs.

“What, you’re not gonna save a dance for me?” Yuri teases then hides his amusement behind his hand as Byleth’s expression lights up as if he hadn’t expected Yuri to dance at all.  “Though, you do look pretty tired.  You wanna take a breather?”

Byleth nods eagerly.

They slip away when the song hits its climax and the room’s attention drifts to the small group of musicians.  Yuri gets them out of the ballroom unseen, but Byleth quickly takes the lead once they’re free.

“Ah.”  Yuri slows to a stop as he realizes where they’ve ended up.  Being around the students all day, he’s sure Byleth has heard the legends surrounding the Goddess Tower.  He glances at Byleth, whose ears are turning red, and smirks.  “Don’t tell me you lead us here on purpose, By?”

“I heard Annette and Mercedes talking about it.  They said that if two people make a vow here then they’ll be bound together forever.”

Yuri raises an eyebrow.  “And you believe in that sort of thing?”

Byleth shrugs.  “I don’t know.  I never really thought about the future before.”

“Well, can’t say that’s not a bad way to live when you’re a sword for hire.”  He looks around.  The ball is still in full swing so there are no other students lurking.  Just the two of them in an empty courtyard where couples promise forever.  Yuri isn’t sure he can promise that just yet, but he’s never been one to back down from a deal.  “I lived like that myself, actually.  For most of my life, I was too busy trying to learn how to stand on my own two feet.  I never had the luxury of knowing what tomorrow was going to be like when I was a kid.”

Byleth nods.  Things are always simple with him.  Yuri never has to switch masks or mince his words.  Yuri isn’t judged.  He’s just accepted.  “You think about it now,” he says.

“Yeah.  A fair bit.”  Yuri steps closer until he can bump his elbow against Byleth’s arm.  “So?  What did you have in mind for tonight, then?”

Byleth’s shoulders rise.  A nervous tick.  “Nothing in particular.  I just thought we should be together.”

Yuri hums.  “How’s this?  I, Yuri Leclerc, vow to be there whenever you need me.  I’ve spent years living in the shadows so let me be yours, too.”

Byleth relaxes.  “Then I’ll vow the same.  Whenever you need me.”

Yuri looks around.  “How are we supposed to know if it worked?  Should we do something?”  Byleth touches his chin in thought.  Then, after great consideration, he lifts his pinky.  Yuri chuckles, but wraps his pinky around Byleth’s without hesitation.  “It’s a deal.  Now,” Yuri gestures back to the monastery, “we should probably start heading back.  Your kids are bound to be missing you, and I believe I was promised a dance.”

Byleth keeps their hands tightly pressed together as he leads them back.  Yuri has no idea if a goddess heard them tonight or not, but he’s come to learn that Byleth is nothing if not reliable.  And Yuri is nothing if not stubborn.  He’ll hold himself to that promise as long as he’s needed.

.

“Are you going to listen in today?” Byleth asks, sitting down on the edge of the bed as he tightens the laces on his boots.

Yuri rubs his eyes before catching his reflection in the mirror above Byleth’s dresser and grimacing.  “It’s gonna take me some time to get this under control,” he mutters, gesturing to his hair.  “Go ahead without me.”

Byleth hums, leaning backwards until he can lightly run his fingers through the frizz and tangles.  “Cute,” he decides before returning to his laces, utterly oblivious to the way it makes Yuri’s heart flutter.

He turns to his side, watching Byleth get ready with fondness and amusement.  “I think you love your job, actually.”

Byleth starts on the other boot.  “Hm.”  He considers it.  “I suppose.  Are you sure you don’t want to come?  It’s archery practice.”

“Pass.  Hitting targets is boring if they aren’t moving.”

Byleth’s lips twitch.  His smile is fleeting, like he still doesn’t quite know how to express it, but it transforms his whole face.  For a split second, the mysterious and cold mercenary is brightened into a soft and carefree young man.  Yuri should start tallying sightings of that smile.  “Maybe you should become a professor as well.  People would appreciate your instruction.”

Yuri scrambles to sit up, blinking at Byleth in shock.  “Huh?  Don’t even joke about that.”

Byleth turns slightly, face like stone again.  “I wasn’t joking.”

“By,” he hisses, “don’t you think I’m a little young to be teaching?”

Byleth shakes his head.  “They let me teach.”

“Or spent a little too much time in the shadows?”

“I killed for hire before coming here,” Byleth states.

“Damn,” Yuri mutters, “you’ve been thinking about this for a while, haven’t you?”

Byleth doesn’t look at him, but either Byleth has gotten more open with his emotions in the months since joining Garreg Mach or Yuri is getting better at reading him.  His ears turn the slightest bit pink and it gives him away.

Yuri sighs.  “I appreciate the thought into my future, but my priority isn’t to this monastery or the spoiled kids that trample around it.  Abyss is.”

“I know,” Byleth agrees.  “I didn’t mean teaching for the monastery.”

“You,” he grumbles, trailing off as he rubs his forehead in exasperation.  Byleth’s earnest nature is really going to be the death of him.

In the distance, the bells chime the half-hour, a warning to staff and students that classes will begin soon.  Yuri lifts his head just as Byleth bends to press a kiss to his cheek.  “I’ll see you later,” he says.  “Let me know if there’s anything I can help with later.”

Yuri hums in acknowledgment.  “See you.”

When the door shuts behind Byleth, and the room goes still, Yuri’s hand cups his own cheek as if trying to preserve the warmth Byleth placed there.  “Me, a professor?” he mutters, breaking into a smile.  “How utterly ridiculous.”

The thing is: he’s beginning to believe it.  As he goes about his day, doing rounds around Abyss and making a mental list of what needs done, he thinks he might be seeing what Byleth sees.  There’s a group of men practicing with rusty lances, but their stance is wrong.  Yuri shows them how to plant their feet, when to step, and feels a little rush of pride when they correct themselves.  In the classroom, there are two children bent over a book that Seteth long-since banished from the main library.  Yuri sits across from them, listens to them work through words they don’t know, and helps when they get frustrated.  The people in Abyss rely on him, in various ways.  Perhaps he’s not as shrouded in shadows as he thought.

Still, no matter how brilliantly this new light in his life shines, Yuri doesn’t let it blind him.  If there’s one lesson his life has taught him, it’s that all things come to an end.  Whether by choice or by force, this won’t last.

So, even as Byleth’s rough exterior continues to smooth away under Yuri’s touch, as their dates stretch into sharing their lives, Yuri doesn’t speak of the emotions building up.  He doesn’t tell Byleth that he’s rather sure he’s falling in love, or that he wouldn’t mind living like this forever.  Byleth doesn’t say it, either, but Yuri feels it.  The words are pressed into his skin with each kiss, braided into his hair as Byleth toys with it, filling him with every sip of Byleth’s perfectly brewed tea.  Neither of them are very good at communicating things aloud, but they just understand each other anyways.  They didn’t have to say anything.

Nothing could have prepared Yuri for how much it would hurt to know he never would get to say those words, though.

Byleth loses his father.  Yuri is there, as much as he can, sneaking into Byleth’s room to curl up at his side and offer his shoulder.  “I tried,” he says over and over.  “I tried to stop it.”

Yuri just holds him close and keeps his cold fury to himself.  He never had the opportunity to meet his father, properly, but he knows how highly Byleth regarded him.  Every tear that stains Byleth’s cheek is another arrow in Yuri’s quiver.

Byleth loses his smile.  His face, once neutral and later warm, falls into a somber frown.  Yuri often catches him talking to himself, carrying on a one-sided conversation and nodding as if someone replies.  When Yuri asks, Byleth replies, “Sothis.”

The thing is: Yuri is beginning to believe that, too.

A few times, when he’s tired enough to lay his head on Byleth’s chest, he hasn’t been able to hear Byleth’s heartbeat.  When they hold hands, Yuri sometimes presses against Byleth’s wrist, searching.  Byleth himself confirms it shortly after Jeralt’s death.  He holds a journal written shortly after his birth and quietly asks Yuri if he really is a demon.

“Of course not,” Yuri admonishes immediately.  He pushes Byleth’s bangs from his forehead.  “Why would you even ask that?”

“My heart doesn’t beat,” Byleth whispers.  Yuri can’t help the anxiety that swells at that.   “It never did.  I don’t feel things like everyone else.”

“Well, see, that’s where you’re wrong, friend.”  Yuri sits down beside Byleth on his bed.  He pries Jeralt’s journal from Byleth’s cold fingers and threads his own through them instead.  “When we first met, I admit that I thought the same.  That you somehow had mastered the ability to keep your emotions away.  Running things the way I do, I saw value in that.  So I tried to figure out how you did it.  But, instead, I saw your smile.  You cry.  You laugh and you scold.  Your heart is in there.”  Yuri squeezes his hand.  “It may not be loud.  It may not be like others’.  But all the proof I need is right here.”

Byleth’s eyes soften.  “What proof is that?”

Yuri smiles.  “Do you really think someone with no heart would cry for their father?  Or worry for their students?  Or even ask how my day was?  The proof is everywhere.  In the people you’ve drawn to yourself.”

Byleth drops his head onto Yuri’s shoulder.  They say nothing more, but Yuri’s mind buzzes with unanswered questions.  Eventually, Byleth falls asleep, and Yuri readjusts him into a more comfortable position, shucking off his heavy boots and leather armor and tossing them unceremoniously to the floor.  But Yuri stays awake, thinking that it no longer seems impossible that Byleth actually does speak to Sothis.

Instead of feeling afraid or repulsed, Yuri resolves to protect Byleth with everything he has.  Whether it was a miracle or an omen that kept Byleth alive as a baby, whatever Lady Rhea did to him, it doesn’t matter to Yuri.  After all, Yuri isn’t supposed to be alive either.  His birth wasn’t planned.  His health was poorer than the village he grew up in.  By all accounts, his heart shouldn’t be beating either.  But it is.  And when Byleth is around, it beats twice as fast.  As if trying to beat for the both of them.

I love you, Yuri thinks.  The room is completely silent save for Byleth’s deep breathing.  The candles burnt out a while ago, leaving only the natural moonlight to cast Byleth in a blue glow.  Young, tired, and hurting.  Yuri doesn’t know how else to help than to just keep himself close.

Byleth returns to teaching, and things feel very different.  It’s like all the humor has been sucked out of the air.  Even the church bells sound off-tune.  Something tense rises with the wind.  Yuri isn’t completely sure where it’s coming from.  The growing darkness within Prince Dimitri, the growing distance Edelgard puts between herself and the monastery, or the growing threat from whoever killed Jeralt.  The enemy could be among them even now, and Yuri finds himself twice as vigilant as before.  His patrols don’t stop with Abyss.  He scouts the lower grounds and other forgotten passages.  He sends some of his men out for more information.  He thinks about slipping into the shadows and dealing Jeralt’s killer swift vengeance, but the thought of leaving brings a bitter taste to his mouth.

Yuri won’t abandon Byleth now.  Not after everything they’ve been through, all they’ve scrounged for themselves.  He’ll stubbornly follow Byleth’s lead if only to watch his back.  He sits in for every class, plants himself right behind Dimitri, and watches.  Black matches black, and Yuri could always see the same colors stirring in Dimitri as himself.

He tries to voice his concerns, once, and it goes about as poorly as Yuri expects.

“Dimitri?”  Byleth frowns.  “What about him?”

“Something’s off,” Yuri says.  “Ever since Remire village, he’s been different.  No, even before that, something was wrong.”

Byleth shakes his head.  “He lost his entire family.  That sort of pain changes you.”  Byleth’s face shifts, and Yuri hates that Byleth knows that pain now, too.  “Dimitri wouldn’t hurt any innocents.  Just those who have already hurt them.”

“Byleth,” Yuri whispers urgently, “how long until he’s so blind for revenge that he can no longer spot the difference?  Everyone is guilty of something.  One man can’t be a judge, jury, and executioner.”

“You don’t trust him.”

Yuri shakes his head.  “Not with your life.”  Byleth purses his lips, but he doesn’t look convinced.  Yuri places a hand over Byleth’s silent heart and adds, “Please, just keep your wits about you.  I’m only saying this because I…”  He swallows the words back down.  “I want you around.”

Byleth pulls him closer.  “I know.  I appreciate the concern, but Dimitri is a friend.  I believe in him.”

“Byleth…”

“Do you trust me?”

Yuri’s heart breaks open at that.  “I do,” he rasps honestly.

Trust has always felt like myth.  People talk about love and trust like they go hand in hand, but Yuri never believed it until Byleth’s fingers thread through his own.  Strong and unyielding like he never intended to let go.  If Sothis really does coexist in Byleth’s heart, those myths may hold some truth after all.

And, usually, Yuri loves when he’s proven right.  But not when it’s at the cost of watching Byleth run after the enemy alone, reckless and angry.  Yuri doesn’t wait for the Blue Lions.  He’s barely aware of them as he tries to follow Byleth’s path.  But it’s a trap.  Yuri knew it was.  And Byleth gets ensnared faster than Yuri can so much as blink.

Byleth disappears, engulfed in a burst of malignance, and Yuri feels as though the ground beneath his feet was taken, too.  No way, he thinks desperately as the students catch up to him.  They look to him as if he’s not just as lost.

“What happened?” Dimitri asks Yuri roughly.  “Where’s the professor?  Yuri, talk to us.”

Yuri just shakes his head as Solon cackles, declaring victory over something that won’t matter as soon as Yuri can find the strength to sail an arrow into his neck.  Rage boils for just a moment, red and blinding, until there’s a glimmer of light where Byleth vanished.

It’s one thing to suspect his boyfriend is receiving some level of divine assistance.  It’s a whole new level to watch him tear through another dimension with a flaming sword and bright hair.  The following battle is quick and decisive with Solon dead and his remaining forces fleeing.  Yuri could hardly keep up.  He ends up falling behind the others and supports where he can with arrows and spells until peace settles again.  His stamina is high enough, but Byleth and Dimitri’s crests make them superhuman.  However, Byleth seems to have reached his limit.  He collapses before Yuri can reach him.

Dimitri easily swings Byleth into his arms.  “I’ll carry him back,” he assures Yuri, who bites his cheek and nods stiffly.

They take him to the infirmary, where Manuela fusses over him with Flayn and Mercedes at her side.  Dimitri and Yuri are shooed out of the way, door snapping shut behind them.  Yuri reaches for the handle again, but Dimitri stops them.  “Um,” he says, “I understand your concern, but perhaps it’s best we give them space to work.  Professor seemed fine.  Just worn out.”

Yuri lowers his arm.  He grits his teeth before forcing a smile.  “Well, I guess it works out.  I’ve wanted to talk to you for a while now.”

Dimitri blinks.  “Me?  Of course.  What’s on your mind?”

“There’s no delicate way to address this so I’m just going to ask.  What do you want from Byleth?”

“What do I want?” Dimitri parrots.  “I’m not sure what you mean.”

“I know when someone is playing an angle,” Yuri explains, “or faking a smile.  I’ve seen bloodthirsty thieves wear the same mask as you countless times.  You’ve already mentioned wanting revenge for your family’s deaths.  I can understand that.  But, I can’t understand why you’d try to poison Byleth’s mind as well.”

“Poison.”  Dimitri frowns.  “I’ve done nothing of the sort.  The professor wanted revenge for Jeralt’s death, and I simply offered my assistance.”

“Without you, he would have never rushed into that obvious trap,” Yuri hisses.  “He could have died today.  He would have died today.  If not for…”  His mouth snaps shut.  “If it happens again, if I feel like you’re a threat to him, I won’t hesitate to sink some steel into that tortured heart of yours.”

“You’re actually threatening me,” Dimitri mutters.  His expression darkens, and, for a moment, Yuri thinks Dimitri might actually fight him right then and there.  But it clears as quickly as it comes, replaced by the same worn smile Dimitri always uses.  “The professor is lucky to have you watching his back.  I swear to you: I have no intention of seeing him harmed.”

Yuri holds the stare for a moment longer before nodding.  “Good.  That’s all, then.”

Dimitri recognizes the dismissal.  He gives an awkward nod back before leaving.  Yuri probably just burnt a very important bridge, but he doesn’t care.  If Byleth won’t question him, then Yuri will.

Not much later, Manuela opens the door to find Yuri sitting on the floor.  “Oh,” she startles, “goodness, if you’re going to look so miserable, you might as well just come in.”

Yuri pushes himself up.  “How is he?”

“Totally fine,” Manuela chimes.  “I couldn’t find a single thing physically wrong with him despite the obvious.”

“The obvious?”

Manuela pats her chest.

“Oh.”  Yuri crosses his arms.  “That.”

“It gave us all quite a scare when we couldn’t find a pulse, but he kept breathing and muttering under his breath,” she continues.  Yuri’s attention flits past her, eyeing the occupied bed and Byleth’s bright hair spilled over the white sheets.  “I’ll check him again when he wakes up, but it just seems like he pushed himself over the edge.”  When Yuri doesn’t move, Manuela adds, “Aren’t you going in?”

Yuri blinks.  He shakes his head.  “He’s fine, right?  That’s all I needed to know.  I’m headed back to Abyss.”  With that, he turns away.  Manuela calls after him, but Yuri doesn’t stop.  Each step that carries him closer to Abyss feels hollow, like he’d left behind a piece of himself.

“Boss!” the Abysskeeper shouts as he walks past.  “Where have you been?   I’ve gotten so many complaints from people in the last hour that I think my hair is turning grey.”

Yuri sighs, thinking of Byleth’s hair again.  “I got held up.  What sort of complaints?”

“There’s been--whoa, are you okay?  You look… bad.”

Yuri’s eyebrow jumps.  “The complaints?”

“A-ah!  Right!  There’s been some sightings of suspicious figures trying some of the sealed passages into Abyss.  Real shady types.  Dark robes.  Wouldn’t show their faces and were gone before any of us got close enough to question them.”

Yuri hums.  “Are Balthus and the others back yet?”

“Yes, sir.  They’re waiting for you in the classroom.”

“I’ll head there now.  If anyone else reports seeing unfamiliar figures, I want to hear about it right away.”

“You got it, boss.”  The Abysskeeper hesitates for a moment and then adds, “Make sure you’re eating enough, though.  Seriously.  You look like you’re about to fall over.  Remember that knight that Seteth appointed here a few months ago?  He made the tastiest--”

Yuri walks away.

“Forget it,” Balthus’s voice carries into the hallway.  “Yuri’d never go for something like that.  Especially after today.  Did you see the way he glared at Prince Dimitri?  I’m not trying anything that’d put me on the receiving end of that look.”

“Oh, you needn’t try at all,” Yuri drawls as he walks in, smirking as Balthus jumps and spins around.

“Damn, Yuri!” he huffs.  “Stop doing that!  It’s creepy how you always show up right when we say your name.”

Yuri snorts.  He drops himself onto one of the benches with a tired sigh.  “So, what won’t I go for?  Sounds like you guys were scheming something nasty in here.”

Constance and Balthus exchange looks.  Hapi rolls her eyes.  “We were just trying to figure out who would be trying to break into Abyss.  When we heard their descriptions, they sounded an awful lot like the creeps we just fought.  And they seemed pretty interested in Chatterbox.”

“So, what, you all thought about using my darling boyfriend as bait or something?”  Yuri rests his cheek in his hand.  “Intriguing, but I don’t think they’d fall for something like that.  Especially so soon.”

“So, what, we just wait for these fiends to show themselves again?”  Constance sighs.  “I do hate sitting around like some lame duck.”

“Don’t worry,” Yuri says.  “If they come back, we’ll catch them.”

The next day, Byleth is released from the infirmary.  Yuri’s hands are full with responsibilities, and he takes it upon himself to prowl around all the entrances to Abyss - functioning and not - just to be safe.  When he returns to the Ashen Wolves’s classroom, there are two things waiting for him.  One is a small hill of reports waiting from his various connections.  The other is his boyfriend, politely sitting with a parcel in his lap.

“What are you doing here?” Yuri tuts.  “You should be resting.”

Byleth’s eyes changed color, too.  The serene blue has shifted to a vibrant green.  Yuri wants to ask what happened, but he’s also hesitant to know.  He’s heard of people being under so much stress that their hair and eyes change.  Yuri doesn’t want to imagine Byleth like that.  “I did rest,” Byleth assures him.  “I wanted to see you.”

Yuri smiles.  “Oh, really?  And why’s that?”

Byleth pats the empty spot next to him.  Yuri sits, already feeling a bit lighter.  It’s strange to be so comfortable around another person, even stranger to feel like he can be himself.  Still, he stops himself from touching Byleth, unsure how comfortable Byleth feels after such an ordeal.  “This is for you.”  Byleth hands him the parcel.

Yuri already knows what it is.  “More cake.  Thank you.”  He unfolds the wax paper and breaks off a small piece.

They sit in a terse silence.  Yuri struggles to breach whatever distance is suddenly between them while Byleth seems to gather his thoughts.  The room is abnormally quiet, and Yuri can hear the clock stuffed on one of the bookshelves ticking the seconds away.

“Sothis is gone,” Byleth says eventually.  Yuri glances at him, surprise growing when he sees Byleth’s stricken expression.  “But I’m still me.”  Byleth’s tone is flat, but his eyes are unsure.

Yuri puts the rest of the cake aside.  “You are,” he agrees then places his hand over one of Byleth’s and squeezes.  “Of course you’re still you.”

I love you, Yuri should say then, but he still doesn’t.  Because Byleth looks afraid, and Yuri doesn’t want to overwhelm him more than he already is.  Because Yuri is a little bit afraid, and he doesn’t want to show it.

Byleth nods then reaches up to touch his own hair.  “So… what do you think?”

Yuri smiles.  “Of the new hair?  It’s cute.”  He leans closer.  “Like mint.”  When Byleth doesn’t respond, Yuri presses their thighs together to get his attention again.  “You wanna tell me what went down earlier?  I’m a good listener.  I hear things every day, yanno.”

It’s a weak attempt at humor, but Byleth talks.  He probably talks longer than Yuri’s ever heard him speak outside the classroom.  He describes the horrible spell that sealed him away in a black void.  He talks about Sothis’s realization and resolve.  How her power was what enabled him to cut and claw his way back.  How his mind had been racing with all sorts of fears he’d never felt before, wondering what was happening to Dimitri and the others, wondering what Yuri was doing.  He talks until there’s nothing more to say.  When the silence stretches on, Yuri glances at Byleth, dozing on Yuri’s shoulder with puffy eyes.

Yuri brushes the hair away from Byleth’s face with a small frown.  “Sheesh,” he mutters, “you carry too much on your own.”  So Yuri sits very still and lets Byleth drool onto his jacket.  He’s a little heavy, but Yuri can manage the weight.  He can carry this much, at least.

Things move fast after that.  Edelgard is unmasked, and she declares war against the church.  The monastery frantically puts up its defenses.  Students from all houses fetch weapons and prepare for battle.  Yuri and the others are there, alongside Byleth and Dimitri, and Yuri uses every bit of experience he’s gathered to help Byleth strategize.

Never once did he expect to lose.

Not once did he think Byleth would leave his side, rushing to Rhea’s aid while Yuri was too busy shouting at a group of students to move out of the enemy archer’s range.  He doesn’t see what happens.  An anguished and inhuman roar splits his ears.  A loud explosion shakes the monastery.  Adrestian soldiers run past him in greater numbers than they could ever anticipate.  The battle is lost, Garreg Mach is sacked, and it’s only after he’s back in Abyss making sure everyone is all right that he hears the news.

A somber report with sparse details followed by condolences.  Yuri only hears every other word.

The adrenaline hasn’t worn off yet, and his hands shake as he helps seal off the entrance and instructs the guards to not let anyone unknown in and to keep the lights low.  He stumbles down the hall, unsteady and exhausted, until he reaches his barracks and collapses into a bed that he hasn’t slept in for a month.

Don’t cry, he tells himself.  Don’t fucking cry.

The first sob wracks his body painfully, and the dam breaks.  He doesn’t cry as much as he screams, angry at himself for not being there when it mattered most and angry at Byleth for not taking Yuri with him.  He should have known.  Byleth is drawn to the action, eager to put himself between a blade and a friend, and Yuri wants to curse him.  He wants to fight until something yields or Byleth tears through the sky once again.  He doesn’t care what changes this time - Byleth’s hair, his eyes, his body - it doesn’t matter.

I love you, Yuri thinks desperately before he imagines Byleth falling alone to his fate and has to stop thinking altogether.

Constance finds him sometime later.  Her face is somber and dull even though the sun is far, far away.  For once, she doesn’t say a word.  Just places a hand on Yuri’s shoulder and mourns with him.

.

Time waits for nothing, and it certainly doesn’t show mercy towards the grieving.  Life in Abyss doesn’t change much.  Adrestia doesn’t seem interested in occupying Garreg Mach, but the residents flee after learning Rhea disappeared as well.  Supplies run tight, and Yuri throws himself into work.  He reverts to some old tactics, employs those dirty tricks that once won him an underground network of spies and criminals.  He collects some overdue debts, uses it to keep his people fed and warm, and makes his way through old connections to secure more aid.  He’s not exactly proud of who he becomes again, but he no longer has the luxury of pride.

On the rare occasion that he has time to himself, Yuri takes out his book of names.  He adds those they lost, but still doesn’t have the heart to write Byleth Eisner.  Hoping against hope, his quill stills before he can even write a single letter of his name.

A few times, Yuri goes to the surface and visits Byleth’s parents’ graves.  Byleth took him there, once, to formally introduce Yuri to them.  It helps to have somewhere to go, something to remind him that those months held meaning, that they weren’t some fantastic dream.

He figures if Byleth’s name isn’t yet etched in stone then it shouldn’t be written in ink either.

So he doesn’t write him into his book.  He sifts through the remnants of battle with a scarf wrapped around his mouth and nose, searching for any sign of Byleth’s fate.  Balthus, Constance, and Hapi join him, sometimes.  Even long after the field is reclaimed by nature and the scars of battle become nothing more than landscape, Yuri searches.  He goes to the river.  He checks nearby villages.  He follows every rumor until he hits a deadend.  Hope runs low, drifting further out of thought like a star losing its light.  Despite it all, Yuri doesn’t let go of that tiny flicker of hope.

Five grueling years later, word spreads that a figure in black has been approaching Garreg Mach, slaughtering every Adrestrian guard or bandit in his path.  A monster with a lance, sputtering madness about rats and haunts.  Whatever scouts or treasure hunters that find their way into Garreg Mach are mercilessly dealt with.  Once, Yuri takes Balthus with him to investigate.  They follow a trail of bodies until they find a man slumped over in the old Blue Lions classroom.  He holds his head, grumbling about Enbarr and wickedness.

Balthus lifts his axe, eyes glittering with intent, but Yuri holds up an arm and shakes his head.  He heard that Prince Dimitri was executed for treason, but Yuri doesn’t forget a face.  Even when it’s twisted in hatred and anguish.  “Let’s head back,” Yuri mutters.  “No one leaves Abyss from now on.”

Balthus sighs, but nods.  “If he tries anything with us,” he warns, “I won’t hold back.”

Yuri agrees.

Things slow to a halt after that.  It feels like every day is the same, time measured only by which guards are on duty and when to distribute meals.  Whenever he finally clambers into bed, he drifts into impossible dreams and wakes up with those three words still at the tip of his tongue.

It’s infuriating that, after everything, Byleth is the one to find him once again.  Dimitri’s presence draws more attention to the abandoned monastery.  Adrestrian soldiers come in larger and larger groups, but they’re taken care of quickly.  A few times, Yuri slips behind in the shadows, bow in hand, and snipes a few of the soldiers that make it into Dimitri’s blindspots.  Protecting Dimitri is something Yuri can do in Byleth’s stead, avoiding being seen and killed himself is more challenging.  Beyond that, he hates the Adrestian Empire just as much.  Each arrow that finds its target holds a little piece of Yuri’s vengeful anger.  There’s not much else he can do than that.

It’s during one of these self-imposed bodyguard stints that Byleth finds his way back.

A group of bandits attempts to smuggle out their loot through the dilapidated village and Yuri shadows their movements, knowing Dimitri will be along before long.  Nothing prepares him for the second figure that appears next to the Prince of Faerghus.  A phantom, like the ones Dimitri speaks of, with mint hair and black armor.  The Sword of the Creator burns through the bandits’ defenses, flashes of brilliant light that leave Yuri utterly stunned.

One by one, the ex-Blue Lions return to lend a hand.  Older, warier, but just as eager to see their professor.  Yuri feels frozen.  It’s too much to process at once so he decides - to hell with it - and joins the fray as well.  He jumps out of the shadows with an arrow sailing right into a bandit’s raised arm before it can strike an axe into Byleth’s back.  The bandit falls with a groan, and Byleth turns.

Yuri lowers his bow.  Byleth’s shoulders relax.  Neither of them speak or move, but Yuri sees something spark back to life in Byleth’s green eyes.  Never good at communicating, Yuri thinks, but always understanding each other.

There’s a shout, a thief comes barreling in with a dagger, and they return to the fight.  Yuri stays barely a pace behind Byleth, covering his weak spots while Byleth does the same for him.  It’s seamless, the way they fall back into pace together, fighting like the last five years have been nothing more than a bad nightmare.  If it wasn’t for Dimitri’s bloodthirsty laughter ringing somewhere nearby, Yuri could almost trick himself into believing it.

They clear the area in record time. The bandits are taken care of, the Blue Lions house congregates in the courtyard, and Dimitri quickly makes it known to them that he has no intentions of taking back Faerghus or stopping the war.  His only concern is Edelgard’s head on a spike.  Yuri doesn’t like the way Byleth’s face falls with each poisonous word that leaves Dimitri’s mouth.  Yuri knows better than to try to reason with a madman.  Still, he has to actively stop himself from stepping in between Dimitri and Byleth.  Instead, he glues himself to Byleth’s side and hopes some comfort will reach him.

“You’re our king,” Gilbert relents.  “We will follow you wherever you go.”

Dimitri huffs.  “What you do matters nothing to me so long as I kill her.”

The conversation ends there.  Dimitri stalks away, muttering to himself again, and Gilbert shakes his head.  The other Blue Lions begin discussing their own concerns about Dimitri’s mental state, the excitement of Byleth’s return forgotten for now, and Yuri seizes his chance.

He turns to Byleth, lightly touching his sleeve and tugging discreetly.  He tilts his head to the side, silently asking for privacy, and Byleth follows without hesitation.  Still so trusting of Yuri, even though it’s been five years and Yuri’s boots are still splattered with some random bandit’s blood.  Byleth folds their hands together, taking the lead, and Yuri’s emotions get swept up all over again as they walk.

Byleth looks around the monastery with pained curiosity, stepping carefully over rubble and observing scorch marks with a frown.  He must have no idea what happened, Yuri realizes.  That’s a conversation for another time.  For now, Yuri just wants answers of his own.

Byleth leads them to his old room.  It’s one of the few rooms that’s been untouched.  Not even Yuri had the heart to enter, even though he’s been right here the entire time, and no bandit has been able to get this deep into the monastery without Dimitri or himself interfering.  Still, the years have taken their toll.  It’s dusty and covered in cobwebs.  Yuri coughs into his sleeve as they kick up dirt into stale air, eyes watering.

“I’ll open a window,” Byleth says.

Yuri hasn’t said a word.  He’s thought about what he would do if Byleth returned.  He’s imagined it all sorts of ways: kissing him, cursing him, hitting him, telling him everything that he was too timid to say back then.  Now, faced with reality, he’s at a loss.  Part of him is worried he’s snapped the same as Dimitri, trapped in a delusion he has no desire to wake from.  Another part is simply exhausted and wants nothing more than to drop his head on Byleth’s shoulder for a long nap.

Byleth turns and gives Yuri a soft smile.  “I remember,” he assures him.  “I remember everything up until I fell over that cliff.  I just woke up by the river and somehow, apparently, five years had passed.”

Yuri swallows around the knot in his throat.  “You were here?”  Yuri shakes his head.  “I searched the grounds countless times.  I would have… I should have found you.”  He inhales shakily, tears pricking at the corners of his eyes.  “I should have…”

Byleth crosses the room in two long strides and pulls Yuri into his arms.  Yuri latches onto him tightly and marvels that he may just be the slightest bit taller than Byleth now.  So much has passed, so much time apart, but Yuri no longer cares.  “I’m sorry,” Byleth says.  “I should have been here for you.”

A tear escapes Yuri’s eye, tracking mascara down his cheek, so he squeezes them shut and tightens his hold around Byleth’s shoulders.  He lets out a half-sob, half-laugh into Byleth’s neck.  “That’s what I wanted to say.”

“You were,” Byleth assures him, hand coming to cradle Yuri’s head.  “You didn’t leave.”

Yuri pulls back, wiping at his face and taking a shallow breath.  “I did,” he admits.  “Several times.  I… If I had known you were still so close, I…”

“You came back,” Byleth says.  “We’re here now.”  He glances at the bed, nose wrinkling at the layer of dirt, and instead pulls Yuri to sit in one of the wooden chairs.  It’s not any cleaner, but he hardly cares about his clothes right now.  “It may be too soon to ask, but we were together, then.  Is there… Can I ask for another chance?”

Yuri digs his nails into Byleth’s arms.  “Don’t you ever, ever, pull something like that again.”  Then he breaks into a laugh that ebbs into another sob.  “You can have your second chance,” he adds.   “You can have as many as you want.”

Byleth smiles and Yuri starts to cry all over again.

.

“Your hair is so long,” Byleth muses, fingers twisting through Yuri’s purple hair.  “You’ve gotten taller, too.”

Yuri chuckles.  “And you look exactly the same.”

They’re in Abyss.  After all the excitement, there was absolutely no way either of them were cleaning up Byleth’s room.  That’s a job for tomorrow.  Tonight, Yuri all but kicks out the others from the barracks for a few hours and throws Byleth into bed.  Balthus whistles at them as he leaves, but the only thing Yuri wants is to get some sleep.

Byleth hums.  “Do you think I can braid it?”

Yuri opens one eye.  “Do you know how to braid?”

“No.”

Yuri snorts and closes his eye again.  “Then nope.”

He senses Byleth’s pout and smiles unbiddenly.  Byleth’s hand drifts from Yuri’s hair to his cheek, tracing Yuri’s jaw with his knuckles.  “It’s really been five years,” Byleth whispers, “hasn’t it?”

Yuri’s heart clenches.  “Come here.”  He lifts an arm.  Byleth shifts closer until Yuri can tuck his head under his chin and hold him tight.  “It’s over and done.”

Byleth exhales shakily.  Yuri can’t imagine how unsettling it would be to be flung into such a grim future, but he’s rather relieved that Byleth didn’t have to endure the same wait that he did.  At the very least, Byleth was spared that pain.  Maybe he’ll send a little thank-you prayer to Sothis, wherever she is.

He isn’t sure how long he drifts off, but his arm is sore and his neck is tight when he rolls out of bed.  Twenty-five really is the age where the body starts giving out for no apparent reason.  Byleth watches him suffer with a small frown.  “You should stretch more often,” he says.

Yuri glowers at him.  “You’re one to talk.  Weren’t you just asleep for five years?”

Byleth nods.  “Give or take,” he says seriously.  Yuri missed him.

When they return to the monastery, Yuri is stunned.  More than the Blue Lion house has returned. The Knights of Seiros, priests and priestesses, merchants, and a smattering of the other students that never had the chance to graduate.  Familiar faces hurry to clear the debris and clean the grounds.  Over the next week, even more make their way back.  Ferdinand greets the pair of them with exuberance, hair far longer than it had been.  “Professor!” he exclaims.  “How good it is to see you again!”  He rambles happily, and, if Yuri closes his eyes, he can almost trick himself into thinking it’s five years ago.

“Are you coming to the strategy meeting?” Byleth asks, and Ferdinand’s face lights up.

A lot is different now, but not much seems to have changed either.  “Come on,” Yuri interjects, tugging at Byleth’s long sleeve.  “We’re already late.  I don’t want to hear Seteth’s complaining so early in the morning.  Excuse us, Ferdie.”

“One moment,” Byleth says, turning back to Ferdinand.  “Are you sure you’re okay with this?  Edelgard was your friend.”

“Friend?”  Ferdinand sighs.  “I doubt whether that was ever the case.  The only one she let in was Hubert.  I was never privy to such important decisions.”

“And Hubert?  He’s still with Edelgard?”

Ferdinand’s smile withers.  “Of course.”  His shoulders drop for a moment then pick right back up.  “But, perhaps I should save this information for the strategy meeting.  I’m sure you’ll all have many questions for me and the others who hail from Adrestia.  I hope our background can be of some use but, as I said, we were never aware of Edelgard’s true intentions.”

“Anything helps, at this point,” Yuri says.  “Don’t count yourself out just yet, Aegir.”

Ferdinand laughs.  “That was never my intention!  Ah, but it’s good to see you again, too, Yuri.  I’m glad the professor has you around.  It’s almost like a romance out of legend.  Have you ever read Loog’s--?”

“We’re late,” Yuri interjects once more, pushing Byleth forward.  “Move it, Mr. Ashen Demon.”

Seteth does, in fact, scold them for being late to their own meeting.  Byleth nods as if he’s agreeing, as if he wasn’t the one who stopped to chat, and Yuri feels a headache coming on before they even sit down.  Byleth is directed to head the table with Gilbert and Seteth on either side of him.  Seteth unrolls a long and detailed map of F ó dlan down the table.  Yuri plops into a seat between Linhardt and Hilda, arms crossed as he looks around.

“Where’s Dimitri?” Byleth asks.

Across from Yuri, Felix gives a huff.  “The boar prince is haunting the cathedral.  There’s no sense in talking to a beast like him.”

“Uh,” Sylvain speaks up, “what Felix means is: His Highness will not be joining us.”

“In any case, he made his own stance rather clear,” Gilbert says.  “His wish is to march to Enbarr directly and take on Edelgard’s armies in full force.”

“It’ll have to wait,” Seteth says.  “It seems the Imperial forces are already well aware of our return and are gathering to launch a counterattack.  We’ll go nowhere if we don’t secure the monastery.”

“Then let’s talk tactics.”  Byleth places a hand on the map.  “Can anyone who’s familiar with Adrestria’s armies tell us what we might be dealing with?”

Caspar’s hand shoots up.  “Oh, professor!  I know this one!”

Byleth’s lips twitch upwards.  “You can speak freely.”

“Oh.  Right.”

The meeting passes in much of the same way.  They piece together what limited knowledge they’ve all gathered over the last five years and plan and counter-plan until no more ideas come.  They’re as prepared as they can be.  With Byleth back on their side, Yuri doesn’t feel as nervous as he should. 

Still, when the Imperial forces find their way into Garreg Mach once more, he plants himself right in Byleth’s shadow and doesn’t let him out of his sight.  If it concerns Byleth at all, he doesn’t say a word.  He simply shouts orders to the others, guiding them like an arrow to its mark.

Dimitri ravages whoever is in his path.  It’s not a pretty sight, but Yuri’s seen him do far worse.  At the very least, it seems that a part of Dimitri recalls Byleth’s intuition in battle.  He heeds Byleth’s warnings, but he doesn’t stop charging forward until the enemy commander is dead on the ground.

It was a quick battle.  Morale soars even higher as Adrestian flags are lowered and replaced with the colors of Faerghus and the church.  Byleth is swept away for a quick celebration and then back to the planning table.  This time, Yuri detaches from his side with a promise to find him later.  It wasn’t just old students and the knights who fought on Garreg Mach’s side today.  Some Abyssians threw in their rusty swords, following Yuri and the other Ashen Wolves.  Most make it out.  Two don’t.

So Yuri returns to Abyss with the news, though it’s heard by numb ears.  Yuri fishes out his worn journal and writes down their names.  At the very least, they’re remembered there.  He’s shown the journal to Byleth once before.  Though Byleth didn’t say much about it, Yuri could tell he understood its purpose.

“Thought I’d find you in here.”

Yuri closes his journal swiftly, raising an eyebrow as Balthus enters the barracks.  There’s a bruise across his cheek, but he looks otherwise unharmed.  “Baltie,” Yuri greets teasingly, “you need something?”  He wrinkles his nose.  “Better not be about money.  Unless you’re willing to make another wager.”

“Very funny,” Balthus deadpans.  He sits down on the bunk across from Yuri’s.  “I feel like I haven’t seen you in ages.  Not since Byleth came back like some sort of godly apparition.”  He crosses his arms.  “How you holding up?”

“How am I holding up?” Yuri parrots.  “Byleth is back.  The monastery is full of people.  Supply lines are connecting to Abyss again.  For the first time in five years, we have real alcohol to drink and real hope to toast to.”  He taps his finger on the journal’s leather cover.  “I’m exhausted, but in a good way.”

Balthus nods.  “And everything is okay?  With him, I mean?”

“With Byleth?”  Yuri grins.  “It’s a little late to be giving him the shovel talk, Balthus.”

“Well, I mean, five years is a long time!  Things’re bound to be different.”

Yuri hums.  “Don’t worry.  Byleth is the same ole Byleth.  I’m the one who’s changed, but…”  When it comes to Byleth, he still feels the same.  “You don’t need to worry.”

“We’re in war, pal,” Balthus says.  “If you’re not a little worried, you’re not okay.”

“Aren’t you full of wisdom today?”

“Hey, I’m just lookin’ out for a friend!” Balthus holds up his hands passively.  “If you say it’s fine, then fine.  Just take care of yourself, too, yeah?”

Five years ago, Yuri might have made a few jabs at that.  Now, with everything coming together as it is, he quirks a smile.  “Yeah.  Thanks, Balthus.”

Balthus nods, takes two steps toward the door, and then pauses.  “Oh, right.  Next time you see Byleth, can you pass him a message?  There isn’t an academy anymore, but there are a few of us still looking for pointers.  Constance wants to pick up the sword.”

“Sure.  I’m betting he’ll be thrilled to play professor again.”

Balthus leaves with a light laugh, but Yuri feels his earlier words weigh on him.  Things are bound to be different, yes.  But he thinks he might be banking on that.  He’s not afraid of change.  Only that things will go back to that dreadful grey drag.

.

Thankfully, things do change.  Momentum shifts with every battle.  They find old pieces of themselves in the rubble and rebuild their lives around each other.  Dimitri, more than anyone, changes.

If Yuri hadn’t already believed Sothis’s influence on Byleth, he would have after seeing how Byleth’s presence slowly woke Dimitri up.  None of his friends gave up on him, even at his cruelest.  Rodrigue, Dedue, Byleth, Gilbert - their combined efforts bring life back to Dimitri’s voice.

They stop their advance on Enbarr.  They take back Fhirdiad instead.  Standing in Faerghus’s capital, watching the people cheer for the man Yuri kept a wary eye on for so long, Yuri is overwhelmed with the sudden realization that things might turn out okay.

They spent an extra two days in Fhirdiad to recover and resupply.  Yuri strolls the tattered streets, the nearly-barren markets, and takes in the people’s exuberance until it’s his own.  He buys some slightly stale pastries from an old baker and splits one with Hapi as they sit by an empty fountain.

“This place still gives me the creeps,” Hapi mutters.  “More than Abyss ever did.”

Yuri hums.  “It’s a little rundown.  I’d like to come back and see what it’s like at its full potential, I think.”

Hapi takes another bite.  “Maybe Chatterbox and you can spend your honeymoon here.”

“Ha-ha.”

“Where is he anyways?”

“Byleth?  Where else?  He’s talking strategy with Dimitri and Gilbert.”

“Okay.  You’re good at strategy.  Why aren’t you there?”

Yuri shrugs and takes another bite.  “I was hungry.”  Hapi raises an eyebrow and Yuri scoffs.  “What?  They’re in the palace.  The guards kept eyeing me like I was about to pilfer the place.”

“Wouldn’t be the worst thing you’d done.”

“Just trying to keep this new alliance in good standing.”  Yuri sighs, stretching his arms over his head.  “It’s Byleth’s reputation that matters in there.  Not mine.”

“This all sounds pretty complicated,” Hapi murmurs.  “I hope dating Byleth is worth all this.”

Yuri smiles at the sky, at the sliver of sunlight peeking through the clouds.  “Without a doubt.”

Eventually, Yuri does make his way back to the palace.  Not to insert himself into the strategy meeting, but to drag Byleth away from maps and parchments and to a full night’s sleep.

“Goddess, this room is huge,” Yuri grumbles as he scopes out the bedroom Dimitri had prepared for them.  “Guess all these nobles need the space to air out their rotten egos.”

“It’s almost over,” Byleth murmurs before he plops onto the bed face-first.  Yuri comes over to sit beside him, hand resting on Byleth’s back.  “Just a little more.”

Yuri pats his shoulder.  “And then we’re going on the longest vacation ever, right?”

Byleth lifts his head.  There are bags under his eyes, but there’s a familiar sparkle in that green gaze.  “Where would we go?”

“Well, see, while you were off plotting your battles and cementing your spot in history, I’ve been thinking about serious things.  Like new fishing spots and foreign teas.”  Yuri’s fingers trail up Byleth’s neck and into his hair.  “Might be fun to explore a bit.”

Byleth smiles.  “What about Abyss?”

“Balthus and Hapi can manage for a few weeks.  Probably.  But, with supplies coming into the monastery again and Seteth’s surprisingly considerate orders now intact, I’m not too worried about Abyss’s safety.”

Byleth hums, eyes slipping closed and still smiling.  “And where are these new fishing spots?”

“Let’s see.  Faerghus has quite a few lakes and rivers.  Sylvain actually had some good recommendations, but I don’t know if I want to be knee-deep in snow just for some pretty mountain scenery.  Ashe said he used to camp around…” A soft snore interrupts his rambling.  Yuri softens as Byleth snores again, fast asleep.  “That was faster than expected.  Guess fishing really does put you at ease.”  He bends down, presses a quick kiss to Byleth’s cheek, and adds, “I hope it really is almost over.  For everyone’s sake.  But mostly yours.”

The next morning, Yuri assists with the army’s preparations.  He checks the carts of supplies, makes sure everyone knows their orders, and then snatches an apple from a crate as compensation.  As he shoves it into his pack for later, he hears a familiar voice call out.

“Yuri, might I have a moment?”

Yuri looks up.  “Your Majesty,” he says plainly.

Dimitri’s inner demons may be surrendering, but he’s still dressed for war: black armor, heavy cloak, patched eye.  His shoulders are raised.  His expression is uncomfortable.  He fiddles with his hands.  He’s nervous, bashful even, but he still strikes an intimidating image.  “I wanted to… clear the air, I suppose.”

Yuri crosses his arms.  “Do we really have to do this now?  We’re about to end a war.”

Dimitri nods.  “Yes, well, now may be the only time.  I’d be remiss if I never even tried to make amends.  After all, you’ve done so much for us.  And for Professor Byleth.  I admit that my memory of the last few years is foggy at best, but you were there, weren’t you?  At Garreg Mach.  Watching my back.”

Yuri looks away.  “I wasn’t watching it for your sake.”

“I appreciate it nonetheless.  I’ve done nothing but cause you trouble, and--”

Yuri lifts a hand.  “Okay, okay.  Jeez.  If you want to make amends or whatever, then survive this next battle.  Don’t stop at becoming a good king.  Make a difference.”

Dimitri relaxes, but his expression turns confident and steady.  “Yes, I understand.”

.

The battle for Enbarr goes better and worse than they expect.  The capital falls with its empress, the pillars of salt crumbling beneath Edelgard’s corrupted figure as she makes one final stand against their weakened forces.  After witnessing Aelfric’s transformation years ago, Yuri thought his nerves were steeled against anything.  But Edelgard’s power is terrifying, even more so than the black wings sprouting from her elongated back, and it wafts through him in furious waves.

Byleth shoves him out of her magic’s range before darting ahead, trailing after Dimitri and Dedue.  Yuri shakes his head, forces out whatever courage he’s got left, and follows.  Imperial guards swarm them in an attempt to protect their queen, but at this point their little army is a well-oiled machine.  Their numbers get cut down, their defenses chipped away bit by bit, until the only thing left is Edelgard herself, looking calm despite the raging currents that blow through the castle’s halls.

“Byleth!” Yuri calls.  “She’s got a hell of a barrier casted on her.  If we don’t find a way to stun her or get her guard down, we’re not even going to leave a scratch.”

Constance gives a weak laugh.  “Well, I suppose my shining moment has finally come.  If it’s a defensive barrier created by magic then allow me to try some magic of my own to break through it.”

“No,” Yuri hisses through his teeth, grabbing her arm and drawing her back.  “If you miss, you’re dead.  You got that?”

“It may be the only chance we have,” Byleth interjects.  He nods at Constance.  “Try it.  Give it all you’ve got.”

“Are you serious?” Yuri demands.  “Byleth, what if she…?” He trails off as Byleth gives him a stern look.

“Don’t worry,” Byleth says.  “I’ll step in if I have to.”

Ah, Yuri thinks, he really does have Sothis’s power.

He never dismissed the possibility, never disbelieved it, but sometimes it’s hard to wrap his mind around.  But he trusts Byleth, the real him.  He lets Constance go.  “Be careful,” he pleads.

Constance laughs.  “My, since when did you become such a worrywart!  Stand back, and watch as the heir to house Nuvelle saves the day once again!”

And it works.  The shield breaks apart after a particularly powerful spell hits Edelgard right in the chest.  The unrelenting pressure dissipates just by a fraction, but it’s enough for Yuri to put more power into his hits.  Dimitri raises his lance, Byleth lifts his sword, and Yuri aims his bow.  Three quick attacks is all they need before Edelgard falls to hear knees.  The corrupted form begins to fade, revealing the girl beneath.

Dimitri then retracts his weapon, prompting them to do the same, and instead reaches out his hand to her.  “El,” he rasps, hopeful and determined.

Instead, there’s a quick clash.  Edelgard pulls out a dagger, Byleth jumps forward, and Yuri instinctively follows.  But it’s over.  Dimitri’s lance puts an end to the threat, face twisted from a pain that doesn’t come from the dagger in his shoulder.

And, like that, it’s over.

.

Life changes, faster than Yuri can frankly keep up with, but at the epicenter of it all is Byleth.  He gets a new title - acting archbishop - after they find Rhea and she relinquishes the position to him.  “I don’t know anything about the church,” Byleth admits to Yuri with a slightly panicked expression.  “What if they ask me to say grace or something?”

“Just say whatever you think Sothis would say,” Yuri suggests.

Byleth wrinkles his nose.  “She’d probably call us all fools.”

Yuri snorts, smoothing out a wrinkle in Byleth’s new robes.  “Well, it’s not like they can argue with you.  You’re the boss, aren’t you?  Wonder what that makes me?”  Yuri taps his chin in thought.  “Maybe I should get some fancy robes, too.”

Byleth sighs.   “They’re not exactly comfortable.”

Yuri laughs.  “They’re ceremonial.  Still, if you find that they’re uncomfortable by the time this coronation is over, then maybe I can help you out of them.”

Byleth’s face goes pink and then Yuri is struck with the strangest sense of deja vu.  He gasps, affronted, and pulls away to poke angrily at Byleth’s cheek.  “Did you just go back in time?  Have I made this joke before?”

“Sorry,” Byleth mutters, rubbing his cheek with a pout.  “How do you always know?”

“You have a tell.”  Yuri squints at Byleth’s red blush.  “Stop trying to cover up your embarrassing moments.  I happen to enjoy those greatly.”

Then, Byleth giggles.  It’s the same giggle Yuri heard years ago, in this same room, one drunken night that led him here.  Happy, carefree, and Yuri wonders if it’s possible to fall in love with the same person twice, or three times, in a single day.

I don’t want you for a week vacation, Yuri thinks.  I want you for the rest of my life.

“Okay, focus,” Byleth tells himself, taking a deep breath and reigning in his humor.  “This is a formal event.”

“And I’ll be beside you the entire time.”

“Yes, that’s why I’m composing myself.”

“Not sure if that’s a compliment or an insult.”

Byleth’s stony face doesn’t crack that time, but his eyes shine with mischief.  Yuri likes to think that’s some of his personality rubbing off on him.

“Okay, archbishop.”  Yuri rubs his arms before stepping back and looking over Byleth’s appearance with an approving nod.  “I think you’re ready to reform a religion.  Maybe two.”

“Ambitious.”

Yuri gives him a wink in response before heading for the door.  “Shall we head over, then?”

Byleth pats his pocket quickly, cheeks going pink again, and nods.  “Yes.  I’m ready now.”

“You forgot something important just then, didn’t you?” Yuri teases.  “Who knew the vessel of Sothis would abuse his power this much?”

“All right, we’re leaving now,” Byleth says, louder than usual.  “Come on.”

“Must be something pretty important.  What was it?  Notes?  Cake?”

“Uh.  Yes.  Cake.”

“You’re so cute when you try to lie.”

“Yuri.”

“Okay, fine.  I’ll probably find out soon enough, anyways.”  Yuri opens the door, gesturing for Byleth to go first.  “After you, your Grace.”

Byleth heaves a sigh.  Yuri knows he’s not super thrilled about his new position in the church.  They talked about it, in great lengths, until they mutually agreed it’d be best to oversee reformations for now.  It means delaying their trip a fair bit, but it’s temporary.  Yuri doesn’t mind.  They’ll both be at Garreg Mach.  Yuri can poke fun at Seteth more often.  Byleth can learn more about himself.  They’ll be all right.

Before they enter the cathedral, Byleth stops.  “Meet me after this,” he says, “privately?”

Yuri raises an eyebrow.  “After the ceremony or the dinner?”

“The ceremony.  Meet me by the goddess tower.”

Yuri raises the other eyebrow.  “Okay,” he drawls, suspicious.  He notices Byleth pat his pocket again, and Yuri’s heart skips a beat.  “What did you do?”

“Nothing yet.”

“Oh?  Should I be looking forward to it?”

Byleth doesn’t give away anything more.  He continues up the steps, and Yuri marvels at how he can be so mysterious and so open at the same time.  “Cute,” he mutters, and follows.

The ceremony is just as grand and boring as Yuri feared.  The choir, out of practice after years away, mangles a few hymns as Seteth goes through the motions of bestowing new responsibilities onto Byleth’s already full plate.  Regardless, pride still consumes Yuri’s every breath.  He finds himself smiling as Byleth faces the jubilant witnesses.

It’s some time before Byleth manages to escape.  Yuri slips away quickly, waiting at the goddess tower for a while before he sees Byleth’s head poke around a pillar, check either direction, and then hasten to where Yuri stands.  Yuri hides a smirk behind his hand.  “That headdress they have you in makes you look utterly ridiculous,” he informs Byleth as he approaches.

Byleth removes it, ruffling his hair back into its usual messy style.  “It’s heavy.  My neck is getting tired.”  He sets the headdress on the ground then leans against the stone balcony wall with a tired sigh.  “I’m glad that’s over.”

Yuri hums in agreement.  “Now the real work begins.”  He steps closer, bumping their shoulders together.  “So, is there a reason you wanted to meet here specifically?  Or did you just want an out?”

“Ah.  There’s a reason.”  Byleth’s cheeks are red again, but Yuri doesn’t feel like they’ve gone back in time.  He listens with rapt attention as Byleth reaches into his pocket.  “My father left me something.  It was my mother’s, but he wanted me to give it to the person I wanted to share my life with.”

Oh.   Yuri’s eyes go wide.  He had his suspicions, but hearing those words out loud is another thing altogether.  His heart rams into his ribcage as Byleth shows him a ring, offered to Yuri freely, as if it’s the easiest thing in the world to do.

“It’s beautiful,” Yuri whispers.  It really is; an intricately designed silver band with amethyst gems embedded into the shape of a four-pointed star.  Yuri’s been offered jewels and precious metals of every shape, cut, and size before.  Hopeful bachelors with titles and more land than they knew what to do with.  But, the fact that it’s in Byleth’s palm, makes it more valuable than all the rest combined.

“Every time I look at the gems,” Byleth continues, “I think of your eyes.  And then I think about how your eyes crinkle when you laugh.  I never minded the quiet before, but I want to hear that laugh for the rest of our lives.”

“You’re the archbishop of the Church of Seiros now,” Yuri murmurs.  “That’s a pretty esteemed title you’ve got.  Next to your brilliance, I'm not much more than a flightless sparrow. All I've got are my dreams, a handful of people working for me, and a pittance of gold. Well, and my undeniable charms, of course.  So I've got to know...is there really any room in your bright and shining world for someone like me?”

“Of course there is,” Byleth answers immediately.  “There always was.”

“Ah.  You.  You always say such incredible things so easily.”  Yuri takes a deep breath and then takes the ring from Byleth’s palm.  It fits perfectly, like it was meant to find its way to him.  “I don’t think there’s anywhere I’d rather be than your side.”

“Is that a yes?”

“You didn’t even ask me a question.”

Byleth pouts.  “Yuri.”

“Relax.  I’m not good at saying these things, either.  I hear you, loud and clear.”  He lifts his left hand, admiring the ring against the setting sun.  “It’s a yes.”

Byleth nudges him.  “Then, can I ask you for more thing?”

“Yeah?  Something else you want?”

“What’s your real name?”

Yuri smiles.  “Well, you certainly don’t forget, do you?  I’ve always kept it private out of necessity.  Couldn’t have such a secret being spread around, after all.”

Byleth nods.

“If there’s anyone I’ll tell, it’s you.  Listen closely, now.”  Yuri leans in and cups his hand around his mouth, but he still delays on giving his name.  Instead, he whispers three words that mean every bit now as they had five years ago.

I love you.