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Azure Moon

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Byleth loves Dimitri, deeply.

There has always been a sparkle of emotion, something more, ever since the days in the Academy. From the first time Byleth laid his eyes upon him, he was magnetized by Dimitri’s presence.

Five years passed. The moment Byleth climbed those stairs, stained with blood, the moment Byleth understood Dimitri’s intense sorrow and madness—the emotions inside him erupted. Relief and sadness, both of them so great, Byleth had trouble breathing.

But his love for Dimitri is something he has come to realize only during the last few months. Through the harsh days where Dimitri avoided life itself, even spat death threats at everyone around him. Through the happier days, through the dangers on the battlefield and those soft, personal moments they had for themselves after each battle. A few friendly gestures, a shared glance, a word of advice.

After Edelgard is defeated, after the celebratory dance, they talk again, about the future…about the new Kingdom. But rarely about themselves, their feelings…those five hellish years Byleth spent asleep and Dimitri spent losing his mind.

Dimitri’s coronation is approaching, and Byleth still hasn’t told him.

Until the night Rhea attacks, Byleth never has a chance to speak to Dimitri about his feelings.

*

It happens suddenly, the night before the coronation.

It is late. Dimitri and Byleth linger in the throne room, lost in an important conversation about the future of the new Academy. A guard steps inside and informs the King that Lady Rhea has requested an audience with him.

Dimitri does not hesitate, and lets her in. Since Edelgard’s death three weeks ago, Rhea has been missing. Byleth is happy; he thought her dead.

Rhea is smiling as she approaches the throne, where Dimitri is sitting, Byleth standing by his side.

It all happens so fast.

When Rhea’s dagger embeds itself in Byleth’s heart, Dimitri lets out an inhuman roar.

The roof shatters into a million blue and silver pieces as the enormous dragon ascends toward the night sky.

Byleth collapses.

*

“No. You cannot. I will not allow this.” Sothis says, but Byleth is relentless. Silent and lethal.

He wants another chance. He wants to turn back time.

But this time…not for a few seconds.

He is standing again opposite that throne, the interlaying lines on black granite. The pain is unbearable.

“Even if I could” Sothis says, “your body wouldn’t be able to withstand it. Turning back the wheels of time…”

“Six years.” Byleth says, his lungs filling with blood and Dimitri roaring in grief, somewhere far away from him, “Give me six years.”

He wants to go back. Before the war…before Dimitri’s scars, the deaths of his students, the atrocities across the battlefields.

“A mortal body cannot even handle six months!” she snaps. “To withstand even that would be miraculous! Even if you succeed, you will only earn an early death. I will not allow this!”

“Six months. A month. Anything.”

“What is done cannot be undone.” The Goddess says. “You were destined to die since the day you were born.”

Byleth takes a step back.

“When your mother gave birth to you…” Sothis speaks, “…your heart did not beat. She sacrificed herself. She gave you her Crest and her life. Yet in this world…nothing is permanent. Nothing can endure the flow of time.”

“You’re wrong.”

Sothis sighs. “I know that cryptic expression of yours. Don’t tell me…”

“I love him.”  People who know Byleth well enough would detect the absolute, devastating misery in his voice. “I cannot leave him. Not before he knows.” It’s a lie. Byleth cannot leave Dimitri’s side at all. He fears the insanity will return tenfold, consume Dimitri whole, burn the entire Kingdom to ashes, his hopeful plans, his bright legacies for all the orphaned children. Everything he built with his blood and tears.

“He knows.” At Byleth’s surprised expression, Sothis harsh tone gentles. “Deep inside his soul, he knows. That you love him. That your life is his. And the same scorching flame burns inside his heart…even now, when he’s raging over your injured body. As if he has lost his soul…”

Byleth shudders. He cannot feel Dimitri’s tears dripping onto his skin. The way he holds Byleth close. He cannot feel anything, anymore. He has so much gentleness, inside. Dimitri. Byleth will fight Death himself if it means Dimitri will be spared the grief and madness of losing another beloved person in his life.

Sothis sighs, resting her cheek on her palm, as if bored. “There are other timelines…other life choices among the unique your path you thread. The dangers your king will face in this future could be cut down by your hand, with the white-haired girl’s help. Or the other one—the cheery one. Yet no matter whose side you choose, your choices bear ill consequences. The one you love becomes consumed by vengeance. Due to your absence, he always loses himself to madness. In another life.”

“I don’t want another life. Only this one.”

Sothis stands up from her throne. Once again she’s stepping down that staircase, seemingly satisfied with Byleth’s answer. “So be it. I will rewind time yet again…” She raises a delicate finger. “However. You won’t be able to use the Divine Pulse anymore. In fact, you won’t be able to wield my power at all, or use the power of your Crest…at least not for a long time.”

Byleth stares back in surprise.

“Yes. This will use up all of my strength, and our souls will separate. I will be gone…forever.” She tilts her head. “Oh, don’t make such a face. I will keep an eye on you, if you ever are in danger. And you will be. Without the Divine Pulse to protect you, a wrong choice on the battlefield could mean death. Are you certain you want to sacrifice so much—for him?”

Byleth doesn’t even hesitate. He nods.

Dimitri, hunched over, a wounded creature sitting in the shadows, a single ray of sunlight touching his face as he lifts his head and regards Byleth. Lost, alone, in misery.

Sothis smiles. “Stubborn, aren’t you? Fine, then. I will grand your request. But this time, don’t be such a reckless fool in battle!”

“Send me back.” Byleth demands, as he feels his world slipping away.

*

Byleth opens his eyes. Nausea and hope assault him. He is standing next to Dimitri once again—facing Edelgard and Hubert. He remembers; the secret meeting, three weeks ago, before the decisive battle.

Dimitri talks. Edelgard refuses to cooperate. Yet this time, after Dimitri gives her the dagger and Edelgard turns her back on them, ready to leave, Byleth opens his mouth and asks: “Rhea wants to kill me. Why?”

It’s minimal, but Edelgard’s step falters. Yet she does not answer.

“What was that about, Professor?” Dimitri asks, then insists against the silence, “Byleth?”

Byleth shivers, the sound of his name coming from Dimitri’s lips.

He shakes his head.

*

The battle ahead is long and brutal. In what is now his past, Byleth used the Divine Pulse again and again in that final battle against Edelgard, in order to ensure everyone survived. This time, he knows every move of the enemy as well as he knows Dimitri’s heart.

That’s the only reason everyone lives to see tomorrow.

*

Edelgard loses. Her black, monstrous limbs evaporate and disappear into thin air, her red-clothed body is revealed. But she is faster than Byleth. Her dagger wounds Dimitri’s shoulder—once again. Byleth swallows his unease because he knows—this time— that the wound is superficial, that in the few days they will have together until Rhea arrives, Dimitri will be safe, content, loved.

So before Dimitri’s Areadbharmeets Edelgard’s torso, Byleth says, “Wait.”

Dimitri hesitates and Byleth addresses a defeated Edelgard again, “Rhea wants to kill me.”

Edelgard curls more into herself and does not answer. Until a soft, empty smile stretches her lips. “She is a tyrant. She doesn’t value human life at all. She wants your Crest, Professor. She wants the vessel that is your body. She wants to destroy your soul, your entire life.”

Dimitri’s impossibly blue eyes widen in shock.

*

After Edelgard is arrested and imprisoned, her fate to be decided only by Dimitri, the victory celebrations begin. Dimitri tries to discover the source of Byleth’s questions, but for the first time since they have known each other, Byleth is the one keeping silent.

A day passes, as they travel back towards Faerghus and onward to the capital, Fhirdiad. Dimitri will be soon crowned King, a title he has justly earned; reigning, as well, over Byleth’s heart. 

*

The night of the official celebration is vibrant yet chaotic. A drunk Sylvain tries to coax Ingrid to join him at the celebratory dances in the throne room. Felix is standing at a corner, also drunk, fencing with an imaginary opponent while countless noblemen observe with respect and admiration. Ashe and Annette are stuffing their mouths with sweets, Mercedes and Dedue are lost in conversation.

Dimitri is standing, tall and noble as the King he is—and perhaps a bit timid— amid a crowd of citizens that keep congratulating him and wishing him well. Beautiful men and women who keep throwing themselves at his feet, perhaps even bold enough to hint at their King the promise of a restless night, and pleasure…

Byleth shakes his head. He ignores the warm pulse that rushes down his chest, the moment Dimitri raises his gaze and clear blue eyes meet his, over the endless, colorful crowd of well-wishers.

Dimitri’s smile is soft, almost—loving. Byleth nods, then looks away.

He has about three weeks left until Rhea attacks. He might prevent her from sticking a dagger between his ribs, but he has no way of stopping her from transforming into a powerful, devastating dragon. And telling Dimitri the truth—that he used to manipulate the flow of time during each of the battles they fought, yet was still unable to prevent Rodrigue’s death…

Unlike last time, Byleth cannot rest. There is a certain dark turmoil, a certain ill foreboding, stirring behind his chest. He was used to manipulating time; Sothis was right, he was a reckless fool. The absence of power distresses him. He cannot correct any fatal mistakes at any given moment, not anymore. And fatalities must be approaching, in an ominous horizon. The threat that is Rhea—the other, unknown threats Sothis spoke about…

Byleth removes his dark form from the celebratory atmosphere that reigns across the huge throne room, its vast ceiling patterned in blue and silver. Dimitri’s colors. Everything reminds him of Dimitri, now.

As Byleth walks towards the huge balcony in the opposite direction of the throne room, he tries to collect himself. There are things Byleth should be glad for; Dimitri is calm and has found the strength to move on. The dark circles under his eyes, contrasting his pale hair, are long gone. That heart-wrenching madness, too. After that discussion under the rain, after Dimitri told Byleth how warmhis hands are…Dimitri’s bitterness and anger ebbed with time, slowly faded away.

When Byleth arrives at the balcony, he rests his arms on the stone railing and sighs. The night is dark as ink, countless stars are spread on the heavens above, and Byleth knows he won’t be able to conceal his secrets from Dimitri anymore: Sothis, turning back time, Rhea’s imminent attack. The fact that he has no heartbeat, and the Crest inside his heart is the only thing that keeps him alive…

“There you are. Ah, I should’ve known. Dancing…is a burden, isn’t it?”

Byleth turns. There he is; Dimitri, smiling. The sight makes Byleth’s chest ache.

“Byleth?”

“Sometimes it is.” Byleth says, and thinks that dancing with Dimitri would never be a burden. “Sometimes it’s not.” The music drifts from the ballroom and through the air until it reaches them, melodic and gentle.

Dimitri comes and stands next to him. They are uncharacteristically silent. As Byleth’s gaze drifts across the panoply of stars above, Dimitri says, “Share your burdens with me.”

“Dancing can be…too much.”

Dimitri chuckles. “I know. But that’s not what I expected to hear. You are struggling to hide it, but I know you too well, my friend.” He takes a step closer, tilts his head, and Byleth observes how his golden hair curtains his cheeks, half-covering his black eyepatch. “Something is troubling you.”

My imminent death. Leaving you behind, alone and hurting. Once again…“The uncertainty of the future.” Byleth swallows, and cannot look away from Dimitri’s eyes.

“The future will always be uncertain. Why did you stop me from killing Edelgard? Since when do you harbor the suspicion that Lady Rhea wants to—to kill you? Please, help me understand.”

Byleth refuses to hold Dimitri’s gaze as he says, “You once told me that I seem to have all the answers you seek.”

Raindrops falling on Dimitri’s face, his tangled hair plastered against his cheeks and forehead. How Dimitri stared back at him, confused and hurting, when Byleth told him, ‘You have suffered enough.’

Dimitri raises his gaze at the stars and sighs. “I remember.”

“This time, I have no answers left to give.” Byleth says. “I feel…lost.”

“This is unlike you.” Dimitri frowns. “When I was at my lowest, ready to depart for a suicidal, vengeful rampage, drenched to the bone under that rain, you—you offered me your hand.” His voice rises, “You told me that even a blood-stained monster can find the will to live on. You showed me how to move forward, how to live for myself! So why? Why do you insist on keeping silent, when it’s obvious that something is troubling you?” Dimitri’s eyes are blazing, his anger and concern are so obvious, threatening to spill over in every direction—even on Byleth.

“There is an orphanage near Fhirdiad.”

Dimitri blinks in surprise, his anger evaporates. Byleth can see the internal struggle, he can see how Dimitri accepts Byleth’s retreat, how he reluctantly continues down the new, uncertain path of this conversation, “You wish to teach swordsmanship to the orphans?”

Interesting, how their roles seem to be reversed this time. Byleth speaks, calmly, “Would you consider lending me a hand?”

Dimitri’s mouth softens. “The orphanage is located deep within the woods. It is going to be a long ride, until we reach it. If we leave before sunrise, we can be back at the Palace just before nightfall.”

Byleth nods, very content. He wouldn’t have suggested this, if a long horse ride wasn’t involved. Dimitri smiles, as if knowing. Byleth wishes he could cover those lips with his own, taste Dimitri’s happiness—Dimitri’s warm mouth…

Someone calls Dimitri’s name. Commoner or noble, it doesn’t matter. Dimitri is patient and understanding, and he needs to go. Yet before he turns away, the King of Lions says in the softest voice possible,

“Meet me tomorrow near the stables, just before the sun rises.”

*

Chapter Text

When the warm winds blow from the sea to the south of Adrestia, residents of Fodlan know that the rainy season is upon them. Before the heavy rains take their toll, young women hurry to pick the last of the white roses. The ivory buds are woven into garlands and given as gifts to close friends or potential lovers.

*

Byleth yawns as he steps inside the cold stables. Dimitri is there, waiting, clad in his black armor and dark-blue cape. Byleth ignores the feeling rising inside. He promised himself; until the end of this day he will disclose every hidden secret.

“Good morning.” Dimitri says, and Byleth cannot help but smile.

Dimitri flicks his pale blue gaze on the stable floor. “The rainy season will soon be upon the Kingdom.”

The words are hanging in the air, soft and strange, so Byleth decides to pursue this. “Rainy season?”

“There’s a custom in Faerghus that takes place right before the rainy season. It involves…roses.” Dimitri’s complexion is fair. Byleth knows; even the slightest blush can darken his cheeks. In the semi-darkness of the stables, Byleth cannot be sure, yet it seems as if Dimitri is almost shy about this topic of conversation.

Byleth shakes his head. Farghus is cold and spellbinding, but it’s customs are still a mystery.

“One day” Dimitri says, voice thick with emotion, “I will explain.”

They saddle the horses in silence. Byleth tries to forget about Rhea, destruction and death. Nothing matters at this moment, right before the dawn. Only Dimitri.

*

As they leave the tall walls of Fhirdiad behind, the sun appears behind the black hills. The sunrise is spectacular, scattering orange across the grey clouds and silver mountaintops. The snow on their summits reflects the sun, creating a multitude of soft colors upon the edged rocks. Byleth thinks once again that Dimitri’s country is beautiful.

Dimitri is silent. Byleth focuses his attention solely on the obstacles scattered across the road, careful that his horse doesn’t get injured. An ambush right now would possibly result in both of their deaths.

The tension between them is almost palpable. Dimitri ignores it as well as Byleth does.

*

It is midday as they stop near a river, the waters crystal clear and wild. It is a sunny, cloudless day, a rare occurrence for Faerghus. They dismount, letting the horses cool off near the stream.

Dimitri clears his throat and says, methodical as always, “If we continue east for the next few hours, we will reach the orphanage. I do hope we won’t surprise them, since I haven’t sent a messenger to announce our intention to visit. Dedue and Felix have been informed that we’ll both spend the day away from the Palace…” Dimitri pauses, his words become softer as he crosses his arms, “Ah, you suggested this trip as a way to relax, yet here I am, muttering on about everything that needs to be done.” Dimitri chuckles. “I am incorrigible.”

Byleth doesn’t answer, scanning their surroundings. Dimitri sighs.

A sound echoes around them, the crack of a broken twig. Perhaps a small animal. Byleth snaps his gaze to the dark trees near them. His fingers curl around the hilt of the Creator’s Sword. Many want to carve Dimitri’s heart straight out of his chest. Dimitri is far from the violent, mad King, the monster his enemies believe him to be. The war is over, but the threat of a potential ambush has Byleth wary and constantly on edge. And without the Divine Pulse to protect them…

Dimitri steps closer. He holds Byleth’s gaze, and Byleth swears that his silent heart almost produces a beat. Dimitri says, “This pain…I can see it in your eyes. It still hasn’t gone away.”

Byleth breathes out. “It won’t. At least, not for a while.”

Dimitri lowers his gaze; his golden eyelashes touch his cheek. It is not disappointment, neither distaste. Dimitri is being patient, like Byleth has once been with him, during the days of that all-consuming vengeance, that burning sorrow and madness.

“There must be something I can do.” Dimitri’s words are quiet. “Or perhaps you wish to return to the Monastery? Perhaps you want to teach there, or—or assist with the reconstruction?”

“As long as I draw breath” Byleth says, “I will never leave your side.”

Dimitri’s calm expression changes to one of shock, and after that…

Byleth knows Dimitri well, as well as he knows the weight of the sword hanging near his hip, or the ancient magic blazing inside him. Are you happy, Dimitri? Is that happiness? Byleth yearns to ask, but he doesn’t. Instead, he says, “We should go.”

The water runs constantly from the stream, the sound resonating around them. Byleth cannot forget the green nature surrounding them, or any possible dark threats hidden within.

Dimitri turns away. “We should. Sitting too long on the same location could be unsafe. The road up ahead will be long and difficult.”

Byleth can’t tell what exactly Dimitri is referring to; their journey or what has been occurring since forever, between them.

*

The orphanage is plain, made of stone and dark wood. It is small, half the size of the Academy’s Cathedral. A black-bearded man and his wife, a short woman with russet hair, step out of the main door to greet them.

The children are overjoyed when they see Dimitri. They flock around him like curious hatchlings, small hands clutching his enormous cape or the fur on his black boots.

Byleth’s little pulse of joy fizzles out. He keeps a distance from the shouts of merriment and laughter.Areadbhar is waiting for its owner back at the Palace, Dimitri is merely carrying a dagger, well concealed inside his boot, so in case of a possible attack Byleth’s ancient sword must suffice, offering protection. Fifteen children and two adults, and of course Dimitri…

“It’s the King! The King has come!” The children keep jumping around Dimitri, shrieking with joy. Dimitri’s smile is soft and genuine. Byleth is very glad.

He is so strong, but hides depths of vulnerability and kindness inside.

“We apologize for the intrusion.” Dimitri speaks, while two little girls keep playing hide and seek under the folds of his cape. He reaches out a hand to carefully steady the smaller one, who trips and almost falls on the ground. “I hope we are not interrupting anything significant, since we came uninvited.” He smiles at the children and their faces light up. “An important lesson, or a delicious lunch.” 

The woman steps forward, “Don’t worry, your Highness, you arrived just on time! We were about to start with the roses. It’s the last day of the Garlant Moon, after all.”

Dimitri’s calmness is faintly laced with alarm. “The last day? Already?” He lowers his head, denying Byleth his expression, golden strands covering his face. “We cannot teach the children swordsmanship, Byleth. Not today.”

Byleth doesn’t have the time to ponder over mysterious customs or Dimitri’s reluctance to partake in them. The man approaches him, then bows in greeting, introducing his wife and himself. “We’re pleased to meet you, Your Excellence. Thank you for everything you’ve done for our King and Kingdom.”

The woman rushes Dimitri and the children inside, so Byleth thanks the man for his hospitality and follows behind Dimitri, as always.

*

It is a calm, pleasant day. Everyone is sitting on the wooden floor, picking out the best flowers and trying to weave them into a garland. Byleth watches with interest as a little boy places his flower garland around a little girl’s shoulders. Laughter fills the small house. Byleth finishes with his crown and places it on a table, next to Dimitri’s cloak.

A King crowned with flowers was in Byleth’s thoughts as he weaved the roses.

Byleth can only gaze at Dimitri across the distance between them. The sun is hitting that black eyepatch, caressing Dimitri’s fine features. At moments like these, the desolate past seems far away. The contrast is too much: Dimitri, crushed and broken, standing in front of the rubble inside the half-destroyed cathedral, conversing with the dead, growling at Byleth to go away.

Dimitri, two children sitting near him, one on each side, teaching him how to weave the white roses into a garland. Delicate things that roses are, Dimitri’s garland is half-destroyed. Byleth’s mouth curls at the corners, because the children are far less patient instructors than he has ever been with Dimitri.

“Nooo, you broke another one! Use less strength! Less strength!”

Dimitri keeps failing, but he laughs, and Byleth swallows his longing.

*

Most of the children are very excited about meeting the King, but one or two cannot suppress a few yawns. Soon, the teachers insist that it’s lunch time. The children groan and reluctantly wave goodbye, then leave Byleth and Dimitri alone in the main room.

*

It is difficult, that careful imbalance of watching Dimitri from afar and always being there, at his side.

Byleth has crossed blades numerous time with Dimitri, always during practice. Exchanging a sword or a lance for a handful of white roses seems strange, but Byleth is eager to accept this new existence if it means that he gets to stay at Dimitri’s side. Standing next to Dimitri, inspecting his work, their shoulders touching. Some of the roses are crumbled and beyond saving. This never stops Byleth from taking Dimitri’s hand in his own, then placing it gently where the knots need to be tied. After a few tries, the garland is complete.

“Have you weaved flowers before?” Dimitri asks.

Byleth shakes his head in denial.

“Your work is admirable. You never cease to amaze me.” Dimitri smiles, his gaze passing over Byleth’s features.

Someone pulls at Byleth’s dark cape, so his attention shifts to a little boy, who is demanding that Byleth pick him up and place him on the table. He wants to touch Dimitri’s cape.

Dimitri listens to the request and chuckles. Byleth wants to hear the sound again.

The little boy is eager to climb on the table, so Byleth tries something he has never done before in his life; he picks up the child and holds him carefully. There’s tenderness in Dimitri’s gaze. Byleth tries to transport the child safely from one place to the other. The boy rests his head under Byleth’s left collarbone, then mutters, “Why isn’t your heart beating?”

Byleth witnesses the moment Dimitri’s icy blue gaze loses all its warmth.

Byleth has no heartbeat. He knows that. It has been that way since he could remember. He also knows that Sothis’ power hasn’t completely left him—his hair and eyes are still a pale green.

Byleth carefully lowers the child. It steps away from him. “Teacher taught us. The heart is on the left. It always beats, unless you’re dead.” Small eyes widen in alarm. “Are you a demon?”

“There you are! Come on, hurry, your soup will get cold!” The woman appears from the door leading to the kitchen.  “Oh, apologies, your Highness…is everything alright?” After Dimitri’s reassurance that nothing has happened, the boy takes the woman’s offered hand, waves, then leaves the room.

The next few seconds pass by in a haze. Dimitri announces that they must leave, kind words are exchanged, promises of a future return. Byleth follows Dimitri out of the house and towards the small forest which surrounds the area. He holds his own flower crown in his hand.

*

They eventually reach a clearing. The sunlight catches Dimitri’s hair, crowns him with a radiant halo. Byleth cannot tear his eyes away.

Dimitri’s cape is hugging his shoulders, his black boots are trampling the grass as he starts pacing back and forth, clenching the garland of roses in his hand.  Dimitri’s hold is so tight, some of the white flowers have crumbled.

Byleth cannot take it anymore. “Dimitri.”

“When I saw you falling into that chasm, at the Battle of Garreg Mach, I heard your scream. It was one of the most terrible sounds I have heard in my life. It haunted me for years. Five years, and I could only focus on the dead. Not the ones I had butchered with my own two hands, no. Every person dear to me, gone, slaughtered, taken away.”  The garland of roses slips from Dimitri’s fingers, he steps on it. The roses are crushed under his heavy boots. He does not notice. “You’re standing again at the precipice of something dark and terrible, but I am too far away, unable to reach you…unable to help you. And that thought drives me mad.”

“That’s enough, Dimitri.” Byleth raises his voice. “I am here with you. I promised that I will never leave your side again.”

Dimitri is relentless. “Your expression is unreadable, you are constantly on edge, and I’m at an utter loss—” Dimitri notices the destroyed roses at his feet, and his features contort with pain. He bends down, picks up the remaining flowers, gently. They fall apart in his hands.

Byleth knows the cruel nature of Dimitri’s thoughts. He says, gently, “You are not a heartless monster.”

Dimitri grunts, letting the white petals slip through his fingers. They fall on the forest soil. “Many have called me thus. Killing without a shred of mercy…” That warm blue gaze stays on him. “Byleth. That was not true, about your expression. During our first days in the Academy, I could rarely tell what you were thinking. But now…I can tell so much more than that, now.”

A pulse of warmth runs through Byleth’s chest, at that. The atmosphere shifts, the quiet moment stretching on between them. Byleth remembers what he’s still holding in his hand.

The formidable King, crowned with white roses. The image cannot leave Byleth’s mind.

“Dimitri.”

Dimitri smiles, and Byleth places the crown upon his head. It slips a bit, covering Dimitri’s forehead. At Dimitri’s stunned expression, Byleth cannot withhold his mirth. The corners of his lips curl upwards.

“Y-You…” A blush slowly tints Dimitri’s cheeks. “Do you know the meaning of this…?”

Byleth stares back, perplexed. “It’s the custom.”

Dimitri’s cheeks are very red. He coughs. “I didn’t explain the whole meaning behind it. The roses are a symbol of something deep, and everlasting. They are given as gifts to close friends or…” Dimitri swallows, “…potential lovers.”

“I see no problem with this.” Byleth says, holding the moment close and trying to add more, yet failing terribly at it; Dimitri is staring, wide-eyed. Mouth open like a fish. Byleth adds, with a daring fire rushing through his veins, “You could always replace your crown with this one.”

Dimitri chuckles, face still red like a tomato. “Heh. That’s a good one, Byleth.”

Byleth would grit his teeth in frustration, because as far as confessions go, this one must be recorded as the worst in history. Dimitri thought it was a joke…if Sothis was here, she would definitely be laughing at him.

“Byleth, about the child—”

“We should ride back.” Byleth says. Dimitri opens his mouth in protest, then goes silent.

They walk through the thick forest and eventually reach the horses. Byleth doesn’t miss how carefully Dimitri removes the flower crown. He slips it inside his saddle’s leather pouch, never meeting Byleth’s eyes.

*

The ride back is spent in silence. By the time they reach Fhirdiad, rain starts dribbling, then cascading down from the heavens. The empty palace stables provide shelter and privacy.

Now. I need to tell him, now.

Dimitri leads his horse near the water basin. He dismounts, black boots hitting the hay-covered floor with a thud.

“Byleth.”

Byleth climbs down from his horse, straightens his soaked cloak, and only then does he raise his gaze to acknowledge Dimitri’s distress.

“Byleth, I beg of you. Please.”

The child was scared. ‘Why isn’t your heart beating?’

“I need to know. Is it true?”

They used to call him Ashen Demon, in what now feels a lifetime ago.  

When Byleth does not answer, Dimitri carefully places his hand on Byleth’s arm, the fingers curling there gently, without pressure—a gesture of reassurance. Dimitri’s gaze is dark with apprehension, the moment seems ready to snap and shatter between them. Byleth takes a breath. Slowly, carefully, Dimitri bows his head and places his ear against Byleth’s chest—over his silent heart.

Byleth does not want to witness the shock in Dimitri’s eye. “That’s enough.” Byleth clenches a fist, he cannot control the words, they slip out, unbridled and harsh. “I was destined to die since the moment I was born.”

When Dimitri lifts his head, he doesn’t regard Byleth with shock. Rather…concern. And something more than that, something so very open and tender. “Oh, thank the goddess. You finally want to talk. Help me understand, Byleth.”

“I died at birth. My mother sacrificed her life and her Crest in order to save me. It is bound to my heart.”

Dimitri raises his hand, perhaps wanting to place it on Byleth’s cheek, a gesture of comfort between two people who are something far more than friends or even lovers.

“I could also turn back time. On the battlefield.”

Dimitri blinks. His hand drops, limp, at his side.

Byleth grits his teeth and goes on. “Only for a few seconds. Enough to prevent someone’s death. But I cannot do this any longer. In the future…the day before your coronation…Rhea attacks. She kills me. She transforms…and destroys everything. It is as Edelgard said. Unbeknown to all of us, Rhea is planning something, and it ends with my death.”

Dimitri gasps out something unrecognizable, perhaps Byleth’s name.

Byleth shakes his head. “Instead of a few seconds, Sothis sent me back a few days. But the toll was too much on her, and my body. It took all of her power to safely transport me back in time.” Dimitri is very quiet, so Byleth says, “The moment Rhea killed me—I couldn’t endure the thought of leaving you behind. All alone. I couldn’t bear it. You have suffered enough. You don’t deserve another tragedy.”

The look in Dimitri’s eyes hurts him. It reminds him of an evening months ago, when Dimitri was suffering, drenched under the heavy rain. The stable is cold, the quiet sounds of the horses punctuating the silence.

“We need to devise a plan, stop Rhea. Eradicate any other threat that dares disturb this peace.” Dimitri speaks like the King he is, determined and strong. Byleth stays solemn, nervous, defiant. Awaiting judgement. “Byleth, calm yourself. I’d die for you. I believe you, I believe every single word that left your mouth. I have a thousand questions, though they can wait. I have seen Rhea transform, she’s a significant threat. We’ll need to inform the council, gather provisions, evacuate all civilians...”

Byleth smiles, and for a few seconds, they stare at each other. Only the soft pitter-patter of the rain hitting the stable’s roof is heard. Until Dimitri’s beautiful features contort with sadness, and he whispers, “You—you died?”

“…Almost. ”

“Byleth.” Dimitri’s voice is strained. “You turned back time, obviously, or you wouldn’t be alive now.”

“This time I’ll be prepared. You shouldn’t care so much about my safety.”

“How can you say that?!” The words are pushed out, hoarse and full of pain. “It all makes sense, now. You kept an eye on everyone across the battlefield, carelessly jumped in front of people the last moments before a finishing blow…I can remember everything.” Dimitri says, softly. “While I threatened that I would use you until your flesh rots away from your bones. I—I wish…”

“Stop.” This time, Byleth cannot resist. He cups Dimitri’s cheek in his palm, and relishes in the way Dimitri’s golden eyelashes drift lower. The stables are cold. The heat of Dimitri’s skin seeps into his palm—Dimitri tilts his head, leaning against his touch. How many lonely nights has Byleth dreamed of this? “The crown was only meant for you.” Byleth means both; roses and Kingdom. And he senses Dimitri’s understanding, and how deep it runs.

‘The roses are a symbol of something deep, and everlasting.’

“Byleth.” Dimitri seems dazed, wide-eyed, his hands are trembling, slightly, and Byleth wishes he could imprint that moment into his memory until the end of time. “We will fight any threat, together. You will live on. I cannot lose you.” Byleth’s thumb wipes at a traitorous tear, trickling down Dimitri’s cheek. “It is true. I’ll die a lonely, miserable man, if I lose you.”

“Don’t talk like that.” Byleth says.

Dimitri’s face comes closer. Byleth cannot tear his gaze away from Dimitri’s mouth. Dimitri’s lips part. “I…I shouldn’t use words, then.”

Dimitri kisses him.

Byleth tries to breathe, Dimitri’s warm mouth covering his own. He shivers, fingers curling into Dimitri’s cape. He presses himself closer to Dimitri’s hard body, slides his hands into Dimitri’s golden hair, as the kiss slowly deepens...

There’s nothing Byleth has felt, strong and deep as this. Nothing.

Footsteps, fast and heavy, and they are approaching. With a single motion, Byleth pulls away, Dimitri’s warmth is gone, he doesn’t lament but draws his sword, then stands in a fighting stance right in front of a dazed Dimitri.

“What are you two doing here at this hour? Practicing swordplay in the stables? It can’t be.”  Byleth breathes again as Sylvain’s eyes drift all over them. Their flushed cheeks and heavy breaths betray much. “Oh. Ooooh. I should’ve known! Since when has this been going on? How could I’ve been so blind—”

“Sylvain...your timing is almost unhealthy.” Dimitri says. Byleth calmly slides his sword back into its sheath. Dimitri’s mouth curls downwards; he is worried.

“Being devoid of my powers…it unsettles me.” Byleth says.

“I can see that.”

It is an exercise in self-control. Byleth forces the words out, evenly. “This time, any mistakes will be permanent.”

“Byleth...” Dimitri says.

Byleth feels like something has lodged itself in his throat.

Sylvain coughs. “Highness. If you’re finished with our dear Professor—“

“Former Professor!” Dimitri barks.

“The council has been looking for you the whole day.” Sylvain winks. “You see, Felix and Dedue weren’t enough to keep them satisfied. A shame, indeed!”

Dimitri sighs and Byleth says, “We must warn everyone.”

“I will go and inform them about Rhea. We should try locating Seteth, he might have a clue about her whereabouts.”

“Rhea?” Sylvain asks, understanding the danger lurking within Dimitri’s words. “What is going on?”

“Go.” Byleth says. “I will find Seteth.”

“Follow me, Sylvain.” Dimitri says, casting a lingering glance on Byleth. Something unfurls inside Byleth’s chest. His lips are warm, from that kiss. They stretch into a soft smile.

Dimitri’s happiness mirrors his own. “Find me, later. I’ll probably be in my private rooms.” Sylvain chuckles. Dimitri’s cheeks darken, probably realizing what he just implied. He leaves the stables with Sylvain following close behind, whose voice is loud and trailing behind him, “How couldyou, in the stables, surrounded by horseshit? Don’t look at me like that, Highness. You own a gigantic palace, yet picked the least romantic place—hey, next time, you could at least let me show you—okay, okay! I’ll shut up!”

Byleth shakes his head.

He then remembers that no one mentioned Rodrigue, and his death, and Dimitri never asked how it could be prevented, among with the deaths of countless others.

Is this what Dimitri wants to talk about? Or perhaps…

The stables are cold, but the memory of Dimitri’s mouth sliding against his own is enough to warm Byleth up.